Movies Watched, December 2021

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December and January are the best time of year for movie lovers. There’s so much to see. Not all of it is great of course, but this year one of my favorites was “The Hand of God,” director Paolo Sorrentino’s semi-autobiographical re-creation of the Naples of his youth, which debuted on Netflix last month. It’s tempting to think dismissively of Netflix, which also brought us Alfonso Cuaron’s similarly autobiographical “Roma” a few years ago, as a clearinghouse for middle-aged male directors looking to finance self-indulgent trips down memory lane. But these two projects are probably the two very best things the streamer has ever undertaken. Sorrentino conjures a deliciously vibrant, idiosyncratic vision of Neapolitan family life in the 1980s that I found intoxicating.

I also watched Peter Jackson’s monumental “The Beatles: Get Back,” a documentary culled from over sixty hours of footage originally shot by Michael Lindsay-Hogg during studio recording sessions in 1969. I take an extremely skeptical view of most feature-length documentaries, but in this case I was all in. Where most documentaries tend to meet time constraints by playing fast and loose with facts or by raising questions they don’t have time to answer, the extended running time for “Get Back” allows Jackson the space to give us a truly unprecedented view into the creative life of this iconic band. Across its three parts, “Get Back” clocks in at nearly eight hours, but hardly a moment seems inessential and I would have gladly watched another eight hours. A shorter documentary would have told the story of the band’s creative process; this one shows us who the band members were during that creative process. “Get Back” is not quite a film in the sense of most of the films I prefer to watch, but nevertheless it was one of the most absorbing things I saw all year

I’ll post a full roundup of my favorite films from 2021 soon, but in the meantime I highly recommend two that I also saw in December: “Passing,” the directorial debut from actor Rebecca Hall, which beautifully recreates the milieu and racial anxiety of Harlem in the 1920s; and “Benedetta,” an over-the-top mash-up of lesbian nun exploitation and unbridled interrogation of Catholic power. I’d also warn you against two hugely overrated, high profile movies: Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza,” in which he breaks his incredible winning streak of challenging, exquisitely made masterpieces by offering a series of lazy and largely incoherent vignettes of Los Angeles in the 1970s; and “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which, in all likelihood, you’ve already seen anyway so what’s the use?

Here’s the full list of sixteen movies I saw in December.

  1. Licorice Pizza” (2021) ★½
    Paul Thomas Anderson working well below his abilities.
  2. Mr. Jealousy” (1997) ★★
    Highly charming cast, deeply preposterous concept.
  3. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (2021) ★½
    Another dispiritingly hollow entry to the Marvel canon.
  4. The French Connection” (1971) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Amazing, go-for-broke filmmaking that hasn’t lost an ounce of its potency.
  5. Passing” (2021) ★★★½
    Racial complexity in 1920s Harlem. Sturdy but not quite fully realized.
  6. The Hand of God” (2021) ★★★★
    For the first half at least it’s more alive, kinetic and hilarious than just about any prestige autobiographical drama in recent memory
  7. Ron’s Gone Wrong” (2021) ★
    Completely inessential.
  8. Spider-Man: No Way Home” (2021) ★★
    A mashed potato pile of a movie.
  9. The Grinch” (2018) ★★★
    Rewatched. I’m not saying this is great, but I’ve watched it four times and I always like it.
  10. Champion” (1949) ★★★½
    Very predictable cautionary tale but made with grit and flair.
  11. The Matrix Resurrections” (2021) ★★
    Hard to believe, but the third sequel in this franchise has just as few good ideas as the previous two.
  12. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” (2011) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Dependably entertaining.
  13. Holiday” (1938) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. A perfect concoction of screwball romance and sentimentality-free holiday cheer.
  14. The Beatles: Get Back” (2021) ★★★★
    I just ate this up.
  15. The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001) ★★½
    Rewatched. Wes Anderson’s emotional compass leads directly into maudlin territory.
  16. Benedetta” (2021) ★★★
    An expected but nevertheless kinetic mix of schlocky Euro-trash and high-minded interrogation of religious power.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched this past November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, and January, and in 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.



Movies Watched, November 2021

Still from “The Harder They Fall” directed by Jeymes Samuels

November was a bit of a slow month for movie watching. The only new release I saw was director Jeymes Samuels’s “The Harder They Fall,” a Black western that had everything going for it and sadly whiffed. I’m a big fan of westerns and a big fan of nearly everyone in this cast, but after two relentless hours of stylish but empty posturing, I just got bored. Thanks to its provenance as a Netflix-financed production, it will probably experience a marginally kinder fate than it would have likely met had it been released twenty years ago in theaters: this is the kind of flick that would have been forgotten incredibly quickly, only to surface some years later in bargain DVD bins at Walmart, where a younger generation would have picked it up and said, “Look at this stacked cast! There’s no way this isn’t good, right?”—only to be disappointed all over again.

I’m keeping this entry short because it’s the holidays. I’ll do my December round-up soon, and then I’ll be posting a year-end round-up in January. Until then, here’s everything else I watched in November. Cheers!

  1. Thor: Ragnarok” (2017) ★★½
    Rewatched. Never takes itself too seriously, which is amusing. Refuses to take anything seriously, which is exhausting.
  2. Pig” (2021) ★★★½
    Nicolas Cage as a…well, part of the fun is that this is all very unexpected.
  3. Touchez Pas au Grisbi” (1954) ★★★★
    French gangster classic details the quotidian drudgery of “one last score” that actually succeeds.
  4. Blade Runner 2049” (2017) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Not unlike its predecessor, this gets deeper and richer with each viewing.
  5. Sicario” (2015) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. As much as I like Villeneuve’s franchise work, original fare like this is what he was put on earth to do.
  6. Hangover Square” (1945) ★★★½
    An entertainingly formal bit of Edwardian, paranoid noir, with a wacko editing.
  7. The Harder They Fall” (2021) ★★
    Could’ve been a classic, should have been a classic, but it’s just boring instead.
  8. Neighboring Sounds” (2012) ★★★½
    A Brazilian neighborhood where the mundane is bizarre and the bizarre is mundane. Mesmerizing.
  9. Paddington” (2014) ★★★
    Rewatched. So genial that even Ben Whishaw’s nails-on-a-chalkboard voice is tolerable.
  10. Dune” (2021) ★★★★
    Rewatched. I was down with the flu so I just figured I’d watch it a fourth time.
  11. In the Cut” (2003) ★½
    Jane Campion tries to art up the thriller, but in the end it just amounts to a cavalcade of clichés.
  12. Point Blank” (1967) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Throws you headlong into stylized, abstracted action that still seems striking, if shallow.
  13. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” (1974) ★★★★
    Rewatched. A feast of New Yawk faces, swagger and patois. Also maybe the most five bouroughs-y movie ever made.
  14. Somewhere in the Night” (1946) ★★★
    Hokey amnesia-driven noir premise is held together by an unusually light-on-its-feet script.
  15. Kicking and Screaming” (1995) ★★½
    So, so nineties, but historically significant for featuring a make out scene between decade titans Christopher Eigeman and Parker Posey.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched this past October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, and January, and in 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.



Movies Watched, October 2021

Still from “Dune” by Denis Villeneuve

In October I went out to see the new James Bond film “No Time to Die,” Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” and Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of the Frank Herbert novel “Dune”; all first run movies, all in theaters. That’s a new post-COVID, one-month record for me for going out to see movies. Having gotten my booster shot not long ago, I think I’ve mostly just come to terms with the risks of being in public spaces now.

I actually saw “No Time to Die” twice. This movie is totally passable, but no one really needs to see it more than once unless, like me, you saw it without your spouse the first time and she insisted you go back with her again a second time. I might have actually preferred to see “The French Dispatch” twice because, like most of Anderson’s movies, I get the sense that I won’t know how I really feel about it until I get some additional viewings under my belt. It’s genial enough, but as per usual with Anderson’s singular directorial approach, it’s so stuffed with ornamentation and narrative framing devices that it’s hard to suss out whether there’s an actual, coherent core at its center (e.g., “Fantastic Mr. Fox”), or whether it’s conceptually vacant (e.g., “The Darjeeling Limited”).

Speaking of repeat viewings, before the month was out I found myself having watched Villeneuve’s “Dune” multiple times. I watched it first with a friend via streaming, and even though we watched it in my basement, projected fairly large on my wall, I immediately regretted not seeing it in theaters. The scope of this film is so massive and so sweeping, both in its monumental alien landscapes and its dynastic political narrative, that it really demanded to be seen on the big screen. As soon as I could, I ran out to see it on IMAX, which truly did it justice; this Reddit thread shows the stark contrast between the standard 2.35:1 and the larger IMAX 1.90:1 aspect ratios. And then, thanks to HBO MAX’s generous policy of allowing thirty days of streaming access to all of its 2021 first run movies, I found myself rewatching “Dune” twice again at home, which gave me the opportunity to appreciate its many nuances and finer details. There’s not another movie I’ve seen in recent memory that rewards so well both the large-scale impact of a movie theater screen and the intimacy of repeated home viewings. Unfortunately, it’s already gone from HBO MAX, but moviegoers will have another chance to catch IMAX screenings starting 3 Dec. If you haven’t seen it already, you should go.

Here are all the movies I saw last month…

  1. His Girl Friday” (1940) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. A marvel of comedic perfection that never wears thin.
  2. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” (2017) ★½
    Plasticky, heartless cash grab, as befits the franchise.
  3. The Panic in Needle Park” (1971) ★★★★
    Notoriously gritty drug addiction film shot with a beautifully visceral style.
  4. The Many Saints of Newark” (2021) ★★★½
    A very special episode of “The Sopranos.”
  5. F9” (2021) ½★
    Vin Diesel’s juvenile ego should not be making the creative decisions for this franchise.
  6. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (2004) ★★★½
    Rewatched. This works largely because of Bill Murray, and in spite of some pretty lame special effects.
  7. Au Hasard Balthazar” (1966) ★
    I just didn’t see the brilliance here that others do.
  8. Le Doulos” (1962) ★★
    Some cool French gangster shenanigans, periodically interrupted by a whole lot of police yammering.
  9. No Time to Die” (2021) ★★★½
    Rambly and overlong, but manages to take James Bond a few places he’s never been before, more or less credibly.
  10. Strange Days” (1995) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Shockingly well-made and surprisingly classical sci-fi noir.
  11. Darkest Hour” (2017) ★★★½
    Only partially the Oscar-bait I was afraid it might be. Overall, kind of terrific.
  12. The Trouble With Harry” (1955) ★★
    Exceedingly polite, and quite uneventful, murder mystery from Alfred Hitchcock.
  13. Chan Is Missing” (1982) ★★★★
    Scrappy, earnest, canny proto-indie with an incredibly fascinating lead.
  14. The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1981) ★★★★
    Unclear whether this is trying to break down or update noir conventions, but it’s very good.
  15. The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946) ★★★
    Seminal but hokey.
  16. The Asphalt Jungle” (1950) ★★★★★
    Rewatched with a great commentary track.
  17. Devil in a Blue Dress” (1995) ★★★★
    An unremarkable plot gilded with wonderful details from Black life in post-War L.A.
  18. Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street” (2021) ★★★½
    A wonderful, tear-jerking story, but a documentary that never really asks tough questions.
  19. No Time to Die” (2021) ★★★½
    Rewatched. No worse—or better, really—than it was the first time.
  20. Out of the Past” (1947) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. A magnificent, gourmet meal of double-crosses, snappy dialogue and exquisite noir cinematography. A masterpiece.
  21. The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) ★★★½
    Less of a horror movie than a movie about something horrible. Campy but cohesive.
  22. The French Dispatch” (2021) ★★★½
    As per usual, a beautifully realized concept built on a scaffolding of rickety ideas.
  23. Willow” (1988) ★★
    Never rises above the merely amusing, but still a damn sight better than most of the “Star Wars” prequels and sequels.
  24. Escape from New York” (1981) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Endlessly rewatchable.
  25. Undine” (2020) ★★
    Director Christian Petzold’s latest casts a beguiling spell, as he seems to be able to do almost effortlessly, but he’s aiming low here.
  26. Dune” (2021) ★★★★
    A monumental achievement in imagining a science fiction reality.
  27. Dune” (2021) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Having originally watched it at home, I rushed out to see it on IMAX. Spectactular.
  28. Werewolves Within” (2021) ★★★
    Genial little horror-comedy, emphasis on the little.
  29. Dune” (1984) ★★
    Rewatched. I hadn’t seen this David Lynch version since I was a kid. What a debacle.
  30. Dune” (2021) ★★★★
    Rewatched. I came down with a 24-hour bug so I figured I may as well watch it again.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched this past September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, and January, and in 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.



Movies Watched, September 2021

Still from “The Card Counter” directed by Paul Schrader

When I decided last month to go back to the theater for only the second time since the pandemic began (and the first time since May), the two top contenders for my box office dollars were Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and Paul Schrader’s “The Card Counter.” As an Asian American, I felt somewhat duty-bound to go see the first Asian super-hero film from a major Hollywood studio—twelve-year old me would have been pretty excited by the prospect. But, having watched other diversity “firsts” from Marvel like the sadly overrated “Black Panther” and the shabbily inconsequential “Captain Marvel,” I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Instead I bought myself a ticket to “The Card Counter,” which, if you’re not familiar, stars Oscar Isaac in a breezy, fun-filled romp through the wacky world of professional gambling. Just kidding! This movie is as grim and despairing as the darkest night of the damned, but it’s also the purest, most delicious kind of cinema. That’s about what you’d expect from the unflinching mind that brought us “First Reformed” several years ago and “Taxi Driver” many years before that. Like those landmark films, “The Card Counter” also draws you in to its world with astonishing force: it takes you deep into its windowless, airless casino lounges and shows the depths from which the quietly despondent, unreachable souls that populate them carry forth. Like most Shrader films, it doesn’t shy from topical and political relevance, but the reach of this particular plot is unexpected and even abrupt, though never less than convincing. I left the theater completely reenergized by the whole idea of what cinema can do—and by what seeing film in a theater can feel like. And to think, there wasn’t a single post-credits teaser for any kind of expanded universe tie-in, either.

I watched thirteen total films in September, none of which wound up being “Shang-Chi,” though I expect that’ll happen sooner or later. Here they are…

  1. The Kid Who Would Be King” (2019) ★½
    Rewatched. I really hoped this would seem better on a second viewing but it was just as disappointing as the first.
  2. Cluny Brown” (1946) ★★½
    Lubitsch is a legend but he’s hit or miss for me, and this romantic comedy really only hits its groove when it gets absolutely ruthless.
  3. The Mark of Zorro” (1940) ★★★
    Pure, unpretentious, empty-headed Hollywood fun.
  4. Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife” (1938) ★★
    Lubitsch again hitting or missing. It’s fun enough, but I just can’t see the genius in it.
  5. Captain America: Civil War” (2016) ★★
    Among the most exciting marketing plans ever presented to the Disney executive committee.
  6. The Big Risk” (1960) ★★★★
    Unadulterated, gritty gangland melodrama, not unlike French mob maestro Jean-Pierre Melville’s work, but without its archness.
  7. Moonstruck” (1987) ★★
    Was this supposed to be magical? Because it’s just, like, fine. Our expectations for romantic comedies have been lowered so precipitously.
  8. Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.” (1992) ★★★★
    Imperfect and even a bit shaky, but totally absorbing. Also, it was filmed literally at the end of my block in Brooklyn.
  9. The Card Counter” (2021) ★★★★
    Paul Schrader takes us to the dark side of the moon once again.
  10. The 400 Blows” (1959) ★★★★
    Rewatched. As enchanting and poetic as a fairy tale, except everything is horrible.
  11. L’Argent” (1983) ★★★★
    In so many ways not what a movie is supposed to be at all, but at the same time, more cinematic than the vast majority of movies out there.
  12. Kate” (2021) ★½
    The children of John Wick are getting less and less interesting.
  13. Mouchette” (1967) ★★
    A completely unsentimental, unsparing, un-fun look at life in the French countryside, with your tour guide Robert Bresson.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched this past August, July, June, May, April, March, February, and January, and in 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.



Movies Watched, August 2021

Still from “The Green Knight” by David Lowery

Barring another unfortunate left turn in our tortured collective recovery from COVID-19, we’re getting tantalizingly close to seeing the release of a few of the most highly anticipated movies that have been delayed since the start of this whole hot mess: “No Time to Die,” the twenty-fifth James Bond movie, is out on 8 Oct and “The French Dispatch,” Wes Anderson’s latest, is out on 22 Oct. (Still no “Mission: Impossible 7” for more than twelve months, though.)

I’ll admit to generally feeling ambivalent about the release of each new Wes Anderson production. I’ve found some of his movies captivating and others infuriating, and I always experience a sense of claustrophobia brought on by the director’s preening, highly controlled production design. But, perhaps in anticipation of “The French Dispatch,” I’ve found myself revisiting much of his back catalog over the past couple of months. In July I started with “Isle of Dogs”; then last month I rewatched “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” and “The Darjeeling Limited.” I remember seeing that last one in theaters in 2007; I thought it was a stinker then and I think it’s a stinker now. But to my surprise, my initial distaste for “Isle of Dogs” and “Moonrise Kingdom” dissipated when I saw them again.

Once I was able to set aside some of the incredibly clumsy cultural insensitivity on display throughout “Dogs,” I came to better appreciate its authentically tender rendition of the special relationships that children can form with the canine species. I also saw “Moonrise Kingdom” in theaters when it was released in 2014 and hated it at the time, but I ended up watching it twice in August: during the first rewatch I sort of begrudgingly accepted that it was moderately less one-dimensional than I thought it was. Not longer after I found myself wanting to see it yet again, and then genuinely enjoying how completely it puts its viewers inside a child’s experience of first love.

It’s pretty clear to me now, after watching two decades of Anderson’s films, that he’s really a children’s director. That’s not to say that he makes movies for kids, at least not exclusively, but that he’s making films about the experience of childhood, even when he’s trying to tell tales of adulthood. As it happens, when he fully embraces this impulse, as he did with his stop-motion films (both of which seem to have renewed him artistically), with “Moonrise Kingdom,” with “Grand Budapest Hotel” (the entire movie is a reminiscence about a lost childhood), and with “Rushmore”—all of which put children squarely at the center—he’s fully in his comfort zone. When he’s focusing on “adult” matters, as he did with “The Life Aquatic,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” and “Darjeeling” (which, again, is an unmitigated, racist disaster), he’s out of his element. And it’s during those times when I find myself most often fighting the way he uses his arch aesthetic sensibilities to mask essentially incoherent theses about how adults comport themselves.

And that’s how I feel about Wes Anderson!

It’s telling that I found myself thinking a lot more about Anderson’s years-old movies than I did about one of the best reviewed new features of 2021: David Lowery’s “The Green Knight.” This contemporary reimagining of the Arthurian fable of Sir Gawain is beautifully—even masterfully—made but, as with all of Lowery’s films that I’ve seen, more of a showcase for the director’s gauzy self admiration than for real ideas.

It’s inarguable that Lowery has a talent for turning conventional genre conventions and plot twists on their side, unfolding them in genuinely unexpected, artful ways. But that innate ability, along with a sickly sweet, “indie” preciousness that he slathers over every frame, seem like the real focus of his attentions. In this way he’s not unlike Wes Anderson; they’re both beholden to their aesthetic obsessions to the point of distraction, but in Lowery’s case he’s missing a truly animating perspective on his stories.

Most of “The Green Knight” is just a series of showy set pieces with little sense of purpose. Also, I’m not afraid to admit, having been unfamiliar with the tale of Sir Gawain beforehand, I didn’t understand half of what was going on. There’s a certain amount of “just go with it” that I think any movie as exquisitely made as this one is entitled to demand of its audience, and I honestly do enjoy not always understanding what I’m seeing. But in this case, the self-satisfied, willful obfuscation of fundamental plot details just left me cold. “The Green Knight” has the appearance of a movie made with tremendous passion and feeling, but it’s so busy outsmarting itself that it adds up to little more than the sum of its beautiful parts, inspiring little emotional resonance. Within a day I had forgotten about it almost entirely.

Here are all twenty-six movies I saw in August.

  1. Wrath of Man” (2021) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Nothing here that hasn’t been seen before, but the execution is marvelous.
  2. Jolt” (2021) ★★★
    Should be a terrible, Wick-ian derivative, but Kate Becknisale totally sells it.
  3. Knives Out” (2019) ★★★★
    Rewatched. A perfect structure and a note-perfect cast.
  4. The Suicide Squad” (2021) ★★
    Better than its predecessors (big whoop), but still a shambles.
  5. La Piscine” (1969) ★★
    Euro art house nonsense adds up to little more than an argument that beautiful people posing blankly can do whatever they want.
  6. Mädchen in Uniform” (1931) ★★★★
    A miracle of early lesbian filmmaking that somehow also retains all of its drama and nuance.
  7. Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014) ★★
    Rewatched. Slept through most of it this time.
  8. Moonrise Kingdom” (2012) ★★
    Rewatched. Packed to the gills with clever and cutesy details but… (see further below)
  9. Blow Out” (1981) ★★★
    Brian DePalma delivers a bevy of beautiful surfaces, but little cohesion.
  10. Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009) ★★★★
    Rewatched. It took the extreme constraints of stop-motion animation to loosen up Wes Anderson—and to reveal him to be a children’s movie maker.
  11. Chicken Run” (2000) ★★★½
    Rewatched. A delightfully crafted trifle.
  12. The Bedroom Window” (1987) ★★
    Casting Steve Gutenberg as the star of this tepid, passion-less Hitchcock ripoff is just the first of many mistakes it makes
  13. The Green Knight” (2021) ★★★
    Formally astonishing but honestly I didn’t understand half of it until I internetted it.
  14. The Avengers” (2012) ★★★
    Rewatched. The more I rewatch this movie, the more its seams show.
  15. A Shot in the Dark” (1964) ★★
    Just a bare scaffolding for Peter Sellers’ antics, most of which hold up reasonably well.
  16. Babe” (1995) ★★★½
    In a better world, all kids’ movies would shoot as high as this one did, even if it didn’t fully succeed.
  17. The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Could be Anderson’s masterpiece. Review here.
  18. Black Panther” (2018) ★½
    Rewatched. Representation matters, but I just wish this were better, and less offensive, than it was. Review here.
  19. Eyes of Laura Mars” (1978) ★
    Faye Dunaway in a Hitchcockian thriller totally devoid of brains.
  20. Hard Ticket to Hawaii” (1987) ★★
    Trash. Total trash. Total, delightful trash.
  21. Pete’s Dragon” (2016) ★
    Treacly Disney nonsense somehow made even more offensive by David Lowery’s sentimental indie preciousness.
  22. The Darjeeling Limited” (2007) ★
    Rewatched. A depressing, orientalist low point for Wes Anderson.
  23. Moonrise Kingdom” (2012) ★★★
    Rewatched. Somehow I went from hating this to adoring it.
  24. Excalibur” (1981) ★★
    Faithful to the legends, I assume, but on the screen this retelling of the legend of King Arthur is bombastic and painfully lacking in self-awareness.
  25. Crimson Tide” (1995) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Military dudes yelling technical jargon at each other! But with rich character nuance and cracking good performances.
  26. Gravity” (2013) ★★★★
    Rewatched. An irresistible entertainment.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched this past July, June, May, April, March, February, and January, and in 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.



Movies Watched, July 2021

Still from “No Sudden Move”

It’s been two months since I went back to a movie theater for the first time since the pandemic started, but thanks to the Delta variant I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it again since. The studios are streaming first run movies though, so I got to watch, at home, “Black Widow” which, whatever, it’s another consumer packaged good from Marvel, and, more interestingly, Steven Soderbergh’s “No Sudden Move,” starring Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro.

I feel like we’re all sleeping on an incredibly rich phase of Soderbergh’s career right now, where he’s regularly turning out fascinating and highly entertaining experiments like “High Flying Bird,” “The Laundromat” and even the uneven “Let Them All Talk.” Along with “No Sudden Move,” a period caper set in mid-Century Detroit, these have all come in the span of just two-plus years, usually with great reviews, and yet they’ve failed to make much of an impression on the general movie watching public. None of these films is perfect but all of them are wildly ambitious in unexpected, experimental ways, typically in their preoccupation with how new production methods can yield new storytelling methods. Through it all, Soderbergh seems to be consumed with a mania for scrambling and reconstituting his own cinematic vocabulary to find his version of what a 21st century film is. And “No Sudden Move” is exactly this: a contemporary reboot of one of his career bests, 1998’s magnificent noir caper “Out of Sight,” taken apart and reassembled again into a new, vibrant form. I found it completely transfixing.

Here are all twenty-two of the movies I watched in July.

  1. The Ice Road” (2021) ★★
    Pretty much what you’d expect from a Liam Neeson flick about ice road trucking.
  2. King Kong” (1933) ★★★
    The protagonists in this movie inadvertently make a really persuasive indictment of themselves.
  3. No Sudden Move” (2021) ★★★★
    Not quite a return to the glory of “Out of Sight,” but still rewarding in the way Soderbergh always manages to be.
  4. Isle of Dogs” (2018) ★★★★
    Rewatched. I was surprised by how much more I enjoyed this than on my first viewing—once I set aside the cultural insensitivity.
  5. Heat” (1995) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. Despite its age, this still feels incredibly vibrant and alive.
  6. After Hours” (1985) ★★★½
    The script isn’t particularly remarkable but Scorsese directs the heck out of it.
  7. Ant-Man” (2015) ★★★
    Rewatched. Still the most charming of Marvel’s movies.
  8. Ant-Man and the Wasp” (2018) ★★
    Rewatched. I remembered almost nothing from my first viewing, and I’ll probably retain almost nothing after this one.
  9. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” (2019) ★★★★
    Rewatched. I read Tarantino’s novelization, which is not like the movie, and then I went back to rewatch the movie, and both are great.
  10. Unbreakable” (2000) ★★★
    Rewatched. I get why this has become a cult classic, and it mostly earns that, but its dour tone eventually strains bearability.
  11. Man Push Cart” (2005) ★★★
    A would-be neorealist tale of life as a street vendor.
  12. Ava” (2020) ★
    What happens when you mistake backstory for smarts— and when your director doesn’t have the talent to make it work.
  13. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972) ★★★★
    A dreamscape built to indict society’s most banal that sadly seems to have turned into a kind of guide on how to be incredibly banal.
  14. Minority Report” (2002) ★★★½
    Rewatched. The predictions hold up and so does the drama. One of Spielberg’s best.
  15. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” (1970) ★★½
    This over-the-top ridiculous cautionary tale about the dangers of fame and fortune in late 60s Los Angeles is a car wreck you can’t look away from.
  16. Black Widow” (2021) ★
    Noisy, dumb and full of terrible, terrible Russian accents.
  17. That Obscure Object of Desire” (1977) ★★★
    Not bad at all but more than anything it seems like an excuse for an aged auteur to ogle beautiful actresses.
  18. The Prestige” (2006) ★½
    Rewatched. When people complain about Christopher Nolan being clumsy and obvious, this is what they mean.
  19. The Paper Tigers” (2020) ★★
    Endearing kung fu character comedy can’t quite pull together the shaky premise.
  20. Señorita” (2011) ★★½
    A bold statement from a transgender filmmaker that gets distracted by a lackluster political subplot.
  21. Lonely Are the Brave” (1962) ★★★★
    Kirk Douglas as the Marlboro Man, versus the modern world.
  22. Married to the Mob” (1988) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Jonathan Demme takes a not particularly special mob comedy and stuffs it full of surprising and inventive directorial choices.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched this past June, May, April, March, February, and January, and in 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.



Movies Watched, June 2021

Former location of Pathé Cinema studios in the 18th Arrondissement in Paris
Former location of Pathé Cinema studios in the 18th Arrondissement in Paris

Short roundup here due to the fact that I’ve been traveling for the first time since the pandemic began. We’ve very luck to have been in France visiting family all month. It’s great to be abroad again though the Delta variant has meant we’re still masking up and taking extra care, and we’re not even allowed into movie theaters. That’s okay as I’ve been walking around taking a lot of pictures including this shot of the old location for Studios Francœur in Paris’s 18th arrondissement. That film company would eventually go on to morph into Pathé Films which still operates today.

As for what I actually watched last month: a lot of random, older stuff. The ones I’d seen before were great; the ones I hadn’t were mostly just okay. I did see Pixar’s Luca which, as usual, was exquisitely crafted but also just kind of annoying in its stereotypes.

Here’s the full list of eighteen movies I saw.

  1. O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Exceedingly well made and entertaining and also really problematic
  2. Star Wars” (1977) ★★★½
    Rewatched. The best way to enjoy this is to pretend that no sequels or spinoffs were ever made. Read my review.
  3. Cruising” (1980) ★★★
    Hollywood just did not know how to handle this material.
  4. Smooth Talk” (1985) ★★★½
    Impossibly young and beautiful Laura Dern and Treat Williams in a truly creeptastic face-off.
  5. GoodFellas” (1990) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. Brutal poetry in motion. Nearly flawless.
  6. Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992) ★★½
    Rewatched. A big, beautiful, ambitious, swing that ultimately strikes out.
  7. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1989) ★
    Rewatched. I guess I understand the continued affection for this franchise but this movie is actually incredibly boring.
  8. Italianamerican” (1974) ★★★½
    Martin Scorsese shows us how to make a movie about making a movie about your heritage.
  9. Miami Vice” (2006) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. I can’t think of another film that was more truly of the 21st Century as early in the 21st Century as this one was.
  10. Luca” (2021) ★★★
    Entertaining but clumsy.
  11. A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon” (2019) ★★★★
    Dead simple and I really, really liked it.
  12. The Rules of the Game” (1939) ★★★½
    Rewatched. I’m starting to understand this better with each viewing.
  13. Riders of Justice” (2020) ★★★½
    Rarely is a movie this willing to go to such weird lengths to make its emotional points.
  14. A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop” (2009) ★★★
    A true oddity: a Chinese language remake of “Blood Simple” with a totally unexpected visual aesthetic.
  15. Thor” (2011) ★½
    Rewatched. Out-to-lunch filmmaking.
  16. Force of Evil” (1948) ★★★½
    Surprisingly rich and dense noir that’s also quite gabby for its 76-minute runtime.
  17. The Gambler” (1974) ★★★
    James Caan is the most ridiculous high roller ever in this macho take on the gambling lifestyle.
  18. El Condor” (1970) ★★★½
    You could get a lot worse than Lee Van Cleef as the goof and Jim Brown as the straight man in this rough and ready spaghetti western.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I watched in May, April, March, February, and January, and in 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Finally, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.



Movies Watched, May 2021

Movies Watched, May 2021

It took me all June to get this roundup of what I watched in May finished partly because life has started returning to normal—at a pretty torrid pace. Suddenly I’ve been seeing people and going to places at a rate that I just wasn’t doing at the beginning of the year. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been great, and I’m lucky to count myself among the vaccinated, but it’s taken some adjustment.

In fact, this return to normalcy started last month when I actually went out to the theaters to see a movie for the very first time since the pandemic. I chose a matinée showing of Guy Ritchie’s unexpectedly well-made “Wrath of Man” (more on that later) and sauntered into the Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn feeling vaxxed and somewhat cocky. There were only about a half-dozen other daytime moviegoers in the theater with me, but when I found myself sitting just a couple of seats away from the closest one, I was stricken with a moment of panic. It was either the potential exposure to a complete stranger who’d be unmasked during their meal (Alamo serves food during the show) or just feeling so unaccustomed to letting my guard down. Whatever it was, I had to get up and move to the far end of the row. I realized that I’m not yet a hundred percent sure I’m ready to return to theaters regularly, and definitely not for a full capacity evening show.

My anxiety aside, it really did feel great to see a film on a huge screen, lit up against that singular kind of darkness that only a movie theater can create, with the sound loud and fully immersive, and with my complete and undivided attention. There’s no feeling quite like it.

It helped too that “Wrath of Man” was a real corker of a flick, at least as far as B-level action thrillers go. No one could accuse it of being original, but as a “Heat” derivative, it’s actually far better than it has a right to be. It’s certainly not for everyone—it’ll probably either infuriate or bore many people—but I’m actually not a fan of the vast majority of Guy Ritchie’s output over the past two decades, and I still found its taut drama and sense of restraint to be fully engrossing.

Everything else I saw last month I watched at home, naturally, and a lot of it was, as usual, much older fare. I don’t often talk much about the movies that I watch (or rewatch) from earlier periods in film history, mostly out of an assumption that not many folks share my interest in that stuff. I take great pleasure in looking back on the way filmmakers of the past interpreted their particular eras, and I have a particular soft spot for old noirs from the years immediately following the Second World War. That’s why it was so pleasurable to watch the generically named “The Set-up,” a boxing caper from 1949 starring Robert Ryan that’s bursting with indelible character actors, chiaroscuro lighting and shocking commitment to in-the-ring violence and out-of-the-ring tragedy. It’s the kind of thing that I just eat up, but it’s also so fascinating to see how it clearly influenced pretty much every boxing picture since, from “Rocky” to “Pulp Fiction.”

Here are all seventeen movies I watched in May.

  1. The Mercenary” (1968) ★★½
    Laboriously political spaghetti western that’s only intermittently surprising.
  2. Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” (2021) ★★
    Intricate action gilding a boneheaded plot.
  3. Rear Window” (1954) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. Hitchcock’s incredibly taut drama never gets old, but on this viewing the impressionistic embellishments really struck me.
  4. Top Secret!” (1984) ★★
    Rewatched. Mostly light chuckles except for a jaw-dropping underwater saloon fight in the third act.
  5. The Courier” (2020) ★★
    Forgettable by-the-numbers prestige fare.
  6. Roman Holiday” (1953) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Irresistible fairy tale.
  7. The Watchmaker of St. Paul” (1974) ★★★★
    Early 1970s French political drama starts out like a crime thriller and turns into a meditation on the desperations of middle age.
  8. Iron Man 2” (2010) ★½
    Rewatched. Tiresomely self-satisfied.
  9. The Set-Up” (1949) ★★★★
    A grubby, gritty, utterly merciless film noir.
  10. Wrath of Man” (2021) ★★★★
    Unexpectedly gripping “Heat” derivative.
  11. Raining in the Mountain” (1979) ★★★
    A series of elegantly expressive wuxia set pieces; rapturous for a while before stumbling to a finish.
  12. Whisper of the Heart” (1995) ★★★★
    A Ghibli joint that actually focuses on character instead of spectacle.
  13. Love and Monsters” (2020) ★★½
    Too cute post-apocalyptic romcom-horror-thriller-comedy.
  14. The Last Detail” (1973) ★★★★
    Two sailors escort a Navy convict to prison in this dour, overcast and unspeakably sad road movie directed by Hal Ashby.
  15. House of Games” (1987) ★★★½
    Rewatched. David Mamet lays out the basics of the con, and we’re onto the grift even before the protagonist is. But Joe Mantegna’s unmitigated bad guy makes it watchable.
  16. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” (1944) ★★★
    This war movie might be the most Hollywood movie ever made and a masterpiece of superbly executed clichés.
  17. Private Life” (2018) ★★★★
    Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn try to have a baby and you think you know what’s going to happen, but this movie is so much smarter than that.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I watched in April, March, February, in January, and in 2020, 2019, in 2018, in 2017, and in 2016. Finally, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.

Image of L.A. freeways via prayitnophotography under Creative Commons license.



Wireframe S4E5: Data Visualization and Emotion

Wireframe S4E5

Kick back this weekend with our latest season four episode of “Wireframe”” the documentary podcast about the world of design and creativity hosted by yours truly. This one explores the power of data visualization to not just impart knowledge but also to impart make us feel the story behind the numbers. Listen below or subscribe in your favorite podcast player.

From the episode description:

Our society is now more data driven than ever; as everything is quantified, counted, and dumped into spreadsheets, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by numbers. Data visualization designers work to sort through the numbers using both science and creativity to find the stories they have to tell, and help us understand the world a little better. But what goes into designing an effective data visualization, and how do you balance the art and the science of it?

To unpack these ideas, we were lucky enough to talk to designers Amy Cesal and Zander Furnas who used their professional skills in data viz to help them navigate their home lives during their lockdown last year. We also chatted with Shirley Wu, who used data visualization to help people understand the potential upsides—and downsides—of collective action in any pandemic. And finally, Alberto Cairo, author of “How Charts Lie” and the Knight Chair in Visual Journalism at the School of Communication of the University of Miami, talks about the responsibilities that designers have in balancing the quantitative and qualitative in data visualization design.

You can subscribe to “Wireframe” in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts or wherever you get your podcasts. And you can find out more about the show, and look back on our three prior seasons of episodes all about design, at



Wireframe S4E4: Packaging Design

Wireframe S4E4: Packaging Design

When you get a new Apple device, what do you do with the box? Toss it or keep it?

That questions kicks off our latest episode of “Wireframe,” the documentary podcast about the world of design and creativity hosted by yours truly. The debate over the value of iPhone boxes and similarly high quality product packaging actually ignited a bit of a furor on Twitter not long ago, which prompted us to look into how the world of packaging design is changing. Listen below or subscribe in your favorite podcast player.

To help us get a read on how designers working in this medium are thinking about their work, we talk to Stephen Ango from Lumi and host of the podcast “Well Made.” Ango helps us understand how the pandemic has altered the very role that packaging plays in the lifecycle of consumer products.

We also talk to Andrew Gibbs of the amazing website The Dieline, which serves as a front page for many packaging designers. Gibbs tells the story of his reckoning with the environmental impact of packaging, what he’s doing about it and what he thinks others in this field can do about it, too. For a perspective from practitioners, we then talked to Ian Montgomery and Marisa Sanchez-Dunning, of packaging design firm Guacamole Airplane, about their work designing sustainable packaging for clients.

You can subscribe to “Wireframe” in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts or wherever you get your podcasts. And you can find out more about the show, and look back on our three prior seasons of episodes all about design, at