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Monthly Report: May 2012

Compared to the previous two months, May was a bit disappointing in terms of both quality and quantity. The quality is unfortunate, but it’s due to knowingly dumb choices on my part. As for quantity, I was on my way to another movie-filled month until a certain video game called Diablo 3 derailed everything. No need to worry, though. I’ll be back in the swing of things sooner or later, with a planned Saturday viewing of Prometheus likely to get my film-watching back on track.

For now, enjoy this overview of the films I saw in May.

The Incredible Hulk (Louis Leterrier, 2008)
I wish I had gotten to see this one before seeing The Avengers, because it’s hard to be all that impressed with the action here after seeing what Hulk does in that other movie. To be fair though, The Incredible Hulk puts in a good effort action-wise, as the stakes are carefully ramped up throughout the film. The climactic battle is satisfying. More problematic is the story, however. Bruce Banner is an interesting character, arguably moreso than the other Avengers, and Edward Norton is quite okay in the part. Unfortunately, Norton’s Banner disappears when CGI Hulk jumps into the fray, and the disconnect is there. The lack of strong supporting characters also hurts the narrative aspects of the film. Still, this remains a decent movie. The tale of an unwilling and tortured soul of a superhero is compelling, and the action is solid. The Incredible Hulk ranks somewhere in the middle when comparing the pre-Avengers films.
3/5

Frantic (Roman Polanski, 1988)
Well-crafted thriller in which Harrison Ford – at the top of his acting game – tries to find his wife (Betty Buckley), who has gone missing on their vacation in Paris. The first half or so is particularly good. The Pace is methodical, everything is uncertain and tense, and there’s a realistic tone to everything. Unfortunately, the film eventually boils down to something we’re more familiar with from regular Hollywood thrillers, and the atmosphere weakens a bit – something not helped by a few unnecessarily humorous touches. Still, Ford himself performs admirably from start to finish, and the end result is a positive one even if it doesn’t quite measure up to the Polanski thrillers of earlier days.
3/5

The Straight Story (David Lynch, 1999)
There were scenes and moments in this road movie that I found quite beautiful, but they can’t make up for the dullness that surrounds them. The mood of the film never quite seized me, despite a stunningly wonderful performance by Richard Farnsworth. I could see myself growing to like this movie with time, but for now, it’ll have to settle for lower marks.
2/5

Puncture (Adam & Mark Kassen, 2011)
The problem with basing a story on real events is that you need to stick somewhat close to reality. Puncture features an interesting tale of lawyers trying to work against a health care conspiracy, one I found myself quite engrossed in. However, the lead character (a very good Chris Evans) is a junkie, and this aspect eats up too much of the screentime for my liking. It feels like an unwelcome distraction. Still, you couldn’t really make the movie without touching upon it, I suppose. This one could have been even better than it was had it chosen a different way to tackle parts of its subject matter. Enjoyable nonetheless.
3/5

You Don’t Know Jack (Barry Levinson, 2010)
Al Pacino shows that he’s still capable of great performances in this biopic on Dr. Kevorkian and his struggle to legalize euthanasia. Unfortunately, the rest of the film can’t match him. As important as the issue is, it doesn’t make for a very interesting story. Pacing is also an issue as there are slow stretches where the plot doesn’t go anywhere.
2/5

American Pie Presents: The Book of Love (John Putch, 2009)
There’s a scene in this movie where an old ugly hooker is performing oral sex on a guy and uses her dentures to nibble his nipples. That actually made me snicker for a split-second. It’s the comedic highlight of this movie, the rest of which is absolute horse manure. No, wait, that’s not fair. Horse manure at least has useful fertilizing properties. This movie is worthless.
1/5

Hesher (Spencer Susser, 2010)
To begin talking about Hesher the movie, one must mention Hesher the character (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). He has the kind of larger-than-life presence that commands attention. He’s a heavy metal Joker, only he’s in a family/grief drama with a slew of black comedy, rather than in a superhero movie. He operates on Hesher logic, something distinctively different from real logic. The movie is infected by his “agent of chaos” ways, and it makes for a really fun ride for the first half or so. It’s one of those movies where you have no idea where it’s going to go, which is a rare quality to have. That it eventually becomes apparent that not even the movie knows where it’s going is a shame, and Hesher the character becomes more of an ill-fitting obstruction than anything. When it’s all said and done, this film offers quite a few laughs and has some good acting on display, but it is also uneven and awkward. A for effort, but not for the end result.
3/5

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (Mark Herman, 2008)
Holocaust drama from the eyes of a German child (Hugo‘s Asa Butterfield) who befriends a jewish boy (Jack Scanlon) stuck in a camp. The film does a pretty good job of filtering the unknown horrors of the situation through the main character’s innocence, and there’s little faulting the performances – I was particularly impressed by Vera Farmiga who plays the worrying mother of the protagonist. I’m a bit torn on the ending, though. It’s sad – like most holocaust films tend to be – but it also felt vaguely manipulative. I’m not entirely sure whether this was due to my own expectations of where the film was going or not. Nonetheless, I wasn’t entirely enamored by the way the story ultimately went. A fine film, but not a great one.
3/5

Beginners (Mike Mills, 2010)
Here’s a case where the selectiveness of the awards season can lead to conveying the wrong ideas about a film. Christopher Plummer got all the attention for his supporting performance as the old gay father, which had me thinking that this would be the sole stand-out quality of the film. Oh, how wrong I was. This is a wonderfully bittersweet movie from top to bottom. Oliver’s (Ewan McGregor) problems with love and commitment are juxtaposed with the situation his dad was going through, showing us the guards and masks we subconsciously put up in order to avoid hurting ourselves and others. This one tugs at the heartstrings in all the right ways, and the result is a great movie.
5/5

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (Uwe Boll, 2007)
I’m torn on what score to give this video game adaptation. I watched it and its sequel back to back, and this first one is certainly the better one. That’s not saying much though, because this is still a bad film. Are there enjoyable parts of it? Sure. While most of the actors sleepwalk through the movie, there are at least some that realize what kind of movie they’re in and decide to ham it up quite a bit – Matthew Lillard in particular. And there is at least some modicum of effort evident in making the film look good design-wise. I’m tempted to give it a score of 2, but… no. The Lord of the Rings-wannabe script is ridiculous, and Uwe Boll has no idea how to shoot action scenes. This gets a 1 and likes it. Only recommended for Jason Statham completionists. Like me. And even I regret seeing it. Uwe Boll has done it again.
1/5

In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds (Uwe Boll, 2011)
And again. Because if there was one thing missing from the first one, it was a fish-out-of-water angle to the story where a guy gets transported from our world to medieval fantasy. And Dolph Lundgren in the lead instead of Statham. And tracing the plot of The Matrix rather than Lord of the Rings. This movie is an utter failure, even when compared to the already bad first film. In that one, there was at least budget (60 million dollars!) to get some name actors onboard and to stage big battle scenes. This one, by comparison, feels like some dozen guys running around the woods in shoddy LARP costumes. An even bigger problem is the fact that nothing really happens for most of the film. It’s not just a bad movie, but also a boring one. Stay the fuck away from this one.
1/5

Total # of new films seen: 11
Average score: 2.5 / 5
Best film of the month: Beginners
Worst film of the month: In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds

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Posted by on 31 May, 2012 in Monthly Report

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1996

As usual, this goes by release year as listed on IMDB.

Honorable mentions: The Rock, Sling Blade

10 – FOXFIRE (Annette Haywood-Carter)

“Live dangerously. Walk me to class.”

A cool and thoughtful movie about the friendship that develops between a group of teenage girls, with drifter Legs (a pre-breakthrough Angelina Jolie) acting as the catalyst. Truth be told, I don’t remember much details about this film, but I do recall being quite taken by the earnest performances and the very 90s-y feel of the movie. Sadly, not many people seem to have seen this one. Do check it out if you have the chance.

9 – KINGPIN (Peter & Bobby Farrelly)

“It’s round, has three holes, and you put your fingers into it.”

I haven’t seen this one since the early 2000s, but this one got frequent play on my VCR back in the day. The humor is of the typical Farrelly brand; if that’s not your thing, this bowling comedy won’t change your mind. For those of us who like this stuff, Kingpin offers plenty of laughs. Having two great actors like Woody Harrelson and Bill Murray in the central parts certainly doesn’t hurt either, with Murray in particular stealing the show in the film’s climactic bowling game.

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Posted by on 9 May, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1998

You know the drill by now. These are my 10 favorite movies of 1998, going by release year listed on IMDB.

Honorable mentions: Dark City, The Interview, Rushmore, Run Lola Run, There’s Something About Mary

10 – FOLLOWING (Christopher Nolan)

“You take it away to show them what they had.”

Before there were the multi-million dollar blockbusters like The Dark Knight and Inception, there was Following. Nolan’s first film was made on a budget of $6000, shot in black & white and with no bells and whistles. The story thus becomes the focal point, and it’s a good one indeed. Telling the non-chronological tale of a writer (Jeremy Theobald) who after following people on the streets eventually finds himself led into a world of crime, this neo-noir is filled with twists, turns and intrigue. Not quite a masterpiece or anything, but definitely well worth checking out to see where the seeds for Memento were planted.

9 – THE CELEBRATION (FESTEN, Thomas Vinterberg)

“Here’s to the man who killed my sister. To a murderer.”

The Celebration is perhaps most significant for being the first (and, alongside Lars Von Trier‘s The Idiots, arguably the most well-known) movie of the Dogme 95 movement, a philosophy that emphasises realism throughout the whole film production and was started in reaction to big costly Hollywood fare. However, it’s also a captivating film in its own right, showing the dark secrets hidden away beneath the facades of a wealthy family. It’s a fitting subject matter for the style, which all leads to some chillingly stark scenes and moments. A powerful film.

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Posted by on 29 March, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1999

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the 10 films on this list is the abundance of directing newcomers on it. 7 of the movies were made by people who made their feature film directorial debuts, and while not all of these film-makers would go on to lasting greatness, it still makes for an impressive class of 1999. The other three films are made by two well-established masters and one quickly rising star. There’s also, as usual, a lot of comedy on here. This shouldn’t surprise you with my lists any more.

So far in this series of blog posts, I have chosen to largely abstain from making honorable mentions. This has largely been due to a stubborn adherence to principles; if one sets out to make a list of 10 films, one should not name 20 films. I have now realized that this is counter-productive to the aim of these lists, which is to give people an idea of what movies I like.

With that in mind, here are some 1999 films I really like that didn’t quite make my list. Honorable mentions, if you will. In alphabetical order:

Arlington Road, Beyond the Mat, Bringing Out the Dead, Girl Interrupted, The Green Mile, In China They Eat Dogs, Magnolia, Office Space, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Toy Story 2

Now on to the list proper. As usual, I’m going by IMDB’s year of release.

10 – EYES WIDE SHUT (Stanley Kubrick)

“No dream is ever just a dream.”

Equal parts nightmare sightseeing tour through New York City and meditation on infidelity, Stanley Kubrick finished off his career in great fashion with Eyes Wide Shut. Impeccably designed and shot – as is to be expected from Kubrick – and with one of Tom Cruise‘s best performances in the lead, this film is also helped by having a strong story, one that might seem simple and straight-forward on paper but that reveals more layers with each watch.

9 – THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez)

“I’m afraid to close my eyes, I’m afraid to open them.”

While this movie didn’t invent the found footage genre of film (Cannibal Holocaust from 1980 seems to be the agreed-upon originator), The Blair Witch Project popularised it, paving the way for films like REC, Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity and many others. When I first watched it at home alone one night as a teen, it had me rattled to the core. Even today, it remains a highly effective horror film by making us fear what we can’t see, rather than throwing a monster right in our faces. A picture might say more than a thousand words, but in horror, so does a sound that shouldn’t be there.

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Posted by on 5 March, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2002

After the somewhat weak year that was 2003, we come to 2002. What is there to say about this year? Not much. It was a good year, thus making for a solid top 10. So with little to pontificate about regarding 2002, I’d like to take this space to talk about the fleeting nature of these lists.

I am by no means done with any year film-wise. Not yet, and I don’t think I ever will be. There are always more movies to see, from critically hailed modern classics to gems that have gotten lost in the shuffle and are waiting to be discovered. So it’s no wonder that the lists can get slightly dated with time. Not just in terms of the ranked order (which can change from day to day), but also in which films are included. For example, I hadn’t seen A Single Man when I made my 2009 list, but if I had, it would definitely have made the cut. The same goes for the wonderful documentary Best Worst Movie. Rather than going back to updating the lists when necessary, I’m fine with just leaving them as they are. All lists are windows into brief moments in time. “This is how Emil felt on this day”, is what they proclaim. Even if I see some 2002 movie later this week that would make the cut for this list, it doesn’t change the fact that this here is a collection of 10 movies I really enjoyed. To offer a general view of what kind of films I like has always been the purpose of these lists, and this goal is still accomplished by leaving them as they are.

So now, on to the list for 2002. As always, this goes by the release dates listed on IMDB.

10 – CHANGING LANES (Roger Michell)

“I can live with myself because at the end of the day I think I do more good than harm. What other standard have I got to judge by?”

Two strangers collide in a traffic accident. One is a lawyer at the cusp of his big break, the other a recovering alcoholic trying to gain custody of his children. The meeting causes a delay for both of them, setting them off on a spiralling path through the day where both will try to exact revenge on each other and struggle with determining who is right and who is wrong. A cleverly written film where we can sympathize with both sides of a conflict. Ben Affleck puts in one of his best performances, while Samuel L. Jackson is as fun as always.

9 – ONE HOUR PHOTO (Mark Romanek)

“No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget.”

A thriller that really gets under your skin, through a protagonist who’s troubled both psychologically and socially. Loner Sy (played expertly by a subdued Robin Williams) lives through the photos he developes for his customers, experiencing their joys that he himself has none of in his own life. But when he discovers that injustice is done to people he care about, he gradually snaps. It’s a story of morality and a reminder of how little we know of others, of the things we keep from them ourselves, and of how the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

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Posted by on 9 January, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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