Monday, November 30, 2009

November 30, 2009

2012 (2009)
Once upon a time, there was a movie called Independence Day. Everyone liked it - it was funny and thrilling and full of cool special effects. So, Roland Emmerich went on to destroy the world again in The Day After Tomorrow. Not as good as the first, but still a fun movie if you can get past the suspension of disbelief. That brought us to 10,000 BC, in which the only redeeming quality was that the male lead was hot and shirtless most of the time. Contrary to my expectations, this movie was much closer to the first two than the third. It has problems (it's super emotionally-manipulating, it has a couple scenes ripped right out of Titanic, and it features a volcano so improbable that it puts Mt. Wilshire in Volcano to shame) but overall it's a splashy, effect-driven disaster movie that doesn't try to be anything else. In fact, there are a couple of really cool shots, especially one of Hawaii engulfed in lava after each island erupts. The characters are pretty typical of Emmerich's other films, though Sasha the Russian bodyguard and Woody Harrelson steal every scene they're in. It's interesting to see which historical artifacts get saved (the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo's David) and which ones get destroyed (the Sistine Chapel, the Christ the Redeemer). And it was horrible to see my beloved Los Angeles/Santa Monica/Hollywood slide into the ocean. I may have teared up a little.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

November 29, 2009

The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009)
As a general rule, the only movie reviewers that I trust are the ones from or Entertainment Weekly and Variety. EW hated this movie and Variety loved it, so I had to see it for myself, more out of curiosity about who was right than anything else. Overall, I'm giving it a resounding "eh." I adore Kevin Spacey and seeing Ewan McGregor in a film where they're constantly calling themselves Jedi Warriors was pretty funny (at least to me), but the film tries so hard to be quirky and hilarious that it suffocates itself. There were definitely funny scenes and the fact that it's supposedly based on a true story at least makes it interesting, but it would have done better just to let the tone flow naturally instead of trying to force it.
My Netflix rating: 3 stars

November 28, 2009

Billy Elliot (2000)
Going into this, I sort of assumed that it would be a light-hearted comedy, since it's hailed on the DVD case as being by the same filmmakers as Four Weddings and Funeral and Notting Hill. It's actually very dark in some places. That's not a detriment - I love films with a good blend of moods. It was very strange seeing Jamie Bell so young, but it's clear that he was a dancer first and an actor second. He's amazing. Julie Walters was great as always - definitely deserving of her Oscar nomination. I like the way they deal with the question of sexuality in the film, also. It's not really something you can escape when you have a movie about a young boy who wants to take ballet classes instead of boxing, but they handle it well.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

November 27, 2009

From Here to Eternity (1953)
#83 on my Top 100 List
I know that there have been quite a few from my Top 100 list lately - there are two reasons for that. One, I want to make sure that I get them all in before the end of the year and two, I'd forgotten how much fun it is to watch a bunch of movies that I truly love all in a row. It's fun to write bad reviews, but it's way more fun to watch good movies. I love this movie because it's about Pearl Harbor, but it's not. It takes place in Hawaii, if not at Pearl Harbor then certainly not far, and it's about a company of infantrymen and the attack on Pearl Harbor is the climax, but it's really about soldiers and what they go through both in peacetime and in war. Montgomery Clift, surprisingly, makes a believable soldier and Frank Sinatra truly shines as his hotheaded best friend Maggio. The other performances are great too, but those two overshadow them. The famous beach scene, so scandalous in its time, lasts barely longer than a second.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Thursday, November 26, 2009

November 26, 2009

The Wizard of Oz (1939)
#52 on my Top 100 List
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! And also happy 70th anniversary to the Greatest Year in Hollywood History. This movie was a huge part of why 1939 was so amazing. The burst of color when Dorothy opens her front door into Oz for the first time is enough to still take my breath away, even now in the age of computers when nothing is impossible. I remember watching this when I was little and my father pointing out a mistake toward the very end, in the scene where the Wizard's hot air balloon leaves. It's a shot involving the Tin Man that wasn't supposed to make it into the final cut - see if you can find it! And finally, I would be remiss to write an entry about this movie and not mention one of it's greatest gifts to pop culture - "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." I'm not a huge fan of the very end (when everything's back in sepia) - I think that that particular plot device is sort of a cop-out - but it's so much a part of this iconic movie that it doesn't bother me as much as it would in anything else.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

November 25, 2009

The Perfect Storm (2000)
#94 on my Top 100 List
There are some movies that I wish and hope will end differently every time I watch them. This is one of them. When George Clooney turns the Andrea Gail around and the crew is finally heading out of the storm, I always hope that something different will happen. It never does. I'm not sure if there's anyone out there who doesn't know how this movie ends, but I won't spoil it, just in case. I really like the cast of this movie, from George Clooney (of course) to John C. Reilly (who I don't usually like) to Diane Lane to William Fichtner, who will heretofore be known as "that guy who shows up in everything."
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

November 24, 2009

Mildred Pierce (1942)
Most websites classify this as a film noir, but I'm not entirely sold on that. Certainly the framing device is noirish, with the mysterious murder of Monte Beragon, but other than that, it leans far more toward melodrama than noir. Joan Crawford gives a very strong perfomance as Mildred. She reminds me in a way of Scarlett O'Hara - she's strong-willed and stubborn, but willing to do anything and everything that she has to in order to survive. Of course, it's possible that she reminds me of Scarlett because Butterfly McQueen (who played Prissy in Gone With the Wind) plays her housemaid Lottie. Might not have completely been film noir, but still a good movie.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

November 23, 2009

Coco Before Chanel (2009)
Every time I see a biopic, I get curious about how much has been fictionalized to make a good story. I know that some of it has to be, but if the movie is made well (which this one was), the dramatizations to the story don't feel implausible. My only problem with this movie (which is another thing characteristic of nearly all biopics) was that it dragged in the middle. While Coco was staying with Balsan, I was getting as restless and bored as she was. It's an inherent problem when a movie follows a person's life - some parts of their lives just aren't that interesting.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Sunday, November 22, 2009

November 22, 2009

The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
#72 on my Top 100 List
Though I have an intense, deep-seated hatred of the New York Yankees, it's impossible not to be moved by this movie. Lou Gehrig's story is tragic and so moving - I know that his final farewell speech in front of the crowd at Yankee Stadium is borderline cliche now, but it's perfect here as the climax of the story. Forget that Babe Ruth and other real Yankees players are in the movie (I know that I try to) - the movie belongs to Gehrig and his family.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

November 21, 2009

An Education (2009)
I don't think that it's intentional, but something about Peter Sarsgaard's performance in this movie is creepy. Although, it is about a much older man dating a girl in high school, so maybe it is intended to be creepy. Either way, everything about this movie works for me. All of the performances are amazing, the costumes are flawless (enough to make Kat and I wish we could be Londoners in the 60s so that we could wear those black and white dresses), and the story is great. It's based on a memoir, which I now feel that I need to read, since I know some of this is always fictionalized. Emma Thompson and Olivia Williams steal every scene they're in. It wasn't quite good enough to make my Top 100 list, but just barely.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Saturday, November 21, 2009

November 20, 2009

Finding Nemo (2003)
#89 on my Top 100 List
Oh, the movie that taught the world what it was like to speak whale. I think that part of the appeal and success of this movie was that it was so refreshingly new. Disney has a long-standing tradition of adapting fairy tales and books into animated movies (and the results have always been overwhelmingly positive), but it was so nice and different to see a brand new story. The voice cast is amazing (as always with Disney), with the biggest stand-outs being Ellen DeGeneres, Allison Janney, Geoffrey Rush, and Willem Dafoe. Listen closely and you'll hear Eric Bana as the vegetarian hammerhead shark, too. The film also looks great - with a brand new CG technique for creating realistic-looking water. I know that I spend a lot of time talking about how much I don't like CG animation, but if the story is strong enough (which I think this one is), then I can get past it.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Bonus Midnight Movie

New Moon (2009)
I'll admit it - I'm a closet Twilighter. I know that the books aren't great books and that the messages they send are a little iffy, but the books and movies are just so much fun! I think that the change in director was beneficial to the series, as Catherine Hardwicke was just a little too inexperienced to have taken on such a huge franchise. There were far fewer technical problems with this film. The wolves left a little to be desired, but after the tragedy that was the werewolf in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I'm inclined to give anyone else the benefit of the doubt. The characters are much more developed in this movie - each vampire isn't only identifiable by one character trait (Emmett is strong! Jasper's in pain! Alice is weird!) like the first one. They have more rounded personalities. I think that all of the actors have improved a lot, especially Taylor Lautner, and the entire movie is worth it to watch Carlisle Cullen looking gorgeous as he stitches up Bella's arm after her ill-fated birthday party. Rawr!
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

November 19, 2009

A Christmas Carol (2009)
This movie is definitely not a kid's movie. I'm not entirely sure that Charles Dickens intended his story to be a children's story, but that seems to be the way its been slanted ever since. Not so with this version. It's dark and twisted and scary, showing images of Hell and the grim reaper, not to mention putting the main character in multiple dangerous situations (including being chased by horses that look like they belonged to the Ringwraiths once upon a time). The voice cast is amazing, headed by Jim Carrey but including Colin Firth and Gary Oldman. I know most people don't particularly enjoy motion-capture animation, but I prefer that to CG animation (though I prefer most things to CG animation). It is obvious, though, that they put far more effort into creating lifelike faces only for the main characters and left the secondary characters to suffer.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

November 18, 2009

Goya's Ghosts (2006)
Holy depression, Batman! This is just like The Secret Life of Bees - could we please have a couple moments where the movie isn't horrifically depressing? Please? All I'm asking is five minutes where I don't have to watch something terrible happening to someone. I will say that Natalie Portman is very good, playing two characters (one driven crazy by her years in prison and the other her daughter, who happens to be a cold-hearted prostitute), but the entire first half of the movie is entirely too slow. I'm listing this as foreign, since its production country is officially Spain, even though it's in English.
My Netflix rating: 3 stars

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

November 17, 2009

A Serious Man (2009)
Okay, I am obviously missing something. I know that most people think that everything the Coen brothers touch turns to gold, but I have yet to see one of their films that I didn't find irritating and boring. This movie, for example, is nothing but a ripoff of American Beauty. The main character, just like Kevin Spacey's Lester Burnham, has a philandering wife, an unappreciative daughter, a frustrating job, even a drug-dealing neighbor. But where American Beauty illustrates suburban midlife despair with subtlty and beauty (for lack of a better word), this goes over the top and smashes its ideas in the audience's faces. The excessive dream sequences and the meaningless side plots are only frustrating and annoying. I know this is supposed to take place in the 60s, but did there have to be so many horn-rimmed glasses? The most interesting part of the movie was the short prologue, which unfortunately had nothing to do with anything else.
My Netflix rating: 2 stars

Monday, November 16, 2009

November 16, 2009

3 Ninjas (1992)
This is pretty much the Poor Man's Home Alone with three annoying kids as opposed to one and kidnappers so inept that it's a minor miracle they don't end up killing themselves by tripping down the stairs or something. The only thing "ninja" about the movie is the presence of a Japanese grandfather and the subplot involving gangsters and the FBI is just as ridiculous as it sounds. A note to the screenwriter - using the word "dude" every other word does nothing to create characters. It just makes them sound like morons. All in all - terrible and laughable and not in a good way.
My Netflix rating: 2 stars

November 15, 2009

The English Patient (1996)
As good as Ralph Fiennes is at playing really creepy villains, this movie reminds us of how good he is at playing gorgeous romantic leads. The story is told through three parallel stories, which gets a little confusing since multiple characters appear in different timelines, but it all works itself out in the end. The cast is amazing, from Naveen Andrews (Sayid on Lost) and Willem Dafoe to Colin Firth and Kristen Scott Thomas - they're all wonderful, though Juliette Binoche is the only one to win an Oscar for her role. The first time I saw this I wasn't a fan, but I'm pretty sure that I was too young to appreciate how beautiful and epic it is. Think of it as Lawrence of Arabia except stuff actually happens.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

November 14, 2009

The Magnificent Seven (1960)
#46 on my Top 100 List
Westerns are probably my least favorite genre, so it makes sense that the one western on my Top 100 list is a retelling of a Japanese action movie. I really love this movie for the cast as opposed to the story. Yul Brynner would never have been my first choice to play a cowboy, but damn he plays it well. Then you add Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn plus a couple others who are less well-known and you have a really kickass group of gunfighters. Action abounds, but be warned - not everyone makes it to the end.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Sunday, November 15, 2009

November 13, 2009

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)
This is a great example of something being so incredibly ridiculous that it's awesome. Most professional reviews of this movie call it awful and terrible and a train wreck, etc, but I beg to differ. It has Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees (Peter Frampton looks like a girl by the way) playing the second generation titular band who must rescue their hometown's missing famous musical instruments that have been stolen while they were off recording albums in Hollywood. There is no talking save George Burns as the narrator - Mr. Kite - and a computer because everything else is told through Beatles songs. And the people who they cast to sing them! Steve Martin singing "Maxwell's Silver Hammer." Aerosmith singing "Come Together." Billy Preston plays God! How can that be bad? There are two things that are bad, though. I could have lived without seeing Peter Frampton wearing skintight silver vinyl pants and when one character dies, they're put into a glass coffin a la Snow White. Again, I say creepy!
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Friday, November 13, 2009

November 12, 2009

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
#37 on my Top 100 List
A lot of people say that this is the best of the original trilogy - and while I love it and it's in the top half of my Top 100 list, it's actually my least favorite of the original three. That being said, I adore playful and mischievous Yoda, the art direction for Cloud City is beautiful (made more so by the special effects added into the Special Edition), and this is the one where Han and Leia get together. Their exchange before Han's carbonite bath is beautiful simply because it's so minimal. There's no flowery language or hysterical tears. That's not either character's style. Another thing - George Lucas (say what you want about him) is very, very good at setting up tableaus to end his films just before cutting to credits. The Phantom Menace, A New Hope, and Return of the Jedi do this best, but all of the SW films have it. Check it out next time you watch it!
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Thursday, November 12, 2009

November 11, 2009

Pleasantville (1998)
#40 on my Top 100 List
Technically, this movie blows my mind a little. I've seen really old movies (like 1910s old) where the filmmakers experimented with color by physically coloring in the celluloid frames, with less than ideal results. This, in the age of computers, makes the fantasy world of a 50s sitcom come slowly to color one item or person at a time. The best part, though, is when color is all around save for one thing or person in black and white. Along with that, the movie discusses several issues, including book burning, racism and personal freedoms. It's interesting that this weird perfect sitcom world gives the characters a chance to escape the traps that they've set up for themselves: David/Bud doesn't have to stay slave to the 50s ideals that Pleasantville has always had, Jen/Mary Sue doesn't have to always be popular and promiscuous, Betty doesn't have to stay as a chaste housewife, etc. The scene where Bud helps her cover up her face with black and white makeup is very powerful. My only problem with the movie is the ending - it brings up a few more questions than answers.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

November 10, 2009

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
#28 on my Top 100 List
While you know how much I adore Gone With the Wind, I think that Vivien Leigh's work in this is even better. Ladies and gentlemen, Scarlett O'Hara has left the building. Her portrayal of Blanche Dubois is just as tragic and heartwrenching as Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. Blanche starts out the story fragile and looking for someone who will care for her - what she finds is her brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski. Stanley is played by Marlon Brando with more vicious sexuality than any other role I think I've ever seen. He's tragic in his own way too - a slave not only to his temper and his lust but also to his love for his wife. After his final confrontation with Blanche, that love might not be so reciprocated after all.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Monday, November 9, 2009

November 9, 2009

Amelia (2009)
Well, Mira Nair at least made a very pretty movie. The aerial shots in this are fantastic, as are the period costumes, the richness of the shots (except for the opening hand moving through waving grass, which looks like it was stolen from Gladiator) and most of the supporting cast. The problem with this movie is the character of Amelia herself. She has everyone bending over backwards to help her achieve her goals (including Ewan McGregor and Richard Gere, both of whom create adorable sympathetic characters who are far more likeable than she is) and all she can do is complain about all the things she has to do that aren't flying. That's called real life, sweetie. Sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do. Hilary Swank delilvers a performance with about as much enthusiasm as someone going to apply for a bank loan - she has none of the passion for flying that the real Earhart had. When she and her navigator come to their inevitable end, I only felt bad for the navigator and the characters left behind.
My Netflix rating: 3 stars

November 8, 2009

The Game (1997)
I love David Fincher, but this movie was not his best work. It's definitely a successful psychological thriller like his other films, but the edge and the tension that he's so good at building are lacking. Michael Douglass and Sean Penn aren't terrible but the plot of the film is so confusing that their performances get lost along with any sense of what is reality and what is part of "the Game." I would never want to play a game like this, where your whole life gets frakked with, and I don't particularly want to watch about it, either.
My Netflix rating: 3 stars

November 7, 2009

A Mighty Wind (2003)
Besides the great cast, this is a perfectly crafted mockumentary. You know it's not real - the presence of recognizable actors is enough to remind you of that - but most of the time, it feels like it is. Like you could walk into a music store and find a CD by Mitch and Mickey or the Folksmen. The songs that were written for each group are perfectly reminiscent of folk music, while at the same time delightfully tongue-in-cheek, and the song that was nominated for an Oscar ("A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow") is sweet and hilarious. Who knew Eugene Levy could sing?
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

November 6, 2009

Mulan (1998)
This is definitely one of the more interesting Disney "princesses" (though Mulan isn't a princess, nor is she considered one of the six traditional ones) - a female character who, like Jasmine and Ariel before her, doesn't just sit around and wait for things to happen to her. Mulan loves her family and is willing to do anything to protect them. Of course, this being Disney, she happens to get help for a talking dragon, a lucky cricket, and an attractive man along the way. The animation is beautiful and very colorful, especially in the end sequence in the Forbidden City. It's also interesting to note that this is based on a Chinese legend that has roots in a true story, as opposed to a fairy tale that has no basis of truth whatsoever.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Friday, November 6, 2009

November 5, 2009

V For Vendetta (2006)
"Remember, remember, the fifth of November, the gunpowder treason and plot. I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot." Though this movie is really not about the Gunpowder Plot, there are several mentions of it and the main character V hides his scarred face with a Guy Fawkes mask. This takes place in a nihilistic near-future where bio-warfare has kept London under quarantine through fear of infection and a tyrannical dictatorship. It's a very interesting movie for several reasons - one for Natalie Portman's brilliant performance (especially the scene where she's being tortured and her head is being shaved since she had to do it in one take), two for the numerous "illegal" materials that pop up throughout the film and the little details that they bring (it's showing, not telling - you can say that the government is religiously fanatical, but it's better to show it by killing off a character for owning a Koran), and three for the fact that by the end, you're essentially rooting for a terrorist to blow up Parlaiment (a fact that should be disturbing but, given the context of the character, really isn't).
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Thursday, November 5, 2009

November 4, 2009

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Even though this is not one of his Westerns, this movie is very clearly John Ford. It features the sharply contrasting black and white, the long shots featuring endless land and sky, and even contains a shot of Monument Valley - the iconic landscape that he used so often in his other films. John Steinbeck's book is bleak, but the movie ends on a more hopeful note. Henry Fonda's famous "I'll be there" speech is moving, but the lack of a musical score makes the scene feel a little flat. The end is hope mixed with sorrow, since this is before the time of the Internet and cell phones, and anyone who happens to leave the family will most likely never see them again.
My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

November 3, 2009

This Is It (2009)
When I was younger, the way I knew Michael Jackson was the guy who sang the Free Willy song and had the ridiculous grabbing-his-crotch dance move. (And speaking of Free Willy, they taunted us at least twice in this movie with shots of a killer whale and never sang "Will You Be There." Tease!) This doc, though, makes it clear how passionate he was about music and performing and how much energy he had. It shows in all of his movements - this twitchy passion just itching to get out. It's also really sad because it's nearly impossible to watch the movie without thinking every minute of how it's going to end. The choreography is amazing and I can't help but think that this would have been an amazing concert to see. It's interesting how much footage they got, since they never really intended this to be seen this way. I know that some of the clothes that were shown were costumes for the show, but not all of them were and nearly everything he wears is absolutely 80s ridiculous.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Monday, November 2, 2009

November 2, 2009

Four Brothers (2005)
There are a lot of movies like this one - a seemingly random crime turns out to be not so random and the loved ones of the victim take to the streets with their own brand of violence. That being said, this one is one of the better ones. I totally believe the four leads as adopted foster kids-turned-brothers. Also, it has one of the coolest and most disturbing methods of murder that I've seen in a while (let's just say that it involves ice fishing). It's a solid action movie.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars

November 1, 2009

Nick of Time (1995)
If you saw Christopher Walken and Johnny Depp listed in a movie together, you'd probably think to yourself, "Hmm. I bet that's a pretty good movie." And you'd be wrong. If I have learned nothing else over the past nine months, I have learned that just because there is a good combination of actors in a film doesn't mean that the movie itself is good. The film is shot from strange, incomprehensible angles, plus it's overexposed. You never feel that the little girl is in any real danger, thus negating the "thriller" part of the movie. Seriously, did both of those phenomenal actors just need grocery money that week?
My Netflix rating: 2 stars

Sunday, November 1, 2009

October 31, 2009

Labyrinth (1986)
Not what I had originally planned to watch on Halloween, but it turned out to pretty appropriate. This movie is frakked up. David Bowie is perfect as the Goblin King and the puppetry and stop-motion animation in the film are both awesome, totally blending in with the live action work, but something about this movie is just disturbing. Could be that it's a world consisting entirely of a giant maze, could be that the Goblin King kidnaps babies so that they'll turn into more goblins - I don't know. But it's weird. It's really good, too. This was the last movie Jim Hensen worked on before he died and it's a strangely fitting legacy.
My Netflix rating: 4 stars