Monday, August 28, 2006

Vacation viewing

Another week off, sleeping until three in the afternoon and watching movies. Why would I ever want to go anywhere?

Dead & Breakfast (Matthew Leutwyler, 2004)
The box alleges that this is the American answer to Shaun of the Dead, but it's really more in the tradition of stuff like Dead Alive and Evil Dead. Basically, it's a gonzo low-budget horror-comedy with buckets of blood, but while the gore is abundant and sort of cool, the humor is weak and the plot (which has to make at least a rudimentary sort of sense) is barely there. It reminded me of a much sloppier version of James Gunn's Slither, which had a similar throwback feel and anything-goes sense of humor, but was much tighter, better paced, scarier and funnier.

Leave Her to Heaven (John M. Stahl, 1945)
Totally ridiculous melodrama redeemed only by Gene Tierney's performance as a woman who is essentially a sociopath and really, really wants her husband all to herself. She has one awesomely chilling scene where she watches impassively from behind dark glasses as the husband's disabled brother drowns. And I did like the part where she gives herself an abortion by throwing herself down a flight of stairs (like I said, totally ridiculous). But most of the movie was rather tedious, and Cornel Wilde is beyond wooden as the object of Tierney's crazed affections. There's also a really tacked-on courtroom saga at the end, although it does give Vincent Price the chance to chew some scenery.

Monster House (Gil Kenan, 2006)
Strangely enough, this just might be the best big studio film of the summer, and I'm glad I went out and caught it on a big screen before it disappeared. That's not to say that it's a masterpiece, but it's a lot smarter and more human than almost any other wannabe blockbuster that's come out this summer. Although computer-animated films have become a dime a dozen, and sometimes look like they cost about a dime to make, this one truly looks spectacular, and solves all the problems that the similarly produced (via motion capture) Polar Express had with its characters looking creepy. The solution, as it has been with other CGI movies, is to make the people look less human and more cartoony, thus avoiding the uncanny valley. Monster House also has characters that feel like real kids, a complete lack of shrill pop culture references, main characters who are not voiced by celebrities (and celebrity voices that are unobtrusive, save Jon Heder) and some genuinely funny jokes. It's just a good, solid movie that says something sweet but substantive about growing up, and has a big scary sentient house in it, too.

Withnail & I (Bruce Robinson, 1987)
I freely admit to not getting this movie. Apparently it has a rabid cult following that finds it hilarious and endlessly quotable, but I don't think I laughed once, and I just came away baffled. There's a certain value in the way it's the complete antithesis to all those "quaint little British towns are good for the soul" movies, as its two central slackers decide to take a holiday in the country only to discover that it's a horribly unpleasant place. But I still don't quite understand why it's set in 1969, or what the whole bit with the gay uncle was meant to convey, or...well, any of it, really. Maybe it would help if I were British.

Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000)
This is a sprawling, understated-yet-epic (nearly three hours long) family drama from Taiwan, which strangely (or perhaps not) reminded me of a Robert Altman film. It's sometimes a little too slow and a little too obtuse, but it had a lot of wonderful moments and at the end I felt like I knew the characters really well, which is always the mark of a good film. Completely the opposite of what you stereotypically think of Asian films, in a very good way.

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