[May 29] “Signs” (2002)
Preacher Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) lives on a remote farm with his two kids and his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix). When crop circles appear in his fields, he initially dismisses it as a prank, but eventually from it becomes clear from both local events and news reports that aliens are involved. This is one of the creepiest movies I’ve ever seen, the tension builds really well, and I watched a lot of it with a blanket clutched to my face so I could hide behind it whenever needed. It’s a great movie, though. When I read the reviews of Signs on IMDB, I found that a lot of people hated this movie, mainly because they seemed to find the aliens implausible, but I didn’t think that mattered – just because aliens have spaceships don’t mean they have to have powerful laser guns and superior tactics and strategy (for example, see District 9.) I think the real genius of Signs is that it manages to accomplish being totally terrifying but actually being a drama, not a horror movie. There’s subtle comedy and character growth, plus Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix are great.
[May 30] “The Karate Kid” (1984)
Daniel, a kid who’s just moved to California from New Jersey, is bullied by a bunch of students who attend a karate school run by a really hardcore teacher. Mr. Miyagi, the handyman who works at the apartment complex Daniel lives in, offers to teach him better karate so that he can stand up for himself. The Karate Kid is obviously a pretty culturally significant movie, but I’d never seen it. It’s pretty good, though. The movie has a a pretty stereotypical story, but the characters elevate it, and the story doesn’t even matter. Ralph Macchio plays a great high school protagonist (I can’t believe he was 22 when filming this), he’s charming and sympathetic and cute. Pat Morita is also terrific as Mr. Miyagi, he’s definitely an enigmatic and gruff Yoda type, but he’s also generous and funny and has a poignant backstory that touches on Japanese-American prejudice in World War II. I also liked Elizabeth Shue’s Ali, her romance with Daniel is nice and uncomplicated. The end was a little abrupt, I wish we’d seen more of the aftermath, but I guess that’s what the sequels are for.
[May 31] “The Town” (2010)
Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is part of a bank/armored car robbing crew from the notorious Charlestown neighborhood of Boston. While following a bank manager who may have witnessed one of the crew, he falls in love with her and dreams about moving on from his life of crime. His time is running out, though, since FBI agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) is hot on his heels. The Town reminded me of Heat a lot, they’re both realistic depictions of people that pull off heists, something that’s traditionally glorified in film. It’s got a similar atmosphere too, it’s slow and brooding, and it doesn’t pull any punches. Ben Affleck does a great job both directing and starring, but Jeremy Renner steals the show (and was nominated for an Oscar) for his portrayal of James Coughlin, Doug’s crazy best friend who has no illusions about their life. Blake Lively also does a really great job as the drugged up Krista Coughlin. I couldn’t find any significant flaws in the movie, but in the end I didn’t think it was something I’d be excited about re-watching either – maybe just because it told a fairly predictable story, and its tone made it somewhat joyless. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie, though.
[Jun 1] “Toy Story” (1995)
Another classic movie that I’d never seen. When his owner Andy gets a shiny new spaceman action figure (Buzz Lightyear) for Christmas, cowboy doll Woody gets very jealous. His hijinks get him and Buzz lost just as Andy and his family are about to move away, so they have to find their way back while avoiding their vicious neighbor Sid and his experiments. I loved this movie, Tom Hanks does a really great job as Woody, and Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear is pretty great too. This was Pixar’s first movie, and I can definitely see how it made them famous, it’s got their trademark heart. I always imagined that my toys would come alive when I wasn’t around too (I read a bunch of books that had that concept when I was younger), so it made me feel nostalgic to see that happen. My only complaint is that Sid’s villainy seemed pretty over-the-top, I mean, he’s just a guy that likes to build crazy stuff and blow things up, he doesn’t know the toys are alive. That’s a minor issue though.
[Jun 2] “Doom” (2005)
A group of Marines are sent to a research facility on Mars to investigate strange events that resulted in a group of scientists going out of communication. Of course, they find things that want to kill them and are very good at doing so. This movie is based on the popular Doom series of video games, which I’ve never played. I was excited about watching this movie, though, I didn’t think it would be good, but I thought it would be a fun action movie, plus it stars Karl Urban, who is one of my favorite actors to watch (he’s always so reassuringly gruff!) Unfortunately, it wasn’t very good at all. It was way more of a horror-thriller than I thought it would be, which I don’t usually enjoy. It didn’t do much original, it reminded me a little bit of Alien, except that Alien has a great atmosphere and world, and a lot of Resident Evil, but without as much style and fun. The dialogue is extremely clunky, the characters are one-dimensional, the action seemed pretty repetitive, and there isn’t even much variance in the sets. The only redeeming factors were a cool video game style first-person sequence for part of the movie, a brother-sister sibling relationship at the heart of the movie (rather than yet another one-dimensional romance) and of course, Karl Urban.
[Jun 3] “Zootopia” (2016)
Officer Judy Hopps has worked hard to be the first rabbit cop in Zootopia, but she finds herself stuck on parking duty. Desperate for a case, she shoehorns herself into the investigation of a missing otter, but with most police resources closed to her, she must rely upon con artist fox Nick Wilde that she met earlier. I absolutely loved this movie, it’s great! Both Judy and Nick are great characters, they’re irrepressible in their own ways, and you can’t help but root for them (props to Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman for the voice work.) The rest of the voice cast is great too, J.K. Simmons as the mayor and Idris Elba as the police chief stood out especially. Zootopia is a pretty cool world, it was clearly designed with a lot of little details. It’s well paced, the mystery that I thought would take the whole movie to solve is wrapped up sooner, but it also brought up more interesting questions for the rest of the movie. It’s got heart and it breaks stereotypes, and one of the main characters is a fox! What’s not to love?
[Jun 4] “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001)
Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) has decided that he wants to spend more time with his three former child prodigy children, and the whole family reunites in their very large childhood home. The Tenenbaums are a very weird family though, but they do finally come to terms with each other in their own weird way. I’ve been avoiding watching this movie for a while, Wes Anderson makes very particular kinds of movies, and this seemed even more Wes-Anderson-y than the rest. It’s actually really good though, despite the fact that I didn’t really like any of the characters that much. I was impressed by the acting, I’ve never seen Gwyneth Paltrow play a character like Margot before, and Ben Stiller is also great as the neurotic and depressed Chas. The movie reminded me a lot of Arrested Development, it’s narrated (Alec Baldwin does a good job with that), and it’s about a dysfunctional family that gets along in their own way. I’m not sure how to describe it, it’s quirky but it’s not just quirky, and it’s touching and funny and bizarrely cute.