Friday, September 13, 2013

Netflix history quick hits

I watch movies of all kinds -- mostly crappy ones -- but my favorite kind of movie is FREE*. So I watch many of the craptacular movies Netflix and Amazon have to offer streaming. Here's a quick recap.

* - Free, with subscription.

Reverb (2008) - "Don't Answer the Phone" meets "White Noise" -- combine those movies, give it to an editor who is addicted to quick cuts and you have a seriously mediocre movie. Also would help to have people who could sing if you're making a movie about music. Anyone ever heard of Autotune? JSS Rating: Bad/Bad.

The Bay (2012) - Barry Levinson, you've fallen so far since "Diner" (one of my favorites). The Bay is a better done version of most "found footage" movies out there... at least it has a bit more story. Rewatch Cloverfield if you want a found footage movie. JSS Rating: Bad/Bad.

The Tall Man (2012) - Kind of interesting. I would say that other than the annoying chase scenes, it has some merit. Jessica Biel is almost seems like a passable actress in this movie. JSS Rating: Good / Bad.

Rubberneck (2012) - Bring an iPad or a laptop while you watch this one. Snoozer. I actually think they thought they were making a good movie here. Fail. JSS Rating: Bad / Good.

Saturday Night Fever (1977) - If you haven't seen this already, you really must. I kind of hate the Verrazano Bridge scene though. Most coming of age movies seem to require death. JSS Rating: Good / Good.

Dredd (2012) - Violent and thankfully short. I enjoyed it. JSS Rating: Good / Bad.

Erased (2012) - I only watched this three weeks ago and could barely remember it. Bad sign, right? I do remember it being entertaining as something to put on while on the computer. JSS Rating: Good / Bad.

Monsters (2010) - Buddy travel movie where they run into several plot devices that keep them together. That said, really not bad given the no-budgetness. JSS Rating: Good / Bad.

Branded (2012) - Unwatchable. JSS Rating: Unwatchable.

Leviathan (1989) - Ah, one of my old stable movies that I'll pull out when I'm bored and need something in the background. I really enjoy this movie. Horror, but still fun. JSS Rating: Good / Bad.

Impostor (2001) - Not bad. I am chase-scened out for this life and this movie has a bit much of it, but the overall idea is solid and interesting. JSS Rating: Good / Bad.

Stormhouse (2012) - More like BOREhouse. It's a watchable no-budget scare flick with a couple good moments. JSS Rating: Bad / Bad.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) - I enjoyed it, but all of these comic book movies are from the exact same script these days. The overall beats of the movie are indistinguishable from any other Marvel movie of late. I'm also totally over Hugo Weaving. Why do people still cast him? JSS Rating: Good / Good.

The Faculty (1998) - I love this movie. Robert Rodriguez FTW. Do they still make "the teachers are all monsters/aliens/killer-robots" movies? If not, rewatch this. JSS Rating: Good / Bad.

Superman III (1983) - Gee, now I remember why I haven't rewatched this in about 20 years. Dreadful. JSS Rating: Bad / Bad.

Fire in the Sky (1993) - If alien abductions are real, maybe they can take some filmmakers. JSS Rating: Bad / Bad.

For those who don't know, my rating guide: a movie is rated by what it really was, and what the filmmaker intended. A "Good/Bad" movie would be Evil Dead 2. They didn't think they were making Citizen Kane, but it was still great. Forrest Gump is an example of the opposite (a "Bad/Good"): they thought they were making a good movie, but it was actually dreadful.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (1967)

In my review of The Outsiders, I complained about the lack of character development in the movie. If you'd like to see the exact opposite, go watch this movie.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is heralded as a lot of things. It's a Tracy-Hepburn movie. It's Spencer Tracy's last movie. He was posthumously nominated for an Oscar, since he died only a couple weeks after the film wrapped. It's a movie that concerns interracial marriage in the midst of the civil rights movement. It's also a great comedy, with some great laughs along the way.

My favorite thing about the the movie, and really the whole point, is the character development over the course of only a day. Like another Stanley Kramer-William Rose collaboration that I love--It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World--the movie is actually forced into a timeline by a plot device. In this case, Dr. Prentice (Sidney Poitier) is going to Switzerland for his job with the WHO, that night, and wants the approval of Joey's parents (aka Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn) to marry Joey.

Tracy's "son of a bitch" realization and subsequent monologue to the whole group are great, but the lasting memory for me will be Dr. Prentice's conversation with his dad. Poitier delivers it beautifully. Most of the interesting parts of this movie take place through one-on-one conversations, and this one is the most important of the bunch. This is the actual climax of the movie. Prentice's requirement of having Joey's father's approval, but denying his own father the chance and earlier saying he would "write to him" come to a head here. It's brilliant.

There are some downsides to the movie. It is far from being a timeless film. It needs the historical context, for sure. One of the more distracting things in the movie is Katherine Hepburn's sadness throughout the film. In Tracy's monologue, he says that Christina Drayton has been the "romantic" one of the pair regarding Joey's pending marriage to Prentice. I thought "she's been crying the whole time, I didn't really get the idea she was being the hopeless romantic between the two." The real-life illness of Tracy might have a had just too much impact on Hepburn for the film, and makes it sad where it might not have been otherwise.

JSS Rating - Good/Good.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Outsiders (1983)

I last saw this movie when I was about 10 or 11. All I remember is not liking as much as some of my friends, who worshiped this movie. Anyway, for all intents and purposes, this is a completely fresh review.

Guess what? I don't like it now. It's completely empty and ridiculous. The story is really thin and there is almost zero character development. The good guys are always good, the bad guys are always bad. There's no progression. Everything we see in the movie proves what we were told in the first 10 minutes. Cherry likes Pony Boy after about 20 seconds on-screen. This isn't development, it's just a plot device. Pony Boy is always a good guy, as is Johnny.

Ralph Macchio provides the only bright spot of acting in the movie. His story is the only character development in the movie. Besides that, Matt Dillon must be the most clean-cut, least-menacing bad egg in the history of movies. It's kind of laughable to watch him in this movie playing the "bad boy".

Watching this movie, one wonders what the hell happened to Francis Coppola after Apocalypse Now. Did he shut it all down since the 70s were over? Said "well, I guess I just ruled an entire decade of film. I better shut it down and give someone else a chance"? Because this movie is executed so poorly it's kind of sad. Really strange edits, and the final rumble has about the same level of drama as a boxer and a punching bag. Then the cheesy overlays of Johnny while Pony Boy reads his letter? Had the production value of a Lifetime movie.

JSS - Bad, Good movie. Supposed to be good, but sucked. At least I like to hope FFC was trying to make a good movie here.

If you want to see a much, much better movie about the division between the "haves" and the "have nots" also starring Ralph Macchio, re-watch Karate Kid. He's from Reseda, she's from The Hills. They swept his leg and he still won. A great movie. Reminds me that you're gold when you're a kid.

Monday, September 09, 2013

The Last Picture Show (1971)

Generally, when I go back and watch some of the "classics" for the first time, I'm fairly disappointed.  Take, for example, "The Searchers". I found the movie to be terribly executed.

The thing is, we live in an age where no-budget movies can be executed extremely well. With a fairly low cost camera and a computer, you can make a feature film. The techniques of filmmaking are well known, and many books are available on how to structure your story. There are tons of well-done, no-budget movies on Netflix.

So it's hard to compare old movies -- especially shot on location with no instant feedback -- to the capabilities of a modern filmmaker armed with a digital camera, instantaneous feedback and editing (maybe even basic VFX) while the shot is still set up in front of them. You have to forgive older films a little bit in terms of execution.

The Last Picture Show needs no excuses. It is awesome. A fantastic character piece with a lot of big name actors. I count 4 Oscar winners among them... two winning for this movie, Cloris Leachman and Ben Johnson. Shot entirely on location here.

This is a coming-of-age movie that's 40 years old. You'd think I would be so burnt on coming-of-age at this point that I'd never enjoy this movie. The decisions to leave town, the people left behind, going to war, hooking up with older women and men. These themes have occurred so many, many times in film -- Dead Poets Society, Say Anything, Breakfast Club, Dazed & Confused, even American Pie (Stiffler's Mom) -- they're ridiculously tired now.

And yet, the movie pulls them all together with a great story, great acting and execution in a way that stands the test of time. Bogdonovich plays to the audience a bit by putting a lot of scenes in POV. I think he's saying "This is you. You KNOW this stuff. These themes are universal."

As far as the acting goes, Ben Johnson's monologue at the lake is remarkable -- really the shining moment of the film that leaves you going, "crap, have I become that decrepit old bag of bones?"

JSS Rating: Good/Good.