Saturday, April 24, 2010

Top and Bottom of the Aughts - #9

Brick (2005)
Brick takes all the elements of the classic film noirs of the 1940s and places them in a modern high school setting. What results is a surprisingly successful hybrid that is fully engaging. The plot is full of twists and surprises, the violence is sudden, realistic, and brutal, and our hero even wears glasses. While it takes a while to get used to the unique rhythms and dialog, it is still highly rewarding to those who are willing to make the effort to immerse themselves in the world it creates.

The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)
The trailer for this movie was intriguing. Frame after frame of enticing visuals promised a film in which a world of wonder would be unfolded before our eyes. Well, some of the visuals delivered as promised, but the story left much to be desired and then some. The filmmakers were too busy trying to come up with cool things to put in their movie and forgot to tell a cohesive story. Plot points are replaced with unmemorable fight scenes and a ludicrous sequence in which our heroes literally race the sunrise. On foot. Characters are little more than cardboard cutouts and the world presented in the movie is subject to the arbitrary whims of the filmmakers, with nothing fleshed out enough to create any kind of cohesive internal logic. Overall it is an overblown mess that is quickly forgotten.

Coming up next: A film that creates a wold of fantasy, wonder, and danger and one that tries to do it and fails.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Top and Bottom of the Aughts - #10

A new decade is upon us, so what better way to celebrate the new decade than to take a look back at the one we just finished? And what better way to do that than a top (and bottom) 10 list? So here we go, my humble readers, with the ten best and worst movies of the aughts.
(But first, a couple of honorable mentions.)

Honorable Mentions
The Passion of the Christ (2004) and Left Behind (2000)
I didn’t feel right putting these on either list. It felt like trivializing such a uniquely powerful movie to try to rank The Passion, and Left Behind is such an easy target it felt like picking on the kid in the wheelchair. And yet they have one interesting thing in common: they are both made by Christians primarily for Christians. (I suppose you could also argue that they are both based on best selling books.) But there the similarities end. The Passion of the Christ tells its story primarily through visuals on a rich canvas of light and shadow inspired by the renaissance artist Caravaggio. The project was a labor of love for director Mel Gibson, embarking on a spiritual journey, and if anyone decided to see his film, it was a bonus. On the other hand, Left Behind spends most of its running time talking at the audience and showing very little. The look of the movie is no more interesting than a made-for-TV movie. And the whole point of Left Behind seemed to be to try to dupe an unwitting audience into seeing what they thought was a supernatural thriller with international intrigue but was really a sermon on the eschatological dangers of not being a Christian. As a result, The Passion was widely seen all around the world and is one of the highest grossing movies of all time, while Left Behind never made it out of the Christian ghetto (and didn’t find a whole lot of success there either).

Wordplay (2006)
There isn’t a whole lot of drama in this documentary, but that is in no way a detraction from this film about crossword puzzles and the people who do them. We are introduced to a wide variety of expert crossword puzzlers, from Tyler, the young college student studying computer science, to Al, a middle-aged family man who never seems to come in higher than third at the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. We also get a parade of celebrity crossword enthusiasts from pitcher Mike Mussina to talk show host Jon Stewart, to both presidential election opponents Bob Dole and Bill Clinton. It gives insight into how the puzzles are made (with one actually being constructed right before our eyes), and challenges the audience to try to figure out clues before the solvers do.

Twilight (2008) and New Moon (2009)
The success of these movies is completely baffling to me. The first one is an exercise in pale people pausing in the middle of every sentence. It features an inexplicable romance between two people, one of whom looks like a creepy stalker who never learned what a comb is for, while the other takes bland to a whole new level. At least Twilight has a poorly done action sequence for a climax, New Moon doesn’t even have that. Instead we are treated to even more pausing and are introduced to a love triangle featuring a not-so-pale guy with impossibly sculpted abs. The film meanders while Bella broods, and I kept waiting for it to build up to something, and was still waiting when the credits started to roll. There is so much melancholy dripping off these movies that it is impossible to get excited about anything. AND WHOSE IDEA WAS IT TO HAVE VAMPIRES SPARKLE IN THE SUNLIGHT!? On the plus side, they are very entertaining when viewed with two very excellent Rifftrax.

Coming up next: a film with minimal budget and lots of intelligence and one with a very large budget and almost no intelligence.