May 5 2016

New-to-me movies watched in April 2016

1. Frankenstein (1931)

The definitive Frankenstein monster, the monster all other Frankenstein’s are compared to. Although the some of the opening sequences are a bit awkward, this movie comes alive (pun intended) when the monster does. Karloff is wonderful as the monster and I completely understand why his performance was lauded. With great use of shadows and some creative film moments, this is a classic film worth seeing.

2. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Another great film from director James Whale. The movie is a bit stranger than the first Frankenstein, mixing a set of weird characters with humor and fantastic camera work to bring some interesting contemplative moments to the monster. Although the monster is responsible for a number of deaths, some are understandable after the horrors he’s endured, and the sense of his loneliness and longing for kindness are clear.

My main disappointment is that the Bride of the title gets so little screen time. In the few minutes she’s on screen, she presents a fascinating figure, twitching like a bird with fascination at the world. She’s amazing and I wish she had to be and do more.

3. Darling (2015)

Darling was a strange one, an intense story of a young woman taking on a care taking job and slowly going insane. The reasoning for this transition and whether she had mental health problems to begin with is not clear.

The story is set up in chapters with the start of each one featuring the young woman staring ahead like a portrait. I’m not sure these chapter cards are necessary, as the lend a feeling of unreality to the story.

Shot in black and white, the film mixes long shots of beautiful cinematography with jumps of fragments short frames, jarring the seemingly calm sequences with something hidden behind the scenes. This happens fairly consistently throughout the movie, to the point that it almost becomes numbing and looses the effect it’s going for.

Darling is interesting, bloody, strange, and mostly well done.

4. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

Fun and mostly funny mockumentary about four vampires living as flat mates in New Zealand. Each vampire is from a different era and part of the humor is how each of them sees the modern world. They are also all awkward, failing to have that suave beautiful grace presented in most vampire movies. Not all of the jokes were laugh out loud funny, but there were a few golden moments. Plus, the characters were all likeable enough that I was willing to go on this bizarre little journey with them.

5. Purple Rain (1984)

I watched Purple Rain for the first time and I’m wondering how the hell I’ve never seen this before.

Prince on stage represents the golden moments of this movie. He’s a level of fabulous and HOT that cannot be contained.

Sure, the plot is thin as fishnet tights and the acting is sometimes laughable, but it’s also freaking fantastic for being the ’80s rock movie it is.

Mar 31 2016

New-to-me movies watched in March 2016

March was a GIANT movie month for me, because I participated in the March Around the World challenge, which has a goal of watching thirty movies from thirty different countries in one month.

I did not make that goal, but I did manage to watch 22 movies from around the world. Not too shabby.

March Around the World Challenge (my favorites are in bold):

1. Monsoon Wedding — India (2001)
2. Suspiria — Italy (1977)
3. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert — Australia (1994)
4. Ida — Poland (2013)
5. Blue is the Warmest Color — France (2013)
6. Heavenly Creatures — New Zealand (1994)
7. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night — Iran (2014)
8. Bangkok Love Story — Thailand (2007)
9. Volver — Spain (2006)
10. The Snapper — Ireland (1993)
11. The Assassin — China (2015)
12. Sin Nombre — Mexico (2009)
13. A Better Tomorrow — Hong Kong (1986)
14. Juan of the Dead — Cuba (2011)
15. Stalker — Russia (1979)
16. The Second Mother — Brazil (2015)
17. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance — South Korea (2005)
18. Sisters in Law — Cameroon (documentary, 2005)
19. The Devil’s Miner — Bolivia (documentary, 2005)
20. The Cave of the Yellow Dog — Mongolia (docudrama, 2005)
21. Xenia — Greece (2014)
22. U-Carmen eKhayelitsha — South Africa (2005)

Non-challenge movies:

1. Treehouse (2014)
2. Crimson Peak (2015)


Continue reading

Mar 3 2016

New-to-me movies watched in February 2016

1. Jupiter Ascending (2015)

By all accounts this is a ridiculous movie, but it’s delightfully so. The movie just oozes with scifi geekery, from boots that allow you to fly to human-animal clones to a planet comprised of bureaucratic aliens. The costuming and sets are visually gorgeous with rich detail.

My major complaint is the heroine, Jupiter, spends most of the movie falling off of buildings and being caught by the hero. She’s literally whipped around from place to place without much agency of her own, which doesn’t make me much interested in her as a character.

Nevertheless, this was fun.

2. Deadpool (2016)

Amazeballs. This movie manages to be a superhero movie that breaks the rules of superhero movies. It’s incredibly violent, with tons of blood splatter and severed limbs and other cringeworthy moments, and it has more fourth-wall-breaking humor and asides than a wrecking ball. Plus, it brings in two awesome X-Men characters, who have not been seen (much) before. So much win.




Feb 5 2016

New-to-me movies watched in January 2016

1. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)

The first film I’ve seen in the new year and a good conclusion to the Hunger Games storyline. They handled some of the stranger aspects of the book with aplomb and Jennifer Lawerence continued to bring depth to the character in situations where it could easily be overshadowed by the action.

2. Pontypool (2008)

A three-person team of a small town radio show become more and more horrified as reports come in of what seems to be rioting and death. With its small cast and single location, this movie manages to provide a growing sense of tension. It’s a fantastic take on the zombie apocalypse story with a unique concept for how the infection spreads. Really enjoyable.

3. Blazing Saddles (1974)

A spoof of the western genre. Not as funny as I thought it was going to be based on my experience with other Mel Brookes flicks. While probably “edgy” for the time period, some of the jokes are somewhat cringeworthy in the present day. However, the scenes with Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder are brilliant.

Jan 8 2016

Top Movies of 2015

Toward the end of the year, I didn’t seem to have much time for watching movies, but nevertheless there were some fabulous feature and short films that I’ve seen for the first time this year. As with my Top Reads, I’m organizing these based on categories.

Best Drama

Pariah (2011) is the story of a  17-year-old African American girl who hangs out at clubs with her openly lesbian friend Laura. Through the course of the film she begins to figure out her own identity. It’s a beautiful story of young love and family friction/love and the many ways a heart can be broken and healed.


Best Historical Picture

The Academy Award nominated film, Selma (2014), tells the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. and several civil rights activists’ peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in the face of violent opposition. The aim of the March was to achieve fair access to voting access for African Americans. It shows the many layers of effort from multiple groups that enabled this march to happen successfully. The directing, cinematography, and performances throughout the film are fantastic.

selma-bridge movie still

Runner-up: Belle (2014) is the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the daughter of a slave and Captain John Lindsay, a British career naval officer. As the captain must travel to earn his living, he leaves his daughter as a free woman in the care of his uncle, a high ranking judge of the U.K. courts. This beautiful movie reveals the conflicting nature of her position in which she is both loved by her family and an outcast in society.

Best Science Fiction Movie

A three way tie between The Martian (2015), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), and Ex Machina (2015) — all vastly different films, all great for vastly different reasons.

The Martian, a story about a single astronaut accidentally stranded on the hostile surface of Mars, provides a combination of intense moments with humor. This is combined with beautiful images of the Martian surface, red deserts and plains stretching to the horizon. It’s gorgeous and moving and hilarious and wonderful.


What I loved about Star Wars: The Force Awakens was how it was able to capture that elated joy I felt when I was young, watching A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Last Jedi over and over and over again. This new iteration went straight to the heart of what makes Star Wars great with a new cast of young heroes ready to take up the fight.


Ex Machina, meanwhile, is a much quieter movie, centering around only a handful of characters. In it a young engineer is recruited by an genius entrepreneur to perform a Turing test on a humanoid AI robot, named Ava. The movie intelligently explores the nature of humanity and consciousness. Alicia Vikander is amazing as Ava, bringing a subtle alieness to the character, even when she seems to look entirely human.


Best Post-Apocalyptic Movie

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) is a gorgeously filmed vision of the post-apocalyptic world. Although, lets be honest, it’s pretty much a single long car chase sequence across the wasteland. It’s a spectacular spectacle with beautifully choreographed stunts and action sequences. Mad Max is just as hard core as he’s ever been, and he gets to fight along side some amazingly bad ass women, not only Imperator Furiosa, but all of despot’s escaping wives. It’s one-note, perhaps, but it’s brilliant. The wasteland never looked so good.

mad max fury road

Best Horror Movie

A tie between The Devil’s Backbone /El espinazo del diablo (2001) and It Follows (2014).

The Devil’s Backbone, directed by Guillermo del Toro, is set during the Spanish Civil War, during which a 12-year-old Carlos is sent to a boy’s orphanage that is full of secrets. The imagery haunts from the start, with the image of a giant unexploded bomb shown standing in the center of the orphanage courtyard. The movie provides a steady eerie feeling that builds into a surprising conclusion.

the devil's backbone unexploded_bomb

It Follows is intensely creepy. The concept of a sexually transmitted monster, which on the surface sounds ridiculous, is handled with brilliant skill. Every bit of lighting combined with camera angles and music builds a growing sense of anxiety about this creature that never stops pursuing its intended target. I loved how the characters used their friendship to positive effect. When the main character’s friends could neither see nor believe in the creature, they didn’t waste their time doubting her. Instead, they recognized that she needed help and did what they could to provide that help. It’s an incredibly well done movie and one that caused me a few anxiety dreams after watching it.

It Follows movie still

Best Animated Film

Le Gouffre (2015) is a beautiful short film in which two young men face a chasm and find an industrious way to try to cross it. Rendered in CGI animation, a beautiful story of friendship and community evolves in just 10 minutes. You can watch it here.

le gouffre

Best Foreign Film

Wadjda (2012) is the first movie to be entirely filmed in Saudi Arabia and is the first film directed by a female Saudi director. It’s the story of a spunky young girl, named Wadjda, who wants her own a bicycle, even though considered indecent for a girl to ride. In order to get the money for the bike she wants, she joins a competition for learning and reciting the Koran. This movie is charming and the little girl Waad Mohammed who plays the main character is wonderful. I hope to see more work by director Haifaa Al-Mansour in the future.

Wadjda still image

Runner-up: In Circumstance (2011), filmed in Iran, two young women the strict rules that circle their lives in Tehran, Iran. Along the way, they fall in love with each other. There’s a sense of danger present even as they feel the most free, the impression that they are always being watched and judged. A beautiful and stylish film.

Best Documentary

Okay, so technically I only watched one documentary in 2015, but it was a really good documentary. In The Red Chapel / Kim Jong-Il’s Comedy Club (2009), two Danish Korean comedians, along with their manager, travel to North Korea in order to perform for the country’s National Theater. The aim of the trip is to discreetly reveal the disturbing nature of this totalitarian dictatorship, while also subtly poking fun at the regime during the comedy sketch routine. However, their plan quickly falters as their routine picked apart and replaced by a performance that suites the party line. The documentary has its flaws, but it fascinating in the way it moves from being, at first, unsettling but slightly humorous to being somewhat terrifying.


Honorable Mention: Best Worst Movie

The Barbarians (1987) is awful on so many levels and takes cheesy fantasy to amazing heights. It features beefcake twins with more glossy, well oiled muscles than any one person should rightly have.  Together with a scantily clad thief, they track down a magical ruby and defeat and evil band of barbarians. The villain has a unicorn horn strapped to his head. One of the heroes brays like a donkey when he’s excited. The dragon looks like a giant erect penis with a deranged Alf head (I’m not even kidding). The Barbarians is bad. It’s so, so bad. But it’s glorious in how bad it is.

What movies have you watched and loved in 2015?