July 2016 movie capsules

17 movies watched in July. Counts:
– 12 new to the database (previously unseen). New total: 2,030.
– 5 revisits, 3 of them (The Wizard of Oz, Jaws, Mrs. Miniver previously reviewed in full here, one previosly capsuled (The Piano).
– 1 newly reviewed here; again, that’s The Piano, our first capsule-to-essay graduation! (I’m expecting at least one more in the final throes of the Best Actress project.)
– 13 new or revised capsules, all below.
– Bit of a slow month, though both overall and capsule counts were exactly the same as June, and it’s a number I can live with even if I’m not 100% happy with the pace. Primary reason for the rate lately is a large-scale project, unrelated to movie stuff, that I decided to take on in late June that’s sort of dominated my attention in the last five weeks. Since we were delayed by about a fortnight on finishing the IMDB Top 250, it stands to reason that Best Actress will bloat out into the middle of August.

Project notes:
IMDB Top 250: Finished! Read all about it. The project was wrapped up with eight new-to-the-blog films (including a revisit, Donnie Darko, my old review of which I decided not to move over here) — Zootopia, Children of Heaven, Deadpool, Ip Man, The Message, Lagaan and Harry Potter VIII — and two recreational rewatches, those being The Wizard of Oz and Jaws. The silent canon will resume sometime in the last half of August, becoming the blog’s primary ongoing project. Remaining: 1 (1 new), because Captain America: Civil War still lingers.
Best Actress Oscar winners: Because of a late start in the month I only knocked out 4 new titles (The Accused, BUtterfield 8, A Touch of Class and The Reader), though The Piano really deserved a full review and so it felt like a fifth entry. Also revisited Mrs. Miniver at the very end of the month. I’m gathering a couple of slightly hard to find titles now and this’ll be done in the next few weeks. Remaining: 10 (9 new). Best Supporting Actor will take over as our secondary project toward the end of next month.
Other: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 necessitated by the final film in the series on the 250.

Capsules start NOW.

Zootopia (2016, Byron Howard & Rich Moore) [hr]
Apart from some bad dialogue, this Disney ‘toon about the precarious balance in an all-animal “civilized” society is warm, funny and beautifully designed, with two fabulous characters in the form of Judy Hops, a rabbit cop, and Nick, a delinquent fox, leading the way. The Raymond Chandler-like plot is a bit busy, but the filmmakers have a refreshing amount of fun with the very notion of enacting a story like this with funny animals, while never pandering to a particular sector of the audience. Additionally: some of the best character animation in a CG film to date.

Children of Heaven (1997, Majid Majidi)
Kiddie variant on Bicycle Thieves and Breaking Away, sort of, with a boy and his sister trading off the same pair of sneakers after her shoes get lost. Simple and well-directed, but too long for such a facile story; it might work better as a Red Balloon-sized short. Also, I’m a little taken aback by how the kids’ father is depicted as an abusive monster then abruptly becomes a cuddly teddy bear as if nothing happened.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010, David Yates) [r]
Taking obvious inspiration from The Empire Strikes Back, also an emotionally complicated twist on an unlikely foundation, this is solid popcorn entertainment, a drastic darkening of the series wherein six films of buildup finally start to pay off, as does our sometimes onerous investment in these characters and events. It also gives all three leads a chance to really act for a change. It wouldn’t work as a stand-alone feature, but stripped of the need for so much exposition it’s a more enjoyable, effortless diversion than most movies of its stripe.

Deadpool (2016, Tim Miller) [c]
Self-aware smug idiocy: still smug idiocy.

Ip Man (2008, Wilson Yip)
Action-filled biopic of Wing Chun martial arts master Yip Man is dramatically generic but entertainingly schlocky at times.

Donnie Darko (2001, Richard Kelly)
(Revisit; no change.) Kelly may be on to something with his multi-pronged attack on sheltered private school life — no Chocolate War but surely miles beyond Heathers or Dead Poets Society — but his metaphysical time travel plotline is a self-serious bore. The period setting does not aid the sincerity of its cause.

The Message (1977, Moustapha Akkad)
A defiantly old-fashioned religious epic tracking the story of Muhammad, though in accordance with the tenets of Islam the prophet is never actually shown. This is long and florid and hyper-serious, but as someone raised on movies like this it actually is comforting in its dryness, though my interest wanes as battles and action take over the narrative. Refreshing to see a film of this size earnestly address a religion besides Christianity, but it really does feel at least twenty years older than it is.

Lagaan (2001, Ashutosh Gowariker) [c]
I’d rather watch this 225-minute dancing dissertation on colonialism and sport than any number of stupid American films, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a saccharine bore with tepid characterization and mediocre songs that ends with 85 minutes of a cricket match. It’s beyond me why and how the eminently punchable Aamir Khan managed to become the international face of Indian cinema. Always casting himself as the all-knowing alpha with all the answers, he’s like Paul Newman at his most expressionless and Kirk Douglas at the height of his egomania rolled into one — no nuance, no self-examination, just exhausting surface glee and hollow dramatics.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011, David Yates)
Conclusion to the very uneven series is too neat and tidy, like a march into adulthood never really is, with an OK climax and a depressing flash forward in which we learn precisely what grown-up banalities are in store for these characters (not that you’d expect anything else for a guy like Ron Weasley).

The Accused (1988, Jonathan Kaplan) [r]
When this courtroom drama about the victim of a gang rape (Jodie Foster) gets into the legal nuts and bolts of such a case, like the way a plea bargain is structured — getting young men off with under two years because they have such a “bright future” — and then how a maneuver around such injustice might be devised through a larger-scale prosecution, it’s heartbreaking, vital and fascinating. Unfortunately, the characterization isn’t as strong or probing as it could be, and it seems unnecessary and exploitative to end the film with a harrowing, traumatic reenactment of the crime itself. Foster herself is flawless, and she and the story deserve better.

BUtterfield 8 (1960, Daniel Mann)
A few weeks in a the decadent, “promiscuous” (in 1960 parlance) lives of a fashion model and her married lover; this boasts three-dimensional characters, and the lead performance by Elizabeth Taylor is brilliant and believable, as is (surprisingly) Eddie Fisher in a supporting part as a lifelong platonic friend of hers, but it’s hard to align oneself with a redemption narrative when the protagonist has clearly done nothing wrong. This might be forgivable if not for Laurence Harvey’s terrible (or at least severely miscast) turn as the on-again off-again source of sexual satisfaction, and a tawdry, pointless finale that renders the entire film basically pointless.

A Touch of Class (1973, Melvin Frank) [c]
Barely a pleasant moment in this cutesy-pie garbage fire of a “romantic” “comedy,” which subscribes to the vision of romance whereby people express affection by exchanging sneering cutdowns; it’s as though Frank wanted to ape screwball comedy but didn’t feel like bothering with the “wit” part. Between the smarmy leads, the unbearably dated song score and the irksomely cavalier, Guide for the Married Man-style attitude toward infidelity, it seems fair to guess that movies like this are the reason people think they don’t like older movies.

The Reader (2008, Stephen Daldry)
Decades-spanning narrative of a German teenager’s affair with an older woman and the shadow it casts over his life after he learns of her involvement in war crimes. An excellent cast — Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes and especially Bruno Ganz — is mostly wasted for a lot of manufactured tearjerking and the sheen of default Importance that is afforded films about the Holocaust. Daldry’s biggest mistake is approaching this impossibly soapy story with such grave overseriousness. For crying out loud, a guy finds out his Mrs. Robinson killed 300 Jews and is illiterate, and he then spends decades recording audiobooks for her; let’s have some fun with this trash!

***

[Brief diary entries for The Wizard of Oz / Jaws / Mrs. Miniver]

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