Archive for the '2009 movies at home' Category

“Wendy and Lucy” (2008)

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

Wendy and Lucy was on many critics’ best-of-2008 lists. Michelle Williams is traveling to Alaska with her dog Lucy when her car breaks down. Several upsetting things happen. Wendy hums a lot, and calls for Lucy a lot. Several very sad things happen. This film is like a poem–a brief, lovely, impressionistic take on loneliness and poverty in America. Very good if you’re up for that sort of thing, but slow or depressing if you’re not.

Caprica (2009)

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

In a rather bizarre DVD turn of events, the DVD pilot for the upcoming Syfy series Caprica was released before it was shown on television. The series won’t be shown until 2010, so it’s got a very long lead time.

Eric Stoltz is Daniel Greystone, a Bill Gates-ish computer mogul. His daughter Zoe, played by Alessandra Torresani looking like a long-lost Deschanel sister, is rebellious, something of a programming genius and dabbling in weird VR stuff with two friends. Esai Morales is Joseph Adams, ne Adama, a Tauron emigre who has become a successful lawyer.

Both men’s daughters die in a terrorist explosion. The fathers meet in the aftermath, and try to come to terms with the tragedy. Stoltz is creepy, Morales is engaging, it’s entertaining to see a young Bill Adama. The racism stuff feels heavy handed, as does the pilot overall. I’m not left excited about the series, which is a prequel to Battlestar Galactica. While that show was space opera, this one feels much more like soap opera. Perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood, but it felt sort of slogging and obligatory. I liked the series so much, and felt it ended well and satisfactorily though many didn’t. I’m not sure I need to go back to that universe. Read tv critic Alan Sepinwall’s review of Caprica.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982)

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

In 2007, I linked to a story about the third, and reputedly final and most authentic of the Blade Runner versions, but only recently got around to watching it. I liked the original. I really liked the “Director’s Cut”. This final cut is the synthesis of both of those, and it transcends them. This dark, moody film has aged very well over almost three decades, albeit with restorations. Harrison Ford’s bounty hunter is hired to track down four rogue nonhumans, but it’s hardly a straightforward mission. A few of the beginning scenes are clumsy and repetitive; this is likely the result of having had multiple versions available. The whole, though, is both stunning to look at and complex and engaging to ponder. If you liked either of the first two versions, see the Final Cut; it’s worth it.

Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

The first full-length Wallace and Gromit film, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, was a pick for the kids that G. Grod and I enjoyed immensely, too, even if one of us did use it to catch some zzzs. I was worried that the were rabbit would be scary for 3yo Guppy, but neither he nor 5yo Drake had a problem. I think the stunning cuteness of the bunnies trumped just about everything. Very cool was how Drake pieced the mystery together aloud on his own. I think those Scooby Doo dvds have given him some valuable training in amateur detection. The movie has a lot of naughty jokes for adults that sail right over the kids’ heads. Cute, funny, and lots of fun to boot.

Fallen Idol (1948)

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

First, filmmaker Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line) picked Fallen Idol as one of his favorite movies on the Rotten Tomatoes TV show. Then, it was mentioned several times in the extras for one of the three Carol Reed/Graham Green collaborations, The Third Man, which we just watched. Clearly, it was time to watch this film.

Phile, a young son of a foreign diplomat in London, is left mostly to the care of housekeeper and her husband, Baines, a valet or “man” or butler or some such. The boy likes Baines, who is kind to him, but not so the wife. When the boy follows the man one day, he (and the audience) find out about an affair. Fallen Idol is a strange, uncomfortable film, with a dual awareness, of both the child and the viewer of the film. As the boy sees both more (and in one important instance) less than adults wish him to, he makes the hard transition from innocence to awareness.

Baines: There are faults on both sides, Phile. We don’t have any call to judge. Perhaps she was what she was because I am what I am. We ought to be very careful, Phile. ‘Cause we make one another.

Phillipe: I thought God made us.

Baines: Trouble is, we take a hand in the game.

Phile learns not only about evil in the world, but of the low opinion most adults have for children in general. Given what the poor child has to endure from the adults around him (and absent from him, too) Fallen Idol shows what a raw deal Phile gets.

Parenthood (1989)

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Every time one of our boys has spun around till he got dizzy and dropped (and that’s a LOT of times) my husband G. Grod said we should watch Parenthood again. We finally did, and he was right. Watching it as a parent is an entirely different experience. It’s full of cliches, yes, but they’re cliches because they’re true, and there are so very many funny/painful moments of recognition.

Interestingly, while the fashions and especially the hairstyles look twenty years ago, the basics haven’t changed–moms and dads worry about money and getting laid off, overzealous parents try to bully their kid into achieving, other parents try to deny their kid needs special ed, ne-er do well brothers show up when they’re not invited, and more.

Steve Martin is funny as the dad, but it’s not surprising to find he didn’t have kids of his own then (not sure if he does, now); he seemed to be straining a bit. But the movie is full of pleasures, like Jason Robards as the patriarch, Mary Steenburgen as Martin’s wife, plus glimpses of the very young and already talented Joaquin (fka Leaf) Phoenix, and Keanu Reeves.

One of the creators’ favorite segments is the roller coaster speech, since they show it several times in the extras, which were entertaining.

[Gil has been complaining about his complicated life; Grandma wanders into the room]
Grandma: You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.
Gil: Oh?
Grandma: Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!
Gil: What a great story.
Grandma: I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.

The speech is sappy as hell, and I’d dismiss it, as Martin’s Gil does in the movie, but on further reflection, I think it works for me. Parenthood _is_ like a roller coaster–the waiting, the tedium, the long boring parts seem to take forever, and the actual fun stuff happens so fast it’s gone almost before I can enjoy it. Even so, I like roller coasters, and for most parts of the day, I wouldn’t trade in my kids.

(But this morning, when 3yo Guppy was crying, then stopping, then crying, lather, rinse, repeat, for the most ridiculous reasons, I did consider calling the hospital and inquiring whether he was still under warranty.)

“Toy Story 2″ (1999)

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

We’d held off on Toy Story 2, saving it, literally, for a rainy day. I hadn’t seen it since it was released, so I was eager to see if it was as good as its reputation–many claim it’s one of the few films sequels better than its predecessor.

After Woody’s arm is ripped, he’s relegated to a high broken-toy shelf with a squeaker-malfunctioning penguin. When the penguin is put in the yard-sale box, Woody tries to rescue him, but is instead “captured” by Al of Al’s Toy Barn. Woody finds he has a past as a television star, and has to figure out where his loyalties lie–with new friends or his old ones.

I’m a big fan of the first Toy Story; it’s stood up to multiple viewings with the kids. So I was suspicious of the sequel’s ability to surpass it. I was pleasantly surprised. The the animation, the music, the voice talent, the layers of story and the many in-jokes (genuinely funny and not just cheap pop culture throwaway gags) made for a lovely afternoon with our little family cuddled on the couch.

I could, of course, have been unfairly influenced because 3yo Guppy let me snuggle with him for nearly the entire movie. But I think my favorite moment was when Al drives from his office to his apartment–catty-corner across the street. 5yo Drake looked indignant. “That’s not far; he should have walked!”

Apparently he DOES listen to me, even if pretends otherwise.

I am nervous, though, about the sequel. Third movies tend to break franchises, not make or better them. There are a few exceptions, though they likely prove the rule. I can think of The Bourne Ultimatum and Harry Potter 3. Others, anyone?

“The Third Man” (1949)

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Here’s how we came to watch The Third Man again. First, my husband G. Grod re-read The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler. Then we watched the film adaptation of that book by Robert Altman. Then I insisted on watching The Third Man, because I suspected the endings were similar.

Narrator: Oh, I was going to tell you, wait, I was going to tell you about Holly Martins, an American. Came all the way here to visit a friend of his. The name was Lime, Harry Lime. Now Martins was broke and Lime had offered him, some sort, I don’t know, some sort of job. Anyway, there he was, poor chap. Happy as a lark and without a cent.

The pleasures of The Third Man are myriad. There’s Joseph Cotton as the ugly American, Trevor Howard as the constabulary, Alida Valli as the femme fatale, and Orson Welles as the dead friend of Cotton, Harry Lime. Add to those amazing black and white shadowed images, evocative zither music, the cuckoo clock speech, the sewer chase and a bitter coda that is indeed referenced not only in Long Goodbye but in many more films, including one of G. Grod’s favorites, Miller’s Crossing. (Aliens? We just watched that, and I can’t think of the reference. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?)

We own the 50th anniversary Criterion Collection edition; it has a lovingly restored print as well as great extras. But in 2007 those double-dipping rat bastages at Criterion put out a two-disc Criterion edition that features a commentary by Steven Soderbergh and Tony Gilroy, screenwriter of the Bourne movies. I think I’m going to need that one, too. Hey, I own six editions of Bronte’s Jane Eyre, why not two of The Third Man?

“The Long Goodbye” (1973)

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Robert Altman’s Long Goodbye is one of my favorite films by him, and perhaps one of my favorite movies, full stop. Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe is moved in time to 70’s California, where he drifts about pursued by police and a ruthless gangster while trying to find a missing author and figure out what happened to his friend, Terry Lennox. Elliott Gould is Marlowe, and I can’t imagine another in the role. Everything is “OK with me” to Marlowe, even as jaw-dropping things occur around him, like terrible violence and the yogic contortions of a stoned group of young women who live next to him. Look for a non-speaking, uncredited cameo by the future governor of California, who sports a hilarious-looking mustache.

SPOILER: The film’s ending departs from the book, in what seems to be a conscious homage by Altman to Carol Reed’s Third Man. Other similar elements of the two films include a main character who has trouble navigating a strange culture while defending a dead friend of his to the police, and who is shunned by a cat.

“Encounters at the End of the World” (2008)

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

I can review Werner Herzog’s documentary on Antartica, Encounters at the End of the World, in one word: Neat. Extra emphasis on the “n” to denote enthusiasm.

If you’re interested in a bit more information, though, Herzog says in his commentary that he doesn’t set out to make a film about fuzzy penguins. Thank goodness. I hated that movie. There are a few scenes with penguins, but Herzog takes the approach I wished was included in that fuzzy-penguin movie–it focuses on the deviant, weird ones, just as Herzog interviews their human counterparts from McMurdo station. There are scientists who think the Earth is going to regulate humanity right off it, surreal seal sounds, and some brief backstory on Scott and Amundson. But it’s the images, accompanied by Herzog’s inimitable accent, that linger. Good stuff.

“Tell No One” (2006)

Monday, June 15th, 2009

A French film that didn’t get much box office love during its limited release last year, Tell No One (Ne le dis à personne) is mysterious and compelling. Dr. Alex Beck is a widower, and on the 8th anniversary of his wife’s death, he receives an email suggesting he’s still alive. When he tries to find out more, bad things happen to him and those around him. A great rental if you like dark, stylish thrillers. A US remake is in the works, according to IMDB.

Aliens (1986)

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

James Cameron, fresh from Terminator, directed Aliens, the sequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien. Scott’s movie was dark, brooding, psychological horror. Cameron wisely takes the sequel in a different direction, adding many more monsters (though only six suits were used, he claims in an interview on the special edition), many more characters, and a lot more action. Ripley’s character still gets room to develop, though the others around her tend to be caricatures, albeit entertaining ones, like Bill Paxton’s Hudson, who talks tough till he meets the aliens:

We’re all gonna die man!

or Michael Biehn’s good guy, who has the good sense to value Ripley right away:

Ripley: [pointing to part of gun Hicks is showing her] What’s this?
Hicks: That’s the grenade launcher. I don’t think you want to mess with that.
Ripley: You started this. Show me everything. I can handle myself.
Hicks: [chuckles] Yeah, I noticed.

With the aliens, as with the humans, the mother figure is in charge. The men around her support and protect her, but she’s the one not to mess with, especially if her offspring, literal or metaphorical, are threatened.

Seventeen minutes of deleted scenes were added back in to the theatrical release to make the Special Edition DVD we watched. They were fine scenes, adding detail and character, but not necessary. Given the amount of action and horror, I’d have preferred a shorter edition. Action, or movement, was key to Cameron’s take on the characters. He put less detail into the alien suits, but made them more mobile. He hired gymnasts and athletes and instructed them to move quickly, and inhumanly. This, along with the editing, gives the impression of a legion of aliens, not just a paltry half dozen.

The character of Ripley recently topped Sci Fi Online’s list of “Women Who Shook Sci Fi.” (Entertainment Weekly has a geekish, though valid, quibble with the list.) Also, there’s an Alien prequel in the works. Even with all the kerfuffle, I think I’m going to skip installments 3 and 4. I saw them when they came out, and prefer keep the memories of the very good 1 and 2 unsullied.

Alien (1979)

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

Did you know the movie Alien was thirty years old? Ridley Scott’s space-monster classic has aged surprisingly well. It’s a pleasure to revisit it, and be reminded of how many later films, not only its sequels, have stood on its substantive shoulders.

In space, no one can hear your scream.

A mining ship is on its way back to Earth. The crew is awakened out of stasis after the ship, Mother, intercepts what seems to be a distress call. Tension builds among the characters as they gradually figure out what’s going on. There is an iconic dinner scene, a scary monster designed by H.R. Giger, and some kickass performances, particularly that of a then-little-known Sigourney Weaver. My husband G. Grod and I wanted to revisit this and its sequel, Aliens, after watching Cameron’s Terminator and T2. I’m now v. much looking forward to Aliens, on deck for tonight if I can stay awake for the special edition’s whopping 154 minutes.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Monday, May 18th, 2009

I was talking to a movie-phile friend last week. “We just watched Terminator 2 again,” I said. “It was _awesome_” He laughed.

“What?” I asked. “Are you disagreeing that it’s awesome?”

“No,” he said, “It’s just that I probably haven’t heard anyone that excited about it since 1991.”

He was right. I’d completely forgotten how thrilling the story, how groundbreaking the special effects, and how bad ass Sarah Connor was. Nominated for six Oscars, it won four. Yeah, the story drags a bit toward the end. But that’s easy to forgive, in the face of the rest of it.

John Connor: Does it hurt when you get shot?

The Terminator: I sense injuries. The data could be called “pain.”

If you’ve forgotten how good those original Terminator movies were, your challenge is to rent Terminator and T2 and watch them. Then I bet you’ll be joining me next weekend to see if Terminator: Salvation can bring back this franchise.

“Terminator” (1984)

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

The season of Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles has ended and the new film, Terminator Salvation opens on May 21, 2009. It felt like a good time to revisit the original films starting with The Terminator. The now-Governor is perfectly cast in a role where he has to look big, say few things, and not express emotion. The details of 1984 are accurate, but painful. The permed and feathered hair, the bad fashion, the flashing lights and electronic music. The look is dated, but that fits in a movie about a guy from the future who comes back to save a girl from the past. And the less said about the special effects, the better. They were good at the time.

Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese was much more skinny and effete than I recalled. I can see why they cast Jonathan Jackson in his part in the TV series. There’s a strong resemblance. I was extremely impressed when I noted how much of the material from the original had been skillfully woven into the TV series, like Sarah’s anecdotes from when she was a waitress. Even the bad movie soundtrack has some motifs that the current music echoes.

The movie, though, stands up. It’s suspenseful, creepy and involving. We care about Kyle and Sarah, and want Sarah to escape. I look forward to watching Terminator 2, which I picked up yesterday in a fruitful stop at Half Price Books. And I continue to hope that Fox shows some smarts and renews both Terminator and Dollhouse, both of which look promising if they’re given a chance to develop.

“Happy-Go-Lucky” (2008)

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Sally Hawkins was bruited about as a likely best actress nominee for her role as Poppy in Happy-Go-Lucky, but didn’t make the final list. It’s a great performance, though, in director Mike Leigh’s odd little movie that’s more deep character sketch than a coherent story.

Hawkins as Poppy is simultaneously fascinating, likeable, and annoying. She’s so upbeat, and so little brought down by the things that wear on others, that she seems almost surreal. The supporting characters, including a sympathetic flat mate, tightly wound driving instructor, stunningly cute social worker, and her class full of elementary kids, all serve to highlight this bizarrely enchanting character. Fair warning: my husband G. Grod gave up part way in when he couldn’t discern a plot and started to fall asleep. I feel asleep about half way through, in a strange and difficult scene between Poppy and a homeless man. Worth watching but not if you’re looking for a story with a beginning, middle and end, or feeling sleepy.

This was the seventh dvd that came into the library for me in the past three weeks, and the thirty-third movie I’ve watched this year. When it rains, it pours. I’m hoping to get back to more reading and writing soon. We’ll see if I can manage that.

“Frozen River” (2008)

Monday, April 6th, 2009

I reserved Frozen River from my library months ago, along with Man on Wire and they came in at the same time. Interestingly, that documentary is about something so fantastic that this film seemed more real to me by comparison.

Melissa Leo is a mom of 2 boys in northern New York, struggling to make the down payment for the double wide of her dreams when her husband runs off with the money and gambles it away. He’s a Native American, and in looking for him on the reservation, she learns about a lucrative black market in transporting immigrants.

I was astonished by Leo’s performance, by turns raw, sad, despairing and hopeful. Often bleak, but not without hope, I thought the movie was very well done.

“Hamlet 2″ (2008)

Monday, April 6th, 2009

I tried to see Hamlet 2 in theaters last year but never managed. I was on a Hamlet binge at the time so it seemed a good remedy for much of the rest of the tragic stuff I was watching and reading. Alas, I didn’t love it, and didn’t laugh much. Comedies are so subjective, perhaps even more so than other types of movies. Any time I write I loved one, a commenter says they didn’t, and vice versa. So I hope there’s some love out there for Hamlet 2, but there wasn’t much love chez Girl Detective.

I do, though, highly recommend watching the video for “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus“. Not only is it so catchy it might never get out of your head, that part of the movie made me genuinely laugh.

“Man on Wire” (2008)

Monday, April 6th, 2009

I requested the documentary Man on Wire from the library around Oscar nomination time. It didn’t win, but I recommend seeking it out.

Phillipe Petit is a tightrope walker/performance artist who worked with a group to string a wire between the World Trade Center Towers as they were just finished in the early 70’s, then walked the wire in front of a growing crowd that came to include the police who eventually arrested him when he came off the wire. I won’t spoil the details of his crossing, as I found them jaw dropping.

Petit has a huge personality, and it’s a captivating story, told through interviews, clippings, along with Petit’s own photos and videos. It’s also eerie and strange to see the towers during conception and construction, since the images of their loss are still so fresh and raw.

Two asides:

1. While typing this, I repeatedly mistyped “wire” as “wife,” which has an entirely different implication.

2. Man on Wire (just typed “wife” again) came in for me at the same time as Frozen River and Hamlet 2. It was a bizarre trio to watch close together.

“Bottle Rocket” (1996)

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Bottle Rocket was the feature-film debut of oddball director Wes Anderson and his childhood friends Luke and Owen Wilson, the latter of whom shared writing duties, on this and Anderson’s subsequent critical darlings Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. They began with a short they showed at Sundance to get financing and went on to make this film.

As usual the Criterion Collection has done a bang-up job on the dvd of this film. The images are sharply transferred, the cover art is well matched to the film’s weird tone, and the plentiful extras include copies of Owen Wilson’s character Dignan’s hilarious notebook. (link from I Watch Stuff)

Dignan plans to pull off a heist and go on the lam with his recently released-from-the-nuthouse friend Anthony (Luke Wilson) and his curiously named friend Bob Mapplethorpe. The dialogue is fast and strange in a story more about the long-term realities of childhood friendships than armed robbery.

Here are just a few of the key ingredients: dynamite, pole vaulting, laughing gas, choppers - can you see how incredible this is going to be? - hang gliding, come on!

Dignan tries hard to act tough. Anthony projects vulnerability but clearly wants to protect Dignan from further injury in life. And Bob gets regularly beaten up by his older brother, played by a third Wilson brother, Andrew. This is sweet, funny, and just sad enough. I was thoroughly charmed.