Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September 29, 2009

Quills (2000)
#96 on my Top 100 List
Okay, so it's not a very factual biopic, but it's so effective in chilling the audience with its version of the Marquis de Sade that it almost doesn't matter. Geoffrey Rush is one of the best villainous actors around, but in this film, it's truly Michael Caine who plays the villain. Try wrapping your head around that performance - it's phenomenal. From the opening scene with an execution by guillotine to the climactic most hellish game of Telephone ever played, this goes beyond horror into something way more disturbing. Kate Winslet and Joaquin Phoenix hold their own against Rush and Caine very well and look for a very young Stephen Moyer as the Doctor's interior decorator.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

September 28, 2009

The Three Faces of Eve (1957)
Though this is a highly-dramatized and unrealistic portrayal of Multiple Personality Disorder, it does succeed in gently shocking viewers, especially through Joanne Woodward's performance as essentially three different characters in one body. The book that it's adapted from is loosely based on a real-life case of a woman with multiple personalities, though the details in the film, including the eventual cause of Eve's condition, are mostly fictional. The movie is presented with a narrator and feels almost clinical at times, with Eve's life and history being read off over the action. In some ways, this is a little annoying, but the clinical feel that it offers fits with the story.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Monday, September 28, 2009

September 27, 2009

Star Wars (1977)
#6 on my Top 100 List
This is the first time that I've watched this one closely following Episode III and happily there are not quite as many plot holes or inconsistencies as I thought there were. There are some of course - for instance, Obi-Wan went by that name actually until after Luke was born and for that matter, how would Leia know that he now goes by Ben? This is my favorite of all the Star Wars movies - I love the cantina scene and the Death Star stuff, I love Luke Skywalker, and I love the interaction between Leia and Darth Vader. There's something almost paternal in the way he pulls her back from the viewing screen as Alderaan is about to be destroyed. Of course, he also tortures her for information, so there's a little bit of a gap there. Originally, this was meant to be a B movie - no one expected it to amount to much - and look at where we are now.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

September 26, 2009

The Garden (2008)
I cannot fathom why in the world this didn't win Best Documentary last year, because it's one of the most affecting docs I've seen in a long time. I was absolutely enraged after watching it and hearing the story about the 14-acre urban garden in Los Angeles that was threatened and (spoiler!) ultimately destroyed by a developer. I have very definite feelings about said developer, which I will not share here, but you can probably guess what they are. This lost to Man on Wire, which I thought was pretty boring. I don't understand that decision at all.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

* Remember that my Top 100 list is only for fictional films - although this would definitely be on there if I included documentaries.

September 25, 2009

Edward Scissorhands (1990)
#80 on my Top 100 List
I've decided that I'm going to try to watch everything on my Top 100 list before the end of this experiment, so expect to see more of those in the future. I also toyed with the idea of including all of the Best Picture winners as well, but then I remembered that there are some that I have seen and don't ever want to watch again, so that probably won't happen. This movie marks I think the true beginning of Johnny Depp's career, for this is the first of his many quirky roles and his first collaboration with Tim Burton. And speaking of Tim Burton, please raise your hand if there is anyone out there who would actually like to live in his creepy cookie-cutter version of Suburbia. I didn't think so. The pastel houses, the identicle lawns, right up to the creepy gothic mansion set high on the hill - it's so normal and yet so off. In other words, so Tim Burton. Also making an appearance is the bright red paint in leiu of realistic blood that he was so fond of in Sweeney Todd. The unfinished creation Edward is one of the most sympathetic characters that I can think of in recent cinema, made moreso by Johnny Depp's soft-spoken, often almost mute performance. And finally, I would just like to say that a bright teal jumpsuit is never okay.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Friday, September 25, 2009

September 24, 2009

Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)
#24 on my Top 100 List
Besides the amazing cast that George Clooney put together (including Frank Langella, Jeff Daniels, and Patricia Clarkson), the most striking thing about this movie is the way it looks. The sets are perfectly reminiscent of a 1950s television studio resurrected and the way the cigarette smoke curls slowly through the light beams in beautiful black and white is amazing. Memoirs of a Geisha won the Oscar that year for cinematography, but I think that it was entirely undeserving - the way that this movie was shot is pure art. The story of Edward R. Murrow's showdown with Senator Joseph McCarty doesn't exactly make for a thrilling tale, but it's interesting and historical and most of all, important to our culture. David Strathairn embodied Murrow perfectly. This was also the first time that I had seen Robert Downey Jr. for a long time in a film - and the one that made me go, huh - I wonder what he's up to now? Clearly, it was just the beginning of his amazing comeback.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

September 23, 2009

Zoolander (2001)
Another case of Will Ferrell playing Will Ferrell, but the rest of this movie is pretty funny. It's similar to Dodgeball, in that the funniest thing about it is the concept rather than the actual story, and this one includes cameos from several celebrities playing themselves. Oh, but to have had it made five years later so that we could have had a Tim Gunn appearance! And whoelse but True Blood's gorgeous Alexander Skarsgard could have played the ill-fated Swedish model?
My Netflix rating: 3 stars

September 22, 2009

The Birds (1963)
#16 on my Top 100 List
Out of all of Alfred Hitchcock's films, there are really only two that can be categorized as horror, contrary to some popular opinion - this and Psycho. What makes this movie so scary is that the bad guys are birds. Sea gulls, swifts, crows, you name it - they're after you. They mass in swarms in the skies, glare from power lines, swarm down chimneys and peck their way through ceilings, with not a single hint of an explanation why. The scene where Melanie (Tippi Hedren) turns around to see hundreds of crows silently watching her from the playground and the ensuing chase down the street from the schoolhouse is scary and memorable, but nothing can compare to the discovery of the neighbor's eye-less body propped up against his bedroom wall. Hitchcock chose to have no music at all in the film, which in turns makes the sound of a bird's call or flapping wings a terrifying herald of things to come. The end of the film offers no resolution, which leaves the viewer unsettled, slighty unsatisfied, and in real life, warily eyeing any semblance of more than five birds on a power line at a time. I'm pretty sure that that's exactly what Hitch wanted.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Monday, September 21, 2009

September 21, 2009

9 (2009)
Elijah Wood just attracts bad guys with huge fiery eyes and scary black towers, doesn't he? This is a pretty good movie if you can get past the ridiculous premise: the earth is barren, empty, and devoid of all life after an unnamed war between man and machines and all that survives are a series of nine diminutive sentient dolls made of burlap and metal created by an eccentric inventor straight out of Edward Scissorhands. The story itself is okay, despite the fact that the earth's nuclear winter status is never really explained and most of the characters are not especially developed. When the scientist's secret is finally revealed, it feels like a little bit of a let-down - we watched all the way to this point just to find out that he's copying Lord Voldemort? Still, as post-apocalyptic movies go, it still manages to be less depressing than WALL-E.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

September 20, 2009

Up the Sandbox (1972)
Much like The Science of Sleep or Arizona Dream, it is nearly impossible to tell when in this movie the main character is imagining things and when they're happening in real life. While it's fine to incorporate characters' fantasies in your movie (Heavenly Creatures does that particularly well), when the audience has no clue what's going on and what's real, the filmmaker has dropped the ball. Barbra Streisand gives an okay performance, but I was so lost as to what was happening that I barely noticed.
My Netflix rating: 3 stars

Sunday, September 20, 2009

September 19, 2009

The Full Monty (1997)
This is the movie which made me forever love Robert Carlyle - he's completely adorable. The entire cast is great and I think that they were actually cast very well. The six men playing hapless strippers do represent the "every man" - one's skinny, one's overweight, two are older. The strip show at the end, though not as revealing to the audience as it is to the characters in the club, is hysterical. This is a fantastic, fun movie and was nominated for Best Picture, but it had the misfortune of being made in a year when nothing stood a chance against Titanic. And come on - who doesn't get the urge now to dance every time they hear the song "Hot Stuff?"
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

September 18, 2009

Stand By Me (1986)
#78 on my Top 100 List
It's interesting that this is based on a Stephen King novella and really isn't scary at all. It doesn't try to be - that's not the point. It's a very good coming-of-age story, given a touch of tragedy by the casting of River Phoenix in the role of the bad boy whose death as an adult sparks the telling of the story. As he fades from the screen in the end, under a voiceover telling of his death, you can't help but equate the character to River Phoenix himself. This movie's tone has one of the best arcs in the movie, starting as an innocent adventure into the woods in search of a dead body and ending as a deep and nuanced fable about growing up. Corey Feldman and Jerry O'Connell are awesome as the young sidekicks, but the greatest moment comes when skinny little Wil Wheaton pulls a gun on Keifer Sutherland and says "Suck my fat one, you cheap dime store hood." That ranks right up there with Brittany Murphy's way harsh "You're a virgin who can't drive" from Clueless and Larisa Oleynik's condescending "You're asking me out? That's so cute - what's your name again?" from 10 Things I Hate About You in the pantheon of teen movie insults.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Thursday, September 17, 2009

September 17, 2009

Secret Window (2004)
Johnny Depp is the perfect illustration of a frustrated, desperate writer - ratty bathrobe, crazy unbrushed hair, a diet of Mountain Dew and Doritos. Then John Turturro shows up and starts doing things like murdering his dog and threatening his friends, all over an accusation of plaigerism. Is it true or is he crazy? I'm so not ruining the surprise on this one - just watch it. It's terrifying at first, though once you've seen it, the scare factor wears off. Regardless, it does warrent multiple viewings, if only for the fun of trying to decipher the clues once you know what they point to. Horror characters never seem to learn that isolated cabins in the woods are never a good idea. Johnny Depp is also pretty good at the deadpan humor ("I killed a mirror. And my shower door" for example) - something I haven't seen him do too much.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

September 16, 2009

The Philadelphia Story (1940)
#55 on my Top 100 List
In the first scene, Cary Grant punches his wife in the face and yet I still love him. I love everything about this movie, from the all-star cast (besides Cary Grant, most handsome man ever to grace the screen, it includes Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart) to the slapstick plot to the hysterical scene between Jimmy Stewart's drunk Mike and Cary Grant's half-asleep CK Dexter Haven. The only thing that was strange for me was hearing the other characters call him Dexter or Dex, considering how much of the show Dexter I've been watching recently. Definitely not the same kind of character.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

September 15, 2009

The Sword in the Stone (1963)
I should like this movie way more than I do. It's a Disney movie, it's hand-drawn animation, it's about an actual historical figure, it's based on a classic novel...but it's also really boring. Merlin teaches young Arthur about being a wizard, young Arthur is teased and mistreated - then the storyline gets jarred when they try to force a villain in (Madame Mim, who is one of Disney's lamest attempts at a villain) and it never really works. There are several funny moments, though, with Merlin and his allusions to time travel (he cheerfully informs Arthur that The London Times won't be coming around for about 1,200 years and that the 20th century is a big mess). If you really like Arthurian legend or are a Disney purist, you might be more open to this than I was - historically speaking, it's important however in that it was the last Disney movie released while Walt Disney was alive.
My Netflix rating: 3 stars

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

September 14, 2009

Ghost (1990)
In honor of Patrick Swayze and his work, I figured I should watch one of his more famous films yesterday, especially since I own it and have never seen it. Watching it now, it feels like a cliche, though I know that the cliches actually were born from this movie the first time around. It's sweet and sad and sort of heartwarming in the end, though the whole ghost kiss thing is a tiny bit creepy. The movie also throws in some mystery/thriller elements, which I definitely didn't expect. You will be missed, Patrick Swayze.
My Netflix rating: 3 stars

Monday, September 14, 2009

September 13, 2009

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
I'm normally not a fan of movie musicals, especially ones that are so operatic. But this is Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, so how can I not like it? From what I've heard, the original staging of Sweeney Todd treats the story more like a comedy, but this one is a dark gothic horror that includes buckets of red paint in place of blood. The color of the paint is definitely off from what you'd expect, but somehow it fits into this scary version of London that Burton has created. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter aren't great singers, but they're passable - their voices just sound untrained. Alan Rickman, on the other hand, can't sing at all, but he's Alan Rickman, so I forgive him. I do feel bad for the kid in the story, as well as the crazy street woman, whose true identity I'll keep a secret. This is cannabalism at its sadistic best.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Sunday, September 13, 2009

September 12, 2009

District 9 (2009)
Well, that was a different way of looking at aliens. This isn't the innocent little ET or the vicious bloodthirsty aliens from Signs. These aliens are just sort of there. And crowded into a very realistically portrayed slum. And pretty pathetic. Honestly, these guys just want to go home and the humans keep crowding them into worse living situations. It's a gritty, grim, unintentionally eye-opening movie that feels like a combination of Black Hawk Down, Independence Day and Iron Man. My only complaint is that the movie breaks the 15-minute rule (the style that you establish in the first 15 minutes must be followed throughout the film) - some have said it's more of a framing device for the story, but I still disagree with the way they did it. The special effects for the aliens themselves, especially given the budget of the film, are amazing.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

September 11, 2009

Holy Smoke (1999)
Kate Winslet enters a cult in India, her parents drag her home to Australia where she's then given to a deprogramming guru who will supposedly help her not want to be in the cult anymore. Um, okay, but the "cult" that she was supposedly living in didn't seem all that sinister to me. In fact, given how the movie ends, I'm pretty sure that they were harmless. This movie won a handful of awards (though none of them Oscars), so apparently I'm missing something, but I thought this movie was really weird and not in a good way. Kate Winslet does however fake a pretty good Australian accent, though I shouldn't be surprised since she faked a decent New Zealand accent in Heavenly Creatures.
My Netflix rating: 3 stars

Thursday, September 10, 2009

September 10, 2009

Sunshine Cleaning (2009)
Emily Blunt and Amy Adams didn't quite sell me on being sisters at first, but the more I watched, the more it really worked. Even though they don't look anything alike, the way they play off each other does feel like a sisterly bond. Emily Blunt's American accent is very good, though the pitch sounds different enough that you're constantly reminded that it's fake. They don't hold much back when showing the crime scenes that the girls are cleaning up, which brings down overall tone down from straight comedy to dark comedy. Definitely worth watching.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

September 9, 2009

The Class (2008)
Two hours following a single teacher and his class sounds like it might be really boring, but it's not. This is actually a really interesting film that gets deep into the workings and relationships present in an inner-city school. It's like what Boston Public could have been if the show had decided that every conceivable terrible thing didn't necessarily have to happen at the same school. Each student is given their own identity, which is difficult when you're juggling a cast of twenty or thirty characters, and the teacher, Mr. Marin, is a strong lead.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

September 8, 2009

Heart and Souls (1993)
I know that all of Robert Downey, Jr.'s performances in the 1990s were while he was perpetually high, but it's hard to remember that when watching something as adorable as this. I remember seeing this when I was little, though I didn't appreciate a lot of it back then. The concept is fun, with four spirits attached to a little boy born the moment they died in a bus crash who then use him to resolve their unfinished business so that they can cross over. Downey's performance includes having to imitate each of the other actors while the ghosts possess him and it's pretty impressive.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September 7, 2009

Where the Red Fern Grows (1974)
#32 on my Top 100 List
There be spoilers ahead.
Forget Littlefoot's mother. Forget Bambi's mother and the dog in I Am Legend and Marley. The animal deaths in this movie are the most heartbreaking of anything that I have ever seen. I can't really judge this movie, because it's been a favorite of mine since I was little. They showed it to us in elementary school - 2nd grade I think? Then I found the book and read it and loved that too. The end monologue is touched with just enough nostalgic sorrow while also rounding out the story and providing closure for the character and the audience. Its lesson is an interesting one - you have to meet God halfway - but it doesn't feel heavy-handed. I'd be interested to know how they filmed the climatic fight in the end, because this was pre-CGI and I'm pretty sure that that's a real mountain lion fighting a dog in some of those shots.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Monday, September 7, 2009

September 6, 2009

Uptown Girls (2003)
Brittney Murphy is not my favorite actress (except in Clueless, because really, I love everything about that movie) but she does a pretty good job of making me feel bad for her in this. Jesse Spencer (the Australian doctor from House) is decent as the rock-star sometimes boyfriend, plus hearing him sing is a definite plus, and Dakota Fanning really is a great actress. I'm glad that she, like Abigail Breslin, doesn't seem to be falling into the traps that snag some child stars. These two characters are fairly well-developed and by the end, you really do care what happens to them.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

September 5, 2009

Sin City (2005)
Some people loved this heavily-stylized movie and some people hated it. I really liked it. I think that the ways that Robert Rodriguez played with special effects, light and especially color in order to make this look like an animated graphic novel that just happened to include real actors worked very well. The dialogue is pretty clunky, but I think that that was intentional in order to keep with the graphic novel theme. The lines sound like they would be okay if you were to read them, just not say them aloud. It's incredibly disturbing and violent - I can never look at Elijah Wood the same way ever again - but it doesn't feel gratuitous because that's what the story is about. Also, seeing Rory Gilmore with a gun is just weird.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Saturday, September 5, 2009

September 4, 2009

Angel Heart (1987)
This movie is described as horror, but there is nothing remotely scary about it. In fact, there's nothing that resembles a horror film at all. I'm all about playing with the conventions of a genre, but it has be recognizable as that genre if you want it to work. This is from before Mickey Rourke let his career die and rot for twenty years and it barely even looks like the same person. In fact, in this he looks more like Bruce Willis than anything else. Either way, he was not impressive and neither was the movie itself. The twist at the end made it marginally interesting, but it's certainly nothing new.
My Netflix rating: 2 stars

Friday, September 4, 2009

September 3, 2009

Dumbo (1941)
Wow, there are a lot of things in this movie that could never be included today. Where was the Production Code on this one? Besides the racist crows and the concept of ripping a baby away from its mother who was only trying to protect him, it includes the beating of children (though that little brat was tormenting baby Dumbo, so it fits into the storyline), the forced labor of animals to build the circus Big Top, the whipping of a mother elephant, and a baby consuming lots of alcohol. In looking at Wikipedia, I think that the elephants in the movie are Asian elephants and Dumbo, with his big ears, is closer to an African elephant. Might that be a little reference to racial discrimination? The whole "Baby Mine" song and sequence is one of the most heartwrenchingly sad things I've ever seen and I cry every single time I watch it. Though, if you've noticed, crying at movies isn't necessarily out of the ordinary for me.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

September 2, 2009

Ghost Ship (2002)
Let me just say right off the bat that the whole concept of a ghost ship is creepy enough. The tone is set right from the opening scene, where dozens of richly dressed passengers on an Italian cruise liner, including a young girl (the daughter from Lemony Snicket), are dancing the night away only for a metal wire to come loose and slice them all into pieces. It's a truly cringe-worthy, gory scene. Skip forward to a modern-day salvaging crew, including Gabriel Byrne, Dr. Burke from Grey's Anatomy, Eomer from Lord of the Rings and the pilot from Black Hawk Down, as they're approached by a man who has found a huge ship free-floating in the Bering Strait. The ship is of course that from the beginning, only it's now completely empty and derelict, coated in 40 years worth of rust. Or are those splatters blood? It's a dark and rainy night, a la Hitchcock, and it isn't long before the crew are killed off one by one. A lot of people wrote this off as a stupid horror movie, but I actually think it's pretty intelligent, especially when you consider the possibility of the seven deadly sins being a part of the theme. The end is surprisingly moving and the little girl, whether as a human or a ghost, is by far the best part of the movie.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

September 1, 2009

Dracula (1931)
#77 on my Top 100 List
In today's day and age of vampire pop culture overload, one thing stands out about this film. It was made in 1931 and therefore they really had no way to doing any kind of vampire special effects. There are no bumpy brow ridges like in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, no retractable fangs like in True Blood and no golden eyes and sparkly skin like in Twilight. All of the creepiness in the movie comes entirely from the lighting and production design. The gothic spires of Dracula's castle, the cobwebs in the basement where his coffin lies, the one strip of light that always falls across his eyes - these are the signs of good filmmaking. You take what you have access to and really making something of it. The man who plays Renfield has a laugh so crazy that it makes your skin crawl and what dialogue there is in the film seems almost out of place, like talking in a library.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

August 31, 2009

Adventureland (2009)
The soundtrack of this movie made me feel like I was back at the roller skating rink in 1994. It's catchy and it's irritating, but it fits somehow. That paired with the spectacular 80s hair and clothes makes the sensory images of the film interesting to say the least. Kristen Stewart is good at being angsty and Ryan Reynolds is actually very toned-down. The role he plays is almost a villain but not quite. Also, the end sequence includes a reminder for all men about the importance of not falling through the Sock Gap.
My Netflix rating: 3 stars