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Friday, May 29, 2015

Friday's Top 5... Natural Disaster Movies

#5: The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

The Poseidon Adventure is a film that could easily have ended up being utterly ridiculous and cheesy. It is, after all, about a bunch of people trying to escape an ocean liner that has been flipped upside down in the Atlantic Ocean as a result of a tsunami. However, the film is packed with great character actors (including Gene Hackman, Shelley Winters, Roddy McDowall, and Ernest Borgnine) who find the right balance between acting in a fashion to meet the "bigness" of the production, while still crafting actual characters. The 2006 version might have better effects, but it's nowhere near the better film.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Netflix Recommends... What's Your Number (2011)

* *

Director: Mark Mylod
Starring: Anna Faris, Chris Evans

Based on my having watched This Means War, The Other Woman, and Brokeback Mountain, this time Netflix thought I might like What's Your Number?, a romantic comedy which has maybe a little bit in common with those first two films, and nothing at all in common with the third, unless you think that having a minor character who happens to be gay qualifies What's Your Number? to be compared to Ang Lee's Oscar winning masterpiece. I didn't really know a lot about What's Your Number? going into it (I vaguely remembered trailers for it from 2011) and picked it from among my recommendations because I was intrigued by the bizarre trio of films that made up Netflix's reasoning, and I have to say that it was surprisingly not terrible. It's not good by any stretch, and its premise is more than a little insulting, but it does have a certain degree of charm courtesy of its two stars.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Summer Not-Busters: Battleship (2012)

Director: Peter Berg
Starring: Taylor Kitsch
Domestic Gross: $65,422,625

Not that there was ever a good reason to make a movie based on the board game Battleship, but I have to think that at some point there was a better reason than to make yet another humanity vs. aliens story which turns out to be as generic as the production budget is high ($209 million, high). Battleship is a film that exists for no reason except in the hope (misplaced, as it turns out) that brand recognition would translate to box office dollars. It doesn't even have the distinction of knowing what kind of movie it wants to be and is a bizarre mishmash of tones and genres, a film haphazardly put together from the bits and pieces of a bunch of different kinds of stories and then stretched out to an interminable 131 minutes. At the very least a film based on a board game - even one which only references its source in as brief and perfunctory a fashion as this one - should have a decent sense of fun. Battleship doesn't even have that, unless its thread of retro jingoism stirs something in you.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Review: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)

* * *

Director: Martin Ritt
Starring: Richard Burton

"What the hell do you think spies are?... They're just a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like me, little men, drunkards, queers, hen-pecked husbands, civil servants playing cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten little lives." I don't know that there are many popular writers with world views as consistently cynical and hard-edged as John le Carre, whose stories so often turn on the worst in human behavior (much of it sanctioned and/or encouraged by government agencies) and the men whose spirits have been decimated by it. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is no different, which makes it a somewhat hard movie to enjoy because it's so depressing that you don't necessarily want to watch it again, even though it's a very well made piece of work. Maybe the fact that you don't want to watch it again (or, at least, that you don't want to see it again for a while) is a sign of just how good it is and how effectively this adaptation tells the story.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

21st Century Essentials: This Is England (2006)

All eras have works of art that are fundamental to our understanding of not only the craft itself, but the culture from which it was created. The 21st century is still nascent, but it isn't too early to start creating a canon that demonstrates the heights to which film as an artform has reached since the year 2000. These are the essential films:

Director: Shane Meadows
Starring: Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham
Country: United Kingdom

Shane Meadows This Is England is a film that succeeds in two thematic respects. First as a story about that in between stage of adolescence, when one is still young enough and underdeveloped enough to still be considered a kid, but emotionally attuned enough to be struggling with very adult issues; second as a story about how hatred is learned and created in a volatile space borne out of fear. It is an uncommonly intelligent and sensitive movie in both respects. In fact, so complete and fascinating is Meadows’ depiction of the milieu and its characters that This Is England has resulted in two sequel tv miniseries, with another one on the way. But it all starts here, with the story of a young misfit struggling to make sense of the world and find a place where he belongs, and taking the wrong fork in the road in the process.