Friday, February 28, 2014

February Movie Status

I saw 11 new movies in the month of February and I had 1 re-watch.  As I expected, my new job, coupled with the book I am working on, severely curtailed the amount of movies I ended up watching.

I am semi-actively working on the following lists: Oscar Best Picture Nominees, the six 101 [Genre] Films You Must See Before You Die lists, and They Shoot Pictures Don’t They.  Some of these overlap, but I am showing films under only one list’s count in the details below.  I also have a few more films left that appeared for the first time on IMDB’s 2013 year ending Top 250 list.  All of these different lists can be seen by clicking on the names of them.  They link to my Lists from Chip posts on them.

Here are the 11 new movies and 1 old one I saw in February.  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, as well as the worst films, in the paragraphs below the lists.

IMDB (0):

Oscar Nominees (2): Nebraska (2013), Philomena (2013)

101 Genre (0):

TSPDT (1): An Angel at My Table (1990)

Other Movies (8): 2 Guns (2013), Getaway (2013), We’re the Millers (2013), From Up on Poppy Hill (2011), I’m So Excited (2013), Ender’s Game (2013), Riddick (2013), Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)

Re-watches (1): The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

I saw so few films this month that I will just write a bit about each.

For Nebraska (3 stars) and Philomena (4 stars) you can click on those titles to read my full reviews of them.

An Angel at My Table (1990) – this is an early film from Jane Campion.  It tells the true story of writer Janet Frame from her girlhood in New Zealand in the early part of the 20th century up to her adulthood in Europe.  3 stars

2 Guns (2013) – pretty standard mindless action flick with Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg as the leads.  2.5 stars

Getaway (2013) – mindless action flick, but with some great driving stunts in it making it worthwhile.  3 stars

We’re the Millers (2013) – the trailer ruined some of the laughs, but there were plenty more in the film.  A man has to smuggle tons of pot across the American/Mexican border so he hires three people to pretend to be a family on vacation in an RV to do it.  3 stars

From Up on Poppy Hill (2011) – not the best film from Studio Ghibli, but even one of their “not the best” is still better than a lot of other films.  3 stars

I’m So Excited (2013) – horrible title (it sounds like a movie for teenage girls) for Pedro Almodovar’s comedic follow-up to his horror film The Skin I Live In.  People who just discovered the director through the latter film basically have had a WTF reaction to I’m So Excited.  Long time fans will enjoy Almodovar’s return to some of the zaniness of his earlier films.  3 stars

Ender’s Game (2013) – does an okay job adapting one of the best science fiction novels of all time.  The medium just doesn’t support what makes the book great (character development), so we are left with a flawed, but still watchable story of a young tactical and strategic genius trained to win humanity’s last battle with another race. 3 stars  (read the book, trust me.  Here’s my review of it.)

Riddick (2013) – this film assumes two things: that you have seen and remember the first two films; and that you have half a brain and don’t need everything spoon fed to you.  In other words, it assumes that you actually watch films instead of have them on while you play with your phone.  This is a decent addition to the Riddick films.  It is more in the style of the first one than the second one. 3 stars

Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) – this film deserves more than a bit.  3.5 stars

Yes, there is a sex scene in it, more than one, in fact, but it is not 10-12 minutes long.  The people screaming about that need to get their watches checked.  Total all the sex scenes in the movie together and you might make 10 minutes.  Maybe.  And that's across 180 minutes of film.  The fact that so much time (including this paragraph) has been spent discussing a relatively minor part of the film shows just how obsessed with sex everyone is.

So, the film itself.  The two actresses did a fantastic job, especially Adele Exarchopoulos.  She really deserved a Best Actress Oscar nomination, and maybe even a win.  Some of her scenes were heartbreaking.  Yes, "heartbreaking".  Anyone who thinks that professional film critics will go gaga over a romance film that has an "and they lived happily ever after" ending doesn't know much about film critics.  And the fact that both actresses have had to publicly disown the director, who got such great, multiple-award-winning performances out of them, in order to stop the near-constant attacks on them for doing a “pornographic” film is a really sad comment on our society.

This film doesn't get four stars from me simply because the director doesn't know how to edit out extraneous stuff.  It's not just the one sex scene that stretches out.  There are many minutes devoted to watching people eat spaghetti, to seeing Adele teach children, to seeing Adele sleep, to a party that drags out far past the time it's made its point, etc.  There are a lot of great scenes in the film, interspersed with periodic bits where the director indulges himself.  This would make a fantastic 2-2.5 hour film.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Oscar Quiz: Best Picture Nominee or Adult Film? Can You Tell From Just the Title?

Here’s a little quiz to see how well you know your Oscar nominees.  I will list a series of real film names, grouped by related titles.  Some of them will be ones nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and others will be on AVN’s list of the Top 101 Adult Videos.  Can you tell which is which?  Score one point for every correct answer.

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice:

100 Men and a Girl
The Country Girl
Farmer’s Daughters
Four Daughters
Sorority Sweethearts
Three Smart Girls
Two Women
Working Girl

Snips and Snails and Puppy Dogs’ Tails:

Boys Town
A Few Good Men
Here Comes Mr. Jordan
Here Comes the Navy
Howard’s End
The Hustler
Jekyll & Hyde
A Soldier’s Story


Alice Adams
Amanda by Night
Blame It on Ginger
Hannah and Her Sisters
Kitty Foyle
Naughty Marietta

The Girls Mom Warned You About:

American Beauty
Bad Girl
Bad Girls
Beauties in Paradise
The Little Foxes

In the Home:

Behind the Green Door
Bobby Sox
Dark Garden
The Dinner Party
The Dresser
House of Dreams
In the Bedroom
The Robe
The Secret Garden

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Movie – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug improves on the first Hobbit film.  Director Peter Jackson evidently learned from the reaction to some of An Unexpected Journey’s goofier elements and eliminated much of the silliness that permeated the first film.  Radagast the Brown and his bunny-drawn sled are barely to be seen, for example.  (Comparisons to how differently Jar Jar Binks was presented in Star Wars Episodes One and Two come to mind.)  In addition, The Desolation of Smaug flows better with it only slowing up for a particular subplot.  One thing that got a lot of book purists crying foul is that a majority of what appears onscreen does not come from Tolkien, but from the imaginations of the screenwriters.  They didn’t eliminate major plot points, though; in fact, they expanded many of them.  For the most part I consider what was added to be quite entertaining, so I don’t have a problem with it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Movie – The Hunt (2012)

The Danish film The Hunt, nominated this year for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, is a true horror movie.  Please don’t mistake this for the generic organs and entrails monthly release from Hollywood, though.  Those kinds of films are about body trauma and gross outs.  They stopped trying to be scary a long time ago.  No, The Hunt is a horror film that is truly frightening because it is so real.  It shows just how easily a good man’s life can be destroyed from the modern day witch hunt that follows an accusation of child molestation.  And it is so scary because it happens far too often in real life.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ranking the 2014 Best Picture Nominees, Plus Some Observations

I have now posted reviews for all nine films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.  I am not done yet.  I intend to write reviews for those films I have seen that received other Oscar nominations, and that I would recommend.  Look for reviews of The Hunt, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and others as I have the time to post leading up to the Oscar telecast.  You can read my previously posted reviews for nominees Despicable Me 2, Iron Man 3, and Star Trek into Darkness by clicking on those titles.  You can read my comments on The Lone Ranger, a film I didn’t recommend, here.

In regards to ranking the nine nominees, right off the bat I have a tough time picking not only the best film of the year, but what order to put the best three in.  My top three are Gravity, Her, and The Wolf of Wall Street.  It’s almost impossible to compare them because you could probably not pick three films more unlike each other.  One is a thrilling adventure drama set in space, another is a sweet, near-future tale of unlikely love, and the third is a comedy/drama period piece about the rise and fall of a Wall Street trader.

In terms of which ones I am most looking forward to seeing again, that would be Wolf and Gravity.  I will definitely watch Her again, but I am not quite as anxious to see it as the other two.  That puts it in third place.  Between the two remaining I’m going to have to go with The Wolf of Wall Street for the sheer fun and entertainment it provides across its three hour running time.  While Gravity is also very entertaining it does have some “less fun” moments in it.

So, here is how I would rate the nine Best Picture nominees from best to not quite the best.  I have also included how these films are ranked according to the Rotten Tomatoes critics (RTC), the Rotten Tomatoes audiences (RTA), and the IMDB voters. 

The Wolf of Wall Street
12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Dallas Buyers Club
Captain Phillips

Last year I aligned closest with audiences and was most out of touch with professional critics. (Or were they the ones out of touch?)  This year I don’t really align with any of these three groups.  IMDB comes closest, with agreement on two of the top three films.

A few more observations now that I have seen the nine movies: 

  1. Three years ago only one of the ten nominated films exceeded two hours (Inception).  It was a welcome change from the three hour long depress-fests that often get nominated.  Two years ago six of the nine films were over two hours long, but none were over 2 ½ hours.  Last year eight of the nine films were at least two hours long, and four of them were at least 2 ½ hours long.  This trend back to longer and longer nominees was not one I was thrilled by.  Thankfully, this year only one film (The Wolf of Wall Street) clocks in at three hours and it is so entertaining that you don’t even notice the time passing.  Six of the other eight nominees are just under or just over two hours long.  And the final two are 98 minutes (Philomena) and 91 minutes (Gravity).
  2. Gravity is one of the stronger contenders for Best Picture.  If it wins it might be the shortest film ever to win that prize.  Annie Hall was 93 minutes long.  Marty was 90 minutes, but has an alternate version that runs 94 minutes.  I might be forgetting another short Best Picture winner, but off the top of my head those are currently the two shortest.
  3. Two years ago there were only six of nine nominated films that I felt were worth recommending.  Both last year and this year I liked all nine Best Picture nominees enough to recommend them.    
  4. Two years ago only one of the nine nominees was rated R, and that was only for a few bad words.  That was quite a change from years past when the nominees were almost always R rated films.  Last year we edged back more towards the past.  Four of the nominees were rated R, four were rated PG-13, and one was rated PG.  And last year Spielberg’s movie Lincoln got a PG-13 when it would have received an R rating if directed by anyone else.  This year six of the nine nominees are rated R, and a seventh was originally rated R, but received a PG-13 upon appeal (Philomena).  The remaining two films (Gravity and Captain Phillips) are also rated PG-13.  There is one ludicrous R rating.  Nebraska has no sex, no nudity, no violence other than a punch being thrown, and a total of two, count ‘em two, F-bombs in it (neither used in a sexual way).  It’s rated R for “some language.”
  5. Two years ago was for misty eyed nostalgia (The Artist, Midnight in Paris, and Hugo).  Last year was for re-creating true events (Lincoln, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty.)  This year goes even further with the latter trend.  The Wolf of Wall Street, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyers Club, American Hustle, and Captain Phillips were all based on real events.
  6. Last year Jennifer Lawrence broke a string of 27 straight years, and all but 4 years since 1970, where the Best Actress winner has done nudity.  Many of the winners appeared nude in the role that won them the Oscar.  (So much for “real actresses don’t do nudity.”)  This year’s frontrunner, Cate Blanchett, has also not done a nude scene.
  7. The biggest surprise for me among the nine nominees was Philomena.  I was thinking it would be a touching light drama and it is much harder hitting than I expected it to be.  It is almost on par with 12 Years a Slave in regards to showing the evil that people can do to each other.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Movie – Philomena (2013)

Philomena is based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith.  It tells the story of how the title character tried to find a son that had been essentially stolen from her when she was young.  Sixsmith helped her find out what happened to the son and wrote the book on both these people and his experiences.  He is played by Steve Coogan in the film.  Coogan also co-adapted the screenplay and earned an Oscar nomination for that.  Playing Philomena is Judi Dench and she earned yet another Oscar nomination, this time for Best Actress.  The film itself is nominated for Best Picture.  Director Stephen Frears, who had worked with Dench previously in Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005), didn’t receive a Best Director nomination, though.  The movie is quite harrowing in places and if you don’t get angry at some point during the film you must be one very jaded person.  Philomena, quite frankly, caught me by surprise.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Movie – Nebraska (2013)

In the tradition of Oklahoma! (1955), Kansas (1988), Texas (1994), and South Dakota (2013), comes Nebraska (2013), a movie that takes place in the Midwestern United States.  (Sorry North Dakota – there’s no movie named after you, although there is 1996’s Fargo.)  Director Alexander Payne loves setting movies in his home state of Nebraska (i.e. Election, About Schmidt), but surprisingly he didn’t write the screenplay for this film.  It’s the first film where he hasn’t directed his own story.  You wouldn’t know it from the film, though.  There are a number of Payne touches in it.  In fact, it’s sort of a re-imagining of About Schmidt, although done better.  Nebraska has more humor in it than I was expecting.  No, it’s not as funny as Election, but it certainly does have its moments.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Movie – Gravity (2013)

Gravity was the first of this year’s Oscar nominees to make a splash at the box office and it ended up tying with American Hustle for the most Oscar nominations – ten.  Four of American Hustle’s nominations were in acting categories.  Gravity wouldn’t have ever been able to match that because the entire movie really only consists of two performers – Sandra Bullock as Mission Specialist Dr. Ryan Stone and George Clooney as Mission Commander Matt Kowalski.  There are a few other people seen or heard briefly, but their presence in the film is minor.  There is a vocal cameo by Ed Harris as the voice of Mission Control, which is fitting given his Apollo 13 role.  Bullock received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.  Some people, including myself, felt that Clooney might get a Best Supporting Actor nomination, but he did not.  Despite the small cast Gravity really delivers in regards to characterization and a compelling, edge of your seat story.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Announcement on the Future of this Site

About a month ago I alluded to the fact that I might have some news to report soon.  It took longer than I expected, but I can finally talk about it.

I may not be able to post my recommendations for movies quite as often as I have been.  It’s for a good reason, not a bad one.

I started this site a couple of months into a sabbatical.  I had originally intended my time off to be one year, with a cash buffer of a second year to find work.  I estimated very conservatively, so I ended up being able to take three years off while I lived on my savings.  The entire three years I have been doing this site it has been either my number one or number two priority.

Well, that now has to change.  I am finally going to be a productive member of society again.  I started a new job Friday.  I will be a Project Manager in the IT department of L.L. Bean.  (No, I can’t get you a discount on their products.)  In addition to once again having a full work week, I also have a two hour round trip commute on top of it.  This job will be taking up the large majority of my time.

Now I know that many, if not most, of the bloggers reading this are already holding down full time jobs of their own while still posting reviews.  I’m not looking for sympathy; I’m simply explaining why I may not be able to post quite as often as I have been.

Long time Followers may remember that I posted a review almost every single day for the first two years.  In this last year I had cut that back, posting only 3-4 times a week.  I also stopped posting comments on many of your sites almost altogether.  That was due to the fact that I had another big project: I have been working on a 15 year Supplement to a 900 page genealogy book I published in 1999.  Researching all the families again, gathering information, getting it into the manuscript, looking into self-publishing, etc. have been taking a sizable chunk of my time.  I need to complete this by mid-year 2014 in time for the 90th anniversary of the first meeting of a family association.  This has been my top priority in more recent months.  With starting a new job, this now becomes my number two priority and I will be spending much of my evenings and weekends on this, probably in peaks and valleys as I either get more info or have to sit and wait for someone to send me more.

What this means for Tips from Chip is that it unfortunately has to be only my third priority.  I would like to be able to say that I ought to still be able to keep up only three posts a week, but the simple truth is I don’t know how much time either the job or the book will take.  I especially might have to invest even more hours in the job at first to try to come up to speed there as quickly as possible.  I will say that my intention is to try to keep to the same posting schedule, but if you don’t see anything for a week it’s probably because I got pulled away for either the job or the book.  Once I get the book published I should be able to return to devoting more time to this site.

In the immediate future I still have one more Best Picture nominee to recommend (Gravity).  There are two others (Philomena and Nebraska) that I have not seen and now do not know when I might.  Normally I do a post ranking the Best Picture nominees and include some analysis of them as a whole.  I’m unsure if I will still do that having seen only 7 of 9.  (Trekkies/Trekkers – feel free to insert your own Star Trek: Voyager joke.) 

In either case, I will then do what I have always done leading up to the Oscars which is continue with recommendations for films that received nominations in other categories, post an Oscar quiz, my predictions, and then the results and analysis.  Following that will be my Top 10 of 2013.  That gets me into March.  After that I don’t know what category of movies I will do, but I might pick ones with fewer entries simply because of how spread out they may be.  If I did one with 15 movies in it people will have forgotten what the category is by the time I finish it.

So, I might not be around my site as much, which unfortunately means I might not be around your sites as much either (even though I hadn’t been commenting, I had still been reading when I could.)  I will still reply to any and all comments I get here, so please don’t stop with those.  I enjoy the feedback and thoughts that you share.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

January Movie Status

I saw 53 new movies in the month of January, I re-watched 3 others, and I watched a season of a TV show.  A majority of these films were focused on Oscar nominees and other 2013 films for my eventual Top 10 of 2013 post.  I also did my annual check of IMDB’s year ending Top 250 list.  I’ve been doing it since 1998 and now have 16 years worth of lists, resulting in 552 unique movies.  (You can see it here.)  I had already completed all the films that have ever been on it, so it’s now just a matter of knocking off any new entries.  There were nine films on the latest year ending list that I had not yet seen.  I now have three left, so I expect to complete them in February.

Other than that I am actively working on the following lists: Oscar Best Picture Nominees, the six 101 [Genre] Films You Must See Before You Die lists, They Shoot Pictures Don’t They, and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies.  Some of these overlap, but I am showing films under only one list’s count in the details below.  The 2014 Oscar nominations added another nine films to the overall total.  It now stands at 512, of which I have seen 454.  I did complete the top 400 films on the ranked TSPDT list, so that’s something.

All of these different lists can be seen by clicking on the names of them.  They link to my Lists from Chip posts on them.

Here are the 53 new movies and 3 old ones I saw in January.  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, as well as the worst films, in the paragraphs below the lists.

IMDB (5): Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009), Incendies (2010), Memories of Murder (2003), The Hunt (2012), Rang De Basanti (2006)

Oscar Nominees (8): Little Women (1933), Captain Philips (2013), American Hustle (2013), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), 12 Years a Slave (2013), Dallas Buyers Club (2013), Her (2013), The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

101 Genre (2): Dillinger (1973), Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

TSPDT (15): Salvatore Giuliano (1962), The Scarlet Empress (1934), The Flowers of St. Francis (1950), The Sacrifice (1986), Nostalghia (1983), Nouvelle Vague (1990), Scenes from a Marriage (1973), The Rise of Louis XIV (1966), The Blood of a Poet (1932), Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927), Early Summer (1951), Fellini’s Casanova (1976), That Obscure Object of Desire (1977), Muriel (1963), Mother (1926)

Ebert (7): Seven Up! (1964), 7 Plus Seven (1970), 21 Up (1977), 28 Up (1984), 42: Forty-Two Up (1998), 49 Up (2005), 56 Up (2012)

Other Movies (16): Sherlock: The Empty Hearse (2014), Upstream Color (2013), Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius (1989), Take a Chance (1918), Young Mr. Jazz (1919), His Royal Slyness (1920), Sherlock: The Sign of Three (2014), Rid of Me (2011), Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013), Sherlock: His Last Vow (2014), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), The Family (2013), Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013), Mud (2013), Jobs (2013), The Kings of Summer (2013)

Re-watches (3): Kick-Ass 2 (2013), Safety Last! (1923), 35 Up (1991)

TV Series (1):  Archer Season 4

I saw a number of excellent films in January.  While no single film in the Up documentary series would merit 5 stars, the series as a whole more than earns that rating.  If you have never heard of it, in 1964 a bunch of British 7 year olds from different socio-economic backgrounds were interviewed on what they thought about their lives and what they thought the future would bring.  Director Michael Apted has gone back every seven years to re-interview them.  He most recently talked to them at age 56.  The result is a fascinating look into the changing times, mores, looks, attitudes, and most important, the lives of these people.  Imagine the changes that occur over nearly five decades in people’s lives.  We see them as awkward 14 year olds, confident 21 year olds, starting families (28), losing their parents (35), realizing not all of their hopes and dreams may happen (42), becoming grandparents and being more content (49), and dealing with aging (56). These are not the uber-exhibitionists that compete to be on TV “reality” shows now.  Some of these folks aren’t exactly thrilled to have millions of people think they can understand them by seeing 10 minutes of their lives every seven years, but they continue to participate because of how important so many people feel this series is.  Perhaps Roger Ebert said it best when he wrote that it is “an inspired, even noble, use of the film medium.”  I wrote more about this series in this post.  I suggest watching them in order to get the best experience from them.

A very good film I saw that didn’t quite merit a 5 star rating from me is Incendies (2010).  It showed up on the IMDB 2013 year end list.  In fact, with this film, Departures, The Hunt, and Rang De Basanti, most of the new foreign films on the list were very pleasant surprises.  Incendies is a powerful movie, wrapped within a family mystery that takes some serious unraveling. The only reason I didn't rate it 5 stars is that the writing is awkward on the reason for the mystery to unwind the way it does. In real life the movie would have been over in the first 10 minutes because the mother would have just told her kids about her life, but then there wouldn't have been a movie, of course.  This is a powerful drama, so if you only like to see feel good movies this is not the film for you.

Here are the other four star films I saw:

Rang De Basanti (2006) is an Indian film starring Aamir Khan (Lagaan, 3 Idiots) that starts out as a light drama with some goofy moments, but eventually becomes a deadly serious drama.  The transition is slow enough that it did not feel awkward at all.  There are some interesting comparisons and contrasts with the leads playing dual roles as modern Indian youths and early 20th century Indian rebels.

His Royal Slyness (1920) is a Harold Lloyd two-reeler about an American book salesman who agrees to impersonate the Prince of a tiny European nation – one that is ripe for revolt.  I didn’t even realize that it wasn’t Harold Lloyd playing both parts until the characters were standing in the same frame.  It turns out Harold’s brother Gaylord played one of the parts.

Sherlock: His Last Vow (2014) is the last of the three TV movies in Season 3 of the show Sherlock.  It is the best of them for the most recent year.  I can’t describe why I liked it so much without giving a massive spoiler so all I will say is that it caught me by surprise and that doesn’t happen that often anymore.

Mud (2013) is part of Matthew McConaughey’s triumphant year of acting.  He’s Oscar nominated for Dallas Buyers Club, and his scene in The Wolf of Wall Street has been much talked about, but for my money Mud is his best starring role in 2013.  He plays the title character, a mysterious man living on an island.  Two boys meet him while exploring and his stories captivate them.  They get caught up in helping him and that’s not a very safe thing to do as we get more and more hints of what Mud’s real story is.  This is simultaneously a mystery, a realistic look at love, and a coming of age for the two boys.

Finally, I recently did four star reviews of The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and Her (2013).  You can read them by looking at my January posts.

I had a few one star films in January.  I’ll just mention The Sacrifice (aka Offret), a 1986 film from Tarkovsky.  It was his last.  I generally like his films, but this was a disappointment.  He is basically aping the style of Ingmar Bergman in this, or at least Bergman’s style from the late 60s (i.e. The Hour of the Wolf).  Unfortunately, instead of getting the best of Tarkovsky and Bergman we get the worst.  There are long stretches where not much of anything happens (Tarkovsky) and when characters do interact they don’t talk TO each other, they talk AT each other in artificial non-sequiturs (Bergman circa the late 60s).