Movies Watched, January 2024

Movies Watched, January 2024

What should we make of “Wonka,” Paul King’s completely un-asked-for prequel to “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”? For many people, Gene Wilder’s original interpretation of the character has achieved iconic status, capturing a kind of whimsy that was cut with an undercurrent of adorable menace—an utterly unique prism on childhood fantasy. To be honest, I personally don’t think very highly of that 1971 adaptation, but I respect how protective so many people have become of its place in culture. And, as a general skeptic of most franchises, neither was I hungry for a new take on the Roald Dahl story. Basically, no one wanted this movie to exist.

But it came into existence anyway and somehow it’s great! Well, maybe not truly great, but director Paul King has apparently mastered the art of overdelivering on suspiciously motivated “intellectual property” adaptations that, in other hands, would almost surely have turned into dreadful movies. “Wonka” is light on its feet, continually inventive, full of totally enjoyable songs and loaded with great performances—and it’s only moderately preachy about love, friendship, following your heart, blah blah. I’m not sure it’s destined for the (deserved) adoration that King’s two “Paddington” adaptations came to enjoy, but it’s full of heart and, maybe even more excitingly, shows King growing as a filmmaker. It’s rare for prequels/sequels like this to leave me excited to see what the director will do next, but this one did that.

Here are all sixteen movies I watched in January.

  1. Dumb Money” (2023) ★★★½
    A not bad retelling of the GameStop “stonks” episode of just a few years ago. Certainly better than recent similar current events fare like “BlackBerry.”
  2. Wonka” (2023) ★★★★
    Even devotees of the original might find this one disarming.
  3. The Zone of Interest” (2023) ★★★★
    Like picking up a familiar rock you’ve seen a thousand times to examine the underside and discovering a creepy, crawly subculture of mendacious strivers, doing the devil’s dirty work.
  4. Big” (1988) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Pretty delightful before all the feelings and lessons are learned, but no matter what you think of it, Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia dancing on life-sized piano keys is pure movie magic.
  5. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” (2023) ★★★
    Great performances from the two leads in an undercooked adapted screenplay. Feels like a missed opportunity to make a classic film from a classic book.
  6. Rebel Moon — Part One: A Child of Fire” (2023) ★½
    Zack Snyder brought together this cast of mediocre also-rans to make this truly grand expression of idiocy.
  7. Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget” (2023) ★★
    In all the ways that the original movie was smart, funny and unexpected, this one is not.
  8. Marius” (1931) ★★★★
    Lovely, profoundly humanist look at provincial drama—and comedy—among a small group of blue collar barkeeps, shop owners and sailors in Marseilles, France.
  9. Fanny” (1932) ★★★★
    A direct sequel to “Marius” that somewhat audaciously picks up moments after the original ends. It’s heavier, but also perhaps more richly written, and it’s delivered by a true ensemble of a cast.
  10. Baragaki: Unbroken Samurai” (2021) ★★★½
    A story of samurai trying to hold onto honor in a politically internecine Japan. Honestly, I barely understood what was going on, but it was compelling nonetheless
  11. The Killer” (2023) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Still enjoyed this a lot, but not a masterpiece.
  12. Theater Camp” (2023) ★★★
    Completely enjoyable farce that betrays its origins as a short. There’s not quite enough here for a feature film, but what is here is pretty genial.
  13. Albert Brooks: Defending My Life” (2023) ★★★
    Albert Brooks and Rob Reiner talking over Brooks’s career at a dinner, and we have the privilege of being a fly on the wall.
  14. Broadcast News” (1987) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. It’s always a joy to revisit this comic classic that feels both like some kind of modern fairy tale and also a brutally honest, almost cynical view of the way the world works. A true masterpiece.
  15. Stand by Me” (1986) ★★★
    Rewatched. Broadly entertaining but also somewhat false at its center; the kids in this movie act more like an author’s creations than like real kids.
  16. Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013) ★★★★
    Rewatched. What a delight to watch the Coen Brothers torture those unlucky enough to be characters in their movies.

This is the latest in my monthly round-ups of movies I’ve been watching. You can also see my year-end summary of everything I watched in 2023, 2022, 2021, 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.