Wednesday, March 1, 2017

First Time Watches: January 2017

It’s halfway through February as I’m writing this.  That means January came to a close nearly two weeks ago.  That also means that I need to get around to compiling my list of first-time watches for the month.  It’s what I do every month.  I watch a bunch of movies for the first time and I write about them here.

These posts exist for a couple of reasons, which I go over every once in a while.  The first reason is that it lets you, the readers, know what I liked and disliked about a movie so that if you decide to maybe check it out, I might be of service to your wondering if it’s good or not.  That’s not to say that my opinion will be your opinion.  Everyone has differing opinions.  It just means that you can use my opinion as a little bit of background.  The other reason is that it will help me remember if I liked or disliked a movie.  If I’ve forgotten about the movie in a few years’ time and I’m thinking about watching it again, I can check these posts to see if it’s worth rewatching.

January was a fairly good month for first time watches.  There were some truly great movies among the not-so-great stuff that I tend to watch.  One of the movies was about movies, one was about movie making, and one was about television.  There was a movie about the dangers of technology and a movie about the dangers of reanimation.  I saw some animated shorts, and a few horror movies.  But enough about the vague descriptions.  Let’s get into the actual short reviews.
Stephen King released the novel Cell in 2006.  It wasn’t perfect or even one of his best, but it was still an entertaining tale of survival after the human race had been turned into zombies by technology.  The episodic nature of the story didn’t fit a movie adaptation.  There wasn’t enough time give to any of the characters to give emotional impact to what happened to them.  It didn’t help that many of the “chapters” were replaced with other, lesser versions that weakened any impact.  I should have expected it to be bad after how the initial outbreak was presented, but the movie far exceeded my expectations.  Nearly everything about it was bad.  Maybe a miniseries with a different creative team could do the story justice.
Don’t Speak
This is not to be confused with Don’t Breathe.  Don’t Speak was about a group of friends exploring an island with a horrific past, and being killed one by one.  The story was solid and there were some interesting creative choices in how the flashbacks were presented, but it was let down by lackluster acting and weak scares.  There is the promise of something better in the future of the writers and the director.  This is just a misstep that could have been better.
I, Frankenstein
Why did this happen?  The story of Frankenstein is a story about the morality of creating life.  It’s like Jurassic Park on a smaller scale.  Should man play God?  This pseudo-sequel to the original Mary Shelley tale lost that depth in favor of some gargoyle versus demon action.  It was like the producers wanted to make a new Underworld movie without using the Underworld franchise.  There was no reason for this to be a Frankenstein movie.  It had nothing to do with Frankenstein outside of a name.  The story’s bad too, which doesn’t help.  Even without the annoyance of the name, it’s still bad.
Broadcast News
Television has been a major part of the program that I’ve been taking since going back to school in September.  I have learned about the behind-the-scenes stuff that was depicted in this movie.  I know the basics of a functioning control room.  It was a great experience watching a movie that depicted so closely what I’ve been a part of, even if the technology has advanced thirty years since the movie came out.  Thrown into the mix were some interesting, quirky characters, and a romance story that hit with as much impact as it did groans.  All around, it’s a movie worth watching for anyone interested in how live TV is put together or 80s dramedies.
Evil Exhumed
There’s not much to say about this movie because there’s not much to it.  It’s a slasher movie where the same kill happens over and over again, but you never see it.  Every person gets murdered the same way.  A mummy with a small sickle slashes their face.  What makes it super repetitive is that it’s always one person showing up on the island where the movie takes place, then running through the woods alone.  There were long sections of the movie where young men ran through the woods shirtless before being killed.  Once was enough.  It didn’t have to happen three more times.  It was David DeCoteau doing his thing, and I have yet to see his thing work well.
Romancing the Stone
Adventure movies made a comeback in the 1980s thanks to movies like The Goonies and the Indiana Jones franchise.  Romancing the Stone was a romantic take on the adventure genre that helped it to stand out from the others.  A romance adventure novelist played by Kathleen Turner ended up going on a real life adventure that played like one of her novels.  It was Robert Zemeckis playing to his directing strengths in his 1980s heyday.  There was fun action and comedy that worked.  The performances were enjoyable the whole way through.  At some point, I’ll have to check out the sequel.
Bigfoot vs. Zombies
If I could roll up a newspaper and hit this movie over the head with it, I would.  This was a bad movie.  The title sort of gives that away though, since after you get beyond the “Oh! The fight!” you realize that 95% of the time, someone making a movie like this is not a good filmmaker.  Bigfoot vs. Zombies was filled with bad acting, bad cinematography, and all around bad storytelling.  The worst part is that it didn’t even fully succeed in making the material fun.  There was a fart joke, though.  Every bad movie could use one of those.
Martin Scorsese loves movies and people love Martin Scorsese movies.  It only seems fitting that he would give people a movie about the discovery and magic of movies.  It’s not nearly his best work, but Hugo is still a great love letters to one of the biggest influencers of cinema.  Scorsese’s adaptation of the book was littered with homages to early pioneers of cinema, specifically Georges Méliès, who was also a major part of the story.  This is an important movie to watch, based on the subject matter.
Before Sunset
Dialogue can be one of the most difficult things to make entertaining while retaining realistic conversation.  Adding style to the way people talk to make them sound more interesting will make the characters feel like characters.  If you want them to feel like real people, they have to talk like real people.  They have to react like real people.  The Before trilogy manages to capture that realistic feeling and make it entertaining.  Before Sunset, the second in the three-part series breezes by as the two central characters just talk about their lives since they last met nine years before.  It’s a wonderful, realistic love story that should be studied for the masterful dialogue work.
Fifty Shades of Black
Most modern spoofs have forgotten how to tell a proper joke, instead removing the humour and adding pop culture name-dropping.  The jokes will be that people recognize the names.  Fifty Shades of Black didn’t do that and instead tried actual jokes.  Most of them didn’t land too well, but I respect that it tried to actually bring humour back into spoofs.  Although the jokes leaned more toward the bad side of the laugh scale, there was something completely watchable about this movie.  It could grow on me if I give it another watch or two, which is more than I can say about other modern spoofs that are trying to fill up the comedy movie world.  Respect to Marlon Wayans for actually giving a damn.
Hannibal Buress: Comedy Comisado
If I’m being completely honest here, I don’t remember much of the material in this special.  The one thing I can tell you is that Hannibal Buress is a fun guy to watch.  His jokes might not be as memorable as some other comedians out there, but he has a personality that makes what he says enjoyable.  This special fits into that description.  I don’t remember much of it.  Yet, I remember having a good time because he makes the watching experience better.  He elevates whatever material he has just because he is who he is.  I appreciate that.
In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
Uwe Boll was given his biggest budget ever to make this fantasy epic based on the Dungeon Siege video games.  It was one of his better movies, with a solid cast of actors including Jason Statham, Burt Reynolds, Leelee Sobieski, Ron Perlman, Ray Liotta, and Matthew Lillard.  Basically, he let Jason Statham be Jason Statham with a sword and it worked masterfully.  There were still some Boll style moments, since the insanity of the movie was amped up to an unexpected level.  But it all came together in the end to create a highly enjoyable action adventure movie set in a middle age world.  It’s the best I’ve seen from a director that everyone agrees is one of the worst.
In the Name of the King: Two Worlds
The sequel doesn’t have the same magic.  Most of that loss can be attributed to the lower budget.  After the box office failure of the first movie, Uwe Boll said that he would never have a budget that high again.  That is why the original cast was replaced with new characters played by the likes of Lochlyn Monroe, Dolph Lundgren, and Aleks Paunovic.  They’re still recognizable, but they aren’t as big.  Two Worlds brought time travel into the story with the main character being relocated from present day Vancouver to the middle age landscape of the first movie.  The monsters were replaced with shadowy warriors.  The battles weren’t large scale anymore, which hurt the fun factor.  It is watchable but nothing much beyond that.
In the Name of the King: The Last Job
For the third movie in the sword-fighting trilogy, the cast was even worse and the characters more unlikeable.  The story was about an assassin played by Dominic Purcell (the only recognizable actor in the movie) who was sent back in time to stop an evil king from ruling the kingdom.  The Bulgarian shot movie was as forgettable as anything.  If there’s any real problem with it, it’s that it was boring.  There was a little inkling of an interesting story, but it was lost on the fact that the main character was an ass and treated everyone poorly.  It wasn’t even bad enough to make me feel anything except bored.
Gertie the Dinosaur
Here, we begin a bunch of animated shorts that I saw during my history of cartoon animation class.  This one was originally a part of Winsor McCay’s stage show, and he would interact with Gertie.  In the version I saw, McCay was replaced with dialogue.  It was a fine enough concept.  There’s something about McCay’s style that I don’t really like though.  The characters tend to move back and forth mid-action before actually doing anything, which just adds extra, unnecessary time.  Still a good short.
How a Mosquito Operates
This ended up being my favourite of the four Winsor McCay shorts that I watched.  It’s not because it’s necessarily better.  The reason I hold this one higher is that it actually got a reaction out of me that was more than mere amusement.  As the mosquito bit the man, I physically recoiled because of how deep the needle-nose stab was.  It looked painful.  That reaction means more than simple enjoyment of the animation.
Little Nemo
Technically, there’s another name to this one, but I’m going to call it Little Nemo because that’s the part of it that we were discussing in class.  The short itself consisted of the animation (Little Nemo) and a live action re-enactment of the creation of the cartoon.  The cartoon was a simple early cartoon just showing that characters could move.  There was no story, there was no gimmick.  It was all about making the images move.  The live action portion told as much.  It was a comical take on the bet that Winsor McCay made that he would be able to make a certain number of frames’ worth of moving animation.  Overall, this one was alright.
Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: The Flying House
This is the final Winsor McCay I’ll write about, but not the last one that was watched in class.  I zoned out during the last one, so I’m not willing to consider it a watch.  Anyway, this was a trippy cartoon.  A guy made his house fly into outer space and some crazy things happened.  The animation was great, especially for early work in the field.  Not a lot of people, even in the heyday of hand drawn animation, came near the levels of artistry that McCay showcased.  Not my favourite, but masterful all the same.
Fantasmagorie and The Puppet’s Nightmare
We also watched two of Emile Cohl’s cartoon shorts in our animation class.  I’m lumping them both together because, thinking back, I can’t differentiate between them.  Both felt like fever dreams.  The images were drawn, and then some sort of negative coloring was used to make them look like white lines on a black background instead of black on white.  Lines joined lines and characters melted.  It was some weird stuff that it difficult to explain.  I’m not sure I liked it.
Monster Trucks
For the final two first-time watches of January, I took a trip to the theatre for a personal double feature.  Monster Trucks was about a teenager who found a monster and put it in an old truck he was rebuilding.  The monster ran the truck.  But there were also bad people trying to find the monster, so the kid teamed up with a girl from his school to keep the monster safe.  The movie was basically Mac and Me, only the kid wasn’t handicapped, and the McDonalds product placement was replaced with Dodge.  There was a lot of Dodge in the movie.  There was a building trucks montage set in a Dodge dealership.  The thing is, it plays better than Mac and Me.  Though the story is almost the exact same, it was more fun and more competently made.  Paul Rudd won’t be using this movie in all his interviews, but this should be a movie that people know about, see, and enjoy.
La La Land
Rounding out the month was a musical that was up for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards.  Funny enough, it was playing on the same screen as Monster Trucks, right after Monster Trucks.  It’s weird.  I enjoyed the movie but I can’t figure out what makes it as enjoyable as it is.  There’s some sort of undefinable quality within La La Land.  It’s magic, like the Hollywood feeling it’s trying to give off.  That ending is devastating, and I love it for that, but something about the rest of the movie is just plain and simple magic and I can’t grasp why it works as well as it does.

What a way to round out the month.  It ended with a double feature trip to the theatre for two movies that I highly enjoyed.  They rounded out a fairly solid month which included a couple movies that might be some of my worst watches this year, and a few that could be some of the best.  That’s a good month, I think.  It had a variety of quality.

February is looking to bring some more fun to my first time watches.  There will be more animated shorts since that cartoon history class is still ongoing.  I’ve seen movies like Timeline and Grand Hotel.  There’s much more that I watched that I will need to cover.  I hope you’ll come back to read about February’s first time watches.  See you when that post goes up.