Weekly Movie Reviews: Oct 8-14, 2017

Favorite Movie of the Week

The Sound of Music (1965)

I’m not sure how I’d never seen The Sound of Music, I’ve known songs from it ever since I can remember and I know it’s one of best-known classic movies all around the world.

Maria, a young Austrian woman, is a nun in training in a convent in Salzburg. She is excitable and easily distracted though, which are not qualities that nuns usually possess. So the abbess of her convent decides to send her to the Von Trapp family as a governess for a few months to help her decide if she really wants to be a nun. Maria finds seven lovely children who are desperate to get their father’s attention since he has been extremely strict and aloof since their mother died. She brings joy back to the family’s life but fresh difficulties for them arise as Austria is annexed to Nazi Germany.

I find that older movies don’t hold my attention quite as easily as newer ones do, but I didn’t have that problem at all with The Sound of Music, despite it being over fifty years old and about three hours long. The songs are fabulous and I still have a couple stuck in my head. The pacing is perfect, just as you’re starting to wish a conflict in the movie was solved, it does and the movie throws something else at you. The actors are wonderful, adding both humor and drama without either feeling disingenuous. The whole movie has a cozy warmth to it that I can’t quite describe. I know why everyone loves it so much now!

Other Movies Watched

Sin Nombre (2009)

Sin Nombre follows Sayra, a Honduran teenager, and Willy, a young Mexican gangster. Sayra and her family (including her father that she hasn’t seen since she was very young) are on a perilous journey through Mexico to attempt crossing the border into the United States. Casper is growing disillusioned with gang life and is looking for a way out so that he can keep his girlfriend safe. Both their stories eventually intersect on the train that Sayra is traveling on.

This is a exceptional movie. It is not always easy to watch; it is brutally violent (but in realistic ways) and some bad things happen to people, including children. But it also has moments of beauty and hope. First-time writer/director Cary Fukunaga (later famous for True Detective and Beasts of No Nation) is phenomenal, the writing, the pacing, the atmosphere, the acting, and everything else was outstanding. Everything about the movie seems authentic (I read that Fukunaga spent two years researching the movie by spending time with real gangsters and with people looking to move to the United States), especially the people in it. The cast features several non-professional actors so that helps. The story that the movie tells is a huge part of its success, it offers an unrelentingly realistic view of people whose situations are so hopeless that illegal immigration seems like a good option.

Jumanji (1995)

Alan Parrish finds a mysterious board game named Jumanji on a construction site and starts playing a game with his friend Sarah. Jumanji isn’t just a game, though. It can actually affect the real world and they find this out the hard way when Alan vanishes while Sarah flees from a horde of bats. Decades later, siblings Judy and Peter move into Alan’s old house and inadvertently resume Alan and Sarah’s old game and release a grown-up Alan from 26 years of being alone in the jungle. Now the four of them must finish the game and brave all the dangers that entails so that things can return to normal.

Jumanji is a classic for a good reason. It’s often chaotic and cacophonous and sometimes a little scary but it’s got all the ingredients that make a good story – humor, heart, romance, adventure, and a little bit of the unexpected. Also Robin Williams is a genius and movies like this one where he works with kids are perfect for him to show off his unique skills (see also: Hook, Mrs. Doubtfire). Kirsten Dunst has been a great actor since she was a child (she’s even better in 1994’s Interview with a Vampire) and she’s a hoot in pretty much every scene she’s in. I wish they still made wacky movies like this!

Death Becomes Her (1992)

Narcissistic actress Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep) has always outdone her rival, aspiring writer Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn). She’s prettier, more successful at her chosen profession, and she’s even managed to steal Helen’s fiancé, Dr. Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis). That was all in the past, though, and Madeline is aging and being quickly forgotten. When Helen reappears in her life with all the success that Madeline has lost, she decides to one-up her by taking an immortality treatment from the mysterious Lisle (Isabella Rossellini). Things don’t quite go quite as well as she planned, though.

This is one of those horror-comedy campy movies that seemed to exist mostly around the late ’80s and early ’90s (like Beetlejuice and The Frighteners) and it is a lot of fun. Meryl Streep steals pretty much every scene she’s in (the very first scene in the movie is a ridiculous musical number). and I never knew that Bruce Willis could play a mousy and unassertive guy as well as he does here. Isabella Rossellini and Goldie Hawn are no slouches either, they were just as good but I haven’t seen as many movies with them so I wasn’t as amused by them. This movie is right in director Robert Zemeckis’s wheelhouse – he thrives with plenty of humor and special effects, and this is no exception. The ending of the movie was just perfect, too.

Mamma Mia! (2008)

Mamma Mia! is a musical based entirely on ABBA songs. Sophie has grown up on a colorful Greek island helping her mother Donna run a quaint hotel. She’s never known who her father is, but as she’s planning her wedding, she finds her mother’s old journal in which she writes about her romances with three different men at around the same time. Sophie knows that one of them must be her father so she decides to invite them all to the wedding and figure out which one it is so that he can walk her down the aisle. Hilarity and singing ensues.

My husband and I both grew up listening to the same ABBA CD (Gold: Greatest Hits) and after watching Muriel’s Wedding (which features ABBA heavily) and Rock of Ages, an ABBA musical sounded fantastic to us. The cast is terrific, Meryl Streep plays Donna, Amanda Seyfried plays Sophie, the three potential fathers are Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgård, and Dominic Cooper, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, are all in it too. They all seem like they’re having so much fun hamming it up (especially Christine Baranski) and it’s infectious – I’m pretty sure both Joseph and I were singing through half of it.

How Do You Know (2010)

Professional softball player Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) has just been cut from the US national team and she has to figure out what to do with her life now that she is too old to be a successful athlete. To make things even more confusing, she ends up caught in a love triangle between her boyfriend, baseball player Matty (Owen Wilson), and corporate executive George (Paul Rudd), who is managing a crisis of his own.

I’ve talked about my love for James L. Brooks before and this movie has a lot of the good things that his other movies do. It’s just not as good, though. I feel like I didn’t get to know any of the characters very well and since it is a character-focused drama, that’s a problem. It also focused too much on the romance aspect, the premise of Lisa needing to figure out her whole life is compelling but other than some vague mentions of graduate school, we only see her decide between the two men in her life. Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, and Owen Wilson are all great in it and I would not call it a bad movie but it just didn’t meet my expectations.

In & Out (1997)

High school English teacher Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) is thrilled when his former student, actor Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon), wins an Academy Award for his performance as a gay soldier. However, he’s not prepared for Cameron’s acceptance speech thanking him for being an inspirational gay man in his life. Howard’s wedding (to a woman) is only a few days away and he has never considered the possibility that he is not attracted to women. His life changes drastically and he starts to reevaluate everything.

This movie seemed like it had good intentions but the execution was sloppy. It vacillated between being a drama about an important issue and a light-hearted comedy where nothing had any consequences. Kevin Kline (as always) does his best with the material he’s given and whenever he’s on screen the movie gets more watchable, but even he can’t save it. It’s not like any of the other actors did a bad job though. The movie just needed to decide what it wanted to be and tell a tighter story.

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