Monday, March 30, 2015

Movie – The Wind Rises (2013)

The Wind Rises is purportedly legendary writer/director Hayao Miyazaki’s last film.  There are those people (I am among them) who hope that Miyazaki’s retirement announcement is like his previous five and he is inspired to return again.  However, if this is to truly be his final film then he made a great one to cap off a great career.  It has both a moving story and beautiful animation.  If anyone tries to tell you that only cgi animation can be stunning then show them this hand-drawn film.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Movie – Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Let me be honest right up front: I thought this was going to be the film that would break Marvel's winning streak.  A movie about a bunch of strange beings, including a talking raccoon, based on comic book characters that even someone like me, who at one time had read comics for years, knew almost nothing about?  Not a chance.  Marvel had finally reached too far.  Man was I wrong.  Not only was this a massive box office hit for them, it is a hugely entertaining film and it’s my pick for the best movie of 2014.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Ten Best Films of 2014

Each year that I do this I seem to be a little more reluctant to draw a line and name my Top 10 films of the prior year.  I always want to watch just a few more movies, “knowing” that there’s another one out there that will make my Top 10.  It wasn’t any help getting over that feeling this year when I had not one, but two films that I saw within the last two weeks that are making my Top 10.  I still want to see just a few more, but this is already the latest into a year I’ve waited before posting, so here goes.

I believe I’ve seen most of the big mainstream movies and critically acclaimed films of the year that I felt I might like, including all four Oscar winning films (Picture, Animated Film, Foreign Language Film, and Documentary).  I’ve seen all the Best Picture nominees, all the Best Animated Film nominees, and all the Original and Adapted Screenplay nominees.  I have not seen any of the other Foreign Language Film or Documentary nominees, however.

If you are curious, a complete list of the 65 2014 films that I saw can be found at the bottom of this post.  That’s down from 77 films for 2013 and 101 films for 2012 at the time I posted those Top 10s, so this year’s list may be missing a great one I just haven’t seen yet.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Think the Earth is Big? Think Again.

I was reminded recently that I had saved these images.  They do a great job of illustrating just how big some objects out there in the universe actually are...and by comparison just how small the Earth is when you come right down to it.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Movie – Big Hero 6 (2014)

Big Hero 6 recently won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film.  I have seen four of the five nominated movies, only missing Song of the Sea.  Of the ones I have seen I don’t feel there is a clear best film among them.  The Boxtrolls would be at the bottom for me, but this film, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya all have a similar level of quality and entertainment to them.  And all three have characters dealing with a loss at key points.  The other major awards reinforce the parity among the films.  The Annie Awards (ones specific to animation) also picked Big Hero 6, but the Golden Globes selected How to Train Your Dragon 2, and the BAFTA awards picked The LEGO Movie.  Regardless, Big Hero 6 is a good movie that can keep both children and adults entertained.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Movie – Citizenfour (2014)

Citizenfour won the 2015 Oscar for Best Documentary.  Even though I have not seen the other four nominees this did not surprise me.  The subject matter of this film is Edward Snowden – the man who exposed the fact that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had been spying on millions of Americans with no warrants and without even the broad “preventing terrorism” justification given to it under the Patriot Act.  And this was just the beginning; the revelations continued to come out and had a worldwide impact.  Guess what?  There was actually a person there with Snowden as it was breaking in the news and she captured it all on camera.  The result is an amazing inside look at the few days that shocked millions.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Steve’s Selections #3 – The History of Future Folk (2012)

Watching movies nowadays it sometimes feels like low budget filmmakers have forgotten what the primary point of a movie is – to entertain.  (A studio exec would say it’s to make money, but the best way to make money is to make an entertaining movie that people want to see over and over.)  The days of Robert Rodriguez making El Mariachi (1992) for $7,000 and Kevin Smith making Clerks (1994) for $23,000 are long behind us.  Instead, it seems today’s filmmakers feel that to make up for the lack of budget they have to make their movie “artistic”, which is a polite euphemism for “a film only their mother and some professional film critics could love.”  Then just when it seems like all is lost along comes a film like The History of Future Folk to rekindle hope.  I had a smile on my face for most of the movie, either from the humor, or just from the sheer fun of watching it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Movie – Ida (2014)

Ida won the 2015 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.  It was streaming on Netflix Instant and only 82 minutes long, so it was easy to check it out.  I have not seen the other four nominees yet, so I cannot say if this movie was worthy of winning the Academy Award.  I will say that I wouldn’t consider it an Oscar-worthy movie.  I have a theory as to why it did win and I’ll go into that a little later.  Despite some flaws it is still a movie worth recommending.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

February Movie Status

I watched 33 new movies in February, plus rewatched 1 film.

I spent the month mostly concentrating on 2014 films and new entries from the just released 2015 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They list.  My thanks to Bert in The Netherlands for alerting me to the fact that the new list had been released, and especially for helping me track down the hardest to find new entries.  I also watched single entries from two other lists since the opportunity to see them happened to come up.  Finally, I watched a couple more of the new IMDB Consolidated Top 250 entries, but I still have three Indian films, with a combined running time north of 12 hours, left to finish off all the new additions.

As the month started I had 41 entries left to see in the TSPDT list.  I knew the updated 2015 list was coming very soon, so I didn’t bother watching any until that happened.  I was hoping some of the ones I didn’t want to watch might drop off.  In some cases that did happen (i.e. three Sirk melodramas), but not for all I had hoped.

The 2015 list had a total of 77 new entries added to it, many of them documentaries.  Because of the fact that some of the ones that dropped off were ones I had not seen, and because some of the ones added were ones I had already watched, I ended up with a net result of 45 entries I had left to finish the newest list.  That was only 4 more even though 77 had been added.

That was the good news.  The bad news is that I now had a total of a dozen new entries that were more than two hours long, including three that were over four hours long – one of which was nearly six hours in length.  Another entry was for only part 2 of a three part documentary series, but it didn’t make sense to watch just that, so I watched all three, which made for another lengthy time investment.

It wasn’t a complete waste because for the first time this year a list of “the next 1,000” movies was also released and the other two parts were on it.  These next 1,000 are not ranked, but simply listed in alphabetical order.  I have seen 412 of them already.  I don’t know when or even if I might try to work on this newest list.

I have added this “next 1,000” list to my TSPDT post at my Lists from Chip site.  I’ve also included the newest version of the main 1,000, as well as a list of the 435 former films that have dropped off it.  (I have seen 199 of those.  Combined with the 970 I have seen on the current list, I have watched a total of 1,169 of the 1,435 films that have ever been on a TSPDT main list.)

I’m figuring on completing the current version of the TSPDT list either this month or next month, depending on how much I concentrate on it.  I’ve still got 11 entries left that are more than two hours long, including five of the twelve new additions.  I did knock off the three new 4+ hour entries in February.

Here are the 33 new movies I saw in February.  Highlighted films are ones to which I would give at least three stars out of five.

TSPDT (16): A Diary for Timothy (1945), Taipei Story (1985), Grin without a Cat (1977), Doomed Love (1979), Moi, un Noir (1958), Lessons of Darkness (1992), Elephant (1989), La Commune (Paris 1871) (2000), The Battle of Chile Part 2: The Coup d’Etat (1976), The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987), Harlan County USA (1976), Ashes of Time (1994), The Age of the Earth (1980), Hamlet (1964), Arabian Nights (1974), Pickpocket (1997)

IMDB (2): Interstellar (2014), Gone Girl (2014)

101 Genre (1): The Time Machine (1960)

Ebert (1): The Terrorist (1998)

Other Movies (13): Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), Foxcatcher (2014), Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014), Chef (2014), Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984), Snowpiercer (2013), Calvary (2014), John Wick (2014), The Battle of Chile Part 1: The Insurrection of the Bourgeousie (1975), The Battle of Chile Part 3: The Power of the People (1979), When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970), Art and Craft (2014), Miss Meadows (2014)

Rewatches (1): Forbidden Planet (1956)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) – Worthy sequel to first reboot.  The cgi on the apes is still impressive and the story is one that you could see happening.  3.5 stars

Interstellar (2014) – Nolan tries to do 2001: A Space Odyssey and for the most part succeeds.  The ending isn’t quite up to the rest of the film and there is one major section of plot that requires all of these extremely intelligent people to all not realize what time dilation’s impact is, even after they just got done explaining it.  4 stars

Gone Girl (2014) – Pretty good, but not great.  The trailer essentially gave away the reveal in the film, but thankfully that occurred about midway through the movie so the rest was not spoiled.   3.5 stars

Foxcatcher (2014) – Good, but not great.  I can see why it didn’t get a Best Picture nomination.  Carell is good, but Tatum is the real star and he didn’t get enough credit for the job he did on it.  3 stars

Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014) – I loved the old Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoon show when I was a kid, which included the skits of Sherman and Mr. Peabody time-traveling, so I was pre-disposed to like this movie.  3 stars

Chef (2014) – Jon Favreau writes and directs a thinly veiled cooking metaphor for his Hollywood career – critically acclaimed, but little known; then big budget and critics turned on him; then returning to his roots with this film.  3.5 stars

Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984) – The second of Steve’s Selections.  You can read my review here.  3 stars

A Diary for Timothy (1945) – Short done by the British on the hopes for the future now that WWII was winding down.   2.5 stars

Snowpiercer (2013) – Cult film that has good moments in it, but ultimately not one that made me understand the massive amount of fan talk that it has generated.  3 stars

Calvary (2014) – I had heard nothing but good things about this film, so I was very disappointed when it got done.  It had a great opening, a decent middle, and one of the stupidest character endings I have seen in a long, long time.  Yes, I get that it is a Jesus metaphor, but that story plays much better in an ancient world filled with myth and superstition, not our modern world today.   2 stars

Taipei Story (1985) – Slice of life among some Taiwanese people.  Early effort that the director got better at later on.  Watch his film Yi Yi, instead.  2 stars

Grin without a Cat (1977) – Pointless “documentary” that mostly steals clips from other documentaries, and also extols the virtues of communism and how it’s going to be the downfall of capitalism.  In fact, many of the new documentary entries had a very similar message.  1 star

Doomed Love (1979) – 1970s Portuguese TV miniseries loosely based on Romeo and Juliet, whose entry on this list appears to be for no other reason than enough people listing everything this director has ever done on the top-whatever lists and those lists then getting factored into the overall TSPDT list.  2 stars

Moi, un Noir (1958) – Sort of, but not really, documentary on what life was like for young black men in western Africa in the late 1950s.  It chronicles their work lives and then what they do with their free time.  It is actually a fictionalized version of the real thing performed by non-actors who actually did the jobs.  3 stars

Lessons of Darkness (1992) – Werner Herzog’s mostly silent images from after Iraq retreated from Kuwait and set thousands of oil wells on fire.  3 stars

Elephant (1989) – Short in which people randomly go around city streets and locations shooting other random people.  The first few times it is shocking, but then it just becomes tedious.  There is no dialogue and no explanation of why we are seeing this.  I read afterwards that it was a commentary on all the lives lost in Northern Ireland with the Catholics and Protestants killing each other.  The problem is that there is nothing whatsoever in the short with which to understand that so it ends up just being pointless.  Note: Gus van Sant’s film a few years later that is also titled Elephant, and which included a school shooting, had to have been inspired by and/or stolen from this short.  1 star

La Commune (Paris 1871) (2000) – Interesting concept – actors portraying people and journalists in the 1870s, including being in period dress, but with modern news such as TV, microphones, etc and it being done as if it is a newscast or documentary.  Unfortunately, it just didn’t work for me.  It’s also over four hours long.  And the overall message is about how great communism is. 1 star

John Wick (2014) – Better than average action/revenge film starring Keanu Reeves.  The director bucked the trend of using shakycam and instead shot all the action with steadycams, which really allows the viewer to appreciate the skill that went into them.  It also allows them to show that it is actually Reeves doing a lot of his own stunts, including much of the stunt driving.   3.5 stars

The Battle of Chile Part 1: The Insurrection of the Bourgeousie (1975) – Decent introduction to why elected Communist dictator Allende was overthrown by the military in Chile in the late 1960s.  Very biased.  2.5 stars

The Battle of Chile Part 2: The Coup d’Etat (1976) – The events surrounding the actual removal of Communist dictator Allende from power in Chile.  Extremely biased, and something the same director was still bitching about 40 years later when he made his documentary Nostalgia for the Light.  2 stars

The Battle of Chile Part 3: The Power of the People (1979) – Doesn’t really follow the first two parts chronologically, but instead focuses on how wonderful communism is and the nirvana Chile would supposedly have become had Allende not been removed from power.  1 star

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970) – British attempt to capitalize on the success of Hollywood’s One Million Years B.C.  Other than seeing great looking women and men in what are essentially fur bikinis/trunks, there’s not much reason to watch this.  The stop motion effects on the dinosaurs were considered top notch at the time.  The dozen or so word vocabulary gets really old after a while as they keep repeating the words over and over and over.   2 stars

The Time Machine (1960) – Science fiction film that does a good job of adapting the book.  There were compromises for the time it was made in, of course, but overall it’s worth seeing as one of the classics of the genre.  3.5 stars

The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987) – Documentary ostensibly about a man trying to get the truth about two deserters from the Japanese Imperial Army that were shot three days after WWII ended.  The problem is the main subject. He feels his cause is righteous, so he is therefore allowed to do anything he wants because his actions will be righteous, too. At best this means being an asshole to most everyone he comes into contact with and at worst it means murder.  In retrospect he probably had a serious mental illness and should have been getting treated somewhere, not running around in front of a camera confronting and physically attacking people.  2.5 stars

Harlan County USA (1976) – Documentary about striking coal miners in the 1970s.  It includes the usual stuff with the aggressive tactics of the coal company to break the strike and how the workers valiantly hang on.  It’s easy to see how this was included among so many pro-communism documentaries that got added to the list this year.  3 stars

Art and Craft (2014) – I'm predisposed to like any film that shows just how much bullshit the art world and art "experts" are full of, so I went into this expecting to like it. It turned out to not be what I was expecting, but I still liked it quite a bit.  The main person in the documentary is a forger who is somewhat mentally ill and copies paintings almost without knowing why he's doing it. He doesn't sell them, though; he donates them to museums as the real thing because it makes him feel good.  He was discovered by a man at one museum who while researching the painting he had received found out that the same painting was already hanging in not one, not two, but five other museums. This man essentially made it his life's mission to expose the forger. There's more than a bit of Inspector Javert in him because the forger is actually doing nothing illegal and the only thing he's doing to upset people is making art curators embarrassed that they couldn't tell his forgeries from the real thing. I was reminded of the film F for Fake.  This is definitely worth a watch and it has something happen that made me sit there and think "only in the art world" - one of places fooled by him actually does a show on his work and has him there as a guest of honor.  3.5 stars

Miss Meadows (2014) – I liked the character and the concept of this dark comedy – emotionally childish woman tries to bring manners to everyone while also being a vigilante, but the film is let down by having an easy-out, clichéd ending.  3 stars

Ashes of Time (1994) – Wong Kar-wai period martial arts film that is unfortunately incoherent for much of its running time.  There are a number of beautiful shots in it, though.  2.5 stars

The Age of the Earth (1980) – What a complete waste of time and film.  If I went lower than one star this would receive it.   1 star

Hamlet (1964) – Well-done Soviet version of the Shakespeare story.  It was mostly faithful to the original play.  The setting was impressive.  Strangely, though, they had everyone dressed as if they were in Elizabethan England when the play was written, rather than 12th century Denmark when the play was set.  3 stars

Arabian Nights (1974) – I will not call this the best Pasolini film I have seen, since that might be misinterpreted.  Instead, I will call it the “least worst” of his films.  If lots of full-frontal male nudity works for you then you will definitely want to check this out.   2 stars

Pickpocket (1997) – Slow moving slice of life in China about a young man who picks pockets and has not become a success like his friends who used to do the same thing.   2 stars

The Terrorist (1998) – Anyone who thinks a movie from India just means big song and dance numbers with a lighthearted plot should check out this film.  In an unspecified place, and during an unspecified conflict, a woman is selected to be a suicide bomber. All she's ever known is the fighting. While preparing for the assassination, though, she learns she is pregnant. The cinematography is great, and if you like water then you will love this movie since there are numerous scenes of waterfalls, raindrops on faces, on leaves, as well as the symbolism of water washing away sins and of giving life.  3.5 stars