Monday, March 29, 2010

District 9 (2009)

A beautifully crafted movie that absolutely deserved its Best Picture nomination. I mean, I knew it wasn't going to win, but I'm glad it was nominated. Because this is one of the better sci-fi films. A lot of this is thanks to the main character - he is a likable person, but not an outright hero - he's prejudiced against the aliens and sees his own needs as more important than those of anyone around him. But he's a REAL person - and it's very easy to respond to that.

The format of the movie, filming it as a documentary (although lots of it doesn't really make sense for footage to exist of this) is for the most part very effective. The ending is beautiful in how it wraps things up (and not), and the final shot is one of the most touching things I've seen in film in quite awhile. Absolutely worth seeing. 4.5 stars.

Broadway Danny Rose (1984)

With only a dozen or so Woody Allen movies left to watch, I had recently run into a lot of the less interesting ones. I was beginning to worry that my favorite Woody Allen flicks were behind me. And then came Broadway Danny Rose. Woody Allen is at his best actingwise in this, playing a diplomatic, fast-talking theatrical manager. Mia Farrow plays an unusually strong character for an Allen film, but is also phenomenal. There are a few laugh-out-loud funny scenes, including an action sequence in a room full of parade floats leaking helium. As is typical with Allen's straightforward comedies, it has a happy ending that is thoroughly satisfying. This could easily rise to become one of my very favorite Allen films. 4.5 stars.

Zombieland (2009)

(Very mild spoiler.) A thoroughly enjoyable spoof on zombie flicks, every bit as entertaining as 2004's Shaun of the Dead. Jesse Eisenberg does indeed seem like a bit of a Michael Cera clone here, except with more personality so it's easier for me to root for him. I laughed out loud quite a few times throughout (Bill Murray's cameo was definitely one of the funniest things he's done in awhile). I'm not sure I'd ever watch it again - the gore to be just a bit too much for me at times - but it was thoroughly enjoyable one time through. 3.5 stars.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push By Sapphire (2009)

This movie is beautifully put together. Gabourey Sidibe is absolutely amazing as Precious, embodying the character perfectly. However, it never really caught my interest emotionally. I appreciate the fact that it can be heartwarming and inspirational without getting sappy or silly about it, but now, a week or two after having seen it, I realize it had no lasting impact on me. Perhaps if I had been closer to the character's situation or identified with her more strongly. As it was, I admired it but didn't connect with it. 3.5 stars.

The Basketball Diaries (1995)

This is one of the few based-on-a-true-story movies that actually FEELS like it's based on a true story. There's no overdramatization, no cute wrapping up loose ends... just the story of someone whose life falls apart. Even the ending feels completely unforced. Leonardo DiCaprio is particularly impressive in the scene where he begs his mother for money - it is completely unromanticized. It is pathetic and painful to watch. Beautifully, beautifully done. 4 stars.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Up in the Air (2009)

George Clooney is at his best in this fascinating drama about a man whose job is firing people. Anna Kendrick, a young actress I was impressed by in Camp (and disappointed to learn was in Twilight), is also very, very good. It's a very lovely drama, nicely filmed and intelligently told. The opening 5 minutes are especially stunning - they give a very solid sense of atmosphere. (Spoiler) It does end on a much darker note than I had predicted from the first hour and a half, but this isn't a bad thing - just unexpected. Overall, I really enjoyed it. 4 stars.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Other Sister (1999)

When screenwriters write films about children or the mentally challenged, the difficulty seems to be the same thing - the "aww" factor takes over. Both end up being mere entertainments for us. This completely dehumanizes them and makes them *characters*, not people. That is the trouble with this movie. The dialogue is too cutesy and saccharine to be taken seriously, and although the main character demands we treat her as a person, the movie fails to see that it isn't treating her like one, either.

I'm not sure whether it makes it better or worse that every character was written like this. They are all clearly there just to serve the script's purpose, not because they actually are characters in and of themselves. Even Diane Keaton, who is a very interesting actress, can't save this film. She's forced to play a character who, from the evidence, is quite possibly bipolar... or at the very least emotionally unstable. She switches emotions faster than [insert punchline here of whatever you want].

This movie is a collection of nonsensical sappy scenes and is at the very least mildly offensive in its refusal to explore Carla's actual personality. Instead it just shows us a bunch of cute "aww" moments that are ineffective if we don't care about the people we're watching. It might possibly rate half a star, but I've decided to be gracious and give it a whole one. 1 star.

The Apostle (1997)

A very slow-moving film that is well acted but spends most of its time wandering. The interesting thing here is not anything in the making of the film, it's the character. The movie presents us with a paradoxical main character and then teases us with him, always promising more information but never actually giving it to us. I'm glad I saw it with a group of people who put the time into talking it through afterwards, because if I had watched it on my own I would have just been frustrated and felt like the movie didn't give me enough. And so because of that odd dynamic, I'm not sure how to categorize this movie. I feel like it must be much better than I'm giving it credit for, but I just didn't get it. 3 stars.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Fedora (1978)

Billy Wilder's earlier film Sunset Blvd is a much better story of aging actresses who once captivated the world. However, that inevitable comparison aside, this film is uneven. It spends too much of its time in unwieldy back story that should have found another way to be told. Instead it all felt very anticlimactic and poorly handled. Marthe Keller's performance is also very disappointing and never really seems to connect to the story. But perhaps that's the point - Fedora is never terribly connected to her surroundings. It's a nice attempt at a good story but overall it falls a bit flat. 2.5 stars.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Tim Burton's dark gloom always kind of an ethereal gothic beauty about him. In Alice, his world is mesmerizing to watch. He plays with our sense of proportion, our sense of color, our sense of movement... and it's dark and occasionally frightening but always fascinating. As long as I kept in mind that this was NOT going to be just a retread of the book or movie, but its own story in itself, I was able to sit back and enjoy it. The all-star cast here does NOT go to waste. Every one of them here is fantastic in their roles. I'm not sure this movie would be nearly as impressive on DVD, but in the theaters it was an impressive visual feat. That carries it further than the story does. 3.5 stars.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Run, Fat Boy, Run (2008)

There aren't a lot of laugh-out-loud moments in this film, so fans of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz might be disappointed. I always find Simon Pegg charming in the role of "well-intentioned loser." He's an easy character to root for in this. And it's because of that that this movie is as entertaining as it is. We genuinely want him to get the girl in the end. And the ending was rather predictable... but *extremely* satisfying. It's just not the kind of movie you might expect if you came in looking for Shaun of the Dead, but it's a thoroughly pleasant romantic comedy. 3.5 stars.

The Crazies (2010)

As far as movies about zombie-like creatures goes, this one isn't bad on the scariness factor. There are some genuinely creepy moments, as well as a lot of run-of-the-mill spring-loaded cats. A few scenes are even fairly touching (although any touching moments in the film seem to be made pointless by the film's final sequence, but I won't get into that). For what it is, it's quite capable. Just don't expect more. 3 stars.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The High and the Mighty (1954)

This is a great concept for a movie - reminds me a tiny bit of a quieter character-based version of Lost. However, cheesy writing makes this movie nearly unwatchable. During moments that should have been interesting, I was suddenly jolted out of the movie by some terrible line of dialogue. I would love to see this movie remade, because it's such a sad example of a good idea gone terribly wrong. 2 stars.

Buddy Buddy (1981)

The weakest of the Jack Lemmon/Walter Matthau movie pairings I've seen. It has one or two funny moments, but overall both actors are underutilized, the script is weak, the story is cliched except for it's far-too-abrupt ending, and the characters are *too* bizarre and caricatured for us to do much but just stare at them in confusion. Far from a great film. 2.5 stars.