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Posts Tagged ‘2009’

Mini Movie Reviews #2

August 9, 2012 10 comments

Chris Rock standing in front of a row of women at a hair salon.Good Hair
USA
2009
PG13
Documentary
Public Library
5 out of 5 stars

This is one documentary you need to believe the hype about.  Chris Rock decided to make it after his daughter (not even five years old yet) asked him why she doesn’t have good hair.  This documentary then looks at the world and culture of African-American hair.  It covers everything from perms to weaves to hair shows.  Chris Rock interviews famous and not famous people alike with a certain charm and intelligence that gets them to really open up.  I think the scene that best demonstrates the feel of the whole movie is when Chris Rock is interviewing a white male scientist about sodium hydroxide, which is the perm that African-Americans use to straighten their hair.  The scientist has just shown Chris how quickly sodium hydroxide eats through raw chicken, and Chris says, “You know black people put that on their hair.”  Horrified, the scientist says, “Really?! Why would they do that?!” Chris says, “To look like white people.” Epic. Silence. The documentary is smart, because it doesn’t run around blaming white people for this whole culture among African-Americans against natural hair.  It kind of blames everybody, and it does it in a witty, intelligent manner.

A werewolf face and a woman who looks dead.The Wolf Man
USA
1941
PG
Horror
Netflix
4 out of 5 stars

Another from the 100 Horror Movies To See Before You Die list I’ve been working my way through.  A wayward son of a British aristocrat comes home to hopefully reestablish himself in the little town.  He starts to pursue an engaged gal, but while doing so, gets bit by a wolf.  Naturally, he turns into a werewolf.  I think what’s the creepiest about this film is how the main character goes about pursuing the engaged girl.  He starts off by watching her through a window and then hitting on her in her father’s shop in possibly the creepiest manner ever.  She resists….at first.  But then doesn’t.  The whole film sort of feels like a judgment on both him for being a creeper and the engaged girl for being seduced by the bad boy instead of sticking with her nice, stable man.  Kind of a nice change of pace from more modern films, eh?  The special effects aren’t as good as some others from this same time period that I’ve watched, but they’re still fairly decent.  It’s a fun change of pace if you enjoy shapeshifters.  Also the “British accents” are pretty much nonexistent.

Pale, white-haired man sitting in a throne-like chair.The House Of Usher
USA
1960
Not Rated
Horror
Netflix
5 out of 5 stars

When this movie started, I thought it was going to be cheesy.  But I was very wrong.  It turns out that this is an adaptation of a Poe story, and it is completely frightening, even with outdated special effects.  Essentially, this guy wants to marry this girl, but her brother insists that the Ushers need to let the family die out.  He also claims the house itself is evil.  I won’t tell you what happens from there, but suffice to say the tension builds perfectly until you are on the edge of your seat for the climax.  Vincent Price plays the brother and let me tell you, he is a legend for a reason.  When I finished this one, I was actually nervous to go to bed. Which never happens to me.

PS There is a 2007 remake. Ignore it. Ignore it so hard.

Maccauley Culkin and Seth Green.Party Monster
USA
2003
R
Biography
Netflix
3 out of 5 stars

This is based on the true story of a murder during the 1980s ecstatic clubbing days (see what I did there?), which was written about in Disco Bloodbath by James St James.  (Btw, the memoir is almost impossible to find and hella expensive).  Anyway as for the movie. It’s very campy.  The absolute best part is seeing Macauley Culkin and Seth Green play two fabulous druggy gay men.  It’s campy but not over-the-top.  I mean, these clubbers really did act like this. They weren’t exaggerating.  But the plot is oddly told, jumping around perspectives and time and can be hard to keep up with.  Also the ultimate murder is told by a rat (a man in a giant rat suit).  So yeah.  It’s odd but fun.  Recommended to fans of Seth Green.

Dracula in sepia.Dracula
USA
1931
Unrated
Horror
Netflix
5 out of 5 stars

This movie really doesn’t need much explanation.  It’s a classic (chosen for preservation) for good reason.  I have read Dracula, and I was flabbergasted at how good the adaptation was.  Modern film adaptations could learn a thing or two from this production.  Bela Lugosi as Dracula is still deliciously creepy, instilling chills.  Two cool things to know.  One, originally there was an epilogue in which the audience is told vampires are indeed real that has been forever lost so the ending does feel a bit abrupt (because it’s not actually the ending).  Also, the entire movie was shot simultaneously on the same sets in Spanish (with Latin* actors).

Mini Movie Reviews #1

July 17, 2012 2 comments

I feel like I generally don’t have quite as much to say about movies as I do about books.  Perhaps that’s because they only take an hour or two of my time, whereas books you live with for several hours, even days or weeks.  In any case, although I really don’t watch much tv (and when I do, it tends to be nonfiction like cooking shows), I do periodically watch movies.  Some of them popular, some of them older or documentaries you might not know about.  After having seen mini reviews on other folks’ pages, I decided this format would be ideal for my movie reviews.  A movie will periodically get a fully fleshed-out review if I have a lot to say about it.

So here we go, in the order in which I watched them.

Woman in Amsh bonnetThe Shunning
USA
2011
Not Rated
Contemporary Drama
4 out of 5 stars

I read the original bonnet books back when I was in middle school, which started with The Shunning.  I was happy to see it pop up on my Netflix.  (I believe it was a made for tv movie, possibly for the Hallmark channel?)  This isn’t your typical bonnet romance.  Katie Lapp is struggling with the idea of her marriage to a man she doesn’t love after the death of her first love.  She also likes playing guitar and singing, which is frowned upon in the Amish community.  When she learns that she is adopted, her whole world is rocked.  It’s a great film both to see Amish life and to consider issues of identity and adoption.  I can think of quite a few of my friends and followers who would enjoy it

Unspeakable Acts
USA
1990
Not Rated
Docudrama
3 out of 5 stars

It’s odd, I generally don’t go for courtroom drama books, but the movies sometimes work for me.  This one from 1990 is about the daycare child abuse scare that happened in the 1980s and looks at the groundbreaking case that made certain aspects of children testifying easier in court.  One fun thing, one of the mothers is Bebe Neuwirth (Lilith from Frasier), and it was pretty….odd seeing her in a loving mother role.  This docudrama addresses the controversial methods of questioning toddlers about situations at daycares.  The movie falls solidly on the pro-questioning side.  I enjoyed it.  It was a bit slow-moving and sometimes the acting was a bit over-the-top, but it does a good job encouraging parents to be communicative with each other and to actually bother to ask their kids questions like they are real people (which indeed they are).  Some viewers might be disturbed by the graphic descriptions of child abuse.

Creature from the Black Lagoon holding a woman in a white swimsuit.Creature From the Black Lagoon
USA
1954
Not Rated
Horror
4 out of 5 stars

I’ve been working my way through the 100 Horror Movies to See Before You Die, starting with the ones available on Netflix.  This one is about a group of scientists who think they’ve discovered an artifact of the missing link in human evolution deep in the Amazon.  They get there and of course discover that the missing link is actually a living creature.  Let me just say upfront, yes it is abundantly obvious that this is one of those movies about white guys being scared of non-white guys stealing their women.  Bare that in mind when watching this, and you will come away with a totally different viewing than those who don’t.  It’s easy to see why it became a classic. The underwater shots are absolutely incredible.  There are in particular these scenes wherein the woman is swimming in a gorgeous pure white swimsuit (I know, I know), and the creature is swimming underneath her in tandem.  How they pulled that off in the 1950s, I don’t know.  It is a highly watchable film and a great way to start a discussion of the racism in the 1950s.  Perhaps even to try to convince those who would say otherwise that the good old days weren’t really so good.  Side-note: there is a great scene where the woman scientist and the dude she’s dating are asked when they are gonna get married. It’s been a while. Only to find out they’ve been dating 6 months. o_O

Image of movie theater with arrows in it.Reel Injun
USA
2009
Not Rated
Documentary
5 out of 5 stars

This documentary looks at the stereotypes and use of Native Americans in American cinema as a lens for considering Native identity and the American Indian Movement (AIM, the name for the Native American civil rights movement).  The documentary eloquently moves decade by decade, presenting clips and interviewing actors, directors, and AIM activists.  It completely blew my mind.  For instance, I didn’t know that during the silent movie era there was a strong group of Native filmmakers who made their own, powerful movies.  It was when the talkies came that the cowboy and Indian trope came about and also when every Native everywhere was re-written as a Plains Indian. For ease.  Then in the 1970s and 1980s after the civil rights era, we started to get the ass-kicking Natives as a reflection of the anger in the movement.  It’s impossible to come even close to telling you all everything I learned or how powerful the movie was for me.  I will say, though, that I found the part about how Marlon Brando turned down his Oscar due to the treatment of Natives in cinema by sending Sacheen Littlefeather up in full Apache clothing to turn it down for him completely shocking.  I had no idea that such a movement exists in Hollywood, but it does, as is also evidenced by Clint Eastwood’s involvement in this documentary.  It’s encouraging to hear that not everyone in Hollywood sits by while this shit goes down.  In any case, a powerful documentary and a great starting point for getting your feet wet in the Native American civil rights movement.

Man wrapped in bandages, man looking at test tube.The Invisible Man
USA
1933
Not Rated
Horror
2 out of 5 stars

Another entry in the 100 Horror Movies to See Before You Die.  A scientist manages to make himself invisible but doesn’t have an antidote ready. Also he goes crazy. Allow me to say, yes I realize this is super-old and they still managed to do the slowly revealing the invisible dude scenes, which is an amazing achievement in cinema.  Watch clips of those parts on youtube.  The storyline itself is super boring and not well structured, and the science is rather shoddily done.  It was good for a few laughs. For the first 55 minutes. The rest was suffering and wanting to rip my hair out.  I think one of my live tweets from watching it sums it up best, “The best part of this movie is the knowledge that this dude is running around nekkid.” Because his clothes are visible, you see.

That’s about a month’s worth of movies.  Stay tuned for more quick thoughts next month!

Source: Unless otherwise noted, all movies watched via Netflix.

Movie Review: Original vs. Remake Comparison: The Last House on the Left (1972 vs. 2009)

November 25, 2010 4 comments

Woman with bloody hand clamped over her mouth.Summary:
1972:
Mary is a sweet-tempered, girl-next-door that every boy in the neighborhood has the hots for, but she has a best friend from the wrong side of the tracks.  They frolic in the woods together and drink alcohol kept cool in the river.  Mary’s parents do not approve.  Mary and her friend go to NYC for a concert, but when her friend tries to score some weed, their night goes horribly awry.  Suddenly they find themselves at the mercy of two escape convicts, a son of one of the convicts who does their beck and call for his heroin hits, and a malicious, nympho woman.

2009:
Mary is vacationing in the lakes with her doctor father and lovely mother.  She goes into town to hang out with her old friend, and the two of them go back to a hotel room to get high with a teenage boy.  But that boy’s father, uncle, and the uncle’s girlfriend come back, and the dad is an escaped con.  He decides he can’t let the girls go and kidnaps them, finishing them off in the woods.  They wind up car-wrecked and must seek help at a nearby cabin that just so happens to be Mary’s parents’.  When they figure out the mystery, all hell breaks loose.

Review:
1972:
This is a classically 70s film featuring everything from feathered hair to 70s music to background music oddly upbeat for the dark tone.  The opening shot is essentially of Mary’s Woman standing in front of a lake.boobs.  This was the era of really stretching the boundaries.  Everything semi-pornographic and disgusting that they could get away with, they did get away with.  There is one, rather controversial, scene in which Mary and her friend are forced to have sex with each other–and need I remind you her friend is female?  There is a lot of rape, a lot of blood, and these killers really do kill just for fun.  Not to make it sound like this is slasher porn, though.  There’s nothing at all remotely sexy about the violence.  It’s meant to be disturbing, and it is.  There’s one scene in particular that will have all male viewers crossing their legs and quivering in their boots.  All that said, this movie definitely reads as campy due to some unfortunate scenes featuring upbeat music and bumbling policemen that feel like they belong more in an episode of Andy Griffith than a horror movie.  I’m really  not sure what Craven was thinking sticking those scenes in there.  There of course also is the enduring problem of the victims being truly, incredibly stupid.  Horror is the most horrifying when it feels as if the victims did everything smart, but still got caught.  The element of unsuspected revenge is what saves the movie, though.

2009:
This movie is quite creative for a modern horror.  It takes a fairly sympathetic main character and has her a make a rather impulsive, but not completely stupid decision.  Mary and her friend take far more agency trying to get away.  They are far more modern female victims.  They fight back physically and not with words and pleading.  The cinematography is dark and intense.  The convict’s son becomes a far more sympathetic character, and Mary’s parents much more believable as a vindictive pair.  The whole plot moves at the perfect pace, and the ending is surprising.

1972 vs. 2009:
I have to say, 2009 wins for horror movie quality.  It is put together more smoothly without the odd side-story of the police with the humorous background music.  The story is more cohesive.  However, surprisingly, 1972 is far more gory and feels more like a slasher.  The violence, both sexual and physical, is surprising, and the villains are far more evil.  If you’re out for the chills of a good horror, movie, go with the 2009 version.  If you’re after sheer blood and violence, go for the 1972 version.

1972: 3.5 out of 5 stars

2009: 4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

1972: Buy It

2009: Buy It

Movie Review: The Human Centipede: First Sequence (2009)

October 26, 2010 4 comments

View of people and limbs through a glass.Summary:
Two American girls on a road trip through Europe get a flat tire late at night in Germany.  They walk to find help, and stumble upon the residence of Dr. Heiter, a first-class surgeon who separates Siamese twins.  He promptly kidnaps them, along with an unfortunate Japanese tourist, and announces to them that they will become part of a first-time experiment.  He will fuse them together mouth to anus to create the human centipede.

Review:
This independent film mixes two great horror movie classics–kidnapping and a deranged doctor–and combines them into a great idea.  It doesn’t quite attain the heights such a great idea should have, but I can easily see it becoming a cult classic.

Dieter Laser, who plays Dr. Leiter, does an excellent job.  His facial expressions are magnificently creepy.  He is actually German, so his German is perfect, as well as his German accent.  Akihiro Kitamura’s performance was also well-done, particularly given that he mostly just gets to yell in Japanese and whimper.  The actresses who play the two girls–Ashley C. Williams and Ashlyn Yennie–have painfully annoying voices.  It was a blessing that they were the two end sections of the human centipede, because it shut them up.

Given how incredibly idiotic and annoying the two girls are in the beginning of the film, I can’t help but suspect that the writer was trying to make us feel less sympathy for them.  Possibly with the hope that it would soften the blow of the gross idea?  Maybe.

As far as the grossness inherent in three people being sewed together mouth to anus, they could have taken it much further than they did in the film.  Only bits and pieces of the operation are shown, and the human centipede wears bandages so strategically that you don’t really see much of the actual connection.  It’s more about the viewer imagining it than actually seeing it.  Although the scene where the front unit of the human centipede (the Japanese man, Katsuro) must first *ahem* use the restroom post-surgery is quite gross, it is simultaneously hilarious.  If you have a bit of a quirky sense of humor, the horror and gross-out factors of this film are greatly lessened.  In fact, I found The Fly to be much more disturbing and disgusting than this film.

Overall, if you enjoy gross-out, B-level horror films, you will have a fun time watching this movie.  It’s short, interesting, and different.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

Buy It

Movie Review: Up (2009)

Elderly man and youngn boy riding on a bird with a dog following them.Summary:
Carl’s wife Ellie has died, and now he’s sitting in the house they shared biding the time until he can join her.  An unfortunate conflict with the developers building all around him leads the court to order that he be sent to a nursing home.  Defiant, Carl decides to take the trip to South America he and Ellie always meant to take by flying there–with his house.  An 8 year old stowaway, a mysterious bird, and dogs with collars that allow them to talk all make for an interesting adventure.

Review:
I know, I know.  How had I not seen this already?  I admit, I thought the premise sounded dumb at the time it came out, and was surprised at how into it everyone got.  I don’t entirely blame myself for this.  The advertising ignored everything that makes this movie wonderful and instead focused on the balloon house.

This story showcases the problems faced as an elderly person.  Other stories do this, but this is a cartoon, generally aimed at children, and it is frankly a delightful pairing.  It’s an old wive’s tale that there’s an innate connection between the elderly and the very young, and this movie decidedly backs that up.  Russell, the 8 year old, is lonely due to his absentee father, but in his youth is still full of energy and optimism.  Carl, in spite of living a good life, is depressed and lonely without Ellie.  There is no one who bothers to care for him.  They only see a crotchety old man, which granted is the way he’s behaving, but maybe it’s for a reason?  Kevin respects Carl, and this gradually opens him up to connecting with another human being even at this late stage in life.

In addition to the wonderful themes, the scenes are beautifully drawn.  The colors are just the perfect mix of cartoony and realistic to make for a visual feast.  Additionally, the comic relief of the talking dogs and the mysterious birds are handled with an expert ease that hits the funny button at just the right moments, but are still creative enough to be delightful.

If you happen to have still not seen Up, I highly recommend it.  It’s not your average animated movie plot, and it is visually gratifying.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

Buy It

Movie Review: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

Flint and Sally standing under umbrella surrounded by meatballs.Summary:
Flint Lockwood has always been different.  He’s a nerd, and that doesn’t go over so well in his sardine-fishing, blue collar coastal island town in the Atlantic.  His mom was always supportive that he’d do great things one day, however, so the town has grown used to his experiments going awry.  When everyone suddenly decides that sardines are gross, the town is facing an economic downturn.  It appears that Flint’s latest experiment could bring them the tourism they need.

Review:
There is so much to love about this little film.  The storyline about just being who you are and ignoring labels is heart-warming.  On the other hand, the film is careful not to make the nerds out to be perfect or the non-nerds to be pointless.  Everyone has their strengths, and it is important to use a critical eye when playing up to them.

The animation is quite good, and I imagine it must be spectacular in 3D.  Everything is colorful, and the storm scenes in particular are rich and vibrant.

The characters are what really makes the film though.  From Flint to his dad to his love interest, Sally Sparks a meteorologist, everyone is richly drawn.  Then of course there are my two favorite characters, Flint’s monkey who is voiced by Neil Patrick Harris (“gummy bears!” “Steve!” “excited!”) and the town police officer, who is voiced by none other than Mr. T.  Did you catch that? Neil Patrick Harris and Mr. T in the same movie.  That is the definition of awesomeness.

The storyline was complex.  Although I was nearly certain everything would work out ok in the end (it is a kid’s movie after all), I still found myself on the edge of my seat rooting for the characters.

If you enjoy science, slapstick, or coming of age stories, you will definitely enjoy this film.  I highly recommend it.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

Buy It

Movie Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

The Fox family and opossum sitting on a couch.Summary:
Mr. Fox promised his mate when she got pregnant to stop raiding the local farms and settle down to a safe journalism job, but when they move to a tree close to three farms, he finds night raids irresistible.  Soon the woodland critters and the farmers are in an all-out battle of wits.

Review:
OMG I LOVED THIS MOVIE!!!

First, it is done in delicious stop-motion animation.  The whole film is truly a piece of art.  My particular favorite is when they do cut-aways of the animals’ homes and tunnels below-ground.  It looks so incredibly real.  It reminds me of my well-loved books growing up that would cut-away animal homes like beaver houses and show you their house inside, complete with beds and stoves.  Swoon.

Second, there’s the storyline.  I’ve always loved the crafty animals out-witting the farmers from basically the first day I could read.  This may have been an indication of my future vegetarianism.

Third, there’s the characters.  The three farmers each have their own personalities.  The animals have more well-rounded characterization than I’ve seen for people in most tv shows.  For instances, Mr. Fox’s nephew, Kristofferson, is a naturally calm soul who knows karate and meditates every day contrasted with Mr. Fox’s son, Ash, who just wants to be a bandit and is pretty much perpetually angry.

Fourth, there’s the soundtrack.  There’s a wonderful folk tune about halfway through the movie that is very reminiscent of the soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou? another one of my all-time favorite movies.

Finally, there’s the fact that Dahl dealt with adult language in a kids’ film by replacing any swear word with the word “cuss.”  This results in the adult animals saying wonderful things like “What the cuss?!”  Brilliant.

I probably should also mention the fact that Mr. Fox is voiced by George Clooney who is always swoon-worthy.

I honestly can’t think of anyone who would dislike this movie.  I suppose if you hate animals and have no soul you might not like it.  All others need to go watch it immediately.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Zune on Xbox

Buy It