Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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Attack of the Killer B's

"I need to watch some better movies," I said last time. I...did not.

Cool Hand Luke: I like Paul Newman's salad dressing and salsa, and I hear he was a wonderful human being, but I've never seen any of his movies. I figured this was a good place to start. Newman is the titular Luke, who gets picked up for knocking the heads off parking meters and sentenced to a prison camp/chain gang. And then...well, this isn't really a movie with a plot. Basically, things are shitty, and Luke is cool. Things are shitty, and Luke is cool. Things are shitty, and Luke is cool. He earns the respect of his fellow prisoners in a display of extreme eating. But we really don't know much about him as a person, why he was the way he was, and that bugged me. What does he want? Well, he wants to escape, but that doesn't work out very well. The goddamn system just keeps trying to break him, man! Because there wasn't a very strong narrative, it was hard for me to stay engaged, and I was ready to give it a middling grade (B for Boring), but the last ten minutes elevated it. Also working for it were the direction by Stuart Rosenberg (lots of interesting shots) and the score by Lalo Schifrin. B/B+

Hulk: I was one of the five people who liked Hulk. I have good memories of seeing it in a movie theater. After The Avengers gave us the best Hulk ever, though, I thought it was time to revisit his previous incarnations to see how they compared. Eric Bana as Bruce Banner is kind of dull, which is a shame because the movie is very focused on his character, spending the first twenty minutes or so showing us how he grew up. He's very closed-off and repressed, and we only get a few moments to see what lies beneath (besides the big green guy, that is). Jennifer Connelly is really pretty. The movie was criticized for being overly serious, and it kind of is, but it's also incredibly silly at times too (the Hulk fights MUTANT DOGS, you guys). The Hulk is basically a big green rage monster most of the time, but he's most interesting in his more human moments, when he recognizes people he has a human connection to, when he really feels free. He never really displays the pure joy and fun that was praised in the Avengers Hulk, though. The real star of this movie is the visual style. Ang Lee did his best to make his comic book movie look like an actual comic book come to life, with action occurring in different panels on the screen and zooms in and out to represent the shifting perspective on a comic book page. Really, the pure joy and fun comes from watching the different visual tricks he uses. The movie itself loses steam near the end and then goes completely off the rails as its central metaphor and core character relationship are tossed away and transformed into special effects. Overall, however, it's a contemplative character study with splashes of comic book mayhem that remains enjoyable to watch for most of its running time. B/B+

The Incredible Hulk: This film reboots the origin story in the opening credits but basically continues where the first film left off, and that makes this Bruce Banner more interesting, as he is struggling to control the Hulk and find a cure. Edward Norton is very anguished and sad about having a big green rage monster inside him, but...that's basically it. There's no actual metaphor or exploration of what the Hulk represents or anything. This movie is more action-oriented, with Bruce on the run from the government, including Tim Roth as a wackaloon predator who just likes fighting or something. There are some good set pieces, and it's never boring, but there's no there there. It's no wonder I didn't really remember anything about it because there's not much to remember. Not much actually happens besides Bruce running away and occasionally Hulking out and destroying things. It's fun to watch, but it's easily the weakest of the Avengers setup films. Conclusion: Whedon/Ruffalo Hulk FTW. B/B+

Sleepless in Seattle: In honor of Nora Ephron's passing, I finally watched this famous flick. Tom Hanks is a single dad who's lost his wife. Meg Ryan is about to marry Bill Pullman, who's allergic to everything. One night Tom Hanks's son calls into a radio show to broadcast his sob story, and suddenly everyone is in love with "Sleepless in Seattle." Including Meg Ryan, who proceeds to stalk the living shit out of him for the rest of the movie. But the precocious son is totally into it! It's all cute and stuff. Basically, this movie is quite explicitly about movie love, not real love: An Affair to Remember hangs over the entire film. It is also about the ideal of love, not real love: the soundtrack is full of distractingly literal songs. There is no actual reason for these two to be together: When Harry Met Sally... it ain't. But it is charming nonetheless. B/B+

Super: What the fuck, James Gunn. Just what the fuck. This movie looked like a funny loser superhero movie in the vein of Kick-Ass, but in fact it is about a pathetic, delusional man who dresses up in a suit and brains people with a pipe wrench and then teams up with a girl from a comic book store who is somehow even crazier than he is to inflict graphic violence on people. It is not actually very funny at all; I chuckled a few times but never laughed. Because the movie is just so disturbing and uncomfortable to watch. It was unclear to me until reading an interview with James Gunn whether he was trying to make some sort of commentary on the idea of superheroes or just being awful, but I think it's the former. He did make me think about other superhero movies and why I actually enjoy them, largely, I suppose, because the violence isn't as graphic and we don't have to experience the things these vigilantes are doing to people and think about how they're...not quite right in the head at all. But the movie isn't really enjoyable to watch, and it's kind of depraved, and I'm still not quite clear on how I'm supposed to react to it. Ellen Page does look good in her outfit, though. B-/B

The Princess Diaries: In honor of Anne Hathaway's fantastic performance as Selina Kyle, I went back to her very first role as Mia Thermopolis, a clumsy San Francisco teenager with frizzy hair who discovers that she is princess of the fictional country of Genovia. Cue the Hollywood makeover where hair straightener and contacts turn a freak into Anne Hathaway! I always thought that was, like, the entire movie, but it turns out the movie has more to it than that. A lot more to it, actually: it's a bit overstuffed, likely because they wanted to keep as much from the book as possible. There's no need for the underdeveloped romantic subplot. There's no need to have so many goddamn shots of the cat. A better, tighter movie is lying underneath, one that focuses on Mia's friendship with Lilly and her relationships with her mother and grandmother. Instead, the movie focuses on the perils of being a paparazzi-plagued princess. I do like that Mia, unlike most socially conditioned little girls, doesn't want to be a princess, and when she finally decides she'll do it (um, spoiler warning?), it's not because she likes wearing pretty clothes and tiaras. Anne Hathaway is adorable, as expected, and whatever happened to Heather Matarazzo? There are lots of little things that work about this movie, but they don't come together as a cohesive whole. B/B+

30 Minutes or Less: In this high-concept action comedy from the director of Zombieland, Danny McBride straps a bomb to Jesse Eisenberg's chest and forces him to rob a bank with Aziz Ansari. Hijinks ensue, and nothing really goes as planned. At the supposed heart of this movie are the relationships between Our Heroes and the relationships between Our Villains, which are developed in the incredibly slow first twenty minutes of the movie (it felt like at least half an hour). Once the bomb clock starts ticking, the movie picks up, but even then, there's a surprising lack of tension, as the characters are alternately blasé and freaked out. There are a handful of laughs and amusing moments, but this sophomore effort has a pretty sophomoric script. The small moments with some actual directorial style are appreciated, but overall, the movie feels largely lifeless. B

John Carter: There were enough people who recommended this major flop that I gave it a shot, and I'm glad! I was completely unfamiliar with the source material, in which John Carter, Confederate soldier, finds himself on Mars, or Barsoom, as the Martians call it. And the Martians look like humans for no apparent reason. Except for the ones with six arms. And the other beasties. But, really, why do the Martians look like humans, THIS BOTHERED ME THE ENTIRE MOVIE. They have higher bone density than humans or whatever, because John Carter, actual human, can jump really high on Mars, so he's like a superhero! Anyway, the humanoid Martians are having a civil war of their own and the six-armed aliens are basically Apache Indians, I don't know if that's offensive or something. Also there is some magic blue light thing, I don't even know. Basically, this movie is really hard to understand and very little makes sense, but after a very slow start, it does become pretty fun and action-packed. It's an epic sci-fi adventure that has a nice old-school sensibility to it; even though there are spaceships and stuff, it's mostly rough-and-tumble swordplay on a red rock. Dejah Thoris, the titular Princess of Mars (in the original book), is actually pretty cool and badass for a love interest (she's a fightin' professor!). Everything looks great; it's good escapist entertainment. Just try not to worry about understanding what's going on most of the time. B/B+

The Descendants: After a boating accident leaves his wife in a coma, Matt King must take care of his two daughters, both of whom are wild and acting out, possibly out of grief, possibly out of growing up. He and his wife were having some marital issues before the accident, which doesn't make things any easier. And then he finds out that there is nothing the doctors can do: his wife is going to die. As if this weren't enough, he learns something that drives the plot for the rest of the movie. As he prepares to say goodbye to his wife, as he gives others the opportunity, in these last days, he goes on a journey with his daughters (and a tagalong), both physically and metaphorically. Compounding all this is a decision he has to make regarding a great swath of land passed down to him from generation to generation as one of the titular descendants of Kamehameha himself. Oh, did I mention the movie takes place in Hawaii and shows the real Hawaii, the one beyond all the sunny, sandy beaches, the one with buildings and highways like any other place in America, and that it is scored with Hawaiian music? This land is authentic, pure Hawaiian land, and it becomes a lovely, unspoken metaphor about letting go of the past and preserving something beautiful. Yes, both. Everyone and everything in this movie, including the land, is complex and complicated; all the characters have layers. This movie is emotionally draining without being emotionally manipulative. It's a very sad movie, with a pervading feeling of grief throughout the movie, written all over George Clooney's face. But it can also be laugh-out-loud funny. It's so well crafted from start to finish, with a screenplay full of subtleties, lovely images that hit the right beats, and wonderful performances, including Judy Greer in the first dramatic role I've seen her in. In fact, it was her final scene that pushed this movie over the edge for me. Take your five stars, Alexander Payne. Just take them. A-

Crimson Tide: In light of Tony Scott's shocking suicide, I watched this classic submarine movie in which Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman clash over whether or not to fire nuclear missiles on Russia. The truly amazing thing about this movie is that—with a couple exceptions where there is, like, actual action—that is basically the whole movie. I love how 85% of the tension is just Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman glaring at each other. What is also wonderful is that they are both right and they are both wrong: they have their reasons, and while we obviously side with Denzel, we understand why Gene does what he does. The movie starts off a little slow as it establishes its characters, but once they get in the sub, hoo boy, it never lets up. It's just superfuckinggoddamn tense for ninety minutes. Which is all the more impressive when you look back and consider that, really, the script follows a fairly predictable path: it's just executed really, really well. The script is peppered with philosophical discussions on the nature of war courtesy of Robert Towne and pop culture references courtesy of Quentin Tarantino, and Hans Zimmer's score has hints of his Pirates of the Caribbean work to come. In conclusion, Tony Scott sure was adept at shooting great big hunks of metal. B+/A-

The Hunt for Red October: In light of my desire to watch Crimson Tide, I decided to watch that OTHER classic Russian submarine movie (the one that actually takes place on a Russian submarine). Sean Connery is the captain of the titular Red October, and he's being hunted! By both the Americans and the Russians. Is it because he's going to initiate nuclear war all on his own...or is it because he's planning to defect? Alec Baldwin (what) thinks the latter, and he gets himself into one of those Analyst Gets Put into the Field plots. Also Sam Neill and Tim Curry and James Earl Jones, what, everyone is in this movie. It's not as nail-biting as Crimson Tide, but it is very tense and exciting once things get going, largely because we're not sure whether Our Heroes will get to the Red October in time and, even if they do, whether anyone will believe for a second that Sean Connery might not be a hostile. There's a lot of fun sonar and torpedoes and global politics and whatnot. John McTiernan keeps the action moving swiftly, and even though the movie is pretty long, it's not boring. B+

Submarine: After loving Richard Ayoade in The IT Crowd and Garth Marenghi's Darkplace AND enjoying two movies about submarines, it made perfect sense to watch Richard Ayoade's Submarine, which I knew nothing at all about except that I saw posters for it when I was in London and it probably had nothing to do with submarines. And, in fact, it does not. Because the submarine is a metaphor for the human condition or something. The story follows Oliver Tate and concerns two major plots: his awkward high school romance and his attempts at rekindling his parents' troubled marriage. It is a quirky indie comedy, but it doesn't overdo it, falling more on the side of endearing than annoying. Craig Roberts plays Oliver with such wide-eyed innocence that it's hard not to like him. Although the movie seems at first to have a strong narrative structure, beginning with a PROLOGUE and then announcing PART ONE, it actually lacks narrative drive, mostly meandering without a clear goal at times, and it loses steam in the middle. Much like a book that is carried by the strength of its prose, however, it makes up for a lack of plot by having lovely visuals, with many frames I just wanted to pause and stare at. Once I saw that the movie was based on a novel, I decided that Ayoade did the best he could with the story, and I look forward to seeing more of his directorial work. B/B+

The Hunger: As we discussed our favorite Tony Scott movies, his first movie, The Hunger, came up. It features vampire David Bowie! Sort of. This is supposed to be a vampire movie, but they're never identified as vampires, and they have reflections and walk in the sunlight, so really they are more like immortal bloodsuckers of an unnamed variety. Basically, vampire Catherine Deneuve promises people they will be together "forever and ever," except vampire David Bowie suddenly starts aging rapidly, which is like getting sick for immortal people. He seeks the help of non-vampire Susan Sarandon, who is studying the correlation between sleep and longevity. Meanwhile, I am studying the correlation between this movie and sleep because, damn, is it sloooooooow. This was before Tony Scott learned about pacing, I guess. Even though it does feature a lot of his trademark quick cuts, it also features people doing things very slooooooowly. Shot in a blue filter. With classical music. Or screeches. For mood and atmosphere. The famous love scene between Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon comes out of practically nowhere; I actually thought I was watching porn, it made as much sense. It takes literally half the movie for the actual plot to start, but the characters' motivations weren't really clear. Somewhere in there was an interesting examination of immortality and loneliness, I think, but it was buried too deep. Blue. Blood. Breasts. Boring. B

Seriously, I need to watch some better movies.
Tags: in conclusion, making the grade, movies
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