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Monday, March 15, 2021

Recently watched movies 2021.03.15

Random thoughts on another batch of movies

The Magnificent Seven (1960) - rewatch
Love Actually (2003) - new to me
The Shawshank Redemption (1994) - rewatch
The Usual Suspects (1995) - rewatch
On the Waterfront (1954) - rewatch*
The King of Staten Island (2020) - new to me
Les Misérables (2012) - rewatch
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) - new to me
Your Name (2016) - new to me
Red Sparrow (2018) - new to me
The Rock (1996) - rewatch

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

directed by John Sturges

This has long been one of my favourite movies since I saw it some 35 years ago, and maybe top 5 in the genre. As everyone knows, it's based on the 1954 Akira Kurosawa movie SEVEN SAMURAI, adapting it to the 19th century US/Mexico border area.

Not much I can add to 60 years of praise the movie had earned. This time around I especially enjoyed Eli Wallach as the bandit leader Calvera. Just pitch perfect in every scene. Instead of pointless sequels and remakes for the titular seven, they should done a prequel movie about Calvera (spoiler alert, he dies).

Love Actually (2003)

directed by Richard Curtis
(new to me)

Wow, this was... disappointing, I guess. Started to hear a lot about this movie a few years back, several people whose opinions I (used to) respect citing it as one of their favourites in whatever field was being discussed (romantic comedy, Christmas movies, ensemble casts).

I think this might be one of the least enjoyable well-made movies I've ever seen. Cast is full of talented people, all doing what they were hired for. Everything looks and sounds good. There are nearly a dozen interlocking stories, and I don't think I liked one of them. It just all seemed to be filled with repulsive beings doing repulsive things, and somehow with the charm of the actors trying to convince me that they weren't so bad. But they were. I get more upset about how much I dislike at least one person in almost every relationship in this movie the more I think about it (the only possible exceptions being the old rock singer and the film stand-ins, and even those are borderline). Not sure if I would have liked any of them better if there was more than a sitcom episode of screen time for any one story ("...and such small portions"). If any of these were the side plot in a conventional romantic comedy I'd just regard it as a misstep, but for each of them to effectively share the lead spot in a movie... well, hate actually is all around. 

This makes those holiday ensemble movies that Garry Marshall sadly ended his career with look much better in retrospect.

Is the praise I've heard for this movie some sort of long con? Or an elaborate prank? Do people really like this thing unironically?

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

directed by Frank Darabont

Well, here's a movie that's always an antidote to any other cinematic poison you may have found yourself ingesting. I can still remember going to see this back in 1994 when it was new, not knowing anything about it, and just being stunned by how good it was. Might be my fondest movie theatre memory. Went back and watched it again the next day, which is the only time that ever happened. For quite a while after that I'd be as likely as not to name this as my favourite movie ever, before that became too much of a cliché. Still probably makes the cut every now and then, especially if I've just seen it. Which I probably have maybe close to two dozen times, not counting the hundreds of times I'll put it on just to watch a few scenes. 

This time around I especially enjoyed the supporting cast, in particular Brooks and Heywood.

The Usual Suspects (1995)

directed by Bryan Singer

Similar to SHAWSHANK, I watched this in the theatre without any prior knowledge. Feel sorry for anyone who wasn't able to do that based on how many of the surprises are in the general lexicon. Also went back to see it on the big screen, though that was a few weeks later.

I think this might have been the first movie I re-watched with the commentary track all the way through when the DVD came out. Which made it the third time I watched it that week.

And yeah, I know, problematic creators on multiple levels. Still can't help but love it.  Gabriel Byrne and Kevin Pollak are still okay, right?  

On the Waterfront (1954)

directed by Elia Kazan

Technically a re-watch, but we're talking maybe 1988 since I've seen it (I know I was in high school, since I drove my French teacher crazy doing an awful Brando impression. Yes, in French. "J'aurais pu etre un candidat"?), so most of it felt new to me. Pretty much everything but that old "I coulda been a contender" scene I loved so much.  

Overall it still works about 90% of the time. The ending kind of lets it down, and knowing about Kazan drops it another notch. Have to say, I wouldn't hate it if someone good did a remake of it (except maybe not Aaron Sorkin, please. I know that would be Hollywood's first instinct), as a period piece, not updated to the modern day, with an improved script.

The King of Staten Island (2020)

directed by Judd Apatow
(new to me)

I think this might cure me of watching Apatow directed movies, which have been on a pretty consistent downward trend since THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN. Well, maybe TRAINWRECK was a little better than THIS IS 40.

Most of the first hour of the movie is pointless, unless you find Pete Davidson and his friends unbelievable charming, and if you do, I don't want to know you. That whole mess should have been condensed to ten minutes, which (if you added a real ending) would have brought the whole film down closer to the 100-minute ideal for a comedy. Overlength has been a consistent problem with Apatow, unfortunately.

After all of that set-up it picks up a bit for a while, but it's still repetitive. Maybe pick one scenario that makes your point and develop it, fully rather than half-bake all three concepts you have. And then it all just... sort... of... stops. Shoot me if they ever announce KING OF STATEN ISLAND 2 to provide the closure this one lacked.

Did want to note Marisa Tomei's performance as the mother, which really saves the movie. I was ready to stop watching at least three times, deciding to continue only when she came back on screen, seemingly wandering in from another far more interesting movie, and made me keep going. Give me an hour of set-up with her and I won't complain about a two hour comedy.

Les Misérables (2012)

directed by Tom Hooper

I watched this one theatrically when it came out, not being familiar with the stage show, except for the song "I Dreamed a Dream" (and not knowing the context of that), knowing the general story Victor Hugo's The Wreched mostly from cultural osmosis. And I loved it, maybe my favourite movie of that year.

So oddly, this is the first time I've watched it all the way through since then, and it took Hooper's CATS being retroactively my favourite movie of 2019 (okay, not really, but top 5) to get me to do it. I have watched a few individual scenes a number of times, one in particular dozens of times, but never all of it. Since then I've also listened to the soundtrack many times, and various original cast recordings from assorted stage productions, at least one version of each song (except the new one from the movie) is on my regular random car playlist, so there probably hasn't been a week in the last eight years I haven't heard at least one song from this. Still haven't seen a proper stage production, although I did watch parts of the anniversary concert version, which gives some idea of the costuming and staging.

So, finally watching the whole movie again, I still like it. Maybe not quite as much. ZERO DARK THIRTY might beat it for best of 2012 now. I'd say that, with maybe two exceptions, the versions of the songs in the movie aren't my top choice of the available versions, and in some cases are dead last. One of those exceptions is "On My Own" by Samantha Barks, which I've watched many times, and listened to many more times. Other than that, it's not as good as the movie in my head, which edits out a lot of little jokes and asides (a problem even more pronounced in CATS), explains some things clearer now that I know the story better and substitutes other versions of the songs. Still, the movie that's actually there is still one I'm fond of. Don't think I'll wait as long to watch it again. And maybe I'll watch the full anniversary concert sometime soon. I wish there was a full filmed version of the proper stage show, similar to the 1998 CATS version or HAMILTON from last year.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

directed by Tommy Lee Wallace
(new to me)

This is the only HALLOWEEN movie not to be a slasher movie with Michael Myers, back when the attention seemed to be to make it an anthology horror franchise.  Obviously that didn't work. I plan to eventually re-watch the whole series, and this is the only one of the early ones I'd never seen.

This one involves a mask company with an irritating commercial jingle being used to distribute electronic devices with pieces of Stonehenge that will turn your head to bugs and snakes... and something about robots... and a lot of other things. It's all okay for what it's trying to be, but nothing special. And I'm going to have that damn commercial jingle in my head for a while.

Your Name (2016)
directed by Makoto Shinkai
(new to me)

Started watching this with subtitles and the original Japanese audio, which is my usual option for non-English movies where there's a choice, but it wasn't working for me. So I restarted with the dubbed version, which I found much easier. Not sure if that's because it was animation (I haven't watched too much feature length animation from Japan for quite a while), or because the dubbed translation seems to be a bit better than the captions.

Anyway, this is a weird sort of fantasy romance which starts off with two teenagers switching minds at random intervals, with the revelation that much more is going on as the story develops. I have to admit I found a lot of it confusing, not sure how much of that is my cultural ignorance, or the translation, or just a confusing story. Had to resort to searching for a plot summary on the internet to explain a few things that eluded me.

That said, gorgeous looking, and I'll probably watch it again in a few months to see how it works when you know what's going on. And I look forward to being disappointed by the eventual American re-make.

Red Sparrow (2018)

directed by Francis Lawrence
(new to me)

This is a fairly recent movie about Russian and American spy games. Overall it's just okay, not really adding too much to the genre, except maybe being more explicit with the sex and violence than most of the famous earlier examples, where that stuff was more often implied or off-screen.

Jennifer Lawrence is the lead, playing a young ballet dancer who gets injured, and in order to keep the privileged life she's used to for her mother gets dragged further and deeper into the world of espionage, where she's expected to use sex to her advantage. As you'd expect, the usual double and triple crosses occur, maybe to slightly ridiculous degree. Add five minutes to the end of the movie and there could have been yet another cross which turned everything on its head.

All a bit by the numbers. A little bit ridiculous in how good Lawrence's character gets with very little training compared to the other agents. Very stylish and well made, but nothing new. It also seems to be temporally displaced, Parts of it feel like it should be in the 1980s, other parts feel like it's taking place when it was produced, or some random time between those two.

The Rock (1996)
directed by Michael Bay

This is probably the peak of big dumb action movies of its era. Certainly it's the peak of Michael Bay's career. There are probably a lot of flaws in this if you make the mistake of thinking about it for too long, but avoid that trap and it's a lot of fun, Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage are ridiculous in the best sense of that word, Ed Harris is dropped in from another movie and somehow that works. I end up watching this every few years, usually after I watch an action movie that doesn't work (this time it was pure letting my computer pick a random movie of those available).

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