Sunday, December 21, 2008

Papua New Guinea

Well, I arrived safely in Papua New Guinea and am alive and well. This will probably be my last post of the year, so the rest of my movie odyssey will have to wait until I get back Stateside.

Until then, Merry Christmas to Randall and anyone else who still reads this blog, and have a prosperous new year.

Lukim yu bihain.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part XX

My Favorite Wife (1940)
Cary Grant gets his wife who was lost at sea declared legally dead so he can remarry. But as soon as he reties the knot, who should show up but his newly rescued first wife. Hilarity ensues as he tries to muster up the courage to tell his new wife that he wants to stay with his first wife while being suspicious of the strapping young castaway his wife was shipwrecked with (though I did feel sorry for his second wife who gets a bum deal out of the whole mess).

The Lookout (2007)
An unconventional story about a bank robbery, The Lookout has many delightful plot twists as a young man with memory problems tries to make everything all right after he falls in with the wrong crowd.

Rounders (1998)
In a story reminiscent of Mean Streets, Matt Damon tries to help his ne'er do well friend (Edward Norton) get out of debt, but gets deeper in trouble as his friend refuses to show any sort of control in his life. What makes Rounders much better than Mean Streets is that we are given compelling characters, an actual storyline, and entertaining poker scenes.

I Know Who Killed Me (2007)
I don't see why this film got so many Razzie awards. Sure there isn't anything worthwhile about it and the whole thing is dark and ugly, but at no point did I feel like standing up and screaming "You have got to be kidding me! Who thought up this insanity?" like a truly bad movie would. The Day After Tomorrow was a much worse movie and that one didn't even get any nominations.

Burn After Reading (2008)
It feels like a funnier version of Fargo that doesn't take itself seriously. Brad Pitt puts in a hilarious performance as an air head fitness instructor and Frances McDormand puts in a good performance as always. Misunderstandings pile on top of misconceptions leading to a chaotic film that is darkly funny the whole way through.

Coming up next: 2 new animated films and 3 old live-action films.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part XIX

The Leopard Man (1943)
One common characteristic of all the Val Lewton films I have seen so far is an examination of science versus the supernatural. Weird things are happening and some characters say there are supernatural elements at work while the rest reject the idea as superstition and try to find a natural explanation. While most of the films end on an ambiguous note (often leaning towards the supernatural explanation) The Leopard Man goes with the natural explanation. So while there are a couple deliciously atmospheric scenes, the end result was not nearly as satisfying as my previous ventures into the world of Val Lewton.

Rio Bravo (1959)
This western is the story of three men: John Wayne's sheriff who refuses almost all offers of help to bring down the town outlaw (in a direct contrast to the Gary Cooper role in High Noon), Dean Martin's deputy who is a recovering alcoholic, and Ricky Nelson's hotshot new gunman who worms his way into John Wayne's graces. What results is a highly entertaining western that focuses more on the interactions between characters than the shootouts. Also worth noting is Walter Brennan as the lame deputy who is assigned to guard the jail. His cranky old man performance adds some wonderful humor to the mix, keeping the film from getting too serious. The inevitable final shootout lacks dramatic gravity, but that is a minor complaint compared with the rest of this highly entertaining film.

Bring It On (2000)
Morbid curiosity made me check out this movie. It wasn't great, but wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been (which is disappointing because I was prepared to write a scathing review of the movie).

Bull Durham (1988)
This is a somewhat funny movie with some fun scenes (especially the baseball games) that kind of peters out at the end.

Marathon Man (1976)
International intrigue and fugitive Nazi war criminals are always good fodder for entertaining movies. This time around the Nazi fugitive is played by Laurence Olivier in a gleefully evil performance. The most memorable scene in the film features Olivier almost lovingly torturing Dustin Hoffman in a way that will make those already afraid of dentists intentionally skip their next checkups.

Coming up next: four newer movies and a Cary Grant outing.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part XVIII

Love Story (1970)
"Love means never having to say you're sorry."
"That's the dumbest thing I ever heard."
Those immortal words from What's Up, Doc? pretty much sum up my feelings for this movie.

Wall-E (2008)
One of the things I love about the Pixar shorts is that they each tell a complete story without the use of dialog. Now we have Wall-E, a feature length film which has no dialog (except for a few commercial voiceovers) for the first half of the film. What results is a masterpiece of character animation, and when humans do finally show up and start talking, it's almost a letdown.

White Heat (1949)
James Cagney seethes evil as the gangster Cody Jarrett. He has no moral compass other than a messed up mother complex that would have made Hitchcock proud. When the police place an undercover cop in Jarrett's gang, the tension mounts until the inevitable explosive ending. And as Jarrett shoots friend and foe alike with no regard for his own safety, my only thought was "Heath Ledger's got nothing on Cagney."

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
This was an interesting concept and a sweet story. The lengths the whole town went to to make "Bianca" feel welcome were touching. My only real gripe with the film is the pacing was too slow and steady and needed a few energetic scenes to balance out the melancholy ones.

Hancock (2008)
This is a fun movie and the concept of a drunk, homeless super hero is full of comic possibilities. While I commend the filmmakers for trying to avoid all the cliche origin stories for Hancock, the explanation they did come up with is still not much better than the run-of-the-mill fare. Of course Will Smith puts in an entertaining performance, as always.

Coming up next: two men, some cows, and a cheerleader.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part XVII

Swimming Pool (2003)
I remembered critics raving about this film when it came out, so when it popped up for viewing online on Netflix, I decided to check it out. It is both a strange mystery combined with the age-old story of two antagonists learning to care for each other. The ending is odd, and I'm not sure I know what it means, but it is fascinating to watch the relationship between the middle-aged mystery writer and the teenage daughter of her publisher change and grow over the course of the film.

Son of Rambow (2007)
This is a joyous film about friendship, childhood, imagination, and making movies. This is the story of two British schoolboys who team up to make a sequel to First Blood, and while the results are laughably silly, their unabashed enthusiasm for the project is infectious, and the whole thing ends up being a rollicking good time. The only thing I can say against it is that one of the boys is part of a religious sect that is sort of Amish-lite, and so we once again get the subplot of the overbearing, stifling religious conservatives keeping our heroes from experiencing life to the fullest with no balancing counter argument in sight.

Inside Man (2006)
I was immediately pulled in to this energetic tale of a bank heist. The audience is always kept guessing as the police and the thieves play mind games with each other. The payoff was disappointing in a mundane, run-of-the-mill kind of way, but it failed to detract very much from the trill ride of the rest of the movie.

The Thief of Bagdad (1940)
No, this isn't a duplicate, this is a completely different movie with Sabu in the title role instead of Douglas Fairbanks. This is a gorgeous film full of eye-popping visuals, groundbreaking special effects, and a humorous genie. Taking story points from all over the Arabian Nights, the film weaves together a thrilling tale of wonder and magic that I highly recommend to any fan of fantasy films.

The Pirate (1948)
This movie was a joy to watch. Gene Kelly is hilarious as he pretends to be a notorious pirate in order to woo the adventuresome Judy Garland. The highlight of the film is the "Be a Clown" number which Gene Kelly performs with the Nicholas Brothers dancing duo. And for you Singin' in the Rain fans out there, "Make 'em Laugh" really is a blatant ripoff of "Be a Clown."

Coming up next: three love stories and two larger than life characters.

Friday, December 12, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part XVI

The Fountain (2006)
Well, the visuals were great, but the time travel storyline that may or may not have been a dream made too little sense for me to recommend.

The Dark Knight (2008)
What can I say about this movie that has yet to be said? Not much, really. Just about the only criticism I have with the film is that with so many characters to follow, Bruce Wayne gets a little lost in the shuffle, especially disappointing since Batman Begins was so Bruce-centric. Other than that, it is a superbly created dark world, with more in common with a serial killer police drama than your standard comic book movie. Of course the Joker was perfectly realized as a man with no moral compass. I also liked seeing the Batman versus Bruce dichotomy play out, though it was much more subtle than I was hoping.

Casino Royale (1967)
What a piece of trash! There were very few laughs in this "comedy" and the plot was so disjointed it seemed that every scene was completely unconnected to the previous one. Even the presence of Peter Sellers, David Niven, Orson Welles, and Woody Allen could not save this film. If you see only one spy spoof movie, see Austin Powers.

Paths of Glory (1957)
Kirk Douglas turns in an electric performance in this grim tale of corruption within the French military during WWI.

She Done Him Wrong (1933)
Maybe I've become too desensitized due to overexposure, but I didn't find this film to be very risque, and it wasn't that funny either. Just about the only thing I can remember from the film was the song "She Done Him Wrong," mostly because I had just heard it performed on A Prairie Home Companion a couple days before.

Coming up next: two thieves and three entertainers.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part XV

Moonstruck (1987)
I like my romantic comedies to be fast and furious, so the ones that take their time, like Moonstruck, start out at a disadvantage. When the movie started I didn't care for the characters, but as the story progressed they started to grow on me. What resulted was an amusing little film about finding love in unlooked for places (though I would still rather watch Bringing Up Baby).

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Bigger, flashier, and now with 50% more creatures than the first one! Unfortunately, I liked the smaller-scale aspects of the first one better. The film provides a visually sumptuous feast, and as far as the look of things go, Guillermo del Toro does not disappoint. However, the added effects come at the expense of a more character-driven story. The questions of fate versus free will are almost nonexistent here, and the question of "Can a demon find salvation?" - the most compelling question of the Hellboy universe - is completely ignored. The film is still highly entertaining (especially playing "spot Doug Jones") and worth the price of admission.

Double Wedding (1937)
Here is another romantic comedy featuring William Powell and Myrna Loy. In what feels like a departure for their regular pairings, they are not married at the start of the film, but fight with each other until they finally realize how much they are in love. I think I am ready to declare Powell and Loy to be the greatest romantic comedy duo of all time.

Away from Her (2006)
A well-acted, melancholy tale of how Alzheimer's can destroy the lives of not only those with the disease, but their loved ones as well.

Explorers (1985)
I'm sure I would have liked this movie as a kid (I always liked stories with smart kids in them) but the story is a little too far fetched for me to take seriously.

Coming up next: Dark Fountain of Dark Royale.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part XIV

Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party (2005)
After watching the trailer, in which actor Stephen Tobolowsky walks the streets, asking random passers by who Stephen Tobolowsky is, I expected an examination of celebrity and a celebration of supporting actors who keep popping up in films but whose names the public can never seem to remember. Instead, what I got was a series of stories told by Stephen Tobolowsky about his life. The stories ranged all over the place, from the time he went swimming with dolphins, to unfortunate encounters with drugs, to interactions with random people on the movie set. He is an accomplished storyteller, but I wish there had been some type of unifying thread to his completely unrelated stories.

Love Crazy (1941)
William Powell and Myrna Loy are a happily married couple until a series of innocent yet unfortunate events causes Myrna Loy's character to question her husband's love for her. What follows is one madcap situation after another, each eliciting more laughter than the previous one. The witty banter here between Powell and Loy is highly reminiscent of Nick and Nora from the Thin Man series, but without those pesky murder mysteries getting in the way of the comedy. It is easily one of my five favorite screwball comedies.

Li’l Abner (1940)
This is another "gem" from my 100 movie packs. It features Buster Keaton in a minor roll as an American Indian who would have the political correctness mafia up in arms if it were made today. While the look of a comic strip is admirably achieved, the story and characters are largely forgettable, especially for those who are not familiar with the Li'l Abner comic strip (like me).

Camelot (1967)
Ever since I received a book of King Arthur stories as a kid, I have been fascinated with the world of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Unfortunately, all the King Arthur movies I have seen so far have been woefully inadequate in telling this epic tale: The Sword in the Stone (1963), while the best of the lot, only told the beginning of the story, Excalibur (1981) was too silly, First Knight (1995) bore little resemblance to the Arthur legends, and King Arthur (2004) was just an awful movie all around. So I was interested to see how the tale would react to getting the musical treatment. Well, the musical numbers were few and far between, and while I am writing this long after seeing the film, none of them were particularly memorable. Also, the large-scale production values I was expecting were surprisingly absent, with remarkably few characters to follow for such a long movie. Where the film does succeed, however, is in the characterizations of Arthur, Guinevere, Mordred, and, to some extent, Lancelot. Camelot presents them as people, each with his or her own sets of doubts, trying to make their mark in the world. Richard Burton's Arthur is particularly compelling as he tries to rule fairly a kingdom that was thrust upon him, trying to create a world in which even the weakest can live in peace. (Note: I do not count Monty Python and the Holy Grail as a King Arthur movie since it is satire, putting it in a separate class.)

National Velvet (1944)
This is a charming story featuring a radiant young Elizabeth Taylor and a fast-running, high-jumping horse. While the story is predictable, and no one in their right mind should name a horse Pie, it is still a classic, feel-good movie.

Coming up next: Her Double Struck Golden Explorers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part XIII

The Disorderly Orderly (1964)
This was my first foray into the films of Jerry Lewis and it was an interesting experience. There were some bizarre, surreal scenes that seemed out of place (at one point he goes to repair a television set with a "snowy" screen, and when he takes the cover off, copious amounts of actual snow come pouring out of it) and I was not charmed by Lewis' very broad humor. It ends with a wild chase scene that, while entertaining, falls to reach the perfection Disney achieved with the slapstick chase scene during the 60s. Overall it was mildly amusing, but I need to see at least one other Jerry Lewis film before I can say if I like him or not.

The Postman (1997)
This is not the travesty against cinema that most critics made it out to be, though it is far from flawless. It is much too long for its own good, and the main villain is too much of a broad caricature to be interesting. On the other hand, one man bringing about order and change to a chaotic world through something seemingly as innocuous as the mail is strangely compelling. Despite its faults it is still one of the better post-apocalyptic films, though with the vast majority of them being pretty wretched, that may not be saying much.

Paprika (2006)
Paprika, a therapist, fights crime by entering peoples' dreams. This opens the door for some wildly imaginative visuals that would make even Miyazaki jealous. While the rules of the world are not clearly defined (and occasionally completely ignored) the visuals alone make this film worth seeing as the audience is kept guessing while the film switches from the real world into dreams and back again. There is also a skillfully used carnival tune that, while cheery in its own right, comes to spell certain doom every time it is heard.

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
While it does have moments of brilliance (Bill and Ted playing Battleship with Death) it strayed too often into over-the-top silliness. I'm still trying to figure out if any theological significance can be gleaned from their conversation with God.

Cat Ballou (1965)
A funny, unorthodox western romp, Cat Ballou features a lovely Jane Fonda, a gleefully drunken Lee Marvin, and a surprisingly effective (and quite unexpected) Greek chorus.

Coming up next: 5 more movies.