Friday, January 31, 2014

The Grey (2011)

IMDb plot summary: After their plane crashes in Alaska, six oil workers are led by a skilled huntsman to survival, but a pack of merciless wolves haunts their every step.
Directed by Joe Carnahan. Starring Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, and Dallas Roberts.

(Minor spoilers regarding the tone of the movie.)

When I first started watching it, I thought, "OK, typical thriller." As I kept watching, I thought, "OK, surprisingly artful thriller." And as the credits rolled, I thought, "That was so much more than a thriller." It's almost a meditation on life and death and survival, and I found myself extremely moved by the ending. The movie makes great use of the visuals and the sound to bring out the isolation and, at times, the hopelessness of the situation. It looks great, it sounds great, the music is fantastic... It's just so much more than I thought it was going to be. 4 stars. Maybe 4.5 on another viewing.

Flickchart: #342 out of 2011, below Buried and above Paul.

Rent on Amazon for $2.99.

All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989)

IMDb plot summary: A dog returns from the dead looking for revenge on his killer using an orphan girl who can talk to animals.
Directed by Don Bluth. Starring Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, and Judith Barsi.

Don Bluth has directed two of the best non-Disney animated movies ever (I'm looking at you, The Land Before Time and An American Tail), so what the heck happened here? The story is dark, bizarre, and often nonsensical, the songs are weirdly non-melodic and instantly forgettable, and I kept getting distracted by the fact that they set up a world inhabited by both humans and talking animals but NEVER established how they relate to each other. Clearly the humans don't USUALLY talk to the animals, as the little girl is an anomaly, but nor do the humans react to things like their horses wearing lipstick and hair curlers. I spent probably a good third of the movie trying to figure out how the humans and the animals relate to each other, without getting any answers, which makes the dog's relationship to the little girl muddy and confusing. "Muddy and confusing" is a good description for this whole movie, actually. I feel like I missed out on nothing not watching this as a child. 1.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1617 out of 2010, below Calamity Jane and above Red River.

Stream free with Amazon Prime or rent it for $2.99.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Silent Movie (1976)

IMDb plot summary: A film director and his strange friends struggle to produce the first major silent feature film in forty years.
Directed by Mel Brooks. Starring Mel Brooks, Marty Feldman, and Dom DeLuise.

I am all over the place when it comes to Mel Brooks. I LOVE The Producers, HATE Spaceballs and Robin Hood: Men In Tights, am mostly indifferent to Young Frankenstein and like Blazing Saddles pretty well. So I really had no clue how I would feel about this one. It turned out nicely though. I probably like it about as well as Blazing Saddles, if not just a tiny bit better. I may not have laughed out loud a lot during it, but I smiled through most of it. The slapstick gags are a good mix of traditional slapstick and Brooks' own brand of absurdity, and the jokes work most of the time, at least for me. And, of course, all the different cameos are great fun. Overall, quite enjoyable. 4 stars.

Flickchart: #647 out of 2009, below Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and above Collateral.

Buy it on DVD from Amazon.

Mud (2012)

IMDb plot summary: Two young boys encounter a fugitive and form a pact to help him evade the vigilantes that are on his trail and to reunite him with his true love.
Directed by Jeff Nichols. Starring Matthew McConnaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, and Reese Witherspoon.

This is one of those movies that I'm not even sure how to review, because I have absolutely nothing to say about it. It's fine. The story's OK. The acting's pretty good. It's not even that I can say it didn't connect to me, because I was at least moderately engaged in the story. But a day after watching it, I can't summon up words to describe it other than "fine." I'm pretty sure this movie is just doomed to stagnate in the lower middle of my Flickchart and disappear from my mind along with other movies that I found fine but completely forgettable. 2 stars.

Flickchart: #1305 out of 2008, below On the Town and above Send Me No Flowers.

Buy a digital copy for $12.99.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Gridiron Gang (2006)

IMDb plot summary: Teenagers at a juvenile detention center, under the leadership of their counselor, gain self-esteem by playing football together.
Directed by Phil Joanou. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Jade Yorker, David V. Thomas, and Setu Taase.

I'm not much for inspirational sports dramas, much less those based on true stories, but every once in awhile there will be one that is told well enough that it elevates itself above the rest. This... is not one of them. There is nothing original, new, or interesting here, just a lot of very tired cliches. None of the actors are engaging enough to make me care about their characters. I could predict almost to the moment what was going to happen next - except that the switch from "not-team" to "team" was oddly abrupt. I have to admit I zoned out through nearly the entire final game. Why bother watching if you know exactly how it's all going to pan out? This may appeal to people who have a fondness for the genre - just like I may still enjoy predictable cliche-ridden musicals - but it didn't work for me at all. 1 star.

Flickchart: #1828 out of 2007, below Spaceballs and above The Long Goodbye.

Buy a digital copy for $7.99.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

True Grit (1969)

IMDb plot summary: A drunken, hard-nosed U.S. Marshal and a Texas Ranger help a stubborn young woman track down her father's murderer in Indian territory.
Directed by Henry Hathaway. Starring John Wayne, Kim Darby, and Glen Campbell.

As far as westerns go, this one is OK. It doesn't blow me away, but nor does it bore me NEARLY as much as most westerns do. I saw the remake back when it first came out and remembered feeling the same way about it. Mattie is a great character - part of her is the typical feisty girl trope, but she's also got an amusing lack of social graces about her which peg her, at heart, as a child. She not only doesn't have the inclination to be diplomatic, but I'm not sure she would even know how to. She's what makes this movie fun for me, providing a dynamic that offsets the macho man of John Wayne. If you're going to watch a John Wayne movie... well, it should be The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. But then if you're going to watch a second one, it should be this one. 3 stars.

Flickchart: #772 out of 2006, below Hitch and above Must Love Dogs.

Rent on Amazon for $2.99.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Courageous (2011)

IMDb plot summary: When a tragedy strikes close to home, four police officers struggle with their faith and their roles as husbands and fathers; together they make a decision that will change all of their lives.
Directed by Alex Kendrick. Starring Alex Kendrick, Ken Bevel, Ben Davies, and Kevin Downes.

All right. My disclaimer first: I am a Christian, but I don't like Christian movies. I'm very sensitive to movies that feel obviously preachy, and every single one of the movies by this Christian studio have done that, on top of having pretty amateurish writing and acting. So I didn't have high hopes for this movie, though I tried to go into it with an open mind.

In the end, though, the main issue with this movie is that it REALLY lacked focus. In the other movies from this group, at least their message has been clear, if forced. In this one, the message is a very, very vague "be a better father." While in most message movies, this would be demonstrated by showing, say, examples of people being good fathers and examples of people being bad fathers, that doesn't happen here. Instead, the events of the story are connected to the message in almost no way at all.

Consider the fact that even though the entire story is supposedly about these men deciding to be better fathers, we get hardly any scenes of them actually interacting with their children. We get a 1-minute scene of Adam giving a one-sentence "Follow God all the time" pep talk to his son, and a 3-minute scene where Nathan takes his daughter out to dinner to give her a purity ring. We only ever see Javier interact with his wife - I'm not even entirely sure how many children he HAS or what genders they are. How in the world do you tell a story about fathers learning to be fathers without showing them BEING fathers?

Instead, the movie spends most of its time showing the men sitting around talking vaguely about taking a stand and serving the Lord. Occasionally they discuss their relationships with their own fathers, but, of course, we don't SEE any of that.

There are no concrete, straightforward examples of any of the abstract concepts they talk about, and it's not like there aren't opportunities. Two characters late in the movie must make tough decisions that may make life more difficult for them, and although the movie seems to be setting it up as "make this choice so you will be a good example for your children" scenario... we once again NEVER SEE how it impacts the children. Ever. So... was that not the message? Was that subplot about doing the right thing just completely unconnected to the plot about being a father?

(Incidentally, this movie DOES also fall into the same frustrating trap as its predecessors, indicating that once you decide to start following God, everything will magically work out for you. It's only BEFORE you start following God that bad things happen. I don't mind happy endings, but this is a pattern in their movies, and when repeated over and over again, it bothers me.)

All throughout, the events of the plot seem weirdly unconnected to the message it's trying to send, making it, unfortunately, not even a good message movie. Fireproof may have felt like an ad for a "fix your marriage in 30 days" program, but at least I knew what it wanted me to do. I could tell you the steps. I have no idea what Courageous wants its viewers to do, specifically, just that they should "be good fathers." But they won't tell you what that entails.

(Also, as a side note, what courageous father-related thing did ANY of these people do, except for Nathan saving his son at the very beginning? Any other courageous thing they did had NOTHING to do with being a parent. I feel like the movie was assigned this title and then several subplots got cut and it no longer applied but they kept it.)

On the positive side, the acting has improved from previous efforts. The action sequences are pretty well-handled. The movie does have a moment or two that hits the right emotional nerve - surprisingly, a few of those moments are about dealing with grief, something these movies have never handled well. Kudos to them there, and those all earn them their star rating. But those moments are not enough to bring the movie together into a cohesive whole, and overall, it's a mess, both as a drama and as a message movie. Unfortunate. 1.5 star.

Flickchart: #1818 out of 2004, below A Walk to Remember and above Boys Town, though this is perhaps unfairly low, because I think A Walk to Remember is slightly too low on my list.

Rent on Amazon for $2.99.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Skyfall (2012)

IMDb plot summary: Bond's loyalty to M is tested when her past comes back to haunt her. Whilst MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.
Directed by Sam Mendes. Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, and Javier Bardem.

Meh. I've never really been a Bond fan, though  I will say this was at least more lighthearted than Casino Royale. 2 1/2 hours is much longer than this movie needed to be, even if we did get some entertainingly strange scenes (like a bad guy getting dragged off to a lizard cave) and some pretty decent action sequences (like the motorcycle chase on the roof). It's a long movie and didn't have nearly enough in it to keep me interested. 2 stars.

Flickchart: #1240 out of 2003, below Robin Hood and above Bedtime Story.

Stream for free with Amazon Prime or buy a digital copy for $12.99.

Dredd (2012)

IMDb plot summary: In a violent, futuristic city where the police have the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner, a cop teams with a trainee to take down a gang that deals the reality-altering drug, SLO-MO.
Directed by Pete Travis. Starring Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, and Lena Headey.

I don't like action movies much, but I do LOVE dystopian science fiction stories. I love them so much. There's just something really appealing to me about movies with that kind of setting. It makes the action vastly more entertaining to me. As such, I really enjoyed this movie. It occasionally got a little ridiculously Tarantinoesque in terms of the over-the-top violence, but it was still a lot of fun. Not worth a rewatch probably, but watching it was a fun way to spend an afternoon. 2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1013 out of 2002, below The Thin Man and above Fish Tank.

Stream free on Prime or rent from Amazon for $3.99.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Show Me Love (1998)

IMDb plot summary: Two teenage girls in small-town Sweden. Elin is beautiful, popular, and bored with life. Agnes is friendless, sad, and secretly in love with Elin.
Directed by Lukas Moodysson. Starring Alexandra Dahlström and Rebecka Liljeberg.

These are great characters. Elin and Agnes are both instantly likable while still being realistic as young teenagers. The story is sweet, though a little slow for me at times, but what really keeps it going is the characterization and the acting (which is just perfect). The best scenes were when the two girls interacted with each other. I'm not sure I'm going to remember much about this movie a month from now - it's one of those movies where there wasn't anything wrong with it, it just didn't jump out at me the way I'd hope - but I did enjoy watching it. Solid, if not stellar. 3 stars.

Flickchart: #911 out of 2000, below The Day After Tomorrow and above Stepmom.

Stream it free with Amazon Prime or rent it for $2.99.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Lawless (2012)

IMDb plot summary: Set in Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, a bootlegging gang is threatened by a new deputy and other authorities who want a cut of their profits.
Directed by John Hillcoat. Starring Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke, and Guy Pearce.

This held my attention more than I thought it would, given that it's a time period I'm really not interested in. Oddly enough, Shia LeBeouf was the one who held my attention the most here. His character, constantly trying to prove himself and constantly failing, was fascinating to me, and I kept watching and rooting for him. The story plays out up to a very satisfying conclusion, but I feel like this is one of those movies that is going to fade almost completely from my memory within a week or so, but watching it was a decent experience. 2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1137 out of 1999, below Dogtooth and above Trading Places.

Buy a digital copy for 2.99.

He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not (2002)

IMDb plot summary: I have chosen not to include this because it included plot points that I don't think are meant to be obvious or revealed right from the start, and I don't want to spoil it for anyone just with the summary.
Directed by Laetitia Colombani. Starring Audrey Tautou and Samuel Le Bihan.

(Spoilers ahead that, for me, would have made a difference in how I viewed the movie.)

This was NOT the movie I thought it was going to be. Heh. I was mildly interested the first 20 minutes, then when it got darker in the next 20 I was slightly more interested, and then at the 40-minute mark, everything suddenly shifts and I went, "HOLY CRAP."

The rest of the movie was a LOT of me going, "HOLY CRAP HOLY CRAP." In a good way. It goes from sweet romantic comedy to dark romantic drama to terrifying psychological thriller, and the final 2 minutes or so is awesomely horrifying. Who would have thought Audrey Tautou's angelic smile would look so creepy in a slightly different context?

I really enjoyed this movie, but I think half of my enjoyment was having no idea where it was headed. If I had read anything about this going into it (including the IMDb plot summary) I don't think I would have enjoy the sudden switch in genres nearly as much as I did. 4 stars.

Flickchart: #405 out of 1998, below The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) and above The Producers (2005).

Buy it on DVD from Amazon.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Crank (2006)

IMDb plot summary: Professional assassin Chev Chelios learns his rival has injected him with a poison that will kill him if his heart rate drops.
Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. Starring Jason Statham, Amy Smart, and Jose Pablo Cantillo.

Action movies and I have never exactly been on the same page. I don't get the adrenaline rush I'm clearly *supposed* to get from car chases and gun fights. I just find myself kind of zoning out. That happened a lot during this movie. That being said, I enjoy the premise, and I was a bit worried it was going to be nothing but one long action sequence, but the movie does a pretty good job of switching it up from time to time, giving me a way to refocus. I also enjoyed the wide variety of things he had to do to keep his heart rate up.

Overall, it was OK. Nothing I'll ever rewatch, I'm sure, but I enjoyed it more than I expected the first time around. 2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1230 out of 1997, below Cracks and above Play It Again, Sam.

Rent it on Amazon for $2.99.

Chronicle (2012)

IMDb plot summary: Whilst attending a party, three high school friends gain superpowers after making an incredible discovery underground. Soon, though, they find their lives spinning out of control and their bond tested as they embrace their darker sides.
Directed by Josh Trank. Starring Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, and Michael B. Jordan.

This little movie starts off unimpressive and slowly builds to something that's actually really, really entertaining. The reveal of the superpowers is not done well - clearly the filmmakers were just antsy to get to the "let's play with telekinesis" section of the film - and in the first half hour or so, the characters are truly obnoxious individuals. Additionally, the subplot with Andrew's father is not handled particularly well, as he always seems more like an actor than anyone actually menacing.

However, all that being said, it's hard not to get caught up in the story as the teenagers start realizing the implications of their powers, and the story progresses much more smoothly in the second half. The film's climax is more exciting and engaging than most big-budget superhero battles, with a very satisfying ending. This isn't a great movie, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up enjoying it by the end. 3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #752 out of 1996, below Dave and the Giant Pickle and above The Dresser.

Rent it on Amazon for $2.99.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Repulsion (1965)

IMDb plot summary: Left alone when her sister goes on vacation, a young beauty finds herself besieged on all sides by the demons of her past.
Directed by Roman Polanski. Starring Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser and Yvonne Furneaux.

(Some general spoilers ahead regarding the basic arc of the plot.)

Hoooooly cow, this was terrifying.

Admittedly, I watched this movie at kind of a weird time in my life. I've been fighting off depression a *lot* this last week, and in the first third of the movie, Catherine Deneuve's withdrawn, timid, clearly very sad and alone main character felt a bit too familiar. I connected with her very quickly and very deeply, and so as she began her descent into mental instability, it was *very* unsettling for me. In the end, it was more "awesome horror movie" unsettling than "made me upset in my soul" unsettling, but it walked a fine line there for a minute.

It's a quiet horror movie. And I appreciate that so much. It's not about cheap jump scares (although it does have a few startling moments). Little moments, like when she's cheerfully ironing her dress with the iron unplugged or the constant shots of the rotting rabbit, just filled me with dread as I realized more and more what her state of mind was.

This, for my vote, is far scarier than Rosemary's Baby, Polanski's most well-known horror film. There's just something about this that is completely terrifying. Probably the best scary film I've seen in a LONG time. 4.5 stars.

Flickchart: #384 out of 1995, below Seven Samurai and above The Great Race.

Rent it on Amazon for $2.99.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Do the Right Thing (1989)

IMDb plot summary: On the hottest day of the year on a street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, everyone's hate and bigotry smolders and builds until it explodes into violence.
Directed by Spike Lee. Starring Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Giancarlo Esposito and Bill Nunn.

(Some spoilers ahead for this one.)

This movie sneaks up on you. At first, it seems like a casual, lighthearted slice of life film, but as the characters are revealed more and more and the tensions on the street become clearer, it starts to really grab your attention - or at least it did for me. 45 minutes in, I wasn't sure I was going to "get" this movie, but by the end I found myself very... moved. (The one shot at the end of Smiley standing in the burning house pinning up his little photo of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. is an image that I suspect will hold onto me for awhile.)

I also really liked including the opposing quotes about violence at the end of the film, as I felt it tied the film together nicely, capturing the tension of realizing this fighting for justice thing is HARD and it's not always easy to know what exactly "the right thing" is.

This is definitely a movie that I think I need to sit with for awhile to really grasp it. 4 stars.

Flickchart: #419 out of 1994, below Face/Off and above It Happened One Night.

Rent on Amazon for $2.99.

Prometheus (2012)

IMDb plot summary: A team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race.
Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce and Logan Marshall-Green.

This movie takes a really long time to get going. The final half hour, however, makes for a really exciting climax, with a great combination of dark, creepy atmosphere like Alien and high-power action sequences like Aliens. Does it make up for the less intriguing first hour and a half? I'd say yes, but it's a lot to sit through for the ending, particularly when most of the characters are not noteworthy and the ones that are, are hardly on screen. 3 stars.

Flickchart: #912 out of 1993, below Thank You For Smoking and above Nacho Libre.

Buy it on Blu-Ray.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

IMDb plot summary: In a twist to the fairy tale, the Huntsman ordered to take Snow White into the woods to be killed winds up becoming her protector and mentor in a quest to vanquish the Evil Queen.
Directed by Rupert Sanders. Starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, and Charlize Theron.

Well, this was an awful movie. For starters, it looks awful. It's drab and gray and ugly. Nothing in this gritty reboot looks pretty or beautiful, although some of the special effects are kind of cool. For another thing, the acting is pretty dang bad. Kristen Stewart is truly terrible and even a good actress like Charlize Theron doesn't manage to pull anything good out of her role. And for a third thing, the script is AWFUL. So many ridiculous moments, horrendous attempts at comic relief, ludicrous plot points... There's just nothing redeemable about this movie, unless you enjoy snarking at it. (Which I suppose I did. But even then, it drags on and on.) 0.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1734 out of 1992, below Deliverance and above Yours, Mine & Ours (2005).

Buy a digital copy on Amazon for $9.99.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

IMDb plot summary: Faced with both her hot-tempered father's fading health and melting ice-caps that flood her ramshackle bayou community and unleash ancient aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love.
Directed by Benh Zeitlin. Starring Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry.

Quvenzhané Wallis is the heart and soul of this movie. Talk about an impressive performance from such a young actress. Her character Hushpuppy has such a strong voice throughout the whole movie, whether she's just standing there quietly observing or screaming and arm-wrestling. If this exact same story had been told from the point of view of one of the adults, I anticipate I would have found it okay, but I wouldn't have loved it NEARLY as much as I did this.

And I did love it. It was beautiful and captivating and sad and fantastic and probably my favorite of the Best Picture nominees from that year. (Silver Linings Playbook is its only real competition.) Thanks to Hushpuppy and Quvenzhané's amazing portrayal of her, I was completely sucked into the story. Incredible movie. 4.5 stars.

Flickchart: #227 out of 1991, below Footloose (1984) and above American Psycho.

Buy a digital copy for $2.99 on Amazon.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Cowboys (1972)

IMDb plot summary: When his cattle drivers abandon him for the gold fields, rancher Wil Andersen is forced to take on a collection of young boys as his drivers in order to get his herd to market in time to avoid financial disaster. The boys learn to do a man's job under Andersen's tutelage, however, neither Andersen nor the boys know that a gang of cattle thieves is stalking them.
Directed by Mark Rydell. Starring John Wayne and Roscoe Lee Browne.

This movie was given to me by my friend Abbie for my 2014 movie quest... and all I can say is, I'm sorry, I tried SO HARD to like it. Abbie suggested to this knowing full well that westerns in general don't sit well with me, so hopefully she won't be *too* surprised or devastated to learn that this one didn't take either. I just can't get myself to care about cowboys and cattle drives and riding horses for long periods of time. This movie felt interminably long, there were far too many characters for me to keep track of (I wasn't supposed to remember any of those kids individually, right? Because I don't), and I just couldn't get invested in any of it. This was not The Western That Changed My Mind. But I know some other people have assigned me some westerns throughout the year, so maybe one of them will click and then I can revisit this one. 1 star.

Flickchart: #1728 out of 1990, below Whatever Works and above The Ant Bully.

Rent it on Amazon for 1.99.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Great Gatsby (2013)

IMDb plot summary: A Midwestern war veteran finds himself drawn to the past and lifestyle of his millionaire neighbor.
Directed by Baz Luhrmann. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton.

Well, this is Baz Luhrmann doing what Baz Luhrmann does best: making everything look AMAZING AND BEAUTIFUL. Seriously, this movie is gorgeous. Is it an extremely melodramatic take on the story? Yes. Is the dialogue delivered in an oddly stilted manner from time to time? Yes. But it doesn't matter, just like it didn't matter in Moulin Rouge! or Australia or Romeo + Juliet or Strictly Ballroom, because the look of the film comes first and foremost. Plus, Luhrmann has pretty solid original material for this, and the story is a good one no matter what.

On an acting level, everyone does a pretty good job. I was unexpectedly impressed with Tobey Maguire as Nick. This is a good role for him. It lets him play a character as reserved and uncertain as he always looks. DiCaprio and Mulligan, on the other hand, were oddly uninteresting, when I'm usually very drawn to both of them.

In the end, though, as much as I can discuss story and acting, it does come down to the visuals for me. Because, just like with Moulin Rouge! (which I can cheerfully admit is NOT a good movie as a whole, despite being one of my all-time top 5) it paints this huge picture with images, communicating big, epic, abstract ideas beautifully and keeping me glued to the screen. Anything that looks this gorgeous is worth the watch. 4 stars.

Flickchart: #340 out of 1989, below Cats and above Sense and Sensibility.

Rent it in HD on Amazon for $4.99.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (2004)

IMDb plot summary: Flynn, an over 30 "professional student," is banned from more classes, since he already has 22 degrees. Unexpectedly hired by a mysterious library, he's soon pursuing a stolen artifact from the library, a pursuit taking him to far off lands.
Directed by Peter Winther. Starring Noah Wyle, Sonya Walger, Bob Newhart and Kyle McLachlan.

Although the script for this movie is delightfully over-the-top and ridiculous, the acting never settles either into actual quality acting OR enjoyably campy ridiculousness. Kyle McLachlan has a few good scenes near the end where he clearly is having fun with his role, and Bob Newhart's dry delivery works most of the time, but neither of the two leads seem to be *enjoying* the silliness of their roles. As a result, this movie doesn't quite achieve so-bad-it's-good status - at least not watching it alone. Watching it with a group of snarky people, I'm sure this would be a blast. There's still plenty to make fun of watching it solo, but it takes a little more effort to stay interested when the acting is so lukewarm. 2 stars, but with a group it could be a 3-star experience.

Flickchart: #1495 out of 1988, below The Santa Clause and above The Music Man (2003).

Buy it on Amazon.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Dakota Skye (2008)

IMDb plot summary: Dakota Skye has a super power. For as long as she can remember, she has been cursed with the ability to see the truth in any lie she hears. Now seventeen, Dakota has become apathetic towards life - until her boyfriend's best friend Jonah arrives and catches her eye.

Parts of me wishes this coming-of-age story with a sci-fi twist was a little heavier on the sci-fi and less on the coming-of-age, but overall it's a pretty solid flick. It manages to hit on some pretty good points about trust and truth and being willing to take risks without seeming cliched or preachy. I could have done without the voiceover narration, and the actress playing the best friend made me wince whenever she was on screen, but overall it was a decent indie movie, though I'm not sure it will stick with me long. 3 stars.

Flickchart: #815 out of 1987, below The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and above Million Dollar Baby.

Buy it from Amazon.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Crazy Heart (2009)

IMDb plot summary: A faded country music musician is forced to reassess his dysfunctional life during a doomed romance that also inspires him.
Directed by Scott Cooper. Starring Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Like most of the music in this movie, this story is somehow both raw and gentle. It moves along at what feels like a very natural pace, without a lot of extreme highs and lows. Even the big climactic moments seem very much like they would be in real life - organically arising from what came before. That being said, the pacing does keep the drama very low-key. The movie would run the risk of being slightly boring for me if the performances weren't so good. Jeff Bridges does an absolutely fantastic job in the lead and easily carries the movie. I'm not sure this is a movie that's going to stick with me long-term, but I would happily recommend it. 3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #679 out of 1986, below Days of Wine and Roses and above Munich.

Rent it on Amazon for $2.99.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Monsters University (2013)

IMDb plot summary: A look at the relationship between Mike and Sulley during their days at Monsters University -- when they weren't necessarily the best of friends.
Directed by Dan Scanlon. Starring Billy Crystal, John Goodman, and Helen Mirren.

Let me preface this by saying two things that are quite possibly influencing my opinion: 1) Monsters, Inc. is my favorite Pixar movie, and 2) I really, really hate prequels.

This movie isn't *bad*, but it just feels lazy. There's nothing about this movie that enhances or enriches the first movie, and it's not terribly creative or interesting on its own either. It's an old rehash of an old trope-filled story without any real surprises or originality. It lacks both the heart and the laughs of most Pixar movies. On the plus side, it also doesn't try to cram in as many tired pop culture references as a bad Dreamworks movie would. In the end, we got something on about the same level as Cars - it's not obnoxious, but it is wholly unnecessary and completely uninspired. I'll probably forget it within a week. Very disappointing follow-up to what I still think is the best Pixar flick of all time. 2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #899 out of 1985, below Stepmom and above The Dinner Game.

Rent it on Amazon for $4.99.