Wednesday, January 30, 2013

No Reviews This Week

Don't worry, I'm hitting the RedBox kiosk pretty hard this week. So while I'm not going to post anything right now, rest assured that I'll be back with a vengeance next week.

Lawless, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Dredd, The Hunger Games, and many more...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

2012 Catch Up (Les Misérables / Zero Dark Thirty)

Les Misérables (2012)

Director: Tom Hooper
Writers: Claude-Michel Schönberg (book), Alain Boublil (book), Victor Hugo (novel), Herbert Kretzmer (lyrics), Jean-Marc Natel (original: French text), James Fenton (additional text), and William Nicholson (screenplay)
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway

A very poor adaptation of some very strong source material. Obviously, the story and characters are great but the direction, casting and lazy adaptation completely let it down. When I say "lazy adaptation," I primarily mean choosing to keep the sung dialogue which doesn't translate well to film and totally ignoring the possibilities that a film gives over a stage production (using background images, flashbacks, etc to enhance the narrative in the songs). Jackman and Crowe are obviously in way over their heads when it comes to actually pulling off the singing required and aren't aided at all by the choice to record live on set and in extreme close-up for 90% of the film. It is the most lazily directed film I've seen in a while - I was glad when the non-solo songs came around because it actually forced Hooper to move the camera a bit. Most of the supporting cast is good (particularly Hathaway and Barks), which saves this from being a total disaster. Still a major disappointment.

Score: 3 / 10

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal (screenplay)
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt

I'd have to say that this is probably the best adaptation of this material that I could have really hoped for. A decade-long manhunt is documentary fodder, not material upon which to base a traditional Hollywood drama. The story is laid out well, the acting is solid and the direction and pacing are very good. The only place where this movie really falls short for me is in the script, which is fine from a plotting perspective, but weak in the characterization and dialogue departments. Most people just feel as though they are there to fulfill their purpose in the story and don't exist outside of the frame of the shot. A little more depth would have been nice and would have allowed for further investment in Maya's personal struggle, rather than just the overarching goal. The final raid is pretty damn tense and I did appreciate the apolitical stance taken, as the filmmakers avoid both propaganda-style flag waving and any sort of direct condemnation. It's very much a "here it is, think of it what you will." I liked that.

Score: 7 / 10

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

2012 Catch-Up (Lincoln / Silver Linings Playbook)

Lincoln (2012)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Tony Kushner (screenplay), Doris Kearns Goodwin (book)
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn

The opening and closing chapters of this film are almost as bad as I feared they could be, with Spielberg in full "cheese" mode to bookend what is otherwise a very good film. For the most part, the script and direction are solid aside from the aforementioned weak aspects. However, the main draw is the amazing cast assembled to bring this story to the screen. Unsurprisingly, Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones are brilliant as Abe Lincoln and Tad Stevens, standing out even amidst a cast as good as the one gathered here. I was a bit underwhelmed by Williams' score and could have done with less family drama, but those are really minor nitpicks compared to the great acting here. Fix the sappy script stumbles and we'd be edging toward true greatness.

Score: 7 / 10

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Director: David O. Russell
Writers: David O. Russell (screenplay), Matthew Quick (novel)
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro

Why do such great performances and such a promising premise have to be wasted on such a cliche story? What starts off as a promising darker take on the traditional romantic comedy ends as a traditional romantic comedy.

"It's about two people who have been mentally shaken by personal trauma who come together and help each other rebuild their lives."
"You got me so far."
"The leads will be Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence and they'll both be amazing."
"Sounds awesome."
"DeNiro turns in his best performance in years as he plays an OCD gambler, filled with regret over his failings as a father."
"Wow, totally sold!"
"Spoiler alert, to top it all off: the finale features a dance contest to cover dad's bet."

Good, but could be so much better if it had gone down the road less traveled. I still really enjoyed it though.

Score: 6 / 10

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

2012 Catch-Up (Cabin in the Woods / Moonrise Kingdom)

Alright, so I've decided that with the Oscars coming up here very soon that I'd better do some catching up on 2012 releases so that I can help to point out where the Academy gets it so very, very wrong. Because based on past history, they most certainly will. That being the case, we'll be spending the next couple of weeks hitting the theaters, raiding Redbox and scouring Netflix for the goodies that have been missed throughout the year (as well as the undeserving nonsense nominated by the Academy that we've managed to avoid until now).

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Director: Drew Goddard
Writers: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard
Stars: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth and Anna Hutchison

Easily the best parody in the horror genre since "Scream"; this lampoons far more than just the slasher subgenre, branching out to make sure that it nods at as many tropes from the entire genre of horror that it possibly can. Slashers, zombies, monsters, shady government agencies, little ghost girls, Lovecraftian eldritch horrors - its all here. I wish that the horror would have been more... horrific, but with the broad deconstruction this plays as more of a comedy anyway, so it is alright. Not exactly a challenger for any awards, but an enjoyable watch. Definitely a must-see for Whedon fans.

Score: 6 / 10

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Director: Wes Anderson
Writers: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
Stars: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward and Bruce Willis

As always, Wes Anderson has no interest in capturing the world as it really is, but rather through the eye of a painter or illustrator. The recurring references to Suzy's books seemed very appropriate, as the entire movie from the whimsical characters to the meticulously framed shots seems to come straight from the pages of a children's story. The plot is silly, the characters barely believable, but it is the sense of adventure and the joy of a first love that carry this film. I'd say Anderson is firmly in the "love it or hate it" category, but I really can't imagine anyone truly hating this movie - it just has too much charm for that.

Score: 7 / 10

Friday, January 18, 2013

Episode Six (Adam's Rib / Airplane!)

Adam's Rib (1949)

Director: George Cukor
Writers: Ruth Gordon (screen play), Garson Kanin (screen play)
Stars: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and Judy Holliday

The sexual politics are more than a little dated now and having this center on an attempted murder where the woman should clearly have been found guilty was a pretty poor plot decision. Rather than being for equality, it makes Amanda's cause into a misguided attempt to get special treatment for the put upon housewife and makes it difficult to sympathize with her in any of the couple's arguments. Had the plot been set on a more solid, believable situation it would have been a much more impressive film. Still, Hepburn and Tracy are always a joy to see on screen together and their chemistry carries the movie beyond the limits of the disappointing narrative.

Score: 5 / 10

Airplane! (1980)

Directors: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and 1 more credit »
Writers: Jim Abrahams (screenplay), David Zucker (screenplay), and Jerry Zucker (screenplay)
Stars: Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty and Leslie Nielsen

It's a rare breed of comedy that is able to toss broad, over-the-top jokes at the audience constantly throughout the entire run time and yet still have subtle gags that fade into the background, only to be discovered upon subsequent viewings. Might not seem quite as funny if seen for the first time today, but that's mostly because its jokes have been referenced and copied so many times (and so much less effectively) in the many years since its release. Probably the best spoof movie ever made and infinitely quotable.

Score: 7 / 10

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Netflix Interruption (Everything Must Go / Paths of Glory)

Everything Must Go (2011)

Director: Dan Rush
Writers: Dan Rush, Raymond Carver (short story "Why Don't You Dance")
Stars: Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall and Christopher Jordan Wallace

Found it neither funny enough to classify it as a "dramedy," nor really deep enough to truly offer anything worthwhile as a straight drama. Considering that only one really major event occurs during the film, the characterizations are surprisingly thin. I was checking the time throughout the second half because it really starts to drag on and on. Ferrell does a decent job drawing empathy for a character who hasn't really earned any via the script, proving to be at least a passable dramatic actor. Didn't hate it and there's a few genuinely enjoyable scenes with the kid - but overall left me feeling fairly apathetic.

Score: 4 / 10

Paths of Glory (1957)

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writers: Stanley Kubrick (screenplay), Calder Willingham (screenplay), 
Jim Thompson (screenplay), and 
Humphrey Cobb (novel "Paths of Glory")

Stars: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker and Adolphe Menjou

Every element of this film is executed exceptionally well. From the long tracking shots through the trenches showing the faces of men facing almost certain doom to the harrowing charge through no-man's-land; from the intense courtroom scene to the heartbreaking march to the firing squad. Great performances all around and typically wonderful direction from Kubrick really complement a solid story that shows both the horrors of the battlefield and the inhuman politics that drive those events. Definitely need to add this one to the collection.

Score: 9 / 10

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Episode Five (A.I. Artificail Intelligence / Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein)

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Brian Aldiss (short story "Supertoys Last All Summer Long"), Ian Watson (screen story), and 
Steven Spielberg (screenplay)

Stars: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law and Frances O'Connor

So much potential - I loved a lot of this movie, but it feels so... "inconsistent." I can't help but wonder how this would have turned out if Kubrick would have been able to make it, since the obviously "Spielberg" segments are the weakest. It leans a bit too far into melodramatic, overly sentimental territory and runs far too long. I'll admit that many scenes got to me emotionally, but the manipulation is a bit too heavy handed and constant. If it had ended where it should have (and Kubrick supposedly planned it to end), I would have bawled like a baby. You'll know it when you see it, sad but beautiful. But Spielberg refuses to quit while he's ahead and continues for at least ten more minutes with an epilogue where he might as well stand at your shoulder and tell you "It is time to cry now." Really? Jude Law is awesome though.

Score: 5 / 10

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Director: Charles Barton
Writers: Robert Lees (screenplay), Frederic I. Rinaldo (screenplay), and John Grant (screenplay)
Stars: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello and Lon Chaney Jr.

Abbott and Costello's best work, in my opinion. It's great fun seeing Lugosi and Chaney Jr. recreating their famous monster roles in this setting, though its a real shame that we don't get Karloff to round out the crew. Some of the humor is certainly dated at this point, but there's plenty of great slapstick and quality jokes as well. Tons of memorable moments here: Costello freaking himself out by reading about Dracula in the wax museum, searching Count Dracula's castle (with the obligatory secret passage hi-jinks), the final chase and battle through the rooms and halls of the castle. Hilarious. Lenore Aubert has fun hamming it up as the femme fatale as well. I might be overrating this a bit, but I don't particularly care. I love it.

Score: 8 / 10

Monday, January 14, 2013

Episode Four (3:10 to Yuma)

3:10 to Yuma (1957)

Director: Delmer Daves
Writers: Halsted Welles (screenplay), Elmore Leonard (story)
Stars: Glenn Ford, Van Heflin and Felicia Farr

Very solid western drama with great performances from the two leads and a memorable theme song. Great dialogue and does a great job of ratcheting up the tension, but it all leads to somewhat of a disappointing finale compared to the remake due to the black-and-white nature of Hollywood storytelling during that period. It's all wrapped up a little too nice and neat to come off without seeming at least a little cheesy  That said, it moves along at a nice pace, which is the one place where I'd say that this version is distinctly superior to the remake which gets a bit sidetracked from time to time. Overall, a very enjoyable viewing experience.

Score: 6 / 10

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

Director: James Mangold
Writers: Halsted Welles (screenplay), Michael Brandt (screenplay), Derek Haas (screenplay), and Elmore Leonard (story)
Stars: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale and Ben Foster

Yes, indeed I own both versions. This one clocks in at 30 minutes longer than the original film adaptation and wastes, err... spends a decent chunk of that extra time on "big, dumb action." It doesn't have that memorable theme song either. However, it also takes more time to deepen the characterizations beyond the original, lending this one a bit more emotional weight. A couple of small steps back don't quite wash out the giant step forward in how well the characters are written here. Ben Foster is also an improvement as Crowe's villainous right-hand man and steals pretty much every scene he appears in. A rare remake that surpasses the original, if only by a narrow margin.

Score: 6 / 10

I know, I know. You're saying "you said the remake is better but you gave it the same score as the original!" Such is the weakness of a 10-point scale. Let's just say I'm rounding up to six for the original and down to six for the remake and leave it at that, ok?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Episode Three (2001: A Space Odyssey / The 39 Steps)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writers: Stanley Kubrick (screenplay) and Arthur C. Clarke (screenplay and story "The Sentinel")
Stars: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood and William Sylvester

I kept putting it off and putting it off. I was afraid to watch it because I was absolutely convinced that there was no chance it could live up to its reputation and I would be dealt a crushing disappointment. However, this fear was totally groundless. I sincerely doubt that I'll ever truly grasp its full meaning, but by the end was convinced that the only two legitimate scores one could give this film are 10 or 0. Considering the overwhelming feeling of awe I had throughout, it must be 10. The film is visually stunning (Kubrick knew how to capture an image, that's for sure) and has a brilliant selection of classical pieces to accompany the beautiful and iconic imagery. Exploring themes of evolution, technology and man's place in the universe, "2001: A Space Odyssey" is not a film that will leave your mind anytime soon - regardless of whether you find the actual execution enthralling or boring and tedious (both points of view which I can understand).

Score: 10 / 10

The 39 Steps (1935)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writers: John Buchan (novel), Charles Bennett (adaptation), and Ian Hay (dialogue)
Stars: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll and Lucie Mannheim

It is very difficult to watch this movie while already being quite familiar with Hitchcock's later, and far superior, Hollywood films. Still, it has its share of suspense and humor and it's easy to see this as something of a "prototype" of the superior thrillers that he would make in later years. Honestly, there's nothing here that Hitchcock didn't do much better later on in films like "Saboteur," "North by Northwest," "Foreign Correspondent," etc. Overall this is some lightweight fun, but I'd only call it a "must-watch" for Hitchcock fans who have already made their way through his Hollywood catalog and still crave more.

Score: 5 / 10

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Theater Interruption (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey / Django Unchained)

Occasionally, my journey through the discs on my shelf will be interrupted by a trip to the theater (to see movies alongside real, live people *ick*) or some work getting done on my Netflix queue. This is the first such interruption.

Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh (screenplay), Philippa Boyens (screenplay), Peter Jackson (screenplay), Guillermo del Toro (screenplay), and J.R.R. Tolkien (novel "The Hobbit")
Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage

Just from the source material, it was clear that The Hobbit could never match up to the LotR trilogy - however, it has more potential than this film shows. Here we are treated to great performances from the main characters, a fantastic interpretation of "Riddles in the Dark" and New Zealand scenery which is still a gorgeous stand-in for Middle-Earth. However, almost everything else is weak, or at least weaker than what one might have expected: from the average score (outside of the "Misty Mountains" tune, which is admittedly spectacular), to the needlessly CGI'd orcs and goblins, to the crude jokes and Disney-esque (in the worst possible sense) portrayal of Radagast... hopefully this is just a stumble and not a trend. I certainly understand that The Hobbit is a much more lightweight tale than that of LotR, but the cartoonish nonsense (bunny sleigh, messenger goblin, etc.) was just taken too far and is too jarring in a film that tries so hard to remind you that this is the Middle-Earth that you fell in love with in the theater a decade ago.

Score: 5 / 10

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio

Simultaneously the most hilarious and the most brutal film of 2012. This revenge flick may be nearly three hours long, but it seems to absolutely fly by. Foxx, Waltz, Jackson and DiCaprio are all impressive to watch, particularly in the "dinner scene" (sure to be regarded as a QT classic). Tarantino's dialogue is pitch-perfect (as usual), his directing is stylish and I particularly loved the typical-Tarantino soundtrack - ranging from Morricone material to classical pieces to rap. Honestly, I can't find much to fault in this one. Tarantino has done an amazing job of merging genres - blending scenes that could have been in Blazing Saddles with ridiculously violent grindhouse-style shootouts, all the while paying homage to the classic spaghetti westerns in an almost seamless fashion. Haven't had this much fun in a theater in a long time.

Score: 9 / 10

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Episode Two (12 Monkeys / 1408)

12 Monkeys (1995)

Director: Terry Gilliam
Writers: Chris Marker (film La Jetée), David Webb Peoples (screenplay), and Janet Peoples (screenplay)
Stars: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt

Great performances by Willis and Pitt, combined with unsettling, surreal direction from Gilliam carry a solid story to a point where it can at least flirt with greatness. The first half is far more enthralling than the second, as you are consistently questioning whether Cole is truly crazy or not (and you get more of Pitt's insanity). I feel that the second half of the film suffers as more and more evidence mounts to support the time travel story and the ending becomes clear too soon. It would have been a bit more entertaining and exciting if they had toned down the foreshadowing a bit and maybe kept it a touch more ambiguous as to whether the time travel was real or not. Still a pretty awesome ride.

Score: 8 / 10

1408 (2007)

Director: Mikael Håfström
Writers: Matt Greenberg (screenplay), Scott Alexander (screenplay), Larry Karaszewski (screenplay) and Stephen King (short story)
Stars: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson and Mary McCormack

Cusack is solid and the movie starts out strong with a nice bit of ominous exposition about the room delivered by Samuel L. Jackson. The atmosphere and early scares are pretty good; however, the intensity never quite ramps up to a point where you feel sure the the room should utterly break the main character. After a strong start, the back half is just a bit disappointing in this regard. Still, nothing is particularly "bad" - so, at worst, this still remains a perfectly serviceable psychological horror/thriller.

Score: 4 / 10

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Journey Begins: Episode One ((500) Days of Summer / 12 Angry Men)

And so begins the quest to watch every movie on the shelf and put a dent in that Instant Queue (working in a few trips to the theater as well). Just two quick notes before we get started.

1) The titles of the movies reviewed will be links to trailers where available, otherwise I will try to throw a clip in there.
2) I'm basically grading these on something of a curve. So keep in mind that an "average" score of 5/10 is still a movie that I enjoyed, given the fact that I don't seek out movies that I would expect to hate. So, take a 7 or higher as a definite recommendation, 4 through 6 are situational (depending on your genre preferences), and anything below... well, seek out at your own risk.

Let's go!

(500) Days of Summer (2009)

Director: Marc Webb
Writers: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Stars: Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Geoffrey Arend

Might be a tough pill to swallow for people who are turned off by indie 'quirkiness,' but I for one truly enjoyed the style of the film. The odometer tracking the story's chronology, the random musical number in the middle, the narration - it all worked for me. Zooey and JGL are great together and the side characters, while totally one-dimensional, are 'knowingly' one-dimensional. The film is obviously aware of the cliches it falls into as well as the ones that it sidesteps. This is another thing that people could find a bit grating; potentially making the movie come across as thinking itself a bit too clever for its own good. But, once again, I found the story was just genuine enough that none of these touches negatively affected my enjoyment of the film but rather enhanced the fun. Upper-tier romcom.

Score: 8 / 10

12 Angry Men (1957)

Director: Sidney Lumet
Writer: Reginald Rose (story)
Stars: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb and Martin Balsam

One room, twelve men. Keeping this drama enthralling for an hour and a half is no small feat - it is well acted, tightly scripted and paced to perfection. Some of the men in that room are painfully slow on the uptake when it comes to a few of the plot points and the characters are necessarily fairly one-dimensional - but the acting and forward momentum save it in those rare places where the script slightly stumbles. Overall, a fantastic film and one that proves that you don't need 'action' to be exciting.

Score: 9 / 10

Friday, January 4, 2013


Jack squinted, straining to make out his surroundings in the darkness. He extended an arm, groping blindly for a wall or, at the very least, something solid to guide his steps.

"Hey, Chris! Bring that light over here - I can't see squat."

"Alright, alright" Chris grumbled, rounding a corner and briefly blinding Jack with the beam of his flashlight.

"What the hell is this place anyway?" Jack asked, raising an arm to shield his eyes. The dazzling effect of the light was enhanced by the thick cloud of dust that hung in the air around them.

"Don't you know? Haven't you ever seen an abandoned blog before, Jack?"

"I have - but never up close. How long do you think this one's been left empty?"

"Oh, I dunno," Chris replied while glancing around. "Gotta be about a year, I'd suspect. Maybe more."

"A year!" Jack spun around, wide-eyed. He kicked at the thick layer of dust on the floor. "No way this has only been empty for a year!"

Chris grinned. "A year in real time - but you've got to remember that blogs work on internet time. A year in real life is basically a couple of decades in a place like this."

"Huh." Jack paused for a moment, seemingly lost in thought. "Any way to tell what kind of a blog it was? Or maybe who it belonged to?"

"Well, from what I can see of the content it looks like it was a review blog. Music, a couple movies. Let's see, unh." Chris grunted as he peeled an old, wrinkled post off of a wall. "Looks like they were in the middle of some kind of list when the boss went missing."

"Weird, any name on that or anything?"

"Yeah, there is - looks like 'S - c - h...'"

"What? What is it? What's wrong Chris?"

"This. This is my blog."

I'm back.


Content will resume as of Monday. By resume, I don't mean that the "Quarter Century" list will continue. No, that ran out of steam quickly and I'd prefer to just start fresh here. So, what's coming?

Here's the deal. I've had it pointed out to me that I tend to collect movies on my shelf faster than I can watch them (damn you, bargain bins!). A shameful number still sit on my shelf in their factory sealed packaging. I've made something of a New Year's resolution to change that. Therefore, the journey that we will take is one of bite-size reviews of everything from the front of my personal library straight through to the end; A to Z. Or rather, '(' to Y in my case. I'll also document any theatrical releases or Netflix viewings that will temporarily sidetrack us.

With that said, see you Monday!

P.S. Betting on how long this series will last closes on Sunday at 9 PM Eastern. Good luck!