Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Zen of Bennett (2012)

IMDb plot summary: A documentary set on the eve of Tony Bennett's 85th birthday.
Directed by Unjoo Moon.

This is an awkward documentary in that it doesn't seem to be putting any effort in to actually giving us a glimpse of its subject's life or personality. The most interesting moments by far are watching Bennett record duets with a variety of other talented singers and getting a glimpse into how they work together. But this film doesn't make him look at all interesting. We only get a tiny peek into the details of his life, so it's not usual as a biography, and his observations and thoughts are incredibly vague, so it's not useful or interesting as a character piece. We get zero insight into his creative process or, really, much of his view on life as a whole. I'd like to think he could be a more interesting documentary subject than the movie made him out to be, but I feel like it tried to paint him as some incredibly wise man when, really, he just comes across a regular guy who likes singing. Watching him sing is fun. Everything else in the documentary is scattered. I wish they'd focused more heavily on the music and left the rest alone.

2 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
The Zen of Bennett < Rebecca
The Zen of Bennett < Bad Moms
The Zen of Bennett > Faces
The Zen of Bennett > Courageous
The Zen of Bennett < The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
The Zen of Bennett < Stuart Little
The Zen of Bennett > The Rookie
The Zen of Bennett > Winter Passing
The Zen of Bennett > Bewitched
The Zen of Bennett > And Then There Were None (1945)
The Zen of Bennett < Facing the Giants
Final spot: #1986 out of 2490, which seems a bit too low.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

IMDb plot summary: Powerful but unethical Broadway columnist J.J. Hunsecker coerces unscrupulous press agent Sidney Falco into breaking up his sister's romance with a jazz musician.
Directed by Alexander Mackendrick. Starring Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, and Martin Milner.

(Minor spoilers ahead.)

I went into this movie thinking it was more satire and less noir, so the extremely dark tone took me by surprise. There is also a LOT going on in this movie, with a lot of characters and subtext to keep track of. It definitely left me feeling like there is a lot more beneath the surface. I was more than anything drawn to the story of J.J.'s young sister, who is so under her brother's corrupt, abusive thumb that she doesn't know how to escape. A lot of the movie is a sort of dark intrigue adventure as Tony Curtis tries to get what he wants, but it wasn't until the more emotional aspects of the story that I really got into it. This is one that it's going to take me a while to process, I think, so I want to let it sit and then rewatch it a year or two down the line and see how it falls after I've had some time to think about it.

3.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Sweet Smell of Success > Good Morning, Vietnam
Sweet Smell of Success < The Artist
Sweet Smell of Success > Children of Paradise
Sweet Smell of Success > Hamlet (2009)
Sweet Smell of Success < sex, lies, and videotape
Sweet Smell of Success < Creed
Sweet Smell of Success < Ninotchka
Sweet Smell of Success > 21
Sweet Smell of Success < Collateral
Sweet Smell of Success > Liberal Arts
Sweet Smell of Success > Hail, Caesar!

Final spot: #761 out of 2482.

She Loves Me (2016)

No IMDb plot summary.
Directed by Scott Ellis. Starring Zachary Levi, Laura Benanti, Jane Krakowski, and Tom McGowan.

I really knew very little of this musical before going into it, except that it was written by Fiddler on the Roof's team of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, and that it was based on the movie The Shop Around the Corner. They really should have kept that original title, because it evokes the ensemble feel of this show more accurately, as opposed to "She Loves Me," which made me think it was going to be much more focused on the primary love story. The show is kind of all over the place from a narrative standpoint and doesn't earn its love story at all. There are some good songs, but far too many of them, and about half of them devoted to nonessential subplots that took up precious time needed to flesh out the core story. The production itself is pretty good -- Laura Benanti is delightful as always, and although I find Zachary Levi a little too goofy at times, he pulls off this role pretty well. The supporting cast is excellent, which is good since they're carrying so much of the show. It's a sweet little romantic comedy but at best it's a good production of a half-baked show.

2.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
She Loves Me > Days of Heaven
She Loves Me < American Outlaws
She Loves Me < The Gold Rush
She Loves Me < Wonder Man
She Loves Me < George of the Jungle
She Loves Me > Ratatouille
She Loves Me < The Scarlet and the Black
She Loves Me > Outbreak
She Loves Me < Captains Courageous
She Loves Me > When Strangers Click
She Loves Me < Thoughtcrimes
Final spot: #1193 out of 2489.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

When I Walk (2013)

IMDb plot summary: In 2006, doctors told 25-year-old Jason DaSilva that he had multiple sclerosis. Jason picked up the camera, turned it on his declining body, and set out on a worldwide journey in search of healing, self-discovery, and love.
Directed by Jason DaSilva.

I admit this film held a certain personal fascination for me. As someone who has a chronic illness that sometimes limits my mobility, it was especially eerie watching the filmmaker slowly lose his ability to walk and dress himself. I like the meta-narrative here, of someone trying to make what they know will be their last movie before they fully lose their vision, but the idea of that narrative is unfortunately more interesting than the movie itself. Making such a highly personal film has to be difficult, since you still need to have the artistic objectivity to evaluate the movie on its own terms, and unfortunately that didn't quite work out here. I wish the film was better than this, but it's much flatter than the premise promises.

2.5 stars.

Not on Flickchart yet, but when it is, I will add it and update this review.

The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

IMDb plot summary: A terrier named Max's quiet life is upended when his owner takes in Duke, a stray, who Max instantly dislikes.
Directed by Yarrow Cheney and Chris Renaud. Starring Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, and Jenny Slate.

The trailer for this was funny and delightful, and so were the movie's first 15 minutes or so -- mostly because that was everything in the trailer. Unfortunately, everything goes downhill from there. The movie crams too many subplots and far too many unnecessary characters into what becomes an exhausting, hyperactive whirlwind of a story that goes on for a seemingly infinite time. Trim about half of this movie and flesh out the other half, and you've got a decent little movie, but as it is, it's a huge mess. You can see it trying so hard to be Pixar -- all the way down to basically stealing the entire plot for Toy Story and just making it about dogs -- but the attempted heartfelt moments are awkward, poorly timed, and never resolved, because the movie was just too anxious to get back to crazy car chases and wisecracking rabbits. This movie was a massive disappointment. It could have been so great and then it sabotaged itself.

1.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
The Secret Life of Pets < Good Morning, Vietnam
The Secret Life of Pets > Rebel Without a Cause
The Secret Life of Pets < Love's Labour's Lost
The Secret Life of Pets > The Sword in the Stone
The Secret Life of Pets < The Wicker Man (1973)
The Secret Life of Pets > Beaches
The Secret Life of Pets < Into the Wild
The Secret Life of Pets < The Secret of My Success
The Secret Life of Pets < City Slickers
The Secret Life of Pets < The Trouble With Angels
The Secret Life of Pets > Snatch.

Final spot: #1665 out of 2481.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Paris, Texas (1984)

IMDb plot summary: Travis Henderson, an aimless drifter who has been missing for four years, wanders out of the desert and must reconnect with society, himself, his life, and his family.
Directed by Wim Wenders. Starring Harry Dean Stanton, Dean Stockwell, Hunter Carson, and Nastassja Kinski.

(Definite spoilers ahead)

This was a totally different movie than I anticipated it being... that "Texas" name made me think it was going to be much more of a western, but this is a very straightforward drama about a family that fell apart. The characters are so compelling, and each scene is fascinating to watch. My only complaint is that I wasn't quite sold on the ending. I don't know that it's a fair complaint since I can't envision what I would have preferred, but I wasn't convinced by Travis saying he needed to leave, so as beautifully shot as his departure was, I didn't buy it. Apart from that, though, this was a really interesting movie and I'm glad I finally buckled down and watched it.

3.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Paris, Texas > Good Morning, Vietnam
Paris, Texas < Argo
Paris, Texas > A Matter of Life and Death
Paris, Texas > The Green Mile
Paris, Texas > Princess Mononoke
Paris, Texas < Don't Drink the Water
Paris, Texas < Seven Up!
Paris, Texas > A Goofy Movie
Paris, Texas < Throne of Blood
Paris, Texas > My Date With Drew
Paris, Texas > Sanjuro
Final spot: #683 out of 2480.

Maggie's Plan (2015)

IMDb plot summary: Maggie's plan to have a baby on her own is derailed when she falls in love with John, a married man, destroying his volatile marriage to the brilliant Georgette.
Directed by Rebecca Miller. Starring Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Greta Gerwig, and Bill Hader.

It's hard to think of a recent movie that left less of an impression on me than this one. The only thing I came away from it with was a certainty that I do not care for Greta Gerwig. Her acting always seems so insincere to me, and while that worked in Frances Ha, where she was supposed to be a detached, insincere millennial, it made the first half of this movie especially ring very false. There's just no point to the story as a whole; it meanders through unlikeable characters and awkward scenes and ends up... nowhere. This is indie comedy/drama at its least compelling.

1 star.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Maggie's Plan < Good Morning, Vietnam
Maggie's Plan < Rebel Without a Cause
Maggie's Plan > The Good German
Maggie's Plan > Detour
Maggie's Plan > Thor: The Dark World
Maggie's Plan < The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Maggie's Plan < Pete's Dragon
Maggie's Plan < Mulan
Maggie's Plan < Gilda
Maggie's Plan < The Balloonatic
Maggie's Plan > 10 Items or Less

Final spot: #1935 out of 2479.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Monsters (2010)

IMDb plot summary: Six years after Earth has suffered an alien invasion a cynical journalist agrees to escort a shaken American tourist through an infected zone in Mexico to the safety of the US border.
Directed by Gareth Edwards. Starring Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able, and Mario Zuniga Benavides.

(Mild spoilers ahead.)

This was a really interesting little movie. A very quiet alien invasion flick that chooses its alien scenes wisely. The titular monsters are genuinely terrifying in the tiny glimpses we see early on, and the ending scene at the gas station is inexplicable but somehow wholly captivating and mysterious. The movie's fatal flaw, however, is in the dialogue. The film looks great, but as soon as the characters open their mouths we get nothing but laughable attempts at casual conversation. Fortunately, in the latter half of the film there are fewer and fewer chatty scenes, allowing the focus to remain where it is strongest: on the monsters themselves. Impressive little film, but a worthy scriptwriter could have moved it up to being a very good one.

3 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Monsters > Good Morning, Vietnam
Monsters < Argo
Monsters < Children of Paradise
Monsters > Esther, the Girl Who Became Queen
Monsters > Marathon
Monsters < The Front Page (1974)
Monsters < Lyle, the Kindly Viking
Monsters < The Tourist
Monsters < The Revenant
Monsters > John Dies at the End
Monsters > October Sky

Final spot: #1002 out of 2478.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Don Juan DeMarco (1994)

IMDb plot summary: A psychiatrist must cure a young patient that presents himself as Don Juan, the greatest lover in the world.
Directed by Jeremy Leven. Starring Marlon Brando, Johnny Depp, Faye Dunaway, and Géraldine Pailhas.

I can see what this movie was trying to do. It was very reminiscent of The Fisher King, one of my favorite movies, but this one isn't nearly as good. For one thing, it never believably draws the connection between Don Juan deMarco's stories and the psychiatrist's responses in his personal life. Don Juan's story is not a glorious ode to female pleasure as much as it is just boasting about his incredible magnetism, and those storytelling portions are not nearly compelling enough to convince me that they meant anything to the psychiatrist. The magic the movie is trying to capture just doesn't come through, and as a result, the ambigious reality-or-fantasy tone is frustrating rather than freeing. It's not nearly as charming as it thinks it is. That's the risk you run when you try to make this kind of movie. The audience has to be 100% with you, and it just didn't happen for me here.

1 star.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Don Juan DeMarco < Good Morning, Vietnam
Don Juan DeMarco < Mickey Blue Eyes
Don Juan DeMarco > The Good German
Don Juan DeMarco > Detour
Don Juan DeMarco > Thor: The Dark World
Don Juan DeMarco > The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Don Juan DeMarco < Treasure Planet
Don Juan DeMarco < Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Don Juan DeMarco > The Good Doctor
Don Juan DeMarco < Dr. Seuss on the Loose

Final spot: #1891 out of 2477.

Finding Dory (2016)

IMDb plot summary: The friendly-but-forgetful blue tang fish begins a search for her long-lost parents, and everyone learns a few things about the real meaning of family along the way.
Directed by Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane. Starring Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O'Neill, and Kaitlin Olson.

My biggest concern about Finding Dory was that Dory was a one-joke character, and stretching her out into a full length production would wear too thin too quickly. Pixar made a smart move when they decided to take everything that made Dory funny in the first one and flip it on its head to make it tragic in this sequel. Dory's memory loss isn't a punchline or a hilarious quirk, it's a true disability, and we see Dory struggling to adapt to it, feeling frustrated with herself and constantly apologizing to those around her because she keeps irritating them and can't keep it from happening because she doesn't know what's already been said. The movie takes its humor less from Dory's memory loss and more from its outside characters (Becky and Gerald are especially amusing) and from Dory's cheerful determination in contrast to her new buddy Hank's stubborn misanthropy. The adventure is interesting, the new characters shine, and it definitely has the heart that we've come to expect from Pixar.

That sounds like a glowing review, but there's another aspect to this movie that I haven't mentioned yet. When it comes down to it, this movie was still wholly unnecessary, and as with all sequels, viewing it changes the original movie. Dory's antics in Finding Nemo are now going to be tinged with sadness as we know how truly upsetting she finds her own condition from time to time. Finding Nemo is no longer the end of the story; we instead have two halves, and the ending of the original can't be nearly as satisfying knowing that Dory's happy ending hasn't actually arrived yet. It's an unnecessary addition at best and a movie that drags down the original at worst. It was a fun ride and probably the best a sequel for Finding Nemo was likely to be, but it still wasn't good enough to justify its own existence, though it was miles ahead of the pointless Monsters University in that regard.

3.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Finding Dory > Good Morning, Vietnam
Finding Dory < Eat Pray Love
Finding Dory > Children of Paradise
Finding Dory < Hamlet (2009)
Finding Dory < Lagaan: Once Upon a Time In India
Finding Dory < Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Finding Dory > Splice
Finding Dory < Thor
Finding Dory < A Bug's Life
Finding Dory > The Good Dinosaur
Finding Dory < Hook

Final spot: #905 out of 2476.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

I've Loved You So Long (2008)

IMDb plot summary: A woman struggles to interact with her family and find her place in society after spending fifteen years in prison.
Directed by Philippe Claudel. Starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Elsa Zylberstein, Serge Hazanavicius, and Laurent Grévill.

Every so often a drama comes along where every scene is just interesting to watch because the characters are so engaging, they're acted so well, and the interactions ring so true. This is one of those movies. From early on, Kristin Scott Thomas's character held my attention and made me really curious as to her back story. The film manages to fill two hours and give us a sense of their lives without ever making me feel like the scene I was watching was a "filler" scene, a sense I get far too often from emotional dramas. This is a really good movie, and I'm glad it was recommended to me.

4 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
I've Loved You So Long > My Sassy Girl
I've Loved You So Long > Argo
I've Loved You So Long < The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
I've Loved You So Long < Bicycle Thieves
I've Loved You So Long > Nights of Cabiria
I've Loved You So Long > Megamind
I've Loved You So Long > Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
I've Loved You So Long > Robot and Frank
I've Loved You So Long < It Follows
I've Loved You So Long > The Great Race

Final spot: #470 out of 2475.

Beasts of No Nation (2015)

IMDb plot summary: A drama based on the experiences of Agu, a child soldier fighting in the civil war of an unnamed African country.
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. Starring Abraham Attah, Idris Elba, Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye, and Teibu Owusu Achcampong.

Oh, this is brutal. So difficult to watch but so engrossing and well-done. Everything about this movie just draws you into it, sympathizing with the boys at the center of this narrative. Idris Elba is fascinating and terrifying as the leader, and all the young boys expertly portray their roles. This is a difficult watch but well worth it.

4.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Beasts of No Nation > My Sassy Girl
Beasts of No Nation > The Artist
Beasts of No Nation > The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Beasts of No Nation < Se7en
Beasts of No Nation < Blue Jasmine
Beasts of No Nation > Trust
Beasts of No Nation > Welcome to Dongmakgol
Beasts of No Nation < Inglourious Basterds
Beasts of No Nation < A Charlie Brown Christmas
Beasts of No Nation > Beginners
Beasts of No Nation < The Iron Giant
Final spot: #247 out of 2474.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

How to Steal 2 Million (2011)

IMDb plot summary: Jack did five years for a robbery gone bad. Now he wants to go legit but after being rejected for a loan he needs a new source of capital. Twala presents him with an opportunity a job with a R2 million take. The complication is that the mark is Twala's father.
Directed by Charlie Vundla. Starring Menzi Ngubane, Terry Pheto, Rapulana Seiphemo, and John Kani.

This is one of those movies that I kind of feel bad rating so low on my Flickchart, because it's actually a decent little crime movie, but nothing about it really stands out to me. Crime movies have to really go above and beyond to sell themselves to me so that I enjoy them, and this one stayed pretty middle-of-the-road. If you like the genre, it's probably worth checking out, but it didn't do much for me so I can't say a lot more about it.

2 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
How to Steal 2 Million < My Sassy Girl (2008)
How to Steal 2 Million < Mickey Blue Eyes
How to Steal 2 Million > The Good German
How to Steal 2 Million > Pontoffel Pock, Where Are You?
How to Steal 2 Million > Thor: The Dark World
How to Steal 2 Million < The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
How to Steal 2 Million < Pete's Dragon
How to Steal 2 Million < Mulan
How to Steal 2 Million < Gilda
How to Steal 2 Million < The Balloonatic
How to Steal 2 Million < 10 Items or Less
How to Steal 2 Million < The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Final spot: #1932 out of 2473.

The Railway Man (2013)

IMDb plot summary: A former British Army officer, who was tormented as a prisoner of war at a Japanese labor camp during World War II, discovers that the man responsible for much of his treatment is still alive and sets out to confront him.
Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky. Starring Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgård, and Jeremy Irvine.

(Minor spoilers.)

This film surprised me. What started as a fairly generic little romance became actually a very moving story about revenge and forgiveness. Colin Firth is tremendous in this, really selling the character's internal struggle. Nicole Kidman's character, however, is almost completely wasted in this movie, as the story centers itself around her only to abruptly drop her when Firth's character's story gets told. That being said, though, it's still a decent movie and I like where it ends. It just could have been a lot more with less awkward framing.

3 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
The Railway Man > My Sassy Girl
The Railway Man < Argo
The Railway Man < A Matter of Life and Death
The Railway Man > Chaos Theory
The Railway Man > Selma
The Railway Man > An Affair to Remember
The Railway Man > L'atalante
The Railway Man > Robin Hood (1973)
The Railway Man < The Hudsucker Proxy
The Railway Man > Extraordinary Measures

Final spot: #933 out of 2472.