Molly’s Game (2017; first-time watch) — After her hopes of being an Olympic skier are dashed, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) finds herself running regular high-stakes poker games with celebrities, the rich, and the powerful. And when she’s busted by the FBI, she convinces a top attorney (Idris Elba) to defend her. Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, it feels like a lesser effort from him, with much less snappy dialogue than I would have expected, and many elements recycled from his earlier work. Adequate, but disappointing.
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017; first-time watch) — This documentary tells the largely tragic story of a woman with the odds often stacked against her. As a promising and beautiful young actress, she had to overcome the stigma of appearing in films that were too racy for her time and a string of failed marriages, but she also was saddled with an image of a dumb beauty despite conceiving an idea that became a foundation of modern wireless network communication. While it has interesting content, the film does feel a little superficial and repetitive at times.
Downsizing (2017; first-time watch) — Scientists have come up with a way to shrink humans to a height of just a couple of inches. Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) have decided to do go through the procedure because it will allow them to live more extravagant lives, but Audrey backs out at the last minute after Paul has already downsized. She also puts him through a costly divorce, leaving him alone and broke. It’s an interesting premise, but then the film undergoes several major shifts that are increasingly dumb and boring.
Idiocracy (2006; rewatch) — Joe (Luke Wilson) and Rita (Maya Rudolph) are subjects in a human hibernation experiment that is expected to last a year, but they wake up 500 years later to a much different world. Civilization has declined so severely that they are now the most intelligent people in the world and humanity is on the brink of destruction. As a comedy, it’s very funny, but its prediction of a potential future feels like it’s turning out to be too close for comfort.
The Shape of Water (2017; first-time watch) — A secret government facility has captured an amphibious humanoid and is subjecting it to a lot of testing (performed by characters played by Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg) in the hopes that it will help unlock secrets to help the United States beat Russia in the space race. But a mute cleaning woman (Sally Hawkins) develops a special bond with the creature, and she enlists the help of her best friends (Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins) to hatch a plan to free it. It feels much less like a del Toro film than most of his other movies, which may be a contributing factor to me liking it a lot more than most of his other movies.
Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000; rewatch) — A graduate student hopes to become a professor, but his studies are hindered by a dog that won’t stop yapping somewhere in his apartment complex. He finds a dog and takes care of the problem, only to learn that it wasn’t the responsible animal and now he’s got the same problems plus a guilty conscience. From there, things go downhill in this very funny first film from Bong Joon-ho that features Bae Doo-na in one of her earliest roles.
Beggars of Life (1928; first-time watch) — Hoping to exchange work for breakfast, a hobo (Richard Arlen) walks into a house with an open door and discovers a dead man at the breakfast table. He then sees the man’s daughter (Louise Brooks) and learns that she killed him in self-defense while he was trying to get too familiar with her. The hobo takes pity on her and agrees to help her escape to Canada. In an attempt to avoid drawing attention to themselves, she disguises herself as a boy, but the ruse doesn’t hold up, and now she faces more of the same harassment from several other hobos. It’s great until the end, where it loses some momentum and leaves you walking out of the theater with a hint of disappointment.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017; first-time watch) — Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) is in a funk because the world is full of assholes and she’s had a run of bad luck. To top it all off, her house has been robbed, and the police are clearly not interested in finding out who did it. With the help of Tony (Elijah Wood), a weird neighbor who’s into God and martial arts, she does her own investigating and soon finds herself just getting deeper into trouble. It’s much funnier than its title would suggest, and a great first directorial effort from Macon Blair.
The Other Side of Hope (2017; first-time watch) — A Syrian refugee arrives in Finland after stowing away on a ship and decides to seek political asylum. Meanwhile, a salesman decides to try his hand at running a restaurant. Their paths cross, and they find themselves facing significant obstacles. An anticipated film from Aki Kaurismäki, the acting is good, but the story is a little flat, and it takes too long for the storylines to meet.
Deadfall (1993; rewatch) — Joe (Michael Biehn) is a con man who just lost his father Mike (James Coburn) on a job gone wrong. He learns that his father had a twin brother Lou (also Coburn) and decides to seek him out. Lou is also a con man with a plan for a big score, and Joe wants in, much to the dismay of Lou’s right-hand man Eddie (Nicolas Cage). It’s a terrible movie, but Cage’s performance is so enthusiastic and unusual that it may be worth watching just for that (although you’d probably be better off just searching for a supercut video).
I, Tonya (2017; first-time watch) — Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) is an ice skater and Olympic hopeful, but her white trash background is hurting her both in the scores from judges and in the beatings from her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). Purportedly unbeknownst to her, Jeff arranges for Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver), America’s leading female skater, to be clubbed in the knee in the hopes of keeping her out of the competition and ensuring Tonya a spot. It’s a frustrating movie that’s based on a true story but refuses to take a side in any particular version of the truth. Margot Robbie and especially Allison Janney (as Harding’s mother, LaVona) give good performances, but the movie as a whole is just mediocre.
Brimstone & Glory (2017; first-time watch) — Tultepec, Mexico is known for its fireworks. It has many fireworks factories, and they put on an impressive multi-day display during the annual San Juan de Dios festival. However, Mexico does not have the safety standards that America has, and it seems that the people of Tultepec are all complete morons because this documentary shows such ludicrous acts of stupidity as climbing a tower loaded with fireworks that have just been set off by a lightning strike and shooting off fireworks into crowds. While the film is often pretty to look at, it also demonstrates a level of stupid and careless that I just can’t get behind.
Memories of Murder (2003; rewatch) — A bunch of bumbling detectives in rural South Korea are joined by an investigator from Seoul to investigate a series of rapes and murders that seem to happen whenever it rains. Directed by Bong Joon-ho and starring Song Kang-ho, it’s a darkly terrific crime drama laced with the typical incompetent police comedy that so often frequents South Korean film.
Midnight Express (1978; first-time watch) — Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) is about to leave Turkey with his girlfriend Susan (Irene Miracle), but he gets busted at the airport with a couple of kilos of hashish strapped to his body. He’s given a harsh four-year sentence in a prison with other inmates that include John Hurt and Randy Quaid, and that is ruled by a torturous guard (Paul Smith). Hopeful that his father (Mike Kellin), lawyer, and the American ambassador will be able to reduce his sentence, Billy bides his time and tries to be an ideal inmate. But when the Turkish appeals court decides to increase the charge to trafficking and the sentence to life in prison, he decides that he needs to find his own way out. It’s a very dark film that I enjoyed a whole lot.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010; rewatch) — 22-year-old Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is in a band with Stephen Stills (Mark Webber), Kim Pine (Alison Pill), and “Young” Neil Nordegraf (Johnny Simmons). He was brutally dumped over a year ago by his girlfriend Natalie “Envy” Adams (Brie Larson) and has just entered a new stage of his recovery by starting to date Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), a 17-year-old Chinese Catholic schoolgirl. But then he falls in love with Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), only to learn that if they are to date, he must fight and defeat her seven evil exes. Also featuring Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, Anna Kendrick, and Aubrey Plaza, it is perhaps the best film representation of a graphic novel loaded with video game elements, not to mention an incredible movie with great comedy and an amazing soundtrack, and it remains one of my favorite movies.
The Post (2017; first-time watch) — When the New York Times runs a story exposing over a decade of presidents lying to the American people about Vietnam, the struggling Washington post rushes to get in on the action. Unfortunately, the Times has been sued for the government for printing information from classified documents, and Post owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) must balance her desire to pursue the story (including great pressure from editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee, played by Tom Hanks, as well as reporters including those played by Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Carrie Coon, and Pat Healy) with the pressure of turning the paper into a publicly-traded company, including a very nervous legal team and set of investors. It ends where All the President’s Men begins, but it tells a very different story with a very different focus. It’s a good film loaded with stars (also including Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Sarah Paulson, Tracy Letts, Alison Brie, and Jesse Plemons), if a bit heavy-handed at times and clearly fishing for awards.
The Commuter (2018; first-time watch) — Michael (Liam Neeson) is approached by a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) who tells him that she wants his help in finding someone who is supposed to be taking the commuter train that he’s been riding for years. If he helps, he’ll get a lot of money. If he doesn’t, his family will be murdered. It’s basically Cellular on a train, and it sucks. It depends heavily on making obviously stupid choices, and none of the “surprises” are actually surprising.
Proud Mary (2018; first-time watch) — Mary (Taraji P. Henson) is an assassin. A year ago, she took out a father but left the son Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) alive, and she’s been secretly following and watching over him out of a sense of guilt. When Danny turns to a life of crime and is beaten up by his boss, Mary intervenes, takes out the boss, and takes Danny into her apartment. But Danny’s boss was one of the higher-ups in the local mafia and a competitor to Mary’s boss Benny (Danny Glover). Amid fears that a war will break out between the two rival organizations, Mary just wants out and to get Danny safe. It’s a story that we’ve seen before, but it’s usually entertaining enough and the action scenes are directed well. Unfortunately, the ending is very weak and Danny Glover continues his streak of terrible acting.
Paddington 2 (2017; first-time watch) — Paddington’s aunt is about to turn 100 years old, and Paddington wants to get her the perfect gift. She had always dreamed of coming to London but never got the chance, so when he stumbles across a one-of-a-kind pop-up book that shows off the city, he wants to get it for her. The only trouble is, it’s very expensive so he’ll have to work to earn the money to buy it. But just before he reaches his goal, the book is stolen, and Paddington is framed for the robbery. It’s almost hard to believe how great this movie is. It’s a totally enthralling plot loaded with jokes and intelligent references, and it’s expertly executed by an amazing cast that includes Sally Hawkins, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Brendan Gleeson, Hugh Bonneville, Peter Capaldi, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon, Jessica Hynes, Noah Taylor, Joanna Lumley, and others.
Darkest Hour (2017; first-time watch) — While Hitler continues to overtake Europe, Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) is ousted as Prime Minister of Great Britain, and Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) is in. Britain’s troops are in grave danger of being overtaken, and Churchill’s advisors are urging him to enter into peace talks with Germany, but he refuses to consider it despite their chances looking ever more bleak. It’s a well-acted film that provides a clearer depiction of the events and context than Dunkirk, even if the two movies have very different focuses, and the makeup job used to transform Oldman into Churchill is one of the most impressive of all time.
The Apple (1980; rewatch) — In the future, a giant music publisher called BIM rules the world. Alphie (George Gilmour) and Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart) want to make it as musicians, but the head of BIM, Mr. Boogalow (Vladek Sheybal), has some pretty steep terms. Bibi agrees to them and becomes a star. Alphie rejects them and struggles. It’s a very clumsy and un-subtle religious allegory full of repetitive and suggestive music that is terrible and incomprehensible, but also pretty fascinating.
Days of Heaven (1978; first-time watch) — After he accidentally kills someone, Bill (Richard Gere) flees with his girlfriend Abbey (Brooke Adams) and his little sister Linda (Linda Manz) to become migrant workers. For some reason, Bill and Abbey decide to pretend to be brother and sister, and the farmer (Sam Shepard) takes a liking to Abbey. Seeing an opportunity to get rich, they decide to try to use that to their financial advantage. The film has about 20 minutes of content spread out over 94 minutes, making Days of Heaven boring as hell.
Princess Cyd (2017; first-time watch) — 16-year-old Cydney (Jessie Pinnick) and her dad have been fighting a lot lately, and he decides it might be a good idea for her to visit her aunt (his late wife’s sister) Miranda (Rebecca Spence). Miranda is a fairly well-known author without much experience taking care of a teenager, but they make a go of it. Meanwhile, Cyd meets Katie (Malic White), and it’s love at first sight. The film is so wonderfully, effortlessly charming, with terrific characters and an oddly subtle obviousness to it that allows it to make all of its points without feeling clumsy or heavy-handed.
There Will Be Blood (2007; rewatch) — Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is an oil prospector whose relentless drive makes him a very wealthy baron, but at the expense of his personal relationships, including one with his adopted son, and a persistently bothersome evangelist (Paul Dano). It’s got good performances, and I suppose that it’s good, but it’s also terribly long, so it’s a good thing that this screening was cut down to 90 minutes, and that version was expertly mocked by Austin’s Master Pancake Theater comedy troupe.
Small Soldiers (1998; rewatch) — A small toy company is bought by a mega-corporation that includes a military research division. The toy designers (David Cross and Jay Mohr) are instructed to make army men who are supposed to fight aliens, but they use superpowered military chips that make the toys self-aware and go haywire. At first, young Alan (Gregory Smith) is the only one to notice, but soon his neighbor Christy (Kirsten Dunst) also becomes aware. By the time their parents (including Phil Hartman, Wendy Schaal, Kevin Dunn, and Ann Magnuson) learn the truth, they’re already in serious trouble. Directed by Joe Dante, it’s much like Gremlins in that it might appear to be for kids on the surface but is probably really more suitable for an older audience. And while it’s not nearly as good as Gremlins, Small Soldiers is still a well-made film that’s pretty fun to watch.
Coming Home (1978; first-time watch) — When her husband Bob (Bruce Dern) goes off to fight in Vietnam, Sally (Jane Fonda) decides to volunteer at a hospital on the military base. She runs into Luke (Jon Voight), who went to the same high school as she did, and who had been paralyzed in the war. Although Luke is initially very mad at the world, Sally manages to calm him down, and they become good friends, and then more. It’s not surprising that Hal Ashby can so expertly craft a film like this, with a clear message that doesn’t feel pushed down your throat, but it is surprising that he could pull off what feels like a pretty low-budget film and yet still include tons of iconic music from the time from giant groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
Call Me by Your Name (2017; first-time watch) — Oliver (Armie Hammer) is an American graduate student who has gone to Italy to work for a professor (Michael Stuhlbarg). The professor has a 17-year-old son, Elio (Timothée Chalamet), who is initially intrigued, and then infatuated with, Oliver. While the movie is executed well, it’s also full of boredom and pretension, and it feels like everyone is trying to put on an air of sophisticated enlightenment that makes a lot of the content feel fake.
Phantom Thread (2017; first-time watch) — Reynolds (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a renowned fashion designer who is very full of himself and largely hostile to pretty much everyone else. His sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) is his right-hand man who tries to keep everyone else in line, but she often gets fed up with him. When he tires of one assistant/model/lover, Cyril suggests that he go find another, and that’s when he comes across Alma (Vicky Krieps). They have a fling that leads to her becoming his new model/assistant/muse, and she’s determined to not allow him to cut her out. It’s a surprisingly non-boring film for a fashion-themed period piece, and the ending is really what sealed the deal for me.
The Last of the Mohicans (1992; first-time watch) — Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a white man who was adopted as an orphaned baby by a Mohican family and raised as a member of the tribe. It’s pre-revolution America, when the British are squaring off against the French and the colonists are being pressed into service. Somehow, Hawkeye and his Mohican father and brother find themselves trying to help a pair of British sisters make it through the fighting to their father in a fort. It’s hard to think of any good movie that focuses on America in the revolutionary/pre-revolutionary period, and this certainly isn’t one of them.
The Curse of the Crying Woman (1963; first-time watch) — A woman has inherited a house, but the only problem is that it, and the woods surrounding it, are haunted and deadly to anyone who enters. One of the haunters is a so-called crying woman, whose howls can be heard every night. It’s a short and simple Mexican horror film (dubbed into English by K. Gordon Murray), but surprisingly good.
The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy (1958; first-time watch) — Through the help of hypnosis, a doctor learns that his wife is the reincarnation of an Aztec princess, and she’s able to guide them to the tomb. That tomb is guarded by a mummy, who will relentlessly pursue any who attempt to disturb anything inside. A mad scientist wants to rob the grave, so he builds a robot to fight the mummy. It’s just over an hour long, with no hint of a robot for over 50 minutes (and much of the content repurposed from an earlier movie in the series), but the lack of quality is more than atoned for by its schlocky enjoyability.
Mom and Dad (2017; rewatch) — Kendall (Selma Blair) tries to be the perfect stay-at-home mom, but she’s frustrated by her husband Brent’s (Nicolas Cage) mid-life crisis, her teenage daughter Carly’s (Anne Winters) rebellion, and her young son Josh’s (Zackary Arthur) typical boyish curiosity and way of finding trouble. And then the world seems to be hit by some mysterious force in which parents get an uncontrollable urge to kill their own children (although not those of anyone else). Things get crazy, and Cage does what he does best in an insignificant but highly enjoyable horror comedy.
Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964; first-time watch) — Commander Kit Draper (Paul Mantee) and Colonel Dan McReady (Adam West) are orbiting Mars when their attempt to dodge an incoming meteor causes them to crash into the planet. Draper survives, along with his monkey, but McReady does not, and now Draper is forced to deal with a limited supply of food, water, and oxygen, and no ability to communicate back to Earth. It’s like The Martian fifty years before The Martian, with less science but a pretty entertaining storyline.
Mother (2009; rewatch) — Do-joon is an adult with the mental faculties of a young child. He’s always getting into trouble, and his mother is always having to bail him out. When police find evidence that puts Do-joon at a murder scene, they just want to close the case as quickly as possible, so it’s up to his mother to prove that he’s innocent. While not quite as good as Memories of Murder, it is nonetheless another very solid crime drama from master Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho.
To Have and Have Not (1944; first-time watch) — Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) is the captain of a fishing boat on the Caribbean island of Martinique, along with his drunken sidekick Eddie (Walter Brennan). The island is under French control, but there’s a resistance building, and Morgan is approached about using his boat to help transport key members of that resistance onto the island. He wants to stay out of it and entertain the very attractive new arrival Marie (Lauren Bacall), but circumstances beg to differ, and he finds himself being targeted by the police. It’s got a lot in common with Casablanca, not the least of which is that it’s an excellent film.
On the Beach at Night Alone (2017; first-time watch) — A former actress goes on vacation in Germany for a while, and then she returns home and meets up with some people. There’s really not much more to it than that, and it is a completely boring film with virtually no plot and even less talent on either side of the camera. It’s presented entirely in master shots with only the occasional clunky pan or zoom (which always seems to result in watching someone have a conversation with someone off screen). There’s not even a scene on the beach at night alone. It’s just pure garbage.
Blow-Up (1966; first-time watch) — Thomas (David Hemmings) is a photographer with a giant ego and little regard for others. While trying to covertly take pictures of a couple in a park, the woman (Vanessa Redgrave) asks him to stop and then is insistent on getting the film. He becomes intrigued with finding out what he might have captured and discovers something in his photos that becomes an obsession. It may take a while to get over Thomas’s grating personality, but it ultimately becomes a very good film on the level with other movies I’d rather not mention to avoid any potential spoilers.
Only the Young (2012; rewatch) — It’s a simple documentary that follows the lives of three Southern California teenagers: Garrison, Kevin, and Skye. It’s got a laid-back feel that seems to capture a lot of honest interaction, intercut with occasional sequences of confiding to the camera. I’d seen it once before and was a little put off by some of the obviously bad decisions on display, but it seems to have more to offer when revisiting it after a few years.
Sullivan’s Travels (1941; rewatch) — John Sullivan (Joel McCrea) is a director who wants to break out of comedy and do a drama about the hardships of the less fortunate. Believing that he can’t really make such a movie without experiencing that kind of life, he tries to forego his Hollywood luxury and spend some time as a hobo. Things don’t go as well as planned, but he does meet a girl (Veronica Lake) who has failed in her shot at becoming an actress and decides to accompany him. It’s a Preston Sturges film, so of course it’s amazing, but it does feel a little more clumsy in areas than some of his other A-plus comedies like The Lady Eve, The Palm Beach Story, and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek.
Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981; rewatch) — Bubba (Larry Drake) is an adult with the mental faculties of a young child. Some of the townspeople, including mailman Otis Hazelrigg (Charles Durning), farmer Harless Hocker (Lane Smith), grain dealer Philby (Claude Earl Jones), and mechanic Skeeter (Robert F. Lyons), think that he’s a danger to the children, and when a girl (Tonya Crowe) gets hurt while playing with him, they jump at the chance to make sure he never hurts anyone ever again. And then they find they’re the ones who need protecting. It’s a classic made-for-TV horror movie with a fun cast, some impressive direction and camerawork, and just an overall good time.
Paper Moon (1973; rewatch) — Moses “Moze” Pray (Ryan O’Neal) is a con man who travels from town to town looking for suckers. He attends the funeral of a woman he once knew and gets roped into driving the deceased woman’s daughter, Addie (Tatum O’Neal), to some relatives the next state over. Along the way, Addie gets hooked on scamming people and proves that she’s not one to be bullied or underestimated. It’s an utterly charming film that just sucks you in and won’t relent any more than Addie will.