Sunday, August 2, 2015

July Movie Status

I’m a day late with this.  I’ve had an eventful last couple of days.

I watched 22 new movies in July, plus re-watched five others.  I didn’t work on any movie lists this last month, except only peripherally.  The one film I did from a list I watched just because I was curious to see it and it was only afterwards that I realized it was on the 101 Sci-Fi Movies You Must See Before You Die list.

Technically, I did complete the just published BBC list of the 100 best American films of all time.  It was posted on Letterboxd by someone I follow and I noticed that I had seen 99 of the 100 films.  The one I had not was The Shanghai Gesture (1941).  I was able to watch it right away so I figured “why not?” and did.

No, in July I mostly caught up on some 2014 and 2015 films I hadn’t had a chance to see yet, as well as re-watching a few more films than usual.

Here are the 22 new movies I saw in July.  Highlighted films are ones to which I would give at least three stars out of five.

101 Genre (1): It Came from Outer Space (1953)

Other Movies (21): Jupiter Ascending (2015), A Princess for Christmas (2011), A Very Merry Mix-up (2013), Family for Christmas (2015), My Favorite Year (1982), Jurassic World (2015), Ted 2 (2015), 22 Jump Street (2014), Fifty Shades of Grey (2015), The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? (2015), The Challenger Disaster (2013), Bloody Birthday (1980), Perversion for Profit (1965), It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012), The Censored Eleven (1931-1944), The Shanghai Gesture (1941), Max (2015), A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014), Leviathan (2014), Molina’s Ferozz (2010), Minions (2015)

Re-watches (5): Déjà vu (2006), Unstoppable (2010), Jack Reacher (2012), The Fugitive (1993), U.S. Marshals (1998)

Jupiter Ascending (2015) – Take the standard "rescue the princess" storyline that's been used in hundreds of films (i.e. Star Wars), add in the competing space families and politics from Dune, the female "chosen one" whose actions will save/doom the Earth from advanced aliens from The Fifth Element, include the "people as resources" from The Matrix, and add in a dash of humor from Brazil (the movie, not the country) and you've got Jupiter Ascending.   3 stars

A Princess for Christmas (2011) – Generic Christmas movie from the Hallmark Channel.  Maybe I would have liked it better if it wasn’t July.   2.5 stars

A Very Merry Mix-up (2013) – Another Hallmark Christmas movie, but this actually did something I wasn’t expecting.   3 stars

It Came from Outer Space (1953) – While the special effects will look incredibly dated to anyone watching now, the plot itself was ahead of its time in that the aliens were neither there to hurt us or to help us. In fact, Spielberg credits this film with being the main inspiration for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  And while it's not acknowledged anywhere, the classic film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which came out a few years later, had to have been inspired by this movie, too. They just made the aliens malevolent again in that later film.   3 stars

Family for Christmas (2015) – Another Hallmark Christmas movie.  I was bored early in the month and flipping through channels more than usual.  That’s how I happened to see It Came from Outer Space, too.   2.5 stars

My Favorite Year (1982) – This month’s Selection from Steve.  You can read my review here.   3.5 stars

Jurassic World (2015) – During the film a person talks about how the park, even with dinosaurs, was losing attendance because of a "been there, done that" feeling from the public. In order to address that they have to come up with even scarier dinosaurs. The thing is, that's pretty much why this film exists, too. The problem is they already tried the bigger/badder dinosaur in Jurassic Park III - the worst of the films.  On the positive side, there are some good action scenes in this, and the kids aren't too annoying. On the negative side, the filmmakers went to the "deus ex dinosaur" well too many times. Really, the best part of the film unfortunately only lasts a minute or two. It's when Chris Pratt's character is riding a motorcycle with the velociraptors as they are hunting. It's the one time during the film that I felt like I did when I saw the first Jurassic Park.   3 stars

Ted 2 (2015) – While there were some funny moments here and there, there are also long stretches where there's no humor at all. It's not as good as the first one. Maybe the novelty of a foul-mouthed teddy bear had worn off, too.   2.5 stars

22 Jump Street (2014) – I laughed quite a bit at two scenes, and the end credits were funny, but there were also long stretches where they beat to death jokes that weren't that funny the first time they presented them, let alone the 6th, 9th, and 12th. Overall, this works out to "just okay".   2.5 stars

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) – I've never read the book, so I don't know if the characters were interesting in that. The only time they were interesting in the movie is when they were having sex. And the sex scenes were, frankly, pretty tame compared to the reputation of the book.  If you want a good movie about a dominant/submissive relationship then watch Secretary (2002). If you want a good movie about a dominant/submissive sexual relationship then watch 9 1/2 Weeks (1986). And if you want a good movie about an experienced man introducing an inexperienced woman to the pleasures of a sexual relationship then watch The Lover (1992).   2.5 stars

The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? (2015) – A doc that shows everyone just how much of a god-awful mess the Superman Lives film was during its entire pre-production and how the studio finally pulled the plug on it three weeks before production was to start - only to switch their funding over to Wild Wild West with the same producer. Talk about throwing good money after bad.  What amuses me is the number of people in the doc who keep saying they would love to see this movie now, yet they pretty much all come out at some point and admit they'd want to see it because of how much of a bizarre train wreck they imagine it would have been.   3 stars

The Challenger Disaster (2013) – Well done, factual account of the investigation into the destruction of the Space Shuttle Challenger. This is not a documentary, but a fictional recreation with actors. William Hurt plays Dr. Richard Feynman.   3.5 stars

Bloody Birthday (1980) – Three little children all born on the same day during a solar eclipse go on a killing spree. Damn that astrology and how it reveals the hard truths about people's natures. If only more people would listen. (sarcasm)  You may be wondering why I watched this. I was up all night for a work implementation and this was being shown about 3:00 AM to 4:30 AM. On TCM!  I have no idea why.  See my next comment on Perversion for Profit, too.   2 stars

Perversion for Profit (1965) – A talking head (reportedly a respected news man at the time) tries to explain why adult magazines are destroying America and turning everyone into communists, or even worse - homosexuals.  Really.  It's sort of a Reefer Madness kind of doc. And it seems more like an excuse to show titillating image after image from those very magazines, complete with black bars inserted over the eyes, nipples, and genitals. And now and then "accidentally" forgetting some of the black bars.  You may be wondering why I watched this. I was up all night for a work implementation and this was being shown about 4:30 AM. On TCM!  I have no idea why.  See my prior comment on Bloody Birthday, too.   1 star

It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012) – Three separate short films combined into one to make it run a little over an hour. The first two chapters (aka shorts) were a great deal like Heaven and Earth Magic with the different kinds of animation and moment to moment transitions. The final chapter/short, which shares the name of the overall film, is the reason to see this. It's quite moving. In fact, I'd suggest just watching the short by this name, not the collection of all three shorts.  Chapter 1 - 2 stars.  Chapter 2 - 2.5 stars.  Chapter 3 - 4.5 stars.  Overall - 3 stars

The Censored Eleven (1931-1944) – This is how a set of Warner Brothers shorts are known.  When they were re-releasing collections of shorts on home video and DVD they held back a total of 11 of them because they had black characters with exaggerated features in them.  The unfortunate thing is that several of these shorts were actually intended to celebrate black culture and music in the 1930s and 1940s, including some Jazz legends.  It’s the music that earns the rating from me.  I also watched a bunch of other WB shorts made during WWII that have Japanese characters with exaggerated features (as well as insulting caricatures of Hitler), yet those were not officially censored for some reason.  Maybe they were considered more historically important because they were a snapshot in time during WWII.  I watched all of these because I ran across a source for them and was curious to see them from the perspective of the current day.   3 stars

The Shanghai Gesture (1941) – This film showed up on a new list of the top 100 American movies of all time. It was the only one on the list I had not seen. Now that I have watched it I understand why it had never turned up on any other list I had already completed. It has a pulp story, "twists" you can see coming a mile away, plot holes aplenty, and some really bad overacting from the then 20 year old Gene Tierney. (She got a lot better in a few years.)  On the positive side, we get to see the 20 year old Gene Tierney.   2.5 stars

Max (2015) – The simplistic plot and one dimensional characters make this one strictly for kids.   2 stars

A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014) – The miracle of low expectations is that an okay movie can turn out to be a good surprise. All I had ever heard about this film was how terrible it was. When I finally saw it I think I knew why some folks didn't find it funny - it's a big old middle finger to all the people who love the "romance of the old west" when "men were men" and women loved them for it. And those are the people who disproportionately would have watched this movie, expecting to see more of the same. It must have been a nasty shock for them when they saw what McFarlane put in this movie. Is it the funniest thing ever made? Not even close, but it did make me laugh on a consistent enough basis for me to like it. I also liked the completely out of place cameos (which I won't spoil). Okay, one hint - "Great Scott!"   3 stars

Leviathan (2014) – I had heard good things about this, so I was hopeful of seeing a good film. Unfortunately, it's the kind of film critics love - bloated, political, and heavy handed.  The first half or so was interesting. The cinematography was good. The characters were, well, not exactly interesting, but at least worth watching. Then as the film went along it became apparent that this was a retelling of the biblical Job story...only more depressing. Pretty much every shitty thing that could happen to the main guy did.  And the director tried to get all "arty" by showing people driving around a lot (hey, if it works for Kiarostami, right?). He also took the most important scene in the story and had it all happen off camera. How "artistic".  I think the thing that critics may have responded to, other than the depression, is the fact that the film is openly critical of the corrupt Russian authorities, yet they not only funded it, they also supported the film in international competition.   2.5 stars

Molina’s Ferozz (2010) – This is also known as Ferozz: The Wild Red Riding Hood.  I had heard some things about this movie that I felt had to be seen to be believed. I now believe.  In regards to messed up, and I mean seriously messed up, versions of the Red Riding Hood story this makes In the Company of Wolves (1984) and Freeway (1996) look like, well, fairy tales for children in comparison.   1 star

Minions (2015) – As supporting characters they provided occasional comic relief in the two Despicable Me movies. As leads they provide the same amount of occasional humor, but unfortunately don't really work as "heroes". This isn't a bad movie, but it's not that great, either.   2.5 stars


  1. I have a warm fuzzy for It Came from Outer Space, since it's based on a Ray Bradbury story. He's called St. Ray in my house.

    I'm also pleased to see the .5 star bump for My Favorite Year.

    1. In regards to the rating here, for the sake of simplicity I established them at the beginning as only 3, 4, and 5 where 3 is recommended if it sounds interesting, 4 is highly recommended unless you hate something specific about it, and 5 is the highest recommendation - see it no matter what. Anything in between gets rounded down. I did this to try to make it as easy to understand as possible for whatever casual surfer might end up here.

      At the time I started this site these ratings also dovetailed with Netflix, which had only full number ratings from 1-5. I wasn't planning to review movies I disliked or hated - 2 stars and 1 star - hence my simple three ratings.

      In the years since, Letterboxd has come along and allows half star ratings. You still see some Letterboxd users with spikes on the whole numbers and nothing much on the halves because there used to be the ability to import all your Netflix ratings. I've since tried to go in and change a whole bunch of 2s to 2.5s and 3s to 3.5s. I have done 4s to 4.5s, too, but with the number of movies I've rated those don't really show up on the graph.

      Since I tend to write shorter-than-real-review blurbs on Letterboxd I often copy/paste those here for my monthly post and then make a few tweaks if my opinion has changed, or to shorten them. I also started using my Letterboxd ratings, including half star ones, in the monthly post since it is a summary.

      This is a long-winded way to say that My Favorite Year was always a 3.5 star film for me. I used the words "definitely recommend" instead of just "recommend" in the last paragraph of the review. I freely admit the word difference probably only means something to me and is missed by most everyone who reads it.

  2. You saw a lot of interesting titles this month Chip. I really enjoy these brief reviews. I totally agree with your recommendations in lieu of '50 Shades of Grey.' I haven't seen '50 Shades,' but I saw all of the movies your recommended in lieu of.

    I am really interested in seeing the Superman Lives doc. Is that the one with Nic Cage? Oh that would have definitely been a trainwreck.

    1. Yes, that's the one. And it's not just Cage as Superman that would have made it bad. In fact, in comparison that might have been one of the least strange things about it. How about Lex Luthor and Braniac in a two headed body? Or Superman wearing what is essentially a neon sign as a suit (lighted tubes running all along it)? Or Braniac fighting a polar bear that is guarding Superman's Fortress of Solitude? Or Superman fighting a giant spider? Or Braniac's head on a spider-like body?

  3. Hi old friend! I've just nominated you for a Liebster blog Award:

    1. Hi there. Thanks. I responded on the post you linked to in your comment.


  4. Fifty Shades of Grey I watched just to see what all the fuss was about. Was decent, but the male lead's acting not great, I thought it ruined the chemistry between them. Agree Secretary (2002) was the better movie.

    If you enjoyed It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012), you should check out his latest. World of Tomorrow (2015) (short) is my favorite film of 2015 so far.

    I liked Leviathan (2014) a little more than you. Agree it's heavy-handed in places, though the Russian humor kept me amused(the audience I saw it with were laughing quite a bit,which may have helped me enjoy it a tad more than if I saw the film by myself)

    1. It could be a while for World of Tomorrow to come somewhere that I can see it. It's Such a Beautiful Day was finally on Netflix streaming. I'll keep an eye out for it, though.

      In regards to Leviathan I think it goes back to expectations. I had heard a lot of good about it - to the point that it not winning the Oscar was a surprise. That didn't dissaude me, though, because I felt The Hunt was a lot better than winner The Great Beauty the year before.