Sunday, January 17, 2010

My Movie Year, part 1.

In the year 2009, I decided just for the heck of it to maintain a movie diary. When I'd watch a film in its entirety, I'd write it down in a spiral notebook, noting if I saw it on cable, Turner Classic Movies, home video (DVD, usually from Netflix) or in the theater. I thought it would make good blogfodder. Let's put that theory to the test, shall we?

*-viewed in theater


Burn After Reading
Neverwhere (TV)
The Apartment
The Golden Compass
Death Race (2008)
* Wall-E

was an amusing Coen Bros. farce with a good cast, but it never really achieved liftoff. I really enjoyed the novelization, as well as the Vertigo comics adaptation, of Neverwhere, but I had not seen the original British TV production. It was enjoyable enough, done on the cheap but the cast was committed and it was fine. Still prefer the comic. The Apartment was the Best Picture Oscar winner for the year I was born, but I had not seen it until catching it on TCM. It's an excellent, often hilarious, pic with good perfs by Jack Lemmon and the smokin' hot Shirley MacLaine. Compass had its moments, and the effects were good, but it moved at a snail's pace, as if it was struggling with its heavy ambitions. Hard to beat the cast. Death Race was cast well, too- any flick with both Ian McShane and Jason Statham has an advantage already. But this souped-up remake was no patch on the much-lower-budgeted original. Finally, Wall-E was another triumph for Pixar, questionable science aside, and is especially affecting early on.


Sahara (1943)
The Bank Job
Fool's Gold
Dead Like Me- Life After Death
The Spiderwick Chronicles
Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins
Collision Course
Shine a Light

was a pretty good western buddy drama, featuring good perfs from the always reliable Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen. Also featuring Renee Zellweger at her most squinty and annoying. I liked the desert war drama Sahara; I have a weakness for old Bogie movies. What can I say. Watched Fool's Gold on a slow day, if I recall; it's mostly terrible- Matthew McConaughey's character was interesting, and Kate Hudson's cute as usual, but the uneasy mix of rom-com and Raiders of the Lost Ark-style adventure just didn't gel. It was no Romancing the Stone, that's for sure. Bank Job is a not-bad Jason Statham heist movie; I enjoyed it quite a bit. The long-awaited straight-to-video Dead Like Me sequel was a dud, missing Mandy Patinkin sorely and saddled with a script that had very little of the magic of the sadly missed Showtime series, despite bringing back some of the original cast. Spiderwick was yet another attempt to strike Potter gold; it was OK, with good effects, but didn't really cach fire. Roscoe Jenkins gave us Martin Lawrence as a talk-show host who returns home for a family reunion. Lots of Hollywood life lessons were learned, but it was sporadically amusing. Curiosity, nothing more, led me to view Collison Course, a truly awful Beverly Hills Cop-style buddy pic that paired Pat Morita and Jay Leno (!) as a smartass Detroit cop who has to work with a Japanese policeman (guess who played what). It was done much better (well, not much better) in the Rush Hour series, or the Sean Connery/Wesley Snipes actioner Rising Sun. Fiascos like that are one reason why Leno went back to standup, and then late-night talk shows, and now the current mess on NBC. Shine a Light was a Rolling Stones concert film, directed with flair by Martin Scorcese a la the Band's Last Waltz. The Stones are in good form, and the guest stars aren't bad either- Christina Aguilera was surprisingly good.


The Hurricane
That Hagan Girl
Willie Dynamite
Taking Chance
Fort Apache
Blue Hawaii
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Iron Man
The Mindscape of Alan Moore
The Brain That Wouldn't Die
* Watchmen
Lou Reed's Berlin Live at St. Anne's Warehouse

Lotta movies this month, as I was off work for a few days with the flu. Hurricane was a pretty good 1930's disaster flick of sorts; a tale of a young sailor's strugle with authority and oppression on a South Pacific island that climaxes with the titular calamity, done with pretty good effects for 1937. That Hagan Girl is the notorious soaper that starred Ronald Reagan as an older man involved with a grownup (but still portrayed as a teen) Shirley Temple, who is the victim of rumors and innuendo in a small town due to her questionable parentage. Is Ronnie her dad? Is it squicky until the reveal at the end? Yep to one and no to the other. Dynamite was a blaxploitation flick from the mid-70s that aired on TCM's Underground series; low budget and poorly acted, it was still fun. Taking Chance, starring Kevin Bacon as a volunteer military escort officer who accompanies the body of 19-year-old Marine Chance Phelps back to his hometown, was an unexpected pleasure- it features an outstanding perf by Bacon, as well as nuanced, deliberate direction that really evokes mood. It may have been the best film I saw in 2009, and I highly recommend it. Fort Apache, a classic western, Blue Hawaii, not one of Elvis' best, were two more flicks I screened on TCM as I fought the influenza. I wasn't expecting to like Sarah Marshall all that much, but the cast was good, the script was often very funny, and the finale, in which one character stages his long-in-the-works mock-serious puppet vampire saga, was incredible- it made the movie as far as I was concerned. I also came away liking Russell Brand in his role as well, surprising because I really couldn't stand him when I saw him hosting something, probably the video awards, on MTV. Rented Iron Man for Mrs. B; I saw it in '08 in the theater but she hadn't seen it. Mindscape was a fair-to-middling Alan Moore interview/biodoc that kept my attention, mostly, but the Man himself is not an engaging interview subject, with his doleful demeanor. The Brain That Wouldn't Die was a flick I came to like watching it as a kid on the Big Show on Nashville Channel 5 in the 60s and 70s; usually the really bloody parts were edited out but I distinctly remember one glorious late 60s afternoon when they slipped up and showed it uncut; the poor lab assistant who had his arm ripped off by the pinhead geek monster in the locked room was probably my first exposure to filmed gore. It's one of those low-budget, poorly acted and ludicrously written but still highly enjoyable b-movies of the 50s that I'll always have a soft spot for. You may be familiar with Watchmen; one thing I'll always remember about it was that I threw out a rod in my engine as I drove to see it one weekend afternoon. My truck was in the shop for a month, as I had a new engine put in. I think it was a mostly pretty good attempt at filming something that is probably unfilmable; I'd give it a B+ if I was rating it. Leatherheads was a laugh-free "comedy", wasting George Clooney in an excruciatingly bad take on pro football in the early 1900's. Ol' Squinty, Renee Zellwegger, is in it too, trying to channel Kate Hepburn and failing completely. I closed out the month with the DVD of Lou Reed's return to his ambitious and often depressing 1973 album Berlin; as a fan of the album, I was curious to see how he'd treat it (he's been ambivalent towards it in the past, but there's always been an air of "unfinished business" surrounding it), and I'm pleased to report that he and his band performed it very well. Well worth checking out if you're a fan of Uncle Lou.

Coming eventually, April through June.

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