Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Long Time Coming – Movie Rundown

Okay, I know it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. My movie mood kind of died after the fever pitch it was at during the end of 2009. Which isn’t all that surprising. It was a truly unsustainable pace. And it is within my nature to tend to overindulge in one thing until I burn out, and then pick up one of the things I neglected in the interim.

But I didn’t completely stop watching movies. So here’s the rundown of what I’ve been watching, and how I feel about it. New to this list is TV season reviews, because I’ve been watching a lot more TV shows and it was suggested that I give them their proper turn in this list, too.

I wouldn’t expect the Movie Rundown to return to being a weekly feature just yet; I don’t watch enough right now to justify that kind of regular committment. But I’ll keep watching and when I get a build up I’ll put one out. Until then, here we go!

Whisper of the Heart – ****
One of the more obscure titles from Studio Ghibli, Whisper of the Heart is the story of a bookish young girl who dreams of becoming a writer. It’s a sweet coming of age story, about childhood dreams and budding romance on the cusp of adulthood. But all you really should need is that this is a Ghibli film. Which means it is of course beautiful and sweet. The heartwarming, quiet story told within is just the icing on the cake.

Tron – ****
The last time I saw Tron, many years ago, I remember not liking it very much. Revisiting it after the trailer for Tron: Legacy dropped, I couldn’t begin to tell you why. Tron is a pretty amazing film. From the silent film cinematography to the trippy neon visuals and crazy Metropolis-inspired computer effects, Tron is a visual treat. It doesn’t hurt that wrapped around it all is a fascinating story about faith and rebellion. This is a movie I’m really glad I revisited.

The Hurt Locker – *****
I saw this shortly after The Hurt Locker won best picture. After seeing it, I understood why. The Hurt Locker is the perfect war film for our time. Not about the conflict itself, but about the people who live it and what happens to them. Not even those who fight, but those who deal with the periphery of war, suffer the consequences of being in a combat zone. The Hurt Locker is a long look into a dark part of the human experience.

Rear Window – ***
I don’t get it. I understand Rear Window is really popular, but … of the three Hitchcock movies I’ve seen, this is by far my least favorite. The story meanders, the tension is as limp as a wet noodle, and the whole time I’m listening to the lackadaisical jazz soundtrack and wondering when it all will end. I thought it was funny more than anything, and while I enjoyed Stewart’s performance (as usual) I was left pretty unmoved by the whole thing.

Vicky Christina Barcelona – ****
In my very short acquaintance with Woody Allen movies, I’ve kind of fallen for his understated humor. And Vicky Christina Barcelona is the most understated of the lot, a melodramatic set of love triangles that speak to the fickleness of the heart and the bizarreness of the creative temperament. Also of note is the absolutely amazing soundtrack, heavy on Spanish guitar. It really is an enchanting ‘strangers in a strange land’ kind of film.

The Breakfast Club – ****
I hadn’t seen this until recently, which probably makes me a failure as a movie person. The worst part is, despite my genuine distaste for most things 80s, I found myself really loving this movie. It’s a surprisingly bleak look at being a teenager, with stereotypes that do a pretty great job of breaking out of their outlines and becoming recognizable people. That said, Emilio Estevez as the super jock is too ridiculous for words.

Richard III – ***
I’ll admit it, I’m not really much of an Olivier kind of guy. On the spectrum of Shakespearian film adaptations, I feel he errs too far on the side of theatrical. And I understand that that’s a product of the time he performed in, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. That said, I’m not sure there’s a better faithful adaptation of Richard III around, which is a pretty good play with one of Shakespeare's better villain main characters. So … any Shakespeare nerds should probably see this.

Sunshine Cleaning – ***
The story of a single mother who starts her own crime scene cleaning business. It sounds like quirky indie bait and it really is, but it’s got a lot of heart and Amy Adams is as lovely as always. I’m not sure there’s much to say about this, though. It’s cute, but it exhausts its premise pretty quickly and the ending leaves a lot to be desired.

Hot Tub Time Machine – ****
Remember how I said earlier that I kind of hated all things 80s? Well, here’s another exception, since it’s kind of a spoof and also ridiculous. HTTM is a dumb movie. It wears that fact on its sleeve, and just carries forth with all the tropes of 80s teen comedies AND time travel stories with a flip, breezy attitude. It’s a movie that smartly never gets mired too far in subplots, going for the laughs and keeping it all light and moving. A great genre mash-up.

Wonder Woman – ***
Okay, so the DC Animated Universe movies have all been pretty good. So I’ll admit that I hold them to a higher standard. Which is why I was kind of disappointed in Wonder Woman. It’s a gorgeous movie, and has some fun moments, but it’s probably the weakest entry of the films I’ve seen so far. Wonder Woman’s naive feministic stances play as eye-rollingly camp more than effective character-building, and the origin story for WW has always been kind of lame. This story was told better in Justice League, I’m afraid.

Green Lantern: First Flight – ****
This is the flip side of the coin. I don’t really remember the Justice League Green Lantern story being all that great, but Green Lantern: First Flight is probably the best movie Green Lantern story we’re going to get (because I have almost no faith in the eventual live action version). This movie might as well be called SPACE COP. It’s got all the beats of a great two-man cop movie, but with space adventure and aliens and all the general Green Lantern craziness. It’s fun, it’s smart, it’s a GREAT superhero movie.

Shutter Island – *****
It’s hard to quantify why exactly I love Shutter Island so. It’s not the most inventive film. The twist it was sold on is predictable. But it is a beautiful film, a lush tribute to Hitchcock, a film fallen out of time. From the amazingly dark score to the stillness of the scenes, the film is a dark ominous cloud, a gathering storm of dread. It’s beautiful and scratches an itch for that ‘cinema’ feel that so few movies satisfy these days.

Crazy Heart – ****
The Dude won an Oscar for this movie. Sure, it was a long time coming, but this movie really did make a compelling case. The story of a washed up old country singer and his deteriorating life, Crazy Heart reminded me in many ways of The Wrestler. Though, it’s a much more sentimental picture than Aronofsky’s. Also, the music is pretty amazing.

K-ON! – ****
K-ON! is an anime about a group of high school girls who decide to form a music club at their school. I kind of ended up watching this on a whim and totally falling in love with it. The key here is that this show is ALL about being cute and girly. They play pretty fluffy light rock, have tea time, wear a bunch of costumes. It’s a Japanitastic version of girliness. But weirdly it’s crazy compelling. There’s something irresistible about a show that makes you squee over and over again. K-ON! is that show.

Initial D First Stage – ****
Initial D is a show about drift racing. If you don’t know what drift racing is, I’ll direct you to some awesome youtube videos of drift racing. This is a pretty old show, and it definitely shows its age. The animation is kind of meh and the car models are kind of hilariously low poly, but it has some of the best music of any show ever and the racing sequences are genuinely fantastic. If you’re into eurobeat and drifting, this is the go to thing.

Dexter (season 1) – ****
Dexter’s the kind of show I was pretty sure I would like. The story of a forensic investigator who is also a serial killer, tracking down serial killers that he discovers through his job. What isn’t to love? Little did I know that the show would be such a lush dark comedy, full of irony and self-depreciation and a dark appreciation for this kind of flippant violence. The first season kind of meanders right near the end and wraps up a little too fast, but it’s truly a great show.

Dexter (season 2) – *****
Second verse, same as the first. Season 2 is a much tighter show than season 1, in part because the main storyline is that Dexter’s body dump site is found by the police and a federal investigation into his activities is opened. It’s a tense season, with Dexter trying to balance all the parts of his life while changing his carefully crafted methods to both keep killing and not get trapped by the approaching manhunt. It’s a dizzy season, full of great moments. Fantastic.

The West Wing (season 1) – *****
I almost feel silly reviewing The West Wing. Either you know its great or you’ve been missing out on something amazing in your life. I don’t have much to add to the heap of love this show regularly still gets. I will say, though, that The West Wing is the one show that when I watch it makes me desire to be a better person. That’s a pretty powerful thing. An invaluable thing. Which is why The West Wing is special.

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