Monthly Archives: July 2016

Bowfinger Review

Frank is the best Frank that’s ever happened to me.

There are a few master craftsmen in the world of film direction that are rarely recognized as such, making for cranky rants from snobby movie buffs like me.  Generally, if a filmmaker is good at getting good reviews, and has done some memorable work, people associate his or her name with his/her film-making.  Frank Oz, on the other hand, has had quite the career as a director, and yet this is largely overshadowed by his time spent as a Muppet performer back in the day.  Seeing as how I am one of the geeky “Hensonites” who just adores the various skills that Frank has, it is important to me that people appreciate both his work as a puppeteer and as a director.  So, I’m adding his  to my Missionary List – the list of movies I promise to spread the word about at any opportunity like a missionary shares the gospel – where it will join the ranks of other underrated triumphs like Phantom of the Paradise, The Twelve ChairsPlay It Again, Sam, and even the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup.

This is one of those movies that is done in such a careful way, with such remarkable precision, that the knowledgeable spectator will be constantly aware that he/she is watching a master at work.  It’s special when a film carries an aura of craftsmanship that is always present, but never too disruptive of the feelings that the spectator is supposed to be experiencing.  The jokes, overall, do work well, even though I think that the same screenplay – perhaps eve with the same cast – could have made for a mediocre movie.  Heck, it would even be easy to hate the main character for being so sleazy.  Frank seems to be the element that makes everything about the film work the way it’s meant to, from the pacing to the mood.

While it’s not necessarily the funniest film I’ve ever watched, it has a number of very strong comedic moments, and is pleasant and fun throughout.  The performances from Steve Martin and Eddy Murphy are some of their best, and the story is written very cleverly with a smart resolution and satisfying ending.  It also has the benefit of being both a good movie on first-viewing and a good “Hindsight Movie” – a film that becomes more enjoyable when thinking about it in retrospect, or when watching it again.  I suspect this may not be uncommon for Oz films, since I really liked Little Shop of Horrors the first time I saw it, but over the years I have grown to obsess over it, and it has become a big part of who I am.  I can’t say for sure that I’ll ever love Bowfinger on a level that’s very close to how much I love Little Shop, but I can say that this is a movie I’ll happily sit down and watch again with whoever would be willing to join me.

If anyone is ever in need of a fun comedy film for movie night, this is one of my top recommendations.

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Colonia/The Colony Review

Note how my title for this article accounts for two alternate titles for the film.  When I watched this movie through the library not too long ago, it had yet to be released in theaters in the United Kingdom.  It was being promoted as The Colony in the UK, but on IMDb, its title was listed only as Colonia, without any reference to the title being promoted across the pond – not even in the page’s “Also Known As” section.  At first I wasn’t entirely positive that they were the same movie since IMDb didn’t say they were, which is obviously undesirable for the film’s marketers and distributors.  After the film’s UK release, at the time I’m writing this, the page has been updated to show The Colony as the official title at the very top of the page, and Colonia as the “original title” in smaller letters underneath The Colony.  Now the “AKA” page is confused, with Colonia listed as the international title, even though that’s not the official title at the top of the main IMDb page.  I mention all this nonsense to highlight the fact that this film matters so little to people that nobody has bothered to agree on what the official title is, because nobody cares about it in the slightest –  hence why it only made about 60 bucks at the UK box office during opening weekend.

That is just a darn shame.

Rotten Tomatoes shows a score of 23% for this film, but critics ought to know by now how to approach a film of this kind in such a way that they can appreciate its stronger elements.  The first obvious thing that everyone should be able to figure out from the trailer (and the poster) is that it’s pseudo-Oscar-bait.  It’s got a lot of the elements of an Oscar winner – focus on an unrecognized oppressed people, historical drama, etc. – but is ultimately not thoughtful, artistic, or impressive enough for such an award.  It’s a popcorn flick in disguise as something more meaningful.  The second thing to recognize right off the bat is that most of it will not be creative or artistic in stylistic approach, instead aiming for a realism that will, in theory, emphasize the sense that these are real, historical events on screen.  Third, and perhaps most important of all, is the fact that this is in no way striving for historical accuracy, and hardly even strives to honor those involved in the real events upon which it is based – again, it’s a popcorn flick that’s hiding behind a toupee and a monocle.

Once this is understood, now the film can be enjoyed for what it is.  While I have very little patience for the kind of realistic style the film employs, I will say that I think the story is really good.  For this reason, I propose that this movie is highly underrated – which is honestly the only reason why I felt the need to review it.  The story has a number of elements throughout that are painfully predictable, but that’s partially because it’s hitting all of the notes it needs to in order to have the dramatic irony it seeks.  Furthermore, the most important part of the story from an emotional standpoint – that being the fate of our two main characters – is not at all predictable.

I was on the edge of my seat, intensely concerned for what would happen to the protagonists, not only until the climax, but until the credits rolled.  Yeah.  That had to happen before I was sure of whether or not they’d make it, and that’s because it’s easy to make the case that either ending is adequately set up.  While I’m not sure that it’s a positive sign that the ending was arbitrary from the standpoint of the story’s structure and what it necessitated, the effect was ultimately a good one – I got a thrill, and few movies can give me the kind of thrill that this one did.  Consequently, I say the movie gives all it promises, and perhaps even a little more, so I say it passes.

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Romancing the Stone Review

I’m a little conflicted.  This movie is loaded with clichés.  I generally don’t like it when a film is very cliché, but this movie is different.  First of all, it’s from the early ’80s, so many of these things that seem cliche today may have been totally original at the time.  Secondly, the fact that the movie is cliché does not mean it’s boring – it’s actually very exciting.

I’m not a fan of action for action’s sake, but the action in this film works well.  I’m very impressed by the way that what would traditionally be considered a “man’s action flick” that makes up one part of the story and the “chick flick” that makes the rest of it are integrated excellently to make a rounded film that anyone can enjoy.  It’s a very ’80s movie with a fun adventure, good performances, interesting twists, enjoyable romance, and one heck of a theme song.  It’s no surprise that this team-up of director Robert Zemeckis and composer Alan Silvestri soon led to Back to the Future, but let’s not let the magnificence of the BttF franchise overshadow the delightful movie that launched Zemeckis in the beginning.

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What’s Eating Gilbert Grape Review

Some of my readers – if I may presume I have readers – may be aware that I have three younger brothers.  The oldest of the three is Brian, who has down-syndrome, which has made my family’s dynamic an interesting one.  As of the time I’m writing this, he’s eighteen years old, and he adds a lot of joy to the family, although he also adds some challenges that we wouldn’t have with a more ordinary teenager.  Brian, however, is not the reason I watched this movie.  I watched it because of my youngest brother, Grayson, who insisted that I watch it with him.  For whatever reason, he adored the movie, but as is common for him, he couldn’t explain why.  I was willing to humor him and watch it since it had such critical acclaim, but it unfortunately strikes me as the average “critic porn.”

I have so little to say about this movie because the movie gives me so little to review.  What’s actually accomplished by the events of this film?  How is the ending necessitated?  How does it even make sense?  Where do they even live in the end?  What the heck was the point of the plotline with FoodLand?  Oh, and the other question – why do I care?

I don’t understand what substance Johnny Depp’s character has that’s supposed to make me like him or root for him.  I also don’t understand why I’m supposed to like the girl that he likes.  When she says the line, “I’m not into that whole ‘external beauty’ thing,” I immediately dismiss her as the kind of pseudo-intellectual hipster that’s not worth my time.  So why is she worth the screen time?  And if I’m really supposed to care about her, how does the movie expect me to be satisfied with an ending in which she only sees our main characters for a couple months of the year?

What I think I understand is why it’s received such acclaim.  The acting is good, considering what the characters are.  I have to give credit to Leonardo DiCaprio for his excellent performance, but of course good acting is never the best measure of a film.  The “story” is fairly interesting, and I must credit the film for keeping me from getting too bored, which could have happened easily with a film in this genre.  It obviously deals with a tricky subject matter, which always gets the attention of the critics, but even with how similar my experiences with my family can be to the experiences of the family in this film, I just don’t care enough about the family to really enjoy the movie.  I get what it’s trying to do, and it does that well, but I would never try to do what it’s trying to do, simply because I don’t care for Oscarbait.

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Now You See Me 2 Review

Oh, shut up.

Why is it that everyone (encompassing the world’s audiences, the world’s critics, and the world’s John Olivers) is acting as though this movie is worthless?  Well, I think there’s a certain psychological effect – I’ll call it “Sequel Blindness” – at work here.  I remember being stunned by the reviews that Muppets Most Wanted received, because the movie was getting hammered for problems that were worse in its universally acclaimed predecessor: the overuse of fourth-wall jokes, the cliché plot, and the “kiddie” vibes.  Somehow, the critics were willing to overlook these flaws in the first film because that was the Muppets’ comeback to cinema after a twelve-year hiatus, but once they were used to Muppets being in movies again, they could suddenly see all of the problems that they missed before, but they only saw them when they came to the franchise for a second time.  This is the effect of Sequel Blindness: when a sequel makes critics rethink the franchise by bringing them back to it after time to reflect on the predecessor, allowing flaws in the franchise to become more noticeable, prompting them to erroneously attribute the flaws to the sequel.  While the original Now You See Me got very mixed reviews, I still think this is what happened with Now You See Me 2.

Don’t get me wrong – the movie has its flaws and its fair share of scenes that make no sense, so I wouldn’t call it an excellent film.  It is, however, a good film, that feels like it’s allowed to make no sense since the first one didn’t make sense.  In the original Now You See Me, the “girl Horseman” walks into a bubble and starts floating around in it, which is followed by flashlights changing the numbers on pieces of paper in perfect synchronicity with the magicians’ act.  This impossibility is presented because the filmmakers wanted to do a movie that showcased the tricks that might become possible to pull off at some point in the future, but when the sequel contains equally implausible feats, critics complain that there’s no point in asking how the tricks were done (even though that was never the point of the franchise).

I do wish the reviews would focus more on the ways in which this movie improves on its predecessor.  It has more emotion and heart, and in a way that I actually think was done acceptably.  It has better comedy – particularly in one of Daniel Radcliffe’s scenes that made me laugh hysterically.  It has a better “girl Horseman” by far, and I’d happily watch Lizzy Caplan’s character in her own spin-off.  So stop complaining about the movie.  It’s stupid in many ways, I must admit, but it’s a fun kind of stupid, so just enjoy it.

Now You See Me 2 Review

The Birds Review

With High Anxiety being my favorite Mel Brooks film, one would expect that I would be well-versed in the works of Alfred Hitchcock.  Quite contrarily, after watching Strangers on a Train for a film history class I took a few years ago, I was turned off by Hitchcock.  I felt like whenever he was trying to have me waiting in suspense, I found myself just waiting.  I put off watching his films for another day, simply because I didn’t feel like being bored, but I eventually felt like I may have been missing out on some important films.  I decided to give him another go, trying out one of the films he’s best known for, if not the film he’s best known for, The Birds.

While I had a little bit of a hard time getting into it at first (since its pace is almost annoyingly slow at times), I was quickly impressed more than I thought I would be by the characters and dialogue.  The conversations that the characters had when they weren’t dealing with a bird attack were actually very interesting for the most part, and it’s always good when character interactions are enough to keep me interested.  Then, during the now-cliché panicked bar scene – that scene in all the disaster movies with the flustered witness of the attack, the bartender who tries to keep things under control, the skeptic who happens to be an expert on the subject, and the lunatic who believes it’s the end of the world – I was delighted by how Hitchcock had perfected this kind of set-up.  The addition of the panicky mother made the scenes in the bar that much better.

Oh, and I suppose the scary elements are sort of an important part of this film, being its mark on the history of cinema and all, so I’ll briefly say that I liked them.  The scary scenes weren’t exceptionally terrifying in the sense I’m used to, but maybe that’s a good thing.  I despise jump scares, so it’s nice that Hitchcock did a good job at keeping me on the edge of my seat and fearing for the well-being of the characters I’d come to really like, all without relying on too many cheap gimmicks.  While the ending somehow manages to be both gripping and underwhelming at the same time, making for a movie experience that feels a little awkward, I think that this picture is nicely crafted work of cinema that’s creative, fascinating, and supplies just the kind of experience it needs to to make it into the film history books.

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