Monday, July 30, 2012

To Rome with Love Movie Review

Woody Allen continues his new millennium tour of Europe with a jaunt to Rome in his latest comedy, To Rome with Love. Perhaps after churning out a movie a year like clockwork for the last 30 odd years, Woody finally tired of New York City as a setting for contemporary stories of relationships and intellectualism. Though the backdrop has shifted recently from London to Barcelona to Paris and now the Eternal City, the signature wit has remained. It hasn’t always worked well but I’m glad that he put out one more fine film in Midnight in Paris before the inevitable end of Woody. To Rome with Love is a bit of a letdown after last year’s wonderful fantasy.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man Movie Review

Was it really necessary for Sony to reboot the Spider-Man series only five years after the last film and ten years after the first? Is Sam Raimi’s trilogy already ancient history? Apparently for the Millenials anything older than half a decade is passé. I don’t mind a new actor in the Peter Parker/Spider-Man role or a new director at the helm. James Bond has changed hands through six actors across fifty years. The problem I find is the absurd need to retell the origin story. The Batman series went through three actors and two directors with a major stylistic shift halfway through without getting back into Bruce Wayne’s history. It was Christopher Nolan who rebooted that franchise by taking a completely new track on the mythology. Unlike Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man which is virtually indistinguishable from the first trilogy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

From My Collection: Blazing Saddles Movie Review

I can’t imagine sitting down and watching Blazing Saddles now for the first time and coming away enjoying it very much. It’s got some funny gags, classic lines, and as a satire of the Western genre and the marginalization of black people in the United States it can be searingly funny. But much of what made the film work so well was that it was made the early 70s. Mel Brooks was a well-known name, but he was not yet a well-known satirist. The Producers was a big success a few years earlier, but Young Frankenstein would follow later in 1974 and still to come were High Anxiety and History of the World: Part I.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Whale Rider Movie Review

It always strikes me that there’s a special affinity between the American west and the lands down under of Australia and New Zealand. I noticed it especially a few years ago after watching Walkabout, Picnic at Hanging Rock and Gallipoli in succession. The openness of the land, the sense of adventure in the Outback and the feeling of leaping into the unknown can all be thematically linked to the western genre. Recently, while watching Niki Caro’s 2003 film Whale Rider I discovered that there are links to be found also between New Zealand and the history of America.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Best in Show Movie Review

Christopher Guest got a taste for the so-called mockumentary sub-genre when he wrote and starred in Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap, the classic comedy that pretends to be a documentary about an 80s hair metal band. Starting in the mid-90s, Guest began writing and directing his own mockumentary style films beginning with Waiting for Guffman, which focuses on a small town community theater production. My favorite of his films, however, is Best in Show, about the quirky characters involved in the fictional Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show in Philadelphia.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Everything I've seen in the first half of 2012

Last November I started tracking every film I see by maintaining a list on the side of this blog. I note the date (in cases of watching a movie in parts over two days I use the date I finished), the venue, and whether I'd seen the movie before.

I'd always had a fairly accurate record of films I'd seen in cinemas in a given year, but never really knew how many I saw when factoring in video and TV. Now I'm getting a sense of just how much time I spend watching movies.

Looking over the first six months of the year I find I've watched 108 feature length films, 69 of which I saw for the first time. I saw 31 films in the cinema including 2 silent films with live music accompaniment. I also saw 25 short films, many of which were part of the Academy Awards nominated short films presentations.

There have been only 5 feature films I've not written reviews for, although at least one of those is on the way. And 8 reviews have not yet been made public, awaiting publication at a future date.

It's also worth pointing out that this does not include television viewing or TV series. I also watched the 13 episode "Firefly" TV series for the first time; HBO's Band of Brothers again; and the recently concluded 13 episode 5th season of "Mad Men."

So here's the full list of everything I've watched since January 1 this year. A star indicates a film I'd seen previously.

The Lost Boys Movie Review: 25 Years Ago This Month

Before Anne Rice’s gothic horror novel based on young vampires was immortalized in a film starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt and long before pre-adolescents became obsessed with the Twilight series of books and films, there was The Lost Boys, one of the first films to deal with teenaged vampires in a dramatic way. Once Bitten and Fright Night were both comedies released two years earlier. Director Joel Schumacher made The Lost Boys in the middle of a stint of making several films focused on young people. I consider it his best period as a director.

Friday, July 6, 2012

L'Auberge espagnole Movie Review

It takes a certain personality type to leave one’s home country to spend a year in a foreign place. It takes an even different type to make the most of the experience and truly enjoy it. I moved to Spain when I was 27 and I remained there for five and a half years. What made me want to get away in the first place? Since I was a teenager I knew I wanted to travel and see the world. I never imagined myself tied to one location for too long a time. Others come into the experience in a different way. I felt myself pulled toward living abroad. Other people do it because they think it’s something they should do or because they think it will enrich them personally or professionally. But those who come out the other end feeling like it was the best time of their lives share some intrinsic quality that is open to outside opinions and ways of living.

Xavier (Romain Duris) is a French university student in L’Auberge espagnole, and in the beginning he doesn’t know what he’s in for. But at the end he comes out a whole new person. It is this film more than many other things that helped push me toward a life in Spain. Hoping to get a cushy government job after finishing his degree in economics, his future boss encourages him to spend an Erasmus year in Spain to learn Spanish and get some cultural perspective. With a few editing and camera flourishes, director Cedric Klapisch (who also wrote the screenplay) whisks us quickly through the lengthy process Xavier must go through to study in Barcelona.

Dark Horse Movie Review

In the first scene of Dark Horse, the camera opens on a dancing bride and groom surrounded by their wedding guests, also enjoying the festivities. Will this be a film about the beginning of a romantic marriage? No! This is a Todd Solondz film so the camera soon settles upon the two people at the wedding who aren’t dancing. They also happen to be mid-30s depressives, each one a terrible case of arrested development and on the brink of complete breakdowns.

25 Years Ago This Month: July 1987

As the summer of '87 rolled on there were teen comedies, big budget science fiction, the fourth installment in a successful summer film franchise, a comic book movie sequel, and a James Bond action extravaganza. Of course this could be the description of this summer's films, or last summer's, or next summer's even. It seems Hollywood studios haven't really adjusted their release formula in the last quarter century.

4th of July weekend was not yet the summer juggernaut that it became in the mid-90s. The big releases were the Fantastic Voyage-like Innerspace starring Martin Short as a mild-mannered grocery store clerk who accidentally gets a tiny spaceship carrying a miniaturized Dennis Quaid injected into his body; and Adventures in Babysitting, with Elisabeth Shue looking after a pre-adolescent girl and her high school aged brother as they take an unauthorized trip into downtown Chicago for high jinks and illicit adventure. In a certain way this was the first movie about Thor.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Pixar's Brave Movie Review

Feature animation princess stories have long been the purview of Disney films. Those of us who are weary of the wholesome inoffensive entertainments they have created over the years had Pixar to turn to starting in the mid 90s. Not that Pixar’s films have been so subversive, but their consistently creative writing staff has at least attempted to honestly provide stories that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. Their latest effort, Brave, feels more like a Disney animated film than any of Pixar’s previous 12 feature films.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Ted Movie Review

Loosed from the constraints of working in network television, Seth MacFarlane was permitted the chance to make a foul-mouthed raunchy live action comedy film. What makes Ted work so well is its loose tongue and general ease with which characters use colorful descriptions. The fact that a cuddly teddy Bear does most of the cursing is subversive in a kind of brilliant way. The film works a lot less when it ventures into the “Family Guy” territory of shock humor.

Silent Classic Movie Review: The Crowd

Silent films aren’t for everybody, although they should be. If you’re not into silent films or you’ve never seen one, you should give it a try. Even I will admit that I often find films from the silent era difficult to connect with. They require a different focus from your brain. For one thing there’s occasional reading involved. Apart from that, we’ve just become so conditioned to having things spelled out for us in the visual arts that many of us have become inured to anything less than an assault on the senses. When you no longer have things like sound effects and spoken dialogue to help you understand the story, it means your brain has to do the work of filling in the gaps. You have to imagine how the lines are spoken and how the scene sounds.

Yes, it can be hard work, but it can be greatly fulfilling. Charlie Chaplin is a great place to start with silent cinema. Another one is one of the great silent classics that I recently had the pleasure to enjoy at a local arts cinema with live musical accompaniment. The film is The Crowd directed by King Vidor. I had already seen the film probably about 12 years ago and remember thinking at the time that it was unlike any silent film I’d seen. At that point I could probably count on both hands (and maybe one foot) the number of silent films I’d seen. Now I’ve seen quite a few more and it remains a fresh and lively film more in the style of modern dramas than anything that was being produced in the late 20s.