Short Takes: Independent and Classic Movies

Because of backlog, I’ve compiled ten compact movie reviews into one post, sorted best-to-worst.

Johnny English: Reborn (2011)

Description: MI7 agent Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson) has just returned from training by Tibetan monks (guru played by Togo Igawa) to stop a mole from assassinating a high-ranking figure at a would-be secure location.  It co-stars Rosamund Pike (Pride & Prejudice), Gillian Anderson (The X Files), Dominic West (The Wire) and Daniel Kaluuya.

Take: this spy comedy film sets a standard on how enjoyable it is— fun and funny, especially if you add the outtakes, including a burning prop leg thrown into frame in the alternate exploding gum scene.  Executed quite well, it’s worth buying, if not for just the musically-timed cooking scene.  B+.

Hello, I Must Be Going (2012)

Description: the lovely Melanie Lynskey (good enough to make Two and a Half Men watchable) plays Amy, a woman burned out by her former relationship, going through a divorce.  So burned out that she’s practically reset, living at her parents’ home.  Amy, who wanted to pursue photography but got married instead, now in her thirties, falls passionately in love with the nineteen-year-old son of the neighbors, who everyone thinks is gay and loves acting.  Basically, both have been pressured to be something they’re not.

Take: this film is easy to watch in the sense that it’s not too serious any which way.  It’s more of a subtle comedy than a drama.  B+.

Take This Waltz (2011)

Description: Michelle Williams plays a centrist of a freelancer that falls in love with her kind-of stalker.  In two relationships, but unable to connect, she excercises other ways in effort to regain some semblance of happiness.  Seth Rogan and Sarah Silvermann co-star.

Take: it’s pretty sad, but that’s what they were going for.  “It was the saddest!” said Lena Dunham for Entertainment Weekly“I love when a movie takes something so mundane … and makes it into the most emotionally wrecking ball of a thing.”

It might be worth buying.  Then again, it’s very intimate— full nudity in the pool shower scene…and in the bathroom shower scenes…and in the final sex scene.  Rated RB+.

Of Human Bondage (1964)

Description: Philip Carey (Laurence Harvey), a clubfooted man, left a fortune, reluctantly becomes a doctor after failing to become an artist.  He falls in love with a waitress named Mildred Rogers (Kim Novak).  Falling out of love with Mildred, he still comes to care for her, through her pregnancy.  Not fully loving her, she becomes seriously angry and resentful till the bitter end… as a prostitute.  Uncredited screenplay by, and role as director, Bryan Forbes.

Take: for one of Novak’s earliest films, she won me over with the accent.  Forgetting that she’s American, I would’ve sworn that she’s British.  She’s that good here… though, the critics weren’t pleased, wanting better rendering of the book.  B.

Black Lizard (Kurotokage, 1968)

Description: a colorful cat-and-mouse movie out of Japan by Kinji Fukasaku with short Jazzy music numbers in transition.  Master-thief Black Lizard is chased by her match, a master detective.  The complication: they are like soul-mates, sometimes feeling that they swap roles.  Are you chasing me, or am I chasing you?

You are missing out on a piece of history if you don’t catch this.  B.

The Color of Money (1986)

Description: Eddie (Paul Newman) teaches gamer, convenience store employee Vince (Tom Cruise) how to scam pool players at Nine-Ball.  Long story short, Vince surpasses Eddie the dishonest way, leading Eddie to compete against Vince the honest way.

Take: your typical, flawed ’80s classic, with old film quality and class… glowing eyes effect.  And, oh, Tom Cruise’s nuttiness shows during a scene where he laughs— not jumping on Oprah’s couch nutty, but early for his ‘laugh.’  It’s also an early role for the actress that plays the girlfriend— Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.  B.

Now is Good (2012)

Description: based on Before I Die, a cancer-battling daughter named Tessa Scott (Dakota Fanning) makes a concealed bucket list, written on her bedroom wall.  It’s an emotional ride for the split-up parents as well, as she accepts more the love from her neighborhood boyfriend than from them.  And the boyfriend paints the town for her.  Literally— he vandalizes the town.

Take: it’s a bit sappy, as her death envelops everything, and the males seem to cry more in this movie.  There were also a lot of missed opportunities… I don’t know, maybe the book left things like this.  (Double-sad.)  B-.

Small Apartments (2012)

Description: the landlord for a block of apartments (Peter Stormare) is killed by the overweight man-child known as Franklin Franklin (Matt Lucas).  Franklin walks around in his jockey underpants, as he indefinitely waits for his brother, Bernard (James Marsden), not knowing Bernard has brain cancer.  The film’s subplots are as obscure as the movie.  Billy Crystal, James Cann, Johnny Knoxville and Juno Temple co-star.

Take: the makers thought they were making a cult classic. Yeah, it doesn’t work like that.  For a “strange” indie, it’s a little shallow.  It ends in absolute fantasy.  More messy than strange, really.  Suggestion: rent not buy.  B-.

Heaven’s Gate (director’s cut)

Description: a violent, deadly western where French immigrants are basically and literally corralled by the state and federal governments.  During a legalization battle, two men (including one played by Christopher Walken) in different camps fight over a woman amongst the population (Isabelle Hupert).  Sam Waterston also appears.

Take: though still long, with some unintentionally comical shots (Walken, in a shoot-out is shot up for maybe a minute, still standing), the director’s cut is arguably the better version of a film that bombed in its earlier release, partly due to the long running length.  Making back $3.5 mn. for a budget of $44-70 million in 1980 money, the full cost ran a couple times over its intended budget —yeah, it bankrupted United Artists.  C+.

The Life Before Her Eyes (2007)

Description: Evan Rachel Wood and Uma Thurman star as Diana, a woman facing the past, present and broken future, in a tale of love, tragedy and potential.  Everything hangs in the balance of a school shooting, conducted by someone she knows, as she is forced choose whether she or her best friend dies.

Take: though a bit thin, with sentimental redundancies (bathroom sequence replayed several times), it still holds up as a flawed classic that didn’t quite make up its $13 mn. budget, worth watching so long as you also catch the extras… and maybe put some of it on 1.4x speed.  The DVD includes a short documentary on NDEs.  C+.


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