Monthly Movie Journal: November 2011
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Came into my possession but didn't get watched in time for the Halloween Horrorfest.
Guillermo del Toro's first feature length film, this one possesses a sort of dark fairytale-like quality that we continue to see in his work. More surprising is the amount of clever low-key humor written into the film. The movie doesn't quite possess the sort of timeless feel of some of his other features, but even though some of this feels dated it's still a strong debut.
Awesome, super-fun little short horror piece attached to the Criterion release of Cronos. It's rough, but it's easy to see why del Toro has become one of the leading directors in contemporary horror.
See that? Zombie vs. shark...where else can you see that? To see how such an epic battle would go, check this movie out. Also if you love gore and zombies, check this movie out. On the other hand, if occasionally bad acting, laughable moments, race stereotypes displayed through broken-English dialogue, and unnecessary female nudity in horror movies is something you can't allow yourself to enjoy then you might not want to check this movie out.
Despite its flaws, I loved it.
--As described by the giraffe in his 2011 October 2011 Horrorfest List
The Hitcher (1986)
There's a couple of truly awesome sequences here (especially the squad car/helicopter chase scene) and the villain is really pretty good. But gotta say much of the rest is just... meh.
After.Life (2009) (2010)
Normally I might not go out of my way to mention it, but the fact that Christina Ricci is topless half the time is about as compelling a point of recommendation as any. There's really just not a whole lot too remarkable about After.Life, curious title included. Think of it as an R-rated Twilight Zone episode shot in color, but without the good sense to keep itself to a 22 minute run-time.
Most of the material here is beneath the talent involved. Justin Long might be at his worst here, and I felt a little embarrassed for Liam Neeson at times. Toss in a heavy dose too much of lame, home-spun moral philosophizing and anything the least bit clever or interesting becomes too much of a chore for its worth. This could've been better.
Mixed bag from the last couple years.
TRON: Legacy (2010)
Well it manages to keep its (and our own) dignity intact for the first hour or so. From there it takes a turn or five toward silliness and epic melodrama of the ilk we've seen countless times before. The visuals are fun, but I grew tired of it soon enough and began longing for a tree or some kind of vegetation. By the time we get to the laughably schlocky bar scene, well, it's just a good thing that Olivia Wilde is so pretty, because really my points of interested were beginning to fade rapidly. But it should be noted too that her performance here is much better than we saw in Cowboys and Aliens. In fact it's as good or even better than that of anyone else wearing a glow-stick stitched wet-suit.
But the movie never quite generates a villain that's much good for anything and I never really generated too much excitement toward the big, exciting conclusion. Essentially I felt exactly the way I suspected I would about the movie.
For the first 10 minutes or so I was scared that Disney films were becoming too "hip" for my taste (or rather that Shrek had ruined everything forever), but it wasn't long before I easily fell into the movie's many charms. It's nice to see that Pixar doesn't quite have the corner yet on quality feature length animation, as there's enough humor, excitement, and well drawn characters here to satisfy just about anyone. The animation here is really top-notch. And the horse is among the very best supporting characters in Disney's catalog, non-speaking or otherwise.
Bad Teacher (2011)
Broken Embraces (2009)
As visually rich or perhaps even more so than the other 3 Almodovar films I've watched this month. His films are absolutely bathed in vibrant color, but somehow they're never garish. And the plots are complicated and involved, but somehow never messy. I really liked this film, and I'm really enjoying this film-maker's work!
Catching up with the ones I missed.
Live Flesh (1997)
Like a soap-opera, except in a really good way. And no, I never thought there would ever be use for such a phrase either. Pedro Almodovar once again cooks up a convoluted plot relying on all sorts of unlikely scenarios and connections between characters. But he's so skilled as a film-maker, and paints such wonderfully alive characters that it all somehow works. I didn't fall in love with this film with the same intensity that I did Talk to Her, but I still really enjoyed this one.
Where I see what all the fuss is about.
A playful and witty caper-comedy/romantic-comedy that features Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich at the heights of their careers. The romance never quite sizzles, but everything else is top-notch. And it feels fresher than anything 75 years old ought to.
Annie Hall (1977)
Diane Keaton goes a long way in dispelling my general dislike for Woody Allen's on screen persona. Now that I know this I can probably watch Manhatten and Love and Death sometime in the future.
I'll admit that this film grew on me as it progressed. Maybe to the extent that a re-watch would improve my overall opinion of it. But for now I'm gonna have to come in just under the mean score and give it a 7/10.
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.
Foreign Language Film of the Month
Talk to Her (2002)
I was absolutely and completely transfixed from beginning to end. This is a richly layered film that's truly challenging while extremely rewarding. There's a main line of causality in the film that I'm not sure I'm entirely comfortable with, but like so much else in the film it invites me to continue pondering the film long after watching. It's about time I sat down with this director!
Listal Friend Recommendations
Films I'd likely have missed were it not for listal members
Burnt Money (2000)
Good. Fucking. Movie.
And if it did a bit more to establish just who these characters are and the world they inhabit it would be a great one. Also, while I really enjoyed the voiced-over narration at the beginning of the film, it's a bit odd that it just disappears after a while. Ultimately it's only a half-baked device that the film-makers seemed uncertain just how to handle.
But these are generalized, structural complaints mostly about things that aren't. The things in this film that ARE work extremely well. The tone, performances, and script are all solid. And if the film lacks in fancy visual flourishes or style, is more than compensates with bold and gripping story-telling.
What we have here is a deeply intense, striking film, with a deep emotional core.
Documentary of the Month
of the year?
The phrase "captures the imagination" gets thrown around all the time, but this strange, wonderful, and fascinating documentary really does it. This is a very special film with undertones of sadness and desperation, but one that also rings triumphantly of tenderness and awe. It's one that really ought to be seen!
At the Movies
Watched on the big screen
The Rum Diary (2011)
Another Hunter S. Thompson novel adapted for the screen where we find Johnny Depp in the central role once again, this time playing not Thompson exactly, but his alter-ego/protagonist Jack Kemp. Depp is more than a little too old for the role here, but it's difficult to begrudge the fact, so keen is his ability to capture the energy and bewilderment and craziness happening on screen. Not only is Depp an immensely talented actor, but he's one of the greatest re-actors the movies have seen since, say Cary Grant. A mere facial expression tells us everything we need to know about a scene or about his increasingly fragile psyche.
Amber Heard turns in a fine performance here, as a sort of "Lolita" all grown up. Her natural beauty, golden locks, and bright red lipstick make her a formidable challenger to Scarlett Johannson as the next "it" girl.
Giovanni Ribisi plunges himself headlong into the role of Moburg, a disgruntled newspaper staffer who is an absolute fright of a drunkard, lost in a haze of angry nihilism and with an unsettling admiration for Adolf Hitler. He does a terrific job and helps make up for the fact that fellow supporting actor Richard Jenkins never quite rises to the level we expect from such a true talent.
But while I was only mildly disappointed with Jenkins, I have to say the least compelling major player here is Aaron Eckhart. Of course he's playing an unlikeable character, but I'm not sure his performances ever really conveyed anything deeper than generic sliminess. Most of the time he came across as nothing more than a big stupid head that needs punching.
A lot of this movie works really well, and I didn't find the general disregard for traditional plot-structure to be a problem at all. But too much of this feels uneven and episodic for me to really get swept away in it.
J. Edgar (2017)
J. Edgar Hoover is presented as a deeply conflicted man with no shortage of complexes in a film that glides back and forth over the span of his life. It's a film that may puzzle and confound some because rather than busying itself with efforts to capture and elicit high drama from the events that comprise Hoover's life, it instead focuses intensely, somberly, and speculatively on J. Edgar the person. The film is more concerned with the man's psychology and the nature of his relationships (particularly those between Hoover and his mother and Hoover and Clyde Tolson), than it is with supplying a complete and detailed lesson on the events and scope of the man's career as director of the FBI. If viewers can forgive this fact they'll be more likely to walk away from Eastwood's film with at least some sense of appreciation or approval, though the film does feature flaws even within its own approach.
Transcending any problems the film may have, however, is Leonardo DiCaprio's performance. He will no doubt be nominated for an Oscar here and it's deservedly so. I was never bored during the film, but I was never fully transported either- the material just wasn't strong enough. But the few occasions in which I came close, it had everything to do with DiCaprio's performance alone. If there's a real reason to see the film, it's him.
The Skin I Live In (2011)
Almodovar's darkest offering of melodramatic quirk to date. It's a strange ride that evokes a number of old horror staples, but is ultimately and purely its own film.
Any fan of cinema NEEDS to see this film, the sooner the better, and (can't believe I'm saying this) catch it in 3D.
Make Way for the Mini-series!
Not often, but this one has grabbed my attention.
Pearl Jam Twenty (2011)
Often old favorites, but sometimes and effort to meet a film from an alternate perspective.
Citizen Kane (1941)
*With commentary track provided by Roger Ebert
Love him or hate him, Roger Ebert is at the top of his game here. He brings a wealth of sharp insight and impassioned knowledge to the film in a very interesting and remarkably well-articulated commentary.
I happen to love this movie and I do think it's every bit (or at least very nearly) as good as its reputation suggests. But I also really appreciate the way Ebert tempers his love for the film with a critical eye.
Attack the Block (2011)
Second time around I still say it's as clever, fresh, over-achieving, and genuinely exciting as any genre film to come out in years. And all this from a first time director. It's a triumph and a memorable highlight of the cinematic year.
Back on the shelf
Gave up on them for one reason or another.
About as reliable as your average MapQuest results
I'm anticipating a little bit of a light month in the wake of the absolute movie-gluttony that occurred all last month due largely to Halloween Horrorfest.
(As seen here: www.listal.com/list/monthly-movie-journal-halloween-edition
AND here: www.listal.com/list/monthly-movie-journal-october-2011)
But then again, ya never know.
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