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The Uninvited (1944)
classic ghost story
The first time I saw this movie I must have been a teenager. I actually recall it being very funny, because I liked Ray Milland's witticisms, and every time I've seen it sense I've felt a little disappointed that it's not. It's not trying to be, so that's no criticism of the movie; just a very personal reaction.
The movie is a lovely example of 1940s filmmaking, with solid actors, an intriguing, satisfying story, and evocative cinematography and score (a hit song even came out of it - Stella by Starlight). It's not scary - how many movies from the '40s are? - but at times it is genuinely suspenseful.
If you like the '40s style, this is one you should definitely check out.
Koto no ha no niwa (2013)
Shinkai's best film to date.
I've always had mixed feelings about the works of Makoto Shinkai. Movies like 5 Centimeters per second are visually striking and evocative, but they are also essentially illustrated radio plays, where the story is told through words.
Garden of Words, surprisingly, is a movie that lets the images speak. While there's still a fair amount of narration, much of the story is told through its gorgeous visuals.
Thoughtful and touching, this movie proves I was right to keep watching Shinkai's films in spite of continual frustration and disappointment. I did it because I knew what he was trying for could work beautifully if he just learned to allow silence, and now he has. I hope this is a sign that he has matured into the animator I always hoped he'd be.
Three Men in a Boat (1975)
captures the spirit of the book
For a short TV movie, this has some impressive talent, with direction and writing from, respectively, Stephen Frears and Tom Stoppard, and a surprisingly low key performance from Tim Curry and good ones from Michael Palin and someone I've never heard of.
The book is apparently very popular in England, with a mix of humor, sentimentality and self mocking the English seem particular fond of, and the movie is clearly done by people who feel that fondness towards the source.
Like the book, there are parts that are quite amusing, and like the books, there are parts that are more travelogue. The balance is a little more toward the travelogue here, surprisingly, although these parts drag less in the movie than in the book.
It's a quiet, sly sort of humor and a charming, small, elegantly done movie. It's not as good as the book, but it's very enjoyable.
The Ghost Breakers (1940)
There's not a lot to this movie, and I wouldn't say it was outrageously funny, but I found it pleasant and entertaining, although I was bothered by the racial stereotyping, which is unfortunately front and center here.
This is slightly unusual in terms of Hope movies I've seen in that he's not really a coward. He's a bit more on the heroic side; afraid but determined. Perhaps that's because it's fairly early in his career before his character was totally set?
Anyway, if you like old 40s mystery-haunted house comedies, and you like Bob Hope, this is a good bet.
Caught in the Draft (1941)
Cute wartime comedy
I saw this movie 30 years or more ago and recall it being quite funny, and while it's not as funny as I remember it being, it's still an enjoyable romp with typical Bob Hope comedy.
It's also a movie that portrays a pretty accommodating military. This makes sense within the context of a wartime movie - they didn't want to scare anyone away from the army - but the way Hope casually wanders off base and does various shenanigans without ever getting locked up strains credulity.
As I watched this, I found myself wondering why Hope made so many movies with Dorothy Lamour. They don't have any discernible chemistry, although to be fair, Hope was such a non leading man that I'm not sure he ever had on screen chemistry with any woman. I feel like checking out some more Hope movies just to try and figure that out.
Da bing xiao jiang (2010)
Something a Little Different From Jackie Chan
The aging Jackie Chan's greatest dilemma has been finding a way to stay a star without doing the stunts that made him one. It's a tough balancing act to offer just enough of his trademark action to satisfy fans without shattering his bones, and Chan hits the sweet spot with this one.
Apparently he originally wanted to make this movie 20 years ago, at which point he would have played the general, but instead he plays the old soldier. Chan is not the typical martial arts wizard of his other films, he's an aging farmer and while he has some skills, he is outclassed by almost everyone, getting injured and sometimes surviving through sheer luck. There's only one of those full-on Chan humorous battles, with most of the big fights being more straight ahead combat by others.
But even though the movie has little of the humorously choreographed Chan is known for, the movie has many strengths. It is gorgeously shot - clearly a big budget film. Chan is likable (although in the dubbed version I was distracted by his sounding a little like Ronald Coleman, which seems inappropriate for a peasant). There are some exciting battles, some good performances, a few surprises, and some lovely moments.
There are also some oddities, like the introduction of a female who's part is too big to be considered a walk by but too small to make her seem like part of the movie. I'm not sure what that's all about.
Overall, Chan did a good job of keeping in the game without killing himself.
This Is the End (2013)
Amusing bit of fluff
The premise of this movie is terrific: Celebrities play themselves in a comedy about the end of the world. It's fun to see celebrities mock themselves, particularly a coked up Michael Cera, and much of the charm of the first scenes is simply seeing actors play with the concept.
I enjoyed the movie, but I can't say I loved it. It's funny, but it's not hilarious, and while the bits build and there is a sort of story, it's not fully developed because it's essentially a vehicle for the humor.
Also, the frat boy humor just wears thin. This movie is inordinately fond of jokes involving bodily excretions and genitalia, and what can be outrageous and edge in the first ten minutes can feel like a dead horse as the second hour commences.
It's nothing anyone really needs to watch, but it's a fairly enjoyable way to kill a couple of hours.
High Road to China (1983)
Just nothing there
A B movie take on the 80s adventure movies typified by Raiders of the Lost Ark and Romancing the Stone, High Road to China is notable for how universally pedestrian all its elements are. The cast is made up of bland actors best suited to TV series (excepting a small part by Robert Morley), with the two leads failing to generate the called-for sparks. The script is predictable. The direction is competent but lackluster.
Nothing is really terrible, but an hour in, I just dropped it. I wouldn't have walked out on it in the theater, but in the freer world of TV, I just couldn't see any reason to go on.
B movies can be great, if there's some spark of inspiration in there somewhere. This movie just sits there.
Xi you xiang mo pian (2013)
Enjoyable, but doesn't sustain the brilliance of its opening section
This movie begins with a brilliant, elaborately choreographed, consistently funny battle with a giant sea demon. It's the closest thing I've seen to the sensibility of Chow's Shaolin Soccer (I didn't really care for Kung Fu Hustle). It's a long scene, and since I'm going to be a bit critical of the rest of the movie, I want to say that this scene alone makes the movie worth watching.
The movie continues in the same vein with another brilliant demon-fight scene involving the main, dopey guy character and a cool girl character who is a much better demon fighter. But then ...
First off, the movie gets dumb. The girl demon fighter falls inexplicably in love with the dope and does the most ridiculous things possible to get his attention. It's a problem because she seemed so Dirty-Harry cool at first that it feels like they've turned her into someone else. Still, her inept wooing is pretty amusing.
The movie ends with another big action scene, but this one uses bigger special effects to less effect, and at the same time becomes rather maudlin. It's really pretty eye-rolling by the end.
At its best, this movie is absolutely wonderful, and at its worst, it's overly silly but somewhat amusing. I'm still waiting for Chow to make something as good as Shaolin Soccer, though.
fun little movie that skews young
Apparently French parents don't mind if their kids see a lady's breasts, because while this movie shows off some nipples, its broad humor and generally goofiness make it very much a kid's movie.
This is not a kid's movie because it features kids - there are none - but because all the adults act like kids, and the logic will strain the credulity of anyone over ten.
Still, it's a fun adventure movie that mixes in Indiana Jones/Mummy type elements. The heroine is appealing in in a starchy way, the special effects are decent, and the characters that show up in the last part are rather amusing.
If you like adventure movies, and have run through the greats, and don't mind some silliness (or, even better, prefer that) then this is a good movie to watch, even if it is utterly forgettable.