Hey, look! A normal-sized movie round-up! I know, I know. It’s hard to believe.
Also of note, I’ve started a tumblr. I consider it a place for things that are more than a tweet and less than a blog. It’s also a a place I plan to use more for pointing things out (like good dialog, quotes that strike a chord, particularly interesting images), rather than original content. So, feel free to check it out if you feel so inclined.
Now, off to…
What I Watched
Fargo (4 stars): Part black comedy and part thriller, this now-classic Coen Bros. movie lives up to its reputation. Frances McDormand is delightful as the surprisingly on-the-ball and pregnant police woman of a small Minnesotan town. She’s the heart of this at-times surprisingly sweet movie, but it never loses its bite.
The Ramen Girl (3½ stars): This fish-out-of-water tale starring the late Brittany Murphy is about a girl stranded in Japan after being more or less unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend. Unfulfilled by her boring job and drowning in loneliness, she decides she’s going to learn the art of Ramen, which is very different than your Cup O Noodles. What follows is a battle of wills: Girl against herself, Girl against her teacher, Girl against culture hurdles. The result is a surprisingly charming film with a touch of magic to it .
The Last Temptation of Christ (4 stars): This film is a portrait of Jesus as man. Willem Dafoe is captivating as the titular figure, displaying a human side to Jesus that is rarely touched upon in any real way. The film starts with a disclaimer that it is not based on the gospels, and that’s true, but I didn’t find it heretical either. It’s most certainly a film that makes you think, and one that warrants discussion, and any film that can do that is worth seeing.
Empire Records (3½ stars): This movie is sort of the embodiment of the ’90s for me. The fashion, the emo-grunge-punk scene, the intensity and hilarity of life as a teen in that era — it’s all there. You also get early performances from the likes of Liv Tyler and Renée Zellweger plus some of the most quotable dialog ever. Super-fn and touching with an edge.
Kill Bill Vol. 1 (4 stars): I saw this when it came out in theatres, and it was my first experience with Quentin Tarantino. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen, and, even though I was annoyed by the Crazy 88s sequence at the end (the blood was a bit much for me, not in a squeamish sort of way, but in an, “OK, I get it” sort of way), I definitely knew I’d seen something special. VOL. 2 blew me away, and now, coming back to Vol. 1, I find it’s grown on me as well. I’m planning in digging in to the rest of QT’s films next year, but, based on my experience, KILL BILL isn’t a bad place to start if you’re looking to.
Sherlock Holmes (2½ stars): I’ve never read a Sherlock Holmes story, so I had no preconceived literary expectations going in. Even so, I found myself a little disappointed. There was so much action and so many different twists and turns and layers of story that the characters — which should be the best part of a Holmes adaptation, right? — sort of got lost in the shuffle. That being said, I found Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law to be hilarious and charming and extremely enjoyable when they got the chance to really interact with each other. There’s plenty of room for sequels down the line, and I’d be up for seeing them because those two are so darn likeable. But they’ve got to give us more Holmes and Watson and less everything else.
Duplex (3 stars): This extremely dark romantic comedy, directed by Danny DeVito and starring Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore, has always been an odd sort of favorite of mine. It’s the story of a married couple who move into a (you guessed it) Duplex, in which an elderly woman inhabits the second floor. At first she appears to be very sweet if innocuously annoying, but things escalate quickly and the couple finds themselves in an all-out war. Part of me wonders what Woody Allen might have done with this story — it has strains of MATCH POINT and SCOOP — but it’s an interesting film as is. Certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s also certainly not the cookie cutter rom com you might expect from Stiller and Barrymore.
It’s Complicated (4 stars): I went in with pretty high hopes to this romantic comedy starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, and I’m happy to say they were met. Unlike your average romantic comedy, it felt emotionally authentic. The three leads are great (when is Streep not great?), and John Krasinski, playing the son-in-law, steals every single scene he is in. Definitely worth seeing.
Arsenic and Old Lace (3 stars): This one’s a classic screwball/slapstick comedy starring Cary Grant as a slightly neurotic newlywed who finds out that his two sweet-as-syrup, spinster aunts have been offing old men and burying them in the cellar. It’s great fun, and I think it would be even more fun to see on stage (where the story was originally performed).
The Maltese Falcon (3½ stars): I’m not sure if it’s because the genre has been parodied so much in recent times or what, but this classic noir film starring Humphrey Bogart played at times like a comedy for me. That’s certainly not a dig, because it worked even then. I wasn’t playing as close attention as I should have been, so I missed a lot of the double-, triple-, and quadruple-crosses. So, my advice is to watch it with full focus. Even though I missed some of the details, the wordplay among the characters was still enough to earn it high marks in my book.
That’s it on the movie round-up. Stay tuned this week for my Faves of 2009 List. Hope you all are enjoying and making the best of the last few days of 2009!