In the middle of last year, my friends and I started an informal book and movie club where we would select and discuss books and movies. About a year and a half in, we’ve only picked movies (heh heh, whoops) but across these 30 movies we’ve had a lot of discussion about a wide variety of movies.
If you have reasonable amount of friends – our group consists of six of us – this idea of a book or movie club has the potential to be a lot of fun. We haven’t enjoyed every movie, but each discussion has been enlightening. Here’s a quick review of the 30 movies we selected:
Cloud AtlasDirected by the Wachowskis, Cloud Atlas was a big, bold, long movie, and was the perfect way to start this little experiment. It uses an ensemble cast to tell six stories about reincarnation throughout human history. A cast including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, and Ben Whishaw depict characters in each of the six storylines (with Hugo Weaving appearing as a villain in each story) with the movie cutting back and forth between all six. Relevant to reincarnation, the only real objection I had to this movie was this awkward “yellowface” makeup which many would find offensive. In order to make Hugo Weaving and other white actors look Asian, there is some considerable hair and makeup work. Yes, it is offensive, but also it doesn’t even look convincing. The Yellowface doesn’t ruin the movie, but it has the distinction of being uncomfortable, distracting, and bad.But again, the movie is much more than that, and it’s my only significant complaint. When scrutinized, I’m not sure if any of the six stories could carry its own movie, but when all interspersed together they weave a wonderful tapestry about the human condition. Like I said, this movie is big, and it has big themes. It remains a perennial Movie Club favorite.Short Term 12Short Term 12 was a breakout role for Brie Larson, and an earlier appearance for other actors such as Kaitlyn Denver, Rami Malek, LaKeith Stanfield, and Stephanie Beatriz. Telling the story of the teens and employees living in a group home for troubled teenagers, Short Term 12 is full of great performances and well thought-out character arcs.The Raid: Redemption“This movie was all-killer-no-filler, but I think it actually could have used a little more filler,” one of my friends said about The Raid: Redemption. I don’t necessarily disagree – this Indonesian-produced action thriller is a little bit lighter on story, but more than makes up for it in masterclass action choreography. As SWAT police officers in Jakarta prepare to perform a raid on an apartment building housing and run by a local crime lord. What ensues is a thrilling, perhaps Die Hard-esque SWAT charge through a building full of hostile enemies. With a clear influence of martial arts on hand-to-hand combat, The Raid: Redemption is one of the best action movies I’ve seen, period. I’ve heard that its sequel, The Raid 2 is even better.Dune1984’s Dune was my first pick for movie club. A lot of consideration went into this selection. I had just read the book – which I hadn’t been thrilled about – and the new Dennis Villeneuve movie was upcoming on the horizon (though its been delayed now). I had heard that David Lynch’s movie was divisive, so I figured it would generate some interesting discussion, and it did….…it generated a lot of interesting discussion about how much we all disliked it. Our criticisms weren’t that different from any other criticisms you’d find of this movie – A. Why is there so much exposition at the beginning? B. Why are performances so wooden? C. CGI was not this bad in 1984, was it? D. Why is the pacing so unbalanced? – I don’t know, it’s just a hot mess. This might not be our unanimous pick for the worst movie we’ve watched as a group, but it’s certainly down there.If I can praise one thing about it, I can point to A, an excellent score, composed by Toto, and B, that it has not made me less excited for the upcoming Villeneuve movie.The EndlessI actually wrote about The Endless last Halloween, in this post: Underrated: The Endless [No Spoilers]. It’s an eerie movie about two people returning to a cult they escaped from, which worships an unknowable Lovecraftian monster. I don’t have much to say about this movie that wasn’t said in that post – if you like cosmic horror, check it out!The ProfessionalThe Professional – which is somewhat of a classic – is a rather good movie that interested a lot of interesting discussion in our group. I knew of The Professional, also known as Leon: The Professional, but Jean Reno plays Leon, a hitman who fosters a recently orphaned girl – Matilda, played by a young Natalie Portman – as she prepares to seek revenge on the person who killed her family. This movie’s villain is played by Gary Oldman, which feels a little less common, but frankly, he rocks it. All of our group really liked Gary Oldman, and really like this movie.That being said, some of us watched this movie via streaming service, and some of us watched it on DVD, and across those two mediums we found different cuts of the movie, with the DVD version adding this odd, uncomfortable semi-romantic element (in the movie, Leon is around 45 years old and Matilda is clearly supposed to be a teenager or tween). Looking into the personal life of director Luc Besson only made this reading creepier.But hey, this movie has a a thrilling and hilarious opening action sequence that really sets an interesting tone where it’s somewhat serious, somewhat campy. If nothing else, The Professional is an interesting viewing experience.Speed RacerAll right, hear me out! The Wachowski’s adaptation of the classic Japanese anime Speed Racer is so outrageously fun. I did have a few complaints; particularly, there was one unnecessary plot twist which undid what I thought was a series of compelling moments. But any petty complaints I have about this movie are completely put aside by how much fun everyone is having and how thrilling some of the races are. At the risk of belaboring the point, all I can say is: please watch this movie. It’s got the greatest actor of all time (?) John Goodman! Even if you’re wholly unfamiliar with the source material, you’ll enjoy this one.Sunshine“So it’s in the future, and they’re all on a single spaceship, on their way to the sun.”“What are they going to the sun for?”“They’re going to nuke it.”“Because they want to destroy it.”“No, they don’t want to destroy it, they want to reinvigorate it to heat the earth back up again.”“The earth’s cold?”“Yes.”“Who’s in this movie again?”“Chris Evans and Cillian Murphy.”“Oh, that sounds pretty good!”The above is an actual conversation I had with my girlfriend about Sunshine after watching it for our movie club. And that’s a fairly extensive summation of my thouhgts – Sunhine is an underappreciated and quite good sci fi thriller about restarting the sun in a cold future. The atmosphere is eerie, desolate, and unsettling. Generally, a good movie.The ApartmentI had another funny conversation with my girlfriend about this one – I told her the title and she asked if it was that thriller from a few years ago where all the irresponsible white dudes get an apartment for their affairs and someone gets murdered! Ha, goodness that movie’s silly.Written and directed by Billy Wilder, arguably one of the greatest screenwriters and directors of all time, The Apartment is an absolute classic among romcomsAmong criticisms from our little group was that the pacing was a little slow – but it was acknowledged to be a trait common to older movies. Overall, we all enjoyed this movie. It’s a romcom staple for a reson, wonderfully directed and wonderfully performed.My friend, Hugh, who has written for this blog before and chose this movie, asked that his turn be delayed so he could choose this movie closer to the holidays, since it is something of a Christmas/New Years movie. I had the pleasure of rewatching this with him for this round of movie club, and we both found ourselves laughing out loud at the tiniest things. Genuinely, this movie is quite, quite funny.Band of RobbersMy second pick! Again, this is another movie I had wrote about in my Underrated series: Underrated: Band Of Robbers [No Spoilers] I suggested this one to our group after I had watched it a few times. As I felt while writing that post, I chose it for movie club because it’s an enjoyable movie that might not get enough attention otherwise.Band of Robbers reinvents Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn stories into a Coen Brothers-style crime comedy, propelled by character growth. I love it, but among all the members of the group there were a variety of reactions, most of which were positive.In BrugesI’ve written before about Martin McDonough’s Seven Psychopaths, and his previous movie, In Bruges, is arguably a more impressive, more consistent movie. After botching a murder, Colin Firth’s character, a hit man, is sent to Bruges, along with his boss’ right hand man – their instructions are to lay low and enjoy the old, medieval city while they wait for their boss’ instructions. The movie from there becomes a sorrowful dark comedy with an incredible thematic depth. To speak to how great this movie is, Ralph Fiennes plays the mob boss – a role with a lot of volatility but also a fair amount of pathos – and this is one of my favorite performances of his – including Voldemort and Gustave H. from The Grand Budapest Hotel.ParasiteListen, I don’t know what I can say about Parasite that you didn’t hear at the Oscars in February – it won Best Direction, Best Foreign Film, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture. There’s no praise I can heap on this movie that the Academy didn’t. I had the distinct pleasure of being one of those pretentious people prior to the Oscars who got to say “Ohhhhh, you haven’t seen Parasite? Oh, that’s so American of you! That movie’s terrific, you must see it.” And my point still stands, it’s really great – go watch it.Alita: Battle AngelThis movie’s… good? No, mixed. The movie creates an ambitious world showing a fascinating conception of the future and an overpopulated earth – and I did love seeing more of the world these characters lived in. You can feel logical consequences of all human cultures being constantly in contact with each other and having easy access to cyborgs. Unlike a lot of SciFi movies, this one felt genuinely interesting and unique view of where humans might be in so many years – neither too dreary nor optimistic.I’d be remiss not to mention the CGI, even though I can’t quite formulate an opinion on it. Was the title character a true-to-life illustration of what a cyborg would look like, or was she an Uncanny-Valley-nightmare?And also, y’know what, I’m just gonna say, Mahershala Ali is a top-notch actor, and this movie absolutely does not utilize him.I know I’ve been critical on this movie, but generally, I thought it was all right. If you watch the trailer and think you’d like it give it a watch. Though, I suppose you shouldn’t get too attached, since a sequel looks unlikely. Though, my friend, Dan, did us the favor of reading through a lot of the Alita manga, and a lot of it sounded absolutely insane.This movie is definitely ambitious, and it led to a lot of interesting decision about when that ambition did or did not pay off, and that’s the main impetus behind the movies we pick – this movie had a lot going on, and I appreciated that.Miller’s CrossingThis is actually another movie with an interesting world, but obviously, for completely different reasons. The early set-up parts of this movie create an image of this fun and funny world in the era of American prohibition. The city in which the movie is set – never given a specific name – is beset by two gangs, one Irish, one Italian – and manages to be the setting for a lot of interesting conflict. It’s a bit of a Yojimbo/Fistful of Dollars with this fun, romanticized 1920’s charm. There were a few scenes I found to be genuinely hilarious.Movies by the Coen Brothers tend to use Steve Buscemi a lot, and I was both elated and disappointed by Steve Buscemi in this movie – elated because his cameo was absolutely hilarious, but disappointed by the fact that it lasted less than a minute. Other than Steve Buscemi’s 30 seconds, I wouldn’t say anyone’s performances in this movie are great. Everyone else does fine enough, I suppose.This movie suffers from what I call the “Pirates of the Caribbean 3 problem,” where they get so up their own asses with plot threads and double-crosses that it hampers your enjoyment of the movie. It’s as hard and futile to remember what happened at the end of Miller’s Crossing as it is to remember what happened in the middle hour of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.But y’know what, this movie’s a lot of fun – if you enjoy other Coen Brothers films and haven’t yet watched this one, definitely make a point of seeing it.8 MileIronically, 8 Mile has aged far better than Eminem’s music. This movie’s okay, and it doesn’t feel cringe-y the way that a lot of entertainment from the early 2000’s can. I feel like a lot of people my age or older might have listened to Eminem in middle or high school, and have since grown out of it, but 8 Mile actually manages to be a compelling story about pursuing art in the face of poverty.The only thing which irritated me was the fact that the main character does so many dumb things without thinking, and he faces no consequences for them. Honestly, it would probably be pretty dumb if this movie about rap battles constantly had to stop so that Eminem’s character could accept responsibility for *minor spoilers I guess* burning down an abandoned house or sleeping with his girlfriend AT work.But yeah, this movie’s good – decent character development and the rap battles are fun.The Death of StalinAnother pick of mine! I don’t mean to retread ground I have already covered, so its worth mentioning that I used this movie as a lens through which to look at the Trump Administration in a post earlier this year – certainly, I expect that we’ll get a comedy about the absurdity of the Trump White House, and this should be the blueprint for such a movie. And to think I wrote that before Four Seasons Total Landscaping!This movie makes a dark comedy out of the end of Josef Stalin’s regime – the laughs are there, but so is the tragedy and human toll. This movie walks a fine line of darkness and comedy, and does it quite well.Mortal KombatMovies adapted from video games have a reputation for being awful, and Mortal Kombat stays true to that. This movie’s quite bad. It’s the only movie that I would rank lower than Dune – and I hope in saying “that movie based off of a fighting game is bad,” I don’t necessarily need to elaborate. But that being said, it wasn’t wholly lacking fun. The fight scenes were decent, and the Mortal Kombat theme would blast at certain pivotal moments, and that was always a blast. Not enough to redeem this one, but enough to make it not a total waste. Don’t watch it unless you have to.Castle in the SkyLike a true fool, I had never seen a Studio Ghibli movie before, and this was an excellent one to start with. This was just after the launch of HBO Max, which has all the Ghibli movies. I plan to watch some more, soon hopefully. This one was a delight – its easy to see why these movies have such passionate fans. The world is charming, the characters are charming, Mark Hamill dubs one of the characters. This movie’s a great time.Hidden FortressHidden Fortress was one of the Akira Kurosawa movies said to have a substantial influence on George Lucas during the creation of Star Wars. The two bickering main characters of Hidden Fortress were clear inspirations for R2D2 and C3PO. It’s an old-cinema style Samurai adventure that has a bit of an episodic plot and slower pace.Unfortunately, I seemed to be the only person who really enjoyed this one. The two characters said to inspire R2 and 3PO were… rather unlikeable, and had a bit of a rushed character development at the end of the film, but I found the other characters in this movie to be generally well-developed.I was impressed by quite a few sequences in this movie, including this exciting slow-burn sword fight, a visually striking fire ritual in the middle of the movie, and the last few minutes were a whole lot of fun.So, while I can’t guarantee you’ll enjoy this one, I can say that I liked it.The Thief of BaghdadThis is another old movie which oddly, suffers from slow pacing. From 1940, this movie adapts stories from the Arabian Nights tales. Props need to be given, for 1940, this movie has some of the most amazing special effects, with one of the earliest uses of what we know today as green screen. Another adventure movie, it’s fun and episodic, and again, I feel like the pace gets hampered by the fact that the narrative never really settles on a main character. While we certainly didn’t hate any character in Thief of Baghdad as much as we did the bandits in Hidden Fortress, I feel like I didn’t love any of the characters the same way I loved the Toshiro Mifune’s samurai in Hidden Fortress, or the princess he fights for.Overall evaluation: this movie’s pretty neat, especially if you’d like to see early special effects. Otherwise, I don’t know, maybe watch a trailer before you get into it.Reign of FireReign of Fire is kind of bonkers. It’s a solid, underappreciated movie. It’s a post-apocalypse movie in which the characters, led by Christian Bale as a village leader and Matthew McConaghey as a rather… melodramatic American soldier. Only, it’s not a standard post-apocalypse situation; the world is overrun with dragons.Again, the special effects look great relative to the time – the dragons look nearly as good as the dragons from Game of Thrones, appearing nearly a decade before them. And the worldbuilding is great – seeing the little village and the small society the characters have built is neat. And the action sequences make the dragons seem genuinely scary.But the characters in this movie – outside of Christian Bale’s lead, the characters are all relatively flat and uninteresting. The final product isn’t amazing – it’s fine. If you think you might enjoy it, or are entirely down for a movie that makes dragons seem genuinely quite scary, this would definitely be worth watching – but by no means essential.Mad Max 2: The Road WarriorI had seen the first Mad Max film and the most recent, Fury Road, which you might not recognize as the same franchise if you didn’t know any better. The first movie to create a bridge from the world we see in Mad Max to the one we see in Fury Road is one of the great genre-movie sequels – Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.Road Warrior far surpasses the first movie. This time around, the world is – well, yes, a little bit more post-apocalypse, a little more dreary – but it’s populated with colorful characters, an interesting depiction of post-apocalypse in day-to-day life, and there’s a hilarious – if violent – scene with a boomerang.Watching this right after Reign of Fire really hammered home one strength of this movie – the minor characters in the town where the movie is set were excellent. This was lacking from Reign, but in Road Warrior, I found myself caring about the characters minor and major very much. This can do wonders for your enjoyment of a film.This certainly seems to be the first movie to do the type of thing where bad guys in post-apocalypse stories are wearing all of this leather clothing, and finally seeing the origins of that, I feel like there’s a bit of a homophobic basis to that, since a lot of the villains are gay and depicted as being mostly depraved. I never quite got that whole aesthetic, and now I feel like there’s a bit of a deliberate and homophobic commentary there. As I often say, this didn’t ruin the movie for me, but it’s important to think about.The climax of the movie is this amazing car chase, full of incredible practical effects – it’s easy to see how this movie lead to the eventual masterpiece of Fury Road. If you liked Fury Road, you’ll like this one.Face/OffNot every campy, silly action movie has a clear grasp on what it is, but certainly, this movie knows it’s a dumb, schlocky, action movie, and is very proud of that fact.For those unfamiliar, Face/Off is a movie with John Travolta playing an FBI agent and Nicolas Cage playing a world-renown criminal. After Cage’s character is evidently killed in the first few minutes, the FBI uses advanced technology that can allows Travolta to go undercover in Cage’s body – unfortunately for Travolta, Cage can snatch his body. So we basically get Freaky Friday as an action thriller, which is an absolutely delightful idea. If you’re not excited by that premise, check your pulse because you might be legally dead.This movie’s not perfect, but fuck, it is so fun. Part of me just loves body-switching movies, because there’s a lot of fun performance work you can do – Travolta is imitating Cage imitating him, and Cage is imitating Travolta imitating him, to a certain extent.I could talk more about specific action sequences or specific elements of characterization, but no, for the sake of brevity, let me just say, if you like action movies that are fun and just a little bit silly, give this one a try.AliensDo I need to talk about Aliens? Probably not. I was ashamed I hadn’t seen this one, despite seeing the first movie – but not too ashamed, since about half of our group hadn’t seen this one. It rightfully earns its spot in the pantheon of sci-fi and horror classics. This movie is so solid that I find myself with little to critique. I will say that I prefer the first movie more, preferring the eerie, cabin-fever limitations of the spaceship as opposed to the outpost the action in Aliens takes place in, but this movie certainly delivered on the premise in the title – more aliens. And it delivered big – this movie is a hell of a sequel; it’s great.The ConversationThe Conversation is a Francis Ford Coppola movie, released the same year as The Godfather Part II. It’s a thriller, starring Gene Hackman as a man who is an expert in surveillance technology, who keeps thinking back to one very fateful conversation which he eavesdropped on.The Conversation has quite a few interesting elements – I liked how the movie kept cutting back to that titular conversation, and I liked – this will sound like I’m full of it – the sound design. It does this weird thing where the characters go to a surveillance convention technology in the middle, which I felt like temporarily derailed the plot and shifted the tone, but that’s about the only complaint I had for this one. This movie had one of the best closing scenes in any of the movies on this list – it’s deeply unsettling. It’s hard for me to recommend this movie to anyone in particular because I feel like there’s a broad audience for this movie.What’s Up, Doc?This movie – though I watched it by myself – was one of the best viewing experiences I’ve ever had. This was the lighthearted comedy I needed in 2020; a true tour-de-force of humor. I started laughing in the first few minutes and I did not stop laughing for the who length of the film. I had one friend who seemed not to enjoy it because he found the characters difficult to sympathize with, but almost everyone loved it.This had a great performance from Madeline Khan – and every time I watch a Madeline Khan movie, I finish it and say “I think she might be the greatest actress of all time.” That remains true here.I tried to think of how best to easily summarize the plot, but just so much goes on that it gets incredibly difficult to describe that I had to turn to IMDb’s description: “The accidental mix-up of four identical plaid overnight bags leads to a series of increasingly wild and wacky situations.”I’ve been trying to recommend these movies to specific audiences, but fuck it, everyone should watch What’s Up Doc, it’s a comedy masterpiece.Mon OncleThis movie was one of the most unique experiences we’ve had in this group – it’s an older movie from France, filmed and set in post World War II France. None of us loved this movie, but we all thought it was pretty good. I was pleased with the setting of this film – a quaint French village with a neighborhood full of houses with cutting-edge technology, making this fun juxtaposition of old and new. And the characters were nice and had some nice character arcs. This is a cute movie.Horrors of DraculaThis was a neat watch – Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as Dr. Van Helsing, what more could you want?! This was one of my picks and we all generally enjoyed it. Christopher Lee had a tremendous screen presence, and every scene he was in felt elevated. If I have one objection, I didn’t love that this movie so quickly ended the introduction sequence where Jonathan Harker is trapped in Dracula’s castle. This is solid, old-school, campy horror – pretty fun!My Dinner with AndreYou might know this movie from the episode of Community spoofing it, which is how I first heard of it. Out of all the movies we watched, this one almost indisputably provoked the most discussion, and I would argue that the discussion it brought about was the most profound. Telling the story of a feature-film-length conversation between two friends which tackles huge, existential topics; what does it mean to be truly alive? This movie isn’t something that can’t be easily pitched or summarized – this movie challenges its viewers, and is certainly worth watching.Palm SpringsI really enjoyed Palm Springs – a large portion of group was luke-warm on it, but I loved it.I’d recommend going into this completely without knowing what happens in this one, so I’ll say as little as possible here.A lot of people in our group compared it to another movie – and if you know Palm Springs‘ gimmick, you know which one I’m referring to – but I hadn’t see that one so maybe I loved this more than the others, but I’d still highly recommend it. It’s a movie that made me laugh quite a few times, but also had some thematic depth, and really explored the genre it’s in. This movie is both fun and good, and I highly recommend it.Anyhow, that was the first thirty! I really enjoyed this little experiment my friends and I did, so if you’ve got a group of buddies who really enjoy movies, maybe set up a little club to watch movies with! This has been an absolute blast – and if you read each of those reviews, thank you!
If you had a movie club, what would your first pick be?