In an effort to fill the increasingly yawning gaps between articles, I'm going to try to maintain one page every month which will host a constantly updated diary of what I've been watching, along with some of the GIFs and images I've been capturing.
The keyword-index on top groups this month's movies by the notable directors, stars, themes, and sources which brought them to my watchlist.
Dir.: Tom Holland
Although I was a horror fan as a teen in the 1980s, I never watched any of the Child's Play movies until just a few years ago. I suppose the idea of a killer doll seemed stupid to a 16-year-old in a way that it wouldn't have to a 14-year-old, or, as it turns out, a 46-year-old. Besides, the stupidity of the idea is kind of the whole point, and director Tom Holland gets some good mileage out of the core juxtaposition between wholesome cuteness and heinous criminality. Most of the movies in this series are far better than they should be, and this first installment is not only grittier than expected, it's also fully aware of its kitsch value. An above-average slasher, even with a fairly terrible child actor assigned the burden of carrying most of the movie.
Flickcharted: #1489 (64.43%); up from #2209 (47.23%)
Dir.: Harold Becker
I probably watched TAPS more than once during my youth, but mixed it up a bit with the other anti-military school movie of that era, The Lords of Discipline. Maybe it's unfair to call Taps "anti-military school," as it's far less sensational than Lords of Discipline (IIRC), and it tries pretty hard to appear fair and thoughtful — while loading every artistic-minded person's cartoony stereotype of what military people must be like into the barrel for the eventual climicatic assault. I'm one of those artistic-minded people who cannot imagine subjecting myself to military culture or rules, but I've developed a sensitivity to certain prejudices that became more and more popular throughout the Hollywood movies of my younger years — the 1970s-80s — and are now essentially articles of faith: religious people are hypocritical lunatics, businessmen are soulless husks, and people in the military are robotic death-obsessed fascists. Even though TAPS dances around that latter theme with some skill for one and maybe two acts, its inevitable polemic was as dispiriting as it is uninteresting.
Based on the novel Father Sky by Devery Freeman — who enlisted in the Navy during WWII and has an otherwise interesting biography as one of the creators of the WGA — Harold Becker's movie concerns a group of military school cadets who, after a series of demoralizing events, commandeer the historic school's considerable arsenal to defend it against the hostile forces — locals, police, military superiors, everyone — who want to close it down. The good young cast, led by Timothy Hutton, who was already an Oscar-winner for Ordinary People, also includes the relatively fresh faces of Sean Penn and Tom Cruise in significant supporting roles (interestingly, both actors would play almost the exact opposites of their Taps characters in different Vietnam War movies within less than a decade), while George C. Scott gets to riff on his Patton legacy as the school's gung-ho commandant.
Becker keeps the cast from leaning too hard into their obvious cliches long enough for Taps to seem like a sober character drama, but it's all contrived to lead toward the obligatory authorial disapproval of the numerous character flaws that constitute the military mindset. I don't even think that Freeman and/or Becker and/or the team of screenwriters behind Taps are way off-base in their surface observations of the military school mentality; but, contrary to the skilled way it's shot and acted, it's not a work of deep thought, but rather of knee-jerk assumptions, and is unenlightening to anyone who has not already received the same anti-military message ad nauseum for at least a decade.
In a way, I think I would've liked TAPS more if it had been less concerned with appearing thoughtful and had fully embraced its one-dimensional message as grist for action soap opera, like a pulpy pre-antidote to the right-wing Red Dawn. When Cruise — spoiler alert — freaks out near the end, in a fever of carnage, yelling "It's beautiful!" as he fires his machine gun indiscriminately, Taps hits a level of honest camp that could have overwhelmed its bland politics. As it is, it's a middling peek at a few future stars, and I like it less the more I think about it.
Flickcharted: #2043 (51.21%)
Dir.: Christopher McQuarrie
I was inspired to re-watch the entire MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series in anticipation of this sixth entry, which is odd, as I've never been much of a fan of the franchise. Something about the FALLOUT trailer got me excited, however, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed most of the films, with FALLOUT slotting in just behind ROGUE NATION as my favorites. Aside from the action, which is spectacular, there's a genuine sense of care to the later films in the series, quite the opposite from how most movie brands become more cynical as they trudge along. I sense that Cruise sees this a key component of his legacy and pushes it as far as it can go.
My ranking of the series, to-date, from my Flickchart:
#1400. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (67%)
#1401. Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018) (67%)
#1413. Mission: Impossible III (66%)
#1747. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (58%)
#1893. Mission: Impossible (55%)
#3206. Mission: Impossible II (24%)
Flickcharted: #1401 (66.55%)
Dir.: John J. Lafia
This first sequel in the CHILD'S PLAY series is not as ambitious or as surprising as the first, but it makes up for its overall smaller scale with inspired sequences inside a doll factory, which rank among the best moments of the entire series.
Flickchart: #1309 (68.74%); up from #1687 (59.72%)
Dir.: Bo Burnham
I took my oldest daughter — who is herself between 8th and 9th grade this summer — to see EIGHTH GRADE. While I liked it quite a bit, enough to put it in my Top 5 for the year so far, she was overcome by all the teenage feels. It seems to have done its job. The young cast is excellent, with Elsie Fisher getting due acclaim, but adorkable Jake Ryan almost steals the movie near the end. If he has a YouTube channel, I'll watch it.
Flickcharted: #941 (77.58%)
Dir.: Francis Ford Coppola
This staple from my teenage years is not as slick as I remembered. Coppola stumbles around inside S.E. Hinton's mawkishly simplistic young adult material and only finds a few moments of transcendent beauty (most of them involving Diane Lane, who might have been the best underused teen star of the 1980s). However, the staggering cast of future headliners on display in The Outsiders is pretty incredible, and there's something to appreciate in Coppola's uneven effort to make a 1950s-style teen soap in the 1980s about the 1950s. It's a nice try. I suspect that nostalgia keeps me from admitting all of its faults, but at its worst it's pretty awful (cue the completely out-of-place and nauseating Stevie Wonder song that steamrolls the end credits). That said, I far prefer this original theatrical cut to Coppola's frustrating "Complete Novel" re-edit.
Flickcharted: #2077 (50.52%); down from #1395 (66.77%)
Dir.: Stanley Kubrick
For 30 years I've subscribed to the conventional wisdom that FULL METAL JACKET is a great short film followed by an aimless one. After this viewing, I'm not so sure. The famous Parris Island boot camp section, starring R. Lee Ermey as an abusive drill sergeant and Vincent D'Onofrio as a troubled misfit grunt, is certainly bold, but on this viewing it struck me as unusually blunt for Kubrick and mired in an almost teenage-y anti-authoritarianism. The second half of FULL METAL JACKET, however, while not fully cohesive, is full of interesting moments that seem to be questioning the entire premise of 'the Vietnam war movie' and possibly even how both soldiers and those of us watching movies like this are taught to "see" war. Maybe it doesn't take those questions anywhere, but I prefer that kind of noodling around to the uninspired and juvenile answers of the first half.
Flickcharted: #1474 (64.89%); up from #1637 (61.01%)
Dir.: John Irvin
The 2011 film of John Le Carre's TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY put me to sleep, but I figured that, given the iconic status of that espionage novel, it was most likely a matter of poor adaptation. I was bit wary of spending an additional six hours covering the same material, should the urge to nap through it overcome me once more, but despite its very dry approach, John Irvin's 1979 miniseries for British television was far more engaging. By the mid-point, I was looking forward to new episodes rather than dreading them, as I feared I might.
Sir Alec Guinness stars as George Smiley, a retired intelligence officer who is tasked with leading an independent investigation into his former co-workers, one of whom may be a Soviet mole. Guinness is quietly commanding, and even though the tone and pacing of TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY are practically somnolent by today's standards, there is a lot of life to the characterizations (Beryl Reid and Joss Ackland are standouts), creating a compelling sense of tension between the secretive nature of spy work and the idiosyncratic personalities of the types drawn to it. One of the inherent obstacles to a realistic spy drama is how most characters must intentionally talk around their purposes, but Arthur Hopcraft's script never loses the plot in the fog of obfuscations.
When so many TV shows and movies focus on an absurdly sensational fantasy of spycraft, TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY's strong sense of humanity was refreshing and rewarding. I watched the 6-episode re-cut for U.S. television, which is about 25 minutes shorter than the original 7-episode version.
Flickcharted: #23 (65.15%)
(I rank TV mini series on a separate Flickchart:
Before heading in the strange and very different direction that salvaged the series, this third piece in the Child's Play series revealed that all of the potential of the original trilogy was exhausted by the first two movies. With little attention to plot or purpose, Chucky menaces Andy once more, this time at a military academy. When that setting gets played out, the movie incongruously shifts to a carnival for its lackluster finale. If it wasn't for Andrew Robinson as perversely obsessed barber, I'm not sure anything in this one would be worth remembering.
Flickcharted: #3213 (23.46%); up from #3829 (8.79%)
Dir.: Stewart Raffill
Remember that YouTube sensation, "Friday" by Rebecca Black, which was produced by a company who specialized in creepily sub-professional vanity music videos for wannabe teen pop stars? Standing Ovation is, essentially, the movie equivalent of "Friday." It looks like something that a cynical, low-effort video crew would come up with to indulge the starry-eyed fantasies of tween dance troupes.
Weirdly, however, it was produced by James Brolin and directed by the mastermind behind both Ice Pirates and Mac and Me (seriously, who hires Stewart Raffill, with that resume, expecting anything credible to come out of it?).
A couple of Atlantic City dance teams square off in a poorly defined competition, resulting in lots of soapy teen melodrama and several truly terrible production numbers. The young cast, however, is actually pretty charming, and it's too bad that this cheap-looking and often laughable misproduction failed to launch any careers.
This movie came to my attention via the Pure Cinema podcast, which is a treasure trove of unorthodox recommendations.
Flickcharted: #3147 (25.05%)
Dir.: Deon Taylor
Paula Patton stars as an investigative journalist whose romantic getaway-gone-wrong pits her against a murderous gang of sex-traffickers. Traffik lays on the social issues a little too thick at times — the theme seems to be that all women are always under the heel of men who want to control, own, and/or exploit them — but even so is still a slick and sturdy B-movie thriller. Patton is great and Deon Taylor's direction is economical and mostly on-point, and I might have to dig back into some of his earlier work.
Flickcharted: #2076 (50.57%)
Dir.: Coralie Fargeat
Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz stars as a young woman whose romantic getaway-gone-wrong pits her against a murderous gang of... If this sounds like an unintentionally perfect double feature with Traffik, it is: another unsuspecting woman is preyed upon by creeps and doles out some nasty payback. Revenge director Coralie Fargeat seems to misjudge, at first, the balance of her bright and candyish visuals with her movie's disturbing violence, but by the bracing and slippery end reveals that maybe she knew what she was doing all along. Revenge is brutal in both rough and effective ways, and while it might have been nice if Lutz' character had been given a little more substance during the set-up, it delivers exactly the stylishly charged exploitation it advertised.
Flickcharted: #1973 (53.03%)
Dir.: Menahem Golan
The unlikely pairing of Oscar-winning screenwriter Stirling Silliphant (In the Heat of the Night) and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Sylvester Stallone (Rocky) resulted in this even more unlikely family drama set, sort of, eventually, in what is hopefully a completely fantasized world of professional arm-wrestling. Over the Top is both ridiculous and glorious — in some ways a perfectly PG example of the unique Cannon Films stamp of dubious quality: earnest, overwrought, absurdly macho, bombastic, shiny, and afflicted with a staggering case of screenwriting ADD that renders its characters unable to connect motivations with actions or approach any situation with any semblance of logic. Taken the right way, it can be a real treat. I even like the often disparaged child actor David Mendenhall in this one. Who else could play this role like that and seem completely genuine?
Flickcharted: #1834 (56.35%)
Dir.: Claudio Fragasso
OK, so this is the part of the month where I start to wonder how I get myself stuck in these grooves of one craptastic disasterpiece after another. Frankly, it's summer, and I'm trying to find things that will appeal to all of my kids. They seem to enjoy terrible movies, so why not give them the best of the worst of the worst: Troll 2? I had only seen it once before, and this one is so gobsmackingly awful, I may need a few more viewings to completely absorb it. The cast of amateurs goes whole-hog on a script that, one assumes, was written by someone with a tenuous grasp of both English and sanity (Italian director Claudio Fragasso, using the nom de plume Drake Floyd).
In the town of Nilbog (if you don't get it, a kid looking in a car mirror will explain it to you), a clan of vegetarian trolls turns people into liquified plants and then eats them, or something. That's a gross oversimplification of the rampant nonsense in Troll 2, which also features a character who claims to love the song "Row Row Row Your Boat" and a scene in which a man and woman erotically share an ear of corn on the cob, triggering an omnidirectional popcorn shower.
This one lives up to its reputation in rewarding fashion.
Flickcharted: #2900 (30.99%); up from #3388 (19.37%)
As part of my effort to knock Ron Howard down my list of "most-watched" directors, I'm brushing up on my unexplored corners of Ingmar Bergman's filmography. The Magician is an unsatisfying curiosity from a period stacked with classics. The Magician starts well enough: Max Von Sydow plays a supposedly mute travelling hypnotist/huckster whose entourage comes under the scrutiny of skeptical officials, who seem likely to prosecute whether they find his act fraudulent or authentic. Despite the circus atmosphere surrounding him, Von Sydow evinces palpable pain as the inspiration of suspicion, fear, rage and desire; everyone projects something different onto his presence and he seems impotent at both satisfying and disappointing expectations. However, Bergman's choice of ending fritters away the pent-up frustrations with a couple of disappointing developments, giving the entire finale a disconcertingly Hollywood-ish spin, which is most unusual and ill-fitting for the Swedish auteur.
Flickcharted: #1506 (64.17%)
Dir.: Walter Hill
I've seen enough movies from Walter Hill to put him in the running for my project to push Ron Howard down my list of most-watched directors, but if he has too many more movies on the level of Bullet to the Head, I might un-nominate him as a candidate. Sylvester Stallone stars, in a rare turn, as a criminal — a small-time hit-man — who teams up with a cop (The Fast and the Furious alum Sung Kang) in order to wreak vengeance on a double-crossing employer.
All of my favorite Hill movies (The Driver, 48 Hours, Southern Comfort, The Warriors, Streets of Fire) are piled up within the first decade of his career, and Bullet to the Head feels very much like part of his later work, which turned me off with its unappealing visual approaches and uninspired story ideas. There's little evidence in this 48 HRS retread of the vital director whose early work was at least idiosyncratic even when unsuccessful; aside from some lively action scenes (well, lively for featuring a 70-year-old man) and several, as promised, bullets-to-the-head, this is as phoned-in as any other Hill film I've seen.
Bullet to the Head is very much a Stallone movie, for good and bad. There's ample evidence of Stallone's peculiar sense of humor in the otherwise creaky script, and he still emanates enough star residue to seem worth-watching despite all contrary evidence. However, he's simply too old for this type of role, and his lack of agility is a constant issue during his climactic axe fight against hulking Jason Momoa.
The only lasting effect of Bullet to the Head was that it made me pine for some prime Stallone action, as well as the days when Walter Hill turned in one curiosity after another, and not this kind of anonymous straight-to-video filler.
Flickcharted: #3689 (12.25%)
Dir.: Martin Brest
The movie that cemented Eddie Murphy as one of the biggest stars of the 1980s is also a great example of the power of directorial restraint. Director Martin Brest has had a curious career, especially his series of conspicuous bombs following the maudlin Al Pacino Oscar-winner Scent of a Woman in 1992. Prior to that, however, he nearly perfected the art of the effortless comedy-drama across three films in the span of a decade, 1979-1988, with Beverly Hills Cop right in the middle.
Just like with Midnight Run a few years later, Brest assembles a winning cast, mixing raw star charisma with dependable character actors, and ushers them through an otherwise unspectacular script with such ease of purpose and specificity of tone, that everything hums from beginning to end.
Beverly Hills Cop is such a success at kneading that sweet-spot of unerringly balanced comedy/drama (just funny enough and never too serious, even when dealing with murder) that Fletch practically mimeograpghed its formula a year later for another former SNL-star with near-identical success.
Flickcharted: #642 (84.73%); up from #680 (83.82%)
Dir.: George P. Cosmatos
This re-teaming of star Sylvester Stallone and Rambo: First Blood, Part II director George P. Cosmatos is rumored to have emerged from the ashes another project, which replaced Stallone with Eddie Murphy and became Beverly Hills Cop. It's hard to see any lineage between the two movies as they were ultimately produced, except that each is indelibly defined by the personality and distinct humor of its star.
Cobra is not as funny as Beverly Hills Cop, at least not in the same way. Stallone's sense of humor is rarely given its due — it's dry, it's prolific, it's weird, it's rarely as funny as he seems to think it is, and it's almost always drowned in explosions and gunfire — but Cobra might be one of its most aggressive vehicles. In the midst of a grim and often inane plot — badass Det. Marion Cobretti is called in to restrain a sinister cult of axe-wielding maniacs and takes a personal interest in protecting a beautiful witness (Brigitte Nielsen) — Stallone engages in bizarre dietary banter with his partner (Remi Santoni) and lacerates his enemies with deadpan non-sequiturs.
There's more than a little suggestion that Stallone thinks Cobra is an arch tweaking of Dirty Harry movies, and just as much evidence that Cosmatos didn't get the memo, creating a fascinating tension between the many curiously unfunny intentional jokes and the ironically funny unintentional jokes.
For almost two decades starting with his star-making role in Rocky, as both actor and screenwriter, Stallone wrote or co-wrote another 13 of his own movies, many of them arguably terrible, but few of them arguably unenjoyable. Cobra doesn't get enough credit in this subset of Stallone's filmography.
Flickcharted: #1688 (59.76%)
Dir.: Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Coppola's first feature film is, in most ways, typical of the unambitious "nudie-cutie" movies which began popping up near the beginning of the 1960s. However, amidst the dreary pacing, the absurd excuse for a plot (two men bond while planning a terrorist attack against a strip club), and the general sense of indifference common to these disposable exploitation exercises, there are a few glimmers of promise for anyone generous enough to search for them. First, the acting in Tonight For Sure is borderline competent, which is far better than expected, and there are some mildly amusing small ideas which almost interrupt up the tedium. Of course, nothing in Tonight for Sure suggests that within 14 years Coppola would be directing the two greatest movies of all time, but there are far worse examples of this genre.
Flickcharted: #3868 (7.82%)
Dir.: Robert Benton
One of the reasons that the 1970s is my favorite decade of American filmmaking is that the fusion of "New Hollywood" realism with medium-budget prestige dramas resulted in one modest gem after another, culminating in the last Best Picture Oscar-winner of the decade, 1979's Kramer vs. Kramer. Dustin Hoffman stars as a work-obsessed advertising artist who is completely oblivious to his wife's unhappiness until she (Meryl Streep) walks out the door, leaving him solely in charge of their 8-year-old son (Justin Henry). While he tries to fit the myriad demands of parenting into both his schedule and his consciousness, their son is forced to deal with both a household in chaos and the heartache of abandonment. Director Robert Benton's control of the material (which he won Oscars for directing and adapting) is pitch-perfect, never leaning into the potential melodrama but hewing sensitively to the humanity of every character. Hoffman, who won his first Best Actor Oscar for this role, may be celebrated for his versatility, but my two favorite Hoffman performances are his extremely similar and presumably close-to-home roles in this and Tootsie, just a few years apart. He is unerringly naturalistic and as fiercely organic as any actor of his era, delivering unassuming tour de forces of straight honesty. Streep also won her first Oscar for Kramer vs. Kramer, as Best Supporting Actress; it's a miracle that young Henry never misses a beat and fits in effortlessly alongside two major actors at or nearing their peaks. It's also interesting to look back at the later half of the 1970s, with its unusual balance between emerging fantasy blockbusters and this type of more adult fare. It's stunning that, two years after Star Wars, Kramer vs. Kramer was, by a considerable margin, the highest grossing movie of the year, ahead of crowd-pleasing genre movies like The Amityville Horror, Rocky II, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Alien, 10, and even the James Bond movie Moonraker.
Flickcharted: #100 (97.62%); down from #58 (98.62%)
Dir.: Adam McKay
Here's the thing about Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues: it comes nowhere near the distinctive majesty of the original. Its ironic depiction of declasse amoral buffoonery simply doesn't play as well a second time around. Its cringeworthy focus on racial discomfort, and its attempts to remix some of the hit gags from the first film, feel like well-intentioned almost-there misfires. But: Anchorman 2 milks Will Ferrell's prodigious fascination with soapy melodrama to great effect; and both Dobie the shark and every scene featuring young Judah Nelson as Walter Burgundy are among the comic highlights of the last decade, and maybe all-time. There are still more successes than the many failures here, and the best moments are classics. Not even Ron Burgundy can be perfect all of the time, and I, for one, forgive him for it.
Flickcharted: #963 (77.05%); up from #992 (76.36%)
Dir.: Michael Stephenson
Michael Stephenson, whose child performance in Troll 2 is, disturbingly, unforgettable, directs this somewhat amateurish documentary about the legacy of that film, as it mutated from a passable oddity filling space in the cable movie channel listings into a cult hit with a reputation that puts it on a par with notorious movie muck-ups like Plan 9 From Outer Space.
At first, Best Worst Movie seems like an infomercial for George Hardy, who followed his awkward paternal performance in Troll 2 with two decades as a beloved small-town dentist. Stephenson uses Hardy as an avatar for the Troll 2 experience, following him from his comfortable obscurity in Alabama to a series of late-night Troll 2 screenings where Hardy's personal appearances are greeted rapturously by the growing throngs of "bad movie" devotees. It's interesting to watch as Hardy's initial enthusiasm eventually turns into fatigue, bottoming out at an unpleasant horror convention. There are interviews with other cast members, some of whom share somewhat generic anecdotes, but two stand-out: Margo Prey, who played Stephenson's mother, and Don Packard, who played the store owner; both seem to have issues related to mental illness.
However, the real treasure in Best Worst Movie is when Stephenson cajoles Italian Troll 2 director Claudio Fragasso back to the states to witness first-hand what has become of his 20-year-old Z-grade horror fantasy. Fragasso and his screenwriter wife, Rossella Drudi, stubbornly insist that Troll 2 is a work of misunderstood artistic value and even social significance, and their initial bemusement with the carnival of ironic praise soon gives way to contempt, with Fragasso even heckling cast members during a fan Q&A and referring to the actors as "dogs."
Despite Hardy's ultimate return to dentistry, and Fragasso's seething frustration, the two of them reunited earlier this year for a long-awaited Troll 2 sequel, aptly named Goblins 2.
Flickcharted: #1981 (52.80%)
Dir.: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
A few months ago, I wrote of Game Night: "Appealing cast makes the most of obvious humor; moves along at a fun pace. Jesse Plemons is the highlight, but the end credits sequence triggers a pet peeve of mine and casts a pall over the entire movie." I feel largely the same after this second viewing. It's a fine attempt at creating a mildly "dark" comedy that never goes so far that it loses its mainstream appeal, and displays just enough cleverness of execution to be more fun than it is forgettable. While a lot of credit goes to the cast — when are Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams ever hard to watch? — it's worth pointing out the successes of the writing/directing team of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. In addition to their screenplays for the popular Spiderman: Homecoming and the unjustly maligned 2015 revival of National Lampoon's Vacation, Game Night further positions these two as future stars in the semi-edgy movie comedy game.
Flickcharted: #1850 (55.92%); up from #1911 (54.47%)
Dir.: Mark Robson
Peyton Place is important as a cultural landmark of sorts, with Grace Metalious' scandalous 1954 novel becoming an overnight blockbuster success, as stiffly conservative suburban mores were being shaken by a greater openness about sexuality. The novel was one of a few significant spoons, coming shortly after The Kinsey Report and the launch of Playboy Magazine, stirring the incipient sexual revolution.
Certainly, Mark Robson's film adaptation of Peyton Place was just as bold a stroke to the public consciousness in the way that it presented teenage girls openly considering and confronting sexual realities within the repressed idyll of its titular New England village. However, despite its social significance and box office success, Robson's film is only partially successful as a work of art.
While the big De Luxe and CinemaScope canvas is bold and appealing, it lacks the depth of feeling and purpose that someone like Douglas Sirk might have crafted from the same materials. There's a distinctly sub-Sirkian feeling to most of Peyton Place, with its repressions and prejudices and seasonal colors, that falls appreciably short of the real thing.
What does work wonderfully in Peyton Place is some of the casting, with Diane Varsi looking like a mix between Debbie Reynolds and Lee Remick as the prim-but-curious Allison, and Hope Lange is full of life as her friend who experiences the darker side of small-town sexual provincialism. Varsi can hardly be blamed for her awful, tonally incongruent purple narration which opens, closes, and periodically violates the middle of the film; Morgan Freeman couldn't have turned that into anything listenable. Both Lana Turner and Russ Tamblyn deliver nice but unspectacular performances in supporting roles. Turner would get her chance to nail a full-fledged Sirkian performance two years later, in Sirk's Imitation of Life.
Sadly, for every winning performance there is one that fizzles out disastrously. First of all, David Nelson may have been a teen idol as a TV star on Ozzie and Harriet, but he is an oozing drip of fecklessness in Peyton Place, with his chronic expression of "Someone stepped on my toe! And then force-fed me a Valium!" distracting from every professional actor whenever he's on screen. Even worse is the vacuum of charisma that is Lee Philips, who turns the key character of the progressive new high school principal into a simpering, nannying, baby-voiced good-for-nothing. It's a casting disaster, like if instead of Robin Williams, Gus Van Sant had cast Eddie Deezen in Good Will Hunting. (Well, maybe that would have made Good Will Hunting more tolerable, as kitsch).
While the preachiness near the end of Peyton Place is warranted, and somewhat powerful, it's one final straw of artlessness that buckles the whole construction. It should give any fan of old-school Hollywood melodramas plenty to enjoy, and plenty to grouse about, which can be half of the fun with these types of things, anyway.
I watched Peyton Place as part of a movie exchange, the theme of which was "high school movies." It was recommended as to me an alternate to Taps.
Notable insubstantial coincidence: According to a sign outside the church, the minister of Peyton Place is named Melvin Dorr. No relation, that I know of.
Flickcharted: #3165 (24.61%)
Dir.: Tom McLoughlin
When I was eleven years old, I recall being desperately jealous as my older sister went with friends to see this PG-rated cash-in on the resurgent horror movie craze. I think my parents refused to let me see it out of taste more than out of censoriousness. It's pretty limp and impoverished, recycling some common fright film tropes in as tame a manner as possible.
A hazing prank goes awry when the freshly interred corpse of a powerfully telekinetic "psychic vampire" decides to come out for some fresh air when a teenager (Meg Tilly) is forced to spend the night in the same mausoleum for initiation into an club of bullying mean girls. One Dark Night is alternately dumb and dull, with director Tom McLoughlin displaying very little skill at build-up or scares, or character or story. He did much better three years later with Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives, one of the best entries in that franchise.
E.G. Daily makes an early appearance; Adam West is in it, too, cashing a paycheck for playing one of the least necessary roles of his entire career.
As horror movies from this era are my "comfort food," I tend to enjoy revisiting movies like One Dark Night, but I would never recommend it to normal person.
Flickcharted: #3351 (20.20%)
Dir.: Ingmar Bergman
Marital dramas are a dime a dozen, and most of them start and end in the realm of trite and superficial melodrama. In Scenes From a Marriage, which I watched in its six-hour TV miniseries form, Ingmar Bergman not only covers every imaginable trope of spousal conflict, but he drills so deep and unsparingly into the psychology of familial strife that it still feels fresh with four and a half decades of imposters since it was released.
Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson star as upper-middle class professionals with two children who, over the course of 10 years, run each other and themselves through a psychological wringer, squeezing out every oozing milligram of deception, doubt, loathing, pity, and tenderness until every preconception about romantic love is ground into sand. With it's TV-targeted aesthetic, Scenes from a Marriage is visually unspectacular — still, unerringly framed, but using more prosaic colors and lighting than usual for Bergman and his cinematographer, Sven Nykvist — but makes up for it with two incisive performances.
While Josephson is a Bergman regular, I'm not sure that I've ever taken special note of him before, but he is understatedly spectacular in Scenes from a Marriage. As for Ullman, well, she delivers yet another searing portrayal; also, I'll admit to, over the course of 300 minutes, occasionally getting lost in her piercing eyes, which are two of cinema's all-time greatest assets. If there's a shortcoming to Scenes from a Marriage (or to me), it's that I didn't become as emotionally involved as I would have hoped. Maybe at six hours of soul-shattering confrontation, it's not only exhaustive but exhausting, and both characters are examined so thoroughly by the time it's all over that they sort of become emotional science projects.
Speaking of imitators, I still prefer Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives, which was clearly directly inspired by Bergman's work here, and even Richard Linklater's Before Midnight manages to plant a more firm emotional anchor, but there's no arguing that Scenes From a Marriage is not the most formidable, influential and exacting marital drama of the contemporary film era.
Notable insubstantial coincidence: I watched Episode 6 in the early hours of August 28. A few minutes in, Liv Ullmann states, "It's August 28." Does everyone get a customized version of Scenes from a Marriage? That's pretty cool.
And while you look at this footage of Fårö, here is my Flickchart ranking: #528 (87.43%)
Dir.: Cameron Crowe
I'm not some eager fanboy for Cameron Crowe. I have far less enthusiasm for some of his movies than other people my age. I was 17 when Say Anything was released and thought all of my friends were crazy in their overstatement of its modest charms. I hated Singles, even though it was also about my exact age group and only 180 miles north on the interstate. Jerry Maguire walks an unsteady line between appealing mainstream romantic comedy and maudlin narcissism. Elizabethtown is garbage and I have no desire to watch Aloha, which is, by all accounts, just as terrible. The one Crowe disaster that I actually do like quite a bit is the simple and endearing family drama We Bought a Zoo, which seemed to attract derision based on its title alone. So, with Fast Times at Ridgemont High the only other truly great Crowe film project (he wrote it, Amy Heckerling directed it), I hope you won't write me off as a Crowe acolyte when I say that Almost Famous is an almost perfect movie.
I love big, sprawling, richly idiosyncratic and bittersweet deep dives into nostalgia, and this is the motherlode. The care Crowe puts into the characters, the production design, and the introspection is pure magic. Even before 15-year-old William Miller ditches high school to hit the road with a middling rock band as an improbably young writer for Rolling Stone — when Almost Famous is still slowly simmering in the tension between William, his exasperated older sister (Zooey Deschanel), and his paradoxically domineering and open-minded mother (Frances McDormand) — the genuine feeling woven into the intricate textures of Crowe's memories of his own precocious biography are so emotionally complete, that Almost Famous seems in danger of peaking far too early, but it doesn't. In fact, it carries on faultlessly through a unique adolescent journey of growth, frustration, love and loss with such ease of purpose that it's not so much like watching a movie but living a life (for this reason, I also tend prefer ridiculously long extended cuts, like the 162-minute "Bootleg Edition" of Almost Famous).
Movies like Almost Famous, when they work, tune into a sort of subliminal sense of holistic satisfaction that is pointless to explain, because to do so is to sound like a lunatic to anyone who missed the same experience by just a few degrees.
Debatably fun fact: I first watched Almost Famous the week it was released on DVD. The following day I was given a short-deadline assignment to review the Bootleg Edition, which was not the version I had just seen. I had to watch the two different cuts within the space of two days, which is something I cannot remember ever having done before, but this movie is such a pleasure, i didn't mind. That review, if anyone cares, is here:
Flickcharted: #67 (98.40%); up from #239 (94.31%)
Dir.: Jon Turteltaub
While watching The Meg — the enjoyably bland new giant shark movie — I became temporarily obsessed with trying to figure out if Ruby Rose, an actress in the film, was a real person or a work of CGI. Something about her carefully arranged icicle-like bangs looked too artificial for actual physics. Then it dawned on me: her look, her movement, her acting seemed exactly like something from a video game cutscene; in fact, there may have been a character who looked exactly like her, with the same rigidly spiky bangs and stiff arms, in one of the Uncharted games. I eventually came to accept that she was, in fact, a human captured on film, and that, hopefully, this is the only time that an authentic person will send me into the "uncanny valley."
A lot of The Meg, actually, plays like a quality video game cutscene: the characters are archetypes with just enough personality to be amusing but not enough to threaten a real connection; the actors are personable but their canned dialog lends them all a woodenness between between life and artifice; the situations are big and desperate but the treatment is coolly glib (this is the special purgatory inhabited by Jason Statham at all times: rough but polished; soulful but slick; wounded but indestructible).
Expectations are met in The Meg. There are few terrific gasping moments of spectacle, and several instances of Statham embodying superhuman nerve. It's never exactly dull, but neither is it ever more than it needs to be. The Meg isn't ambitious; it sticks carefully to its rails, like a video game — which is fine for now, but it might get depressing as this trend continues.
Flickcharted: #1635 (61.08%)