I watched a dozen movies in August, trying hard to see only movies I hadn't seen before (those marked with an *), but I couldn't resist a few old ones. At least one I should have resisted (you'll identify which one by its one can rating). Numbering picks up from July and all movies are rated on a scale of 1-5 cans of tuna, with 5 being the top rating.
103. City by the Sea* (2002) — Life isn’t easy for junkie Joey Nova (James Franco). He has a girlfriend and a baby and a nasty drug habit. When he and his buddy get into a fight with a dealer, Joey ends up stabbing the guy to death. The cop who catches the case is his estranged father, Vincent LaMarca (Robert DeNiro), who abandoned his son after divorcing his mother (Patti LaPone). Will father catch son? Will he help him or bring him in? I would not have watched this movie had DeNiro and Frances McDormand, who plays the cop’s girlfriend, not been the leads. It was a taut cop story and worth seeing. 3½ cans.
104. Boyhood* (2014) — Growing up is never easy, and surviving the upheaval of divorce only complicates things for the children, as this drama poignantly demonstrates. The mother (Patricia Arquette) tries to build her vision of a real family for her son (Ellar Coltrane and daughter (Lorelai Linklater, the director’s daughter), but keeps marrying abusive losers who only make life worse for everyone. Continual money problems and constant moving means the kids change schools and have to make new friends, and spend much of the time trying to figure things out on their own since the mother has to deal with her own problems. The hook here by director Richard Linklater is that he filmed this movie over a 12-year period, so you see the actual actors actually age, none so obviously as the main character, Mason, who evolves from an innocent 6-year-old to a high school graduate on his first day of college. Linklater teams with his star from “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset,” Ethan Hawke (as Mason’s father), once again. Let me say that I really wanted to like this movie, but instead found it just as dull as I found the aforementioned Linklater works. Mason is a good kid, but, because of the upheavals, he doesn’t get too close to anyone. The family has communications issues and cannot relate to each other in a genuine way (I’m not saying the dialog is not authentic, it’s just gloomy). In the end, I just didn’t really care about these people. I can recommend it only to those with the patience to sit through three hours of not much happening. 3 cans.
105. Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion* (1997) — Romy and Michelle (Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow) are sweetly vapid young women approaching their 10-year high school reunion without decent jobs or men in their lives. Best friends forever, the two somehow survived the horrors of high school — which this movie depicts with stereotypical accuracy — without even realizing that they were not in any clique. They went to the prom together, dressed like Madonna, and while Romy pined for the high school jock, Michelle was worshipped by the geek who would later become rich and famous (Alan Cumming, without a trace of his Scottish accent, like a very young Eli Gold). When they decide to attend their high school reunion, they create a story that depicts them as hugely successful their careers, claiming that Romy invented “Post-It” notes. About to be ostracized yet again, they manage to turn the tables on the perky prom queen and her court. Kudrow and Sorvino play their parts to the hilt, all blond, long legs, short skirts and eye rolls. This is no “Citizen Kane,” but it is a pleasant enough diversion that was almost worth waiting 17 years to see. I can probably go another 17 before I see it again. 3 cans.
106. China Moon* (1994) — If you are a fan of “Body Heat” or the old Barbara Stanwyck-Fred MacMurray classic, “Double Indemnity,” this film noir is right up your alley. I think “film noir” is French for “sexy lady gets man to do something for her he shouldn’t do,” which generally means to murder or help murder her husband. In this suspenseful movie, Ed Harris is Kyle, a cop known for his ability to crack a case, but this time he falls for the murderer. Madeline Stowe is married to a mean, abusive and very rich banker (Charles Dance) when she meets detective Kyle in a bar. He pursues her, and soon she is plotting for a way to knock off hubby and be with him. Can she pull it off with his help? How far is he willing to go for the woman he loves? Will the cops turn the tables on him? My only criticisms of this movie are that it takes a while to get going, and that the title really has nothing to do with anything. Though “Body Heat” (with sexy Kathleen Turner and sweaty William Hurt) may be more sultry, “China Moon” is just as suspenseful. 4 cans.
107. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World* (2012) — It is the end of the world as we know it, as an asteroid hurtles toward the earth it will ultimately destroy. Seems like a good time to reassess your life, no? Steve Carrell is Dodge, a hapless, morose guy whose wife bails out. His young neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), breaks up with her boyfriend, and Dodge and Penny hit the road to find Dodge’s true love, his high school girlfriend, before the apocalypse. This is an unusual road movie for sure, but, to me, it dragged on and on. How long will it take before these two realize that they are meant for each other and that time is of the essence? About 2 hours. The ending is sweet, but getting there was a long, strange trip. 3 cans.
108. The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone* (1961) — Karen Stone (Vivien Leigh) is an aging American actress whose wealthy husband dies of a sudden heart attack on their way to Rome following a failed Broadway show. In Rome, the sad and lonely actress is introduced to Paolo, a handsome, much younger man (Warren Beatty, with a terrible Italian accent) whose “services” are booked by the Contessa (Lotte Lenya). The lonely widow, ever so proper and afraid of what others may think of her, embarks on a relationship with the gigolo. Beatty does his best James Dean, head cast downward, looking innocent yet calculating (probably adding up Mrs. Stone’s money in his otherwise empty head) as he enjoys the fruits of his “labor” — custom made clothes, dinners at the best restaurants, etc. She clearly cares for him, but does he really want a woman more than twice his age? The sad thing here is that Leigh herself was an aging actress by then. In looking this movie up, I found another version with Helen Mirren and Oliver Martinez that I may just have to watch next. 3½ cans.
109. The Hundred-Foot Journey* (2014) — Last month I saw “Chef,” another movie about food, and I was glad that I ate before I saw it. The temptation of Helen Mirren, rapidly becoming one of my all-time favorite actresses, and food was irresistible. Here she is Madame Mallory, the irascible owner of a hoity-toity restaurant in the French countryside who is dismayed when an Indian family builds a much less formal Indian place directly across the road in her tiny town. She is the doyenne of diners, a celebrated restaurateur with a Michelin star to her credit. But the Indian family has young chef Hassan (Manish Dayal), who has exactly what it takes to be an outstanding chef. He also has a crusty and charming father (Om Puri) with whom Madame eventually builds a peaceful coexistence. Meanwhile, Hassan strikes up a relationship with Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), who works for Madame and is no slouch in the kitchen herself. This movie has no surprises, but, in the hands of director Lasse Halstrom, and with engaging performances by the key players, it offers a tasty treat. 3½ cans.
110. Grand Central* (2014) — This documentary tells the story of the rise, fall and rise again of Grand Central Terminal in New York, the largest train station in the world and one that was built over 100 years ago. With tremendous foresight and planning, the building functions as well today as its creators originally envisioned. Although Grand Central fell into disrepair in the 1970s, the New York power elite, mourning over the loss of the once great Penn Station, fought to save it. People like Jacquelyn Kennedy Onassis, Bess Myerson and Mayor Ed Koch pushed not only to restore the beaux arts beauty to its grandeur. Today it is a spectacular, thriving space where people eat, meet, greet and travel. I love a happy ending. 3½ cans.
111. Remember the Day (1941) — Way back before present day scandals involving unseemly relationships between teachers and students, it was possible to have a teacher demonstrate warmth and caring. Here Claudette Colbert is Miss Trinell, an 8th grade teacher whose young student, Dewey Roberts, has a crush on her. They bond over his love of boats. Also with a crush on Miss Trinell is Mr. Hopkins (John Payne), a fellow teacher who sweeps her off her feet. It is scandalous for the two unmarried adults to consort with each other (this movie takes place in 1914), so one of them will pay the price. We start the story as an elderly Miss Trinell goes to a rally for presidential candidate Dewey Roberts many years after their initial encounter, and flash back to that special time of growing up. This is an endearing and sweet movie that could not be made today. 3½ cans.
112. Wordplay (2006) — What is a 10-letter word for something that captivates the mind? How about engrossing? Will Shortz, The New York Times Crossword puzzle editor, is the creator of a national crossword championship, held every year in Connecticut, that attracts people who are crossword fanatics. Leading up to the tournament, we meet many of the contestants as well as celebrities from President Bill Clinton to comedian Jon Stewart who are dedicated to the Times’ puzzle. The contestants practice all year, timing themselves, and can complete a Monday or Tuesday puzzle in just a few minutes — in ink (the puzzles get progressively harder during the week). People who enjoy language (and obscure words) and who like to solve problems are attracted to these puzzles. We see how they are constructed (the puzzles, though we can see how the players are wired, too) and by whom. I love language but my brain is not wired to do puzzles or even to play Scrabble all that well, so I can admire these intelligent people and their mastery. 4 cans.
113. Longtime Companion (1990) — The timeline of movies about the AIDS epidemic begins with this drama, continues with 1993’s “And the Band Played On” and leads to the recent airing of HBO’s “The Normal Heart.” These moving dramas have much in common, as they all portray groups of young men whose world is suddenly rocked by what is first characterized as a virus of unknown origin affecting gay men. In this movie, as in the others, the group slowly diminishes in size as men lose their partners and friends to the dreaded disease. Where the other movies work in the activism in the fight against AIDS, this one concentrates on the relationships between the men, with Bruce Davison in the lead. Other actors include Campbell Scott and Dermot Mulroney. Movies like this can never and will never have a happy ending until the disease is eradicated, but just seeing the fear of the people involved as they try to understand what is happening is very powerful. 3½ cans.
114. Stayin’ Alive (1983) — Tony Manero (John Travolta) hauls out the white suit and the attitude in this sequel to “Saturday Night Fever” that was directed by Sylvester Stallone. Tony has crossed the bridge from Brooklyn and now lives in a dumpy Manhattan hotel, where he auditions and gets rejected from plenty of Broadway shows in his quest to be a professional dancer. He falls for the lead dancer in a new show, a haughty Brit played by Fionnola Hughes, who considers him beneath her in talent and social standing. If the show in which they star opened on Broadway, it would close by intermission. Stallone overstages and overpowers everything, dousing it liberally with Rockyesque music largely performed by his brother, Frank, with some BeeGees tunes thrown in for good measure. The dance sequences are like boxing rounds. This movie is like “Sharknado,” but at least in “Sharknado,” the players got the joke. Here they don’t understand how preposterous the whole Broadway show is and play it straight. Travolta, while he’ll never be a Broadway dancer, gamely tackles the whole thing with zero body fat and occasional flashes of the charming /angry guy we loved in the original. “Barely Alive” might have been a better title. 1 can.