Tag: 5 stars

Movie Review: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Seen: On Criterion blu-ray on our projector set-up, from our collection.

A dysfunctional trio of former child geniuses returns to their childhood home for the first time in over a decade. Successful businessman Chas (Ben Stiller), still grieving over the loss of his wife in a plane crash, believes his own house is not safe for him and his two sons. Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), a playwright who hasn’t written anything new in years, is unhappy in her marriage to neurologist Raleigh St Clair (Bill Murray) and needs a change. Richie (Luke Wilson), a former pro tennis player now sailing around the world after suffering a breakdown during a high-profile match, returns to hopefully resolve his romantic feelings for Margot, who is adopted so it’s totally not illegal (but maybe frowned upon). While their archaeologist mother, Etheline (Anjelica Huston), is being romanced by her adorable accountant (Danny Glover), their scoundrel of a father, Royal (Gene Hackman)- who has not been invited to family events in years- pays a visit claiming he’s dying of stomach cancer.

Oh goodness, this movie gives me feelings. Artfully fusing kooky, understated humor with heart-wrenching pathos, The Royal Tenenbaums is, for me, the perfect balance of Wes Anderson’s by-now all-too-familiar filmmaking traits. It’s funny and “quirky” without moving too far into caricature, and the characters are incredibly strong. Each actor is able to convey a lot about their person without too much dialogue or showy moments, aided gracefully by an unseen Alec Baldwin as the narrator and a group of really talented child actors for flashback scenes. I really just feel for these characters, all of them (and there are many!), as everyone is just sort of dealing with their own personal tragedy in a wry, self-aware way. While on paper Richie’s Elliot Smith scene is the most affecting, I actually am always moved to tears by one simple exchange towards the end of the film. After Eli (Owen Wilson) crashes his car into the house and kills the dog, and Chas freaks out about his kids and beats up Eli, and in the aftermath he’s just standing there, and he turns to Royal and says, with a slight break in his voice, “I’ve had a rough year, dad.” Royal responds sympathetically, “I know you have, Chassie.” And that’s it, Chas walks back into the house. It’s this completely heart-breaking moment for me, I’m honestly tearing up right now just thinking about it.

Ok sucking it up now. Of course The Royal Tenenbaums is also pretty funny, and has a million little funny jokes and goofy characters and subplots. Raleigh’s unusual patient/research subject Dudley could have his own movie. I love all the fake books created for different characters, especially Eli’s Old Custer (“Well everyone knows Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this book presupposes is… maybe he didn’t?”). Visually, the aesthetic is perfect. Anderson’s penchant for obsessive details and antique charm is well-suited to the film’s pseudo-New York setting, and I get a little hot and bothered by all the prim, well-organized tableaux. I mean, Chas arranges his suitcases by size. It’s really nice. And the scene transitions featuring chapters from an imagined book of the story are a sweet touch. This film also features self-assigned character costumes, which I always really love. Margot’s collared dress and fur coat, Chas’s red track suit (with matching ones for his sons), Richie’s headband, polo, and tan blazer- these outfits create shields around their wearers as well as a certain kind of comical repetition. It’s one of my favorite Movie things, in general.

I guess I just love everything about this movie. I listen to the soundtrack pretty often, I think it’s tied with The Life Aquatic for favorite Wes Anderson soundtrack. I quote certain lines from it regularly (“I KNOW YOU ASSHOLE!”), and I never really tire of talking about it. It’s the Wes Anderson film I stack all the rest against, and he has yet to top it.

AND YES I know this is just a rich white people problems kind of movie but goddammit if it doesn’t just GET to me every time. The TEARS, man. UGH.


Pair This Movie With: It’s taken me wayyy too long to pick up on this but I finally realized that the Tenenbaums are basically an updated version of JD Salinger’s Glass family so I think it’d be nice to read Nine Stories or Franny & Zooey before watching this movie. Or you should just read them in general, if it’s your kind of thing.

Movie Review: The Shining (1980)

Seen: On blu-ray on our projector set-up, recently acquired for our collection by Miles.

So we are getting through a few horror movies this month which is exciting! Miles saw Room 237 at Fantastic Fest and was thus inspired to revisit The Shining, which I hadn’t seen in several years anyway. On our projector screen with surround sound and all the lights off, I will tell you that it is Damned. Effective. Adapted from Stephen King’s novel (though he notoriously hates Kubrick’s take on it), The Shining settles in at the beautiful but isolated Overlook Hotel during its closed winter months. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a teacher-turned-writer, and his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) all move into the hotel as caretakers, hoping for a relaxing few months so Jack can work on his novel. Before taking the job he learns that the previous caretaker had had a nervous breakdown and killed his whole family and himself during an earlier winter at the hotel, but Jack is unfazed. As the weeks pass it becomes clear that some crazed force is seeping into Jack’s psyche, leading him down the very same path. His psychic son is the only person who can see what’s happening, but he’s too young to fully understand.

Ok obviously I can’t really actually summarize this movie, because I don’t really know what the fuck is happening at any given moment, I just know that I LOVE IT. The Shining is strange and beautiful and terrifying and intriguing, and I know I can’t really add in any meaningful way to the many analyses already available. But that’s ok. This is a movie that really sticks with you, seeping into the viewer’s brain with its long steady zooms and simultaneously expansive and claustrophobic spaces. Every visual detail is so deliberate, so precise, that one could easily watch the film on mute and still be incredibly absorbed. For once the sound is what really gets me though (I’m usually an extremely visual person), and those high-pitched tones and hushed chanting set the mood so perfectly that my anxiety increases astronomically as the noise escalates. I remember the first time I saw this movie with a group of friends in my freshman-year dorm, we were all biting our nails and whispering “oh my god oh my god” as the eerie wail grew louder and we were convinced something awful would happen, then suddenly that title card dropped to read TUESDAY and we all screamed. Since then Tuesday is the most terrifying fucking day, goddammit!

I like that this film takes its time. It’s a long slow journey from good-natured Jack Torrance and his cute family hanging out in a gorgeous old-timey hotel, to harrowing homicidal madness in a dark, snowy labyrinth. We’ve gotta watch all this freaky shit gradually unfold for a while to truly appreciate where it’s headed. Nicholson is fantastic as a man possessed, slipping into a madness that he eventually accepts whole-heartedly. Danny Lloyd is effectively creepy due to his hellish monster voice, which makes lines like “Danny’s not here, Mrs Torrance” somehow the scariest words I’ve ever heard. Scatman Crothers stands out as the hotel’s psychic head chef Dick Hallorran (who unfortunately fits into that “mystical black person” stereotype), but this time around I found myself drawn in the most by Shelley Duvall’s performance. She is an emotional wreck for a lot of this movie, and it works really well, since her desperation and isolation were so palpable. Her character is one of the loneliest people I’ve ever seen, with literally NO ONE to talk to about all of the fucked up things that are happening, and then at the end she goes on this horror house adventure that could easily send her over the edge, but instead she pulls herself together and saves herself and her son (well, unless they froze to death after the credits rolled). In the beginning of the story she seems too easygoing, too passive, but she quickly takes control of the situation the best she can, and I dug that. I’m sorry Duvall was so tortured on set by Kubrick, though, what a dick.

Oh where to go next? The Shining is a kickass movie all around, really. It is deeply unsettling and unquestionably eerie in the best way, and while it is laced with ambiguities I love that it leaves me with so much on my mind. The strange nature of the Overlook Hotel and its demonic presence is clearly demonstrated, but never really explained, so that multiple watches ensure as many new questions as they do answers. The breathtaking sets, tricky camera work, bizarre horror visuals, spine-tingling score, and top-notch performances combine perfectly to make it a memorable, one-of-a-kind film. I’m now convinced I’ll see ghosts from the 1920s everywhere I go, which is obviously the point, right?


Pair This Movie With: I really want to see Room 237 now, but I know it’s not available to most people. I’m also now really curious about Stephen King’s own tv remake, which features Melvin Van Peebles! I know it sucks, but I can’t help but wonder about it.

The 2012 Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, Pt III

Seen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. Read Parts I and II.

Ok, final stretch. I’ve given up on finishing that dang cultural theory essay, but I’m still pretty awake due to my general nervousness. This helps me keep a keen eye on most of the following movies! Also I bust out the secondary pillow for help with my aching butt, and load up on the tea.

Click on for not one but TWO crazed scientists trying to defeat death, planet-hopping bounty hunters, and an alien-themed road trip! Coooool.

9 Frankenstein (1931)
I am woefully under-educated in classic horror, so it was exciting to see the classic Frankenstein whose imagery has so permeated representations of Mary Shelley’s monster. The film itself is sort of slow, but I liked the crazy assholery of Colin Clive as the titular doctor and of course the iconic performance of Boris Karloff as his towering, grumpy creation. I liked it but I find I don’t have much to say about it, I guess. It’s fairly muted at first and then gains momentum as the monster goes on an accidental crime spree, and there are some very cool shots and effects. And I had fun trying to pick out some of the sets re-used for Young Frankenstein!

10 Re-Animator (1985)
Remember how I saw this at the Coolidge Horror Marathon over a year ago? I still haven’t done a full review of it but you’d better believe I watch this movie all the fucking time, because it is goddamned great. Jeffrey Combs just DOMINATES as the adorably insane Herbert West, whose neon green “re-agent” can bring the dead back to life, often with violent consequences. It’s hilarious and campy in the best way, packed with awesome special effects and a kickass theme that I don’t care was stolen from Psycho. I also don’t care that it’s not particularly true to Lovecraft’s original story. I will never get tired of this movie, it’s just perfect. I promise I will write a real review of it… EVENTUALLY.

11 Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001)
It’s no secret I love Cowboy Bebop- it’s among my top favorite anime series- and I’m a big fan of the film despite its pacing problems. But after fifteen minutes I suddenly realized how tired I was and allowed myself some sleep, missing most of the film and forcing myself to wake up during the final battle so I could go out and grab some Dunkin Donuts. For those who don’t know, though, it’s a fun sci-fi action anime that follows a group of cool bounty hunters trying to avert a deadly terrorist crisis. I was impressed they showed the subtitled version, though I think that the dubbed would have been easier to deal with at that time in the thon, but in the long run I’m just happy to see anime- I hope there’s more in the future! The title links to my full review of the recent blu-ray release at 366 Weird Movies.

12 Paul (2011)
Missed this in theaters despite my love for Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who penned the script and also star as sci-fi nerds on a geeky road trip who pick up a wisecracking, runaway alien named Paul. There are about a billion references to nerd things and a shit ton of cameos from cool people. This is the kind of movie that in theory is aimed directly at me but doesn’t actually work 100 percent. It was too reference-heavy, and most of them weren’t especially clever or new (like, I get it, Star Wars, lol you guys), though that doesn’t mean there weren’t several geeky moments I loved. Also I cannot separate Seth Rogen from being Seth Rogen, so it was really hard for me to buy him in the vocal role of Paul. Also also this movie draaaaaagged which wasn’t fun for a person operating on minimal sleep. Luckily I find its stars so enjoyable (especially since it felt like they were rehashing their roles from Spaced a little bit- mainly Pegg) that it was just entertaining enough.

Well that’s it! After Paul they showed Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack (sequel to the Battlestar Galactica movie they showed last time) and Folklore, another film from the festival, but admittedly I didn’t especially care about either of those movies and wanted to get some sleep before waking up to finish my homework in the evening. So, a little less than 24 hours of sci-fi, but still pretty good, I think. Til next year, eager young space cadets!

Movie Review: Harvey (1950)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, from my personal collection.

I’ll always remember the day in high school when I stayed up for over 24 hours watching a Jimmy Stewart marathon on TCM. I think it was sometime around the 2am mark when Harvey came on, and I’ve been smitten ever since. Based on the play by Mary Chase, the film stars Stewart as the ever-so-pleasant Elwood P Dowd, whose sister Veta (Josephine Hull) and niece Myrtle May (Victoria Horne) are fed up with his titular best friend, an invisible, 6-foot-three-and-a-half-inch-tall talking rabbit. They conspire to place Elwood in a mental institution so that their lives can proceed normally (Veta is intent on marrying her daughter off) but a series of misunderstandings leads them to rethink their decision.

This movie is the very definition of the warm fuzzies. Centered around the unquestionably delightful performance of Jimmy Stewart, Harvey delivers a lighthearted, fanciful story that at the same time delves into deeper questions of family, loyalty, and sanity. Veta feels she is going mad the longer she lives with a brother who makes room in his life for an invisible rabbit- Elwood is so obliging to and so engaged with this unseen force it’s almost impossible to not believe Harvey exists. Even though towards the end we learn that this “pooka” does indeed exist, the audience is likely to be convinced long before that through some clever hints and various nods from Stewart.

I love the script so much. It is one of the most quotable films I’ve ever seen, with so many lines that either crack me up or give me pause. Stewart gets most of the best lines, maintaining a sweet and disaffected air as he inquires politely about those around him and ruminates about his times with Harvey. He embodies the role of Elwood so completely, comfortably slipping into the shoes of this mild-mannered and disarmingly innocent man. His past self is partially restructured through other characters’ comments, but it is only this version of Elwood that we see, a man who chose to change his priorities after his mother’s death. Of course Josephine Hull (who won an Oscar for her performance) gives Stewart a run for his money as Veta. Her facial expressions are absolutely priceless, and her histrionics after she is mistaken for a mental patient are hilarious.

A big thing about Harvey is how it reminds that everything about mental health science and hospitals in the 50’s was just WRONG. Elwood’s would-be psychiatrist Dr Sanderson is a super jerk and way sexist, but luckily a good amount of the dialogue around him is a put-down of his character and assumptions. Dr Chumley is an asshole too. Seriously, just crazy superdickery.

Everything about this movie makes me smile, except the end, which makes me cry for about the same reasons as what makes me smile. Elwood is so sweet and gentle, so hopeful and honest. It’s heartbreaking. There’s something naive about him, despite flashes of his obvious intelligence and world experience. The fact that he chooses to be this way, and doesn’t give in to any of the societal and familial pressures around him is the most important point. He gives everyone his business card. He invites everyone over for dinner. He holds doors for people, he asks after his friends’ families, he compliments openly. His loves spending time with his best friend Harvey. He must be crazy.


Pair This Movie With: I was excited when I read the Generation X arc about a pooka named Elwood, but that’s definitely a me thing. Otherwise this usually puts me in the mood for more Stewart. Can’t go wrong with The Philadelphia Story, You Can’t Take It With You, or The Shop Around the Corner. Alternatively, Arsenic and Old Lace offers some more Josephine Hull action.

Movie Review: Take Shelter (2011)

Seen: At the Landmark Cinema Kendall Square in Cambridge.

A movie that proposes to be about a horrendous impending storm but moves quietly into documenting one man’s gradual descent into paranoid schizophrenia, Take Shelter is Jeff Nichols’ second feature after his excellent debut Shotgun Stories. The illustrious Michael Shannon stars as Curtis, a construction foreman plagued by hyper-realistic dreams that predict a storm so horrific it turns people into killers. As his visions move into his waking life he fears equally for his sanity and his family’s safety, building a tornado shelter just in case he turns out to be right while his wife (Jessica Chastain) and deaf daughter (Tova Stewart) look on in confusion and eventual fear.

With airtight editing, haunting and innovative visuals, an evocative score, and a climax as tense as it is gut-wrenching, Take Shelter delivers on both a narrative and emotional level with room to spare for Shannon’s intense and compassionate performance. As usual he proves that he is not nearly famous enough. Suffice it to say, I loved everything about it.

The perfect blending of real world and dream world, part of the film’s success is the perpetual uncertainty about what is actually happening at any given time, and whether or not Curtis could be right. He’s so convinced that his dreams are prophetic, and Nichols is so adept at infusing each shot with a feeling of doom, that it’s easy to believe the world is about to end. This thrilling tension is offset by the gripping emotional drama of Curtis’s home life as he alienates his family and friends. Fresh from her insufferable Holy Madonna character in The Tree of Life, Jessica Chastain gives a very strong performance as Samantha, who juts out her dimpled chin in defiance of her husband’s insensible actions, determined to stick with him through this hardship if she can only understand what he’s going through. There’s also one fantastic and revealing scene with Kathy Baker as Curtis’s mother. I won’t spoil it for you. And it’s always nice to see Shea Whigham!

Over a week later and I’m still besotted with this film’s imaginative and manipulative imagery, and just the realness of it all. I walked out of Take Shelter mildly speechless, and terrified that either I or those close to me would start slipping into madness at 35. I’m also sort of scared of freaky clouds and flocks of flying birds now. So, I guess this film is wildly effective. And I can’t think of anything that’s wrong with it, really.


Pair This Movie With: I’d recommend seeing this with A Serious Man, I just have this strong feeling that they’d go really well together. Plus they both star current Boardwalk Empire actors.