June Movie Journal - Xanadon't
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At the Movies
Caught these on the big screen :)
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
7/10 might actually be a little bit generous, but so much of the visual style of the film was neat and interesting and I'm a certified sucker for anything Charlize Theron these days. There are segments of the film that border on astonishing. But then there are stretches that seem almost tedious, and the whole thing felt a bit over-long.
I don't have a strong opinion about Kristen Stewart one way or the other (never seen any of the Twilight films and doubt I'd ever find reason to, so I don't pretend to hate her simply because she's a center-piece in a film series I know/care nothing about). But I will say that she was flat-out miscast here. Her character is easily the least compelling of the 3 central characters (Charlize as the evil witch, and Chris Hemsworth as the titular huntsman being the other two). She never manages to breathe any real humanity into her character. Probably the biggest problem is that first-time director Rupert Sanders needed a more accomplished, capable, versatile actor in this role. Neither he, nor the camera for the most part, seemed to know what to do with Ms. Stewart.
Also the dwarves serve little purpose in the grand scheme of things and suffer from a pretty noticeable lack of character development. Seems their main function is to sport various and goofy haircuts. Ah well. But there's a lot to be sad for the visual style and overall tone of the film and most of the performances and dramatic dealings are strong enough to recommend this as a decent pop-corn flick.
Most years one or two films come along that I find to be impressive enough and purely enjoyable enough to warrant two trips to the theater to watch them. Prometheus is the first such movie to come along this year. Essentially it accomplished everything I hoped it would. Oh, I have a couple minor complaints of course. And I have more than a couple questions about the film that I'm still mulling over. But that's just one of the things that I felt worked in the film's favor.
Ridley Scott's new movie is a spectacular looking piece of cinema and he makes a splendid return to the Sci-fi genre. It's a big film with ambitious ideas and one that's as much fun to contemplate as watch. The movie presents us with a rich and meticulously envisioned place and time- included in its canvas are notions about the very origins of humankind, the vast boundaries of scientific discovery, and thoughtful approaches to various mythologies and the role of religion that pervades humanity's struggle to envision themselves and the world around us. The remarkable thing is that the film covers all this terrain while moving itself along at a brisk and exciting pace.
There really isn't a bad performance in the film, though some command our attention more than others. Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace are both excellent and they're given the most screen-time of all the characters. Fassbender's android, David, is wickedly captivating at all times and Rapace is solid thoughout and insanely good when the film reaches its most urgent sequences. Idris Elba (as previously seen guarding the rainbow bridge in Thor) plays the captain of the ship and his presence in the film was one of the most pleasant of the many surprises offered.
My final judgement of Prometheus will likely have to wait until after its sequel(s) emerge, but I'm happy to declare it an impressive blockbuster of a sci-fi flick and delicious enough to feast on twice. I'll be digesting this one all over again soon.
Okay, so second time seeing the film. The movie continues to capture my imagination as I can't help but wonder just where Ridley Scott is going with all of this. (Oddly the "Space Jesus" theory is beginning to settle into place more and more). Unfortunately, a number of the film's flaws felt more pronounced this time around- Vickers' lame-ass death (especially since a second viewing completely erases whatever suspicion might exist that she's actually a robot), the geologist & biologist getting inexplicably lost, the two pilots' unblinking willingness to follow the captain into kamikaze death, the biologists acting like a complete fucking idiot when the space serpent shows up (was he charmed by the thing?!), the clumsy disappearing space helmet fiasco, the upright bottles standing on the escape pod's bar-top. (Petty, I know, but c'mon, are you fucking serious?! And then there's the several moments in the score that lead me to believe that I'm actually watching a Star Trek: The Next Generation-era film. But really, that's not a problem as far as I'm concerned. You may feel differently.
Still, Prometheus is a visual marvel and a hell of an ambitious sci-fi/horror actioneer that does right by exploring big questions and updating its ideas and concerns for today's rapidly advancing technological landscape. (As well as the unsettling, mass levels of neo-superstition-ism surrounding religious circles these days.) Also, I'm now fully convinced (at least within the context of this film- future installments could disrupt things) that I've found the proper handle on everything having to do with the infamous "black goo".
Summing up, I'm still impressed by the film overall, but my "rating" is now hovering closer to an 8/10 than a 9/10.
I'll be curious to see what additional material appears in the DVD release.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Something went terribly wrong for me at a fundamental level here. Unless I just need to see it again. (Though I'm more likely to revisit Submarine sooner. Now there's a movie that got quirky young romance right.)
I'll be letting this one sink in, but as it stands this is my least favorite Wes Anderson film to date and I feel like it's the first time that his unique stylish sensibilities and evolution as a film-maker have completely stalled.
That said, this is still very much a Wes Anderson film and as such, there's a good many things I enjoyed about it and that I think are impressive on the whole. Really though, I'm pretty disappointed- likely as disappointed as I've ever been with a 7/10 movie.
Regrettably missed their theatrical release. Or sometimes "impulse rentals".
Take Me Home (2011)
Wanted something light that I didn't have to think too hard about while nursing a bit of a hangover. What I got was a surprisingly solid indie effort in the Romance/Comedy department. It's set-up is pretty preposterous, but overall its a pretty cute and harmless movie. Except it's one that actually has a couple of really nice moments in it. Both leads are on the likeable side and the movie didn't have to work too hard to gain my interest or affection (even if affection strikes me as perhaps too strong a word). Recommended to anyone who has a soft-spot for romantic comedies but is tired of seeing the same faces over and over again.
I enjoyed the first Ghost Rider for its gleefully cheesy and over-the-top approach. For one thing, it was actually pretty good visually. For another, the characters were given things to do and the script was actually up to the task of making them matter. The film-makers seemed to know a thing or two about making movies. But I just can't get as enthusiastic about this installment.
For one thing, the first two of the three major sequences that feature Ghost Rider (not Johnny Blaze, but our fiery-skulled hero) were an utter disappointment. And let's face it, watching the chain-wielding, flaming motor-cycle riding, skull-faced badass do his badass thing is why we're here. Luckily Nic Cage brings some life to the film when he's on screen in human form. And there's enough goofy camp to allow the whole thing to go down without too much discomfort. But this never really feels like anything more than a dressed-up straight-to-DVD affair
Thin Ice (2011)
This film is something of a poor man's Fargo, but that's not to say that it doesn't have anything to offer in its own right. It's populated with well-drawn characters and solid performances. It's worth watching for Alan Arkin alone. The final revelatory minutes don't come off to the effect that the film-makers hoped, but it remained a satisfying watch all the same. I liked it.
Blu-ray Vudu Player
Aside from a handful of great comedic moments from Paul Rudd this movie offers nothing to recommend.
Catching up with the ones I've missed
Legends of the Fall (1995)
Borrowed from a Friend
Possibly the most unfocused, sprawling, pseudo-epic movie I've seen. But don't worry- an ultra-repetitive sweeping musical score is there to guide you every step of the way and tell you when to feel moved by it all. The list of things that didn't work for me with this film is staggering.
Every time I watch a Jim Jarmusch picture, whether for the first time or as a revisit, I'm more and more impressed with the guy's work. He has a brilliant ability to allow his characters to reach from the frames of his film and impact viewers with the sheer force of their humanity. I loved this movie and was enticed by every minute of it.
Where I see what all the fuss is about
The African Queen (1951) (1952)
Actually my final Netflix movie-by-mail as I cancelled that portion of my subscription. So how was it?
The African Queen is a solidly entertaining film, but one that relies a bit too heavily at times on archetypes and an episodic structure. And yet Bogart and Hepburn achieve a certain magic together on screen that elevates the film above its flaws. There's a snappy flow to their conversations that I really enjoyed. And some of the "action" scenes are really rather impressive looking.
Steve McQueen has a genuinely captivating screen-presence and I wonder why it took me so long to sit down with one of his films. And yes, the car-chase really is as good as its reputation suggests. Hell, maybe better. The cool, jazzy score disappears and we're left with the roaring engines of the '68 Charger and Mustang fastback, exciting visuals, and breathtaking film-editing. The moments of violence in the film are very gritty, no nonsense, and true-to-life looking. If the film has a major flaw it's with some pacing issues at the top of the final act. Scenes that used to unfold meticulously and effectively are replaced with curiously and unnecessarily drawn-out sequences that really put the story on hold for a while.
This is a great film in so many ways and one that I really enjoyed, so I'm annoyed that a couple of montages and goofy scoring decisions took away from the experience. Also I was personally left a bit unsatisfied with the lack of time given to the love triangle aspect of the film. Aside from these reservations, this in one hell of a fun film. It's laugh-out-loud funny, a feast for the eyes, and a truly inspired take on the American Western. Paul Newman and Robert Redford are marvelous together on screen. Catch up with this film -it really is as good as your (my) dad says it is.
A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
IMDb voters seem to enjoy Sergio Leone far more than I do. But that's not to say that I don't hold out hope for the rest of the "Dollars" trilogy. I just hope the remaining two are a bit less clumsy and plain silly as this one was at times.
For a Few Dollars More (1965)
More fun than its predecessor in some ways, but this is somewhat diminished by the fact that the movie is a good 20 minutes too long. Also, I'm excited to watch a movie next time that includes a woman somewhere.
Fact is, it seems there's just a certain threshold that I can't seem to cross when it comes to liking this man's movies. And my 'admiration' peaks out only slightly higher than my enjoyment. So... whether or not I ever sit down with Leone's supposed masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in the West, will largely depend on how the final movie in the Dollars Trilogy goes.
I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK (2006)
Well this one started with promise. There were some shades of Burton-Elfman sensibilities at play that I really enjoyed. And its final 20 or 30 minutes were pretty strong. But then there's all this business in the middle that honestly kept me from enjoying the film all that well. Possibly it's just the fact that it's too crazy and quirky for my taste. Everything just felt nutty and random to the point where I really had trouble engaging. If there was a more centered or rationally motivated character/story-line to play off of or contrast against I may have had an easier time with it all. I recognized a lot of the instances of humor, but much of this too fell kind of flat with me.
I hate to be the guy that only appreciates Park Chan-Wook when he's beating people up with hammers, slicing their Achilles tendons, or dragging elderly women across the floor in a fit of vampire urgency, but I just wasn't terribly impressed by this offering. Oh, but I should mention that this film is visually quite awesome and nice to look at.
The Man From Nowhere (2010)
Works okay as an action vehicle, but the problem is that the film aspires to be much more. This provides too much room for the movie's many flaws to rear their heads. The Man from Nowhere could use some serious lessons in subtlety- the bad guys are VERY BAD and the vulnerable little girl is VERY VULNERABLE and the movie just beats us over the head with these ideas every chance it gets. The movie is exceptionally violent, but never exceptionally intense. It wants to be a real badass but it never actually earns it.
The Flower of My Secret (1995)
DVD Gift :)
A bit breezier than much of Almodovar's output, but rich with emotion. Leo Marcia (above right) is among the most memorable in a list of very memorable characters from his films.
The Square (2008)
A semi-competent modern-day film noir from Australia, centered around working-class folks who are looking to escape the brutal ordinariness of their lives/marriages. It's technical aspects are pretty sound, but the story has some glaring weakness. I never really connected with anyone on screen and thus never felt invested in the action or plot turns. Give it a couple months and I'll have forgotten all about this movie.
Spanish language time-travel flick that cashes in on its clever premise (in some ways the film is as much a study on film-making as time-travel/predetermination, etc.) and strong performances and direction. The movie is laced with black humor and horror imagery to keep things playful and attention-grabbing, while also offering plenty to chew on in the way of "so what did I just watch, exactly?" mind-fuckiness. It's fun and thought-provoking and I liked its tight focus and sharp, no nonsense presentation. Highly recommended to anyone looking for something both out of the ordinary and reasonably accessible.
Wake Wood (2011)
I feel your pain kiddo
Lame, silly, and just plain stupid. The parents in this movie achieve some pretty incredible levels of idiocy. But rooting for them to die isn't fun enough to justify watching this.
The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Trashy and generic 1980s dead teenager flick. Supposedly it provides a feminist twist to the slasher film, but this doesn't really play out to any noteworthy effect. Instead it simply feels like it owes a large debt to any number of earlier, better films. (Black Christmas, Halloween, Maniac!, and Friday the 13th all come to mind on several occasions.) If you just can't get enough of this sub-genre then it's worth a look. Otherwise it can be safely ignored.
Blu Ray Vudu Player
A psuedo-documentary that doesn't succeed on all levels, but did succeed in giving me the creeps.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Strikes me as one of the best sequels of all time. Easily my favorite of all the classic Universal monster movies, and in my opinion the best, most impressive, most fun, most touching, and scariest. This is just a shitload of movie for your buck, plain and simple. I loved it!
Listal Group Project
Quick Change (1990)
I'm certainly a Bill Murray fan but the very fact that I hadn't heard much of anything about this film made me a bit skeptical. Now, having seen it, I'm really surprised that Quick Change has been as forgotten as it seems to be. This movie amused me and held my interest far more than most comedies from the 80's/early 90's typically do. It's kinda like a screw-ball comedy crossed with Martin Scorsese's overlooked, but very fine, After Hours.
The movie knows something about presenting flawed but likeable characters and depicting the world that they're "up against" without beating us over the head with clumsy and overcooked ideas. The NYC and what it's come to represent for our lead character is rife with potential for comic material. Though I will say that there are certain attitudes written into the film toward supporting characters that kind of interrupted my enjoyment of the proceedings. Still, this movie has some really great comedic moments and Murray and Geena Davis work well together on screen.
Unfortunately that leaves us with Randy Quaid, and I can't say that his character or performance ever did much for me. It's one of the things that keeps this film in the realm of "good comedy" rather than "Great Comedy".
Oh, as a side note- I thought at first that the movie's musical score was going to drive me crazy, but I found myself really digging the damn goofy thing by film's end.
Far more "cinematic" in a modern sense than either of the first two films in the serious, and also features the strongest script of the bunch. I was happy to find more to like in this film, and felt like the whole thing was considerably more fun- even if it does run too long for its own good.
Yes, there are a couple of characters in this film I can't stand. But I just remind myself that if I'm patient, they will die. My 9/10 rating stubbornly stands firm.
Alien 3 (1992)
The editing of the opening credit sequence put me off right away. Damn you young David Fincher. So yep, I immediately pulled the thing out of the player and put Alien 3 back on the shelf for another day.
DVD Purchase (finally replaced my VHS copy!)
Seems I'm growing more sentimental with age -I think I'm now at the point where I can officially say I love this film.
Blu-Ray Vudu Player
Haywire was one of those trips to the movies by myself while my girlfriend was up to her eyebrows in schoolwork. I enjoyed it quite a bit better than I think most people did the first time, so when she decided she wanted to see it, I was happy to sit down with it again. Not much of my original opinion of the film has changed.
One could argue that Haywire is an exercise in style over substance. And while that may be true to some degree, I have trouble seeing the negative in that statement as so much of the style is elegant and effortless. Soderbergh's directing chops are on full display here, despite the fact that the film feels like something of an experiment concocted purely for his own enjoyment. (It's January release might suggest as much) The camera moves so fluidly and confidently in this film, yet at the same time I sense that Soderbergh approaches a great deal of the shooting with tremendous purpose and care. The entire film has a genteel, uncluttered feel to it which I really enjoyed and this sensation is echoed by the way the movie is scored.
I will say that one of the narrative devices really feels a bit inorganic this time around, but since every one of the film's drawbacks is countered by three or four or five strengths, it's easy to forgive. Also, while I originally thought Ewan McGreggor was completely miscast here, this time I saw his character and the way he's written in relation to our heroine in a whole new light. Underrated in my opinion!
Corpse Bride (2005)
Blu-Ray Vudu Player
I feel like this movie never quite got its full due at the time of its release, either because it was deemed too frightening for children or because critics felt it was too dependent upon the brand recognition of the classic A Nightmare Before Christmas. And there may in fact be some level of truth to either or both statements. Yet, I liked the film even better than I did upon its release. The visual design is nothing short of fantastic and the solid story moves along swiftly. This is probably Burton's most underrated work.
Death Race 2000 (1975)
Pretty solid and cheesy cult-film of the era. Good for a watch every decade or two, I reckon.
21 Jump Street (2012)
Not something I'd ordinarily rewatch so soon, but since my girlfriend hadn't seen it I was happy to give it a second look. Especially since it's fucking hilarious. Second viewing bumped my rating up a notch- forget the whole surprisingly good for an 80s TV series rehash businiess- this is just about as good as a goof-ball buddy cop movie can be, period.
Hoping for a more well-rounded month of movies than last month. In terms of both geography and era. Shouldn't be difficult as I don't think I watched a single film last month that was released before my 18th birthday
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