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.