Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Animal House - A Raunchy Classic

Movie: Animal House
My Rating: 3 stars

Now, here’s an old standard.  Although, I had forgotten just how dated this movie is.  This classic fraternity movie was made in 1978.  But, it feels like it’s set in the 60s, maybe, with all the huge hairdos the girls are rocking, and their pointy bras and sweater sets.  Did anyone else notice that?  Was this intended to be a period piece when it came out?  It feels like it to me.  But, I can definitely see why this movie started a whole genre of rowdy, drunken frat films.  It’s fun and irresponsible in the way we’d all like to be if there were no consequences for our actions.  Plus our protagonists, the rough-and-tumble Delta house, really get to give it to their rivals, the snotty, be-sweatered Omegas.  And, there’s nothing like ruffling the feathers of some uptight hotheads.
If you’ve seen one of these movies, you’ve seen ‘em all.  A bunch of college boys, pounding beer and whisky in a decaying frat house.  That’s how they fill their time when they’re not trying to get a glimpse up some girl’s skirts, or peeking into their windows while they’re undressing or having topless pillow fights.  Or, perhaps that’s just John Belushi.  But, the Delta house is known for their super-destructing pranks around campus—bombs in toilets, tearing up the sports fields, or causing some other grievous bodily injury to their adversaries.  And, then there’s the liberal use of casual racism, which serves as comedic punctuation.  There are plenty of really cringeworthy elements—both when the Deltas interact with black people and Jewish students.  Yikes!
We’re supposed to be rooting for the Delta house but they really are bunch of slovenly wastrels.  Not that I care for the Omegas at all . . . .  They’re pretty terrible too, and definitely worse.  But, where are all the normal guys on campus?  I guess not in a fraternity, that’s where.   I wouldn’t really know.  I didn’t go to a school that had a Greek system.  But, I’ve never been into the frat guys.  My image of them is just a bunch of muscly bros in tank tops, hugging each other at Vegas pool parties.  I go for more of the lumberjack, hipster type.  I guess it’s all subjective.

You’re going to want to see this movie, even if it’s just to enhance your cultural literacy.  Although, you’ve probably already absorbed a fair amount of the substance of this film, just by being out there, existing in the world.  But, I’ve learned my lesson about assuming I know everything about a film after just seeing a few clips.  I was completely surprised by how much better those old Marilyn Monroe films are than I’d assumed!  Although, Animal House doesn’t really fall into that category.  The clips really are enough to understand the tone.  You’ve seen enough of these mad-cap comedies to understand what’s going on.  And I don’t think anything will surprise you.  But, this one is the original, and I guess that counts for something.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Conan the Barbarian (2011) - Phoning It In

Movie: Conan the Barbarian (2011)
My Rating: 2 stars

Oh geez!  This movie was clearly made as a thinly-veiled excuse to display a lot of oiled-up, half-nude, sexy people.  But, who can blame them?  That Jason Momoa is pretty hot right now.  And, who can say no to a few scantily clad, Greek, vestal virgins?  And, no one even seems to be trying to hide the lack of effort. 
The screenwriter, director, and actors are openly phoning it in.  In fact, most of the actors don’t even manage to hide their smirks while delivering their lines during some of the more gratuitous scenes. 
“Oh, hello naked slave girls.  We’ve freed you from your evil captors.”
“How can we ever repay you big strong muscly men?” 
It’s totally ridiculous.  (Although, Rose McGowan must not have gotten the memo, because she’s taking her acting really seriously).  All you can really do is just embrace the madness, and have a good time with these sexy kids.  It definitely earns a few bombs from me.
The story is pretty straightforward.  The world is in peril because an evil sorcerer is really close to collecting all the magic bones necessary to make a special crown that will give him ultimate power.  (Sounds pretty reasonable).  And his creepy, eyebrowless, witch daughter, Rose McGowan, has the dark magic to locate the pieces.  And, for some reason, the only person who can stop this sorcerer is Conan.  I can’t remember why.  It could be something to do with his battle skills, charisma, or his glorious hair.  Or maybe it was just “prophesied.”  “Prophesy” is usually code for the writers not bothering to come up with a real reason.  (Plus, it gives them an opportunity to write a few innocent, beautiful priestesses).  But, who really cares about the laziness, with all the murder, destruction, and boobies on offer?

This movie is pretty bad.  And, I’m not sure whether all the nudity and sword fights are enough to salvage this doozie.  Oh, go ahead and check it out if you’re really in the mood for something completely mindless and trashy.  But, don’t come complaining to me afterward about the lack of character development or a coherent story.  But, mostly I’m disappointed in this movie because I can’t tell whether or not the humor is intentional or unintentional.  I need to know.  The actors and director either need to be completely in on the joke, or totally cut out of it.  It doesn’t work halfway.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

American Hustle - All About the Perms and Cleavage

Movie: American Hustle
My Rating: 3 stars

I think I liked this movie more for the hair, outfits, and character acting than for the story.  In fact, I almost forgot at times that the plot was supposed to be an intriguing con-artist game until the very end when the whole story came to fruition.  In fact I found the actual narrative to be pretty boring, and I’m ashamed to admit that I kind of ignored it.  I was so wrapped up in Jennifer Lawrence’s Long Island accent, and Amy Adams’ plunging necklines, or Jeremy Renner’s wonderful pompadour.  They were all amazing . . . and so distracting.
This movie didn’t win any Academy Awards, but they definitely had a good chance in the Costume Design category.  The hairstyles alone were stunning.  All that hairspray, gel, and salves!  And those perms!  It was enchanting.  I guess it’s a shame that they were up against The Great Gatsby, because there’s really no competing with that.   But, I can’t say I was too invested in the story.  It’s about the whole Abscam thing in the early 80s.  (Although, the outfits really feel more 70s to me).  
I was too young to have heard about this when it happened, but apparently it was a big political scandal.  The FBI was trying to use real life con artists (played by Christian Bale and Amy Adams) in a sting against corrupt Congressmen.  They would receive immunity if they could lure in enough targets.  But, the story never really came together for me.  It felt like all the actors were so busy delivering their own monologues that they didn’t seem to be acting together.  It was like a movie full of solos.  It felt a little strange.

This is a fun enough movie.  I didn’t love it, and I don’t think I’d ever be interested in watching it again.  I guess you should see it if you’re a big fan of any of the stars.  They all deliver very interesting performances.  Although, Christian Bale isn’t looking his best with the pot-belly and comb-over.  And, Bradley Cooper’s perm, chest hair, and chunky jewelry is a little alarming.  But, the ladies are looking fabulous.  I was just a little bored by everything else, so I really can’t recommend this movie to you.  But, you’ve probably already made up your mind about whether you want to see this or not.  It was an Oscar film, so it got a lot of attention.  And, I’m a firm believer that you should always follow your gut . . . even if you’re just satisfying your curiosity.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Entrapment - All About the Butt Shots

Movie: Entrapment
My Rating: 2 stars

This movie is essentially all about gratuitous shots of Catherine Zeta-Jones’ butt in her leather cat-suit (and poorly fitting 90s track pants).  That’s how they originally sold tickets to this thing when it first came out in 1999.  And, that really is the only thing this movie has going for it anymore, because it sure doesn’t hold up as a thrilling heist film.  Of course, it was probably pretty exciting at the time.  But, everything is so dated!   The key plot point is the Y2K computer bug that was supposedly going to take down all the computer systems in the world.  (Remember when everyone was in a tizzy about that?)
So, our thieves are going to steal all the money from the largest bank in Southeast Asia by taking advantage of the ten-second window when it’s installing a software patch to solve the Y2K bug.  They’re going to do this new, fancy thing called “downloading” information from “the net.”  And, for some reason this still requires scaling the building in tailor-made, leather onsies.  It’s so delightfully silly!  Of course, I do remember when this movie came out in theaters.  The internet was new and exciting.  Zeta-Jones was one of the hottest working actors.  And, Sean Connery was still considered very sexy.  Now, that whole idea is just a joke.  The thought of it makes my skin crawl now.  But, at the time, it made sense to pair those two up as love interests.
But, I guess it’s pretty fun to watch this kind of thing and laugh every time the characters try to sound really high-tech.  It’s amusing that people used to think that corporations keep their really important information stored in one, special, brushed steel, computer terminal, hid behind several sleek, sliding metal panels that can be accessed with a series of key codes and retina scans.  That kind of thing only exists in a bond villain’s lair.  (And, the only reason he has it is because he saw it in a movie).

I guess this would be a fun movie to watch as a silly walk down memory lane.  You could have a 90s nostalgia night or something.  But, it’s really not very exciting or sexy anymore.  The 90s fashions are really just a buzz-kill—all those ill-fitted jeans and sparkling spaghetti straps.  No thank you.  And, all the butt-shots of Catherine Zeta-Jones exist in their entirety in the trailers, so there’s no need to watch the whole movie if that’s all you’re in it for.  So, I don’t think I’d recommend you revisit this film as a serious exercise.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Grave of the Fireflies - Devastatingly Beautiful

Movie: Grave of the Fireflies
My Rating: 5 stars

If this isn’t the saddest movie in the world, I don’t know what is.  This animated film will have you openly weeping in public, and you won’t even care who sees you.  That’s how much your heart will break after seeing this.  Especially if you see this one right after Totoro, another Studio Ghibli film.  Because, the kids in the two movies are about the same age.  Only, the two sets of siblings meet very different fates. 
This movie is grisly and bleak.  It starts with the firebombing of Kobe during World War 2, and only goes downhill from there.  It’s such an effective anti-war message, showing just what kind of impact it has on human lives.  It’s devastating.  The bitterness with which, little four-year-old Setsuko cries!  You’ll never be the same person again.
I loved this film even though it haunts me.  Studio Ghibli really knows how to portray the mannerisms of small children.  It’s so beautiful.  The script tells the story of fourteen-year-old Seita and his little, four-year-old sister Setsuko.  They’re adorable.  But, they’re orphaned in the firebombing, and have to struggle to stay alive until the war is over.  The Studio always captures the small moments in children’s lives beautifully.  That’s why it hurts so badly when we see the kids suffer in this movie.  And, they really do live through some very difficult hardships—orphaning, contempt from relatives, starvation.  They do have some simple moments of happiness, but they never last very long, because it’s a constant struggle to find food and shelter.
I think it’s really important that you see this movie.  It’s a simple story, but a very meaningful one.  You will grieve like you’ve never done for a film before.  I can still feel tears welling up when I think of these poor children.  But, sometimes it’s important to feel sorrow.  It makes you feel alive.  And, it gives you character.  But, this movie isn’t just a chore.  It’s is so beautiful too.  The artwork is stunning.  It practically glows from within. 

And, it captures the magic of little, domestic moments, as Seita cares for little Setsuko.  The siblings love each other very much.  But the movie also puts a human face at the other end of a bomb.  We don’t really like to think about the lives that war disrupts, but we should always fully understand the full consequences of our actions.  Really, this movie teaches you to value what you have.  It’s a classic, and a bitter sweet message that you will remember forever.