Films of July 2015

Hi, there! This post has been in development for a while but I finished it only know. Sorry about that.

During my break from blogging I watched some interesting films, mostly good as I do a pretty good job of staying away from bad ones. Some films, that I caught up during my hiatus, that really made a mark on me are La Jetee, Breaking The Waves, Phoenix, It’s Such A Beautiful Day, The Player, Contempt, 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Brokeback Mountain, A Separation, Trainspotting and, of course, Mad Max: Fury Road.

Now that I’m back I’ll resume writing my monthly recaps where I share what I saw each month. Recently I started reading daily again and will share my reading list as well. But that one is going to be considerably small. 

First Watch:

Say Anything… (Cameron Crowe, 1989)

I didn’t really know what to expect from this film. Usually I read about every film I watch beforehand but in this case for some reason I didn’t. I thought this would be a teen romance film but it’s a film about growing up in a class of its own. At the center is the romance between Lloyd Dobler and Diane Court, played memorably by John Cusack and Ione Skye, which was very sweet and tender. Both characters are very likable and it’s hard not to get invested in their love affair. The most famous moment in this film is the boombox scene which played out completely different that I thought. It’s not some big, cheesy moment between the two lovers, but something so brief and complex at the same time. Another significant part of the film is dedicated to the relationship between Diane and her father, played by John Mahoney. They don’t act like the usual father and daughter, but are very understanding of one another and rely on each other, something which I found very moving as this is not something we see every day. Part of the growing up done in Diane’s life, besides discovering love with Lloyd, comes from what she uncovers about her father’s life later in the film that truly disappoints her. In Lloyd’s case he faces uncertainty about his life, is clueless about what he should do after finishing high school. The speech he gives when he’s invited for dinner at Diane’s and her father’s is one of the most memorable moments in Say Anything… It’s a truly wonderful film that I urge you to see. A

Spy (Paul Feig, 2015)

Spy box office

Wow, this was a blast. I had so much fun watching this film. I laughed probably every minute of it. It’s definitely one of the best comedies I’ve seen in a while. I like that it’s not just a spy story with some dirty jokes in it, but it actually has an idea at the center that is very relatable. Besides the actual plot of Spy, the film is actually about a person who has no self-confidence that finds her mojo and breaks some personal barriers. Bridesmaids, another Paul Feig film which I recently rewatched and am happy to say it still holds up, had a similarly human idea at its core, that of a woman slowly going crazy after hitting rock bottom in every aspect of her life.

I thought all the performances were excellent but I had a soft spot for Melissa McCarthy’s Susan Cooper and for Rose Byrne’s bitchy villain. Both women were so fun in this. I highly recommend this film. Highly. A

Love and Mercy (Bill Pohlad, 2014)

One of the most acclaimed dramas of the year and well received biopics in recent years, Love and Mercy, follows two tumultuous  periods in the life of Beach Boys member Brian Wilson. Firstly we see him in the 1960’s shortly before and after the recording of the band’s best work, Pet Sounds, and in the 1980’s when he meets Melinda Ledbetter, his future second wife, who will save him from the clutches of his manipulating psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Landy.

I don’t remember seeing a biopic of this sort which parallels two spans of a man’s life so well as in here. While I don’t believe Love and Mercy’s approach can be called fresh, it sure works here greatly. In the 1960’s part of the film, Wilson is played by Paul Dano who captures the singer’s ambition and shows a bit of craziness in his eyes without being over the top. Compared to Paul Dano’s slowly mental Wilson, the one we see in the 1980’s segment, played by John Cusack, is heavily sedated and abused by his evil psychiatrist, played by the great Paul Giamatti. In comes Melinda Ledbetter, played by the wonderful Elizabeth Banks, whom Wilson meets as she tries to sell him a car in the striking first scene.

Besides the whole drama, the film also takes us through Brian Wilson’s process of creating music, especially something so revolutionary in the Beach Boys’ career as their album Pet Sounds which has been hailed as one of the best albums ever recorded. The film portrays him as a misunderstood genius by his fellow bandmates who do not agree with the changes Brian Wilson wants to bring to their sound.

Coming back to the central plot, the mental breakdowns that Wilson suffers throughout his life, it’s interesting that in both sections there is a villain, someone that torments and abuses him, firstly his father who beat Wilson as a child and who is the boys’ manager. It’s important to note that the Beach Boys is a family band consisted of Brian Wilson, his two brothers, Carl and Dennis, and their cousin, Mike Love. And in the second part there is, of course, Dr. Landy who has too much control over him, even over his dating and music. Now what bothers me about this film, and I’m not sure it’s something to be bothered about as these are the real facts portrayed here, is the simplicity of the central conflict in the second part. While I enjoy seeing a tyrant being defeated as much as everyone else, I can’t help but wonder if that’s all there is to the story. Hot blonde lady saves troubled genius from evil doctor. I guess I can’t really fault the movie for sticking to the truth, but this will always be something that I’ll be bugged about. Despite my small problem, I recommend people to go see this film. It’s really something. Check out Brian Wilson’s song Love and Mercy that he recorded after past his troubles with Dr. Landy, a song that perfectly bookends the film. Now come to think of it, the answer and the themes of the film are in the song hence the title is perfectly chosen. I just realized that. A-

Dead Man Walking (Tim Robbins, 1995)

I have to admit I am a bit fascinated by nuns and their devotion to God. But I think there are different types of nuns, some live a solitary life and dedicate themselves fully to God and then there are some like Sister Helen Prejean. Either way, both types live an honorable life. Sister Helen is played here in an Academy Award winning performance by Susan Sarandon, who helps Sean Penn’s Matthew Poncelet, a young man sentenced to death after being found guilty of killing two young lovers. The story is quite heartbreaking, just one of those cases where the death penalty doesn’t seem like the best punishment. Not that Penn’s character is not guilty, just that there is more to it than it meets the eye. The central performances are quite powerful. I admire the Sister’s devotion to the cause and I am glad that there are people in this world who give chances to people like Poncelet. It’s not like she doesn’t have doubts about what she is doing, the film makes that very clear, she is not really sure of what she is doing at first.

The film doesn’t try to convince us that Matthew Poncelet didn’t kill those young kids, it’s not that kind of film. What it actually goes for is finding redemption in the last moments of a badly lived life. I like these kind of films that go beyond the surface. While there are times wen I felt the film dragged, it is a very rewarding experience and a story worth witnessing. B+

P.S.: You have to admit though, Sean Penn’s hair is too glorious for a death row inmate.

Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, 1993)

Dazed and Confused is one of those classics I didn’t really get to seeing until now. Following the lives of a few high school kids on the last day of school in the 1976. The film doesn’t really have a central character, but there are many people you can relate to. However, my high school life wasn’t near as eventful as it was for these kids. There weren’t any rituals like the ones they had for the freshmen, we all just drifted along, waiting for it to be over.

The film’s success lies in how it captures the beauty of being young, hanging out with your friends, trying to find something fun to do, meeting girls and boys and talking about the bright future we’ll all have. And the soundtrack is pretty great. Regarding the cast, it’s the kind of film where you keep saying “Here’s that actor/actress” because of a lot of recognizable faces who will go out to do great work like Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, Renee Zellweger, Adam Goldberg, Milla Jovovich and many others. B+

Born on the Fourth of July (Oliver Stone, 1989)

I have’t seen many Oliver Stone films but from the ones I have seen and know, he tends to go for very patriotic messages. And you will most likely hear that horn playing some pro-American hymn in the background. However, Born on the Fourth of July makes me think differently of his work so I’m curious to see what he does with the Edward Snowden biopic.

In this film, we follow Ron Kovic, a young man who believes so much in his country that he goes to fight in the Vietnam war only to return home broken and cripple, stripped of his manhood and realizing he was betrayed by what he loved most. I think this is one of the best films about the effect war has on men. For such a big studio production I was surprised to see how much focus there is on Kovic’s internal conflict. The way he was brought down by this war is really tragic and you can’t help to feel sorry for what he went through. Tom Cruise gives a tremendous performance as the main character and remains one of his better dramatic roles. Say what you want about the guy, laugh about his religious beliefs all you want but he sure gets a job done with the right role and director. B+

Ghost (Jerry Zucker, 1990)

I must have seen this film as a kid but don’t remember much than the final scene. Ghost is quite a mixed bag of a film, it’s a romance, a drama, a mystery and crime story, featuring also supernatural elements and lots and lots of comedy provided by Whoopi Goldberg’s character.

I believe that Ghost is a perfect idea for a blockbuster and that it has been expertly executed. The amalgamation of genres could have resulted into a disaster. It’s not a realistic film, just something that exists solely in a fictional world. I was very entertained by Goldberg’s Oscar-winning performance, as well as Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze’s abilities to make us feel for these characters. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this film, it’s not a great piece of filmmaking, but a very well made one that aged pretty well. B

For the Bible Tells Me So (Daniel G. Karslake, 2007)

I am fascinated by what makes people so dedicated to believing everything they read in the Bible. That’s what made me watch this documentary about families of religious people who are faced with difficulties after founding out that their children are gay/lesbian. I enjoyed seeing these people having their minds open to this idea and that there is nothing wrong with their children. It’s a film about acceptance and understanding, but it also shows those who are against LGBT rights, people who belong to the church and are devoted to it, and how hateful they are. Overall, this documentary may not be the most impressive one, but I enjoyed seeing these people becoming more open to this idea and it has made me understand it much more than before. B

Apollo 13 (Ron Howard, 1995)

This Ron Howard space story is famous for its simulation of weightlessness using an aircraft. That is something impressive and I applaud Howard for not going the easier way with this but besides this I haven’t really enjoyed this film. It’s extremely well made and the actors do a good job with their parts. I liked the depiction of Tom Hanks’s marriage in the first half as well as Kathleen Quinlan’s work as his wife. But the second half is nothing more than just an interaction between the control room, the astronauts and occasionally showing the families at home waiting and being worried. This is something we have seen many times before and I just don’t find it interesting at all. Also, it’s so incredibly patriotic it makes me puke. Overall, it’s a very, very, very well made film but it’s depiction of the real life story of Apollo 13 didn’t stand out at all. B

Confessions (Tetsuya Nakashima, 2010)

Revenge films are among the most satisfying sub-genres there are because they always  succeed in making us feel for the protagonist and rooting for them to carry out their plans. They have a way of making us bloodthirsty  and wishing the villains get their comeuppance in the way they deserve. Confessions certainly belongs in this category, it being about a young teacher whose daughter was murdered by two of her students. The first half hour sets high expectations for this story that it doesn’t really deliver. It becomes really cruel, more than it needs to be and this takes away from our ability to empathize with the main character.

Another issue I had with this film, besides the implausibility of it all and the gross-out violence, is the unbearable use of slow motion. I’m pretty sure the last half hour of this film moves in slow motion. The director is obsessed with used this technique. As a whole, the film starts with a tense first half hour that goes overboard and turns into a brutal and ridiculous quest for payback. B-

Ant-Man (Peyton Reed, 2015)

After all the Thors, Iron Men and Captains America, we enter a new phase of Marvel movies based on mostly unknown characters like Ant Man and in the future Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel and Shazam. Ant Man doesn’t really have a superpower, but a suit that helps shrink to the size of an…ant. The film stars the charismatic Paul Rudd who I think is for the first time the lead in a film. Not co-lead but the star of the project. Strange that this happened only now. The film was fine, I don’t regret seeing it in a theater or at all. But the story wasn’t that interesting, the villain was boring, the female lead a cliche. The only part I really liked about it was the way Michael Pena’s character told his stories. C+

Re-Watched:

To Kill A Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962)

This month I read To Kill A Mockingbird followed by the controversial sequel Go Set A Watchman. After reading the book I decided to revisit the film adaptation which I really enjoyed the first time I saw it in college. Now after reading the book, which was incredible, I don’t find myself that enamored with the film. Actually I don’t find it that good anymore. It’s very hard to capture the spirit of a book, even that of a relatively short one like To Kill A Mockingbird. I still think short stories are the ideal type of literature to adapt into films. I found the film adaptation to be nothing more than just a summary of the book’s plot. I imagine it was hard to do that as there are a lot of things happening in it, but still I was disappointed by it. I did like the performances, especially Gregory Peck and Mary Badham. Now let’s see what are they gonna do with Go Set A Watchman, as I’m sure a film adaptation is intended to be made at some point. By the way, I thought that book wasn’t as bad as it was said it was. I would write something about it but I would go on and on about it. I’ll say one thing though, if you decide to read it, bear in mind, that this wasn’t edited and is mostly a draft and not something that was ready to be published. I think that readers got mad because they didn’t know how to judge the book. B

TV Viewing:

Catastrophe: Season 1 (2015)

I’ve actually seen this show last month, in June, but I had to talk about it since I loved it so much. It’s a 6 episode comedy show about a British woman and an American man who conceive a baby after a one night stand. It’s funny and also moving. I’ve already watched it twice. I thought the Sharon character was very well written, one hell of a woman I might say. Watch it. If you want 2 hours and a half to fly by, then give this show a chance. A

Friday Night Lights: Seasons 1-3 (2006-2009)

A show I’ve heard a lot of about a small town in Texas and its obsession with football. It focuses on Coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tami, 2 role models in my opinion, as well as their daughter Julie and some of the high school students they help shape up. The first season of this show is almost perfect. Characters are developed, the writing is beautiful and the performances excellent. But then comes the dud that is season 2. That season is not terrible except for the horrible mistake that is the story arc of the beloved characters Landry and Tyra who do something so out of place with the spirit of the show, I was baffled when I saw it. In season 3 it’s clear that the writers wanted to cover up past mistakes and I think they did it because that season is definitely an improvement. On thing that bothers me about this show is how they drop characters out of the it like they never existed which is very annoying and this continues to happen in the next 2 seasons. Honestly, I wish this show was only about the Taylors who are among the most delightful characters I have seen on a show. Delightful not in the sense that they are constantly cheerful, but that they are so down to earth and their relationship is so mature and full of understanding. I would call it a relationship goal for every marriage. And the actors, Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, have become favorites of mine following their work on this show. Also a shout-out to Connie Britton’s hair on this show, which deserves to be in the Hall of Fame of Great Hair next to Keri Russell’s current hairdo on The Americans.

Season 1: A

Season 2: C+

Season 3: B+

Books of the Month:

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Have you seen any of the films/ TV shows from my list?
What have you watched this July?
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4 comments

  1. Agree on Say Anything, definitely a memorable depiction of young love and told in a realistic way too. You are right about the father-daughter aspect has a layer you don’t usually see in that type of movie.
    I disagree the adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird is a disapointment, I can’t fault what they did. Happy you loved the book anyway!
    Apollo 13 had me on the edge of my seat when I saw it in 1995 as a 14 year old, I have fond memories of that movie, very tense like a thriller. It’s very different on a small screen I imagine.

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    1. Glad we can agree on Say Anything.

      I don’t know if I can really fault the movie in this case. It’s hard to cram the whole story in just two hours. They covered the plot but I don’t think it captured the spirit of the book. To Kill A Mockingbird is a great book. It’s well known that great books don’t make great movies. In this case the film is just good. I just wished that it made me feel the way I did when I read the book. By the way, have you read Go Set A Watchman or do you intend to?

      I am sure seeing it on a big screen would make me feel slightly different about it. Just slightly. But there were so many scenes back in the control room and back with the wife and kids. It was just too much. But the way the created zero gravity is just impressive.

      Sorry for the late reply.

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  2. @ Chris: Well, I came in reading this book with an open mind and very much aware that it wasn’t supposed to be published in this form. I took it as an experiment. This made me not hate it at all. I enjoyed it and thought some parts were enjoyable and well written. And having just finished To Kill A Mockingbird I was eager to hear what happened to the Finch family. As for the part that angered a lot of people, I took it as kind of an awakening in Scout, seeing her father for who he really is. The differences aren’t huge and I actually thought that it made Atticus more human. I always thought he was a bit too perfect. But it’s heartbreaking for us, being accustomed to this image of Atticus as this important father figure. As I read those last few chapters I kept thinking “So this is what angered everybody” as well as “No, no, please don’t tell me Atticus Finch is telling those things I’m reading”. I certainly didn’t think it was that good of a book, but if you take it for what it really is, you can enjoy it, because it wasn’t supposed to come out. Think of it as the novel that helped Lee create the greatness that is To Kill A Mockingbird.

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