Iro's One Movie a Day Thread

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28 days...6 hours...42 minutes...12 seconds

But seriously, even though I was well aware that Kingsman was supposed to be a "fun" movie above all else, that doesn't put it above criticism. The whole reason I singled out the church scene in my review was to point out just how the movie's idea of what constituted fun got pretty badly twisted due to the ramifications of its plot. Like I said, it was well-made, sure, but it was ruined a bit by knowing that the only reason this scene was happening in the first place was because of a brainwashing device that turned one well-armed and well-trained superspy against a building full of unarmed civilians and dispatching them in such an uncontrollably violent manner that it shocked even him once he'd regained control of himself. So are we the audience meant to find this scene an amazing display of Firth's badassery or a horrifying demonstration of Jackson's plan? The answer is both, which is really not a good answer.
Why isn't it a good answer? It accomplished both of what you just said. It showcased, visually, the destructive nature of Jackson's plan and it was shot extremely well. We knew going in that the people in there were "not good" for a lack of a better term and Firth was one of the lead character's we've been following. It shows that the plan affects ALL. It moved the plot forward. I fail to see how the scene is ruined. What ruined the scene? It accomplished the goal.

I guess I like the morbid side of things?
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Why isn't it a good answer? It accomplished both of what you just said. It showcased, visually, the destructive nature of Jackson's plan and it was shot extremely well. We knew going in that the people in there were "not good" for a lack of a better term and Firth was one of the lead character's we've been following. It shows that the plan affects ALL. It moved the plot forward. I fail to see how the scene is ruined. What ruined the scene? It accomplished the goal.

I guess I like the morbid side of things?
I get that it was necessary to the plot, but the context did make it a little weird to think of it as something that should be given the "pure awesome" treatment with flashy camerawork and Lynyrd Skynyrd on the soundtrack. Those factors meant that I wanted to like it, but I just couldn't ignore the implications. Otherwise, I'd have no problem calling this the high point of the film by quite some distance.
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I "think" Iro is overthinking some of his reviews and ratings. All the faults he finds in American Werewolf are faults in this overthinking. What happened to just relaxing and enjoying a movie? Iro, if you honestly give Prizzi's Honor and The Depsrted
, you need to start posting all those negative ratings and reviews you've got stashed. There must be plenty.
That's ridiculous.



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#129 - Adam's Rib
George Cukor, 1949



A pair of lawyers who also happen to be husband and wife end up on either side of a court case involving a woman's non-fatal shooting of her cheating husband.

Adam's Rib is a well-written combination of courtroom drama and screwball comedy that trades heavily in battle-of-the-sexes humour that has not lost a good chunk of its bite. This is also the first time I've seen a movie starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy and it's interesting to see their chemistry at work as they go through a number of highs and lows because of their conflicting interests. Hepburn is the highlight with her confidence and sharp wit making her a good foil for Tracy's frequently flustered straight man. Though it's extremely lean when it comes to laugh-out-loud moments, I don't deny that it's still rather clever with some pointed observations about gendered politics and has a solid emotional core because of the two leads. It gets to the point that the narrative involving the love triangle becomes secondary to the fluctuations in the stars' relationship, which becomes especially true during the film's third act. I don't suggest you go in expecting a laugh riot, but it's still a well-written piece of work brought to life by some very capable performers.




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#130 - Sherlock, Jr.
Buster Keaton, 1924



A movie theatre employee wants to try his hand at being a detective.

So this makes the second full Keaton film I've ever seen (after The General) and of course it's easy to think it's not as good, but it is interesting in its own way. A brief yet novel take on the detective genre that uses the narrative excuse of a dream sequence in order to deliver some innovative silent-film visuals (just check the start of the dream sequence where Keaton's character ends up on the cinema screen and is constantly flitting through different backdrops to comical effect) to cover for its admittedly basic real-world plot where Keaton's amateur gumshoe is actually framed for theft by his would-be love interest's much more caddish acquaintance. The film is fortunately short enough to accommodate its thin plot and fills it out with some interesting visuals, though I'm a little disappointed that it's not quite as hilarious as I'd expected it to be (but I can definitely respect the lengths Keaton will go to in terms of stuntwork).




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#131 - The School of Rock
Richard Linklater, 2003



An unemployed rock musician pretends to be a substitute teacher at an upscale elementary school.

Given my age, you'd think I would have seen this during its initial cinematic run but no, it took until over a decade later and a free-to-air viewing until I got around to it. I understand that Linklater would do some for-hire gigs, and it makes sense that this one would be a fairly chilled-out take on a family-friendly comedy. I guess I can shrug off the relatively implausible plot, but Jack Black alternates between being charming and insufferable way too frequently for him to work as the film's shiftless protagonist. It's a minor niggle that Black's character is the kind of rock lover who acts like "real music" is a thing, and it doesn't help that the characters are fairly one-dimensional - Joan Cusack as the strict headmaster with a gradually revealed soft side, Sarah Silverman as the uptight girlfriend of Black's flatmate that forces Black to get a job, to say nothing of the various students and their teachers. There's the familiar "shy artistic student conflicting with his domineering parents" sub-plot only it's multiplied to virtually every student but given extreme focus in the case of the band's lead guitarist, and what few jokes are there almost never make me laugh. Not the best thing for a comedy, of course, but it's got just enough charm that I don't totally hate it, I guess.




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#132 - The Help
Tate Taylor, 2011



In the early 1960s, an aspiring white journalist decides to write a book based on the personal experiences of the black maids who work in a Mississippi town.

It's easy to write this off as yet another "white saviour" movie where a young white woman (Emma Stone) summons the wherewithal to record the plights of working-class black maids in the very racist South for the sake of writing a career-defining book, even though it does result in Stone facing such difficult obstacles such as an extremely shallow male love interest (really, though, the seemingly forced development of their relationship is one of the most ridiculous things about this film) and having a couple of arguments with her obliviously prejudiced mother. Fortunately, the rest of the film has just enough quality in order to make this film tolerable rather than irritating. Extra credit has to go to both Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer as the main maids, even if they do fall prey to a fairly simplistic dichotomy where Davis is the calm, reasonable figure while Spencer is a more emotionally charged character. Davis in particular was rather impressive and now I feel like I should check out The Iron Lady just to see what kind of performance Davis lost an Oscar to, while Spencer definitely earns her Oscar win as a more tempestuous worker who can amaze those in her good books and devastate those in her bad books (and even calls out Stone for trying to write her book on the basis of it being some kind of white saviour nonsense). Bryce Dallas Howard plays a rather striking antagonist whose outwardly pleasant Southern belle exterior makes a great counterpoint to her especially vile and hypocritical prejudices, while Jessica Chastain makes for an interesting counterpart to Howard as a genuinely kind housewife who still has her own set of problems (which are of course helped by Spencer, in what may or may not qualify as an example of what Spike Lee would call a "magical negro").

Given all the ways in which I should've disliked this film - its ultimately basic treatise on race relations being the most obvious, to say nothing of how the best comedic aspects don't quite work (by 2015, the infamous revenge plot has become a fairly well-known twist in its own right) - it's weird that I did kind of like The Help. It's just as well that the core performances are solid enough to carry the rather underweight material over the course of just over two hours. The cinematic technique calls to mind old-school melodrama, which admittedly suits this kind of story, but of course the whole thing is just questionable enough that I don't think it's genuinely great. I thought that the film's ability to find a place on the IMDb Top 250 meant it might just have been good enough to overcome its more obviously problematic elements - while it wasn't that good, it wasn't that bad either.




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#133 - The Ipcress File
Sidney J. Furie, 1965



A counter-espionage agent must work against his bureaucratic superiors in order to solve an especially troublesome case.

Given the timeframe, subject matter and some of the behind-the-scenes collaborators (producer Harry Saltzman and composer John Barry being the most obvious), it's hard not to think of The Ipcress File as being a deliberately cynical response to the glamourous escapism of the James Bond franchise. Protagonist Harry Palmer (the excellent Michael Caine) is a bespectacled foot soldier for Britain's counter-espionage services whose love of classical music and good food doesn't quite distinguish him as a proper gentleman, while his cheeky Cockney back-talk doesn't come across as charming so much as grimly comic insubordination against his apparently useless superiors. Even his romantic sub-plot involving a female co-worker gives off a sense of desperation more than it does any kind of "get the girl" wish-fulfilment vibe. This is all well and good, but does it actually make for a good film? Fortunately, it does. The Ipcress File makes for a good conspiracy thriller where Palmer and his cohorts struggle to chase up every lead and are befuddled at every turn by dead ends, uncooperative associates, and many other reasons. A lot of tension gets sucked out of Bond films because you just know that Bond will get out of whatever sticky situation he's in, but there's no such safety net when it comes to Palmer, which leads to an unbearably tense third act as a result. The technical aspect involves some fairly utilitarian behind-the-scenes work, save for some off-kilter photography (without getting into third-act spoilers, mind you), but given the subject matter it works just fine. John Barry's score is taut enough to endenger a sense of dread but doesn't quite reach the level of funkiness to make it seem like a light-hearted adventure kind of deal. Caine and company make for decent actors that make the best out of the material. I guess it could have been better, but it is weirdly refreshing to see a film that counteracts the gentleman spy myth while also dating back to 1965.




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#134 - Mystic River
Clint Eastwood, 2003



A trio of childhood friends grow up into different roles - one a cynical detective, one an embittered ex-con, one a shiftless family man - find themselves brought back together when the daughter of one of them is found to be murdered.

Watching this after other Dennis Lehane adaptations (especially Gone Baby Gone, which also focuses on the ramifications of a whodunit in working-class Boston) does kind of suck the tension out a little bit, but Mystic River is still a fairly solid little mystery film that does do rather well at playing up the moral ambiguity surrounding its tale of a murdered teenager. Kevin Bacon plays the detective investigating the case, and his tough-talking banter with his partner (Laurence Fishburne) is definitely a high point for this particular film. Tim Robbins definitely earns an Oscar for his portrayal of a man who struggles with traumatic childhood experiences even as a middle-aged adult, and some of his scenes are downright disturbing simply due to how he plays them by himself, whether it's his uncertainty or his inner demons being revealed. Despite his own Oscar win, I find Sean Penn to be the weak link in the lead trio - as the murder victim's father, he does get a fair bit to work with but his acting comes across as fairly unimpressive for most of the time, especially his reaction to the sight of his daughter's corpse that leads to a screaming session of Nicolas Cage quality (I mean, just look at that screencap). Other actors don't get all that much to work with - Marcia Gay Harden works well as Robbins' beleagured wife, for instance. Laura Linney as Penn's wife...not so much.

In regards to technicality, well, Eastwood has never been much of a stickler for technical flair, which I suppose suits the down-to-earth suburban murder mystery vibe of this whole film rather well. It's arguably a bit too long, especially considering how long it goes on after its climax and supposed denouement, but it's a solid enough murder mystery with just enough moral ambiguity at play to make it interesting but not enough to make it excellent.




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#135 - Black Hawk Down
Ridley Scott, 2001



Based on a real-life event where several teams of American soldiers launch a mission in order to sabotage a Somali warlord's regime but end up trapped behind enemy lines and have to fight the surrounding armies in order to survive.

When you watch a film more than once before sitting down to write a review, is that a sign of a good film or a bad film? I guess it can go either way, but in the case of Black Hawk Down it was really just confirming my initial impressions about this film. Ridley Scott has always struck me as the kind of director whose eye for technical quality has often come at the expense of telling a decent story. Black Hawk Down is no different in that regard, because while it is a rather technically impressive film due to its unflinchingly in-your-face portrayal of a war zone during a drawn-out instance of combat, it kind of suffers due to its fairly basic attempt at characterisation. Given its true-story origins, I can understand the need to flesh out or even invent characters for the sake of narrative convenience, but given the large cast on display here it often just ends up with each character conforming to a rather basic archetype. You have your team leader struggling with newly-acquired responsibility (Josh Hartnett), your eager rookie looking for adventure (Orlando Bloom), your routine-obsessed desk-jockey getting thrown into the fray (Ewan McGregor), your senior officer who still cares about his men (Tom Sizemore), your wildcard specialist who may or may not be the most awesome character in the film (Eric Bana), and so on and so forth. Not even having a cavalcade of famous, not-so-famous and soon-to-be-famous actors portray your various good guys is going to help much considering how they'll spend most of the film wearing helmets and goggles while you've barely learned the names that are apparently written on their helmets for the audience's convenience. Then again, I suppose proper characterisation was never quite part of the game, so let's move on.

Technically, the film is rather good. The cinematography is frequently washed-out and emphasising colour (there are a lot of shots that happen to combine green and orange in some capacity) and the soundtrack is decent enough at building dread or conveying explosions. The editing is appropriately frantic considering the wartime setting, though the constant flitting between a bunch of barely-developed characters who all look virtually identical in their uniforms can be quite confusing unless you're paying complete and utter attention to every single thing on screen. Black Hawk Down is good at conveying a rather intense and horrific portrayal of a military conflict with barely any relief once things get underway, but beyond that it's a fair distance from being a great film in its own right.




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#136 - Quills
Philip Kaufman, 2000



A story about the notorious Marquis de Sade, who builds a reputation on writing especially obscene novels while confined to an asylum.

Given the subject matter, it would be way too easy to write off Quills as your typical British costume drama given a tiresome edge by being based off the perverse writings of its main character (and said writings are relayed with some frequency over the course of the film), but fortunately it ends up being just a little better than even I expected. Geoffrey Rush has a field day as the Marquis, delivering elaborate yet profane dialogue with such zest that it's enough to win your over just a little to his admittedly demented line of reasoning. Kate Winslet turns in a solid performance as a staff member who finds herself enthralled by Rush, while Joaquin Phoenix is also good as the priest who runs the asylum but finds himself rather conflicted by the various problems brewing under his supervision (such as Rush's insanity or his relationship with Winslet). Michael Caine is also good as a Frollo-like inquisitor whose own hypocrises are rather predictable but still shown with gravitas by such a masterful actor. The film is shot with a bit more energy that your typical period piece, as is seen in some rather unusual cinematographic choices. The comedy, such as there is, is rather dark considering its subject matter - at one point, Rush stages a play mocking Caine and his own deviance while using mental patients as his main players. These moments do nothing to detract from the drama at hand, whether it's the antagonism building between Rush and Caine or the sexual tension between Winslet and Phoenix (or Winslet and Rush, or even Rush and Phoenix for that matter). It builds up to one hell of a third act that even I didn't quite see coming and made for a film that was, despite its bizarre subject matter, just as capable of conjuring well-developed characters and a tense narrative as any stuffy British period piece should have been able to do.




I'd give Mystic River a popcorn more, I think it's a great film, although I haven't seen it in a while. I think Eastwood is a fantastic story teller.

I have only seen bits and bobs of Black Hawk Down, never the movie in full, so I don't really have an opinion on it, although I suspect that I would feel similarly to how you did.
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#137 - Gladiator
Ridley Scott, 2000



During the time of the Roman empire, a general is betrayed and reduced to being a slave who becomes a gladiator in order to achieve his revenge.

This is my first time watching Gladiator in more than a decade and, watching it now, I can't help but be a little underwhelmed. Russell Crowe gets a fairly physical role as the titular warrior, but it's not like his actual acting here is all that impressive. Joaquin Phoenix makes for a solid antagonist as an appropriately petulant ruler whose blatantly bastardly behaviour covers for an extremely miserable young man. Other actors frequently come to the fore - Oliver Reed is good as the slave-master who brings Crowe into his service, Djimon Hounsou makes for a good offsider and Connie Nielsen is good as Phoenix's sister who is no less of a threat to her enemies while still having a decent emotional core. One of my main issues with the distance between viewings is how I barely remember anything between the beginning of the third act and its ending. Turns out I'm not missing all that much. At least the first two acts are solid enough as Crowe is dishonoured and starts to fight his way to notoriety. Given how much of a stickler for technical competence that Scott is, some of that doesn't quite come across in this film. The slow-motion could be better and the CGI-heavy establishing shots of the Colosseum don't hold up that well these days. At least the fast-paced combat scenes are shot through with vigour, I suppose. It's too inconsistent a film to truly be considered a classic, Best Picture win be damned (did the Academy want another Braveheart or what?). Definitely fun in parts, to be sure, but when its ambition outstretches its reach then there's a problem.




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#138 - Sense and Sensibility
Ang Lee, 1995



A pair of sisters move to a new home and contend with some romantic conflicts.

What does it say about a film when the time comes to write a review and you just draw a blank when it comes to reviewing it? My first attempt at reviewing Sense and Sensibility was a brief paragraph that didn't quite fit this site's criteria for an actual review, so I figured I should at least attempt a slightly more in-depth review. The film is not actually bad - not a certain measure of bad - but my main problem is that Sense and Sensibility just kind of...exists. From a technical standpoint, it's decent - having an accomplished director like Ang Lee behind the camera and the impressive production design that's part and parcel of any British period piece definitely makes it look good. Unfortunately, the story it's based around...not so much. It's weird how Jane Austen's source novel is considered a classic and the screenplay (written by lead actress Emma Thompson, no less) managed to win an Oscar, but the story itself didn't strike me as all that interesting. Some class struggle here, some romantic complications there, things are sometimes funny and often sad...it all just kind of blurs together a bit, and Austen's dialogue is only sporadically interesting as characters have exchanges that range from the charmingly quaint to the tragically heartfelt. At least the performances are decent - Thompson and Kate Winslet are good enough as the unsurprisingly different Dashwood sisters, while Hugh Grant's infamously awkward charm suits his character well and Alan Rickman puts his usual nasal delivery to good use. It probably deserves a second chance, but I think I'll save that for another time.




Glad to see you enjoyed Quills but sad to see your rating of Gladiator. When I watch Gladiator, I'm always amazed at how well it holds up and I find it almost as thrilling as I did 15 years ago. IMO the Best Picture and Best Actor awards it received are examples of the Academy getting it right for once. Now if only they'd awarded it Best Supporting Actor as well.

Still, given the horribly low ratings I've seen you hand out to some of my other cherished favorites, like Ratatouille and The Departed, I guess I can't complain about these.



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#139 - The Craft
Andrew Fleming, 1996



A high-schooler with a mysterious past moves to a new school and falls in with a trio of outcasts who are revealed to be witches.

Yeah, so The Craft is most definitely not a good movie. It's hard not to think of it as a season one episode of Buffy stretched out to feature length, only its lead characters lack even the requisite level of charm of that particular show. Out of the lead quartet, Fairuza Balk is the only one that stands out on her own merits and that's only because she's the least wooden, though that distinction comes at the expense of her being so ridiculously over-the-top (especially during the film's later stages) that it's almost comical (but sadly it's not). The effects work is bad, as is the writing that barely makes me care about the lead characters (except maybe in the case of Rachel True's character, who suffers some ridiculously racist bullying from Christine Taylor's stereotypically bitchy character, but that doesn't last long as she joins in with the other witches' more blatantly villainous behaviour). The soundtrack roots this film in the mid-1990s for better or worse (is that the same version of "How Soon is Now?" that they used as the theme song for Charmed? Double nostalgia!) Too bad the resulting film takes itself way too seriously even for a goofy high-school witch movie.