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.