Weekly Movie Roundup

I watched 9 movies last week. That brings the total this year to 300 (plus 58 rewatches).

Something in the Dirt Mazes and Monsters Two Friends
  • Something in the Dirt is a strange, hallucinatory, paranoid, sci-fi/horror buddy comedy that reads almost like a deconstruction, if not parody, of Benson and Moorhead’s other movies, not least because they play the central (and to a large extent only) characters.
    • Mazes and Monsters isn’t great. It is occasionally very bad—and certainly dated, with its weird stand-in for early Dungeons & Dragons and prominently featured Twin Towers. But it’s also occasionally not terrible, much less embarrassingly bad. This wasn’t anything like a star-making role for a young Tom Hanks, in only his second onscreen performance, but there is a natural likability to him here that helps ground a not always very believable character trapped in a generally dumb plot.
      • Two Friends is a touching coming-of-age story, rich with detail, even if I’m not entirely sure the backwards-narrative structure adds a lot.
      The Freshman Brian's Song Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
      • Harold Lloyd often gets mentioned in the same breath as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, though it’s maybe telling that he’s almost always mentioned third. There are certainly some funny slapstick moments in The Freshman, but the movie feels dated in ways that not all silent movies do.
        • Brian’s Song is certainly often schmaltzy like the TV movie that it was, but it’s nonetheless a touching story of friendship, helped enormously by a very strong cast.
          • There isn’t a lot to Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, and the limitations of both its budget and plot can’t help but show through, but there are enough haunted chills to understand how this TV movie became so well regarded.
          The Wiz Snitch Haunts of the Very Rich
          • There are some good moments in The Wiz, particularly in Jackson’s performance and some occasionally clever set design, but it falls flat a lot more often than not.
            • I’m not sure the handheld, fake cinéma vérité approach it often seems to be going for works for Snitch—and its surface-level indictment of drug enforcement can’t help but pale in comparison to something like The Wire, which I’ve been re-watching lately—but the movie offers good performances from both Dwayne Johnson and Jon Bernthal.
              • Sometimes a television movie is elevated above its source and production values. And sometimes you just end up with Haunts of the Very Rich. Although it does at least have a good cast. It’s a bit like a first-draft Twilight Zone episode. Even if you didn’t know its surprise twist going in, you’d likely guess a couple minutes in and be disappointed by the way the movie fails to resolve it.

              Weekly Movie Roundup

              I watched 14 movies last week. Is that a lot?

              Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hide Duck, You Sucker! Point Blank
              • Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde is actually not half bad. It’s a surprisingly clever take on the Robert Louis Stevenson original, that also draws on Jack the Ripper and the graverobbing Burke and Hare.
                • Duck, You Sucker! (also known as A Fistful of Dynamite) is a fantastic spaghetti western, directed with real style by Sergio Leone and with terrific performances by James Coburn and Rod Steiger. (Though you’ll have to forgive Steiger’s Mexican brownface.)
                  • I’ve never read Donald E. Westlake’s original novel, The Hunter, but I have a certain, maybe undeserved, fondness for 1999’s adaptation, Payback. (That its star is Mel Gibson is the only reason I haven’t revisited it recently.) Point Blank is an undoubtedly better (and arguably more faithful) version, a stylishly dreamy and perfectly scuzzy pulp revenge thriller.
                  Solomon Kane Neighbors The Boys in the Band
                  • There isn’t a lot of personality in Solomon Kane, but there are some good, workmanlike performances, particularly from James Purefoy.
                    • Neighbors is oddly amiable, but it feels more like a half dozen half-finished comedies than a cohesive whole.
                      • The Boys in the Band is dated and full of a lot of a lot of (often self-hating) stereotypes, but there’s a real raw-nerve intensity and honesty to the performances.
                      Richard III Malevolent Ghoulies
                      • Richard III can feel old-fashioned, if not stagey, but it’s hard to argue with Laurence Olivier in one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays.
                        • Malevolent has a pretty good performance by Florence Pugh and some unsettling, if not necessarily scary, moments early on. But it feels a little underbaked, especially once we get to the big twist in the story.
                          • The main problem with Gremlins knockoffs is simply that they don’t have Gremlins in them. The creatures in Ghoulies aren’t even half as impressive. The movie has some goofy, low-budget charm, but it’s hard to shake that feeling of being a poor man’s Gremlins.
                          Ikiru Trouble Every Day Welcome to the Dollhouse
                          • Ikiru asks, very simply and without sentiment, what is it to live? What is it to actually be alive?
                            • Trouble Every Day is sometimes upsetting, as you might expect a film that’s (at least vaguely) about the seductiveness of cannibalism and the violence of desire might be. But it’s too unfocused and overlong to ever really effectively say anything, much less develop its characters or anything like a story.
                              • For a film that’s mostly about the cruelty of youth, Welcome to the Dollhouse is surprisingly entertaining, and it may be my favorite of Todd Solondz’s work. As Roger Ebert wrote, the movie is not “some sort of grim sociological study…[but] in fact it’s a funny, intensely entertaining film: intense, because it focuses so mercilessly on the behavior of its characters that we are forced to confront both the comedy and the pain.”
                              Blue Steel This Property Is Condemned
                              • Blue Steel can often feel like the pieces of other, maybe better, movies stitched together. And yet, as Roger Ebert wrote, “It works because it’s so audacious in combining elements that don’t seem to belong together.” It’s far from perfect, and there are subplots and characters that don’t get their due—and in the end exist only for plot convenience. But the movie feels less Frankensteined-together than you might expect, and it’s held together by some good performances.
                                • There some good performances, particularly by a truly captivating Natalie Wood, in This Property Is Condemned, but it’s an unsatisfying film that just kind of peters out. God love ’em both, but Sydney Pollack and Francis Ford Coppola may not have been the best team to adapt Tennessee Williams.

                                Weekly Movie Roundup

                                Last week, I watched 8 movies.

                                Cry Terror! Three Thousand Years of Longing Is That Black Enough for You?!?
                                The Wonder Slumberland Moonage Daydream The Secret World of Arrietty

                                You wouldn’t expect a movie with a title like CRY TERROR! to be quite so boring. But despite a strong cast, a theoretically tense plot, and a literal ticking time-bomb, the movie is mostly undone by voiceover narration and slow pacing.

                                ALL MY FRIENDS HATE ME is often wickedly, uncomfortably well observed and funny—a horror movie played as comedy, or vice versa.

                                THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING is beautiful, elegiac, sometimes a little dull, and a touching story about the stories we want to tell ourselves.

                                Elvis Mitchell’s documentary IS THAT BLACK ENOUGH FOR YOU?!? occasionally meanders a little, but it has a strong central thesis—namely, that representation matters. There are interviews with a lot of great black filmmakers, and I defy you to walk away without a long list of other films you now want to watch.

                                Florence Pugh is fantastic in THE WONDER, but so is everybody else. There’s not really a false note in the movie.

                                SLUMBERLAND has its…I want to say charms, but that might be a bit of a stretch. It does have some cute and clever moments, and is even occasionally touching, though it does feel a little cheaply made and under-populated, and it grates more than a little by the end.

                                There’s an argument that MOONAGE DAYDREAM doesn’t tell us anything new about David Bowie, but that doesn’t feel like the movie’s intent. (It also assumes that every viewer knows the same things.) It’s more an hallucinatory, kaleidoscopic, patchwork celebration of an artist’s life—not definitive, or even necessarily revelatory, but beautiful and substantial all the same.

                                THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY is beautiful and sweet, even if it’s also arguably slightly lesser Studio Ghibli.