Saturday, February 19, 2011

Movie Log: Speed Dating Edition

It's been a cold and windy day in my neck of the woods, and it's a bit chilly in this basement right now. I'm also tired after a long and busy week, and not really up to writing anything complicated or overly thoughtful. So, instead, I'm going to catch up on all of the movies I saw over the past eight months or so, while my blogging energies were entirely taken up with Book-A-Day. My intention is to write roughly one sentence for each movie...but I usually write longer than I expect, so let's see how that works out.

Movies I Saw on Video
Lupin 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro -- Hayao Miyazaki's very first full-length movie has some moments and set-pieces that are clearly Miyazaki-ish in retrospect, and is an exciting and always fun entry in a sturdy, audience-pleasing series. But it's clearly a formula, and not a terribly demanding one.

The Dinner Game -- The French original that became Dinner for Schmucks in English (which I still haven't seen). Dinner is remarkably well-written and well-acted, and is staged almost like a play, with nearly the entire action taking place in one apartment. For anyone who can stand reading a movie -- of who speaks French -- it's well worth seeing; it's a great comedy with some real depth to it.
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House -- Continuing my intermittent self-study course in the great movies of the past; this one is still very funny and true, though the specifics of place and money add some inadvertent humor now. (That money pit was probably worth over a million by the late '80s, for one thing.)

Adam -- A young man with Asperger's Syndrome falls in love for the first time, in a movie that's thoughtful and moving -- and not nearly as mawkish or afterchool-special-ish as you might fear -- and doesn't go the ways you'd expect. Small, but perfectly formed.

My Wife Is an Actress -- Another French movie -- I find that a good French comedy is superior to all but one or two of the best American funny movies a year -- directed by Charlotte Gainsbough's husband, about a man who is married to the gorgeous actress Charlotte Gainsborough. Slightly less sexy than expected, but a lot of fun.

Popeye -- I hadn't seen Altman's Feiffer-scripted version of the E.C. Segar strip in twenty-five years or more, but my two sons were a great excuse, and Popeye is actually a damn good (if utterly idiosyncratic) movie. Yes, it's a musical. Yes, all of the characters are utterly caricatured. Yes, it does lose track of itself more than once, and starts too slowly. And, yes, the spinach thing is done much less subtly or well than Segar would have. But it's indisputably Popeye -- and miles closer to Segar than any other moving-picture version has ever come -- and a hell of a lot of fun.

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek -- It's a 1944 movie about a girl who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant after blacking out during an "all-night party"; how could I not watch it, once I knew it existed? It's quick and funny, and mostly full of actors we don't think about anymore. 

Foul Play -- Another movie that I hadn't seen in twenty-five years, and which still held up, with great funny stuff from Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn. 

Impromptu -- I've complained about the very stereotyped plots that costume dramas about creative types always fall into, but this one is about Chopin more than George Sand, and, luckily, doesn't try to pretend that this series of events was "the basis" for some famous Sand work. In the end, it's a middle-rank costume drama, but The Wife eats those up.

Hot Tub Time Machine -- There's no excuse for this one; it's silly and obvious and could have been much smarter and sharper if the writers stopped laughing at their own jokes and worked a bit harder. But it is a decent silly comedy, in a vaguely '80s mode, so it's worth wasting the two hours or so to look at it.

Jet Lag -- Yet another French movie, this time a romantic comedy with Juliette Binoche and Jean Reno stuck at an airport. It hasn't stuck in the memory terribly well, but it was enjoyable at the time.

In a Day -- A small-budget British romantic comedy-drama with some slight pretensions; it doesn't work 100%, but it does work well enough.

Strange Brew -- So, like, take off, eh? I will never apologize for loving Strange Brew, and I've now made my sons watch it as well.

Bringing Up Baby -- More classic comedy, with Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. You probably shouldn't wait until you're forty-one to watch this, like I did.

Fletch -- Now, this one, I hadn't seen before. It was fun, but not as good as it's supposed to be, with a generic and forgettable '80s plot.

Alice in Wonderland -- Tim Burton really needs a high-profile failure or two to bring him back ot earth and get him to engage strong again; sadly, this movie didn't do that. It's an interesting-looking mess, but it's completely a mess, even by the standards of an Alice movie.
Finding Bliss -- Leelee Sobieski is a would-be filmmaker who can't get funding to make her dream script, but (though the usual contrived situations) gets a job editing porn movies and can pretty much work out every plot beat from there. It follows its formula with energy and really believes in itself, but it will never surprise you.

Out of Sight -- I like George Clooney's work, and I've missed a lot of his movies -- this one is a sturdy, smart thriller that I expect most of you saw ten years ago.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid -- This plays really differently in live-action than it did on the page, which I found very interesting to think about while watching it. The book is so cartoony that none of the over-the-top things that happen to Greg are a problem, but they seem less likely with real twelve-year-olds. It's lovable like an ingratiating dog, but about as deep.

City Island -- The comedy version of a kitchen-sink problem movie, circling around Andy Garcia as a middle-aged NYC cop who really wants to be an actor. It all comes together too patly in the end, but everyone is good in it, and it has a fine sense of place.

Date Night -- It fails the Siskel test, in that the viewer keeps suspecting that the jokes that Steve Carrell and Tina Fey told each other in the makeup chair were funnier and less formulaic than this movie, but it is entertaining, and Carrell and Fey are both completely game and utterly likable. Plus, I am one half a boring, married, middle-aged couple in New Jersey.

The Apartment -- Most of the old movies I see are pretty frothy, but this one is more biting, though a lot of that bite is due to the specific sexual mores of 1960, which are solidly exploded now. It certainly had more impact then, and would have more impact for a younger viewer, but it's still a great movie.

Royal Flash -- The only movie made, to date, from George Macdonald Fraser's excellent series of novels -- directed by Richard Lester right after his "Three Musketeers" movies. Malcolm McDowell is a perfect Flashy, and it made me wish I was in the next universe over, where there were half-a-dozen more of these movies, and McDowell was prepping another one right now.

The Taste of Others -- A complicated French romantic comedy -- of the large cast that interacts with each other like billiard balls style -- that I don't remember in detail. Pleasant but forgettable, I suppose.

Ondine -- Colin Farrell drags out his thickest Irish accent in the story of a fisherman who pulls a woman from the sea and can't quite decide if he (and his crippled daughter) want her to be a mermaid or not. It tries really hard, and succeeds at a level only just a bit below what it's aiming for.

Babies -- An entirely unnarrated documentary of the first year of life of four babies, in vastly different parts of the world. Probably only for parents or wanna-be parents, but cute and deeply lovable.

The Secret of Kells -- The surprise Oscar nominee of last year, once it was finally available on video. Visually inventive and heartfelt, but awfully slow for a movie that's not even ninety minutes long, and not without the sound of axes grinding. See it to look at rather than to think about.

Confetti -- A silly British mockumentary about a reality-TVish competition by a bridal magazine for the Most Inventive Wedding of the Year. It doesn't take advantage of all of its opportunities, but it creates some great characters and is entertaining to the end.

Get Him to the Greek -- About as silly and frivolous a comedy as can be imagined, but Russell Brand always delivers, even if Jonah Hill's blustering-twerp persona is wearing ever thinner.

Toy Story 3 -- No one in the family felt the need to see this in the theater; I don't care about any second sequel all that much. It's not as good as #2, but rings some new and thoughtful changes on the thematic material from the first two movies. And there's now a lot of material for a major dissertation on the (almost unveiled at this point) religious undertones of the series.

The Emperor's New Clothes -- Ian Holm is Napoleon, who switched places with a lookalike to escape from Elba back to Paris and reclaim his power. It doesn't work out that way, though he does find love instead. Holm is always fun to watch, and this deviates enough from the costume-drama template to be worth seeing.

Iron Man 2 -- It is what it is: loud, brash, full of itself, but enthralling and ever-so-occasionally smart.

Robin Hood -- Russell Crowe shows us how Hood was dull and depressing, and his life a rough slog through mud and shit. Has almost none of the things anyone wants to see in a Robin Hood movie.

Artemisia -- Yet more costume drama, with a female Italian Renaissance painter who -- in the movie-ized version -- falls in love with her teacher, which leads to Big Trouble. (In real life, he raped and blackmailed her into sex, but that's not Romantic enough for a movie.) It's better if you don't try to learn anything about Artemisia Gentileschi ahead of time.

Shrek Forever After -- Broad, obvious, and massively renormative in all the worst ways. The incidental jokes are funny, as they should be, given how much money and time went into them.

Maybe Baby -- A mostly-forgotten Hugh Laurie movie from a decade ago, which I missed then like everyone else in the world. He's a screenwriter for not-the-BBC, and secretly turns his own wife's fertility drama into a comedy -- the ending runs off the rails for a while, but otherwise it's so good that you'll wonder why it was so forgotten.

Next Stop Wonderland -- A small Boston romantic comedy, except it's not all that funny and not really a romance. It is a good character piece about the two people that the audience knows will eventually get together -- though the movie itself keeps them apart practically the entire time.

The Kids Are Alright -- A masterclass in great acting; there are scenes that hinge on body language or glancing expressions. The central drama is arguably trite -- that a lesbian couple can be just as mixed-up, but still fixable, as anyone else -- but the dialogue is excellent and delivered perfectly.

Easy A -- Emma Stone is damn good, and this movie is smart and sneaky; this is a movie about teenagers, but it's as much for people who were teenagers two or four decades ago.

Soul Kitchen -- A German movie about a restaurant and its various comic dramas; it's sweet and lovable but mildly predictable.

Going the Distance -- The movie that made everyone wonder how close it was to the real relationship of Drew Barrymore and that Mac guy; it's a good view of a relationship that has real strengths and depths but is being seriously tested. All processed through the usual Hollywood rose-tinted lenses, of course.

Inception -- Anyone who had trouble following this is just dumb; I have to say it. It's not as profound or brilliant as some people seem to think, but it's an exceptionally well-constructed and entertaining astonishment machine. (And The Wife and I cracked each other up every time it cut back to the van falling into the water, calling out "Buffering!" as it happened.)

The Other Guys -- The end credits were almost better than the movie, and the movie could have done with a bit more of the credit's viewpoint and cold anger. But the movie, as it did exist, was a decent odd-couple story, and had a particularly watchable set of characters.

Nanny McPhee Returns -- Not nearly as good, or as subtle, as the first movie, and much more of a film for kids. But The Wife and I enjoyed it anyway.

Stuff I Actually Got Into a Theater to See:The Last Airbender -- Yes, well. It's not as bad as some people said, but I saw it in non-eye-straining 2-D, so I may not have seen it at its worst. Shamalyan does have some good camera work, particularly his swooping shots in the battle scenes, but that wasn't enough.

Despicable Me -- This was as good as everyone said, and almost not at all mawkish. I'm beginning to think Steve Carrell can make anything good.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice -- Big, flashy, silly, full of explosions and often losing track of its own rules -- yes, it's a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. It shouldn't be as entertaining as it is, honestly, and no one can see it and feel proud of themselves.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World -- I loved it, and my two sons loved it. Hugely visually exciting, and only very slightly damaged by Michael Cera whinyness. It had better become the hugely popular touchstone cult movie of this generation.  

Red -- An action thriller that does everything right, including pandering to its audience. It's cheese, but some kind of very nice, and slightly classy cheese -- say a nice Stilton.

And why did I think writing all that would be quick or easy? Well, I'm caught up (except for Youth in Revolt, which I saw a few days ago) now.

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