Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Innkeepers

The Innkeepers focuses on the final weekend of the haunted Yankee Pedlar Inn.  With only a handful of guests staying there, innkeepers Claire and Luke move into the hotel for the weekend. They want to experience the hotel's resident ghost firsthand before the hotel closes its doors forever. 

This was not like any other scary movie I've seen; it moved extremely slowly and had very few outright scares.  There were bumps in the night and creepy strains of piano music but very little in the way of in-your-face frights.  This is not to say it wasn't scary, though.  The whole feel of the movie was creepy.

The end did leave me with some questions but after letting it sit for awhile I came to terms with it.  All in all I think The Innkeepers was a skillfully told ghost story.  Although, when someone tells you to stay out of the basement, for heaven's sake - STAY OUT OF THE BASEMENT!  7.5 out of 10.

The Five-Year Engagement

The Five-Year Engagement is the story of Tom and Violet - a young couple engaged to be married, but life just keeps getting in the way.  Violet gets accepted for a psychology post-doc at the University of Michigan and Tom gamely agrees to leave his chef job and move from San Francisco with her for her two-year stint.  Except the two-year stint gets extended and their relationship falters....and the wedding plans just keep getting pushed back.  But worry not, I don't think I'm giving too much away to say that there's a happy ending.

I've got mixed feelings about this one.  I wanted to love it, and I did really enjoy much of it.  Jason Segel and Emily Blunt were both great and they felt believable in their parts.  The supporting actors were very funny as well - Brian Posehn and Chris Parnell in particular, who played Tom's motley crew of buddies in Michigan.  The ending was genuinely adorable, and I may or may not have gotten just a *tad* teary-eyed.

However, the movie was just too long, so much so that much of the latter half dragged.  I think a lot of it could have been cut without negatively impacting the movie, and probably even improving it - for example, an extended section where Tom goes a little crazy and begins hunting, stops shaving, brews his own honey, and wears a bunny suit around the house.  That definitely could have been cut.  Also, there's a secondary plot involving Violet's sister and Tom's best friend which didn't really add much in my opinion.

All in all, The Five-Year Engagement was not a bad way to spend two hours - but it would have been a better way to spend a modified hour and a half.  6.5 out of 10.


I have an innate prejudice against "old" movies (usually meaning anything prior to the 1970's or so) which I know drives my husband mad.  I know it's narrow-minded and silly of me.  So, I wasn't exactly pumped to go see Laura last week.  But I really enjoyed it.

Laura is a film noir about the murder investigation of a beautiful, charismatic young woman named Laura, who was shot in the face when she opened the door to her apartment.  The detective spends the next few days trying to make sense of what happened by interviewing her wealthy mentor, her smarmy fiance, and her wealthy aunt.

I feel kind of silly reviewing this, since this is considered one of the top films in history, so what can I say that hasn't been said already more eloquently and intelligently?  But I thought Laura was great - well-made, interesting, and the story kept me guessing until the very end.  9 out of 10.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

DVDs that I'm too lazy to review

Watched a couple movies on DVD this week but I am tired and don't feel like writing full reviews.

The Year My Voice Broke - coming-of-age story of an awkward Australian teenage boy and his childhood friend.  Nice, touching movie - felt very realistic.  8 out of 10.

A Nightmare on Elm Street - somehow, I'd never seen any of the Nightmare movies.  Fun, scary flick although there were some logistical holes I fixated on (i.e. How does a teenage girl rig her entire house with booby traps, put her drunken mother to bed, and fall into a deep dreaming sleep all within the span of 20 minutes? And also, if there was really a killer in the neighborhood that the parents banded together and killed, wouldn't the neighborhood kids have heard about him before?).  Enjoyable nonetheless, with interesting commentary from director Wes Craven and many of the actors.  7 out of 10.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods (x2)

I knew from seeing the trailers that The Cabin in the Woods was not going to be your typical "college kids in an abandoned cabin" type of scary movie.  As a matter of fact, I thought the trailer gave too much away.  But now having seen the movie (twice, as a matter of fact), I can definitively say that the trailer doesn't give too much away at all.  Yes, there are five college kids who go to a cabin in the woods, and yes, there are some bizarre white-coated men in a control room, but there are much, much bigger twists to come.

As a matter of fact, I'm really not sure how much I can say without spoiling the movie, so I'll just say this: it was really, really good.  So much so that my husband and I saw it twice this weekend.   I thought it was brilliantly put together and very funny.  Go see it!  8.5 out of 10.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

American Reunion

I think I will always have a soft spot for the American Pie brand.  As a fellow member of the class of '99, these dudes are perpetually at the same age as I am, so it's fun to watch them through the years.

American Reunion is exactly what the title sounds like, and exactly what you'd expect.   Jim has a young son and is experiencing a dry spell in his marriage to band geek Michelle.  Kevin's somewhat emasculated these days, cooking elaborate dinners and watching Real Housewives with his wife.  Oz is a TV sports commentator.  Finch is basically the most interesting man in the world.  And Stifler is Stifler.  The gang all comes back home to Great Falls for their 13-year high school reunion.  What ensues during the reunion weekend is a whole lot of hijinks involving lots of alcohol, barely legal next door neighbors, defecation in beer coolers, reacquaintances with old loves, wild parties, and full frontal nudity (from Jason Biggs, if you hadn't heard).  While many of the hijinks were stupid, there were some good laughs in there too.  I could happily watch drunk Eugene Levy for hours.

I feel like I see a lot of movies that start out really good, and then go downhill somewhere around the 1/2 to 2/3 mark.  Well, American Reunion sort of did the opposite.  I found much of the first 2/3 pretty stupid, but then something happened toward the end that redeemed it in my eyes.  The tone changed, and it stopped being a raunchy shock-fest, and it actually became sweet.  Dare I say I might have even gotten teary-eyed at some of the scenes from the actual reunion.  Don't judge.

7 out of 10.  For the record, until the tone changed I was thinking along the lines of a 4 out of 10.  I guess I'm a big old sap.  A big old sap who will probably continue to see these movies as long as they keep making them, even though they should probably quit while they're ahead.

Jeff, Who Lives At Home

I was pretty excited to see this one.  Great cast (Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer, Susan Sarandon) and great directors (the Duplass brothers, who did The Puffy Chair, Baghead, Cyrus, all of which I'd seen and enjoyed).  But, alas, it didn't live up to my expectations.

Jeff is a 30-ish stoner who lives in his mom's basement, watches the movie Signs repeatedly, and searches for signs in his own life.  He sets out to buy some glue one day but ends up on a strange odyssey when he follows the signs he sees.  He crosses paths with his brother Pat, who has just bought a Porsche he cannot afford and whose wife is contemplating having an affair.  At the same time, their widowed mother has an adventure of her own involving a secret admirer at her dull office job.  The family's paths all converge at the film's climax.

If this all sounds not very interesting, that's because it wasn't.  That was probably my chief complaint about Jeff - it just wasn't that interesting.  And it wasn't that funny, either.  I was expecting a quirky comedy, along the lines of the other Duplass brothers' movies.  It seemed like Jeff, Who Lives at Home was trying to be a quirky comedy, but it took itself too seriously....which made it not all that good.

So....that's about all I've got to say about this one.  5.5 out of 10.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Andrew Bird: Fever Year


This documentary took a look at musician Andrew Bird's "fever year" - a year of intense touring which Bird called his fever year because performing live seemed to put him in a perpetual feverish state.  At only 80 minutes long, I'd wager that a full 45 of those minutes were taken up by extended live performances.  There were some interviews thrown in, but not very many, and they were pretty limited in scope - most talked about what a serious musician Bird is.

In the way that Beauty Is Embarrassing introduced me to a new subject and made me care about it, Andrew Bird: Fever Year did the opposite.  I was not familiar with Bird's music prior to seeing this film, and seeing the movie did nothing to make me care one way or the other.  The music was appealing, but pretty music is not enough to make an effective documentary.  I found myself somewhat put off by Bird himself - he came off as very one-dimensional and took himself very seriously.  More so, a lot of musicians have intense touring schedules.  A year jam-packed with live performances doesn't seem unique enough to merit a documentary.

That said, I can see this movie being really enjoyable if you're already a fan of Bird's music.  For me, though, it was pretty boring to watch, and ineffective in that nothing pulled me in and made me care about the subject.  4.5 out of 10.

Beauty Is Embarrassing

Beauty Is Embarrassing was a really interesting documentary about artist Wayne White.  His first big break came when he designed the set for Pee Wee's Playhouse, as well as provided voiceovers for some of the recurring characters.  Through the years he's done a lot of interesting work, maybe most notably the "word paintings" like the one above, which involve superimposing block text over thrift store landscape paintings.  We saw White as a child; seeing his mother's zany decorations and artwork around his childhood home makes it pretty clear where he found his early influences.  White currently lives in Tennessee with his wife, a successful comic book artist, and his two kids, both burgeoning artists as well. 

I thought Beauty Is Embarrassing was a really effective documentary, in that in introduced me to a subject I knew nothing about it, and made it interesting and accessible.  I never watched Pee Wee's Playhouse nor had I seen any of White's art, but I still really enjoyed learning about his life.  I also really enjoyed the artwork displayed throughout the movie and appreciated the message that art doesn't have to be taken seriously all the time - there is joy and beauty in the absurd, and it's OK to laugh at it.    8 out of 10.

Here's a good sampling of the word paintings, too.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Missed Connections

Missed Connections is a really refreshing romantic comedy, and was definitely one of my favorites of the festival.  Neal has just discovered his girlfriend screwing his best friend, and has quit his job to boot.  His buddies come up with a plan to cheer Neal up and get him laid: Respond to Craiglist "missed connection" ads, arrange to meet up, wait for the girl to give up on waiting for the guy who never shows up, and then swoop in and make his move.  The plan works like a charm....until the same woman starts showing up at all of his meeting places.

Missed Connections had smart writing, good dialogue, and good acting by a group of real-life friends, including real-life husband and wife playing the male and female leads (aww!).  In a Q&A following the film, we learned that the whole thing was made in 19 days and for $25,000, which is incredible given how good it was.  All in all, a charming yet decidedly un-cheesy romantic comedy from a bunch of new faces who I hope we'll get to see more of.  8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Girl M0del

Wow, what a depressing, yet intriguing documentary Girl M0del was.  This film takes a look at the very messed up m0deling industry.  We watch 12, 13, 14-year old g1rls parade around in b@thing suits for m0del scouts.  The "lucky" ones will get to leave their homes in poverty-stricken Siberia and be sent to Japan, a market where the younger they look, the better.   

Girl M0del follows 13-year old Nadya as she is sent to Japan, presumably to begin her career as a m0del.  She is essentially dumped in Tokyo on her own (not speaking Japanese or English), advised to say she is 15 instead of 13, and sent on casting call after casting call, to be met with rejection after rejection.  She never even finds out the details of where her photos end up, from the one job she is picked for.  She is sent home early - and not only has she not made any money, she's actually in debt to her modeling agency.  Meanwhile, we get to know Ashley, the American m0del scout who handpicks the girls to send to Japan.  Ashley is completely delusional and while she realizes the business has issues, she is somehow able to absolve herself of any personal responsibility.

Girl M0del was kind of a rough watch, and it felt a lot longer than its actual 77 minutes, but I don't mean that as a negative thing.  It was just so depressing to see all of these young girls, so hopeful that they will pull their families out of poverty end up having their dreams crushed and in debt to the agencies that flat-out lied to them to perpetuate the industry.  Even though it was quite sad, the documentary was really well done and interesting to watch.  8 out of 10.

EDITED AS OF 12/24/12.  I am sickened at how many people are doing searches for young g1rls in b@thing suits and I have removed the film image and made some letter substitutions in the hopes that that will stop leading these sickos to my blog. Seriously - out of around 3500 hits I've had over the year, I think 3300 of them have been to this post. Gross.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Last Screening

This French film was the midnight movie capping off our first day at the festival, and it seemed like it would be a fun scary movie.

Sylvain is a seemingly mild-mannered dude who lives in the cavernous underbelly of the theater he works in.  His walls are lined with framed pictures of screen sirens of a bygone era, and he's got a bit of a "thing" for women's earrings.  Someone has mommy issues.  After closing up the theater at night, Sylvain prowls the city, searching for easy targets.  Wash, rinse, repeat. 

I kind of liked this one.  It was extremely creepy throughout, that's for sure.  Even though it appeared to take place in the current-ish day, the movie had the feel of something much older....perhaps of the bygone era that Sylvain is obsessed with?  At any rate, a good movie to watch in a semi-rundown theater at a late hour.  6.5 out of 10.

General Education

I had an inkling that General Education was going to be pretty bad, mainly because the picture above is what was used in the film festival's promotional materials.  But I like Janeane Garofalo and there wasn't anything else we were dying to see during the timeslot of the screening, so we figured what the heck and got tickets.

The plot centers on a high school senior, Levi, who fails science class and has to go to summer school so he can graduate, but get this!  His parents don't know that he's in summer school!  And he falls in love with a pretty girl in class, and there's a weird subplot involving tennis, and another weird subplot involving Levi's mom feeling unappreciated and getting drunk and falling asleep in the bathtub.

And OMG, this was the worst movie I have ever seen.  I think it was supposed to be funny?  But it just wasn't, at all.  I didn't laugh at all, except for a few moments where the full extent hit me of just how awful this was.  The writing was terrible, the acting was terrible, the editing was terrible.  And it just didn't make sense!  General Education was written, directed and produced by a bunch of 20-something dudes and it shows.  It came off like the writers had never met a black person, a gay person, or a woman before. 

1 out of 10....and that's only because I'm unsure of whether a 0 exists on my scale.  But I will say that it was *almost* fun to watch, because it was

California Solo

Lachlan is an aging former rocker who spends his days on a farm and his nights drinking and recording podcasts about musicians who killed themselves.  His simple existence is threatened when he gets pulled over for drunk driving and faces possible deportation back to Scotland.  He is forced to reach out to his ex-wife and teenage daughter who he has never really known, in an attempt to remain in the US.

This one was also kind of "meh" to me.  It was OK, I guess.  I'll be a little generous and go with a 5.5 out of 10.

Sorry, I know this review and the last one are probably as boring for you to read as they were for me to write, but it's really difficult to find something insightful to say when you don't have strong feelings one way or the other!


This Brazilian film follows Bianca, an actress struggling to make her way in the city.  She works for an events company and spends her days singing at store openings, impersonating Marilyn Monroe at birthday parties, delivering balloons to retirement parties.  Her life changes for the better when she gets cast in a French movie being filmed in Brazil.  The film's director is enchanted by Bianca's stories of her work, and she ends up playing a character in the movie that is based upon her real life.

Craft didn't do much for me.  I didn't hate it but I didn't really like it either.  I was left with the feeling of "so what?" when it was over, but it wasn't terrible.  5.5 out of 10.

Cleveland International Film Festival

We're just back from a whirlwind weekend at the Cleveland International Film Festival, where we saw 9 movies in 2 days.  Well, more like 8.25 movies.  The 8 full movies I saw will each have their own entry to follow (in order of viewing), although they'll probably be shorter than my usual reviews.

As for the 9th movie, we only saw about a quarter of it because we walked out.  This one was called The Pier - the part we saw involved a son being called back to Ireland because his father was dying, except his father wasn't really dying, and lots of people owed his dad money, and the son went on some nature walks with an American woman who liked birdwatching.  At least that's what happened in the part we watched.  It was pretty bad - not interesting, not funny, not touching - so we left.  No rating.