Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Movies I Saw In 2013

Well, this year isn't going to end itself. Gotta do my part. 

That means... it's END-OF-THE-YEAR LIST TIME! 

Today we have:

* * * Movies I Saw In 2013 * * *

In 2013 I made it to theaters six times. I saw: Man Of Steel, Stories We Tell, Austenland, and 3 Rifftrax Live presentations (Starship Troopers, Night Of The Living Dead, and Santa Claus Conquers The Martians.) Then I rented a bunch of things from Netflix. Here's a sampling (and by sampling, I mean large portion) of what my eyes beheld on screens large and small in 2013.

Thor (2011)
2013 began with Marvel. Specifically, with me trying to watch the Marvel movies I had not yet seen (which was most of them.) 

Thor started out kind of promising. It was interesting, funny, action-filled... I loved seeing super-strong Thor on Earth, being out of his element, hanging out with a bumbling Natalie Portman. I enjoyed seeing how Thor changed from a pompous, war-loving jerk into a noble guy. Then, as the movie entered its last, oh, twenty minutes, things began to get strange. The whole Odinsleep thing was really bizarre. And while Loki is a bit more dignified in this movie than in Avengers, I still think he's a dork. So, mostly I enjoyed it, just wish the end could have been better. * * *

The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
I don't know how long this movie had been sitting in my Netflix queue, but I would guess... four years, at least. I'd heard it was sad -- that there's a particularly sad scene where a bunch of children tragically die -- and so I kept avoiding it. Every time it rose to the top of my queue, I'd send it back down. 

Finally I just decided to suck it up and watch it. And the thing I discovered was that the aforementioned tragedy -- while indeed very sad -- really wasn't what made the movie sad and compelling. It was the characters and the unfortunateness of their lives and circumstances. The emotions were raw, the relationships were real, and although the whole plot was pretty dismal, I didn't want to stop watching.

When it was over, my mind was full of thoughts and questions. But in a good way. * * * *

Little Women (1978)
I've loved the 1994 Winona Ryder/Susan Sarandon version of Little Women for years. I've watched it oh so many times. And over the years I tried to get my hands on any other versions of LW that I could. So I've seen the 1933 one (Katharine Hepburn!) and I've seen the 1949 one (June Allyson!) And I enjoyed them. But it wasn't until recently that I learned there was another version -- a 1970's TV-movie starring The Mom From Family Ties as Meg, Laurie Partridge from The Partridge Family as Jo, Jan Brady as Beth, and Captain Kirk as Professor Bhaer. And I wondered A) Does this really, truly exist? and B) Why wasn't it available sooner? This is epic!

Imdb calls this version a "TV Pilot," but it's very much a TV miniseries/movie. The music is by Elmer Bernstein, for heaven's sake! The sets and scenery are great; you can tell this was a pretty high-end production for the time. The acting is wonderful, save for a few performances that are lacking; for instance, the Marmee character just isn't as strong as I'd expect her to be, and young Amy falls into the same trap as her predecessors by being played by the same actress at age 12 as at age 18. The actress does a fine job as a young lady, but as a kid -- she's already taller than the mother, and it just looks ridiculous. Jo, however, shines. * * * *

Oliver Twist (1997)

Anyone who thinks that Dick Van Dyke's cockney accent in Mary Poppins is the worst British accent ever recorded on screen has obviously not seen and heard Elijah Wood in Oliver Twist. MY EARS, MY POOR EARS! And I honestly don't get it. Elijah Wood was a reasonably talented actor, even back then. He briefly put on an accent in Huck Finn, but that was SUPPOSED to be fake, and even THAT sounded more realistic than the one he had going on here. Pitiful.

But even more troubling than that is the actor who plays Oliver here. He acts with no emotion whatsoever. Never seems to get angry or have any kind of reaction at all when anything happens. Zzzz, the whole thing bored me. *

South Riding (2011)

From the people who brought us Bleak House comes the slighty-less-creepy, but still obnoxiously uncomfortable, tale of a woman who goes to work as the headmistress at a school for girls. While she tries to inspire and lead the girls, the townsfolk navigate their various scandals. One guy, a minister, is being blackmailed because he got a woman pregnant. Another man is slowly losing his fortune. Another family suffers after the mother dies. Meanwhile, Headmistress gets with the fortune-loser, but then HE dies, and it's this whole big thing, and what is UP with these haunting, depressing period pieces? * * *

Iron Man 1 (2008) and 2 (2010)
Well, I finally got around to seeing these. I thought the first one was okay. I liked watching Tony change from an asshat into a good guy. Iron Man 2 was ridiculous. Mickey Rourke is gross. Everything was gross and ridiculous. Suffice it to say, I did not go see the threequel. * *

Mosquito Coast (1986)

Harrison Ford plays a lunatic who happens to be a father of four. One day, he drags his entire family to the rain forest to live off the land, and even though his wife and kids all hate it, eventually they all make it work. Then things turn south when some gun-wielding thugs show up. Harrison kills them (YEP), but in the process, the entire village is blown to smithereens. The family sets off up river, and they live on a beach for a while, but that gets destroyed by a flood, so they set off again, etc. etc. All the while, everyone's miserable, except for Harrison's character, who is, and I repeat, a lunatic. A very unsettling drama, which also stars Helen Mirren and River Phoenix. Like Witness (which I saw last year) it's cursed with a synthesizery soundtrack. Make it stopppp! *

The Hunt For Red October (1990)

Submarines. American submarines, Russian submarines, big submarines, small submarines, ordinary submarines, stealthy submarines. An hour and a half of freaking SUBMARINES. Oh, and Sean Connery being Sean Connery. (THAT I liked.) And did I mention submarines? Zzzzz. Oh sure, there was a story, and I got it, but I wasn't particularly moved by it. * *

Wyatt Earp (1994)

If the theme of The Hunt for Red October was "submarines," the theme for Wyatt Earp was probably "guns and mustaches." 

Did you know that Kevin Costner (Wyatt Earp) was originally working on Tombstone, but quit that to make his own movie? And that the two movies are about the exact same characters and came out within a year of each other? You knew that already? Hmmm. Did you know that Wyatt Earp was the lower-grossing of the two? Now, I liked Tombstone, save for the gratuitous violence. And Earp was okay, but crazy long (mind, I did watch the "special edition.") But after seeing both I've lost all interest in everybody. Then I went and watched the Hatfields & McCoys miniseries and my mind was thereafter blown.

Too, too many guns and mustaches.

Stories We Tell (2012)
Sarah Polley directs this pseudo-documentary about her family and some secrets buried within. And it's... interesting... and certainly well-made. But it's strange. Like, the focus -- at least at first -- seems to be on Polley's mother. Which is well and good, if you know who the heck she even is. Would most movie-goers know, or care? I've been a fan of Sarah since childhood; I've seen many of her movies and shows. I have some familiarity with who her mother was and what she looked like. But sitting there watching a documentary about her seemed... almost like I was intruding on something... or like I'd accidentally walked into the wrong meeting or dialed the wrong number but the person on the other end still wants to chat. 

Still... it's an intriguing yarn, and even if you have no idea who any of the people are, I think anyone can appreciate a good, somewhat scandalous little story. One strange/cool detail about it was that Polley used actors to portray her parents and some other people in "flashback" scenes, but I wasn't aware that they were actors until the film was nearly over. And I thought, wow, that was all staged? That didn't happen exactly like that? Which I thought worked really well with the overall motif of the film, with the idea that memories aren't always reliable and some things aren't as they seem or didn't happen like we remember them, etc. etc. Ended up seeing this one twice and found new things to appreciate the second time. * * * *

Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

After watching a string of meh films early last summer, I was so happy to finally finish watching a movie and be able to go, "I Really enjoyed that! I mean, REALLY!" Crazy that I'd never watched Daisy before this year -- I know my parents went and saw it in the theater back when it was released, but I had not. It's a great film. Funny and poignant and just a cool story, a sweet character study. All the actors are great, but Dan Aykroyd and Morgan Freeman really shine. * * * * *

Little Manhattan (2005)
This was the story of an 11-year-old boy who falls for an 11-year-old girl one summer in Manhattan. Reminded me a bit of Moonrise Kingdom (though definitely not as quirky.) Solid narration from the protagonist. Acting mediocre. Story tried & true. Overall, satisfying. * * *

The War (1994)
Guh, The War....

So I've been on a Kevin Costner kick for... okay, admittedly, several years, and I thought I'd try this one because it also had a young Elijah Wood, and it was from the 90's so maybe it would be cool and all... WRONG --  it was incredibly depressing. Okay, so there are people out there who adore this film, and I can see why because it has really interesting characters and the story and setting feel kind of nostalgic. But a "feel good film," this is not. Costner's family (including Mare Winningham, who for some reason has shown up in every Kevin Costner movie I've watched lately. WEIRD.) is dirt poor and living in Mississippi in the 70's and it sucks to be them. Kevin's character has PTSD from his time serving in Vietnam. Meanwhile, his kids are trying to build a tree house with interference from a group of local bullies. And then there's racism. And death. And almost-death. Yeah, there's a whole lot going on in this film, which you would think would make it compelling, but mostly I felt disconnected. I had to stop the movie multiple times and it took a lot to get through it.  Maybe a second viewing would help me appreciate it, but not sure I can bear it. See those smiling faces on the movie poster? They lie. * *

56 Up (2012)
I finally got to see the latest film in the "Up" series, in which roughly a dozen human beings are interviewed every 7 years. It started when they were seven years old. Now 56, many of the folks are grandparents, most are still working, and all but a few seem happy. 56 Up felt different from the other installments -- instead of showing a lot of flashbacks, it seemed to focus more on what was happening now; therefore, I felt like we got a better picture of "56" than we did of "49" or "42" -- perhaps moreso than in/of any age since "7". I felt really satisfied with this one. One bit of sadness, though -- on the DVD there is an interview of the director given by Roger Ebert back when "49" came out. Turns out Ebert was a huge fan of the series and was eager to see "56". Ebert died this past April. But it turns out he did get to see it! Yay. * * * *

Austenland (2013)
If you're a fan of Jane Austen, this movie will probably make you smile. Like many other Austen-related yarns (Jane Austen Book Club, Lost In Austen, Bridget Jones) it's got that familiar feel, those familiar characters, and yet it puts a somewhat fresh spin on the whole thing. And so, just in case you ever get tired of looking at Colin Firth, you can look at JJ Feild here instead. And... well, that's not a bad thing.... * * *

Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
Well, speaking of Bridget, I finally saw this movie. Going in, I knew it had Austen elements and that Colin Firth was in it, so how could it go wrong? Maybe having it rated R with raunchiness galore... yeah, a bit of a turnoff for me. What? Give me Pride & Prejudice, the real thing, any day. *

Man Of Steel (2013)
So I've been a Superman fan for most of my life, and it's only natural that I'd go see MoS almost as soon as it was released. So I did. And then, about halfway into the film, I got the very strong urge to get up and leave the theater. Like, forever. WHAT. THE. FREAKING. HECK. So okay, the movie had potential. It really did. Angsty Clark Kent backstory with dead parents and the pain of having to hide who you are and searching for answers and that's all well and good, except for some reason they just sort of filmed all these good, short scenes, and then added them to the rest of the movie, which is essentially: Kick, Whack, Biff, Pow x 293258978 and I was equal parts bored and disappointed. * *

Tiger Eyes (2012)

Finally, a Judy Blume book was made into a film! Tiger Eyes is actually one of my favorite books, so I was excited/nervous to see the adaptation. Of course, I wish it could have been exactly like the book, but there were changes, and I was a little bit sad, but really, overall, it wasn't a disaster. Willa Holland, who plays the main character, is amazing. I'm sure we'll see big things from her in the future. * * *

Brave (2012)

Every time I watch a Pixar movie I am utterly surprised by what I'm seeing on the screen. The trailers (that I see, anyway) never seem to give the storyline away. So going into Wall-E all I knew was that it was about a robot -- and it was about so much more. Up was about a balloon house -- BUT SO MUCH MORE. Brave was equally surprising, although towards the end I kept seeing shades of Beauty and the Beast (turns out they had a screenwriter in common. And I love BATB. I'm just... mentioning this.) Overall, not my favorite Pixar pic to date, but it's certainly one of the better films I saw this year. * * * *


Other Movies I Saw: Plain Truth, Perfect Harmony

Movies I Attempted, But Could Not Finish: Best In Show, Tom Sawyer, Bye Bye Love, A Boy Named Charlie Brown, Northanger Abbey (2000), Scarlet Pimpernel (1982), Synecdoche New York

No comments: