Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004)

I was a fan of the first movie, and I'm certainly not going to pretend this sequel was nearly as clever as its predecessor. Several of the moments in this one were far-fetched and generally ridiculous. The entire Thai prison plotline ran like something out of a bad road trip comedy. But the characters I loved in the first movie are still in place. Colin Firth and Hugh Grant still reign supreme as the potential love interests, and Renee Zellweger, though a bit more over-the-top here than necessary, still plays a real-life, awkward, clumsy person who does NOT do everything right. Kudos to them. A passable follow-up, though not a great one. 3 stars.

Topsy-Turvy (1999)

This was one of my favorite portrayals of the theater in moviedom ever. The film dedicates large amounts of time to just watching rehearsals, and entire songs from the opera. I thoroughly enjoyed this, although I can't imagine it being nearly as interesting to someone not interested in theater. Jim Broadbent continues to impress me as one of those actors who usually appears in seldom-noticed side roles, but here he is a brilliant portrayal of the artistic perfectionist, determined to make his work genius and despairing that it ever will be. The story itself is not gripping, but the little moments throughout are very much so. Highly recommended to theater fans, less so to others. 4 stars.

Mamma Mia! (2008)

A small portion of this movie got it right. ABBA's songs are certainly meant to be sung by joyous characters on the beach. I'm pretty sure they weren't supposed to be sung by flailing actresses, though. Or thrown into a script that seems to assume no one in the world has aged past the age of 16 emotionally. By the end of the movie, I was so amused by how immature all the characters were that I had resorted to making snarky comments at the screen. Songs that begin promisingly ("Lay Your Love On Me") suddenly trip over horrible choreography and directing and fall flat. Meryl Streep gesticulates so wildly during her solos - I'm not sure whether she was directed stupidly, or doesn't know what to do with her hands when she sings. Also, Pierce Brosnan is far, far, far from a singer. The soundtrack might be worth getting... the frenetic, hyperactive movie is not. 2.5 stars.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Fatal Attraction (1987)

Quite a satisfying thriller. It builds up very solidly, creepy without being overly melodramatic. Glenn Close played her character brilliantly. This whole movie masters the art of the build-up, creating a believably tense story about the dangers of this man's impulsive choices. 3.5 stars.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Shadows and Fog (1991)

(Some spoilers in this review.)
This is the most visually tantalizing film by Woody Allen, with the possible exception of Manhattan's opening five minutes. Steeped in... well, shadows and fog, every scene plays out like everyone's awake at 4:00 in the morning, not quite themselves, not quite sure of what's going on them. Judging by reviews of the film, many people felt the message was too convoluted, trapped beneath an impressive cast list and jokes that fall flat. The message takes some thinking through, especially with the misleadingly happy ending that may seem unsatisfying and trite if taken at face value. The image of Allen's character never knowing what his part in the plan is (although everyone else seems to know and finds him incompetent for not knowing) stuck with me long after the film ended. Not a perfect Allen film, but one worth hashing through afterwards. 3.5 stars.

Ratatouille (2007)

Pixar continues to amaze me with the creative ideas they come up with. Not just a story about a rat, but a story about a rat who wants to be a gourmet chef. This movie paints the city of Paris and the world of gourmet food in dazzling colors that draw everyone in, even young children. The plot is a little formulaic halfway through its brilliant beginning, but remains solidly entertaining all the way through.

Pixar has learned the masterful art of telling stories without being entirely dependent on dialogue. In a lesser studio's movie, the wisecracking rat would be hissing insults at the rookie chef left and right, and the chef would be responding. Instead, the chef cannot understand his friend, and the two of them have to come up with a way of communicating. This communication lasts all throughout the movie -- carrying this bizarre relationship of one-sided dialogue all the way to the end. Wall-E conveyed a beautiful story with only five or six words spoken in the first forty minutes. That innovative tactic of showing, rather than telling and wisecracking about it (which most cartoons have come to rely on), can be seen in a slightly different way as Remy makes the perfect menu without once being able to voice his opinion to his human friend. 4 stars.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Michael Clayton (2007)

George Clooney has a tendency to be in movies I admire a lot, but don't really enjoy. This was one of them. It was a satisfying watch, but I spent more time than I would have liked to trying to follow the plotline. Tom Wilkinson's portrayal of the crazed Arthur Edens is definitely worth noting, though. 3 stars.

The Dark Knight (2008)

Christopher Nolan is a genius. He manages to take a character like the Joker, a cheesy villain who really isn't all that menacing unless you *really* buy into his comic book world, and make him a believably insane character who fits right in among terrifyingly serial killers along the lines of Hannibal Lecter, the ones who stay in our minds and haunt our dreams. He gives Batman a reason to be more than just a stereotyped superhero, all without overdramatic sequences that involve the hero getting moody and monologue-y. Christopher Nolan's Batman is the superhero I want to watch on film.

While I'm still not a massive fan of the superhero genre, I think this is probably the best of all the superhero films I have ever seen. Placing a story like this in the real world is far from easy, but Nolan makes it seem effortless. How much I enjoyed the movie was 4 stars, but it gets an extra half a star because it was done so well in ways I probably didn't even notice. While there were talented actors in here, the script made them look even better than they were. Kudos, kudos, kudos to Nolan. Keep making films. Forever. 4.5 stars.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Chorus Line (1985)

Plot: Hopefuls try out before a demanding director for a part in a new musical.

This is a flashy musical, with all the glitz and glamour of dancing in a Broadway show evident on the screen. The opening sequence is electric, as each dancer pushes and outshines their way to the top, every one of them hamming it up to look better than the others. Once it gets past that opening sequence, though, we run into an unusual problem... Bad sound. None of the songs sound like they're being sung by these characters, but rather like they are being played from an off-stage record, which is extremely disappointing. The concept of the show is brilliant and the dance sequences stellar, but the singers and song performances and especially sound quality leave something to be desired.

As a completely minor complaint, how could they put Terrence Mann in a musical and not let him sing? Grumble grumble. I had the same complaint about Idina Menzel in Enchanted. 3.5 stars.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Tropic Thunder (2008)

I now know why this movie inspired such love in some and such hate in others. It constantly toes the line between hilarious and completely stupid. For once, this kind of movie falls on the "hilarious" side for me. There are some great moments and scenarios, although there are definitely a lot of misses in here... but when every single scene is aimed at being funny (very few in-between filler scenes here) a few misses means that 3/4 of the movie was still funny. Robert Downey Jr stole the show as an insanely methody method actor, although Matthew McConaughey came awfully close as the cheery Hollywood agent. Right from the beginning, this movie lets you know what kind of movie you're in for... It shows four fake previews, then throws you into the goriest, least-potentially-funny material in the movie. If you don't like it fifteen minutes in, it doesn't get better. But if, like me, you kept giggling throughout those first fifteen minutes... Go ahead and keep watching. 4 stars.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Footloose (1984)

There's something about dance movies that makes them incredibly joyful. Whether they're musicals or pure dance movies like this one, there's a beautiful freedom in a good dance scene. And there are a LOT of them in here. From the classic warehouse scene where Kevin Bacon dances out his frustration, to the prolonged ending dance montage where the students finally can celebrate their right to dance. But it's not even just a "good dance movie" - it's actually a fairly decent movie as well. There are very few easy caricatures among the characters, even though the story itself may be a bit cliched. Even the conservative reverend is an honest, real character who is just trying to help hold his town and his congregation together. Great performance from John Lithgow, great dancing from the entire cast, and overall an ultimate feel-good movie. 4 stars.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Hancock (2008)

This film treads an interesting line between comedy and drama, and never seems sure which one it actually wants to settle on. It drastically switches modes halfway through the movie, and as a result comes off as disjointed and all over the place. However, it's a very pleasant all over the place. When it's dramatic, it's not over-the-top. When it's comedic, it's amusing and made me chuckle. It's not often that superheroes have a fatal flaw besides whining too much about having a superpower (that's right, I'm talking about you, Spider-Man)... a refreshing look at the genre, and a fairly good action, romance, comedy, and drama flick along the way. Not bad for trying to hit every genre out there. 3.5 stars.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

License to Wed (2007)

I am not one of those people who get all upset every time someone makes a comedy that points a finger at something resembling religion. I loved Bruce Almighty and the musical Altar Boyz, and I would love to see Saved!. But this movie was offensive on religious grounds as well as comedic ones. Robin Williams as a member of the clergy is just about the scariest thing I can think of, and his religion-based humor was not only tasteless, but also just boring. Mandy Moore plays a mindless zombie who floats through the movie without putting any thought at all into how she's acting or what she's saying. Surely she has to realize that these "exercises" are the requests of an insane man, and no rational person would subject themselves to them. Which is why John Krasinski earns the movie's 1 star, as he accurately portrays an average, sensible, ordinary guy, who realizes that trying to reenact a fight he and his fiancee have never had is hardly the building blocks for a good relationship. He reacts with appropriate shock and confusion when his fiancee loses all her personality and opinions and doesn't see why it should be a problem for him to suddenly carry four screaming kids around a grocery store, two of which are fake. Unfortunately, he plays it so well that there's no way he can make the ending ("oh ho ho, you meant well all along!") plausible. What nonsense. 1 star.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Wedding Date (2005)

This movie starts off promising. The characters are given personality that is neither too quirky nor too cliched, and I began wondering how this was going to play out. (It's a romantic comedy -- it'll never be TOO difficult to figure out what happens, but this promised to be an interesting meander through the formula.) However, about 30-40 minutes in, the characters lost what made them interesting and turned into stereotypes in stereotyped relationships with stereotyped awkward/heartbreaking situations. Lovely beginning, but the ending is far from being a good example of the genre. 2.5 stars.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

For a superhero movie starring Edward Norton, this was distressingly lackluster. Heck, for *any* movie starring Edward Norton, this was distressingly lackluster. Except for a brief moment at the end which made my entire family sit up and go, "Oh!" there was very little about this movie that stood out. It wasn't necessarily a *bad* movie -- just far away from my expectations of its awesomeness. 2.5 stars.

Squirm (1976)

When a terrible writer puts a squicky idea down on paper, hands it off to a terrible producer who cries, "YES! THIS IS THE MOVIE I'VE BEEN WAITING FOR!" and passes it off to a terrible director, who casts terrible (and most likely to stereotype the south) actors in the roles, then uses terrible special effects to portray the plight of these terrible characters, accompanied by terrible music that has little or nothing to do with what's actually happening in the movie... THAT'S when you get this movie. So... future scriptwriters, be warned. Worth a single star because of laugh value. The MST3K version of this pretty much rules. 1 star.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Flawless (2007)

This movie wasn't quite flawless, but it was made so nicely that it really is difficult to find much to complain about in it. On the other hand, it's also difficult to find something to shower praises on. It's a clever, intelligently made thriller that makes use of all the talent and potential of its two actors, has an interesting plot and a plausible ending, and yet I find myself barely able to remember it. It's a good, pleasant watch but not much more than that. 3 stars.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

The two stars I'm giving this movie are solely for the first 30-40 minutes. It starts off promisingly, with great moments mocking the sci-fi B-movies of the 1950s. And "Time Warp" might be one of the most bizarrely funny thing ever in musicals. Tim Curry's entrance is bizarre, but distinctive and memorable. But then the plot begins to descend into madness and it becomes interesting as nothing more than an experiment in absurd shock value. The songs remain fairly decent, but the utter crap that is the rest of this movie's plot mean that the first two stars for the first 30 minutes are the ONLY stars this movie is going to get. Too bad, because those first 30 minutes promised something much more substantial than we ended with. 2 stars.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

RocketMan (1997)

If Adam Sandler made a children's movie, this would be it. I get the same squicky, uncomfortable feeling from this painfully unfunny movie that I do from every typical Sandler flick. I watched it for fifteen minutes and got so icked out by it that I turned it off, came back a day later and tried to continue. This time I got twenty minutes in before it made me start feeling like a miserable human being for even watching the movie, so I turned it back off and I have no intention of going back and finishing it. Unless it ends with an incredible ending that incorporates a song written by Jason Robert Brown and every character in the Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny... I can't imagine the internal pain of sitting down to watch the rest of it. No, thank you. 0.5 stars.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

In this film, you can see hints of the filmmaker Alfred Hitchchock would become in later years. There's a great moment (that, unfortunately, then plays out with much too much self-awareness) where the main characters infiltrate a worship service in search of the bad guy. Trying to blend in, they pick up a hymnal and sing along, and then quietly *sing* clues to each other. "That woman to our riiiight..." Although it gets sillier as the scene goes on, the idea is very much the Hitchcock I know and love.

The execution, however, leaves much to be desired. Hitchcock has brilliant ideas here, but awkward casting and sound effects bring the movie down to at times a nearly unwatchable level. If the quality of the 1950s version could be crossed with the ideas of this one, we might have a very, very interesting movie.

But then again, whatever the original lacks, it also doesn't subject us to hours of Doris Day singing the same three verses of "Que Sera, Sera" over and over again. 2.5 stars.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)

This is not the movie it thinks it is. While it's supposed to about de Niro's character, the star of the film is very clearly Michael Moriarty and his character, scheming and working to make things go smoothly for his friend. It also isn't quite as touching as it thinks it is. It's too scattered and confused to tell the intimate story it's attempting. It's not a BAD movie, it just overreached. 3 stars.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Thr3e (2006)

Such a nice try. The problem with the movie here is the same problem that all Ted Dekker's books have. He's good at coming up with intense situations for his main characters to be in, but he can't satisfyingly finish it to save his life. This is a terribly disappointing ending (with absolutely no basis in reality, may I add) and tries to throw a twist or two in to make the ending less cliched, but it only makes it more disappointing when the final result IS that cliched answer.

On top of that, the acting of the two main girls is abysmal. They speak as if they're just reciting lines. And let's not even talk about the actress portraying the hero's aunt, who is vaguely reminiscent of Sinbad of the Seven Seas' Jaffar with her verbal overacting and physical gyrations. Could she play a more stereotyped character if she tried? (To be fair, some of that is the fault of the script/book, but still...)

This is a cheap Christian knock-off of many other, better movies. The Christian worldview is a cool one and a nice one to explore, but it is NOT best explored through this mess of a movie. 1.5 stars.

Get Smart (2008)

I've only seen the show once or twice, so I came to this not knowing what to expect. All I knew was I really liked Steve Carell and the couple episodes of the show I'd seen were good.

The movie gets off to a very rocky start with a bland, heard-it-before story of a rookie trying to make it in a competitive field, but gains its footing halfway through when it hits the actual mission part of the story. When Carell and Anne Hathaway are actually fighting off villains and discovering their secret, it's enjoyable. When they're musing over their personal lives and possible relationship, it's not. 3 stars.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Company: A Musical Comedy (2007)

At last! Stephen Sondheim's 1970 comedy that completely changed musical theater for at least a decade and a half is somewhere on DVD! And it's not disappointing in the least. Raul Esparza makes Bobby a very real person rather than a stereotype, and there are several "people to watch" in the ensemble cast of his married friends. (Kristin Huffman and Elizabeth Stanley in particular impressed me.)

Sondheim paints an intriguing picture of modern marriage and relationships through the eyes of Bobby, who wants to get married but sees how his friends' marriages have just made life far more complicated for them. His final musical number, where he hammers on the piano in an effort to work out exactly what this all means to him, is a stunning portrayal of someone finally coming to grips with the fact that love is always worth it.

A very minimalistic set allows for the slightly avant-garde script to truly shine. Characters unconnected to the current scene burst in and perform songs. An interesting choice here is that all the performers are not just performing vocally, but as the show's orchestra as well.

This show continues to be one of my favorites by Sondheim, and although this is not a perfect production, it captures what people love about this show - brilliant music, brilliant script, and a look at what love means in a modern day time. This is no 1960s romantic comedy. This is a new genre that nobody can quite classify. 4 stars.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Penelope (2006)

This was a very nice try, and had it been handled skillfully could have been a very sweet modern fairy tale. But poor characterization and awkward story transitions left the story feeling lopsided. Catherine O'Hara was the highlight of all the actors, playing the obsessive mother with just the right mix of comedy and tragedy. (Reminds me ever so slightly of her work in For Your Consideration.) Christina Ricci, Reese Witherspoon, and James McAvoy? Some very good actors wasted on this movie. 2 stars.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wide Awake (1998)

This is so unlike Shyamalan in its plot and feel if you look on the surface -- but one of Shyamalan's main themes has always been the issue of faith, of God, of how that can connect to our life down here. He just took an entire movie to explore it here, instead of having it as a sideplot to the main idea of aliens invading earth.

Joseph Cross is superb as the main child. He's possibly as brilliant as Haley Joel Osment was in Sixth Sense, but in a very different genre. He is wrestling with very serious, adult issues, and his growing discouragement is heartbreaking to watch.

Although this isn't a brilliant film, it's a solidly moving portrayal of a young boy's search for God in a world that is too busy to answer his questions. 3.5 stars.

(By the way, what is this "Rosie O'Donnell Is Hilarious!" endorsement up at the top of the box cover? Rosie O'Donnell was in it very briefly and was not terribly hilarious either time. Really, the story's about the boy, not about her at all. Terrible idea trying to market it as an uproarious family comedy.)

The American President (1995)

This movie suffers from a bizarre Annette Bening performance, a terrible script, one-dimensional characters, and a thoroughly boring plot. So what makes it 2 1/2 stars rather than something lower? Michael Douglas' performance. He takes the awkward, stilted lines he was given and somehow fleshes them out to create a character that I'm actually interested in hearing more about. Not worth watching as a whole (Dave is much better as a presidential romance movie) but his performance makes it not terrible. 2.5 stars.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

27 Dresses (2008)

Plot: After serving as a bridesmaid 27 times, a young woman wrestles with the idea of standing by her sister's side as her sibling marries the man she's secretly in love with.

A romantic comedy really only requires two things to make it work: a guy and a girl that you want to end up together. This has that. Katherine Heigl is a charming bridesmaid doormat who has never said no to anyone in her life, while James Marsden (who is rising in fame, hoorah, hoorah) is a charming cynic, and it's easy to root for the two of them to finally realize they're meant to be with each other. The movie tries to be a bit deeper than it's really able to, but plays well with concepts, hopes, and dreams that are easy to relate to and cheer on. Fairly well-done. 3.5 stars.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)

John Hughes has a tendency to make pleasant, inoffensive comedies with characters you remember with fondness at the end. This is one of those. Although it does have its truly funny moments, for the most part it's merely "pleasant." There's nothing here that will really stand out in my mind a few days after seeing it. Martin and Candy do well in their roles but still can't manage to pull it above "pleasant."

John Candy's character was actually the most interesting of all. He had a surprising depth to him that, once you realized it, showed through even in the obnoxious moments. Not sure whether it was good scriptwriting or good acting or a little bit of both. 3 stars.

The Happening (2008)

Potential spoilers ahead.

This deserves nowhere NEAR the nasty reputation it got. Shyamalan's made a return to one of the things he does well - creating a creepy atmosphere, even without a very good story. Whether you buy the ending or not, the sight of people calmly and emotionlessly killing themselves is fairly chilling, and Shyamalan handles those scenes well. Although he plays with the gore more than he usually does in his films, he's still more restrained than many other modern horror filmmakers, leaving more to the imagination.

I loved the scene near the end where the two of them decide to leave their safe places to get to each other. There's a great deal of desperate romance in that scene - they know they're going to die. However, the moment directly after that, the voiceover explaining why they didn't die, was one of the sloppiest explanations EVER in the history of movies.

I don't know what people were expecting to see when they watched this, but I suspect it was, once again, The Sixth Sense. Which... it wasn't. On purpose. (Really, people. He's not trying to remake that movie. That's why his other movies aren't good remakes of it.) There *was* no big surprise. As in Signs, Shyamalan focuses on the characters and their reactions to a world gone mad more than just attempting to scare the audience. It may not succeed completely, but it's actually a really good formula for a horror movie. If we see things from the characters' perspectives, if we can get inside their skin and see what disturbs them about all this, then we'll be frightened when they're frightened. Looking at it from an objective box full of stereotypes and cliched endings, it's not that frightening a movie. But the emphasis on "these are real people in the real world" allows the movie to become much better than anyone's giving him credit for.

Effective -- flawed, but effective. 3.5 stars.

Iron Man (2008)

I am becoming more and more impressed with Robert Downey Jr.'s acting abilities. Here he plays a carefree, spontaneous genius... all without cracking a smile. He adds depth to a character that would have been completely stereotyped in the hands of any other actor. Lovely casting there.

The movie itself is thoroughly enjoyable, a fresh new superhero tale with slick action sequences. Terrence Howard's character sums up aspects of this neatly: "That is the coolest thing I've ever seen." The mechanical outfit, the battles, the schemes to escape from the villain... they all have a certain aura of cool. One of the most satisfying in the genre. 4 stars.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Magnolia (1999)

What a fascinating cast of characters. Each and every character has a back story we care about -- even the completely understated ones. (I, for one, wanted to know more about Philip Seymour Hoffman's character, a superbly, subtly acted personality.) Does the ending work, though? I'm not sure it does. It feels like it *should* mean something, but it... doesn't quite.

It's hard to deny the powerful stories told throughout the first two and a half hours, however. There's an incredibly touching moment where all the characters are singing along with a song playing on the radio. (It's much less trite than that makes it sound.) As we see each character lost in their own world, lost in their own problems and miseries, quietly singing this song, there's something very sad and poignant about that. That one scene alone would make this movie worth watching.

A great film, only an okay ending. It wasn't terrible - but it could have been so much more. 4 stars.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Well, it's not Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it's not National Treasure 2, either. It shines with the heritage of the Indiana Jones stories, willing to let Indiana show his age (it has, after all, been nearly thirty years since the last Indy installment was made), but still giving him all the heroism he had in his earlier stories. Shia LaBeouf puts in a good performance as Indiana's teenage shadow, Mutt, and even gets a few slick action sequences of his own.

The Indiana Jones saga has always been willing to play with the mystical and supernatural. Whether it's the Hebrew Ark of the Covenant melting people's faces off, or the Holy Grail that can age people super quickly, there's never been a hesitancy to jump into a realm that for most movies would send it into a sci-fi/fantasy realm. The same holds true here. From early on in the movie, it is clear that we are heading into another tale involving things humans cannot explain or understand, but somehow in Indiana's world, we're okay with it. (I had to smile, however, when Indy claims that "there's always another explanation." Really? There wasn't for the ark...) While it's not the smoothest of the series' plots, it plays fair.

The action sequences are slick, smooth, and lots of fun. I am not a fan of action sequences, but these managed to draw me in. The swordfight on top of the side-by-side cars was a highlight.

Where does this fall in the series? I liked it significantly better than the very-disappointing Temple of Doom, but this is far from being a classic. It's a well-made, fun, fairly mindless action movie that is well worth watching but probably not worth buying. 3.5 stars.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Youth Without Youth (2007)

Francis Ford Coppola and I clearly have very different ideas about meaning in movies. I have now seen three or four films by him and have been left feeling empty and confused by each one. Let me start off by saying, I am *not* a fan of The Godfather, parts one, two or three. If I worked I could admire the craft, but overall I couldn't see what it was saying or why it did why it did. Call me blind to good taste, but apparently it's a reaction that continues to be true for all Coppola movies. I next saw his short film "Life With Zoe" in the collection "New York Stories." Pleasant, but I had no idea what meaning it held. And now Youth Without Youth, whose complicated plot runs through several different possible themes before ending with a shot that made me think, "Wait... Now... wait... WHAT just happened?" I felt it lacked cohesiveness and, judging from the other comments here on Flixster, it's not just me not "getting" Coppola.

Several moments feel like they were deliberately wooden. A character falls to the ground, and it's as if she is a mechanical toy that just goes stiff and topples over. Dialogue us unbelievably stilted. Every time philosophizing is done, the whole film screeches to a halt as "deep points" are made, and then the film continues as if nothing has happened. It didn't bring me to a greater awareness of the movie, however, as it could have done - instead, it made the entire thing feel amateurish, done by a student who wants to make a "great film" in the style of the masters, and just ends up pushing together a lot of moments that could make a movie meaningful, and then releasing it, convinced it's going to go down in history as utter brilliance. Sorry, Francis. It doesn't look like anyone, including me, thinks this is the next Godfather. 2 stars.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Notre-Dame de Paris (1999)

This show was clearly hoping for the international success of Les Miserables. At least one problem, however, was that the lyrics translated into English on the cast recording are TERRIBLE. I was relieved to hear the much more beautiful French lyrics when I watched this film.

That aside, this is really a very gripping musical. Garou is less "aww, a hunchback!" than many productions. He's pretty darn ugly, with a less-than-silky-smooth voice to match it. This means that the way we connect with him is most likely much closer to the way we're supposed to - we feel bad for him, but we really don't want him to be hanging around us all that often. His song "Dieu qe le monde est injuste," which comes across as just whiny in the English recording, here is poignant - the protest of a desperate man who feels he has always been on God's bad side.

I was especially struck by Daniel Lavoie's portrayal of Frollo. Starting off as unflinchingly rigid and slowly degenerating into a a crazed man filled with lust, he is at his best when he is caught in between- in the song "Belle," he finds himself drawn to Esmeralda but maintains a safe distance, only able to bring himself to long from afar. Great performance.

The dancers are a bit much. They fill nearly every scene, filling the stage with chaos that isn't always warranted. The gimmicky stage is also unneeded. "Tu vas me detruire," with its cathedral columns spinning to crush Frollo, was just silly, awkward and totally unnecessary.

Staging aside, though, the music is compelling, the performances are fantastic, and the lyrics are much much better in French than they are in English. Worth watching if you enjoy musicals and don't mind subtitles! 4 stars.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wings of Desire (1987)

What an incredibly beautiful movie. It succeeded in every way City of Angels failed (i.e. a LOT). It's not your typical love story -- it's not even what CoA made it, a typical love story "but, like, with angels! Get it?" It's a moving exploration of what it means to be human, what it means to be alive. In scene after scene, the angels follow the humans around, looking at them and yearning to understand what drives them. Stunning use of color and sound, and a thoroughly satisfying ending. This is, I'm sure, one of the most beautiful movies I have seen in my entire life. 4 stars.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Lady Eve (1941)

Right from the beginning, this movie is full of great dialogue and interesting characters. There are no huge out-loud laughs, but I'm pretty sure I smiled throughout the entire film. The two main characters are a great match, and it is a pleasure watching and observing their relationship. The ending left me slightly unsatisfied -- it seemed almost unfinished, although perhaps looked at from the right perspective it is exactly what it needs to be. But that would really be my only complaint. Very well crafted movie. 3.5 stars.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Across the Universe (2007)

Plot: The music of the Beatles and the Vietnam War form the backdrop for the romance between an upper-class American girl and a poor Liverpudlian artist.

It's hard not to compare this to Moulin Rouge, another movie musical using pop songs along with creative visuals to enhance the songs. So I'm not going to try to not compare them.

Moulin Rouge was definitely better. Beatles songs actually *are* better, but much of the time it felt like they were hesitant to play much with the actual musicality of it. The visuals, sure, the visuals can be as crazy as you want-- but the music has to stay classic Beatles, at least in tone, or everyone will be angry. Well, unfortunately, that means that many of the vocal performances sound like nothing but decent American Idol performances, lacking much of the musical originality that Moulin Rouge brought to the table.

However! Visually, this works almost as well. Not every scene is pushed quite to the extreme of Moulin Rouge, but there are definitely a lot of scenes that I remember because of the stunning visual effects. My favorite was probably the bizarre twist on "I Want You," where a series of robotic soldiers put several young men through a series of tests to determine draft eligibility.

Although this review is now incredibly long, I just wanted to briefly mention a few of my other favorite moments: "With a Little Help From My Friends" becomes a rollicking, well-natured partying song that conveys a warm fuzzy sense of camaraderie. "I Am the Walrus" is a stunning psychedelic whirlwind. "Strawberry Fields Forever" takes on a dark undertone as an artist furiously struggles to portray his thoughts on canvas. And "Across the Universe" takes place in the middle of a peace-march-turned-riot, as the singer stands amidst the screaming crowd firmly vowing, "Nothing's going to change my world."

Lots of brilliance throughout...and definitely worth rewatching. But all-in-all, it was just slightly disappointing, falls *just* shy of the mark of greatness. So close, Julie Taymor. So close. 4 stars.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Charlie Bartlett (2007)

I can't think of the last movie I enjoyed this much. What a satisfying watch, all the way through. Anton Yelchin plays Charlie with charm and distinctive personality, and Robert Downey Jr. is thoroughly compelling in his role as the principal. The movie unfolds in a way that makes complete sense every step of the way. The dialogue is clever and the humor quiet but entertaining. Definitely a great watch. 4.5 stars.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Hustler (1961)

What a beautifully poignant look at this character's life. This movie takes a different turn than is expected. It starts off fast-moving, fast-paced, as adrenaline-packed as a movie about pool can be, and it's easy to assume it's nothing but a charming heist sport movie. But forty or so minutes in, it takes an unexpected turn... and an hour and a half in, an even more unexpected one, until at the end you realize with a shock that it really isn't about the game or how he's going to pull it off - it's about him as a person. Paul Newman brilliantly tackles the character and truly brings him to life. This is one very well-done movie. 4 stars.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Meet the Robinsons (2007)

This is one of the best kids' movies in awhile. Refreshingly original, incredibly funny, and sweetly touching. I enjoyed every minute of it. It may have some moments that are a little difficult for younger kids to understand, but should be able to be clarified pretty quickly. Definitely a quality movie. 4 stars.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The General (1926)

I know this is one of the most critically acclaimed silent comedies in existence, but I personally thought it was far less funny than the first Buster Keaton movie I saw, "Sherlock Jr." The gags were good, but there was a lot of plot clogging it all up. However, it must have done its job thoroughly for everyone who isn't me -- my little brothers have all pronounced it to be one of their favorite movies. Still a very good movie... I just was disappointed, having such high expectations of it. 3.5 stars.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Multiplicity (1996)

A totally funny, inoffensive little comedy. Michael Keaton portrays his four various characters without going over-the-top with any of them. Well, okay, possibly with the last one. But that was all right. Andie MacDowell is always a thoroughly unlikeable heroine, but she is not the central character throughout this so can be easily tolerated. This is not a modern classic by any means, but not bad for a little bit of fluff. 3 stars.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mean Streets (1973)

The fact that it took me six viewings to get through this movie says a lot about how intrigued I was by this movie. I don't see anything to distinguish it from any of the other "Yes, the streets are cruel" movies released in the same decade. 2 stars.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Zelig (1983)

This has very little of the humor I'm so drawn to in Woody Allen films, but manages to weave an interesting story. It's the earliest mockumentary I've ever seen (were there others before this? It was definitely before Spinal Tap). Its ability to mesh current and vintage footage was also fascinating... Forrest Gump did the same thing, but eleven years later. Although the story and ending point itself was less interesting than some of Allen's other flicks, it's still enjoyable, and is worth watching for the movie history reasons as well. Very innovative. 3.5 stars.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Gone with the Wind (1939)

This epic romance is considered a classic, and while it certainly does tell a good story, I didn't really enjoy it very much. Mostly because Scarlett is an obnoxious character. I didn't *want* to see her happy. I wanted to see her get her comeuppance. Although there was a little bit of that at the end, there wasn't nearly enough for me to feel satisfied after four hours' worth of movie. Vivien Leigh portrays it brilliantly, however, and I can certainly see why so many people like it. There's a lot to enjoy here... if the character doesn't get in the way. 3 stars.

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

Orson Welles was a masterful filmmaker, and here he unravels the end of a family's story. (This was an incredibly interesting accompaniment to "Gone With the Wind," which I watched this same week and had many similar elements.) However, the ending seemed awkward and abrupt. After a bit of research, I discovered the studio had been unhappy with Welles' version, which had a very dark ending, so they cut over half an hour of the movie and tacked on a happy ending while Welles was out of the country. The removed footage was later destroyed. I only wish I could have seen Welles' original version, as the ending for this certainly didn't seem to fit, and I can only imagine how much more powerful the movie would have been had it been allowed to continue on the same track it started on. 3.5 stars.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Be Kind Rewind (2008)

This movie starts off with an unbelievable, but very funny, premise... That two incompetent rental store workers have to reenact and rerecord the movies on their shelves after one of them inadvertently erases them all. And the middle part of the movie is actually about that, and is funny. However, the joke can only be carried so far, and soon we've wandered off into the fate of the video rental store and the creation of a movie production studio and all these things I didn't really care about. I just wanted to see these two try to get away with continually filming their own stuff. The movie was quirky enough it could have worked. So the middle 45 minutes or so were hilarious. The beginning 30 are slow to get moving, and the final hour is so boring (and confusing) it's barely worth watching. So rent it, assume it's a short movie, and skip the first several scenes. Pick up with when they go to sabotage the plant. And watch until Fletcher gets back. Yup. That's all the good parts right there. 3 stars.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Love Me Tonight (1932)

As far as musicals go, there are many that are far better. As far as romantic comedies go, there are many that are far better. The characters are completely unbelievable, and make every serious decision of their lives on a spur-of-the-moment whim. I kept wondering whether this was not meant as an ACTUAL romantic comedy, but a spoof. But if it's spoofy, it's also not great, because there aren't enough pokes at the actual genre... There are a few good songs in here, but they can't save the rest of this nonsense. One of the best musicals ever made? I beg to differ. 2.5 stars.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cassandra's Dream (2007)

As I'm sure you know if you read any of my reviews (or know me at all), Woody Allen is one of my very favorite writer/directors. This is possibly the darkest and bleakest of his dark and bleak films. It's being compared to Match Point and Crimes and Misdemeanors, but even those felt more hopeful because they conveyed a sense of meaning. Here, the setup is created to do the same thing, but the whole thing ends up just feeling like a melodramatic tragedy, where all the bad things happen for apparently no reason. The meaning and reason is in this movie, but it's unraveled a bit too early, and by the time the end rolls around, the earlier thoughts are forgotten. The last half of this movie feels like it's missing a scene, although I'm not sure what that scene would consist of. However, great acting from McGregor and Farrell, and the dialogue is brilliant, as is the case with all Allen's films. If you're a fan of his, check this one out (if only for the rare fact that the two leads are both males and there's little to no important romantic plot points). But if you just want to see one of his dark films, I suggest the aforementioned Crimes and Misdemeanors, then follow it up with Match Point. 3 stars.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Philadelphia (1993)

The story is a compelling one. The courtroom scenes are gripping. The camera angles work with the story in unusual ways. The two leads are both incredibly strong actors who turn in great performances here. And yet something is still missing. There are moments of incredible cheese and awkwardness.

The scene where Tom Hanks' character is explaining the Italian aria is one of the strangest I have ever seen. The only reason it works at all is because Tom Hanks is a strong enough actor to carry it off. I love the idea of the scene -- a person facing death faces his fear by immersing himself in music. But something went deeply wrong with it, and from then on in the film, I was suspicious of any dramatically "significant" or touching moments. 3.5 stars.

Fame (1980)

A compelling, although flawed, look at several teens involved in a performing arts high school. The movie creates a short-epic feel as it follows a group of students from their auditions up to their graduation. We see glimpses of their lives, their problems, their attempts to break into show business... and although none of the stories really receive much closure, there are some where closure of *some* sort was much needed. However, the characters ring true, which makes the story work as a whole. 4 stars.

Juno (2007)

I'm slightly annoyed by the quirky independent comedy/drama films that appear to be all the rage these days, but I loved Little Miss Sunshine and decided to try this. I was not disappointed. Juno is a great character, reminding me of myself in some ways but very distinct in others. There's no excess drama in this movie, nothing that makes me roll my eyes and think, "Oh, please." It's a quiet, pleasant comedy drama that brings some interesting characters to the screen. 4 stars.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bee Movie (2007)

This is one case where the trailers are FAR less interesting than the actual movie. The trailer made this look stupid, just another failed DreamWorks attempt to create a decent cartoon. The movie itself, however, was surprisingly funny, poking fun at courtroom dramas and heist movies, among other things. DreamWorks' chief problem has always been that they depend on pop culture references for their humor. The few movies they've done outside of that have been quite good. This one doesn't *quite* escape the pop culture madness, but it comes very close. 4 stars.

Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

Ah, Woody Allen movies, how I have missed you this past year! This is not Allen's best movie. The plot is convoluted and it treads an awkward line between comedy and mystery/drama. In the end, however, it finds its bearings and winds up with a thoroughly satisfactory conclusion. Diane Keaton does an especially good job playing the wife caught up in the intrigue. A very light film for very light viewing, but entertaining. 3.5 stars.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

In the movie, Tom Ripley describes himself as being locked in a dark basement with all his secrets and hidden demons. Here we get a glimpse into his life, and know that we've only scratched the surface of seeing his basement of secrets. Matt Damon turns in a stellar performance as he works carefully to keep the framework of his created reality in place, even as character after character appears to see through his charade. The ending is not unexpected but impacted me emotionally in a way I hadn't anticipated. Fascinating movie, although it moves slowly. 4 stars.

Monday, August 18, 2008

10,000 B.C. (2008)

Plot: A prehistoric epic that follows a young mammoth hunter's journey through uncharted territory to secure the future of his tribe.

I have pretty much no reaction to this film. That's how interesting it was. There was nothing that made this film stand out against others in its genre or style. Nice try, but nothing really came out of this. 2.5 stars.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)

I liked this movie better than the first Narnia movie (which really isn't saying much, since I don't care for the Narnia stories as a whole... just not a fantasy lover). The quality seems smoother and I found less to nitpick. I didn't care for what they did with the character of Reepicheep... He's just not a snarky wisecracking character. He takes everything super seriously. And some of that was lost in the movie. Also, Susan's character was weirdified, to use the scientific terminology. However, if you liked the first movie, you should like this one a lot as well. I'm just looking forward to The Silver Chair. That was my favorite of the book series. 3 stars.

Hangman's Curse (2003)

So I'm a fan of the book. The movie did a pretty good job of transferring the fairly suspenseful story and the characters. My only complaint was the insertion of Frank Peretti. The man can write, but he is not much of an actor. He overacted his character with an enthusiasm that mostly just left me baffled rather than smiling pleasantly at the character. Ugh. But as a whole, not too terrible for a Christian film. It even has fairly decent production quality. Probably worth watching if you like thrillers. (Wow, listen to my completely not-complimentary compliments of this movie...) 3.5 stars.

Flywheel (2003)

STOP RATING THIS MOVIE SO HIGHLY! All right. It had a good heart behind it, it really did. And the story itself isn't too bad. But the script is badly written, the acting is terrible, and the production quality is just all-around low. I'm glad that some of this got fixed in Facing the Giants, and I can only hope that their next movie will be even better so that I can stop having sloppy movies representing my beliefs. 2 stars.

WALL·E (2008)

This was nearly a brilliant movie. It came so close! The first half of it was absolutely enthralling, all without anyone saying a complete sentence. And who says silent movies can't be entertaining? However, I was much less interested once the humans showed up in the plot. I had come to love Wall-E and his quiet world, and to suddenly interrupt it with the humans and their thoughts seemed almost... vulgar. Which, I suppose, might have been the idea. But my overall reaction was that I loved, loved, loved the first half of it and only mildly loved the second half. It averages out to about four stars. Still definitely worth seeing. And the opening short is one of the best Pixar's ever done. 4 stars.

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Well, it was the most watchable of the three new ones, although that says very little. Anakin's transition to Vader seemed very unbelievable to me. Although movies like this can be done well, this one just seemed fake and silly. However, there were some good action sequences and lightsaber battles, so it wasn't a complete loss. 3 stars.

Kung Fu Panda (2008)

I've certainly seen worse children's movies. This had some very clever plays on the martial arts genre, as well as some not-so-clever ones... and the ending "twist" was complete nonsense. But very seldom was I annoyed with it, which is a huge step in an animated children's movie. Not a great movie (you're still better off renting something from Pixar) but not an awful one either. 3 stars.

Kung Fu Panda (2008)

I've certainly seen worse children's movies. This had some very clever plays on the martial arts genre, as well as some not-so-clever ones... and the ending "twist" was complete nonsense. But very seldom was I annoyed with it, which is a huge step in an animated children's movie. Not a great movie (you're still better off renting something from Pixar) but not an awful one either. 3 stars.

Wild Hogs (2007)

I wouldn't have watched this on my own, but I watched it with a group of friends, and a few minutes into the movie I decided it was worth seeing. The cast is a strange mix, but they combine to create a memorable cast of characters. The dialogue is clever and entertaining, and although the plot is silly, it works for the movie. Definitely a lot of fun and worth the watch. 3.5 stars.

Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)

Why, yes, I got to see this. And in 3-D, no less. Oooh ooh. Okay, basically, this movie wasn't annoying so much as it was just silly. Talk about suspension of disbelief. Everything was done with a subtle breaking of the fourth wall to try and make us laugh at how silly the plotline is... a style I don't care for in most movies, and certainly not in this one. However, plot aside, there were some fun adventure moments. I could see my little brothers really liking it. But to anyone who's not a ten-year-old boy, this movie really doesn't have much to offer. 2 stars.

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Oh, my gosh. The world is clearly at an end. Adam Sandler made a movie that didn't make me want to punch him in the face. Who knew this was even possible? But, no, this was actually a very entertaining movie. Adam Sandler's character actually seemed to have a soul in this movie. Although the movie as a whole was a little too disjointed-indie-movie, the characters were watchable and the story pleasant. Odd movie, but worth seeing. 3.5 stars.

Deceiver (1997)

This movie tries to be a shocking mind-bending thriller, but all the twists simply make the movie convoluted without any clear resolution. The ending brings confusion rather than a moment of, "Wow, I didn't see that coming!" Several of the plot points seem contrived, although this may have been deliberate in showing the unbelievable deceptions that the two key characters try to pass off to each other. Tim Roth delivers a magnificent performance, however, and the movie is possibly worth watching just for him. 3 stars.

Down with Love (2003)

Seldom have I seen a movie that tried so hard and came so close. Ewan McGregor and Renee Zelleweger portray very likeable and entertaining characters who you actually *want* to end up with each other. However, those performances can't make up for the abysmal script and nonsensical plot. Perhaps it was meant as a tribute to old screwball comedies, but while those were able to take these stories and somehow make them seem like the most natural thing in the world, Down With Love makes it clear that the screenwriters were struggling to tie it all together. If only these same two characters, played by the same two actors (throwing in David Hyde Pierce and Sarah Paulson in their respective parts) could have been placed in a different movie... 2.5 stars.

Sling Blade (1996)

This very touching drama may be slow-moving, but it draws a fascinating character for us and lets us see his world... Billy Bob Thornton not only plays this character but also wrote and directed him, and all that work pays off. Thornton's so immersed in the character that he easily pulls you into the rest of the movie as well. Definitely worth watching. 4 stars.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Man With a Movie Camera (1929)

Wow. This was one bizarre movie. I know I couldn't actually recommend it to anyone, but it was strangely compelling. Truly an experimental film, without plots, actors, or dialogue. Just a long series of quick shots of various people... for an hour. Some of the shots seemed to tell a story, others only giving us a snippet of these people's lives. Although I couldn't say I enjoyed it in any real sense of the word, I found it a fascinating watch. One of the most unique movies I've seen thus far in my film class. 3 stars.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Flubber (1997)

Oy vey. I didn't even care for the original movie, but it was significantly better than this. The flubber is intelligent? This guy has created all sorts of amazing inventions, like a sentient robot, and yet his college is still struggling to make any money? This movie is just nonsense. The thin plot becomes even thinner, the jokes are bland, and what the HECK is up with the robot suffering from unrequited love? Were people just sitting around saying, "You know what would be completely idiotic and random if we put it in the movie? LET'S DO IT!" Sigh. Don't bother with this. 1 star.

Horton Hears a Who! (2008)

This is actually a very good movie. Despite whatever political connotations you want to draw from it (I found it fascinatingly faith-based, but I've heard others draw other conclusions), it's just a solidly good story about valuing people. It's got some very good laughs... as well as a few that didn't quite make it, but came close. Steve Carell does a great job as the mayor, while Jim Carrey is good but occasionally over-the-top (of course) as Horton. This is the first good kids' movie I've seen in awhile... Thank goodness for Hollywood occasionally getting it right! 4 stars.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Calamity Jane (1953)

I am clearly musical-starved, because I enjoyed this far more than I should have. Heh. It's your typical 1950s musical. (Bears an uncanny resemblance to Annie Get Your Gun.) The songs are fun but not spectacular or very memorable. Overall, one of those movies that gets lost among all the dozens of others just exactly like it. 2.5 stars.

Enchanted (2007)

This was disappointing... It's got a great premise and a good cast, so it should have been much better than it was. I think the main problem was they tried to cloud it with too many side characters and too much extra plot. I was really only interested in the part of the story featuring Giselle and her prince... The evil queen and her minion's entrances into New York just seemed unnecessary. And the final ending scene went on FAR too long. But these moments didn't completely overshadow the rest of the movie, which was really enjoyable, so I'll give it 3 1/2.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Ultimate Gift (2006)

This movie had some potential... and, surprisingly, it was Abigail Breslin's character that killed most of it. Well, that and bad writing. It may not have been Abigail's fault - after all, she was fantastic in Little Miss Sunshine. But she was far, far too cutesy and precocious here. Her dialogue was clearly written by someone who hasn't talked to a kid since they were one. That in itself killed the movie. The predictable ending and cheesy lines only helped a little bit. 2.5 stars.

Facing the Giants (2006)

This wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I was dreading watching this movie, but it actually turned out to be quite watchable. The Christian message was there but it didn't feel like a "propaganda movie" in the least, and it actually did have a few very stirring moments. (The scene where Brock was crawling across the football field comes to mind - that was as powerful as anything in a mainstream sports movie.) It's still an inspirational sports movie, and the acting is pretty wooden, but I truly was surprised by it. For once in a while, a football movie that claims not to be about football... really *isn't*. Let's just hope that we can churn out Christian movies that make this much money but are higher quality. 3 stars.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

Plot: A remake of the classic Shakespare play "The Taming of the Shrew.", set in a modern day highschool.

As far as teen romantic comedies go, this one's pretty solid, with only a few minor bumps to keep it from being a good movie. (The moment that inspires the film's title being one of them.) The characters are overall pretty likeable, or at least relateable. Not a fantastic movie, but pretty decent for the genre. 3.5 stars.

Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007)

I am under no circumstances going to claim this is a good movie. It's cheesy, the jokes are predictable, the plot becomes totally moronic after the first half hour... but the chipmunks are mildly adorable. And I was in a good mood when I went to see it. So I enjoyed it... but I won't recommend it at all. 2 stars.

The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)

Although there were moments that it dragged somewhat, it was overall a very interesting movie. Surprisingly intense. 3.5 stars.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)

If you liked the first one, you'll like this one. There's not a whole lot of difference between the two, except this one is a bit sillier. 2.5 stars.

Shrek the Third (2007)

Although this did have a few moments that made me laugh, it was overall quite a disappointment. Too much time spent trying to cram in all the different fairy tale ideas, not enough spent on actual character development. The first Shrek remains the best one. 3 stars.