Wednesday, May 16, 2018

First Time Watches: February 2018

Welcome back to another month of first time watches.  These posts fell by the wayside during a busy school term, but I’m hoping to catch up on them now that school is out for the summer.  I have the time to write them up, and I’ll be doing that as quickly as I possibly can to get them out there for your eyes to consume.  Not to consume your eyes, because that would be a whole other, more cannibalistic, thing.  Let’s not go there again.

These posts are a way for me to share my thoughts with people about the movies I’ve recently seen for the first time.  It lets you know how I felt about the movies, and serves as a way for me to better think out my feelings.  I do quick blurbs on Letterboxd, but these posts are where the real thinking comes in.  Then I can go back to them if I ever want to know what I thought of a movie when I’m considering rewatching them.  I’ve never actually done that.  It’s just nice to know that I can.

This specific post will be about the movies that I watched for the first time in February 2018.  Some of the movies were watched for my blog.  Some of them were watched for school.  Others were watched simply out of curiosity.  There will be vampires, babysitters, demons, and skaters.  There will be a heist, a theft or two, and more than one trip into Africa.  It was an adventurous month filled with nineteen first time watches.  We should get to them.
The Shape of Water
Before this point, I had seen two Guillermo Del Toro movies.  I loved one of them and thought the other was just meh.  This one fell onto the side of love.  The art direction was fantastic, creating a wonderful old-timey feel.  The love story was resonant.  Two societal outcasts came together in a romance that not only bridged languages, but species too.  The performances were great all around, with the standout being Richard Jenkins as another societal outcast trying to find his place in the world.  The Shape of Water deserved the Best Picture Oscar that it won.
This term of school was very much about seeing the classic films that I always meant to watch but never got around to.  My introduction to Fritz Lang was many years ago when I saw Metropolis, and I never moved beyond that science fiction masterpiece in his career.  This one was a bit of a disappointment.  I know it’s my own expectations that caused that feeling.  M was built up as one of the greatest movies of all time.  Clearly, it inspired many things that followed.  The things that followed also made improvements on the formula, which left this one feeling old and semi-tired.  It was trying things that were new at the time, such as the method of storytelling and the use of sound.  It wasn’t bad.  It was good, and tried new things.  It’s just that they’re not new anymore.  Newer movies have told similar stories in technically better ways, which have made them better, more entertaining films.  For the time it was made, it was top notch filmmaking.  For the modern day, not so much.
The Florida Project
Sometimes, a movie will come around that feels true to life.  It doesn’t tell a fantastical story about someone becoming a hero and going on an adventure.  It will tell a real story about the hardships that people go through during their day-to-day life.  That’s The Florida Project.  A poor mother and daughter try to survive, living in a motel in Orlando with no money.  It was told mostly through the child’s point of view.  Vivid colours, childish games and activities, the specific way that people talked… All of it came from the daughter’s perspective.  Yet, it didn’t hold back on how bad life could get.  This was one of the best movies of 2017, with some of my favourite movie moments of the year.  Well worth checking out, even if the ending was a little wonky and out of nowhere.
The Cloverfield Paradox
A week before The Cloverfield Paradox hit Netflix worldwide, I went on a Twitter tirade about how there weren’t enough marketing surprises.  The marketing of the first didn’t tell the story.  The second one was announced a month before release with a surprise trailer.  It looked like the third didn’t have a similar gimmick.  Then it did.  The first trailer dropped during the Super Bowl, announcing that the movie would release on Netflix when the game was over.  Talk about a surprise.  The movie itself was okay.  It could have benefited from a longer runtime, letting it expand on the weird stuff that made it interesting.  The cast was good, but again, more time would have let the audience know the characters better.  The weakest part was the forced Cloverfield tie-in story on Earth, which could have been removed entirely without changing the main story.  Still a fun watch.
Paul Tomkowicz: Street-railway Switchman
Canadian film has an interesting relationship with Hollywood.  The National Film Board earned many Oscar nominations (74) throughout the years, with documentary shorts being their strongest area.  This particular short film was like a documentary, though it may have been a drama.  A man from Europe came to Canada and worked as the guy who cleaned out the tracks for street trolleys.  To be exact, he made sure the switches were cleared so the trolleys could change tracks.  For the short runtime, it was a fascinating look at the hardships faced by immigrants, including language barriers and job opportunities.
The Magic of Fellini
This look at the career of Federico Fellini was one of those documentaries that I have trouble with.  It was a lot of people talking about how great he was without adding much.  It wasn’t really about his influence.  It was his career as told by the people he worked with.  Some of them, like Donald Sutherland, had fun anecdotes about the man.  Those brought up the movie a bit.  Most of it was a simple recap of his career, though, which I could have gotten from reading his Wikipedia page.  Maybe it was lost on me because I’ve seen none of his movies.  I don’t think it should be.  I should still get something out of it.
Nic and Tristan Go Mega Dega
This was hard to get through.  Nic and Tristan Puehse were two brothers who rose to popularity because they were good on their skateboards.  Like any person who gets famous in one form, movies come a-knockin’.  It happened with Michael Jordan.  It happened with Kurt Thomas.  It happened with the Puehse twins.  Movie producers thought that the two children would make good movie stars, and something was written around them.  They played twin brothers who wanted nothing more than to participate in the Mega Dega skateboarding competition.  The only problem was that their babysitter had broken their mom’s prized statue, and they now had to find a replacement.  The competition would have to wait.  It was a less than stellar kids’ movie that was trying to coast on the popularity of the stars.  That clearly didn’t work.
Logan Lucky
Steven Soderbegh is an interesting filmmaker in that he’s a mainstream director who is always trying something new.  After retiring from film for a few years, he came back with a new take on a genre that he had already tackled.  He took the typical heist film, which he had made with Ocean’s Eleven, and flipped it on its head.  Gone were the gloss and glam.  In its place was a comedic lower class take on the material.  Rich criminals stealing from rich criminals was replaced by poor people stealing from Nascar just to survive.  It was funny, energetic, and poignant.  Not the best Soderbergh, but still pretty good.
Bicycle Thieves
My introduction to this story was through Master of None.  The first episode of the second season was a modern recreation of the story told in Bicycle Thieves.  Nearly a year after watching that episode, I was shown the movie Bicycle Thieves in film class, and was able to appreciate all of the stylistic touches that Master of None had used.  The movie itself wasn’t quite my cup of tea.  Italian neo-realism is a little too real to life for me to enjoy some moments.  It lingers too long on the nothing of life, dragging out scenes that most movies wouldn’t.  That left a lot of empty space where people were simply walking or looking around.  About two thirds of the way through, everything clicked together.  I loved the final third.  It was all of the stuff leading up to it that felt too slow and meandering.  Good movie with a great, powerful ending.  Not something I want to see again.
Ingrid Goes West
There’s a certain kind of awkward humour out there that I appreciate though I don’t necessarily feel great while watching it.  This kind of comedy gets my anxiety up to a point where I might have to pause a movie or television show to walk away for a bit, or to come to terms with what I’ve been watching.  Ingrid Goes West was one of those movies, bringing awkward dark comedy to my Netflix streaming screen.  Aubrey Plaza played Ingrid, a stalker who moved to Los Angeles to be closer to the Instagram star that she idolized.  The jokes were mined mostly from the interactions between the stalker and her victim.  O’Shea Jackson Jr. gave a great performance as the only seemingly level-headed person in the entire movie.  Though my anxiety got the better of me at times, this is a movie that was worth checking out and I’ll probably go back to it at some point.
When We First Met
An interesting segue from a stalker movie, I next watched a movie about a man who obsessively loved a woman to the point where he would go back in time and change his past to try and be with her.  This one was broader in the comedy, going less for the awkward realism of stalker situations and more for the heartfelt love conquers all story.  That love may not have been the love he thought it would be, but it was love that was there all the same.  The cast all put in solid performances, though it might have been the most forgettable of Robbie Amell’s career.  This has, five months in now, been one of my favourites of 2018.  I loved it.
Tarzan the Ape Man
This is a story that has been told many times throughout the history of movies.  This version was not one of the better instances.  The story focused on Jane as she travelled to Africa and ran into Tarzan in the jungle.  It focused too much on Jane, to the point where she was objectified throughout the whole movie.  Bo Derek was the star and her husband was the director.  He clearly wanted to show off how attractive his wife was and spent every moment of the movie showcasing her body.  She got naked at the beginning to swim behind the boat as it was arriving.  She got naked to take a bath early in the hike through the jungle, almost getting attacked by a lion in the process.  She was naked with the apes, and then the end credits had an orangutan wresting with Tarzan over who would get a half-naked Bo Derek.  There was a lot of Bo Derek nudity that didn’t add anything to the movie.  The twist of telling the story from Jane’s point of view was interesting.  The way that twist was told was not.  Unless you want to watch Bo Derek naked for an hour and forty five minutes.  Then it’s perfect.
What We Do in the Shadows
Taika Waititi is a big name now, thanks to his work on Thor: Ragnarok, the best Thor movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  That wasn’t where he started out though.  He was making movies before Marvel chose him to helm a movie in one of the biggest franchises ever.  One of those movies was What We Do in the Shadows, a New Zealand based vampire comedy.  The cast was doing top notch work in this mockumentary about what it was like to be a vampire in New Zealand.  The jokes mostly hit, with some big laughs throughout.  It’s one of the best comedies of the new millennium, and showed why Taika was able to stick around in the business.  He makes great movies.  I’m looking forward to the follow-up We’re Wolves, whenever that happens.
The Babysitter
There are three movies that share a lot of cast and crew: The DUFF, The Babysitter, and When We First Met.  I began with the newest of them, and decided almost immediately that I would have to check out the other two.  The Babysitter was the middle of the two and perhaps the most interesting.  It’s not my favourite, but there are many things within it that make it stand out from the pack a little more.  There’s a style that the movie goes for that would have landed if they had leaned into it harder.  Every performance was spot on.  I just wish they had gone more into the style.  It could have made for something great.  They eased on it a tad, though, and it lessened the impact.  Good, not great.
In a Lonely Place
My teacher likes movies about making movies.  That’s why when he was talking about the Hollywood blacklist during the communism scare, he showed us this.  It was an interesting enough movie about the investigation of a murder and a main character who seemed highly suspicious.  He had bouts of fury and rage.  He was a smart writer who was able to analyze the entire situation and spin it in any way that he wanted.  The whole time, he began a relationship with his new neighbour while writing a screenplay.  Humphrey Bogart was top notch in the movie and it had an ending that punched the audience right in the gut before going to black.  It’s good stuff that I might not have seen were I left to my own devices.
Black Panther
Marvel has been hitting hard lately.  Last year, they put out two of my favourite movies in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.  This year seems like the year of the villain.  Infinity War will come up a couple posts from now.  First, this Wakanda set movie about the king becoming the leader that his country needs.  Killmonger was the strongest villain that Marvel has had thus far.  His motivation was solid.  The threat that he posed was personal and had big stakes.  The only problem with the movie was the effects work.  When the characters were in their costumes, it was hard to not see them as effects created characters.  The personal story that was being told was hurt through the obvious lack of the actors in the suits.  Black Panther is one of the best Marvel movies, bringing a fully rounded group of characters to the table.  If Marvel could have stuck the effects for the characters as well as the effects for the powers and vehicles, this would be nearing my favourite.
A Haunted House 2
The thing about the spoofs that Marlon Wayans has been putting out is that he actually seems to care about them.  He tries.  A Haunted House had him parodying the horror of the time from a black person’s perspective.  Fifty Shades of Black was the same thing for the Fifty Shades movies.  A Haunted House 2 was horror again, but a year or two after his last foray into that territory.  The jokes aren’t the highest form of comedy.  There’s a storyline about the main character having sex with a doll.  But the movie plays with the concepts and makes jokes about the concepts, which is more than many spoofs do nowadays.  It’s refreshing to see the jokes come out of the concept rather than the reference to a concept be the joke.  The effort that is put in to make that happen is great.  A Haunted House 2 is far from the best spoof, but it’s a good watch for anyone who wants to check out a half decent spoof.
The Seventh Seal
Another of those classics that I should have seen long ago, but hadn’t, and have now seen thanks to film class.  This is the third Ingmar Bergman movie I’ve seen, after The Virgin Spring and Persona.  It wasn’t my favourite of the three.  It does have good performances throughout, and if I check it out again, I’ll probably enjoy it more than I did the first time.  It’s a thoughtful movie diving into the inner workings of a soldier’s mind as he’s on the path to death.  I liked it.  I’ll probably love it when I see it in the future.
This was a trip.  A group of female scientists went into a weird anomaly of alien origin to figure out what it was doing to that area of Earth.  Strange things happened to the women as they traveled farther into the area that they called The Shimmer.  The visuals were exceptional.  The climax was one of the most visually stunning things I’ve seen in a long time.  There were problems with the movie, for sure, mostly in a couple of iffy performances, but it was captivating the whole way through.  I had no idea what was going to happen, and there were many shocking things that came up.  For the sensory immersion alone, this is one that needs to be seen.  I’m so glad that I went to the theater to see it.
42nd Street
There was a very simple story in 42nd Street.  It was about the making of a musical from conception to premiere.  The characters came together to put on the play.  They practiced.  They learned the choreography.  Some were replaced.  Others fell in love.  Everything was about getting the play to the premiere date without it being a disaster.  It was a fun movie that I had a good time watching.  It was a delightful way to close out the month.  Musicals are a genre that tend to work better for me if the music is justified in the world.  Since they were putting together a musical, the music felt like a natural part of the world, rather than the random breaking into song that so many others do.  Not the greatest I’ve seen, which I’ve probably said a few times in this post.  A fun little musical from the early days of talkies, though.

That finishes off the month of February for my first time watches.  There were a lot of movies that I checked out, with more good than bad.  I had a good time.  Not all of the movies were my choice.  There were some that we watched for school.  There were some that I watched for my blog.  There were others that I just wanted to see.  It was a good mix and I don’t regret any of it.

March turned out fairly good, too.  There were a bunch of movies that I checked out for the first time.  For film class, we saw Contempt, and we saw I, Daniel Blake.  I watched Lady Bird and A Fantastic Woman in the theater.  Netflix premiered Mute in late February, and I checked it out in March.  I also checked out the Netflix original movie Game Over, Man!.  It was a packed month with much more than just those.  That’s for another post, though.  That post will be, hopefully, coming by the end of the month.  See you then.

Before you go, here are a few plugs that I want to drop into the end of the post.  As always, you can find me on Twitter.  I’m always writing the Sunday “Bad” Movies posts and using the Sunday “Bad” Movies Twitter account.  I also write some Mighty Morphin Power Rangers posts on this blog.  My bud Jaime Burchardt writes some stuff too.  He wrote a post about Spectral for the website Cinepunx back in March.  Finally, there’s Talk Film Society.  They’re always putting out good content.  Check out their recent post about Speed Racer in honour of its tenth birthday.  See y’all later.

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