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Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
Transporting us to the wild and wonderful world of the year 2001, Josie and the Pussycats is less a live-action adaptation of the comic strip trio than it is a quirky critique of commercial culture. Nearly every frame is saturated in product placement, to the point where it becomes eye-rollingly absurd. But this gimmick does not stop there. As demonstrated by its delightful script, the film implicates a wonderfully inventive and satirical plot as as backdrop for everything that occurs. During the time of its release it may have seemed completely ridiculous (which could explain its failure at the box office), but in retrospect, I think it captures the overall superficial tone of "MTV culture" in ways that are often quite hilarious.
While the three leads are perfectly fine in their roles, the show is mainly stolen by Alan Cumming and Parker Posey's supporting roles as the sinister heads of a record company set to manipulate the minds of consumers via subliminal messages. It's a ridiculous concept, but both of these performers have proven to pull off ridiculous rather well. Here, it's no exception. The cameo by Carson Daly is also one of the more hilarious moments of the entire film. I guess what I'm trying to say is that more people need to give this film a chance. It is definitely not the disposable biopic that its advertising makes it out to be. In reality, it's smarter AND funnier. (And it passes the Bechdel Test, so that's gotta be worth a few extra points!)
Man on the Moon (1999)
Initially, a film about the life of Andy Kaufman directed by Miloš Forman and starring Jim Carrey seemed a bit risky to me. However, to my delight, I've found that so much more is done with the material than I could have originally anticipated. Much like much of Kaufman's antics and his commitment to always be "one step ahead" of his audience, the film playfully teases viewers with half-truths and utter lies to always ensure a surprise around the corner. Its narrative frequently blurs reality and fiction, to the point where it even manipulates our emotions. By the end, we're left scratching our heads over what conclusion to make of it all. I think this method is sometimes not done as effectively as other moments in the film, but for the most part, it is fresh and satisfying.
Surprisingly (or perhaps not?), Jim Carrey does an excellent job at embodying what it was that made Kaufman so eccentric and zany. Realistically, I couldn't imagine any other actor capturing it even remotely as accurately, mainly due to the impossible colorfulness of the character at hand. In all, however, the film ends on a pretty solid note, delving into feel-good territory and wrapping on a message to be happy with the external world - a perfect way to sum up the life of such a unique individual. Contrary to what its outward appearance may imply, Man on the Moon is a must-see. Just like its protagonist, there is much more buzzing beyond the surface.
How this film got a nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars is beyond me. While Zemeckis has directed some of the most beloved films in the past, here his direction hits rock bottom. Flight's script is lazy, uninspired, and predictable. From the way the narrative progresses to the nonchalant way characters are presented and thrown away, nearly everything about this film is boring and clichéd. This, of course, is with exception to the beginning plane crash scene, which is impressive in its sheer simplicity. However, the quality plummets from there, gradually turning into a complete mess.
The film's shining beacon of hope lies in Denzel Washington's performance. He really nails his character, yet the material he is given is a tragic disgrace. I especially took offense to the film's ending. Without giving anything away, I found it ridiculously mean-spirited, taking the easy way out and offering absolutely no sense of redemption for our protagonist. Not that the writing even gives us any reason to sympathize with his character in the first place, as he is represented as a depthless, one-dimensional character with unclear motives and zero development. Washington is much deserving of his Oscar nomination, but unfortunately is also smack-dab in the middle of a film that does not deserve him.
I nearly forgot to mention that this film is preachy as all hell. Its obvious religious symbolism is scattered here and there, even at the most ridiculous instances. Moreover, it is a culprit of some of the worst "black and white" narrative progression I've ever seen. The "bad" characters are penalized, while the "good" (read: pious, religious) characters are rewarded. Even from the way the film ends, the overall message seems to be little more than "drunk people are bad people and deserved to be punished for it". Essentially, everything that could possibly go wrong with this film does, and often in very preposterous ways. This is surely one of the least-deserving critically-acclaimed films in years and outside of Washington, it would be better if this was just simply forgotten.
(Also, the musical cues are RIDICULOUS. Seriously: "Under the Bridge" and "Sweet Jane" playing over a heroin sequence? "Sympathy for the Devil" every time Goodman's character (a drug dealer) is in the picture? I swear, at one point the protagonist snorts cocaine, enters into an elevator, and "With a Little Help From My Friends" is playing as musak. Fuck this movie.)
In contention for the most fun name for a sequel of all time, Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, surprisingly, delivers rather well. It follows the general layout of the first film: hip breakdancing street kids vs. the old, rich, white men who want to interfere in their fun. And just like the first film, the actual narrative is thinly laid through the generous portions of music and dance montages, making it not so much about the story than about the importance and pleasure of dancing.
With a higher budget, however, this film brings a bit more to the table. A wider variety of locations and larger numbers of extras offer some pretty inventive dance sequences. A couple of my favorites are the scene at the hospital and the one where Turbo dances on the walls and ceilings. Overall, it's all good fun. Once again, the characters and story are a bit too bland and one-dimensional to be incredibly profound. But with great music and talented dancers, this film, like its predecessor, proves to be entertaining in a time capsule sort of way; too fun to be wholly disposable.
Maybe it's because I'm not exactly in its target audience, but I don't get the appeal of Top Gun. Nowadays, the attractiveness of the film seems to dwell on little more than camp value. Iconic scenes and lines of dialogue from the movie have been burned into mainstream society. Jokes have been built around the homoerotic subtext involving the many male characters of the film. In addition to this, we have fast planes, a ridiculous neon-laced sex scene, and a young Tom Cruise frequently flashing his pearly whites.
However, with exception of its novelty appeal, I didn't find Top Gun very enjoyable. The story was flimsy and predictable, offering very little to a table than a conventional narrative arc and individuals that were mere husks of real characters. Its extravagance came off as annoyingly narcissistic; overall, just not a very enjoyable film. I think this may be the kind of flick that I would enjoy in a group or theater setting, where laughing at its unintentional humor feels more welcoming. For now, however, I've concluded that it's just a bland film, and I cannot join in its love.
The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)
I'm really saddened by my discontent for The Young Girls of Rochefort. Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg has quickly become one of my very favorite musicals, and I've had pretty high hopes for this one. From the start, the aesthetic even seemed similar: lush scenery, vivid colors, dazzling widescreen cinematography, and beautiful costume designs. But alas, not even the inclusion of the always-superb Catherine Deneuve could save this one.
The music and dancing, though pleasant enough, didn't quite add benefit the film in ways that the best musicals often do. It really did feel like this movie was simply riding on the coattails of Cherbourg, with a similar sing-song narrative progression, but much blander content. While Cherbourg had be completely enthralled by its intense melodrama, the characters of Rochefort had absolutely nothing that would entitle me to care about their "plights". The story is rather boring, which makes its whimsical mood seem superficial, when it would otherwise be quite delightful.
The song and dance numbers are easy to hum along to, but don't really add too much. I was also expecting Gene Kelly's character to be more vital to the narrative, but tragically he proves to be one of the most uninteresting parts of the film, not to mention that his character enters the picture in one of the laziest, most clichéd ways imaginable. But while I did have my share of problems with the film, I didn't quite hate it. It has its fair share of fun moments, particularly scattered through the first two thirds. Demy's noticeable wane in quality, however, just plain disappointed me. I'd take Umbrellas over this flimsy flick any day.
Jim Sheridan's In the Name of the Father seems to be one of the more underappreciated Best Picture nominees, at least of the past two decades. I'm sure that he's more appreciated in his home country of Ireland, but it seems that Sheridan is also one of the more underrated modern directors. This film is proof alone that the general public should recognize his work more often. It offers the tale of a true crime against humanity; the themes dealt with here being false accusations and imprisonment. Yet another film about the injustices of the judicial system, but this one having more meat on its bones. If there was one word to describe it, that word would be fuckinginfuriating.
This film proved to me just how multifaceted of a performer Daniel Day-Lewis is. As our protagonist, the falsely accused Gerry Conlon, he is absolutely genuine, well-rounded, and full of humanity. Even in these early days, he offers signs of exceptionality; personally, this may be my favorite performance of his. But that's not to say anything less of anyone else here. Pete Postlethwaite offers a terrific supporting performance here, as Gerry's father. The scenes between him and Day-Lewis are among the best in the whole movie, as their chemistry practically floats through the screen. These two performances alone act as a powerful driving force through the tense gripping narrative. There were multiple times where I found myself clinging to the edge of my seat, due to my being completely concerned with the outcomes of these characters' trials. Only great acting can make one care so deeply about such people.
As I'd said before, this film is pretty anger-inducing. Based on the true stories of the Guildford Four, the idea that such travesties had occurred at the hands of those in power is inconceivable. A film that could make me so angry at such numerous moments is worthy of my utmost praise. Besides all of this, it is also well-paced and truly, truly passionate in its portrayal of its subjects. It goes to show that Jim Sheridan is a master at his talent of filmmaking. I'm really glad to have decided to get around to In the Name of the Father, and I do think it's one of the better prison dramas out there. This should not be missed.
Call Me Kuchu (2012)
I don't see many documentaries about homophobia and social justice overseas floating around (unless I'm just not looking in the right places). Nonetheless, I'm glad I stumbled across Call Me Kuchu, which documents the fight against an Ugandan bill set to make homosexuality punishable by law. While misguided at points and not quite instilled in the overall history of the nation, it offers a personal portrait into this struggle through numerous individuals deeply affected by the bill. There are also moments where we get intimate looks at the pro side of the bill, those of which are often deeply disturbing.
There's something I find fascinating about documentaries that progress despite unforeseen circumstances while filming; last years Queen of Versailles is a good example of this. With Call Me Kuchu, it is the murder of the documentary's subject that holds production at a standstill. The unpredictability of such a dreadful occurrence not only makes the narrative eerier, but also makes the film's overall message far more profound. It is a film that fights for greater worldwide advocacy of social and personal justice. While it isn't mind-blowing or even all that education, I really don't think it needs to be. It captures the dismal corners of the world that allow for such things to happen, and announces that, even in this day and age, progression is merely a flash in the pan for many. It calls for action, doing so passionately and leaving quite a lasting impression.
Splendor in the Grass (1961)
Nothing could have prepared me for how unrelentingly dark Splendor in the Grass is. Covering a story of sex and insanity between two teenaged lovers, it is a film that certainly isn't afraid to deal with ghastly subjects. Its depth is pretty amazing for its time, considering that it came out the same year that West Side Story (also starring Natalie Wood) captivated audiences with its very different tale of romance. I can't exactly say the story was very realistic, but it is impressive with its willingness to dive into its depressing subject matter mercilessly.
This is possibly Wood's greatest performance. It's the role that truly expanded her versatility beyond the "child actor" range. Her range of character and emotion is spectacular, and she totally steals the show. While none of the other performances were quite her level, what really stood out for me was the level of hypocrisy and double-standard regarding sex, much of which is relevant today. The truly constricting advice that the teenagers' parents really displays the cultural background that motivates the 1960's rebelliousness that defines the Baby Boomer generation. For that, I appreciate the significance of such a film, as well as the risky content that is to be repeated in later teen sex dramas and comedies.
I love Elia Kazan as a director, but frankly I don't find this to be one of his better works. The second half isn't quite on par with how great the film starts off. With the exception of Wood, the acting performances are a bit rusty. And honestly, I found the film to be rather spiteful, especially with regards to the fate of the two protagonists. I felt that there was a contextual message to be found in the lot, regarding the aforementioned conservative atmosphere of the drama, but it may have been hidden underneath the misfortune and depressing circumstances of our characters. Nonetheless, the content is worthwhile for the most part, and its status as a classic of its era is deserving.
Perhaps I'm a bit biased about my love for this film. For one thing, the Coen brothers are two of my favorite filmmakers working today. Secondly, I love folk music and the whole U.S. in the 1960s atmosphere, and this film is largely driven by both of those. Thirdly, character studies are my Achille's heel (well, one of many). Finally, I like cats. Enough said.
I'm not gonna lie, I haven't been extremely fond of the output of the filmmaking team the past few years. Which is one reason why I think I found Inside Llewyn Davis so completely invigorating. The titular character felt completely realistic and tragically relatable, due in a huge part to Oscar Isaac, who definitely owns every moment of his screen time. Another huge driving force is the music, which captures the corresponding moods absolutely perfectly. From the beautiful, melancholic "Fare Thee Well" to the infectious "Please Mr. Kennedy", this soundtrack is among the best to come out all year and really moves the film along at a relaxing, steady pace.
I guess if I had any complaints, it would be that I wished some of the supporting performances had a little more time than they were granted. In particular, the film needed much more Carey Mulligan, whose brief appearances were biting and hilarious in all the best ways. Also, I think the flick wandered aimlessly a bit around the final third, when it felt like it wasn't sure how to build a resolution. As a whole, however, it's a wonderful final product, and one of the best musical-related films to have come out recently. It's so glad to see the Coens dwelling in mind-blowing territory once again.
This film isn't well-acted or well-written by any conventional definition of the phrases. The story is laughably unrealistic and lazily hangs around a variety of dance montages that make up the bulk of the film. So why did I enjoy this film? Easy: the film sought out to be nothing more than a glorification of the breakdancing culture, and it did exactly that. When it isn't granting us access to its fun, campy narrative, it is presenting a troupe of truly talented dancers showing their stuff. It may be because I have a thing for musicals, but I found myself really entranced by these dance montages, as they were never boring. But on terms of its narrative, I personally loved how its blanket message was essentially anti- rich white men. A message that is buried underneath all that fun and dancing, of course. It's mostly enjoyable as a fascinating time capsule of a very specific time and place in culture. The music is great and the dancing is fun as heck. And really, what more could you ask for in a film like this?
In the late Roger Ebert's review of The Saddest Music in the World, he states, "You have never seen a film like this before, unless you have seen other films by Guy Maddin". Needless to say, I agree. Maddin is probably one of the more relentlessly inventive filmmakers of the modern era, and The Saddest Music in the World. Is one of his greats. Anyone familiar with his films like Brand Upon the Brain! or My Winnipeg knows that he has a fascination for the silent film aesthetic - particularly Soviet montage editing and Expressionist imagery - and implements them seamlessly in his films. Notable in this film is the intentionally grainy way it is shot, as well as the slight mismatching in vocal dubbing.
This movie is wonderful. It is essentially a love story/tragedy set during the Great Depression, but the stylization and truly bizarre material makes it feel like it's on an entirely different planet. And thus is the flair of Guy Maddin. You never quite know what to expect with his films, except for pure, unadulterated weirdness. It helps that the entire cast is on par with their performances, making the film more than just an experiment in cool retro effects. It is often brimming in melodrama, which is a risky move, but it totally works here. In a strange way, the film felt oddly nostalgic; as if I had seen it a million times over, yet only for the first time. Though this is hardly a complaint - rather, it is Maddin's uniquely crafty sensibility at full play. I can tell he had a lot of fun with this one. I did as well.
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974)
Leave it to Werner Herzog, master of dreary narrative and slow-paced tension, to conjure a story like this. Specifically, our titular character is a man who had spent the first seventeen years of his life devoid of any and all contact with other humans and society. The first half of the film resents the pain-staking efforts many individuals take in attempting to "civilize" him. Through these moments, the monotony and sameness of everyday culture is revealed. In some ways it becomes a sort of a dark, dark comedy; specifically in moments where he cannot work within the harsh constrictions of etiquette or thinks outside supposedly complex modes of philosophy. In particular, his "tree-frog" response to a question of logic given to him by a member of the elite is a highlight of the film.
Despite such insight, it never quite reaches the level of intrigue and potential for mesmerizing audiences that Herzog's best films accomplish. Its story still feels very much like an incomplete work; by the final third, it's almost as if all that's possible for a film of this nature has been said, and it does feel like it drags for the rest of its duration. Still, it's very much an atmosphere-driven film - as with much of his work - with Bruno S. giving quite a worthwhile, compelling performance as this under-developed, deranged, somewhat brilliant individual. Even if Kaspar Hauser isn't quite as amazing and insightful as I would have wanted, it's still very clear that Herzog is a master of narrative, this fact ever-present in even his not-so-great works.
I decided to watch this film in honor of the great Peter O'Toole who had just recently passed away.
Dear lord. If anyone had told me that this was a film where O'Toole plays a noble earl who thinks he's Jesus Christ AND Jack the Ripper, I would have watched this years ago.
Basically, it plays off as a madcap critique of the noble classes (I think?) through a series of really strange moments, led by O'Toole who plays a comically unstable rich man. From what I've heard, this is possibly his most off-the-wall performance he has ever done; I'd go as far as to say that it's one of the most flat-out insane performances I've ever watched. His line-reading is just on key, which is amazing considering the material he has to work with. He even spontaneously breaks into song at more than a few instances, though I would hesitate to call this film a musical. Having seen this film, Lawrence of Arabia, and (admittedly) little else, it's led me to truly believe that he may be one of the most versatile actors to have ever lived.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film isn't nearly as great as this performance. At over two-and-a-half hours long, it felt quite overlong; at the very least, not very well-paced, as there's only so much of this type of material to stretch out before it really feels tedious. It does wear thin after the first half, and the way it ends doesn't feel very rewarding, after having to endure such madness for the bulk of the film. Nonetheless, I am very happy to have finally watched it. I'd say that Peter O'Toole's performance being the shining gem of The Ruling Class makes the experience at least somewhat satisfying. Recommended for any of all fans of this late, great actor/individual.
My history with writer-director Alexander Payne hasn't been the greatest. While I did like Election, I couldn't quite get into About Schmidt and I kind of hated Sideways. With that being said, I really enjoyed Nebraska, making me feel that it's Payne as a writer that I can't quite get behind. Nonetheless, this film is really rewarding, character-driven drama/dark comedy. Bruce Dern gives one of the most amazing performances in any film I've seen all year, successfully portraying an individual who is stubborn and one-track-minded, yet broken and filled with inner desolation. Additionally, June Squibb steals damn near every scene she's in, giving one of the funniest performances of 2013 that is also surprisingly heartfelt. The substance of the film really does pay the utmost respect to the talented performers behind the screen. The writing is compelling and well-paced, but also weirdly bleak, this being emphasized by the flat B&W cinematography that permeates the film. I expect this to be a strong contender at the Academy Awards, and I feel it would be completely worth it..
Sightseers is my first embarking into the bizarre mind of Ben Wheatley. I really enjoyed its unique, dark-as-all-hell approach to the "lovers/killers on the run" genre. It's interesting how very much like real people the two main actors presented themselves as; eerie in the way that this makes their crimes almost relatable. What really threw me off about this one is the strangely casual way the narrative progressed, absent of any real tension of drama that would call for a film of this nature. Instead, it's replaced with pitch black humor and a concept, while fun at first, gets quite disturbing really wuickly. I really enjoyed the atmosphere in this one, and while I surely can't say I love it, it does make me more interested in embarking on the rest of Wheatley's works.
We Steal Secrets is a documentary that initially delves into an interesting topic with an objective, multilayered prospected in mind. It is a character study of sorts, on both Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, and whistle-blower Chelsea Manning (who is referred to here as "Bradley Manning"). It tells the tale of WikiLeaks chronologically, outlining its infamy as the leader in leaking confidential government information into the public consciousness. For this, it does its job well.
However, in the film's efforts to bring character and personality to the individuals, we get little more than caricature and bland assumption. I'm skeptical at the amount of time that the film spent on Assange's alleged rape of two women, as actual content regarding WikiLeaks is already presented through quite a narrow lens. Moreover, it seemed that the film was also apt at painting Manning to be a bullied outcast with a gender identity disorder, whose motives behind leaking documents are left fuzzy, but with little room for imagination. By the end, it becomes dreadfully slanted.
As a sort of "intro to WikiLeaks", I can see this being effective for viewers who may not be so well-informed on this topic. As for me, I would like to see a similar documentary that took on a more objective standpoint from beginning to end. Preferably not in a talking heads style that would inevitably cast interviewees with a preformed biased view of its subjects.
As I started this film and realized that one of the opening shots was an extreme close-up of a woman's breasts, I began to seriously regret my decision. Surely this would be nothing more than yet another installment from the producers of the first B/R/O?
Well, yeah, it kind of is. But at least it's better than the first. Even the worst segment of this anthology (that being the short, anticlimactic "Phase I Clinical Trials", which begins the film) is better than the best segement on the original V/H/S. Every part in here does feel like it has potential, even if quite a number of setbacks usually prevent it from ever reaching it.
The two best on here are definitely "A Ride in the Park" and "Safe Haven", directed by Eduardo Sánchez/Gregg Hale and Timo Tjahjanto/Gareth Huw Evans, respectively. The former starts off as just another gimmicky zombie tale, this one told through POV. It takes an interesting turn near the end, when it becomes all-too apparent that our zombie "protagonist" is still incredibly self-aware, possessing guilt over the things his zombie self had done. Like most of these segments, it ends entirely too abruptly and at a point where it just starts to get interesting.
"Save Haven" is where this film truly shines. I almost wish that this segment wasn't tainted with the V/H/S logo, as it could work very effectively as its own separate short film. The pacing is done perfectly for its story, essentially involving an arrangement with a cult leader that takes its time to delve into utter chaos. And it does so really effectively; it masters the art of slow burn horror so well. Because the slow burn is totally worth it for the outcome that the material succumbs too. It's one of the most effective, inventive pieces of horror I've seen in quite a while. Nice job, Tjahjanto and Evans.
For the most part, however, I thing it may be time to hang up the cap on found footage films. As evident in these series, most filmmakers who choose to implement this style often don't quite know what to do with it. Stories that start off completely POV often leave that aspect behind once the tension rises. Also, I think many found footage films tend to end their narratives rather abruptly, thinking that it would possess the same eerie, dreadful quality that The Blair Witch Project did so well. It doesn't always work this way, however. While I will admit that V/H/S/2 was a bit of a step up from the first, this is mainly due to the incredible "Safe Haven" segment. I would watch that one again many times over; the rest, not so much.
It's really hard to hate this film, especially for viewers who, like myself, are fans of John Waters and his movies. It's a fun, quirky little film set in the rock-n-rollin' 60s that emphasizes both racial integration and body positivity. Waters' films are notorious for having the best costumes and sets, and this film is no exception. Everything from the retro wallpapers to the cute, colorful era-based outfits are magnificent. Plus, the soundtrack is great, paying homage to the wonderful peppiness of early rock & roll music and the dozens of dances that accompanied it.
It's major setback, of course, is that this is a PG-rated Waters film (which almost sounds like an oxymoron). Waters veterans Divine and Mink Stole are present here, but because of the obviously toned-down, family-friendly material, neither ever really reach the potential they had in their past, more famous works. Of course, a lot of this is made up for by the adorable Ricki Lake, who shines in this early role as the super pleasant Tracy. Sure the film is a bit of a mess, with humor that occasionally falls flat and a narrative that isn't quite sure what it wants to do. But with all its good-natured substance, it's hard not to smile along with it.
Given that it's a Disney animated film, it was inevitable that I would find at least some shred of enjoyment from Frozen. What I didn't expect was how this would be some of the most finest work that the studio has offered in years. As a follow-up to the just as pleasant Wreck-It Ralph, it's clear to see that the second Disney Renaissance period is at its peak.
This film has affirmed by newfound love for screenwriter/co-director Jennifer Lee. Having also written the fun-as-heck Wreck-It Ralph, here she sheds light on two of the most multidimensional female characters in any recent animated film. Playing off of old Disney princess troupes, the film shuns the conventional "damsel in distress" role and introduces Elsa and Anna, two royal sisters with very differing personalities. Elsa is cursed with an ability to turn all she touches into ice; this causes her to unintentionally unleash a non-stop winter storm across her kingdom. Ashamed and alienated by her powers, she runs away. As the storms becomes more and more intense (mimicking Elsa's inner distress), Anna makes it her duty to find her sister, convince her to return, end the storms, and mend their troubling relationship.
I've heard quite a few thoughts from people who interpreted Elsa as the villain in this story, as it is her ice powers that bring on the film's central conflict. Frankly, I feel that is rather unfair. Elsa's intentions are not at all malicious. In fact, the film frequently highlights her failed attempts at successfully controlling her powers, chanting and urging to herself to "stop feeling". She understands that something inside of her is absent, and thus the real conflict is to find the missing piece that could set her feelings at ease. Elsa is one of the most interesting characters of any recent animated film. Heroes and villains often work in binaries - either entirely good-hearted or entirely evil - but Elsa transcends these binaries and comes across as a truly muli-layered, sympathetic character. This is more than likely due to the voice acting of Idina Menzel; everyone else did alright for the parts they were given, but Menzel steals the show.
I really enjoyed Tangled but I could never for the life of me remember any of the songs. They were nice during their screen time, but not catchy enough to be stuck in my head after the credits rolled. The songs in Frozen, however, are some of the best to be featured in a Disney film in years. "Do You Want To Build a Snowman", introduced within the films first ten minutes, starts off adorable and slowly progresses to bittersweet sadness, remaining beautiful the whole way through. "For the First Time in Forever" is Kristen Bell's signature Disney heroine song, but one that is reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast's "Belle" in sweeping loveliness. "Love is an Open Door" is funny and sweet, an almost satirical look at love at first sight; it becomes slightly darker after finishing the film, given the events that had occurred since its appearance.
Two of my favorite songs in the film come in the second third of the film (interestingly enough, the final third is absent of any songs whatsoever, not even a reprise, which is unusual for Disney). "Let It Go" has gotten the most praise, and for good reason. This sequence, at the start of Elsa's exile, is a magnificent instance of self-discovery and empowerment. Disney has since made this scene available on Youtube, though there's nothing quite like watching it on a huge screen. Finally, there's Olaf's number. "In Summer" is probably the closest that Disney has and ever will get to dark comedy, as the song is about the incredibly naïve snowman being excited for summer to come, unknowing of what happens to snow in the heat. I must admit, having seen the ridiculous animation for Olaf beforehand, I was afraid that he would be just another throwaway sidekick character inserted to appeal to kids. The pleasant surprise is that he is incredibly charming, really hard not to love, and he even plays a bit of a vital role in a couple scenes.
With beautiful animation, excellently written-songs, compelling characters, and a well-paced narrative, Frozen is one of the finest offerings that the studio has given in quite a while. If I had any complaints, it would be that it's fairly predictable on terms of storyline, and that there were a couple scenes that probably weren't totally necessary. Nonetheless, it is an incredibly charming, touching, empowering film that, if not a modern classic in animation, is surely a sign for more good things to come.
As an animal lover, Blackfish infuriated me. It's no wonder how this film has helped the ballooning of a worldwide boycott of SeaWorld. Seeing such beautiful, energetic wild orca whales being captured, abused, and reduced to soulless, mechanical beings is incredibly disheartening. Their commodification and denial of any shred of dignity is everything that is wrong with the world today. One thing I wasn't expecting was how SeaWorld also actively dehumanizes their trainers, pinning the cause of their victimization onto them or simply brushing deaths from orca attacks aside altogether. Its a saddening doc, and while nothing special on the technical side of things, it somehow manages to be both shocking and insightful without being exploitative.
Chicken with Plums (2011)
Chicken With Plums is a little film that is eccentric and colorful in all the right ways. While its subject matter is dark - following a musician/husband/father who decides that life is no longer worth living - its tone is consistently lively and often humorous. In many ways, the overall feel of its narrative reminds me of Jeunet's Amélie, albeit slightly darker and more experimental. I really loved the leaps in time, place, and perspective this film takes, outlining the most important facets of the protagonist's life, especially the characters whose lives he's touched. Certainly it is stylistically heavy, taking a more light-hearted look at its macabre subjects. I can see this being a turn-off for some, but I personally felt it fit the story quite wonderfully. It's really hard not to get swept away by such a magical film, which turns out to be rather oddly life-affirming. It's a film that really surprised me with its loveliness, and one that I can certainly see myself revisiting again and again.
I don't want to live on this planet anymore.
A world that is so inconsiderate, so hateful, so unfair to such good-natured human beings - a world that dares to put these two through their own personal brand of hell and back again - is truly not forgivable.
On the bright side, this is a beautiful tribute by Kurt Kuenne to his friend, and despite the tragic circumstances that surround the lives of everyone involved, it's fully apparent that this film is full of heart. And David and Kathleen Bagby are two of the strongest, most persevering individuals I've seen in any documentary. I wish I had half their courage.
Anyone who is familiar with director Michel Gondry probably knows him most for his particularly quirky, inventive visual style. This can be seen in his films, but also in his music videos for Björk, White Stripes, and Kanye West. His latest project, an animated film set to the beat of an interview with Noam Chomsky was exactly what I've been waiting for, without having even known it. In this film, he interviews Chomsky on a variety of topics, ranging from linguistics to existential philosophy to details of Chomsky's personal life itself. Through a variety of oral tangents, Gondry's artwork moves like a stream-of-consciousness style flow of animated sketches and figures, sometimes surreal, sometimes grotesque, and often absurdly hilarious.
It's been a few hours since I watched this film in a theater, and my mind is still buzzing with the sensory vividness that had been presented to me. It's no surprise that Chomsky is an enlightening, brilliant speaker. However, what I wasn't expecting was the hefty, meaningful contribution that Gondry himself brings to the table. He mentions early on that his English isn't very good; his thick French accent and trip-ups across word comprehension and pronunciation remind us of that sporadically. Thus, he expresses himself through the wild, inventive neon colors of his drawings, using them to enlighten Chomsky's speech, as well as to highlight his own confusion and interpretation of these concepts. Luckily, he's a very quirky, funny fellow, but also highly considerate of Chomsky's work. Nonetheless, we are reminded that this is very much Gondry's work of art, and it certainly feels like one, in the all best ways possible.
This is the only animated film I've seen this year so far, and given that not too much else looks very promising (no, not even Frozen), it'll be really hard to top this one. Little did I know that such a film would churn out to be one of my very favorites of the year. Whether you're a fan or appreciator of one man or the other, it must not be missed.
Sharp, funny, and satirical, it's no wonder how Amy Heckerling's Clueless became one of the forerunners of the breakout of teen comedies in the 90's. It is essentially based upon a Jane Austen novel, yet uses its structure loosely enough where it can flourish on its own originality. I'm always a fan of ladies excelling in comedy, and the three leads in this film are especially great at that. I'm especially partial to Brittany Murphy, whose breakout role is truly adorkable. The script, also written by Heckerling, contains some of the most infectious, absurd one-liners and phrases out there. It's truly one-of-a-kind; like the Valley Girl of its generation. All in all, it's good, indulgent, girly fun. And I want to raid Alicia Silverstone's closet soooo badly!
At Berkeley (2014)
Boy, there's a lot to take in with this one. At Berkeley is documentary film veteran Frederick Wiseman's latest effort, taking a multi-dimensional look at the famous Berkeley campus in Northern California. What impressed me the most about this film is just how much access the filmmaker was able to attain in his attempts to paint a full portrait of the university's rich cultural history. From classroom lectures to administrative meetings, virtually every angle is covered here, with the hot button topics of budget cuts and college education particularly held under the spotlight. In traditional Wiseman fashion, he takes on a strictly fly-on-the-wall approach to his filmmaking, devoid of his own personal commentary, letting the camera show it how it is. Peppered within these lengthy monologues are shots of the beautiful Berkeley campus and student extracurricular activities.
The documentary runs at about four hours long and while it certainly feel like every minute of that, there is rarely a dull moment. It's amazing how engrossing some of these lengthy discussions can be. I also didn't expect them to enlightening on the nature of the country's public education system. The pinnacle, of course, is in the final third, where we get a few lengthy scenes of student protests regarding tuition hikes and the overall degradation of their college. Since filming was done in 2009, the even larger Occupy revolts that are to come a couple years later aren't covered; with this context, however, the images become even more fruitful. The concern that these individuals place toward their education highlight a system that is on the cusp of full-out collapse. It's exciting yet scary, and Wiseman handles these issues with the utmost empathy and integrity.
Although the density of At Berkeley is intimidating, I think it's fully worth the effort to make time for. It's compelling, beautifully-shot, and although it may drag at bits, it's an experience that is sure to stay in one's mind for quite some time.
Good Night Good Morning (2010)
About a third of the way into this obscure indie flick, one of the characters mentions how the situation at hand is a lot like Linklater's Before Sunrise. The funny thing is that this moment happened right when I was thinking the exact thing about this film, Good Night, Good Morning. It takes place completely in one night, focusing on a phone conversation between two characters who had met very briefly at a bar earlier that night. What starts off as an innocent, spontaneous drunk-dial progressively turns into a meaningful heart-to-heart conversation. The journey is enthralling the whole way through.
I don't think I would love the film nearly as much if not for the clever, thoughtful ways the narrative utilizes its simplicity. Slowly and slowly, we begin to learn more about these two people, and the connection that viewers form with the two coincide with the closeness that grows amongst them both. It really is a magical experience that really took me by surprise. The dialogue felt completely natural and realistic. It even hit kinda close to home for me in a few ways. But while it isn't an absolute masterpiece in any sense of the phrase, it really is a sweet unique kind of romance film that is well worth the watch.
Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any word on a DVD release (at least not for one distributed internationally, since this is an Indian film). Fortunately, it can be watched completely for free on YouTube.
Porco Rosso (1992)
Miyazaki has built up quite a reputation for creating some of the finest, most gorgeous-looking animated films of the contemporary ago. As I journey onward to complete his filmography, I've found out that Porco Rosso is no exception. The scenery is all completely lovely, from the trees to the shots in the endless skies. And like much from Studio Ghibli, there's that fantasy element that is ingeniously thrown in. Here, we have a famous fighter pilot who has become cursed and turned into a pig. This invites us to gain more insight into the character of Marco/Porco. There's a lot of World War I military references scattered throughout the narrative, making me feel as if the film is much deeper and complex than its main story would suggest. Besides all this, it's a rather beautiful film in its own regard, much aided by its themes of love and self-fulfillment, as well as its gorgeous musical score. Porco Rosso seems to be rather underrated, or at least underappreciated, but I believe it's just as fine and lovely as anything else in Miyazaki's repertoire.
It seems that one of the more distinct trends of contemporary art cinema is a harking back to classic styles and standards of the silent film era. One of the more famous examples, of course, is 2011's Best Picture winner The Artist, although this harking back to the retro has certainly existed quite a few years before. What's perplexing, however, is that often such films don't quite take the extra step in capturing just what makes silent cinema so alluring to cinephiles. It's as if (and The Artist is especially guilty of this, even though I enjoyed it) it's assumed that all it takes is black-and-white visuals and title cards in place of sound and dialogue. The films of Guy Maddin - namely Brand Upon the Brain! and his short film The Heart of the World - seem to be most successful at capturing the true *feel* of silent movies, since he makes the additional effort in adding montage-style editing and an intentionally gritty aesthetic, much like what these old films demonstrate. The end results are often quite charming, and I do wish more filmmakers who seek to pay homage to silent cinema take a page from his handbook.
Blancanieves, though quite lovely, is just the type of film that isn't quite so successful as a silent film. While it isn't exactly a setback, watching it makes me wonder whether this particular style ever transcended mere gimmick. The B&W cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, but really presents itself and progresses just like any other modern narrative film (minus the sound). If it offers anything new to the table, it allows me to pay more attention to the musical soundtrack, which for the most part is outstanding, often traced with lovely, exotic undertones.
Besides all of these nitpicks, however, Blancanieves is quite a wonderful film. It's a fascinating, unique retelling of the Snow White fairy tale, set in 1920s Spain amidst an environment of bullfighting. There's a really entrancing fantasy element to the whole thing that I can't exactly put into words, but I owe it mainly to the lovely cinematography. It's almost as if it's all set on an entirely different planet; the sets and costumes are all so lavish and brilliant, and the emotional arc is absolutely compelling. The acting is all so great too, particularly the actress who plays the protagonist, our "Snow White". I'll always love films with a strong, well-developed female leads, to some extent at least. While the narrative does have its shortcomings, there are moments where it's often quite mystifying, even tense and gripping. All in all, it's quite a good film enveloped in a magical, old-timey vibe. It can be inconsistent and a tad rusty, but at the very least it looks so, so gorgeous.
Born in East L.A. (1987)
The bulk of substantial clever content in Born in East L.A. can be found within the first 10-15 minutes of the film. It initially promises a biting critique about the American perception of illegal immigration from Mexico. Cheech Marin (who also wrote and directed the film) plays a Mexican-American who is mistaken for an undocumented immigrant and deported to Mexico. Unfortunately, the film never quite reaches its full potential. The bulk of the narrative relies on cheap humor that ultimately falls flat. There is even a love story that is forcibly thrown in there for good measure. It simply felt like the film was going for exactly the wrong kind of tone that its subject matter would call for. It has its sweet moments and instances of good-natured humor, but a more critical, even satirical style of comedy would probably make it more resonating and ultimately more satisfying. Alas, it's rather disposable. One would probably be better off watching the very funny music video by which this film is inspired.
Marty is the winner of both the 1955 Academy Award for Best Picture and the Palme d'Or, and it is certainly brimming with a unique kind of humanity that would make it befit for both titles. It effectively (and sympathetically) tells a story of a lonely man who isn't exactly lucky with love - that is, until one pivotal night with a similarly ill-fated woman who captivates him with her charm and charisma. Despite this, however, Marty's friends and family remain skeptical and unimpressed, causing he himself to possess doubts of his own.
Ernest Borgnine's titular role is one of the most humble, likable characters to ever grace the silver screen. It's nearly impossible not to love the guy, and his Best Actor win for this year is completely deserved. Betsy Blair, Esther Minciotti, and Augusta Ciolli also give fine supporting performances, but Borgnine steals the show. And the film itself is also as simple as Marty the character. While it certainly is a work of its time, I was surprised by just how straight-forward and lacking in melodrama it truly is. The film progresses smoothly, with dialogue that is genuine and tinged with just the right amount of natural cynicism. It is a film about the quest toward real love, the boundaries and barriers that are inevitable, and the strength it takes to overcome them for the sake of fulfillment and all its virtues. It is wonderful.
Rio Bravo (1959)
Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo has often been called one of the greatest westerns of all time. While I myself can't agree (Leone's Dollars Trilogy places rather high in my book), it's undoubtedly solid. This has to be Dean Martin's greatest acting performance, proving that Sinatra isn't the only member of the Rat Pack to take on serious roles convincingly. I felt that John Wayne wasn't quite on par here; I'm not his biggest fan, but his acting here felt even more wooden and forced than normally. Walter Brennan's character is funny and charismatic enough, but unnecessary for the most part. Angie Dickinson was rather fun here as well, and Ricky Nelson did alright, though I can't help feeling he was casted for the sole purpose of sharing a duet with Dean Martin. Overall, it's a solid, entertaining western, although the action and pacing didn't quite reach a level of exceptionality or nail-biting tension that would call for a higher rating.
Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Shut Up and Play the Hits (2012)
Mommie Dearest (1981)
Valentine Road (2013)
This Is 40 (2012)
Johnny Guitar (1954)
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UPDATE: My films of 2014 will be recorded/reviewed over at my blog or on my Letterboxd.
Listed in chronological order.
1910's - 1
1920's - 3
1930's - 11
1940's - 14
1950's - 31
1960's - 42
1970's - 46
1980's - 90
1990's - 75
2000's - 98
2010's - 96
I'm also tracking my short film viewings here.
Listed in chronological order.
1910's - 1
1920's - 3
1930's - 11
1940's - 14
1950's - 31
1960's - 42
1970's - 46
1980's - 90
1990's - 75
2000's - 98
2010's - 96
I'm also tracking my short film viewings here.
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Dear Cinema Diary - Vol 3 E4 - April 2012
July 2013 Movie Journal - Xanadon't
May 2013 Movie Journal - Xanadon't
Movies the giraffe watched: April 2013
Cinema Diary - Vol 4 E1 - Jan 2013
Best Criterion Collection Movie Covers
RIP Sidney Lumet
Monthly Movie Journal: December 2011
October Movie Journal - Xanadon't
Cinema Diary - Vol 4 E4 - May & June 2013
Film Journal 2013
Writer/Director: Richard Linklater
Monthly Movie Journal: May 2011
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New-to-Me Films of 2012
Top 10 Woody Allen Films
New-to-Me Short Films of 2013
The Music of Wes Anderson's Films
Top Ten Films of 2010
Top Ten Films of 2007
Horror Movie Watchlist