Friday, May 31, 2013

Basic Instinct (1992)

IMDb plot summary: A police detective is in charge of the investigation of a brutal murder, in which a beautiful and seductive woman could be involved.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Starring Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone.

Back when I was like 13 and hadn't really seen many movies, I used to get this movie mixed up with Single White Female and Fatal Attraction. But while those two are pretty solid thrillers, this is a dumb, sleazy movie with bizarre acting and ridiculous dialogue. I kept feeling like this was a student film - it had a distinctly amateur feel about it, especially when it came to the writing. Lame story, lame execution, so unless you're watching this for the sex scenes (as I suspect many do), there's not a lot of point to it. 1 star.

Flickchart: #1681 out of 1932, below VeggieTales: Gideon, Tuba Warrior and above The Littlest Rebel.

The Avengers (2012)

IMDb plot summary: Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together a team of super humans to form The Avengers to help save the Earth from Loki and his army.
Directed by Joss Whedon. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth,  Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and Tom Hiddleston.


I liked almost all the original movies with these characters. I loved Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. I was pretty iffy about both The Incredible Hulk, but that wasn't Ruffalo's Bruce Banner so I'm not sure if that counts or not. But, in the end, I didn't end up liking The Avengers as much as any of those.

The reason for that is simple: It felt like it was telling five or six separate stories.

Part of the reason team superhero movies and comics are fun is that it lets them all work together. It's a group of individuals acting as a team, and the main character is the team rather than any one person. Sure, it may switch the focus to a person here and a person there, but overall, the team itself is the central character.

Not here. I understand that it's an origin story, but 90% of the time, the Avengers weren't even in the same room as each other. We spend most of our time following individual members of the team off doing their own thing, and it's only in the last scene that we get any sense of oneness.

As a result, it's scattered. The big action scenes are split between like five different things that are all happening at once. The movie keeps trying to reestablish different things as the central storyline, but in the end, it's just five, possibly six different superhero movies that kind of sort of connect and then mush into one movie at the end. Fairly satisfying ending, and none of these five or six stories are *bad* ones, but because of its scatteredness, I just can't love it. Disappointing, because I really hoped I would. 3 stars.

Flickchart: #872 out of 1931, below Gypsy and above Videodrome.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977)

IMDb plot summary: An outcast donkey in Roman era Judea with overlong ears finds his destiny on the way to Bethlehem.
Directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr. Starring Roger Miller and Brenda Vaccaro.

This is the conversation my fiance and I had at the end of the movie:

Me: So this is pretty much exactly Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Him: But with more awful death.
Me: And completely unexplained resolution.
Him: Yup.

It's rather weird how *wrong* this whole movie is. Its story itself isn't bad - a donkey with freakishly long ears turns out to be the one chosen to carry Mary and the as-yet-unborn baby Jesus to Bethlehem - but everything about the execution was just wrong. Nestor's story is far more awful and cruel at the beginning than fits in a children's movie (for example, his mother freezes to death while lying on top of him to keep him warm), and then it gets ridiculously cheerful for no reason. A cherub shows up, they go skipping through ponds for awhile, he carries baby Jesus with the help of his magically long ears, and then he returns to the stable he came from and... everybody is celebrating him now. Even though they would have no way of knowing that he had done anything special. At all. It's all very weird and very false and certainly not one of the better Rankin & Bass Christmas specials. 1.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1626 out of 1930, below New in Town and above My Friend Irma.

The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

IMDb plot summary: Mrs. Claus tells us about the time Santa had a bad cold and decided to take a vacation from Christmas.
Directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. Starring Shirley Booth and Mickey Rooney.

This is cute and charming enough, and I suspect if I had grown up watching it I'd love it a bit more. The Snow Miser and Heat Miser characters are great fun, Santa is likable (if a bit emo), and even if it gets a bit heavy-handed with the "YOU MUST BELIEVE IN SANTA FOR CHRISTMAS TO WORK" message (gosh, I hate that one) it's pretty fun. 3 stars.

Flickchart: #889 out of 1929, below Remember the Titans and above How to Rob a Bank.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)

IMDb plot summary: As Johnny Blaze hides out in Eastern Europe, he is called upon to stop the devil, who is trying to take human form.
Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. Starring Nicolas Cage, Violante Placido, and Ciaran Hinds.

This whole movie is pretty ridiculous. Nicolas Cage is so over-the-top it is impossible not to laugh at him, and the scenes where he is the Ghost Rider are some of the least ominous, least suspenseful moments I've ever seen in an action movie. Thank goodness I watched it with Jacob and was able to make fun of it the whole way through, because I would not have enjoyed it at all otherwise. Granted, I haven't seen the first one, but this doesn't strike me as a series where much continuity is really needed. 1 star.

Flickchart: #1792 out of 1928, below Angels in the Outfield and above Mr. Baseball.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

IMDb plot summary: After the crew of the Enterprise find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction.
Directed by J.J. Abrams. Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

This is a worthy addition to the Star Trek movie series. It's fun, light-hearted, has plenty of nods to the original series (both movies and TV) and, best of all, my very favorite actor Benedict Cumberbatch is the villain. It's always hard for me to see the Star Trek movies as a movie series and not just long episodes of a TV show, so it's not going to stick with me for a terribly long time, but it was definitely a fun viewing. 3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #724 out of 1927, below 12 Angry Men (1997) and above Lolita (1997).

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cypher (2002)

IMDb plot summary: An unsuspecting, disenchanted man finds himself working as a spy in the dangerous, high-stakes world of corporate espionage. Quickly getting way over-his-head, he teams up with a mysterious femme fatale.
Directed by Vincenzo Natali. Starring Jeremy Northam, Lucy Liu, Nigel Bennett and Timothy Webber.

Oh, this movie was so ridiculous, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think part of that was due to the fact that Jeremy Northam is very likable in it. I was rooting for him the whole way through. The plot gets very silly very quickly, but I can overlook silly in sci fi a lot more easily than I can anything else. If you have a fondness for goofy conspiracy theory sci fi, you'll probably enjoy this too. 3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #847 out of 1926, below Cry-Baby and above Dark City.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

John Dies at the End (2012)

IMDb plot summary: A new street drug that sends its users across time and dimensions has one drawback: some people return as no longer human. Can two college dropouts save humankind from this silent, otherworldly invasion?
Directed by Dan Coscarelli. Starring Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, and Paul Giamatti.

I'm not entirely sure what I just watched.

I really, REALLY loved the first half of it. A lot. Its quirky humor brought to mind Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (which I also loved). But then, as the story went on, it got less and less funny and more and more confusing. And it wasn't unfunny BECAUSE it was confusing - I was all prepared for that. The jokes just stopped happening. The quirkiness faded away. And now it was suddenly taking itself weirdly seriously, and it just wasn't funny anymore.

It felt like the writers ran out of ideas halfway through, tossed in a bizarre half-hearted way to wrap it up, didn't both writing any jokes for the second half, and then said, "I guess we're done." I really want to read the book now and see if that gives me the same feel.

This could very possibly be a movie that would grow on me. Like I said, I LOVED the first half of it. If the second half had been as good as the first, I'd have easily given the movie 4 1/2 stars. Unfortunately, though, it ended up being quite a disappointment. 3 stars.

Flickchart: #745 out of 1925, below To Rome With Love and above The Other Boleyn Girl.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Devil's Backbone (2001)

IMDb plot summary: After Carlos, a 12-year-old whose father has died in the Spanish Civil War, arrives at an ominous boy's orphanage he discovers the school is haunted and has many dark secrets that he must uncover.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Starring Fernando Tielve, Íñigo Garcés, Federico Luppi, and Eduardo Noriega.

(A mild spoiler ahead in this review.)

If you loved Pan's Labyrinth but haven't seen this, you're missing out. It's got very much the same feel - the combination of gritty, dark realism and fantasy horror is fascinating. It ends up being a very real ghost story that has one of the most horrifying villains I've seen on film in awhile - and it's not the ghost. A really satisfying watch, and one that I'd highly recommend. 4 stars.

Flickchart: #730 out of 1924, below Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and above Hitchcock.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

High and Low (1963)

IMDb plot summary: An executive of a shoe company becomes a victim of extortion when his chauffeur's son is kidnapped and held for ransom.
Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Starring Toshirô Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, and Kyôko Kagawa.

A very mellow crime thriller by today's standards, but an engrossing one. The story moves along at what feels like a realistic pace. I thought it was fascinating that the most gripping scene (for me, anyway) was a scene where everyone working in this case just simply reports on what they've found. I felt like I was truly following the ins and outs of what it was like to work on this case. Along with the mystery/crime/thriller aspect, it's also a very human story, especially the opening and closing scenes. I didn't *love* it, but I was impressed by it and would certainly recommend it. 3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #690 out of 1923, below The Secret of Santa Vittoria and above Au Revoir Les Enfants.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Words (2012)

IMDb plot summary: A writer at the peak of his literary success discovers the steep price he must pay for stealing another man's work.
Directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal. Starring Dennis Quaid, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana and Dennis Quaid.

Well, this movie certainly wanted to say *something*. It didn't really work, though. Too many stories-within-stories-within-stories for any of them to really capture my attention, and the extremely preachy scene at the end made me roll my eyes and say, "Oh, okay, so this was the message that they wanted to get across." It's not a good enough story to get away with that kind of preachiness. Super disappointing. 1.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1450 out of 1922, below Mulan and above Happy Gilmore.

The Thing (1982)

IMDb plot summary: Scientists in the Antarctic are confronted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of the people that it kills.
Directed by John Carpenter. Starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, T.K. Carter, and David Clennon.

This certainly is creepy. I'm not sure it's going to stick with me as much as I had hoped, but it really is a very entertaining creature horror. And, who knows, maybe it WILL stick with me - that creature was certainly one of the creepiest things I've ever seen on film. I think my issue ended up being that I didn't connect to any of the characters, so any moment when they weren't actively fighting the creature was not so interesting for me. 3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #683 out of 1921, below To Sir, With Love and above The Exorcist.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Open Your Eyes (1997)

IMDb plot summary: A very handsome man finds the love of his life, but he suffers an accident and needs to have his face rebuilt by surgery after it is severely disfigured.
Directed by Alejandro Amenábar. Starring Eduardo Noriega, Penélope Cruz, and Chete Lera.

I watched the remake of this last year. Since they are pretty similar, I'd heard that whichever one I watched first would probably be the one I liked more. That is definitely the case here. Watching the story unfold this second time was not quite as wonderful for me, and the performances didn't capture me as much. It's tempting for me to downplay it because it wasn't *transcendant* the way Vanilla Sky was for me, but it was still a really excellent movie. The story is fascinating, the acting is good, and the ending is really interesting to watch. 4 stars.

Flickchart: #347 out of 1920, below Trainspotting and above Kramer vs. Kramer.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Men in Black 3 (2012)

IMDb plot summary: Agent J travels in time to M.I.B.'s early days in 1969 to stop an alien from assassinating his friend Agent K and changing history.
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Starring Will Smith, Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Jemaine Clement, and Michael Stuhlbarg.

Oh, this was a beautiful contrast to the second movie, which was terrible all the way through. This suffers from some sequelitis and some tired jokes, but overall, this movie is almost as entertaining as a standalone time travel comedy. The newly-introduced characters are great, especially Michael Stuhlbarg as Griffin - what a creative, entertaining character! The movie is much, much, much smarter than the previous installment, and made for a very fun movie night. Way to redeem the series a bit. 3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #696 out of 1919, below Ramona and Beezus and above A Serious Man.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Men in Black II (2002)

IMDb plot summary: Agent J needs help so he is sent to find Agent K and restore his memory.
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Lara Flynn Boyle and Rosario Dawson.


This is a pretty horrible movie.

Seriously, it took everything that was entertaining about the original movie and made it lame and stupid. The jokes were flat, the characterization was weird and inconsistent (not just from the last movie to this one - it was inconsistent *within the movie*), and the special effects were really, really bad, while the visuals on the last rewatch of the original flick held up surprisingly well. On the positive side, THANK GOD he wasn't partnered with that dog the whole movie...

*This*, people, *this* is why sequels to clearly standalone movies are a horrible idea. 1 star.

Flickchart: #1794 out of 1918, below Mean Streets and above The Incredible Journey.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

IMDb plot summary: After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own.
Directed by David O. Russell. Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Jackie Weaver.

HERE we go! After watching 7 of the 9 Best Picture nominees from 2012, I finally come across one I genuinely like a lot. (I liked Argo, too, but not a lot.) These characters are rich and interesting. It's the first time I've actually liked either one of these actors - I've never been on the Jennifer Lawrence bandwagon - and it was so very easy to get drawn into their story. It's sweet and heartwarming in the best way and makes me smile. Thoroughly enjoyed this. 4 stars.

Flickchart: #297 out of 1917, below The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and above In the Bedroom.