My Week in Movies: Jan. 1-7

In an effort to keep the writing pipes from getting rusty and keep some sort of activity on this blog, I’ve resolved to write about every movie I watch this year, new fand old alike, week by week. Don’t expect full reviews, however; write-ups could range from a single Twitter-able sentence to a paragraph or two, mainly meant to capture my reactions in their simplest forms. (Not included here are short films and television episodes, although I may change my mind about that later. For those feeling stalkerish, you can follow my entire viewing habits on my OCD-fueled What I’ve Watched page.) Here goes:

After the Thin Man (1936), Another Thin Man (1939), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), The Thin Man Goes Home (1945), and Song of the Thin Man (1947) The Thin Man series is a prime example of diminishing returns; aspiring screenwriters can learn much from watching each film struggle to both stay fresh and recapture the original’s magic. The middle sequels are perhaps most notorious for placing Nick and Nora on the wagon and giving them a kid, and it’s interesting to watch the final films attempt to undo that damage. (Goes Home even writes out the kid completely, saying he stayed at home and away from the plot.) Each film (even the short ones!) feels about half an hour too long, but each also has a couple decent set pieces, and Powell and Loy maintain their charms throughout, making a slog through the franchise tolerable, if not entirely rewarding.

When the Daltons Rode (1940) A pleasant programmer from George Marshall, Daltons goes from intriguing drama to standard (yet highly enjoyable) oater action in showing how the Dalton gang went from law-abiding to train-robbing. Solid all around thanks mainly to a killer cast, including Randolph Scott, Brian Donlevy, Andy Devine, and Kay Francis, with standout performances from Mary Gordon, as the Dalton’s loving mother, and especially Broderick Crawford, bringing great depth to his role as Bob Dalton.

The Devil’s Brigade (1968) A damn fine late-60s WWII epic which, with its system-bucking antiheroes, prolonged training/bonding first half, and gritty tone, feels like a rip-off of The Dirty Dozen. Except, well, Devil’s Brigade is a better picture, more engaging with its characters, tighter in its story structure, more impactful in its emotional third act sucker punches.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) Calling it my favorite movie of 2011 probably doesn’t carry much weight, considering how few new films I saw last year, but still: it’s my favorite movie of 2011, and I’m still giddy about it after this second viewing. (This time I took my daughter, who also loved it, because she knows what’s what.) Everything about it holds up spectacularly, and this time I took to appreciating its ambition, its scope, and its love of nuance – the fun’s in the details, especially in the wordless interplay between the cast. Ghost Protocol is a meticulously crafted, intelligent popcorn flick, which is something I haven’t seen in the multiplex in quite some time.

The Tree of Life (2011) So I finally got around to watching this one following its recent big win in this year’s OFCS Awards, and you can now place me squarely in the “hate it” side of the love it/hate it debate. Pretentious and self-serious in all the wrong ways, Terrence Malick’s film reminds us that while some movies can be poems, a lot of poetry is pretty goddamn terrible. How have we not spent the past seven months viciously mocking this thing? (And what’s with all the whispering?)

Mission: Impossible (1996) Still a masterpiece. (OK, so the script’s complete misunderstanding of how the internet works seems even more ridiculous today. Doesn’t matter. Masterpiece!)

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) Is a great ending enough? The final few minutes are a powerhouse, a punchline that plays like a kick in the teeth. But what comes before is far from my favorite Cagney flick, a bit too slack in its plotting, too heavy-handed in its moralizing, too obnoxious with the Dead End Kids, who were terrific in Dead End but not so much after. (Leo Gorcey, he bugs me.) And while there’s no denying some tremendous performances from the cast and typically solid direction from Michael Curtiz, it’s ultimately a film that works well on a scene-by-scene basis but doesn’t click with me as much as a whole.

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