Once more. The last few movies I’ve seen by order what I thought of them. Had I seen a few of these earlier my Best of 2012 list would have been different. Ah well.
Saw Expendables 2 (2012). It sucks. It stars Sly, Statham, Ahnold, the Dolf, the black guy from those awesome Old Spice commercials, JCVD, Mr. Willis, Lone Wolf McQuade, Jet, also some woman. While it is one of the worst film’s I’ve seen all year I must confess it is more watchable than any of the Transformers movies.
Meh and/or Misguided
Bias alert. I’m not a big fan of Ben Stiller or the Farrelly Brothers. They’re not all bad, but most of the time they’re just not my thing. There’s Something About Mary (1998) was considered a crowning achievement for both of them in many ways, hailed as a modern comedy classic. One or two somewhat funny scenes aside, this was disappointing. I liked Dumb and Dumber better. Perhaps it was just built up too much and I missed it when it was new. Keith David as Mary’s stepdad in the beginning was the funniest part of the whole movie.
Roman Coppola (CQ) is sort of like a more Jared Hess-y wannabe Wes Anderson. A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III (2013) has a snazzy retro style, but it never deserves its smugness. The cast is good (Charlie Sheen, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Katheryn Winnick, and Patricia Arquette) but the story is just so empty. A graphic designer’s girlfriend breaks up with him and he has some surreal daydreams. This needed more than a few rewrites. There are some ideas you could tell might resemble clever ideas had they kept at it.def
Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and the Wachowski Brothers (V for Vendeta) helm the admirably ambitious film Cloud Atlas (2012) is a fractured fairytale of reincarnation and interconnectedness of all individuals throughout history. I’ll admit the snappy editing almost had me fooled it was a good movie until about halfway through. The simplistic message told in “the Inception effect” (obfuscation to create the illusion of depth) not only manages to rip-off The Soylent Green, Blade Runner, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and more, but additionally puts the actors through multiple segments wherein they must where embarrassingly awkward ethnic makeup. A friend said the white actors in “yellow-face” look like Christian Slater. Gripes aside, it does manage to be entertaining if rather weightless—despite its pretentions to the contrary.
Some fun at last:
Help! (1965) is another anarchic Richard Lester (The Bed-Sitting Room) film starring The Beatles. I was really expecting more. While it does have some clever lines and a few zany sight gags I couldn’t help but compare it to A Hard Day’s Night which was wittier and sharper and Yellow Submarine which was way more surreal and joyous. The biggest problems are the silly plot isn’t quite silly enough, the Beatles themselves seem bored, and there aren’t nearly enough Beatles songs. Watchable, but I just know two other Beatles movies that are great. It also features Leo McKern as an insane Egyptian priest.
The Frisco Kid (1979) is a comedy western about a Polish rabbi trying to cross the United States. It stars Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford and is directed by Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen). This is an incredibly mixed bag that I kind of wish would be remade with a more consistent tone and a more competent eye for comedy. So much of it just doesn’t work, but the fun premise and Gene Wilder’s performance redeemed it for me.
I was hoping for something like In Bruges. While John Michael McDonagh’s film, The Guard (2011), isn’t near as clever, it is pretty darn entertaining. Brendan Gleeson is a casually racist but sinfully lovable Irish cop who winds up helping Don Cheadle, an anal FBI agent looking for drug dealers. It’s not a heavy movie. It’s just a fun, fast talking police buddy movie with some satisfying violence. It doesn’t want to be In the Heat of the Night. The dialogue crackles with smugness and wit. Mark Strong and Liam Cunningham costar as some very enjoyable baddies. If you like your comedy dry and Irish, check this movie out.
Things become interesting:
In Raoul Ruiz’s Hypothesis of the Stolen Paintings (1979) two narrators work to uncover a mystery. This dreamlike film employs ethereal tableaux-vivants (reminiscent of The Mill and the Cross) to look deeper into the art world as the narrators restage all of the paintings with real people to search for clues and possible connections in the series of paintings. Bizarre, slow, and interesting.
Harry Kümel’s (Daughters of Darkness) strange horror film Malpertuis: The Legend of Doom House (1971) needs patience more than it needs explanation. Virtually every synopsis, no matter how brief, ruined the twist at the end. It is slow and very weird, but the cinematography and the imagery are never boring. Just know it’s a haunted house movie and let the questions keep building until the final act. Orson Welles and Jean-Pierre Cassel have supporting roles.
So I found the makeup in Cloud Atlas comical and possibly racist. How in the blazes do I let The Mask of Doctor Fu Manchu (1932) off the hook? Well, I guess I don’t exactly. The campy horror film with Boris Karloff and Myrna Loy in absurd Asian makeup is exactly as ridiculous as it wants to be. It’s a silly movie with admitted xenophobic undertones, but I like it as a cultural oddity. During that time it was not uncommon for big name actors to where ethnic makeup and rely on insensitive stereotypes. Does that make it right? No. But we can observe these films with a different lens today. But really it’s the torture devices and pulpy situations that make this a great watch.
Albert Brooks presents one of the more creative depictions of the Afterlife in Defending Your Life (1991). When a simple man (Brooks) dies and discovers you must go on trial to prove you possess courage in order to pass to the next level of existence. If the court finds you afraid then you are sent back to earth in another body. Rip Torn is his attorney, who pours through the files to prove his client’s bravery, but it isn’t until he meets Meryl Streep, another recently deceased person, that he realizes there are things worth fighting for. Cute jabs at bureaucracy, Los Angeles, and reincarnation abound in this easy going comedy.
Speaking of Karloff, Gods and Monsters (1998) is a quiet biopic about the last days of Frankenstein director, James Whale. The story deals with Whale’s illness, his memories of the Great War, his stubbornness as an artist, his homosexuality, and his possible relationship with a gardener played by Brendan Fraser. While Fraser might be an odd choice, he’s not bad and it is Sir Ian McKellan’s Oscar-nominated performance as James Whale that makes this simple movie what it is. It’s a sad but witty affair.
So Disney has been having trouble competing with its own Pixar movies. Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph (2012) might just be on par with some of the competition. It’s pretty to look at, boasts some clever visuals, lots of humor, and some heart with a simple message. It’s a spectacle, but an adorable and action-filled one. Alan Tudyk and Jack McBrayer’s voices were the humorous highlights for me. Paranorman was the best animated feature this year, however.
Would you believe Liam Neesan does more than punch wolves in The Grey (2011)? Joe Carnahan’s movie was woefully mismarketed. It’s a far more subtle, tragic, and existential story than the misleading trailers would have you to believe. It’s kind of like a much better version of The Edge.
With Barbet Schroeder’s (Barfly) documentary Koko, a Talking Gorilla (1978) the title says it all. The film explores the rift between humans and animals. Koko, the famous gorilla who was taught sign language, allows to get closer to animals than perhaps thought possible. Communication is a tough barrier, but Koko’s handlers work tirelessly to overcome this barrier. The film ends posing a series legal dilemmas regarding Koko’s total lack of rights despite her apparent intelligence.
Paul Schrader (probably most famous for writing Taxi Driver and Raging Bull) made a bold move with Mishima – A Life in Four Chapters (1985). It’s a beautifully surreal and intentionally episodic biopic about an obscure (to the west) writer and the whole film is in Japanese. It’s beautiful and strange and deals with the enigmatic Yukio Mishima’s sexuality, his obsessions, his written work, and the final bizarre moments of his life.
Peter Lorre made a huge impact as the child murderer in Fritz Lang’s M, but his first big American movie, Mad Love (1935), might be even more deranged because it is more stylized and ludicrous. Karl Freund’s (The Mummy) movie is a sick Grand Guignol tale of the macabre. Lorre is a perverted mad scientist who transplants a knife throwing murderer’s hands onto the wrists of a famous pianist (Colin Clive) in order to get his fiance (Frances Drake). It’s a different point of view on the silent classic The Hands of Orlac.
Advise and Consent (1962) is a fantastic political drama with a rocking allstar cast and an eerily still significant storyline that resonates today. Directed by Otto Preminger (Anatomy of a Murder) was controversial in its day, and while it might seem tamer today it is no less chilling and frustrating. The killer cast features Henry Fonda, Walter Pigeon, Paul Ford, Burgess Meredith, Peter Lawford, Don Murray, Lew Ayres, and (in his last role) Charles Laughton. This movie is the anti-Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In a good way.
Always left me smiling and satisfied:
I mentioned earlier my mild disappointment that The Guard was not as great as In Bruges. Well, In Bruges director, Martin McDonagh, brings an intelligent Irish wit to Seven Psychopaths (2012). It’s equal parts violent killer movie, road movie and buddy comedy, and meta analysis of the mechanisms of writing for a genre and cliches. The cast is brilliant (Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, and others) and like In Bruges and Six Shooter it deftly balances loss and levity. One of my favorite movies of 2012.
Andy Griffith (The Andy Griffith Show) plays way against type in A Face in the Crowd (1957), an expert political satire directed by the great Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront, East of Eden). Griffith is a folksy free spirit who speaks his mind and becomes a surprise media sensation. As he cackles and jokes over the airwaves his influence grows out of control and it turns out he’s actually a bit of a sociopath. This is an amazing movie.
There’s a special talent in making a film that is equally funny and tragic. Nicholas Hytner’s The Madness of King George (1994) is a tremendous movie with loads of wonderful performances and extravagant costumes. What do you do when the king takes leave of his senses? How do you get him back? How will the government stay intact? Nigel Hawthorne and Helen Mirren head the amazing cast. If you had a whole day to murder I’d suggest a triple feature of this, Amadeus, and Barry Lyndon.
My absolute favorite film of late is an obscure British wartime propaganda piece called Went the Day Well? (1942). A quaint English town in the country is being craftily infiltrated by Nazis posing as British soldiers. Additionally, the townsfolk have already tried to help them before they realize what’s afoot. When the truth is revealed, the violence begins and the villagers must band together and take back their town from the Nazis and save England. It’s like an awesome version of Red Dawn. The characters are smart and likable. The pacing is solid and action is satisfying. The threats are real and menacing. Think about this: in 1942 this was not only a real fear but a real possibility. This is a grade A vintage thriller. The movie was directed by Alberto Cavalcanti (who also directed the ventriloquist dummy sequence from the equally great Dead of Night) and features Leslie Banks (The Most Dangerous Game). I love this movie.
What did you see last? Anything good?