Critical MeMe

Time spent watching films, even crappy ones, is time well-spent.

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Location: Missouri, United States
    These aren't comments on ALL of the movies through which I've cried, yawned, laughed, and rolled my eyes, but just about everything I've seen since early 2002 is here plus a few from earlier. Post dates reflect my screening & parenthetical dates are the year of US release (aka Oscar eligibility).
    Yeah, a movie review blog isn't very original. But originality is overrated. Just ask Michael Bay.


West of Memphis (2012)

Although I’ve seen all three Paradise Lost documentaries covering the same crime/trial, this one still had new things to tell me -- not just about the case, but about humans in general (and that might just be more frightening than the crime itself).

A horrifying, seemingly deliberate, miscarriage of justice that even gets its “making right” so very wrong.



Overboard (1987)

I’ve been watching this movie since I was in college and can chime in with quite a bit of the dialogue. It’s the ‘80est -- but in the best of ways.  It's stuffed with so much charm and romance (as long as you don’t think too hard about the romance).  Just tons of fun.

Bonus: I don’t think that Goldie Hawn has ever been been better.



Elegy (2008)

A college professor in his late 50s (I’m guessing) embarks on an affair with a gorgeous student.  He falls hard for her and she seems to reciprocate. There’s no real reason for this love affair to go poorly, but it does -- jealousy and fear undermine it from the beginning. It’s a melancholy meditation with some thought-provoking moments, but I believe the novel must be more satisfying (it's based on a Philip Roth story). There didn’t seem to be quite enough focus for a film.


Celeste & Jesse Forever (2012)

Celeste and Jesse have been separated for 6 months, but he’s still living in the garage and they still do everything together. Neither is truly moving on and Jesse still holds out hope that it’s not over.

There’s an overlay of melancholy to even the lighthearted scenes that I wasn’t expecting. As their worlds inexorably disentangle, I found myself not sure what I wanted to happen...which seemed to be in line with exactly what Celeste and Jesse were wondering themselves. It’s a thoughtful, emotional story with well-drawn and surprisingly sympathetic characters. And if I were in charge of casting things, I'd create roles just to make sure Chris Messina had a spot in whatever I was doing.



Blackboard Jungle (1955)

We follow a new teacher in an inner city public school full of “juvenile delinquents” (according to the foreword). He’s shocked and dismayed at the lack of control and the apathy of his fellow teachers. He considers transferring, but is convinced to stick it out -- to not give up on the kids like everyone else has.

Even though it’s often preachy, it works.



Rock of Ages (2012)

I was expecting nothing from this movie, but I was provided with a couple of hours of sing-along-at-the-top-of-my-lungs fun. It was silly and sweet and pretty hilarious. I can’t believe this got such rotten reviews. It’s a gem.


The Big House (1930)

Naive young man gets sent to prison for drunk driving manslaughter and gets thrown into a cell with both a brute and a savvy nice guy. He’s not sure how to navigate things, so he turns stool pigeon.

Its age definitely shows: the vibe was much more “prison is full of mean girls” than “prison is terrifying.”



Lymelife (2009)

Everyone’s miserable. The end.



Mystic Pizza (1988)

Trio of young women waitress at a local pizza shop and have different romantic challenges. The setting was novel, but the story was anything but. I’ve seen all of this before, though maybe not all at the same time. Notable mostly for its now-familiar young cast.



American Dreamz (2006)

An American Idol-like show has a Simon Cowell-like host, a Kelly Clarkson-like contestant, and a middle-Eastern contestant fresh from “Terrorist Camp.” So a George W. Bush-like president’s gonna rehab his image by serving as guest judge with his Dick Cheney-like right-hand man talking to him all Cyrano-like.

It’s almost comedy-like.


The Out List (2013)

A dozen talking heads (give or take), who happen to be “out” and in the public eye. They share their stories and make a compelling case for equality by their very reasonableness on the issue. Most of the participants came from a place of familial -- if not societal -- support, which makes a change from some of the horror stories I’ve heard. Regardless of how they got where they are, we as a nation need to catch up to those who make up our society. Full support here.


Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)

Charming story of an English manservant being bet and lost in a poker game to a family of nouveau riche Americans. Charles Laughton's antics as the proper Brit drunk for the first time are fun and his discovery of himself as more than a servant -- at one point reciting the Gettysburg Address to a rapt pub -- is inspiring.


Sister Kenny (1946)

Felt like a repeat of every medical breakthrough movie I’ve ever seen. Someone figures something out and is ridiculed and/or ruined for their trouble. In this case, however, the story gains a bit of uniqueness by having the figure-outer be a woman. She succeeds because she’s not got the training the “experts” do -- and that’s also why her method for polio rehabilitation is rejected.

The film lets us feel her frustration at the pigheadedness of the medical community even when faced with her results and the true loss she suffers in her personal life since marriage wasn’t possible for nurses at that time.

It’s a well-told and interesting story.



12 Years a Slave (2013)

I found this to be both unbearable and unaffecting. I believe that the filmmaker did the story a disservice by refusing to ever lighten the mood -- surely there were moments of joy (and, no, finally deciding to join in a spiritual sing-along doesn’t count). It just got to feeling so repetitive without us ever really getting to know who Solomon was. I didn’t flinch at the beatings or dozens of indignities because I became so used to them.

I’m sure the book is more affecting than this stagnant telling.



Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940)

Researching physician finds a dye that allows microbes to be seen under microscopes, helps develops a cure for diphtheria, and pioneers a serum for syphilis. Along the way he is awarded a Nobel prize, and rightly so.

It’s pretty straightforward and dry.



The Cheshire Murders (2013)

This documentary takes a look at a home invasion turned triple-murder in a quiet Connecticut town and the following death penalty trials of the two accused.

At times the story felt more salacious rather than informative. I didn’t know anything about this case before watching the doc and there was some interesting stuff, but it felt like it didn’t go quite deep enough. I would’ve loved to hear about the testimony regarding the police’s response time and their justification for not intervening sooner (i.e. in time to save lives), but oh well.

It had the feeling of a true crime novel written by someone who’d read the newspapers and watched the local coverage, but wasn’t granted any real insider access.


Red Dawn (1984)

Soviets parachute into midwest America and turn the small city of Calumet, CO into a police state. A group of high schoolers, and one recent graduate, speed out of town after raiding one of their father’s convenience stores for supplies. They eventually stop simply hiding and become a guerilla group -- a thorn in the sides of the invaders.

The first ten minutes are simply fantastic. The small-town idyll is set up and then ripped apart in such a way that, although I had an idea of the plot, I felt as shocked as the town must have been. But the movie just goes on and on and on. It is fun to see very young Lea Thompson, Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Powers Boothe, and Charlie Sheen, though Charlie should thank his lucky stars for his father’s reputation because -- oof -- he’s terrible here.