Once again, in September I saw mostly a mix of thriller/horror films and kid-friendly movies. There’s a surprising amount of Stephen King adaptations out recently: The Dark Tower, which I saw in August, and The Mist TV series, which I saw this month, and of course, It.
I’m dying to see It in the cinema, but we’ll have to wait for November. It should still be in cinemas, now that it has become the highest grossing horror movie of all time, after just four weeks. Maybe I’ll have more nail polish swatches up, then, since I probably won’t be able to sleep for a week after watching it.
What I Saw
- The Wave (Bølgen) 
- Blue Ruin 
- Black Mirror: San Junipero (Series 3, Ep. 4) 
- Hop 
- Sing 
- Stardust  (rewatch)
- Wonder Woman 
- Baby Driver 
- Breaking the Magician’s Code (Season 1) 
- White Gold (Series 1) 
- The Mist (Season 1) 
Mini reviews follow:
The Wave (Bølgen)
2015 | Directed by Roar Uthaug. With Kristoffer Joner, Ane Dahl Torp.
This movie kept popping up in my Netflix recommendations, and I hadn’t seen a disaster movie in a while, so gave it a try on a sleepy evening.
The Wave—2015’s highest-grossing movie in Norway—has a modern setting, but it’s inspired by a couple of other rockslide tsunamis in Norway in 1905 and 1934. In the movie, as you’d expect, the tsunami seems much larger and more destructive than the historical ones.
The story revolves around a geologist in a small tourist village. He conveniently gets a new job and is ready to move his family to Stavanger, one of Norway’s largest cities, but of course things go wrong and the family end up separated just as the tsunami hits. The movie does resemble American-made disaster films in many ways: the effects are good and well-placed, the teenager makes dubious choices, and the death toll is high. But, it also focuses more on the human aspect of the story than the spectacle of the disaster, and coupled with the solid performances of the lead actors, it makes for more interesting viewing if you’re used to bombastic silliness like 2012 and San Andreas. Don’t get me wrong: I still like watching a good old-fashioned, American-style disaster movie. But it’s quite nice to occasionally see one that isn’t completely mindless.
However, in the end, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I’d just subjected myself to a 105 minute Norwegian public service announcement.
2013 | Directed by Jeremy Saulnier. With Macon Blair, Tyler Byrne, Amy Hargreaves.
I’ve actually wanted to see this movie for several years, now, but for some reason I kept putting it off. I’m glad I finally got around to watching it last month.
It’s directed by the same guy who did Green Room, another psychological thriller with elements of horror, and one I admired. Blue Ruin was funded by a Kickstarter campaign—and it’s quite a success story.
The film follows a homeless man (Macon Blair) who, upon learning that a certain man has recently been released from prison, decides to kill him. Like Green Room, Blue Ruin is an economical thriller that wastes nothing. The atmosphere is bleakly visceral and the story builds slowly and relentlessly to its climax. It’s a revenge story that’s spare, suspenseful and even a bit haunting. The ending is, perhaps too predictably, the unsettling kind.
Black Mirror: San Junipero [Series 3, ep. 4]
2016 | Directed by Owen Harris. With Mackenzie Davis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
Black Mirror is another one of those series that took me forever to get on board with, even though I’d added it to my watchlist from the very beginning, in 2011.
It’s created by Charlie Brooker, a British journalist/writer/satirist, and is an anthology series consisting of standalone episodes with different stories, casts, and directors.
I’ve only seen four episodes out of the three Black Mirror series at this point: “White Christmas” with Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall; “Nosedive” with Bryce Dallas Howard; “The National Anthem,” the pilot episode and probably the most infamous one of all; and just this month, “San Junipero,” which has won two Emmys and been widely lauded as the best episode yet.
I don’t want to spoil anything (because I think Black Mirror episodes seem best unspoiled), so I will simply say that “San Junipero” is a love story. And, like most (all?) other Black Mirror episodes, it is set in a different future, contemplating, in Brooker’s own words, “the way we might be living in ten minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.”
It’s such a cliché, but “San Junipero” made me laugh, and it made me cry. Most people see it as the most uplifting episode of Black Mirror, and while I see that, I also see an equal amount of heartbreak. The episode is brilliantly written, directed, and acted—I’m not ashamed to say I kind of ugly cried by the end. It’s maybe not my favorite Black Mirror episode yet (I love the absolutely terrifying “White Christmas” just a little bit more), but it is really beautifully made—a perfect sci-fi short story come to life.
2016 | Directed by Tim Hill. With Russell Brand (voice), James Marsden, Kaley Cuoco, Hank Azaria (voice), Gary Cole, Hugh Laurie (voice), David Hasselhoff.
We put this movie on for the kids one weekend, having never heard of it and figuring that a movie about an Easter bunny would be quite innocuous, colorful, and fun for little ones.
James Marsden (Cyclops from X-Men) throws himself whole-heartedly into playing a young man named O’Hare (of course) who is searching for purpose in life, and by the second act of the movie, he decides that he would very much like to be the Easter bunny. The actual Easter bunny, voiced by Russell Brand, wants to be a drummer, instead. Of course.
The movie is ridiculous, its gags doesn’t always work, and it often feels very derivative. There were a few story decisions that I think they should have left on the drawing board (like O’Hare attempting to put the bunny out of his misery after a car accident—with a large rock!—what?! I had to quickly explain that away for Peanut.) I was impressed by Marsden’s dedication to the part, but overall this movie is pretty much a stinker with few redeeming qualities.
2016 | Directed by Garth Jennings. With the voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly.
Sing, a Minion-free animated film from the Despicable Me studio, has its bright moments here and there, and it’s prettily animated throughout. Yet, its story and characters felt fairly lackluster to me.
Matthew McConaughey voices a koala who runs a failing theater; he comes up with an ingenious (not really) plan to produce a show cast with winners of a singing competiton. Hijinks ensue. The range of music in this is all popular, from Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran to Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Gipsy Kings. The selection basically feels like you’re listening to the soundtrack of an episode of American Idol. There are songs I liked and songs I didn’t—but in all, they felt like a jumble and not as carefully selected for emotional impact as I think could have been done.
Our 3 year-old Peanut lost interest about fifteen minutes in, and I stuck with it because the story started off in reasonably interesting fashion. After about halfway through the movie, I realized it was kind of a lost cause, but I like to finish movies up when I can.
The koala/sheep car wash scene was definitely worth waiting for, however.
2007 | Directed by Matthew Vaughn. With Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Mark Strong.
This wonderful fantasy adventure, based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, was released ten years ago. I saw it way back then, and it’s been a favorite ever since. I’m not usually one to rewatch movies (I’ll almost always prefer watching a new one) but my husband is a big fan of rewatching, so he put on Stardust one day. We are often in need of good movies to put on while the children are around, so Stardust fits the bill reasonably nicely.
It stars a younger Charlie Cox (currently Daredevil on Netflix), Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Robert De Niro in a clever and fanciful story about a young man (Cox) who seeks to retrieve a fallen star (Danes) for Victoria (Sienna Miller), the girl he wishes to marry. However, he’s not the only one searching for such a star: also in pursuit are a trio of nasty witches (led by Pfeiffer) and some equally nasty princes (mainly Mark Strong). There are some fun cameos by Peter O’Toole, Rupert Everett, and Ricky Gervais, and the fairly large ensemble cast also includes the likes of Henry Cavill (looking amusingly dorky), and Ian McKellen (the narrator).
It’s a clever and whimsical fantasy romp, somewhat in the vein of The Princess Bride but not quite as well-structured. Stardust feels a bit more like a television movie than the epic feature it seems that it ought to be, but I’m guessing director Vaughn (who went on to direct Kingsman: The Secret Service, X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass, all of which I enjoyed tremendously) had budget constraints and this movie required a fair amount of special effects. Still, the story and cast are so charming that I must recommend it highly.
2017 | Directed by Patty Jenkins. With Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston.
I’ve never been a comic book reader, and everything I know about Wonder Woman comes from a Justice League cartoon I watched as a kid, and a Wonder Woman children’s book I had. So yeah, all the stuff about her being an Amazon princess named Diana who was brought to life after her mother Hippolyta formed her out of clay, her lasso of truth, and her invisible plane—it all came back to me as I watched this summer’s blockbuster hit. Well, not the invisible plane. They didn’t include that.
I was supremely skeptical going into the movie. For one, I thought that Gal Gadot was really not “Amazonian” enough—I mean, all the other Amazons in the movie looked more physically imposing than she does. I am also not a fan of Zack Snyder (director of 300, Man of Steel, and Watchmen), who produced the movie. But the opening of the movie worked really well, and Gal Gadot seemed convincing enough, so I stuck with it.
It turns out that the things I thought I would mind, I didn’t. I like Gadot as Wonder Woman! (Similarly, I didn’t think I’d like Chris Evans as Captain America, but it turns out I think he’s great. By the way, I realized during the movie that Wonder Woman is totally DC’s version of Marvel’s Captain America.) Chris Pine is even more likable as her guide/love interest, Steve Trevor. Robin Wright is amazing! I don’t even mind all the slo-mo action sequences. I enjoyed that the movie was set during WWI, which seems far less common in movies than WWII.
Where the movie started to fall apart was in the final act, fighting the bad guy. Seriously this stuff didn’t make sense. I was disappointed. Still, fun first and second acts—I particularly liked Diana as a fish-out-of-water in London, having left her native island of Themyscira for the first time. The movie isn’t the best written, though. I really hope they get a better script for the sequel, which I’m pretty damn sure will be coming out in the summer of 2019 or so.
2017 | Directed by Edgar Wright. With Ansel Algort, Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Lily James, Eiza González.
As a fan of Edgar Wright’s work with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are two of my favorite movies), I was keen to check out Baby Driver, which he wrote, directed, and produced.
A young getaway driver called Baby (Ansel Elgort) works with Doc (Kevin Spacey) to pull off Doc’s intricately planned heists. Baby is almost done working off a debt to Doc, but as we all know, you never get out of the game that easily. There are clever twists and turns, and the ensemble cast is uniformly excellent, but the main allure of the movie is the effortlessly cool soundtrack (Baby is always listening to one of his many iPods) that syncs up most stylishly with the choreography. It’s the CoverGirl ad of movies: easy to watch, breezy, and beautiful.
Breaking the Magician’s Code: Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed
1997 | With Val Valentino, Mitch Pileggi.
The poster for this series is really cringe-inducing, which is why I’m going to state up front that I didn’t choose to watch it. My husband enjoys watching these “uncovered” things, so we watched this series on one of our many “too braindead to watch anything else” evenings. Mitch Pileggi (Assistant Director Skinner on The X-Files) is the most incredibly bland host you could possibly imagine—he’s so painfully flat and deadpan that I think it wraps all the way around to being hilarious.
A mystery magician (they later reveal him to be Val Valentino) demonstrates a number of typical magic tricks in each episode, and they expose the mechanism behind each trick. Most are a bit predictable, though a few are quite cleverly done. You soon pick up that anytime something seems unusual or off (in the magician’s/assistants’ dress, in the way a prop is designed, etc.), it’s like that for a reason.
The series’ presentation is super-cheesy, though. Best to be a little drunk while viewing. A much more entertaining magic show is Penn & Teller: Fool Us.
White Gold (Series 1)
2017 | Created by Damon Beesley. With Ed Westwick, James Buckley, Joe Thomas, Linzey Cocker.
I have seen The Inbetweeners, Damon Beesley’s hit BBC sitcom about a group of teens who didn’t particularly fit into any clique, and so had a vague idea of what to expect with his new series, White Gold, which stars two Inbetweeners (Joe Thomas and James Buckley) and is co-written by Thomas, as well.
Luckily, White Gold is a little more grown up than The Inbetweeners was—though not by a huge amount. Set in the 1980s in Essex, England, the series stars the charismatic Ed Westwick (Gossip Girl) as Vincent Swan, a window salesman who is a gigantic, egotistical ass. It’s to the actor’s credit that we don’t instantly loathe him and want him to die in a fire. Or maybe we do, but we want to watch what he does, first. Buckley and Thomas pretty much play slightly more grown-up versions of their Inbetweeners characters, which is fine since they play off each other perfectly this way. The show is snappy, crude, and very funny. Series 2, which has already been greenlighted by BBC, can’t come soon enough. We binge-watched all six episodes of Series 1 on Netflix in three days.
The Mist (Season 1)
2017 | Created by Christian Torpe. With Morgan Spector, Alyssa Sutherland, Gus Birney, Danc Curcic, Okezie Morro, Russell Posner, Luke Cosgrove, Frances Conroy.
As I mentioned up top, there seems to be a Stephen King adaptation revival going on, with hit movie It, dud movie The Dark Tower, plus Gerald’s Game and Netflix’s The Mist all having been released this year.
The Mist was actually adapted about ten years ago as a film, by the same writer/director who did The Shawshank Redemption—which begs the question, why have I never seen it?! But anyway, I ended up watching the ten-episode version that just came out this year. From what I can tell, the story has been changed up a fair bit (as in the nature of the mist itself) and presumably quite a few of the characters are different, as well. The TV version of The Mist is, sadly, very “TV movie”-ish, with mediocre acting—save a few characters—and sideplots that we care quite little about. It was a nice diversion for ten episodes, though by the end I did wonder why I bothered with it at all.
But I’ll have to check out Frank Darabont’s movie version this month. With October comes more horror viewing, of course!
Thanks for reading!
If you have any movie or television recommendations for me, please let me know in the comments. I’m always on the lookout for something great to watch!