Monday, August 04, 2014

July 2014

In July, I completed binge-watching It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia...and have not yet moved on to a new series at this time. Here are the movies I caught this month:

THE SCAMP (1957)—I was dog-sitting a mutt named Scamp early in the month at a house where the owners have Netflix. More out of boredom than anything else, I searched the system for “Scamp.” To my surprise, a movie came up with that title from Wolf Rilla, the director of my all-time favorite movie, Village of the Damned (released just three years earlier). Although it wasn’t a sci-fi chiller like VOTD, it was filmed in black and white and, like its predecessor, is child-centric. Retitled Strange Affection outside of the UK, The Scamp is about a motherless 10-year-old whose dad abuses him psychologically; Richard Attenborough plays a teacher who takes the kid under his wing. A long-forgotten but reasonably engaging drama. (8)

EARTH TO ECHO (2014)—1982’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial inspired lots of movies—perhaps none so obviously (and clumsily) than Mac and Me in 1988. Thirty-two years later, Hollywood is still plundering Steven Spielberg's gentle alien tale: now we have Earth to Echo, another brazen ripoff that replaces the sentiment and humanity with flashy gizmos, illogic and inanity. This is a movie for very small kids who love their iPhones and video games, but who haven’t yet learned how to switch on their brains. (5)

SHARKNADO (2013)—In July, this poorly made TV movie (shown on the SyFy network) got a second life on the big screen as parodied by Rifftrax, the former cast members of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Everything they lampoon makes me laugh really hard, and this dumb movie about a tornado full of man-eating sharks is no exception. It was preceded by a 1940 black-and-white short called Spring Fever, featuring an animated spring coil that teaches us a lesson about the importance of springs. (9)

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)—Sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes reboot takes place in a future where apes and humans find themselves in neighboring civilizations on the brink of war. That’s right—it’s an allegory, but a very well-done one, with Andy Serkis reprising his motion-capture performance as Caesar, the ape torn between defending his species and making peace with us less-hairy folks. As he learns, the road to diplomacy is fraught with near-Shakespearian obstacles. Joan and I agreed that the battle scenes slowed the movie down; when violence isn’t at the forefront (as it often is), the movie really swings. (8)

SNOWPIERCER (2014)—Another sci-fi film set in the future, when the Earth has inadvertently been turned into a frozen wasteland by humans hoping to reverse global warming. The action is set aboard a huge train on which live the last remaining remnants of human civilization, with the rich bitches at the front and the poor ones in the back. (Yes, as with the Apes, it’s another modern-day allegory.) The back passengers fight to overthrow their oppressors in this thinking man’s action movie, featuring the always great Tilda Swinton as an almost cartoonish British caricature who tries to keep the peasants in their place and eating their steady diet of “protein” bars (the ingredients of which constitute the film's nastiest reveal). A visual masterpiece. (9)

PAUL WILLIAMS STILL ALIVE (2011)—Director Stephen Kessler (Vegas Vacation) follows his idol, songwriter Paul Williams, around with a camera, documenting his concerts, life on the road, hotel stays, car rides and virtually every other aspect of the poor guy’s life. Once a fixture on TV and radio, fame has all but passed Williams by; as he notes in the film, Kessler set out to make a movie about the man Williams was and ended up making about the man he is. In actuality, it’s more a movie about Kessler’s abrupt infestation into the singer’s life and the nature of fandom; I would have been quite happy with a movie about the man Williams was. I did learn numerous things about him that I hadn’t known, starting with how Williams crashed and burned in a sea of drugs and alcohol. It’s a moderately interesting documentary, but not really an essential one. (7)

BEGIN AGAIN (2014)—An engaging romcom about a singer-songwriter (Keira Knightley) whose songs inspire a washed-up record executive (Mark Ruffalo) to turn her into a star—and jump-start his own career in the process. Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine plays Knightley’s ex-boyfriend; their individual songs are all unmistakably penned by Gregg Alexander of The New Radicals—in fact, the film’s wonderful soundtrack might as well be a New Radicals album. The movie is flush with cliches and shortcuts, but the movie’s performances are all so charming that it barely matters. Score a few extra points for defying my expectations of a predictable ending. (9)