A long time ago I used to do a monthly round-up of films I saw during the month. I stopped doing it when I started writing for Row Three, but I don’t really have time to write up full reviews for everything over there. Some capsules go into our joint Movies We Watched series, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to do a quick little overview of everything I watched over here as well, if only because so many films seem to be getting by without me voicing my opinion on them at all, and I don’t like that. Note that if I DID write a capsule in Movies We Watched, I’ll likely copy it over here with only slight modifications.
So here’s everything I saw in August – not a very long list; I’ve been missing my 15-movies-a-month goal lately, but film festival months (in which I often watch 25 or more) make up for it. You can always see the latest films I’ve watched listed on my Watching page, and my running Best list on my Best of This Year page.
What I Loved
Attack the Block
After hearing about this film from all the geek and fanboy blogs for months, I went into it interested, but wary; these things get overhyped easily. But all the praise for Attack the Block is fully warranted. In a summer of costumed superheroes, this movie has hoodie thugs from South London. In a summer of flashy CGI, this movie has barely-seen yet terrifying alien creatures. In a summer of fun but relatively shallow action films, this movie has a raft of fully-developed characters, each with their own arc. It manages to successfully blend high-octane thrills with social commentary, the way good sci-fi/horror should, without ever condescending. I had a great time with this film, and it’ll stick with me for a while.
2011 UK. Director: Joe Cornish. Starring: John Bogeya, Jodie Whittaker, Luke Treadaway, Nick Frost.
Seen August 13 at an AMC multiplex.
The Grapes of Wrath
This is one that has been on my List of Shame (great films that I SHOULD’VE seen by now) for ten or fifteen years now. Literally. I’m not sure why I’ve put it off so long, other than it rather seemed like a film that would be more message-y and depressing than I prefer. I should’ve known better. Photographed by Gregg Toland, the low light, high-contrast look of the film makes it almost a proto-noir. That Expressionist surrealism lends an unearthly quality to the otherwise very earthy and mundane story of Oklahoma farmers pushed off their land in the Dust Bowl. The journey is at times excruciating, but in grand Old Hollywood style, it never fails to be gripping, and the suspense surrounding Fonda’s fugitive status was a welcome surprise for me. That said, it’s definitely Darwell who steals the show, getting the most poignant moments of all as Fonda’s long-suffering mother.
1940 USA. Director: John Ford. Starring: Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine.
Seen August 6 on Netflix Instant Watch.
Batman: The Movie
From The Grapes of Wrath to Batman, eh? That’s how I roll. Look, this movie is ridiculous. It has a ridiculous script, filled with preposterous circumstances, idiotic line readings, he most inscrutable riddles ever, and not just one, but THREE villains after Batman and Robin. Oh, and an exploding shark. It’s at least five times campier even than the Adam West TV show. And I loved every second of it.
1966 USA. Director: Leslie H. Martinson. Starring: Adam West, Burt Ward, Frank Gorshin, Lee Meriwether, Cesar Romero.
Seen August 29 on Netflix Instant Watch.
What I Liked
For a Few Dollars More
I finally finished Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy this month, having watched them all out of order. Thankfully, it’s only a loose trilogy, so it doesn’t much matter what order you see them in. This middle chapter takes a robbery/revenge plot involving Lee van Cleef, a bounty hunter who competes with laconic Clint Eastwood for a bounty on a notorious outlaw in the midst of a plan to rob a bank. The central robbery itself is pretty cool to watch in planning and execution, and it’s interesting for a western to spend so much time with both the “good guys” and “bad guys”. The audacity of the daylight robbery fits right in with the visual flair of the film in general and the (as always) epic score from Ennio Morricone. Perhaps most interesting is how much of a side seat Eastwood takes to the main drive of the plot, even standing aside while van Cleef stands off with his lifelong nemesis.
1965 Italy. Director: Sergio Leone. Starring: Clint Eastwood, Lee van Cleef, Gian Maria Volonté.
Seen August 20 on Blu-ray.
And another from my List of Shame, one that many many people have been nagging me to watch for a very long time. I had put it off after being less than enthused with the first film when I saw it ages ago (but I do want to rewatch it now), but I ended up quite enjoying it. It’s a great example of how to build a good and suspenseful action story; it stays full throttle for most of the time, but it never loses sight of Ripley, and it allows her to gradually build into the action heroine she is at the end by using traits and skills established early on. The emotional throughline involving Newt is predictable, but effective. My one complaint with the film is the over-determined machismo of the marines – I got the point, but some of those early boasting scenes went on far too long. Overall, though, a more than solid film that more sci-fi actioners should learn from.
1986 USA. Director: James Cameron. Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Paul Resier, Bill Paxton.
Seen August 27 on DVD.
I went into this not knowing anything about it other than it was directed by Milos Forman. Turns out it was his first film in the United States, the story of a teenager “taking off” to live with her hippie friends and leaving her parents to search for her plays out in a combination of wistful musical numbers (by such up and comers as Carly Simon and Kathy Bates; Ike and Tina Turner show up for a more rousing tune) and dryly absurd scenarios involving the parents. In fact, we spend most of our time with the parents as they stumble around trying to figure out what to do and how to make sense of the changing world – a scene where they go to a meeting of parents of runaway children and learn to smoke marijuana is priceless. But infused in all the hilarity and absurdity is a very real sense of yearning, a need to connect both across generations and within your own. It’s a fascinating film – often ridiculous, but just as often genuinely moving.
1971 USA. Director: Milos Forman. Starring: Buck Henry, Lynn Carlin, Linnea Hitchcock, Georgia Engel.
Seen August 24 at Cinefamily.
I watched The Woman in the Window a few weeks ago liked it enough to want to check out this film, made the year later with the same director and lead cast. It begins with a similar setup, with Robinson as a mild-mannered middle-aged man who bonds with some peers while wondering whether he could ever be attractive to a young woman. When he saves damsel in distress Joan Bennett from an apparent attacker, it seems the answer might be yes, but Bennett somehow gathers from his discussion of the amateur art he does that he makes a lot of money from it and she and her boyfriend set out to swindle him out of it, playing on his gullible infatuation with her. The plotting in The Woman in the Window is a bit stronger overall, but this one has the advantage of not copping out the ending.
1945 USA. Director: Fritz Lang. Starring: Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea.
Seen August 15 on Netflix Instant Watch.
Zazie dans le metro
I’ve been looking forward to seeing this for YEARS, ever since I first heard of it and learned that it wasn’t available in the US basically at all. The combination of New Wave era Louis Malle and playfully postmodern writer Raymond Queneau attracted me greatly, so when Criterion announced the disc, I knew it’d be a blind buy. And now that I’ve seen it, I’m not entirely sure what I make of it. I enjoyed watching it, but it is much more non-linear and absurdist than I expected, with Zazie’s trip to Paris to stay with her uncle pretty much going every which way. There are probably satirical themes under the surface that I simply didn’t get on a single viewing (or may not at all, with my almost wholly-cinematically based knowledge of the era). Yet, even superficially it’s an awfully fun ride, akin to Tati’s Playtime, but with more obscure themes.
1960 France. Director: Louis Malle. Starring: Philippe Noiret, Catherine Demongeot, Hubert Deschamps, Carla Marlier.
Seen August 13 on Blu-ray.
What I Thought Was Okay
I didn’t realize until I saw the list of characters in the credits that this is the same story as Hoop-la, Clara Bow’s final film (1933) which I saw at the TCM Festival this year. There are some notable differences, especially that this film stays focused on the older title character, a carnival barker. The Bow film is slightly rewritten (more than slightly toward the end) to focus on her character, who is decidedly secondary here. Unfortunately, this film is pretty rote without the luminous presence of Bow, and it’s difficult to refrain from comparing them. The one major interesting thing about The Barker is that it’s right on the cusp of the sound revolution, and has several sequences in full synchronized sound, while others remain fully silent, with title cards and everything. For that bit of historical curiosity alone it’s worth checking out.
1928 USA. Director: George Fitzmaurice. Starring: Milton Sills, Dorothy Mackaill, Betty Compson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Seen August 3 at Cinefamily.
It’s hard to know where to put movies like this, a soft-core exploitation film from the 1970s. I tend to find these films laughably fun, and that’s pretty much where Bonnie’s Kids fell, but it’s by no means an actual good film. Tiffany Bolling and Robin Mattson are the two kids, but Bonnie has already died before the picture starts, leaving her young daughters (one in her early 20s, the other about 15) with a potentially abusive stepfather in a town of apparent statutory rapists in waiting. They skedaddle to Hollywood where their uncle lives, and get embroiled in some sort of thievery plot he’s got going on. Part crime, part T&A, not particularly memorable nor absurd enough to be up there with Batman, but a fun bad movie to watch.
1973 USA. Director: Arthur Marks. Starring: Tiffany Bolling, Steve Sandor, Robin Mattson.
Seen August 13 on DVD.
Films seen in August: 10
Films seen in theatres in August: 3
List of Shame films seen in August: 3
2011 films seen in August: 1
1980s films seen in August: 1
1970s films seen in August: 2
1960s films seen in August: 3
1940s films seen in August: 2
1920s films seen in August: 1
American films seen in August: 7
French films seen in August: 1
British films seen in August: 1
Italian films seen in August: 1
Categories: Capsule Reviews, Featured, Film, ScorecardTags: Aliens, Attack the Block, Batman the Movie, Bonnie's Kids, Clint Eastwood, Edward G. Robinson, For a Few Dollars More, Fritz Lang, Henry Fonda, james-cameron, Jane Darwell, Joan Bennett, Joe Cornish, John Ford, Louis Malle, Milos Forman, Scarlet Street, Sergio Leone, Sigourney Weaver, Taking Off, The Barker, The Grapes of Wrath, Zazie dans le metro