Saturday, August 29, 2015

Solo at the Movies: "Inside Out" at AMC Loews Broadway 4

And I’m caught up!

Theater Info:
AMC Loews Broadway 4
1315 3rd St. Promenade, Santa Monica
Cost: $6.49 for a matinee showing

Movie Stats:
Released 2015 (France)
American, in English
Director - Pete Docter & Ronaldo Del Carmen
Stars - Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, and many more (including Bill Hader; weird that both of my solo movies this month included him)

Plot Summary:
A look inside the life of Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), a young girl struggling with her family’s move from Minnesota to San Francisco, through the eyes of her emotions, most prominently Joy (Poehler) and Sadness (Smith). Kind co-stars as Bing Bong, Riley’s childhood imaginary friend. (Hader voices the emotion Fear.)

Minor violence (but it’s cartoonish, for obvious reasons).

Bad Stuff:
I didn’t really care for how stereotypical the inside of Mom (Diane Lane) and Dad’s (Kyle MacLachlan) heads were. Mom was a lady’s talk show like "The View" and Dad’s was a war room. Gender stereotypes are so funny! (sarcasm)

Good Stuff:
A lot of it is very funny, including some surprisingly snappy dialogue. I think the following exchange (obviously aimed at the adults in the audience) was my favorite:
Fear: “Maybe it was a bear?”
Disgust: “There are no bears in San Francisco.”
Anger: “I saw a really hairy guy, he looked like a bear.”
Cue me dissolving into laughter. By the way, Louis Black as Anger? Inspired choice.

I liked the key message that all of our emotions are important to maintaining a healthy mental state.

I thought all the voice acting was really great. I feel sad for the voice actors of the world, because in recent years studios have moved to using film/TV actors for a lot of those parts, and most of them don’t have as much range as the voice actors. However, except for Black, whose voice I would know anywhere, I didn’t immediately recognize the voices of any of the actors in this, and got a few nice surprises when I watched the credits roll.*

The Verdict:
I have to admit that I had no intention of ever seeing this, despite being assured by multiple people that it was very good. “It will make you cry!”, one friend made the mistake of telling me, which is what turned me off (even though I was assured that it was a “good” cry). It just so happened that, on a day break from writing, I needed to charge the car, and decided to watch a movie at this specific theater while I was at it. The only movie playing during that particular time frame was this one.

Thank goodness for that, because this is a really great movie. It’s fresh and different. I thought that it had a lot of very innovative ideas. In addition to being quite funny, it’s also touching. My friend was right, it made me cry, but in a good way. This is the kind of movie that I can see myself owning and watching multiple times, perhaps even once a year, it’s that good. It’s probably out of theaters in most places, but when it comes around on DVD, you should rent it.

I give it 4.5 stars.

About AMC Loews Broadway 4:
Well, this seems to be a theme with LA movie theaters. This one is pretty “meh” on the outside and very nice on the inside, probably newly renovated. I assume it once held only 4 screens, but it has double that now. My screen (#1) was small but had very cushy recliner seats. You can park in one of downtown SM’s plentiful parking garages. The first 1.5 hours are free. The next hour after that is only $1, but then it goes up pretty quickly after that, so it’s best to not park there for longer than 3-4 hours. I thought concessions was a bit exorbitant, but they do have the magic soda machines. That may be the first time I’ve seen them here. One weird thing that I didn’t like about this theater is that the stalls in the bathroom are very tiny. I’m a pretty small woman and I barely squeezed into one - the door nearly hits the toilet when you open it - so I can’t imagine how someone larger than me manages it.

*My husband has an absolutely uncanny ability to recognize voices. I'm sure if he'd been with me, he would have known them all.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

AFI Top 100, #69: "Shane" (1953)

Movie Stats:
Released 1953 (USA)
American, in English
Director - George Stevens
Stars - Alan Ladd, Van Heflin, Jean Arthur, Brandon De Wilde, Emile Meyer

Plot Summary:
When aimless drifter, and secret gunslinger, Shane (Ladd) decides to stay a spell with the ranching Starrett family - Joe (Heflin), Marian (Arthur), and Joey (De Wilde) - he gets embroiled in their land dispute with cattleman Rufus Ryker (Meyer).

Violence, some of it bloody.

Bad Stuff:
I’ll let you know when I wake up from the coma it put me in.

The acting from Arthur and De Wilde was fairly subpar. I’m not particularly shy about expressing my dislike of child actors, and De Wilde’s performance was especially egregious. Sitting through two hours of his gawping face and the way he whined, “Shane!” was agonizing.

The music and sound effects are really overbearing. They don’t accentuate scenes, they try to force you to feel certain things about them. The cracks of thunder every time something bad was about to happen was eye roll inducing.

Good Stuff:
I enjoyed Heflin’s performance, and I guess Ladd was okay.

I liked that the barroom brawl was fairly realistic, i.e. that Shane couldn’t singlehandedly beat up five guys and that they didn’t all stand around waiting for their “turn” to punch him & actually rushed him all at once.

The Verdict:
I’m very sad that there are so many westerns on this list because I’ve given up hope that I’ll like any of them. It’s not like I don’t try. I go in with an open mind. Typically, though, I’m bored within half an hour, and this film was no exception. It’s slow and dull and virtually nothing happens (one barroom brawl and one shootout notwithstanding). Also, the central conflict of the main characters is kind of stupid. I feel like, in real life, Starrett would have shot Ryker or vice versa long before the beginning of the movie, because it was the wild west and that's how people settled disputes. I recommend you find something more interesting to watch. 

I give it 2 stars.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Up with Geography: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina



European continent. Bosnia and Herzegovina
outlined in dark ink & shaded.

Close up of Bosnia and Herzegovina &
its neighbors.

Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro

Water Borders:
Adriatic Sea (but only for 12 miles)

Total Area:
19,741 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Tuzla, Zenica, Mostar

Famous Geographical Point:
Dinaric Alps

Famous Person:
Selma Harrington, architect

Book Set In/About:
Death and the Dervish by Mesa Selimovic

Set in Sarajevo during the 18th century, it's the fictional account of a man trying to determine what's happened to his brother after his arrest by Turkish authorities (who at the time occupied Bosnia). Released in the 1960s, it's considered a commentary on social & political oppression in then-Yugoslavia and was wildly popular.

Movie Set In/About:
"No Man's Land (Nicija zemlja)" (2001), directed by Danis Tanovic

Set in 1993, during the height of the fighting in former Yugoslavia, it's about two soldiers from opposing sides trapped together in a trench in "no man's land."

Headline of the Day:
"'Our Everyday Life' from Bosnia Enters Oscar 2016 Race" in Focus News

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

AFI Top 100, #s 72, 71, 70

This time, I have three that I’ve previously reviewed, all of them for my Best Picture Project. Below is the pertinent information about each: the movie stats, plot summary, and the rating I gave it.

Movie Stats:
Released 1959 (USA)
American, in English
Director – William Wyler 
Stars – Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Haya Harareet

Plot Summary:
Set in ancient Judea, when Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur (Heston) is betrayed by his childhood best friend Messala (Boyd), a Roman who is part of the force that has conquered Judea, he vows to return to exact his revenge. Also, there’s a bunch of stuff about Jesus Christ. Hawkins co-stars as Quintus Arrius, a Roman consul who later adopts Judah as his son, and Harareet as Esther, Judah’s love interest.

3.5 stars

Full review HERE.

Movie Stats:
Released 1994 (USA)
American, in English
Director – Robert Zemeckis
Stars – Tom Hanks, Sally Field, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson

Plot Summary:
The life and times of Forrest Gump (Hanks), a man born with a slightly-below-average IQ. Field co-stars as his mother; Wright as his love interest, Jenny; Sinise as his the leader of his Vietnam-era Army platoon (and later friend), Lt. Dan Taylor; and Williamson as his best Army buddy, Bubba Blue.

3 stars

Full review HERE.

Movie Stats:
Released 1971 (USA)
American, in English (some subtitled French, a little non-translated French)
Director – William Friedkin
Stars – Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider

Plot Summary:
When NYC cops Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Hackman) and Buddy Russo (Scheider) stumble upon a massive drug ring, they discover that it has a French connection.

2.75 stars

Full review HERE.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

AFI Top 100, #73: "Wuthering Heights" (1939)

Movie Stats:
Released 1939 (USA)
American, in English
Director - William Wyler
Stars - Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier, David Niven, Geraldine Fitzgerald

Plot Summary:
It’s the tragic love story of Cathy (Oberon) and Heathcliff (Olivier), set against the backdrop of the Yorkshire moors. Niven co-stars as Edgar Linton, who also lives on the moors, and Fitzgerald as Linton’s sister, Isabella.

Minor violence; extensive use of the word “gypsy” as a slur.

Bad Stuff:
The soundtrack is the worst.

This story has always been a bit too melodramatic for my tastes.

I don’t really like Olivier’s acting in this. He chews a lot of scenery.

Good Stuff:
The costumes are amazing!

I enjoyed the performances of everyone except for Olivier, especially Niven and Fitzgerald.

The dialogue is really beautiful.

The Verdict:
As I said above, I’ve never been particularly fond of this story. I never read the book, and saw my first movie adaptation of it only a few years ago. Having come to it as an adult, I find it very immature. In today’s terms, it basically goes like this, “OMG, I love you the mostest! Our love is the greatest love of ALL TIME! But you don’t really respect me so you sort of rejected me and now I’m going to RUIN YOUR LIFE!” I spend most of the story thinking, “Good grief, grow up already. And leave poor, sweet Edgar and Isabella alone!”

Anyway, despite my lack of patience for the story, I thought that this was a really lovely adaptation of it. It drew me in. I winced my way through the melodramatic ending, but other than that, I quite enjoyed it. It’s way better than the other adaptation I saw (which had the benefit of starring Tom Hardy). 

I give it 4 stars.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Music Love: "Blush" by Wolf Alice

The first song of Wolf Alice’s I ever heard was “Moaning Lisa Smile,” on the car radio. I dug its gritty 90s vibe, but sort of forgot about it for a few months until I heard it in the car again. I decided to look them up online when I got home. Within a few moments of doing so, I’d downloaded two of their EPs, “Blush” and “Creature Songs.”

The 90s were my time to come of age; I was in my teens and twenties throughout them. I was definitely into the alternative and grunge scenes. However, I’ve never considered myself “stuck” on them. I feel that a lot of people hold on too tightly to the music of their youth. I’ve always tried to keep an open mind about music, to find bands and/or songs that I like in each genre, and to keep an ear out for great new music. Few things bother me more than people who say there’s no good music anymore. I say those people just don’t know where to look for it.

So I don’t make a habit of seeking out music with a 90s alternative sound, but there’s something about Wolf Alice’s take on it that I find incredibly pleasing. I also love the voice of Ellie Rowsell, their lead singer. That’s not something you’ll hear me say a whole lot. I tend to prefer male singers. In recent years, I’ve found more and more female singers that I enjoy (Elephant, First Aid Kit, Phantogram) but my music library is still largely overrun by men.

But even more than I love Ellie’s beautiful, haunting vocals, and more than I love the way that the music completely sets the tone of the song, manipulating how I feel, I love the opening lyrics of “Blush”:

Curse the things that made me sad for so long
Yeah, it hurts to think that they can still go on
I’m happy now
Are you happy now?

Man, that hits me right where it hurts. I spent a lot of this year struggling with feelings of inadequacy. They were of a particular sort that I hadn’t felt in a while. It reminded me of some of my more youthful struggles, and it drove me nuts to think that these feelings I thought I’d conquered were still lurking in my psyche, all these years later. I got through that bad patch, and I did so before I ever heard of this song, but those lyrics still mean a lot to me. I listen to “Blush” all the time now. It’s a good reminder to not let my old demons get the best of me, because I’m happy now.

I’m expecting good things from Wolf Alice in the future.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

AFI Top 100, #74: "The Gold Rush" (1925)

Movie Stats:
Released 1925* (Germany)
American, in English (the film is silent but all of the scene cards are in English)
Director - Charlie Chaplin
Stars - Charlie Chaplin, Mack Swain, Georgia Hale

Plot Summary:
A lone prospector (Chaplin) hunting for gold in Alaska finds his life changed after he meets fellow prospector Big Jim McKay (Swain). Hale co-stars as the prospector’s love interest, Georgia.

Non-graphic violence.

Bad Stuff:
As I watched, I felt like this movie was going on forever, even though I know it’s only 88 minutes long. Finally, I realized that I find it tedious when Chaplin’s kind of comedy is stretched out into a feature film. For example, I like The Three Stooges. I think they’re very funny. If their episodes were longer than half an hour, I probably wouldn’t like them nearly as much.

I didn’t like that the lone prospector ended up with Georgia. She’s actually really quite mean to him. After hitting the big time, I wish he would have found a nicer girl.

Good Stuff:
There’s a lot of very funny stuff. I cracked up at the gun fight between Big Jim and Black Larsen (Tom Murray), the ongoing “windblown” gag, and the teetering cabin at the end, plus many other gags.

Chaplin had such an ear for music, which isn’t something I’ve ever heard anyone talk about before. I loved the score for this (it’s actually the score for the 1942 re-release*).

The special effects have held up surprisingly well. I was particularly impressed with the chicken bit (where a starving Big Jim sees the lone prospector as a giant chicken). It looked very realistic.

The Verdict:
I liked it better than City Lights but not as much as Modern Times (in fact, I’m revising MT’s score up a quarter of a star now that I’ve seen all of the Chaplin films on the list). It’s pretty funny. I also came to admire the subtlety of Chaplin’s work during this film. The tramp of “Modern Times” is very different from the one in “City Lights,” and the prospector in “The Gold Rush” is different too. They’re all similar, but Chaplin put enough into his facial expressions and mannerisms to convey differences, and that’s not easy to do without dialogue. Even though the structure of all three of these films was practically the same (loner/outcast meets a woman who inspires him to make something out of himself), I didn’t feel like I was watching the same story over and over again. That takes talent. It’s not surprising that he’s still considered one of the comedic greats.

I give the film 3.75 stars.

*This film has two versions. The original, from 1925, was unavailable for a long time due to poor film quality. In 1942, Chaplin re-released it, but it was a different edit, with a new score and with narration. Restoration work done in the early 1990s made the 1925 version available again, although it included the score from the ’42 release. The DVD I watched had both versions of the film available. I chose to watch the 1925 restoration.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Solo at the Movies: "Trainwreck" at AMC Marina Marketplace 6

I’m still behind after skipping this project in June. Perhaps August will be the month where I catch up by doing two!

Theater Info:
AMC Marina Marketplace 6
4335 Glencoe Ave, Marina del Rey
Cost: $6.30 for a matinee showing

Movie Stats:
Released 2015 (USA)
American, in English (a small amount of mostly translated Mandarin)
Director - Judd Apatow
Stars - Amy Schumer, Bill Hader

Plot Summary:
Commitment phobic Amy (Schumer) finds her life turned upside when she meets Dr. Aaron Conners (Hader), a man she actually develops feelings for.

Lots of blue language; fairly graphic sexy times; male nudity (butt only); minor drug use; some gore (surgery related).

Bad Stuff:
It’s way too long.

The character of Amy isn’t very likable, and it’s not because she’s a commitment phobe who likes to have a lot of sex. She’s simply not a very nice person, and the film doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to redeem her. In the end, it was difficult to root for her or to feel like she got what she deserved.

It’s really not that funny.

Good Stuff:
A lot of the secondary characters are great. I got my biggest laughs from Amy’s boss, Dianna (holy crap it’s Tilda Swinton I didn’t even recognize her), from Amy’s sort-of-boyfriend Steven (John Cena; who knew he had great comedic timing), and from Aaron’s friend LeBron James (actually LeBron James), who’s hilariously awkward and sort of creepy.

There’s a sweetness to it that I wasn’t expecting but rather enjoyed.

While I might not have done a lot of LOLing, I did spend most of the film feeling amused.

The Verdict:
It’s okay. I found both “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” far funnier. I went to see this because the last movie I saw for this project was so oppressively serious. I wanted to mix it up a bit. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite tickle my funny bone in the way I wanted it to. I was mildly entertained for a couple of hours, but it’s not something I would ever watch again. I wouldn’t even recommend it to someone else. All in all, I was disappointed.

I give it 3 stars.

About AMC Marina Marketplace 6:
I had no idea that this movie house existed. It’s rather weird because it’s quite literally just across the street from Marina’s other movie house, the dine-in theater where I saw Kingsman. You would never guess that it’s there because it’s in the middle of one of those flat strip malls. When I looked it up, I sort of felt like someone was pulling my leg. “Really?” I thought. “There’s a movie theater in there?” At any rate, like a lot of movie houses around here, it seems recently renovated because it’s really nice on the inside. The whole “getting my ticket” portion of the morning took a lot longer than it should have. Other than that, I had a pleasant experience. In my particular theater, the very cushy seats were rockers. Oh, and the parking is both free and plentiful. Bonus!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Toys My Dog Destroys: Striped Frog

It's a tragically short tale, the tale of Striped Frog. Here she is before I gave her to Major on June 12:

Sadly, her pristine condition lasted only a day. Here she is on June 13, eviscerated. Major stands over his kill:

On June 16, Major managed the rare head break-in, pulling out all the stuffing:

And here Striped Frog is before I threw her away on June 25, literally a shell of her former self. I feel hers was a cruel fate, her innards pulled out via her crotch and throat:

I bought Striped Frog at a major pet store retailer for $2.50. She truly only lasted 4 days.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

AFI Top 100, #75: "Dances with Wolves" (1990)

This movie was previously reviewed as part of my Best Picture Project. Below is the pertinent information about it: the movie stats, plot summary, and the rating I gave it. You can read the full text of my review HERE.

Movie Stats:
Released 1990 (USA)
American, in English (lots of translated Sioux; some translated Pawnee)
Director – Kevin Costner
Stars – Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene, Rodney A. Grant

Plot Summary:
Set during the American Civil War. When Northern Lieutenant John Dunbar (Costner) is sent to a far outpost on the frontier, he befriends a tribe of Sioux. McDonnell co-stars as Stands with a Fist, a white woman adopted by the Sioux as a child; Greene as the Sioux tribe’s holy man, Kicking Bird; and Grant as the Sioux Wind in His Hair, who first starts as Dunbar’s enemy but becomes his friend.

4 stars

Monday, August 3, 2015

AFI Top 100, #76: "City Lights" (1931)

Movie Stats:
Released 1931 (USA)
American, in English (the film is silent but the scene cards are in English)
Director - Charlie Chaplin
Stars - Charlie Chaplin, Harry Myers, Virginia Cherrill

Plot Summary:
When a tramp (Chaplin) befriends a suicidal millionaire (Myers) by saving his life, wacky hijinks ensue. Cherrill co-stars as a blind street flower vendor, with whom the tramp becomes enamored.

Minor violence; mild sexual humor.

Bad Stuff:
The humor is of a more juvenile nature. A lot of scenes reminded me of those old Warner Brothers cartoons. I suppose they must have copied Chaplin’s style, which isn’t his fault, but because of that I knew where every joke was going to go before it went there.

It’s very high on the “1930s movie sentimentality” scale.

I found the ending unsatisfactory. I thought there were two clear directions it could have gone, either of which would have made sense, but it aimed to hit somewhere between those two directions and it didn’t really work for me.

Good Stuff:
I liked the soundtrack.

As always, Chaplin’s physical comedy, especially his facial expressions, carries the movie.

I enjoyed the whole boxing scene.

The Verdict:
Unfortunately, with the way Chaplin’s movies fall on the list, and what movies are in between them (i.e. movies I’ve already reviewed), that means I’m ending up having to watch several of his movies in a row. This movie definitely suffers from the fact that I saw Modern Times recently. To me, “Modern Times” is a much smarter film than this one. It’s a scathing social commentary, whereas “City Lights” is a romantic comedy. I’m not totally sure why it’s on the list at all, let alone placed above “Modern Times.” That being said, it’s not a bad film. It’s entertaining, there’s some really funny stuff, and if I weren’t so inundated with Chaplin, I might have enjoyed it more. 

I give the film 3.5 stars.