With nothing much to do, in August I had a lot of free time dedicated to watching movies and TV shows. Among my favorites of August are Boyhood, Guardians of the Galaxy and the first season of Breaking Bad. I couldn’t watch only good films, my curiosity had to make me waste time with some duds like Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return and The Fourth Kind. Here is my list of films and TV of August 2014:
First Time Viewings:
Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
Well, I have finally seen Boyhood. It’s quite a fantastic film and by the end I got chills down my spine. That is the sign of a great movie. I never felt the length, which is longer than the usual film, almost three hours, and I enjoyed spending time with these characters. I didn’t grow up in the States like Mason Jr. did but I still found some parts of his life that were similar with mine like I’m sure it’s the case with many others my age . However, Mason Jr.’s life isn’t the standard life, the exact cycle all children go through until they come of age which many people misunderstood from the film. It’s just an example. Some of us have harder or easier lives than Mason Jr., but that doesn’t take anything away from the film’s strength.
The essence of Boyhood is in how it captures the beauty of life, how time changes us and how we all go through the usual milestones like graduation, first love, etc. together with our families. This is, in my opinion, the message everyone should get out of this film and what makes it so powerful.
I would also like to add that Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, who play Mason Jr.’s parents do some great, career-best work for which I hope they get recognized in the awards season. Even the lead actor, Ellar Coltrane, who doesn’t work professionally, manages to give a great performance as the story’s hero, an essential asset to Boyhood’s force. A
Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn, 2014)
My response isn’t different than the general one, great actors, lots of jokes, awesome soundtrack, fantastic visuals, plenty of action. I liked that I haven’t heard of these characters before which is a first for me. The film is far from original in terms of story. There’s a MacGuffin which everyone wants. Then the team is forced, firstly they don’t like each other very much, but they will in the end. Dramatic villains, of course. The final fight takes place in the big city. Yada Yada. Sequel. However, it’s a lot more fun than the last Marvel films and better than The Avengers. It also reminded me of Star Wars with Groot as Chewbacca and Peter Quill as a jokester Han Solo. Personally I liked it a lot and am looking forward to the next film. Cheers to Chris Pratt, the movie star. Let’s hope he stays as pleasant as in this film. B+
Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999)
As a first time watch, I can’t say I’m blown away by Magnolia. I liked it alright though I will need to watch it again. I thought the ending was a bit cheesy and that there were scenes that crossed the line of pretentiousness. It’s a hard film to digest on a first viewing so I won’t rate it for now.
Anderson is really a master at how he juggles with the multiple storylines, never making them confusing. He is also brilliant at getting the best acting out of his actors as seen with surprise act Tom Cruise. Now I see why people say Magnolia is Paul Thomas Anderson’s most divisive film, you either buy into the stories or not.
Fantasia (Walt Disney, 1940)
Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)
I’ve said it before and I’m saying it now again. Music really does make a horror film scary. The main theme is so simple and yet so effective and creepy. I watched Halloween at a late hour like one should. And there were parts that I found suspenseful and scary like the opening credits and scene as well as the parts with the first girl who gets killed whose name I can’t remember. And that mask is just creepy. Together with the original Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween represents the best that the slasher genre had to offer. B+
True Romance (Tony Scott, 1993)
You can see that Tarantino wrote this from a mile. The conversations and the characters feel like something he could write. This lovers-on-the-run black comedy is fun and colorful thanks to its wonderful actors that bring in a lot of energy with their kooky characters. Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are a joy to watch, a cute couple you root for while an actor like Gary Oldman brings in the crazy with his over-the-top and frankly entertaining role as Drexl Spivey. B
Beauty and the Beast (Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise, 1991)
As a child I had coloring books with Beauty and the Beast but I’ve only seen the film now. I’m not a Disney aficionado and I still have to catch up with some of their classics but I enjoyed this film a lot. I especially liked the songs which I thought had well written lyrics and went very well with the animation which was also expertly realized. I am not going crazy over this film but I can see why some people have. Did you guys felt disappointed when the Beast turned into the Prince? I kinda did because the character we got used to turned into a different guy. Did anyone thought it took away from the ending? I did. (I know that’s the story, it’s just a feeling I had) B
Martyrs (Pascal Laugier, 2008)
I never expected this film to go in the direction it took. But it’s an intriguing idea that makes me glad for seeing this French horror film. The French really like to show blood and gore and there is plenty in this one. I appreciate the structure. It starts as a revenge film’s ending and we have no idea what is going on. It doesn’t shy away from brutality and hard-to-watch scenes. It certainly joins the group of good-films-to-watch-only-once like Dancer in the Dark and Requiem for a Dream. Once it gets to the second part I was enraged and intrigued at the same time. After finishing the film I felt the gore was justified. One of a kind this film. B
The One I Love (Charlie McDowell, 2014)
Starring the wonderful Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss, this relationship drama with a twist surprised me. It plays out like a Twilight Zone episode and uses the twist to examine this couple’s relationship. The two leads are great in their meaty roles. I enjoyed their acting especially Moss’ who I am a fan of from Mad Men. Despite some shortcomings at the end I enjoyed this film a lot. This is proof that great films can be done with little money. B
Bug (William Friedkin, 2006)
A great losing-my-mind movie with an outstanding Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon. I’ll add this to the good-films-to-watch-only-once list. It’s a powerful piece adapted from a play by Tracy Letts, who also wrote August: Osage County, another play with a maniacal protagonist. Judd gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Agnes, a lonely woman living in the middle of nowhere following the disappearance of her young son several years ago. She must face the release from prison of her abusive ex-husband and her alcoholism. One night, she is introduced by her friend to a man played by Michael Shannon who has paranoid thoughts involving bugs and conspiracies. It’s a grim film but with some great actors. It does feel like a play. B
M (Fritz Lang, 1931)
I struggled with this film. Besides the frightening opening and Peter Lorre’s speech at the end I wrestled with M. I was angry at how the system dealt with the whole situation which could have been controlled, avoided and solved easy. I was angry at how they didn’t take measures with child security and how the killer escaped through their fingers so easily. I do agree that the speech at the end was really great and that there were many shots that I liked a lot like the one with the ball coming out of the woods in the beginning or when Peter Lorre looked in the mirror to look for the M on his shoulder. Not the crotch shot though which was unnecessary and disgusting. I have mixed feelings about this film. B-
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Anthony and Joe Russo, 2014)
I enjoyed the action in Winter Soldier and it is better than First Avenger, but it’s still a Marvel film. For an action film, it’s stellar but it isn’t anymore special. I enjoyed Scarlett Johansson’s enlarged role and she has good chemistry with Chris Evans. I just thought it was alright and nothing more. It’s because of superhero fatigue. B-
Like Father Like Son (Hirokazu Koreeda, 2013)
A Japanese family drama that is well constructed, wonderfully performed and artistically shot, Like Father Like Son tells the story of two families from different social groups that find out their children were switched at birth. Conflicts appear once the parents decide to switch the children since they are still very young (they’re 5 or 6). It’s a good drama but I have some difficulties believing the story.
In my opinion, it’s pretty obvious what you do. Even though I’m not a parent I would like to meet my biological son, but I wouldn’t make a switch since it would be so strange and hard for the child to adapt to the new life. Especially with how different the families are financially and socially. The film uses this plot point to conclude with the father from the rich family learning to be more open and spend more time with his son. I felt the director used the switch only to get to that point. Would you do the switch? B-
Following (Christopher Nolan, 1998)
Christopher Nolan’s debut feature film, Following, is heavily influenced by film noir as seen in the dark visuals, the mysterious atmosphere and in the structure and characters. The film tells the story of a writer who follows people on the street. This way he meets a burglar named Cobb who introduces him to the dark side of London.
The film is nicely shot and the music helps in making the noir mood. The acting is alright but visibly amateurish. For a debut film done with as little money as possible, it’s an achievement. It’s not a brilliant work like Memento but it shows that behind the camera is a man who is capable of great things in cinema. B-
Cold In July (Jim Mickle, 2014)
This film starts interestingly like a revenge film and in the second half turns into a family drama version of Drive, a change that I found forced and uninspired. It started so good and then…it chickened out. It has a cool electronic soundtrack straight out of the Cliff Martinez School of Cool Electronic Soundtracks, a soundtrack that despite the Texas-setting of the story works very well.
However, in both parts of the film we get some wonderful work from the actors. Michael C. Hall in a post-Dexter role carries the film greatly. I do hope he had a different haircut though. Sam Shepard and Don Johnson are veterans in the business always experienced and delivering with the latter being the comic relief of the film. The cinematography reminds me of Drive too with its popping red and beautiful dark blue. The violence is a welcome addition for a dark tale like Cold In July. Blood is shed from scene one so don’t worry. What I didn’t appreciate was the change in the story in the second half. I bet some people welcomed it happily but I thought it dragged the film. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check this film out. B-
The Man Who Knew Too Much (Alfred Hitchcock, 1956)
Since 2011, every August 13th, Hitchcock’s birthday, I watch one of his films I haven’t seen before to honor his master. This year I chose what I believe to be lesser-Hitchcock. Overlong, reaching two hours, this remake of Hitchcock’s 1934 film of the same name stars James Stewart and Doris Day. I like both actors but the film doesn’t have the great suspense we expect from a Hitchcock picture and the story is not as strong. I find the presence of music in the film strange. And did I say it’s very long? C+
Lucy (Luc Besson, 2014)
What a silly and crazy film! I saw this in a theater on a double feature with Guardians of the Galaxy following after. I enjoyed it but I am also aware of how silly the whole thing is. Scarlett Johansson continues her winning streak with this over-the-top action film from Luc Besson. Based on the idea that we use only 10% of our brain, Johansson stars as Lucy, a woman studying in Taipei who when doing a “favor” for a friend she gets a bag of drugs put inside her to transport to another country. When she gets hit in the stomach where the bag is hidden, it breaks and the drug, which makes your brain to work on a higher level than 10%, gets in contact with her body. The film follows how she struggles with the changes that follow and how to stop other people from getting this drug. It’s one crazy entertaining film and that’s what I liked about it. I like that it went all the way at the end no matter how silly. The ending is hilariously silly but I liked it. C+
Chef (Jon Favreau, 2014)
Being a fan of food films, I had to see this. It’s all delicious and nice but I found the lack of real conflict in this film alarming. It all settles too easily. I know food films don’t have the most life-shattering of conflicts but here it all ends well too well. It’s enjoyable but its length takes away from that enjoyment. The food is of course the most appealing aspect. I would very much like to have that sandwich. So, the main problem is that the story ends its conflicts too soon and too tidy. C+
Muppets Most Wanted (James Bobin, 2014)
This is the fourth doppelganger film released this year after Enemy, The Double and another film on this list that I will not divulge. The presence of Tina Fey is what attracted me since 30 Rock is my favorite TV show. The Muppets aren’t bad either. It’s got some nice songs and some nice jokes (“Good night, Danny Trejo!“) but it’s not as enjoyable as its 2011 predecessor. But it is a decent addition to a successful franchise. C+
Maleficent (Robert Stromberg, 2014)
Angelina Jolie returns in this retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale in the role of the misunderstood villain, Maleficent. Thank God it’s only 90 minutes because this film is boring. The only appealing asset of this film is Angelina Jolie in a role which she looks like she had fun with.
The story is yet another origin story in which the supporting good characters are turned into bad and the villain becomes good. It didn’t entertain me. The three fairies looked creepy so small and with wings. They were supposed to be the comic relief but instead were dumb as a box of rocks. But I do like the three actresses and I think they’re definitely talented but I didn’t like their roles here. Sharlto Copley as the father is terrible . What is wrong with this man? He was so good in District 9.
Plus, it’s got a lot of ridiculous moments like, for example, the one when Aurora gets stung. She gets into a room where all the spinning wheels were thrown away and there there was a needle shinning and waiting to sting her. I know there was a curse that drew her to the needle but it wasn’t like that in the fairytale. In the fairytale there was a tower and a hidden room, not a room with a pile of spinning wheels and needle waiting for her. It was an attempt at making the scene cinematic but it was a failure. C
We Are What We Are (Jim Mickle, 2013)
A cannibal horror that I found atmospheric and well acted but not scary and frankly boring. I had to forward through the story because I didn’t have the patience to watch the whole thing as it moved too slow. It’s about a family of hillbillies who dress like Mumford and Sons and have a tradition of eating people. It is mainly about the daughters who doubt their father following the death of their mother. It has mood but that’s not enough. C
Labor Day (Jason Reitman, 2013)
Let’s make some peach pies with a sweet-natured fugitive in Jason Reitman’s Labor Day. Well, that fugitive is really handy and he sure knows how to make some good pie. He probably gives great back rubs too, right ladies? Too bad he’s just a fantasy or at least this is what I presume this story set in 50’s-looking late 1980’s is. Because there is no way this film is a plausible story for any person in its right mind. At its core, a coming-of-age story for Hank, Kate Winslet’s character’s son, whose life is changed completely on the 1987 Labor Day weekend when he and his mother are kidnapped by a fugitive named Frank Chambers played by Josh Brolin at his hunkiest, who is looking for shelter from the police.
Adele, played by the great Kate Winslet is a single mother whose loneliness, after her husband, Hank’s father, left her for his secretary, brings her a lot of suffering. The presence of Frank as well as his good nature makes her fall for him and Frank himself falls for Adele’s kindness and beauty. In less than a week. I know that love-at-first-sight exists but these characters want at one point to run off together despite the short time they’ve known each other. I found that unbelievable and it bothered me a lot.
The coming-of-age part isn’t as successful. Frank does teach Hank a few things his dad probably didn’t over the course of these few days like changing a tire and throwing a ball. Really, the guy should have his own show. But what moves Hank the most is the peach pie making. Hank is so impressed by Frank’s pie making that he dedicates his life to making peach pies. A scene that is so detailed it looks like it referenced the cooking scene from Jeanne Dielman (a film I haven’t seen but a scene I’m familiar with). This happens at the end to show us how important was this weekend for Hank. There are also some scenes with a very opinionated young girl that is also the first girl he kisses. Despite all these events Hank’s coming-of-age felt more like crossing some things of a list rather than maturing. It’s not as delved into as I wish it was.
Also, Labor Day has some serious issues with the rules the story sets. Frank stays a lot outside and presenting himself to kids, showing no signs of behaving like a man who just escaped from prison, with no intention of hiding. This character feels like he came to teach the kid how change a tire and make a pie and sweep the mom off her feet. Another thing that irritated me was how nosy the townspeople were as seen in the cop’s behavior and the stupid scene at the bank at the end of the film. The last thing I’ll say before I finish complaining about this film is that it’s that it is a cheesy melodrama, stupid, terribly written and directed by an otherwise great filmmaker, Jason Reitman of Juno and Young Adult. Too bad for Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin who despite the stupid story have wonderful chemistry and give really good performances. What a shame.
Well I stretched this opinion so long it turned into a full time review. D+
Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return (Will Finn & Dan St. Pierre, 2014)
You’re asking yourself why did I watch this? Pure curiosity. I have to fill my worst-of-the-year list with something. This sequel made a lot of people question its release in theaters because of the cheap animation, something that is very noticeable.
Well, now that I’ve seen it I can truly say that the animation isn’t the worst thing about it. I actually thought the exterior shots of the castle from Oz looked nice. Dorothy does look like a Sim though. In my opinion, the songs and the dialogue are the worst things about this film. The music is so cheesy. The worst kind of cheesy pop song. They were written by Bryan Adams. And the dialogue is strange. The story isn’t great either. The villain is the Wicked Witch of the West’s brother, the Jester, voiced by Martin Short. He also voices the villain from Kansas, The Appraiser, who wants to take Dorothy and her aunt and uncle’s house so he can fulfill his corporate intentions. I like Martin Short but my ears hurt hearing his screeching voice here. The film has a stellar cast of people who aren’t exactly at the peak of their career but still important artists like Patrick Stewart, Bernadette Peters, Dan Aykroyd, Kelsey Grammer and Jim Belushi. Lea Michele is Dorothy and other performers are Oliver Platt, Hugh Dancy and Megan Hilty.
The budget is huge, of $70 million, a big number. Couldn’t they have get better screenwriters to create a decent story? And drop the cheesy songs with some more upbeat and at least catchy songs? An interesting exercise in failing. At least it’s not Foodfight! Waiting for the FlopHouse/How Did This Get Made? episodes on this film. It’s a perfect fit. D-
The Fourth Kind (Olatunde Osunsanmi, 2009)
Sometimes I have problems with my curiosity because I get to see shit films like The Fourth Kind. Yes, this is that film in which Milla Jovovich tells us at the beginning of the film in a dramatic way that the film uses real footage of the woman she plays, Dr. Abigail Tyler, a psychologist living in Alaska whose patients and family have trouble with aliens.
The footage that is supposed to be real is just as fake as the film, they just put a less Hollywood-looking woman to play Milla Jovovich’s character to make it look real. I hate this movie. Hate is a bad word, but I really hate this film for the lying. It also is a cringeworthy, unintentionally funny and void of scares with terrible performances. Honestly, I stopped the film after the opening speech to see if it’s true. I don’t know if I would have been scared by the “real” scenes but I think I would have questioned their authenticity at one point. Why would someone pretend something you can find if it’s true so easily? Why? F
Second or Multiple Viewings:
Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)
I caught this dark tale one early morning on TCM and watched it until the end. It’s still as dark, violent and tragic as I remember it. But the phrase “What’s in the box?” and Brad Pitt’s delivery still amuses me.
It’s just such a grim story. The darkest of noirs, the bleakest of thrillers. You can never go wrong with David Fincher. A
Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
Speaking of David Fincher, I also watched again the great Zodiac film. I would add this film on the list of scary non-horror films for the basement scene and the murder scenes, especially the one at the lake. I enjoy serial killer films and this one is among the most ambitious stories about this subject. I’ve watched the film in 2008 on HBO and didn’t remember much so I’m glad I watched it again. Time well spent. Also, this time I watched the Director’s Cut which I doubt was on HBO. Pretty great story and even though we don’t find out who the Zodiac killer was the film gives us a clue and makes a great case for one guy. B+
Beetlejuice (Tim Burton, 1988)
A fun Tim Burton black comedy with an electric Michael Keaton which I also watched on an early morning on TCM, one of the few channels worth opening the TV for. I felt it ended too soon, but I still had some fun. It’s nice to take a trip to the past with an early Burton. Maybe this way I can wipe off the memory of seeing Dark Shadows.
This film, despite the dark subject, is lighthearted, funny and enjoyable. A comedy for the goth kid. B+
Geena Davis, please come back and make some movies. Cutthroat Island was such a long time ago.
Breaking Bad: Season 1 (2008)
This show is brilliant. Even though in the first season there’s not as much going on as in the future seasons, it’s still an electric series. Bryan Cranston is amazing as Walter White, a role for the ages. Aaron Paul is great as Jesse Pinkman, a role which could have been brought down to a stereotype. Anna Gunn is wonderful too, can’t wait to see the Emmy winning parts. I’m in the second half of season 2 now and I think it’s getting better with each episode. A all the way
The Honorable Woman: Pilot (2014)
This spy drama starring Maggie Gyllenhaal is the right kind of spy stories. In right, I mean the real kind of spy stories, more Tinker tailor Soldier Spy, less Mission Impossible. This looks real and dangerous and I like it. It also features a scene with How To Disappear Completely by Radiohead. It’s a miniseries, so there is no commitment in the future. You sit and you watch which is what I hope to do soon with this show. It started promising. B+/A-
Red Oaks: Pilot (2014)
Craig Roberts from 2011’s Submarine stars in Red Oaks, a comedy a la Caddyshack set in the 80’s from Amazon. It is part of the third wave of TV pilots that could become series. I really want this to become one. It’s funny, stylish, looks like the 80’s and has potential. B+
The Cosmopolitans: Pilot (2014)
The other Amazon pilot I have seen is from Whit Stillman, expert in conversations of the richer than rich. I’ve only seen Damsels in Distress from the director/writer but I have an idea of what his style is like. It solidifies with the viewing of The Cosmopolitans. It looks like witty Gossip Girl with probably less drama or more smart talk. I like that the writing is the focus here and not the clothes or setting. The Cosmopolitans is set in Paris focusing on some American ex-pats living the Parisian life. It also helps that they all look like they’ve come out of a fashion magazine. I’m sad it ended too soon, it got even better. Let’s hope it gets picked up. It’s not for everyone but I’m sure it’s going to be good. Plus, Chloe Sevigny is in it. Another reason to watch The Cosmopolitans other than Paris and the clothes. B
Outlander is a new TV series from Starz network based on the Outlander book series by Diana Gabaldon, a part time travel, part romance, part historical show about a young nurse from 1945, England who travels back in time to 1744 Scotland. Hijinks ensue.
It’s probably the only pilot that got me excited this summer from the beginning. I mean I liked it from the start. It doesn’t feel like prestige TV, but it’s well made, with some great actors and production. I believe it has something both for males and females. The producers will make sure there is a balance between the romance between Claire Beauchump, the nurse, and Jamie Fraser, a Scottish warrior she meets in the past, a big focus in the novels, and some action for the males given the turmoil of those times and also that the show looks a lot like Game of Thrones. But it’s probably more Wuthering Heights than Game of Thrones. I will be watching. B
The Strain: Pilot (2014)
The Strain based on a Guillermo del Toro NOVEL (this is news to me) doesn’t have a bad pilot but I just didn’t interest me enough to continue. I also haven’t heard the best things about the future episodes. Last month I watched Extant, the Halle Berry space drama from CBS, and I had the same response as with The Strain. This show stars alright. It’s about an epidemiologist, Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, played by Corey Stoll, and a strange virus that kills almost all the people on a plane without showing any signs. Setting aside the virus part, it’s really about ugly vampires. So far I have no intention in watching the rest of the show. And I don’t see that changing any time soon. B-/C+
Other shows that I am watching now are The Leftovers from HBO, a show I struggled with in the beginning but grew to eventually enjoy. It’s a good drama with some great actors and an interesting but bleak premise. The last episode it aired so far is in my opinion, the best the show delivered so far. Bring in the finale.
Also, the original Twilight Zone show rarely fails in not amazing me. I saw the famous It’s A Good Life episode as well as The After Hours or the one with the mannequins, Nothing in the Dark or the one with young Robert Redford, Eye of the Beholder or the one with the “ugly” woman, The Fever or the one with the gambling, Living Doll or the one with Talky Tina and The Masks or the one with the old man and his terrible family.
What did you watch last month? And what do you think of my list?