Movie Watch 2016: Shakespeare

Chimes at Midnight (1965)

Sorry Shakespeare lovers! Orson Welles’s film about Falstaff has moments of brilliance, including a suitably ambiguous portrayal of Prince Hal by Keith Baxter, but I found myself drifting in and out of consciousness with boredom. Of course, I’ve always thought Falstaff to be overrated.

The Merchant of Venice (1980)

Though this version of The Merchant of Venice is basically a recorded performance, it is a clear and complete (or nearly complete) production of Shakespeare’s most controversial play which manages to illuminate the characters’ complex motivations. If you don’t mind a little dryness and low-budget cinematography, I recommend it.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1990)

Tom Stoppard directs a respectable adaptation of his own wonderful play about two interchangeable characters in Hamlet. It’s philosophical and humorous, and it features two of my favorite actors, Tim Roth and Gary Oldman, along with a well-cast Richard Dreyfuss as the Player.

Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000)

This wordy comedy is difficult to adapt (and read), but it can be a joy to watch. Kenneth Branagh and his cast do an admirable job, pairing the original text with songs by Gerswhin, Porter, and the like. The newsreel footage is great fun, but the movie loses steam and feels overly long.

Movie Watch 2016: For kids!

Here’s a quick rundown of the “children’s” movies I saw in 2016:

WALL-E (2008)
I finally saw Pixar’s WALL-E, which features an adorable robot who harbors a love for Hello Dolly. The first half of the film is lovely, but the second half, which introduces round humans (also cute), has an incredibly simplistic take on how humans need challenges to thrive.

Coraline (2009)
Coraline‘s beautiful stop-motion animation and creepy premise set my expectations high. In spite of several amazing set-pieces, the plot is thin (I have not read the book, save one passage–this is criticism of the movie) and not as original as I had hoped.

Peabody & Sherman (2014)
This spinoff film of the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon series is about the relationship between a father and son, in which the father is a genius time-travelling dog. It is overstimulating and features (intentionally) ridiculous history “lessons,” but it is fairly entertaining.

Cinderella (2015)
The live action version of this fairy-tale is not revolutionary, but it is a sweet ode to kindness, with a charming performance by Lily James as the titular Ella.

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
Another stop-motion feature with gorgeous animation, Kubo is an epic story about the power of storytelling. However, the script’s attempts at wit are not as impressive as the striking visuals, and the characters feel underdeveloped. It is still worth checking out Regina Spektor’s cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” arranged by Dario Marianelli.

Movie watch 2016: True stories

Of the documentaries I watched this year, I highly recommend Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), Werner Herzog’s magical documentation of some of the oldest cave paintings in the world. I go into more detail in my review.

I also recommend the very different, more flawed, and quite eerie documentary The Imposter (2012) (see my review here) about a missing boy who ostensibly shows up on the other side of the world, seemingly a completely different person.

Trailers for the Oscar-winning Spotlight (2015) promised a powerful commentary on sexual abuse and responsibility. This fictional portrayal of The Boston Globe‘s investigations of child abuse in the Catholic Church is well-acted, particularly by Mark Ruffalo, but somehow too brief and light. It depicts community culpability and creates believable characters based on real people, yet its brisk-moving plot and a slick running time, usually positives, do not allow it to be the searing and poignant movie it could have been. I still recommend it, but don’t expect anything life-changing.

All three films are available on Netflix streaming.

Movie watch 2016: Horror

In 2015, I saw The Babadook, an excellent horror film about a widow dealing with a difficult young son. One of his picture books that depicts a terrifying monster known as the Babadook seems to haunt them. The movie is available on Netflix, and I highly recommend it.

I didn’t see a horror movie that matched the suspense or artistry of Babadook this past year, but I did watch several interesting (and not so interesting) horror pieces.

Recommended:

The Witch (2015) follows a Puritan family in 17th century America who descend into paranoia when witchcraft is suspected to cause a tragedy. Though not “the scariest horror film in years,” as Collider says, it is a disturbing and beautifully shot indictment of religious hysteria (though the fervor is apparently warranted, due there being little suspense as to the actual existence of witches) with a script based on authentic old(e) school texts. Almost humorously dramatic at times, Witch features a straightforward plot and a thrilling ending. One disappointment: after hearing that the pet goat deserved an Oscar, I found his appearance to be far too brief.

The awkward, funny, and unsettling Creep (2014) depicts an ill-advised answer to a Craigslist ad. A videographer, the very tall Aaron, travels to an isolated location to meet Josef in order to film him for a day. Josef announces that he is dying of cancer and wants to make a video for his unborn son. His penchant for jump scares and a threatening wolf mask he calls “Peachfuzz” unnerves Aaron, but he feels sorry for the needy Josef. Creep is a found footage film that is sometimes too obviously improvised, but its creepy conclusion makes up for its flaws. Available on Netflix streaming.

In Honeymoon (2014), two newlyweds, Bea and Paul, embark on a honeymoon to a cabin in the woods near a lake, with no cell service or cable. The first half of the film focuses on the couple and their almost annoying giddiness and inside jokes. Their naturalism might not be incredibly gripping, but it is essential to the story’s turn for the worse. The lovers’ believable affection for one another makes their deteriorating relationship all the more effective. Bea starts behaving strangely, but she pretends nothing is wrong, in spite of Paul’s increasing agitation and alarm. Honeymoon is good for what it is, a small, slowly unfolding horror movie. Available on Netflix streaming.

Not recommended:

Fade to Black (1980) is a bizarre and campy story of a cinema-obsessed young man with a Marilyn Monroe fixation and a nasty mother. Unsurprisingly, this loner snaps and turns to violence and full-time escapism as he dresses as monsters from classic films. If this sounds good to you, see it, but it might be too goofy for most.

I had only heard good things about It Follows (2014), but, though atmospheric and beautifully shot, it felt like a let-down. The the rules of a curse in which a sinister “thing” follows its victims are too vague to be particularly suspenseful. The characters are not very well-developed, and the sexual transmission of the curse (suggesting sexual abuse, STDs, fear of sex, etc.) struck me as unoriginal and unimaginative. Available on Netflix streaming, for those who disagree with me.

While Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak (2015) is a visually sumptuous gothic romance, it is not particularly scary, shocking, or haunting. Its portrayal of men and women in a horror film is rather refreshing, but the story did not stick with me.