Taken (2009) *watched on July 1* – Let’s start the month with something awesome!
I’m shocked it took me this long to finally see Taken, the movie that made Liam Neeson one of the biggest action stars in the world. He obviously delivers in this movie, written by Luc Besson, as former government operative Bryan Mills, who brings back his “particular set of skills” once his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) gets kidnapped by a group of sex slavers. Of course, the story is nothing new and it does take time to get going, but the pace does pick up once Neeson makes his iconic phone call (which I can still recite to this day). The action is about as brutal as anyone would expect and viewers will easily sympathize Mills’ hunger for revenge. Definitely no masterpiece, but Taken makes for one thrilling ride. I refuse to see any of the sequels.
On the Town (1949) *watched on July 5* – Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Leonard Bernstein. What more do you need in a classic movie musical? On the Town is definitely no Singin’ in the Rain, but it contains plenty of memorable music numbers, charming characters, and humor to go along with the story of three Navy sailors trying to make every minute count on their 24-hour leave in New York City. Awesome stuff!
Rumble Fish (1983) *watched on July 6* – After directing The Outsiders, Francis Ford Coppola adapts another S.E. Hinton novel Rumble Fish. This is a more brutal movie than its predecessor, starring Matt Dillon as Rusty James, who spends most of his time on the streets of Tulsa hanging out with his friends. One day, he begins to earn some much-needed guidance from his brother known as “The Motorcycle Boy” (a scene-stealing Mickey Rourke). Its artsy approach might not be for everyone’s tastes, but Rumble Fish is one gorgeous-looking film with its use of clever angles, symbolic uses of color in a few sequences, and rock-solid performances by its talented cast (not to mention, being the acting debut for Nic Cage).
Hamilton (2020) *watched on July 8* – Why spend thousands of dollars if you can watch a recorded version of the hit Broadway musical on Disney Plus? Hamilton has become a worldwide pop-culture phenomenon after its premiere, which boosted such stars as Lin-Manuel Miranda and Daveed Diggs into stardom. Containing footage from Manhattan’s Richard Rodgers Theater in 2016, I couldn’t be anymore amazed. Depicting the life and career of Alexander Hamilton from being an orphaned immigrant to becoming the first Secretary of the Treasury, the staged musical, completely told in song, beautifully blends hip-hop, jazz, R&B, and pop music. Although slightly sluggish, this is funny at times and quite amazing. Miranda, Odom Jr., and Diggs are, of course, a ton of fun to watch, Jonathan Groff steals the show with his sassy rendition of King George III. I highly recommend watching this with an amazing surround system.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009) *watched on July 12* – Remember when Team Edward and Team Jacob were a thing? Apparently, I do…and I’m trying really hard to forget it. But I digress.
Before watching the sequels for the first time, I watched the first Twilight for the first time since middle school. Although not the worst movie I’ve seen, I still find it dull as hell years later. Now–onto New Moon. I have never seen anything like it, and not in a good way. I’m not surprised to hear Robert Pattinson admitting his sheer hatred for these movies. This movie is a massive failure on almost every level. Every actor looks like they are sleepwalking throughout the whole movie (Taylor Lautner easily gives the worst performance in the series as Jacob Black, the manipulative jerk Bella falls for after Edward leaves for Italy), the dialogue ranges from cringe-worthy to unintentionally hilarious, the pacing sucks, the action sucks, and the look is about as dull as the murky rain in Washington State. The werewolf fights look so cartoonish I was expecting a big cloud of dust to form up.
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010) *watched on July 13* – Thank goodness Eclipse is one hundred times better than New Moon. One thing I liked in the first film is how it gives insight on how the Cullens came to be. This movie contains more backstories of the coven as well as the Quileute tribe, described by Jacob’s father Billy (Gil Birmingham, one of the only decent things about the saga), the action is much smoother than its predecessor, and it has plenty of tension. However, all of it gets distracted by the boring-ass love triangle. Is it just me, or is Alice looking more like a young Liza Minnelli with each Twilight entry?
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (2011) *watched on July 14* – The end is near. Bella and Edward get married…with consequences that arise while on their honeymoon. After the first hour, the pacing begins to go slower than molasses coming out of a jar. Breaking Dawn – Part 1 goes into soap opera territory with its hokey dialogue and lack of action.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (2012) *watched on July 14* – The best thing about its conclusion is Green Day playing during the credits. After seeing that creepy-ass CGI baby, Breaking Dawn – Part 2 does get slightly better until a climax that will leave you feeling frustrated. I will never know what the hell Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning are even doing in this series; they both served little to no purpose whatsoever. Call me brave for finishing these movies.
My Darling Clementine (1946) *watched on July 20* – Maine native John Ford was one of the most influential filmmakers who ever lived. From being in the Navy during World War II to winning four Oscars for directing such amazing films as The Grapes of Wrath and another movie of his that I will talk about after this classic Western.
My Darling Clementine tells the story of Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda, a frequent collaborator of Ford) stopping in Tombstone who takes a liking for Doc Holliday’s lady friend Clementine (Cathy Downs). I assume Tombstone is an awesome movie, but this is a subdued take on one of the greatest myths ever told with its patient pace and terrific performances. Shot on location in Monument Valley, the Old West has never looked so stunning. One of the greatest Westerns by an amazing director.
How Green Was My Valley (1941) *watched on July 22* – Based on Richard Llewellyn’s novel of the same name, How Green Was My Valley won five Oscars including Best Director for John Ford and Best Picture of 1941. Here’s an unpopular opinion: I prefer this movie over Citizen Kane. It’s told from the point-of-view of Huw (Roddy McDowall), the youngest member of the Morgan family, a coal mining family in Wales, living in the dawn of the 20th century. There has never been a movie about life that is portrayed more beautifully than what Ford brings here. The movie works on every level: the performances, the cinematography, the dialogue, and the narrative. It’s easy to see why Jeopardy host Alex Trebek describes this as his all-time favorite movie.
First Cow (2020) *watched on July 24* – I have yet to see more movies from American indie director Kelly Reichardt. The first movie I’ve seen from her was Wendy and Lucy, starring Michelle Williams as a woman going to Alaska to find work with her dog Lucy. Although it doesn’t move at the fastest pace, there wasn’t a single moment that felt forced. It’s a rarity for a movie to feature enough realism.
Her latest, First Cow, will test the patience for many mainstream viewers. However, I find it to be nothing short of a miracle. It’s a subtly moving portrait of friendship between American survivalist Cookie (John Magaro) and Chinese immigrant King-Lu (Orion Lee) as they try to make ends meet in the Pacific Northwest in the 1800s. With a talented supporting cast including Toby Jones and Ewen Bremner, a haunting guitar score by William Tyler, beautiful cinematography, and a wonderful story, First Cow is a slow-burning journey that will definitely be on my list of the best films of 2020.
White Oleander (2002) *watched on July 25* – It’s such a shame Alison Lohman hasn’t starred in a lot of films after starring in Drag Me to Hell (which I watched four times this month). I learned she has been married to Mark Neveldine (of Crank and that godawful sequel to Ghost Rider) for over ten years and has three kids. Hopefully, she will make a comeback eventually. I wonder if Sam Raimi will offer her role in Doctor Strange 2 (I doubt it, but I have hopes).
I think Lohman is a charming actress who has been in a handful of movies I enjoyed including Big Fish and Matchstick Men. In White Oleander, based on Janet Fitch’s book of the same name, Lohman leads a marvelous cast including Robin Wright, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Renee Zellweger. I was afraid this movie would be too corny. Although it is a bit outdated, there are plenty of surprises to be found here. I love movies that show sheer sincerity in its writing. Kudos to Mary Agnes Donoghue’s screenplay, it brings forth a poetic approach into its tragic narrative. As Astrid, Lohman graces the screen as we see her character evolve going from foster home to foster home with a new identity–either converting to Christianity or volunteering at swap meets. It’s not an easy movie to watch, but it is compelling.
The Mask (1994) *watched on July 27* – I have actually seen snippets of The Mask years ago, but haven’t got the chance to watch it in its entirety…until just recently. This is the first movie to use CGI for a more cartoonish effect. Although a little outdated now, at least they don’t look as mortifying as Son of the Mask. This is Jim Carrey’s show, through and through. His comedic talents come into play when he puts on the mask, giving enough energy and hilarious one-liners and film references. Not a masterpiece, but it’s good for enough laughs. Also…
“It’s party time! P-A-R-T…WHY? Because I gotta!”
Pure Country (1992) *watched on July 28* – Everybody–young and old–loves George Strait. His cowboy appearance and neotraditional style has made him one of the biggest country music stars in the world, along with Alan Jackson and Luke Combs among others. Pure Country (which, apparently, is the first of a trilogy) marks the first major film role. Not surprisingly, his remarkable performance as Dusty Chandler, a big country star taking a break from touring with his band to head back to his childhood Texas home, is more than enough to make up for the film’s flaws. The narrative might be a bit corny and predictable, but it has a great soundtrack and it will leave you smiling once the credits start to crawl. This also stars Kyle Chandler in his acting debut.