[Apr 1] “Swimming with Sharks” (1994)
Guy (Frank Whaley) is the newest assistant to legendary Hollywood producer Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey). He starts off all bright eyed and enthusiastic, but Ackerman turns out to be the worst boss imaginable, and eventually after much suffering, Guy gets his revenge. This was a pretty odd movie, none of the characters are very likeable, even Guy doesn’t seem very sympathetic even as he’s being put through hell by his boss. However, Kevin Spacey is excellent as the abrasive and volatile Ackerman, he’s kind of like Ari Gold from Entourage, but without all the heart.
[Apr 2] “From Russia with Love” (1963)
This continues our quest to watch all the Bond movies in order – From Russia with Love is the second movie after Dr. No. In revenge for killing Dr. No, Spectre sets up a trap to lure Bond into stealing a Russian decoding machine, with the side effect of causing hostilities between the British and the Russians. I enjoyed this movie quite a bit, it clearly has a bigger budget than the first one, and the action moves through a lot of different locations. Plus, we have Q and some pretty cool gadgets! My only complaint was that Bond seems to just be reacting to things in this, rather than figuring things out for himself.
[Apr 2] “Spanglish” (2004)
This is one of Joseph’s favourite movies (and mine too!), and was a rewatch. Flor (Paz Vega), a newly immigrated woman from Mexico starts working for famous chef John Clasky (Adam Sandler) and his family in Los Angeles. Their families end up becoming close, and Flor has to navigate cultural shock and an attraction that she doesn’t anticipate. I haven’t seen any of Adam Sandler’s comedies, but I’m assured that they are really dumb – this is not one of those movies. It’s a really cute movie about adults making responsible choices despite whatever they feel, despite other adults making horrible choices based entirely on how they feel. Téa Leoni is horrifyingly believable as Deborah Clasky, John Clasky’s neurotic and insecure wife, and the rest of the cast is great too.
[Apr 2] “Tango & Cash” (1989)
Tango (Sylvester Stallone) and Cash (Kurt Russell) are two lone wolf narcotics cops with very different styles, but one thing in common – they’re great at at their jobs. When the city’s leading crime lord gets tired of them and has them framed, they have to learn how to get along and work together to clear their name. Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone are both terrific, both individually and when they play off of each other. There are some good action scenes, there’s comedy, and while this isn’t an amazing movie, it’s very entertaining.
[Apr 2] “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947)
When the newest Santa employed by Macy’s claims that his name is Kris Kringle and he’s the real Santa Claus, he ends up being institutionalized for insanity. He’s defended by young lawyer Fred Gailey, who not only has to prove that Kringle might very well be the real Santa Claus to the law, but also to his no-nonsense neighbor (who works for Macy’s and hired the Santa) and her young daughter. I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, the acting was great, and I liked the look into the world of the 1940’s. I thought it was pretty cool for an independent, divorced woman to be in management at a large business – the world seems to have taken a step backwards in the next couple of decades (at least judging by the James Bond movies and things like Mad Men.)
[Apr 3] “Seven Years in Tibet” (1997)
Based on a true story, this movie tells the story of Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian mountain climber who lived in Tibet for seven years and became friends with the Dalai Lama. It’s set immediately preceding and during China’s takeover of Tibet, which I didn’t know much about, and I found very interesting. Brad Pitt plays Harrer, and he’s pretty good, even if his accent took a bit of getting used to. I found the Dalai Lama fascinating, the actor who plays him does a fantastic job of conveying the mixture of curiosity, brilliance, and wisdom usually associated with him. The movie really draws you into the world of Tibet along with Harrer and his friend Aufschnaiter (played excellently by David Thewlis), and even if you know the inevitability of what happens with China, you can’t help but mourn the loss of old Tibet.
[Apr 3] “The Truman Show” (1998)
Another re-watch. Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), an insurance salesman, is coming to realize that he’s spent all of his life in a simulated reality – he’s been the subject of a television show from birth, and his friends and family are all actors just playing the part. This is a classic movie for a good reason, it’s great! I don’t know if it would have been half as good without Jim Carrey playing Truman, he’s generally lovable, from when he’s greeting his neighbors to when he’s facing his worst fears and figuring out the truth despite literally everyone in his life manipulating him. The rest of the cast is great too, but I was most impressed by Laura Linney (I find her so reassuring in John Adams, among other things) who’s incredibly creepy with her saccharine responses to everything and her obvious product placement.
[Apr 4] “Ronin” (1998)
A team of ex-spies and special forces soldiers is hired by the Irish to steal a heavily guarded suitcase. Loyalties within the team aren’t as simple as they seem, though, and when things go wrong, a complex and deadly game of intrigue is set into motion. I thought this movie was fantastic, it’s a very different kind of action movie, it’s not sleek or glossy, it’s atmospheric and it’s realistic. For example, the car chases show the cars being handled realistically, and plenty of collateral damage, and the scenes with gunfights pay close attention to bullets that miss as well as bullets that hit. The cast is really great, Robert De Niro as ex-CIA agent Sam and Jean Reno as ex-French agent Vincent are particularly wonderful (especially when working together!) Highly recommended.
[Apr 5] “The Ghost and the Darkness” (1996)
Based on the true story of two legendary man-eating lions preying on workers building a bridge in East Africa in late 1890s and Col. John Patterson’s (Val Kilmer) efforts to deal with them. Patterson is a famous engineer, but he’s never built anything in Africa with its unique problems – a workforce divided by ethnic tensions (African natives vs. Indian migrants, and further divisions within those two groups), constant disease, and of course, man eating lions. I’ve always been fascinated by man-eaters because my grandfather was too, and when I was growing up, he often told me stories about hunting them. I also don’t think I’ve seen any movies set in this time period in Africa, and so that was interesting too. It’s hard to imagine simple animals being so menacing in an era of industry, but the movie manages to make them terrifying. The cast is great too, especially Michael Douglas as the larger than life big game hunter Remington.
[Apr 6] “Space Cowboys” (2000)
In the 1950’s, hotshot pilot Frank (Clint Eastwood) is pulled off the nascent space program, along with his crewmates. Fifty years later, when an satellite with an operating system designed by Frank is failing, he insists on being sent to space to repair it himself, along with the rest of his old team. Lots of humor about old people in space ensues. I love space, and I think Clint Eastwood is a great director, so I was ready to love this movie, but I really didn’t. It followed a pretty similar story to Armageddon, but seemed much more unoriginal, it seemed like the story was being told by a formula rather than following characters. A lot of the humor felt flat too. It’s too bad, because all the actors were great.
[Apr 6] “Four Brothers” (2005)
When an upstanding woman who’s helped many members of her local community is seemingly randomly killed in a grocery store robbery, her four adopted children get together to avenge her death. They (of course) find out that there’s a lot more to her death than they first realized, but they’re treading very dangerous waters. I enjoyed this movie, it’s directed by John Singleton who also did Boyz n the Hood, and it’s got that same grounded feeling to it. I didn’t quite buy Chiwetel Ejiofor as the capricious gangster, he seemed like he was trying to chew scenery but not quite succeeding, but that’s a minor quibble.
[Apr 7] “The Patriot” (2000)
Soldier-turned-farmer Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) tries to stay out of the Revolutionary War to keep his family safe, but when tragedy strikes, he can’t help but join the fight against the British. I liked this movie up to about halfway through, but it ended up being too ridiculous and melodramatic by the end – it’s made by Roland Emmerich, who often likes to do that kind of thing. I’m not even sure why this movie is called The Patriot because Martin is not patriotic, he just wants to defend his family – there are no speeches about America’s values or taxation without representation or anything, there’s just the British troops being cruel and horrible and the “bad guys”, and the Americans being good and noble and the “good guys”. I do enjoy seeing Heath Ledger in things though.
[Apr 8] “The Quiet American” (2002)
British reporter Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine) enjoys his life in 1950’s Vietnam – he doesn’t have too much work, and he’s got a beautiful girlfriend, Phuong. However, things are changing – the paper wants him back in London, a young American doctor named Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser) is trying to win his girlfriend away, and the conflict between the French and the communists in Vietnam is getting worse. This is an adaptation of a Graham Greene novel, and it’s really all about Fowler and Pyle and their different philosophies. Both Brendan Fraser and Michael Caine are incredible, and play nuanced and complex characters – their situation can get unusual at times, but they handle it well. You don’t really know what’s going on until the very end, but it all makes sense. A strange but unexpectedly good movie.
[Apr 9] “Hook” (1991)
Peter Pan (Robin Williams) has forgotten his origins and grown up into a busy corporate lawyer, but when Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) kidnaps his children, he has to go back to Neverland and reclaim his legacy in order to rescue them. I love this movie; this was a re-watch. It’s made by Steven Spielberg, so of course it’s well-made. Robin Williams is excellent as usual, and Dustin Hoffman as Hook chews the scenery to shreds (it takes a lot to do that in a movie with Robin Williams!) and he’s clearly having so much fun. Julia Roberts also holds her own as Tinkerbell, Maggie Smith is great as Wendy, and Neverland is boisterous and crazy and very familiar from reading the books (although minus the Indians).
[Apr 9] “Everything Must Go” (2010)
Alcoholic Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell) has just lost his job, and he comes home to discover his wife has left him, changed the locks, and left all his stuff out on the lawn. His friend gets him a permit for a yard sale in order to buy him some time, and he must come to terms with his situation and figure out his life before it expires. I like Will Ferrell in this movie, it’s not really a comedy like his usual roles, and he’s very sympathetic as a guy whose whole life is falling apart around him. As usual with these movies, he meets some people, relapses, gets better, and eventually ends up making a beginning towards making his life better. I liked it, my only complaint was that his wife seemed like an utterly horrible person (who leaves a house AND changes all the locks so her husband can’t use it either?) and I wish that had been addressed more strongly than it was.
[Apr 10] “Big Trouble in Little China” (1986)
Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is a truck driver who gets mixed up into helping his friend Wang Chi rescue his fiancee who’s been kidnapped by the legendary Chinese sorcerer, Lo Pan. He enters a world of magic, monsters, and martial arts that he’d never even dreamed existed. The movie doesn’t take itself very seriously at all, and it’s very campy. Kurt Russell is pretty good in it, apparently it was one of the first movies to feature a protagonist who is brave but not very competent (at one point Kurt Russell’s character knocks himself out during a fight). Overly campy isn’t usually my style, but as far as it goes, I enjoyed it.
[Apr 10] “Days of Thunder” (1990)
Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise) is a young stock car driver who’s recruited as a driver for a new NASCAR team. This movie is directed by Tony Scott, and it’s pretty similar to Top Gun in a lot of ways – Tom Cruise plays a cocky hotshot who has to learn to work with his team, he charms someone in a position of authority, and most of the movie is him gaining experience to get to an eventual goal (Roger Ebert even codified this formula!). That’s not a bad thing at all, though, Tom Cruise has enough charm that you could see him do that over and over again. I don’t know much about NASCAR, but I enjoyed the movie, it’s fast paced and fun, and the characters are likeable.