Tuesday, December 19, 2017

1044. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Directed by David Fincher

I knew the premise of this story (who doesn't?) and I thought I could pretty easily map out the plot. It didn't seem worth it to sit through a nearly three hour movie when I knew what was going to happen, but hey, Brad Pitt is hot and the List told me to.

Benjamin Button was born with the appearance of old man, but thankfully not the dimensions. His mother still dies giving birth to him, and his father abandons him on the doorstep of a nursing home. He is taken in by Queenie, a woman who works at the nursing home. He ages backwards and is unfortunate enough to fall in love.  You can imagine how well that turns out.

It is super strange to me that this was adapted to be such a serious drama. It's like if Gogol's The Nose or Roth's The Breast were made into epic romances. The somber mood is not entirely successful. I felt like the movie was trying to come up with some great truth that could be observed from Benjamin's story when really, there wasn't one. I mean, aging is the one thing that unites us as life forms; no one is immune to its horrifying progression. What could a character removed from that possibly teach us?

Anyway, it's still a beautiful movie. The performances are incredible (I love my girl Taraji Henson) and I was properly impressed by the special effects. Still, I don't think it deserves a place on The List.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Brad Pitt has said it took five hours every day to put on the make up on required for the role.

Originally was going to star John Travolta. Well, that's a relief.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

1043. O Brother, Where Art Thou?

O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Directed by Joel Coen

Finally, a Coen Brothers film that I am on the fence about. Usually I either love it (who couldn't love Fargo?) or hate it (The Big Lebowski...White Russians are disgusting by the way). I'm still not sure about this one, but at the very least it was interesting.

Three convicts, Ulysses, Pete, and Delmar, escape from a chain gang. Ulysses claims he hid stolen loot in the area before it was flooded. They set out to find the treasure, meeting many colorful characters along the way, including a one-eyed bible salesman, a young black man who claims he sold his soul to the devil, and Baby Face Nelson.

When this movie began, I was convinced George Clooney was miscast. That man belongs in a suit, dammit! But as the film progressed, I became more and more charmed by the characters. Certain moments of the movie were more effective than others; I loved the Siren scene and the Klan meeting was genuinely frightening. Other scenes like the one with Pete's cousin felt unnecessary.

I guess my main problem with this is that it didn't feel cohesive. It was hard to know where we were in the story but I suppose the Odyssey was episodic. Sidenote: am I the only one who inwardly groans when John Goodman shows up in a movie?

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

The Coen Brothers admitted they never read the Odyssey. Well, that figures.

George Clooney's singing voice was dubbed by Dan Tyminski. I knew it was too good to be true.

Monday, November 6, 2017

1042. Arrival

Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Once again, I apologize for the delays in posts.  I have had a lot of writing to do lately and by the end of the day I am too drained to produce any more words.  Consequently, I have been spending a lot of nights mutely staring at walls.  Anyway, I'm not usually big on alien movies, but this was fantastic.

12 spaceships arrive in various locations on Earth and naturally, everyone is waiting for an excuse to blow them up.  The US army asks for the help of Linguistics professor Louise Banks to try to communicate with the aliens.  They also enlist the help of physicist Ian Donnelly (I guess they thought if they put glasses on Jeremy Renner, we could believe he was a physicist and not a model/actor).

I love Amy Adams.  She has this quality where she can plausibly play completely naive characters or characters that are wise beyond their years.  This role was made for her.  The visuals of this movie are also completely stunning.  I can't remember the last time I saw a sci-fi movie that had this gritty, realistic look.  Most sci-fi movies are so CGI polished.

I absolutely adore the story as well.  I was just having breakfast with my siblings and my older brother, prince that he is, decided to spoil to the movie for my sister, who hasn't seen it yet.  There is no justice in this world.  Please, don't let yourself be Michael-ed.  Protect yourself and your loved ones by watching this before someone ruins it for you.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Amy Adams agreed to the role 24 hours after receiving the script.

The alien language was created by Montreal artist Martine Bertrand.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

1041. Life of Pi

Life of Pi
Directed by Ang Lee

I read this book awhile ago on a transatlantic flight.  I was flying coach and had strep throat.  So much like Pi, I know something about stressful travel situations.  Anyway, the book was amazing but it took prompting from the List to get me to see the film.

Pi Patel, an Indian man who survived a horrific shipwreck when he was 16, tells his story to an author (everyone knows shipwreck stories can only be told through flashback and narration).  Pi was an unusual boy who decided to adopt Christianity and Islam as his religions, in addition to Hinduism, which was his family's faith.  Pi's father owns a zoo and decides to take his family and all his animals to Canada to settle there.  During a storm, the ship founders and Pi escapes on a lifeboat with a wounded zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and a tiger.

Visually, this is obviously a gorgeous movie, but it has more to offer than that.  At one point, Pi says, "Hunger can change everything you ever thought you knew about yourself."  While I am not religious, let alone triple religious, I have my own tenets, which include practicing vegetarianism and not killing anything (except other people's good times).  It was fascinating watching Pi try to hang on to his humanity in his situation, when we all know it's going to be a losing battle.  It's not a movie like Lifeboat or The Belko Experiment that tries to answer these questions (and in the case of Belko, gleefully revels in its chosen response).  It is a much more personal story and it also has a really cool tiger.  Ahem. 

Suraj Sharma was such a compelling actor and I can't wait to see what else he will do.  I don't want to spoil the ending, but I also thought it was brilliant.  And fuck hyenas.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Suraj Sharma only went to the audition to support his brother.

CGI tiger was used for most of the film, but they used a real tiger in the shot of it swimming in the ocean.

Monday, October 2, 2017

1040. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Directed by J.J. Abrams

I have been putting off watching the new Star Wars.  I'm hesitant to embrace this kind of fan service.  I've been hurt before (btw my church does not recognize The Cursed Child as canon).  It's like they think doing something as simple as reworking a quote from the original will send the fans into raptures, forgetting the fact that we all liked the thing in the first place precisely because it was like nothing we have seen before.  But hey, it's on The List.  As The List goes, so goes my nation.

The galaxy is once again being threatened, this time by the First Order.  Kylo Ren (think Darth Vader with a slightly different outfit) is trying to locate Luke Skywalker, who has gone into hiding.  A resistance fighter, Poe Dameron, obtains a map to Luke's location, but he is captured by Kylo Ren and tortured.  Poe's droid, BB-8, escapes with the map and meets Rey, a scavenger.  A stormtrooper, Finn, has a crisis of conscience and helps Poe escape.  Rey and Finn team up with Han Solo to try to stop the First Order from destroying the galaxy.   Man, for such a simple story this sounds kind of complicated in summation.

This reminded me of a video game re release, where story is essentially the same, but the weapons are slightly improved and the developers give you more avatars to work with.  I did appreciate that there was more diversity in the cast (how does that work exactly?  Does each race have its own planet?).  The movie is too weak to stand on its own; you have to tolerate much nudging and winking.  Yes, I remember you saying "we've got company."  Yeah, I got the reference the first time, you didn't have to say it again.

All that being said, it is a fun, suspenseful movie.  Compared to the prequels, this is Citizen Kane.  Still, if you love something, shouldn't you let it go?

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

John Williams received his 50th Oscar nomination for this film.

Had 13 producers.

RIP Carrie Fisher.

Monday, September 18, 2017

1039. La La Land

La La Land
Directed by Damien Chazelle

I am currently stuck in bed with a nasty cold that keeps showing off its impression of the flu (a five star performance, by the way).  I believe that a great musical is a cure for any ailment.  After all, there is nothing like relentlessly cheerful singing and dancing to put you in a good mood.  Unfortunately, this wasn't a great musical and my mood remains, as always, cranky and irritable.

Mia Dolan is an aspiring actress who currently works as a barista in a movie.  Sebastian Wilder is a struggling (and oh so pretentious) jazz musician who dreams about opening his own jazz club.  I can only imagine the comments he would leave on my music blog.  In any case, movies are really running out of reasons why two hot people should initially dislike each other.  This movie's attempt is particularly feeble: Sebastian sort of brushes Mia off when she tries to compliment his music.  Oh, and they kind of annoy each other at a traffic stop.  Oh, shut up and go have sex already.

I suppose I shouldn't be bothered that this film is packed with cliches, as it is clearly an homage to old Hollywood musicals.  Still, I felt as though I was just trudging along from predictable plot point a to predictable plot point b.  And not every cliche they used could properly be attributed to old musicals.  Emma Stone running out of a restaurant during a group date with her boring boyfriend...I know I have seen that before.  And a jazz musician who tries to convince his girlfriend she doesn't hate jazz...that should be familiar to anyone who watches Sex and the City (you guys are going to have to take my word on this one, since I doubt any of you are fans).

I felt like the film was begging me to like it; after all, it was critically praised and I do enjoy Gene Kelly-style musicals.  But the talent just wasn't there.  Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone did their best with the singing and dancing, but I didn't feel hypnotized watching them, like I do when Gene Kelly dances or when Debbie Reynolds sings.  Also 90% of the songs were forgettable.

I did, however, enjoy the ending.  "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" was beautiful, and Stone's performance made me rethink my assessment of her performance.  The last fantasy sequence was a worthy tribute to the musicals of the past.  Unfortunately, you have to sit through two hours of tripe to get to the good parts.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Emma Stone performed "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" live.

Features many references to Casablanca.  Now that I'm okay with.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

1038. Babel

Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

So this is one of those films that made the critics go crazy, garnered all kinds of awards and nominations, but then is all but forgotten about within the next year.  At least, I haven't heard anyone speak of it, but that might just be me (I try to avoid talking to people in general).

In a desert in Morocco, Abdullah, a goat herder, receives a gun and ammo from his neighbor.  He teaches his two young sons, Yussef and Ahmed, how to shoot jackals with it.  The two boys are doubtful that the gun has a wide range and take shots at a tour bus passing by.  They hit one of the passengers, Susan, in her shoulder and her husband Richard spends the film desperately trying to get help for her.  Amelia, Susan and Roger's nanny, learns of Susan's injury and is ordered to take care of their kids longer than she had planned.  She decides to take the kids to Mexico with her for her son's wedding, which is an extremely ill-advised decision but hey, her boss was being a dick.   Oh yes, and we also follow the story of Chieko, a deaf mute Japanese girl who is struggling to express her sexuality and come to terms with her mother's suicide.  Those are two problems, by the way.

I am not the biggest fan of ensemble films.  Speaking of which, I couldn't for the life of me remember what the movie Happiness was called and had to resort to typing "child molester movie Jon Lovitz" into Google.  I hope that didn't raise any alarms.

Back to my point.  Usually with ensemble movies there are one or two storylines that are just not as interesting as the other plots, but unfortunately they serve as necessary bridges to the other stories.  For this film, I was particularly bored with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett's story, which essentially didn't change throughout the whole movie.  You can tell they just wanted to work with the director, but sadly, they didn't have too much to work with.  On the other hand, I loved Chieko's story, even though I am certain I didn't understand the ending.

In general, it was cool to experience a movie this ambitious.  But I still think Inarritu is a tool.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Brad Pitt gave up a lead role in The Departed to be in this film.  Oh honey.

The color red is emphasized in every story.   What an original concept!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

1037. Hugo

Directed by Martin Scorsese

At first I found it hard to believe that this was a Scorsese film.  This is the man that brought us Taxi Driver, and now he is making whimsical Grand Budapest Hotel-esque films.  Of course, as the film progressed, it became clear that this is the tribute to early cinema that Scorsese always wanted to make.

In 1931, eight year old Hugo lives a train station in Paris.  Everyone speaks English for some reason, but they do it in British accents, so we Americans buy it.   Anyway, Hugo spends his days fixing clocks, dodging the Station Inspector (who delights in putting kids in cages and sending them to orphanages, you know, because of the war), and attempting to repair a broken automaton that his father had owned.  Hugo meets Isabelle, the goddaughter of Georges, the bitter toymaker at the station.  Isabelle and Hugo set out to solve the mystery of the automaton.

Would I have been interested in this if I wasn't a film buff?  You have to imagine that was the intention of Scorsese: to introduce young people who know nothing about movies to the magic of early cinema.  Still, I can't help feeling like I would have found the two hour run time unbearable if I didn't have an interest in Georges Melies.

Fortunately, I do and thus wanted to see how this played out.  I am not a huge CGI fan, but I have to admit this looked pretty good and contributed to the overall feeling of whimsy.  I do wish Jude Law had been in it more.  I so admire that man's....talent.

Anyway, this was decent, but my incurable bloodlust makes me crave gangster Scorsese more.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

The opening tracking shot of the city took 1000 computers to render each frame.

James Cameron called it the best use of 3D he had ever seen (including in his own movies).

Monday, August 14, 2017

1036. The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book
Directed by Jon Favreau

Lately I have been determining which List movies to watch based on what is available on Netflix Instant.  Unfortunately for me, this meant seeing The Jungle Book.  Well, I suppose it was harmless enough so I'll try to be nice.

Mowgli is a ten year old "man cub" who has been raised by wolves in the jungle.  His father was killed when he was an infant and he was rescued by Bagheera, a panther who, for some reason, didn't eat him.  Bagheera raised him to....or the wolves raised him to...oh whatever.  In any case, Mowgli has been discouraged from using tools, because doing things efficiently conflicts with Wolf Law.  One day at the watering hole, Shere Khan, a vicious disfigured tiger promises to kill Mowgli when the drought ends.  Mowgli must leave the jungle for safety, so Bagheera begins to guide him to a man village.  Mowgli meets many creatures on his journey, including Baloo, King Louie, and Kaa.

I was never a fan of The Jungle Book growing up (not enough good songs), so I wasn't exactly eager to see this film.  I guess this is the future of animation, though; kids don't want to see handdrawn movies anymore.  People want realism and they get it with CGI...well, sort of.  I don't really care too much about graphics, which I suspect is why I disliked this film.

Everything about it seemed done before.  Now, I realize that is a rather unfair complaint to have against a remake, but I found it to be a really boring experience.  Mowgli's escapes, which grew increasingly ridiculous, the ho-hum dialogue, and the cringe-worthy inclusions of songs...all of it combined to make a completely forgettable movie.  I was particularly disappointed with the scene when Baloo is stalling.  Clearly, Bill Murray was given room to improvise and that's all he could come up with?  Come on, Bill.  I expect more from you.

Anyway, I am being too harsh.  The actor that played Mowgli was actually really good; I wasn't actively rooting for him to die like I do with some child actors.  Perhaps I shouldn't admit that.  It was also interesting to see the shifting themes compared to the 1967 version.  But entirely skippable.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Over 2,000 children auditioned for the role of Mowgli.

The Genie's lamp from Aladdin can be seen in King Louie's temple.

All the locations in the film are computed generated VFX.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

1035. 13th

Directed by Ava DuVernay

Once again, I apologize for the delay in posting.  I have had quite a few medical issues lately that have robbed me of the use of my arm (not the good one, but still), so I have been out of commission.  It's also partly because I kept having to take breaks from watching this documentary so I didn't have a rage stroke.

The film takes its name from the 13th Amendment, which freed the slaves and forbade slavery, unless as punishment for a crime.  The movie explores the history of racial inequality and mass incarceration in the United States.  I watched this film alone, but that didn't stop me from punctuating every scene with my outbursts (e.g. "That's so true!," "Oh my god, that can't be real," "what the fuck??" etc).

Plenty of moments in this movie were shocking, but I think for me the most wtf statistic was that while the US has only five percent of the world population, it holds 25% of the world's prisoners.  This just blew my mind.

I probably shouldn't make this post about me, but that's never really stopped me before.  I have been ashamed lately of being an American (hopefully, the reasons are obvious).  This just increased that feeling tenfold (although I fully recognize that it is awesome I can say this and not get arrested).  I have been so sick of white male privilege lately as well.  When I go on dates (hey, it happens, despite my chronic use of parentheses), men look at me like I'm crazy because I won't leave my drink alone with them or because I text my sister periodically to let her know that I'm okay.  I see the same lack of empathy towards black people.  White people that I know and like act as though black people get shot more by the police because...caucasians aren't as rude to the police or something.  It is infuriating.

So this post has kind of gone off the rails.  Back to the movie.  Everyone should totally watch this.  Now I am going to go have a talk with my dad about Ronald Reagan...

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

First documentary to ever open the New York film festival.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

1034. Tangerine

Directed by Sean Baker

I am completely flummoxed that this is being described as a comedy.  I suppose the way it is filmed invites the audience to laugh at the characters as they are screaming in Donut Times or getting urine thrown on them but man.   I found this movie to be incredibly disturbing (not Flaming Creatures level disturbing, but still).  However, I do think it is worth a watch and deserves praise for representing a very underrepresented subculture.

Sin-Dee Rella, a transgender prostitute, has just finished a month long prison sentence.  She and her friend Alexandra, another transgender prostitute, catch up at a donut shop.  Alexandra accidentally lets slip that Sin-Dee Rella's pimp/fiance has been cheating on her with a cisgender prostitute.  Sin-Dee Rella is intent on revenge.  Ultimately, it would have been more satisfying if she had gotten revenge the First Wives Club way of uniting against the common douche, but instead she focuses on making the other woman pay.  Sigh.

So this is dirty realism at its finest.  It didn't feel like other movies where it seems the filmmakers are determined to make the audience as miserable as possible (I haven't seen it but I imagine that's what Precious was like).  Instead, it felt voyeuristic; they weren't ramming a sob story down our throats.  In fact, it ended (somewhat) optimistically.

This is one that I have to sit with, but for now, I will go with four stars.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Title of the film is a reference to the color of the Los Angeles sky at sunset.

Mya Taylor was just starting to take female hormones when production started.

Shot on three iPhones.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

1033. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Directed by Tomas Alfredson

I apologize for taking so long to post.  This has been a very stressful period in my life (I would call this the understatement of the year but I am saving that for "Trump is a bad president").  Anyway, I am going through a bit of a John Le Carre phase right now (currently reading Smiley's People) and thought I would check this movie out, which I have been meaning to see for awhile now.

George Smiley has been called out of retirement (are spies ever really retired??) to investigate a possible mole within MI6.  Wow, that might be my most succinct summary yet!

Having just reviewed The Bourne Ultimatum, it is interesting to compare these two films.  Both spy movies, but they are very different.  I bet I could guess which one most of my readers prefer.   This movie is devoid of explosions and car chases.  In fact, it mostly consists of waiting: waiting for someone to speak, to slip up, to reveal some part of themselves.  In that way, it felt very authentic to me; surely, this is the true spy experience, rather than just having sex with mysterious Russian beauties (oh wait, they still do that in this movie).

Stylistically, this is a beautiful film with brilliant actors.  Still, I couldn't blame people for finding it a bit on the dull side; it is a slow movie.  However, I had fun with it and I am loving on Le Carre lately.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Title is taken from an English children's rhyme.

The search for the right actor to play George Smiley took 18 months.

Friday, June 9, 2017

1032. True Grit

True Grit
Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen

I was shocked by how normal this movie was; I guess the Coen brothers have gotten tired of having to be original and genre-bending all the time.  I am not complaining; this was a pretty decent western.

After outlaw Tom Chaney murders her father, 14-year-old Mattie Ross is determined to see him hang.  She hires Rooster Cogburn, a trigger-happy drunk, to bring Chaney to "justice."  Mattie insists on accompanying Cogburn, much to his dismay.  They are also joined by Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, who is pursuing Chaney for murdering a senator.

Like I said, this was a decent western.  I was particularly impressed with Steinfeld's performance; we all know how horrific the outcome can be when child actors are involved.  Her character was clever, determined, and didn't have to resort to seduction to get the men to do what she wanted.  I did find the spanking scene to be disturbing; it seems that women in movies have to be degraded and humiliated in ways that men do not.  I understand that they were demonstrating that it was a different time and that women were pretty much treated like property (LaBoeuf's pervy comments about kissing Mattie when she was asleep accomplished this already).  But it was still unsettling.  I was googling it earlier to see what other women thought about it.  Based on the many spanking blogs singing its praises, I guess the general reception was positive.

Anyway, as far as modern westerns go, it's this or The Hateful Eight.  So...

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Body count of 14.

Hailee Steinfeld was only 13 when she was cast.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

1031. The Bourne Ultimatum

The Bourne Ultimatum
Directed by Paul Greengrass

Well, it has not been one of my better months, as I am recovering from surgery and being dumped.  The only movies I have felt like watching have been ones where seemingly happy couples get stabbed in the head (subsequently, I have once again been exploring the darkest recesses of Netflix horror).  Anyway, I thought I could siphon off some of my ill will by working myself up into a good rant about yet another Hollywood action sequel.  Unfortunately, this was nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be.  Damn.

This is the third Bourne film in the series.  I haven't seen any of the other Bourne movies, but I imagined it would be like Bond films, which is a series that guarantees confusion over convoluted evil plans no matter how much you bone up on the material.  Very helpfully, several characters provided some clunky exposition right at the beginning, so I didn't feel overly lost.  I suppose my plot summary is that Jason Bourne has no memory of who he is and must run around trying to discover the truth.  Nothing like a hot guy with an identity crisis.

Mostly, this film consisted of chase scenes.  Bourne is chased through many different cities but always evades his pursuers in increasingly ridiculous ways.  This is quite fun in the beginning, but got a bit tedious at the end.  Matt Damon elevates the movie, as he is a lot more talented than the standard action hero.  Although it does bother me than his character never bothers with a disguise.

I'm not sure it deserves its place on this List, but you could do a lot worse, action movie wise.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Production was unable to shut down Waterloo station so "extras" can be seen pointing at the cameras.

Jason Bourne doesn't smile for the entire movie.  I bet no one tells him he has resting bitch face...

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

1030. WALL-E

Directed by Andrew Stanton

I actually saw this film at a drive-in, which is always a fun experience (you can maximize your snackage without fear of judgement).  I didn't find this quite as heart-warming as the rest of the population, but it was undeniably adorable.

In the year 2805, WALL-E (or Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth Class) is the last remaining robot on Earth, programmed to clean up Earth so that humanity can one day return.  As is, people have evacuated the planet and live in an automated spaceship, where they spend their time being fat and gross.  One day, WALL-E discovers a healthy seedling (life...uh...finds a way).  Later on, an automated spaceship deploys EVE, a probe, to scan the planet.  There, she meets WALL-E.

Finally, a pro-environmentalism movie that does not include racism!  This is particularly relevant in my country now.  Ahem.  

Anyway, did I enjoy the film?  Honestly, I think it would have made a great animated short.  After about an hour, I was ready to call it quits, particularly since it has such a predictable story line.  Still, I know many people will find this touching and uplifting; it's not the filmmakers' fault that my heart is so shriveled and cold.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Inspired by Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin films.

EVE's longest sentence is three words, while WALL-E's is two.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

1029. Candyman

Directed by Bernard Rose

I realize it doesn't make much sense thematically to place in this film in April, but I'm desperate to talk horror movies.  I am embarrassed to admit that I went to the theater to see both The Belko Experiment and Rings.  I also just watched a movie called Midnight Meat Train on Netflix.  Let's never speak of it.

The Candyman is an urban legend who is apparently summoned if you say his name five times in the mirror (Bloody Mary should have copyrighted that shtick).  If called, he will kill the summoner with a hook.  Helen is a grad student studying urban legends so naturally decides to try this out.  She learns that a woman named Ruthie Jean was recently murdered in the Cabrini-Green housing project, so again, she decides to pursue this because horror movie characters are deliciously idiotic.

I wouldn't say this was a good horror movie, but since I love the genre so much, I can even have fun with the poor quality ones (although even I have limits; see Midnight Meat Train).  It was interesting to see a horror movie that was focused (however slightly) on social issues.  Still, it wasn't at all frightening; Nicolas Cage has ruined the concept of scary bees for me.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Eddie Murphy was considered for the lead, but he was deemed too short.

Real bees were put in Tony Todd's mouth.  He wore a mouthguard to ensure they wouldn't go down his throat.

Monday, April 10, 2017

1028. The Hangover

The Hangover
Directed by Todd Phillips

I am reasonably sure I can guess what all my frequent commentators think of this movie.  I thought this would serve as a nice intellectual break after getting through all the Best Pictures on the List.  Presenting: A dumbed down version of Sideways.

To celebrate his upcoming wedding, Doug travels to Las Vegas for his bachelor party with his friends Stu (the straight man with an abusive girlfriend) and Phil (Bradley Cooper, who we are supposed to believe would be a teacher and not a model/actor).  They are forced to bring along Alan, Doug's soon-to-be brother-in-law who is the token weirdo of the bunch.  They toast the night on the roof of Caesar's Palace and wake up the next morning with no memory of what took place the night before.  Doug is missing, there's a tiger in the bathroom, and a baby in the closet.

So let's start with what I didn't like.  First and foremost, the flaming trashcan Mike Tyson makes an appearance.  We also have to deal with sexism (brainy successful brunette=cold bitch), racism (against both Asians and black people) and homophobia.  Which I guess only leaves out white, straight men (the film's target audience.  I am pissing myself off with these parentheses, so I will cut it out now (I promise).

Surprisingly, this is still one of the better dick flicks I have seen.  I did laugh at parts and the movie managed to avoid a lot of the toilet humor I associate with comedies like this.  Or, if it did, I have blocked it out and please don't remind me.

So I am ranking this in comparison to similar movies.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Mike Tyson admitted to being high on cocaine when he filmed his scenes.

Ken Jeong improvised his nudity.

Monday, April 3, 2017

1027. Spotlight

Directed by Tom McCarthy

I have finally gotten around to finishing my Best Picture series.  I am not sure how I will organize the next few entries, but I am sure a weak theme is forthcoming.

Spotlight is the true story of the Boston Globe's Spotlight team uncovering the child abuse scandal and cover up that took place in the local Catholic Archdiocese.  I had the statistic before and it still always shocks me: five percent of Catholic priests have been involved in "incidents" with children.  That completely blows my mind, as it should.

Obviously, the content of this film is so compelling and disturbing that it is hard for me to focus on the more technical aspects of the movie.  I am not sure they did anything particularly new with the genre; it was almost like they were too afraid to break out of the All the President's Men mold.  I enjoyed the format (i.e. showing the more mundane aspects of a reporter's life, documentary style, not making the reporters out to be saintly heroes, etc) especially since I work at a newsroom (and have witnessed many Ruffalo-esque meltdowns). Like I said, though, none of this is new.

Still, this is a story that needs to be told and the content is more important than the style anyway.  Recommended.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Did anyone else notice Michael Keaton pulling into a handicap space at the end?  What a dick.

During the breaks from filming, Mark Ruffalo would ask the real Michael Rezendes to say all his lines for him.

Most of the Boston Globe reporters who uncovered the scandal were Roman Catholic.

Click here to see Stephen Fry's condemnation of the Catholic Church.  If you can watch this without tearing up, you are stronger than me!

Monday, March 20, 2017

1026. Avatar

Directed by James Cameron

I am taking a break briefly from my Best Picture series, as I haven't had time to watch Spotlight (or really the desire, as I know it will be beyond depressing).  I have had a lot of writing projects lately, so I apologize for taking so long to update this and  respond to comments.  I do read my comments daily and they always make me smile, even if they point out when I'm an idiot.  Anyway, I wanted to write about a movie I have seen before to save time, so I chose Avatar.

The year is 2154 and humans have depleted the world of its resources.  The Resources Development Administration mines for unobtanium on Pandora, a lush planet populated by sexy blue creatures who are peaceful and deeply connected to nature.  The atmosphere of Pandora is poisonous to humans, so the scientists create avatars that look like Na'vi but can be controlled by humans.  One of the operators is Jake Sully, a paraplegic ex Marine.  Jake, of course, falls in love with one of the Na'vi and decides to help the Na'vi defend themselves against the white invaders.

So, once again, we get a very tired concept.  White people invade a land inhabited by peaceful, nature loving people.  One especially hot white guy falls in love with native girl and sees the beauty in their culture, mastering and surpassing the natives in the skills they value.  Then the white guy defends the natives (who are entirely powerless without him) against the other greedy white people.  At least Pocahontas had good songs.

Obviously, this movie is a breakthrough in cinematic technology and was beautiful to look at.  I don't really watch films for the effects; I value unique stories and characters more.  I keep rewriting this part, as I don't want to sound like a snob (that ship might have sailed a long time ago).   I guess I am trying to say that I get the appeal of this movie, but it didn't really cater to my personal taste.

God, I need a writing break *pulls up short story to work on*.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

James Cameron has said he got the idea for the Avatar from watching Disney's Pocahontas.

60% CGI.

Cameron insisted the Na'vi have breasts so the audience would think they were hot.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

1025. Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

We now come to perhaps the most pretentious film on the entire List.  It's a big claim and in the comments section you will probably prove me wrong.  But come on.  Deal with that title for a moment.

Riggan Thomson is an actor famous for portraying Birdman, an iconic superhero.  He decides to reinvent himself by writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway play based on a Raymond Carver short story.  Riggan's daughter, Sam, a recovering drug addict, works as his assistant.  He frequently clashes with Mike Shiner, his method actor costar.  Oh yeah, and he is kind of going insane.

Basically, this film just rubbed me the wrong way.  I get that it was supposed to be a homage to Godard, but did Godard ever seem this affected and self-indulgent?  If he did, I don't remember.  Even the in-joke that St. James' theatre being crummy, when it is actually a really nice venue (get it?  How droll) prove that this film was not meant to be accessible to the average movie-goer.

I did enjoy a few scenes; I thought Edward Norton and Emma Stone had great chemistry.  But overall, I thought this movie was too snobby, even for me.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Contains only sixteen visible cuts.

The ending apparently came to the director in a dream.  I'm going to throw my neck out if they keep making me roll my eyes this hard.

Monday, February 27, 2017

1024. 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave
Directed by Steve McQueen

I didn't watch the Oscars, but I did see that Casey Affleck won Best Actor.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised, given the current political situation, but it is still depressing how powerful men can pretty much do whatever the hell they want with no impact on their careers.  Sad! That was my imitation of He Who Must Not Be Named, if you didn't pick up on it.

Ahem.  Moving on.  12 Years a Slave.  Solomon Northup is a free man working as a violinist in New York and supporting his wife and children.  Two white men persuade Northup to travel with them to Washington D.C. and work as a musician.  Once they arrive, they drug him and ship him to New Orleans, where he is sold to William Ford, who then sells him to the sadistic slave owner Edwin Epps.  Um...things get worse.

Well, there is not a whole lot of tension in this film, as we basically know the entire outline of the plot before we even get started.  It was an uncomfortable experience, but an experience that I think was quite necessary.  I even liked (well, perhaps the wrong word to use here) that Northup was a free man in the beginning, as I felt like the audience could connect more with his plight and imagine what they would do in that scenario.  I do have to complain a little that, once again, the white men kind of had to save the day.  I would prefer a more Django-y ending.  However, I realize this was based on a true story so I'm not too perturbed about it.

Anyway, this was brilliantly acted, particularly by Lupita Nyong'o.  I'm in awe that this was her first film.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Michael Fassbender had his make up artist paint alcohol on his mustache so the other actors would react naturally to the smell.

Solomon Northup disappeared four years after being freed.  His disappearance remains a mystery.

Monday, February 20, 2017

1023. Argo

Directed by Ben Affleck

I want to start by saying that I understand that artists can take some creative license with their work.  Still, the way the filmmakers totally minimize Canada's role in this operation irritates me. Not to mention the fact that Ben Affleck plays someone of Mexican descent. No wonder the rest of the world hates us.

On November 4, 1979 Iranian activists stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran in retaliation for President Carter's giving the shah asylum during the Iranian Revolution.  Six of the staff managed to avoid capture by hiding in the home of Ken Taylor, a Canadian ambassador.  The United States' government attempts to come up with a plan to get the escapees out.  They bring in Tony Mendez, a CIA exfiltration specialist, for consultation.  He develops an audacious plan: pretend that the escapees are Canadian filmmakers who are scouting locations in Iran for a sci fi movie.

I have never been overly impressed with Affleck's acting abilities, but fortunately, he was perfectly acceptable here.  He shone more as a director; I was impressed by the 70s vibe I got from this film.  I felt like I was watching All the President's Men (with less sexy leads of course).

So overall, a decent film and the best we have seen on this blog in awhile.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

First film in 23 years to win Best Picture and not be nominated for Best Director.

Features 120 speaking parts.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

1022. The Artist

The Artist
Directed by Michel Hazanavicius

I want to preface this review by saying that I actually did enjoy this film.  But really, how out of touch are the Oscars that they would crown a silent black and white movie Best Picture?  Most people I know refuse to watch black and white films, let alone silent ones.  I'm not saying we should mindlessly cater to the masses, but this is a little bit ridiculous.

George Valentin, a popular silent film star, meets Peppy, a beautiful young dancer, in an insanely adorable way.  Valentin helps to make Peppy a star, but his own career begins to fall apart with the emergence of talkies.

I don't usually describe films as cute, but this was undeniably cute.  Also undeniably relevant, as the film industry continues to change; I keep reading scary online articles about how Hollywood as we know it is dead.

Still, I don't think this would attract the interest of the average movie goer, but I'm a huge snob so I'm fine with it.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Shot in color then converted to black and white.

Takes place from 1927 to 1932.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

1021. The King's Speech

The King's Speech
Directed by Tom Hooper

Well, I can certainly relate to this one, as public speaking has always been a source of terror for me.  I don't stutter, but I do turn bright red and start shaking.  I also don't have Colin Firth's raw animal magnetism to get me through.  It pleased me that the main character seemed more warier of public speaking than going to war.  He's clearly my British patronus.

Basically, Colin Firth plays George VI/Albert (because England is strange).  Albert has a terrible stammer, so his wife persuades him to see Lionel Logue, an unconventional Australian speech therapist.  When his brother abdicates the throne, it becomes essential for Albert to be molded into a strong leader.

I know that was kind of vague, but I am not sure what constitutes as spoilers with biographical dramas.  I will say that the entire time I was wishing I was watching a movie about Edward VIII's abdication, as that seemed far more interesting to me.  I mean, this guy gave up his throne for a woman.  I can't even get guys to open doors for me.

Regardless, this was a pretty great film.  Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter were both incredible, of course, although I didn't find their chemistry completely believable.  It certainly wasn't the most gripping movie I've seen but it was fairly inspirational.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

The speech the King delivers in the movie is only 2/3rds of the original.

Friday, January 27, 2017

1020. The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Hurray!  Another film in the 1001 Book that was directed by a woman.  That brings our total to what...like 10?  Actually, don't tell me.  It will just depress me.

While I was looking for pictures for this post I came across an article titled "Here's Why 'The Hurt Locker' is the Worst War Movie of All Time."  Apparently, it is incredibly inaccurate in its depiction of what its like to work on an army bomb squad.  I was about to launch into a review about how I didn't find this enjoyable but it may be important to see...that really knocked the wind out of my sails.

Ahem...onwards.  Sergeant First Class William James is assigned as a new team leader of EOD unit in the Iraq War.  However, his unorthodox way of doing things lead to dissension in the squad.  Fill in the blanks with the familiar war themes.

The filmmakers do a tremendous job of building suspense and the visuals are surprisingly stunning, given the environment.  On the other hand, I'm not sure this movie really did anything particularly new for the genre.  But hey, I don't really like the genre to begin with, so perhaps I'm not the best judge.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

First film to win Best Picture that was directed by a woman.

Lowest grossing Best Picture winner of all time.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

1019. Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire
Directed by Danny Boyle

Before we begin, does anyone plan on watching the Oscars this year?  I haven't seen any of the nominated films except Moana.  I don't plan on watching the ceremony or most of the nominations.  But, needless to say, if "How Far I'll Go" doesn't win Best Song, I will burn this city to the ground.

Jamal Malik is an Indian Muslim competing on the Indian version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"  He is one question away from winning but before the big moment, he is captured and tortured by the police, who suspect him of cheating.  Jamal takes us through his life, explaining how random incidents in his life led him to each answer.  By the way, as a huge Dumas fan, I would have totally crushed The Three Musketeers question.  And, of course, the hundred dollar bill question.  Other than that, I would have been lost.

Did this remind any other 1001ers of Manila: In the Claws of Light?  Just once I would like to see one of these women successfully saved themselves.  I am not saying it would be terribly realistic, but it would be a nice change.

In any case, I enjoyed this film.  I think it's a very creative premise.  I know a few of my followers attend trivia nights; I wonder if this film got you guys thinking about how you know certain things.  Honestly, most of my knowledge (outside of formal education) comes from the 1001 lists!

Obviously visually dazzling but it's Danny Boyle, so there is going to be some gross.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

The grand prize in US dollars would be $411,600.

20% of the movie's dialogue is in Hindi.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

1018. Million Dollar Baby

Million Dollar Baby
Directed by Clint Eastwood

A sports drama film!  You know that's my jam.  While I can't deny that this was a quality film, it was a grueling experience.

Maggie, a waitress from a struggling family, dreams of becoming a boxer, because apparently punching other women will improve her quality of life.  She asks Frankie Dunn, a cranky boxing trainer (think Walt Kowalski) to train her, but he refuses.  Eventually, he is impressed by her dedication and agrees to help her.  Oh and Morgan Freeman lurks in the shadows.

I don't like sports movies, least of all boxing movies, but the Listmakers seem to think that this is one of most crucial genres in the history of film.  I don't actually have a lot to say about this.  The performances were gritty and the story is incredibly depressing.  In other words, it was made to be a Best Picture winner.

I did find out that the filmmakers misspelled the term "mo chuisle" as "mo cuishle."  Copyeditors are truly the unsung heroes of our time.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Hilary Swank gained about 20 pounds of muscle during training for the film.

Sandra Bullock was originally going to play Maggie, but she dropped out to make Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

1017. Chicago

Directed by Rob Marshall

Happy New Year!  I decided to kick 2017 off with a sinus infection.  I also decided to get ready for Oscar season by catching up on all the Best Picture winners in the 1001 list.  Not that I am actually planning to watch anything hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, but you know how much I love my themes.

To that end, let's talk about Chicago.  Velma Kelly is a beautiful vaudeville performer who murdered her sister and husband after seeing them...um...doing number 17.  She hires the sleaziest/most effective lawyer in town, Billy Flynn, to defend her.  Enter Roxie Hart, who dreams of becoming Velma someday.  She has an affair with Fred Casely, who claims to have connections that will help Roxie achieve stardom.  Once she realizes that he lied to get her into bed, she shoots him dead.  She initially gets her hapless husband Amos to take the blame, but Amos recants his confession when it is revealed that Roxie is, in fact, the worst.  Roxie then engages Velma's lawyer for her trial, and the two women compete for the media's attention.

I like musicals, but this has never been a favorite of mine.  None of the songs were particularly catchy, excepting perhaps "All That Jazz."  Actually a few of the songs were straight up obnoxious, like "We Both Reached for the Gun" and "Razzle Dazzle."  On the other hand, I did think the choreography was brilliant, particularly in "Cell Block Tango," where the red handkerchiefs represented the blood.  Busby Berkley would be proud.

It was interesting to view this film as a comment on the American press and the glamorization of murderers.  Was it good enough to warrant a Best Picture win?  Um, no.  I think The Pianist should have won.  I am pretty sure I could have lived without seeing Richard Gere tap dance.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

John C. Reilly is a clown enthusiast and insisted on designing his own clown make up for the "Mister Cellophane" number.

Renee Zellweger had no dancing or singing experience prior to making this film.