Random Movies: Best to Worst

Dirty Dancing

I had seen bits and pieces of Dirty Dancing over the years, but never watched the whole thing from beginning to end until recently. It’s fun and charming, and sometimes unintentionally funny, but also surprisingly feminist and sex-positive. I actually think we’ve regressed a little since Dirty Dancing came out.

Just like when I watched The Graduate, I was surprised by how much I honestly enjoyed this movie, without having to  grade on a curve based on when it was made. Even though it’s specifically set in the 60s, the story has a timeless feel. It’s a little bit dorky, but it’s also well-crafted, and it made me wish that more contemporary mainstream movies were about regular people doing regular things instead of joining The Avengers.

10 Cloverfield Lane

I was spoiled for this by an excellent article on The Verge that explains how the movie is about women overcoming abuse. That’s the only reason I bothered to watch it, and I’m glad I did, because it’s pretty great. It’s part of the Cloverfield franchise, so there are extra-terrestrial happenings eventually – which I think worked just fine – but most of the story is this creepy, claustrophobic thing where a woman wakes up chained to the wall in some guy’s basement and she has to figure out whether he’s telling the truth when he claims he’s trying to help her. Aliens notwithstanding, it could be seen as a darker, more realistic version of Black Snake Moan. Watching it with the article in mind, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a really smart, layered movie that’s equal parts disturbing and uplifting and doesn’t waste a single scene or even a single line of dialogue along the way.

Six Degrees of Separation

I was initially a little bit put-off from watching Six Degrees of Separation because all I knew about it was what Shomi told me, and Shomi told me it was about an upper-class white couple who had their lives turned upside down when a young Will Smith came to stay with them. However, the allure of Stockard Channing, Will Smith, and Donald Sutherland having screen time together won out and I watched it anyway.

It turns out it’s not a wacky situation movie. Instead, it’s a very serious movie based on a stuffy, Pulitzer-winning play that’s based on the real life story of a conman who pretended to be the son of Sidney Poitier. It’s about race and class in an esoteric, abstract way. I found it boring, but it was well-acted and at least offered a point of view, which is more than I can say for another Donald Sutherland movie on this list.

Delirious (1991)

I fucking loved this movie when I was a kid, but I watched it for the first time as an adult a few weeks ago and didn’t love it quite as much. The conceit is that John Candy’s character is a TV writer who hits his head and wakes up inside his TV show. He soon discovers that he can control the world around him by scripting it on his typewriter, and engages in a wish fulfillment fantasy where he writes himself to be the most amazing person ever, winning the love and admiration of all the other characters in the fictional town he’s trapped in.

A lot of the movie is still funny – in particular, the self-aware jokes about what a self-involved attention hog the main character’s being, which blew past me when I was seven – but the A-plot is an awkward love triangle that hasn’t aged especially well. The idea is that Candy’s character’s nursing unrequited love for one of the actresses on the show, so he writes himself into an elaborate romance story where her character finds him attractive. The actress and the character are both total assholes, and the lesson he needs to learn is to see that and move on, but it’s complicated by the icky fact that he can control her mind and make her do and say and feel whatever he wants. To the film’s credit, he actually gets skeeved-out at himself at one point, when he realizes that.

The point of the story – if I may spoil it for you – is that there’s another character on the show named Janet, whom he didn’t write, and doesn’t find especially interesting. It turns out in the end that Janet is the right woman for him, because a) she’s not an asshole and b) it’s our individual, unpredictable quirks as human beings that make us better partners than imaginary people. Except it’s weird, because Janet still is an imaginary person. Just not an imaginary person Candy’s character controls. As the story wraps up, the movie seems to get confused and think that Candy’s love for Janet in all her individuality should automatically transfer to the young actress who’s just been cast in that part, and that the young actress will necessarily grow to love him, too, but… that doesn’t make any sense.

Basically, Delirious is a fun, self-aware wish-fulfillment fantasy, but only to a point.

The Witch

I was so fucking stoked to see The Witch. And I waited a super long time, because I heard it was scary and I didn’t want to be scared in the theatre, so I counted down the days until pay-per-view. And then I pay-per-viewed. And wasn’t scared.

The Witch is a cool idea – it’s set in old timey New England, and everyone talks in old timey New English, and walks around on meticulously researched sets, wearing meticulously researched clothes. What I got from the early reviews is that it’s supposed to be scary because people used to live this way – similar to us, but different enough that it’s kind of uncanny. That’s a feeling I get when I look at artefacts from around the 1600s in a museum, and it’s deliciously unsettling.

The divisive point among critics was the fact that, as far as this movie is concerned, the Devil is real and so are the Crappy Magic Powers he sells you in exchange for soul. That doesn’t bother me so much in principle – even though a lot of real people were tortured to death under the lie that they had magic powers from the devil. My issues with The Witch are manifold, but basically boil down to this:

  1. What I pictured in my mind, when I was told, “A super religious patriarch moves his family to an isolated farm and starts to suspect his eldest daughter of witchcraft in an age when it was acceptable to terrorize and beat the shit out of women and children” was a lot more horrifying than anything that happens in this film. My hesitation to see this in theatres was one part not wanting to be scared, one part not wanting to be grossed-out, and one part not wanting to confront a story about family violence in a setting where I couldn’t turn it off and take a break. It turns out the last thing doesn’t factor in at all, and I’m not exactly sorry about that, but it meant I was bracing myself for something a lot darker and heavier than I actually got. Even considering the part where the devil wants to murder everyone, this felt like a pretty candy-ass trip to an isolated farm with a religious patriarch who starts to suspect his eldest daughter of witchcraft.
  2. Once you strip the weird dialect out, the substance of what the characters are saying isn’t that profound. The protagonist, Thomasin, is angry because her parents keep blaming her for stuff that isn’t her fault and ignoring all the bullshit things their younger children do. That’s 98% of the movie. There’s a big confrontation near the climax of the film, where the substance is basically Thomasin’s dad saying, “Thomasin, it’s okay if you’re a witch, but you just need to tell me if you are” and Thomasin saying, “OH MY GOD, YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME!! I’M NOT A WITCH!! WHY DON’T YOU EVER ACCUSE THE YOUNGER KIDS OF WITCHCRAFT?! IT WAS PROBABLY THEM!!” Like, for real, there’s a reading of this movie where the whole entire thing is just about how much it sucks to be the eldest child.
  3. Some reviewers have been calling this super feminist because of spoilers, spoilers, spoilers at the end, and I disagree. The ending is surprising, but the devil gets exactly what he wanted from the start, and there’s nothing empowering about that for anyone else.

The Witch is worth seeing as a novelty, but it’s not either what I feared or hoped it would be.

Trainwreck

I vaguely remember this movie. I thought it was somewhat funny.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

I hated this movie. I watched it just to see how terrible it was.

The one thing that was sort of interesting about it is that they had nothing riding on it – it’s the last movie in a franchise that’s been losing popularity and they could do whatever they wanted. It literally didn’t matter if anyone liked it or not. And, I’m sad to say that that’s probably why such a large portion of the story is driven by women. Like, literally, all the male actors take a back seat to Jennifer Lawrence and Michelle Forbes and Julianne Moore and Natalie Dormer and Jena Malone and Elizabeth Banks and Gwendoline Christie and even Patina Miller, the one black woman who managed to sneak into a supporting role.

It makes me even more pissed-off that this is such a boring, pointless movie.

The Age of Adaline

I vaguely remember this one, too. As I recall, Blake Lively can’t get old, so she dates some guy and dumps him, and then starts dating his son a few decades later and it’s weird and icky. But also not an idea I’ve already seen a thousand times.

The Night Before

All I remember about this is that Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen and probably some other people wear Christmas sweaters and try to go to a really good party, but they have to take a lot of drugs along the way. I’m guessing they also learn a lesson about friendship.

Image: Dirty Dancing; Lionsgate | September 24, 2016