Reviews from February 1 – 13, 2021

A few weeks into February, and there have already been some impactful watches – and some less than so. Choosing what to watch each day comes from a variety of places and motives, but when you finally watch a film that you’ve been meaning to get to – only to find out that it clicks with you so much – there is almost an instant feeling of regret. Why had I been putting this off for so long? Of course, sometimes you watch a movie that is your polar opposite, and you get that other kind of regret…longing for those two hours of your life back. Either way, here are some micro-reviews from my recent watches. 

Warrior (2011)

Tom Hardy. Joel Edgerton. You basically had me there, but add Nick Nolte giving a return-to-form performance, plus Jennifer Morrison and baby Frank Grillo. Please! Here, they’ve taken a family drama that is smoldering underneath the surface, and use mixed martial arts as both the literal storytelling device and an allegory for the battles the brothers have been fighting their whole life. Few movies kick me in the gut as hard as Warrior (2011) did. I’m not sure why I waited ten years to finally give this one a watch, but by the end I was tapped out emotionally, and had a new favorite movie. Warrior is surely a Must See film for me. 

Derek DelGaudio’s In & of Itself (2020)

If you haven’t watched Derek DelGaudio’s In & of Itself (2020) on Hulu yet, you should stop reading and turn it on right away. In fact, I’d say this is worth a month of the subscription service. The hardest part about reviewing this film is not altering the experience for any one else. I was fortunate enough to go in mostly blind and took the advice of not looking it up. However, I was shook by the end of the film. It is one that I’ve been championing since I saw it, and telling everyone who’ll listen to me to watch. If you’re reading this, now is the time to put away your phone and watch this outstanding live show directed by Frank Oz. Without question this one is a Must See, but even that could impact your opinion of it so I hope you watched it first. 

Laura (1944)

Many years ago, when Big Tuna (check out his website) was a freshman whose enthusiasm for cinema made me question my own film pedigree, he recommended that I watch Laura (1944). A mere seven years later, I finally made it a priority. Not a knock on him or his recommendations (to which he has made many), but I’ve got a great many films I’ve never seen. Noir is a genre that I’ve grown quite fond of over the years, and Laura is certainly a great example of it. The many twists and turns led by Dana Andrews kept me hooked the entirety of the film – not to mention there is a baby-faced Vincent Price in this movie that I almost didn’t recognize! There is no reason Laura wouldn’t fall squarely into that Must See area among other Noir favorites, like Double Indemnity. 

REWATCH: Se7en (1995)

David Fincher works for me in almost every instance. I hadn’t seen Se7en (1995) since I was in high school, and since my daughter’s class was watching the Social Network (2010), it made sense to introduce her to Fincher’s Neo-Noir classic. I’ve long since been haunted by the “lust” murder, and even knowing that scene was coming, I still found it unbelievably horrifying. The movie holds up, as Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman’s excellence alone make it worth watching. Unfortunately, Kevin Spacey’s great performance will forever be overshadowed by his horrendous real life, but that’s the only knock I have towards this film. Se7en earns the Must See rating. 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966) directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, and Lee Van Cleef had long been on my gap list. It’s long runtime and my still fairly recent acceptance that many westerns work for me had kept me from diving into this film previously. However, when I realized I only need to watch it and another Leone film (coming up shortly) to complete the Empire Magazine’s Top 100 Movies of All Time list, I finally pulled the trigger. I wasn’t 100% on how I was feeling about the film through the first half. Fortunately, I was stunned at how much I loved the film by the end. I’ve seen several scenes from this beloved classic prior to my full viewing, but it was the scene where the bridge is blown up and the moments building to it that really won me over. The comments on the horrors of war reverberated, and were clearly an inspiration for the upcoming Vietnam movies in the following decades. This masterpiece lived up to its hype, earning the Must See rating. 

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

The other movie off of the Empire Magazine Top 100 that I hadn’t seen was Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). While I didn’t get into this one nearly as much as The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, I still found myself really digging it. I was especially surprised with Charles Bronson’s performance. My opinion of him is painted mostly by his run as the lead in the Death Wish films, which I have mostly only seen bits and pieces of,  cleaned up for basic cable airings. Still, those movies didn’t leave much of an impression compared to his performance here. There was a shocking emotional gut punch towards the end of the film that locked in my enjoyment of the whole film. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) receives the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating. 

An American in Paris (1951)

I went into An American in Paris (1951) with high expectations because of my love of Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain. Unfortunately, I found this musical to be a bit of a drag. I was never really invested in the characters nor the songs, and thus was tapping my feet in anticipation of it ending rather than from enjoyment of the experience. With that being said, I was extremely excited when the last musical number was clearly the inspiration for Damian Chazelle’s La La Land (2016) and it’s finale. From the production of that sequence to some of its thematic elements, it was clear to me and then mostly confirmed by this article that Chazelle had taken inspiration to make a movie I love from one that I felt was just fine. Thus, despite not really enjoying this beloved musical that is on the AFI’s top 100 list, I’m glad to have watched it for those two reasons, if nothing else. To me, An American in Paris earns the Decent Watch rating. 

Videodrome (1983)

I decided to watch Videodrome (1983), mostly because I was trying to watch a movie before heading to the gym and it’s runtime fit my time table. However, it had been on my gap list for a while, and I like the few David Cronenberg films that I have seen; especially the Fly (1986). Ten minutes into this James Wood led film, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to stick it out. While the body horror that Cronenberg is known for definitely had me squirming in my seat, it was the continued pertinence of the premise that really made me uncomfortable. This quote, “…television is reality, and reality is less than television,” is enough to prove my point. I enjoyed Videodrome, netting it the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating. 

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

When I finished watching Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) I sent a message to a group chat where I communicate with two good friends, who happen to be history teachers and my political gurus. The text simply said how ashamed I was at how little I knew about Fred Hampton. I was assured that this was a common thing, and that it’s only recently that his importance to the Civil Rights movement is being made more widely known. So, needless to say, I found this movie and its messages to be insanely relevant and powerful. While that is sometimes enough to make a film entertaining and engaging, if you employ the incredible talents of LaKeith Stanfield, Daniel Kaluuya, and Jesse Plemons, and then direct the hell out of the movie like Shaka King did…then you’ve made one for the ages. Since theaters were taken away from us just a year ago, I’ve found it harder to give a movie all of my focus. This was one that I had no such struggle with, other than resisting to ask questions or encourage other people to watch it. Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) is currently on HBO Max for 30 days, and it easily gets the Must See rating. 

Out of Africa (1985)

Look, I like love stories and romances. The thing is, I’ve got to be invested in the characters. I love Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, but Out of Africa (1985) was a slog. The fact that it won best picture wasn’t enough to make me enjoy this film. Maybe it’s just too subtle for my tastes, but I was reaching for my phone more times than lions attacked people in this film. It’s one of the first times I remember looking up the plot synopsis while watching a movie to see if maybe I’d missed something that would have hooked me. Nope. I’d followed the plot along fine, but I just didn’t care. This Oscar winner earns the Not a Total Waste of Time, solely because I’ve got to watch it for a podcast and to complete the Best Picture Winners of my lifetime list. 

Witness (1985)

Harrison Ford…especially young Harrison, is just awesome on screen. It is impossible not to like him, even when his detective character is making some questionable choices early on in Witness (1985). Like Out of Africa, I am watching this in preparation for a podcast – but it has been on my radar for a long time. I’ve owned it for at least four years – and like many other movies I own, it was just sitting there waiting for its turn to churn the butter. Kelly McGillis and a very young Lukas Haas are also quite great in this movie, and Danny Glover as a bad guy was kind of shocking (yes, he is actually a word guy in The Color Purple…but he’ll always be Murtaugh to me). I enjoyed this movie, and it was needed as a palate cleanser after Out of Africa – so I give it the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating. 

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