Films of August 2015

This month I got to enjoy some new releases like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Diary of a Teenage Girl and Trainwreck and also watched some highly acclaimed films from the last years that I have missed at the time of their release like Mary and Max, Wendy and Lucy and You’ve Got Mail. In terms of TV Viewing, I finished Friday Night Lights and watched the 2 seasons of the odd but funny Bojack Horseman. I also have seen half of the second season of True Detective, which already feels like homework. I will hopefully finish it in this month just to have it done because I can’t watch all of it in one sitting. It’s that good.

In September I hope I’ll catch up with the new Mission Impossible which I haven’t seen yet as well as Me and Earl and The Dying Girl, Everest, Legend, Irrational Man and Ricki and the Flash.

One thing I decided to do, so I become more organized with my movie-watching, because there is a lot of it to be done, is to do movie marathons. I have tons of lists on letterboxd, it’s like I’m addicted to making them but not to the actual movie watching. My first one is a Meryl Streep Movie Marathon. I will make a post of all the films on that list once I finish it.

First Time Viewings:

Mary and Max (Adam Elliot, 2009)

I love stop motion animation films. Somehow I missed this one when it got released back in 2009. It tells the story of a pen friendship between a little girl from Australia named Mary and a middle aged New Yorker named Max. They both suffer from loneliness as Max suffers from a terrible case of social anxiety and Mary is neglected by her parents and has no friends. The film goes through 20 years of life in just 90 minutes. And it does that very well. It’s such a moving little film, very sad, with bits and pieces of comedy, and at times chillingly dark. Almost depressing. Despite this I highly recommend it for the moving story alone. A very special film. A

Trainwreck (Judd Apatow, 2015)

I consider myself a fan of Amy Schumer. I watch her show and have seen some of her stand up work so it was only normal that I’d go see her film debut in Trainwreck which she also wrote. The films focuses on Amy, played by Schumer, a party girl who is challenged to stray from her lifestyle when she meets Dr. Aaron Connors, played by Bill Hader. I have waited to see this film since I heard about it last year, it might have been my most anticipated film of the year. And it totally delivered. I laughed almost every minute of this film. I saw it in an almost packed theater and everybody laughed. Despite being hysterical, it has dramatic moments as well. The film also deals with the Amy character’s father who suffers from MS, a subplot that reaches a moving conclusion.

Being a fan of Schumer’s work I am familiar with her work and the usual themes that she discusses in her sketches and stand up. I felt like she poured everything she had into this screenplay. She is known for her sex jokes, of which are plenty in Trainwreck. It also discusses men and women’s magazines, as well as women’s behavior. A scene that made me realize the correlation between the screenplay and her work is that of a scene at a baby shower where all the women admit to something bad that they did where all the women admit to being guilty of very minor things while the Schumer’s character reveals a disgusting sex confession. I just hope that she doesn’t wastes her entire material and doesn’t stick to the same themes. Anyway, I adored this film and can’t wait to watch it again. I highly recommend it. A

Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, 2008)

One afternoon I was looking for something short as I had some time to kill. I couldn’t have made a better choice than this Kelly Reichardt film I missed a few years ago.  The film follows Wendy, a young woman on the road with her dog, Lucy, and how in a few days she loses everything dear to her, everything that makes up her life. Interesting that we aren’t informed at all about her situation and come to think of it, we don’t really need to. What I loved abut this film were the small hints to her past that weren’t ever explained like the foot bandage, a protection that she wears under her clothes or the way she talks to her sister on the phone.

After stopping in a small town in Oregon her car breaks down and then loses her dog. Following these events we see her completely lonely and we feel for her. I really felt for her even though we don’t know what happened to her before. With so little background the director managed to make us feel for Wendy. Her utter loneliness is completely heartbreaking. I probably felt for her because of how realistically her situation unfolded. Really this could happen to anybody. Amazing film. A

Amy (Asif Kapadia, 2015) 

I am a big fan of Amy Winehouse and was very sad to hear about her death. But we all knew it was going to happen and still we didn’t do anything about it. This documentary shines a light on exactly what happened with Amy and how she reached this tragic ending. The first hour takes us through the beginning of her career and we see that from an early age that she was something special. She loved with so much passion and was so alive. It was heartbreaking to see in the second hour what she has become in the last years of her life. The cause of her downfall, besides her terrible parents and black sheep of a husband, which she all loved dearly unfortunately, was her increasing celebrity identity and how she was picked apart by everyone in the media. The film makes it clear that she wasn’t the type of artist to sing in arenas and this high level of exposure destroyed her. It was really sad how such a woman so loving and full of life just faded in front of our very eyes. Also, after seeing this documentary, I feel differently about her signature song, Rehab. A

Sex, Lies and Videotape (Steven Soderbergh, 1989) 

I haven’t seen as many Steven Soderbergh as I wish I did, I’m trying to fix that. I decided to start with the beginning, his debut film, and I can surely say that I haven’t seen anything like it before. It’s not a perfect film, but I was very surprised that someone could create a film based on this subject which is so internal and seemed to me like you couldn’t base an entire film on it. I am not even sure what I really liked about it. I guess the way he unfolded these characters so well based on the subject of sex and how important that is to a human being. A-

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller, 2015) 

I have never seen so much sex in a film before. The Diary of a Teenage Girl follows Minnie Getz, a teenager in 1976, discovering sex and having lots of it. It focuses mostly on her affair with her mother’s boyfriend played by Alexander Skarsgaard. This affair is completely inappropriate but the film doesn’t treat it like it’s some traumatizing experience for Minnie, but it also doesn’t say that it was a good thing at all. Actually, she started it. It’s quite an amusing film starting with the very first scene in which Minnie says “I had sex today. Holy shit.”, followed by a grin of fascination on her face which cracked me up. Minnie also is an animator, that’s what she wants to be, and the film blends moments of cartoons to shows us how Minnie feels. It’s an impressive coming-of-age film, very free to express sexuality and how important and formative it is for a girl. The acting is pretty great, with newcomer Bel Powley, who plays Minnie, being the standout. The production design and costumes deserve a mention too since they were handled so well. Everything is so detailed and for a small film like this one, it’s an impressive feat. A-

And The Oscar Goes To… (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman, 2014) 

A documentary about the Oscars which takes us through its history and features interviews with winners telling what winning one meant to them. If you’re a cinephile you most likely pay attention to awards so I am sure this documentary will appeal to that group. It’s very informative and I enjoyed watching it a lot. A-

The Gift (Joel Edgerton, 2015) 

The surprise critical hit of the summer, Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut, The Gift, follows a married couple confronted with the someone from the husband’s past. The ending was a mess but before that everything is so suspenseful, unfolding beautifully showing different shades of the characters. I had many more ideas about this film right after I saw it but that was early in the month and don’t remember as much now. Still, it was a very well made thriller that I highly recommend it. B+

Field of Dreams (Phil Alden Robinson, 1989) 

I have never played baseball, have no idea what are the rules are, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this film. First of all, let me say that it doesn’t make much sense. The film follows Kevin Costner and his family who lives in Iowa on a farm who is told by a voice to build a baseball field which he does. On the field come ghosts of famous players from the past which only he and his family can see. His entire story was absurd. But the film, even though its plot is ridiculous, I think it did a great job of expressing its message about the past, connecting with our fathers, and it made me feel very good about myself. It’s a very positive and moving film. B+

Still Bill (Damani Baker & Alex Vlack, 2009)

I consider myself a fan of Bill Withers and it was fascinating to hear about his story in this documentary following his life after he stopped releasing music. I was surprised to see how he became a musician. He just picked up a guitar and started writing songs and singing. So many people try to break into the music industry, I was amazed by how he just became a musician so easily. It’s not the kind of documentary that follows his entire career, but it focuses on his life as an older man reflecting on his work, family life and past. It’s a very interesting documentary even if you are not familiar with the man’s work. I recommend it and his music, I am a big fan of his album +’justments and in particular this song. B+

Heat (Michael Mann, 1995) 

Regarded as one of the best films of 1990’s, an epic film chronicling a group of robbers and the detective that pursues them. What makes it an epic story is that it follows the personal lives of the main characters too which I didn’t find that interesting. It’s a tense thriller, well shot, at times well acted, but in my opinion, overpraised. B

Basic Instinct (Paul Verhoeven, 1992) 

The film started a wave of erotic thrillers and it may be the most successful of them all. I had fun with this film, I thought it was extremely well made, with a star-making performance from Sharon Stone. I enjoyed that Michael Douglas’ character wasn’t the good guy that we usually get in a thriller. It’s definitely campy, good to keep that in mind, but an enjoyable little thriller. B

Philadelphia (Jonathan Demme, 1994) 

Philadelphia is clearly a film that hunts for Oscars and that bummed me out a bit. But I have to admit, it was a moving film that made me think of the subject of why homosexuals have such a terrible reputation. The acting is terrific, and generally it’s well made. But why did they have to make Tom Hanks’ character such a good person? The film would have been more challenging with a different kind. I guess they were playing it safe. Or maybe it was made just the way it should have been. Despite this small comment, it is a good film and it made me think, but besides that I didn’t think it was as great as they say it is. B

The French Lieutenant’s Woman (Karel Reisz, 1981)

Part of the Meryl Streep Movie Marathon. Will discuss about it in the post dedicated to the it.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Guy Ritchie, 2015)

Based on a TV series from the 1960’s, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. pairs an American and a Russian during the cold war to stop an Atomic bomb from being used. The whole story is boring. What this film excels at is showing beautiful people in great clothes in beautiful settings. And it’s nice to see new faces from time to time. The acting is alright and Henry Cavill proves that he is not as bland as in Man of Steel. Returning to its look, the film reaches Hannibal-levels of beauty at times. Not worth to see in theaters but I would give it a go at home. B

The Blue Umbrella (Saschka Unseld, 2013) 

A nice little short about two umbrellas. The story isn’t anything interesting. What I applaud this film for is how it mixed animation with live-action which I’m not sure really is live-action, but kind of a mix. It looks good, it’s moving, but it’s no something that stays with you. B

Lava (James Ford Murphy, 2015) 

Short shown before Inside Out. It features a Hawaiian song about 2 lonely volcanoes. It’s an interesting experiment but as The Blue Umbrella’ it comes and goes. B-

You’ve Got Mail (Nora Ephron, 1998)

One morning I was in the mood for something easy and comfortable. Nora Ephron movies are usually like that. This is a remake of The Shop Around the Corner with a few changes. Besides the usual romantic comedy tropes and forced union at the end, I found this film to be charming and all. I won’t get into the usual things that annoy me about this genre. But Meg Ryan and Tam Honks had chemistry and that should be enough to see this film. C+

Dawn (Rose McGowan, 2014) 

A short film by actress Rose McGowan I was curious about. Set in the early 60’s, (basically still the 50’s culturally), it tells the story of Dawn, a young girl who pays a price for straying from the classy girl, future housewife image her mother forces upon her. I know McGowan is a feminist and I see that in this short film she continues with the same ideas that feminism are based on, that women shouldn’t conform to the norms that society imposes on them. I didn’t like that she chose to make it about this, wish she chose something different, and that she made it so straightforward. The acting doesn’t surprise. Honestly I watched it only for this wide shot. D+

Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (Lasse Hallstrom, 2009) 

I am a completist and I want to see everything that is discussed to satisfy my curiosity. This film is very popular and I had to check it out. This is what I get for trying to see everything. Richard Gere and Joan Allen star in this terrible, zombie of a film about a cute dog and his owner. The owner dies and the dog waits for him to come from work like he used to do when he was alive. It’s a terrible, manipulative and lifeless film that goes for cheap tears. Ugh. D+

Second or Multiple Viewings:

Inside Out (Pete Docter, 2015)

I am sure everyone has seen this film by now. I don’t know what more could I add to the discussion. What a beautiful, moving and funny story. God bless Pixar. A

Friends with Benefits (Will Gluck, 2011)

I wanted to see this film again for a while. I enjoyed it a lot the first time. 2011 was the year we had two films about friends who just have sex but aren’t in a relationship only to realize they are made for each other by the end, just like in 2012 we got two Snow White films and in 2010 two films about parents of school shooters, We Need to Talk about Kevin and Beautiful Boy.

This film clearly still exists in romantic comedy world but it’s witty and funny and the two leads, who aren’t known for versatility, are very comfortable with each other and the material. Reminded me a bit of Trainwreck because of how it wasn’t afraid to tackle serious subjects like Alzheimer’s or child abandonment, even as thinly as it did, it’s still a romantic comedy, guys. It shouldn’t bum us out. One of the better examples of this dying genre of the last years. B+

Sophie’s Choice (Alan J. Pakula, 1982)

Will discuss this one broadly in the post dedicated to the Meryl Marathon.

TV Viewing:

Friday Night Lights: Seasons 4-5 (2009 – 2011)

The series gets rebooted in the fourth season as some of the characters finish high school and new ones are introduced. But they do return in the series finale. I think I like this show more in retrospect. It sounds silly to say that a TV show taught you something, but with this one I felt it did. I felt changed a bit by it, with a clearer perspective. All this thanks to the amazing characters that are Eric and Tami Taylor, two absolute role models as I said in the previous post, and their relationship. Their marriage isn’t perfect in a superficial way, they have real disagreements and fights, but what makes it so real is they way they resolve their issues like two mature adults who love each other and value their union more than anything. I think that a lot of people get divorced way to easily these days, sometimes because they rushed in to get married but sometimes because they expect to get along at all times and don’t really have realistic expectations about what a marriage really is like and how much work there is to be done. Constant work and commitment. These two characters taught me about what is important and what to really value in life and I am not referring just to the marriage part. It sounds corny but that is how I feel. I think the show is much more successful in how it expresses its ideas than being a piece of entertainment. The show overall gets a B+.

Season 4: B+

Season 5: B+

BoJack Horseman (2014-)

This Netflix show has been getting a lot of praise recently. Being a big fan of animated shows, I had to check this one out. The first episodes aren’t as strong as the future ones. They just show how much of a prick Bojack is. I forgot to say what the show is about. It follows Bojack Horseman, an actor who was in a successful, but mediocre, sitcom in the 80’s, named Horsin’ Around. Now he is faced with the emptiness of his life and tries to revive his career by releasing a memoir. The show takes place in a world were anthropomorphized animals and humans live together. Other characters include Diane, his biographer, Princess Carolyn, a pink cat who is his agent, Todd, a 20 year-old who just lives in his house, and Mr. Peanutbutter, a dog who had a simiar show like Bojack, who should be his rival but is actually very down to earth and sweet. The second season goes into darker territory and becomes more interesting and funny. It’s an odd show, absurd and strange. Critics have been saying that it turns into one of the most impressive series about depression and I agree with that, this being most apparent in the last three episodes of the season. It may not be for everybody but if you do decide to check it out, keep in mind that it gets better than those first episodes. B+

Book of the Month: 

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

Have you seen any of the films/ TV shows from my list?

What have you watched this August?


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