Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rambo (2008)

IMDb plot summary: In Thailand, John Rambo joins a group of mercenaries to venture into war-torn Burma, and rescue a group of Christian aid workers who were kidnapped by the ruthless local infantry unit.
Directed by Sylvester Stallone. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Matthew Marsden, and Graham McTavish.

(Some spoilers.)

Of the Rambo movies, I've only seen First Blood, and while I didn't really get into it, I admired it for being essentially an anti-violence movie in violence-movie trappings. It explored some deep themes. This one... meh. Not so much. It's disconcerting to me that they set up the key thematic conflict as being the Christian missionaries' pacifism vs. the mercenaries'... well, mercenary-ness, and then essentially ends on the pro-violence side. Sure, there's a hint at the end that Rambo himself may find some closure... but for the most part the movie's message is disturbing, especially knowing the focus of the first one.

That being said, the story was engaging and interesting to watch, though, as expected, I did lose a lot of interest once the action scenes took over. However, Rambo himself is a pretty intriguing character for the first half. So kudos to it for that.

2 stars.

Flickchart: #1577 out of 2213, below Sahara and above Howl's Moving Castle.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tears of the Sun (2003)

IMDb plot summary: A Special-Ops commander leads his team into the Nigerian jungle in order to rescue a doctor who will only join them if they agree to save 70 refugees too.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Starring Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci, Cole Hauser, and Eamonn Walker.

(Some minor spoilers.)

I understand and appreciate what this movie was trying to do. It has a good premise and could have been very powerful. My main problem, however, is that even with a 2-hour runtime, none of the characters get all that much development. Even Bruce Willis doesn't offer us much aside from the "good guy hero," and when his team of soldiers agree to go with him to escort the refugees, we're really not given any reason for their decision. We barely see the characters interact with each other on a personal level, and that undercuts the impact the movie could have had here. For a movie that stresses the importance of seeing individuals as human, not commodities or "packages," everyone is kept oddly at arms length, leaving me feeling very cold toward everyone. The themes involved are too powerful to be just swept aside in favor of long shootouts, but, unfortunately, that's exactly what happens.

1.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1730 out of 2212, below Top Gun and above The Forgotten.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Titanic (1997)

IMDb plot summary: A seventeen-year-old aristocrat, expecting to be married to a rich claimant by her mother, falls in love with a kind but poor artist aboard the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic.
Directed by James Cameron. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, and Frances Fisher.

(Spoilers ahead about who dies, though I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who hadn't watched this movie yet.)

Yes, this is actually the first time I've ever seen this movie. And I think it deserves about half the hype it gets.

There is no denying that this movie looks incredible. Especially in the second half of the movie when chaos ensues, the effects and the visuals are incredibly powerful. This is one that I *do* think would be even more impressive in the theater. It was impressive to me just on my little laptop screen. Watching the ship slowly sink is fascinating for a full hour and a half. Scenes like the lifeboats slowly weaving their way through hundreds of dead bodies can't help but stick with you. For that alone, this movie was worth watching.

That being said, though... I was really not drawn into the story of Rose and Jack. It's a VERY traditional story and it doesn't really do anything to make it stand out for the first hour and a half. The central characters themselves aren't terribly well-crafted, which is unfortunate, because ALL the side characters are more interesting. It makes me really wish the scriptwriters had gone for more of an ensemble film style, forgetting the flashback aspect and just focusing on a bunch of different characters and their stories. I could have gotten behind 20-25 minutes of Jack/Rose subplot, but I was not nearly interested enough in them to spend a full 3 hours being sad about their tragic fate.

I did think the scene with Jack's death was handled well. Given the melodramatic nature of the rest of the movie, I expected there to be a much more overblown death scene, but... there wasn't. She just wakes up and realizes he's gone, says goodbye, and lets him go. It was subtle, dignified, and didn't make me roll my eyes -- which was good, I wanted to care about that moment. The overhead visual of his body sinking out of sight into the ocean was also a beautiful choice -- really emphasized the "he's gone forever" permanence in a heartbreaking way. That was the one moment in which I cared about them the most.

This is a heartbreaking movie when it comes to painting the enormous scope of the tragedy. It does a great job of making you really FEEL how many people lost their lives there. It's not so impressive when it comes to the personal love story. About halfway through, I complained to Jacob, "I'm just waiting impatiently for the boat to sink so SOMETHING interesting will happen."

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #908 out of 2211, below Holiday Inn and above The Other Boleyn Girl.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Labor Day (2013)

IMDb plot summary: Depressed single mom Adele and her son Henry offer a wounded, fearsome man a ride. As police search town for the escaped convict, the mother and son gradually learn his true story as their options become increasingly limited.
Directed by Jason Reitman. Starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith and Tobey Maguire.

(Very mild spoilers about the overall plot.)

I'm not sure I get the hate for this movie. It's not my favorite Reitman by any means, but it's not a bad movie. Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin are fairly engaging characters, even if their romance does seem a little unbelievable. One other major setback is that the flashback scenes are not handled well. I'm assuming they were Brolin's character's flashbacks but that was never explained, and they frequently showed up in scenes where the little kid was walking around alone, leading me to wonder if he was somehow flashing *forward* in his own life, which just made no sense at all. Aside from those awkward moments, though, it's a decent little story, and I thought it was interesting to watch.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #950 out of 2210, below The Secret of NIMH and above Kiki's Delivery Service.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Don't Drink the Water (1994)

IMDb plot summary: Somewhere behind the early 1960s cold-war iron curtain, the Hollander family cause an international spying incident when Walter photographs a sunset in a sensitive region. In order to stay out of jail, the Hollanders take refuge in the American Embassy, which is temporarily being run by the absent Ambassador's diplomatically incompetent son, Axel.
Directed by Woody Allen. Starring Michael J. Fox, Woody Allen, Julie Kavner, and Mayim Bialik.

Oh, I do love Woody Allen comedies quite a lot. His writing is just so much fun, with a great combination of witty wordplay, clever aphorisms, and just outrageous absurdity. While this wasn't my favorite thing he's ever done, I got plenty of laughs out of it. Even though it was filmed in the later part of his career, it was based on a play he wrote in the 1960s, and you can tell -- its comedic style is much more along the lines of his earlier, goofier movies. Dom DeLuise was possibly my favorite character, though, as the well-intentioned priest who likes to do magic but is very bad at it. It's not going to go down in history as a great movie, but I enjoyed it and I'd happily watch it again someday.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #590 out of 2209, below The Glass Menagerie and above Is It Fall Yet?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Planet of the Apes (1968)

IMDb plot summary: An astronaut crew crash lands on a planet in the distant future where intelligent talking apes are the dominant species, and humans are the oppressed and enslaved.
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. Starring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, and Maurice Evans.

(Spoilerish hints at the ending.)

Even though I already knew the famous twist ending going into this one, I was delighted to find it was incredibly engaging all the way through -- and I'm not exactly sure why. It did a lot of things that *should* have irritated me or made me roll my eyes, but somehow I was just able to suspend disbelief and get wrapped up in the story. I loved watching Taylor's attempts to communicate with the apes at first, and I was fascinated with the ape lore and culture. Sure, it was cheesy and weird at times, but it managed to make that part of its charm instead of making it feel too awkward. And that final ending was surprisingly powerful even though I knew it was coming -- that is one I wish I hadn't known about, because it was handled beautifully and I think it would have been a very cool moment.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #540 out of 2208, below The Red Violin and above Pretty Woman.

Lost in America (1985)

IMDb plot summary: A husband and wife in their 30s decide to quit their jobs, live as free spirits and cruise America in a Winnebago.
Directed by Albert Brooks. Starring Albert Brooks, Julie Hagerty, Michael Green, and Gary Marshall.

(Spoilers about the ending.)

I've seen a couple other Albert Brooks movies before, and the word I always come back to in describing them is "pleasant." And this is that as well. It's a quiet, mellow little movie with quiet, mellow little humor that doesn't particularly excite me but it doesn't distress me either. It's an enjoyable watch. I do have to say, though, that I really enjoyed the subversive ending of this movie. So many "we're going to risk it all and run off to find ourselves" movies end the same way. I really enjoyed seeing it just all go down the drain and leave them wishing they'd never taken a chance in the first place. It just made me smile. Other than that, it's a pretty forgettable movie, but certainly not one I regret seeing at all. I had a good time.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #912 out of 2207, below The Avengers and above Unbreakable. That's fun that it's sandwiched in between two superhero movies.

Heathers (1988)

IMDb plot summary: A girl who half-heartedly tries to be part of the "in crowd" of her school meets a rebel who teaches her a more devious way to play social politics; killing the popular kids.
Directed by Michael Lehmann. Starring Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, and Kim Walker.

OK, so just a week before watching this for the first time, I got to watch a bootleg video of the recently closed off-Broadway musical version... and looooooooved it. Like can't-stop-listening-to-the-cast-recording loved it. So even though I knew this one came first, I wasn't sure what I was going to think of it in comparison to the show.

I didn't need to worry, though, because this is a really solid and entertaining movie. Christian Slater's character is awesomely psychotic and is really fascinating to watch, and Winona Ryder is an extremely likeable and sympathetic main character. The script is excellent, with dialogue that is snappy and at times profound. ("If you were happy every day of your life, you wouldn't be a human being. You'd be a game show host.") It manages to achieve a fantastic balance of dark comedy with meaningful moments -- and I am all about that combination.

I feel like this could easily become a favorite right alongside the musical. I'm glad I finally got around to watching it.

4.5 stars.

Flickchart: #291 out of 2206, below Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and above Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Red Violin (1998)

IMDb plot summary: A perfect red-colored violin inspires passion, making its way through three centuries over several owners and countries, eventually ending up at an auction where it may find a new owner.
Directed by François Girard. Starring Anita Laurenzi, Jason Flemyng, Sylvia Chang, and Samuel L. Jackson.

This movie taps into two film-related loves of mine: movies about music and movies with many stories connected thematically. I loved watching the violin getting passed down from person to person and around the world and seeing the impact it had on all its owners. It was an immensely satisfying movie to watch, with a good score that made me *almost* like violin music. :-)

4 stars.

Flickchart: #538 out of 2205, below The Goodbye Girl and above Pretty Woman.

Monday, August 18, 2014

God's Not Dead (2014)

IMDB plot summary: College philosophy professor Mr. Radisson's curriculum is challenged by his new student, Josh, who believes God exists.
Directed by Harold Cronk. Starring Kevin Sorbo, Shane Harper, and David A. R. White.

(For a much much less serious, more snarky take on this movie, check out my live tweet.)

As is the case with an unfortunate number of Christian movies, this isn't a good story. It's (literally) a series of lectures. There are a few attempted narrative subplots, but none of those really connect to the central characters, and most of them are barely ever seen so it's not like we'd have a chance to connect to them anyway.

My main issue with the movie, however, is that it's full of REALLY negative stereotypes about all the non-Christians. There is NO character in this movie who is a decent person without being a Christian, except for maybe the Chinese kid, but he gets a pass because he apparently kind of wants to be a Christian the whole time.

It makes it sound like being a Christian is some sort of risky act in America because everyone in the country is going to try to ruin your life (no lie, the philosophy professor tells the Christian kid EXACTLY that at one point). I've known plenty of non-Christians throughout my life and not a single one of them has been as overtly nasty to me as this movie would have you believe they ALL are. Are there nasty atheists out there? Sure. But there are also plenty of nasty Christians.

The movie deliberately sets up an unpleasant stereotyped characterization that is both unkind and untrue. That seems like the opposite of everything a Christian movie should be striving for. How can it claim to offer spiritual truth when people watching it KNOW that the world they're presenting as fact is a lie?

There's really nothing I liked about this movie. It's scattered, it's unkind, characters have nearly no definable personalities... It's just a mess, and, worse, it's a mess that is trying to represent my faith. Not to end this review sounding like a 4-year-old being served vegetables, but it's icky and I don't like it.

0.5 stars.

Flickchart: #2012 out of 2204, below Big Fat Liar and above Hotel Translyvania.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Return of Captain Invincible (1983)

IMDb plot summary: In WWII, Captain Invincible used his superpowers against the Nazis, and he was a hero. But when they accused him of supporting the communists, he retired to Australia. Now, after a US super secret super weapon is stolen, he's asked to come back, to help. Unfortunately, he's an alcoholic now... -- parody of superhero comic strips.
Directed by Philippe Mora. Starring Alan Arkin, Christopher Lee, and Kate Fitzpatrick.

This movie is absolutely ridiculous, but it's also a lot of fun. The musical numbers were definitely the highlight for me, as they managed to hit JUST the right note between deadpan camp and self-aware camera winking. In between the songs, the movie is just a LITTLE too aware of itself as a parody, and I often found myself rolling my eyes instead of laughing, but I would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes silly superhero movies or goofy musicals.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #650 out of 2203, below Godzilla (2014) and above Signs.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Ikiru (1952)

IMDb plot summary: A bureaucrat tries to find a meaning in his life after he discovers he has terminal cancer.
Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Starring Takashi Shimura, Shin'ichi Himori, Haruo Tanaka, and Minoru Chiaki.

(Some spoilers about the ending.)

I generally like Kurosawa's movies a lot -- they're very relatable, no matter what the subject matter is. This one, however, falls in the same category as Ran: a movie I admire I very much but don't LOVE. The flashback scenes in the second half of the movie didn't really work for me, as it seemed a very roundabout way of telling the story, and it bothered me a bit that we never got any resolution at all about the story with the girl.

Those few issues aside, though, I thought there were a lot of very moving moments. I definitely made a few mental comparisons between this and Wild Strawberries, but I liked this much better. The main character was very sympathetic, and it was wonderful watching him stand up and try to do something with his last few months.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #757 out of 2202, below Men in Black III and above The Mistress of Spices.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

IMDb plot summary: A recalcitrant thief vies with a duplicitous Mongol ruler for the hand of a beautiful princess.
Directed by Raoul Walsh. Starring Douglas Fairbanks, Snitz Edward, Julanne Johnston, and Sôjin Kamiyama.

Silent movies are tough for me to get into a lot of the time, but I had so much fun with this movie. It's a delightful little adventure with lots of humor, a fun main character, and some very impressive special effects for the 1920s. It is a little long, but for the most part it keeps the pace going without too many lulls in the action. I haven't seen Douglas Fairbanks in anything before, and I thought he was a captivating leading man, really imbuing his character with LOTS of personality. Definitely an enjoyable watch.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #635 out of 2201, below The Help and above Ninotchka.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

IMDb plot summary: A new crime wave grips the city and all clues seem to lead to the nefarious Dr. Mabuse, even though he has been imprisoned in a mental asylum for nearly a decade.
Directed by Fritz Lang. Starring Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Gustav Diessl, Rudolf Schündler, and Oskar Höcker.

(Some spoilers about general plot points.)

I should definitely check out more by Lang. I've seen so little of his filmography but I am kind of intrigued by all of them. This one definitely has parts I liked and parts I didn't -- I was less interested in the organized crime ring sections but I LOVED all the weird stuff with hypnosis and ghosts and all that weirdness. The visuals in this are great as well, really creating an eerie atmosphere. It's not my favorite movie or anything, but it definitely caught my attention.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #834 out of 2200, below Adam and above The Man Who Wasn't There.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

No Greater Love (2009)

IMDb plot summary: IMDb plot summary: Jeff and Heather Baker were life long sweethearts and happily married... for a time. But at her greatest moment of weakness, Heather abandons Jeff, forcing Jeff to raise their young son alone. Ten years later, through a God ordained encounter, Jeff and Heather meet again. They must wrestle with forgiveness, reconciliation and the pressing of the Savior on their hearts. 
Directed by Brad J. Silverman. Starring Anthony Tyler Quinn, Danielle Bisutti, Jay Underwood, and Eric Bivens-Bush.

(Spoilers ahead, I discuss some central plot points in detail.)

Christian movies and I don't really get along, even though I am a Christian myself. Most of the time they're preachy sermons wrapped up in a contrived plot and characters devoid of personality, and they nearly always leave me not only cold but rolling my eyes.

This one did not change my mind.

For one thing, the plot was unbelievably confusing to follow -- and not because it was complicated, but because the writing and directing told the actual plot poorly. It took me almost an hour into the movie before I figured out what had happened between him and his first wife. The movie wasn't hiding it on purpose, it just didn't know how to actually tell that story clearly.

And the amount of weird plotholes here just makes it even more complicated.  Just one example: A woman works for at LEAST a full week (possibly more, I can't remember how long their summer camp was) with a child who has the same name as the child she abandoned ten years ago, and when she finds out, surprise surprise, that he IS her child, a friend consoles her, "There's no way you could have known." Really? REALLY? No way at all? Nothing that would even make her suspect a little bit? (Her response: "We even liked the same pizza." Because apparently THAT should have clued her in, but the kid's name shouldn't have?

On top of that, these characters do not have any personality. Like... at all. I couldn't for the life of me describe any of them. As a result, I certainly couldn't connect to any of them. I had a conversation with my dad the other day about the fact that Christian movies do the same thing that I feel Christian worship does: in an attempt to connect to everyone, it keeps everything vague and generic and refuses to assign specifics to anyone or anything. As a result, NOTHING about it feels real or genuine and I can't connect to anyone. I don't care about these characters getting together because I don't know who they ARE.

Christian movies have acquired better actors over the years, which is nice. But now it's time for them to acquire some decent screenwriters who know how to tell an actual story with actual people. Because even the best actors in the world can't compensate for sloppy writing.

1 star.

Flickchart: #1833 out of 2199, below Atlantis: The Lost Empire and above Chicken Little.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Tombstone (1993)

IMDb plot summary: A successful lawman's plans to retire anonymously in Tombstone, Arizona, are disrupted by the kind of outlaws he was famous for eliminating.
Directed by George P. Cosmatos. Starring Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, and Bill Paxton.

Given my general dislike of westerns, there are quite a few famous ones I have yet to cross off my list. This was one of them. And this one didn't really win me over. I thought the acting was good (particularly Russell and Kilmer, though a lot of the supporting players were good too) and there were a few scenes that I liked a lot, but overall, it's the same plot I see in most westerns and it just doesn't stand out. I didn't actively dislike it -- it managed to keep my attention through most of the movie -- but I really doubt I'm going to remember anything about it in a few weeks.

2 stars.

Flickchart: #1541 out of 2198, below Courage Under Fire and above The Howling. This is slightly too low (I'd place it more in the 1300s) so eventually I will have to go back and fix the other movies that are too low.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

IMDb plot summary: Light years from Earth, 26 years after being abducted, Peter Quill finds himself the prime target of a manhunt after discovering an orb wanted by Ronan the Accuser.
Directed by James Gunn. Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and Bradley Cooper.

At this point, this is my favorite Marvel superhero movie (I had to think for a bit about whether I liked it better than Iron Man, but I'm going to go with yes). It's what I wanted The Avengers to be: a light-hearted adventure with delightful characters and some surprisingly moving emotional moments. And I knew pretty early on I was going to love it. Specifically, the moment where Chris Pratt dances through the alien cave. The humor running throughout this movie gives it a wonderful sense of play and makes it truly a delight to watch. This is exactly how I like my superhero movies. More like this, please!

4.5 stars.

Flickchart: #284 out of 2197, below Saving Mr. Banks and above Jean de Florette.

The Howling (1981)

IMDb plot summary: After a bizarre and near fatal encounter with a serial killer, a television newswoman is sent to a remote mountain resort whose residents may not be what they seem.
Directed by Joe Dante. Starring Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, and Christopher Stone.

Well, there was a lot going on in this movie. Werewolves AND a murder cult AND a serial killer? It is definitely a bit much. Part of this have a fun campy vibe to it, and the werewolf transformation scenes are pretty cool, but the plot really makes very little sense, it's wrapped up VERY abruptly, and there aren't as many scares at the movie seems to think there are. If you already have a fondness for horror flicks, this might sit better with you, but it didn't do much for me.

1.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1540 out of 2196, below Courage Under Fire and above The Boy In the Striped Pajamas.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

IMDb plot summary: Following an ever-growing epidemic of zombies that have risen from the dead, two Philadelphia S.W.A.T. team members, a traffic reporter, and his television executive girlfriend seek refuge in a secluded shopping mall.
Directed by George A. Romeo. Starring David Emge, Kem Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, and Gaylen Ross.

(Mild spoilers about the ending plot.)

I saw the remake of this movie earlier this year, and I saw the original Night of the Living Dead several years ago. I really enjoyed them both. This one is a little further down on the scale, though it does a few things that I thought were very interesting. I like that it takes place over a decent period of time. You get the sense that these characters live in this mall for several months (guessing by the pregnant woman's progress, anyway), and that's something I haven't seen in a lot of zombie flicks. You see how they adapt from normal lives to "well, I guess we live in a mall with zombies now" and how they try to keep themselves sane in the process.

I also REALLY enjoy the mall setting. I think of malls as busy, energetic, fast-paced places, and seeing it mostly empty aside from a few wandering zombies is extremely creepy to me, like a ghost town. The zombies in the remake were faster -- really, everything about that movie was faster -- and while I liked that too, I enjoyed that this was a distinctly different tone.

That being said... the movie went on FOREVER. Apparently there are a few different cuts of it, but the one I watched was 2 hours and 19 minutes, and good chunks of that were just... not interesting to me. For example, even though it worked as a plot device to set the final scene in motion, I was not interested at all in the 20-minute biker gang attack. This movie is too slow to match the fun action-y pace of the 2004 remake, but nor does it build a suspenseful atmosphere as successfully as Night of the Living Dead.

I hoped I'd like this a bit more than I did. There are some good things going on here, and I liked it OK overall, but I really do prefer the others I've seen in the series.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #851 out of 2195, below Now You See Me and above Peter Pan (1960).

(What's the picture? Well, I'm doing a new thing where, whenever I can, I end the review with a screenshot of my favorite moment in the movie -- often my favorite moment visually, but sometimes just my favorite scene or favorite character. I've been doing this in a Facebook album and thought I could incorporate it into my reviews as well. Hopefully this will remind me to actually take the screenshot more often.)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Arlington Road (1999)

IMDb plot summary: A college professor begins to suspect that his neighbour is a terrorist.
Directed by Mark Pellington. Starring Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, and Hope Davis.

(Spoilers ahead about the movie's tone, particularly the ending.)

This movie REALLY wants to be taken seriously. With a few dramatic moments discussing themes of paranoia and forgiveness, not to mention its ending, the film clearly wants to be a deep, thoughtful crime drama, and 45 minutes or so into into the film, I had some hope it would be.

Here's the problem, though: A good chunk of the movie is clearly just fluffy thriller nonsense. Jeff Bridges is a good actor and Tim Robbins can be in the right role, but here they're almost hilariously over-the-top nearly all the time. That, combined with the unbelievable coincidences and plot jumps that scoot the story along much too abruptly, requires a certain suspension of disbelief, the same kind that is needed for much sillier movies like Crank. But then they snap back out of that campy paranoia back into what's supposed to be a hard-hitting ending, and it just... doesn't work at all.

I suspect that wasn't a deliberate choice. More likely, the writer/director just didn't see the goofiness of the entire middle section and thought they actually WERE creating a hard-hitting drama. But it's just too silly and unbelievable, and as a result, all the "serious" moments become unintentionally comedic. (I giggled at quite a few moments I suspect I was supposed to take seriously.)

1.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1428 out of 2194, below Zero Charisma and above 17 Miracles.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Frances Ha (2012)

IMDB plot summary: A story that follows a New York woman (who doesn't really have an apartment), apprentices for a dance company (though she's not really a dancer), and throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possibility dwindles.
Directed by Noah Baumbach. Starring Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, and Michael Zegen.

I'd heard comparisons between Frances Ha and the French New Wave (a movement I have always had a VERY tough time connecting to) and I can definitely see similarities, but to me it had the comforting familiarity of a Woody Allen flick. While it didn't blow me away, I felt an instant kinship with Frances, feeling like in many ways we're in the same phase of life -- we're both 27, in a weird place between school and an actual career path, losing touch with old friends, wanting to do something more and bigger with their lives but not really sure how to go about it practically with the resources we have right now.

I'm not sure I was satisfied with the film's resolution. It didn't quite reach the heights I was expecting, given how I felt about the rest of the movie. And I'm not sure I would have liked this as much a few years ago, or maybe a few years from now. This is one that I liked because it had a connection to me in my life, right now, and seeing that explored on the screen was interesting and encouraging.

Sorry for not so much actual helpful observation on the movie, but this is definitely one that resonates for me on a subjective personal level more than anything else.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #638 out of 2193, below Shaolin Soccer and above Away We Go.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Holy Motors (2012)

IMDb plot summary: From dawn to dusk, a few hours in the shadowy life of a mystic man named Monsieur Oscar.
Directed by Leos Carax. Starring Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, and Kylie Minogue.

A few years ago, I watched The City of Lost Children with my university's movie club. I found it one of the most visually arresting, beautiful movies I'd ever seen. When it finished, several people discussed how ugly they thought the visuals were, and I was completely taken aback that they were seeing things so differently.

Here, I'm on the other side of the fence. I went and looked up a bunch of reviews for this afterwards (because *I* sure as heck didn't know what was going on in this movie) and many of them referred to its loveliness and its beauty. For me, this was almost a viscerally ugly, grotesque film. It all just felt... *icky*. Even aside from my minor frustration that I didn't "get" the movie, I didn't like looking at it either and found myself just antsy for it to be over.

I knew this movie was going to be weird, but I hoped I was going to be able to get into it anyway. When the movie finished, I found myself saying out loud to my dog, "What the crap did I just watch?" - and not in a good way. With no continuity between all the different little segments, none of them really had a basis to build any kind of emotional connection, and whatever symbolic meaning was intended about acting or technology or voyeurism or performance was entirely lost on me. (Even reading other people's takes afterwards didn't help.)

With the little I knew of this movie, I suspected I'd either love or hate it, and unfortunate it definitely fell on the "hate" side. If I had loved the visuals or had the faintest clue what the movie was trying to say, I could have latched on to something... but as it was, nope.

Flickchart: #1933 out of 2192, below National Velvet and above Ice Princess. That is MUCH lower than I anticipated at first, but I guess that's about right. The more I compared it to other movies, the more I found myself thinking, "Nope, I'd rather watch that other one than Holy Motors."

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Separation (2011)

IMDb plot summary: A married couple are faced with a difficult decision - to improve the life of their child by moving to another country or to stay in Iran and look after a deteriorating parent who has Alzheimer's disease.
Directed by Asghar Farhadi. Starring Peyman Moaadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Shahab Hosseini, and Sarina Farhadi.

(Spoilers about the ending.)

I'm not quite sure what to do with this movie yet. I suspect it'll have to sit with me for a bit before I'm sure what I think. It definitely sneaked up on me. About halfway through, I wasn't terribly into it, but then as the plot just kept going and the stakes kept raising, I found myself really caring about what was going on. And that final shot packs a punch in a way I didn't expect at all. When the credits rolled, I had almost a visceral reaction -- the strongest emotional response I had through the whole movie, maybe.

While I wasn't drawn into it as completely as I was with yesterday's movie, I have a feeling this is going to rise in my Flickchart rankings as I let it sit for a bit. So the initial rating is a bit low, but I expect it not to stay there.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #827 out of 2191, below 2001: A Space Odyssey and above I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Jean de Florette (1986)

IMDb plot summary: A greedy landowner and his backward nephew conspire to block the only water source for an adjoining property in order to bankrupt the owner and force him to sell.
Directed by Claude Berri. Starring Yves Montand, Gérard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil, and Elisabeth Depardieu.

(Major spoilers ahead about the tone of the ending.)

So when this movie was originally added for my movie challenge, it was paired alongside its sequel, but that gave me a total of 6 movies for the week, so I removed the sequel, figuring I'd watch it depending on how I felt about this one. Well, turns out I REALLY NEED TO SEE THE SEQUEL. It's clearly not a tagged-on afterthought, but is set up as an actual continuation of the story. It even feels a little weird reviewing this one without knowing having watched the other -- like only seeing half a movie. (I do intend to acquire the sequel and watch it this weekend, in between challenge weeks.)

That being said, though, I was completely enthralled by this movie. Depardieu is riveting as Jean -- I can't remember the last time I so badly wanted a character to WIN. Of course, that made the overall arc of the story incredibly tragic and makes me very eager to see the second, because I'm more than a little devastated at how this ended. The characters are vivid, the story compelling, and I can't wait to continue on.

Really, this DOES feel like writing a review having only seen half the movie. Here's to finishing the story this weekend.

4.5 stars.

Flickchart: #284 out of 2190, below Saving Mr. Banks and above Another Woman.

Monsoon Wedding (2001)

IMDb plot summary: A stressed father, a bride-to-be with a secret, a smitten event planner, and relatives from around the world create much ado about the preparations for an arranged marriage in India.
Directed by Mira Nair. Starring Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey, Shefali Shetty, and Vijay Raaz.

This movie took a little while to really draw me in, and like all ensemble films, there are plotlines I'm more drawn to than others, but by the end I was really engaged in the story and cared a lot about all the different characters. I was especially moved by Ria's story and very nearly cheered out loud when it was resolved. I do appreciate that the movie stays quiet and subtle, without pushing too hard for flashy or unbelievable happy endings, while still managing to resolve the stories I cared about the most.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #552 out of 2189, below The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) and above An Education.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Princess Mononoke (1997)

IMDb plot summary: On a journey to find the cure for a Tatarigami's curse, Ashitaka finds himself in the middle of a war between the forest gods and Tatara, a mining colony. In this quest he also meets San, the Mononoke Hime.
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Starring Yôji Matsuda, Yûko Tanaka, Yuriko Ishida, and Kaoru Kobayashi.

(Spoilers ahead.)

While this isn't my favorite Studio Ghibli by far, I really enjoyed the story and the animation. I was particularly fascinated by the character of Lady Eboshi, who ends up taking on a mostly-villain role in the plot, but her character is layered and complex. She wants good things for her village and makes questionable choices to make that happen. I really like when movies don't paint characters as completely morally good or bad, and I was quite impressed with the level of complexity given to nearly all the characters here.

On top of that, the animation is gorgeous, the score is stunning, and it creates an interesting world to observe. While for me it doesn't quite hit the emotional notes of Totoro, Spirited Away, or Pom Poko, it's a good solid Ghibli flick.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #603 out of 2188, below Gentleman's Agreement and above A Few Good Men.