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.
“The Mercenary” (1968) ★★½Laboriously political spaghetti western that’s only intermittently surprising.
“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.
“Iron Man 2” (2010) ★½ Rewatched. Tiresomely self-satisfied.
“The Set-Up” (1949) ★★★★ A grubby, gritty, utterly merciless film noir.
“Wrath of Man” (2021) ★★★★ Unexpectedly gripping “Heat” derivative.
“Raining in the Mountain” (1979) ★★★ A series of elegantly expressive wuxia set pieces; rapturous for a while before stumbling to a finish.
“Whisper of the Heart” (1995) ★★★★ A Ghibli joint that actually focuses on character instead of spectacle.
“Love and Monsters” (2020) ★★½ Too cute post-apocalyptic romcom-horror-thriller-comedy.
“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.
“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.
“Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” (1944) ★★★ This war movie might be the most Hollywood movie ever made and a masterpiece of superbly executed clichés.
“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 letterboxd.com—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.