Friday, April 3, 2009

The 20 Best Movie Scenes Meme - Day 4

Here we go, the final day! Parts uno, ni, and drei can be found by clicking on the numbers, but by now I assume you know how this works. This is my favorite day, so let's get cracking!

Spirited Away - Train from Nothing to Nowhere (youtube)
Spirited Away is one of those magical films that feels unlike anything else. It's pure magic, every second. And that magic often takes the form of the strange and crazy, as the story revolves around a demon bathhouse, where the spirits of Japanese folklore come and gather to relax. There is all sorts of chaos, all kinds of colorful characters. It's noisy chaos.

But then the heroine Chihiro has to go on a journey to find a witch to solve her problems. And to do that, she needs to take a train through the spirit world. With her companions, including the shadowy No Face that she's befriended after healing it of its corruption, she boards the train that stretches across the endless waters of the spirit world.

The ride itself is what's so evocative. After the chaos of the world that they've been in for the first half of the film, the spirit world is an empty landscape of flat water. Chihiro, who we're introduced to as an impatient girl with little regard for the mundane, watches intently as endless miles go by. Out of the water rises random islands of road, or a house, or an empty train station. The only people are shadows, spirits that are mute and featureless. It's desolate, but in a beautiful way. And it's taking that break from the chaos to express that beauty that provides the contrast of the film.

Kill Bill - House of Blue Leaves (youtube)
This is perhaps as far from the last scene as one can get. This scene is all about the flash and the flair. The heroine is coming to kill the bad guys, but the bad guys are so badass they get one of the greatest intros of all time. With the blaring music, the slow motion pans of O-Ren Ishii and her entourage, cutting a swath through a restaurant like wolves among the sheep. If I could, I'd pick this whole scene, the intro and the 20 minutes of carnage that follow it. But if I have to pick just one moment, it would be this one, where you just sit back and say "whoa, that's badass."

Amélie - The Hunt for the Mystery Girl
Amélie is an amazing film, full of wonder and beauty. But the best moment, for me, was when Amélie attempts to return a found photo album to the young man who she's in love with. Too shy to actually approach him, she leads him on a chase through an amusement park with carefully staged signs and clues, all the while watching him search but being unable to say anything. That kind of exposure, of showing him who she is while having never met him, is incredibly touching. And the whimsical approach to something as mundane as a courtship dance between two people is so fragile and perfect that it makes the heart soar and one fall instantly in love with the woman who would do all this.

Evil Dead 2 - The Possessed Hand (youtube)
The best horror-comedy ever made. And while Army of Darkness is the fan favorite, nothing reaches to the heights that this film pulls out. The evil Book of the Dead releases demons and it's up to bumbling jerk Ash (played by professional bumbling jerk [and my hero] Bruce Campbell) to stop it. Of course, in doing so he ends up killing his girlfriend (twice) and watching most of his friends die horribly.

Eventually his hand is bitten by one of the demons, and is possessed by the evil spirit. What happens is the best slapstick in modern cinema, with reverse footage and slightly undercranked pacing to give it this crazy, silent film keystone cops quality. The hand flips Ash, hits him in the head with plates, tries to strangle him, etc. It's hilarious, it's raucous.

And that it ends with an amputation? Priceless. A must see, especially for the aftermath.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - Final Showdown (youtube)
When I first approached this project, this was the scene that popped into my head first. You know why? Because this is the best scene ever committed to film. Nothing is shot so well. Nothing is so perfect. These are a scant few minutes of cinematic nirvana the likes of which I've never, ever seen before.

Watch it, then come back. In fact, go watch the whole movie. It's an amazing film, with tons of stuff nearly as good as this. But the film wisely saves the best for last, and the final scene is a masterpiece. There's just nothing like it.

It's in the framing, with three characters who keep eyelines logical. In the scope, with huge towering figures against rambling landscape. In its pacing, with long cuts interspaced with quick edits that build and build with the rousing Morricone score that leads to the final moment of violence, a second payoff that is worth every agonizing moment.

And all this at the end of an amazing film that keeps building and building to this inevitable point. Truly, the best scene ever.

One Last Bonus Scene
Speed Racer
- The Finish Line
I know nobody saw this one, but I'm putting it here anyway. The Speed Racer movie is not a great movie. It's kind of a mess, but it's a pretty mess. It has its moments, though , and among the best is the ending. The movie is a racing movie, as one might guess, but it's also a technicolor dream wrapped around mind-blowing effects.

By the end, it's become a flash of color, a swirl of lights and tones that is a blur of motion as Speed races towards the finish line. And in that last moment, the film transcends its trappings into a complete impressionistic vision. The lights become smears of moving color, and we enter a POV as the track begins to fade, then to spin in the final corkscrew, becoming nothing more than a tube of lines that converges into a point of white. Which suddenly bursts into a pattern of black and white as the checkerboard is passed, a full screen of lines that mean almost nothing at first as your brain tries to put it together, finally figuring it out as the car comes to rest, melting, past the finish line.

And that's it! If you feel like joining in, feel free to do this as just a list, or something as involved as mine, or something in between. Nobody's gonna judge, though showing your movie cred is always awesome. Until next week, stay classy San Diego!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The 20 Best Movie Scenes Meme - Day 3

Okay, here we are at day three. (see the first two parts here and here) If there was such a thing as a theme to all this, this is the day where I grouped together all of the most depressing and/or disturbing things.

Clockwork Orange - Singin' in the Rain (youtube)
Singin' in the Rain isn't the only movie to feature the song. There's also this one, my favorite Kubrick movie and a damn fine film. This is the adaptation of the novel, of course, but I feel like the movie takes this in a savage direction by not blinking during truly terrible things. In fact, part of the appeal of the movie is that it never blinks, even when the film itself is about how people are all too willing to blink in the face of the monster in all of us, until we come to a point where we don't have to any more.

It's hard to articulate without seeing it, but this film is very much about the evil of man. And how that evil expresses itself. And this scene, where Alex and his goons invade a house, rape a woman and attack a man while singing Singin' in the Rain, has become one of the iconic scenes in film on its own. Because it doesn't pull back. Because it's brutal and cruel and without any redeeming features. It's hard to watch, and in being so, impossible to look away from.

The Thing - The Defibrillator Mishap (youtube)
The Thing is one of those movies I wished I had seen growing up. I adore horror films, gore films, monsters films, anything like that. And when I finally got around to watching this movie last year, it STILL made me lose my shit, and I'm one jaded mofo when it comes to this sort of stuff. The Thing is the best creature movie I've ever seen, with jaw-dropping effects that still haven't been topped, even after two decades.

In this scene, one of the men at the remote Antarctic research station's heart's stopped. Little does everyone know that he's been infected by the thing that they pulled out of the ice and brought in. The thing being some sort of being or infection that can take any shape and assume any form or function.

They don't know, that is, until all hell breaks loose. All gory, awesome, monster hell. Just ... watch it. The joy is in the effects, in the pitch-perfect reactions and framing. The pinacle of awesome practical effects.

Requiem for a Dream - The World's Worst Montage
Requiem for a Dream is not a happy film. In fact, it's a terrible, soul-crushing look at people and addictions and drugs. Without being preachy, it follows the logical conclusion of obsession to its disgusting, bleak conclusion. And that's in the final montage of the movie, right at the end. Where the threads of the characters all fray off into dead ends as nobody wins. From the main character who's infected arm from drugs gets amputated, to the mother addicted to pills to lose weight undergoes a nightmare vision of shock treatment, to the girlfriend who completely debases herself by publicly having sex with another woman, surrounded by leering businessmen, in order to score.

It's a symphony of human suffering, with a rousing score that pounds into you with its incredible tempo. After the entirety of the movie, which just keeps going down and down, the finale explodes in pain and such a thorough examination of the futility of the characters actions that it reaches down and tarnishes your own soul for looking at it. It's beautiful in how ugly it is, moving only in how quickly it tears away the happy facade of life and shows just how far and how quickly any person can fall.

Not for the weak of spirit, but ... an amazing scene.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance - The Payoff
This Korean film is about a young girl who was coerced into confessing for the murder of a small child by the real killer. She's found guilty and ends up going to jail, where she begins her transformation from a naive, weak-willed girl to a vengeful, remourseless woman. By the time she's let out, she sets in place the machine of her retribution, finding the man who set her up and killed the child.

That is, until she discovers that he's killed more than that child. He's killed dozens. And with her nagging sense of having gone too far in her quest for vengeance, she decides to make one gracious gesture, a show of support and pity for the wronged.

Which is why she calls in all the parents who's children have been killed, and shows them the killer, tied up on a chair. Which is why she passes out weapons and raincoats and lets the parents draw straws on who will get to go first.

The results are messy, and there's nothing here to condone. It is people reacting to their pain by lashing out. A monster getting his with no sense of satisfaction. And the blank stares of the parents as they wait their turn, making small talk over the sounds of screams from the other room, just underlines that. It's grisly, but it's touching in its utter practicality. If put in the same situation, you would imagine that any parents would likely do the same.

Grave of the Fireflies - Fruit Drops
This is one of the best anti-war movies ever made. And don't just take my opinion on it, Rogert Ebert agrees with me, and we don't agree on ANYTHING. This is the story of a young boy and his even younger sister, orphaned during World War II. It's a heartbreaking film, about the cost of war among the civilian populace.

The children end up bouncing from house to house, until they end up living in a cave, with the elder brother going and doing odd jobs to buy food. One of the few indulgences that his sister has is a small tin filled with fruit drops, a hard candy that she enjoys. But finally the candy dwindles, and they end up filling it with water to make sugar water that she can drink. But eventually, even that goes away.

Towards the end, when both of them are starving, forgotten and alone, she's delerious with hunger and puts rocks in the can, rattling it in memory of the candy she used to have. And charting that path, from happy children to two dying, starving kids in a cave just miles from a city in Japan, is one of the most heartbreaking things I've ever seen.

You can buy those fruit drops at any Japanese import store. They still make them. They're online! And they're quite good. But every time I get them, when I eat them, I remember that movie, and it's all a little bittersweet. Because that small tin of candy was the last happy memory of a girl who suffered for nothing she did, but only for the actions of her country.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The 20 Best Movie Scenes Meme - Day 2

This is day 2 of the movie meme, where we list our favorite movie scenes. The first day can be found here.

Today's theme: music and musicals!

Pulp Fiction - The Dance (youtube)
Pulp Fiction is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of film for me. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it. Especially since it's divided into three distinct films, one of which I love and one of which I hate.

This scene comes from the one I love, the first one starring John Travolta as a hitman charged with taking his murderously overprotective boss' new wife on a date. The wife, played by a young and exotic-looking Uma Thurman, is pushy and seductive in all the ways John Travolta wishes she wasn't, and plays him like a harp as she brings him into the world's best themed restaurant. The restaurant, a 50's themed diner with star and starlet look-a-likes and modified classic cars for booths, is an amazing setpiece for the awkward, self-aware back and forth that plays out between the two as they feel each other out.

But suddenly they're pushed into a dancing competition by Thurman's character, who teases the lazy, bumbling hitman that he can't dance but that he better do a good job if he's to get a good report with the boss. On the hook, John Travolta steps up, and with all the flair that John Travolta has, creates one of the most iconic dance scenes in Hollywood history (certainly in the past two decades).

But you don't have to take my word for it. Youtube is up above! The pacing, the dancing, the truthfulness the characters express that all their earlier posturing belied. It's an amazing character piece and just a damn fun set piece.

Singin' in the Rain - Singin' in the Rain (youtube)
Oh, Gene Kelly, how many things I could put up here as some of my favorite scenes in movies. A close second was his dance with an animated Jerry the Mouse in Anchors Aweigh. Also up there was his tap routine with a newspaper in Summer Stock. But this, this is the most iconic image of American musicals.

You've all seen it, and if you haven't the youtube link is up there. Gene Kelly, newly in love, so full of emotion that he can't help but let it out, singing and dancing in the rain. The dance is, as it always is with Kelly, emotional and clever. The song is so full of genuine good cheer that just watching it brings a smile to the face. There's a reason this scene is so historically significant. It's everything good and pure about the musical, distilled into a single, soggy song and dance.

Happiness of the Katakuris - Minna Koishiteru (youtube)
I already devoted a post to Happiness of the Katakuris, but this is still one of my favorite scenes. The thing I appreciate about musicals is their disregard for normal logic in favor of making a scene work. Some movies shy away from that, usually to their detriment. Other movies dive in and become all about the scene.

When depressed and shy single mother Shizue is out with her young daughter, she comes across and overenthusiastic, if somewhat strange, suiter--Richard Sagawa. What follows is his efforts to woo her, sweep her off her feet and away from her boring, unhappy everyday life. And if that involves group dancing, wire work, jazz hands, and a final psychedelic scene, so be it.

Takashi Miike is a director known for his amazing style. I could put most of his more recent movies up here without hesitation, but this is the one that I think best demonstrates his ability to play with reality, so long as it serves the story of the film.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory - The Boat (youtube)
Now look, I know that you've seen this movie. This is one of those films that nobody gets through life without seeing. It also happens to be one of the most uneven films ever, with scenes that I adore and scenes that I can't even watch (do we really need the gloomy, overlong Cheer Up Charlie?)

But this is the best part of the movie. Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka is sublime, and after he's charmed everyone in the room with the Pure Imagination (which almost found its way onto this list instead) he pulls up a boat. Which is exactly when all hell breaks loose.

See, the genius of Willy Wonka is that he is completely, irrevokably insane. He has the peculiar fairy tale quality of being both helpful and dangerous, but the line between them is nebulous and you're never really sure where the good cheer begins and the dangerous irresponsibility begins. So when he piles all these children and parents aboard the boat ride from hell and reveals something of his darker side, the cheerful candymaker facade falls away and you're left with the kind of mad passion that brought him to such a unique position as the world's greatest candymaker.

The Fifth Element - The Diva Plavalaguna (youtube)
The Fifth Element is one of the best and--though it's increased in popularity in the past few years--one of the most underrated sci fi films of all time. It's vibrant, expansive, full of great actors in weird places and the kinds of amazing scenes that could only exist in a world as crazy as the one the film paints for us.

Towards the 2/3 point of the film, things begin to build to a point. Bruce Willis' character, Korben Dallas, is hired on by the government to meet the Diva Plavalaguna, an alien opera singer who has artifacts that can stop an evil energy heading to earth to destroy it. At the same time, the agents of the dark energy are on board the cruise ship to steal those artifacts to prevent their use.

Good thing that Bruce Willis brought with him the perfect being, Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), who happens to be there at the perfect time to intercept the bad guys.

The scene itself is strange, with the opera singer a bizarre alien with a voice that at times sounds nearly electronic. But during her performance, we're punctuated with Leeloo's battle with the bad guys. It plays out with the energy and inventiveness that is Luc Besson's strength, turing something that sounds crazy on paper into a truly amazing scene.

Blue Skies - Puttin' on the Ritz (youtube)
The bonus scene is Fred Astaire at, I feel, his best. Blue Skies was right before his first temporary retirement, and the film is a solid affair--some great moments, but goes on a little too long. Of note is Bing Crosby being his perfect, crooner self, and this amazing scene from Astaire. The scene itself starts out slow, with a casual, lazy, worn out shuffle. But it slowly builds into an amazing tempo, with cane tricks and a certain savagery to the dancing. Then, finally, it peaks as Astaire throws back the mirrors in his room to reveal a chorus line of ... Fred Astaires, which all dance the final bit of the number in sync.

It's an amazing production, and a testament to perhaps the most famous dancer in all of film. It's a titan, and only Mel Brooks ever hoped to nudge against it with the version in Young Frankenstein. It's linked right up there, so go watch it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The 20 Best Movie Scenes Meme - Day 1

So, my friend Elizabeth was talking to me about movie scenes, and she came across a meme that was about your favorite movie scenes. Being the kind of person I am, I jumped at it with both feet. Being the person I am, I didn't think it through.

See, I watch a lot of movies. And I have a lot of things that I like about movies. But the problem is that many of my favorite movies don't have iconic scenes. You can see the problem here. Thankfully, I have bunches of other things I can pick. Bunches and bunches. Like I said, I've seen a LOT of movies.

This'll be a week long project, I think. I'll post up five of these a day, with descriptions and bonus scenes if I think they're relevant. This is an eclectic list, and it's not really organized much. One scene isn't necessarily better than any other, aside from one that I'll get around to. If I can find youtube links of the scene, I'll post them, but I wouldn't expect much on that front.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - The Deceit of the Sultan
First off, this is probably one of my favorite films of all time, so it's hard not to just say "watch the whole movie, it's all awesome." But one scene stands out more than others. Early in the movie, though, is the scene that encapsulates the entirety of why the movie is awesome. The Baron Munchausen, in one of his famous adventures, is visiting a Sultan. The Sultan offers him his best wine, which the Baron disparages in favor of wine from the court in Vienna. The Sultan then offers a life-or-death wager. If the Baron can deliver the wine in an hour, he can have as much treasure as the strongest man can carry. If he cannot, he will die.

Fortunately, in the Baron's band of heroes is the fastest man in the world. Who, even though he falls asleep under a tree a hundred miles away on the journey, manages to get the bottle of wine and deliver a love letter for the Baron, winning the bet a split second before the Baron is to be decapitated. And then the Baron allows one of his companions, the strongest man in the world, to stack the Sultan's entire treasure hoard upon his back, walking out with a mountain of gold and jewels. And when the Sultan renegs on his agreement and attacks the Baron, he and his heroes take down the Sultan's guards with aplomb.

And this is all in the first half hour of the movie!

I'm not going to say it's my favorite movie EVER, but it's close.

Heat - Final Showdown
Heat is an all around good movie. Perhaps my favorite gangster/heist movie. It's violent, it's smart, it's tense. But it all finally comes to a head at the end. When the cop who is nearly as corrupt as the criminals (Al Pacino) and the honorable criminal you want to root for (Robert DeNiro) finally collide, it's in an amazing gunfight on the tarmac of an airport, the final confrontation before our "hero" gets away.

With Michael Mann's near-peerless pacing and tension, the cat and mouse game is the final culmination of both characters, portrayed by both actors in the prime of their personas. It's a clash of titans, and as it brings closure to an amazing film, it's hard to know who to root for. And what makes it better is that both men know that neither of them are sure anymore if they're the good guy or not, but they are who they are, and there's only one way the scene can end.

Death Proof - Ship's Mast
The greatest car scene ever. I know that sounds kind of silly, but I think it's true. Stuntwoman Zoë Bell (playing herself) is lying on the hood of a white Dodge Challenger (the car from Vanishing Point, another classic car movie) with nothing more than two belts tied to the door posts. As she clings onto the front of car, exhilarated by the stunt.

That's when Stuntman Mike (a perfect Kurt Russell performance), a psychopath stunt driver with a black Dodge Charger, decides to kill the women in the car, who he has been stalking. What follows is one of the longest, most break-neck, nail-biting car scene ever, with Zoë Bell clinging for dear life on the hood of the car, which is unable to stop as Stuntman Mike's car keeps ramming into them at full speed. It's amazingly shot, it's perfectly pitched, and it's all done with real drivers. Or as Stuntman Mike would say, "real cars crashing into real cars and real dumb people driving em."

Drawing Restraint 9
- Transformation
Nobody's seen this film. Don't feel bad if you haven't. I only saw it through happenstance at my indie theater. It doesn't have a DVD release, so far as I know. It's an incredibly austere art film about whaling made by Bjork and Bjork's husband. It's weird and the ultimate in obscure. But the climax of the film stakes a claim on this list due to sheer uniqueness.

In the film, Bjork and her husband play two characters who have been brought aboard a Japanese whaling ship for some sort of ritual. At first, it's unclear why this is, they seem to be uncomfortable with the ship and strangers to each other. It's only at the end, in this final scene, that it's clear why they're there. They are both led into a room wearing ceremonial robes, but proceed to disrobe and embrace each other tenderly. That's when the ship openes up a valve in the room they're in, and they're flooded with ambergris from the whales that had been hunted that season.

Both characters, suspended in the liquid ambergris, proceed to draw whalebone knives and carve at each other as they embrace and kiss and float in the middle of the room. It's horrifying and tender, as they cut away chunks of flesh from their partners piece by piece, peeling skin and slicing through muscle, blood making fractal designs in the ambergris. But as they cut away each others legs, underneath emerge fins. And when they peel the skin from their partner's back, what's revealed is a blowhole. And from the carnage of their human sacrifice is born two new whales which are released, with thanks, into the ocean.

It's an amazing scene that sadly, is wrapped around the most pretentious film I've ever seen. I can't say that I recommend everyone rush out and see this one, but it's left an indelible impression upon me.

Troy - Hector vs. Achilles (youtube)
This is the fight scene, out of any I've seen, that I chose to be on here. Why? It's not the flashiest, and it's not wrapped around the best movie in the world. But this is exactly what a fight scene should be. The whole movie is built around building these two heroes up, both of which are flawed but both of which are sympathetic. Yet they're on opposing sides, and it finally comes to pass that Achilles calls out Hector, and one of the major battles of ancient lore is played out. And how masterfully it's done.

The key here is the impressive storytelling that's done through the choreography. Achilles is flashy and fluid, moving with an inhuman grace that betrays his devine heritage. In opposition, Hector is of the earth, with aggressive, emotional movements. The choreography is amazing, with beautiful spear stunts and an amazing back and forth. It's the bright point of a solid film, elevated to the great by just giving us two characters fighting that MEANS SOMETHING.

The Protector - Up The Building (youtube)
The Protector is a Tony Jaa vehicle. Tony Jaa, if you don't know, is a muay thai badass who takes dudes down in movies that are so awesome they can barely stand on their own two legs, because those legs are busy kicking you in the face. And that's never more clear than in this one, huge steadicam shot in The Protector. Tony Jaa is after the sacred elephant the bad guys stole, and between him and the answer he seeks is several floors and dozens of bad guys.

What follows? Action bliss.

There is nothing so satisfying as watching your hero cutting dudes up with his awesomeness, it's the kind of thing that turns an action film into a choreographed piece of art, with an actor who knows what they're doing moving perfectly through a complex, involved scene, with all the visual flare and impactful action that they can. This is one of the finest examples of that.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Movie Rundown - March 16 to March 29

Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price (***)
A documentary about Wal-Mart, pretty self-explanatory. The problem with this movie is that it's both played out and done with a kind of one-sides zeal that made me kind of dislike it. Yes, we know Wal-Mart is evil. But there are only so many stories of small store owners nobly carrying on that I can stomach before I'm ready to just go do something else that doesn't aim for cheap populism. That said, Wal-Mart is evil. And this movie will give you bunches-o-reasons why.

Let the Right One In (****)
This is the kind of vampire story the world needs. None of that stupid girl-fantasy with a bunch of sparky nancy boys frolicking around, none of Anne Rice emo-fests of immortal rock gods of questionable sexual orientation. This. A story about a developing friendship between a loner and a young vampire girl. With all the mystery and violence that entails. It had a very fairy-tale quality, both magical and dark. I couldn't recommend it more.

Duplicity (***)
This is a fun spy movie starring Clive Owen and Julia Roberts. I mostly went because of my Clive Owen fanboyism. It's a great movie, with the typical spy/heist slickness applied to corporate espionage. The movie lives and dies by its characters, because modern movies of this type are pretty common. I think that it was done really well, but it wasn't particularly groundbreaking. If you're a fan of this type of movie, go see it. But it's not necessary to go out of your way.

Ghostbusters (****)
It's Ghostbusters. If you haven't seen it, shame on you. If you have, then you know it's awesome. If you don't think it's awesome, let me know because I've never met an actual FREAK before.

Also, Ghostbusters is better than the sequel. That is all.

Monsters Vs. Aliens (***)
Okay, let me be up front about this. I like animated movies. And I like 3D. So I really liked this movie more than three stars. The characters were good, the animation was gorgeous (the retro futurism look went off better than Incredibles, IMO), and the jokes were by and large well done. That said, I recognize that this movie has a stupid story, and would almost have been better if it eliminated the villain and all. It's good. Better than Bolt, even. But I know that most people would never give it more than an average pass. I recognize that.

But if you like movies like this, it's worth it.

Easy Virtue (*****)
This was the obsession of Elizabeth for the past few months, and I finally decided to just up and watch it. This is a period film about a young British man (Ben Barnes) bringing his spirited American wife (Jessica Biel) to meet his stuffy, high class family. Wackiness ensues. At first, I wasn't sure what I thought of this movie. I went back and forth between great and meh, but it finally resolved itself in the last third as stupendous. There's something about the quality of the story that I felt was very empowering and emotional without pandering.

The film won't find its way to the US until May, but if you get a chance to watch it, I highly recommend it. It's fantastic. Also, it has amazing music.

Rachel Getting Married (***)
Okay, this one is an issue. You see, this movie is complicated for me. The first half of the movie was nearly painful to watch, reminding me of people in my life I'd met who were portrayed with all the honesty of a great film. I didn't want to watch it. It made me squirm uncomfortably. But then, somewhere around the halfway mark, it seemed that it was tired of being interesting and tried to fix all the problems raised in the first half. It doesn't, thankfully, but it all seemed a little pat and soft. Anne Hathaway is great, but I wish that she was given a more consistent movie to be great in.

Time Bandits (****)
Okay. So part three of the vague "imagination trilogy" of Terry Gilliam films (others are Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen). And put together in order of their production, they all flow pretty well. This one is about a young boy who wants to escape his boring, suburbian parents. It just so happens that some time travelling dwarves show up and take him on a journey through the ages with a map they stole from the Supreme Being, robbing historical eras of riches.

The three movies put together are about the freeing ability of imagination, of the power of the individual and their fantasies. And the death of magic in the age of reason. Of the three, Baron Munchausen is still the best, by far, but Time Bandits is really good, with interesting pieces and some great ideas. It all kind of shakes apart with a non-ending straight out of Gilliam's Monty Python days, but the rest of it is evocative and solid.

The Illusionist (***)
So, The Illusionist. When this movie came out, I was more interested in The Prestige because it was directed by Christopher Nolan, and never got around to seeing this one. Now that I have, I'm left a little perplexed. It's a great film, with some amazing ideas and a good sense of mystery about the magician, as opposed to the 'behind the curtain' nature of the Prestige.

I was really liking this film, too. The dynamics between the characters were interesting, and the casting was absolutely fantastic. But the ending absolutely spoiled it for me. I had ideas of where it was going, and there were multiple ways they could take it that I could accept. But in the end, it went for the crazy twist that was so lazy and bereft of emotion that the cleverness of turning the story on its ear was completely wasted. It took a great film and knocked it all down to an average film, though it's very pretty.

Still, it's a shame. The problem with those types of endings is that they run the risk of betraying the audience's experience of the film. It has to be done with a certain amount of grace and respect for the viewer. This movie, instead, just hits you over the head with it. Disappointing.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (****)
A French musical from 1964, this is a technicolor dream of a film about two young lovers and the twists and turns their lives make. It's one of the strangest musicals I've ever seen, particularly in how pedestrian it is. It goes out of its way to play upon cliche and the story is well-tread ground, but it's done in a way that keeps it all interesting.

One of the strangest things is that the film doesn't really have 'songs', so much. It's done in what's almost an operatic style, with trivial dialogue all being sung to the music. It doesn't feel wrong, but it is different than the Broadway style musicals that are rife in the genre. It's a breath of fresh air to have a musical that just happens to have everyone singing. It elevates the story into a place that is greater than the sum of its parts, I think. Well-recommended.


And that's it. Not sure what's up for the next week, and I'll be busy with the impending Script Frenzy, but I'll try to post one of these at least every two weeks in the next month, if not every week.