Thursday, April 27, 2017

Film Week

A review of the film I've seen this past week.

I love the original Independence Day. I always did; I saw it a few times in the theater the summer I turned 20. Since then, I've never really seen the need for a sequel, and now having gotten a sequel, I still don't see the need for one. The first movie was a really fun B disaster movie. It played some tropes straight, it played some tongue in cheek... something happened with the tone of that flick that was just magic (and, having seenother Roland Emmerich movies, I have to assume purely accidental). This one doesn't have the same no-idea-too-stupid sense of elan that the original had. The movie doesn't just go for it. Instead, it tries to world build in a way that looks nice (some of the special effects are great, some are truly terrible) but is very, very dull. I think a major part of the problem is that the first hour of the movie just seems like set-up that, in a lot of cases, we don't need. The original movie had so much character packed into its first act, and the likable characters are what carried the hoary old trading card premise. But here the premise is taken with utter seriousness at the expense of characterization. It doesn't help that so much screentime is given to another generation of main characters, all of whom are lifeless, underdeveloped, and poorly acted. One girl's only character trait seems to be that she's Chinese. I know it got some press at the time, but having actually seen the movie, it's only more disappointing that Mae Whitman was replaced as President Whitmore's daughter, especially when the character is so prominent in the story. Whitman's performance, I think, would have been more entertaining than what Maika Monroe does with the character (she was ludicrous in The 5th Wave and she's just as bad here). Really, Brent Spiner steals the movie, but even Jeff Goldblum isn't as fun as you hope going in. It just feels like what it is: a rote cash grab that doesn't have any idea how to replicate the uplifting fun feeling of the original, but adds tedium, cynicism, and grim destruction to its boring saga of young actors struggling with technology, then screaming at it so it works perfectly. Even the plot is just "the same aliens as the first time, but bigger." I can't call it a disappointment, since I never wanted this thing, but for what it is, accepted on its own terms, it's just a big nothing of a movie. But hey, it ends with a sequel hook, so... see you in twenty years, I guess. **1/2

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Lifetime of Favorite Movies

Apparently, people have been making lists of their favorite movies. Specifically: their favorite movie for each year of their lives.

As I continue to attempt to think about easing myself back into blogging more often, this seems like the kind of list I always love to make. And when I saw Jason Bennion do this a few weeks ago, I thought, yep, got to do this one.

My only caveat, of course, is that "favorite" doesn't necessarily mean "best."

And away we go.

1976: Rocky

I love the Rocky movies. No matter how bad they get (and they get pretty bad), I love the series, but especially this first one. I guess when I first saw it in high school, the story of a loser who just wanted to prove he had it inside of him to go the distance resonated with me. I didn't need to win; I just wanted respect.

Some other contenders for me this year: Carrie, The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Tenant, Russ Meyer's Up!, Truffaut's Small Change, and Serge Gainsbourg's I Love You, I Don't.

1977: Star Wars

I mean, obviously. You all know me. The only other one that comes close from this year is Close Encounters of the Third Kind,  a movie I have to imagine my wife is tired of me finding while flipping channels and then watching the last 40 minutes of.

1978: Superman

Still the best superhero movie, to me. Even just hearing the music makes me feel great.

FWIW, I have a number of highly rewatchable faves from this year: Dawn of the Dead, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, National Lampoon's Animal House, Watership Down and The Wiz (it's a mess, but I dig it).

1979: The Muppet Movie

I feel like you could've guessed some of these yourselves. Of course this is pretty much the most important movie from my early childhood. Nothing has ever really touched me like this one.

The runner-up only lost by half a point, and that's Alien. Some other contenders for me were La Cage aux Folles, Hair, Mad Max, Phantasm, Rock 'n' Roll High School, Rocky II, Time After Time and The Warriors. Also, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I know that's a maligned movie, and I know that I technically mean the 2001 Director's Edition and not the original release, but I still think it's great science fiction. It may not be great Star Trek (although, honestly, it plays like the original pilot for Star Trek: The Next Generation to me), but it's great science fiction.

1980: The Empire Strikes Back

Again, not much of a surprise. The only other one in serious contention was The Blues Brothers. I have also come to love Flash Gordon a great deal.

1981: Time Bandits

I saw this at a formative time and was as fascinated with it as I was creeped out by it. There's so much imagery in this movie--the cages hanging over nothing, the fight between Agamemnon and the Minotaur, the giant with the galleon on his head--that I didn't realize until I saw the movie again as a 19 year-old had been half-remembered as nightmares while growing up.

My close runners-up were Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Road Warrior, Clash of the Titans and Arthur.

1982: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

My favorite movie of them all. I finally figured out recently why that is, literally just a week or two ago. As you may remember from my years of blogging, when I first saw E.T. at age 5, in the theater, I was so terrified that I ran into the lobby screaming. It was just too intense and mysterious for me in the first 20 or so minutes. When I saw the movie again during its re-release in 1985, I absolutely loved it. It didn't hit video until 1988, and I remember getting it for Christmas that year. That was the year my parents separated, and I had a defining experience with my mother that still resonates today and resulted in my closing off some of my emotions about it. That, combined with the terrible experience of junior high and moving to a new home and an attempt at family therapy that just made everything worse for me, and I felt very alone and unable to communicate about it.

But I had E.T. on VHS. And I watched that movie a lot. For a period of a little over a year, I watched that movie every day when I got home from school. To this day, I watch this movie when I feel at my lowest and my sickest, and I only just recently realized it was because that movie makes me cry so hard. I feel every emotion when I watch this movie, and the crying is not only cathartic, it somehow validates me. See, it turned out to be an acceptable outlet to feel feelings through. It was my security blanket, my substitute for confronting a lot of the issues that I have actually diagnosed PTSD about today.

Incidentally, this is a great year for fantasy and science fiction that I love. Tied for a very, very close second are Conan the Barbarian, The Dark Crystal, The Last Unicorn, Poltergeist, The Secret of NIMH, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and The Thing. I also really like Blade Runner, but I prefer the 2003 Final Cut version.

1983: The Right Stuff

Another movie I get completely caught up in when I pass it on cable. Well, attempt to pass. This wasn't really a strong year, though obviously I love Return of the Jedi, the movie that, along with the Muppets, fostered my love of creatures. I was obsessed with that one. Other favorites are The Big Chill, Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, which has this moment of wonder, and The Return of Captain Invincible, which features something far more beautiful... RIP, Sir Christopher...

1984: TIE: Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

I couldn't pick just one. But it's my blog, so sue me. I saw Gremlins so many times in the theater between its first release and a later re-release. I was as obsessed with it as I was Return of the Jedi. Temple of Doom I didn't actually see in theaters (I had seen Raiders in theaters), but it is my personal favorite Indiana Jones movie. I never saw it in the theater until a midnight showing some time ago. But I know that movie now shot for shot. (In fact, it has my single favorite shot from any movie in it, weirdly enough.) I just couldn't choose between these two, I love them so much.

As amazing a year as 1982, with some of my absolute faves: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, Amadeus, Ghostbusters, The Last Starfighter (not a great movie, but a sentimental fave), The Muppets Take Manhattan, The NeverEnding Story, Romancing the Stone, Splash, Starman, The Terminator, and This Is Spinal Tap.

And although I didn't see it until I was 14, shout-out to Trinity Brown, the first adult movie I ever saw and still my favorite.

1985: Witness

A tough choice this year, honestly. This is the year, after all, of Back to the Future, Explorers, The Goonies, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Re-Animator, Return to Oz and Silverado.

1986: Labyrinth

Easy choice for me. Besides the Bowie, and my 10 year-old crush on Jennifer Connelly, this was always just my favorite Jim Henson project of them all. And to find out a couple of years ago in Jim Henson: The Biography that it was Jim's favorite, too--the one he considered the best representation of what he wanted to do--was pretty validating. When I was a kid, barely any other kid had seen it or even knew what it was, which I found so bizarre because I saw it in the theater. I still remember being in my 20s and people talking about it like an embarrassing relic of the past. And now the nostalgia for it is everywhere. It's just... weirdly validating. Ahead of my time, again!

Tied for second: A Better Tomorrow, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Highlander, Little Shop of Horrors, Manhunter, Transformers: The Movie and Howard the Duck. Of course. Oh, and I still watch Back to School every time I see it on cable. I just really dig that one.

1987: Robocop

Not a year of incredible quality for me, and there are some other faves in here (Evil Dead II, The Princess Bride, Radio Days, Raising Arizona) but nothing came close to how much I love Robocop.

1988: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

A very, very close second is Who Framed Roger Rabbit, another movie like Return of the Jedi and Gremlins that I was just obsessed with the making of. Like a lot of movies on this list so far, it's the kind of thing that made me desperately want to create movies. I think discouragement and mental illness made short work of that, but I was just so obsessed with this stuff, and this movie really puts me back there. But The Adventures of Baron Munchausen just reached in my head and took out a big part of what I needed in a fantasy movie. It's basically my second-favorite movie.

Also need to shout out to Hairspray, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Beetlejuice. And My Neighbor Totoro, my second-favorite Miyazaki movie.

1989: Field of Dreams

Like E.T., a movie that moves me in a cathartic way. UHF is the runner-up for me this year, alongside Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, The Killer, and Batman. It's flawed, but I saw it at the theaters 13 times that year (the year my parents' divorce was final, so I was getting away from home as much as I could) and which still fills me with warm nostalgia when I see it. (I just got caught up in about a half-hour of it on one of the HBOs earlier this week).

1990: TIE: Dick Tracy and Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Apparently it will always be a tie with those Gremlins. But Gremlins 2 is, like, the most perfect movie ever made. It's my go-to answer when someone asks me to name the one movie that best defines my personality. And Dick Tracy, well... it lived up to the hype for me, anyway. I'm fascinated by it. It's a four-color monster movie. I've never cared a whit about the original comic strip, but that movie is amazing. I've gotten it in three different video formats. I own a small number of Blu-Rays, mainly Marvel movies, but I definitely own these two. Thank you, universe, for giving me a Dick Tracy Blu-Ray. There are few of us who want one.

The one that comes in second (third?) for me is Dances with Wolves, which I saw about a dozen times in the theater at age 14, over the winter of 1990-1991, a winter that stands out for me because of (a) this movie and (b) one of the worst cases of bronchitis I ever experienced. I also love Edward Scissorhands, The Hunt for Red October, and Mountains of the Moon.

1991: Beauty and the Beast

I remember the first time I saw this movie, I could not stop crying after. It took a while for me to calm down. It just really, really got to me. That was a time when I just didn't feel I'd ever be worthy of love. I felt like I was truly unloved in the world and to see a fairy tale where someone felt the same way and they were wrong was very powerful for me. This is one of the Disney movies I'm closest to for that reason. I'm an ugly, angry, unlovable guy. I relate.

The closest runner-up is Kenneth Branagh's Dead Again, which I've seen countless times and still dig. I also like What About Bob? a lot. Like, a lot. And LA Story, which I saw in the theater and have loved ever since, more for its surreal sensibility than the LA-specific satire, having been in LA a grand total of 20 minutes once for an airplane changeover.

1992: TIE: The Muppet Christmas Carol and Batman Returns

My first non-Gremlins-related tie, but I just couldn't choose between these two movies. One has a deep personal significance for my adult life (The Muppets Christmas Carol) and the other for my teenage years (Batman Returns is the kind of me-sensibility Grand Guignol freak show that I adore). Both of these movies hit me at my core.

Also, shout-out to Wayne's World, which has been on cable a lot lately and which still holds up as a great goofy comedy. Also I love Aladdin and The Last of the Mohicans.

1993: The Fugitive

Oh, man, this is the year. One of my favorite years. I was finally used to how much I hated school. I didn't spend as much time with my parents, spending most of the weekends at Carl's house. I went to see a lot of movies. A lot. And I really became obsessed with both making and watching films. I turned 17 this summer (the summer of Jurassic Park, another movie I became obsessed with the making of), and briefly had my first girlfriend. And what a fantastic year for movies. This was a tough choice for me. I could've chosen Gettysburg, Groundhog Day, The Joy Luck Club, Much Ado About Nothing, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Philadelphia, The Piano, The Secret Garden, Tombstone or True Romance.

But I went with this one. I loved it then, and I love it now. It's a perfect little mystery thriller.

1994: Pulp Fiction

A seminal movie for me and a lot of other film nerds. This is probably the last time in my life--other than Titanic, maybe--that I can remember people talking about a specific film for months. Everything has a much shorter lifespan today, but back then pictures would still get held over regularly. I had two different girlfriends during the course of this movie's long theatrical run. I saw this in the summer, the autumn, and the winter. And I loved it and, unlike many movies from this time period I thought I'd always love, it still holds up. And it holds up damn well.

The runners-up for me here are Sirens (a movie which challenged my beliefs and showed me a way to accept and mold life that I had a real affinity for, right at the end of high school), Little Women, and Clerks.

1995: Mallrats

Well, it ain't winning no contests, but there's just something about this movie that endlessly works no matter how stilted the dialogue or how silly the plot is. And it comes together clumsily as hell. But somehow the messiness is part of its appeal for me. It was like seeing Animal House directed at my generation, and even if it isn't as good, I just can't hate it. I've seen it a couple of times just this year (it flopped, so premium cable snapped it up cheap, and 22 years later, it's still on a lot), and it makes me laugh and smile every time. I mean... I did say "favorite" didn't mean "best."

Runners-up: Babe, Heat, Jeffrey, Stealing Beauty, Strange Days, 12 Monkeys and another terrible movie, Showgirls. It's a camp classic.

1996: That Thing You Do!

Becca's going to be both disappointed and unsurprised that I went with this one. I don't know anyone else who's ever really liked it much, but it just makes me feel good in some way. I love it. It makes me happy.

Some runners-up from this very good year, the first year I moved out (which only lasted a year) and in which Becca and I were going to the show almost every week: Flirting with Disaster (or as my Mom called it, "You sure like some weird movies"), The Frighteners, From Dusk Till Dawn, Hamlet, Independence Day, James and the Giant Peach, Mars Attacks!, Muppet Treasure Island, The Phantom, The Rock, and Trainspotting. And Dragonheart, which is not really a good movie but which I saw several times and was fascinated by the effects; I still have the making of book. And the far superior novelization by the original screenwriter, who also didn't like the movie.

And I have to mention The Thief and the Cobbler, which, in its fan-edit "recobbled cut" form is a goddamn masterpiece.

1997: The Fifth Element

No contest on this one. One of my all time faves. (Though Boogie Nights, Chasing Amy, The Edge, George of the Jungle, Jackie Brown, Men in Black, Princess Mononoke and Starship Troopers are all favorites for me.)

1998: A Simple Plan

A tight and involving crime thriller that I've had plenty an argument about over the years.

Other picks: The Big Lebowski, obviously; Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Smoke Signals, Small Soldiers, and, yeah, I get read for this one, but I love the crappy Lost in Space movie, as I love many things Henson-related.

1999: Mystery Men

What was great and terrible during this time period is that I was working at a video store, so I saw everything. I've seen so much crap from the whole 1998-2001 period. And seeing a lot of crap, you really learn to appreciate the stuff that resonates with you but isn't perfect, over the stuff that's critically acclaimed but leaves you kind of cold. This is my favorite of the year; something about this story just totally does it for me. I also could have picked Dogma, Galaxy Quest, The Iron Giant, The Mummy, The 13th Warrior, The Straight Story, The Talented Mr. Ripley, or Tarzan.

And I will never get into it online again, but I fucking love The Phantom Menace.

2000: High Fidelity

Ha, it's another movie my wife hates. I borrowed the screener from work and I loved it so much I just never took it back. No one ever asked about it, so I guess it was okay. Recently, in group therapy, the counselor asked us to think of one situation where we're totally free of anxiety. The only thing I could come up with was listening to music. So this movie's delineation of how music can define moments in our lives that add up to a mix tape of our emotional history really stuck out to me for reasons I didn't quite understand at the time.

Also could've picked: American Psycho, Quills, The Road to El Dorado, Titan AE, or Wonder Boys.

2001: Spirited Away

My personal favorite Miyazaki movie. 2001 is a pretty solid year for movies, but this was an easy choice over, say, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Mummy Returns, and Winged Migration (which is very calming). Another stupid flick I love: One Night at McCool's.

2002: Bubba Ho-tep

Or as my Mom called it, "Boy, you sure like some weird movies." Ah, bite me. I pick this one over About a Boy, About Schmidt, Frailty, Lilo & Stitch, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Men in Black II, Signs and Spider-Man.

2003: Love Actually

Also contenders: Finding NemoAmerican Splendor, Looney Tunes: Back in Action (I know it's not, like, good, but that's not the point), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Lost in Translation, Swimming Pool, The Triplets of Belleville, Kevin Costner's Open Range and Willard. I also adore Kill Bill: Vol. 1, but every time I watch that and the second movie I'm truly annoyed they aren't just one movie. Come on, man.

2004: Shaun of the Dead

Not the best year, but some solid faves, including Howl's Moving Castle, Jersey Girl (I know, but I think it's sweet), Spider-Man 2, and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

2005: Brokeback Mountain

Easily my favorite movie of that decade. I think I made that list once, right? Trying to decide if I should redo that list or update it or just wait until 2020 and do one for the movies of 2011 to 2020. Because I'd probably change up what I had then with all the extra flicks I've seen. Either way, 2005 is a great year. I could easily have chosen Match Point, Sin City, Revenge of the Sith, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy... maybe Peter Jackson's King Kong, which is extremely flawed but a movie I've seen dozens of times because there are parts of it I really, truly love. Well... no, I wouldn't have picked it for that reason, but Brokeback Mountain is such an emotional experience for me.

2006: Clerks II

The right movie at the right time. It came out right as I was graduating from college and realizing I had no idea what to do next. Resonated with me even harder than the first one, which came out right after I graduated high school.

Others I could have chosen: Casino Royale, Marie Antoinette, Mission: Impossible III and V for Vendetta. (Note: Jason picked V as his favorite movie from 2005--it's a great movie--but I always list it as a 2006 movie just because it came out here in March 2006. I didn't know it's actually considered a 2005 movie until now. So not a call-out, but a today I learned.)

2007: Death Proof

Specifically the director's cut version. It feels like a little bit of a cheat, or at least a bend. But still, it's my blog and I made that choice. Could've picked Gone Baby Gone, Hairspray, Hot Fuzz, The Simpsons Movie or 300, as well.

2008: Let the Right One In

In a rare case of "best" and "favorite" being one and the same. It's a weird year. Great for pop weirdness. I also like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, In Bruges, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Pineapple Express, WALL-E, Speed Racer and The Spirit. Yeah, I said it.

2009: Watchmen

I still think it's a masterpiece, but I also think Zack Snyder could've stopped with this one. Nearly there: Coraline, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Inglourious Basterds, Moon, The Princess and the Frog, Up, and I know it drives some of you nuts, but Star Trek.

2010: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Not a great year. Except for Somewhere and Welcome to the Rileys, my runner-ups are all animated: A Cat in Paris, Chico and Rita, Despicable Me, How to Train Your Dragon, and The Illusionist.

2011: Super 8

An homage to the kinds of flicks I loved in my childhood (and in the case of some, like E.T., saved my life), and it hits all the right notes in the same way. The joke is that it's Steven Spielberg Presents: Steven Spielberg Movies: The Movie, but, well... it's not like he's knockin' 'em out of the park in the 21st century. Although, funnily enough, my close second is a Spielberg movie I unashamedly love: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.

Good year for fantasy-type movies. Besides Drive and the wonderfully demented Killer Joe, I also love Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Skin I Live In, Take Shelter, Melancholia, and The Muppets. This is a much better year than I remember.

2012: Life of Pi

What a weirdly divisive year. I liked a lot of movies in 2012 that people tell me I should hate. But I'm not about to apologize for liking Jon Carter, Prometheus, Rise of the Guardians or Snow White and the Huntsman. I also loved The Pirates: Band of Misfits, Seven Psychopaths, Ginger & Rosa, Dredd, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Honestly, the closest second here is The Avengers, because, come on, you know I love the MCU.

2013: Blue Is the Warmest Color

Also: American Hustle, Gravity, 42, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Spring Breakers, the flawed-but-action-packed Star Trek Into Darkness, Stranger by the Lake, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Under the Skin, Her, Iron Man 3 and The World's End.

2014: Guardians of the Galaxy

I've seen this wonderful movie so many times, and I adore it each time. Some close runners-up: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Babadook, Clouds of Sils Maria, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Godzilla, The Grand Budapest Hotel, John Wick, Lucy, The Normal Heart and Muppets Most Wanted.

2015: Mad Max: Fury Road

I'm still getting to all of the movies I wanted to see in 2015, but I also love Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Cinderella, Dope, The Force Awakens, The Hateful Eight, Magic Mike XXL and Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation.

2016: The Neon Demon

I'm waaaaaay behind on 2016 movies, but I do love Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Ghostbusters, The Jungle Book, Rogue One, Star Trek Beyond, 10 Cloverfield Lane and Moana.

In 2017, Get Out and Kong: Skull Island are the best ones I've seen so far. Can't wait to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in a couple of weeks.

Sorry to do whatever the blog equivalent of talking your ears off is. Typing your eyes out?

Song of the Week: "Sometimes It Snows in April"

Because Friday was one year gone. From Parade, 1986.