Saturday, March 31, 2012

Quarky Movies

“I have my eye on you Quark.” – Odo, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

That category title is not a typo.  I did not mean “quirky”; I meant “quarky”.  Okay, so I made the word up (and for a small fee I’ll license it to you).  I am using it to refer to quarks.  You know – quarks.  The subatomic particles that make up all matter?  Never heard of them?  Here's far more than you probably ever want to know about them.

For the purposes of this category all you need to know regarding them are that there are six “flavors” (types) of them.  Those flavors are Up, Down, Strange, Charm, Bottom, and Top.  Some people prefer to use the terms Beauty and Truth, rather than Bottom and Top.  I am going to do a set of movie recommendations that use a flavor of quark somewhere in its title.

Subatomic particles?  A quote not just from Star Trek, but one of the lesser known Star Treks?  Plays on words?  A Wikipedia link?  Yes, I am trying to come up with the absolute geekiest movie category ever created.  What do you think?  Did I succeed?

As I post the reviews, I will come back and post the links to them here:

35 Up and the "Up" Series (already posted earlier)
Pump Up the Volume (already posted earlier)
American Beauty (already posted earlier)
Dangerous Beauty

On to the reviews…

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Movie – Ondine (2009)

Ondine is one of only two movies I know of that employ the Celtic myth of selkies as part of the plot.  The other is 1994’s The Secret of Roan Inish, which I just reviewed.  Unlike that film Ondine is set in the present day and is darker in tone.  Since it is from director Neil Jordan (In the Company of Wolves, The Crying Game, Michael Collins) you know that if this is a fairy tale, it is not going to be all sweetness.  It is ambiguous for quite a while if there is something fantastical happening or if there are real world explanations for everything.  Unlike Pan’s Labyrinth the viewer does get a definitive answer, which then drives the end of the film.  The result is a great mixture of joy, sadness, mystery, romance, and a little bit of peril.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Movie – The Secret of Roan Inish (1994)

The movie The Secret of Roan Inish uses the Celtic myth of selkies as a central part of its tale.  It is based on the out of print book The Secret of Ron Mor Skerry by Rosalie K. Fry.  John Sayles (Matewan, Eight Men Out, Lone Star) adapted and directed the film.  He shifted the location to western Ireland and changed the name to Roan Inish (Gaelic for Island of the Seals
).  The result is a quite magical movie that can be enjoyed by most anyone.  It may or may not be a little slow for children, but adults will certainly appreciate it.  All ages will like the tales that are told.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Movie – Penelope (2006)

Like my previously reviewed film, Neverwas, Penelope also sat on the shelf for a couple of years.  In this case, Penelope did finally get a theatrical release in 2008.  It was the first film produced by Reese Witherspoon and she also plays a small supporting role in it.  I have no idea why it sat for two years.  As was the case with Neverwas, all I could find were snotty comments from professional critics who apparently didn’t know either, but didn’t want to admit as much.  Penelope is a little lighter in tone than Neverwas.  It is sort of a reverse Beauty and the Beast tale, set in the modern world.  It has some laughs and some romance in it, but I would not call it a romantic comedy.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Movie – Neverwas (2005)

One day Netflix recommended a movie to me that I had never heard of.  By itself this isn’t that strange, since there are probably thousands of movies I’ve never heard of.  What did make it strange was that it starred Aaron Eckhart (Thank You For Smoking), Ian McKellan (The Lord of the Rings), Brittany Murphy (Clueless), Nick Nolte (Warrior), Jessica Lange (Blue Sky), and William Hurt (Children of a Lesser God).  Together they’ve got a whole pile of Oscar nominations and wins, not to mention popular movies they have starred in.  As it turns out, after appearing at a couple of film festivals, Neverwas was put on the shelf for a couple of years then finally released straight to DVD.  It “never was” released to theaters.  (Sorry, couldn’t resist the obvious pun).  This is usually not a good sign, but I did end up liking the movie.  I have some ideas on why it sat for so long.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

7 X 7 Link Award

(We interrupt this program to bring you the following news:)

I got 7x7 link award from Diana, Steven, and Sati., thanks so much!

My apologies to the three of you for taking so long to put this post together.

The rules are as follows:

- Tell everyone something that no one else knows about you.
- Link to one of my posts that I personally think best fits the following categories: Most Beautiful Piece, Most Helpful Piece, Most Popular Piece, Most Controversial Piece, Most Surprisingly Successful Piece, Most Underrated Piece, and Most Pride-Worthy Piece.

Tell everyone something that no one else knows about you:

Well, I’m assuming this means “no other bloggers”, rather than “not even family”.

Before I started writing online movie reviews I spent four years researching the genealogy of an ancestor of mine named Gideon Parkman (1714-1789).  I expanded his known descendants from under 1,000 to over 4,000.  I then organized this information, did a manuscript including photos/footnotes/indices, and published a 900 page genealogy book containing all of this information.  You can blow the dust off the copy that’s in the U.S. Library of Congress, if you are ever there.  Here is an excerpt:  

Most Beautiful Piece:  I’m going to interpret this literally.  Here are a couple examples of the beauty of Maine.  If these interest you, you can see more by clicking on the “Hikes” label.)

Most Helpful Piece:  It brings together everything he has done. 
Most Popular Piece:  This has been far and away my most popular post.  I should do a second one like it. 
Most Controversial Piece:  It is very fashionable to discredit this film nowadays.  I have never been one to follow fashion. 

Most Surprisingly Successful Piece:  This post on Game of Thrones has taken off in recent weeks as the first season was released on DVD/BD and the second season is debuting in about a week. 

Most Underrated Piece:  This is not so much underrated as it is little seen.  I posted it in the very first days of my blog and it is a film that deserves more recognition. 

Most Pride-Worthy Piece:  I’m proud of the fact that even though I had money taken from me by Google, I didn’t stay upset by it and was able to laugh it off.  (Note, there is some legalese from Amazon I was required to put in this post.) 

Pass this award on to seven other bloggers.

My apologies to everyone, especially Diana, Steven, and Sati., but just about every blog I read has already received this award and it’s pretty much impossible to find someone new to honor.  Please check out the list of blogs I follow in my profile.  You are sure to find something at each of them to interest you.

(We now return to our regularly scheduled Fairytales for Adults movie category, already in progress.)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Movie – Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Pan’s Labyrinth was a revelation for me.  Sure writer/director Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy movies were fun, and Mimic was effectively creepy, but nothing I had seen had indicated he had a movie in him with this much depth of story and feeling.  It was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, losing to The Lives of Others.  Pan’s Labyrinth is one of the very few films that have managed to combine drama with fantasy elements and have them feel like they belonged together.  It is easily del Toro’s best work to date.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Movie – Ink (2009)

I had Ink in my Netflix Instant queue for quite some time, but never got around to watching it.  I finally did see it recently and I was glad.  It is a film that deals with a little girl being stolen away to another reality, and the beings that fight for her.  Once you see the entire movie you realize how many different elements were important and how they fit into the overall story.  Ink has a few action scenes, has a little bit of humor, and has at least one scene that is heartbreaking.  It is a very good movie.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Movie – Coraline (2008)

Coraline is a stop-motion animated movie based on the Neil Gaiman book.  The film is directed by Henry Selick, who also directed The Nightmare Before Christmas.  Coraline received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Film, losing to Pixar’s Up.  Like my previous movie review – MirrorMask – Coraline deals with a girl entering another realm where she is in great danger.  While this film was rated PG, and is animated, please do not think it is for children only.  Anyone who has seen Grave of the Fireflies (1988) can tell you that animated does not necessarily mean “for kids”.  In fact, Coraline is the kind of movie that will probably give the youngest viewers nightmares.  As for older children and adults, the film has an engaging lead character and a story with many thriller elements to it.  There’s even a bit of horror mixed in.  The result is a very good movie that should not be ignored by adults.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Movie – MirrorMask (2005)

Do some children still dream about running away from home to join the circus?  Well, what if your parents owned a circus they performed in and your whole life had been nothing but the circus?  You’d probably dream about running away to have a normal life.  This is the situation faced by Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) in MirrorMask.  This film is on the darker side of fairytales – the ones where a child is taken away by bad forces and is in danger.  The film features some truly unique imagery as it blends the real world with the un-real world.  It is probably not for everyone, but I found myself liking it quite a bit – once I got used to its visual style.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Movie – Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)

Like my previously reviewed film Freeway, Ever After is also a real life movie based on a fairy tale – in this case, Cinderella.  Ever After is nowhere near as “adult” as Freeway, though.  It is a combination of light drama and a little bit of humor – a historical movie with some romance in it, as you would expect from the tale it is based on.  The biggest difference in the two films is in how the fairy tale is integrated into the story.  In Freeway the viewer can understand that this is a Little Red Riding Hood story, but the characters do not.  In Ever After, the Cinderella story is presented as being based on actual historical events that have become confused over the years.  I was expecting something light and forgettable and I found that Ever After had plenty of substance to it and that it was quite enjoyable.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Movie – Freeway (1996)

Freeway is probably going to be the most adult of the movies I review for my Fairytales for Adults category.  It initially received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA purely for the dialogue in it.  (Yes, the MPAA has been laughable for a long time when it comes to ratings.)  After censoring the movie to get an MPAA-approved version, it got released in the U.S. as an R-rated film.  Even then a couple quick scenes had to be removed to get release in the U.K., and it was initially banned in Australia.  Why all the fuss?  Well, this movie is a seriously demented (and I mean that in a good way) retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale.  It’s not for everyone, but if you like dark comedies, then it’s probably right up your alley.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Movie – Big Fish (2003)

Like Edward Scissorhands, Big Fish is another tale from Tim Burton of an extraordinary man.  In this case, Burton based the film on the original novel by Daniel Wallace.  Both book and movie tell the life story and adventures of Edward Bloom – sort of.  You see, Edward tells what some people call tall tales, while others, like his son, call them lies.  The result is a bittersweet mixture of the fanciful and the down to earth, and we come to realize that the truth, as it often does, lies somewhere in between.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Movie – Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Tim Burton co-wrote and directed the movie Edward Scissorhands during the break between Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992).  In fact, Burton was in the midst of a great run of movies in the Eighties and early Nineties.  I consider Edward Scissorhands to be Burton’s best film.  It combines elements of Pinocchio, Peter Pan, and even a little bit of Frankenstein.  The result is a modern day fairy tale about a lost, innocent man-child and the dangers that we ourselves would bring to such a person.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Book and Movie – Stardust (2007)

I first read Neil Gaiman’s book Stardust some time in the early 2000s.  I felt it was an interesting and different kind of fairytale – one that adults could enjoy and that was probably not for the youngest of children.  In 2007 I saw the movie adaptation of the book.  As is often the case, I felt that the book was better than the movie, but that it was still a good film.  People who saw only the film liked it better than those who had read the book first.  The biggest difference between the two media is that the book is a darker story, while the movie is funnier and has a happier ending than the novel.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Book and Movie – The Princess Bride (1987)

At some point, when people find out we “like movies” all of us are almost immediately asked, “What’s your favorite movie?”  I’ve always found this a little difficult to answer.  The sheer number of movies I’ve seen would make it tough to pick any single one of them.  When asked, it is tempting to go with some critically acclaimed film such as Citizen Kane or The Godfather (both of which are great, but not for everyone).  If I had to pick a single favorite movie that I have watched more than a dozen times, that has been loved by everyone I have watched it with, that is eminently quotable, that can be enjoyed by all ages, and that is completely entertaining from beginning to end, then that movie would be The Princess Bride.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Fairytales for Adults

Grandson: “They’re kissing again.  Do we have to hear the kissing parts?”
Grandfather: “Someday, you may not mind so much.”
                                                                         – The Princess Bride

By “Fairytales for Adults” I don’t mean X-rated material.  If you were hoping for recommendations there, try the 1976 version of Alice in Wonderland with Kristine De Bell as Alice.

No, what I mean by this category title is stories that are ones that adults can appreciate, be caught up in, and be entertained by.  They may have a little more complex story, or at the very least they do not talk down to the audience.  Fairytales are often dark, too, so yes, there may be greater amounts of sexuality or violence in the stories.  Some may be set in the real world, but be parallels to classic fairytale stories (i.e. 1996’s Freeway where Reese Witherspoon is a teen on her way to her Grandma’s who is given a ride by Bob Wolverton).

This will probably be a little bigger category than normal.  I might recommend a dozen or so movies, depending on how much I stretch the “fairy tale” definition.  For instance, I was going to do a separate category on selkies someday, but I’ve only found two movies that use them (1994's The Secret of Roan Inish and 2009's Ondine), so I will combine them into this category.

As I post the reviews, I will come back and post the links to them here:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Movies – My Top 10 of 2011

Here is my list of the ten best 2011 movies.  I believe I’ve seen all the big mainstream movies except Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.  I saw almost all of the Oscar nominated feature films.  I have not seen any of the Oscar-nominated foreign films or documentaries because they mostly have not been available.  From everything I have read, the foreign film Oscar winner A Separation might have had a good chance to make my Top 10, had I seen it.  Other than that, my list should be based on a pretty complete set of 2011 movies.

Last year I did my Top 10 right at Oscar time, but this year I had a couple more movies I wanted to see (i.e. Take Shelter) before I posted this list, so it slipped into March.  In case you think it’s a little strange to be doing a top 10 for a year that ended more than two months ago, I’d rather take the time to see as many movies as possible before compiling my list.  This means waiting for some of them to become available on DVD.

You’ll notice some movies in my Top 10 that did not receive any awards nominations.  I have never felt that getting an Oscar nomination was the be all and end all of how good a movie was.  In the list below, I felt the first three places were easily separated from the next seven in terms of how good they were.  In addition, the first two positions are almost 1 and 1A, rather than 1 and 2.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Movie – Chak De! India (2007)

Chak De! India (literally “Let’s Go India!”) is an unabashedly rah-rah movie about an underdog women’s national field hockey team.  Unlike Lagaan, which was called the “Rocky of cricket”, Cha De! India is much more in the vein of the 1986 film Hoosiers.  Both feature a coach in need of redemption, leading a team of underdogs into the championships.  A more recent comparison might be the 2004 film Miracle, about the American 1980 Olympic ice hockey team – more on the underdogs theme, not the coach’s redemption theme.  All of these films are primarily about sports, but spend a good amount of time on the people participating in the sport.  They are not just faceless characters, which lifts these films above the normal sports movies.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Movie – Outsourced (2006)

First things first: this post is about the 2006 movie named Outsourced, not the 2010/2011 NBC TV show.  While the latter was a spin-off from the film, it suffered the fate of most other movie-based TV shows and it only lasted one season.  I did not see it, but I have read that the humor on the TV show was much broader than in the movie.  It sounds like they dumbed it down for television audiences.  Outsourced-the-movie features some charming comedy.  Much of it is the fish out of water kind, but there is some romantic comedy, too.  The movie is about learning about other cultures.  If you ever saw the 1983 movie Local Hero then Outsourced could be considered the next generation version of that.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Movie – Black (2005)

Black is an Indian film that would not have come to my attention at all were it not for a man from India recommending it to me.  It also served as an introduction to the wealth of foreign films that Netflix carried, but that is another story.  This man had rented the DVD via Netflix, but before returning it he loaned it to me.  He knew I was always looking for good movies and he felt this one qualified.  He was right.  This is a great movie.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Movie – Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001)

Lagaan is the first Indian movie that I remember hearing about.  The reason I remember is that I had seen it for sale in a store, while just having read an article about how it was setting box office records for a Bollywood film in the U.S.  This made me curious, so the next time I was in the store I looked for it, but all the copies were gone.  At first I thought they must have sold out, but when nobody else was selling it either, I figured out what had happened.  Like other Bollywood films at that time, this had been released direct to DVD in the U.S.  When Lagaan became only the third film from India to ever be nominated for an Oscar (after 1955’s Mother India and 1988’s Salaam Bombay), the studio decided to release it theatrically.  When they did this, they apparently had the DVDs pulled from the shelves.  The problem with this is that movie rental places didn’t end up getting copies, so I didn’t have any way to see it.  (This was before the days of Netflix). 

Fast forward to about five years ago and I happened to spy a copy for sale.  By then I had forgotten about wanting to see it, but this reminded me.  I did a blind buy – something I rarely do.  Even then it was a few more months before I finally watched the movie.  I was glad that I had.  It is an entertaining, crowd pleasing film.  Time Magazine recently named it one of the 25 best sports films ever made, although it is a lot more than just a sports movie.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Movie – Monsoon Wedding (2001)

Monsoon Wedding is probably Indian director Mira Nair’s most popular film in North America.  She first hit my radar screen with the Oscar nominated 1988 film Salaam Bombay.  Although I still have not seen that movie, I did see her American follow-up, 1991’s Mississippi Masala with Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury.  That made me a fan of Nair’s, so I have tried to see her other films over the years.  While Nair has explored topics are far ranging as Cuban refugees (1995’s The Perez Family) and classic English literature (2004’s Vanity Fair), Monsoon Wedding is a tale of two Indian families that are trying to balance tradition with modernism, while blending their families into one.  The result is a charming combination of light comedy, romance, and drama.