In the second edition of “What I Watched,” I cover (in one way or another) all of the films I watched in this past month of January. January showed us that 2017 is definitely not going to be any easier than 2016, and as such I probably watched wayyyy too many movies and television this past month. I have a few second-rate entries on this list, and I hope in February (which will mostly be devoted to previous BP winners anyway) and March I can exchange some of the quantity for quality.
January 1: The American President
Nothing says “happy new year!” like a Rob Reiner-rom com…. I guess? Anyway, continuing the thread that developed with Jackie I was pretty sad about seeing a relatively dignified view of the presidency in this film. We had just finished rewatched The West Wing (so we can feel good about America again) so I though it might be interesting to see the movie Aaron Sorkin wrote before it, not actually knowing that Martin Sheen was also in this movie! It was weird to see him not be the president, but the movie was still pretty good. It was cute, and I appreciated the message that the president shouldn’t be subjected to character attacks that aren’t super relevant, but even though it’s a totally different situation it’s hard to put forth that argument now. Also, for a film that argues professionalism gets in the way of personal relationships, it didn’t seem that grounded in professionalism. I felt like the president had way too much time on his hands and poor Annette Benning barely got to lobby at all. Overall though, pretty cute movie. (3/4 stars)
January 11: Rocky IV
Wow, this movie is terrible. I’ll defend Rocky III even though it’s silly, but Rocky IV is just too much. I love Rocky, but no way he single-handedly defeats communism. No way. It’s barely a movie, struggling to reach it’s already short 90 mins running time with endless montages that basically just advertise the Rocky movies to us. Also it’s sad: RIP Apollo 😦 (1.5/4 stars)
January 12: Rocky V
Rocky V is a lot better. Is it a great movie? no, but it seems like one after the trainwreck that was Rocky IV. We see Rocky get into the role of trainer for the first time (I guess he was supposed to be training Apollo for the Drago fight but he literally did nothing to train him so….) and watch as his protege unfairly betrays him. It was a good idea to bring the franchise back to basics after the craziness in the previous film, it’s great to see Rocky walk the streets of the old neighborhood and explore his inner conflict about how he got there. Adrian gets more to do in this movie, thankfully, and I don’t mind the stuff with Stallone’s son either. I gotta think having Avildsen back in the director’s chair helped a bit on this one. (3/4 stars)
January 13: 3:10 to Yuma (the original!)
I’ve wanted to see this western by Delmar Daves for a long time and I finally got to it at a time when I’m supposed to be reviewing 2016 movies unfortunately (not working out so well heh heh). I really love Daves’ Dark Passage, and was wondering what a western of his would look like. I really liked 3:10 to Yuma, with the compelling villain played by Glenn Ford and the principled-to-a-fault hero played by Van Heflin. I was surprised by how much I liked Ford here, after scorning his performance in Gilda I’m always astonished when he turns in a good one. I hope I get to revisit it for a full review one of these days, and I have the remake on deck too. (3.5/4 stars)
January 14: Hidden Figures
January 16: Sweet Smell of Success
Sweet Smell of Success is known for it’s cutting noir dialogue, and as great as it is, this time around I appreciated the New York City locations most of all. It’s not as if they are always out on the street in this movie, plenty of stuff is shot in a studio, but the film put just enough of the connecting scenes outside in the actual New York to lend the movie its authenticity. That’s not to say there aren’t other things to appreciate, I really liked some of the blocking and camera movements this time around, also the lighting and B&W photography. The blocking really helps hold our attention during some of the long dialogue scenes (though I still think the one in the TV studio where Hunsecker breaks the couple up for good goes on a bit too long) as well as giving insights into the relationships of the characters, and there a lot of lovely small camera moves that accomplish the same thing. The lighting and B&W sticks you in a time and place just as the New York City locations do, and the monstrous shadows on Hunsecker’s face cast by his glasses give him a pretty horrific appearance in keeping with his personality. Sweet Smell of Success is not a perfect movie for me, but it’s gets really, really close. (holding strong at 3.5/4 stars)
January 18: Bringing Up Baby
This movie will never not be great. Definitely one of the silliest and most uplifting rom-coms ever. Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn shine, especially Hepburn in the last act. (4/4 stars)
January 20: Silence
You’re all probably wondering why I didn’t put in a full review for the latest film from my favorite director. Honestly, I’m still not sure what to do with this movie. Parts were boring, parts were enthralling, and almost all of it was confusing. I feel like it might make more sense when viewed at the end of his filmography, as a culmination of his mediation on faith spanning from Mean Streets to Last Temptation of Christ to Kundun. So I wanna hold off on coming to a conclusion on it.
January 25: The Last Laugh
January 27: In the Heat of the Night (review to come)
January 30: Spotlight
With all the talk of fake news and alternative facts swarming around lately, and a new BP winner about to be crowned (as well as its availability on Netflix), it seemed like a really good time to revisit Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight. I liked the movie when it came out (it made the lower half of my top ten last year, but it did make the list), and because of recent events I think I might even appreciate it more now. Mark Ruffalo didn’t annoy me so much this time, but also I was watching at home, not necessarily bringing all of my movie judgement skills to bear. Movies where people are very good at their jobs happen quite frequently, but watching these reporters succeed in a uncovering such a massive crime now when the profession is under attack from similar institution forces is quite amazing. (3.5/4 stars)
January started out quite differently than it ended in the wider world, but in the film world as well. For me though, it was business as usual. I hope in the coming months I change that by being a bit more selective and thoughtful about the films I do get too. There are some I watched and didn’t officially count because I couldn’t really get through them, so I suppose my pessimism is fully expressed in this list. I’ll have my work cut out for me in February because I’m still (though not entirely sure why) committed to doing BP month. Maybe I can wrap it up this year? With 43 titles still left to review (plus one is LOTR which means I actually have to watch three movies because the Academy in their infinite wisdom decided to give the third one the award just to spite me) that seems highly unlikely. Whelp, here’s to some more blog related soul searching in the months to come.