Thursday, December 8, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Movies Based on Toys

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join us by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and saying a little something about them!

It's Christmas season, which means everyone will soon be packing our nation's malls and big box stores trying to get that one perfect present for their favorite someone. And we all know what that means. Fights over who gets the last Tickle-Me Elmo! Or whatever the hot toy is this year, I personally have absolutely no clue.

In the spirit of the season, this week's programming on Thursday Movie Picks is centered around movies based on toys. Not a particularly illustrious group, and the three I've picked this week couldn't be more obvious, but they also cannot be bettered. I dare anyone to try.

Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995) The movie that introduced the geniuses at Pixar to the world is still an utter delight to watch on just about every level, and it's based on a hook so simple it's hard to believe no one had ever thought of it before: the life of children's toys when their owners aren't around, and how they react to the hot new toy shoved into their midst. Equal parts funny and sweet, it's easy to see why this was such a big hit and an enduring favorite among Pixar's stellar output.

Toy Story 2 (John Lasseter, 1999) The Empire Strikes Back of animated sequels, it's almost impossible to believe that this was originally going to go direct to video. Personally, I think this is one of the best films of Hollywood's most recent annus mirabilis, taking complex themes of abandonment and ownership of one's own identity and dealing with them - VERY seriously - through a story about children's toys, of all things. And it's just as funny and exciting as the first.

Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010) I don't think, 10-11 years after Toy Story 2, that anyone was particularly clamoring for a second Toy Story sequel, making this a trilogy or, God forbid, a series... but then it came out, and made just about everyone in the world cry ugly, ugly tears, including this guy right here. I would blame the 3D glasses, but I don't think that would account for the great big heaving SOBS I cried in a theater packed full of children and their parents. Whatever alchemy was going on behind the scenes at Pixar when they wrote the last act of this movie, I can only hope that it's still there, and will be for decades to come, because as far as I'm concerned, this is the studio's crowning achievement, a complex, well-thought-out film that stands on its own AND as the completion of a trilogy, both a complex meditation on death and a rollicking adventure story that is equally enjoyable whether you're 5 or 105,

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Comfort Movies

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

Happy December everyone! It is now officially okay for you to start putting up Christmas decorations and playing Christmas music. I hope you all enjoyed Thanksgiving. I had the pleasure of having not one, not two, but THREE Thanksgivings between Wednesday and Sunday, which is why I was MIA for Thursday Movie Picks last week (for those of you who may be wondering, my three Western picks would have been Johnny Guitar, High Noon, and A Million Ways To Die in the West, with the huge caveat that I don't particularly like Westerns). They were all delicious, but very different levels of enjoyable (ah, family - can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em!)

Anyway, this week, it's the movies that we play whenever we're feeling down - the cinematic equivalent of chicken soup. So this week was pretty easy.

Le fabuleux destin d'Amelie Poulain (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001) Is there a nicer movie than Amelie? I honestly don't think there is. The story of a lonely French girl (Audrey Tautou, utter perfection) who discovers great joy in devising elaborate schemes to give other people joy - but cannot work up the courage to give herself the greatest joy, a man who loves her - Amelie is just a perfectly playful delight from start to finish, and has so many moments that just make me sigh with contentment. Plus many more that thrill me, make me laugh, and maybe even make me cry a little. Aside: When I had a car, Yann Tiersen's buoyant score was always in the CD player, and quite often soundtracked my drives. I highly recommend this; it adds a certain je ne sais quoi that makes the journey that much more enjoyable.

Shakespeare in Love (John Madden, 1998) I just... I can't even talk about this movie anymore. That perfect script, those luminous performances, that swooningly, achingly romantic score. This is romantic comedy done so, so right, and if people can't see that it's just as well-crafted, and thus just as deserving of Oscar's love, as any serious-minded war film, then I would almost go so far as to argue that they don't truly love movies, they only love certain types of movies. Which is fine, but just be honest and open about it! Anyway, the pleasures of this are so many, and so great, that I may even like it MORE each time I watch it.

Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964) I mean, insert pretty much any Disney Classic into this slot, but today my pick is this one. When I was young, we had a VHS tape of this that was taped off the TV. My sister and I wore it out fast-forwarding through all the commercials. Thankfully, the constant stopping and starting didn't have any impact whatsoever on the film's joyousness. Easily the best live action film Disney has ever done, and with one of the studio's best original scores, this one really is as close to cinematic chicken soup as I have ever experienced - it never fails to make me feel better when I'm sick.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Movies Based on a TV Series

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. You can play along by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and telling us a bit about them - it's so easy!

Oof, you guys.

As if things weren't bad enough in the world, this week we have to pick movies based on TV series. While not ALL of them are disasters (Guy Ritchie's recent take on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was perfect late-summer fun), pretty much all of the ones I can think of are.

With one notable exception.

What follows are, in order, a truly terrible adaptation that might as well not even be one, a pretty good adaptation that might as well not even be one, and quite possibly the greatest film adaptation of a TV  show ever made.

Lost In Space (Stephen Hopkins, 1998) As a child of 14, I remember thinking this was fun, but certainly inferior to such classics of cinema as Independence Day. Time has NOT been kind to it. It's a low point for pretty much everyone involved, but thankfully (nearly) all of their careers suffered barely a bit. The set-up is exactly the same as the 60s TV series, but updated with a lot more serious action and big VFX set-pieces. As they did in the 90s. But in its quest to be a blockbuster, the film abandons all of the charm of the TV series, becoming just another generic sci-fi film. Trivia alert: This (of all things) was the movie that ended Titanic's 15-week reign at the top of the box office.

Get Smart (Peter Segal, 2008) Look: the original Get Smart TV series is one of my favorite shows of all time, and if I'm being honest, this movie is almost as funny as that series. But it's ONLY because of Steve Carell as bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart, perfectly riding the tone set by the legendary Don Adams from the TV series. The rest of the movie, though, is boilerplate spy stuff, with decent support from Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin, and Terence Stamp. In other words: This didn't have to be an adaptation of Get Smart. It could have just been a spy spoof with that cast going by completely different character names. Nonetheless, I still enjoy this movie. It still makes me laugh, despite the fact that everything it did, Spy has since done better.

In The Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009) An extrapolation from his successful UK comedy series The Thick of It, Armando Iannucci's In The Loop is the best political satire in AGES. It also has the filthiest language ("Why don't I pop a jaunty little bonnet on your purview and ram it up your ass with a lubricated horse cock?"), the best one-liners ("Okay, fuckity-bye," "Kiss my sweaty balls, you fat fuck!"), and the single greatest, most hard-won punchline in recent years. Inimitable performances from Anna Chlumsky, Mimi Kennedy, James Gandolfini, David Rasche, and of course Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker, the foulest mouth in the United Kingdom, make the already great script even better. What makes it such a brilliant adaptation is that it takes existing characters from a TV series and puts them on a much larger playing field while staying true to the feel of the series without feeling like a bunch of TV episodes stitched together (Sex and the City), a Very Special Episode (Veronica Mars), or like any other generic movie (Charlie's Angels). All of this feels completely true to the series that spawned it while also feeling like its own thing, which is difficult to do. Plus, it's GREAT on every single level.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Addiction

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'm gonna be honest, guys. Tuesday night wrecked me. Wednesday has been a haze; even my office, usually abuzz with activity and chatter, was dead silent. My voice is horse from all the screaming. My eyes are dried out from all the crying. My feet are sore from all the marching in protest. And my spirit is somewhat defeated from not knowing what to do. I don't have it in me to write a whole lot about this right now, so please, forgive me.

Let's just dive right in, shall we? The subject is addiction. The movies are:

Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011) Pretentious, only occasionally involving twaddle about sex addiction. Fassbender and Mulligan are the only reasons to see it and even then, I'm not sure they're worth the slog through every single goddamn well-trodden trope about addiction.

The Lost Weekend (Billy Wilder, 1945) Perhaps a bit over the top, but still powerful look at alcoholism. Ray Milland gives one of the best Best Actor Oscar-winning performances.

Bigger Than Life (Nicholas Ray, 1956) The best of these three, with the best lead performance, this time from James Mason as a schoolteacher who becomes addicted to cortisone. Nick Ray was a genius filmmaker, and this is well within his typical florid wheelhouse, which he turned into a sort of house of mirrors to critique the male-dominated American society of the 50s. Mason is nothing short of brilliant in the lead.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Middle Eastern Language Movies

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through The Shelves. Come join the motley crew of regulars by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a little bit about them!

This week on Thursday Movie Picks, we're off on a journey to the Middle East!

I'll be honest. I haven't seen that many movies from this area of the world. HOWEVER! I have seen enough to make all three picks this week!

...and there was much rejoicing.

Late Marriage (Dover Kosashvili, 2001) Not quite as light-hearted as the trailer would have you believe, Late Marriage is about a Georgian Jew (Lior Ashkenazi, in a stunning performance) whose very traditional parents want him to just marry already! To the point where they're trying to arrange a marriage for him. But he's secretly dating a divorcée, which would be a big no-no. Late Marriage was Israel's submission for the Academy Awards that year, and I can't believe it wasn't nominated. It's really great.

Eyes Wide Open (Haim Tabakman, 2009) Short and sweet, Eyes Wide Open is as important as it is beautiful. The story takes place in the Orthodox world of rabbinical students, where two men find they share a mutual attraction. Unfortunately, homosexuality is forbidden. The film is as humble as the buildings in which most of its scenes take place, and the simplicity (and borderline austerity) works very much in the film's favor, especially as the relationship between the leads deepens. An underseen gem. 

A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011) I almost never do this, but if you haven't seen A Separation yet, stop reading this and go watch it RIGHT NOW. No, seriously. RIGHT NOW. I'll wait. Asghar Farhadi's crystalline, prismatic portrait of present-day Iran is a flat-out, no-holds-barred masterpiece that couldn't possibly be better on any level - performance, editing, scoring, framing, it's all absolutely perfect. As a woman tries to get a divorce from her husband so that she can take their daughter and make a better life for themselves elsewhere, he hires a very religious woman to help care for his ailing father. There is an argument one day when the old man is left unattended, and from there things spiral outward. It's very nearly chaos, but Farhadi has the control of a master storyteller, detailing each scene and character in such a way that we can see all sides at once. It's a perfect scenario, one that plays out with the inexorable pull of classic Greek tragedy - the end was writ from the beginning, we just didn't know it.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Epidemic/Pandemic/Outbreak

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

I'll be honest: movies about viral outbreaks are NOT my thing. WAY too real. I'm not much of a germophobe, but this sort of thing really makes me want to crawl up into a ball, silently rock back and forth, and never EVER leave my house.

That said, these movies are really good.

Contagion (Steven Soderbergh, 2011) Do NOT watch this movie unless you want to go through life with latex gloves and a doctor's mask on FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Seriously, this movie is SO scary - Gwyneth Paltrow contracts a cold on a business trip, except it's NOT a cold, but rather a SUPER contagious disease, and then everything goes to hell. This movie seriously feels all too real. A ridiculously starry cast is the least that this movie has to offer.

World War Z (Marc Forster, 2014) FAR better than the initial reviews would have you believe, World War Z is a terrific thriller about a United Nations investigator who has to find a way to stop a zombie pandemic. Yes, it's ridiculous, and yes it ends on a bit of an anti-climax, but its best sequences are real edge-of-your-seat, biting-your-nails, watching-through-splayed-fingers masterpieces of suspense.

Idiocracy (Mike Judge, 2006) Yes, yes, alright, fine. This TECHNICALLY doesn't have any sort of viral outbreak in it, BUT, admit it - an epidemic of stupid is kind of scarier than an outbreak of bird flu. Especially since Mike Judge's satire of American machismo and overconsumption gets more and more prescient every day.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Science Fiction Horror

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

Full disclosure: I was so caught up in the Presidential Debate last night that I completely forgot that today was Thursday. It was appropriate, though, since last night really was its own kind of horror movie, and we are devoted to things that go bump in the night this month on Thursday Movie Picks! Unfortunately, it's not science fiction, it's all too real... UNLIKE MY PICKS FOR THIS WEEK! #SeamlessTransition

My picks for this week all have something in common. Can you guess what it is?

The Invisible Man (James Whale, 1933) It's a bit of a risk casting a huge star as the lead of your movie and then keeping their face off the screen for the entire running time, but when you have a voice like that of Claude Rains, who needs a face? (And besides, this was Rains's American film debut, anyway) Rains is terrific in this, fully capturing the tension and the mania of someone being slowly driven insane by his own genius, which as resulted in a procedure that has rendered him invisible to the naked eye. The film also does a great job of capturing the feeling of HG Wells's book, equal parts funny, smart, and scary.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956) When a number of his patients appear to be suffering from Capgras delusion (the belief that their loved ones have been replaced with identical impostors), Dr. Miles Bennell at first thinks it's probably just a small case of mass hysteria. But then he and a former flame find two giant pods with exact copies of themselves growing inside. And then they start to notice that the denizens of their small California town are increasingly losing all human emotion. What is going on? Are aliens behind this? Or is it.... even worse.... COMMUNISTS?!?!? One of the foundational texts of American cinema and pop culture, Invasion of the Body Snatchers still retains all of its icky paranoid power today, despite being remade - both directly and indirectly - countless times since.

The Fly (Kurt Neumann, 1958) A brilliant scientist has perfected a transportation machine. Or so he thinks. Well, I mean, it works. It works really well, actually. But the thing is, it can really only transport one thing at a time, in one direction. "Fine," you say. "What's the problem?" Well, the problem is, a fly happened to buzz its way into one of the transportation chambers when the scientist was testing it, and... well... I think you know what happens from there. Nowhere near as visceral as David Cronenberg's '80s remake, the original is very much a product of its time, meaning it's pretty scary, a little dated, and equal parts intentionally and unintentionally funny. Oh yeah, and it stars Vincent Price.