Monday, October 27, 2014

The Ramen Girl (2008)

IMDb plot summary: An American woman is stranded in Tokyo after breaking up with her boyfriend. Searching for direction in life, she trains to be a rĂ¢men chef under a tyrannical Japanese master.
Directed by Robert Allan Ackerman. Starring Brittany Murphy, Toshiyiki Nishida, Sohee Park, and Kimiko Yo.

While the movie wears a little thin in the middle, this is overall a really charming little movie. The main characters are for the most part likable, and I do enjoy a good fish-out-of-water story, which this movie does well. The film gets bogged down about halfway through, stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of the main characters yelling with nobody understanding each other, but once it's over that hump it chugs along to a nice, satisfying ending. It's spotty but sweet.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #1128 out of 2244, below Ben-Hur and above The Dinner Game.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Killing Season (2013)

IMDb plot summary: Two veterans of the Bosnian War -- one American, one Serbian -- find their unlikely friendship turn tense with one of them reveals their true intentions.
Directed by Mark Steven Johnson. Starring Robert De Niro and John Travolta.

(Vague spoilers about the movie's plot, tone, and resolution.)

I was pleasantly surprised by this one. What seemed at first like a run-of-the-mill revenge film ended up being a decently thoughtful piece about war, violence, and guilt. De Niro is great in his role, Travolta is... not great in his, but not terrible. The script for this one is pretty solid, and at right around 90 minutes, it's not so long it wears thin. This isn't a brilliant movie, but it's much more than I expected it would be. Nice.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #949 out of 2243, below City Lights and above The Forbidden Kingdom.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Transcendence (2014)

IMDb plot summary: A scientist's drive for artificial intelligence, takes on dangerous implications when his consciousness is uploaded into one such program.
Directed by Wally Pfister. Starring Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, and Cillian Murphy.

I was so hoping the critics were wrong about this movie, but they weren't, and it makes me sad. It's such a great premise for a movie, and you can see where they were trying to make it good... unfortunately, it's muddled, confusing, and worst of all, boring. Seriously, how is a movie like this boring? All the moments for emotional involvement just... sit there, or cut away right before what should have been the payoff. It's incredibly frustrating to me when a movie that had so much promise falls apart so completely. I'll join in with the majority in saying this is one to avoid.

1 star.

Flickchart: #1837 out of 2242, below Mamma Mia! and above All the King's Men (2006).

Syrup (2013)

IMDb plot summary: A slacker hatches a million-dollar idea. But, in order to see it through, he has to learn to trust his attractive corporate counterpart. Based on Max Barry's novel.
Directed by Aram Rappaport. Starring Amber Heard, Shiloh Fernandez, and Kellan Lutz.

Oh, man. This movie wants SO badly to be important and meaningful, but in the end it just... doesn't all come together. The lead characters are pretty boring stereotypes, the storytelling structure is all over the place (it keeps feeling like the movie is over when it's not even close), and the movie's message is very heavy-handed. It does make me want to read the book, though, because there's so much potential in the story's premise, and it makes me wonder if it was just sloppy execution or if the original book was like this as well. I really wanted to like this movie, but there are just too many flaws for me to buy overall.

2 stars.

Flickchart: #1329 out of 2241, below Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and above Les Miserables (1935).

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

American Outlaws (2001)

IMDb plot summary: When a Midwest town learns that a corrupt railroad baron has captured the deeds to their homesteads without their knowledge, a group of young ranchers join forces to take back what is rightfully theirs.
Directed by Les Mayfield. Starring Colin Farrell, Scott Caan, Ali Larter, and Gabriel Macht.

Let me make this very clear: This is NOT an objectively good movie. The story is cheesy and sensationalized and the cinematography is often very weird. And yet... somehow I really enjoyed it. This was a huge surprise to me, as it's a genre I don't get into very easily. I think I have to attribute most of it to Colin Farrell's charisma, as he creates a likable and oddly sweet gang leader. Timothy Dalton is fun as well, enjoyably campy as the quasivillain of the piece. I wouldn't rewatch it again any time soon, but it was a surprisingly fun watch the first time around.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #557 out of 2240, below The Artist and above Children of Men.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Neverwas (2005)

IMDb plot summary: A well-educated psychiatrist leaves an academic career to work at an institution where his father, a novelist, lived before writing a renowned children's book. Acclimating to his position, he encounters a schizophrenic who helps him to discover the book's secrets and his place in the story.
Directed by Joshua Michael Stern. Starring Aaron Eckhart, Ian McKellen, Brittany Murphy, and Nick Nolte.

(Mild spoilers.)

I'm torn on this one. It's very much the kind of movie that lives on Netflix Instant, an indie-style flick that is ambitious about meaning something big and important, but I'm not sure it ever gets there. The line between fantasy and reality is... awkward here, never quite letting us in on the answer but not drawing enough meaning from it that the ambiguity is OK. I really liked the beginning of it, but as it went on, it kind of just fell apart and never really came back together. That being said, though, others may get into it more than I did, and Ian McKellen really is very good in this, particularly in the climactic scene. He was what kept me watching most of the time.

2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1237 out of 2239, below Runaway Bride and above The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Last Unicorn (1982)

IMDb plot summary: A brave unicorn and a magician fight an evil king who is obsessed with attempting to capture the world's unicorns.
Directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. Starring Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, and Tammy Grimes.

This was... not at all what I expected. I actually enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. It's a very simple story, but there's a beautifully melancholy undercurrent which I would never have expected in a children's fantasy. It's full of regret, bittersweet goodbyes, and a sense of complete isolation. I have no idea if I would have liked this as a kid, but as an adult, I found myself really gravitating to the darker themes of the story. The ending was tremendously satisfying, neither too depressing nor unrealistically saccharine. It's not perfect, but it was definitely a pleasant surprise.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #871 out of 2238, below John Dies at the End and above Choke.

Coriolanus (2014)

IMDb plot summary: When an old adversary threatens Rome, the city calls once more on her hero and defender: Coriolanus. But famine threatens the city, the citizens hunger swells to an appetite for change, and on returning from the field Coriolanus must confront the march of realpolitik and the voice of an angry people.
Directed by Josie Rourke. Starring Tom Hiddleston, Mark Gatiss, Hadley Fraser, and Deborah Findlay.

Whew, that is some nice work. This is not only a Shakespeare play I'm unfamiliar with, but it's also primarily about war, which could have made it very difficult for me to understand or be interested in, but thanks to the actors and director, this is not only easy to follow but incredibly relatable, and the resulting story is fascinating and powerful. Tom Hiddleston, who I was never crazy about as Loki, is really excellent in the title role, fleshing out a lot of aspects of a character that could have been played very flatly. The play's two villains are also done excellently, creating interesting and even likable bad guys. Overall, a really nicely-done show, and I'm glad they filmed it so I could see this great cast.

4 stars.

This movie has not yet been added to Flickchart. I've submitted it and will update the review when I can rank it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

They Came Together (2014)

IMDb plot summary: When Joel and Molly meet, it's hate at first sight: his big Corporate Candy Company threatens to shut down her quirky indie shop. Plus, Joel is hung up on his sexy ex. But amazingly, they fall in love, until they break up about two thirds of the way through.
Directed by David Wain. Starring Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Cobie Smulders, and Christopher Meloni.

Yikes, this movie has bad reviews, but, hey, *I* thought it was funny. I didn't know much about it when I watched it, but I giggled a lot. (I was watching it on my phone in bed and I worried I was going to wake Jacob up with how much I giggled at the line, "Oh no! I look like a chimney sweep!") Granted, there are a few jokes that REALLY, REALLY, REALLY don't work -- but only a few. The rest are either solidly funny or at least mildly entertaining. Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd are perfect for this, capturing just the right feel of all the typical rom com leads, and the many cameos work well. Granted, I'm probably the exact right audience for this, as someone who has seen a LOT of rom coms and dislikes almost all of them, so I recognized all the tropes and was delighted at the snarking of them. Where the movie works best *is* in its trope subversion. There are also some fun goofy slapstick moments, but the purely silly ones are better than the sleazy/gross ones. Overall, I enjoyed this.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #566 out of 2237, below Lethal Weapon and above Cannibal!: The Musical.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (2007)

IMDb plot summary: Molly Mahoney is the awkward and insecure manager of Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, the strangest, most fantastic, most wonderful toy store in the world. But when Mr. Magorium, the 243 year-old eccentric who owns the store, bequeaths the store to her, a dark and ominous change begins to take over the once remarkable Emporium.
Directed by Zach Helm. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Jason Bateman, and Zach Mills.

(Some mild spoilers ahead.)

I'm... not sure about this one. To help me sort out my thoughts, I've decided to organize this review into a positive/negative format.

On the positive side, the characters are really interesting and likable. There's a delightful sense of whimsy and charming sense of humor scattered throughout, including lots of little amusing lines that just have perfect delivery. I giggled quite a few times. I was particularly drawn to the characters of Eric and Henry, as they seemed the most... well, the most like real people. We'll get to that in a second.

On the negative side, there are quite a few moments where it is just TOO quirky and whimsical for its own good. I got tired of Mr. Magorium himself long before the movie does, and though Natalie Portman's character is clearly meant to be the central character, her character arc is scattered and gets mired in awkward sentimentality at the end in a way that made me roll my eyes rather than say, "Aw." I also have little patience for the "you just have to believe in yourself" trope, and it's delivered in a VERY heavy-handed manner here. (Also, thanks to that awful "Miracles" song, I couldn't help but snicker when Portman's character tells the little boy that the magnetic toy is magic. Magnets, how do they work?)

This is just a couple tweaks away from being a *really* good movie, but those few tweaks really do drag down the movie for me overall, as well as mostly breaking the climactic ending scene. I like the fantasy elements a lot, and two of the four main characters were wonderful, but I wish the movie had felt like it was trying a little less hard to MAKE it whimsical.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #851 out of 2236, below The Miracle Worker and above Rachel Getting Married.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964)

IMDb plot summary: Molly is an uneducated, poor, mountain girl who leaves her mountain cabin in search of a wealthy husband, respect and a better life.
Directed by Charles Walters. Starring Debbie Reynolds, Harve Presnell, Ed Begley, and Jack Kruschen.

The songs for this were written by Meredith Willson, but this is no Music Man. There are a couple decent songs, and they're performed well, but none that really stand out. The plot is also pretty meandering, with an abrupt happy ending that feels like it comes out of nowhere. Debbie Reynolds has quite a few moments where she goes over-the-top in a way I didn't care for, especially in the first half, but the second half of the movie makes her seem much more like a normal person with a big personality. The brief montage of her in the lifeboats after the Titanic sank was actually the most interesting part of the movie, and it's a little disappointing that the uninteresting romance was made the center of the movie's story instead, when she was much less interesting.

One more random thing in the movie's favor, though: The cinematography is gorgeous. The final shot of the leading man's love song to Colorado is just beautiful. It was nominated for Best Cinematography at the Oscars that year, and with good reason. When I was bored with the story, I was at least able to enjoy that.

Overall, this had a lot of potential, but it doesn't quite come together overall, and I certainly couldn't recommend it to anyone.

2 stars.

Flickchart: #1365 out of 2235, below Water for Elephants and above The High and the Mighty.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Baby Mama (2008)

IMDb plot summary: A successful, single businesswoman who dreams of having a baby discovers she is infertile and hires a working class woman to be her unlikely surrogate.
Directed by Michael McCullers. Starring Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Greg Kinnear, and Dax Shepard.

Well, this wasn't nearly as bad as I expected it to be. Oh, it's not good by any means, but it's not actively obnoxious. Just kind of... there. I even chuckled once or twice. Tina Fey is a reasonably likable protagonist in almost anything, even if she's not given much to do here. Amy Poehler is also more talented than this movie lets her show off, but there are some genuinely nice moments showcasing the relationship between their two characters. The supporting cast is decent as well, particularly Steve Martin whose small role is enough to show off his character without it getting old. Given the fact that I was expecting much less, this was a pleasant surprise. And in a nice 90-minute runtime, it was an easy, quick watch.

2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1454 out of 2234, below Spider-Man 3 and above Palo Alto.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Monuments Men (2014)

IMDb plot summary: An unlikely World War II platoon is tasked to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and return them to their owners.
Directed by George Clooney. Starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, and Cate Blanchett.

Oh, man, I really wanted to love this movie. Despite all the bad reviews, I was really intrigued by the plot and hoped I'd like it. While it's not a terrible movie, it's very... flat. Emotions are flat, plot is flat, characterization is flat. There's no "oomph" whatsoever. It's a complete waste of good talent and a good idea marred by a script that seems to be written by someone who thought this was the most boring idea in the world. Incredibly disappointing.

1.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1522 out of 2233, below The Country Bears and above Victor/Victoria (1995).

Transamerica (2005)

IMDb plot summary: A pre-operative male-to-female transsexual takes an unexpected journey when she learns that she fathered a son, now a teenage runaway hustling on the streets of New York.
Directed by Duncan Tucker. Starring FElicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers, Fionnula Flanagan, and Carrie Preston.

This is a great movie. One of those flicks that, even if there wasn't really anything happening, I was really drawn into the characters and wanted to see what would happen next. It avoids sentimentalizing the story or sensationalizing the characters -- something that almost certainly would have happened in a less impressive script or handled by a sloppy director. Felicity Huffman did an incredible job here (earning a much-deserved Best Actress nomination) but Kevin Zegers is good as well. It's one of those movies that's still kind of hard to articulately discuss because the emotional impact is still resonating. Definitely glad I got to see this one.

4.5 stars.

Flickchart: #331 out of 2232, below The Day the Earth Stood Still and above Anatomy of a Murder.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Auntie Mame (1958)

IMDb plot summary: An orphan goes to live with his free-spirited aunt. Conflict ensues when the executor of his father's estate objects to the aunt's lifestyle.
Directed by Morton DaCosta. Starring Rosalind Russell, Roger Smith, Jan Handzlik, and Forrest Tucker.

Rosalind Russell is definitely the heart and soul of this film, making Mame not only an eccentric person, but a very warm and loving one as well, fleshing her out as a character much more than I expected. I read the novel some time ago and remembered enjoying it, and I liked the stories told here as well. I didn't care for the final scene -- it took what was a nice satisfying ending and milked it a bit too much for sentimentality -- but overall the movie is entertaining, funny, and charming. I didn't even mind its 2 1/2 hour runtime, a sure sign that they did something right. I'm glad I finally got to see this one.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #611 out of 2231, below Watchmen and above Source Code.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

IMDb plot summary: The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous hotel from the fictional Republic of Zubrowka between the first and second World Wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.
Directed by Wes Anderson. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, and Edward Norton.

My problem with Wes Anderson is that even when I really enjoy his movies, they don't stick with me. I remember enjoying Moonrise Kingdom a lot, and it's pretty high on my Flickchart, but I can't remember why. Similarly, I know I had a lot of fun watching this one last night, and even a day afterward, it's beginning to fade from my emotional memory. That's too bad because when I really think about it, I liked this movie a lot. Ralph Fiennes is definitely the best part of this movie -- his portrayal of the character was absolutely perfect. I was also struck this time around with the colors Anderson used, something other people talk about but that never really gelled for me until this flick. I hope the film has more staying power for me than his others, but if not, I'll just have to remember that this was a really fun watch and that if I decide to rewatch it someday, I'm sure I'll enjoy it then too. In the meantime, it'll stick around in the top fourth of my Flickchart as well.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #466 out of 2230, below Carnage and above Contagion.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Connie and Carla (2004)

IMDb plot summary: A mob mix-up in Chicago sends two chanteuses screaming for L.A., where they score a perfect gig: posing as drag queens on the dinner theater/cabaret circuit. Things get extra-weird when a guy falls for one of the girls.
Directed by Michael Lembeck. Starring Nia Vardalos, Toni Collette, David Duchovny, and Stephen Spinella.

This is the second movie from Paul's week of my movie challenge that is not a terribly good movie but I liked it. It's a sort of... Sister Act/Victor Victoria mashup, with an incredibly goofy setup, and Toni Collette is a much better actress than you'd know from watching her here, but there's a cheerfulness about this movie that makes it charming to watch anyway. And you know I can't find *too* much fault with a movie that has plenty of campy showtune performances. I absolutely loved the sequences where the gangster was falling in love with musical theater. That just made me smile. So, yes. Campy and cheesy and goofy, but surprisingly likable.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #785 out of 2229, which is lower than I anticipated, below Thor and above Being John Malkovich.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Were the World Mine (2008)

IMDb plot summary: A bullied and demoralized gay student at an all-boys school uses a magical flower derived from Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream' to turn many in his community gay, including a comely rugby player for himself.
Directed by Tom Gustafson. Starring Tanner Cohen, Wendy Robie, Judy McLane, and Zelda Williams.

Oh, man. This movie is gimmicky and awkward and strange... but there's something really compelling about it. Despite some truly bizarre dream sequences and some terribly abrupt tonal shifts, I found myself really engaged in the story. The characters are likable, if mostly underdeveloped. (Interestingly, even though the protagonist and his love interest are both male, the most developed characters are both women: the protagonist's mom and his female best friend.) The musical numbers don't quite get it right either -- they're few and far between, and when they do happen, they're LONG, but they're pretty entertaining -- and I lurve the main guy's voice. Overall, I wouldn't say this is a *good* movie, but it's easy to overlook its flaws because the characters are just so darn easy to root for.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #579 out of 2228, below Oscar and above The Cat Returns.