27 November 2012

26 Nov - Life of Pi

Life of Pi (2012)
dir. Ang LeeCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Suraj Sharma
Irrfan Khan Slumdog Millionaire (2000)
Gérard Depardieu The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

I went to see Life of Pi in 3D at the for-real movie theater with a fella. We watch a lot of movies together but at $10 a pop (even with a student discount) going to the cinema still seems like a big deal. We saw another movie together...it was Taken 2. Which I think would have been better named, Taken, Too. But no one asks what I think. He didn't even read the book, Life of Pi, I mean, by Yann Martel. I know I read it when it first came out because I still have the hardback copy at home somewhere. Sometimes I'm really disappointed when I choose a book based on the bright colors (plus a tiger) on it's cover, but in this case I was right to choose as I did. I think I read it twice.

The movie preserved the key elements of the book, but I think lost a little in the streamlining of the plot. While I'm never thrilled about a movie that's more than 2 hours long, I wish some of the parts where Pi's just sitting around were preserved. These are the scenes where we get to feel the thrill of his smallest accomplishments, learning to fish, using the solar still, when he catches a turtle. Without these trials, Pi's survival is punctuated only by fortuitous interventions, the school of flying fish, the carnivorous island, etc.

01 August 2012

1 Aug - "The supermodels, Willy? That's all they are. Bottled promise."

Beautiful Girls (1996)
dir. Ted Demme (The Ref, 1994)

Matt Dillon (There's Something About Mary, 1998)
Noah Emmerich (The Truman Show, 1998)
Annabeth Gish (Mystic Pizza, 1988)
Lauren Holly (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, 1993)
Timothy Hutton (Serious Moonlight, 2009)
Rosie O'Donnell (A League of Their Own, 1992)
Max Perlich (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, 1986)
Martha Plimpton (The Goonies, 1985)
Natalie Portman (The Professional, 1994)
Michael Rapaport (True Romance, 1993)
Mira Sorvino (Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, 1997)
Uma Thurman (Les Miserables, 1998)
Pruitt Taylor Vince (JFK, 1991)
Sam Robards (American Beauty, 1999)
David Arquette (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 1992)
Adam LeFevre (Jungle 2 Jungle, 1997)
John Carroll Lynch (Fargo, 1996)

Beautiful Girls is one of those movies about High School friends being unable to cope with the reality of adulthood. You can put it on the shelf next to The Big Chill and St. Elmo's Fire. Uniting the friends is an inability to manage their romantic relationships. There are two rational, self-aware characters in this movie, one is Vera, the bartender's cousin from Chicago, played by Uma Thurman. The other is the sassy friend, played by Rosie O'Donnell. The men seem to excuse their own inability to commit to their respective womenfolk by the fact they haven't yet found "the perfect woman" the sassy friend scolds them for chasing a fantasy, and says that they would get bored of their imaginary supermodels even if they ever managed to find them. That's true enough, their girls may dress like New Englanders in the '90s, but they're all played by very attractive actresses. Uma Thurman's characters I guess is supposed to represent the perfect woman made real. but she's unattainable because she has a boyfriend back in Chicago that is mentioned all of twice. She's cool, does he own thing, and her friendly gestures are always misinterpreted as permission for a romantic advancement. She turns all the guys down.

So what's the point? It would seem that based on this movie, men are children and women are adults that must put up with their ridiculous behavior. That's a silly idea.

27 May 2012

27 May - "Always count your bullets, senoritas"

Bandidas (2006)
dir. Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg

Penelope Cruz (All the Pretty Horses, 2000)
Salma Hayek (Desperado, 1995)
Steve Zahn (That Thing You Do! 1996)
Dwight Yoakam (Wedding Crashers, 2005)
Sam Shepard (Black Hawk Down, 2001)
Gary Carlos Cervantes (Scarface, 1983)
Joseph D. Reitman (Lady in the Water, 2006)
Daya Fernandez (Minority Report, 2002)

Bandidas is a comedy about two oversexualized Mexican women, one who is from a wealthy family and knows about archery and horseback riding and etiquette (Hayak), and one who is from a poor family and is rough-and-tumble (Cruz). At first they hate each other because Hayak is snooty and Cruz is ill-mannered, but when a land-baron has both of their fathers murdered, they team up and become friends instead. Steve Zahn plays a nerdy detective and although the ladies engage in a rivalry for his attention, he ends up with a white woman from the good ol' U.S.A. instead. This was an amusing movie, but it was also racist and sexist and it's important to acknowledge that sometimes we find ourselves amused for all of the wrong reasons.

17 May 2012

2 April - "You are the epitome of everything I have ever looked for in another human being."

Chasing Amy (1997)
dir. Kevin Smith -Mallrats (1995)

Ethan Suplee Desert Blue (1998)
Ben Affleck - Dazed and Confused (1993)
Casey Affleck - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Jason Lee - Dogma (1999)
Dwight Ewell - Party Girl (1995)
Joey Lauren Adams - Mallrats (1995)
Guinevere Turner - American Psycho (2000)
Carmen Llywelyn - Never Been Kissed (1999)
Matt Damon - Mystic Pizza (1988)
Welker White - Dead Poets Society (1989)
Ernest O'Donnell - Clerks. (1994)
Brian O'Halloran - Clerks II (2006)

I'm almost positive that this is my second-favorite Kevin Smith movie (Clerks - obviously). It's about comic book artist Holden (Ben Affleck) who falls in love with fellow comic book artist Alyssa and is undetered by the fact that she is homosexual. With perseverance, he succeeds in winning her heart, surprise! The catch comes when he learns more about the sexual misdeeds of her past, and is unable to accept her for her past. The irony is not lost on the supporting characters, who altogether scold Holden for rejecting the woman he loved because he couldn't condone the person she had been, even though she had completely changed herself to be with him.

The difficult question that always sticks with me after I watch this movie is whether Holden is supposed to be a villain or not. Of course you could say that in true Kevin Smith form there aren't any real villains (except in Dogma) but only these schlubby man-children trying to establish a coherent purpose as they bumble through their mundane lives punctuated only by comic book references and the recollections of women they've banged in the past (but rarely turn up in the course of the movie-story itself). But I repeat the question: is Holden an unlikely hero for winning Alyssa's heart and then tragically losing it, or is he a villain for discarding her hard-won affection?

16 May 2012

1 April - "That wasn't one of my first instincts "

Law Abiding Citizen (2009)
dir. F. Gary Gray

Jamie Foxx - Toys (1992)
Garard Butler - The Ugly Truth (2009)
Colm Meaney - The Commitments (1991)
Bruce McGill - Elizabethtown (2005)
Leslie Bibb - Iron Man 2 (2010)
Michael Irby - Flightplan (2005)
Gregory Itzin - Adaptation. (2002)
Regina Hall - Danika (2006)
Christian Stolte - Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Annie Corley - The Cider House Rules (1999)
Richard Portnow - Kindergarten Cop (1990)
Viola Davis - The Help (2011)
Michael Kelly - Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009)
Dan Bittner - Adventureland (2009)
Brooke Stacy Mills - Hairspray (1988)
Brian Anthony Wilson - The Happening (2008)

I didn't like this movie at all. I don't even have anything good to say about it. It's about a guy who's wife and daughter are murdered, but through legal whateverness one of the guys who did it gets a light sentence because he cooperated with the rest of the investigation. The Gerard Butler character is so pissed off that he goes totally batshit crazy and orchestrates a complicated scheme to get back at the justice system. What I particularly dislike about this movie is not even the ambiguous morality, its the lack of a clear division between anti-hero and antagonist. My friend Cora clearly was in the anti-hero camp. She said that the point of the movie was to figure out how Gerard Butler was achieving these heinous murder-plots. I thought that was horrible to watch because most of the people that Butler's character killed were only tangentially related to the incident which pissed him off so much in the first place. He wasn't fighting for anything, and that made him a bad protagonist to root for. On the other hand, he makes a fatal error in the end and blows up, making Jamie Foxx the "winner" of the story and Butler the "loser." But even in that perspective I don't think any clear statement about the evils of either the justice system or the evils of vigilantism was made. And the grrrwehatecorruptlawyers trope induced in my the repulsive horror of what those ideas mean to people who really believe in them. Batman is pretty cool, but in the real world I don't condone vigilantes.You can't just go around killing people. Do I even have to say that?

The absence of a conflict resolution (was there even a conflict to begin with?) made me feel like I had only seen half of a movie. This wasn't a story, it was just a bunch of stuff that happens. I've seen movies about dudes with misdirected anger before, but Gerard Butler lacked the compelling interior logic of a character like Hannibal Lector. I say, if you're going to make an anti-hero, go all the way. It works for Dexter. But if you're going to waffle in-between you aren't going to accomplish anything meaningful.

12 May 2012

26 March - "Fancy me a heroine"

The African Queen (1951)
dir. John Huston (The Unforgiven, 1960)

Humphrey Bogart - The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Katharine Hepburn - Little Women (1933)
Peter Bull - Dr. Dolittle (1967)

The African Queen is set in Africa during WW1. When Germans take over a village where a missionary and his sister are staying, the missionary dies of fever and despair and his sister, Rose, is left on her own to find a way to survive and get home. She teams up with Bogart's lowbrow character Charlie Allnut, but this odd couple ends up having more in common than they thought when Rose develops some spunk and decides that the pair of them need to take their little steamboat (the title character!) to liberate Lake Victoria from a German warship blocking English ships from entering the interior.

09 May 2012

25 Mar - "I still like to laugh, but not at myself."

Don't Bother to Knock (1952)
dir. Roy Ward Baker

Richard Widmark (How the West was Won, 1962)
Marilyn Monroe (River of No Return, 1954)
Elisha Cook, Jr.  (The Great Gatsby, 1949)
Anne Bancroft (Great Expectations, 1998)

Don't Bother to Knock stars Marilyn Monroe as a young woman losing her grip on reality as she babysits the child of hotel guests while being courted by a licentious lout from across the courtyard who soon discovers he's bitten off more than he can chew. The main character delicately treads the line between fantasy and reality, anger and keen sadness. Ultimately, however, this movie isn't really about Monroe's character, it's about a unresolved romance between Jed, an airline pilot with zero attachments, and Lyn Lesley, a lounge singer who wants to be more than his sometimes fling. As Jed's courtship of Monroe's unstable character turns dark, the subsequent character growth is what allows him to return to Lyn with his whole heart after the alarming climax.

04 May 2012

4 May - "It doesn't hate or even care. It just happens"

Doomsday (2008)
dir. Neil Marshall - The Descent (2005)

Jason Cope - District 9 (2009)
Jeremy Crutchley - The Poseidon Adventure (TV 2005)
Rhona Mitra - Sweet Home Alabama (2002)
Bob Hoskins - Hook (1991)
Alexander Siddig - Reign of Fire (2002)
David O'Hara - Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
Adrian Lester - Case 39 (2009)
Nora-Jane Noone - Ella Enchanted (2004)
Malcolm McDowell - Easy A (2010)

Doomsday was an odd movie about a quarantined section of Great Britain that had been walled off because of some sort of virus, and then a special-ops team has to go in there to figure out why people are still alive in there after years and years. As is to be expected, without law, order, and electricity, society devolves into a tribal-esque, post-punk, Mad-maxy mess of biker gangs. I watched this back in May and I don't even remember what the essential conflict was, let alone how it was resolved. Verdict= unmemorable.

01 May 2012

1 May: "Do you have a name honey? Good, because we already picked one for you"

Burning Palms (2010)
dir. Christopher Landon

Rosamund Pike - Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Dylan McDermott - The Mistress of Spices (2005)
Shannen Doherty - Girl Just Wanna Have Fun (1985)
Zoe Saldana - Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Nick Stahl - Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
Robert Hoffman - She's the Man (2006)
Paz Vega - Sex and Lucia (2001)
Lake Bell - It's Complicated (2009)
Adriana Barraza - Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Victoria Patenaude - The Last Exorcism (2010)
Jason Brooks - Star Trek (2009)
Victor Webster - Must Love Dogs (2005)
Kate Albrecht - Princess Diaries 2: A Royal Engagement (2004)
Cici Lau - Legally Blonde (2001)
Colleen Camp - Valley Girl (1983)
Tom Wright - Troop Beverley Hills (1989)
Dimitri Diatchenko - G.I. Jane (1997)
Jon Polito - Highlander (1986)

A disturbing collection of cinema vignettes set in L.A. Most of the themes-drug abuse, illicit sexuality, narcissism and apathy-remind of a Brett Easton Ellis novel. However, it doesn't quite achieve the put-togetherness of a Grand Hotel-style movie (that's when there's a bunch of intersecting storylines) because apart from two stories featuring Shannon Dougherty as a psychiatrist with a terrible accent, there is zero overlap in the plotlines. Overall, Burning Palms was fun to watch in a i don't want to admit that i'm fascinated sort of way, because the humor was alarmingly dark and totally sick. I probably won't watch it again but I imagine that I'll bring it up in casual conversation fairly often.

23 March 2012

23 Mar- "Whatever you do don't let them starve"

The Hunger Games (2012)
dir. Gary Ross - Pleasantville (1998)

Stanley Tucci - Easy A (2010)
Wes Bentley - American Beauty (1999)
Jennifer Lawrence - The Burning Plain (2008)
Elizabeth Banks - Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)
Sandra Ellis Lafferty - Walk the Line (2005)
Paula Malcomson - The Green Mile (1999)
Rhoda Griffis - Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)
Josh Hutcherson - Howl's Moving Castle, voice (2004)
Anthony Reynolds - Down in the Valley (2005)
Woody Harrelson - Zombieland (2009)
Toby Jones - Les Miserables (1998)
Lenny Kravitz - Precious (2009)
Donald Sutherland - Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

Of course, everyone who's anyone who gives a shit has already seen The Hunger Games, but I was there on opening night, in the fifth row, craning my neck upwards to watch the story unfold. I liked it, I enjoyed it. I thought it was visually appealing, but I also think it could have been better. Here's why:

1) Adaption of a book based on a first person perspective
The book is told from Katniss's perspective, and the readers are limited in our understanding of her world by her physical limitations. For this reason, we can't really understand what goes on in the minds of the other tributes, for example, and we can't see the reactions of the audience in Panem. The medium of film is almost always in third person perspective (with the exception of found-footage based movies). That means we lose Katniss's inner dialogue, which is tough because she isn't a very verbal character, but it also means we are able to see a lot of the world than Katniss is. I don't think the filmmakers took advantage of that strength. The other tributes were irritatingly flat characters. In the book five out of the twelve were portrayed largely as mindless killers, but that doesn't mean the filmmakers couldn't show them as being more rounded out. Which brings me to the next point.

2) Uncreative storyboarding
The point of the Hunger Games is that they are televised for the people of Panem. Since the book was from Katniss's perspective, we didn't get to see how she was portrayed on film. But this time it's in a movie and we are the audience. I would have liked to see some more creative changes in perspective that could drawn the audience into the story-world and potentially make the movie a lot more meaningful. After all, it's supposed to be a critique of the brutality of watching other people suffer. Let's make the audience feel a little less safe and a little more culpable.

3) Josh Hutcherson
How about we just get one of those big Easter Island heads to play Peeta?

22 March 2012

22 Mar- "I do not call myself subject to much at all"

The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
dir. Michael Mann (Heat, 1995)

Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood, 2007)
Madeleine Stowe (Bad Girls, 1994)
Russell Means (Pocahontas (voice), 1995)
Wes Studi (Dances With Wolves, 1995)
Steven Waddington (Sleepy Hollow, 1999)
Jodhi May (The Scarlet Letter (voice), 1995)
Eric Schweig (The Scarlet Letter, 1995)
Pete Postlethwaite (James and the Giant Peach, 1996)
Terry Kinney (Save the Last Dance, 2001)
Patrice Chereau (Time of the Wolf, 2003)
Dylan Baker (Love Potion No. 9, 1992)
Mark Joy (Pecker, 1998)
Tim Hopper (School of Rock, 2003)
Jared Harris (Far and Away, 1992)
Sebastian Roche (Beowulf, 2007)
Colm Meaney (Law Abiding Citizen, 2009)
David Schofield (An American Werewolf in London, 1981)

The Last of the Mohicans is easily one of my top ten favorites movies. Unfortunately, it's hard to make other people believe how awesome it is because the first twenty minutes are notoriously slow and usually folks get bored before they become enthralled in the awesomeness. Here are the reasons why I like this movie:
1) Chingachgook's awesome war club
2) Daniel Day Lewis placing emphasis on unusual syllables (he's "beholden to none")
3) Wes Studi as Magua, probably one of the best characters in film history
4) The score, by Trevor Jones

I've also read the book, but James Fenimore Cooper. I'm always interested in how books are adapted into screenplays, what stays in, what gets cut, what's changed, how the perspective moves from first person to third person. In the book, for example, the heroine Cora doesn't pair off with Hawkeye, Daniel Day-Lewis's character, she marries Duncan, the English captain she arrived in the colonies with. But in the movie Duncan sacrifices himself to save Hawkeye, Cora and Alice, which is good, because from a modern perspective Hawkeye's character is way hotter and deserves makeouts.

I've always liked Wes Studi. Magua, as a character, is one of the best. Magua first appears as an Iroquois scout for the English, but after he betrays Duncan's unit it's revealed that he was actually a Huron captive who was adopted by the Iroquois. His anger at having lost his Huron family due to the actions of Colonel Monroe have set him on a vendetta to avenge himself. He says that he wants to kill Colonel Monroe's daughters in front of him, "so that he knows his seed as been wiped out forever" and then cut out and eat Monroe's heart. But at the end, when Alice is preparing to leap off a cliff instead of going as Magua's captive, he tries to stop her. And it's not that I think it's odd that he had a change of heart, but that I think that's a very human response. It's different, when you're at war and filled with anger and murdering is almost normal, and afterwards, when the fighting is done and the resolution has been made and someone's about to die is very needless and tragic. Nobody wants that to happen. Magua: he's kind of a tragic character.

14 March 2012

14 March- "You lost your arms in battle! But you grew some nice boobs."

Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)
dir. Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles, 1974)

Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride, 1987)
Richard Lewis (Leaving las Vegas, 1995)
Roger Rees (A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1999)
Amy Yasbeck (Pretty Woman, 1990)
Dave Chappelle (You've Got Mail, 1998)
Issac Hayes (Dr. Dolittle 2 (voice), 2001)
Megan Cavenagh (A League of their Own, 1992)
Eric Allan Kramer (True Romance, 1993)
Tracey Ullman (I Could Never be Your Woman, 2007)
Chuck McCann (Dracula: Dead and Loving It, 1995)
Brian George (Blind Date, 1987)
Herman Poppe (Pale Rider, 1985)
Patrick Stewart (Gnomeo & Juliet (voice), 2011)
Dom Deluise (The Muppet Movie, 1979)
Mel Brooks (Young Frankenstein (voice), 1974)
Dick Van Patten (Spaceballs, 1987)
Clement von Franckenstein (Just Married, 2003)
Tyce Diorio (Epic Movie, 2007)

I watched this with the little brother last time I visited the fam'ly in Philly. He had never seen it before, can you believe it! There's a lot to enjoy about this delightful comedy, but don't forget that some of the chastity-belt-centric jokes may go over a 9-year old's head.

12 March 2012

12 March - "You are about to change someone's life forever"

Tomorrow, When the War Began (2010)
dir. Stuart Beattie

Caitlin Stasey
Rachel Hurd-Wood (Peter Pan, 2003)
Lincoln Lewis (Aquamarine, 2006)
Deniz Akdeniz
Phoebe Tonkin

Here's one of the first new, truly fun and enjoyable movies I've seen in a while. Think of it sort of like an Australian Red Dawn, although apparently it's based on a book which was like a bestseller or something. Anyway, a bunch of teenage archetypes: The Princess, the criminal, the jock... all go camping one weekend only to discover upon their return that their home town of Wirrawee has been occupied by enemy combatants! So obviously they go Wolverine-style vigilante and learn a lot about themselves and each other in the process.

27 February 2012

27 Feb - "With great power comes greater responsibility"

Teen Wolf (1985)
dir. Rod Daniel (Home Alone 4, TV 2002)

Michael J. Fox (Mars Attacks!, 1996)
James Hampton (Sling Blade, 1996)
Jerry Levine (Wag the Dog, 1997)
Mark Holton (A League of their Own, 1992)
Doug Savant (Godzilla, 1998)
Gregory Itzin (Adaptation., 2002)

So apparently that corny line from Spiderman was lifted from Teen Wolf? Fair enough, I suppose.Teen Wolf is one of those classic comedies that I really felt obligated to watch, and it was cute, and funny, and totally not like anything Twilighty at all. Essentially, it was your basic nerd-coming-into-his-own-style movie, with the twist being that Michael J. finds out that he's a werewolf instead of getting some other kind of makeover or pretending to be something he's not. The catch, though, is that the other kids in high school like the Wolf-guy better than they liked the original dweeb, but even then it's sort of in an exoticizing-the-other sort of way. They like the Wolf, but they don't want to really get to know the person. The teenaged protagonist finds that he has become an emblem, and that's alienating.

In different ways, I think most people learn at some time in their life that the price of popularity is to allow the most vulnerable parts of yourself to recede into an indeterminate location. Teen Wolf literally hides behind a mask of fur and claws, and in so doing he gains acceptance. People like him. He's stronger and faster and never appears to be afraid, but the person on the inside is still there, just hidden. But this is a false happiness. They like you for who you are on the outside but recoil from the weak and ugly thing that lies at the core. You gotta be true to you, that's the moral of the story today.

26 February 2012

26 Feb - "When I became a man, I put away childish things"

Hackers (1995)
dir. Iain Softley (K-PAX, 2001)

Jonny Lee Miller (Mansfield Park, 1999)
Angelina Jolie (Mojave Moon, 1996)
Jesse Bradford (Romeo + Juliet, 1996)
Matthew Lillard (Scream, 1996)
Laurence Mason (True Romance, 1996)
Renoly Santiago (Con Air, 1997)
Fisher Stevens (Short Circuit, 1986)
Alberta Watson (The Prince and Me, 2004)
Peter Y. Kim (Sex and the City, 2008)
Lorraine Bracco (Goodfellas, 1990)
Wendell Pierce (It Could Happen to You, 1994)
Michael Gaston (Double Jeopardy, 1999)

When my brother and I first saw The Matrix, he explained to me it's mass appeal. He said it was about computer nerds who were also super cool and totally badass. They have martial arts skills and guns and somehow all that doesn't interfere with the hours and hours they must spend coding and hacking and whatever. Hackers is the same deal. By any standard of reality, these guys ought to be mega-nerds, but instead thet're all sub-culturey and cool. This is even more obnoxious because while Angelina can pull off a convincing cyber-punk, the male lead looked like a high-school geek, and so I was definitely not buying the sexual tension. In conclusion, Hackers: indicative of the mid-90s decline in the quality of teenager movies.

24 February 2012

24 Feb - "I came here as a missionary to the Indians. I think the white man will need me more."

River of No Return (1954)
dir. Otto Preminger

Robert Mitchum (Dead Man, 1995)
Marilyn Monroe (The Misfits, 1961)
Rory Calhoun (How to Marry a Millionaire, 1953)

I mentioned before that something funny I've noticed about the cultural diaspora is that older movies are completely unpredictable for me, because none of the same morals are called into action. In this movie Marilyn Monroe plays a down-in-her-luck showgirl named Kay in a gold mining camp, she's engaged with a smooth-looking fella played by Rory Calhoun, and we know he's a scamp because he wins a gold claim in a game of cards. Robert Mitchum plays a considerate father who's recently reunited with his 9-year-old son after the mother's death. Later we learn that father and son were separated because the father shot a man in the back and went to gasp! jail.

Kay and her guy are rafting down the river (of no return) when they run afoul of some rapids and the father fishes them out and gives them shelter on his farm. The treacherous Calhoun steals the farmer's gun and horse and plays to ride on to Saratoga (or wherever) to claim his land. The farmer points out that this is as good as a death sentence because the Indians will kill them all for sure. As a sign of good faith, Kay volunteers to stay behind with the father and son until Clahoun can come back with the goods.

But that's not good enough for Robert Mitchum!! Man, woman, and child take a death-defying trip down the river, narrowing avoiding Indians and rapids at every turn! All the while, Kay is trying to convince the revenge-bent farmer that her guy really isn't all that bad, he's just desperate and desperate times call for desperate measures. The son has to deal with some confusing philosophical quandaries, can good people do bad things for the right reasons?

The end is a little confusing, but no more confusing than a scene where the farmer pins down Kay, struggling, and kisses her forcefully but then it seems like she liked it? I think that sends a bad message to the children.

Here's my favorite song from the movie:

15 February 2012

22 Feb - "I want you to punish me"

A Dangerous Method (2011)
dir. David Cronenberg (Eastern Promises, 2007)

Keira Knightly (Never Let Me Go, 2010)
Viggo Mortensen (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, 2003)
Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class, 2011)
Vincent Cassel (Black Swan, 2010)
Sarah Gadon (Cadet Kelly, 2002)

Last week I invited some of the ladies in my program to go to the movies with me. I was excited because I'm not usually the social event "planner" - there's a lot of responsibility and potential disappointment in that role, even if it's something silly like going to the movies. I was nervous for a while because I waited ten minutes out front and nobody came! But then it turned out they were inside already, so good. Social activity accomplished.

I think I do not like the character of Carl Jung. He was kind of a dick. His relationship with Keira Knightly's character reminds me of a challenging relationship that one of my friends is dealing with. Not with the sadomasichism and spanking (that I know of), but in that he's giving her a lot of grief with pushing and pulling and he says that he cares about her but also that he doesn't want to be with her (or the quintessential avowal of someone truly spineless: he can't be with her). And it pisses me off because behavior like that is truly self-indulgent. You can't have your cake and eat it, too. At the end of the day you have to make a decision, and the sooner you decide the less heartbreak there is all around. That's what I think. Carl Jung: Royal butthead.

14 February 2012

13 Feb - "I believe that one should become a person like other people"

Taxi Driver (1976)
dir. Martin Scorsese (The Departed, 2006)

Peter Boyle (The Santa Clause, 1994)
Albert Brooks (Dr. Dolittle, 1998)
Robert De Niro (Heat, 1995)
Jodie Foster (Freaky Friday, 1976)
Harvey Keitel (From Dusk Till Dawn, 1996)
Harry Northup (The Silence of the Lambs, 1991)
Cybill Shepard
Mary-Pat Green (My Best Friend's Wedding, 1997)

Taxi Driver was a good, if difficult to access, movie. De Niro's character seems disengaged with reality. His inability to see goodness in the world is only matched by his unwillingness to look for it. His only recreational activity is watching pornographic films, and he seeks out the fares that the other taxi drivers are unwilling to pick up. And so when he finally tries to do something normal, go on a date with Cybill Shepard's character, he has nothing of value to share with here, and she is disgusted by him. There is a proverb that says that you have be careful when you choose your enemies, because you will be become them. The climax of the movie is when Travis rescues young prostitute Jodi Foster, succumbing to his own basest instincts perhaps in the hope that one good pure thing can be elevated from the muck and mire that is the city.

13 February 2012

12 Feb - "I've tried to live my life without breaking a single rule"

Les Miserables (1998)
dir. Bille August

Kathleen Byron (Emma, 1996)
Claire Danes (Romeo + Juliet, 1996)
Lennie James (Lost in Space, 1998)
Toby Jones (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (voice), 2002)
Hans Matheson (Sherlock Holmes, 2009)
Liam Neeson (Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (voice), 2010)
Frank O'Sullivan (The Wind that Shakes the Barley, 2006)
Geoffrey Rush (The Warrior's Way, 2010)
Uma Thurman (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, 1990)
Zdenek Vencl (The Beautician and the Beast, 1997)

I never read the book, I never saw the play, so I was pretty excited to see how the plot unfolded! It's great when somehow I manage to get through my life without having the ending spoiled, especially for a story that's so prevalent in pop culture.

One of the first things I thought was that the character of Jaubert was a lot like Lt. Gerard from The Fugitive. That is, both had an inflexible interpretation of the law and little regard for the spirit of justice. Jaubert knows that Jean Valjean is a good person and yet he pursues him even until his death. On the other hand, I might also suggest that Jaubert's definition of a criminal was equally inflexible, the idea that a good person can do a bad thing, or the opposite, is inconceivable to him, even as Jean Valjean proves himself again and again. Lt. Gerard is the same. Even though in his heart he knows that Richard Kimble is innocent, the letter of the law demands that Kimble be captured again. The idea that Kimble might slip through the cracks and manage to live a benign, unremarkable life is intolerable. The thought of it haunts Gerard.

Therefore it was this relationship that was most remarkable to me. Even though there were others that could be remarked upon. The love story was just fluffy, though.

12 February 2012

11 Feb - "as far away from the darkness as we can possibly get"

The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008)
dir. Chris Carter

David Duchovny (Evolution, 2001)
Gillian Anderson (Princess Mononoke (voice), 1997)
Amanda Peet (The Whole Nine Yards, 2000)
Bill Connolly (Pocahontas (voice), 1995)
Mitch Pileggi (X-Files: Fight the Future, 1998)
Xzibit (Hoodwinked! (voice), 2005)
Adam Godly (Love Actually, 2003)
Callum Kieth Rennie (Case 39, 2009)
Stephen E. Miller (Best in Show, 2000)
Lorena Gale (Snow Day, 2000)
Donavon Stimson (Fantastic Four, 2005)
Dion Johnstone (Dreamcatcher, 2003)
Sarah-Jane Redmond (Case 39, 2009)

Thus ends the era in which I had yet to see all nine seasons of The X-Files plus two feature films. This last movie was released a few years after the series had already ended. At the end of the series, Dana Scully and Fox Mulder left the FBI and fled the UNited States, because they knew too much. An impeding Alien invasion was alluded too, indicating that it would never truly be blue skies for our star-crossed investigators.

X-Files had two basic episode structures. There were episodes that propelled the mythic arc and related to a conspiracy to cover up an colonization program and the creation of human-alien hybrids. There were also monster-of-the-week episodes, in which Mulder and Scully had to discover and defeat some sort of paranormal menace within the confines of a single episode. This movie could only be said to conform to the latter model, and it wasn't particularly interesting at that.

10 February 2012

10 Feb - "I've nurtured every sensation man's been inspired to have"

The Devil's Advocate (1997)
dir. Taylor Hackford (Delores Claiborne, 1997)

Chris Bauer (Snow White: A Tale of Terror, 1997)
Caprice Benedetti (Practical Magic, 1998)
Kim Chan (Desperately Seeking Susan, 1985)
Marcia DeBonis (The Truman Show, 1998)
Tom Riis Farrell (Sleepless in Seattle, 1993)
Charles A. Gargan (Serendipity, 2001)
Juan Carlos Hernandez (War of the Worlds, 2005)
William Hill (Analyze This, 1999)
Judith Ivey (A Life Less Ordinary, 1997)
Jeffrey Jones (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, 1986)
Monica Keena (Orange County, 2002)
Susan Kellermann (Planes, Trains and Automobiles, 1987)
Vincent Laresca (The Associate, 1996)
Heather Matarazzo (Welcome to the Dollhouse, 1995)
Debra Monk (The First Wives Club, 1996)
Craig T. Nelson (Troop Beverley Hills, 1989)
Novella Nelson (It's Kind of a Funny Story, 2010)
Connie Nielsen (Rushmore, 1998)
Benny Nieves (Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, 2005)
Al Pacino (Heat1995)
Keanu Reeves (Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, 1989)
John Rothman (Ghostbusters, 1984)
Vyto Ruginis (Cliffhanger, 1993)
Charlize Theron (The Burning Plain, 2008)
George Wyner (Spaceballs, 1987)

I'm swiftly developing an inordinate fondness for Al Pacino, because even though I used to think he was only in boringsnoring mafia movies, but now I see he can be a crazy wild card addition to a cast, and I like that. On the other hand, Keanu Reeves is about as charismatic as a baked potato, but he is clean looking and inoffensive enough to reasonably play the easily manipulated Southern hotshot lawyer Kevin Lomax. In the climatic scene, however, when Lomax is supposed to assert himself and, I dunno, express an emotion maybe, Keanu fell way flat. It was pretty uninspiring.

Charlize Theron was better than I expected, mostly because she still wasn't really on the radar when she did The Devil's Advocate. But she very convincingly fell into a maddening descent. I don't really know what else to say about this movie. It wasn't very remarkable, I guess.

06 February 2012

31 Jan - "So you wish to know something of your destiny"

Drag Me to Hell (2009)
dir. Sam Raimi (The Quick and the Dead, 1995)

Bonnie Aarons (The Princess Diaries, 2001)
Joanne Baron (Valley Girl, 1983)
Adriana Barraza
Tom Carey (Spider-Man 2, 2004)
Molly Cheek (Smoke Signals, 1998)
Alexis Cruz (Stargate, 1994)
Kevin Foster (The Village, 2004)
Reggie Lee (Psycho Beach Party, 2000)
Alison Lohman (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (voice), 1984)
Justin Long (Serious Moonlight, 2009)
Ricardo Molina (Spanglish, 2004)
Bojana Novakovic (Devil, 2010)
David Paymer (Amistad, 1997)
Ted Raimi (Clear and Present Danger, 1994)
Dileep Rao (Avatar, 2009)
Fernanda Romero (The Burning Plain, 2008)
Irene Roseen (Beautiful, 2000)
Chelcie Ross (Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, 1991)
Octavia Spencer (The Help, 2011)
Scott Spiegel (Spider-Man, 2002)
Alex Veadov (Air Force One, 1997)

There were a number of odd themes in this movie. The first one, which my buddy Cora pointed out, is that all of the scary parts featured things going in and out of the protagonists mouth. There was a lot of yucky mouth imagery in this movie. First the old gypsy woman removes and reinserts her teeth on the banker's desk. In two or three scenes the gyspy woman puts her gaping toothless mouth on Christine's mouth or face, and in one of those scenes green gooey vomit was involved. There's another part where the old woman sticks her arm down Christine's throat to the elbow, and a nightmare in which a fly crawls into Christine's mouth only to be coughed out later. Christine gets a projectile nosebleed at the bank and her boss asks, "did I get any in my mouth?" There wasn't any psychological horror in this movie, it was just disturbing gross-out scenes.

The ostensible theme was, I think, "does the punishment fit the crime?" or maybe, "who has the right to judge?" Christine is apparently a sweet and good-natured girl, but at the moment before her demise she admits that she could have gotten an extension for the old woman's loan payment, but it was her decision to decline it. Does that mean she deserves to burn in hell for eternity? More so than the nasty co-worker who tried to sell Christine up the river even when she was nice to him? More so than the cursing gypsy herself? We don't know. For one thing, Christine was never repentant. She did not attempt to apologize to the old woman or to her family. I guess that means something.

I still didn't like the ending. I like my movies to have heroes and I like the heroes to win in the end. This was too in-your-face ironic. Stupid.

05 February 2012

2 Feb - "Is this their heartbeat, or ours?"

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)
dir. Werner Herzog (Nosferatu the Vampyre, 1979)

This is my first review of a documentary. Documentaries are a tricky genre because not so many people watch, so I don't very much social capital from talking about them. Case in point, on Friday I had a brief conversation with a fellow about movies with caves. We agreed that The Descent was quality cinema (it's definitely on my top ten horror movie list). We also talked about The Cave and The Abyss, and how it's not surprising that underground is such a fertile subject for horror plots. Then I mentioned how I had just watched Cave of Forgotten Dreams and the conversation went to a screeching halt. Chauvet? Werner Herzog? Documentaries?

Ummm, but we all liked Tremors, right?

So while the likelihood of ever meeting another person who sat through this whole documentary is low (even though in ten years everyone will have seen snippets off the Discovery Channel). I feel a little more sophisticated from having seen it.

25 January 2012

24 Jan - "The cynicism you refer to, I acquired the day I learned I was different from little boys"

All About Eve (1950)
dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Cleopatra, 1963)

Bette Davis (return from Witch Mountain, 1978)
Anne Baxter (The Ten Commandments, 1956)
George Sanders (The Jungle Book (voice), 1967)
Marilyn Monroe (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953)
Thelma Ritter (The Misfits, 1961)

I have a list of all the Academy Award winning films I'd like to see. At first I thought to watch them all, as a principle, but the first one is a silent film and I can't deal with that. Plus, it's stupid to sit through a movie I know I won't like just because some snooty academy goombah says it's the best. What do they know anyway? But I wanted to watch All About Eve, and I want to watch Mutiny on the Bounty, too, but later.

The movie is about a aging and jaded actress who takes in a seemingly naive and friendless waif, only to discover that this girl, the title character, has big dreams and will stop at nothing to achieve them. Eve is a very engaging character, as it is difficult to determine when she is acting at what moments she reveals her true colors. Surely, one thinks, nobody can be "on" all of time, right? But Eve's character as the fresh-faced, humble and starstruck girl in over her head in the big city is as much an act as the parts she steals away from her benefactress Margo Channing.

I think there are few scenes where Eve's character is honestly revealed. The first is when she attempts to seduce Margo's beau after her first successful performance as Margo's understudy. When she is thwarted, first we see a few alligator tears but then her rage is palpable. The second is when Addison the columnist declares that he has uncovered Eve's true past and effectively owns her from that point forward. The last is the final scene, where Eve collapses on her own sofa after recieving her Best Actress award and suddenly seems abrasive and jaded, perhaps having finally fully become Margo Channing, ready to be replaced by a newer and brighter young actress.

It's possible that Eve's character is meant to be some sort of sociopath. She is an expert manipulator except for the fact that her powers seem limited in their effect on men. Not only does Eve attempt to seduce Margo's boyfriend Bill (a director), but she attempts to break up Karen's (the playwright's wife) marriage as well, and of course ultimately her manipulative rampage is checked by Addison the columnist, who is determined to ride Eve's train all the way to the top. So maybe this movie has a sinister anti-feminist moral: Trust your man to stand by you, but your girlfriends are always going to screw you over in the end.

18 January 2012

21 Jan - "In God's name he took up the sword"

Black Death (2010)
dir. Christopher Smith

Eddie Redmayne
David Warner (Titanic, 1997)
Kimberley Nixon (Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, 2008)
Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, 2003)
Johnny Harris (War Horse, 2011)
John Lynch (The Secret Garden, 1993)
Tim McInnerny (101 Dalmations, 1996)
Carice van Houten (Repo Men, 2010)

In a lot of ways this movie was a lot like an inferior version of The 13th Warrior. The character is a less-than-enthusiastic monk who joins a bunch of religous knights on a witchhunt so he can actually ditch the monastery and run away with his girlfriend. Also, everyone's dying of the plauge. But when he reaches the rendevous point there's blood everywhere and it's presumed that his fair lady is deceased (except we all know that on TV and in the movies, no one is ever dead until you see a body). When they reach the bewitched village the necromancer apparently raises the monk's girlfriend from the dead and then there's a lot of quibbling about whether being Christian is actually helping anybody out or not, the nature of the plague as a divine retribution, and whether or not someone can be tortured into a believer. Sean Bean is drawn and quartered, it's pretty gross.

At first I thought the movie was becoming a sort of liberalist rant against organizaed religion (you know how they do!), but then the pagans turned into some real nasty jerks as well, so perhaps the critique is actually of a more generalized zeal. Can we trust anything you say when your actions are so shamelessly inhumane?

The witch turns out to be a charlatan, and the monk becomes a murderer when he thinks his GF has become zombified. When he discovers how he has been decieved, he goes sort of crazy and becomes a replacement for Sean Bean's ruthless character, but maybe worse. So is he driven by religious fervor, or just hate?

17 January 2012

16 Jan - "What's with all the bullets?"

Priest (2011)
dir. Scott Charles Stewart (Legion, 2009)

Paul Bettany (Iron Man 2 (voice), 2010)
Karl Urban (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, 2002)
Maggie Q (Live Free or Die Hard, 2007)
Lily Collins
Brad Dourif (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, 2003) 
Cam Gigandet (Easy A, 2010)
Alan Dale (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, 2008)
Christopher Plummer (Must Love Dogs, 2005)
Stephen Moyer

I'm so behind on my posts, so I'm going to divide and conquer and try to publish 2 every day, the most recent movie I watched and the least recent, and so hopefully everything will converge upon The Return of the King (as one does) in a few days and then I can move on with my ho-hum life and this foolish attempt to record my emotional development through the mediator of cinema. If this were a movie, I would have just spoiled the symbolism by explaining it with a voiceover. Soorry!

So, yesterday Cora had a bunch of her german friends over for dinner and Cillian and I watched Priest. I was pleased when he suggested we watch a movie because I'm just terrible at navigating large groups of people. Especially when it feels like everyone else likes each other a little bit more than they like me (Some people are able to successfully avoid this kind of scenario their whole lives, or else I'm just overanalyzing everything). I said we should watch something I've already seen before, in case it's hard to pay attention, so I suggested The Fifth Element, but I guess Cillian doesn't like that movie because he put on Priest, which I think would have been hard to follow in a dark movie theater with an acceptable sound system. On Cora's laptop, it was near impossible. Luckily there was a really tidy recap at the climax, where the villian explains the whole sequence of events for the stupid audience members, like me, who haven't been able to put it all together on their own yet. I finally understand why action movies always have that, now.

I found the premise to be delightful. In a post-apocalyptic future organized underneath a totalitarian clergy, one member of the elite warrior-priest caste goes rogue to take on a vampire scourge that has kidnapped his estranged daughter. That's some L33T science-fiction, right there. In this sotry-world, the future is very wastelandy, which is not an unreasonable assumption, especially if someone Fs us all over and drops a nuke somewhere. Yes, the future is a dark and desolate place, but nevertheless our Hero must fight to protect it.

14 January 2012

14 Jan - "Let's just pack your car up and we'll go somewhere and start over"

The Burning Plain (2008)
dir. Guillermo Arriaga

Charlize Theron (2 Days in the Valley, 1996)
John Corbett (Dreamland, 2006)
Robin Tunney (The Craft, 1996)
Marty Papazian (The Island, 2005)
Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: First Class, 2011)
Seth McGrath (Twilight, 2008)
JD Pardo (A Cinderella Story, 2004)
Rachel Ticotin (Don Juan DeMarco, 1994)
Taylor Warden (Employee of the Month, 2006)
Kim Basinger (Batman, 1989)
Fernanda Romero

This was a real depressing movie which was nice because as I recall I was real depressed when I watched it. It had a very clever plot device, sort of like a Grand Hotel Theme, but gradually you learn that what you thought were parallel narratives are more deeply connected than you originally thought. This is satisfying because as we follow the main character's development and recovery, we simultaneously witness her unraveling and subsequent breakdown.

I think the most confusing part of the movie, for me, was the developing romance between Santiago and Mariana, after the death of his father and her mother. At first I thought that I was supposed to seeing something darker than love, perhaps something more like a desperate need for acceptance or affection. But then later in the film I was forced to reevaluate that position, when Mariana's return to Santiago is supposed to symbolize some sort of rebirth, and she confesses that she only left him in the first place because of self-loathing and the fear that history always repeats itself. Even so, the interactions between those teenagers seemed pretty twisted, at least to me.

04 January 2012

4 Jan - "You have to look forward, or you'll never get home"

War Horse (2011)
dir. Steven Spielberg (Jaws, 1975)

Jeremy Irvine
Peter Mullan (Braveheart, 1995)
Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves, 1996)
David Thewlis (Timeline, 2003)
Benedict Cumberbatch (Amazing Grace, 2006)
Patrick Kennedy (Atonement, 2007)
Pat Laffan (Leap Year, 2010)

I think the only bad thing I can say about War Horse is that it's terribly self-aware. Spielberg can tug on heartstrings like Celtic Woman can wail on a lap-harp. I would be interested in a side-by-side comparison to determine exactly how closely the plot of this movie parallels E.T..

Apart from that it was lovely. Very sentimental. Very feel-goody. I know this was a play for a while, and I guess a book before that. I don't really know about either of those but some scenes looked and felt very theatrical. Especially that very moving scene where the English guy and the German guy walk out into no-man's land to cut the horse out of the barbed wire. When I saw that scene I imagined it on a stage. I could see it. The dialogue was very stage-like as well, and for that reason it felt like the continuity of style was a little disjointed. Is this a movie or a stage production? Make up your mind, everyone.

Here's the thing about horses, though. Some people get it, and some people don't. So when I am talking to people and they ask me what I thought of War Horse, I just have to answer with a question, "Well, did you like Black Beauty?" Because it's essentially the same, and you either love it or you don't.

02 January 2012

1 Jan - "Don't leave me here alone. Don't go where I can't follow."

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
dir. Peter Jackson (King Kong, 2005)

Sean Astin (Encino Man, 1992)
Sean Bean (The Dark, 2005)
Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth, 1998)
Orlando Bloom (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001)
Billy Boyd (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers2002)
Marton Csokas (The Bourne Supremacy, 2004)
Bernard Hill (A Midsummer's Night Dream, 1999)
Ian Holm (Alien, 1979)
Ian McKellen (The Da Vinci Code, 2006)
Viggo Mortensen (G.I. Jane, 1997)
John Noble (The Last Airbender, 2009)
Miranda Otto (The Thin Red Line, 1998)
Bruce Phillips (Without a Paddle, 2004)
Shane Rangi (The Chronicles of Narnia: the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 2010)
John Rhys-Davies (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989)
Andy Serkis (The Prestige, 2006)
Joel Tobeck (Eagle vs Shark, 2007)
Liv Tyler (That Thing You Do!, 1996)
Karl Urban (Priest, 2011)
Hugo Weaving (The Wolfman, 2010)
David Wenham (Moulin Rouge!, 2001)
Elijah Wood (Deep Impact, 1998)

I brought the new year in with this most appropriate film, The Return of the King. Does any movie (besides maybe Star Wars) better represent the inevitable end to all things and simultaneously a rebirth of all that possible and good in the world? Perhaps at times it hits a little heavy with the symbolism, especially those parts where Sean Astin is talking in that halting and horribly affected hobbit accent, about "the old stories" and the likelihood that they will never survive their quest.

But there are good parts too. I remember in the movie theater when I went to see this the first time, when Faramir asks his father, the steward of Gondor, whether he would have been happy if Boromir was still alive and if Faramir had died in his place. When Denethor said "yes!" the whole theater collectively gasped. There are few scenes which represent the idea of perfidy so concisely.

I most often hear two key critiques. The first is that if the eagles were able to rescue Sam and Frodo from the volcano and take them back to Rivendell, why didn't they just get the eagles to drop them off in Mordor in the first place? The answer to that question seems simple to me. Traveling by eagle is terribly high-profile. I think those flying Nazgul would have nailed the eagles in short order, they wouldn't have even made it over the mountains.

The second critique is that the ending is waay too long, and I can get behind this. There's satisfying denoument and then there's LOTR, wherein things get ridiculous. First Frodo destroys the ring, and you're like, "badass! The movie's over! I've got to pee like a racehorse!" but then there's Aragorn's coronation, and some speeches, and then a part where everyone's reunited in Rivendell, and then a part where everyone's reunited in the Shire, and then Frodo and Bilbo get on the elves' boat and sail away. I suppose they should have streamlined all that somehow. So the movie ended with a sense of excitement and wonder instead of...peacefulness? It's unclear, and unsatisfying for that reason.

All the same, I always thought the ending was kind of sad, that even though the battle was won and the ring was destroyed and everything turned out as best as could possibly be expected, the elves still went away. They didn't want to live in the world anymore. I don't understand sometimes why everything magical has to disappear.

01 January 2012

31 Dec - "Sneaky little hobbitses. Wicked, tricksy, false!"

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
dir. Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001)

Sean Astin (Toy Soldiers, 1991)
Cate Blanchett (The Talented Mr. Ripley, 1999)
Jed Brophy (The Warrior's Way, 2010)
Brad Dourif (Priest, 2011)
Bruce Hopkins (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, 2003)
Bernard Hill (Titanic, 1997)
Christopher Lee (The Last Unicorn (voice), 1982)
Ian McKellen (X2, 2003)
Dominic Monaghan (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001)
Viggo Mortensen (Witness, 1985)
Mirando Otto (What Lies Beneath, 2000)

The Two Towers far surpasses The Fellowship of the Ring, that's not an arguable point. The challenge is much clearer than in the first film. Saruman has already demonstrated himself a traitor, now he is allied with Sauron in a battle to take over Middle Earth. These are the two towers referred to in the title, in case there was any doubt. In fact, when I was little I thought the two towers were Gondor and Rohan, all well.

So anyway, this time the stakes are higher and the adventure heightened. We've got to rescue Merry and Pippin, save King Theoden from Saruman's sorcery, and then deflect an attack from Saruman's army of Uruk-hai. We also get some sweet one-liners from Aragorn, including, "open war is upon you, whether you would risk it or not!" When I went to see this movie in the theater with my high school friends (because LOTR was what all the teen girls were about, back then) we were particularly struck by that scene when Aragorn comes back to Rohan after he fell off the cliff during the battle with the Wargs (those giant hyena-monsters the orcs were riding) and he is particularly worn out and dramatic-looking. We were imitating that tableau for quite a while after that.

At this point too we began to realize that Legolas is a super-useless character. Apart from some particularly acrobatic moves (including a scene wherein he mounts a horse seemingly in defiance of all laws of physics) he participates very little in the progression of the plot and has some truly horrible lines ("A red sun rises. Blood has been shed this night"). Also, any purpose Gimli ever served apart from comic relief is totally abandoned.