Movies We Watched

Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.

Hereafter poster

Hereafter

2010. Director: Clint Eastwood. Starring: Matt Damon, Cecile De France, Bryce Dallas Howard, Thiery Neuvic, Jay Mohr, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Richard Kind.

Clint Eastwood is perhaps more known now for being a director than an actor and he almost always delivers a handsomely made film, even if they don’t break any sort of new ground. But Hereafter sticks out like a sore thumb in his modern directorial repertoire – a too often overly sentimental, emotionally manipulative three-way story about death and what might come after. To be fair the blame falls on the script (by the usually excellent writer Peter Morgan, of such films as Frost/Nixon and The Last King of Scotland) and not on Eastwood’s direction, and the performances across the board are all very solid. But aside from a surprisingly bold but arguably entirely unnecessary (and tasteless?) Tsunami scene at the start, Hereafter follows the path you’d expect pretty much from start to finish. And the fact it had so much potential makes it all the more frustrating.
-ROSS

Aliens poster

Aliens

1986 USA. Director: James Cameron. Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Hendrickson, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein.

And with this I scratch another off my List of Shame, one that many many people have been nagging me to watch for a very long time. I had put it off after being less than enthused with the first film when I saw it ages ago (but I do want to rewatch it now), and because the shift from sci-fi to action that I’d heard about the second film didn’t really intrigue me. But I ended up quite enjoying it. It’s a great example of how to build a good and suspenseful action story; it says high-octane for most of the time, but it never loses sight of Ripley, and it allows her to gradually build into the action heroine she is at the end by using traits and skills established early on. The emotional throughline involving Newt is predictable, but effective. It’s interesting to compare this movie to Avatar, because lots of details from here turn up again, except here they all work much better within the narrative, with no over-earnest message-picture pandering. Similarly, this is a much better female empowerment narrative than a lot of so-called girl power movies in recent years, although my one complaint with the film is the over-determined machismo of the marines – I got the point, but some of those early boasting scenes went on far too long. Overall, though, a more than solid film that more sci-fi actioners should learn from.
-JANDY

(CANADA)

Taking Off poster

Taking Off

1971 USA. Director: Milos Forman. Starring: Lynn Carlin, Buck Henry, Linnea Heacock, Georgia Engel, Tony Harvey.

I went into this not knowing anything about it other than it was directed by Milos Forman and presumably somewhat trippy, since it was programmed as part of the Cinefamily/Cinespia “Fun with Your Head” series. Turns out it was Forman’s first film in the United States, made when he still couldn’t really speak English, relying on actor Buck Henry to help him determine whether the dialogue part of each take was good or not. But it doesn’t much matter in the long run, as the story of a teenager “taking off” to live with her hippie friends and leaving her parents to search for her plays out in a combination of wistful musical numbers (by such up and comers as Carly Simon and Kathy Bates; Ike and Tina Turner show up for a more rousing tune) and dryly absurd scenarios involving the parents. In fact, we spend most of our time with the parents, played by Buck Henry and Lynn Carlin, as they stumble around trying to figure out what to do and how to make sense of the changing world – a scene where they go to a meeting of parents of runaway children and learn to smoke marijuana is priceless. But infused in all the hilarity and absurdity is a very real sense of yearning, a need to connect both across generations and within your own. It’s a fascinating film – often ridiculous, but just as often genuinely moving. I went into it miffed that Cinefamily keeps programming other things on the nights that used to be reserved for silents, but came out very glad that I’d happened to be there on the night Taking Off was screening.
-JANDY

The Man from Earth poster

The Man From Earth

2007 US. Director: Richard Schenkman. Starring: David Lee Smith, Tony Todd, John Billingsley.

The Man From Earth is a throwback of sorts, a sci-fi flick that doesn’t rely on special effects and pretense to tell a story. Instead, a fantastic storyline supported by engaging characters and metaphysical ideas drew me in immediately and never let go. The film tackles topics ranging from death and immortality to religion and time travel, and does so in a thoughtful, thought-provoking manner. There is never a dull moment, and the progression of the story is far from predictable, oftentimes staying a step ahead of even the most astute viewer. It is certainly a challenging film, in that it essentially boils down to a single-setting conversation revolving around questioning perceptions of reality, but it is incredibly rewarding and endlessly debatable. [Also see Andrew’s review] -DOMENIC

Netflix Instant (USA)

Alone in the Dark poster

Alone In The Dark

1982 USA. Director: Jack Sholder. Starring: Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Donald Pleasance.

By just about any measure, this is not a good movie. If memory serves, it wasn’t overly scary either. However, it’s one of those early 80s horror films that still somehow manages to be fast-paced, create memorable scenes (even a few “thrills”) and allow “creative” and entertaining acting choices – even if it is far from being horrific or even spooky. That point about the acting isn’t completely meant sarcastically – sure there’s some poor acting here, but the actors seemed to relish their roles and really put forth a variety of approaches (granted, many of those approaches defaulted to “big”). Given that the cast consists of Jack Palance, Martin Landau and Donald Pleasance playing insane asylum patients and doctors, you’ve got the makings for an interesting brew. The basic premise is that a power outage allows a group of 4 inmates to escape the asylum and terrorize the family of one of the new doctors in town. I can’t really pretend that the “punk rock” concert and the no nukes rally weren’t ridiculous, but Carol Levy’s blond babysitter – in particular when in peril – was hands down the low point of the film. Then again, it had Jack Palance with a cross bow. The 80s had their moments…
-BOB

[rec] 2 poster

[rec] 2

2009 Spain. Director: Jaume Balaguero, Paco Plaza. Starring: Jonathan Mellor, Oscar Zafra, Ariel Casas.

Though this sequel (and I do mean immediate sequel) to 2007’s pretty damn wonderful [rec] took an unexpected plot path and was likely far better than anyone had a right to expect, it still remains a disappointment to me. I suppose that’s partially because of elevated expectations after I heard some very high praise, but it’s mostly due to the fact that it left much of its previous creepy atmosphere behind and went with a more full blown EXPERIENCE. What I assume was designed to be more of an intense ride eventually became a bit tiring and, if not dull, at least rather ho hum (it’s actually not a bad example of Chaos Cinema). The tension from the first film felt drained in spots as they tried to bring in more effects, focus on some of the demon-like beasts and really shake the hell out of that camera during the in your face attacks. The shifting plot was also a problem – every interesting tweak or new revelation was usually followed pretty closely by an eye-rolling moment. A mixed bag overall, but in the end simply not that scary. Or fun. [Also seeAndrew’s review] -BOB

Senna Poster

Senna

2010 UK. Director: Asif Kapadia. Starring: Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost.

I remember the year Ayrton Senna died. I was young and F1 was never a sport I followed closely but when the young Brazilian driver arrived on the scene it seemed that everyone who shared a common tongue adopted him as their own. It was hard not to: Senna was smart, well spoken and he had a pride in his heritage that was inspiring. I was initially surprised that so many people, even those not familiar with the sport or the man, seemed taken with Asif Kapadia’s documentary on the legendary driver but having seen it, it’s clear to see why. Using archival footage of Ayrton intercut with home video from the Senna family and voice-overs from other drivers, officials, reporters and family, Kapadia builds a fascinating and informative look at the icon that took the racing world by storm and his appeal is as contagious now as it was when he was alive. A fascinating and entertaining look at the too-short life of an icon. [Also see David’s capsule] -MARINA

Straw Dogs Poster

Straw Dogs

1971 USA/UK. Director: Sam Peckinpah. Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Susan George, Peter Vaughan.

With a remake (argh) near release, the time was ripe to catch up with Sam Peckinpah’s original. Dustin Hoffman and Susan George star as the happy couple who head to England so Hoffman can work on his new book until a group of locals attempts to break into their house, pushing Hoffman from quiet professor type to defender of his fortress – by any means necessary. I love the editing of Peckinpah’s film which effectively builds suspense and the slow motion which is effectively used (more-so than any other film that comes to mind). I love the banter between Hoffman and George and the growing strain on their relationship is both realistic and beautifully portrayed. This is definitely one to see but not for the faint of heart. There are a few scenes which are difficult to watch but none quite as troubling as the rape scene which had me stirring uncomfortably as it played out.
-MARINA

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Jandy Hardesty
Admin

Looks like The Man from Earth is definitely one to check out, Domenic! I went back and looked at Andrew’s review (linked in the post), and he gave it five stars as well. I’d never heard of it before.

Ross, sadly, that’s about what I expected from Hereafter based on the trailer. I hope for better from Eastwood – his J. Edgar is opening the AFI Film Festival this year; not sure I’ll catch it there, but it’s definitely on I want to see.

Bob, when you say “not a bad example of Chaos Cinema,” do you mean that in a good way? I generally don’t like Chaos Cinema; but then I did enjoy the first [rec], and I guess it has its Chaos parts, too.

Andrew James
Admin

If you go back and look at Kurt’s epic “Sci-fi of 20th Century” post, there are a lot of mentions for Man from Earth in the comments section there as well.

Jandy Hardesty
Admin

I think I stopped reading those comments after the umpteenth “WTF, where’s The Matrix” comment. :p

Ross Miller
Guest

@Jandy – I had hope that it was just the trailer for Hereafter that made it seem that way but nope, it’s like that pretty much through and through. Which is a shame considering he’s shown over the last decade with particularly Mystic River that he can explore themes of death and grief in an honest and powerful way.

@Bob – I agree that REC 2 wasn’t as good as the first but I think I liked it a lot more than you. The only major thing I disliked was the focus on the religious aspect, with the possession and so forth. I think it worked best knowing as little as possible about the virus. But I thought they still nailed most of the scares, jump scares or otherwise.

Jandy Hardesty
Admin

Heh, I actually didn’t like Mystic River all that much either. Though it’s been long enough since I saw it that I can’t really identify why.

Ross Miller
Guest

Really? I love it. It gets me every time. That scene where Penn is trying to get to his daughter’s body and the police are all holding him back is heartbreaking. I’d be curious why you didn’t like it, because you may end up flat out hating Hereafter then 😛

Jandy Hardesty
Admin

Like I said, I don’t remember much of it, I just remember being distinctly underwhelmed.

Bob Turnbull
Admin

Jandy, I guess I didn’t phrase that comment about Chaos Cinema very well – I didn’t really mean it as a compliment. Though I like the Bourne movies, the general implementation of the “chaos” style of action film usually ends up boring me (which is why I enjoyed “The Raid” so much – it’s filled with many long takes of the fighting). I guess the original had a bit of that style too, but I just remember seeing it in the theatre and occasionally just gripping the chair due to the tense buildups – I just didn’t feel that with the second one (I suppose seeing it with a crowd may have changed that perspective).

Ross, yes, if I had written a longer review I think I would have mentioned the whole “reason for the virus” plot points. There were one or two interesting things they threw in, but they never quite followed them up. I agree that it was much more interesting when it was an unknown virus – bringing their reasons into play took away a lot from the zombie demons. I might’ve been a bit harsh on it as I suppose I did jump several times, but I just felt that the first film really earned its scares a lot more.

Jandy Hardesty
Admin

I didn’t figure you for a fan of Chaos Cinema (especially not linking Matthias Stork’s video!), which is why I was slightly confused by your calling it a “good example” of it. 🙂 I get you now.

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