Monthly Movie Journal: August 2011
First Time Views
Films watched for the first time, including most all sub-categories.
1367 7.2 7.51. Source Code (2011)
Smart, fun, good-looking movie from beginning to... well, not quite the end. This one ran into some problems with uneven (and bland) political allegory/character-writing. And the ending simply wasn't for me. Jake G's performance surprised me though. He was very strong here.
975 6.5 6.62. I Love You Phillip Morris (2009)
A wild story, strong performances, some great comedic writing, and some pretty strong efforts toward capturing the psychology of its characters all work together very well here. The biggest complaint I have with the film is that it fails to truly satisfy at a dramatic level. Capturing a perfect balance between comedy and drama is far from easy (and I can be pretty picky about both) so it's not uncommon for one element to get at least partially snuffed out by the other. But that's not to say that there aren't any instances of compelling drama and human emotion. It's just that something in the off-beat- at times almost cynical, or maybe smug is the word- tone of the film makes it hard to live inside of them for very long. Still, this is fun, fascinating, and worth a look.
282 8.2 7.73. The Seventh Continent (1989)
Never before have I watched a director take so much time to say so terribly little. I know I'm supposed to like this film, but really I found it too shallow and intellectually/philosophically lazy to offer it much praise.
Yes, director Michael Haneke used a newspaper article as inspiration for this, his debut, film and as such there were only so many directions he could go. And his bold and deliberate use of cinematography, editing-- his entire vision is very effective here in terms of what he's trying to convey. So sure, in some ways this is an effective and impressive film. Doesn't mean I have to like it.
578 6.6 6.94. The Color of Money (1986)
Maybe the most "nothing special" of all Scorsese's films. A lot of different people could've directed this movie and I feel like much of it would've been more or less the same. Meaning it'd still be a road-movie/poolhall-movie with a bunch of mass appeal, but nothing terribly dangerous or dynamic about it and no tangible sense that there's ever a whole lot at stake.
We get to know these characters a bit, but there's no painfully revealing moments, or instances of poetic or urgent humanity-baring drama that marks so much of Scorsese's work. Entertaining enough, sure. And certain sequences invite us to get caught up in Eddie and Vincent's relationship a bit. But there's just not a whole lot else to say.
450 7.6 7.45. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989)
1379 6.9 7.36. Rango (2011)
Some really stunning animation and well-drawn characters contribute a lot to the enjoyment of this film. The jokes are fast and plentiful, so even while there's a number of duds in the mix, I still found myself amused. Oh, and references galore to cinema of years past. I won't spoil anything, but among the very best moments of the film involves a convertible and a pair of windshield wipers. Priceless.
Unfortunately this movie loses a lot of steam as it passes through and far beyond the 60 minute mark. It's pacing issues are compounded with drawn out action sequences and unnecessarily long set-up for said showdowns. Toss in a romance that never gets off the ground and the problems begin to pile up. Worth a watch if you enjoy good-looking, spirited animation, but certainly not one you'd find on my shelves.
410 6.7 78. Rabbit Hole (2010)
A generally somber and respectful film about the impossible grief that comes with the loss of a 4 year-old child. For the most part the film sharply avoids losing itself in gloomy melodrama and even offers a number of heart-wrenching moments of... laughter. There are moments here of stunning observation and emotional truth, but the film is far from uniformly great. One especially absurd and emotionally generic scene that takes place in a grocery store ought to have been swept off the cutting room floor and promptly dumped in the trash can. A few others, though well intended, don't quite come off. Still, a captivating drama, and almost perfectly cast.
54 5.3 5.89. Isolation (2005)
355 6.1 6.110. Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)
Outrageous, excessive, and hyper-violent don't begin to describe it. But there's plenty of fun to be had, assuming you don't mind abandoning anything and everything remotely resembling good taste for 85 minutes or so. And it's almost certain to become someone out there's new favorite movie.
287 7.3 7.511. I'm Not Scared (2003)
Beautifully shot film that takes place in the country side of southern Italy, the stunning cinematography is a nice counter-balance to the darker material. Some truly impressive child-performances also elevate this movie beyond others of its kind. As far as story there's nothing here that ever pushes the film into the realm of greatness, it's nevertheless a compelling watch start to finish. Good, good movie.
19 5 4.612. Room 205 (2007)
What could've been just a ho-hum little Danish ghost movie set in a college dorm is elevated a bit in its ability to actually deliver a few scares. Sure much of its style is ripped straight from some of the more visible Japanese horror titles, but still, much of it works.
Also there's a fresh-faced, really pretty young woman cast into the main role. And that kind of thing can go along way in a movie like this.
Too bad the ending was pretty awful, but all in all, not horrible.
296 5.2 5.513. The Ward (2010)
657 4.9 5.515. Your Highness (2011)
Ha ha. This movie is stupid. And silly and crass and juvenile and pretty funny on occasions. Within the over-all tone and schtick that the movie sets out for itself there are really only a few complete miscues. But they're pretty severe.
Overall not the worst way to follow up on watching something as relentlessly intense as Clean, Shaven.
522 7.7 7.316. Buffalo '66 (1998)
Here's a movie that's been all over my radar for years and years, but that I never brought myself to watch, no matter how many times I picked it up at video stores or how many times I scrolled right past in on my Instant Queue. Why, I'm not sure, but it's good to finally get this one under my belt.
Buffalo '66 took a while to grow on me as I watched it. In fact there were even moments early on that I felt like turning it off. Generally I prefer my drama and allusions to emotional scarring to be a bit more on the under-stated side than what I was presented with here. Early on certain scenes felt too heavy-handed and obvious and self-satisfied... but this all gave way to a much more sincere and interesting tone over time (not unlike the character arch of our protagonist, actually).
Soon I realized that the writers and director know their characters very well. Their actions and mannerisms are carefully presented and the progressions in their psychologies over the course of one pivotal evening become a real pleasure to watch. The actors handle their characters with graceful ability. By the end Buffalo '66 becomes a one of those efforts in independent movie-making (not to mention sheer story-telling) that most anyone couldn't help but admire.
*As some of you have likely noticed, I hate writing plot summaries. The act of doing so just bores me to tears. So to find out what this movie is actually about see here: review by Roger Ebert
Where I find out what all the fuss is about.
313 7.3 7.317. The Wolf Man (1941)
A solid cast all around with Lon Chaney leading the way in the title role as the kind faced, agreeable sort that one can't help but feel for. Claude Rains delivers a fine performance-- if miscast as his shorter by about a foot father. A bit more screen time for Lugosi would've been nice, but really just him showing up for shooting is a treat.
There's a lot of fun, campy mythology and drama going on all over the place, though I imagine some of this was actually a bit daring for its time. If the old Universal monster movies are your thing, there's no reason not to catch up with this one.
921 8.5 8.118. Stalker (1979)
Like a Samuel Beckett play on high-dose barbiturates. If that sounds taxing on your patience, well, it's because this film likely will be for most, at least partly. But I mean to also suggest a meditative, existential quality that nags at one's consciousness, and drums up all kinds of questions and foggy fascination. Throw in all kinds of warring spiritual allusion and themes and this quickly feels like one of those "big movies" that Hollywood has done nothing to prepare me for. Hmmm.
531 7.5 819. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
Observing that Netflix is removing this from Instant Watch at the end of the month (and upon a friend's recommendation) I figured I'd finally give this a watch. For one reason or another Woody Allen movies (or even the idea of them) have just never excited me. So with no real enthusiasm, I finally sat down to watch this.
And it was good. It's a movie about Big Ideas. The movie exists inside Big Ideas. Instead of existing inside Manhattan or inside Woody's ego. I couldn't believe it.
985 7.6 7.720. Delicatessen (1991)
Not only is Jean-Pierre Jeunet something of a creative genius and an absolute visual virtuoso, but he's also a poet who- when not dealing in the explicitly fantastic- is able to find and then coax the extraordinary out of the ordinary. High time I got around to watching this remarkable debut from one of contemporary cinema's established visionaries!
1773 7.7 8.121. The Graduate (1967)
The most noteworthy thing about 1967's The Graduate might be just how contemporary it still feels. This feels like one of the best films to of its kind to come out of the 80's, rather than the sixties. Of course one reason for this is the fact that this film influenced half of the romantic/screw-ball/college-age-shenanigan comedies released in the 80's and continues to inspire said genres to this day.
The performances here are great, especially the non-stop comic agility of Dustin Hoffman. The biggest downside of the film, as a number of listal members have noted, is the utterly intrusive soundtrack. About 6 too many Simon & Garfunkle tunes and 5 too many montages hurt the film, at times considerably. But when those aspects aren't getting in the way this movie is an absolute hoot.
378 7.8 7.622. Hour of the Wolf (1968)
A surreal, fragmented, hallucinatory nightmare of a film from the legendary Ingmar Bergman.
Fantastic camera-work, musical score/editing, and performances from both lead actors satisfy anyone judging this film based on its cinematic merits, while the narrative and material presented struck me as a deeply personal, cathartic, exploratory piece of art crawling with both Jungian and Freudian overtones. This is surely a challenging film in terms of symbolism and the overall ambiguous nature of the work. But it really hits hard on on emotional and intellectual levels.
David Lynch fans will want to check this out.
Criterion Collection Releases
I don't place a huge stock in whether or not something is deemed "Criterion Collection worthy" but I will admit that when the Janus Films logo comes up on my screen, I do tend to assume I'm about to watch something that's somehow important.
Unless of course we're talking about Armageddon. In which case seriously, wtf?
296 8 823. The Hidden Fortress (1958)
Among the many “jidai-geki” in the Japanese cinema’s tradition, Kurosawa’s most resemble their western counterparts. The Hidden Fortress holds a place in cinema history comparable to John Ford’s Stagecoach: It lays out the plot and characters of an on-the-road epic of self-discovery and heroic action. In a now-familiar fashion, Rokurota and Princess Yuki fight their way to allied territory, accompanied by a scheming, greedy comic duo who get surprised by their own good fortune. Kurosawa always balances valor and greed, seriousness and humor, while depicting the misfortunes of war. Action is underlined by Masaru Sato’s score; though percussive and tonally very Japanese, it has a rousing Hollywood intensity and lilt. Kurosawa’s plot, which falls into the adventure film lineage between John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, further shows his Hollywood/West leaning.
140 7.6 7.124. Clean, Shaven (1993)
Even if he does not intend to romanticize, the artist who seeks to inhabit the mind of a madman runs the risk of seeming presumptuous. But Kerrigan avoids pitfalls largely through a flatness of affect, a way of seeing that combines a ferocity of focus with a lack of judgment. It's a testament to the filmmaker's instinctive poise and restraint that Clean, Shaven is unblinking but not voyeurÂistic, poetic but not sentimental, suspenseful but not exploitative, extreme but not sensational. Kerrigan abstains from overt psychologizing, and Clean, Shaven, although perhaps the most thoroughgoing filmic exploration of schizophrenia ever made, sidesteps the debates and competing theories that have sprung up over the yearsâ€”whether it is one disease or many, whether or not it even constitutes an illness, how it is best diagnosed and treated.
Foreign Language Film of the Month
In order to expand my horizons, satisfy my urge for discovery, and approach a film with zero to little expectation-- all at once!
173 5.9 6.325. Sauna (2008)
Wow. This movie blew me away and completely confounded me at the same time. Simply labeling this as 'horror' doesn't begin to describe what's in store. This film is as challenging as it is beautiful (by which I mean extremely). There's a lot left unanswered or open to interpretation, and while a small part of me wanted at times to write these questions off, I can't help but wonder at connections and meanings that I missed. The technical achievements of the film are strong enough and presented with so much care that I'm inclined to think that most of the frustrations presented by an often cryptic narrative can in fact be reconciled and shaped into a deeper understanding and appreciation. Yep, this one's a thinker.
Also noteworthy is the palpable sense of.. of just... evil that lives and breathes in this movie. It seemed to settle around me like fog as I watched this film. I could really feel this one in a way that doesn't happen often. For reasons not entirely know by myself I was very affected by this film and it's one that I can't seem to shake. I'll be watching this one again.
For a better idea of what this is all about, here's a pretty damn good review: http://www.moviehabit.com/review.php?story=sau_jn09
Documentary of the Month
Because sometimes a good doc is just the thing.
177 7.4 7.926. Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
The first thing you need to know is that this is spectacular documentary film-making. A close second in terms of knowledge you may want to bring with you is just how dark and unsettling the material is here.
Capturing the Friedmans gives us an intensely personal and thorough look at the workings of an upper-middle class family from a respected Long Island, New York neighborhood. Here we meet an accomplished and well thought of teacher named Aurthur, his wife, and their three sons. What fist appears as a perfectly normal, nearly idyllic family is soon revealed to be the setting of a communal nightmare, complete with child-pornography and multiple sexual abuse and sodomy charges. The who's and why's and how's I'll leave to the film to explore.
But what sets this film apart from other depressing, "the world is a fucked up place" documentaries is the questions and ambiguity raised about not only what actually happened within the walls of this Long Island home, but also about the nature of common legal proceedings, interrogation practices, mass hysteria, and media-frenzy.
And if all this wasn't enough, the film's strength is even further aided by remarkably candid interviews and unbelievable amounts of original home-recorded footage between the family members as they document various conversations and arguments that took place once the charges were made. The director maintains an objective and even ambiguous attitude about his subjects and instead wisely allows the psychologies and natures of each and every family member to reveal itself on their own.
Again, this is tough material here, and it is guaranteed to evoke strong reactions. But if you're up for a depressing, unsettling, and often infuriating piece of film, I think most anyone will find that the worth and achievements of this documentary are astounding.
*thanks to lotr23 for the recommendation!
At the Movies
1315 7.1 7.427. Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)
Last week a rare and funny thing happened. I went to the movies and saw a refreshingly smart, truly funny, and perfectly cast romantic comedy. I'm of course speaking about Friends with Benefits. Earlier tonight, on my way to see Crazy, Stupid, Love I couldn't help but wonder what the chances were that I find myself so impressed with a rom-com twice in the same week. Pretty damn slim I imagined.
Well, it almost happened. For the most part Crazy, Stupid, Love is an intensely enjoyable film. And once again, much of the pleasure is derived from the sheer strength of the talent on screen. With a cast featuring Steve Carrel, Ryan Gossling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, and Marisa Tomei there was almost no way I wasn't going to enjoy myself, and it's pretty much a guarantee that a few exceptional moments of both comedy and interpersonal-drama would be found. And of course I did find myself admiring the abilities and screen presence of all these skilled actors. Every one of them found ways to perfectly capture those small flashes of pure emotional truth that I love so well. Sadly though, this film works better within individual scenes than as a whole.
One major thing the movie suffers from are various implausibilities within the story. There's just too much going on that would never unfold the same way in real life. I'm not just talking about details, but entire plot-devices that too much of the film and character arcs rely upon. And of course where Friends with Benefits offered up a fresh and clever departure (or sometimes subversion) of tired rom-com cliches, Crazy, Stupid, Love too often succumbs to them at will. Particularly disheartening is the big father/son "Love Speech" addressed toward an auditorium full of people that arrives toward the end of the movie.
Another thing I took issue with involves a sub-plot about a 17 year-old baby sitter and the 13-year old boy whose completely smitten by her. At first the characters and their situation are perfectly handled, with a mix of naivety, empathy, sexuality, sincerity, and comedy in appropriate, well-measured doses. There's an energy here that really worked. But eventually the film-makers decided to sexualize the awkward and pretty teenager in ways that just didn't jive with the rest of the material, mostly in order to achieve some cheap laughs. The talent here is simply too good to rely on cheap laughs as often as the film does.
Nevertheless, this IS a very fun and, at times, moving picture. It's message is brazenly hopeful, but without becoming overly sentimental and if that doesn't sound like much of a strength, well here it is. I did find more to like than dislike with Crazy, Stupid, Love and it's one I'll likely watch again with my critic's brain on mute.
891 5.7 6.128. Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
1066 7.8 829. The Help (2011)
A number of strong performances (especially from Viola Davis who should receive a best supporting actress nomination) do much to elevate The Help above many other well-intentioned, modestly valuable, but alas, socially skittish movies like it. There are some truly affecting, well written scenes that hint toward the great movie this could've been, but there are nearly as many unfocused sub-plots that help create an overall unbalanced and sprawling narrative.
I admired this film more than I actually liked it-- or wait, maybe I liked it more than I admired it? Either way, it felt like new-comer director, Tate Taylor, never quite settled on just what exactly he wanted this film to be, resulting in a movie that felt a bit too safe (despite a bit of convention-shaking, and a good bit of sincerity underlying it all). It's a film that simply gets in the way of itself too often to become the very strong movie I wanted it to be.
265 5.1 5.630. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)
Sufficiently creepy atmosphere, nice cinematography, a setting that fits the bill handsomely, and Guillermo Del Toro's name attached to this project. And yet this movie just didn't really work. What went wrong?
For one thing we get burdened with the old and tired 'Source of evil/scary/maliciousness exposes itself to child character, none of the adults believe her' cliche. And this in itself wouldn't of been such a bad thing were it not painfully compounded with the 'Distracted father with too much work-stuff on his mind to pay proper attention to his child in distress' cliche. The child performance from young Bailee Madison is strong enough to keep our attention and sympathy through all this and Katie Holmes expertly navigates a tricky role here. But as I said, simply too much of the story blandly trudges through this seen-it-all-before territory.
Maybe more surprising and disappointing is the fact that only 35 or 40 minutes after the film starts there's already nothing left for us to figure out. More or less the entirety of the story is already laid out for us. (a bit of requisite and non-fascinating background information arrives a bit later in the most ridiculous scene of the film, involving a bizarrely, specifically, and conveniently knowledgeable librarian.) The only thing for the film to do is lumber along the plot-lines stretched in front of it, with minimal imagination or zest. And though I won't give it away, the ending we arrive at is far from the one I'd have liked.
Oh right, and then there's the scary things in the dark that are never more than modestly frightening.
Luckily there are some strengths to this film on the technical side of things and in the case of the two performances by Madison and Holmes (Who I apparently enjoy watching on screen, all of a sudden). But aside from these aspects and an effective pre-title screen scene up front, there's not much to take away from this one.
Often old favorites or sometimes a conscious effort to rethink a film.
3391 8 8.131. Black Swan (2010)
Loved this movie when I first watched it in theaters. In fact, my girlfriend and I couldn't stop thinking about it and discussing it over a couple of cocktails afterward. And we both agreed that it could easily be the kind of film that reveals itself as an even better movie the second time around, much how I felt about Shutter Island earlier last year. (And which after 3 viewings now I'm convinced is the best major studio release of 2010.) Unfortunately, Black Swan didn't fare nearly as well upon second viewing.
Now maybe it's simply that it was too soon (though I doubt it) but the energy and magic of this film that I thought I loved so much simply wasn't there. Even allowing for the difference between watching a film in theaters and at home, I was stunned at how little intensity that I remembered so well remained. Scenes that were once compelling and fresh now had me all but rolling my eyes. What I thought were clever and artistic subtleties in style or narrative now seem garish, obtrusive, attention-starved, over-done. The ending which at first struck me as beautiful and thought-provoking, now stunk of bad cheese. And *gasp* worst of all was my response through most of the film to Natale Portman, who I love so dear. Much of the time as she was delivering her lines I wanted to shake her bobble-head right off her waifish frame.
Oh, I still found the film to be an impressive achievement in many ways. It's just that I ran into so many things that didn't work as well for me as I thought they did. I sense that if I ever see the film again years from now, my true opinion will establish itself somewhere in between my first and second impressions.
1056 6.9 7.232. Broken Flowers (2005)
1252 7.6 7.833. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
*About as reliable as your average Mapquest results*
The Month in Review
356 7.3 7.337. The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008)
My Quick Pick Six:
Good: Capturing the Friedmans // Delicatessen
Bad: Cowboys and Aliens // The Ward
Wierd: Hour of the Wolf // The Seventh Continent
14 6.7 6.538. Surprise Cinema (2000)
Nicest surprise of the month goes to Buffalo '66. Not only was I surprise at how well I liked it in general, but I was shocked how well I ended up enjoying it after being less than impressed at the 30 minute mark.
Surprised how much I didn't love it goes to Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.
3 8 6.139. Looking Back (1969)
Solid month of films. I relied more on fellow listal members advice than I've previously done-- with pretty great results. So thanks you guys!
My time spent at the movie theaters could've been far better. Couple of the weakest pictures I saw all month are ones I paid upwards of 9 dollars to see. Oh well...
Total films watched: 33
People who voted for this also voted for