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Added by Xanadon't on 10 Jan 2013 10:30
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Jan. 2013 Movie Journal - Xanadon't

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At the Movies

Watched them on the big screen!
People who added this item 2831 Average listal rating (1998 ratings) 8 IMDB Rating 8.4

I enjoy Quentin Tarantino films, so I enjoyed this. At this point it's pretty simple that way, really.
Xanadon't's rating:
People who added this item 1898 Average listal rating (1299 ratings) 7.3 IMDB Rating 7.7

Within the first 10 minutes I went from "I really don't care for Bradley Cooper" to "This guy is a revelation! And somehow I now hate Philadelphia Eagles fans less."

The movie has marvelous energy, and it's smart enough to be off-beat and challenging, but also crowd-pleasing and life-affirming at the same time. That hardly ever works. It works here because the movie is emotionally affecting in a real way, thanks to top-notch performances, a lively script, and smart and efficient direction. It doesn't hurt that the film is extremely funny.

By the film's end I was all tears and smiles.
Xanadon't's rating:
People who added this item 805 Average listal rating (505 ratings) 7.4 IMDB Rating 7.5

Some spectacular and truly terrifying effects go a long way in making The Impossible more horrifying than the vast majority of horror films I've seen. The film recounts the 2004 South Asian Tsunami and its devastating aftermath. The disaster claimed the lives of upwards of a quarter-million people. Needless to say, this makes for a film that's overall pretty grim.

The main focus of the movie deals with the plight of a well-to-do British family of five, whose Christmas vacation has suddenly and without any warning gone impossibly wrong. Is it distasteful for Hollywood to focus its dramatization primarily on the struggle of one rich, white family in light of the staggering amount of lives that were lost? It's a valid question, but one that I'll let you ponder. I won't say it didn't leave something of a bad taste in my mouth, personally. But I also won't say that I don't recognize the pragmatics and potential for a compelling survival story.

My biggest issue with the film has as much or more to do with missteps in things like tone and musical scores and other cinematic considerations. In many ways the film is over-directed- if the flood waters aren't enough, audiences also have vast pools of sentimental goo to sift through. Fortunately, a very strong performance from the young Tim Holland as the oldest of the three English children acts as the backbone to the movie. Naomi Watts turns in a fine performance as well, though she won't (and shouldn't) turn her Best Actress Nomination into a win.

Oh yes, and a late scene in the Impossible features one of the second biggest wastes of jet-fuel in movies this year, second only to the closing scene in the movie listed fifth on this list.
Xanadon't's rating:
People who added this item 900 Average listal rating (529 ratings) 6.3 IMDB Rating 6.7

This could've been the best and most fun bad movie to come along in a while. And for the first 20 minutes I thought that was exactly what I was getting. Unfortunately, by the time the last machine gun is fired and the credits finally roll, Gangster Squad is just another plain old bad movie.

The big name cast isn't enough to undue the hackneyed script and overly self-serious handling of the story. Ryan Gosling probably fares better than most, as at least he delivers most of what little humor (and the movie could've used much more) the film had to offer. Everything Sean Penn does is way too over-the-top, and just loud for the sake of being loud. With the kind of beauty that transcends time and era, Emma Stone would appear to be perfectly cast in this late 40s L.A. mob picture. Except that she's given terribly little to do.

The main frustration with Gangster Squad is that the entire project devolves (early and for what feels like hours) into a bunch of guys acting tough while wearing hats. Some may have more tolerance for this than I possess.
Xanadon't's rating:
People who added this item 991 Average listal rating (670 ratings) 7.1 IMDB Rating 7.4

I'll say right up front- Zero Dark Thirty is not "my kind of movie". First and foremost, Kathryn Bigelow's latest is a procedural drama, and one that plays out (and looks) much like a dramatic television series for the vast majority of its somewhat bloated runtime. Also, it would seem that Bigelow makes a deliberate effort to take a "journalistic" approach to the film-- and the ultimate effect is a movie that feels at times almost like a documentary. Title cards stating dates, locations, "black" bases, etc. show up frequently, and once in a while pulling me out of any dramatic momentum the film managed to get going for itself.

Ah, but therein lies another qualm I had with the picture. While I'm hesitant to say it's not cinematic enough, it certainly isn't very dramatic, or not in the sense that I generally appreciate from a film. Our characters are people that populate a specific history and not movie characters. They have extremely little or zero purpose, back-story, or depth beyond The Mission and what the mission calls for. I'm not suggesting that a love-story needed to be inserted in the film. I'm simply saying that the characters aren't fully human in the way well-drawn movie characters generally are. They don't have wives or kids that they go home to. They don't prefer a certain brand of cereal in the morning over another. They don't listen to music or play racquet ball during their free time. This is because they only argue with one another in offices about "Intel". Discussion about Intel take up a very large chunk of the film, in between the controversy-laden torture scenes of the early segments and the night-vision mission of the final 25 or so minutes.

Bigelow has essentially crafted a by-the-numbers hot-button issue political/military drama, but her insistence on maintaining a detached approach is what ultimately makes the film feel unremarkable to me. The most memorable war films are the ones in which the director has a palpable voice and punctuates the film's themes and content with deliberate and confident employments of style. On the whole, I just didn't sense these thing happening here.

Then again, maybe I'd have enjoyed the film more if I could muster up any real amount of confidence in the news stories and Presidential addresses that claim U.S. troops did in fact kill bin Laden on that night, May 2nd.

Hey- now there's a thought... what if the actual reason for Maya's (Jessica Chastain) tears is that Bigelow is trying to suggest that she knowingly and falsely identified the bearded body in that bag? Okay, run wild conspiracy theorists...
Xanadon't's rating:
People who added this item 394 Average listal rating (224 ratings) 7.6 IMDB Rating 7.5

Who would've guessed a Danish period-piece set in the latter 18th century and recounting the history of the reign of King Christian VII would've been so purely enjoyable and fun to watch? This is one of the 4 Best Foreign Language Film Nominations that will loose to Amour a few weeks from now. And I have a hard time believing that I'll find myself enjoying any of the others more than this.

The film tells the story of the arranged marriage between Christian and Catherine Matilda of Wales. King Christain VII is a bit fucked in the head (in a way that is unsettling, humorous, and likeable all at once) and eventually receives the services of a capable and dedicated doctor. Our doctor is a stout subscriber and enthusiast for Enlightenment thought and philosphy, an element of his character that opens the doors for much of the film's interesting (and still relevant to this day) focus. The friendship/dependency dynamic between the King and the doctor makes for one of the more fascinating pairings I've seen on screen in a while.

If the film has a fault, it's that the way the relationship between the doctor and Queen plays out isn't exactly anything extremely fresh and inspired. But it all is compelling, and it all does mesh together to a greater purpose in terms of the construction and terrain of the film. The three central characters are all extremely well performed and brought to life by their players. And the technical and design aspects of the film are quite wonderful as well. This is definitely worth your time!
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Off the New Release Wall

People who added this item 194 Average listal rating (106 ratings) 6.7 IMDB Rating 6.6
Snowtown (2011)

I personally found the first hour or so of the film to be a tedious bore. I had trouble spending time with these characters and not feeling resentful about it. The dreary look of the film wasn't helping matters.

Luckily the film becomes more cinematic and stylistically appealing in its second half. In fact, the scene in which the demented, murderous crew gives one of their victim's car a new paint job worked as the specific turning point for me. Visually the movie settles into a much more palatable style, and the story becomes more compelling (and grim, of course).

In the end I found myself far more interested in reading up on the true events that inspired the film than the film itself. Oh, but Snowtown does hit us with one of the toughest and most darkly affecting scenes I've ever witnessed. So take that as both warning and a token of credit.
Xanadon't's rating:
People who added this item 583 Average listal rating (393 ratings) 6.9 IMDB Rating 6.7
Killer Joe (2000)

Killer Joe earns its NC-17 rating with ease, though never in an overtly self-conscious way. I liked this about the film.

What we have here is a story about some very dim-witted and, basically, morally bad people that seek to improve their trailer-park informed station in life by hiring a professional killer to dispose of a family member so that they may benefit from her life-insurance policy. This is far from the first film to feature said premise. Fortunately, few films provide so much freshness and nimble execution in the way the plot unfolds. The way that shit goes from bad to worse to chin-deep in shit-creek for these people not only keeps our attention fixed on the plot, but also provides for some wickedly dark humor along the way- an attribute that surprised be about the film, but one that makes the movie far more successful than it might have been.

Killer Joe is very good at what it sets out to do and be. But the material will shock plenty of people so one might do well to keep that in mind.

Xanadon't's rating:
People who added this item 25 Average listal rating (19 ratings) 6.2 IMDB Rating 6

Well, the infuriating and arbitrary digital zoom thing that the Duplass brothers just love so much hasn't gone away yet. So that pissed me off.

By the film's end, I was struck by the thought that the movie is about far far bigger concerns than the actual story and events captured in the film are able to effectively convey. It's probably just as well that the movie runs a scant 75 minutes or so. But the material does become more and more genuinely affecting throughout the final 20, 25 minutes. There are flashes of greatness in the movie, but ultimately, with this project directors Mark and Jay Duplass have set the bar sufficiently low enough for themselves that even when they soar over it, it's difficult to muster too much admiration.

It's a nice diversion, but that's pretty much the more and the less of it.
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Retro Titles

Catching up with various movies I missed over the years.
People who added this item 261 Average listal rating (178 ratings) 6.6 IMDB Rating 7

The whole thing felt to me as though presented by a director whose credentials begin and end with: "I've seen movies before."
Xanadon't's rating:
People who added this item 1690 Average listal rating (1166 ratings) 7.8 IMDB Rating 8

Young Frankenstein is a comic spoof of the best kind: One that proudly conveys its love for the material it's spoofing and that does so in a good-natured and intelligent way. The Frankenstein story is by now so firmly rooted in our collective-consciousness and is such a broadly recognized culture-piece that Young Frankenstein could've easily and lazily relied upon broad jokes and vague imagery, taking convenience in the fact that most people know about Frankenstein (be it the book, movies, etc.) but few actually know Frankenstein. instead Mel Brooks gives a film that features plenty in the way of pointed references and attention to detail. There's a sense of fascination and admiration for Shelly's literary creation and James Whale's films that hasn't been lost.

Gene Wilder leads a cast that bring boundless energy and creative talent to the project with great effect. Essentially, it the type of movie that truly succeeds in stirring my fondness for the original material while demanding my attention and appreciation for what's been made new. Fun stuff! (And what a nice Christmas present!)
Xanadon't's rating:
People who added this item 301 Average listal rating (203 ratings) 6.3 IMDB Rating 6.6
Psycho II (1983)

This really is one of the better horror films of the 80s. Unfortunately the film gets a bad rap for the obvious reason that it's a sequel to Hitchcock's legendary film. I mean, we all know what a blasphemous exercise that is, right?

Yes, well I'll take this over legions of the slasher-film knock-offs and holiday themed horror movies that the rest of the decade offered. Psycho II is just the right amount classy and just the right amount provocative and dangerous. Taken on its own terms, it's a solid effort within the genre.

The movie does a fine job of acknowledging what makes Hitchcock's film great, without trying to get a free pass on account of its pedigree. The film finds mostly inspired and effective ways to carve its own path. Thanks to phillydude for introducing me to something that I'd have likely continued to blindly write-off for the rest of my life.
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Classics Corner

Where I see what all the fuss is about.

Story within a story within a story? In 1921?! Just the narrative framework of the film alone is impressive, and we haven't even gotten to the insanely impressive visual-effects/double-exposure/editing techniques on hand. Not to mention that the story, sets, costuming --everything, really-- still gives a nice creepy, atmospheric vibe. Oh, right- and the music! Some of the most genuinely unsettling music put to film is featured in this film.

Yet another fun aspect is the "crazed ax-wielding lunatic chops down door in pursuit of terrified woman" scene. Certainly Stanley Kubrick was conscious of this groundbreaking 1921 Swedish movie as he filmed The Shining.

The only notable flaw is that the moralistic story gives way to an ending that feels too pat.

Highly enjoyable and remarkable look back to the early days of cinema!
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5 x 5 Film Project 2013

5x5 2013

Following the fun and success of last year's Movie Exchange Project that I had the pleasure of participating in with the giraffe, jaytoast, and phillydude, we decided we needed to cook something up for this year too. What we came up with is this year-long, 6 member movie club. Each member recommends 5 films to the other 5 members to watch throughout the year. This means I have 25 specific films to track down, watch, and react to between now and the end of the year. Should be fun!!
People who added this item 247 Average listal rating (166 ratings) 6.6 IMDB Rating 6.6

One of the more subtle references, this one mimicking the style of a shot employed in Hitchcock's "Notorious".

First up for my 5x5 viewing pleasure was the Mel Brooks comedy High Anxiety, and indeed it was a pleasure. The movie is dedicated to Alfred Hitchcock and was even privately screened for him upon its release.

As a huge fan of the master of suspense, himself, I had a lot of fun with this movie that spoofs and pays homage to so much of his work. I personally counted references of some sort another (be it plot devices, character names/appearances, shot constructions, set-designs, etc.) to 12 different Alfred Hitchcock pictures. Throughout the movie the playful nods to Hitchcock range from very obvious to slyly covert. Certainly a basic familiarity with some of Hitchcock's films goes a long way in enjoying the film to it's fullest extent.

Unfortunately, High Anxiety's own plot isn't as solid as one might hope. Much of it seems loosely fit together, as Mel Brooks makes diversions in story in order to play with another Hitchcock reference. So there's a bit of a trade-off in terms of structure vs. silly fun. I could've done without the Frank Sanatra-esque performance of the title song, personally, but oh well. On the whole, the film strikes a very satisfying balance though. Also, the characters are colorful and entertaining enough to keep us laughing and distracted from the movies short-comings most of the time. It'll be a long time before the Nurse Diesel character begins to fade from memory. She's really an inspired comic creation.

In the end I would say that I wasn't as thoroughly impressed with this Mel Brooks offering as I was with Young Frankenstein, but in terms of face-value enjoyment, it ranks pretty close. Much thanks to phillydude for the recommendation!

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2013 Personal Viewing Project #1

For all I know this could be the first and last "personal viewing project" of the year. But I'm pretty adamant about this one...
See/Read more here!


My brother clued me on this after stumbling upon it on Netflix. What I've seen so far this month (Eight 63 minute installments) is magnificent. I'll be tackling the remaining 7 installments over the course of the next several weeks.

It's truly striking me as a MUST WATCH for lovers of cinema.

*Available to stream on Netflix*
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Deja View

Revisiting movies I've seen before.
People who added this item 338 Average listal rating (184 ratings) 7.4 IMDB Rating 7.4

A concise 87 minutes and pound for pound the most affecting and sturdily poetic film I saw last year. Still love it!
Xanadon't's rating:
People who added this item 665 Average listal rating (460 ratings) 7.3 IMDB Rating 7.8

I like that the scope of the film is limited to a single neighborhood, and the mob culture that influences it, rather than taking whisking us off on plane rides between New York and Las Vegas with some of the country's most powerful gangsters. De Niro's directing debut is a mostly no-frills and sober affair, but it's surprisingly warm-hearted and precise in its ability to convey emotion and link the struggles his character's face. The obvious flaws deal almost exclusively with the romantic sub-plot, although not to the point that I wished the film had gone without. Still like this movie a good deal.
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Good Intentions

Some of the movies I'm likely to see by month's end.

Here goes- kicking off my third year of keeping a running monthly movie log on listal. I'm beginning to think that this year's entries may take a more limited (less long-winded) and personal approach than what I've been accustomed to with these lists. You know, what with all the attempts at re-shuffling priorities/time-management/personal prerogatives/etc. that are nagging at me in the form of vague new year's resolutions. We'll see how it pans out, I guess. Thanks for stopping by!

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