Two years ago I began my movie review blog. I had confined it primarily to films I watched in an ACTUAL movie theatre. (remember those? Oh how I miss them). These reviews are about two years old and have traveled from theatre release to streaming. I tried to get the sources right, but I might have one or two wrong.
Eighth Grade (Amazon Prime)
Most of us managed to survive eighth grade and are happy to never think about it again. With this film you will revisit that year and– (at least for me) re-live the anxiety, self-consciousness, and insecurity of it all. My viewing companions included three about- to -be eighth graders who conceded that there was some truth to it all, but they “knew it was meant to be for adults because there was no plot”. The acting is great and the script and editing avoid most of the cliches of coming-of-age films.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (HBO)
I could watch this film every day for a year. Bring two boxes of tissues. Go with someone who makes you feel special or at least be prepared to think about someone who did/does. I went with Lauren who loved Mr. Rogers, Mia, and Steve who said “I didn’t know this would be a therapy session”.
Isle of Dogs (Amazon)
Went with the kids. Great animation and what seemed to me vaguely racist overtones, but maybe I’m wrong. Not as great as I expected it to be.
Three Identical Strangers (Netflix)
Please see this gripping film so I can give you my take on it. It’s disturbing at several levels, but I’d rather talk about it with someone who’s seen it.
Sorry to Bother You (Netflix)
Negatives: trouble understanding/hearing the dialogue at times(hearing loss? or soundtrack issues?), needs tighter editing–a little slow or something in the beginning.
Positives: very engaging cast, a few really horrifying scenes, important commentary.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Netflix)
Great movie. Must see. all the reviewers are justifiably raving about it. The trailers are a bit deceptive though. I brought Mia, my 13 year old granddaughter (now 15) who got very squirmy toward the end (“it was interesting but really slow”). I don’t know what I was thinking. She’s never heard of any of the writers (e.g. Noel coward, Dorothy Parker) and fortunately she hasn’t had much contact with alcoholism.
Free Solo (Netflix)
Apparently Alex’s Honnold’s lateral amygdala ( the fear center of the brain) is not very responsive. (as opposed to mine — a quivering mass of receptivity to any stimulus (e.g. “I don’t like the way that chipmunk keeps getting closer. Does he seem to have a strange look in his eye?”) But don’t let your acrophobia get in the way of going to see the movie. I did not experience climbing envy as I watched Alex Honnold’s ascent of Yosemite’s El Capitan free solo–without any harnesses or special equipment. The cinematography is jaw dropping fantastic. And it is a testament to the skill of the direction and editing that in spite of knowing the satisfactory ending, I was biting my nails and covering my eyes on occasion. Alex’s quest is obsessional and personal. He’s not using his skills to save people from burning buildings or flooded tunnels. So he’s not really a hero. But I suppose the movie makes a good case for looking at the things we are afraid of, deciding which one we could actually control, and then focusing everything on overcoming it. I’m starting with chipmunks.
Crazy, Rich Asians (Amazon Prime)
Pretty formulaic cotton candy stuff but very entertaining and provides two hours of relief from current events. The book is written by someone from that Shanghai social class He says that the enormous wealth depicted is not only not exaggerated but if anything is underplayed!! Check out his very entertaining Fresh Air interview.
The Wife (Amazon Prime)
Glenn Close has moved from her role in Fatal Attraction thirty or so years ago as slasher/outsider single woman threat to the nuclear family to enraged- insider- nuclear family beacon as “The Wife”. Close plays an elegant and gracious foil (she’s a WASP) to Jonathan Pryce’s vain, work-the room charm (he’s Jewish) The husband’s self-centeredness is garden variety narcissism, quite recognizable, nothing crazy or sociopathic. The story develops fairly predictably. Close’s increasingly leaking repressed anger becomes the tension focal point–when will she explode? (not the boiling rabbits kind of explosion a la Fatal Attraction, just an angry moment-of-truth kind of blow up). Does anybody remember when audiences would cheer and applaud that moment? It actually all makes for a fairly watchable movie and provides a topic for post film discussion of women writers in the Fifties or a “what would you do?” kind of talk. Close could finally get a well-deserved Oscar. Without her distractingly good performance the plot would be a little silly. Well, maybe not silly but lacking in the development of a credible motivation for Close’s martyrdom. The film does attempt to depict the complexities of love and marriage, but it doesn’t do that great a job of it. That may be because its intention seems more to make a contribution–albeit heavy-handed– to the recent pantheon of film and literature reminding us of the lack of recognition for talented women in mid-century America.
It’s billed as a “comedy”. Which surprised me. Sure, it has its comedic moments, but… I found a great John Updike quote about the distinction between the two: “Is not the decisive difference between comedy and tragedy that tragedy denies us another chance?” And it is this premise that is both bewildering and assuring, allowing viewers like me to give the film a good review with a few caveats.
Shoplifters (Amazon Prime)
One of the best movies I have ever seen! It has everything: riveting actors, powerful cinematography, important and complex story story/line theme. I became obsessed with watching every Hirokazu Kore-eda film I could get my hands on. I will revisit this filmmaker in future posts.
I just saw ‘Blindspotting ‘ and I think it is a really important film. It was filmed in Oakland which made it great fun for us locals. The two male leads (who wrote and starred) are childhood friends and grew up in Oakland (in the film and real life). The film explores race, gentrification.
“The Darkest Hour” (Amazon, HBO)
It liked it in spite of mixed reviews): all the acting (particularly Gary Oldman), editing, etc.was compelling. At least two of the supporting cast looked so familiar, so a little distracted from the movie, I kept trying to figure out in what television series I had seen Anthony Eden and Churchill’s secretary. (the former was in Selfridge and the latter I’m still researching). I liked knowing some of the background, but you should know and roll your eyes when I say that I relied on “The Crown” to help create an historical context for Churchill’s political influence. Somehow Brexit and the recent right wing turn seems even more odious in light of the earnest innocence and “for the good” populism and love of country that–at least as the film would have us believe–won the war for that brave island.
“All is Lost” * ( Prime Video streaming but don’t bother)
Many respectable critics raved about this movie (the cover claims Redford got Best Actor award from the New York Critics Circle–go figure). Robert Redford stars in and is, in fact, the only performer in this unbelievably slow drama about a guy who is sailing on his small sailing yacht 1700 miles from Sumatra. The boat capsizes because of a run-in with a rogue shipping container. The entire movie consists of Redford with a range of emotions “from A to B” (thank you Dorothy Parker) trying to stay afloat with a variety of failures . . I’ve never dropped acid, but maybe that would help make it a more compelling film. It is very Zen and can definitely be read as metaphorical. And you do learn some survival techniques, like how to turn a plastic bottle into a solar potable water container. Redford was never “my type” but he was a good looking guy. As my mind wandered I kept hearing my mother’s voice “Oy vey! He was so handsome. He got so old! Life is so cruel.” The dvd can’t be fast forwarded, so we tried watching it on Prime, fast forwarded it and watched the last fifteen minutes to the ending which I will not reveal because on the off chance after reading this you watch it, I don’t want to remove the only possible “tension”, even though there is actually a “trick beginning”.
“Fair Game” (Netflix)
I’m a sucker for movies where you actually get to see the real person at the end. Remember Valerie Plame, a CIA agent outed in retribution for her husband’s revealing the Big Lie behind the Iraq invasion ( a lot of good it did)? Naomi Watts plays Plame and Sean Penn is her husband, Joe Wilson. Even jet-lagged I was riveted. The movie serves as an excellent reminder of the atrocities of the not so far in the past Bush administration with Cheney and Karl Rove (well, at least not that long ago to me anyway). Watch it and let me know what you think.
“The Book Club”* This is a really bad movie. Even for an in-flight screening. I will expand my comments when I’m not so jet lagged. (probably on Netflix. It’s such an annoying movie–just take my word for it and don’t watch it)
“On Chisel Beach”I couldn’t imagine how this short but very interesting Ian Mckewan could be made into a movie. I was right. With great acting and good intentions, the story plods on in an unsatisfactory attempt to recreate the novel.
“American Animals”(Amazon Prime)
Compelling and really gripping true story of four disaffected Kentucky college students who pull the largest rare book heist in history. The movie switches back and forth from very well-acted simulation to the real characters, now in their thirties. Watch it so we can talk about it. (try Prime or Netflix)
“The Last Movie Star” (Amazon Prime)
This little film sort of parallels Burt Reynolds life but not really in any true biographic sense. Reynolds wasn’t Jewish, but his counterpart is. Reynolds grew up in Lansing and the movie’s movie star is from Knoxville. It’s not a great film by any means, but it’s amusing enough. If you were a Burt Reynolds fan, watch it out of tribute and a reminder of how handsome he was. Don’t watch it if you hate reminders of the aging process.
“Peter Rabbit” (Netflix)
Grandson Leo chose this for streaming–I was skeptical because he’s a big superhero, disaster movie fan. But turns out it is a really funny film with great dialogue and dry British humor. The rabbits are animated but they look like real rabbits (weird ,huh?). Great movie to watch with or without kids.
“The Disaster Artist” (Amazon Prime)
I wanted to see this when it was in the theatre last year. Loved it. Watch it if only for the incredible James Franco performance (I know, he’s kind of obnoxious in real life). But it’s also a commentary not the Hollywood dream. The story is true, as unbelievable as it may seem. Check out the Fresh Air interview with the filmmaker (last year? two years ago? Oy!)
“Hot Fuzz” (Netflix)
A British comedy in which you will recognize all the actors from BBC and movies. The script is very amusing–lots of dry British humor– and the movie quite watchable. Bill Nighy has a cameo–he’s the only name I can remember.
“Set It Up” (Netflix)
The target demographic is older teens and early 20’s. Do movies shape mores or do they reflect them? This is the kind of movie that reminds old folks like me that times have changed–at least when it comes to sex and its various permutations. As a counterbalance of sorts, the music is 50’s–perhaps a conscious reminder of the generational differences. Actually, it’s the kind of movie that didn’t exist when I was the age of the protagonists: it’s fine for a girl/woman to be sexual, to want to have a career independent of a man. I enjoyed this pleasant morality tale love that promotes a healthy message about relationships: love means genuinely liking and admiring, and knowing the person you love in spite of his/her minor but annoying shortcomings. The acting is good, but the only name/face I recognized is Lucy Liu. (Netflix)
Thanks for recommending “Set it Up”! I thought it was a great, if predictable, pitch perfect Rom-Com with witty dialogue and sympathetic characters. One detail that I appreciated was that it also shows changing colors in contemporary Hollywood filmmaking. While it’s true that the lead roles were white actors, other characters in the film were minorities, and moreover, they were presented as very powerful and successful professionals. It was nice to see racial diversity in a film that was not about race, but just about the way we live and love now.
“Brillo” (Amazon Prime)
Recommended by Ginny M. Loved it. It’s a documentary by the daughter of a couple who began collecting cutting edge artists in the ’60’s. Brillo refers to an Andy Warhol they bought for $1000.00 in 1964 and sold a few years later. The film follows the trail of that piece which ended up selling for over a million. I had to stop kicking myself for not buying art then–I’d be sooo rich. Of course, in 1964 I just started teaching and I was making something like $4000 a year.
“Sriracha” (Amazon Prime)
Yum. Watch this when you feel like a little T.V. just before bed. It’s around 1/2 hour and very amusing and interesting. Who knew Sriracha was a California phenomena???!!
“Spettacolo” (Kanopy and Amazon)
Fantastic documentary about a tiny town in Tuscany and their annual theatre production about their lives as played by themselves. But really, so much more than that.
“The Hateful Eight”
A very long 2015 Quentin Tarentino film. I tried to give this one a chance, but I lasted about 1/2 hour before turning it off. Great scenery and cast. Kurt Russell appears to be the closest to a moral compass for the film, but then maybe it’s the Samuel Jackson character, not sure. Russell is a bounty hunter who is bringing in Jennifer Jason Leigh for hanging. He beats her up a lot, but we’re not supposed to care because she is just that hateful. It was watchable for about 1/2 hour. (Amazon Prime)
I, Tonya (Amazon Prime)
At this point just about everyone has seen it, but I’m using the web site to archive my own movie going, so slowly I am trying to recall any film I have seen in the past year. Loved it, btw!
The Death of Stalin (Netflix)
Wonderful acting and strong satirical sensibility. Dark humor about yet another horrible era in Russian history.