Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Nothing in Common (1986)

IMDb plot summary: A successful ad man (Hanks) must juggle his ever-demanding career while his parents' marriage breaks up.
Directed by Garry Marshall. Starring Tom Hanks, Jackie Gleason, Eva Marie Saint, and Sela Ward.

(Mild spoilers about the ending.)

This movie is absolutely mislabeled. Everything I found about it as I was pulling stuff together for this review treated it as a comedy, when it's clearly a thoughtful family drama more than anything else. I wasn't entirely sold on this movie while I actually watched it, and perhaps it would be more accurate to say I admired it than that I liked it. The final scenes in particular are worthy of mention -- when the story takes a turn for the darker toward the end, each scene is really beautifully done, and each seems poignant and moving. I also appreciate that the narrative structure is different than a lazier version of this same story. The story, in fact, seems to end where others would begin, leaving just a sense of hope that this will be a good thing, no matter how difficult the relationship has been thus far.

My main concert was that since I couldn't get a sense at the beginning of the movie of where this was ultimately heading, it felt... somewhat scattered as I watched it. However, in hindsight, it was clearly leading to where it did, but I got a little antsy on the journey. This is one that feels almost unfair to write a review of after a first viewing, though, as I feel a rewatch would feel very different. So the ultimate ranking and star rating should be taken with a grain of salt.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #835 out of 2288, below The Absent-Minded Professor and above Hugo.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Into the Woods (2014)

IMDb plot summary: A witch tasks a childless baker and his wife with procuring magical items from classic fairy tales to reverse the curse put on their family tree.
Directed by Rob Marshall. Starring Meryl Streep, James Corden, Emily Blunt, and Anna Kendrick.

(Some spoilers ahead, though I try to keep a lot of it vague.)

I've been both extremely excited and extremely nervous for this movie. Excited because it's a show I love a lot. Nervous because I wasn't convinced of some of the casting and I had heard rumors of a lot of... Disneyfication, making the story less dark and creepy, which is kind of the point of the entire second act.

Fortunately, I had very little to worry about. While it's not perfect, it's a very good adaptation, and when it differs from the show it nearly always makes sense. I only have a few nitpicks, and they're relatively minor, so let's start with those. Let me just tell you right now, this may be the longest review in the world.

Typically in the show, Little Red and Jack are played by adult actors, though they still play children. I'm still not convinced that they made it work casting an actual child as Little Red. Jack's story worked all right, and I found that I really liked having children in the story at the end, where vulnerability, growing up, and loss of innocence are all huge themes. These themes worked much better when I didn't have to suspend disbelief further to imagine that this mid-20s actor was a 12-year-old. However, Little Red's early story is extremely disturbing. "Hello Little Girl," the song where the wolf distracts her in the woods, has always had sexual predator undertones, and Little Red's later song "I Know Things Now" doubles as a coming-of-age song about sexual discovery. With a 22-year-old woman is singing these songs, even dressed as a child, they're thought-provoking and interesting. When a child who looks about 13 is singing them, it gets very icky very fast. They tried to give "Hello Little Girl" a lighter tone and use visual clues to make "I Know Things Now" as literal as possible, but it just isn't enough. Fans of the original show no doubt are yelling, "Then just cast an adult!" and I would have said that as well before seeing this, but I'm not sure you could find anyone who looks old enough that this wouldn't be disconcerting *and* young enough that it could still be at least mildly convincing as a child. The theater makes it easier to do that -- you're not sitting mere inches from the actors' faces as you are with a movie. I feel this was probably a necessary change, but it carried unpleasant consequences, and as much as I love "Hello Little Girl," I would have been much more comfortable if that song had been cut altogether.

Secondly, there's an important theme that gets lost here because of crushing time plots together. Cinderella's Prince reiterates it in the movie: "I thought if I had you, I would never wish for anything more." In the show, there's several months, perhaps even a year, between the happy ending finale and the appearance of the Giantess. In the movie, everything starts going wrong perhaps even at the Princes' weddings (it doesn't really look like a wedding, but everyone in the kingdom seems to be gathered at the castle and cheering for the Princes). This makes it seem almost like "happily ever after" didn't work not because it's a fundamentally flawed idea, but because *it got interrupted*. At the beginning of act 2 in the show, you see the characters have all gotten their wishes, and they still have things to complain about. It's a vital theme that happily ever after will eventually fade and change to something different, and that's not quite as strong a theme in the movie. Dividing the two halves for me *is* important, because it shows you what, well, what Disney thinks of as a happy ending and how it goes when that happiness doesn't last eternally.

Those were my main two nitpicks, and while they didn't ruin the movie, they were changes I didn't think worked. But let's talk about the good things, and there are many.

One of my favorite things about theater is that every production you see can shine a light onto a different character and a different theme. This is especially true with musicals like Into the Woods which have OH MY GOSH SO MANY LAYERS. This time around, the shining star is James Corden as the Baker. Bringing to life a character I never liked much, Corden is perhaps the heart of this entire production, a regular guy who loves his wife but worries that he's just not good enough.

Chris Pine is a surprise delight, especially in "Agony," where and Billy Magnussen try to constantly one-up each other over who has the more tragic love life. He's also excellent in his smaller scenes with the Baker's Wife and Cinderella, but "Agony" is a highlight for him and for the entire show.

Meryl Streep, who was The Worst in Mamma Mia! (along with the rest of the cast), is really great here. The Witch's plotline was altered a little bit, and while it could have potentially dulled her motivation, Streep acts the heck out of it anyway and manages to deliver where a lesser actress would be lost. "Last Midnight" is a much *bigger* production than in the stage show, and it works, building to a huge climactic storm of sound and a literal whirlwind. I really wanted to applaud after that song.

Anna Kendrick and Emily Blunt are both quite good in their roles, though they don't steal the show as much as the three previously mentioned. "On the Steps of the Palace" is a beautifully done number, and Kendrick's version is the only one I've heard that I've liked. Kudos to her there.

Overall, it's a really beautiful movie. A couple of missteps, yes, but it's hardly the poorly-cast mess that was Les Miserables. I hope this continues to do well in theaters and pave the way for further musical adaptations.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #288 out of 2287, below Jean de Florette and above Another Woman. That is a little high, but I'm sure it'll adjust itself eventually.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Splash (1984)

IMDb plot summary: A man is reunited with a mermaid who saves him from drowning as a boy and falls in love not knowing who/what she is.
Directed by Ron Howard. Starring Tom Hanks, Daryl Hannah, Eugene Levy, and John Candy.

(Vague spoilers about the ending.)

I really do like Tom Hanks in drier comedic roles like this one. He has mastered the art of delivering sarcastic lines in a genuinely funny way. In fact, pretty much everyone who's required to be funny in this movie pulls it off. Where the movie doesn't work is in its ending, where the comedy gets pushed aside to make way for a romance-centric ending. While the romance was obviously a large part of the story, it was rooted in comedy, with Madison not knowing how to behave in the human world and Allen not quite knowing how to behave with her, and when the movie takes a turn for the dramatic, it loses its charm and seems just kind of dumb. Fortunately, that's only in the last 15 minutes, and the rest of this is pretty solid. I was surprised by how much I liked most of it and disappointed by the bland (and nonsensical) ending.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #901 out of 2286, below Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Peter Pan (1960).

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Polar Express (2004)

IMDb plot summary: On Christmas Eve, a doubting boy boards a magical train that's headed to the North Pole and Santa Claus' home.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring Tom Hanks, Eddie Deezen, Nona Gaye, and Peter Scolari.

(Some mild spoilers about characters.)

This movie is very in-the-middle for me, so let's start with the good things. The animation is gorgeous. Yes, the people get a little uncanny-valley-esque, but as the story goes on I stopped noticing it quite so much, and the animation of the train and the snow is so, so lovely. As a result, this movie does best in highly visual moments: the skiing scene on the roof of the train, the ticket's wordless journey across the snowy landscape, and the train plunging down an incredibly steep track and across a frozen lake with no tracks. These are some really great moments.

Where the film fails is in its story. Turning a short book into a 90-minute movie understandably requires some padding, and I don't know what was taken directly from the book and what was created for the movie, but a lot of scenes feel meandering and aimless, especially once the children reach the North Pole.

The main child (credited on IMDb as Hero Boy) is also far from interesting as a lead. His doubting of Santa is a story that's been told many, many times, and nothing is added to his character to make him stand out among those many other stories. All three other children whose personalities are seen were more interesting, but the one *I* wanted to be following was Billy, the withdrawn, melancholy child who sadly tells his fellow train riders at the beginning that "Christmas just doesn't work out for me." The story is deliberately vague about the cause of his unhappiness, and perhaps that was for the best -- this kind of movie shouldn't be weighed down with depressing details of an unhappy home life or celebrating the holidays in poverty or whatever else might have been the burden on Billy's shoulders. However, he was the one I rooted for. He was the one I hoped would be Santa's pick for "first gift of Christmas." He was the one I wanted to see a full movie about.

The movie really is beautiful, and as an atmospheric fantasy, it does its job. But an aimless, unoriginal story and a bland main character keep it from being the magical tale it could have been.

2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1147 out of 2285, below The Day After Tomorrow and above Bobby.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Inland Empire (2006)

IMDb plot summary: As an actress starts to adopt the persona of her character in a film, her world starts to become nightmarish and surreal.
Directed by David Lynch. Starring Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Jeremy Irons, and Karolina Gruska.

I actually watched this movie a couple days ago, but it took me until now to write the review not so much because I'm lazy but because I really needed time to process it.

So this was the third Lynch I've watched this year, and the progression definitely went from more linear and comprehensible to much, much less (Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire). And yet I feel like this was the first one where I actually latched onto the emotional tone of the movie. People praised Mulholland Drive for its atmosphere, but for the most part I felt nothing but coldness and distance, certainly not the creepiness and eeriness others were praising.

With Inland Empire, the two emotions that came through loud and clear for me were guilt and terror. Guilt over things done, possibly done, and not done yet. Terror from something watching or chasing you, something being there, not knowing what time or day it is or perhaps even who you really are. This alone made it more interesting than either of Lynch's previous films.

This, however, is also the only one for which I found a theory/explanation that was satisfying to me. Since Lynch clearly does not like pigeonholing people into one correct answer, I feel it's perfectly valid for me to simply pick the theory I liked best, the one that conveyed the story I thought I was watching, rather than perhaps the one that fits all the answers perfectly. (I'm still not convinced the latter exists for Lynch.)

I talked this one over with my dad, who recommended this to me and is a huge fan of Lynch's work in general. (A transcript of that conversation can be found here, including a spoiler-filled discussion of the IE theory I like best and why. Spoilers for Mulholland Drive and maybe Lost Highway are in there as well.)

When I shared that I didn't like Mulholland and then that I was going to watch Inland Empire, a lot of people mentioned that I'd find Inland Empire harder. And in one sense I did, but in another, the somewhat coherent plot in Mulholland worked against it for me. It masked the symbolic and subconscious aspects of the storytelling. With Inland Empire, it's just... alllllll out there. I feel like it actually may be clearer in its intentions than Mulholland, which tricks you into thinking it's one kind of movie and then saying, "Kidding, you should have been watching it like this all along!" That can work sometimes and maybe even be what people liked about it, but I wasn't amazed enough by the twist to care enough to rewatch it.

Anyway, Inland Empire may have finally given me a bit of insight into Lynch, because here he's not trying to work his surreal symbolism subtly into a plot. Without feigned coherent stories to block my view, I felt like I finally heard what he was trying to say, and the theory I found gave me a new appreciation for even some of his older ones I haven't cared for. I don't know that I can exactly say I *liked* it, but I feel like I *got* it. And that's better than I've done with Lynch thus far.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1018 out of 2284, below A Snoodle's Tale and above Fantasia 2000. This is a very weird one to rank, so that may be completely inaccurate.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Hannah Arendt (2012)

IMDb plot summary: A look at the life of philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt, who reported for The New Yorker on the war crimes trial of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann.
Directed by Margarethe von Trotta. Starring Barbara Sukowa, Axel Milberg, Janet McTeer, and Julia Jentsch.

The top review for this movie on IMDb said "This is a philosopher's movie, not a film buff's movie," and in a way I agree. It's very slow and while there is a story, it doesn't really bother with typical narrative build and resolution. But that doesn't necessarily work against it. My dad is a philosophy teacher and recommended it to me as a movie that deals with philosophy well, and that seems right. It's slow, quiet, and thoughtful, with more attention paid to the philosophical ideas than to an exciting story arc. It's definitely not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but I liked it.

I'm definitely going to seek out some other movies by this director. She's apparently done a couple other movies about historically important women, including Hildegard von Bingen, who I wrote a paper about once and found her fascinating. This movie wasn't a sensationalized version of Arendt's life, so I'd definitely be interested in watching the same director tackle other biographical stories.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #542 out of 2283, below Panic Room and above All's Faire in Love.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

IMDb plot summary: A movie with no conventional plot: merely a collection of expertly photographed scenes. Subject matter has a highly environmental theme.
Directed by Godfrey Reggio.

It's... hard to know how to review this exactly. There are a lot of people I know who LOVE this, and although I see where they're coming from, it didn't have nearly that effect on me. Maybe my attention span is too short or too narrative-focused, but I found myself zoning out a lot. It would definitely be interesting to see this in a more immersive format, in a theater or with a really good sound system with nothing else trying to grab my focus. As it was, it was too easy for my brain to convert this into background noise.

That's not to say there weren't moments that really stood out. I for some reason really got into the segment showing big city traffic faster than real life. That was almost hypnotic to watch, as drivers zoomed in and out of lanes and pedestrians appeared to almost jump out in front of them. I also really enjoyed the score, particular the one with the men chanting "Koyaanisqatsi" -- there was a deep, profound sadness in just that one word. I couldn't remember what "koyaanisqatsi" meant, though I know I had someone tell me once, so when the word and the definition appeared on the screen at the end, I had another moment of really connecting to the material. Somehow, after that hour and a half of images, seeing the words "a life out of balance" on the screen made me very sad and melancholy. So, interestingly, the strongest response I had to this movie involved actual words, either sung or written. It's quite likely that the scarcity of language made the few occurrences of it much more powerful to me.

That being said, I don't know that I'd watch it again -- certainly not in the same video/audio setup. There are some very compelling moments, but there are a lot that just... aren't, and I'm not sure they make up for the few that work.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #1035 out of 2282, below Cypher and above Monster.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Snowpiercer (2013)

IMDb plot summary: Set in a future where a failed climate-change experiment kills all life on the planet except for a lucky few who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system emerges.
Directed by Joon-ho Bong. Starring Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Ed Harris, and John Hurt.

This is such a cool premise for a story, and for most of the movie, it works. But there are also some weird, weird moments, particularly in terms of visuals. While some of the visuals work beautifully -- the images of the cold, dead world outside are striking -- there are some things that don't work at all. Tilda Swinton's character especially comes to mind. In the middle of this very bleak story, we have a character who is exaggerated to the point of cartoonishness. Perhaps it was a deliberate attempt to contrast the frivolity of passengers at the front with the life-or-death situations at the back, but it had the effect of making several of the fairly serious scenes comedic. I haven't read the graphic novel, so I don't know how faithful the imagery is, but that one in particular didn't work for me.

My smaller nitpicks include an overabundance of hey-weren't-they-dead? characters coming back to life for no particular reason, and a distracting reliance on slow motion for a lot of sequences, particularly in the first half. But these are smaller, because overall it's a unique and engaging story that creates a fascinating world, even if it stumbles a few times getting to the end.

3.5 stars.

Flickchart: #732 out of 2281, below Silent Movie and above Steamboat Bill, Jr.

Flypaper (2011)

IMDb plot summary: Tripp walks into a bank to get some change and ends up as a hostage to two bank robber-teams, robbing the bank he is at. In an almost Sherlock Holmesian way he has to solve this Agatha Christie inspired mystery and win the girls heart. But not everything is at it seems, and there are many twists and turns in this comedy.
Directed by Rob Minkoff. Starring Patrick Dempsey, Ashley Judd, Tim Blake Nelson, and Mekhi Phifer.

This is a huge contrast to the last movie I watched, Mulholland Drive, in that this one is the most fun if you don't analyze it too much. :-) It's a light, silly heist movie with a fun mystery that's really enjoyable to watch unravel. The characters are entertaining, if none of them is very deeply developed. It's a very fun fluffy hour and a half.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #915 out of 2280, below The Kid and above The Hangover, which is really fun because apparently the writers for this are the same as they are for The Hangover. So apparently their writing is similarly interesting for me here.

Mulholland Drive (2001)

IMDb plot summary: After a car wreck on the winding Mulholland Drive renders a woman amnesiac, she and a perky Hollywood-hopeful search for clues and answers across Los Angeles in a twisting venture beyond dreams and reality.
Directed by David Lynch. Starring Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Ann Miller, and Justin Theroux.

(Some spoilers, because I'm not sure you can discuss the nature of this movie without revealing *something* about it, though I've deliberately tried to be vague.)

Well, this was... interesting.

This was definitely more enjoyable once I'd finished watching it, when I started combing through fan theories. While I'd been somewhat piecing together my own theory of the movie's ending (which for the most part matches the most prevalent theory), I found it... grounding and perhaps even comforting to see people making sense of this.

I found the actual watching of the film somewhat frustrating. I'm not sure quite how to describe my reaction -- between the non-answers and the surreal dreamlike sequences and the bizarre acting on even the "realistic" moments, I felt like none of it had a point and wondered if maybe there wasn't even supposed to be one. It wasn't until reading fan theories later that any of this started come together for me (even if a lot of those were unsatisfying answers like "it was all a dream").

I've been OK with vague or ambiguous plots before. Donnie Darko, for example, was one of my favorite movies long before I discovered there was a (mostly ridiculous) answer as to what happened at the end. But I think where Donnie Darko works for me while Mulholland Drive fails is in creating *something* for me to connect to in the midst of non-answers. The characters of Mulholland are distant, cold, unrelatable, stubbornly undecipherable, and maybe even not quite human. As a result, I felt disconnected through the whole thing and was unable to really respond to the emotional prompting or immerse myself in the movie's moody atmosphere.

Without an emotional or narrative center to grasp onto, I really didn't have anything to respond to in this movie. It was like the movie just... moved on past me while my efforts to find something, anything, to "get" continually left me frustrated.

Reading attempts by fans to unravel the narrative at least gives me *something*. It became interesting as a puzzle, even if most of the theories require you to interpret individual blink-and-you'll-miss-it images as the key to the entire thing. ("So-and-so is really dead and in hell because one time you see them and then a few minutes later in the background there's a flyer that has the word 'HELL' on it somewhere!") EVERY answer to this movie feels like a stretch and doesn't account for huge chunks of the movie, so it's all still unsatisfying and still leaves me unconvinced that Lynch himself knows what the heck he's talking about, but it's better than nothing.

I get why people like this movie. And it's entirely possible that I'll eventually find a theory that changes my entire attitude toward it and makes me feel compelled to rewatch it someday. But right now, I'm not all that convinced there's an answer to it at all, and it didn't make me care enough to figure it out on my own.

2 stars.

Flickchart: #1331 out of 2279, below My Girlfriend's Boyfriend and above Over the Hedge.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Secretary (2002)

IMDb plot summary: A young woman, recently released from a mental hospital, gets a job as a secretary to a demanding lawyer, where their employer-employee relationship turns into a sexual, sadomasochistic one.
Directed by Steven Shainberg. Starring James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeremy Davies, and Lesley Ann Warren.

This is certainly a nontraditional romance story, and by the time the credits rolled I wasn't quite sure I understood the dynamic between the characters or how I felt about it. So I let it sit for a day and googled some other people's thoughts on the movie in the meantime, finally coming to the conclusion that this is kind of an incredible movie.

It tells a unique and intriguing story with a lot of warmth, especially for a type of story that isn't typically treated as "warm." There's a lot more going on here besides just the surface dominant/submissive plotline -- it's not just a thinly-veiled excuse for kinky sex scenes, as it could have been. The movie's about exploration and uncertainty and self-discovery and trust and long-term love in a situation where neither person is entirely sure how to go about this.

I still think it's going to need to sit with me longer before I see where it settles, but it's impressive and fascinating and actually very sweet, and I feel like this is one that will keep rising in my estimation.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #439 out of 2278, below A Streetcar Named Desire and above Persepolis.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Atonement (2007)

IMDb plot summary: Fledgling writer Briony Tallis, as a 13-year-old, irrevocably changes the course of several lives when she accuses her older sister's lover of a crime he did not commit. Based on the British romance novel by Ian McEwan.
Directed by Joe Wright. Starring Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan, and Romola Garai.

This movie is a little uneven for me, but it starts and ends strong. It's got a fantastic first half, a second half that never really grabs me, and then an ending that is fascinating again. I think that's because I latched on to the fact that Knightley and McAvoy are not the main characters here -- Briony is. Her story was the one I wanted to follow, so when it got pushed aside to make way for a much-less-interesting love story, I got impatient.

The acting is excellent overall, though, and the movie's choice to move backward and forward in time, retelling the story from different angles, is an interesting one that keeps things interesting. And that final scene really is beautiful and sad and wonderfully done.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #581 out of 2277, below 21 Jump Street and above Kick-Ass.

Bicentennial Man (1999)

IMDb plot summary: An android endeavors to become human as he gradually acquires emotions.
Directed by Chris Columbus. Starring Robin Williams, Embeth Davidtz, Sam Neill, and Oliver Platt.

This movie treads VERY close to the edge of "cheesy and preachy," so I was holding my breath through large parts of the movie, but it never quite crosses that line. Instead, it tells a very touching story, almost epic in its scope, moving forward decades at a time, and while there are a lot of moments that could be disastrously awful if tackled in just a slightly different way, they're all handled well in the end. I think a lot of the credit for this goes to Robin Williams. While he was, of course, most known for his wild and frenetic brand of comedy, I always found him most engaging whenever he pulled back. Here, his character is emotionally restrained and controlled for nearly the whole movie, given a beautifully subtle performance that ties the whole story together. Someday I would like to watch this again, without the constant nervousness that it was going to go horribly wrong -- but as it is, I was impressed and moved. It's a lovely story.

4 stars.

Flickchart: #503 out of 2276, below Waking Ned Devine and above Heavenly Creatures.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

About Time (2013)

IMDb plot summary: At the age of 21, Tim discovers he can travel in time and change what happens and has happened in his own life. His decision to make his world a better place by getting a girlfriend turns out not to be as easy as you might think.
Directed by Richard Curtis. Starring Domnhall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, and Lydia Wilson.

Well, let's start this off by saying I. Love. Richard. Curtis. I love his writing a lot, *especially* in romantic comedies (Love Actually is my #2 on Flickchart). He's the only one whose rom coms make me feel like I suspect rom coms make most of my female friends feel. So I've been meaning to watch it ever since it came out, and I had really high hopes for it.

And it absolutely held up to those expectations. This is one of the most satisfying movies I've seen in quite some time -- funny and sweet and moving and charming. The characters are likable, the story both fun and poignant, and the dialogue is, as expected, witty and clever. When it finished, I couldn't even react to it at first, just had to sit there and feel it for a little while (always a sign of a good movie for me). I suspect this one is going to remain one of my favorite Curtis flicks.

4.5 stars.

Flickchart: HOLY COW. This landed at #171 out of 2275, below The Bridge on the River Kwai and above Ed Wood. That is REALLY high for a first-time watch.

Friday, December 12, 2014

So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993)

IMDb plot summary: A San Francisco poet who fears commitment has a girlfriend who he suspects may not be who she appears.
Directed by Thomas Schlamme. Starring Mike Myers, Nancy Travis, Anthony LaPaglia, and Amanda Plummer.

(Vague spoilers about the ending.)

I suspect I would have felt differently about this film if I thought Mike Myers was generally funny and/or charming. Though he has occasionally won me over (I enjoyed Wayne's World a lot), I don't particularly care for him. So... there's that.

The story itself is mildly entertaining, although it really comes into its own in the last 15-20 minutes or so, when the pace picks up and the physical jokes are rooted in a clear, focused objective: don't die. The "big twist" at the end is, frankly, not what I was expecting, so that was also fun. Some of the small side characters are fantastic as well -- I particularly liked the very kind police chief played by Alan Arkin (who was uncredited, so I had to go googling to make sure it was really him and I wasn't making it up).

Overall, while I didn't love it and I was pretty tired of Myers by the end (in both his roles), there are definitely some high points. I wouldn't watch it again, but I could see recommending it to someone else.

2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1150 out of 2274, below The Hurt Locker and above A Dangerous Method.

The Giver (2014)

IMDb plot summary: In a seemingly perfect community, without war, pain, suffering, differences or choice, a young boy is chosen to learn from an elderly man about the true pain and pleasure of the "real" world.
Directed by Phillip Noyce. Starring Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, and Odeya Rush.

(Spoilers about the ending.)

I wanted SO BADLY for this to be great. The book is one of my very favorites -- I'm pretty sure it WAS my favorite through most of middle school -- and the parts of the movie that tell the story as written totally work. I'm hardly a stickler for book-to-movie adaptations to keep it exactly the same, but the things they chose to add to this movie were... missteps. Specifically, the choice to focus on the community rather than Jonas, especially toward the end. The final 10 minutes or so of the movie depended on emotional pleas that shouldn't have worked, preachy speeches that awkwardly hammered home the moral of the story, and a sudden romantic subplot that almost took precedence over the big picture story. Granted, I feel like it would be very hard to film this book at all. So much of it is internal responses, and that's hard to communicate well on the screen. But this attempt... really didn't work, sadly enough.

2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1090 out of 2273, below The Sunshine Boys (1996) and above Max Dugan Returns.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Shanghai Knights (2003)

IMDb plot summary: When a Chinese rebel murders Chon's estranged father and escapes to England, Chon and Roy make their way to London with revenge on their minds.
Directed by David Dobkin. Starring Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Tom Fisher.

There's nothing really awful about this movie, but there's nothing really exciting about it either, aside from a couple fun fight sequences from Jackie Chan. The jokes are predictable but delivered just fine, the acting is bland but not terrible... Everything's just very middle-of-the-road, with no real highs or lows. I've never seen the first movie, but seeing this makes me wonder if the first movie was any more creative, or if they both felt like this. Frankly, the outtakes shown at the end are more fun than anything in the rest of the film.

2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1131 out of 2272, below War of the Buttons and above Chungking Express. That's probably a bit too high.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)

IMDb plot summary: A look at a few chapters in the life of Poppy, a cheery, colorful, North London schoolteacher whose optimism tends to exasperate those around her.
Directed by Mike Leigh. Starring Sally Hawkins, Alexis Zegerman, Eddie Marsan, and Samuel Roukin.

(Mild spoilers discussing individual scenes.)

All right, I have to admit that for much of the movie, Poppy grated on me. REALLY grated on me. I have nothing against optimism or cheerfulness, but she reminded me of the most draining extroverts I've ever known, or those self-centered people who interrupt everything I say to make a joke or tell their own story so I eventually just give up and just stop talking because clearly they want to be heard way more than they want to listen to me, and I'm not going to fight them for attention.

So yeah. I had kind of a strong reaction against her.

There were a few scenes, however, that turned that around and made it work for me, and they were both moments where I saw real compassion from her. One was the final climactic scene with Scott (and GOSH, what a performance from Eddie Marsan), where she really, for the first time, sits and listens to him and doesn't jump in to make it about her. The second was the scene with the homeless man, someone who just needed to talk, even though he can't actually create coherent sentences. But that scene may be one of the best of any movie I've seen this year, as she worked to make a brief connection with him despite not being able to communicate through words. It's beautiful and fascinating and brilliantly done.

Those scenes helped save the movie for me, even if I still found myself really annoyed with her the rest of the time. So the movie as a whole didn't work for me very well, but those two scenes were amazing.

2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1221 out of 2271, below Peter Pan (2003) and above Disturbia.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Green Lantern (2011)

IMDb plot summary: A test pilot is granted an alien ring that bestows him with otherworldly powers that inducts him into an intergalactic police force.
Directed by Martin Campbell. Starring Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, and Mark Strong.

Meh. I like Ryan Reynolds a lot, and he was fairly likable in this movie, but overall it didn't do much of anything for me. Like a lot of other recent DC movie attempts, it's visually bland and morosely dark, even when it doesn't need to be. Peter Sarsgaard's villain has SO much potential to be interesting, but he just goes nowhere in this script. It's neither fun nor meaningful, though Reynolds' charm keeps it from being outright terrible. Disappointing.

2 stars.

Flickchart: #1594 out of 2270, below Sharknado and above Quigley Down Under.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

2012 (2009)

IMDb plot summary: A frustrated writer struggles to keep his family alive when a series of global catastrophes threatens to annihilate mankind.
Directed by Roland Emmerich. Starring John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Thandie Newton.

There are definitely some good things about this movie. The scenes involving the earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic meteors and other things destroying the world are really entertaining. When that finally kicked in 45 minutes into the movie, I had a lot of fun with it. It also had a lot of really interesting mini-scenes with people dealing with the whole end of the world thing. However, it's WAY WAY WAY too long. Like I said, the movie doesn't even really get going until 45 minutes in, and then there's a REALLY long drawn-out final action sequence that drags out the movie yet another 30-40 minutes. The movie's over two and a half hours long, and John Cusack is an unlikable jerk for a lot of that time. So that takes a movie that could have been an entertaining end-of-the-world disaster movie with some cool-looking scenes and makes it much less fun by the time the end finally rolls around.

2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1173 out of 2269, below Last Holiday and above To Be or Not to Be.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Spy Next Door (2010)

IMDb plot summary: Former CIA spy Bob Ho takes on his toughest assignment to date: looking after his girlfriend's three kids, who haven't exactly warmed to their mom's beau.
Directed by Brian Levant. Starring Jackie Chan, Amber Valletta, Madeline Carroll, and Will Shadley.

Let's start with the good things. What works in this movie: Jackie Chan and, occasionally, the youngest daughter. They're both fun.

What doesn't work: Everything else.

I am never, ever, ever going to get pulled into an "unusual babysitter" movie. I didn't like it in The Pacifier, I didn't like it in Despicable Me, I didn't like it here. It's a boring trope that relies on me liking kids a whole lot more than I do, and it degenerates into the same tired jokes over and over. That is true here as well. And in this movie, the kids are the Most Obnoxious Kids In the World. They abruptly stop being awful at the end, but it's for no plausible reason, since they were awful to their mom the whole time as well, so it wasn't just them being mean to him because he was new -- they're just nasty kids.

The most interesting parts of this are the parts that hardly involve the kids at all. Watching Jackie Chan fight is fun, and if it had just been a silly spy movie I could maybe have gotten into the goofiness of the villains, but it's all broken up with annoying or cheesily dramatic sections involving these horrible children.

So, yeah. Not my favorite.

1.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1637 out of 2268, below Midnight Cowboy and above Durango.

Metal Tornado (2011)

IMDb plot summary: An American company inadvertently unleashes a magnetic vortex on an unprepared world.
Directed by Gordon Yang. Starring Lou Diamond Phillips, Nicole de Boer, Greg Evigan, and Stephen MacDonald.

This is a silly SyFy disaster movie. I enjoy that kind of flick occasionally, and this had all the markings of something that could have been really fun. But something was lost -- not quite enough campiness or cheesiness in the acting from the leads, I think. The minor characters are more entertaining, and watching their over-the-top horror as metallic things start sliding around is great fun. But overall, this unfortunately didn't live up to the glorious stupidity of Sharknado or even that  single fantastic scene from Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus.

1.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1731 out of 2267, below The Lone Ranger and above Saw.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thermae Romae (2012)

IMDb plot summary (truncated from original): Ancient Roman architect Lucius is too serious. His inability to keep up with the fast-moving times costs him his job. When a friend takes the dejected Lucius to the public bathhouse to cheer him up, Lucius accidentally slips through time and resurfaces in a modern-day public bath in Japan. 
Directed by Hideki Takeuchi. Starring Hiroshi Abe, Aya Ueto, Kazuki Kitamura, and Riki Takeuchi.

(Mild spoilers, but nothing that isn't already in the IMDb summary.)

I really, really enjoy movies that include fantasy elements in otherwise realistic stories, so when our main character suddenly time-traveled to the present, I got way more excited about this movie. Overall, it's a very likable and entertaining story, especially for the first 2/3. (It gets a little muddied and less fun for me after the main character actually figures out what's going on.) It's goofy and imaginative and a whole lot of fun!

4 stars.

Flickchart: #522 out of 2266, below My Name Is Bruce and above To Kill a Mockingbird.

Dirty Dancing (1987)

IMDb plot summary: Spending the summer in a holiday camp with her family, Frances "Baby" Houseman falls in love with the camp's dance instructor Johnny Castle.
Directed by Emile Ardolino. Starring Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze, Jerry Orbach, and Cynthia Rhodes.

I was not expecting much out of this movie, and I think that worked in its favor. It gets bogged down in its angsty drama in the second half of the movie, but overall it's not a bad flick. The characters are a step above typical romantic drama couples, with some truly interesting distinguishing traits, and the lead actors do a good job bringing a little bit of depth to them. On top of that, the dance sequences really are terrific fun, especially the famous one at the end. I can definitely see why people enjoy this. If it hadn't gotten so angsty and heavy-handed in part two, I would have liked it a lot more.

3 stars.

Flickchart: #902 out of 2265, below Interview With the Vampire and above Wreck-It Ralph.