Archive for the '2010 Movies' Category

More Movies

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

We’re still on the Soderbergh kick after reading that article on his films in Slate.

The Good German (2009) I fell asleep by the end, and didn’t care that I missed it. My husband filled me in so I didn’t have to go back to watch it. It’s a gorgeous-looking black-and-white homage to post WWII movies, with Clooney as an army reporter visiting Berlin, Blanchett as a femme fatale, and Tobey Maguire as a smarmy kid. Clooney and Maguire’s performances felt unnatural, and the complications of the plot made me tired, not interested. I love The Third Man and Casablanca and many of Soderbergh’s films, but I didn’t even much like this. Uneven and disappointing.

The Informant! (2010) Matt Damon is an agribusiness executive in the 90’s who volunteers to inform on his company for price fixing. It’s clear from the beginning that things aren’t quite right, but the gradual reveals, the cheery music, and comedians playing straight men (Joel McHale, Patton Oswalt, Buster from Arrested Development) all contribute to an entertaining film and character study.

Thor (2011) Our DVR received finally crashed. If we got a new one, it would be HD, so it didn’t make sense to have an old TV, so we got a new HD one, and it didn’t make sense to have HD tv but not Bluray (you’re all following this rationalization, right?) so we got a Bluray player, and had to get a movie on Bluray to test it out, and I picked Thor, because I was interested to see if I found Chris Hemsworth as hot in HD as I did in the theater. Yep. But I’m finding the whole Bluray/HD thing disconcerting, and not sure if I’m ready for this, but ready or not, here it is. Thor is a good B movie, capably directed by Kenneth Branagh, who draws heavily on the themes of his Henry V. Kat Dennings steals all her scenes, Natalie Portman is fine, Loki is a tremendous villain, but Thor’s Valhalla crew are dead weight.

2010: My Year in Movies

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

In 2009, I consumed more movies (90) than I did books (66). I didn’t like that ratio. Yes, a movie can be consumed in 2 hours, while most books take longer, e.g. Infinite Jest, which I read that summer. Still, I love books more than movies; I hoped I could reallocate my time and turn the emphasis around. At the end of 2010, I’d seen 68 movies and read 91 books. I almost exactly inverted the ratio!

In addition to cutting back on movies, I also cut back on television. I gave up Project Runway and Top Chef, gave up on House, Glee, The Office and How I Met Your Mother. I didn’t watch one new show this fall. The shows I did watch were all 30 minute comedies, ones that consistently made me laugh: Modern Family, Community and 30 Rock. I look forward to the return of Parks and Recreation.

By whittling away the time I spent chasing movies with good reviews and tv shows I used to like, I enjoyed what I saw more, plus had more time, which I used to read and write. Here were the movies I feel earned their time last year.

Made me laugh: Philadelphia Story, Fantastic Mr. Fox, It’s Complicated, Hot Tub Time Machine, The Awful Truth, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Fletch

Made me cry (in a good way): Up, Toy Story 3

Entertaining: Jaws, Serenity, True Grit (1969), The Holiday

These entertained AND made me think: The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Moon, Inception, The King’s Speech

Family movies liked by both kids and adults: How to Train Your Dragon, Porco Rosso, Castle in the Sky, Mary Poppins

Favorite holiday movies: The Shop Around the Corner, Trading Places and Die Hard

Last Movies of the Year

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Trying to wrap things up here with the last movies we watched in 2010:

. Because there was a long article about it in Entertainment Weekly a while ago, and I never saw it enough times to know it well. Hilarious, worth re-watching, but the painful 80’s music is even worse than the “fashion” and big hair.

The Holiday
. A friend assured me I’d like it. Throughout the utterly formulaic beginning, I doubted her. But once Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz switch houses, things became charming. Winslet and Jude Law deserve most of the credit, I think. Light and enjoyable holiday movie.

The King’s Speech
. My first movie in a theater since September! I went with friends Mr. and Mrs. Blogenheimer. Loved it. Firth is terrific, as is Bonham-Carter. It took me a while to recognize the woman playing Geoffrey Rush’ wife; it’s Jennifer Ehle, Lizzie Bennet to Firth’s Darcy. Weird to see them in the same film. Firth in a kilt? Woo!

Trading Places
. Another great holiday movie. It’s been too long since I’d watched it. Dan Ackroyd’s uppitiness. Eddie Murphy’s laugh. Wait for the crop report, and watch out for those frozen concentrated orange juice futures. I STILL do not understand the ending, even after I watched a dvd extra that purported to explain it.

Holiday Movies and Specials, Again

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

There is something about watching the same shows and movies every year that is a big part of holiday fun for me. And with DVDs, and no commercials, the experience is easier, and more enjoyable. I did a previous entry on family holiday movies, but we’ve continued, sometimes with all four of us, and sometimes with just my husband. And with It’s a Wonderful Life, it was just me.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: I’d never seen this before, which is strange, given how many, many times I’ve seen the original recipe. Funny but mostly forgettable, with a very young Johnny Galecki, Juliette Lewis, and a very big-haired Julia Louis Dreyfus.

Holiday Inn. Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire fight over girls. I’m on team Fred. His dancing is way cooler than Bing’s singing. Most famous for its introduction of “White Christmas”, but less famous than the film of the same name, since this one has a troubling sequence in blackface that was interestingly edited out of the version we watched on AMC.

Emmett Otter’s Jug Band Christmas with Jim Hensen’s Muppets. The Russell and Lillian Hoban Christmas book was a favorite in my family, though now out of print. Still available, though, is the DVD of the muppet adaptation, which skews a bit more to the sweet than the bitter; the book was more balanced. Be sure to watch the “out takes.”

Year without a Santa Claus. Heat Miser and Snow Miser. The kids enjoyed this one, and it reminds me fondly of being a kid at Christmas.

The Shop Around the Corner
. MY FAVORITE HOLIDAY MOVIE. Anyone who doesn’t smile and laugh during this romantic comedy is a grinch. There’s sad stuff, too, but really, the whole thing is just lovely. If you haven’t seen it, do.

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. This is the one with the penguin and Winter Warlock. It also has some trippy musical interludes, during which 4yo Guppy asked, “Is this still part of the story?”

It’s a Wonderful Life. Only the second time I’ve seen it, I was again struck by the very dark undercurrent that’s easy to ignore with its “happy” ending. George Bailey dreams of getting out of his small town and becoming an architect. Instead, he stays and works at a savings and loan, gets married and has four kids. While I love, love, love the scene when George and Mary are walking home from the dance, the rest of the film is depressing, the more I think about it, e.g., he’s still going to have to pay back the $8000.

I’m going to try and watch Meet Me in St. Louis, and I think that’ll be all for this year. I’ve never yet seen A Christmas Story or Scrooged, and I’d like to see Love, Actually again, so I’ll keep them in mind for next year.

Family Movies: Holiday Edition

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

I have fond memories of watching Rudolph and the other animated specials every year, so I’ve been slowly building up a library of holiday movies for us to watch as a family every year. My husband G. Grod isn’t so into the whole every-movie every-year thing as I am, but we all know he’s not as compulsive as I am, either. And aren’t holiday traditions all about the compulsivity?

We started off with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This year nearly 5yo Guppy wasn’t scared of the Bumble, and both boys enjoyed it. And on IMDB, I found the answer for why “Dolly for Sue” is on the Island of Misfit Toys: “This gripping debate raged on for decades, until official word from Rankin-Bass recently decided the issue: Dolly for Sue is a “misfit” because she has psychological problems - she feels unloved.” Also, another burning misfit question answered: “When the elf drops the blue train from Santa’s sleigh, he no longer has the caboose with square wheels, the one thing that made him a misfit. Also, the bird who couldn’t fly is shown leaving the sleigh without an umbrella. Though not stated, it could be implied that Santa was able to use his magic to fix the misfit toys’ problems.” And the misfit scene at the end was added on after viewers protested that they weren’t revisited in the original. Nowhere on IMDB does it address why it’s Herbie at the beginning of the show and Hermie later on.

The 1965 A Charlie Brown Christmas was a harder sell. 7yo Drake remembered not liking it, and was bored and flopsy for most of it. He perked up for the 1992 sequel It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown which not only is not good, but contradicts the anti-commercial message of the first one. Inexplicably, the boys preferred the sequel.

Next was The Muppets’ Christmas Carol, with Michael Caine as Scrooge and Kermit as Bob Cratchit and Robin (*cough, cough*) as tubercular Tiny Tim. Guppy had some time behind his hands and under the blanket during the many ghost parts, but did OK. Drake remembered much of it from the previous year. I enjoyed the Marley brothers, Jacob and “Robert” who were surrounded by noisy cashboxes in a tribute to Bob Marley and the Wailers.

I chose Miracle on 34th Street next. Guppy’s refrain throughout was “when is the exciting part?” I told him it was the courtroom scene. He did not agree. Drake was mostly bored during, but enjoyed the ending. I think this is more a grownup than a kid movie, or at least little kid movie.

Last night, we borrowed Elf from a friend. I thought it would be a hit, with its childish humor. Instead, Drake hid under the blanket every time Will Ferrell did something embarrassing (i.e., almost every scene) and continually moaned “I hate this movie!” He did not, though, leave the room though we suggested it more than once, and did cop to liking the ending. Again, not so much for the little kids, and maybe never for Drew, who couldn’t stomach the awkward comedy like that of Will Ferrell and The Office.

Next I’m going for Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. G. Grod has declined to join us. But I think this will be a bit more kid friendly.

Two Movies: “An Education” and “Goonies”

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Of the two, guess which of An Education or Goonies we watched for family movie night? Both had their merits, as well as drawbacks.

An Education is the Nick Hornby penned adaptation of a school memoir by Lynn Barber. It has great performances by Carey Mulligan in the lead, Peter Sarsgard as the older man with the shady past, and others. So it’s a surprise that a film full of good performances felt flat to me. Several montages, plus the classical music score that made obvious emotions even more so, made me lose interest in this mostly predictable film. Only OK, with some good bits about it.

The Goonies was my pick for family movie night after 4yo Guppy refused to watch Snow White. Why? “I hate princesses!”

“What about Princess Leia?” asked my husband G. Grod.

Guppy sighed. “_Disney_ princesses.” he said, as if this were obvious. While I’m thrilled to have raised a child averse to Disney princesses (could I have done this with a girl? do I have that kind of power?) I did want to watch our collector’s edition of Snow White. So we went to the video store as a family (because I cannot justify even the lowest level of Netflix given how many unwatched dvds, e.g., Snow White collector’s edition, we own), stood around, picked things, argued, ogled the candy, and all in all spent way more time than we’d planned to there. It was kind of nice; who does that anymore? But I suggested the Steven Spielberg produced, Richard Donner directed Goonies, because I knew it was a childhood favorite of G. Grod’s, and because I’d never seen it. The kids agreed.

The Goonies
is an 80’s movie about eviction, rich kids vs. poor kids, pirate treasure, robbers, and a chained monster who lives underground. It’s kind of like an action/adventure middle-school version of The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire. There were a few scary bits beyond my boys’ comfort zone (a corpse and the monster, but the gunshots didn’t faze them), but it was mostly enjoyable for them. The biggest drawback for me was the bad language; these kids were dropping four-letter words like crazy. Nineteen “shits” and that doesn’t count various “asses” and others. While I did the same thing in middle school, it’s not behavior I want to highlight for my kids. In the end they really enjoyed it, so I count it as a win. If you do rent this, be sure to watch the Cyndi Lauper video on the extras. It is jaw-droppingly bizarre, as if a high-school tv class made a video on a Spielberg set that just happened to star Cyndi Lauper, pro wrestlers, and the Goonies kids. And Benihana chefs.

Family Movie Night: A Hit and A Miss

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

As I wrote about recently, I’m trying to start a family movie night tradition. In theory, it’s supposed to be on Friday after pizza, but in practice it’s kind of jumping around a bit and not attached to one particular food yet. But I’ll keep trying.

A few years ago, I tried to watch Mary Poppins with Drake, who was maybe 4 or 5 at the time. He was frightened by the booming cannon at the beginning, and refused to watch again till last weekend. So it was with some hesitation that I popped in the 139-minute movie. But both 7yo Drake and 4yo Guppy were unperturbed, and we went on to watch the first half of the movie, which included the classics “Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidicous,” which Drake had a hard time wrapping his mouth around. Funny, how my husband G. Grod and me must have had to practice as children too for it to come so trippingly off our tongues as Drake struggled. We saved the second half for the next night, and it went just as well. The kids were delighted with it. I have been less delighted to find myself with some of the songs stuck in my head this week, but I hope that will pass.

The kids were less delighted when I borrowed John Sayles’ Secret of Roan Inish from the library. They were happy to watch the cute seals, but the long intervals of storytelling and flashback were too much for them. The main character, Fiona, is such a brave, scrappy little girl I think this is a good girl-power movie. But probably for older kids than 7yo Drake.

Family Movie Night: “Porco Rosso” and “Castle in the Sky”

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

I’m trying to start a new tradition in our family, inspired by Claire of Little Farm, Growing: Fridays as Family Pizza and Movie Night. We’re three weekends in, and I have to say, it’s not really a hard sell. For the first week, my husband G. Grod borrowed 9 (the animated film, not the dancing debacle) at 7yo Drake’s request. This didn’t turn out so well. First, I made the pizzas and didn’t get started till late, so I didn’t get to watch. Second, the movie was too scary for the boys. I asked Drake to get some socks from the laundry room the other day.

“You go,” he said. “Memories of 9 keep me from going into darkness.”

He phrased it so poetically; how could I not comply?

The next two weeks worked out much better, with animated films by one of our favorite film makers, Hayao Miyazaki. He has been, incorrectly to my mind, described at the Japanese Walt Disney. A more accurate analogy is that he’s like the Kurosawa of animation. In the U.S., he is perhaps best known for his sweet children’s fable My Neighbor Totoro, or the more recent Ponyo. We chose two of his earlier works, as the later ones, including Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away are too violent, IMO, for small children.

Porco Rosso
is the story of a former Italian army sea-plane pilot, Marco, who’s been cursed by a witch to take the form of a pig. He frequents a small island bar reminiscent of that from Casablanca. It’s run by Gina, whose pilot fiancee was shot down in the war. Porco has trouble with sea-plane pirates, as well as an uppity American pilot who is vying for Gina’s affection. Along the way, Porco has to deal with costly repairs, police pursuit, and the company of Fio, a traditional Miyazaki heroine: smart, brave and cute as a button. (No mincing princess, she.) It’s a rousing, romantic tale, and charmed both the parents and kids. I’m thrilled to see a sequel is in pre-production.

Castle in the Sky
refers to a floating island, pursed by young Pazu, whose father died soon after seeing it. (In Japanese, the movie was called Laputa, a hat tip to the inspiration from Gulliver’s Travels.) Most people believe it’s a myth, but two others seek it as well: sky-pirate queen Dola, voiced with cackling relish in the US version by Chloris Leachman, and bad-guy secret-agent Muska, voiced by Mark Hamill. Both of them want to kidnap Sheeta, a young girl with an ancient crystal connected with Laputa. But when Muska’s sky ship crashes, Sheeta escapes, and is found floating and unconscious by Pazu who seeks to shield her from her pursuers. This is a suspenseful tale with an undercurrent of the eco-awareness found in other Miyazaki works. There’s adventure, cool robots, treasure and smart, capable kids. As with Porco Rosso, this was a movie that delighted both me and the children.

On deck? We have many movies at home, but I’ve just reserved John Sayle’s Secret of Roan Innish. I saw it years ago at a Philadelphia film festival before it received distribution and was so glad when it did get picked up and released to glowing reviews.

Movie Mash Up

Friday, September 10th, 2010

Holy Cats! I knew I fell behind on blogging over the summer, what with the different schedule and the big reading project, but had no idea how long it had been since I wrote about movies. This will be the catch-up post.

As most of you long-time readers know, I review books and movies as I go along. Since I started keeping track, my movies far outpaced the books. It makes sense that I’d watch more movies; a film can be consumed in about 2 hours, while a book takes longer. But reading is more important to me than watching movies. This year I made a conscious decision to read more, and I like the new ratio. I weeded down the requests at the library and stopped browsing the DVD shelves in Target. I don’t have Netflix on purpose. On a night when I might have previously opted for a movie, I chose to read instead. Some of this was so I could finish three honkin’ books over the summer. But now that I have the new habit of reading as evening activity, I hope to keep it up.

Toy Story 3 (2010) I loved this more than my kids did. They were (justifiably) frightened a few times. I think they preferred How to Train Your Dragon. But this one was a gem. Funny, scary, sad and fulfilling.

Tron (1982) This was humoring my husband, G. Grod. I gave it to him for a gift a while back and he wanted to watch again in preparation for the upcoming sequel. I can see how the tech was groundbreaking at the time, but that doesn’t make the bad acting and thin plot any better since I didn’t have any nostalgia factor going for me. Jeff Bridges has come a long way.

In the Loop (2009) Lighting fast, super dark, and at times blisteringly funny in its spot-on satire. Uneven, but worth seeing.

Inception (2010) I enjoyed it, was entertained while I watched it, and thought about it after it was over. I was not impressed enough, though, to try very hard to puzzle out exactly what happened and didn’t feel the need to see it again.

The Awful Truth (1937) Cary Grant in an early film that shows why he became a star. Hilarious, and a perfect example of what a good rom-com is, even decades later. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out.

Bedtime Stories
(2008) Watched this with the kids. They could not understand it and asked a constant barrage of questions, which didn’t help my experience. Eminently skippable.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) Geek fest. Loved it, even the slow bits. Did you like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz? That’s the director. Don’t be scared off by whatever might scare you off. It’s hilarious and very true to the wacky comic books it’s based on.

Stagecoach (1939) A recent Criterion Collection reissue. The first John Wayne/John Ford western. Classic and important.

The Incredibles (2004) Again. the parents liked it more than the kids.

In the Heat of the Night
(1967) Recently mentioned in Entertainment Weekly as one of the classic cop-partner movies. I’d never seen it. Worth it, not only for Poitier’s delivery of the famous line. Don’t know what I mean? Then rent this.

The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009) The Swedish film, #2 in the trilogy. Has the same problem as #1, and the books: too much horrible violence against women, shown far too graphically. But it also has the trump shared by those others, too. Lisbeth Salander is COOL, and Noomi Rapace brings her to life. But this film (as well #3, and as did books 2 and 3) lacks the interaction between Blomkvist and Salander that made #1 so good.

“Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2009)

Monday, July 5th, 2010

I was on the fence about seeing the Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s book, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But I’m glad I did. In short, it replicates some of the big problems with the book, such as dwelling far too much on particulars of crimes against women. There MUST be better ways to shed light on and criticize something without potentially fetishizing it, right? I wonder what a woman director might make of this.

But it also was a mostly faithful adaptation of the book parts of the book, such as Lisbeth. The character looks and feels true to the book, and it’s much of why I enjoyed these books in spite of their problems, and thus enjoyed the adaptation, too. I was surprised and pleased at the casting of the actor who played Blomkvist–not only is he not conventionally good looking, but he’s often kind of funny looking, and it’s a pleasant contrast to what will be done in Hollywood, I’m sure. But it helped with one of the film’s other departures from the book–Blomkvist doesn’t have women falling into bed with him as much, though it is, unfortunately, still there. I see the point Larsson was probably trying to make: Blomkvist loves women in all their shapes, sizes, abilities, etc. and is in contrast to the many men in this book/film who pathologically hate women. Yet he’s still such a Mary Sue character that his bedroom escapades feel ridiculous. And why is it that only the deviant sex is described/shown, not the healthy stuff?

In any case, as with the book, a qualified recommendation. Not for the squeamish, but definitely for those who love Lisbeth.

“Firefly” (series) and “Serenity” (2005)

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

TV critic Alan Sepinwall, who blogs at Hitfix now, revisits TV shows on DVD during the summer. This years he’s doing Joss Whedon’s Firefly and The Wire Season 3. My husband and I were fans of Firefly during its short-lived time on the air, and thought it would be fun to watch it again in one swell foop and read Sepinwall’s recaps. And it was, indeed, mostly swell.

The series, which ran for only 14 episodes, was a space opera western. Mal Reynolds was a rebel war veteran who used his spaceship to run dodgy business throughout the galaxy. He has a crew of four: his right-hand woman, Zoe; her husband, the pilot Wash; mechanic Kaylee; and hired muscle Jayne. There are also a few passengers: Inara, a Companion (i.e. space prostitute); Shepherd Book, a preacher with a murky past; and another couple of guys.

I’ll get my big problems out of the way first. One, this is another example of how supposed feminist Joss Whedon maybe isn’t such a paragon. Space prostitute? Really? It might have worked if he’d followed up on what’s stated in the show–Companions are celebrated and revered, almost worshipped. Instead, they go for cheap shots from both Mal and customers about hookers, which make it more akin to 50’s westerns than millenial sci-fi. Further, the series and movie fails the Bechdel test–none of the women characters ever talk together about anything other than men.

Second, it was recently brought to my attention that while Whedon posited a future cultural mishmash of US and Chinese cultures, the series and the movie have almost no Chinese or even Asian characters, EVEN AS EXTRAS.

And yet, I still found this a darn entertaining show. Nathan Fillion is charming as Mal, a knight in sour armor. Zoe and Kaylee are smart and strong female characters, even if they could have been developed more as individuals than in relation to the men. The mystery is involving. My favorite element, though, was Adam Baldwin (now on Chuck) as Jayne Cobb. He is hilarious and steals many of his scenes.

In perhaps the oddest turn of events, Firefly, though canceled by Fox, had such a strong and dedicated fan following that Whedon was able to find a producer who liked the series and was willing to gamble on a feature film. Whedon’s challenge, then, was to make a film that would appeal to both fans of the series and newcomers and further, answer a bunch of the questions left open when the series ended. Seeing Serenity again confirmed and enhanced my opinion from when I saw it in theater: mission accomplished, Joss and crew. Well done.

Serenity is fast-paced entertainment, with impressive effects given its small budget, and a remarkably tight plot given the many things it had to accomplish. Also, probably not coincidentally, there’s hardly anything about Inara as a space prostitute. What it does best, though, is highlight one of the strengths of the series: its diverse, engaging and charming cast.

I recommend both the series and the movie, as well as the recaps Sepinwall is doing this summer. After Whedon’s most recent series, the to-me disappointing Dollhouse, rewatching this made me wish he could get another series that might last. It’s been a long time since Buffy.

“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977)

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

As part of the same Spielberg series in which I saw Jaws, I finally also saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Unike Jaws, it prefigures a lot of the touchy-feely stuff that Spielberg did later, most notably E.T. (of which I’m not a fan.)

Richard Dreyfuss is one of many civilians who see a UFO one night. They’re brought together by the govenment, and questioned, but mostly dismissed and ridiculed. Teri Garr is Dreyfuss’ wife, and when he begins to behave strangely (painting and sculpting things over and over based on images in his mind) she grabs the kids and leaves. He befriends the mother of the little boy from the ads, who has disappeared after a subsequent UFO sighting. The government begins tracking down leads, as does a French scientist played by Francois Truffaut, who should not have quit his day job as a director for acting. Dreyfuss and the mother try to figure out what’s going on, and eventually stumble into the finale.

Unlike Jaws, this is more interesting as a relic of film history and pop culture than as an enduring film, I think. It’s well made, the music is good (the film was edited to go with the music, not the reverse, as is usual), and it’s engaging. I can see the large shadow it cast both in alien and government conspiracy tales, like the X-Files. In the end, I found Dreyfuss a little forced in his kookiness, and the ending made my teeth ache a little, even if it avoided the gag-inducing treacle of E.T.

“Jaws” (1975)

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

As part of Take-Up Productions‘ Spielberg series at the Trylon Microcinema, I got to see Jaws for the first time in a theater. It’s one of those weird gaps in my movie-watching history, but I feel very luck to have been able to see it on a big(ger) screen. I found it truly scary, and had I seen it as a child I would have had nightmares. At one scene, the entire audience gasped and jumped. Best of all, though, was how scary it was with implied action and with the momentum from John Williams’ famous music. This wasn’t a sappy movie that pandered to an all-ages audience–this felt very much like a horror movie for grown-ups. Dreyfuss and Scheider are a good buddy team, and Quint’s speech about the USS Indianapolis was mesmerizing.

“Moon” (2009)

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

This is going to be quick, quick, quick because somehow the hour between 2 and 3 evaporated as it always does, and I need to meet the school bus in 10 minutes.

Moon is a moody, small sci-fi pic from last year that was praised highly somewhere to put it on my radar. In preparation for my upcoming folly, Baroque Summer, I’ve recently cut my library queue to the bare bones for dvds (taking off all those that I feel I “should” watch, like Sugar and Man Push Cart, and leaving on ones I really want to watch, like In the Loop and The September Issue.), and removed ALL books. But my husband G. Grod really wanted to see Moon, so not only did it stay in the queue but I watched it too. And, as so often happens, I’m glad I did.

Sam Rockwell is Sam Bell, the lone human inhabitant of a dark-side-of-the-moon mining station. He’s kept company by an A.I. machine named Gertie, voiced by Kevin Spacey. Sam is nearing the end of his 3-year contract and looks forward to his return to Earth to see his wife and young daughter. But Sam seems to be unraveling–seeing things that aren’t there. And when he goes out of the station, things start to get really weird. But good.

Rockwell, as usual, is fabulous in a challenging role. This is reminiscent of 2001, Solaris, and other sci fi films that are more about the psychology and mystery than they are about the effects. Intriguing and thought provoking.

“Goodbye Solo” (2009)

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Goodbye, Solo is another film I borrowed from the library based on A.O. Scott’s recommendation. It’s directed by Rahmin Bahrani, who also did Chop Shop, which I watched earlier this year. This movie, like that one, is not a crowd pleaser. It’s a small, intense, unflinching laser-focused portrait of a growing relationship between Solo, an upbeat Senegalese cab driver, and William, a taciturn old man with an intriguing request. Set in Winston-Salem NC, it takes place mostly at night. The dark edges of the film add to its moody ambience. There is violence, sadness, but also joy and celebration, too.

This reminded me of Wendy and Lucy, another film that went deep into one individual’s life. It doesn’t move quickly, but it moves deliberately and though-provokingly. It’s lovely, human, true, and moving.

For more on these moody, intense, character-driven movies, see A.O. Scott’s NYT piece on the New New Reality in film, which I linked to here.

“25th Hour” (2002)

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Renting 25th Hour, a Spike Lee film from 2002, was harder than I thought it would be. One of my favorite film critics, A.O. Scott of The New York Times and At the Movies, picked it as one of the top ten of last decade. (His original review is here.) Our library had only one copy and it took months to reach me. When it did, the dvd was so mauled that it was unplayable. When I returned it and reported its condition, the librarian hooked me up with an interlibrary loan, so I did finally get a copy last week.

Edward Norton is a drug dealer busted by the DEA, and this film takes place on the last day before he goes to prison. He has to find a home for his dog, meet up with his two childhood friends, played by Barry Pepper and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, say goodbye to his father, and continue to try and ignore the nagging question of whether it was his girlfriend, played by Rosario Dawson, who sold him out.

Filmed in 2002 NYC’s still-raw aftermath of 9/11, the city plays an important role. But the film centers on Norton, and though he’s an excellent actor, I never quite felt him in this role. I loved the music of the movie, the shots of the city, and many of the scenes, but the film never came together for me as a whole.

“A Man for All Seasons” (1966)

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

After I read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, I looked up reviews. I sometimes do this after I finish a book to try to better understand it. Nearly every review of Wolf Hall mentioned the 1966 film A Man for All Seasons. Wolf Hall’s main character and Renaissance man was Thomas Cromwell, while Thomas More was something of a narrow-minded nuisance. The film, in contrast, presents More as the upstanding Renaissance man, and Cromwell as a grasping, ugly little man.

A Man for All Seasons won 6 Academy awards, including Best Picture, and Best Actor for Paul Scofield who played More. But it was the too-brief screen time of Orson Welles as the ailing Cardinal Wolsey and a silent Lynn Redgrave as the lovely Anne Boleyn, that made the bigger impression on me. The film was good, skillfully made and acted. But I wish it had been less earnest, and a little more fun.

“Ice Age” (2002)

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

As part of our pre-long-car-trip buying frenzy, I got Ice Age, since the boys have watched and loved Ice Age 3 several times, Ice Age 2: The Meltdown once, but never the original. Then I forgot to take it on the trip. So on a recent dad-night-out, I made popcorn and snuggled down with the boys to watch it.

Like its sequels, they loved it, especially the action sequences. A mammoth, a sloth, and a saber-tooth tiger reluctantly team up to return a baby to its human tribe, with some wrinkles along the way. There are a few sad moments that aren’t spelled out that my kids didn’t get. Nearing the end, my 6yo exclaimed, “There are only 10 more minutes. When’s the mother coming back?”

“Sorry, honey,” I told him. “She’s not coming back.” He returned to the movie, though, and didn’t ask why. There was also a wordless scene in the middle that told the mammoth’s tragic backstory, but when I asked the boys what had happened, they couldn’t tell me. Probably for the best, for now.

This was decent for me, and great fun for them. Definitely a good family DVD.

“Hot Tub Time Machine” (2010)

Monday, April 12th, 2010

I’m not going to spend a lot of time defending Hot Tub Time Machine. It’s cheaply made, sexist, homophobic, and rude. It has a preposterous ending. Yet I enjoyed it anyway. The key was to go in with low expectations; that way, they were all exceeded. This is like the 20 year class reunion of the 80’s, where Grosse Point Blank was the 10 year.

Choosing John Cusack as the lead was key. He made his bread and butter on the 80’s teen flicks this movie both lampoons and celebrates, such as Better Off Dead, 16 Candles, The Sure Thing, Eight Men Out, Stand by Me, and most famously, Say Anything where he became the go-to everyman heartthrob, Lloyd Dobler, for a generation. (I recommend all the previous films. He was in tons of others, like Class, Grandview USA and One Crazy Summer, that sucked.) That Cusack plays a washed-up guy whose best days were in the 80’s is a nice use of deliberate irony, or art imitating life.

His buddies are Craig Thompson, Darryl from The Office, and Rob Corddry, from the Daily Show. Clark Duke plays his nephew, and is a chubbier, dweebier basket of Michael Cera mannerisms; the two collaborated on a web site comedy series, Clark and Michael. Thompson is especially hilarious in the dry, quietly reactive style of The Office.

Don’t go if you’re easily offended, or if you don’t have nostalgia for the 80’s. But if kooky cameos by 80’s faces like Chevy Chase, Crispin Glover, and the mean kid from Karate Kid make you smile, then lower your expectations and go for it.

“How to Train Your Dragon” (2010)

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Watching the Olympics with the kids this year was both fun and tiresome, as they insisted we watch every single commercial that featured How to Train Your Dragon. Since the interest was clearly there, and early reviews were good, we took the kids to see it opening weekend. The theater near my hometown doesn’t have 3D, so we saw it in 2D, but enjoyed it immensely just the same.

There aren’t a lot of surprises: skinny Hiccup is a disappointment to his he-man father, and no good at fighting dragons, a sign of Viking prowess. Does he befriend a dragon? Make nice with his dad? Get the girl?

Well, what do you think?

The dragons are what make this movie, and the charm of imagining a dragon of one’s own is infectious. The flying scenes are spectacular, (perhaps more so than the ones in Avatar, I dare say) and the main dragon, Toothless, is so great I may make a trip to Wal Mart to buy a toy. For the boys, of course. Ahem.