A Whole ****load of Movie Reviews
Per usual, I am too lazy to bother cloaking my spoilers in euphemism that will confuse the hell out of anyone who's seen these movies and seeks to confabulate about them, so if you plan to see it and want to be surprised, I do not recommend reading these reviews.
Little Miss Sunshine
It is very hard for me to review comedies and so I usually...don't. Comedy, to me, feels like one of the most personal kinds of movies. What makes a person laugh depends in part on their experiences in life, i.e. I think the movie Waiting is hilarious because a good portion of my life has been spent involved in the restaurant business in one way or another. To someone who's never been on the other side of the line, certain parts may be funny, but they likely do not relate to the hilarious truths. And so for me to say to the world at large, "Watch this movie; it is the funniest evah!"...well, most of you--never having worked in a restaurant--probably would not think so.
But Little Miss Sunshine is a different kind of comedy. I've wanted to see this movie since I first saw the preview, and I had high expectations that were not disappointed.
It is not a farce. It is not a comedy based on crude jokes and people smacking their heads into things, which are tactics used to get yucs in many other comedies. This story starts with the most ordinary of circumstances: a slightly dysfunctional family with a dismally ordinary seven-year-old daughter who wants to be a beauty queen. Olive is not beauty-queen material with her big glasses and plain face, but interestingly, as the movie evolves, it becomes impossible not to see a certain prettiness about her that the beauty queens--when we finally meet them--do not possess.
After the regional winner is forced to drop out after an "incident with diet pills," Olive--the runner-up to the regional Little Miss Sunshine pageant--is left competing for the crown. The family is forced into a last-minute roadtrip that involves an older brother undergoing a vow of silence, a profanity-spewing grandfather (who has helped Olive choreograph her talent act, adamantly kept secret from the family), a suicidal gay uncle, a father trying to sell his self-help program and prone to spewing his "Nine Steps" as it holds true to his family's life, a frazzled mother, and Olive. And a beat-up VW bus that's clutch goes up halfway to California and requires a push-start to pop it into gear.
The movie follows the family to the pageant, through each individual's personal struggle. The characters are painted brilliantly: flawed yet empathetic. No one feels like a caricature, put in for comic relief alone. The chemistry between the various players is palpable.
One after the other, the family runs into obstacles, and one after the other, they overcome them. It could end as so many of these movies do with a gag-me saccharine group-hug, but the ending feels triumphant, a hard thing to fenagle in a genre like this.
While the movie is hilariously funny, there are parts that are devastating as well. And put next to each other as they are--comedy and tragedy--the viewer is taken on a rollercoaster ride of emotion. Halfway through the movie, the endearing--albeit profanity-prone and heroin-sniffing--grandfather doesn't wake up. When the doctor arrives in the waiting room, I was right with the family, hoping for good news...and knowing that it would be bad.
I have been in those "family meeting rooms" too many times, through my father's bypass and many grandparents' illnesses...and subsequent deaths. I know that feeling when the doctor comes in the room and starts walking towards you, and you want him to go back, to leave you in ignorance for just another minute. When the news comes, I was in tears.
"I will send in a bereavement counsellor to help you with the arrangements," says the doctor in those gloomy, syruped voices that they use. He starts out the door, pokes his head into a neighboring office, and screams, "Linda!!" at the top of his lungs.
On a serious note, he shows his sympathy to be a sham. On a lighter note, he adds levity to a dark moment. I was howling with laughter with tears in my eyes. I have never had quite an experience in a movie.
Beneath the comedy and brilliant family interactions, one can find a more serious message to the story. Olive's "secret routine" turns out--not surprisingly given its choreographer--to be done in the style of a striptease with break-away tuxedo pants and everything. The uproar that this innocuous little girl causes lands the family in a police station. But behind her are a line of little girls who are glossed and air-brushed sexuality disguised as cutesiness. They shake their hips on the stage and flash legs and bodies belonging to women, not little girls. It is disgusting. But they are cheered on, while Olive--who reveals the barely concealed sexuality for what it is--is banned from the pageant.
I don't do this often, but this one is deserving. I give Little Miss Sunshine four E.L. Fudge "Elves Exist" cookies out of four. It is a fantastic movie, and I recommend it highly...to anyone.
At the core of The Illusionist is a story we've seen one thousand times before. It is practically an archetype: A poor boy meets a girl of nobility and they fall in love, and despite the sanctions put against them because of the unacceptable differences in class, they decide to pursue their love against all odds.
When we enter the movie, the illusionist Eisenheim (Edward Norton) is being brought up on charges of having committed some sort of stage act considered unacceptable to the crown prince--who is also the fiance of his one-time love.
Through a pastiche of past and present, we get the whole story: Eisenheim and Sophie (Jessica Biel) were childhood sweethearts separated and reunited when Eisenheim rose to fame as an illusionist and was eventually called to entertain the royal family. The prince's fiance Sophie was offered as a volunteer, and the pair was reunited and their love subsequently rekindled, until Sophie's murder.
As I said, the story has been told before.
Or...is that part of the illusion?
What I love most about this movie is that it is itself an illusion; it is the story of Eisenheim's greatest illusion, which is freeing Sophie and himself to love each other. The audience for which the illusion is performed? Why us, of course!
Besides the grand illusion, some of the illusions performed by Eisenheim are absolutely beautiful. It is really a beautiful movie in many ways. (Interestingly, Norton--coached by illusionist David Blane--performed the illusions himself. They are not computer-generated.)
As far as characters go, the characters are built for a purpose, and while this fits with the idea of an illusion, it doesn't always work so well in a movie. There is little to like about Prince Leopold; there is little not to like about Eisenheim and Sophie. But there is one character who really commands the movie, who is, perhaps, the subject of the movie: Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giammatti). He begins as a deporable pawn of the crown prince, but as the movie evolves, he begins to doubt the prince and ends bringing Leopold under arrest for the murder of Sophie.
As he ferrets out the details of the illusion, we see his character change. He is always one interested less in being enchanted by "magic" than figuring out how it works, and indeed, when the final illusion is revealed, he is the only one to "get it." And by the changes in his character, it is a safe assumption that he will not pursue the happy couple into their new life.
The Illusionist is an innovative, beautifully filmed movie. It will keep you guessing, but its ordinary premise--though essential for the concept as a whole--meant some slow moments where I was left thinking, "Okay, I get it. I know that the gorgeous volunteer is Sophie and he is going to recognize her." It felt predictable, and while this threw me enough off-guard that the ending did surprise me, it meant that I was often left looking at pretty scenes and left aching for a little more story.
Still, The Illusionist is a strong movie, an intriguing combination of romance and mystery with elements of drama and horror. I highly recommend it and give it three-and-a-half E.L. Fudge "Elves Exist" cookies out of four.
The Grudge 2 is coming out and being hawked constantly in the movie pre-show that they force down our throats at our favorite theatre, and since we missed the original, I asked Bobby if we could rent it. The sequel looked like it had some interesting elements, so my desire to see it would be based on how much I liked the original.
Japanese horror is all the rage in the horror movie genre right now, and a Japanese film is no sooner out and an American version is being made. The Grudge is one such movie.
Japanese horror uses different elements than American horror, which tends to rely either on jump-out-and-go-boo tactics or overwhelming gore, both of which tend to be cop-outs, in my opinion. Japanese horror is heralded for including elements that are truly scary, based in playing on actual human fears.
And The Grudge certainly had some of those. But a few spooky elements do not a movie make. I am a firm believer that strong horror movies need strong characters. Why? Because as they are haunted to death (or whatever the particular trick), viewers need to empathize with them. It is worse to watch a friend go through something horrible than to watch someone we don't know or--worse--find slightly annoying. The Grudge had zero characterization. I suppose that Sarah Michelle Gellar's character was supposed to be sympathetic because she volunteered to care for old people, but that was the extent of it. As for the other characters...what other characters? The boyfriend that gets killed at the end, the family living in the house, the original family who triggered the curse...who? And there is this mysterious professor who takes a dive (literally) off a balcony in the first scene, an unfortunate (imho) glitch in PoV. Rather than having Gellar discover the truth and portray it through her PoV, the movie switches to that of the professor when it's convenient. As someone who takes PoV in my own work very seriously...ouch. That hurts.
The movie didn't really scare me. There were some nice starts with some of the elements, but then I was rolling at my eyes at Gellar, screaming and cringing rather than fighting off the creature killing her boyfriend. Then I was left asking, "So? Why should I care?" And the ending was too over-the-top for me. Bobby and I were giggling at the creaky-door sounds made by the cursed ghosts by the end of it, and that's not a reaction the audience wants.
Honestly, this is an example of where less is more. Sometimes the scariest things are caught from the corner of an eye, leaving a person to wonder, "Did I really see that?" The imagination makes it worse. When the movie used these tactics, it was shiver-worthy. But when they threw it all into the audience's faces...no. It was silly.
All in all, I was disappointed for all the hype that I had heard about this movie...and the sub-genre. I will have to see the Japanese original, but it felt like any B-rated American horror movie with maybe some slightly innovative elements and a lot of the typical jump-out-and-go-boo fare. (And not even that innovative in some places.) I give The Grudge a disappointed two E.L. Fudge "Elves Exist" cookies out of four.
And yeah, I won't be rushing to see the sequel.
The Black Dahlia
The Black Dahlia is based around the premise of two LA cops investigating the brutal murder of the hopeful actress Elizabeth Short who comes to be known as "The Black Dahlia." To go further into the plot would take an entry unto itself as it is very, very convoluted.
The movie is one of those that throws a whole bunch of people and events and ideas into a big jumble in the middle of the floor and somehow manages to connect everything to everything else in a way that ends up making sense. Somehow. In that regard, the movie is highly interesting. You will not be bored during this movie.
But was it effective? Being as I tend to like less-than-average quantities of plot (especially in terms of complexity), this particular aspect has the potential to be bothersome to me. But I had no problem following the story and was kept on the edge of my seat and guessing. Though I can't now remember every twist and turn of the movie, I continue to recall a vague idea of what happened. And that is saying something for me.
In addition, the movie handled the time period--the '40s--remarkably well. Movies set during these eras tend to feel contrived to me, but I slipped right into the period and found myself really enjoying it. The characters are a decent mix of virtue and sin, and some of the predictable plotlines that I thought for sure would happen did not. Yayness.
This movie was not reviewed well, either by critics or viewers. I tend to like it more than others have. (It received a C- on Yahoo! and a 5.5/10 on IMDB.) I did see the criticism that a movie about a murder involved very little about the actual murder, and I would agree with this. I think that this is a difficulty that arises in making a movie from a book. In a book, the sexual tension between Bucky and Kay, for example, can be woven between the lines. In a movie, it must be made more obvious, detracting from the crux of the story, which is a murder mystery. The murder of Elizabeth Short did take the backseat to other plotlines, which was disappointing. I don't think that her character was developed enough for the audience to feel the same compulsion to see her murder solved as Bucky and Lee obviously did.
I give The Black Dahlia 2.75 E.L. Fudge "Elves Exist" cookies out of four for being an entertaining flick that nonetheless fell into some of the common traps of putting a popular novel onto the screen.
I have an abiding love for historical movies.
Actually, I should amend that statement: I have an abiding love for good historical movies. Some of my favorite films of all time have history as their crux (Downfall) or at least hovering constantly in the background (Forrest Gump).
Given that, I thought Flyboys had tremendous potential. There's not a whole lot of movies out there about WWI, and I thought that this particular angle was intriguing. However, as I told Bobby, it was a premise that could either be breathtakingly marvelous or a terrible flop.
My thoughts on this movie are so many that I am forced to resort to a bulleted list. I will let you judge whether that is a good or bad thing, but I will point out that Little Miss Sunshine did not require a bulleted list, nor did any of the other movies reviewed here.
- Plotlines should feel natural. When a movie begins by opening a whole mess of Plotlines in a Can™, it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that the rest of the movie is going to be devoted to resolving these plotlines in the most predictable and banal fashion (typical of Plotlines in a Can™, of course). Why bother watching the rest of the movie?
Honestly, I knew how Flyboys was going to evolve and end every step of the way. The rich kid has a problem with "Negroes?" Well, the black kid is going to do something to earn the respect of the rich kid, probably save his life in a spectacular fashion. The squadron commander has a vendetta against a German flying ace...anyone want to bet they're going to face off before the end? (And he's not going to win, of course, because the independent-minded and slightly rebellious main character has to step into his shoes and do the job.) For once, I would like to see half of the Big Showdown trip down the stairs and break a leg, thus denying us of this supposedly climactic moment. I think it would make the movie much, much better.
The storyline in this movie is annoyingly canned. While I will certainly agree that there is little left to do in film that is truly original, when I can see the ending of the movie in the first five minutes...yeah. That's annoying.
- While we're on the subject of stories in a can, Characters in a Can™, anyone? Of course, there was the predictable black guy. The rebel. The good boy. The spiritual one. And the mysterious, spirited leader.
Movies like this fall into the trap too of biting off more than they can handle. I had trouble telling some of the characters apart because there were so many of them and so little development of any. The montage at the beginning introducing each boy and his particular set of circumstances (in a rather obvious fashion, I might add) didn't help much once they were all dressed in identical uniforms with flight helmets and goggles. Who got shot in the neck? Dunno. And really: Dunt care.
- War is not pretty, folks. Yet Flyboys is very, very pretty. Pretty boys in pretty planes flying pretty li'l manuevers. A guy gets some dirt on his face, and I suppose that is supposed to be gritty.
No. Please. Let's give some credit to those who actually fought and died in these wars for not spending the war shacked up in a French chateau, drinking and having a good time when they don't decide to maybe go for a fly. One of the things that made Saving Private Ryan such a wonderful war movie is that it brought World War II to life for those of us whose parents weren't even alive at the time. Honestly, Flyboys made World War I look like a vacation. I expect to see glossy brochures at the travel agency. Very little made me wince for these pretty, privileged boys, and I don't think that's what the movie was exactly going for.
- There was one moment where I thought that the movie had the possibility to turn from Teh Suck into something mildly entertaining and possibly profound. Our rebellious cowpokin' hero (Blaine) meets a French girl (Lucienne) in a brothel. First, I thought, "Yes! A love story with a prostitute as half!" Now there's something realistic and a little bit edgy.
Alas, Lucienne is not a prostitute but merely making a delivery at the brothel. But Blaine falls head over heels for her, and there are a lovely few minutes where he (unable to speak French) is trying to communicate with her (unable to speak English). "Now this could be fun," I thought. "A romance where the partners can't even understand each other." I imagined a gradual increase in understanding as time progressed, or maybe Blaine would learn French in order to speak with Lucienne.
Alas, a woman who can't even understand, "I came to see you," without some pretty elaborate sign language is comprehending abstract ideas by the end of the scene. WTF?? And Blaine--who claims to be so enamored of this woman--brings a French dictionary and consults it once: to look up the word for prostitute. Lucienne, on the other hand, orders an English dictionary from the Barnes & Noble website (well, that's the only explanation I have as to how a French girl living alone and raising three children [not her own, of course, because she's doubtlessly a virgin] in the middle of the French countryside could acquire an English dictionary). By the end of the movie, she is more or less fluent in English. Because it's such an easy language to learn, and it can certainly be done with an English dictionary. I'm sure the ESL members of my flist will agree.
- Lastly, the movie had waaaay too many eyeroll moments. When a traumatized pilot who refuses to fly overcomes his fears to barrel into battle at the exact right moment shouting, "Knights on air!" I think that I really did roll my eyes. This movie takes the cheese and spreads it on thick. It is unfortunate that it is believed that a subject matter as complex and possibly profound as a young man's reaction to being in war is summarized with "stirring" one-liners. Give us some credit for a shred of intelligence, please.
This movie took a lovely idea and made it an utterly predictable and empty movie. I felt no empathy for the characters, and the truths of war were missing in favor of playing plotlines that have been done--and done better--a thousand times before. Instead of capitalizing on honest emotion, this movie seemed to present what the writers thought the audience wanted to see. The problem is that war is not clever, neat 'n' tidy. It is not pretty. We don't always want to see it, but we need to see it to understand the sacrifices that our grandfathers made. This movie has so much gloss that it is hard to see the war through all the shine.
I was disappointed. I give this movie a dismal one-and-a-half E.L. Fudge "Elves Exist" cookies out of four. Boo. *tosses popcorn*
ETA: I started these reviews yesterday. Since then, the Ravens have beaten the Stain with a late field goal, I have overcome my scuba-induced panic and feel confident to pass the last of my confined-water tests, and I managed not to barf despite the balloon in my stomach. Yayness.
And the Saints are beating the Falcons for their first home game in the Superdome since Hurricane Katrina. If this was a movie, I'd probably be complaining about the predicability of it! :^P
One last note and then I'll stfu because I need to go to bed: I am waaay behind on comments and emails. I haven't forgotten y'all. It was just One of Those Weekends, and today, I simply lacked the strength even for online communication with another human being. But I feel much better now and will send out my replies tomorrow.