My September Movies Round-Up

I feel like I say this every month but this year is flying by! We are into October and into the final stretch of 2012. Will I make it to 300? I think so, but you never know!

My biggest issue with September was that I was busy nearly every weekend which is usually when I catch up on my movie watching. It didn’t put me too far behind but I need to make up for some slow months now that the weather is starting to turn and the daylight is getting shorter.

I got a new blu-ray player and receiver in my setup at home, so I definitely plan on putting them to good use for the rest of the year! I also got accepted to the LAMB.

Don’t forget to like Andy Watches Movies on Facebook and follow me Twitter if you want to know more of what I’m up to!

September movies I watched:

  1. Bernie
  2. Down By Law
  3. Make Believe
  4. Special When Lit
  5. The Hunter
  6. Piranha
  7. Doctor Zhivago
  8. Glengarry Glen Ross
  9. The Third Man
  10. All Good Things
  11. The Man Who Fell to Earth
  12. Mary and Max
  13. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  14. The Ward
  15. Bridge on the River Kwai
  16. Thor
  17. Bill Cunningham New York
  18. Waxwork
  19. The African Queen

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The African Queen (9/27/12)

The African QueenMovie Two Hundred Nineteen

In The African Queen, when fighting breaks out in Africa during World War I, a boat captain and a missionary take the treacherous path down the river.

Charlie (Humphrey Bogart), the Canadian captain of a small steamboat named The African Queen travels up and down the Ulanga river delivering supplies and mail. After a stop in the village of Kungdu visiting with missionarie siblings Samuel (Robert Morley) and Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn), Charlie notifies them that German troops were on the move. Soon after, Germans attack and Samuel dies from fever. Charlie comes back and helps Rose bury her brother and the two take off down the dangerous river towards the lake, where the German gunboat, Queen Louisa, is stationed. While Charlie and Rose are very different and can’t seem to stand each other, their travels bring them closer together as they plot to blow up the Louisa.

The African Queen was new to me and I honestly wasn’t quire sure what to expect. I figured there would be a little action, a little romance, a fair bit of drama, maybe a few laughs smattered throughout and in all those regards, The African Queen delivers. Bogart and Hepburn both deliver terrific performances and have on-screen chemistry that admittedly took me a bit by surprise. When I think of Bogart, I immediately think of the smooth, charming Rick in Casablanca and here, Bogart plays almost the exact opposite. Hepburn’s role is more inline with my own view of her, for whatever that may be worth.

Since I watched The African Queen on the big screen, I was perhaps privy to some of the less charming side of the 60 year old special effects. During some of the more harrowing white water portions of the river ride, a scale model of the African Queen was clearly used and during one of the later scenes the model they used for poor Bogart looked like it was made out of a lump of clay and was wildly disproportionate to the rest of the vessel. Then again, there is a scene with leeches that actually looked like real leeches, so there’s that.

By the end of The African Queen I was totally rooting for unlikely duo to prevail and all the blemishes of the dated special effects only added to lighter sides of the film. I am a bit surprised at how under the radar this film seems to be since it is a lot of fun and even though the story has been done in various ways over the years, The African Queen is still special enough for first time viewers like myself.

I give it 4 Humphrey Bogart’s embarrassing hippo impressions out of 5.

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Waxwork (9/25/12)

WaxworkMovie Two Hundred Eighteen

A group of college students happen upon a wax museum were the exhibits are more than they seem in Waxwork.

When a waxwork is opened near a small college town, several students decide to visit it one night after being invited by a mysterious old man who quickly disappears. Once inside the waxwork, the students split up and find that if they enter the displays of the waxwork, they become part of the scene being depicted. After fighting dracula and a werewolf, the two teens escape the displays but their two friends go missing and become part of the displays they entered. As the disappearances continue, the town begins to catch on that something strange is happening at the waxwork.

I put on Waxwork one afternoon when I wanted to watch something and turn my brain off. It turns out, Waxwork was pretty good for that as it is a silly horror movie, but the fun comes because it doesn’t take itself seriously. The premise is simple and has just the right amount of cheese to it that makes it fun. It’s not a great movie but it’s a fun one and it actually almost makes a neat precursor to Cabin in the Woods.

All told, the acting is probably what you would expect from a horror movie from the 80s – that is to say it’s terrible. The special effects fare a little better but I think part of the point of the effects was to make it seem stilted like an actual wax museum exhibit, so I’ll give it a pass. Somehow I missed this one when I used to religiously watch horror movies and I’m glad that I was finally able to see it, but I wish I had more film peers to compare it to.

There isn’t much I have to say about Waxwork other than it surprised me. I was expecting a dumb horror movie and Waxwork provided a lot of the fun of a good, dumb horror movie, but in a (mostly) smart way. Fans of the horror genre have likely already seen this one but if you haven’t and want a better than average 80s horror movie, Waxwork is worth your time.

I give it 3 wicked waxwork werewolves out of 5.

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Bill Cunningham New York (9/25/12)

Bill Cunningham New YorkMovie Two Hundred Seventeen

Bill Cunningham New York is a documentary about an iconic New York Times fashion photographer.

Bill Cunningham has worked for the New York Times for decades and is most well known for his “On the Street” and “Evening Hours” fashion photography columns. We follow Bill as he rides his bicycle around New York city taking photographs of fashion trends that he finds interesting. Most of the fashion Bill photographs is strange, colorful, and unique but he says himself that he takes pictures of things he likes. Living a modest life outside his work, Bill is the man to please for many of New York’s high society and yet he is merely doing what he enjoys.

Bill Cunningham New York is one of those documentaries that is about very little but manages to entertain for the entire length of the film. Bill is a unique man that has literally been doing the same things since the 1960s. He doesn’t claim to be a force in fashion and yet the people that are fashionistas clamor to be featured in his columns.

While I couldn’t care less about fashion or fashion trends, it really takes a backseat to Bill himself in Bill Cunningham New York. We follow Bill as he will be evicted from his tiny, filing cabinet filled apartment in Carnegie Hall. We see him riding his bicycle around town. We learn that he was once a hat maker and we even see clips of him from the 60s or 70s doing exactly what he is doing now. In fact, Bill even uses a 35mm film camera in this digital age. Above all though, is Bill’s extreme dedication to his work. One could say that his job has consumed him, but that doesn’t seem to be a fair assessment since it seems to be one thing that he enjoys more than anything else in the world.

Documentaries about quirky individuals ride a very fine line between showcasing their subject and poking fun at them and Bill Cunningham New York treats Bill with a great amount of respect while not omitting his quirks or flaws. As a man set in his ways, you will likely be charmed by Bill as the fashion setters of New York City have been. BIll Cunningham New York will likely endear you to Bill by the end.

I give it 4 Bill Cunninghams (doesn’t he look a bit like Clint Eastwood?) out of 5.

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Thor (9/22/12)

ThorMovie Two Hundred Sixteen

In Thor, the titular hero is banished from Asgard to Earth while his brother Loki schemes to become the new king.

Odin (Anthony Hopkins), king of Asgard, wages war against the Frost Giants to prevent them from taking over the nine realms. The Asgardians win and steal their source of power. Flash forward to present day and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is going to become the new king of Asgard when the Frost Giants attack again. Thor travels to another realm with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and breaks a truce between the realms, thus causing Odin to banish him and his hammer, Mjolnir, to Earth. Cue S.H.I.E.L.D. to investigate. On Earth, Thor is stripped of his powers and meets a group of scientists, notably Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) to assist him as Odin slumbers to regain his strength and Loki tries to rise to power.

Fanboys be warned, this may get you riled up. I have never been a fan of Marvel Comics Thor and as such found the movie adaptation incredibly dull and pointless, if not for the fact that it ties into The Avengers. If you put Thor and Clash of the Titans/Wrath of the Titans side by side I would struggle to be able to say which I thought was the better movie. If Thor didn’t have the comic license behind it it would be pretty bad movie.

I’m not sure if the plot of Thor was confusing or if my brain just didn’t care enough to process what was happening. It seems like I’m not the only one that tuned out, most of the actors seemed like they didn’t want to be there either. Natalie Portman gives an especially awful performance on the heels of her Oscar win for Black Swan. Idris Elba, who plays Heimdall, the gatekeeper, and who I didn’t even recognize at first gives one of the best performances of the film and he has maybe 10 minutes of screen time. Even Tom Hiddleston, who I thought was great in The Avengers as Loki seems to be reading cue cards off-camera. I get it, it’s a licensed superhero action movie, but come on, people!

The visuals are really the only saving grace that kept me awake during Thor. The movie does look good and the color palates for Asgard especially were neat and made for tasty eye-candy. The set and costume designs for the realms were true to the comics but also with a shiny new movie sheen to them. So basically, I shut my brain off and looked at all the pretty pictures while the movie played out for about 2 hours.

Did I hate Thor? Well, “hate” is a strong word… Do I think Thor was unnecessary and do I wish I left it unwatched? Yes. The problem here is that the source material, while rich in mythology, didn’t spark any interest in the character (or the comics)  for me. At least Captain America ended up being more than a setup to The Avengers. The fact that the movie studio thinks there needs to be a sequel to Thor confuses me, but maybe the second time’s the charm? I don’t think I’ll be finding out.

I give it 2 “I’m Thor!”s out of 5.

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The Bridge On The River Kwai (7/24/12) &(9/20/12)

Bridge on the River KwaiMovie One Hundred Seventy Four and Two Hundred Fifteen

A group of British POWs are held by the Japanese during World War II and forced to build The Bridge On The River Kwai.

During World War II, after Singapore’s surrender, a group of British troops are led to Thailand as Japanese prisoners and put to work on the railway to Burma and building a bridge over the River Kwai. Lt. Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guiness) is at odds with the Japanese Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) over officers having to do the same amount of work as the privates and Saito refuses to back down, putting Nicholson in “the oven” without food or water. Unwilling to compromise, upon his release from the oven, Nicholson decides to cooperate and build the bridge as a sign of British ingenuity and loyalty for years to come. Nicholson pushes his men hard to complete the bridge, unaware of the plot to blow up the very bridge he has committed himself to.

The Bridge On The River Kwai is a fantastic war epic from David Lean that is fictionalized but historically rooted. Never having seen the full movie in one straight shot, I was worried that the long run time (161 minutes) would bog things down or would create a plot that would be hard to follow. While the film is largely a slow boil, the last 30 minutes or so are incredibly tense and fly by. Amazing performances and direction really help with the pacing of The Bridge On The River Kwai, much like David Lean’s other famous epic, Lawrence of Arabia, which is even longer.

One thing I have to point out is how terrific the blu-ray of The Bridge On The River Kwai looks and sounds. Many consider blu-ray to be a format only for cutting-edge special effects films, but this is a shining example of a restored 55 year old film can bring to the format. The picture is, in a word, stunning. The package as a whole matches the picture. For a non-Criterion/Masters of Cinema release, the care taken here is obvious.

While certainly not for everyone, The Bridge On The River Kwai is a unique war movie with a great cast, interesting plot, superb direction. The runtime is certainly a hurdle, but I thought the time flew by after the first 45 minutes or so. The Bridge On The River Kwai certainly worth a shot and once viewed, it’s sure to be a favorite.

[Update]

I was lucky enough to see Bridge on the River Kwai again, this time on the big screen. While I quite enjoyed the film the first time around, seeing it again while it was still fresh in my mind made me realize how amazing the film really is. While I still thought the first 30-45 minutes felt long, I understood everything much better this time around. The motivations, the unsaid megalomania, the setting; it all made perfect sense and goes to show what an excellently crafted film Bridge on the River Kwai really is. The theatrical transfer was actually disappointing compared to the blu-ray for at least 20 minutes, it was very grainy but in-focus, and then it was almost like wiping the mirror after a hot shower. The film shone brightly and put the fantastic looking blu-ray to task.

Note that I will be upgrading my score from a 4 to a 5 after this second viewing.

I give it 4real bridges on the River Kwai out of 5.

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The Ward (9/17/12)

The WardMovie Two Hundred Fourteen

A group of young women in a mental institution are being killed by a ghost in The Ward.

A young woman named Kristen (Amber Heard) sets fire to an old farmhouse and is brought to a mental institution for treatment. While at the facility she meets the other girls; Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca), Sarah (Danielle Panabaker), Emily (Mamie Gummer), and Zoey (Laura Leigh). Kristen is given the room that used to belong to a girl named Tammy, who we see attacked by what appears to be a zombie/ghost of a young woman. As her doctor, Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris) tries different therapies, the girls are being killed one by one by the ghost, a former patient named Alice. Kristen needs to get to the bottom of the mystery before any more girls are killed.

Directed by horror master John Carpenter, The Ward actually surprised me. It was recommended to me by Written In Blood and while I had never read a glowingly positive review of the film, I was left mostly pleased by it. Anyone who grew up with John Carpenter films has likely been nonplussed by his endeavors as of late and The Ward certainly doesn’t hearken back to a day when Carpenter’s name was synonymous with horror films, but it is enjoyable enough.

The plot of The Ward is not exactly mindblowingly original and may not offer many surprises for fans of the genre, but the ground it treads is still sort of fresh. The cast for The Ward is actually not as bad as I expected. Since movies like this tend to have some horrible actresses that are only there to go topless, it seems they opted to favor acting instead of toplessness (spoiler alert, I don’t think there’s any toplessness). Amber Heard is not exactly going to win any awards for her performance, but in what could have been a painful-to-watch performance, she actually does a pretty decent job. Also, Meryl Streep’s daughter is in this, so it’s almost like a Streep impersonator, which is kind of fun.

I’m not going to try to sell The Ward too much, but in terms of recent horror movies (and more importantly, recent Carpenter movies) it’s probably worth your time. The Ward may not be the revival of John Carpenter as a master of horror, but it’s a step in the right direction.

I give it 3 “LOOK BEHIND YOU”s out of 5.

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