Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Swingers (1996)

IMDb plot summary: Wannabe actors become regulars in the stylish neo-lounge scene; Trent teaches his friend Mike the unwritten rules of the scene.
Directed by Doug Liman. Starring Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Ron Livingston, and Patrick Van Horn.

Well, I was clearly not in the right mood to watch this movie, as I spent most of it being unbelievably annoyed with Vince Vaughn. Usually the guy doesn't bother me, even when he's playing arrogant jerks like he is in this flick, but for some reason everything about his performance REALLY rubbed me the wrong way here, with his stupid catch phrases and his stupid dating rules. Jon Favreau's character is likable and interesting, and I was rooting for him, but I spent most of the time wishing he'd just leave his friends behind and go do his own thing because he was CLEARLY better than all of them. This is one of those situations where I have trouble even figuring out how to rate it, because I was so distracted by unlikable characters that I didn't even really pay that much attention to the rest of the movie. So it'll get a lowish ranking and I'll leave it at that.

1.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1383 out of 2121, below Treasures of the Snow and above Superman Returns.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Smokin' Aces (2006)

IMDb plot summary: When a Las Vegas performer-turned-snitch named Buddy Israel decides to turn state's evidence and testify against the mob, it seems that a whole lot of people would like to make sure he's no longer breathing.
Directed by Joe Carnahan. Starring Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, and Jeremy Piven.

(Spoilers ahead about the ending.)

While I enjoyed the slick style of the first half or so of the movie, ultimately it just didn't hold up. There are too many plotlines for me to keep track of, I got tired of it at about the one-hour mark, and then the ending completely ditched the cheerily violent heist-like feel of the rest of the movie to go with an unnecessary plot twist and a sudden dark attempt at a moral of some sort. It was like the last 15 minutes were ripped from an entirely different movie. If it had continued like it had started, I might have at least enjoyed a satisfying ending, but this mostly made me say, "Wait, what? Where did THAT come from?"

2 stars.

Flickchart: #1174 out of 2120, which is too high because apparently several of the movies between like 1100-1400 on my list are also too high. Anyway, it's below The Rocky Horror Picture Show and above The Perfect Score.

The Boondock Saints (1999)

IMDb plot summary: Fraternal twins set out to rid Boston of the evil men operating there while being tracked down by an FBI agent.
Directed by Troy Duffy. Starring Willem Defoe, Sean Patrick Flannery, Norman Reedus, and David Della Rocco.

This movie exemplifies why I have so enjoyed doing my movie challenge this year where my friends assign movies for me to watch. I would NEVER have picked this up on my own. It's a crime movie, and as others have discovered throughout the challenge, crime movies often don't sit well with me.

And somehow I ended up REALLY enjoying this. There's a delightfully manic energy throughout the whole thing. It's all very over-the-top and campy but it's so much fun. Willem Defoe is a blast to watch as the cop investigating all the murders. The movie's structure of letting him explain what happened as we watch it play out is smart, interesting, and entertaining.

I would never have guessed I'd like this as much as I did. I LOVE when movies surprise me like this. This could very well end up being my favorite from this week's movie challenges.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #537 out of 2119, below The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) and above You Can't Take It With You.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Ender's Game (2013)

IMDb plot summary: Young Ender Wiggin is recruited by the International Military to lead the fight against the Formics, a genocidal alien race which nearly annihilated the human race in a previous invasion.
Directed by Gavin Hood. Starring Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, and Abigail Breslin.

It's been quite a few years since I read the books, and I really only remembered the basic outline of the plot, so, fortunately, the movie stayed fairly new to me. The story remains one of my favorites, though I wish the movie had kept it focused on Ender rather than the military people themselves -- that's where the real story is. Additionally, this would have given the movie time to explore Ender's character. He comes across as a bit of a non-entity here.

The visual effects are great and fit well into the movie -- the final space battle looks really amazing, and when we finally see a Formic, it impressed me in a way that not a lot of movie aliens do, even given the somewhat generic design.

Overall, a solid adaptation, though I feel the script could have been tightened up a bit to make it stronger.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #931 out of 2118, below Star Trek: Generations and above Father of the Bride Part II.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Philomena (2013)

IMDb plot summary: A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman's search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.
Directed by Stephen Frears. Starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.

This is a lovely movie that starts off as just something cute and sweet and turns into something very moving. Judi Dench is excellent as always, creating a wonderfully layered character, especially in the final 20 minutes or so of the film. Steve Coogan is hardly exciting as Martin Sixsmith, but he certainly doesn't detract from the film at all, and the two of them play well opposite each other. While dealing with what could be an overly sentimental and overly melodramatic series of events, the movie manages to include a fair amount of gentle, character-based humor to offset it a little bit. In conclusion, I return to that adjective I used in the first sentence: "Lovely." That sums up this film nicely.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #420 out of 2117, below The Virgin Spring and above Pride and Prejudice (1995).

Saturday, April 26, 2014

John Carter (2012)

IMDb plot summary: Transplanted to Mars, a Civil War vet discovers a lush planet inhabited by 12-foot tall barbarians. Finding himself a prisoner of these creatures, he escapes, only to encounter a princess who is in desperate need of a savior.
Directed by Andrew Stanton. Starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, and Willem Dafoe.

While this movie has some fun and original moments, it's held back by a far-too-long runtime and uninteresting characters. The movie looks pretty decent, with some creative-looking aliens and cool effects. Our main character gets a great introduction but, unfortunately, loses most of his personality just half an hour or so into the flick and never gains it back. As the movie goes on, the story gets more and more bogged down and becomes less and less fun. Condense all of this into an hour and a half, rediscover the humor in John Carter's feistiness, and bring a little more personality to the other characters, and this could have been a *really* fun flick. As it is, I tired of it long before it was over. Too bad.

2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1158 out of 2116, below Scrooge and above A Hard Day's Night.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Leap of Faith (1992)

IMDb plot summary: Fake faith healer Jonas Nightingale is stranded in a small town where he finds he can't fool all of the people all of the time.
Directed by Richard Pearce. Starring Steve Martin, Debra Winger, Lolita Davidovich and Liam Neeson.

(Some somewhat vague spoilers ahead about the ending.)

While most of the movie websites bill this as a comedy, there aren't a lot of out-and-out laughs in this movie, and the questions it raises about religion and faith are serious enough that the best parts of this movie are the dramatic ones. While the faith tradition I come from is a lot less showy and charismatic than the ones depicted here, I have been to plenty of healing/revival type church services during the year I worked with the New Life Drama Company, so watching Steve Martin take on the role of the seemingly passionate evangelist was a little surreal.

While I'm not sure yet if I'm *entirely* satisfied with how the movie ended, there's a part of me that did enjoy the way the events of the last 20 minutes or so are not really explained. I appreciate when faith-related movies don't feel a need to cram in an *obvious* moral, whether it be "religion is bad" or "follow Jesus." I have a feeling I'll be mulling this one over for awhile.

Overall, a very interesting movie, and I enjoyed seeing Steve Martin in a slightly more dramatic role that still allowed him to be a performer.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #473 out of 2115, below Eyes Without a Face and above Crossing Delancey.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Double Jeopardy (1999)

IMDb plot summary: A woman framed for her husband's murder suspects he is still alive; as she has already been tried for the crime, she can't be re-prosecuted if she finds and kills him.
Directed by Bruce Beresford. Starring Ashley Judd, Tommy Lee Jones, and Bruce Greenwood.

This is a fairly entertaining thriller. It kept me interested throughout the movie, although I don't think it will stick with me. The pacing did a good job of keeping the story moving along, and the final scene was satisfying. I really don't have much else to say about this -- it did what it was supposed to do well but not phenomenally, so I enjoyed it even though I suspect I'll have forgotten it in a few months. Possibly even in a few weeks.

2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1380 out of 2114, below The Happiest Millionaire and above *batteries not included.

Monsieur Lazhar (2011)

IMDb plot summary: At a Montréal public grade school, an Algerian immigrant is hired to replace a popular teacher who committed suicide in her classroom. While helping his students deal with their grief, his own recent loss is revealed.
Directed by Philippe Falardeau. Starring Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nélisse, and Émilien Néron.

(Some spoilers ahead.)

While a lot of teacher movies follow the same formula, this one breaks out of the box a little bit -- and I appreciate that it tells up front that this is a movie about student-teacher relationships, not the educational aspect. Whether Monsieur Lazhar's students learn to conjugate verbs correctly is immediately seen as being far less important than whether he can help them through their rather traumatizing classroom experience with his stability. The characters are interesting and realistic, the acting is excellent, and the scene where Simon finally opens up about his difficulties with Martine is one of the most moving moments I've seen in a movie recently -- I cried a lot. I was somewhat dissatisfied with the ending, as it seemed a bit like a cheap emotional cop-out, but the rest of the movie is very solid and I would definitely recommend it.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #368 out of 2113, below Beautiful Boy and above The Great Gatsby (2013).

How to Deal (2003)

IMDb plot summary: A teenager, disillusioned by too many examples of love gone wrong, refuses to believe that true love exists. Then this new guy comes along...
Directed by Clare Kilner. Starring Mandy Moore, Allison Janney, and Trent Ford.

This movie is very flawed, but there are moments of it that really work. All the different subplots are interesting, even if they don't fit together very well. The central love story is a nice one, even if it gets resolved rather abruptly. The female lead is a great character, even if she is acted rather terribly by Mandy Moore. And Allison Janney is fantastic, as always -- no "even if"s about her or her character. It really makes me want to read the books this movie was based on, because I feel like this is movie had a lot of potential but was only half-baked, and it makes me wonder if the key issues I have with it are also present in the books. This certainly isn't a terrible movie, and anyone who relates strongly to the characters involved or gets invested in the stories will probably be able to overlook all the awkwardness in the execution and enjoy it.

2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1032 out of 2112, below Thank You for Smoking and above Nacho Libre.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Keith (2008)

IMDb plot summary: 17-year-old Natalie thinks she's got it all figured out until she falls for a guy who has nothing to lose.
Directed by Todd Kessler. Starring Elisabeth Harnois, Jesse McCartney, Margo Harshman, and Ignacio Serricchio.

This movie didn't really work for me at all. Partly it was because the progression of the relationship felt abrupt and forced, but mostly it was because I found the character of Keith completely obnoxious. Usually I'm totally drawn to wise-cracking "beta" males in movies, but here I found him smug, condescending, and kind of a bully. (I *really* don't like when guys in movies go after girls this aggressively. There's a fine line between persistence and stalking, and most romance movies draw it in the wrong place.) With an unlikable male lead and romantic developments I didn't believe in, there wasn't much left in this movie for me to really enjoy.

1 star.

Flickchart: #1707 out of 2111, below The Waiting Game and above Home Alone.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Take This Waltz (2011)

IMDb plot summary: A happily married woman falls for the artist who lives across the street.
Directed by Sarah Polley. Starring Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby, and Sarah Silverman.

(Spoilers ahead about the end of the movie.)

I feel like this one is going to take me awhile to process, so rather than try to write a thematically coherent and concise review, here are a series of thoughts:

-This movie HURT to watch. Like... almost physically. I connected in a really, really strong sense with Seth Rogen's character and wanted everything to be OK for him and it kind of broke me when it wasn't.

-I can't decide whether I loved or hated Michelle Williams in this. I suspect my final thoughts will be that she did an excellent job playing a very immature and largely unlikable character. In a sense, I think she may have captured what a Manic Pixie Dream Girl would be in actual real life, not a rom com...

-"Life has a gap in it, it just does. You don't go crazy trying to fill it like some lunatic." I wrote down this quote when it was said because I feel like that's the key to the movie. It made me think of this flick in relation to Midnight in Paris or Vicky Cristina Barcelona, two other movies where characters haphazardly chase a fantasy to escape discontentment.

-I wanted to punch whatshisname (the neighbor she falls in love with) in the face.

I haven't yet really put all these thoughts together, and as I write this review I'm still kind of... emotionally reeling from it. Putting my thoughts down has, however, helped to solidify a little bit that I do think this was an excellent movie, although I'm not sure it's one I could ever watch again.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #431 out of 2110, below The Pirates of Penzance and above The Basketball Diaries.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

IMDb plot summary: A young adventurer named Milo Thatch joins an intrepid group of explorers to find the mysterious lost continent of Atlantis.
Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. Starring Michael J. Fox, Cree Summer, James Garner, and Jacqueline Obradors.

Well, there's a reason this movie has faded away into Disney obscurity. It's not very interesting. It never quite achieves a real sense of adventure, instead choosing to surround us with a fairly annoying (though, I must say, quite ethnically diverse) cast of characters, a mostly nonsensical story, and a lame script. The animation is adequate but not particularly interesting to watch. The movie had such potential -- a story about looking for Atlantis could have been a TON of fun -- so it's sad to see it so poorly handled. And it didn't even have any fun Disney musical numbers to liven it up. I'll tell ya, if Alan Menken had written a few random songs for these characters, that would definitely have helped.

1 star.

Flickchart: #1756 out of 2109, below Steel Magnolias and above Turner and Hooch.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Searchers (1956)

IMDb plot summary: A Civil War veteran embarks on a journey to rescue his niece from an Indian tribe.
Directed by John Ford. Starring John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, and Vera Miles.

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone that I wasn't crazy about this. Westerns are a difficult sell for me, and John Wayne is even more difficult. I will say the one thing that I thought was interesting was the tiny bit they did to show the impact on the girls of being kidnapped and made to live with the Indians. I was *much* more interested in that story than in the story of the searchers.

I can't really say anything *against* this movie. It wasn't at all bad, but nor did it ever do anything to make me like it despite its westernness. My ranking here is entirely based on my own genre biases, not indicative of its objective worth.

1 star.

Flickchart: #1720 out of 2108, below Hercules and above Nicholas Nickleby.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Color Purple (1985)

IMDb plot summary: The life and trials of a young African American woman.
Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Margaret Avery, and Oprah Winfrey.

As is typical for me of Spielberg's more serious films, this has a few very powerful moments sandwiched in between a lot of *very* melodramatic ones. Whoopi and Oprah are both excellent, primarily thanks to the more subdued nature of their performances, which balances out the over-the-top drama of the people around them. When they weren't not at the center of the action, though, I felt like the melodrama overwhelmed the film and made it difficult for me to connect with what was going on. It's a pretty mixed bag here, but if you like your dramas a little bit sentimental, you'll probably appreciate this more than I did.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #929 out of 2107, below Inside Llewyn Davis and above Office Space.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Beaches (1988)

IMDb plot summary: A privileged rich debutante and a cynical struggling entertainer share a turbulent, but strong childhood friendship over the years.
Directed by Garry Marshall. Starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey.

Meh, this was OK. I thought the movie did a decent job of showing the span of these women's lives, but it's somewhat lacking when it comes to showing their actual friendship in action. About a third of their interaction is them fighting, and most of the rest of the movie is the two of them doing their own thing. I just kept thinking to myself, "Why are they still friends, much less working so hard to stay that way?" Because of that, I never really felt the emotional pull I was supposed to feel as the story progressed, and so it didn't really do anything for me. But then again, I suspect I am far from the ideal audience for most chick flick tearjerkers. It did have some good musical performances from Bette Midler, though.

2 stars.

Flickchart: #1333 out of 2106, below The Whole Nine Yards and above Throw Momma From the Train.

The Whistleblower (2010)

IMDb plot summary: A drama based on the experiences of Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop who served as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia and outed the U.N. for covering up a sex scandal.
Directed by Larysa Kondracki. Starring Rachel Weisz, Vanessa Redgrave, Monica Bellucci and David Strathairn.

Although a large portion of this movie is dedicated to a tedious-for-me police procedural, what makes it work is Rachel Weisz's performance and a satisfyingly cinematic ending. Weisz plays her character with both great compassion and great strength, a combination that can be hard to find in thrillers with female protagonists. She was worth watching even when the spy paranoia thriller-type stuff wasn't capturing my attention. Probably worth it for fans of the genre.

(Fun story: This was on my Netflix watchlist, and when I started watching it I couldn't figure out why I had added it because it didn't seem at all like the type of movie I'd want to watch, and then Benedict Cumberbatch showed up for about 30 seconds and I was like, "Oh. That's why.")

2 stars.

Flickchart: #1180 out of 2105, below The Room and above Horton Hears a Who.

Moonstruck (1987)

IMDb plot summary: Loretta Castorini, a book keeper from Brooklyn, New York, finds herself in a difficult situation when she falls for the brother of the man she agreed to marry (the best friend of her late husband who died seven years previously).
Directed by Norman Jewison. Starring Cher, Nicholas Cage, Vincent Gardenia, and Olympia Dukakis.

(Spoilers ahead.)

Well, I am torn on this one. Turns out the screenplay was written by the fantastic John Patrick Shanley (author of Doubt, one of my all-time favorite plays), but this is one instance where all the parts didn't quite add up. There were some funny moments, and I really love Cher's character -- she's unique and interesting in a genre that cranks out a lot of surprisingly terrible female characters.

However, the movie just doesn't hang together overall for me. The subplots seem like random distractions instead of fitting thematically into the story, the romance comes out of nowhere and feels entirely unbelievable to me, and clearly Nicolas Cage's character is in no way ready to be in any kind of relationship ever, much less propose marriage to someone after a day. I didn't want Cher to be with the guy she didn't love, but I thought she deserved WAY better than a guy who talks her into sleeping with him with the ever-so-romantic line, "I don't care if you burn in hell." Apparently that is how you get the girl.

I had high hopes for this, but in the end it didn't make me laugh enough to overcome the weirdness of everything else going on.

2 stars.

Flickchart: #1267 out of 2104, below The Chalk Garden and above The Age of the Medici.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Flight of the Navigator (1986)

IMDb plot summary: In 1978, a boy is moved 8 years into the future and has an adventure with the alien ship that is responsible for that.
Directed by Randal Kleiser. Starring Joey Cramer, Paul Reubens, Veronica Cartwright, and Cliff De Young.

I never saw this as a kid and figured I wouldn't be a big fan of it seeing it as an adult, but this is one of those rare kids' movies that actually holds up pretty well years later. The acting from the main kid is decent, it's an engaging and imaginative story, the characters are pretty well written, and there's just enough humor to keep it lighthearted and fun. I don't know that I'd go out of my way to rewatch it, but it was definitely a fun family adventure.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #686 out of 2103, below Flushed Away and above Secret Window.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

IMDb plot summary: Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stock-broker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.
Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie and Kyle Chandler.

The movie does get a little long, but for the most part, this is a wildly entertaining ride. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill play beautifully off each other, creating a very funny dynamic that carries the rest of the movie. The use of not only voiceover narration but direct-to-the-camera narration as well perfectly fits the tone of the entire movie, making us feel like we are complicit in Jordan's schemes. And, honestly, it does make it hard not to like the guy. DiCaprio's just so dang charming, even when he's being a total sleaze. I'd have liked the last hour to chug along a little faster, but it's definitely a solid Scorsese.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #442 out of 2102, below Carnage and above Contagion.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Captain Phillips (2013)

IMDb plot summary: The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years.
Directed by Paul Greengrass. Starring Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, and Mahat M. Ali.

(Some spoilers about the final scene.)

This is a pretty solid thriller, but it's also pretty typical in how it plays out, so I'm not sure it deserved a Best Picture nomination. The one scene that I will say had a huge impact on me was at the very end when he's in shock and getting his medical examination. I found that an extremely moving scene, and a very emotionally appropriate end to the story. As for the rest of it, there's nothing really wrong with it, it just didn't capture my attention the way I hoped it would.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #924 out of 1101, below Father of the Bride Part II and above Born Yesterday.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ben-Hur (1959)

IMDb plot summary: When a Jewish prince is betrayed and sent into slavery by a Roman friend, he regains his freedom and comes back for revenge.
Directed by William Wyler. Starring Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Haya Harareet, and Jack Hawkins.

Biblical epics are tough for me to sit through (ESPECIALLY when they're over 3.5 hours long) but there were parts of this I liked a lot. The score was spectacular. Seriously, I'm pretty sure about half of my enjoyment came from the mood set by the music. Incidentally, I think 3+ hour movies should include an overture and an entr'acte today too.

The other thing that really captured my attention was the visual grandioseness. There's something very beautiful about older movies that have these enormous elaborate sets and huge amounts of extras, and knowing that none of it is CGI. It really inspires a sense of awe.

With those two technical elements aside, however, we come to the story, and here's where everything kind of falls apart. The first half is interesting, but as it goes on, it descends further and further into silly melodrama. Oh, and let's talk about the ending. (Spoilers ahead.) It's all suddenly, "Yay Jesus!" without really any coherent connection to the rest of the story. Judah's lust for revenge is abruptly over, explained away with a single line. His family is healed for no reason. I could understand if it was connected to, say, Jesus' resurrection (if you're going to tell a Jesus-is-God story, you might as well go all the way) and had a "life conquers death" theme overall, but, nope, apparently Jesus' death *itself* healed people and convinced others not to be angry anymore. It's a very strange mix of tragedy and happily ever after, and it doesn't work for me at all. (/Spoilers)

Overall: technically very lovely (this would be one I would watch on a big screen just to better appreciate the visuals and sound) but the story spirals downhill.

2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1011 out of 2100, below White Nights and above Monsters University.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Blind Side (2009)

IMDb plot summary: The story of Michael Oher, a homeless and traumatized boy who became an All American football player and first round NFL draft pick with the help of a caring woman and her family.
Directed by John Lee Hancock. Starring Sandra Bullock, Quinton Aaron, and Tim McGraw.

This movie was a pleasant surprise. I've put off watching it for almost five years now because despite all the accolades, it falls into so many movie categories I generally dislike: it's an inspirational sports movie that's set in the south and based on a true story. That's like four strikes against it right there.

While the plot itself is not that interesting to me, what does shine are the performances of Sandra Bullock and Quinton Aaron. They play their parts perfectly, breathing life into these characters and giving them depth in what could otherwise have been an extremely generic movie. I'm still not sure I could say that the movie *itself* is all that great, but it's well worth watching for the acting, which is captivating far beyond the story and script.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #789 out of 2099, below Seeking a Friend For the End of the World and above October Sky.

Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam (2010)

IMDb plot summary: When a rival camp, Camp Star, run by famous music producer Axel Turner opens across the lake, it causes many Camp Rock campers and counselors to ditch Camp Rock and join Camp Star. The Camp Rock gang spends the summer preparing for the dramatic battle of the bands; while still maintaining to have fun.
Directed by Paul Hoen. Starring Demi Lovato, Joe Jonas, Nick Jonas, and Kevin Jonas.

(Spoilers about how it ends.)

This was definitely superior to the first one in just about every way. The characters weren't as irritating, Demi Lovato's voice got significantly better, the songs are more fun and more connected to the characters, and the plot was a whole lot less cliched. I especially liked how they *didn't* win the equivalent of "the big game" at the end, even though it did lead to them abruptly turning it into a happy ending anyway with no real reason. This still doesn't have quite the overzealous goofiness that I liked so much in the High School Musical series, but this is a much more solid effort than its predecessor. Nicely done.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #820 out of 2098, below August: Osage County and above The Tempest (2010).

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Camp Rock (2008)

IMDb plot summary: At a music camp for gifted teens, a popular teen idol overhears a girl singing and sets out to find who the talented voice belongs to. What he doesn't know is that the girl is actually a camp kitchen worker with a fear of being heard.
Directed by Matthew Diamond. Starring Demi Lovato, Joe Jonas, Meaghan Martin and Alyson Stoner.

Let me start off by saying I am actually a pretty big fan of the High School Musical movies, and this is not nearly as entertaining. Part of that has to do with the fact that Joe Jonas' broodiness is not as fun as the way-too-sincere Zac Efron, but most of it because this movie is ALL confused about proper pacing for a musical. There are like a grand total of 3 songs for the first hour and 15 minutes, and then in the last 20 minutes they suddenly do SONG AFTER SONG AFTER SONG with almost no breaks in between. It's like they said, "OH! This is supposed to be a musical! Shoot, we forgot."

Now granted, of those last 5 songs, the two upbeat ones are super fun and the two ballads sung at the Final Jam are very satisfying. (Peggy's empowerment ballad was actually quite moving. Way to go, movie.) So I didn't MIND a bunch of songs in a row. I just wish I hadn't had to sit through the first hour to get to them.

The other place this misses the mark -- and I wrote an entire blog about this back when Smash was on the air, comparing Smash and Glee -- is that, until the end, there's no emotional connection to the songs. One of the dangers of doing a musical where it makes sense for the actors to be singing (because the characters themselves are performing or singing in the context of the story) is that you can miss out on the emotion. My favorite thing about musicals is when characters just can't hold on to their emotions anymore and it comes out in song form. To me, that can be very powerful and is the main draw of the entire musical genre. Here, I'm not sure there's a single out-of-story-context song, and although they manage to make some of them coincide with the emotional tone of the story (once again, Peggy's song is a great example), it's hard to get much of an emotional musical response when the character's motivation for singing at all is "well, it's time for me to sing."

Anyway, that is probably FAR more detailed analysis than this movie deserved. I just have a lot of opinions on musicals. :-)

TL,DR: The final 20 minutes are a lot of fun and have some good moments, but the first 2/3 of the movie is not great.

2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #953 out of 2097, below Happythankyoumoreplease and above The Illusionist.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Born Yesterday (1950)

IMDb plot summary: A million dollar Tycoon hires a tutor to teach his lover proper etiquette.
Directed by George Cukor. Starring Judy Holliday, Broderick Crawford, and William Holden.

This was wildly uneven for me. There were some parts that made me smile and laugh and think, "This is great," but there were also a lot of parts that I just didn't find entertaining at all, even though there were clearly supposed to be jokes in there. It also took a good 40 minutes for me to get into the swing of the movie. Toward the end the script keeps trying to veer away from its comedic roots and make serious, preachy statements about corrupt businessmen being bad, which would have been a lot more annoying if they hadn't included *just* enough funny lines to break it up a little bit... I still feel it was awkward, though.

I feel like this might gel with me better on a rewatch, now that I know what to expect. I could see really getting into the little comedic nuances of Judy Holliday's performance. This first time through, though, it was on-and-off enough that it's not going to get ranked super high.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #920 out of 2096, below Father of the Bride Part II and above Inside Llewyn Davis.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ernest & Celestine (2012)

IMDb plot summary: The story of an unlikely friendship between a bear, Ernest, and a young mouse named Celestine.
Directed by Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, and Benjamin Renner. Starring Lambert Wilson and Pauline Brunner.

Well, this is one of the most adorable animated movies I have ever seen. The story itself isn't anything unique when it comes right down to it, but the details surrounding it are creative (I loved the "mice as tooth fairies" angle), the animation is beautiful in its simplicity (those dream sequences!), the voice acting is absolutely perfect (I watched it in the original French, can't speak for the English dub), and the characters are so, so delightful. Definitely worth a watch for both children and adults.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #353 out of 2095, below Barefoot in the Park and above Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Knights of Badassdom (2013)

IMDb plot summary: Live-action role players conjure up a demon from Hell by mistake and they must deal with the consequences.
Directed by Joe Lynch. Starring Ryan Kwanten, Steve Zahn, Summer Glau, Jimmi Simpson, and Peter Dinklage.

Holy crap, this was SO MUCH FUN. So nerdy and fun. In tone, it reminded me of Scott Pilgrim... or what I wanted John Dies At the End to be. It's got a great cast of awesome people, a truly funny script, and one of the most fantastically ridiculous climactic battle scenes I've ever seen.

I do suspect this won't appeal to everyone. It's definitely got a pretty nerdy appeal. But I loved just about every moment of it. I'm so glad this finally got completed. Right now I don't even know what to say about it. It's one of those movies that just tickled me so much that all I can say is, "This was SO MUCH FUN." I can definitely see this becoming one of my favorites after a rewatch.

4.5 stars.

Flickchart: #328 out of 2094, below The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and above Paths of Glory. That's probably a bit low, because Liberty Valance is a little low.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Ladykillers (1955)

IMDb plot summary: Five diverse oddball criminal types planning a bank robbery rent rooms on a cul-de-sac from an octogenarian widow under the pretext that they are classical musicians.
Directed by Alexander Mackendrick. Starring Alec Guinness, Herbert Lom, Cecil Parker, Peter Sellers, Danny Green, and Katie Johnson.

Oh, this movie is... just okay. I only finished watching it a few moments ago and I'm already having trouble remembering much of anything about it. I will admit that I actually really enjoy the Coen remake of this movie (though I seem to be the only one in the world who does). This original version, however, is *so* subdued that it doesn't really bring out much of the comedy at all. Katie Johnson is charming as Mrs. Wilberforce, and all my laughs came from her performance. The gang of criminals, however, are uninteresting and bland and not at all fun to watch. I had high hopes for this movie, so I was sad to have been so disappointed by it.

1.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1364 out of 2093, below Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier and above Baby Boom.

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

IMDb plot summary: A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.
Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen. Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, and Justin Timberlake.

Like so many movies by the Coens, I'm not exactly sure what to make of this. I like individual moments, but I'm not certain I can say it hangs together as a whole. My least favorite thing about the Coens has always been their ending choices, which frequently feel like they just abruptly stopped making the movie, rather than actually *ending* their story. That is definitely the case here, and I am once again left unsatisfied and a little puzzled about what I'm supposed to conclude from that.

There were a lot of things I did like about this movie, though. The dialogue through was interesting and snappy while still feeling realistic. (I particularly liked Carey Mulligan's extremely vicious interactions with Llewyn at the beginning -- beautifully written and acted.) The cinematography is gorgeous, especially the soft lighting choices during song performances. Very atmospheric. And, of course, the musical performances are great. I really enjoy folk music and loved getting so hear so much of it in this flick.

So... I'm torn on this one. I suspect this is a movie that will be helped by just sitting with it for awhile, but for now I'm disappointed enough by the non-ending that my opinion is kind of... "Meh."

3 stars.

Flickchart: #917 out of 2092, below Father of the Bride Part II and above Office Space.

Friday, April 4, 2014

War of the Buttons (1994)

IMDb plot summary: Rival gangs of young Irish kids enjoin in constantly escalating battles that ultimately entails the removal of the buttons from the clothes of captured losers. While the shenanigans cause obvious problems, the two leaders of the groups nonetheless develop a grudging admiration of the other and an estranged friendship.
Directed by John Roberts. Starring Gregg Fitzgerald, Gerard Kearney, John Coffey, and Darragh Naughton.

For a movie with the word "war" in the title, this flick is oddly free of conflict. Oh, sure, the kids are fighting throughout the entire thing, but there never seems to be that much actual animosity, and even the big climactic moment toward the end is weirdly low-key. I have to admit, I may have come in with a bias since I love stories along the lines of The Chocolate War and Lord of the Flies, but I was definitely hoping for a little bit more bite to the story. Instead, it's very pleasant and mellow through. It wasn't unenjoyable or anything like that, it just... kind of sits there and doesn't go anywhere or evoke, really, any emotion at all in me. I could watch it again someday and probably enjoy it just as much, but it's not going to stick in my brain.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #1207 out of 2091, below Small Time Crooks and above Fun Size.

Mr. Nice Guy (1997)

IMDb plot summary: A Chinese chef accidentally gets involved with a news reporter who filmed a drug bust that went awry and is now being chased by gangs who are trying to get the video tape.
Directed by Sammo Hung Kam-Bo. Starring Jackie Chan, Richard Norton, Miki Lee and Karen McLymont.

I'm not a huge fan of martial arts movies most of the time, but there is something about Jackie Chan that always makes him very likable, so I did find myself enjoying this pretty well. The flick moves along very quickly with not a lot of downtime and the fight scenes are fairly fun (I especially enjoyed the scene at the end where he's just calmly rolling over all the cars). It's pretty light on trying to make the plot coherent, but it's not trying to be any more than a fun action movie, so that's all right. Overall, not the type of movie I'd seek out on my own, but it ended up being kinda fun, and that IS what this movie challenge is all about.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #1265 out of 2090, below Crash and above The Hidden Fortress.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

All's Faire in Love (2009)

IMDb plot summary: Two rival Medieval shows vie for supremacy in the world of Renaissance Faires.
Directed by Scott Marshall. Starring Christina Ricci, Owen Benjamin, Chris Wylde, and Matthew Lillard.

This is one of the most ridiculous movies I've seen in a long time... but it was SO MUCH FUN. In an odd way, it kept making me think of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead -- a campy, over-the-top comedy with a ridiculous plotline that is catering to a really specific niche of viewers. The plot is incredibly silly and the acting is very strange, especially from the side characters, but I laughed a LOT, especially toward the end. If you want something that's just pure goofiness with a pretty charming (if predictable) romance woven in, I definitely suggest you check this out.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #493 out of 2088, below Cloud Atlas and above Rock of Ages.

17 Miracles (2011)

IMDb plot summary: As part of the Willie Handcart Company, Levi Savage feared that leaving late in the season would lead to despair and death. What he came to find out is that for every tragedy, there is a multitude of miracles.
Directed by T.C. Christensen. Starring Jasen Wade, Emily Wadley, Jason Celaya, and Natalie Blackman.

(Spoilers ahead.)

This is one of the most tonally confused faith-based movies I have ever seen. It's certainly the most depressing one. I suspect it's supposed to be a triumphant, inspirational story about God taking care of his people, but there are FAR more tragic moments throughout than there are happy ones, and nobody really wrestles with the disconnect. Characters proclaim, "God will take care of us," and "God is watching over us," while around them people starve to death. It's a little hard to wholeheartedly celebrate one child's miraculous resurrection from the dead when less than 10 minutes later, two more children freeze to death in the snow.

I'm all about looking at both the positive and negative aspects of something, but I feel like this movie doesn't know it IS doing that. I genuinely think the filmmakers feel like this is an inspirational film, while, in actuality, my reaction watching it was more like a horror movie -- the kind where you're kind of surprised ANYONE is alive at the end because there sure is a lot of death throughout.

Can horror movie endings be triumphant and inspirational too? Sure, but those characters are driven, in many cases, by a desperate certainty that they're going to die but they still have to do SOMETHING, which means when they finally survive, there's an adrenaline rush. This movie is not at all the same thing. This movie has characters saying over and over again, "God will save us. God will save us. God will save us." And then someone else dies because there's no food, and people just keep saying, "God will save us," without even really wrestling with the fact that God clearly didn't save that little child, so why should *anyone* believe they'll make it through alive? Instead of showcasing the strength of their faith, it makes them appear as if they're in denial.

(I was PARTICULARLY bothered by the story of the old man who was essentially peer pressured into going along despite the fact that he worried he wasn't strong enough to make the journey. Well, turns out he wasn't. That was a particularly senseless, depressing death.)

The technical aspects of the movie are all decent, and the story was paced and told fairly well, so no problems there. I didn't even necessarily mind how depressing it was on its own -- I'm totally OK with very dark stories -- except for the fact that I don't think the movie was supposed to be like that, leading to kind of a jarring disconnect. I admit, I spent much more time being confused about that than I did thinking about anything else in this movie.

Flickchart: #1452 out of 2089, below Chinatown and above Unknown.

2.5 stars.

The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

IMDb plot summary: When a family moves to a country home, the young girls experience strange happenings that have a link to an occult event years past.
Directed by John Hough. Starring Lynn-Holly Johnson, Kyle Richards, Benedict Taylor, and Bette Davis.

I feel like this might be one I had to see growing up to really appreciate it. As an adult, I responded to it very much the way I did to ParaNorman -- I thought the concept of a horror movie for kids was fun, but the story had been told much better many times before.

The story's a pretty typical ghost story -- it's not bad, but it doesn't necessarily stand out in the genre. What DOES stand out, unfortunately, is the acting, particularly of the two girls at the center of the story. Both of them are pretty awful, with the older one reaching a point about halfway through where every emotion is conveyed through awkward yelling, even if the person she's talking to is standing just a couple feet away. As a kid, it would have been easier for me to overlook that, but watching it now, I winced a little every time she opened her mouth.

This is exactly what it promises to me: a ghost story for kids. And if I was a kid (and was not easily scared), I'd probably like it a lot. As an adult, it's much less compelling.

2 stars.

Flickchart: #1428 out of 2087, below The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and above No Reservations.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Enough (2002)

IMDb plot summary: On the run from an abusive husband, a young mother begins to train herself to fight back.
Directed by Michael Apted. Starring Jennifer Lopez, Billy Campbell, Tessa Allen, and Juliette Lewis.

(Some spoilers ahead about the ending.)

This movie is OK. My main issue with it is that everything gets needlessly complicated very quickly, without a lot of build-up. We go from "girl meets boy" to "girl and boy gets married" to "SUDDENLY BOY IS A PSYCHOPATH" without really giving us any sense of what the relationship and the characters before the guy was just randomly trying to kill her. As such, it's hard to really care about Lopez's character, since we never got a chance to know her before everything happened.

I'm also really skeptical about her being able to learn how to perfectly defend herself in the time she had... AND about all the special moves she learned being the exact ones she needed during the actual fight. Don't get me wrong, it's satisfying when she pulls it off, but not quite enough to make up for the contrived fight scene.

It's a good premise for a movie. I like the idea behind it. It just feels haphazard, like they filmed the script's first draft when it clearly needed a couple more rewrites to make everything come together.

2 stars.

Flickchart: #1587 out of 2086, below What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and above Detour. That is a little lower than it should be. I didn't *dislike* the movie so much as I just wasn't impressed.