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Summer Slump - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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September 6th, 2011


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09:29 pm - Summer Slump
Despite my comment three months ago regarding the excitingness of my Netflix Instant queue, I didn't watch a single goddamn movie in it. And, true to my comment about not being very excited about my Netflix queue, I didn't see a lot of great movies over the summer.

Fright Night: Since they're remaking this movie, I thought I'd check out the original, which has a simple premise but adds a fun twist to it. A teenage boy discovers that vampire Humperdinck is living next door, but, of course, nobody believes him. So he enlists the help of the host of a horror movie show, excellently played by Roddy McDowall. What's nice about this movie is that, refreshingly enough, it is about one single, solitary vampire. There is not a horde of vampires trying to take over the town or the world. They are trying to kill JUST ONE VAMPIRE. And, well, even that proves to be pretty difficult. It lags in some points, and I really wasn't fond of the subplot involving vampire Humperdinck and the main character's girlfriend, but it's good, campy fun with pre-CGI special effects. B+

Choke: I had been interested in the movie adaptation of this Chuck Palahniuk novel since it didn't really seem to lend itself to film. And, well, I was kind of right. It didn't need to be a movie, but it still made for a decent one starring Sam Rockwell, Anjelica Huston, and Kelly Macdonald. Writer/director Clark Gregg focuses the movie on Victor's relationship with his mother, providing constant flashbacks, but the flashbacks are slightly incomprehensible without context. It's been three years since I read it, but I think he stayed pretty true to the book, portraying Victor's sex addiction as quick flashes of the women he's fucked or a woman he idly imagines naked because that's what he does. Victor is still an unlikable narrator, but now he's Sam Rockwell! Aw. And he struggles with the nature of good and bad and the implications that he may, in fact, be a good person. When the movie does explore that theme, it's pretty good and interesting. Yet, it somehow still feels empty and unnecessary. B/B+

Wicker Park: I had recently enjoyed both Wicker Park and Rose Byrne, so I thought I'd check out this movie that featured both of them. Josh Hartnett is thinking of proposing to his girlfriend when one day he thinks he sees his long-lost love, Diane Kruger, who mysteriously disappeared two years ago. But since we never see the woman's face, it's no surprise when he tracks her down only to find Rose Byrne instead. This takes about half an hour during which we get flashbacks to their relationship, but then there's, like, ninety more minutes of obsessive stalkering. Perhaps this movie didn't get a fair shot because I was sleepy, but it's not very thrilling for an obsessive thriller. In fact, it's almost rote, like "Here are some stylish shots, and, ooh, here is a flashback to explain this scene, and, ah, look at the meaningful look on this character's face." There are some neat twists here and there, but the movie seems to mistake dullness for French remakeness. B

The Sweet Hereafter: I had been wanting to see this movie for ages because I had heard great things and I liked Sarah Polley (who was just a teenager in 1997, but, hey, so was I). It concerns a small town in Canada that experiences a tragic school bus accident that kills many children and injures others. Ian Holm, lawyer, swoops in to convince the grieving parents to file a class action suit against someone, anyone, make SOMEONE pay for this, surely that will make them feel better. He talks the talk, but while he speaks so highly and lovingly of these dead children he's fighting for, he can barely talk to his drug-addict daughter. The non-linear narrative is a little hard to follow, as there's no clear indication of the time-shifting; we flash before, during, and after the accident, not to mention before and after the story proper. With the exception of Ian Holm's character (and maybe Sarah Polley's), The Sweet Hereafter doesn't have a lot in the way of deep characterization, but it's very successful in creating a beautifully sad mood with lyrical images and music enhanced by the recurring motif of Robert Browning's "The Pied Piper of Hamlin," an Atom Egoyan addition to the book adaptation that I thought really pulled the movie together. B/B+

Bullets over Broadway: In this 1920s gangster/theatre comedy (I know, right?), John Cusack is a Woody Allen stand-in with a hot new play (Broadway) bankrolled by a mobster (bullets) who forces him to cast his girlfriend, a good dancer but a terrible actress. He also has bodyguard Chazz Palminteri make sure she's treated well. Problem is, he has some "suggestions" for the playwright...that turn out to be pretty good? All the ingredients are there for a fun comedy about a disastrous theatre production—diva lead actress, compulsive eater lead actor, ingenue with a noisy dog—but it's no Noises Off... There are good jokes here and there in addition to shenanigans, but it doesn't feel like a Woody Allen movie somehow, maybe because of the gangsters. Everything seemed mechanical, going through the motions. I stopped really caring about the characters and what was going to happen near the end, and the ending was strangely unsatisfying. B

When Harry Met Sally...: I knew nothing about this classic romantic comedy besides the famous restaurant scene and the "Men and women can't be friends" thing. I had no idea what the movie was actually like. Turns out it's sort of like Woody Allen meets Before Sunrise/Before Sunset. Harry and Sally meet, and then there are ellipses, as they don't really start developing their relationship until later. But the movie consists almost entirely of conversations between Harry and Sally. It's very focused. There are no extraneous subplots and almost no supporting characters besides the obligatory Friend Character for each. As a result, their relationship feels very believable, as opposed to the many disposable romantic comedies where there's really no reason for the main characters to fall in love except that they do. It's simple and funny and lovely and sweet. A-

The Adjustment Bureau: Politician Matt Damon has a Meet Cute with Emily Blunt the night of an important election, so clearly they are destined for each other. Well, NOT IF THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU HAS ANYTHING TO SAY ABOUT IT. Unbeknownst to the world, well dressed men in fedoras are going around "adjusting" your lives so that they go according to the Plan set by the Chairman. I loved the conceit of, essentially, Fate, Inc. These were not villains, merely employees. Matt Damon fights against fate as hard as he can, determined to pursue this woman, much to the Bureau's dismay (I loved how irritated they were that he was being so difficult). Matt Damon and Emily Blunt do their goddamndest to convince that these two people who barely know each other are in cosmically destined, fate-defying love. The movie may be a bit overserious, but I love that in a time where most sci-fi movies are special effects-laden extravaganzas with awesome fights and explosions—and I love those, don't get me wrong—this movie takes an interesting premise and draws you into a compelling story. B+/A-

[REC] 2: This sequel picks up immediately after [REC] ends (the first scene of the movie is that final scene), with a SWAT team joining a medical officer in the building and compelled to record everything. It's hard to talk specifics about the sequel without spoiling the first one, but I wasn't quite sure I liked how much it took the origin story and ran with it, making this sequel an unusual "zombie" movie. Whereas [REC] focused on one woman whom we could get to know and root for, [REC] 2 focuses on faceless SWAT team members with no character at all. Thankfully, about halfway through the movie, we get the perspective of a few unlucky teenagers who are better protagonists. These handheld films are more effectively told by ordinary people, not authority figures. There is nothing as truly intense and horrifying as in the first movie, and it kind of fucks with the first movie in a way that I wish I hadn't seen. It's not bad, and it's perfectly serviceable, but they should have stuck with just the one movie. B

Insidious: There was a lot of buzz about this horror movie since it was made by the creators of Saw and Paranormal Activity. Don't let the former scare you off, however; it's more reminiscent of the latter. In fact, it's refreshingly gore-free, a good old-fashioned haunted house flick. At first, it seems to be nothing more than a well done cliché. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne move into a new house, and the usual stuff happens. Lights flickering, doors opening, creepy voices and figures. Then their son mysteriously falls ill. As is typical in these movies, the wife is the one seeing everything, and the husband doesn't believe her. As things escalate, however, the movie takes an interesting turn and becomes its own beast. It may not be the best beast, but the movie remains effectively creepy and scary and I kept glancing at my open bedroom door, afraid I would see someone appear. B+

Hamlet 2: Dana Marschz, failed actor, teaches drama at a Tucson high school. When the school decides to cut his funding, he rallies his class—newly full of Mexican kids who are unruly and disruptive for two or three scenes before they magically become good kids offscreen or something, let's not actually develop that story or their characters anything—to put on his original production of Hamlet 2, a sequel to Hamlet that involves a time machine and is the most ridiculously incoherent, offensive, and blasphemous play you could imagine. If the movie focused on entirely on the play, then maybe it would be successful at...something. But instead it tries to do three or four things at once, not sure what story it wants to tell or what tone to take. It is almost aggressively unfunny in that I could tell when I was supposed to laugh, but nearly every joke falls flat. Steve Coogan just isn't funny, and he's in almost every goddamn scene. I love Catherine Keener, but she isn't even trying in this movie. It's so ineptly made and poorly written, with no clear arc or satisfactory resolution. I really liked the kids in the class and wished the movie had focused more on them. And the actual production of Hamlet 2 is just so out there that it is easily the most amusing part of the movie. Note that I said amusing, not hilarious. You know how much I overuse the word "hilarious," and I am not using it for this movie. Even the greatest scene in the entire movie is not hilarious, simply by virtue of being in this movie. But, here, watch "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" and you won't have to waste ninety minutes on this movie. C+/B-

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: In order to get the bad taste of Hamlet 2 out of my brain, I watched the film adaptation of one of my favorite plays. Kind of like that stage production, the three leads—Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Richard Dreyfuss—are great, but the rest of the cast is meh, which is fine. I sort of fell asleep partway through the movie, but I don't think I missed much. Oldman and Roth are delightful, of course, but it's simply an odd experience to see the play as a movie because...it's so much about the words. It doesn't have the same power on the screen. What does work, however, is getting to see the Tragedians' shows in all their glory and the integration with the action of Hamlet. Stoppard puts R&G on even more sidelines! All in all, it doesn't quite work as a movie, and I'd rather see it on the stage, but it does have its moments. B/B+

Limitless: Struggling writer Bradley Cooper takes a pill that "gives him access to 100% of his brain." Although the explanation borrows from the oft-quoted myth, in practice, the pill really does seem to do just that. His brain gets supercharged, giving him mad observational skills and the ability to remember EVERYTHING, to bring memories from his subconscious to the fore without even trying. Now that he's superdupercrazysmart, what's he to do but try to make shitloads of money? Now, of course, things do start to go wrong, or we wouldn't have a movie. Bradley Cooper has to carry the entire movie on his shoulders, and he is pretty damn awesome at showing the transformation (helped by a haircut), projecting the suave confidence that comes with his superintelligence. The movie also has a cool visual style to represent how the world looks through his eyes; there are some crazy zoom effects that would have been great to see in the theater. I also dug the score. All in all, it's a slick thriller with a neat premise. B+

Sleepy Hollow: I have been trying to see this movie for over a decade! I distinctly remember being thwarted in our attempt to go see this in the theater, and, finally, I have witnessed Tim Burton's Decapitation: The Movie. Johnny Depp plays an eccentric detective version of Ichabod Crane who comes to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a string of decapitations with his newfangled "science" and "reason." Neither of which is much use against the Headless Horseman, of course. But this is a small town, and small towns have secrets, so there must be a reason all these people are losing their heads. And, seriously, there are a shitload of decapitations in this movie. And lots of blood. The plot is extremely convoluted, and Crane has some sort of tragic backstory that doesn't really seem relevant, but the movie is entertaining to watch and lovely to look at. It's so Burton-y! As one critic noted, it's basically a slasher movie with really good art direction. B+

Chinatown: I hadn't seen it in years, and Dan had never seen it, so when he invited me over to his new place to watch it, I was like, "Forget it, Dan, it's Chinatown." Jack Nicholson is a P.I. hired to investigate a cheating husband, but he stumbles on to some sort of water conspiracy. It's a classic neo-noir, with most scenes taking place in the daylight, but often twilight. The screenplay is regarded as one of the most perfect screenplays ever, and it's easy to see why: every scene moves the plot forward. Not in any other direction. Each scene is a direct consequence of the previous scene. Jake finds a clue that leads him to another clue that gets him into trouble that he has to get out of and meanwhile here's another clue. It all finally comes together, but, of course, the big conspiracy isn't the real story. There's something else going on. I had forgotten how disturbing and horrific the ending actually is. A-

I'm hoping my next batch has better movies! I've liked everything I've seen in the theater this summer, though, so that reminds me that I do like things.
Current Mood: disappointeddisappointed
Current Music: Chevelle - SMA

(24 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


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From:rachelmanija
Date:September 7th, 2011 05:20 am (UTC)
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I love Chinatown. As you note, a perfect screenplay, with tons of resonance. I don't suppose anyone but me would notice, but I find echoes of it turning up in all sorts of things I write. Here's one anyone can notice:

http://www.goblinfruit.net/2010/winter/poems/?poem=minotaurnoir
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 7th, 2011 08:40 pm (UTC)
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I wonder what sort of elements go into making it perfect. It's very focused, for one; there's nothing extraneous.
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From:rachelmanija
Date:September 7th, 2011 10:24 pm (UTC)
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It also does a great job of integrating theme into plot and character, giving enormous resonance to seemingly ordinary lines like "Who's stealing our water?"
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From:robyn_migratori
Date:September 7th, 2011 07:04 am (UTC)
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Did you read The Sweet Hereafter before watching the movie? I went in the opposite direction and remember being surprised that the Pied Piper thing was Egoyan, not Banks. It's my go-to counter-example whenever I get into a "books are always better than movies" argument.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 7th, 2011 07:13 am (UTC)
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I haven't read the book. I learned about the Pied Piper thing from IMDb or Wikipedia, and I think that was my favorite thing about the movie, so, nice job, Egoyan. It just fit so well.
From:dotificus
Date:September 7th, 2011 03:13 pm (UTC)

a "books are always better than movies" argument.

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Another good counter-example is The Devil Wears Prada.
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From:missquita
Date:September 8th, 2011 03:26 am (UTC)

Re: a "books are always better than movies" argument.

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SOOO TRUE. Also, The Jane Austen Book Club.
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From:thekatiegirl
Date:September 7th, 2011 02:05 pm (UTC)
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Love, love, love When Harry Met Sally. That's the standard by which all other romantic comedies should be judged.

Gilmore Girls had some awesome Chinatown references. I remember Rory saying, "Forget it , Jake, it's Chinatown," and Lorelai saying, "My daughter, mysister, my daughter.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 7th, 2011 03:20 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I loved those. Veronica Mars had some references as well. They're everywhere!

Love, love, love When Harry Met Sally. That's the standard by which all other romantic comedies should be judged.
Seriously. You watch it and it's like, ooooh, this genre can actually be good.
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From:etherealclarity
Date:September 7th, 2011 02:31 pm (UTC)
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When Harry Met Sally is such a classic! I've seen it countless times. :)

And yeah, Hamlet 2 was so, so terrible.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 7th, 2011 03:18 pm (UTC)
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A friend of mine LOVED Hamlet 2, so I was excited to see it and talk about it with her and, uh, instead, I did not say anything to her about it.
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From:etherealclarity
Date:September 7th, 2011 04:30 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, that can be hard. A friend lent me Cloudy w/ a chance of meatballs and RAVED about it and I ended up hating it.
From:dotificus
Date:September 7th, 2011 03:11 pm (UTC)
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Great, informative post!

Did you know Johnny Depp thought of his characterization as "Ichabod Crane -- Girl Detective"?

And have you seen the new Fright Night?
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 7th, 2011 03:17 pm (UTC)
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Heh, I did not know that, and, no, I have not, though I've heard good things!
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From:ethanvahlere
Date:September 7th, 2011 08:17 pm (UTC)
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One of these days, I'll be able to write just a short comment to your movie posts. Anyway:

I haven't seen Fright Night since it was on cable TV in the late 80's (when I was in comedy), but I remember liking it. I had the same problem with Choke as I did with Fight Club; I liked it a lot until the plot twist near the end (again, I had the same problem with the book in both cases). As for Wicker Park, I haven't seen it, but did you know it was a remake of a French movie (The Apartment)? I didn't like Limitless and Insidious as much as you did; for the former, I agree with you about the visual style, but Cooper didn't do it for me, and I found it predictable, while the latter I didn't buy the plot twist, and I'm not a fan of Patrick Wilson. I liked The Adjustment Bureau a lot, especially the relationship between Damon and Blunt (puts most romantic comedies to shame these days), but it lost me a little at the end, when it became a chase scene (also, I'm not quite sure I buy the breakup scene). Sleepy Hollow also ran aground at the end, for me, when it turns into CSI 18th Century and explains everything; it slows the picture down. Agree completely, of course, about Chinatown; again, as I've said before, John Huston is the perfect embodiment of the depravity of evil here.
I've never seen Rosencrantz & Guildenstern on stage, but I thought it worked as a film, even though it was changed somewhat for the movie (they went to things, rather than having things just happen to them), and I thought Oldman and Roth were very funny together.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 7th, 2011 08:45 pm (UTC)
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One of these days, I'll be able to write just a short comment to your movie posts.
No, I always look forward to your long comments!!

I had the same problem with Choke as I did with Fight Club; I liked it a lot until the plot twist near the end (again, I had the same problem with the book in both cases).
I loved Fight Club, the movie and book. I think it's a great adaptation.

As for Wicker Park, I haven't seen it, but did you know it was a remake of a French movie (The Apartment)?
Yep, hence my comment about French remakeness.

I liked The Adjustment Bureau a lot, especially the relationship between Damon and Blunt (puts most romantic comedies to shame these days), but it lost me a little at the end, when it became a chase scene (also, I'm not quite sure I buy the breakup scene).
Yeah, it does have some third-act issues, but I dug the chase scene a lot and mostly had issues with the last few minutes.

I've never seen Rosencrantz & Guildenstern on stage, but I thought it worked as a film, even though it was changed somewhat for the movie (they went to things, rather than having things just happen to them), and I thought Oldman and Roth were very funny together.
I'll admit that one suffered from my sleepiness.
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From:ethanvahlere
Date:September 7th, 2011 10:47 pm (UTC)
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Here's part 2 of my long comment (and thank you):

-When Harry Met Sally, for me, gets better and better each year as romantic comedies continue to get worse, and not just because of the restaurant scene (though when I saw the movie in the theater when it first came out, I remember there were three women in their 20's or 30's sitting behind me, and I thought all four of us were going to die laughing right there during the restaurant scene); it is smart writing and believable characters, as you say.

-I wasn't bothered by the gangster part of Bullets Over Broadway, partly because Allen has made fun of them in his essay writing, but also because, for me, it gets to what I think the movie is about; how far are you willing to go for the sake of your art? Plus, I though Chazz Palminteri was hysterically funny as Cheech, especially his last scene.

-The Sweet Hereafter was one of my favorite movies of the 90's. Though I liked the novel it was based on, as Robyn mentioned above, it is one of those movies that's better than the novel it's based on. The novel is narrated by Ian Holm's character, Sarah Polley's character, the bus driver, and Bruce Greenwood's character (he's the one who witnesses the crash from his truck), and one of the reasons why I like the movie so much is how the writer/director (Atom Egoyan) is able to keep those character voices without relying on voice-over narration. As far as the characterization goes, maybe it's from having read the book, but I do think the other characters beside Polley and Holm were well-developed (the woman Greenwood is cheating with, for one). Besides making it a non-linear narrative and eliminating the first-person narration, the other major change is with the incest angle; in the novel, it isn't consensual. One other note; if you ever see EXOTICA (by the same director), Greenwood and Polley are in that as well, and she babysits for him in that movie, but it's a markedly different relationship.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 7th, 2011 10:58 pm (UTC)
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the other major change is with the incest angle; in the novel, it isn't consensual.
That was so bizarre to me. I was like...wait, what? Is that? But? Am I supposed to be okay with this? Why is this here? What is going on?
[User Picture]
From:toastandtea
Date:September 8th, 2011 01:49 am (UTC)
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I watched Fright Night earlier this year because of the remake and i did not like it. The main guy was such a dick to the girlfriend that i was actually totally cool with her and the vampire hooking up because at least the vampire paid attention to her. And the best friend was SO ANNOYING. I still haven't seen the remake but i really want to because it actually looks a lot better than the original, plus David Tennant!

When Harry Met Sally is sooo gooooooood. It's so refreshingly non-sappy.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 8th, 2011 02:47 am (UTC)
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And the best friend was SO ANNOYING.
OMG SO ANNOYING. Except apparently people liked him? Aaaand then he went into gay porn? True story.

I still haven't seen the remake but i really want to because it actually looks a lot better than the original, plus David Tennant!
I haven't seen it either! It is in my Netflix queue for the future!

When Harry Met Sally is sooo gooooooood. It's so refreshingly non-sappy.
Yesssssss.
(Deleted comment)
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From:ashfae
Date:September 11th, 2011 09:02 pm (UTC)
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The first time I watched Sleepy Hollow I was annoyed, because I was trying to take it seriously a a thriller. The second time I watched it as a dark comedy and thought it was flipping hilarious.

When Harry Met Sally remains, astonishingly, awesome. Ohh that script. Brilliant.
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From:sophia_helix
Date:December 28th, 2011 05:15 pm (UTC)
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Hey, I think I missed this post last time, which is too bad because you saw a few of my favorite movies! I am very relieved that you also love When Harry Met Sally. It's a top five favorite for me and I can quote most of it. I think you will enjoy rewatching it as the years go by. Sleepy Hollow is a problematic movie (oh, that overly prolonged chase scene), but the pairing of visuals and music might actually be the best Burton-Elfman combo of all, on purely aesthetic grounds. The scenes in the cornfield! The watch fire going out! The western wood! It's not a great narrative but I forgive it for its images,

Chinatown having the perfect script reminds me of a book you really ought to read, Bruce Wagner's I'll Let You Go. It's sort of neo-Dickensian noir in modern LA and there's a really bitter screenwriter who mostly complains about how Robert Towne is revered for that script.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:December 28th, 2011 05:20 pm (UTC)
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Hey, I think I missed this post last time, which is too bad because you saw a few of my favorite movies!
That is too bad indeed! Let's talk!

I am very relieved that you also love When Harry Met Sally. It's a top five favorite for me and I can quote most of it. I think you will enjoy rewatching it as the years go by.
It's something special. I mean, what other rom-com actually lets the relationship develop over YEARS? Um, besides that One Day movie that had an interesting premise but was apparently not good.

Bruce Wagner's I'll Let You Go. It's sort of neo-Dickensian noir in modern LA and there's a really bitter screenwriter who mostly complains about how Robert Towne is revered for that script.
Neo-Dickensian noir? Sign me up! *adds it to The List*

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