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August Film Roundup: Sumana was unavailable for a lot of this month, so I spent a lot of time watching films she doesn't want to watch. Yes, we're "going stag" to this month's Film Roundup. Lots of violence and dudes doing dudely things.

  • Swades (2004): Seen at Sumana's suggestion, this follow-up from the director of Lagaan (2001) is extremely didactic and not terribly exciting dramatically. Also, less NASA content that we hoped for. It does do a good job of finessing transitions between digetic and nondigetic music (really important in a Bollywood movie).

    I saw Lagaan like twenty years ago, so it's not officially in Film Roundup, but definitely catch that one if you haven't seen it. It's... I just realized it's an underdog sports movie. Oh well!

  • The Warriors (1980): The opening to this film is really incredible. I was kind of laughing at the sight of all these costumed tough dudes buying subway tokens and filing through the turnstiles, but it's explained later on why they're being extra careful not to be picked up for fare evasion at this moment.

    The rest of the film... pretty good, I guess? Very style over substance, like a pre-post-apocalyptic Mad Max. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is the most in-depth film I've seen about running the subway, but this film is really smart about the mechanics of riding the subway.

    There's a scene near the end of The Warriors where there's basically a little arcade set up in the middle of a subway station. There's no way something like that would actually exist; there's a pinball machine just sitting there in a 1980 New York subway station with no one keeping an eye on it. It had to be props. But why set up those props? I kept expecting an action scene to break out that would result in the smashing of the props, and there was an action scene shortly thereafter but it was filmed on a sound stage. So, did they just put some props in a subway station to add visual interest to a few shots? Were they going to have an action scene but it was too expensive to film, or it got cut? Was that a real subway-station pinball machine that everyone agreed not to vandalize, out of awe, like the baby in Children of Men? I doubt I'll ever know.

  • An American Werewolf in London (1981): I wasn't really into this one but I can see all the pieces working well together and there were a couple really creepy bits. Plus funny-creepy bits like the people David kills sticking around and being really annoyed at him. Also, it was great to see all the period ads in the Tube station. This is what goes on in my head when I watch a movie BTW. "Well, he's a goner. Hey, are those vintage holiday destination ads?"
  • Heat (1995): I'm sure there were also complaints about this at the time, but... De Niro and Pacino are in one scene together? C'mon! The worst part is, it's by far the best scene in the movie! The ending doesn't count because they don't have any dialogue or interact at melee range.

    From IMDB trivia: "The coffee shop scene sold Robert De Niro on the idea of making the film. He, Al Pacino, and Michael Mann later admitted that they couldn't wait to shoot that one scene." Yeah, no kidding! Just shoot that scene and wrap it, guys. You've had your fun.

    Apart from the coffee shop scene and the heartbreaking bit at the end, there was a lot of slogging through this movie for me. I know they put a ton of work into this, but I'd watch something that took an enormous effort to film and think "yeah, if you had a huge shootout with the cops in downtown L.A. it would definitely look like that."

  • Sweetie, You Won't Believe It (2020) a.k.a. "Baby, You Won't Believe It" (the title as given in the closing credits), a.k.a. "Zhanym, ty ne poverish". Good to see a raunchy comedy from Kazakhstan that's actually from Kazakhstan. Some good laughs, and in the spirit of international friendship I'll assume there were also some Kazakhstan-specific laughs that didn't translate, but I wasn't wild about this one.
  • The Color of Money (1986): What a pleasure, start to finish. Paul Newman is great, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (who I'd never heard of) makes the perfect partner/foil, Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise crazy. Just be glad it's him, not you. A relatively un-violent Martin Scorsese exploration of masculinity, a satisfying and perfectly fair twist that exploits the fact that you are technically watching a sports movie, fancy trick cinematography just for the sake of giving the audience something cool to watch but it's also thematically appropriate... love this film.

    I assumed the "Stocker" arcade game was a fictional rebranding of "Super Sprint" or something, but it's real!

  • Solaris (2002): I've read the book, I've seen the movie, now... the other movie! This adaptation has a much stronger focus on the internal experience of the Solaris constructs than the 1972 version or (as I recall) the original novel. That was really interesting. And of course the ending was presented using a typical Soderbergh twist that briefly made me wonder if he'd changed the ending. So... a decent film? At the very least I understand why they wanted to do another remake. Good low-budget space station, too.
  • Smokey and the Bandit (1977): This is basically a 1970s Fast and Furious movie featuring hot people driving way too fast for no good reason. Very enjoyable, Burt Reynolds and Sally Field really make it fun.

    An underappreciated weird aspect of this film is how its country soundtrack periodically brings you up to speed on the (very simple, easy to grasp) plot and characters through the entire movie. Demi Adejuyigbe's parody raps are silly, but at least the conceit is that Will Smith waited for the movie to end before summarizing it. I guess thinking about it from first principles, this is probably a movie people watch while they're drunk and/or high, so it's useful to have an occasional reminder.

    I remember multiple times seeing Hal Needham's name in movie credits and thinking "Thank you; this movie really did need a ham." But looking at Needham's IMDB page I don't know what movies these might have been. His stunt work is usually uncredited and I haven't seen any of the other movies he directed. It's a mystery. I swear I've had that exact thought four or five times.

    Another name that popped up in the Smokey and the Bandit credits: Michael Mann as a sheriff's deputy. I looked it up and it's a different guy, not the future director of Heat.

  • Muppets From Space (1999): Definitely a lesser work from our familiar crew of felt auteurs. On the other hand, this did a great job of distracting my young nephew, last seen by Film Roundupgoers in late 2019 watching Muppet Treasure Island, which was way better than this.

    I guess it was fun to see a movie with characters I vaguely remember from Muppets Tonight in the mid-90s? Sort of like going to see a band who staunchly refuse to play their old hits.

    This is completely unrelated because I found it researching a hypothesis about this movie that didn't pan out, but there's a page on the Muppet wiki page of pictures of Muppets kissing other Muppets. Be careful! With Muppets, there's a hair's breadth of difference between "kissed by" and "eaten by".

July Film Roundup:

  • Portrait of a '60% Perfect Man' (1980): Billy Wilder rambles about whatever for an hour, in this weird documentary that's kind of like a reverse Italianamerican (1974). We heard about it, wanted to watch it, couldn't find it online, but fortunately it's on one of the DVDs of the Criterion edition of Ace in the Hole. Due to the director's technique of just following Wilder around listening to him talk, this film preserves a core sample of some lesser-seen portions of 1980s LA. As a kid, I spent time in plenty of old peoples' houses that felt very similar to Wilder's apartment. And Wilder's screenwriting office at the studio (I'm assuming MGM) is truly a land of contrasts: an ugly, windowless room covered in pegboard, on which Wilder has hung priceless works of art from his collection. At least they gave him an office.
  • Furious 7 (2015): I really should have written the review immediately after seeing the movie because it's now all mixed up with the others. How many super-hackers does one franchise need? It was fun, though; good to see Kirk Russell still getting action roles. I remember being really proud at recognizing "Azerbaijan" as being filmed in Colorado based on the geology of the road cuts—Mom would have been proud, too.

    I will mention one thing about this movie that's really special: after Paul Walker's death during filming, the easy route would have been to change the script to kill off his character as well. But that would have been a metafictional violation of the themes of the series. Instead, they put in a lot of effort and CGI to establish that Walker's character ends up completely happy and no one's going to bother him with heist stuff ever again.

  • The Fate of the Furious (2017): We're not going into a theater to see F9, but the other day I was at a subway stop where someone had ripped down layers and layers of ads, I saw an old ad for this film and it felt fresh. Anyway, we're in flat-out James Bond territory now, a third super-hacker is in the mix, and there's no going back. Missiles, submarines, aeroplanes... it's a duck blur.

    This film does have the coolest action scene in the series so far, and one of the coolest action scenes I've ever seen, period: the "zombie cars" sequence, which implements a huge amount of vehicular mayhem with minimal injury to human beings. Thanks, evil super-hacker!

  • Spotlight (2015): We're now getting historical recreation films from my adult lifetime. What does this mean for my already precarious mental state? Answer: it's fine. I was originally going to skip out this one due to the heavy subject matter, but it's an effective story of low-tech data journalism. Especially good at dramatizing how learning the full extent of a problem can make it seem like the problem itself is growing out of control. But it was always that bad!
  • Trees Lounge (1996): It's the Buscemi-ist! Watched without Sumana, whose opinion of Steve Buscemi I just realized I don't actually know. (Sumana: "I guess my opinion is he is a good actor.") This was all right—pretty typical 90s indie film about losers, but just watching Buscemi be pathetic/creepy "warms" my heart.

[Comments] (2) June Film Roundup: It's been a heist-filled month, and not just because of our continuing leef-peeping drive through the Fast & Furious series. Why, just look behind you—I've stolen your priceless Blue Period Picasso! Heist-tastic!

  • Bob le Flambeur (1955): Minute by minute I didn't have the best time watching this movie, but that's mainly because of all the Hamlet cliches. AFAICT Bob le Flambeur invents both the French New Wave and the modern casino heist movie. On top of that, it's got an amazing twist ending that you'd only see in a casino heist movie with a French New Wave sensibility. I respect the movie as a whole, but no Hamlet cliches in that ending; it feels totally fresh even after 55 years of casino heist movies. Reading up on the movie afterwards, the twist has been used a couple times since, but not nearly as often as building the team, practicing on a copy of the safe, etc.

    This film has a lot of low-budget tells I recognize from MST3K movies. I'm no snob but I do not enjoy a shot of someone at a desk having a phone conversation in an apparently unfurnished room. Film pros seem to count this in Bob le Flambeur's favor for reasons that IMO boil down to "give Jean-Pierre Melville a break, filmmaking is hard." But I'm gonna double down: although Bob le Flambeur is a really good movie it would also work well on MST3K. Maybe the RiffTrax folks should branch out a bit.

  • Le Circle Rouge (1970): Melville has a much bigger budget here than for Bob le Flambeur, and he avoids the MST3K tells, but this is more on the level of popcorn noir for me. A dialogue-free jewelry store heist? We've all seen Rififi (1955), my friend. Melville claims he originally wrote this heist in 1950, which gets him my sympathies, but that and five francs will buy you a pack of Gauloises.
  • A New York Christmas Wedding (2020): After restoring the Film Roundup Screening Room to its former glory we found this on our Netflix list, probably from some late-2020 Happiest Season-inspired list of queer Christmas romance movies. It's fine as far as it goes, and gives you a view into what people who live in Manhattan secretly think of Queens. But the fantastic element, which combines religion, alternate universes, and time travel, nerd-sniped us to the point where all I can think about is simpler ways of telling the story.

    Gotta share our best riff, as an angel gives a sappy speech:

    L: What is this 'Live, Laugh, Love' crap?

    S: He read that on a Celestial Seasonings tea bag. You know, they just call it 'Seasonings'.

  • Fast and Furious (2009): The film so forgettable... I forgot about it when I originally wrote this Film Roundup! Probably not fair given that we were watching one of these very similar films every day, rather than treating the series as a reason to go to the mooovies every couple of years. But even now, having refreshed my memory after looking at the Wikipedia page, I don't really have anything to say about this movie except, this is the one with the minecart level.
  • Fast Five (2011): OK, now we're heistin'. The Rock finally shows up to play the likeable antivillain to Vin Diesel's likeable antihero. It's like a 007 movie where Blofeld is also really fun.

    The downside of the series finally moving from "we drive cars way too fast" to "we steal huge amounts of money" is the introduction of firearms and massive body counts. Sumana really dislikes this and I'm not a huge fan either. I tried to mollify her by pointing out that in the Fast & The Furious universe it seems impossible to die in a car crash, per se. Someone has to shoot you or the car has to explode afterwards. This helped a bit.

    Continuing the fine tradition of "crime pals or gay couple?", this movie hints really strongly that Leo and Santos are a couple, but the fan wiki says they're just Kashi Good Friends cereal. What is this, the 1960s?

  • Fast & Furious 6 (2013): The escalation of the stakes and the increasing brutality of the PG-13 violence finally surpass the limit of my personal suspension of disbelief. A couple movies earlier I predicted the crew would drive a car out of a cargo plane, and it happens here but not in the cool way I imagined. Sung Kang is always fun, though, and he's on the F9 poster so I assume they eventually pull a comic-book retcon on Han Lue's death. I'm super comfortable saying this because the same thing just happened in this movie.

[Comments] (2) May Film Roundup:

  • The Mitchells vs The Machines (2021): Fun family animated comedy, good gags and character comedy, not much else to say. I really enjoyed the (rot13 spoilers) Sheol nowhere.
  • The Fast and the Furious (2001): "Welcome to Race Wars; sorry about the name." This was all right, but it was basically the same as Point Break, only the stunts were less cool. Pretty sure they even reused one of the locations from Point Break. So they knew what they were doing. Vin Diesel's antihero is very likeable, really carries the film. And, I'm assuming, the whole series.
  • 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003): Okay, I guess we're doing this. This one was awful. Paul Walker's character is so boring, and this movie lacks even the excitement created by the act-two discovery that he's an undercover cop. The torture scene is the kind of thing other movies have to cut to get their PG-13. Antibonus: no Vin Diesel at all.
  • The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006): The first film in the series that I would say is "good". The cinematography is solid, the plot is all right, the race scenes are legible, and drifting is a totally different thing you can do with a car, so it's not just people driving real fast. Even the title is a reference to a classic Japanese film. Sumana's a big fan of Better Luck Tomorrow (2002) and was super excited to learn that Han Lue in this film is the same Han Lue from Better Luck Tomorrow.

    Wikipedia says "The series transitioned towards heists and spying with Fast & Furious (2009)." So I guess we've passed through the crucible and the good stuff is coming up next. I thought it would all be heists and spying, and this whole time I've been squinting at the movies and thinking "I guess ambushing and robbing a semi truck is a kind of heist..."

    According to IMDB trivia, this 2006 film takes place in 2013! That's quite a jump for something that's not mentioned in-universe, but it does give Han Lue plenty of time to transition from whatever shady stuff he was doing in Better Luck Tomorrow (I haven't seen it). Also makes it a bit more plausible that people standing on a mountain are able to wirelessly transmit streaming video to each others' flip phones... maybe through an ad hoc peer-to-peer network?

    BTW, what was the first American film to show an emoji onscreen? Good luck answering that question with our primitive search engine technology! It probably wasn't this film. IMDB keyword search shows nothing earlier than 2014, but c'mon.

April Film Roundup: '80s Month: The Revenge: The TV is still busted, but in April we triumphantly made it through the 1980s thanks to the Film Roundup Auxilliary Portable Screening Room (my laptop). Technology comes through again!

  • Thunder Force (2021): '80s Month started out in a state of interruption thanks to this Netflix original that, I assume, missed its theatrical chance thanks to the pandemic. Superhero origin stories are very 21st-century, but this is a "wacky science" story, so at least it has an '80s heart. And an '80s soundtrack.

    Everyone's game for the comedy, Jason Bateman is delightfully typecast, and there were a couple of real funny scenes, so it's far from the worst movie we saw in April. It's a huge idiot plot, though. I literally realized a huge problem while opening the fridge, and from that point on enjoyed the movie less.

  • Hanky Panky (1982): This was the worst movie we saw in April. Best thing I can say about Hanky Panky is, we see some classic slices-of-life due to Sidney Poitier's insistence on location shoots for scenes that could easily have been done on the backlot. There's a New York coffee shop called "Disco Donut"!

    'He has made a copy of an uncopyable tape.'

    Otherwise, this feels like a movie destined for heavy Comedy Central rotation in the '90s: three good slapstick gags, comedians who aren't super funny on their own and have no chemistry together, reliance on action-y set pieces, and an overall rejection of both jokes and character comedy in favor of a vague morass I call "lighthearted drama".

  • Trading Places (1983): An excellent film all around except for an ill-conceived, monumentally lowbrow section on a train; a section which can easily be cut for television because it has no effect on the otherwise superb plot. You can draw a straight line between the pre-train scene and the post-train scene, predict its existence without seeing it, and be better off.

    Apart from that, really funny overall. Nobody does "smart but not as smart as he thinks he is" like Dan Aykroyd. I also enjoyed imagining the Duke brothers as being played by Statler and Waldorf.

  • Footloose (1984): We were expecting a superficial feel-good film, especially as scenery-chewing John Lithgow was revealed as the villain, but it's actually pretty subtle. Lithgow's performance has some depth, he's by far the best actor in the film and his character garners some sympathy.

    The soundtrack for this movie is something else, I tell you. "Let's Hear It for the Boy" and "Holding Out for a Hero" were both originally released on the Footloose soundtrack.

  • The Color Purple (1985): A well-done rural drama, generally depressing but with moments of triumph at the most Speilbergian moments. Whoopi Goldberg in particular is great in this.

    I was expecting a good dose of horror in The Color Purple, but I didn't expect the most horrifying thing in the film to be the clueless comic-relief white lady. She's a tonal mismatch with the rest of the movie, and Spielberg admits he was out of his depth directing this thing, but I tell you, Sumana and I were on the edge of our seats like Miss Millie was the Jurassic Park T-Rex.

  • Ruthless People (1986): The prize of '80s Month! A tightly written, extremely fun character-driven comedy. A little convoluted but not too hard to follow. And—this one's just for Leonard—packed chock full of outrageous '80s L.A. design, with its bright-colored triangles and impractical furniture shapes.
  • Outrageous Fortune (1987): This is basically the good version of Hanky Panky. The main characters are really fun, with great dialogue, neurotic in different ways. (Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner were effectively playing gender-swapped versions of each other.) But it's got Hanky Panky's overreliance on action scenes and even the same road-trip from NYC to the Southwest (was there a tax credit?). I greatly preferred the first part of the film where the main characters were just being obnoxious to each other.
  • Coming to America (1988): A fun, wholesome romcom of the type I do not associate with Eddie Murphy's comedy style, but it works. John Amos is particularly funny as the uptight entrpreneurial dad; is it too much to hope that in the 2021 sequel he's revealed to have a Gus Fring side? Recommended.

    According to IMDB trivia, "According to John Landis, it was his idea to have Eddie Murphy wear make-up to play a Jewish man, as a sort of payback for Jewish comedians wearing blackface in the early 1900s." Yeah, the early 1900s, how time flies, it's been five whole years since John Landis directed a scene between Eddie Murphy and a corked-up Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places. I guess this was his way of apologizing, and this was far from the worst thing Landis has done while making a movie (look it up; I won't mention the name of a crime because he was acquitted, but even without the criminal aspect he was responsible for a workplace where people died).

  • Batman (1989): It had to be this to close out the decade; the film that all the boys in my grade were obsessed with for months and I never saw because who drives to Bakersfield and sees movies? Not my family, apparently.

    Hard to believe that at the time this was the "dark" version. With Nolan for comparison this is a bunch of goofy Tim Burton stuff, effectively a gritty reboot of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Burton doesn't spend too much time in the ball pit and the result is a fun movie overall. There are a couple characters who are superfluous to the screenplay, but judging from the voluminous IMDB trivia this thing was undergoing serious rewrites as it was being shot, so you'll get loose ends.

    Jack Nicholson's a great Joker—by far the best thing about this movie—but/and his Joker laugh is this Jack Lemmon-esque bark which distracted me with a million-dollar realization: Jack Lemmon would have been incredible as an interim Joker in the 1970s. Throw in Walter Matthau as a dad-joke Riddler and you've got good stuff, hypothetically speaking.

    I watched a bit of Cesar Romero's Joker while writing this review, and learned about a proto-Harley Quinn named Queenie. The Joker's also got a proto-Harley moll in this movie, though she's one of those superfluous characters I mentioned earlier and has little to do. It's incredible how close to the surface Harley Quinn was for so long without taking a coherent form.

    Finally, from my perspective in 2021 I really loved how this movie doesn't really care about Batman's origins. It assumes you already know about Batman. After all... he's Batman. If you somehow went in to this film not knowing that Batman and Bruce Wayne were the same guy, there's no "reveal", just an inexplicable scene 3/4 of the way through where Michael Keaton's in the Batcave for some reason.

2021 September

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