Tonight's Selection
The Phantom of the Opera

this is another movie that falls victim to my war on unnecessary framing devices.  to all the directors who read my blog:  please, have some restraint.  save this technique for when you’re really saying something with it, as opposed to here, where it just provides an excuse to play with overbearing filters and pad the runtime of an already 120+ minute movie by another 10-15 minutes.

  • the phantom is what happens when people take music too seriously. we all know these people.  keep an eye out.
  • gerard butler and high notes just makes me sad.  i wonder how many hours he screamed into a microphone before they got the one little sample to autotune and loop into what they needed.
2 Fast 2 Furious

after watching the fast and the furious, you wouldn’t think that the sequel would be more cartoony.  it’s impressive, really.  they took an outlandish, over-the-top racing movie and made it more so.  this movie isn’t well constructed, but everyone involved seems to be genuinely having fun and that rubs off.

  • the 6 minute prelude that bridges the gap between the first movie and this one is wholly unnecessary but has some fun sequences and no dialogue (which is definitely a plus in this series).
  • putting a rear wing on a front wheel drive car drives me nuts.
  • the rat bucket scene is seriously disturbing and completely out of place in this movie.
Under the Skin

the lighting in this movie blew me away.  shot after shot, it’s a parade of diverse but universally beautiful images, and the lighting is the featured player.  the scenes in scottish forests would be pretty hard to mess up, but the shots in the mystery room are impressively stark and the nighttime urban driving sequences (which are so often drab) are some of the prettiest, with the camera pointed at scarlett and the lights moving past, reflecting off the windows and washing over her face.

Bethlehem

the israeli-palestinian conflict is a good setting for a spy thriller.  i’m surprised it isn’t done more often.  the unique circumstances of the tensions in that area induce a unique twist on the genre that makes this unspectacular but thoroughly competent movie quite interesting.  it keeps you guessing until the very end, and not with gratuitous twists, but with believable characters who are convincingly torn on what to do.

How to Train Your Dragon

the flight sequences in this movie are stunning.  whether nervously working out the controls in mid-air, or showing off an ability to channel peace and majesty, or thrillingly fighting in the climactic battle, the visuals are spectacular.  it’s no wonder how many electronics departments use this movie to demo their tv displays.

  • special shout out to the promotion of alternative pets.
Richard III

i was expecting to struggle with this one.  i don’t generally go in for stories of royals scheming against each other nor do i get off on historical costumes, but i generally like shakespeare and this is supposed to be the best movie adaptation of this play.  what i wasn’t expecting was olivier’s mouth to turn into a firehose of consonant sounds whenever his titular character got excited, and for the sets and camerawork to be so dull that it looks like he just filmed a stage performance.  disappointing even by my cautious expectations.

  • how does a woman, in the span of an afternoon, go from spitting in the face of the man who recently killed her husband to wearing his ring and bringing him into her bedroom?
Black Hawk Down

the non-combat military personnel who pines for a chance to see some front line action is a strange trope of war movies.  sometimes they’re chaplains or medical officers - in this movie, it’s someone who is kept out of harm’s way to preserve his coffee brewing prowess - but they all are perpetually left behind at the base to dream of more thrilling and glorious duties.  every time i see another of these characters, i wonder if there are really people like this.  it seems absurd to me to get all the benefits of the uniform without the primary risk that’s associated with it and then be disappointed over the deal, but that might just be because i’ve never wanted to be a soldier.

  • after all the stories of shortages during the dual wars of afghanistan and iraq, it looks very strange to see soldiers be issued body armor and then choose to remove it from their gear.
  • of all the macho badass moments in this movie, the reflexive move to cut off a cast as leverage in an impromptu debate is my favorite.
The Good Shepherd

the protagonist of this movie wants desperately to do the right thing, but like a robot, seems incapable of figuring for himself what the right thing is.  he just takes everyone else’s word for it, and it leads him down some very unhappy roads.  when he is asked to betray his professor, he has his own justification for it which keeps his conscience clean and his agency in tact.  when he walks out of a skull and bones hazing ritual, he’s urged to go back, and a bit of his self dies when he does.  when a woman decides she wants to have sex with him (conveniently timed because he’s feeling a bit frustrated by the slow pace of his relationship with his girlfriend) and ends up pregnant by this single moment of lust, her brother says “i know you’ll do what’s expected of you.”  when he leaves the woman he loves and marries one he barely knows, and doesn’t seem to especially like, obligation has replaced self-determination.

  • mumbled lines and audio played through a phone are a bad combination.
Maidentrip

this movie is billed as a teenage girl’s quest to be the youngest to sail around the world alone, which was obviously enough to entice me to see it, but i like the reality of this movie much more than its slightly misleading portrayals in the press.  while laura does accomplish that feat, and is clearly at least somewhat interested in the record whether she admits it or not, this doc is much more about her journey of self discovery.

rather than just speed around the globe, she visits areas that interest her, spends time with people she likes, and moves on when the winds and her whims align, much to the annoyance of customs officials used to carefully scheduled trips.  she has a charming attitude that oscillates between youthful delight and great peacefulness.  spending 80 minutes seeing the world through her eyes (solo sailing means she’s holding the camera herself most of the time) is a refreshing experience.

Stir of Echoes

tom gets hypnotized by his wife’s friend and comes out with an ability to see ghosts, a talent his son apparently already had.  this makes tom’s wife, maggie, feel alienated by the other two members of her family, constantly confused as to what’s going on, and frustrated by her inability to help.  never once does it occur to her or anyone to have her friend hypnotize her as well.  maybe it works or maybe it doesn’t, but they never even think about trying it.  it doesn’t help that the hypnotizing friend who criticized tom for not believing in her paranormal activities before being hypnotized, then repeatedly mocked him as a crazy person when her hypnotism worked, so maybe maggie didn’t want to fall into that trap.

  • kevin bacon was believably slipping into madness in the second half of this movie.  a surprisingly strong performance.
  • in the end, she just wanted that coat back.