What Else I’m Watching: June 2013


A former monthly column at John Likes Movies comes back. Why? Because you can’t review them all.

Sadly, life gets in the way of writing about everything I see, so this space is as much for keeping track of what I’m watching as it is for you to share your thoughts on what are (at least this month) a group of high-quality films.

Cloud Atlas

(2012, 1 viewing)

It’s truly a bummer I couldn’t catch up with this epic adventure from The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer on the big screen. Also a bummer I didn’t see it before the end of 2012 because it certainly would have landed on my top ten list. The word “epic” hardly gets at what these three directors manage to pull off. By interweaving six stories that are separated by centuries, the film becomes a bit of a hodgepodge, but each story is at worst compelling, at best totally thrilling, and seeing the pieces of the puzzle move together is so much fun.

Before Sunrise

(1995, 1 viewing)

Yes, I’m one of the lucky few who’s able to watch all three films in Richard Linklater’s “Before trilogy” in succession for the first time. No tortured nine-year wait to find out what Jesse and Celine are up to, and thank goodness because my heart wouldn’t have handled that wait well. I was struck by the ease at which Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy find each other, and the long-take approach serves the film (and the series) extremely well.

Dan in Real Life

(2007, 5+ viewings)

This subtle but charming dramedy provided one of the more enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had at a movie theater. Three close friends (one of whom would become my fiance) and I were the only ones in attendance to see Steve Carell bumble through a family reunion. We laughed a lot—and drank a medium amount—and as such, I’ve always had a soft spot for the movie. I tend to revisit it once a year or so. It certainly isn’t great moviemaking, but I find it quite comforting and extremely watchable.

Django Unchained

(2012, 2 viewings)

Confident. That’s the word I’d best use to describe Quentin Tarantino’s latest, which placed on my Top 10 Films of 2012 list and didn’t lose a step after a first rewatch. The characters are confident. The dialogue is confident. His handle of the craft is confident. It’s a wildly entertaining film—maybe not his very best, but that’s an impossible bar to reach and does great films like this a real disservice.

The Revisionaries

(2012, 2 viewings)

Maybe it was my yearning for Jon Stewart that drove me back to Scott Thurman’s documentary about the fight to control textbooks in the state of Texas. After all, my review out of Tribeca 2012 (where this was my favorite film) said fans of The Daily Show would find a lot to enjoy about The Revisionaries. I’m a big fan of both, as you can probably tell, and I’ll recommend this film to just about anyone. Your blood might boil a bit, but there’s a human element to The Revisionaries that you’d never expect.

Chasing Ice

(2012, 1 viewing)

This documentary was shortlisted by the Academy last year and managed to get a nomination—but not for Best Documentary Feature. It was a gorgeous song recorded by none other than Scarlett Johansson that earned the film its lone nomination, but don’t let one Oscar nod (or zero, or ten) be the sole basis for you watching or not watching a film—particularly one as good as this. Chasing Ice, it seems, is a very appropriate title for a group of photographers and geologists working to capture beautiful but terrifying evidence of climate change in the form of time-lapse images of melting glaciers. Informative on a number of levels, and satisfying on almost every level.


(2013, 1 viewing)

I wanted to kiss this film. It’s easily one of the most immaculately constructed movies of 2013 so far. But like To the Wonder, which I was similarly mixed on, the story holds it back quite a bit. Stoker is nothing more than a half-baked horror story that’s short on scares and high on…really weird shit. I was involved but nothing about the film lingered.

The Informant!

(2009, 3 viewing)

Matt Damon gave one of my favorite performances of 2009 in Steven Soderbergh’s film, which defies classification as much as anything that’s come out since. It’s certainly a comedy; I laugh out loud a lot whenever I watch it. Damon’s narration is just so bizarre and humorous that I can’t help but enjoy watching The Informant!, even if it is, ultimately, a film about price fixing in the corn industry.

Before Sunset

(2004, 1 viewing)

Richard Linklater’s second “Before” film surpasses his first thanks to an overwhelming sense of sorrow and regret that pervades the picture. Everything you like about Before Sunrise is present here—the long takes, the thoughtful conversation, the sizzling chemistry between Hawke and Delpy. But this is a rather melancholy movie—poignant and beautiful.

The Virgin Suicides

(1999, 2 viewings)

Speaking of melancholy, Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut touches on the suicide of five teenage girls—a tragedy by any stretch of the imagination. Coppola’s true achievement—something that eluded me a bit when I first watched this film years ago—is the very Coppola-esque playfulness that helps make the film emotionally palatable. Also incredible is the way she makes no party in this tragedy evil. Even the girls’ parents, played so brilliantly by James Woods and Kathleen Turner, are sympathetic to a degree. What a rich movie. I’m so happy I’ve rediscovered it. (Read more of my thoughts on Sofia Coppola movies.)

Broadway Danny Rose

(1984, 1 viewing)

I had a late month Woody Allen kick, as you’ll see, and it began with this oft-forgotten comedy that came in the midst of his Mia Farrow period and right between two exceptional Woody Allen movies—Zelig and The Purple Rose of Cairo. Compared to those two gems, this one comes up a bit short. Its structure, which focuses on a group of older men reminiscing about the film’s title character, is initially clever, but ultimately sets the film up for disappointment. The story doesn’t live up to what’s promised by these old geezers sitting around Carnegie Deli. But it’s fun. And Farrow is great. So thumbs mildly up.

The Purple Rose of Cairo

(1985, 1 viewing)

Thumbs way up for Allen’s next movie. A pure fantasy in the vein of Midnight in Paris, The Purple Rose of Cairo asks us not just to believe a movie character can come through the movie screen, but that he can do so and exist quite independently of the man who created the character. Mia Farrow falls in love with both the character and the actor (Jeff Daniels doing brilliant double duty), and in the end, she makes a choice that snaps herself and us out of a romantic fever dream in an emotionally crushing way.

Match Point

(2005, 5+ viewings)

Woody Allen’s most serious film since Crimes and Misdemeanors. I’m not in league with those who feel Allen improved on his 1989 masterpiece with this film, if for no other reason than the fact that Scarlett Johansson is no Anjelica Huston. That said, I’ve seen this film a whole ton of times, and I think it’s simply on fire. Richly detailed characters come together and create chaos in London’s one percent. It’s horrifying and sexy and a definite top-five Allen picture in my books.


(1983, 1 viewing)

Arguably one of Allen’s most experimental pictures, Zelig might just be unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It’s a faux-documentary about a man with “chameleonic tendencies,” meaning he can physically and mentally adapt to any situation or group of people. It’s told through grainy 20s-style newsreel footage. It’s got an all-knowing narrator and interviews with some of the “subjects” decades later. The whole thing is beautifully whimsical and extremely entertaining. Another possible top-five Woody Allen flick.

Shadows and Fog

(1991, 1 viewing)

As the 1980s ticked on, Allen’s output became less and less successful. His concepts, however, were consistently interesting, and there’s something about a German expressionist Woody Allen movie that sounds fantastic. The execution falls extremely flat, and just about the only fun thing about Shadows and Fog (outside of the sumptuous lighting and angles you’d expect out of a German expressionist movie) is playing spot-a-star. John Cusack, Kathy Bates, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Madonna, and others have bit parts—some hilarious, some hilariously odd.

For more thoughts on what I’m watching, when I’m watching it, follow me on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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