Monthly Archives: December 2009

1001 Movie Club: It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

Stephen Jay Schneider chose this movie as one of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.” He compiled a massive list from the classic to the obscure for his anthology. The most worthy movies are chosen to be on this list. Every year, there is a revision to include the most essential movies to be on the minds of film buffs everywhere.

I have caught bits and pieces of It’s A Wonderful Life for years now. Never had the urge to watch it, because what I have seen seemed like melodramatic drivel. Since it is Christmastime and that the movie has been chosen as one of the 1001 Movie Club selections for this month, I had to watch it unfortunately.

This Frank Capra classic tells the tale of George Bailey (James Stewart), a man that has fallen on hard times and contemplates committing suicide during the Christmas holiday. The whole town of Bedford Falls prays for the well-being of this troubled soul. Hearing the numerous prayer requests, a group of angels disguised as stars sends one of their own, Clarence to Earth to see the error in his decision. If Clarence successfully convinces George from not killing himself, then he could receive his long awaited wings.

As a part of Clarence’s crash course training, he learns about some fortunate and unfortunate moments in George’s life that led him on the path of self-destruction that he is on. The moment that he little brother, Henry almost drowned when he was twelve. He lost hearing in one of his ears, because of an infection.

George meeting his future wife Mary (Donna Reed) at a dance social at the same night his father, Peter suffers a stroke and dies. An evil banker, Henry Potter wants to take over the struggling family owned bank. George’s life screeches to a halt when his dreams of being an architect are dashed to take over the business. Blah, blah, blah.

I’m sorry. I tried to give this movie a fair shot, but I was fucking bored with it. With every sentimental piece of excrement that Hollywood churns out, you know that everything works out in the end. Whatever. You might call me a Scrooge. I don’t give a flying fuck. I hated this damn movie. Sorry, next.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

1001 Movie Club Approved

Judgment: A Christmas classic that I don’t get why people like it.

Rating: *1/2

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Two Lovers (2009)

When Two Lovers was set to come out earlier this year, the antics Grizzly Addams-looking leading man Joaquin Phoenix forced me away from this movie. I still can’t get over that. He looked like a bagman. I recently noticed listening to Filmspotting that Matt Singer from IFC said that this movie was his number one film of 2009. I thought it might be time to catch up with it.

The much more clean-shaven Phoenix plays Leonard, a bipolar dry cleaner living with his parents (Moni Moshonov, Isabella Rossellini), who is reeling from the break up with his fiancée (Anne Joyce). He decided to jump into the ocean to kill himself. Now he is about to lost consciousness, he wants to live. When he arrives home, his parents are preparing to have a potential buyer for their fledgling business over for dinner.

The potential buyer Michael Cohen (Bob Ari) brings his family, including his grown daughter Sandra (Vinessa Shaw). During dinner the conversation turns to Leonard’s love of black and white photography, Michael has an idea to hire Leonard as the photographer at his son’s bar mitzvah. His parents nudge a meet cute between Leonard and Sandra, but when the two are in Leonard’s room, Sandra confesses that wanted to meet him herself. They bond over their love of movies and his black and white photographs.

Out on a courier run for his father, Leonard overhears fighting in the hallway of his building. He befriends Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow). Leonard invites Michelle in the apartment where they playful about Michelle could Leonard from her apartment.

The next time that the pair meets is at a subway where he was supposed to have a lunch date with Sandra. Leonard becomes infatuated with her. This free-spirited party girl intrigues the introverted man-child that he has undeniable connection with, except that she is in a toxic relationship with a married man Mr. Blatt (Elias Koteas) that is paying for her apartment. He is attracted to her unattainable nature.

Spending time between Michelle and Sandra, Leonard is taken on a roller coaster of emotions. When he meets Michelle’s married lover, he asks Leonard to monitor Michelle to keep her from using drugs. Sandra feels rejected when Leonard sends his free time pining away for Michelle that he goes for her because she is convenient.

The mood is very melancholy yet beautiful at the same time. You believe the chemistry between Leonard and Michelle or Leonard and Sandra. It radiates off the screen. This is a solid work from James Gray.

Judgment: A wonderful exploration of a lonely man trying to find a human connection.

Rating: ****

Second English “Inception” Teaser Trailer

The second teaser for Christopher Nolan’s psychological thriller, “Inception” is released. There was a French version of the teaser that I purposely stayed away from. This teaser has me interested to see what the final product. It reminds me of Nolan’s “Memento” and Gondry’s  “Eternal Sunshine of Spotless Mind”.

It stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy and Marion Cotillard. It set for released summer 2010. Watch out for it.

1001 Movie Club: Magnolia (1999)

Stephen Jay Schneider chose this movie as one of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.” He compiled a massive list from the classic to the obscure for his anthology. The most worthy movies are chosen to be on this list. Every year, there is a revision to include the most essential movies to be on the minds of film buffs everywhere.

I was disheartened that Magnolia was chosen as one of the movies that the 1001 Movie Club has to review. I have seen this movie after it made a big splash at the Oscars in 2000. When I saw the film, I did not have the best things to say about the movie. I have chosen not to see the movie again; I am basing this review on memory.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson interweaves almost a dozen tiny stories that seems to not to mesh that somehow thinly interconnects. The narrator Ricky Jay shows the random ironic coincidences of life. One story revolves around a hapless police officer, Jim Kurning (John C. Reilly) is called to the scene of a dead body being discovered in the closet of a woman, Marcie (Cleo King). As the night progresses, other officers that arrive to the scene are ignoring his assessments about what happens.

The anchor of the story is about a television producer, Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) on his deathbed. He is succumbing to late stage cancer, and is cared for by his male nurse, Phil (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Earl asks Phil to find his estranged son, Frank, because his much younger wife, Linda (Julianne Moore) is trying to get enough morphine to euthanize him.

Mackey (Tom Cruise) is self-help “guru” with a foul mouth that teaches man about manipulating women into having sex with them. His plan, “Seduce and Destroy” have men going in droves to listen to his polemics about gullible and dealing with the power of cock. After his seminar, a sly reporter, Gwenovier (April Grace) interviews Mackey about his bullshit rhetoric until she fins a chink in his armor.

A former game show wiz kid, Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) tries to get his life back into order to his former glory. The game show storyline also incorporates a former game show host of “What Do Kids Know?” Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall) that recently finds out that he has cancer. He seeks out to reconnect with his cokehead daughter, Claudia (Melora Walters) to tell her. In addition, there is a stage father, Rick (Michael Bowen) that pushes his son, Stanley (Jeremy Blackman) to win the prize money to help out with his acting career.

I thought that the stories were somewhat interesting, but not so much that I could be invested in most of them. The only part of the movie that marginally liked was the Earl Partridge storyline. I thought that it was very poignant. The ending was huge WTF for me. Really? Really! Tom Cruise got the most acclaim for this movie, because he was a leading man taking a supporting role in an ensemble movie. His personal segment was not that intriguing, but when he shows up in another one. That was great.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

1001 Movie Club Approved

Judgment: Why do I feel like a Crash all over again?

Rating: **1/2

Public Enemies (2009)

I was raised on a farm in Moooresville, Indiana. My mama ran out on us when I was three, my daddy beat the hell out of me cause he didn’t know no better way to raise me. I like baseball, movies, good clothes, fast cars, whiskey, and you… what else you need to know?

— John Dillinger

Public Enemies was one of my most anticipated movies of this past summer. I saw the still pictures and the behind the scenes footage at the beginning of the year. I was going to watch this film, but the reviews of the film let out of collective “meh.” I didn’t go. I thought that I might wait for the film to come out on DVD to watch it. I have to concur with the reviews.

Taking place in 1933 in the heart of the Great Depression, John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) is brought to the Indiana State Penitentiary, there is a bold attempt to escape by several inmates; Pete (David Wenham), Homer (Stephen Dorff), Walter (James Russo) and a guard, John (Jason Clarke) with Dillinger in the middle of it.

FBI burueu chief J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) enlists Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) to find Dillinger who is in Chicago robbing several banks along their crime spree.

On the wild night on town, John meets Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard) and they quickly became a couple. With Purvis on their tail, the gang tries to be one step ahead of the fed. Purvis is frustrated that the inadequate people working under him are threatening him arresting Dillinger. When Johnny is finally recaptured, he becomes a celebrity in his own right.

The camerawork that Michael Mann implemented with the digital camera instead of the traditional film works for me. When I saw the trailers for this movie, I was leery with it. Sometimes there is ghosting on the screen, but I felt like I was there with Dillinger and his crew.

The scenes in general are drawn out like a rubber band that you wish that it would break. The story is uninteresting to say the least. I wasn’t expecting a grand gangster film with lots of gunfights, but the characters are shallow, the dialogue is so-so, the movie overall is okay. It’s nothing special. Lastly, this might sound superficial, but the second tier henchmen in this movie looked ridiculous with their bowl hair cut and questionable facial hair.

Judgment: Watch this movie with the sound off and enjoy the visuals.

Rating: **1/2

A Christmas Story (1983)

Aunt Clara had for years labored under the delusion that I was not only perpetually 4 years old, but also a girl.

— Narrator

The seminal modern day classic A Christmas Story plays on a continuous run of TBS around the holidays. Even though I have seen this movie thousands of time, I still love this story about a boy wanting the ultimate gift for Christmas.

I remember when I was younger watching this movie for the first time on TBS and fell in love with the stories and especially the characters. For years, I saw only the edited version. When I saw the uncut version, I loved it even more. In this circumstance, I am basing my review on the edited television cut.

The movie takes place in Indiana where the Parker household is preparing for Christmas. Jean Shepard narrates this story about Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) in the 1940s who desires a Red Rider air rifle for a gift, almost to an obsession. He sees it in a store window one night out with his friends, Flick and Schwartz (Scott Schwartz, R.D. Robb). He daydreams and schemes to have the ultimate gift whenever he tells an adult about his dream today, he gets the same canned response, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

His parents (Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon) are trying to get the house together. The father is trying to keep the furnace from engulfing the house in smoke, his Oldsmobile from freezing over or the hillbilly Bumpusses’s bloodhounds at bay. The mother tries to keep the house running smoothly and the little brother, Randy (Ian Petrella) to eat voluntarily at the dining table.

Ralphie thinks that there is a silver lining when his teacher, Mrs. Shields (Tedde Moore) gives the class an assignment to write a theme about “What I Want for Christmas.” Ralphie thinks that if he gloats over the potential masterpiece that he is writing. When that doesn’t work, he thinks that bribing her would raise his grade.

There are so many classics moments like the father’s major award, Flick’s tongue getting stuck on a pole, Ralphie saying, “Fudge”, the homemade pink bunny outfit or Ralphie getting his revenge against two school bullies, Scut Farkus and Grover Dill (Zack Ward, Yano Anaya).

Judgment: What can be said about an American tradition?

Rating: ****

“Sex and the City 2” Trailer

When the first Sex and the City movie hit the big screen last year, I saw that movie opening weekend. I was big fan of the show. I was happy to see the gals back together, but I was underwhelmed with the movie. I hope that Michael Patrick King and company would redeem themselves with the sequel that is set to hit theaters next summer. Check out the trailer. This will be the gayest movie coming out next year.

Sorry for the trailer posts, but I’m going to my grandma’s house for Christmas. So, I might have a shitload of reviews when I came back this weekend.

Kick-Ass: Red Band “Hit Girl” Teaser Trailer

Watching the teaser for the little assassin that put Gogo Yubari to shame, Hit Girl, gets her own teaser trailer. She is one of the “heroes” spotlighted in the big screen adaptation of the comic book, “Kick-Ass”. The movie comes out April 8, 2010. Put this on your must see list.

Up in the Air (2009)

The stars will wheel forth from their daytime hiding places; and one of those lights, slightly brighter than the rest, will be my wingtip passing over.

— Ryan Bingham

Jason Reitman’s latest film is getting considerable awards attention as of late. I was surprised that it was playing at my local theater. Going into the movie, I didn’t want to have too much expectation of it, because I might be disappointed with it. Ultimately, the movie is a wake-up call that people cannot live a solitary life.

Based on the book by Walter Kirn, Up in the Air tells the story of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), an “executive efficiency expert”, which is a fancy term for a mediator that a company hires to fire their employees without doing the firing themselves. He is ultimately content in his life living from Hilton hotel to Hilton hotel, renting cars from Hertz and living out of one nicely packed carry-on. He travels 322 days out of the year and he wants to rack up many flier miles that he can so he could reach his ultimate goal of ten million miles that six people accomplished before.

His life takes a detour at a hotel bar when he meets the vivacious Alex (Vera Farmiga) who literally charms the pants off of him. She is on the same boat as Ryan. They both enjoy the allure of racking up frequent flyer miles and keeping up with multiple membership cards. They both have an understanding their relationship is strictly casual to where they intersect on their different travel schedules.

His boss, Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman), calls Ryan back to home base at the Career Transition Corporation, where he lets the other experts knows that their face-to-face methodology is obsolete. A young Cornell grad student named Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) shows the experts that a better way to be more efficient is to fire people via e-conference.

This does not sit well with Ryan, whose whole livelihood is built around not being grounded in one place for too long. Craig thought that it would be best for Ryan is bring Natalie along on his firing runs so she could better prepare the technology before Ryan becomes irrelevant.

For a man that doesn’t want to have anybody is his life, these two women, Alex and Natalie start to become a chink in his armor. He slowly begins to realize that his life is all that is it cracked up to be. He needs to face reality and have a human reconnection with somebody.

The movie is like a plane taking off. Sorry for the metaphor, but go with me on this. When it gets off the ground, it’s a little bumpy. It steadily gets better as it progresses toward the end. I did have a problem with the motivations of Alex. I can’t explain it here. Watch for it in the spoiler section.

The performances were solid across the board. Clooney was basically playing himself expect he was more cold and distant about how he doesn’t care about the countless lives that he change. Farmiga showed subtle exuberance in her approach of the love interest that tickles Ryan’s fancy. Kendrick was a small fish going into a ocean full of piranhas, but she is a scrappy girl that is not afraid to tell it like it is.

Judgment: This movie is a relevant take on if bad things happen, good things come around the corner.

Rating: ****1/2

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Invictus (2009)

This country’s changed. We need to change as well.

— François Pienaar

Since the announcement of Clint Eastwood on the next LAMB in the Director’s Chair, I am trying to watch more of his movies for the upcoming three-day fest. I thought I might kill two birds with one stone with seeing Invictus. Based on the novel, “Play the Enemy” by John Carlin, the movie tells the story of Nelson Mandela trying to unite the nation after Apartheid. This movie is getting some critical acclaim. I don’t see why it does.

Morgan Freeman channels Mandela as the movie chronicles five years in the life of Mandela beginning on February 11, 1990 when he was released after two decades of imprisonment. The country is torn apart by a civil war brewing between the Africans and the Afrikaans.

Mandela becomes president and when takes the office some of the white staff threaten to quit. The remnants of racial tensions are still thick in the air. Mandela needed to find a way to unit the country of South Africa as one. He goes to a rugby match where the Springbok rugby team, headed by François Pienaar (Matt Damon). The team is not doing their best.

Mandela wants to meet with the captain of the Springbok team to discuss how they could help the nation heal from Apartheid. The encouragement of Mandela inspires the team to train for the World Cup in 1995. Mandela almost pushes his presidential duties aside to focus on the rugby team and make them succeed.

I don’t know jack shit about rugby. It looks like American football to me without the figure hugging spandex. The biggest problem of the movie was that. Americans don’t care about sports that know nothing about. I thought I was going to see a movie about Mandela struggle to readjust to civilian life after a lengthy imprisonment, but I have to research that myself.

Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon are getting some critical acclaim for this film. I thought that they were fine. Freeman looked like Mandela, but his accent slipped in and out when he monologued about retaining the Springbok’s colors or when Freeman did his signature voice-over. That took me out.

Matt Damon’s character was just there. He was the pawn for Mandela. Move here. Move there. You can win the World Cup if you do as I say. Mandela felt like he was obsessed with the team that he would risk his health and even the state of country in order for the Springbok to succeed.

I thought François was written like a caricature. There was nothing remarkable about him. I didn’t believe that he would lead a rugby team to the World Cup. (Oh, please, it’s not a spoiler. It’s history.) I couldn’t help but wonder if Matt Damon has a prosthetic nose. If he did, it was distracting.

Eastwood still delivers stunning visuals of the multiple fans in the Ellis Park Stadium watching the Springbok play. The mix of shadows and light is always great, but the film as a whole felt empty. In the climactic match, there was a lot of slow motion. Too much slow motion. Even the spectators watching the game were in slow motion. Why? That match was as slow as molasses.

Judgment: The movie was awkward, clunky and uninspiring. I was disappointed.

Rating: **

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