Friday, August 05, 2016

July 2016

Ah, July...I kicked off the month by heading up to Kingsburg (by bus, train and finally rental car) for a boating event, during which I stayed in a trailer for three nights. That was “fun.” On the TV front, I started re-watching 30 Rock from the very beginning; that has made a nice lunchtime diversion. Musicwise, I finished “drilling and grading” every song by Fountains of Wayne and Chantal Kreviazuk, and started laying the groundwork for a future project: gathering unknown songs from the 1970s and 1980s. That’s a very ambitious project and could take numerous months to complete. Books: I began two very different mysteries: Henry Slesar's The Bridge of Lions and Rachel Abbot's Stranger Child. I had an unexpectedly good movie month, as most of what I watched was very good. I also enjoyed a typically hilarious evening with the Rifftrax guys as they reunited the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and made fun of several short films. Here are the movies I saw in July:

ME BEFORE YOU (2016)—The Fault in Our Stars meets Whose Life Is It Anyway? in this adaptation of Jojo Moyes’ popular romantic novel (which I did not read). Cute and lovable Emilia Clarke stars as caregiver to a smoldering young banker (Sam Claflin) who is now paralyzed following a motorcycle accident. The tried-and-true cliche of “first they hate each other, then they come to love one another” is played to the hilt, with moderately successful results. Anybody in the audience who doesn’t do backflips over Clarke’s super-sweet, super-cute character is missing a soul. (Connie Ogle assures me that this is a 180-degree turn from her deadly serious character on Game of Thrones.) The movie is modestly entertaining, but it’s difficult to imagine it being any good at all without Clarke (whose character also happens to be named Clark). (8)

HONEYMOON (2014)—In this very creepy sci-fi thriller, a young couple (Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway) head to her family’s cabin in the woods for a romantic honeymoon before things quickly go awry. Something inexplicable happens to Leslie in the forest that makes her act strangely and erratically; as the film unfolds, we start to get to the truth of what exactly happened to her. It’s not pretty. Decent horror movie that kept my interest throughout. (8)

CHARLEY VARRICK (1973)—Crime drama featuring the usually comedic Walter Matthau is directed by Don Siegel (whose Dirty Harry preceded this picture). Matthau is a huge favorite of mine—it would be great to make it through his entire filmography someday; this was my attempt to cross another title off the list. It’s one of the many stories that asks you to sympathize with the bad guy, which I normally have a problem doing, but Matthau makes it only too easy—especially since this is really a “nice” bad guy vs. a bunch of much more evil bad guys (including John Vernon, another of my favorite character actors—he was the nasty Dean Wormer of Animal House). Matthau plays a bank robber whose latest take consists of dirty Mob money. Suspenseful and intriguing! (9)

PATTERNS (1956)—Based on a popular TV teleplay, this big-screen version replicates Rod Serling’s script about an engineer (Van Heflin) going to work at a big New York firm run by ruthless Walter Ramsey (Everett Sloane, absolutely perfect in this role). The movie introduces us to the dog-eat-dog world where only the strong survive. It is merciless, harrowing and terrifically entertaining! (10)

WISH YOU WERE HERE (1987)—Like Me Before You, it’s hard to imagine this movie working as perfectly as it does without the boundless charm of its young star, Emily Lloyd, who plays a feisty and unflappable misfit living in a British seaside town in the 1950s. She’s lewd, rude and completely unable to fit into normal society and a disaster in most jobs she accepts. But this teenager is closer than she knows to facing genuinely adult problems. Outstanding and unforgettable coming-of-age comedy-drama directed by David Leland. (10)

CAFE SOCIETY (2016)—Woody Allen’s 47th film as a director casts Jesse Eisenberg as the latest in an ever-lengthening list of Woody surrogates (actually, he did it already in 2012’s To Rome With Love). Here he plays a young man in 1930s New York who travels to Hollywood to go to work for his uncle (Steve Carell) and then falls for a beautiful girl (Kristen Stewart). Unfortunately, what he doesn’t know is that the married Carell is secretly involved with Stewart. This love triangle works for about the first half of the movie, but when Stewart chooses between the two, well, there’s really nowhere for the story to go, and my interest level took a nosedive. There’s almost no actual comedy in this allegedly romantic comedy, and one scene, in which Eisenberg deals with an inexperienced prostitute, is one of the most embarrassing and distasteful scenes in any Woody Allen film—or indeed, any film. (5)

THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS (2016)—Louis CK, Albert Brooks and a very talented cast of voice actors attempt to breathe life into this non-Disney animated adventure about a group of pets in search for one of their own. Although well-directed and full of great-looking scenery and characters, this is really for very small children who are not already familiar with the Toy Story and Finding Nemo movies, from which it unabashedly cribs plot points. There are occasional laughs for grown-ups, but this movie is strictly for toddlers. (6)

CREEP (2014)—Bonus points for truth in advertising! In this found-footage horror movie, Mark Duplass (The Mindy Project) plays a guy who hires a filmmaker to chronicle what are likely his last weeks alive as a keepsake for his as-yet-unborn child. But the filmmaker (Patrick Brice, who also directed) comes to find that there’s much more to Duplass’s character than he realized. An unnerving, suspenseful and yes, extremely creepy film, well worth checking out. (9)

HOME FROM THE HILL (1960)—I was so amazed by Everett Sloane’s performance in this month’s screening of Patterns that I was eager to check him out in another movie. This drama, released four years later, features Sloane in a much smaller role, but the movie is every bit as entertaining as the earlier one. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, whose Father of the Bride and Father’s Little Dividend are among my favorites, this movie is all about wealthy Wade Hunnicutt (Robert Mitchum), whose adulterous affairs have made relations with his wife (Eleanor Parker) a tad frosty. Their son Theron (George Hamilton) wants to learn how to be more of a man, and Mitchum helps him achieve that goal. Ultimately, the family dynamic spins out of control, and the resulting melodrama is quite juicy. Also featuring George Peppard. I’m hoping to discover some more great Minnelli movies in the immediate future. (10)

STAR TREK BEYOND (2016)—Third in Paramount’s rebooted Trek series is full of action, starting with the age-old plot of the starship Enterprise getting hijacked along with its crew by sinister forces. Definitely holds your attention, although there are a few too many suspense-charged “9/11”-type events I could have done without. (This series desperately needs a little more humor in it.) And how many times do we have to watch the Enterprise being destroyed and rebuilt? Come on! Let’s hope the next outing has a little more originality. Having said all that, Algerian actress Sofia Boutella, as Jaylah, represents a great addition to the ensemble, and I continue to marvel at the casting of Chris Pine as Kirk—he perfectly captures the essence of the young William Shatner. (8)