Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Best of the Worst: RomComs of Yesteryear

I've been bingeing on terrible romcoms from the late 90s/early 00s, and I need to talk about how terrible-wonderful they are.

Remember those days? When you were given a heroine and a love interest and they HATED each other and then they LOVED each other and then they HATED each other again and then they MADE UP and there were some funny things that happened in between? They really don't make 'em like that anymore. The formula doesn't really work anymore. The closest thing that we've gotten in recent memory are things like Trainwreck and The Other Woman, neither of which did incredibly well. So let's go back in time to when things were formulaic and the world was a little bit simpler.

Kate and Leopold
 

The powers that be decided to take two of their ole romcom staples and shove them into another formulaic masterpiece. Said shoved actors in this case are Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman. Watching this through the lens of current movies -- in which we see the romcom becoming a dying breed because audiences now thirst for authenticity -- this movie is a riot. When Kate (Meg Ryan) discovers that her ex-boyfriend/neighbor has found a portal into 1876 and that a duke has followed him back, she doesn't believe him. But Leopold (Hugh Jackman) is a breath of fresh air in the terribly rushed, tech-obsessed (Kate can't find her Palm Pilot!!), and cigarette-fueled year of 2001. Will Kate decide to take Leopold as he is (a duke from 1876) or will she choose her demanding career as an ad exec. I'll give you one guess.

What Women Want
 

Oh, Mel. What happened? Charming-if-misogynistic Nick (Mel Gibson) is New York's hottest ad exec, but is becoming wary of the fact that he is only ever assigned ad content for men (hot women, hot cars, hot things in general). When his new boss, Darcy (Helen Hunt), not only steals his promotion but turns out to be a woman, Nick is eager to make her look like a fool. One night, in a twist of fate, he electrocutes himself and is given the gift of hearing women's thoughts. Using this talent for his own means, he invades the thoughts of his new boss to create an ad campaign that will speak to women -- and accidentally ends up falling in love with her. An interesting study in work ethics and dating policies, it is also a hilarious study in the dated polarity of perceived men's vs. women's thoughts. I mean, how could any man POSSIBLY know what a woman is thinking without having to read her thoughts!?

The Wedding Planner
 

JLo plays a career-driven wedding planner named Mary who simply does not have time for men. But all that changes when she has a brush with death and is saved by hot, young pediatrician Steve (Matthew McConaughey). Only one problem -- he's the groom in her client's wedding. As Mary and Steve's chemistry becomes more and more undeniable, will he still go through with his wedding? I think my favorite part of the Wedding Planner these days is how caught up I get in A) how incredibly horrendous JLo is as an actress and B) the color palette of this movie. I bet you think I'm kidding about the latter thing, but I dare you to find another movie where the color lavender should have its own casting credit. Seriously. Look at the trailer even. It could be a drinking game.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
 

Nobody likes a Mr. Sniffles! This film follows Andie (Kate Hudson) a journalist trying to write a piece about how to (you guessed it) lose a guy in ten days. How fortuitous, then, that her prey happens to be Ben (Matthew McConaughey), who ALSO happens to be a journalist trying to write a piece about how to make a woman fall in love with him in ten days (why they didn't land on that as the title, the world may never know). As Ben tries harder to make Andie stick around, Andie's crazy gets out of control. It's actually a pretty fun movie to be honest, if totally cringe-worthy. (You're not helping the women-aren't-crazy movement, Andie.)

He's Just Not That Into You
 

Oh my god. This is a cringe-fest of a movie that I can never turn off once I've turned it on. I don't even know why. It's like watching a car accident. Every time I watch this, I'm literally just shouting at the screen. "GIGI. WHAT ARE YOU DOING. JUST CHILL. OMG." It's like watching everyone on screen willfully make the worst relationship decisions in the book. And somehow, bafflingly, everyone ends up happy. I'm not even going to bother trying to explain the plot of this ensemble nightmare. Just watch the trailer.

Serendipity
 

Jonathon (John Cusack) and Sarah (Kate Beckinsale) meet one fated Christmas Eve when they're both shopping for gloves. After having an evening so romantic they could've hopped a plane to Vegas and gotten married, they decide, instead, to let Fate take it from there, and part ways waiting for a sign that they should see each other again. Fast forward ten years to the weekend of Jonathon's wedding, and Sarah's engagement. Both of them can't stop thinking of each other, and the film turns into their frenzied attempts to get closure before taking a lifelong plunge of commitment with other people. Because that is exactly the right time to pursue someone that you had a pretty good time with this one day, ten years ago, for eight hours.

My Best Friend's Wedding



Julianne Potter (Julia Roberts) has just received the news that her ex (Dermot Mulroney), who has been her best friend for 9 years, is marrying a 20-year-old that he met a few months before (Cameron Diaz). Trying to make every woman's nightmare into a fun romp where you're supposed to side with the "other woman" is a little...strained in this flick. And you can bet your ass that in real life things wouldn't be okay by the reception. Lawd.

Coyote Ugly


Ugh, Piper Perabo always seemed to me like a poor man's Julia Roberts. In this fun and trashy flick, Perabo plays Violet, a girl from Jersey who moves to New York City to pursue a career in songwriting. The only problem is that Violet has crippling stage fright, which she apparently hasn't considered might be a stumbling block. After getting a job at a trashy bar called Coyote Ugly, Violet meets Kevin, who gives her the confidence she needs to perform her songs in public. I just gave away the entire movie. Sorry not sorry.

Notting Hill


To be fair, I watched this after two glasses of whiskey and that made it reeeeally fun to make fun of. In a world where Hollywood actresses walk around without security and travel book stores still existed, we meet our heroes: Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) and William Something (Hugh Grant). When Anna meets William at his travel book store, it's an almost instant attraction. Making sure the audience knows that each of them are totally down to earth despite Anna's ritzy background and William's humble one, they quickly fall in love. But fate doesn't seem to be on their side at first, throwing obstacles in their way. Will Anna and William make it work? Tbh, Anna and William have like 0 chemistry and when (spoiler alert! or is it..) they end up together at the end there's a resounding question: "Why?" The story also features William's spectacularly depressing troupe of friends, his zany roommate, and his sister, who is so uncomfortably quirky that she's bordering on insane.

Someone Like You


Okay, this one isn't as terrible as it is a little bewildering. Jane (Ashley Judd) falls in love with Ray (Greg Kinear) but he soon leaves her to go back to his girlfriend. Seeking revenge for her broken heart, Jane moves in with her platonic coworker Eddie (Hugh Jackman) and dives into a harebrained scientific theory about cows and why guys have trouble being monogamous (yes, really). I will say that while the plot is kind of weird, Judd and Jackman are cute, and the movie is half light-hearted romcom and half dealing-with-heartbreak in a way that you don't typically find anymore. Good old-fashioned fluff right here kids, step right up.

Head Over Heels
 

Amanda (Monica Potter) works in art restoration, and moves in with four fashion models after discovering her fiance cheating on her. After meeting a handsome neighbor (Freddie Prinze Jr.), she's convinced that she can move on. But after spotting what looks like foul play, she's determined to get to the bottom of his life before another man can sweep her off her feet in a web of lies. You can imagine her relief when said neighbor is just a CIA agent (where are these people getting these jobs???). Serious points for creativity on this one. Also the high fashion of the early 00s is a riot.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Cure for Wellness: A Lesson in Amazing Thrillers

Oh. My God. Okay, at the risk of over-hyping this movie, I was not expecting it to be as good as it was. Especially for a movie that clocks in at 2.5 hours (a fact that I was blissfully unaware of until I was seated in the theater), I was bracing myself for the worst. But the pacing and the intrigue and the mystery of A Cure for Wellness will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Image result for a cure for wellness
AND LOOK AT THAT POSTER ART.

Our story begins when a young, overly ambitious businessman named Lockhart (first name irrelevant) is sent on a mission by his cutthroat corporation to fetch back their CEO, who has spirited away to a Swiss sanatorium. The only clue that the CEO leaves behind is a grim letter that decries the corporate greed and ambition that his company and the world at large so value. When Lockhart arrives at the sanatorium, he's indirectly barred from speaking to his boss, and so he leaves. Or at least he tries to. After getting into a serious car accident on the way back to civilization, Lockhart is held at the sanatorium until his health "improves." But the longer he's held there, the more questions Lockhart has about the unorthodox methods with which the director, Volmer (Jason Isaacs), treats his patients, the vitamins that everyone takes so religiously, and the ultimate "cure."

Wow wow wow. It's very hard to find a film as trippy and mysterious as A Cure for Wellness that doesn't make you completely impatient for the ending. Cerebral, style-heavy movies like this don't often work for me. I get impatient at the visuals dominating the plot and leave the theater rolling my eyes at art getting in the way of a good story. But it's rare to find a movie as beautifully trippy as A Cure for Wellness, too, that is so well constructed and clean. Throughout the movie the stark, bright antisceptic nature of the sanatorium clearly conceals a bigger secret, especially in contrast with the realism of the village below it. And figuring out what that secret is makes the film so interesting.

Image result for a cure for wellness
(Not an infinity pool.)

Generally, poorly constructed mysteries make the mistake of asking a singular question, hoping that they'll hold the audience's attention long enough for a flash-bang finish that takes their breath away. But they are rarely so lucky. The best mysteries are multilayered, peeling back clues and revealing truths, and giving way to the answer of a larger question that you didn't even realize was being asked.

This movie easily could've turned into an existential sort of crisis plot, where the "cure" is mere symbolism and the action driving the plot is purely mental. But in creating a tangible mystery based on legend and history as well as medicine, this movie can be interpreted in all kinds of ways. It touches on corporate greed, family lineage, mental health, the hypochondriacal wealthy, and SO MANY OTHER THINGS.

Look at the creepy symmetry of those colors.

A word of warning to the squeamish: like any good horror-thriller there is a bit of gore in this that might gross you out. It had to be said. But as a squeamish person myself, I hope this doesn't keep you from going out and seeing it.

9 outa 10. It's so refreshing to see this much creativity, structure, and beauty in a psychological thriller. So many indie films these days get too wrapped up in themselves, but the ending to Cure ends up being straightforward while still managing to be amazingly pulpy.




Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Split: Classic M. Night Original

I've always had somewhat of a loyalty problem with M. Night Shyamalan. As in, I tend to like most of the things that he creates, even if the reason I like them is simply for their original plots.

Also I bumped into him at a bar once so we're bffs.

With Split, Shyamalan sets a scene that is super unusual, and even if it's not super scary, I have to respect him for setting up a story that few people could pull off.

Split begins with three high school girls at the end of a birthday party. The birthday girl and her friend are in the process of begrudgingly giving their estranged classmate, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), a ride home when a stranger (James McAvoy) gets in their car. Drugging them and taking them to an undisclosed location, the man refuses to tell them anything about where they are or why they're there. But something is wrong with this man beyond his abductive tendencies. The next time they see him, the original tough guy that they dealt with has the mannerisms, high heels and clipped British accent of a middle-aged English woman. We soon learn through his sessions with therapist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley, who you might recognize from Carrie!) that this man, Kevin, has 24 separate personalities. In interacting with the girls, we are shown three of the personalities who aren't typically allowed to shine. The girls therefore need to do their best to use this to their advantage, and see if they can escape before the 24th personality, "The Beast," emerges.

Nbd.

I've gotta give Shyamalan credit for being a true auteur. Shyamalan's style is always 100% his own: that blend of human realism that borders on comedy, coupled with unsettling truths that are revealed to the characters until a final plot twist. He stays true to form with Split, though you might not expect the final flourish to his twist at the end.

What works: I think that the acting in this was pretty impressive. McAvoy does a splendid job as the multifaceted Kevin, bringing a convincing performance as each character, down to 9-year-old Hedwig (who is, for some reason, a boy and not a girl despite the name?). Anya Taylor-Joy did a good job as Casey as well, a character who has dark secrets that explain her quiet, isolated nature. Cinematography, as always, is lovely, and Philadelphia gets a nice little shout-out as each of its notable locations from the Art Museum to 30th St. Station are highlighted with loving care.

And of course this random street.

I think the story, too, is an interesting one, though it reminded me of all the objections that came up against the movie Lucy when that one came out. The film science argues that someone with Disassociative Identity Disorder (and THANK YOU M. Night for finally differentiating between this and schizophrenia) can mentally create conditions and traits that can manifest themselves physically. We revisit that whole argument, once again, that humans only access a portion of their brains, blah blah blah. But still, it taps into the suspicion that we're all stronger than we think we are, and the powers of belief and of trauma. What can your brain do to ensure your body's survival?

What doesn't work: as I mentioned earlier, Shyamalan has this amazing ability to bring humor to thriller, but it's almost to a fault with this movie. I'm not sure if the creep factor was lowered because I'd seen the trailers so many times or because the audience I saw it in kept laughing, but scenes that were supposed to make your hair stand on end had most people near me giggling. An unfortunate side effect of showcasing someone with DID is that sometimes the performance reads as a caricature, which tends to toe the line between creeptacular and just plain funny.

Though sometimes it is spectacularly creepy.

I also had a bit of impatience with this film (I know, act surprised). The present action is intersected with bits of Casey's brutal past, which are drug out presumably to explain why she reacts the way she does to certain situations. In some circumstances though it just drags the movie out. There are about six scenes that feature her childhood when there really only need to be three -- four, tops.

Another lost opportunity is the fact that this guy has 24 personalities -- 24 PERSONALITIES. And we only get to see four of them!? Talk about a wasted opportunity.

For fans of Shyamalan's previous movies, the ending might be an especial treat, but for this critic it mostly left me confused.

All in all, it's not a bad movie, and again I give Split points for originality. However, I walked into the theater thinking I was going to be scared and I wasn't, really. The film reads almost more as a mystery, as so many of his others do, but lacked a lot of the visceral fear that I was hoping to feel.

6 outa 10. No nightmares here, kids.



Saturday, December 17, 2016

Rogue One: We're Going Rogue!

Full disclosure: I love the Star Wars series and I think that they're great movies (with the exceptions of stories I-III because Hayden Christianson cannot act, I don't care who you are). But I have only seen them each once or twice. That being said, from where I'm standing Rogue One is an incredible addition to the Star Wars canon.

This. Chick.

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) has had a troubled life. Witnessing the death of her mother and the capture of her father by Imperial forces; getting raised and trained as a soldier by a half-crazy rebel; getting captured and sent to a work camp. It hasn't been great. But when she's rescued by the Alliance, she learns that she's of use to them. Jyn's father, Galen Erso, is an engineer working for the Empire on a new super-weapon called the Death Star. Hoping to leverage Jyn's parentage, the Alliance sends her out too meet with Saw Gerrera, her father's old friend and the man who raised her, with the ultimate goal of gaining intelligence about the new weapon. The film then follows Jyn as she joins Cassian Andor (the beautiful Diego Luna) and the rest of the Alliance to capture knowledge of the Death Star and defeat the Empire.

Wow. It's been a minute since I saw a two-hour movie that kept me captivated. What a great standalone. Rogue One does a fantastic job of bridging the gap between introducing us to a new storyline and new characters while keeping the original world of the films intact. Everything fits spectacularly well. We're able to follow a new story with new characters that perfectly fits the vein of the entire series without compromising quality. It somehow manages to keep itself current while also paying due homage to the films from the 70s and 80s.

And some familiar faces. And breathing patterns.

The movie also does a fantastic job of balancing humanity, humor, and the realities of rebellion. While the charismatic characters and post-rebellion context of The Force Awakens kept its mood a little lighter (in general), the mood of Rogue One is far more heavy, showing the human impact of the Empire's efforts to snuff the Alliance. Children being raised in politically tumultuous times, and the violent instability as the two sides fought, are really clearly portrayed by the two mains Jyn and Cassian. And the things that we're witness to in the original series gain new context as we get a closer look at the people that made them possible.

This stone-cold pack of weirdos.

It's also interesting to see such an objective-driven storyline. They need to get the Death Star plans. That's the goal. And their will to complete that goal encapsulates the whole rebellion. The themes of hope when all is lost make it truly memorable. "Rebellions are built on hope." Hell yeah.

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

I also really liked how neatly this film wraps itself up. Despite the possibility that there is for these heroes' stories to continue, there's a reality in the ending that I wasn't expecting. Sometimes greatness has to occur at the cost of great sacrifice, and the idea of serving a greater good is something that really resounds at the end of Rogue One.

OKAY! OKAY! OKAY! OKAY! OKAY! OKAY! OKAY!

All in all, Rogue One is a fantastic addition to the Star Wars canon that pays homage to its predecessor films while remaining currently relevant. Great characters, great story, great cinematography, great film.

9.5 outa 10. Must-see.


Friday, December 16, 2016

Wintry, Not-Christmas Movies for Scrooges Like You

I don't know what it is about the Christmas season this year but I'm just not feeling the Christmas movies. This could of course also be because I've seen every (good) Christmas movie at least 4 times and I'm kind of over it. I have seen White Christmas and Christmas in Connecticut both once, and Muppet Christmas Carol only four times this December (this may seem excessive, but trust me, this number is low for me), and none of my Christmas movies are appealing to me. However, being raised in a household where summer movies in the winter was strictly verboten, I feel that while my movies this December don't have to be especially Christmassy, they have to at least be cold.

SO! For those of you out there who can't stomach another rendition of Dickens' Christmas Carol, or who feel their eyes start to roll at the thought of watching A Christmas Story for the 37th time, here's some cold-weather, wintry movies that are either only marginally Christmassy or just happen to take place in cold weather. Bah humbug, everyone!


Moonstruck

Okay. This is one of my favorite movies of all time. And it takes place in the winter. So. Here we are. Loretta (played by the illustrious Cher -- just go with it) is an accountant who lives with her parents and grandfather in Brooklyn. When she decides to marry Johnny Cammareri, her family is less than pleased with the match, especially since Johnny jets off to Palermo to attend his dying mother. Before taking off though, he asks Loretta to settle some "bad blood" with his brother, Ronny -- and things happen. Also tangential to Loretta's story are those of her family members, who are having some crises of their own. A beautiful tale of drama, romance, family and the power of a full moon. Some of the best dialogue and characterizations of anything I've ever seen. And I'm not exaggerating.



Sleepless in Seattle

Horses horses horses horses. Annie Reed (Meg Ryan) lives in Baltimore, but she's driving to her family's house for Christmas when she hears a talk radio host get called by a 10-year-old named Jonah who asks how his dad can find a new wife. After Jonah's dad (Tom Hanks) hops on the show to talk about his late wife and his current life, Annie can't get the two of them out of her head. The rest of the movie shows them both as they grapple with relationships, question fate and dissect An Affair to Remember. Hanks and Ryan have such a wonderful romantic chemistry -- worth watching if you haven't.



Bridget Jones' Diary

Ah, my spirit animal. Dear Bridget Jones. Bridget (Renee Zellweger) is a publicist at a publishing house who desperately wants a boyfriend. But will she end up with her charismatic boss Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) or the enigmatic Mark Darcy (Colin Firth)? I don't know what I sympathize with more: trying to navigate a love life living in the city or belting random 90s songs alone in your apartment.



Fargo

Let's swerve away from romance shall we? Besides featuring one of the best intro tracks known to man this movie has a mesmerizing balance of humor, empathy and darkness that keeps it compelling without getting too bleak. When Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) gets into some financial trouble, he goes to some lengths to try and get out of it without ruffling the feathers of his terrifying father in law. But staging a kidnapping with some random thugs (incredibly) does not go as planned, and after people start running their mouths, Lundegaard learns the hard way that he may have chosen the wrong way out. Investigating the case is the persistent, pregnant Margie Gunderson (Frances McDormund) who serves as a perfect foil to weakling car salesman Jerry Lundegaard in a way that has you inexplicably sympathetic to them both. And what's not intriguing about a foiled, staged kidnapping?



Misery

Speaking of kidnapping, who wouldn't love to be a writer who gets kidnapped by his biggest fan, right? That's what happens to Paul Sheldon (James Caan) when he gets into a car accident in the middle of snowy Colorado, he is taken in by kind nurse Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) who tells him she's his number one fan. As Paul's condition improves, however, Annie reveals herself to be far from kind, and as Paul's captivity veers into a living nightmare, only he can figure out how to save himself. Watch out for the scene where she talks about "hobbling." You might throw up.



The Shining

Speaking of Stephen King (this list is really becoming transitive isn't it?), The Shining is another atmospheric horror guaranteed to fill that absence of Christmas spirit with heebie jeebies. Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) has just taken a job at the Overlook Hotel in Colorado with his wife (Shelly Duvall) and their son. But there's an evil sort of energy at work at the Overlook, and when Jack starts falling prey to the hotel's mind games, it's only a matter of time before he becomes dangerous to his wife and son. Kubrick's atmosphere of isolation really gets driven home by the creepy sound design and cinematography.



The Thing

Speaking of isolation (just go with it), another creepy, unsettling winter scene is The Thing. Loosely based on 1951's The Thing from Another World, a group of scientists at a research base in Antarctica are taken by surprise by an alien that can assume the appearance of anything that it wants. As the thing becomes harder and harder to keep track of, the small group of researchers must decide for themselves if there is an impostor among them and, if so, who (or what) it is. Suspenseful to the very end, a great atmospheric thriller, and amazing practical effects!



Die Hard

Alright, we're going to allow the Christmas in just this once, because Die Hard is one unorthodox Christmas movie. NYPD officer John McClane is going home for the holidays to try and reconcile with his estranged wife. But after he meets with her at her corporate office, the building is soon taken over by German terrorists (why not, right?). As they take hostages, it's up to shoeless hero John McClane to overtake the terrorists, enlist the help of the LAPD's Sgt. Al Powell, and save the day. Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker.



The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Again bordering on the holiday theme, C.S. Lewis's children's story gets a grown-up makeover in this Disney adaptation. Four children are transported from bleak WW2 England to enchanted Narnia, another dimension filled with centaurs, fawns, unicorns, and all kinds of enchanted creatures. But they soon find out that magic isn't always pure, and soon become wrapped up in Narnia's battle to fight the land's endless winter and terrifying leader, the White Witch. Nice effects but the children's acting chops and the set design really make this worth your time.



Frozen

I'm sure I don't even need to explain the plot of this one, but I will anyway for continuity's sake. Princesses Anna and Elsa, orphaned when they're teenagers, have grown apart over the years due to Elsa's fear of her own icy powers. When Elsa freaks out and abandons her kingdom, encasing it in a brutal winter, it's up to her sister to find her and to bring her back. An interesting case study in responsibility, being different, and in girl power, you obviously also want to watch this one for the catchy tunes.



Balto

Why not, right? Bet you forgot about this little gem. Set in tropical Nome, Alaska, Balto is a half-wolf who joins a sled team to bring a sick child medicine. Along the way he encounters push-back from the other sled dogs and has to learn to accept his wolf side. So sweet.



Last Holiday

Oh. My. God. I remember my sister telling me how great this movie was years ago and kind of brushing her off, but after watching it at the urging of one of my coworkers, I have to say -- goddamn. This movie is a treasure. Georgia (QUEEN EFFING LATIFAH) is a quiet sales clerk at a department store who has dreams of doing something big someday, just not now. But after receiving a devastating diagnosis that leaves her with only weeks to live, Georgia decides to live life as full as she can and takes off for a ritzy hotel in Europe. This. Movie. Omg. The amount of good feelings in it are endless. And LL Cool J's appearance as her crush is just the goddamn cherry on top. So much yes.


(OMG IT'S THE ENTIRE MOVIE)

Babycakes

If you've read more than two of my blog posts, you probably know that I have an irrational obsession with this movie. I sincerely do not know why. Grace (Ricki Lake) is an overweight makeup artist who works at a New York morgue with her hypochondriacal best friend (don't tell me you're not already hooked). When Grace sets her sights on a guy who looks like a movie star, she'll do anything to try and win him over -- and he is shockingly okay with it. I love this movie for how freakin' weird it is. Listen for a quote about the dinosaurs going extinct as a metaphor for living in the moment. Ah, sweet, fluff films from the 1980s.

Well we've really come full circle, haven't we peeps? Hopefully this spans the scope of your winter moods! Happy Cold Month!

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Quiet Passion: Some Might Even Say...Too Quiet...

Emily Dickinson spent most of her life in her family home, going about her business and writing. So Terence Davies' A Quiet Passion, which I caught at the Philadelphia Film Festival this past weekend, is hardly surprising in its muted tone. However, for the things that the film chooses to highlight, its "quiet passion" might be a little too reflexive to hold an audience's interest.

The story begins as Emily Dickinson is leaving seminary school to return home to her family, where she would go on to spend the rest of her life. As playful as she is with her words, Emily seems to hide a spiritedness that she's over-aware of and that she's uncomfortable showing to others. While she publishes poems here and there, as she ages she becomes more and more reclusive and bitter, a mental state that seems to be mimicked in her poetry.

Image result for ca quiet passion

I always have a problem with biopics. Especially ones like this one, which reminds me so much of last year's Mr. Turner. It spends so much time in simply following the character (or maybe its interpretation of the character) that there ends up being no room for history or context -- or even entertainment. A Quiet Passion leaves a lot to be desired. From the choice in casting Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson to the (in my opinion) overly-wrought dialogue, there really isn't a ton here to hold your attention unless you're really into long shots of completely silent rooms. We get it. She was quiet. She was passionate. Can we speed this up please.

I wish that they could've infused a little more action into the film. While Emily is a solitary creature, the only chatty relief during the film comes from her sister, Vinny (Jennifer Ehle), who treats Emily with an unending amount of kindness and restraint, and their neighbor Ms. Buffam (Catherine Bailey), who reads as the period's Samantha Jones. But even this dialogue is so laborious that it doesn't seem authentic. Where I imagine the director/writer Terence Davies thought that Emily would enjoy "sparring" with close friends and neighbors, the language is as clipped and as hard to follow as an episode of Gilmore Girls. And with dialogue that doesn't ring super authentic, it's hard to get a taste for who these characters are. As with any historical period drama, directors are left to fill in the gaps. But I'm willing to bet that one of America's most celebrated poets had to have been more interesting than this. I'm sure there must be a better balance between historical accuracy and entertainment. 

Image result for ca quiet passion
"Hang on, let's get a 15-min shot of her reading this piece of paper.
And no voice-over of what it says."

I also wasn't thrilled with the handling of Emily's death, or that of her parents. While there's something to be said for authenticity, there wasn't a ton to take away from watching Emily physically die. Bright's Disease sounds horrible, but I was more annoyed that no one seemed to acknowledge her extreme back pains and seizures throughout her life, than to marvel at everyone's devotion to her as she breathed her last breath.

All in all, I found this movie annoying (if you couldn't tell). What a fascinating life to cover, and yet her poems are read in Nixon's irritating voice with a lack of [quiet] passion. I would have liked to see someone else cast as the lead, and with more of a story to tell than just following the poet around. It's wonderful to offer a peek at the life of a person that you know, but for anyone who isn't familiar with the life of Emily Dickinson this will just read as a slow film.

4 outa 10. 

(Disclaimer: This trailer is misleadingly interesting. There was almost no music in this film.)

Monday, October 10, 2016

22 Best Spooky Flicks for Scaredy Cats

Now, dear readers, I'm sure I don't have to tell you that I like scary movies. If you don't believe me, check out the enormous lists that I made of every classic horror movie since 1942. Well, one list, divided into Part 1 and Part 2. (Oh shush, like you didn't think I'd put thought into this.)

ANYWAY! Since it has become increasingly clear to me in the past few years that a lot of people don't like scary movies, I've put together the wuss's dream list of Halloween flicks. Movies that will have you tense without involuntarily diving into your hooded sweatshirt; that smell more like pumpkin spice than rotting corpses. 

So, in order of creep-factor, here we go! 


1. Ichabod and Mr. Toad (click the titles for the trailers!)
The more festive half of this movie is the tale of Ichabod Crane, but if you're renting/buying/watching this legally this you'll probably have to sit through Mr. Toad's Wind in the Willows tale first. Just a heads-up. Anyway, this is the classic New England story of a superstitious school-teacher who hears a story about a Headless Horseman and then disappears. Did he run away? Was he taken? Who knows. But this half-hour cartoon is full of fun songs and Bing Crosby's lovely crooning so who cares? 


Linus is convinced that the Great Pumpkin is bound to appear, doling out gifts to neighborhood kids, as he sits in a pumpkin patch waiting. Another 1960s classic that Schultz wrote himself. If you want some smooth jazz with your cartoons, Great Pumpkin delivers the same kind of music that comes with its Christmas counterpart. 


Really just adorable. Overprotective, single father Dracula has made it his life's purpose to host all manner of ghosts and ghouls at his monster-centric hotel. But when his teenage daughter starts to fall for a human, he has to do his best to protect her while keeping up appearances. Really funny, and Sandler's Dracula is better than you'd expect. The sequel's on Netflix!


Louise Miller is a total nerd. But when she finds out that she's a witch on the cusp of realizing her true power, she decides to go for the hottest guy in school and become the most popular girl. Come for the hokey plot, stay for the insane late-80's outfits.


Anyone in their mid-20s probably saw this movie on the Disney Channel when it first came out. Marnie and her two siblings learn that their family hails from an alternate world called Halloweentown, and their grandmother (played by the still-incredibly-spry Debbie Reynolds) takes them there. But all is not well in Halloweentown, and the kids have to take it upon themselves to save the town and their mom before the night is over.


Such an underrated vampire flick for little kiddies! After Tony Thompson moves to Scotland, he makes friends with a young vampire named Rudolph. Together with Rudolph's family, Tony helps them search for an amulet that could turn them human -- while also trying to dodge resident vampire-hunter, Rookery. Great performances from the cute little actors and the setting keeps this one spooky without getting too scary!


Before Sarah Michelle Gellar there was Kristy Swanson. And before Buffy was a bad-ass, she was a damn good cheerleader. When Buffy is visited by a strange man (who, for whatever reason, is played by Donald Sutherland), she learns that it's up to her to keep her family's legacy and hunt vampires. A few creepy moments, but it's mostly just delightfully cheesy. Look for a hilarious performance by Paul Reubens (who you might know better as Pee-Wee Herman).


Aw, remember when Bill Pullman was in everything? Ahhh, the 90's. While the special effects might not have held up, this is still a Halloween classic. And who didn't think that Human Casper was super cute when they were like 12?


Okay, not super Halloweeny, but it takes place in fall and it's about ghosts, right? It can stay. Who doesn't know the story of the four guys who saved NYC from a spectral apocalypse? Who you gonna call!?


10. Hocus Pocus
I doubt that Disney had any idea how big a hit this would be among millennials. Two kids move from L.A. to Salem, Massachusetts and accidentally free three notorious witches, who come back to suck the lives out of children to sustain their own youth. (Jeez, when you summarize it like that, it sounds like it should be a lot scarier than it actually is...) I still can't think of another movie where I find any of these three leading actresses more hilarious and I dare you to not get "I Put a Spell on You" stuck in your head.


11. The Witches
An underrated movie adapted from Roald Dahl's chapter book of the same name, this one is a little creepier than most of the other kids' movies. A child and his grandmother go to the English coast for a vacation, only to find that the hotel is full of witches. After the little boy stumbles upon their plot to get rid of all the world's children, it's up to him, his grandma, and his friend Bruno to save the day. Creature effects from the Jim Henson lab could cheese it up for adults, but, if I remember correctly from my childhood, could also be a little scary for little ones! 


12. Nightmare Before Christmas
Ah, every emo kid's favorite movie. Jack, the Pump-kin King (c'mon, you sang it too), is a little jaded with living his life for each Halloween. After he stumbles upon the holiday of Christmas, he makes it his mission to switch things up a bit -- to the horror of Santa Claus and the world's children. An amazing soundtrack and perfect clay-mation make this one worth seeing.


13. Corpse Bride
Another Tim Burton clay-mation classic. When Victor and Victoria (hm. never noticed that before.) are arranged by their parents to be married, they are relieved to find that they are both willing to make it work. But when Victor accidentally weds a corpse bride, he then needs to find out how to leave his undead wife for his original intended. Some sweet tunes and sentiments despite the morbid setting.


14. Paranorman
In my opinion, Chris Butler takes Burton's clay-mation to the next level. Butler's incredibly detailed film follows Norman, a nerdy outsider who can see ghosts, and who lives in a town notorious for its hanging of a witch in the 1700s. Visited by his dead uncle, he's given the task of keeping the witch's spirit at bay on Halloween night but botches it. As the witch's spirit is unleashed on the town, we learn that things are not always what they appear.


One of my faves! And, coincidentally, another clay-mation movie. Coraline Jones has just moved into a new house and is not happy about her parents' lack of sympathy. After finding a secret door in her living room, however, she discovers a world of wonders, and parents who seem to understand her. But everything isn't as it appears, and it's up to Coraline to figure out the true intentions of her Other Mother before it's too late.


16. What We Do in the Shadows
This mockumentary of the lives of three vampire roommates is just what you need to keep festive without getting scared. Camera crews follow these three undead guys as they deal with trying to get into clubs by asking to be invited in, the travesty of not being able to see your own reflection, and the insanely annoying habits of their newly "turned" friend Nick. And the dialogue is amazing. "What are we?" "Werewolves, not swearwolves."


17. Shaun of the Dead
Classic zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead really set the bar for off-beat creature features. Shaun must lead his group of friends to safety after their English village becomes infested by zombies. You'll never hear Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" the same way again.


18. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
A couple gets lost on the road and takes shelter in quite the off-beat mansion. As a crazy transvestite doctor, his human creation, and his off-beat posse teach Janet and Brad their ways, things start to get pretty weird. Let's do the time-warp again!


19. Practical Magic
Two sisters happen to come from a long line of witches. After one of them gets in trouble with an abusive boyfriend, it's up to them how to figure out how to clean up their own mess and use powers they didn't know they had. A nostalgia trip from the late 90s -- velvet tank tops and maxi skirts never looked so good!


20. Children of the Corn
When a couple gets lost on the road, they stumble on a town that is complete devoid of adults. As they try to find their way out, they uncover that it's run by a cult of children, and that they aren't so happy to find adults in their midst. Nowhere near as scary as the original story from Stephen King, and cheesy enough that it's pretty free of serious scares.


21. Carrie
"They're all gonna laugh at you!" I mean, her insane mom warned her. Who hasn't felt like an outsider? But when Carrie White fully hones her psychic powers, her fellow classmates get to learn the hard way that they should've been a little nicer to her.


Spielberg at his finest. This is probably my favorite of all of his films, honestly. A family starts getting tormented by a power that lives inside their home. After it takes the youngest child into its own dimension, it's up to the rest of them to get her back. The best part of this movie is how strong the family is and how much they love each other. Great acting. Those who are afraid of clowns be warned -- I'm sure you've heard of this scene already.

Also worth mentioning if you're a bit of a wimp:

Anything old! There were seriously too many to list that are worth a watch but that happened more than 60 years ago. So, if you're into old movies take a gander at the dated beauties in Part 1 of my original list, or check out classics like Vertigo; Psycho; The Birds; The Night of the HunterLeave Her to Heaven; The UninvitedBell Book and Candle; Arsenic and Old Lace; etc. Dig around! There's a lot of good ones out there!