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Game Night, 2018 – ★★★½

Surprising to find a mainstream Hollywood comedy so full of laughs and humor. For one thing, the set-up (a murder mystery night that involves a real kidnapping) is funny in itself, as the various players don’t take it seriously for most of the film. And the other thing is a cast of skilled comedic actors playing it straight. Plemons does his psycho thing well, although at some point he might want to start working against type. Bateman n McAdams make a good couple. African-American couple get sidelined a bit, part of the film’s weakness. But it never flags, and it’s well worth your time. No doubt the film will be forgotten, so seek it out.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

The Iron Giant, 1999 – ★★★★½

The first time I watched this film it was on the back of an airline seat and I do remember liking the story. Fast forward to 2018 and I just watched this in a beach chair outside at UCSB’s summer film series at the Santa Barbara Courthouse Sunken Garden. (And yes, we’d all been drinking wine and…well other things too.) Anyway, my takeaway this time was OMG this is an absolutely beautiful, stunning film. The spirit of Miyazaki (esp. Totoro) is strong in this one.

It’s like the animators set out in each scene to challenge each other with a lighting idea, and they are all one upping each other scene by scene. A discovery scene lit only by one flashlight? A robot-rebuild scene in essentially total darkness, with two colors (dark brown and black) in the palette? Mist? Headlights? Fire and smoke apocalypse? The light of the universe itself?

I just sat there slackjawed through it.

Seeing this again also made me loathe Ready Player One more.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Spring, 2014 – ★★★★

Backtracked from The Endless to finally watch this other Benson&Moorhead film. (Should they ever leave the film biz, they should open a bespoke tailor shoppe.) Again flaunting genre, they bring together “Before Sunrise” and Zulawski’s “Possession” and come out with a film that acts as a metaphor for falling in love (and commitment) while being just an odd love story. B&M also like to tell similar tales: all three are about a man fleeing after a crisis point and traveling to a new and strange land where their troubles come back in new and interesting shapes. Psychologically, they emerge as different, usually better people, which is why despite the trappings of horror, these aren’t horror films.

This movie could have gone south so many times, but it’s held up by its two sturdy leads, who just live their characters. You will understand why, when the inevitable discovery scene happens, Evan is conflicted and compassionate.

Contains some absolutely beautiful scenes, including that slow-motion walk through the piazza where Evan sees Louise for the first time, it’s so casual it might be verite, but it’s also subtly choreographed. A sublime mix of beauty and horror.

Now having watched all three main B&M films, I feel they are the real freakin’ deal.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

The Endless, 2017 – ★★★★

So glad Benson and Moorhead returned to the spooky California backcountry of “Resolution,” but I had no idea by how much! As somebody else said, their films are kinda…horror movies, but they don’t arc or play out like that genre. They are unique films, filled with unease alongside big philosophical questions. The question that really stuck with me I don’t want to say because it’s a spoiler, but really questions our love of narrative and repetition in genre. Moments in this film are like strange dreams–like the rope challenge, the rules of which make no sense but everybody understands.
Yes, they could do with a bigger budget, but if it means these two don’t get to make exactly the film they want, what’s the point? Haven’t watched “Spring” yet–is it streaming anywhere?–but by gum I’m on it.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Yellow Submarine, 1968 – ★★★★½

Docked half a star because the inventiveness peters out in the end, and how the “battle of Pepperland” is just not as headtrippy as the previous 3/4 of the film. Still, when you read up on the making of the film–seen as a risky investment, very little budget, no time, and an animators strike half-way through production–it’s stunning how timeless it all seems now.

On top of the Pushpin-style cel animation, we also get:
Pre-Gilliam cutout animation
Looped photo figures that both look backwards at Muybridge and forward to our love of animated gifs
Op Art
Flicker film (a la 1966’s Tony Conrad)
Abstract rotoscoping (in the Lucy sequence)
pre-Sesame Street Numbers animation

There’s no way today such an important intellectual property as “The Beatles” would be taken on by a company flying by the seat of its pants and just bunging everything in, mostly without a plot. Yet, here it is, a masterpiece.

(Seen on its 50th anniversary tour on the big screen, so crisp that I could see the shadows of the cel animation on the background)

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, 2005 – ★★★★½

I *thought* I had seen this one, but delightfully not, as I discovered sitting down with friends for an outdoor screening here in S.B. Packed to the gills with puns, visual comedy, fantastic character animation (esp. Lady Tottington), and that grand British tradition of upturning Hollywood genres and plonking them down in the most provincial of settings. A lot of live action directors could take lessons from this film about how to convey complex information and ratchet up suspense without dialog.

Would make a great double bill with Edgar Wright’s “Hot Fuzz” because of the similiar genre/setting and directing style.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Thor: Ragnarok, 2017 – ★★★★

What got me reading Marvel comics as a kid over DC comics was the arch and self-deprecating tone. I enjoyed the quips of Spider-man and the Noo Yawwkishness of The Thing. Taika Waititi, coming from the world of comedy, totally gets this and makes this Marvel installment one of the most enjoyable. Superhero movies are meant to be fun, but unfortunately this once-obvious point has been erased by oh-so-serious fans who think this is major philosophical literature (Nolan Batman fans I’m looking at you) and not a romp.

Right from the start it’s a hoot and a hollar of a film, despite tackling the death of fathers, Death itself, sacrifice, betrayal, etc. The serious matters are taken seriously by the script and the cast, but humor is always there.

Of course, Jeff Goldblum is on his best behavior here, but everybody else is in cracking form. Cate Blanchett gets that delicate balance of camp and serious evil correct. Tessa Thompson rocks. And Chris Hemsworth is a justified leading man with a 1940s-style charisma.

Just a *little* bit too long for my tastes, but fun.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Doctor Strange, 2016 – ★★★

Boilerplate origin story/enlightenment tale, but hoo-boy! the special effects are just ace. I’ve been grizzling for years about the wasted potential of “The Architect” character in “Inception” and the kaleidoscopic showdown at near the end of act three (of four) as New York refracts upon itself was just masterful, as was the various trips into multiuniverse dimensions, bringing back the best of 1960s psychedelic Marvel (Kirby and Ditko, et al). Some nice light humorous touches as well in the dialogue, and some moments of physical comedy too. Cumberbatch is a great choice in the lead. Also: not horrifically long.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Doctor Strange, 2016 – ★★★

Boilerplate origin story/enlightenment tale, but hoo-boy! the special effects are just ace. I’ve been grizzling for years about the wasted potential of “The Architect” character in “Inception” and the kaleidoscopic showdown at near the end of act three (of four) as New York refracts upon itself was just masterful, as was the various trips into multiuniverse dimensions, bringing back the best of 1960s psychedelic Marvel (Kirby and Ditko, et al). Some nice light humorous touches as well in the dialogue, and some moments of physical comedy too. Cumberbatch is a great choice in the lead. Also: not horrifically long.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills