Movie Madness

My movie reviews and rants at your fingertips.

Monthly Archives: November 2011

Breakdown: Recommendations for a Friend

Monday was my first day back from Thanksgiving break, like many of my employed and academic friends and family. It didn’t take long before the topic of who saw The Muppets and how much you gamers played Skyrim. While catching up with one such gamer, a dear friend and equal named Brandon, we talked about my love of Hugo in 3D and we began talking about film.

When our teacher told us that movie trailers were the topic of discussion of that day’s lecture, I went wild (on the inside). Of the trailers shown, I’d seen them all before and helped lead showcasing my movie nerdiness. Black Swan was the first trailer, which Brandon had not seen. After class, we discussed great cinema and he asked me to compile a list of movies I would recommend to others. I took it one step further; I would make a list of recommendations for him of only movies he had not seen. With the holiday season fast approaching, I figured he could always use it as a list of movies to watch to see should he get bored. So, here you go Brandon, my list of movie recommendations.

1. Mulholland Dr. – David Lynch has made a bunch of great films (and a couple of forgettable ones). Many people rave about Eraserhead and Blue Velvet‘s genius, but my favorite Lynch films have always been The Elephant Man and this film. Starring Naomi Watts, the film has the most complex plot of any film this side of The Last Year at Marienbad (easily the most confounding film I’ve ever seen). Mulholland Dr. unfolds in a way that I always describe as “you think you have it figured out until the end credits start. Then you realize you have no idea about how to describe what you just say.” To many, this may turn you off to the film, but I promise it is a trippy experience that rewards those who make it to the end.

2. Black Swan – Rather than explain Darren Aronofsky’s film in too much detail, click the link for my review from when it came out. Though not technically considered a horror movie, Nina’s journey is one of madness and psychotic delusions.  Aronofsky’s best film yet (followed closely by Pi).

3. The Seventh Seal – The first time I saw this movie, I wrote it off as boring. Boy, was I wrong. When I finally rewatched it last year, it knocked me out of my socks. Ingmar Bergman crafts a movie that centers on a crusader trying to win his life back from Death in a game of chess. The film is so much more than my simple description. One of the best foreign films I’ve ever seen. Max Von Sydow (who later portrayed Father Merrin in The Exorcist) and his trusty squire are just pure awe-inspiring.

The most important game of chess (The Seventh Seal)

4. Wendy and Lucy – This movie made me fall in love Michelle Williams, who plays Wendy in this heartbreaking film. Wendy and her dog Lucy are traveling from Indiana to Alaska for a job, living off of the incredibly meager money Wendy has saved up. When Wendy gets arrested for shoplifting, things start to pile up against her (I don’t wanna give too much away so you can experience truly fresh like I did).  The last scenes are so poignant that the only way to describe how I felt would be to say that a car hit my building when I first saw this film (which actually happened). The film is so rich with characters and emotion that when it’s over, weeping or hugs seem like the only course of action. One of my top ten favorite films.

5. Warrior – One of my favorite films of the 2011. I’ve been a fan of Tom Hardy since Bronson, and he has done nothing but great things since then. Warrior is a modern-day Rocky for the Mixed Martial Arts crowd. This time though, we get two underdogs to root for: Brendan, the man fighting to keep a roof over his family’s heads and Tommy, a mysterious Marine who is hoping to win the prize for a fallen friend’s family. The two men share a father; a recovering alcoholic neither want anything to do with. The film’s climax unfolded unexpectedly and left me weeping in the theater. Not since Stop-Loss have I fought so hard to stop from crying from a movie. When you see Warrior, you’ll see why. Here is my review from its theatrical release.

6. Black Book – Another fantastic foreign film, one which I enjoy more than Inglorious Basterds (which was good, but no classic). Again, rather than rehashing the same old stuff, the hyperlink is the review. From the director who gave us such a weird collection of films, including Robocop and Showgirls, Paul Verhoeven really shows he can make a film void of crass exploitation.

7. Sunshine – Danny Boyle took gathered a group of talented, international actors and gave us Sunshine in 2007. Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, and Chris Evans are astronauts tasked with the important task of reigniting the sun so that Earth could continue to sustain life. When the previous ship fails, they try to find out what went wrong. Boyle mixes horror, science fiction, and drama to create a world that is palpable and easy to understand. Definitely a movie for science fiction fans.

Approaching the sun in Sunshine

8. Breach – Click link for review. Directed by the man who directed the surprisingly engrossing Shattered Glass, Billy Ray makes an espionage film that would normally be all action and transforms it into a taut cat and mouse spy thriller that never lets up. And based on a true story no less. I became a big fan of Ryan Phillipe and Billy Ray because of this film.

9. All the Real Girls– This is Zooey Deschanel’s best film without question. Paul Schneider plays Paul, the Lothario of a little town. When he falls for his best friend’s virginal sister, he tries to change his ways and get past the questionable reputation he has developed for himself. This movie moves me on a subconscious level. The film crafts the great rise and fall of a love that may not weather the storm. It’s ending leaves me visibly angry and scorned when their relationship hits a rough patch. One of the most realistic and authentic depictions of a relationship I’ve seen.

Paul Schneider and Zooey Deschanel in All the Real Girls

10. The Cell – Tarsem’s debut is automatically added to my best of the decade list, and for good reason. He makes a movie that takes place in a serial killer’s mind nine years before Christopher Nolan gave us Inception. Here, Jennifer Lopez stars as a psychiatrist who goes into a killer’s comatose mind to find out where his latest victim is being held. Not just a great film one its own, Tarsem injects some of the most original images of any movie from that year. Using his experience in commercials and music videos, he makes the world of the killer’s mind dark and yet morbidly gorgeous. Jennifer Lopez has never has been this good in a film outside Selena, which is comforting because seeing J.Lo and Vince Vaughn before they blew up keeps the film grounded in a world where the story is more important than the cast.

Vincent D'onofrio as one of the killer's psyches in The Cell


The Circle of Depp

Captain Jack

When Johnny Depp debuted his Captain Jack Sparrow in 2003, he finally got his first blockbuster and won a legion of new fans. But before his swashbuckling, Depp was known for taking roles bizarre and unlike what many other actors would touch. Edward Scissorhands, Cry-Baby, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas were all classics long before Disney came calling. After becoming the superstar he seemed destined to become, he started to take roles more akin to his early career days.

Post Pirates, Johnny has done way more mainstream stuff than he used to. Before Pirates, his roles were almost all risky and quirky characters. After, he seemed to be capitalizing on his new cred. This won him the hearts of young girls everywhere, but their love is purely bandwagon. His fans, who claim to love all of his movies, are younger than first roles. Nightmare on Elm Street and 21 Jump Street are remakes to these kids, not the Wes Craven masterpiece and TV show that helped launch him into Tim Burton’s gothic hands.

It’s with this knowledge that I went into The Rum Diary earlier this week. A fan of his films long before Pirates, and one who scarcely tolerated On Stranger Tides, I was psyched. A story based on Hunter S. Thompson’s book, the film looked like a Latin flavored adventure similar to Thompson’s other movie adaptation Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Which is one of the great mindtripsI discovered in high school.

Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

If you looked at the reviews of The Rum Diary and the box office, you’d see this is the Depp I remember from the nineties. Despite Depp blaming Midwesterns (specifically Wichita, KS) a bunch of dummies for not seeing the movie, those who saw it would tell you the film doesn’t work. My girlfriend and I, longterm fans of Depp, went in hoping for something exciting. We left feeling cheated.

The Rum Diary stars Depp as Paul Kemp, a washed up alcoholic writer who just joined the San Juan Star in Puerto Rico. From there, the film follows Kemp drinking and barely doing his job and falling in love with the eternally stunning Amber Heard as the paper dies off.

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp in The Rum Diary

The film itself starts simply enough, and shows promise. But as the film unfolds, the characters and story fall apart. In earlier roles where Depp is quirky, we can fall back on his character for solace. Here, there is no such luck. His role, and everyone else’s for that matter, is one-dimensional and wasted. The plot becomes a weak connection between scenes. The love subplot has Heard appear flirty one minute, unavailable the next, and gone from the movie for significant portions, further straining the credibility of including such a character all together.

When the film began it’s final moments, my girlfriend and I began anxiously waiting for the end credits. What had started out as a solid story, fell apart quickly into a mess and a waste of time. Afterward, I couldn’t bring myself to even consider reviewing such a film. I didn’t know if it was a comedy (because it was rarely even clever), a drama (it didn’t want to play that way), or just a swan song to a dead icon (which was the worst one of the three). It couldn’t stand on it’s own two feet, and taking out 30 minutes would have only been the place to start fixing it.

The Rum Diary will leave you in a similar state

I know some of you will see the movie regardless of what one blogger thinks, and that’s fine. We should all be free to make our own opinions. But for my money, The Rum Diary is the worst movie of the year, second to only the tremendously off-putting and repulsive Bucky Larson. Watch it at your own peril. Better yet, watch Benny & Joon instead. And if you must, rent Pirates 4. At least the bandwagon Depp fans will know what you are talking about.