March Movies Round-Up

Well, here we are in April. Another month down, a whole bunch of movies watched!

I’d like to thank everyone once again for your continued support – I’m having a blast with this blog and I hope you’re enjoying it even a fraction as much as I like writing it.

Here’s what I watched:

  1. Say Anything
  2. C.H.U.D.
  3. Cropsey
  4. Secret of Kells
  5. Hugo
  6. Limitless
  7. Winnie the Pooh [2011]
  8. Hard Core Logo
  9. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
  10. Fargo
  11. The Fly [1986]
  12. Microcosmos
  13. Prairie Love
  14. Valhalla Rising
  15. The Skin I Live In
  16. Persona
  17. Red Riding: 1974
  18. Letter Never Sent
  19. Iron Man 2
  20. Moon
  21. Troll Hunter
  22. Moneyball
  23. Manchurian Candidate [1962]
  24. Hoop Dreams
  25. The Lady Vanishes [1938]
  26. The Adventures of Tintin
  27. The Terror
  28. Carnosaur
  29. Being Elmo
  30. The Seven Year Itch
  31. The Dark Crystal

March Statistics:

Movies watched/Days in the month = 31/31 = 100%
My average movie rating = ~3.774 out of 5 (7.548/10)
Average IMDB rating = ~7.2
Average Rotten Tomatoes rating = ~75%
First time viewings = 21

Method of watching:

  • Amazon Instant = 1
  • Blu-Ray = 4
  • DVD = 5
  • Netflix (DVD rental) = 4
  • Netflix Instant Watch = 17

Year to Date Statistics:

Movies watched/Days elapsed = 71/91 = ~78%
My average movie rating = ~3.84 out of 5
Movies remaining vs. Days remaining = 229 vs. 275
Percentage complete = 72/300 = 24%

Method of watching:

  • Amazon Instant = 1
  • Blu-Ray = 24
  • DVD = 12
  • Netflix (DVD rental) = 9
  • Netflix Instant = 23
  • Theater = 1
  • TV/TiVO = 1

April will be an extremely exciting month because I will be traveling to Ebertfest! With the nice weather rolling in it’s going to be difficult to stay inside and watch movies, but I think I will be able to make time. Thanks again, everyone!

-Andy

The Dark Crystal (3/31/12)

Dark CrystalMovie Seventy One

The Dark Crystal is a Jim Henson creation and the entire cast of the film are puppets. Unlike their Sesame Street cousins, these puppets are pretty horrifying to look at.

The Dark Crystal came out the same year as I was born (1982) so I’m not exactly sure when I first saw it but I do not remember being terrified of it. This is a bit confusing because as a twenty nine year old watching the movie again, the puppets themselves are grotesque and the movie is kind of frightening, even if unintentionally.

The film is about several warring races and the power of titular dark crystal. The Skeksis are the evil faction, they look like mutated buzzards, and the trollish Mystics are the good guys. There is also Jen, the last of the Gelflings, who were wiped out by the Skesis. The Dark Crystal follows Jen’s journey to find find the missing shard of the crystal and the adventures along the way.

I imagine The Dark Crystal was a huge risk for Henson since he was known for Muppets and Sesame Street at the time. It is not a film that I could easily recommend for young children and I’m not even sure who would be the target audience for the film. It has almost a Tolkien-esque feel to it but it isn’t executed on flawlessly. Nostalgia was much kinder to The Dark Crystal than I was expecting. It had been many years since I had seen it or Labyrinth and I was expecting to enjoy The Dark Crystal a lot. Also, it’s worth noting that my wife and I decided to watch this after seeing the amazing documentary Being Elmo, even though Kevin Clash did not work on this film, we had a better appreciation of puppetry.

I give it 3 Fizzgigs out of 5.

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Seven Year Itch (3/31/12)

Seven Year ItchMovie Seventy

The Seven Year Itch is probably most well-known for the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe over the subway grate but the movie itself is also a great watch.

The Seven Year Itch is my second Billy Wilder and Marilyn Monroe movie this year (the first was Some Like It Hot) and while the two films are similar in some ways they each have distinct feels. Seven Year Itch has a much zanier air about  it but both movies are quite funny. Monroe’s acting is more focused in this as well.

The movie is about Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell), a married man with an overactive imagination whose wife goes away for the summer with their son. He then meets his neighbor, The Girl, (Marilyn Monroe) and wants to seduce her. The title phrase refers to the waning attention of a man after seven years in a monogamous relationship. As the movie progresses Sherman fantasizes about The Girl and they spend a lot of time together but his imagination and nerves end up getting the best of him.

Apparently this was originally a Broadway play that Ewell was reprising his role for. Most of the movie occurs in his apartment, so that makes sense. He also spends a lot of time talking to himself as a sort of narration. My wife commented that it feels a lot like A Christmas Story, where the adult Ralphie is narrating the actions of his younger self.

Billy Wilder’s movies are essential viewing as far as I’m concerned. The Seven Year Itch isn’t his strongest work, but it is iconic. Some of the comedy is a bit silly and even a bit dated, perhaps, but the film has held up quite well overall.

I give it 4 stairs to nowhere out of 5.

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Being Elmo (3/31/12)

Being ElmoMovie Sixty Nine

Being Elmo is the biography of puppeteer Kevin Clash and even if you have never heard of him before, I can promise you have seen his impact.

I think everyone, regardless of age, has at the very least heard of Sesame Street. I suspect many of us grew up religiously watching the show. Jim Henson’s creations were a large part of growing up in the 80s for me. Being Elmo does not require any background knowledge of Elmo, or even a deep knowledge of Sesame Street. The message portrayed is universal.

Being Elmo is really about following a dream. Kevin Clash devoted his life to puppets from an early age. He kept with it through high school, in spite of the ridicule. He touched children’s lives with his creations and never seemed to regret it. That alone is endearing. Getting a chance to work with Jim Henson was truly a dream come true for him and we travel with Clash and his family to those defining moments.

We see his talent, both with puppets and with children and it truly is touching. I was not expecting to really enjoy this movie as much as I did simply because I’m not really familiar with Elmo. The movie is really not about Elmo, it is about Kevin Clash, but there is a history lesson for the character. Being Elmo will truly touch your heart.

I give it 5 Jim Henson and Kermits out of 5.

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Carnosaur (3/30/12)

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The second film in my Roger Corman double-feature, Carnosaur is a bit harder to like. Roger Corman’s answer to Jurassic Park has not aged very well.

As a kid, I still remember being whipped into a frenzy by Jurassic Park. I have had a lifelong love for all things dinosaur and it sounded like an amazing movie. I also remember leafing through an issue of Fangoria and reading about a movie called Carnosaur, a violent counterpart to Jurassic Park. My pre-teen mind raced at the awesomeness of what I was reading. It would be years before I would finally see Carnosaur, but comparing it to Jurassic Park is apt but a bit unfair.

Carnosaur is, on many levels, similar to Jurassic Park in that it deals with genetic experiments and dinosaurs. Carnosaur uses the genetic part for more devious purposes instead of the dream of a man. The dinosaur models are pretty bad, but considering the budget of the film (about a million dollars) they are acceptable. If I had to explain Carnosaur to someone in one sentence I would say “it’s like if Jurassic Park and Tremors had a low budget spin-off”.

If it seems unfair to compare Carnosaur to Jurassic Park, I would agree except for one glaring reason; Roger Corman made this movie simply because of Jurassic Park. It’s not a cash-in exactly, but it does blatantly ride the coattails of awesome dinosaur movies. After watching a Corman film with talent from the 60s and watching this from the 90s, my clear favorite is The Terror. Carnosaur is only 83 minutes long but it is a long 83 minutes. The shoestring budget in the 60s clearly went further than it did here.

Carnosaur is not a terrible movie, but it’s close. It has some likeable elements but the end result is barely worth watching. Even if you know you are in store for a bad movie, it is almost bad to the point of being good. Roger Corman’s mark on cinema history is evident. The man has produced over 400 (!) films (he didn’t actually direct Carnosaur) over the course of 60 years. His films are not great, but many of them are fun.

I give it 2 hand puppet dinosaurs out of 5.

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The Terror (3/30/12)

The TerrorMovie Sixty Seven

The Terror was the first movie I watched in my Roger Corman double-feature. If I called it an obvious Roger Corman flick, would everyone know what to expect?

The Terror is an obvious Roger Corman movie if you’re familiar with his work. Made on a shoestring budget, shot incredibly quickly, improvised scenes, and violence. What sets this film apart from the other billion movies Corman produced is actually more interesting than the film itself.

I won’t even bother trying to dissect the plot of The Terror. A very young Jack Nicholson is a nineteenth century soldier that gets separated from his regiment and stumbles upon a beautiful woman by the sea. Then a lot of crazy stuff happens and he meets Boris Karloff in a castle later. That’s about all I can really say with any certainty. It’s not totally nonsensical, but it’s close. But there’s a reason for that…

The Terror was almost entirely improvised, and not just the dialogue. Corman let that camera run for various takes without cuts with the intention to use that footage later. Apparently all he needed was the basic plot outline. Some of the sets were reused from another Corman picture and a Vincent Price film. The Terror was also shot by at least six different directors: Corman himself, Francis Ford Coppola (yes, really), Dennis Jakob, Monte Hellman, Jack Hill, and Jack Nicholson.

Aside from the interesting background of the film, there is not much to recommend of the actual film itself. The acting is actually quite good even if the dialog is kind of weird. The plot is disjointed and confusing but it kept me interested in watching, which is something worth noting. I would definitely recommend The Terror for fans of Corman’s work and horror films.

I give it 3 young Nicholsons out of 5.

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The Adventures of Tintin (3/29/12)

Adventures of TintinMovie Sixty Six

The Adventures of Tintin should be a fantastic movie considering the talent involved. A film directed by Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson should be a smash hit, but Tintin  falls short.

It’s worth pointing out that audiences in the US are most likely unfamiliar with the character of Tintin, despite the long-running series’ popularity elsewhere. There isn’t a high wall of accessibility to the film, but some familiarity or nostalgia would probably help make it more enjoyable.

The film starts with Tintin, a reporter, and his dog, Snowy, in a market where he buys a model ship. He is immediately warned about the ship and then approached by a man willing to buy it. Later that evening the ship is stolen and Tintin goes on a quest to retrieve the model but also to uncover the mystery of why the ship is so important.

One thing about The Adventures of Tintin that I simply couldn’t shake is how weird the characters look. The art direction is a very odd mix of incredible realism and cartoonish. The character models are totally human from the neck down but their faces are totally grotesque in most cases. It’s a decision to make them look like realistic versions of their cartoon counterparts and it reminded me of realistic Mario. Everything inanimate looks absolutely stunning, however.

In fact, the computer generated world of Adventures of Tintin is incredible. The action is constant, but also oddly cartoonish at times. The overall package is something of a mixed bag where I’m not sure how things could have been better since this should be an incredible movie! Other than the weird character models I don’t have any serious specific complaints other than I was kind of bored, in spite of all the action on screen.

The Adventures of Tintin is almost like eating a bunch of donuts and ice cream for breakfast. It sounds delicious in theory but ultimately leaves you wanting something less tasty and more filling. The movie is not bad, but it’s also kind of uninteresting which is quite a feat considering the talent and eye candy involved.

I give it 3 cgi/cartoon comparisons out of 5.

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The Lady Vanishes [1938] (3/26/12 & 12/22/12)

The Lady VanishesMovie Sixty Five and Two Hundred Ninety Three

The Lady Vanishes was Alfred Hitchcock’s last film before his move to Hollywood. Featuring his trademark  sense of humor and mystery, it is undeniably Hitchcock and a great movie.

Admittedly, I am more familiar with Hitchcock’s later work, but The Lady Vanishes is a fantastic film that has held up tremendously well for being over 70 years old. The film takes place mostly on a train. A group of travelers are heading back to England from the fictional European country of Bandrika. As we meet the ensemble cast, Iris (played by Margaret Lockwood) and Miss Froy (May Whitty) become closely acquainted. Iris falls asleep and wakes to find Miss Froy missing but when she asks about her whereabouts, no one on the train seems to remember her ever existing.

The train is the perfect setting for a film like this; it creates a sense of claustrophobia and being trapped. Some of the characters are a bit over the top, but for the most part they are believable. The mystery will certainly leave you guessing and the conclusion pays off.

One thing to note, while The Lady Vanishes is available through the Criterion Collection (cover art pictured), I watched the version on Netflix Instant Watch. The Netflix Instant version is nowhere close to the level of quality expected from Criterion, so I’m fairly sure it’s a different mastering of the film. The picture is a bit fuzzy and the audio was a bit uneven and slightly muddy sounding at times. It doesn’t detract from the viewing experience unless you are a total purist, but it’s something to consider.

The Lady Vanishes put me in the mood for more Hitchcock films, and not just his later works. Hitchcock truly was a master at his craft. The Lady Vanishes is a fun mystery and a great film to boot.

I give it 4 Hitchcock cameos out of 5.

[Update] I recently watched the Criterion blu-ray and my suspicions of the picture quality are mostly true. There are still some scratches and dust present, but the picture quality is far and away superior. The audio was still a bit uneven but not to the point of having to have the remote handy to turn up and down as needed. While this is still a great movie, I would easily recommend the Criterion versions in every way. Plus, the special features are pretty solid

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Hoop Dreams (3/26/12)

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Hoop Dreams is a documentary I was not expecting to be interested in. Like all good documentaries, however, once I was hooked I had to see things through until the end.

Hoops Dreams is a film about two Chicago high school basketball players with aspirations of making it big in the NBA. The documentary film crew follows the students lives all through high school and their first year of college, as well as the lives of their immediate families. We see all the highs and lows that come with the dreams of being a superstar and every stumble the teens take we can’t help but feel for them. We want them to succeed. We want them make it big. At the very least, we want them to rise above what society expects of them; a life of gangs and drugs.

A word of warning, the film is long clocking in at just shy of three hours. I had to take a few breaks while watching it just to keep my interest from waning. That isn’t to say the material is dull or boring, but it can be. I would be very interested to see the special features that Criterion packed into Hoop Dreams since it has been close to 20 years since the film came out. Since I watched this on Netflix Instant Watch, the special features are obviously unavailable.  The two teens are adults now and I truly wonder what became of them.

Watching Hoop Dreams with Moneyball still fresh in my mind was also interesting since we see the same sort of tactics in recruiting. Knowing what Chicago is like puts the film in a fresh light since being a poor black teen in the city must be close to impossible to actually get out of. While the careers of the teens show promise, will the life of a basketball player only just be a dream? There is a reason Hoop Dreams has been called the best documentary of all time.

I give it 5 state champion victories out of 5.

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The Manchurian Candidate [1962] (3/24/12)

Manchurian CandidateMovie Sixty Three

I have yet to see the remake of The Manchurian Candidate, which I have heard good things about. If it’s even half as good as the original Manchurian Candidate it is probably an amazing film.

The Manchurian Candidate is a film that depends on cold war hysterics over communism. Sen. Joseph McCarthy likely played a large role in creating the story, likely unknowingly. The plot surrounds a group of POW soldiers returning from Korea. One is awarded the esteemed medal of honor (Laurence Harvey) and several others (one of which is Frank Sinatra) have the same recurring nightmare. The nightmare is about them being brainwashed by communists. We soon learn that the dream was reality and the soldier played by Harvey has been brainwashed to become an assassin.

Other than the communist angle, it’s amazing how little politics have truly changed in 50 years but I would hesitate to call this a political film. Without knowing anything about the Manchurian Candidate, I had always assumed it was a political film and was turned off by that. It wasn’t until I was reading a collection of noir short stories that The Manchurian Candidate came up and my interest piqued. A noir? Count me in.

I am interested in seeing the remake starring Denzel Washington in place of Frank Sinatra. I am curious how much of the communist witch-hunt is there or if that aspect has been more modernized. Still, The Manchurian Candidate has aged well and is highly recommended.

I give it 4 queen of diamonds out of 5.

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