April Movies Round-Up

I have been putting off writing the April summary simply because I watched a ton of movies last month…

  1. Young Adult
  2. The Gate
  3. The Long Goodbye
  4. The Ballad of Jack and Rose
  5. Hunger Games
  6. Gladiator
  7. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
  8. These Amazing Shadows
  9. Repo Man
  10. The Thing [1982]
  11. Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia
  12. Peeping Tom
  13. Days of Heaven
  14. Memento
  15. Wings of Desire
  16. Shame
  17. Attack the Block
  18. The Thin Blue Line
  19. Ace in the Hole
  20. I’m Still Here
  21. Into the Abyss
  22. Real Steel
  23. Dog Day Afternoon
  24. Cabin in the Woods
  25. Slugs
  26. Joe Vs. the Volcano
  27. Phunny Business: A Black Comedy
  28. Big Fan
  29. Kinyarwanda
  30. Casablanca
  31. On Borrowed Time
  32. Wild and Weird
  33. A Separation
  34. Higher Ground
  35. Patang
  36. Take Shelter
  37. Citizen Kane
  38. Paris, Texas

Phew!

Other than the awesome adventure that was Ebertfest, I also passed the 100 movie milestone with Kinyarwanda. That officially puts me 1/3 of the way to my goal for 2012 to watch 300 movies. So I’m actually a bit ahead of schedule now. This month also saw my first 1 star review of the year (Slugs).

April Statistics:

Movies watched / Days in the Month = 38/30 = ~127%
My Average Movie Rating = ~4.079 out of 5 (8.158/10)
Average IMDB rating = ~6.8
Average Rotten Tomatoes rating = ~72%
First time viewings = 28

Method of watching:

  • Blu-Ray = 5
  • DVD = 4
  • Netflix (DVD rental) = 3
  • Netflix Instant Watch = 12
  • Theater = 14
Year to Date Statistics:

Movies watched / Days elapsed = 109/120 = ~91%
My average movie rating = ~3.92 out of 5
Movies remaining vs. Days remaining = 191 vs. 246
Percentage complete = 109/300 = ~36%

Method of watching:

  • Amazon Instant = 1
  • Blu-Ray = 29
  • DVD = 16
  • Netflix (DVD rental) = 12
  • Netflix Instant = 35
  • Theater = 15
  • TV / TiVO = 1

Thanks for reading!

Paris, Texas (4/30/12)

Paris, TexasMovie One Hundred Nine

Paris, Texas is a beautiful film from Wim Wenders about a man looking to make his life complete.

From the start, Paris, Texas is a slow building film about realistic characters living their lives. Travis (Harry Dean Stanton), a seemingly mute amnesiac, is wandering the desert and ends up at a roadside doctor. The doctor finds his brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), who travels from L.A. to get Travis. We learn that Travis’ son has been living with Walt and his wife, who adopted him when Travis and his wife disappeared one day. The film follows Travis on his journey to find Paris, Texas and reconnect with his son.

The last Wim Wenders film I wrote about (Wings of Desire) was a beautiful film, both visually and audibly, but to me, Paris, Texas is a more touching, personal film. For the first hour, you may be wondering what could possibly happen in the film and how it could even end, but the final sequence is so moving that when the film ends you will still be reeling from what you just witnessed. For me, it’s a film that stays with you long after the end credits begin rolling.

As a huge fan of Criterion Collection releases, Paris, Texas is one of the best sets available. Aside from being a fantastic movie, the special features are plentiful and the sound and picture of the Blu-Ray is spectacular. While the film is not for everyone, those willing to have a slow paced character film will likely be touched and I think it may jump to some favorites lists. The first time I watched this, the ending was sort of interrupted and while I was still quite impressed with the film, a second viewing was necessary and an absolute joy to get to watch again. I look forward to my third time viewing Paris, Texas.

I give it 5 wandering Travis’ out of 5.

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Casablanca (4/26/12)

CasablancaMovie One Hundred One

Behind Citizen Kane, Casablanca is seen by many to be the greatest movie ever made.

First off, if you haven’t seen Casablanca already, shame on you. It’s a must-see film. Casablanca is one of those films that seems entirely effortless. The actors deliver their lines flawlessly and the script itself lends cinematic history with more memorable lines than any other film. When someone says “here’s lookin’ at you, kid” you know that Humphrey Bogart said it in Casablanca. To see Casablanca is always a treat, but to see it on the big screen was absolutely amazing.

The plot of Casablanca centers around Rick (Bogart) who owns an aptly named club, Rick’s Café Américan. Casablanca is a sort of refuge city since it is still controlled by France, not Germany, with many people leaving to the US from there. Soon Rick comes face to face with an ex-lover, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), and her fugitive husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). As Rick and Ilsa reconnect over their lost love, tensions rise around Laszlo between a French and Nazi officer (Claude Rains and Conrad Veidt, respectively).

As for the restoration, also available on Blu-Ray, it is remarkably well done. For the 70th anniversary of the film, the picture is crisp and the sound is clear. To see this, we actually skipped out on one of the films from Ebertfest, but it was well worth it. I was concerned that Casablanca would not have held up as well as I remembered, but my fears were assuaged within minutes. While very specific to a period in time, Casablanca is timeless.

There is not much I can say about Casablanca that hasn’t been said 1000 times over in the past 70 years. It’s a film that rewards multiple viewings but never gets tiresome.

I give it 5 “As Time Goes By“s out of 5.

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Slugs (4/24/12)

SlugsMovie Ninety Six

I’m not going to sugarcoat it; Slugs is a terrible movie.

While browsing Netflix Instant Watch with Julian before leaving for Ebertfest, we happened on Slugs. I had mis-remembered a scene that had scared me as a kid and we thought we might be in for a so-bad-its-good horror movie. Oh, we were wrong.

Slugs starts off with a series of people encountering the slugs and possibly getting killed. I say “possibly” because there is no violence on screen, it always cuts away to the next group. After about 10-15 minutes of these cutaways we had two questions: 1) Would we get to see any slug-related violence? 2) Is the whole movie going to be random people getting eaten by slugs or is there a plot?

Turns out there is something that sort of resembles a plot in Slugs but it’s pitiful…Along with the acting, script, sets, production values, et cetera. The first half of the film you may get some enjoyment out of based on the sheer absurdity of it, but the second half of the film takes itself so deadly serious that it practically put us to sleep. Unless you really enjoy terrible horror movies, and I admit they can be fun, Slugs fails at even being enjoyable enough to make fun of as it drags on.

I give it 1 yes, this really happens in the movie out of 5.

(this is my first 1 star review, for anyone keeping track)

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Cabin in the Woods (4/24/12)

Cabin in the WoodsMovie Ninety Five

Cabin in the Woods is fantastic film and fresh take on a somewhat stagnating genre.

It is almost impossible to write anything worthwhile about Cabin in the Woods without spoiling the plot. I say this because I’ve been wrestling in my head about how to actually write this post, make you want to see the film (if you haven’t already) but keep the element of surprise in the hands of the film itself. I haven’t come up with a good way to do that.

The best way to enjoy Cabin in the Woods is to just watch it. Watch it without knowing a single thing about the plot. Go in thinking that you’re going to see some teenagers at a cabin (in the woods) and they are going to get killed. Even with all the hype surrounding this one I managed to stay away from any spoilers and I was so very thankful for it.

Cabin in the Woods has been compared to movies like Scream, in that it takes a new take on the horror genre but I think that comparison isn’t fair to Cabin in the Woods. At its core, it is a horror movie but it’s also not. My wife wouldn’t go see this one with me because she detests horror movies but this is the anti-horror-movie horror movie. There are few scary elements and buckets of gore, but the film itself denies convention.

I hope I danced around it enough for people that haven’t seen it and said enough of it for people that have. I will say this again, see Cabin in the Woods for yourself and try to go in with a clean slate. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I give it 4 “teens” in a cabin…in the woods out of 5.

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Dog Day Afternoon (4/23/12)

Dog Day AfternoonMovie Ninety Four

In simple terms, Dog Day Afternoon is a film about a bank robbery. When the layers start peeling back, however, we see a much bigger picture. Truly one of the great films by the master, Sidney Lumet.

Dog Day Afternoon is a film without a backstory. It opens with the bank robbery and unfolds from there. Things do not go as planned from the start, which is actually riveting. As we learn more about Sonny (Pacino) and his accomplice, Sal (John Cazale), the more we root for them. I don’t wish to spoil a major portion of the plot, but the reason for Sonny’s robbery was enormously progressive for 1975 and would still make headlines today. In fact, the story is based on real events taken from a Life magazine article from a 1972 bank robbery

What is undoubtedly his best performance in my eyes, Al Pacino carries Dog Day Afternoon to great heights with the assistance of Lumet and the rest of the cast. He is charismatic, smart, charming, and keeps a mostly cool head while things crumble beneath him. Considering how much goes awry from their plan, I was rooting for his escape even though I feared it was unlikely. The ending keeps you guessing until the very end, though.

In Lumet’s book, Making Movies, he states that much of the dialogue is improvised and in certain scenes I think that shows more than others. Particularly the scenes between the negotiator and Sonny, we rarely see movie stars fumble words but in this context it’s an added sense of realism and humanity to the characters.

Dog Day Afternoon should be the movie people look to Al Pacino’s career for, not Godfather or Scarface, though he is excellent in both. Pacino IS Sonny in this film. When a performance that great comes along, it ends up being the rest of the movie that has to play catch-up, and Dog Day Afternoon keeps the pace.

I give it 5 “Attica!”s out of 5.

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Real Steel (4/22/12)

Real SteelMovie Ninety Three

Real Steel is tantamount to giving Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots their own movie, much like the new Battleship film, but I suppose it goes a bit deeper than that, but not much. I also think it’s worth pointing out that the Amazon Instant video description says the following for the plot synopsis of Real Steel: “A riveting white-knuckle action ride that’ll leave you cheering!” Ohhh…Kay?

The film itself has Hugh Jackman as a down-on-his-luck former boxer that essentially got replaced with robot boxers and decided to fight them. That setup doesn’t sound quite as stupid as its happening in the film, but its close. He finds out he has a son whose mother died and gets paid to keep custody of him for a few months while his new parents vacation. During that time they bond and so forth and along the way a bunch of robots fight and stuff.

Let’s face it, Real Steel is not a smart movie at all and I don’t think it really ever intends to be. The only reason I kept watching it was because I knew the 10 year old version of me would freaking love this movie. That nostalgia kept me entangled in the flimsy plot all the way to the end where I found myself actually enjoying the film. There are plenty of groan-inducing moments and I shook my head in disbelief/disgust several times, but by the end I wanted that inevitable happy ending. In that way, Real Steel is a success.

If you go into Real Steel with no expectations, you may walk away thinking it was pretty decent. If you go in expecting anything more than a stupid action movie with a manipulative plot about an orphaned kid and his dad then you may think Real Steel is just awful. While I certainly enjoyed parts of it, it’s not something I think I could ever watch again.

I give it 3 when the kid started dancing I almost turned the film off out of 5.

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Into the Abyss (4/21/12)

Into the AbyssMovie Ninety Two

Into the Abyss is a documentary from the great Werner Herzog about a triple homicide case and the two men charged.

The film centers around Michael Perry and Jason Burkett, both convicted of separate murders in October of 2001. The two men (boys at the time) apparently broke into a woman’s house to steal her car, ended up killing her and later killing her son and his friend. The two deny their own involvement and blame the other one entirely. Perry is on death row while Burkett is serving life. The interviews with Perry came just eight days before his execution.

While the content of Into the Abyss is powerful, the message is confused or muddled. In an interview with Perry, Herzog himself states that he does not believe in the death penalty. We see both sides of the justice system, there is no bias in the interviews, but by the end I was wondering what the point was. The case covered is very interesting but does not even seem to be the main focus for the film, even though it largely is. The details of the case got a bit confusing for me by the end, as well, but that may be more a fault of mine than the film’s.

Herzog’s documentaries typically transcend more than the subject matter at hand and they are tremendously powerful, but Into the Abyss just did not do it for me. I can’t help but feel the film, while enjoyable, was a bit directionless. The subject matter is interesting enough to hold Into the Abyss above water, as is Herzog’s direction.

I give it 3 insane woman meeting inmates to get pregnant out of 5.

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Ebertfest Wrap-Up

Eberfest Golden ThumbWith Eberfest nearly a week behind me, I have finally found the time to finish my blogs about the experience. I had never been to Ebertfest before, despite it only being a two and a half hour drive from me. I can safely say I will be coming back for the foreseeable future. I had never even visited the University of Illinois campus in Champaign-Urbana before, so I was going into this experience completely blind. The town itself was fairly small, but the university is so large that it makes the town feel sprawling. It’s not quite suburban feeling, but it’s not quite rural either.

Everyone we met during the fest was incredibly nice. In general, the crowd was older, which was a bit surprising to us. With such a large university a short walk away, we were expecting a college crowd, but it was more of a faculty crowd. I think this led to a more civilized experience, though. We were able to get in, save our seats (something that is thankfully standard practice) and talk to people around us with ease.

The one major downside to the whole week was the weather, unfortunately. In Chicago, we are used to weather that radically changes daily and April weather can be 90 degrees or 40 degrees and both would see normal even if they occurred in the same week. We were met with cold, wind, and rain, unfortunately. Waiting in line outside for over an hour in 50 degree rainy weather is no fun at all.

Watching three movies a day and being in a theater for over 12 hours a day was not nearly as exhausting as it may seem, but I was beat at the end. The only movie we skipped was Terri, which I had already watched…But we skipped it to go see Casablanca down the road on the big screen, so I would say we made the right choice. Luckily, all the Q&A sessions are streaming online, so while we didn’t get to experience it live, we were able to experience it.

If I had to count my regrets, they would be few. I only wish I had been a bit more prepared with food and drink. One can only have so much junk theater food before going crazy, and every day after the 2nd movie was wrapping up around 6 or 6:30, we were ravenously hungry. I also wish I had mingled a bit more, I didn’t physically meet as many people as I would have liked, including some of the other panelists and critics.

The films:

All in all, it was a magnificent experience. It makes me want to try other film festivals, but a part of me knows there was something magical about this one. I will patiently count down the days until next year. Thank you Roger and Chaz, and everyone else involved in making something like this become reality.

And thank you all for reading along with me. I have several other blogs to post to catch up on, including the April recap, so bear with me!

Ebertfest Day Five – Citizen Kane

Citizen KaneIf you enjoy watching movies even a little bit, then Citizen Kane is required viewing as far as I’m concerned. I would hope that everyone in attendance for the last viewing of Ebertfest had seen the film at least once because we viewed the film with Roger Ebert’s commentary playing over.

Citizen Kane is known as the best movie ever made and I will not debate this (mostly because I agree) but I will say that even after seeing the film at least half a dozen times, Roger Ebert’s commentary blew my mind the first time I listened to it. It is an incredibly detailed commentary of the film and unless you are experienced in critical film analysis it will probably blow your mind.

Ideally, we would have watched the film in its entirety and then immediately watched the commentary because Roger’s track is so packed that I don’t think a single line of film dialogue makes its way in. Regardless of this, the commentary is so enlightening that you don’t need a deep knowledge of the film to appreciate it. In fact, during the Q&A session, Roger sent up a note that he apologized for the woman in the lobby demanding her money back for someone talking over the film the whole time, apparently she didn’t get the memo.

If you own Citizen Kane, and you should, I would urge you to check out this commentary on your own. If you have four hours to spare sometime, watch the movie then stretch, get a drink, and put on the commentary. I did this as soon as the 70th Anniversary Blu-Ray came out and was blown away then too.

As a way to close out Ebertfest, I cannot even imagine anything more perfect. To hear Roger’s voice again was emotional for me, and when Chaz Ebert came back on stage, she was in tears. Luckily Roger recorded commentary tracks like this before he lost his voice in 2006 because they are incredible. To bring his voice back to the Virginia Theater for Ebertfest was fantastic.

As for Citizen Kane…

I give it 5 out of 5.

Some interesting Ebertfest links:

The festival’s main site: http://www.ebertfest.com/
Stream the interview sessions for free: http://ustre.am/JauL

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