Tuesday, August 17, 2010

3-Sentence Reviews: Netflix from Summer 2010

The Netflix project encompasses basically four sorts of movies: ones that family or friends recommend to me (in good faith), which I am honor-bound to put in the queue as soon as possible; recent releases that I never got around to seeing in the theater; older movies that I feel get referenced enough that it would be worth it to watch; and random loose ends that Netflix thinks I'll like. I've been through some of each over the summer, and here are micro-reviews of a few of them.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist: Michael Cera yet again brings George Michael Bluth to the big screen—impressive, considering that the Arrested Development movie has been stalled in pre-production since 2007—and Kat Dennings reprises her Charlie Bartlett role of Susan Gardner equally as faithfully. It’s a particularly salient example of the indie trend of the late 2000’s, where quirk is the highest virtue, awkwardness is a sine qua non, and the characters are all cooler than you are because their tastes manage to be at once more vintage and more obscure than your own. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is buoyed by a handful of funny moments and a decent supporting cast, hindered by some strained-belief moments and a few downright impossibilities, and for all its music-elitist trappings, nothing more than a love story in the end.

Lethal Weapon: Lethal Weapon was made in 1987, and you can tell--like virtually every movie from that decade, it has not aged well. The premise of "older by-the-book cop works with younger renegade cop to beat the bad guys" may have been novel at the time, but it's hard to say because it's been so thoroughly played out since then. And although action scenes in movies haven't really impressed me since I was 14, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the plot--it unfolded at a reasonable pace, and the developments were sensical without being predictable.

Saw: The thing about Saw wasn't that it was overly violent--there were a couple of gruesome scenes, but not even as many as I would have predicted--or poorly acted--the acting was pretty bad, but it is with most movies. My big complaint about Saw was that it was boring, which is pretty much the most flagrant foul that a horror movie could commit. The first half was sort of interesting, seeing the setup, and trying to understand the situation; by an hour into the movie, I got distracted finding some sweet apps for my phone, and apparently that was more interesting than the second half of Saw.

The Shawshank Redemption: The more that a movie is overhyped, the less I usually appreciate it as much as I'm supposed to (see The Dark Knight and Juno). Shawshank is the rare movie that defies that expectation and lives up to its among-the-best-movies-ever status. Morgan Freeman turns in the performance of his career, and the very best and very worst parts of humanity are explored in a story that leaves just enough ambiguity to be interesting.

Monty Python's Life of Brian: As someone who likes Monty Python in general, and is quite a big fan of The Holy Grail specifically, I couldn't help but be disappointed with Life of Brian. I expected cutting religious satire and witty commentary, and there are a few brilliant scenes (like the Roman guards giving Brian a Latin lesson as he vandalizes their buildings). But as the movie wears on, we get speech impediment humor and predictable gags, which stand up to neither the film's premise or the comedic genius of most of Monty Python's works.

Casablanca: If Shawshank is one of the best movies of the 1990s and a contender for "best movie ever," then Casablanca is its counterpart from the 1940s. There are constantly two or three plot threads in play, but rather than being confusing, all of them are interesting and sensical, and most impressively, we care about all of them. While the ending is predictable, how the movie gets there is not--and the characters and dialog are among the most enduring fixtures of American cinema.

Currently listening: "Brick by Boring Brick" (acoustic version), Paramore

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