I haven’t done a lot of blogging this year, but, don’t worry, I’ve still been watching a ton of movies! I’ve even been keeping track of everything I’ve watched or read in a pair of Composition Note Books that I’ve (not so) cleverly dubbed Pop Notes. Thanks to them, I’m pretty confident looking back at the year and piecing together thoughts on some of my fave film-watching experiences (minus horror, which will get a list or two of their own). This one’s pretty long, so hit that jump and get into it!
The Police Story Franchise
I do this thing quite often where I decide to watch or read something and then feel this pull to go through every iteration, sequel and prequel related to said film. I did that in January and February with the Police Story franchise because I’ve had nice DVDs of the first two films going way back to my Wizard days. I’d watched them both before, loved the mix of comedy and action that Jackie Chan excels at and figured I’d make my way through the loose-at-best franchise.
To get an idea of the flow of these flicks, after the first two we jump to Supercop, then the Michelle Yeoh spinoff Supercop 2/Once A Cop/Project S, followed by First Strike, the reboot New Police Story and finally, Police Story: Lockdown.
Even though it’s been almost a year since I watched these movies, I’m still smiling about some of the scenes, like the wild mall fights in the first two films and the increasing levels of James Bond spy stuff culminating in the near-perfect First Strike. You can see and feel how influential these films were to the likes of Michael Bay, Justin Lin and other modern big-time action directors. Thankfully, those guys don’t treat their female characters as poorly as the ones in the first two films.
On the plus side, women do become more powerful and awesome as the series progresses. You’ve got the three young cops in Police Story 2 and, of course, Michelle Yeoh in Supercop and Supercop 2, a film she doesn’t just headline, but kicks total ass throughout.
With the last two installments, the tone shifts, but the overall quality rises in my personal opinion. New Police Story doesn’t have any connections to the previous installments, but does feature some incredible and wild villains (most of whom fall into the “evil extreme sports dudes” camp) with a final battle reminiscent of the first two given their mall settings. I was dazzled by this one. In Lockdown, yet another Chan character visits his daughter and…well, I don’t remember because I didn’t finish it.
Exploring The Room
After hearing about Tommy Wiseau’s wild and wacky The Room for over a decade, I finally watched it earlier this year. Sometimes I get caught up in taking notes about films, but with this one, my main idea was “Wow.” It’s just so incredible that this thing got made.
I just had to find out how that happened. I needed to know more! With my curiosity piqued, I got a copy of The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero who’s been friends with Wiseau for years, starred in the film and also helped him get it made. I also listened to the various How Did This Get Made episodes about the film and finished it all off by watching the Disaster Artist film starring the Franco bros as well as the stars of HDTGM! If you somehow haven’t seen The Room, I recommend going this route if you find yourself as entranced as I was.
Remembering Burt Reynolds
Before the beloved Burt Reynolds passed away on September 6th, I had the pleasure of watching the 1973 Shamus, directed by the awesomely named Buzz Kulik! I had a bit of trouble following the film while getting some work done, but I loved the way Reynolds effortlessly moved his way through this private dick story and especially dug his apartment where he sleeps on a pool table in the middle of the room and has a system of pulley-controlled platforms for his cigars and phone. For whatever reason, I keep thinking about that set-up even all these months later! I’ve got to re-watch this one soon.
After I heard the news about Burt’s passing, I dove into a pair of classics that were thankfully streaming on Amazon Video: Smokey & The Bandit and The Longest Yard. It had been years since I watched either of these films, but wow, they not only hold up, but are FANTASTIC. The chemistry between Reynolds and Sally Fields in Smokey is pure and beautiful and I could watch them together forever.
It had been even longer since I’d seen Longest Yard, a film I’d probably only seen once prior. I was really impressed with this film’s representation as well as Reynolds’ performance which seems effortless and carefree on the surface, but actually covers an indomitable will that’s up there with Cool Hand Luke‘s. He sums it all up perfectly with his, “No matter what happens, just keep sticking it to them” quote. What else can you do when oppressed?
I thought about watching Cannonball Run again, but couldn’t bring myself to it. Watching that movie in a dark living room, super buzzed with a bunch of the Wizard dudes after a party was a milestone moment in my life. I felt like I’d been introduced to this wonderful film by guys who would become some of my best friends. It’s been enough time, though, so maybe I’ll give it — and maybe even its sequel — another watch.
Modern Monster Movies
Last year, I talked about how much I liked Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island. I’m happy to say that that enjoyment has carried through this year as well. I re-watched Pacific Rim with my wife, which was fun even if I dozed off towards the end. We followed that up with the sequel, this year’s Pacific Rim: Uprising. I was wildly impressed with this Steve S. DeKnight film starring John Boyega, Cailee Spaeny, Scott Eastwood, Burn Gorman and Charlie Day.
I was extremely impressed with this film. We could have easily gotten a film that was simply, “Uh-oh, the portal opened back up! Here’s a lot of the same stuff again!” Instead, we got a sequel that carried on many of the themes from the original, but also built its own story points that stemmed directly from the events of the first film. Boyega is a pure delight in this film and continues to show how he’s going to be a gigantic movie star. I also loved that a solid portion of this film felt very Amblin-esque with a bunch of kids training to be jaeger pilots who get thrown into a world-threatening event!
We also had a great time watching Rampage, a film that nicely combined two of my favorite blockbusters from last year, San Andreas and Godzilla (which I wrote about together here). Based on the classic game that I pumped quarters into at Putt-Putt and rented on more than one occasion for the NES, this one features Dwayne Johnson doing his best to help his mutated albino gorilla friend from destroying Chicago after an experiment from space creates some crazy-huge monsters. Yes, it’s bonkers, but that’s exactly what I want from this film. I’m down for any and all future collaborations between Johnson and Brad Peyton as the results are pure gold.
Ready Player One
I read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One last year on the recommendation of my longtime friend Geof. I had some problems with it, but overall enjoyed the ideas. I was stoked to find out that Steven Spielberg was working on the film, actually bought a used copy from Family Video sight-unseen and watched it just a few days ago with my wife. Boy, I had great time with it.
I’m totally fine with the many changes made to the book’s story and how it was all presented on the big screen, especially the horror elements like the Shining portion and appearances from Chucky, Jason and Freddy! I’m also always in for more Lena Waithe who’s as awesome in this as she is in Master Of None. I got totally wrapped up in the story but also loved trying to spot every cameo I could, which was maybe about 10% of the ones shown. I can honestly say this is the only 2 hour and 20 minute film I want to watch again in slow motion to spot them all!
Big Budget 90s Action Craziness
Thanks in part to my ferocious re-listen to most of the How Did This Get Made episodes (I’m listening to the Running Man ep as I type this), I found myself re-engaging with a variety of insane action films from the 90s and one from the early 00s.
I began this wild journey by checking out the 1998 Christian Slater-Morgan Freeman-Minnie Driver film Hard Rain. In this one, a group of thieves lead by Freeman rob an armored bank truck during a huge storm that’s flooding a small town. Unfortunately for them, Slater intends on keeping them from the cash as water levels rise. I liked this twisty-turny film as much as I did when I saw it for the first time back in 2008. What blew me away this time, though, was just how much work it must have been to make this movie and just how wet the actors must have been. It’s so much water!
I was STOKED to learn that Face/Off was on Netflix. Not only did it inspire one of the greatest HDTGM episodes of all time, but it’s also an amazing example — possibly the paragon — of these huge budget action films that built on the ones of the 80s, casted big time talent and then went nuts. Sure, John Travolta and Nic Cage switch faces in this film and that’s crazy, but there’s also a sci-fi prison, so many lunatic bad guys, gloppy effects and the most awe-inspiring performances by the leads. I will always and forever love this movie and hope to revisit it often. Thank you John Woo!
Instead of sticking specifically to the decade theme, I followed my heart — and John Travolta — into 2001’s Swordfish! I saw this one with my friends the summer between our senior year of high school and freshman year of college. I remembered that time-stopping ball bearing-filled scene and that Hugh Jackman plays a hacker, but that’s about it. He gets roped into this bizonkers plot because of his skills (even though he doesn’t look like a dude who even knows what a computer is). I was surprised at how filthy and over-the-top this one turned out to be, especially Berry! All of that makes it an awesome artifact of the era.
The Marvel Movies
For work this year, I watched just about all of the Marvel movies. For the most part I’ve liked these films — except for one beloved entry that I just can’t get into — but having seen them all so close to each other, I have an even greater appreciation for the storytelling across so many different films with so many different moving parts. I also have an all new respect for the progression of Tony Stark’s character. He starts as this fun-loving guy who realizes how important heroes are to the world and also the darkness that comes from saving the world. I would have loved to have seen happy-go-lucky Tony for ten movies, but this makes more sense.
I also went to the theater to see Avengers: Infinity War TWICE (once for work and once with my wife). Wow, that’s a fantastically plotted film that almost had me crying, also twice. We followed our co-viewing of that with another trip to the theater for Ant-Man And The Wasp which was also ridiculously enjoyable. Count me in for an 80s-set S.H.I.E.L.D. show please!
Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans
Wow, you guys. Have you SEEN this movie? It. Is. Insane. It is the most Cage-y Cage film I’ve ever seen and I’ve checked out a bunch of them. In Bad Lieutenant 2 he’s a cop who’s on all the drugs, deep in gambling debt, trying to solve a murder, super corrupt and dealing with his hooker girlfriend’s problems among other challenges. The deeper he gets into these troubles, the more of a monster he becomes in posture and even voice. Oh, there’s also cameras offering up-close looks at gators and iguanas and a lucky crack pipe. And then there’s the ending…I won’t get into it both because I don’t want to spoil anything and also, I’m not sure I could. In other words it’s wild and confusing and awesome and I want to watch it once a year!