The Naked City (6/19/12)

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The Naked City is a pseudo-documentary about the hunt for the murderers of a young woman in New York City.

The Naked City begins with an interesting narration that sets the film up as almost a documentary told through real people. While that realism permeates the film, there is a story behind the film and actors were used. After an attractive young woman is killed by two men, one of them becomes ridden with guilt and is killed by the other man. This sets off an investigation where many shady characters are investigated and the mystery grows larger as a series of robberies seem connected as well.

I went into The Naked City expecting a cold, gritty noir and when the film began I was thrown for a bit of a loop by the unique presentation. The story also ended up being different than I expected but I found it fairly enjoyable, if not a bit convoluted by the end. To fit in with the realism the film tries to set up, there are many non-actors used, which was a gamble that didn’t necessarily pay off. There are certain scenes that stand out more than others but it doesn’t necessarily hurt the flow or feel of the film.

I can honestly say I’ve never seen a film quite like The Naked City so from that perspective I was quite impressed. I was let down a bit by the story, which I had found confusing and not as noir-like as I was expecting. While I would certainly recommend it for its original setup, there are many other noirs from the time period that I would prefer to watch. Perhaps I missed out on something from the story, it’s quite possible, but even so The Naked City missed the mark for me.

I give it 3 opening sequences out of 5.

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Drive Reblog

AndyWatchesMovies:

I watched this again, so I figured I would repost my previous review of it since you likely didn’t see it the first time around.

Originally posted on Andy Watches Movies:

Drive

Movie Nineteen and Twenty One and One Hundred Forty Four and Two Hundred Twenty Three

Drive is my favorite movie of 2011. Drive also has some of the most abhorrent cover art ever, I literally hate to even post it. After the movie’s release it seemed like people either loved it or hated it, and I think I can pinpoint why that is.

First off, the trailer gives the impression of an edge-of-your-seat nonstop car chase. That is not the case, though there are several amazingly tense chase sequences. Second off, there is actually very little dialog in the movie, and the star, Ryan Gosling, has only a few lines. The film is very moody and very powerful if you are willing to pay attention. This also brings me back to the cover because for some reason Sony Pictures decided to make the film look like a straight to DVD…

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The Descendants (6/15/12)

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In The Descendants, after his wife ends up in a coma, a man must reconnect with his daughters as he struggles to deal with his enormous Hawaiian land inheritance.

Matt King (George Clooney) finds himself in two unusual predicaments. For the first, he is one of the descendants of Hawaiian royalty and has control of over 25,000 acres of untouched land on the island of Kauai. The second situation involves King’s wife, who was seriously injured in a boating accident and is now in a coma. King now has to deal with his two daughters growing up and his life is further complicated when he finds out his wife had been having an affair.

The Descendants is a film that I truly didn’t enjoy until the final 20 minutes when I was absolutely floored emotionally. I never would have guessed that I would have any emotional response since I had little interest in the story or even the characters. It turns out I was wrong about the latter but not really the former.

One thing I think that really irks me is the trailers for the film made this seem like a quirky indie comedy when it isn’t. Sure, there are a few moments that are supposed to be funny but I found them forced and even cringed at a few of them. I was not expecting such a touching story and had I expected it beforehand, I may have been more invested in more than the final quarter of The Descendants.

I will say this is one of my favorite roles for George Clooney. At times I have a hard time dealing with his roles where he oozes his Clooney charm, but here he is fairly human and raw. He is a hurt man and he portrays a hurt man well. There are also two other standout performances,  surprising ones at that,  from Matthew Lillard and Judy Greer.

The Descendants would still be a hard film for me to blindly recommend. The story is meandering, and many of the characters simply didn’t work for me. I was ready to give it a 3 star rating until it ended and I knew that there was no way I could get away with that since very few films move me to tears like The Descendants did. However, I still don’t think I would have any desire to watch it again.

I give it 4 I wish I owned this much of Hawaiis out of 5.

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Prometheus (6/10/12) &(10/26/12)

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Thinking they have found a link to the creation of mankind, a team led by two scientists goes off in search of life in Prometheus.

*I will try to be spoiler free but be warned*

When a team of scientists, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a series of orbs in the same pattern across thousands of years and several continents. Thinking this is not a coincidence, they set out to the star system that matches the glyphs on a trip to meet our Engineers funded by Weyland Corporation (Weyland played by Guy Pearce). Aboard the ship, dubbed Prometheus, we meet the crew including android David (Michael Fassbender). The team investigates a set of ruins and comes face to face with the remains of the Engineers and discover life.

By now, everyone who has seen Prometheus is firmly entrenched in their opinion of the film, whether they loved it or were disappointed. After coming out of the theater on opening weekend I was unsure how I felt about Prometheus. There were parts I loved, there were parts I thought were a bit silly, but one thing was certain: I had a million questions. Perhaps that is the film’s biggest flaw, one that can be attributed to writer Damon Lindelof. While I certainly didn’t expect answers to the creation of man, I did expect *something*.

I think perhaps some of the disappointment was because Prometheus is a precursor to the Alien series and people wanted that origin story. What we got ended up being the precursor to life as we know it so I think it makes sense for a film not to give us all the answers we seek and I can appreciate that it would create more questions for us in the process. Having said that, I do hope Prometheus is its own series of films because otherwise it will have left me entirely unfulfilled. Regardless of funky plotlines, the special effects are simply amazing. The world created here is much different than Alien but it feels familiar enough.

If I had to criticize Prometheus for just one thing it would be the characters. While the actors themselves are all splendid, especially Rapace, the supporting cast is stereotypical or just barely there. I never got a chance to care for any of them (except Shaw) almost to the point of frustration that the film tries to make us care. Perhaps Lindelof needs the runway of a TV series to really take flight and get his ideas across?

As a standalone film, Prometheus struggles to be a classic. It has moments of awesomeness and it also has sci-fi pitfalls and mediocrity. When viewed along the lines as an Alien prequel, it struggles as well but for different reasons. This is not a film like Alien, it is much different. I struggled coming up with a rating for Prometheus because the more I thought about it, and I thought about it a LOT, the more I waffled on it. At times I would give it a 3/5 and other times, even hours later, I would say it’s a 5/5 movie.

In the end, I give it 4 crying Davids out of 5.

[Update]

I watched Prometheus again on blu-ray and was blown away by the presentation. As far as blu-rays go, it’s one of the nicest ones ever produced from what I’ve seen. I have yet to go through all the special features, but the few I watched were very eye-opening so I look forward to seeing what else is in store. After a second viewing, I am less inclined to believe that Prometheus has any glaring plot holes; yes, there are parts with all too convenient writing, and other parts are quite nebulous but that is fiction, people.

Prometheus should not be a movie that explains everything, especially when the point is the creation of life itself. Too much explanation would make for a fumbling movie and Prometheus deftly skirts these issues at times and if it seems like it is tackling something head-on, it drops off just short of giving everything away.Obviously many folks saw this as poor writing and I can certainly see how it’s frustrating to expect answers and not get them. I see it as a puzzle and the movie lays out most of the edge pieces for us but leaves many pieces with the face side down for us to flip over ourselves, or at least theorize what piece goes where.

I appreciated Prometheus much more after a second viewing and I urge the people that doubted it to view it again. The 3D blu-ray package is worth buying for the special features alone, even if you don’t own a 3D player/TV because there is a full disc in this version not found on the regular blu-ray set. Will the special features answer everything? Not likely – but as I said, they shouldn’t answer everything.

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Yellow Submarine (6/9/12)

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In Yellow Submarine, after Pepperland comes under attack by the music-hating Blue Meanies, Captain Fred takes the submarine to find The Beatles to help restore order.

Pepperland is a peaceful place full of love and music and Sargeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, who protect the land. The Blue Meanies then attack Pepperland because they hate music and also seal away the band. The mayor sends Fred to find help and Fred takes off in a Yellow Submarine to find the Beatles.

It’s really difficult to dissect the story behind the basic premise because calling it “trippy” would be almost an understatement and the plot really isn’t the reason the watch this animated film. The star of the film, aside from the soundtrack, is really the animation itself. Many of the techniques used in Yellow Submarine were groundbreaking and it is still quite the visual treat. As with many (all?) musicals the plot is loosely tied to what songs come next but considering the quality of the songs that is not a negative point.

I had never seen Yellow Submarine from start to finish and was a bit shocked that it runs a full 90 minutes and after a while it really feels like it’s that long. Great animation and music can only get you so far before you just want to destroy the Blue Meanies and for the whole thing to be over with. One thing I was also shocked to learn is that The Beatles themselves do not voice their characters, they are all impersonations, though the group does appear in a live-action sequence at the very end.

As far as musicals go, I am not usually a fan, but Yellow Submarine is different. The quality and care taken with making Yellow Submarine is remarkable. Fans of The Beatles, the film, or animation should take note of the recently released Blu-Ray, which is how my wife and I viewed this. The set is incredibly well-made and the visuals and sound in Yellow Submarine are simply stunning as a result. While I can’t say I will be watching the film again any time soon, I’m very glad I finally took the time to watch it.

I give it 4 When I’m Sixty Fours out of 5.

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The Blob [1958] (6/9/12)

The BlobMovie One Hundred Forty

When a mysterious space rock crashes into Earth, the creature inside terrorizes a small town as it grows immensely in The Blob.

Almost two genres in one, The Blob is part teenage drama and part sci-fi/horror film. Steve (Steve McQueen) and his girlfriend, Jane are out at a make-out point as they see a meteorite crash into a nearby field. When they go to investigate it, they find the meteorite, the meteorite with the blob, and an elderly farmer. The blob then attacks the farmer and attaches itself to his arm and the two teens take him to the doctor. Before the doctor can help the man, the blob consumes him and begins to grow. Soon, the blob is out of control eating everything (and everyone) it can, growing to immense proportions.

Side note, it’s really hard to write “blob” and not “blog”.

Growing up I was more aware of the 1988 version of The Blob which is a remake of this version, albeit a violent remake. The original has a special charm that only 50s sci-fi flicks can really muster and even though it is cheesy and the acting is met with many an eye-roll, I was charmed by The Blob. As a monster, the blob itself is fairly terrifying. It’s unrelenting and it’s only goal is to eat and grow.  Being smothered to death by a giant ball of autonomous pink goo is pretty high on my list of “ways I’d rather not die”.

Still, even though I was taken with the setting of The Blob, as well as Steve McQueen before being THE Steve McQueen, it’s not a great movie. As I touched on before, the acting is especially horrendous for some of the townsfolk and watching the film 50+ years later it’s easy to call out all of its faults. The story seems to want to depart and become a teenage drama more than once, which is kind of odd and makes the pacing difficult. One thing I was impressed with was the blob creature, which looks exactly as a pink outer space blob monster should look. While I wouldn’t recommend The Blob outright, there is a lot of entertainment to be had if you’re like me and have a soft spot for movies like this. The 80s version, while violent, doesn’t have the same charm.

I give it 3 how did Steve McQueen pull off being a teenager looking like this? out of 5.

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Brief Encounter (6/8/12)

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Brief Encounter is the story of two complete strangers that briefly meet at a train station but develop a strong relationship for one another despite their own lives back home.

The film begins inside the train station cafe, where a couple is seen talking in the background while a station officer talks with the owner. Eventually the camera makes its way over to the couple as a chatty woman recognizes the woman and butts into their obviously important conversation. Soon the man’s train arrives and he has to go, obviously distraught. The two women continue talking, but the first woman’s mind is obviously still lingering on the conversation she was having with the man. The story then becomes narrated by the woman, Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson), in a letter to her husband and tells her tale of a sordid love connection with Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) after the two met by chance in the same station.

Brief Encounter is a movie I was expecting to enjoy since it comes from director David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai) but I was not expecting to be so completely absorbed by the film from the opening sequence.  We know that Laura and Alec’s relationship ends as he gets on a train but we know nothing else until the film guides us. In my head I was almost expecting a Casablanca-like plot and the two films share some similarities but Brief Encounter is much more straightforward, strictly focusing on the relationship between two people that are living comfortable but unsatisfying lives at home.

The films two stars both shine bright in their roles here and the direction and camera-work are all incredibly well done. For being from the 40s and taking place in the 30s, Brief Encounter is not quite as rigid as I was anticipating though the dialogue can be a bit too proper at times.

Criterion has once again given new life to a film that likely hasn’t had nearly enough publicity since it’s opening. The film comes from the David Lean Directs Noel Coward box set and the Blu-Ray is exactly what we have come to expect from Criterion. While this was the first film of four I have watched, I am greatly looking forward to the rest if they are treated with the same care, which I’m sure they have been.

Brief Encounter is one of the best films about a romance I have seen and I would almost shy away from calling it a romance film. While obviously surrounding a relationship, Brief Encounter is really about the people in the relationship rather than the relationship itself, which I think is a fair distinction. I would recommend this film to everyone that doesn’t mind the possibility of an unhappy ending.

I give it 5 Flames of Passions out of 5.

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The Invention of Dr. Nakamats (6/6/12)

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The Invention of Dr. Nakamats serves as a brief biography about the world’s most prolific inventor that you’ve never heard of.

Dr. Yoshiro Nakamatsu (aka Dr. Nakamats) is a brilliant mind and an eccentric fellow that currently holds the world record for having the most patents. While The Invention of Dr. Nakamats is about the man himself, it is not always the most flattering of him. While Dr. Nakamats holds many patents and invents many things, their usefulness is debatable and Dr. Nakamats’ opinion of himself may be his greatest invention.

The film centers around Dr. Nakamats’ 80th birthday but he gives an oral account of his life story and clips are shown of various awards and ideas of his over the years. In preparation of his birthday party, there are several scenes with a hotel manager fighting over changing the name of the ballroom to incorporate the name “Nakamats”. When the hotel manager is unbending in the ability to do this, it’s a great blow to Dr. Nakamats and his fragile pride.

At a very lean 58 minute runtime, The Invention of Dr. Nakamats is almost too short but perhaps it is long enough to not overstay its welcome. The documentary had me laughing, both with and at the subjects, and I was glad I watched it. While Dr. Nakamats is not quite the level of infomercial inventors like Ron Popeil, there are some inventions that are so ludicrous you’ll be left scratching your head. His method of inventing is also one of the most bizarre things ever.

The Invention of Dr. Nakamats is an interesting documentary that I would recommend to everyone. Whether or not you like Dr. Nakamats himself becomes almost irrelevant by the end because you don’t need to like him to enjoy watching. The Invention of Dr. Nakamats is a bit weird and irregular as a documentary, but that’s OK, so is Dr. Nakamats.

I give it 4 self-defense wig patents out of 5.

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The Emperor’s New Groove (6/4/12)

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In Walt Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove, a young Peruvian emperor has to learn how to be a better person after being turned into a llama.

Kuzco (David Spade) is the spoiled bratty emperor of ancient Peru that wants to build his summer house on the hill that Pacha (John Goodman) lives on. Soon after, Kuzco’s advisor Yzma (Eartha Kitt) decides to poison him with the help of her assistant, Kronk (Patrick Warburton), to control the empire. Instead of poison, the two use a potion that turns Kuzco into a llama and Kuzco is disposed of. He then has to make his way back to defeat Yzma, right his former wrongdoings, and also turn back into a human.

Say what you will of the quality of Disney’s animated films from the past 15 years, but for me, The Emperor’s New Groove is one of my favorite Disney animated features ever. If you’re wondering why, I would assume that means you haven’t seen it and I can’t say I blame you. Even Hercules and The Hunchback of Notre Dame got more marketing and sustainability while poor Emperor’s New Groove was released and quickly forgotten. I’m sure its troubled development is largely to blame. It’s a simple film that I find pretty hilarious that also has a great artistic style and soundtrack.

While the film is not up to the level of quality of say, Lion King or Aladdin, but The Emperor’s New Groove doesn’t seem to try to be those films. It is unique enough that it’s almost surprising it’s Disney. Even as an almost-thirty year old that has seen it several times, I laugh out loud during multiple scenes. Most of the credit belongs to the amazing cast assembled. David Spade is the obvious weak link, especially since he is in the lead, but his personality and mannerisms transfer perfectly to the character, even if you aren’t a fan of his.

I love proselytizing in the case of The Emperor’s New Groove mostly because no one else seems to. Very few people I know are even familiar with this lost gem of the Disney catalog so I feel it’s my duty to recommend it. There are few films quite like it, even if the story is taken from the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes, the spin put on The Emperor’s New Groove is fresh.

I give it 4 multi-linguistic “Boom, baby!”s out of 5.

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Until the Light Takes Us (6/4/12)

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Until the Light Takes Us is a documentary about the black metal scene the emerged from Norway in the early 90s.

This is normally where I lend a paragraph to summarize the plot or subject of the film, but in the case of Until the Light Takes Us I am having difficulty doing this. While the film intends to be a bit of a history lesson about Norwegian black metal, it’s meandering and at least 15 years too late to be shocking. Even Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry for what the film is about.

While black metal has made headlines for the past 20 years, it is mostly for church burning, self-mutilation and even several murders. All of this is discussed through interviews with band members and people involved in the scene. Some of the tales have been embellished or exaggerated, most are true to some extent, which makes the subject itself interesting, at least.

As I said before, Until the Light Takes Us is at least 15 years too late to be shocking or, apparently, interesting. I have limited knowledge of the metal sub-genre and learned very little by the film. In fact, in studying for this review, I actually learned more on Wikipedia’s pages for some of the artists interviewed. If you aren’t a fan of black metal you will not only be totally disgusted by some of the things shown, but also likely bored and annoyed by the film. As far as documentaries go I found Until the Light Takes Us  a bit directionless but at least I was partially entertained.

I give it 2 Varg Vikernes Wikipedia pages (seriously more insightful and informative than the film) out of 5.

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