Jul 30, 2014

Session 9 (2001)

Genre: horror, mystery
Directed by: Brad Anderson
Produced by: John Sloss, Dorothy Aufiero, David Collins, etc
Written by: Brad Anderson, Stephen Gevedon
Music by: Climax Golden Twins
Running time: 100 minutes
Production company: USA Films, Scout Productions, October Films
Distributed by: USA Films
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $1,500,000
Box office: $378,176

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Peter Mullan, David Caruso, Stephen Gevedon, Josh Lucas, Brendan Sexton III, Jurian Hughes, Larry Fessenden, Paul Guilfoyle, Charley Broderick

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Brad Anderson appears to have fallen on harder times these days. After two successful romantic comedies in Next Stop Wonderland and Happy Accidents, he was able to independently make Session 9 which although was a flop at the box office, it was pretty well received critically and has become a bit of a cult movie since then. The Machinist was his next big project followed by Transsiberian. Anderson appears to have now settled down in shooting episodes for TV shows as well as directing mediocre horrors or thrillers like Vanishing on 7th Street and The Call.

There's nothing wrong with doing TV as he is doing work for some pretty respectable TV shows anyway. I'd just like to see some good movies out of him too like The Machinist and Session 9. Anderson was inspired to do S9 because of the Danvers State Mental Hospital in Danvers, Massachusetts which he passed by every day. One of the big reasons why Session 9 works as a horror movie is because not only is it just set in an asylum, it is set and filmed in the actual Danvers State Mental Hospital. Let me tell you, it's as creepy a place as they come.

Jul 29, 2014

Celeste & Jesse Forever (2012)

Genre: comedy, drama, romance
Directed by: Lee Toland Krieger
Produced by: Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Todd
Written by: Rashida Jones, Will McCormack
Music by: Sunny Levine, Zach Cowie
Running time: 92 minutes
Production company: Envision Media Arts, Team Todd, PalmStar Entertainment, etc
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics, Buena Vista International
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $840,000
Box office: $3,094,813

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts, Eric Christian Olsen, Ari Graynor, Chris Messina, Will McCormack, Rich Sommer, Rafi Gavron, Matthew Del Negro, Janel Parrish, Rebecca Dayan

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The romantic comedy is a dying genre. Recent entries in the genre aren't making big bucks anymore despite using known stars. Take Big Wedding which had a budget of $35 million but could only drum up $22 million. Drew Barrymore who is a staple of the genre saw her most recent romantic comedy Going the Distance earn $18 million on a $32 million budget. I'm not going to do a whole bunch of research into this or anything but I feel like there aren't too many high profile rom-com releases these days either.

I think the reason for this is because of people getting tired of the same formula. Studios aren't ashamed of always releasing the same thing because playing it safe is all they know. Why else would we have sequel after sequel anyway. I can understand but it doesn't make for very interesting cinema, that's for sure. I guess there's only so much you can do for a movie between the romance of two characters but still. The standard Hollywood rom-com is like stale bread and that's why a movie like Celeste & Jesse Forever is so refreshing. 

Jul 28, 2014

La lengua de las mariposas [Butterfly's Tongue] (1999)

Genre: drama, music, war
Directed by: José Luis Cuerda
Produced by: Fernando Bovaira, José Luis Cuerda, Jose Maria Iresteiro
Written by: Rafael Azcona, José Luis Cuerda, Manuel Rivas
Music by: Alejandro Amenábar
Running time: 96 minutes
Production company: Canal+ España, Los Producciones del Escorpion, Sociedad General de Televisió, etc
Distributed by: Warner Sogefilms S.A.
Country: Spain
Language: Spanish
Budget: €2,211,800
Box office: €4,632,493

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Fernando Fernán Gómez, Manuel Lozano, Uxía Blanco, Gonzalo Uriarte, Alexis de los Santos, Jesús Castejón, Guillermo Toledo, Elena Fernández, Tamar Novas, Tatán, Roberto Vidal Bolaño, Celso Parada, Celso Bugallo, Antonio Lagares, Milagros Jiménez
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I'm not too familiar with the Spanish Civil War but it's something I've seen done in movies before. Take Pan's Labyrinth for example, which weaved the Civil War into its story quite nicely. La lengua de las mariposas is another movie that does that but in a really gentle and unassuming way. It doesn't seem like it's a major part of the story because we're seeing everything through the eyes of a young boy who's got more important things on his mind.

La lengua de las mariposas is a coming-of-age story featuring Moncho. He's a shy kid who has a good heart. He's also got asthma and he's deathly afraid of going to school for the first time because he doesn't want to get hit by his teacher. Luckily, his teacher Don Gregario hasn't got a single violent bone in his body and he instills in Moncho a desire to learn and absorb everything. Both Moncho and Don Gregario are easy characters to like and their relationship is convincingly built.

Jul 27, 2014

Kundun (1997)

Genre: biography, drama, war
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Produced by: Barbara De Fina, Laura Fattori, Melissa Mathiso, etc
Written by: Melissa Mathison
Music by: Philip Glass
Running time: 134 minutes
Production company: De Fina-Cappa, Dune Films, Refuge Productions Inc.
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures
Country: United States
Language: English, Tibetan, Mandarin
Budget: $28,000,000
Box office: $5,684,789

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong, Gyurme Tethong, Tulku Jamyang Kunga Tenzin, Tenzin Yeshi Paichang, Tencho Gyalpo, Tenzin Topjar, Tsewang Migyur Khangsar, Tenzin Lodoe, Geshi Yeshi Gyatso, Gyatso Lukhang, Lobsang Samten, Jigme Tsarong, Tenzin Trinley, Robert Ling
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What is Martin Scorsese really known for? It's definitely not Kundun, that's for sure. Everyone is familiar with the gangster/crime movies that he does which are all great and all but I've never heard anyone even mention Kundun or "that Dalai Lama movie that Scorsese did once." It's a completely forgotten movie and was a complete flop when it was released. 

Disney owned the distribution rights for Kundun which seemed like a brave move in face of the guaranteed opposition they'd get from China. Disney is a business after all and why would they want to risk the huge market that China is in terms of box office or DVD sales? According to Scorsese, Disney didn't really push the film too hard in the end, although it did get some award nominations that year. Does Kundun really deserve to be forgotten though?

Stepmom (1998)

Genre: comedy, drama
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Produced by: Chris Columbus, Wendy Finerman, Michael Barnathan, etc
Written by: Gigi Levangie, Jessie Nelson, Steven Rogers, etc
Music by: John Williams
Running time: 125 minutes
Production company: 1492 Pictures
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $50,000,000
Box office: $159,710,793

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, Ed Harris, Jena Malone, Liam Aiken, Lynn Whitfield, Darrell Larson, Mary Louise Wilson, Andre B. Blake 

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Chris Columbus kind of has his own genre of entertainment going on. It's usually family friendly, it's backed up with crisp and ironed production values and John Williams is usually along for the ride. This isn't necessarily a criticism of Columbus, I mean I love me some Home Alone. His work is just extremely accessible and that doesn't always make for the most interesting films. His two Harry Potter entries are probably two of the least interesting entries out of the whole series.

Anyway, I'm probably just being a bit snobbish right now. Columbus makes family movies that address family problems and that's just fine. Stepmom is clearly part of that and it does honestly have an interesting premise. The conflict that emerges between a mother and a stepmother is definitely relevant in a divorce society like ours. 

Jul 26, 2014

Kronos (1957)

Genre: action, drama, horror
Directed by: Kurt Neumann
Produced by:  Irving Block, Louis DeWitt, Kurt Neumann, etc
Written by: Lawrence L. Goldman, Irving Block
Music by: Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter
Running time: 78 minutes
Production company: Regal Films
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $160,000
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Jeff Morrow, Barbara Lawrence, John Emery, George O'Hanlon, Morris Ankrum, Kenneth Alton, John Parrish, Jose Gonzales-Gonzales
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We can all say that sci-fi has changed a lot since the 1950's and 1960's. Don't be deceived by IMDb's genre classing of Kronos, it's really a science fiction movie. One thing I've always liked about sci-fi movies, or at least the good ones, is that there's some sort of commentary going on. Kronos might seem like a regular B-movie out of the 50's but I think it's a little bit more than that and it does have something to say.

Kronos had a pretty modest budget of $160,000 which works out to a little over $1.3 million in today's dollar. For a movie that probably put most of that into special effects, that's not a whole lot and apparently, there was even a cut in the original budget which caused some scenes to be eliminated because of the cost. 

Jul 25, 2014

Kon-Tiki (1950)

Genre: documentary
Directed by: Thor Heyerdahl
Produced by: Thor Heyerdahl, Olle Nordemar
Written by: Thor Heyerdahl
Music by: Sune Waldimir
Running time: 77 minutes
Production company: Artfilm, Sol Lesser Productions, Syncronfilm
Distributed by: Janson Media, NRK-TV International, RKO Radio Pictures
Country: Norway
Language: Norwegian
Budget: N/A
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Thor Heyerdahl, Herman Watzinger, Erik Hesselberg, Knut Haugland, Torstein Raaby, Bengt Danielsson

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The 2012 film Kon-Tiki was a great film on a technical level and also benefited from a very interesting premise. A man sailing across the Pacific in a raft? Sounds crazy doesn't it? Based on true events, the story underwent some changes to heighten the drama and tension level which I would say is overall a partial success. If you want to experience the real thing though, I suppose you can't get any more real than the actual documentary of Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki expedition. 

Kon-Tiki won an Oscar in 1951 and is one of only two Norwegian films to have done so. The other Oscar was won by the animated short The Danish Poet in 2007. It's pretty easy to see why Kon-Tiki was awarded its Oscar because even 63 years later, it's a delightful documentary. What Thor Heyerdahl and his crew were able to achieve is nothing short of monumental and it's superbly recounted in this 1950 documentary piece.

Jul 24, 2014

The Other Sister (1999)

Genre: comedy, drama, romance
Directed by: Garry Marshall
Produced by: Alexandra Rose, Mario Iscovich, David Hoberman
Written by: Alexander Rose, Blair Richwood, Garry Marshall, Bob Brunner
Music by: Kyle Vincent
Running time: 129 minutes
Production company: Touchstone Pictures
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $35,000,000
Box office: $27,807,627

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Juliette Lewis, Diane Keaton, Tom Skerritt, Giovanni Ribisi, Poppy Montgomery, Sarah Paulson, Linda Thorson, Joe Flanigan, Juliet Mills, Tracy Reiner, Hector Elizondo

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Using a mentally handicapped character in a movie is nothing new. Forrest Gump is obviously one that worked exceedingly well as have greats like Rain Man and One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest. But then we also have duds like Radio or I Am Sam. Robert Downey Jr.'s Tropic Thunder character Kirk Lazarus is famous for having said "Everybody knows you never go full retard." Basically, Hollywood awards people loves mentally handicapped characters but only if they balance their handicap with some kind of talent. 

So does Juliette Lewis go "full retard" in The Other Sister? Yes she does and Garry Marshall painfully uses her handicap as an excuse to make the viewer feel something for the main character. Everything else about TOS is exactly as you'd imagine in a Marshall directed flick along with Hector Elizondo playing some sort of minor character. It's just pretty sad that he would stoop as low as using a mentally challenged character as a crutch without building any sort of convincing character development.

Jul 23, 2014

Kon-Tiki (2012)

Genre: adventure, history
Directed by: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg  
Produced by: Jeremy Thomas, Aage Aaberge  
Written by: Petter Skavlan, Allan Scott  
Music by: Johan Söderqvist  
Running time: 118 minutes
Production company: Nordisk Film  
Distributed by: The Weinstein Company  
Country: Norway
Language: Norwegian, English
Budget:  93,000,000 NOK ($15,500,000)
Box office: $22,842,887

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Odd-Magnus Williamson, Agnes Kittelsen, Gustaf Skarsgård, Jakob Oftebro, Tobias Santelmann

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Kon-Tiki is a take on the famed voyage that Norwegian ethnographer/explorer Thor Heyerdahl undertook in 1947. With only a raft, some supplies and a small crew, he sailed from South America to Polynesia which is a total distance of 8,000 km. The guy couldn't even swim! That's insanity right there but obviously it was a success because the man lived until his 87th birthday and went on many other ill advised voyages in non-modern boats and rafts.

Kon-Tiki is based off of Thor Heyerdahl's 1948 book The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas. There was also a documentary that was released in 1950 directed by Thor Heyerdahl himself during the expedition which I really want to watch. The 2012 Kon-Tiki is a dramatization of all these events but I think it's definitely a story that has the potential to make an interesting movie. It was even nominated in the foreign language categories for both the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards. 

Jul 22, 2014

Kopps (2003)

Genre: action, comedy
Directed by: Josef Fares
Produced by: Anna Anthony
Written by: Josef Fares, Mikael Håfström, Vasa
Music by:  Daniel Lemma, Bengt Nilsson
Running time: 90 minutes
Production company: Memfis Film, Film i Väst, Nordisk Film- & TV-Fond, etc
Distribution company: Sonet Film
Running time: 90 minutes
Country: Sweden
Language: Swedish
Budget: 22,000,000 SEK
Box office: 52,296,701 SEK

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Fares Fares, Torkel Petersson, Göran Ragnerstam, Sissela Kyle, Eva Röse, Christian Fiedler, Erik Ahrnbom, Harry Goldstein, Michael Fares, Viktor Friberg, Jan Fares

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There's no shortage of comedy-cop movies in Hollywood but there's definitely room for a Swedish entry to be a part of the club. Josef Fares made his mark with Jalla! Jalla! which was his directorial debut in 2000. It's a comedy film, but one that I think is pretty personal for Josef which also stars his brother Fares Fares. No joke, that's really his name.

Fares Fares also has a part in Kopps and Josef Fares had the help of a certain Mikael Håfström to write the script with him. Håfström has since gone on to direct some relatively large Hollywood projects with varying degrees of success. Take Escape Plan with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger which was dope I tell you! 1408 was pretty good too but his best work is Evil which was done in his native country of Sweden though.