Thursday, December 17, 2015

Project 365: Movies 247 - 253

247 / 365: Beowulf (2007)
© Paramount Pictures

This is a CGI-capture animated adaptation of the Old English novel every single one of us was forced to read senior year in British Lit. The tale of the hero Beowulf (Ray Winstone) and his deal with a serpent-like, woman-like... devil-like creature to become the greatest King the world has ever known. After defeating and killing the monstrous creature, Grendel (Crispin Glover), who has wrecked havoc for decades by killing soldiers and countrymen, Beowulf encounters Grendel's Mother (Angelina Jolie), who offers him unprecedented, Kingly power if he provides her with a child to love—not unlike the deal she made that resulted in Grendel many years before with current, sickly King 
Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins). Drunk on power, Beowulf obliges without hesitation.

I... didn't hate this as much as I was expecting. I'd avoided it upon its release, mainly because it frankly looked terrible, and neither my love for Angelina Jolie nor my life-consuming obsession with Idina Menzel (who sings the song during the end credits) could convince me to buy a ticket. When this is the best looking option on your Netflix recommendations, someone needs to update their algorithm. But turns out, maybe Netflix knows me better than I thought, because I walked away having had a pretty fun time.

Don't misunderstand. There are a lot of flaws here. This animation style that Robert Zemeckis loves so darn much is weird, and it feels weird. Perhaps it would be less weird if he didn't make the characters look like the actors portraying them—because watching Jolie's mouth move weird every time she spoke will completely throw you off. The structure is also strange, repetitive at times and purposefully vague. But it's based on an 8th century poem that isn't the easiest subject matter to adapt. In the end, I enjoyed how adult this was (but again, animated nudity here is just creepy), and the action was very compelling. Great score, a solid attempt and probably the best adaptation of Beowulf to date.

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

248 / 365: King Kong (1933)
© RKO Radio Pictures

This movie was the #41 film on my AFI Top 100 countdown challenge. Read my full review here.

Rating: ★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: DVD
Seen Before: Yes

249 / 365: You've Got Mail (1998)
© Warner Bros.

My #1 movie pick on a day sick at home, I had three days this last month where I was seriously laid up with the worst cold I've had in awhile. During that time, I posted this post and watched every single flick on that list. And no movie brings me more happiness than this third (and final) Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks venture.

Kathleen Kelly (Ryan) lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and owns a precious children's book store called Around the Corner. She's blissfully dating an eccentric columnist, Frank Navasky (Greg Kinnear), and couldn't be happier. Except for the fact that she's carrying on a potentially non-platonic relationship with a man she met in an internet chat room. Sharing their day to day, she knows nothing about who he is or what he does—and it turns out that he is Joe Fox (Hanks), a savvy businessman about to launch a Fox Books superstore down the street from Kathleen's shop with the hopes of putting her out of business. Now mortal enemies in real life, the two begin to lean on each other through their email correspondence, begging the question: If they knew who the other was, could they ever overcome their hatred to find true love?

Alright, isn't that just a movie plot straight from the gods? Sure, this is in fact a remake of the classic 1940 Ernst Lubitsch romance, The Shop Around the Corner, but You've Got Mail successfully looked at the changing social climate of 1998, used the beauty, complexity, and anonymity of the internet, and leveraged it perfectly to execute a nearly perfect movie. In its own special way, it surpassed being original and stepped right over into masterful. To express the happiness this film elicits is to fall into hyperbole—though I'm likely a bit too late for that.

Late director Nora Ephron (and sister Delia) produced a magical script in this film. Ryan is at her best as Kathleen Kelly, a woman who is impossible not to love. She's hopeful and optimistic, but brave and strong and uncompromising, and watching her come into her own against a man she feels is doing her wrong is inspiring. Hanks once again brings that rich balance of adorable and ruthless, and together they're delicious.

One of the most enjoyable, feel-good movies to come out of the 20th century, right at its tail-end.

Rating: ★★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: Blu Ray
Seen Before: Yes

© 20th Century Fox

To love and understand this movie, you have to have seen the five incredible seasons of "The X-Files" TV series that lead up to it. There aren't many attempts from director and series creator, Chris Carter, to make it stand on its own, nor should there be. Unlike the unfortunate second film, I Want to Believe, that followed 10 years later, Carter and team were confident enough in their material to not have to compromise for one minute in an attempt to find an audience. This was the late nineties: everyone was watching "X-Files"—and if you weren't, well... you're probably binging it on Netflix right now so you don't feel left out when the 6-part special series re-launches in January. My excitement is fever-inducing.

Fight the Future may have been filmed between seasons 4 and 5 of the show, but the events very strategically take place between seasons 5 and 6. The movie is rooted, though not marrow-deep, in the mythology aspect of the series, which split its time between "Monster of the Week" type episodes, and a complex, never-ending storyline about the government conspiracy to cover-up the presence of extra-terrestrial life on Earth. That's the "mythology," and it's wonderful and obnoxious and fascinating all at once. Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), our believer and the head of the X-Files unit at the FBI, and his partner Dr. Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), our skeptic and the one who made me think long and hard about the direction of my sexuality at a very young age. When it comes to Scully and Mulder... jury is still out on who I'd choose. I do like redheads.

This movie may be more fun for me than it might be for the casual viewer. It is everything I love about the series all rolled into one, shiny, big-budget package. When someone inside the FBI covers up an alien virus outbreak by bombing a building in Dallas, TX, Mulder goes against orders to discover the truth behind the cover-up, risking his and Scully's jobs in the process. Ever the loyal partner, Scully helps Mulder in his search for evidence, putting more than just their careers at risk. Bodies are dropping left and right, and the ominous Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis) is never far away, trying Mulder's patience and belief around every turn.

Cornfields, bees, spaceships, oh my! The cast has a few new faces, but it's all about our favorites here. Assistant Director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) is a bit underused for my taste here, but the on location shooting with Mulder and Scully, away from the confines of D.C., explain that. For this movie, it's all about Duchovny. It isn't Scully saving the day this time, though she certainly has her moments. In a world where TV shows just don't make movies like this anymore (i.e. mid-series movies that actually serve the plot), this is up there with one of the most successful. Mandatory viewing for any X-Phile out there, and a favorite on my top sick day movies list.

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

251 / 365: The Fifth Element (1997)
© Columbia Pictures

In the over-populated, galaxy-hopping 23rd century, the universe is threatened by a growing, ancient evil. When a spacecraft carrying humanity's only hope, the Fifth Element, is attacked and shot down by the Mangalore race of aliens at the request of an evil businessman, Zorg (Gary Oldman), scientists in New York City genetically reconstruct the being, with the government hoping to use it as a weapon against evil. Upon completion, it is revealed that the being has taken a human, female form—going by the name Leeloo (Milla Jovovich). Fearing for her life, she escapes the building and runs directly into a former elite forces major—and current taxi driver—Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis). Utterly bewildered, she tells him to take her to an old priest, Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm), who will help reunite her with the elemental stones that, together with the Fifth Element, can stop the darkness from swallowing the galaxy.

There are a lot of pieces of this story that come together in a very messy way to make a very entertaining flick. The different alien races, the sub-plots (Zorg's motives, Chris Tucker's incredible Ruby Rhod, the sweepstakes), and everyone tackling the same objective but separately, all of it makes for a bit of a cluster. But it's the fast-paced, sparky dialogue and colorful production design that cause us to ignore all that. This was the first time most of us had seen Milla Jovovich in anything, and we couldn't imagine a better person to play the quirky, awkward but bad-ass Leeloo. Willis is his usual cocky, capable self, again playing a tough guy that can deliver a punch line in the face of a lot of crazy.

Included among my sick day favorites, the stakes of The Fifth Element feel pretty darn high, maybe because the scope of the film is so massive. It might be cluttered, but it's hard to find a more playful movie—even the villain is goofy! Great fun, easy viewing.

Rating: ★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: DVD
Seen Before: Yes

252 / 365: Interview With the Vampire (1994)
© Warner Bros.

The shocking thing about this gaudy, decadent film claiming to be intellectual horror riddled with sexy movie stars is that, in the end, none of that has anything to do with why it's so successful and memorable. Unexpectedly compelling scripts and scenes led by actors who perfectly embody the passionate destruction these characters require. But what makes it most impressive is its decadent violence.

Based on Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles series, specifically the book Interview with the Vampire, about an 18th century plantation owner named Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt), who, in the year 1994, reveals to a reporter he's been stalking, David Malloy (Christian Slater), the epic story of his life—and his transformation into a creature of the night. At the center of his tale is love, lust, hunger, all overwhelming emotions that he blames on the one who made him, the soulless Lestat de Lioncourt (Tom Cruise). Unwilling to lose what's left of his humanity, Louis resists taking human lives as much as he can, but his hunger leads to his biting a young girl, Claudia (Kirsten Dunst). Desperate to save her life, Louis begs Lestat to transform her into a vampire.

Connected in their love-hatred for Lestat, Louis and the forever child-like Claudia become partners in an epic life, finding comfort in the others' company despite misery and loneliness plaguing them at every turn. For Louis, a life never-ending becomes an endless search for meaning, beginning with a quest to discover the existence of others of his kind. Some who may be able to shed light on how they've come to be.

In simplest terms, this is the story of a single vampire's life. It's narrated by Louis, slowly and steadily—a bit stunted, at first, which actually adds to his clear lack of hurry. What does he have to rush him? Brad Pitt has his Legends of the Fall hair and Tom Cruise plays a supporting role. Everyone is as they should be. Cruise gives a cackling, exuberant performance, and he plays Lestat as a dynamic foe with so much personality, it only highlights how little personality Louis has. It suits the film. My personal favorite, the movie's standout, is Dunst as young Claudia. This tragic, terrifying character is given the very best scenes, and Dunst conveys her misery at being unable to grow up into an adult woman with devastating transparency.

I may have spent my middle school years with cut-outs of hot vampires on my walls (this was before it was Twilight-cool), but with 20 years of clarity, this film still impresses me and brings me joy. Hence why it's a rainy day, sick day movie constant.

Rating: ★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: DVD
Seen Before: Yes

253 / 365: A League of Their Own (1992)
© Columbia Pictures

If you've read any of my reviews, you probably know by now that I have a soft spot for sports movies. Strange, considering in real life, I care very little for actual sports. It's a genre so under-appreciated, and I can't for the life of me understand why. For many viewers, even those critical of the common structure and the predictable climaxes, even they would have to admit that nothing affects us like watching someone—or multiple someones—achieve something glorious. And this one stands as likely the best hybrid of nostalgic period piece, female empowerment, and resounding sports triumph. Number 3 on my top sick day movies list.

On the eve of the induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame of the short-lived Women's Baseball League, one of the league's pioneers, Dottie Hinson (in her younger years, played by Geena Davis), looks back on her time playing professional ball while the country's men were off at war during World War II. Plucked from their Idaho home by a surly baseball scout (Jon Lovitz), the married Dottie and her kid-sister, Kit Keller (Lori Petty), make their way to tryout for the newly formed All-American Women's Baseball League, an attempt to keep the sport alive while the male professional ball players are overseas. Four teams are formed, and Dottie and Kit find themselves on the Rockford Peaches with a handful of other very different girls from all over the country. Reluctantly managed by former player and current drunkard, Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), Dottie finds herself transforming into the leader of the team when Dugan shows a lack of interest in them and the girls look to her for guidance.

As the girls fight an uphill battle in gaining respect from the crowd, the country, even the league's founders, their commitment to playing the game proves to everyone, even the snide Jimmy Dugan, that they can play just as hard and seriously as any man. Personal dramas, growth, and trials teach us about the Peaches, specifically, and it's wonderful meeting each woman and seeing how fully formed every character is in the film. Heavenly news reel montages make up a huge chunk of the movie's structure, highlighting the passage of time—it's also what makes it so easy to watch. We're inspired, moved, and energized consistently; an impressive feat for a sports film that tends to hold all the emotional surges until the end of the film.

Tom Hanks does incredible work here, and we don't even meet him until 30 minutes into the film. He's memorable and confounding, and watching Dugan shift from despising the girls (and himself) to adoring them is significant, informing a lot of the arc of the film. Where Jimmy transforms, so does the country. His association is just a little bit more personal. Davis and Petty as sisters Dottie and Kit is the core of the film's drama, adding something deeper with their familial competitiveness. But every girl has a moment. Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell bring comedy, Megan Cavanagh as Marla brings heart, Ann Cusack as the illiterate Shirley Baker brings sympathy—and a bit of perspective.

There isn't a moment of this movie that I don't love. It has energy and focus, and it gets us where we need to go with plenty of tension and excitement. I can't wait to show this one to my future daughter.

Rating: ★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched:  Blu Ray
Seen Before: Yes

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...