Monday, August 27, 2012

Short Cuts (1993)

Sorry for the long hiatus... I started a new job and really haven't been watching any movies. Hoping to get back into the swing of things soon.

IMDB plot summary: The everyday lives of a number of suburban Los Angeles residents are the subject of this loosely-knitted collection of short stories.
Directed by Robert Altman. Stars EVERYONE EVER - a few key players are Andie MacDowell, Julianne Moore, Matthew Modine, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Chris Penn, Robert Downey Jr., Lily Tomlin, etc. etc. 

A lot of ensemble films are terrible and uninteresting, but when they're done well, I absolutely love them. And this one is done VERY well. Each one of the stories is interesting in different ways, and the way they all intertwine is fascinating to watch. I also really liked just *how* quickly it jumped from one to the other - never gave me a chance to be bored with a plot. 4 stars.

Best Part: The Chris Penn/Jennifer Jason Leigh storyline was absolutely fascinating.
Worst Part: I never really felt like the Lily Tomlin/Tom Waits one went anywhere. It just kind of... stopped.
Flickchart: #365, below Beetlejuice and above The Hunger Games.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)

IMDB plot summary: A 1960s hipster secret agent is brought out of cryofreeze to oppose his greatest enemy in the 1990s, where his social attitudes are glaringly out of place.
Directed by Jay Roach. Stars Mike Myers and Elizabeth Hurley.

I didn't know what I was going to think of this movie. I was hopeful I'd like it, but I'm not particularly a Mike Myers fan, and I knew it was the kind of comedy that might really rub me the wrong way. Well, that didn't really happen, but neither did it really grab me. There are a few very clever moments, including some that I didn't expect (for example, I didn't expect to be quite as amused as I was with the body part-censoring scene at the very end). But the jokes I actually laughed at were few and far between, and the silly characters and situations couldn't fill the gaps very well. This is also the kind of movie, however, that could grow on me over time, so maybe some day I'll watch it again and see if I enjoy it any more. 2.5 stars.

Best Part: Honestly, I think the funniest scene was the bit during the credits where he's doing the photo shoot. Also, Seth Green is super entertaining. "We'll shoot 'em together! It'll be fun!"
Worst Part: Most of the jokes went on JUST longer than I like, and so there were a lot of eye-rolling moments where I was thinking, "Still? We're still on this?"
Flickchart: #908, below The Fortune Cookie and above No Country For Old Men.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall (2011)

IMDB plot summary: A disfigured musical genius, hidden away in the Paris Opera House, terrorizes the opera company for the unwitting benefit of a young protégée whom he trains and loves.
Directed by Nick Morris and Laurence Connor. Stars Ramin Karimloo, Sierra Boggess, and Hadley Fraser.

Now THAT, Gerard Butler, is how you play the Phantom.

I am a megafan of the original show who *hated* the movie. In particular, I hated Butler, for two major reasons. First of all, the man is not a TERRIBLE singer, but this is the worst possible musical for him. I had similar feelings seeing Nick Jonas in the concert cast of Les Miserables. His singing voice does not fit the character, the theatrical style, or the songs, and as such, he destroys everything he sings in the movie (including my second favorite showtune of all eternity). Secondly, Butler's Phantom is a very odd portrayal. The Phantom is equal parts menacing and pathetic, but Butler simply comes across as fairly cranky in every scene.

Ramin Karimloo fixes all those problems. I've seen three different live performances of Phantom, and he was easily on par with the best of those. His Phantom is fascinating to watch - at times, he is the most pitiful creature, and then he suddenly switches gears and is in a murderous rage. He has the voice to go with the character, too - it's easy to believe his talent has made him both Christine's vocal teacher and seductor.

Although at first I wasn't sure about Sierra Boggess, she ultimately brings a level of compassion to the role that I haven't seen in many other Christines. Her Christine is not drawn to the Phantom solely because of his voice and her lack of willpower - she is pulled back again and again because she *wants to help*. The final scene, where she bids the Phantom goodbye, was extremely moving - even as she gains her independence and takes it, you can see her wishing she could bring the Phantom some happiness. Not because she is in love with him, by any means, but because his sorrow touches her deeply.

This production's Raoul is the low point, however. Patrick Wilson was my favorite part of the 2004 version, and Hadley Fraser is... rather despicable. Instead of being the Phantom's antithesis, a sweet and reassuring character, he, too, treats Christine as if she were a child, singing every line with an oddly commanding tone. "All I Ask of You" was particularly bizarre - in the scene leading up to it, he responded to her (very legitimate) fears with annoyed facial expressions and deliveries that did not match his words. When he did begin the famous love song, he looked not at Christine, but directly out at the audience, giving the impression that he was saying what needed to be said to calm down his hysterical girlfriend, but that he'd really rather not be there. I kept thinking any minute he was going to roll his eyes as he sang words he clearly didn't believe. I usually dislike the character of Raoul, but for his spinelessness - and here I found him *missing* that spinelessness, because at least it had a touch of the sweet to it.

The show is shot fairly well, although there are moments I wish we saw more of the stage (I always love seeing Phantom from the last row of the theater, since so many scenes are SO BIG and SO BUSY). For technical reasons, the spectacular Act 1 finale chandelier crash couldn't happen, so instead the chandelier merely sparks and goes out - so much less impressive, but still fairly effective.

Overall, despite the bizarre acting choices of Raoul, I loved this. It's been far too long since I've seen this show on stage, and I forgot how transcendant this show can be for me. It was the first professional stage production I ever saw, and it remains one of my very favorites, and I'm delighted there is a movie version I can not-hate now. Definitely worth a watch for anyone who likes musicals. 4 stars.

Best Part: Christine leaving the Phantom at the end. Karimloo and Boggess make that scene WORK. Also, "Point of No Return" is stupendous.
Worst Part: "All I Ask of You" and its almost sarcastic delivery.
Flickchart: #338, below Broadway Danny Rose and above Megamind.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

(Spoilers ahead, although I've tried to keep them vague.)

Sadly, this movie falls very flat as a superhero movie for one very important reason: there's hardly any superhero even IN it. The movie is almost 2 1/2 hours long, and we get *maybe* an hour of Batman himself. Most of the movie focuses on the police investigation and Catwoman's "should I be a good guy or a bad guy" dilemma. On my Facebook, I referred to it as "Batman's Friends Slowly Solve Mysteries," because, really, if you take Batman completely out of the equation, you lose hardly anything of the story. There are very few ties to him, emotionally or plot-wise, so there's no reason he couldn't just be pulled out of this movie entirely and have his few actions done by a police officer or even a random bold citizen of Gotham. It's a good crime story and an entertaining action flick, but as a Batman movie, it fails miserably. 3.5 stars.

Best Part: I did love the surprising reveal of the villain. Didn't see that one coming at *all*. I like when movies can take me by surprise.

Flickchart: #686, below Limitless and above Everyone Says I Love You.x

Brave (2012)

What Pixar does best is create situations and comedy that arise from very *real* characters. They stay firmly within the world they've created for themselves, whether that's an abandoned Earth, a world where toys can talk, or deep under the sea, proving that you DON'T need anachronistic jokes to make a movie funny. Brave... doesn't do this so well. The first half of the movie has no coherent emotional center, and, therefore, both the dramatic and comedic moments feel forced. It's not until the second half that the whole thing solidifies for me. However, that gets the ball rolling, and by the very end of the movie I was thoroughly enjoying myself. It's not a very *original* offering from Pixar, but kids will like it just fine, Merida is ultimately a great character (she's like Ariel but, you know, actually is sorry when she almost kills her parents), the movie *looks* gorgeous, and there are a few wonderful little touches. The movie didn't quite meet Pixar's standards - let's hope their next one gets this studio back on track. 3 stars.

Best Part: The bear fight at the end was excellently done - suspenseful and emotionally charged.
Worst Part: "If you'd like to inquire about a portrait or wedding cake toppers, pour vial one into the cauldron." REALLY? That's neither a clever joke nor a funny one. Pixar, I am disappoint.
Flickchart: #695, below Forgiving Dr. Mengele and above No Highway in the Sky.

Fish Tank (2009)

This movie took me much longer to watch than it should have. I kept losing interest and leaving to get a snack or something and not coming back. Then I'd come back, rewind some to get back into the swing of things, try watching again, lose interest again, and so on and so on. Although by the end I had objectively decided it was probably a pretty good movie, it wasn't one I could ever say I enjoyed watching. It took me *far* too long to care about the main character and invest in her story, and I know none of this is going to stick with me. So much less than I was hoping for. 2 stars.

Best Part: The scene where she dances with her mom before leaving. That was a really nice moment.
Worst Part: How little I cared throughout most of it.
Flickchart: #909, below Manhattan and above The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio.