Friday, June 15, 2012

Netflix Queue Challenge: A whole bunch of stuff

Well, the Netflix Queue Challenge failed in one of its goals, which was to get me to write. But I have been pretty good about watching stuff! So for the sake of completion, some capsule reviews of varying quality (of movies of varying quality).

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
I was really looking forward to this movie, especially after the great reviews and word of mouth it got. So of course I hated it. To be fair, I watched it on a plane - not even on a seat-back screen, but an old-school, projected on the bulkhead in-flight movie. So the video quality surely hurt the effects, and there were some super awkward cuts where I assume some violence was edited out. But it would've taken more than an ideal viewing environment for me to like this movie. I realize that a Planet of the Apes movie doesn't have to make the most sense, but I couldn't deal with James Franco being the worst scientist ever. The downfall of humanity can pretty much be blamed on his poor choices. And not in a "man's hubris" way, just in a "I'm a dumbass" way. I mean, plus he's James Franco, who I always find supremely creepy. Everything was so heavy handed and none of it made much sense. I also just love the original Apes and didn't really want that origin story messed with, or its famous lines awkwardly shoehorned in here. The motion capture of Andy Serkis is absolutely as good as everyone said it was, and whenever the film didn't have humans around I was at least interested. I'll definitely watch a sequel if they make one just to see where they go with that.

Four Weddings and a Funeral
One on the long list of movies I really should have seen before now. I'm not even sure what to say about it. I liked it? No, I really did. I was wrapped up enough in it to be completely surprised when a character died, even though "and a funeral" is right there in the title (wrapped up or maybe just dumb). It's funny, it's sweet, and the cast has great chemistry. Speaking of chemistry...about Andie MacDowell... I have to say I don't really understand the hatred people have for her in this movie. She's stiff, yes, but that's kind of her character. The worst thing is the way the movie tries to convince us she's a good choice for Hugh Grant, but that feels more like a failure of writing to me than of her performance. And after years of hearing "Is it raining? I hadn't noticed." held up as an example of bad acting, I was surprised to finally see it in context and discover that it's a joke. I mean, it is, isn't it? She's kidding, right? I assumed she was, so the flatness is a deliberate sarcasm. I mean, it's not a great line reading, but I didn't find it nearly as egregious as the rest of the world seems to.

Okay, so, here comes the contrarian for real. I wasn't wild about Weekend. I wanted to be, and there's certainly a lot to like, and I get why other people loved it so much, but it wasn't for me. The realism of the film is its big selling point, and that's lovely, but real people are kinda dull. And they mumble a lot. I had the TV turned up literally all the way and still could barely understand a word anyone said (it wasn't the accents, it was the sound mix), and then music would play and blow my eardrums out. Why does "indie" have to so often equal "sounds bad?"

Sorry, I don't mean to nitpick the technical stuff. It's a lovely little film that I'm glad exists even though it wasn't for me. I liked seeing such a matter-of-fact story about two gay guys. The sex scenes were surprisingly realistic without being porny (in a way that I'm not sure I've ever fully believed in any straight sex scenes I've seen, with their bras and strangely cut sheets), and were pretty damn hot. I wanted to like the movie so much more than I did. I hate to cop out with "it wasn't for me" but apart from the mumbly sound I can't really point to anything that's wrong with it, its aimlessness just didn't appeal to me. (I also watched it, like most of these, months ago, which is maybe a flaw in trying to catch up here - I remember my disappointment in it more than the real why.)

Take Me Home Tonight
Speaking of which, this movie was so forgettable I almost forgot I'd watched it until I saw it in my Netflix history. It's also not very good. I like the 80s, I like Topher Grace, I was fully prepared to enjoy this movie. And...meh. But truthfully I barely remember what it's about. What stuck with me most was something I remember seeing in reviews, which is that it's just set in "the 80s." There's no specificity to anything, and the pop culture references are a big mish-mosh. That's fine in something broader like The Wedding Singer but Take Me Home Tonight seems to take itself a little more seriously so I wished its setting had had more to say.

Rabbit Hole
I deeply regret not seeing Rabbit Hole on Broadway, so I'm glad this film exists, even if it didn't 100% grab me. I suspect it worked better on stage, and I also suspect I would have preferred that cast. But the film is very good - small and intimate and heartbreaking. I've always liked Nicole Kidman and have been sad about her face, so it was nice to see her looking more natural (and sporting a convincing American accent). Her performance is lovely and her sadness is palpable. Liking Kidman strangely made me wish even more that I'd seen Cynthia Nixon on stage, just because of how different (but equally appropriate) I assume she was.

What's stuck with me most is the production design. The houses were so specific and told you everything you needed to know about the characters. I don't know if they were locations or sets, but I fully believed they were real. And I totally want Nicole Kidman's kitchen.

Rosemary's Baby
It's weird to watch a movie this ingrained in the culture so late. Even weirder is that I hadn't really been spoiled. I mean, I knew Rosemary was going to have an evil baby, but none of the details at all. In fact, I think I had it partly confused with The Omen (which I also haven't seen), because I spent a lot of time thinking, "Have the fucking baby already!" Once I realized both that it wasn't about that, and that I really hadn't known that, it was a nice surprise. What I had taken for "old movie slow pacing" was actually sort of the exact right speed.

I love old movies shot on location in NYC, and I grew up 3 blocks from the Dakota so I was happiest whenever Rosemary went outside. Her world is so specific and also fairly banal, which makes everything feel real and so much creepier when it goes off the rails. I absolutely loved the busybody next door neighbors, especially Ruth Gordon. They felt completely like old people I grew up around in that neighborhood. And I just loved that their demeanor never changed even as they were revealed to be eeeeeevil. If you told me one of the Upper East Side doctors I went to as a kid were a Satan worshipper I would totally believe you. That final party scene is the best. Everyone's so cheerful!

Jennifer's Body
I wasn't sure what to expect from this. I liked Juno but beyond that don't really have an opinion about Diablo Cody one way or another. But I do like this kind of arch horror movie, and Amanda Seyfried and Adam Brody, and none disappointed. Megan Fox was...fine? Better than fine, actually. True she mostly just had to look pretty but she actually turned out a pretty good performance and handled some twisty dialogue really well. So that was a nice surprise. It wasn't deep but it was thoroughly enjoyable. And while it definitely has plenty of Cody-isms, they didn't feel as prominent as they did in Juno.

Really, what can I possibly add at this point to the conversation about Bridesmaids?? But this one I actually wrote a bit about right after I watched it, so I'm actually a little coherent. Short version: I liked it a lot, and I hadn't really expected to.

I'm not a big fan of the comedy of discomfort, and I pretty much spent the entire movie feeling bad for Kristin Wiig and dreading whatever awful thing was going to happen to her next. Knowing the food poisoning scene was coming didn't help that. And yet somehow it worked on me. It felt very real, and incredibly sweet, which tempered the poop jokes. I never felt like the filmmakers were abusing the characters just for laughs; Even in more over-the-top moments I still believed in these people, which made it work for me.

I kind of hated Melissa McCarthy's character. Not her performance, mind you, which was completely and wonderfully committed. With all the talk about amazing and gorgeous she is (she is), I was really disappointed that the "big girl" was such a cartoon in the movie, and a sort of awful one at that. The airplane scene didn't make me laugh, it just made me intensely uncomfortable.

I've always liked Wiig on SNL so it was nice to see actually acting and not playing one of her annoying recurring characters. And Mya Rudolph is just the best. That moment when she slowly sinks into her dress is maybe my favorite thing I've seen in a movie all year.

SO GOOD. I don't even want to say anything else. Again, because I feel like I have nothing to add this late in the game, but also because I don't want to spoil anything. Not in the traditional spoiler sense, just because I loved experiencing it mostly fresh myself. It's beautifully made and very original (even as it plays with well known tropes) and go rent it right now.

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