My movie weekend included a lot of heavy lifting with the New Year’s resolutions, a long sought-after classic of world cinema, a clever Norwegian thriller, Cuban zombies, and some monsters sprinkled on top of a hangover. This is the movie weekend that was.
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
It’s always important to watch films within the context that they were made. Having said that, it’s sometimes difficult to do. And that was ultimately my problem with In the Heat of the Night. So much of what the film accomplishes has been done time and again ever since. As such, I could’ve told you from the first five minutes how the entire film would play out. Similarly, the film’s shining moment- “They call me MISTER TIBBS”- is so well-known that it saps the moment of a little bit of gravitas. None of this is the fault of the film. Rather, it’s my problem that it didn’t quite strike a chord with me. Regardless of what I thought, the performances turned in by Rod Steiger and especially Sidney Poitier were very impressive.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
I first heard about this Norwegian film way back in December 2011 when it made an appearance on Peter Hall’s wrap-up of the best horror and horror-y films of 2011. Several commenters here have recommended it since then, as well. As the article points out, it’s not horror, per se, but it’s a damn fine film. Foreign comedy doesn’t always resonates for a variety of reasons, but the comedy in Headhunters managed to hit home. And the story itself is tense, full of action, and the characters are fleshed out enough to hold everything together. I can’t say enough good things about this film. There’s a special treat in the film for fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones- it stars Jamie Lannister (Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Pather Panchali (1955)
It’s easy to throw around superlatives when describing a film. I’m as guilty as anyone of using words like great, amazing, excellent, and tremendous (and they’re the enemy of film critics since they’re non-descript, but I’m no critic… and I digress). Seeing a movie like Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali renders so many uses of superlatives moot. I went to bed on Friday thinking “Headhunters is a great movie.” By noon on Saturday, after I had watched Pather Panchali, I realized how meaningless that word was in reference to Headhunters.
Put simply, Pather Panchali is one of the best movies ever made. All the way in India, Ray employed Italian neo-realist techniques possibly to greater effect than any other ACTUAL Italian neo-realist filmmaker that I’ve seen. The juxtaposition of childlike innocence with crushing poverty and raw human drama makes the film transcendent. Despite a tiny budget ($3,000), Ray’s film is visually poetic and packs quite an emotional wallop. It’s also impossible to avoid the influence that this film had on future filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, and pretty much anyone who has made a coming-of-age drama since 1960 (and yes, The Simpsons).
I’ve wanted to see Ray’s “Apu Trilogy” for quite some time, but it’s not easy to find. Thanks to Facets, I’ve finally seen the first in the trilogy- Pather Panchali. Now I’m champing at the bit to see the second and third films in the trilogy, Aparajito and The World of Apu.
Rating: 11,219,103 stars out of 5
Swing Time (1936)
This was my first- and probably last- foray into the world of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. There was just enough solid humor and impressive dance* that I didn’t completely hate it. The sequence with the shadows behind Fred Astaire was especially impressive. I didn’t really care for the rest of it, but it had just enough positives to keep me from hating it. So, that’s something, right?
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
*how weird is it that I’ve reached a point with a lot of these AFI musicals that I actually PREFER the dance sequences to the plot?
From this point forward, the rest of my movie-watching weekend was shrouded by a nasty little hangover. Ergo the shift in tone.
Hotel Transylvania (2012)
In many ways, Hotel Transylvania is aimed directly at my generation (I’m 36). Or at least, it’s aimed at getting people my age to take their kids to see it. If you were raised in the 70s and 80s, then cartoon monsters are second-nature to you thanks to cartoons like Scooby Doo and Ghostbusters, and fun pop culture items like Count Chocula cereal. Nick at Nite even showed us re-runs of all The Munsters episodes when we were growing up. And now that people my age have kids, I imagine a lot of us want those kids to have the same childhood fun that we did. Enter the monsters, give them the voices of SNL cast members from our childhood, and you’ve got yourself a movie. What ultimately comes out is a film that was clearly made with a lot of love, and has just the right pinch of humor. That it revolves around the classic Universal monsters is just icing on the cake for horror nerds like me. It wasn’t particularly a special film, but it did more than enough to elevate itself over middling kids fare (I’m looking at you, Rise of the Guardians).
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Superman III (1983)
I am admittedly not a Superman fan. So I went in fully expecting to grade on a curve. After all, a movie shouldn’t be subject to the viewer’s whims. But there’s no need here. It’s just a flat-out bad movie with hokey dialogue and effects that haven’t held up well at all. I question whether they were ever good.
Rating 1.5 stars out of 5
Juan of the Dead (2011)
My initial reaction to finding out that there was a Cuban zombie movie with a title that tips its cap to Edgar Wright was a positive one. But as the months passed, my excitement was replaced with reticence. I was a little worried that it might be a bit too derivative. And the truth is, it’s very derivative in not-very-subtle ways. We see sharks and zombies together, much like Fulci’s Zombi 2; the entire plot is very similar to Shaun of the Dead; there’s a healthy dose of Ghostbusters in there; and one character even uses one of the most memorable lines from Dead Alive almost verbatim. But here’s what you really need to know about Juan of the Dead– it has heart, and it has humor. And that carries it to the finish line. In fact, it plays more as a comedy than it does a horror film. It made for a fine choice at the end of a hangover-filled day.
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5