Saturday, April 29, 2017

Sleight (2016)

IMDb plot summary: A young street magician is left to care for his little sister after their parents passing, and turns to illegal activities to keep a roof over their heads. 
Directed by J.D. Dillard. Starring Jacob Latimore, Seychelle Gabriel, Dule Hill, and Storm Reid.

(Spoilers ahead.)

This is an intriguing movie. The trailers made it look like a very different movie than it seemed to be for the first hour and a half. Let me get into spoiler territory here -- I fully expected this to be much more superhero than it was, because the trailers amped up that aspect. Now I wonder if that was a marketing mistake, because the movie itself does *not* zero in on the superhero aspect until a good hour in, possibly longer. But then I wonder if it had been marketed solely as a crime movie, would I have felt the abrupt addition of superpowers was a copout, an unsatisfactory genre switch? I think the best way to tackle this would have been to tease us earlier and more often with the idea that Bo had Tony Stark-style superpowers, and to make it clearer. No cover-ups, no hints that maybe he's just really good at misdirection. By the time the actual superpowers rolled around, I'd basically decided they didn't exist, but then their reveal wasn't a twist so much as a "FINALLY!" eye roll.

That being said, it's actually a pretty fun movie, if very messy. Our hero is likable, Dule Hill is an excellent villain, and I like the way it does become an unconventional superhero flick. I wish there had been a little bit more polish to the script to make things a more satisfying ride, but it's a fresh new take on these stories, and I appreciate that even if it's a bit muddled in the execution.

3.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Sleight > Thoughtcrimes
Sleight < Gone in 60 Seconds
Sleight > The Red Shoes
Sleight < Two Weeks Notice
Sleight > The Duellists
Sleight > Draft Day
Sleight < The Lady Vanishes
Sleight < Shaolin Soccer
Sleight < The Terminal
Sleight > The Tree of Life
Sleight > Frances Ha

Final spot: #852 out of 2612.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Descendants (2015)

IMDb plot summary: A present-day idyllic kingdom where the benevolent teenage son of King Adam and Queen Belle offers a chance of redemption for the trouble making offspring of Disney's classic villains.
Directed by Kenny Ortega. Starring Dove Cameron, Cameron Boyce, Booboo Stewart, and Sofia Carson.

This is actually a pretty good suggestion for me. I have a suspicion whoever gave this to me knew how much I enjoyed the High School Musical saga. This doesn't rise to nearly that level, largely because the songs are uninspired and so ridiculously overproduced that it's silly to even vaguely pretend that they're singing it, they're all just clearly dancing to somebody else's pop song. But I really enjoyed seeing the fun way they interpreted the different characters, even if a few didn't get the screen time they needed. (I think Jay and Evie both needed a more solid subplot. Their characters had definite potential. Maybe in the sequel?) This, weirdly, would have been a better movie without the songs -- and I don't say that often -- with the except of Maleficent's song because, well, singing Kristin Chenoweth never made anything worse. Overall, it's exactly as advertised. Entertaining, but in a very shallow way, and the music is pretty subpar.

3 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Descendants > When Strangers Click
Descendants < Gone in 60 Seconds
Descendants < The Red Shoes
Descendants > Interview with the Vampire
Descendants < Struck by Lightning
Descendants > Swing Time
Descendants < Wayne's World
Descendants < The Thing
Descendants > Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
Descendants > Prometheus
Descendants < The Ring

Final spot: #1093 out of 2611.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Fanny and Alexander (1982)

IMDb plot summary: Two young Swedish children experience the many comedies and tragedies of their family, the Ekdahls.
Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Starring Bertil Guve, Ewa Fröling, Börje Ahlstedt, and Pernilla Allwin.

For some reason I thought this was by Francois Truffaut, a filmmaker I have not particularly enjoyed, and I groaned at the thought of spending three hours with it. Turns out, however, I was very much mistaken and this is actually Ingmar Bergman, a filmmaker I've liked very much on the whole. While I still think this film is longer than it needs to be (I'm not sure if all the many familial subplots help the overarching story), it has a lot to recommend it. The movie definitely gets a boost when it's clear there *is* a primary continuing plotline rather than just a series of episodes, and as that plotline unfolds, I was particularly struck by how much I enjoyed the supernatural elements woven throughout. Some of the best scenes in here are not terribly pleasant to watch -- I was captivated in horror throughout the scene where the bishop interrogates Alexander and punishes him for his lies. This review is a bit scattered (my apologies) because my thoughts on this are still a bit scattered, but I bet this is one that would improve on a rewatch when I am better able to connect the movie's many dots.

3.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Fanny and Alexander > Kung Fu Panda
Fanny and Alexander < Gone In 60 Seconds
Fanny and Alexander > The Red Shoes
Fanny and Alexander > Two Weeks Notice
Fanny and Alexander > You Can't Take It With You
Fanny and Alexander < A Clockwork Orange
Fanny and Alexander < Three Colors: White
Fanny and Alexander > New York Stories
Fanny and Alexander < Watchmen
Fanny and Alexander > The Curse of the Jade Scorpion
Fanny and Alexander < Oscar
Final spot: #719 out of 2610.

Gomorrah (2008)

IMDb plot summary: An inside look at Italy's modern crime families.
Directed by Matteo Garrone. Starring Salvatore Abbruzzese, Simone Sacchettino, Salvatore Ruocco, and Vincenzo Fabricino.

Ugh, why are crime films so dull? I try to give it my best shot and work to stay invested in the film, but there's just so little human emotion to get attached to most of the time, which seems weird, given the subject of the story. I felt largely the same here. There were so many characters in here that it was tough for me to keep track of them all, and frequently ones I HAD noticed to would just fade out without much of a mention. The two violent young men were the only ones I ended up being interested in, and their plot is solid, but the rest of the movie is a slog.

1 star.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Gomorrah < The Day After Tomorrow
Gomorrah < Courage Under Fire
Gomorrah < Susannah of the Mounties
Gomorrah > The World Is Not Enough
Gomorrah > Capote
Gomorrah > Dangerous
Gomorrah > The Art of War
Gomorrah > Men of Honor
Gomorrah < The Butter Battle Book
Gomorrah > Cinderella III: A Twist in Time
Gomorrah > Turner and Hooch

Final spot: #2289 out of 2609.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Gifted (2017)

IMDb plot summary: Frank, a single man raising his child prodigy niece Mary, is drawn into a custody battle with his mother.
Directed by Marc Webb. Starring Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, and Jenny Slate.

This is one of those movies that is pleasant enough to watch but when you're done it just glides right on out of your memory, leaving basically no imprint whatsoever. Everybody's pretty competent in this, even the little girl who, despite being a child genius, is shown as having actually pretty realistic 7-year-old emotions (thanks to competent screenwriter and actress). Lindsay Duncan as the grandmother is the only one whose performance rises above "basic competence," thanks to a single scene where she makes me want to follow her character, and only her character, for the rest of the movie. It's sweet, it's fine, but it hits every predictable beat (and one or two ridiculous ones) and as a result, it doesn't actually make a mark.

2.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Gifted > The Day After Tomorrow
Gifted < Gone in 60 Seconds
Gifted < The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Gifted < Silent Hill
Gifted < Hide and Seek
Gifted > Four Weddings and a Funeral
Gifted < Twin Sisters
Gifted < Ghostbusters II
Gifted < The Lost Weekend
Gifted > They Made Me a Fugitive
Gifted < Is It College Yet?

Final spot: #1260 out of 2608.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Night to Remember (1958)

IMDb plot summary: An account of the ill-fated maiden voyage of RMS Titanic in 1912.
Directed by Roy Ward Baker. Starring Kenneth More, Ronald Allen, Robert Ayres, and Honor Blackman.

In my last movie challenge someone gave me Titanic, which I enjoyed pretty well. This time around, I got another film portrayal of the Titanic disaster, though I didn't enjoy this one quite as much, either from a spectacle standpoint (though obviously I wasn't really expecting that) or from an emotional. The film spreads itself so thin among so many characters that you don't ever actually get attached to any of them, so every scene is like watching it played out with strangers. That can sometimes be powerful, but it also means there isn't a lot of opportunity for personal investment in the story, at least early on. The final scenes bring that a bit closer to home not because we've gotten to know the characters but because the circumstances they're in are so extreme it's easy to sympathize with any of them even if we don't know who they are. Overall the movie plays more like an educational film than a narrative, so it's all a little drier, a little more distanced, and a little bit more focused on the historical implications of the tragedy (an ending title card even informs us how regulations adapted in response to the ship sinking). A good watch but nothing spectacular.

3 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
A Night to Remember > Outbreak
A Night to Remember < Gone in 60 Seconds
A Night to Remember < The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
A Night to Remember > The Wedding Singer
A Night to Remember < Fish Story
A Night to Remember < Nine Lives
A Night to Remember > Bee Movie
A Night to Remember > The Last Unicorn
A Night to Remember > The Revenant
A Night to Remember < Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Final spot: #1105 out of 2607.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Pontypool (2008)

IMDb plot summary: A psychological thriller in which a deadly virus infects a small Ontario town.
Directed by Bruce McDonald. Starring Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, and Hrant Alianak.

This was a terrifying and exhilarating ride. It's one of the most creative horror films I've seen in recent years. I'm not sure it all hangs together logically, but you know what? I don't actually care because it does such a good job of staying true to the creepy atmosphere and bringing the audience along emotionally. Even if you have to stretch your suspension of disbelief pretty far, the movie really helps to pull you along, so it works out. Right from the opening few scenes, the film builds a sense of claustrophobic tension, and as the story slowly reveals itself, that tension gets pulled tighter and tighter. I love seeing horror movies that depend on psychological tension rather than jump scares, and I like talky one-room thrillers, and this hit on both levels to become one of my favorites of the challenge thus far.

4.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Pontypool > Outbreak
Pontypool > All's Faire in Love
Pontypool > The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Pontypool < Equus
Pontypool > United 93
Pontypool < Shaun of the Dead
Pontypool < Frozen
Pontypool > Kick-Ass
Pontypool < 50/50
Pontypool > Searching for Bobby Fischer
Pontypool > Shattered Glass

Final spot: #228 out of 2606.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Muppets (2011)

IMDb plot summary: A Muppet fanatic with some help from his two human compatriots must regroup the Muppet gang to stop an avaricious oil mogul from taking down one of their precious life-longing treasures.
Directed by James Bobin. Starring Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, and Rashida Jones.

This movie is definitely meant for those who grew up on the Muppets, which is... not me. I watched my first Muppet movie ever as part of my 2014 movie challenge, and I never saw the show. So the huge sense of nostalgia it's drawing on is lost on me. However, what it does deliver to newcomers is mostly enough. It's smart and funny and makes character dynamics clear and has entertaining cameos and good songs (aside from the completely forgettable "Party of One" number). It does resolve somewhat abruptly, only actually wrapping up the main plot conflict in the credit sequence, but overall it's a solid little movie, and I bet it would offer even more to those who are fans of the Muppets to begin with.

4 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
The Muppets > Death at a Funeral
The Muppets > Kolya
The Muppets < The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
The Muppets < Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
The Muppets > Little Children
The Muppets > Hidden Figures
The Muppets < A Streetcar Named Desire
The Muppets < The Invisible Man
The Muppets > Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
The Muppets > Father of the Bride (1991)
The Muppets > Hard Candy

Final spot: #519 out of 2605, which may be slightly too high.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)

IMDb plot summary: Small town band hits it big, but they must battle a nefarious plot in the music industry.
Directed by Michael Schultz. Starring Peter Frampton, Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb, and Maurice Gibb.

Oh, this movie is so weird. Going into it, I didn't know it didn't actually feature the Beatles, just their music (though if I had noticed it was made in '78, I would have known, I guess) so at first it was a bit of a shock when Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees were wandering around singing their songs. The most obvious comparison here is Across the Universe, another movie relying on Beatles cover songs with barely any plot. While this isn't nearly as visually striking as Across the Universe and the songs don't have the same emotional impact (AtU at least attempts to craft a story around the songs), there's something sort of charmingly haphazard about it, particularly the fact that there's almost no spoken dialogue at all. The movie jumps from song to song with no pretense whatsoever that it's making any sense, and every moment is so deliberately just an excuse to sing another song. I have to kind of admire the absurdity of that, even if I'm struggling to think of anybody I know I'd ever be able to recommend this to. I'm not going to complain that I watched an hour and 50 minutes of decent covers of great songs. I had a good time, even if the movie is mostly nonsense.

2.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band < Death at a Funeral (2007)
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band > Secondhand Lions
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band > My Girlfriend's Boyfriend
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band > Nacho Libre
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band > Monsters University
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band < Blow Out
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band < Harry and the Hendersons
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band < Punch-Drunk Love
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band > Planes, Trains & Automobiles
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band > Melinda and Melinda
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band < Alice Adams

Final spot: #1375 out of 2604.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

IMDb plot summary: A surreal, virtually plotless series of dreams centered around six middle-class people and their consistently interrupted attempts to have a meal together.
Directed by Luis Buñuel. Starring Fernando Rey, Paul Frankeur, Delphine Seyrig, and Bulle Ogier.

Meh. I don't know, I can't muster up the will to care about this movie. It's not bizarre enough to be interesting from a surrealist perspective. It's mostly just long, dull stretches of rich people doing nothing and going to dinner parties and not going to dinner parties. Experimental films are always going to be tough to sell me on, as I'm first and foremost a lover of narrative, but even beyond my personal biases, it's a movie that I can't imagine anyone loving. It's not visually exciting or thematically powerful. Maybe it's politically significant? I would love to sit down with someone who actually likes this movie and find out why, because I can't find anything particularly good in it. It just sits there. Oh, except for the scene where the priest gives the dying guy last rites. That's actually a really interesting scene before we go back to yawning at our protagonists.

0.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie < The Man in the Iron Mask
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie < Secondhand Lions
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie < Dracula
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie < They Were Expendable
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie > Ella Enchanted
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie < The Incredible Hulk
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie > Ladies in Lavender
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie > Employee of the Month (2006)
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie > The Other Sister
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie > xXx
Final spot: #2484 out of 2603.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Journey to the West (2013)

IMDb plot summary: Tang Sanzang, an aspiring Buddhist hero tries to protect a village from three demons. He develops complex feelings for Miss Duan, the demon hunter who repeatedly helps him, and finally quests to meet the legendary Monkey King.
Directed by Steven Chow and Chi-kin Kwok. Starring Qi Shu, Zhang Wen, Bo Huang, and Show Lo.

(Spoilers ahead.)

Tonally, this is such a confusing movie. It seems to be mostly an over-the-top slapstick farcical adventure, but then there are these genuinely heartwrenching death scenes, as well as an equally heartwrenching scene where the hero laments his inability to save them (this moment is bizarrely played for laughs). It is even more confusing when we get to the end and discover that everything we've seen so far is just... the buildup to a sequel. Like, really. It's not that one story ends and another one begins, it's that the entire *point* of this one is to be generic back story for our main character. That's a frustrating way to structure your movie, and I didn't appreciate it. There are a lot of really great individual parts, and I laughed out loud several times, but as a whole the movie is disappointing.

2 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Journey to the West < Death at a Funeral (2007)
Journey to the West > Secondhand Lions
Journey to the West > Over the Hedge
Journey to the West < Nacho Libre
Journey to the West < Near Dark
Journey to the West > Casino Royale
Journey to the West > Ocean's Twelve
Journey to the West > Einstein and Eddington
Journey to the West < Mission: Impossible
Journey to the West < The Deer Hunter
Journey to the West < Star Wars Uncut
Journey to the West > Little Lord Fauntleroy

Final spot: #1553 out of 2602.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Bridge of Spies (2015)

IMDb plot summary: During the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers.
Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, and Alan Alda.

I'd been putting this one off for a long time even while I watched all the other Best Picture nominees this year because I worried it was going to be a gritty spy story along the lines of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (which I found mindnumbingly boring). I probably should have trusted Spielberg a bit more to make an emotionally gripping film. He does just that here, bringing out the humanity of the characters throughout. The narrative follows mostly expected paths, but Tom Hanks gives an especially compelling performance as the film's lead, and even when the story plays out as expected, it's still done well to enhance the drama. I was also struck by how beautifully the film is shot. More than a few times I would pause the movie to get a drink or check a text and marvel at how the results resembled deliberately-chosen screenshots rather than random pauses. It's not the kind of movie that's going to significantly stick with me, but it was a much better watch than I thought it might be. A pleasant surprise.

3.5 stars.

How it entered my Flickchart:
Bridge of Spies > The Man in the Iron Mask
Bridge of Spies < Kolya
Bridge of Spies > Brick
Bridge of Spies < You Can Count on Me
Bridge of Spies > The Master
Bridge of Spies > Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles
Bridge of Spies < Ninotchka
Bridge of Spies > Frances Ha
Bridge of Spies < Shaolin Soccer
Bridge of Spies > Liberal Arts
Bridge of Spies > Hail, Caesar!

Final spot: #838 out of 2601.