Please share with us which films you saw last week. It would be great if you could include some comments on each film. It would be awesome if you could also take some time to comment on everyone else's viewings. Unfortunately, it has reached the point where it is no longer viable for me as host to comment on everyone else's viewings every week (especially since some people like to use the weekly thread to log their viewings and nothing else). I am always keen to promote movie discussion though, so if you comment on my own viewings, I will comment on yours at my earliest convenience.
Please also note that this is intended as a movie discussion thread, not a large image posting thread. Having too many large images makes this thread difficult to navigate through. If you wish to include more than five images in a reply, please use spoiler tags - [spoiler][/spoiler] - to hide extra images.
This is what I saw:
★★★★ = loved it /// ★★★ = liked it a lot; ~7/10 /// ★★ = has interesting elements; ~6/10 /// ★ = did very little for me; ~5/10 and lower
Very good movie-watching week despite all of the panic going on IRL.
Distant Thunder (1973). Amid food shortages and soaring prices, an Indian nobleman is conflicted between giving to the poor and making sure that he has enough to eat in this grim drama that eerily foreshadows some of the Covid-19 panic buying in 2020. The backdrop here is World War II, with British confiscation of rice apparently the cause of the misfortune, and while it is disappointing that the film does not delve into the cause here, the lack of context gives the tale a very universal quality. Just how does one cope with life-threatening shortages? Striking images include women scouring lakes for "pond snails" and a badly assaulted man who only cares whether his stashed rice has been stolen. The film concludes on a memorable final image too with Ray ultimately emphasising the power of the crisis to bring folks together as opposed to the resulting deaths. (first viewing, online) ★★★
Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974). Complications plague the getaway plans of a couple of supermarket robbers when a headstrong young woman tags along in this car chase thriller. While he is weirdly omitted from the title, Adam Roarke comes off best here as the more subdued and methodical robber, and the brazen hostage situation that they engineer to give themselves access to the supermarket safe is riveting. The vast majority of the film is spent on their escape though, which is sadly less engaging, full of tiresome banter between the title characters amid sporadic chase scenes. The significant attention given to the cops pursuing them is odd too, as it only further dilutes tension. The film is topped off by a pretty terrific ending and Peter Fonda and Susan George are of course highly watchable, but for a film titled after them, it is a shame that it is not more about them. (first viewing, DVD) ★★
To Live and Die in L.A. (1985). Angry when his partner is killed by the counterfeiters he was tracking down, a government agent becomes increasingly reckless as he continues the case with a new partner in this thriller from William Friedkin. From an airport run (and bathroom hold-up) to driving the wrong way along a freeway to elude pursuit, Friedkin crafts some terrific action scenes. The intriguing counterfeiting process is also shown in detail. This is not the easiest film to warm to though since the reckless William Petersen is hardly the most likeable lead, but this is arguably deliberate with the film gradually becoming more about his new partner who faces increasing moral dilemmas. The new partner's character arc could have been smoother, but John Pankow is excellent in the role with his every anxiety and apprehension felt along the way. (first viewing, Blu-ray Disc) ★★★★
Salaam Bombay! (1988). Living on the streets of Bombay, a homeless boy befriends a drug dealer, the daughter of a local prostitute and a new teen prostitute whilst trying to save up enough money to return to his village in this gritty look at poverty in India. In the lead role, young Shafiq Syed does well and his hopefulness in such dire circumstances is touching. Very little in the film happens narrative-wise though and the film feels rather long and drawn out at close to two hours given that the basic idea seems to be that poverty is unrelenting and never-ending for these unfortunate kids. More focus on the young prostitute or older prostitute's daughter may have helped or at least broken up some of the life-is-terrible monotony. With fine performances all round and its heart in the right place, this is a difficult film to dislike, but it is also not easy to warm to. (first viewing, DVD) ★★
Conspiracy Theory (1997). Obsessed with conspiracy theories, a New York taxi driver has trouble convincing his only friend that there are actually people after him in this thriller starring Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts. The film peters out towards the end as the plot turns grow ridiculous and the movie concludes rather weakly. For the most part though, this is a gripping ride with Gibson in very fine form as an obsessive compulsive man with paranoia issues and a tendency to ramble (outside of Ransom, it is probably a career-best turn). Gibson's ability to evade and foil others leads to some neat scenes too - a homage to Torn Curtain in a packed theatre in particular. Carter Burwell also provides a solid score, making this a very classy film, if one that gives too much attention to plot twists and romance over its portrayal of overwhelming paranoia. (first viewing, DVD) ★★★
28 Days (2000). Ordered to attend rehab for four weeks after causing an accident while under the influence, an alcoholic resists the treatment until repressed memories of her mother's drunkenness come flooding back in this drama starring Sandra Bullock. While Bullock's trajectory is very obvious from the get-go, she does well with the role and the film manages to subvert the romantic comedy road that it initially seems to be going down (with Viggo Mortensen seemingly pitched as an alternative boyfriend). There is still quite a bit of comedy though and very little of it works, playing off the quirks and eccentricities of the other individuals in rehab, many of who cannot help their unusual behaviour. Still, the drama is solid despite the familiarity of it and the fact that stuff like Clean and Sober with Michael Keaton has explored similar issues far better. (first viewing, online) ★★
Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009). Ridiculed for his clumsiness and obesity, a well-intentioned mall cop gets a chance to prove his worth when his shopping centre is taken hostage in this comedy starring Kevin James. The first half-hour is a bit of a chore to get through with formulaic loneliness and lovesickness stuff and James embarrassing himself at every opportunity. Things improve once the hostage situation develops with the unarmed James finding different ways to get one-up on the more nimble baddies. There is, however, still a lot of groan-inducing humour at the expense of his weight and it is never credible how his love interest and daughter end up both being in peril. Had the film begun to focus on the action, like James whacking baddies into tanning salons, this may have been something, but the thrills are always cut short by unrelenting goofy comedy. (first viewing, DVD) ★
The Whole Truth (2015). Baffled by his client's refusal to talk to him, a Louisiana lawyer struggles against the odds to defend a teenager accused of killing his father in this courtroom drama from Courtney Hunt of Frozen River fame. The plot has some curious and unexpected developments in its second half, but it is hard not wonder whether the story would have been juicier with such information revealed earlier on, and with on/off mournful narration from Keanu Reeves throughout, the whole thing feels surprisingly languid for a movie about a young man whose livelihood is on the line. Gabriel Basso is good as the withdrawn teen though, and Jim Belushi also makes quite an impression in a supporting role only seen in flashback, but it is a bit hard to know what to make of the film when it only really comes alive as the plot thickens towards the end. (first viewing, Blu-ray Disc) ★★
Suburbicon (2017). His mother killed in a home invasion gone awry, a preteen resident of an 1950s planned community begins to suspect something sinister in this black comedy written (but not directed) by the Coen Brothers. The film taps into many trademark Coen themes with fate, sardonic coincidences and characters undone by their own greed, though this is not nearly as funny or polished as the average Coen outing. The film pulls back and forth between being about the boy/home invasion, being about the persecution of a new African American family in town, and being about communities that are not as idyllic as they appear, with very jarring tonal shifts as focus changes back and forth. Oscar Isaac and a pre-Honey Boy Noah Jupe are at least excellent though, and Alexandre Desplat provides yet another amazingly atmospheric score. (first viewing, Blu-ray Disc) ★★
Andhadhun (2018). Unusual circumstances lead to a blind pianist learning about a crime but unable to report in this insanely intense thriller from India. Loaded with several twists and turns, not much more can be said about the plot of the movie without ruining a fresh experience, but suffice it to say that the film really places the concept of human decency in question, weaving a tapestry of morally conflicted characters, some of whom act less honorably than others. There are several suspenseful moments throughout, especially as the protagonist's life comes in danger and as things spiral further and further out of control. Some of the comic relief is a little goofy and the songs early on feel a little out of place in a Hitchcockian thriller like this is, but this is a generally riveting watch from start to finish, topped off with a killer final shot and ending. (first viewing, online) ★★★★
The Red Phallus (2018). Teased at school due to her father's phallic carvings, the daughter of a carpenter has trouble adhering to the expectations of both her father and her much older boyfriend in this drama from Bhutan. The film nicely showcases Bhutan's beautiful natural scenery with several breathtaking shots of valleys and mountains obscured by clouds. As a narrative though, it is less successful. The teenager's humiliation, shame and repression is curious, but the very slow pacing (lots of elongated shots of the landscapes) dilutes the intensity of the drama. It is a full 50 minutes in before the narrative becomes more than a just a repetitive look at her daily routine and then the movie concludes so soon afterwards that the ramifications never feel properly explored. This could have been great though with less build-up and more denouement. (first viewing, online) ★
American Honey (2016). Unhappy with her home life, a teenager runs away and gets a job selling magazine subscriptions while fighting off the urge to earn a living by less honorable means in this rambling and unfocused but very well acted drama starring Sasha Lane. At its best, the film channels Paper Moon with Lane and her colleagues conning and manipulating potential customers with everything from sob stories to fake sympathy. Alas, most of the film is not about this but rather a romance between Lane an co-worker, plus her male clients who would prefer if she sold them something else. We also get precious little of Lane's back-story and how her home life ended up so bad, but given that it all feels too long at close to three hours as it is, this might be for the better. Lane is superb throughout here but the high points are sporadic at best. (first viewing, Blu-ray Disc) ★★
American Animals (2018). Four young men who stole millions of dollars worth of rare books from their university library in a daring heist are interviewed while their experiences are reenacted in this fascinating documentary/narrative blend from Bart Layton. While none of the four individuals are as intriguing (or as oddly sympathetic) as the central figure of Layton's prior The Imposter, their meticulous planning definitely is and the whole thing is filmed with lots of style and flair. Particularly effective is Larton inserting brief shots of the men staring down in silent contemplation as the actual heist is reenacted before our eyes. The film intelligently plays around with subjective/selective memory too, with one interviewee even stating (with a sly smile) in the midst of an early reenactment, "if this is how Spencer remembers it, go with it". (first viewing, DVD) ★★★★
American Factory (2019). Tensions rise as the American workers of a Chinese operated factory in Ohio push for a worker's union in this documentary. The film explores the resulting clash of cultures with the Chinese viewing their US workers as lazy, making jokes about duct taping their mouths to stop them from talking and getting distracted, while the Americans are concerned about their long hours, safety and lack of recognition for their efforts. The film does not, however, stay neutral and feels very slanted towards supporting the Americans. The overall outlook is a bit icky too with an unsubtle suggestion that China and US cultures are so different that they can never effectively work together. If sometimes repetitive, the documentary is seldom boring, but it is hard not to wonder what this may have looked like if produced by Chinese filmmakers instead. (first viewing, online) ★★
American Dream (1990). Barbara Kopple's 'other' film about a workers' strike, this lesser seen documentary from the Harlan County, U.S.A. director depicts the chaos and conflict as employees of a food company refuse to accept a drastic wage cut. An atmospheric Michael Small score is a big plus and the moral/ethical considerations are curious as interviewees debate crossing the picket line and risking being called a "scab" in order to provide for their families. This is less immersive than Harlan County, U.S.A. though as Kopple relies heavily on title cards and as several interviewees end up just saying similar things. The reason for striking (wages rather than safety) is also less encapsulating. The whole thing is pretty decent if viewed with memories of Harlan County, U.S.A. put to one side, but this pales against Kopple's landmark documentary. (first viewing, DVD) ★★
Roadside Prophets (1992). Two strangers encounter eccentric individuals as they travel Nevada to scatter an acquaintance's ashes in this motorcycle-riding road movie. The film bears similarities to Easy Rider but Joseph Minion's Motorama is probably a more accurate template, though the film actually awkwardly sits halfway between being something very serious and outright demented. While the likes of John Cusack offer energetic turns, the film is never kooky enough to exist in its own universe a la Motorama, Interstate 60 or Fear & Loathing. The drama does not quite work either since the whole scattering of a stranger's ashes always seems so random without the protagonist really reflecting on if he is using the ashes as an excuse to run away. If seldom boring, this feels like the work of filmmakers unsure of what they wanted. (first viewing, online) ★★
Monkey Business (1998). Not to be confused with the identically titled Marx Bros and Cary Grant movies, this family comedy focuses on four preteen kids who use their hacking and rapping skills to foil crooks who have been framing upstanding citizens. While the film boasts the novelty of a young Shia LaBeouf hacking into NASA in the early days of the internet, this is far less engaging than it might sound. All of the child actors are decent, but most of the adults are incredibly stilted and the film has several inept and clumsy action sequences, set to silly sound effects no less. The music, which sounds a lot like the Seinfeld theme, is no help either. Perhaps most disappointingly, there are barely any animal actors all. Even the titular monkey is given nothing to do other than share a single dance with the kids in an odd and out-of-place montage sequence. (first viewing, online) ★