Friday, February 26, 2010

Top and Bottom of 2009 - #9

The Wages of Fear (1953)
The first act is slow and boring as down-on-his-luck Mario gripes with his friends about there being no opportunities for success in the small Latin American town in which he is trapped. But then he takes a job with three of his friends to drive a couple trucks loaded with nitroglycerine through the jungles of Latin America, and the tension suddenly goes up to 11. As they drive the two trucks over poorly maintained roads through the middle of nowhere, the slightest wrong bump can spell certain doom. Each truck is a ticking time bomb with no one knowing how much time is left.

Blowup (1966)
I found the main character repulsive in this film in which a whole lot of nothing happens for the first half of the film. He hates women and takes pictures of them. Lather, rinse, repeat. Then he discovers a murder and things start to get interesting, but then the whole thing is dropped, some more nothing happens, and then the movie ends with noting being resolved.

Coming up next: a movie about a group of old men and one about a group of kids.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Top and Bottom of 2009 - #10

Here we go, counting down the best and the worst of the 143 movies I saw for the first time in 2009. But first, a couple honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions
Sleuth (1972 & 2007)
How can a movie that is so interesting have a remake that is so dull? Yet somehow it happened, even with Michael Caine in both films. The original takes place on a visually vibrant set with the whole house crammed with games, mementos, and knickknacks. Even if the actors were boring, it would still be an adventure to look at the set. The highlight is an animatronic man who laughs and claps at the push of a button, and while it is kind of silly, it adds some nice atmosphere to the room. Conversely, the remake takes place in an ultra-modern house with stark, minimalist furnishings and an overabundance of empty space. I was bored of the set in under five minutes. The highlight is a small remote control that controls everything in the house with its solitary “do everything” button. The original kept me wondering, “What’s really going on and what’s going to happen next?” The remake had me wondering, “Why is this happening and why did the screenwriter think it was a good idea?” The original opens in a hedge maze, which is always interesting, but I cannot remember how the remake began, it was so unremarkable. The original has Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, a virtuoso performance by Alec Cawthorne, and a gripping treasure hunt for a third act. The remake has Michael Caine, Jude Law, copious amounts of profanity, and a homoerotic third act that comes completely out of nowhere and does not fit with the rest of the film.

Bridge to Terabithia (2007)
This is a beautiful yet heart wrenching tale of imagination and friendship in unlooked for places. I could say more, but I would rather you just check out this gem from Walden Media right now.

All the King’s Men (2006)
Sean “Look, I’m ACTING!” Penn stars as Willie Stark, a political idealist who becomes just as corrupt as the politicians he was originally fighting against. Of course I don’t know how he was even able to get himself elected. Whenever I come across someone ranting and raving like a bad Baptist preacher with a bad Louisiana accent, my tendency is to run the other way, not stick around to see what he has to say. And then his message of taking all the money from the rich to give it to the poor smacks of the worst kind of socialism. This movie manages to cover less narrative ground in 18 more minutes than the 1949 original, creating something vastly inferior to the original in almost every respect.

Coming up next: two movies that start out dull, one of which gets much more interesting than the other.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

My 2009 Movie Odyssey - Part XXII

Here it is, the last one for 2009.

Surrogates (2009)
While the ending is too convenient, the journey to the ending has lots of thrills and asks some interesting questions about identity and humanity that never get too deep for their own good.

Zombieland (2009)
Woody Harrelson lights up the screen as a zombie killer extraordinaire in a movie that thankfully never gets serious and is loads of fun the whole way through.

The Informant! (2009)
Matt Damon might actually get his Oscar as a whistle blower who seems to even forget himself what is true and what isn’t in this quirky comedy.

(Oops, looks like I got that prediction wrong. Incidentally, The Informant is movie number 2000 for me by my count. We'll see how long it takes me to get to 3000.)

American Pop (1981)
While there are a couple interesting scenes, the film bites off far more than it can chew as it tries to tell the story of pop music through the lens of several generations of one family, with characters coming and going so fast that I could not keep track of who was who, and the film spent far too much time on the least interesting storyline.

Nikita (1990)
A remake of My Fair Lady (1964) if Henry Higgins was a government assassin instead of an English professor.
The Raven (1963)
An interesting cast headed by Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Jack Nicholson combined with lush production design make for a Roger Corman film that is actually worth watching.

All the King’s Men (2006)
Two hours of Sean Penn’s overacting as he rants socialist propaganda is two hours I will never get back.

Peeping Tom (1960)
I just don’t get why this ugly little movie is considered to be among the greats.

Coming up next: the start of my top 10 of the year, along with a couple honorable mentions.

Monday, February 1, 2010

My 2009 Movie Odyssey - Part XXI

The Fantastiks (1995)
All of the magic and most of the humor from the stage show is sucked out leaving a lifeless story behind.

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)
The first appearance by Godzilla on screen, the film is kind of creepy and very atmospheric, and lacking much of the silly elements that would populate subsequent Godzilla movies (though I wish I hadn’t seen the Raymond Burr version).

The Blob (1958)
Even the presence of Steve McQueen cannot make this movie anything more than a by-the-numbers, forgettable monster movie.

Out of Sight (1998)
George Clooney is suave and electric, as always, but the rest of the film is flat, with no other memorable characters and plot twists that show up just for the sake of being plot twists.

Manhunter (1986)
Brian Cox almost makes the audience forget that Anthony Hopkins also played Hannibal Lector but Michael Mann spends too much time wallowing in the depravity of mankind and the third act is unfulfilling.

The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking (1988)
While I enjoyed reading the Pippi Longstocking stories as a kid, and I remember fondly the Swedish version from 1969, this one had far too many unbelievable moments, was unnecessarily a musical (with no memorable songs), treated all adults like idiots, and played an annoying, silly sound cue whenever Pippi did something magical that completely took me out of what little moment I already had.

District 9 (2009)
An intriguing premise, a compelling look, a protagonist who goes through a surprising character arc, and a story that continually takes unexpected turns combine to make this one of the better movies of the year.

9 (2009)
The visuals are gorgeous and the world is lovingly created, but the story is rushed and the characters are crudely defined, making a movie that could have been a really good film, but is instead a mediocre piece of entertainment.

We Are Marshall (2006)
A team that no one expected to do well surprises in a big game and lots of people say, “We are Marshall.”

Tales from Muppetland: The Frog Prince (1971)
This is a cute little story that is never as clever or entertaining as The Muppet Movie (1979) but is still a nice Muppet fix.

Coming up next: the last hurrah.