Wednesday, January 17, 2018

First Time Watches: December 2017

It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas in December, and there were some Christmas first time watches that came along with it.  The month wasn’t completely filled with movies that I watched for the first time, but it had enough of them that I’m going to write this post.  They weren’t even all Christmas movies.  There just happened to be some because it was December.

For those of you who are new to these posts, I write about my first time watches each month.  The posts help you, the readers, to understand my thoughts about the movies I’ve seen.  They help me to come to terms with how I feel about them.  Most of all, these posts are a record of what movies I watched for the first time.  That’s enough to constitute writing a post, I think.

December had nineteen first time watches.  That’s almost twenty movies that I saw for the first time.  Some of them were short films and others were not.  There was a police officer who did his best work in the night.  A woman was being cured of her grumpy Christmas attitude.  One movie will be covered twice because I saw two drastically different versions.  We’ll even go into space, and then come back down to visit a drive-in.  That’s all coming up in my December first time watches post.
Another WolfCop
The first WolfCop was a movie that came onto my radar a few years ago as part of my Sunday “Bad” Movies blog.  I don’t remember how I stumbled onto it, but the name made me feel the need to seek it out.  I fell in love almost immediately and anticipated the sequel, which was released in late 2017.  The sequel wasn’t quite as good as the first.  It had all of the best parts back.  Lowell Dean had returned to direct again.  Leo Fafard and Amy Matysio were back, as was the always fun to watch Jonathan Cherry.  They even had some more music by Gowan, and he showed up in the movie.  It was super Canadian.  However, the first movie had a slightly better story which kept it above the sequel.  Still a good, fun movie that I saw in the theater.
A Miracle on Christmas Lake
There are a lot of Canadian movies that revolve around hockey.  This was one of them.  A young man was dealing with the death of his friend by trying to shovel a path across a lake.  One night, a hockey rink appeared before him.  The hockey rink was a release for his emotions.  When the town tried to turn the land around the lake into a new residential area, he fought to keep it because of the rink.  There was a good heart to the movie.  That couldn’t save it from feeling like a Canadian movie.  There wasn’t enough put into it to make it look as cinematic as it could have.  It was okay.  I’m happy to have watched it.  It simply could have been more.
Santa’s Slay

Christmas horror always hits that soft spot in my heart.  I love horror and to set it at a holiday brings me in every time.  Elves might be a terrible movie, but I love it.  Halloween was great.  Krampus was a solid horror movie set during the end of the year holidays.  Another Christmas horror movie was Santa’s Slay, which saw Santa going on a killing spree because he loved killing people.  Bill Goldberg was having a great time playing the symbol of Christmas cheer, bringing fear to the town of Hell.  The movie didn’t strive for excellence.  It was going for fun and brought that to the table by the truck load.  This is a new holiday staple for me.
The Disaster Artist
I had been looking forward to the adaptation of Greg Sestero’s book about his friendship with Tommy Wiseau and the making of The Room since the movie was announced a couple years ago.  The cast began coming together and it was a bunch of people I enjoyed watching.  If there’s one thing that stood out above all others in the final product, it was the performances.  Everyone put in some of their best work throughout The Disaster Artist.  The movie focused much more on the friendship of Greg and Tommy than the making of The Room, which gave a solid emotional core to the story.  It was about their journey as brothers in the world of entertainment.  They may have put out a bad movie, but they would stick together.  There was a lot to like about the movie I had been anticipating since reading the book.
The Littlest Light on the Christmas Tree
There’s not much worse in the world of cinema than a bad animated movie.  Something about them hurts more than most others.  It could be that the majority of animation is directed at children, so a poorly done animated flick feels dumbed down to the point of nonsense.  It could be the ugly visuals made by animators who don’t care.  The Littlest Light on the Christmas Tree hit both of those negative aspects.  It was only forty minutes, but it felt like an eternity.  It was not good and I hope nobody tortures themselves with this one.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
This was one of the most divisive films of 2018.  There were people who loved it and people who vehemently despised what it was doing.  I fell in the middle.  I was a fan of what the movie was trying to do, though I think it could have handled some things better.  The horse creatures, in particular.  Yet, I ended up on the defensive when the people I went to see it with (the second time, one night after the first) began trash talking the female characters.  Eh.  This post isn’t about that though.  What I liked about The Last Jedi was that it was a movie about hope.  The characters might not have always succeeded at what they were doing, but they inspired others along the way.  They thought they were the last bit of hope in the galaxy.  They were actually the instigators for hope that would come.  I’m excited to see where the trilogy ends.
Moon Palace
One of my teachers worked on this short television film.  The idea behind the film was pretty solid.  A guy takes a job as a fortune writer for the fortune cookies at a Chinese restaurant.  He would eavesdrop on the customers and tailor their fortunes to suit them.  Aside from the creep factor of the eavesdropping, the concept was good.  It fell apart with the television look.  Had it been made a few years later, the short probably could have fared a little better.  It had the potential to go places.
The story of this one brought together a bunch of different things that you wouldn’t think fit together.  It was a Christmas movie where Michael Shannon’s character discovered his wife was a furry who was cheating on him and decided to wear a gorilla costume while getting drunk.  The townspeople mistook him for Bigfoot, and a reality television crew showed up to hunt down the creature, not knowing it was Michael Shannon’s character.  There’s not much to say about it outside of what it’s about.  I basically spent the whole time wondering how they got such an interesting cast.  Shannon, Judy Greer, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Tom Lennon, and Ian McShane all showed up.  That cast was way better than the movie, which left my jaw on the floor.
54 – Theatrical Cut
This was messy.  54 was a semi-fictional biopic about the famous New York club.  There were real people in the story, but the main character was only loosely based on real people.  The story wanted to be something darker.  It hinted at the sex, drugs, and money skimming that would eventually bring the club down.  But everything was glorified.  Everything was made to look good.  The tone of the story with the way it was edited and the way the ending was rewritten caused a conflict of tones that tore the theatrical version apart.  Luckily, there was a director’s cut that was released a few years ago.  I’ll get to that later.
Once again, Christmas and horror came together in this short film.  A woman who was extremely passionate about the holidays decided to rid another woman of her holiday grumpiness.  The idea was fun, and the performances were perfectly over-the-top.  There was a fun attitude to the short.  It should be watched and appreciated by more people, but I’m sure there aren’t too many who know about it.  This under-the-radar horror short is going to be something I watch annually for years to come.
Alien Worms
Sometimes a movie comes along where you’re baffled as to why it was made.  It’s not that it was terrible (though this one was).  There just seemed to be no point to it.  Alien Worms had a guy go into a house, shoot some alien worms, and escape with his life.  The only saving grace about it was that it was short so the pain ended quickly.  The effects were atrocious.  The acting was bad.  Everything had an ugly filter over it.  This is a short film that should be given a hard pass if ever offered the chance to see it.
Born Again
Many movies are made based on a new twist to a familiar story.  The story in this case was a satanic ritual that was going to cause a woman to give birth to… something.  One of the people involved in the ritual, however, was a bumbling Best Buy employee who didn’t fit into the vibe.  He was messing things up.  It was the right kind of comedy for me, making me laugh more than once in the short runtime.  The final little twist was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time.
Killer clowns have been a huge thing over the past few years.  Two years ago, people were frightened about clowns stalking them wherever they went.  Last year, It came out and people went wild.  Something about clowns frightens people.  This was a short made during the clown rage and it was about clowns attacking a Halloween party.  The acting was solid.  It was easy to see that everyone was into being a part of the short.  The characters were fun to watch.  Cloooowns! wasn’t the greatest, but it was a good enough time for a few minutes.
A child fled from a monster that could only attack if he had his eyes open.  The child tried to keep his eyes closed.  The only thing that I didn’t like about this one was the acting on the part of the child.  You can’t really hold that against it too much.  Good child actors can be tough to come by.  It was alright.
54 – Director’s Cut
The reason that I counted my two watches of 54 as separate first time watches was because the two versions were vastly different.  The director’s cut brought in some gay relationships, and made the club into a darker place that wasn’t meant to be glorified.  The moments of the theatrical cut that seemed too dark for what it was doing fit perfectly into the director’s cut.  All in all, this was a better version of the movie that seemed to have a clear tone and story to be told.  It wasn’t backtracking on any of the story beats.  Instead, it said the club life wasn’t all it was made out to be.  It wasn’t the best life.  There were shady things, and going into that life got you involved in things that weren’t necessarily good.  Busted relationships, drugs, and even death.  The director’s cut should be the cut that anyone sees.
Clown horror struck again in December.  This one was kind of strange.  A woman decided to paint over a clown picture on a stone wall.  There was a clown who didn’t like it and was silently threatening her.  There’s not much to say about the short film.  It was amusing, I guess.  Not much more than that.
I was waiting a couple years for this one.  It was about the area in which I live.  There’s an urban legend around here that a tornado went through a local drive-in theater while Twister was playing.  Some versions even say that it happened during the part in Twister where they’re watching The Shining at a drive-in theater.  There was some truth to the urban legend.  The documentary short was about what really happened and how the urban legend spread around the area.  Maybe I liked it more because it was a local story, but I think it was just a good short documentary that anyone could enjoy.
It is always interesting to see movies tackle serious issues in odd ways.  Colossal used giant monsters as a way to present a story about the troubles that come with alcoholism.  The performances were great, especially from Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis.  Not many movies can make a grown man stomping around the sandy section of a playground frightening, but this one did.  It was an excellent way to tell the story which resonated while also providing the fun of a monster movie.  This is a must see movie.
How the West was Won
Closing out the month, and a year of first time watches, was this epic from 1962.  It was split into five different parts, each telling a different story about the same family at a different point in their life.  There was a huge cast of recognizable faces, and some solid action to spice up each of the stories.  For an almost three hour movie, it was entertaining and attention capturing the entire time.  This was a great way to cap off the year.

2017 came to a close with a few of my favourite first time watches of the month, and possibly the year.  I won’t be doing a best of post for 2017.  It’s tough enough getting these out with the smaller amount of writing time I’ve had over the past few months.  I will say that my top first time watches of the year were Before Sunset (January), The Belko Experiment (August), Atomic Blonde (July), The Wiz (July), and Deepwater Horizon (June).  There were other movies that I loved to.

I’m going into 2018 optimistic for what I will see.  It seems like my film classes will be getting more into the classics to teach the methods of making movies.  I’m also planning on catching up on some stuff I’ve been meaning to watch.  And, as always, I have a blog of bad movies.  So there should be a good variety of stuff that I watch.

I will be back with another post at the end of January.  There are sure to be a lot of movies in that post.  I’ve seen some already, including Air Bud Spikes Back and State and Main.  They’re two vastly different movies.  I also saw a bunch of stuff at the theater during my one week break from school, so you’ll get my thoughts on those as well.  Come back in a month to see what I have to say about these movies.

Before you go, though, let me just plug a few other writing outlets.  As I mentioned, I have a bad movie blog called Sunday “Bad” Movies.  Check that out for my weekly writing about movies based on a bad movie I saw.  I write about Mighty Morphin Power Rangers too.  If you want something that’s not me, Talk Film Society is always a good outlet when looking for writing.  Mark Watlington wrote something about Cats & Dogs for them.  Another option would be to check out a great guy named Jaime Burchardt.  He wrote something about Jaume Collet-Serra for Cinepunx.  Thanks for checking any or all of these things out, and have a good time between posts!

Friday, January 12, 2018

First Time Watches: November 2017

The end of the year is nearing, which means that many of the big awards contenders are being released to get their theatrical run in before they’re out of time.  I didn’t see many of them in November.  I did see a bunch of other movies, including some first time watches.  This post is here for me to share with you my thoughts about those first time watches.

November was a full month.  There were nineteen first time watches, including some new releases and some short films.  There were a few documentaries in there as I tried to clear some room on my PVR.  A Norse god came to Earth, lived life, then went off to fight in space.  A band of musicians had a wacky adventure while traveling between shows.  A man had fire burning around his head not once, but twice.  The holiday cheer even crept in a couple times.  What movies am I talking about?  Let’s find out.
Team Thor
In preparation for the release of Thor: Ragnarok, I took a look at the two Team Thor shorts that Taika Waititi put out.  The first one felt like a Marvel take on The Office, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Chris Hemsworth was at his greatest, up to that point, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It was comedic in ways that none of the other output had been, which was a refreshing change.  Though it would have no real effect over the MCU lore, it was still an enjoyable comedic look at what had felt like a stale, boring character.
Team Thor: Part 2
Not quite as successful was the follow-up effort.  There were still laughs to be had.  The problem was that, where the first had felt like a full comedic story being told in short form, Part 2 felt like a deleted scene.  It was one extended scene that didn’t tell much of a story.  It was still funny.  It just had a lot to live up to and didn’t achieve that same level of storytelling.
Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D.
My introduction to the character of Sgt. Kabukiman was when I watched the fourth Toxic Avenger movie.  He was a bumbling drunk superhero that people hated.  His origin story told a different tale for the character.  He was a good detective, learning to become better through his newfound kabuki powers.  The movie was filled with the typical Troma humour.  There were off-the-wall sexual and violent moments in what would normally be a kids’ movie.  It wasn’t the best I’d seen from Troma, but it was definitely good enough to earn Sgt. Kabukiman’s status as another of Troma’s mascots.
The Sheepdogs Have At It
One of the bigger new Canadian rock bands of the past decade has been The Sheepdogs.  This documentary followed their rise to fame through Canada and their appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.  Each of the band members had their backgrounds given, though most of the focus was placed upon lead singer and guitarist Ewan Currie.  If you’re interested in the band and their music in any way whatsoever, this documentary is one you might want to check out.
Thor: Ragnarok
The Thor movies never really did anything for me until Taika Waititi took over.  The first one was okay, but kind of dull compared to the other action output of the time.  The sequel was forgettable in every way.  Thor was even the dullest part of the Avengers movies.  Yet, somehow, Waititi managed to turn things around.  He brought some much needed lightness to the franchise, and provided some astonishing visuals that made Thor: Ragnarok one of the best Marvel movies.  This was a great year for Marvel and they ended it well with this theatrical release.  It also needs to be noted that the score by Mark Mothersbaugh is great.  I’ve listened to many of the songs many times now and even used one in a school project.
20 Hz.
The first of two short films I watched in November was this horror short about a musician trying to record a song.  Her equipment began picking up some sort of interference that she couldn’t hear because it was beyond the scope of human hearing.  It was a well-conceived and well-executed short film that deserves a little more recognition than it has ever gotten.  Sounds outside of what a person can hear could be a great source of scares, and this short tapped into it.
A Dream of Paper Flowers
I don’t even know where to start with this one.  It was an experimental art film.  Some giant weird thing birthed an adult while a voiceover saying weird stuff happened.  The giant weird thing looked disgusting, but also looked like an oozing garbage bag.  The short was black and white.  There’s not a lot to say about it other than I didn’t like it.
Ghost Rider
Nicolas Cage is clearly a comic book fan.  He took the Cage of his stage name from Luke Cage.  He spent a while trying to be Superman.  Eventually, he landed the role of Johnny Blaze, the Ghost Rider.  There were hints of something good in the movie.  If the story had gone a little darker, it could have been pretty great.  As it was, it was holding back.  That kept it from reaching the right levels of entertainment.  There were two sides struggling with each other throughout the movie.  There were the dark themes of the character’s origins.  The demonic side of the character and his villains could have made a solid dark comic book movie.  Then there was the lighter, more family friendly stuff that tried to keep Ghost Rider within the world of other superhero movies of the time.  His alcoholism was changed into jellies and there was a lifelong romance story going on.  It felt like two movies that didn’t quite fit together, which kept Ghost Rider from being good.
A Hard Day’s Night
The Beatles tried their hand at movies when they were at their peak.  A Hard Day’s Night is probably the most respected of them, and there’s reason for it.  It’s a solid British comedy about the band travelling between concerts.  Their characters, which are themselves, seem well formed.  The other characters around them also feel well formed, with good performances.  Most importantly, the humour landed.  The jokes were funny.  I don’t know if any of the other movies starring The Beatles were good, but this one was fun.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Nic Cage was the only cast member to return for the sequel to Ghost Rider.  He once again played Johnny Blaze, the man with the flaming skull.  This time, the movie moved from a big American city to Eastern Europe as Johnny had to save a child from being used as the devil’s new vessel.  It went darker with the material, which helped, but had issues in the actual storytelling.  I usually like Neveldine/Taylor as a directing pair.  They go all out on how crazy their action is.  It felt like they were being forced to hold back.  There were moments of their usual style sprinkled throughout the movie.  They only felt like moments, though.  The studio was keeping them from making the movie theirs.  It weakened the final product.  Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance actually ended up being a little worse than the first one because of the limitations.
Hitsville US Eh!
Motown was heavily indebted to Canada, and this documentary highlighted the ways in which Canada pushed the record company into stardom.  It discussed the relationship between Detroit and Windsor.  It had information about vinyl records that were pressed in Canada.  The way that Canada helped to shape the sound of Motown is something that isn’t often mentioned.  It’s important to know about, though.  This documentary brought that to light.
Office Christmas Party
The cast of Office Christmas Party is a collection of people I enjoy watching.  Jason Bateman, Rob Corddry, T.J. Miller, Vanessa Bayer, Kate McKinnon, and Olivia Munn are among the great ensemble.  The party never really had the right speed of progression to make the movie as great as the cast.  It was an underwhelming party.  I did enjoy watching it, though.  There were enough funny moments throughout to make it entertaining.  It kicked off my holiday movie watching in a decent way.
Becoming Bond
There have been many actors to take on the role of James Bond, but George Lazenby might be the most fascinating.  He was born in Australia, and moved to Britain to become a model.  His agent pushed him into auditioning for James Bond when Sean Connery left the role.  Lazenby was one and done as the character.  This documentary went through his life from growing up in Australia and falling in love, to moving to Britain, to getting the role, to leaving the role.  His personality drove the story forward and gave some genuine humour to the proceedings.  For fans of James Bond, or people interested in learning what led to a man letting go of one of the biggest roles in movies, this documentary is worth seeking out.
Super Duper Alice Cooper
This documentary chronicled Alice Cooper’s rise to fame as both a band and then a solo performer.  It discussed the man’s struggle with keeping his stage persona and real life personality separate.  There were scenes about the abusive substances that he took.  It was a decent documentary about a musician that gave insight into the life of the musician.  But there are better documentaries of this type out there.  This was really for the fans of Alice Cooper or for people looking to gain some more knowledge about an iconic musician.
Murder Rap: Inside Biggie and Tupac
Two of the biggest rap stars of all time were murdered within a year of each other, and the deaths were thought to be connected.  Murder Rap dove into the connections between the two.  It was like the many true crime shows that air on A&E and other channels like that.  There was a lot of information being pieced together to say, definitively, that the two murders were connected.  I could take or leave this documentary.  It was an alright watch.  It was just a little stale in the presentation.  Some more artistry in how the story was told could have made it more entertaining.
Free Fire
The movie was a shootout.  The shootout wasn’t the climax.  It was the story.  A bunch of characters, each with their own distinct voices, fought it out with their guns in a warehouse.  The fact that Ben Wheatley pulled that off was a feat in itself.  The fact that it was as entertaining as it was went above and beyond what the expectations could have been.  My first Ben Wheatley movie was Kill List, which I was disappointed in.  Everything I’ve watched of his since then has been better.  I fell in love with High-Rise, and though Free Fire didn’t quite reach those same heights (no pun intended, but I’m delighted it’s here), I still love what it did.
This was a movie aboiut a time and a place.  It wasn’t much more than that.  CBGB opened in the 1970s and a bunch of famous musicians got their start there.  Throughout the movie, you see Blondie, Television, The Talking Heads, The Ramones, and The Police.  Not the real people in each of those bands, mind you.  This wasn’t a documentary.  But you got to see people playing them as they got their starts.  Alan Rickman gave a good performance as Hilly Kristal, the owner of the club, and he was surrounded by a great cast including Donal Logue, Ashley Greene, Malin Akerman, Justin Bartha, Rupert Grint, and Stana Katic.  There’s a lot to like, though the movie wasn’t anywhere near as iconic as what it was portraying.
Jim & Andy
I’m still not entirely sure how much of this documentary was real and how much was staged for the documentary.  It would make sense based on Jim Carrey’s reverence for Andy Kaufman that the whole thing would have been staged.  We were shown the behind-the-scenes of Man on the Moon, where Jim Carrey would stay in character and harass the other people on set.  Surely, they would have fired him if that had been happening the entire time?  But this movie plays like a documentary.  It was marketed as a documentary.  It’s coming out years after the fact with footage from that time.  I don’t know.  I really don’t know.  And my time away from it hasn’t helped me to understand it any better.
The Night Before
Finishing off the month was one of the best Christmas movies of the past few years.  It was Joseph Gordon-Levitt going through the three Christmas spirits without it being an actual A Christmas Carol retelling.  We learned about his past as he learned about the mistakes of his past.  We saw his present as he experienced his present, and all of the mistakes within it.  We saw where his future would go if he didn’t change his ways, as he did.  Then he learned to be better to other people.  It really is the same set of lessons as A Christmas Carol, without that structuring, and with modern comedy stylings.  Seth Rogen and Anthony Mackie go along for the ride as his best friends.  It’s good and it’s funny.  It was a great way to end the month.

And thus, November must come to a close.  It actually came to a close over a month ago, but for the sake of the post, it is now coming to a close.  There were some great first time watches in there.  Then there was that short film about the trash bag birth.  Ugh, that short film.  I’m happy to see the variety in the movies I watched.  They were a fun group of movies.

December brought some more variety to my first time watches, which we’ll get to soon.  There were Christmas movies in there, including Santa’s Slay, and there were non-Christmas movies in there, including two different versions of 54.  If you want to read about those first time watches, come back soon.  I’ll have another post ready for you within the week.  See you whenever that comes up.

Finally, I would like to put a few plugs at the end.  I have a blog called Sunday “Bad” Movies where I write about bad movies once a week.  Some of the movies that show up in these posts were movies I watched for that.  I also write about Mighty Morphin Power Rangers sometimes.  If you want some writing that’s not me, check out Talk Film Society, where they do a lot of great things.  Right now, they’re taking votes for their annual awards, so check that out.  And to end things off, let’s get to my usual plug for my pal Jaime Burchardt.  He’s back to writing again with an article about I Don’t Feel At Home in this World Anymore.  Check it out.  I’ll see you soon.