Recap: 20 December 2009

Off we go with the Mega-est Movie Recap Ever.

Lost in La Mancha (4 stars): I’m not sure who had the foresight to document the making of the ill-fated THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE, helmed by sometimes-out-of-control visionary Terry Gilliam (see the next entry), but whoever it was is a genius.  This documentary is both hilarious and heartbreaking.  Highly recommended for anyone interested in what goes into making a film, Terry Gilliam, or train wrecks. (Bonus: It features Johnny Depp, too.)

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (3 stars): Terry Gilliam’s imagination is a truly amazing thing, but he strikes me as a director who needs to be reined in at times.  It’s obvious that no one was reining him in for this film.  This film is sort of like a train wreck that starts out hideous but ends up in a glorious display of fireworks.  It’s epic and nutty and quirky, and I don’t really know how to explain it.  It’s certainly an experience.

The Lady Eve (3 stars): A classic screwball comedy.  Snappy dialog.  Unbelievable but charming premises and events.  A love story. Fun and frothy, but not very deep.

The Blind Side (3 stars): This film was admittedly better than I thought it would be.  It’s a bit too sentimental for my tastes, and, in some ways, seems like an uncontroversial version of PRECIOUS (which I haven’t seen).  This is the sort of movie that delivers pretty much exactly what you’d expect.  It’s a nice, feel-good, family flick, but it doesn’t ask the audience for too much.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2½ stars): I’m a fan of Wes Anderson in general, but I thought this film in particular suffered from the whole style over substance problem for which he is often criticized.  It was very interesting to look at (hence, the style), but the story never really grabbed me.  THE DARJEELING LIMITED remains my favorite of his films.

Seven Up! (3 stars): The first in a series of documentary films following the same group of people.  This is the weakest of the ones I’ve seen, but only because there’s not as much ground to explore.  This one’s short and worth checking out to meet the seven-year-olds, but I think they get exponentially more fascinating as they go on.

7 Plus Seven (4 stars): At 14 years old, the children are starting to develop personalities of their own.  This one’s also fairly short, but seeing how much the kids have changed in seven years is quite intriguing.

21 Up (4 stars): And this is where things really start to get interesting.  Caught between that weird middle ground between the teen years and true adulthood, this is where the kids are just starting to reconcile what awaits them with the dreams they had.  The interviews and observations are handled with care by director Michael Apted (who recently wrapped production on THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER, the next Narnia film).  He is neither cruel in his questions nor too delicate.

The Bishop’s Wife (3 stars): This Christmas-themed film was remade back in 1996 as THE PREACHER’S WIFE, starring Whitney Houston as the titular wife and Denzel Washington in what was originally Cary Grant’s role.  The story centers on a religious figure who is too wrapped up in his duties to realize his marriage is suffering.  An angel is sent to deliver the bishop/preacher’s help, though not in the way the bishop/preacher expected, of course. What fun would that be?  My only issue with this film is that the wife seems oblivious to the fact that the angel is Cary Effing Grant, who has fallen in love with her.  When he hints at this, she’s horrified instead of being like, “No, I love my husband, but, well, you are Cary Grant. No, no. I do love my husband.”  I think THE PREACHER’S WIFE does a better job of that actually, but the rest of the story beats go to THE BISHOP’S WIFE.

Let's be honest.

How to Be (2 stars): Being a fan of quirky, dark, indie comedies, I had high hopes for this Robert Pattinson vehicle.  Sadly, it failed to live up to those hopes.  I was really trying to find a place to latch onto this film, but there just weren’t any handles.  The characters weren’t likeable or realistic or really all that quirky.  The whole film just felt very, very flat.  I was hoping for something in the tonal vein of BIGGA THAN BEN (why is this movie still not available on DVD stateside?), but I just couldn’t find anything charming at all.  I don’t blame the actors here either; they just didn’t have much to work with unfortunately.

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (3 stars): Quirky Woody Allen comedy about a supernaturally-enabled jewel heist. Enjoyable, but not mind-blowing.  Helen Hunt is a riot, though.

Moonstruck (4 stars): I was pleasantly surprised by this classic romcom.  I didn’t really know what to expect going in — I mean, we’re talking Cher and Nicolas Cage here, who are sometimes great and sometimes, well, not — but I have to say I really, really enjoyed it.  It’s an unusually frank but still sweet look at love past its generally-assumed prime.  And it’s written by John Patrick Shanley, who wrote DOUBT. Yes, the nun-priest movie. Definitely worth checking out.

The Princess & the Frog (3½ stars): Disney animation is back, folks.  The only thing that keeps this movie from being a 4-star or higher review from me is the music, which doesn’t live up to previous standards.  Alan Menken is reportedly coming back for the next Disney musical, and it will be a very welcome return.  That being said, the story is lovely, and the animation is gorgeous.  It’s not quite back to THE LITTLE MERMAID, BEAUTY & THE BEAST, or ALADDIN standards, but it’s a definitely a huge leap in the right direction.

The Seven Year Itch (1 star): What is there to like about this movie? Honestly, can someone please enlighten me? Marilyn Monroe is pretty, but that’s about the only nice thing I’ve got to say about this one.

Deconstructing Harry (3½ stars): Another Woody Allen flick about an author whose novels are very thinly veiled versions of his life.  This, of course, does not please the people who come and go in said author’s life.  It’s a comedy, but it’s also got dramatic strains as the author comes to terms with what he’s done to his life.  It’s not my favorite Woody Allen movie, but it’s definitely one I’d say is worth checking out.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (3 stars): If you’re interested in a French farce about the ridiculousness of the upper middle class in the 1970s, then this film is for you.  If not, then, this film would probably bore the heck out of you.  Personally, I found it amusing, but slow.

Sex & the City: The Movie (3½ stars): With this film, I have now completed my Sex & the City education.  I fell in love with the series, and the movie didn’t let me down.  I’m interested to see what they do with the second movie because this one wrapped things up pretty nicely.  If you’re unfamiliar with the series, the movie would probably still be enjoyable, but this movie is clearly for the fans.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (4 stars): This poor movie’s climactic scene has been stolen so many times, and often by lesser movies (the enjoyable enough GET SMART remake and the abysmal EAGLE EYE come to mind).  And in a list of Hitchcock’s great films, this one often seems to be forgotten.  That being said, I found it to be a compelling thriller with great performances from Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day.  Having only seen Doris Day in romcoms ’til this point, I was especially impressed by her.  Definitely one to check out.

Two Lovers (2 stars): Also known as, The Last Movie Joaquin Phoenix Made Before He Went Nuts. The problem with this film is that not a whole lot happens.  You’ve got a whiny baby of a main character who doesn’t know what to do with his life, a vapid but pretty woman who steals his lust, and a dim but sweet girl who genuinely cares for the whiny baby of a main character even though he treats her more or less like dirt.  The performances are all very good, in that they made me really dislike the characters, I suppose.  But there was no arc, and movies with no arc frustrate me.  So, there you have it. Too bad this had to be Phoenix’s apparent last film, as I think he has/had the potential to do better.

The Girlfriend Experience (3½ stars): This film follows the life of a trying-to-be-high-class call girl.  It’s filmed in a stark, documentary style, and it starts out fairly slow.  The main character, Chelsea, is so closed off at first that it’s hard to connect with the story.  But eventually the cracks start to appear in her seemingly empty façade, and we learn there’s more than meets the eye.  There’s little nudity, especially considering the subject matter, but none of it struck me as gratuitous.  It’s an evenhanded look at a profession most people like to pretend doesn’t exist.

The African Queen (3 stars): If it had been anyone other than Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, I probably wouldn’t have cared much for this film.  But these two stars of yore can make just about anything compelling, and they do a solid job here, too.  This is the story of two complete opposites — one the merchant captain of a tiny boat who’s a bit too fond of alcohol and the other an “old maid” missionary help-mate to her preacher brother — who end up fleeing in said boat after the village is attacked by Nazis.  Hijinks ensue as the Hepburn’s Rosie convinces Bogart’s Charlie to attack a Nazi ship down river.  I’d call it a fun drama rather than a comedy, if that makes any sense.  Certainly worth seeing if you’re a fan of either lead.  (And if you aren’t, what’s wrong with you?)

Did You Hear About the Morgans? (3 stars): I’d put this about on par with THE PROPOSAL, minus the benefit of Ryan Reynold’s abs.  The most interesting part of the movie for me was the brief look at a marriage on the rocks, but it had gotten pretty cliché by the last third of the movie.  That being said, if you’re in the mood for a more or less brainless romantic comedy among all the heavyweights out this time of year, this is a decent way to go.

A Christmas Tale (2½ stars): This would have made a really fantastic novel, methinks.  As a film, it’s way too long for its subject matter, which is a dysfunctional family brought together by Christmas and the matriarch’s battle with cancer.  There’s some interesting stuff here, certainly, but again we have the lack of any real arc, or at least that’s how it seemed to me.  I never really felt moved by any of the character’s plights, maybe because there were so many that none was given proper focus.

Wow, did I really get through all those? Note to self: Do not let 23 movies pile up without doing a recap post ever again.

2 thoughts on “Recap: 20 December 2009

  1. My problem with A Bishop’s Wife is that you end up rooting for Cary Grant to get the girl. David Niven’s character never really gave us any reason to root for him to win her back while Cary Grant’s character became more of the husband/father than Niven was. While Niven took the family members (especially his wife portrayed by Loretta Young) for granted, our angel put their welfare and needs above anyone else’s. They were happier with good old Cary Grant than they were with David Niven. Even the housekeeper (portrayed by wonderful character actress Elsa Lancaster) liked Cary better than David.

    If there had been some way for the writer to kill off David Niven and for Cary Grant to have become “human” again, I would have cheered! Instead, I was left feeling sorry for the angel who had to leave his new found loved ones behind with someone who I felt really didn’t deserve them.

    And, yeah–Cary Grant or David Niven (who I do actually like) is an easy choice to make. After all, he is Cary Grant!

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