Friday, June 4, 2010

What We Watched: 04/26/10- 05/31/10

Super High Me - Surprisingly informative documentary about the legal ins and outs of marijuana use in California. Comedian Doug Benson and friends also offer some decent comedy. ***
The Damned United - 70's British soccer movie is much more entertaining than it seems at first glance. Great cast and a truly interesting, based-on-true-events story. ***
Happy Go Lucky - Great character study from director Mike Leigh. Amazing performance by lead Sally Hawkins. *****
Dragon Inn (1992) - Spectacular choreography and a fun, if confusing, story dominate this kung-fu epic. Final fight scene is a must-see. ****
Unconscious - Spanish ,victorian murder-mystery/ comedy is a little long on the running time, but you hardly notice as it's so much fun. Would make a great double feature with the recent Sherlocl Holmes movie. ****
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story - Witty, meta-comedy about the filming of a supposedly unfilmable comic novel. The always likeable Steve Coogan doesn't fail to entertain. ***
Moon - Amazingly straightforward, yet intelligent, sci-fi movie with a premise that actually does justice to the genre without resorting to explosions and pointless action cliches. A rare hard sci-fi story with an amazing performance by Sam Rockwell. *****
Little Shop of Horrors - Classic 80's comedy/ musical with wonderful creature effects and some fun songs. Look for cameos by Bill Murray and John Candy. ****
The River - Stunning visuals manage to make up for a lack of plot in this 50's tale of a family in British colonial India. ***
Breaking Away - One of those near perfect movies. Delivers on everything it sets out to do. In addition to a great score, it manages both high drama and slapstick comedy, wrapped up in a coming-of-age/ sports movie. *****
Bitch Slap - What a waste of time. Found myself tempted to turn this one off less than halfway through. The cast is winking at you the whole way through at how clever they think they are, when the script and "comedy" are well below straight-to-video standards. *
The Visitor - Touching story about a man with little left in his life who finds a real reason to keep going. At times both funny and dark, this one never feels as trite and preachy as it maybe should. ****
Art and Copy - Dry documentary about the last five decades or so of the advertising world profiles some interesting people, but most of them come across as a little to impressed with themselves. Found myself thinking the same thing about the makers of this movie. **
Sweet and Lowdown - Great comic performance by Sean Penn as a Depression-era jazz guitarist and all-around cad and an even greater performance By Samantha Morton as his very understanding, mute love interest. One of Woody Allen's best. ****
The African Queen - If you don't watch this for the great chemistry between Bogart and Hepburn, watch it for the beautiful scenery, shot on location (for the most part) or for the true sense of adventure you rarely see these days. ****
Defendor - Surprisingly intelligent comedy/ drama that manages to answer the question, "what if superheroes were real." In the capable hands of Woody Harrelson, the title character comes across as a real person, and not just a collection of cattch phrases and impossible martial arts moves. ****
Sita Sings the Blues - Worth watching this one for the rare (in Western movies) exploration of Indian mythology and for the amazing story behind the movie itself. Artist Nina Paley produced, directed and animated ( with a few exceptions) the entire thing herself. The story gets a little repetitive at times, but the wonderful soundtrack makes it quite bearable. ***
Dirty Work - This comedy didn't quite work for audiences when it came out, and did much to hamper Norm McDoonald's movie career, but later went on to garner quite a cult following. With several years behind it, it seems almost a little ahead of its time now, full of unlikeable protagonists and bizzare non-sequiters. Unfairly maligned, but still far from a masterpiece. ***
Flash Point - Action-filled pseudo-prequal to Killzone, Donnie Yen entertains in this brutal tale of police violence and gang-warfare. Some great mixed-martial arts choreography by Yen, which you don't see much of in modern HK actioners. ***
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - If the effects and some of the acting don't quite hold up, the breathtaking scope and amazingly tense battle scenes more than make up for it. A sci-fi action classic and the source of some of cinema's most memorable dialogue. ****
The Pope of Greewich Village - Quirky character piece is disastrously short on story but filled o the brim with some very watchable acting. Two truly weird performances by Micket Rourke and Eric Roberts as Italian(?) hoodlums trying to make their mark in 80's New York make this worth your time, as well as countless moments of spot-the-80's-character-actor you'll find throughout. Roberts sports a perm in this that needs to be seen to be believed. ***
The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires - Entertaining blend of Hammer horror and Shaw Bros. kung-fu manages unimpressive martial arts, but the strange ideas and oddly creepy bad guys make it go by almost too quickly. Watch for Peter Cushing's Van Helsing as he stands by and looks concerned throughout most of the fight scenes. ***
Up in the Air - Surprisingly funny, entertaining film, given the hype. Solid all around, with winning performances by all and a story that doesn't seem forced, considering the subject matter. Proof that Jason Reitman is more than just a flash-in-the-pan. ****
The Taste of Tea - Modern Japanese fantasy/drama/comedy fails to come together as a coherant whole despite decent performances and some idividually great scenes. Falls into the trap of too much story and not enough focus. **
The Bride With the White Hair - Despite the murky DVD transfer, the top-notch cinematography alone makes this worth seeing. Add in some of the best wire work I've seen in fantasy martial arts action, great performances from Leslie Cheung and Bridgitte Lin, and one(two) of the creepiest villains in recent memory, and you've got a movie that's everything Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon should have been. *****

Christine -Carpenter's adaption of King's demonic car story is far more creepier and effective than it had any right to be. Great simple effects hold up very well with some capable acting and memorable visuals. Scariest school bully in film history as well, guy is built like a tank and still carries a blade. ****
Patlabor: The Movie - Aimed at fans of the popular show, this low key cyberpunk anime keeps the robot action and character development minimial as the creepy plot focuses on an intriguing mystery of apocalyptic proportions. Very effective, even if you don't get to know all the players as well as you would like to. ****
Tokyo Drifter- Rebel director Seijun Suzuki flips his studio bosses the bird and turns this by the numbers ganster yarn into a bright technocolor blend of action, musical, slapstick, and ultra violence. All style, no substance, but when a movie is this entertaining and unique..who cares? Tarantino, Miike, Woo, and many others probably took notes. *****
Killzone - Surprisingly bleak Hong Kong action/drama with Yen and Sammo saving most of their violent Kung Fu for the wild final minutes. Cheesy direction and far too deliberate pacing brings this down a notch. ***
Walker - Twisted black comedy/western biopic manages to be hilarious, tragic, and head scratching at the same time. By film's end all logic goes out the window as helicopters invade 1850 Latin America. Possibly Harris' best performance as the engimatic title character. ****
Iron Man 2 - Fun sequel hints at Stark's self destructive tendancies while fleshing out a large supporting cast and a worthy villian in Rourke's reserved Whiplash. However, Terrance Howard's chemistry with Downey Jr. is missed. ****

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