Tuesday, December 14, 2010

October/November 2010

Toward the end of October, I suffered a terrible computer mishap: I lost the file where I kept track of the movies I had been seeing. This led to a period of inactivity updating my blog while I procrastinated about reconstructing the list. Now, as we hurtle toward the end of the calendar year, it is finally time to try piecing together the list of the films I have seen during the last couple of months. I have zero memory which of these I saw in which month, but at least I am reasonably sure that all of the feature films are accounted for. No doubt I've lost track of some of the older films I viewed on DVD or AVI, but I do remember most of them.

I'll start with the newer stuff and list everything in order of enjoyment, since I no longer have a record of what I saw chronologically.


TANGLED—At the start of this year, it was still known as Rapunzel, Disney's latest attempt to breathe life into the old princess fairy-tale formula. But after The Princess and the Frog did less-than-spectacular business (especially among boys), the Mouse's marketers tinkered with the title and the ad campaign, helping to create a huge hit. The movie has flair, humor, suspense and great music (by Alan Menken). (10)

EASY A—This takeoff on The Scarlet Letter presents Emma Stone as a clean-cut high-school girl who pretends to be a slut to beef up her popularity—a plan that works a little too well. It's a surprisingly fun comedy with uniformly good performances, including Amanda Bynes as an annoying Bible-thumper. (9)

MEGAMIND—The latest Dreamworks animated feature stars Will Ferrell as the title supervillain, who has a few more likable bones in his body than he ought to have. The top-notch cast includes Tina Fey, David Cross and Brad Pitt. As with all Dreamworks cartoons, the only thing that really bugged me about this one is the perpetual, predictable and highly annoying reliance of hit songs on the soundtrack. Still, this is a very fun and lively outing, if a bit formulaic. (9)

IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY—My jokey alternate title for this was Love Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. A depressed teen with thoughts of suicide (Keir Gilchrist) checks himself into a psych ward and meets an adorable pseudo-crazy girl there. Is it true love, or will he pursue the classmate he has a crush on? Zach Galifianakis provides some laughs as another fellow inmate. (8)

THE SOCIAL NETWORK—Perhaps the year's most talked-about movie, a largely fictionalized account of how computer genius Mark Zuckerberg either invented or stole the idea for Facebook, depending on whose story you believe. Jesse Eisenberg seems to be channeling Michael Cera as the laconic Zuckerberg; despite some fun, snarky dialogue by Aaron Sorkin, the whole plot comes down to "he said / he said." (8)

LIFE AS WE KNOW IT—This may be the only movie I have seen accidentally. After sitting through one movie at a local multiplex one afternoon, I sneaked into this one under the impression that it was Never Let Me Go, which has a similarly generic title. I had been actively avoiding this unbelievably contrived Katherine Heigl romantic "comedy," but since I wasn't paying for it, I decided to give it a chance...and found it to be not nearly as terrible as I had anticipated. It's enjoyable in a very cute, mindless way, and Heigl is, after all, extremely beautiful. (7)

LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS—Unlike the previous entry, this was a movie that I'd had very high expectations for that was a bit disappointing. I happen to be a big fan of director Ed Zwick, who has provided me with untold hours of pleasure with his many TV dramas, as well as movies like Courage Under Fire. This film is part romantic comedy, part historical satire and part disease-of-the-week drama, and while each of these parts succeeds on its own, it doesn't really quite jell as a whole. Anne Hathaway, as a sexy sufferer of Parkinsons, is worth the price of admission—both for her acting and the considerable nudity she has on display. (7)

FAIR GAME—Naomi Watts plays real-life CIA agent Valerie Plame, whose cover was blown by certain White House officials out to discredit her husband (Sean Penn). I remember that I enjoyed it, but most of my specific memories about the film have already evaporated from my mind. (7)

MORNING GLORY—Ironically, even though the Valerie Plame movie has social relevance and high-caliber acting, it is this wispy, silly, ineffectual comedy that I recall all the details about. Harrison Ford is a grumpy, award-winning broadcast journalist (think Dan Rather) who reluctantly takes a position as the host of a TV morning show produced by novice Rachel McAdams. The movie is frightfully contrived, extremely silly and nearly impossible not to enjoy. McAdams is arguably the most beautiful of actresses working in movies today. (7)

HEREAFTER—It starts with a devastating and spectacular tsuami, one of the single best special-effects sequences I have ever seen. Director Clint Eastwood's movie, about a guy (Matt Damon) who communicates with the dead but doesn't really enjoy his gift, is a slow-moving affair, featuring three characters in different countries who have each been touched by death and who, after an extremely long wait, finally converge. Interesting, but overlong; and Damon's reluctance to use his amazing powers was never explained to my complete satisfaction. (7)

LET ME IN—Remake of a Swedish vampire movie; moderately entertaining, thanks to actress Chloe Moretz of Kick-Ass. (7)

SKYLINECloverfield meets War of the Worlds as a small group of L.A. dwellers cope with a terrifying alien invasion. Despite a truly horrible screenplay with laughable dialogue, it's worth seeing just for the monsters. (7)

STONE—No-nonsense prison parole official Robert DeNiro must decide the fate of loopy inmate Edward Norton, which proves tricky when Norton's sexy wife, Milla Jovovich, attempts to intervene. Intriguing premise, which ultimately suffers from a total lack of any sympathetic characters. (7)

THE AMERICAN—George Clooney is a hit man hiding out in an Italian village and playing the mattress mambo with hooker Violante Placido. Decent, but as with the previous entry, it's hard to truly care about any of the characters. (7)

BURLESQUE—This is the kind of terrible movie you check out just to see how bad it is. It did not disappoint in that respect (everything about it is either asinine or ludicrous), but Cher continues to shine as an actress. (5)


SUSPICION (1941)—Fun Hitchcock film about how Joan Fontaine marries a charming gambler (Cary Grant) who might just be plotting to bump her off for her money. (8)

SAW (2004)—This was one of a series of horror movies I viewed while sailing on my Royal Caribbean cruise of early November. A relentlessly gory and disgusting entry that launched the extremely successful series. This first chapter, at least, contains a good idea and a few decent twists. Not sure if I'll bother with any of the sequels. (8)

HOSTEL (2005)—People keep disappearing in Eli Roth's creepy and sadistic horror movie, set in a Slovakian city where you can torture kidnap victims at a price. Like Saw, it is disgusting and horrific, but it sure keeps you interested. (8)

SPLICE (2009)—A suspenseful sci-fi film that zips along at a breakneck pace. A pair of romantically involved scientists secretly cross-breed a human and animal named Dren, whom they perversely keep as part lab experiment, part pet, and part daughter. Alternately compelling, silly and wildly implausible, but always entertaining. Good SFX. Suggested sequel: Diet Splice. (8)

A PERSONAL AFFAIR (1953)—Having recently very much enjoyed the young Glynis Johns in The Card, I decided to check out this film from around the same time period. It's a low-key melodrama/mystery about how Johns falls in love with her clueless married schoolteacher (Leo Genn), then vanishes after being confronted about her feelings by Genn's wife (Gene Tierney). With the lovesick teenager missing, things start to look very bad for the teacher. This being the 1950s, all is happily resolved by the end. (8)

MR. DENNING DRIVES NORTH (1952)—I continue to plow through the John Mills filmography with this Hitchcockian thriller about a guy suspected for a murder he didn't commit. He must put the pieces of the puzzle while running from the cops. It's a very familiar plot, but Mills is never less than fascinating to watch onscreen. (8)

THE GAME (1997)—The phrase "laughably preposterous" gets thrown around a lot, but it definitely applies here. Michael Douglas is given a gift of a live-action "game," which he must play out in order to gain some sort of relevant epiphany, but the rules seem to entail putting his life in almost constant peril. The result is a movie about a game that becomes kind of a game itself, as the viewer tries to piece together exactly what is going on. Michael Douglas is very watchable, but the movie is so ludicrous that it's difficult to take seriously. (7)

THE THIRD MAN (1949)—Noirish adaptation of Graham Greene's novel about a man (Joseph Cotten) who investigates the mysterious death of his friend (Orson Welles) in Vienna. I wanted to like it more than I did; I never like these film noirs, and Cotten is one of my least-favorite actors. (6)

PEEPING TOM (1960)—British thriller about a twisted psychopath who likes to film women as he murders them; it was way ahead of its time when it was released, but it's lost a great deal of its impact after 50 years. (6)

MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY (1993)—There's nary a twist in Woody Allen's comedy-mystery, his first post-Mia movie. It's neither hilarious nor suspenseful—it's just about as mediocre as the poster for it would seem to suggest. Allen himself whines way too much in it. (6)

A CHILD IS WAITING (1963)—Teacher Judy Garland clashes with the principal of the school for retarded children. (Real retarded kids were used, and it's funny to hear them referred to as "retarded kids" way before the political consciousness deemed that a bad word.) Innovative, at least in 1963; a bit dull and overwrought today. (6)

CHINATOWN (1974) Landmark film-noir tribute starring Jack Nicholson as a private eye who investigates some excruciatingly boring goings-on related to the local water utility. "Vastly overrated" is putting it mildly—I guess I will never understand why people love this movie. (4)