This Week in the Box: Dirty Harry

dirtyharryNote: This Week in the Box is a year-long series where Sam works through the entire Warner Brothers 50 Film Collection box set. To find reviews of the other films in the series and see the complete list, click here.

Dirty Harry opens remarkably darkly. It’s a ballsy move to open your movie through crosshairs, which is menacing enough, but for the first action in your movie to be a sniper killing a woman as she does some swimming, well, that’s something. Continue reading


FoxcatcherFoxcatcher is the true(ish) story (more details on that later) of Mark and Dave Schultz, Olympic wrestlers, and John du Pont, of The du Ponts (as they say repeatedly), a weird old super rich dude with an inexplicable interest in the sport.

Like Captain Phillips last year, this is the kind of real-life story that can accidentally be “spoiled” by googling (while you can’t necessarily spoil real life, you can spoil the plot of a movie, which this has now become). To that end, I’ve put the spoilery bits behind a link after this general section.

Foxcatcher confuses stillness with tension, and slowness for suspense. Lack of dialogue does not automatically mean we’re waiting with bated breath for the next word. Steve Carell is delivering this supposedly revolutionary performance as John du Pont, but he talks so slowly and the rest of the movie moves just as fast. If you were interested, I suppose it could be an effective use of silence, but mostly for me it was just boring.

Contributing to the general boredom factor is the lack of a cohesive plot. It feels episodic, and it doesn’t lead up to anything. There was a point about 3/4 through the movie when I realized that if I didn’t already know that something really dramatic was supposed to happen at the end, I wouldn’t have had a reason to watch anything that happened so far. It kind of ebbs and flows in terms of interest; it seems like the World Championships and later the Olympics are supposed to be key points, but they fall flat. If the parts in between are supposed to be the key points, well, then that completely failed to get off the ground at all.

At one point, Mark (Channing Tatum) says to his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), about his (Mark’s) tenure with John du Pont: “You and I both know I can’t stay here.” and my entire reaction was “Wait, why?” I didn’t feel like anything had happened to warrant such a statement of “Obviously something is wrong.” Perhaps the movie thought it was being subtle, but I feel like it just failed to do anything at all.

The acting is good, but Steve Carell is the least interesting part. Channing Tatum is better, I think, and it feels like he could have been a lot more interesting with more to actually do. Mark Ruffalo steals the show, for me. He’s awesome.

Not Recommended

Review continues with spoilers after the jump. Continue reading


interstellarWhen Inception came out, there was a headline that said something like “Christopher Nolan has done the impossible: taken $160 million dollars and made a good movie with it.” Now, pairing that with Interstellar, I’m completely on board with anything Mr. Nolan chooses to do in the future, with a budget or without. You could argue that I should have already been on board, but whatever. I’ve only seen about half his movies, and don’t remember the non-Inception ones well. I think that Interstellar and Inception together might be the best one-two punch of smart, interesting blockbusters from any director. Continue reading

This Week in the Box: A Unsurprising Programming Note

So! You may have noticed that there hasn’t been a post in, oh, a couple months on this project. While I’ve seen another handful more movies than have been posted about, I’m still woefully behind. The best laid plans of mice and men, etc.

That said, I’m not abandoning the project, because I’m far too stubborn for that. The plan as it currently stands is to not bother with the rest of this year, officially, and start up again with the first week of next year, and again trying for the perfect average of one movie a week. Therefore, you can expect the post for Dirty Harry to appear in the first week of January, A Clockwork Orange in the second week, etc. I did okay for half a year, all I need is another half a year and the project will officially be complete!


nightcrawlerThe Filmspotting podcast refers to a kind of movie they call one-timers. It might be great, but for whatever reason, seeing it once is all you can handle in your life. Nightcrawler is an excellent movie, extremely gripping and remarkably unique, and I never, ever want to see it again.

Jake Gyllenhaal–too skinny, with frighteningly bugged-out eyes and an unnerving amount of eye contact–plays Lou Bloom, a character I’m completely comfortable already calling one of cinema’s great weirdos. His ethics start out broken in a standard way- the opening scene of the movie is him cutting chain link fence to sell for scrap. But it gets way more twisted and unpleasant from there. Stumbling on to the profession by accident, Lou discovers a certain knack for what the movie calls nightcrawling and what real life apparently calls stringing, that is, listening to a police scanner and driving to the scene of accidents and shootings and getting camera footage to sell to network news shows. Continue reading


whiplashThis review contains mild spoilers for Whiplash but you should read it anyway, because the movie is bad and you shouldn’t see it, and then you will be well-informed as to why.

When someone behaves unprofessionally, you have two options. You can react unprofessionally in response, or you can take the high road, be the bigger man, rise above it, etc– we have a lot of ways to convey the same idea. Two wrongs, as we all learned in kindergarten, don’t make a right.

And yet, Whiplash seems to think they do. Or maybe it doesn’t, I’m not even sure. Based on the structure– a kid who wants to be great at something tries really hard and is spurred on by a hard-driving teacher– it seems like we’re supposed to feel for the kid. But Andrew (Miles Teller) doesn’t have a whole lot of redeeming qualities that make him worth rooting for, except for a sad kind of face and the idea that he really really wants it. which means something, right? (Answer: no) Continue reading


BirdmanAt one point in Birdman, while playing Truth or Dare, one characters picks Truth too many times in a row for the other’s liking. As a means of defense, he says, “Truth is always interesting.” That’s not untrue; movies are usually more interesting for pursuing some kind of truth or revealing a new and different take on the world. But truth is subjective. What’s true for person A isn’t true for person B, and how that differs based on who’s thinking it is an even more fascinating topic. Birdman is focused on the latter, but, even more delightfully, it does it without feeling like a movie that’s contemplating a bigger picture.

Also at play: while exploring the nature of truth may be interesting, it’s boring if you never pick dare. Continue reading

Gone Girl

gonegirlGone Girl is too long. It wants to be quick and snappy; the dialogue is often quite snappy, it’s a David Fincher movie and he usually makes snappy movies, the plot is certainly juicy and should hum right along. But somehow, they ended up with a two hour, twenty-nine minute movie, and it certainly doesn’t hum that long.

In spite of the length, which is the only real knock against the movie, it’s got a lot of redeeming features. The acting is very strong all around; it feels like a popular position in recent years to say “Hey, that Ben Affleck guy, he’s not so bad after all!” but you know what? Hey, that Ben Affleck guy, he’s actually pretty good at acting, it turns out. He’s matched evenly by Rosamund Pike, playing the new queen of all crazy psycho bitches, Amy Dunne. And lordy, is Amy a crazy psycho bitch. Continue reading

This Week in the Box: Recap of Films 11-20

charltonhestonHaving now completed 2/5 of the task of watching all 50 films in this box set project, it’s time for another recap. You can find the retrospective on the first ten films here.

We’ll start off the same way, which is listing all 10 films from this batch in the order in which I prefer them, best to worst. Continue reading

This Week in the Box: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

willywonkaNote: This Week in the Box is a year-long series where Sam works through the entire Warner Brothers 50 Film Collection box set. To find reviews of the other films in the series and see the complete list, click here.

Throughout the course of this project, there has been the occasional film that I remembered fondly from my childhood. I wasn’t nervous at the prospect of watching any of them again; while many things I liked as a kid turned out to be terrible, it stands to reason that it’s probably pretty good if it got included in this fancy box set. But of the films I’d seen before, there were none I was more curious to see than Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Continue reading