Friday, December 27, 2013

The Best Movies of the Year Sneak into December

Um, wtf happened this year. I don't go to the movies for a solid month because there is literally nothing good playing and then this month (when I have been too busy to function) there are like 20 movies that dare to come out in theaters.

WTF, movie conglomerates? You think that three days off will really boost your movie sales enough to make up for evenly spaced releases throughout the year?

(Perhaps this is unfair of me. As someone who goes to the movies, like, three times a month, I probably represent a smaller fraction of the general movie-going public...)

Let's talk about all of the movies that I now have to wait until January to see because there wasn't enough time in this damn month to play catch-up. [Besides, of course, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (which I saw in NYC in October) and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (review pending)]

1. Frozen


I have heard literally nothing but good things about this movie - especially its apparently mind-boggling soundtrack. The story follows two royal sisters, one of whom has magical powers that go awry. After the powerful sister banishes herself from the kingdom, it's up to the remaining sister to find her and make her come back to their kingdom. I have a notorious affinity for kids' movies (Disney especially; so well made!) and can't wait to catch this one (hopefully before it leaves theaters).

2. American Hustle


It looks like Goodfellas, Casino, The Fighter and National Treasure had a baby. Could Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, and Amy Adams be the next DeNiro, Pesci, and Stone? I can't wait to see this one and find out what the heck it's actually about. Love the Zeppelin in the trailers!!!

3. Saving Mr. Banks


Little apprehensive about this one because it apparently takes some liberties with the original tale of P.L. Travers and her mission to impede the creation of the Mary Poppins film (which was a notorious pain in the ass for Disney) due to creative differences. Not sure how good a Walt Disney Tom Hanks will prove, and a little unsure about how many feelings are in it (I hear it's a sob fest), but you can sign me up for anything with Emma Thompson in it and there's a 85% chance that I'll enjoy it.

4. Anchorman 2

The only poster necessary right?

Heard mixed reviews about this one too. On the one hand, it seems nearly impossible to improve upon the laugh-fest that is the first Anchorman. On the other hand, who doesn't want to see more of that ridiculous, mustachioed news anchor and his band of misfits? Count me in.

5. The Wolf of Wall Street

My office looks like this too.

Honestly, I only want to see this because Scorsese made it. The film runs about 3 hours long and promises to be a total spectacle. But I feel like it's going to make me mad. It'll be interesting to see whether this film or American Hustle gets more popularity. They seem to have similar themes on corruption and the fact that they both take place in the near past is interesting.

6. 47 Ronin

I mean he was Neo. Maybe he can pull off "cool" again...

I could probably just call this The Asian Version of 300 and it would be like 50% the same movie (by the looks of the trailer). Despite being based on a true story, that whole lady-turning-into-a-dragon thing seems a bit suspect. But I guess you could say the same thing about a Scottish King Leonidas. Still, it looks like fun. Haven't seen a good action flick since the newest Hobbit.

Hopefully I can squeeze all of these in before the end of January. But I'm not making any promises.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Best Christmas Movies Post-1960s

This was probably the hardest list I've ever had to make. Because it could've ended up being like 45 items long. But, let's be real, no one would read through that many. So we've had to make some cuts, and here are the ones that I have determined are the creme de la creme.

So here we go with the...


1. Home Alone (1990)

haha, old previews...

Bless little Macullay (sp?) Culkin's heart. Have you ever seen a more authentic child actor? I pose that you have not. For anyone on this planet that hasn't heard of this movie, an entire family ships off to Paris for the holidays, only to discover halfway through their flight that they've left their child home alone (see what they did there?). As his mother tries desperately to get back home to make sure that he's alright, two burglars are trying to invade their home under the impression that no one is home. Kid fights to defend his house. Hilarity ensues. Besides dear little Kevin McCallister (let's not try to spell MacCaullay again...wrong..), the two-bandit duo Harry and Marv are cinema gold. Pesci puts a hilarious twist on his typical gangster persona and Daniel Stern's clearly clueless marv just makes a hilarious foil. Good job, John Hughes. As always.

2. Christmas Vacation (1989)

nice MS Paint marquee at the end there...

Okay, this is probably my family's favorite. Because it's hilarious, we haven't over-watched it, and the jokes are just so spot-on. Clark Griswald sets out to have the ideal Christmas at his house with his entire family. His entire family. When everything starts to go wrong, this movie just gets so damn funny. From a burnt up tree and an uncle that catches on fire, to a great aunt that can't remember how to pray and a SWAT team that shows up, this Christmas movie is unlike any other I've seen. Never gets old. Well done again, John Hughes.

3. Love Actually (2003)

oh god, someday someone will make a romcom trailer without "This Will Be."
waiting patiently for that day...

Who thought that England had it in 'em to create a festive, modern Christmas movie that tugs at ALL of your heartstrings (no offense, England, we just don't hear from you very often over here). One of those rare holiday gems that features an all-star cast that perfectly gel together in various interwoven story lines (we need to work on this in the U.S. guys, New Year's Day and Valentine's Day just did not cut it). It shows us the values of the season without getting overly sappy and finds a subtle but effective balance between humor, heartache, and love. Actually.

4. Jingle All the Way (1996)

Oh man...this little gem. The Little Christmas Movie That Could. I don't know who thought having Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad star together in a family Christmas movie was a brilliant idea, but congratulations, you have created the most (un)intentionally funny kid's Christmas movie of our time. The chemistry between the two of them, as well as the maddening subject matter of waiting too long to get your kid's favorite toy, fuse together to create what is a really funny movie. "Put that cookie down, now!"

5. Elf (2003)

hahaha anyone catch the "AOL Keyword: Elf" at the end there? oh old times...

Will Ferrell. (Drops the mic and walks away.)

No but really, Will Ferrell is quite possibly the most successful that any adult has ever been in acting childlike. When you see him as Buddy the Elf, you immediately want to get into the innocent and genuine mind set that he is in with regards to Christmas. Additionally, it really has almost everything that people look for in their Christmas movies. It harkens back to the stop-motion movies of the 1970s with the sets and animated animal friends in the beginning, has a part that is love story, and a huge part about family and personal identity. Yes, Buddy, there is a Santa Claus. And he lives in you. Perfect movie.

6. The Santa Clause (1994)

I am not a huge Tim Allen fan (I think the guy is a terrible person in real life), but this film brings me back so much nostalgia for the 90s, as well as a great plot, that I can't help but like it. The movie asks the question: "What if your dad became Santa Claus?" I mean, is there any other question that would explode a child's mind with excitement like this question right here? And his transition is so honest in regards to the real world that it actually stays pretty funny. Tim Allen's grumpy Scott Calvin is perfectly suited to be worried about the real-life repercussions of this transformation while simultaneously being taken over by the feelings that come with the persona. Still a pretty great movie. I'll let you by on this one and the Toy Story franchise, Mr. Allen...

7. One Magic Christmas (1985)

this is the only thing I could find - no trailer, sorry guys!

This one is actually a little rough. If you want a reminder of what Christmas is all about, then this one will have you clutching your loved ones for dear life. An angel is sent to make a cynical woman believe in Christmas again, and takes some extreme efforts in doing so. This movie, however heartbreaking it can get sometimes, is a great reminder of the values of the season. Christmas really isn't about money, it's about the people that you love! Really adorable performances by the two little kids. Ugh. Makes me cry every time. Available for streaming on Netflix!

8. George C. Scott's Christmas Carol (1984)

oops here's the whole movie...

Admittedly, I haven't seen this one more times than I can count, but I always catch it when it's on TV. I'd explain the story but I'm guessing you all know it pretty well. This one contains a lot of nuances that the others have since missed (including the terrifying kids, Ignorance and Want, who still freak me out). While I have a lot of respect for the newer Patrick Stewart version as well, there's a warmth in the lighting in this George C. Scott's that makes it so much more cozy than the cold, gray-lighted nightmare that is the Patrick Stewart version. And there's a bit more old-timey TV drama to the George C. Scott version as well, that makes it stand out a little more. (We're not going to discuss the Jim Carrey version. We're going to pretend like that didn't happen. The Albert Finney version too.)

9. A Christmas Story (1983)

I mean, come on. Has any single movie been more quoted since its debut? "You'll shoot your eye out!" "I triple-dog dare you!" "Frah-jee-lay -- that must be Italian!" "Oooohhh fuuuuudge." I could go on, but I'll stop there. Fantastic Christmas movie that chronicles a family's holiday season in the 1940s. The family dynamic is priceless, and the writing (from original story by Jean Shepherd, who is also the narrator) is spot-on. Every thought that we hear from Ralphie just seems to strike a note that feels all too familiar. Dealing with school bullies, imagining going blind (and subsequent family reaction) from "soap poisoning," cursing in front of your parents, and trying to persuade them to get you a dangerous present that you desperately want. Priceless material that never gets old. Which is probably why they air it on loop every Christmas Day.

10. The House Without a Christmas Tree (1972)

part one of many..

A lesser known gem, I don't think I saw this movie until I was at least in middle school. Another story set in the 1940s that follows a child as she tries to get something that she desperately wants - a Christmas tree. Following the death of her mother years before, her father is a regular Scrooge that is so heartbroken that he can't stand the sight of a Christmas tree, or any celebrations at all for that matter. As Addie (the kid) tries to persuade him otherwise, she rediscovers things about her mother and, after things come to a head, ends up teaching her dad about the importance of moving on and of celebration in general. Originally made as a TV movie, this may seem a little dated, but the story is so sweet you get wrapped up in it.

11. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

I mean, you all know how I feel about The Muppet Christmas Carol. It has Michael Caine and Muppets. Could you ask for anything more wonderful? Another movie that balances that fantastic mixture of humor and real feels. And perfect music and sets. Marrying the unreal with the real. Perfect. I don't have anything else to say about this one (especially because I've reviewed it before) . If you don't like it, you clearly have no soul.

12. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

Best soundtrack possibly ever. I love the whole package here. Although its movie status may be debatable (it's only 45 min. long), the simple quest of young Charlie Brown to find what Christmas is all about is just so sweet. And the young voices of the entire cast make it that much more sincere. (Can we import some children from the 1960s to voice over current child actors' voices? Why do kids not sound like this anymore?) Between nurturing his one-branched Christmas tree and finding out what Christmas is all about (thank you, Linus), Charlie Brown does indeed have a wonderful Christmas. So cute.

Close runners-up include:

-Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (A classic, but a little dated for my current attention span. Love that Burl Ives though!)

-The Year Without a Santa Claus (Every time I watch this one I hear my mother's voice telling me that summer has no place in a Christmas movie. Love the Meiser Brothers though.)

-Home Alone 2 (Kevin seems a little more like an asshole in this one, but who doesn't love seeing a kid go crazy with his dad's credit card?)

-The Disney cartoon version of A Christmas Carol (Great cartoon adaptation but a little short. Definitely great for kids.)

If I missed any, don't yell at me. This is my blog, damnit. I do what I want.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Oldboy (The Remake): Mehhh

When I saw the original Oldboy back in 2010 on the recommendation of a friend, I was scarred for days afterward. Here was a film so violent and really just MESSED UP that it stuck in my head for days. It was so different than any movie I had seen previously. Here was a man that had been imprisoned for a number of years in a hotel room, with nothing but the same things surrounding him all the time. He ends up getting himself into fine physical shape and one day wakes up in a suitcase in the middle of a field, released without explanation. But the game doesn't end there. Totally clueless at who has imprisoned them all of those years, his captor decides to continue the game and let the man guess why he was put there in the first place. The end will make you uncomfortable for days.

Enter the remake, Oldboy, directed by Spike Lee and starring Josh Brolin.

My gut reaction when I heard they were remaking this film was a resounding "WHY?" For one thing, South Korea is allowed to have some pretty messed up themes. Their history as a country and a whole bunch of other cultural factors make graphic movies extremely common (you can read more about South Korean film in this ancient post). American audiences don't seem as interested in graphic stuff unless you make that movie badass.

That being said, the new Oldboy (Newboy?) lacks a lot of what its predecessor accomplishes.


Okay y'all, here are my problems with this remake:

1. Main guy's characterization
Old Oldboy: main guy, named Oh Dae-Su, seems to be a pretty okay dude. Sure he's a little drunk in the beginning, but he doesn't have any issues with his family; they're all actually pretty happy until he gets kidnapped and framed for his wife's murder.

New Oldboy: main guy, Joe, is a total dick. Late on child support payments, hits on taken ladies, alcoholic, and generally just seems pretty unlikeable. When he gets randomly imprisoned, you're not like "wait, why...?" you're more like "yeah I could see why someone would do that..."

just not as cool, right?

2. Main villain's characterization
Old Oldboy: main villain, Lee, is creepy but believable. you want to know why he did it.

New Oldboy: main villain, Adrian, is a little cartoony, complete with English drawl and evil laugh. Austin Powers-y.

3. Kung Fu realism
Old Oldboy: Oh Dae-Su learns all of his moves from watching TV and basically just winging it. He's pretty badass but he's no Jackie Chan. He even wonders aloud at one point if learning martial arts in a hotel room for the past several years can translate into the real world. The fighting seems more real because he's not amazing at it at first.

New Oldboy: Joe is like Neo from The Matrix. Lee seems to try to explain this by hinting at his background/interest in boxing but you're kind of like "WTF?" when he very nearly kills an entire team of soccer players as soon as he gets out of that field.

4. The shocking ending 
Old Oldboy: Lee doesn't seem as cartoonily nutso as much as seriously not right when he calmly explains that his sister and he were in love and that Oh Dae-Su totally made the girl commit suicide. Additionally, Oh Dae-Su doesn't intentionally push the girl to suicide and ruin her reputation at their school. It seems mostly accidental and makes the whole story even more horrific. Furthermore, Oh Dae-Su's fate is much more harsh in this version. Trying to reason with Lee, he cuts out his own tongue begging the man to never tell his daughter what they've done. I mean, what is worse than realizing that you've fallen in love with and slept with your own daughter? Hmm. Not a lot of things are coming to mind. But Park takes it a step further in the original. Even after the main character's extreme actions trying to persuade the villain, and even after the villain's suicide, Oh Dae-su has himself hypnotized to never remember that he is her father, and it seems like they continue their relationship.

and you're like "NOOOOO!!!!"

New Oldboy: This ending seems more strange to me, and I feel like Lee wussed out of going the full mindfuck (pardon my language but there really isn't any other term for it). Instead of Adrian having been in love with his sister, he reveals that the entire family was in an incestuous relationship that was shattered by Joe's gossip and resulted in the entire family being murdered. Adrian is more obviously delusional, as he thought that he was in a romantic relationship with his father that was legitimately special. The Joe's original discovery of the father and the villain's sister having sex prompts the main character to loudly slut-shame the daughter and, in the long run, for the father to murder the entire family (including himself). Realizing that he's totally exacted his revenge on Joe, Adrian kills himself. Joe is then free to use his prize of a bajillion dollars in diamonds to give to his daughter and to also check himself back in at Hotel Hell, where he seems perfectly content to punish himself for the foreseeable future. Not as believable honestly. And the last frame shows him smiling. Wtf? There would be no smiles here!

not buyin' it.

Funny thing about remakes in general is that they have to either improve upon or creatively re-imagine original stories. Batman is a great example. The original Batman was pretty good but Christopher Nolan totally revamped the series, made a broken and damaged Batman, held a city hostage multiple times, and the rest is history. The entire vision of the newer Batman series is totally indistinguishable from the original.

The new Oldboy is a terrific example of why you shouldn't remake a movie just because you think it would be cool. By distorting the original effectiveness of the themes, Lee ends up making what seems to be a pretty cookie-cutter thriller with a horrifying ending, but not one that really lasts. After seeing the original film, I was uncomfortable for days, but the main character in the new one just seems so unbelievable and so many things are tweaked to be different that I kind of walked out of the theater shrugging.

Not thrilled with this movie. Simply takes too many liberties that just morph it into another American movie trying to be more than it is.

4 outa 10.

The original is just so much grittier....

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Best Christmas Movies Pre-1960

Okay, there are way too many Christmas movies to make just one list, so I'm going to break this up into chunks for all of y'all.

Now some of you may have seen that the majority of these movies take place in the 40's and 50's and be all "Gross. I don't watch movies that aren't in color." Well, my friend, let me kindly tell you that you are a fool. Because this era features some of my favorite Christmas movies ever. So without further ado, here's:


1. It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

oops here's the whole movie...

Ironically, when this movie first came out in 1946 people were not crazy about it. It was right after the war and a lot of people found it to be too depressing. However, in the years following it developed a cult following and has been a Christmas classic ever since. The story follows George Bailey, a hometown guy that, despite always wanting to get the hell out of his hometown, is as much the center cog of it as anyone. When one rough Christmas Eve has him wishing he'd never been born, circumstances occur that make him reconsider. The movie's themes of hope and gratefulness really tune in with the season. And really, what would Christmas be without good ole Bedford Falls?

2. White Christmas (1954)

so the quality of the VistaVision is much better on the Netflix version...

Not the first movie to feature the actual song "White Christmas" by almighty crooner Bing Crosby, but probably the one that you remember better. The movie was actually created to be a sequel for the original film that featured the song "White Christmas," a flick called Holiday Inn (mentioned later on this list), but Fred Astaire had retired at that point so the movie was reworked at the last minute for Danny Kaye (my favorite guy). The story follows singing duo Wallace (Crosby) and Davis (Kaye) who meet up with new pals The Haynes Sisters (played by Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney, George's aunt) and put on a show in a failing hotel in Vermont. With some mind-boggling dance numbers, sweet songs, and gorgeous color, this one's been in my family collection for years. The ending always makes me a little misty. Catch it on Netflix for free!

3. Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

okay, this trailer is incredibly uncomfortable, but the movie is fantastic I promise!

Alright, this is one of my top three Christmas movies of all time. Elizabeth Lane (played hilariously by Barbara Stanwyck) is a famous food writer for national magazine American Housekeeping. A role model of an American woman, Elizabeth Lane's husband, baby, perfect recipes, and farm in Connecticut are coveted by all of America. Except there's one problem: the real Elizabeth Lane lives in a New York apartment by herself, baby-less, and is a terrible cook. When her boss (oblivious to the lie she's living) forces her to host a sailor on her farm for Christmas, she fortunately finds a way to keep up the facade. Only there's one more problem: she's falling for the sailor. As everyone begins to figure out that maybe Elizabeth Lane isn't quite the picture perfect woman they all imagined, there are nothing but laughs. A hilarious romp from 1945, I absolutely love this movie. Sets and costumes are fantastic and the comedic timing is impeccable.

4. The Bishop's Wife (1947)

here's a clip - no trailer, kids, sorry!

You may have heard of the remake of this one, The Preacher's Wife, featuring Whitney Houston as a kid's-solo-stealing possible-husband-cheater-onner, but the original is so much sweeter. Also it has Cary Grant, and Cary Grant > Denzel Washington any day (sorry, it's true). A bishop is struggling to have a cathedral rebuilt but in his efforts begins to lose sight of his faith and of his family. Sent from heaven to help the bishop rediscover who he is and the value of his family, Dudley (played by Grant) befriends his wife (played by a very sweet Loretta Young). The story (although sometimes it makes me raise my eyebrows slightly...) is very cute and very "true meaning of Christmas." If you're looking for some old-timey religious inspiration, this movie's got you.

5. Miracle on 34th St. (1947)

once again, an awkward trailer...
geez, really took people a while to understand this type of publicity...

Again, yes, this one has been remade, but the original's characters far outweigh the clunky dramatic (and, let's be honest, slightly bitchy) yuppies in the newer one. When the real Santa Claus comes to New York and gets involved in the annual Macy's parade, things seem too good to be true! And maybe they are. After Kris Kringle gets involved in a legal dispute over his true identity and possible delusional tendencies, a young lawyer defends him saying that he really is Santa Clause. Played with so much more sincerity than the remake, I'm obsessed with this one. It's much more lighthearted and sweet. And with a supplemental story line featuring a child (young Natalie Wood! so cute!) trying to figure out whether or not Santa Claus is real, this movie will have you dying from the adorable.

6. Brian Desmond Hurst's Christmas Carol (1951)

oops here's the whole movie again...

Six words: "I must stand on my head!" If you don't know what I'm talking about, you should probably see this version of the movie. Now, I know what you're thinking, "A Christmas Carol!? How original!" and I'm gonna tell you to shut up right now, because next to The Muppet Christmas Carol's Michael Caine, Allistair Sim is the best damn Scrooge I've ever seen. Total asshole in the beginning, sure, but his transformation into the giddy man at the ending is one of the most graceful in any Christmas Carol reincarnation ever.

7. The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

haha, omg this line...

A lesser known Christmas tale, but a great one nonetheless. When Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolly), a renowned critic, comes to visit a family home for dinner, he slips on the icy steps and hurts his leg, forcing him to stay with the family until travel is possible. Confined to a wheelchair, Whiteside begins meddling with the lives of the family he's staying with - even after his leg heals! But will he see the error of his ways once he notices the dwindling attitudes of the people he cares about most? Not specifically a Christmas story, but a holiday tale. Features big stars such as Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan, and Jimmy Durante. Very entertaining. (Was also done as a stage production with Nathan Lane not long ago, the recording of which I believe is on YouTube.)

8. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

so pretty

Okay, maybe not 100% a Christmas film either, this movie chronicles the life of a St. Louis family at the turn of the 20th century through the four seasons. The emotional crux of this movie, however, happens during Christmas time. And nothing is more emotional than hearing Judy Garland's character sing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" to her little sister the day before they're supposed to be moving away to big scary New York. Expert tears by Margaret O'Brien. Once again, beautiful Technicolor. They don't make 'em like this anymore.

9. Holiday Affair (1949)

oops, here's the whole movie again...

Connie (Janet Leigh) is struggling to find time for romance in her life after the death of her husband in the war. The only person she seems to have time for is her little boy, Timmy (a.k.a. the cutest kid I've ever seen). Working one day as a comparison shopper, Connie accidentally gets a salesman (Robert Mitchum -swoon-) fired. After their paths cross more than once, they begin to form a relationship that may be a little stronger than friendship - much to the chagrin of Connie's fiance! This movie is really carried by the chemistry between Leigh and Mitchum, who seem to have a sort of unspoken magnetism. Equally engaging is the little boy who plays Timmy. Holy crap is this kid cute. A great Christmas tale off the beaten track.

10. Edwin L. Marin's Christmas Carol (1938)

This version of A Christmas Carol is way dated, but in being so has a certain charm to it. Featuring laughable aging makeup (by today's standards) and extremely hyperactive Cratchet children (seriously, I swear, they never stop exclaiming at everything), this movie is still pretty entertaining. Also features the above scene in which (contrary to the book) Bob Cratchet goes nuts and buys everything under the sun after Scrooge fires him. I like it because it was the only version of the story that we had in our house for a while, and there's something to be said for the over-acted style of the 1930s. Definitely stands out for its sets and costumes.

11. Susan Slept Here (1954)

Possibly the strangest and most uncomfortable Christmas movie to date, this movie boasts being the only film ever narrated by an Oscar (despite the fact that this has no relevance to the story whatsoever). When a young delinquent (played by a spunky Debbie Reynolds) is taken in by a struggling Hollywood writer, weird things happen. Being charitable since it's Christmas, he decides to keep her off the streets for a night. And soon after decides, for some reason that I forget, that he should marry her so that she can stop being a delinquent or something. But despite the fact that this is a strictly paper marriage on his side, Susan is determined to show him that she can be the perfect wife for him. Very uncomfortable, but kind of funny, I somehow end up watching this one every year on Christmas Eve. (I really can't tell you why.)

12. Holiday Inn (1942)

(okay, for some reason, I can't embed the link in this post because all of the videos have it disabled, so here's the link)

A musical and dancing vehicle for Crosby and Astaire, Holiday Inn was the first movie to feature the song "White Christmas." Jim (Crosby), jilted after his buddy Ted (Astaire) steals away yet another one of his fiancees (you'd think that he'd stop being friends with this guy...), decides to move to a farm wher life is "simpler." After figuring out that life on a farm is actually quite difficult, he decides to turn the farm into a hotel for every major holiday and earn a few bucks entertaining the locals with his best girl, Linda (played by Marjorie Mason). But when Ted gets wind of it, Jim is hard-pressed to find ways to keep them away from each other. This movie is actually pretty great for any holiday. (Except for Presidents' Day. Sweet Jesus, a more offensive and racist musical number there never was than "Abraham"...)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Hunger Games Again: Catching Fire Indeed.

Okay. So. For those of you that hadn't read my review of the first film, The Hunger Games (here), I was unimpressed. It wasn't a bad movie, but it lacked a lot of the emotional integrity that the book had.

That being said, I was totally blown away by Catching Fire. In a rare event that only special sequels like Toy Story 2 and The Dark Knight get to enjoy, Catching Fire joins the ranks of sequels that are even better than their predecessors. And that ain't no easy feat.

Let's get into the "why," shall we?

I mean, come on. Even the promo art is better.

This movie picks up where the first one left off. Katniss has been living back in District 12 and is about to go on a tour of the 12 Districts with Peeta as part of their victory. But things are not all as quiet as she would've hoped. Before they leave on their tour, Katniss is visited by President Snow, who tells her that she and Peeta must convince the public that the way they left the games was because of their love for each other - not an act of defiance. After she promises to comply, the tour begins. But things only get worse. Riots and botched speeches give way to more conflict and, before they know it, they're back in the games that so haunted their lives the first time. Only this time with a twist. Competing against other tributes that have already won previous years, this round becomes the ultimate survival game.

As a side note can we talk about how all of Panem's propaganda posters
look like they were made in North Korea? (Coincidence?)

So wow. I tell ya what, wow. I didn't have my hopes high for this one, but the new director choice really served them well. (Francis Lawrence. Also, I feel it necessary to mention that a member of the audience shouted "BLESS YOU, FRANCIS LAWRENCE." at the end of the film. Yeah, it's that good.) Instead of vom-inducing shaky-camera, we've got a clear agenda going on here. Who knows if it's the fact that there aren't as many young children being killed in this one, but the action scenes were much more straightforward and SUSPENSEFUL. Each shot was made with more attention and details didn't seem as sugar-coated as in the original. The action part really gets fulfilled where the first one seemed a little unsure of itself

So much action!
(Couldn't find an action shot. Apologies.)

Another layer that seemed to form in this newest installment was the development of the characters. The ones I had considered largely miscast in the first one really seem to come into their own in this film. Jennifer Lawrence, who I thought played Katniss a little too cold in the first one, really becomes a full-bodied character in this one. Her experiences from the first games really seem to haunt her convincingly in this ones, as she finds it hard to emotionally separate herself from things that the state has told her to do. And Josh Hutcherson (bless his short little stature), goes from a lovesick puppy dog to a guy that you'd buy has legitimate feelings for this girl. While in Hunger Games he seemed full of big dopey stares and a questionable level of devotion, his experiences with Katniss in the first games make his love a little more believable and a lot more understanding. (God I love them together. Always was Team Peeta.)

Sorry, Lenny, still not buying you as Cinna. 
Get out of these movies, please.

Beyond all of the acting and cinematography, though, the story in this one is better pronounced as a film this time around. The first book isn't totally action-driven. There's a lot of internal monologue and confusion and waiting and sleeping in trees. But the second book, and this movie, are fueled by constant action and character interaction. Additionally, a lot of the smaller details that I skimmed over while I was busy devouring the second book are fully recognized visually in the movie so that they make more sense ("tick tock," ahem, ahem, and that whole set-up my fellow pre-readers).

The whole film, really is just so much more BADASS. While the first movie seems to take its time getting to know all of the various characters and special situations, it doesn't ever seem to dive right into the heart of the problem. But this one does. Blame it on the subject matter being of a "greater good" kind of depth as the series continues, but Catching Fire had me biting my nails waiting for the tension to subside. The whole idea of revolt really powers through and, even in the face of incredible diversity, the resilience of people in this is just really touching. Maybe that's the other thing that gives this movie more depth than its predecessor: the fact that friendships and bonds are made. And the fact that these bonds are interrupted by something as maniacal as their government only serves to fuel the fire of their revolution.

8.5 outa 10. I really loved it. Might even go see it again.

Also, I have to show you this:

"How should I know? I'm just a piece of bread." Oh my god, I died.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My Top 6 Favorite (Well...Most Watched) Movies of All Time

Okay, kids. Getting personal this time around. Since I haven't seen anything in theaters that I'm really itching to see lately (or didn't see during my time at the NYFF), I thought now might be a good time to answer a question that I get asked all. the. time.

What's your favorite movie?

So. Since this question is, for all intents and purposes, unanswerable (depending on my mood, the weather, the availability of tissues that I have nearby, who I'm with, etc.), I've decided to share with you all a list of the movies that I have seen more times than I can count.


Most of these I have seen more than 30 times. I put them on in the same manner that most people like to have a radio playing while they're doing things. These are my "comfort blanket" movies. But also movies that I can still watch, captivated, over and over and over again.

So without further ado, here they are:

1. Coraline.

When Coraline moves to a new town with her workaholic parents, she's not too happy about it. There are hardly any other kids around and the house is a little far away from town, so she's frequently bored. Urged by her father, after he's annoyed with her interrupting his work, she explores their new Victorian home. After doing so, she finds a little door, through which she discovers a parallel world where everything is an ideal of her real life. Within this parallel house there is her "Other Mother" and "Other Father," mirror images of her real parents but with button eyes, and what seems like a genuine love for Coraline. As she continues to visit them in the more-perfect house, she receives warnings about the authenticity of her "Other Mother" and the "love" she has for Coraline. The end is really cool.

For some reason, this movie is perfect for everything. Something to sit and watch when you want something that won't blow your mind but will keep you entertained, something to half-watch when you're crafting, something that will creep you out but also make you laugh...I could go on, but I'll stop here. A stop-motion film (my weakness) by the same guy that did The Nightmare Before Christmas, this movie has all of the creepiness without the horrific creatures and macabre stuff. Very different, very entertaining, and (again) it's really incredibly well done stop-motion.

Fun facts: the entire soundtrack is nonsense words; the characters' clothes were knit using extremely small knitting needles; this is the longest stop-motion film ever made.

2. Moonstruck

An Italian family living in New York experiences the ups and downs of romantic relationships. The main story revolves around Loretta (played by the fabulous Cher) and her accidental love affair with Ronny (played by a baby Nicholas Cage), after she attempts to clear up the "bad blood" between he and his brother, Johnny - her fiance! Other stories include her parents' marriage, and smaller focuses on her aunt and uncle's marriage as well as her grandfather. A FANTASTIC commentary on family dynamics, modern culture, and the mystery of love. Really superb acting by the entire cast. This movie makes me want to be Italian. And also go to the opera.

I want to say that my mom introduced me to the absolute delight that is Moonstruck. For most of my life, we would jump at the chance to watch it on TV. I don't know why it took me until about two years ago to buy this movie, but ever since, I can consider my movie collection somewhat complete. Love it.

Fun facts: This movie features the famous "Snap out of it!" scene where Loretta slaps Ronny across the face; this movie is ranked at #8 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 Greatest Romantic Comedies.

3. Stranger Than Fiction

An IRS agent named Harold Crick (played incredibly well by Will Ferrell) finds the innumerable opportunities in his life when he begins hearing his life being narrated by a woman. As he listens to his narrated internal monologue, he goes from being a boring man with a head for numbers, to a man that begins to rethink his entire life. Encounters with an anarchist baker (played by Maggie Ghyllenhaal) and getting to the root of the narrator make this movie not only quirky but completely engrossing.

I love the style of this movie. Not only is the plot something off the beaten path, but the way that this film begins is just so fascinating that it never gets old for me. Harold trying to throw off the narrator's attempts at dictating his actions, the graphics that illustrate how Harold's mind works in the beginning, and the wonderful interactions between characters make this movie pretty wonderful. But maybe it's the fact that for once in a film we get to hear every thought that the character is thinking in perfectly written prose. A movie for film and writer nerds alike. This one is a lesser known gem.

Fun facts: The last names of all of the characters are taken from names of real famous mathematicians, scientists, philosophers, and artists; the movie makes a few references to Magritte's "Son of Man" painting; the title of the movie comes from a quote by Lord Byron.

4. The Muppet Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens's classic Christmas tale set to music and hilarious performances from both Michael Caine and the infamous Muppets. 

I love this movie for two main reasons: a. Michael Caine is my favorite Scrooge and b. Gonzo and Rizzo narrating this movie. For some reason, this version of A Christmas Carol is so well put together that it stands up to big ones like Allister Sim's and George C. Scott. While both have their own reasons for greatness, the Muppets effortlessly balance the drama of the original story (complete with dialogue from the original book) with the ridiculousness of their own humor. Both of these things are provided by our two main narrators, Gonzo and Rizzo, and that's why I think that they absolutely make this movie. As for Caine's Scrooge, there is something that cracks a little earlier on than the other Scrooges. Caine's Scrooge is the accessible Scrooge, while the other's take a little more time to grow on you. Additionally, the songs are the most memorable of any original Christmas songs in any holiday film within the last twenty years. Well done, Muppets.

Fun Facts: Michael Caine claimed that he acted throughout this film as though the Muppets were professional classically trained actors (it shows!); first Muppet movie made after Jim Henson's death; the song "When Love is Gone" is only featured in the VHS version of this film, not on the DVD or Blu-Ray versions.

5. Jurassic Park

I's Jurassic Park.

I bought this on VHS from a thrift store around the same time that I bought my dual VHS/DVD player about two years ago. Somehow I gave that dumb tape so much love that I figured I should probably just upgrade to the dumb DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack in Target. I have watched this movie so many times but it never seems to get old. The effects, music, acting, and plot reel me in every time. High-five Stephen Spiels!

Fun facts: Seriously, there are too many. Look at IMDB's Jurassic Park page for them.

(Pretty sure this is a fan-made trailer. But I like it soooo...)

6. The Swan Princess

I hear you laughing. Yes, from all the way over here.

Princess Odette and Prince Derek have been betrothed since birth, essentially. To improve their match, their parents make them spend every summer together as they grow up. Despite the fact that they finally  (somehow) end up falling in love, Derek totally blows it by making it seem like all he cares about is Odette's beauty. After the jilted girl leaves, she's kidnapped by the evil Rothbart and turned into a swan. It's then up to Derek to figure out the curse and to save Odette before Rothbart marries her and steals her kingdom.

So this is one rare cartoon (no it is NOT made by Disney.) movie that I didn't have when I was little. For some reason, I love putting this movie on. This is one that I can't really explain. I just do. I actually wrote a paper analyzing how bad this movie is for little baby girls (mostly the fact that they never really correct Derek's desire to marry Odette for reasons other than her beauty, as well as the fact that there are literally only three women in the entire film, two of which can actually speak). But, there it is, it cracks me up and entertains me every time. This was also my go-to drunken movie-watching flick for a while. Maybe that's why I like it so much.

Fun facts: The story is based on Swan Lake, the ballet; Nest Family Entertainment is actually a Christian production company.

(Disclaimer: the video quality of this trailer sucks. Probably because no one's watched this movie in 20 years.)

Runners up include:

The Mummy (I don't care how cheesy you may think it is, this movie is a classic nod to old timey "creature features")

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (watched it sooo many times)

The Hobbit (again, sooo many times)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

11 Netflix Gems for Halloween

Year after year I become more and more disappointed with the movie selection on TV the night of Halloween. As almost everyone my age would opt for streaming options off of Netflix anyway, I figured I'd highlight some of my faves that are up right now (as well as some tamer fodder for all of you Halloween-loving babies):


A satire on the horror genre, this movie was the first to point out typical trends in scary movies. When a killer is on the loose targeting young teenagers, local news crews and the police get involved trying to solve the mystery of who the killer is. Pretty graphic, even for a slasher movie, this one still packs a punch.

Cabin in the Woods:

An even larger satire on the horror genre, this movie puts a pretty clever spin on the regular isolated-in-the-woods teenager tale. A group of teenagers go on a vacation to a cabin in the woods and start to experience some strange circumstances that might bring some former horror movies to mind. This movie takes the genre and turns it on its head. A great movie for conspiracy theorists and horror fans alike.

The Innkeepers:

A little quirkier than your average ghost story, The Innkeepers keeps you on your toes throughout. A guy and a girl working at an old hotel struggle through their last night shift. Is the hotel's gruesome history getting to their heads or is there something unnatural lurking within the structure's walls? Some super scary bits that break up the normality.

The Possession:

Refreshingly different take on possession movies, this one involves a Jewish twist. When a young girl unwittingly opens a box that's housed by a demon, she becomes possessed by it. Interesting to see how they try to get the demon out of her without the power of Christ compelling anyone.

The Awakening:

Another ghost movie that doesn't quite follow all of the rules. A ghost-debunker sets out to a haunted school to try and figure out what the real root of their paranormal phenomena is. But as things keep happening you start to wonder if she's going crazy or if there's some other explanation to the things that keep affecting her personally.

Rosemary's Baby:

Pregnant people beware: you may want to skip this one. A young, happy couple move into an old apartment building and are almost immediately assaulted by their new neighbors. An old New York couple, they are constantly giving Rosemary and her husband, Guy, advice on how to live their lives - especially when Rosemary becomes pregnant with their first child. As Rosemary's pregnancy gets stranger and stranger, it takes a while before she figures out why. A serious horror classic.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark:

Who can resist wild card Guillermo del Toro? At it again with his mystical realism, this movie follows a man, his young new wife, and his 10-year-old daughter moving into a historical house that houses little monsters. Only coming out at night, these tiny creatures befriend the young child, and end up having a penchant for children's teeth. Imaginative and different, you'll think twice about turning off your lights.

The Fourth Kind:

I was never afraid of alien movies until this one. If you think that the "truth is out there" you might want to think twice before watching The Fourth Kind. Scarier than possession movies, this one combines "found footage" with professional reenactments in a way that is disturbingly real. If you wanted to see what one person imagined alien abduction would look like, this is it. You're not going to look at owls the same way ever again.

Children of the Corn:

A little dated but I still love this one. Any movie that involves murderous children or occult phenomena is classic horror gold - and this movie has both! Yay! When a couple accidentally wonders into a ghost town, they are discovered by a group of children that murders adults and worships what seems to be fields of corn. Not allowing adults in their town, they try to murder the couple every chance they get. Again, campy and horribly acted, but I still get a kick out of this one.


If I were you I would skip the remake of this one and watch the original for free. Spacek's creepy character is easily better than Moretz's hard-to-believe one. A fragile girl raised by a religious lunatic of a mother, and bullied by mean girls at school, sets into motion a sequence of events that leave her senior prom more bloody than beautiful. I can't emphasize enough how much I prefer Spacek to Moretz! If you haven't seen the original, catch it on Netflix!

Silent House:

A thriller-horror hybrid, this film follows a young girl as she helps her dad clean out the old house where she grew up. But after her dad disappears and she discovers an intruder in the house, it's up to her to figure out how to get out and how to find help. The ending was really good!

For the wimps:
Not everyone can handle a full-fledged horror movie, so here are a few creepy ones that'll give you some Halloween flavor without giving you nightmares:

Paranorman - A young kid who can talk to ghosts discovers that he is responsible for keeping his town safe from the curse of an evil witch. But sometimes zombies and witches have roots that we all forget about, as we find out in this stop-motion masterpiece. (You can also find a full review of this one here.)

The Nightmare Before Christmas - For those of you caught in between Halloween costumes and Christmas music, here's one that fuses the two holidays together. Some more creepy stop-motion and killer tunes that'll be stuck in your head for daaaays.

The Twilight Zone - Okay, not a movie, but the creepy factor of this TV show paired with its age give you a little of that spooky mystery without all of the gore and the nightmares.

Honorable mentions:
Evil Dead -  Bunch of kids go to a cabin and a girl gets possessed by a seriously sadistic demon.
Hellraiser - A tortured soul from hell does something with a puzzle box. Still haven't seen this one, but review up when I do.
Maniac - This serial killer story is sure to give you the creeps. Especially if you hate Elijah Wood. Which I do.
6 Souls - My mom saw this and said it was good, but very dark. Psychologist looks to cure man of multiple personality disorder but get more than she bargained for.
Darkness Falls - Oh man, haven't seen this one in years. But, long story short, it's about an evil tooth fairy.
The Skeleton Key - Laugh at me if you will but that voodoo/hoodoo stuff is some creepy shiz, yo. Points off for horrible casting of Kate Hudson who has emotional integrity of wet mop.
VHS - Bizarrely scary, this movie is a collection of tapes that a group of teenagers find in some random guy's house.
Lovely Molly - Full review here, this movie is about a girl who moves into her old house and becomes tortured by the ghost of her dead father. 
They - Again, creatures that only come out at night. Not a bad one, but not very memorable either.
Devil - Oh M. Night. Another brave attempt at repeating your The 6th Sense success. This one doesn't quite hit its mark, but is pretty suspenseful nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Blue Is the Warmest Color: A Heartfelt Look at Love

Winner of the Palme d'Or in Cannes earlier this year, Blue is the Warmest Color is a surprising look at the life of a young lesbian woman in France. But the thing that is so gripping about this movie is its honesty and its eye-opening look at what these young people go through in their search for love.

The movie opens with the introduction of a character named Adele. A high school student, her favorite subjects are languages and she reads a lot. When she goes out with a boy from her class, she finds herself becoming increasingly unhappy and eventually ends it with him. By contrast, she becomes increasingly attracted to a girl that she passes one day in the street, and happens to bump into one night while out. Blue-haired art student Emma (Lea Seydoux) is a far cry from anyone her other friends have dated. But their attraction is instantaneous. Striking up an awkward conversation at a lesbian bar, Adele finds herself even more intrigued by Emma, and they end up hanging out together several times. The movie then follows the dynamics of their relationship as they both graduate from their respective schools and have to live their relationship in the open.

And sometimes that's hard.

The edited version of this film, which is the one that I saw, lasted three hours. I was a little nervous going into the theater that I would get bored (I don't care if you have won a Palme d'Or, three hours is rough). But I was surprised at how, despite the film's meandering pace, you are utterly captivated by this story. Adele and Emma have such chemistry that it's fascinating to see their relationship as it blossoms and then, later, as they encounter more and more problems.

The movie also does a lot with the contrasts between these two characters. Emma is by no means wild, but she is older, open-minded and artistic, coming from a family that supports her art. Adele, by contrast, is young and pretty conventional from what we see of her, but a content person nonetheless. In fact, Emma seems to bring out the more adventurous side of Adele, painting her nude for a gallery exhibit. These differences work for them in the beginning but seem to make their relationship more and more complicated towards the end.

It's also fascinating to see a take on the homosexual experience from a high school aged girl. At first, when experimenting, Adele is attacked by her girl friends and threatened. This experience seems to make her nervous throughout the rest of the film about being openly gay, hiding it from her teacher colleagues and a little uncomfortable in front of Emma's artsy fartsy friends. She even hides it from her parents at one point, when they ask Emma during an invite to dinner, whether she has a boyfriend or not.

The fully developed characters and the honest, tell-all, meandering look at a relationship make this movie really wonderful. If you can sit through three hours (and a 12-minute lesbian sex scene which made the theater I was in very uncomfortable), I would highly recommend it.

8 outa 10.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Carrie: Just Like the Old Carrie. Except Now.

Lots of Hollywood classics are getting reboots these days. But when you see a movie like Carrie, you're going to start asking yourself, "Why?" I went and saw Carrie the other night with my mom and found myself asking that very question.

Carrie, as most of you well know, is a story about a young girl bullied in high school. But this ain't your average nerd. Carrie (played in this version by Chloe Grace Moretz) has psychic powers and can make things move with her mind. She is raised by a single mother (played by Julianne Moore) who is insanely (pun intended) religious and mentally abusive. After a bullying incident turns into a revenge-fest for one evil-minded girl, Carrie absolutely snaps. But this isn't a girl who is about to cry over spilled pig's blood. Carrie then seeks revenge on the entire school's prom.

And it's scary.
Scary Carrie.

With this remake, I'm not quite sure what they were trying to accomplish. Maybe they thought that the 2002 remake was totally awful (which it was) and that the 1999 sequel The Rage: Carrie 2 was really stupid (again accurate), so they took it upon themselves to make a better remake. But though the movie wasn't bad, it wasn't as good as the original. I will never understand why some studios think "Hey! Let's revamp this one! Cuz I'm out of ideas!" 

"Heck I dunno!"

While this remake of the original Carrie is interesting in that it's modernized, it doesn't really bring much new to the table. They amp up the effects and hone in a little more on Carrie's relationship with her mother (as well as making some strange commentary on pregnancy and babies), but the movie stays a little stagnant. It seems to get so caught up in paying homage to the original that it forgets to build on it. Chris is turned from a regular bully into an entitled rich bitch, Carrie from a weakling into a girl testing her powers, and the mother from a bit of a joke to a woman with serious mental problems. But though these characters are magnified, the general reaction just boils down to, "Huh. That's interesting."

So uh...guess you're gonna go kill everyone at
prom now, huh?

Another thing I wasn't thrilled about was their choice of Chloe Grace Moretz for the role of Carrie. As someone in my office put it earlier, "She's not Carrie, she's Hit Girl!" Moretz is hard to see as the wallflower Carrie, though I honestly tried to give her the benefit of the doubt in the beginning. Although she plays the role with less passivity than the original Carrie (using and practicing her powers in her own home and against her mother), she lacks the believability of someone that's really been kicked around. And really, if I may be completely honest, her looks harken more to the popular girl that we see in Kick-Ass 2 than Sissy Spacek's original Carrie.

Doesn't exactly scream loser.

The one thing that I did find interesting about Moretz's Carrie is that she's totally conscious of everything that she's doing throughout the entire movie. While Spacek's Carrie massacres her prom unconsciously, almost like she's in a trance, Moretz's Carrie takes visible joy in manipulating those that have before hurt her. Could be a comment on the way current bullies handle being pushed over the edge...

Long story short, it's too same to be different and it's too different to be same. Carrie doesn't bring much to the table that you can't get from the first one, but the effects are neat and it'll probably appeal to a younger audience.

5 outa 10. Eh. Not bad. Not awesome.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Gravity: Is Wooorkiiin' Against Meee--Wait, Wrong Gravity...

Just for the record, the John Mayer song was stuck in my head for days after seeing this one. But, long story short, this was pretty deserving of all the hype it's been getting, especially for a Hollywood movie.

Remember the good ole days of disaster flicks in the late 90s? Volcano, Titanic, Deep Impact, Dante's Peak. So many choices! But they've kind of gone out of style in the past couple of years.

(God, doesn't this poster give you acute anxiety?)

Gravity is the perfect opportunity to bring them back. Instead of natural disaster (which may be a little bit too close to home after the extreme environmental crises of the past couple of years), this one takes place in space. Instead of volcanos and super storms, the initial accident that spurs the action of the movie is a missile launch gone awry. Hitting a huge satellite, the lack of GRAVITY (heh) sends a chain reaction through the world's many satellites, creating a technological tidal wave of sorts. The unfortunate victims of this chain of events are Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney).  Dr. Stone goes careening into space after the satellite shards hit their ship and the rest of the film follows her (and Kowalski) trying to find a way back to a safe spaceship/station.

And if you let go, you're doomed. No pressure.

The cool thing about this movie is how well it's set up. I know some people may be turned off from watching this film because of the small cast (I mean, you really only are exposed to Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski). But that is what makes the movie so incredibly captivating. Instead of watching Houston trying to bring them back down or intercuts between space and Earth, they fix the camera on the two main characters and don't leave the realm of space for nearly the entire movie. And because of their interactions and isolation, you end up really bonding with their characters in a way that wouldn't work if the cast was bigger.


This movie also had some intense suspense. Watching this after seeing All Is Lost was really interesting because, despite their being a similar plot, Gravity really pumps up the drama. The relationships are stronger, there is a more dynamic denouement, and (to put it bluntly) the accidents are bigger. The vast openness of space creates a terrifying landscape in which all of these accidents happen. And the need for them to be as resourceful as ever is absolutely paramount.

Very, very well done, Hollywood. My hopes were not high but you proved me wrong. Good job.

8.5 outa 10. I liked that Dr. Ryan Stone talks to herself (and to Houston, who is offline) when she's alone as well. Keeps the movie from getting too boring.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Nebraska: A Midwestern Tale

There are plenty of movies (and plays and books and real-life examples) out there to constantly remind us that dysfunctional families aren't exactly uncommon. But Nebraska takes a close look at one of these such families and makes the statement that although some families definitely have their problems they can still all love each other regardless.

Nebraska opens with an old man walking down a busy interstate at a slow and steady pace. He's then picked up by a police officer and taken in where he is picked up by his son, David. Apparently the old man, named Woody (played by Bruce Dern), was trying to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska to cash in a winning million dollar prize that he received in the mail. Only the letter is spam. But even after listening to his son and his wife trying to tell him that he's crazy, they keep finding him wandering off towards the highway. David then decides, what the hey, why not just drive his dad to Lincoln and get the whole thing over with. The rest of the movie follows them as they slowly make their way to Lincoln, stopping in Woody's old hometown, where they learn about the value of money, old grudges, and family ties.

Ole buddies

Movies like this take me a while to chew on. I know it's a little childish, but I usually have an aversion to anything that takes place in the Midwest. While the bleakness of the landscape and the rough, introverted nature of the people is perfectly executed through the black and white film (and really, it's made pretty stunning through this stark contrast), there's something scary to me about miles and miles of nothing but plains. I really just can't imagine living in a place like that.

I mean woof.

That being said, the landscape almost defines all of the characters. In a land where nothing happens, what could be more exciting than someone you know winning $1,000,000? This proves reason enough for family members and old friends to try and strong-arm the silent old ex-drunk into lending them money (that he doesn't have!).

Good thing his kid's there to try and set them straight!
(Even though it largely doesn't work...)

Despite the movie's bleak themes and emptiness, the incredible actors really pull it together. A family dynamic that makes you cringe (and chuckle) in the beginning, makes you smile towards the end. Director Payne and the three main leads all commented during the press conference the comfortability that they had with each other during filming, and it definitely show's in their on-screen relationships. The son, David (played by Will Forte) is so sweet and patient, balancing his gruff of a father, and the mother (played by June Squibb) is the hilarious shrew that ends up giving the movie a dynamic that it wouldn't have without her.

Pretty lively for her age

7 outa 10. Really ends up being a gorgeous movie in its own way, and full of tongue-in-cheek laughs about the Midwest.

(Also see if you can spot Buzz from Home Alone in this trailer.)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Only Lovers Left Alive: Not Your Average Vampires

I didn't really know anything about this screening going in. I knew it was about vampires and it looked like a moody sort of drama from the pictures I had seen of it. But I wasn't expecting this film to be such a treat! Very interesting look at human nature through the eyes of people that have lived for hundreds of years.

The film is a romance about two vampires, one named Adam, one named Eve (haha), whose relationship has spanned centuries. Taking place in two completely different cities (Tangiers and Detroit), the story follows their relationship with each other as well as the things that happen while Eve visits Adam in Detroit.

As some of you may have noticed, I'm a big fan of the supernatural and horror genres at the moment and I see a lot of scary movies that deal with vampires and similar monsters. But this was a total breath of fresh air. Instead of them being typecast as monsters, like we so often see in popular culture, their characters get to become fully formed through the lens of Adam and Eve's relationship. The whole movie has such a different vibe than any other vampire movie that I can really think of. They aren't battling werewolves for the love of a human being (the worst) and they aren't scary beasts that hunt people in the night either. The movie takes a very practical look at how a vampire romance would work. And in doing so, gives us a look at two vampires who are in fact very human. In the end, the movie really isn't at its essence a supernatural or horror film at all, but a romance.


Adam and Eve's chemistry is fantastic. Tilda Swinton and director Jim Jarmusch mentioned that they didn't so much want to focus on the vampire element so much as the fact that that was the vehicle for portraying a centuries-long romance. Their focus was to try and portray what exactly a romance that long would look like, and it very definitely succeeds. Many times in romance movies (especially the supernatural ones, amiright?) there are major passions and dips, but this one achieves authenticity in the comfortability between Adam and Eve. Despite having loved each other for ages (or maybe because of this), they take enjoyment in doing mundane things together like playing chess, going for drives, and talking about old times.

Another thing that I loved about this movie was the humor it takes with its approach to vampirism. Avoiding cheesy jokes about how delicious people are (campy much?), they have intellectual conversations about the many famous and brilliant people that they've known throughout their lives with an off-the-cuff frankness that takes you by surprise. And things that are so often portrayed in horror movies as gruesome are put in laughably commonplace context. Filled with more giggles than I would've expected.

Including John Hurt as Christopher Marlowe

Only Lovers Left Alive also gives an observation of what humans look like from the points of view of two people that have been (consciously or subconsciously) monitoring their actions since the 1500s. At the beginning of the film, Adam expresses frustration with the "zombies" (as they call humans) and their inability to learn from the past. He then rattles off a list of human geniuses that have been either ridiculed or completely misunderstood and destroyed. It's fascinating to get a glimpse of what people of the past would think of us today.

Jarmusch's mise-en-scene* in this is also refreshingly different from the common vampire flick. Adding in his own elements of superstition (they constantly wear gloves and sunglasses when out), he also creates an open set that keeps them from getting bogged down in the gothic elements that so often make vampires seem menacing. On the contrary, the sets in this are very open, if cluttered, and as soon as night falls they roam around freely. Additionally the costumes are designed to look timeless, and the characters frequently add in garments that don't belong to this century at all simply because they're nostalgic. (One character constantly wears a waistcoat that he's had for five hundred years--because he likes it!)

Also, the soundtrack is incredible. A hodgepodge of original music that Adam makes (he's a very accomplished musician), rock, country, Motown, classical, and everything. This soundtrack is going to blow up.

Featured track.

All in all a fascinating and brilliantly made movie. I'd highly recommend to anyone.

9.5 outa 10.

(Also, the trailer's not out yet so this is the only clip I could find of the film. Gonna have to wait a while, guys!)


*So! You wanted to learn what mise-en-scene was! Mise-en-scene (meez-awn-senn) is essentially all that makes up the visual of the movie. The sets, the costumes, the music, everything that takes place in the frame. Arguably, it can also include sounds and music choices as well, but that depends on who you're asking. Here's more info on mise-en-scene: