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The Way (2010)
great start, but it needs tightening
A slow, thoughtful film, with great writing in the first few scenes that painlessly tells us character and back story. Truly, you could teach from the first 10 pages in a screen writing course. But the rest of it was often too slow or repetitive. Fifteen minutes should have been cut. The very last scene...not believable and not needed.
As an atheist, I found myself sympathetic to the spiritual story here. It didn't try to convert me, nor could it possibly do so, but it showed me a handful of quiet believers I wouldn't mind walking a few miles with.
I seldom think the average rating here matches my opinion, but with this film, it does. 7.4 as I write this, and that's about what I think of it.
Young and Willing (1943)
Screwball comedy just misses being good
This is, in spirit if not release date, a late 30's movie about a group of struggling stage actors who share an apartment. Young viewers today won't understand why it's shocking to anyone that it's a co-ed apartment, but that is a crucial part of the plot, starting the ticking clock counting down to when the kids lose their chance to impress the producer with their acting in the mystery play they've discovered.
What's enjoyable here are a couple of the performances and the jokes about method acting. Eddie Bracken being an apple (no, you're not acting LIKE an apple. You ARE the apple) was my main reward for watching the film, but I also enjoyed Mabel Paige's turn as the loopy but goodhearted landlady. Florence MacMichael's voice is irritating to the modern ear, but she has a couple good moments as the corpse.
The young good-looking actors play rather bland characters and end up being, unfortunately, rather forgettable while the character actors get the juicy moments. The ending is not quite what you'd expect, which also earns it my respect.
I was never bored, and I laughed a few times, and I don't resent the 90 minutes I spent with it.
Unfortunately, films are supposed to be 90 minutes long. What you have here is a great 50-minute idea. There are two choices for the filmmaker. Make a 50-minute film (which won't qualify for most festivals and certainly not for wide release) or come up with more plot complications for your script.
Some of the reviews say this isn't "realistic." They didn't pay enough attention to the news in 2005. Things like this did happen during Katrina, and they will happen again, guaranteed. People who take too much effort to keep alive get triaged and left to die. Major disasters don't come around often, and people in "civilized" countries think they are immune to this level of logistical problem, but they are not. Next 9.0 earthquake in California, it will also be this bad and worse. People will be dying in the hallways or hospital lawns, unattended, undrugged, in pain, bleeding. So that's not a problem I had with it. I believed in the realism.
The real weakness is, there's really only one plot problem to be solved, and we keep getting riffs on that one thing. Watching this felt like listening to a song with only two notes...and for 90 minutes. When the dog arrives, you nearly weep in relief that it's something else (though not much of a something), but the dog doesn't get to stay around or get developed as a character. (and the baby isn't a character at all. It's a Macguffin, at best.) By the time other characters appear, you're already numb with boredom, and it's too late to save the film.
But Walker's acting is good, so it deserves some stars.
Strangler of the Swamp (1946)
a pleasant surprise
Shockingly well-acted hillbilly noir ghost story. Plot: a wrongfully hanged man is out for vengeance.
The poor filmmakers had a postage-stamp-sized stage to work with, and a smoke machine that doesn't quite disguise how small it is. About half of the action takes place on a cable ferry. The opening scene is a bit of a puzzler, in which three grizzled hill women take the ferry out, and back, for no reason other than to deliver some exposition to someone who already knows what they're telling him.
But part of its charm is how much respect the film shows for the people, including two young people who have tried the city, lost their accents, got some extra education, and yet realize they belong back home. Some of the details are well-realized, like the inventorying of a poor man's clothing and the prayer scene at the open-air chapel.
There's a Christian story, here, too. I'm not Christian but was not offended by it. People who are might like that part of it a good deal.
Sort of a poor man's Alien, with an insect-like alien from Mars (or recently hanging out there, if not from there) arriving on Earth with lots of special effects methylcellulose and rather irksome parthenogenesis.
While clearly this was movie shot on a budget, they did okay at having lots of nervous military guys running down dark hallways terrified of where the monster might be. In this, it very much used Alien's techniques.
I did some eye-rolling at the cliché of the military guy coming in and taking over, at the alien's ability to tap right into earth computers, and so on--but that's nothing worse than you'd see in big-budget s-f movies.
What was above average: First, the score, by Kevin Kiner, which elevated the tension levels nicely, and the script detail that we never did know if the alien was evil, invading, nice, curious, lost, confused, or what. You know, if this sort of event did happen, we'd be just as clueless about its intentions.
(As it ends up, the biologist could have skipped the appendectomy and stayed part of the main plot.)
Killer Wave (2007)
of all the bad-science movies in the history of movies...
...this may have the worst science. (And that takes some doing!) Nothing in here makes sense, but I'd be willing to watch it anyway, despite the one-dimensional characters and non-science, but it falls apart even taken on its own terms. I'll pick out various problems, in no particular order:
There are deadly dull moments, far too many of them for the genre. Nobody coordinated accents, so while it seems it might be taking place in Canada most times (it's not supposed to be, but the news reporter they keep flashing to in cliché shots is clearly Canadian), every accent was different than every other one. Hire a dialog coach! You know a "thriller" movie has lost you when you start thinking "Why am I watching Tom Skerritt peel a tangerine, and why can't he peel faster?" And some of the cuts and angles on faces are very weird--did they think that would disguise that we were watching five minutes of talking heads? Why did the hero wander through a crowd of policemen holding his photo just to say "hi" to a neighbor and immediately leave? Am I supposed to think that's drama? And what were the goofy villains' goals? Never did catch that.
I fell asleep at minute 160 or so, and I have no desire to go back and catch the last 15.
The Invader (1997)
like a Lifetime TV movie, with aliens
I found this watchable and almost okay, in a "this is total fantasy and makes not one iota of sense" way.
In the real universe, each planet has its own slow evolution of life. While something like eyes might be required for any line of critter to become intelligent and certainly for any critter to become interested in space travel (if you never see stars, you'd never wonder about them), the chance of other species evolving to look like humans approaches zero. The chance of other aliens having two eyes over a nose over a mouth approaches zero. There's no guarantee of bilateral symmetry, even. The chance of inter-species breeding is zero. Hey, we can't even interbreed with chimps, who are our coevals and share 99% of DNA with us. Aliens will never ever ever come to earth to impregnate earth girls. Never. And no pregnancy, no matter its origins, could move that fast. Where is the fetus getting its mass from?
So, knowing that, a viewer understands the movie is not s-f at all, it's more a romantic fantasy. But it's an interesting romance because the alien who impregnates (which, as she points out, is really sort of rapes, though no genital contact is required) our heroine becomes eventually her friend but not her love interest; she still loves her estranged husband who is pursuing the wife he assumes to be kidnapped. Half of the movie is this not-quite-romance fantasy plot, which involves the marital separation and their childlessness and her teaching life and BFF, and half of it is a lengthy chase scene where Bad Alien pursues Good Raping Alien. (Why? We never really understand that either, and why a species would spend so much of its planetary resources to kill off another planet's intelligent inhabitants has never made any sense, but it's a sf trope no one seems to question, so there you have it. "just because.")
And you don't want to overthink the details of the chase, either, not the police procedural bits certainly, nor why handcuffs work on Alien A but not on Alien B, nor do you want to ask why Good Raping Alien and Pregnant Woman have to drive all that way to meet these advanced aliens' fleet rather than the fleet coming down wherever they damned well please, but really, don't think about any of that, and it ends up being pretty well acted by some decent actors, and pretty well paced for a girly Lifetime TV movie (which it wasn't but could have been).
And even for that sort of movie, you don't want to think too much about how the message of this film to women is "getting pregnant is the be-all of your life, and if you can't, you're not worth much, and even rape by an alien, if it cures your infertility, is better than nothing."
But ignore the biological factual errors, the logical errors, and anti-woman message, and hey, it's not that awful. It's certainly not a one-star movie or the worst movie I've seen this week.
Where are all the screen writing awards for this movie? This was one hell of a script--layered, moving, smart, and well paced. Some of the tiny rolls were choice, for the half-dozen lines the actor got were wonderful and characterized perfectly the person they portrayed. ("I'm a princess!" for instance, one of a hundred great small moments.)
The acting was all marvelous and brought that all to life, but man, what a script. Probably 90% of movies I watch at home, I'm so unengaged that I start playing solitaire or dusting or doing my nails during, but I never wanted my eyes to leave the screen during this movie.
At the climax of the film, which begins as emotional climax, I was entirely invested in the characters and their emotions, attending to every word, every nuance of facial expression. And then it changed, in an instant, to an action climax, and I was entirely invested in that, my heart pounding. And THEN, the "Chekhov's gun" went off, and I thought my head would explode. I leapt out of bed where I was watching from and--admittedly, lost to the fictive dream for a moment--literally applauded the screenwriter/director. Damn, you hid that well; I never saw it coming, but once it does happen, it's revealed as inevitable. I'm still grinning about how well that was done. Seriously, this script should be studied by screen writing students alongside Chinatown and Butch Cassidy; it's that good.
What else do I love about this? So much. The three braids about romantic love in Ellis's life being woven so well together. The other loves, the friendships and parental love, so strong and moving. I love the characterization of Juniper, first from Mud's POV, where she seems like a golden angel, then the boy's distant view, then Tom's, and finally my own, when I realize she's just a garden-variety skank: totally cool journey for this viewer. I love how our own view of Mud changes, too, how he becomes in turn a delusional bum, a philosopher naif, a dangerous man, selfish, and finally selfless.
I love how much the director/screenwriter loves his people, loves this region, and how I felt that affection shine through. I feel entirely the opposite of how I felt about Winter's Bone, where I sensed Californians (and perhaps shameful Midwesterners who wished they were really coastals instead) were condescending to Midwesterners, portraying them unfairly and feeling smug and superior about it. Here, the people are working poor and rural, but they're interesting and mostly decent and sometimes noble. The worst people--the rich father mourning the loss of his son in the worst possible way--even evoke sympathy. The prayer scene was shocking and quirkily funny and entirely believable. I also love that, in this day and age, you can watch a kid call his father "sir" and not roll your eyes in cynical disbelief or shudder in fear for the child.
I love that the story is sad and hopeful at the same time.
It has vaulted onto my list of top 30 favorite films ever (the 21st I've given a 10 rating to here out of perhaps 1000 films I've rated). And how often does that happen?
The Angry Red Planet (1959)
Warning, Mars is red. I mean RED. Between that and the piercing whistle laser, this is a migraine-inducing film.
Standard B film sf plot of its era. Astronauts (old guy, chick, leader, and comic relief) go to Mars, there are monsters, they barely make it home. The best thing I can say about it is that they didn't suffer the cliché "meteor storm," just one meteor. About 50 minutes of actual story (lame as it is), padded by a totally superfluous framing device involving military talking heads.
Oh, and guys, two pickup lines to never use: 1) I'd like to take you into a dark alley and 2) When I use your name, you'll know it.
Frances Ha (2012)
I don't get these people
It's official. I hate this director's movies. I've been wondering why, and I have been wondering why I feel so angry about them, and it finally dawned on me: it's about class.
See, I grew up working class, not indulged, and I had work for a living starting at age 16. I understand the value of hard work, sure, but I also understand the necessity for it for people like me. When I and my relatives have problems, they are real problems: cancer, loss of job that may result in homelessness, bearing for years an awful boss with 40 IQ points less than us because we need the boring job, alcoholism and no money to go to tony recovery resorts, having to eat beans and rice not from some eating disorder/fad but because that's all we can afford, living with dental pain for five years because we can't afford basic dentistry (much less teeth bleaching) and the grinding, endless truth of being stuck in our class because the uberwealthy won't allow us to move from it, no matter how well we follow the rules of careful education, careful savings, and hard work. So when I see these movies by overly indulged people and about overly indulged people, I get so angry I see red.
I don't care about these people and their petty, self-invented "problems." I wish for them that they get hit by a truck and lose a leg or two and earn a real problem so they understand what BS this BS they make films about is. (not that such a thing would be a real problem for them like it would be for people of my class who can't afford good health care, but at least it wouldn't be more of this non-problem crap they get so whiny about in their whiny movies.) Movies like this make me wonder, and not for the first time, why there isn't a violent class revolution. Hey, we'd like just a year or two of experiencing these non-problem "problems," too. "Gee, I can't decide what upper middle class artsy thing to be after my trip to Paris. Gee, my parents don't love me perfectly in just the way I want to be loved." Yeahyeahyeah. Poor you.