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Recent Movie Round-Up 3/2/2013

Sorry this is coming much later than it should but…I saw lots of movies! MOVIES! THEY’RE A THING! I WATCH THEM! I REVIEW THEM! OH MY GOD YOU GUYS LET’S DO THIS THING!

#34 – Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (Hayao Miyazaki, 1984)

Nausicaa is the first film to be made by the animation wunderkinds of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki’s second feature. Like all “first feature” movies (Even though Lupin III is technically Miyazaki’s first, but you get the idea), it’s got a host of problems regarding pacing, flow, etc. But that being said, I still loved it. It’s got an incredibly unique post-apocalyptic world, gorgeous animation, and a surprisingly emotional climax. I saw the dubbed version at the screening I saw it in (Thanks, Aero Theater!) and the dub’s very impressive. Alison Lohman (Who you’ll hopefully remember as the girl from Drag Me to Hell) shines as Nausicaa, Uma Thurman is badass in her few scenes, while Patrick Stewart….oh c’mon, he’s fucking Patrick Stewart! Give him all the awards!

#35 – Castle in the Sky (Hayao Miyazaki, 1986)

Now Castle in the Sky, meanwhile, avoids all the problems of Nausicaa. It’s paced beautifully. Feeling like an epic 2 and a half hour film within the span of only 126 minutes (And I mean that in a GREAT way), it’s got everything: Humor, action, romance, character, unbelievable animation, and it just feels epic. What can I say but… how have you not seen it yet?

#36 – Close-Up (Abbas Kiorastami, 1990)

Melding documentary and fiction in the most unbelievable of ways, Close-Up is surprisingly fascinating and heart-wrenching. The ideas the film posits about identity, fact, fabrication, and cinema in general are certainly head-scratchers, but even if you’re not into that, you can bear witness to a wonderfully beautiful character arc that feels intimate and personal, only enhanced by the philosophical quandaries.

#37 – Certified Copy (Abbas Kiorastami, 2010)

And speaking of heart-wrenching Kiarostami movies: GOOD GOD, THIS MOVIE. Talk about a perfect melding of enigmatic intellectualism and big-hearted romanticism. Binoche is astounding, as is William Shimmell. Their exquisite performances make both the romance and the philosophy about identity work so well. Again, if you haven’t seen these two Kiarostami gems yet, what’s stopping you?!

#38 – Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (Fritz Lang, 1924)

Is Fritz Lang one of if not the most important filmmaker of all time? Like his films or not, yes he is. That’s a basic fact. Crafting the first true epics (And I mean EPICS) of the sci-fi (Metropolis) and fantasy genres, his films still manage to hold up because they’re just so masterfully crafted, utilizing the silent cinema to its fullest potential. And his fantasy epic Die Nibelungen, which is 5 hours and split into two parts, personifies all of his best qualities.

#39 – The Turin Horse (Bela Tarr, 2012)

I’m having a hard time thinking of a bleaker film than The Turin Horse. Maybe in terms of subject matter, there are bleaker things to watch, but few of them manage to actually personify bleak. Shot in grim black and white, with the sounds of harsh, apocalyptic winds howling all day and night, and with only one melancholic droning sound as the score, The Turin Horse is art-house cinema at its most uncompromising. Composed of only about 30 or something shots, glacially paced, and at two and a half hours length, there’s still something about Bela Tarr’s near-silent film that’s strangely mesmerizing. Perhaps it’s the mood, perhaps it’s the subdued performances, perhaps it’s the brilliant cinematography, and perhaps it’s how unrelentingly grim it is. Either way, I was enthralled the whole way through, even if it was deliberately overstaying its welcome.

#40 – A Lake (Philippe Grandrieux, 2008)

<i>A Lake:</i> Rolling Bank of Fog Can’t Hide Transparent Flaws

Now if you want an awful example of an uncompromising art-house film, look no further than A Lake, which I reviewed for Movie Mezzanine. You can read my review by clicking on this link, but here’s the short version: It isn’t very good. Did that come across? It isn’t very good.

#41 – Like Someone in Love (Abbas Kiarostami, 2013)

It took a while for me to really get this movie…in fact, I didn’t really get what it was going for until the very end. And now I can’t get it off my mind. I don’t wanna give away anything about it, but fans of riddles and Kiarostami’s other works should love it all the same.

#42 – Gone With the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)

It was my first time seeing this movie, and it was on a big screen. And god damn did it live up to its lofty reputation. Gone With the Wind is not at all what I expected it to be. Less of an epic and more of an epic melodrama featuring one of the most intentionally unlikable protagonists that you can’t help but root for thanks to Vivien Leigh’s brilliant performance, it’s visually astounding even after almost 75 years and breathtaking in its ability to make us care about such a shrew of a human being. And it was on the big screen for Chrissakes. If it’s available to you, that’s the only way to see it.

#43 – A Good Day to Die Hard (John Moore, 2013)

The original Die Hard is my favorite action film of all time, and all of its sequels are either fairly entertaining or really good in their own right. So when I heard this sucked, I was prepared to expect the worst. And yeah, it’s not particularly good at all, but it’s far from the badness I was expecting. There were a few action scenes that I liked, and it’s at least competently directed. All the problems are script-related, but the actual performance, action, visuals, etc. range from decent to kind of good. Still, that script truly is atrocious, but it wasn’t enough for me to call the whole movie so.

#44 – Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978) (Second Viewing)

#45 – Die Nibelungen: Kreimhild’s Revenge (Fritz Lang, 1924)

The second part of Lang’s epic is even more satisfying than the first, with intense melodrama, an incredible (for the time) battle sequence, and a fitting finale that ties up all loose ends. Silent film fans, this is a can’t-miss.

#46 – The Slender Man (AJ Meadows, 2013)

No matter how over-used he’s gotten, I’ve still found the Slender Man myth inherently creepy. The design, the backstory, everything. I still really love Marble Hornets, the found-footage YouTube web-series that popularized it, and I waas willing to give a movie a chance when I heard a Kickstarter funded project got backing. Sadly, however, this film written and directed by film critics AJ Meadows and Jeremy Kirk is exceedingly generic, unscary, and fails to capitalize on the Slender Man myth. That being said, they put up the whole movie for free on YouTube, so if you’re that interested, you could check it out. But I would not recommend it in the slightest.

#47 – The Red Balloon (Albert Lamorisse, 1956)

Perhaps the best short film ever created. A moving, heartfelt ode to companionship that still holds up to this day thanks to some of the best visual storytelling imaginable. I tear up during its heartbreakingly gorgeous finale every time.

#48 – Dark Skies (Scott Stewart, 2013)

<b><i>Dark Skies</i></b> Is Better Than You Thought It Would Be

I was fully expecting this to suck. And it turned out not to! In fact, I thought it was very good! Here’s my review of it on Movie Mezzanine.

#49 – How to Survive a Plague (David France, 2012)

Chronicling a decade of the AIDS epidemic and the LGBT community’s attempts to combat it, this is a surprisingly interesting and sometimes moving documentary that’s filled with archival footage that does a fantastic, brilliant job of educating us of the struggles of that time period and giving a great sense of the people involved. Deserving of its Oscar nomination.

#50 – Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962) (Second Viewing)

#51 – The Invisible War (Kirby Dick, 2012)

And speaking of good docs, The Invisible War is a searing indictment of the American military that allows its US soldiers to be raped frequently and on occasion. The doc has its share of problems, like the fact that it feels much too long and sometimes repetitive, but this is nonetheless disturbing and could bring some serious change.

#52 – Hannah and Her Sisters (Woody Allen, 1986)

I’m not fluent in the filmography of Woody Allen, having only seen three of his other films, so take it with a grain of salt that this is my favorite one of his that I’ve seen so far, and a simply gorgeous and fantastic experience. Novelistic, funny, and even a little heartbreaking, it’s a deeply humanistic portrait of a cast of dozens that gives all of the characters the right amount of development and room to breathe. Just beautiful and sweet in every regard.

#53 – The Last Exorcism: Part II (Ed Gass-Donnelly, 2013)

<b><i>The Last Exorcism: Part II:</i></b> The Fun of a Straight-To-DVD Sequel in Your Multiplex

Stay far away from this piece of shit as soon as possible. Trust me. I reviewed it.

#54 – Stoker (Chan-Wook Park, 2013)

<b><i>Stoker:</i></b> Korean Style Meets American Gothic in Beautifully Depraved Coming-of-Age Tale

Anyone worried that Korean auteur Chan-Wook Park (OldboyLady Vengeance) would lose his disturbing luster in his transition to American filmmaking should leave all their worries behind. Stoker is bloody brilliant, and further displays that Park simply can not be messed with no matter what language he’s working under. Deeply disturbing, yet in its own way kind of beautiful, this coming-of-age gothic fairy tale feels classic, incredibly stylish, and chillingly creepy. Do not miss out on this one. For the love of god, seek it out as soon as possible.

#55 – Men in Black 3 (Barry Sonnenfeld, 2012)

“Did we really need a third movie from this series?” I asked myself when the trailers came out for this threequel. Because of this I skipped out on it when it came out in theaters and now I regret it. Men in Black 3 is actually very good, almost shockingly, surprisingly good. It manages to bring fresh life to the characters and material thanks to its time-travel premise and contains a surplus of imagination in its alien designs and even a few of its sci-fi concepts. My favorite aspect was the character of Griffin, an alien who could see every possible variation in the future. He’s played by Michael Stuhlbarg from A Serious Man, meaning he’s fucking awesome. Further proof that Stuhlbarg deserves to be in pretty much every movie from now on. That plus the fact that the movie is just very fun helps as well. Incredibly solid blockbuster entertainment.

Whew. That was a lot of movies. I’ll do my best to keep up to date on this thing more frequently. Can’t make promises, but still.

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Recent Movie Round-Up 1/9/2013

On the first Recent Movie Round-Up of the New Year we have: Robin Williams goes to heaven, little kids fighting the forces of the undead, the French Die Hard, a classic epic, and the most mysterious musical figure of our time. Kinda. MOVIES AHOY!

#1 – What Dreams May Come (Vincent Ward, 1998)

When I originally saw this film years ago, I was awed by its gorgeous, breathtaking visuals depicting Heaven and Hell. A couple years or so later, I read the book it was based on, by Richard Matheson, and was moved by its wonderful prose and gorgeous emotion. Earlier, the film was on cable and I decided to give it a rewatch. I remembered liking it, so why not. Little did I realize that there was one thing I didn’t notice when I first saw this film: The horrendous script. It was shocking to me how it was blocked from my mind, but this is a very poorly written film. Weird character twists, meandering pacing, and shockingly awful uses of flashbacks that break up the flow of numerous scenes. And what’s worse is that a majority of the dialogue is exposition, something that worked in the novel but is poorly translated on screen.

A shame because director Vincent Ward’s visual eye is astounding, and perfectly captures the beauty of Matheson’s original prose in increasingly inventive ways. He isn’t to blame for the film’s faults, for he tries so very hard. Instead it is screenwriter Ronald Bass (Who previously wrote Rain Man, a good film, and then lesser films such as The Joy Luck Club and Amelia), who can’t keep a sense of flow in this story and taints the original story with odd character twists that make no sense. Should be seen only as a visual experience.

#2 – Paranorman (Sam Fell and Chris Butler, 2012)

I already reviewed and praised this film enough so I won’t spend too much time on it. But one thing that doesn’t get nearly enough credit is just how smart the script to Paranorman is. Like Looper and Cloud Atlas, two of the other great films of 2012, Paranorman imbues almost every single plot point with theme, making everything important to the character arcs and the overarching message. This is a rare film about anti-bullying that’s surprisingly very two-sided, showcasing how abuse can damage youths, while also acknowledging that punishing those very bullies doesn’t make things any better. Either way, this is a terrific film that more people need to watch. The climax of the film is deeply moving.

#3 – Sleepless Night (Frederic Jardin, 2011)

Coined as the “French Die Hard“, Sleepless Night is a relentless, frenetic cat-and-mouse thriller that takes place almost entirely in one location, and makes great use of it too. Following a somewhat crooked cop who has to save his son from druglords, Vincent (Played by the wonderfully intense Tomer Sisley) will stop at nothing to save him. Sleepless Night doesn’t break new ground in the action thriller genre, but Jesus H. Christ does it to a damn good job of executing it.

Director Frederic Jardin hits the ground running and doesn’t slow down, even for a second, continually gaining momentum and always providing something interesting. The characters are all fairly well-drawn, enough to the point that you can distinguish each one’s motivations and backstories, which leads to some cool “reversals” when we learn that Vincent may not be the only cop with a secret. The action sequences manage to balance that line of being shot in a chaotic shaky cam while still being edited well-enough to create comprehensible fight sequences. It’s astonishing to me that this film makes for a better Taken sequel than the actual Taken sequel we got last year.

Simply put: Anyone who just wants a very, very solid action thriller needs to seek this baby out.

#4 – Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)

Yup, this was my first time seeing this movie. Yeah, go ahead and bite me, I guess. I thought I knew what to expect going into it: A huge, desert war epic about T.E. Lawrence’s escapades in Arabia during WWI. What I wasn’t expecting was one of the most fascinating character studies ever put to film, with one of the most nuanced performances I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Peter O’Toole and director David Leane takes the typical war epic and turn it into something more: A portrait of a man in crisis; of identity, sexuality, importance, belonging, etc.

Simply put, it lived up to its reputation, and more. And seeing it on a large monitor with 4k resolution was an astounding thing to behold.

#5 – Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul, 2012)

Searching for Sugar Man is a documentary that starts out with this simple premise: A musician named Rodriguez made two albums. They were beloved by all the recording studios and music executives across the industry, but it sold squat in America. However, what people didn’t know was that they were gangbusters in South Africa, and Rodriguez was more popular than Elvis in that part of the world. So why isn’t this man a superstar? Because it is believed that he committed suicide on stage in a bad concert.

It starts like that, and then…becomes something more. I dare not say what it is, but let it be known that not since Dear Zachary has a documentary moved me to tears the same way that this one did. Searching for Sugar Man is an incredible, profoundly beautiful experience about the enduring power of art and music that should be experienced by everybody. Fascinating, heart-breaking, and poetic beyond belief. Seek this baby out.

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