Verhoeven and Other Strange Things: August ’15 in Film

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My viewing patterns in August weren’t as simply trackable as they were in the previous month. While I did tend to veer toward releases from the past five years – a full half of the movies I watched/rewatched were from the 2010s – I tended to dabble in a little bit of everything genre-wise. Moreover, I sort of meandered from the Pixar theme that I was following throughout July; as of now, I still haven’t given BraveMonsters University, or the Toy Story films a rewatch, nor have I gotten around to Cars 2 which is the only Pixar I’ve yet to see (I’ve been avoiding it because of… reasons). Nonetheless, I still want to make that post covering how I would rank the films from the studio. Who knows, maybe I’ll even throw in the Pixar shorts into the mix!

A couple of interesting things have happened in the past short while. Back in April, I started getting a little more active on my Letterboxd account again by posting a list called Ladies Getting Head. As one could guess, it contains a lot of narrative films when scenes depicting women being on the receiving end of oral sex, meant to challenge the wrong assumption that sex only works in the benefit of men and at the expense of women. I’ve gotten many recommendations from people and the list reached 100 likes faster than any of my previous lists (including Bizarre/Obscure/Underrated Cinema, which is veering closer to the 700 likes mark day by day). Near the end of August, as a sort of “part two” of my overall feminist film project, I posted Men/Boys Crying, which features narrative films that have scenes where a male-identifying human character visibly tears up. While I have yet to reach 100 likes on this list, I did get my own tweet from Letterboxd’s Twitter page, as well as a mention on their monthly email newsletter. I am very happy for these achievements and plan on making more lists like these in the future!

Without futher ado, here is the full list of films that I watched this past month, asterisks indicating rewatches.

  1. Cars (Ranft & Lasseter, 2006)*
  2. They Live (Carpenter, 1988)*
  3. Harmontown (Berkeley, 2014)
  4. Irrational Man (Allen, 2015)
  5. The Stanford Prison Experiment (Alvarez, 2015)
  6. The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie (Hillenburg, 2004)*
  7. The SpongeBob Movie: Fish Out of Water (Tibbitt, 2015)
  8. Creep (Brice, 2014)
  9. Sinister (Derrickson, 2012)
  10. The End of the Tour (Ponsolt, 2015)
  11. Best of Enemies (Gordon & Neville, 2015)
  12. Fantastic Four (Trank, 2015)
  13. Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (Chow, 2013)
  14. Teenage (Wolf, 2013)
  15. Starship Troopers (Verhoeven, 1997)
  16. Three From Prostokvashino (Popov, 1978)
  17. Kung Fury (Sandberg, 2015)
  18. Becket (Glenville, 1964)
  19. Home (Johnson, 2015)
  20. The Three Caballeros (Ferguson et al., 1944)
  21. Pain & Gain (Bay, 2013)*
  22. Straight Outta Compton (Gray, 2015)
  23. Rugrats Go Wild (Eng & Virgien, 2003)
  24. Mortal Kombat (Anderson, 1995)
  25. Total Recall (Verhoeven, 1990)
  26. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (Ritchie, 1998)
  27. My Bloody Valentine (Mihalka, 1981)
  28. Basic Instinct (Verhoeven, 1992)
  29. Runaway Train (Konchalovsky, 1985)
  30. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (Smith, 2001)

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Since I work at a movie theater, I have the privilege of watching whatever movies we’re playing completely for free. The catch is that the theater I work at mainly shows independent, foreign, and documentary films, many of which I probably wouldn’t know much about otherwise. Some of these I’m not very impressed by, as was the case with The End of the Tour, a biopic starring Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg playing, respectively, writer David Foster Wallace and Rolling Stone journalist and interviewer David Lipsky. While I can appreciate both of the actors’ undisputed talents, I felt the film to be poorly paced and its climactic conflict very contrived. Even worse is Woody Allen’s latest effort, Irrational Man, with some of the laziest character and dialogue writing I’ve seen in within the thirty-something films of his I’ve watched. Overall, I could probably even truthfully call this his worst film yet.

Yet, for every bland, boring, utterly preposterous films I watch at my theater, I also stumble upon some real gems. I checked out Morgan Neville’s documentary Best of Enemies, featuring the famous television feuds between Gore Vidal and William Buckley, a communication that could be accurately described as chocolate and vanilla. Both of their utter hatred for each other, combined with their sneering intellectual wits and jabs, make their debates a rather entertaining spectacle and the filmmakers make a great decision to play this archival footage without interruption or commentary from an outside party. One of the best that I’d watched from the past month, however, was The Stanford Prison Experiment, based on the true events of a social experiment featuring the role-playing of various students in prison guard or prisoner guises. This film could have turned out terribly wrong, but with its perfect pacing, spot-on performances, and chilling ambience overall, I couldn’t take my eyes away for one minute. The rest of this year has to be absolutely mind-blowing to prevent this from earning a spot in my year-end top ten.

The-Spongebob-Squarepants-Movie-spongebob-squarepants-17198537-1360-768

This may be showing my age a bit, but I am a huge fan of SpongeBob Squarepants. I grew up watching the show and still enjoy watching some of the classic episodes every now and again. Likewise, The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie has always been a beloved animated film for me, and last month’s rewatch reassured everything I love about it. The clever jokes and fun characters are still there, but the entire product is one-upped by a higher budget. This factors into some more grotesque animation, awesome cameos (David Hasselhoff?), interesting music choices (Motörhead?? Ween???), and a slightly more convoluted plot than 12-15 minutes would initially allow. It’s an awesome little gem of a film and one from which I think anyone who loves animation as much as I do would find some fun.

If all this is true, I’d say that the most recent SpongeBob movie, The SpongeBob Movie: Fish Out of Water, represents pretty much everything I dislike about the current series at this point. Much like The Simpsons and Ren & StimpySpongeBob Squarepants has become one of those cartoons that I believe has overstayed its welcome, only remaining on air for the sake of the rating it continues to generate for Nickelodeon. Unlike the first four seasons, SpongeBob lately has become lazily-written and obviously catering to a much different crowd than that who initially fell in love with the show nearly two decades ago. Unlike the first movie, which seemed to be a consistent flow of exciting jokes and surprises just around the corner, Fish Out of Water is a constant barrage of cliché and bad puns that always seem to fall flat. Some of the animation in the second half is impressive, but once this climax kicks in the CGI animated bits are simply ugly and unnecessary. As a whole, Fish Out of Water is composed of a bunch of little plots that have been implemented much more successfully in some earlier seasons of the show; I would recommend anyone to watch those instead wasting time on this drag of a film.

starship

For some reason, I got really into Paul Verhoeven’s filmography this past month. Perhaps it’s because of the coincidence that some of his films were leaving Netflix soon, but that’s not so say I’m a stranger to his work. It’s been a couple years since I watched RoboCop, but I thoroughly enjoyed that; even more notable, Showgirls is one of my favorite entries in trashy cult cinema. Early in August, I finally got into Starship Troopers and I would have to say that this film is my favorite of his work. Super corny and satirical, it has so many elements that I love to see in movies, there was just no way that I wasn’t going to love this movie, in all its extravagant splendor. Shortly after, I got around to Total Recall, a film that I enjoyed quite a bit, but probably more for its wild concept and awesome special effects than for its general treatment of women. Thirdly, I watched Basic Instinct, a film that gets talked about more for its one notorious shot and less for the actual concept of the movie itself. While its noir-ish atmosphere is one to appreciate, it is, however, pretty chauvinistic and a rather forgettable film as a whole, one that seems to not know when it wants to end.

netflix_creep_still_v2

For a brief time this past month, I got really into horror movies again. Perhaps this was due to my annual October horror-thon being right around the corner – or maybe it’s my rewatch of They Live at the start of the month in honor of the late Roddy Piper (it’s still awesome). Nonetheless, I watched three other very differing horror films throughout this month, the first being Patrick Brice’s Creep. I recently watched Brice’s latest film The Overnight which wasn’t too impressive; what was impressive about Creep, however, was the sheer minimalism of its form to create a truly unsettling atmosphere. Outside of this, however, it’s pretty boring. While I find more things to appreciate about it the more I think about it, it doesn’t change the fact that the actual viewing experience is much like watching paint dry – not to mention that its protagonist has close to no redeeming factors and is, thus, devoid of any sort of sympathy I’d expect to make the plot’s circumstances reach its full potential. I also rewatched Sinister in anticipation for its sequel and it’s still one of the scariest, more effective horrors to come out in recent years. Finally, I watched the original My Bloody Valentine; much like Friday the 13th, while I wouldn’t call it a “bad” movie per se, it’s a bit hard to find much merit in it when so many other films have perfected what is suggested in the narrative’s overall concept. Nice try, guys.

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2 Responses to Verhoeven and Other Strange Things: August ’15 in Film

  1. Have you seen any of Verhoeven’s Dutch films?

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