A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Bull Durham

April 5, 2011

Bull Durham

Well we’ve reached the end of our short baseball movie marathon. We don’t own any more after these four. I suppose we could have bought Major League but do we really need a Charlie Sheen movie at this point? So with this we’re done with Baseball and can move on to something else.

I’ve loved this movie since I first saw it. I think it was probably the first movie I saw Tim Robbins in, and he’s always fun to watch. Of course it’s another Kevin Costner movie as well, and that’s fun too. But the real star of this movie is Susan Sarandon and she makes the movie great.

In the opening monologue Susan introduces her character, Annie Savoy, who is a new age mystic who worships at the church of baseball. She’s a fan of the minor league Durham Bulls and each season chooses a young man from the line up to spend the season with. This particular year she has narrowed the choices down to two: a wild young pitcher named Ebby Calvin LaLoosh and a wise-in-the-ways-of-baseball catcher named Crash Davis who has been brought in by the management to foster LaLoosh and vet him for the major leagues.

What this movie is is a romantic comedy that takes place in and around a baseball season. We follow the Bulls as they struggle through the year. They loose a lot, they win a few. Truth be told we, as an audience, don’t really care too much if they win or loose because that’s not what the movie is about. It’s about Annie and Crash, who are clearly meant for each other, and the forces keeping them apart. Primary among these forces is their own foolishness in not being able to admit to one another just how much they deserve to be together. Each of them, in their own way, ends up mentoring Ebby “Nuke” Laloosh. Annie through her new age mysticism and Crash through his pragmatic experiences after years of living and breathing baseball.

Annie is a strong, if eccentric, character. I like a woman who’s not afraid to take charge. The problem is that Crash feels he is too mature to play her games and she has her own rules she feels she needs to play by. So they spend the movie dancing around the issue and refusing to acknowledge just how clearly perfect they are for each other. Crash spends a lot of time indulging in a sort of self pity that he can’t have what he wants, and Annie is frustrated that she can’t really have what she wants either. And Nuke? He’s just glad to be there.

As I said before this is Susan Sarandon’s movie. We get brief moments inside Crash’s head and we get to see a lot of him and Annie interacting with the gifted but somewhat thick headed Nuke, but it is Annie’s narration that really sets the mood for the film and keeps it on track. It’s a wistful, slightly desperate mood. This is not a movie about innocent first love – it is a movie about experienced world-weary people who realize that, yes, they deserve some happiness.

I also have to complement writer/director Ron Shelton for his deft use of soundtrack to manage the emotion of the film as well. This movie has a sultry, eclectic, nostalgic and sometimes humorous soundtrack. It works well with the whole sense of who Annie is as a person with her candles and silk cords and mountains of brick-a-brack. Indeed the whole movie feels like an extension of her eccentric personality. Annie is an engaging and beautiful character wonderfully portrayed by a fascinating actress and it was a treat just to be able to spend a little time tonight in her strange but amusing world.

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

Movie 393 – Shakespeare in Love

Shakespeare in Love – March 28th, 2011

I saw this movie in the theater when it came out. I saw it while visiting Andy’s grandparents when I was in college. They were with us. And let me tell you, watching a movie with a sex scene – even a sex scene as romantic as this movie’s – with one’s future grandparents-in-law? Just as awkward as one might expect. And still, it didn’t ruin this movie for me. Yes, it’s a romantic comedy, which is not usually my thing, but it’s a period romantic comedy and it’s Shakespeare based. And I do like my Shakespeare.

Were I to be a cynic, I would dismiss this movie as pure speculative fluff and nonsense. And I am often cynical, but there is something about this movie that makes me ignore that little critical voice in my head and just run with the fantasy. And it is fantasy. It is a melding of period setting and Shakespearean reference to the point where it’s clear that this is far outside the realm of reality. And that’s the point. I honestly believe this movie was made for people who love Shakespeare. Or who at least know a good deal of his work. Sure, people who don’t know it can watch it and enjoy the romance between Will and Viola, but from the perspective of someone who knows more than a few of the plays, it’s full of references and nods, some clever and some obvious. I like those references. I even like the blatant and cheesy ones like the Stratford Upon Avon mug. It all just makes me smile.

We put this in tonight because I needed an antidote to our weekend of Spider Man crap. I needed something well written, with a solid plot and people to root for. And it helps that there’s a nice solid villain here. One you’re meant to loathe. The story has echoes of Romeo and Juliet, but also touches and tidbits of various other plays as well. When we begin, Will Shakespeare has writer’s block. He can’t seem to get his latest play written, rival playwrights are doing better and gaining acclaim, and he’s low on funds as well. He’s working on a new play called Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter. It’s rubbish. And then we meet Viola de Lesseps, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. She loves plays and theater and when Shakespeare manages to write enough for auditions to be held she shows up dressed as a boy. And that’s where the trouble begins.

I’m not going to try and explain the plot in intricate detail. Suffice it to say that it’s a cross between Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night and Viola and Will end up passionately in love. And you know from the start that this is doomed. Viola’s a gentlewoman with money and Will is a penniless playwright. And Viola’s hand has been promised to Lord Wessex. It’s all a matter of money and prestige and reputation and it’s hateful. Her father pretty much sells her to Wessex with the promise that he can send her back if she doesn’t breed. And while I find that disgusting, I know that it’s not inaccurate to the time period. And it’s also presented as horrible. This is no romanticized vision of a marriage for money. Viola doesn’t miraculously end up falling for Wessex and he’s certainly not a sympathetic figure. The one jarring thing for me about this movie is the utter certainty that the only things keeping him from striking Viola in just about every scene they’re in together is that they’re not yet married and/or they’re in public. The thought of her having to actually live with him for any amount of time makes me sick, as he is clearly written to be a nasty, coldhearted and cruel man. Not an ideal husband, to be sure.

But that’s the contrast to Viola and Will, whose short time together seems magical and dream-like. In fact, they comment on that several times, with those comments ending up as lines in the play Will is writing. With romance in his life his work turns the same way. And it’s fun to watch Viola dressed as a boy, playing out Romeo’s part on stage and living Juliet’s off stage. It’s a doomed romance entwined with another doomed romance. But played out beautifully by Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes. It’s a lovely bit of work, having the two act as inspiration to the parts they play within the movie’s stage performance.

I feel like I’m failing to adequately review this movie but to be honest I’m tired and it’s been a long day and I didn’t put this in to spend a lot of time analyzing it. It’s sweet and pretty and romantic and funny. It’s got a fantastic cast and a lovely score and some fun cameos and performances from actors I recognize in smaller roles. There’s a wonderful performance from Judi Dench as Elizabeth II (though I don’t know if it was truly Oscar-worthy). And it ends with a vision of Viola’s future that leaves me hopeful that while her romance with Will is at an end, there is more for her than a cold and likely painful marriage to a man who cares only about her father’s money and breaking her spirit. It’s a sad ending for the romance, yes, but a better ending for the people in it than Romeo and Juliet got.

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

Shakespeare in Love

March 28, 2011

Shakespeare in Love

This movie never fails to amaze me. I’m no Shakespearean scholar, but I like to believe I’m pretty familiar with the works of the Bard, and this is a movie aimed directly at people like me. It’s a touching, funny, great homage to Shakespeare that uses his words and references to his works to bring the story to life.

This is a giddy fantasy set during the early days of Shakespeare’s career in London. What’s great about this as a concept is that Shakespeare is just a regular working slob (albeit a dashingly handsome one with a way for words.) He gets no respect from the vast majority of the people around him, which is refreshing if you’ve been exposed to some of the Shakespeare worship that exists nowadays (and even within the confines of this blog.) About the only person who seems to believe in him is a young noblewoman who loves the theater and dreams of being an actor. So when he is casting for his new play “Romeo and Ethyl the Pirate’s Daughter” she dresses as a young man to audition for him.

What follows is a timeless romance, and a hilarious romp, that works in references to Shakespeare’s most famous works and common themes from his plays. There’s cross dressing, mistaken identity, vengeance and remorse, sword fights, planned marriage, and plenty of wonderful Shakespearean dialog. Above and beyond all that though it is a movie about the theater. About the magic that transforms the chaos, clashing egos, financial hardship and rivalry behind the scenes into something special that can reach right out and touch an audience. Somehow everything works out, but how? It’s a mystery.

Every single second of this movie is a delight. The cast is wondrous and perfect. Geoffrey Rush as the set upon owner of The Rose theater and patron of Shakespeare? Hilarious! Gwyneth Paltrow delivers absolutely the most stunning performance of her career as Viola, the young noblewoman who steals Will’s heart as she follows her dream of being an actor. (It is to be noted that she does some of the most convincing male drag I have ever seen when Viola dresses as young Master Kemp. Usually I wonder how people could be so dense as to believe that a woman is a man, but here Gwyneth is all earnest boyish energy when in her Kemp disguise.) Joseph Fiennes is dreamy as Shakespeare himself. Judi Dench is unforgettable in her Oscar-winning turn as the regis-ex-machina Queen Elizabeth who knows all and effortlessly rules the film. This is probably the only movie I have ever actually liked Ben Affleck in. They’re all surrounded by wonderful talent from Colin Firth to Imelda Staunton to Rupert Everett.

The script is full of genius. Not just Shakespeare’s genius, but the genius of Marc Norman for creating the concept and Tom Stoppard for fleshing it out. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this and I still notice new things each time I watch it. (This time through it was a reference to Hamlet that popped out at me when Shakespeare visits a doctor to complain that he cannot write and says that the problem is “words, words, words!”) This is one of those screenplays where every single line works on multiple levels to move the plot forward while at the same time being entertaining on its own. You could probably enjoy this as just a historical romance/comedy about the theater even without much knowledge of Shakespeare. Though knowledge of Shakespeare definitely enhances the experience.

After watching this tonight I didn’t want it to end. As always. I wanted to put in the 1968 Romeo and Juliet again. Or the 1996 Twelfth Night. I wanted to immerse myself in the words of Shakespeare and never come out. As always this movie left me drained and delighted. It’s a movie that elicits a strong emotional response from me. It’s a movie I’m deeply in love with.

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

Movie 350 – Romeo and Juliet (1968)

Romeo and Juliet (1968) – February 13th, 2011

Back in my college days I worked for a video store. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating here because of how we shelved our movies. We didn’t keep them out on the floor like Blockbuster did. We kept the boxes out there and the actual cassettes behind the counter, so customers had to come up and ask us for the movies they wanted. Sometimes, when it was a movie with a unique title and only one version/volume, it was simple. But anything Shakespearean was a pain in the ass. And since we were near several colleges, we got a lot of requests for various productions of pretty much every Shakespearean play ever filmed. We all got to know which versions were most often assigned and needed and this version of Romeo and Juliet was very popular indeed. And yet, even though I took classes on Shakespeare and enjoyed watching the plays, I never saw this one. Maybe because it was always out.

Like much of our Shakespeare, this is a long-ish movie. Which, in my opinion, is a good thing. While I do love the Reduced Shakespeare Company version of the play, when done for dramatic purposes instead of comedic it’s certainly nice to let the characters have time to build the romance and tragedy. While this story has been done and redone and overdone to the point of being a cliche, when done well it can have some true tragic weight to it. Sure, it’s easy to poke fun at how emo Romeo and Juliet are, with the weeping and the whirlwind romance and all, but when you pay attention to the motivations as written, it’s a lot better than the cliche.

We all know the story, but let’s go over it anyhow. I’ve got things to say. The play is set in Verona, where two feuding families, the Capulets and the Montagues, have been bickering for some time. The Prince of Verona is pretty fed up with it all and issued bans on fighting in the city, but the Capulets and Montagues don’t seem to care and get into it all the time. In the middle of this we meet a Montague, Romeo, and find out that he’s kind of a hopeless romantic. He sees Juliet while at a Capulet party he shouldn’t have been at, falls totally in love with her at first sight, and earns the enmity of her cousin, Tybalt. Romeo and Juliet meet secretly, get married secretly, and spend their wedding night together secretly before the whole feud comes to a head and Romeo, Tybalt and a Montague named Mercutio end up dueling in the public square. Tybalt kills Mercutio, Romeo kills Tybalt and it all ends with Romeo banished and still the only ones who know Romeo and Juliet are married are themselves and Friar Laurence, who performed the marriage. When Juliet’s father declares that she will be wed to Paris, Juliet is understandably distraught and begs for the friar’s help. He gives her something to help her feign death, planning to let Romeo know so the two can then run off together. And then, as we all know, there’s some serious communication fail (oh if only they had twitter) and Romeo thinks Juliet’s actually dead and kills himself. When she wakes up she realizes what’s happened and kills herself too and the tragedy of it all brings the families together.

So we’re all clear on the details here, let’s look at the real plot points. Pointless and nasty feud that results in violence, young love defying said feud, feud resulting in deaths, and then Juliet’s father tries to marry her off against her will. Leaving aside this particular production’s rendition of it, that’s some dramatic stuff. And not leaving aside this production, I think it’s done well here. For one, it’s an absolutely gorgeous production. The costumes, locations, everything. It’s just lovely to look at and thoroughly sets the stage for the whole play. And then there’s the acting. Aside from the repeated and incredibly overwrought weeping, I really like the two leads. And I’m willing to allow for the weeping in some cases given the situations. I mean, if I’d gotten married in secret and my father then told me I was going to be getting married to someone else in like, two days? I’m sure I’d be a mess too. And Olivia Hussey, as Juliet, has a sort of wide-eyed wonder at the love she and Romeo have that suits the character well. Leonard Whiting (who looks so much like Zac Efron it’s creepy) plays Romeo as a romantic who finally feels truly passionate instead of just enamored. They both do an excellent job of making their parts believable, and in a play where the entire plot hinges on an love-at-first-sight romance that’s important. I also greatly enjoyed Michael York as Tybalt and Pat Heywood as the nurse.

Overall, it’s just a well put together and well acted production of a play that’s so easy to overdo or dismiss due to the cliches that have been born from it. Granted, the movie was made in 1968, but the play had been around for hundreds of years by then. So finding a way to present it and have it make an impact is impressive. There’s enough different between the play and the movie to make for good discussion and good performances to critique and make the plot and motivations clear. I greatly enjoyed it, and I can see why it would be assigned viewing for classes reading the play.

February 13, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Movie 345 – Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing & Charm School

Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing & Charm School – February 8th, 2011

I had no idea what to expect from this movie. I mean, I expected that there would be a charm school, but other than that, it was a big mystery. We bought it because of a preview, but the content of said preview is lost to me. I’m pretty sure, however, that it did not accurately represent this movie. Because this movie is not simply about a charm school or dancing. It has comedy sure, but it’s got a far more serious note than I thought it would have. And you know it will right from the start, when the main character, Frank Keane, stops on the highway to help a stranger who’s been in an accident. This is not just a cute little story about a dance class. It is a story about where life takes you and the past and the present and the future.

Early on in the movie I thought two of the characters bore a striking resemblance to each other, so I looked up the cast list, fully expecting to find that they were brothers. And no, it turns out they’re the same person, playing two roles in two films, made 15 years apart. The original Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing & Charm School was made in 1990. It’s a short film, about half an hour long, about a boy and his best friend and how their mothers made them go to charm school in 1962. And while they started off hating it, they soon grew to like it and eventually even started to not hate girls. In fact, they end up liking girls too. Fifteen years later, writer/director Randall Miller expanded upon his short, writing an entirely new present day story around it. And Elden Henson was cast in a minor role as a friend and coworker of Frank Keane. Pretty cool.

The original short is broken up into pieces and peppered throughout the movie as flashbacks. Frank comes across a car accident one day and stops to help. There he meets Steve, who was on his way to meet Lisa, the girl he loved when he was twelve. They promised each other they’d return to Marilyn Hotchkiss’ school on the fifth day of the fifth month of the fifth year of the new millennium, no matter what. Frank promises he’ll go in Steve’s place and tell Lisa what happened. Of course it’s not as simple as that. Frank gets there and is utterly at a loss for what to do. Lisa isn’t there and he ends up staying and learning the Lindy Hop and catching the eye of a young woman, Meredith. And he goes back. Again and again. And as the movie goes we learn about Frank. He’s a baker whose wife committed suicide. He’s lonely and lost and goes to a support group for widowers. But little by little, with the help of the class, he starts to move forward.

The movie is told back and forth. The bulk of the movie is Frank’s story, showing him going to support group meetings, baking, at dance class. But then there are scenes with Steve in the ambulance. And that moment is probably an hour of movie world time, tops, but it’s shown in little bits and pieces. A minute here, two there. And Frank entreats Steve to tell him more about Lisa and the charm school to keep Steve conscious while the EMTs work to save him. And those scenes take us back to 1962 and the short. And every time we go back we learn more about Steve, but we also learn more about the power of this dance class and how it helped people come together and relate to one another. So when we go back to the present day, it’s no surprise that Frank is coming out of his shell. He tells his support group – including a demonstration, which is a fantastic scene where he rehashes the Lindy Hop lesson for the group leader and teaches him how to dance – and soon they’re coming to dance too, one by one.

The present day plot has more going on than can really fit in the confines of the movie. Meredith’s step-brother is a controlling jackass who hits her and slashes Frank’s tires. Marilyn’s daughter has taken over the class but has some sort of long term lack of acceptance that her mother is gone. We only catch fleeting moments about Frank’s wife. And yet, I never really felt that the movie was lacking. It was that those parts weren’t things we were meant to see more of. Because we’re mostly meant to see the dance class. What’s outside the class is in the past, or the future, and we only get to know it in moments, not in swaths. And I like that. Sure, dance seems to fix a lot of problems automatically – the whole plot with Meredith’s brother ties up very neatly and quickly indeed – but other problems are slow in fixing.

I would have to say my only real criticism of the movie is that after the climax, when Frank and Meredith get together and the whole support group has joined the dance class and Meredith’s brother is welcomed back into the fold after punching Frank, the movie goes on a little long. And this is to wrap up Steve’s plot. Because Steve was the impetus for all of this. Frank does indeed find Lisa, but then after he finds her we go back to a different point in time. We go back to just prior to the accident, where we learn what Steve was up to and why he was in such a hurry. And well, I get the point of it. It was an interesting direction to take the character. But I don’t know that it was entirely necessary. Or rather, if it was necessary at that point. It slows things down and hurts the impact of the scene with Lisa, which made me cry, I admit. Which is too bad, really, because the rest of the movie is paced beautifully and has some really wonderful parallels between the short and the new material. The last bit with Steve just sticks out.

The acting is also beautiful. Robert Carlyle as Frank, in particular, is amazing. There are many scenes for him where he says almost nothing. He’s a quiet man. Reserved. Definitely pent up. And he is grieving. And oh, the grief is a cold and palpable thing from him. Carlyle does a wonderful job with Frank and I loved every moment he was on screen. John Goodman has a difficult role as the dying Steve, gasping out his story, but he does a nice job with it. Marisa Tomei is lovely as Meredith, who is just as awkward as Frank and who has a sad story herself, but who is also charming and shy and interesting. They open up to each other, and it’s the sort of romantic story I appreciate. The rest of the cast is peppered with familiar faces. Ernie Hudson, Camryn Manheim, Mary Steenburgen, Sean Astin and Donnie Wahlburg, to name a few. It’s amazing, really, seeing these actors show up in large and small parts, and they all just slip right in, making the movie what it is. Full of humor and tragedy and romance and dance and charm.

When I was in middle school some well-meaning parent of one of my classmates told my mother about “junior cotillion”, which was a dance and manners class that ran every other week or so up at one of the other local private schools. She asked if I wanted to do it and I said sure, why not. I had no idea what it was. But there I learned to do a variety of basic formal dance steps (the box step is all I’ve retained). I wore frilly dresses and white gloves and tried to maneuver myself into the right spot so I could dance with a cute boy, though I later learned that cute wasn’t what mattered. Dancing with a boy who wouldn’t snap my bra strap was more important (I smacked the first one who tried it). Ah, cotillion. Watching this movie tonight, with its flashbacks to a childhood charm school class, I found myself right back there, hands clammy in those stupid gloves, awkward and shy and wondering what the hell I was doing. And yet, regardless of the awkwardness and oddity of it all, I still have fond memories of it. It’s hard to explain the sort of mood that such a class has, but this movie captures it, both in the flashbacks and the modern day. I wasn’t expecting this movie. I wasn’t expecting it at all and I’m really rather glad of that.

February 8, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 339 – Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day – February 2nd, 2011

Well, it was inevitable, I suppose, that we would watch this today. We might have blown New Year’s Eve by watching Strange Days way early, but we’ve learned to plan better since then (aside from missing Hogfather when we listed our movies). We’ve got a few more with set dates but this was one we nailed down pretty early on. I first saw this movie because of Andy. He loves it. And while I don’t dislike it, I regret to say that I just don’t share his love of it.

I’m not sure precisely why it is that this movie doesn’t strike the same note for me as it does for him. I mean, it’s definitely got its moments. A lot of the jokes make me smile and I like the basic premise. It just doesn’t quite all come together for me. While watching it tonight I tried to figure out why it was that it would be such an amazing experience for my husband and apparently quite a few other people and leave me somewhat flat and I have to admit I’m still puzzled. I enjoyed it a little more tonight than I remember enjoying it the last time I watched it, but it didn’t have me laughing myself sick or having any big cosmic moments. Oh well.

At its most basic core, it is the story of a jackass who needs to find a way to change himself in order to continue on in life. Jazz it up a little and you have the universe’s way of forcing him to do that: He must live out the same day, over and over and over, until he manages to do things right. And not just act them out right, but do them because he believes in them. Phil Connors is our jackass here. He’s a weather man who’s been sent to Punxsutawny to cover Groundhog Day and he hates it. He’s a jerk to the cameraman (Larry), sleazily hits on the new producer (Rita) and basically phones it in only to wake up the next morning and realize it’s not the next morning. It’s Groundhog Day all over again, with the same song playing on the radio and the same people in the bed and breakfast dining room saying the same things and the same everything happening, just like it happened the day before. He thinks he’s lost his mind. He tries to explain it all to Rita, who dismisses him because seriously, what the hell, right? And as the days go on, repeating and repeating and repeating, Phil begins to look for things to do.

Now, this is where the movie gets its humor and its drama. On the humorous side of things, Phil realizes he can do things without consequences, like stealing money and crashing a car. And he starts knowing what people will say, and readies quips and comebacks in anticipation. He memorizes the answers on Jeopardy and dumbfounds people with the things he knows. There’s a whole montage of him doing bizarre stuff. And then there’s the drama when he realizes he can kill himself and he’ll still wake up at six in the morning on February 2nd. Again. And yes, it’s presented humorously, but man, that’s some bleak stuff there. Because he doesn’t just do it once. He enumerates several different ways at one point, in addition to the three I can think of off the top of my head that happen on screen. He reaches a point where he becomes despondent, trapped in this neverending cycle of a single crappy day. And then he seems to wake up a little. He teaches himself French. He learns to play the piano. He does ice sculpture and starts to get to know every single person in the town. And since he retains information from day to day every iteration contains a Phil with more knowledge and more depth.

I think one of my issues here is that I think that’s pretty cool stuff. There’s some debate, it seems, over how many times Phil actually relives this one day, but the director (Harold Ramis) has spoken in tens of years or more. Phil doesn’t age, after all. The original writer of the story has said 10,000 years. It’s never made clear, though Phil does have an interesting conversation with Rita late in the movie, where he lays it all out for her, going through the cafe they’re in and telling her about every person in it. “Maybe God uses tricks,” he tells her. “Maybe he’s just been around a long time.” He says he’s immortal (and he could be! I mean, look at that overcoat – he could totally have a sword under there) and seems resigned to the implications that brings. And that conversation is fascinating to me. It makes this character far more interesting than the rest of the movie makes him for me. And then there’s a rather somber bit where Phil realizes he can’t save someone. There’s a homeless man who’s been there every time, but when Phil actually tries to help him it turns out he dies. He dies every day. There is no stopping it. As I said, that’s bleak. And yet this rather bleak and somber and serious stuff is all played down against the background of this jackass’s humorous redemption. And I guess I don’t feel they’re balanced terribly well.

There’s a love story in here, with Phil hitting on Rita at first and then realizing he doesn’t just want to get into her pants, he really does like her. He grows to love her – and for him, over the course of however many repeats of this day, I won’t deny the possibility. At first he just plays the right role, ending with her getting pissed off when she realizes it was an act. There’s a montage of Rita slapping Phil for good reason. And he’s not quite sure at first how to fix this. How to make her actually like him. Only after countless repeats and attempts does he manage to do it. And okay, that’s presented mostly seriously in that he works towards winning her over in earnest. But it’s the sort of love story tenderness that you get in any comedy-heavy rom-com. It’s goofball romance. Which is all well and good, but it still doesn’t quite work for me with the other serious stuff.

I have read that Harold Ramis wanted the movie to be more on the comedic side whereas Bill Murray wanted to go for more of the philosophical aspect and I have to say I side with Murray on this one. The comedy makes great moments and asides, but really, if we can get what, eight or nine slaps in sequence for humorous effect, why not at least give us a couple of iterations of Phil failing to save the homeless man. There’s really only two scenes there and it feels like it’s meant to be this big emotional turning point for Phil but it’s given less attention, which frustrates me. And I think it’s because I’m picky when it comes to rom-com stuff, but a good time-loop plot with philosophy hits my buttons. It would also have been nice to have Rita be more than a prize for Phil’s spiritual growth, but well, rom-com.

All that being said, if I cut out the philosophical parts, or detach them from the rom-com parts, and focus on the funny stuff? Yeah, it’s good. Bill Murray plays his typical cynical jackass with a heart of (fool’s) gold but he does have fantastic comic timing. He nails things like every exchange with his old classmate from high school, and the bit near the end where he’s just tooling around town fixing everything he’s ever found that goes wrong. And Andie MacDowell as Rita plays a good foil for him, not taking his crap and remaining skeptical about the changes going on in him up until the very end, which sells the transformation nicely. There are some fun bit parts, like Steven Tobolowsky as Phil’s old classmate and Brian Doyle-Murray as one of the groundhog wranglers. I have no complaints about the acting or the premise. I guess when you get down to it, it’s that I want there to be “Who Wants to Live Forever” playing over the end credits and instead there’s the song Weatherman. Oh well. Not every movie can be Highlander.

February 2, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 336 – Amelie

Amelie – January 30th, 2011

It’s so very strange not to be watching a Star Trek movie right now. It feels bizarre, to be honest. After two weeks of them, I feel slightly bereft without them. But I suppose I have the entirety of TNG to pop in if I want. Maybe later. For now it’s time for a movie, and we decided that sine we’ve spent the past two weeks watching American science fiction we’re incredibly familiar with, tonight we should watch something different. Something subtitled and foreign. Something one or both of us hadn’t seen before. Well, Andy’s seen this one, but I hadn’t, so it fits the bill. It’s certainly been an overhype victim for me. And I will admit now, having seen it, I was a fool to leave it so long.

Having seen ads and trailers and heard glowing review after glowing review, I expected something overly twee that might end up making me roll my eyes a bit. What can I say? I’m a cynic much of the time. I expected whimsical and sweet and quirky. And oh, yes, I got all of that. Sentimental too. I expected sentimental. And really, the movie is all of these things. And being all of these things, it might have been rather difficult to make it also something that entertained me. I have a low tolerance for twee. Yet somehow this movie manages to be entirely made of whimsy and sentiment and not feel like it’s sagging under the weight of too much frill and frippery.

The movie is ostensibly the story of a young woman named Amelie. She was raised in a somewhat solitary setting, taught at home by her mother until her mother’s death. She lives her life much inside her own mind, filling the world around herself with fantasies. Until one day she finds a tin hidden in her apartment and sets out to find the man who hid it decades ago when he was a boy. In doing so she opens up a whole new path for herself, finding little ways to help those around her. She sets up a coworker with a regular customer. She forges a letter to console a neighbor about her long deceased husband. She goes about a number of little quests to make other lives happier. Which is why I say the movie is only ostensibly about Amelie.

Yes, the movie is, from beginning to end, her story. It’s about this young woman and her life and how she goes from solitary to connected without losing what makes her special. That one first quest leads her to meeting her neighbors, making friends with them, finding out about their lives and little dramas. She pays more attention to her coworkers and reaches out to them. She’s always found joy in little things, but now those little things involve people, not just objects. She even finds a way to help her father without ever letting him know it’s her. In fact, most of the things she does she manages to keep anonymous. Only one person really figures out what she’s up to and then he helps her when she finds a young man and pursues him only to realize that she can’t bring herself to stop being anonymous. But in and among all of her stories are the stories of everyone else. The movie takes a step out here, a moment there, showing us and telling us the backgrounds of everyone involved. So it’s the story not just of a young woman, but of the entire intangible social network that builds around her.

To be honest, I’m still processing the movie even a couple of hours after it finished. I’m not entirely sure how it pulled itself off. While there’s mischief, and some decidedly negative attitudes in some of the characters, the focus of the movie itself is so relentlessly positive one would think it would be too much on one side for me. And it wasn’t at all. It somehow maintains this pleasant and curious tone for two hours. All the little asides and stories, all of Amelie’s quirks and idiosyncrasies, they all come together to make this movie bizarrely delightful in a way I can’t argue with. I can’t find much fault with it aside from some quibbles with tonal changes between the storytelling in the beginning and the storyshowing near the end (I like both, but they don’t quite segue as smoothly as I’d like). It is simply a lovely movie, light and sweet but not cloying, which means it defied my expectations in all the right ways.

January 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Amelie

January 30, 2011

Amelie

I bought this movie because it had the name Jean-Pierre Jeunet attached to it. Because City of Lost Children is one of my favorite movies of all time. I’m not sure what I was expecting. Something bizarre and quirky and very French I suppose, which is just what I got.

There is much that is familiar about the style of this movie. There’s the storybook opening that introduces us to our cast of characters (providing us quick views of their likes and dislikes) and lets us know what kind of world we are in. There’s the subtle use of computer effects and animation to show us the characters’ imaginations or state of mind. There’s a lot of slick camera work and manipulation of the film speed to help tell the story.

The story is that of Amelie, a dreadfully introverted and private young woman with more imaginary friends than real ones. She’s a dreamer who decides one day that she wants to do good deeds and make the lives of those she meets better, but is still too shy to actually meet people, so she starts a campaign of doing good without being detected. It’s almost like a series of related short vignettes as Amelie helps all the various quirky people in her life. Still, she is lonely, and as the movie goes on she slowly begins to open up, meeting her extremely private shut-in neighbour and learning that she can make friends. She discovers a kindred spirit – another eccentric introvert – and woos him in the same introverted way that she has been trying to help others.

The world the movie takes place in is a sort of fantastic simpler version of our world. The town house where Amelie and her quirky collection of acquaintances live is a quaint, anachronistic place with door locks that use skeleton keys and a sort of Victorian feel. But people use micro tape recorders, video cameras and cordless phones with programed phone numbers. It’s a cleaner, brighter place than our hectic modern world of cell phones and PDAs, but is clearly meant to be a sort of modern day analogue.

The entire movie relies heavily on the elfin-faced Audrey Tautou, who plays the title character. Although there is an awful lot of expository monologue over the start of the film it is Audrey’s wide-eyed wonder and terror that sells the movie. She perfectly captures and emotes that dread that a true introvert feels when dealing with people. Her isolation and her desire to still interact with people is the central theme of the movie, and without Mademoiselle Tautou I can’t imagine this movie working.

And it does work. It’s a deceptively simple story about how we can touch other lives and make the world a better place. It says something about the power of dreams and aspirations. It’s a light-hearted love story about a pair of missfits looking for comfort and not really knowing what it is they want. It’s a playful fantasy – a modern fairy tale. As an introvert myself I can’t help but sympathise with Amelie and her complex schemes.

This movie is beautiful and enchanting and strange and fun. It’s a quirky and fun way to spend an afternoon, and it was delightful to watch it again tonight. It re-enforces for me how much I love the direction of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and it was fun to once again see him working with Dominique Pinon, and it’s a great introduction to Audrey Tautou. (I think whomever was responsible for ordering foreign films for Blockbuster must have fallen in love with Audrey as well, because of the twenty or so French films we had in the Hingham store about seven starred her.) Jeunet lives in a world of vivid dreams and imagination, and it’s a treat once in a while to be able to visit that world.

January 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Movie 330 – Star Trek: Insurrection

Star Trek: Insurrection – January 24th, 2011

Last night as I was going to bed I kept trying to remember what this movie involved. I knew I’d seen it and I knew that I’d been able to remember it earlier in the day, but I’d totally blanked on it by evening. It just didn’t make much of an impression on me, I suppose. Rewatching it tonight, I can sort of see why. I mean, it’s not bad, honestly. Take a dash of Thine Own Self, a touch of Who Watches the Watchers, a bit of First Contact (the episode) and a plot tool from Homeward and then toss in some unnecessary fiddling with time and baste it with sinister overtones vaguely reminiscent of Coming of Age and Conspiracy (though without the parasites) and you’ve got this movie. And really, when the best way to describe a movie is to list the middling-ish episodes of the show the movie is based on that are similar in feel? That should tell you something.

I’ll come right out and say it: I don’t dislike this movie. Take out the time fiddling and the super wise 12 year old kid and honestly? I’m totally fine with it. It’s just that, like the episodes I mentioned above, it’s not really super outstanding. Sure, those episodes have some good moments (and the Data-centric Thine Own Self stands out for me as above the rest), but do they really stack up against the best of the series? It would be impossible. I can even see some hints of The Inner Light being attempted, with a romantic storyline for Picard and the idyllic setting that he can’t stay in. But it just doesn’t succeed like that episode did. For one, there’s too much action. For two, it tries too hard. And it doesn’t fail completely. It just doesn’t hit the mark it’s aiming for.

I blame the time fiddling. See, the plot revolves around a botched attempt by the Federation and new allies the Son’a to relocate the Ba’ku, a group of 600 or so people living on a remote planet in a cluster of nebulae known as the Briar Patch. The planet has a concentration of a particular type of radiation that has regenerative and restorative powers on organic life. The Son’a have found a way to harvest it but it means making the planet uninhabitable. Since the planet is in Federation space they’ve managed to enlist the Federation’s help. But the mission goes awry when Data learns of what’s really going on – not the simple observation mission he was led to believe it was – and tries to interfere. The Enterprise comes running and soon the crew figures it all out too and decide to help out the Ba’ku, who are also not what they appeared. Turns out the Ba’ku have warp capability. They just don’t care to use it or any other form of technology, preferring to live simple agrarian lives on their amazing planet that slows down their aging process. When you barely age, why not take decades to perfect a skill such as weaving or carving or whatnot? Oh, and they can make time stand still.

What’s that, you say? They can do what? Yeah, they can make time stand still. There’s some babble about it from one of the Ba’ku, Anij, whom Picard has rather fallen for, and she goes on about how it took the Ba’ku centuries to figure out that they don’t need centuries to appreciate a single moment and single moments can last as long as a century or something like that. It’s nonsense. It’s ridiculous. And it has no purpose in the plot other than to save Anij herself later in the movie when there’s a thoroughly unnecessary cave-in and Picard has to stop time where they are so the rest of the crew can save them. Yeah. I know. I wish I could explain it. I kept thinking I’d forgotten it being used during the climax or something but it never came up. It’s just sitting there mid-film, padding out the romantic plot and taking up space. It’s like making a point to set one’s phaser to kill and then never firing it (that would be Pavel Chekhov’s Phaser, ha ha).

I’m of somewhat mixed opinion when it comes to the larger plot and mood of the movie. For one, I think it’s uneven. After all, on the planet’s surface you have the paradise, as proclaimed by the movie’s poster, with Georgi’s eyes suddenly working and Worf going through Klingon puberty again, Riker and Troi acting like teenagers in love and so on and so forth. And there’s the romantic plot, with Picard and Anij and the time stopping. And then up in space there are battles and ships fighting and tricky maneuvers through the nebulae and the two plots just don’t fit together terribly well. They aren’t balanced like the surface/space plots were in First Contact (movie this time). Maybe without the romantic plot it wouldn’t feel like the two parts are so opposed, but it got shoehorned in anyhow, like trying to wedge Lessons into Journey’s End and then tacking the mess that made onto any episode involving a space battle.

I’m also conflicted about the mood because of the sinister overtones I mentioned earlier. The Federation and Starfleet in this movie are far darker and less noble than the organizations we know from earlier material. These are not organizations still upholding the ideals they were founded on. Or rather, they are, but only in public. Behind the scenes they’re shown to be as ruthless as their enemies, willing to ally with rogues using banned weapons and destroy civilizations if they’re in inconvenient places. I admit, I never got into Enterprise and I lost track of Deep Space Nine before Section 31 was brought in, but everything I’ve heard and read about it makes me think that this movie was pointing in that direction. And in just about any other universe I’d be all over the morally gray stuff that entails. But in the Trek universe I want my ideals. I want the gray moral areas to be more about specific situations, not about entire organizations going gray from the inside.

Like I said, I don’t dislike this movie. But I am conflicted about it. I like a lot of the components to it. I like the blocks it’s built from just fine. They’re not my very favorite blocks, but they’re solid and all. It’s just that they don’t quite come together to form a good movie. I know I’ve named a lot of episodes in this review and that’s really quite intentional. I think this movie is an episode. It’s a perfectly fine middle-of-the-road episode. It’s not one I’d come back to over and over and over, but it’s also not one I’d go out of my way to avoid. If I passed it on television I’d stop on it, but at the next commercial break I might flip away from it, just like quite a few episodes. If it wasn’t for that ridiculous time stopping thing I might stick around, but hey, if they can stop time then maybe they’ll still be there when I flip back.

January 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 321 – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Bram Stoker’s Dracula – January 15th, 2011

Tonight, while looking through our list, Andy and I decided that tomorrow we would embark upon a rather long series. We toyed with the idea of starting it tonight, then looked at the movies’ lengths and mapped them to which days they’d fall and realized it wouldn’t work. And so we have the next two weeks planned, but we did not have tonight planned and so I said “How about Dracula?” and Andy said “Huh, sure. Why didn’t we watch this during our Keanu Reeves weekend?” I have no answer aside from forgetting he was in this, because, you see, I had not seen this movie prior to tonight. Indeed, this is probably another admission that might get my English degree revoked, but I’ve never read the book either.

I’ve always meant to read the book. It’s one of those things I have no good excuse for aside from simply never getting around to it. My college English lit classes were mostly modern literature, with only a few small ventures into earlier centuries (Shakespeare and Chaucer, most notably – my Victorian lit class was focused on material culture) and since then I tend to keep myself busy with work reading. But I like the idea of Dracula, told through articles and letters and transcribed interviews and the like. Epistolary writing can be really fantastic when done well, and I like the concept of tracking a story through multiple formats, as opposed to a single character’s diary. The trouble with a story told in this way is that it makes for a challenge when it comes to adaptation to a new medium. The format is so integral to the telling of the story that transferring it to a visual format such as film means losing much of its flavor and tone(s). A graphic novel might be better suited to the job. Just look at the original graphic novel for Watchmen. Now there’s some fantastic epistolary work, and the film adaptation had to do some fancy footwork to deal with the content from the novel chapters and psychiatric files and old photos. I think this is the source of Dracula’s major failings for me.

And yes, that means its major failings for me are not Dracula’s hair or Keanu Reeves’ performance. Yes, the hair is easy to poke fun at, and no, this isn’t Reeves’ best work, but the major issue I have is that the plot seems to meander and the transitions aren’t terribly smooth. Oh sure, the movie is fantastically over-dramatic and all, but I kind of would expect that. It’s Victorian. I expect swooning here and I expect shocking revelations and I expect everyone to be exaggerated. I expect melodrama and big dresses and big hats and this movie delivers on those counts. Unfortunately, while doing all that it also wanders in and out of various episodes in the plot, sometimes giving background, sometimes not, sometimes having things connect, sometimes not. And I can only assume that it comes from the content cleaving too closely to the written work, which, being composed of letters and other bits and pieces, would force you to skip from one piece of the story to the next. It’s a difficult thing, I would think, and I don’t think it was handled terribly well, which is frustrating.

The thing is, I enjoyed the movie quite a lot. Visually it’s a lovely piece of work, with lots of details and gorgeous costumes and fun camera tricks instead of the usual post-production special effects I’m used to. It was great to see so many in-camera effects used. I liked the cast (yes, even Keanu), especially Lucy’s three suitors and of course Gary Oldman as Dracula. I can’t honestly say how I feel about Winona Ryder as Mina, but I understand she’s the one who brought the script to Coppola, so it’s not like they were going to ditch her. She does a fine job, but every so often I felt a little thrown out of her scenes and I can’t put my finger on why. But really, I like the visuals, I like a lot of the acting, I like that the movie kept in a lot of characters who are, according to what I’ve read, often omitted or combined into one stand-in. As I said, I enjoyed watching it. But I freely acknowledge that it has flaws.

I’m not sure what I would do to fix my problems with the movie, to be honest. Were I taking a book done in this format and adapting it for the screen, I might end up doing the same things, and so I understand where it’s coming from. But it makes it feel a little sloppy, which is a shame. I like the portrayal of Dracula as a semi-sympathetic villain, and I liked the teamwork of Lucy’s three suitors. I liked a lot of the choices that were made. I just wish the narrative had either been thoroughly consistent or it had been more obvious in how it was drawing from its source, because other than that, this movie was a lot of fun.

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