50/50 Reading Challenge Update: November Movies

November was a so-so movie watching month for me.  I didn’t love any of the films I watched, but I didn’t hate them either. The original plan was to go on real dates with Mr. Whimsey to see new releases like Skyfall, Anna Karinina, and Lincoln. Unfortunately, the ever-present time squeeze that stifles the leisure activities in my life forbade such wanton fantasies as a date night.  Instead I ended the month with a hodge-podge of acceptable vintage stuff that didn’t quite get me to my quota for the 50/50 reading Challenge.  This just means that I’ll be trying to cram seven new movies into December when what I really want to be doing is sipping cocoa and re-watching holiday favorites like White Christmas, A Muppet Christmas Carol, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

November Movies

Holiday Affair (1949) starring Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh, Wendell Corey.  Janet Leigh plays a young war widow and mother who decides to marry a man she likes but doesn’t love for security and a stable environment for her son.  Then she meets Robert Mitchum’s character and her plans becomes far less appealing.  The very attractive Mr. Mitchum and the little boy who played Janet Leigh’s son were the best parts of the movie for me. For a classic holiday film, this was satisfactory but I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it again.   (3.5/5 stars)

Christmas in Connecticut (1945) starring Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet.  Barbara Stanwyck’s character makes her living sharing about life on her Connecticut farm with her husband and baby as she writes about the delicious food cooks for them.  In reality, Ms. Stanwyck is a young, single, sophisticated city dweller who doesn’t know the first thing about cooking.  The deceit is harmless until her clueless publisher decides he wants to spend the Christmas holiday with her on her farm.  Joining him will be a war hero whose girlfriend wants him to discover the delights of domesticity.  To save her job, she decides to marry a friend she likes but doesn’t love (recognize a theme here?) who just happens to own a farm in Connecticut.  She never gets around to marrying the friend, ends up falling in love with the young soldier and many uncomfortable and funny situations develop.  My favorite part of the whole movie?  The sleigh ride, of course – what a romantic way to spend a December evening!  (3.5/5 stars)

The Andromeda Strain (1971) starring Arthur Hill, David Wayne, James Olson, and Kate Reid.  An extra-terrestrial micro-organism hitches a ride back to earth on a satellite and almost completely wipes out a small town in Arizona.  Scientists race against time to discover the alien life form and protect the human race from annihilation.  I struggle with older sci-fi movies because everything seems just a little hokey.  It’s not the movie’s fault; it’s the curse of the inevitable progress of technology. But still, I struggled.  Buddy picked this movie because he’d just finished reading the book.  We all thought it was OK.  I’m reading the book now and am finding it to be much more intense (in a good way) than the movie.  (3/5 stars)

Office Space (1999) starring Ron Livingston, Jennifer Anniston, and David Herman.  I don’t watch comedies very often.  I’m always expecting them to be funnier then they really are and then I’m disappointed.  Because this particular movie has reached cult status, I figured I would give it a try.  Office Space pokes fun at the ridiculous culture and practices of corporate America.  Some of the characterizations were just terrific and some of the scenes were hilarious.  I think what makes it appealing to so many people is that we’ve all experienced some of the absurdities the movie highlights.  Very little mental energy is required for viewing and some good belly laughs are involved.  Not bad for a comedy.  (3.5/5 stars)

I am nervous about fitting the last seven movies into December.  It is already the middle of the month, I have so many other things to do, and I haven’t watched one flick that could count toward the 50/50 Reading Challenge.  Yikes!  I think I see a couple of movie marathons looming in my immediate future.  Bring on the popcorn, Coca Cola, and wrapping paper.  I guess it’s time for some intense multi-tasking this Yuletide season if I have any hope whatsoever of getting everything done.

50/50 Reading Challenge Update: October Movies

Because I struggled so much with reading in October, it may come as a bit of a surprise that adding five more movies to my 50/50 list was a piece of cake.  I think I know why this happens.  October was a mentally challenging month for me with regard to work and just generally stressful in every other area of my existence.  When my life gets like this (which is happening far too frequently lately), I seek ways to completely escape.

As much as I love books as a means of escape, they take mental energy and focus.  My brain has to create the world I’m reading about.  Movies, on the other hand, create the world for me without any effort on my part.  I just absorb what is going on and usually find it very relaxing – unless I’m watching something suspenseful like The Woman in Black.  October was definitely a movie kind of month.  I needed a lot of veggin’ out time to recover from the real world.

October Movies

Dark Shadows (2012) starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Peiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, and Johnny Lee Miller.  Johnny Depp, who plays Barnabas Collins, is turned into a vampire by a scorned love interest/witch and is then buried for almost 200 years.  After being accidentally dug up by some excavators, he returns to his home to find his mansion in disrepair and his family almost destitute.  The rest of the movie follows his attempt to turn things around and chronicles his ongoing battles with the same sexy witch.

I didn’t care for this movie at all.  The plot line was fuzzy with so many secondary (and tertiary) storylines popping in and out that my head was spinning.  As a parent, I felt it was too sexually suggestive for my kids.  And frankly, I really wanted it to be funnier.  I won’t be watching this one again – I barely finished it the first time.  (2/5 stars)

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) starring Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, and Chris Hemsworth.  I was pleasantly surprised by this creative retelling of the Snow White fairy tale.  Charlize Theron was simply perfect as the beautiful and terrible evil queen.  Chris Hemsworth was exactly what you would expect him to be: the tough-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside, easy-on-the-eyes huntsman who helps Snow White escape the queen’s power.  I admit Kristen Stewart would not be my first choice for the leading role, simply because she doesn’t look at all like the Snow White of my imagination.  Also, her character makes some abrupt personality changes toward the end of the movie that I struggled to reconcile with my ideal.  Finally, the movie was too long.  Despite these small grievances, I thoroughly enjoyed the film.  (3.75/5 stars)

Mad Love (1935) starring Peter Lorre, Francis Drake, and Ted Healy.  About once a month, Mr. Whimsey travels overnight for his job.  It was just this kind of night, while I was feeling especially bored and lonely, that I stumbled upon Mad Love while channel surfing.  IMDb describes the movie like this:

“An insane surgeon’s obsession with an actress leads him to replace her wounded pianist’s hands with the hands of a knife murderer which still have the urge to throw knives.”

The movie was short (only 68 minutes) but adequately disturbing.  Francis Drake is simply lovely to look at and Peter Lorre effortlessly plays the creepy, mad doctor.  Don’t expect anything deep, profound, or truly scary with this film.  It’s just pure entertainment from the Depression Era highlighting one man’s passionate and sinister obsession.  (3/5 stars)

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton.  In this wonderfully quirky movie, two 12-year-old friends run away twice to escape their miserable lives in a town somewhere in New England.  I cannot say enough good things about this movie.  It is superbly casted and acted.  It is nuanced and layered with meaning. It is nostalgic without being sickening.  It is visually satisfying.  It examines love, loneliness, and relationships of all kinds without making judgements.  I found it to be sweet, refreshing, and rewarding – a fabulous way to spend 94 minutes.  I’ll be watching this film again!  (4.5/5 stars)

The Woman in Black (2012) starring Daniel Radcliffe and Ciarán Hinds.  Occasionally I enjoy a good ghost story (e.i., The Others and The Sixth Sense).  With its opulently atmospheric and neglected mansion in the middle of a misty marsh, its evil ghost, and its lonely main character solidly played by Daniel Radcliffe, The Woman in Black certainly fits this category.  The main ghost is appropriately wicked and appears throughout the movie, terrorizing the village as well as Daniel while he stays at the mansion.

This is no blood and guts horror flick.  It is just great psychological suspense (or torture as I prefer to call it) and is very scary.  I watched this movie with my daughter (Lovey) who is sixteen and my son (Buddy) who is thirteen.  Lovey screamed so much my husband felt the need to come downstairs to check on us.  I was a sweaty mess by the time the movie ended.  Buddy slept with his light on for two nights afterward because he was sure the Woman in Black was standing in the corner of his room and the mud boy was going to ooze up through his carpet.  I’m happy to report we’ve all recovered and can laugh about our ridiculous behavior but we all agree it was a darn scary flick.  (4.5/5 stars)

Including the month of October, I’ve watched 39 films in 2012.  That means I only have 11 more movies to go until the end of the year.  I have a feeling many of those films will be new releases.  There are so many good ones coming out in the next two months.  Have you seen any good movies lately?  I’d love to hear about them.

50/50 Reading Challenge Update: September Movies

Unlike books that can be enjoyed for just moments at a time amidst the craziest of schedules, movies require a focused commitment of a few hours.  Even when films are broken into segments, an investment of a chunk of time is necessary.  I didn’t have many chunks to spare in September, so my movie consumption suffered a significant hit.  I only have one flick to add to my 50/50 Reading Challenge list and that was viewed at the eleventh hour, literally  – the evening of September 30th.  But what a treat is was!  Last month was a textbook example of quality over quantity.

September Movies

Rear Window (1954) starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly, and Wendell Corey.  In this Alfred Hitchcock classic, Jimmy Stewart’s character is a photographer with a broken leg which forces him into a wheelchair-bound recuperation in his tiny apartment.  His only company is a no-nonsense nurse who offers unsolicited words of wisdom and his wealthy uptown girlfriend, played by the beautiful Grace Kelly.  He wiles away the endless hours peering into the lives of his neighbors.  It’s this harmless peeping that leads him to suspect one of his neighbors of murdering his wife.  He never actually witnesses a murder, but when the bed-ridden wife suddenly disappears, the clues are easily interpreted as foul play.

Rear Window was a great experience from beginning to end.  The entire movie takes place from the apartment, which gives the film the feeling of a theatrical play.  The suspense builds satisfactorily throughout the movie until the tense climax.  There is just enough ancillary action going on with the other neighbors to add interest to the main plot.  Grace Kelly (the epitome of classic Hollywood glamour) and Jimmy Stewart have great chemistry and are a pleasure to watch.  Raymund Burr, who is best remembered as a lawyer for the right side of the law, is decidedly sinister as the murder suspect.  I’m chalking up another win for the classic movie column.  I would definitely watch this movie again.  It was great fun!  (4.5/5 stars)

If the 50/50 Reading Challenge does nothing else worthwhile for me, it has turned me into a classic movie fan.  Beyond the good acting and content,  I can’t get enough of the fashion and the peek into the popular American culture of the first half of the twentieth century.

Even with the cinematic slacking I engaged in last month, I’m still pretty much on target to reach my goal by the end of December.  Rear Window takes the year-to-date count to 34 movies.  An average of five movies a month for the next three months should get me to the finish line.  It feels good to be coming down the home stretch.

50/50 Reading Challenge: August Movies

This is a brief little post to highlight the few movies I watched in August for the 50/50 Reading Challenge.  My offerings are meager – August was surprisingly busy – but interesting.  The kids and I have been enjoying the classic horror offerings on Netflix.  Much of the time we are entertained for the wrong reasons (i.e., over-acting, rudimentary cinematic techniques, use of language, prejudices, political incorrectness, etc.).  However, it has been educational and enlightening to experience first hand the foundations that modern thrillers, horror films, and cinematography in general are built upon.

The Invisible Man (1933) starring Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, and William Harrigan.  The Invisible Man, based on the same-titled book by H. G. Wells, chronicles the downward spiral of a scientist who discovers how to disappear using a drug  with the undesirable side effect of madness.  The general consensus among the Whimseys was that this was a pretty good movie.  It offered humor, tension, and an interesting plot, while addressing some heavy issues like the corruptible nature of absolute power.  That’s not bad for 71 minutes of film.  Seeing the movie has tempted us to read the book.  Anything that entices Buddy to read receives kudos from this mom.  (3.75/ stars)

North and South (2004) starring Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage.  I always feel the need to give some kind of disclaimer when I discuss period movies like The North and the South.  I love this stuff, so expect the review to be colored by that bias.  I also haven’t read the book by Elizabeth Gaskill (yet) so I won’t be able to discuss the movie’s fidelity to the plot and characters.

I watched this movie late one evening after everyone else was in bed.  Because I enjoyed Gaskill’s Wives and Daughters (both the movie and the book), I thought North and South would be a good bet for some “me” time.  Oh. My. Word.  How did I miss this BBC mini-series?  Four hours of my life passed in the blink of an eye as I lost myself in the world of Margaret Hale and John Thorton.  The social and economic climate of Milton, a northern cotton mill town in England, is the back drop that showcases the antagonistic but passionate relationship between Margaret and John.  The performances are spot on, especially Richard Armitage portraying the brooding and complicated John Thorton, and the chemistry between the main characters is palpable.  I’ve put the book at the top of my to-read list.  And the movie?  Without a doubt, I’ll be indulging again and again.  Yes, it was that good.  (5/5 stars)

Dracula (1931) starring Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, and David Manners.  I wasn’t expecting much from this movie and that’s exactly what I got.  My modern expectations of who or what Dracula should be ruined my experience of the film.  Everything just seemed over-acted and hokey.  Why was Bela Lugosi doing that thing with his hands whenever he was about to bite someone? Instead of looking sinister, he just looked disabled.  The costumes didn’t fit with the time period/setting of the story, either, which bothered me for some unidentifiable reason.  Believe it or not, I feel the need to reread Bram Stoker’s Dracula just to refresh my memory.  When I read the book as a teenager, it scared me to death and I’m curious to know if I’d feel the same way now.  The movie certainly didn’t have that effect.  (2.5/5 stars)

After August’s batch of movies, I’ve added three more books to my already cumbersome to-read list.  I’m going to have to read fifty books for the next ten years to whittle that pile down to nothing.  Adding these last three movies to the the 50/50 Reading Challenge list brings my total movie count for 2012 to 33.  I’m right on par heading into to the last quarter of the year and with so many good movies coming out – The Great Gatsby, Les Misérables, and The Hobbit to name a few, meeting my goal should be very doable.  Oh, and Anna Karenina.  How could I forget that one?  Bring on the popcorn!

50/50 Reading Challenge Update: July Movies

July held a bumper crop of watched movies – six total with two films viewed in the theater.  That has got to be a record of some kind for me.  Even though that many movies are great for reaching my goal, properly reviewing each and every one is not a possibility.  Time is a precious commodity in the Whimsey household at this moment.  Instead, I’ll just share the highlights (and lowlights) from each movie and call it a day.  Yes, I’m wimping out.  I know it and I own it.  But, it’s my party and I can be a slacker if I want to.

July Movies

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) – starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Dennis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field.  This movie is superbly cast: Andrew Garfield has Peter Parker’s brave teenage geekiness down pat; Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is smart and capable; Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May are perfection.  Appealing characters, an engaging plot, and thrilling action sequences equate a very postitve summer blockbuster experience.  (4/5 stars)

Shelock Holmes: Game of Shadows (2011) – starring Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams, Jared Harris.  A slightly confusing plot, action galore, and the camaraderie of Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law.  Who could resist?    As usual, humor is sprinkled throughout the fighting, the near-death experiences, and the blowing up of things.  I preferred the first movie because the plot was more intriguing, but Game of Shadows was fine for a two hour diversion spent with family. (3.75/5 star)

Jane Eyre (1943) – starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. I love the story of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and I’ve seen many different versions on film.  When I discovered that Netflix was streaming this version I didn’t hesitate.  I was rather luke warm about the whole thing – not horrible, not wonderful.  The acting style of this time period can sometimes be hard for me to swallow, many pieces of the original storyline are excluded, and neither Orson Wells or Joan Fontaine matched my perception of what Mr. Rochester and Jane looked like.  However, the cinematography was appropriately atmospheric, Adele was adorable, and I enjoyed seeing a young Elizabeth Taylor as Jane’s only friend Helen.  Been there, seen that, moving on.  (3/5 stars)

Brave (2012) – voices of Kelly MacDonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane.  What can I say?   I loved this movie.  Disney and Pixar veered from the standard princess formula and created a mother/daughter tale that honestly brought tears to my eyes.  A happily ever after without a prince? Who woulda thought?  As a mother, Brave was especially poignant for me and I’m so glad I was able to watch it with my teenage daughter.  As expected, the animation is gorgeous. One small caution: there are some pretty intense scenes with a very ominous bear that could be overwhelming for younger kids.  (5/5 stars)

Witness for the Prosecution (1957) – starring Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton. Another Netflix instant watch movie that Mr. Whimsey and I watched very late one night.  Although there is very little action, (most of the movie takes place in a court room), it is a very interesting and suspenseful film with a rollercoaster’s equivalent of twist and turns.  This was the first time I’d ever watched Marlene Dietrich or Tyrone Power and I was duly impressed.  For such a serious movie, humor was sprinkled generously throughout. I enjoyed every moment of this convoluted drama.  (4/5 stars)

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) – starring Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, Richard Denning.  When I told my Dad the kids and I watched Creature from the Black Lagoon, he laughed.  It was the first scary movie he ever watched as a kid.  I thought this was a somewhat fun, campy movie with some actual suspense.  How could swimming in a dark swamp inhabited by a Swamp Creature, not be suspenseful, especially with grim music playing in the background?  My biggest beef – the utter uselessness and helplessness of the female lead.  She just stood there and screamed while the Creature attacked her friend.  Grab a chair, for crying out loud, and break it over the monster’s head already!  I took the opportunity to lecture my daughter on how to not be a helpless female in the face of a monster attack (of any kind).  (2.75/5 stars)

Spider-Man and Brave were  by far my favorites of the month.  I anticipate that I will be doing some repeat viewings of both of those films.  I would also watch Witness for the Prosecution again.  I’m surprised at how much I am enjoying some of the older classic films.  So, at this point I have 30 movies under my belt and only 20 more to go.  That should average out to four movies a month.  This challenge is a marathon, not a sprint, and I’m right on pace to finish by December 31, 2012.  If only there were a gold medal for me at the end.  It’s the only way I’ll ever earn one.

Any classic movie suggestions for me?