Movie Recommendations Thread

John asked me to create a permanent movie recommendations forum in the shape of a comment thread. Et voilà!

Comments

  1. #1 John Massey
    January 3, 2016

    Then I’d better put something on it.

    Do not waste your time watching “The Man from U.N.C.L.E” – it is vastly inferior to the 1960s black and white TV series, of which I was a boy fan, and there’s simply no excuse for that with the medium, actors and resources they had to work with. People raved about the recreation of the 1960s in the film – no, it sucked. It’s not badly directed, but the basic screenplay is just rubbish. Nothing happens; at least, nothing interesting.

    Do watch “The Martian”, although I would class it overall as moderately good rather than brilliant. I thought the 2014 movie “Interstellar” was a better scifi space movie, to be honest – I loved that film.

    The reason I suggest to watch ‘rather good’ films is because I have watched literally hundreds of films since my first retirement (because I watched very few while working in my previous job), is that by my rating, the ratio of ‘rather good’ to ‘a waste of time’ type films is at least 1 in 10 or even 1 in 20.

  2. #2 Silvia Leahu-Aluas
    Indianapolis, IN
    January 4, 2016

    In the category the sadness and tenderness of the human condition: “Bread and Chocolate” (“Pane e cioccolata”), Italian, 1974, Nino Manfredi

  3. #3 Martin R
    January 4, 2016

    Thank you Silvia!

  4. #4 Eric Lund
    January 4, 2016

    I saw the new Star Wars episode during my vacation, in an old school (1924) movie theatre with excellent acoustics. That’s the way to see these movies. I don’t know about Sweden, but the trend in the US has been toward multiplex cinemas, and I find that the experience is seldom worth the asking price.

    I won’t put any spoilers in here, in case one of your readers hasn’t seen it yet, but here are my impressions: Better than the prequels, but not the groundbreaking experience that the original movie (Episode IV) was. There are significant similarities with the plot of Episode IV, but the new one is more explicitly violent–not just the arcade game shooting of the original. There’s also a scene that would not have been out of place in a Leni Riefenstahl film. And there are lots of sequel hooks for Episode VIII: major characters with mysterious backgrounds, potential for this episode’s Big Bad to return as Darth Vader did, and so on.

  5. #5 Martin R
    January 4, 2016

    Riefenstahl: are you thinking of the baddies’ infantry muster?

  6. #6 Phillip Helbig
    Tyskland
    January 4, 2016

    Off the top of my head, in no particular order, some films I recommend, without my usual italicization of titles. Note: these are what I think are good, not necessarily popular, nor influential, nor innovative, nor deep.

    any of the famous films by Bergman
    anything by Kubrick
    Fried Green Tomatoes
    From Russia With Love
    On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (the best Bond film, really, despite the actor in the title role)
    City Lights
    Solino
    Jenseits der Stille
    Das Boot
    Bye Bye Brazil
    Ran
    Dansen med Ragitze
    Der Untergang
    My Dinner with Andre
    Dead Poets’ Society
    Cyrano de Bergerac (with Depardieu)
    Fitzcarraldo then Burden of Dreams
    Nosferatu (both Murnau/Schreck and Herzog/Kinski versions) then Shadow of the Vampire
    Being John Malkovich
    A Fish Called Wanda
    The Meaning of Life

  7. #7 Eric Lund
    January 4, 2016

    Martin@5: Yes, that’s the scene that comes to mind. Of course, the director’s intent was to establish that the Bad Guys really are Bad Guys, but the implementation was a bit over the top. The superweapon demonstration would have been enough–the analogous scene with the Death Star at Alderaan was enough in Episode IV. To say nothing of various scenes that came before the Triumf des Willens scene.

  8. #8 Thomas Ivarsson
    Malmö
    January 5, 2016

    Fanny and Alexander(Bergman)
    Twelve Monkey(Terry Gilliam)
    Cabaret
    The Others(with Nicole Kidman)
    China Town
    Apocalypse Now
    The Maltese Falcon(with Bogart)
    Dr Strangelove
    Blade Runner
    Clockwork Orange
    Roma(Fellini)
    Amacord(Fellini)
    Smiles of a Summer Night( Bergman)

  9. #9 John Massey
    January 5, 2016

    I couldn’t possibly clear my backlog of recommendations – I have watched literally hundreds of films starting in 2012. My main mission will be to report what I think is a good film (or a dud) going forward – no spoilers, just a recommendation.

    But I have to mention one film that (1) I hated on first viewing, but (2) have loved ever since. That’s Ironman 2. Super-heroes are supposed to be admirable, but I found Robert Downey Jr totally irritating, narcissistic, obnoxious and incomprehensible, until I went back and watched Ironman 1 – then I got it – the character of Tony Stark played by Downey has Asberger’s and I totally get it – he is supposed to be that way, and he does it brilliantly, and I must have watched Ironman 2 about 10 times now. Forget Ironman 3, they left out Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow, and that was a really really big mistake.

    In fact, time is running out fast for them to give Scarlett her own Black Widow movie before she really starts to look too old to be credible as an action figure. I will always watch her films because she is such a good actress, but if her own stand-alone Black Widow movie is going to happen, it needs to happen very soon.

    Um – on likes, I seem to match Thomas better than anyone else.

  10. #10 Thomas Ivarsson
    Malmö
    January 5, 2016

    John Massey. There are so many good movies but at 54 years of age soon ,am loosing interest in new movies.

    The last James Bond Movie was actually quite good.

    Other titles that came to my mind:

    Lawrence Of Arabia
    LA Confidential
    The first Matrix Movie, but the smart IT scenography became old very quickly.
    Mystic River(Clint Eastwood)
    Inception(Leonardo DiCaprio)
    Minority Report(Spielberg)

    All are movies that I can see several times.

  11. #11 John Massey
    January 6, 2016

    Thomas, that’s why I enjoy the Avengers movies – some of the super-hero characters date back to the comics when you and I were boys.

    If you haven’t watched the first Captain America movie, it’s an absolute cracker. Most of the film is set during WWII and everything is gloriously steampunk. It was really well done.

    Another timeless film that I have watched 5 times is The Last of the Mohicans. I read that in comic form when I was 9 or 10. I couldn’t afford all these comics myself, of course, I used to read the stash of comics possessed by neighbouring kids – to pay for that privilege, whenever we played cowboys and indians, I always had to be the indian. It’s no joke running around with no shirt on in mid-winter, even in south western Australia.

  12. #12 Silvia Leahu-Aluas
    Indianapolis, IN
    January 6, 2016

    Films directed by Lina Wertmüller (Italian), highlights Seven Beauties, Swept Away

    All the mornings of the world (Tous les matins du monde), French, 1991 with Gerard Depardieu, who is making a total fool of himself nowadays, but who was a great actor

    The Return, Russian, 2003

    The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen), German, 2006

    The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza), Italian, 2013

    One tiny PC note on age: it does not matter the age of the actor/actress, all the action is fake.

    Speaking of age and its irrelevance for great acting and good films:

    45 years, English, 2015, with Charlotte Rampling

  13. #13 John Massey
    January 7, 2016

    Scarlett Johansson will be thrilled to learn she can still play the Black Widow in super-hero action movies when she’s 70.

    Or reprise her role as an 18 year old in Lost in Translation.

  14. #14 John Massey
    January 7, 2016

    BTW, so as not to diss anyone, you might want to note that Scarlett Johansson performed a lot of the stunts herself in the Ironman and Avengers movies, which required a lot of physical training on her part.

  15. #15 John Massey
    January 7, 2016

    As for Depardieu, he admitted in one interview fairly early in his career that he had raped a number of women. You can add that to car theft, grave robbing and various other nefarious activities. So his recent antics are not something new – his personal behaviour in real life has always been criminal. The man is a boorish thug and always has been.

    That hasn’t prevented various governments from heaping honours on him, which just reinforces my conviction about politicians.

    In fairness, he’s not the first actor to be a thug in real life, and doubtless he won’t be the last.

  16. #16 Martin R
    January 7, 2016

    Wasn’t the rape thing a mistranslation of Fr. assister, which can mean “be present at”?

  17. #17 John Massey
    January 7, 2016

    I don’t know, I saw only an English translation of the interview. But leaving that aside, he has a long history of antisocial behavior, even if they were ‘minor’ crimes.

    I still think he is a brilliant actor, but I have to mentally disassociate my awareness of his behavior in real life to enjoy his performances.

    I have to do the same, to a much less extent, with Scarlett Johansson. I think she is a brilliant actress and one of the best of her generation. In real life, she is frankly a bit of a ditz who has done some things that I regard as just plain stupid, although they were not things that harmed other people.

    She has a second career, by the way, as a singer. I would class her as good but not great; i.e. I would be willing to sit in a comfortable bar somewhere listening to her for a couple of hours, but would not bother to buy her CDs or attend a concert.

  18. #18 John Massey
    January 8, 2016

    Rules about choosing movies on Netflix:

    1. Avoid anything with Dolph Lundgren in it. He’s a chemical engineer, not an actor.

  19. #19 John Massey
    January 8, 2016

    Some time I’ll do a piece on Chinese movies, once I’ve gathered my thoughts on the subject. Suffice for the moment that there are some brilliant ones, or that have brilliant aspects – unsurprisingly, Mainland film makers are very good at staging big spectacular scenes with thousands of extras, but they also have some technically outstanding cinematographers, plus some exceptionally good actors and directors. They are also notably good with things like historical accuracy in relation to, say, Chinese Bronze Age military weapons and armour, which is a real bugbear with me. If I watch an historical film and details like that not right, it puts me right off. Perhaps it shouldn’t, but it does.

    I also had zero tolerance for films in which people could fly, but I’ve mellowed a bit on that. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of fantasy in the right context.

  20. #20 John Massey
    January 8, 2016

    I watched a Netflix movie tonight that I am going to recommend as worth watching. It is the 2015 film “Blunt Force Trauma.” Bear with me, it’s better than it sounds, or at least different, and it boasts Freida Pinto as the lead actress.

  21. #21 John Massey
    January 23, 2016

    Anatoly Karlin has weighed in and also opined that Ex_Machina was the best film for 2015.

    All Netflix movies watched since last post have been unmitigated garbage, even those involving some fairly highly respected actors. Basically, it is clear to me by now that when it comes to movies, either Netflix just markets the rubbish that no one else wants, or that I am extraordinarily good at choosing good films to watch. I suspect mostly the former, and a bit of the latter.

  22. #22 John Massey
    January 23, 2016

    Having been rendered desperate by watching a series of the most execrable films on Netflix, I have weakened and splashed out on renting a film from iTunes called Sicario, starring Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin.

    No spoilers, but I have to say this film is not for the faint hearted, and it is not in the least uplifting. It will not leave you feeling good.

    But it is probably the best film I have seen so far this year.

    I’m now wondering whether to weaken further and watch 1) Pan, and 2) the second episode of Maze Runner (having been underwhelmed by the first episode of what it obviously a franchise intended to appeal to teenage boys).

    Pan is a retelling of the Peter Pan story, obviously aimed at kids. The trailer makes it seem a bit like Harry Potter with pirates. From the films of his that I have seen, any film starring Hugh Jackman is neither brilliant nor very bad, so it might be worth a look. But Rooney Mara is in it, I suspect seriously badly miscast in the role of Tiger Lily, which does not make me feel optimistic.

  23. #23 John Massey
    January 24, 2016

    The critical response to Sicario bears out my own assessment of the film (it doesn’t always) – that it is one of the best films to come out in 2015. It has been nominated for a string of awards, which are pending.

    So I have no guilt feelings about recommending it, despite its rather dark nature and lack of feel-good ending.

  24. #24 John Massey
    January 25, 2016

    Diablo (2015) – This is one film I don’t mind plot-spoiling for, because under no circumstances should anyone waste their time and money watching it.

    I can only imagine that some writer wrote a story about schizophrenia in an American Civil War veteran seven years after the event. It could even have been quite a good story. Unfortunately, in trying to translate this story into a film, the screenwriter and director have been hopelessly inept in finding a way of representing the schizophrenia on the screen. The device they have settled on has resulted in a nonsensical film that is totally meaningless.

    Seriously, give this stinker a big miss. It could be a genuine candidate for worst film ever made.

  25. #25 John Massey
    January 30, 2016

    Maze Runner part 2 = Boy’s Own Adventures. I suggest you skip it unless you are under 14 and male.

    I watched the black and white 1965 film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance because I had never seen it and always wanted to. Don’t bother, it’s very dated and mostly just shouting. Surprisingly, despite the all star cast of Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne and Lee Marvin, the acting is lousy, and so is the direction.

    I also watched the 1995 film Good Will Hunting, which came out during my toobusyworkingtogotothemovies period. I enjoyed it, largely due to the cynical humour from the late Robin Williams, and can see why it garnered the accolades that it did at the time – the acting is very good, as is the direction. But it also comes across as dated. I guess we have learned a lot more about autism in the last 20 years – there are no happy endings or miracle cures through therapy. The best that can be hoped for, for people on the Autism spectrum, is that some of them find a way to live semi-normal lives without severely pissing off the rest of us.

    I watched The Condemned 2, for only one reason – it co-starred Wes Studi, who is one of very few full blood Native Americans (he is 100% Cherokee ancestry) who has built a somewhat decent career in film (as an actor, director and producer in his own right). People might remember him as the vengeful Magua in The Last of the Mohicans, in which he was brilliantly evil – he has the face for it. Well, I’m going to plot spoil, because they gave him second billing (which he does deserve as a very good actor and director), but in the film he gets killed in the first 10 minutes. After that, the film is just nonsensical violent garbage. Don’t watch it. It would have been a much better film if they had given old Wes a decent role, because at least the man can act and has an interesting face, which is more than can be said for any of the others. Do not watch it, it’s just a waste of time and money.

  26. #26 John Massey
    February 3, 2016

    The Throw Aways (2015) – a cross between an ‘action’ movie and a comedy, and a failure at both. Don’t bother.

  27. #27 John Massey
    February 5, 2016

    When I spotted the 2015 film “Hot Pursuit”, starring Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara together in an ‘action comedy’ I thought it couldn’t miss. The critics absolutely panned it and said it didn’t work at all, but I’m often at odds with what the critics say, and on this occasion I was definitely not going to believe them, so I ignored it, at my peril, as it turns out.

    I’m a bit of a Witherspoon fan (her performance in the JR Cash biopic Walk the Line was nothing short of brilliant, and she made the otherwise crushingly boring 2014 film Wild worth watching), and Vergara is a classic with her carefully butchered English. The on-screen chemistry had to be brilliant. Vergara is 1.80m, even without the 6″ stilletos super-glued to her feet; Witherspoon claims to be all of 1.56m (standing on a box,maybe). Vergara is a bombshell, and Witherspoon is like a cute super-serious little schoolgirl. It had all the makings of comedy brilliance.

    Well, it turns out that the only time Reese Witherspoon is side-splittingly funny is when in real life she’s videoed rat-faced drunk and being arrested for disorderly conduct by a Georgia State Trooper who was about 2 feet taller than she was. On the screen she’s about as funny as a wisdom tooth extraction. And with no effective straight person to play off, Vergara’s mangled punchlines fell flat as well. The chemistry you would expect just didn’t happen.

    What a disappointment. The film is an absolute stinker. Both women look gorgeous enough to eat, but the film had me cringing in embarrassment for both of them. I’ll bet they both deeply regret making it. This to them will be like Catwoman to Halle Berry – it will be the film they should never have made. All 3 are beautiful women, and it takes a special talent to make them look bad on the screen, but they managed it.

    Don’t. It’s a real shame and a terrible waste of talent and money, but don’t watch it. You are likely to think less of both of them if you do, and they don’t deserve it.

  28. #28 John Massey
    February 16, 2016

    At last a film I can recommend – the 2014 Austrian-German film Das finstere Tal (The Dark Valley). The film is in German, with subtitles. Excellent. The German sounds a bit strange to my High German ears, but intelligible enough.

  29. #29 John Massey
    February 19, 2016

    Here’s an excellent film I can recommend without reservation; it’s the 2013 Australian film “Charlie’s Country”, starring David Gulpilil.

    For anyone who wants to see real Australian Aboriginal people and what life is like for them now, this film is perfect. I thought Gulpilil was too far gone to make another good film, but in this, his acting is flawless.

  30. #30 Martin R
    February 19, 2016

    That one sounds interesting! I didn’t know about Gulpilil before.

  31. #31 John Massey
    February 19, 2016

    Very talented dancer when he was young, and a natural as an actor. In the 1976 film “Storm Boy” he was brilliant.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrXAQ6O2H9c

  32. #32 John Massey
    February 19, 2016

    Also, in “The Last Wave”:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKvuUDBHipE

    And many things since. He narrated the absolutely brilliant film “Ten Canoes” in which all the actors and actresses appeared completely naked and speaking only their own language. I wish I owned a copy of that film, because it is a classic that will never be equalled.

  33. #33 John Massey
    February 20, 2016

    Another good film to report – the 2013 British-Australian film “The Railway Man.” Anything I say about it will plot-spoil. Suffice to say that the film is autobiographical, and the railway in question is the Thai-Burma Railway. Understated and solid, coming straight after “Charlie’s Country” it was another welcome relief from modern American culture.

  34. #34 John Massey
    February 21, 2016

    What I’m finding on Netflix is that the star rating system used by viewers is a reliable guide – the better films consistently have more stars, and the films really worth watching have close to five full stars – maybe 4.5 or more.

    Both “Charlie’s Country” and “The Railway Man” had close to five full stars. Whereas the plethora of formulaic cops and robbers shoot-em-up things rate two stars or less, and are really not worth wasting time on – they’re so boring to watch that I usually pick up my guitar and start doing practice exercises to relieve the boredom while I’m ostensibly watching the film.

    So for people who are using Netflix or are planning to, I really don’t need to be doing this – the previous viewers’ ratings are a very reliable guide from what I have seen. And I’m using a VPN, so it’s not varying noticeably with geography. I just don’t want to be restricted to the geography I’m in because it’s going to feature a lot of local and regional content, and I don’t want to watch only that – I want to be able to watch stuff that people in the Anglosphere are watching. Not that there isn’t the occasional brilliant Chinese movie, and not that I’m averse to watching those brilliant movies, I love them, but the occasional brilliant film is not enough incentive to pay my monthly Netflix subscription.

    That’s where the whole stupid regional thing breaks down, and needs to be broken down. I don’t want a Bollywood diet either. I have yet to see a really good Indian film – I didn’t even rate “Slumdog Millionaire”, I thought it was pretty ordinary, and people were rating it as an act of charity.

  35. #35 John Massey
    February 24, 2016

    I’m re-evaluating the reliability of the Netflix viewer rating system.

    I started to watch a 2013 German film called “The Physician”, but stopped half way through. It was tedious, slow moving and historically inaccurate. I don’t mind a bit of fantasy in film as much as the next person, but if a film purports to be semi-historical, then at least it needs to get the major, well attested things right. This film doesn’t do that; it gets them blatantly, stupidly wrong.

    And yet viewers have awarded the film 5 stars.

    So the system is a useful guide, but it is not totally reliable. It is hard to know the demographic of the viewing audience for this film. It is childish, but contains elements that are definitely not suitable for children. I have to conclude that a lot of viewers thought it was a good film because they are simply ignorant of some major facts of history. The film is pure fantasy dressed up as an historical tale, but made to look historical by being based on some historical realities. Basically, it’s junk.

  36. #36 Phillip Helbig
    Tyskland
    February 24, 2016

    “I started to watch a 2013 German film called “The Physician”, but stopped half way through.”

    This is based on Noah Gordon’s best-selling novel. I read it since someone gave it to me as a present. (I don’t read much historical fiction, but enjoyed Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings and Gore Vidal’s Creation.) The novel is well written, comparable to Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End in terms of style. (Since I’m not a historian, I can’t judge if Follett’s are more accurate, but suspect that Follett, Vidal, and especially Mailer did better research.))

    He wrote some sequels, but the storyline is very similar, only set in another epoch.

    What, specifically, was wrong?

    Note that the movie is not only significantly shorter in terms of events (i.e. there is much more in the book), but also that many things were changed from book to movie, for now apparent (to me) reason.

  37. #37 John Massey
    February 24, 2016

    You ask sweeping questions.

    Example: The first thing that really struck me was that he (the eponymous hero) was told that it was not safe for him to travel to Muslim regions because he was a Christian and as such he would be killed, so he ‘disguised’ himself as a Jew (which included cutting off his own foreskin with a knife) because the Muslims tolerated Jews, but not Christians.

    Historically, the opposite was true – Muslims killed Jews but tolerated Christians.

    If he was prepared to mutilate his own genitals in order to pull off the subterfuge, why not pose as a Muslim and be done with it?

    The whole premise was so silly, and the film so slow moving and childish, that at that point I decided I had better things to do. It’s also worth mentioning that the film is 2.5 hours long, but to fill that amount of time, it resorts to excruciating slowness. What was the point of that?

  38. #38 John Massey
    February 26, 2016

    2015 American film “Dope”. Five full stars on Netflix – I would say deserved. Intriguing, intricate plot, likeable main characters, and very few spots that drag. Critics response was positive.

    Dope can mean stupid, drugs or good, depending on usage. In this film, it could mean all three.

  39. #39 Martin R
    February 26, 2016

    I watched “Dope” at the Stockholm Film Festival last fall and quite liked it!

  40. #40 John Massey
    February 27, 2016

    Another cracking good Netflix film, this time the 2008 French film “Les femmes de l’ombre” (Female Agents), starring the adorable Sophie Marceau. Viewers awarded it 4 stars. I thought it deserved more, but then I’m a big Marceau fan.

    Erm…in French, with subtitles. Well, it is their film, I suppose. Cheese eating surrender monkeys.

  41. #41 John Massey
    February 29, 2016

    I watched “Spectre”. As Bond films go, it was OK, I guess. Daniel Craig is getting too fat in the arse to play James Bond any more. He doesn’t want to do it, and ridicules the films on the ‘promotional tours’ – I don’t know why they don’t release him from his contract and find someone better/more convincing. To me he was never suitable.

    I can’t imagine what they thought they were doing casting Monica Bellucci; she looked like someone’s grandmother; the cracks are starting to show. Léa Seydoux, Naomie Harris and the latest Aston Martin are eye candy, and reason enough to watch it. To be honest, I would watch Seydoux and Harris in anything; both too beautiful for words.

  42. #42 John Massey
    March 1, 2016

    Watched the 2015 Steven Spielberg film “Bridge of Spies”, starring TomHanks.

    Not to plot spoil, but the film is set in the years 1957 to 1962, and the film portrays that period excellently well. I couldn’t fault it. The only thing that jarred on me (I was alive and observing the world during that period) was that most of the actors were too fat. If it really had been 1957, most of the people in it would have been somewhat thinner.

    The film is excellent, and is likely to be of interest, not only to people who lived through those times and will remember events portrayed in the film, but also of semi-historical interest to others. It portrays events that took place in a very realistic manner.

  43. #43 John Massey
    March 2, 2016

    I watched the 2015 film “Ricki and the Flash”.

    I suggest you don’t.

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