Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Crying Game (1992)

IMDb plot summary: A British soldier is kidnapped by IRA terrorists. He befriends one of his captors, who is drawn into the soldier's world.
Directed by Neil Jordan. Starring Stephen Rea, Jaye Davidson, Forest Whitaker, and Miranda Richardson.

(Some spoilers ahead, although I deliberately kept it vague.)

Hmm. This was definitely an interesting one. While I'm not sure the story as a whole worked for me, I was completely fascinated by the character of Dil, who starts off as this supremely confident, unfazed-by-anything personality, only to fall apart as the story goes on and end up a slightly stalkerish person begging through their tears for their lover not to leave them. I did know about the famous plot twist before I watched it (that was a brilliantly done reveal, by the way -- maybe my favorite individual moment of the movie, although, er, it would be a really bad idea to make that my choice for my Movie Screenshots album on Facebook) but, honestly, that twist was less interesting to me in the overall arc of the story than just watching how Dil responded to the relationship. I didn't love this movie, but it was certainly well made, and it was an interesting watch.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #668 out of 2141, below Divided We Fall and above Intolerable Cruelty.

Vantage Point (2008)

IMDb plot summary: The attempted assassination of the American President is told and re-told from several different perspectives.
Directed by Pete Travis. Starring Dennis Quaid, Forrest Whitaker, Bruce McGill, and Matthew Fox.

The gimmick is the best thing about this movie, and they definitely use it to their advantage, unraveling the mystery a little at a time. The rest of the movie is OK, but not great. Most of the characters aren't given much personality or back story, which is unfortunate, because my favorite thing about multiple-viewpoint stories is getting quick glimpses into several people's lives. The final car chase scene is pretty fun, though, and it all wraps up pretty well. I wasn't blown away by it, but the gimmick kept me interested, and I moderately enjoyed it overall. 2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1077 out of 2140, below Death at a Funeral (2007) and above Sunshine (2007).

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Art of War (2000)

IMDb plot summary: Shaw is an operative for the United Nations' covert dirty-tricks squad. When a shipping container full of dead Vietnamese refugees turns up on the docks, Shaw is framed for the murder and must evade the FBI and Triad gangsters to find out what is really going on.
Directed by Christian Duguay. Starring Wesley Snipes, Marie Matiko, Anne Archer and Maury Chaykin.

Hrm. This one is hard to write about because I was so disinterested in it. It's a pretty straightforward political spy thriller, which is a tough sell to begin with, but then I was really thrown off by some awkward acting from actors I usually like OK (I'm pretty sure the Maury Chaykin was doing a Christopher Walken impression...). Just ten minutes after the movie ended, I'm struggling to remember it. Definitely not my style of movie, and it didn't do enough unique things to make me interested in it otherwise.

1 star.

Flickchart: #1799 out of 2139, below Out of the Past and above Band of Outsiders.

Inkheart (2008)

IMDb plot summary: A young girl discovers her father has an amazing talent to bring characters out of their books and must try to stop a freed villain from destroying them all, with the help of her father, her aunt, and a storybook's hero.
Directed by Iain Softley. Starring Brendan Fraser, Eliza Bennett, Paul Bettany, and Andy Serkis.

I think I read the book of this back in high school, but I'm not entirely sure. If it's the one I'm thinking of, I had much the same reaction: that it was a potentially interesting story with flawed execution. My main issue with this is that there's no real character development. It's a fairly fun plot, but none of the non-literary characters are given much of a personality, so it's hard to invest in the story much. The actress who plays the young girl is also pretty bad, though that's balanced out some by the much more entertaining actors around her, like Jim Broadbent, Brendan Fraser, and Paul Bettany.

Nice idea, but in the end it didn't really work for me.

1.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1549 out of 2138, below The Good Doctor and above 30 Minutes or Less. This may be lower than it should be.

Eve's Bayou (1997)

IMDb plot summary: Summer heats up in rural Louisiana beside Eve's Bayou as the Batiste family tries to survive the secrets they've kept and the betrayals they've endured.
Directed by Kasi Lemmons. Starring Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Meagan Good, Samuel L. Jackson, and Lynn Whitfield.

This kept reminding me of Beasts of the Southern Wild. Both set in the same general area of the country, both seen through a child's eyes, both with an odd mix of gritty reality and fantasy. This one took me a little while to get into, but by the time the credits rolled, I was really engaged in the story. I'm not sure I'd call it amazing -- there are a few moments that veer over into melodrama and take me out of the story -- but I think it was pretty solid and I would certainly recommend it.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #573 out of 2137, below sex, lies and videotape and above Primer.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

IMDb plot summary: The world's most famous monster is pitted against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity's scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence.
Directed by Gareth Edwards. Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, and Sally Hawkins.

This is definitely a movie I'm glad I saw in theaters. The monsters look great on the big screen, and I don't think I would have been nearly as impressed watching them on my TV or my computer. In fact, the effects are engaging enough that they kept me interested throughout the whole movie. The plot itself is pretty straightforward, and none of the characters are particularly interesting, but really, in the end, it's just about watching a bunch of cool-looking monsters fight each other, and this movie delivers that very nicely.

I heard a lot of complaints that Godzilla himself isn't in the movie as much as people wanted, but the other monsters he's fighting are in there a LOT and are just as interesting to look at (possibly even more). Then when Godzilla does show up, there's more than enough action to make up for the slower build.

I'm not sure I'd want to sit down and watch this again, but I thoroughly enjoyed it as an afternoon viewing. I'd definitely recommend seeing this in theaters, though. It won't be nearly as fun anywhere else.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #621 out of 2136, below 21 Jump Street and above Signs.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Zero Charisma (2013)

IMDb plot summary: An overgrown nerd who serves as Game Master of a fantasy board game finds his role as leader of the misfits put into jeopardy when a new initiate enters the group.
Directed by Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews. Starring Sam Eidson, Brock England, Garrett Graham, and Anne Gee Byrd.

Although I do have a fondness for nerdy cinema, this one was pretty tough to sit through. Despite having one or two funny moments ("I deal in reality, not fantasy! Now let's role play!"), when it came down to it, the main character was just too unlikable and the ending too abrupt. There wasn't a character arc so much as there was just... a sudden inexplicable change in behavior, which didn't work for me at all. Knights of Badassdom is a much funnier and more enjoyable nerdy comedy from this past year.

2 stars.

Flickchart: #1381 out of 2135, below Anything Else and above 17 Miracles.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Suspicion (1941)

IMDb plot summary: A shy young English woman marries a charming gentleman, then begins to suspect him of trying to kill her.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Starring Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Nigel Bruce, and Cedric Hardwicke.

(Definite spoilers about the end of the movie.)

What was a very nice mystery most of the way through falls apart in the final few minutes with an implausible climactic scene. Too bad, because I was really enjoying it up until that point. It has a nice, slow build -- something Hitchcock does very well -- with plenty of suspenseful moments. While Joan Fontaine's character started off a little wimpy, she ended up being fairly resourceful, not the flighty doormat of a character she seemed at the beginning.

I would have liked for the film to be just a few minutes longer to actually have a chance to prove the final revelation was true. As it was, his declaration of innocence seemed unbelievable and I still didn't believe she was out of danger. Still, if you're willing to suspend disbelief at the end, it's a lot of fun. And I do really enjoy the way the movie portrays the last minute -- just the car slowly turning back around. It's got a nice subtlety to it.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #790 out of 2134, below To Sir, With Love and above Smiles of a Summer Night.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Switch (2010)

IMDb plot summary: Seven years after the fact, a man comes to the realization that he was the sperm donor for his best friend's boy.
Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck. Starring Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Patrick Wilson, and Thomas Robinson.

Well, let me get this out there right away: The "child changes someone's life" movie genre is one of my very least favorite genres of all time. This one, however... wasn't terrible. Most of that was due to the child actor, who played his neurotic character very seriously and in a not-at-all cutesy way (thank goodness). He felt like a real kid, if maybe a little unusually intelligent for a six-year-old.

Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston are nicely matched here. Their characters are likable and their chemistry is believable. Like yesterday's viewing of How Do You Know, however, I found myself a bit more intrigued by the rejected boyfriend. Patrick Wilson's character and his eternal optimism is fascinating in comparison to Bateman's cynicism, and the scene where the two of them talk and Wilson doesn't even realize Bateman is snarking at him is one of my favorites.

The movie isn't great or anything. It rushes through quite a few of its emotional beats, and I don't really buy the abruptly happy ending, but if you're looking for a pleasant rom com, you could certainly do worse.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #821 out of 2133, below How Do You Know and above All That Jazz.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How Do You Know (2010)

IMDb plot summary: After being cut from the USA softball team and feeling a bit past her prime, Lisa finds herself evaluating her life and in the middle of a love triangle, as a corporate guy in crisis competes with her current, baseball-playing beau.
Directed by James L. Brooks. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, and Jack Nicholson.

This movie has some really good moments trapped inside a slightly-too-long script. The characters are all very nicely fleshed out -- none of them are two-dimensional stereotypes. I was especially impressed with Owen Wilson's character, who could easily have been turned into the movie's villain, but instead he seems like a regular guy -- somewhat arrogant and entitled and certainly the wrong man for Reese Witherspoon, but not malicious or vicious.

Speaking of Reese Witherspoon, I *really* liked her character too. She's not the stereotypical "strong female character" that I find so annoying, but nor is she a spineless doormat. She feels like a real person. Even though my personality is not very much like hers, I related to her just on the basis of her being a fully developed character. Nice.

All that being said, though, I wish this had been tightened up a little bit. The characters get somewhat lost in the two-hour runtime, and I'm a little worried that six months from now I'll mostly remember the movie's length and won't remember how much I liked the people in it. We shall see.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #820 out of 2132, below Peter Pan (1960) and above All That Jazz.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Knight and Day (2010)

IMDb plot summary: A story of a girl who gets mixed up with a spy trying to clear his name.
Directed by James Mangold. Starring Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, and Peter Sarsgaard.

I'll be honest, I thought I'd be much more bored by this than I was. It carries itself primarily on the charm of Tom Cruise and the relatability of Cameron Diaz, but it also benefits from a consistently light-hearted mood, a plot that's not unnecessarily complicated for the movie's fluffiness, and a surprising amount of really talented actors in supporting roles. It does go back and forth a little abruptly with the romance part of the story, but not distractingly so. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Not great, but it's an entertaining popcorn flick.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #846 out of 2131, below August: Osage County and above Camp Rock 2.

Monday, May 12, 2014

My Girlfriend's Boyfriend (2010)

IMDb plot summary: Jesse meets Ethan, someone she could finally fall in love with, but then she meets Troy, and now she has a dilemma.
Directed by Daryn Tufts. Starring Alyssa Milano, Christopher Gorham, Michael Landes, and Tom Lenk.

(Some generic spoilers ahead about the ending.)

This was... just okay. It has a pretty interesting plot, even if I did find the ending twist a little gimmicky and not great for actual emotional resolution of the story. My main problem with it, though, was that the main girl really doesn't have much of a personality -- certainly not one that's at all fleshed out. You only really need to do ONE thing to have a successful romance movie: create an interesting/likable couple that have chemistry together. The guy was great fun, but the girl... I'm not sure I could tell you even a single personality trait of hers. His literary agent even had a more defined character, and she was only on screen for like 3 minutes. This meant, unfortunately, that I spent most of the flick hoping he'd ditch the love of his life and find someone more interesting. Giving her a better personality could have made this movie much more interesting. As it was, I was unimpressed.

2 stars.

Flickchart: #1210 out of 2130, below The Shop Around the Corner and above Over the Hedge.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Matador (2005)

IMDb plot summary: A globetrotting hitman and a crestfallen businessman meet in a hotel bar in Mexico City in an encounter that draws them together in a way neither expected.
Directed by Richard Shepard. Starring Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, and Hope Davis.

Well, I will definitely say this: All the posters I see for this movie are incredibly misleading. They paint it as some sort of gritty crime flick when it's really more of a quirky friendship movie. There ISN'T a lot of grit here, and that's okay -- it was interesting and refreshing to me.

It doesn't work all the way through for me, and I'm not *entirely* sure yet what was unsatisfactory to me about that ending, but Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear hold most of it together with some really solid and entertaining performances. It's a good thing the movie focuses so heavily on their interactions, because that's where the best parts are, rather than, say, complicated plotting or twists. Though I'm still musing on it now and as such it might end up further down my chart than it might deserve, I feel like this is one that will hold up pretty well the longer I sit with it.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #816 out of 2129, below Clueless and above Now You See Me. Clueless is too low on my list, I think.

Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001)

IMDb plot summary: The people of a small village in Victorian India stake their future on a game of cricket against their ruthless British rulers.
Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker. Starring Aamir Khan, Gracy Singh, Rachel Shelley, and Paul Blackthorne.

Well, I wasn't at all sure how this was going to go over, because it combines one of my least favorite genres (sports movies) with one of my favorite genres (musical). I ended up landing somewhere in the middle on this. It's a good story with likable characters, and the musical numbers are fun and interesting. I didn't even mind the sports aspect of it... until we got a cricket match that lasted an hour and a half of movie time. I clearly did not understand the rules as well as I thought I did, so when they actually started playing, I was just confused most of the time.

This movie is almost 4 hours long, and although I enjoyed the first couple hours, I was ready to go by about the 3-hour mark. There's only one song in the last hour, and not a lot of character stuff happening. The end is basically an hour and twenty minutes or so of people running around yelling, and while clearly this is the kind of thing that sports fans enjoy, that offered very little for me.

That being said, though, I DID enjoy the first three hours. So if I balance everything out, the movie as a whole lands somewhere in the middle.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #829 out of 2128, below Fanboys and above National Lampoon's Vacation.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Minus Man (1999)

IMDb plot summary: I have chosen to omit this because it reveals something that was not clear to me until about 20-30 minutes into the movie, and I think it is more interesting not knowing from the start.
Directed by Hampton Fancher. Starring Owen Wilson, Brian Cox, Janeane Garofalo, and Mercedes Ruehl.

(Spoilers ahead about the same plot point that made me leave out the plot summary.)

While a glance at the IMDb plot summary may indicated this is a typical serial killer thriller, it really is much more of a quiet character piece, more along the lines of The Talented Mr. Ripley than, say, Silence of the Lambs. Most of the time, it is extremely subdued -- thanks partly to Owen Wilson's extremely laidback personality -- which makes the few moments where suddenly Things Get Crazy really stand out. I really like that even while examining Wilson's murderous character, it doesn't go out of its way to psychoanalyze him or explain what exactly is going on. The mystery of his personality just is what it is, and it's intriguing to watch that unfold, even if it doesn't much.

That being said, there was *something* about this movie that didn't quite work for me, although I can't quite put my finger on what it was. Maybe it'll come to me later. Maybe it's simply that I haven't quite been able to categorize the movie yet. I thought at first maybe it was the ending, but, no, the more I thought about it, I actually very much liked the ending (despite the unnecessarily melodramatic score accompanying it).

Whatever it is, this one may have to sit in limbo for a little while in my mind. As time passes, I will either forget about whatever is subconsciously holding me back from loving this movie, or it will be the only thing I remember. We'll just have to see which direction it goes.

For now, 3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #694 out of 2127, below Gandhi and above The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

9 (2009)

IMDb plot summary: A rag doll that awakens in a post-apocalyptic future holds the key to humanity's salvation.
Directed by Shane Acker. Starring Elijah Wood, Christopher Plummer, Jennifer Connelly, and Martin Landau.

(Some spoilers about the ending.)

I love dark and twisted dystopian future movies, and this delivers oodles and oodles of the right atmosphere. Its gorgeous steampunk-ish design is great to watch, from the mildly creepy rag doll designs of the heroes to the enormous red-eyed machine monster.

The plot, unfortunately, doesn't quite match the great visuals. A lot of it just devolves into generic adventurous chase scenes, when really I wanted to explore the world a little more. When the movie DOES give us a little bit of an explanation as to where these creatures come from and what they need to do, it's hardly a satisfying one, and I'm not really convinced that the last 10-15 minutes or so of the movie make any sense. I wish the movie had either not given us a straightforward answer at all and kept it ambiguous, only hinting at our protagonists' origins, or come up with a more plausible explanation that didn't just feel vague and mystical. I do want to check out the short film this was based on at some point, since it looks like it stays quiet on back story and just focuses on atmosphere, which would be totally fine with me.

That being said, though, I did like it. It's short enough that the bits of plot I found uninteresting didn't last long, and there were quite enough awesome visuals to make it work most of the way.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #492 out of 2126, below Double Indemnity and above Inherit the Wind.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Dick Tracy (1990)

IMDb plot summary: The comic strip detective finds his life vastly complicated when Breathless Mahoney makes advances towards him while he is trying to battle Big Boy Caprice's united mob.
Directed by Warren Beatty. Starring Warren Beatty, Madonna, Glenne Headly, and Al Pacino.

Well, dang. I knew I'd probably enjoy this, but I really didn't anticipate I'd love this as much as I did. I'm still processing it, but let me try to at least list some of my thoughts here, even if I can't organize them nicely:

-At some point in my childhood I know I watched a bunch of the Dick Tracy cartoons, and so as characters from the comic strip and cartoon showed up, I had sudden bursts of unexpected nostalgia. That was fun.

-Similarly, I kept hearing Sondheim songs that I didn't realize were written for this and yelling delightedly, "OH! This song!" I knew "Sooner or Later" was from this movie, but I had forgotten about "More," and I don't think I ever knew "Live Alone and Like It" or "Back In Business" were part of this. Turns out the only one I didn't know was the one Mandy Patinkin and Madonna sang together, and even then I got all squealy about a non-theater movie featuring Patinkin singing Sondheim.

-The tone of this movie is just perfect. THIS, people, is how you do an adaptation. It is so uncompromisingly dedicated to keeping the noir pulp fiction comic atmosphere, without either turning it into a "grittier" version or hyping it up to create an obnoxiously self-aware parody. It embraces its over-the-top nature but plays it straight, even down to mimicking the comic strip character design, and the result is so, so delightful. The comedy comes naturally out of the material itself, rather than the authors winking at the audience.

-This movie looks AWESOME. The bright, vibrant colors are gorgeous, and the dramatic locations and backdrops are beautifully picturesque. Lovelovelove.

-The acting is all super fun, but special nods to Warren Beatty as Tracy, Charlie Korsmo as the Kid, and Dustin Hoffman as Mumbles.

OK. I think I've covered most of my thoughts on this. Let me sum up by saying I really, REALLY enjoyed this all the way through. This is an excellent kick-off to my friend Travis' movie challenge week.

4.5 stars.

Flickchart: #271 out of 2125, below Nosferatu and above The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Deer Hunter (1978)

IMDb plot summary: An in-depth examination of the ways in which the Vietnam War disrupts and impacts the lives of people in a small industrial town in Pennsylvania.
Directed by Michael Cimino. Starring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage, and Meryl Streep.

(Vague-ish spoilers regarding the movie's most famous scene.)

If I'm going to watch a war movie, I'm always more interested in one that really delves into the psychology of the characters and how they are affected by the war, so parts of this I found fascinating. The famous climactic Russian roulette scene is captivating in its darkness, and several individual scenes throughout suddenly give a glimpse into what's going on in the returning soldiers' minds. The score is also pretty incredible -- the beautiful sadness of the melody is truly haunting. However, these great moments are few and far between for me, surrounded by hours of slow nothing. It was a LOT of build-up for not quite enough payoff. I admire it, and I definitely get why people love it, but I had a tough time sitting through the in-between bits to get to the rest of it.

2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1135 out of 2124, below The Fall and above The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Legend (1985)

IMDb plot summary: A young man must stop the Lord of Darkness from both destroying daylight and marrying the woman he loves.
Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, Tim Curry, and David Bennent.

(Note: I watched the slightly longer director's cut version of this by accident, heh, so if I reference something not in the theatrical version, that's what's up.)

I... have no idea how to respond to this movie.

Let's start with the positives. The effects and makeup look *great*. These creatures don't look nearly as hokey as a lot of 1980s fantasy does. And the score is really nice -- very atmospheric. None of the acting is spectacular, but it all serves its purpose nicely, and I'm never going to complain about Tim Curry playing campy.

Now let's discuss the plot.

What the HECK?

This movie is cool to look at but completely incomprehensible. Not for one second did I understand what was going on. An out-of-nowhere ballet sequence suddenly transforms Princess Glitter into her vampire dance partner. One of the goblins speaks only in rhyme for no reason. When Satan is killed, he apparently gets shot into space. When Peter Pan guesses the elf's riddle, the elf turns into Gollum, has a seizure, and dies before suddenly waking back up and being Peter Pan's best friend. Princess Glitter apparently doesn't have a home or a family. Also, why WAS Princess Glitter always covered in glitter? So was Peter Pan, about half the time. Was only one of them glittery initially but then they just made out with each other all the time and it rubbed off on the other?

Almost EVERYTHING that happened made me say -- frequently out loud -- "Wait, what was THAT?"

Story and character are a big deal to me, so it's hard for me to look past something as bizarre as this... even if the movie DID look great. I mean, I'm OK having seen it, and I suspect I'll probably look back on it more fondly than I'm thinking of it now, and it did provide quite a few moments of unintentional "whaaaaat?!" hilarity... but I'm not sure the good makes up much for the ridiculous.

2 stars.

Flickchart: #1230 out of 2123, below Zelig and above Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

IMDb plot summary: Robert Ford, who's idolized Jesse James since childhood, tries hard to join the reforming gang of the Missouri outlaw, but gradually becomes resentful of the bandit leader.
Directed by Andrew Dominik. Starring Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, and Jeremy Renner.

In a movie with a 2 1/2 hour runtime, you'd think there'd be a little bit more depth of character going on, but this movie is oddly dry and distant until the last 30 minutes. Those last 30 minutes, starting with the assassination itself, are interesting, as it shows us the psychological effects of all the events we've seen. I also particularly enjoyed the movie's score.

Overall, however, it goes on much too long, meanders all over the place, and doesn't really do anything with its characterization. Too bad, because we've got some interesting actors here (Sam Rockwell in particular is one of my favorites) and I wish I could have cared about any of their characters.

1.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1563 out of 2122, below Pride and Prejudice (1940) and above The First Wives Club.