Friday, November 30, 2012

November Movie Status

We interrupt the regularly scheduled set of movie reviews to bring you the following monthly status post:

I saw 87 movies in the month of November, plus two seasons of a TV show, plus one re-watch.  While this is not as many movies as last month, it is still a very heavy month for me.  I took a page out of Steve Honeywell’s plan (at 1001plus).  He has watched most of the longest 1001 Movies entries.  I decided to take as big a bite as possible out of my own remaining 3 hour plus movies in November.  While I checked off most of them (19 out of 21), I am glad I don’t have to repeat it.  I found that most of the longest entries in the 1001 Movies list are not be enjoyed, but to be endured.  (See my worst movies of the month lower in this post for a couple of examples.)  By also throwing in some of the shortest entries I did manage to pass 800 movies watched from the 1001 Movies list.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Movie – Donnie Darko (2001)

Much has been written about the “immediate impact” and “instant cult status” of the movie Donnie Darko.  The funny thing is, most of it is wrong.  The film, with its 4.5 million dollar budget, made only 500,000 dollars on its initial five months in theaters during the winter of 2001/2002.  A subsequent re-release in the summer of 2004, after its cult status had started to grow, still grossed only another 750,000 dollars.  It’s only after a decade of constant talk about it, a “director’s cut”, and the career growths of several of the young stars in it, that the film has truly achieved the impact that it has today.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Movie – Timecrimes (2007)

Of the four Time Travel on a Budget movies I’ve recommended so far, Timecrimes is the one that spent the most money – all of 2.6 million dollars.  It’s also the one that heads into the darkest territory so far, although an upcoming recommendation will match it.  Unlike Safety Not Guaranteed, Primer, and 11 Minutes Ago, Timecrimes is not a movie shown from the perspective of the people who are inventing time travel devices.  Instead, it focuses on a regular man who accidentally gets caught up in a time loop that he may never find his way out of, at least not as the same man he was before he started.  It would be fair to say that this movie has some gothic horror elements to it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Movie – 11 Minutes Ago (2007)

So you’re a time traveler.  You go back in time about 50 years to 2007 in order to get air samples from a period when Earth’s air was a lot cleaner, in the hopes that you can use this to deal with the planet’s current problem.  When you take your very first trip back you are immediately confronted with lights, a camera, and a man asking you about your trip back in time.  Needless to say, you would be disoriented and seriously stunned by this.  What the heck is going on here?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Movie – Primer (2004)

There was quite a bit of hype about the movie Primer after it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2004.  I can’t remember exactly when I saw it, but it was within a year or two of this.  With the hype still fresh in my mind (most of it about how this was a fresh and original time travel movie), I ended up being a little let down by the film.  That was mostly because my expectations were too high, though.  It is still a decent movie and one that is good enough to recommend to anyone who wants to see a serious movie on the ethics of time travel.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Movie – Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

I had heard good things about Safety Not Guaranteed.  It had come out of the Sundance Film Festival having won the screenwriting prize and having been nominated for the Grand Jury prize.  It had good buzz about it, but when it opened this summer it got lost amidst all the mega budget movies that were also getting released.  That is too bad because people missed out on a terrific movie.  Now that it has been released on DVD those who missed out will get a second chance to see a movie that I have no qualms about predicting will make my Top 10 Movies of 2012 list.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Time Travel on a Budget

Marty McFly:  “Are you telling me you built a time machine?  Out of a Delorean?
Doc Brown:  “The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”
                                                      – Back to the Future

When people think of time travel movies they usually picture big budget ones like Back to the Future, Star Trek IV, Terminator 2, and other similar films.  These are the ones that have big special effects budgets and big names either in front of or behind the camera.  In fact, the concept of a low-budget time travel movie seems quite foreign to many people.  This hasn’t kept some people from making them, though.

Because of the limited budgets of the filmmakers and/or the characters in the films, these movies often do not focus on the “gee whiz” technology, or show scenes where the actual time travel takes place.  Instead they focus on the people involved and the consequences of their actions.  The first one I am going to review – Safety Not Guaranteed – even proceeds with the fact that time travel probably will not occur, instead focusing on a man who believes he can time travel and a few people who come to know him.

In addition to that film, I will also be recommending a film involving storage units, a film shot at a wedding reception, a Spanish film that deals with a serious time paradox, a film with a plane crash, a film about childhood trauma, and a film with two most excellent dudes.

As I post the reviews, I will come back and add links here for those posts:

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
Primer (2004)
11 Minutes Ago (2007)
Timecrimes (2007)
Donnie Darko (2001)
The Butterfly Effect (2004)
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)

On to the reviews…

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Movie – Brave (2012)

Note: when doing my 2012 Big Summer Movies category I did not get a chance to see Brave, so I was not able to review it during the summer.  I have now just seen it and am writing this review to complete this category.  You can read the parent post for it to see the other summer movies I reviewed here.

Brave is the latest movie from Pixar Studios.  It is also the most “Disneyfied” to be released since Pixar was acquired by Disney.  It features a princess, a witch, cute animals, and a couple intended-for-the-pop-charts songs.  Those are steps backwards.  On the other hand, Pixar was attempting to emphasize they were moving forward by making their first film for girls with a female lead character in a movie written and directed by a woman.  They hit some speed bumps along the way, though, and were not completely successful.  I will explain.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Movie – North by Northwest (1959)

North by Northwest is one of the best, if not the best, movies directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  Even people who know little about his films can usually name this as being one of his.  They also usually can mention the crop duster scene and/or the Mount Rushmore scene, even if they haven’t seen the film.  For those who have watched it, North by Northwest triggers something in almost all of us because we can shudder about how we would feel if we were trapped in a situation where no one would believe us.  It also lets us live out a fantasy of imagining that were we caught in something like this, we would be resourceful enough to respond to it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Movie – White Heat (1949)

White Heat is a movie that James Cagney made after he got over his concern of being typecast as a gangster.  He may not have gotten completely past it because this film still shows up on “Top Gangster Films” lists quite often, despite the fact that it is far more a crime thriller than a gangster movie.  It’s a good thing Cagney agreed to do this film because he gives the second best performance of his career, in my opinion. (Yankee Doodle Dandy being number one.)  He also was brave by allowing his character to be played as a “mama’s boy”, albeit the toughest one probably ever put on the silver screen.  The result is an intelligent thriller where both criminals and cops are smart and well-matched, and where there is much tension over an agent who is undercover in Cagney’s gang.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Movie – Jaws (1975)

As I mentioned in my recent Casablanca review, sometimes movies are not the result of careful pre-planning, but rather a series of serendipitous occurrences.  Jaws is one such movie.  Filming went so far over schedule, and there were so many problems with the mechanical shark built for the film, that director Steven Spielberg had to change many of the shots he had planned.  In addition, some of the most famous lines from the film were not in the original screenplay, but were adlibbed or written by the actors.  Not bad for a film, that when it finally came out, scared the crap out of moviegoers and that is now widely credited with single-handedly inventing the summer blockbuster.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Movie – Field of Dreams (1989)

I’ve only ever known one person who hated Field of Dreams.  She’s also the only person I’ve ever known who hated The Princess Bride, so make of that what you will.  Her reason for hating Field of Dreams was two-fold: she didn’t like baseball, and she didn’t like how unrealistic the movie was.  I can understand the first reason, but I had to really fight to hide my laughter at the second reason.  Watching a movie where a disembodied voice tells a man to build a baseball field in the middle of his corn crop and expecting it to be “realistic” seems really bizarre to me.  Since then I’ve seen other disparaging comments about this film that also boil down to the fact that it’s unrealistic.  I am not one of those people who feel that way.  Not only do I like baseball, but I have a very personal connection to this film because of my relationship with my father and the fact that he passed away a few years before this film came out.  I will talk about that in this post (in a well-marked section that can be skipped by those who have not seen the film and want to avoid spoilers.)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Movie – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was a bit of a revelation for me.  I had seen Humphrey Bogart in several films, but he seemed to always play the confident, tough guy who was usually in control of a situation.  In this film he is grungy, unshaven, and paranoid to the point of insanity.  Despite Bogart’s Oscar win for The African Queen, and two other nominations for Casablanca and The Caine Mutiny, I consider his performance in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre to be the best of his career.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Movie – Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

What can be said about the movie The Empire Strikes Back that has not already been written a dozen times?  Rather than do a “normal” review where I have a short summary of the movie and point out a few things of interest, I thought I would do something different.  I’ve often wondered what my reaction to Psycho would have been if I hadn’t known about the shower scene ahead of time.  It’s pretty much impossible to not know what happens, just as it is pretty much impossible to not know what happens in The Empire Strikes Back.  Well, at one time I didn’t.  I’m going to share with you what it was like to be a teenager when the whole Star Wars phenomenon was starting, and when no one knew what was going to happen next.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Movie – Sherlock: A Study in Pink (2010)

There have been many, many incarnations of Sherlock Holmes over the years.  Some of them have contributed permanent additions to the mythos surrounding the character – in some cases these are things that his creator – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – never intended, or could have ever imagined.  I once read that Holmes was one of only five fictional characters that were known to every nation and every tribe on Earth.  (Superman was another; I can’t remember the rest.)  ‘Sherlock’ has chosen to show us a version of Holmes set in the present, with him being a very modern man.  It is a very well written show that appeals to both the Sherlock Holmes fan, and the casual viewer, alike.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

I Saw 100 Movies in October

We interrupt the regularly scheduled set of movie reviews to bring you the following monthly status post:

The title of this post does not mistakenly have an extra zero in it.  I actually saw 108 movies in the month of October, plus another two re-watches.  While I have only been keeping detailed track of my movie viewing since the beginning of this year, I am very sure that this is the most movies I have ever seen in a single month.

Several things happened that caused me to reach this number.  First, I had a lot of expenses in September, so I wanted to cut back some in October and staying home to watch movies is very cheap entertainment.  Second, the 2012 additions to the 1001 Movies list were announced at the beginning of the month.  I had already seen 11 of the 14 and this increase in my total viewed meant I had a chance this month of passing 700 total movies seen from the list.  I did accomplish that and then some.  Third, I also watched quite a few unavailable-on-DVD movies that I had collected over a period of time in order to ensure they were playing correctly before sending them to someone else.  Fourth, there were almost no new TV shows this fall that caught my interest, so I didn’t spend much time watching TV.  Fifth, I bumped up the number of Netflix DVDs I have out at the same time.  Sixth, a bunch of films from my two major lists were expiring from Netflix Instant viewing.  Seventh, Steve Honeywell at 1001plus loaned me a bunch of DVDs. (Thanks Steve!)  He's watching and reviewing every film in the 1001 Movies list.  You should check out his site when you get a chance.  And finally, a few days before the end of the month I did a count and found I was in the 90s.  I then made a conscious effort to see enough to reach the 100 mark.

I also finished seeing every single film that has been added to the 1,001 Movies list since it was originally published in 2003, and I just passed being two thirds complete with the entire list.

Currently, the two main lists that I am taking movie suggestions from are the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list and a list I put together of every Oscar Best Picture nominee.  You can see those lists by clicking on these titles:  1,001 Movies; Oscar Nominees.  I’m also close to completing the Combined AFI Movies list.

So far in 2012 I have seen 418 movies that were new to me.  Among those 418 films, 210 were from the 1,001 Movies list and 61 were Best Picture nominees. 

Here are the 108 new movies I saw in October.  Highlighted movies are ones to which I would give at least three stars out of five.  I will single out the four and five star films in the paragraph below the list.

1,001 Movies (89):  Bus 174 (2002), Senna (2010), The Kid with a Bike (2011), Deseret (1995), Too Early, Too Late (1981), Vinyl (1965), Mediterranee (1963), Heaven and Earth Magic (1962), Lucia (1969), The Decline of the American Empire (1986),
The Barbarian Invasions (2003), Le Havre (2011), Drowning by Numbers (1988), Distant (2002), Lantana (2001), Artists and Models (1955), The Phantom Carriage (1921), Napolean (1927), The Big Parade (1925), Greed (1924), The Crowd (1928), La Chienne (1931), The Baker’s Wife (1938), Superfly (1972), Drugstore Cowboy (1989), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989), The Last Laugh (1924), Little Caesar (1931), Rocco and His Brothers (1960), The Cloud-Capped Star (1960), The Housemaid (1960), Los Olvidados (1950), Mother and Son (1997), Red Psalm (1972), The Given Word (1962), Entranced Earth (1967), Tristana (1970), Turkish Delight (1973), Chronicle of a Summer (1961), Loulou (1980), Guys and Dolls (1955), The Public Enemy (1931), The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short (1965), No Fear No Die (1990), Farewell My Concubine (1993), Europa ’51 (1952), Voyage in Italy (1953), What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), White Heat (1949), Sabotage (1936), The Nail of Brightness (1975), Black God, White Devil (1962), The Fourth Man (1983), Peking Opera Blues (1986), Mother India (1957), Red Sorghum (1987), A Tale of Winter (1992), Center Stage (1992), The Idiots (1998), Judge Priest (1933), A City of Sadness (1989), Ceddo (1977), Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer (1955), On the Town (1949), Pinocchio (1940), Zero for Conduct (1933), Queen Christina (1933), Once Upon a Time in China (1991), Romper Stomper (1992), Mean Streets (1973), A Star is Born (1954), Broken Blossoms (1919), Nanook of the North (1922), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), The Wicker Man (1973), Suspiria (1977), Russian Ark (2002), The Big Red One (1980), King of New York (1990), The Butcher Boy (1997), Poltergeist (1982), Way Down East (1920), Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), Foolish Wives (1922), Night and Fog (1955), Dog Star Man (1962), The House is Black (1963), Camille (1936)

Oscar Nominees (11):  Cavalcade (1933) – the last Oscar winning film I had left to see, The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), Funny Girl (1968), Norma Rae (1979), The Guns of Navarone (1961), The Longest Day (1962), Madame Curie (1943), Love Story (1970), Midnight Express (1978), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Coming Home (1978)

AFI Movies (2) (several others also appear in the two sections above):
Cinderella (1950)
The Omen (1976)

Other Movies (6): The Five-Year Engagement (2012), People Like Us (2012), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012), Burke and Hare (2010), A Dirty Shame (2004), Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Re-watches (2): Stephen Fry in America, The Avengers

I had no new five star films in October, although one might get bumped up to five when I watch it again.  That film is Safety Not Guaranteed (2012).  Like last year’s Another Earth, it’s not about the science fiction, but about the people in the film.  It’s my favorite movie of the month, and by coincidence, the 100th I saw.  I plan to create a “Time Travel on a Budget” category in order to review this film in a week or two, so for now I will just say that I expect it will be in my Top 10 Movies of 2012 list. 

My other four star films were The Barbarian Invasions (2003), Napolean (1927), White Heat (1949), Queen Christina (1933), Nanook of the North (1922), Madame Curie (1943), and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958).  The Barbarian Invasions is the sort-of sequel to The Decline of the American Empire and I watched them back to back, which I feel increased my appreciation for the second film. Napolean is a white-washed bio of Napolean Bonaparte from childhood to him starting to assume power.  At one point this 1927 film is impossibly, gloriously, in widescreen – almost 30 years before anyone else made movies that way.  White Heat is one of the best crime dramas I’ve seen.  Other than Yankee Doodle Dandy, this is the best performance I’ve seen from James Cagney.  I will be reviewing this in a few days.  Queen Christina is a largely fictional bio of the title character who controlled the throne of Sweden for a time.  Greta Garbo is great as the lead.  Nanook of the North is the 1920s documentary of an Eskimo and his family.  While some people like to argue over how much is staged, it is still a great look at a way of life that no longer exists.  Like all bios of its time, Madame Curie is a somewhat fictional movie of the great scientists Marie and Pierre Curie.  Unlike almost every other film, though, it treats science and the scientific process not only seriously, but relatively accurately.  Anyone who has a daughter with even the slightest interest in science should show her this movie.  Cat on a Hot Tin Roof has a great cast, headed by Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor, both at the peak of their sex appeal.  If you have an appreciation for great eyes, this is the movie to see.

With over 100 movies watched in October, I did see my share of stinkers.  I won’t mention all of them, but I will single out Vinyl (1965).  This is in the 1001 Movies list and it is just godawful.  The only reason anyone would ever put this on a list of movies to watch is that it is from Andy Warhol.  It is essentially a home movie being performed by and shot by people strung out on LSD.  The 1001 Movies book says it is supposedly a version of A Clockwork Orange.  Either the reviewer was also on LSD when he wrote that, or Andy Warhol said that’s what the film is about in order to mess with people.  Honestly, you can see videos on Youtube shot by kids doing stupid stuff in their houses that are on par with this movie.  Oh, since Edie Sedgwick spends most of the movie sitting on the right of the screen smoking one cigarette after another this movie will probably be loved by smoking fetishists.  (You know who you are.)

(We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming, already in progress).