Iro's One Movie a Day Thread

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You're right, I should definitely stay abreast of more appropriate terminology.
I really just want you all angry and confused the whole time.
Iro's Top 100 Movies v3.0

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#291 - Trance
Danny Boyle, 2013

An amnesiac participant in a botched art heist is forced to undergo hypnosis in order to remember where he stashed the stolen painting.

Trance features a rather interesting high concept in its tale of an auction house employee (James McAvoy) who ends up joining in on an attempt to steal a painting for an art thief (Vincent Cassel) and his gang. When events lead to the painting going missing and McAvoy being unable to remember what happened to it, it prompts Cassel to bring in a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) in order to restore McAvoy's memory of what happened to the painting. Unfortunately, Boyle's execution of the high concept ends up being rather tepid, no matter what kind of visual flair he and regular cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle can conjure up. For a film that deals primarily with the inner workings of McAvoy's mind, it doesn't establish an especially creative method of unlocking his memories beyond the occasional tiresome fake-out or disorienting excess. Repetition of scenes with added clarity also don't feel especially revelatory and just make new twists hit with a dull thud rather than a loud bang.

Obviously, with neo-noirs I don't expect the cast to be made up of sympathetic characters, but if I become more interested in finding out what happened to the MacGuffin than what happens to the characters then things get to be a bit of a problem. McAvoy is the same sort of flat, passive character that did nothing to interest me when he played him in Wanted, while Cassel is a pretty stock-standard violent crook with only the slightest amount of depth. Dawson at least gets some surprising developments to her whole out-of-her-depth civilian character, but that's about it as far as characterisation goes. As a result, the film alternately slogs or speeds through its ultimately poor execution of a somewhat interesting idea. Not even the supposedly shocking twists at the climax are enough to leave much of a favourable impression for this extremely garish excuse for a psychological thriller.

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#292 - Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Stanley Donen, 1954

In a Western frontier town, a mountain man marries one of the townsfolk, which causes problems when his six younger brothers want brides of their own.

Alternate title: Stockholm Syndrome: The Musical!

But seriously, how does a movie like this not just exist in the first place but also keep being considered a classic several decades later? Even taking into account the more questionable social mores of the film's frontier setting, it still seems weird how such a plot could be considered acceptable, if not a source of light-hearted merriment, even in the 1950s. It starts out harmlessly enough - Howard Keel's ginger-haired mountain man strides into a nearby town and manages to marry local lass Jane Powell, but when he brings her home to his younger brothers, she quickly tires of how quickly they relegate her to playing den mother to all seven of them. So far, so understandable. Of course, this leads to Keel and Powell encouraging the others to leave their remote homestead and find their own spouses, which starts off innocently enough when the brothers attend a barn-raising dance (and naturally encounter some rivals for their desired partners' affections). The entire third act, on the other hand, is where things fall apart as the brothers kidnap their desired brides and bring them up to their homestead just in time for the winter frost to seal everyone off from the rest of civilisation...

Up until that point, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a fairly by-the-numbers musical that has tolerable songs made better by some impressive choreography, especially during the aforementioned barn-raising sequence. If nothing else, Donen is a competent director when it comes to musicals, but there's not much excuse for a third act as tone-deaf as the one I've described, especially when the film already had Powell take charge and successfully change the disrespectful and slovenly behaviour of the brothers. Even though she chews them out over their decision to kidnap the women in question, that becomes inconsequential as the brides eventually warm up to their captors through a series of song and dance numbers. As a result, it takes what should be a fluffy yet fairly competent musical and gives it an extremely unfortunate edge that makes it difficult to enjoy.

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#293 - Mad Max: Fury Road
George Miller, 2015

In the aftermath of a nuclear war, the titular survivor is dragged into the middle of a situation involving an evil cult leader and a group of escaped sex slaves.

Original review found here.

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#294 - Iron Sky
Timo Vuorensola, 2012

In the year 2018, an American astronaut discovers that the Nazis have created a base on the dark side of the moon and are planning to take over Earth.

As far as attempts at deliberately satirical pieces of exploitation go, Iron Sky falls incredibly flat. The premise is steeped in the kind of weirdness of decades gone past - Nazi Germany managed to put an isolated base on the moon that is still going in 2018. When an African-American astronaut discovers the base, he is captured by the base's inhabitants and ends up becoming the catalyst for the moon Nazis to begin a full-scale invasion of Earth. Of course, there's some degree of moral relativity personified by characters on both sides of the Nazi-Earth conflict, such as an idealistic Nazi schoolteacher who is clueless about the true horrors of the Third Reich or the power-hungry U.S. President who is little more than a caricature of Sarah Palin. The dated nature of the political satire, especially concerning the U.S., goes hand-in-hand with the film's deliberately exploitation-style parody to make for a film that is very much of its time - and not in a good way.

The worst thing about trying to make a ludicrous B-movie kind of parody is that if you fail, then you fail hard. Iron Sky's sense of humour never pays off, and the most memorable examples of the comedy only end up being so memorable because of how bad they are. The part that stands out the most is a shot-for-shot parody of the infamous "ranting Hitler" scene from Downfall, which has already been mocked to death and back by years of YouTube parodies and so only adds to making the humour feel outdated and underdone. Even the technical side of things does little to impress beyond being merely competent - how can a climatic space battle involving zeppelins and giant lasers be so uninteresting to watch? I guess your appreciation for this movie may be determined by your tolerance for wacky B-movie shenanigans and their being given a shiny surface by a modern production, but it's hard not to feel like filmmakers rooting a film this much in post-modern irony are using it as a defence mechanism to hide the fact that, despite the fact that Iron Sky is fundamentally a parody, it's not a remotely good parody.

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#295 - Bride of Re-Animator
Brian Yuzna, 1989

A scientist continues to work on his formula for bringing the dead back to life.

I think it says a lot about what kind of movie Bride of Re-Animator is when I decide to use the poster for the review's image because all the screencaps that turned up when I typed the title into Google Images were probably a little too gory to really showcase here. Stuart Gordon did not return to direct the sequel - instead, that duty falls to Re-Animator alumnus Brian Yuzna, directing his second film after the darkly comical body horror of Society. While Society ultimately looked like the work of a low-rent David Cronenberg wannabe, it had a weird charm that elevated it above its station. Bride of Re-Animator, on the other hand, may bear the name of a similarly cultish horror-comedy, but it struggles to live up to that name.

(Note: unmarked spoilers for the first movie ahead.) Following on from the events of the first film, doctors Dan Cain and Herbert West (whose survival of the previous film's ending is never explained or questioned) are still trying to test out West's re-animation formula. This eventually leads to them giving up on re-animating whole corpses and instead trying to build a Frankenstein's monster out of spare body parts, which is naturally complicated by Cain being obsessed with recreating his dead love interest from the last movie (spoiler), the return of the evil disembodied head from the last movie (another spoiler), and also a vengeful detective snooping around in their business (not a spoiler, surprisingly). It's all a flimsy plot designed to string together 90 minutes of macabre horror-comedy that, though it might actually outdo its predecessor in terms of grossness and ambition, sacrifices a lot of the charm that the original held because of just how poor its plot and characterisation end up being. Even then, it still feels oddly unoriginal - there's at least one scene involving a bunch of severed fingers tied together and running around that feels way too much like a knock-off of the possessed hand from Evil Dead II (and it's not the only scene involving violent disembodied body parts, not by a long shot), to say nothing of instances where it rips itself off (re-animating a dead cat in the last movie becomes re-animating a dead dog in this movie - and with its missing paw replaced with a human hand, no less). Not even some of the goofier-looking effects - a disembodied head getting around by using bat wings that are grafted onto its sides? Really? - are enough to raise even the slightest snort of laughter. Only really worth a look if you really liked the original (I liked it, but not enough to guarantee that I would tolerate much of this) or just enjoy ludicrously disgusting Z-grade horror movies in general - otherwise, stay far, far away.

Iron Sky was one of those film I really wanted to like and when compared to most neosploitation, I do, but I probably rate a box or so higher than you do. Considering how much I like exploitation, that's a lot lower than it should be.

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I doubt I'll ever watch any of the films on this page. for the effort though.
Not even Fury Road? (The others I most definitely understand.)

#283 - Rush
Ron Howard, 2013

Based on a true story about the rivalry between two Formula One drivers - England's James Hunt and Germany's Niki Lauda.

I like this movie but then I am F1 tragic
Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.

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#296 - Three Days of the Condor
Sydney Pollack, 1975

A researcher for a branch of the CIA discovers that all his co-workers have been murdered, so he goes on the run in order to uncover the truth behind what happened to them.

Even if I were to disregard just what other kinds of thrillers were coming out of Hollywood around the same time period, Three Days of the Condor still feels like a decidedly average example of one. It's got a decent enough conspiracy premise, with its bookish protagonist (Robert Redford) being plunged headfirst into a world of murder and intrigue as he tries to evade a coldly European contract killer (Max von Sydow) while also dragging an innocent bystander (Faye Dunaway) into the mix. It's shot through with the usual '70s vibe - an appropriately funky yet sparingly used soundtrack, grainy cinematography, Redford, etc. Of course, the talent on both sides of the camera isn't enough to carry a film that ultimately feels rather pedestrian, especially in comparison to other films of its ilk from the same period. It's compelling enough, sure, but still feels weirdly hollow and not by design.

To be fair, there are good moments here and there - a protracted hand-to-hand fight between Redford and a would-be assassin in the middle of Dunaway's apartment, von Sydow making for a nicely villainous presence, certain scenes surrounding the ultimate reveal (and the ending, of course) - but they are spread fairly thin over the course of two hours. Redford and Dunaway are good actors and have a fairly decent chemistry between them when things are tense and paranoid, but I have trouble buying the sudden romantic development between them, even if it is soaked in standard '70s pessimism. Three Days of the Condor is far from the worst movie of its ilk, but it's hard not to feel like it hasn't aged all that well compared to its contemporaries.

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#297 - Young Adult
Jason Reitman, 2011

An author working on a young adult series heads to her hometown with the intention of pursuing her old high school sweetheart, who is now a married father.

Given how much I didn't care for Juno, it does seem surprising that I would even think about watching the second collaboration between director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody. Young Adult isn't that much of a step up, but at the very least it's a step up, and that's probably due to its very even-handed portrayal of its extremely difficult protagonist (Charlize Theron). Theron's character is an emotionally immature bachelorette whose extremely unfulfilling life in the big city (complete with publishers wondering where her next book is coming from) has also made her an alcoholic trainwreck, so of course she jumps at the chance to make an ill-advised return to the small town she originated from with some loose plan to seduce her ex-boyfriend (Patrick Wilson), who is now married and the father of a newborn baby. While in town, she strikes up an odd rapport with a dumpy former classmate (Patton Oswalt), who acts as a snarky foil to Theron's misguided plan to win back Wilson.

Unfortunately, Young Adult doesn't do anything especially remarkable to distinguish itself from a lot of other small-town quasi-independent dramedies. Theron delivers a good performance as an extremely flawed and unlikeable thirty-something whose refusal to let go of her past is tempered by a disdain for the various other characters she runs into, yet she never quite loses an audience's sympathy (especially with the inevitably sad reveal towards the end). Other performances are generally by-the-numbers, though Oswalt is notable as a nerdy loser who at least has some degree of acceptance about his own situation. The film also wins points over Juno for not being especially obnoxious in its depiction of the characters' various quirks, even if it does run through its fair share of clichés in the process (such as Theron's additions to her unfinished novel serving as a convenient device for narrating her own feelings about the film's plot). Young Adult does have enough quality to it so that it doesn't seem like a waste of time, but it still doesn't seem like it does all it can do with its fairly engaging premise.

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I don't know how anyone can write a review of Trance, and fail to mention Dawson's shaved box.

Anyway, you can't fail at what you don't try to do.

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#298 - The Maltese Falcon
John Huston, 1941

A detective starts working a case that gets his partner killed and involves a search for an elusive artifact.

While it's probably not the best of the classic Hollywood noir films, The Maltese Falcon is definitely up there. I'm still a little behind on the classics, especially those involving the laconic Humphrey Bogart as a detective protagonist (I think I'm about due for a re-watch of The Big Sleep at some point), but this is still worth watching regardless. With his worn-out features and demeanour, Bogart lead a solid cast of characters (with memorable turns by familiar faces such as Peter Lorre and Elisha Cook Jr. as a pair of low-level crooks who are also on the hunt for the eponymous treasure), frequently coming to blows with male characters or making moves on female characters. The no-nonsense direction from John Huston also makes for the perfect fit for this hard-boiled story.

Though you can pick apart how many of the usual noir tropes pop up here in one form of another, it's all part of the ride as Bogart grumbles his way through a mystery where he is often in charge through either physical dominance or street-smart shrewdness or both, though there are instances where he is outwitted or overpowered just enough to stop him from being invincible and therefore boring. It may not be the greatest detective movie ever made, but it's definitely essential for anyone with even a passing interest in the genre.

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#299 - Open Range
Kevin Costner, 2003

A former lawman turned cattle rancher has the simple cattle-driving operation he's involved in be threatened by a corrupt land baron and his cronies.

People have been calling Westerns a more or less defunct genre for the past few decades, even though there are a few films scattered here and there that manage to win critical and/or commercial acclaim, even those that may not quite qualify due to abandoning the film's Wild West setting for either a different location or era or both. Open Range is a pretty unapologetic throwback to classic Wild West films, which is perhaps a bit unsurprising considering that is directed by and starring none other than Kevin Costner. As a result, Open Range doesn't exactly do anything too original or particularly in-depth when it comes to developing its characters and plot - Costner plays one of a group of honest cattle ranchers (led by Robert Duvall, who is good as always) who are drawn to a small frontier town that is effectively ruled by Michael Gambon's callous land baron and the various henchmen under his employ. Events conspire to strand Costner and Duvall in town and ratchet up the tension between them and Gambon, inevitably culminating in a climatic shoot-out. Also, there is a romantic sub-plot involving Costner and a doctor's assistant (Annette Bening), because of course there is.

What Open Range does well is take a basic but dependable Western narrative and give it a polish with 21st-century filmmaking. It does feel an awful lot like a film taking a while to build up to its climax, filling out its town with a fairly standard bunch of characters while giving both Costner and Duvall complicated back-stories so as to give their white-hat characters some depth (the black-hats are afforded no such complexity, of course). It's reasonably well-shot and has a serviceable background score, plus it's worth the build-up just to get to the third act, which does feature some solid Western action. While it's too uneven to be truly great, it's definitely worth a viewing if you want a good Western.

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#300 - 300: Rise of an Empire
Noam Murro, 2014

Around the same time as the events of 300, an Athenian general wages his own campaign against the Persian forces.

When I first saw 300, I was a seventeen-year-old boy who liked violent action movies - despite that, I didn't feel any great affection for it and nowadays I tend to think of it as an extremely trite exercise in style over substance (with the style not even being good enough to make the film work even as flashy action fluff), and this was coming from the same teenager who liked the hell out of Sin City. Now it's almost a decade later and, because I'm the type of clever little so-and-so who would make sure that Room 237 would be the 237th film I watched this year, of course I would commemorate reaching 300 films with another extremely unnecessary years-too-late follow-up to a hit film based on a Frank Miller comic book that also happens to feature Eva Green as a seductive villain. What are the odds?

Whatever problems I had with the original film, in Rise of an Empire they are not just repeated but exacerbated - and that's when it's not adding new problems. This film covers a greater time period in telling its story as it tells a story that occurs before, during, and after the events of 300. In addition, it also delves into the back-stories of both original villain Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and newcomer Artemisia (Green), which undermines the film severely considering how poorly developed our supposed heroes are. Athenian general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) naturally comes across as a very poor and charisma-free imitation of King Leonidas, while the only members of his crew who stand out in any way also happen to be a father-and-son team just like in the original. They also bring back Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) and Dilios (David Wenham) from the original, though they don't have much bearing on the plot when all is said and done. Out of all these performances, Green is definitely the one who provides the best performance due to her showcasing a lot of venom and physicality, but as I wrote in the last paragraph, it's still awfully close to the character she played in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (or vice versa - doesn't really matter, though).

Leaving aside the various problems with characterisation (even in minor cases such as the fact that the Persian character who trains Artemisia to be a powerful warrior is also the same one who derides Queen Gorgo for daring to speak up during a predominantly male diplomatic meeting in the first film), the film barely delivers anything of worth in terms of visuals, and for a film that relies on style-over-substance, that's a handicap. It does define itself in opposition to its predecessor by swapping out warm colours for cool colours (right down to having the Athenian characters wear blue capes to differentiate them from the Spartans and their red capes) and having the battles take place on board ships for the most part instead of a single choke-point should offer some variety and a grander scale for the action. Unfortunately, it uses up a lot of the same tricks as the first film - considering how the years have upped the ante in terms of what action movies and special effects can offer, it's still a shame that Rise of an Empire doesn't bring anything particularly exciting to the table beyond more cartoonish hack-n'-slash bloodshed with the occasional explosion or ship-sinking. That's without getting started on the writing, which I know should not be a primary consideration when it comes to a movie like this but it's an especially flimsy expansion on its source that comes across like some sort of fill-in-the-gaps writing exercise where many nods to the original film feel forced and worthless - and it's apparently based on a yet-to-be-released comic penned by Miller himself. If this is what the film is like, maybe that comic should stay unreleased.

Personally I enjoyed the first one, but the sequel is indeed absolute garbage. I hated it, and it was a stupid plan in the first place to make sequel to a film that relied so much on a very destinctive visual style, which would then just be repeated over and over in the sequel. Awful.