Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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April Showers Bring May...Showers, Apparently

With this batch, I've got some movies you may not realize are actually REALLY GOOD and some movies you may have thought were REALLY GOOD but didn't do much for me. And then there's Speed Racer, I don't even know.

Unstoppable: In this Oscar-nominated film (I know, right?), Denzel Washington and Chris Pine must stop a runaway train that is, well, unstoppable. While it sounds like a generic thriller, it's somehow really good. After about ten or fifteen minutes of setup, it's basically non-stop action and tension. I love how the train becomes this soulless monster, a force of unnature. It's just a million fucking tons of metal hurtling down the track, no one controlling it, like a zombie train. Rosario Dawson is great as the woman in charge trying to save lives while the train company is trying to save money. The two main characters have personal issues they must talk about occasionally, but they don't slow the movie down too much (in fact, there's a nice touch of realism in one scene where Chris Pine is telling a story and keeps getting interrupted by updates about the UNSTOPPABLE TRAIN). Tony Scott shows a lot of restraint and rarely does any flashy camera moves, instead just filming a fucking great movie. B+/A-

Tangled: This delightful version of Rapunzel focuses on maternal guilt, as the evil old crone who locks Rapunzel up in a tower to continue using her magical hair to stay young (...just go with it) tells her she's doing it for her own good, she loves her so much, why is she so ugly just kidding, she knows best, why is she incompetent just kidding. Rapunzel's only companion is...a chameleon. Flynn Rider, a wily thief, has just stolen a crown. His chief pursuer is...a horse. It's pretty great. He stumbles into her tower for safety, and she knocks him out with a frying pan. It's pretty great. Then they have adorable adventures and fall in love because this is a Disney movie. It's a nice blend of old-school and new-school. B+

Speed Racer: Was that a movie or a candy-colored assault on my senses and/or film itself? Speed Racer is truly a live-action cartoon, shot almost entirely on greenscreen and featuring the unfunny antics of a small child and a chimpanzee. Yet, it's over two hours long! Do they expect children to pay attention for that long? Hell, do they expect children to even be able to follow the first half hour of the movie, which slips in and out of flashbacks so fluidly as to make you reevaluate your sense of time and place? There is barely a static moment in this movie; everything is moving all the time, especially the camera, which doesn't appear content to remain in one place or time for very long. This movie is completely off the rails, and the racing scenes vary between kind of cool and impossible to follow, but they do look like the kind of eye-popping visuals that would have been glorious to see in a theater. There's a lot of inventiveness and creativity on display here, although I'm not sure how effective it really is. Despite how over-the-top and silly everything is, the movie does manage to be pretty fun and engaging: by the end, I was seriously rooting for Speed to win that fucking race. It's crazy cheesy with its Family Ideals vs. Corporate Power message, but whatever, there are fast cars and Christina Ricci with engine grease on her face. B/B+

The Talented Mr. Ripley: It all starts with a borrowed jacket. Before he knows it, Tom Ripley is traveing to Italy on a rich tycoon's dime on a mission to convince his son to return home. But Tom, a lowly bathroom attendant, seizes this opportunity to get a taste of the rich life, becoming obsessed with his target. We learn that his talents include forging signatures and impersonating people. I'm sure you can see where this is going, and, yes, things get quite interesting. The movie has a great cast (Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, Jack Daveport, Philip Seymour Hoffman), and it looks lovely, being shot in Italy (NOW I WANT TO GO TO ITALY). Following Ripley's machinations is fun, and it's almost comical how easily people are taken in by him (the movie is set in a time where it would be easier to pull it off). While there are moments here and there, I wish we got to know Ripley more. We don't really get enough of his motivations. In a way, that makes him scarier and/or more pathetic, though. B+

Sexy Beast: Otherwise known as "The movie where Ben Kingsley says 'fuck' a lot." Gal is a retired criminal living in Spain, but then Ben Kingsley comes down from London to recruit him for a bank heist organized by Ian McShane. But Gal is retired. So then Ben Kingsley basically yells at him for the rest of the movie and calls him and everyone around him fucking cunts. It's terribly boring, and I didn't really care about any of the characters, but some of Ben Kingsley's outbursts are entertaining. The movie gets a little more interesting in the last third, but, again, didn't really care. As it's the film debut of a music-video director, there are some stylistic flourishes that work and some that don't, and I couldn't really follow what was even going on at times. It's not a bad movie, but it didn't really do much for me. B-

The Brothers Bloom: We all loved Brick, right? So we were all waiting to see what Rian Johnson would do next. And this is what he did next! Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo are the Brothers Bloom, con men since they were kids (the pre-credits prologue that follows their first con, complete with narration, feels like something out of Pushing Daisies). Bloom wants out. Stephen will ask of him One Last Con: the mark is Rachel Weisz, an eccentric shut-in with a taste for adventure. What follows doesn't waver too much from the standard con-men story (complete with Falling in Love with the Mark, of course), but it's told with style and quirk, laugh-out-loud at times, frequently courtesy of the silent Bang Bang, Japanese explosives expert. It's a very fun romp with a healthy dose of what's-a-con-and-what's-real, brotherly love, and references to Ulysses. B+/A-

127 Hours: I'm definitely at the point where I'll watch whatever Danny Boyle does, having seen nearly all his movies and liked them all, so it's no surprise that 127 Hours continues this trend. Just the opening makes me feel like I'm in the hands of a master filmmaker who's going to be telling me a story in an interesting way. Of course, with this movie, everyone knows the story. That doesn't make it boring, however: it's not the destination but the journey, after all. James Franco is indeed excellent as Aron Ralston, who falls down a crack and gets his arm trapped by a boulder. Stuck down below in a place where no one can hear him, he tries to survive. And while there is a lot of neat survivalism to keep you entertained, the real heart of the story is Ralston himself, who films videos to document the experience, hallucinates various fantasies, and reflects on his life, the life he's about to lose. It becomes a portrait of a man stripped away of and from everything, forced to examine what's left. B+

Junebug: This was Amy Adams's breakout role, and she is pretty fucking adorable. Even though she has top billing, the movie actually focuses on her new sister-in-law, a big-city art dealer who comes down to North Carolina with her new husband for work and gets to meet the family. And, hey, she's from the city, and they're quaint Southern folk! That's pretty much the movie! Also, family is important or something. There is a whole plot about Madeleine trying to get some self-taught artist for her gallery, and I have no idea what the point of it was. With a couple exceptions, the characters don't feel real. I'm still not sure what the point of the movie was. Amy Adams's last scene is great, though. She is the only reason to watch this movie. B-/B

Bug: Yes, I thought it would be cute to watch this movie next even though they have nothing to do with each other. Remember when Ashley Judd was in movies? In this movie, she plays a woman with a lesbian best friend and a scary ex-husband who just got out of jail. She befriends a creepy, mysterious stranger, and they discover that her place is infested with bugs. Lots of little bugs. OR IS IT? The paranoia builds as the movie gets more and more fucked up, and I don't even know what the point of it was. It doesn't make a lot of sense, and much of it seems irrelevant. Perhaps it works better as a play. But, man, that must be one fucked up and intense night of theatre. B-/B

Open Water: A couple escape their busy lives by going on a nice, relaxing vacation. Where they go out scuba-diving in the middle of the ocean. And the boat leaves them behind. In the middle of the ocean. Where there are FUCKING SHARKS. Shot on digital video and based on a true story, Open Water is a real nail-biter. There's no CGI, no animatronics: those are real fucking sharks. As a result, you know you're not going to get any of your traditional scares, and the intensity and horror is created through skillful editing and your own imagination. Who are our hapless leads? Do we really care? Not all that much, but it's still nice when movies make the effort. We kind of want them to survive, I guess, but we're also eagerly anticipating the moment when a shark finally eats them. B/B+

City of God: In this fantastic Brazilian film, we're treated to a decades-long epic of bloody gang violence in the Rio de Janeiro slums. It's fun for the whole family! Our narrator—AND YOU KNOW HOW I LOVE NARRATORS—is Rocket, an aspiring photographer, who tells us his story, as well as the stories of other important figures, sometimes teasing us that characters will figure more importantly later on. He watches the formation of gangs, the rise of the crime lords, the beginnings of the inevitable war. But throughout all of this, we never forget that these are all people who have to make their choices—when they're allowed to. Some fates are out of their hands. Blood will be paid in blood, and the cycle of violence continues. This movie holds your full attention for over two hours because it's a joy to look at, if only because it's shot in Rio. But not the touristy, Carnival part of Rio. There's so much energy in every shot, propelling the non-linear narrative, which keeps looping back in on itself as Rocket puts the story together for us. Nearly everyone in the movie is a non-professional actor taken from the slums of Rio, which gives the film an even greater sense of authenticity than it already has by being based on a true story (there is a clip of an actual news report in the credits that was recreated almost exactly in the film). Man, after last cycle had so many good movies, this one has had too many that weren't great, so it's invigorating to watch a movie this good. A-/A

The Green Hornet: Britt Reid, partygoing son of a newspaper magnate, decides to become a superhero by being a supercriminal. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, since the "saving people" aspect is completely ignored through most of the movie, but never mind that. This movie is basically about Kato and how he is an AMAZING BADASS. Kato builds all the awesome weapons and tricks out the awesome car and fights awesomely. I don't understand why this movie was so panned and reviled. I can only imagine that people went in expecting a straight superhero movie and couldn't handle the fact that it was actually a comedy. It balances the comedy and drama pretty well for the most part, though. It's pretty silly and there's lots of destruction and explosions. What more do you want, I mean come on. B+

Strangely enough, my Netflix queue isn't exciting me very much at the moment since I have so many great things in my Netflix Instant queue. Maybe I should try clearing out that thing.
Tags: making the grade, movies
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