Monday, August 29, 2011

Movies This Week

Well, school has started back up again. This meant that not only did I not watch very many movies last week (only four, and three of those were before I left home), I forgot to even write about them on Saturday. Whoops.

Heavenly Creatures (1994). Based on the real life story of two girls charged with murdering one of their mothers. Kate Winslet's first movie. It's fascinating and chilling and has some wonderful acting in it. I'm not sure I could say I "liked" it, but it was really well done. 4/5.

Limitless (2011). Bradley Cooper plays a man who takes a pill that helps him use every part of his brain. Fun premise and I liked it fine watching it, but mostly forgotten just a few days later. 3/5.

Unknown (2011). Liam Neeson wakes up in a hospital with no ID and no memory of how he got there. When he is released, he finds someone else has taken over his life. This was fine. Extremely implausible and very silly, it might rank higher for someone who likes action movies better than I do. 2.5/5.

Fright Night (2011). Remake of a 1985 vampire horror movie. This movie is ridiculous and campy and the actors are clearly having a blast, so it's fun for the audience. Worth seeing solely for Colin Farrell and David Tennant, who milk every moment of their ridiculous characters. 3/5.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Movies This Week

I watched six movies this week... and realizing this may be the last time for awhile where I can watch 5-7 movies in one week, as I'm heading back to school next Wednesday. Silly life, keeping me from my movie watching.

Anyway. This week's movies:

Ponyo (2008). Hayao Miyazaki film about a goldfish who wants to be human. Mostly adorable, but occasionally mind-numbingly boring, and I'm not sure what age range it's supposed to be for. 3/5.

Source Code (2011). Sci-fi/action/thriller by Duncan Jones, who previously did Moon, which I loved. I don't really want to give away the plot, so no details here. I didn't like it as much as I liked Moon - the ending didn't quite work for me - but the premise is great and worked out in a really interesting way. 4/5.

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). Martin Scorsese's controversial movie about Jesus' life. Everything leading up to the controversial part was mostly uninteresting, and everything after it felt silly. Disappointing, because I thought I might love it. 2/5.

The Majestic (2001). Jim Carrey plays a 1950s blacklisted screenwriter who gets amnesia and ends up in a small town, where he is mistaken for a soldier presumed dead. This movie has good intentions, but it's very sappy and the ending really pushed my suspension of belief limits. 2.5/5.

Marvin's Room (1996). Drama about a woman diagnosed with leukemia and her relationship with her estranged sister. Very good acting from Meryl Streep and Leonardo DiCaprio, but Diane Keaton never quite works in her role for me, so the whole thing falls flat. 3/5.

The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride (1998). The direct-to-video sequel to The Lion King poorly imitates all the good things about the first film and it just ends up being a bland mess. 1/5.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Destroying Happily Ever After: The Majestic

I'm not a fan of romance movies. Too frequently when the movie ends I'm left thinking, "But - but they - how could he - that is going to cause SO MANY PROBLEMS!" As a cynic, I've decided it's my job to destroy the happily ever after so many movies choose as a happy wrap-up ending, by predicting how these romantic choices will play out in the rest of their lives. I hope to make this an ongoing segment of the blog, updated whenever I find a movie romance that pushes my buttons.

These posts will obviously contain spoilers (although if you're watching a romance, chances are you know the characters are going to end up together at the end anyway).

So. The Majestic.

This movie stars Jim Carrey as Peter Appleton, a Hollywood writer in the 1950s who is accused of having Communist ties and has to be brought up before HUAC. Before that can happen, though, he has a car accident which ends with him washed up on the beach somewhere with no memory of who he is. He makes his way to a nearby town, where the townspeople all mistake him for Luke Trimble, the town darling and a decorated soldier who was presumed killed in battle nine years earlier. Peter starts to make his life in this town, re-opening the movie theater Luke and his father ran together and connecting with Luke's fiancee, Adele (played by Laurie Holden).

After several months of living there, Peter remembers who he is. He tells Adele, who admits tearfully that a part of her knew he couldn't be Luke, but she wanted it to be him so badly she let herself believe it. The law finds Peter at the same time and offers him a prepared statement allowing him to renounce the Communist party and go free if he will provide them with some names. He tells Adele he's going to follow through with it, and she tells him he should fight instead, because he's innocent - and Luke would have fought for the right to freedom of speech.

Peter leaves to go read his statement to the court, but when he gets there (with all the townspeople listening to the proceedings on the radio), he ultimately finds himself unable to read his prepared statement and stands up for the right to say whatever he wants whenever he wants. Because this movie is a happy movie, this all somehow works out for him and he gets to go free. He returns to the small town, only to find the entire town waiting for him to welcome him as a hero. He finds Adele, kisses her, and over the credits song we see framed pictures of their wedding and their kids.



Adele has known Peter for a few months, during which he's acted as her former fiance, Luke. However, the main problem is that he's not Luke. He never will be. This is not necessarily a problem except for the fact that 1) he looks exactly like Luke, and, 2) he's been unintentionally masquerading as Luke this whole time. Any new personality traits or physical quirks that might be part of Peter's personality have just been incorporated into her perception of Luke over the past several months. So every time she looks at him, she's going to see Luke, even the parts of him that aren't very Lukelike.

The things she loves about him are the things she loved about Luke. She was upset when she discovered he didn't have strong moral convictions, not just because having strong moral convictions was a good thing, but because it made him less like Luke. ("I guess I really did have you two confused," she says angrily to him.) He then went off to court and did exactly what she said Luke would do. The line between Luke and Peter has gotten fuzzier.

Peter returns to Luke's town, marries Luke's girlfriend, works at Luke's job. He's made friends with Luke's friends. The awkward kid who looked up to Luke now looks up to him. His name may be changed, but he's essentially living Luke's life.

Eventually that's not going to work. Eventually he's going to do something else that's not Lukelike. Now, we don't know what that is, because we don't get to see much personality from Peter in the movie - he's just kind of a pushover until the end. But just considering the fact that Peter was from the city and Luke was from a tiny Mayberry-esque town, there should be some differences in the experiences they've had, how they think about things, and the way they act, even if we don't really see it in the movie. This is going to startle the townspeople, but most of all it's going to startle Adele. The Peter she "fell in love" with was essentially Luke - at least enough like Luke to make everyone think that's who he was.

Marrying someone who looks and acts exactly like your deceased fiance is... well, certainly a situation full of difficulties. It's impossible not to compare. Every argument they have is going to end with her saying, "Luke wouldn't do that!" Even subconsciously, she'll expect him to continue acting like Luke, and when he doesn't, it'll be a really unpleasant shock - reminding her over and over again that the first love of her life can never really come back to her. He, in turn, is going to resent all those comparisons and feel like she's never really loved him - which, of course, she probably hasn't.

This doesn't have a happy ending. That kiss at the train station is not the end of a beautiful love story, it's the beginning of a seriously complicated one.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Movies This Week

I saw eight movies this week... and it was a GREAT movie week for me, because half of them got 4 stars. Now it's possible I'm just in a happier mood and enjoying my movies more or something (they were all comedies), but either way, I'm OK with it.

After the Fox (1966). A comedy written by Neil Simon and starring Peter Sellers as an escaped thief who poses as a film director as part of a plot to steal some gold. Apparently a box office flop, but I liked it. Zany, silly, lots of fun. 4/5.

Best in Show (2000). Christopher Guest mockumentary about dog show competitors. While not as brilliant as Waiting for Guffman or This Is Spinal Tap, still very funny, with great characters and good jokes. 4/5.

Kick-Ass (2010). A superhero action/comedy about a high schooler who wants to be a superhero. I loved the parts of the story that focused on him, but didn't care for the foul-mouthed little girl... made me uncomfortable watching her cheerily bringing gory vengeance to her enemies. 3.5/5.

...And Your Name Is Jonah (1979). Drama about a couple and their deaf child, who had been misdiagnosed as mentally retarded. Nice idea, but everything about it falls apart. I initially gave it 2/5 but as time has passed it's dropped down to 1/5. Really nothing held together.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead (2009). Campy comedy about a group of vampires putting on a production of Hamlet. Ridiculous and silly and I loved every minute of it. Laughed out loud several times. This movie is not for everyone but for those who like stories about vampires and/or theater, check it out. 4/5.

Gypsy (1993). TV adaptation of the Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim musical, starring Bette Midler. Although Cynthia Gibb is good as Louise, it takes a more charismatic actress than Midler to make me pay attention to this rather lackluster musical. 2.5/5.

Brothers (2009). Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal star as a soldier and his ex-con brother. Maguire is presumed dead, but returns to find his brother has moved in on his life. Strong and compelling second half, mostly uninteresting first half. 3.5/5.

Take the Money and Run (1969). Woody Allen's directorial debut, about an incompetent thief. Loved this one. FlickChart now reports it as my #1 movie of 1969 - probably not correct because it places it about 10 spots above Butch Cassidy, but I did really like it. The only comedy of the week to truly make me *giggle*. 4/5.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

My Favorite Movie Musical Moments (Part 1)

I am a huge fan of musicals. A HUGE fan. Both in theater and in the movies. There are very, very few things that move me as deeply as a story told in beautiful song. In light of that, I thought I would share a few of my favorite musical numbers from movies. At the time of writing this, my list contains 18, but I expect some to be weeded out as I rewatch them and discover they're not quite as awesome as I thought they were. So my guess is that this will take up 3 different blog entries.

I wanted to make this film-specific, so I've chosen only original movie musicals - none adapted from the stage.

In no particular order:

1. Moulin Rouge - Your Song
This particular clip starts with the (audio NSFW) scene between Nicole Kidman's prostitute character and Ewan McGregor's idealistic poet. She thinks he's a rich duke she needs to entertain for the evening, he thinks he's been offered the chance to show her his songs, hilarity ensues. The contrast at the beginning between her showy but insincere sensual moaning and his humble innocent love song is great, and as he sings her his romantic ballad she's slowly swept up in the beauty and romanticism of it all, and so am I. I particularly love how the visuals support the song here - it's enormously grand and over-the-top as the two dance on literal clouds outside her window. Ewan McGregor's voice is never particularly smooth but it fits perfectly with this song - sincere, sweet, untrained. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

2. Moulin Rouge - El Tango de Roxanne
This is the only film I duplicate in the list, but there is a reason this movie is my all-time favorite movie musical. It has so many brilliant moments. This is one of the scenes that inevitably comes up in my discussions of my favorite music moments in film. I am amazed by this every time I watch it. Where to begin? This time around I was most struck by the main singer's raspy growl. In the final moments of the song, he practically *roars* his lyrics, and the pain is so clear and so vivid it's almost overwhelming. The violins that soar in the background as the song comes to its chilling climax... the scene of Ewan McGregor marching slowly out the front door as the dancers whirl around behind him... the contrast between the duke's cold dining room and the passionate but heartbroken couple on the dance floor... there are too many things I love about this song to list them all. It's one of the ones where I simply can't understand how you can watch it and *not* be moved by it.

3. Singin' in the Rain - Singin' in the Rain
This spot nearly went to Moses dance (one of the best musical numbers with no plot connection whatsoever), but in the end I had to give it to this. I can't watch this and not smile. Not even two viewings of A Clockwork Orange can steal the joy of this song from me. Gene Kelly's dancing and singing has never been more delightful. Every time I see it I'm amazed to remember that he had a fever of 103 while filming it... what a great performance.

4. The Prince of Egypt - Deliver Us
The Prince of Egypt tells a huge, sprawling, epic story of an entire nation being saved from slavery, and the opening makes it work. Its dark lament is a desperate prayer for deliverance. We see the people working as hard as they can but still being mistreated, and the song rises out of their pain. It resembles "Work Song," the opening number of Les Miserables, except that here the people have done absolutely nothing to deserve the plight they're in. A powerfully dark number for an animated feature.

5. High School Musical 3 - The Boys Are Back
Ah, I can feel your judgment from here. ;-) I only kind of like High School Musical, but I really love this song from the third one. It may be little more than a music video in the middle of a movie, but it is so, so much fun, and it's clear that Zac Efron and Corbin Bleu are having a blast with it. It's an anthem for the awesome adventures every little boy imagines himself a part of. It's full of just-because dance breaks, sudden extra participants in the song, and people looking awfully intense as they sing about silly subjects... everything High School Musical is about, but this time with a bit of a sense of humor. Probably my favorite moment from the whole trilogy.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Music of the Week

Well, it's probably time for a blog entry.

Here's a sampling of some of the music I've been listening to this week. I do this with movies, so why not with music as well?

Jonathan Coulton - Nemeses. He released this to his faithful followers who signed up with his new newsletter format, and I like it. It's no Skullcrusher Mountain, but JoCo's work tends to grow on me... and it's certainly made me very excited about his new album, whenever it ends up being released.

Derek Webb - Democracy, Vol. 1 and Democracy, Vol. 2, both albums that I did not know existed. How did I not know this? I love Derek Webb. I follow him on Twitter. How'd I miss this? It's two albums of covers voted on by his listeners - whatever the top 10 were, he covered them and released them one at a time over 10 months. Vol. 2 is halfway done, so I have the first 5. So far my favorite of all of them is his cover of "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys. It just sounds GOOD. He also almost makes me like "One" by U2. *Almost*. He makes it just melancholy enough that it sometimes isn't too boring.

Andrew Bird - It's Not Easy Being Green. I found this cover via tweet and I *love* it. I've always kind of loved the song anyway, and I have a cover by Sam Harris as well, but Andrew Bird's version is just gorgeous.

David Tennant & Catherine Tate - We Go Together. This is mostly for the pure joy of hearing that David Tennant can indeed sing a little bit. He's no Michael Buble, but he sure is fun to listen to for the duration of this song.

Yeah, I watched The Lost Boys this past week and while I didn't care for the movie at all, I really enjoyed the soundtrack and went to acquire these.

They Might Be Giants - Birdhouse In Your Soul. I'm pretty sure I've heard this song before. I just can't think where. But this has become my newest favorite. It's such a cheerful little song. I keep listening to it and smiling.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Movies This Week

I only saw six since my last Movies This Week post, but it wasn't a bad movie week. If nothing else, it was a productive one - I watched three more Woody Allen movies, leaving only six left in his filmography (as I mentioned in my last blog entry).

Anyway. On to the movies.

Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972). This film consists of 7 short segments about sex, but it's a very uneven collection. Some of the segments are creative and original, some are bland and unfunny. Really choppy. 2.5/5.

Opening Night (1977). I should have loved this - it's a movie about theater and some sort of mental illness. But interspersing the action with scenes from the play didn't really work for me, and I fought to make it through. 3/5.

Anything Else (2003). An uninteresting little story of a couple's relationship. Sometimes called Woody Allen's worst film ever, but I didn't hate it like I hated Celebrity or Whatever Works. It's bland but not offensively so, and Christina Ricci is charming. 2.5/5.

Love and Death (1975). An unashamedly silly and ridiculous story of, well, love and death in 19th century Russia. Its zany dialogue reminded me at many points of Marx Brothers comedy. I loved this one. 4/5.

The Lost Boys (1987). Teen vampire movie that's achieved a cult following. This movie is RIDICULOUS. So cheesy, so many stupid "Wha?!" moments. I laughed at this movie, but I'm not sure it was at any of the points I was supposed to laugh at. However, I kind of can't stop listening to "Cry Little Sister." 1.5/5.

The Man Who Wasn't There (2001). Coen Brothers film noir about a barber unsatisfied with his life. I liked this a lot - far more than I like most noir. I feel like this one is going to stick with me. The atmosphere is extremely vivid and fascinating. 4/5.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Just a couple thoughts

I've been really bad about blogging over the past week and a half. My apologies. I need to get back into a semiregular rhythm.

While we're waiting, here are a few mini thoughts that have been floating around in my mind.

-FlickChart just gave me Lord of the Flies vs. The Bumblebee Flies Anyway. It amused me because not only do both movies contain the word "flies," they're actually both based on very dark books about children. My vote went to The Bumblebee Flies Anyway, which I've loved for a long time.

-I only have six more Woody Allen movies to see before I'm done with his filmography so far. That makes me a little bit sad.

-My sister, this morning: I've been having trouble starting the car lately.
Me: Yeah?
My sister: Yeah, I turn the key and then put it in park and nothing happens.
Me: You put it in... park?
My sister: Oh! I mean drive.
Me: I was going to say... I think I have the solution to your problem.