Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Conversation (1974)

IMDb plot summary: A paranoid and personally-secretive surveillance expert has a crisis of conscience when he suspects that a couple he is spying on will be murdered.
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Starring Gene Hackman, John Cazale, and Allen Garfield.

I don't *understand* you, Francis Ford Coppola.

I like the concepts for his movies. I like one or two individual moments. But there is always a serious emotional disconnect, a sense that I have no idea what's going on in his films, thematically. I can't read his characters, I can't see his vision, I can't figure out what he's trying to say. It's hard to explain - it's not that I can't follow the plot. It's a bit like watching a movie in a foreign language that is translated literally word-by-word into English. Each individual word makes sense, but the sentences are too confusing to parse. Similarly, while I can follow and repeat back to you each action, I can't place them in the movie's context. We somehow are speaking a very different cinematic language.

That being said, I really really liked the ending shot of this movie, and in the last 20 minutes or so I think I realized what this movie was about, and then it actually became interesting. Before that though, it was just an hour and a half of me going, "DANG IT, COPPOLA, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" Not enough to win me over. 2 stars.

Flickchart: #1180 out of 1916, below Twist of Faith and above Holiday.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Premium Rush (2012)

IMDb plot summary: In Manhattan, a bike messenger picks up an envelope that attracts the interest of a dirty cop, who pursues the cyclist throughout the city.
Directed by David Koepp. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, and Dania Ramirez.

There's nothing particularly memorable or long-lasting about this thriller, but it sure is a fun ride. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is entertaining as always and Michael Shannon is deliciously over-the-top evil. There's really not much to say about it this time from my end. If you like fun popcorn movie thrillers, this one's pretty good.

Flickchart: #765 out of 1915, below 21 Jump Street and above Rushmore.

Hotel Transylvania (2012)

IMDb plot summary: Dracula, who operates a high-end resort away from the human world, goes into overprotective mode when a boy discovers the resort and falls for the count's teen-aged daughter.
Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky. Starring Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, and Selena Gomez.

Meh. There have been some good animated kids' flicks in the last couple years. This is not one of them. It's generic, cliche, and the jokes really didn't work - I'm not sure if I even smiled once through the whole thing. Adam Sandler is less despicable as a voice than he is in live action anything. (Maybe it's just his face that makes me angry...) This is definitely not worth a watch. 1 star.

Flickchart: #1673 out of 1914, below 101 Dalmatians (1996) and above One For the Money.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Videodrome (1983)

IMDb plot summary: A sleazy cable-TV programmer begins to see his life and the future of media spin out of control in a very unusual fashion when he acquires a new kind of programming for his station.
Directed by David Cronenberg. Starring James Woods, Deborah Harry, and Sonja Smits.

As fascinating as this concept is, and as much fun as I had watching everything unfold, it never really came together for me, especially in the end. I found the last 10 minutes or so very anticlimactic. I have a feeling when I think back on this movie, it's going to be the first half of the movie that I remember, rather than the second. I loved all the messing around with reality, though, and thought all that was visually fascinating, if frequently rather "icky."

Flickchart: #878 out of 1913, below The Hunger Games and above 13 Going On 30.

Blow Out (1981)

IMDb plot summary: A movie sound recordist accidentally records the evidence that proves that a car accident was actually murder and consequently finds himself in danger.
Directed by Brian De Palma. Starring John Travolta, Nancy Allen and John Lithgow.

(Mild spoilers ahead for the ending.)

When I looked up this film on IMDb, I was a little surprised by all the love it was getting. I looked around online to confirm that, nope, it wasn't just there. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't really anything special. It's all a little campy and a little cheesy and has quite a few ridiculous moments and some rather terrible dialogue, but it's a fun idea for a thriller and does a good job of ramping up the suspense at the end. The ending is much darker than I anticipated, and I'm not sure yet if I liked that or not. All in all, I enjoyed it, but I'm still confused by the people gushing about it being a "masterpiece" on the Internet. 3 stars.

Flickchart: #798 out of 1912, below Frankenweenie and above The Dark Knight Rises.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Stalker (1979)

IMDb plot summary: A guide leads two men through an area known as the Zone to find a room that grants wishes.
Directed by Andrey Tarkovskiy. Starring Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy, Anatoliy Solonitsyn, and Nikolay Grinko.

Well, this was... something.

You know what movie made me feel like this? The Tree of Life. I consistently felt like there was *something* really beautiful and really interesting about that movie beyond my reach, but, like with Tree of Life, I couldn't quite break through the wall of OH MY GOSH NOTHING IS HAPPENING. I'm pretty sure there was a four-minute shot of these men just staring into a tunnel. That's it. No dialogue, no sound, not really any movement. Just tunnel-staring.

I just don't have the patience for a movie that has four minutes of tunnel-staring. 1.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1458 out of 1911, below Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey and above The Firm.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Lincoln (2012)

IMDb plot summary: As the Civil War continues to rage, America's president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield and as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.
Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, and David Strathairn.

Wow. This year's nominees have all been pretty underwhelming for me thus far.

There's nothing really *wrong* with this movie. The writing's good. The acting's good. It's a solid story. But in the end, it felt like a biblical fiction novel. There's a whole genre of books out there that retell Bible stories as novels, so all your favorite Bible characters show up... and then they just calmly walk through the events, without fleshing out their character, creating any real sense of drama, or making me care at all about what's happening. I had the exact same feeling here: I knew I was *supposed* to care, but I never felt like I was watching an actual person, just a historical figure. Given Daniel Day-Lewis' great acting chops, Steven Spielberg's very personal directing style, and Tony Kushner's fantastic writing capabilities, I have no idea what went wrong for me here... but just a few hours after having watched it, I struggle to remember my reaction to it. 3 stars.

Flickchart: #1140 out of 1910, below Hustle & Flow and above Total Recall (1990).

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Django Unchained (2012)

IMDb plot summary: With the help of a German bounty hunter, a freed slave sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.
Directed by Quentin Tarantino. Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, and Leonardo DiCaprio.


Let me first say, I LOVED Inglourious Basterds and I like Tarantino in general. I heard heard that it was similar in feel to Inglourious Basterds, so I was really excited about it, but what I got was just... lacking.

There are a few great moments. DiCaprio is especially fascinating, and Waltz is always solid. But the Tarantino rambling philosophical dialogue, one of my favorite things about his work, was mostly absent. This made the movie seem much, much longer than it was for me, much less interesting throughout, and the violent climax seemed genuinely gratuitous, with not nearly enough building up to it.

Seriously disappointed by this one. 2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1212 out of 1909, below Hello, Dolly! and above On the Town.

Diabolique (1955)

IMDb plot summary: The wife of a cruel headmaster and his mistress conspire to kill him, but after the murder is committed, his body disappears, and strange events begin to plague the two women.
Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. Starring Simone Signoret and Véra Clouzot.

A fascinating and elegant mystery thriller with a great ending. The atmosphere builds and builds and builds in this movie, and it's thoroughly satisfying when all the answers are revealed. Well, most of them anyway. Definitely one I would recommend to anyone who likes Hitchcock or film noir, as that is very much the feel you get from it. 4 stars.

Flickchart: #571 out of 1908, below The Glass Menagerie and above Steamboat Bill, Jr.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Long Goodbye (1973)

IMDb plot summary: Detective Philip Marlowe tries to help a friend who is accused of murdering his wife.
Directed by Robert Altman. Starring Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt, and Sterling Hayden.

I keep giving detective-based noirs and neo-noirs a chance in case I don't hate them some day, but, nope, that's not happening. This movie took me three days to watch because I kept getting bored and going to do something else. Noir characters continue to be impossibly unrelatable for me. In addition, this movie looks and sounds ugly. I'm sure the unclear visuals and muddled sound was done on purpose, but it just made me even less interested in the movie than I already was. I can't even judge anymore whether these are objectively good or not, because I can't figure out what the hype is about them in the first place. This is a bias I'm apparently not getting over any time soon.

Flickchart: #1719 out of 1906, below Spaceballs and above The Story of the Weeping Camel.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Divided We Fall (2000)

IMDb plot summary: In Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia, a childless couple agree to hide a Jewish friend at great personal risk of discovery and execution.
Directed by Jan Hrebejk. Starring Bolek Polívka, Anna Sisková, Csongor Kassai, and Jaroslav Dusek.

This movie is a different perspective that I haven't seen or heard much on life during World War II. It's a very human drama, with a few unexpected comedic moments. I was especially impressed by the characters, which have lots of unexpected layers and are truly fascinating to watch. It's just as much about them and who they are as it is what they're going through. Very well done. 4 stars.

Flickchart: #580 out of 1905, below Synecdoche, New York and above Intolerable Cruelty.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Kolya (1996)

IMDb plot summary: Franta Louka is a concert cellist in Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia, a confirmed bachelor and a lady's man. When he marries a Russian woman so that she can get her Czech papers, she emigrates to West Germany, to her lover; and leaves her five-year-old son with his grandmother; when the grandmother dies, Kolya must come and live with his stepfather - Louka. 
Directed by Jan Sverák. Starring Zdenek Sverák and Andrei Chalimon.

Some mild spoilers ahead.

Usually I am really, really opposed to "grizzled tough man has his heart warmed by children" movies, but this one is not bad at all. It neatly avoids all the traps by never being cloying, precocious, or saccharine. Instead, it's a tidy story of a normal child with a normal old man who start to kind of like each other. Even the bittersweet ending, which would be hyped up into a tear-jerking scene in any other movie, is handled in a way that is both subtle and true. Really nice work here. *This* is how you do a story like this. 4 stars.

Flickchart: #492 out of 1904, below Back to the Future Part III and above Army of Darkness.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Persona (1966)

IMDb plot summary: A nurse is put in charge of an actress who can't talk and finds that the actress's persona is melding with hers.
Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Starring Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann.


There might have been a little bit of sarcasm in that shouted opening line. I have no idea what to do with this movie. I was delighted to find that when I looked around online, nobody else had any idea what was going on in it either. I like Bergman as a whole, and I often like ambiguity, but I felt so clearly like this *was* leading toward an answer, and then I never got one. Unlike The Seventh Seal, which was also hecka confusing but had a few truly beautiful moments, I wasn't drawn to anything in this story except the mystery, which was never really solved. Disappointing. It's possible that a rewatch someday or even just deciding on a way to interpret the movie would vastly change my opinion of it, but right now I am rather annoyed with it. 2 stars.

Flickchart: #1154 out of 1903, below Last of the Red Hot Lovers and above The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Burn After Reading (2008)

IMDb plot summary: A disk containing the memoirs of a CIA agent ends up in the hands of two unscrupulous gym employees who attempt to sell it.
Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen. Starring George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, and Tilda Swinton.

Like most Coen brothers movies, I'm not quite sure what to make of this one. I think it'll have to settle with me for awhile. The few thoughts I have are vague and disjointed, things like:

I LOVE Brad Pitt in this.
And Frances McDormand.
Everyone else is kind of sleazy.
Especially Tilda Swinton.
I think I missed the point of the movie. I think it had one, but I think I missed it.
Was this a comedy? I couldn't quite tell.

In the end, Brad Pitt's absolutely wonderful gym worker and Frances McDormand's likable, insecure heroine get a 2.5 star rating out of me. Not sure yet how I feel about the rest.

Flickchart: #1275 out of 1902, below Spider-Man 3 and above A Scanner Darkly.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Hitchcock (2012)

IMDb plot summary: A love story between influential filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock and wife Alma Reville during the filming of Psycho in 1959.
Directed by Sacha Gervasi. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, and Scarlett Johansson.

I'm fascinated by the true-life (or at least semi-true-life) stories behind some of the greatest film geniuses. This movie isn't going to stick with me for long, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself watching it. It's fun and stylish and Anthony Hopkins is pretty good as Hitchcock. It wraps up its primary climactic moment a little too neatly for me, but I had so much fun watching it play out that I didn't mind too much. 3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #717 out of 1901, below Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and above Must Love Dogs.

Life of Pi (2012)

IMDb plot summary: A young man who survives a disaster at sea is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While cast away, he forms an unexpected connection with another survivor: a fearsome Bengal tiger.
Directed by Ang Lee. Stars Suraj Sharma and Irrfan Khan.

I reacted to this movie about how I thought I would. It looks gorgeous, and those effects are truly incredible. However, I remain uninterested in stories about people off by themselves, or, less interesting still, interacting with animals. The bulk of the film was just that, and although I was intrigued by the rather ambiguous ending, it wasn't enough to hold my attention throughout. This movie may be good, but it's just not at all my cup of tea. 2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #928 out of 1900, between Larry-Boy and the Fib From Outer Space! and the Adjustment Bureau.