Sunday, November 29, 2015

Project 365: Movies 230 - 236

© Paramount Pictures

The only film in the Mission: Impossible series I didn't see in the theaters, my push to review them all meant I couldn't put off watching this one any longer. The "forgotten sequel," as I call it, may not be the most offensively terrible (that honor belongs to M:I2), but it certainly is the least memorable. Directed by animation favorite, Brad Bird, Ghost Protocol loses all of the thematic heft that the previous film established, built up, and left in its wake. New, shiny, and pretty faces aren't enough to revive this snooze-fest—which, granted, is still nice to look at.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is once again blamed for doing something he swears he didn't do. This time, it's blowing up the Kremlin, and the Russians are not too pleased about that. Separated from any IMF support, Hunt must assemble of rag-tag team of new people to find out who the real perpetrators are--and what they have planned next. Globe-trotting undercover switch-a-roos, and constantly breaking technology, mean that Hunt has to improvise to stay alive and race to stop a global, nuclear disaster.

Alright, so this plot makes no sense. There are things made complicated that, quite literally, could be handled immediately and simply while still producing in the same outcome. The broken tech becomes a joke at a certain point. The story is messy unnecessarily, and it's glaring. It's clear that Brad Bird was more interested in filming scenes that had weird, inexplicable tech centerpieces than actually making a cohesive, interesting movie. The film's best sequences take place in Dubai, with Ethan scaling the side of a giant hotel using electronic suction gloves—that inexplicably malfunction in what feels more like an attempt at humor than it does an attempt at tension—all leading to a logistically impressive car chase through a frightening dust storm. But then that's over and there's still an hour left of bomb defusing and espionage that doesn't feel important or dangerous. Oh! Except that cool stacked parking lot fight, that was kind of cool. Other than that? Lame City.

See this one because it's weird seeing only 4 out of 5 of the series, but don't expect too much. It's predecessor and successor are far superior in every single way, from the acting to the writing to, of course, the action. Ethan Hunt? I'll see you in Rogue Nation.

Rating: ★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: VUDU
Seen Before: No

231 / 365: The Philadelphia Story (1940)

This movie was the #44 film on my AFI Top 100 countdown challenge. Read my full review here.

Rating: ★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: DVD
Seen Before: Yes

232 / 365: Kill Me Three Times (2014)
© Magnet Releasing

I hated this movie and every character in it. Stupid and pointless. Kill Me Three Times wishes it was as gritty as In Bruges, but suffers from inexplicable uselessness. It's not edgy or interesting, and worst of all, Simon Pegg isn't even funny. And he tries hard to be, which indicates the tragically low caliber of the script, not his skills.

Pegg plays an assassin tasked with offing a woman (Alice Braga) suspected of cheating on her macho-asshole husband (Callan Mulvey). When he shows up to kill her, he witnesses two other people—a dentist desperate for cash (played by the other other Hemsworth brother, Luke) and his conniving wife (Teresa Palmer)—awkwardly attempting to do the same. From there, it all devolves into a mess of motivations that are questionable at best and nonexistent at worst. The violence is over the top for no reason other than for the filmmaker to be able to say it is, but halfway through the movie, you're already bored out of your mind, ready for all these dumb mix-ups and "oops" moments to be over. The movie never redeems itself, and even manages to make the whole thing worse by adding in an illogical 'twist,' if you could even call it that.

Save yourself the trouble. Watch a different Simon Pegg movie instead. Any of them, really.

Rating: ★ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: No

233 / 365: Mean Girls (2004)
© Paramount Pictures

Full disclosure, I named my dog Gretchen Weiners and she owns a pink shirt that says "My Mom Is So Fetch." She might be wearing it right now. Suffice it to say, I adore this movie to the point of not being able to explain how much without being hyperbolic. You might remember, when I gave my second 5-star review on the AFI Top 100 countdown, I described my thinking about assigning a "perfect" score: A movie may not be perfect, but I'd be damned if I could find a way to make it better. That's exactly how I feel about this Tina Fey-written piece of high school brilliance.

Lindsey Lohan is the best she ever was or will be as Cady Heron, a formerly home-schooled daughter of African zoologist parents, dropped into a clique-tastic Chicago high school, North Shore, during her junior year. A classic fish-out-of-water-turned-land-predator story, Cady makes fast friends with art nerd Janice (Lizzy Caplan) and her gay bestie, Damian (Daniel Franzese), who teach her everything she'll ever need to know about navigating the social landscape of the school. They also warn her about avoiding "The Plastics"—the most popular girls in school made up of meanest of mean girls, Regina George (Rachel McAdams), and her cronies, rich snob Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) and dumb-as-rocks Karen (Amanda Seyfried). When Cady and her "new-ness" catches Regina's evil eye, Janice convinces Cady to infiltrate the group as a joke to gain intel on how to knock Regina down; that is until the innocent and unknowing Cady begins to transform into a mean girl herself.

The fact that there are still people out there living and breathing in this world that haven't seen Mean Girls is mind-boggling to me, but it's sadly a reality we all must accept. They exist, and my boyfriend was one of them. That has been remedied, obviously, and now it's our duty as citizens of this great nation to share the word of Mean Girls with humanity. Because publicly not understanding "You go, Glen Coco!" should be considered a major social faux pas. The script may well be a masterpiece, but the talent on screen is who delivers the goods. Lohan's potential for greatness was evident every moment she came on screen, and the main and supporting actors alike give scene-stealing performances.

Likely the most influential movie to come out of this century's first decade, and easily one of the most quotable of all time. An all-time favorite of many, including myself. If you have never seen this, what are you waiting for? Are you trying to make some kind of non-conformist statement? Because we get it, you're an independent thinker who has nothing to prove. But at this point, you're only hurting yourself.

Rating: ★★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: DVD
Seen Before: Yes

234 / 365: My Man Godfrey (1936)
© Universal Studios

A couple of socialite sisters, Cornelia (Gail Patrick) and Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard), go to the city dump in search of a "Forgotten Man" as part of a charity scavenger hunt. When they come across the homeless Godfrey (William Powell), Irene persuades him to help her win. In thanks, she offers him a job as a butler, and hilarity ensues as the down-the-earth Godfrey is forced to endure the unpredictable antics of the entire Bullock family, which include childish hysterics, fake engagements, and constant boozing. To everyone's surprise, however, Godfrey may be the one with the most secrets to hide.

Unexpected reveals make for a more dynamic story than most screwball comedies can offer. The more I see this, the more I find myself identifying with Cornelia—similar enough to Godfrey that they're overly suspicious of each other, and they view their surroundings in similar ways. The knowing glances between them edge on dangerous, both observant in ways the rest of the family isn't, and how they use (or leverage) what they see is what differentiates them.

The joy of this film is in its dizzying verbal acrobatics. Godfrey sparring with the malicious Cornelia or avoiding the affections of the dramatic, flighty Irene, and despite the speedy wrap-up—and Godfrey's entrapment?—at the ending, the whole package is a fantastically good time. Lombard is cited as a comedic genius for a reason. The likes of Katharine Hepburn could never have played a role like Irene and still remain likable. It would turn out tragically like Bringing Up Baby (I know, I'm sorry, I can't not rag on that movie if given the chance). Lombard understood timing like few others of the era, male or female. Powell's straight-man, dry wit is the picture of perfection alongside her manic derangement.

That all being said, the movie has its issues. The plot is convenient and the characters uncomplicated. The level of Bullock "crazy" edges on obnoxious and grating on more than one occasion, but it backs off at just the right moments. Director Gregory La Cava plays with our patience and tests those limits consistently, relying on Powell's calm nature to maintain balance and a shred of dignity. Along with His Girl Friday and The Thin Man, this is up there with my top picks for classic comedies. A must for any fan taking a look at early cinematic laughs that enjoy sharp dialogue over a mallet to the head.

Rating: ★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: Hulu Plus
Seen Before: Yes

235 / 365: Laura (1944)
© 20th Century Fox

A mystery of deceit, jealousy, and passion, this classic noir was new to me, as I knew very little about it. The story of Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), whose shocking murder opens the film. When detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) arrives to investigate, he begins to uncover the truth about a fascinating women whose power over the men in her life raises alarms.

An influential advertising executive at the time of her death, McPherson interviews Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), an older newspaper columnist who recounts his mentorship of Laura and their devoted, yet platonic relationship. She gave him companionship, and he lent her his fame and connections. Learning of her complicated dalliances with other men, including Laura's fiance, playboy Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), Mark must push past his own feelings that are developing for a woman he knows he can never have. He must discover what each man is hiding, and how anyone could have harmed someone as captivating as Laura.

The stakes are high, and the danger is palpable. Through McPherson's interviews of all those in Laura's life, the film flashes back to show us the kind of woman Laura really was. Immediately, you see why everyone was in love with her. Confident and strong, Tierney (and her perfect bone structure) plays this role with uncompromising dignity. It's impossible not to sit a little taller when you're watching her on screen. She has a power that you want to emulate. Dana Andrews is your standard noir detective, but he's less shadowed and haunted than, say... a Sam Spade character. He's a bit less effective, as a result, since he just can't compete with Laura in terms of interest.

With so few characters to keep track of, the story is allowed to be more complex, more intricate. Oh, and so is everything you see on screen. This film is set designed within an inch of its life, and it is BEA-U-TI-FUL. From the glassware to the curtains to the sloping archways to the tufted couches... not a single visual piece is overlooked. You could easily watch Laura with the sound off and still walk away from it feeling inspired. But since you don't have to do that, you'll also be able to enjoy a mystery that is hardly predictable, and offers plenty of twists that mess with your expectations.

Rating: ★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: No

236 / 365: A Night at the Roxbury (1998)
© Paramount Pictures

Two like-minded, loser brothers, Steve (Will Ferrell) and Doug Butabi (Chris Kattan), spend their nights driving from club to club, working on their synchronized dance moves and dreaming about opening up their own dance club. But when they're turned away from the most exclusive club in Los Angeles, The Roxbury, they make it their mission to get in under any circumstances. A car accident and a couple of mistaken identities later, and the boys are on the fast track to nightclub super stardom.

This movie is painful. More specifically, watching Steve and Doug is painful. It's hard to like trainwreck characters like them when they're pushing women over in clubs and smashing stuff during temper tantrums. The plot feels like an afterthought, especially when every side character is a confusing amalgamation of stereotypes (particularly the women). Steven and Doug live in a fantasy world, and it would have been far more effective if every other character in the film didn't. But they're all just as simple-minded and dumb as them. As is usually the case with films based on brilliant SNL sketches, some are hits (Wayne's World, Blues Brothers, Superstar), some are misses (It's Pat, Ladies Man). Count this among the misses.

I must admit, though, that I got excited when I noticed they filmed a bunch of sequences (in front of the Butabi brothers' father's fake flower shop) right next to where I work in West Hollywood. I'd notice that IHOP on Santa Monica Blvd anywhere.

Rating: ★½ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: No

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