Since my vacation time at work is “use it or lose it” by June 30th, I’ll have a lot of long weekends this month. This was the first, so my weekend was full of movies. Choose your own subhead for my movie weekend. It’s either “Holy shit, you’ve never seen THAT?!?” weekend, or “The Movie Weekend That Was: A Lot of Sequels”. Included: boldly tackling a sequel where I’d never gone before, two other sequels, three classics that I’d never seen, and a healthy dose of recent horror. This is the movie weekend that was.
V/H/S 2 (2013)
The consensus is that V/H/S 2 was better than the first V/H/S. While I respect that opinion and understand that it corrected some of the flaws of the first film (the misogyny, first and foremost), I still prefer the first film. It stayed truer to the concept than the second film and it felt like it was made more for horror lovers than for mass audiences, whereas #2 toed that line a little bit. That’s not a bad thing at all. It’s just not my preference. V/H/S 2 is still a very good horror film, and a few sequences really do a great job of approaching horror subjects in new and exciting ways. Specifically, the first two segments- Phase I Clinical Trials and A Ride in the Park– tackle ghosts and zombies, respectively, in really cool, inventive ways.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
The Mysterious Doctor (1943)
The Mysterious Doctor is a World War II-era horror that takes place in the UK as the war heightens. Local townsfolk are afraid to mine tin for the war effort because of a headless ghost and a series of beheadings. It’s a really great concept that unfortunately plays out like a Scooby Doo episode. In short, don’t lose your head over seeing it.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Star Trek Into Darkness
Before proceeding, I have to make something clear. I am not a Star Trek fan. I’m not a hater, either, but I’ve never gotten into it and I just don’t care. This means that before JJ Abrams rebooted the franchise, I’d only seen one of the films and a handful of episodes. Having said that, I did enjoy JJ Abrams’ 2009 reboot, which I’m sure makes me exactly the kind of person that the diehard fans hate. My apologies, I guess. As for the sequel, Abrams is great at making very, very average popcorn movies. Which… I don’t even mean as an insult. Because they aren’t bad. They’re enjoyable, they’re flawed, and I’m still glad I’ve seen them. Basically he’s your guy if you don’t care about making great movies but you want to guarantee that you don’t get a shitty one on a huge budget, resulting in a very costly, franchise-killing bomb. Never is that more apparent than with Star Trek Into Darkness.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
There’s no denying that it’s a classic. It’s riddled with classic and highly memorable scenes (STELLAAAAAAAAA). But… I hated all of the characters. In fact, Blanche DuBois goes down as one of my least favorite characters of all-time. And the melodrama was WAY over the top. Every scene featured someone yelling or crying or going insane. It’s also worth noting that Vivien Leigh- who played Blanche DuBois- has now played two of my least favorite characters of all-time thanks to Blanche DuBois and Scarlett O’Hara.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
In some ways, this was a re-watch. I first saw it in 1995. But I knew almost nothing about film or film history at the time, and I’m certain I’d never seen a Chaplin movie. Of course, all of that has changed, and it added greatly to my enjoyment. Chaplin was a well-made and damned fine biopic. It speaks volumes that after the film was done, I wanted to re-watch so many classic Chaplin films. The cast was large and impressive, and Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance was noteworthy. I’m actually surprised he didn’t get any awards for it, although I see that he was at least nominated.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Warm Bodies (2013)
Warm Bodies isn’t exactly rocket science. It’s the Romeo and Juliet story placed in the world of a zombie apocalypse. Given how played out the zombie genre is right now, Warm Bodies earns big points for simply approaching the zombie sub-genre from a refreshing new angle. Using first person narrative from the point of view of a zombie hasn’t been done much, if at all. Even going beyond that, I admired its simplicity. It knows exactly what it is- a horror-romantic comedy with a young adult twist- and it executes its format well. It doesn’t swing any higher and that is absolutely, perfectly ok.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Urban Legend (1998)
I’ve wanted to see Urban Legend ever since it first came out, during the halcyon days of “giant casts made up of teenagers thwarting slasher” movies in the late 90s. Urban legends are fun, and basing a whole horror movie on them seems like such a brilliant idea. In other words, I wanted to like this movie so much because it’s a great concept. But the execution was so hilariously bad, and the production values matched. I’m the last kind of movie viewer to hunt down continuity errors, and yet I still noted several. When even I’m catching them, you know it’s bad. It gets a bonus star for concept, but nothing else.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Lethal Weapon (1987); Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)
It’s time to tell a dirty secret. I had never seen Lethal Weapon from start to finish. I’d seen bits and pieces on TV through the years, to the point that I more or less knew the plot before watching it over the weekend. I remedied the error with both of the first two films. The first observation is that it’s dated in a sometimes hilariously unintentional way. In fact, all I could think of the entire time was Dennis and Mac’s Lethal Weapon 5 from It’s Always Sunny (all that’s missing in their perfect parody is a joke about Murtaugh’s wife’s cooking). Second, Gibson and Glover had AMAZING chemistry in their respective roles. It really drives the whole franchise. Third, these movies are fun as hell. I can understand why they’re regarded as some of the best action movies ever made. For my money, I’ll still take the Die Hard franchise… but why bother with that comparison? Both are great and deserve to stand on their own.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars for Lethal Weapon; 3.5 out of 5 stars for Lethal Weapon 2
Throw another onto the “Holy shit, you’ve never seen…?” pile. Spartacus is quite possibly the most liberal film I’ve ever seen. And I don’t say that derisively. In fact, it’s not a value judgement at all. It’s merely a statement of fact. Given that it was written by Dalton Trumbo when he was part of the Hollywood Ten; produced and starred Kirk Douglas, who wanted to thumb his nose at the establishment; and came out in 1960, right in the heart of the Civil Rights era, it makes powerful condemnations of both the Red Scare and Jim Crowe. The irony here is that, while it’s one of Stanley Kubrick’s most beloved films, it’s probably very far down on the list for actual Kubrick fans. There’s a reason for that. Apparently Kubrick had limited control over the final product, so it rarely feels like a Kubrick film. I’m wrapping up the AFI Top 100 and I’m glad that Spartacus was still floating around out there for me to see, particularly after my negative reaction to A Streetcar Named Desire.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars