Thursday, September 04, 2014

August 2014

So here’s how TV viewing managed to interfere with my movie watching this month.

I really enjoy having a half-hour sitcom to watch during meals, and having successfully burned through Parks & Recreation and The Big Bang Theory, I decided that it was time to start Frasier from the beginning. The series always entertained me, but I didn’t become a hardcore viewer until more than halfway through its 11-season run. As of this writing, I have nearly finished watching the first season, and it has been a fun ride. Meanwhile, we are now down to two episodes left of Extant, the summer sci-fi series from Steven Spielberg, and an all-new TV season starts very soon. (I’ll be watching Downton Abbey, The Simpsons, Special Victims Unit, Big Bang Theory, Modern Family and Homeland in the month ahead, while Parks & Recreation returns for its final season next year.)

August was also notable for the second-season premiere of Three Wishes, the YouTube web series I wrote and created, featuring yours truly and Jay Steele. And finally, it was the month that Joan Manners and I spent three consecutive Sundays alphabetizing files in her office, proving that there is very little I won’t do for a free lunch!

Here are the movies I saw in August.

KINKY BOOTS (2005)—My friend Merf was eager for me to watch two of her favorite movies that she sent me on DVD. I tried to explain that they would take extremely low priority, as I had hundreds of movies I’d rather be watching. But Merf doesn’t take “no” for an answer, so I started with this one. It’s one of those British “feel-good” movies that are based on a true story, made from the same mold as 1997’s The Full Monty and 2003’s Calendar Girls. These movies typically feature “oddball” types who don’t fit in with the rest of the crowd, and how we come to embrace rather than revile them. It’s a proven formula, and it’s one that especially hits home with Merf. I enjoyed it, especially the winning turn by the endearingly flamboyant Chiwetel Ejiofor (Twelve Years a Slave), who essentially walks away with the whole film. Only debit for me were the handful of production numbers held in a gay nightclub, which I found boring. (8)

A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO ENDINGS (2010)—This comedy apparently flew way under the radar, as I’ve never even heard of it before. Harvey Keitel is father to three grown brothers who learn they only have a short time to live right after Keitel kills himself. This may not sound like the plot to a comedy, but it’s actually moderately amusing. (8)

STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET (1960)—Most people know author Evan Hunter as the hardboiled detective writer Ed McBain, whereas to me he was the novelist behind great books like Last Summer (filmed in 1969) and The Blackboard Jungle (filmed in 1955). His novel Strangers When We Meet was the basis of this movie featuring Kirk Douglas as a guy who’s bored with his marriage, and turning his interest toward a married lady (Kim Novak) whose husband is bored with her. The movie charts their affair, which unfolds and ends in predictable fashion. Nothing terribly special, but the performances are top-notch. (6)

MISTER BUDDWING (1966)—Eager to check out more movie versions of Evan Hunter’s novels, I checked out this weird black-and-white picture featuring James Garner as an amnesia victim desperately trying to figure out who his is. Along the way, he has adventures with Angela Lansbury, Katherine Ross and Suzanne Pleshette. Great cast, but a disappointing and unengaging movie. (5)

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)—One of only two new movies I caught in August, this is indisputably the box-office hit of the summer and probably the year. This is the movie that Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace ought to have been: full of fun and humor and suspense and great characters. It’s a comic-book adaptation that totally hits it out of the park, and the entire cast, especially Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana, are beautifully written and realized. Kudos also to director James Gunn, who co-wrote and will direct the highly anticipated sequel. (10)

THEY CAME TOGETHER (2014)—One of my all-time greatest delights as an adolescent was reading MAD Magazine cover to cover. One of my favorite things about the humor magazine was its send-ups of the country’s most popular movies. They Came Together is the same sort of spoof—an Airplane or Naked Gun-style parody of romantic comedies. Thus, it is not a real movie populated by real characters, so much as a movie that is constantly winking at the audience, making fun of tropes and cliches we’ve all seen so many times at the theater. (High Anxiety and Scary Movie were parodies of Hitchcock and horror movies in the same way this makes fun of romcoms.) Like a lot of those parody movies, They Came Together requires the ability to sit patiently through bits that don’t work to get to the ones that do…but fortunately, there are plenty of those as well. Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd are the stars, and they’re hilarious. (8)

GODZILLA (1998)—When TriStar Pictures decided to remake the granddaddy of all Japanese monster movies, they signed Matthew Broderick to star in it. Reviews were pretty horrible, so it's no surprise that RiffTrax—a group featuring members of Mystery Science Theater 3000—decided to make fun of it live onstage, with the show broadcast to theaters nationwide. This is the fourth or fifth time I've seen them do it, and they are always howlingly funny. Talk about taking a lemon and making lemonade: nobody does it better than these guys. (8)


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Debzonit said...

They Came Together? Only in the movies....