Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Lives of Others

What a touching film.

This is was one of those Netflix movies that had been sitting on my t.v. stand for months. I was just never in the mood for a German language film set in the eighties in East Germany. And really - who ever is? I had even started it once, got about 45 minutes in, and fell asleep. High praise, I know.

But trust me, give it a shot. It really is lovely. Admittedly, it has a slow start and our protagonist takes some warming up to. But the plotting is so intricate, the character motivations so complex, it's well worth the watch.

I suspect it was on my Netflix queue in the first place because it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film a few years back - and it was well deserved.

The story centers on a man in the Stasi, the State Police of East Germany who monitored all the rebellious thinkers back in the day. He's a master interrogator, he can spot a liar from a mile off, and he knows how to catch the guys on the other side. His transformation and the consequences of his choices are a delight to watch unfold.

Honestly, there is a lot of heart in this film despite what you might think in the first hour. If you aren't afraid of subtitles, I highly highly recommend The Lives of Others.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Killer Inside Me (2010)

The Killer Inside Me got a lot of press for its gruesome beating scenes. And yes, they were gruesome. And I'd imagine in a brilliant film, those scenes would be enough to turn people off. The problem is, this is not a brilliant film. It's not really even a good film. Our protagonist, the serial killer, is under-characterized and pretty much without motive. He kills because he's crazy. And he's crazy because his mom was sort of crazy. And he's not good at covering things up and the authorities are on him from the beginning. And he doesn't really seem to care much whether he's caught and neither do we. It's just a blah of a movie with two incredibly realistic beating scenes.

I like Casey Affleck a lot. I think he's a terrific actor. But this movie is dull and the shocking bits are nothing except shocking. I'm guessing playing a crazy serial killer would appeal to a lot of actors. It's just too bad a better story wasn't written around the character. (I've not read the novel. I hear it has some dark humor it. I wonder...)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

24 Hour Party People (2002)

If I'm being honest, I paid very little attention to 24 Hour Party People. I'm a big Joy Division fan but once Ian Curtis was swinging, my interest fizzled fast. Unfortunately, that was about forty-five minutes in. Maybe one day I'll try again. Maybe not.

"This is a film about the music. And the people who made the music."

Sorry Steve Coogan, it didn't quite feel that way...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010)

Oh, there's so much I didn't properly absorb the first time.

Bill. He's there for half a minute, we don't really get his whole attacked by a werewolf story NOR do we get to see much of his wedding. But he looks like a Weasley. He looks a lot like the twins. I enjoyed his moment. Charlie really got the shaft, huh?

The entire sequence where the trio infiltrates the ministry - those three actors deserve a lot of credit. They're funny. I don't really see the motivation behind why they all walk funny - but it's amusing. So i'll let it go.

I still don't understand why they become seven Harry Potters rather than fourteen Hagrids. But whatever. It's in the book. I also appreciate the change they made with Hedwig. Her death is much more meaningful in the movie, and that makes me happy.

Just listing the scenes I like doesn't make for much of a post. I liked pretty much all of them. So I'll stop now.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

127 Hours (2010)

I have mixed feelings about 127 Hours. James Franco is incredibly charming and this movie definitely used that charm to the max. But the direction (from Danny Boyle who I ADORE. 28 Days Later is pretty much my favorite movie) was incredibly hyper and quick. Screens split three ways, lots of motion, lots of color and light. Very ADD. I suspect this style was implemented to contrast to the slow, I'm-trapped-in-a-cavern pace but I found it distracting.

Also, I had an issue with the arc that is imposed upon Aron Ralston.  It felt heavy handed. Like a beacon every so often flashing in my face saying "He didn't connect with people!" only to return to the present where he's epiphinizing (SO not a word) about how he should have connected with people. It wasn't necessary. Being trapped like that would change a person - I think the audience can be trusted to realize that - without the arc being so forced.

And the whole thing was incredibly short. The rainy escape dream sequence was unnecessary and an obvious time filler.

This was in no way a perfect film. I think the fact that it's a true story is elevating it beyond its merits. It's no Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, or Slumdog. But James Franco is a charming actor and watching him is always fun.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Social Network (2010)

Best Screenplay of the year. By a long shot.

I've gushed once about how great The Social Network is. But a friend of mine wasn't interested in seeing "The Facebook Movie" so it became priority one for me to prove her wrong.

We saw it in a near empty theatre and the print was scratched. MAN is that annoying. But she enjoyed the film and I felt vindicated.

Since seeing it the first time, I've become well acquainted with the score and I enjoyed listening to it as accompaniment to the film. My friend and I also realized that the little kid from Jurassic Park is in The Social Network - all grown up and nerdish. My friend was like, "Who IS that?" and I was like, "I feel like maybe he used to be a kid..." and then we got it. Weird how people tend to grow up...

I love so much about that movie. How hacking is made to look exciting, how funny the twins are, how awesome it is when Eduardo finally loses his temper. Andrew Garfield is terrific.

This is one movie I whole-heartedly recommend to everyone. I can't wait to own it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Home Alone (1990)

Christmas requires multiple viewings of Home Alone. Review one is here. I'm sure they'll be at least one more.

This time around, let's contemplate the slapstick nature of the stunts. By my estimation, several of Kevin's little traps would have offed the poor Wet Bandits. Perhaps the most lethal: the various falls down icy stairs and the long swing into a brick wall. Heads slamming into concrete can be messy.

The paint cans to the face could also have been lethal - and if they survived the cans themselves, the subsequent fall down the stairs may have crushed a vertebrae or two. An iron to the face would probably cause at least a concussion and maybe a broken nose. And man, that nail in the foot, while perhaps the least lethal trap would definitely hurt. And bleed. As would the glass christmas ornaments. Die Hard anyone?

Imagine if Home Alone had treated these moments with complete realism rather than cartoon humor. Joe Pesci lies unconscious and bleeding from his skull in the McCallister's front yard when mom gets home the next morning. Daniel Stern leaves bloody footprints all over the house before breaking his back falling down the stairs. Kevin, in shock, doesn't speak for years.

Yeah - that would have been a different movie.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Black Swan (2010)


Black Swan is intense.

It stays incredibly close with the protagonist, Nina, fantastically portrayed by Natalie Portman. She deserves all the buzz she's getting. We're with her - tight - the whole time. What she sees (whether it's real or not) we see. What makes her squirm or makes her jump makes us squirm or jump. If she's confused, we're probably confused. It's quite a feat of filmmaking - visually unique and incredibly creepy.

However, while I completely acknowledge the craftsmanship, I was incredibly on edge in an uncomfortable way from beginning to end. I realize that the viewer is supposed to be uncomfortable this way, constantly braced for what's to come, but truthfully, I find it exhausting and not so enjoyable to be so wound up.

I think I might appreciate it more a second time through when the jumpiness is neutralized. I think without the constant fear of surprise, I might better take in the obviously stellar visuals and superb performances.

It's a movie to be seen, for sure. I'm just not so sure it's a movie to be enjoyed by everyone.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Home Alone (1990)

Okay. Here we go. Home Alone - the original of course - is great. Quotable for eternity (Look what you did, you little jerk. / This is my house, I have to defend it. / You guys give up? Or you thirsty for more? / I wouldn't let you sleep in my room if you were growing on my ass. / I'm over here you big horse's ass / Is this toothbrush approved by the American Dental Association?) and well crafted in its complexities, Home Alone is a modern masterpiece.

So you know the storm the night before they leave for France? It's everything. The perfect setup. Fate. It knocks out the power - making them late. Screws up the phone lines - making it impossible to call Kevin. The kid who is miscounted for Kevin (Mitch Murphy is his name) - he's crazy funny (How fast does this thing go? Does it have automatic transmission? Does it have four wheel drive?) His amusing nature makes his slightly contrived existence more than forgivable.  Kevin's fear of the neighbor prevents him from opening the door to the police. The McCallister's calling the neighbor for help (who isn't home because rich people are never home for Christmas) alerts The Wet Bandits to the McCallisters' still being in France. It's just all so perfectly built and logical. Je'adore.

On top of all that stuff - Macaulay Culkin really is fantastic. He was ten (probably actually nine when they filmed) and he carries the entire film. His precociousness, the degree to which he actually understands where the humor, it's very impressive. As his father says near the end, "What a funny guy!"

I think I've made my love of Home Alone pretty clear. It also has a fantastic Christmas soundtrack and, much like It's A Wonderful Life, it makes snow look gorgeous.  If you haven't seen it lately, check it out.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (1992)

Home Alone 2: Lost In New York pales in comparison to the original. It's not as funny, it's not as sweet, the parents seem twice as awful, and the few things that it does do well are the things it lifted directly from the original.

Plus, plausibility goes straight out the window with this one. The Wet (now Sticky) Bandits escaped from jail (right...) and then happen to run into Kevin. Not ONLY do they find each other in the most crowded city on the planet - but the fact that they're all in New York to begin with is a crazy coincidence.

The hotel staff cares way more about what's going on with this kid than any reasonable hotel staff would, and his homeless lady friend lives in  - what - the attic? of Carnegie Hall? Where no one EVER goes.

Luckily for us, Kevin has a random family member who has left behind a big empty house in the city. So now Kevin can copy his stunts from the last movie. Except this time just for fun because the bandits aren't trying to rob this house. And it makes total sense considering how small and cramped NYC is, that Kevin couldn't possibly just hide randomly. Like in a Borders.  And apparently he has some unexplained aversion to police involvement.

Whatever. I adore the original. Not only do I get warm and fuzzy feelings from it, but I feel like John Hughes covered all his bases the first time around. He actually wrote sensical stuff. Stuff that, even if it's somewhat unlikely, could happen. Major fail with the sequel.

Okay...Tim Curry is a little bit funny.

P.S. That pic came from this post where the writer is comparing the homeless lady to Susan Boyle. And to the bowing lady at the end of Sound of Music. Made me giggle :)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

We decided to watch It's A Wonderful Life after Thanksgiving dinner because one of the roommates hadn't seen it before.

What can you say about this movie? It's sweet, it's well made, and it conjures nostalgic feelings of Christmas. I think this movie makes snow look better than almost any other movie. There's a kid named Zuzu, a guy who says HeHaw and talking stars.

It's funny - if you said to someone "Tell me what It's A Wonderful Life is about," I bet they'd say it's about a guy who gets to see what the world would be like if he had never been born. But the never been born bit is only the final act of the film. It may just be the film with the most setup on the planet.

Anywho, it's great. And if you don't at least get a knot in your throat, I judge you.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010)

Opening night. A theatre full of Potter fans. Second to last time we get to do this dance. I'm going to miss it.

I very much enjoyed the movie. It's slow and mournful, beautifully shot and lovely to watch. It is incredibly focused on the three main characters. It was bold to focus so tightly on the trio. But they carried it off wonderfully. And the animation - how gorgeous was that?

Hermione is perfect in this film. I normally don't think she's quite right, but in Deathly Hallows 1, she's spot on. I adored the dance scene. And the Christmas graveyard scene. And poor Dobby. Man. How often to CGI characters make you cry?

I'll have a better grasp of my thoughts upon a second viewing. Check back later!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2009)

I think Tom Felton pretty much steals this movie. And, since I haven't given him a ton of credit thus far, Daniel Radcliffe is pretty good in Half Blood Prince as well.

Despite its ending, it's the funniest of the potter films. Between Ron's lovesickness and Harry's drunken ways on Felix Felicis, its got a lot of charm.

I'll also mention that it's the Potter film I've seen the fewest times. So I don't have a TON to say.

Thank God, right?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

Order of the Phoenix is my least favorite of the novels. Lots of people love Harry's angsty teenage ways, but I find this character shift forced. I don't believe Harry, the Harry we've known for four "years" now, would behave the way he does is Order. There's no impetus for such a drastic turn into douchehood.

However, Helena Bonham Carter is brilliant as Bellatrix. She's definitely my favorite villain. And I do think the movie improves on the ministry sequence at the end. They cut out the weirder elements (baby heads? flesh sucking brains?) and make it look pretty damn cool.

I'll also mention that The Weasley Twins are my favorite characters and I'm glad their exit is well represented. The score of this film is also one of my favorites.

I wish there had been more Tonks and more flashbacks, but as I keep being reminded, we can't have everything we wish for. That's what the novels are for.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

Goblet of Fire is my favorite. Favorite movie. Favorite book. I want my wedding to look like The Yule Ball. I love almost everything about it. The twins are at the height of their wit, Hermione actually seems to like Harry and Ron again, the champions are all well cast, and the challenge sequences are fun and exciting.

The plot does have the one tiny hiccup of irrelevance. Barty Crouch Jr. could have just shown up as MadEye, thrown Harry a smelly old shoe portkey, and bob's your uncle. No need for the whole Tri-Wizard Tournament thing. Details!

I also love the Quiddich World Cup, the tiff between Harry and Ron, Moaning Myrtle and Neville, Draco as a ferret, and of course the grave yard scene where we get to see Voldemort - full force - for the first time. Harry's parents' appearance at the end gets me every time. And Cedric asking to have his body brought back - sigh.

I could gush forever about Goblet. I have nothing bad to say about it. It's magical.