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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Movie recommendations

I will periodically add to this and make suggestions to expand your horizons in your own genres of interest and beyond (hopefully!) Feel free to suggest movies too.


Animated


When the Wind Blows A charming retired couple in the English countryside are ready to pull up their bootstraps in preparation for yet another war, but a nuclear bomb dropped on London is a far cry from the war they lived through in their youth. Written by Raymond Briggs, an amazing children's and adult author, and based on his graphic novel of the same title. The characters are instantly likable with the wife's eternal patience for her husband's over-enthusiasm and the husband with his delightful malapropisms.





Monster House - A bit creepy for some kids, it's really more of an animator's display of muscle flexing than complex story-telling, though I felt the plot was entertaining enough that I can honestly say I enjoyed it. It tells of a mean old man and his equally mean old house and the mystery that lies at its depths.





Spirited Away - The world never seems to tire of pre-adolescent escapism (Alice in Wonderland, The Labyrinth, MirrorMask etc) and this is a prime example of the medium. Little Chihiro is led into a bizarre world, an alternate reality hidden in the suburbs of a Japanese town. As with Lewis Carrol's tale, a lot of the character hold no hidden depths of meaning and are just there to provide a help or hindrance for our leading lady, and all the while thoroughly entertaining the audience.


Le Roi Et L'Oiseau - Also known as The King and the Mockingbird. I owned a dubbed version when I was a child, and so my recollections are dim, though I was aware that there were political implications that I was too young to understand. All I knew was that the animations was absolutely stunning, the fairytale characters, albeit 2 dimensional (no pun intended) were incredibly appealing, and the obvious contrast between the greed and selfishness of the king and the poverty and kind-heartedness of the downtrodden citizens made for an exciting powder-keg setting. The film's production began in 1952 but was unfinished until 1980, and so the characters still bear a 50s look to them which only adds to the charm.


Drama

Fire- Set in India where it is common for extended family to live in the same house, a new bride and her sister-in-law both find their marriages to be loveless disappointments. One is bound to a man who loves another and the other has proven herself to be infertile and thus her husband sees no need to make any further attempts and adopts a life of chastity. The two women seek companionship in each other and in turn find intimacy, passion, and love. The nature of their love caused outrage upon the movie's release in India and riots led to the damage of movie theatres. It's a beautiful love story that just happens to take place between two women.

Brief Encounter- A beautiful depiction of a short lived affair and the thrill of the moment. It's delicate handling of their reluctant growing attachment to each other is constantly overshadowed by the fact that right from the start you know their love is doomed. The ending thoroughly convinced me of Noel Coward's grasp of real humanity and the reality that confines us in a way I thought only possible from Shakespeare.




Gentleman's Agreement- An intriguing look into anti-Semitism in America. I was especially curious to see it because it was made in 1947. It's been a while since I've seen it, but I watched it when I was going through my "controversial for its day" phase.









I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang- One of my favorite "controversial for its day" films dating back to 1932. A man is wrongly accused and convicted of armed robbery and becomes the prime example of a man in the wrong place at the wrong time. A victim of circumstance, society, inept justice and penal system, it was a far cry from the usually clear cut presentation of bad things happening to bad guys who deserved it. If the ending doesn't cut right into you, I'd check my pulse if I were you.


Fury - Spencer Tracy is a man wrongfully accused of murder and is attacked by a ruthless mob and presumed killed. In a very un-Hollywood way, he holds quite an horrific grudge.

American History X- Edward Norton is one of those actors who exudes "cool" in just about every role he plays. In American History X, he's an ex-neo-Nazi who wants to stop his little brother from making the same mistakes he made. Avery Brooks makes an appearance with his fantastic voice as a school principal, though didn't get the opportunity to show off his great acting skills. Fairuza Balk (bet the Iranian people are proud of her!) looked quite horrifying in more ways than one, and Stacy Keach






Leon: The Professional- It's been named Leon, it's been named The Professional, it's been both. Either way, it stars my favorite Frenchman Jean Reno as a professional hit-man who becomes the unlikely guardian of an orphaned 12 year old Natalie Portman. Luc Besson depicts their Lolita-inspired relationship tastefully, even in its original European incarnation. The little character quirks of the two protagonists are charming and Gary Oldman fulfills his audience's expectations of the crazy, coked-up mobster we all know him capable of. I put this under "drama" though it certainly has elements of comedy and action too.

Lola Rennt- Or Run Lola Run, as it is known in English explores the realms of "what if" in one single day in the life of Lola, as played by Franka Potente. Her boyfriend needs to come up with a lot of money before he greatly displeases a character of questionable morals and lands himself in scheisse. Different scenarios play out to their unpleasant conclusions betraying the delicate balance of cause and effect in the universe.

V For Vendetta- I don't like to compare movies to the original book version, so I won't. This is one of those films where you could press pause at any point, frame the cell and have a beautiful piece of art to put up on your wall. The concept of a terrorist as being the hero of the story was a little hard for some people to swallow, but why should every movie hero be perfect? Having known a world in which the police are to be feared, the government is aware of your interests and activities through the most annoying (and oppressive) male-gossip, and criticism of the government is unheard of, I was able to appreciate what may appear to be a far-fetched Orwellian future landscape.

Sin City- Another stunning movie based on a graphic novel. Every frame is directly inspired by the original 2 dimensional form and the director, Rodriguez, sacrificed his place in the Director's Guild of America in order to give Frank Miller credit as co-director. They both do a fabulous job of breathing life into the film-noir anti-heroes of the story set against a stunning chiaroscuro, faux-Art Deco backdrop. I was disappointed that Jessica Alba's contract meant that her stripper character in the story never actually shows anything beyond her belly, adding naivete that was a little out of place in such a gritty existence. Yes, that's the reason behind my disappointment.

The Circle - And Iranian movie that indulges the viewers into a peek into the lives of various Iranian women in modern-day Iran (an oxymoron if I ever saw one). I adore the cinematography of the film as it voyeuristically tracks one lady's plight, then another as they unknowingly cross paths, giving us just a taste of each of their existences. As the title suggests, the story comes full circle and the cycle has yet to be broken.

Kwaidan

Vertigo

Dogville- In the midst of the Great Depression, Grace is on the run from gangsters and has found herself in the secluded mountain town of Dogville. Reluctant to harbor an individual who may bring mobsters to their door, the town eventually accepts her presence in exchange for jobs she is to carry out for each of them. As power is certain to corrupt the weak, the town collectively tightens their grip on Grace and abuse their position as guardian and savior enough to make a saint disappointed in humanity.


Comedy

Shaun of the Dead (also could be classed as a horror)- A whopping tribute to Sam Raimi and George A. Romero, this zom-rom-com about a bunch of Brits fighting off a zombie invasion had in-jokes for all the Bruce Campbell-fan nerds like me to laugh at. If you enjoy this, look out for Spaced and Hyperdrive on BBC America. Also, look out for the stars Nick Frost and Simon Pegg as chained up zombies in Land of the Dead, though it was the only part of the movie I was really entertained by.






40 Year-Old Virgin- My favorite thing about this movie is the amount of improvisation on the part of the actors. It's rare for the opportunity to arise, I'm sure, so it's entertaining to see how much fun the actors were really having. I always enjoy seeing something I know the performers genuinely enjoy doing (which is why I struggle to watch Grey's Anatomy, now that I know the cast is miserable). Very little can compare to the "you know how I know you're gay?" exchanges.



Drop Dead Gorgeous- In the light of recent popularity of mockumentaries, Drop Dead Gorgeous is one of the grandmothers of the genre. It toes the boundaries of taste more than a few times, which is almost always something I can appreciate. It takes place in a small town in Minnesota, and I LOVE that accent, so I'm already biased. A camera crew follows the progress of a beauty pageant and exposes a gaudy, chintzy, Middle America in all its glory.


Monty Python's Life of Brian- It may horrify you to know how often Monty Python quotes lend themselves to the moment and have the opportunity to be used in everyday conversation. "It's no body's fault..." is almost invariably followed by "... Not even the Romans'..." While this film may not be as funny as Monty Python's Holy Grail, it was a better made film and delightfully controversial for its time. Brian was born in a stable near that of another rather famous chap named Jesus Christ and is constantly mistaken for a messiah as he tries his best to simply get on with life.
THIS is how I was to remember Graham Chapman... Nailed to a cross and bobbing his head along to "Always Look On The Bright Side of Life."

Monty Python and the Holy Grail- Forget Eric Idle's recent whoring of the movie in the form of the musical Spamalot, let's talk briefly about the original. Upon arrival in the States, my British-ish accent has solicited more quotes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail than anything else. It got the point that some college guys would greet me with "I'm not dead yet!" or "Tis only a scratch!" and I had to hold my polite smile as best I could. Quoting Monty Python isn't clever and it won't get you any girlfriends, especially those with HUGE tracts of land and fathers who smell like elderberries. They may show disdain by farting in your general direction, and my best advice to you is to RUN AWAY!
I'm suck a freaking nerd.

Amelie - Amelie is another example of the type of film where every frame could be mounted and put on the wall as a piece of artwork. Amelie is a sweet young lady whose view of the world is as delectable as a box of chocolates and whose love of life is infectious. Despite being French, this movie is not depressing! :)




Bubba Ho-tep- Could also be classed as a horror. Another successful graphic novel-turned-movie in my books. The inescapably fantastic Bruce Campbell stars as an aging Elvis lookalike (or is he?) who is doomed to spend his days in a hideous old folks home along with his new friend, John F. Kennedy who claims he was never killed, but kidnapped, surgically altered to appear black and had a small piece of his brain removed and replaced with a bag of sand. A mummy invades their territory and starts killing off the elderly residents one by one and it's up to Elvis and JFK to stop him. Sound ridiculous? It is. Sound fun? It IS! Hail to the king, baby!

Love Actually - Richard Curtis has found his niche writing sweet romantic comedies that actually make me laugh. I'm really not one for those cutesy movies that involve cute women who act all cute and trip over themselves literally in front of their cute crushes and it's all very cute. This is not one of those films, otherwise I never would have sat throught the whole thing. It tells the stories of various people who are experiencing love in various circumstances and in different ways. A few of my colleagues didn't get the whole concept of the movie following one story, then another, but I felt it wasn't that distracting at all.

The Happiness of the Katakuris- Could also be classed as a horror. Or a musical. Yep, it's THAT weird. If you can't handle weird Japanese movies or funny horror movies, don't watch this. I don't get the beginning of the movie other than the fact that it sets the mood for the bizarre content to follow. Once the real story begins, it's pretty easy to pick up on the plot. A rather cheerful Japanese family own a guest house out in the mountains of the Japanese wilderness. Unfortunately, their first client kills himself in his room in a most horrific way, and not wanting their business to fail before its really even begun, the family hides the body. And they do it while singing! Sadly, the charming family has quite the run of bad luck as it appears more of their guests end up dying under bizarre circumstances that the family can't be blamed for in the least. The hammed up acting adds to the charm and I can only imagine how hard it was to film without laughing!

La Vita E Bella

Non-Fiction

The Beauty Academy of Kabul



Musical

Jesus Christ Superstar
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Little Shop of Horrors
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
An American In Paris
South Pacific
My Fair Lady
The Sound of Music
Dancer In the Dark
Cannibal! The Musical
Singing In the Rain
South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.
Reefer Madness The Movie Musical

Horror

Nightwatch
Cello
The Eye
Session 9

Battle Royale

Evil Dead Trilogy

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