Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Starship Troopers (1997)

IMDb plot summary: Humans in a fascistic, militaristic future do battle with giant alien bugs in a fight for survival.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Starring Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards, and Jake Busey.

While usually I wouldn't be all that into a war movie, even a sci-fi war movie, this is a light, fun, and casual flick that I found really likable. Even though it manages to slip in some interesting commentary on nationalism and the adrenaline of war, for the most part it's fluffy as can be. Heads and limbs get torn off by bugs left and right and the camera barely stops to notice, let alone care. Maybe the violence is gratuitous, but the fact that there was so little blood involved made it feel less realistic and more like a silly video game. (Of course, I have been playing Earth Defense Force recently, so that came to mind more than once when watching this.) I also particularly liked the news networks as a gimmick to set up atmosphere and speed plot along -- it was integrated seamlessly with the tone and world of the movie. Overall, this is a great goofy blockbuster and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

3.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Starship Troopers > Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Starship Troopers < Eat Pray Love
Starship Troopers > What Maisie Knew
Starship Troopers < Sergeant York
Starship Troopers > Junebug
Starship Troopers > The Shining
Starship Troopers < The Chorus
Starship Troopers < How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
Starship Troopers > After the Wedding
Starship Troopers < Gandhi
Final spot: #769 out of 2362.

Monday, May 25, 2015

It Follows (2014)

IMDb plot summary: A young woman is followed by an unknown supernatural force after getting involved in a sexual encounter.
Directed by David Robert Mitchell. Starring Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Lili Sepe, and Daniel Zovatto.

I am a big fan of horror films that focus on slow, creeping tension without a lot of jump scares or gore, and this perfectly hit the spot. It's creepy not because things jump out at you every five minutes, but because the situation itself is just scary. The soundtrack is a fascinating throwback to older horror scores, and while it took me a little while to get into the groove of that, by the end I was completely sold on how it helped to create this sort of... retro surreal nightmare. I totally get why this got all the hype it did. It's one of the better horror films that I've seen in awhile.

4 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
It Follows > How to Deal
It Follows > Eat Pray Love
It Follows < Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
It Follows < The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall
It Follows > Billy Elliot the Musical Live
It Follows > The Basketball Diaries
It Follows > Hawking
It Follows < Repulsion
It Follows > A Streetcar Named Desire
It Follows > Punchline
It Follows < The Goodbye Girl (2004)
Final spot: #453 out of 2360.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Luen oi hang sing (2002)

IMDb plot summary: Fung is a delivery boy who has several chance encounters with Jane. A budding relationship between the two is rapidly established, but when Jane is suddenly killed in a car accident, it seems as if it is all over. But Jane's dying wish, to see the dance competition she would have been in, comes true as she is given seven days to "live" within Fung's body.
Directed by Dante Lam. Starring Nicholas Tse, Kar Yan Lam, Eason Chan, and Candy Lo.

This movie has a sweet premise (though the Netflix reviews compare it a LOT to Ghost, which I have not seen, so I can't say how original it is), but the execution falls very flat. The visuals are muddled and ugly, the tone of the movie is uncertain, and sometimes even the genre of the film is in question. Is this a supernatural romance? A drama about loss? A dance movie with a twist? The movie tries to be all of these and never really succeeds at any of them. Not a great flick by any means.

2 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart (ranked under its English title):
Tiramisu < How to Deal
Tiramisu > Mission: Impossible III
Tiramisu < The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Tiramisu < American Graffiti
Tiramisu < Seasons of the Heart
Tiramisu < Braveheart
Tiramisu > Eagle Eye
Tiramisu > Lawless
Tiramisu > Midnight Cowboy
Tiramisu < Gypsy (1993)
Tiramisu < Avanti!
Final spot: #1739 out of 2361.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Abyss (1989)

IMDb plot synopsis: A civilian diving team are enlisted to search for a lost nuclear submarine and face danger while encountering an alien aquatic species.
Directed by James Cameron. Starring Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn, and Leo Burmester.

Man, James Cameron's epics may be, well, of epic length but, boy, do they look fantastic. This is a movie that I imagine would be great to see on the big screen. Even watching it on my laptop, I was pretty impressed.

It should probably be noted that I watched the theatrical version of this, but having read up on the extended cut, I'm pretty happy with the version I saw. There was already a lot trying to be squeezed into this movie as is, and adding another essential subplot would have made the movie feel thematically stretched, rather than as rich as it was.

This is a movie that uses its length well, with little filler and very few scenes of waiting around for something to happen. It's a very solid film, and one I'm glad I finally got to see.

4 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
The Abyss > Bunraku
The Abyss > Argo
The Abyss < Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Abyss < The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall
The Abyss < Billy Elliot the Musical Live
The Abyss < Bubba Ho-tep
The Abyss > The Reader
The Abyss < Hannah Arendt
The Abyss < Tropic Thunder
The Abyss < The Impossible
The Abyss > Educating Rita
Final spot: #569 out of 2359.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Jumper (2008)

IMDb plot synopsis: A teenager with teleportation abilities suddenly finds himself in the middle of an ancient war between those like him and their sworn annihilators.
Directed by Doug Liman. Starring  Hayden Christensen, Jamie Bell, Rachel Bilson, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Well, this was pretty disappointing. I was a big fan of the book as a teenager (in fact, I just got it so I can read it again and compare the two) but that was less wild sci-fi over-the-top action and more interesting coming-of-age drama with some sci-fi elements mixed in. I remember being fascinated by how it explored all the things he would and could do with this power, and while the movie does touch on that, it spends a lot more time building up a ridiculous villain that just exists and is accepted with zero explanation. Combine that with an extremely rushed second half (especially compared to the leisurely first half) and a bizarre ending, and this movie is ambitious but falls very flat.

There are a few good moments, though -- I'm thinking particularly of the chase scene all over the globe, which is delicious to watch. Hayden Christensen is likable, if a little dumb, as our hero, and Jamie Bell is (far more) interesting as his sidekick. There was a lot of potential with this movie, and seeing it fall apart is disappointing, but every so often I can catch glimpses of what it could've been.

1.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Jumper < Red Eye
Jumper > Ray
Jumper < The Invention of Lying
Jumper < Camelot
Jumper > Apocalypse Now
Jumper < Hello, Dolly!
Jumper < JFK
Jumper > The Misfits
Jumper > Blue Valentine
Jumper > About Last Night...
Jumper > Drive Me Crazy
Final spot: #1677 out of 2358.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Heat (1995)

IMDb plot summary: A group of professional bank robbers start to feel the heat from police when they unknowingly leave a clue at their latest heist.
Directed by Michael Mann. Starring Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, and Jon Voight.

Crime movies are such a tough sell for me, but this one has a few very, very interesting scenes -- the diner, the interactions with Pacino and his wife, De Niro running from the car, and the final minute or so. The problem here is that they're hidden in the middle and the end of a 3-hour movie, and 2 1/2 hours of that are filled the kind of typical tedious cop-and-robber action that make me tune out most crime movies. I completely admit that's a personal bias rather than a problem with the genre itself, but there have been some great films that forced my interest in spite of the genre. This wasn't one of them. There wasn't nearly enough payoff to make the rest of it worth it. If this movie had been about 45 minutes shorter, it would have evened out a bit, but as it stands, there were only a few bright spots for me.

2 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Heat < Red Eye
Heat > Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Heat < Water for Elephants
Heat > Camelot
Heat > Rust and Bone
Heat < Fargo
Heat < Legally Blonde
Heat < Blue's Big Musical Movie
Heat > Last of the Red Hot Lovers
Heat < The Muppet Christmas Carol
Final spot: #1541 out of 2357.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Gone Baby Gone (2007)

IMDb plot summary: Two Boston area detectives investigate a little girl's kidnapping, which ultimately turns into a crisis both professionally and personally.
Directed by Ben Affleck. Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, and Ed Harris.

This is a pretty impressive movie, and quite a debut for Ben Affleck. Everything about this movie just *works*, from the dialogue to the acting to how the plot unfolds. A lot of crime movies feel like they're all retelling the same basic story, and there's nothing compelling about them at all. This is not that. This story is human to the core, and it's really well done. I don't have a lot else to say about this one because I'm still thinking about it, but it's more than a little surprising to me that the only Oscar nom this got was for Amy Ryan (though she certainly deserved it). I'm glad it's gained the recognition it has.

4 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Gone Baby Gone > Red Eye
Gone Baby Gone < Eat Pray Love
Gone Baby Gone > Crazy Heart
Gone Baby Gone > New York, New York
Gone Baby Gone > Auntie Mame
Gone Baby Gone > Zoolander
Gone Baby Gone > Atonement
Gone Baby Gone > Brazil
Gone Baby Gone < A Clockwork Orange
Gone Baby Gone > Sleeping Beauty
Final spot: #595 out of 2356.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

After Hours (1985)

IMDb plot summary: An ordinary word processor has the worst night of his life after he agrees to visit a girl in Soho whom he met that evening at a coffee shop.
Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette, Teri Garr, and John Heard.

This movie is like.. if David Lynch decided he was going to direct a goofy farce.

I don't know, I just don't get it. I'm not sure I smiled, much less laughed, at any point during this movie. The madcap hijinks were less absurdly funny than nightmarishly horrifying, and I sympathized too strongly with our main character to be anything other than miserable along with him. I typically have no problem with dark comedies, but the attempted tone does not work for me at all here.

That being said, I really admired some of the aesthetics involved, particularly the visuals. The movie really looks great, with a very strong atmosphere and some very striking shots. But that's about all I could get into here.

1.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
After Hours < Red Eye
After Hours > Scrooged
After Hours < Dr. Strangelove
After Hours < Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier
After Hours > Raging Bull
After Hours < On the Town
After Hours > Blue Valentine
After Hours > Along Came a Spider
After Hours > Lady in the Water
After Hours > Hiroshima mon amour
After Hours < Mud
Final spot: #1658 out of 2355.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Super (2010)

IMDb plot summary: After his wife falls under the influence of a drug dealer, an everyday guy transforms himself into Crimson Bolt, a superhero with the best intentions, but lacking in heroic skills.
Directed by James Gunn. Starring Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, and Kevin Bacon.

(Spoilers ahead.)

I absolutely get the strong ambivalent response to this movie. It walks the finest of lines between lambasting the violent, irresponsible actions of our heroes and celebrating them, and I'm not sure it ever truly reaches either goal. This makes it easy for each side to see either what they want to see or what they *don't* want to see, but I think it's clear that all these contrasting elements are here. Frank is seen as the more moderate hero in response to Libby's more sadistic urges, but over and over again the movie hints that he's not really the good guy either. We just want him to be because he embodies our rage at the unfairness of life and the desperate hope that we have some sort of special destiny to carry out.

I really don't think this is the kind of movie for which I can just dash off a review and go about my business. I have a feeling I'm going to be mulling it over in the following days and weeks. I think it's *worth* mulling over -- I think there's enough substance in this movie to provide food for thought for awhile.

Let me just add that in addition to all the deep questions this movie has drudged up for me, it's also tremendously funny in places. Frank is such an inept superhero and Libby such an obviously *wrong* one that as they fumble their way through, we laugh, sometimes comfortably, sometimes uncomfortably.

I'm not really even sure how to rate this, as I feel like I'm nowhere near done thinking about it yet. So I'll be basing my rating *entirely* on what Flickchart says my chart ranking is equivalent to in stars, which turns out to be...

4 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Super > Bunraku
Super > Argo
Super < Breaking the Waves
Super > Kiss Me, Stupid!
Super < Glengarry Glen Ross
Super < Easy A
Super > Regarding Henry
Super < Bruce Almighty
Super < Edge of Tomorrow
Super > The Fault in Our Stars
Super < The Muppet Movie

Final spot: #419 out of 2354.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Good Kill (2014)

IMDb plot summary: A family man begins to question the ethics of his job as a drone pilot.
Directed by Andrew Niccol. Starring Ethan Hawke, Zoe Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood, and January Jones.

This movie is fascinating in comparison to last year's big soldier movie, American Sniper. I'm not sure it's a *better* film than American Sniper -- it's pretty simplistic and Hawke is a little more wooden than even his jaded character requires -- but it's certainly a much more interesting one, and at least it had the guts to follow through the character arcs it was drawing. The final scene, in fact, is immensely satisfying after all the dramatic buildup.

Andrew Niccol, who has written one of my all-time favorite films (The Truman Show), is here writing again, and while I'm not sure the movie holds together from a distance, the moment-to-moment writing is excellent, with each moment naturally proceeding from the previous one. Overall, despite the film's flaws, I really enjoyed it, and I admired what it was trying to do.

3.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Good Kill > North By Northwest
Good Kill < Argo
Good Kill > You've Got Mail
Good Kill < Mr. Deeds Goes to town
Good Kill > Stage Fright
Good Kill > The Country Girl
Good Kill > Monsters Vs. Aliens
Good Kill > Jesus Christ Superstar (2000)
Good Kill > It's Kind of a Funny Story
Good Kill > The Tree of Life
Good Kill > The Great Gatsby (1974)
Final spot: #736 out of 2354.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

IMDb plot summary: When Tony Stark tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and it is up to the Avengers to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans.
Directed by Joss Whedon. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, and Chris Evans.

There's no doubt my husband was way more excited about this movie than I was. I found the first Avengers movie underwhelming, despite the involvement of Joss Whedon, one of my all-time favorite people. My complaints were mostly 1) the film was incredibly scattered with the Avengers off doing their own thing for the most part, and 2) there wasn't nearly enough fun Whedonesque dialogue that I expected. The movie that *did* meet those expectations, oddly enough, was Guardians of the Galaxy. Guardians is what I wanted The Avengers to be.

Age of Ultron fixes a lot of those problems. For the first time, it seems like we get to see them being a team. The characters are given more depth and growth as opposed to the last one. The few new characters it introduces are interesting. (James Spader is clearly the best of the bunch as Ultron himself.)

That being said, it's neither fun enough nor special enough for me to want to rewatch it ever. I'm perfectly happy for Whedon to take a step back from working on Marvel and start creating his own characters again. Then maybe he can kill people off without Marvel magically resurrecting them for TV spin-offs...

3 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Avengers: Age of Ultron > Minority Report
Avengers: Age of Ultron < Eat Pray Love
Avengers: Age of Ultron < You've Got Mail
Avengers: Age of Ultron > Tarzan
Avengers: Age of Ultron > Flypaper
Avengers: Age of Ultron > 12 Years a Slave
Avengers: Age of Ultron < To Sir, With Love
Avengers: Age of Ultron < Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
Avengers: Age of Ultron < A Separation
Avengers: Age of Ultron > Adam
Avengers: Age of Ultron < I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK
Final spot: #915 out of 2352.

Finding Forrester (2000)

IMDb plot summary: A young writing prodigy finds a mentor in a reclusive author.
Directed by Gus Van Sant. Starring Sean Connery, Rob Brown, F. Murray Abraham, and Anna Paquin.

(Mild spoilers.)

This is a nice, if forgettable, little inspirational movie. One of the things I appreciate most is that, despite Connery's character being named in the title and having the most poster space, it's obviously 16-year-old Jamal who is the center of this story. Jamal doesn't need Forrester to convince him of his own worth or rescue him from his life. He teaches him a little writing, but it's clear that Jamal does far for for him than he does for the teenager. When Forrester steps in the end, it's only to shut down someone who wouldn't have listened to Jamal anyway and then retreat quietly away. In a genre that very often veers into White Savior territory, this is a nice change.

The movie itself feels a little off, though, providing snippets of the story and leaving several unfinished. Characters launch into their tough back stories at the *weirdest* moments. A lot of characterization doesn't feel quite... there. And I highly doubt I'll remember I saw this movie a year from now. It's a nice flick to watch once, but there's no particular reason to see it again.

3 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Finding Forrester > Where the Wild Things Are
Finding Forrester < Argo
Finding Forrester > Manhattan
Finding Forrester < Mr. Deeds Goes To Town
Finding Forrester > Don Jon
Finding Forrester > Neighbors
Finding Forrester < The Jungle Book (1967)
Finding Forrester < 2001: A Space Odyssey
Finding Forrester < Diabolique
Finding Forrester < Snowpiercer
Finding Forrester > Steamboat Bill, Jr.
Final spot: #769 out of 2351, which is probably a bit too high. I blame Neighbors, which is way higher than it should be.