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ESJ's Movie Project - "Uh, Maybe Later" Edition

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ESJ's Movie Project

July 12 · Issue #21 · View online
I'm reviewing every movie I watch, and watching every movie I own. Settle in, this is going to take a while.

Pictured: How the first act of Hereditary made me feel.
Pictured: How the first act of Hereditary made me feel.
Last week, I reserved a ticket for the new horror movie Midsommar, expecting to see it on Monday. But after a quick Twitter poll, I realized I should probably check out the last film from the same director, Ari Aster, which is called Hereditary; I had skipped it while it was in theaters after reading that it gave people nightmares.
And hey, look, Hereditary was free to stream on Amazon Prime! Well, shucks, why not?
On Sunday night, I made it 38 minutes. No spoilers (as is my policy for all the reviews I post here), but I get it now. And I’m sure the movie only gets more intense in its remaining runtime.
That said, I am planning to finish watching Hereditary — at some point, during daylight hours — because a) I am hooked by the story and have to know how it ends; b) I don’t believe that reading the Wikipedia plot summary counts; and c) I could tell from the first act that it is a very well-made film. But don’t go looking for reviews of that film or Midsommar in this week’s newsletter; you won’t find them!
So, what did I watch this week? Well…
From Russia With Love
Pictured: How I feel when I get a phone call from work on the weekend.
Pictured: How I feel when I get a phone call from work on the weekend.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is an outstanding entry in the James Bond canon, the one that I usually refer to as my favorite even though it is not representative of some of the sillier aspects of the series that I also enjoy. This movie is restrained, where so many other Bond films are indulgent; the fight scenes are rough, the spycraft has real stakes, and 007 feels like a real man in extraordinary circumstances — not a superhero. Recommended.
The Short Game
Pictured: A person who is better at golf than I will ever be.
Pictured: A person who is better at golf than I will ever be.
‪It’s been in my Netflix queue for ages, but I finally watched THE SHORT GAME, a documentary about the US Kids Golf World Championship. There are too many characters to get fully invested; I get the sense that the tournament is so unpredictable that the filmmakers shot a lot of the movie in advance and didn’t want to cut out the interviewees who didn’t ultimately matter to the drama of the competition. Nevertheless, this is a charming film that paints a engaging picture of the grit needed to be a competitive sports player at age 7-8.‬
Future War
Pictured: A screenshot that makes this movie look better than it is.
Pictured: A screenshot that makes this movie look better than it is.
“This isn’t a real movie, it’s more of a movieloaf.” That’s how MST3K’s Tom Servo describes FUTURE WAR and I agree: There’s a low-budget, plaid-clad, fun-to-be-dumb sci-fi movie buried in here. I mean, dinosaurs? Kung-fu? Cyborgs? It’s basically a Mad Lib of childish delights. Unfortunately, those things are packed in with ill-considered secondary characters, a bizarre religious sublot, and overlong scenes.
Advise & Consent
Pictured: A better version of Frank Underwood (don't @ me)
Pictured: A better version of Frank Underwood (don't @ me)
Shows like House of Cards and Scandal usually get the credit for depicting Washington DC’s dark side, but 1962’s ADVISE & CONSENT did it earlier, and (mostly) better. A McCarthy-style scare blossoms into a tense, knotty standoff among Senators debating the president’s nominee for Secretary of State. Days later, I’ve found myself still thinking about the characters. Recommended.
American Madness
Pictured: Is this a real scene from the movie? I wouldn't bank on it.
Pictured: Is this a real scene from the movie? I wouldn't bank on it.
‪I was skeptical about AMERICAN MADNESS, but I shouldn’t have been. It’s a fast-paced, simple but surprising bit of character-driven drama couched in Great Depression anxieties. And parts of it look like prototypes for Frank Capra‘s more famous movies, like It’s A Wonderful Life.‬ The script is somewhat hit-or-miss, but the performances are very good.
Batman Returns
Pictured: A cat and a penguin
Pictured: A cat and a penguin
I like the music and love the production design of Tim Burton’s second Batman film, BATMAN RETURNS, but the story is just … meh. Michael Keaton’s Batman does very little that is memorable in the whole movie, which focuses instead on the villains Max Schreck (Christopher Walken), The Penguin (Danny DeVito) and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer). Each of them is engaging in their own way, but I especially liked Walken’s turn as a craven metaphorical-mustache-twirling department store owner; this is not a movie for cineasts seeking subtlety.
Batman: Year One
Pictured: Jim.
Pictured: Jim.
BATMAN: YEAR ONE’s movie adaptation isn’t as good as the comic, but it’s still one of the better stories in the DC canon; there’s a reason they lifted big chunks of it when they were writing the first film in the Christopher Nolan trilogy, Batman Begins. It’s strange, although not in a bad way, that Gordon is more of a protagonist here than Bruce Wayne. And you couldn’t ask for a better voice for Gordon than Bryan Cranston, who carries this particular storyline’s darker tone well.
The Big Short
Pictured: How I would probably look at Ryan-Gosling-in-a-suit, too.
Pictured: How I would probably look at Ryan-Gosling-in-a-suit, too.
I intended to watch only an hour of THE BIG SHORT on Wednesday night but — oops — I watched the whole thing. Some of its showy stylistic flourishes, like the cutaways to celebrities explaining finance, make me roll my eyes a bit, but the pacing is near-perfect and the performances are superb, especially Steve Carell, who should have won an Oscar. I also love the way the clever script sneaks up on you; the transition from comedy to real-life horror is near-seamless. Strongly recommended.
The Art of Self-Defense
Pictured: Probably a scene that made me LOL but I couldn't tell you a word they said.
Pictured: Probably a scene that made me LOL but I couldn't tell you a word they said.
THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE is wonderfully weird. Jesse Eisenberg is perfectly cast as a non-confrontational man who starts taking karate classes, as is Alessandro Nivola as his sensei, but the movie really belongs to the dialogue, which is both extremely memorable and hard to quote — you’ll understand what I mean if you see it. I both dread and sort of look forward to the internet arguments about whether this movie is a 20-years-late rebuttal to Fight Club. It’s not as well-directed as that movie, but I think I liked it better. Recommended.
Every New Movie I've Seen in 2019 (So Far), Ranked
(new additions in bold)

  1. Booksmart
  2. If Beale Street Could Talk
  3. Us
  4. Free Solo
  5. Avengers: Endgame
  6. Amazing Grace
  7. The Favourite
  8. Long Shot
  9. The Wife
  10. The Art of Self-Defense
  11. Toy Story 4
  12. Apollo 11
  13. Shoplifters
  14. The Last Black Man In San Francisco
  15. Aladdin
  16. Spider-Man: Far From Home
  17. Green Book
  18. Slut in a Good Way
  19. Cold War
  20. Always Be My Maybe
  21. Rocketman
  22. Roma
  23. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  24. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
  25. On the Basis of Sex
  26. Shazam!
  27. Fighting With My Family
  28. They Shall Not Grow Old
  29. Mary Poppins Returns
  30. Captain Marvel
  31. Minding the Gap
  32. Tolkien
  33. The Biggest Little Farm
  34. Alita: Battle Angel
  35. The Dead Don’t Die
  36. Stan & Ollie
  37. Vice
  38. Bohemian Rhapsody
  39. Aquaman

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