Sunday, June 15, 2014

Weekly Round-Up (6/8/14 - 6/14/14)

The Fault in Our Stars (Josh Boone) ***1/2 - Contrary to what it might look like, I do not watch EVERY movie. I haven't read the book. This movie, based on the book, is a teen romantic comedy-drama with a cancer plot. It sounds like a sappy, manipulative weeper that would make me wanna run as far away from it as possible (unless of course it was directed by a director I love, like say Douglas Sirk but he's long dead so...). To my surprise, it got very good reviews (above 75% on Rotten Tomatoes) so I guess I *had* to see it to see what all the fuss is about. To my surprise, I ended up really liking it. Sure, it hits all the familiar beats but the strong cast and witty script (courtesy of the scribes who did (500) Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now) which manages to (mostly) maintain just the right balance of humor, drama, quirkiness, self-awareness, heart, tears, etc. Teen romance and cancer dramas are two genres that's so easy to crap up. For this to combine the two and manage to not be a overly sappy, barf-inducing, manipulative and cheap mess but instead a funny, sweet, genuinely heartfelt film is a minor miracle. Kudos to all involved.

The Kid Brother (Ted Wilde/Harold Lloyd/Lewis Milestone) **** - My catching up with the Third Genius, Harold Lloyd continues with this absolutely wonderful film. The youngest (and nerdiest) in a family filled with traditional macho men tries to prove his "manliness" and worth at the same time trying to win over a girl. Though Safety Last! may still be my favorite Harold Lloyd movie (so far), this one comes very close. The third act of this film is absolutely hysterical and at the same time genuinely suspenseful. Harold Lloyd should not have to stand in the shadows of Chaplin and Keaton. He is absolutely their equal.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Dean DeBlois) ***1/2 - Well, surprise, surprise. I have to say that this is probably my favorite Dreamworks Animation feature film. Ever since they stopped the gimmick of crafting roles for celebrity voices and peppering it with wink-wink hip humor, their work has vastly improved. This one is their best one yet. It continues the story from the previous film but adding even more surprising depth, pathos and heart while still maintaining a great sense of fun, humor and spectacle. It has some great imaginative animation and a great voice cast too. They really stepped up BIG time for this.

The Unknown (Tod Browning) **** - I've been catching up on a lot of silent films lately. Just a kick, I suppose. This is from Tod Browning, same director of Freaks and I think this is sort of a nice companion piece to that film. A con-man/thief/murderer posing as an armless man in a traveling circus and falls in love with the beautiful daughter of the owner of the circus. Things don't go well. Lon Chaney plays the armless man. He doesn't wear any makeup or masks this time around but that doesn't matter because he gives a fantastic performance. One scene in particular blew me away (I won't spoil it here). Also a featuring a very young Joan Crawford. Despite being only 50 minutes long, it's quite intense.

The Docks of New York (Josef von Sternberg) **** - Yet another silent film! This silent film however, somehow, doesn't feel like a silent film, if that makes any sense. It's actually a fairly straightforward drama with a surprising amount of dialogue (mouthed and in title cards). The story still shines through. A stoker of a ship rescues a young woman after a suicide attempt then marries her. It builds up to an absolutely heartbreaking and moving third act featuring brilliant performances from the two leads. I've seen very little of Josef von Sternberg's work and this is yet another reminder that I need to further delve in his filmography.

Lady Snowblood (Toshiya Fujita) ***1/2 - A baby girl is born in prison and is raised to become a warrior seeking vengeance for the atrocities that befell her mother. If Seven Samurai is a nice expensive steak, this is a really tasty cheeseburger. This is pure pulp and it's got over-the-top violence (damn, those blood spurts!) and B-level cheesiness but it's tons of fun. Quentin Tarantino borrowed heavily from this movie to make Kill Bill and I can see why. I've been liking way too many movies lately. Someone should recommend me a movie I might hate.
Noah (Darren Aronofksy) **1/2 - The release date of this film got delayed by a couple of months due to some legal between the local distributors. Now it's finally released, what do I think? Well, it's an interesting film. It's clearly a Darren Aronofsky film through and through. It's still in a way a character study of a biblical character like what he has done in a lot of his work. There are lots of things to admire and love about it. Clint Mansell's score and Matthew Libatique's cinematography are exemplary, as usual. The cast acquits themselves well. I can also see what Aronofsky is trying to do. Expound and retell a familiar Bible story in a different way incorporating messages on environmentalism and questions on the nature of God (merciful vs. angry) all the while trying to appeal to a broad audience, consciously not trying to be a dry Biblical epic. The result is what I can best describe as an endlessly fascinating mess that I would recommend seeing since there are flashes of greatness in it. This is the type of film that will have both passionate defenders and naysayers and will be argued on in film circles. I admire Darren Aronofsky as a director but this is not my favorite Aronofsky film. Not for Bible purists. Personally, for me, its deviation from the original Bible story is not at all a problem.

The Wind (Victor Sjostrom) *** - A down-on-her luck woman goes to the windy open plains to live with her cousin. After his jealous wife throws her out, she is forced to marry a man she doesn't love while being wooed by a married man. Lillian Gish's outstanding performance makes this film well worth seeing. The ending in particular is quite moving and wouldn't have worked without her expressive face. It didn't...blow me away (hehehe) but it's well worth checking out.

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