Category Archives: 0.5 pirate flags

Another Year

Another Year (2010): United Kingdom – directed by Mike Leigh

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some language

When writing about Blue Valentine [review here] I commented that few films these days mention staying in love, as it is so popular to fall in love, over and over again.  My comments may have been short-sighted, even if Another Year does not entirely nullify the sentiment.  Another Year contains a long-married couple who are the roots of the film, surrounded by a great deal of rotten fruit.  But even this rotten fruit is portrayed honestly, and tragically, and with such a surprisingly old, happy married couple at the core the film is well worth the time for viewers interested in character dramas.

Mike Leigh’s newest film is certainly a character drama.  There are events that happen during the course of the film, but little in the way of plot.  Instead the film charts out a number of happenings over the course of a year in the life of Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen).

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The Kids Are All Right

The Kids Are All Right (2010): United States – directed by Lisa Cholodenko

Rated R by the MPAA – contains sexual content, some nudity, strong language, mature themes, California

The Kids Are All Right appears, on the surface, to be a conventional family drama/comedy about an unconventional family.  Normally, if one were to praise a film, he or she might comment with something like, “but it goes so much deeper,” or “but if you look really closely.”  Unfortunately, The Kids Are All Right barely manages to successfully be a conventional film about an unconventional family.

Nick (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) have been together for many years.  They have two kids, but not together, obviously.  They used the same sperm donor, so the “father” is the same, but Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) have always grown up having two moms.  And they are a perfectly normal, happy family.  Joni has graduated from high school and is about to move on to college.  Laser has a troublesome friend named Clay (Eddie Hassell), but is really more interested in something else.

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The Last Song

The Last Song (2010): United States – directed by Julie Anne Robinson

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains kissing, some mature themes

Is there something to be said for films that don’t mind recycling formulaic plots and cliched devices, if the film is done well enough?  What if it’s not particularly well crafted?  Perhaps it lands in the worst possible category of film, a generic film not bad enough to be enjoyable and not good enough to appreciate.  These are the most disappointing films; they inspire neither loathing nor love, and end up being mere piles of “meh.”

The Last Song’s story is indeed formulaic, but what more could you expect from Nicholas Sparks?  The star of the film is Miley Cyrus, who is perhaps the sole reason the film exists.  She plays Ronnie Miller, and at the beginning of the film she and her brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman) are dropped off at their father’s house on the beach.  Their parents are divorced, and the split was devastating to the children, particularly Ronnie.

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Henry V (1944)

Henry V (1944): United Kingdom – directed by Laurence Olivier

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some mild violence

Laurence Olivier’s 1944 adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Henry V is a bit of an odd bird.  The full title, as given in the credits, is The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France, a name which likely was rather bulky for a marquee.  The film itself is almost as odd as Shakespeare’s original title seems today.  It begins as a period piece, a filmed stage play in early 1600’s England, then transitions into more traditional cinematic territory.  It never finds a solid footing, however, and is tonally scattered.

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Alpha and Omega

Alpha and Omega (2010): United States – directed by Anthony Bell and Ben Gluck

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains butt shots, some crude humor

Alpha and Omega, despite some high profile voice actors and the melancholy accompanying it due to Dennis Hopper’s death, ultimately falls flat as an animated feature and a family film.  There are enough cute moments to entice younger children, but then why is there so much innuendo and so many butt jokes?

The story itself is a little on the tame side.  Kate (Hayden Panettiere) and Humphrey (Justin Long) are introduced in the opening scenes, cavorting and having fun together as young wolves are apt to do.  But even at an early age they realize that they won’t be able to be together, as Kate is an alpha wolf in training under the tutelage of her father, Winston (Danny Glover), who is the clan leader.  And Humphrey is an omega, the stupidest of the stupid wolves.  He’s forced to hang out with lame friends (even though he likes them) and the only girl wolves he can hope to get are the berry-loving vegetarian organic types.

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Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969): United States – directed by Herbert Ross

Rated G by the MPAA – contains a little very mild language

There is a certain charm in this 1969 version of Goodbye, Mr. ChipsPeter O’Toole is sympathetic and occasionally adorable in his naivety, and his academic manners are a perfect contrast to the real world of Britain in the first half of the 20th century.  There are a number of flaws to the film, not the least of which is its excessive run time and a propensity for rather dull moments, but the unique English charm of Arthur Chipping will make the experience worthwhile for Anglophiles and fans of slow romantic films.

O’Toole is Mr. Chips, or Arthur Chipping to his passel of schoolchildren.  He is a school master at Brookfield, a respectable school for boys of reputable families.  He is strict and unpleasant, focused entirely on the education of his children.  At one point he won’t let a child out of class to compete in the tennis tournament because he intends for the class to go an extra hour.  It makes no matter that the boy’s father is Lord Sutterwick (George Baker), an important donor.

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A Walk in the Sun

A Walk in the Sun (1945): United States – directed by Lewis Milestone

Not rated by the MPAA – contains a little war violence, walking

In some respects All Quiet on the Western Front hasn’t aged particularly well.  Acting as an art wasn’t that advanced in 1930, and many scenes feel, today, forced and obvious.  In spite of these small complaints, I am rather fond of the film, as the final act is remarkably powerful.  My appreciation of Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front makes his 1945 effort, A Walk in the Sun, that much more disappointing.

The story follows the landing of an infantry platoon on the Salerno beachhead, in 1943 Italy.  The squad has vague orders to penetrate inland, and a farmhouse and bridge are given as primary considerations.  In spite of this brief historical context, the film isn’t really about any historical incident or battle.  It is more concerned with the soldiers who do the walking and fighting.

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The Music Man

The Music Man (1962): United States – directed by Morton DaCosta

Not rated by the MPAA – contains flirting and singing and shysterizing

I realize that The Music Man is often considered a classic musical, and perhaps it should be, on the stage.  On the screen, however, when the story and songs become part of a movie, the equation changes slightly.  Other factors become involved with its success and The Music Man manages to fail at many of these elements.

The story is familiar to anyone who has seen “Marge vs. the Monorail”.  An opening sequence, bizarrely shot on a set shaken to resemble a moving train, introduces a group of traveling salesman.  They spend much of their time complaining about one Harold Hill (Robert Preston), a shuckster so profound that he could sell a drowning man a brick and join him in a melody as he sinks.  Their problem with Hill is that he ruins towns for the rest of the honest, honorable salesmen.  He casts doubt and shame upon their entire profession.

Hill, himself on the trainful of salesman (is there a more depressing or disturbing place to be?), is forced to exit at the next stop, a small town by the name of River City, Iowa.  Discovering an old acquaintance, Marcellus Washburn (Buddy Hackett), he commences his mission of selling the town a boys’ brass band, uniforms and all.  The only catch is that he doesn’t know how to play a note of music.

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Stepmom (1998): United States – directed by Chris Columbus

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some profanity and mature themes

Stepmom begins as a perfectly mediocre family drama.  There are the essential characters, the dysfunctional family, and the morphing relationships that provide drama and emotion.  And then there’s cancer, that great MacGuffin of familial dramas.  Cancer provides the necessary tears to make the audience cry, whether they feel they should or not.

But then, halfway through the film, it appears as though the filmmakers decided the movie was not long enough and added a large amount of random filler.  The story becomes jumbled, the characters switch personalities rapidly, and the cheese is pumped in at an increasing rate.  And then the film has the gall to throw in a couple scenes at the end that would make a hard boiled cynic cry, if they weren’t laughing from the cheese.

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While You Were Sleeping

While You Were Sleeping (1995): United States – directed by Jon Turteltaub

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some mild profanity, some mild sexual references, some mild violence, and some extreme contrivances

Rarely do you find a film that is entirely constructed out of coincidental plot contrivances, but While You Were Sleeping might be that rare picture.  Not a single element of the story transpires because of anything that a normal person would do; the entire plot is contrived and absurd.

The film is not helped by some awful dialogue.  There are maybe five humorous lines in the movie, and some truly awful ones (“I don’t drink anymore.  I don’t drink any less, either.”)  There is some chemistry between the leads, and Sandra Bullock is likable, but these small bright spots are not enough to save the picture.

While You Were Sleeping begins with Lucy Eleanor Moderatz (Bullock) delivering a short and ultimately pointless monologue about the sad state of her life and some happy times in her past.  She soon reveals that she works for the Chicago Transit Authority collecting train fares.

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