Here are some two sentence reviews of the movies I watched in January, 2009.
- Movies watched – 27ish (missing data from the first week of the month)
- Movies that were new to me – 11
- Silent comedies about backstage hijinx on the set of a play – 6
- Monthly Masterpieces – Le Deuxième Souffle
- The Wrestler (2008) – This is a great character study marred only by the overly cliche plot devices of the script. Rourke really does a great job playing a man that the world has no place for any more and I’d probably recommend this based on that alone.
- Underworld – Rise of the Lycans (2008) – I saw the first two Underworlds and remembered thinking they were “ok”, but looking back I realized I didn’t remember anything about them. Thus, while watching it, I had no idea how this “prequel” fit in with the storyline–still, it is about as mildly-entertaining-yet-forgettable as the first two so in another month or two it will all be a wash.
- Inkheart (2008) – Though it was somewhat panned on release, I think this is one of the best kid’s fantasy movies since the last Harry Potter (which, granted, wasn’t released all that long before this one). It cut/changed plenty of parts from the book while keeping the same spirit and over all is mostly entertaining despite Brendan Fraser being his usual self (and probably partly because of Paul Bettany being his usual self).
- Back Stage (1919) – One of the better Arbuckle/Keaton shorts, this has Fatty and Buster working behind the scenes on a set…hijinx ensue. Some good stuff inspired by Chaplins shorts on the subject and refined in Keaton’s later The Playhouse (also featuring perhaps the first use of the “side of a house falls on someone while they stand under the spot the window hits the ground” gag that Keaton made famous in Steamboat Bill Jr).
- Good Night, Nurse! (1918)– Not my favorite Arbuckle/Keaton, though it does have a bit of the bizarreness that characterized many of their collaborations. Fatty manages to finds himself in a dress at some point, as usual.
- A Film Johnny (1914) – Minor Keystone film where Charlie wanders onto a movie set. Best gag is the recurring bit where Charlie thinks the actress playing the dramatic scene is really in trouble and rushes to save her.
- The Property Man (1914) – Classic Keystone Chaplin featuring further hijinx on a movie set. Good gags and I’d say about 60% of the short involves Charlie kicking an old man in the face repeatedly to remind you he wasn’t always all about batting his eyes at blind girls.
- Behind the Screen (1916) – The usual polished Mutal era Chaplin, full of great gags as Chaplin works on a movie set. He’s less of an asshole here than in The Property Man, but still a total dick…and you love him for it!
- The Play House (1921) – This revisitation of the “working on a set” theme is one of the better Keaton shorts–though his shorts (unlike his features) could never quite surpass Chaplin’s shorts for me. More a collection of (ingenious) gags and camera tricks than actual story, but it’s still great.
- An American in Paris (1951) – This brilliant musical impressively manages to live up to all the hype. I still slightly prefer Fred and Ginger, but these “second wave” musicals are very well done–especially with someone like Minelli at the helm.
- Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1998) – All I really need to say is that David Hasselhoff as Nick Fury is one of the better “actors” in this “movie”. No.
- Red Sun (1971) – This is the original “Shanghai Noon,” and, as such, is pretty damn entertaining. Bronson and Mifune (with Delon as the bad guy) play the whole east meets west buddy thing and mostly fulfill the promise of the premise.
- Ice Princess (2005) – Dawn from Buffy ice skates her way to typical sports movie results. Nothing offensive about any of it, but nothing remotely exceptional about any of it either.
- High Fidelity (2000) – Fairly astute commentary on pretentious snobs and the relationships that consume their lives. Pretty entertaining if that’s your thing–even if it isn’t quite as insightful as it thinks it is (not even close to Rohmer on his worst day).
- Goldfinger (1964) – One of the best Bond films (along with From Russia with Love and Thunderball), Goldfinger is pure 60’s entertainment. They don’t make them like this anymore and it’s amazing how well it holds up to repeated viewings.
- The Incredible Hulk (2008) – Not bad for an action movie, I appreciate it breaking the usual superhero mold and starting with the Hulk on the run and dealing with suppressing his inner beast rather than wasting half the film on yet another origin story. Still, it ends up being pretty by the numbers, the special effects are fairly unimpressive, and the action scenes overstay their welcome more often than not.
- A Bridge Too Far (1977) – One of those fancy “well made” war movies, this is pretty good and covers all the high points of Operation Market Garden. Still, it suffers from the usual “script paralysis” (for lack of a better abstract phrase) that tends to annoy me about most biopic and “based on a true story” stuff.
- Love and Death (1975) – This is one of the better ones as far as early Woody Allen comedies go. It starts to lag towards the end, but over all there is plenty to make one giggle here.
- Bananas (1971) – I’d watch Woody Allen do his thing in about anything and thoroughly enjoy it, but this is probably the weakest of his early “broad humor” comedies. I just don’t find myself giggling quite as much during Bananas as I normally do during one of his “funny” movies.
- The Searchers (1956) – I’ve seen this plenty of times and part of me always holds back a little, I think because I am unsure about how well the Fordian touches of broad humor mesh with the heavy themes. Otherwise, it really is an amazing movie–even if it’s not my favorite Ford western.
- Frost VS Nixon (2008) – Though it has its strengths (Nixon was good, the interview showdowns were handled well), overall I have my reservations about this film. Frost’s portrayal as a bit of a hero (rather than just an idiot in the right place at the right time) seems like a Hollywoodization that lessens the impact of an otherwise decent movie.
- Slumdog Millionaire (2008) – Even though he’s one of those “hip”, “flashy” directors, Danny Boyle guy is really quite talented. Like a modern fairy tale without being overly sentimental, I really quite enjoyed this one (despite the overbearing soundtrack).
- Double Indemnity (1944) – Masterpiece of film noir that really is as good as everyone says. Still, though a master and a genius, there is something about Billy Wilder that doesn’t quite click with me, though, I’m not sure what it is–he’s definitely cynical enough.
- Street of Shadows (1953) – Competent, but minor noir. Nice touches but nothing to really distinguish it from the classics of the genre.
- Le Deuxième Souffle (1966) – Another brilliant Melville portrait of a doomed gangster. Nihilistic, stylish, superbly crafted and all together brilliant: proof the French can be pretty hardcore when they want to be.
- Short Cuts (1993) – Flawlessly crafted, Altman is working at the top of his game here. Still, the overly dramatic nature of some of the stories brings this down a notch compared to the more thematically restrained (and much better) Nashville.
- A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) – If it were not for Brando’s amazing performance I’d say this wouldn’t be nearly as impressive of a film. It also doesn’t help that Brando is so good that he steals every scene he is in, essentially turning the film into a “wait for Brando’s brutish, cruel and undeniably charismatic character to show up” game.