Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cruel Intentions (1999)

This is an impossible movie to do with teenage characters. There's a sophisticated (albeit perverse) edge to all these sexual hijinks, and high school and college students just don't seem to fit in. Sebastian and Kathryn are too grown-up, too coolly aware of the damage they are causing. There are no simmering hormonal emotions. This was a nice attempt at translating a very adult story into a high school flick, but it fails to be convincing, especially in its awkward ending, which tries to fit this movie into a very different genre. Sarah MIchelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe do their best with this material and ALMOST pull it off, but they're trapped having to play a character that simply shouldn't be the age they're supposed to play. I'm interested now in seeing Dangerous Liaisons - with an adult cast, this could be rather intriguing. With this younger cast, it comes off as just a series of sex scenes with some dramatic music in between. Nice try, but not nearly good enough. 2 stars.

American Psycho (2000)

I've been a fan of Christian Bale's work for a long time, whether he was singing and dancing on the streets of New York or saving Gotham City from Heath Ledger. This is by far his most impressive role. He is *fascinating* as Patrick Bateman. I have now tried three or four times to put in writing what I liked so much about his performance and I haven't figured out how to say it yet. He is unreadable. He is unpredictable. In one of the final scenes, I found myself saying out loud, "He's crazy. He is literally insane." I'm pretty sure I have never been so convinced by someone in that kind of insane role. Not a lot of people can be that captivating in ANY role. The movie would be a very, very different one without him in it.

As far as the movie as a whole goes, it's intriguing and surprising and sometimes darkly hilarious. (The first death in the apartment made me laugh out loud.) I have never read the book, but much of the screenplay for this movie *felt* like book dialogue. It was superbly written. It could have delved too deeply into Bateman's mind or left us with nothing known about him at all, and it struck a beautiful balance.

I enjoyed this movie FAR more than I thought I would when I first began watching it. I'd watch it again someday. Honestly, Christian Bale is too interesting in this film NOT to watch it again. 4 stars.

Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (2008)

As a fan of the original book series, I was extremely disappointed by this. Part of the charm of the books is that they DON'T neatly come together at the end and teach lessons and have characters grow. There's something very satisfying about knowing that whether I pick up book six or book one, Georgia will still be self-absorbed, annoyed with her parents, pushy with Jas, and prone to end up in hilariously awkward situations. She's NOT a terribly pleasant character, though, and this was clearly unsuitable for the audience they needed here, so they softened her up, gave her a happier relationship with parents, and ended it all in an odd, sappy sequence that very much belonged in another movie. This took away everything I loved about the books and made it just like every other cutesy teenage story. Very disappointing, considering what hilarious source material they had to work with. 2.5 stars.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

About 20 minutes into the movie, I wasn't sure whether to be repulsed or amused by it. It walks a very fine line between creepy and hilarious, and, surprisingly, ends up being sweet. Ryan Gosling is the glue that holds this movie together. He doesn't milk his role for either laughs or sentimentality. He simply plays him as is. While overall the film was too unevenly paced for me to love it or want to watch it again, it ended up being very satisfying. Not at all what I thought it would be... but good nonetheless. 4 stars.

Son of Rambow (2007)

This movie has huge spurts of imagination that it sometimes doesn't COMPLETELY follow through on, and some of the characters are a bit inconsistent, but that doesn't stop the movie from being completely charming. The characters are likeable, and the ending is thoroughly satisfying. No huge surprises here as to where it's going, but it's a joy getting there. 3.5 stars.

August Rush (2007)

I should definitely not have waited as long as I did to see this. The usually-annoying Freddie Highmore is very believable and ever so sincere in his role as a young child looking for his parents. But where this movie stands out in showing us the pure delight he has in discovering this new world of music. In an absolutely enthralling scene where he comes to New York City for the first time, he stands on a park fountain and hears all the potential music around him, in cars honking, birds squawking, tires squealing... He gets lost in the music and rhythm and begins to intently conduct the symphony in his head, focusing on all the beauty he can hear around him. Movies about prodigies are frequently a stretch of the imagination, but here it doesn't even matter because the fantastical tone of the movie leads us into a world where anything is possible - even his music bringing his parents back to him. Beautiful film. 4 stars.

Mockingbird Don't Sing (2001)

Where this movie succeeds, it does it mostly by accident. The source material itself is an incredibly compelling story, and Tarra Steele is rather amazing as Katie. However, everything around her seems to play out like an absurd melodrama, and a preachy one at that. The adult actors mostly seem to be sleepwalking through their roles, which is extremely disappointing, because some quality acting could have made a huge difference in this.

It's very difficult to portray atrocities like this seriously on the screen without verging over into melodrama, and, unfortunately, this doesn't quite make the cut. The ultra-religious foster home may very well have been like that in real life, but on the screen it translates into a darkly comedic stereotype, and it was only through suspending disbelief to a ridiculous level that I could make it through those scenes without laughing.

This movie COULD have been excellent. Unfortunately, the acting and writing was not up to the challenge of adapting the material they had. 2.5 stars.

Julie & Julia (2009)

This film version of two separate memoirs is charming, interesting, and perfectly cast. Meryl Streep is brilliant as Julia Child, and Amy Adams is always likable as Julie Powell, who attempts to cook her way through Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in a year. It's pretty much exactly what it promises - sweet and fun as it follows both women's triumphs in their personal endeavors. 4 stars.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Whatever Works (2009)

Wow. I think Woody Allen was really angry when he wrote this screenplay. His characters are usually cynical and pretty pretentious, but Boris, his main character here, is clearly also angry at everyone in the world, and wants to make everyone else he meets angry at the world too. Because of how thoroughly unpleasant his character was, I had great trouble enjoying Allen's witty dialogue as much as I usually do. Evan Rachel Wood is completely charming in her role, however, and makes this otherwise very disappointing movie worth watching. Not Allen's best effort. 2.5 stars.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I Love You, Man (2009)

Paul Rudd and Jason Segel play awesomely off each other in the best male-bonding movie I've ever seen. It's funny, honest and charming. Had me laughing out loud quite a few times, and it managed to be a silly guy comedy without making the main characters either stupid or jerks. Although there were also a few moments that didn't work at all, for the most part it was thoroughly enjoyable. Much better than I had anticipated. 4 stars.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Munich (2005)

This is one of those movies I could admire, but not enjoy. I was impressed with Eric Bana in this role - he carried the weight of his position in the story very well. The movie as a whole was well-crafted, but the emotional investment didn't really last as the film credits rolled. I found it easy to detach from and observe very objectively. One or two nice scenes kept my interest for the most part, but at no point did I feel much concern or care for this character or his dilemma. In fact, I can't at this moment remember exactly what happened in it.

This genre of movie tends to lose my interest fast, and, unfortunately, Munich did not do quite enough to hold it. 3 stars.

No Reservations (2007)

I expected much more than I got here with this cast. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, and Abigail Breslin? Those are all very good actors. And yet, in the end, they all let me down. Aaron Eckhart is completely bland, with no defining characteristics other than "carefree and exactly what the main girl needs". Catherine Zeta-Jones plays the stereotyped cold-hearted businesswoman. Abigail Breslin is the way-too-precocious child that brings them together. Somewhere along the way, cooking's involved, but we don't really care about that either. There's no creativity, no surprises, no charisma, no nothing that makes this movie stand out. (If I were a real movie critic I'd be connecting all those "no"s to the title of this movie. But I'm not.) Even as far as romantic comedies go, this one is unmemorable. 2 stars.

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

This movie has made me change my mind about Hilary Swank. I was unimpressed with her acting abilities up until this point and considered her capable but far from stellar. But in this movie she so fully captures her character and made her a joy to watch. I loved watching her climb to the top of her game. I don't even like boxing movies, but I enjoyed this one.

(Some spoilers ahead.) Then the big accident happens, and the momentum of the movie takes a HUGE turn. We're given no hint that this is where it's heading (unless we already know the general plot of the movie, which I did) and the sudden switch of atmosphere is a little bit disconcerting, although probably an accurate emotional track to take us on. The pacing is also slightly off at the end. Clint Eastwood's decision seems to be made too quickly. I saw him wrestling with it but never felt that he came to a conclusion, until suddenly the job was done and he left. (Spoilers end.)

Overall, the movie is very well-crafted, and deserved most of its acclamations. I just wonder how I would have taken it had I not known the overall arc of the story. And the best thing about this movie is Hilary Swank's performance. The rest is excellent, but she rises above and beyond. 3.5 stars.

Star Trek (2009)

Nobody thought a Star Trek reboot would work, even those who already liked J. J. Abrams. You can reboot Bond, Superman, or Batman... But the Star Trek characters were forever solidified in the original actors' performances. And yet it somehow was a very good movie. It remains faithful to the original (although - spoilers - it doesn't have to now that they're apparently all set in a parallel universe, so we'll see how THAT works out). At the same time, it's very mainstream and very accessible to even those who aren't familiar with the Star Trek universe. Good action sequences, good character-driven moments, and the casting is excellent. Simon Pegg as Scotty was the highlight, but every one of them does a good job in their roles. Overall, a very good addition to the series. 4 stars.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Disney hasn't had a decent traditionally animated movie since The Emperor's New Groove in 1999. It's been a flurry of straight-to-DVD sequels, as well as the odd original movie nobody saw (*cough* Home on the Range *cough*). This movie has a few rough moments, an occasional joke that broke the movie. Disney has always excelled, however, at telling a story rather than just tossing wisecracks into the mouths of anthropomorphic animals, and here the story comes through loud and clear. Although none of the songs are phenomenal, they all add something to the movie's atmosphere and work well.

This movie doesn't stand out as anything special, and is certainly not going to go down in the annals of history as anything spectacular, but it is a step up for Disney. We'll have to see where it goes from here. 3.5 stars.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Crumb (1994)

This is the true story of a truly broken artist. He is the most functional of his family, the rest of which seems to be holding on to sanity by a thread. This documentary is enlightening but at the same time terrifying. The man is incredibly talented but has an intense disdain for humanity and sets out to isolate himself from everything and everyone he does not approve of. This bleeds through into his comics, which are funny and dark and controversial.

This movie is a difficult one to watch. He and his family are painful to listen to. He himself has a perpetual nervous, awkward smile on his face, laughing at the most inappropriate moments in his brothers' interviews as they talk candidly about wanting to kill each other and molesting women on the street. If you want a fascinating insight into the mind of... well, something of a mad genius, this is worth watching. As far as I'm concerned, it is too painfully awkward for me to ever want to watch again. And I'd be very careful who I recommended it to. 3 stars.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Fisher King (1991)

This is wild, magnificent, superb, extravagant... I can't even think of enough adjectives to describe this movie. It's in some ways a movie very grounded in realism, with a very funny, very identifiable story of loss and trying to get back on your feet... and then it spins off into this beautiful fantasy realm where dragons roam the land and Grand Central Station is turned into a giant ballroom (in one of my new favorite movie scenes of ALL TIME). It is beautiful. It is stunning. It is moving. It is hilarious. It is most definitely worth watching. 4.5 stars.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

This was more focused on relationships than I expected, and less focused on the story of how the guy managed to get away with this for so many years. It's a fascinating story, though, and an amazing character study of one of the most daring, luckiest criminals in history. DiCaprio is excellent in his role here - flexible, charming, believable, but tiring quickly of life on the run. The opening credits set the tone for this almost-whimsical story that is very close to the true story of Abagnale. Definitely one to watch. 4 stars.

Monsters vs Aliens (2009)

Dreamworks is stepping up its game. (Is that the right metaphor?) As opposed to derivative, sloppy movies like Antz, Shark Tale, or Chicken Little, their last few have been relatively original and well-written. Monsters and Aliens is no masterpiece, but it does hold some genuine laughs and very few cringe-worthy moments. Plus it brings together some of my favorite voice actors as well as people who I've always said should do more voice work - listen to hear Will Arnett, Hugh Laurie, & Rainn Wilson's work - they're all fabulous! 3.5 stars.

The Proposal (2009I)

I couldn't suspend my disbelief NEARLY enough to buy all the contrived storylines in this movie. Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock try the best with what they've got and manage to make their characters likable... Unfortunately, they're just saddled with a ridiculous script that goes out of its way to think of the most unbelievably awkward moments possible for this already unlikely situation. None of it progresses as it should, and they're stuck going from plot point to plot point and attempting to make sense of it all in between. The in-between moments ring true, actually... Small conversations between the two of them are sincere and genuine. But all the "funny" moments of the film are overplotted... which definitely detracts. 2.5 stars.

The Cheap Detective (1978)

It doesn't speak well for this movie that an hour after I saw it, I can barely remember what happened in it. Neil Simon's dialogue is best suited to real characters with real personalities... in spoof, it becomes oddly larger-than-life. This movie seems so determined to be funny that it forgets to actually BE funny. It attempts too many take-offs on specific movies, rather than overall cliches and stereotypes, and just leads to silliness. And not the good kind. More looks of disdain than laughs here. Very disappointing. 2 stars.

Coraline (2009)

This is an extremely original, extremely well-crafted movie... But I didn't enjoy it. It's simply too eerie. The button-eyed parents gave me an extremely squicky feeling right from the very start, and the ghost children absolutely terrified me. I do like scary movies, but I like ones where at the end I feel like I've come back to safety, or at least stability. Coraline left me feeling unstable and nervous long after the film ended. 3 stars.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

This movie is such complete nonsense. It makes pretty good viewing if you're making fun of it with a friend, but as far as actual quality of movie goes... well, there isn't any. Also, be forewarned: At no point does any conquering actually happen during this movie. I know I, for one, was quite disappointed by that. 0.5 stars.

Stand by Me (1986)

This is a superbly crafted movie. The boys in this movie seem so familiar. They think and act and react like young boys. The dialogue is natural and familiar and instantly relatable, as are the characters. All these young actors do an excellent job in their roles. I found myself caring deeply for these children... As the credits rolled, I took a moment to just lie back and enjoy what I'd just seen. An excellent coming-of-age movie that's truly heartwarming and charming. 4 stars.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966)

This is far from Sondheim's best musical. His lyrics hadn't really settled into themselves yet, and musically here he suffers from Cole Porter Syndrome, where each of his songs has exactly 1 tune that is repeated 15,000 times, with cleverly-rhymed verses for each one... but it just goes on far too long without any substance. The visual choices for the songs were also very unpleasant - rapid montage sequences that are just very distracting.

The story itself occasionally goes overboard on the slapstick, but I would still infinitely rather watch something like this than any of the period comedies written today which feature pop culture jokes that will be outdated in 2 years. It's not perfect, by any means, but I mostly enjoyed it. Zero Mostel was occasionally over-the-top but always entertaining. 3.5 stars.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Start the Revolution Without Me (1970)

There is, unfortunately, not a lot in this comedy that's funny. Gene Wilder is a hilarious actor and can make most things funny just by saying them, but Donald Sutherland never seemed to quite catch up. Most of the gags went on far too long and weren't that funny to begin with, and all the possible humor that could be taken from the setup didn't even really come into play until the end. They were too busy making sexual jokes about the queen to really make any of the humor stick. Too bad... I was hoping I would enjoy this much more. 2.5 stars.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sita Sings the Blues (2008)

One of the most strikingly original movies I have ever seen in my life. I was enthralled the entire way through. I laughed out loud, I cried a little, I was entranced by the visuals and thoroughly enjoyed the songs. I'm so glad that this movie is freely available for everyone to see - it's not going to be enjoyed by everyone, but this way anyone who's interested is able to see it. I don't say this often, but I would definitely watch it again. One of the best I've seen this year. 4.5 stars.

Star Spangled Girl (1971)

Something about Neil Simon's work is very special to me. I haven't yet seen a Neil Simon play I didn't like. This isn't one of his more well-known plays, but it was one of my very favorites in a collection I read this past year. The cast in this movie are all superb, embodying their characters perfectly and delivering Simon's brilliant dialogue with their own comedic timing. Aside from a few awkward in-between montage sequences (primarily the ones not taken directly from Simon's script), this movie flows beautifully from beginning to end, and had me laughing and smiling the entire time. And somehow it all manages not to be too sentimental, or at least to play around with stereotypical sentimentality. When Tony Roberts rushes to catch Sandy Duncan's bus and is chasing after it on his bike, his final cry to her is not the anticipated "I love you," but the briliant, "I like the way you smell." Great stuff. 4.5 stars.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fame (2009)

This movie fails on one very important point: It is a *terrible* movie about performing arts. While this would be very acceptable in a High School Musical movie, about a group of students at a local high school doing a high school show, it is completely out of place here in this movie. Am I supposed to believe that these students were accepted into a prestigious performing arts school in the country when most of them are distinctly mediocre at their performing talents? It's all Disneyfied and dumbed down and (I'm going to say it at the risk of sounding like a music snob) not enough "real" music. I *like* Disney channel music... but I don't like it in the middle of my attempted serious musicals. The original Fame had its failings, but at least it was, for the most part, about real performers. I miss the nobility in it. Camp was a horrible movie, but it was about people who cared passionately about performing and about musicals and knew what they were talking about. This is about performers in some alternate world, or possibly one in the all-too-near future, where the goal of performing seems to be to get a record deal or a role on a TV show. There aren't enough performance snobs in this movie.

As a result of this, the actual musical performances are nothing different than what you would see in a typical music video or Disney made-for-TV movie. The final graduation scene could have come right out of High School Musical. The only good musical scene is stolen straight from the original Fame movie - the song "Out Here On My Own" sung passionately in an empty auditorium. Now THAT is beautiful. Everything else is auto-tuned to perfection and leaves me glad I was never a part of that school.

Also, they set up about 10 characters we were supposed to know and love but ignored all but 3 of them. They really should play fair with that. 1.5 stars.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)

Mel Brooks movies are so hit-or-miss with me. Young Frankenstein is pretty funny, The Producers is hilarious, and Spaceballs is horrible. This one lies somewhere in between. There are a few truly hilarious moments (the staff fight is brilliant) and then some that just made me stare at the TV with a very displeased look on my face. I think parody is funniest in general when it finds the humor already imbedded in the situation. So, in this movie... blind guy vehemently fighting a pole in the castle? Funny. Blind guy reading Braille-raised Playboy? Not funny in this movie, because it doesn't fit into the context and tone of the movie. So there are moments where Brooks gets it just perfect, and others where he really messes it up and just left me rolling my eyes. So... medium rating for a very unevenly funny movie. 3 stars.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Breaking Away (1979)

An absolutely charming coming-of-age story set in the middle of Indiana. The characters are quirky, but not independent-movie quirky, quirky like real people. One young man is going through a phase where he's really into Italy and its culture, so he listens to opera and goes around speaking in an Italian accent. We can all look at him and remember times when we were so immersed in a culture we wanted to emulate it, even if it didn't make much sense. The characters are likable, easy to relate to, and delightful to watch. Very satisfying. 4 stars.

The Children's Hour (1961)

What is so impressive on page or stage can come across very different in movie form. Here, Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn turn in performances that would be much more impressive in a theater than they are on screen. With the cameras inches away from their faces, it's hard to take their contorted facial expressions quite as seriously, and every aspect of the films walks a very, very thin line between serious storytelling and campy melodrama. The script remains impressive, and Hepburn and MacLaine are talented actresses... This was just too awkward a medium in which to tell this story. Disappointing. 2.5 stars.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)

Woody Allen's very first film. Ah. It's not a perfect one, by any means, but it does have some absolutely wonderful moments. It's much more similar to an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 than to any of Allen's later efforts. Although parts of it are disjointed, there are enough good laughs to save the film. I definitely laughed out loud several times. Most worth seeing if you're already a Woody Allen fan. Or an MST3K fan. 3.5 stars.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

P.S. I Love You (2007)

It is a shame that such potentially interesting characterization was wasted on this plot and butchered by some good actors. Hilary Swank's character is awkward and rigid and difficult - as people are in real life, not as they are in the movies. The filmmakers can't decide whether this is a flaw to be overcome or an endearing quirk, and neither can Swank, so it's all very disjointed. The plot is unbelievably contrived, to the point where its only hope is in its characters...who are mostly all either destroyed by their actors (as is the case with Gerard Butler - who I continue to have not much respect for - and Swank), or destroyed by both the actors and the characters themselves (Lisa Kudrow - I haven't seen a character that stilted and irritating in a very long time). Harry Connick Jr's character is the one who stands out, played intelligently and scripted well. I would have liked to see more of him and less of... well, everyone else.

The only really effective scene is the flashback scene to where Swank and Butler first met. In a movie full of false emotions, false dialogue, and false situations, that one somehow rings true. If that were a short by itself, I would watch it. But this movie? Nope. A definite waste of some good talent. 1 star.

(Also, I am shocked that Sherie Rene Scott was in this movie and I didn't recognize her. I'm so sorry, Sherie!)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Paper Moon (1973)

The interaction between Tatum and Ryan O'Neal is the heart of this movie. The plot and dialogue and side characters are all capable, but what makes this movie stand out is the chemistry between the real-life father/daughter acting pair. Without that casting, the movie would have faded into obscurity for me, but as it is, it's well worth watching just to see the two of them play off each other. 3.5 stars.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Wrestler (2008)

An extremely poignant look at the life of a professional wrestler as is forced to retire from wrestling. Mickey Rourke is brilliant, Darren Aronofsky's directing is stunning, Marisa Tomei is charming, and even the bland Evan Rachel Wood strikes the right chord as Rourke's bitter daughter. It's one of those movies that make you feel like you just watched a reality show (that was actual reality). Excellent. The final minute of the film is simply brilliant. 4 stars.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Primal Fear (1996)

(MAJOR SPOILERS) Edward Norton is excellent in this courtroom drama/psychological thriller. However, I was extremely disappointed by the ending. I'm always on the look for movies that tell the truth about multiple personalities, and this appeared to be, for the most part, accurate. And then they decide to make it all fake? There's something unfair about that. It was a very good courtroom drama up until that point, when they decided they needed a sudden twist ending to be... what? Interesting? Shocking? Daring? I have no idea. But only Edward Norton's acting made that scene interesting to watch, otherwise I would have been rolling my eyes in disgust. Not a smart direction to take the story. 3 stars.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

17 Again (2009)

Zac Efron is completely charming in this film, where he actually gets to play a real character, not an archetype. The plot is comparable to any of those movies where people change ages (think of it as a reverse Big or a gender-switched Peggy Sue Got Married... or a gender-switched reverse 13 Going On 30... any of those will do) and is pretty much standard as far as that goes. But there are some good moments and the acting is surprisingly strong. Cute, sweet, worth the watch. 3.5 stars.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Everyone Says I Love You (1996)

A Woody Allen musical? This should pretty much be my ultimate movie. And it comes close. I thoroughly enjoyed random song & dance breaks from people who I never thought would be involved in a musical, and the plot is very much typical Allen fodder. Most of the songs in this are classic jazz standards and bring a light, fanciful touch to the story. Overall, an enchanting movie that really needs to be re-released on DVD since it's so impossible to find! 4 stars.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Halloween (1978)

Ah, the first of the slasher movies. Moments of this are extremely eerie and effective. The silent Michael Myers is terrifying, without rhyme or reason for what he's doing, and every scene where he shows up is terrifying. However, with the slasher movies come the stupid main actresses who apparently think it's a great idea to sit with their back to the killer and throw their weapon away because he MIGHT be dead. The dialogue for the film is hokey and contrived. It's much stronger when it's just Myers' silent hunt for his prey. 3 stars.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Misery (1990)

An effective thriller based on a Stephen King novel. The sense of claustrophobia is almost palpable. James Caan plays an intelligent protagonist, who figures out how to appease the woman holding him hostage. Kathy Bates is fairly chilling as she switches between violent rages and calm maternal tones. It plays out fairly straightforwardly, but has a good build-up and a satisfying ending. Not blow-my-mind stellar, but well done. 4 stars.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Waiting Game (1999)

This was almost certainly done by a writer/director who had a great deal of love for Woody Allen. His influence is everywhere - in the familiar New York City sidewalk shots, in the witty dialogue about sexual games, in the dramatic situations constantly leading to infidelity...But this man is far inferior to Allen. He doesn't have a sense of character or intelligent dialogue, and the soundtrack he chose for this is beyond terrible. Will Arnett is the only decent actor in this sad attempt at an Allenesque drama. It could have been so much better, but it never took off. Wasted potential. 2 stars.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Children of a Lesser God (1986)

Not only was this a good romance, it was actually a very good teacher movie. William Hurt is very interesting as the male lead and Marlee Matlin is absolutely superb as his deaf girlfriend. It felt like it lost a little steam near the end, however, it goes pretty solidly until then. Well worth the watch! 4 stars.

He's Just Not That Into You (2009)

While Ginnifer Goodwin's story is enchanting, the rest of these women seem to be not worth caring about. They are filled with negative, unpleasant character traits or, worse, void of personality altogether. Jennifer Connolly plays an uptight housewife who does not want to let her emotional guard down. She plays her part too well, though, and we never get a chance to see inside her mind and sympathize along with her. The best we can give her is an outside, objective "That's a sad situation" reaction, without feeling anything for her ourselves. There are much better movies along these lines. This is not one to keep around. 2 stars.

Definitely, Maybe (2008)

The premise is a bit cheesy, but somehow works in this little romantic comedy. Abigail Breslin is a precocious but interesting child actress, and Ryan Reynolds can be very charming in the right sorts of roles. As he tells the story of the women he encountered, I found myself somewhat interested in them and wanting to know what happened. It took a turn I didn't expect toward the end, turning it from what could have been a silly, sappy romance into a much subtler look at how our memories feed into our perception of today. Except it wasn't nearly as artsy as that sentence makes it sound. Very watchable, nothing to write home about. 3.5 stars.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Equus (1977)

I read the play script for this just a day or two before seeing it, and I must say the movie is a bit of a disappointment with that in mind. I'd like to see it on stage some day - somehow the actual live horses took away a lot of the power of the story. The moments where Dysart addresses the audience also don't work at all in film. I was reminded of nothing more than the terrible opening to Plan 9 From Outer Space. Although the dialogue and acting was, of course, FAR better, I kept expecting him to end with, "Can your heart stand the terrifying story of grave robbers from outer space?"

However, the shortcomings aside, this remains a brilliant play. Peter Firth and Richard Burton are both very good actors who pull off this difficult story to tell. This is not going to be a story for everyone - it's a disturbing story about suffering, passion, worship, love, sex, and terror. When I first finished reading the script, I just sat there with the script in my hand for a long time, letting it all soak in. Watching the movie is a step down from that experience, but still a phenomenal script that deserved an attempt at translation to film. 4 stars.

Blow (2001)

This is a very slow-moving film. Although the story is well told and Johnny Depp is a very good actor, not very much seems to happen. Characters appear and disappear, love and betray, but somehow none if it really reaches us. The most moving moment of the film is the final monologue by Jung. I was struck by the way he counters the mantra of so many party movies and even serious dramas of the day. He indicates he's lived life, he's taken chances, he's not let life pass him by... but then he looks at the place those chances have brought him, and it wasn't worth it. When the message of the era is "do whatever you want, as long as you're living your life to the fullest," it was a surprising and poignant response to that. Overall, however, the movie is just too flat to make much of an impression. A disappointment. 2.5 stars.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009)

I was all prepared for an idiotic romantic comedy about a girl who bonds with a guy over their mutual hobby of shopping. What I got was a fairly clever, fairly likable romantic comedy with a serious undertone of the difficulties of shopping addiction. When Isla Fisher confesses to Hugh Dancy the reason why she shops, it is heartbreaking and rings true. Now, does it all turn out right (somewhat miraculously) at the end? Of course, but it also is fair to its characters and its audience. Much more interesting a movie than I gave it credit for. 3.5 stars.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Billy Elliot (2000)

The first half of this movie is more compelling than the last, and the two don't seem to be connected. Characters suddenly end deep-rooted traits and go a completely different direction, and that part doesn't work. But taken as, say, two individual parts of a trilogy where the middle part is missing, those two parts are both quite good. Jamie Bell is very good as Billy, a very typical boy who just happens to enjoy ballet. The scene where he dances down the street in anger is absolutely brilliant - he doesn't even necessarily know what emotions he's feeling or fighting off, but he can't just sit there. He has to dance.

Not a perfect movie, by far, but a good one that I enjoyed a lot. 4 stars.

Camp (2003)

Awww. I had such high hopes for this movie, especially in the first twenty minutes or so. I immediately recognized the framed picture Michael had on his dresser, exclaimed, "That's Stephen Sondheim!" and settled in for what I assumed would be a marvelous remaining 90 minutes.

Unfortunately, things started to unravel. Characters were revealed to all be nasty and unpleasant, or have nasty and unpleasant things done to them for no reason at all. It tried to wrap it up in the end with a "we're not all perfect" theme... but what am I to do when everyone I felt sympathy for had been crushed and then returned to be crushed again by those I *didn't* have sympathy for? If this was meant to be some sort of social drama, or satirical comedy about friendship, it could have worked, but the entire movie suggested teen comedy involving musical theater. And then it went the completely wrong direction for that genre. The only really good thing about this movie was the snippets of songs from truly great musicals that found their way in. 1.5 stars.

Talk to Her (2002)

I'm not even entirely sure what to say about this movie. It was sad and moving and surprising and disturbing. The character of Benigno was fascinating to watch in his role of caretaker for his comatose loved one.

I keep on trying to make coherent sentences to put together my thoughts on this movie, and I don't know that I can. I just know that it finished and I sat there wondering what to make of all of it. I may never end up with much of an answer. I don't know how to rate it.

Pedro Almodovar here has put together a movie that, if nothing else, demands a response. Whether of disgust or of compassion or of unease, something must respond to this story. 3.5 stars.

Waltz with Bashir (2008)

An excellent, excellent use of animation. It's an oddly quiet film, told through flashbacks as people narrate terrible events in calm, even tones. I can see what all the hype was about. Even though it's based on a movie theme that usually alienates me, it managed to draw me in most of the time. A very original movie that will never be able to be duplicated. 4 stars.

Gypsy (1962)

The script and score of this musical are excellent. The acting is good. The singing, however, is unfortunate. "If Momma Was Married," one of my favorite songs from the show, was nearly unlistenable because of awkward, uncomfortable, missed notes. Rosalind Russell is not a singer and as such, could not connect with her character through the songs. "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and "Rose's Turn" are both phenomenal songs that showcase the character and should be extremely moving, powerful performances. Instead, Russell's powerful acting seems to shut off on the songs, and I completely zoned out. Very disappointing, musically, but still a very good script. 3 stars.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Just Like Heaven (2005)

Reese Witherspoon is a lovable actress. When we see her in a movie we just want to root for her. Mark Ruffalo is not a lovable actor. He may be kind of good looking, but he's also kind of creepy. This makes for some problems here.

The premise is sweet and Reese Witherspoon is a great character, but the dialogue is lame and Mark Ruffalo is not able to save it. The conclusion is driven not by the characters, but by the plot's need to have it happen. The actions and behaviors of the people involved are unbelievable, and it just doesn't gel as a romantic comedy. Good try, but not good enough. 2.5 stars.

Ghost Busters (1984)

When Bill Murray's given the right material, he can be extraordinarily funny. This is the case here. He is the star of this movie, although Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis are also amusing as his initial team of ghostbusters. Good one-liners, some very good visual humor. I'm not sure I'll remember this years down the road, but it was a very enjoyable comedy that didn't stoop to playing for lame laughs like it very well could have. (Picture this being made now with Eddie Murphy in the main role and you will have an idea of the terror this could have been.) 3.5 stars.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Se7en (1995)

This is an excellent, excellent thriller. From beginning to end it connects and flows perfectly. Even though I had heard the spoilers and knew how it ended, I was still amazed by how it all worked out to make such perfect literary sense. Brad Pitt is excellent, as are Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey. One of the best thrillers I've seen. 4.5 stars.

The Pianist (2002)

I had hoped for more emphasis on the music throughout this movie, but the parts where the music did come through were absolutely brilliant. The scene where he sits at the piano and imagines playing nearly brought me to tears. Adrien Brody is excellent in his transformation from the cultured, classy musician to a desperate man hiding in attics to save his life. Although the movie runs a little long and becomes a bit typical as far as war stories go in the middle, bits of this are fantastic. So it gets a medium-high ranking. 3.5 stars.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The TV Set (2006)

A mild little comedy/drama about a man trying to get a television show off the ground. Makes some very good points about the state of television and entertainment today, although it's not a deep probing look at it by any means. Sigourney Weaver and Judy Greer are both extremely funny in their roles as they both try to make their terrible suggestions sound like they could actually make sense. This movie feels very honest and open and yet somehow hopeful about the entertainment business. I'm not sure I'll remember it for a long time, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. 3.5 stars.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Whenever you go to see a film written by Charlie Kaufman, you know this is not going to be a normal story... and somehow he manages to draw you into his bizarre worlds. This holds true for Synecdoche, New York as well. Kaufman tries directing for this film and I think he did just screenplay justice. The visuals are dazzling. Philip Seymour Hoffman proves once again that he is a brilliant, brilliant actor. This is possibly the most depressing movie I have *ever* seen (and movies don't depress me that often) but it's also one of the most moving, most beautiful, most original movies out there. Most definitely worth watching if you're looking for something out of the ordinary. 4 stars.

Up (2009)

This movie and Wall-E are solidifying Pixar's journey into making quality animation that is NOT just for children. In this film, Pixar deals with issues such as aging, death, letting go, and reclaiming of lost dreams. These are not themes that the average children's movie will attempt to cover. But Pixar gives us a stunning story that DOES delve into all of those topics and manages to capture a child's attention all at the same time!

The animation and story itself continue to follow Pixar's pattern of being completely original. I was particularly amused by the dogs - the obligatory cute talking animals without making them annoying, pointless wisecracking sidekicks (a la Mushu from Mulan).

Another triumph from Pixar. From what I see, the guys out there can do no wrong. 4 stars.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Stardust Memories (1980)

This is an odd little movie about moviemaking. There are some fantastic moments - particularly the moments where the fans are chasing him. The proposed ending to his new movie also was hilarious. But there were also moments that just seemed to be trying too hard. The lines between fantasy and reality blurred too often, and I never knew whether I was supposed to assume something had or hadn't happened in the plot. Too deliberately artsy, not enough connecting the art to reality. 3 stars.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Hard Candy (2005)

Spoilers ahead. This is a chilling portrayal of two people who do the two most evil things I can think of: pedophilia and torture. Ellen Page plays a 14-year-old girl who decides to torture a man who has a thing for young teens. Although at the beginning of the movie, it's easy to hate the creepy pedophile, by the end you're wondering if she's not as disgusting as he is. The great pleasure she gets out of torturing this man, physically and psychologically, is every bit as disturbing as the opening scene where his sins are showcased. The whole movie is unsettling and well-acted and tense. Not sure I could recommend it, but I'm glad I saw it. 4 stars.

Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)

This is a sweet, fluffy little romantic comedy about making things right. Kathleen Turner is charming as the woman who time travels back to her high school days, and Nicolas Cage is very funny as her high school boyfriend. This movie has not made a lasting impression on me, but I remember enjoying it while it was playing. A very not-challenging, fun movie. 3.5 stars.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cry-Baby (1990)

The beginning of this musical spoof is a little bit shaky, but it gains momentum after a half hour or so. Johnny Depp is hilarious, playing up the melodrama of his brooding character beautifully. A few of the song sequences are extremely funny - Allison's plea to the judge is wonderful, as is Cry Baby's sad bluesy song in jail. Not perfect by any means, but a solidly entertaining film. 3.5 stars.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bug (2006)

Spoilers ahead. This might be one of the most terrifying movies (and one of the most interesting) I have ever seen. Ashley Judd, who I have never really paid attention to, is brilliant as a lonely woman who begins a relationship with a young man who seems to be all right at first glance, but the audience eventually realizes something is wrong with him. Very, very wrong. He is obsessed with bugs, sees them everywhere, believes they are in his body and in his brain. She finds her trapped in his paranoid way of thinking.

The final scene is the most brilliant. It is an awful scene of the two of them her home - it's covered in aluminum foil to "scramble the signals" the bugs give off. The two of them are bloodied from (self-induced) bug bite wounds. Judd's lengthy ending monologue is a terrifying vision of a woman overtaken with paranoia - she hyperventilates as she works frantically to connect the dots of every mystery she's ever been presented with, involving everyone she's ever known in their delusional conspiracy theory.

Brilliantly directed, written, and acted, this is one of the best psychological thrillers I've ever seen. Although I wouldn't have thought from the trailers it would be something I could recommend, I rescind that and recommend it *highly*. 4.5 stars.

Celebrity (1998)

I think the biggest problem with Woody Allen is that Kenneth Branagh was playing him too perfectly. Emulating the voice, the stammer, the movements... he wasn't playing the character. He was playing Woody Allen playing the character. John Cusack, Will Ferrell, and Scarlett Johnsson have played the typical Woody Allen character in recent years, but they each added their own special touch to them. Branagh makes us feel like we're watching some sort of Freaky Friday moment in motion, where Allen has actually transported himself into the body of the other actor. This is somewhat unsettling to people who are familiar with Allen and his mannerisms.

The story itself isn't too hot, either. It mostly treads old ground. Although there's some very good moments (Leonardo diCaprio is wonderful as a spoiled, sleazy movie star) it's one of Allen's least impressive films...and also one of his least funny comedies. Disappointing. 2.5 stars because he's still a very good writer/director... But this pales miserable in comparison to anything else he's done. 2.5 stars.

In the Company of Men (1997)

Aaron Eckhart is the backbone of this movie. His cold, vicious demeanor is incredibly disturbing. The movie as a whole feels like it loses itself in the last half. When Matt Malloy's character begins to take the foreground, everything gets shifted slightly off. He is not a very well-defined character and is not nearly as interesting to watch. Every scene with Aaron Eckhart glued me to the screen with a terrible fascination... the rest is fairly disappointing. 3 stars.

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

A good musical movie is difficult to make, but by the middle of the song "Skid Row" I knew this was going to be one of them. Garish colors contrast the dark, dingy streets that surround the characters... and the colorful songs contrast the bizarre material they sing about. Rick Moranis and Steve Martin are both very good in their roles and Ellen Greene certainly has some great moments.

The singing may not be perfect, but the characters are preserved perfectly through the songs so it doesn't even matter. Toward the end it starts getting a little bit draggy (I was ready to be done with "Mean, Green Mother From Outer Space" about halfway through it) but as a whole, a very funny movie and a very good musical. 4 stars.

Rachel Getting Married (2008)

Anne Hathaway fully deserved her Oscar nom for this performance. She perfectly captured the essence of her character, a young girl getting out of rehab just in time for her sister's wedding. When sparks fly, it happens believably. It's well acted and well written... but then the last half of the film happens. A good chunk of the final 45 minutes is an extended wedding dance scene (why was this important to the plot again? Or the characters? Or the setting?) and then a bizarre anticlimactic ending. The climax of this movie happens an hour and fifteen minutes in, and then nothing happens for the last 45 minutes. So... the first half is well worth watching. The second half is a disappointment. 3 stars.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pi (1998)

Darren Aronofsky is superb at drawing us into the minds of the twisted. While in Requiem for a Dream we were in the minds of addicts, in Pi we are in the mind of a man obsessed. His connections and compulsions seem schizophrenic as he centers his entire life around finding a specific 216-digit number he believes is the answer to life, the universe and everything. (Of course, we know that number is really 42.) The film is shot in stark black and white, occasionally with such extreme contrast that the white literally hurts to look at. It all connects to his brain, and by the end of the movie, we feel his paranoia with him.

Brilliantly shot. However, I was actually a little confused by the end of the movie. I thought one thing had happened, and then it seemed to be proven otherwise. If anyone can give me their take on what happened there, that'd be great.

Doesn't really matter, though. Aronofsky gave one explanation for The Fountain's plot... but I liked the one I came up with in my head better. The movie's open for imagination and whatever the answer is in the end, it's still a very good movie. 4 stars.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Barton Fink (1991)

I have not the faintest idea what message this movie is trying to send. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. John Turturro plays one of those revolutionary bohemian writers who wants to make his audience remember the common man, but he's really just interested in talking *about* people in his plays. Talking to them is optional. He suffers from writer's block, gets tangled in a murder mystery, discovers people are not who they seemed, and the climax all goes down in an enormous bizarre fiery inferno where things burn and burn but nobody seems to really care. This movie is extremely watchable - funny, dark, intriguing... Even for people like me who think they haven't quite deciphered the meaning of it, the dialogue is good and the filmmaking is clever. 3.5 stars.

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

One of the most disturbing movies I've ever seen. Isn't this the definition of being a sociopath? Brilliantly filmed - terrifying and disturbing and horrible. The final scene after it's discovered he's been cured (from his cure) is chilling. This was a very difficult movie to watch and I certainly didn't enjoy it, but I thought it was extremely interesting and well-handled. So I'm giving it a medium low rating to try to balance those two out. 2.5 stars.

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People (2008)

This movie meant well and had such potential. Simon Pegg has a lot of personality and managed to carry this movie most of the way, but in the end the awkward slapstick scenes and sexual jokes made this a far more sophomoric film than I had hoped it would be. It could have been an intelligent, subtle comedy. It could have been a fun silly comedy. It could have been a lot of things, but it just comes across as trying too hard to get the junior high boys to giggle. Unfortunate. 2 stars.

Seven Pounds (2008)

(Spoilers ahead.)

There are two decent things about this movie: Will Smith's acting and figuring out the mystery of what's going on and why he's doing what he's doing. Will Smith takes on another dramatic/inspirational role after The Pursuit of Happyness and does it fairly well. And the audience will all have fun trying to figure out what this Ben Thomas character is up to. But once the mystery is gone, there's not much left of this story except for sentimental "nobility" similar to those in MySpace bulletin stories, and the assertion that killing yourself for someone else redeems you from your past mistakes, neither of enhances the movie. It becomes a sappy, silly melodrama with what it thinks is an inspirational ending, but really just had me rolling my eyes and asking how gullible they thought I was to buy this nonsense. Once you've figured out the gist of the mystery, turn off the movie. The rest of it just plays it all out in excruciating detail. 2 stars.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mighty Aphrodite (1995)

How does Woody Allen churn out such interesting movies over and over again? This one takes a slight turn from his usual plot - there's not as many intricate love dodecahedrons. The plot is fairly simple: Woody Allen plays a man who goes searching for his adopted son's birth mother. He finds out she is a prostitute and builds a friendship with her to try to convince her to switch professions. Mira Sorvino is hilarious as the birth mother, who is extremely dumb but convinced she's a budding intellectual. They're all accompanied by a sort of Greek dramatic chorus that helps their story along. Sometimes that worked, and sometimes the joke got a little old. But it didn't matter all that much because it would never take too long to return to the heart of the story, where Allen's trademark snappy dialogue and very upbeat story made it one of the most feel-good films he's ever made. Definitely worth watching. 4 stars.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

A well-scripted movie with a fascinating premise, definitely... But somehow it left me a little bit cold. In the face of other Oscar nominated films such as Doubt, Frost/Nixon, and Slumdog Millionaire, this is more like the famed Oscar winners of the past - period pieces with large casts and impressive makeup. This one does have a twist, however, and it was that twist that kept me watching throughout the entire film. The final scenes where Cate Blanchett is caring for Benjamin is an extremely touching one, and one that I will remember for a long time.

A good movie, but not the great one it was purported to be. 3.5 stars.

Rosemary's Baby (1968)

What a very creepy story. I should have known, given Ira Levin's previous work, where this story was heading, but somehow I was still surprised by the last few moments of the movie. The theme music is absolutely perfect - very chilling. Mia Farrow turns in a very good performance. Overall, I'm not sure I can say I *liked* the movie, but I think it was very well done. 3.5 stars.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Fever Pitch (1997)

I saw the American version of this flick and then learned that the original story had been written by Nick Hornby, who had written About a Boy, High Fidelity, and A Long Way Down - all charming, funny, poignant books that were a far cry from the unoriginal romantic comedy sap the movie threw at me.

Then I saw this version of it.

Jimmy Fallon, Drew Barrymore, and scriptwriters, what did you DO to this story? It's sweet, charming, authentic, with interesting characters and a love story that rings true. Colin Firth is more convincing as an actor here than in almost anything else I've seen him in - a character who wants to be living his life fully but is constantly drawn back to his childhood love of football (or soccer, in the U.S.), which keeps interfering with the life he's trying to lead.

An extremely charming romantic comedy/drama - certainly as good as the film versions of About a Boy and High Fidelity. Check it out if you were disappointed by the newer version. 4 stars.

Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Okay, did anyone else watch this movie expecting a fluffy movie about some kid who likes to dance? Some sort of inspirational rags-to-riches dance story? Yeah, because I definitely wasn't expecting what I ended up with, which was a dark teenage drama. It was well-executed, but so jarred my expectations of what this movie would be I was unable to really focus on it. It was like watching Grease but discovering it ended like Romeo and Juliet. Someday I'll have to rewatch this movie, knowing that it is not at all what I was hoping it would be. 3 stars.

Frost/Nixon (2008)

One of the most engrossing movies I've seen in a long time. I was completely sucked into the story, and found myself holding my breath throughout the final interview scenes. Very good acting from both Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, with a very strong supporting cast. The choice to shoot it like a documentary was a good movie. It felt like I was watching history in the making - which, in a sense, I was... or a fictionalized version of it. This movie deserved all its many Oscar noms. Brilliant flick. 4.5 stars.

Life of Brian (1979)

This movie is not as irreverent as many people would have me believe. I am a Christian and was not in the least offended by this movie. Unfortunately, it's also not as funny as I was led to believe. There are definitely some good moments (the suicide squad that comes to protest his death at the end made me giggle out loud, as well as the rather brilliant sequence where the people are following him as Messiah) but there's a lot of not-terribly funny humor and repeated jokes. It was worth watching once, but if you are new to the world of Monty Python, check out Monty Python and the Holy Grail instead. It's much, much funnier. 3 stars.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Walk the Line (2005)

Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon both turn in very good acting performances in this biopic of Johnny Cash's early career. I don't like country music at all, so the music part was lacking a little bit for me, although if I had been a fan of Johnny Cash it might have made a difference. The most interesting part of this movie was the study of their relationship - he was truly a mess, didn't deserve anyone, and made a wreck out of everything he wanted... at least in this, the first part of his life story. The scene at the end where he admits to June that he has nothing to give to her is very simple and powerful in its honesty. Much of the movie seems to drag, however, and although the relationships in the movie ring true, it takes a long time to get to that point. 2.5 stars.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Le Samourai (1967)

Alain Delon is the most interesting part of this movie, which is an action/drama flick about a hitman. The story is interesting, the dialogue sparse but well done, and the characters are subtle. Alain Delon is spectacular as the hitman. He says almost nothing and spends most of the time standing around observing with a steely gaze. His distant character is fascinating, as we are always working to figure out who he is. Not my style of film at all, but well done. 3.5 stars.

The Ten Commandments: The Musical (2006)

Robert and Elizabeth still holds the record for worst musical in the world, but this one might be a close second. The premise has been done before, both in the actual movie The Ten Commandments and, more recently, in The Prince of Egypt, which is a far superior musical movie. The music is unoriginal and somewhat aimless. The lyrics try unsuccessfully to mesh ancient biblical language with current pop phrases and awkward metaphors that occasionally sound like they work but don't mean anything. On top of that, there are the bizarre costumes and the completely unnecessary special effects (excuse me... WHY does the initial Pharaoh glow? Does Ramses not get the glow because he's not special enough? Did Moses make the glow leave?).

There is one bright light at the end of the tunnel, though. The performers are all (with the exception of Val Kilmer) PHENOMENAL. There's the spectacular Adam Lambert, most recently famous for being an American Idol contestant, playing Joshua. Musical theater veterans Lauren Kennedy and Kevin Earley are as spectacular as their bizarre songs will let them be in their roles as the princess and Ramses. Alisan Porter plays Miriam and has simply amazing vocals. Graham Phillips, the recent star of the Broadway show "13," even shows up as a young boy who sings the ten commandments themselves to the Israelites.

So... the musical is terrible. Awful. Complete nonsense. But if you like good singing, this is a fairly brilliant collection of fantastic singers. Just close your eyes and listen to the music instead of watching the nonsense going on on stage. The entire star and a half goes to the cast. 1.5 stars.

Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway (2008)

I saw the live show for the first time just a few weeks ago, so wanted to see how this would compare. Of course, there really is no comparison. Seeing it live is always better. But this is a fairly good version of the movie. The filmmakers seemed to have some difficulty during the large numbers (for example, "Christmas Bells") knowing where to focus their cameras. Rent is a chaotic show, where lots is going on at once. That was not really reflected well in the filming.

The cast, however, is quite good. Will Chase and Adam Kantor breathe new life into roles that were so clearly defined by Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp. They really bring depth to the character in new and different areas, and seeing their interpretations almost back to back, I came out with a lot more understanding of the characters... and a lot more sympathy for them.

Eden Espinosa, Renee Goldsberry and Michael McElroy were all good in their respective roles. Tracie Thoms, who I didn't recognize until the end, reprises her role from the movie and was my favorite female singer of the bunch, with strong vocals that worked well for the character.

My own real caveat was Justin Johnson, who I also saw live in Chicago. He plays Angel too campy, too performance-oriented, too cutesy. There's no real person there behind the makeup, and therefore I kind of felt Collins was getting the worst of the deal when it came to their relationship. It didn't feel real - how could it, when Angel wasn't a real person? I think he was working too hard to distinguish himself from Wilson Jermaine Heredia, who did such a spectacular job on Broadway and in the movie. In his desperate try to set himself apart, he made the character nothing but a caricature. Which is pretty much exactly the opposite of what the show wants to do.

If you have seen the movie but didn't get a chance to see the show live before it closed, I highly recommend this film. It is a fairly accurate representation of what it's like to see it live, even if it can't capture it completely. 4 stars.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bolt (2008)

Another talking animal animated movie... I figured it would just be full of unoriginal wisecracking characters and a few cultural reference gags that were totally unfunny. I was pleasantly surprised. Bolt was an odd cross between Truman from The Truman Show and Thunderbolt from 101 Dalmatians 2 (although for the most pat I'd like to forget I ever saw that movie). Bolt was joined by an oddball cast of characters, but for once they were actually interesting characters in their own right, not just "the cynical one," "the one who's not entirely sane," "the nice girl," whatever. Some of these characteristics could be found in them, but they were entirely their own. Good dialogue, good story, and good voice acting made this one of the better films of the year. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Film, alongside Kung Fu Panda and Wall-E. Although it didn't have nearly the originality of Wall-E, it was MILES above the derivative Kung Fu Panda. Well done, Disney! 4 stars.

What About Bob? (1991)

I had the idea going into this movie that it was a political satire. Where I got that idea from, I haven't the faintest idea, because it was a straightforward comedy. Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss are both hilarious in their respective roles - Bill Murray as Bob, a cheerful, friendly, but slightly unnerving patient who stalks his therapist. Richard Dreyfuss is the therapist, a self-centered egoist who is determined to keep his whole life within his power and is completely thrown when Bob invades his life and his home.

The movie descends into darker and darker humor, seeming at the end to pay tribute to old Looney Toons cartoons - you know, the ones where the person goes completely crazy trying to hunt the rabbit, or kill the cat who won't stop singing, or any of that. I didn't know how it was going to pull it off, but it managed to do it and leave me feeling extremely satisfied with the movie as a whole. Definitely one worth watching. 4 stars.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Yes Man (2008)

Jim Carrey is slowly but surely moving his way up into my list of favorite actors. Even though his physical and verbal gyrations aren't always my cup of tea, he does that style of physical comedy better than anyone in showbiz today. Most importantly, he's a likable character. Even when he's being a jerk, you're sort of rooting for him deep inside.

The plot and script for this movie are fairly ridiculous and extremely predictable. Nothing original here. Most of it isn't terribly funny by itself. When it works, though, it works because of its cast. Jim Carrey is very funny when he's not tied down by the lame script, and Rhys Darby as his geeky boss is one of the definite highlights of the movie. Not really worth seeing unless you're a diehard Carrey fan. His talents are profiled much better in another movie which this has been much compared to: Liar Liar. If you just casually want to watch a Jim Carrey comedy with a mild lesson about life, check out that one instead. 2.5 stars.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Doubt (2008)

I have discovered lately that I do not care for Meryl Streep when she plays optimistic, bubbly characters. Here she is perfect as the uptight, self-righteous nun who thinks she's shady dealings in the school where she works. Her hunch (and her faith) cannot be shaken, no matter how often people come against her arguing that there's no proof. Her character is fascinating.

Is this story pro-faith? Pro-doubt? Pro-ambiguity of life? I'm not even entirely sure. I am a Christian but also a huge fan of doubt and questioning and reexamining your faith and your beliefs constantly. Doubt never hurts God. He's big enough to handle this. And sometimes when we are so completely gung-ho about it, as we see in this film, things go wrong. (I would like to quickly stress, although this is becoming a religious blog rather than a film review- the key is to not stay in doubt. Doubt until you get an acceptable answer, and let that answer your questions. You don't need to be questioning forever when an answer is in front of you.)

All the supporting actors do a phenomenal job. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is an incredibly likeable character, but as the accusations come up, his jovial expression seems more sinister. Amy Adams and Viola Davis both play their very different roles well. Viola Davis was extremely convincing as the mother who was so desperate to give her son a better life overall, she was even willing to sacrifice his immediate safety.

Great acting, great dialogue, intriguing story... Definitely worth watching. 4.5 stars.

Monday, April 20, 2009

How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

Cute and fairly well-written, but predictable. Marilyn Monroe is particularly charming in this, proving that she actually was a very good comedic actress when given the opportunity. Lauren Bacall seems a bit energyless, although her plot is the most central of the three. A good mindless comedy, but I'm finding it hard to remember much about it a few days after seeing it. 3 stars.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

What an original movie! Constantly flipping back and forth between romantic drama, crime thriller, and inspirational rags-to-riches story, it kept my interest every minute. Jamal is a very likable character, but not overly idealized. The film plays with the idea of luck and suspension of disbelief (it's very hard to believe that most of the questions asked to him could be answered based on childhood experiences) but that's half the fun. As the movie switches around between Jamal's building romance, his occasionally brutal interrogation, and tense clips from his time on the game show, not a moment of it all is boring. It wasn't the best movie I've ever seen or anything, but it was vastly satisfying and did everything it was supposed to do, and I would not hesitate to recommend it. 4 stars.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Bumblebee Flies Anyway (1999)

For a movie based on a Robert Cormier novel, this is surprisingly uplifting. I don't remember the book having nearly this positive an ending. Although I'm still not convinced of Elijah Wood's acting abilities, he was fine here for the slightly-off, somewhat-detached Barney Snow. His interactions seemed real and genuine, and the interesting cast of characters surrounding him made me want to know more about his story. I'd forgotten much of the plot - it's been years since I read the book. I found myself intrigued with where it was going and feeling very satisfied by the time the credits rolled. Still a dark essence to it, so it's hardly what I'd call "inspirational," and it's not for everyone (I'm not even sure it's for fans of Cormier's work) but it's very well done and I liked it a lot. 4 stars.

Alfie (2006)

I'm not sure there could be a more perfect actor to fill this role than Jude Law. The man is completely 100% charming - one smile and you believe every terrible thing he says. But he's also a dang good actor, and manages to bring personality and character to what could have been a very bland role. I think it's his acting that takes this movie from just being mediocre to being actually quite good. The story is fairly predictable - the story could only end one of two ways, and the way they chose to end it was consistent with the rest of the film. I enjoyed it quite a lot. 3.5 stars.

The Sunshine Boys (1975)

Neil Simon's dialogue is as clever as ever in this filmed version of his play. Someone on one of these movie sites described it as The Odd Couple for octogenarians, and I think they were right. Much of the dialogue is reminiscent of Odd Couple (especially when you have Walter Matthau playing one of them). The ending came as a surprise to me but was still full of heart, as Simon's work generally is. After so much hype about it, "The Doctor Sketch" was every bit as funny in vaudevillian terms as they had claimed it to be. A great retelling of a great story. Definitely one to watch! 4 stars.

Once (2006)

This movie is not about relationships. This movie is not about love. This movie is about music. Everything else comes second to that. We are not looking at how music influences their lives, we're looking at how their lives influence their music. When the girl hears one of the boy's songs that he's written himself, her first question is: "Who is she? The girl who you wrote the song for?" She knows there's a story. Behind every good piece of music there's a story. Later, as the girl plays a song she wrote about her husband, we hear all the pain and despair flowing out of her. Her past has made her music what it is now, for better or worse. (spoiler) When the two reunite with their exes at the end, it leaves us asking the question: Where will their musical journey go next, now that there are different challenges, different steps to climb, different pains to deal with? (/spoilers)

As it must be for this film to work, the music in the movie is superb. I am not a fan of the genre at all, but both musicians play with such passion and such conviction that I wanted to know their story, wanted to know what could have caused this music to pour out of them. And it made me want to write a few songs of my own as well. A must-see for any aspiring songwriter or musician, or even for those, like me, who find it so easy to become immersed in the emotion and stories found in music. 4 stars.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

(Lots of spoilers ahead, since the problem I had with it was with the ending.) This movie was nearly one of the very best. The young actor playing the German kid had some great dialogue to work with, but then on top of it just did a very good job acting it as well. The dialogue was intelligent, and it was chilling to see the family and society trying so desperately to poison the boy's mind toward the Jews. So why the low rating? Because the ending made everything fall apart. At the end of the story, the German boy decides it would be a great adventure to help his Jewish friend look for his father in the concentration camp. There's not much sacrifice here - the boy has almost no idea what he's getting into, he just thinks it would a great adventure. In the end, both boys are rounded up along with other men from the same hut, and burned en masse. The problem with this is that the tragedy becomes that of the German boy. The question is "How could something so terrible happen to that little boy?" That shouldn't be the question. The question should be, "How could anything so terrible happen to all those people?" The elevation and emphasis of the tragedy of the German's death made all of the other deaths trivial in comparison. If the boy had been sacrificially making the decision to give his life with or for his friend, that would be one thing - a tale of redemption instead of pointlessness. If the emphasis was on the parents and how their brutality came back on their own heads, it could be a very powerful film. But the story was mostly confined to being told by the young boy and through his eyes, indicating that it was he we should be most empathetic towards, rather than his parents, who were clearly secondary characters.

Overall, a brilliantly shot movie that made one very fatal (literally) error at the end of the story that undercut the entire thing. With just a bit more emphasis on the parents, or a bit more understanding on behalf of the child, it could have been a brilliant movie that I could have praised. But its senseless ending made me angry - not at the fact of injustice, but at the fact that only the German boy's injustice mattered. Very disappointing. That terrible, terrible misstep makes the entire film a disastrous undertaking. 1.5 stars.

The Visitor (2007)

This sort of story has been done before. Many times. The one thing that made this movie stand out from the rest was a small detail of the plot -- the drumming. The drumming part of this movie was magical. It's something I would never have expected to intrigue the main character, a very traditional older man, and yet somehow it did. The scene where he finds himself irresistibly drawn to join the long line of drummers in the midst of the city is superb. That, for me, was what held this movie together.

One other superb scene that is worth mentioning. (Spoilers ahead.) The Syrian boy's mother shows up after his arrest, and soon finds out he has been deported. She and the older man have formed a little bit of a bond, and when she hears this news, she goes to his room and crawls into his bed and begins crying that it is her fault. He holds her, gently, comforting her, just being there for her. The scene ends as we pan back and just see the two of them, not necessarily as sexual beings, just holding each other and trying to comfort each other in their loss. It's a beautiful scene that makes the entire movie come together.

The film moves very slowly and isn't for everyone, but is definitely worth checking out. A few brilliant moments make up for some of the slower ones - look for those and the rest of it makes sense. 3.5 stars.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Kite Runner (2007)

When I read the book, I was impressed with the quiet simplicity with which it told its story - a story that was certainly far from simple. The movie manages to take the feel of the book and translate it beautifully onto the screen. One of the best movie adaptations I've seen in a long time. I like it at least as well as I liked the book, possibly even a bit more. It's a touching story that is served well by the medium of film. 4 stars.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Bullets Over Broadway (1994)

John Cusack is the best actor I've ever seen play a Woody Allen part who wasn't Woody Allen himself. He was born to play the insecure artsy intellectual, and he's superb in this, one of Allen's lighter comedies. A very funny ensemble comes together to tell the story of a struggling playwright trying to turn his show into a success (with an impossible cast) without compromising his artistic integrity. It's a charming, entertaining movie with some of Allen's best dialogue. Well worth seeing. 4 stars.

Last Holiday (2006)

At the beginning of her career, it looked like Queen Latifah was only capable of playing sassy wisecracking women. But she has expanded her repertoire to show she is quite a versatile actress. Here she convincingly plays a reserved, tentative woman who is pushed to act the way she's always wished she could, without boundaries, when she discovers she's dying. Although the movie itself is not that great, she brings life to a character that could have been bland in anyone else's hands. A thumbs up to her, a "meh, whatever" to the film itself. 3 stars.

Life Is Beautiful (1997)

As the screen faded to credits and I sat alone in my living room, I kept replaying the final few minutes in my mind. The film continued to haunt me throughout my sleep and into the next morning. I don't know what rating to give it. This movie was both somehow *wrong*, that such a horrifying event was given such a rosy color, but at the same time so stunningly beautiful, that a young boy could come out of that event with that image of it in his mind. The story of a father determined at any cost to keep his son alive and happy was charming at the beginning and then almost terrifying at the end. I can understand why people respond both negatively and positively to this. And I am torn between those two poles... which is probably the way it was meant to be. If you go too far one way or the other, you lose the meaning of the movie. The fight between terror and joy, which is fought throughout the entire story. This isn't a movie you should be able to just choose an opinion on. I have a feeling I'll be revamping and reconsidering and reordering my thoughts on this movie for days and weeks and perhaps months and years to come.

I am going to give it an extremely high rating because for a movie to conflict me that much emotionally, it means it was almost certainly made superbly - if I can't just throw it off to the side, it has something worth considering. 4.5 stars.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Defending Your Life (1991)

I've decided I'm not a fan of Meryl Streep. At least not in comedies. She is bizarrely awkward in this movie, as she was in Mamma Mia!, communicating not normal cheerfulness or simply a vivacious personality, but an immature teenage mentality. However, that aside, this is a perfectly capable little romantic comedy. There's nothing to shout about here -- the story's been done before and goes on a little long at 112 minutes. I was ready for it to be done around 90. However, it's not all that bad. Very pleasant, not spectacular. 3 stars.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

ShakespeaRe-Told (2005)

I had mixed reactions to this series of retellings of some of Shakespeare's classics. Macbeth was the strongest - the tale of two people who thought they were ready to kill but find out too late they weren't. There's something very appropriate about making it about a chef. It gave rise to all sorts of interesting imagery.

A Midsummer Night's Dream was charmingly done. The tone of the story was somehow kept, even with the fairies speaking in modern day slang and an odd added plot about Hermia's parents (anything similar in the play? I can't recall). Very enjoyable.

The other two fell victim to the fact that Shakespeare's characters are ridiculously mood swingy. Much Ado About Nothing's Beatrice was a bit unbalanced emotionally and I found myself waiting for the moment when she would explode all over her loved one, but oddly enough, it never happened. She's mood swingy but not even consistently. Great acting, though. She managed to make it almost manageable.

The Taming of the Shrew was just ALL over the place emotionally. The 15-20 minutes between the marriage and the "taming" were the best, with some great angry banter back and forth, but everything before it made Katherine so unlikeable that we can't possibly want her to be happy, and afterwards she was so suddenly and creepily docile that the only logical explanation is that he's been slipping tranquilizers into her coffee. Very awkward. Rufus Sewell was superb, however.

Overall, two were quite good, one was quite good given what it had to work with, and one was ... odd but had potential. Probably worth watching - it was interesting to see all the various creative rewrites. 3.5 stars.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Alice (1990)

This film comes and goes in how good it is. The premise is marvelous, the ending is thoroughly satisfying, and the scene where she meets a former lover is very touching. As a whole, however, there are a lot of scenes that don't ontribute much to either the film's plot or the film's tone, and really don't seem to have any purpose at all. Woody Allen's films often meander into discussions of the philosophical, but this seemed not even to have that in mind most of the time. Not one of his better ones, although still worth seeing for a fan. 3 stars.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

This is the most substantial movie Woody Allen's made in a couple of years. Cassandra's Dream (2007) wandered a bit too much and Scoop (2006) was pleasant, but completely fluffy. Match Point back in 2005 was much darker, but was received similarly well.

As with all of Woody Allen's movies, I just enjoyed watching the characters interact. Whatever their circumstances were, as the characters sought to find what they wanted, they were interesting. (By the way - Penelope Cruz for Best Supporting Actress? I highly disagree. Rebecca Hall, who played the more subdued but far more interesting Vicky, would have been the better choice.) Two-thirds of the way through the movie, I was unsure where it was going or how it would end. Most of all, I was worried it wouldn't end in a way that made sense for Woody Allen, a writer/director whose work has come to feel very reassuringly consistent for me. But as the last scene faded to black, it was a satisfying one. It ended in such a way that I had to go back and rethink the characters and everything they'd been through, and how it all connected.

Although there were moments that dragged on a little bit long, it was overall an excellent film, and Allen's best in three years. I'm excited to see where his next one goes. 4 stars.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Purple Noon (1960)

I liked this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel just a bit better than 1999's "The Talented Mr. Ripley," although that was good as well. This is smoother and classier, and Alain Delon is chilling as Tom Ripley. The two movies vary significantly in how they end. I haven't read Highsmith's novel, so I'm not sure which one is closer to the original. I liked both endings almost equally well, although my sense of justice was more satisfied with this film. This film is also significantly shorter than the 1999 one, telling the entire story in under two hours, which gives it a tighter, more imperative feel. 4 stars.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Nine Lives (2005)

This isn't one long movie as much as it is nine short ones. I kept waiting for these women's lives to intersect and they mostly didn't, although one or two characters crossed over to other stories. But mostly it's just a star-studded cast showing a moment in nine women's lifetimes. I found myself completely interested in each and every one of them. My favorites were probably the last two -- one about a woman terrified about having a mastectomy, and one about a woman and her daughter visiting the cemetery. I almost wish we'd gotten one last moment with each of these women. It doesn't need resolution so much as a quick revisit, to remind us of what we saw. 4 stars.

You Can't Take It with You (1938)

Although a bit heavy-handed with its message, this older comedy is a delightful look at a family completely unfettered by obligations. When one of their daughters becomes engaged to a man from a materialistic family only concerned with making the business deals and looking good in the papers, the two don't exactly hit it off. The dialogue is snappy and clever, like many of the quieter comedies of its era, and is great fun to follow along with. The ending is a bit sappy but fairly satisfying. James Stewart, Jean Arthur, and Lionel Barrymore are all fantastic in their individual roles. And I have to say the family in question reminded me of my own at times. As fireworks go off outside the window, or a dance lesson takes place right in the middle of the sitting-slash-living-slash-dining room, everyone remains calm and continues doing their own thing. 3.5 stars.

Monday, February 23, 2009

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970)

This movie was overall fairly lame. The plot was silly, the acting was overdone... heck, the WRITING was overdone. I have to wonder how much of the bad acting was the fault of the actors, versus the fault of the dialogue... but anyway. The last fifteen minutes of the film somehow took characters I didn't care about and a plot I was giggling at, and wrapped them up in a thoroughly satisfactory way. Those last few minutes clearly belonged to some other, better movie.

The songs are not really even worth mentioning in this. Alan Jay Lerner has done much, much, much better. As has Streisand. 2 stars.

Friday, February 20, 2009

High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2008)

So, my theory about the High School Musical movies is that as the song-and-dance sequences get better, the plot gets worse. This has one of the stupidest plots I've ever seen. Loose ends are left hanging awkwardly, characters jump in and out of their personalities as the situation demands, and nothing really seems to make sense. But this has by far the most imaginative choreography and the most interesting songs. Although "The Boys Are Back" had absolutely zero relevance to the plot and was surrounded by terrible dialogue, it was a superb musical moment that far surpasses anything the HSM franchise has done thus far. My mother commented as she watched it that it reminded her of Newsies, and it's true, it was nearly at that level of awesomeness. The first movie had a predictable-but-fine plot and decent music. The second had more entertaining music but a lamer plot. I suspect HSM3 gave their entire budget to the songwriters and choreographers and wrote the script by asking every cast and crew member to write a page of dialogue and pass it on. It's a great nostalgic end (I hope-- it's about run its course) to the series, and a great series of music videos, but a lousy movie. It gets 3.5 stars for its musical numbers... otherwise it'd have gotten MAYBE one star. 3.5 stars.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Persepolis (2007)

I have never seen an animated film with this much imagination. I heard someone talking about movie criticism once and they said that when you look at a movie, you have to think about why they chose that medium, why it HAD to be in that medium rather than any other. In this case, it most definitely had to be an animated film. The stark black and white colors continue to be a reminder of the starkness of Marjane's life. The creativity of the fade-outs, the sudden uses of silhouettes, the image of Marjane's new love driving her home in a flying car... All brilliantly thought out and visually stunning. Although the story is dark and frightening, the visuals remain imaginative even in their most terrifying moments. The story itself is less interesting than the visuals, but is made interesting through its presentation. Did this win Oscars? If not, it should have. 4 stars.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bye Bye Birdie (1995)

As was the case with musicals of the 1950s and 60s, the plot here is nothing more than a showcase for the songs, which are not all that spectacular either. Characters acted on out-of-character impulses that served no purpose other than to give them a cool dance sequence or a song to segue into. But Jason Alexander and Vanessa Williams are ever so watchable in the lead roles and even more so when they break into song and dance together. They create two very charming characters within the difficult confines of the script, and most of this movie's 3-star rating goes directly to them. They made this watchable. 3 stars.

Requiem for a Dream (2000)

(Some spoilers ahead.) There's no way I'm going to be able to claim I enjoyed this movie. It's heartwrenching and difficult to watch. Every character's addictions bring them and their hopes and dreams down with them, with possibly one of the least hopeful endings in any film ever. But it's brilliantly done. Each character finds themselves drawn back to their drug, whether it be diet pills or heroin, and doesn't even notice that it's slowly unraveling them until it's too late. Ellen Burstyn's character, I think, is the saddest, starting off with what she thought was an innocent way to lose weight and ending by losing her sanity. Jennifer Connelly's dignity is viciously stripped away from her as she consents to doing what she would have considered unspeakable, just so she can get her next fix. The much-spoken-of final climactic scene, where each character is brought to the point of no return, where we see how far they have come since we began to follow them, is jolting and terrifying and haunting. The final shot of the four characters curled up in a fetal position, most of them wishing the misery could somehow be finished... has to be one of the most vivid ending moments in any film I've seen.

I've never been tempted to try addictive drugs of any kind, really, and I'm not sure how I would have responded to it if I had been. But I am very glad I saw this movie and would recommend it to mature viewers as an example of how quickly addiction takes over our lives, whether it's an addiction to television, eating, drugs, or all three, as was the case with the elderly woman. Terrifying, but well worth watching. 4.5 stars.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

American Teen (2008)

I watched this not knowing it was purported to be a documentary. I figured it was just a story told as if it was a documentary. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. Staged and scripted or not, it's a fairly compelling look into the American teenage life. I found myself genuinely caring about these teenagers and hoping that they would succeed. Knowing that it was all purported as real makes it slightly less impressive (I was marveling at the dialogue, which sounded totally unscripted, and the very natural actors...heh...less talent involved in that aspect since it's real). Watching it as just a very entertaining story with no roots in reality was a bit more fun, but either way it's quite a good movie. 4 stars.

Eagle Eye (2008)

Sillier than silly can be as far as the plotline goes, but thoroughly satisfying for its genre. Shia LaBeouf is transitioning nicely into more adult roles and is a good fit for this movie. Plenty of suspense and action and explosions with intelligent characters involved, and although, as I said, the overall plot is goofy, it's fairly well-written. Good light entertainment. 3 stars.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Into the Woods (1991)

It was this movie that first introduced me to the wonderful world of Sondheim. Into the Woods remains my favorite Sondheim show, primarily because its plot is simultaneously charming and tragic. The original cast does a fantastic job reprising their roles in this video. Bernadette Peters, in particular, is awesome as the Witch. This is one of the best movie musicals I've ever seen - everyone go check it out! 4.5 stars.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Little Night Music (1977)

Plot: Fredrik Egerman is very happy in his marriage to a seventeen-year-old virgin, Anne. Only she's been a virgin for the whole eleven months of the marriage, and being a bit restless, Fredrik goes to see an old flame, the famous actress Desiree Armfeldt. Desiree is getting tired of her life, and is thinkin of settling down, and sets her sights on Fredrik, despite his marriage, and her own married lover Count Carl-Magnus. She gets her mother to invite the Egermans to her country estate for the weekend. But when Carl-Magnus and his wife Charlotte appear, too, things begin to get farcical, and the night must smile for the third time before all the lovers are united.

One of my favorite Stephen Sondheim scores, set to a convoluted but fairly funny sex comedy plot. Although Elizabeth Taylor is not a very good singer, she embodies the character perfectly. The rest of the cast is fantastic, bringing out the surprising musicality of Sondheim's melodies and the brilliance of his lyrics. The script is less brilliant, but holds up well. Definitely an enjoyable watch, and probably one I would see again some day. 4 stars.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Doll's House (1973)

Plot: A wealthy woman's attempts to help her financially troubled husband go unrewarded.

This is some good acting right here. Claire Bloom is absolutely splendid as Nora, and Anthony Hopkins creates a brilliant contrasting character. The dialogue of Ibsen's play allows them to explore these characters deeply and honestly. Simply a superb version of the classic play, and definitely one to see. 4 stars.

Once Upon a Mattress (2005)

It's hard to watch this light and fluffy musical and not smile. It's such a good-natured, pleasant show. There's nothing here that makes it stand out as a thing of brilliance, but it's quite enjoyable. This is a fantastic cast, as well... I particularly enjoyed Denis O'Hare's portrayal of the awkward but sweet Prince Dauntless. Carol Burnett gets to return to this show, where she once originated the role of Princess Fred, but this time around she gets to breathe life into the difficult Queen Aggravain. Very fun family-friendly musical about living happily ever after. 3.5 stars.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ghost Town (2008)

When I saw Ricky Gervais' name attached to this film, I was remembering The Office. Extras. Night at the Museum. He creates and plays roles in fluffy comedies that leave you smiling at the end but not a lot of thought with afterwards. This was not that. It was a comedy, yes, and it left me smiling at the end, but it also left me with the feeling that this was far more substantial a movie than I expected.

Gervais' character is not a jerk (as the trailers seem to imply) but just someone who's a loner and gets easily annoyed by stupidity in people around him. His solution? Avoid them altogether. This soon becomes a non-option as he is pushed by a demanding ghost (played brilliantly by Greg Kinnear) into the life of the ghost's widow.

There are plenty of laughs in here -- the scene where Gervais finds out that he died on the operating table but was resuscitated is hilarious -- but there's also a very moving love story, as well as the story of someone who genuinely does change to care about the people around him. A lot of movies try to do this convincingly and fail. This one doesn't even seem like the type that *should* try, and yet it succeeds.

I went in expecting popcorn entertainment and although my life wasn't changed drastically by this movie or anything like that, I came to care about the characters and the story in a much deeper way than I thought I would. Definitely a worthwhile movie. Possibly could grow to becoming a favorite. 4 stars.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Duane Hopwood (2005)

This has to be one of the most depressing little movies I've ever seen. And yet nothing seemed to come of it. The first half is a nice portrayal of this guy's "loser" life, but then it just stops and meanders for another fifty minutes. It appeared to try to be manufacturing some sort of "happy ending" at the conclusion of the film, but this happy ending was all a lie because in reality, nothing had been solved and only one thing had even been in the slightest resolved. The subject of Duane's drinking habit is tossed to the side an hour into the movie, although that first hour kept promising us this was a major issue. Apparently not THAT major.

I will say, however, that David Schwimmer was remarkably good in this. I haven't seen him in much else apart from Friends, where he played Ross, a character who was forced to be constantly depressed because the writers kept toying with and then destroying his love life for ten seasons. But while his suffering there was comic, Schwimmer makes an elegant transition here to portraying real suffering, real denial, real pain, without the audience being able to laugh at him. Kudos to him. I was going to give this movie just 2.5 stars, but his unexpectedly great performance earns another half a star. 3 stars.

My Friend Irma (1949)

My siblings and I had never seen a Martin and Lewis flick. We'd seen Martin and Lewis separately, in other films, but never together. So I figured it was about time we saw one. (It was coincidence that we ended up with this - their first.) With most of the comedy teams of the old movies (well, okay, and the comedy teams of the new movies too) you've seen one, you've seen 'em all. This is probably the case with these too... but hey, it was pretty good entertainment while you were watching! It did have a moment or two that made me laugh out loud, and those alone made the movie worth seeing. 3 stars.

The Secret War of Harry Frigg (1968)

This movie was a lot of fun for being a war movie. It had a great setup, great characters (the one Italian guy was hysterical), and even a happy ending. And yet with all that I can't actually remember that much about it. But I do seem to remember it was quite good. And I guess I'm going to have to leave it at that. 3 stars.

Three Guys Named Mike (1951)

I saw a portion of this on TV when I was about eight, back when we had TV reception. Ever since then I've wondered from time to time about "that movie where the airplane stewardess had three guys named Mike who all wanted to marry her". So when I was at my grandfather's house and was browsing through channels for something to watch and saw this... I shrieked, "OH MAN! I saw this when I was little and always wanted to know how it ended!" So I jumped over to that station and watched it from beginning to end. The story behind this being told, on to the review. It was... eh, okay. I didn't much care for the heroine, she seemed pretty oblivious/naive/something. She doesn't even seem to have an inkling that the guys like her, even though they're asking her out on dates and stuff. I will say, however, that the ending surprised me. She didn't go for the guy I thought she would. Now that's a plus on a romantic comedy. Surprise "No I think I'll marry this guy" twists always are fun. 2.5 stars.

An Easter Carol (2004)

Eh, I've seen better Veggie movies. It got rather hokey at times, although I did enjoy Rebecca St. James' accent and the "Boids" song (a tribute to The Music Man's "Rock Island", perhaps?). But I wouldn't own it or anything. 2 stars.

Gidget (1959)

*blink* Goodness. A surfer movie. Haven't seen many of those, actually. I think my parents generally shielded me from them, and this must be why. This movie had like... three seconds of anything actually interesting to watch. The rest of the time I amused myself by laughing at the whole thing. I mean, really, HOW can you take a movie seriously when its leading man goes by "Moondoggie"? Come on now... 1 star.

The Glass Menagerie (1973)

Reading a play is never quite as fulfilling as seeing it on stage. However, since there are no performances of The Glass Menagerie anywhere around, I was willing to settle for a movie production of it...and I was not disappointed. A dark play, after Tennessee Williams' style, it delves very carefully into issues such as hopes and expectations, a fear of growing old, the yearning to be something more... All four cast members put in superb performances and made their characters incredibly real. This goes on my list of great movies, definitely. 4 stars.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (1996)

Although this is not one of the great sporkings the MST3K crew has done, it's definitely not one of their bad ones either. Several moments made me laugh out loud. The in-between bits are also great, from the opening where Crow tries to tunnel through outer space, to the ending where everyone laughs heartily at a piece of terrible news before realizing they shouldn't be laughing. If you've never seen Mystery Science Theater 3000, but you like making fun of bad movies, or, if you're like me, sitting around listening to wittier people do so, this is a great one to watch. Good intro to the TV show or addition for those who already fans. 4 stars.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Barefoot in the Park (1967)

Neil Simon's dialogue is as snappy as ever in this film adaptation of his play. Robert Redford and Jane Fonda both are well suited to it, and manage to create characters who are fascinating to watch interact, in all their idiosyncrasies and unexpected connection to each other. By the end, as everything comes to a head, we do want to see these two smooth out their rough past. Although this is not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination -- some plot points seem awkward and unnecessary -- there are some near-perfect moments, such as when Redford first gets a glimpse of the home which they are to share. He goes around discovering everything that is wrong with it, despite Fonda's attempt to put a good face on it. Definitely worth watching once. 3.5 stars.