Movies Watched: Apr 24 – Apr 30, 2016

I’ve finally caught up with all my movie reviews! From now on, I’m going to be aiming to post one post every weekend with reviews of that week’s movies.

[Apr 24] “Sliding Doors” (1998)

sliding-doorsHelen has just been fired from her job, and she’s about to take the train home to her apartment. Her whole life will be very different depending on whether she catches the train or not, and we see both futures unfold in parallel. This movie is mainly a romantic comedy, but the parallel universe story makes it a bit more interesting than usual. Gwyneth Paltrow does a good job playing two different versions of the same character, and the movie makes it easy to distinguish the two timelines from each other despite featuring the same people. The way the parallel universe situation resolved itself at the end was a bit melodramatic for my taste, but that doesn’t make it bad necessarily. I also kept being reminded of My Real Children by Jo Walton, which has a similar premise, and which I really enjoyed – I feel like it’s unfair to compare Sliding Doors to it though, since the tones are very different.

[Apr 25] “United 93” (2006)

united93Based on the true story of one of the four planes hijacked during the September 11 terrorist attacks – the passengers figured out what the hijackers intended and attempted to take control of the plane rather than allow more people to be killed. United 93 is one of best dramatizations of real events that I’ve ever seen. It’s set in real time, and we see the events of 9/11 both from United 93’s perspective and various aviation control towers throughout the country. Most of the actors are not very well known, and we don’t even know most of the characters’ names – this seems like it would make us less invested in the story, but in reality this makes us feel closer to them because they seem like real people we have met on a plane. Some of the FAA/military people actually play themselves, so that adds to the realism even more. There’s no melodrama, director/writer Paul Greengrass lets the truth of the events speak for themselves. I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here and just say that I can’t recommend this movie enough.

[Apr 26] “Adaptation.” (2002)

AdaptationCharlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) is hired to write an adaptation of the book The Orchid Thief, but he’s having trouble figuring out how to adapt it. Meanwhile, he’s also having issues with his twin brother Donald and Amelia, the woman he likes. This is the most meta movie I’ve ever seen, because it was actually written by the real life screenwriter Charlie Kaufman when he was having trouble adapting The Orchid Thief, so it both adapts the story, tells the story of adapting the story, and extends the real story into something fictional. I liked it a lot, it’s very unusual and it wouldn’t have worked at all if it wasn’t so well written. Nicolas Cage does a great job as both Kaufman brothers, who are very different from each other, and Meryl Streep is terrific as usual. Chris Cooper is also fantastic as the colorful orchid poacher Laroche.

[Apr 27] “Lost in Translation” (2003)

lost-in-translationWashed up movie star Bob (Bill Murray) and neglected young wife Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) meet in a Tokyo hotel and become close. I’ve seen this movie before, but not after I realized that I notably liked Sofia Coppola (and this earned her a Best Director Oscar nomination), so I was looking forward to rewatching it. It’s a very good movie, Coppola portrays both characters’ loneliness and aimlessness, and the bewilderment of foreign culture beautifully. The relationship between Bob and Charlotte happens so naturally – they don’t talk very much, and what they say doesn’t matter, but their bond is apparent. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are both incredible (apparently Johansson was only 17, but she plays someone in her mid-twenties very well). Lost in Translation is sad, moving, subtle, quiet, and very very very good.

[Apr 28] “Taps” (1981)

tapsWhen it’s announced that Bunker Hill Military Academy is to be torn down and replaced with condos, a group of cadets decide to take matters into their own hands, and the situation quickly escalates. This movie has a great cast of people that weren’t famous yet – it’s Sean Penn’s first movie, Tom Cruise’s second movie, and there were also a bunch of people I recognize from recent TV like Giancarlo Esposito, Evan Handler, and Timothy Hutton. Taps is a movie about the dangers of ideology taken too far – the cadets at Bunker Hill think they know what honor and duty means, but they’re really just teenagers that don’t understand consequences yet. Tom Cruise is absolutely terrifying as the baby-faced company commander that’s way too excited about war, and Sean Penn plays dissenting but loyal friend to perfection, he’s easily the most sympathetic. It was also nice to Ronny Cox in a heroic role for a change.

[Apr 29] “Just Like Heaven” (2005)

Just-Like-HeavenDavid (Mark Ruffalo) has just moved into a new apartment, but the previous occupant Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon) hasn’t quite left, she’s still haunting the apartment in non-corporeal form. They start to get to know each other and fall in love while trying to solve the mystery of Elizabeth’s existence. This is another pretty typical romantic comedy made somewhat interesting by the unusual premise. I like Mark Ruffalo a lot, I think he makes a great exasperated romantic comedy lead type, and Reese Witherspoon is a good actress too. I didn’t really buy their romance, though, I thought they made great friends, and I wish this had just been a movie about David helping Elizabeth figure out her existence – I think that would have been cuter. This isn’t a bad movie though, at least not as far as the romantic comedy genre goes.

[Apr 30] “21” (2008)

21Ben, an MIT senior, is invited to join a team of students led by Prof. Micky Rosa who go to Vegas and win big sums of money at blackjack by counting cards. This is nominally based on a true story, but it seems like the only thing that actually happened was that there was a team at MIT that counted cards to win at blackjack – pretty much everything else is original to the movie. 21 is not a very good movie. Every beat is predictable, the dialogue is usually trite, and a lot of the details just don’t make any sense. For example, Ben’s main motivation is enough money to go to Harvard Medical School (which he’s already been accepted into), but the possibility of a student loan is never even mentioned. I also didn’t find the characters that compelling – Ben is supposed to be socially awkward, but the actor does not really ever convey that. The rest of the team seems like caricatures too, and even Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishburne can’t really escape the confines of the writing. It was flashy and fast paced and fairly entertaining though, as long as you don’t expect much.

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