Monthly Movie Journal: April 2011
First Time Views
The vast majority of this list, including subsequent categories.
1490 5.7 61. The Tourist (2010)
42 5.1 5.72. The Echo (2008)
What would modern horror movies do without attractive, young, and struggling actors and actresses trying to find work? Well,for starters, they'd probably have to rely heavier on quality story telling and film-making.
As you can see above, The Echo succeeds in the 'attractive people' department, but surprisingly doesn't sell audiences too short the rest of the way either. If you're an avid fan of the horror genre like I am I think you'll find that, while not great, The Echo is relatively worthwhile. The rest of you can go about skipping it comfortably.
656 6.8 7.33. The Age of Innocence (1993)
It's curious that Martin Scorsese would be attracted to this film adaptation of Edith Wharton's celebrated novel. Apart from capturing New York City at a particular place in time (here we are presented with 1870's high-society) there's little in the story that would seem comparible to the fare we've come to expect from the director. And there's even less on hand that calls for the dynamic energy Scorcese is know to bring to film projects. Afterall, The Age of Innocence is first and foremost a melodrama dealing with the plight of the very upper echelon of society. A soap opera dedicated to showcasing and villifying the elaborate graces and shallow morals of Victorian-American culture.
Sadly, there's little in the way of imagination, risk, or freshness at work here. Sure, the costumes are all just right, the score is excellent, and the set-pieces are detailed and elegant. But everything is very safe in this film adaptation. (We're even given passages of narration pulled from the novel verbatim) There's no overt style, tone, or special something that endears to this film to me. Form the direction to the performances I was left with only an impression of competent ordinariness.
I suppose it must be said however that I've attempted to read this Wharton novel on three seperate occasions and have failed all three times. The fact that Scorsese did atleast manage to pull me through the story to its completion should be taken as a token of praise.
401 6.5 5.94. Valhalla Rising (2009)
Some might say "slow and deliberate sprinkled with moments of gritty violence", but really it just plays out as self-important and overly self-concious in its insistance on being "epic". Anything that looks "cool" here feels more or less like a music video.
Tiresome, tedious, and unrewarding, this could easily have been trimmed down to a 20 minute short and worked better.
1201 6.4 6.75. Love & Other Drugs (2010)
Prior to seeing this film I wasn't much of a Jake Gylhnelahlnlsylsn fan, nor was I completley sold on the so-called charms of Anne Hathaway. Having now seen Love and Other Drugs... none of that has much changed. But despite all that I did mostly like this film so perhaps that's saying something.
Though nothing in this film can be called great a lot of things did work well here and exceeded my expectations.
For a thoughtful and observant review click here:
181 7.7 7.86. Encounters at the End of the World (2007)
Director Werner Herzog sets out for Antarctica to um, to uh...well, I'm not sure exactly. But he captures some pretty cool video and audio footage along the way, and talks with some rather interesting characters. At its best this documentary is oddly mesmerizing and spiritually stirring in a vague sense.
Other times the project seems unfocused and gets bogged down by the director's eccentric, sometimes down-right obtrusive ego that comes through in much of the narration.
84 6.7 6.77. Pin (1988)
What a creepy and surprisingly awesome surprise! This bizarre 1980's psychological thriller may be one of the most overlooked genre films of the decade, while still being accessible and enjoyable to the 'average' viewer.
There are shades of 1950's sci-fi/horror at play here which really add to the charm and the cast of unknowns pitch in with respectable-- at times quite good-- performances. Be the first on your block to see it!!
Currently streaming on Netflix
815 7.1 7.58. The Painted Veil (2006)
Based on W. Somerset Maugham's novel (which I've never read, but now want to) The Painted Veil is at once a period piece and a foreign excursion, a tradedy and a love story (far unlike most any you've seen before), a historical account of cholera epidemic, and a contemplation of issues concerning socio-political and religious imperialism.
More impressive is that the film dances in-step with all of these identities with such little strain. Solid performances (exceptional in the case of Naomi Watts) from the entire cast lift the material beyond its time and place and strike intimate notes amist a story that deals with mostly out-dated concerns for a modern audience. The film is further bolstered by a wonderful score and fantastic photography.
Some lack of character-depth in Edward Norton's role and an ending that felt very rushed are the largest of my complaints here, but the film is strong enough to transcend most of its flaws. This is a very worthwhile film.
62 6.9 6.49. The Exploding Girl (2009)
I had been meaning to sit down with this film for a couple months now and held some lofty expectations due mainly in part to the praise it received from a friend and fellow listal member. What I did not expect is a film that I ultimately feel so divided about. I feel more two-sided about this movie than perhaps any other I've seen this year.
The Exploding Girl is about as "slice-of-life" as they make 'em and I mean that mostly as a positive. It follows a week in the life of a young college student named Ivy. She is home from school during a break from her classes, during which time her best and oldest friend Al (as in Allan, as in Male) stays with her and her mother. Ivy's boyfriend Greg remains in up-state New York and our familiarity with him is achieved strictly through audio, via Ivy's cell phone. The conversations strike an authentic, highly believable tone, often competing with New York City traffic and the various distractions/trappings of 'real life'.
The bulk of the story focuses on this young trio, with the streets and settings of New York City standing in as a very tangible, sometimes intrusive fourth character. Ivy's epilepsy (oh yeah, she's prone to seizures at times of emotional stress) lends the film a vague sense of tension and solemnity and I suppose adds some weight to an otherwise remarkably ordinary college girl.
A large part of me admired this movie for its uncanny ability to mine drama from the seemingly mundane in big, shining chunks, all the while striking an earnest, somehow poetically mesmerizing tone. The characters are likeable and naturally performed. At times we really do feel the voyeristic guilt creep in, as it seems like we're eavesdropping on the lives of real people.
Ultimately though too much of this film failed to stike me in any sort of memorable way. The emotional stakes simply were never raised high enough for my tastes, and the emotional tone of the film felt meandering and unfocused at turns. SO understated is much of the material here that it begins to indicate a lack of confidence in the story-telling. Visually the story may take assertive leaps, but too often the shots are undercut by a lack in narrative movement or feeling. Long stretches of near-silence become a bit tedious and never quite speak the volumes that they maybe intend.
Personally I found The Exploding Girl to be a patchy excercise that stirred my interested emotional involvement little more or less than my frustrated desire for something more.
51 7.4 7.510. Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuc... (1999)
A strange, unsettling, haunting documentary...
910 6.6 6.811. eXistenZ (1999)
All the startling imagry and dark intellectuality I've come to expect from Cronenberg tempered by a more bizarrely light-hearted and grimly gleeful dystopian meditation. Pure bliss if you ask me.
Oh, and very obviously the inception of Christopher Nolan's Inception. I really hope he's been crediting this film in interviews as a MAJOR influence.
183 7.2 7.612. Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008)
722 7.1 7.313. Half Nelson (2006)
This is a very brave and socially ambitious film that challenged me in ways that films don't often do. As far as indie-dramas go, it's tought to find one that absorbed me as much as the material and performances here did. Highly original, wonderfully and, at times, heatbreakinly honest and unflinching. There's a couple misteps here, but all in all this is a film that deserves high praie. Check it out before it leaves Netflix Instant Watch!
1763 7.7 814. Dogville (2003)
Take equal parts Isaac Bashevis Singer's fable, "Gimple the Fool", Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands, and an "Our Town" strage production, then toss in one universally strong cast, a sublime Nicole Kidman and a skilled and pretentious Lars Van Trier and you've got yourself Dogville.
Van Trier's approach is wholly original and I can admire that. But his message is labored and overly didactic. He repeats himself profusely, and by the time the stage is set for the big finale I truly had trouble caring. Lots of vague "big" ideas swarm around haphazardly in this film but none are ever terribly compelling, certainly not enough so to justify a 3 hour run-time. My god. I don't entirely regret watching this film, but I'd never sit through it again. Unless perhaps someone was paying me. But even then there's a good chance I'd call in sick.
94 6.9 7.115. Kicking and Screaming (1995)
I might have loved this film had I seen in 5 years ago. As it stands I still enjoyed it. Quite a lot, in fact. And any film that casually tosses out Raymond Carver referreces automatically earns points with me. But as witty and intelligent as much of the dialogue was here, not quite enough about this film really stood out from its crowd of peers. Worthwhile, but Beautiful Girls --a very similar film in many ways-- is better.
1200 6.9 7.616. The Abyss (1989)
After revisiting the first two 'Alien' films this week, I decided it was time to sit down with a sci-film I haven't seen half a dozen times. So, I finally watched The Abyss in its entirety, extended edition no less.
For 1989, this film is a visual marvel and definately deserves the academy award it received for visual effects. Also impressive is the time the film takes (Much like Alien) to establish atmosphere and character. Ed Harris gives his usual strong performance here, and the supporting casts does a fine job as well. Great close-quarters shooting ups the excitement and this is really a good-looking film, all in all.
I will say though that things run a bit too long for my tastes, or at the very least there are some pacing problems here. And maybe it's my evil horror fan side of me talking, but... well, I guess I'll leave the spoiling to James Cameron himself.
145 7.5 7.317. The Short Films of David Lynch (2002)
Leaves Netflix Instant 5/1/11! If you're interested in Lynch, catch it while you can!
Contains 6 short films ranging from a few minutes to half an hour or so. Haven't watched 'em all yet, but wanted to get the "heads up" out there.
Oh, and be prepared to be creeped out by The Alphabet.
60 6.6 7.118. The Power of One (1992)
Certainly not the film adaptation I was hoping for. But then again, Bryce Coutenay's "The Power of One" is among my very favorite novels written in the last 25 years. And in the end the deep, introspective tone of the book combined with a powerful meditation on the political and social realities of 1930's/40's South Africa just proved too much for the film to attempt to replicate.
Things were promising throughout much of the first half, but by the final act the film devolved into an overly-simplified treatment of good vs. evil that left a bad taste in my mouth. I won't say the film was without its merits though, as several of the performances are very strong and the musical score really did a lot to evoke mood and spirit. But I'll always feel that some books are better left untouched and "The Power of One" ranks high on the list.
1732 7.5 7.919. Boogie Nights (1997)
A brave and ambitious film from one of the premier directing talents of his generation, Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights is a compelling tale that documents the glamour and sordidness of the 1970's/80's porn industry. The film is chalk-full of talent and filled with great performances. Another major strenght of the film is that, while it asks to be taken seriously, it's certainly not short on fun either.
Much of the way the film is edited and the scenes are constructed reminded my of the hyper-speed, sweeping style of Scorsese's Casino and I couldn't help but think of Goodfellas in the way much of the story-arch shakes out, and in the way the film follows its hero though the intitially glamourized sub-culture of the porn industry to the bitter, ugly reality of the world he once worshipped. This isn't to suggest that P.T. Anderson lacks his own style or directoral voice, only that the similarities I found between Boogie Nights and a couple of my favorite Scorsese pics increased my enjoyment of this film.
As good as Boogie Nights is though, I don't think it's one that will stay with me like his next effort, Magnolia does. Also unlike Magnolia I certainly will never feel the need to revisit it 5 or 6 times!
168 7 6.820. M. Butterfly (1993)
M. Butterfly is Cronenberg’s least-known and most underrated work, far superior to his great cult hit, Scanners. At first blush, Butterfly, might appear to be an anomaly in Cronenberg’s oeuvre, something he might have as a director-for-hire to finance a future project more similar to his other work. While it’s true that the film is more emotionally direct and more sexually straightforward than most of his others, the same Cronenbergian themes and obsessions are at play and the usual complex relationships between people, bodies, and minds are all a major part of the story and the film should be considered a major entry in Cronenberg’s series of complicated and sophisticated literary adaptations — an equal to Crash, Naked Lunch, and Spider.
Where I find out what all the fuss is about...
960 8.1 821. Breathless (1960)
For a good read see:
My Take: Very tough to add anything of import to the above and I concur with most everything written. I'll add however that I felt the movie worked to hold audiences at arm's length a bit. I never felt I truly liked or sympathized with our 'hero' enough to truly respond to the film the way I felt I should.
Still, a technical and stylistic marvel that ought not to be missed by serious students of film. And as post-modern feeling in its content as much as its style.
2328 7.1 7.422. Carrie (1976)
Yep- I'm gonna go ahead and bump this up to "classic" status.
Probably my second favorite Stephen King film adaptation only after The Shining. Ridiculous that I only now watched this film for the first time, I know. I was happy to find though that it didn't feel too terribly dated- a testament to the film's ability to conjure up emotions of empathy, anger, sypathy, and fear from its audience. True emotional response doesn't have a shelf-life. Director Brian De Palma seems to be in steady control over the material here, and I was please at the multiple tributes to to Hitchcock that can be found throughout the film.
And oh what a villianous duo between the shit-crazy mother and that bitch Chris!
221 8.1 7.923. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)
Nothing less than an incredible achievement in film, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse works as clever, gripping mystery, a creepy horror film, an explosive "blockbuster", and a socio-political meditation all at once.
Fans of Lang's previous film, M will be please to discover the reappearance of the wonderful and cranky Detective Lohman as he tries to unravel the mystery of the strange and dire circumstances revolving around mad-genious/social anarchist/political revolutionist Dr. Mabuse and the string of crimes threatening the city.
Lang combines incredible set-pieces and cutting edge editing and visual effects to bolster the story, and at many times modern audiences can't help but wonder just what all political implications can be made of this film made just as the Nazi party was seizing complete control of Germany.
This is a fun and mesmerizing film experience that hits on a scale so grand that it's minor faults barely register.
1003 8.3 8.224. The 400 Blows (1959)
One of the primary titles of the French New Wave, The 400 Blows puts its focus on a restless youth named Antoine with a knack for finding himself in trouble. At the tender age of oh, 13 or 14 we find Antoine reacting much the way one might expect him to, given his lot in life. Neither his parents, with everything else they must contend with, have much time for him, what with with all the work, extra-marital affairs, and disagreement over how to best raise their child going on.
The 4oo Blows takes a realist approach to its Parisian streets and its flawed and ordinary characters, but fills the screen with a sort of sublime poetry that's difficult to describe, but truly makes itself felt.
One part auto-biography, one part love letter to cinema, one part social lamentation, one part terrific.
Currently Streaming on Netflix
1460 7.9 825. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
As a self-proclaimed horror fan, I can't begin to tell you what the hell took me so long to see this film. In fact I'm embarassed to admit that I only just now watched it for the first time. But there's no sense in lying about it. Yes I've seen it now. Yes it's awesome.
Foreign Language Find of the Month
In order to expand my horizons, satisfy my desire for discovery, and approach a film with zero to little expectation-- all at once!
75 6.4 6.826. My Best Friend (2006)
One of the most purely enjoyable, light-hearted films I've seen in a long time. It's smart, touching, and deeply in tune with what it means to be human. The kind of movie that makes you feel good after watching while somehow eluding the realm of over-sentimentality and limp feel-good generic garbage. So yeah, kind of a special film I'd say. Give it a watch!
Currently Streaming on Netflix
My local go-to-guy says:
Documentary of the Month
Because sometimes a good documentary can be just the thing.
206 8 8.327. Hoop Dreams (1994)
One of the most celebrated documentaries of all time, I finally decided to see what was so special about this movie. Simply put, it's an incredible film and truly an awesome achievement.
I don't always agree with Roger Ebert (then again I often do) but he really nails it here
46 8.8 8.728. Bill Hicks: Sane Man (1989)
A Bill Hicks stand-up performance overflows with raw energy, untempered passion, pointed anger, and just an all around lack of smug apathy found in so much stand-up comedy today. As earnest as he his fucking hilarious. If you've never watched the late Bill Hicks, you're missing out on a major figure in comedy.
15 6 6.829. Lynch (2007)
I've been strangely fascinated to David Lynch for some time now. Truly this isn't a great documentary even for his most avid fans and I don't imagine anyone without much interest in his work would get through it. The bulk of the documentary captures the time when he was working on Inland Empire.
Pretty as a Picture: The Art of David Lynch is a far better introduction to and commentary on the man and his work.
At the Movies
Slapped down $9 or so to catch these on the Big Screen...
577 7.8 7.830. I Saw the Devil (2010)
Trailer for I Saw the Devil
My local-- and generally trusted-- film critic more or less gets this one right:
*Rarely do I read reviews for a film before I go see it. This case was an exception. And let me just say, I've seen-- and in certain cases greatly enjoyed-- some seriously messed up cinema. But the above review, while accurate and observant, DID NOT fully prepare me for this film. We really are talking about disturbing here folks. You likely will not enjoy watching this film. It's not a popcorn muncher. Worse, it feels very mean-spirited at most times, and often alarmingly misogynistic.
I admired the technical achievements of this movie. I vaguely approved of the fact that it made me uncomfortable. But it's definately one I'm hesitant to recommend to just anybody-- and maybe just wouldn't recoommend at all, to anyone. Don't mean to sound melodramatic, but you've been warned.
263 6.9 7.231. Win Win (2011)
Trailer for Win Win
Far more than the sum of its parts, this is one hell of a brave film that forces us to re-examine our ideas about family and livelihood, public service and personal integrity in today's world. That sounds contrived and bogus, I know. But I'm not sure how else to say it.
Giamatti is wonderful, as I've come to expect, and Amy Ryan in offers up what has to be among the finest performances from an actress so far this year. The further and further this movie strays from conventional
the better it gets. This will likely hold on for a spot on my 'Year-end Best' list.
977 5.9 6.232. Scream 4 (2011)
I was amused at times, but rarely thrilled. In my mind every strength of the film was equally matched by a weakness, though I will say everyone else in the theatre (including my girlfriend who has rather impeccable taste in film) seemed to enjoy the movie more than I did. Hmmm. Oh well.
So don't let me dissuade you; if you're geared up to see it, here's a perfectly thoughtful and helpful review/overview of the entire series:
1020 6.4 6.833. Insidious (2010)
Quite good and sufficiently scary throughout it's first half, Insidious relies upon many of the jump-scare tactics I normally despise. The difference here is that the movie both puts the 'quality film-making' work in that audiences deserve, and executes the sudden-loud-music, startling-image-shots really well. It's only after the first 50 minutes or so that the movie becomes a bit of a mess-- though it manages to remain a good deal of fun through its entirety.
Sadly the movie falters a bit as it adds supporting characters, each one a little more poorly acted, or badly written than the last. It's only because the film is anchored by a core family of characters well enough drawn that we're able to forgive some not infrequent missteps.
Also notable are the many homages paid to many, many horror classics-- from Amnityville to Nosferatu, The Shining to Poltergeist. The title-card and music even evoked an unmistakable 1970's/80's Italian horror vibe which I found really cool. While the film regrettably trades atmosphere for spectacle too often, and the final act gets pretty "cheese-ed up", Insidious is still a good time and recommendable to horror fans.
Back on the Shelf
Movies I started but didn't complete for one reason or another.
Often old favorites, but sometimes an attempt to arrive at a film with a different mindset or motive.
312 6.5 6.837. Fair Game (2010)
A concise but observant review that really gets it right:
4716 8 8.538. The Departed (2006)
Far, far from Scorsese's best picture, but not without it's moments. This is the final word on the theme of betrayal that runs through much of Scorsese's work.
Leave it to Hollywood to finally hand the man his over-due Best Director Oscar for his most 'studio' film to date, and one noticably removed from his usual NYC setting at that. Bah.
2954 7.8 8.239. Fargo (1996)
Within a track-record of great films (and no signs of slowing down) I consider this their masterpiece.
3900 8 8.540. Alien (1979)
2885 7.8 8.441. Aliens (1986)
Month in Review
409 7.3 7.342. The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008)
My Quick Pick Six:
Good: Night of the Living Dead / Hoop Dreams
Bad: The Tourist / Valhalla Rising
Weird:eXistenZ / Dogville
14 6.6 6.443. Surprise Cinema (2000)
The most pleasant surprise of the month is a toss-up between Pin and Half Nelson. I knew nearly nothing about either film before I sat down to watch them, and could scarcely have been more pleased by how they turned out.
4 8 6.244. Looking Back (1969)
After a noticably week movie month in March I rebounded nicely in April, both in terms of quality and quantity. I somehow crammed 38 films into 30 days, 33 of them first time views. I made it out to the theatre once a week, which is always a good thing, knocked off a few movies I've been meaning to watch forever now, and even plowed through a few documentaries-- something I failed to do at all last month.
Of course their were a few let-downs, but not many of them had terribly high expectations attatched. Besides, I've always got the Alien films to fall back on...
Nope, not too shabby.
Total films watched: 38
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