I’m three months behind on this, so I’ll split it up into three posts. So here are the movies I watched for the first time in October 2012:
This 2001 corporate thriller stars Ryan Phillippe (remember when he used to be in movies?) as a young way-to-cool-to-be-an-actual-nerd genius programmer and Tim Robbins as an evil Bill Gates-type of boss. Ryan is hired by Tim to work on a secret project, but it becomes clear that Tim and his secret thugs are stealing code! Some very clear anti-Microsoft sentiments here. But all the action comes off as unbelievable and laughable. The film features characters briefly looking over a screen’s worth of code and saying “Wow, this is really incredible!” Those must be some mighty fine algorithms! I suppose the filmmakers were depending on viewer ignorance, because I can’t imagine any real coder being impressed with someone else’s work after studying only one little chunk of it, especially without even knowing what the whole program does. Anyway, Ryan must figure out how to stop his boss from using the secret project to take over the world or something similarly sinister. Overall, the film is just too ridiculous. Maybe one of those movies to have on in the background while you eat a midnight snack.
The Sword of Doom
This 1966 Japanese film directed by Kihachi Okamoto and starring good old Tatsuya Nakadai tells the story of an apparently amoral samurai who . . . does a bunch of things. It’s rather all over the place. He kills people, joins some kind of justice group, kills more people. It all seemed a bit too random for me to follow very closely. It seems they were hoping to make sequels, which they never did. The film ends with a sort of cliffhanger, leaving storylines unresolved. How annoying.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
This classic Steven Spielberg film from 1982 tells the story of young Elliott who, while trying to cope with his parents’ recent divorce, befriends a little ugly lost alien. My siblings and I used to watch this film back in the early 90’s on VHS (the tape with the green top!), but I had forgotten much of it, including what exactly the overall story was about. The film played at the local theater for one night (through “Fathom Events”), so I went to see it. Unfortunately it looked like they were projecting it with a DVD’s resolution; for some reason the image looked terrible. However, the movie was great, and I was finally able to piece together the story that I didn’t quite understand when I was seven or whatever. Great film.
This 1956 Western directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne tells the story of a man who goes searching for his niece, who was kidnapped by Indians. It’s considered a classic and was supposedly quite influential for a lot of filmmakers. It left me rather unimpressed, dare I say, after having been spoiled with the fast-paced action film’s of today.
This 2012 action film directed by Joss Whedon tells the story of all the Marvel comic books superheroes (Iron Man, Hulk, Guy With Crossbow, etc.) getting together to defeat the villain Loki. While the writing was refreshing for a superhero movie (though Nolan’s Batman films still stand supreme), the overall story seemed a bit ridiculous to me. The overall tone seemed a bit muddled among the wide variety of characters; there was something imbalanced about the character dynamics. Maybe I just don’t like Iron Man’s character enough; it’s like he tries too hard to be hip and cool and rogue-ish, and it doesn’t seem genuine. Fun movie, but when it comes to superhero movies, I prefer Nolan’s Batman, and when it comes to Whedon’s work, I prefer Firefly.
21 Jump Street
This 2012 film stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. Its based on the TV show of the same name from the 1980’s and tells the story of two bumbling police officers who, because they are just so incapable, are put undercover as high school students to investigate a dangerous drug ring. Whoever in my family rented this probably didn’t realize how raunchy it was. Funny film, but really stupid.
This 2011 film from director Clint Eastwood stars Leo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover and tells the story of Mr. Hoover forming the FBI. I don’t know much about the real Hoover, but the film turns him into a somewhat paranoid power-hungry control-freak who can’t figure out his love life. The problem with most biographical films is that turning someone’s entire life into a story always has to grossly oversimplify a person’s personality and life events, and make guesses at his motivations, desires, and insecurities. Sometimes they can pull it off with elegance, as in Gandhi. Sometimes it seems like a hodge-podge with little actual story, as with this film.
This 1969 British film from director Ken Loach is based on the British novel A Kestrel for a Knave. It tells the story of a young man who just don’t get no respect at home or at school. He copes with the loneliness by adopting a kestrel and learning how to train it. The film is very observational, with the filmmaker not trying to dictate your emotions as much as in modern Hollywood’s films. This does risk alienating some audiences, as do the characters’ accents. They speak English, but with such thick accents and some weird slang that I had to turn captions on to understand them. Any of the film’s political messages are lost on me, but, perhaps because the the filmmaker’s more observational approach to the filming, the actors and conversations did seem much more realistic, and when that happens you may find yourself more emotionally involved than when you’re subconsciously always viewing everything as part of a movie. For example, if you ever watch the news and see violence caught on a surveillance camera, you may notice that you have a much more visceral response to the images because you know that they’re real. Movies like this (which are usually foreign) can have the same effect, but the trade-off is that you cannot put yourself in the characters’ shoes as comfortably. I don’t know; it’s something I’ll have to think about. Anyway, good film, even though any of its “cultural significance” is lost on me.
This 2012 computer animated feature from Sony Pictures Animation was directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, known for his cartoon Dexter’s Laboratory (of which the second season still isn’t out on DVD – come on, Cartoon Network). The film tells the story of Dracula, who runs a hotel for monsters, and his relationship with his daughter, who is eager to explore the world beyond the hotel. But Dracula is a humanist (if putting “ist” on the end of something implies prejudice against it). He blames humans for the death of his wife, and therefore wants his daughter to have nothing to do with them. To complicate matters, a human stumbles into the hotel and Dracula’s daughter falls in love with him. I thought the film was surprisingly charming, summoning the good old feelings of watching Saturday morning cartoons without trying to be all trendy and sophisticated. Of the three Halloween-themed animated features this year (the other two being ParaNorman and Frankenweenie), this one was my favorite. Fun movie. I’d love to see Genndy direct more animated features if he gets the chance, especially this sort of cartoony stuff.
This 2009 film, based on the book of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, tells the story of a father and son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. There wasn’t much in the way of story. It was just a bunch of random incidents exploring what issues people might deal with when society crumbled. Rather boring.
This crime thriller from 2002 from Hong Kong was remade in the USA as the Oscar-winning The Departed. The story tells of a cop who goes undercover to work for a crime boss in an effort to take him down. But his progress is complicated by an undercover criminal who is working for the police. So begins the two-way cat-and-mouse game. This original version does less character development, so the ending is, in my opinion, a bit weaker than the American version, but it makes up for it in just about every other way, from the cinematography to the music to the writing. Even though I could guess what would happen after seeing The Departed, the film had me on the edge of my seat. Overall, I thought it was better than its remake. Great film.
In my effort to watch all Guillermo del Toro’s films, I watched this 1997 horror film directed by him. It tells the story of scientists fighting against giant human-eating cockroaches who have mutated some weird anatomy that allows them to mimic the human form, thus making it easier for them to catch their human prey. Overall, quite ridiculous.
This 1992 bloody crime thriller from Quentin Tarantino tells the story of a diverse set of criminals trying to figure out how their diamond heist somehow went wrong. It features Tarantino’s usual flare for mesmerizing dialogue, some great acting, and great twists and turns throughout, despite its vulgar language and violence. Great film.
Grave of the Fireflies
This 1988 animated film from Japan, written and directed by Isao Takahata, tells the story of how two children, a young man and his little sister, die of malnutrition during the firebombing of Japan during World War II. This is perhaps the most tragic film I’ve ever seen. Very powerful. It doesn’t try to manipulate you into empathizing with the characters. If anything, it makes it very clear that the main character is making bad choices that you know will result in starvation. And it doesn’t try to portray the little sister as all innocent and cutesy, as filmmakers often try to do. Still, you can feel the love and trust between the siblings, which makes the descent into tragedy just devastating to watch. Great film. Not great in the sense that you walk away feeling very good, but in that it’s quite a powerful film.
Based on his original 1984 short film, this stop-motion animated feature from 2012 from director Tim Burton tells the story young Victor Frankenstein who brings his dead dog back to life with the use of lightning. (I haven’t seen the original short, but I’d love to get my hands on it sometime.) While the film started out funny and interesting, it seemed like about halfway through they ran out of material. The second act was a chaotic uninspired nonsensical mess.
The Next Three Days
This 2010 thriller from director Paul Haggis and starring Russell Crowe tells the story of a man who firmly believes his wife, convicted of murder, has been wrongly imprisoned. When he can’t solve the problem in courts, he sets out to free his wife from prison with a prison break and a dash out of the country. Fun movie.