My Week of Films (August 2019)

You’ve extended your movie theater dry spell by seven days, bringing your total up to an unfathomable 29 days without seeing a movie in theaters. Fortunately, this week brings It: Chapter 2 which will end this discordant streak. A quick note- you were reminded after last week’s journal that Hobbs and Shaw was not the last film you saw in theaters. Two days after Hobbs and Shaw, you saw The Long Shot in Seoul with friends, Marley and Alex. In the face of having little to no options at the local theater, you’ve watched a number of diverse and interesting films through streaming, as well as started new show, Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, which has perfectly captured the unbridled creepiness of its source material.

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Starter for 10

(7-Very Good Film)

On August 26th, you watched Starter for 10 on Amazon Prime for the second time, with your first viewing having been several years prior. Coming of age, youthful romance, academic contests, these are a boundless source of storytelling. Set in the 1980s, Starter for 10 stars James McAvoy as Brian Jackson, an intelligent but meek freshman student at Bristol University who joins their “University Challenge” team, a trivia competition between schools, popular on television. Brian falls for worldly teammate, Alice (Alice Eve), and befriends the politically passionate, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), as he navigates his first year away from home. This is a very engaging, well-acted film. Your only reservations were that the endearing but awkward Brian makes so many wrong decisions and has so many uncomfortable moments that you struggle to watch the film straight, instead, taking a number of lengthy breaks to get through the narrative.

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The Black Dahlia

(4-Bad Film)

Can someone please give The Black Dahlia another shot? Reading that David Fincher was initially attached and wanted to turn James Ellroy’s novel into a miniseries has you mourning what could have been. Too much studio interference apparently caused the director to flee the project, so, on August 31st, you watched not David Fincher’s but Brian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia and what a bad film. What a bad, gorgeous film. It deserved its nomination for best cinematography and Mia Kirshner deserved the praise she received for playing Elizabeth Short among the dozens of otherwise excoriating reviews. If you don’t know the story, Elizabeth Short was a 22-year-old girl from Massachusetts found brutally murdered in Los Angeles in 1947. Forty years later, the great Ellroy wrote a fictional, speculative novel about the ensuing investigation. His book is riveting. In this adaptation, detectives Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) join the crusade to catch Short’s killer, both becoming obsessed with the case while dealing with their love for the same woman, Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson). There are probably other issues but you simply couldn’t get past the cast, primarily the leads. They are bad. They are not Troll 2 level bad. They are simply either unconvincing in their roles (Hilary Swank is miscast as a femme fatale despite being a talented actress) or boring in their roles (Josh Hartnett delivers his lines monotonously, especially during the crucial narrations).

SIDENOTE: IDEAL CAST (THE BLACK DAHLIA)

David Fincher would have been the perfect filmmaker to bring The Black Dahlia to the big screen. As far as the cast, a young Mickey Rourke would be ideal. However, since you’re thinking in terms of 2019, who would be the best cast to pull off these characters? You like Joel Edgerton and Jon Bernthal. They’d make a goof Bucky and Lee pair.

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Drumline

(7-Very Good Film)

You’ve never given marching band much consideration. Football games are about football. Marching band is background noise. Similar to what Pitch Perfect did years later for Acapella, Drumline makes marching band look really cool. Watched on Hulu, August 31st, Drumline follows Devon Miles (Nick Cannon), a hot-head drum recruit to Atlanta A & T’s revered marching band who immediately finds himself at odds with the band director, Dr. Lee (Orlando Jones), and the percussion leader, Sean (Leonard Roberts). Drumline is super solid entertainment. You know as soon as the film starts what it’s about and where it’s going but you’re happy with the execution. Supporting players-Jones, Roberts, and J. Anthony Brown as the rival band leader-stand out, while Nick Cannon proves a capable lead despite being cocky and hard to like for a good portion of the film.

 

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A Kid in Aladdin’s Palace

(5-Okay Film)

A sequel to the equally silly, meager, and enjoyable A Kid in King Arthur’s Court, A Kid in Aladdin’s Palace suffers mainly from the fact that this was your first time watching it. The former film is bolstered by waves of merry nostalgia from years of watching it on VHS as a child. A Kid in Aladdin’s Palace receives no such sentiment. You also watched a tremendously shabby copy of it on Youtube (some guy videotaped himself watching it on his crappy old t.v).  Despite all of this, you were still entertained. Calvin Fuller of Reseda takes that joke to ancient Arabia where he meets a genie, Aladdin, Sheherazade, and Ali Babba and squares off against an evil sultan. The special effects are unsurprisingly horrible and the last act resorts to a couple too many poop jokes but as long as your expectations are reasonable, A Kid in Aladdin’s Palace is reasonably enjoyable.

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Centennial Summer

(6-Good Film)

You watched a faded copy of this on youtube on August 31st, Centennial Summer will suffer comparisons from anyone who’s seen the fantastic Meet Me in St. Louis. It’s the summer of 1876 in Philadelphia and the life of the Rogers’ clan is chronicled in this lightweight musical. With a particular focus on sisters, Julia (Jeanne Crain) and Edith (Linda Darnell), who vie for the same man, newcomer Frenchman, Philippe Lascalles (Cornel Wilde), Centennial Summer boasts a terrific cast. Aside from the leads, Walter Brennan, Constance Bennett, and Dorothy Gish star, and the talented Otto Preminger directs. It’s a handsome, likable film without being as endearing as Vincente Minnelli’s classic which inspired it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

August 25-August 31

My Week of Films (August 2019)

You are in the midst of perhaps the longest movie theater dry spell of your life. It’s been exactly 24 days since you saw Hobbs and Shaw at a beautiful movie theater in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was your first experience with their movie theater chain-Golden Screen Cinemas-and it was mostly positive except that they edited out all of the film’s curse words and Hobbs and Shaw had quite a few. You found that utterly bizarre. But since you’ve returned to your temporary home in Korea, you have not seen a film in theaters once. Not once. While enduring the hottest, most humid climate of your existence, you’ve also endured the coldest of movie cold spells. You’ll remember August as a gruesome month in what is otherwise a terrific country. Back in America, cinephiles have enjoyed Good Boys, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Ready or Not, and a surprisingly well-received Angry Birds sequel. None of those films made it to you in Korea (technically, Angry Birds 2 is available but only in its dubbed form). What particularly galls you is Tarantino’s latest and potentially last film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, not being released yet and not appearing anywhere on IMDB’s list of upcoming releases. You’ve been walking to the local theater, Lotte Cinema, nearly every day just to hang out in that beautiful air, and you suspect that you’re beginning to seem creepy to the employees. You don’t care. It looks like if you want to see another movie in theaters during the month of August, you’re going to have to shell out for a thoroughly mediocre-looking 47 Meters Down. Fortunately, between your Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Criterion subscriptions (you only personally pay for one of these), plus youtube, you’ve had a great week of watching movies at home. Though you didn’t consider any of these films great, you enjoyed all of them and thought most of them were very good.

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The Lemon Drop Kid

(7-Very Good Film)

On August 18th, you watched The Lemon Drop Kid for the first time on youtube, in good quality no less. You’ve had it back home on VHS but never got around to watching it. Bob Hope plays the titular character, also known as Sidney Milburn, a con artist who messes up and cons the wrong guy, mob boss Moose Moran, who gives Sidney until Christmas Eve, just a couple of weeks, to pay the money back ($10,000). Sidney then connives the help of his few remaining friends to pull off his biggest scheme yet: street-corner Santas taking money from the kind-hearted. Of course, this is a Christmas film so the wicked Sidney eventually has a change of heart. The source of the classic Christmas song, “Silver Bells,” The Lemon Drop Kid is a wonderful light comedy and star-vehicle for Hope who delivers his nonstop one-liners and zany buffoonery in highly amusing fashion.

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The Girl Can’t Help It

(7-Very Good Film)

Another film you watched on youtube, August 18th-you made a new playlist full of intriguing movies that turned up when you typed in “TCM films” the day before-The Girl Can’t Help It, unfortunately, was in pretty bad quality. You’ll have to watch it again sometime. It was your first time watching this film and your first time seeing Jayne Mansfield. She plays Jerri Jordan, a dumb blonde with hidden depths, named by her gangster boyfriend Marty “Fats” Murdock (Edmond O’Brien) who wants her to be a star singer. He hires a washed-up talent agent, Tom Miller (Tom Ewell), to make it happen. Fats hires Tom solely on the down-on-his-luck agent’s reputation for not trying anything with the ladies he represents, but you can guess where the story goes from there. The pleasure’s in the style, the over-the-top characterizations, and most of all, the music. Little Richard, The Platters, Eddie Cochran, and Fats Domino all turn up over the course of the film.

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Strangers in the Night

(7-Very Good Film)

What a pleasure this was, August 19th buried somewhere on youtube. You tried to find it again but couldn’t. It’s one of your favorite things in life when you stumble upon an old film that you’ve never even heard of and it turns out to be a gem. It’s the equivalent of a great hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Strangers in the Night, directed by Anthony Mann early in his career, stands at just 56 minutes long with no recognizable stars, though you’ve seen the lead actress in a pretty unremarkable whodunnit earlier this year. A marine, Johnny Meadows (William Terry) corresponds with a woman he’s never met named Rosemary Blake during his time in the South Pacific for World War II. Upon returning home, he sets out to meet this girl he’s never seen but has fallen in love with through their letters. Instead, he meets Mrs. Hilda Blake (Helene Thimig), a strange and sinister older woman who claims to be Rosemary’s mother. He also meets a beautiful doctor, Leslie Ross (Virginia Grey), complicating his feelings for Rosemary. It’s a rare film that has you clueless about where it’s heading, but Strangers in the Night did just that. It’s a really tight, suspenseful story that offered many surprises.

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Smiles of a Summer Night

(8-Exceptional Film)

You’re no great fan of Ingmar Bergman’s. In fact, you relish saying so to other film fans and steeling yourself to their protestations. He has his moments though: Fanny and Alexander, Wild Strawberries…Hmmm. Yeah, I guess it’s really just those two for you. Or had been, because you watched Smiles of a Summer Night, August 24th, on the Criterion Channel and will now add that film to your list of entertaining Bergman movies. It’s very likely his most entertaining movie. An insular group of Swedish nobles around the early 1900s prove to be most dysfunctional. They all love someone else other than the one they’re with. Fredrik Egerman (Gunnar Björnstrand) is married to a sweet but much-too-young-for-him girl named Anne (Ulla Jacobsson) who, in turn, quietly admires her stepson, Henrik (Björn Bjelfvenstam), and Henrik loves her but wrestles with his faith and his lust for playful maidservant, Petra (Harriet Andersson). This all may sound heavy but a few more players are introduced and Smiles of a Summer Night becomes a wonderful, charming romantic farce with happy endings all around.

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Young Sherlock Holmes

(7-Very Good Film)

What is it about the ’80s aesthetic that you respond to so strongly? Even in minor works or light entertainments such as Young Sherlock Holmes, it keeps you coming back. You’ve seen Young Sherlock Holmes about a half dozen times now (your latest viewing occurring yesterday, August 24th on Amazon) and it doesn’t really warrant more than one viewing. Nicholas Rowe plays the famed detective in his teenage years with Alan Cox playing Watson. They befriend each other while investigating the mysterious deaths of three men that seem linked to an underground cult with mystical powers. Like most ’80s family films, Young Sherlock Holmes has its creepy moments. Many of them actually. Perhaps it’s the combination of light adventure with dark, surprising horror you find in so many ’80s pictures that you enjoy so much.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

August 18-August 24