Sunday, December 19, 2010

My 2010 Movie Odyssey - Part XV

How the West Was Won (1962)
This may be the most epic western ever made. The Cinerama process (an ultra-widescreen format) captures the American west in all its grandeur. The problem is that the movie gets too big for its britches. Much like Giant and Cavalcade, How the West Was Won tries to tell too much story in its (already considerably lengthy) running time. Characters came and went throughout the film and I was never always sure who was who and what their relationships to each other were. It was more like a series of short films strung together than one cohesive narrative.

The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)
There is no story here, just a series of parody sketches from the guys who later made Airplane! It is very funny though also very R-rated, but feels more like watching an episode of Saturday Night Live than an actual movie.

American Psycho (2000)
This film is too grim and dark for my liking and, aside from a scene in which our antihero and his colleagues compare business cards, not very funny for being a satire.

Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)
Having seen some of the new episodes of Doctor Who, I was curious to check out some of the classic Doctor Who stuff. And then I saw this movie was available on hulu. And it starred Peter Cushing as the Doctor. So I watched it. First of all, it is not a part of the Doctor Who canon but a spinoff movie made for American audiences with some of the major bits of Doctor Who mythology altered in order to make it more accessible. It is a rather hokey movie with very dated production design, though consistent with the little bit of classic Doctor Who that I have seen. There is little to recommend here, even to fans of Doctor Who or Peter Cushing.

Moon (2009)
This is an intriguing tale of a man working all alone on a remote lunar mining facility. While the film has a slow pace it covers some interesting narrative territory. (Or it would have had I not worked on a student film about ten years ago that basically had the same basic plot twist to it.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My 2010 Movie Odyssey - Part XIV

Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
The movie started out interesting as a very patriotic American begins to question his faith in his country, but as the movie progressed and got more and more pessimistic and more and more ugly, I got less and less interested in the character and the message he was preaching.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)
I find it interesting that this light-hearted movie aimed at kids and young adults that takes place in the modern world seems to have more affection for the mythological stories and characters it contains than the major studio release that actually told one of the major mythological stories.

Idiocracy (2006)
What starts out as a brilliant commentary on where a society raised on entertainment that caters to the lowest common denominator and shuns intellectualism can end up quickly becomes a one-note comedy with the same handful of jokes being repeated on an endless loop. It could have made an excellent short film, but stretched out to feature length it starts to become the very thing it is mocking.

The International (2009)
There is a thrilling action set-piece in the Guggenheim Museum that is the highlight of the film. The rest of the movie, however, is pretty run-of-the-mill international espionage stuff.

Puss in Boots (1988)
I have vague memories of watching a version of Puss in Boots as a kid, a version which I have been interested in revisiting. I was hoping this was it. It wasn’t. It was, however, a harmless children’s movie that featured the always entertaining Christopher Walken in the title role.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My 2010 Movie Odyssey - Part XIII

The Bad Seed (1956)
The pretty little girl with no moral compass was very creepy. What is more frightening is that children like her can actually exist.

Sunshine Cleaning (2008)
Alright, I admit it. I only watched this movie because it has Amy Adams in it. This was a fun, quirky little comedy that suffered from feeling a little too much like Little Miss Sunshine 2.0 but was otherwise enjoyable throughout.

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)
The dramatizations of three of the Grimm fairy tales are quite magical but the surrounding story of the two brothers trying to write a duke’s family history is overlong and dull.

To Have and Have Not (1944)
The movie feels a little too much of a remake of/sequel to Casablanca, but Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall sizzle on screen and Walter Brennan is fun as always, making for a very entertaining film. (And, really, if you’re going to rip off another movie, you might as well steal from one of the best.)

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
I’m sorry, but a marriage between two extremely flaky people will never last and it wasn’t very funny either.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My 2010 Movie Odyssey - Part XII

New Moon (2009)
I thought that this would at least be an improvement over Twilight. After all, they replaced the first director with the director of the snappy About a Boy so at least the plodding pace would be sped up. No such luck. The incessant pausing in mid-sentence by every single main character was amplified. We also get what pretends to be a love triangle for Bella whose talent for being vapid reaches new heights. I kept waiting for something to happen. And waiting. And waiting. And then there was a glimmer of what might be mistaken for some rising action and I thought, “Now we must be getting to the explosive climax.” But instead of something happening the credits just rolled. The climax was so uninteresting that I completely missed it and I had to think back and figure out what it was supposed to be. At least the first one had a poorly-staged action piece for a climax, but the only suspense in New Moon came from waiting to see if anyone could get through a complete sentence without a giant pause.

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
This is a cute story about two girls dealing with their mother’s illness. The find companionship in Totoro, the giant, mute forest spirit that is half bunny rabbit, half teddy bear, and 100% adorable. And there’s a giant cat that doubles as a school bus.

Clash of the Titans (2010)
I enjoy Greek mythology and thought the original movie was pretty good, so I was interested to see the new take on the Perseus myth (though I did make sure to go in with low expectations). There were some fun action scenes and some wild visuals (that still failed to measure up to the gorgeous stop-motion work by Ray Harryhausen in the original) and I walked away from the theater feeling more satisfied than not. But the more I thought about it afterward the less I though of it. The fatal flaw in the movie is the world view or lack thereof. The trailer (and the tagline “Damn the gods”) make it seem like a humanist piece where Perseus rejects the gods and does things his own way. But in the movie he accepts gifts from the gods and uses them to complete his quest. And yet the gods are painted in such an unsympathetic light that a reading of “the gods are powerful and make things work which makes them worthy of worship and obedience” doesn’t work very well either. It’s as if the filmmakers couldn’t decide which extreme they wanted to shoot for and waffled back and forth so much that they ended up in a wishy-washy middle that would be stupid if it managed to be adequately expressed. I might be getting too worked up about a silly popcorn movie about deities from a long dead religion, but is an internal consistency too much to ask for?

Mulholland Dr. (2001)
The movie starts out fairly interesting with a story about an aspiring actress trying to make her way in Hollywood. But three quarters of the way through the film director David Lynch pulls the rug out from under the audience and takes the film in a completely new direction. The audience is supposed to be asking questions like: was it all a dream?, which part was the dream?, and how does my perception of the first three quarters of the film change in light of the final quarter? Me? I was busy thinking unhappy thoughts at the movie while I rubbed my bruised coccyx.

Perfect Blue (1998)
This anime film has some striking visuals but gets really weird and dark in places.

Coming up next: five more movies that don't have enough in common for me to come up with a clever teaser.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My 2010 Movie Odyssey - Part XI

The Kid from Brooklyn (1946)
Danny Kaye stars in this mediocre remake of The Milky Way (1936), a Harold Lloyd talkie. Even Danny Kaye is unable to match Lloyd's wide-eyed innocence, and events that were charming in the original come across as forced in the remake.

The Hidden Fortress (1958)
This is the story of political intrigue, hidden treasure, and a princess in disguise told from the point of view of two nobodies who most of the time don’t even know what is going on. This highly entertaining piece from Akira Kurosawa was the primary influence for C-3PO and R2-D2 in Star Wars.

Libeled Lady (1936)
It’s William Powell and Myrna Loy on screen together in a fun comedy. What more do you need to know? See it.

Dark Star (1974)
This low budget science fiction comedy is slow and dull at times but contains some fun sequences like an encounter with an alien which looks like a giant beach ball and a conversation with an armed bomb that feels straight out of Douglas Adams.

The Wolfman (2010)
While there are a couple good scary and gory scenes of the wolf doing terrible things to innocent people, the story is far from interesting and the filmmakers’ attempts to enhance the mythology come across as little more than silly padding.

Coming up next: some disappointing fare.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My 2010 Movie Odyssey - Part X

Repo Man (1984)
This movie can’t decide if it’s a coming of age story featuring lots of colorful characters or if it’s a movie about dangerous alien technology. Either one of those could be interesting but thrown together they end up being at odds with one another ultimately resulting in an interesting failure of a movie.

The Lovely Bones (2009)
What was so great about this story that it HAD to be a movie? Whatever it was did not come across on screen. Narrative threads disappear without warning, the afterlife in which the murdered main character finds herself makes very little sense, and it all leads up to an unsatisfying non-ending. Sure the visuals are pretty cool in the afterlife scenes and Stanley Tucci is pretty creepy as the murderer, but it still just adds up to a rather empty and bleak two hours.

The Blind Side (2009)
This is a wonderful movie about unconditional love and how it can change the lives of not only the recipient but also the giver as well.

Fantasyland (2010)
Every year a bunch of experts in fantasy baseball play against each other in a high profile league called Tout Wars. One year the question was asked, “How well would a regular guy do against all these so-called experts?” Enter Jed Latkin, a wide-eyed, enthusiastic fan of fantasy baseball. He starts out as David versus Goliath, but as the movie progresses he is so obsessed with winning that we soon start rooting for him to fail because he is so obnoxious. At one point he is more interested in swinging a trade than being with his wife while she is in labor. For people who are unfamiliar with fantasy baseball, it isn’t a very good primer on how the game works. On the other hand, for people like me who are avid fans of the game, there was a frustrating lack of information about how he managed his team (and we were never once treated to a look at his entire roster). It is worth checking out for people who are already fans of fantasy baseball, but for those who are more interested in learning about fantasy baseball, the 45 minute documentary “Silly Little Game” produced by ESPN is much more informative.

Gun Crazy (1950)
The noir-ish look to this film is why phrases such as "glorious black and white" exist. It is glorious to look at. Unfortunately, it is accompanied by a thinly-veiled cautionary tale of how a young man's life can be ruined by fast women and an obsession with guns.

Coming up next: a couple older comedies.

Friday, December 3, 2010

My 2010 Movie Odyssey - Part IX

The Wicker Man (2006)
Nicholas Cage wears a bear suit, punches women, and screams ridiculous lines in this remake that fails in just about every aspect that the original succeeded. Where the original is creepy, this one is boring. Where the original is suspenseful, this one is silly. And while the original has an interesting religious discussion, this one creates an unnecessary back story for Cage’s character that only serves to confuse matters.

Speed Racer (2008)
The races are fun, the sets are colorful, and the actors are attractive in this movie that is an enjoyable two hours that won’t stick with you.

Play Time (1967)
There is no real story to speak of here, merely a series of extended comedic set-pieces enacted almost entirely through the visuals. The highlight of the film is a sequence that depicts the opening of a restaurant in which almost everything goes wrong. There are some wonderful gags sprinkled throughout the film, from the doorman who is unable to do his job because he has to use an ultra-modern button panel that is a complete mystery to him, to a floor tile that has come unstuck so every time the head waiter walks passed that spot on the floor he actively avoids the tile. The pace of the film is almost maddeningly slow, leaving the audience to seek out the comedy instead of having it spoon-fed to them.

Alice in Wonderland (2010)
On our way to see this movie, my friend asked me how I would do a dramatization of the Alice books. After giving it some thought my answer was that since the books are so episodic with very little overarching story and almost nothing carrying over from one scene to the next there were only two ways to really do it right. The first way would be to do a very faithful adaptation and take advantage of the episodic nature of the books and do it as a television show or web serial. The other way would be to take characters and situations from the book and put them into a brand new story that has a much more structured narrative. This movie uses the second tactic and is mostly successful. The Mad Hatter plays too large a role (it makes me wonder if Johnny Depp being cast in the role caused it to grow too big) and the Jabberwock is woefully underused, but the visuals are gorgeous, transporting the audience into a fascinating world of wonder.

Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001)
So this is my first foray into the real world of Bollywood and it was a mostly enjoyable experience. It features a cast of wonderfully colorful characters and has some fun musical numbers. On the other hand, at over three and a half hours long it occasionally gets tedious, especially during the climax of the film which revolves around a cricket game. Since this movie taught me pretty much all I know about cricket, I had a hard time really investing in the action of the game since I don’t know all the nuances of the sport, though I can speak with more authority when I say that cricket is indeed a stupid sport.

Coming up next: more catching up from 2009.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My 2010 Movie Odyssey - Part VIII

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
Some of the elements in this film were quite interesting (the post-apocalyptic society created by Tina Turner as well as the Thunderdome itself) while others were far too farcical to be believed (the village of children and their prophesies). What results is a mixed bag in which the best elements are as good as what we saw in The Road Warrior (1981) while the worst ones are only good for Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
There are some amusing hijinks that occur as a group of actors try to put on a show during the depression. But the real reason to see the movie is the lavish musical numbers staged by Busby Berkeley.

Village of the Damned (1960)
This is a wonderfully creepy horror movie with a town that mysteriously falls asleep and loads of freaky children. It’s just too bad that the conclusions to these types of movies rarely measure up to their premises.

Nine (2009)
I went to see this film at the dollar theater. The film started with visions of South Africa. I quickly realized that they had put the wrong movie into the projector, and were actually showing Invictus instead. “That’s fine,” I said to myself. “I also wanted to see Invictus.” But after only about five minutes someone somewhere realized the mistake and changed the film to Nine. I probably would have been better off with Invictus. It’s not that there’s anything really wrong with the movie, it’s just that there was nothing in it that I liked. The characters were all selfish jerks, the look of the film was quite drab, and none of the musical numbers were interesting or memorable. Just about the only bright spot in the movie is Marion Cotillard as the long-suffering wife of Daniel Day-Lewis’ philandering movie director.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
To be honest, the trailer didn’t entice me. It looked like cheap animation combined with yet another gratuitous celebrity voice cast. But what I got was an immensely entertaining movie with interesting characters, humorous animation, and a jaunty score.

Coming up next: three remakes/reimaginings and two really long foreign films.