Weekly Update: Week 52, the final week of my year, where my goal was to watch 365 movies. And goddamn it did I ever prove that 365 is a pittance. Whether I actually succeed in hitting 500 was what really concerned me. And I think I just might be able to do it. To find out if I did, you’ll have to read on!
Curious what else I’ve seen on my quest to watch 365 new-to-me movies in 2016? -Click here to read the full list of movies viewed year to date-
482. Class of ’61 (1993)
This 1993 made-for-TV Civil War film is far more notable for the future stars it contained than for anything about the movie itself. The movie features future Oscar-Winning screenwriter Dan Futterman in an early acting role, and pre-fame Clive Owen, Josh Lucas, and Laura Linney. The movie itself explores some fascinating material from history; that being the story of a group of graduates of the final class at the West Point Military Academy just before the Civil War. The film is a melodrama with mediocre direction and writing, but for history buffs or those interested in seeing actors before they were well known, this it still recommended.
483. La La Land (2016)
I have no doubt that this film will be the favorite for this year’s Academy Award for Best Picture. It hits all of the buttons the Academy loves; being a film about Hollywood, paying tribute to the past while doing something ambitious, and starring a couple of talented and lovely young actors. Ryan Gosling stars as Sebastian, an aspiring musician, and Emma Stone as aspiring actress Mia, as the pair meet and fall in love. The film is a musical of sorts, though not the conventional Hollywood musical you might expect. Worth seeking out by even those not particularly interested in musicals.
484. City 40 (2016)
This documentary takes a look at Ozersk, a city in Russia that didn’t officially exist, and wasn’t even on any Russian maps until the mid-1990s. Ozersk was a modern city that offered Soviet citizens comforts that were not offered to many of those in other Soviet districts. It also hid a dark secret, being a major player in plutonium refinement, hence the secrecy. To this day, Ozersk is a closed city, and the documentarians smuggled cameras (and themselves) into the city to film and interview numerous subjects within the city, learning about ongoing issues such as radiation pollution and sickness as well as the state of political isolation the citizens have in Ozersk.
485. Bronson (2008)
Charles Bronson is not just a famous American Actor. It is also England’s most famous Prisoner, a bare knuckle brawler whose vicious temper and penchant for recidivism got him thrown in prison for life. This film by director Nicolas Winding Refn follows the life of Bronson from a young age to his current, permanent state of incarceration. Despite being completely, unabashedly violent, he also is a painter and fascinated with art in general. In a sense, you might even call his penchant for fighting a kind of performance art. Tom Hardy gives a spellbinding performance, depicting Bronson as an unapologetic man who is obsessed with his image, and believes himself to be a celebrity. Hardy disappears into the character completely, and it’s not a surprise that this was his big break as an actor.
486. Blood Diamond (2006)
Blood Diamond is an action-thriller set during the Civil War in Sierra Leone in the late 90s to early 2000s. Djimon Hounsou plays Solomon Vandy, whose family is torn away from him as a result of the war, and he is forced into slavery in the diamond mines. He comes across and buries a particularly large diamond of great value, and manages to escape with his life. Smuggler/Mercenary Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) finds out about the diamond and convinces Solomon that finding the diamond is the key to getting his family back. Archer of course has his own reasons for wanting the diamond, and so the two set out on a journey across war-torn Sierra Leone to find the lost diamond. The movie is a bit showy, and doesn’t quite make as strong of an anti-war/human rights message as it seems to want to make, but overall the performances carry the film well.
487. House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
A group of 20 somethings find themselves captured by a family of weirdos who torture and murder them in this epic horror film by director Rob Zombie. It’s full of clever humor, fun character moments, and occasionally sharp writing, as well as some stunning visual moments. You would think this would be a better movie, then, but Zombie’s direction and the story structure is so piecemeal it is nearly impossible to follow it coherently.
488. The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
From a perspective of pure story structure, The Devil’s Rejects is a huge improvement over House of 1000 Corpses. But the film’s decision to focus on the completely unsympathetic characters from the first film nearly bankrupts any good will. The film is particularly hurt by Sheri Moon Zombie, who is given an expanded role this time around, and is as insufferable as ever. Were it not for a few stellar character performances from the likes of Sid Haig, Ken Foree, & William Forsythe, it would be entirely sunk. The film’s editing and cinematography have aged poorly, with a few too many instances of unnecessary “Shaky Cam” that enhances nothing dramatically, and leaves the viewer nauseous.
489. Mr. Church (2016)
Eddie Murphy plays Mr. Church, hired by a dying mother to cook and care for her and her daughter Charlie. Over time, a bond develops between the three that is something of a family relationship. Mr. Church becomes a father figure for Charlie. The film is a mess, with weak dialogue doing no favors to an already heavily clichéd script. It is unfortunate because Eddie Murphy clearly tried his best here, and wanted to make a sensitive, human story. Unfortunately, the lack of any real depth in the film means it retreads the tired pathways of the “Magical Negro” stock character persona.
490. Raiders!: The Story Of The Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2016)
The documentary of the making of a remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not just any remake though, but a remake done by a group of schoolmates in Mississippi over the course of 8 years of the 1980s. Their determination to remake the movie shot for shot was almost completely successful, save for the one sequence they could never do; the airplane battle sequence. This documentary explores the making of the film, as well as the kids, now well grown up, reuniting to finish that final sequence using funds gathered by either their own self-investment and through crowd-funding. The result is a film about the endurance of friendship, even in spite of distance and time, as well as the endurance of the original film as a cultural force.
491. Altman (2014)
This film charts the career of filmmaker Robert Altman from his early years in Television all the way to his death shortly after the release of his final film A Prairie Home Companion. The film is a fairly straightforward biographical documentary; there isn’t much to say about it, other than it is compelling for those interested in the subject matter.
492. Blood Harvest (1987)
Wisconsin Z-movie auteur Bill Rebane reportedly ran into musician/singer Tiny Tim at a personal appearance and just asked if he wanted to appear in one of his movies. The result was this cobbled-together slasher film in which scenes with Tim are clumsily edited into the story. Tim plays Mervo, a man-child convinced he is a circus clown. The movie’s plot is so thin you’ll likely only find the scenes with Tiny Tim memorable.
493. Vendetta (1999)
This HBO television movie tells the story of the largest mass-lynching in U.S. history. In 1891 in New Orleans, the immigrant Italian community is accused of the assassination of Police Chief David Hennessy (Clancy Brown). Together with a cadre of other local luminaries, businessman James Houston (Christopher Walken) works to organize a show trial to condemn several Italian men, some of whom own local businesses he’s after. The film highlights an essential and mostly forgotten period of American history as relevant now as it ever was.
494. The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)
This documentary about the short-lived independent Minor League baseball team the Portland Mavericks goes beyond your typical sports story. It seems like something that could have only come from Hollywood, and in fact in many ways it did. It was character actor Bing Russell who created and organized the team, which consisted of those left behind by the big leagues, dregs, leftovers, but all people still talented enough to play a good game. Bing Russell’s son Kurt Russell played on the team before his own acting career took off in earnest, and he contributes a great deal via interview. Fans of shaggy-dog stories should seek this out.
495. The Ivory Game (2016)
The Ivory Trade is a dangerous business, and illegal, mostly. Except for China, where the regulations of the trade allow a loophole that encourages smugglers. The result is to encourage Elephant smugglers the world over to focus their efforts on getting their goods there. The Ivory Game is a documentary that delves deep into the lives of the people working every day to protect Elephants and stop the illegal business. It follows the boots on the ground who directly oppose the poachers, investigators who look into the smuggling, and the brave undercover specialists who infiltrate the highest levels of the trade directly.
496. Under the Sun (2015)
Filmmaker Vitaly Mansky obtained permission to direct a film in North Korea, spending time following a typical North Korean family as their daughter Zin-mi readies to join the “Korean Children’s Union”. In reality, though, Mansky had a plan. So besides shooting the scripted scenes the North Korean government gave him, he kept the cameras rolling at all times, and pocketed a duplicate memory card of everything shot, so when he got out of the country, he could release the real film. What Under the Sun reveals is the stage-managed nature of the country, how everything allowed to be revealed to outsiders is pre-approved and pre-written by those in power.
497. Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (1989)
This documentary about the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark is unlike most, because it’s not about the one you’re thinking of. In the mid 1980s, a group of pre-teens decided to remake the movie they love shot for shot using whatever resources they had on hand. The project mushroomed and required eight separate summers to complete. This film covers the making of this very ambitious fan film, as well as the effort the kids who made it (now 40-something) made to complete the one sequence they could never fully finish.
498. The Battle of Algiers (1966)
Delving deeply into the world of the super-real, this 1960s film feels so real that it could be confused for a documentary. It tells the story of the Algerian War, in which the mostly Muslim populace rebelled against their French colonial leaders. The film is surprisingly even-handed; while it clearly empathizes with the cause of Algerian independence, it acknowledges terrible atrocities being performed on both sides of the conflict. In doing so, it reveals the truth about fighting an insurgency; that the biggest danger is in escalating violence and losing the support of the people. In any conflict it is the faith and goodwill of the people that is most important. Even if you win tactically, you can lose the whole war.
499. The Rainbow Thief (1990)
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s epic vision of the universe was cut short when he tried and failed to make Dune, but he bounced back with Santa Sangre. Unfortunately, when he made this next feature, he was not able to maintain the same level of artistic control, and as a result he disowned the movie. It is truly tragic too, in that the film features three of the greatest actors of all time performing their butts off in a truly weird and quirky story of friendship. Peter O’Toole, Christopher Lee, & Omar Sharif are completely on board; if only there was a story to tell that was halfway coherent…
500. Sidekicks (1992)
For the final movie of 2016, I took the suggestion of a close friend of mine. Sidekicks is essentially The Karate Kid meets Last Action Hero (although it came out before Last Action Hero was a thing). Barry (Jonathan Brandis) is a teenage kid with asthma who constantly daydreams himself into Chuck Norris movies. When a teacher of his suggests that he might consider getting a bit of reality in his life, his father (Beau Bridges) turns to Mr. Lee (Mako), who agrees to train him in martial arts. Sidekicks is the kind of film that could only have come from the early 1990s; it is silly, over the top, but also endlessly enjoyable.