Saturday, October 31, 2009

October 30, 2009

Jawbreaker (1999)
Popular girls kidnap their best friend, popular girls accidentally kill their best friend, dorky girl sees them with the body, popular girls make over dorky girl, dorky girl gets too big for her britches - and so on and so forth. This movie is actually really fun. It's dark and twisted, but Rose McGowan is perfect as the devilish head snob Courtney, who seems completely unfazed that she's just killed her friend, accident or not. Julie Benz is okay as the sidekick, but I can't help but notice how many projects she's been involved with that involve death - first as the vampire Darla in Buffy and Angel, then in this, and now as serial killer Dexter's wife on Dexter. And one would never expect it, since she looks perfect to play the blonde popular high school girl.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

October 29, 2009

Dial M For Murder (1954)
This is one of Hitchcock's best films and surprisingly one I had never seen before. There are many people in the film world (myself included) who believe very strongly that 1939 was the Greatest Year of Hollywood Ever - I would like to nominated 1954 as second greatest. Besides this, you had On the Waterfront, Creature From the Black Lagoon, The Caine Mutiny, White Christmas, Rear Window, Sabrina, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers - the list goes on and on. Grace Kelly is perfectly cast as the unfaithful wife targeted for, and then framed for, murder. The scene with the scissors is one of Hitch's best.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Thursday, October 29, 2009

October 28, 2009

M (1931)
While I certainly appreciate this film for both its historical significance and its use of atmosphere and burgeoning prevalence of sound to heighten tension, I was disappointed by it. I have mostly heard it talked about with the same reverent tones used for Rear Window or Touch of Evil, but I thought that it fell a little flat. It's a strange sort of look - almost a melding of German Expressionism and Film Noir (which makes sense, given that it was made between the popularity of the two movements) - and its main problem is that it has no real protagonist. There is no one character that the audience can latch onto in times of tension or fear for in times of danger. The most recognizable character is Peter Lorre as the child-killer and you certainly don't identify with him, even at the disturbing end. That being said, Peter Lorre is a damn good actor.
My Netflix rating: 3 stars

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

October 27, 2009

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
I think that this movie is supposed to be touching, endearing, and heartfelt. What it actually is is creepy, melodramatic, and emotionally manipulative. Oh look, isn't it sad that Lars can't socialize with people? Isn't he silly, thinking that he's in love with a blow-up doll? Aren't his family and neighbors supportive of him, playing along with his delusion? No, no, and no. He's a sympathetic character, sure, but his clinging to his delusion makes him pitiable and not in a good way. His brother and sister-in-law's refusal to deal with his mental issues only perpetuates them and makes the rest of us suffer through this movie. Oscar-nominated for writing - wouldn't have been my first choice.
My Netflix rating: 2 stars

Monday, October 26, 2009

October 26, 2009

Resident Evil (2002)
It's not as good as the sequel (see my entry back in late June), but this first in the Resident Evil series is a solid zombie movie. It has the advantage of being contained in a small space (the underground lab known as "The Hive"), which serves to heighten the horror when the dead start coming back to life and gnawing on the living. This one also has a little bit of the 2001: A Space Odyssey paranoia thrown in, where for most of the movie, the human protagonists think that all of the problems are caused by the Hive's AI system. The Red Queen, as it's known, shows up as a creepy little girl outlined in red lasers. We all know how scary little kids can be in movies. This doesn't have Oded Fehr in it, but we get James Purefoy instead!
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

October 25, 2009

Van Helsing (2004)
Stephen Sommers, what happened? Where did you go wrong? The Mummy movies are so much fun and this just...isn't. The idea of mashing together the stories of Dracula, The Wolf Man, and Frankenstein sounds sort of fun at first. Turns out, not so much. The addition of Hugh Jackman only gives the audience an obligatory shirtless scene so that we can be distracted from this terrible movie by his definitely un-terrible muscles. The movie's fatal flaw is that Anna - the mysterious and confusing gypsy princess (apparently - they reference that and never explain it) - is incredibly boring. Dracula's brides are way more interesting, plus their maternal joy at seeing their children born is the most honest emotion in the whole movie, thus endearing the audience to the bad guys. See the problem there? This is one where I wish I could give half star ratings - it's much closer to 2 1/2 than 3.
My Netflix rating: 3 stars

Sunday, October 25, 2009

October 24, 2009

Once Upon a Time In Mexico (2003)
#45 on my Top 100 List
It's violent, it's bloody, it's the third in a trilogy - and I love it. In fact, it's more like the "fourth" in a trilogy. Robert Rodriguez talks in the special features about how the flashbacks in the film reference a third movie that supposedly goes between Desperado and this one, but doesn't actually exist. Therefore, it's the fourth story in three movies. Plus, it's Johnny Depp and even though terrible things happen to him, I love to watch him. Don't, however, watch this movie if you have a weak stomach.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

October 23, 2009

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
I can never decide if I think this is a Christmas movie or a Halloween movie. I suppose that technically it's both - this year, I'm going with Halloween. You know how I revere hand-drawn animation over most other filmmaking styles? The only thing that I hold in higher regard is stop-motion animation, which this is. Every single frame (that's 24 frames a second, folks) had to be set on a miniature set and shot as a still, then they moved onto the next one. I experimented with some stop-motion animation when I was in school, and let me tell you - it's frakking hard. I have nothing but awe and the utmost respect for filmmakers who do that. The songs in the movie, too, are catchy and appropriate (but they lose points for getting stuck in my head for weeks).
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Friday, October 23, 2009

October 22, 2009

Casablanca (1943)
#62 on my Top 100 List
Right off the bat, this movie is intriguing due to the exotic locale of a Moroccan bazaar. The plot quickly unfolds and envelops sinister Nazis, murdered Nazis, valuable letters of transit, a beautiful woman, a delightfully shady bit part played by Peter Lorre, and Humphrey Bogart as the jaded saloon owner Rick. The film's famous ending on the fog-shrouded tarmac was heavily influenced by the rules that Hollywood had to adhere to at the time known as the Production Code - Rick and Ilsa were in fact not allowed to end up together. The Production Code also accounts for the seemingly shortened love scenes, as "excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown." (A full copy of the rules is available if anyone wants to Google it.) There are several famous lines from the film, but don't trouble yourself straining to hear "Play it again, Sam." It isn't there.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

October 21, 2009

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)
Other than a surprise uncredited appearance by Jack Black and a sickly amusing game of "Where's the Body?", there isn't much that's entertaining in this movie. It's interesting that the story takes place on a Caribbean island during a hurricane, thus limiting the environment by use of weather, but seriously, that trick was used in the classic Film Noir Key Largo and I think it goes without saying that that one is better. Jennifer Love Hewitt and Freddie Prinze, Jr. are back from the original and once again terrorized by the fisherman with the hook, but of course, no one believes them until it's too late. The twist at the end is laughably predictable.
My Netflix rating: 3 stars

October 20, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
Maybe it's because I have no real sentimental attachment to the book or maybe it's because the expectations for this movie were ridiculously high, but either way, I was a little disappointed. It wasn't the acting or the production design or anything like that - just that to adapt a book that consists of ten sentences into a feature-length film, you have to add in a lot of story and I think that the story that was added was a little thin. That being said, I loved the look of the film - the Wild Things were amazing in how much they mirrored the original illustration and I loved that Max's wolf costume was such a part of the film (since it's such a part of the book). The way that the story is told here is really depressing, where in the book it's a lot lighter, but that wasn't really anything I had an issue with.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

October 19, 2009

Hocus Pocus (1993)
I adore this movie. Seriously - it's fun and funny and includes delightful performances from everyone in the cast. I would say that I think it's Sarah Jessica Parker's best work. Watching Penny and Gary Marshall (brother and sister fyi) play feuding spouses who have a run-in with the reincarnated witches is a tiny bit creepy, but mostly tongue-in-cheek funny. Thora Birch, who played Jane in American Beauty, is great as the little girl in the most imminent danger from the Sanderson sisters and Sean Murray, otherwise known on McGee on NCIS, is appropriately heartbreaking as the ghost of Thackery Binx - a colonial Salem boy who failed to save his little sister from the witches before they were killed. My only question is where did they film it? I've been to Salem and it certainly doesn't look like that.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Monday, October 19, 2009

October 18, 2009

Nosferatu (1922)
This has often been called one of the scariest adaptations of Dracula ever. I'm inclined to agree with that - even with a static soundtrack (instead of one that was improvised by the pianist and changed with each showing) and deteriorated quality of the print (though it's far better than some other films surviving of the time), it's very chilling. It's interesting, because according to Wikipedia, F.W. Murneau had to change several of the names and events that pointed to it being a version of Dracula, due to copyright laws, but the version I watched very clearly called them Dracula, Jonathan Harker, etc. The only difference is that Mina Harker became Nina Harker. I love German Expressionism, which this movie falls under, for its shadows and hard angles, and twisted views of society. I think that modern horror owes a lot to this movement. It is amusing to me, though, that Dracula (or Count Orlaf, depending I guess on what version you're watching) thinks that anyone wouldn't be able to tell he's a vampire - the makeup that they put him in leaves no question.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

October 17, 2009

Armageddon (1998)
If you don't take this movie seriously (and ignore the fact that the title is a huge misnomer, according to Shannon), it's actually pretty fun. The Aerosmith song is corny but sweet, the animal cracker scene is the same, and the moment that father and daughter share at the Apollo I memorial site is kind of touching. The visual effects are awesome, though the production design is definitely not (who decided that the surface of the asteroid should look like an ice cave covered in tin foil?), and there are a bunch of actors who show up that I certainly didn't expect. Owen Wilson, Michael Clark Duncan, Jason Isaacs, and that guy who's in every action or war movie made in the last ten years (William Fichtner) all show up as NASA specialists or drillers. The President's speech to the world about standing together in the face of adversary, though, isn't nearly as good as President Whitmore's in Independence Day.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Saturday, October 17, 2009

October 16, 2009

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Sarah Michelle Gellar should just not make horror movies - ever. It doesn't feel right to watch her screaming and running from the bad guys. Take a stand, Buffy, and kick their asses! This came out a year after Scream resurrected the slasher as an entertaining form of scary movies and of the two, Scream is vastly better. This is mired in cliches and make-you-jump moments that don't actually make you jump. And yet, despite all of that, I just moved the sequel up on my Netflix queue. I do have a soft spot for bad horror movies!
My Netflix rating: 3 stars

Friday, October 16, 2009

October 15, 2009

Friday the 13th (1980)
Thought A Nightmare on Elm Street is my favorite of the original three 80s slasher movies, this one is also fun and appropriately gory. It features Kevin Bacon in one of his very first film roles, though none of the rest of the cast ever seemed to do anything afterward (similar to Johnny Depp's success following Nightmare or Jamie Lee Curtis after Halloween), and nearly all of the characters meet horrifically interesting and elaborate deaths, from the grisly death of the first character at the hands of a psychotic Jeep driver (and that, children, is why we never hitchhike) to the final bloody showdown. The biggest problem this movie has is that there is no clear main character to root for - no one girl who you know is going to survive through the end - and the nameless jumble of teenagers are all so irritating that you don't even mind when they get ax-murdered. They're also exceedingly stupid, though they are all sporting pretty spectacular 70s styles. The use of the POV shots is interesting to heighten suspense and scare factor, but the acting is so bad that it only occasionally works.
My Netflix rating: 3 stars

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

October 14, 2009

The Informant! (2009)
So I guess I have to buy Steven Soderbergh a tripod too...seriously, please, cut out the handheld camera work! Other than that, this movie was funny in a twisted sort of way. I feel like I have to read the book now to see what was true and what was dramatized (Kat, this is your influence!). Matt Damon's performance was awesome, with the only exception being that the wig he had on seemed to slide around his head every time he touched his hair. Towards the end when it delved into embezzlement and corporate kickbacks, I got a little lost but the tongue-in-cheek tone kept my attention even if I didn't totally understand what was going on. And finally, it's just really hard to accept Buster Bluth as a high-powered attorney.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

October 13, 2009

Quarantine (2008)
As far as zombie movies go, there are definitely better ones out there. This one subscribes to the idea that zombies are born from being infected with a virus, here a mutated form of rabies, and the infected proceed to eat everyone in the movie. Lots of screaming, which is made slightly scarier by the fact that this is done entirely news camera-style. Clearly, these characters did not read The Zombie Survival Guide. They would have lived a lot longer if they had.
My Netflix rating: 3 stars

October 12, 2009

Whip It (2009)
Aside from the fact that Bliss is sort of a more introverted and less pregnant version of Juno from Juno, this movie is totally fun. I've never seen roller derby in real life, but if it's anything like what it looks like in this, I'm so going to the next game! Ellen Page is a great actress and here she was surrounded by several older women who managed to not outshine her and also stand as their own parts of the whole. The whole, of course, being the Hurl Scouts. Any part of the movie not related to roller derby is just so-so, but the derby shots are enough to make the movie worth seeing.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Sunday, October 11, 2009

October 11, 2009

The Stepford Wives (2004)
I know it's a remake and I know it's not as good as the original (or even really that good) but this movie has some really funny moments. Most of them, of course, include Bette Midler and Roger Bart, because they're both absolutely fabulous. Nicole Kidman is so-so and Matthew Broderick is not really convincing at all as the beaten-down husband. Christopher Walken is creepy as always, as is the whole concept of Stepford, but beyond that, there's not much here. It's like I Dream of Jeannie gone horribly scarily wrong.
My Netflix rating: 3 stars

October 10, 2009

The Others (2001)
I know the concept has been done before, but I don't mind that here. I won't ruin the ending, but it's something that you might not expect. I also really enjoy Nicole Kidman's performance. The way that they shot the film is very interesting, given that the two children are so photosensitive that they can't be exposed to any sunlight (which apparently is a real condition, just very rare). It's dark and full of flickering candlelight that causes interesting shadows in deep corners. The cast consists of seven characters with a handful who show up in the very end, but it only helps to reinforce the feeling of isolation and abandonment. The moment when the little boy questions the fate of his father is one of the saddest and most haunting moments in the film.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Friday, October 9, 2009

October 9, 2009

Awake (2007)
I know that this movie was not well-received by audiences or critics, but I didn't think it was that bad. Of course, I didn't think it was that good either. It's just sort of blah. I did like that while Hayden Christiansen is trapped awake inside his own body during surgery, they use voice over to tell us what he's thinking at first. It was less interesting after he starts having an out-of-body experience in the second half of the film. The only thing that I found really funny was that his character's last name was Beresford, which is also the name of an important character on Dark Angel, also starring Jessica Alba.
My Netflix rating: 3 stars

October 8, 2009

Signs (2002)
#54 on my Top 100 List
Good God, Abigail Breslin was adorable in this movie! She was only six when it was released and for a child that young, her performance is great. This movie is about crop circles, which - like ghost ships - are creepy enough to begin with. Add to that M. Night Shyamalan (back when he was making good movies) and you have a very disturbing film. It's suspenseful from the very beginning, and though the end is unnecessary and bad, I don't think it negates how good the rest of the film is. Even though they look nothing alike, Joaquin Pheonix, Mel Gibson, Abigail Breslin, and Rory Culkin totally sell me on being a family and the scene where they're hiding in the foyer as the aliens break into the second floor of their house is one of my favorites.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Thursday, October 8, 2009

October 7, 2009

Carrie (1976)
This movie, one of the most popular horror movies of the last few decades, isn't really scary so much as really disturbing. Carrie's humiliation at the hands of her classmates and torture at the hands of her mother are very hard to watch and it's totally acceptable at the end when she snaps and does what she does. Pig's blood doesn't come out of satin, after all. The name of the ill-fated high school is Bates High School, which, along with short bursts of the violent violins from the shower scene, provide enough of an allusion to Psycho that everyone should know that things are not going to end well. Sissy Spacek is creepy-looking with her eyes wide and staring like that, but for most of the movie, her character is just sad, not threatening.
My Netflix rating: 3 stars

October 6, 2009

Inglorious Basterds (2009)
Structured like Pulp Fiction with the overtones of a traditional western, this movie is violent and bloody with a high gore factor, but still incredibly funny and watchable. Brad Pitt's accent alone is cause for laughter, after all. Besides that, the movie is worth seeing for the performances of the two women in the film and Christoph Waltz, who plays the smooth-talking, slimy Nazi officer. I was surprised by the end of the film, which is totally not what I expected. Though I usually prefer Robert Rodriguez to Quentin Tarantino, this one definitely exceeded my expectations. Also, Eli Roth looks amazingly like Zachary Quinto.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Monday, October 5, 2009

October 5, 2009

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
People who are huge fans of the children's book that this is based on probably won't love this movie, because it has very little to do with the book itself - though the school being flattened by giant pancakes and the boats being made out of toast do make it onscreen. They had to inject a lot of plot into the original story to make a feasible feature-length film and what they came up with is entertaining. A machine that turns water into food goes haywire. Wackiness ensues. There are fun allusions, though, to several action and/or disaster movies, including Independence Day, Star Wars, Armageddon, Dante's Peak, and The Wizard of Oz. Beware the spaghetti tornado!
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

October 4, 2009

Bright Star (2009)
This is only sort of a book adaptation, since the screenwriter was "inspired by" a biography of Romantic poet John Keats, but I figured that it's close enough. I know that Keats is considered and remembered as one of the best of the Romantics, but did this movie have to be quite so emo? His love affair with Fanny Brawne really was chastely passionate and tragically brief - and this movie was incredibly well-acted and beautifully designed - but I think that the true telling sign of how the audience was receiving it was when my friends and I were quite violently shh'd by the woman sitting behind us as we dared to talk quietly during the credits, over the recitation of one of Keats's poems by Ben Whishaw. By the way, we're into Potential Oscar Nominee season, so there will be many more films in theaters coming up. I don't even consider it an option - if something is likely to get nominated, I'll try my best to see it, whether I want to or not.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Sunday, October 4, 2009

October 3, 2009

Zombieland (2009)
#90 on my Top 100 List
It's very appropriate that I just watched Ghostbusters two days ago, because this movie includes the greatest recreation of a scene from Ghostbusters in cinema ever. There were so many great things about this movie, from how the four main characters refuse to give their names to protect themselves to the narrator's Rules of Surviving that pop up from time to time to Woody Harrelson's maddening desire for Twinkies. There is blood and gore abounding, but the movie is also full of laughs and hilarious weaponry (a banjo and car doors standing out most in my mind). Aside from the Ghostbusters allusion, there is also a reference to Deliverance and an opening scene that eerily looks like the slow-motion opening to Watchmen.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

October 2, 2009

Transamerica (2005)
Though this has a plot, the main point for this movie is as a vehicle for Felicity Huffman's performance. Her voice, more than anything, is what sold me on her as a transsexual woman. I've seen her on Desperate Housewives and Sports Night - I know that she's a good actress - but this is amazing. She lost the Oscar to Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line and both performances were very worthy.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October 1, 2009

Ghostbusters (1984)
#34 on my Top 100 List
This is another one of those movies that I find myself quoting all over the place. There's something eternally endearing about the four hapless self-proclaimed ghost hunters who get in way over their heads when they have to battle an ancient god in New York City. A god who is, of course, in the form of a stories-tall Marshmallow Man. Considering that this was made in the mid-80s, the special effects are actually pretty impressive. I am curious as to how no one noticed the huge Sumerian temple situated atop a luxury apartment building, but I guess I can forgive them for it, since I have no problem with the idea of a blobby green apparition with a taste for hotdogs. Oh, Slimer. Rick Moranis is great as the dorky lawyer who ends up being possessed by the Key Master and turns into a lizard-like dog.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

September 30, 2009

John Q (2001)
This is an odd movie that tries to tug at the heartstrings but ends up just looking kind of ridiculous. The doctor and hospital administrator that are supposed to be the villains of the story aren't all that villainous - just cold and distant, who deliver bad news as though they were giving a homework lesson. The music choices are jarring and strange, the opening scene seems for a long time like it has nothing to do with anything, and the end is a jumble of cliches all fighting each other for dominance. Plus, the heart in the end is the fakest looking heart ever. It's like a half-filled water balloon.
My Netflix rating: 3 stars