July 2015 movie capsules

17 movies watched in July. Counts:
– 10 new to the database / previously unseen. New total: 1,843.
– 7 revisits, including two (Gone with the Wind and The Maltese Falcon) already reviewed in this space.
– 15 newly reviewed here.
– 3 newly reviewed in full onboard this ship: Stalag 17; Trainspotting; Dial M for Murder. All revisits, the first two revisions of older work, the last one mostly new.
– 12 new or updated capsules, all below.
– I’m not altogether confident about one of the reviews below. Mary and Max is a film I had a lot of problems with, but it has really stayed with me and even disturbed my sleep a little bit. Certainly it’s an example of the utopian ideal I once had of an animated film with almost wholly adult / mature concerns; I suppose I wouldn’t be so uncomfortable with it if its tone were a bit more even, or if it didn’t occasionally seem rather flippant. Black comedy and the comedy of empathy both have immense value to me, but they seldom blend well. At any rate, it’s a haunting film that may be in particular need of a revisit.

Project rundowns:
IMDB Top 250: Six titles on this project taken on, plus two recreational rewatches already noted. I am clueless as to what the internet populace sees in How to Train Your Dragon and Into the Wild, but cheerfully agree on Finding Nemo, Trainspotting and Dial M for Murder. Indecisiveness over Mary and Max already noted. As the list presently stands, 62 films remain to be evaluated, 18 of which are entirely new to me.
Best Actor: Moving along into the ’50s and ’60s on this relatively rapid journey warranted a revisit to the beloved Stalag 17 and tiring The King and I followed by my first time with the impressive Separate Tables and the nightmare triad of Lilies of the Field, Cat Ballou and Charly. It will surprise no regular reader that my patience with the ups and downs of Hollywood prestige is reaching its semi-regular precarious edge. If you’re still with me now you may as well hang on to the end, which will arrive in 22 films, a majority (17) of which I’ve never seen. Next month promises to bring us to the edge of the yuppie precipice.
2010s Catchup: Only had time for one, which I’d sort of dreaded for a while, but actually The Perks of Being a Wallflower wasn’t half-bad, and like the book was charming despite overreach.
New Movies: There are a lot of redneck racist assholes living around here and most of them own guns, so during this time of stauch idiocy it seems dangerous to go to the movies right now. Netflix brought While We’re Young and It Follows safely to our mailbox.

Without further ado… (As usual, if the title is highlighted it means my informal writeup at Letterboxd from immediately after I saw a given film runs longer than the capsule, sometimes for good reason and often not. Click through to find out which!)

How to Train Your Dragon (2010, Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois) [c]
Action-packed CG feature from the directors of Lilo & Stitch is lovingly designed but suffers from a lazy, overly telegraphed script; the dragon Toothless, based clearly on someone’s pet cat, is cute but can’t carry us through all the hackneyed stuff any more than the scenery can. The voice acting is unbelievably annoying; the lead character sounds like the titular narrator in the Barbarians’ “Moulty” — a great song, but there’s a reason it fades after two minutes.

While We’re Young (2014, Noah Baumbach) [hr]
Ben Stiller portrays a documentary filmmaker with a tendency toward childish anxiety and careerist aloofness that’s frustrating an otherwise good marriage (to Naomi Watts, who’s phenomenal here); when he and his wife befriend a much younger couple, their sense of life seemingly revitalizes him. Not a film with a simple thesis, rather a quite nuanced examination of generational differences, with more believable characterizations that are par for the indie-comedy course.

Into the Wild (2007, Sean Penn) [c]
Unlike Jon Krakauer’s sensitive biography of botched amateur explorer Christopher McCandless, Penn’s adaptation that has him played by a confused Emile Hirsch sems to buy almost wholly into the boy’s self-imposed myth… though one imagines he would’ve scoffed at its Hollywood excesses. Not sure what how the ideal adaptation of this would look but I bet it’d have fewer shots of Chris standing on top of things, arms raised, with Eddie Vedder grunting emotively on the soundtrack.

Finding Nemo (2003, Andrew Stanton) [hr]
(Revisit; no change.) Massively successful undersea rescue mission from Pixar is an unrelenting delight and a model of technical chutzpah, wit, excitement and inventive storytelling; it only stops to breathe a couple of times, and then for fully earned pathos. As astounding as its conception of the ocean remains, the most arresting parts of the film revolve around nothing more than a fish tank in a dentist’s office. Dazzling in its varied, winning characterization; even the voice acting is exceptional.

The King and I (1956, Walter Lang)
(Revisit; slight upgrade.) Deborah Kerr has trouble dealing with Yul Brynner while she teaches his kids even though he makes her hot like only Yul Brynner can so she sings about it. Like most Fox musicals from the period, a dull film that tries to compensate with lavish production design, its staid romantics so subtle as to scarcely exist. Jerome Robbins, credited prominently for his choreography, only gets to exhibit his talents in two all-too-brief sequences.

Separate Tables (1958, Delbert Mann) [hr]
The closed-off world of a small hotel and its eccentric inhabitants is thrown into disarray when a celebrity with an ulterior motive comes for a visit, and when one of the regulars is convicted of a serious crime. Well-shot opening-up of a pair of Terrence Rattigan one-acts has dated elements but builds to a couple of emotional crescendos that are improbably and deeply moving.

Lilies of the Field (1963, Ralph Nelson)
Not-unpleasant trifle about drifting handyman Sidney Poitier wandering into the orbit of a group of very poor nuns, led by an ornery Mother Superior who expects him to build them a chapel (for free). Not a thing wrong with this low-key, unassuming drama, but it just isn’t particularly interesting. Poitier undoubtedly won his Oscar for his cumulative career rather than anything he does in this specific performance.

Cat Ballou (1965, Elliot Silverstein) [NO]
Nat King Cole’s voice is the sole saving grace of this obnoxious western comedy from the louder-is-funnier / the-more-violence-the-better school about a woman (Jane Fonda) avenging her father’s death with the help of various annoying side characters. Lee Marvin’s overbaked dual performance as a drunk and a silent movie-style megavillain won an Oscar somehow.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012, Stephen Chbosky) [r]
Like most movies of its brand, this is adolescent-male wish fulfillment despite its lip service to LGBTQ and mental health causes. But the young actors are uniformly excellent and the film, for the most part, is competently directed (by the novel’s author) and touching at times. The main takeaway is that the really and truly wonderful, perfect moments in even a charmed life are fleeting; that this in fact enhances them immeasurably.

Charly (1968, Ralph Nelson) [c]
Irksome adaptation of Flowers for Algernon is reasonably engaging at first thanks to Cliff Robertson’s likable performance, but approaches its emotional content with telefilm-level brashness: as in so many films of the era, a rape somehow leads to a consensual relationship, and in Charlie’s transformation he becomes not just a smart guy but also a leering macho brute. Nelson, typically a rather generic director, thinks he’s doing New Wave and thus stuffs the thing with awful montages, annoying split-screens and a Ravi Shankar score to remind us all that it’s the ’60s and he’s “with it.”

It Follows (2014, David Robert Mitchell)
Beautifully directed horror film about an abstract menacing force tormenting and killing sexually active young adults, uniquely staged with many breathtaking shots, is undermined by the silly, sex-negative storyline and thoroughly ineffective jump-scares.

Mary and Max (2009, Adam Elliot) [r]
Refreshingly unconventional stop-motion feature about a couple of pen pals — a little girl in Australia and an antisocial bachelor in NYC — is lovingly designed and quite funny, with cutting and warm observations about the lives of the alienated, but it eventually becomes maudlin and crude. The film’s hard truths and understanding of under-represented kinds of people (particularly those living with disability) are a good modern antidote to typical cartoon whimsy.

See you next month!

For completeness only, links to brief sketches from LBoxd on: Stalag 17 / Trainspotting / Dial M for Murder / The Maltese Falcon / Gone with the Wind]

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