Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Woodsman (2004)

IMDb plot summary: A child molester returns to his hometown after 12 years in prison and attempts to start a new life.
Directed by Nicole Kassell. Starring Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick.

I believe I read that this was based on a play, and I believe it. It's the kind of introspective character study that is very common in theater. Kevin Bacon in particular does an incredible acting job here, portraying a character you can't decide whether you hate or are kind of rooting for. There are no simple answers in this movie, no easy way out, but it's a fascinating movie that I feel sure will stick with me. 4 stars.

Flickchart: #566, below The Land Before Time and above At First Sight.

Brazil (1985)

(Major spoilers ahead, as the ending played a huge part in my response to the movie.)

There's no doubt that Terry Gilliam has quite an array of fantastic images in his head, and as someone who loves imaginative visuals, it was delightful to see that play out on screen. However, especially toward the end, I found that the surreal nature of these images was really getting in the way of the story itself. I'm a firm believer in the idea that if you're going to mix fantasy and reality, it should either 1) be clear that this is really happening in real life, 2) be clear that this is happening in the character's head, 3) be clear that whether it is real or not doesn't actually matter, or 4) be clear that this is making some sort of statement on distinguishing fantasy from reality. Brazil seemed to be doing none of that, and I was getting bored. About half an hour from the end, this seemed to REALLY be happening, and I rolled my eyes and thought, "Really? We're going to have half an hour of complete nonsense for no reason again? Sigh. Okay."

And then the ending happened, where it is suddenly made clear that at the very least, the last half hour has taken place entirely in the main character's head (my favorite fan theory supposes it's been going on even longer, covering all the moments when I was frustrated with the sudden switch). Instead of the movie feeling purposeless, it suddenly had a point, even if it didn't make that point clear until I'd very nearly given up on it. With that in mind, the movie is much more interesting. It takes a lot of the dystopian future tropes and flips them around in a very artistically satisfying way. Until the final 5 minutes of the movie, I was ready to rank it a 2 or so because of how much it had gone downhill, but now I'm perfectly happy giving it a 4.

Best Part: The ending.
Worst Part: Well, it's a good thing I'm determined to finish movies, otherwise I really would have given up about 2/3 of the way through.
Flickchart: #434, below Murder By Death and above Contagion.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Trust (2010)

Way to go, David Schwimmer. This is a terrifying, captivating drama about a young girl and her family as they deal with tragedy. The movie never falls into sentimentality or melodrama. Both the writing and the acting seem completely natural. These characters seem real, and as such, it is heartbreaking to watch them deal with what is happening to them. While this is a horrific story, it may be one of the best dramas I have seen in a long time. 4.5 stars.

Best Part: The scene where she realizes he never really loved her is brilliantly, brilliantly acted. Liana Liberato does a great job with it.
Worst Part: The rape scene is really, really uncomfortable. I mean, it needed to be for the film, but it's still just unpleasant to watch.
Flickchart: #285, below Oliver! and above The NeverEnding Story.

21 (2008)

This is a fun, delightful heist movie. Jim Sturgess' main character is so easy to root for. The movie is fast-paced and exciting, mimicking the pace and the rush of the games being played. It's not a movie that deeply touched me or anything like that, but it does exactly what it's supposed to do - it's a blast to watch. 3.5 stars.

Best Part: The very final shot is so satisfying.
Worst Part: So bored by that love story...
Flickchart: #632, below How to Steal a Million and above Bonnie and Clyde.

The Ides of March (2011)

Ryan Gosling does an incredible job in this movie... but unfortunately, I never really care that much. I can see this movie is well-crafted - well-acted, well-directed, well-written - and, yet, in the end, it just leaves me cold. I understand this movie is *meant* to be cold. In a way it reflects the coldness and unemotionalness of the political transactions that are really nothing more than business deals. But for me it's too cold, too often, and I never get invested in the characters and can only objectively admire the flick, rather than ever being a part of it. 2 stars.

Best Part: Ryan Gosling's performance was certainly worth watching. He was the only one who made me kind of interested in his story.
Worst Part: How little it made me actually feel.
Flickchart: #1154, below American Teen and above Taxi.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012)

Wow, was this movie disappointing. It's got a fascinating premise but all it has to offer from that is bizarre characterization, cliched morals, pretty awful dialogue, and a story that, in the end, makes zero sense at all. I spent most of the time wincing at all the bizarre and uncomfortable moments and rolling my eyes at all the implausible ones. On top of that, when it wasn't laugh-out-loud ridiculous or squirmingly uncomfortable, it was just *boring*. I love stories that mix fantasy and reality, but this one is just... not good. 1 star.

Best Part: Um... occasionally Timothy reminded me of my brothers, and that was kind of fun?
Worst Part: That weird family performance of "Low Rider" was REALLY uncomfortable.
Flickchart: #1472, below American Graffiti and above Five Children and It.

Arthur Christmas (2011)

Aardman is not quite up to Pixar standards, but they are head and shoulders above, say, Dreamworks. Their stories are consistently original and funny. That being said... this is not their best. It's pretty cheesy and generic, even for a Christmas movie, and I never really felt the emotional pull from it I was supposed to. But, like Pixar, even a mediocre Aardman movie is still a pretty good flick. The characters are fun, the elves are hilarious, and it's certainly something that will be enjoyed by children, even if it doesn't impress me quite as much as I was hoping it would. No Christmas classic, but certainly worth a watch with the family. 3 stars.

Best Part: The elf who liked to wrap cracked me up.
Worst Part: I don't feel like the subplot with Steve was wrapped up at all well.
Flickchart: #946, below Hysteria and above An Ideal Husband.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Pitch Perfect (2012)

Hey, it's like Glee if the writers had talent! Admittedly, this movie is not likely to appeal to anyone who really hates Glee, or the kinds of musicals made on the Disney Channel. However, it's definitely a step above any of those. The writing's smarter and funnier, the situations a tad bit more plausible, the music is more interesting to listen to, and, um, hello, Anna Kendrick, who is just freaking awesome in everything she does. The movie is absolutely cheesy, but if you don't mind your musicals a little silly, this one is thoroughly satisfying. 4 stars.

Best Part: The finals, of course. Never going to say no to group musical numbers with cheesy choreography.
Worst Part: I don't do vomit jokes. Can't do it.
Flickchart: #293, below Juno and above Life as a House.

'Master Harold' ... And the Boys (2010)

A year ago, I had the pleasure of seeing a college production of this that ended up being one of the best shows I have ever seen, period, and that includes Broadway productions. After that, it's inevitable that any other production is going to be a little disappointing. This one isn't *bad*, but it's not transcendent, and the things they tried to do to make it seem less "play-like" didn't work for me. The constant cutting away to flashbacks or imaginary scenarios far too often took me out of the story, instead of helping me live through it. Freddie Highmore may be a bit older here, but he's not a terribly good actor. He has a couple great moments (my favorite part of the movie, in fact, was his) but those seem to be the exception, rather than the rule, as the rest of the time he is fairly one-note. Ving Rhames does a fairly good job as Sam, but his monologues feel preachy rather than conversational. The play itself is still excellently written, and much of the original dialogue remains here, but this is overall a bit of a disappointment as a theatrical adaptation. 3 stars.

Best Part: The scene where Hally talks to his father on the phone was truly excellent.
Worst Part: This movie chose the worst moments to cut away for flashbacks. Really jarring.
Flickchart: #810, below Modern Times and above Last Holiday.

Ted (2012)

I never thought I'd say that the problem with this movie is that it was *too deep*. But that's kind of what happened. Take away the talking teddy bear gimmick, and you've got a very generic story about a guy learning to grow up and take responsibility for himself. The story's kind of sweet, but pretty cliched. The jokes are... present, and occasionally funny, but not nearly as much as I was hoping it would be. The biggest highlight was the hilarious plotline with the crazy father kidnapping Ted. Both the father and the child were extremely funny villains, and the ridiculousness of it perfectly matched the movie's silly premise. If the rest of the movie had been like that, I would have liked it a whole lot more. 2.5 stars.

Best Part: Anything involving the evil father and son. I laughed really hard at, "Do I have to wash my hands before I play this game?" "What? No. That's a weird f***ing question."
Worst Part: Each and every fart joke. Those are never going to be funny to me.
Flickchart: #934, below Men in Black and above Air Force One.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Zoolander (2001)

I realized when I rented this that I hadn't ever seen Ben Stiller being comedic. Even in the comedies I've seen him in, he's usually been the straight man. That being said, I *really* enjoyed this movie. Ben Stiller's portrayal of Derek Zoolander was wonderfully hilarious, and not nearly as over-the-top as I expected it to be. (Will Ferrell, on the other hand, goes way too far with his little role. Not a fan of that performance.) It was a funny script that made me laugh out loud several times, and while occasionally the jokes were a little predictable, overall the writing and performances were genuinely funny. 4 stars.

Best Part: For some reason, I completely lost it at, "What IS this, a center for ants?"
Worst Part: Even though the mocking of bulimia was apologized for later, I was really uncomfortable with that scene when it happened. Not funny.
Flickchart: #449, below 50/50 and above The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Monster (2003)

I don't know that I could say I "enjoyed" this movie. It's dark and dingy and unpleasant... but it is fascinating, almost entirely because of Charlize Theron. She is a beautiful, classy actress, and here she completely transforms herself into an unattractive, awkward, angry woman. This is one of those instances where I truly forgot the actress who was playing her - she so perfectly embodied a completely new character. The story itself, like many true crime stories, has an unsatisfying story arc for my taste, but this is truly one of the greatest performances I have ever seen, and the movie is worth the watch just for her alone. 3 stars.

Best Part: Charlize Theron.
Worst Part: I dunno. There's something missing in the movie overall, but I can't necessarily pinpoint what.
Flickchart: #720, below Moneyball and above The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011).

At First Sight (1999)

I expected this movie to be much more melodramatic and cheesy than it was. While there were definitely a few overly sentimental moments, I found myself getting swept up in the story and wondering what it *would* be like to be experiencing sight for the first time ever. The romance is a key plotline, but it takes an appropriate back seat to the main character's story of seeing. I was very impressed with Val Kilmer, someone whose acting has never blown me away. Here he manages to make a likable but very relatable character I really rooted for. I'd comfortably recommend this movie as a pretty decent drama. 3.5 stars.

Best Part: I'm going to go with the character of Virgil. He was just a great person to have at the center of this story.
Worst Part: The confrontation with his father didn't work for me at all.
Flickchart: #687, below Rocky and above Hamlet (2000).

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

As Good as It Gets (1997)

This movie is well-intentioned, but it makes for a hecka weird romantic comedy. There may be enough laughs to make it worth it, but I am very tired of the whole "you fix the myriad of social and psychological disorders I have because LOVE" trope. Moment by moment, this movie is enjoyable, but as a whole, I found myself rolling my eyes and thinking, "Well, THAT'S cheesy," a whole lot more than I should have to. The emotional epiphanies are overwrought, the emotional connections are pretty forced, and although I enjoyed it, it was only because I was successfully overlooking its many flaws. 2.5 stars.

Best Part: Jack Nicholson was fascinating to watch, as he usually is.
Worst Part: Simon's sudden transformation from depressed artist into enlightened guru made zero sense.
Flickchart: #843, below Be Kind Rewind and above Quitting.

Little Children (2006)

Spoilers ahead in this review.

This is a much darker movie than I was expecting. The characters are all in great pain, and generally looking to solve it in the least healthy manner possible. And though I think it's a wonderful portrayal of these characters, I'm not sure I understand what exactly the filmmaker wanted us to take from this. There's obviously *some* sort of message trying to be sent, and I suspect it's supposed to be wrapped up in that final line, which says we've all done bad things in the past. However, I'm not sure that line offers any kind of closure for the Patrick Wilson/Kate Winslet plotline. I don't know what I was hoping for as far as closure, but this wasn't it. Well-acted, interesting story, but I feel like I missed something. 3.5 stars.

Best Part: I really liked the use of voiceover narration here. It really helped to tie things together.
Worst Part: I didn't care at all for Kate Winslet's ending. It didn't seem to fit with the rest.
Flickchart: #542, below The Maltese Falcon and above The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Girl, Interrupted (1999)

I'm fascinated by stories about psychological issues, and so I knew there was a good chance I'd enjoy this. And I did. I felt like all the different psychological disorders were treated very realistically, without overdramatizing them. This made it truly fascinating to watch. What an interesting set of characters. Winona Ryder was especially interesting as the main character - very relatable for me. The ending was hopeful without being overly sentimental. Overall, I really enjoy watching this and was impressed with it. 4 stars.

Best Part: The characterization, as stated above.
Worst Part: Though the characters themselves felt realistic, a few of the situations felt very contrived - the scene where they all sneak to the random bowling alley, for example. I was not at all surprised to learn that didn't happen in the original book.
Flickchart: #312, below Take Shelter and above Music & Lyrics.

Detropia (2012)

I never know how to review documentaries that are topic-based rather than story-based, so this is going to be a short wrap-up. This material felt very scattered, jumping from story to story without any actual bridge between them, sometimes drastically switching subjects in a way that made you think it was supposed to be connected to the previous story when it really wasn't. On top of that, I just had great difficulty finding it interesting. I don't particularly care for politics/economics stories in fiction and, as important as the topics are overall, I'm extremely bored by them in documentaries as well. 1 star.

Flickchart: #1532, below State Fair and above Detour.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Hamlet (2000)

This is my third film adaptation I've seen of Hamlet (the other two are the ones featuring Mel Gibson and David Tennant). Overall, I liked what they did placing it in a modern setting - for the most part, I thought it worked. The movie goes a bit silly at the beginning, playing around with the whole "video editing" concept. It leads to moments where serious conversations are interrupted by a random clip of a jet - that sort of thing. Ethan Hawke's Hamlet is strangely hard to connect with. He is distant and cold, as opposed to the openly depressed or passionately wrathful Hamlets I have seen before. I like that Hawke's Hamlet is something a little different - gives me a new look at the role. The supporting actors do a good job as well. This is, thankfully, a much shortened version from the original, and the quicker pace fits the modern business-y setting. Overall, while Hamlet is perhaps my least favorite Shakespearean tragedy, this is a very interesting adaptation that is worth watching. 3.5 stars.

Best Part: Even in his fairly small role of Laertes, Liev Schreiber was amazing as always.
Worst Part: Even in her fairly short role of Ophelia, Julia Stiles was boring as always.
Flickchart: #688, below Sister Act and above 17 Again.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Hysteria (2011)

IMDB plot summary: The truth of how Mortimer Granville devised the invention of the first vibrator in the name of medical science.
Directed by Tanya Wexler. Starring Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Jonathan Pryce. 

This comedy/drama is far more entertaining than most true story period pieces - not because of the sensational story topic as much as because the characters were interesting and easy to get to like. Maggie Gyllenhaal's character is occasionally a little over-the-top, and the romance comes on much more quickly than makes a lot of sense, but overall it's a fun, interesting movie. 3 stars.

Best Part: I do think the history behind this whole story is fascinating, and this movie did a great job of telling that story.
Worst Part: I can't ever take big dramatic courtroom announcements seriously. I found myself rolling my eyes at that scene.
Flickchart: #960, below Extremities and above The Kids Are All Right.

Roger Dodger (2002)

IMDB plot summary (because I keep forgetting to do this): After breaking up with his lover and boss, a smooth-talking man takes his teenaged nephew out on the town in search of sex.
Directed by Dylan Kidd. Stars Campbell Scott and Jesse Eisenberg.

I was told this movie was extremely funny, so I watched it... I think I maybe smiled once? Roger is a thoroughly despicable character, and I'm not sure whether it was supposed to be one of those things where I laughed because what he said was so outrageously horrific, or whether I was supposed to be sympathizing with him, or what. Either way, this movie just didn't work for me at all on a comedic level. On a dramatic one, I was interested in what was going on with Jesse Eisenberg's character, but not enough to make watching the movie worthwhile. 1.5 stars.

Best Part: The scene at the dinner table was fascinating to watch unfold. Not funny, but interesting.
Worst Part: I am not usually bothered by shaky handheld cameras, but it was distracting and uncomfortable here.
Flickchart: #1219, below The Swiss Family Robinson and above Winter Passing.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

To Rome with Love (2012)

Well, this is certainly no Midnight in Paris... but nor is it the last ensemble-esque movie Woody Allen did, the messy and confusing You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. While the individual stories don't form much of a cohesive whole, each story is charming in its own way, and as he has done for New York, London, Barcelona, and Paris, Allen does a great job of making me want to visit the city he's focusing on. For me, even his less brilliant efforts are worth watching, and this is definitely one of those. 3.5 stars.

Best Part: As silly as it was, I loved the story about the man who can only sing in the shower. I laughed like crazy during his first performance.
Worst Part: Much as I loved the fantastical element to Roberto Benigni's plotline, it never felt complete.
Flickchart: #692, below The Secret of Santa Vittoria and above 21 Jump Street.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Candy (2006)

Some excellent acting, a good script, and overall a very effective story... however, all that being said, I'm not sure it actually did anything to set itself apart from other very good addiction dramas. The Basketball Diaries comes to mind, a movie that I know I was impressed with at the time, but have very few strong memories of today. This is solid, but it is unremarkable, and the story is such a common one that, as well as it is told here, I am sure I will not have any strong memories of a year from now. 3.5 stars.

Best Part: The scene with the miscarriage was heartbreaking.
Worst Part: I don't know, there wasn't anything *wrong* with it. I'm just not sure I'll remember it.
Flickchart: #727, below Brick and above Downfall.

Melancholia (2011)

This movie is painful, gloomy, and dark... and yet, like the other Lars Von Trier movie I've seen (Breaking the Waves), it is somehow also a beautiful film. The movie manages to capture the experience of depression and internal suffering in a way I have rarely, if ever, seen on film. Although my experience with depression has been very mild compared to some of my good friends, I still identified very strongly with Kirsten Dunst's character and found myself almost unable to breathe in a few of the scenes involving her extreme... well, melancholia.

Aside from the part of the movie that deals with depression, however, I was blown away by von Trier's portrayal of the end of the world. I'm fascinated with apocalyptic stories, but so many movies bring in the element of adventure and escape. I've had a lot of dreams about the end of the world, and they always work like this... occasional desperate attempts to escape, but the underlying knowledge that, no, nothing is going to change this, and we might as well just sit and wait for the end to come. It is a dark, heartbreaking story... but I loved it. Obviously I need to check out more of von Trier's work, as both this and Breaking the Waves fascinated and haunted me. 4.5 stars.

Best Part: The opening. I very literally could not look away. I kept meaning to go get something to drink, and I couldn't stop watching.
Worst Part: The first half of the movie does go on longer than it probably needs to. I got a bit antsy.
Flickchart: #363, below What's Eating Gilbert Grape and above An Education.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Pirates of Penzance (1983)

There is nothing quite as satisfying for me as a good musical, and for some reason I always forget how much fun Gilbert & Sullivan are until I actually watch one of their shows. This is an excellent production of one of their greatest hits, with creative direction and choreography to match the outlandishness of the lyrics and music. Also, Kevin Kline completely deserved his Tony for this role - he is so much fun to watch. 4 stars.

Best Part: I had to look up the name of the number on Wikipedia, but "With cat-like tread, upon our prey we steal" was my favorite. Catchy, energetic, and vastly entertaining.
Worst Part: There is that interminably long duet between Frederic and Mabel in act two...
Flickchart: #346, below Hoodwinked! and above The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Frankenweenie (2012)

(Spoilers in the best part/worst part section.)

While this movie was high on originality and entertainment value, it was low on heart, which was disappointing, although it shouldn't have been unexpected - Burton's recent efforts have been much the same. This time, though, it should have been different - it's a story about a boy and a dog, and that should have done a much better job of pulling at the heartstrings, even for a cold-hearted animal apathist like myself. Or it could have gone the other way and gone even darker with the story to indicate it was in no way meant to be taken sentimentally. As it was, it was a fun little movie with some very funny moments but lost out on its chance to take it to the next level emotionally. 2.5 stars.

Best Part: When Mr. Whiskers turned into a vampire cat.
Worst Part: There were a LOT of plots just kind of left hanging. Is that German kid still in that sarcophagus?
Flickchart: #822, below Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and above An Affair to Remember.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

This was a good movie, but man, did it mess me up. I admire everything about the movie - the acting is excellent, the writing is clever, the story tackles some heavy subjects with tact and realism. And yet, as I watched the movie, I got more and more depressed, and the triumphant ending did nothing to change that. It's extremely difficult to even know how to write a review of this, because while I'm pretty sure it wasn't *supposed* to depress me, it did, and it's hard for me to separate that from the actual movie. So I'm giving it a medium star rating because I don't quite know what to do with it. 2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #985, below The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio and above Legally Blonde.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Looper (2012)

A smart, entertaining thriller that is probably best to watch without knowing anything about it. It's a sci-fi story set slightly in the future, but I appreciate that it doesn't get into sci-fi technobabble, but instead just tells an interesting story with an extremely satisfying ending. It's been awhile since I've seen a movie in this genre that I liked as much as this one. 4 stars.

Flickchart: #479, below Christmas in Connecticut and above Beautiful Boy.