Thursday, April 28, 2016

894. Clueless

Director by Amy Heckerling

As my book blog readers may know, I am a huge Jane Austen fan.  I don't think I have seen a bad adaptation of her work yet.  I guess when the source material is so impressive, it is hard to fuck it up.  So one of my favorite movies based on one of my favorite novels.  Prepare for a rave.

Cher Horowitz and her best friend Dionne are the most popular girls at their Beverly Hills high school. While Dionne dates fellow student Murray, Cher insists that high school boys aren't worth her time (fair point).  Cher is superficial but kind hearted and wants to use her popularity for good (or, as her stepbrother Josh claims, to promote her own self interest).  She decides to take a new student, Tai, under her wing, because, as Cher says, Tai is totally clueless.

I wonder if I would have enjoyed this movie half as much if I hadn't read Emma (I wondered the same thing in my Jurassic Park post; this might be the first time those two movies have been compared to each other).  I got a thrill every time I noticed a parallel.  I particularly liked the Elton/Tai storyline, as it was modernized in such a clever way.  I also liked what they did with the Frank Churchill character.  I suspected he was gay in the novel; he seemed to care a little bit too much about his haircut.

If you haven't read Emma, I still think it is a fun film (but seriously, if you haven't, get it together).  It's absolutely hilarious; pretty much every line Wallace Shawn delivers has me laughing.  It's also brilliant in how it mocks the shallow, materialistic lives of 90s teens while simultaneously portraying them in an endearing light.

I could go on and on, but I will end it here by saying it is my favorite teen movie.  It's also directed by a woman, which is always a pleasant surprise.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Alicia Silverstone did not know the correct pronunciation of "Haitians" but Heckerling left it in, as she felt it fit Cher's character.

Paul Rudd auditioned for the role of Murray, as he assumed Murray was a white teenager trying to pass for a rapper.

893. Kjærlighetens kjøtere

Kjaerlighetens kjotere
Zero Kelvin
Directed by Hans Petter Moland

We are rapidly approaching 900.  This is very exciting!  I plan on continuing my servitude to the Book by completing the other editions after I finish my Indiana Jones copy.  To my knowledge the full List currently includes 1157 films.  It will be so strange reviewing current movies...but I am rambling.  Back to the film at hand: Zero Kelvin.

Henrik Larsen decides to move to Greenland and become a fur trapper after his girlfriend rejects his marriage proposal.  Talk about not handling rejection well.  He shares a tiny cabin with Randbaek, a sadistic trapper, and Holm, a reserved scientist.  As they are stuck in complete ice-olation, there is snow telling what will happen if they don't find a way to peacefully coexist.  I should tell my dad about that line; he would be pleased.

This would be a great play and hey, if this story was on stage we probably wouldn't have to watch sled dogs be mistreated.  Anyway, this was a great film with intelligent dialogue and a powerful atmosphere.  I did think Randbaek was a little cartoonish in his villainy at first, but I was ultimately won over by all of the characters.

One of the hidden gems on The List and worth checking out.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Filmed in Svalbard.

Monday, April 25, 2016

892. Heat

Directed by Michael Mann

I wasn't sure I was going to take this one.  It was hyped as the first time Robert De Niro and Al Pacino meet onscreen and I was afraid it would be a "whip them out and measure them" type showdown that would grate on my nerves.  However, this was quite an enjoyable film; I don't even think I will complain about the running time.

Seasoned LAPD detective Vincent Hanna attempts to capture and successfully convict Neil McCauley, a career criminal.  I know it's a rather vague summary, but any further description feels like it would constitute as a spoiler.  Suffice to say, both men are more similar than they realize.  Iago was our dark Othello, Faith was our dark Buffy,  Gollum was our dark Frodo and so Neil is our dark Vincent.  Or maybe Vincent is our dark Neil.  It's hard to say which of these men is the hero.

A thief and cop sit down at a diner together.  Talk about a screenwriter's wet dream.  It is admittedly a great scene, although it's certainly not the only reason this film is great.  It is brilliantly paced and, of course, brilliantly acted.  I knew Pacino and De Niro would be incredible but I was also impressed with Ashley Judd, Natalie Portman, and (surprisingly) Val Kilmer.

This might be my favorite Al Pacino movie.  I know, I know.  It's a big statement.  I might take that back if challenged, but for now, let's let it lie.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Al Pacino had a facelift prior to filming.

Body count of 21.

891. Casino

Directed by Martin Scorsese

I just watched the Siskel and Ebert review for this movie, where Ebert can hardly believe Siskel is giving Casino a thumbs down.  While this provoked much rage in the comments section, I can absolutely see where Siskel is coming from.  This is Mean Streets meets Goodfellas and there is really nothing new here.

Basically, Sam Rothstein and Nicky Santoro are sent to Las Vegas by the mafia to oversee the operations of a casino.  Sam falls for Ginger, a stunning but selfish coke addict.  Meanwhile, Nicky becomes increasingly violent and savage as the casino empire begins to fall apart.

I suppose Scorsese did attempt to be original in his own way.  This film is certainly more violent than what we have seen from him before.  Perhaps he was trying to compete with Tarantino.  In any case, it didn't feel entirely necessary, although thankfully he stays out of truly upsetting territory.  Ebert commented that the romance was like nothing we have seen before.  The only difference seems to be that the woman drags the man down, rather than the other way around.  I am not sure this was that significant of a change, but at least he tried to shake things up a little.

As always, the performances were incredible and the film was beautifully shot.  Only one more Scorsese film to go!

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

The word "fuck" is used 435 times.

The costume budget was $1 million.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

890. Toy Story Series *REVISED AND UPDATED* (1080, 1081)

Toy Story
Directed by John Lasseter

Three years ago I wrote a review on Toy Story. Well, now the Listmakers have decided that the movies are such a cohesive unit, that they should count as one entry, LOTR-stylez. So I decided just to update this post, with my thoughts on the sequels, or as the Listmakers would call them, Acts 2 and 3.

So that it's not TOO confusing, past Amanda is in bold, present Amanda is roman, and future Amanda is in purple, is a clone, and must be destroyed.

Toy Story:

If Joss Whedon is involved in a project, it is pretty much guaranteed that I am going to praise it.  While this was never a favorite growing up (I like my animated movies to have musical numbers), it is certainly a movie everyone should see before they die.

In the Toy Story universe, toys are sentient beings who only pretend to be lifeless in the company of humans.  This logic has some alarming implications, but since it is a children's movie, we can just go with it.  Six year old Andy's favorite toy is Woody, a pull string cowboy.  On his birthday, Andy receives Buzz Lightyear, a flashy action figure who isn't even aware that he is a toy (but then, why does he freeze whenever a human comes into the room?).  Buzz becomes Andy's favorite, sparking Woody's jealousy.

I haven't seen any of the Toy Story sequels, but I hear they are quite good.  My boyfriend told me that Toy Story 3 made him cry, which is the kind of manly anecdote that is really attractive (okay, that's embarrassing).  In any case, I enjoyed this; the voice acting really brought the characters to life.  I never thought I would be praising Tim Allen, but there you go.

I am sure I am not the first person to think this, but I saw this film as kind of a metaphor for Hollywood.   Westerns are now considered outdated and today people just want mindless action movies.  Another movie that shouldn't be dismissed as a kids only film.

RATING: ****-

Toy Story 2:

My sister and I got Disney Plus which has not been good for our mental health or relationships, but that's not important. What is important is that Woody is stolen from a garage sale, and it's up to Buzz and the rest of the Plastics to rescue him from Wayne Knight. Woody, however, ends up bonding with the other toys in Knight's collection, so is forced to make a difficult choice about his future.

I have a hard time sinking my teeth into the Toy Story universe, just because it is hard to grasp the stakes. Can toys die? They can clearly be dissected and put together in horrific ways and still be "alive," for all intents and purposes. So then, do they die only when their body parts are destroyed beyond repair? I know it's slightly ridiculous to dissect this movie to toy-death, but there are plenty of great movies for kids that don't fall apart upon deeper examination (e.g. Inside Out). I am not saying I won't accept non sentient things being sentient, but understanding the stakes is a crucial part of storytelling, and the Toy Story movies fail in this regard.

That being said, Pixar always makes beautiful movies and the voice actors are perfect in their roles. I love that Pixar respects children, respects their fears, their minds, and their struggles. I think many adults romanticize childhood, those "good ole days" when you didn't have to pay bills. But being a child is actually difficult and weird, and Pixar gets that.

RATING: ***--

Toy Story 3:

The big kahuna, that brings healthy, mature men, and the men I date, to tears. In this installment, Woody and the other toys accidentally get donated to a daycare center. My sister teaches kindergarten and watched this movie with me, so I was clued in that things were going to go south pretty quickly. I know her Calm Down Koala has seen some things.

This was my favorite from the series. This installment covers the human side of the toy/human relationship more, and that's what really pulls on my heartstrings. Many of us are convinced that we should stop playing when we reach a certain age, as if adults have less need for escapism than children, which I find strange. In other words, bring your damn toy with you to college Andy! I have seen weirder things in dorm rooms.

Anyway, I think Pixar has made much better movies, but these were solid films. Oh, and in case you didn't make the connection, toys => Christmas=> December theme!

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Billy Crystal turned down the offer to voice Buzz Lightyear.  He later said it was the biggest mistake of his career.

Joss Whedon created the character of Rex.

889. Safe

Directed by Todd Haynes

I had never heard of this film before and, of course, if I haven't heard of it, no one else has.  Its obscurity is a shame, because Julianne Moore's performance alone makes this movie well worth a watch.

Carol White is an emotionally repressed housewife trapped in a passionless marriage.  Her days consist of aerobic classes, taking clothes to the dry cleaners, getting manicures, and hanging out with her equally dull friends.  She slowly begins to acquire severe symptoms, such as uncontrollable coughing fits and sudden nosebleeds.  Still, the doctors believe she is perfectly healthy.  She discovers there are others like her who seem to be allergic to modernity.   Eventually, she decides to move to a New Age treatment center to recover, but the center might be just as oppressive as the life Carol left.

The Book notes that this is a "thoroughly modern horror film."  I don't know if Carol's life is as frightening to most people as it is to me.  But honestly, I can't think of a more hellish existence (that doesn't include daily violence).  The scary part is that her husband doesn't seem to be holding her back from doing anything.  She doesn't seem to have any great ambitions or talents.  It is hard to root for her to escape from her life because, really, where would she go?  She didn't seem to possess any kind of spirit, which made her a rather fascinating character to watch.

I have complained about ambiguous endings in the past, but it really worked here.  Definitely a film that will stay with me.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Julianne Moore lost ten pounds for the role.

888. Braveheart

Directed by Mel Gibson

I don't find this film quite as obnoxious as other people do.  As I never expect anything resembling facts  to come from Mel Gibson, the historical inaccuracies didn't both me.  Maybe they would have annoyed me if I were English.  I apologize to my English readers, but you guys truly make the best villains.  Jeremy Irons taught us that.

In 1280, King Edward conquers Scotland and allows his lords certain privileges, including prima nocte (the right of a lord to rape new brides on their wedding nights).  William Wallace marries his childhood sweetheart secretly to avoid the local lord's disgusting penis.  Wallace is ultimately unable to protect his wife from the brutish English soldiers.  Wallace is motivated to lead a revolt against the King of England.

There are several elements working against this film.  We have Mel Gibson, who has never exactly impressed me with his range.  He is sort of a blank slate; thankfully the story and cinematography distract us from examining his character too closely.  At the very least, he has some great lines.

As a piece of mindless entertainment, it was quite enjoyable.  The battle scenes were spectacular and the story is inspiring, if you don't put too much thought into it.  It is a bit too long, but still fun.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Mel Gibson felt he was too old for the role of William Wallace, but the studio would only finance the film if he was the star.

The line "Every man dies-not every man really lives" was written by an American poet named William Ross Wallace.

Friday, April 22, 2016

887. Deseret

Directed by James Benning

Wow, I never thought a film would make me miss Koyaanisqatsi.  This was just a ridiculous inclusion, designed to test my embarrassing level of devotion to the List.

For eighty two minutes we are forced to watch images of Utah.  First the images are in black and white, then they are in color.  I don't think anyone would describe the Utah landscape as "colorful" so it doesn't feel like that much a difference.   Anyway, Fred Gardner provides a narration where he reads out loud old New York Times articles.  I know it sounds like a joke, but it is very, very real.

As this film is supposed to provide us a history of Mormonism, it had the potential to be interesting.  My only knowledge of Mormonism comes from seeing The Book of Mormon with my brother last year, so I was excited to learn more.  The filmmaker makes absolutely zero effort to make any of the information interesting.  In fact, the flat delivery and dull images make me think they were trying to create the most boring film of all time.  Maybe it was some sort of Springtime for Hitler scheme.

Anyway, this made Koyaanisqatsi look like the adventure of a lifetime.  Avoid at all costs.

RATING: *----

Interesting Facts:

This was a tough film to find and I was unable to uncover any interesting trivia.  Fellow List followers might want to make the viewing of this movie a priority, since it is such a challenge to locate.  Currently it is available on YouTube, but it could be taken down soon.

886. Babe

Directed by Chris Noonan

I am not a big fan of animal movies, unless the animals are singing (I'm complex like that).  This was a bit too cutesy for me, but hopefully this movie persuaded more people to get on the vegetarian train.  We have tofu ice cream.

Babe is an orphaned piglet raised by sheepdogs and blissfully unaware that the majority of people are obsessed with bacon.  He learns how to herd sheep and shares a deep connection with Farmer Hoggett.

I admire the CGI in this film and appreciate the fact that there are dark themes for the adult audience to enjoy.  Still, it was just a bit too silly for me to enjoy; I couldn't get over the fact that I was listening to a pig.  This is my own fault for not being able to suspend my own disbelief.  Nonetheless, the heartwarming aspect of the movie was lost on me.

So a film I might recommend, but I certainly don't plan on seeing it again.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

48 pigs were used as Babe.

885. Riget

The Kingdom
Directed by Lars von Trier

Ugh, here we go again. The Listmakers try to slide a tv miniseries in the mix.  What's that about? I did enjoy this, but it certainly didn't fit with the rest of the movies.  Also, Riget is on the 1001 TV Shows You Must See Before You Die list, so it's kind of redundant.

Basically, weird things happen at a hospital in Denmark.  It actually seems like an American Horror Story season, minus Kathy Bates.  The creepiest plot line for me wasn't supernatural, but most of the odd things that take place are otherworldly.

This is a really atmospheric show; the sepia tones, the strange characters, and even the structure of the hospital are all incredibly chilling.  The ending was a bit silly, but I suppose the point of a season finale is to create hype for the second season.  That's another reason why it is obnoxious to include this on a list of 1001 movies.  The format is so different that it is impossible to compare with the rest of the List.

Aside from my List related grievances, this is worth checking out if you are into the horror genre.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

A third installment in the series was planned, but was ultimately scrapped as the lead actors were no longer available.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

884. Muriel's Wedding

Muriel's Wedding
Directed by P.J. Hogan

Previously, I have complained about how obnoxious and overplayed ABBA songs are.   As a sort of cosmic revenge, the Book decided to include another movie with a plethora of ABBA tracks.  With the exception of "Dancing Queen" I think I am warming up to them.  Either that or I am being brainwashed.

Muriel is a socially awkward ABBA fan who dreams of having a fabulous wedding and moving away from her emotionally abusive family.  Her "friends" exclude her from a vacation to Hibiscus Island.  Feeling left out and hopeless, Muriel steals some money from her parents and follows her friends.  I am hardly smooth in my social interactions, but even I know that is creepy.  After Muriel endures the inevitable and humiliating "leave me alone" speech from her friends turned prey, she runs into an old classmate, Rhonda, who is also an outcast.  With Rhonda's help, Muriel begins turning her life around.

It was hard to summarize this movie.  Going into it, I thought it would be a rather simple makeover plot.  However, this film is packed with subplots, making the story a lot darker and richer than I originally imagined.  I am not sure how necessary some of the subplots were, but they certainly made the movie more memorable.

Anyway, Toni Collette is always phenomenal and the soundtrack features Blondie.  Totally worth a watch.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Toni Collette gained 40 pounds in seven weeks for the role.

883. Caro Diario

Caro Diario
Dear Diary
Directed by Nanni Moretti

The Book states "Exercises in personal filmmaking are sometimes narcissistic and cloying, but that is not the case here."  While I am not sure Dear Diary completely escapes these labels, I still enjoyed this quite a bit.

The movie is divided into three sections.  The first is titled "On My Vespa" which provides a glimpse of Moretti's thoughts and opinions.  The second is "Islands" which depicts Moretti and his friend, a Joycean scholar, attempting to find a quiet island to work.  The final chapter is titled "Doctors" which tells the story of Moretti's cancer diagnosis.

This film is fairly judgmental.  I know this is a serious case of the pot calling the kettle black, as I am rather judgmental myself.  But the "Islands" segment just rubbed me the wrong way.  I think we were supposed to regard it as some sort of tragedy that a great mind would become obsessed with soap operas.  Just do you. If you want to watch soap operas, watch soap operas.  I think I would rather talk to someone who worships The Bold and the Beautiful than someone who worships Ulysses.  That book took years off my life.  Sorry, we have hit upon a pet peeve of mine: people who argue you're not really living unless you are doing x, and not spending your time doing y.  Just leave everyone alone.

Wow, I am really going off the rails.  Let's just end this review by saying I greatly enjoyed "Doctors" and "On My Vespa."

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Moretti won Best Director at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

882. Heavenly Creatures

Heavenly Creatures
Directed by Peter Jackson

It is strange that a film about such a grisly murder can actually turn out to be incredibly beautiful.  I am not sure if that is good thing or not.  In any case, it was exciting to see another Peter Jackson movie, as I am a huge Lord of the Rings fan.

Pauline and Juliet share an intense friendship.  Together they create a fantasy kingdom, Borovnia,  which serves as a backdrop to the stories they write and hope to publish.  Their parents become concerned by the possible homosexual nature of their relationship and attempt to separate them.  The girls...uh...take their revenge.

Apparently, the Parker-Hulme murder was quite the cause celebre, although I hadn't heard of the case before viewing this film.  Obviously, Jackson wanted to create a film that explored the minds of the girls, rather than the more monstrous aspects of the story.  It was certainly an interesting approach that was both chilling and, at times, gorgeous.  Still, I think we were supposed to sympathize with the girls more than I did.  I found them to be selfish, bratty, and rather stupid.

Great performances and great directing.  I know hindsight is 20/20 but it is easy to detect Winslet's and Jackson's star power, even in 1994.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

When asked at the trial if the two had had sex, Juliet replied "how can we have sex? We are both girls."

175 girls auditioned for the role of Juliet.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

881. Zire darakhatan zeyton

Zire darakhatan zeyton
Through the Olive Trees
Directed by Abbas Kiarostami

It's actually snowing today (today meaning April 9th, not necessarily when this post goes up).  I am relieved I don't have to leave the house today so I don't have to engage in small talk about how crazy the weather is.  And also so I don't have to drive on icy roads and die in a horrific car crash.  But mostly the small talk thing.  Anyway, I thought this was a good day to drink hot chocolate in bed and try to make sense of Through the Olive Trees.

An actor falls in love with the leading lady of the film he is working on, but she refuses to speak to him, as her family does not approve of the match.  This whole premise begs the question: if a woman never even talks to you, how do you know you are in love with her?  How about for my benefit, nobody answers that question.

I didn't mind this film that much.  It was a little slow and my subtitles were off, but the beautiful landscape shots kept my interest.  My only real complaint is the ambiguous ending.  Let me get on my high horse briefly to discuss this.  As a writer, I don't really approve of the "lacking of ending" ending.  In my writing classes in college, people would try to pull this off constantly.  Nine times out of ten, it was because they couldn't think of one themselves, so they changed their own decent story into one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books.  It just seems lazy.  I think there is a way to leave elements of your conclusion to the audience's imagination in a less clumsy way.  Anyway, I will dismount now, as this position is hurting my crotch region.

In any case, not as good as Close-up but still worth a watch.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

First movie where Kiarostami used a professional actor.

880. Satantango

Directed by Bela Tarr

The Book states, "The subject of this brilliantly constructed narrative is nothing less than the world today, and its 431 minute running time is necessary not so much because Tarr has so much to say, but because he wants to say it right."  If you were saying something right, I don't think it would take seven hours.  Previously I wrote in my Hoop Dreams post that the filmmakers shot 250 hours of footage, but condensed into a three hour movie, presumably because they didn't want to alienate the audience.  I guess Tarr doesn't share the same concerns.

Basically, the film takes place in a tiny, run down village in Hungary.  The townsfolk learn that Irimias, a conniving man they previously believed had died, is returning.  Hours would pass when nothing would happen.  I was lulled into such a stupor that I might of missed it when the story actually did progress.  I must confess I covered the screen during the cat torture scene.  Really, the only way they could have made the experience more unpleasant is if they played a X-Ray Spex album in the background.

I want to observe the people who claim to love Satantango watch this film.  I can't imagine anyone being entirely engrossed during the excruciating, hour long sequence where we watch an old man do old man things, like falling asleep.  I will give Satantango's defenders the benefit of the doubt; I don't think they are simply being pretentious.  I think they might just being forgetting how awful the actual viewing experience is.

Anyway, a film like this has no respect for the audience's time.  Therefore, I have no respect for the film.  Sorry if my crankiness sounds unwarranted, but I just finished this a few minutes ago.  In time, I might claim to like it.

RATING: -----

Interesting Facts:

One of the takes lasts 10 minutes and 14 seconds.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

879. Crumb

Directed by Terry Zwigoff

I am only familiar with Robert Crumb because of his "Keep on Truckin'" drawings.  After seeing this film, I am decidedly not a fan.  I still enjoyed the documentary but I did feel the need to take a shower after watching this.

The film gives us a glimpse in the life of Robert Crumb, who rose to fame as a controversial cartoonist. The controversy comes from his depiction of women in his comics which is...disturbing, to say the least.  It is so disturbing, in fact, that I am sure many people will claim it was satire.  Whatever it was, I think it revealed a rather disgusting mind.  We also learn about his brother Charles, who committed suicide before the film's release.  Charles lived with his mother his whole life, seemingly to avoid acting on his "homosexual pedophiliac tendencies."  Damn.

These people are seedy, but I felt even seedier for watching them with such horrified fascination.  It was certainly interesting, but I am still unsure if I would recommend it.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

After Charles Crumb's suicide, his mother threw most of his artwork away.

878. Chungking Express

Chungking Express
Directed by Wong Kar-wai

My crush on Brigitte Lin continues to intensify after watching this film.  I want to check out her other movies, but I might have to wait until I am free agent (i.e. done with this List).

The film tells two separate stories that barely connect to each other.  The first plot follows a Taiwanese cop as he attempts to get over his ex girlfriend.  The second story involves another cop, who was also recently dumped.  Bitches be crazy.  He catches the eye of a girl working at a snack bar, who has some...unconventional ideas about starting a relationship.

Obviously, this film intends to be disjointed, although it is hard not to feel jarred by the sudden shift in stories.  I would have liked to have seen more of each story; it seemed like the first one ended right when things were about to heat up.  I guess if a movie leaves you wanting more, it does its job well.

So one to check out, but not the most satisfying film I have ever seen.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Wong Kar-wai based Brigitte Lin's character on Gena Rowlands and Greta Garbo.

Friday, April 15, 2016

877. Les Roseaux sauvages

Les Roseaux sauvages
The Wild Reeds
Directed by Andre Techine

Taking a short break from the more widely known films, we come to Wild Reeds.  I wish I could give this a more positive review, as I want to celebrate more obscure movies.  Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this one, which solidifies my theory that the coming of age genre of film is decidedly not for me.

Basically, the film tells the story of four young people who struggle with their identities and growing pains.  Francois is a shy boy who is discovering his own sexuality, Serge is coping with the loss of his brother in the Algerian War, Maite is Francois's best friend who may desire a bit more, and Henri is a supporter of the OAS.

There was a bit of a culture gap here.  I didn't have the background knowledge of the Algerian War, so some of the emotional resonance was lost on me.  Francois was really the only character I cared about, but unfortunately, that interest wasn't enough to save the movie for me.

I take full responsibility for not relating to this one.  Still, I must give my rating...

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Selected as the French entry for Best Foreign Language Film but was ultimately not nominated.

876. The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption
Directed by Frank Darabont

It's hard to find someone who dislikes this film.  I went through the IMDb message boards and couldn't find a single negative review.  I don't have anything bad to say about this film either.  It's strange how perfect movies inspire rather dull reviews.

Andy Dufresne is convicted of killing his wife and her lover and sentenced to life in prison.  He is sent to Shawshank, where he befriends Ellis "Red" Redding, a man who can get things.  Andy is regularly assaulted until the warden begins using him for a money laundering scheme.

What's to say about this film that hasn't already been said?  The acting is fantastic and the bromance is beautiful.  Morgan Freeman narrates, which is always pleasing to mortals and Andy Dufresne is a more likable version of Henri Charriere.  Every minute of screen time radiates heart and hope.

Powerful and inspiring.  What more can you ask from a movie?

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Only two women have speaking roles in this film.

Body count of 6.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

875. Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction
Directed by Quentin Tarantino

One of the first questions I ask when I go on a date with a guy is "what's your favorite movie?"  There is a 95% chance that the answer will either be Fight Club or Pulp Fiction.  I would say 100% but my boyfriend answered Bugsy Malone (much to my horror).  Maybe he just wanted to screw with my statistics.  In any case, while I did enjoy this, I do think it is slightly overrated and certainly not the best Tarantino film.  This opinion usually sparks an interesting discussion during the date, because men love it when young women tell them they're wrong.

Man, this is a hard film to summarize, as there are a few intersecting stories that are told in a nonlinear manner.  I think I will just steal the IMDb summary: "the lives of two mob hit men, a boxer, a gangster's wife, and a pair of diner bandits intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption."  I don't feel too guilty about not taking the time to write my own synopsis because, really, who hasn't seen this movie?

Once again, I feel the need to quote Roger Ebert: "Tarantino is too gifted a filmmaker to make a boring movie, but he could possibly make a bad one."  I certainly wasn't bored with this but I did I like it?  I would say yes, although there were some sequences I could have done without.  To use the correct scientific term, parts of this movie were too Tarantino-y for me.  Of course, you know I am going to have to complain about the rape scene.  It was just so off the wall and random.  I suppose it was there for shock value, which isn't very valuable at all.

I would still consider this a great film.  I think I prefer movies that just happen to be directed by Tarantino, rather than a movie that has his style stamped on every shot.  Personally, I felt rather suffocated.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Julia Louis-Dreyfus turned down the role of Mia because of her scheduling commitments to Seinfeld.

Body count of 8.

874. The Last Seduction

The Last Seduction
Directed by John Dahl

I had never seen this before, but I heard it mentioned in Sex and the City.  I know, I should stop referencing that show.  Someday, perhaps.

 Bridget Gregory steals her husband's drug money and flees to Beston, a small, racist town in New York.  She changes her name to Wendy Kroy and gets a job at an insurance agency.  She meets Mike, a fairly clueless, recently divorced man who is easily taken in by Bridget's sexuality and mind games.  Meanwhile, her husband is desperately searching for her and the money she stole.

We have seen this type of movie before; a steaming seductress gets an idiotic everyman to commit a crime and take the fall.  The last scene usually involves her smoking a cigarette and looking for her next victim like an overgrown praying mantis.  While parts of this movie were cliche, the filmmakers actually came up with some twists that I was not expecting.

Linda Fiorentino is absolutely sizzling in this; I would probably do whatever she asked as well.  She was even more compelling than Kathleen Turner in Body Heat, which is why I enjoyed this film a lot more.  I wish I could see her in more things.  Apparently she was in Men In Black.  No thank you, please.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Linda Fiorentino was denied an Academy Award nomination since the movie originally aired on television.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

873. Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers
Directed by Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone's films have really been a mixed bag, but I think this movie solidified my negative opinion of him.  Is anyone else sick of the outlaw couple storyline?  It should have died (or been shot to death) with Bonnie and Clyde.

Mickey and Mallory are an emotionally disturbed couple who make headlines by killing and raping people across America.  The plot isn't told in a linear fashion or in a conventional way.  For example, the story of Mallory's abusive past is told in the style of a 50s sitcom.  Once again, scenes that involve sexual assault are treated with all the gravity and tact of a Donald Trump press conference.

I am not going to spend too much time talking about this one.  I didn't like it.  I didn't like the style, I thought the humor fell flat, and I think it was about forty five minutes too long.  I know it was supposed to be a satire about the glorification of killers, but self awareness doesn't negate the fact that Stone created the exact thing he was trying to criticize.

With the exception of JFK, I definitely am not too impressed with Stone.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Tarantino reportedly hated this film until he met Johnny Cash, who confessed that he loved it.

Editing for the film took 11 months.

872. Four Weddings and a Funeral

Four Weddings and a Funeral
Directed by Mike Newell

I have previously claimed on this blog that I respect the romantic comedy genre and don't dismiss it as carelessly as other film buffs do.  However, my readers might not believe me, as I completely eviscerated Pretty Woman.  While this film wasn't quite as bad, I still wasn't blown away.

Hugh Grant plays a charming but awkward Englishman who is unlucky in love.  Wow, how many films could that summary cover?  Here his performance is slightly forgivable, as it still could qualify as an original idea in 1994.  Anyway, over the course of five social events, he meets and falls in love with a free spirited American girl.

This movie has its likable moments, but I was ultimately disappointed by it.  I think the problem for me was that characters were all fairly obnoxious, and not in a "neurotic rom com" type of way.  They weren't really quirky; they were selfish and apathetic.  If the Book wanted to include a film where Hugh Grant is a roguish cad, I wish the Listmakers had included Bridget Jones instead.

Like I said, the film did have a certain amount of charm.  I too have dated my fair share of Englishmen so believe me, I understand the appeal.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Hugh Grant reportedly thought the movie was terrible during filming.

Sarah Jessica Parker auditioned for the role of Carrie.

871. Clerks

Directed by Kevin Smith

I can never quite decide if I like this film or not.  The first time I watched it, I thought the dialogue was very funny.  Upon my second viewing, I realized the movie is incredibly childish.  The film's immaturity isn't necessarily a bad thing, although I am still unsure how many stars it deserves.

The film follows a day in the life of Dante Hicks, a twentysomething working at a convenience store in New Jersey.  It is his day off, but he is forced to cover for another employee who is sick.  Dante spends most of his day talking to his friend Randall, who works at the video store next door.  Throughout the day, Dante learns that one of his ex girlfriends has died, while another one has become engaged.  This leads him to speculate about his relationships and the direction his life is headed.

This film appeals to anyone who has ever worked a behind the counter job.  I guess this is basically everyone, although if you managed to avoid it, hats off to you.  I worked at a library in high school and you would be surprised how passionate people get about 25 cent late fees.  In any case, we have all had those days where we desperately wish we were somewhere else and pass the time by discussing pop culture with our coworkers.  The dialogue in this movie is relatable and fun.  It is a vast improvement from Slacker.

However, the memory of those days has started to fade a bit for me and I have realized that there is more to life than working retail and discussing gross sex acts.  Therefore, this is no longer a film that appeals to me that much.  I would also just like to say that I think the Divine Comedy comparisons are pretentious and a bit too ambitious for what this film actually turns out to be.

Anyway, still a movie to check out.  At least then you will have an opinion on Kevin Smith, which apparently is essential to being a human.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Budget of $27,000.

Filmed in the store in which Kevin Smith was working at the time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

870. The Lion King

The Lion King
Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff

This is going to be a strange review for me to write.  This movie was a large part of my childhood, therefore I have an unconditional love for it that might not be easily explained.  I do think this is a solid film even without any intense feelings of nostalgia.  After all, any movie that introduces children to Shakespeare in such a compelling way is a masterpiece in my (nerd) book.

The film tells the story of Simba, a young lion cub who is destined to succeed his father, Mufasa, as king of Pride Rock.  Simba is quite excited to be a ruler and even sings a song with his friend Nala about how much he wants his father to die so that he can take over.  Okay, maybe I read a bit too much into that musical number.  In any case, Mufasa's brother, Scar, has other plans, as he intends to take the throne for himself.

Where to start with this film?  The animation is just beautiful; the opening scene alone is worth watching.  Elton John composed the songs for this film, so you know all of the musical numbers are going to be incredible.  That's always been my biggest complaint with early Disney musicals; the songs were never that good.  I also loved the lessons imparted for children in this film.  I wish Rafiki was my mentor.

My favorite thing about this movie, though, has to be how much there is for adults to enjoy.  From the Nazi references to the Hamlet parallels, it is not one of those films for kids that are mind numbing for adults.  Speaking of which, is Scar really that terrible of a villain?  Obviously, he has his faults.  But really, his main project was feeding the underprivileged (i.e. the hyenas).  Mufasa was content to watch them starve.

Definitely a movie you must see before you die.  Get ready to FEEL.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

The stampede scene took the animators three years to finish.

One of Gregory Peck's top five favorite films.

869. Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump
Directed by Robert Zemeckis

This is one of those films that literally everyone is expected to adore.  Consequently, I have now seen it quite a few times.  I really hope I never have to watch it again, but I have a feeling that's an impossible dream.

Forrest is a slow-witted but kind Southern man,  who witnesses, and sometimes participates, the most significant events of the second half of the 20th century.  Through all his successes and misadventures, he remains thoroughly devoted to his childhood crush Jenny.  Jenny, however, is following her own path (i.e. free love and anti war movements).

So why do most people love this movie?  I suppose Forrest is lovable in a Prince Myshkin-esque way and there is no denying that Tom Hanks is a talented actor.  I still feel like Forrest is a politician's fantasy about what the typical American should have been during the 60s and 70s: loyal, naive, and kind of stupid.  Ultimately, these traits lead Forrest to triumph, garnering fame and fortune.  Meanwhile, Jenny, who chose a more offbeat track...well, no spoilers.  Suffice to say she doesn't do as well.  The whole thing felt like a misguided, patriotic parable.   Maybe I am reading into it too much, but the entire film just rubbed me the wrong way.

In any case, I also think it is too long and just plain cheesy at times.  I mean, the white feather?  Let's take it down a notch.  This isn't American Beauty.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Bill Murray, John Travolta, and Chevy Chase all turned down the role of Forrest.

The Vietnam scenes were shot in South Carolina.

868. Hoop Dreams

Hoop Dreams
Directed by Steve James

You might not be able to tell, but I am not really into sports.  My one sports related accomplishment is only having to take one semester of gym in high school (everyone else had to take three).  I did sit in a private box during the Stanley Cup finals once, but I used the time to read and eat copious amounts of popcorn.  Anyway, given my distaste for watching millionaires trying to get a ball from one place to another place, I didn't expect to take this one.  However, this is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen.

The movie follows the lives of two African American teenagers, William Gates and Arthur Agee, who dream of playing in the NBA.  They are recruited by a scout from St. Joseph High School, a predominantly white college prep school with a great basketball program.  The film explores their private lives and struggles, demonstrating how far they will go to achieve their dreams.

Usually I complain about movies that are over two hours.  Considering the fact that the filmmakers had 250 hours of footage, the length is actually quite impressive.  This kind of movie could come across as preachy, but the two leads are so likable that it is impossible not to care about them.  It's not really even about basketball, which is probably why I enjoyed it so much.

So a powerful story that I wish had a different ending.  Definitely a film worth watching.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

On the fifteenth anniversary of this film, the movie was screened at the Gene Siskel Film Center.  Arthur Agee told the audience that ten of his friends in the movie had died.

867. Trois Couleurs: Rouge

Trois Couleurs: Rouge
Three Colors: Red
Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski

This is the last film in Kieslowski's Three Colors trilogy.  The previous films were Blue (which I did review) and White (which I didn't review).  I know, I know.  I am a loose cannon.

Valentine Dussault is a part time model who accidentally hits a dog with her car.  She discovers that the dog belongs to her neighbor, a reclusive retired judge, Joseph Kern, who loves to eavesdrop on his neighbors' telephone conversations.  Valentine is disgusted by Kern's activities but ends up overhearing a conversation herself between a couple, Karin and Auguste.  Karin and Auguste are seemingly in love,  but Kern believes that Karin is dishonest.

The metaphors and symbolism in this film are a bit less heavy handed than in Blue, for which I am thankful.  Irene Jacob is as compelling as Juliette Binoche.  Well, almost.  In any case, I think this is a marked improvement from Blue.

Still, it is a very slow moving film.  The characters are also rather inaccessible.  Valentine made for a rather dull protagonist.  I suppose she was supposed to be the moral center of the film.  We all know how I feel about Melanie Wilkes-esque characters.

I might watch White someday, but I kind of think there must be a solid reason for not including it on the List.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Was rejected by the Academy as an entry for Best Foreign Language Film on the grounds that it was not being a majority-Swiss production.

Monday, April 11, 2016

866. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of Desert
Directed by Stephan Elliot

Man, what is with everyone and ABBA?  I personally think "Dancing Queen" is one of the most obnoxious songs ever created.  Maybe "Surfin' Bird" is more annoying.  My physical therapy center usually play both songs, in what I believe is an attempt to slowly break down my resistance.

Tick Belrose, a drag queen in Sydney, agrees to perform his drag act in a resort managed by his estranged wife in central Australia.  He persuades his two friends and fellow performers, Bernadette and Felicia, to join him and the three obtain a tour bus (christened "Priscilla") for the journey.  Along the way, they perform ABBA songs and meet a variety of characters, some of whom are horrific homophobes.

I am all for celebrating LGBT culture, but I can't honestly say I enjoyed this film.  I found the plot to be rather predictable and I guessed many of the "twists" that I think were supposed to come as surprises.  It also faced a problem that plagues many musicals.  All of the scenes that didn't feature musical numbers felt like non essential filler.

Still, it was quite the visual spectacle and might be worth watching for that reason.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Colin Firth was the first choice to play Tick.

865. Schindler's List

Schindler's List
Directed by Steven Spielberg

Schindler's Ark has been on my reading list forever.  I still prefer films about the Holocaust to have less of a Hollywood polish, but this is undeniably a powerful movie.

Oskar Schindler is a member of the Nazi party, hoping to make his fortune in the overcrowded Krakow Ghetto.  He acquires a factory that produces enamelware and enlists the help of Itzhak Stern, a Jewish accountant.  Amon Goeth, known as "The Butcher of Plaszow," comes to Krakow to oversee the construction of the Plaszow concentration camp.  Once the camp is completed, Goeth orders the ghetto to be emptied.  Schindler witnesses and is profoundly affected by the mass execution of the Jewish people in Krakow.  With Stern's help, Schindler attempts to save as many Jewish people as he can, while still maintaining the pretense of being a respectable Nazi.

Parts of the film are phenomenal, although I should mention that I thought there were elements of cheesiness.  I thought the idea of having the young girl's jacket in red, while the rest of the film was in black and white, was a bit over the top.  I am sure there are a lot of theories about the significance of the choice.  I believe it was done so that the audience would recognize the little girl later, because Spielberg didn't think the audience would be able to, since the film is in black and white.  I wish Spielberg had given us a little more credit.  Either that, or it was some vague artistic choice.  In any case, I think it was overdone and interrupted the flow.

Really, that is my only complaint.  Other than that, the acting was excellent; I almost wish Fiennes was less talented as his portrayal of Goeth was so disturbing.  The story is inspirational and will certainly leave a lasting impression.  Definitely a must see.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Spielberg gave all the money he earned from this film to the Shoah Foundation.

Spielberg worked on both Jurassic Park and Schindler's List at the same time.  He said he used every ounce of intuition on Schindler's List and every ounce of craft on Jurassic Park.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

864. Hsi yen

Hsi yen
The Wedding Banquet
Directed by Ang Lee

I am quite glad that a decent Taiwanese film has come along, as I have been bashing them pretty regularly on this blog.  Usually, the culture gap is just a bit too wide.  However, I really enjoyed this film, proving that I can enjoy Chinese/Taiwanese films that don't include kung fu.  I was beginning to worry myself there.

Wai-Tung Gao lives a happy existence with his boyfriend Simon in New York City.  Unfortunately, his traditional family is unaware of (or willfully ignoring) Wai-Tung's sexual orientation and are eager to find him a bride.  With Simon's blessing, Wai-Tung decides to marry Wei-Wei, one of his tenants who desperately needs a green card, in order to placate his parents.  Much to Simon and Wai-Tung's horror, the Gao family decides to come to New York to attend the wedding.  Hilarity ensues.

I am not used to "madcap comedies" having any sort of message other than maybe don't try to develop an elixir of youth.  It is always interesting to see homosexual relationships on film, because for some reason, it is still considered taboo and not usually done.  But more than that, I liked seeing Lee blending Western and Eastern methods of filmmaking, demonstrating that our enjoyment of films doesn't have to be limited to which country we are from.

So a funny and enjoyable film.  I am excited to see what else Ang Lee can do.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Winston Chao was a flight attendant with no experience in acting when he was cast in this film.

863. Lán fēngzheng

Lan Fengzheng
The Blue Kite
Directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang

We really have not had the most cheerful films lately.  First The Piano, now this.  Soon I will be reviewing Schindler's List.  If anyone needs me, I'll be on the roof.

The film is told through the perspective of Tietou, a young boy whose life is very negatively impacted by the political movements in China during the 50s and 60s.  Basically, things get worse.  It actually reminded me of Satyajit Ray's films, where the director relentlessly heaps tragedies on a family.  Presumably, the blue kite represents our lost hopes and dreams.  Right?

So the historical context of the film interested me, but the actual movie did not.  I think I used the exact same line in my Puppetmaster review.  I feel like if wreak havoc on your characters, without ever actually humanizing them, the audience can get a bit numb to the story.  I am sure that the people who enjoyed this film felt some connection to the characters on screen, but I am afraid I didn't.

Definitely a movie I would have happily skipped.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Banned in China.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

862. The Piano

The Piano
Directed by Jane Campion

We finally get another female director, which in itself is cause for celebration.  Luckily, the film also turned out to be magnificent.

Ada McGrath, a mute Scotswoman, is sold into marriage by her father.  She is forced to move to New Zealand with her young daughter and to abandon her prized piano on the beach.  Thankfully, her handsome neighbor Baines obtains the piano by trading her husband Alisdair some of his land.  Baines then receives private piano lessons by Ada. Ada finds herself torn between Alisdair's jealousy and Baines' passion.  Male egos, am I right?

It takes a really talented actress to give an Oscar worthy performance without the use of any dialogue.  Matlin pulled it off in Children of a Lesser God and Hunter does it perfectly here, conveying emotions and thoughts in her expressions that are too deep to put into words anyway.  I have always thought Sam Neill was rather blech but his blechness here worked for his character (speaking of complex thoughts...).

So a beautiful movie, but not one I can ever watch again.  Given how heartbreaking the story is, I believe repeated viewings would send me off a ledge.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Jane Campion was the first woman to win a Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for this movie.

Holly Hunter performed most of her own piano playing.

861. Trois Couleurs: Bleu

Trois Couleurs: Bleu
Three Colors: Blue
Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski

Only two of the films in Kieslowski's Three Colors trilogy are featured in the book.  The second one, Three Colors: White, is skipped.  It might make some completists absolutely insane to not watch the entire trilogy.  But as you can probably tell from this blog, I am kind of easy going about List stuff.  I really don't take it that seriously.  Ahem.

Julie loses both her husband and young daughter in a car crash.  Nothing else of note really happens, as the rest of the film deals with her coping with her grief.

I really struggled with this one.  I didn't expect to, as I adore Juliette Binoche.  I would watch that woman do infomercials.  Still, I thought the experience was a rather dull one.  And I know I am about to make the most obvious statement ever, but everything was  The concept felt a bit campy to me; the whole blue=depression idea is kind of tired.  It all just felt very exaggerated and I don't feel like there were any new insights presented.

Anyway, any film with Juliette Binoche is worth watching.  I hope Rouge is more impressive.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Both stars of the sequel, Three Colors: White, make brief appearances in this film.

860. Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park
Directed by Steven Spielberg

I know a lot of film buffs are probably repulsed by big budget Hollywood movies like this.  I have been known to have this attitude as well.  I do my best to avoid every superhero movie that comes along.  But I actually adore this movie.  It has the best of everything Hollywood has to offer: talented stars, a beautiful score, and realistic special effects. And hey, how can you dislike a film that features Samuel L. Jackson saying "Hold onto your butts!"

John Hammond is a billionaire eccentric who is building a theme park populated with genetically cloned dinosaurs.  He invites a team of experts to his island to verify the safety of the park.  This includes Ian Malcolm, a mathematician, Ellie Sattler, a paleobotanist, Alan Grant, a paleontologist, and Donald Gennaro, a lawyer.  He also has his two grandchildren, Tim and Lex, come along on the tour, because he is just the worst.  I do have to warn everyone that the kids are rather obnoxious.  Thankfully, the film has enough redeeming qualities that a couple of bratty children don't completely tank it.

I am unsure if I would like this movie so much if I hadn't read the novel.  If I didn't have the background knowledge of the story, I might agree with some of the criticisms that the plot of this is really thin.  I do wish some of the characters were more fleshed out like they were in the novel, but I suppose people watch this film to see the dinosaurs.  I usually don't get very excited about special effects, but I was in awe of this movie.

Definitely a film you must see before you die, as it is a visually spectacular ride.  Hold onto your butts.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Steven Spielberg made $250 million from this film.

George Lucas supervised post production on this film.  After seeing the movie, he decided that technology was good enough for him to create the Star Wars prequels.  Make of that what you will.

Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern started a relationship after meeting on set.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

859. Hsimeng Jensheng

Hsimeng Jensheng
The Puppetmaster
Directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien

I told my sister I had to get off the phone last night so I could finish a two and a half hour Taiwanese biopic about the life of a puppeteer.  I don't think I inspired a lot of envy with that statement.

The film tells the story of Li Tian-lu who became a puppeteer during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan.  That's pretty much it.  The only slightly interesting/sleazy thing about the movie was that he took a mistress.

The historical context was somewhat intriguing, but the rest of this film was incredibly dull.  I have never really had even the slightest interest in puppets (I have an aversion to all things Muppets).  The puppet shows actually got on my nerves a lot because of the incessant gong hitting.  I suppose it was the only music they could provide but it got to be headache inducing.  Sorry puppet people.

Sorry for the short review, but this movie just didn't leave a lasting impression.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

The second film in Hou's historical trilogy.

858. Philadelphia

Directed by Jonathan Demme

It is absolutely appalling how long it took everyone to acknowledge the AIDs crisis.  I wasn't alive for the eighties but I have heard firsthand accounts of what it was like for victims and their friends, family, and lovers.  It is a very upsetting and emotional topic.  Is it possible to watch AIDs activists dumping their loved ones ashes on the White House lawn without tearing up?  I hope not.

I guess I should be discussing the actual film.  Andrew Beckett is a young lawyer who is hiding both his illness and his sexual orientation from the partners at his firm.  Beckett is being assigned to the firm's most important case when one of the partners notices a lesion on his forehead.  Beckett tells them that it is a racquetball injury, but the partner realizes that it is Kaposi's Sarcoma, having worked with a woman who contracted AIDs through a blood transfusion.  The partners conjure up a flimsy reason to fire Beckett.  Beckett hopes to sue the firm, but is unable to find anyone willing to take his case.  Enter the dashing Joe Miller, who is willing to fight the good fight, despite his own homophobia.

It is kind of upsetting to me to hear people call this film Oscar bait.  It makes it sound like the filmmakers were only interested in garnering a few awards rather than telling a story that desperately needs to be heard.  Maybe I am being naive, but I truly think it was a noble cause to take up this tale; I know a lot of actors, studios, and directors wouldn't have touched this film with a ten foot pole.

Anyway, it is a film that everyone should watch.  See?  I can deal with upsetting material.  Now I have to go find some tissues...

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Tom Hanks lost 30 pounds for his role, while Denzel Washington was required to gain a few pounds for his.  Apparently, Washington would eat chocolate bars in front of Hanks, presumably to just be the worst.

Monday, April 4, 2016

857. Short Cuts

Short Cuts
Directed by Robert Altman

Roger Ebert said that no good movie is too long and no bad movie is too short.  I shudder to disagree with my lord and master, but this was a good movie that was just too long.

The film follows the stories of 22 different characters in Los Angeles.  I won't list a description of everyone in the movie, unless someone wants to pay me for some delightful reasons.  The most compelling storyline was Howard and Ann Finnigan's, whose young son Casey is hit by a car by a depressed waitress.  Casey's doctor is the long suffering husband of an untalented artist, who is friends with the long suffering (and now amused) wife of a cheating husband.  The dullest storyline is probably Lori Singer's, who plays a depressed cellist who is generally ignored by her obnoxious mother.

So three hours and some change is a bit long for any film.  It is odd, because after 188 minutes, it still manages to end abruptly.  Jerry's actions are a bit baffling at the end of the film.  Obviously, he had his problems, but compared to the other characters, his life was pretty great.  Maybe that was the point.  It is the weakest among us that snap, not the most troubled.

Still, it is ultimately worth the time, just to see the great performances.  I was particularly delighted with Robert Downey Jr.  Nineties Robert Altman was on point.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Jennifer Jason Leigh spent time in actual phone sex offices to research her role.  All of her calls were verbatim what she heard.

856. Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould

Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould
Directed by Francois Girard

I often throw a tantrum over biopics, as they are generally a hundred hours long and incredibly boring.  This was actually an interesting format, but unfortunately, it couldn't sustain a ninety+ minute feature.

Glenn Gould is a famous pianist.  This is a bit embarrassing, but I had never heard of him before.  My knowledge of classical music consists of a symphony that I went to with my brother once.  We left halfway through, because we wanted candy.  Obviously, I am no authority.  In any case, the film consists of 32 short movies, ranging from six minutes to one minute.  Each has a distinct style that represents one aspect of Gould's life.

Some of the shorts really worked for me, others not so much.  I suppose the entire thing would have interested me more if I had the slightest inkling who Glenn Gould was.  While this film is mildly entertaining, it is not exactly an education.

Sorry for the lackluster review but it was a rather lackluster movie.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Based on Bach's "Goldberg Variations" which are 32 pieces of music that are usually played together.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

855. Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day
Directed by Harold Ramis

I have had many periods in my life where I basically felt as though I was living the same day over and over again.  It is a special kind of hell, seemingly reserved for the most cowardly among us.  It is a fascinating concept for a movie.  It is particularly ambitious to make this a comedy; the idea almost sounds like a depressing Russian short story.

Phil Conners is a cynical, condescending weatherman from Pittsburgh (Woo, Pittsburgh! Ow Ow!), sent to cover the Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  After Phil gives his report, a blizzard shuts down all travel, forcing him and his hot television producer Rita to spend the night in Punxsutawney.  Phil wakes up the next day to discover that he is living Groundhog Day all over again, although no one else is aware of the time loop.  No matter what he does during that day, he always wakes up on the morning of February 2.  This opens up exciting, and devastating, possibilities.

I love what the filmmakers do with this idea; in lesser hands, it could have been a disaster.  Bill Murray is perfect here as a likable jerk; I was pretty much with him from the beginning.  Groundhog Day is just ridiculously cutesy and weird.  I also live in Pennsylvania and a groundhog is used to advertise the PA lottery in the most obnoxious commercials ever created.  Sorry, I am digressing slightly.

This film really explores all the possibilities of the concept of an endless day.  In other movies where the characters experience some sort of fantastical change, I always find myself wondering "why wouldn't they try x or y?"  This film actually spends time dealing with the implications of this universe; otherwise, the whole story might seem like an annoyingly moralistic fable.

Of course, it doesn't explore the "he could murder and rape people without any consequences" aspect of the story.  Thank god; I think my soapbox is about to break.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Bill Murray was severely bitten by the groundhog twice during filming.

One of the first drafts of the script explained that Phil was trapped in a time loop because an ex girlfriend cursed him to teach him a lesson.

It is estimated that Phil spent 34 years in a time loop.

854. Farewell My Concubine

Farewell My Concubine
Directed by Chen Kaige

This is one of those films that seems more like a homework assignment than a piece of entertainment.  It is epic in its coverage of over fifty years of Chinese history and has breathtaking moments.  In other words, it was incredibly dull.

God, where to begin with the plot summary of this.  I am going to oversimplify this, partly because it is a lengthy movie and partly because I stopped paying attention about half way through.  Basically, it is the story of two men, Douzi and Shitou, who met as apprentices of the Peking Opera.  Douzi catches the feels for Shitou, but Shitou only has eyes for Juxian, a courtesan.

I know this film is a masterpiece, so I am trying to take the positive out of it.  Gong Li is always fantastic and the opera scenes are gorgeous.  The film is certainly an education; I might recommend it to people who aren't familiar with Chinese culture.

I think I have to stop there because to praise it anymore would be rather inauthentic, considering how bored I was.  Probably a film everyone should see, but I am quite glad that it is behind me.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Jackie Chan was offered a role in this film but turned it down, as he feared the homosexual themes in the movie might tarnish his image.

Friday, April 1, 2016

853. The Crying Game

The Crying Game
Directed by Neil Jordan

If this film is still unspoiled for you, I suggest watching it as soon as possible.  I never ruin endings, but not everyone is as pious as me.  If only.

A unit of IRA members kidnap Jody, a British soldier, by luring him to a secluded area with the promise of sex. The IRA plans to execute Jody in three days if certain members aren't released from jail. Fergus, one of the kidnappers, develops a bond with Jody.  Jody makes Fergus promise to find his girlfriend Dil in London if anything happens to him.  Um...hilarity ensues.  Sorry, when you are as saintly as I am, the plot summaries don't wrap up very nicely.

This film seems oddly disjointed.  The first half (which feels like a character study) and the second half (which feels like a political thriller) seem like completely different movies.  Both parts are quite enjoyable, but the film lacks cohesion.  I did love the romance, as I had resigned myself to a cliche love story, when it took an unexpected and exciting turn.

It is also interesting for me to see an Irish film, especially after visiting Ireland in the fall.  I would love to watch more movies about the IRA; this and Odd Man Out were both fascinating.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Stanley Kubrick persuaded Neil Jordan to change the title of the film from "The Soldier's Wife" as he believed movies with religious or military titles generally turn people off.