Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Book Thief (2013)

IMDb plot summary: While subjected to the horrors of World War II Germany, young Liesel finds solace by stealing books and sharing them with others. In the basement of her home, a Jewish refugee is being sheltered by her adoptive parents.
Directed by Brian Percival. Starring Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, and Emily Watson.

Meep. I expected this movie to be kind of cheesy, but this is just straight-up bad. The first half is mind-numbingly boring, with some of the most flat and uninteresting characters I've ever seen on screen, and the second half is ridiculously sentimental and melodramatic. The fact that it's being narrated by Death itself is a lame gimmick that adds absolutely nothing to the plot and, in fact, feels like it comes from a totally different movie, with no connection at all to what's actually happening on the screen. I haven't read the book so I don't know whether this is a pretty faithful adaptation of an equally ridiculous book or whether there was actually something there and the movie just screwed it up. Even good actors like Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson can't save this one.

0.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1815 out of 2085, below Admission and above Thr3e.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

American Hustle (2013)

IMDb plot summary: A con man, Irving Rosenfeld, along with his seductive partner Sydney Prosser, is forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso, who pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.
Directed by David O. Russell. Starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence.

I have to say, I am a little surprised at all the Oscar attention this got, now that I've seen it. Don't get me wrong, it's a pretty good movie -- solid, funny, clever script, with good acting from the whole cast, extremely atmospheric visuals and a smartly-chosen soundtrack -- but there just doesn't seem to be a lot of Oscar-y substance here. It's a well-done con movie, but that's about it. Unlike David O. Russell's two previous Best Picture nominees, I don't feel like this is trying to say anything as much as it is just trying to be a lot of fun. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that. I enjoyed the ride. I just don't see myself remembering much about this movie further down the line. It's flashy and stylish and fun, but not that memorable.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #917 out of 2084, below Revolutionary Road and above Quills.

Rent it digitally on Amazon.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Now You See Me (2013)

IMDb plot summary: An FBI agent and an Interpol detective track a team of illusionists who pull off bank heists during their performances and reward their audiences with the money.
Directed by Louis Leterrier. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco.

Like any good heist movie, this is all about style and flair, and it is a LOT of fun. I'm surprised there haven't been more heist movies involving magicians, as those two plot elements fit together kind of perfectly here. I do wish there had been some stronger characterization -- the characters are definitely here to serve the twisting plot, and it seems a shame to waste such a great ensemble on such barely-explored personalities. It may not be a great movie, but it's certainly an enjoyable one, and well worth the ride.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #790 out of 2083, below Clueless and above All That Jazz.

Buy a digital copy on Amazon.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

IMDb plot summary: Author P.L. Travers reflects on her childhood after reluctantly meeting with Walt Disney, who seeks to adapt her Mary Poppins books for the big screen.
Directed by John Lee Hancock. Starring Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, and Paul Giamatti.

I'm going to be setting aside the question of what was accurate and what wasn't -- I haven't done much looking into the story and don't feel like I can comment confidently on that. What I will say is that the story they chose to tell absolutely worked for me, on nearly every level by the end.

On the one hand, Mary Poppins is one of my all-time favorite Disney films. It is an incredible story with surprising depth that nearly always brings me to tears when I watch it. It is VERY different from the books, though (I love them as well, just differently). But as I watched, I found myself empathizing very strongly with P. L. Travers, as a writer (and not exactly a social butterfly). She has definite opinions and emotional ties to her work and is terrified at the thought of giving someone else control over it for fear that they will ruin something she holds so dearly. That struggle back and forth to find something that ties together whimsical Disney magic with the no-nonsense Mary Poppins of the books hit home for me, and I found myself fascinated and emotionally engrossed in the story as it unfolded.

(Some fairly vague spoilers ahead about plot points in the second half of the movie.)

For the first half of the movie, I was uncertain about all of Travers' back story, as it wasn't nearly as interesting to me as where she was now, as well as portraying her as too emotionally broken and too easily fixed by the magic of Disneydom... but all that changed in the scene when Disney went to visit Travers in her home in England. Suddenly everything clicked into place for me as it had for Walt at this point in the movie -- the "She came to save their father" line reminded me that, yes, at the heart of the Mary Poppins movie is Mr. Banks himself, not Mary Poppins or the children or Bert.

Though I know Travers' real reaction at the premiere bore very little resemblance to the one in the movie, I loved the way they ended it. Sure, it's Disneyfied and tidied up from reality, but as a story, it *works*.


A quick note on the acting: Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks both do an incredible job. Thompson has an incredible ability to play introspective, seemingly apathetic introverts in a way that really connects with me (see also Remains of the Day and Sense and Sensibility) and Tom Hanks is just delightful as Walt Disney.

All right. To wrap up this tres lengthy review, I'll say this. I fully admit that my response to this movie is about 90% some combination of love for the actual Mary Poppins movie and love for Thompson as Travers, but be that as it may, it really, really worked for me, and it easily enters onto the list of my favorite movies from 2013.

4.5 stars.

Flickchart: #277 out of 2082, below The Sunshine Boys (1975) and above Another Woman.

Rent digitally on Amazon.

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

IMDb plot summary: A young witch, on her mandatory year of independent life, finds fitting into a new community difficult while she supports herself by running an air courier service.
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Starring Kirsten Dunst, Tress MacNeille, Phil Hartman, and Matthew Lawrence (in English dubbed version).

(Some spoilers ahead about a third act plot point.)

This one lands somewhere in the middle tier of Miyazaki films. It doesn't have quite the charm of My Neighbor Totoro or the wild imagination of Spirited Away, but it's still a sweet, entertaining kids' movie. Kiki is an easy character to like, and the wise-cracking sidekick that is her cat doesn't get annoying or overused like that arcehtype so often is in American animation.

I suppose my main complaint with this movie is that the story structure is a little odd. There's a sudden turn of events about 2/3 of the way through when Kiki finds she's losing her witch powers. While it seems like that's going to be a major emotional theme in the ending, it ends up getting resolved abruptly without really telling us *why* her powers come back out of nowhere. Did she just wish hard enough? Was it because she had to save someone's life? The movie doesn't really tell us, it just resolves suddenly (VERY suddenly -- like, the climax happens and the movie is immediately over, thriller-style). This left me feeling emotionally unresolved, especially after the sort of leisurely feel of the first hour.

It's not a bad movie, though. It's not Miyazaki's best, but I did find it sweet and enjoyed it.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #866 out of 2081, below Serendipity and above Lord of War.

Buy the DVD on Amazon.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lord of War (2005)

IMDb plot summary: An arms dealer confronts the morality of his work as he is being chased by an Interpol agent.
Directed by Andrew Niccol. Starring Nicolas Cage, Jared Leto, Ethan Hawke, and Bridget Moynahan.

(Some nonspecific spoilers ahead about the ending.)

I didn't know much about this movie, except that it was written by Andrew Niccol. I'd been combining it in my mind with most other Nicolas Cage vehicles of the past 10-15 years and thought it was going to be a dumb thriller, but with Niccol at the helm I shouldn't have been surprised that it was much better than that. It's a crime drama that drew me into the story much more than I thought it would, although I suspect a large part of that is due to Jared Leto's compelling performance. The relationship between the two brothers and how it was influenced by Cage's character's job was fascinating to watch, even if it was a background subplot most of the time.

I was also impressed with the ending, which I felt was a consistent way to resolve (or not resolve) the story. Many crime dramas leave me feeling cheated out of a resolution, but here I felt like the way they wrapped it up made sense to me.

Overall, much better than I was anticipating, although certainly not spectacular.

2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #993 out of 2080, below White Nights and above Monsters University.

Buy a digital copy on Amazon.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

IMDb plot summary: Guinevere Pettigrew, a middle-aged London governess, finds herself unfairly dismissed from her job. An attempt to gain new employment catapults her into the glamorous world and dizzying social whirl of an American actress and singer, Delysia Lafosse.
Directed by Bharat Nalluri. Starring Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, and Lee Pace.

Aw, this is delightful. It resolves maybe a little bit too perfectly in the end, but given the tone and feel of the movie overall, I'd consider it appropriate. Frances McDormand and Amy Adams are both so incredibly likable in their very different roles, and the story moves along at a nice brisk pace that manages to still have room for some decent character development. I don't know that it's going to be a movie I'll remember for years, as it does fall more into the realm of the "sweet and pleasant" than the "extraordinary," but it was definitely an enjoyable watch.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #529 out of 2079, below Top Secret! and above Zoolander.

Rent it digitally on Amazon.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

IMDb plot summary: An urbane fox cannot resist returning to his farm raiding ways and then must help his community survive the farmers' retaliation.
Directed by Wes Anderson. Starring George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzmann, and Bill Murray.

Have you ever had a conversation with somebody where you can understand all the individual words they're saying, but the resulting sentences don't seem to make any sense in the context of the conversation? You're not exactly sure how to ask for clarification because you're not even sure what they're saying, so you just kind of nod and say, "Sure, uh-huh, yeah," while the whole time you're thinking, "I DON'T GET IT."

That was kind of my experience with this film. I like some Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom and Royal Tenenbaums, though that one took two tries) but a LOT of the time I just don't understand him. The story structure of this movie is odd, the dialogue is confusing, and I keep feeling like I'm missing inside jokes. The stop-motion puppets aren't visually expressive enough to work with dialogue as dependent on tiny nuance as Anderson's, frequently leaving me with a startling disconnect between what the characters say and what they look like.

I like the premise -- a sort of animal-based heist movie. But then as it played out, I just found myself frustrated trying to figure out why anyone was saying or doing anything they said or did. Add this to the list of Wes Anderson movies I just find awkward to watch.

2 stars.

Flickchart: #1281 out of 2078, below Fantastic Voyage and above Bus Stop. This is too high because apparently the 1200s in my Flickchart are ALL goofy. It went up against like 3 movies that should be much lower.

Rent it digitally on Amazon.

Om Shanti Om (2007)

IMDb plot summary: In the 1970s, Om, an aspiring actor, is murdered, but is immediately reincarnated into the present day. He attempts to discover the mystery of his demise and find Shanti, the love of his previous life.
Directed by Farah Khan. Starring Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Arjun Rampal, and Shreyas Talpade.


Seriously, I don't know why I haven't explored more Bollywood flicks before now. I KNEW I'd probably love them. And I had so, so much fun watching this. From the big elaborate musical numbers to the over-the-top melodramatic plot, this was a blast from beginning to end. The two leads were extremely likable in all their roles and even though it took me a little while to get used to the broad strokes of both the comedic and dramatic moments, once I settled into the movie's tone it was thoroughly enjoyable. I will definitely have to start checking out the genre more.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #378 out of 2077, below The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and above Never Let Me Go.

Rent it on Amazon.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Kagemusha (1980)

IMDb plot summary: A petty thief with an utter resemblance to a samurai warlord is hired as the lord's double. When the warlord later dies the thief is forced to take up arms in his place.
Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Starring Tatsuya Nakadai, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ken'ichi Hagiwara, and Jinpachi Nezu.

What I really enjoy about Kurosawa is how truly human his characters seem and how easy they are to connect with. This movie reminded me of Ran in that I really enjoyed the moments when that characterization and humanity came through and was thoroughly uninterested in the political/war stuff. It's definitely not my favorite Kurosawa flick, as there is a LOT of political back-and-forth and battle scenes that just didn't capture my attention... but I do have to mention the final post-battle scene, which has some incredibly powerful images that definitely deliver an emotional impact. Worth a watch, but it does occasionally feel long and slow, unlike the equally long Seven Samurai.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #1152 out of 2076, below Burning Annie and above Interstate 60.

Buy the DVD from Amazon.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Max Dugan Returns (1983)

IMDb plot summary: An English teacher and struggling single mother has her life disrupted when the father who abandoned her as a child comes back into her life.
Directed by Herbert Ross. Starring Marsha Mason, Jason Robards, Donald Sutherland, and Matthew Broderick.

I'm a big fan of Neil Simon, but this is a pretty sloppy script. A lot of plot points don't really work together, and the heartfelt moments feel awkward and out-of-place. That being said, there are a few good, solid scenes that made me laugh and remember what I love about Simon's writing in the first place. If the scenes around them worked in the same way, it'd be a lot of fun. It's definitely in the lower tier of his screenplays, but there are moments that made me see its potential. It might not be worth it for anyone who's not a fan of Simon or one of these actors, but I had a decent time watching it.

2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #939 out of 2075, below The Sunshine Boys (1996) and above Dredd.

Rent it digitally on Amazon.

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958)

IMDb plot summary: Based on the true life exploits of Gladys Aylward who set off to China to work as a missionary and teacher.
Directed by Mark Robson. Starring Ingrid Bergman, Curd Jürgens, and Robert Donat.

I was not expecting to be as drawn into the story as I was. Much of this movie's charm is due to Ingrid Bergman, whose performance exudes the perseverance and compassion that is so central to her character. As long as this movie is, it moves along at a fairly quick pace, telling the story in a way that doesn't seem drawn-out or slow. Knowing this is based on a real woman was fascinating to me as well -- there were a few moments that felt far-fetched, but now I want to read the book and see how close they were to the actual story. I also very much liked that the story's romance was a distant subplot, since there was potential in the middle for it to take over the whole story. Overall, it's a charming, pleasantly inspirational movie, and I enjoyed watching it.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #670 out of 2074, below Gandhi and above Don Jon.

Rent it digitally on Amazon.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Hush (1998)

IMDb plot summary: Helen is the young girlfriend of good-looking Jackson Baring. When Helen gets pregnant and marries Jackson, they decide to move to his hometown and have a baby there. But his mother Martha, who lives there, starts to do weird things, and obviously she's not too friendly to Helen.
Directed by Jonathan Darby. Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Lange, and Johnathon Schaech.

(Quite a few spoilers ahead.)

This isn't a great movie, but it's fun in a sort of over-the-top campy thriller kind of way. Gwyneth Paltrow plays a fairly intelligent protagonist, which I always enjoy, and the mother's villainous actions are subtle enough to make for a decently intelligent progression of events. I didn't care for the final scene, which was somehow both anticlimactic and overly melodramatic as the problem is resolved by... everybody just talking about the issue? I realize I'm putting a lot of caveats in this review, but I actually had a relatively good time watching it. Again, not great, but decent.

2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1144 out of 2073, below New York, New York and above The American President.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Tempest (2010)

IMDb plot summary: Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, who lives in exile on a remote island as a sorcerer, uses his powers to shipwreck his usurper brother on the island.
Directed by Des McAnuff. Starring Christopher Plummer, Julyana Soelistyo, Dion Johnstone, and Trish Lindstrom.

Not to be confused with the Julie Taymor-directed version, also from 2010, this version of the famous play was filmed live at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and stars Christopher Plummer as Prospero. The Tempest has never been one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, as it wanders around a LOT and I've always been extremely uncomfortable with Prospero's treatment of those around him, but this production tells the story well and brings out the humor throughout.

The costume design is worth a mention by itself, as it is absolutely gorgeous, especially for Ariel and Caliban and their inhuman appearances. I found myself visually fascinated by Ariel in every scene -- wonderfully done.

It's not brilliant, but it's a good watch for those who enjoy the show, Plummer, or just simulating the experience of seeing a live Shakespeare play.

Flickchart: #807 out of 2072, below August: Osage County and above Star Trek Into Darkness.

3.5 stars.

Buy the DVD on Amazon.

Imitation of Life (1959)

IMDb plot summary: A struggling young actress with a six-year-old daughter sets up housekeeping with a homeless black widow and her light-skinned eight-year-old daughter who rejects her mother by trying to pass for white.
Directed by Douglas Sirk. Starring Lana Turner, Juanita Moore, Sandra Dee, and Susan Kohner.

There are a few overly melodramatic moments in this movie, but overall it's an interesting and solid script about the lives of these two women and their daughters. I will say, there's clearly one storyline here that is more interesting than the other -- I was fascinated by the story of Annie and her daughter, which touched on all sorts of issues of identity and family and kept me interested all the way through. The story of actress mom Lora was just less fascinating, although fairly well told. I'm not sure this movie is going to stick with me for very long, but if it does, it'll be the Annie/Sarah Jane plotline that I remember.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #831 out of 2071, below The Player and above Broken Arrow.

Buy a digital copy on Amazon.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Good Son (1993)

IMDb plot summary: A young boy stays with his aunt and uncle, and befriends his cousin who's the same age. But his cousin begins showing increasing signs of violent behavior.
Directed by Joseph Ruben. Starring Macauley Culkin, Elijah Wood, Wendy Crewson, and Daniel Hugh Kelly.

I'll grant you, it's really hard to write children well, much less evil kids. And finding a kid who who can act that is possibly even more difficult. That being said... Macauley Culkin is AWFUL in this movie, and his dialogue sounds like it's been written for a 30-year-old man, not a 10-year-old boy. Elijah Wood's character is much better written, making him a very likable protagonist (even if his weird "my mom has been reincarnated into my aunt's body" obsession is a bizarre unanswered subplot) but every scene featuring Culkin's character is almost painful to watch. Movies about kids rarely work for me, and this is one example of why.

1 star.

Flickchart: #1711 out of 2070, below Cruel Intentions and above Out of the Past.

Rent it digitally on Amazon.

The Impostors (1998)

IMDb plot summary: Two out-of-work actors accidentally stowaway on a ship to hide from a drunken, belligerent lead actor who has sworn to kill them for belittling his talents.
Directed by Stanley Tucci. Starring Stanley Tucci, Oliver Platt, Lili Taylor, and Alfred Molina.

There's a lot to nitpick in this movie. There are probably too many nods to the camera, the pacing is kind of awkward at times, and the plot gets really unnecessarily messy, even for a screwball comedy. But when it comes right down to it, I laughed. I laughed a lot. It's not a perfect movie, but it has a great deal of charm to it. Despite its attempt to be a fast-paced, zany farce, it actually reminded me much more of Christopher Guest's mockumentaries, with the humor coming out in the quiet subtleties of the acting and the dialogue. Tucci and Platt are really entertaining, but the ensemble cast is excellent as well. I'm glad I got a chance to watch this on Netflix before it gets taken off Instant Watch in a couple weeks. It was definitely worth the watch.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #372 out of 2069, below Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and above American Dreamz.

Rent it digitally on Amazon.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Premonition (2007)

IMDb plot summary: Depressed housewife learns her husband was killed in a car accident the day previously, awakens the next morning to find him alive and well at home, and then awakens the next day after to a world in which he is still dead.
Directed by Mennan Yapo. Starring Sandra Bullock, Julian McMahon, Nia Long, and Marc Macauley.

I am all for weird reality-bending sci-fi flicks, but they have to be headed somewhere. This one really... didn't resolve. I see them *trying* to get some kind of an emotional resolution, but it doesn't work for me, just raising more questions than it answers in the end. It feels a little haphazard all the way through, which clued me in to the fact that there probably wouldn't be a satisfactory ending. This kept me from enjoying the first half more than I probably would have otherwise. Too bad, because I really do like the premise. It's just not terribly coherent as a full movie. On the bright side, Sandra Bullock does put a lot of effort into this, and despite some awkward writing, her performance isn't bad. So that's nice.

1.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1409 out of 2068, below Sahara and above The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.

Buy the DVD on Amazon.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Lodger (2009)

IMDb plot summary: A couple rents out a room to a mysterious young man, who may or may not be guilty of a series of grisly neighborhood murders.
Directed by David Ondaatje. Starring Alfred Molina, Hope Davis, Shane West, and Donal Logue.

(Vague spoilers ahead about the movie's ending.)

All right, I'll grant you that the twist caught me off guard, which is always kind of fun, but there's too much about this movie that made me roll my eyes. The writing is awkward, most of the acting is really cheesy, and all the deliberate misdirects make the twist (and the wholly unnecessary twist-on-the-twist) seem cheap when it's finally revealed.

The bright spot in this movie, however, is Hope Davis, who puts in a surprisingly empathetic performance from the get-go as a woman who's clearly psychologically fragile. Her dialogue is still awkward and strange, but she does her best with what she's given and it kind of works.

(Random side fact: The book this was based on is public domain and free for Kindle, so I've downloaded it and will get around to reading it someday. So that'll be a fun comparison.)

1.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1532 out of 2067, below Facing the Giants and above Bewitched.

Buy the DVD on Amazon.

Paths of Glory (1957)

IMDb plot summary: When soldiers in World War I refuse to continue with an impossible attack, their superior officers decide to make an example of them.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Starring Kirk Douglas, George Macready, Ralph Meeker, and Adolphe Menjou.

A day after watching my least favorite Kurosawa film, I discover what I'd happily call my favorite Kubrick. I frequently have a love/hate relationship with his films -- my thoughts are usually "I would have LOVED it, if only this part hadn't been there" -- but here it's all love.

This is a taut, compelling narrative that subtly pulls out two fascinating characters. In war movies, I frequently struggle to put personalities to faces, but General Mireau and Colonel Dax are written and played to perfection here, allowing me to see them for who they are as both people and soldiers. Their interactions represent the two sides of the story brilliantly.

(Minor spoilers for a scene at the end.) Just about every little moment in this works, but I have to mention that I was particularly moved by the long walk down to the firing squad. A truly heart-wrenching scene, and one that I suspect will stick with me for some time. (/Spoiler)

4.5 stars.

Flickchart: #325 out of 2066, below The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and above Clue.

Rent it digitally on Amazon.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Hidden Fortress (1958)

IMDb plot summary: Lured by gold, two greedy peasants escort a man and woman across enemy lines. However, they do not realize that their companions are actually a princess and her general.
Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Starring Toshirô Mifune, Minoru Chiaki, Kamatari Fujiwara and Misa Uehara.

Well, I suppose this day was going to have to come eventually: I've finally seen a Kurosawa film I didn't like much. It's not a *bad* movie or anything, it's just a really straightforward adventure flick without a lot of character development or, well, really any of the out-of-the-box originality I've come to love in his movies. If you're just looking for a fun samurai adventure movie, this'll do just fine. It's just not what I was hoping for. Seven Samurai and Yojimbo both managed to be thoroughly engrossing despite being genres I don't like, but this one didn't really rise above the genre to make me love it. 2 stars.

Flickchart: #1243 out of 2065, below Crash and above Total Recall (1990).

Buy the DVD from Amazon.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical (2005)

IMDb plot summary: An outrageous tongue-in-cheek musical comedy adaptation of the classic 1936 anti-marijuana propaganda film.
Directed by Andy Fickman. Starring Christian Campbell, Kristen Bell, Alan Cumming, and Ana Gasteyer.

I already had the soundtrack and knew some of the music from this movie, but finally watching it all come together was so much fun. This film hits just the right amount of over-the-top campiness and ridiculously "heartfelt" performances -- it's an incredible ensemble one. Christian Campbell and Kristen Bell are hilarious as the two young kids who are sucked into the drug underworld, but Ana Gasteyer, Alan Cumming, and the rest of the cast all play their parts beautifully as well. The musical numbers are fun and entertaining throughout -- the ONLY one I didn't enjoy was The Brownie Song. I laughed out loud a LOT and smiled most of the time. If I give this one a couple more watches, I can easily see it becoming one of my favorite movie musicals ever. So, so much fun. 4.5 stars.

Flickchart: #232 out of 2064, below Submarine and above Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.

Buy the DVD on Amazon.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

IMDb plot summary: Two warriors in pursuit of a stolen sword and a notorious fugitive are led to an impetuous, physically skilled, adolescent nobleman's daughter, who is at a crossroads in her life.
Directed by Ang Lee. Starring Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, and Chen Chang.

This movie looks gorgeous, and a few of the fight scenes are really stupendous. (The flying swordfight in the trees is especially memorable.) However, there's still only so much interest I can drum up for a movie where the plot is mostly "people fight each other." I enjoyed the romance subplot when it took center stage and found myself mostly just waiting for fight scenes to be over. There was the occasional exception, like I said, and I'd be perfectly comfortable calling this a good martial arts movie -- but it IS, at its core, a martial arts movie, and as such, I didn't love it. 2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1085 out of 2063, below The Kids Are All Right and above Miss Potter.

Rent it digitally on Amazon.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

IMDb plot summary: A transexual punk rock girl from East Berlin tours the US with her rock band as she tells her life story and follows the ex-boyfriend/bandmate who stole her songs.
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell. Starring John Cameron Mitchell, Miriam Shor, Michael Pitt, and Andrea Martin.

I'm kind of torn on this movie. On one side, the musical performances are STUNNING. The songs are great and interesting and John Cameron Mitchell sings the heck out of them, whether it's a big over-the-top rock number or a much quieter song ("Wicked Little Town" and its reprise are both just gorgeous). The problem is that there's also an actual plot winding its way through the movie, and it's confusing, muddled, awkwardly written, and always, ALWAYS takes a back stage to the music, especially toward the end, when the actual dialogue fades away almost entirely to focus on the songs. I would have liked to see this more as an actual rock opera, with very few non-musical moments, since the music is clearly the emotional centerpiece.

In conclusion: Great musical, I am definitely going to have to pick up the soundtrack... not necessarily a great movie. 3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #668 out of 2062, below Brothers and above Cloak and Dagger.

Rent it digitally on Amazon.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Whisper of the Heart (1995)

IMDb plot summary: A young girl finds that all the books she chooses in the library have been previously checked out by the same boy. Later she meets a very infuriating fellow... could it be her "friend" from the library? The boy's grandfather has a violin sales and service shop. The boy wants to be a violin maker like his grandfather.
Directed by Yoshifumi Kondô. Starring (in the English dub) Brittany Snow, David Gallagher, Ashley Tisdale, and Cary Elwes.

I have actually already seen the quasi-sequel to this movie, The Cat Returns... but I have to say, I liked The Cat Returns significantly better. One of the things I like about Studio Ghibli movies, particularly the Miyazaki ones I've seen, is how they think outside the box and incorporate fantastical elements into their stories, with any deep or meaningful interactions almost sneaking up on us. Whisper of the Heart is a much more straightforward coming-of-age story, sticking pretty close to reality, but it doesn't quite work for me. The characters' motivations are confusing to follow, the romance is sort of abrupt and awkward given the protagonists' young ages, and it's hard to find much of anything connecting the cat statue subplot to the rest of the story. While I'm glad to cross another movie off my Studio Ghibli checklist, this is probably my least favorite from them. 1.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1457 out of 2061, below The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and above The Fugitive.

Buy the DVD on Amazon.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Shaolin Soccer (2001)

IMDb plot summary: A young Shaolin follower reunites with his discouraged brothers to form a soccer team using their martial art skills to their advantage.
Directed by Stephen Chow. Starring Stephen Chow, Wei Zhao, Mat Tat Ng, and Yin Tse.

Films like this are one of the main reasons I've loved doing my movie challenge this year. I would almost certainly NEVER have picked up this movie to watch on my own. But it turned out to be an extremely pleasant surprise. It is awesomely ridiculous, but often laugh-out-loud funny. I would watch way more sports movies if they were like this. The only thing I didn't really care for was the love story, which hit some weird notes for me comedically and frequently left me confused more than anything else, but overall, this was a really entertaining movie. One of the biggest surprises of the year so far.

(About halfway through, I thought to myself, "This feels a lot like Kung Fu Hustle," which I also enjoyed a surprising amount. I didn't even realize it was the same writer/director. Clearly I should hunt down more of his stuff.) 4 stars.

Flickchart: #588 out of 2060, below Limitless and above Guys and Dolls.

Rent it digitally on Amazon.