Thursday, October 17, 2013

Lightning Reviews: Working through the movie collection Edition

Konnichiwa minna-san!

It’s been an interesting week. Re-twisting my ankle has me couch-ridden and I somehow found the pathos to revisit some of my old favorite DVDs. This is an uncommon occurrence. No matter how much a movie may call to me and how much I enjoy it, the act of actually taking the DVD down from the shelf and putting it into the movie player usually precludes me from actually re-watching them (although for whatever reason, if I see them on TV I will sit through commercials to watch them).

Anyway, today I will throw up lightning reviews of the following movies: “definitely, maybe”, “Blast from the Past”, “Wimbledon”, “The Count of Monte Cristo”, “For Love of the Game” and “Metropolis” (2001). All of these movies “pass” the Zero Approved requirements for watching, which means I think they’re worth watching at least once, but not all are must-haves.

Aside: For the last year or so I’ve been following the convention that commas go inside quotation marks only if it makes sense for them to. I’ve read this is how Brits do it, but even if they don’t, I figure as a professional writer it is my obligation to try to improve the English language. So yeah, screw off if it bothers you.

Here are the Amazon links:



definitely, maybe

“definitely, maybe” is a cute little romance featuring Ryan Reynolds describing his adult life’s romantic travails to his daughter, the precocious Abigail Breslin. Although sometimes straining credulity, the tale is worth the watch, at times amusing and disheartening. I’ve now seen the movie half a dozen times or so. The relationship with his daughter is sincere, and you genuinely feel for the regular guy that Reynolds plays. Isla Fisher is adorable as always and Elizabeth Banks and Rachel Weisz are welcome additions to any film.

Now that the shine has worn off somewhat, I still genuinely enjoy watching this film. The only portion that annoys me is what always annoys me in most romances. The satisfaction is fugacious, lasting only as long as it takes for the film to flee before the onslaught of the credits. I’d love to see romances where the romance isn’t just the getting together portion of love, but providing the fulfilling gratification that love and a good story deserves.

Zero Review: 8.0/10, B-
Zero Recommended


Blast from the Past

“Blast from the Past” is one that may be starting to have a dated appeal. I haven’t seen hide nor hair of Brendan Fraser nor Alicia Silverstone since the 90s and I feel that future (or mayhap present) connoisseurs of film will look back at both actors and wonder what we saw in them. Why did everyone and their dog have a crush on Alicia Silverstone back then? She wasn’t particularly wholesome or particularly sexy, so what was the appeal? Was it the combination of all her attributes? Was it just that she was the flavor of the moment?

And it’s not like Brendan Fraser is the greatest actor in the world, still, he’s effective and does what we need him to do, and the role of a 35-year old, fallout-shelter raised, sheltered manboy is perfect for Fraser. In a moment of wonder, I realized that the pretty-boy ex-boyfriend character was played by the amazing NATHAN FILLION, an actor I admire now more than I crushed on Silverstone in my formative years. It’s alarming how young he looks and it really makes you realize how much time has passed since 1999.

Christopher Walken is always welcome and Sissy Spacek plays a heartbreaking and worrisome role as the mother. Any scene with her in it and where she was not well inebriated felt like walking on broken glass John McClain style. I kept expecting a huge fallout from the seclusion and isolation’s toll on the psyches of the inmates, but the film maintains its lighthearted style.

Still, think for a moment just how dark this could have been. They were in a fallout shelter for 35 years. Alone. No sky. Underground. They assumed that the world above had been annihilated and held life that could barely be called that. It could have been really freaking dark. REALLY freaking dark.

Like, darker than the Fallout videogame series which features the ramifications of actual fallout (by the way, Fallout 3 is a masterpiece, 9.5/10, from the makers of Skyrim, a perfect 10/10).

I wonder if anyone’s written a fanfiction retelling “Blast from the Past” as a thriller instead of a comedy. That would be really cool.

Anyway, although I expect nostalgia to influence anything I first consumed in the 90s, I didn’t really feel it with this. Even so, it’s enjoyable and still merits a watch.

Zero Review: A fond 7.5/10, C.


Wimbledon

“Wimbledon” features the titular tennis tournament and touts the terrific twosome of Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst as they fall for each other.

…and when I say “terrific”, I mean “inspiring terror”. Although Alicia Silverstone still maintains whatever appeal she had in the 90s, Kirsten Dunst is almost annoying in this film anymore.

Let me say that a different way. I loved “Wimbledon”. I thought it was fantastic. I’ve watched it multiple times before re-watching it this week, and when I was deciding to re-watch old films, “Wimbledon” was not just the first film I pulled off the shelf, but the impetus behind the entire arrangement. I don’t know what happened, but although still enjoyable, I frequently found myself saying, “Are they even trying to act?”

Dunst I can understand. Although when I first discovered her existence I thought that Dunst-naysayers were more hot air than substance, she’s never really given a performance to write home about, instead thriving on the border between cute and pitiable; once her charm has evaporated, you can see some of the merit in what her critics say. In this film in particular, I felt her name should have been Kirsten Dunce (and seriously, who’s named “Kirsten?” Really? I always want to ask people with that name, “Did your parents name you that on purpose or do they just not know how to spell Kristen?”).

So Dunce I could understand, but Bettany isn’t innocent either in the egregious crimes against his profession, and he’s one that I’ve always enthused about. It’s upsetting to watch this film to me now. Prior to this week, I knew it wasn’t Shakespeare, but I was at least somewhat ignorant of the flaws and ugliness of this film, and in other films where I am aware of the flaws at first, I can become inured, but this was a low-blow. A shot to the groin that I wasn’t expecting that has my bowels twisted in knots worse than lactose.

Dunst is believable when she’s screaming and making rude gestures in her tennis persona however, so that was still pleasantly unpleasant. Anyway, although I still enjoy “Wimbledon”, I would warn you off this film unless one of the following applies (1) You’re a tennis fan, (2) You’re a fan of one or both of the two main actors, (3) You’re a sucker for sports romance.

Although, speaking to the tennis, those shots were not entirely what I would have expected in a film that prided itself on realism, luckily…aw crap. I was about to make some crack about England winning Wimbledon, but they have won it since the release of this film, guess I’ll have to make a crack about the Red Sox winning the World Series…what? Seriously? Well shit.

Zero Review: 7.0/10, C-


The Count of Monte Cristo

“The Count of Monte Cristo” is one that really swept me off my feet when I first watched it, and I was glad to snatch it up from the bargain bin of some DVD store several years ago. The tale is what you would expect from one of the great classics, and it is still enjoyable today. The acting is OK, the sets and costuming is fantastic, the fights are worthy and it just plain sucks what happened to the titular character to set up the entire film.

Still, I’m not sure where the spark of greatness went. When I first watched this film, I was swept—well, if not off my feet, then TO my feet. I remember being moved. I remember leaping from the couch to regard the climax of the film with clenched fists in fear of what I felt was certain comeuppance to the comeupper (as I have been taught to expect by Hollywood). Revenge is a dish best served with a can of whoop-ass  (if that’s not how that phrase goes, it should be), but Hollywood believes in karma and even though the original perpetrator is assured justice, the arbiter of said justice is usually given a penance for their passion as well (unless they are taking revenge for their wife or child, especially if said wife or child was raped…I don’t make the rules of Hollywood, I just get to watch the drivel that results from it and then be cognizant of the mathematical models behind every bloody film…thankfully, Alexandre Dumas lived WAYYYY before karma got popular in the way gluten-free foods are).

The spark is gone for me from this film now. I still enjoy it, but with a detached regarding (using “regarding” as a noun there in case it threw you). I’m not sure if it was just that I was that much more bloodthirsty as a youth, or just that much angrier, although I suspect the latter. Without as much anger as I had back then, finding solace and empathy with the protagonist as he pursues vengeance to the exclusion of happiness is a chore.

Zero Review: 7.5/10 C


For Love of the Game

“For Love of the Game” is a masterpiece. I can’t say enough good for this film. Kevin Costner detractors beware: you will not find ammunition here. Kevin Costner summators, watch away!

The sports action is good without being overbearing or cliché (although a bad call on a close slide to second is a negative in my book and I question the necessity of it). Costner plays Billy Chapel, a pitcher in the sunset of his 19-year career about to pitch what could be his last game as a professional ballplayer. The owner has sold the team and the new owners have already made it clear their first order of business will be to trade Chapel.

So he has a choice, retire or continue playing but for another team.

As he pitches and batter after batter retires, he reminisces about the love of his life and the tumultuous time they’ve had for the last five years.

The romance is sincere. The characters feel real. The sports are the best of what movie sports have to offer. And the legendary Vin Scully does commentary for the game. If you ever get a chance to listen to him call a game, take it, he is the most knowledgeable, most entertaining, best sportscaster there is.

Caveat: It has the pacing of a movie made in the year 2000. Please do not expect a high-octane, no dead spot film. If you do it right, there is a gravity that can be quite fetching to not racing full-throttle to the end of a film, but you have to take the time to smell the roses on your way. If you can't do that, you may get bored.

Zero Review: 10/10, A. The perfect baseball film.
Zero Recommended


Metropolis

Osamu Tezuka’s “Metropolis” is an anime adaptation of Tezuka’s classic manga with some allusions and inspiration from the 1927 film of the same name, which also apparently inspired the manga (with a single still of a robot girl, supposedly. Tezuka is the god of manga, or I suppose I should say father, and without him we might not have gotten anime as we know it, which in turn contributed to western comics, animation and film).

The art is faithful to 40s/50s anime style art, but overlays incredible CG backgrounds and objects with traditionally drawn. It’s not seamless, but I doubt it was meant to be. It’s fantastic and contributes to the style and tone in a way I feel is timeless. It’s awe-some, and I don’t use that lightly.

The plot is cliché in the way that the Bible is cliché. Yes, I am aware that it’s been done a million times before, but oh wait, Tezuka was the one that did it first. If you want to know where the Matrix came from, where Blade Runner came from, where anything involving robots, androids and more came from, then you would be remiss in not checking out as much Osamu Tezuka as you possibly could, and “Metropolis” is easily digestible.

In spite of being cliché, it does not pull its punches and is not afraid to make a point with the blood of its characters. You have characters espousing their worldviews in an expository manner, yes, but you also have characters making a stand with little beyond “It’s my duty” as explanation. You have ruthlessness alongside loyalty and love alongside questioning our existence. You have a badass investigator with an even more badass mustache, shady politicians, corrupt businessmen and evil scientists. You have children questing for what’s right in a world that’s wrong. Corruption vies for beauty and money oppressing the workers.

It’s a tour-de-force and in spite of any reservations I may have built up in my head towards re-watching this film, (it’s only my second or third full time watching this film), it overwhelms your expectations regularly. You may be settled and comfortable in its hackneyed-ness, but you won’t be for long. It’s quite spectacular.

By the time, “I can’t stop loving you” starts playing, I’m comfortable that you will have been won over by this amazing achievement of a film that is a tribute to the work of one of the most talented and creative minds of modern entertainment.

Zero Review: 10/10. A must-watch anime film.
Zero Recommended


So what were your thoughts on these oldies? If you have not watched "Metropolis" or "For Love of the Game" yet, I don't know what you're waiting for. They are a necessity.