Thursday, June 30, 2011

Closer (2004)

I read this play a few months ago and was very impressed by it. The script is no less impressive in the movie version. The dialogue is sharp and thoughtful. It's difficult to write characters who are this encompassed by deception. The four actors involved tackle their roles masterfully, creating a dark but fascinating look at sex, romance, and intimacy. Hardly a feel-good film, but very well done. 4 stars.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hustle & Flow (2005)

Well-told story that creates a very vivid atmosphere for a world I know nothing about. The characters started off hazy for me but transformed into a really interesting group. Not sure I could say I enjoyed it, but I was impressed. 3 stars.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)

(Mild spoilers ahead.) This was a nice idea and everything, but I didn't buy any of it, not for a moment. Perhaps the slightly surreal quality of the story, the dialogue, and the acting was intentional, but it didn't work for me at all, with the exception of Martin Sheen's incredibly creepy portrayal of a pedophile. Every word Jodie Foster utters comes out as a halting, William Shatner type of expositional speech. The fake twist halfway through the movie seemed particularly silly, and the ending would have been nice and satisfying if it had in any way been an actual answer to the problem at hand. Strange, surreal, and not compelling enough to get away with it. 2 stars.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Marooned (1969)

There's a LOT of technobabble in this film. There are entire scenes consisting of people checking all the various equipment. Some of these scenes work, but others are painfully slow. This movie takes a long time to get going, but once it does, it's an entertaining space thriller. Gene Hackman is especially good as one of the marooned astronauts. The final 20 minutes or so are truly suspenseful (I kept yelling out loud at the screen) and are a mostly satisfying conclusion to the long build-up. 3 stars.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Let the Right One In (2008)

I was thoroughly ready to love this movie, but overall, I was underwhelmed by it. I really like the premise and I love vampire lore, so I'm not sure what went wrong here. I never felt much connection to the characters, even though I clearly *should* have. Visually, however, the movie is stunning - the pool scene in particular stands out as an absolutely wonderful (if horrifying) moment in the movie.

It's possible that on a second viewing this film would connect with me a bit more deeply, but as it stands, I greatly admire it but don't enjoy it. 3 stars.

The Ant Bully (2006)

Well, there's just nothing special about this movie, is there? It mostly manages to avoid pop culture references, but the story is ridiculous and cliched (several moments meant to be treated seriously got loud bursts of laughter from me) and there's not a single character worth paying attention to. I know it's just a kids' movie, but Pixar (and most of the Disney oeuvre) have taught me that that's no excuse for making a boring movie. This is not worth checking out. 1.5 stars.

Another Woman (1988)

Aside from the lovely Midnight in Paris, all the Woody Allen movies I've seen recently seemed to be a bit flat. I'm not sure whether it was my response to them or that I was just down to the final not-so-good ones. But Another Woman was marvelous, and made me remember once again why I love him so much as a writer/director. The script was effortless, the characters vivid, and Gena Rowlands in particular deserves so much praise for her acting in this role. She creates a fascinating character who, even with voiceover narration, which I usually find clunky, is a joy to watch on the screen (though her lack of emotion throughout most of it makes "joy" an odd word to use). This is much more uplifting than a lot of Woody Allen's dramatic movies, and it left me feeling wonderful and satisfied. What a great movie. 4.5 stars.

The Omen (1976)

This movie wouldn't be so bad if it didn't work SO HARD at being... well, ominous. The premise itself is a good one, and the acting wasn't bad, but the camerawork and the music (oh boy, that music) went crazy trying to let us know every few minutes that we were supposed to be scared. The best moments were the few tense moments that weren't underscored by evil chanting, or that didn't have the camera slowly zooming in on someone's expression of terror. Whenever that music started, however, I was immediately yanked out of whatever tension I was in and just started laughing instead. This is NOT what is hoped for from a horror flick. 2 stars.

Peeping Tom (1960)

This is a wonderful thriller. Part of what makes it so interesting is the character of the killer. Mark Lewis is a fascinating person to watch (and actor Karlheinz Bohm does a wonderful job bringing him to life). As his story unfolded, I found myself wondering what his thought process was. What prompted him to do the things he did? Halfway through I was worried that the conclusion would have be unsatisfying for me, but it wrapped itself up very nicely. 4 stars.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I'm Not Scared (2003)

(Major spoilers ahead.) This is an astonishingly beautiful coming-of-age... what, thriller? There are certainly some thriller-like moments throughout, but it seems to me to be primarily a drama, especially in light of the final scene. It got a lot of comparisons to The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, especially given the ending, although it's a bit ambiguous what Michele's fate is in this one. However, I hated Boy in the Striped Pajamas - I found the ending contrived and felt that it emotionally contradicted all they were trying to do with the story - and I loved this. Michele is a wonderful character and Giuseppe Cristiano plays him brilliantly. Really, really nicely done. 4 stars.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New York, New York (1977)

I love that Martin Scorsese decided to do a musical. And this is a pretty good one. The many musical numbers are all pretty good (aside from the disjointed and out-of-place Happy Endings sequence). The story itself is interesting, too. Both Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli do a good job portraying the ups and downs of this relationship. It's a little long and rambly to pull a solid narrative out of it, but it's a good ride and the characters are intriguing. 3 stars.

The Big Lebowski (1998)

I have the same problem with The Big Lebowski that I do with a lot of the modern indie comedies. The emphasis is on assembling a cast of quirky-for-no-particular-reason characters rather than on creating inherently funny situations or people. The character who I found most consistently funny was Philip Seymour Hoffman, especially in the first scene as he attempts to be cheerful and aboveboard and respectable. I can picture someone like that existing. I can see the awkward conflicts in his situation at the moment and every movement is an attempt to deal with that, and that is funny to me. Most of the characters didn't seem to have much motivation other than, "Be quirky now," and that's something that doesn't sit well with me.

That being said, I can see why it's a cult classic. It did have a few moments that made me smile, and it's not a *bad* movie, just happened to hit one of my pet peeves. Glad I've finally seen it and can cross it off my list. 3 stars.

Monday, June 20, 2011

War and Peace (1956)

Nothing very interesting or special about this movie. It jumps back and forth between following a specific group of civilians and showing the bigger picture of the war. The first is occasionally interesting (Audrey Hepburn in particular stands out) but the latter caused a great deal of emotional disconnect. The last third of the film focused almost entirely on the politics and military strategies, all but abandoning the original cast of characters. Too long a movie for not nearly enough payoff. 2 stars.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Yojimbo (1961)

This is definitely my least favorite of the three Kurosawa films I've seen. It was the first time in these films that I had a great deal of difficulty actually following the story. With so many characters, I frequently got confused as to what was happening and why. However, Toshiro Mifune was wonderful as always, and the scene at the end where he approaches an entire group of people who want to kill him is pretty fantastic. 3 stars.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Oh, welcome back, Woody Allen. I have liked some of his less popular films these past several years, but this was marvelous. I'd very comfortably categorize it among his best work. I'd never have thought Owen Wilson would ever be an appropriate casting choice for the central Woody Allen character, but somehow it works, and I like Wilson more than I have in anything he's ever done. This is a charming story with a marvelous mixture of fantasy and reality (something found in most of my favorite Woody Allen films). I couldn't help but smile through the whole thing. Wonderfully done. 4.5 stars.

The Net (1995)

A silly little thriller that really doesn't do much of anything or go anywhere. There's nothing really very good about it - it's just quite bland, aside from the fact that Jeremy Northam makes rather an interesting villain. 1.5 stars.

Oldboy (2003)

HOLY CRAP. That may not be a very official-sounding way to start off this review, but it's honestly what I was thinking the entire time. This is a fascinating movie - extremely original in the way it tells its story. It populates its extreme darkness with surprising moments of comedy. The score... wow. The score is incredible. Elevates all the fight scenes and extremely violent moments to something greater than just a cool adrenaline rush. The final 20 minutes or so are heartbreaking and astounding and really, really well put together. My only real complaint is that in the middle of the movie, for about half an hour or so, it lagged, and my interest, so captured in the first 40 minutes, wandered. But as a whole, really, REALLY interesting movie. Beautifully done. 4 stars.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Quiz Show (1994)

A well-written, well-acted story that somehow is missing something. It was a good ride, but when it finished I felt unsatisfied. Not sure I can articulate what failed to work for me. It just all fell a little flat. 3 stars.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Rashomon (1950)

This is the second film I've seen by Kurosawa - I *like* him! This is a less sprawling story than Seven Samurai, but much more convoluted. I loved how each retelling of the story brought new insight into the characters. Really nicely done. 4 stars.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Raging Bull (1980)

Well, this isn't going to be a popular response, but... I don't get the hype. I really don't. I frequently like Scorsese a lot - I recently saw Goodfellas and Taxi Driver for the first time and loved them both - but it took a lot longer than it should have to get through this movie. I just kept losing interest in it and wandering off to get a snack or something. There were moments when La Motta's character would shine through to me and I'd pay a bit more attention, but then it would all just kind of fade away. Disappointing - given how much I'd liked Scorsese in the past, I'd hoped to find a new favorite in this one as well. 2 stars.

The Third Man (1949)

(Spoilers ahead.) Let me start by saying I'm not a huge fan of noir. I find it largely predictable and uninteresting, and even the better ones are ones I like in spite of themselves. That being said, this was just all right for me. I liked the plot and thought Orson Welles' portrayal of Harry Lime was fascinating. However, he was only on screen for a few minutes of the movie, and most of the time I had to watch the highly unlikable Holly Martins' fickle jumping back and forth between every equally confident theory. Not sure if it was Cotten's portrayal or the character itself, but I never warmed to it. Welles is the best part of this movie... too bad most of it isn't him. 2.5 stars.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

I had a great time watching this movie but am not sure if I pulled anything very substantial out of it in the end. The chemistry between all these characters is phenomenal, the acting is wonderful, and the dialogue is lots of fun, but if it was trying to make a larger point it slipped past me. However, this is certainly a step up from my response to Pulp Fiction, so perhaps Tarantino has managed to grow on me a bit. 3.5 stars.

M (1931)

A very effective early serial killer movie (the first, says IMDb trivia). Although I usually like stories focusing on the psyche of the insane, I very much liked the focus this movie had on how it affected the town. The early scenes of paranoid citizens jumping to accuse every man who had an encounter with a child showed how much these murders had affected the town. I certainly liked this better than Night of the Hunter, which I've heard it compared to (I found that one unconvincing). Glad I finally watched it. 4 stars.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Blue Valentine (2010)

I wanted to like this movie. It's the kind of movie I *should* have liked. I haven't seen Michelle Williams in much, but I like Ryan Gosling a lot. I love the idea of cross-cutting between the two time periods and there were a few great moments where it would pan from the past to the present and I'd have a startling "Wow, this is the same couple?" moment. Yet as a whole, the movie left me cold and I'm not entirely sure why.

Some guesses: I never felt like I got to know who the characters were, and so even when I was saddened at where their relationship had gone, it was entirely an abstract sadness. Between the two time periods we saw, the characters were so different that I never was able to figure out where to balance the two. Instead of seeing where their individual weaknesses had grown to be major obstacles in their relationship, I felt like I was watching four different individuals who had no connection with each other.

Very disappointing, all the more so because I can't pin down *exactly* why I didn't like it more - I have a feeling there are more things that didn't connect than I have listed but I can't figure out what they are. 2.5 stars.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Splice (2009)

(Some spoilers.) There were two possible movies in this premise. There was a horror monster movie, and there was a drama about the essence of humanity, that kind of thing. Splice could have been either successfully - but tries to do both, and far too abruptly. About 15 minutes from the end of the movie, it switches gears with no warning and no apparent reason. The rest of the film plays out like they thought we were watching a horror film from the very beginning. It's as if someone said, "We haven't had any scares in this movie yet. We promised people scares! Let's up the death count a bunch." I actually liked both of those genres individually done in the movie, but when mashed together like this, it simply didn't fit. Disappointing, because I was thoroughly enjoying it up until it abandoned its original genre. 2.5 stars.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

(Some spoilers ahead, although the opening of the movie hints at its ending, so not *very* spoilery.) This movie HURT. I have younger siblings and can't imagine going through this kind of thing with them. I am not at all a fan of anime - it never feels like the characters are interacting with the real world - but that weird distance serves this movie well, as these two young children simply don't seem to belong in the existence they're suddenly flung into. The script is beautiful and simple. It's quite possible that after another viewing (or after time has past) this would get bumped up half a star, but right now I'm having great difficulty wrapping my mind around it, so I am just going to give it 4 stars and let it sit for awhile. 4 stars.

All That Jazz (1979)

Seeing how much I love musical theater, I'd hoped this would be a bit more personally gripping for me. While the final song and dance number is absolutely fantastic and very fitting for the character, the rest of it is capable but never resonated with me. Roy Scheider is wonderful as Joe Gideon, though - his performance shines throughout the entire movie, even when the story itself is not what I would have hoped. 3.5 stars.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Buried (2010)

(Major spoilers ahead.)

All right. I don't know where to go with this movie, which is why it's currently getting a medium rating. If I were absolutely decided it would be either much higher (which is where I think it's going to go) or much lower.

Ryan Reynolds really pulls off this performance. He's one of those actors who is only interesting and charming when he's not trying to be. He's not a soldier, he's not a police officer, he's a truck driver, and he has never had to mentally prepare himself for being in this kind of situation. He rants and raves and panics, just as the average man would do if he found himself buried alive. Even when he realizes it may use his oxygen quicker, his sympathetic nervous system is kicking in hardcore and causing him to panic.

The movie *is* tense. Absolutely. Especially toward the end, as the sand begins to fill his box, I found myself hardly able to breathe along with him. This movie got compared a lot in the reviews to 127 Hours, which I loved. But there's one vital difference between this one and that: in that one, the hero makes it out alive. In Buried, they build up the tension and build it and build it and build it and then suddenly dash every single hope... and the credits roll. I was absolutely unprepared for this. You expect this to be a thriller, you expect, hold onto the belief that the hero is going to make it out of this situation. Of course he is. That's how these movies work.

My initial reaction was of feeling cheated and very angry. I had a similar reaction to Life is Beautiful, where I felt lied to about the direction the movie was going. A few weeks later, I was able to look back on it and give it a much higher rating because I appreciated the artistry of it. I have a suspicion something similar will happen with this, although, frankly, I don't think I could ever watch this movie again. 3.5 stars.