Sunday, November 23, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part XII

Dishonored Lady (1947)
I bought a pack of 100 movies from Best Buy, and this is one of them. It is interesting to see some of the more run-of-the-mill films from early Hollywood, especially since most of the movies I’ve seen from before 1970 are either classics, or Mystery Science Theater 3000 fodder. The film was OK, and was my first exposure to Hedy Lamarr.

Tin Man (2007)
OK, so this isn't actually a movie, but I figure miniseries count as really long movies, so I'm including it. The ads that were splattered all over imdb sparked my interest, though I was expecting a darker, more twisted tale. What I did get was a highly enjoyable re-imagining of the story of The Wizard of Oz, with a slightly more science fiction take on the source material. All the performers were enjoyable in their roles, and while the CGI was less-than-stellar, the production design was dripping in imagination. While the ending was a little too convenient, it was overall a very fun ride and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in a unique take on such iconic material.

Woman of the Year (1942)
This is my favorite pairing of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Here they enter into a marriage with vastly different sets of expectations towards what marriage entails. In an interesting bit of role-reversal, Tracy understands the enormity of commitment that marriage entails while Hepburn finds it little more than a change in roommates. It all leads up to a very funny conclusion featuring some wonderful physical comedy from Hepburn and almost no dialog.

The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
Douglas Fairbanks' physical prowess combined with imaginative visual effects and gorgeous set design make this a feast for the eyes.

Cronos (1993)
Guillermo del Toro takes on vampire mythology in a visually arresting story that is largely forgettable.

Coming next: four films with varying degrees of surreal events and one really long movie.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part XI

Rent (2005)
I saw this on stage several years ago and was interested to see how it translated to film. The story made more sense to me, but the cast singing "Seasons of Love" like at a concert over the opening credits added nothing. The music is amazing with several of the songs capable of getting stuck in my head. However the story is incredibly bleak: a group of broke New York artists try to eke out a living while dying of AIDS. They try to find some hope, but there isn’t any to be found where they are looking. I failed to see how such a bleak musical could capture a generation like Rent did when I saw it, and am no less baffled now. Maybe because my hope lies somewhere else.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Indy is back, and while not better than ever, it is still an enjoyable ride. It starts out slow and a little too silly, but once Indy finally leaves America and starts his globetrotting, things really pick up all through the inevitably effects-filled climax. I was a little nervous when I heard Shia LaBeouf was going to be in it, but at this point it is his best role to date. My biggest disappointment with the film is we never get a really cool bad guy death like the face melting from Raiders or the instant aging from Last Crusade. Cate Blanchett should play more villains.

Unleashed (2005)
It was pretty much what I expected. Jet Li kicked butt. Morgan Freeman was wise and dignified. Bob Hoskins made himself a complete nuisance. Nothing special was learned about life or humanity.

Charlotte’s Web (2006)
It is a sweet story with convincing animals, but the only true highlight of the film is a pair of crows who just cannot figure out the whole scarecrow thing.

The Bank Job (2008)
The fact that it is inspired by actual events left me wondering how much was made up and how much actually happened. The whole thing is a rather enjoyable heist movie, but doesn’t bring anything new to the heist genre.

Coming up next: 2 female stories and 3 fantasies.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Slight Departure

Eomer posted a list of books that someone thinks everyone should read. The blog game is to mark each title as follows:
-Bold the ones I have read
-Italicize the ones I intend to read.
-Underline the books I love.
-(*) the books I hated.
-(+) the books I have seen the movie of. (My own personal variant of the list. I only count reputable/"definitive" adaptations of the books.)

1 +Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (I really ought to read at least something from Jane Austen)
2 +The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 +Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 +To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible (I've seen The Ten Commandments, the Jesus film, and Super Book, does that count as seeing the movie?)
7 +Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman (I started reading Golden Compass and couldn't get into it)
10 +Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy (didn't get all the way through)
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (I've seen The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged))
15 +Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 +The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger (I've read The Time Machine, does that count?)
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 +Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 *+The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 +The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 +Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 +Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 +The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 +Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 +Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 +Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 +Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 +Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 +Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold (I intend to see the movie)
65 +Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas (I did read a selection from it, but not the whole thing)
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville (I was even bored by the abridged version)
71 +Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 +Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 +The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 +A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 +The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 *Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 +Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (I think I've read enough Holmes to count, though I don't know if I've read all the stories in this volume)
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad (I don't think seeing Apocalypse Now counts as seeing the movie)
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 +Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 +The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 +Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 +Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

I'm a little surprised Mark Twain and H.G. Wells both failed to make the list, especially since Jane Austen and Charles Dickens combined for 10 of the entries.
I've read 33 of the books, and have seen the movie based on 31 of the books (and even more if you count duplicates like all four versions -counting Nosferatu - of Dracula I've seen and all three versions - counting the MST3K episode - of Hamlet I've seen).

Monday, November 10, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part X

Tokyo Story (1953)
This is the final film on Sight & Sound’s top 10 list for me to see. I don’t think I would consider it to be one of the greatest films ever made, but it was a satisfying viewing experience. It is the sad tale of an elderly Japanese couple who travel to a distant town to visit their children in post-WWII Japan. Sadly, the only one of their relatives who is truly glad to see them and not preoccupied with the inconvenience this visit causes is the wife of their dead son (who technically is not even a relative any more). The whole film is a little slow moving, and I felt the third act was redundant, but overall it is an interesting look into Japanese lifestyle in the years shortly following WWII.

Iron Man (2008)
I haven’t read any Iron Man comics nor been interested in them and the trailers of the film weren’t terribly compelling, so I had very little in the way of expectations when I watched this movie, other than good word of mouth. I enjoyed it. There was a good balance of thrills, laughs, and character. It is by no means the greatest comic book movie ever made, but I would rank it slightly ahead of the X-Men films.

Spartacus (1960)
I liked the training sequences, the ambitious battle scenes, and the scenes showing the Roman officials debating how to deal with the slaves’ uprising. I did not like the overlong dialog scenes, the overabundance of characters to keep track of, and the pointless "snails and oysters" scene. Also the film wandered around for fifteen minutes, unsure of how to end itself.

Mean Streets (1973)
My roommate walked in while I was watching the movie. "What’s happened?" "Nothing." "You just started?" "No, I’m an hour in." And it was downhill from there. I have never enjoyed Martin Scorsese’s exercises in ugliness, but this one didn’t even have a plot to pretend to engage me. I should give some credit to some interesting camera work, but all the fancy camera work in the world is useless unless it is showing something worth looking at.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)
When I watched this movie it was the most unique movie-watching experience I have ever had for one simple reason: this is the first time I have watched a movie for which I have tried to write a screenplay. A few years ago I started writing a screenplay for Prince Caspian mostly just to see if I could do it, and got about halfway through before I lost interest. But it made me keenly aware of all the problem parts in the book. Sure there were several things Adamson and Co. could have done better, but it was surprising how many times they took the film in directions I was trying to go. Overall it made me much more forgiving of every time they strayed from Lewis’ written word, and more often than not the movie was better for it. Now it will be interesting to see how they tackle the episodic nature of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Coming up next: movies inspired by a Broadway musical, an 80's adventure movie, a children's book, real life events, and nothing in particular.

Friday, November 7, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part IX

I need to post these faster. There are only two months left in the year.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008)
I did like seeing a conservative film taking the Michael Moore approach to an issue, this time being intelligent design versus evolution, but the downside is that it ended up preaching to the choir, with naysayers dismissing it as right-wing propaganda. I did think it was rather ironic that in the final interview with noted atheist Richard Dawkins, Dawkins was adamant that there is no God, and anyone who would believe in a creator is an utter fool, but he seemed quite excited that life on this planet started through alien seeding. Gee, that sounds a lot like intelligent design to me...

Carnival of Souls (1962)
I can see why this film is a cult classic. It has some wonderful visuals, and the carnival is rather creepy, but the story is the type of thing Roger Corman would cook up, keeping it from rising much above B-movie territory.

The Public Enemy (1931)
In my attempt to educate myself on early gangster pictures, I started with this one, and was not disappointed. James Cagney is at once both charismatic and utterly vile as Tom Powers, a young man who gets mixed up in the mob which leads inevitably to his death. I had heard about the shocking violence in the film, and was surprised at how little I was shocked by the whole thing, but that is because this one was the trend-setter, and I have seen a multitude of later imitations.

Beauty and the Beast (1946)
The visuals in this film are amazing. Jean Cocteau creates a wonderful world that exists halfway between dreams and reality, with the beast’s castle acting as one of the main characters in the film. Everything in the castle is alive, and the long corridors lit by dozens of human arms holding candelabras is wonderfully visually evocative. Even if you don’t care for the story, this film is worth watching strictly for its visuals.

Arthur (1981)
I had been told that Dudley Moore is one of the great funny drunks in this movie, but frankly I found him merely obnoxious and embarrassing. Fortunately for me, once he sobered up, he was quite funny. Liza Minnelli plays her standard free-spirited role, who causes Arthur to grow up just by being herself (as opposed to Arthur’s fiancee who is one of those annoyingly delusioned women who think they can change a man by marrying him). Of course the true great performance in the film is John Gielgud who is hilarious as Arthur’s British butler and manages to have an even drier wit than even John Cleese could manage.

Coming up next: 3 overrated classics (one vastly, one minorly) and two summer blockbusters.