Wednesday, July 1, 2015

June Movie Status

I watched 23 new movies in June, plus re-watched three others.  This was about half the number of new movies as last month.  That was probably due to completing three different lists last month, then finishing a fourth this month.  After that I took it a little easy.

The list I referred to as completing this month is Roger Ebert’s Great Films.  He has a total of about 375, depending on whether you split collective entries out into their components or not.  As it turns out, one of those entries – Looney Toons Golden Collection Volume 1 – was partially misleading.  Ebert actually wrote about three Warner Brothers shorts – One Froggy Evening, Duck Amuck, and What’s Opera Doc as being designated as “great”.  As it turns out, that particular collection only has Duck Amuck on it.  I had already seen all three prior to this anyway, so I finished off the four disks of that collection to complete Ebert’s entire list, no matter which way you want to interpret it.

I will probably work on Empire’s 2008 list of the Top 500 Films next.  I have 22 of those left to see.  Completing this list may present a challenge – the film The Company of Men (1997) is no longer available from Netflix.  I could stream it from Amazon for a few bucks, but I’m not so militant about completing this list that I can’t wait until an opportunity to see the movie for free presents itself.  If months go by with no other way to see it, though, I may change my mind.  If you have a non-torrent alternative to suggest, please do so.

Here are the 23 new movies I saw in June.  Highlighted films are ones to which I would give at least three stars out of five.

Empire (1): The Big Country (1958)

Ebert (11): A Year of the Quiet Sun (1984), Mystery Train (1989), Chop Shop (2007), Night Moves (1975), Ripley’s Game (2002), The Pledge (2001), A Woman’s Tale (1991), After Dark, My Sweet (1990), The Only Son (1936), Monsieur Hire (1989), Looney Toons Golden Collection Vol 1 (2003)

Other Movies (11): Predestination (2015), The Changeling (1980), Coherence (2013), Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015), I Want to Marry Ryan Banks (2004), Nine for IX: The 99ers (2013), 30 for 30: Unguarded (2011), Teen Beach 2 (2015), The Sentinel (2006), Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Ex Machina (2015)

Re-watches (3): Hairspray (2006), The Station Agent (2003), Another Earth (2011)

The Big Country (1958) – The title of the film is translated beautifully onscreen with massive, wide open vistas a common occurrence. They took advantage of the still relatively new widescreen presentation. There are many shots of people and horses from what has to be literally a mile away showing how small they are against the vastness of the land.   3 stars

A Year of the Quiet Sun (1984) – An American GI and a Polish woman fall in love just after the end of WWII in what was once Germany, but has now become Poland.  This is before the blockade by the Soviets started.  They have troubles being with each other because of the situation they are in.   3 stars

Predestination (2015) – This movie is based on the classic Robert Heinlein short story "All You Zombies". It's probably the most mind-bending time travel story ever written. They did a good job adapting it for film. Most of the story is left intact. They seamlessly took care of something that a book doesn't have to deal with due to there being no images. They did add a subplot about a bomber that the agent is trying to track down, but it does fold into the story and they don't make it too sensationalistic.   4 stars

The Changeling (1980) – You can read my review of this here.   3.5 stars

Coherence (2013) – Great concept, horrible execution.  A group of friends are affected when a passing comet somehow (don’t bother paying attention to the pseudoscience) opens portals to alternate dimensions almost exactly like their own.  It has horrible cinematography, and this isn’t just me bitching about shakycam, either.  This goes far beyond that.  Almost all dialogue is adlibbed so the cameraman didn’t know who was going to speak next.  He spends most of the movie rapidly swinging all around the room to point it at the person talking, and the camera then spends a couple seconds doing the auto focus.  The result is a near-constant series of swish pans, crash zooms, pull backs, and out of focus shots…all in shakycam.  An extra on the DVD shows behind the scenes where the filmmakers come out and admit that none of them were cinematographers and they had no clue how to use the camera they had bought to film the movie.  It’s too bad because the story could have been really good.   2.5 stars

Mystery Train (1989) – Three interconnected stories from Jim Jarmusch.  I’d have been happy if the entire movie had just stayed with the young Japanese couple it starts with, but overall it works.   3 stars

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) – I love how Matthew Vaughn and Mark Millar both saw the James Bond reboot and had a similar reaction to me - that people had forgotten how to make a fun spy movie. They then set out to do their own and this is the result. It's easily more entertaining than any of the three James Bond reboot movies. It's just a touch below Kick-Ass among the films Vaughn has done, but not far below it. If you miss having fun at a spy movie then I highly recommend you check this one out.   4 stars

Chop Shop (2007) – The story of a brother and sister who are street kids.  She is in her teens and he is roughly 10-12.  He’s got a great mind for how to make money.  The two of them have a dream of buying and running a food truck.  In the meantime they live at, and he works at, a chop shop.   3 stars

Night Moves (1975) – Gene Hackman in another movie somewhat like The Conversation which he did the year before.  It falls apart in places, but it provides enough entertainment to recommend.   3 stars

Ripley’s Game (2002) – Roger Ebert put this on his Great Movies list, and in his review he says if this had been released theatrically instead of going straight to video it would have made his top 10 for that year.  I felt it was a rather pedestrian effort at making a thriller. It's pretty much straightforward with no surprises. It proceeds at a deliberate pace and reaches the expected conclusion. There are some awkward attempts at humor, including a mass killing that almost appears to be slapstick. If that was what the director was aiming for, it didn't work well enough to be funny, but it was noticeable enough to just seem weirdly out of place in the film.   2.5 stars

I Want to Marry Ryan Banks (2004) – Bradley Cooper, Jason Priestly, Emma Caulfield, and Lauren Lee Smith in a Hallmark Channel movie?  Yes, indeed.  It’s more than ten years old, before Cooper and Smith became better known, yet while Priestly and Caulfield were the bigger names from their TV shows.   3 stars

The Pledge (2001) – Interesting story about a retired Sheriff still working a case about a little girl being abducted and killed.  Unfortunately, it takes a left turn at the end that just sends it into crazy territory (literally).  It’s almost as if a whole second act had been awkwardly cut out to shorten it and no attempt was made to smooth out the transition.   2 stars

A Woman’s Tale (1991) – A film about an elderly woman dying of lung cancer, being played by an elderly actress who is dying of lung cancer in real life. The ultimate gimmick to tug at our heartstrings? Well, this may sound like I'm a tremendous grump, but the character in the film was one I found unsympathetic. She is not only shown smoking through most of the movie, she is militant about it.  Her son quit smoking for his health, but each time she sees him she tries to get him to start again. She lights up in a no smoking restaurant and when not one but two different people come over to ask her to please put it out she gets pissed and refuses. When she's in the hospital she gets pissed at the nurse for not bringing her an ashtray so she can smoke in the hospital. And remember, this is all coming from someone who has smoked themselves into the grave. This is supposed to be a self-portrait, but I hope the actress wasn't like that in real life.  It's obvious we're supposed to find her constant smoking and fight to smoke to be amusing and to give us a "good for her!" reaction. My reaction was pretty much the opposite of that. It just keeps driving home that she did this all to herself and that's not someone I can sympathize with.   2.5 stars

After Dark, My Sweet (1990) – Badly executed attempt at making either a noir or a thriller – the movie couldn’t decide which and ended up being neither.   2 stars

The Only Son (1936) – Early Ozu film about a mother sacrificing everything to send her son off to school, then that son not realizing the potential everyone thinks he has, because the real world is a lot harder than they think.   3 stars

Nine for IX: The 99ers (2013) – ESPN documentary on the 1999 U.S. Women’s soccer team that won the World Cup.   3 stars

30 for 30: Unguarded (2011) – One of the better ESPN documentaries I’ve seen.  This is about an athlete that had all the talent in the world, and a drug habit that destroyed him.  Been done a million times?  Perhaps, but this is both A. real, and B. still moving despite the fact that we already know he destroyed his career.   4 stars

Monsieur Hire (1989) – While there were parts of this film that were quite interesting, it ultimately falls a little flat. About halfway through something important is revealed and from that point on anyone with a trace of movie watching under their belt will know what is going to happen - and the movie plays out exactly as expected with no surprises, which then robs the ending of its impact. Given this, I was then watching the two main characters to see if they would be presented in a way such that where they would end up would make sense, but unfortunately they do not. It ends up feeling like the ending is just tacked on.   2.5 stars

Looney Toons Golden Collection Vol 1 (2003) – This is a four disk set that has more than 50 classic Warner Brothers cartoon shorts featuring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig, Sylvester the Cat, Tweety Bird, Yosemite Sam, and many others.   4 stars

Teen Beach 2 (2015) – The music in this one isn’t as good, and they even recycle some of the songs from the first movie to try to make up for it.  It’s still got some fun places, but not enough to carry the whole thing.   2.5 stars

The Sentinel (2006) – Average political thriller about Michael Douglas as a Secret Service agent who is framed as being a mole out to kill the President.   2.5 stars

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – Just as Gladiator (2000) is a remake of only one part of Spartacus (1960), so too is this film a remake of only one part of The Road Warrior. It takes the insane, final chase scene from The Road Warrior, stretches it to 2 hours in length, and makes it even more insane.  Now this doesn't mean it's not entertaining. Hell, Gladiator won a Best Picture Oscar. Fury Road won't be repeating that - it's a shut your brain off and eat popcorn movie - but it's a very entertaining one. Ultimately, I'll still take The Road Warrior over this one, just like I'll take Spartacus over Gladiator.  Oh, by the way, I love the fan theory going around that "Max" in this film is actually the feral kid from The Road Warrior and not the Max we saw in the first three films.   4 stars

Ex Machina (2015) – This is an initially smart film that unfortunately suffers from the same weakness of writer/director Alex Garland's earlier script for Sunshine - it presents a lot of great concepts with a lot of potential to them, but then the film descends into a clichéd horror movie ending we've been seeing at least as far back as The Omen in the 1970s.  Another thing that mimics lesser horror films is how the otherwise very smart characters do very stupid things for no other reason than it's a lazy way to get the plot to where the writer wants it to be.  It's really too bad because the first half or even two-thirds of this film was very good.   3 stars


  1. Congratulations on finishing Roger Ebert’s Great Films list!

    The Big Country (1958) has a brilliant main theme by Jerome Moross, which fits with an epic western. Agree movie does a good job of showing the wide open plains. It's long, but has plenty of twists and turns, I liked it.

    Mystery Train (1989) I enjoyed the deadpan humor, and the setting in Memphis intrigued me.

    The Pledge (2001) I was ok with the ending. It was an interesting role for Jack Nicholson

    Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Entertained me too, and I loved the visual (almost comic book) style. The pre-production was so long so a lot of care went into the storyboarding and look of the characters. Had not heard that Max might be the feral kid from The Road Warrior, interesting fan theory.

    1. Thanks!

      I'm amused by how Jarmusch always shows the worst images of the places he films in (i.e. all the rundown buildings in Memphis in Mystery Train).

      I would have been okay with the ending of The Pledge if there had been some kind of transition.

      I heard about the fan theory afterwards when it was pointed out that Max in this film has the music box that Max gave the feral kid in The Road Warrior. Added to that are that the feral kid could only talk in grunts and Max in Fury Road barely speaks and when he does it's short and clipped. Working against the theory are the flashbacks Max has in Fury Road that seem to be about the daughter killed in the first film...except that's not how the daughter died in the first film.

  2. Chip-- I am always amazed at the number of movies you're able to watch and review. You have the patience of Job! I loved Mad Max: Fury Road too. It was probably the best movie I've seen this year. These summertime crappy movies can't compare.

    1. Thanks. I usually find a few movies from the summer that I like, although I may not end up seeing them until later in the year.