209-210: Dark Knight Returns, Lethal Weapon

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209: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1

With Batman: Under the Red Hood and Batman: Year One DC and Warner Bros have proven that they are able to translate their most famous property into great animated features. Their latest entry in the animated Batman series is an adaptation of Frank Miller’s legendary graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns. And once again they have done the caped crusader proud, because The Dark Knight Returns is fantastic. In fact, this is the first of two parts based on this material (the next one will be released in 2013). In part one we deal mostly with the resurgence of Bruce Wayne as Batman, the rise of the Mutants and the birth of a new Robin. Frank Miller wrote a compelling story about getting older and despite the odds going above and beyond duty to clean the city up and Bob Goodman (not a new name to the DC Universe) took that story and distilled a wonderful screenplay out of it. It is a more condensed version and it moves like gangbusters. It is compelling from start to finish and it will leave you wanting for more when you’re done. I for one can’t wait for the next part to be released.

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210: Lethal Weapon

Lethal Weapon is a true modern classic. Along with Die Hard it represents some of the best genre filmmaking from the ’80s and I absolutely adore it. I return regularly to the adventures of Riggs and Murtaugh to see how a buddy cop movie should be made. Danny Glover and Mel Gibson work exceptionally well together in a thriller that never really stops to take a breather. Lethal Weapon works so well because we care about these characters. Martin Riggs is a suicidal cop who has to deal with the death of his wife and he is not doing a very good job. He is constantly on the verge of doing something to himself and his reluctant partner Roger Murtaugh doesn’t really need the hassle of babysitting Riggs. It’s the moments that Riggs has to deal with his problems that make the movie. Especially the scene when Riggs is sitting on the couch with his gun and the right moment Bugs Bunny is heard in the background saying “Merry Christmas!” is a perfect piece of acting and directing. And later there is the confrontation between Riggs and Murtaugh after Riggs jumps off a building that truly cements our sympathy for these characters. That scene will leave you breathless. With our sympathy firmly in place the rest of the outrageous story can unfold and we are there every step of the way with these guys. That’s what makes this one of the best buddy cop movies out there, if not one of the best movies ever made. It certainly is very high on my list of favorite movies ever.

204-208: Movies on an airplane

Watching movies on an airplane is never the most beneficial way. The screen is way too small and the movie itself is cropped, if not downright censored by the airline. But it does give you the opportunity to watch those movies that you never were intending to watch anyway. Recently I found myself on a round trip to Europe (a ten-hour flight), so I had some catching up to do. I ended up watching five movies all the way through and one, Madagascar 3, which I will finish at a later opportunity, because that movie was just bat shit crazy. The five movies I watched were:

204: Rock of Ages

rock-of-agesHoly smokes, this was a mixed bag of good and bad feelings. I love ‘80s music, I love a good musical now and then and I generally like it when Tom Cruise goes balls to the wall. But Rock of Ages was just too much for me. Some of the songs I could get through, because to be honest some of the originals just deserve to be butchered, youth sentiment or not. Other songs were just too horrendous for words. For example, Malin Akerman and Cruise trying to create some sort of horrible version of Foreigner’s I Want to Know What Love Is (one of my favorite songs ever) made me jump to the screen to find the fast forward button. It was that horrendous. Besides the mostly not-so-good renditions of the songs the screenplay in itself had nothing new to bring to the table and started to irritate me after a while. In the end Rock of Ages just felt like an experiment gone wrong.

205: The Sweeney

the-sweeneyThe British are a rough bunch and The Sweeney proves that you don’t want to get on the wrong side of the law over there. Ray Winstone plays Regan, a hard-nosed cop who leads a team of officers who have their own particular brand of law enforcement. They don’t shy away from methods that are by many deemed less than desirable, but they get the job done and for some that is the only thing that counts. Regan comes under fire from Internal Affairs exactly because of his methods and to complicate his situation even further he is having an affair with the investigator from IA and an old adversary suddenly decides to return to the scene. With a pulse-pounding soundtrack, moody photography and excellent acting The Sweeney proves it is a force to be reckoned with. The Sweeney combines the style of Michael Mann, the bombast of Christopher Nolan and the mindless action of Michael Bay to create a whole that is thoroughly entertaining.

206: Men in Black 3

men-in-black-3I was never a big fan of Men in Black. I found it to be really on the nose and most of the time not that funny. I was, however, impressed by the chemistry between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. In Men in Black 2 some of that chemistry was there, but it was overshadowed by an extremely bad screenplay that wasn’t able to reproduce any of the good stuff from the first movie. Now, several years later, we get a third installment, and I must say that the the people behind the scenes have redeemed themselves. This is a very funny and even in some way emotional return to the characters we liked so much in part one. Especially Josh Brolin as a younger version of Tommy Lee Jones is a home run. The movie has enough momentum to move along at a brisk pace with an ending that took me completely by surprise. I did not see that twist coming, but maybe that was a stuffy atmosphere in the airplane playing tricks on me.

207: The Bourne Legacy

the-bourne-legacyI like the original Bourne Trilogy very much. Matt Damon managed to create a character that was on one hand a terminator and on the other a human being searching for his identity. All the machinations around him made these movies even more compelling, but it was really Damon who sold them. With The Bourne Ultimatum Paul Greengrass finished the trilogy in a very satisfying manner, so why would we need a fourth Bourne movie? Beats me, and The Bourne Legacy didn’t make me a believer either. We are led to believe that there are more people like Bourne out there, which is not really a stretch, and that they are controlled by a Jurassic Park-like scheme revolving around mysterious chems without which the agents can’t really perform. Legacy starts out decent with Jeremy Renner proving he is certainly up to the task to perform the physical part of the role, but director Tony Gilroy (writer of the original trilogy) can’t keep up the pace and he gets bogged down in a run-of-the-mill story that in no way can hold a candle to the Damon-Bourne movies. For the most part I was pretty much bored to tears by The Bourne Legacy.

208: The Watch

the-watchWhen The Watch was released in theaters I had the feeling I had already seen the best parts of the movie by seeing the trailer several times. And I wasn’t far off, because that was almost entirely true. Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and relative newcomer Richard Ayoade are all members of the neighborhood watch, while they don’t really share the same intentions for this extracurricular activity. As it so happens an alien invasion is about to go down in their neighborhood and they seem to be the last line of defense for the human race. The one thing that is great about The Watch is director Akiva Schaffer’s willingness to let his cast go off the rails most of the time. I got the feeling that a lot of what is shown in The Watch was actually improvised by the comedians during shooting. The most hilarious moments come when Vaughn and Hill are let loose, these guys are improve masters and it shows. If only the rest of the movie was as good as those moments. The Watch is long, largely not very funny and ultimately unsatisfying. Given the cast and crew involved this could have been a slam dunk, now… not so much.

201-203: Sister, Moonrise, Flynn

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201: Your Sister’s Sister

Mark Duplass is on a roll lately. After directing the excellent drama Jeff, Who Lives at Home and starring in Safety Not Guaranteed he also played one of the leads in Your Sister’s Sister, Lynn Shelton’s newest feature. Duplass again creates a very likable guy, Jack, who has some serious issues to deal with. He decides to retreat to a cabin in the woods owned by his best friend, Iris (Emily Blunt). What he doesn’t know is that the sister of his friend, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), is also there to work out her own problems. Hannah and Jack strike up a relationship that culminates in a situation that is extremely uncomfortable for all involved. Your Sister’s Sister is, however, a sweet drama about recognizing each other’s flaws and forgiving them for it, however selfish their behavior might be. Highly recommended if you want a small drama about real people with real feelings.

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202: Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson is a very divisive director. Ever since his first feature, Bottle Rocket, people have been debating whether his movies are works of art of just exercises in art direction. Anderson’s movies are often clinical manifestations of a very exacting brain. They present delightful worlds in which the characters are allowed to play to their heart’s content. His newest entry, Moonrise Kingdom, is no different and this time Anderson invented an entire island for his characters to play in. Everything revolves around two kids who run away from home to start a new life elsewhere. This puts the entire island on high alert, which results in funny situations and poignant drama. I liked Moonrise Kingdom a lot, but I also felt that it was really hard to get through the highly polished look of the film. Anderson is always a meticulous filmmaker, but this time he has taken his control of, in particular, camera movements to another level and that made the movie feel very artificial in many places. I didn’t get that feeling at all while watching his, in my opinion, best movies The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited. I still recommend people seeing Moonrise Kingdom, if only for the top-notch performances of the cast.

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203: Being Flynn

Robert De Niro’s career has in the last decade not been what it once was, but you don’t need me to tell you that. So it is nice to see that once in a while he wants to step outside his safety zone and take on a role that takes a little more effort than Meet the Parents or Analyze This. In Being Flynn he plays Jonathan Flynn, a self-proclaimed genius writer, but in reality nothing more than a con man who has neglected his family. The real main character, however, is Nick Flynn (played by Paul Dano), his son, who he has not seen in years. Nick also wants to be a writer, but struggles with the notion that he is not cut out for the job. One day Jonathan reaches out to Nick, which throws Nick for a loop. Does he want his father in his life, or does he want him to leave him alone. This predicament only worsens when Jonathan shows up at the homeless shelter where Nick works sometimes. Being Flynn is a movie about a very dysfunctional relationship between a father and a son with De Niro playing one of the biggest assholes in his career. Being Flynn could have been a very powerful movie, but it lacks the drive to make us connect more with the main character. Dano is fin as Nick, but the problem is that Nick is not somebody you want to root for. You want to give him a swift kick in the butt to get him to pick up his life and stop whining. While the performances are fine all-round, this casts such a large shadow over it all that just can’t be overcome.

196-200: Dr.No, From Russia, Goldfinger, Thunderball, Live Twice

James Bond has never been my so-called thing, but I remember really liking some of these movies as a kid. So with the release of Skyfall, which I did not very much like, I decided to watch all the James Bond movies in chronological order, because also there still are some blank spots in the world’s most favorite secret agent. By now I have watched the first five installments. Here’s in a nutshell what I thought about them.

196: Dr. No

dr-noI had never really finished watching Dr. No. I just didn’t find it all that interesting. And that sentiment didn’t exactly change when I watched it this time. I found it all to be incredibly silly with James Bond being more misogynist than I remembered from earlier viewings. The whole concept of Dr. No sitting on this “cursed” island waiting to exact his punishment on the American space program, all the while being protected by an armored tank disguised as a fire spewing dragon was a little bit too much for me. I have never read any of the Fleming books and I expect them to be just as silly.

197: From Russia with Love

from-russia-with-loveThis is where the real spy series takes off in my opinion. As a direct sequel to Dr. No it handles with the aftermath of everything that transpired in that far off island in the Caribbean. This time the Russians are brought into the mix with some honest to God spying going on. Plus we get trained assassins, great fights and nice gadgets. And we see Bond’s womanizing ways being used against him for the first time. I found From Russia with Love to be a much more mature movie than Dr. No with less silliness and more spy fun.

198: Goldfinger

goldfingerWith Goldfinger the series departs the SPECTRE storyline for a while (because Thunderball was still mired in legal troubles) to pursue Auric Goldfinger and his outlandish henchman Oddjob. Bond has to prevent Goldfinger from robbing Fort Knox in a strange but exhilarating raid on the highly defended facility in Kentucky. There is a lot about Goldfinger that is just as implausible as anything seen in Dr. No, but it bothered me a lot less here. For example, why would Goldfinger keep his most annoying adversary so close while planning the largest robbery in history? Well, probably to be able to utter the iconic line “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!” I had not seen Goldfinger before (except for some of the iconic imagery) and I must say I enjoyed it quite a bit.

199: Thunderball

thunderballWith the success of the first installments it is clear that with Thunderball the production got a little bit out of hand. It starts with Bond’s use of a jetpack to escape a castle to drive off in his trusted Aston Martin. Than a surgically altered pilot hijacks a British airplane with two nuclear bombs on board, crashes it into the ocean where divers remove the bombs and camouflage the airplane. After a run-in with the beautiful Domino Bond is captured and he escapes again. He finds the downed airplane and he discovers a plan to destroys Miami Beach. A huge underwater battle ensues, Bond kills the bad guy and escapes with the girl. Sounds pretty conventional for a Bond movie, right? Yes, if only it didn’t take to looooooooong to get where it is going. I believe the director Terence Young had something to prove after not having directed Goldfinger. The result is a movie that is surely about thirty minutes too long. Also Sean Connery is noticeably getting tired of playing this popular character, which is understandable because he had been churning one of these movie out every year at this point. I found Thunderball anything but a pleasure to watch.

200: You Only Live Twice

you-only-live-twiceWhen I was about ten years old I remember going to a friend’s birthday party where they had rented You Only Live Twice for us to watch. I was hooked from the first frame to the last frame. Rewatching this fifth installment I can certainly see why my ten-year-old self would fall in love with this movie. Space battles, vicious ninja, a volcano lair, a faked death, huge rockets and Little Nellie. What’s not to love? Well, as an adult I didn’t exactly take to You Only Live Twice as I once did. The production is still lavish and inviting, but the story is so full of holes and (even by Bond’s standards) stupidity that it sucked the fun out of it for me. Add to that the ridiculous transformation Bond goes through to become “Japanese” and I was done with You Only Live Twice. I’m sure my kid will live it eventually.

194-195: The War Room, There Will Be Blood

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194: The War Room

Political documentaries tend to often be very polished and dictated by the rules of the party the documentarian is following. The War Room is a different kind of beast and probably one of the last of its kind. It started out as a simple doc following the managers of Bill Clinton’s campaign to become the President of the United States. At that time he was considered to be an outsider, some redneck from Arkansas who didn’t stand a chance in the highest political arena imaginable. As time moved on Clinton started to grow into a political force to be reckoned and the people behind the scenes and their unorthodox way of working became something of legend. The War Room tells their triumphant story and it is totally riveting. It is hard to put my finger on what it is that’s so compelling about it. Is it the unlikely friendship between the manic passionate James Carville and the calm calculated George Stephanopoulos? Is it the unprecedented look behind the scenes of a political campaign? Probably both. The War Room will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the last truly honest depictions of political maneuvering.

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195: There Will Be Blood

Something very strange happened the first time I watched There Will Be Blood. All through the opening sequence I heard a very annoying piece of music that was totally out of whack with the original soundtrack. It was very distracting, but I powered through. I found There Will Be Blood to be a very powerful piece of work even if the first sequence still bothered me at the end. For years I dreaded returning to Paul Thomas Anderson’s opus, just because of that experience. Now, years later, I returned to There Will Be Blood and miraculously the opening was devoid of any annoying double soundtracks and it was a lot better than the first time I watched it. Now I could take in this brilliant movie from A to Z without distractions and what an experience it is. Daniel Day Lewis’ performance is compelling as anything he has ever done, the photography by Robert Elswit is spellbinding and the music by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood is hypnotic and the conclusion will have you reeling in your seat. I still think Magnolia is Anderson’s best, most complete movie, with There Will Be Blood a strong second.