I haven’t done a “movies I watched” post on this blog in something like 8 or 9 years. But let’s get back to it, shall we? So here are the films I watched for this first time in April 2021:

The Sign of Four

This is a made-for-British-TV Sherlock Holmes film, based on the Arthur Conan Doyle story of the same name. The mystery itself was not very deep or engaging, but the film was entertaining mostly because of its dated cheesiness. A digression: I’ve never been quite impressed with Holmes as a character, as his deductive powers mostly rely on the author giving him the power to correctly guess what the author wants him to based on the clues the author gives him for that exact purpose; that is, it’s all what I call a “cleverness cheat“; making successful deductions in the real world is hardly so convenient. Anyway, they also filmed The Hound of Baskervilles the same year with the same actor playing Holmes, so I hope to watch that at some point as well. (According to Wikipedia, they originally intended to film six Sherlock Holmes stories, but I guess that didn’t work out for complicated business reasons.)

Greyhound

This 2020 war film starring Tom Hanks is based on the 1955 novel The Good Shepherd by C.S. Forester (best known for his other book The African Queen, the classic movie adaptation of which I still haven’t seen). The film is about a bunch of ships fighting in the Atlantic during World War II. And “fighting in the Atlantic” is really all the plot consists of. The screenplay was written by Tom Hanks himself, and I guess it shows, because it’s really not that great; no change in pacing, no character development, no subtext. Just a bunch of commands from military people and boats fighting.

One Hundred and One Dalmations

I of course have seen this 1961 Disney animated classic before, but it’s been a long time. If I recall my Disney animation trivia correctly, this was their first film to use Xerox machines to transfer the animators’ line drawings to cel sheets for coloring, a process which had to be done by hand before. This saved them a lot of time and gave the drawings a bit more of an organic look, which of course blends well with the film’s jazzy blocky-colored backgrounds. Everyone probably knows the story: a bunch of puppy dalmations are kidnapped by Cruella de Vil (you know you’re asking for trouble when you name your kid something like that), who wants their fur. They are then rescued, along with a bunch of other puppies that had been stolen. By the way, why does Roger assume he gets to keep so many stolen puppies? One thing I noticed that I never had before was the What’s My Line? parody that the puppies watch on TV while kidnapped, called What’s My Crime? That must’ve been completely over my head as a kid.

Rat Race

This 2001 comedy, very obviously inspired by the star-studded 1963 comedy It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, features a bunch of people racing from Nevada to New Mexico in hopes of being first to nab some treasure for the entertainment of a bunch of wealthy people betting on them. Nothing profound, but a fun comedy.

Godzilla vs Kong

This is the first film I’ve watched in theaters since the beginning of 2020. I mostly wanted to see it in theaters because it was in 3D, and there have been hardly any releases in 3D for the past year, thanks to both the pandemic and dwindling interest in 3D movies in general. Unfortunately the 3D conversion was not great, nor was the weird story, which involved taking Kong to the mystical realm deep inside the earth to find a mystical weapon to defend the world from Godzilla’s destruction. It really made no sense, but I suppose one must not think too much with a movie like this.

WeWork: or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn

This 2021 documentary tells the bizarre tale of the company WeWork, whose phenomenal valuation came mostly from a bizarre CEO’s ability to convince investors of it. As far as I can tell, nothing illegal actually happened; a lot of people just got drunk on the promises, perception, and larger-than-life energy of a CEO, only to realize the company wasn’t nearly as valuable as it seemed. Interesting story, but I still get the sense there’s a lot more to the over-valuation than just what the documentary presents. What really made people believe the company’s crazy valuation without solid verification?

Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037

This 2007 documentary chronicles the creation of a Steinway piano from start to finish. Unfortunately it’s not very informative in terms of the how’s and why’s of piano building. Instead we just watch the workers doing random work while listening to them talk about their backgrounds and how they got into piano building. This is spliced with interviews of famous musicians waxing poetic about how pianos have their own personalities, as though anyone willing to watch a documentary on piano creation would think otherwise. I don’t think I learned anything interesting from this film.

Boss Level

This 2021 action-comedy is about a man who’s stuck in a time loop. Everytime he dies, he wakes up to start the same day again. The day mostly consists of assassins trying to kill him as he in turn tries to figure out why they want him dead, and why he’s stuck in a time loop. It’s a bit like Edge of Tomorrow, but without aliens. It’s a fun popcorn movie, but don’t expect anything deep or profound.

Suspiria

This 1977 Italian horror (though it’s in English) is considered a classic among horror fans, though it was too cheesy for me. It’s about a girl who enters a ballet school and slowly discovers its sinister (albeit chiché) secrets. Not sure why it’s considered such a classic; nothing about it seemed all that interesting to me.

Grand Isle

In this 2019 drama, a young man has the misfortune of being stuck with a creepy crazy Nicolas Cage and his crazy wife during a storm. Hilarity ensues. Actual, a rather dull and bland story ensues. This one’s pretty forgettable.

The Darkness

This 2016 horror is also bland and forgettable. A young autistic boy finds some weird stones in the wilderness. When he brings them home, the spirits of evil Native Americans begin to haunt the house. It follows the standard horror movie template. Not much of interest here.

Captain Phillips

“I am the captain now.” This 2013 action drama starring Tom Hanks tells the true story of how Captain Phillips narrowly survived his cargo ship being hijacked by Somali pirates. Things get especially tense when, having failed to steal much of value from the ship itself, they take Phillips hostage and wind up in a long stand-off with the US military. An interesting story but a mostly average film. Not bad, but not great.

Agenda: Payback

This 2018 action drama mostly consists of an unsavory Sean Patrick Flanery getting tied up and tortured by various figures in his life who seek vengeance on him for past misdoings. There’s a lot you can do with a minimal set and cast. Misery for example. But you’ve gotta pace yourself, vary the dramatic arcs, give it space to rise and fall. This movie is a great example of how not to do it. It’s bland, boring, and forgettable.

The Boys from Brazil

This 1978 thriller follows an old Laurence Olivier as a Nazi hunter investigating some Nazi activity and uncovers a shocking and horrible Nazi plot! I won’t spoil it, but the plot turns out to be more ridiculous, silly, and convoluted than it is all that shocking or horrible. Laurence Olivier and Gregory Peck don some rather silly-sounding German accents as well.

Dolphin Tale

Watched this in my search for family friendly films. This 2011 drama is loosely inspired by the true story of a dolphin being rescued and given an prosthetic tail after being found trapped in ropes on the shore. A rather low-stakes cheesy story, but a nice family film I suppose. It’s also a rare film that was actually filmed in 3D, and so offers a very good 3D picture. The extra dimension doesn’t add much to the story here, but I still love 3D movies, especially ones actually filmed in 3D (rather than cheap conversions, like Godzilla vs Kong).

Awakenings

This 1990 drama stars Robin Williams as a doctor and Robert De Niro as a catatonic patient in a New York City hospital. After an experimental treatment, De Niro gains control over his body again and is eager to explore the world after decades stuck in the hospital. It’s based on a book by Oliver Sacks, so is supposedly a true story, yet it’s very obviously Hollywood-ized. Also, De Niro did not seem right for the role. Not sure if it was his acting or just the association of his persona with his more famous roles, but I just couldn’t see him as the character he was trying to portray. (Robin Williams, on the other hand, always seems to play doctors very well.)


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