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?

50/50 Reading Challenge Update: June Movies

June was an uninspired and very unproductive month of movie viewing for me.  I only have two movies to offer for review and neither one generates much enthusiasm.  July is already faring much better, but I’ll wait until the end of the month to share my thoughts on those flicks.  For now, I give you the 50/50 Reading Challenge movies for June.

June Movies 

  • John Carter (2012) starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds.  I must have lived most of my life under a rock because I had never heard of John Carter before I saw this movie.  My cluelessness to the storyline definitely impacted my viewing pleasure.  I spent at least the first half of the movie trying to figure out what the heck was going on and almost all the movie trying to care about it.  A synopsis is simply beyond my capability.  I feel bad about this because I’ve wandered into other sci-fi/action/adventure films with little previous knowledge and enjoyed every minute of it (e.g. Star Wars, Avatar, etc).  I can’t really say why this was such a struggle for me.  There was a ton of action – some of it rather violent.  The animation was superb.  There just wasn’t any real spark or passion of any kind for any reason.  That made the movie fall flat for me.  The two good things that came from this experience were: 1) I spent time with Ace and 2) I’ve developed a curiosity to see if the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs which form the basis for this movie offer anything better than the movie itself. (2.75/5 stars)

  • Men In Black III (2012) starring Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Josh Brolin.  The original intention was to see Snow White and the Huntsman.  On a whim, it was decided by the majority of the family (meaning everyone but me) to see the third installment of the MIB series instead.  It was absolutely what I expected it to be – a funny, entertaining movie filled with time travel and numerous disgusting aliens as well as the added benefit of loose ends tied up in a nice bow at the end.  Josh Brolin does a fine job as a young Agent K and there is an interesting little twist at the end that gives this particular storyline an endearing quality that is missing from the other two movies.  It was a fun, solid offering for the Men In Black franchise.  I did enjoy it, but I probably wouldn’t watch it again. (3.75/5 stars)

Yes, June was a pitiful month.  Even so, I’m right on target to complete 50 movies by the end of the year.  Hopefully I can pick up and maintain the pace of four movies a month again.  The boys and I just saw The Amazing Spiderman today which leaves just three movies for the rest of July.  With no vacations, sports, or work responsibilities to get in the way, that should be pretty managable, don’t you think?

50/50 Reading Challenge Update: May Movies

May was busy in a way that made movie watching difficult.  Finding chunks of time for cinematic entertainment amidst the last weeks of college and my subsequent graduation, numerous baseball games, clinical site visits, school concerts, and a camping trip over Memorial Day weekend proved next to impossible.  If a nasty virus hadn’t high-jacked Ace’s body and knocked him flat for about a week and if heavy rain hadn’t sent us home early from the camping expedition, I probably wouldn’t have watched a single movie.  As it turned out, I was able to squeeze in three flicks.  And they were all viewed with at least one of my kiddos – a definite bonus.  Be forewarned, however.  My reviews might be shaded rosier than reality because of the happy environment in which I experienced the films.  (I love being with my kids.)

May Movies

  • The Adventures of Tintin (2011) starring Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig with Steven Spielberg directing.  Watching Tintin began as an act of desperation.  After four days of “house arrest” due a relentless fever and debilitating headache, Ace was on the edge of insanity.  After popping some Tylenol, his headache subsided enough to make screen viewing bearable.  We took a look at the Comcast On Demand offerings and quickly settled on Tintin, even though we knew nothing about it (meaning no pre-determined expectations).  WOW!  Take one brave and resourceful hero, add a clever pup, a hapless sea-captain, and some really evil bad guys.  Mix in a little high seas adventure, a few pirates, three treasure maps and a lost pile of gold and jewels.  Make the action non-stop and wrap it all up in gorgeous CGI animation, and suddenly, a sick day becomes pretty darn interesting.  A very fun movie!  (4/5 stars)

  • We Bought A Zoo (2011) starring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church.  A day after we viewed Tintin, cabin fever had infected Lovey and me as well as Ace.  We Bought a Zoo was our drug of choice to relieve the boredom.  Supposedly, the movie is based on a true story.  A family with no experience purchases a run-down zoo in need of some tender loving care.  With the help of the zany staff, they get the animal park up and running and in the process grow closer as a family.  There’s nothing earth-shattering here.  It’s a just solid, heart warming tale that satisfied us in our moment of need.  When the movie was finished, we all decided to put a visit to the real zoo (Dartmoor Zoological Park in southwest England) on our bucket lists.  I guess the movie served its real purpose then, didn’t it?  (3.5/5 stars)

  • The Avengers (2012) starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow.  Because severe thunderstorms ruined our Memorial holiday camping trip, we decided to see The Avengers as compensation for missing our ghost tour in Gettysburg.  We went all out, traveling the extra miles to the theater with the comfy, high-backed, partially reclining seats and paying the extra dough to watch the action in 3D.  The Avengers is the epitome of a summer blockbuster – very appealing superegos superheroes struggling to overcomes their significant differences  to conquer a powerful demigod and his legions of repulsive aliens who are trying to destroy earth.  And all is accomplished with a great deal of and understated humor.  I wanted to clap and sheer when the movie was finished.  We’ve seen the individual movies for each Avenger, so it was fun to see them all working together.  Which Avenger do I like the best?  I couldn’t possibly choose.  Captain American is so clean-cut, honorable, and muscular.  Iron Man’s intelligence and orneriness are an irresistible combination.  And Thor?  He’s a god, for crying out loud – and a compassionate, benevolent one at that.  What isn’t to like?  I prefer Bruce Banner when he isn’t green, but as the Hulk he was instrumental in defeating the bad guys.  Nope, I won’t be choosing.  I loved them all.  Bring on another helping.  One serving wasn’t enough. (4.5/5 stars)

I’ve watched 22 movies since the beginning of the year.  That’s not too bad.  I’m only three movies behind where I would have liked to be at the end of May.  What I said about this summer concerning books holds true for movies as well.  I think I’ll have plenty of opportunities to catch up and even get ahead.  Buddy is still pestering about seeing The Hunger Games.  Snow White and the Huntsman is on everyone’s radar (even Hubby’s).  And One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is lying on the desk beside me as I type.  I think summer is going to be a culture consumption bonanza.

Any suggestions?

50/50 Reading Challenge Update: April Movies

I’m at a loss as to how five movies showed up on my 50/50 Reading Challenge list for April.  I could have sworn I didn’t have time to watch even one film, let alone five.  It just goes to show how skewed perception can be when compared to reality.  Of the five movies, only two were chosen by me.  The other three were forced upon me for one reason or another which I’ll discuss shortly.  Regardless of how I came to view these mysterious flicks, they still count toward the total.  This means that at the four month mark, I have 19 movies under my belt.  Not bad, if I do say so myself.  (If only books could be conquered so easily.  Sigh….)

  • Johnny English Reborn (2011) – Rowan Atkinson, Rosamund Pike, Gillian Anderson.  For the Whimsey Pie clan, hanging out together often revolves around watching movies.  As you can imagine, with kids aged 15, 13, and 10, we often have to appeal to the lowest common denominator for everyone to be happy.  Most of the time this means lots of action and adventure which suits me just fine.  Sometimes it means brainless, silly comedies that I could happily live my whole life without experiencing.  For the most part, Johnny English Reborn falls into the latter category.  Except for the fact that a few times I actually belly laughed.  And the fact that I like Rowan Atkinson, Rosamund Pike, and Gillian Anderson.  Johhny English Reborn reminded me a lot of Get Smart with Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway –  a couple of very embarrassingly funny parts, an unlikely love match between a hot chick and a dorky spy, and a need for the dorky spy to redeem himself.  It wasn’t a total waste of my time, but one go ’round was enough for me, thank you very much.  (3/5 stars)

  • Modern Times (1936) – Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard.  I was required to watch Modern Times for a Modern Culture and the Arts class I’m taking this semester.  The viewing experience wasn’t the greatest because I watched it in sections on YouTube but the movie itself was fascinating.  Of course, I already had the historical information about the film and biographical information about Chaplin which added significant depth and insight to the viewing.  I really enjoyed this.  I found Chaplin’s Little Tramp to be more endearing than funny and the film is filled to the brim with commentary about the culture of the time.  Incredible as it may seem, I didn’t miss the talking.  While I wouldn’t want every movie I watched to be silent, it has intrigued me enough to give some other silent movies a try.  Maybe I should put The Artist on my to-watch list. (4.5/5 stars)

  • Wives and Daughters (1999) – 4 part BBC Mini-series starring Francesca Annis, Michael Gambon, Tom Hollander, Bill Paterson, Rosamund Pike.  After reading the book last month, I was excited to see that Netflix had the movie available for streaming.  Although it is technically a TV mini-series, it requires about six hours of focused attention so it rates as a movie in my book.  My daughter and I watched it over the course of three days.  I love period flicks like this so my opinion may be slightly biased.  I thought it was very well done.  The characters were cast perfectly (except maybe for Tom Hollander in the role of Osborne Hamley) and the script exactly followed the storyline.  I suppose six hours of available time offers the luxury of getting every detail right.  We laughed at the hairstyles, enjoyed the fashions, and relished the story.  A good time was had by all.  Wives and Daughters won’t appeal to everyone, but for those who love the genre it is a very satisfying viewing experience. (4/5 stars).

  • Dial M for Murder (1954) – Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings.  Dial M for Murder was another movie available for streaming through Netflix so Hubby and I watched it late one evening after the kids were tucked in.  The film is based on the idea of the perfect murder which goes terribly wrong, in this instance a husband attempting to get rid of his unfaithful wife.  However, the husband, played by Ray Milland, manages to use the circumstances to set his wife up as the conniving murderer who receives the death penalty.  The movie is interesting, to say the least.  There are copious amounts of talking and very little action except for the attempted murder scene.  Almost the entire movie takes place in the couple’s apartment.  Daydreaming during this movie, even for a second, is simply asking for trouble because you’re likely to miss a vital piece of the puzzle.  If you just want to veg in front of a big screen, Dial M for Murder may not be a good choice.  If you’re looking for some cerebral stimulation with a dose of vintage, this might be the ticket.  And, Grace Kelly – what can I say?  She is the epitome of classic beauty, even as a cheating wife. (4/5 stars)

  • Cowboys and Aliens (2011) – Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde.  This was another Family Movie Night selection (a.k.a. not my choice).  Because it was an action/adventure/sci-fi film, and because Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford were players, I was at least more excited about it than Johnny English Reborn.  Unfortunately, I’m still shaking my head and saying “What?!”  For one thing, it was too violent, and I’m not talking about battling the aliens.  I’m talking about human on human nastiness.  I’m beginning to think excessive violence and Daniel Craig go hand in hand.  Also, the whole futuristic space alien situation in the untamed West of the 1800’s was just plain weird.  Every cliché of both scenarios was addressed: struggling town, wealthy cattle rancher who owns said town, spoiled son who harasses said town, bandits, gold, wise and distrustful Indians, bad guy who becomes the hero, cruel and ugly aliens, mind control, human experimentation and dissection, little space ships and a somewhat camouflaged mother ship, green alien blood, laser guns of all shapes and sizes, etc., etc., etc.  The only redeeming qualities were the actual acting and the relationships that developed between the characters.  Great actors just aren’t enough to counteract this kind of weirdness. (2.5/5 stars)

This month has reinforced a few bits of information for me.

  1. I am not a big fan of slapstick comedy movies.  I’d much rather watch stand-up comedians if I want some good laughs.
  2. I still love period dramas.  They are my tried and true comfort food of the cinema.
  3. I am really enjoying film noir and suspense genres from the 1940’s and 1950’s.  I think I’ve even gotten Mr. Whimsey intrigued.  I just love the glamour of this style of film.
  4. I’m often astonished by what I like (Modern Times) and what I don’t like (Cowboys and Aliens).  Being open to new experiences offers all kinds of interesting surprises.

May is looking very good for watching movies and reading books.  My schedule opens up wide once the semester is over.  I can’t wait!  If you have any suggestions for movies or books, I’m all ears….