06 July 2013

Twenty-one Random Movies in Two Sentences Each

1.  Daybreakers — Almost all of humanity having become vampires, the remaining humans are farmed for blood, which is increasingly scarce.  The film's chief merit is its attempt at a realistic portrait of how society would develop under the given conditions.

2.  Ken Burns' America: Huey Long — Ken Burns tracks the rise and fall of the Kingfish, who for a time ran Louisiana like his own private kingdom.  One of Burns's better documentaries.

3.  Swiss Family Robinson (1960) — A Swiss Family (not named "Robinson," the title being a reference to Robinson Crusoe) is marooned on a tropical island and must survive on the power of their wits and what they can scavenge from the wreckage of their ship.  Features the most epic treehouse ever.

4.  Lost in Translation — When a burnt out action movie star goes to Tokyo to star in a commercial for Suntory Whiskey, he encounters a depressed newly-wed woman, abandoned by her photographer husband in a hotel.  Through their insomnia, the two form a melancholy friendship based on mutual feelings of frustration with marriage, work, and purposelessness.

5.  Girl, Interrupted — After a panic-induced drug overdose, a recent prep-school graduate checks herself into a mental hospital for recovery and has various encounters with the patients and staff.  The movie is fairly disturbing, but has an exceptional cast, including Winona Ryder, Brittany Murphy, Whoopie Goldberg, Vanessa Redgrave, Angelina Jolie, and Elizabeth Moss.

6.  The Social Network — Socially mal-adjusted Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg makes a series of enemies while struggling to launch The Facebook.  Despite its unusual story, excellent writing, and fine acting, the final product is a little underwhelming, possibly for want of interesting social commentary.

7.  The Bourne Identity — Matt Damon stars alongside Franka Potente (Lola Rennt) in this fast-paced, trim action thriller.  Despite the rather far-fetched plot (which drags considerably in some of the sequels), it's difficult not to be absorbed in the harmonious execution of the story.

8.  Wait Until Dark — This terrifying film stars Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman who struggles to defend herself when a drug runner comes hunting for a misplaced package that has been left in her apartment.  The two things I remember most from the film are a teddy bear and a switchblade with carved ivory grip.

9.  Mission: Impossible — Tom Cruise plays a secret agent charged to do something or other (hack a computer, I think).  There's some betrayal, some weird explosive chewing gum, and that iconic scene where he's suspended in the white room with the computer and almost hits the floor.

10.  Return of the King: Extended Edition — This epic adaptation of the third part of The Lord of the Rings includes a large portion of the story that ought to have happened in The Two Towers, but which Peter Jackson (for reasons of stupidity) put off for the final installment, making it rather bloated.  There are some problems with the film, the most disturbing of which are as follows: (1) the increased role of the Army of the Dead, (2) the awful scene on the stairs of Cirith Ungol where Frodo tells Sam to "go home," (3) the absurd closeness of all the geographical locations (Mount Doom being essentially visible from inside Minas Tirith), but on the whole it's the strongest of the trilogy.

11.  Garden State — This was that Zach Braff movie with the hip soundtrack that everyone went crazy about.  It left me listening to Frou Frou for several years, which really isn't such a bad thing.

12.  American Experience: LBJ — Lyndon Johnson created the modern American welfare state.  Whether this was because he was a wicked human being, or in order to make up for that fact, the documentary doesn't tell us.

13.  The Black Stallion — I saw this when I was very young, and it's difficult not to confuse it with Black Beauty in my head.  The latter is told from the perspective of the horse, I think, but this one is just about a boy's friendship with a horse.

14.  Dr. Strangelove — At the height of the Cold War, Stanley Kubrick made this horrifying parody of nuclear politics, in which an insane general attempts to set off the destruction of the world.  One thing to take away: if you value the purity of your essence, of your precious bodily fluids, then never drink Fluorinated water.

15.  Monsters, Inc. — Not having seen either of the Cars movies, this is probably my least favorite Pixar film.  Billy Crystal and John Goodman co-star as workers in a monster power factory which harvests the energy of children's fears by sneaking into their rooms at night.

16.  The Rock — Former Alcatraz inmate Sean Connery helps sneak Jack Nicholson (haha, I can't believe I wrote this; it's Nicholas Cage, not Jack Nicholson) into the prison so he can defuse a chemical bomb colonel Ed Harris is poised to launch on San Francisco.  Connery does a delightful job, and the film is fun to watch.

17.  A Perfect Murder — Gwenyth Paltrow has an affair with artist Viggo Mortensen, who is then recruited by her husband, the financially distressed Michael Douglas, to murder her for money.  Things do not go according to plan.

18.  Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969) — Peter O'Toole stars in this musical remake about a schoolmaster's struggle to maintain discipline and rigorous academic standards in changing times.  He and his wife are beloved by (virtually) everyone.

19.  The Hobbit (1977) — Extremely faithful adaptation of the novel, including a terrifying, frog-like Gollum, huge noses all around, and creepy elves.  Much better than the Peter Jackson version, so far, and has the advantage of starring John Huston as the (unforgettable) voice of Gandalf.

20.  The Last Days of Disco — Whit Stillman's third film looks at the cruelty and degeneracy of New York social life for young adults at the end of the Disco Era.  You will dislike basically all of the characters, but possibly like the movie anyway.

21.  Shutter Island — Leonardo DiCaprio plays a crazy (or maybe not crazy?!?!?!?!) boston police officer with a patchy accent, on a visit to a prison for the insane.  The best part of the movie is recognizing Max von Sydow as the ex-Nazi psychiatrist; the worst is the pointless suspense and stupid ending.