Friday, January 12, 2018

First Time Watches: November 2017

The end of the year is nearing, which means that many of the big awards contenders are being released to get their theatrical run in before they’re out of time.  I didn’t see many of them in November.  I did see a bunch of other movies, including some first time watches.  This post is here for me to share with you my thoughts about those first time watches.

November was a full month.  There were nineteen first time watches, including some new releases and some short films.  There were a few documentaries in there as I tried to clear some room on my PVR.  A Norse god came to Earth, lived life, then went off to fight in space.  A band of musicians had a wacky adventure while traveling between shows.  A man had fire burning around his head not once, but twice.  The holiday cheer even crept in a couple times.  What movies am I talking about?  Let’s find out.
Team Thor
In preparation for the release of Thor: Ragnarok, I took a look at the two Team Thor shorts that Taika Waititi put out.  The first one felt like a Marvel take on The Office, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Chris Hemsworth was at his greatest, up to that point, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It was comedic in ways that none of the other output had been, which was a refreshing change.  Though it would have no real effect over the MCU lore, it was still an enjoyable comedic look at what had felt like a stale, boring character.
Team Thor: Part 2
Not quite as successful was the follow-up effort.  There were still laughs to be had.  The problem was that, where the first had felt like a full comedic story being told in short form, Part 2 felt like a deleted scene.  It was one extended scene that didn’t tell much of a story.  It was still funny.  It just had a lot to live up to and didn’t achieve that same level of storytelling.
Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D.
My introduction to the character of Sgt. Kabukiman was when I watched the fourth Toxic Avenger movie.  He was a bumbling drunk superhero that people hated.  His origin story told a different tale for the character.  He was a good detective, learning to become better through his newfound kabuki powers.  The movie was filled with the typical Troma humour.  There were off-the-wall sexual and violent moments in what would normally be a kids’ movie.  It wasn’t the best I’d seen from Troma, but it was definitely good enough to earn Sgt. Kabukiman’s status as another of Troma’s mascots.
The Sheepdogs Have At It
One of the bigger new Canadian rock bands of the past decade has been The Sheepdogs.  This documentary followed their rise to fame through Canada and their appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.  Each of the band members had their backgrounds given, though most of the focus was placed upon lead singer and guitarist Ewan Currie.  If you’re interested in the band and their music in any way whatsoever, this documentary is one you might want to check out.
Thor: Ragnarok
The Thor movies never really did anything for me until Taika Waititi took over.  The first one was okay, but kind of dull compared to the other action output of the time.  The sequel was forgettable in every way.  Thor was even the dullest part of the Avengers movies.  Yet, somehow, Waititi managed to turn things around.  He brought some much needed lightness to the franchise, and provided some astonishing visuals that made Thor: Ragnarok one of the best Marvel movies.  This was a great year for Marvel and they ended it well with this theatrical release.  It also needs to be noted that the score by Mark Mothersbaugh is great.  I’ve listened to many of the songs many times now and even used one in a school project.
20 Hz.
The first of two short films I watched in November was this horror short about a musician trying to record a song.  Her equipment began picking up some sort of interference that she couldn’t hear because it was beyond the scope of human hearing.  It was a well-conceived and well-executed short film that deserves a little more recognition than it has ever gotten.  Sounds outside of what a person can hear could be a great source of scares, and this short tapped into it.
A Dream of Paper Flowers
I don’t even know where to start with this one.  It was an experimental art film.  Some giant weird thing birthed an adult while a voiceover saying weird stuff happened.  The giant weird thing looked disgusting, but also looked like an oozing garbage bag.  The short was black and white.  There’s not a lot to say about it other than I didn’t like it.
Ghost Rider
Nicolas Cage is clearly a comic book fan.  He took the Cage of his stage name from Luke Cage.  He spent a while trying to be Superman.  Eventually, he landed the role of Johnny Blaze, the Ghost Rider.  There were hints of something good in the movie.  If the story had gone a little darker, it could have been pretty great.  As it was, it was holding back.  That kept it from reaching the right levels of entertainment.  There were two sides struggling with each other throughout the movie.  There were the dark themes of the character’s origins.  The demonic side of the character and his villains could have made a solid dark comic book movie.  Then there was the lighter, more family friendly stuff that tried to keep Ghost Rider within the world of other superhero movies of the time.  His alcoholism was changed into jellies and there was a lifelong romance story going on.  It felt like two movies that didn’t quite fit together, which kept Ghost Rider from being good.
A Hard Day’s Night
The Beatles tried their hand at movies when they were at their peak.  A Hard Day’s Night is probably the most respected of them, and there’s reason for it.  It’s a solid British comedy about the band travelling between concerts.  Their characters, which are themselves, seem well formed.  The other characters around them also feel well formed, with good performances.  Most importantly, the humour landed.  The jokes were funny.  I don’t know if any of the other movies starring The Beatles were good, but this one was fun.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Nic Cage was the only cast member to return for the sequel to Ghost Rider.  He once again played Johnny Blaze, the man with the flaming skull.  This time, the movie moved from a big American city to Eastern Europe as Johnny had to save a child from being used as the devil’s new vessel.  It went darker with the material, which helped, but had issues in the actual storytelling.  I usually like Neveldine/Taylor as a directing pair.  They go all out on how crazy their action is.  It felt like they were being forced to hold back.  There were moments of their usual style sprinkled throughout the movie.  They only felt like moments, though.  The studio was keeping them from making the movie theirs.  It weakened the final product.  Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance actually ended up being a little worse than the first one because of the limitations.
Hitsville US Eh!
Motown was heavily indebted to Canada, and this documentary highlighted the ways in which Canada pushed the record company into stardom.  It discussed the relationship between Detroit and Windsor.  It had information about vinyl records that were pressed in Canada.  The way that Canada helped to shape the sound of Motown is something that isn’t often mentioned.  It’s important to know about, though.  This documentary brought that to light.
Office Christmas Party
The cast of Office Christmas Party is a collection of people I enjoy watching.  Jason Bateman, Rob Corddry, T.J. Miller, Vanessa Bayer, Kate McKinnon, and Olivia Munn are among the great ensemble.  The party never really had the right speed of progression to make the movie as great as the cast.  It was an underwhelming party.  I did enjoy watching it, though.  There were enough funny moments throughout to make it entertaining.  It kicked off my holiday movie watching in a decent way.
Becoming Bond
There have been many actors to take on the role of James Bond, but George Lazenby might be the most fascinating.  He was born in Australia, and moved to Britain to become a model.  His agent pushed him into auditioning for James Bond when Sean Connery left the role.  Lazenby was one and done as the character.  This documentary went through his life from growing up in Australia and falling in love, to moving to Britain, to getting the role, to leaving the role.  His personality drove the story forward and gave some genuine humour to the proceedings.  For fans of James Bond, or people interested in learning what led to a man letting go of one of the biggest roles in movies, this documentary is worth seeking out.
Super Duper Alice Cooper
This documentary chronicled Alice Cooper’s rise to fame as both a band and then a solo performer.  It discussed the man’s struggle with keeping his stage persona and real life personality separate.  There were scenes about the abusive substances that he took.  It was a decent documentary about a musician that gave insight into the life of the musician.  But there are better documentaries of this type out there.  This was really for the fans of Alice Cooper or for people looking to gain some more knowledge about an iconic musician.
Murder Rap: Inside Biggie and Tupac
Two of the biggest rap stars of all time were murdered within a year of each other, and the deaths were thought to be connected.  Murder Rap dove into the connections between the two.  It was like the many true crime shows that air on A&E and other channels like that.  There was a lot of information being pieced together to say, definitively, that the two murders were connected.  I could take or leave this documentary.  It was an alright watch.  It was just a little stale in the presentation.  Some more artistry in how the story was told could have made it more entertaining.
Free Fire
The movie was a shootout.  The shootout wasn’t the climax.  It was the story.  A bunch of characters, each with their own distinct voices, fought it out with their guns in a warehouse.  The fact that Ben Wheatley pulled that off was a feat in itself.  The fact that it was as entertaining as it was went above and beyond what the expectations could have been.  My first Ben Wheatley movie was Kill List, which I was disappointed in.  Everything I’ve watched of his since then has been better.  I fell in love with High-Rise, and though Free Fire didn’t quite reach those same heights (no pun intended, but I’m delighted it’s here), I still love what it did.
This was a movie aboiut a time and a place.  It wasn’t much more than that.  CBGB opened in the 1970s and a bunch of famous musicians got their start there.  Throughout the movie, you see Blondie, Television, The Talking Heads, The Ramones, and The Police.  Not the real people in each of those bands, mind you.  This wasn’t a documentary.  But you got to see people playing them as they got their starts.  Alan Rickman gave a good performance as Hilly Kristal, the owner of the club, and he was surrounded by a great cast including Donal Logue, Ashley Greene, Malin Akerman, Justin Bartha, Rupert Grint, and Stana Katic.  There’s a lot to like, though the movie wasn’t anywhere near as iconic as what it was portraying.
Jim & Andy
I’m still not entirely sure how much of this documentary was real and how much was staged for the documentary.  It would make sense based on Jim Carrey’s reverence for Andy Kaufman that the whole thing would have been staged.  We were shown the behind-the-scenes of Man on the Moon, where Jim Carrey would stay in character and harass the other people on set.  Surely, they would have fired him if that had been happening the entire time?  But this movie plays like a documentary.  It was marketed as a documentary.  It’s coming out years after the fact with footage from that time.  I don’t know.  I really don’t know.  And my time away from it hasn’t helped me to understand it any better.
The Night Before
Finishing off the month was one of the best Christmas movies of the past few years.  It was Joseph Gordon-Levitt going through the three Christmas spirits without it being an actual A Christmas Carol retelling.  We learned about his past as he learned about the mistakes of his past.  We saw his present as he experienced his present, and all of the mistakes within it.  We saw where his future would go if he didn’t change his ways, as he did.  Then he learned to be better to other people.  It really is the same set of lessons as A Christmas Carol, without that structuring, and with modern comedy stylings.  Seth Rogen and Anthony Mackie go along for the ride as his best friends.  It’s good and it’s funny.  It was a great way to end the month.

And thus, November must come to a close.  It actually came to a close over a month ago, but for the sake of the post, it is now coming to a close.  There were some great first time watches in there.  Then there was that short film about the trash bag birth.  Ugh, that short film.  I’m happy to see the variety in the movies I watched.  They were a fun group of movies.

December brought some more variety to my first time watches, which we’ll get to soon.  There were Christmas movies in there, including Santa’s Slay, and there were non-Christmas movies in there, including two different versions of 54.  If you want to read about those first time watches, come back soon.  I’ll have another post ready for you within the week.  See you whenever that comes up.

Finally, I would like to put a few plugs at the end.  I have a blog called Sunday “Bad” Movies where I write about bad movies once a week.  Some of the movies that show up in these posts were movies I watched for that.  I also write about Mighty Morphin Power Rangers sometimes.  If you want some writing that’s not me, check out Talk Film Society, where they do a lot of great things.  Right now, they’re taking votes for their annual awards, so check that out.  And to end things off, let’s get to my usual plug for my pal Jaime Burchardt.  He’s back to writing again with an article about I Don’t Feel At Home in this World Anymore.  Check it out.  I’ll see you soon.

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