- Captain Marvel (2019): Overdue, overworked, underdone, and welcome.
- Edge of Tomorrow (2014): I don’t remember why this widely released, highly profitable PG-13 action movie starring very famous people was considered sort of an underdog back when it came out. Maybe because it made less money that weekend than The Fault in Our Stars (2014)? It had a “hey, go rent this gem nobody saw” tag in my head, which turns out to be a little inaccurate. “Groundhog Day (1993) with aliens” is a good gimmick, especially in the era of video game save scumming; it hits a lot of fun beats; and it’s well-executed, which you’d expect at this point from Doug Liman and Christopher McQuarrie. But its ending lacks the conviction one might hope for from a movie that has the commitment to shoot Tom Cruise in the face a hundred times. The idea that Emily Blunt was the badass and he her stumbling apprentice was I guess still sadly unusual in 2014 too, but all the same, it’s a movie with only one woman character who ends up the object of romantic intent.
Medicine for Melancholy (2008): Now, see, here’s a movie with a tag in my head that I wish I had gotten around to much sooner. In 2012, back when I had a Netflix queue, I put this in my Netflix queue because it had an interesting title and I liked Wyatt Cenac. Then I got The Kids Are All Right (2010) from higher up on my Netflix queue, let it slip behind a bookshelf while I was depressed, and only found it again when I moved out of that house and cancelled the disc-based side of my Netflix account. And the next time I thought about this movie was when I realized it was the only feature Barry Jenkins made before Moonlight (2016).
There’s some stuff that is raw in the movie: not just Jenkins’s need to shout, but stuff like the artificially muted color palette, a device that is limited in effect by the tiny budget and the cheap DV technology of ten years ago. I suspect that was the first experiment in what led Jenkins and James Laxton to rethink LUTs for brown skin eight years later. Yet there’s also a lot that is already dialed in and locked down, from the dialogue mixing to the shot composition to the intimacy and chemistry of the performances. You can see that this is something skilled people cared about making very much.
Medicine for Melancholy was shot in San Francisco a few months before my abortive attempt at living in San Francisco. My memories from those two weeks are scattered and not very warm. I can’t claim to face all the same things the characters are struggling with, but I could already feel the same rising unease of housing insecurity. I wonder who’s making their first movie on an iPhone in Portland now, and what it will be right about, a decade on.
The Limey (1999): Someday I will start my career retrospective blog about Steven Soderbergh. This movie is often praised as being among his best, and I’d never seen it. At this point, if you know about the movie, you likely also know about its semi-infamous commentary track, where screenwriter Lem Dobbs grouches a lot about all the things he dislikes about the finished film (and the nature of his job) while Soderbergh plays mild defense. I watched the movie and then the commentary back to back.
I don’t think Soderbergh’s body of work is perfect, but in the two decades since I saw Out of Sight (1998), I’ve never been disappointed or angered by his choices. That sounds like faint praise, but the dude has made thirty feature films! To have done that without resorting to visual or verbal cliches, without betraying a mistrust of his audience, and without discarding the principles he started with is part of what makes him extraordinary in his field. He is out there right now shooting movies on his iPhone, and—okay I accidentally started writing the intro to the retrospective here. Sorry, back on track.
My point is: I like and trust Soderbergh, and also, I think the criticism Dobbs levels at the product is probably right. The time-jumping and intercutting style beats would have benefited from being pushed further than they were. The side characters would have gained dimension and been more memorable if he’d cut less of their background and context, and the themes of class and family would have added depth to the movie if he hadn’t pared them down. That’s valuable to learn for me! That’s a new angle I can take when watching Soderbergh’s other movies: what might have gone missing on the way to the final cut?
Also, if you have inhaled a substance that is legal in Oregon but not THAT much substance that is legal in Oregon, the part where the commentary audio gets meta and starts going all intercut and echoey is very alarming.
- The Incredible Hulk (2008): I have now seen every single movie that sits within the bounds of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and someday I will answer for that. This one doesn’t work, and I think there are interesting contrasts to be drawn between it and Iron Man (2008), which for all its problems works very well. But this post is too long already.
Speed (1994): Rewatch, of course (Kat had never seen it). I have made demeaning remarks about this movie in the past, and I hereby revise my opinion: it is clever and solid. Part of this realization is tied to the previous item in this list. I enjoyed the act of watching Avengers: Infinity War (2018), but ever since I walked out of the theater, something about it hasn’t sat right with me.
Both Speed and Infinity War are movies about trying to stop a bomb from going off. In both movies, you know that fuckin’ bomb is going to go off. But Speed holds your interest about when and how that happens, because it capably switches initiative and agency between the antagonist and the protagonist. And Infinity War has no protagonist at all. You’re not there to find out how any member of the cast struggles or changes, you’re just there to find out who gets dusted at the very end of a three-hour runtime, and that’s not a story, that’s a backstory. I like and trust the Russos too, but that’s where they ran up against an imposed constraint that broke their work instead of challenging it.
Anyway, Speed is good, and its actual uncredited writer is another dude who was defeated by the constraints of Avengers movies. Avengers movies are a trap! If at all possible, avoid directing an Avengers movie.
- Days of Being Wild (1990): I just made myself shudder by thinking about what ~fan theory~ articles would have made out of the last shot of this film, if it had come out today. Of course, Wong Kar-Wai people have long since decided on their own interpretations of it, but at least I don’t see them in clickbait headlines. Whether it’s linked to his other work or not, this one is beautifully composed and I enjoyed watching it, even though I felt zero sympathy for its protagonist. That’s hard to pull off!
- Us (2019): You have to be pretty fucking good to get me to watch a movie that actually scares me. Jordan Peele is. I wish Ursula Le Guin had seen this. I guess now I have to actually find the courage to go back and watch Get Out (2017).
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018): Rewatch (my new roommate Brett hadn’t seen it yet). All time top three. Maybe all time top two. I don’t know how to talk about this thing without sounding fevered. Even if it weren’t a tremendous artistic achievement and even if it hadn’t cast every preceding 3D animated movie as the infancy of the medium—I want to step through like one second of the animation and point out how many ways they use constraints to break rules—it would still be an extraordinary proof that fifty-seven years of stories about the same character can be freeing instead of confining.
Spider-Man has been my favorite for twenty-five of those years, and I feel like I can say with assurance that his entire history has been leading up to this. My hero is the photographer who lost his father figure; my hero is the painter who speaks Spanish and combs his hair out; my hero is the dancer-drummer who didn’t have to die to matter. I really love this movie.
Okay, I just went back and checked, and that’s almost exactly the same sentence I used to wrap up the last movie I talked about in February. In April I will try to wrap things up with something I hate. And I’ll try to watch fewer than four movies based on Marvel properties, yikes.