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.