Monday, February 1, 2016

January Movie Status

In the month of January I saw 12 new films, plus I re-watched 2 more.  I also watched about 30 Oscar-nominated shorts, mostly from the 1930s.

The number of movies is low because I didn’t watch any new ones after the 10th of the month.  I just wasn’t in a movie mood, and I felt like reading instead.  I’ve gone through several books in the last week or two, including re-reading many of the Pern books.  I didn’t watch any of the additions to the IMDB list, nor any of the three remaining new Best Picture nominees I have not yet seen.

Watching the shorts came about from seeing comments on a Letterboxd list of every single thing ever nominated for an Oscar.  Someone built a YouTube list of over 500 nominated shorts that were available there.  If you are interested you can find that here.  I figured I’d do them decade by decade, but hours later I still hadn’t finished off the 1930s.  Even “shorts” can be long when you add them together.

Here are the 12 films I saw in January.  Ones I would recommend (give at least a three star rating to) are highlighted.  Note – I’m not going to list out all of the Shorts, except for one on which I want to spread the word.

Oscar (2): The Revenant (2015), The Big Short (2015)

101 Genre (4): Zoltan, Hound of Dracula (1978), Wild Style (1983), Rollerball (1975), Went the Day Well? (1942)

Other (5): The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Extended Edition (2014), Some Kind of Beautiful (2014), Cheap Thrills (2013), Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (2016), Carol (2015), Viola (2012)

Re-watches (2): Twinsters (2015), The Martian (2015)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Extended Edition (2014) – Like the previous Hobbit film Jackson didn’t just add in more footage, he also changed some of the scenes from the way they were in the theatrical edition, making this a different movie.  The largest change is that the dwarves and elves actually do fight each other now.   3 stars

Some Kind of Beautiful (2014) – Salma Hayek and Jessica Alba play sisters who both sleep with the same man played by Pierce Brosnan. How the heck do you make that boring? I don't know, but the director managed to do it.   2 stars

Zoltan, Hound of Dracula (1978)This was on the 101 Cult Movies to Watch Before You Die list. I've noticed that the editors seemed to have wanted to have more than 101 Horror movies and so they shifted several more over onto the Cult list.  This isn't a cult movie. It's not even a "so bad it's good" movie. It's just plain bad. Bad acting, bad story, bad props/effects. It's the kind of movie where a family - camping in a friggin' RV that can leave on a moment’s notice no less - has to get attacked three nights in a row at their campsite by wild dogs before they decide maybe they should leave.   1 star

Cheap Thrills (2013)This was recommended to me a year or two ago and it finally made it to the top of my Netflix DVD queue. It wasn't worth the wait. Two guys keep getting paid money to do dares.  200 dollars to smack a stripper's ass? Count me in. 500 dollars to slug a huge bouncer? Not a chance. That's when the film lost me right there - the main character was an idiot and I didn't care what happened to him after that.  And the worst thing is is that the film is completely predictable. The dares have to keep being upped, otherwise there's no movie. Eat a dog? Chop off a body part? Gee, I WONDER where it's ultimately going to lead? I wonder what the ultimate action to get a payoff will be?  Some might argue that this film isn't intended to be real - that it's all a metaphor for the evils of capitalism or some such thing. I think that's giving the movie too much credit. The clue is in the title - watch this movie to get some cheap thrills from seeing two guys humiliate themselves and each other for money.   2 stars

Wild Style (1983) – This is ostensibly a movie about graffiti artists, but the reason to watch it now is to see performances from several early rap acts, along with some breakdancing.  IMDB labels this a documentary, but it's not. It stars non-actors, but it is a fictional story. None of them can act worth a damn, but they were cast because they did graffiti for real or they were real rappers.  One note - those expecting today's easy listening rap based on 70's R&B soft hits, may be surprised by how rap sounded before it got watered down.   2.5 stars

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (2016)Despite the premise of the modern day characters being traditional ones in the 1890s this actually is a continuation from the last movie that aired (or season 3, episode 3, if you prefer). I won't spoil how, though. They essentially show us what's going on just a little ways in anyway when a particular coroner appears.  This is well done, with numerous references to the written stories, but with the related changes to them to both make them more modern and just different enough to be new for the story readers.   4 stars

Rollerball (1975) – This is both on the 101 lists and it’s a Steve’s selection.  I’ll have a review and rating coming next month on the second Monday.

The Revenant (2015) – You can read my review of this Best Picture nominee here.   3.5 stars

Carol (2015) – Haynes revisits the "1950s closeted homosexual" theme he explored in Far from Heaven. The difference is that his earlier film also had other things going on, especially the potential racial romance aspect. Carol has nothing but the main story.  And that story meanders, wanders, stops, starts up again, and just generally is there, rather than having much of any build towards something. Related to this is that everything is presented very distant and antiseptic. I felt nothing between the two women, to the extent that I wondered if that was actually the point - that's it's not actually a love story but rather a rich, bored forty-something housewife who has a fling with a young, beautiful shop girl, but it means more to the young woman. In other words, a story that's been done many times with the mid-life crisis man and the young ingénue, except with a lesbian twist.  If you want to see a period lesbian romance/drama then you can do much better with Desert Hearts (1984). And for the theme of 1950s homosexuality in general you can do better with Haynes' own film Far from Heaven.   3 stars

Viola (2012)I'm at a bit of a loss on how to describe this. It's not really a film. It's more a series of loosely connected and unconnected scenes that seem to exist to show off the acting of the people on screen. And it's barely an hour long, with an abrupt ending as if they ran out of money, ideas, or both.  The highlight of Viola is something that would make an excellent ten minute short - one actress, in a bit of mischief, decides to use a scene from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night that she performs (as the character of Viola disguised as a man) with another actress to attempt to seduce the other actress to prove that deep down a strong, obvious desire from someone else is irresistible, even if there was no attraction there before. They run the same lines over and over, but they take on different meanings as the first actress gets closer to her goal of seduction.   2.5 stars

The Big Short (2015) – You can read my review of this Best Picture nominee here.   3.5 stars

Went the Day Well? (1942) – You can read my review of this 101 List film and the first of Steve’s Selections for 2016 here.   3.5 stars

Twinsters (2015) – This was a re-watch and I enjoyed it just as much the second time.  It’s streaming on Netflix Instant for anyone who wants to see it.   4.5 stars

The Martian (2015) – This was a re-watch of this Best Picture nominee and I liked it even more the second time.  You can read my review of it here.   5 stars

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (2011) – This is the short I wanted to emphasize.  It won the Oscar for Best Animated Short in 2012.  Anyone who likes books should see this.  It’s The Red Balloon for adults.  You can watch it here:    4.5 stars


  1. So I have to admit that seeing Rollerball with no rating has me a little worried...

    1. Well, I didn't want to jump the gun on that, but you can probably figure that if I watched it in January, but then also watched Went the Day Well and reviewed the latter, that I waited on Rollerball for a reason. I didn't want to start with a non-recommendation for the first one of 2016. I didn't dislike it, but right after I watched it it wasn't one I felt I could recommend (at least 3 stars). I truthfully haven't written the review yet, so I haven't nailed down a final rating, either. I'm also doing this because one of the things I wondered about my single non-recommendation in 2015 was that I watched it the same evening I had to write and post the review and I wondered if with more time to reflect if I would have rated it differently. I'm trying that with Rollerball.

      I thought about not even mentioning it as having been watched in January because I didn't want to concern you.

    2. No, it's all good. You wouldn't be the first person to think I've overrated it, but it's a movie I genuinely love. Sometimes I recommend things to people because I think they'll like it. Sometimes my recommendations are purely things I love. Rollerball is one of those.

  2. Thanks for the short recommendation! Very sweet, not at all surprised it won.

  3. I haven't watched the extended editions of the Hobbit films, think once was enough. I'm game to check out the longer versions of the Lord of The Rings films in the future.

    I'll go watch the trailer for Twinsters (2015) based on your thoughts/score, I've never heard of it before.

    Cute short film you highlighted. It felt like a fairy tale of old. The intro reminded me of The Wizard of Oz. Fun how books are as real as people in the short,I guess the best writing is as great as real life.

    1. The extended versions of the LOTR movie are definitely recommended, especially for The Two Towers, which greatly improved the interaction between Aragorn and Eowyn. The extended versions of the Hobbit films I would consider to be more to be watched only for big fans of them.

      Here is what I wrote about Twinsters after the first time I saw it: "I do genealogical research and have published a couple of books so I tend to hear about things related to it. A couple of years ago I came across the story of two Korean adoptees, one an American movie actress (Memoirs of a Geisha, 21 & Over), the other a French fashion designer, who discovered each other over the internet and eventually learned they were identical twin sisters separated at birth. What I didn't know until recently is the American had been recording herself starting a couple days after her sister first contacted her. She and another person then filmed their first meeting, as well as other times they got together. It's a very personal recording of both how bizarre and how wonderful it was to suddenly find out that you have a twin. The reactions of both sisters are a joy to see. The first 50-60 minutes were fantastic - very emotional and touching as the two of them start to connect, finally meet, and to also see their friends and families also meet and get to know each other. The final 30-40 minutes chronicle their trip to South Korea both to experience more of their heritage, but also to try to find out more about their adoptions. This was obviously very important for both of them, but it was a bit of a step down emotionally for me. It felt like the documentary faded a bit towards the end. That's the only thing keeping this from being a five star film for me. I think that unless you are dead inside you will be touched by the story of these two sisters. I highly recommend this film."

      I'm glad you liked the short film.

  4. Thanks for the playlist! It is going on to my personal playlist.