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Archive for March 2011

Insomnia (2002)

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So yeah, I’m doing a Liz Taylor marathon of sorts… but I’m also kinda going through some Chris Nolan movies.  Cuz he’s the mannnn.  After I saw Following I just had to watch Insomnia because I didn’t really remember it and it too was on Netflix.

So Insomnia is probably my least favorite of the Nolan flicks, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like it or that it’s by any means a bad movie.  (We’re comparing this to Inception, Dark Knight, and Memento here…) It’s got a great cast (Al freaking Pacino is in it for heaven’s sake… along with Hilary Swank and Robin Williams, all Oscar winners) and still some epic Nolan-esque qualities (who freaking well NEEDS an Oscar).

Pacino plays Will Dormer, an acclaimed detective who hops it over with his partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) to Alaska to aid in an investigation of a murdered girl.  Dormer isn’t so squeaky clean – there’s an Internal Affairs investigation taking place in Los Angeles over one of his cases for potentially falsified evidence.  He ain’t afraid to use any method possible to find out what he wants or to win.  He and his partner aren’t exactly peachy-keen with each other, they argue over methods and Eckhart might even testify against Dormer.

Then there’s Ellie Burr (Swank), a young over-eager police officer fresh from the academy, and Dormer’s biggest fan.  She’s initially assigned to work with Dormer on the Kay Connell case.  Ya know, I like Hilary Swank.  I like girls that actually look fit and healthy rather than anorexically skinny (You know, The Next Karate Kid, Million Dollar Baby type girl).  She’s also a talented actress and I think she gives a pretty great performance in this.  She creates a character who subtly grows from her naïveté, it seems as natural as a real human being.

Alaska in the summer=the land of perpetual daylight.  It drives Dormer insane, how could anyone sleep in the daytime?  Oh wait it’s midnight already…  Have you ever had insomnia?  It’s awful.  I grew up having extreme difficulty falling asleep at night.  It was the worst in high school.  I’d just be there… on the bed… staring at the ceiling… I’d read a book for a few minutes, listen to music, or not listen to music, open the window, turn up the A/C, get a softer blanket, play a game on my phone, whatever.  It SUCKS.  Luckily I can survive with little sleep, and luckily I’d still manage to average around 5 hours.  Better than going straight through, like Dormer.  And I didn’t have a murder investigation on my mind…

Dormer goes crazy.  Light flashes, confusing memories, fuzzy vision, all that good stuff.  He’s also dealing with some heavy anxiety (murder and stuff tend to do that to ya).  He’s blinking away the fatigue whenever you look at him, willing his eyes to breath.  Al Pacino’s a beast.  He’s good in everything.  I don’t know how a man like that can stand to be so good at what he does, seriously.  But like I said, I know how insomnia goes and Al’s got it down.

It should also be noted that Robin Williams might give the best performance of the bunch, if you can believe it.  I won’t say much more about him, he’s a character best discovered by watching the movie.  I ain’t in the business of giving away too much.

But all I’ve really got to say about this movie is that, *cough cough* it’s Christopher Nolan.  Now here’s the real question – how can a guy like NOLAN survive knowing that he has a repertoire of pure genius sans exception.  What would it be like to be that legit?

Insomnia explores some crazy psychological deals.  Right and wrong, guilt, anxiety.  It’s also a good mystery.  Who killed Kay Connell, what’s Dormer’s deal, who’s the crazy guy that keeps calling Dormer (Robin Williams – no, that’s not the answer), etc.  It’s a thriller, not your standard thriller, but a thriller of the mind nonetheless.  It’s claustrophobic, he’s just sooooo tireddddd. I’d love to watch the original Norwegian version – it sounds a little more hardcore than this.  But by its own merits, Insomnia is great.  Another 50 points for team Nolan.  8/10

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Written by laurenthejukebox17

March 28, 2011 at 8:06 am

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

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Oh Elizabeth Taylor.  You were such an icon.  You kind of ruled the movie industry.  And your life was such a soap opera.  But you’re still amazing.  RIP, lady.  Sadly, there are quite a few of her movies that I haven’t seen yet.  Nothing like a death to get you rolling, so here I am.

First of all, Paul Newman’s in this movie.  I’m kind of in love with that blue-eyed hunk.  Taylor plays our “cat on a hot tin roof,” Maggie, and is married to Paul (his name is Brick) an alcoholic ex-football player.  I don’t know about you folks, but initially I thought that Maggie was our bad guy character.  She’s sassy, standoffish and rude.  You’re not quite sure if her pleas for affection from Brick are out of sexual selfishness or genuine love.  But then the story slowly unfolds and turns out Brick’s kind of a bum.  And an ignorant jerk.  Maggie’s still sassy and rude and standoffish, but she’s got good intentions.

Their marriage is on the rocks (and childless).  Brick’s father “Big Daddy” (Burl Ives) is dying of cancer.  The house is full of screaming “no-neck” kids.  Brick’s brother Gooper (Jack Carson) and wife (Madeleine Sherwood) are idiots, bickering over who gets what when he dies and trash talking about Brick.  Big Mama (Judith Anderson) is just freaking out.  It’s all a big mess – everyone’s lying to everybody and nobody is getting along.  Except the oblivious kids maybe.

All of this tension is even more eminent transpiring in such close quarters and all in one sitting.  Everything takes place in a aingle evening.  It’s hard to tell how long Brick has been dealing with this crisis of identity and basically how long he’s been completely self centered, wallowing in his problems and reliving “the glory days.”  In some ways, it seems like the story is unveiled almost too organized.  Problem- digging into man’s subconscious- solution-type of deal.  Could all of those deep psychological issues be fixed with one pow-wow with the pops?  Just a thought.

But this is still a great movie.  Based off the Pulitzer prize winning play by Tennessee Williams, the script is still good though apparently deviating dramatically from the original (like a prominent homosexual theme?)  The acting is also great and I’m ASTONISHED that Burl Ives wasn’t nominated.  He was my favorite part (well, except for looking at Paul Newman that is…)  Elizabeth Taylor is a firey spirit as always and she’s perfect for the role.  Newman is also excellent – proof that he has range as an actor.  It’s one of those movies where every single person is perfect in their role.  I also enjoyed Judith Anderson’s performance as Big Mama.

The selling point is the ever-present tension.  It literally fogs your screen it’s so heavy.  And man, who wouldn’t feel stressed with all of that bickering and chaotic children.  It’s excellently directed by Richard Brooks.  The climax between Brick and Big Daddy is the explosion after a ticking bomb.  It’s perfectly set and the ending is dang satisfactory.  Full of sizzle.  Yes, I just used the word sizzle.

And did I mention that I love Paul Newman’s blue eyes? 7/10


Written by laurenthejukebox17

March 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm

V for Vendetta (2006)

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“Remember, remember the fifth of November, the gunpowder, treason and plot.  I know of no reason the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.”

Geek fest geek fest geek fest…  I can think of a few movies that I’ve seen in my lifetime where I come home from the theater, or turn off the TV and just sit back and think.  Memento falls under this category as does Inception or actually The Prestige… k so any Christopher Nolan movie AT ALL, but I’ve also had this feeling with On the Waterfront, The Truman Show, Psycho, and The Man in the Moon.  It doesn’t have to be trippy like Nolan’s movies to get me thinking.  These movies all made an impression on me in some way or another, whether it’s crazy good acting, a revealing twist, trippy cinematography, a great script or simply a wonderful story.  V for Vendetta made an impression on me.  I’m not sure exactly what it was, but this movie is freaking amazing.

So there’s this terrorist dude.  He’s got a white mask, a deep impressionable voice, and goes by the name “V.”  (Hugo Weaving, so awesome even without a face).  Dystopian London is a wreck, and he thinks he can set it straight by finishing what Guy Fawkes and co. started in 1605… blow up Parliament.  On the 5th of November, of course.  Though he dons the Fawkes mask as his symbol, V has his own personal vendetta against the government, beginning with his imprisonment at a British concentration camp for homosexuals, blacks, Jews, Muslims, etc.  His face was disfigured in an explosion (also on November 5th) and he seeks revenge over all responsible at the camp.

There’s also a girl named Evey Hammond (played brilliantly and very British-like by Natalie Portman).  She’s a twenty-somethin’ orphan working at the British Television Network.  She crosses paths with V (well, he saved her life or somethin’) and invites her to watch him blow up the Old Bailey.  The government steals his thunder by covering to the public what really happened, so he makes a personal appearance on the TV Network Evey works at, appealing to the people to unite with him the following 5th of November against Parliament.  Evey saves his life… he takes her to his freaking awesome lair where she’s supposed to chill for a year.  And later she shows off her awesome head shape  – very few women could pull off a shaved head like she can.  (“Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head” anyone?)

Okay, so the British government is pretty messed up.  This is dystopian GB, the US is basically destroyed, and totalitarian gov of the fascist Norsefire party led by Adam Sutler (John Hurt) tries to fix the environmental mess that England is in post some war involving biological weapons.  They basically came to power by creating a deadly virus, killing thousands, and then producing a cure.  And they, like, had psycho concentration camps like Nazis.  Sketchy kinda?  So the public might actually pay attention to this “V” man, no one likes the controlled situation they’re under.

Another character of note is Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea) who is investigating the murders of several government officials, all killed by V.

First of all, V is freaking awesome.  His opening V-alliterated monologue along with Evey’s “Are you, like, a crazy person?” is kind of great.  V kinda has a knife obsession, loves The Count of Monte Cristo, and all things beautiful.  He’s a jack of all trades master at EVERYTHING kind of a guy.  Too bad we only hear Weaving’s voice, but it’s still a good performance balancing brilliance with insanity.

I, personally, think that Natalie Portman is good as well.  Some argue that her accent sucks and that she’s just white noise behind better performances.  But I disagree, I think she’s a very talented actress and her accent is actually quite good.  I enjoyed her performance.

But I’ll be honest, though the acting, cinematography, directing, writing, costumes, technical aspects (freaking sweet in its own right – visually exciting and better than The Matrix in some aspects) and what else have you are all great ‘n’ all… the story makes the movie.  And I’m a sucker for dystopian plot lines.  It’s gotta be my consistently most favorite genre.  I can’t believe I haven’t gotten ahold of the graphic novels yet (it’s on my to-do list now), because just the film itself has sparked a bug in me and I want to know everything I can about this crazy, unfamiliar world.  It’s complex and nuanced, heartbreaking and gripping.  It’s also a kick-A action movie, if you dig that.

I’m sure the Wachowski bros and James McTeigue don’t do Alan Moore justice, but on a strictly movie standpoint – this is hardcore. 9/10

Following (1998)

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So I think by this point everybody’s on board that Christopher Nolan is the bad-A of the times.  The best of the best, the leader of the pack, a movie-lover’s dream.  This is everybody’s man’s debut film.  Following is probably the most similar to Memento of any of his other movies, but it is also completely different in its own right.  It’s almost Hitchcock-esque.  Not quite so trippy as Inception, but still as gripping.  It’s a low-budget gem.

Following is, initially, about a man named Bill who follows people to pass the time.  He’s a writer, but has no current job, and wants to learn about human nature from his followees.  He had to set rules for himself though, so as not to become too obsessive or, IMO, perverted, and his most important rule of all was never to follow the same person twice.  But why set rules unless you can break them, eh?

He follows a man named Cobb.  (More than once).  But this mysterious, handsome man in a dark suit knows that our guy’s up to something and confronts him.  They talk, and share their stories.  Turns out Cobb’s a serial burglar, and he invites our man to go on some jobs with him.  These ain’t your run-of-the-mill-steal-the-jewelry-burglars, though.  Cobb’s more interested in the personal items of their victims.  “Everyone has a box.”  He drinks their wine, rummages through photos, takes a few things here and there.  His intention is that “you take it away, show them what they had.”

They become partners, and Cobb shows the young man what’s up.  The young man starts some burglary projects of his own, changes his appearance, starts a relationship with a blonde femme-fatale.  Things spin out of control soon enough however.  Never follow someone twice, kids.

The chronology is similar to Memento.  Awesome.  It’s not as systematic as that, however (color real-time scenes, black & white backwards scenes, etc.)  But it’s still out of order, and possibly even awesome-r in this modern film noir.  Who’d-o’ thunk that this method of storytelling would be so freaking epic?  I think it’s the best way to reveal the what’s up of a story.  This remains true for Following.  The big end wouldn’t be half as cool were it not for the messed up timeline.  Hats off to you, Chris.

Its length (just over an hour) and detached feel are strengths as well.  The only character credited with a name is Cobb.  This also felt like something Hitchcock would do (and did).  It’s very straightforward, and lacks strong emotion.  You learn the facts about the characters, you learn about the victims.  You can’t always feel what the young man is feeling, however.  It’s hard to describe, because it’s a character story, or study rather, but it still has this edgy, detached feel.

The incomprehensible small budget of just $6,000 is put to perfect use in the gritty underbelly of London.  Everything feels dirty, creepy, and mysterious.  The excellent photography combined with the scenery contributes to the suspense and ambiance.  The no-name cast is also excellent, Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, and Lucy Russell.  It’s a surprise to me that they did nothing else, they’re quite good in this – especially Alex Haw as Cobb.. and he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page!

If you’re just hopping on the Chris Nolan bandwagon, I’d check this one out.  If you loved Memento, this is his father.  Following is another excellent film that credits Nolan as good as any other mainstream effort of his. 9/10

Written by laurenthejukebox17

March 20, 2011 at 11:35 am

The Swan Princess (1994)

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Prince Derrick and Princess Odette (arguably the best princess name EVER) of neighboring kingdoms in some whatever-land are basically hooked up from birth by their parents.  They spend several summers together as kids, fighting and hating each other and singing about it.  Then one day Odette becomes an irresistible babe and Derrick suddenly’s all, “Oh hey, she’s no ugly duckling anymore she’s actually HOTT!” and then they decide to get married but Odette’s thinkin’ “Hey, are you interested in anything but my looks?” and Derrick’s a little confused and can’t understand what other things could possibly be more important than beauty… So they, like, don’t get married right then.

But then this evil sorcerer man, Rothbart, kidnaps Odette and puts her under a spell so that she turns into a swan during the day and then back to her sexy female-self with perfect hair at night.  So… that he can make her his queen and regain power or something. Derrick is convinced she’s alive but no one seems to believe him.  Odette befriends Speed the turtle, Jean Bob the french frog, and Puffin the puffin bird during her captivity.  She and Puffin come up with a plan to reunite her with Derrick (because she couldn’t care LESS now if he only loves her for her beauty…) But that Rothbart is difficult to double cross.

It ain’t Disney, but this movie spells pure nostalgia for me.  It wasn’t a favorite like Star Wars or Mulan, but I did frequently watch it as a kid and remember its awesomeness. The animation isn’t great: my friends and I kept remarking on the obvious racial identity crisis the producers were having by changing the main characters from African Americans to to fake-bakes to Snow-whites.  The lines are jagged and the colors are, as duly noted, inconsistent and faded.  But despite these flaws, The Swan Princess is far better than any other Richard Rich attempt (I could write an entire post on how much I hate The Black Cauldron and how BADLY someone needs to do a remake of that series and make it legit.  Best books ever).

The songs are nothing too memorable either, it’s funny how quickly I’m turned off by musicals without Menken or Ashman on the credits.  The side characters are as awesome as they possibly could be, Speed being my very favorite. “Do you want a kiss too?” “Aw, I’m fine being a turtle…” Though Jean Bob is also awesome… because he’s John Cleese, let’s be honest.

The oozing cheese and overwhelming cliché is more endearing than it is stupid.  Ya know, the sky definitely ALWAYS turns orange while fighting the great-animal version of a d-bag… and vows of everlasting love must consistently be proclaimed for the world to hear and more binding than, well, just about anything.  But the dialogue is entertaining.  The songs are entertaining.  The plot is entertaining.  I dunno, I’d watch it again and laugh.

And let’s face it, folks.  Nostalgia trumps ALL. 5/10

Written by laurenthejukebox17

March 18, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Unstoppable (2010)

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Speed. The sequel… or rather the re-imagining of a cliché action flick, minus Dennis Hopper.  Tony Scott’s adaptation of a real-life incident in Ohio features Frank (Denzel Washington), and Will (Trekky Chris Pine), veteran engineer & newbie conductor, chasing after an unmanned runaway freight train carrying – you guessed it – toxic chemicals.  The clock is ticking though until the train will inevitably derail on a curve in Stanton, PA.  (Not Ohio).

The fresh – the “one” thing that makes this a little bit different is the lack of sabotage.  Sure, I’d still take Dennis Hopper over this, but it was a fresh approach.  Along those same lines, THANK you for leaving the kids out of it.  Just sayin’.

The good – Rosario Dawson.  Sure, she’s a typical no nonsense female executive, but I like her.  Denzel Washington’s also good, as is Chris Pine.  The script is surprisingly not terrible – Denzel’s got a few pretty good lines that (for the most part) don’t seem forced.  It’s ordinary characters performing extraordinary heroic acts – you know, gives us all the feel goods.  It’s also relentlessly exciting, and keeps you gripped and on your toes – very well paced.

The garbage – Oh the bureaucracy… Seriously? Does there always need to be a hard-nosed top boss who won’t listen to the old doctor, scientist, or engineer?  Don’t THEY watch movies?  A rogue train is scary enough, people disagreeing over it is not really scarier, it’s just dumber.  And based on a true story it may be, but it’s still the same ol’ same ol’: cheesy, forced, and predictable.  Also, could there have been more shaky cam?  I don’t know about anyone else, but I was incredibly sick of it by the end.  Lastly, though back story generally adds depth to characters, this time I couldn’t care less about Chris Pine’s troubles with the wife (though he and Denzel bickering about it was enjoyable).

It was a good night at the movies.  Plenty of my girlfriends were drooling over Chris Pine.  People were gasping with the explosions and close calls, fist pumping over the epic conclusion.  I had a good time, it was solidly entertaining.  Heck, it ain’t meant to be a work of art, I’ll take it for what it is.  And it’s a whole lot better than The Next Three Days… 6/10

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March 6, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

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Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a twenty-something bass guitarist for the pretty awesome garage band, “Sex-Bob-Omb.”  He’s recently been dumped big time by his longtime girl and is having difficulty recovering.  So he goes for something more attainable I guess, and starts dating Knives Chau (Ellen Wong)… a high schooler.  She’s cute, uncomplicated, and slightly obsessed with his band.  Then Scott discovers the girl of his dreams (literally): Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).  Think Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine: quirky, changes hair color every week, kind of confusing and complicated.  When Scott pursues her, he finds out that he will need to defeat her seven evil exes who are set on complete control of Ramona’s love life.  If he wants to keep dating her that is.

First of all, I was hooked when I first saw the trailer.  Comic book awesomeness in a movie?  Oh man I’m there.  Frankly, I did expect it to be one of those movies that wastes all of its good jokes in the trailer, “Time to break out the ‘L’ word.” “Lesbian?” “The other ‘L’ word.” “LesbianS?” I am pleased to report that it defeat the odds, and the entire movie was endlessly hilarious.

“When I’m around you, I kind of feel like I’m on drugs. Not that I do drugs. Unless you do drugs, in which case I do them all the time. All of them.” The dialogue’s great.  Just sayin’

Second, I am totally digging the cast!  I’m a big Michael Cera fan from Arrested Development and Juno, so I was obviously excited for him to break out with something different and allow him to shine a little bit.  No more George Michael for this dude.  On that note, how about Mae Whitman, ANN of all people, showin’ up as the weirdo lesbian ex? (Okay, they’re ALL weirdos, but it being Ann makes it that much more weirdified).  Yeah, wasn’t expectin’ that one.  But besides Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is pretty good as our quirky lady Ramona, Kieran Culkin is entertaining as Scott’s gay roommate, Ellen Wong as Knives, Alison Pill (yay Dan in Real Life!), Anna Kendrick, and Jason Schwartzman and basically any other minor character are all freaking awesome.

I also wasn’t expecting to enjoy the music of Sex-Bob-Omb quite so much as I did.  But I’m still listenin’ to it!  “We are Sex Bob-omb. We are here to sell out and make money and stuff.”

I guess my favorite thing about Scott Pilgrim is that it never gets boring.  Think about it, seven epic fights – and I never got tired of watching them battle it out, video game power-ups and all (LOVE the coins!!)  The pacing is perfect: fast but not too fast.  It’s stylistic, it’s edgy, it’s quirky, it’s lovable!  More times the one I’d laugh to myself, “What on earth am I watching?”  I’ve heard multiple arguments that it’s trying too hard to be hipster cool and not spending enough time in the real world.  I disagree, I think it’s totally hipster cool, but strangely grounded.  And I, for one, loved the Seinfeld scene.

It’s visually electrifying – all of the bright colors and VG embellishments.  Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) created something fresh and stellar that brightens our decade.  Granted, it ain’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s freaking awesome, man.  8/10