Monday, January 23, 2006

Tracie Reviews a bunch of movies that weren't as good as "Brokeback Mountain"

Before I left for the theater on Saturday, I was dreaming up a post about all the movies I've seen lately. In it, I was going to mention the three movies I've seen in the theater in the past month that most people have some familiarity with, giving a brief comment on each, and knowing that I was going to like "Brokeback Mountain" the best even though I hadn't seen it yet. Then I was going to go on and write about the movies I've watched on DVD lately, which are mostly those indie types that 99% of the population hasn't even heard of. This post was going to be called "Tracie Reviews Movies You've Never Heard Of," and I had the thing half-written in my head (along with about 50 other posts that never end up getting written).

Then I went to see "Brokeback Mountain" and was moved by it beyond all reason and I had to give it its very own post. I hate it when the actual experience of life disrupts my plans for a blog entry!

Anyway, I'm still going to write about all the other movies I've seen recently, because some of them were pretty good, even if they didn't deserve their very own gushing post like "Brokeback Mountain" did.

(Before I start, a quick refresher of my patented Film-Movie-Flick rating system. Films are great, Movies are okay to mediocre, and Flicks are just bad. "Brokeback Mountain" blew me away so much that I forgot to give it a grade -- hopefully it goes without saying that I give it the coveted and rare Film +.)

I've been to the theater two other times in the past month. The first was over Christmas vacation. Let me explain that, while Enthusio tells us he wants to see virtually every movie aimed at kids he sees advertised, Mermaid only gets it in her head that she wants to see a particular movie maybe once a year. Since it's so rare, I like to honor her requests, but unfortunately, the movie she picks is almost always something really awful-looking. This year was no different -- she really wanted to see the remake of "Yours, Mine and Ours," because there was a girl who plays the saxophone in it. Fine -- she and Enthusio and I trooped to the theater to see it one day. Even with extremely low expectations, it was hard to sit through. I groaned out loud at least three times. And of course it didn't help that Renee Russo scores really high on my Jennifer Love Hewitt Scale of Actresses Who Annoy the Crap Out of Me. She's always tossing her head back to laugh, which is bad enough, but in this movie, she was playing the "free spirit" parent, so she did it more often than usual. Also, what is with her mouth? I'd say she's had a lot of work done, but since when is having your mouth sink further and further back into your face something you would have done? Grade: Flick

The other movie I saw in the theater was "The Family Stone." I didn't have high hopes for this one either, having read bad reviews and heard from at least one friend it was pretty bad, so it was a pleasant surprise when it turned out to be interesting and watchable. It still wasn't good, but it was never boring, and I definitely wanted to see how it would come out. Generally, I think the actors did a good job fleshing out interesting, three-dimensional characters, but the script had all of them behaving in ways that they just wouldn't. The climactic scene had the whole family getting all distraught and offended at something that just wouldn't have caused that reaction, and the resolution of the story was ridiculous. Some really interesting performances, though. Grade: Movie

I've been watching lots of movies on DVD lately. One of the better ones, which Reasonable Man and I watched together, was "Spellbound," a documentary about seven or eight kids who participated in the national spelling bee in Washington D.C. a few years ago. We have some friends whose son went last year, so after seeing them and hearing about their experience (including the dad's observation that a lot of the kids participating were a little scary), we finally got around to renting this one. I really enjoyed it, though it was hard not to feel bad for some of the kids, both the ones who were eliminated early and the ones who seemed to have no life outside studying the dictionary in the months leading up to the bee. Overall, the kids were more normal than I expected, although some of the parents were awfully intense. Grade: Movie +

I picked up "A Slipping Down Life" for several reasons. One: it's based on a book by Anne Tyler, one of my favorite authors, two: it stars Lili Taylor, one of my favorite actresses, and three: it's exactly the kind of quirky little independent film I tend to enjoy. It's been a long time since I read the book, but I remember liking it, even though it was sad. It was written in the 60s, and the movie updates it to the present. Between that and the fact that, while I remember the characters as being quite young in the book, the actors who play them are in their thirties, I didn't think the movie really worked. Lili Taylor was wonderful as always, and Guy Pearce, playing the local musician/heartthrob, was also very good, but I didn't think the tone was ever quite right, and they switched the sad ending from the book for a happier, more Hollywood finish, and that didn't really work either. Overall, this was a disappointment. I say read the book instead. Grade: Movie -

Okay, I'm just going to say it: I love Topher Grace. I always thought he was the best thing about "That 70s Show," cuter and funnier that Ashton What's-His-Face, and I'm glad to see him doing movies. I was excited to watch "In Good Company" on DVD a few months ago, and while I ultimately didn't think it was all that good a movie, Topher Grace's performance? Oh my God -- put him in a bowl and give me a spoon. I mean it. So you can imagine how much I looked forward to watching "P.S.", in which Laura Linney plays a lonely, divorced college admissions director who believes an applicant, played by my crush, might be the reincarnation of her late high school boyfriend. As with "In Good Company," the movie wasn't very good, but Topher was adorable in it. He has an ability to play cocky and arrogant that we didn't see during all his years playing more of an Everyman on a sitcom. The plot of this movie unfortunately gets bogged down with all kinds of unnecessary subplots involving Linney's character's brother, ex-husband, and crazy best friend/adversary from high school, and ultimately the relationship between her character and Topher's gets short-changed. The movie ends with us having no idea what it means that this man has come into her life, or what may come of it. Disappointing. Grade: P.S.: Movie - Topher Grace: Film -

Finally, there's "Camp," about a group of kids who attend a theater camp one summer. I really enjoyed it, though, as with a lot of movies with ensemble casts, I felt that there wasn't enough of each character for us to get to know any of them. But it was adorable, and I loved the scenes where they were performing. The best scene was one where some of the students just got together, informally, and performed a song written by their washed-up playwright teacher -- I loved the song, "Century Plant," so much that I immediately downloaded it and put it on my iPod. The cast of unknowns was a lot of fun, and I loved how they all worshipped Stephen Sondheim (I was so glad it wasn't Andrew Lloyd Webber!). Grade: Movie +

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