Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Palo Alto (2013)

IMDb plot summary: Shy, sensitive April is the class virgin, torn between an illicit flirtation with her soccer coach Mr. B and an unrequited crush on sweet stoner Teddy. Emily, meanwhile, offers sexual favors to every boy to cross her path - including both Teddy and his best friend Fred, a live wire without filters or boundaries. As one high school party bleeds into the next - and April and Teddy struggle to admit their mutual affection - Fred's escalating recklessness starts to spiral into chaos.
Directed by Gia Coppola. Starring Jack Kilmer, Nat Wolff, Emma Roberts, and James Franco.

I have no idea how to respond to this movie, but once I saw it was directed by a Coppola, that made sense. While I generally understand Sofia Coppola's work, Francis Ford Coppola's movies have never made any sense to me at all, feeling like odd rambling narratives that *should* have meaning but just leave me feeling befuddled. That's very much how I feel about this. Consider, for example, that it took me almost a third of the movie to confirm that these kids were in high school. The lack of supervision plus 2/3 of the main characters being hit on/propositioned by authority figure adults with nobody thinking this was particularly abnormal... felt confusing at best. The kids themselves are kind of interesting to watch, but since I couldn't make any sense of the world they're in, I felt a disconnect through the entire movie. It's a strange, depressing, somewhat disturbing story, and I just don't get it.

2 stars.

Flickchart: #1446 out of 2227, below State of the Union and above A Time to Kill.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Milk (2008)

IMDb plot summary: The story of Harvey Milk, and his struggles as an American gay activist who fought for gay rights and became California's first openly gay elected official.
Directed by Gus Van Sant. Starring Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, and James Franco.

The best biopics not only describe historical events, but they also bring an emotional component. While the first is absolutely in this movie, the second is missing. It's an oddly cold movie, clinically portraying most events, with only a few moments creating much of an emotional moment.

This is exemplified in the way the story is framed. It's set up as a recording Harvey Milk made to be played in case of his assassination. About halfway through, I found myself wondering if he was really just going to dryly recap his political journey without actually offering anything insight. Sure, it's all interesting and important information, but it felt like reading a Wikipedia page instead of a biography.

There are just a few moments where this is not the case. The strongest are the two phone calls from the kid in the wheelchair. While Harvey says frequently in the movie that this is about people and about lives, that's one of the few instances where we as an audience get a chance to see it's true.

Several of the reviews I saw about this movie compared it to Philadelphia. While Milk is a more historically accurate flick, Philadelphia successfully hits an emotional note that Milk misses entirely. Milk actually kind of feels like the equivalent of those "Biblical fiction" novel that, sure, tell the story, but seem terrified to step outside the exact narrative to elaborate on characters, motivations, and the personal aspect. Disappointing.

2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1192 out of 2226, below Swing Kids and above Cropsey.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Bunraku (2010)

IMDb plot summary: The story of a young man who has spent his life searching for revenge only to find himself up against a bigger challenge than he originally bargained for.
Directed by Guy Moshe. Starring Josh Hartnett, Gackt, Woody Harrelson, and Ron Perlman.

While I wasn't really into the fighting or the story in this movie, the visuals were fantastic. Beautiful, vivid colors, really entertaining (if a little gimmicky) transitions -- I really enjoyed large chunks of this. It reminded me a bit of Dick Tracy, visually, except obviously Dick Tracy wins out because this one is a much less interesting story and it doesn't have any musical numbers.

2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1077 out of 2225, below Red Eye and above The Princess and the Frog.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

IMDb plot summary: While on a grand world tour, The Muppets find themselves wrapped into an European jewel-heist caper headed by a Kermit the Frog look-alike and his dastardly sidekick.
Directed by James Bobin. Starring the Muppets, Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, and Tina Fey.

I watched my very first Muppets movie earlier this year (Muppet Treasure Island) and enjoyed it but wasn't crazy about it. This one, however, I really REALLY liked. For being such a meta-movie from time to time (oh my gosh, all those cameos) much of the humor seems surprisingly not-dated... though we'll see how I feel about it on a rewatch in 20 years. The musical numbers are absolutely delightful, the human characters are funny, and there's a gleeful absurdity running through the whole thing. I am definitely going to have to check out The Muppets now, since it's probably likely to be closest to this in tone, but I'm more convinced now that I eventually do want to watch them all.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #343 out of 2223, below Paths of Glory and above Clue.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Dragon Lee vs. Five Brothers (1978)

IMDb plot summary: There was none, which is disappointing because I was more than a little hazy about the movie's plot.
Directed by Shi-hyeon Kim and Yueh-Lin Liu. Starring Dragon Lee, Chi Chu Chin, Hyeong-Kan Choi, and Min Kyu Choi.

While there's something kind of charming about the low-budget feel to this movie, a little of that goes a long way. Worse, I had absolutely no idea what was going on this movie. We get plenty of flashbacks that don't explain anything, LOTS of characters who aren't ever really introduced to us, and a fuzzy plot that just got fuzzier as the movie went on. This may be my least favorite of kung fu week.

1 star.

Flickchart: #1892 out of 2224, below In the Mood for Love and above The Good Son.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Muscle Heat (2002)

IMDb plot summary: In the year 2009, a young policeman must collapse a Yakuza family whose members make a large profit with a new drug.
Directed by Ten Shimoyama. Starring Kane Kosugi, Shô Aikawa, Masaya Katô, Misato Tachibana.

There is a lot going on this movie, and some if the plot points are more interesting than others. I enjoyed the mildly dystopian future, I liked the tiny subplot with the sewer kids, and I thought the drug thing was interesting (though I hoped they'd delve into it much more -- I pretty much kept wanting this movie to be Dredd). However, there's also a LOT going on that I didn't care about, and they never really combined in a satisfactory way. This is maybe my favorite so far of my kung fu theme week, but I didn't love it.

Flickchart: #1482 out of 2221, below *batteries not included and above An Officer and a Gentleman.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Fist of Legend (1994)

IMDb plot summary:  In 1937, a Chinese martial artist returns to Shanghai to find his teacher dead and his school harassed by the Japanese.
Directed by Gordon Chan. Starring Jet Li, Shinobu Nakayama, Siu-Ho Chin, Billy Chow.

Disliking a martial arts movie because "there's too much fighting" feels stupid. At the very least, it's an unhelpful assessment, like people complaining that musicals have too much singing. But that's kind of how I felt about this. If I was into fighting scenes, I could maybe see myself getting into this movie, but as it is, there's nothing else helping it along. The characters are bland, the plot is too complicated for me to really get into (I wasn't sure WHO he was fighting half the time)... I just didn't get into this one at all.

1 star.

Flickchart: #1771 out of 2220, below Get Shorty and above Analyze This.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

IMDb plot summary: Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier.
Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, and Robert Redford.

Marvel sequels are not doing well for me these days. First there was Thor 2, which abandoned the silly theatricality of the first one for a drab, ugly pile of nonsense, and then there's this. Granted, this movie isn't nearly as bad as Thor 2, but it is absolutely not what I want to see when watching a Captain America movie. I enjoyed the first one a lot, with its cheery optimism and fun characters. This is a political thriller that just happens to involve members of S.H.I.E.L.D., but really, that's not even necessary, it could be anyone. It hardly plays around at all with the superhero aspect at all, which is what I find most engaging. It's not a bad movie -- it's a pretty *solid* political thriller -- but that was absolutely not what I was in the mood for when I got excited about watching this movie. Maybe this is one where I *should* have paid more attention to it going in. If I knew it wasn't really going to be a sci fi movie, I would maybe have been less disappointed... but then again I probably wouldn't have been so eager to watch it.

2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1028 out of 2219, below Brick and above Following.

Ip Man (2008)

IMDb plot summary: A semi-biographical account of Yip Man, the first martial arts master to teach the Chinese martial art of Wing Chun.
Directed by Wilson Yip. Starring Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Ka Tung Lam, and Siu-Wong Fan.

I'm never sure what to do with martial arts movies because no matter how good they are, I always kind of zone out during the actual fighting, which is usually the whole point of the movie. I did think the story surrounding this one was pretty interesting, but the final battle just didn't seem to make a lot of sense to me in terms of the overall story arc. I guess this movie was OK, it's just... not for me.

2 stars.

Flickchart: #1419 out of 2218, below The Fighter and above Rust and Bone.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

In the Loop (2009)

IMDb plot summary (truncated because IT'S VERY LONG): The US President and UK Prime Minister fancy a war. But not everyone agrees that war is a good thing. The US General Miller doesn't think so and neither does the British Secretary of State for International Development, Simon Foster. But, after Simon accidentally backs military action on TV, he suddenly has a lot of friends in Washington, DC...
Directed by Armando Ianucci. Starring Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, Chris Addison, and Mimi Kennedy.

People kept telling me to watch this, and with good reason. Often political satires bore me, but this one had me giggling throughout the whole thing. All the acting is absolutely perfect, the dialogue is clever and funny, and I keep wanting to quote bits of it to the people around me. (There have been four times or so when I was on the verge of saying something was "difficult, difficult, lemon difficult," which may have been my favorite moment in the whole movie.) While I wasn't entirely satisfied with the ending, I liked everything else in the movie, so it's still well worth a watch.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #383 out of 2117, below Philomena and above The Great Gatsby.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

IMDb plot summary: A substance, designed to help the brain repair itself, gives rise to a super-intelligent chimp who leads an ape uprising.
Directed by Rupert Wyatt. Starring James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, and John Lithgow.

I wasn't sure how I would feel about this one, but I really enjoyed it. The scenes with the apes are beautiful examples of telling a lot of story and developing clear characters without dialogue -- something I'm always impressed by. It manages to have a lot of good action going on without getting overwhelming or feeling tedious for me. Now I'm especially intrigued to see Dawn sometime.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #506 out of 2216, below They Live and above GoodFellas. It's slightly too high because it's above the original Planet of the Apes, which isn't accurate, but it's close.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Jesus People: The Movie (2009)

IMDb plot summary: When Pastor Jerry gets some troubling news, he sets out to create a contemporary Christian pop group that will reach his son - before his teenager dies and goes to hell.
Directed by Jason Naumann. Starring Joel McCrary, Edi Patterson, Damon Pfaff, Richard Pierre-Louis, and Lindsay Stidham.

Guys... this may be the best Christian movie I've ever seen.

Well, excluding blockbuster epics like The Prince of Egypt which a lot of Christians don't count as "real" Christian movies anyway. This is infinitely better than awfulness like God's Not Dead or sloppy movies with good intentions like Courageous. This one nailed the more amusing aspects of churchspeak, but it was done snarkily enough that I wondered if it was really a Christian movie (a little sad that if a movie's good I assume it can't be Christian but not surprising given the track record). But, nope, the writers and director are all Christian, and it shows in a positive way. I fully expect this movie to sit better with Christians than non-Christians -- not because of preachiness, but because it's somewhat in-jokey. Half of the humor was recognizing people I know in these characters. In a move that's beautifully appropriate for a movie that's clearly made for Christians rather than for others, it doesn't feel the need to squeeze in an awkward or unrealistic salvation sequence. If it has a message at all, it's a quiet, subtle one about integrity and not compromising your ideals.

I also really appreciate how despite the characters clearly being parodies, there's a surprising amount of truth and depth to who they are, and the movie never truly ridicules them. From the ditzy nonbeliever who doesn't really understand this Jesus stuff but wants to get along with everyone, to the super adamant everything-is-black-and-white college preacher kid, to the oblivious but sweet pastor, the movie never really mocks any of them. While I'm sure I would have enjoyed a leetle more bite, I did enjoy the kindness with which this movie treats its characters.

Now, it's far from perfect. There are moments when the movie wanders, the fact that there's a nonChristian chilling in a Christian band is never really addressed, and there's a major plotline that is wrapped up sloppily and awkwardly at the end. But as a whole, this is so far beyond any of the recent slew of Christian movies that it EASILY gets a pass from me. And anyone who's been involved in any kind of Christian arts group may enjoy it as much as I did.

Flickchart: #379 out of 2222, below Gravity and above Beautiful Boy.

4 stars.

Man of Steel (2013)

IMDb plot summary: A young itinerant worker is forced to confront his secret extrastellar origin when Earth is invaded by members of his own race.
Directed by Zack Snyder. Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, and Diane Lane.

Man, these Superman movies just get darker and darker, don't they? I wasn't a big fan of Superman Returns or anything, but it at least had a bit of fun campy factor to it, thanks to Kevin Spacey hamming it up as the villain. I hoped Michael Shannon would do the same thing here, but this may be the only time I've actually been *bored* by him in a movie. There's just not a lot to ENJOY about this movie. It's gloomy and dreary visually, awkward in its storytelling, and couldn't care less about developing its characters. Zod had an opportunity to be an incredibly interesting villain, and instead he just... doesn't really do anything. The movie is also far, far too long for the amount of stuff that actually happens. This movie pretty much exemplifies why I don't like the "gritty superhero reboot" trend: It's incredibly depressing.

1 star.

Flickchart: #1683 out of 2215, below Saw and above Suez. The fact that it landed only 2 spots below The Lone Ranger definitely confirmed that I have Lone Ranger too low.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Lone Ranger (2013)

IMDB plot summary: Native American warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice.
Directed by Gore Verbinski. Starring Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, and Tom Wilkinson.

This is... a weird one. There are moments when I catch glimpses of what it could (and, I think, should) have been: a very silly western adventure flick. The final action sequence on the train was surprisingly entertaining, with plenty of good sight gags and fun moments. However, there is a LOT of weirdness before it. The movie is FAR too long, and it bounces back and forth awkwardly between actual serious issues (like mental illness or stealing land from the Native Americans) and goofy slapstick. Not to mention the completely bizarre and unnecessary framing device of the kid in the museum, and the fact that the movie can't make a definitive decision on whether it's going to contain fantasy elements or not. It's just a weird mess, and that's really sad, because parts of it are SO much fun. But this script needed to go through about six more rewrites before it was ready to be filmed.

2 stars.

Flickchart: #1681 out of 2214, below Willow and above Saw. That is a bit too low for it. I may have to do some tweaking later.