Thursday, November 24, 2011

My 2011 Movie Odyssey - Part II

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Me, I am thankful for movies from the good to the bad, in their wide-ranging genres and subject matters.

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
This is a fascinating look at the world of street art and the artists who make it. It starts with a montage of street artists plying their craft - some clever, some vulgar, and some outright vandalism - all while a song plays in the background declaring that “Tonight the streets are ours.” Then we are introduced to Thierry Guetta a clothing shop owner/documentarian/aspiring street artist. He’s quirky, full of life, and enjoys almost unlimited access to some of the biggest names in street art. But when he starts doing his own street art it’s derivative and repetitive (and most if not all of the actual artwork is done by other people). What results is a wonderfully entertaining look at several interesting people and the work that they do, even when their art is completely illegal.

Alien Nation (1988)
It tells an interesting story about racist attitudes towards the alien population in America, but it would have been better if the violence had been toned down and the fun factor increased.

Invaders from Mars (1953)
It has some wonderfully creepy moments in the first half hour as aliens take over the minds of various townspeople, but the end is rather unspectacular and not very distinguishable from similar efforts from Roger Corman or Burt I. Gordon.

Dogtooth (2009)
Nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar and available on Netflix streaming, I thought I would check this movie out. I should have stayed away. It tells the tale of a family who isolate themselves from the world. The parents use scare tactics and misinformation to keep their children inside their little compound. Why? I have no idea because the movie never bothered to tell me. I kept waiting for something to happen to shake things up, and it finally happened in the last couple minutes of the film. But instead of exploring the implications of the first real plot development of the movie, they decided to roll the credits instead.

Metropia (2009)
This animated movie has an interesting noirish look, and the individual frames look really good. Unfortunately, the animation leaves much to be desired. The characters reside squarely in the uncanny valley - the human models are wonderfully detailed, but they move so little and unnaturally that the filmmakers might as well have just filmed Barbie dolls bouncing across the screen. The story tries to be a dystopia along the lines of The Matrix, but ends up making little sense, and none of the characters are particularly memorable either.

Ip Man (2008)
This is a fictionalized account of Ip Man, a martial arts master who trained Bruce Lee (and many others). The first half is a whole lot of fun featuring plenty of martial arts hijinks in a largely pre-industrial Chinese town. Then the Japanese invasion of WWII happens, and the film takes a decidedly serious turn. Ip Man and his fellow countrymen struggle to get enough food to feed themselves while still maintaining their honor in occupied territory. Ip Man is fascinating to watch, both in moments of quiet dignity and when he is laying down some martial arts smack-down.

The Secret of Kells (2009)
This beautifully stylized animated film tells a fictionalized account of the creation of the Book of Kells. The film takes many visual cues from the artwork in the Book of Kells, leading to a movie that looks like a moving illuminated manuscript.

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)
It's better than a Roger Corman movie, but not by much.

The King’s Speech (2010)
This is a well made movie that smacks a little of Oscar porn. There's not a whole lot that I loved about the movie, but really the only thing I didn't like about the film is that I felt they focused on the wrong character. Colin Firth's character is only interesting because he is a prince who stutters; take those two things away from him and he's rather dull. Geoffrey Rush, on the other hand, is quite engaging as the speech therapist who manages to help Firth overcome his speech impediment. Had they focused on his character instead, the movie would have been far more interesting.

Unstoppable (2010)
This is a fun action movie that wasn't as cliched as I was expecting it to be, though the ending was a bit of a letdown.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My 2011 Movie Odyssey - Part I

Now that November is half over, I really ought to start posting my movie odyssey. This year I've been much worse than usual about keeping up with my thoughts on the movies I watch. So far I've seen 132 movies this year for the first time but only have 55 blurbs written. (Somewhat in my own defense, I have been working on other projects.) But at least one of you likes reading these, so here is the first installment.

The Social Network (2010)
This is a slick movie that is full of energy. The opening scene between Mark Zuckerberg and his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend is immediately arresting with dialog so quick it would make Howard Hawks proud. The conversation continually goes on tangents then loops back around in a way that reminded me of reading a comment thread on facebook. Jesse Eisenberg is electric in the role of Mark Zuckerberg, graduating from “poor man’s Michael Cera” status to becoming a force to be reckoned with. The Social Network is engaging all the way through, with fascinating characters, memorable performances, and a taut script, all held together masterfully by director David Fincher.

Exam (2009)
Eight people are in a room prepared to take a test that will determine which one of them will be given a high-profile job. The only problem: when they turn their test papers over, there is nothing written on the other side. The entire film takes place in the exam room, and it is fascinating to watch the candidates as they try to figure out what the rules are and what it is that they need to do.

The Proposal (2009)
Sandra Bullock is fun to watch (as always) and there are a few laughs, but there is nothing in this film to distinguish it from the rest of the romantic comedy crowd.

Black Swan (2010)
This visually striking tale about a ballerina's descent into madness features strong performances from its three leading ladies, a compelling story, and lots of beautiful ballet. I just wish it hadn't decided to go into weird sexual territory.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006)
I was hoping that this would be an honest documentary about the merits and flaws of the MPAA rating system. Unfortunately, it was actually a 97 minute rant against the MPAA's puritanical view of sexual content, completely missing the fact that the MPAA rating system exists for the movie- going public, not the filmmakers.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
There were a couple interesting visual touches, but overall I was bored with the endless scenes of teenagers running and screaming.

Tangled (2010)
This is a really fun movie. The animation is gorgeous and features several wonderful moments of pure character animation (with the animators constantly coming up with new and inventive uses for Rapunzel's hair), the songs are all pleasant (though none of them are particularly memorable), and Rapunzel spends most of the movie barefoot. Really, what's not to like?

True Grit (2010)
The 1969 original is one of my favorite westerns, so the Coen brothers' version had a lot to live up to, and they delivered a fine remake. Roger Deakins’ cinematography was beautiful as always and Matt Damon played a much more interesting LaBoeuf than Glen Campbell’s take on the character. But The Dude cannot hold a candle to The Duke.

Innerspace (1987)
This was mostly fun, rather silly, and very 80's. To be honest, I find it hard to believe that Dennis Quaid’s character had any friends at all based on how he always acted.

Darkman (1990)
It’s an interesting take on superhero tropes, but it was too dark and angry for my tastes.