Sunday, September 30, 2012

Anonymous (2011)

IMDb plot summary: The theory that it was in fact Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford, who penned Shakespeare's plays. Set against the backdrop of the succession of Queen Elizabeth I and the Essex rebellion against her.
Directed by Roland Emmerich. Stars Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, and Sebastian Armesto.

This movie is far from a great movie. It's melodramatic and very confusing with its constant shifting back and forth in time without much notice (I was 30 minutes into the movie before I realized one of the people I was watching was a younger version of the main character). However, despite all that, it was pretty fun. I'd hoped it would be even more outlandish in its story, matching up the best-known Shakespearean works with a specific political message the author wanted to convey, but this worked pretty well. I always enjoy seeing theater-centered stories, and this one created an entertaining hypothesis and built a fun little story around it. 3 stars.

Best Part: Shakespeare himself was a very fun character. I loved watching him on screen.
Worst Part: The final 20 minutes or so that were all about the politics and not even a little bit about the plays. I'm a theater person, I want to know about the plays!
Flickchart: #876, below 10 Things I Hate About You and above Sherlock Holmes.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011)

IMDb plot summary: Dispatched from his basement room on an errand for his mother, slacker Jeff might discover his destiny (finally) when he spends the day with his brother as he tracks his possibly adulterous wife.
Directed by Jay and Mark Duplass. Starring Jason Segel, Ed Helms, and Susan Sarandon.

Watching this right after Young Adult was an interesting experience, because it's also a story about somebody who never really grew up, although in a different way. This movie, however, is quite a bit more conventional and, though it's very pleasant and very charming, it never really takes off. Jason Segel and Ed Helms never really work for me as brothers (maybe I'm just too familiar with them as other characters). I enjoyed watching it, but I wouldn't put it on a list of favorites. 3 stars.

Best Part: All the elements of "destiny" coming together.
Worst Part: Could not have been less interested in Susan Sarandon's secret admirer story.
Flickchart: #705, below Corrina, Corrina and above Walk the Line.

Young Adult (2011)

IMDb plot summary: Soon after her divorce, a fiction writer returns to her home in small-town Minnesota, looking to rekindle a romance with her ex-boyfriend, who is now happily married and has a newborn daughter.
Directed by Jason Reitman. Stars Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, and Patrick Wilson.

In the first ten minutes of this movie, I told my friend who was watching it with me, "If this turns out to be a movie about how she has to go back to her small hometown and have a baby to be happy, I'm going to be annoyed." I could not have been more wrong. Young Adult takes all the romantic comedy tropes I hate most and turns them upside down, creating a much, much more interesting movie than I had expected. Charlize Theron does an excellent job playing the unbelievably self-centered, shallow popular girl and, even more fun, she never learns the error of her ways. She returns to her hometown just as shallow as ever, having learned only that people back home are jealous of her, and she is content with that knowledge to reform her life, now that she has confirmation that it is an awesome one. This movie is an excellent drama about a fascinating character, but it also made me laugh too - well done again, Jason Reitman! 4 stars.

Best Part: How every time I thought I knew where the story was going, something else happened.
Worst Part: You know, I'm sure there were moments, but nothing's really coming to mind right now. It all hangs together very nicely.
Flickchart: #220, below I'm Not Scared and above The Village.
Musical Theater Person Sighting: That, of course, is Patrick Wilson as Buddy.

The Woman in Black (2012)

(Very mild spoilers ahead.)

IMDb plot summary: A young lawyer travels to a remote village where he discovers the vengeful ghost of a scorned woman is terrorizing the locals.
Directed by James Watkins. Stars Daniel Radcliffe and Ciaran Hinds.

As a horror movie, this one is perfectly serviceable, with plenty of creepy atmosphere and acceptably scary moments. Daniel Radcliffe is not a terribly interesting protagonist, but he is at least believable, which is often surprisingly difficult to find in horror movies. The place where this movie really steps beyond generic is in its ending, which, out of nowhere, goes a completely different direction than I thought it would. At first I wasn't sure at all that I liked it, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, even if it was a sudden transition, at least I'd *remember* this movie now. That ending moved this movie from a 2.5 to 3 stars.

Best Part: The ending.
Worst Part: How, out of nowhere, the main guy just knows what to do to reunite the mother and son. Are ghost reuniting rituals common knowledge in this time period?
Flickchart: #858, below Martian Child and above Single White Female.

Loving Annabelle (2006)

IMDb plot summary: Annabelle is the wise-beyond-her-years newcomer to an exclusive Catholic girls school. Having been expelled from her first two schools she's bound to stir some trouble. Sparks fly between her and her teacher, Simone Bradley. Annabelle pursues Simone relentlessly until Simone must make a choice between following her heart and doing what's right. 
Directed by Katherine Brooks. Stars Erin Kelly and Diane Gaidry.

I was pretty thoroughly unimpressed with this movie. I have no idea what it was trying to accomplish. Its plot reads like a thinly veiled excuse to show lots of lesbian sex, except there wasn't that much sex when it came right down to it. It could have been an attempt at a coming-of-age story, except the teenage character really never came of age or learned anything. It could have been a character study, except that characterization was never developed. It could have been a drama about forbidden/taboo love, except that the forbidenness of it is, oddly, never really discussed. It could have been a poignant LGBT movie, except for the fact that it painted all the lesbians in the story as sex-crazed and vaguely predatory for no particular reason. In short, it feels like a movie that was trying to go so many directions that it never made it to any of its goals. This script needed a bunch more rewrites. 1 star.

Best Part: Collins was an awesome character. Why did she pretty much never do anything?
Worst Part: How nobody seemed to ever address the fact that a teacher/high school student relationship is NOT OKAY. The fact that they are both female changes nothing.
Flickchart: #1442, below Johnny Tremain and above Mamma Mia!

Cape Fear (1991)

IMDb plot summary: A convicted rapist, released from prison after serving a 14 year sentence, stalks the family of the lawyer who originally defended him.
Directed by Martin Scorsese. Stars Nick Nolte and Robert De Niro.

I'm a big fan of the original movie, and much as I generally enjoy Scorsese, this one pales in comparison. It's not as creepy, the characters aren't as interesting (especially the father - Nick Nolte is no Gregory Peck), and the movie is rather obnoxiously scored, with a tendency to play melodramatically ominous music over fairly innocuous scenes. It's like watching a movie with someone who keeps yelling, "ARE YOU SCARED YET? ARE YOU SCARED YET?" It's not a *bad* movie, but I was expecting so much more, especially with Scorsese at the wheel. Watch the original and skip this one. 2.5 stars.

Best Part: I liked De Niro pretty well. He wasn't nearly as good as Robert Mitchum in the original, but he was kind of interesting on his own.
Worst Part: The music.
Flickchart: #917, below Stepmom and above Interstate 60.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Seventh Seal (1957)

IMDB plot summary: A man seeks answers about life, death, and the existence of God as he plays chess against the Grim Reaper during the Black Plague.
Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Stars Max von Sydow, Gunnar Bj√∂rnstrand, Bengt Ekerot, and Nils Poppe.

This is my fourth Bergman film and ranks third out of all of them for me. It has moments that I absolutely love, and others that just don't set well with me, although I can't quite pinpoint what about them rubs me the wrong way. It probably says something that the two Bergman films I really, really liked were the ones most grounded in reality, without fantastical elements or dream sequences. Usually I respond very strongly to mixing fantasy with reality, but for some reason here it never quite works for me. It's a series of stories that I have trouble gelling together into one emotionally coherent whole, although I feel like a second viewing might help with that. 3 stars.

Best Part: I really liked the contrast in character between Jof and Jons, and the final two scenes highlighted that the best for me.
Worst Part: The scene with the smith and his wife was certainly entertaining, but it was one of the ones that felt really jarring in contrast with the rest of the movie.
Flickchart: Well, currently #889, but that's too low, mostly due to Cinema Paradiso being ranked too low. I'll have to do some rearranging.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

IMDb plot summary: After being deemed unfit for military service, Steve Rogers volunteers for a top secret research project that turns him into Captain America, a superhero dedicated to defending USA ideals.
Directed by Joe Johnston. Stars Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving and Hayley Atwell.

I feel the same way about almost all superhero movies that I feel about this: I thoroughly enjoy them while I'm in the middle of them, and then I forget them pretty quickly afterward. I do remember enjoying this one a lot. Captain America is an amusingly flamboyant character, as he bursts into foreign enemy locations with a bright, not-at-all-conspicuous American flag shield, and it's easy to root for Chris Evans' earnest portrayal. Hugo Weaving makes a wonderfully over-the-top villain. This is no gritty reboot - it thoroughly embraces all the shininess and silliness of old-timey comic books, and it is a joy to watch. It's not going to stick in my head much longer beyond this week, but it's a great fluffy popcorn movie. 3 stars.

Best Part: I really liked how they handled the back story. It's a good story and explains a lot about the character.
Worst Part: There's a lot of action all in a row at the end and not enough dialogue. I'm fully aware that's a very personal preference, but there was one point where I just completely zoned out of all the explosions and suddenly discovered all the characters were in planes now and I had no idea how any of them got there.
Flickchart: #664, below Rushmore and above Brothers.

Meet Joe Black (1998)

***Major spoilers ahead in this review, as my main complaint is with the ending***

IMDb plot summary: A media mogul acts as a guide to Death, who takes the form of a young man to learn about life on Earth and in the process, fall in love with his guide's daughter.
Directed by Martin Brest. Stars Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, and Claire Forlani.

I read the play this story was based on a few years ago and fell completely in love with it, so decided to check out this movie. Overall, it was a disappointment. The story involved did not nearly justify the three hours I spent watching. My main complaints centered around the main female character and the plotlines involving her. She had absolutely no personality (at the end, I realized I wasn't entirely sure what her name was. I named her Julie). As the love plotline drew to a close, I was entirely dissatisfied with the ending they chose to go with - I can't remember how the original play ended, but I liked it, so it must have been better than this bizarre one, where a dead character is resurrected for her and somehow she knows that the original guy she fell in love with was actually Death. Or, well, maybe she knows this. At one point he seemed to be telepathically communicating it.

Either way, the character development and growth didn't really happen in the first 2 1/2 hours, and then it closed off in a completely nonsensical way, that left me going, "Wait - what? How does that work? WHY DOES THAT WORK? No! You can't do that! Movie, that is dumb!" However, Brad Pitt is ever so charming in this slightly offbeat role, and I found myself caring about his romantic plotline solely because he had won me over, even though I was unimpressed with his choice of woman or resolution. 2.5 stars.

Best Part: The scenes between Death and the dying woman are really interesting to watch.
Worst Part: The end. "Wait, does she know now? Wait, is that guy alive now? Wait, is nobody going to be suspicious that her father walked off into the woods with this stranger and then is found dead and he doesn't report it because he knows nothing about it? Wait, is he really going to have to be part of the family now that he knows ABSOLUTELY NOTHING of what's been going on the past day? Isn't that going to pose a problem for the business end of things? THIS IS A HORRIBLE ENDING!"
Flickchart: #813, below Hollywood Homicide and above Glory.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

IMDb plot summary: Kevin's mother struggles to love her strange child, despite the increasingly vicious things he says and does as he grows up. But Kevin is just getting started, and his final act will be beyond anything anyone imagined.
Directed by Lynne Ramsay. Stars Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, and Ezra Miller.

Though the choppy, dreamy editing between present and past makes it difficult to tell sometimes what is *actually happening*, this movie is fascinating once it gets going. I found myself fascinated by the character of Kevin, simultaneously terrified and intrigued, wanting to find out what was going on in his head. Of course the audience never really gets that satisfaction, but it's an incredible journey all the same. The dynamic of the relationship between Kevin and his mother is something that really sucked me into it, and I couldn't look away - very "train wreck." Movies like this really make me a little annoyed that 2012's Best Picture nominees were so humdrum. Even if I didn't love this movie, it trumps The Help and The Descendants any day. 4 stars.

Best Part: Kevin. And by best in this case, I mean "most chilling."
Worst Part: That editing, with sudden unexplained shots of random inanimate objects. I'm sure it was supposed to be emotional and evocative, but it didn't work for me in this case.
Flickchart: #520, below Hot Fuzz and above The Band Wagon. It is very different from either one of those.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)

IMDb plot summary: Ron Burgundy is San Diego's top rated newsman in the male dominated broadcasting of the 1970's, but that's all about to change when a new female employee with ambition to burn arrives in his office.
Directed by Adam McKay. Stars Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, and David Koechner.

Oh, I resisted this movie. I resisted watching it at all because it was popular and everyone told me I had to see it, so I told myself I would never enjoy it or find it funny. Then I finally decided I should watch it, and it turned out to be one of the funniest movies I've seen in a LONG time. It hit exactly all the right spots for me, just the right balance between absurdity and story-based context. I can only imagine that large portions of this were heavily improvised - most of the lines just don't FEEL scripted, and they take me by surprise, producing a long series of unexpected giggles and guffaws. It's been awhile since I found something that meshed so *well* with my sense of humor, and it was wonderful to watch. Pure delight for me all the way through. I suspect this is going to become one of my favorites. 4.5 stars.

Best Part: Steve Carell. Almost every single thing he said or did made me laugh.
Worst Part: I was next-to-not-at-all interested in the romance, but Will Ferrell was always funny enough to override any boredom with the plot.
Flickchart: #125, below Sleepless in Seattle and above Catch Me If You Can.

Bernie (2012)

IMDb plot summary (which I have truncated because they give away a MAJOR PLOT POINT which you're clearly not supposed to know about until halfway through): In small-town Texas, the local mortician strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow.
Directed by Richard Linklater. Stars Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConnaughey.

Richard Linklater, you've done it again. This is a wonderful, compelling drama that focuses on an unusual topic with a great deal of heart. A lot of this is due to Jack Black's wonderful performance. Let's add him to the list of actors I'd like to see do more serious work, or at the very least quieter comedies. This isn't an overly dramatic role, but when he just plays a normal person instead of a crazy comedy caricature, I think he's one of the most likeable actors ever. (The Holiday is also a great example of that - he was clearly the best part of the entire movie, and he was just kind of a normal, friendly person there.) The movie tells a story that's fascinating to watch and easy to care about. One of the more solid dramas I've seen lately. 4 stars.

Best Part: Jack Black and the incredible character he created.
Worst Part: I don't know. It was pretty solid.
Flickchart: #446, below Spirited Away and above Ordet.

The Dictator (2012)

IMDb plot summary: The heroic story of a dictator who risks his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed.
Directed by Larry Charles. Stars Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley and Jason Mantzoukas.

I'm on a Sacha Baron Cohen kick right now. I just watched Borat last week and then went out and found all of Da Ali G Show (the US version) on YouTube, so I've been watching that. When it comes down to it, I just think his characters are hilarious and his jokes often take me by surprise with how funny they are. The Dictator got several out-loud laughs out of me, while usually I just chuckle quietly during comedies. It is silly, ridiculous, often crude, but, for the most part, genuinely funny. I was worried he might not be funny on his own, without the fake reporter gimmick he's done for so long. I am glad I was wrong. 4 stars.

Best Part: "My name is... Max." "Max what?" "Imumoccupancyonehundredandtwenty." "Your name has a number in it? That is a made-up name."
Worst Part: The scene with the woman giving birth. Somehow every single joke in that entire segment fell flat for me.
Flickchart: #432, below Primer and above Bridesmaids.

Spellbound (1945)

***Major spoilers in this review***

IMDb plot summary: A female psychiatrist protects the identity of an amnesia patient accused of murder while attempting to recover his memory.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Stars Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck.

While I loved the psychological aspect of this movie, I was thoroughly frustrated by Ingrid Bergman's character. I am not one to complain about weak female characters, but *really*? She was an interesting character up until she fell in love, and then she went completely stupid. There were moments in the middle where I thought it was going to go a sort of Bonnie and Clyde route, a devoted couple committing crimes together... but, no, it turns out in the end that she was right all along to assume that this man she just met and knows nothing about was completely innocent of his crime. This is not romantic or interesting to me, and is a thoroughly disappointing answer to the mystery. It certainly messed with my enjoyment of the movie overall, leaving me frustrated with her character most of the time. 2.5 stars.

Best Part: Constance at the beginning.
Worst Part: Constance at the end.
Flickchart: #984, below The Wicker Man (the 1970s version) and above Repo! The Genetic Opera.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Vanilla Sky (2001)

IMDb plot summary: A successful publisher finds his life taking a turn for the surreal after a car accident with a jaded lover.
Directed by Cameron Crowe. Stars Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, and a rather impressive ensemble.

After a day or two of watching pretty terrible movies, I then got... this. Sometimes a movie resonates with something deep, deep inside you and you can't quite figure out what exactly it's hitting or why, but it just... fills up your soul. It's very hard to explain the experience I had watching this film.

The film floats from one genre to another. I was never sure whether I was watching a serious relational drama, a sci-fi adventure, an experimental art piece, a murder mystery, a romance, a psychological thriller... and yet somehow it never feels disjointed. The story is fascinating, the dialogue beautifully written, and the visuals of this movie are mind-blowingly gorgeous.

I read an article once that said that the part of our brain which experiences the deepest pleasure is not really connected to the language center, which is why we have so much difficulty expressing the things that touch us the most. We find words that come close, we find words that suffice, but nothing really communicates it fully. And I'm going to use that excuse for why this review is so hard to write. It's the first movie since I saw Scott Pilgrim that I have no problem giving 5 stars to after a single viewing.

Best Part: The final scene. There are no words.
Worst Part: I got nothing.
Flickchart: When I wrote this review, the Flickchart website was down. When it returns, I'll come back and edit this section.

Saw (2004)

IMDb plot summary: With a dead body laying between them, two men wake up in the secure lair of a serial killer who's been nicknamed "Jigsaw". The men must follow various rules and objectives if they wish to survive and win the deadly game set for them.
Directed by James Wan. Starring Leigh Wannell, Cary Elwes and Danny Glover.

From what I'd heard about this movie, I knew there was a possibility I'd love it, as well as a possibility that it'd come too close to "torture porn" for me, but the one thing I never expected was that it would be BORING. It's a psychological thriller with no psychology, a puzzle movie with no real puzzles, a character study with undeveloped characters, and a horror movie with no real scares. The acting is abysmal, even from actors I normally enjoy. The movie tries to paint itself as a "smart" horror movie, but it talks wayyyyy down to its audience, even going so far as to have voice-overs reading aloud notes we can see ourselves and providing wholly unnecessary narration to flashbacks ("I was walking to my car..." Yes, we can see that). Not to mention the endless recaps. How dumb does this movie think their audience is? I PROMISE you I still remember what happened in the flashback like 30 minutes ago.

This could have been a fascinating two-person theatrical-style piece, and I think that's what it was aiming for in the scenes with just the two prisoners, but the characters are so dull that it fails miserably. The *potential* for this movie is what made the final product so disappointing.

When Cary Elwes was on screen, I played "find all the times he drops his American accent." (Answer: A LOT.) When he wasn't, I played FreeCell. 1 star.

Best Part: The very final minute was actually pretty creepy. Too bad there wasn't anything like that in the rest of the movie. Also, the premise really is great. I wish it lived up to it, even a little bit.
Worst Part: Every time the movie would treat me like I had the attention span of a 5-year-old. It recapped and restated so many times that I felt zero worry that I would miss important plot points by playing FreeCell along with it. It'd just re-explain it all for me later anyway.
Flickchart: #1434, below Mamma Mia! and above Kate and Leopold. Now there's a triple feature...

Bye Bye Birdie (1963)

IMDb plot summary: A rock singer travels to a small Ohio town to make his "farewell" television performance and kiss his biggest fan before he is drafted.
Directed by George Sidney. Stars Janet Leigh, Dick Van Dyke, and Ann-Margret.

This movie varies greatly from the play it was based on (the 1995 TV version is much closer). This version is sillier, more outlandish, and much less coherent. However, I wouldn't even have a problem with its idiotic plot (not even the moment where they drug the conductor of the Russian ballet on the Ed Sullivan show in the hopes of getting him to conduct REALLY FAST so the dancers dance REALLY FAST so there's enough time for Conrad Birdie to sing) if the musical numbers were fun and energetic. But despite this musical reprising some of its Broadway cast and being made during the heyday of musicals... the musical numbers in this kind of suck. The singing is off, the sound mixing is terrible, the choreography is bizarre, and most have zero energy. My two favorite songs, "Put On a Happy Face" and "A Lot of Livin' To Do," are great fun, but this version offers me the most lackluster versions of these two I have EVER seen. With a weak plot and weak songs, there's very little I can recommend about Bye Bye Birdie. Believe it or not, the TV version with Jason Alexander and Vanessa Williams is far superior. At least that one enjoyed its musical numbers. 1 star.

Best Part: "How Lovely To Be a Woman" is one of my least favorite songs in the show, but it was the highlight of this movie for me.
Worst Part: "Put on a Happy Face" made me sad. That's probably not what that song should do.
Flickchart: #1400, below Sleeper and above Robin Hood: Men in Tights.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Rushmore (1998)

IMDb plot summary: The king of Rushmore prep school is put on academic probation. [Wow. That's a terrible summary. But I'm not correcting it because I'm nearly out of Internet time and want to finish posting this review before I have to leave.]
Directed by Wes Anderson. Starring Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and Olivia Williams.

There's nothing really wrong with Rushmore. Watching it gives me a general sense of well-being and a desire to see the main characters succeed. But neither do I find it as funny as I like my comedies or as poignant as I like my dramas. It may be that Wes Anderson requires multiple viewings for me - it wasn't until a second viewing of The Royal Tenenbaums that I actually enjoyed that movie - but on first impression, this one gets tucked into the "pleasant and harmless" category. I did particularly like Jason Schwartzman in the role - Max Fisher is a very likeable character - but he wasn't quite enough to pull the movie up from "fine." 3 stars.

Best Part: Hmm. Nothing really sticks out. I'll go with Jason Schwartzman in general, then, since I did enjoy him.
Worst Part: I'm sure I was supposed to have SOME sort of response to Bill Murray's character. I didn't.
Flickchart: #658, below The Secret of Santa Vittoria and above Brothers.

Nell (1994)

IMDb plot summary: In a remote woodland cabin, a small town doctor discovers Nell - a beautiful young hermit woman with many secrets.
Directed by Michael Apted. Starring Jodie Foster, Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardsonn.

I am fascinated by stories about feral children (or, in this case, near-feral adults) but as soon as this movie hit the halfway mark, it headed downhill. What started off as an interesting psychologically-driven character study turned into a cliched story of how the young and innocent can teach us to be better people. And I have never liked those stories, much less when they feel as forced as this one. Mix that with a horrific "emotional person makes an emotional speech in a courtroom and wins for no apparent reason" ending, and you have something that started off interesting but soon fell completely apart. Disappointing. 1.5 stars.

Best Part: The moments when I'd suddenly realize I could understand what she was saying. As a linguiphile (I need to actually look up what word I want there...) I loved that.
Worst Part: The courtroom scene. Wowwww.
Flickchart: #1340, below Camp and above Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)

IMDB plot summary: Kazakh TV talking head Borat is dispatched to the United States to report on the greatest country in the world. With a documentary crew in tow, Borat becomes more interested in locating and marrying Pamela Anderson.
Directed by Larry Charles. Stars Sacha Baron Cohen and Ken Davitian.

Let me preface this by saying I *love* Da Ali G Show. I think it is absolutely hilarious. However, of the three regular Sacha Baron Cohen characters, Borat was my least favorite, so I expected to be underwhelmed with the movie. To my surprise, I really liked it. I laughed out loud several times, and not at the parts I expected. I knew the premise of the show and its involvement of real people, so I expected to enjoy those parts and be rather bored with the scripted sections of him in his village and so on, but those turned out to be some of the funniest parts of the movie. Although the Borat characters pushes societal boundaries in a way that absolutely could be deemed offensive, I personally think it's occasionally a very, very revealing look at our country. (Of particular interest was the rodeo scene, where Borat's blessing on the war on terror gets increasingly more violent, while the crowd cheers him on.) Overall, much funnier than I anticipated - definitely a pleasant surprise. 4 stars.

Best Part: His conversation with the yard sale woman he thought was a gypsy. It was a tiny segment, but I laughed really hard through the whole thing.
Worst Part: The scene where he and his director fight naked in the hotel. I really did not need to have any of those images in my mind. And the scene went on WAY longer than it ever needed to.
Flickchart: #371, below The Hunger Games and above Dark Shadows. (Two movies I saw for the first time on the same day. WEIRD.) Also, this is a bit high, but that was because I have 12 Monkeys ranked way too high on my chart.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

IMDB plot summary: When two girls move to the country to be near their ailing mother, they have adventures with the wonderous forest spirits who live nearby.
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Stars (in the English version I saw) Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, and Tim Daly.

This is my fourth Miyazaki movie and, I think, my favorite. While Spirited Away had wild adventures and a sense of excitement all around it, this one was very moving. I was really drawn into the story of these two girls, and as we learn more about their family situation and their mother's health, I really, really wanted them to be OK. I'm always on the lookout for "best parts" in movies, and I kept changing my mind on this one. There were so many really wonderful moments. 4 stars.

Best Part: I think I've settled on Kanta as my favorite part. His clumsy attempts to show Satsuki he likes her while also kind of hoping she never finds out felt very true and realistic in a way that reminded me how awkward those pre-teen years really are.
Worst Part: Every once in awhile the high-pitched giggling would be... just too much for me.
Flickchart: #366, below Beetlejuice and above The Hunger Games.

The Exorcist (1973)

IMDb plot summary: When a girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her daughter.
Directed by William Friedkin. Stars Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller and Linda Blair.

That was an incredibly well-paced, believably-done horror movie. While I wouldn't say it *scared* me at almost any point, it did have plenty of tense moments and, above all, filled me with a sense of horror at how the demon tortured the little girl. While many films might overdo the "creepy child" effect, here it was so *very* clear that it wasn't Regan, but something possessing her. There were moments where all of a sudden you'd hear Regan's voice or see a glimpse of her and think, "Oh, my gosh, that poor girl is in there somewhere." That, to me, was the most interesting part of the whole movie. It wasn't just a Good vs. Evil fight - it was a fight over a person. It was a fight to make sure they didn't destroy Regan. And that was, for me, where it succeeded the most. 4 stars.

Best Part: The longer exorcism scene was wonderfully done. Very tense, while in a very small space with not a lot of *action* happening. Impressive.
Worst Part: I still am not sure what that opening scene had to do with anything. They never really went into that.
Flickchart: #398, below Contagion and above The Aviator.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009)

IMDb plot summary: Two men fortify a nondescript British apartment so it can serve as a prison, and then kidnap a woman and tie her to a bed. Before there's even time to react, we're plunged into a very nasty situation, but not a simple one.
Directed by J Blakeson. Starring Martin Compston, Eddie Marsan, and Gemma Arterton.

This movie kept taking me by surprise, bouncing back and forth between thriller and romance and character drama. It ended up as a pretty satisfying little movie, but in the early parts of it I found myself not sure whether I liked the shifts in tone. The most interesting part was watching the characters of the two kidnappers and how they interacted with each other and with their victim. As that began to develop more and more, I found myself getting drawn into the story. In the end, it's nothing special, but it's an interesting little movie that I enjoyed watching, for the most part. 2.5 stars.

Best Part: Watching Danny's character develop.
Worst Part: Alice herself. I don't know what about her rubbed me the wrong way, but *something* did.
Flickchart: #923, below Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex..., and above In the Line of Fire.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

City Lights (1931)

IMDB plot summary: The Tramp struggles to help a blind flower girl he has fallen in love with.
Directed by Charles Chaplin. Starring Charles Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, and Harry Myers.

While this didn't instantly grab my heart the way The Circus did or make me giggle a lot like Modern Times or The Gold Rush, this is still a good Chaplin, with some very entertaining scenes, and a surprisingly moving ending. The story meanders more than I expected it to, which was off-putting at first, although I ultimately warmed to it. The final scene was absolutely beautiful in a way I hadn't expected - I hadn't warmed to the character romance at all, so I didn't think I'd care about its resolution, but instead I found myself audibly saying, "Awww." That's the best part of Chaplin's films, for me - how even though there are plenty of great, very funny slapstick routines, it also has an incredible amount of warmth to it. These comedies have *heart*. 3 stars.

Best Part: The boxing match was my favorite. I laughed out loud several times.
Worst Part: I wasn't entertained by most of the billionaire scenes. And there were a lot of them.
Flickchart: #749, below The Scarlet and the Black and above Ponyo.