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 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 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.