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.