Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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From Vienna to Paris with Stops in Manhattan, Berlin, and the Space-Time Continuum

It has been almost six months since my last batch of capsule movie reviews. Yet, I watched most of them in the last few weeks. Luckily, there were no major clunkers in this bunch!

Before Sunrise: Two attractive strangers meet on a train and have a romantic night in a foreign city full of scintillating conversation and making out? IT IS LIKE MY DREAM COME TRUE. This always seemed to be a movie I would love, and I was right. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy wander around Vienna, encountering some colorful characters, as if they were the ones behind the camera in Slacker. They talk about their pasts and their presents and their futures, knowing all the while that they have just this one wonderful night together and they'll never see each other again. When they leave, their lives will go on, Vienna will go on, and they'll have this one night to look back on. It's lovely and beautiful and romantic and sexy and there are no explosions. A

Primer: You know how there are vampire movies that don't use the word "vampire" and zombie movies that don't use the word "zombie"? This is a time travel movie that doesn't use the word(s) "time travel." Two dudes are working on this machine in their garage, and they accidentally create a time machine. You know how much I love time travel mayhem! And, boy, is there ever mayhem. The kind that leads to lines like "Are you hungry? I haven't eaten since later this afternoon." The great and terrible thing about this movie is that it's deliberately obtuse: the characters use scientific jargon without explaining it, and they don't engage in any obvious exposition to clue the audience into exactly what's going on. I love the way the movie portrays this down-home scientific discovery: a couple industrious nerds accidentally discover time travel, so of course they do experiments. The movie becomes increasingly hard to follow until it finally just breaks your brain entirely. But even if you can't grok the non-linear narrative, the relationship between the two main characters is compelling. A very impressive movie made for only $7,000. B+

The Shop Around the Corner: I knew I'd seen You've Got Mail, but I didn't think I'd seen the original movie, and indeed I hadn't. In the original, the two leads are not business rivals but clerks at the same shop (that is around the corner from...something). Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan fall in love by writing anonymous letters to each other, but they hate each other in real life! Oh, romantic comedies. It's a very amusing and charming little movie, although the supporting cast sometimes seems to want to be in their own movie. B/B+

What's Up, Tiger Lily?: I think I actually have seen this one, or at least parts of it. For his first movie, Woody Allen redubbed a Japanese spy film and made the plot revolve around the search for...the world's greatest egg salad recipe. It's basically MST3K, and there are a lot of hilarious jokes, but most of it is just mildly amusing. Plus there are random minutes of the Lovin' Spoonful that were added specifically to increase the film's running time. To its detriment, I say. B

The Station Agent: Peter Dinklage is an antisocial dwarf who lives in an abandoned train depot. Patricia Clarkson is a recently separated woman grieving over her dead son. Bobby Cannavale is the proprietor of a hot dog/coffee stand while his father recovers from an illness. Each character is lonely for specific reasons, and they vary in their willingness to reach out and form human connections. Together, however, they are able to draw each other out of their shells. It's a lovely movie that made me smile, a reminder of the good kind of independent films, the ones that simply tell a story you don't see in mainstream cinema. My only gripe is that it doesn't really have an ending: it just ends, leaving many things unresolved. We're only treated to a slice of these characters' lives, but we know they and we are the better for it. A-

Dial M for Murder: A man plans the perfect murder of his wife, who's having an affair with a mystery writer, but, wouldn't you know it, it's rather unsuccessful, and he has to start improvising. Watching him in action before and after the attempted murder is great fun, as he remains calm and collected throughout. Hitchcock villains are like that. They're not over-the-top, sneering monsters. They're just ordinary dudes who are a little too devious for their own good. While there's nothing particularly exciting or special about the movie, it's a very solid detective story where the audience knows who the culprit is the whole time. B+

Double Indemnity: An insurance salesman plans the perfect murder of a man whose wife he randomly falls in love with because this is pulpy Chandler noir, baby, but, wouldn't you know it, it's rather successful except for the part where he begins the movie by confessing to the murder. Oh, Billy Wilder, up to your old flashback tricks again. (Or, I suppose, before, since Sunset Boulevard was still six years away.) The plot's more complex than in Dial M for Murder, but I found it hard to care about the fates of the murderous duo despite—or perhaps because of—their pulpy Chandler noir romance. It's certainly a classic setup, however, and a must-see for any noir fan. B+

Manhattan: Woody Allen is dating a high schooler! And his best friend is having an affair with a super-pretentious Diane Keaton. Nearly every character in this film is pretentious and annoying, and sometimes the movie is self-aware and mocking about it but it's not always clear. Either way, it makes it difficult to care about any of the characters and their relationships. The film looks fantastic, however, shot in black and white, the images stripped of color forcing you to just see the people as people without being distracted. There are some well-done scenes and good lines here and there, but it didn't hold my interest. B-

Crimes and Misdemeanors: I loved Match Point, and I heard this movie was essentially a funnier version of it, although the comedy generally comes from Woody Allen's usual schtick in his storyline. He plays a documentarian who, though married, begins falling in love with a producer on his latest film. The meatier storyline, however, is Martin Landau's. He plays an ophthalmologist whose mistress of two years threatens to destroy his life if he doesn't leave his wife. At a loss, he considers having her...taken care of. He's got the crime, and Woody's got the misdemeanor, and the movie takes these two loosely connected stories and muses on the nature of morality and God. Where does morality come from? Who determines it? Who is responsible for your guilt? It's fairly heavy-handed, but it's still compelling. B+

The Lives of Others: I have been wanting to see this movie ever since it beat Pan's Labyrinth for the Best Foreign Film Oscar because, what the fuck. But, like latropita, I am now okay with that, despite liking Pan's Labyrinth better. In 1984 Berlin (East Siiiiiide), a Stasi agent is assigned to surveil the apartment of a playwright and his actor girlfriend to check for any signs of anti-socialist sentiment, because we can't have that in our totalitarian regime, after all. The man soon finds out there's a hidden agenda to his assignment, and although he's loyal to his regime, he doesn't roll that way. To further complicate matters, he begins to take a liking to his subjects, and before he knows it, he is totally telling Heisenberg to screw off with his observer effect. The movie starts out slowly, but it builds perfectly, as you watch this man—whom you are introduced to as a hard-nosed interrogator—be affected by his sudden compassion for these people. He is putting his career, and maybe even his life, on the line for these strangers. At a certain point, the movie becomes almost unbearably tense as you wait for someone to get caught. And then when you think the movie's over, it keeps going because it has something else in store for you. The final scene brought tears to my eyes. B+/A-

Once Upon a Time in the West: Charles Bronson plays a quiet gunslinger, the Man with No Name...whose name is Harmonica. Because he plays the same damn harmonica melody over and over to announce his presence ominously. I-It kinda works. He's out for revenge on a man named Frank, who doesn't have a very terrifying name for a villain. But he shoots a kid, so he's clearly evil. Caught in the middle is a bandit named Cheyenne, who turned out to be my favorite character. Meanwhile, the sole female character, Jill McBain, gets treated like a woman in the Old West, i.e., constantly sexually assaulted. Half the movie is dramatic, intense looks. The other half is a fair bit of dialogue containing a handful of great lines. Somewhere in there they squeeze in some good gunplay. All in all, it's a decent spaghetti Western, but not as exciting or interesting as anything in the Dollars Trilogy. B/B+

Before Sunset: Nine years after Before Sunrise, Jesse and Celine find each other in Paris. He's there on the last leg of his book tour, having written a bestseller about That Night, and he needs to get to the airport in, oh, about the running time of the movie. In real time, we see them pick off where they left each other nine years ago, once again falling into that comfortable conversational rhythm (even more comfortable this time since the actors wrote their own dialogue). They're older and wiser now, so much less starry-eyed and idealistic than when we saw them last. They catch each other up on ther lives and current relationship statuses and reveal how much That Night meant to them. They have regrets, but they're still in good places now. While the movie is less magical than the first, it's not meant to be magical. It's just such a trip to see these two again. B+/A-

I don't have a specific queueueueue waiting on my DVR for the next batch. Instead, I am considering getting Netflix so I can watch whatever movie I choose. But in this new paradigm, should I continue posting movie reviews?

Poll #1567153 Cowbert and LJ at the Movies

How would you like me to review movies in the future?

You should write little capsule reviews like these and post a batch every now and then.
You should post only full reviews of movies you really like, as soon as you see them.
You should keep your opinions to yourself, bucko.

Should I include movies not rented through Netflix?

Yes, review any and all movies you see.
No, make special Netflix-movie posts.
That is the dumbest question I have ever heard.
Tags: making the grade, movies, poll
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