Thursday, December 31, 2015

Into the Wild (2007)

IMDb plot summary: After graduating from Emory University, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandons his possessions, gives his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters that shape his life.
Directed by Sean Penn. Starring Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, and Jena Malone.

(ALL the spoilers.)

There is no way for me to discuss this movie without getting into spoilers, so if you don't know the ending of this movie or the real-life story it was based on, just pass this one by. This is also going to be a *very* personal review -- I don't have much to say about the technical or aesthetic specifics, but I have a LOT to say about how I felt about it.

I didn't know anything about this movie going into it (not even that it was based on a true story), but I had... quite an array of responses to it. The first third or so, I found myself kind of intrigued by this young character and his drive to get away into isolation. This intrigue faded pretty quickly, though, and then I spent an hour and a half being mostly bored by this young man's personal journey and just wanted him to come to his senses and go home or find something to do with his life besides wandering alone forever.

And then... the ending happened. And I was *angry*. I was angry that the movie wanted me to be following the saga of some kind of hero or brave soul or someone with revolutionary ideas when all I could see was an angry college student who thought he was better than the whole world and got himself killed because of it. I was angry that his sister didn't hear from him for months and then, bam, finds out he's starved to death in the woods. I was angry that the old man who was so kind to him might never even know what happened to him at all. I was angry that his bitterness toward society took him all the way to death and never gave him a chance to make things right for the people he hurt with his carelessness. And I did *not* want to let the movie give him a meaningful or a fulfilling death, because that isn't what it was.

I feel uncomfortable saying these things knowing that the was a real Christopher McCandless, but really, I don't know anything about the real guy. I did a tiny bit of research before writing this review, but it's not the facts of the story I have a problem with as much as the little artistic details the movie provides. Those are what that try to give us a satisfying "Aw, he lived a good life" ending when that just doesn't work with what I saw. And I'm annoyed that I had to sit through 2 1/2 hours of hiking footage to get to that ending.

That being said... I'm not sure how to rank it. It's probably better for the movie to make me angry at the end than to make me bored. And the reaction was so strong and so surprising that I'm not even sure I'm categorizing it correctly. It might eventually settle into something more positive. I remember Grave of the Fireflies making me angry but then after I got some distance, I loved it. Then again, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas made me angry and I still hate it. So... I'll loosely rank it for now, but I'm pretty sure I won't know what I actually feel about it for a couple months.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Into the Wild < Alice Adams
Into the Wild > X2
Into the Wild < Mickey's Christmas Carol
Into the Wild > Swingers
Into the Wild < The Quiet Man
Into the Wild > Hotel Transylvania
Into the Wild > Thoroughly Modern Millie
Into the Wild < The Muppet Christmas Carol
Into the Wild > Pretty in Pink
Into the Wild < Last of the Red Hot Lovers
Into the Wild < Burlesque
Final spot: #1592 out of 2406.

Flickchart guesses I'd give this 1.5 stars based on my ranking, so we'll take its lead on that.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Big Short (2015)

IMDb plot summary: Four outsiders in the world of high-finance who predicted the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s decide to take on the big banks for their lack of foresight and greed.
Directed by Adam McKay. Starring Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt.

Well, sheesh. If you've ever wanted to see a movie that came away feeling like there was absolutely no hope for humanity left in America, here's one. It's an unusual departure for Adam McKay as mostly a fast-talking drama (with some comedic elements, but still all centered around a serious situation). I mean, who would expect the director of Anchorman to do a biopic explaining the 2008 economic crisis? It is absolutely engaging, however, and to someone like me who knows very, very little about financial or economic matters, it was able to tell its story in a way that kept me continually in the loop, even making fun of how deliberately complicated some of this stuff is. I walked out of this feeling... well, maybe not entertained (it's hard to be entertained by greed when it's had an impact on your life and the lives of those around you), but definitely with a stronger grasp of the facts of the matter.

The acting here is fantastic -- one of Steve Carell's best roles, and Christian Bale is a little over-the-top as always but definitely creates a compelling character. The script is also stupendous -- funny and clever and interesting all the way through. My biggest aesthetic grip comes down to the bizarre editing, specifically the tendency to insert into the narrative shots of random houses or flowers or groups of people. These shots lasts so briefly that I barely even had time to try and parse how they connected to anything being said. I'm sure McKay had a directorial reason for this, but it took me out of the story every single time and just seemed... awkward.

3.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
The Big Short > The Fortune Cookie
The Big Short < Eat Pray Love
The Big Short > A Separation
The Big Short < The Green Mile
The Big Short > The Thin Man
The Big Short < How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
The Big Short > The Return of the Living Dead
The Big Short > 2001: A Space Odyssey
The Big Short > Going My Way
The Big Short > Batman
Final spot: #790 out of 2405.

Ghostbusters II (1989)

IMDb plot summary: The discovery of a massive river of ectoplasm and a resurgence of spectral activity allows the staff of Ghostbusters to revive the business.
Directed by Ivan Reitman. Starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykyord, Sigourney Weaver, and Harold Ramis.

I was pretty lukewarm on the first Ghostbusters movie, although I probably owe it a rewatch someday -- I expect it'll grow on me, especially since I kind of liked this. I didn't laugh super hard or want to class it as one of the all-time best comedies, but it was easily like a 2 1/2-star enjoyable flick. Peter MacNicol as Janosz was a side character that stole the show for me (I'd rather have watched his awkward antics than 3/4 of the Ghostbusters themselves). So... decent, especially as a sequel to a movie I didn't really love the first time around.

2.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Ghostbusters II > The Fortune Cookie
Ghostbusters II < Pretty Woman
Ghostbusters II < Strictly Ballroom
Ghostbusters II < Die Hard
Ghostbusters II > Walk the Line
Ghostbusters II < 2012
Ghostbusters II > Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Ghostbusters II > The Lion in Winter (2003)
Ghostbusters II > Rushmore
Ghostbusters II > In Time
Final spot: #1090 out of 2404.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

IMDb plot summary: Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a rag-tag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.
Directed by J.J. Abrams. Starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, and Harrison Ford.

(Definite major spoilers.)

This movie is essentially retelling A New Hope, but, goodness, it does it so well. It's an extremely satisfying continuation of the franchise, establishing interesting new characters and giving us great scenes with old favorites. It returns to the lightheartedness that was so missing from the prequels. While the movie isn't perfect (Han's death was handled sometimes awkwardly, and the absurdly abrupt completion of the map made me actually laugh out loud), its mildly derivative nature actually works very much in its favor, returning to not only the flavor of the original but even the original story, winning back the fans' hearts after the prequels disappointed us so badly. It's a loving tribute to the original trilogy, and an excellent way to kick things off. I just hope that the story retelling ends here now that they've reestablished trust and that we can now go off into more unexplored territory. And this one may very well climb up in my rankings as it sits with me or I eventually rewatch it.

4 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Star Wars: The Force Awakens > The Circus
Star Wars: The Force Awakens > Eat Pray Love
Star Wars: The Force Awakens < The Holiday
Star Wars: The Force Awakens > Kiss Me, Stupid!
Star Wars: The Force Awakens < Changing Lanes
Star Wars: The Force Awakens < Grave of the Fireflies
Star Wars: The Force Awakens < Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
Star Wars: The Force Awakens > The Talented Mr. Ripley
Star Wars: The Force Awakens > The Peanuts Movie
Star Wars: The Force Awakens > Trainspotting
Star Wars: The Force Awakens > The Graduate

Final spot: #432 out of 2403.

Creed (2015)

IMDb plot summary: The former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa serves as a trainer and mentor to Adonis Johnson, the son of his late friend and former rival Apollo Creed.
Directed by Ryan Coogler. Starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, and Phylicia Rashad.

(Spoilers ahead.)

I admit, the only other Rocky movie I've seen is the original one, but I liked it a lot and liked this one a lot too. It manages to do what sports movies often try to do but frequently fail: It centers the sport in the characters. The original did the same thing, and so even though boxing itself isn't interesting to me, I was strongly cheering for the characters. Adonis is a great character, and his interactions with Rocky are funny and moving. The cancer subplot, which in a less well-written movie would schmaltz the story to death, is dealt with intelligently and in a way that is consistent with the characters we've been given. The big boxing match at the end is truly exciting, even for people like me who typically could not care less about sporting events of any kind. The movie intelligently takes its time fleshing out its characters and fleshing them out well, so when the focus finally shifts to The Big Fight, we're already invested. Well done.

3.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Creed > The Circus
Creed < Eat Pray Love
Creed > Laura
Creed > The Green Mile
Creed < Bend It Like Beckham
Creed < The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
Creed > The Happening
Creed > Lord of the Flies
Creed > Ikiru
Creed > You Can Count on Me
Creed > Rabbit Hole
Final spot: #713 out of 2402.

Sisters (2015)

IMDb plot summary: Two sisters decide to throw one last house party before their parents sell their family home.
Directed by Jason Moore. Starring Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, and Ike Barinholtz.

When this movie succeeds, it succeeds on the strength of its two lead actresses. The script is pretty weak, but there is a reality and a believability to their performances that makes their funny moments funnier and their dramatic moments more touching. They're helped by an enormous cast of usually funny folks, though some of them are misused here (Maya Rudolph's Brinda feels like a constant "character" in a way that most of the rest don't). Ike Barinholtz is especially good as a charming and down-to-earth love interest, and the scenes where he and Poehler interact are perhaps my favorite in the entire movie.

This is basically one big party movie, and that goes on a little long -- one only really wants to watch Bobby Moynihan running around screaming and using his ink-covered body part to draw crude symbols on the walls for a limited amount of time, and I reached my limit about 45 minutes before the filmmakers did. But there are some funny moments, and Fey and Poehler ground the film as a whole in genuinely likable and genuinely funny characters.

2.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Sisters < The Circus
Sisters > Dinner for Schmucks
Sisters > Mystic Pizza
Sisters > Milk
Sisters > The Whistleblower
Sisters > Hysteria
Sisters > The Lady from Shanghai
Sisters < Biloxi Blues
Sisters > Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Sisters < Last Holiday
Sisters < Yankee Doodle Dandy
Final spot: #1214 out of 2401.

Liz & Dick (2012)

IMDb plot summary: The torrid relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
Directed by Lloyd Kramer. Starring Lindsay Lohan, Grant Bowler, Theresa Russell, and David Hunt.

Let me make this clear right up front: This is not a very *good* movie. Its structure is lopsided, its acting erratic, its script is uneven. But there's something kind of weirdly fascinating about it. Maybe it's because it's so frequently wobbling on the edge of being a total mess (mirroring the lives of its characters) and it taps into the same vein as terrible reality TV shows where we can't quite look away. Maybe it's simply that the story is actually an interesting one, at least enough to keep its viewers paying attention for the short runtime. Lindsay Lohan is a mostly-adequate Elizabeth Taylor and Grant Bowler is pretty good at impersonating Burton. Of course, that doesn't mean that the acting itself is good, but the impressions are decent enough that I seldom found myself thinking, "There's Lindsay Lohan made up to look like Elizabeth Taylor."

So... not a great piece of art, but I was drawn in for reasons I can't quite articulate. I just wish it had been better executed.

2 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Liz & Dick < Melinda and Melinda
Liz & Dick > Dinner for Schmucks
Liz & Dick > Mystic Pizza
Liz & Dick < The Man With One Red Shoe
Liz & Dick < The Perfect Score
Liz & Dick < 10 Things I Hate About You
Liz & Dick < Dear Frankie
Liz & Dick < Love's Labour's Lost
Liz & Dick > Deja Vu
Liz & Dick > Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World
Liz & Dick > A Christmas Carol (2004)
Final spot: #1491 out of 2399.

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

IMDb plot summary: A wandering gunfighter plays two rival families against each other in a town torn apart by greed, pride, and revenge.
Directed by Sergio Leone. Starring Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch, Gian Maria Volontè, and Wolfgang Lukschy.

This was the second critically-acclaimed movie this week that I had high hopes for based on other movies I'd seen and enjoyed from the director... only to be seriously let down. Oddly, A Fistful of Dollars feels significantly longer than The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, despite being about half its length and actually a pretty short film. But while TGTB&TU had some great character development and interactions to pull me into the story, this one is all surface. None of the characters are interesting to watch and it all seems so run-of-the-mill -- though maybe none of these characters or scenarios were tropes just yet. Comparing it to not only TGTB&TU but also to this film's source material Yojimbo, and it's clear that this movie just doesn't have the personal element that helps it hold up to those two. I had trouble even staying awake through this film's short run.

1 star.

How it entered my Flickchart:
A Fistful of Dollars < The Fortune Cookie
A Fistful of Dollars < Chinatown
A Fistful of Dollars > The Long Goodbye
A Fistful of Dollars < Road to Morocco
A Fistful of Dollars < Roberta
A Fistful of Dollars < The Chocolate War
A Fistful of Dollars < Easter Parade
A Fistful of Dollars > Aquamarine
A Fistful of Dollars > Out of the Past
A Fistful of Dollars < Men of Honor
A Fistful of Dollars > Dragon Lee vs. Five Brothers
Final spot: #2083 out of 2398.

La Dolce Vita (1960)

IMDb plot summary: A series of stories following a week in the life of a philandering paparazzo journalist living in Rome.
Directed by Federico Fellini. Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimee, and Yvonne Furneaux.

I've liked the other Fellini flicks that I've seen, but wow, this one did nothing for me at all. There were glimpses of really interesting moments, but there was a LOT of nothing in between. I'm assuming the length and meaninglessness of most of it was about showing the vacuity of the character's life, but I tired of it long before the three hours were up and it never really came back to me. Marcello is also not a terribly interesting character to follow around -- until the final 15 minutes or so of the movie, he does and shows us very little. Overall, this does not make me terribly hopeful for 8 1/2, which I know I have to watch at some point, but is another 3-hour Fellini flick about a male character (as opposed to La Strada and Nights of Cabiria, two shorter films centered around women that I absolutely loved).

2 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
La Dolce Vita < The Fortune Cookie
La Dolce Vita > Chinatown
La Dolce Vita > Mystic Pizza
La Dolce Vita < Swing Kids
La Dolce Vita < The Score
La Dolce Vita > I, Robot
La Dolce Vita < The Room
La Dolce Vita < Over the Hedge
La Dolce Vita < The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
La Dolce Vita < Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
La Dolce Vita > Play Misty for Me
Final spot: #1458 out of 2397.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Peanuts Movie (2015)

IMDb plot summary: Snoopy embarks upon his greatest mission as he and his team take to the skies to pursue their arch-nemesis, while his best pal Charlie Brown begins his own epic quest back home.
Directed by Steve Martino. Starring Noah Schnapp, Bill Melendez, Alexander Garfin, and Mariel Sheets.

(Spoilers ahead.)

I was so worried when I heard this movie was going to exist, but it turns out all that worry was for nothing. This is a really solid movie and a worthwhile continuation of the Charlie Brown movie saga. Or perhaps I shouldn't say "continuation" so much as "reboot," as part of the reason the movie stays so faithful is that, like its most well-liked predecessors, it takes good chunks of its dialogue and its action directly from the comic strip. There is an original narrative in here too, but it's stitched together with familiar lines and situations. Even the new bits, however, manage to stick to the spirit of the classic Peanuts gang, so on the whole it's a very nicely done flick.

My one complaint, however, is a small one but not a particularly minor one for me. The ending of the film doesn't work for me at all. One of the reasons I (and so many others) connect with Charlie Brown is precisely his inability to win -- at least on the full spectrum he does here. He *is* a good person, and people *do* like him (sometimes), but nobody except for maybe Linus would tell him that to his face. The final scenes where the Little Red Haired Girl practically gives a whole speech affirming the Charlie Browns of the world was sweet, and all the kids swarming him with love and affection was heartwarming, but it all felt *off* to me. The Peanuts comics and older cartoons all played heavily on Charlie Brown's attempt to stay compassionate and stable even when no one around him was affirming him as doing the right thing, his determination to keep trying even when he knew, deep down, he was probably going to fail. Seeing him succeed wildly in the eyes of his peers was just never going to happen -- nor should it. Charlie Brown's successes come mostly when he is happy with himself or when he is *allowed* into the inner circle, if not invited with open arms.

As that bit of lengthy rambling, I was unconvinced by the ending of the film, but that didn't meant that everything before it wasn't pretty darn delightful. It's absolutely worth a watch, even if it slips up in its final moments.

4 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
The Peanuts Movie > The Fortune Cookie
The Peanuts Movie > Pretty Woman
The Peanuts Movie < Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
The Peanuts Movie > Kiss Me, Stupid!
The Peanuts Movie < Fail-Safe
The Peanuts Movie < Beetlejuice
The Peanuts Movie < M. Butterfly
The Peanuts Movie > The Talented Mr. Ripley
The Peanuts Movie < Philadelphia
The Peanuts Movie > Man on the Moon
Final spot: #436 out of 2396, which is possibly a bit too high.

The Girl King (2015)

IMDB plot summary: THE GIRL KING paints a portrait of the brilliant, extravagant Kristina of Sweden, queen from age six, who fights the conservative forces that are against her ideas to modernize Sweden and who have no tolerance for her awakening sexuality.
Directed by Mika Kaurismäki. Starring Malina Buska, Sarah Gadon, Michael Nyqvist, and Lucas Bryant.

This odd little movie was playing at an independent theater in my area, and I had to say, it did make me want to learn about the historical character being portrayed here -- but mostly because the movie itself gave a very confusing portrayal of her rather than because it did her justice. The movie is awkwardly edited, woodenly acted, and bafflingly scripted almost to the point where it becomes kind of charmingly bizarre... but not quite. It's a shame, because I knew very little about Queen Kristina, and she seems to have been a fascinating character, despite the uncomfortable hodgepodge we're given here in this film.

1.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
The Girl King < Melinda and Melinda
The Girl King < Chinatown
The Girl King > Hollywoodland
The Girl King < Road to Morocco
The Girl King < Roberta
The Girl King > The Chocolate War
The Girl King > Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
The Girl King > Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
The Girl King < Gunga Din
The Girl King > The Little Princess (1939)
Final spot: #2031 out of 2400.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Mad Max (1979)

IMDb plot summary: In a self-destructing world, a vengeful Australian policeman sets out to stop a violent motorcycle gang.
Directed by George Miller. Starring Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, and Steve Bisley.

One of the things I found so fascinating about Fury Road when I saw it this summer was how little it explained about the world we were in. No quick recap of what the situation was like, no expository dialogue on who most of these characters were and how they got to be there. You were left just kind of watching and taking everything as it came.

That is even truer of Mad Max. All we know about it is that it is set a few years in the future, but there's really hardly any hint of post-apocalyptic future in this movie. For all I know, it could be just about 1979 Australia... except for these little hints that something's a little off. Granted, I would have liked *more* of those hints to keep it feeling more futuristic and less vigilante action flick, but I've got to give it kudos for its restrained vision of the story.

The movie is pretty slow-moving, though. The titular Max is not mad at all until the last 20 minutes or so, while the rest of it slooooowly builds up. Lots and lots of shots of people just driving across the wasteland, and that gets pretty tiring. Nevertheless, now that I've seen the first and the last, I definitely want to see the in-between ones. From what I've heard, they may be a bit more up my alley than this.

3 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Mad Max > Melinda and Melinda
Mad Max < Pretty Woman
Mad Max < A Separation
Mad Max > Broken Arrow
Mad Max > Clueless
Mad Max < Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken
Mad Max < The Man Who Wasn't There
Mad Max > John Dies at the End
Mad Max < Marooned
Mad Max > Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Final spot: #960 out of 2395.