Thursday, January 19, 2017

Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

IMDb plot summary: A fictionalized account of the early life of the American president as a young lawyer facing his greatest court case.
Directed by John Ford. Starring Henry Fonda, Alice Brady, Marjorie Weaver, and Arleen Whelan.

Oh, goodness, this film is a product of its time. There is absolutely no subtlety or nuance here, and every moment is filled with so much "aw, shucks, I'm just a simple farm boy with all the wisdom in the world" goop that it's almost unbearable at times. It feels like an educational film for children focusing entirely on telling them that Lincoln was awesome no matter what he did. That being said, though, Henry Fonda does almost manage to pull it off. He has a sincerity to him that rings slightly truer than the rest of the film, which is determined to "Mary Sue" him from start to finish. He can't quite make up for it, but if there was something that makes it bearable, it's him.

1.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Young Mr. Lincoln < Cry-Baby
Young Mr. Lincoln > Miss Congeniality
Young Mr. Lincoln < Beauty and the Beast (1946)
Young Mr. Lincoln > Charlie Wilson's War
Young Mr. Lincoln < The Bishop's Wife
Young Mr. Lincoln < Last of the Red Hot Lovers
Young Mr. Lincoln > The Secret Life of Pets
Young Mr. Lincoln > Thoroughly Modern Millie
Young Mr. Lincoln < Mrs. Miniver
Young Mr. Lincoln < Rust and Bone
Young Mr. Lincoln > The Proposal

Final spot: #1729 out of 2562.

Monday, January 16, 2017

La La Land (2016)

IMDb plot summary: A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.
Directed by Damien Chazelle. Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, and Rosemarie DeWitt.

Given how much I adore musicals, I knew I'd at least enjoy this movie, even if I didn't love it. And I did. As a movie, it's a pretty by-the-book story of fame and romance. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone do have some great chemistry but there's nothing new about the story itself. As a musical, however, there are moments when it really shines. The problem here is that it's a little spotty. The dance sequences are really gorgeous, and the overall cinematography and editing of the musical numbers do a great job of highlighting the performances. It definitely hearkens back to the MGM musicals of the 40s and 50s. The problem here is that the vocal performances are pretty weak. Stone and Gosling do their best, but they're continually tossed into songs that are out of their vocal ranges or are mixed strangely (that opening number in particular was irritatingly out of proportion between the music and the singers). These are strange and unfortunate flaws for a musical, and flaws that are so easily fixed, that they made me wish every musical number had just been a dance -- that might've helped them hold onto the magic. So... I liked it, wasn't blown away by it the way I wanted to be.

4 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
La La Land > Wedding Crashers
La La Land > Beyond the Sea
La La Land < A Man for All Seasons
La La Land < Repulsion
La La Land > The Secret Garden (1987)
La La Land > Rise of the Planet of the Apes
La La Land > Father of the Bride (1991)
La La Land > Mr. Brooks
La La Land < Key Largo
La La Land < The Great Race
La La Land > A Streetcar Named Desire

Final spot: #488 out of 2561.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Patriots Day (2016)

IMDb plot summary: An account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis's actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it.
Directed by Peter Berg. Starring Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, and J. K. Simmons.

Man, my reactions to this movie went all over the place. 10 minutes in, I was overwhelmed by how many new characters they were introducing and how little connection they seemed to have to the narrative, though I trusted they'd all come together eventually (they did mostly, but it's a style of character introduction that works much better in books than on film). 30 minutes in, I found myself wondering why this movie had been made, since the story was well-publicized at the time so it wasn't new but we weren't really distant enough from this story to feel like making it an emotional vehicle was justified. 60 minutes in, I was impressed with how it had turned into a pretty tight little thriller. 90 minutes in, I was frustrated that it kept trying to make tiny little serious points about Islamophobia or our treatment of possible terrorism suspects, only to abandon them in favor of a car chase.

Finally, as the credits rolled, I found myself struggling to put all these thoughts together into a coherent view of the film. It's hard to not come away feeling like patriotic propaganda was just thrown in your face (though, really, the title alone gives that away) but most of this really happened, so it's not some filmmakers just concocting feel-good stories about America. But as with American Sniper a few years ago, it's infuriating when the film raises a few serious questions about the ethics of our on-screen heroes, only to ignore them as not really serious ethical concerns at all.

I don't know. I have conflicting feelings about my country and the war on terrorism these days, and this was a weird film for me to go see, and I'm still trying to disentangle my personal thoughts about life from my personal thoughts about the film. What I do think I can say for sure is that if it was trying to be an action crime thriller, it's got holes. If it was trying to be a feel-good reminder of the strength of the American people (as the credits seemed to suggest), it's more promising but still has holes.

2.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Patriots Day < Cry-Baby
Patriots Day > Miss Congeniality
Patriots Day > Little Lord Fauntleroy
Patriots Day > Dogtooth (this is a tough choice, actually)
Patriots Day < Minority Report
Patriots Day > The Hurt Locker
Patriots Day < Josh and the Big Wall
Patriots Day < Singles
Patriots Day < The Prince and the Pauper (2000)
Patriots Day > The Dinner Game
Patriots Day > Do You Like Hitchcock?

Final spot: #1396 out of 2560.

Out of Sight (1998)

IMDb plot summary: A career bank robber breaks out of jail and shares a moment of mutual attraction with a U.S. marshal he has kidnapped.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames, and Don Cheadle.

When I saw someone had assigned me this in a movie exchange group I'm in, I kind of rolled my eyes and thought, "OK, I'll give it a shot." It just didn't seem like something I'd enjoy. Somehow, it manages to work for me. George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez have great chemistry together, but Lopez's character all on her own was fascinating to me. She truly is a smart, competent woman (something a lot of action movies attempt but few succeed in), and while she does get all gooey over Clooney, he's equally gooey over her, and they end up being on surprisingly equal footing. I'd forgotten Soderbergh was the director until the credits rolled at the end, but it makes sense, because there are a few artfully directed scenes that don't fit the typical action romance thriller style -- when Steve Zahn is caught in the middle of a bloodbath at a drug dealer's house, for instance. I don't know how long it'll stick with me, but I had a good time on this ride.

3 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Out of Sight > Wedding Crashers
Out of Sight < Soapdish
Out of Sight < Kung Fu Hustle
Out of Sight > Batman Forever
Out of Sight > The Miracle Worker
Out of Sight < Extraordinary Measures
Out of Sight > The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair
Out of Sight > Struck by Lightning
Out of Sight < Miracle on 34th Street
Out of Sight > Avengers: Age of Ultron
Out of Sight > Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Final spot: #1006 out of 2559.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Our Paradise (2011)

IMDb plot summary: Vassili is an aged prostitute with killer instincts. He finds an unconscious young man in the Forest of Boulogne and takes him home. Now lovers and accomplices, the two men become a couple in prostitution and steal from their clients.
Directed by Gaël Morel. Starring Stéphane Rideau, Dimitri Durdaine, Béatrice Dalle, and Mathis Morisset.

This film has a great premise, and the two leads are interesting playing off each other. As the plot becomes more concrete and less episodic about halfway through, it builds in intensity as well. The problem is that the second half relies on characterization the first half doesn't quite achieve. The final 15 minutes are thrilling, but they seem inconsistent with at least one of the established characters, and as a result it loses its bite a little. Those who like their dramas dark and foreign are likely to enjoy it anyway.

3 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Our Paradise < Cry-Baby
Our Paradise > Premonition
Our Paradise > Live-In Maid
Our Paradise < Dogtooth
Our Paradise > Sixteen Candles
Our Paradise < Cropsey
Our Paradise < The Deer Hunter
Our Paradise > Talk to Her
Our Paradise > X-Men: The Last Stand
Our Paradise > Miss Potter
Our Paradise < Star Wars Uncut

Final spot: #1502 out of 2558, which feels a bit too low.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Breathless (1960)

IMDb plot summary: A small-time thief steals a car and impulsively murders a motorcycle policeman. Wanted by the authorities, he reunites with a hip American journalism student and attempts to persuade her to run away with him to Italy.
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg, Daniel Boulanger, and Henri-Jacques Huet.

I have never found Godard palatable. His past two movies I've seen both landed in the lower echelons of my chart. One of my movie groups chose this as their movie to watch together this month, and a few folks said that this was the only Godard they liked, so I gave it a shot. It did not improve my opinion. Godard is everything people make fun of when they parody pretentious foreign films. He's incomprehensible and random and supposedly meaningful, but I can't find anything redeeming in it. It's confusing, not just in terms of plot (this one actually is fairly straightforward plotwise) but in terms of why the characters do what they do. Is he evoking an emotion? Is he tackling cinematic tricks? Is he exploring... something? Probably yes to all of those, but I'm so distracted by the awkwardness of every scene that I can't feel what he wants me to feel or notice what he wants me to notice. It's all so self-indulgent and pretentious and ridiculous and I can't take any of it seriously, much less enjoy it.

0.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Breathless < Cry-Baby
Breathless < Premonition
Breathless < Cinderella III: A Twist in Time
Breathless < They Were Expendable
Breathless > Ella Enchanted
Breathless > Soultaker
Breathless < The Prince & Me
Breathless < One Hour to Die: You Have All Been Poisoned
Breathless < The Birth of a Nation (1915)
Breathless < Watership Down
Breathless > Un Chien Andalou

Final spot: #2435 out of 2556

Anna and the King (1999)

IMDb plot summary: The story of the romance between the King of Siam and widowed British schoolteacher, Anna Leonowens, during the 1860s.
Directed by Andy Tennant. Starring Jodie Foster, Chow Yun-Fat, Bai Ling, and Tom Felton.


For the first half of the movie, I was having a surprisingly good time. I'd heard a lot of criticism when the movie was released, but I loved the lavish visuals, and the two leads created a pair that work well off each other. I was especially impressed by Jodie Foster, who disappeared into her role in a way I'd never seen her do before. The two cultures came together in a way that seemed very natural and realistic, a far cry from the almost cartoonish comedy in the Rodgers & Hammerstein version of the story, which is the only one I was familiar with.

Where the film goes off the rails, unfortunately, is in the latter half, where it tries to build both a love story and a dramatic political coup, both of which may be part of the original story (I've never read the book) but here they weaken the overall story. The romance is haphazard -- there's no doubt the two characters respect each other greatly, but then there's an abrupt understanding that they're both romantically interested, as if there's some missing scene with a lot more sexual tension in it that makes that subplot clear. The plotline involving the coup is potentially interesting, but falls flat partly because it tries to pull in the romantic aspect of it as well and give Anna the chance to save the day. It's a disappointing ending to what I thought was a thoughtful and charming beginning.

3 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Anna and the King > Wedding Crashers
Anna and the King < Finder's Fee
Anna and the King < Kung Fu Hustle
Anna and the King > Lolita (1997)
Anna and the King < The Miracle Worker
Anna and the King < Letters from Iwo Jima
Anna and the King < Oliver Twist
Anna and the King < Star Trek: Generations
Anna and the King > 12 Angry Men (1997)
Anna and the King > Cabaret
Anna and the King > Serial Killer 1
Final spot: #1110 out of 2557.