Thursday, February 14, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks - Romantic Comedies

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!

So, the last time we talked Romantic Comedies on Thursday Movie Picks, I picked three terrible movies that, for whatever absurd reason, I love anyway. I know I can't possibly top that, so I'm gonna play it a bit safer this time around and just pick three of the All-Time Best.

The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940) Socialite divorcée Tracy Lord (the unbeatable Katharine Hepburn) is getting married again! But, sadly for her poor husband-to-be George Kittredge, not only is her lush of a former husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) back, but he has brought with him an incognito reporter and photographer from Spy Magazine. As the wedding approaches, Tracy finds herself still nursing an attraction to Dexter, and finds a growing affection for the journalist Mike Connor (Jimmy Stewart). What a dilemma! Adapted from the stage play by Philip Barry, the dialogue sparkles, and the three stars form an irresistible love triangle through their considerable chemistry with each other (although originally, it was meant to be Clark Gable as Dexter and Spencer Tracy as Mike, which would have been just as delicious). Hepburn originated the role of Tracy Lord in the Broadway production, and bought the film rights for herself as a way to overcome her reputation as "box office poison". It worked: The Philadelphia Story was an instant classic, the fifth highest-grossing film of the year, and earned six Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Actress. It won two Oscars, for Best Screenplay and Best Actor, for Jimmy Stewart (in what is CLEARLY a Supporting role).

The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960) "Did you hear me, Miss Kubelik? I absolutely adore you." "Shut up and deal." Perfection. Billy Wilder's depressive romantic comedy works almost in spite of itself, solely because of the star power of its leads. Shirley Maclaine is magical as elevator operator Fran Kubelik, in a relationship with married man Fred MacMurray, who uses employee Jack Lemmon's apartment for his extra-marital assignations. I've never found Jack Lemmon attractive EXCEPT for in this movie, in which he is downright swoon-worthy as he cares for Fran's broken heart. Nominated for 10 Oscars, The Apartment actually won Best Picture, as well as Best Director and Original Screenplay.

When Harry Met Sally... (Rob Reiner, 1989) One of the greatest screenplays ever written. When Sally drives Harry to New York from Chicago after they graduate from college, Harry asserts that men and women cannot be friends, because sex always gets in the way. Sally disagrees. Over the course of the next decade, they randomly run into each other a few times, and eventually settle into a kind of friendship... that eventually turns into a kind of attraction. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan have a wholly surprising chemistry as the leads, and Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby are even better as their best friends who fall in love at first sight.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks - Revenge

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!

Something horrible has happened to you. Someone has betrayed you, double-crossed you, committed an act of unspeakable violence against you and/or your family. You drag yourself out of the mud, effortfully pull yourself to your feet, raise your fists to the sky, and devote the rest of your waking hours in the pursuit of the one thing you yell to the heavens:

REVENGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Or, at least, that's what characters in these movies did. I don't know anything about it myself. I SWEAR.

Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino, 2003-2004) In the words of Uma Thurman's Bride: "Looked dead, didn't I? But I wasn't. But it wasn't from lack of trying, I can tell you that. Actually, Bill's last bullet put me in a coma. A coma I was to lie in for four years. When I woke up, I went on what the movie advertisements refer to as a 'roaring rampage of revenge.' I roared. And I rampaged. And I got bloody satisfaction. I've killed a hell of a lot of people to get to this point, but I have only one more. The last one. The one I'm driving to right now. The only one left. And when I arrive at my destination, I am gonna KILL BILL." Very few movies make me as giddy from sheer movie-making bravura as Part One of Tarantino's revenge fantasia. If Part Two suffers a bit in comparison, that's only because it focuses more on the characters involved than the action. I still long to see the "Whole Bloody Affair" cut that fuses the two parts into one whole, but it looks like we'll never get it.

Irréversible (Gaspar Noé, 2002) A tale of revenge spun backward: We first see a man getting arrested for killing the wrong man, then watch him brutally beat that man to death, and then slowly learn why. Irréversible is a notoriously difficult film to watch, partially because of the sickening camera swoops and swirls that send the film careening backward in time, and partially because of one particular scene that occurs at the midway point of the film, wherein the murderer's girlfriend (played by the gorgeous Monica Bellucci) gets brutally raped and beaten to within an inch of her life in one unbroken nine-minute shot. This is sick-making cinema, and very much on purpose: There is a background noise with a frequency of 28 Hz (low frequency, almost inaudible), which causes nausea, sickness and vertigo, playing for the first thirty minutes of the film. If you can make it through, Irréversible is a unforgettable cinematic experience with fantastic performances and stunning, inventive camera work.

The Virgin Spring (Ingmar Bergman, 1960) Adapted from a 13th Century Swedish ballad, Bergman's masterpiece was the basis for Wes Craven's notorious The Last House on the Left, although the two films couldn't be more different. Bergman's film is, unsurprisingly, focused on the spiritual aspects of the story, and the revenge-seeker's quest not just for revenge, but acceptance in the eyes of God. Max von Sydow gives a typically brilliant performance, but in some ways, this film is almost as difficult to watch as Irréversible - just in a very different, internalized way.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks - 2018 Movies

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

NO! IT'S TOO EARLY!! I STILL HAVEN'T SEEN EVERYTHING FROM 2018 YET!!!

...he screamed unto the heavens, cursing release schedules and day jobs and Moviepass and NYC transit and and and....

AND THEN! He had a revelation. "Why don't I do the WORST films of 2018 instead of the best? At this point, I know what I'm gonna hate of what I haven't seen, and if any of them are worse than my current bottom three, well... they are SO not worth my time!"

And so it was, he chose three films from 2018 that you should absolutely NOT see. Under any circumstances. Speaking from personal experience.

Beautiful Boy (Felix van Groeningen) Oh lord. Look, I like Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell as much as the next gay guy, but... neither of them are very good in this. Chalamet comes close, but he's not helped at all by the script, which is cliché after cliché that does a great disservice to not just one book, but two (this is supposed to be an adaptation of both father David and son Nic's memoirs about Nic's addiction). I'm sure they thought they were doing something interesting with the structure of the film, and they're not exactly WRONG - mirroring the cyclic nature of addiction in the plot structure is certainly a valid approach - but it's so poorly done that it makes for a wildly unsatisfying movie on the face of things. And that's before we get to the terribly sloppy editing and utterly god-awful music cues (seriously the worst in any film I've seen in a LOOOOOOONG time). In any other year, this would very likely be the absolute worst, and certainly the most disappointing, film of the year.

Fifty Shades Freed (James Foley) SIGH. The absolute worst thing this franchise did was put the second and third movies in the hands of male writers and directors. To the extent that the first film was any good, it was because it had a point of view that unquestionably came from the female voices at the helm. Since then, poor Dakota Johnson has been working overtime to put these blander than bland sequels over, playing opposite a romantic lead who CLEARLY doesn't want to be there, reading lines that have to be contorted to all hell to sound like anything human beings would actually say. This third one isn't even particularly sexy, WHICH IS THIS FRANCHISE'S ENTIRE REASON FOR BEING. Of course, a lot of the blame can be laid at the feet of the source material, in which literally nothing happens except people getting pissy about something they have no business getting pissy about, until the climax where suddenly everyone remembered that these things are actually supposed to have something called a plot, involving characters who, ya know, DO THINGS OF CONSEQUENCE. Anyway, this is deadly dull, and not even Dakota Johnson, brilliant as she has always been in these godforsaken films, can save it. In any other year, this would very like be the absolute nadir of film.

BUT NOT THIS YEAR.

Because this year, we had...

Life Itself (Dan Fogelman) I... I don't even know what to say. I mean... what on Earth CAN one say about something so fundamentally flawed and misguided that in ANY OTHER CIRCUMSTANCE, if it had EVEN ONE REDEEMING VALUE, it would likely go all the way past "abysmally awful" to become strangely admirable somehow. But, reader, I can honestly say: IT DOES NOT. For more of my unedited thoughts, check out my live-tweet (yes, I was high, and no, it did not help), but suffice it to say, it is PAINFULLY clear that everyone involved in making this thought that it was all clever and deep and meaningful and probably spiritual, but it is LOUSY with crazy structural ideas that not only don't work, but very specifically don't work IN A MOVIE THAT IS SUPPOSED TO BE HEARTWARMING. I mean... at least, I'm PRETTY sure that's supposed to be the feeling we're left with at the end, when the movie pins its entire reason for existence and its entire emotional weight on someone we first meet in the film's closing minutes. But instead, the entire thing ends up being a complete WTF moment writ large, a faux-humanistic wannabe-meaningful story that only ends up being a massive joke played on its unsuspecting audience. Or, in short, the opening unreliable narrator gambit so completely loses the audience's trust that it would take a miracle to get it back, and this movie is wholly incapable (not to mention undeserving) of a miracle.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks - The Cold

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!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!!

Yes, I know I'm a little late on this, but it's been a BUSY start to the year, and this is my first post here in 2019! And appropriately so, since it's freezing outside in NYC today, and this week's theme for Thursday Movie Picks is The Cold. So let's see... what movies did the walk to work this morning remind me of?

Wind River (Taylor Sheridan, 2017) The body of an eighteen year-old girl is found dead on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, miles from any building. FBI special agent Jane Banner is sent to investigate, and she works with expert tracker Cory Lambert, who knows the Native American community, to investigate. The gorgeous cinematography adds to the feeling of chill that permeates this well-wrought mystery and masterful thriller.

The Ice Storm (Ang Lee, 1997) It's Thanksgiving weekend in 1973, and the Connecticut suburb of New Canaan is full of depression and sexual frustration. But an ice storm is coming, and the cracks in everyone's perfect veneers are going to crack and expose what's underneath. The Ice Storm is a difficult film to watch, but it's very well-shot and well-performed. The cast is just incredible: Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Kevin Kline, Allison Janney, Christina Ricci, Tobey Maguire, and Elijah Wood are all great.

Cool Runnings (Jon Turtletaub, 1993) "MAN, I'm not smokin', I'm BREATHIN'!" My sister and I quote this movie, about the first-ever Jamaican Olympic bobsled team, to each other ALL the time. For my money, it's one of the most enjoyable, rewatchable films of the '90s. Yes, it's a bit standard, but it works within cliché and formula very well.

...and since I'm playing catch-up, last week I would have visited Brooklyn (my favorite film of 2016) and bought The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (the greatest movie musical ever made) after Flying Down to Rio (can't resist me some Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers).

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks - Television Edition: Comedies

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

I think we could all use a few good laughs after the dumpster fire that was 2018. So here are a few good comedies for you all to catch up on over the winter break:

Mom (2013-present) Single mom Christy is a recovering alcoholic whose mother, also a recovering alcoholic, moves in to help her take care of her two children. Yes, it's a comedy, and a pretty great one with geniuses Anna Faris and Allison Janney making gourmet meals out of very basic ingredients. The first season takes a while to find its footing, but once it does, this is a wonderful, heartfelt sitcom about the never-ending process of starting over.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2015-Present) Abducted in middle school by a wannabe cult leader and held with three other women in an underground bunker, Kimmy Schmidt has finally been rescued, and decides to make a life for herself in New York City! She manages to find a room for rent with legend-in-his-own-mind Titus Andromedon and together, they go after their dreams: her to be an independent career woman (starting off as a nanny to the ultra-wealthy Jacqueline Voorhees, and him to be a singing star! The premise is certainly dark, but Kimmy's joie de vivre is still that of her fifteen year-old self, and shows no signs of abating. This wild and wacky show is so dense with jokes that it's sometimes difficult to keep up, but the performances of Ellie Kemper, Tituss Burgess (the show's breakout STAR), Jane Krakowski, and Carol Kane keep everything grounded in reality even when it gets a little out of hand.

The Good Place (2016-Present) Eleanor Schellstrop has died, and has ended up in "the good place." The only problem is, it becomes immediately clear that there was some kind of mix-up, and she has taken the place of an Eleanor Schellstrop that was a MUCH better person than she was. Afraid that she will get found out and sent to "the bad place," she gets her soul mate - a professor of moral philosophy named Chidi Anagonye - to teach her how to be a good person. The Good Place is consistently hilarious and surprising, and has some of the most inspired storytelling of any show currently on TV. It's a must-watch.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks - 2019 Films To Look Forward To

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.

Well, frankly, I'm glad I got to this late today, because two trailers dropped that got me HYPE AF for their movies. Walk with me...

Men In Black: International - Chris Hemsworth is a comic genius. Tessa Thompson is only getting better and better. AND BONUS EMMA THOMPSON. And honestly, this trailer is the best use of Fergie's "London Bridge" probably ever.

Greta - This could be complete trash, or it could be actually good (the fact that it's directed by Neil Jordan doesn't prove anything), but either way, this looks like exactly my brand of batshit insane.

Isn't It Romantic - Look, Rebel Wilson (and/or her team) definitely stepped in it by saying she was the first plus-size female to headline a major studio romantic comedy, BUT she's always funny, and the premise for this is rife with potential for lots of laughs. Plus, that supporting cast is pretty golden. I'm always here for satire, and the romantic comedy could use a good skewering. PLUS, I mean, I'm pretty sure we would all do EXACTLY THAT to Liam Hemsworth if given the chance.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks - It's A Party!

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

"I don't believe in the Republican party or the Democratic party, I just believe in parties!" - Samantha Jones

I couldn't agree more, Samantha. So let's run down this week's party-hopping picks!

Can't Hardly Wait (Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, 1998) It's the last day of high school, and you know what that means: IT'S PARTY TIME!! This quintessential teen comedy is basically made up of spare parts from every high school movie party ever, but the cast is incredibly appealing, and the movie's low-key vibe is endearing. It has nothing on its mind other than what your average suburban high schooler has on their mind on the last day of high school, and that's exactly as it should be.

Van Wilder (Walt Becker, 2002) Van Wilder is a seventh-year senior at Coolidge College, enjoying the perks of being young and looking like Ryan Reynolds. He has no ambition to graduate, but when his father cuts him off, he has to raise the money to pay for his tuition, which he does the only way he knows how: Throwing lots of parties. This movie is irredeemably stupid (Tara Reid plays a journalist), but Reynolds has charisma to burn and a sort of bad-boy charm that goes a long way towards making this enjoyable even though it's most decidedly not a good movie in any way, shape, or form.

This Is The End (Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, 2013) Imagine you're Jay Baruchel. You're doing okay for yourself as an actor, but you're not super-duper famous or wealthy yet. You're visiting your friend Seth Rogen (who is doing MUCH better for himself than you are), and he invites you to a party at James Franco's. Pretty cool, right? Everyone who's anyone in young Hollywood is there, but it's so crowded and everyone is so much cooler than you that you start to feel uncomfortable, so you go out for cigarettes. And that's when you see these beams of blue light that suck people into the sky. And then a massive earthquake starts and a sinkhole opens up right in the middle of the party. And that's how This Is The End begins. Where it goes from there is not going to be spoiled by me, because honestly the craziness of the screenplay is the best thing about this movie. The humor is hit or miss, but the performances are super committed, even when the script goes to some truly bizarre places.