Posted by: Sally Ingraham | August 10, 2010

Movie Mayhem: July

Not a very exciting movie watching month, really. I was busy as a bee, could barely cram these 9 movies in, and my viewing choices were less than awesome more often than not. Bits of rubbish like The Bounty Hunter (Andy Tennant-USA-2010), Unthinkable (Gregor Jordan-USA-2010), and The Losers (Sylvain White-USA-2010) proved once again that eye candy like Gerard Butler, Samuel L. Jackson, and Chris Evans do not always appear in good movies, and even the exquisite Helen Mirren can’t always save something like the really bizarrely bad Shadowboxer (Lee Daniels-USA-2005). While there were amusing moments in The Bounty Hunter and The Losers that made them a tolerable way to lounge through a lazy Saturday afternoon, I have nothing good to say about Unspeakable,shadowboxer and my mind is still reeling from the unbelievably bad construction and execution and writing of Shadowboxer – although the premise is so strange that it kind of cracks me up: Helen Mirren is an assassin who is dying from cancer, and on her last job she is unable to shoot a pregnant woman who subsequently goes into labor and gives birth to a baby, which Mirren assists in delivering, and then charges her adopted son/lover (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.) with the protection and care of both mother and son in the event of her death… Oh, and he’s an assassin too. Tagging along for the ride are Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young doctor, and Mo’Nique as his girlfriend/benefactor. Um…?? It’s all a bit much!

Inception (Christopher Nolan-USA-2010) failed to blow my mind, although the basic concept was really cool. The cast was pretty fantastic, but I was underwhelmed by their performances. There were some fun visuals, but overall I found the movie slightly dull. I’m curious to check out more of Nolan’s work though, as I’ve only seen his Batman movies and The Prestige.

throw mommaThrow Momma From the Train (Danny DeVito-USA-1987) was hilariously weird. DeVito is the harassed son of the mother from hell, who discovers that his community college creative writing teacher (played by Billy Crystal) is equally perturbed with his ex-wife, who supposedly stole his idea for a novel and shot to international acclaim. DeVito comes up with a scheme where he will kill the ex-wife and Crystal will kill DeVito’s mother and thus they will both appear to have no motive and will therefore never be suspected. His side of the deal seems to go off without a hitch, but Crystal is more than a little reluctant to hold up his end. Things get a little bit out of control. 🙂

I watched 3 movies that I actually liked a lot in July, and they were Peter’s Friends (Kenneth Branagh-England-1992), Kelly’s Heroes (Brian G. Hutton-USA-1970), and City Island (Raymond De Felitta-USA-2009). They all had great casts, strong stories, simple but crisp execution, and characters that were memorable.

Peter’s Friends (staring Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, and Emma Thompson among others) was the classic story of old college friends getting together fifteen years later to discover what everyone has gotten up to since then, and rediscover who everyone is. In Peter’s enormous house over a long New Year’s weekend, they and a few wives or boyfriends hash it out – tease, reminisce, fight, make up, etc. The humor is of the biting, dark type, but there is plenty of it, and I’m a real sucker for British turns of phrase. An awkwardly pleasant movie, on the whole, if a little sad.

kelly's heroesKelly’s Heroes is deadly serious in the sense that all its action revolves around an exhausted group of US soldiers during WWII. It’s about war, and its effect on the minds of the men caught up in it, and it has moments of intense sadness – but it’s actually a mad caper of a story, lighthearted and funny for the most part. Given a miraculous weekend off, but lacking sweet-smelling beds and pretty girls or any other kinds of entertainment, a group of soldiers decide to sneak across enemy lines to steal a copious amount of gold that is stockpiled in a Nazi bank. Led by the stiff determination of Pvt. Kelly (Clint Eastwood), assisted by the gruff daring-do of MSgt. Big Joe (Telly Savalas), and backed by the fire power of Sgt. Oddball (Donald Sutherland) and his tanks, they make it 30 miles behind enemy lines before anyone notices. According to IMDb trivia, the movie is based on true events, and pretty astonishing events they are. Clint Eastwood plays Clint Eastwood wonderfully well as can be expected, and the rest of the cast is spot on. Donald Sutherland blows everyone else out of the water though (quite literally) with the character of Oddball, a fun-in-the-sun loving, tank driving, mustache chewing fellow whose positive outlook obliterates the “negative waves” that he mourns the prevalence of in everyone else. I love him! With combat scenes that rival those in many great “war movies” balanced by a generous serving of black humor, this movie is, well…golden. 🙂

City Island is another classic formula – that of the dysfunctional family who manages to get their crap together for an afternoon and enjoy some warm fuzzies before they tumble on with the rest of their lives. You know it’s all going to basically work out in the end, but how this movie goes about getting there is pretty fun. city islandThe Rizzos are a family of liars – they lie to each other about their work, their hobbies, their schooling, their after-dinner plans, their before breakfast plans, their past relationships, their present relationships, what they were doing five minutes ago, what they’re doing this moment… Or perhaps they’re all just very selective about the bits of truth they share with each other? Andy Garcia plays Vince, head of the clan – a corrections officer and secretly aspiring actor, whose discovery of a son from a 20-year-old fling threatens to bring his entire family’s web of deception down on their heads in a sticky mess. It’s the snarky snappy verbal battles that keep this movie hopping, and a brilliant performance from Garcia, not to mention Julianna Margulies as his wife or the rest of the fine cast. Quirky, interesting characters and a plot that has the perfect balance of the familiar and the creative. Nicely done.

Obviously I have hopes for better movie watching in August, but those last three make up for the mediocrity of most of my other choices, proving once again that even though you may have to put a little effort into it, there are plenty of good movies out there waiting to be discovered – or made! On with my search…


  1. Hey Sarah – Your mom talks about your great blog, so I had to check it out. Your writing is elegant and your thoughts are provoking. I think the only thing worse than a bad movie is a bad book. The funny thing that for the most part I can’t seem to walk away no matter how bad. – cheers!

    • Thanks for your kind words! I’ve been a bad blogger this summer, but Sept. is here and I always get back on track in the fall. I’ve been out of school for awhile now, but it’s still ingrained in me to return to my more scholarly projects at this time of year. That still leaves plenty of time for watching movies – both bad and good, o’ course. 🙂

  2. I like Peter’s Friends a lot but I saw it for the first time when it first came out. I thought someone seeing it for the first time now might find it a bit dated. Even though it is a little I like watching at Christmas. When I watch it now I like to think that Peter lived long enough to benefit from the effective HIV therapies that came out three years after the movie did.

    • That’s a lovely thought. It seemed too, too unfair that he was ill. I was too fascinated by the characters to even stop and wonder if the movie felt dated. Especially poor Emma Thompson’s character… Definitely a good movie.

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