Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Last 10 Movies I Watched

Amy (Asif Kapadia, 2015, UK, 128 min.)
Viewed Theatrically    First Viewing
Amy Winehouse’s talent was exceptional, but her life story is (sadly) hard to distinguish from that of other famous musicians who died before their time. Director Asif Kapadia smartly sidesteps certain documentary clichés by eschewing generic talking heads interviews and building the film around the copious amounts of video footage available, but this is still scarcely more revelatory than the average Behind the Music episode. C+

Force Majeure (Ruben Ostlund, 2014, Sweden/Denmark, 120 min.)
Viewed on Netflix        First Viewing
A family ski trip turns tense when the father (Johannes Kuhnke) and mother (Lisa Loven Kongsli) have radically different instinctual reactions to a sudden avalanche. This is basically the comedic version of Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet (2012), and the different tone makes Force Majeure far less ponderous and more entertaining. Writer-director Ruben Ostlund pokes a lot of entertainingly uncomfortable fun at his central couple but never loses sight of their humanity in the process, and he allows the film to go in a more serious direction when the story demands it. B

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953, USA, 91 min.)
Viewed on DVD          Latest of Many Viewings
Master genre hopper Howard Hawks is primarily known for his films celebrating male camaraderie, but his sole musical is a landmark tribute to the fairer sex. Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell are sensational as a deceptively smart gold digger and her lusty friend, who confidently reduce the male audience surrogates – including a dirty old man (Charles Coburn), a wimpy nerd (Tommy Noonan), and a deep voiced little boy (George Winslow) – to voyeuristic mush. The dazzling musical numbers (including all-time classic “Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend”) find Hawks making masterfully expansive use of the Academy ratio, as if he was trying to will Cinemascope (which debuted later in the same year that this film came out) into existence. A

Goldeneye (Martin Campbell, 1995, UK, 130 min.)
Viewed on DVD          Second Viewing
The first and most focused of the Pierce Brosnan era James Bond films is a solidly entertaining but somewhat bland entry in the series. There are worse things to watch than “James Bond 101,” as the series’ basic framework is reasonably solid, but Goldeneye never diverts enough from 007’s greatest hits to feel distinctive or memorable. C+

Guys and Dolls (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1955, USA, 150 min.)
Viewed on DVD          Fourth Viewing
Joseph L. Mankiewicz’ film adaptation of one of Broadway’s most popular shows has been criticized for prominently featuring the un-dubbed vocals of non-singers Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons, but the raw tenderness of their performances brings a welcome layer of grit to this endearingly goofy MGM super-production. It doesn’t hurt that Brando and Simmons are joined by Frank Sinatra at his most charming, and that they are all assisted by the justly famous songs of Frank Loesser. The entire musical genre reaches its ecstatic height during the insane climactic sequence where Brando sings “Luck Be a Lady” while rolling dice in an inexplicably glitzy sewer. A

Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow, 2015, USA, 124 min.)
Viewed Theatrically    First Viewing
The latest film in the Jurassic Park series is less a sequel than an extended, jokey homage to the beloved 1993 original. Director Colin Trevorrow keeps the proceedings at an agreeably frantic pace, but while his action scenes are often impressively energetic they are also completely lacking in the synthesis of danger and awe that is the series’ raison d’etre. C+

Spy (Paul Feig, 2015, USA, 120 min.)
Viewed Theatrically    First Viewing
Not a parody of the superspy genre so much as a surprisingly credible action film told from a funny perspective. Melissa McCarthy is a CIA analyst who is enlisted for field work after the cover of her more glamorous co-workers is blown. As expected, much of the humor revolves around McCarthy being an unlikely stand-in for James Bond, but the film refreshingly makes it clear that she is ultimately far more resourceful and intelligent than the generic action heroes who surround her. While McCarthy is in fine form throughout, Jason Statham steals the show with a hilarious parody of the type of role he usually plays. The sequence where he lists off his credentials as a bad ass (including seeing his wife get thrown from a plane only to get hit by another plane mid-air) may stand as the funniest scene of the year. B

Terminator Genisys (Alan Taylor, 2015, USA, 126 min.)
Viewed Theatrically    First Viewing
Yet another tedious action franchise sequel/reboot. The decision to use the Terminator series’ time-travelling elements to literally re-stage sequences from the vastly superior James Cameron originals really highlights how bland this dreary new film is. Even the special effects (a seriously vital component of the series) seem to have regressed from what the Terminator movies offered decades ago. D

Vivre sa vie (Jean-Luc Godard, 1962, France, 85 min.)
Viewed on Hulu          Second Viewing
Jean-Luc Godard’s tribute to his (then-)love/muse Anna Karina is simultaneously charming (thanks to her charisma) and a little creepy (as he seems to view her more as an art object than a human being). Though the film ostensibly chronicles a young woman’s descent into prostitution, the thin strand of plot is really an excuse for Godard to experiment with different methods of filming his girlfriend. Thankfully this is not as tedious as it sounds, as she is truly a fascinating camera subject. Vivre sa vie is far from Godard’s best film of the ‘60s – it lacks the mind-blowing self-critique of Contempt (1963), the verve of Band of Outsiders (1964), the brilliant genre deconstruction of Alphaville (1965), or the socio-political curiosity of La chinoise (1967) – but it’s still an enjoyable minor work. B-

Where is My Friend’s House? (Abbas Kiarostami, 1987, Iran, 83 min.)
Viewed on Hulu          First Viewing
This simple but rich tale of a child (Babek Ahmed Poor) attempting to return a classmate’s notebook that he took by mistake isn’t as innovative as director Abbas Kiarostami’s ‘90s masterpieces (1990’s Close-up, 1997’s Touch of Cherry, 1999’s The Wind Will Carry Us), but it has an elemental charm of its own. At times Kiarostami’s ponderous approach to storytelling detracts from the fable-like simplicity of his story, but his interest in documenting rural Iranian culture gives the film an extra dimension that the average children’s film lacks. B

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