January 12, 2023

What We’re Watching: January 13, 2023


You’ve Got Mail (1998) holds up remarkably well, even with the outdated technology at the centerpiece of it all. At this point in his career, Tom Hanks seems, well, beyond this material; since his last film with Meg Ryan, Sleepless in Seattle (1993), he won two Oscars, starred in Apollo 13, directed and starred in That Thing You Do!, and earlier in this same year starred in Saving Private Ryan; but of course here he and Ms. Ryan knock it out of the park. They are just so great together, a 1990s classic Hollywood pairing. Happy we revisited this charming romantic comedy, but it never does reach the heights or play with your heartstrings the way Seattle does. Additionally, in true Now Playing fashion, I also decided to finally check out The Shop Around the Corner (1940) which You’ve Got Mail is an update of. And yeah, time has not been as kind to the Jimmy Stewart original. It all seemed so small, and overly dramatic, with none of the whimsy Nora Ephron, Hanks and Ryan were able to bring to the concepts.


Do I really need another post-apocalyptic TV series in my life, particularly one based on a video game, and at a time when I’m covering 100 years of dystopias for Patrons?  I guess the answer is “Yes!”, because I’m excited to tune into The Last of Us (2023) this weekend and follow Pedro Pascal as he escorts a teenage girl across an America ravaged by virus, cannibalism, and mutation.  The premise has all the warning signs of another Walking Dead rip-off, but I put my faith in HBO to deliver a higher caliber entertainment, and the early critical buzz has been deafening.


With Now Playing biting into a string of vampire movies I decided to revisit Interview With the Vampire (1994). The casting of this movie is crazy; they brought in the biggest names without concern of who would be best for each role. Brad Pitt is dead both as a character and as an actor. Tom Cruise may have the charisma of Lestat but he never quite is able to capture Lestat’s chaotic live-in-the-moment glee. Even Christian Slater (a last minute replacement for River Phoenix) seems unable to muster either interest or fear, the only two emotions his character needs. The shining light of the film is Kirsten Dunst, giving the best performance (perhaps of her career) as young Claudia.  Yet it is true to the novel, so if you’re curious how Anne Rice depicts vamps I can give a recommend to Interview.


In preparation for this holiest of holidays, which I reserve for a full day at Camp Crystal Lake (and Manhattan, and space), I suffered through 2021’s 13 Fanboy, a meta-slasher — really a fan film — in which Friday the 13th alums are killed off by a “deranged fan.” With decades separating the film from the 80s Friday movies, it’s like Joan Cusack describing a class reunion in Grosse Pointe Blank: “It was just as if everyone had swelled.” So much of this movie was shot at horror cons, with the camera just focusing on stars as they sit at their tables… doing nothing. The rest of the time the “characters” are following a nonsensical script and Corey Feldman’s running around not playing himself. It’s not a real movie! I kind of understand the motivation for creating this film and making it a tribute to the franchise and its stars, but there is already a great tribute: the Crystal Lake Memories documentary. Seek that out, and leave this terribly subpar attempt at straight-to-VOD moviemaking at the bottom of the lake.


I saw Avatar: The Way of the Water (2022). As a big fan of the first one, I was pretty hyped for this one and it didn’t disappoint. I liked the scaling back of the plot, making it just a simple revenge mission, Sigourney Weaver’s character was a highlight for me and I hope she gets a bigger role in future sequels. Aside from that, the spectacle of the visuals were damn great, definitely worth the price of admission alone. A solid recommend.


Are you in the mood to cry over starving, dying children in a war-ravaged Japan during the height of World War II? Then boy do I have the movie for you. A few days ago, I watched the animated Ghibli film, Grave of the Fireflies (1988). The animation is beautiful–I’ve never seen insects drawn so perfectly–and the score is hauntingly memorable. But damn, is this movie a gut punch. There were moments of childlike wonder and glee, but it’s always set against a backdrop of death and tragedy. I can recommend Grave of the Fireflies, but prepare yourself first. It’s a tough watch.


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