Mini-Reviews #6

Mini Movie Reviews

The last group of Mini-Reviews worked out rather well for me, as I wrote each of them as soon as I was done watching the film, as opposed to writing eight or nine of them in one sitting. My first thoughts were a more clear and descriptive and my point on each film was direct. As such, I will keep that up for this batch of Mini-Reviews. If it turns out well with this one, I will make it a regular routine for future Mini-Reviews.

Let’s start things off with…

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“The Fugitive” (1993)

Fun fact – The 1993 “The Fugitive” is actually based off a 1950s television show of the same name. As such, most critics have said that this is the best film adaptation of a television show, as it stays true to its roots – A wanted man is being hunted down for a crime he didn’t commit, all while trying to find who is responsible for the death of his wife – without feeling obligated to pander to the audience of the show.

“The Fugitive” is a logical, suspenseful mystery that has you rooting for both the title character and the lawmen chasing him down. Richard Kimble is a man who would go out of his way to save innocent lives, even if it means risking his own, and is still a quiet and cunning individual. The federal agents chasing him pick up on every little clue that he drops and don’t make crazy assumptions, and learn from all the evidence without becoming cocky or arrogant.

It helps that both leads are played by Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, with Ford giving us a performances that feels distant from Han Solo and Indiana Jones, yet still with plenty of compassion, and Jones’ no nonsense portrayal of the lead federal marshals who will follow-up on any lead and stop at nothing to get his man.

Great fun without going over the top. “The Fugitive” gets a bit stale in the middle as Kimble wanders around the city aimlessly for a bit, but it picks up near the end again with an exciting climax.

Final Grade: B

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“My Man Godfrey” (1936)

After watching “My Man Godfrey” I am beginning to understand why the screwball comedy genre eventually died out and was replaced with the romantic comedy.

To the untrained eye, one would note there are very few differences between a screwball comedy like “The Lady Eve” or “Bringing Up Baby” and a romantic comedy like “When Harry Met Sally…” Here is the basic understanding though – A screwball comedy tends to have one ditzy and/or clumsy idiot of a character and one straightforward no-nonsense character and has those two fall in love while also getting into a lot of slapstick and hijinks, while also facing odds from other people who don’t want to see them together.

Around the mid-1940s and early-1950s, audiences lost interest in the screwball. This could be attributed to many things, including the end of WWII and thus less of a need for slapstick, the formula for screwball being a bit too repetitive or the need for more serious romances in cinema.

There are great screwball comedies out there, especially “The Philadelphia Story” and “It Happened One Night.” Some might put “My Man Godfrey” in that same category, but I found the film to be far too preachy and on the nose at times. William Powell plays the heir to a powerful Boston family but chooses to live the life of a bum for a while and has a lot of time to “think.” Namely, that all rich people are selfish, arrogant and know nothing of the world.

I guess this film chooses to ignore any charities created by rich people and the good intentions of good-hearted people who just so happen to have a lot of money.

Granted, by the end Godfrey has found the good even in the people that he has hated and wants to help them find happiness in their lives. Godfrey is certainly a relatable character for his struggle to find his place in life, but he has a habit of insulting those who are comfortable with their lives.

“My Man Godfrey” has a decent moral, good acting from William Powell and Carole Lombard, and a few good laughs. But the plot can be contrived and forced and the message is often forced down the throat of the audience.

Final Grade: C+

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“Melancholia” (2011)

There is a reason that I do not watch that many indie movies. Because most of them suck.

Many independent films and filmmakers think in their own creative mindset where they think everyone will understand and accept their work, when there are narrative flaws and logical gaps that make the film hard to grasp and relate to.

The problem with “Melancholia” is rather simple – There is very little reason to relate to our main character, played by Kristen Dunst. On her wedding day, the happiest day of her life, where her family and friends are all around her, her boss gives her a promotion and her husband has just signed the lease on a nice plot of land – and she is absolutely miserable. Why? Never explained, she just is upset.

It could be that she knows there is another planet approaching Earth and is about to collide with it, killing everyone and everything, but the film never fully explains this so that’s just a guess. Even if she does know about that, why wouldn’t she tell everyone? Or why wouldn’t she try to enjoy the little time there is left when all her loved ones are here? Instead, she decides to keep it a secret and be distant from everyone, because that doesn’t make sense.

I’ll give “Melancholia” this much- the film looks great, especially in the opening sequence. We watch as the world falls apart, birds falling out of the sky, static electricity to the point that we can see it on our fingers, the gravity becoming so intense that walking is a chore and the ultimate collision with this giant planet.

“Melancholia” is a different take on the end of the world. Rather than trying to stop it, the film excepts it as an inevitability, thus focusing on a family that will end because of this calamity. Which is why it is too bad that the main character is so unlikable and removed from this dead reality. I found myself rolling my eyes in annoyance at Kirsten Dunst and her continued need to ruin the lives of everyone around her just because she didn’t feel like it.

Final Grade: C+

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“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (2015)

Why isn’t this getting its own review? For one, I saw it three days ago while on vacation. Two, I do not have anything interesting to say about “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” other than it was boring and mostly lifeless fluff.

First of all, there are at least eight main characters in this convoluted story, each of which has at least two different plot lines going on. Whether it is Judi Dench trying to make a name for herself in the fabric business and trying to figure out what she wants in her relationship with Bill Nighy, or Celia Imrie becoming intimate with two different men and trying to become “friends” with her cab driver.

There are far too many storylines going on in this film, yet there is a surprising lack of story throughout. Lots of dead air and scenes that ultimately go no where make the film dull, on top of the many predictable storylines.

The only good thing about “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is Dev Patel’s performance as he makes up for the lack of enthusiasm and passion of the rest of actors and overact in every single scene. With exaggerated hand motions and always screaming his lines, it makes Patel a blast to watch. No subtlety in anything he ever does, and that is fun to witness.

Overall, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is harmless, but offers nothing. The film is like potato chips – you can feast on it without even realizing what you are eating, and before you know it, you’ve eaten half the bag. There is no substance to this film and you’ll forget about it a couple of days after you watched it, like me.

Final Grade: D+

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“In Bruges” (2008)

It takes a lot of coaxing and understanding to make the audience sympathize with a killer, or just bad people in general. It’s why I don’t care for films like “American Psycho” or most films about assassins – Why should I care about any of these people when they’re doing terrible things to innocent people?

For the majority of “In Bruges” this was always in the back of my mind, as we watch two hitmen hide out in Bruges, Belgium until they get their next mission. The character of Ray (Colin Ferrell), whines and complains about being stuck in this town while his friend Ken (Brendan Gleeson) just wants to look at the sites and take in the picturesque atmosphere.

Over time, Ken grew on me as we learn about why he got into the hitman business and his morality code, but Ray was just a pain. He had no code, beat up anyone who looked at him funny and did nothing but complain about his life. Even when we learn why he is acting this way, it does not help his whineness and bad attitude.

Still, “In Bruges” has some good humor and a buddy-buddy relationship between Ray and Ken. At times, it comes across as wanting to be like “Hot Fuzz” without being too elaborate and a less action-packed but satisfying climax. “In Bruges” is not the best comedy about hitmen but it does hit most of the right notes.

Final Grade: B-

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“Now, Voyager” (1942)

This one is quite enjoyable for the message of self-confidence is one of the most important qualities to have about yourself, despite what troubles might have happened in the past. That you are not responsible for every bad thing that happens, and that loving yourself is one of the most attractive qualities you can have.

“Now, Voyager” tells a dual story of children that were not loved by their parents because they were unwanted, and the effect that can have on the children. One of these “mistakes” is played by Bette Davis, who has an over-bearing and hateful mother that has control over every aspect of her life. The camera movement and cinematography is used to great effect here, as every scene with Davis’ mother is shot with her looking up at her daughter while the lights cast her into the shadows, like a puppet master pulling the strings.

Of course, Bette Davis steals the show, especially in “Now, Voyager” where she gets to play a multitude of roles in one character – the repressed spinster, the beauty that catches everyone’s eye, the confident wealthy bachelorette, and the motherly protector. All with the sympathy and passion that we can come to expect from Bette Davis.

The film does tend to drag at times, especially in the middle of the film while on the cruise ship, but we do get to see more of that Davis charm so it balances out.

Final Grade: B

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“Superman II” (1980)

The classic example of why super hero films are fun, exciting and captivating, without over doing it, and why there is so much hate on the new “Man Of Steel.” Superman has always been a hero that finds joy in what he does, as he attempts to make the world a better place. A respect for the citizens of Earth, and never thinking that he is above them.

That and there is no dramatic tension or character development in “Man Of Steel,” while this one has an interesting focus on Lois Lane and Lex Luthor.

In “Superman II,” both characters are obsessed with Superman, with Lois trying to prove that he is Clark Kent, and Lex setting eyes on finding the Fortress of Solitude upon his escape from prison. Both characters love the Man Of Tomorrow, but for different reasons, and will do whatever it takes to get at him whatever the costs may be.

However, as the film reaches its climax between Superman and the three Kryptonians who escaped from the Phantom Zone, there become many gaps in logic and confusion, such as how Superman was able to get his powers back so quickly. This is especially strange, considering up to that point “Superman II” was logical and each scene properly built up, with my favorites being General Zod and his goons taking over a small town while discovering their powers.

“Superman II” kept me smiling from start to finish, if a bit confused near the end. I can see how this influences so the Marvel super hero films of today and will continue to be an inspiration of decades to come.

Final Grade: B

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“Wall Street” (1987)

Perhaps I was not the target audience of Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street.” But if that’s the case, then so is the majority of the movie-going crowd, because the only people who would understand this movie is if they know how Wall Street works, inside and out.

I’m not talking about just greed, stocks and shareholders, I mean detailed lingo of the era, how the mechanisms of Wall Street work and the concepts behind why inside trading is such a big deal. “Wall Street” never takes the opportunity to explain anything to the audience. It expects everyone coming in to know exactly what it is talking about and leaves those who are confused and uninterested in Wall Street in the dust.

Watching “Wall Street” is like listening to an articulate and expansive conversation on politics and literature, except that all you hear is in French. You might be able to make out some key words and maybe an expression or two, but most of the time you’re unaware of the significance and have zero sympathy for any of these people by the end. At some point, you’re bound to throw your hands up in frustration, because you don’t belong here.

If I enjoyed anything in “Wall Street” though, it was the relationship between the main character, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) and his father (Martin Sheen). The love between these two and for their chosen professions is on full display and when these two butt heads it can get scary. This due to the fact that it is a literal father-son relationship, both within the film and life, and both took different acting paths in their career. Any scene featuring Martin Sheen was a nice refreshment, since he didn’t give a damn about stocks and Wall Street, just the rights and fair pay of his employees.

Overall, “Wall Street” made me appreciate “The Wolf Of Wall Street” more than I already did. I glanced over most of the stock exchange exposition in Martin Scorsese’s film to get the point across and took it for granted. But that film made Wall Street a pretty easy concept to understand, as more than a money-grubbing pit of drugs and sex. “Wall Street” leaves the audience in the dark and never stops to ask us if we are fine with that.

It is very hard to relate and care for anything that happens when I have no idea what is going on or what people are talking about.

Final Grade: D+

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“The Public Enemy” (1931)

After watching this post-Prohibition gangster film, it is not hard to see why the genre picked up so much in the early to mid-1930s and why James Cagney was the face of those haunted gangsters. It is not just the way they talk or the power to do whatever they want, it is the absolute delight and satisfaction Cagney gets out of knocking someone off.

In one of my earlier reviews, I mentioned how “Little Caesar” was a time capsule back to the era of Gangs and gats and not much else. “The Public Enemy” is similar, only this one gives an unrelenting narrative that is surprisingly dark for its time yet still knows when to pull it back and give the audience some quiet moments. This is not a loud or boisterous film, but one that wants to remind us that gangsters work on their own moral code.

The film makes it clear that the real “public enemy” is not any one character in the film, but the breed of the gangster. James Cagney represents these dangerous people, who are gleeful to steal, kill and ruin other people’s lives. In that regard, “The Public Enemy” is a smart, sophisticated and stylish tale of people who feel they are kings in a land of opportunity.

Final Grade: A-

Mini-Reviews #5

Mini Movie Reviews

Going to try something a bit different this time around. In the past, I’ve been writing these Mini-Reviews in one or two sittings, waiting until I’ve watched about eight or nine films and then doing them all at once. With my last batch of reviews, I did write them like that, except for “Philadelphia,” which I had watched that night and wrote the review directly after the film.

I felt like my initial thoughts were better represented and my writing was more crisp and to the point. So, for this post of Mini-Reviews, I’ll be writing each review individually after each film has finished.

We’ll see how well that turns out.

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“The Hustler” (1960)

It is easy to see how Paul Newman became such a big star just by watching this film. It is like Newman emulates the rebellion of Marlon Brando but has the suave-ness of Frank Sinatra. He can get away with being a rebel because he looks so cool doing it.

In “The Hustler” we watch Paul Newman roll with the best pool players, hustling them out of their money and gain credit as the greatest poolshark of all time. It’s just too bad that the best part of the film ends half an hour in and the movie meanders from that point on.

The beginning of the film is great, as Newman’s Fast Eddie battles it out with Jackie Gleason’s Minnesota Fats for over 30 hours straight to prove who is the best, neither will to admit defeat or empty out their wallet. After that though, Eddie wanders around trying to find something to do and ends up stumbling into a romance.

“The Hustler” gets good again near the end when George C. Scott’s character starts to play a bigger role, and we see Scott give us the passion and intensity that he would become famous for in roles like “Patton” and “Dr. Strangelove.” But it is too bad that the middle of the film is so weak compared to the rest of the film.

Final Grade: C+

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“Easy Rider” (1969)

Some films do not age well. “Easy Rider” is one of those films.

Granted, I can understand why this one did incredibly well when it came out in 1969. It represented a time in America where teens and young adults wanted to rebuke the status quo of how to live their lives and be free individuals – to grow out their hair, do drugs and go where ever they wanted. In a way, “Easy Rider” is a time capsule back to the 1960s.

But today, “Easy Rider” is far too preachy for its own good, forcing its morals and hippy philosophies down our throats. The journey that Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper take has very little character and no substance to it other than the over the top people that they visit along their journey across America, including stoners living out in the desert who want to make plants, and hillbillies who disapprove of their long hair.

“Easy Rider” was a film that spoke to the counterculture and captured a strange time in America. But in 2015, this film does not hold up anymore. A slow and dull ride with little to latch on to.

Final Grade: C-

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“Kramer Vs. Kramer” (1979)

I felt obligated to see “Kramer Vs. Kramer” since it won Best Picture the same year as “Apocalypse Now,” one of my favorite films of all time. Going in, I already hated the film, but luckily the hate went away after a while.

It did not go away at first, since the story was about as basic as you could get – Husband and wife get a divorce, wife leaves after husband comes home from a busy night at the office, she can’t take the child with her and forcing the husband to decide between raising his son, playing both mother and father, and continuing his New York job. A story told a million times before and will be told a million more times.

But around the halfway point in the film, there is a traumatic moment at the playground with Ted (Dustin Hoffman) and Billy (Justin Henry). And without hesitation, without fear and with complete patience and passion, Ted risks his own life and safety to save his son. This might seem like a minor event, but when pulled off by brilliant actors like Hoffman and Henry, this scene becomes very emotional.

I’d like to say that Hoffman and Meryl Streep (who plays Ted’s wife, Joanna) give the best performances in “Kramer Vs. Kramer,” but that honor goes to Justin Henry, playing their seven-year old son. Not once does his performance feel like he was being forced to do something by his parents, and even has some tear-jerking moments near the end when he has to choose between his mother or father.

“Kramer Vs. Kramer” works past the bland story and gives us some sentimental performances. Not as good as “Apocalypse Now,” but still a good one.

Final Grade: B

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“Barbarella” (1968)

In the 41st Century, war, weapons and sex no longer exist, but all of that is threatened when a warring planet gets a hold of an earthling scientists’ weapon and it is now up to Jane Fonda to go to this planet run by goo and be sexy even though she doesn’t really know what that means.

I can honestly say that I am at a loss for words on this one. “Barbarella” is insane.

Final Grade: C+

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“Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog” (2008)

This one might get a longer blog post at a later time, but only because I’m not sure whether to count this as a “movie” since it was made for the internet and is less than an hour-long. By the definition of a film by the American Film Institute, “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog” does not count and is just an extended internet video with a rather large budget.

For the sake of this review though, I’ll count it as a movie – An energetic, creative short movie with some cheesy performances.

Imagine if Barney Stinson from “How I Met Your Mother” decided to become a super villain and take over the world. Not only are both characters played by Neil Patrick Harris, but both have exaggerated world views and think very highly of themselves, probably more than they should. They both like to break out into song (though every character played by NPH likes to do that) and want to mess with the established preconceptions of what people should do.

In that respect, Dr. Horrible may rub some people the wrong way, but those who know of the eccentric Neil Patrick Harris will love this all the same. Come for evil Barney Stinson, stay for the clever musical numbers.

I’m going to give this a higher grade than I should, because “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog” was made for a website, had a tiny budget compared to any major release and the movie was only 42 minutes. In that respect, it is a miracle this was made and an even bigger achievement that it turned out so well.

Final Grade: A-

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“An American Werewolf In London” (1981)

This just might be the most accessible werewolf movie, aside from the original “The Wolf Man,” but this one has the added advantage of superior effects and insight into the mind of werewolf. Lon Chaney Jr.’s turn as a werewolf was more of a mystery as to whether he truly was becoming a monster or if it was all in his mind. In “An American Werewolf In London,” we ditch the mystery and are given a tragic tale like that of David Cronenberg’s “The Fly.”

Of course, the standout scene is when we watch David transform into the werewolf, as we watch every agonizing part of his body morph into a beast. But there are also strange and unexplained dream sequences, like when Nazi monsters kill David’s family and a degrading corpse talking to David about becoming a werewolf. This gives the film a strange and unpredictable atmosphere where you’re not sure what will happen next.

Combine this with the film’s sense of humor about the ordeal, including the corpse cracking jokes about being dead, and “An American Werewolf In London” is a great modern-day monster film that pays tribute to the old while adding something new.

Final Grade: B+

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“Them!” (1954)

Like with “Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman,” I can see “Them!” being on an episode of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” In fact, it was in a way – A movie that feels like a carbon copy of “Them!” was riffed, called “The Beginning Of The End,” where giant grasshoppers invade the Chicago area and it is up to a group of scientists and military personnel to stop them.

The difference is that “Them!” has far superior special effects and does not rely on the cheese factor of quirky characters who say strange lines of dialogue. “Them!”‘s characters play everything straight and simply do their jobs. The male characters don’t look down on the female scientists simply because she’s a girl and are willing to suspend blowing up the Los Angeles underground that houses thousands of giant ants because two little kids might still be inside.

This makes “Them!” very straight forward but also to the point and relatable. The effects on the ants is a bit outdated these days but still gets the job done. The movement of the ants is a bit robotic, but it works better when there are several giant ants in the shot.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch “The Beginning Of The End” so I can mock it once again.

Final Grade: B

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“The King’s Speech” (2011)

This is one of those rare films that expertly blends tragedy and triumph without hammering in one side or the other, and lets both come naturally from the story about a stammering prince who has to take the throne during a time when his people need him the most.

“The King’s Speech” is also a rarity in that it is based on true events, but never feels like it is weighed down because of reality. Part of this is because of the likability of the three main characters, the so-to-be-king (Colin Firth), his wife (Helena Boham Carter) and his speech coach (Geoffrey Rush). Each of them acts as part of a greater whole, as Firth possesses the courage, Carter gives each of them heart and purpose and Rush is the motivation and drive. All three bounce off of each other perfectly to create a character dynamic that never gets stale.

While the conflict of Firth becoming king is interesting at times, the best parts of “The King’s Speech” comes from the interaction between the leads and the simpler scenes of Rush and Firth discussing his strict father who pushed him too hard as a kid that led to his stammering.

“The King’s Speech” is a motivational tale that hits all the right notes and excels at making the simple and mundane so inviting and captivating.

Final Grade: B+

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“Nosferatu The Vampyre” (1979)

On a particular level, I respect and appreciate this film. However, it was also incredibly slow and uninteresting.

“Nosferatu The Vampyre” has the same plot as the 1922 silent horror classic, “Nosferatu,” the first movie adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. While this Werner Herzog adaptation does have the added benefit of sound and dialogue, the film also takes its time and has many scenes that remain silent, like when the Dracula is onboard the ship and silently killing the crew, or when the towns’ people are forced to carry out their coffins. In this respect, the film is similar to Brian De Palma’s “Scarface,” as the film does its best to pay tribute to an old classic of the same name, while still attempting to add something new to the piece.

“Nosferatu The Vampyre” benefits from its creepy yet effective score, which adds to the ever-expanding atmosphere of creep and uncertainty. The film also uses negative space and has a great contrast of light and darkness, with the best being Dracula appearing out of no where from a darkly lite corridor.

However, the pacing is excruciating slow, as some scenes go on for longer than they need to, like Jonathan’s hike up to Dracula’s castle and many scenes being intercut with his wife, Lucy, staring out into the ocean. These scenes don’t add anything to the film and make me lose interest in the story.

Overall, “Nosferatu The Vampyre” is an interesting film experiment that paid off in cinematography and atmosphere, but not in the pacing and storytelling department. I appreciate what it was attempting to do by adapting a silent adaptation, but I’ll take the classic over this any day.

Final Grade: C+