Friday, February 28, 2014
IMDb plot summary: Intensely touching story of a misunderstood young adolescent who left without attention, delves into a life of petty crime.
Directed by François Truffaut. Starring Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, and Albert Rémy.
I'm not sure how to feel about this one. It's certainly miles better than Jules and Jim, the only other Truffaut film I've seen, but it left me feeling pretty unsatisfied. It has a strange emotional center, as the character of Antoine seems oddly innocent but hardly victimized throughout the entire movie. This gives the flick a weirdly nostalgic feel -- weird because the circumstances surrounding the character's life and actions are hardly something I'd imagine someone would feel nostalgic *for*.
The first half is filled with charming coming-of-age-movie type moments that made me smile, such as when he tells his teacher that he wasn't at school the day before because his mother died. As things get darker and worse for him, he seems to just take it all in stride. I didn't pity him, but it was hard for me to think of him as a juvenile delinquent. It's just... an odd emotional center, and it leaves me confused more than anything else. 2.5 stars.
Flickchart: #1119 out of 2041, below Interstate 60 and above Mother.
Rent from Amazon for $2.99.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
IMDb plot summary: An actor prepping for an upcoming role meets a quirky grocery clerk, and the pair hit the road to show one another their respective worlds.
Directed by Brad Silberling. Starring Morgan Freeman and Paz Vega.
This is a good premise for a movie, and it should have been MUCH better than it was. As it stands, all the interactions are pretty forced, the performances are weirdly wooden (even the usually-good Morgan Freeman), the moments of comedy don't work, and everything is just a little bit too cutesy and manufactured to be believable or interesting. Not to mention the just weird plot points where an actor who didn't achieve fame until his 30s is apparently completely unaware of things like drive-through windows and Target... This is a nice idea that got screwed up by sloppy execution. 2 stars.
Flickchart: #1456 out of 2040, below Robin and the Seven Hoods and above Gosford Park.
Buy the DVD on Amazon.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
IMDb plot summary: A war-hardened general, egged on by his ambitious wife, works to fulfill a prophecy that he would become lord of Spider's Web Castle.
Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Starring Toshirô Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Takashi Shimura and Akira Kubo.
Oh, Kurosawa, how I enjoy you. I'd put most of his movies on a list of easily-accessible foreign classics ever, and every time I watch a new movie of his I'm amazed by how easy it is to get swept away by the story. Of course, this is a familiar one to me -- the story of Macbeth. Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's shortest plays, and attempting to stretch the story out into a full 2-hour runtime can sometimes get a little bit slow, especially in the middle, but Kurosawa more than makes up for it with the energetic ending. Washizu's demise is truly satisfying, and the famous hand-washing scene is haunting. I haven't seen a Kurosawa film I've disliked yet, and this is no exception. 4 stars.
Flickchart: #556 out of 2039, below Homeward Bound and above White Heat.
Rent on Amazon for $2.99.
IMDb plot summary: A wealthy woman and her live-in housekeeper must adjust their entrenched routine and relationship when Buenos Aires is plunged into economic crisis.,
Directed by Jorge Gaggero. Starring Norma Aleandro, Norma Argentina, and Raul Panguinao.
This is one of those movies I just don't have that much to say about. The characters are pretty interesting, and I enjoyed watching their story play out, but there doesn't seem to be all that much actually *happening*, and what does happen, happens very slowly. It's a quiet, mellow, pleasant drama about these two women and the bond they form, and though there's nothing wrong with it there's not really anything that spectacular about it either. It was fine for a one-time viewing, but I highly doubt I'll remember it six months from now. 2.5 stars.
Flickchart: #1147 out of 2038, below Star Trek: Nemesis and above Fracture.
IMDb plot summary: An American girl, sent to the English countryside to stay with relatives, finds love and purpose while fighting for her survival as war envelops the world around her.
Directed by Kevin Macdonald. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Harley Bird, George MacKay and Tom Holland.
(Mild spoiler about the tone of the ending.)
I really had no idea what to expect when I started this movie, and what started off like The Secret Garden quickly turned into like... Grave of the Fireflies. Even with the triumphant ending, that dark "children dealing with nuclear war" feeling stayed with me, and I found this much more depressing than I think I was supposed to. Saoirse Ronan and Harley Bird are both excellent and carry the movie easily. Had I not been in sort of a weird mental state going into it, I think I could have enjoyed it more. As it was, it left me feeling... mostly just sad and empty. 2.5 stars.
Flickchart: #1049 out of 2037, below Fish Tank and above The Apostle.
Rent online for $3.99.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
IMDb plot summary: A woman goes in search for her daughter, within the confines of a strange, desolate town called Silent Hill. Based on the video game.
Directed by Christophe Gans. Starring Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden and Jodelle Ferland.
(A brief spoiler hinting at the end, though I don't think knowing the plot is going to ruin the movie.)
You would have to work very hard to convince me that there's a coherent story going on in this movie, but it's sure freaking atmospheric. Fading back and forth between multiple dreamlike realities, there's always a sense of pervading doom, even when the main characters aren't being *actively* pursued by some of the scariest-looking creatures I've ever seen. The final scene in particular seems to undo a lot of the visible plot, and though I read a few explanations of what it meant, I found all of them fairly unsatisfying. I prefer to think of this as an artistic, poetic explanation of fear and anger, rather than a straightforward revenge story. When I approached it from that angle (which I chose very early in the movie), it was much easier to just immerse myself in the atmosphere and enjoy the ride it took me on. Analyze this one too closely and I suspect it falls apart, but give it some distance and it's definitely enjoyable. 3 stars.
Flickchart: #1020 out of 2036, below Be Kind Rewind and above High School Musical 3.
Buy a digital copy for $7.99.
IMDb plot summary: A dealer in "outsider" art travels from Chicago to North Carolina to meet her new in-laws, challenging the equilibrium of this middle class Southern home.
Directed by Phil Morrison. Starring Embeth Davidtz, Alessandro Nivola, Celia Weston and Amy Adams.
This is a solid, well-scripted, well-acted drama that manages to keep away from any frustrating melodrama. Amy Adams in particular is completely delightful in this movie, but everybody in this movie does a great job. It has an appropriately "down-home" low-key feel that just lets the characters and story unfold organically. I'm not sure if it will stick around in my mind very long (aside from maybe Amy Adams' performance) but it's certainly a good watch. 3.5 stars.
Flickchart: #644 out of 2035, below sex, lies, and videotape and above The Red Shoes.
Rent it for $2.99.
Monday, February 24, 2014
IMDb plot summary: A grieving couple retreat to their cabin in the woods, hoping to repair their broken hearts and troubled marriage. But nature takes its course and things go from bad to worse.
Directed by Lars von Trier. Starring Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
(At least one paragraph here has a bunch of spoilers in it.)
Well... oh my.
OK, let me start by saying this is my third von Trier film, and I LOVED the first two (Breaking the Waves and Melancholia). He's not an easy director to watch, but those first two movies spoke to something deep inside me, looking at desperation and depression and all sorts of other intensely negative emotions. I found them oddly cathartic, and that's how I reacted to the first 30 minutes or so of this movie.
Then everything goes a little crazy. It's not about the pain of losing a child anymore, it's suddenly about... witchcraft and women and she might have been going crazy for a really long time and maybe she's evil and has always been evil and nature is evil and men are evil and there are bodies all over the place and animal constellations coming to life? No matter what it is, none of it really connects for me.
Without a clear emotional center or focus -- or, really, even a good sense of what is actually happening and what is just a dream -- all the gory unpleasant scenes near the end just make me squirm the same way any gory horror movie would. Any impact they would have as an extension of the dark, ugly angst of the characters is lost. The visuals in this movie are haunting in a moody, eerie, terrifying way, but they also lose their specificity as the movie goes on.
This is not a movie I'd ever care to watch again. I've been impressed with von Trier in the past, but most of this one truly felt gratuitous. 1.5 stars.
Flickchart: #1426 out of 2023, below Evelyn and above The Interpreter.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Directed by James McTeigue. Starring Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea and Stephen Fry.
Oh, I do have such a fondness for dystopian future movies. They are just so interesting. As such, I have an innate love for this movie's premise, even if I think it plays out a little awkwardly. For one thing, it toes a weird line between serious and silly that doesn't always work for me. (Two "What?!" silly examples: The fact that V must have apparently spent HUNDREDS OF HOURS just setting up dominoes in the shape of his symbol, despite the fact that then no one even SAW IT in the symbol shape since that had to be seen from above and nobody was looking at it from above, including him... and his introductory full-of-Vs monologue, which just made me roll my eyes and patiently wait for him to finish and stop showing off his cleverness.)
(Warning: Spoilers in the rest of the review about a major plot twist.)
My other issue with the movie is that, while obviously it's not a straightforward all-the-good-guys-are-perfect-and-all-the-bad-guys-are-evil story, I really hated V by the end. REALLY hated him. I don't care what back story he has and what principles he holds, once he kidnaps a young girl and tortures her physically and psychologically for what he claims to be her own good, until she is psychologically broken and gives herself over to his cause... I can't possibly root for that person after that. Evey's commitment to V's anarchistic cause felt so clearly like a tragic Stockholm Syndrome-style response from a mentally and emotionally *destroyed* woman that all I could feel was horrified empathy for her and a bitter disgust for her captor. I lost my protagonist after the jail scenes, and I never got her back.
That being said, that sounds like I disliked the movie more than I did. It looks great, it's an interesting premise, and watching the cops unravel the mystery of who V is ends up being a lot of fun. It's an extremely enjoyable watch. I think my loud protesting is more in reaction against all the people who latch onto it as a deep meaningful message movie, because do you guys REALLY want to take on the principles of someone who thinks it's okay to torture the person they're implied to love later? (Yeah, I really couldn't get over that torturing Evey bit.) 3.5 stars.
Flickchart: #731 out of 2033, below The Ring and above the Exorcist. This might be a bit low, because The Ring is a bit low.
Saturday, February 22, 2014
IMDb plot summary: Monsieur Hulot comes to a beachside hotel for a vacation, where he accidentally (but good-naturedly) causes havoc.
Directed by Jacques Tati. Starring Jacques Tati, Louis Perrault, André Dubois, and Lucien Frégis.
OK, here's the deal. I like French music, French food, the French language, I'd love to go to France someday... so why do I find French films so difficult? (Jean-Pierre Jeunet's work excepted.) I've tried dramas and comedies and a few French New Wave flicks and nearly always find myself just kind of... confused. But I keep trying, and will continue trying, because there's a part of me that thinks, "If I can just figure out what cultural barrier is keeping me from understanding these movies, I WILL LOVE THEM ALL."
So on to this movie. On the surface, it's "the guy who inspired Mr. Bean." So I expect a series of slapstick gags, with one character ineptly handling everything and other people getting over-the-top annoyed with him. What I ended up with was... like seven slapstick gags, spaced out through an hour and a half movie, and interspersed with fifteen-minute scenes of people carrying around ice cream cones, setting up beach umbrellas, and quietly sitting drinking tea. I don't know if there were jokes that were so subtle I missed them, or if I was supposed to be paying much closer attention to characters who were not M. Hulot and picking up on recurring bits, or whether this was really meant to be more of a charming "Ah, lovely people enjoying themselves at the beach" type of movie than something that was going to have actual jokes in it. I really can't tell if it IS one of those three. Either way, I clearly do not have the same sense of humor as Jacques Tati.
Sadly, the allure of the French film evades me once more. I will say this, though: I LOVED the music at the end. It really DID have a "What a lovely week at the beach" kind of feel to it, and I think maybe if there had been more music throughout, it would have been easier to get into that kind of mode and enjoy watching everyone interact, even without all the humorous moments I'd hoped for. 2 stars.
Flickchart: #1465 out of 2032, below The Quiet Man and above Zorba the Greek.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
IMDb plot summary: When a lottery winner dies of shock, his fellow townsfolk attempt to claim the money.
Directed by Kirk Jones. Starring Ian Bannen, David Kelly, and Fionnula Flanagan.
Well, this is completely and utterly charming. It reminds me of The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain or The Secret of Santa Vittoria, though Ned Devine is more overt comedy than either of those two, as well as darker in its humor. But the overall feel is still the same. There are many touching moments but none of them feel overhyped, and in the end, the movie just left me smiling. It's also great fun whenever I get to see James Nesbitt (who I fell in love with in the Jekyll TV show) in something. 4 stars.
Flickchart: #446 out of 2031, below To Catch a Thief and above Heavenly Creatures.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
IMDb plot summary: In a hospital on the outskirts of 1920s Los Angeles, an injured stuntman begins to tell a fellow patient, a little girl with a broken arm, a fantastic story of five mythical heroes. Thanks to his fractured state of mind and her vivid imagination, the line between fiction and reality blurs as the tale advances.
Directed by Tarsem Singh. Starring Catinca Untaru, Lee Pace, and Justine Waddell.
(Major spoilers ahead for the end of the movie.)
I get why people love this movie. It looks gorgeous, it has one of the best child actor performances I've ever seen, it has a magical fantasy/reality blend. It really is the kind of movie that WOULD pick up a cult following. And parts of it I loved too. Specifically, I was captivated by every one of the real-life scenes, with Lee Pace and the little girl. I found their interactions charming and fascinating, and even as Lee Pace became kind of a despicable character (seriously, what kind of twisted person makes a little girl sob by killing off all the characters she loved just because he's sad?) I was still intrigued by their interactions. I would have happily watched an entire movie just with the two of them doing nothing but chatting together.
However, the fantasy sequences. With all the symbolism. And I mean ALL the symbolism. As much as I like fantasy/reality-blending movies, I also like SOME subtlety. Not everything has to represent something else. This story he tells her is so full of over-the-top symbolism that it just feels like the director is going, "Do you get it? This bandit represents her father! And that girl represents his girlfriend! DO YOU GET IT? Do you see how it all fits together? I'm so clever!" There's no reason that would even be the case, since he is telling her the story for a very specific reason (to convince her to steal pills for him), not to carefully craft an allegory that somehow carries an important message for both himself and the little girl.
My reaction to the fantasy sequences greatly reduced the impact of the climactic scene, where the parallels between the story and reality become even more overt than they were before. I found myself rolling my eyes and saying, "YES, I GET IT."
It's possible that this one might grow on me. If I rewatched it knowing what to expect, I might not be so thrown off by the hypersymbolic nature of the fantasy scenes. The real life scenes are engaging enough that I'd be willing to give this a second watch someday. 3 stars.
Flickchart: #1051 out of 2030, below The Absent-Minded Professor and above The Kids Are All Right.
Purchase digitally for $9.99.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
IMDb plot summary: A chronicle of the trial of Jeanne d'Arc on charges of heresy, and the efforts of her ecclesiastical jurists to force Jeanne to recant her claims of holy visions.
Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. Starring Maria Falconetti, Eugene Silvain, and André Berley.
I found this... unsettling. Between the extreme close-ups and Joan's enormous frenzied eyes, I felt like I was being forced to stare from just a few inches away at someone going through a mental breakdown. (I frequently shrank my video screen down to a smaller size because I found it to be emotionally... overwhelming on full screen.) I don't know how Dreyer *intended* to portray Joan, but I found no strength in her, just anguish at being forced to choose between the Church and her own personal vision of God. She kept reminding me of Gelsomina from La Strada, caught in a world she didn't quite understand and not sure how to get out. It was truly unpleasant to watch that character tortured and mocked and not be able to get away from it (both me and her, although I kept shrinking the screen or pausing it to take a break). So... maybe technically this was a good movie, but I found it a profoundly uncomfortable and disturbing experience, and I can say without a doubt that I could never watch this again. The low star rating and Flickchart ranking reflect my personal experience and reaction to the movie, rather than an objective measure of its quality. 0.5 stars.
Flickchart: #1772 out of 2029, below Deliverance and above Youth Without Youth.
IMDb plot summary: An ordinary LEGO minifigure, mistakenly thought to be the extraordinary MasterBuilder, is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil LEGO tyrant from gluing the universe together.
Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Starring Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman and Will Ferrell.
Who would have thought a movie based entirely on a line of toys would be this fun and creative and entertaining? As I heard about this movie in production and the impressive cast and crew it was accumulating, I was intrigued, and after the movie was released to rave reviews, I got super excited to watch it. I was not disappointed. Despite being essentially one giant product placement for LEGO, it's REALLY awesome. The characters are entertaining, the jokes are perfect, and I found the reveal surprisingly moving. Will Arnett's Batman was definitely the best part for me, but really, every character worked. An excellent movie for both kids and adults. 4.5 stars.
Flickchart: #277 out of 2028, below The Apartment and above Field of Dreams.
Saturday, February 15, 2014
IMDb plot summary: A manager of an orphanage in India is sent to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he discovers a life-altering family secret.
Directed by Susanne Bier. Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Rolf Lassgård, Sidse Babett Knudsen, and Stine Fischer Christensen.
(Vague spoilers for a subplot.)
This is a very satisfying, well-acted drama that has a few really beautifully-crafted moments. This movie doesn't waste its important moments on needless melodrama -- characters are restrained and sensible for the most part -- so when it DOES have an emotionally dramatic scene, it's much more powerful. In particular, there's a scene where a dying character thrashes and screams about not wanting to die that brought tears to my eyes. There's an understatedness to this movie that I really enjoy. 3.5 stars.
Flickchart: #632 out of 2027, below Once Upon a Mattress and above Death to Smoochy.
Stream free with Amazon Prime or rent it for $2.99.
Friday, February 14, 2014
IMDb plot summary: Devastated Peter takes a Hawaii vacation in order to deal with recent break-up with his TV star girlfriend, Sarah. Little does he know Sarah's traveling to the same resort as her ex ... and she's bringing along her new boyfriend.
Directed by Nicholas Stoller. Starring Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, and Russell Brand.
While this movie wasn't laugh-out-loud funny for me most of the time, it did make me smile a LOT, and it certainly has a lot of heart. Jason Segel's character does a lot of dumb things trying to get over his break up, but it's impossible not to like him, and watching his journey was oddly heartwarming for a raunchy comedy. I hardly ever draw attention to something like this, but the editing was ABSOLUTELY on point here. With some comedies, the joke happens and the camera lingers, as if to give the audience time to 1) figure out there was a joke and 2) laugh at it. Here, a joke shot lasts EXACTLY as long as the joke does and then it moves on, which is (IMHO) a much smarter and funnier way of doing it. Overall, a solid, funny rom com. 4 stars.
Flickchart: #441 out of 2026, below The Sessions and above To Catch a Thief.
Rent for $2.99.
IMDb plot summary: A tough female ex con, and her lover concoct a scheme to steal millions of stashed mob money and pin the blame on Violet's crooked boyfriend Caesar.
Directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski. Starring Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, and Joe Pantoliano.
Meh. Crime movies are always a tough sell for me, and this didn't quite cut it. Despite some interesting characters, I really only cared about what they were doing at the beginning and end, where the crime part of the plot wasn't really present. Everything in between was fairly uninteresting to me. I've enjoyed the Wachowskis' later efforts quite a bit, between the Matrix movies and Cloud Atlas, so this was a bit of a disappointment. 2 stars.
Flickchart: #1394 out of 2025, below Take Me Out to the Ball Game and above Courage Under Fire.
Buy the DVD on Amazon.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
IMDb plot summary: In New York City, a young girl is caught in the middle of her parents' bitter custody battle.
Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel. Starring Onata Aprile, Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, Alexander Skarsgård and Joanna Vanderham.
(Spoilers ahead about the ending.)
When I looked this up online after finishing it, I found it was based on a novel from 1897 (which was free on Kindle, so I downloaded it - whee!). I was surprised, because this story FELT so contemporary. But I guess human nature is what it really centers on, and that doesn't really change. I found this movie, at times, very hard to watch. Seeing her parents so selfishly use her as a pawn in their battle to "win" the divorce and demean the other parent was so uncomfortable. Thank God for Maisie's resilience as a character, otherwise I think I would have found it really unpleasant. I was impressed by how the movie ended, as I kept thinking throughout, "There's no way this can possibly end happily," but I think they found a way to make it work somewhat believably.
Overall, I liked this movie pretty well. It has... insight into realistic dialogue and how people interact with each other when they're bitter and angry. In lesser movies, that can border on the melodramatic, but here it hits just the right tone and it is uncomfortable and unpleasant, just like it would be in real life. It's an impressively well-written and well-acted movie.
(As a side thought, it is interesting that I am coming away from this remembering the unpleasant fighting more than I am the positive interactions... Not sure whether that's because I found them more interesting, or because it's reflecting my cynicism toward the happy ending really being that happy, or what.) 3.5 stars.
Flickchart: #696 out of 2024, below The Hunger Games and above Kung Fu Hustle.
Rent on Amazon for $3.99.
IMDb plot summary: The true story of Homer Hickam, a coal miner's son who was inspired by the first Sputnik launch to take up rocketry against his father's wishes.
Directed by Joe Johnston. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, and Laura Dern.
Well, this is a charming movie. It hits the right notes emotionally, even if only on a surface level, and it tells an engaging story. Chris Cooper in particular is excellent, playing someone much more layered than the stereotypical "tough father" character. While I don't know that I'm likely to remember this movie much beyond this one viewing and don't REALLY have all that much to say about it, I enjoyed it pretty well. 3 stars.
Flickchart: #746 out of 2023, below Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and above Topsy-Turvy.
Rent for $2.99 on Amazon.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
IMDb plot summary: A historical drama set in Roman Egypt, concerning a slave who turns to the rising tide of Christianity in the hopes of pursuing freedom while also falling in love with his master, the famous female philosophy and mathematics professor Hypatia of Alexandria.
Directed by Alejandro Amenábar. Starring Rachel Weisz, Max Minghella, and Oscar Isaac.
I knew absolutely nothing about this movie going into it. When it started and I saw that it was a period film set in the late 300s, I sighed a little, as most period films are difficult for me to get into... but then it immediately jumped into two subjects that I find fascinating in film: philosophy and religion. With the combination of interesting topics, a wonderfully interesting female protagonist, and smart writing, this movie kept me fully engaged all the way through. While it didn't emotionally grip me quite the way I was hoping it would, it was still an extremely solid watch and I'd quite happily recommend it.
(I'd forgotten who Alejandro Amenábar was until I IMDb'd him after the movie. It's no wonder I enjoyed this -- he was responsible for The Others and Abre los ojos, two other terrifically original movies that I really enjoyed. I really want to look up all the rest of his filmography now.) 4 stars.
Flickchart: #482 out of 2022, below Sherlock Jr. and above Phone Booth.
Rent on Amazon for $2.99.
Monday, February 10, 2014
IMDb plot summary: Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, born with a superior olfactory sense, creates the world's finest perfume. His work, however, takes a dark turn as he searches for the ultimate scent.
Directed by Tom Tykwer. Starring Ben Whishaw, Alan Rickman, Dustin Hoffman, and Rachel Hurd-Wood.
(Very mild spoilers about the ending.)
This is an intriguing one. The movie it actually kept bringing to mind for me was Moulin Rouge!, because it's much less about the believability or realism of the story and much more about highlighting... sensations, I guess. Perfume almost feels like a very dark fairy tale, especially with the voiceover narrator telling the story.
So how did I feel about it? I found myself very drawn in, and as the credits rolled and I sat and thought about the movie, I decided I really, really liked it, though it's hard for me to articulate exactly why. It *did* have somewhat the same effect on me as Moulin Rouge! (although to a lesser extent), and it was easy to get swept up in. I found the ending to be both chilling and darkly beautiful. And the soundtrack! Oh, my gosh, that soundtrack was incredible. I don't know if it's available to purchase, but if it is, I must find it immediately. Since the movie can't actually let us experience the movie by smell, it compensated beautifully with its use of music.
In conclusion... a confusing movie, but I loved it, and I feel like it's only going to go higher and higher in my estimation as I let it sit with me. 4.5 stars.
Flickchart: #382 out of 2021, below The City of Lost Children and above Iron Man. Should possibly be higher, since I think The City of Lost Children is too low.
Stream it free on Amazon Prime or rent it for $2.99.
Sunday, February 9, 2014
IMDb plot summary: A teacher lives a lonely life, all the while struggling over his son's custody. His life slowly gets better as he finds love and receives good news from his son, but his new luck is about to be brutally shattered by an innocent little lie.
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg. Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp, and Lasse Fogelstrøm.
Although this is an interesting premise for a movie, it doesn't come together very well. People's actions, especially in the second half, didn't seem to stem from previous actions or motivations we'd been shown, and changes in behavior seemed oddly abrupt. In a really good drama, I'm able to just watch as the story unfolds, and everything that happens feels like, well, yes, of course, in hindsight, that makes sense that that would happen. Here, I found myself struggling to make sense of the characters' interactions from scene to scene. I did like the final scene, as it provided what I felt was a much more realistic lingering reaction to the events of the movie. Overall, though, this was very disappointing. 2 stars.
Flickchart: #1195 out of 2020, below Fargo and above Einstein and Eddington. This feels like too high a ranking, but I'm not sure what's out of place.
Rent it on Amazon for $3.99.
Saturday, February 8, 2014
IMDb plot summary: The story of a tourist family in Thailand caught in the destruction and chaotic aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
Directed by J.A. Bayona. Starring Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, and Tom Holland.
This is a compelling and well-done disaster drama. It centers almost entirely on the family in question, with only occasional glimpses into what's going on with other people around them, which keeps the emotion focused, and it makes the moments when we suddenly ARE aware of everyone else's pain and fear more meaningful. Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts both do a great job in this movie, as do all the child actors. Overall, very solid if not spectacular. 3 stars.
Flickchart: #722 out of 2019, below The Exorcist and above The Pianist.
Buy a digital copy on Amazon.
Friday, February 7, 2014
IMDb plot summary: Shot documentary-style, this film follows the daily grind of two young police officers in LA who are partners and friends, and what happens when they meet criminal forces greater than themselves.
Directed by David Ayer. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña.
Like so many crime dramas, this movie finishes and I think, "So?" I didn't see the characters grow and change in any interesting way, and I wasn't ALL that enthused about the characters to begin with. On top of that, the movie starts off in found footage style but then awkwardly jumps in and out of that format, prompting me several times to say, "Wait, who has THAT camera?" I liked the first 5 minutes of the movie -- I felt like it was building toward something -- but then it just kind of wandered around and didn't have any kind of satisfying ending. 1.5 stars.
Flickchart: #1715 out of 2018, below Monster House and above Made of Honor.
Rent on Amazon for $2.99.
IMDb plot summary: A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them.
Directed by John Wells. Starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson and Juliette Lewis.
I read this play for a college class and wasn't sure I "got" it at the time. I'm not sure I "get" it this time around either -- I'm not sure what exactly the theme is, aside from perhaps "families can be SCREWED UP." But I will say this, even if I can't figure out what the movie is about, it is excellent, compelling writing and excellent, compelling acting. Meryl Streep, who, IMHO, is sometimes amazing and sometimes kind of horrendous, is absolutely perfect in this role. She brings a horrific life to Violet Weston, who I found a thoroughly awful character when I read the play. The rest of the cast is also very, very good. I'm not sure I can say I enjoyed this movie, thus its mediocre placement on my Flickchart, but I was impressed.
Two completely not-relevant-to-the-quality-of-the-movie thoughts: 1) I am amused that the sisters are played by a Julia, a Julianne, and a Juliette. 2) BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH SINGS AND IT IS ADORABLE. 3.5 stars.
Flickchart: #1017 out of 2017, below The Adjustment Bureau and above Glory.
Pre-order the DVD on Amazon.
Thursday, February 6, 2014
IMDb plot summary: A small-town girl ventures to Los Angeles and finds her place in a neo-burlesque club run by a former dancer.
Directed by Steve Antin. Starring Christina Aguilera, Cher, Cam Gigandet and Eric Dane.
Well, goodness, this movie is silly. It reminded me a bit of Rock of Ages, except not as much fun. And, sadly, despite having musical theater vets like Kristen Bell and Alan Cumming in the ensemble, we only ever get performances from Christina and Cher, who are MUCH less interesting than the rest of the cast... although I was fairly moved by Cher's "I won't give up"-style ballad in the middle. That was nicely done. Other than that, though, the musical numbers were acceptable but fairly underwhelming. I'm pretty sure they came up with the idea for about half these songs by taking regular phrases and then replacing a random word with "burlesque." Seriously, stop working the word "burlesque" into every single song, I promise we haven't forgotten the title of the movie. And... "Show Me How You Burlesque"? REALLY?
The problem with this movie is that it surrounded these two not-dynamic actresses with much more dynamic performers, and it only serves to heighten how not-extraordinary the stars are. Kristen Bell and Stanley Tucci steal every single scene they're in. I would happily watch a movie centered around those two characters. I couldn't have cared less about Cher's club manager or Christina's ingenue. 2 stars.
Flickchart: #1388 out of 2016, below Get Smart and above There's Something About Mary.
Buy a digital copy for $9.99.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
IMDb plot summary: A married woman realizes how unhappy her marriage really is, and that her life needs to go in a different direction. After a painful divorce, she takes off on a round-the-world journey to "find herself".
Directed by Ryan Murphy. Starring Julia Roberts, James Franco, Richard Jenkins, and Javier Bardem.
Just like the book, this one grabbed me in a way I didn't expect. On the surface it's just another "woman finds herself" story, but for some reason I find myself incredibly moved by Elizabeth Gilbert and her story of self-discovery (and it desperately makes me want to travel the world for a year). Though I hate using words like this because so often they're attached to things I hate, I did find this inspirational. This main character is relatable and engaging and watching her recover herself feels GOOD. Although I don't know that this would work on me every time, it may, in fact, have been exactly the movie I needed to watch today. 4 stars.
Flickchart: #488 out of 2015, below The Goodbye Girl (2004) and above Argo.
Buy a digital copy for $6.99.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
IMDb plot summary: Young Augusten Burroughs absorbs experiences that could make for a shocking memoir: the son of an alcoholic father and an unstable mother, he's handed off to his mother's therapist, Dr. Finch, and spends his adolescent years as a member of Finch's bizarre extended family.
Directed by Ryan Murphy. Starring Joseph Cross, Annette Bening, Brian Cox and Evan Rachel Wood.
This was written and directed by Ryan Murphy, of Glee fame, and that actually makes total sense. It walks a weird line between comedy and drama, and while I think it's trying to be a Royal Tenenbaums or a Little Miss Sunshine, it just all feels a little disjointed to me. I didn't care about any of the characters except Annette Bening's, and I really only wanted to see her story. Everybody else was kind of mushed together in such a way that we never *really* got to see any of them, certainly not long enough for me to care. I get what it was trying to do, but I don't think it made it there for me. 2.5 stars.
Flickchart: #1185 out of 2014, below Crash and above The Big Lebowski.
Buy a digital copy for $7.99.