Tag Archives: cinema

A few words about all the movies I watched in 2016

I’ve been keeping a list of every movie I watched this year… those I’ve seen before and those I saw for the first time.

For each of them, I wrote a very brief reaction. Some are thoughtful, some are irreverent. All are honest.

Here’s the list, in sequential order of my viewing:

Babel – makes Tokyo and Afghanistan and Mexico seem like another planet
Revenant – more movies should be filmed 100% with natural light
Winter on Fire – meanwhile in America the Kardashians what??
Big Eyes – the guy in this movie is a huge asshat
Moonraker – are they serious? They can’t be serious. I love it
The Big Short – Steve Carrell should always play this character
Dallas Buyers Club – drugs should be mostly legal
The Princess Bride – I have no good excuse for seeing this for the first time in 2016
The Perfect Storm – but I can’t stop wondering if Marky Mark is from Boston or not
Unbroken – the book was probably much better
The Men Who Stare At Goats – I don’t know how this got made but I love it
Deadpool – if only they had given Green Lantern this treatment
Finding Vivian Maier – why are the most creative people usually so troubled?
Beasts of No Nation – this should be seen by more people than it probably was
Turner & Hooch – I want a sequel with cats
Ex Machina – the future is going to suck (and kill?)
The Agony & The Ecstacy – it really is a nice ceiling
Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice – Batfleck, you did alright
Spotlight – shame that newspaper stories have to be made into movies for most people to notice them
All Together Now (Beatles/Cirque “Love” Doc) – Vegas is so rich
Captain America: Civil War – I wanted to take a nap through most of this
Return to the 36 Chambers – I’ll never hear Wu-Tang the same way
“21″ – MIT is so smart
You Only Live Twice – I already forgot literally everything about this
Good, Bad and the Ugly – I have no good excuse for seeing this for the first time in 2016
Ghostbusters (original) – somehow it still gets better every time I watch it
Jurassic World – I wouldn’t complain if this were on at the gym or something
Rock the Kasbah – everything about this was tremendous
The Woman in Gold – cool story but Ryan Reynolds does better with dick jokes
Frances Ha – I love when people who like photography decide to make movies
Fight Club – still good but doesn’t change how I feel about IKEA <3
The Dark Knight Rises – still good but still not as good as Banecat
The Peanuts Movie – beautifully drawn Nyquil
Bo Burnham: Make Happy – the funniest musical since ‘what.’
Beatles: Help! – for someone who grew up with MTV already established this is a revalation
The Man With the Golden Gun – I already forgot literally everything about this
A View To Kill – I already forgot literally everything about this
Chef – the best movie that anyone has ever tweeted in
Bo Burnham: what. – the funniest musical since South Park: Bigger Longer Uncut
Suicide Squad – Margot Robbie
The Bourne Supremacy – still good but so hard to hear all the whisper-yelling
Best of Enemies: Buckley vs Vidal – this is where all the people yelling at each other on TV started I guess
Steve Jobs (Boyle) – Boyle deserves thanks for un-Kutchering this story
Father of the Bride – still good but now anything with early 1990’s fashion is funny
The Hangover – still good but why couldn’t they just leave it without the sequels
Hail, Ceasar! – this basically closes the book on Hollywood
Elvis / Nixon – oh shit this 10 minute meeting seems like a microcosm of the next four years
Prefontaine – why does Jared Leto always have to die
The Lady in the Van – British movies are so much more thoughtful
Allied – what is this like the tenth Brad Pitt movie about WW2
Arrival – omg how can she afford that house on an adjunct’s salary

three Films Worth Watching


Sports films seem to be trending toward documentary lately, leaving behind fictional drama like ‘Hoosiers’ and ‘Rudy.’ ESPN’s ’30 for 30′ series is a great example, and this portrait of Ayrton Senna, the Formula 1 driver, is another.

I’m not really a  fan of auto racing, but I was able to enjoy this critical exploration of Senna’s character, and the sport of Formula 1. Recommended for fans of anything Brazilian, and also as an interesting chronicle of international sportsmanship in the days before Atlanta ’96, China’s economy, and Livestrong.

Holy Motors

Nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, Holy Motors is the strangest – and most wonderful – movie I’ve seen in a while.

The kind of film that offers more questions than answers, its imaginative course plays out, like other recent French films (Paris, je t’aime) as a series of distinct vignettes, tied by a central character – a man riding in a limousine to various ‘appointments,’ each of which requires him to reinvent himself.

I could guess at metaphor and tone and ‘What This Film Means’ but for now I’m content to just watch and enjoy.

God Bless America

This is basically a rant against recent American pop culture disguised as a movie, with enough gratuitous violence to almost offend the people who agree with its sentiments.

I was reminded of ‘Falling Down,’ the early 90’s film where A Regular Guy goes on a rampage with guns to correct the everyday evils of the world around him.

Somehow God Bless America takes the same story and strips it of the drama, choosing comedic actors with a better penchant for monologue, who also seem less likely than Michael Douglass to carry out their righteous crusade.

two Films worth Seeing

Sidewalls (Medianeras)

For English speakers, the crown of ‘best quirky foreign-language romance’ has been passed from Amelie to a touching film about two neighbors in Buenos Aires. The characters ring true in the age of paranoia about digital loneliness, and their internal dialogues about trying to connect are sincere.

Without any sappy, jokey, over-the-top acting, Sidewalls is funny without losing its credibility as heartfelt. Overall, a great portrait of modern urban life both by virtue of the characters and the photography.

The Tree of Life

When I saw Terrance Malick’s ‘The Thin Red Line’ as a teenager, I wasn’t sure what to think. The lyrical, poetically visual style was a departure from the combat movies I was used to (ahem, American Ninja). I knew there was larger purpose to the seemingly disconnected elements of the film, but didn’t really care.

Malick returns to form in ‘The Tree of Life’ and maybe I understand what he was poking at before – life is big, and doesn’t fit nicely into a 2 1/2 hour narrative, no matter the subject – one way to convey that grandiosity is by focusing intently on the subtleties that define the greater experience. He doesn’t wrap his stories up with a sense of finality, and doesn’t try to force cohesion – which makes Tree of Life a unique and thoughtful experience.

Xi’an and Cinema (Universal language)

The cough which started on the final day of the Yangtze cruise has persisted and is duly irritating me today. In the Chinese media cases of swine flu are zealously reported, and any Chinese official would probably diagnose me as positive as soon as looking at me. I look forward to returning to clean skies and natural air at home which is surely the cure I need.

Upon arriving in Xi’an we checked in at the City Hotel close to the center of town. There are apparently 8 million people in this city but I have only seen what looks like one or two. The hotel is in the middle of a construction zone, walking out to the street feels like it should require a hard hat. After an “orientation” sprint yesterday evening our guide Merrick dropped us near the Muslim quarter, which was filled with stalls selling food and cheap gifts. At one point, I asked a man to take his photo by holding up the camera, and after he obliged I went nuts and took photos of several more people in the area. They were all on film, so I’m not sure how they came out, but I am confident that several are quite good. 

Between Luoyang and Xi’an I think I saw about five nuclear power plants, which would explain the dismal grey color of the city despite sunshine a few kilometers away at the Terra Cotta Warriors site.

After the Muslim quarter last night I had worked up a strong appetite, and decided to try some kind of meat on a stick, from a shop front on the main drag. A picture of goats or lamb above the stall probably indicated what it was, and with a little seasoning, it hit the spot. Later I ordered a cup of noodles and a peach yogurt drink, which I discarded after deciding the ice might not be healthy. There is a possibility that all the worrying is a factor itself in my decreased health.

I decided to try some shops on “East St.” to find the worst translations of English on T-shirts possible, and deemed two garments worthy, which I purchased for about 25 yuan each. One is filled with nonsensical text and the other has a very stupid picture of a dog wearing glasses. It is the very best of haute couture Xi’an has to offer. Several shops are dedicated to selling rip-offs of American brands, like Qior-Dan, which is supposed to be Jordan, selling athletic basketball wear.

After shopping for a while, I decided I wanted to see a movie. It took several minutes of standing outside the theatre before working up the nerves to approach the ticket counter, and I finally did, and simply said “Kung-fu.” The clerk laughed, and someone came around the other side so I could point to the poster of what I wanted to see. After being forbidden from seeing something about Kung-fu cyborgs, for whatever reason, I was permitted to see something called “Eternal Beloved,” which from the poster appeared to be some kind of historical drama.

I found my way up a series of escalators, through several corridors, and into a closet posting as a movie theatre, which made my skin crawl upon entering. A few oversized chairs draped in dirty red fabric were scattered with no particular design around the floor, facing a wall from which a crooked sheet hung, which was actually the screen. Black paint was chipping off all the walls and two or three bare light bulbs in studio reflectors hung from the ceiling.

The film began and quickly got down to horse riding and spear throwing, and for the first several minutes alternated between what I assumed were battles from the past, and present scenes of a woman serving tea to her husband, screwing him, then saying goodbye as he went off to teach schoolchildren somewhere.
Soon after, as she was alone one night, a man frightfully appears in her garden, and she serves him tea.

He is some kind of ghost and as they sit he tells his own story, which lasts the rest of the movie. He is riding through the forest one day trying to shoot a pig, then he hears a girl playing the flute, so he captures her, ties her up, and marries her.

After the wedding, for some reason, while she is serving him tea, he puts her hand in a spear and tries to stab himself with it, then flees to a monastery, shaves his head, and abandons her. But she dutifully shows up every day while he prays and brings him tea, until he smashes the kettle, she cuts her hands cleaning up the mess, and then they are in love again, so she lives in a grass hut outside the monastery and brings him stuff every day and he approves by smiling very slightly.

Finally one day his father is injured by a hurled spear (in the same scene from the beginning of the movie) and brought to his son, who holds him as he gurgles blood and dies, much to his son’s dismay. The attackers then show up outside the walls, the man’s wife shouts something at them, which apparently was a bad idea, because the man slaps her and points his gun at her; and she then helps him pull the trigger and blast her to oblivion.

The man is then killed by the attackers who burst through the walls with spears and torches. So the ghost finishes telling this awful story, and disappears, leaving the woman who was screwing the school teacher earlier to look in the mirror and discover the monk’s dead wife staring back at her.

So my trip to the cinema was fascinating, despite the obvious confusion at watching a film in Mandarin, and the inconvenience of a grimy theatre, the picture was very well done, with gorgeous costumes, landscapes, sets, convincing battle scenes, and what appeared to be decent acting. I might like to see it again with subtitles, but I caught the lesson that cinema is such a visual medium, it can and should be entertaining regardless of the language. If the job is done right, the picture will convey the story without telling it to you, as the first silent films did.

At any rate, I found it a worthy alternative to stopping in one of the discos, which feature military policeman guarding the doors, in case anyone attempts to have fun, I presume, or visiting “Karaoke TV” which I understand is a thinly veiled front for prostitution.