Monday, January 15, 2018

Movie Review - "Lady Bird" (2017)

It is my belief that "Coming-of-age" stories depend entirely on what time period they are set in. Who we are and how we are shaped varies wildly depending on where and when we grow up. While we've all grown up and been through growing pains and learned important lessons along the way, we've all needed to learn different lessons and experience individual pains. So a lesson about finding courage in friends like in "Stand By Me" has a different effect than a more modern tale like "Boyhood" or "Moonlight."

At the same time, if the viewer grew up around the same time period as the film, that will have a different effect also. I bring this up because I saw "Lady Bird" surrounded mostly by people who were double or triple my age, and my reaction to this film was vastly different from anyone else in the theater. The room was mostly quiet for the entire run time, except for my constant laughter and snickering at the relatable teen angst in a desperate search for identity in only ways that kids from the 2000s could understand.

From the opening scene, as our titular Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) literally throws herself out of the car so she can stop listening to her nagging mother (Laurie Metcalf), I was pulled in by this films' fierce independence and witty writing and dialogue. While "Lady Bird" is, more or less, a teen drama about our main character trying to find her place in the world and what she wants to do with her life, it is told in a way that doesn't feel artificial or sugar-coated, giving us raw and honest moments of how life can be thrilling, terrible, but always worth living.

The film is set in Sacramento shortly after 9/11, when anyone in their teens or younger was looking for something to hold onto, hoping that they could still be themselves in a world that didn't seem so safe anymore. Christine, who prefers to be called Lady Bird, is about to graduate from high school, and refuses to stay in Sacramento after she graduates even though her mother insists that the best she'll be able to achieve is going to a city college nearby. She sends in applications to many east coast art colleges, even though her grades are not great and she doesn't know what she wants to study.

Lady Bird is a passionate, opinionated, fiery individual that is unsure what she wants to do with her life. She's surrounded by people who tell her that she needs a goal or something to strive for, but those same people don't seem to practice what they preach. She ends up doing a lot of things that she doesn't fully understand, like say terrible things about where she lives, all in a desperate teenage attempt to find out more about herself. More than anything, she wants her own identity that is unique and beauty, just like she believes she is.

The struggle comes from Lady Bird being almost exactly like her mother, who is just as fierce and vocal as she is. They of course spend most of their time fighting, but only because they're so much alike and they're both too stubborn to admit it. It's hard to create your own identity when someone exactly like you is trying to hold you back. Their relationship is as tumultuous and heated as it is beautifully refreshing and often hilarious.

And those are the main words I would use to describe "Lady Bird" - refreshing and hilarious. The dialogue feels natural for an angsty teenager trying to be artsy and mostly failing at it, leading to some of the best comedic lines of the entire year. The whole film feels honest to its time and setting without sacrificing its charm and sense of humor. When there are big life changing moments, they take the time to let those scenes sink in and settle, whether they are good or bad. The acting, especially from Soairse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, reflects this attitude and makes these moments feel real and, for lack of a better term, human.

Overall, "Lady Bird" is a phenomenal coming-of-age tale that perfectly balances quiet honesty with heartfelt comedy. It encapsulates the troubles, fears, and wonders of growing up in a Post-9/11 world and what it meant to strive for an identity at the time. Everything about this film feels natural and genuine, from the writing and dialogue to its performances. If you grew up around the same time or ever tried desperately to be your own person, then you'll find at least something relatable about this movie.

Final Grade: A

Monday, January 8, 2018

Movie Review - "It's a Gift" (1934)

My first introduction to W.C. Fields was through "The Bank Dick," and I only ever remember Fields being a rambling, aimless Mr. Magoo-like character that left little to no impression me. It painted my perspective of Fields as an insult comedian on the same level as Groucho Marx or Rodney Dangerfield while still having a slight flare for visual comedy. This perspective changed entirely after I saw another of Fields' movies, "It's a Gift."

The W.C. Fields in this films is practically the polar opposite of the Fields I remember from "The Bank Dick" - quiet, low-tempered and rarely feels like the star of the show. While Fields still plays the main character, the middle-aged Harold Bissonette, he basically plays the straight man to an entire world that seems to go out of its way to screw with him. He has a nagging wife that is never satisfied, two kids that do not care about the world around them, he runs a small grocery store that is bombarded with angry or self-destructive customers, and his only employee is as stupid as he is sleepy. Most of this hour-long movie is little comedic vignettes as Harold becomes the center of bad luck and even worse timing.

From trying to shave in the morning at the same time his daughter is trying to put on makeup, to dealing with a blind and mostly-deaf customer while being yelled at by someone demanding something he doesn't even have, to Harold simply trying to get some sleep, everyone and everything goes out its way to make Harold's life nothing but misery. And yet he hardly ever complains. He doesn't whine or get angry, he merely accepts that this is the way the world works for him. Some of the funnier bits in the film are Field's nonchalant and accepting reactions to all the chaos that befalls him, like he's achieved a state of inner peace among the chaos.

Most of the sequences in "It's a Gift" are lifted straight from W.C. Fields' vaudeville routines, but each of them feel wholly unique and contribute to the larger story at play, as Harold trades in his life in the bustling crazy city for a quiet one where he can focus on just growing oranges. These are some of the best visual gags outside of a Charlie Chaplin film I've ever seen, and each one provides consistent laughs, with the visual jokes continually building off each other.

There's a lot of charm and heart in "It's a Gift" that makes me appreciate W.C. Fields far more than I did. While his visual gags are non-stop and string together nicely, his demeanor and attitude provides a pleasant contrast that never grows tiresome. While the story is bare-bones, the film works best as a series of vignettes tied together by a loose thread. For a film just barely over an hour, it sure manges to pack in a lot of comedy.

Final Grade: B+

Friday, January 5, 2018

Movie Review - "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972)

The early 1970s were an interesting time for Hollywood. This was the era when filmmakers could finally tell more hardened and outlandish tales, without having to worry about the harsh restrictions that were present since the beginning of Hollywood's golden age in the 1930s. This led to the creation of R-rated films and eventually summer blockbusters. But in the middle of all that, a new genre was created - the big-budget disaster movie.

Started by films like "Airport," "The Towering Inferno" and "Earthquake," they followed a very simple formula that led to extravagant sequences of tragic events and how a small group of people (typically big name actors) respond under these dangerous and deadly situations. While these types of movies were certainly made before the 1970s, producer Irwin Allen changed this up by adding much more money to give these events the Hollywood treatment and the addition of the all-star ensemble cast, meaning if you weren't entertained by the effects then you at least had some of your favorite actors working off each other.

And although "Airport" was one of the first films to do this, the one that people keep coming back to is "The Poseidon Adventure," mostly because of how it takes that genre-type story and flips it on its head, literally. The story follows an old cruise ship, the S.S. Poseidon, on New Years Eve on its way from New York to Athens. As the clock strikes midnight, the ship is hit by an enormous tidal wave, capsizing it.

Very few people survive the initial hit, and the ones that do survive are trapped on a slowly sinking ship. They quickly figure out that the ship has been flipped upside down, and that the only way out is upward towards the bottom (now top) of the ship, through the outer hull. Most of the survivors think this is a crazy plan and that they should just wait to be rescued, but a few people take matters into their own hands. They include an unorthodox reverend (Gene Hackman), an aging police detective (Ernest Borgnine), the sole survivor of the New Years band (Carol Lynley), an old married couple on their way to Israel to see their grandchildren (Jack Albertson and Shelley Winters) and the injured bartender (Roddy McDowall), as they traverse the upside down and sinking ship for their slim chance at survival.

What I enjoy about "The Poseidon Adventure" is that this doesn't necessarily feel like a group of random stereotypical people throw together to please certain demographics. They all strangely have some things in common that you don't really think about, like how most of them have been so focused on their careers and plans that they don't make time for love. Red Buttons plays a hypochondriac that has spent his whole life working, and is now passed the point of finding love, yet he undergoes a personal journey as he develops a friendship with the singer. Jack Albertson and Shelley Winters' married couple admit that they can't remember the last time they took time away from work and made time for each other, or even when the last time they said they loved each other. This broken desire for love is actually the driving force behind their motivation to keep going, so that they can have another chance to fix it.

Of course, with our main character being a Reverend, there are constant themes and messages about God and religion, but without being forceful and overbearing. Gene Hackman's character believes that we shouldn't pray to God to save us, but to pray to the piece of God inside of you to show you the way. Hackman very rarely mentions God throughout their journey, but continually gives the other the motivation to keep going, to remind them why this is a struggle worth overcoming. He is both nurturing and forceful at the same time, which works amazingly well for this story.

For 1972, these effects and set pieces are wonderfully detailed and creative. They went all out on making this upside down cruise ship feel like its own character, which each room feeling just as dangerous and ominous than the last. Even though this is certainly a character driven piece, the action pieces are just as intense as anything else in the movie.

Overall, "The Poseidon Adventure" is the best example of a disaster movie done right. It takes full advantage of its unique situation while giving us broken yet likable characters that we want to see overcome all these deadly traps. The film has a surprising amount of things to say about love and religion, which makes it worth watching more than once. Even for 1972, this film still looks amazing today. If you want to see where every disaster movie came from, look no further than "The Poseidon Adventure."

Final Grade: B+

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Paul's Recap of 2017

And so 2017 has come to an end. As a whole, 2017 was a marked improvement over 2016 in some areas, but was just as hard to get through. In terms of cinema, 2017 offered a greater variety of blockbusters and some stunning films near the beginning of the year, as well as two of the most visually pleasing films of the past decade.

As for this blog, 2017 was by far the most productive year to date, and that blows me away. While I only watched 91 new films, far fewer than 2016's 115 new movies and not even close to 2015's 127, I still managed to generate 131 blog posts this year, which is more than any other year I've been writing reviews and editorials. I guess the main reason for this is the Godzilla-thon, as well as each movie getting its own review. But in any case, it's a sign that I've been writing much more than usual and I intend to put even more work into the blog this year.

So, in case you were wondering, here's a recap of every film I watched in 2017 and the final grade that I gave all of them. The only ones I didn't write about were 2016's "The Jungle Book" and "McCabe and Mrs. Miller."

1. "The Time Machine" (1960) C+

2. "La La Land" (2016) A+

3. "In the Mood for Love" (2000) B

4. "Of Mice and Men" (1939) B-

5. "Dodes’ka-den" (1970) B-

6. "In the Heat of the Night" (1967) A

7. "Moonlight" (2016) A-

8. "Hoop Dreams" (1994) A-

9. "Intolerance" (1916) C-

10. "Hidden Figures" (2016) B

11. "The Pink Panther" (1964) B+

12. "Manchester by the Sea" (2016) C

13. "Lion" (2016) A-

14. "Adam’s Rib" (1950) B+

15. "The Quiet Man" (1952) A-

16. "Fences" (2016) C-

17. "The Lego Batman Movie" (2017) A

18. "Cabaret" (1972) C

19. "John Wick: Chapter 2 " (2017) B

20. "Split" (2017) B+

21. "Roman Holiday" (1953) B

22. "Swing Time" (1936) - B

23. "Shaft" (1971) - B-

24. "Deliverance" (1972) - C+

25. "Poltergeist" (1982) - B+

26. "Kong: Skull Island" (2017) - A-

27. "Nashville" (1975) - C+

28. "Spartacus" (1960) - C

29. "Mrs. Miniver" (1942) - C+

30. "Get Out" (2017) - A-

31. "Logan" (2017) - B+

32. "House" (1977) - B

33. "Power Rangers" (2017) - D+

34. "A Face In the Crowd" (1952) - A

35. "Sleeper" (1973) - A+

36. "An Affair to Remember" (1957) - C

37. "Lady Snowblood" (1973) - B+

38. "Coraline" (2009) - A-

39. "Alien: Covenant" (2017) - B-

40. "Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2" (2017) - B

41. "El Dorado" (1966) - A-

42. "Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance" (1974) - B+

43. "Imitation of Life" (1959) - B-

44. "The Omen" (1976) - A-

45. "House on Haunted Hill" (1959) - A

46. "Wonder Woman" (2017) - A-

47. "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" (1961) - B-

48. "Baby Driver" (2017) - A

49. "Brief Encounter" (1945) - B-

50. "Spider-Man: Homecoming" (2017) - B

51. "War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) - C+

52. "White Zombie" (1932) - D+

53. "Dunkirk" (2017) - A

54. "The Lion in Winter" (1968) - B+

55. "Colossal" (2017) - D

56. "Atomic Blonde" (2017) - C

57. "Dogora" (1964) - B-

58. "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon" (1949) - C

59. "Manhattan Murder Mystery" (1993) - B+

60. "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" (1973) - A-

61. "Logan Lucky" (2017) - B+

62. "Marty" (1955) - A-

63. "Murder, My Sweet" (1944) - A-

64. "It" (2017) - B

65. "The Bang Wagon" (1953) - B-

66. "The Lego Ninjago Movie" (2017) - C-

67. "American Made" (2017) - C-

68. "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" (2017) - D

69. "To Be or Not to Be" (1942) - B

70. "My Little Pony: The Movie" (2017) - C+

71. "Blade Runner 2049" (2017) - A

72. "Thor: Ragnarok" (2017) - A-

73. "Destry Rides Again" (1939) - A-

74. "Carnival of Souls" (1962) - D+

75. "THX-1138" (1971) - C

76. "Ugetsu" (1953) - B+

77. "The Dirty Dozen" (1967) - C+

78. "Justice League" (2017) - C+

79. "Coco" (2017) - B+

80. "Road to Morocco" (1942) - A

81. "The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse" (1921) - C-

82. "Amarcord" (1973) - B-

83. "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" (2017) - B

84. "The Disaster Artist" (2017) - A

85. "The Right Stuff" (1983) - A-

86. "High Society" (1956) - A-

87. "A Star Is Born" (1954) - C-

88. "Cinema Paradiso" (1988) - B

89. "The Jungle Book" (2016) - C-

90. "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" (1971) - A

91. "Gilda" (1946) - A-

There are still plenty of films from 2017 that I want to see, including "The Shape of Water," "Lady Bird," "Darkest Hour," "The Post" and many others. What you can expect for this blog in the near future is my usual recap of the best (and worst) films of 2017, my Oscar Predictions once the nominations are announced, and two more additions to my Godzilla-thon (one fairly soon and one not so soon). And, of course, lots and lots of movie reviews.

I've thought about doing some television reviews in 2018, but I've also thought about maybe taking 2018 to write some other stuff that isn't related to movies or television reviews, so we'll see how that goes. This year, I'm aiming to watch around 80 movies that I've never seen before and about 20 television shows that are new to me.

Thank you all for another great year and continually coming back to hear about my thoughts and feelings about the random things I'm watching. You are all amazing, wonderful people. I hope that you enjoy what's coming in 2018 and I'll see you at the movies!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Movie Review - "Cinema Paradiso" (1988)

"Cinema Paradiso" is, first and foremost, a love letter to the power of movies. It is about the allure of watching larger than life characters go on adventures. It is about how cinema brings communities together by making us all feel the same emotions. And it is about how movies teach us as much about life as life itself. This movie views cinema through classic nostalgia googles, viewing these strengths through the eyes of a little boy that can't stay away from his local theater.

The story is similar to Fellini's "Amarcord" but with a massive focus on movies and the theater. In that this Italian film is mostly told through flashbacks to one character's youth and the town he grew up in. We meet most of the people in his town, but don't really get to know any of them until they get in the movie theater. Each character has a different reaction to their surroundings, including some spitting on those who won't stop talking, or the guy whose seen the movie multiple times and repeats the lines out loud, yet still ends up openly weeping at the ending of the film.

The story almost feels non-existent here, with most of "Cinema Paradiso" focusing on the lives of these characters and how alive they feel while watching movies. These people feel lifeless and bored without cinema in their lives. If they're not watching movies, they tend to talk about how life relates back to something Cary Grant or John Wayne once said. To see that type of journey evolve from childhood into adulthood and still have this wide-eyed optimism about it all certainly makes it a worthwhile journey.

But the real power of "Cinema Paradiso" is how it makes you love watching movies. Even if you're not an avid fan of classic movies, just watch the reactions these people have to films like "Stagecoach" or Kirk Douglas playing Ulysses and you'll see that movies are much more than just pretty faces and explosions. The ending scene in particular is one of the most powerful and heartfelt scenes I've seen in a long time, worthy of being enshrined in a film museum.

Overall, "Cinema Paradiso" is a slice of life Italian film that has a glorious perspective on movies that you don't see very often. It is a beautifully nostalgic score by Ennio Morricone and some heartbreaking performances from it's two main leads. I would highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys reminiscing about older movies, as well as to those who want to gain a deeper appreciation of cinema.

Final Grade: B

Friday, December 29, 2017

Movie Review - "A Star Is Born" (1954)

Hot off the heels of watching "The Disaster Artist," I saw another movie about making movies, 1954's "A Star Is Born," and found myself nearly falling asleep at the monotonous scenes of Judy Garland singing directly into the camera for no other reason than to show that she can still sing. Any joy to be had here from filmmaking is replaced with a cynical attitude about how fame is fleeting and way too many musical numbers than there needed to be.

I would say the cardinal sin of "A Star Is Born" is its runtime - well over three hours with a story that could have been told in less than two. I get that this was a way to give Judy Garland a comeback as an actress, but there are large portions of this movie where the story just disappears and we get tacky, self-important musical numbers.

Garland's acting and singing ability can only take this movie so far, especially when we don't get to see her try to be an actress outside of her singing ability. She rises from an aspiring singer with a band to an overnight sensation, but the finer details of her rise and the movies she makes are glossed over. The only thing we truly learn about her character is that she's a great singer and wants to make it big, so I don't feel much of a connection to this character.

Overall, "A Star Is Born" is a rather forgettable and unimpressive musical about filmmaking. The acting is fine and Garland can still belt out some great tunes, but the story is lacking, the pacing is horrendous, it is way longer than it needed to be, and it puts musical numbers ahead of everything else, including character development. It's not terrible by any means and it looks gorgeous in Technicolor, but this one doesn't have much going for it.

Final Grade: C-

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Movie Review - "High Society" (1956)

I'm honestly conflicted as to whether knowing or not knowing the history behind "High Society" makes for a better viewing experience. On the one hand, if you go into this film knowing this is an musical adaptation of "The Philadelphia Story," then you might only find yourself thinking about how Frank Sinatra's acting compares to that of Jimmy Stewart, or if Grace Kelly's turn as the strongly independent Tracy Lord even stacks up against Katharine Hepburn's role. However, if you went in not knowing anything, you might find yourself enjoying the catchy musical numbers and the strong character progression the young Tracy Lord.

For me, I had only seen "The Philadelphia Story" once before watching "High Society," and only vaguely remember some scenes, in particular being reminded of Cary Grant's sarcasm, Hepburn's stubborn yet feisty personality, and Jimmy Stewart surprisingly acting circles around both Hepburn and Grant. But if anything, watching this musical now has only made me appreciate the source film much more than I already did. "High Society" trades in the screwball comedy-style of "The Philadelphia Story" for a romantic comedy/musical with some great toe-tapping numbers, especially in a jazz duet with Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong.

The story between the two films is the same - Tracy Lord (Grace Kelly) is a well-known socialite from one of the biggest families on the east coast is getting remarried, all the while being in the presence of her ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Bing Crosby), who is still in love with her and will do everything in his power to have Tracy back in his arms. Due to some rather convoluted circumstances, the only sort of press that gets into the party is one reporter, Mike Connor (Frank Sinatra), and a photographer, Liz Imbrie (Celeste Holm), from Spy Magazine, who only make the wedding even more chaotic.

I will say that, while Kelly, Crosby, and Sinatra all do a fine job with their given roles, and Crosby and Sinatra belt out some memorable tunes, the three do lack the spark that Hepburn, Grant, and Stewart had in the original film. Kelly's performance as Tracy Lord feels like a normally quiet and reserved woman trying her best to stand up for herself, while it always felt like Hepburn poured every ounce of her mind, body, and soul into her screams and fierce attitude. Bing Crosby is soft-spoken and smooth, with everything coming a little too easy for him, while Cary Grant loved to cause chaos and manipulate everything from behind the curtain like a puppeteer.

I give Sinatra credit, in that he took his role as the hard-hitting reporter to a much different place than Jimmy Stewart did. Sinatra is charming and charismatic, serving the role of yet another man that Grace Kelly ends up falling for. Both of them do see a lot in the other and they have great chemistry. In "The Philadelphia Story," I never got the impression that Hepburn was falling in love with Jimmy Stewart, just that she admired him while she was getting drunk and made a few mistakes. Sinatra plays Connors as a no-nonsense reporter who likes to call things as he sees them, while Stewart was...well, Jimmy Stewart - kind-hearted, honest, and truthful. Both bring something different to Connors that make each of their interpretations feel unique.

I think the key difference between "High Society" and "The Philadelphia Story" is on presentation versus story. One chooses to focus on visual spectacles, musical numbers and a sense of the elegant lifestyle, while the other relies on the acting ability of its three main leads and the chemistry they have to lead a compelling comedy. In this regard, both films excel at what they set out to do and are individually noteworthy films. I will say that "The Philadelphia Story" is the better film, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't check out "High Society" for yourself and see how a screwball comedy adapts into a musical.

Final Grade: A-