Sunday, February 01, 2015

January 2015

I am now up to Season 8 of Frasier. I was watching the series pretty regularly at this point, but I have very little memory of most of the specific episodes and am greatly enjoying re-watching them all. I was especially excited to get to the point where Niles and Daphne finally come together, and I'm now past that point. I'm also continuing to chip away at the Kids in the Hall box set, and I enjoyed the limited-run TV series Galavant, a wonderfully romantic musical adventure...until the disappointing conclusion.
In January I read another Travis McGee novel (the best ones seem to be way behind me now) and started reading The Martian by Andy Weir, a fun sci-fi adventure that will be a Matt Damon movie this fall. This was also the month that I went full-bore crazy reading short stories by the late mystery author Henry Slesar, buying up old copies of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine on eBay and cross-referencing his stories against a master list I created (typically obsessive Bayne behavior).
Here are the movies I saw in January:

BIG EYES (2014)—Tim Burton is such a crazily hit-or-miss director for me. He has made movies I love (Sweeney Todd, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Corpse Bride) and an awful lot of movies I despise (the rest of them). I am delighted and relieved to add Big Eyes to the “good” pile. My family had those creepy Margaret Keane prints with the big-eyed waifs hanging on our walls when I was a kid. This biopic tells the backstory—about how her husband Walter (Chrisoph Waltz, always incredible) took credit for the work, and how Margaret (Amy Adams) slowly disengages from this lunatic. It’s a marvelous comedy-drama, written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who previously teamed with Burton on the equally bizarre biopic Ed Wood. (9)

FANTASTIC FOUR (2005)–With the reboot of Marvel’s comic-book superhero franchise coming this summer, I thought I would acquaint myself with the two previous outings, mostly because I love Michael Chiklis and Jessica Alba, albeit for completely different reasons. The first of these is enjoyable fluff, much campier than later Marvel outings (Thor, Iron Man) but not terrible if you’re in the mood for that kind of thing. Alba is a vision of loveliness, as always. (8)

FANTASTIC FOUR 2: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER (2007)—The FF sequel is marginally better than the first, but essentially the same popcorn time-filler. (8)

RUSSIAN DOLLS (2005)—Here’s the first sequel to 2002’s Spanish Apartment, which I viewed in December. These were on my radar due to the sublime talents of Audrey Tautou, who co-stars in all three movies. In this outing, the gang travels to Russia for a wedding. The film has a much different feel, with lots of split-screen and other effects, but the comedy-drama is just as engaging. (8)

CHINESE PUZZLE (2013)—The final (?) chapter in director C├ędric Klapisch’s romantic-comedy series is the best one, focusing more on the relationship between Xavier (Romain Duris) and Martine (Audrey Tautou) as some of the gang relocate to New York City. The film is especially endearing to me because of a scene where Tautou confronts the staff of a Chinese tea manufacturer and speaks perfect Mandarin. (9)

INTO THE WOODS (2014)—I enjoyed the film version of Stephen Sondheim’s stage success more than I did the Broadway version—at least for the first 75 minutes. The second act is a slog, quite depressing and not as fun musically. Meryl Streep makes a dandy witch, but the movie needs some editing. (6)

ABANDON SHIP! (1957)—Known as Seven Waves Away in the UK, the story is similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat—same basic deal (ship survivors in a lifeboat), but this one is just as thrilling, maybe even more so. Surviving ship officer Tyrone Power takes control, and has to make some extremely grim decisions about who should live or die in the overcrowded lifeboat. (Check out the original poster—uh, spoiler alert!) Great supporting players in this edge-of-your-seat yarn. (9)

LUCY (2014)—In director Luc Besson’s sci-fi action movie, a powerful drug transforms Scarlett Johannson into an unimaginably intelligent superhuman, allowing her to exact revenge on the drug smugglers who dosed her…and, well, to basically do anything she wants, including defy gravity, wave her hands and make people lose consciousness, etc. It’s all unbelievably ridiculous—it's never explained how Johannson can do all of this magical shit just by using more of her brain capacity—but it's suspenseful nevertheless. Nice to see gorgeous Analeigh Tipton (Damsels in Distress) in a small role. And why does Morgan Freeman have to be in EVERY SINGLE MOVIE? (9)

THE BOOK OF LIFE (2014)—If ever there was a movie that had more intriguing visual ideas, colors and style than the plot did, it’s this animated fantasy produced by Guillermo del Toro. With an impressive voice cast that includes Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum and Ron Perlman, among many others, the movie is never anything short of dazzling—virtually every frame is an artistic masterpiece, an eye-popping delight, with astonishing character concepts and scenery. But the story about a romance that manages to overcome death mostly bored me, and much of the movie’s afterlife mythos is utterly incomprehensible. Thus, it’s very hard to grade. I so wish that the story had interested me more. (7)

THE IMMIGRANT (2013)—After having declared Two Days, One Night the best movie of 2014, I was compelled to check out star Marion Cotillard’s previous film, a 1920s-era story about how Cotillard and her sick sister arrive on Ellis Island, having fled war-torn Poland. Things turn out to be pretty grim in the U.S. for the pair; the sister is quarantined indefinitely for health problems, and Cotillard falls in with suave but sinister Joaquin Phoenix, who forces her into a life of prostitution. Melodrama galore ensues. It’s a mostly sad movie, but gorgeously photographed and perfectly evocative of life in New York during the early 20th century. Cotillard is excellent—I'll be checking out more of her performances soon. (9)