My next two weeks are going to be very busy, mostly thanks to work and baseball, which includes a trip to Milwaukee to watch the Cardinals play the Brewers. In preparation, I took Friday off for an extra long weekend of movies. This round of The Movie Weekend That Was includes a recent box office smash, an indie classic, a forgotten Disney film, a 70s comedy, and some of the finest that world cinema has to offer. This is the movie weekend that was.
Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)
This early film from Steven Soderbergh left me very impressed. It had the vibe of a Bergman film, wrapped up in a late 80s/early 90s American indie shell. The use of mirror image characters is as good as you’ll find, with both sets of mirror images serving brilliantly to push the film along on its unique, sexually-charged journey. It also flows effortlessly into post-modernism at critical times.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
The actors were all almost perfectly cast. The setting for the period piece was very good. But the dialogue was so awful. I rolled my eyes so many times. And Sean Penn’s character ruins it almost all by himself. It’s the kind of movie where a guy says “You know the drill” and then they stick a drill in a guy’s head. I actually said “oof” at the dialogue on three separate occasions. I really wanted to like this so much more because it’s right up my alley but Penn and the dialogue sunk it.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Surf Nazis Must Die (1987)
Yikes. It’s dubious to gripe about a Troma release called “Surf Nazis Must Die”, but Surf Nazis Must Die must die.
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
I have vague memories of seeing approximately thirty minutes of Witness when I was a kid, probably just a few years older than Lukas Haas was at the time Witness was made. That is to say that whatever I saw 30 years ago flew over my head. It was a Best Picture nominee for 1985, and it’s easy to see why. In both halves of the film, the “fish out of water” subplot is executed very well and the film fosters a certain noble savage-style respect for the Amish. I ultimately expected Witness to be something a little different- the romantic angle caught me completely off guard- but that’s not a complaint. The film weaves both the thriller and the romance together impressively.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The Mirror (1975)
The Mirror is Andrei Tarkovsky’s deeply personal take on Freudian surrealism. In many ways, this is precisely the kind of film that requires multiple viewings. That’s because Tarkovsky was such a master at mixing together so many elements and so many deeper themes. Simply on the first viewing, you don’t have to squint to understand that this was a film made by a master of cinema at the top of his game, emptying his bag of tricks to build pure art. I’ve now seen four Tarkovsky films and each one has been a 5-star masterpiece. And I’m positive that I could re-watch all of them three more times and still not fully grasp just how impressive he was in creating them.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
The Hunger Games (2012)
Admittedly, I am not this movie’s target market by any stretch. It makes perfect sense that The Hunger Games would appeal to a generation raised in a youtube world. It’s a tale of youth shedding their innocence and desperately clinging to their individuality in the face of millions of soulless, faceless viewers. I had avoided The Hunger Games a little bit because it’s aimed squarely at the young adult (teen/tween/whatever) demographic, a sub-genre of films that tortured the world with Twilight. But the themes in The Hunger Games are quite dark, satisfyingly so. Despite teetering towards cheese at times, by and large it stands tall as a solid big-budget effort.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
The Sword in the Stone (1963)
I had hopes for nostalgia when I decided to watch The Sword in the Stone. I hadn’t actually seen the movie, but there was a corresponding book that we had in our household when I was a kid. It got a lot of use. So I was very familiar with at least the story. Allow me to explain what this movie is. A 12-year old named Arthur (called “Wart” by everyone) meets Merlin the magician. Merlin teaches him how to become various animals- a fish, a squirrel, and a bird. All the while, they sing songs. Also, a female squirrel tries to have sex with Arthur/Wart. Then with five minutes left in the movie, he pulls the sword out of the stone. That’s… pretty much it. It’s fine kids fare despite the squirrel lovin’, but I was a little disappointed.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Play It Again, Sam (1972)
Play It Again, Sam represents what I love about Woody Allen. There’s no denying that his neuroses set the tempo for the film, but it doesn’t dwell on it. There’s plenty of other humor to be had. And the homage to Casablanca, and Bogart specifically, is endearing. It’s a hilarious movie, and I’ve found that all of my favorite Woody Allen comedies come from his early 70s work.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars