Mavis Roberta McGee has a ridiculously large pile of Blu-rays and DVDs of films that she hasn’t watched. In an attempt to watch more of them, she decided to write a column about watching her way through that pile. This is Mavis’s Watchpile.
Hello! Hope everyone’s doing the best they can during this hell time. Anyways, while we’re all (hopefully) at home, a lot of people are watching movies. So in an effort to make my movements through my way too large watchpile more interesting, and in order to fire up my writing muscles again after finally graduating from college, I’m going to write my way through it. Let’s begin!
School Daze (1988)
When I watched Spike Lee’s debut feature, She’s Gotta Have It, I made a comment that Spike should direct a musical. While watching School Daze, his second feature, I remembered that comment and laughed, because this movie is a musical. I bought a Blu-ray of this movie early last year when I was getting really into Spike’s work, and upon finally getting around to it I must say that this movie is a certified banger. It’s a bit unwieldy (and parts of it haven’t aged particularly well,) but more often than not Spike was on fire here, and in a couple ways it feels like a warm up for Do The Right Thing structurally. Add in a killer soundtrack, gorgeous cinematography by Ernest Dickerson, and some fantastic performances from the movie’s stacked ensemble and you have a pretty fantastic movie altogether. Would definitely recommend this.
Auto Focus (2002)
Paul Schrader is one of the weirdest and most fascinating American directors alive, so of course I jumped on a DVD of Auto Focus when I found it at a favorite used bookstore of mine. The story of TV star/sex addict/murder victim Bob Crane is right up Schrader’s alley, and the film is so Schrader-y on a script level that it’s hard to believe that he didn’t write it. It has all his peccadilloes: Catholic guilt, blonde women, struggles with one’s sexual hangups, and Willem Dafoe. It’s a fascinating look into the banality of perversion, and if you’re as interested in Schrader’s work as I am, then it’s definitely worth a look.
Fun fact: I adore 90’s blockbusters. There’s a level of craft, scale, and a complete lack of irony found in even the less-acclaimed popcorn films from the 90’s that is unfortunately absent from even some of today’s good blockbusters. Like, I enjoyed films like The Meg and Hobbs & Shaw but there’s just something special about practical effects and character-driven narratives and big, booming scores by composers like James Horner and Mark Mancini that we just don’t get these days. Also, at one point in Twister cows1 rotate around the leads’ truck as they approach a couple of tornadoes, and it is the most I’ve smiled in a long time.
The Town (2010)
Ben Affleck is the director that really got me deep into film. Argo was the first “adult” movie I ever saw in a theater (I was 15, lol)2 and it’s what really cemented me getting more into movies than I was before. Despite my continuing love for Argo it’s taken me a while to watch the rest of Affleck’s directorial oeuvre. I watched his debut, Gone Baby Gone, a few years ago and was mostly underwhelmed (hot take, I know, don’t kill me), but I was immediately enraptured by his second film, The Town. It’s thrilling, it’s gorgeously shot, it’s amazingly acted – it’s near-perfect popcorn entertainment. Also, I watched the extended cut on the Blu-ray, and I can’t imagine watching it any other way – a movie like this really deserves that 2.5-hour length.
The Getaway (1972)
I had never seen a Sam Peckinpah film, and I had heard that this was something of a mainstream departure for him, so I figured it would be a good place to start with his filmography. And thanks to my upcoming guest appearance on Lewton Bus’s own Cinema Chance Cube podcast, I finally got an opportunity to watch it!
I’ll save most of my thoughts for the pod, but what I will say is that this movie slaps very, very hard. I have a good feeling about how this episode will turn out.
Mistress America (2015)
After liking Frances Ha and loving Marriage Story, I figured that Mistress America would be a solid next step for getting further into the oeuvre of Noah Baumbach. But unfortunately, I didn’t fully vibe with the movie. Greta Gerwig is super entertaining and it’s well-made, but it’s a portrayal of upper middle-class-ish white people that I just don’t connect with because that hasn’t been my experience with life. That said, the central screwball comedy sequence is a lot of fun, the score by Britta Phillips and Dean Wareham is excellent, and I do think the movie has a good and poignant ending. Looking forward to continuing down the Baumbach road.
Jungle Fever (1991)
That’s right, I filled another Spike Lee gap, this time with his fifth film, Jungle Fever. I had heard a lot about this movie from other members of the Lewton Bus crew, and I found my take pretty much aligning with theirs – that it’s an ambitious, uneven film that still manages to hold up with Spike’s masterpieces at its best. Wesley Snipes and Annabelle Sciorra are fantastic, as is the rest of the cast, with Samuel L. Jackson’s heartbreaking turn as Gator being the real standout. Terence Blanchard’s score and Stevie Wonder’s soundtrack are great as well, as is the cinematography. However, the film’s much-criticized ending was just as baffling as I was told it was, and resulted in me thinking more about that than anything the film presented about its thematic goals and statements before it. However, despite that, I still found the movie fascinating, and like all Spike Lee joints, it’s worth a look.
The Last Stand (2013)
Look, I’m a pretty simple gal. I like the films and performances of Arnold Schwarzenegger. So Arnold joining forces with South Korean auteur Kim Jee-woon for his big Hollywood comeback was quite the interesting piece of news back in the day. I happily bought the cheap Blu I found at the local used bookstore. My verdict: it’s fun! It’s uneven, and I assume that Kim Jee-woon had some trouble adjusting to the Hollywood system, but the movie is fun as hell – bloody, brutal, and surprisingly adept at comedy. Add in a great supporting cast alongside Arnold (who is incredible here) and you have a great time. Perfect Sunday morning hangover material.
And that’s it for the inaugural run of Mavis’s Watchpile. Due to real life (aka getting ready to move halfway across the country), a lot of my watchpile is in boxes now, but once I’m situated I’ll happily get back to writing more. Heck, maybe I’ll even finally get around to the Gods of Egypt Award for 2019. Until then, stay safe. Also, trans rights.