Weekly Movie Reviews: Mar 12-18, 2017

A Bronx Tale (1993)

Calogero Anello is a young Italian-American growing up in a mob-dominated part of the Bronx. He’s fascinated by the gangster lifestyle, and idolizes the local boss, Sonny. As he grows up, he’s influenced by both his father Lorenzo, a law abiding bus driver who wants nothing to do with organized crime, and by Sonny, who has taken a liking to him. Both men are at odds with each other, but share the same concerns for Calogero. Robert De Niro plays Lorenzo to perfection, and he also directs the movie incredibly well (in his directorial debut.) Chazz Palminteri plays Sonny, also to perfection, and he also wrote the movie (based on his own life story.)

Gangster movies are not my favorite genre. There are some amazing movies that happen to be gangster movies, but I still don’t look forward to a movie as much if I know it’s about gangsters. I like movies about characters growing, not characters being scary human beings that I wouldn’t want to go near. Luckily, despite being advertised as one of the best gangster movies of all time, A Bronx Tale is actually a coming of age story. It reminded me most of Boyz in the Hood – Calogero grows up in a neighborhood and around people that are pretty screwed up, but he’s lucky in that he ends up with good father figures. It’s a heartwarming movie, and I can see myself watching it many times in the future.

Open Range (2003)

I love Kevin Costner and westerns, and especially westerns directed by Kevin Costner (Dances With Wolves is amazing), so I was pretty excited about Open Range. Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall play “free grazer” cowboys who follow their cows around wherever they happen to wander. They run afoul of a ruthless land baron in the town of Harmonville and are eventually put in a position where they have to take a stand against him. I thought this movie was fantastic – the acting, the landscapes, the details – they were all just right. I loved Robert Duvall in particular. There’s also a pretty unique fight scene at the end, the action happens in real-time, and it’s one of the most realistic action scenes that I’ve seen.

The Young Victoria (2009)

The story of Queen Victoria’s early years, starring Emily Blunt as Victoria and Rupert Friend as her husband, Prince Albert. Many costume dramas are slow and ponderous, but The Young Victoria is not one of those. Emily Blunt really breathes life into her character, she’s young, naive, curious, and stubborn. Victoria’s life is fascinating, she grew up under the thumb of her mother and her mother’s comptroller who actually developed a formal system for making sure she ended up dependent on them as an adult. As soon as she reached her majority, Victoria completely rejected the system, and it is a joy to watch on screen. Her romance with Albert is well done and the period details seem more accurate than most movies (which makes sense since it was written by Julian Fellowes, who created Downton Abbey.)

Shattered Glass (2003)

I had never heard of this movie before this week, but since we enjoyed Breach so much last week, we looked up the director’s other work. Shattered Glass is based on the real story of Stephen Glass, a reporter at the New Republic who either partially or completely made up many of the stories he wrote for the magazine. Hayden Christensen is extremely believable as the attention-seeking Glass, his character grates like nails on chalkboard (but because his acting is good, unlike in the Star Wars prequels.) Just like Breach, the story is told in a understated way, but it makes it all the more effective because it seems more realistic. I loved the supporting cast of this movie too – Peter Saarsgard and Steve Zahn especially.

A Soldier’s Story (1984)

We’ve been watching our way through Denzel Washington’s entire catalog, and A Soldier’s Story is his second major movie. A black officer (played by Howard E. Rollins Jr.) is sent to investigate the murder of a black sergeant in the Jim Crow South during World War II. He’s greeted with suspicion and resentment, and his investigation is regarded as pointless because it’s taken for granted that the local Ku Klux Klan killed the sergeant. Of course, the truth isn’t as simple as it seems, and racism isn’t always straightforward. I thought this was a great, thoughtful movie with realistic characters and some powerful acting. Just like great movies like 12 Angry Men, A Soldier’s Story challenges us to think beyond the “obvious” conclusions and evaluate situations based on facts.

A Good Year (2006)

A Good Year is a romantic comedy directed by Ridley Scott, featuring Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard. “Ridley Scott” and “romantic comedy” aren’t usually things you associate in the same sentence, but I really enjoyed Matchstick Men, which was also out of Scott’s usual genre. I was pleasantly surprised, this movie was actually pretty good – weird, but good. Russell Crowe plays against type as Max, a workaholic womanizing bond trader. Max inherits the French chateau that he spent his summers at after his uncle dies, and it upends his life. He begins to see an alternative to his high-flying lifestyle, meets a woman he can really appreciate, and even though he fights against it, he sees his life clearly for the first time in a while. A Good Year is a “quirky small town” kind of movie, and I love those. Plus the cast and atmosphere are great.

13 Going on 30 (2004)

After Jenna has a humiliating 13th birthday party, she wishes that she was thirty and is magically transported forward in time where all of her dreams have come true and she is an editor at her favorite fashion magazine. Her life may seem perfect on the surface, but Jenna finds that it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – she has turned into a pretty unlikable person and lost touch with her childhood best friend, Matty. I don’t think any movie could do the “kid in an adult body” trope better than Big, and 13 Going on 30 definitely isn’t in the same league. It’s mostly a dumb romantic comedy rather than a character growth story, and given the genre, it was better than I thought it would be. Mark Ruffalo is reassuring as usual, and Jennifer Garner does a credible job acting like a 13 year old that’s out of her depth.

Batman (1989)

I’m a fan of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, but I’ve never actually seen the earlier Tim Burton & Joel Schumacher Batman films until now. Michael Keaton plays Bruce Wayne/Batman and Jack Nicholson plays the Joker (who gets the origin story of the movie.) It took me a while to get used to a Batman that didn’t take himself that seriously, and wasn’t even that screwed up, but Michael Keaton eventually grew on me. I don’t think this movie has aged very well, though. My primary reaction to it was boredom, I don’t think anything about it was bad, but it just didn’t engage me. Maybe it’s because it assumed that the audience thought comic books were silly, and it wasn’t even trying to make an emotional connection?

John Q. (2002)

John Q. stars Denzel Washington as a desperate father who doesn’t have the money to pay for the heart transplant that his son needs and holds up the hospital to force them to provide the transplant. I was looking forward to it because it’s a Denzel Washington movie, but boy, is it terrible. It’s cloying and melodramatic to a fault, the characters are just cardboard cutouts, and even then they make no sense and just do whatever the plot needs them to do. The plot has gaping holes in it. Not recommended.

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