A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Closer

October 27, 2011

Closer

As we approach the end of our movie a day project Amanda and I find that we have a number of films left over that don’t make for light watching of a weekday afternoon. Films of a more weighty nature that we haven’t had the fortitude to venture upon. Some of them are movies like yesterday’s and today’s which I have seen before, but which do not really fit with the more fantasy and sci-fi themed feel of the vast majority of our collection.

I cannot for the life of me remember why I bought this movie. It is in no way at all like the kind of movie that I would normally buy. It’s a kind of meditation on romances going bad. Cheating, sex, lies. I suppose it was the cast that attracted me to the movie. As often happens I bought it sight unseen, and it’s just kind of been here our apartment gathering dust since I first watched it. Not because it is a bad movie but because it is a little bit depressing and not something I’d really want to subject myself to on a regular basis.

The movie revolves around four people as they meet, fall in love with each other, hurt each other and leave each other. It starts with a young girl who calls herself Alice getting hit by a car while exchanging glances with a dashing young writer named Dan. He falls for her undeniable waifish charm and she falls for his repressed British loneliness. He writes a book inspired by her, but when he goes to get photographed for the cover he ends up for no reason falling completely in love with the photographer – a woman named Anna. Maybe it’s that Anna is more mature and Alice is too needy. He seems to think that there’s some connection between himself and Anna, and she seems to feel something too. Mostly, though, it’s that Dan is a complete jerk. (That’s one of the themes of the movie, really.)

When Anna refuses to see Dan (because she knows he’s seeing Alice) he plays a bitter prank on a random stranger he encounters through the internet – masquerading as Alice and seducing a horny doctor named Larry into a meeting with her. The prank somewhat backfires when Larry turns out to be a pretty descent guy. He’s a pervert, sure, but he ‘fesses up to it, and he has genuine feelings for Anna. So Larry and Anna start seeing each other, Dan is still going out with Alice, but he’s pining for Anna at the same time.

From there things get complicated. There are off-screen clandestine meetings, infidelity, marriage, break-ups, divorce papers, and lots of general angst. Dan is a self-centered jerk who wants to have his cake (a tender relationship with Alice) and eat it too (his affair with Anna.) Larry wields his larger than life sexuality like a weapon, but at the same time is completely open and honest with Anna. Anna wallows in guilt and self loathing and seems almost to enjoy it. And Alice? Alice is pretty much the most sympathetic character in the film – she seems innocent and needy, but in reality is the strongest of the bunch and the most independent. Maybe it’s that she’s better than any of the other characters at protecting herself from lies. She does have a special kind of armor that protects her, as we find out at the end of the film.

This film has some spectacular performances. It requires a degree of intensity since it is pretty much just a simple character study with only four speaking roles (well except the cabbie and the customs man who have one line each.) Natalie Portman and Clive Owen each won Golden Globes for their portrayals of Alice and Larry respectively. Jude Law is heart breaking as the two-timing Dan who can’t seem to get what he wants because he can’t admit to himself that he doesn’t deserve what he wants. Julia Roberts as Anna is similarly broken – it’s hard to figure out if her character is simply easily manipulated or if she truly wants what she gets in the movie.

What really stands out for me in this film though is the writing. It has a strong “adapted from the stage” vibe to it – because it is adapted from a stage production. It’s full of strong characters caught up in their own warring desires and lies. Patrick Marber’s adaptation of his own screenplay is powerful, brutal and savage. People hurt each other in this movie – a lot – which is why I’ve found it so hard to watch again after that first viewing when I bought it six years ago.

he other thing I found fascinating about this movie is the way it handles the act breaks. The events of the film take place over the course of about four years, but it leaps forward in jumps of about six months without warning between acts. It’s a little disorienting because you pick up with the same characters in a new scene and they reveal through the dialog that a huge amount of time has passed in what appeared to be just a cut to a new location, and you have to infer from the action what has passed in the missing months. It creates a sense of mental whiplash but it also acted to keep me engaged in the production because I enjoy having to use my brain and this film challenges you constantly to figure out what is going on and what you have missed.

This movie acts as a pretty good companion piece to Ghost World, which we watched yesterday. Both are films about people doing brutal emotional damage to each other. I’d argue that this movie is less depressing though. After reading the trivia about the ending of the movie and how Marber altered it for the film I have to say that I’m really glad he did make that change, because otherwise this movie would be a lot harder to watch. As it is, although I respect this movie for the writing and the performances and for the strange way it is put together, I suspect I probably won’t watch it again for at least another six years now. It’s just too difficult to get engaged in the lives and loves of characters knowing how much they’re all going to be hurt.

October 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 594 – Highlander

Highlander (Director’s Cut) – October 15th, 2011

I’ve been saving this movie for two reasons. The first reason is that I love it and I didn’t want to waste it early in the project. The second reason is that this movie spawned sequels that, well, make me sad just by existing. And we’ll have to talk about that. Then again, the movie also spawned the television series, which is perhaps my very favorite television show of all time aside from Star Trek (and Star Trek is on a level all its own, so I usually discount it in this sort of judgement). It’s a weird movie with a weird following and have you heard there are plans to do a remake? Yes. There are plans to do a remake. That’s the sort of legacy this movie has.

Let’s talk for a moment about the bizarre array of related media that this movie inspired before we go talking about the movie itself. I’m always amused by discussions in other fandoms when it comes to ignoring bits and pieces of canon. Highlander fans have had to become quite skilled at denial. We’ve had to be, given some of the bizarre self-contradictory stuff that’s been put out. Not only is there the sequel-we-don’t-ownl, but there are actually three more movies after that. And an anime movie. And an animated series. And a video game based on that animated series. And the live action television series. And the book series based on the live action television series. I think there’s yet another video game out there and as I said, there’s a remake in the works and a new book series that’s looking for funds through Kickstarter (or it was a couple of weeks ago) so, that’s a lot. All from this movie. Something about it just makes people want to keep making stuff based on it. I’d say it’s an attempt to cash in on the success of this one but after all of the weird crap that’s been put out, it’s not like making something Highlander-based is a guaranteed success. Far from it.

I would say that this is somewhat of a polarizing movie. I’ve met people who love it – quite a few people – and I’ve met people who hate it and think it’s the most boring piece of crap they’ve ever seen. I’m one of the former. My mother is one of the latter. There’s just something about it and I don’t know precisely what it is. Personally speaking, I have a great fondness for kilts, swordfighting and the concept of immortality having both positives and negatives. So, really, this movie is tailor made for me. The series goes into it in more depth, but this movie definitely touches the key points. And has a bunch of fight scenes with clanging swords and lightning. What’s not to like? Okay, I can see how people might not be able to get into both the historical setting stuff with Connor MacLeod and his first love, Heather, living together in medieval Scotland as well as the modern murder mystery type stuff. In that sense I can understand that there’s a limited audience there. The movie has quite a few different genres tossed together and while I happen to think it works well, other people might well be turned off by one or more aspect and that would be that.

Since the story deals with a character who is “Immortal” and his background, it necessarily involves some bouncing between time periods. We meet Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod as he’s about to go into battle for the first time. He gets his ass killed and then rises from the dead only to be cast out from his clan because they think he’s possessed. Eventually he and a woman named Heather settle down in the ruins of a castle in the middle of nowhere, and he seems pretty content with that until Sean Connery shows up and tells him he’s immortal and has to learn how to fight duels to the death-by-beheading. Because that’s what Immortals do in this movie’s world. In the modern world Connor is living in New York and working as an antique dealer. When he gets into a duel in a parking garage and leaves the body behind, along with some traces of his super special katana, the police get involved and start to investigate him. So we go back and forth from the present day, where forensic specialist Brenda Wyatt has zeroed in on him due to her interest in swords and the past, where he trains with his new teacher, Ramirez (that would be Connery) and learns about being an Immortal. And through it all is a villain called the Kurgan, played with gusto by Clancy Brown. He’s a raider with a skull helmet in the past and a punk in a leather jacket in the present and he is a fantastically evil villain. I adore him.

The thing about villains in the Highlander universe is that they need personalities, but they don’t really always need motivation to be villains. After all, the universe has canon set up in such a way that the main characters fight other people with swords as a matter of course. That’s how they live. That’s half the point of the whole endeavor! So you’ve got a reason for your hero and your villain to be fighting. They fight because of course they fight! So really, what you need to do for your villain is make him evil. Make him power hungry and bloodthirsty and make him a jackass. Of course, in the series they had to do more than that or it would have gotten mighty boring, but in the first movie? Not so necessary. Set the Kurgan up as a dude who likes the high he gets from chopping other Immortals’ heads off and you’re good to go. I know I’ve complained in the past about villains that are evil just ’cause, but really, that’s not the case here. The Kurgan wants to be the last living Immortal so he can have all the power for himself and use it to rule the world. That’s some mighty fine motivation. Simple, blunt, but it’ll do. Especially when Clancy Brown seems to have had so much fun with the part.

I’ll admit, the love story part of it isn’t leaving me swooning, but I’m not really a swooning sort of person, so I don’t hold it against the movie. What I do like is how clearly the movie shows that part of the lives of the Immortals in this world is that they’ll have to say goodbye to people they love and they’ll have to move on with their lives and start fresh. In the modern day scenes Connor is flirting with Brenda and while there are ulterior motives at work for both of them, in the end there is a romance there and it’s just as believable as Connor’s romance with Heather. And it’s not that he’s forgotten Heather, it’s just that it was hundreds of years ago. That’s the sort of thing I like seeing in stories about immortality and immensely long lives. It’s not just not dying. It’s living through the deaths of others.

I would be remiss in my reviewing duties for this movie if I didn’t also mention the soundtrack. It’s entirely done by Queen, and it is fantastic. It’s just one more thing on top of everything else about this movie that makes me love it. Sure, it’s a little ridiculous and sure, it’s got some special effects errors and sure, it’s got its detractors. But it remains one of my favorites, despite the flaws and despite the sequels and despite everything. It’s got enough fun to it and it pushes enough of my buttons that I will always enjoy it.

October 15, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 567 – It Happened One Night

It Happened One Night – September 18th, 2011

Early on in my relationship with Andy he went on a little bit of a mission to introduce me to movies he enjoyed but that I hadn’t seen. See why this project really is perfect for us? I remember two specific titles from that time. I remember watching them in my parents’ living room. It’s entirely likely that there were more than two, but the ones I remember are The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension and this. And regardless of any other reason, that’s why I put it on the list of things I wanted to add to the collection for this project. Oh, I enjoy the movie itself, it it’s the experience of watching it with Andy that sticks in my mind more than anything on the screen.

Watching this again for the first time in over ten years, I will admit I had glossed over a few things in my memory. And I’d like to think that they’re things from the time period the movie was made in and set in and that romantic comedies today are better. But I’ve seen You’ve Got Mail and enough of What Women Want to know better. Modern romantic comedies aren’t really much better in terms of how the male lead treats and talks about the female lead. They’re just a little more oblique about it. But such is the case with romantic comedies in general. At least with one from 1934 I can pretend we’ve progressed since then and we would never now see a man throw a woman over his shoulder and forcibly remove her from the scene over her protests. Silly me! That’s totally a thing of the past. I’m sure such romantic comedies as The Bounty Hunter are better than that. And so long as I don’t watch them, I can live in peace.

Anyhow! Since this movie is from the 1930s it is, of course, in black and white. I do love a good black and white movie. And it stars Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. I’ve got to admit, Gable’s never been my cup of tea. He’s all well and good, but he doesn’t bowl me over. Colbert, on the other hand, is fantastic. I love her in this role, even if she was reticent about taking it in the first place. I think perhaps she is what makes this movie memorable for me. Because her role could be so very unpleasant. She plays Ellie Andrews, a rich and spoiled heiress who married a man against her father’s wishes. When her father tries to hold her on his yacht for long enough to get the marriage annulled, Ellie dives over the side and swims to shore to try and reach New York before her father’s men catch her. Now, on one hand there’s the pretty clearly gross control being exerted over Ellie by her father. On the other, it becomes apparent over the course of the movie that she married as a show of rebellion, and that it wasn’t marriage that her father objected to so much as the groom in particular. Okay. Fine. Let’s move on. The thing is, if you accept that Ellie is the sort of person who does things like marrying a man her father hates just to spite him then that doesn’t cast her in the best light. But the combination of the script, which provides a good amount of information about the total lack of privacy and autonomy Ellie’s always lived with, and Colbert’s portrayal of a young woman desperate to live her own life, the character becomes more than sympathetic.

I have a much harder time finding Clark Gable’s Peter Warne sympathetic, mostly because he seems to be just as much of a controlling ass as every other man in her life and the character feels like an eerie precursor to the paparazzi of today. When he realizes just who this young lady on the bus to New York is, he tells her he won’t say a word so long as she sticks with him and he gets and exclusive on her story when they reach New York. If she doesn’t stick with him then he’ll go straight to her father. Yuck. And it’s not a ploy for her attention at that point in time. He thinks she’s a spoiled brat. And she is spoiled and she is sort of bratty, but she gets better as the movie goes on and she’s introduced to the regular world (as opposed to the extremely privileged but prohibitively sheltered world she’s been living in). Peter, on the other hand, remains sort of a jerk for much of the movie. A charming jerk, but still. That’s the character. Part of the story is that while Ellie is falling for Peter, Peter remains aloof, not wanting to admit to how he feels about her.

And why is that important? Well, this is a romantic comedy, after all. Which means the two leads can’t possibly just tell each other they’re interested and live happily ever after. One hallmark of the genre is crossed wires and a big to-do at the end where one thinks the other’s not interested and someone has to help them sort things out. Not present in every romantic comedy, but it’s definitely something I consider fairly standard. So by the end, when Peter wants to ask Ellie to marry him and Ellie’s totally smitten, does he tell her? No. Instead he takes off in the middle of the night, doesn’t tell her he’s leaving, let alone where he’s going and why, and she wakes up to the owners of the camp site they’re staying in kicking her out because clearly she can’t pay. She assumes Peter’s run off on her and since he hasn’t said anything to imply that he returns her feelings, she also assumes he’s gone for good. You can figure out how it plays from there. Watching it tonight I was struck by how similar the ending is to Spaceballs, of all things. But then, Mel Brooks knows movies.

So okay, viewed today it’s nothing out of the ordinary. But as a piece from its time it’s a little different. A little interesting. Certainly I think it handles itself better than many romantic comedies, regardless of time period. And the writing and acting are both well done. By the end of the movie I end up even liking Ellie’s father. It’s got some good laughs in it, especially when Ellie and Peter have to improvise some play-acting to convince people looking for Ellie that she’s someone totally different. The people leave, they go back to normal, and then the next knock on the door sends them right back into their act. It’s a nice little bit of connection between the two characters, regardless of the content of the play-acting itself. The content isn’t the point. The point is that these two people who never intended to ever be in this sort of situation are working together without having to discuss things ahead of time. And that in turn makes the eventual ending more believable than not. And that, along with fond memories of the first time I saw it, are why we have this in our collection.

September 18, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

It Happened One Night

September 18, 2011

It Happened One Night

When Amanda and I started to expand our collection to include more classic films as a counterweight to all the fluffy action and sci-fi we own this movie was one of the ones she specifically asked for. I’m not altogether sure why., though. I mean, I like the movie, and it’s a pleasant way to spend an evening, but I don’t know what it was that drew her to the film. After all, this is a romantic comedy – one of the more famous ones – and that’s not generally a genre of film that Amanda enjoys.

There’s no denying that it’s a great movie though. As we watched this I was struck by how influential the film is. It’s clearly one of the inspirations for the Shrek movie. Bugs Bunny creator Fritz Freleng based his cartoon rabbit on parts of this movie. And of course there’s the infamous story about how this movie single handedly destroyed undershirt sales in the thirties.

From the trivia on IMDB it would appear that this was a rather troubled production. Claudette Colbert certainly didn’t enjoy it even though she seems to have gotten a little bit too much into character and tried to run away from the Oscars the way her character tries to skip out on her father.

The plot of the film is astonishingly simple. A young heiress, fed up with being told what to do by her rich banker father, has gone and eloped with a playboy pilot, much to her father’s chagrin. When her father tries to confine her to their yacht in Miami she dives overboard determined to get back to New York. Of course her father immediately sends his detectives in search of her, so she is hounded at every turn on her journey.

Along the way she meets a brash, witty, fast-talking newspaper man who decides to escort her in exchange for the story. They but heads, bicker and generally get on each other’s nerves. Then they of course fall in love with each other because you can’t go on a road trip with somebody in a movie without falling in love with them. (See also Tommy Boy and Trains, Planes and Automobiles.)

It’s not the plot that really drives the movie, of course. It’s the charm. Director Frank Capra knew a little about how to portray a simple, down-to-Earth sort of America. He did it so well in It’s A Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. This movie takes place in that America. I don’t know if this America honestly existed back in those days with it’s ma-and-pop auto camps, smiling police officers and singing bus passengers, but it looks like a fun place to live. Even the thief that Peter and Ellie meet on the road is a jocular fellow with a penchant for song.

More than that it’s the two leads that really sell the movie. It’s hard to believe, watching their performances, that they were not having a great time making the film. Clark Gable is all smooth talking charm as Peter Warne, but also manages to give his character a lot of heart. He’s clearly not as mercenary and cold as he would like to appear, and shows some real tenderness. As Ellie Claudette Colbert likewise is able to imbue her character with a real kind of vulnerability under all the spoiled and haughty airs. The two of them have real chemistry, and watching these two characters sparring and inevitably falling for one another is simply fun.

This movie is so disarmingly pleasant. Some of its nineteen-thirties attitudes seem somewhat dated today, what with the constant smoking and the casual way that Peter talks about Ellie deserving to be beaten by her new husband. He spanks her at one point to end a silly argument about piggy back rides which I suppose is in keeping with his assertion that she’s a poorly raised spoiled brat, but I wonder if it was as shocking then as it is now. Mostly however this movie is just about the witty repartee of these two people, and about how they come to find that they deserve each other. I’m glad we added it to our collection and I’m glad we watched it tonight.

September 18, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments

Movie 500 – (500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer – July 13th, 2011

We’ve been saving this movie for today. After totally dropping the ball with 300 and watching it well before movie #300 we needed to be more careful, so we calculated what day the 500th day of our project would be and popped today’s date onto it. Coincidentally it also happened to fall in the summer. We considered watching it last summer and kept forgetting about it when we poked through out list to pick something out. And then we said “Duh, 500th day! It’s in the summer anyhow!” Not that this movie actually has much to do with the season, but it worked for us.

At the outset of the movie the narrator tells us to be certain that this is not a love story. Sure, fine, not in the conventional sense of the term. It’s not a romance. But it is a love story in that it is a story about love. A story about what love is and what it is believed to be. It’s not sappy and it’s not tragic. It just is. It’s more the sort of love story regular people live every day than the sort of love story written by people like Nicholas Sparks. It’s not epic or sweeping or dramatic or grand. And I love that about it. It is ordinary. For all of its quirkiness, it is refreshingly regular. Normal. Every-day.

The movie’s conceit is that it tells its story over the course of 500 days, and as the story unfolds the scenes flip back and forth through those days. It’s not entirely non-linear. It doesn’t randomly pick days to show us, completely out of order. Instead it starts near the end, then flips back to the beginning, then shows us scenes juxtaposed back to back so we can see just where things have gone and where they were. I think I would have liked it a little more non-linear, but I can see why it was structured in the way that it was and the amount of hopping back and forth does add a nice dimension to the film. It takes what might otherwise have been a story about a relationship and its ups and downs and makes it say something a little more. It’s not necessarily the specific story here that’s important. It’s the moments within it. Taking them in a shifted order makes the focus on the moments, not on the larger picture.

It is the story of a young man named Tom and how he has always believed in true love and love at first sight and finding the love of your life and never letting go. And one day at work Tom meets Summer and she is, he believes, his true love. The thing is, Summer has a very different outlook on love and she’s not looking for what Tom is looking for. What makes this whole disastrous story work is the structure. Because otherwise I’d expect it to be all woe woe woe is Tom. Instead the movie makes it crystal clear that things were doomed from the start. He even has a moment near the end when he has his own flashbacks, which are the movie’s flashbacks, and he can see how doomed it was. He was infatuated. She wasn’t. It never could have worked.

What I really like here is that both Tom and Summer come off as essentially good people who are wonderfully compatible in many ways, but not when it comes to love. They start talking because of similar music tastes. They go out together and go to movies together and they have fun. The only iffy feelings I get from either of them are from Tom’s initial incredibly horrible attempts to flirt with Summer. It’s the sort of painful awkwardness that leaves me squriming. But that’s the point. It’s supposed to only be sort of charming because he’s so painfully inept and you want him to succeed in this but you don’t want him to at the same time because you were already told it’s doomed. You saw it too. Because right at the beginning of the movie – in a scene from late in their 500 days – Summer breaks up with Tom, likening them to Sid and Nancy (she’s Sid, he’s Nancy, and she does not say this to be edgily cute). And earlier still in the movie, and later in the days, Tom’s little sister comes to his apartment at the behest of his best friends to try and help out in the wake of the breakup. Doomed.

But oh, is it sweet while it lasted. We get bits and pieces of what made Tom so hopeful at the outset and what kept Summer with him even though she wasn’t looking for a relationship or a boyfriend or any strings whatsoever. She was looking for something casual. She wasn’t looking for love and she didn’t find it. Not with Tom. But they did have a good time. A good quirky time. And you know, there’s a lot of people who pooh-pooh quirky stuff like this is being ridiculous but I don’t think it is. Every couple, every pair, every group of friends has their own quirks and idiosyncrasies. And I enjoy Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel as Tom and Summer. They’re cute without being cutesy. Which is pretty much how I think of the whole movie.

I think the closest I can come to criticism for this is similar to what one of my issues with Punch Drunk Love was, though since I enjoyed this and hated that it’s obviously not a deal-breaker. I just felt like really, Summer was an object here. The story is Tom’s. You see what he’s doing when Summer isn’t there. You see his misery. And then there’s Summer, who’s had things happen in her life but we weren’t privy to them. The story isn’t hers. Then again, I think that’s part of the point here, and that’s why it succeeded where Punch Drunk Love failed. Because it’s not really the movie’s problem, it’s Tom’s problem. He seems Summer not as a person so much as a goal. As something to attain and something that will make him happy. Not someone – something. And meanwhile Summer is clearly off having a life, with other friends and events and her world does not revolve around him. I do hope that was intentional. If it was, job well done. If it wasn’t, then I’m grumbly.

Overall I have to say I quite enjoyed this movie. It had some nice characterization and it handled some potentially difficult moments well. It presented a romantic comedy in a way that made it not a romantic comedy and therefore made it thoroughly watchable instead of cringe-inducing. It twisted the character tropes and plot cliches around and turned them on their heads. The device used for the last scene might be a little trite, but I’m willing to forgive it in light of the rest of the movie.

July 13, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

(500) Days of Summer

Oh. My. Ghod! Movie number 500 tonight!

July 13, 2011

(500) Days of Summer

Do you know what I enjoy? I enjoy quirky romantic dramedies. I enjoy non-linear storytelling. I enjoy Joseph Gordon-Lovett and Zooey Deschanel. In short – I enjoy movies like this.

Probably what I liked most about this movie was that it did such a great job defying my expectations. There are certain things that one assumes will be true in a romantic comedy about a boy and girl getting together, and even though the opening narration for this movie states outright that this is not a love story I found myself still trying to figure out how the inevitable happy ending was going to come about. I liked that this movie had the strength to tell what feels both like an honest story about what happens when a relationship doesn’t work and a tale of romantic possibilities.

This is the story of Tom, who still believes in true love and soul mates, and Summer, who is too young and beautiful to be as bitingly cynical as she actually is. It’s about how they briefly had a wonderful thing going and about what went wrong.

We know that something went wrong because the movie is sort of told from both ends. Early on in the movie we see things falling apart. We see the sad attempts to re-live happier moments before we get to see the happier moments that they’re references to. It lends a sense of pre-ordained tragedy to the movie that we know how things are going to end up – with Tom smashing plates in disconsolate misery. Even so, that’s around day 400, and we know there’s 500 days, so maybe in spite of the opening there is hope for this couple.

This movie is kind of about hope. The undying hope of that hopeless romantic Tom in the face of Summer’s assertion that love doesn’t actually exist. She repeatedly tells him she wants just to be friends, but confuses things by kissing him in the copy room and lying naked in his bed. She’s interested just in having a good time without assigning any labels to it. (Says Tom’s eccentric pal and co-worker McKenzie “Oh, my god, she’s a dude!”)

We mostly see events from Tom’s perspective, which means we get to meet his friends McKenzie (who hasn’t had a girlfriend in years) and Paul (who has had the same girl since grade school) and his awesome and wise far beyond her years sister Alison. They all try to help him as best they can, but he’s caught up in his own issues.

This was exactly the kind of quirky fun movie I thought it was going to be. I will admit that it went to some darker places than I had anticipated, but I appreciated that as well. It reminded me a lot of Amelie – a magical tale of romance, only with a more cynical core. I was tempted, once we were done watching it, to put in Closer as a follow-up, that also being a dramedy with a strange attitude towards the passing of time, but I knew that would just depress me. As it was this was the perfect 500th movie for our daily project.

July 13, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Brotherhood of the Wolf

May 14, 2011

Brotherhood of the Wolf

I’ve wanted to watch this movie for ages. The very concept of it so intrigued me. A French wire-fu action movie about werewolves? How on Earth did such a thing come to be, and how could I possibly have gone so long without seeing it? What I was not expecting, and what nobody had told me to look forward to was a lush and beautifully produced period drama.

The movie takes as its jumping off point the true mystery of the Beast of Gevaudan, a creature that killed around one hundred villagers and peasants between 1764 and 1767. It features a large collection of actual historical figures and a meticulously designed and executed replication of the world of pre-revolution France. It looks realistic to my untrained eye, at least it looks like most other costume dramas I’ve seen before – only more lavish and higher budget. That’s the end of the realism though. This is decidedly an action/drama/romance/horror/fantasy/mystery. So not so much with the historical accuracy.

Instead what we get is a film that almost defies description, which makes it kind of hard to review. For one thing it has a wealth of characters and some political intrigue which, when combined with reading subtitles to follow what was going on began to stress my plot-following capacity around the first time a whole room full of French aristocracy got together to gossip about the beast and the various efforts made to stop its brutal murders. There’s our hero Gregoir de Fronsac and his Indian companion “Indian Companion.” I mean Mani. Gregoir is a naturalist, taxidermist and scientist who doesn’t believe in the supernatural. Mani is a kickboxing Mohawk, last of his tribe, mystic and spirit walker. The two of them have come to the Gevaudan region of central France to investigate the creature and assist in hunting it down.

As I said there are whole awful lot of characters here, like the local priest Sardis and the elderly healer and his epileptic daughter and such, but there’s only a few you really need to know. There are Gregoir’s two main love interests: the sheltered but independent young Marianne and the worldly and mysterious courtesan Sylvia. There’s the snide one-armed Jean-Francois who delights in hunting and causing trouble. It took me about half the movie before I figured out that he was Marianne’s brother.

The first half of the movie illustrates just how uncatchable this mysterious creature is. We are introduced to it in what appears to be a direct reference to Jaws when it grabs a fleeing young woman and throws her around like a rag doll without ever appearing on screen. Gregoire is unconvinced that it is any simple wolf, and tries to scientifically understand what it is. he measures bite marks (enormous) and examines wounds (revealing the surprising discovery that the beast seems to have metal fangs when one breaks off in a victim.) He cannot make any sense of the data though – this beast defies all common sense.

Then before Gregoire can complete his research the King dispatches a well regarded toadie to eliminate the threat. This agent of the King has Gregoire mock up a fake beast corpse that can be paraded about Paris to prove that the beast is dead and that nothing can escape justice in France. Of course the real beast remains at large, and now it is not just a fearsome and mysterious predator but a threat to the national security since the King cannot afford to be embarrassed by having his ruse exposed.

Gregoire returns to Gevaudan against the express orders of the king’s agents and soon finds himself embroiled in a battle between conspiracies. There’s politics, betrayal, murder and secrets revealed. Things go particularly badly for Gregoire and everybody who is closest to him. Ultimately his quest goes from one of scientific curiosity to bloody vengeance.

This movie is such a unique and beautiful creation. It has intense martial arts fight sequences. It has long quiet scenes that can only be described as melancholy. It has mysticism and magic blended with science and rational thought. It has a mystery at its heart and a horror theme of the unstoppable beast and political intrigue and romance… it’s like about ten movies all blended together into a single film and what is most amazing of all is that it works. Damned if I can figure out how, but it works as a whole. It’s beautiful and haunting and thrilling and touching.

May 14, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 424 – Next

Next – April 28th, 2011

I remember seeing previews for this back when it came out and thinking it looked like a neat concept but being uncertain of the plot the concept was used for. It looked like your standard “there’s a bomb!” action movie with a gimmick and I wasn’t too terribly interested in seeing a standard action movie with a gimmick unless it was super well done. I never heard anyone say this movie was super well done, so I never bothered. And it seems there was a reason for that. It really is a near concept, but the execution leaves me wanting more.

It didn’t take long for me to decide that this movie had some issues when it came to plot. What we’ve got here is a movie that’s not sure what it is. Is it an action movie with a romantic subplot or a romantic movie with action scenes? Is it supernatural or magical realism? Ultimately it’s that lack of defined identity that causes the most problems for me. I don’t mind a movie that breaks the mold and does something that defies traditional genre lines but it takes a lot of skill to do that well and this movie falls short, sad as that is. And since it isn’t breaking through traditional genres it ends up bodging a couple together in hopes that they’ll balance out and they don’t.

Our main character is Cris Johnson, a Vegas magician who has an act where he predicts the future and comes up with facts about his audience. It all seems like cheap tricks except he really can see the future. Two minutes into his own future, to be precise. Seems like a neat trick, but he just wants to live a quiet and semi-normal life, hiding in plain sight while keeping himself flush with winnings on moderate bets against the house in various casinos. And things seem to be going mostly okay aside from two things: One, he’s about to be noticed – finally – by casino security and thence by the FBI. Two, the one exception to his two minute rule is a vision he’s had of a woman in a diner and he doesn’t know who she is or why she’s shown up to him so far in advance. And so we’ve got our two plots. Cris is focused on finding this woman and figuring out who she is and why she’s shown up. The FBI wants him because they’ve got a rogue nuke in the hands of terrorists somewhere in L.A. and somehow they think he can find it. Or rather one of them, Agent Ferris, thinks so.

Now, this edges into Snakes on a Plane territory for me in that the “best option” here seems so wildly outlandish I’ve got to wonder just what other resources they’ve exhausted before letting Agent Ferris track down a dude who might be able to see two minutes into the future at best. Really? This is all we’ve got left? I have to think that we’re dealing with one of two scenarios: Either Ferris’ boss gave her a couple of teams to humor her and get her out of the picture so he could focus on stuff he could count on or we’re in a world where these powers aren’t so incredibly outlandish. Rare, but not unheard of. Enough so that an FBI agent could reasonably say “Hey, there’s this guy who can see into the future” and not immediately land themselves a nice safe desk position until the psych evaluation results came in. Because off Ferris goes with a rather large team of FBI agents with their helicopters, trucks, guns, etc. all to find this guy who can see her coming.

And Cris isn’t interested in using his rather specific gift to help Ferris out. He’d like to stay out of the government’s hands and just pursue his mystery love interest in peace. But there’s a bomb! A nuclear bomb! In the hands of an undefined and rather multinational terrorist group! And only the Two Minute Man can help! So Ferris tracks him down and the terrorists follow her to him, figuring that he must be important if she’s so hot on getting him. Meanwhile he’s charmed Liz, the mystery woman, and ended up spending a night with her in a quaint motel near the Grand Canyon. The two plots get tied together when first the FBI and then the terrorists involve Liz in their pursuit of Cris and to be honest it’s pretty sloppy.

Part of the problem is that the movie seems to really want to portray Cris’ life and difficulties with his gift. He can see the future but only a tiny part and only in a very small focus, but it makes everything seem tedious to him and puts him in danger of being used. We get a few tidbits of his prior life, such as tests he did when he was a child and spent 36 hours guessing the next card in the deck for a team of researchers (in which case one would expect there to be a record of him somewhere that Ferris could have found, but whatever). The whole plot with Liz has the two of them talking about destiny and whether everything is predetermined. He’s mystified by her and how she’s the exception to his rules. There’s a lot of potential in the personal themes there. But then the movie wants to be a taut and suspenseful action flick too. There are quite a few scenes with Cris using his power to dodge bullets and duck punches and stop just before triggering a bomb. There’s the whole terrorists-with-a-nuke plot going on in the background while Cris is romancing Liz. It’s all just such an odd juxtaposition of plots and I get why it was done, with Liz eventually being used as a distraction to Cris to keep him focused on her and not the nuke, but that tosses the movie out of the romance/drama realm and into the action realm again and it just feels uneven and poorly meshed.

Another problem I have with the movie is that while I very much enjoy the concept, I don’t know that the movie portrays it well enough. There are times when it’s obvious that Cris is looking at what’s coming next but we can’t see what he sees. There are times when it’s obvious that Cris is looking at what’s coming next and we do get to see a glimpse of it. And there are still more times when the movie sets you up to think something’s happening when it’s actually just a potential future Cris is seeing and we then rewind back to the point when he’s seen it. Oh, I totally understand why the movie does what it does with the dramatic use of the rewind and all. And I get why it can’t always be showing us all the possibilities of what’s going to happen. But it seems unsatisfying to me. I can’t help but wonder what someone like Chris Nolan would do with this concept.

My last problem with the movie is Ferris. She’s a tough lady who Gets Things Done. That’s her character. And for the most part she seems like a good strong figure in the movie, determined to get Cris and stop the impending disaster. But for one, she’s obsessed with this guy she’s only just found on some tapes from a casino. Who the hell is she and why was she watching casino security tapes in the middle of a nuclear crisis? And then she’s strapped Cris to a chair and pried his eyes open Clockwork Orange style to force him to watch the news and tell her when he sees footage of the bomb. Which will give her two minutes. That seems so bizarrely obsessive for he sake of a very short window. She tells him to stretch the two minutes. Does she even get the restriction here? I guess not, but then it’s a sloppy movie in a lot of ways, not the least of which is the ending. I’ll avoid specific spoilers, but it’s a little frustrating to hit the end and see the future that Cris should not only have been able to see but also figure out given any sense at all. Not that the movie shows you what’s going to happen. In fact, I’m pretty sure it wants you to think everything is going to be just fine. But I could see it nonetheless. I’m gifted like that.

April 28, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 412 – Tangled

Tangled – April 16th, 2011

I’ve got to admit, I’m the one who suggested we buy this. Very out of character for me, given my general lack of interest in Disney princess movies. I realize that they are beloved the world over by ladies young and old. Not this lady. I was never the princess type. I was Wonder Woman (no really, I had a cape and a costume and I wore it until it all fell apart). And later I was Robin Hood. But friends of mine whose opinions I respect when it comes to movies like this were saying that it was pretty good. No one hyped it up to be the Best Movie Ever, so that counted in its favor for me. And no one decried it as being full of simpering and powerless damsel crap. So, point two. So when we felt the movie-buying itch and this was right there in the supermarket, well, into the basket it went. Why yes, we are weak, why do you ask?

Now, I remember when this movie came out and there being some talk about the promotion done for it. Many of the ads seemed to minimize that there was a princess in it at all. Flynn, our dashing hero, was the focus, along with the horse, Maximus, and the various thugs and brigands you meet through the course of the story. Some folks I saw online were mighty ticked that there seemed to be so much effort put into making the movie look like it was all about the guy when in fact the story isn’t like that at all. And having now seen it, I can understand that Disney wanted to market the movie to a wide audience, but I can also dislike that the ads weren’t more well-rounded. And the thing is, I’m a sucker for a charismatic thief character (remember, Robin Hood – and no, last night’s Ridley so does not count) and I can’t say Flynn grabbed me. Oh, he’s got plenty of funny lines and all, but I can’t say I was ever not pleased when Rapunzel smacked him with the skillet.

Now, Rapunzel? She’s more my sort of character. Except when she’s singing. Then she’s the embodiment of why I don’t usually do Disney. It’s just so very twee and while that might float some boats it leaves mine in dry dock. I could have done without the singing because really, Rapunzel does very well without it. She nicely balances the sort of innocent hope and belief that the world holds wonders with some spunk and attitude when faced with danger or a douchebag. Part of her character arc is that she finds out that she truly can take care of herself in the outside world. Sure, it’s often nice to have someone watch your back, but she doesn’t always need it. And I like that! I like her. And then she goes and breaks into song. The only song I really enjoyed in the movie was the one in the pub and that’s only partially her. Otherwise it’s a bunch of burly brigands singing about how they dream of being pianists or collecting ceramic unicorns. It’s comedic, not a ballad.

Normally I can at least enjoy the villain’s song, but well, I wasn’t feeling it here. Mother Gothel is pretty nasty, to be certain. She locked Rapunzel up in the tower and has been using her for her magic for eighteen years. She never intends to let her go. She’s vile. But she’s vile in an insidious sort of way. She’s nowhere near the sort of villain that Ursula (the standard to which I hold all Disney villains) is and her song reflects that. Compare Ursula’s Poor Unfortunate Souls to Gothel’s Mother Knows Best. This isn’t to say that I don’t think Gothel made an excellent villain. She did. And in a way that I’m frankly fascinated to see in a Disney movie. I mean, they’re presenting their audience with a villain who is clearly evil, but who is also thoroughly trusted by the princess character. She calls her ‘mother’ through most of the movie. She’s in agony over disappointing Gothel or breaking her heart. That’s a lot to lay down in front of kids in a PG movie and to be honest, I’m really incredibly pleased that they gave the relationship between Gothel and Rapunzel as much complexity as they did. With Ursula and Maleficent and Jafar and the like? No, it’s pretty clear that those relationships are antagonistic through and through. But to get to that much antagonism between Rapunzel and Gothel Rapunzel needs to actually grow as a character. That? Is pretty damn cool.

The rest of the story isn’t anything revolutionary. Rapunzel meets a thief who hides in her tower (that would be Flynn) and bribes him into taking her to see a display of floating lanterns that she’s always wanted to see up close. They set off and have an adventure together. Flynn’s stolen a crown from the palace and double crossed his partners, so he’s got palace guards and his partners after him, plus a horse named Maximus. Gothel finds out Rapunzel’s gone and so she’s after them too. I think it’s pretty obvious that eventually there’s a seeming betrayal and then oh no, it wasn’t a betrayal and then there’s a confrontation and the good guys win. Hurrah. This is not a movie throwing any curve balls in terms of plot points. Flynn starts out a charming rogue with no cares but money and getting rich and looking out for himself. Through his interaction with Rapunzel he learns that there’s more to life and becomes a better person and so on and so forth. She also hits him a lot. With a skillet. They call it a frying pan but no, that’s a cast iron skillet and there’s a difference. For one, a skillet will make a much bigger lump on someone’s head. Just saying.

Anyhow, it’s a very cute movie with a lot of great fun lines and interactions. I’m quite certain I’d been told that Maximus steals every scene he’s in and it’s true. I kind of wish there’d been more of him even though I will now never be able to unsee the similarity between his look at Mr. Horse from Ren and Stimpy (Andy noted it and yes, it is so very clear now). His facial expressions and actions and body movement definitely showcase the talents of the animators who made the film. I mean, the movie is lovely and I was quite pleased with all of the lighting and textures and people. But Maximus just puts it out there that the animation can carry a charismatic character with no voicework needed. So there’s that and there’s Rapunzel herself and while I wasn’t swept off my feet by Flynn I did appreciate his comedic input. And there’s that understated villain aspect I mentioned above. Not revolutionary, no, but definitely a little more than I expected, so I think I can say I’m not sorry at all that we fell for a supermarket display and bought this.

April 16, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 401 – Bull Durham

Bull Durham – April 5th, 2011

I remember first seeing this movie with Andy some years back and liking it fine, but not being bowled over by it. And I wasn’t sure why at the time. I mean, it had a cast I liked and sure, I don’t like baseball but it, like last night’s movie and The Natural aren’t so much baseball movies as stories using baseball as a vehicle and a theme. So what about it just didn’t sit well with me? And I’ve figured it out. This movie is a romantic comedy. And oh boy am I picky when it comes to romantic comedies.

Now, this movie is not nearly as problematic as crap like What Women Want and that piece of shit called You’ve Got Mail (I really really really hate that movie). And I enjoy it! I enjoy it quite a bit. But there’s something in there that rubs me wrong and it’s a well worn romantic comedy trope. A strong female character is presented and she knows all sorts of things about her area of expertise (baseball, in this case). But through the course of the movie she finds that she doesn’t truly know what she wants in life and love and must be shown what she’s been blind to by a man she first rejects. What softens it here is that Annie doesn’t reject Crash. She’s interested in him, for certain. He just doesn’t want to play around. He wants something either more frivolous or more serious. Compatible in many ways except the way Annie works during baseball season. So I’m a lot more willing to let him have his rom-com smugness than I usually am.

Okay, the line “Why do you get to choose?” still makes me cranky. She gets to choose who she wants to sleep with because it’s her body, jackass – no one says you have to take her up on the offer but you don’t get to choose for her. And in everything else? Annie is awesome. This is the thing about romantic comedies. They often do have a fantastic female character. It’s just that the romance portion seems to need to include the female character learning about love from a man. Shame, that, because Annie seems to have everything else well in hand. She knows her own mind about everything else. She’s well-read, thoughtful and philosophical, but also rational. She knows how the season works. Annie Savoy spots a promising player in the minor league team the Durham Bulls. And if she hooks up with said player and coaches him through the season, he ends up having the season of his career. He gets a lifetime of baseball playing theory and advice and she gets a fun relationship for the duration of the season. And it all works out just fine for her and she’s happy. Until about twenty minutes into the movie. If that.

The movie introduces Crash Davis, a catcher who’s had a chance at the majors and ended up back in Durham, and Ebby “Nuke” LaLoush, a pitcher with a fantastic arm and not a lick of sense. Annie sees them as her best prospects and tells them as much. Crash passes on her offer and so she takes on Nuke for the season. And between Annie’s coaching off the field and Crash’s advice on the field, Nuke ends up having a killer season (when he listens). But of course Annie realizes she doesn’t really want Nuke. Sure, she’s willing to keep going, but it’s no longer enough for her. She wants Crash, and not just for the season. This creates a conflict, since she’s committed to Nuke. Crash wants her, she wants him and Nuke’s there like a big slab of beef wedged between them. As a plot set-up, it’s fun. As are the interactions between all three of them.

There are some fantastic scenes in this movie. I love Annie’s tutoring of Nuke and his dawning realization that hey, people know stuff and maybe he should pay attention. I love how he’s getting strange but useful advice from Annie on how to get his mind in the right place for the game and then practical down-to-earth useful advice from Crash on how to actually play. It’s a great balance and combination of personalities. And then Annie and Crash have some good chemistry. I might not like the smugness, but really, by the time the movie hits its peak they’re both miserable and grouchy because neither of them can have what they want and they’re too far into the season to change anything. It also helps that I like both of them. Crash is, overall, a nice guy. He plays good ball, he gets on well with the rest of the team. Annie’s a nice woman, perhaps a little over-focused on her sexual allure, but hey, she’s hot and she knows it and she uses what she’s got to help players she likes. And she has no shame in it. The movie attaches no guilt or anything of the sort to Annie’s relationships and history, which goes a long way towards making me like it.

Overall, it’s a fun comedic movie with a romance at the center but plenty of stuff surrounding it that make it an a-typical romantic comedy. I love Susan Sarandon as Annie and Tim Robbins really does play a good affable lump, doesn’t he? And much as I dislike the smugness, I think this role is a tossup with Ray Kinsella for Kevin Costner. Both excellent performances from him. It’s a good script, full of quick and clever lines. Sometimes Annie’s voiceover exposition is a little much, but I don’t mind it. It gets sentimental without getting maudlin and in the end I feel like all three main characters got to actually stay who they were to begin with, just in a far better configuration.

April 5, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment