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.