April 2015 movie capsules

(Sorry this post is late, literally in the middle of a big move to a new town at the moment.) 24 movies watched in April. Counts:
– 8 new to the database / previously unseen. New total: 1,810.
– 16 revisits, including 1 instant replay (I watched The Virgin Suicides twice in one day; informally I don’t think I’ve done something like that in ten years) plus 3 already reviewed here (Fantasia, Milk and Argo) and 1 reviewed at my other blog just before I launched this one (The Descendants).
– 19 newly reviewed here.
– 5 newly reviewed in full, all revisits: Talk to Her (downgrade); Lost in Translation; Little Miss Sunshine; Shadow of a Doubt; and Ikiru.
– 14 new or revised capsules, all below.
– Big big happenings here: Let me call your attention to the new, revised introduction at the top of your screen, and also to the alphabetical movie guide in general, which has been reedited, updated, consolidated, refurbished to provide you with the best service possible. Every one of the site’s 1,800-odd capsules was examined and many were tweaked, and new features were added. All of this is outlined in the intro; I hope you enjoy the results. I’m certainly a bit less embarrassed by the thing now.
– The long essay on Shadow of a Doubt is 100% brand new and I’m really proud of it. Talk to Her was a sweeping revision, not wholly new, but I’m also really pleased about that one.

Project breakdowns:
IMDB Top 250: Jumped into overdrive on Best Screenplay this month so I didn’t do much with this. Still, watched 5 movies on this list: Interstellar, The Seventh Seal, Ikiru, Ran and the Oscar-overlapping The Imitation Game. Back to normal on this next month. 79 films left as of last check, 31 of them unseen.
Best Screenplay: Watched the last 8 winners — Talk to Her; Lost in Translation, Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Precious, Midnight in Paris and The Imitation Game (Top 250 overlap) — thus completing the third iteration of the long-term Oscars Project. All the gory and engrossing details are here. The next project starts in May and will consist of seeing every movie that prompted the performance winning the Academy Award for Best Actor; it involves 40 films not yet addressed here, 31 unseen (neither number counting the lost film whose lead actor received the award, The Way of All Flesh).
2010s Catchup: Though Interstellar probably figures into this in some way, Nightcrawler is the only film I saw this month that truly falls under this category.
Recommendations: Really more curiosity than recommendation but I finally saw the 1967 Casino Royale after wanting to all these years.
Other: I recently bought a bunch of heavily discounted 99-cent DVDs and one of them was a bizarre two-pack of American Beauty, which I needed anyway, and The Virgin Suicides; despite Sofia Coppola likely being my favorite working American director, I’d never seen the latter and it tied neatly with the revisit to Lost in Translation for Best Screenplay. Also, I had a week’s vacation this month and did mostly non-movie / non-TV related stuff (though we did watch The Jinx; holy shit) but I found time to catch a couple of long-unseen classics on Netflix streaming — Sherlock, Jr. and Nothing Sacred — which I also used to watch an old favorite, Election, that I hadn’t seen since (appropriately) high school. Lastly, it’s kind of a tradition that I watch a Hitchcock and something Disney-related when I take a lengthy vacation, so I did.

And with that, the updates for April:

The Virgin Suicides (1999, Sofia Coppola) [hr]
Sinister, darkly comic suburban fantasy about five daughters of a strict, cordoned-off religious couple and how their deaths alter everything around them takes on a dreamlike quality that feels like the impossible way memories linger. The girls and their longing to escape a lifetime of claustrophobic limitations stands in contrast to the lustful mythology the boys build around them; the result, thanks to both Coppola and novelist Jeffrey Eugenides, is haunting.

Sideways (2004, Alexander Payne) [c]
(Revisit; no change.) Disgusting wish fulfillment for middle aged men follows two overgrown children — one (Thomas Haden Church) about to be married and out for a weeklong fuckfest, the other (Paul Giamatti) a morose, whiny Writer — on their consequence-free journey through metaphorically overwrought wine tastings and various kinds of cruel deception. Add an infuriating lite jazz score and this becomes almost a perfect analogy to being on an elevator with the two most annoying dudebros you’ve ever met.

Juno (2007, Jason Reitman) [r]
(Revisit; no change.) A comedy shouldn’t deserve praise simply because its central character is female, but that’s the fucked up world we live in. Juno (Ellen Page, wonderful) is a teenage girl who gets accidentally pregnant and wants to do the Right Thing by finding loving parents to adopt it. There is some scattered truth in this perception of relationships and maturity, even if there is also sometimes the distinct feel of market tested bullshit.

Election (1999, Alexander Payne) [hr]
(Revisit; no change.) Appealingly complex satire about a school election in which resourceful campaigner Reese Witherspoon is a shoe-in until button-down teacher Matthew Broderick sticks his nose in by persuading a dumb but popular jock to join the race. Smart, daring and deliciously acid, especially at the finale.

Sherlock, Jr. (1924, Buster Keaton) [hr]
Hilarious, elegant fantasy of a meandering, oafish projectionist’s dream of chases, detective work and cinema is endlessly delightful even though nearly all of its most memorable scenes have been plundered and excerpted relentlessly for 90+ years now. Keaton’s physicality is even more astounding than in The General. Like all of his films, it’s less a story than a threadbare series of excuses for incredible visual stunts and gags, but that only helps it spring to life.

Nothing Sacred (1937, William A. Wellman) [hr]
Immortal Selznick screwball comedy about a woman faking radium poisoning for media attention and havoc in NYC has dated elements but retains much sparkle and excitement, and is the best place to bask in the Technicolor glory of Carole Lombard’s warm glowing warming glow. The sporadic location photography is fascinating, and Walter Connolly — who seems to have appeared almost exclusively in movies like this — is splendidly cranky as a newspaper editor.

Precious (2009, Lee Daniels)
Mawkish suffering narrative about a sexual abuse victim attempting to lift herself up via alternative education during a second pregnancy. Precious’ plight is so severe, in the vein of a Dave Pelzer book, that it seems exploitative; the movie might be more successful if not for its grave social-problem overtones, not to mention Daniels’ inexplicable stylized flourishes. Gabourey Sidibe’s range of emotions is a welcome distraction from the film’s overall dourness.

Midnight in Paris (2011, Woody Allen) [hr]
(Revisit; downgrade, only because of extreme overexcitement when we saw it in 2011 under very lovely circumstances.) Allen’s best film in nearly two decades, a witty and romantic work of magic about wistful Owen Wilson inadvertently traveling back in time to 1920s Paris and meeting all of his idols. The kind of bewildering night at the movies you dream about; you’ll smile the entire time. And it will make you want to go on a trip, preferably with someone.

The Imitation Game (2014, Morten Tyldum) [c]
Disappointing biopic of Alan Turing (played with condescending, Sheldon Cooper-like cuddliness by Benedict Cumberbatch) falls into the traditional A Beautiful Mind trap of forming an inherently fascinating story into Hollywood goo. Artlessly directed without a trace of flair or grace, the script lays things out with the insight-free straightforwardness so favored by the Weinsteins and the Oscars; the treatment of Turing’s sexuality is as bizarre and problematic as advertised.

Interstellar (2014, Christopher Nolan)
Epic sci-fi thinkpiece about two father-daughter bonds stretching through dimensions, centuries, laws of physics. Easily an improvement on Inception despite the laughable dialogue and a weaker cast, but the Spielbergian flourishes don’t fully convince. Nolan shoots for 2001 but manages something closer to the inane sentimentalism of Contact and 2010, though at least he’s addressing human emotion for once.

The Seventh Seal (1957, Ingmar Bergman) [hr]
(Revisit; no change.) Dazzling, poetic film sends a knight wandering through Black Plague-ravaged lands after being challenged by Death to a game of chess. Wry, humanistic movie — feeling like a literal plunge into oblivion — has too many beautiful images to count and guides the viewer through a dramatic range of emotions, especially at the stunning, dreamlike conclusion. There’s horror, sadness, existentialist dread, but also a sense of humor, absurdity, life.

Nightcrawler (2014, Dan Gilroy) [hr]
Riveting, tense neo-noir about a Travis Bickle-like amateur cameraman (Jake Gyllenhaal, chilling) who starts selling increasingly bloody videos of L.A. crimes and accidents to a local news station. Builds to almost unberable, Clouzot-like intensity at the climax, though its satirical undercurrent places it closer to the likes of Ace in the Hole and Network. Superior to many other modern films of its type, Drive especially, despite regressive sexual politics.

Casino Royale (1967, Val Guest / Ken Hughes / John Huston / Joseph McGrath / Robert Parrish) [c]
Flagrantly indulgent 007 parody with a once-in-a-lifetime cast doesn’t do anything that Get Smart, Help! and a host of other satirical jabs at that particular easy target hadn’t already, and more skillfully. Barely coherent, not to mention painfully unfunny — though there are some eye-popping set designs and enjoyable psychedelic sequences thrown in for no apparent reason. The Wikipedia page is more interesting than the movie itself.

Ran (1985, Akira Kurosawa)
(Revisit; no change.) King Lear. Lots of battle scenes. Too long.

[Because I don’t have a better place for this: the currently extant essays about Milk and The Descendants didn’t merit revision by my recent revisits to them, but I had some minor thoughts posted at Letterboxd, linked to the titles in this sentence and preserved / linked here for completeness’ sake. At the same place, there were some short extra notes on Ikiru, Shadow of a Doubt and Lost in Translation. I realize most everyone who reads this blog is probably following me over there too; this is mostly for my own benefit when I go looking for something later.]

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