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Movies the giraffe watched in 2016: September

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The breakdown: 13 movies watched, 8 via Netflix, 1 via DVR, and 4 in the theatre. Of those 9 were first views, 4 were re-watches, and they came from the following decades: 1930s, 50s, 70s, 90s, 00s & 2010s.

Not a productive month movies-wise, but given that I spent the majority of the month getting everything together so I could move from Austin to Pittsburgh that's no surprise. The move was a far bigger & more involved endeavor than I'd initially anticipated, and once I got the ball rolling on it there wasn't much time to do anything else that wasn't necessary. Good thing then that I started off the month pretty strong since the last half of the month I hardly watched anything.

I knocked out more from my Netflix queue, and the ones I missed will have to wait until November at this point. On the upside that should work out nicely as I'll have all the movies cleared out going into December when I ignore Netflix for a month, and thus a fresh list to manage going into the new year.

By far this month's best films came from the handful of trips to the theatre, and now that I've left Austin I'm glad I ended my regular Drafthouse patronage with such a stellar pair of films. There isn't any Drafthouse in Pittsburgh, and the closest locations are in Virginia & New York, so it'll be a while before I get to return (vacations!). On the other hand I get to explore new theatres in the meantime & hopefully at least one of them can be my new second home going forward. We'll see.

Best new-to-me film for September: Giant
Best hidden gem: Executioners from Shaolin
Worst film: Spy Hard
People who added this item 28 Average listal rating (16 ratings) 7.8 IMDB Rating 7
First viewing - Sept. 2nd

Chia-Liang Liu double feature

I decided to kick the month off with a pair of Shaw Brothers films from director Chia-Liang Liu, and they made for a fun start to September. Of the two I preferred this one, which spans several years and covers a long road for a family to achieve revenge. When the ending of a film makes you jump off the couch in excitement, you know it's taken you there successfully. Granted it's not a perfect film, but I really enjoyed it & would definitely watch it again.

Just a thought: And now I know where Tarantino imported Pai Mei from.

Currently streaming on Netflix
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First viewing - Sept. 2nd

Chia-Liang Liu double feature

There are some epic fight scenes throughout this one that make it worthwhile, though the actual plot leaves something to be desired. Basically it's just the characters fighting to determine whether Chinese or Japanese martial arts is the best, and since the film was made by the Chinese you can easily guess which will win. It's solidly entertaining though, thanks to engaging characters & the aforementioned fight scenes. I might watch it again at some point, though I'm less likely to do so than I am the film above.

Currently streaming on Netflix
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People who added this item 401 Average listal rating (239 ratings) 7 IMDB Rating 7.4
First viewing - Sept. 3rd

Red Cliff is definitely a John Woo film, though thankfully not one of his gun fu movies. Slow motion (sometimes for no real reason)? Check. White doves? Check. Style over substance? Check. The battle scenes make this totally worth watching though, as there are some inventive moments to be found. And the cast does a really good job, which also helps. I wasn't crazy about the CGI use, which occasionally looks obviously fake, but otherwise I was entertained fairly well.

Evidently there's a sequel to this, which I'm questioning the necessity of. If anyone has watched it & would recommend I do the same, let me know.

Currently streaming on Netflix
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First viewing - Sept. 5th

I didn't watch this because I care about the Harmontown podcast, because I find podcasts tedious to endure. I watched it because I became a fan of Dan Harmon's via Community, which if it had died with his exit would have been my favorite TV show ever. Too bad it didn't and we got a season full of awful episodes before he returned & tried to correct the ship. I still haven't watched the rest of the series since wherever I left off, but wait, this isn't supposed to be about Community. And yet to some degree it is, because the end of that show led to Harmon taking his crew & podcast across the country, which is why this doc exists.

There's nothing groundbreaking about the doc, it's just cameras following them around on tour & interviewing some celebrities who have worked with Harmon. Fortunately it's entertaining, or at least I thought it was perhaps largely due to my unfamiliarity with the show & those directly involved in it. It's funny and honest and I grew to better appreciate those involved, which could also be said of the best parts of Community. And so I thought it was totally worth watching, and I might even be persuaded to revisit it though I don't need to.

Currently streaming on Netflix
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People who added this item 543 Average listal rating (364 ratings) 5 IMDB Rating 5.4
Spy Hard (1996)
Re-watch - Sept. 7th

Well, this was worse than I remembered. Once you get past Weird Al's excellent opening mock of the James Bond intros it's all downhill from there. The jokes fall flat most of the time, and compared to Austin Powers it fails to spoof the Bond series in any memorable way. At least this isn't as painful to sit through as Dracula, Dead & Loving It but it's still pretty dire.

Currently streaming on Netflix
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 12 Average listal rating (8 ratings) 7.1 IMDB Rating 6.8
First viewing - Sept. 8th

Of all the Shaw Brothers kung fu films I've seen lately, this is probably the weakest. The film drags along between the fight scenes, and while the fight scenes are more often good than not they're not especially impressive. The dialogue leaves much to be desired, which also doesn't help things. The actors do their best to make it work, and some succeed more than others. Course it also doesn't help when your story fails to really distinguish between your lead characters beyond throwing their names on the screen after they fight the first time in hopes that helps somehow. But overall it's pretty average and I felt like I could have skipped it.

Currently streaming on Netflix
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First viewing - Sept. 21st

I've been super busy getting things done for my impending move, so I really haven't had time to watch anything lately. I actually watched this in 2 sittings, but can't remember the first date I started it so I'm going with the date I finished watching it on.

I enjoyed the look into H.R. Giger's life at the time the doc was filmed, especially since they get to see pieces of his art that aren't commonly circulated. I've dug his art since I first came across it in the late '80s if Aliens counts or in the early '90s when I came across his books, so any opportunity to see more of it is appreciated. I'll have to make the trip to his museum at some point. At the same time, it was pretty depressing seeing him wander around his home while they were filming. You could tell he was tired & nearing the end of his life, so it's no surprise when at the end they state he died shortly after filming. The whole doc would be better if he'd still had some life left in him I think, and they try to make up for it by throwing in footage from when he was younger but little of it has any clear context beyond him being in it. I also felt like it was stretching itself out with filler scenes, and the overall quiet nature of the doc lulled me to sleep the first time I watched it. So while I can't say it wasn't worth watching, I also can't say it's anything exceptional. If you're really into Giger you might check it out, just be sure to watch it during the day or with plenty of caffeine to get you through it.

Currently streaming on Netflix
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People who added this item 83 Average listal rating (66 ratings) 8.1 IMDB Rating 8
The Music Box (1932)
Re-watch - Sept. 26th

Hey, I actually had time to watch something! I'm counting this as a re-watch because I'm pretty sure I'd seen it before, or at least most of it I had. It might have been the first time I got to see all of it at once, but whatever. There's nothing deep to analyze here, it's just Laurel & Hardy trying to deliver a piano with hilarious results. It's fun and I'd definitely watch it again.

On a side note, moving ate up more of my time this month than I'd anticipated. Not looking like I'll get anything else watched, unless I have energy at the end of one of the next few nights to watch something before I pass out. So if I end the month here, at least it ended with a good film.
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Big screen attractions

Films I caught in a theatre
People who added this item 541 Average listal rating (326 ratings) 7.6 IMDB Rating 7.6
Giant (1956)
First viewing - Sept. 3rd

I was very very tempted to spend most of the weekend at the Paramount Theater, as they were screening East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause (actually I would still have skipped that one since I just saw it), the 1933 King Kong, and Giant. However, tickets were all full price (which makes no sense to me given two of those were daytime screenings), so I opted to just watch Giant and call it good enough. And I'm happy to say I'm satisfied with that decision.

If you've seen it then you shouldn't need me to tell you how great this film is, and if you haven't seen it then you need to remedy that. It IS an epic that spans several years, and to deliver that effect properly the film runs over 3 hours which is no big deal if you're expecting it. If the film has a flaw it's that some characters are better developed than others, which in the case of one of them renders his character arc less impactful than it might have been otherwise. But still, I found it richly entertaining and more thoughtful than I'd anticipated. It's safe to say I like Giant slightly more than Rebel Without a Cause, despite giving them the same ratings.
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First viewing - Sept. 9th

This 3D documentary of the recording of the latest Bad Seeds album Skeleton Tree is absolutely worth your time, providing you're able to catch it during its brief run in theatres. It's especially worthwhile if you are now or ever have been a fan of Nick Cave's music of course, which I am. As a fan it's also tough to watch at times, given the fact the film revolves around his son's recent death which has naturally had a major impact on everyone involved. The music is excellent, and I'm excited to get my hands on the album in the near future.

My only complaint is with the 3D approach. It's handled rather experimentally, which means there are times it works and times it's too distracting. When it works the results are often beautiful and impressive, but when it doesn't the effect is jarring and broke the spell for me. I suppose they wanted to make it all more original through this approach, but it felt annoying in places.

So between the experimental nature and the pervasive sadness, this is one film that I would never sit through a second time. For one it won't work at home unless you have a 3D TV (which I have no intentions of ever owning), and odds are it won't be screened often over the years ahead. However, it's absolutely worth seeing as it's an excellent document of this place & time Nick Cave, his family, and those close to them have been in.
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People who added this item 5828 Average listal rating (3950 ratings) 7.7 IMDB Rating 8
Donnie Darko (2001)
Re-watch - Sept. 10th

With director Richard Kelly in attendance

Seeing Donnie Darko on the big screen isn't a frequent opportunity, so while I was more excited about finally seeing Southland Tales on the big screen I figured I'd take the chance and see both. Like most people I first saw Donnie Darko after it was out on video & DVD, one night at a friend's house. Since then I've seen it countless times, including a midnight theatrical screening. I've also seen the director's cut in theaters once, but the less said about that the better.

Fortunately it's been at least 5 years since I last watched this movie, so its full power came across and I was reminded of all the reasons I love it. The cast, the soundtrack, the story, the mystery of it, and that horrific bunny rabbit. The whole film still blows me away. Best of all, writer/director Richard Kelly was present to introduce the film & participated in a Q&A afterward. I learned a few things from that, and it was really interesting to hear him talk about how the film came together. Most interesting to me was finding out Jason Schwartzman was originally up for the role of Donnie, but bailed out due partly to other commitments and partly because he decided he wasn't right for the role. I can't imagine him as Donnie though, and would be surprised if anyone thought he would have done it better than Jake did.

So yeah, I'm glad I went.
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People who added this item 421 Average listal rating (254 ratings) 5.3 IMDB Rating 5.4
Re-watch - Sept. 11th

With director Richard Kelly in attendance

Unlike Donnie Darko I had never seen this in a theatre before. I rented it, then bought it, and have tried to pass on its joys to others over the years, but since it's never been a popular film I really thought I'd never get the chance to see it on the big screen with a proper audience. So it should come as no surprise when I say I bought my ticket to this one long before I made up my mind to see the other film.

The first thing that struck me is how much detail is poured into the visuals of the film. Sure I've noticed various things over the few screenings I've had at home, but there are many little details in the background throughout that I'd never noticed due to the limited scope of TVs. By the end of it I wished Drafthouse was screening it for a month instead of a single night, just so I could go back & see what other details I didn't catch this time around. It was almost like seeing it for the first time, but of course the main action I was very familiar with. I dig the richness of the story, the political commentary, the satire, all the various elements that come together. I was reminded that there's also prequels in graphic novel form, which I've seen parts of but don't think I managed to read all of yet. I need to do that.

Perhaps if this came out today it'd get a miniseries treatment instead, but 10 years ago that wasn't a popular option. There was no Netflix or Amazon original content, and the best place it might have found a home would have been HBO. And really this film is very much a product of its time, since most of its inspiration comes from post-9/11 changes & the re-election of George W. Bush (appropriate then that this screened on 9/11 this year). The graphic novel prequel idea was ahead of its time, so between that & the complex story structure this film has struggled to find its fans. Add to that the fact that, like its predecessor, it only opened to 50 theatres, and it's no wonder it's so underappreciated.

Once again Kelly stuck around for Q&A after the screening, and I kicked off the audience questions by asking how the cast came together. Turns out he wanted a lot of SNL actors due to their willingness to do social satire and improv, and aside from the three leads he had limited time with most of the actors. I got to meet him afterward as well, and thanked him for making these two films, & asked him to keep following his muse.

Now I need to finally sit down with The Box before his next film comes out.
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Netflix Instant Project for 2016

Netflix Instant Project for 2016

The ongoing Netflix Instant Project involves recommendations from my fellow Listalites of lesser-known/lesser-seen films that are currently streaming on Netflix. If you use Netflix Instant Watch & want to participate, please check out the list above & submit your recommendations.
People who added this item 922 Average listal rating (552 ratings) 7.5 IMDB Rating 7.7
First viewing - Sept. 4th

Recommended by Director Black

Normally I don't have time for films that run this long, but this holiday weekend I had no major plans & plenty of free time. Plus for once I'm not working the holiday, opting to get paid to stay home for a change, which meant I had no worries about getting to bed at a decent hour. So after dinner I decided to check this film out, which I've heard plenty of praise for since its release.

There are many aspects of the film I liked, though above and beyond all of them are the performances from Adèle Exarchopolous and Léa Seydoux. They bring their respective characters to vivid life, to the point you feel most of the time like you're not watching fiction. The story is mostly good as well, as long as it's focused on Adèle's growth since this is really her coming-of-age tale. There are some moments that don't work, however...a few times conflicts come up regarding her sexuality but they're never explored very far, and the timeline gets confused along the way. There are some touchpoints to connect how much time has passed, but it doesn't always work, perhaps because the actresses still look the same age the entire time. Fortunately such flaws are mostly well glossed over by the emotional honesty of the characters as they move through time. In the end I felt that it was worth watching, but I didn't love it enough that I'd want to watch it again.
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Poor, sad September. The time when studios dump films they had no confidence in & are tired of hanging onto. My long time friends & followers around here also know that for me the month is basically in my way as I get more & more excited for my annual Horrorfest celebration. Fortunately I have a plan to get through the month, and that involves knocking out the rest of my Netflix queue (sans anything that would be a good fit for October & the many TV series scattered throughout it). Will I get them all? Doubtful since I'll be moving later this month, but you never can tell.

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