Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.
2000 USA. Director: Antony Hoffman. Starring: Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Benjamin Bratt, Tom Sizemore, Simon Baker, Terence Stamp.
This is my kind of B-Movie… one that actually takes itself deadly serious but remains no less shitty and fun to watch. I enjoyed this so much I am almost inspired to rewatch DePalma’s Mission to Mars to see who out-camps who. The writers of Red Planet sought to compile the most space cliche elements they could find into 90 minutes, it is kind of remarkable how many films it emulates, worthy of a drinking game. Despite being the captain of the spaceship and worthy of some nominal authoritative import, Carrie-Anne Moss is perpetually leered at by the camera, including a goofy shower scene, and some downright absurd nipples-popping through shirt shots as she barks order over an intercom to Houston. Now that is my kind of captain. Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore are at that point in their careers where they still got it, and they are pretty fun to watch. Terrence Stamp fumbles through the film with some of the worst dialogue to spew, as the writers crowbar in the science vs. religion theme in laughable doses. Despite all of these goofy parts of the film it at times is surprisingly competent visually, some interesting ship and costume design, a couple interesting action sequences. I am giving it four stars not because it is so bad it is good, but because it is that unique hybrid where the bad parts are fun but there are good parts that kind of hold it all together to make it as a whole, an enjoyable space romp.
2011 USA. Director: David Gordon Green. Starring: Sam Rockwell, Jonah Hill, Max Records, Ari Graynor.
Not horrible, but not very good either. At this point, David Gordon Green needs to earn back my trust before I see anything he does ever again. Jonah Hill is kind of funny and he keeps the movie watchable. I definitely lol’d a few times. I also liked the idea of giving each of the kids their own story arc even if it is kind of shallow and obvious. It was interesting watching this movie with Adventures in Babysitting sitting at the forefront of my brain. Comparing and contrasting always gives a film some sort of merit. Altogether, funny bits but fairly disposable stuff.
Jonah Hill is funny.
2000 USA. Director: Steven Soderberg. Starring: Julia Roberts, Albert Finney.
Looking back it seems Julia Roberts walked away with just about every award imaginable for her performance in Erin Brockovich. And you know what? It’s damn well deserved. The backlash on Robert over the past few years has been rather harsh, but going back to some of her earlier films it’s easy to see why she became the box office draw that she did. She’s completely magnetic in this role – which is saying something extra special as her character is not all that likable of a person. Also, don’t know if it’s just because I’m older or what, but after seeing Mirror Mirror and now this again, I realize that Julia Robert is flat out stunningly gorgeous. I have to admit part of the appeal to watching Erin Brockovich is Roberts’ beauty and the wardrobe decisions she makes. It’s great that Roberts is so wonderful here but it really (rather unfortunately overshadows) Albert Finney’s terrific performance which one might argue is even better than Roberts. These two carry this film on their shoulders. The biggest thing that struck me on this rewatch (haven’t seen it since the theaters) is how much damn time is spent on the domestic side of things. It’s important to give us who Brockovich is, but spending 45 minutes explaining to us that she has bills to pay is a bit much. And while it’s semi-interesting to watch the character struggle, it’s a real shame because all of the stuff with the trial and the clients and plaintiffs and corporate anger and what-not is completely glossed over in the final 30 minutes. The movie would be FAR more interesting if that stuff dived into rather than Erin searching for jobs and screaming at people and feeling sorry for herself for a big chunk of the movie. Soderbergh’s directing style. I now know why I felt Contagion to feel like “cookie-cutter” Soderbergh. It’s because it’s a duplicate of this film in terms of style and just little sequences all stitched together. If you believe in the auteur theory, look no further than Erin Brockovich for Soderbergh’s signature style. So really, only three things make this movie watchable (really watchable actually): Julia Roberts, Albert Finney and Aaron Eckhart’s wig.
1922 Germany. Director: F.W. Murnau. Starring: Max Schrenk, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schröder, Alexander Granach.
I was a little disappointed with this. I think I was expecting more extreme expressionistic imagery or maybe it was the bad transfer and dodgy score that the version I saw had, but it didn’t have the impact I was expecting after all the hype. The film is still very good, don’t get me wrong. Some of the imagery is fantastic and I liked all the intercutting it did between characters which kept it moving at a fair pace, but it felt more dated than some of the other silent classics I’ve seen recently.
1997 USA. Director: James Cameron. Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, Billy Zane, Victor Garber.
The 3D is a gimmick, sure, but it works here in that it adds a new layer of intrigue to a film that has grown too familiar from rewatches. May also be that it was a return to a theatrical experience, whatever it was I have not been so fully immersed at the movies in a long while, the three hour runtime never lagged. People sobbed and applauded and everything about the film feels just as effective and fresh as when it first came out (Celine Dion only belts it out as I am on my way out of the theater so that bit of schmaltz I can forgive). Years of backlash and the haze of VHS quality have done a disservice to this event movie, when shown properly it has a real magic to it. Cameron directs the hell out of that ship, and I am sorry, but the love story, while superficial harlequin, still has enough of an emotional resonance to lift it above the fray. Watching it this time I was struck at how good young Dicaprio is in this film, and Kate Winslet holds her own better than I remembered. And Billy Zane, come on, whatever happened to this great character actor?
2011 UK. Director: Ian Palmer.
A powerful, unvarnished look at a group of travellers in the UK and Ireland who ‘settle’ their disputes through bare-knuckle fist fights. It sounds like an exploitative ‘action-documentary’ from that brief synopsis, but it’s actually quite moving and disturbing at times as the men in these intertwined families seem caught in a never-ending cycle of violence and hatred between their own kin.
2001 Japan. Director: Hayao Miyazaki. Starring: Rumi Hîragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Takashi Naitô.
A film that resonates with personal responsibility, care, and BEING PRESENT. No coincidence that Chihiro is translucent when she enters the spirit world, and then leaves it on rock-solid conditions. No coincidence that the scariest part of the film is a solid minute where Chihiro realizes that her parents are not there to help here, and she is on her own. No coincidence that the gigantic-baby (you’ll know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen the film) prefers his spell-induced mouse-form, a cute nod to Totoro, but where he can reinvent himself away from a spoiled child and actually participate (and upon transformation back is shown capable of walking on his own.) No coincidence that Chihiro is ready to embrace the challenges and pleasures of a new environment at the end of the film. The richness and detail on display in this film, the encompassing awesomeness of the Bath House and all its social strata and sprawling connections, is simply put: a joy to behold.