Thursday, January 11, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks - Movies You Don't Want to Watch Again

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

I LOVE the theme for this week: Once Was Enough (Movies You Don't Want to Watch Again). I thought of a bunch of great movies that I don't ever want to watch again, so many good ones that it was actually a bit hard to pare it down. At any rate, I highly recommend these movies, but after watching them, you may also decide that you never want to see them again.

Saw (James Wan, 2004) It's not that it's too scary, it's that it's too gross. And I'm not just talking about the mise-en-scène. Nor am I just talking about the sickly green color palette they've chosen to wash all the cinematography in. I'm mostly talking about the film's main thesis statement, which got even more problematic when a fandom sprung up around the character of Jigsaw, a serial killer who designs elaborate death traps for people that are really morality tests, or something, revering him as a character who speaks truth and someone who is somehow morally complex and might actually have a point after all... and made a whole goddamn series of ever-more confounding sequels. The morass of murky (a)morality makes me so sick for humanity that I not only can't bring myself to watch this again, but have been actively rooting for every subsequent Saw film's failure. And I NEVER want to actively root for a film to fail.

Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000) If this movie was shown to every high schooler in America, we would have a lot less teenage drug addicts, I guarantee it. Aronofsky's film is so bruising, depressing, and disturbing that I can't watch it again. Part of the brilliance is how he uses lenses, music, film speed, and editing to put us completely in the heads of these characters, played with go-for-broke brilliance by Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, and the Oscar-nominated Ellen Burstyn.

Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985) Yes, I have sat through all nine and a half hours of this brutal documentary about the Holocaust. Yes, it is beyond brilliant how Lanzmann paints a full picture of the Holocaust, its build-up, and its aftermath without using a single frame of archival footage. Yes, it is beyond devastating. Yes, I'm glad I watched it. No, I do not ever need to watch it again.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks - Character Name in Title

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Make joining us one of your New Year's Resolutions! All you have to do is pick three movies that fit the week's theme. That's it! It's fun!

A new year, a new round of Thursday Movie Picks categories! I'm very excited to see what this series has in store for us this year. I have to say, I think we're starting off with a pretty good category - movies that have a character name in the title. Sometimes, naming a movie after your main character is the simplest, best thing to do. Especially if your movie is about an historical figure (think Frida, Wilde, The Glenn Miller Story). But I decided to go with movies NOT about real people.

Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, 2007) Michael Clayton is a fixer at a corporate law firm. But when of the senior partners develops a conscience and goes rogue, Michael starts to develop a conscience as well. Which is a bit of a problem for anxiety-prone corporate counsel Karen Crowder. George Clooney gives a great performance in the title role, but the real revelation here is Tilda Swinton, who deservedly won an Oscar for her tremendous performance as Karen. Gilroy, good a director as he is, owes most of the film's tremendous tension to her and her alone.

Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino, 2003-2004) Bill likes to train his lovers to be assassins. Or he likes to take his trained assassins as lovers. One of the two. But one of them got away, so he takes his assassins to her wedding to kill her. Except that she only ended up in a coma. And when she wakes up, there's hell to pay. Uma Thurman gives the performance of her career as The Bride, whose mission it is to kill Bill, in what is, for my money, the best film of Tarantino's career (Part One). What I wouldn't give to see the unseparated "The Whole Bloody Affair" cut that Tarantino sometimes brings out.

Dr. Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964) Dr. Strangelove is the strangest of Peter Sellers's creations in this darkest of pitch-black comedies - a wheelchair-bound former Nazi scientist who can't quite keep his Nazi sympathies in check. If you've somehow never heard of this, the basic idea is that we're going to nuclear war with Russia, but the reason is trumped-up by crazy General Jack Ripper. So it's the war hawks (led by General Buck Turgidson) versus the diplomats (President Merkin Muffley) fighting over the fate of the world. One of my all-time favorite movies, Dr. Strangelove is political satire at its absolute finest. There are few casts more stacked than this - George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, James Earl Hones, Keenan Wynn - and even though director Stanley Kubrick may not have liked the idea, Sellers is BRILLIANT in his three parts here, absolutely nailing each one and, in Strangelove, creating a comic character for the ages.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - TV Edition: Friendship

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them.

It's the last Thursday Movie Picks of the year, y'all! Which is why it's kinda weird that it's a TV Edition, but hey, the calendar is what it is! And besides, we're all friends here, and what better way to celebrate the friendships this series has fostered than by picking great TV shows about friendship?

The Golden Girls (1985-1992) I mean, it's right there in the theme song, isn't it? "Thank you for being a friend." Blanche, Dorothy, Rose, and Sophia are THE super girl group of TV, and they bucked every trend in the book by being a top ten Nielsen-rated TV show for six out of its seven seasons. Even with major stars leading it, there was no guarantee that a sitcom about four "over the hill" women (three divorcés and one widow, no less) would be a hit with audiences. But the show's warm, gentle humor was put over with panache by Bea Arthur, Rue McLanahan, Betty White, and Estelle Getty. Watching The Golden Girls is to watch old pros doing what they do best: Setting up punchlines and knocking them out of the park as easily as you or I change channels. It's a delight.

New Girl (2011-Present) Curse the show all you want for foisting the word "adorkable" on us, but New Girl has been one of the most consistently hilarious shows on TV for the past few years. Once they realized that the chemistry between the cast members was bigger than any one of them (about halfway through the first season), and the show shifted Zooey Deschanel's titular Jess from being the main character to just another ensemble member, they also slowly started realizing that all the motley crew of characters were weirdos in their own way, and they just let the actors be weirdos. And really, that's the key to the show's success. It may have started off as a show about one weird girl getting her life back on track after a bad breakup, but it became a story about how five weirdos realized they could let their freak flags fly. Hilariously.

Red Band Society (2014-2015) This one-season wonder, based on an acclaimed Catalan series, is about a group of kids living in a hospital's pediatric ward, and the nurses and doctors who look after them. At times overly simplistic and obvious, but always touching, the show had a pretty great cast and a knack for perfectly used pop tunes. I got invested in the characters pretty quickly, and was disappointed when the show was cancelled after 13 episodes.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - 2018 Movies I'm Looking Forward To

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. It's easy and fun to play along - just pick three movies that fit the week's theme and write a little something about them!

So.... you've all seen the trailer for Ocean's 8, right? It looks FLAMAZING, right?!?

Well, it's not one of my picks this week, but only because I figure lots of other people will pick it, and also because I would trust this one more if Soderbergh were directing.

ANYWAY, in addition to Ocean's 8 and Ready Player One (which I mentioned a few weeks back), these are probably my most anticipated movies opening next year.

Annihilation (Alex Garland) I mean, as if the next feature from the director of Ex Machina wasn't already gonna be near the top of my Must See list, this one is based on by what is by all accounts a pretty good book, has an outrageously amazing cast, and some really cool-looking special effects. And if all THAT wasn't enough, this trailer promises some shirtless Oscar Isaac. I am SO. THERE.

Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci) Cruelly held back from American release until March 2018, this political satire is chock full of brilliant actors, but really, the star here is genius satirist Armando Iannucci. After In The LoopThe Thick of It, and Veep, I will follow him wherever he goes. Even if it may hit too close to home (hey, at this point, America will probably be a Russian outpost by 2018).

Widows (Steve McQueen) McQueen is kind of hit-or-miss with me, but.... THIS CAST. Academy Award Winner Viola Davis, Tony Award Winner Cynthia Erivo, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, André Holland, Daniel Kaluuya, Robert Duvall, Jon Bernthal... what more could you ask for? How about a screenplay written by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, based off an 80s British TV series written by crime writer Lynda La Plante, about the widows of three criminals who conspire to recreate their husbands' last failed heist! I've been in the tank for this one practically since it was announced.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Small Towns

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join our little community of bloggers by picking three movies that fit with the week's theme and writing a bit about them. It's fun and easy - and 2018's schedule has been posted so you can prepare!

I'm back, y'all!

Work has been kicking my butt the past couple of weeks. Ever since Thanksgiving it's been non-stop - many late nights and some super-stressful days. It's been all I can do to get out and see some of the great movies flooding the cinemas of NYC right now. And, as always, there have been some that I've missed that have made me very sad. (If you're not following me on Letterboxd, please do so - I do keep track of everything I watch there, and usually post mini reviews.)

I was especially sad to miss last week's Thursday Movie Picks, because the theme was one of the great tropes of cinema: The Ugly Duckling Who Turns Into A Beautiful Swan. There are of course a wealth of options to choose from. My favorites (I can do this because this isn't an official TMP list!) are: The supreme Bette Davis weepie Now, Voyager; George Bernard Shaw's witty Pygmalion and it's musical version, My Fair Lady;  Ingrid Bergman's second Oscar-winner, Anastasia; Baz Luhrmann's thrilling breakthrough Strictly Ballroom; '90s classic teen flick She's All That and its parody version, Not Another Teen Movie; the sweet Drew Barrymore comeback vehicle Never Been Kissed; Anne Hathaway's debut The Princess Diaries; the brilliant Neil LaBute stage play-turned-movie The Shape of Things; and the amazingly stupid-funny Anna Farris-starrer The House Bunny.

This week, we're looking at small towns. There ain't nothin' like a good old-fashioned small town, but the ones in these movies better watch out, because a change is a-comin'...

The Stepford Wives (Bryan Forbes, 1975) I feel obligated to include this one, as after college I moved back to my home state of CT and ended up living for a while in the town of Wilton, the inspiration for the novel by Ira Levin that inspired this iconic movie. I'm sure you all know the premise, but in case you don't, here goes: Photographer Joanna moves with her executive husband and two kids from New York City to the idyllic suburban town of Stepford, CT. Walter immediately joins the exclusive local Men's Association, but Joanna is spooked by the wives, who are all very submissive homemakers with few interests outside the home. She and her fellow new-in-town friend Bobbie investigate, and what they find... well, I'm certainly not going to spoil that if you don't already know! Just go with the flow and enjoy the ride. It's a fun one. I promise!

To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar (Beeban Kidron, 1995) Snydersville is just a podunk, middle of nowhere town where nothing ever happens. But then, a car breaks down outside town stranding three drag queens there for a weekend. Naturally, the queens (played in hugely entertaining, go-for-broke star turns by Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, and John Leguizamo) are afraid to reveal themselves as men after their initial appearance, but they make the most of a bad situation and confront the prejudice they see anyway. No, this movie isn't very good, but it is a whole lot of fun, and it's still amazing that stars as big as these three would take on these roles, and perform them so well.

The Dressmaker (Jocelyn Moorhouse, 2016) Myrtle "Tilly" Dunnage was driven out of her microscopic backwoods Australian town of Dungatar after an incident she barely remembers from her childhood that resulted in a young boy's death. Since then, she has become an internationally renowned dressmaker, and has returned to Dungatar to care for her ailing mother... and also for a spot of revenge. This super entertaining movie is just fabulous in the extreme. Kate Winslet vamps it up in some pretty amazing dresses as Tilly, Judy Davis is a hoot as her mother Molly, Liam Hemsworth is swoon-worthy as the love interest, and the entire ensemble (including Hugo Weaving and Sarah Snook) is game for anything... and they pretty much have to do everything. One of my favorite moviegoing experiences of last year, this could also fit in last week's category, which is why I had to pick it this week.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Television Edition: Workplace

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them.

I'm at work writing this right now, which seems only appropriate given that this month's TV Edition is focused on the Workplace!

Herewith, my three picks for this evergreen setting for TV shows:

Boston Public (2000-2004) This was required viewing in my household, as my Dad was a high school foreign language teacher turned Assistant Principal and my Mom was a school social worker. The show from David E. Kelly (The Practice, Ally McBeal) was about the goings-on at a public school in Boston, MA, and in particular focused on the teachers. There were plenty of opportunities to address Important Issues (some of which were handled well, others that were NOT), and plenty of opportunities for soap operatics (some of which were just WAY too weird given the setting), but mostly, it was a chance to show that teachers have a fucking DIFFICULT job, and that school administrators often have it even worse. Just try having a personal life when your job lasts from 6 AM to 6 PM and you have to deal with teenagers who would rather be anywhere else all day. With a great ensemble cast including Chi McBride as the Principal, Fyvush Finkel, Jessalyn Gilsig, Nicky Katt, Loretta Devine, Sharon Leal, Michael Rapaport, and Jeri Ryan as the teachers.

Veep (2012-present) Julia Louis-Dreyfus gives the greatest comic performance ever seen on television as Vice President Selina Meyer. Surrounded by incompetents, idiots, assholes, and every combination thereof, Selina bravely trudges through each day dealing with whatever obstacles are thrown in her way with some of the most creative insults on TV. Those, of course, come from Armando Ianucci, genius creator of this and the similarly brilliant British TV show The Thick of It. You may think I'm being hyperbolic about Louis-Dreyfus's performance, but trust me. She is SUBLIME in this role, brilliantly showing every single one of Selina's many sides often simultaneously. It's a wonder of a performance, aided by one of the most talented ensembles on TV.

Fawlty Towers (1975-1979) Ladies and gentlemen, the Perfect Sitcom. John Cleese's towering performance as Basil Fawlty, the owner of the perpetually on-the-brink hotel that gives the series its title, is nothing short of utter perfection. The main joke of the series is that Fawlty runs a hotel but can't stand his guests, and will explode at them if they so much as breathe at the wrong time. The hotel staff - Spanish waiter Manuel, maid Polly, and Basil's wife Sybil - run the gamut from incompetent to unfailingly professional, both of which make Basil seethe with rage - always hilariously. If you haven't had the pleasure, sit down and binge the whole series - you can easily do it in a day, if you don't die from not being able to breathe because you're laughing so hard!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Origin Movies

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join our merry band of regulars by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE! My favorite holiday is here once again. A time where we have to focus on nothing but the good things in life: namely food and all the things we're thankful for. And dear reader, I have to say, I'm thankful for you. Yes, YOU. Whoever you are that's reading this. Because there's something unsatisfying and slightly sad about writing a blog post that no one reads. So thank you for taking the plunge and reading these posts. I know I don't post as often as I probably should (follow me on Letterboxd for more frequent, albeit short, movie reviews), but I do want to post more often. It's just that life doesn't always allow for it. And every time I think I'm turning a corner and will be able to devote more time to this here little blog, something else pops up. But it's okay! Because when I can, I post, and when I post, we can have a conversation in the comments - and that's REALLY why I do this. To have conversations with people about movies. Movies we love, movies we hate, and movies we're mixed on.

This week on Thursday Movie Picks, we're talking Origin Movies. Which I guess just has the "superhero" implied, as I can't think of anything else that might have an origin movie. I welcome others to challenge that notion with their picks.

Frankly, the recent spate of "origin stories" has been mind-numbing to me. They're pretty much all the same, and of generally similar (low) quality. But that could just be my annoyance with superhero movies rearing its ugly head. There are just too many of them nowadays, and none of them have left me completely satisfied. That said, I do generally like these particular films more than I dislike them.

X-Men: First Class (Matthew Vaughn, 2011) I make no bones about the fact that I much prefer the X-Men movies to any of the other Marvel movies, but that's because I have memories of the Saturday morning cartoons, and because there is a HUMONGOUS cast of characters. Yes, it sucks that according to the movies the only ones worth a damn are Professor X, Magneto, and Wolverine, but the constant team dynamic is always engaging - don't like the main character in this scene? Don't worry, your favorite will have a big moment in 5, 4, 3, 2... And these characters are just more fun to watch than the (surprisingly) sullen Avengers. Plus, this particular movie takes place in the swinging '60s, and makes fantastic use of that in moments. Plus, there has never been a better superhero pair than James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Professor Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr, here seen when they meet and take on a crew of youngsters who have mutant "powers". First Class is surprisingly fun, even for a series that always was fun, but more importantly handles Big Issues with the importance they deserve while still keeping a light touch. As a bonus, it features the greatest use of the one PG-13 F-word EVER.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt, 2011) There was NO reason to ever expect that this was ever going to be anything but crap - was anyone clamoring for a prequel to the Charlton Heston classic Planet of the Apes? Much less one starring James Franco? But whoever was behind this did two things right: They gave the story an undeniable, emotional storyline (a baby chimp is given a potential Alzheimer's cure that increases his brain function, by a well-meaning scientist whose father is suffering from the disease), and they hired Andy Serkis to play that chimp, named Caesar, and digital effects house WETA to bring Caesar to life. Serkis works wonders in the role, and while skeptics and naysayers may discount his performance as all digital trickery, there's no denying that the film's most powerful moment - Caesar finding his voice - is all him. This is one of the most thoughtful, well-constructed blockbusters of the '00s.

Monsters University (Dan Scanlon, 2013) No, this one isn't really great. The story is rote (jock and nerd are roommates, compete against each other and then together for a common goal), and a lot of the jokes are surprisingly stale. But this is a world you just want to savor, with something new and creative lurking in every corner of the frame. You really get the feeling watching this that the Pixar animators were just given carte blanche to do whatever they wanted, and they played around with EVERYTHING. Character design, set dressing, sound design... there is a sense of unbridled creativity coursing through every frame of Monsters University. Which makes it even more of a pity that the story itself is so been-there-done-that.