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.