Monday, December 30, 2013

Review: Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks
A feel-good movie about Walt Disney's (Tom Hanks) 20 year battle to adapt P.L. Travers' (Emma Thompson) Mary Poppins to film.

Flashing between the 20th (and final) year of Disney's attempt to get the rights to Mary Poppins and the childhood of Helen 'Ginty' Goff aka P.L. Travers, the movie has a bit of an identity crises as to whether or not it wants to be a full life-encompassing biopic or a a more focused narrative on the battle of wills between Disney and Travers.  It never really successfully juggles the two, although it does manage a rather powerful moment where P.L. Travers flashes back to a speech made by her banker father, Travers Goff (Colin Farrell) while the Sherman brothers (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) sing "Fidelity Fiduciary Bank."  Otherwise, the cutting between the two seems rather arbitrary, as if director John Lee Hancock was worried the audience might forget what they've seen if he waited to long to return.

The movie is still enjoyable, despite this, mostly because of the performances given throughout.  Emma Thompson, especially, gives a spirited turn as the sour P.L. Travers.  Many of her line deliveries are incredibly cutting, yet you still laugh due to how well she times them.  Her scenes with the Sherman brothers and co-writer Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) are amongst the films best, with her constantly dampening their collective enthusiasm while the struggle to work with her constant demands.  B.J. Novak, as Robert Sherman, shines the best of the three, with his constant wordless reactions to Travers being some of the strongest supporting work in the film entire.

Tom Hanks gives a much more human portrayal of Walt Disney than one would expect, given that Disney is the one that made this film.  A scene involving him giving out pre-signed autographs while walking the part with Travers is particularly surprising, given how tacky it makes Walt look.  The movie still pushes the 'magic of Disney' brand despite this, but it is still a more honest portrayal than I thought we would get.

Given how strong the 'Making of' sections of the movie are, it isn't the least bit surprising that many consider the 'Early Life' scenes to be amongst the weakest.  I would argue otherwise (I think Colin Farrell does a rather nice job of a man who hates his job and turns to alcohol while still loving and doting on his children), except that tonally they take you out of what is mostly a feel-good comedy and take you into a rather depressing look at childhood neglect.  The problem isn't how the scenes are played or written, it's that they are there at all.  They don't work, and the director and/or the screenwriters should have either cut them or reduced their length considerably (at just over 2 hours, the film could've been shorter without suffering).

Still, despite its many flaws, the movie is an enjoyable look at the making of Mary Poppins (and I think many would want to watch said movie after seeing this).  6.5 out of 10.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Review Catchup (Pt. 4)

The final 3!  Woohoo!

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
I saw this movie for one reason only:  To see Peter Jackson do his special effects thing on a dragon.  I was not disappointed.

But, to give a slightly fuller review, this movie is more than the dragon.  It is a considerable step up, much more action packed and character driven than the first movie.  Instead of just focusing on Bilbo, and to a lesser extent Thorin, we get some bits on Fili, Kili, and Balin - not to mention newcomers (kinda) Legolas, Tauriel, and Bard.

The movie does make you wait to get to the dragon:  First the merry band of dwarves (plus one hobbit) meets Beorn, a shapeshifter, then they run into giant spiders (because there are always giant spiders), then they ride some barrels down a river as they escape Thranduil (Lee Pace), and finally they run into Bard (Luke Evans), who sneaks them into Lake Town (much to his later dismay).  Then, the dragon.

While everything before the dragon is enjoyable (indeed, the Wood Elves' Kingdom is great), Smaug is in the title, and it is Smaug we want to see.  Once Bilbo (Martin Freeman) descends into the ruined Dwarven kingdom in The Lonely Mountain to steal the Arkenstone from Smaug (voiced and motion-captured by Benedict Cumberbatch), the movie kicks it into high gear, and it was everything I wanted in a dragon-fighting sequence.  And even better (maybe not), they stopped midway through and will finish it in the third movie a year from now!

Damned cocktease of a movie (I would totally watch it again just for Smaug).  7.0 out of 10.

American Hustle
The movie is a bit of a mess, flirting with greatness, but never quite achieving it.  More of an actor's showcase than anything else, there are worse ways to spend two and a half hours.

American Hustle is a somewhat (mostly?) fictional retelling of the ABSCAM scandal in the 70's that got a whole bunch of Congressmen arrested for corruption.  When the movie focuses on this and the many ways it can go wrong, it is pretty amazing.  However, the movie wanders down plot threads unnecessarily and barely manages to hold everything together at points.

Really, everything to love about this movie involves the acting.  Christian Bale is phenomenal (please stop torturing your body though), Jennifer Lawrence is great as his scenery-chewing wife, Bradley Cooper slowly comes unhinged as the FBI agent who keeps going for bigger and bigger targets, and Jeremy Renner is lovably corrupt as the mayor whom Cooper's Richie DiMaso initially targets.  Even the bit parts get some love, with special mentions going to Elisabeth Rohm as Mayor Politio's wife and Colleen Camp as a cat-crazed FBI agent.

The true standout, however, is Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser/Lady Edith Greensley.  And she really should be credited twice, because Adams fully differentiates between the two identities during the course of the movie, and the scenes where she goes back and forth between the two are a marvel to watch.  Lawrence may be the easier one to love, but Adams is giving the better, more nuanced performance.

David O. Russell has had quite a string of movies lately (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and now this) and is obviously gifted with actors.  His direction here is solid, and I think that, much like 2001's Moulin Rouge!, the fact that the movie feels like it could fall apart at the seams at any moment is an intentional choice on the part of the director.

A solid film, if a bit messy.  8.0 out of 10

A black and white, silent film from Spain, this outside-the-box telling of Snow White is a must-see for cinephiles.

Blancanieves sets the story of Snow White in (what I assume to be) old time Spain.  Carmen (the titular Blancanieves, played in her youth by Sofia Oria and by Macarena Garcia once she is a teen/young adult) is the daughter of famed Matador Antonio Villalta (Daniel Gimenez Cacho).  Antonio is paralyzed from the waste down during a bullfight the same day as Carmen as born (killing her birthmother, played by Inma Cuesta).  Carmen goes and lives with Dona Coñcha, her grandmother (Angela Molina) while he recovers, and Antonio falls in love with and marries his nurse, Encarna (Maribel Verdu).

Encarna swiftly takes control of the household and, once Doña Concha dies, Carmen - abusing both her stepdaughter and paralyzed husband while spending his vast wealth on whatever she desires.  She soon tires of both.  After successfully killing Antonio, she sends her lover to kill Carmen.  She ends up being rescued by 6 dwarven bullfighters with no memory of who she is.

All of this is told with minimal dialogue, and you do not get lost once in the entire endeavor.  Every now and then some exposition is thrown up on the screen, but it is used sparingly.  All of the actors give stellar performances, with special mention going to Maribel Verdu, who seizes upon her role and gives a full-bodied performance of careless evil.  The direction is solid, with nothing overtly spelled out ahead of time (despite the tale being well known across multiple languages) and smart asides and character details filling the screen throughout.

A thoroughly imaginative retelling of a classic, with more soul than any of the more recent 'updates' have managed.  9.0 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Review Catchup (Part 3)

3 more knocked out.

The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire
A substantial improvement over the first one, but still not what it could have been.

Anchored by the better-than-the-movie-deserves performance of Jennifer Lawrence, this sequel thankfully doesn't feel the need to recap the previous movie, but still falls into the same trap as the first where it over-explains everything in extraneous scenes featuring President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman).  Yet again, valuable world-building is cut out for this unnecessary exposition and, even worse, it lessens the threat Snow exudes in his actual scenes from the book.

However, the world-building that does occur is great:  Katniss and Peeta's trip to the Capitol is filled with decadence (the Costume Design, in particular is great) and the best parts of the movie come during this sequence.  It's during this part that we meet Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Johanna Mason (Jena Malone), along with Mags (Lynn Cohen), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), and Wiress (Amanda Plummer).  I wish more time has been spent on these characters (Johanna in particular - Malone is fantastic in the role) as opposed to cutaways to Snow/Plutarch, but all the actors make the most of their material.

Once the actual Hunger Games start, the pace quickens (though we still get those damn cutaways to Snow).  A few glaring plot holes are in this part (if keeping Katniss alive is so important... why do they keep almost killing her?), but it's better-shot than the Games in the first movie.  They do still skirt around the Katniss-as-killer aspect, however.

A step in the right direction, but I worry if they will keep moving forward for the last part where things get much more violent.  6.5 out of 10.

If Catching Fire left me cold, Frozen warmed me right up.  While not quite as good as the hyperbole would suggest (it's better than Tangled, but not quite as good as anything from the Disney Renaissance), it is still a great way to spend an hour and a half.  Especially in 3-D.  The movie follows Anna (Kristin Bell), a young princess, as she goes to retrieve her sister Elsa (Idina Menzel), who was born with magical powers that let her create snow and ice.

This is first Disney animated feature to have a woman as a co-director, and one can't help but feel that perspective enriched the movie as a whole.  This isn't your typical Disney fairy tale.  It's a bit too on the nose as far as the slight mocking of prior Disney films, but it doesn't hurt the film.

The movie moves along at a brisk pace, has some great musical numbers ("Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" is a great passage-of-time number, and "Let It Go" is the main reason to see the movie in 3-D.)  The comic relief provided by Olaf the Snowman works well within the context of the story (the trailers featuring him were my biggest concern about the movie as a whole) and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) is a great foil to Anna's enthusiasm.

The real standout is Idina Menzel's Elsa.  In some ways, the movie might have been stronger had it focused on her, but that might have been too much of a good thing.

Not amongst the top tier of Disney movies, but definitely up high.  8.5 out of 10.

Not really sure I can add much to the discussion of this movie, coming into it so late.  Sandra Bullock was quite good in Alfonso Cuaron's auteur piece.  George Clooney was totally phoning it in though.  9.0 out of 10.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Review Catchup (Pt. 2)

3 more movies I should've written about awhile ago.  Whoops!

Drinking Buddies
This is an under-seen gem that I will be recommending to anyone who will listen.  Across-the-board strong, naturalistic performances coupled with a screenplay by Joe Swanberg (also serving as director) that trusts the intelligence of the audience makes this one of the year's best movies, period.

The movie focuses on friends Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) as they work at an independent brewery, go out drinking afterwords, and interact with their respective partners (Ron Livingston's Chris paired with Kate, and Anna Kendrick's Jill with Luke).  What follows is a realistic look at a platonic friendship that faces a challenge when one of the two (in this case, Kate) ends up single.

Of the four principals, it is hard to single one out as best in show, as all are hitting their scenes with refreshingly realistic portrayals of actual people (as opposed to the quippy RomCom dialogue - not that this is any form of a RomCom).  Wilde might be best for so believably playing Kate's bad qualities without making the character unlikeable, or maybe Johnson for his irrational irritation (and Luke's understanding that it is that) with Kate for hooking up with a coworker.  Livingston and Kendrick both provide great support in their scenes, never coming across as standard RomCom villains (maybe this is a RomCom and I just don't accept it?).  And the final scene, played between Wilde and Johnson, is a beauty of wordless dialogue that gives us the ending we need, as opposed to the ending we want.

Between this and Frances Ha, I'm wondering if I am becoming a mumblecore fan.  9.0 out of 10.

Frances Ha
Speaking of, here is another great, naturalistic movie about a 27-year-old having an early-life crises.

Shot in black in white and starring Greta Gerwig (who shares writing credit with director Noah Baumbach), Frances Ha follows dancer Frances (Gerwig) who faces a bit of a crises when her best friend and roommate Sophie (Mickey Summer) decides to move out.  Frances moves from place to place while struggling to stay connected with Sophie, find a job that involves dancing, and figure out what she wants to do with her life in general.

This movie is really the Greta Gerwig show, and she gives one of the best leading performances of the year in it (he says, despite the pitifully low number of movies he has seen).  Frances is at times incredibly frustrating, hypocritical, selfish, and confusing and Gerwig never once lets her be irredeemably unlikeable.  Michael Zegen provides charming support as Benji, one of Frances' roommates early on, and Summer has a good report with Gerwig, making their scenes as best friends utterly believable.

Director Baumbach keeps a spontaneous energy throughout the proceedings, and every shot feels right, with interesting angles highlighting various encounters between Gerwig and whomever is sharing the screen with her at that time.  I've seen the complaint that the narrative drifts, but that is a credit to Baumbach, as Frances herself is drifting through her life trying to figure out what to hold onto.

The only real complaint I had was an odd music choice during one of Frances' wordless scenes walking New York.  And that is rather small compared to the film as a whole.

Easily amongst the best movies I have seen in recent years.  9.5 out of 10.

The Place Beyond the Pines
A moody ensemble piece that follows two men and how their lives affect their sons, The Place Beyond the Pines is a great drama with solid performances.

Following a 3 act structure where each act focuses on a different character, this movie ties together well and moves at slow, deliberate pace that may turn off some expecting a more action-packed movie.

Act one follows Luke (Ryan Gosling) as he tries to get involved in his son's life, eventually turning to bank robbery to get money for him.  This leads to a confrontation with police officer Avery (Bradley Cooper), who the second act follows.

The third act follows the friendship between the sons of Luke and Avery, Jason (Dane DeHaan) and AJ (Emory Cohen) and the inevitable confrontation that follows.

The movie feels like a modern-day Greek tragedy, as the sins of the father fall on the sons, with gut choices in what turn out to be life-defining moments shape the structure of the film.  Tonally, the movie has the feel of inevitable sadness, which works well with the screenplay.

Performances are strong across the board, with special mention to Emory Cohen as Avery's son AJ.  His performance as a spoiled rich kid who thinks he is hardcore will annoy some, but the character is supposed to grate on the nerves, which makes Cohen's performance somewhat brave in that he doesn't try to be likeable, just charming enough to get people to do what he wants.

Dane DeHaan also deserves mention for so believably playing an introverted, slightly damaged high school kid (DeHaan himself is 26 years old) who longs to know about his father.

Throughout the film, various well-known actors play what amount to bit parts (though the interactions with said character carry repercussion felt throughout the film).  Harris Yulin, Ray Liotta, and Rose Byrne are my particular favorites, but the richness of all the characters makes picking favorites an enjoyable exercise where there isn't really a bad choice.

All in all, a heavy drama that holds your attention with its strong performances.  8.0 out of 10.

Review Catchup (Pt. 1)

Lots of movies to cover, so we'll get right to it.

A solid effort that doesn't quite reach the level of the original, this remake (or reimagining, if you prefer) puts more focus on Carrie, Sue, and Miss Desjardin with less on Chris and her boyfriend.  Still, it fails to differentiate itself from the original (Lawrence D. Cohen gets top writing credit despite not working on the film) and one can sense quite a bit of producer influence on director Kimberly Peirce.  The changes made do work and hint at a better take on the material, but it falls short of its potential for most of the running time - only coming alive towards the end as we get to see a bit of destruction hit the town at large instead of just the high school.  Chloe Grace Moretz doesn't hit her stride until Carrie's powers are fully unleashed, failing to come across as shy and introverted.  I wish that Elle Fanning had been cast instead, and maybe had Moretz as bully Chris.  Not that Portia Doubleday did a bad job as Carrie's nemesis, but it would probably had helped the film as a whole to recast those two key part.

Gabriella Wilde as Sue Snell and Ansel Elgort as Tommy Ross are both excellent in their roles.  Nothing against Amy Irving, who was quite fine as Sue in the original, but the additional focus given to Sue gave Wilde much more to chew on, and she sells the conflicted teen wrestling with her own guilt quite well.  Elgort, in particular, is amazingly charming as Tommy; one hopes he gets more roles since he has charisma and presence in spades.

The two main adult characters, Miss Desjardin (Judy Greer) and Margaret White (Julianne Moore) are a mixed bag.  I can't decide if the lack of real authority from Desjardin during the scene where she scolds the girls for their treatment of Carrie is intentional (thus showing the character's powerlessness to stop the bullying) or not (Greer comes across much stronger in virtually every other scene).  Moore, however, shines as Carrie's mother.  If Piper Laurie's performance is the equivalent of Grand Opera in the original, Moore's is the equivalent of an intimate black box production.  There is nothing grand about this damaged woman:  she is every day, human horror.  Yet there was palpable tension when Carrie returned home from the Prom and Moore lurked in the background.

Technically, the movie was fine, with a slight bit of overly-done CGI during the destruction of the Prom.  The best-in-show part would definitely be when Chris flies into the windshield of her car when trying to run Carrie down.  But otherwise, most of the tech was not noteworthy, which is quite surprising given the cinematography of Boys Don't Cry.

The original Carrie is, to me, a solid 7.  Since this one isn't quite as good, but still rather enjoyable, I would place it at 6.5.

 Much Ado About Nothing
Joss Whedon's modern take on William Shakespeare's play is funny, poignant, and crowd-pleasing.  Shot in black and white at Whedon's residence, the intimacy of the direction works well with the performances, creating an immersive slice-of-life tale.

The single greatest change from the play is the allusion to a prior affair between Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker) that changes this from two stories of first love (the other couple being Fran Kranz's Claudio and Jillian Morgese's Hero) to one of first love and reunited love, creating a parallel between the two that enriches the experience.

Acker is easily best in show.  Whether trading barbs, comically ease-dropping, or bittersweetly recalling her prior experience with Benedick, Acker's portrayal of Beatrice is fully realized.  Denisof ably plays his part, nailing the physical comedy, but falling somewhat behind Acker when it comes to the romantic and dramatic parts.

Outside of those two performances, no one really stands out.  Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk are funny enough as the comic relief, and Sean Maher is suitably slimy in the manipulative role of Don John, but none of them reach quite the same level as the two leads.  There is something to be said for nice, solid supporting work all around, but I was really hoping for a standout instead of one or two moments of amusement.

Utterly enjoyable, if a bit frivolous.  7.5 out of 10.

I am not a sports movie guy.  And of all sports, I think racing is second only to golfing amongst the most boring sports to watch.  Which makes my clear enjoyment of this movie something of a marvel.

Focusing on the 1976 Formula season, and the rivalry between James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) as they both compete for the championship that season, the movie has a quick pace and engaging performances.

What is exceptionally great about the film is how well it juggles the lives of the two racers.  Bruhl is the standout of the film, managing to play Lauda's worse traits while still keeping him likable.  Despite this being Hemsworth's movie (as Hunt is the eventual champion of the 1976 season), Bruhl commands it:  One almost wishes the movie had exclusively focused on him.

Which isn't to say Hemsworth is bad.  Far from it, as a matter of fact:  Hemsworth proves his up-and-coming status with a charismatic and carefree performance.  There is a reason I say one 'almost' wishes the movie focused on Lauda.  Without Hemsworth's Hunt, so much of the lived-in energy would disappear.  And despite being the warmer, more fun-loving of the two racers, Hemsworth never fails to nail his dramatic moments, especially during his final seen with Suzy (Olivia Wilde) and his meeting with Lauda after he returns to the season.

The movie has some great makeup and costuming work:  in particular, the burn makeup on Bruhl post-accident is amazing, and the movie feels like the 70s in a way not many have managed.  The editing is another strong technical aspect, keeping up the frenetic feel of the racing while not leaving one confused as to what is going on.

A solid, satisfying flick.  8.5 out of 10.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Supporting Actress 1980: The Performances

This month's Supporting Actress Smackdown went with the year 1980.  And the nominees are....

Eileen Brennan in Private Benjamin

Eva Le Gallienne in Resurrection

Cathy Moriarty in Raging Bull

Diana Scarwid in Inside Moves

Mary Steenburgen in Melvin and Howard

The Rankings:

In 5th Place:  Cathy Moriarty, Raging Bull
Moriarty tries to spin gold from this underwritten part, but aside from a few moments early on, she cannot overcome the movie's focus on Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro in a freaking phenomenal performance) and, to a lesser degree Joey LaMotta (Joe Pesci, showing what he can do when given a role with meat to it).  I felt like something special was on the way early on when Moriarty slowly showed the audience Vickie's growing infatuation with Jake.  However, once the relationship turns sour due to Jake's jealousy, Moriarty isn't given anything by the script (or, if she was, it went on the cutting room floor) to explain why Vickie stayed with Jake - especially after Jake punches her in the face after assaulting Joey for an imagined affair between the two.  If anything, Moriarty nicely shows the tension and frustration Vickie is trying to hide from Jake, which helps make her finally leaving him less sudden.  A thankless part, Moriarty does add some extra layers to the performance, but the movie itself isn't interested in the character - and Moriarty doesn't do enough to get the audience interested in Vickie either.

In 4th Place:  Eileen Brennan, Private Benjamin
Brennan has a quirky screen presence that often lends itself to outside-the-box character choices that ultimately add richness to the people she plays.  That said, I don't think she did enough with this character.  As Capt. Doreen Lewis, Brennan plays a rather stock character (Boot Camp Instructor from Hell), and Brennan does have some rather nice moments (I especially love her early scene where she is picked up by the rival squadron's leader) and ably plays the part, but she seems to have softened the quirkiness to play more of the 'straight woman' to Goldie Hawn's Private Benjamin (and if I ever decide to rewatch this movie, it will be for Hawn's performance, which I loved).  While this choice works in the movie as a whole, I missed that essential Brennan-ness that made her stand out as a performer.  When Capt. Lewis appears later on in the movie, you don't get quite the thrill that you should, and I find that terribly disappointing.

In 3rd Place:  Mary Steenburgen, Melvin and Howard
It kills me to place this performance at number 3.  Steenburgen is fantastic as Lynda Dummar, Melvin Dummar's first wife.  She delivers a subtly funny turn as a frustrated woman who just wishes her husband would get his act together.  Some might mistake Lynda as a flake, but Steenburgen knows better and gives a woman who is smart, but not beholden to what society expects from her (at one point Lynda tears off her uniform - with nothing underneath, I might add - and calmly quits her job, calling goodbyes to the strippers onstage).  Every choice Steenburgen makes works, and she is sorely missed when Melvin (Paul Le Mat in a solid, if standard, performance) buys the car/boat that causes Lynda to divorce him a second time.  Her late scenes, once she learns about Melvin's good fortune, could easily have been played in an unflattering light, but Steenburgen maintains Lynda's dignity, and her final scene sending the children to spend the summer with Melvin is beautiful in its bittersweet happiness.  It fell just slightly short compared to the two ahead of it.

In 2nd Place:  Diana Scarwid, Inside Moves
This performance is a sneak attack:  Louise appears to be a background character, more 'one of the guys' than an immediate love interest for Roary (John Savage in a weird, but ultimately enjoyable, performance).  Using this to her advantage, Scarwid slowly builds Louise's growing affection and love for Roary while still staying somewhat distant from him.  The nuances of the performance pay dividends when Roary finally makes his move on Louise - Scarwid is heartbreaking as she admits that she loves him, but is unable to be with him because of her own fear.  In this brief scene (which, if this had been the last we had seen of Louise, would still be enough to give Scarwid this slot)  Scarwid manages to convey the love Louise feels for Roary, her fear of how she would be judged if she was dating a crippled man, her frustration with herself for having that fear, and her guilt at turning him down almost entirely through her eyes.  It's rich work in a role that could just be a standard girlfriend part, and she makes the movie worth seeing almost entirely on her own.

In 1st Place:  Eva Le Galliene, Resurrection
It's funny, I could discuss what I loved about the prior two performances over and over again, but what I loved most about this performance doesn't really lend itself to long discussion:  it's heartfelt simplicity.  Le Gallienne plays Grandma Pearl (grandmother to Ellen Burstyn's Edna), the matriarch of the family that Edna goes to live with after the accident that kills her husband and nearly kills herself.  Le Gallienne isn't given that many flashy moments, but instead crafts a fully-realized character from the smaller moments:  holding Edna as she starts crying while looking at photo albums, telling Edna to use her newfound powers to help others.  It is, in essence, a truly supporting performance - adding little bits of character to her scenes without showboating or pulling focus.  When called upon for her big moment towards the end of the film as Edna moves away, Le Gallienne uses every small bit of character established in her earlier scenes to deliver one of the most heartfelt and heartbreaking goodbyes I have ever watched.  Truly a phenomenal performance.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Supporting Actress 1952: The Movies

A funny thing about how I would rank the Supporting Actresses of 1952 is that it is wildly different from how I would rank the movies themselves.  So here are some quick thoughts (and rankings, from least favorite to most beloved) on the movies that the nominated actresses were in.

With a Song in My Heart
I didn't dislike this movie, not really, I just thought it was a little too forgettable.  It tells the life story of Jane Froman (or, at least, her life up until the movie was made) and it comes across as more of a 'Greatest Hits' biopic when a focus on one aspect of her life might have been a stronger choice.  The movie plays like it is building up to the plane crash she was in during World War II, but keeps getting sidelined by marital drama that is, quite frankly, terribly uninteresting.  In fact, the movie is at its very best while following Froman's recovery from the crash, but even there it has marital drama forced in where it isn't needed.  Susan Hayward and Thelma Ritter are both quite strong in their roles, often fighting against the glib performance of David Wayne and the personality-free performance of Rory Calhoun (although, to be fair, the movie asks Calhoun to do very little).  With a sharper focus, this movie could have been great, but instead must settle for being 'just alright.'   6.5 out of 10

Singin' in the Rain
As I mentioned back when I wrote my initial Revisited post, I feel like I should love this movie more than I actually do.  The technical skill of Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor's dancing is excellent, and Jean Hagen gives my favorite performance of the nominated supporting actresses that year, but the movie is lacking that special something to make me love it.  Structurally, I feel like the movie wanders off course far too often (most especially in the 'Gotta Dance!' sequence, which feels like it belongs in an entirely different film) and doesn't really make up for it with memorable songs.  The characters (sans O'Connor and Hagen) are inconsistently written, and the movie takes an awfully long time to figure out what story it wants to tell.  For me, watching the film is akin to looking at a celebrated piece of art and wondering what all the fuss is about.  I do give it a higher score than Come Back, Little Sheba, but I would much rather watch that film a second time than give this one a third go-around.  7.5 out of 10.

Come Back, Little Sheba
This movie was the hardest for me to find (I ended up buying a DVD online that has a case covered in Korean and a default setting of Korean subtitles, so that was fun), but well worth the effort.  Essentially a two-person movie with Burt Lancaster and Shirley Booth (although Terry Moore is there to occasionally give them another person to talk to) delving into marital drama that is actually worth following (as opposed to With a Song in My Heart).  Shirley Booth, frankly, is pretty fucking phenomenal in the role of Lola.  The character comes across as slightly grating at first, but as the film goes on you see all the little things that led her to her current state, mainly her recovering alcoholic husband.  Lancaster is solid as Doc, although I wish he had given more for Booth to play off of instead of the more reserved performance we did get. The big scene towards the end when Doc falls off the wagon is built to beautifully by Booth, but Lancaster - although effective - doesn't really set up Doc for the fall.  The movie doesn't quite overcome its stage-ness, but does manage to get characters out of the house a few times at least.  Not a bad film at all.  7.0 out of 10.

Moulin Rouge
Now here is a movie I quite enjoyed.  Focusing on Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's life, it makes the smart decision to focus on just the last few years instead of trying to sum everything up in a two hour movie.  Jose Ferrer plays Henri, and the performance is a study in subtle suffering.  Everything about the performance rings true, and I feel an immediate need to bump High Noon to the top of my Netflix queue so I can see the performance that somehow beat this one.  What's really nice is that all of the supporting performances (save the one that inexplicably got the actual Oscar nomination) are also strong, resulting in a movie that is a pleasure to watch almost from start to finish.  In particular, I enjoyed Suzanne Flon as Myriamme Hyam, a woman who falls in love with Henri late in life.  In fact, had she been nominated, she might have been my pick over Jean Hagen.  8.5 out of 10

The Bad and the Beautiful
Probably the best part of this project has been seeing movies I hadn't even heard of and discovering what might be a new favorite movie.  The Bad and the Beautiful hold the record for most Oscar wins without a Best Picture nomination, and it is rather shocking that it didn't make that particular shortlist.  This movie features great performances, an intriguing story, and a rather smart (if misordered) set-up:  An actress, a director, and a writer are all called by an associate of Jonathan Shields (played by Kirk Douglas) to help him make a movie since he no longer has the money or the clout to make it on his own.  All three feel that they have been wronged by him and the movie flashes back to each incident that caused the feeling.  None of the sections feel like they go on too long, and the 'in-betweens' are just as engaging as the flashbacks.  The only minor quibble is the order in which they tell the stories:  It goes Director-Actress-Writer when it probably would have been better to reverse it - especially as what ruins Jonathan is his taking over as director on a film and doing a terrible job of it.  But aside from that bit of 'story-smoothing,' I have no other critiques.  9.5 out of 10.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Supporting Actress 1952: The Performances

So, Nathaniel at The Film Experience is restarting Stinkylulu's Supporting Actress Smackdown series, which is great, because I loved it.  He picked the year 1952, and I dutifully watched the 5 nominated performances so that I may rank them and offer my thoughts.

And the nominees are...

 Gloria Grahame in The Bad and the Beautiful

Jean Hagen in Singin' in the Rain

Colette Marchand in Moulin Rouge

Terry Moore in Come Back, Little Sheba

Thelma Ritter in With a Song in My Heart

The Rankings:

In fifth place:  Colette Marchand, Moulin Rouge
Good grief, this performance.  Marchand plays Marie Charlet, a street walker who becomes friends with and (maybe?) loves Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (Jose Ferrer, in a phenomenal performance) after he rescues her from a policeman one night.  I can see what the role was supposed to be:  a volatile woman whose high and lows are quite trying on Henri, but has an air about her that nevertheless enthralls him.  However, in Marchand's performance, it is impossible to figure out why anyone would want to spend more than five minutes with the woman:  Marie comes across as genuinely spiteful, with no soft emotions whatsoever.  It's a paper-thin characterization where the quick changes in temperament come across more as 'The Script says I am ANGRY now' as opposed to 'Henri just offended me' and what is meant to being cloying sweetness comes across as fake and unnatural.  In a film filled with subtle, nuanced performances, she threatens to derail it with an aggressive attack on the character.  Easily outshone by the others in her own film (Zsa Zsa Gabor, Suzanne Flon, and Katherine Kath), its a wonder she got this nomination at all.

In fourth place:  Gloria Grahame, The Bad and the Beautiful
Graham plays Rosemary Bartlow, the Southern belle wife of Dick Powell's James Lee Bartlow.  She convincingly plays the flaky but loving wife, but there is very little for her to do in the performance except interrupt her husband's working and be awestruck by the Big City and all of its magic.  It's not a bad performance, but hardly noteworthy and more of a cameo (which, if they are going to nominate a barely-there performance, why not Elaine Stewart, who gave a much more vivid and breathed-in performance?).  In fact, the role is so small and inconsequential, I'm not quite sure how it got noticed, much less won the trophy that year.  And maybe it's because I am from the South, but her accent grated.

In third place:  Terry Moore, Come Back, Little Sheba
Moore plays Marie Buckholder, a young college student who boards with married couple Doc and Lola Delaney (played by a solid Burt Lancaster and a fantastic Shirley Booth).  The character exists more as a plot device:  her sole purpose is to be fixated upon by Doc.  She has her own scenes of being courted and interacts with just Lola at parts, but this sketch of a character doesn't seem fully realized - and a tad self-absorbed.  Like Grahame, there isn't much for her to do, but Moore fills out the details of the character better, though this is an easier task given the amount of screen time she gets compared to the former.  However, she doesn't make the character interesting (or innocent) enough for Doc to fixate on her.  She doesn't overplay anything, and does create a few nice character moments, but ultimately it is an unfulfilling performance overshadowed by the two lead characters.

In second place:  Thelma Ritter, With a Song in My Heart
Ritter plays Clancy, the nurse who first takes care (and eventually travels with to take care of) Susan Hayward's Jane Froman.  Ritter fills the role with emotion, and - more importantly compared to Grahame and Moore - feels like a necessary and irreplaceable role/performance for the film.  Far too little of the film focuses on Froman's plane crash recovery, but Ritter and Hayward both play these meaty scenes as if the movie depended on it - Clancy's comic relief works against the seriousness of what Froman's going through, but Ritter convincingly makes a sudden shift to drama during the darkest moments of the film - her 'I guess you don't have the guts' speech is a clip-worthy moment where she hits all cylinders to zero in on the humanity of the character and sell the depth of the friendship that has developed between the two.  Sadly, this great work keeps getting interrupted by the marital drama that director Walter Lang apparently thought was more interesting, but is ultimately less satisfying to watch.  Given a sharper focus, Ritter could easily have fought for the win.

And the Angry Gay's favorite performance from 1952 is Jean Hagen, Singin' in the Rain
Has there ever been a performance that so believeably came across as both cunning and dumb at the same time?  Hagen plays Lina Lamont, the silent film actress whose real voice is so awful that Debbie Reynold's Kathy Selden is brought in to dub over the performance once they decide to make it a talking picture.  Hagen is mostly around for comedic relief (her delivery of 'I liked it!' after the disastrous premiere of The Dueling Cavalier cracks me up every single time) but she also provides the antagonism for the film's second half, and she walks the tightrope of keeping Lina dimwitted, but conniving enough to steal all credit from Kathy once the film is complete.  If at any point it came across as unbelievable, the film would start to fall apart, but Hagen nails it.  The performance is so far above everyone else in the category, it is hard to believe she didn't waltz away with the win.  A stellar turn.

Next:  A comparison of the movies represented in the categories.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Short Reviews: 2013 Horror (plus Pacific Rim)

Pacific Rim
This movie deserved to be a much bigger hit than it was.  I'm not sure if the Transformer movies and their extreme suckitude kept people away (though I doubt that, given their massive box office) or if the competition at the time was just too much (Despicable Me 2, Monsters University, The Heat, and Grown Ups 2 all came out either the weekend before, or the same weekend).  Either way, this movie is limping to $100 million at the domestic box office when it deserves way better.  The plot is fairly basic:  otherwordly monsters come out of a rift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (hence the title) and humanity builds giant robots to fight them.  It explains the technology well, the characters aren't cardboard cutouts, there is a sense of the toll taken on the populations around the Pacific Rim - it has everything that lesser movies that were box office triumphs didn't have.  Rinko Kikuchi is my personal pick for best in show, although it was nice to see Idris Elba get what is essentially a co-lead role.  I can't think of any one being a weak link in the film, the writing was good, and the action was a joy to watch.  The special effects were solid, with my favorite work being the underwater battle.  9.0 out of 10.

 Dark Skies
This review might as well be called Poli's Problems with Modern Horror, Part 1:  Someone took a great idea, some creepy sequences, and some solid acting and decided to just shit all over it.  This movie could have been so much better than it was, and I cannot decide if the problem was that writer/director Scott Stewart had too much producer influence, or not enough.  Either way, anything worthwhile in this movie is matched by and surpassed by something stupid or insulting that makes the whole endeavor not worth the time.  Keri Russell gives a fairly solid performance that deserved a better movie around it.  However, the teenage character (played by Dakota Goyo) is the blandest bland that ever blanded, the younger son (portrayed by Kadan Rockett) is everything bad about child actors, and poor Josh Hamilton (as the father) is given the full cliche for his part, so any worthwhile acting is going to be lost amongst the shitty, shitty script.  J.K. Simmons briefly appears as an alien expert, and he adds just enough to make the character interesting without going over the top, but since they felt they needed something 'quirky' about the General Exposition character, they made him a crazy cat man.  And they needed to end it about 5 minutes before they did.  Instead, we get a mini-epilogue of the family post-abduction (I won't say which of the family is gone) moving into a new place that defies any logic and should have had noticeable problems on the written page - well before the filming.  4.5 out of 10.

Or, Poli's Problems with Modern Horror, Part 2: More Ranting.  One of my biggest pet peeves with modern horror is that they make so many of the characters unlikeable (so you don't feel bad when they die) or just plain bland (for the same reason as above, plus they don't want the bad guy to be overshadowed).  Jessica Chastain (like Keri Russell in Dark Skies) gives this movie a much better performance than it deserves, but cannot save the overall film.  The basic premise itself has a huge plothole:  Have the girls eaten nothing but cherries for 5 years with no health problems upon returning to civilization?  Was there a period in between that was never referred to?  I probably shouldn't care (the scriptwriters obviously didn't), but it seems like a rather gaping plot hole to start the film with.  Later in the film, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau's character has a dream from his dead brother (played by the same actor) where the brother asks him to save his children.  Which is nice and all, but at the start of the film, the titular Mama kills the brother just as he is about to shoot his older daughter in the face.  Why does he care about their lives now?  I might be able to forgive these gaping plot holes if the film had some legit scary sequences in it, but that is not to be.  The script itself is better (slightly) than the one for Dark Skies, but at least the other movie had some sequences that were creepy.  But the biggest problem was probably this:  the most interesting performance in the entire film was that of Pamela Farrauto - an unnamed, two-scene General Exposition character who disappears very early and is of little importance in the film entire.  4.5 out of 10

The Conjuring
Finally, at last, we have a good horror film.  Nothing groundbreaking, but it has a solid script, solid acting, and creepy sequences.  In fact, after the ranting of the prior two films, I kind of just want to say 'Go see/rent this one!' and leave it at that.  This is well-done horror that doesn't come along very much (especially of late) and is even rarer in that it made tons of money (it is one of 15 horror movies to gross over $100 million at the box office - not adjusted for inflation).  I will say that best in show (in my humble opinion) is Vera Farmiga as one of the Warrens, though Lili Taylor, Patrick Wilson, and Ron Livingston also give natural and authentic performances.  8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Revisited: Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Confession Time:  I have never loved this musical as much as I am supposed to.  As far as Gene Kelly as concerned, I much preferred his performances in Anchors Aweigh and On the Town more.  So I will keep this brief to keep the stones from being thrown too much.  The only reason I re-screened it is because I have delusions of getting into the Supporting Actress Smackdown that The Film Experience is hosting at the end of the month.
  • Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor sure can dance, can't they?
  • While I don't dislike Debbie Reynolds in this role, I always forget about the performance.  Weakest of the principal players
  • I realize 'Singin' in the Rain' is supposed to be one of the greatest songs ever, but I don't really care for it.  In fact, the only song from the movie I would say I wholeheartedly love is 'Make 'Em Laugh' - which is much more of a performance piece than a song.
  • Every time I watch this movie, I develop a crush on Donald O'Connor.
  • Jean Hagen is hilarious as Lina Lamont.  While I am ambivalent about the movie, I am not about her performance.  Very deserving of the Oscar nomination.
  • Surprisingly, Hagen's Best Supporting Actress nomination is the only Oscar nomination that the filmed received.  I would have thought O'Connor's performance would also have been nominated in Supporting Actor at the very least.
  • Reading about the making of the movie is (in my opinion) far more interesting than the film itself.  Apparently Gene Kelly was a bit of a terror - even making Debbie Reynolds cry at one point.
Having said all that, I would give the film a 7.5 out of 10, despite my personal misgivings.  It is a must-watch for musical and movie lovers, and the skill displayed in the dance sequences is amazing.   But not my favorite movie.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

1980 Movie List

The Movies:
1)  Star Wars:  The Empire Strikes Back
2)  9 to 5
4)  Airplane!
6)  Private Benjamin
8)  Smokey and the Bandit 2
9)  The Blue Lagoon
10)  The Blues Brothers
14)  The Shining
17)  Caddyshack
18)  Friday the 13th
27)  Raging Bull
31)  The Fog
61)  The Hollywood Knights
67)  Mad Max
78)  Alligator
87)  Melvin and Howard
92)  Resurrection
105)  Bon Voyage Charlie Brown
Inside Moves (unknown box office)

(Numbers are box office rank for the year)

Top 5 Movies:
Star Wars:  The Empire Strikes Back (winner)
9 to 5
Raging Bull
Inside Moves

Best Actress:
Dolly Parton, 9 to 5
Goldie Hawn, Private Benjamin
Shelley Duvall, The Shining
Robin Riker, Alligator
Ellen Burstyn, Resurrection (winner)

Best Actor:
Mark Hamill, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Robert De Niro, Raging Bull (winner)
Robert Forster, Alligator
Paul Le Mat, Melvin and Howard
John Savage, Inside Moves

Best Supporting Actress:
Carrie Fisher, Star Wars:  The Empire Strikes Back
Cathy Moriarty, Raging Bull
Mary Steenburgen, Melvin and Howard
Eva La Gallienne, Resurrection (winner)
Diana Scarwid, Inside Moves

Best Supporting Actor:
Billy Dee Williams, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Rodney Dangerfield, Caddyshack
Joe Pesci, Raging Bull (winner)
Sam Shepard, Resurrection
Robert Morse, Inside Moves

1981 Movie List

The Movies:
1)  Raiders of the Lost Ark
3)  Superman 2
11)  Clash of the Titans
14)  The Fox and the Hound
23)  An American Werewolf in London
30)  Halloween 2
32)  Escape from New York
35)  Friday the 13th Part 2
38)  Mommie Dearest
41)  The Howling
46)  Caveman
53)  Dragonslayer
78)  My Bloody Valentine

(Numbers are box office rank for the year)

Top 5 Movies:
Raiders of the Lost Ark
An American Werewolf in London (winner)
Halloween 2
The Howling
My Bloody Valentine

1982 Movie List

The Movies:
1)  E.T.:  The Extra-Terrestrial
2)  Tootsie
4)  Rocky 3
5)  Porky's
8)  Poltergeist
9)  The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
10)  Annie
13)  First Blood
17)  Conan the Barbarian
21)  Friday the 13th Part 3
29)  Fast Times at Ridgemont High
37)  Creepshow
42)  The Thing
51)  Grease 2
52)  The Secret of NIMH

(Numbers are box office rank for the year)

Top 5 Movies:
ET.:  The Extra-Terrestrial (winner)
First Blood
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
The Thing

1983 Movie List

The Movies:
1)  Star Wars:  Return of the Jedi
3)  Flashdance
4)  Trading Places
5)  WarGames
7)  Sudden Impact
10)  Risky Business
15)  Jaws 3-D
16)  Scarface
20)  Psycho 2
25)  Twilight Zone:  The Movie
28)  The Outsiders
34)  Cujo
35)  Christine
39)  A Christmas Story
95)  Smokey and the Bandit Part 3
Sleepaway Camp (unknown box office)

(Numbers are box office rank for the year)

Top 5 Movies:
Star Wars:  Return of the Jedi (winner)
Trading Places
The Outsiders
A Christmas Story
Sleepaway Camp

1984 Movie List

The Movies:
1)  Beverly Hills Cop
2)  Ghostbusters
3)  Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
4)  Gremlins
5)  The Karate Kid
7)  Footloose
10)  Splash
16)  Revenge of the Nerds
20)  Red Dawn
21)  The Terminator
26)  Friday the 13th:  The Final Chapter
29)  The Gods Must Be Crazy
40)  A Nightmare on Elm Street
54)  The Neverending Story
61)  Firestarter
64)  Children of the Corn
65)  Night of the Comet
66)  Supergirl
115)  C.H.U.D.
134)  Silent Night, Deadly Night
147)  Birdy
The Times of Harvey Milk (unknown box office)

(Numbers are box office rank for the year)

Top 5 Movies:
The Terminator (winner)
A Nightmare on Elm Street
The Times of Harvey Milk

1985 Movie List

The Movies:
1)  Back to the Future
2)  Rambo:  First Blood Part 2
3)  Rocky 4
6)  Cocoon
8)  Witness
9)  The Goonies
12)  Fletch
16)  The Breakfast Club
19)  Pee-Wee's Big Adventure
26)  Teen Wolf
30)  A Nightmare on Elm Street 2:  Freddy's Revenge
35)  Fright Night
38)  Weird Science
40)  The Care Bears Movie
41)  Friday the 13th Part 5
42)  The Black Cauldron
57)  Clue
59)  Return of the Living Dead
60)  A Chorus Line
69)  Silver Bullet
74)  Return to Oz
103)  The Trip to Bountiful
110)  Heaven Help Us
115)  Day of the Dead
122)  Godzilla 1985
138)  Blood Simple

(Numbers are box office rank for the year)

Top 5 Movies:
Rocky 4
The Breakfast Club
Fright Night
Clue (winner)
Silver Bullet

1986 Movie List

The Movies:
1)  Top Gun
2)  Crocodile Dundee
4)  The Karate Kid Part 2
7)  Aliens
10)  Ferris Bueller's Day Off
16)  An American Tail
20)  Poltergeist 2:  The Other Side
21)  Short Circuit
23)  The Fly
24)  Three Amigos
25)  Little Shop of Horrors
34)  Jumpin' Jack Flash
38)  The Great Mouse Detective
46)  Friday the 13th Part 6
47)  House
48)  Flight of the Navigator
59)  Psycho 3
64)  Critters
78)  The Care Bears Movie 2
83)  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
86)  Maximum Overdrive
103)  Troll
128)  Sid and Nancy
138)  My Beautiful Laundrette
Slaughter High (unknown box office)

(Numbers are box office rank for the year)

Top 5 Movies:
Aliens (winner)
An American Tail
Short Circuit
My Beautiful Laundrette

1987 Movie List

The Movies:
1)  Three Men and a Baby
3)  Beverly Hills Cop 2
4)  Good Morning, Vietnam
5)  Moonstruck
6)  The Untouchables
9)  Lethal Weapon
10)  The Witches of Eastwick
11)  Dirty Dancing
12)  Predator
16)  Robocop
21)  Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
23)  Full Metal Jacket
24)  A Nightmare on Elm Street 3:  Dream Warriors
27)  Mannequin
28)  Roxanne
30)  The Running Man
31)  Spaceballs
35)  Adventures in Babysitting
37)  *Batteries Not Included
38)  The Lost Boys
41)  The Princess Bride
43)  Harry and the Hendersons
45)  Overboard
51)  Raising Arizona
54)  Jaws 4:  The Revenge
57)  The Principal
75)  Creepshow 2
100)  The Chipmunk Adventures
128)  Near Dark
140)  The Stepfather

(Numbers are box office rank for the year)

Top 5 Movies:
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
*Batteries Not Included
The Princess Bride
Near Dark (winner)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

1988 Movie List

The Movies:
2)  Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
3)  Coming to America
4)  Big
5)  Twins
6)  Crocodile Dundee 2
7)  Die Hard
8)  The Naked Gun:  From the Files of the Police Squad!
10)  Beetlejuice
14)  Willow
17)  Oliver and Company
18)  Bull Durham
19)  A Nightmare on Elm Street 4:  The Dream Master
20)  The Land Before Time
22)  Young Guns
34)  Child's Play
38)  Ernest Saves Christmas
45)  Short Circuit 2
53)  Friday the 13th Part 7
57)  Halloween 4:  The Return of Michael Myers
68)  Poltergeist 3
69)  Stand and Deliver
70)  My Stepmother is an Alien
75)  They Live
99)  The Blob
110)  Mac and Me
130)  Critters 2:  The Main Course
141)  Pumpkinhead
Slugs (unknown box office)

(Numbers are box office rank for the year)

Top 5 Movies:
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Coming to America
Bull Durham (winner)
The Land Before Time

1989 Movie List

The Movies:
1)  Batman
2)  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
3)  Lethal Weapon 2
4)  Look Who's Talking
5)  Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
6)  Back to the Future Part 2
7)  Ghostbusters 2
8)  Driving Miss Daisy
12)  The War of the Roses
13)  The Little Mermaid
14)  Steel Magnolias
16)  Turner and Hooch
18)  Uncle Buck
19)  Field of Dreams
23)  Pet Sematary
24)  The Abyss
26)  Major League
32)  Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
39)  Weekend at Bernie's
40)  Road House
44)  All Dogs Go to Heaven
47)  A Nightmare on Elm Street 5:  The Dream Child
59)  Prancer
68)  My Left Foot
70)  Friday the 13th Part 8
76)  Halloween 5
91)  Troop Beverly Hills
97)  Enemies, A Love Story
134)  The Adventures of Milo and Otis
167)  Heathers
193)  Akira

(Numbers are box office rank for the year)

Top 5 Movies:
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The War of the Roses (winner)
The Little Mermaid
Steel Magnolias

Best Actress:
Jessica Tandy, Driving Miss Daisy
Kathleen Turner, The War of the Roses (winner)
Jodi Benson, The Little Mermaid
Sally Field, Steel Magnolias
Winona Ryder, Heathers

Best Actor:
Michael Keaton, Batman
James Earl Jones, Driving Miss Daisy
Michael Douglas, The War of the Roses (winner)
Kevin Costner, Field of Dreams
Daniel Day-Lewis, My Left Foot

Best Supporting Actress:
Sigourney Weaver, Ghostbusters 2
Pat Carroll, The Little Mermaid (winner)
Shirley MacLaine, Steel Magnolias
Dolly Parton, Steel Magnolias
Brenda Fricker, My Left Foot

Best Supporting Actor:
Jack Nicholson, Batman (winner)
Sean Connery, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Peter MacNicol, Ghostbusters 2
Danny DeVito, The War of the Roses
James Earl Jones, Field of Dreams

1990 Movie List

The Movies:
1)  Home Alone
2)  Ghost
3)  Dances With Wolves
4)  Pretty Woman
5)  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
7)  Total Recall
10)  Kindergarten Cop
11)  Back to the Future Part 3
15)  Three Men and a Little Lady
18)  Flatliners
19)  Misery
20)  Edward Scissorhands
21)  Problem Child
22)  Arachnophobia
24)  Look Who's Talking Too
31)  Gremlins 2:  The New Batch
32)  Rocky V
35)  Mermaids
38)  Predator 2
41)  Child's Play 2
42)  The Rescuers Down Under
62)  Jetsons:  The Movie
71)  Tremors
72)  Tales from the Dark Side:  The Movie
80)  Mr. Destiny
90)  Graveyard Shift
98)  The Witches
105)  Cry-Baby
114)  The Gods Must Be Crazy 2
116)  Night of the Living Dead
(Numbers are box office rank for the year)

Top 5 Movies:
Edward Scissorhands
Tremors (winner)
The Witches

Best Actress:
Demi Moore, Ghost
Julia Roberts, Pretty Woman
Kathy Bates, Misery (winner)
Winona Ryder, Edward Scissorhands
Cher, Mermaids

Best Actor:
Kevin Costner, Dances With Wolves
Richard Gere, Pretty Woman
James Caan, Misery
Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands (winner)
Kevin Bacon, Tremors

Best Supporting Actress:
Whoopi Goldberg, Ghost
Mary McDonnell, Dances With Wolves
Dianne Wiest, Edward Scissorhands
Winona Ryder, Mermaids
Anjelica Huston, The Witches (winner)

Best Supporting Actor:
Tony Goldwyn, Ghost
John Goodman, Arachnophobia (winner)
John Glover, Gremlins 2:  The New Batch
Christopher Lee, Gremlins 2:  The New Batch
Victor Wong, Tremors

1991 Movie List

The Movies:
1)  Terminator 2:  Judgement Day
2)  Robin Hood:  Prince of Thieves
3)  Beauty and the Beast
4)  The Silence of the Lambs
5)  City Slickers
6)  Hook
7)  The Addams Family
10)  The Naked Gun 2 1/2:  The Smell of Fear
13)  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2
14)  Backdraft
18)  Hot Shots!
22)  My Girl
28)  Thelma and Louise
34)  Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey
37)  Freddy's Dead:  The Final Nightmare
41)  Curly Sue
51)  Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead
52)  Problem Child 2
60)  An American Tale:  Fievel Goes West
69)  The Neverending Story 2
79)  Child's Play 3
83)  Not Without My Daughter
85)  Ernest Scared Stupid
87)  Drop Dead Fred
104)  Bingo
132)  Paris is Burning

(Numbers are box office rank for the year)

Top 5 Movies:
Terminator 2:  Judgement Day
Beauty and the Beast (winner)
The Silence of the Lambs
The Addams Family
Thelma and Louise

Best Actress:
Linda Hamilton, Terminator 2:  Judgement Day
Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs (winner)
Anjelica Huston, The Addams Family
Geena Davis, Thelma and Louise
Susan Sarandon, Thelma and Louise

Best Actor:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terminator 2:  Judgement Day
Kevin Costner, Robin Hood:  Prince of Thieves
Robby Benson, Beauty and the Beast
Billy Crystal, City Slickers
Raul Julia, The Addams Family (winner)

Best Supporting Actress:
Geraldine McEwan, Robin Hood:  Prince of Thieves
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robin Hood:  Prince of Thieves
Angela Lansbury, Beauty and the Beast (winner)
Brooke Smith, The Silence of the Lambs
Judith Malina, The Addams Family

Best Supporting Actor:
Robert Patrick, Terminator 2:  Judgement Day
Alan Rickman, Robin Hood:  Prince of Thieves
Jerry Orbach, Beauty and the Beast
Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs (winner)
Christopher Lloyd, The Addams Family

Short Reviews

Since I am way behind on the pitiful number of movies I have seen this year, here are some short reviews for them.

Monsters University
If I were to retitle this movie, it would be called Bland... except for because that pretty much sums up the movie.  The monster designs are fairly bland, except for quasi-villain Dean Hardscrabble.  The plot is fairly cliche, except for an honest surprise at the end.  The laughter is plain and unoffensive, except for one or two jokes that are belly-bursters.  Considering that this is a prequel to one of Pixar's best movies, I had high hopes for it.  But it was not to be.  The film isn't bad by a longshot, but you are better off watching Monsters, Inc. for a second, third, fourth, and hundredth time.  5.5 out of 10

The Heat
A formulaic buddy-cop action-comedy done right.  Both actresses knock it out of the park and breathe life into the well-known tropes that dominate this genre.  I especially appreciate that they didn't try to do too much with it:  Both are after the same bad guy, they team up, funny stuff happens, they catch the head baddie.  And I only stopped laughing for one scene (the impromptu tracheotomy scene felt like it came from a different movie and was completely unnecessary), and the movie moved along at a quick pace.  Melissa McCarthy is easily best in show, though Sandra Bullock and Michael McDonald also impress.  8.0 out of 10

This Is The End
Hilarious movie.  Its an end-of-the-world movie where the people left behind are not very nice people, and it builds all the humor around that fact.  After killing off a large chunk of people we follow the main 6 guys (James Franco, Seth Rogen, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, and Jay Baruchel all playing fictional versions of themselves) as they try to navigate the Apocalypse.  All are hilarious, with best in show honors going to Robinson.  The humor is not for everyone (very crude at some points) and can very easily offend someone who doesn't know what they are going into.  With those warnings, however, you should enjoy yourself.  8.0 out of 10

Warm Bodies
A surprisingly sweet film.  The first of two PG-13 zombie flicks, this one is the one you should see (not that other piece of shit) since it actually shows a bit of the aftermath of a zombie attack (its an actual plot point!) while still being 'safe' enough for the rating.  An undead take on Romeo and Juliet, (with a happier ending, natch) this movie features strong performances, sly humor, and a quick pace.  Analeigh Tipton gives the best performance in the movie, but Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, and Rob Corddry are also very good.  The Midnight Max review suggests that Palmer should be getting more of Kristen Stewart's roles, and I think there is some legitimacy to the statement.  Recommended.  7.0 out of 10

John Dies at the End
A weird movie that will most likely end up as a cult classic.  It follows Chase Williamson as David Wong and Rob Mayes as the titular John as all sorts of strange things start happening to them after coming into contact with 'soy sauce' - a drug that allows the user to see things that normally cannot be perceived.  The humor is so deadpan that at some points I think the jokes might be missed, but the film adapts the book rather well.  Williamson is fairly solid as the lead, with Mayes providing solid support.  Paul Giamatti is a journalist interviewing David Wong about what he went through, and while he has fun with the role, other character actors might have been better choices (although Giamatti's involvement might have been what got the movie made in the first place).  Not for everyone, but well worth checking out.  7.0 out of 10.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

South Park Tourney

So, the season 8 South Park tournament starts tomorrow, and I thought I might break down the matchups and who I think should win.

Had I known about this beforehand, I would have done it for the prior seasons (I still might).  Without further ado...

Good Times with Weapons vs. Quest for Ratings:
Good Times with Weapons is the episode where Butters gets a ninja star in his eye while they play with weapons they bought at a trade show.  It is best remembered for its mocking of the Janet Jackson Super Bowl controversy and for the stylized animation for several parts of the boys fights.
Quest for Ratings is the episode where the boys are doing a news show and face constant cancellation for not getting good ratings, especially compared to Craig's 'Animal Close-Up with A Wide-Angle Lens.'  They win, but discover the cost of a successful show.

Who Should WinGood Times with Weapons for the biting commentary.  I could have done without the Butters in the dog pound section, but otherwise, it manages to mock the 'controversy' at the time while still telling a funny and engaging story.  Quest for Ratings is entertaining at stages, but is definitely one of the lesser episodes from the season, and the ending felt arbitrary.

Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset vs. You Got F'd in the A:
Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset is the Paris Hilton episode.
You Got F'd in the A is the You Got Served episode.

Who Should WinStupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset (by a hair).  Paris Hilton is an easy target, but the episode is more mocking those who emulate her.  It has a rather hilarious speech from Mr. Slave on how it isn't great to be a whore, plus it references The Death Camp of Tolerance (which is a better episode than both of these).  You Got F'd in the A is a nice piss-take on You Got Served, and the Butters finale is hilarious, but the episode is fairly forgettable outside of the ending.  The real tragedy is that one of these episodes is going to make the second round when they are easily the two of the weaker entries in an otherwise strong season.

Cartman's Incredible Gift vs. Up the Down Steroid:
Cartman's Incredible Gift is the episode where Cartman pretends to be psychic and keeps accusing the wrong people for a series of murders while Kyle tries to get the police to go after the real culprit.
Up the Down Steroid is the episode where Cartman tries to get into the Special Olympics by pretending to be retarded (thinking it will be an easy win) while Jimmy starts taking steroids for the same.

Who Should Win:  In a nail-biter, Up the Down Steroid.  Both of the main plots are funny and engaging (I particularly like the speech Kyle gives to Cartman about how he will go to Hell if he gets into the Special Olympics) with slightly more memorable moments than Cartman's Incredible Gift.  But this was a tough one to call (both are better than the last matchup - see the travesty of the seeding?)

AWESOM-O vs. Something Wall-Mart This Way Comes:
AWESOM-O is the episode where Cartman pretends to be a robot to get dirt on Butters, only the discover that Butters has an embarrassing tape of him.
Somethign Wall-Mart This Way Comes is the episode where Wal-Mart starts killing all the businesses in town, so the boys try to find a way to destroy it.

Who Should WinSomething Wall-Mart This Way ComesAWESOM-O is amongst my personal favorite episodes, but the satire on Wal-Mart in the other episode plays to all the strengths of South Park as a show:  Biting social commentary surrounded by incredibly crude humor.  But I would be okay with either winning.  And you see how awful it is that one of these two will be out while Stupid Spoiled Whore or You Got F'd goes on?

Goobacks vs. Douche and Turd:
Goobacks is the episode where people from the future go back in time to get jobs, so that the money can be saved up and go to their future families.  Because they work for so cheap, the people of South Park lose their jobs, and the men decide to 'go gay' to prevent the future from happening.
Douche and Turd is the episode where, because of PETA protests, South Park Elementary must choose a new mascot and it comes down to either a Douche or a Turd.  Since Stan refuses to vote, he gets exiled from the city.

Who Should Win:  Douche and Turd, easily.  Goobacks is not without its charms ("This is way gayer than the man pile!"), but Douche and Turd cranks up the ridiculousness to insane levels and pulls humor from every single scene while mocking every character Stan interacts with.

Woodland Critter Christmas vs. The Passion of the Jew:
Woodland Critter Christmas is the episode told in rhyme where Stan helps some woodland critters prepare for Christmas, only to discover that he is inadvertently bringing about the birth of the Antichrist.
The Passion of the Jew is the episode about The Passion of the Christ.  Cartman starts turning confused townspeople into Nazis, Kyle wants to apologize for the Jews killing Jesus, and Stan and Kenny just want their money back.

Who Should WinWoodland Critter ChristmasThe Passion of the Jew is more likely to win (just for the Cartman stuff alone), but Woodland Critter Christmas comes from out of left field and slowly builds into a giant, wonderful clusterfuck of inappropriateness at its climax.  It literally has everything.  So vote for it!

The Jeffersons vs. Pre-School:
The Jeffersons is the episode where Michael Jackson Jefferson moves to South Park.  The police are trying to frame him, so it is up to Cartman to defend him.  Stan and Kyle just wonder why Mr. Jefferson doesn't take care of his son.
Pre-School is the episode where a former schoolmate who was wrongly sent to juvenile detention instead of the boys gets out and tries to get his revenge on them.  The boys try desperately to avoid just desserts.

Who Should WinPre-School.  Both of these episodes are more story-driven than most (except for some light satire on Michael Jackson fans w/r/t the police framing him), but to me, Pre-School has the stronger laughs.  Seeing various characters in the hospital for Indian sunburns, charlie horses, and other childhood pranks is a nice surreal touch, as is people's clueless reactions to Miss Claridge's various states of distress.

There are my votes.  Feel free to tell me yours in the comments (and make sure to go vote at the website linked at the top of the page).