In 2010 I saw 100 different movies in 100 different theaters. Here are the details.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Home Video Roundup: April 2013

The Host (2013)

@ the Alameda Theatre and Cineplex.

Several friends have reported that Stephanie Meyer’s writing is not the highest of literature. Nonetheless, adaptations of her work are tons of heart-throbby fun. In the Twilight Saga, Belle’s central decision is to choose a boyfriend from among a vampire and a werewolf. The Host makes the selection more human, but the chooser less so.

Body snatcher aliens have successfully conquered Earth. From the perspective of the remaining humans, the blue-eyed hosts are monsters wearing the faces of their lost friends. Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), her brother Jamie, and her boyfriend Jared managed to evade the aliens during the initial takeover, but while on a foraging expedition, Melanie is captured. In a typical possession movie, our hero's allies are taken from her one by one, feeding the zombie-like army in her pursuit. In The Host, our hero is the one compromised, and we are permitted to see the invasion from the perspective of a single host/alien pairing. Melanie’s consciousness continues to exist, linked telepathically with her alien invader, whom they agree to call Wanda. Melanie is a spectator, experiencing what Wanda does with her body, but unable to control it. With Melanie's incessant probing, neither is Wanda able to settle comfortably into the body.

When Melanie is reunited with Jared, he treats her as the villain who killed his girlfriend. His friend Ian (Jake Abel), however, begins to fall for Wanda. Good angsty drama, good sci-fi.

G.I.Joe: Retaliation (2013)

The first G.I.Joe was great. Channing Tatum leading a team of high-tech soldiers against well financed global terrorists, themselves lead by a vengeful Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Bring. It. On. Good action. Fun character interactions. And for this nostalgic viewer, the perfect amount of tribute to what were my favorite childhood toys.

The sequel, whose tagline should be “If you loved the first movie, well, so what,” dumps most of the characters from the original (Duke, Scarlett, Ripcord, General Hawk, Destro, Baroness, Dr. Mindbender) and recasts others (Cobra Commander, and Zartan to a degree). In their place we get Dwayne Johnson as Roadblock, Bruce Willis as the original Joe (that's not even a toy!), Adrianne Palicki as Lady Jaye, Ray Stevenson as Firefly, and minor roles for Jinx, Flint, and a few other recognizable names.

Ray Park (pictured below), who can't seem to not have super powers, returns as Snake Eyes. Byung-hun Lee reprises his role as Storm Shadow, even though Storm Shadow died in the first movie (his arc borrows from the best stories of the G.I.Joe comic book).

Yes I like seeing more of my childhood toys come to life, but not at the expense of throwing out the others. Johnson and Willis have more range than what's allowed here; pairing them with this already cartoonish action plot just makes it all the more silly. Tatum and Gordon-Levitt anchored the first film in emotional reality. In contrast, the sequel is a ridiculously fluffy barrage of action sequences, with its heroes spraying bullets and launching rockets like the 80s B-Movie never died.

Now you know.

Inception (2010)

Previously reviewed.

Outstanding. (3rd viewing.)

Your Sister’s Sister (2011)

At a one-year memorial for his brother, Jack (Mark Duplass) bitterly disparages his brother's commiserating friends, announcing that they didn't really know him. The brother's girlfriend and also Jack's best friend, Iris (Emily Blunt), intervenes to segregate him from the gathering. Recognizing that Jack has let himself go since his brother died, she offers him a private retreat at her family's cabin on a New England island. Jack accepts, but when he arrives expecting solitude, instead he finds Iris's sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), who has come to the cabin to heal from her recent breakup with her girlfriend. The two have a one-night stand, and have barely extracted themselves from bed the next morning before Iris shows up, planning to profess her love for Jack.

Although I haven't seen anything else from writer/director Lynn Shelton, I now plan to. This film's dialog is riveting and its relationships fascinating, with the three leads electrifying each scene. I enjoyed every minute.

Celeste & Jesse Forever (2012)

Wow, this is depressing. Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) are best friends who do everything together. They also happen to be divorcing each other. Their friends think their relationship is unhealthy, and Celeste agrees. The film paints itself into a dim corner, with Celeste and Jesse perfect for each other in some ways, but too dysfunctional to survive. What am I supposed to root for?

The Young Victoria (2009)

Previously reviewed.

Not quite as enjoyable on this second viewing, but still quite good. I love all the political maneuvering as Victoria gathers her allies against her enemies. Emily Blunt is emerging as one of the great actresses of recent years. (2nd viewing.)

10 Years (2011)

Reunion movies are great. There’s something satisfying in bringing together a group of people with a shared but stale history, and seeing what happens. Some still view high school as the best time of their life. Others, unpopular back then, hope to make a big impression now, to either prove themselves in some way, or score with the hottie they never had. Still others explore mutual unrequited love. A stellar cast makes every scene interesting: Lynn Collins, Rosario Dawson, Brian Geraghty, Ari Graynor, Oscar Isaac, Ron Livingston, Justin Long, Anthony Mackie, Kate Mara, Max Minghella, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, and Channing Tatum.

Bai she chuan shuo (The Sorcerer and the White Snake) (2011)

Bizarre yet entertaining. A snake demon falls in love with a mortal from afar, and so assumes a human form to woo him, much to the distress of her female consort (herself a snake demon). Jet Li is a demon hunter; he and his protege move from village to village, tracking, identifying, and then capturing demons. Li’s instruction is absolute: all demons must be banished, even if they intend no harm. His protege becomes interested in the snake demon's consort, clueless that her presence is what often sets off his various magical demon-tracking devices.

This movie is all kinds of weird. Li is our main character, but his Jedi-like rigidity is off-putting; why banish all demons when clearly the white snake has sincere affection for this man? The more Li hunts her, the more she is forced to become the violent force he warns against, yet the less sure his protege is of their mission. Definitely one to rewatch.

The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

Awesome trailer? Check. Martial arts? Check. A diverse collection of warriors, each with their own power or signature weapon? Check. Endorsed by Quentin Tarantino? Wait, hold it right there. Despite having liked a few of Tarantino’s films, I’ve loved none of them but Reservoir Dogs, and they are all incredibly violent (even his cameo in Alias was in the series’ most gruesome episode). The Man with the Iron Fists, written and directed by RZA, has all the makings of an awesome throw-down, but it is just bad, bad, bloody bad. (To be fair, I was warned when, at the end of the trailer, the titular man actually punches out someone else's eyeball.)

My Favorite Wife (1940)

The first of what would be four Cary Grant movies I watched in short succession. Cary Grant’s wife, Irene Dunne, is lost at sea. After several years of mourning, and after fighting with a judge to declare him a widower, Grant re-marries to Gail Patrick (My Man Godfrey). While Honeymooning in Yosemite, Grant is astonished when his wife resurfaces, intent on reclaiming her husband. What ensues is a comedy of errors in which spineless Grant is reluctant to tell his new bride that his first wife is still alive, and so invents continual excuses why they can’t consummate their marriage.

The film makes the misstep of assuming that just because the hero is currently ill-matched, that his new bride is not worthy of our respect. Yes, she’s a bit prissy, but that doesn’t mean Grant (or the movie) are justified in humiliating her and running her out of the plot, just to make way for Dunne. Once Grant and Dunne are alone together, the third act focuses on his jealousy that she was alone on an island with Randolph Scott that whole time. Contrived, and duller by the minute.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Trying to fit in at his new school, Jim (James Dean) nonetheless makes enemies when he sticks up for puppy-dog classmate Plato (Sal Mineo). Jim is reluctant to get drawn into a fight with the gang of bullies; he postures like he can take care of himself, but he's obviously trying to stay out of trouble this time round. His good sense doesn't extend to staying away from bad girl Judy (Natalie Wood).

This is my first and so far only James Dean movie. I see why he became such a sensation. He is suave and emotionally complex. The scenes with his parents, where his mother belittles him, and he lashes out at his father for not coming to his side, are transfixing.

People Will Talk (1951)

Here is a Cary Grant movie worth seeing. Grant plays an OB/GYN and university lecturer who takes an interest in a patient and student (Jeanne Crain) who is pregnant, but unmarried. (The film’s title refers to the woman’s predicament, rather than finding any fault with a professor dating his student, or a doctor his patient.) As their friendship and romance blossoms, one of Grant’s colleagues becomes increasingly jealous of Grant’s position in the faculty, and wary of Grant’s mysterious bodyguard. Grant and Crain have an odd attraction; he never quite proves that he loves her, rather than wants to marry her to protect her reputation. Still, the two are great together.

I Was a Male War Bride (1949)

Another Grant comedy with a one-joke conceit that outstays its welcome. Grant is a member of the British service and Ann Sheridan of the American service. They are partnered together, initially fight like Much Ado’s Benedict and Beatrice, but then profess their love and get married. With the war now over, the problem is an administrative one: there is no precedent for female soldiers marrying foreign men and bringing them back to the United States (other than the film being made for an American audience, it’s never made clear why the US is the only considered destination). The legal language and spouse accomodations all assume that male soldiers are bringing home their female brides. Enduring all manner of humiliation, Grant registers himself as a war bride, and attempts to emigrate with his wife. Hilarious? Not quite.

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