Monthly Movie Round-Up :: January 2011
Resident Evil: Afterlife — January 3, 2011 / DVD
The Resident Evil movies are not really my taste, but for some reason the filmmakers keep casting people I love to see. I saw the first one because James Purefoy was involved, and then watched the sequel because of Oded Fehr. The third one didn’t interest me at all, and then I learned that Jason O’Mara had taken a role in it. And Wentworth Miller joined the most recent one, so of course I had to see that one, too. None of the first three interested me enough to watch for story, instead using my fast-forward button to skip through until my actors came onscreen. But with RE: Afterlife, I found an actual interest in the story itself. For the first time the movie came off pretty cool to me. They’re not meant to be great cinema, of course, but there was true fun in this latest installment and I didn’t expect that.
Mother and Child — January 5, 2011 / DVD
I hadn’t heard of Mother and Child until scanning the filmography of favorite Marc Blucas, but when I saw a trailer it seemed an interesting premise, as well. The film follows three main characters who each have a story involving motherhood: Annette Bening mourns the loss of a daughter she gave up for adoption a lifetime ago; Naomi Watts shields herself from all emotion because she never knew her own parents; and Kerry Washington struggles with an inability to conceive and a desire to become a mother at all costs. Their lives weave in and out of heartache and joy, and their personal journeys eventually intersect unexpectedly. Jimmy Smits and Samuel L. Jackson also co-star, but their roles are merely springboards for Bening and Watts. As the tale progressed I found myself drawn further and further into the story, to the point where I finally stopped multitasking and gave the movie my entire focus. I never expected to find this movie that engaging! Despite a true distaste for Watts’s character — she displays a harshness I’ve never seen from her — I found Mother and Child engrossing and eventually heartwarming. It’s not a great film, but it’s the kind of movie that is quite moving, especially to women.
Passengers — January 7, 2011 / Encore
In the past year I’ve lost my taste for Anne Hathaway, finding her more and more pretentious with every new project she creates, but this older film also featured Patrick Wilson so I opted to give it a chance. All I can really say is that Passengers is an odd little film. A plane crash brings Wilson and other survivors into Hathaway’s life, where she is the therapist assigned to their “case.” As the story progresses, her patients begin to disappear and in solving that mystery she finds that the plane crash isn’t the accident it seemed to be. Wilson is terrific in his role, and David Morse plays his part of a menacing airline executive beautifully. The conclusion is a bit more twisty than I expected, but I didn’t ever feel the need to turn the movie off. Though it’s more on scale with afternoon or late-night TV airings, Passengers isn’t such a bad little film. Just… different.
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House — January 9, 2011 / Turner Classic Movies
My love for Cary Grant is well-documented here, and I’ve been wanting to watch this particular classic for years but never quite made time for it. All I knew is that it was supposedly one of his funniest roles. I’ll admit that it was humorous, but I didn’t find it to be among his best, to be honest. It’s a fun little movie about a New York City adman moving his family out of the city and eventually having to custom-build their dream home. The movie is filled with sight gags and punchlines, and Myrna Loy is sweet but uninspiring as Grant’s wife. Quite often I thought that she and Grant weren’t being given enough to do, which left the film a bit flat for me. But there was just enough fun to keep me interested to the end, so in that regard the film was enjoyable.
The Thin Man — January 9, 2011 / Turner Classic Movies
The Thin Man is where Myrna Loy truly shined. Much was made of her chemistry with William Powell in their roles of socialites Nick and Nora Charles, and everything that has been said is still true today. They are charming in these roles, and the film holds up as well today as it did upon its release in 1934. The Thin Man is a true classic, a keen mystery with humor and suspense and even a bit of action thrown in for good measure. It’s no wonder this film spawned a series of sequels! The Charleses become sleuths who never lose their grace or their ability to find the fun in each situation. In the end, the mystery wasn’t even the important part. Simply getting to know Nick and Nora made the movie incredibly fun.
Queen Bee — January 9, 2011 / Turner Classic Movies
Little by little I’m working through Joan Crawford‘s filmography out of respect for my best good friend and her love of the actress. I’ve never been a fan before, but the more movies I watch the more I see Crawford’s greatness. With Queen Bee I was most surprised to learn that this was one of the only roles she played as a villain. I suppose it’s her personal history (or rather, her daughter Christina’s personal history) that makes us believe Crawford played villains all the time. Instead, she was really just one of the studio’s greatest assets for playing any type of character at all. The more I see her films, the more I understand how true this was. Queen Bee showed Crawford’s range in an extraordinary way, allowing her to infuse the character with just a touch of remorse even while embodying the overbearing and manipulative socialite who schemes against anyone threatening her personal agenda. The cast is rich with extraordinary actors and a wealth of interesting characters, and the movie resembles a stage play in its pacing and character interplay. And even the melodrama that is always present in films of this era serves the movie well and provides a perfect ending to an intricate tale. I can see why this film is one of Cerella‘s favorite Crawford flicks!
The Lion in Winter — January 9, 2011 / Turner Classic Movies
Yet again I discovered that I’ve not seen nearly as many Katharine Hepburn films as I thought I had. The Lion in Winter has always seemed so familiar to me, yet I’ve apparently only seen the same moments again and again throughout the years, leading me to believe I knew the performances by Hepburn and Peter O’Toole better than I actually did. In reality, this was my first complete viewing. O’Toole’s King Henry II and Hepburn as his wife-slash-adversary Eleanor of Aquitaine are so equally matched in their ferocity that viewing the film is much like watching a military battle; they spar and retreat and lunge again as if their lives depended on it. And it’s a glorious sight to behold. Providing equally dramatic support is Anthony Hopkins in one of his first feature film appearances, and though he’s not immediately recognizable, he absolutely holds his own against his legendary co-stars. The story is set around Henry’s plan to name his successor to the throne and Eleanor’s schemes to make sure he names their first-born instead of his favored younger son, but the heart of the film really lies in the interactions between characters. It’s a roller coaster of emotional scenes that pack more and more punch as the film progresses. Which often brings as much exhaustion to the viewer as it did to the actors delivering the scenes. The Lion in Winter remains a classic because few performances could ever equal those of Hepburn, O’Toole and Hopkins.
Legends of the Fall — January 9, 2011 / Encore
When this film was released and Brad Pitt hysteria began, I did not see the appeal of either Pitt or the movie. It took me almost a decade to see the merit of Pitt’s talent (in Ocean’s Eleven and then Spy Game), and finally I decided to go back and watch Legends of the Fall. Once again I realize how much I miss when I make snap judgments! I loved Legends. Absolutely loved it! It’s the kind of movie I adore, with its nod to Native American history and aspects of frontier life, and I was reminded how great Pitt was in his early years when acting was the focus of his career (before he was “Brad Pitt, superstar”). Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn, Henry Thomas, and Julia Ormond each brought additional depth to the movie that made it so beautiful and so engaging, and Gordon Tootoosis presented the heart and soul that he is always known for. Though Legends of the Fall is mostly a love story, it is not just a historical romance but rather a tale of family and redemption and perseverance. All of the things that make a movie great.
The Long Kiss Goodnight — January 11, 2011 / Encore
Long have I seen this film on lists of movies that are overlooked by the masses, and long has Cerella told me to put it on my viewing list, but until I came across it unexpectedly on Encore I really never made a plan for it. Geena Davis isn’t one of my favorite actors (though I have enjoyed her from time to time) and Renny Harlin has never elicited a confidence in me (sorry, C, but I just don’t see the appeal!). But during a long night of insomnia, this movie seemed a perfect choice to pass the time. And I did enjoy it, somewhat, though I found a lot of it to be as hokey as other Harlin films have been. I also don’t subscribe to the notion that it compares to the Bourne films in any way. The only similarity is the premise of Davis’s character regaining her memory of being an assassin before developing amnesia. Beyond that, the Bourne films are a thousand times better and those stories far more complex. That’s just my opinion, of course, and had I seen The Long Kiss Goodnight when it was released (six years prior to Matt Damon’s The Bourne Identity) I may have felt differently about it. But since the Bourne trilogy is one of my favorite cinematic joys, I just don’t see as much value in Davis and Harlin’s creation as most people seem to find. Although I loved seeing David Morse as his younger, thinner self! Beyond that, I can’t say The Long Kiss Goodnight is much more than a classic 90s film, when movies were stuck between emerging technologies and over-the-top acting.
Rising Sun — January 11, 2011 / Encore
Speaking of bad movies from the 90s, Rising Sun is one of the worst. I honestly wish I’d never seen this movie. It’s vulgar, it’s distasteful, and it’s a perfect showcase for how bad Wesley Snipes can be. I hated it, and I hated that Sean Connery was involved. Rising Sun just had so much potential and failed miserably on all accounts.
Doubt — January 15, 2011 / Encore
Like most everyone on the planet, I find Meryl Streep phenomenal, and her performance in Doubt is as good as anything she’s ever done. It’s easy to forget how forceful she can be when she plays a string of fun roles like Mamma Mia and Julie & Julia, but as Sister Aloysius, a severe nun at a Bronx Catholic school in 1964, Streep is nothing short of mesmerizing. But what makes Doubt such a great film are the equally powerful performances of her co-stars: Amy Adams as a young protégée and Philip Seymour Hoffman as a priest accused by Aloysius of an inappropriate relationship with a male student. The movie doesn’t provide definitive proof of the priest’s crime, so a viewer is left to question in the same way as Streep’s and Adams’s characters. And that’s what makes the film so compelling. I was torn by my own swaying opinions throughout the movie, even as I was quick to find Aloysius much too harsh on Hoffman’s Father Flynn. It’s Adams’s naïve Sister James who gives the movie its heart and its softer edges, proving without a doubt that her Oscar nomination for this role was well-deserved. Doubt is a film I chose to see because of its Oscar connection, but it turned out to be much more interesting than anticipated.
I Capture the Castle — January 15, 2011 / Encore
Sometimes a movie is so unexpectedly good that I am surprised I’ve never heard of it before, and then I wonder why the world isn’t talking about it, too. I Capture the Castle is just such a film — one that I watched because of a single actor’s involvement (Marc Blucas) and discovered to be on the same level of quality as Pride & Prejudice and Atonement and any number of British dramas. It’s the story of Cassandra, a young woman trying to find balance in life as her eccentric father struggles to write an elusive novel, her sister toys with the hearts of two American suitors, and she falls in love with one of those suitors herself. To make matters worse, the Americans actually own the crumbling castle that Cassandra’s family calls home, and a childhood friend has fallen in love with her but finds his own affections unrequited. The story is complex and romantic and heartbreaking and quite often very funny, and I found myself thinking how much more I would’ve enjoyed Atonement if it had included even a little of the light-heartedness found in Castle. I loved the latter from its first act, and I still can’t believe it remained hidden from me all these years. But no longer! I know that I Capture the Castle will be on my list of go-to Brit flicks from here on out. And, surprisingly, it has very little to do with my love for Marc Blucas.
They — January 16, 2011 / TV Broadcast
When you watch movies because of their casts of actors, you’re often assured of some horrible experiences, even if the actors themselves do their best in the roles. So I watch a lot of really bad films just for the sake of seeing actors I love, and They is one such movie. It’s nothing I would choose to watch, as it is a Wes Craven film and, therefore, bordering on horror, but I gave it a bit of time for that Blucas fellow mentioned above. This was early in his career, so I expected that I wouldn’t have to endure much of the film in order to see him — and that was true — but the movie wasn’t so disturbing that I felt the need to skip over much of it, either. I simply let it run and averted my eyes when the creep-factor came into play. It’s not a good film. It doesn’t even feature good performances. It’s just a creepy pseudo-thriller. But I enjoyed Blucas in his few onscreen moments, and that’s all I expected from the movie in the first place.
The Dark Knight — January 22, 2011 / TV broadcast
I’ve seen this movie several times and love it just as much on each successive viewing, but this time I experienced an interesting moment as the Joker threw his rampage into overdrive in the third act of the film. For the first time since it was released, I didn’t feel sadness at the loss of Heath Ledger. Each previous viewing was bittersweet, and a point would inevitably come when his death overshadowed the onscreen glee. It’s not that reality threatened to derail his performance, but that I simply felt the void of not getting any more chances to see how far his talent could have taken him. But this time, on this fifth or sixth viewing, I didn’t feel that melancholy. I was able to fully experience the Joker’s sadistic joy and be truly entertained without once considering what the world had lost. It wasn’t until hours later that it hit me, but it came without grief this time. Just an awareness and a thankfulness that Ledger’s greatest performance was captured for eternity.
The Bourne Ultimatum — January 29, 2011 / TV Broadcast
I’m a sucker for the Bourne movies. Even when I don’t have any plans to watch them, even when I haven’t thought about them for months, if I happen upon one of them in my TV surfing, I’m there for the duration. I love them, I love Matty Damon, I love the Bourne character and the many supporting actors who contribute to the overall story arc. I never tire of these movies. That said, I’m far more partial to Identity and Supremacy than I am to this third chapter. Ultimatum wasn’t the conclusion I hoped it would be, despite answering the key questions about Jason Bourne. (I’m happy to hear that a fourth Bourne just may be in the works. I’ve always felt a little cheated.) But I did watch this airing of The Bourne Ultimatum in its entirety because (a) I had no other plans, and (b) I love Julia Stiles‘s character in this one more than any other. It’s important to watch all of the chapters in a series, even when you don’t necessarily enjoy them all. It’s important to keep the story complete in your mind. And so I do, and I did. And it was just as much fun as the first time.
Also seen in January: Ondine, The Social Network, The King’s Speech, and Winter’s Bone.
Posted on 31 January 2011, in What I Watch and tagged British drama, Cary Grant, classic cinema, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Marc Blucas, movies, postaweek2011. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.