Archive for the '2011 Movies' Category

“Stand by Me” (1986)

Monday, April 25th, 2011

“Why’d you get this?” my husband asked when I brought Stand by Me home from the library. I had to think a moment. “I saw a review of the new Blu-ray edition in EW,” I said (we do not own a Blu-ray machine), “plus you mentioned you’d read on Wil Wheaton’s blog they’d had a reunion and he was sad River Phoenix wasn’t there.”

There you are, folks. As good an example of how my mind works as anything.

I’d seen it before, but can’t remember when. My husband G. Grod hadn’t. I’d read the Steven King novella, “The Body” from Different Seasons. G. hadn’t. So he got to watch a very good film for the first time and I got to be surprised at how well it stood up these years later (apart from the framing sequence, which I didn’t care for) and still cringed and covered my eyes at the scene that most grossed me out AND stayed with me all these years, in both its book and movie form. (Steven King has a way of doing that, doesn’t he? I think there’s one scene from most every one of his books I read that stays with me that I wish I could drain of its power to horrify me.)

It’s about four twelve-year-old boys in 1959, who find out about a secret in the woods, and decide to go looking for it.

Vern: You guys wanna go see a dead body?

It’s a strong character piece, refreshingly devoid of the supernatural elements that are King’s normal stock in trade but what impressed me most were the performances director Rob Reiner coaxed out of his young cast: Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, and poor, dead River Phoenix. The non-showy acting and story combine with apparent effortlessness to tell a satisfying, bittersweet story.

Myriad Movies

Monday, April 11th, 2011

I’ve been on something of a movie bender lately, mostly thanks to a compelling series of “soundtrack” films by local cinephiles Take Up Productions.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) is Hitchcock’s remake of his own earlier 1934 black-and-white, British film. Bernard Hermann’s score is almost a character in itself, and the climax of the movie takes place at a concert with the orchestra directed by Hermann himself. This has a pretty blond Doris Day as a retired international singing star visiting Marrakesh with her husband, the much older Jimmy Stewart, a doctor from Indianapolis. Strange things happen when the visit the market, in a scene I think much be the referent for the market chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Great with building tension, it has many hilarious lines, including the final one, along with a creepy subtext of marital dissatisfaction and discord. I’ll be seeking out the original to compare/contrast.

North by Northwest (1959) Another collaboration between Hitchcock and Hermann, with mod visual credits and music to open it. Cary Grant is his usual awesome blend of gentleman clown, while Eva Marie Saint is Hitchcock’s icy blond who he puts through the wringer. Grant’s suit also takes a beating, and the jacket disappears for the scenes on Mt. Rushmore.

Charade (1963) directed by Stanley Donen (who also did Singin’ in the Rain) and scored by Henry Mancini, this has cool opening credits and music. Grant again is the December man to Hepburn’s May cutie. The age difference bothered him so much Grant insisted her character be the one to pursue his. Funny, charming, and labyrinthine in its plot, this was a heckuva lot of fun.

Fahrenheit 451
(1966) by Francois Truffaut, in his first color and his one and only English language film. Nothing funny about this one, but beautiful visuals, including Julie Christie interestingly cast in the dual role of girl/wife, which apparently caused Terence Stamp to drop out as the lead, as he was afraid to be overshadowed by his former lover. Truffaut’s future didn’t look very futuristic from this late date except for one element: the large television screen for viewing an ongoing “reality” show that invites the viewers to feel the actors are their family. This part chilled me in the book, but perhaps even more in the film, seeing a thoroughly of-the-moment size flat screen.

“The Kids are All Right” (2010)

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

I watched one of last year’s Oscar nominees, The Kids are All Right, with my husband earlier this week. It was alright–not great, not terrible. It did a good job of making the characters not all good or all bad, but Annette Bening’s character was still far too unlikeable, and I wasn’t wowed by her performance, either.

At one point the son of the lesbian couple asks his moms why they don’t like lesbian porn. Julianne Moore’s character responds that it’s mostly straight girls, pretending to be gay, like the actresses in this film. I couldn’t help but wonder if this is the kind of movie that liberal straight people watch and say, “Wow, what a great portrait of an unconventional family.” and that gay families watch, roll their eyes at and say, “Yet another straight fabrication of gay real life.”

“Ghostbusters” (1984)

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Last night was my husband G. Grod’s turn to pick what we watched, and he chose Ghostbusters, as part of a recent 80’s comedy bender we’ve been on since we watched Trading Places at Christmastime. He was worried that it wouldn’t hold up, then spoiled all the lines and laughed throughout the movie. It _does_ hold up. It’s funny, with the teensiest bit of raunch, and Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd are perfectly hilarious as they confront creatures and get slimed. Yes, it does have some of the best lines:

Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

But I think my favorite moment is when Sigourney Weaver’s character comes out of the conservatory, and Murray is doing a little kick/hop/dance across the fountain square. It’s brief, funny and charming. Rather like the whole movie.

“Green Zone” (2010)

Monday, March 28th, 2011

I went into Green Zone with middling expectations, and left feeling like I’d watched a good, but not great film. This effort by director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon has nowhere near the brains and energy of the Bourne trilogy, which I love. An Army soldier becomes disillusioned when he and his team can’t find the WMDs their bosses tell them are there. He works with a reporter and a CIA (Brendan Gleeson, whose American accent is too thin for the role) and against a duplicitous goverment official. While the story moves among groups of people, including the Iraqis, it never quite manages to be as complex as I wished it were, though that might have been sacrificed for the clarity of the story. An overlong and oddly not-intense firefight at the end didn’t help. Politically conservative viewers, and supporters of the war in Iraq, should not watch this. But I’m not sure those who questioned the war effort are the ideal audience, either, since that would be like preaching to the converted. It did make me want to re-watch Black Hawk Down.

“Night Train to Munich” (1940)

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Night Train to Munich, a lesser-known film by Carol Reed, director of The Third Man, owes a lot to its predecessor, Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, with which it shares screenwriters, lead actress and supporting actors. It does, however, hold its own in a lovely new Criterion edition. It was both filmed and set in the very beginning of World War II, which is one of the reasons many of the Nazis are portrayed as fools rather than evil, as the extent of their actions wasn’t yet known.

Margaret Lockwood is the daughter of a scientist whose new method of armour-plating vehicles might be critical in the war. Both the Nazis and the English are trying to secure the scientist to their side with secret agents and complicated plans. Paul von Hernried (who would soon leave, before he was arrested, for Hollywood to become better known as Paul Henried in Casablanca) meets the daughter in a concentration camp. Twenty minutes in she meets co-star Rex Harrison, a seaside song and dance man, and their roles entwine engagingly for the rest of the film. Entertaining and worth watching, this is a beautiful print, and the Criterion dvd comes with a good history and essay on the film.

“Groundhog Day” (1993)

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Unintentionally, but perhaps not unsurprisingly, my husband and I seem to be on an 80’s-comedy bender. The past month included 3 birthdays, three work-intensive birthday cakes, one family visit, and four cases of strep (one for each of us.) So at the end of each day, just about all I want to do it collapse on the couch and be entertained. And Groundhog Day was ideal for that.

Bill Murray is Phil, a bitter weatherman on the embarrassing-to-him trip to Punxatawney, PA to cover the emergence of the groundhog, also Phil. His nastiness projects him into a type of purgatory, in which he wakes every morning to the same February 2nd.

I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster, drank piña coladas. At sunset, we made love like sea otters.
*That* was a pretty good day. Why couldn’t I get *that* day over, and over, and over…

He goes through the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross stages of grief, along with detours into crime and hedonism, but has a lot to learn on his way to the end of the movie, which is apparently a favorite of both Buddhists and Catholics.

The success of this film, as it nears its 20th anniversary, is likely due both to the charm of Murray being funny combined with a sweet tale that doesn’t become saccharine or even preachy, and in the end is far more thoughtful and full of ideas to ponder than I would have expected from the team who did Stripes and Ghostbusters. Both of which are good, but Groundhog Day, in my estimation, is a classic.

Earlier this year, Moviefone had a new evaluation of how long Bill Murray was stuck in the Groundhog Day loop.

“Weird Science” (1985)

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

All of us have strep throat this week, so there’s been more comfort TV than usual. My husband and I followed the recent viewing of 16 Candles with Weird Science, John Hughes’ teen-boy wish-fulfillment movie, in which two geeks build a dream woman. This movie could easily have been hateful. Instead, it’s merely (surprisingly) not that offensive, thanks to the geeks’ believability, Kelly LeBrock’s knowledge and power, and a lack of actual sex. Intermittently entertaining for some funny lines, and interesting to see Robert Downey Jr with a sky-high gelled coif, but eminently skippable. This is from IMDB’s trivia:

Although he wrote the screenplay, John Hughes was not overly invested in it and was adamant about not directing the film. He changed his mind when Universal offered him a deal: if said yes to directing Weird Science, they would greenlight a project Hughes cared much more deeply about AND wanted to direct: The Breakfast Club (1985). Hughes would later state that he was irritated by the time he had to take away from the latter film to work on this one.

“The Three Musketeers” (1948)

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

One of my husband G. Grod’s favorite movies, the 1948 Three Musketeers with Gene Kelly as D’Artagnan, only recently joined our video library. We watched the beginning with 5yo Guppy and 7yo Drake; they loved the swordplay sequences. But we stopped at the end of the diamond studs sequence, as what follows with Milady DeWinter would be very, very hard to explain. And it was in that contrast of tone that I think the film foundered. Is it a jolly adventure, or a dark tale of murder and adultery? The beginning and end suggest the former, but much of the movie is about the latter.

A new adaptation is due out this year. The cast looks promising, the director, not so.

“16 Candles” (1984)

Monday, March 7th, 2011

I probably saw 16 Candles in the theater, as I was 16 when it came out. I do know I watched John Hughes’ genre-changing teen film again and again on VHS and on television. I identified with Molly Ringwald: I was a funny looking redhead with too-short hair and nowhere near the cute clothes she sports in this. I was a little afraid to watch it again after so many years. What if the suck fairy had got into it. My worry wasn’t unwarranted; there were a few things that nagged me. Overall, though, it was what I remembered, a sweet, funny film about a girl whose family is so wrapped up in the upcoming wedding of her older sister they completely forget her sixteenth birthday. I’d never noticed the Jane Austen-ish echoes before, but found them pretty clear this time, with a sensible girl surrounded by crazy relatives. Molly Ringwald is charming and likable as Samantha, Michael Shoeffling smolders sweetly as Jake Ryan, but it’s really Anthony Michael Hall who steals the show. He’s hilarious, both physically and verbally and his presence is what stops this from being too whiny or navel-gazing.

I have to admit to disappointment both with the racial stereotype of Long Duk Dong, and about a morally ambiguous morning after scene, but overall I thought the movie held up well. I still think the scene in front of the church at the end is one of the sweetest, most romantic ones in film. I’ve never understood the women who think Lloyd Dobbler was the perfect guy. Jake Ryan was it, for me, long before I knew the debt he owed to Mr. Darcy.

Three Movies and a DVD Set

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

It’s only the second month of the year, and my notes on movies are already hopeless out of whack. I have some on my list that aren’t on the blog, and vice versa. Even though I’m taking a break from the compulsion to see everything that usually is Oscar season for me, I still have seen nearly as many movies as I’ve read books. I’d like the movies to be a definite second, not a close one. After I post this, I’m going to my library request list and cull it of any other than “I want to see it NOW” films.

Greenberg (2010) d. Noah Baumbach. I don’t like Ben Stiller. But this was a smart, extremely weird, often uncomfortable but sometimes charming and hopeful movie. I’m not sure I’m glad I saw it, but I’m not sorry, either. (This was my pick from the library.) It hadn’t occurred to me till I read the trivia at IMDB, but the character of Florence does bear interesting similarities to Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Stacy in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

High Noon (1952) d. Fred Zinneman, with Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly. (My husband’s pick from the library.) An aging but still mesmerizing Cooper is the lawman who’s trying to retire when the rumored appearance of his old nemesis makes him question whether to stay and defend his town, while his virginal, Quaker bride urges him to leave with her, and rejects him when he doesn’t. Is he a macho idiot, or a heroic man? The film is satisfyingly vague enough about this to make it much more than a simple morality tale, and has more than a few echoes of its soon-to-be-blacklisted writer, Carl Foreman. Highly recommended.

Ponyo (2008) (My pick for the kids from the library.) Neither boy enjoyed this when we saw it in the theater, to my profound disappointment. Yet 7yo Drake especially liked the movie at home, and 5yo Guppy didn’t dislike it this time around. I’m beginning to suspect that familiarity may breed affection with these boys and movies, and they’re rarely going to like something the first time they see it. This is Hayao Miyazaki’s lovely take on Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid, that is not creepy and anti-feminist and sexist like the Disney movie is. A little fish girl falls in love with a 5yo boy. Her father disapproves, and the ocean falls out of balance unless things can be resolved. Sweet and lovely, Ponyo is rated G and one of the better films out there for kids–accessible, with an ecological subtext.

Spaced was a Channel 4 UK television series in the early 00’s, with Simon Pegg and Mike Frost, directed by Edgar Wright, who also collaborated on Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. There are only two short seasons of seven episodes apiece; the second series was commissioned before the first season even aired. Pegg is Tim, a wannabe comic artist who works in a comic shop. He becomes friends with Daisy, played by Jessica Stevenson, and they rent a flat together pretending to be a couple. Supporting cast includes Frost in his first acting gig, as Tim’s gun-crazy friend Mike, Daisy’s snotty friend Twist, Brian the crazy artist, Marsha the red-wine-guzzling lockjawed landlady, and Tyres, their insane bike-messenger friend. Weird, sweet, and hilarious. I can’t believe the UK had this, and we had Friends. Unfair.

“Tangled” (2010)

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

I get a lovely feeling in my heart when I’m sitting in a dark theater, munching popcorn, watching a movie while my kids laugh beside me–doing something I love, and sharing it with them. I have a much less warm feeling after the movie is over, and they make faces and say they hated the movie.

I don’t take my kids to every kid movie that comes out. I take them to a few a year that trusted critics and other parents have recommended. Yet again and again, they seem to be engaged, laughing, enjoying and wham, by the time we’re out the door, they are grumpy: How to Train Your Dragon (which they said they didn’t like, but agreed to see again), Fantastic Mr. Fox, Princess and the Frog, Up, Secret of the Kells, Toy Story 3, Despicable Me, Megamind, and now Tangled.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Tangled, either, though. Look, it’s a pretty blond princess who’s been kidnapped by a witch with kinky black hair! Look, an older rascal who is tamed by the virginal princess into a good man! The major building blocks of the movie were dry as dust, with uncomfortable racist and sexist undertones. Really, the whole plot is that of the standard bodice ripper that clearly no one at Disney has taken the time to interrogate enough, if at all.

Here’s what I liked: Pascal the chameleon was great. The name of the thugs’ bar is The Snuggly Duckling. I think that’s it. My boys liked Pascal, and they liked the parts with physical humor. That was about it.

I don’t know what I’m going to do about my boys and movies. About the only movies I can get them to approve of are most Pixar flicks, most Miyazaki flicks, and Mary Poppins. Oh, yeah. And the Star Wars movies. I’m going to keep trying, though. But clearly, modern kids’ movies don’t seem to be the way to go.

“The Ghost Writer” (2010)

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Watched Polanski’s The Ghost Writer. I want my 128 minutes back.

“Real Genius” (1985)

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Oh, memories. I don’t know what spurred my husband G. Grod to rent Real Genius from the library, but I wanted to watch it again, as I have fond memories of friends of mine in high school quoting gleefully from it (something about a 6-inch spike…) Directed by Martha Coolidge, who also directed Valley Girl, and starring an impossibly young looking Val Kilmer, it’s a silly 80’s teen flick that gives a little more credit to nerds and smart kids than others of its ilk did. Silly and fun.

“The Friends of Eddie Coyle” (1973)

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

I saw the film, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, mentioned in the back pages of one of my favorite comic books, Criminal (in “The Sinners” #2), by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Some time later, I saw the book it’s based on recommended The Morning News. I saw the film recommended again, along with the recently released on DVD The Town, as a good Boston crime movie. Then when I finally borrowed it last week from the library, I saw the director was Peter Yates, who had just died, though he’s perhaps better remembered for Bullitt with Steve McQueen and the bicycle movie Breaking Away.

The film is a strange but effective balancing of big and little. Robert Mitchum is Eddie “Fingers” Coyle, a career criminal who’s facing prison time. Mitchum, who was Hollywood royalty at the time, is surrounded by a cast of little-known but terrific character actors. As they move in and out of conversations and meetings with one another, the big picture begins to grown out of the small incidents. It might have been a character study, but it does have a few big scenes, like a choreographed bank robbery and car chase. The moments of action are islands in this mostly quiet film, though. There are few guns fired, and when they go off, they count. This is a grey Boston crime tale of the 70’s, and I’m still mulling over why it’s sad, but not (quite) bleak. The Criterion Collection does not have many extras on the DVD, but comes with a thick booklet with an essay about the film as well as the Rolling Stone piece on Mitchum written while he was filming it.

“A Prophet” (2009)

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Director Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, France’s submission for the 2010 Academy Awards and one of the Best Foreign Film nominees, got all sorts of good reviews when it came out, and won all sorts of awards. I’ve seen his previous films, Read My Lips and The Beat that My Heart Skipped, and was impressed by both. A Prophet is much more ambitious, though. At more than 2 and a half hours, it’s the story of a 19-year-old Arab kid in France who goes to prison, and gets an education, in many senses of the word, along the way. He falls in with a gang of Corsicans, who give him protection, yet continually deride him racially. He learns the basics of business, both in and out of prison, as he serves his term. It’s a fascinating character study, with some magical realism thrown in. Several times during the film, I felt momentarily lost and had the urge to stop the DVD and ask questions of my husband. Instead, I gave myself the advice I repeat to 4yo Guppy: keep watching and maybe you’ll figure it out. And I did. For all its length, the film often proceeds at a fast clip, yet when I went with the flow, I got reoriented quickly enough. Long, challenging, violent, but beautiful, thought provoking, and very, very good.

“True Grit” (2010)

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Having recently watched the John Wayne original (which I totally forgot to review last year), I made it out to see the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit. It did not disappoint. In fact, it entertained mightily. The clever, stylized dialogue is perfectly suited to the Coen’s directing. Jeff Bridges and the girl are especially great. I love that character as a role model for girls; she is so smart and tough! Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper have little screen time, but steal every scene they’re in.

Question: Why did Carter Burwell base the score about the hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” when that song is tied so distinctly (in my mind, at least) to Night of the Hunter? Did he want to reclaim it to less creepy effect?

“The September Issue” (2009)

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

If you, like me, are a magazine junkie, then watching the documentary The September Issue, is a mesmerizing romp. If you don’t care about fashion or don’t like reality TV, this isn’t likely to be your cuppa.

The film documents the production of the September 2007 issue of Vogue, the biggest in its history, and the one before the recession hit and paper prices went up. The putative heroine is Grace Coddington, the creative director, who clashes with Anna Wintour, the chilly, powerful editrix. The power dynamics are fascinating, as is the messy process of putting together the magazine that looks so pretty and shiny on the shelf in the fall. Coddington is funny and charming. Wintour is a piece of work. It’s interesting to see the real-life woman who inspired the character from The Devil Wears Prada.

“Megamind” (2010)

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

I don’t know how the weather is where you are, but here in Minnesota, it’s pretty cold. Inexpensive, kid-friendly indoor activities are critical to surviving winter, so this weekend I took 4yo Guppy and 7yo Drake to see a bargain matinee of Megamind. Total for tickets and 2 popcorns: $11.50. Bonus, we went to the Riverview, so a great theater and real butter on what may be the best popcorn in town.

I enjoyed the movie a lot. Will Ferrell voices a blue guy super villain who has some troubles when things start going his way. Tina Fey is his love interest, Brad Pitt is his nemesis, and Jonah Hill plays the overweight schlubby guy. David Cross as Megamind’s Minion, a fish in a robotic gorilla suit, is really funny, as is the movie, which had me wondering what would happen once the set up was finished. I particularly enjoyed the use of ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” and the wink that Fey’s character, Roxanne, has a doorman named Carlton. Alas, Drake and Guppy were not as entertained as I was, and insisted on going to the lobby to the drinking fountain in the final scenes, then later declaring they hated the movie. Drake wouldn’t elaborate, but this usually means something scared him or creeped him out, then Guppy echoes Drake’s review and voila, we’ve got hate.

Movies are like food; I never know when the kids are going to like, love or loathe something. But I try to enjoy it when things go well, and not to go ballistic when they don’t. But I enjoyed the movie. And the popcorn.

“Die Hard” (1988)

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

And with Die Hard, our holiday movie-watching season came to an end. In case you don’t remember, Die Hard is set at the holiday party of Bruce Willis’ character, John McClane’s estranged wife. Bad guys led by Alan Rickman in his feature film debut crash the party, and mayhem ensues. In between clever one-liners, Willis gets beat up as he tries to save the day. This was a lot of fun to watch again. The attention to detail is impressive, and the plot hums along nicely. Willis is an entertaining smartass, but Rickman is fabulous as the villain. Well worth revisiting.