Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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Fall Favorites

After my last batch had very few great movies, I was glad to see some much better movies this season, though there were some clunkers as well.

Tokyo Godfathers: Continuing my quest to watch the work of Satoshi Kon, I checked out this movie without knowing a damn thing about it. Turns out, it's a Christmas movie! But not your usual sort. A homeless trio consisting of Hana, a transvestite, Gin, a middle-aged alcoholic, and Miyuki, a teenage runaway find an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve and embark on a series of misadventures in an attempt to find its mother. The protagonists are instantly endearing, and each one has a specific emotional reaction to the predicament based on their own relationships with their families. As they try to save this baby's future, they must confront their own pasts. It's not as stylish and dark as Kon's other work; in fact, it's pretty damn funny, largely courtesy of Hana. B+

Milk: After loving Alison Pill in Midnight in Paris and generally having heard good things about this movie a few years ago, I added it to my Netflix queue and then didn't watch it for three weeks because I was busy. Way to make use of that account. Turns out Alison Pill isn't in it all that much, but it really is a good movie, with fine acting all around. I was unfamiliar with Harvey Milk, and here was a movie to tell me his story. In fact, here is Harvey Milk to tell me his own story: the frame is Milk's tape recording his own narrative in case he is assassinated. Which he is, as the movie spoils for you immediately in case you have not been spoiled by, you know, history. The film charts Milk's rise to political power as a gay rights activist in San Francisco, choosing its story beats like a documentary, though scattering in the occasional personal, emotional moments. It moves swiftly, managing to never bore in its two-hour-plus run time. I found it interesting that Milk's activism sort of fed on itself; it's not as if he really intended to become a hero. But he saw that things needed changing, so he tried to change them. And when he became a figure, he embraced it and used it to continue trying to change things, always thinking only of the cause and never himself. It's disturbing to see what gay rights were like in the seventies but disheartening that thirty years later, we're still having to fight. B+/A-

Paul: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (who also wrote the movie) are two British geeks who cap off Comic-Con with a road trip to popular alien encounter sites...and then they have an encounter with a profane, pot-smoking alien named Paul, voiced by Seth Rogen. Hot in pursuit are Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, and Joe Lo Truglio. Eventually they also encounter Kristen Wiig. I didn't realize the movie had such a great cast! The movie itself is very uneven, however, as Pegg and Frost seem to have had a great idea for a movie (alien road trip adventure!) that they didn't know what all to do with. So you get a lot of scenes that are like "Heeeey, this is supposed to be funny because he's an alien, see?" And then some stuff that's just, ha, we're raunchy! But you also get some good character stuff here and there and a slew of references to other sci-fi films, so it's very geek-friendly. It's perfectly enjoyable, and I appreciate the offbeat take on the genre, but I can't help but think there's a better movie in there somewhere. B/B+

Hanna: Saoirse Ronan plays the titular Hanna, a teenage girl raised in the forest by her father, Eric Bana, to be the perfect assassin. She is basically a superawesome badass. It's clear that he raised her for one particular target: Cate Blanchett with a strange American accent. Soon, she's on the run from the CIA. There's a lot that's good about Hanna. The action scenes are totally sweet: it's like you're watching Hit-Girl: The Movie. Ronan is fascinating to watch as Hanna. She's not a brutal killing machine: she's a girl who's out in the real world for the very first time, completely flummoxed by things like electricity and friendship. The Chemical Brothers score is great. I loved the way the film looked, so stark and lacking in color. The characters, however, are a little thin, including Blanchett's villain. While I did like the focus on Hanna's fish-out-of-water-ness, it did sort of slow the movie down. And the backstory reveal is strangely underwhelming; I almost feel the movie would be better without it since the implications are left so unexplored. Overall, the movie is very good and different from the usual fare, but the whole is only as great as the sum of its parts, when it could have been more. B+

Blazing Saddles: I hadn't seen this movie in years, but after being reminded that I should be thinking of it all the time, living near Rockridge, I gave it another whirl. You all know the story of the evil whatever-he-is trying to drive out the people of Rock Ridge with a black sheriff so he can buy it up and cash in once the railroad goes through it. It's all very silly and zany in true Mel Brooks fashion, and it's also ridiculously anachronistic. Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder are great together, and Harvey Korman practically chokes on the scenery he's chewing. There are some great scenes, but a lot of gags kind of fall flat in that it's clear that they're mildly amusing but not the belly laugh they want to be. I don't know, I guess I'm more of a Spaceballs and Robin Hood: Men in Tights guy. I do have to respect a movie that breaks, like, the fifth wall, though, even though it basically destroys any sense of reality or continuity the movie pretended to have. B+

Bridesmaids: Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph are best friends, but then Maya Rudolph gets engaged, and Kristen Wiig meets her OTHER best friend, Rose Byrne, and the sparks fly! At first glance, this looks like a terrible movie like Bride Wars 2: Bridesmaids or something, but it's actually really hilarious! I feel like this is the first time I've really seen Kristen Wiig act rather than just play a funny character, and she really holds the movie together. I felt for her as her life turned to shit, and I rooted for her to get together with the Irish policeman, even if he did not look like Jon Hamm. Melissa McCarthy is indeed awesome and memorable. Everything is pretty much great and funny with this movie, which only occasionally crosses the line into too much or over-the-top, usually being successfully wry, which is how I like it. B+/A-

Attack the Block: The most-talked-about, most critically acclaimed alien invasion movie that no one saw this summer! In this fresh spin on the genre, aliens invade—as they do—but they meet their match in a bunch of inner city teenagers defending their block (here, referring to a housing tenement). While that seems like a recipe for a silly comedy, it's actually an action-packed horrific thrill ride (with great touches of humor). The alien design is simple but AWESOME, and the initial reveal of them is so great I wouldn't dare spoil it. But, like with all great sci-fi, it's not about the aliens but about the humans, and here we have a bunch of inner city kids, the poor folk no one cares about, the ones who are always getting arrested, basically saving the goddamn planet. And you have the woman they begin the movie by mugging but inevitably run into again. The storytelling is incredibly economical and streamlined; the movie skips the exposition section and dives right into the action, letting you learn about the characters on the way. The characterization is subtlely drawn on the two main characters, and the other characters are generally carried by the actors. Also, there's a bit of social commentary that's obvious enough without being intrusive. And it's got a great Basement Jaxx soundtrack. This movie gets in, does its job well, and gets out. A-

Bubba Ho-Tep: Since Don Coscarelli did the John Dies at the End movie, I moved this up in my queue. Elvis and JFK fight a mummy. Sounds AWESOME, right? Unfortunately, it's not exactly that awesome. Bruce Campbell is unrecognizable as Elvis, buried under hair and makeup, and Ossie Davis is JFK. Possibly. They're in an old folks' home that's being terrorized by a mummy for some reason. The movie was shot on a shoestring budget, and it shows. But low-budget effects can be overcome with good writing and direction, which this movie doesn't have. The mummy plot makes no sense—and the characters' investigation makes even less sense—and Coscarelli keeps doing this bizarre quick-edit flash thing with Elvis for no apparent reason. Also, the movie is less about the mummy than it is about Elvis being really old. The tone is wonky, as the movie can't decide whether it wants to be campy or profound, vulgar or insightful. Mostly, it's just dull. Obviously, this movie worked for a lot of people. I am not one of them. B-/B

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension: So Buckaroo Banzai is a rock star scientist. No, literally, he is a rock star and a scientist for some reason. And he has a comic book. And his team is called the Hong Kong Cavaliers. And one day he travels through a mountain and through the 8th dimension and then he has to stop an interdimensional war or something. I don't know about this movie. It's kind of silly on purpose, but it's also super dumb a lot of the time. John Lithgow is crazy and has a thick Italian accent and Carl Lumbly has dreads and a Jamaican accent for some reason and there is this bizarre romantic subplot and also Jeff Goldblum is in it. Everyone is in this movie, really. Even though it's not very good and it makes no sense and I never really understood what Buckaroo Banzai's deal was or who he was as a person. Things just sort of happen, and it's not terribly compelling, even though it's odd. I don't know. It's a cult classic, but I guess it doesn't really work for me. B

Mulholland Dr.: An aspiring actress. An amnesiac in a car accident. A man with a terrible dream. A hit man. A movie director. What do all these people have in common? How do they relate to each other? You may or may not learn the answers to these questions by the end of the movie! But you can't go into a David Lynch movie expecting it to make sense. You can, however, go into it expecting to be swept away in weirdness and surrealness. The two major plot threads—the relationship between the actress and the amnesiac as they try to discover her identity and the movie director battling mysterious behind-the-scenes forces to get his movie made—are compelling enough that the little things that don't make sense are okay. And then suddenly NOTHING makes sense. It's the sort of the movie that inspires deep analysis, and after reading a bit of it, I get it more than I did when the credits rolled, and I think it does have a lot of interesting layers, layers I had picked up on without really understanding them or their purpose until the end. B+

Jesus Christ Superstar: After being introduced to the classic rock opera via the amazing Theater Pub performance, I wanted to check out the movie version. You know the story, of course: Jesus was a dude, Judas betrayed him, he died, etc. Except in the movie a bunch of hippies drive out into the desert and put on the musical and somehow they have tanks and airplanes and I don't really understand the conceit. But if you ignore that whole thing, it's good! The songs are great and the acting is good and the costumes are silly and the props are low-budget but, speaking of props, I have to give props to them for filming on location. Now I can truly appreciate "Jeepers Creepers Semi-Star"! B/B+

Die Hard: I hadn't watched the greatest Christmas movie of all time (along with Gremlins, of course) in years, and it had been sitting on my DVR for almost four years, so it was time. And, holy crap, it is a fantastic goddamn movie. Yes, I was predisposed to look at it in an exceptionally positive light given its status as an action movie classic/template, but it seriously is a great movie. It juggles five or six subplots deftly, throwaway lines come back in clever ways, the action is exciting, and the setup is full of genius touches: the fact that the hero and the villain don't even see each other for most of the movie—despite being in the same building—adds so much. As does the relationship between McClane and Al, his man on the outside. And that's why this movie succeeds, really: it's grounded in character relationships. Before the action movie even begins, we're invested in the relationship between John and Holly. Then, of course, there's lot of gunfire and explosions to keep our interest. A/A+

Die Hard 2: Die Harder: It's Die Hard in an Airport! So remember that thing about being grounded in character relationships? This one doesn't have that. There are terrorists and there are airport shenanigans and there's lots of gunfire and explosions but it feels like they went for the bigger = better approach. The first movie is wonderfully claustrophobic, and in this one, although there is a nod to that, McClane can wander around a lot more freely. Now, it's kind of silly to criticize that aspect because I love Die Hard with a Vengeance, which has McClane driving all over town, but that movie has many other things going for it, like Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Irons, and puzzles. This one has none of those things. It's a fun time with McClane, but it feels more like a mindless action movie. I would probably be kinder to it if I weren't watching it directly after the original. B/B+

Trollhunter: In the Norwegian Blair Troll Project, some intrepid university students track down a troll hunter who hunts trolls. Like most found-footage movies, nothing interesting happens for half an hour. But then there are trolls! AND THEY LOOK FUCKING RIDICULOUS AND SILLY. But they are kind of big and scary too? But they still look silly. Also, they eat Christians for some reason. Anyway, there is some exciting troll action, even though it's also kind of boring and the intrepid university students have no personalities. But the troll hunter is an interesting guy, so there's that. There are little bits of Norwegian politics that add to the worldbuilding and the THIS IS REEEEEEAL ruse. I was prepared to give it a solid B, but the climax is pretty great. B/B+

TiMER: In the future, the biological clock is a reality: you can get an implant that counts down to the day you meet your soulmate and helpfully dings at the very moment. But Oona (Emma Caulfield) is about to turn 30, and her TiMER still hasn't started counting down. Her stepsister, Steph, on the other hand, won't meet her soulmate for over a decade. And her brother is turning 14 and about to find out how long he has. So when she takes a chance with the James Franco-esque checkout boy whose TiMER will be going off in four months, she's not sure how to react. It's a very interesting premise, and the movie does explore some of the ideas raised by the certainty of knowing who is (and who is not) your One True Love. It takes some turns, some predictable, some not. It's charming and entertaining and recommended for Emma Caulfield fans, but I'm not sure what to make of the ending. B+

Man on Wire: Man on Wire has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It has 149 Fresh reviews, not a single Rotten. It is the story of Philippe Petit, who committed the "artistic crime of the century" by rigging a wire between the Twin Towers and wirewalking high above Manhattan. What's great about this movie is it's a documentary that is basically a heist flick. We watch the spark of the idea, the planning, the recruiting, the operation (during which things do go wrong, as they always do), and everything, thanks to a combination of video, stills, and cleverly shot reenactments. Some of the best moments are these reenactments, edited to the retellings to really pull you into the story. And, oh, Philippe is a great storyteller, full of verve and energy; he's quite a character. He sees what he did as something beautiful and magnificent, and it's hard to disagree. And although it's never mentioned, the movie also works as a lovely post-9/11 tribute to the World Trade Center, a look at a time when those towers were marvelous architectural achievements, news to the whole word, the seed of one boy's dream. B+/A-

I hope the new year brings many good movies!
Tags: making the grade, movies, pimpings, theatre
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