Category Archives: Movie Challenge

200 Movie Challenge: Summer Update

Six months ago, the challenge began.  Could I watch 200 movies in 365 days?  It averages out to about 4 movies a week, or 16 movies a month.  Here we find ourselves at the halfway point, and one question is looming:

Why do hot-dogs come in packages of 10 while buns come in packages of 8?

Once we realize that the answer to that question has more to do with shelf-space and convenience of packaging, we can move on to this more meaty issue:

Will I make it to 200 movies before year-end?

That’s a very good question.  If I continue at my current pace, there’s no way.  If, however, I make some changes, my goal is still quite reachable.

I find myself, on this balmy June day contemplating why I’ve only watched 20-something movies so far this year.  Before I outline my new plan, allow me to point out some things that you may or may not already know.

First, it’s a lot of work writing reviews–If you haven’t noticed, I try quite vigorously to make the tone of my reviews match or at least compliment the film I am reviewing.  I’ve set some fairly unrealistic expectations on myself and I’m finding it increasingly difficult to motivate myself to reach those standards.

Secondly, it’s a lot of work tracking down decent movie posters, especially for the less mainstream movies that I do so enjoy watching.  Yeah, I hear ya, just use google images and pull up the first one that comes up, right?  Well, it’s not always that easy.  There are a lot of really bad quality scans of movie posters hanging around out there, and finding one that isn’t watermarked or of low quality can take some time.

Thirdly, images don’t edit themselves.  There’s no doubt that you have noticed the “hidden” eggs in the screenshots from each movie I’ve reviewed to date.  Admittedly, my skills as an image editor are by no means of professional quality; my edits are often quite noticeable, but they do take time.  I have to find a usable image from the movie, think of some connection, then paint in elements from either other found pictures or from elements created from scratch.

When I look at my stats, I see that each review brings in somewhere around, at most, 6 hits.  Of those 6 people visiting my reviews, one person has consistently left comments–usually pointing out the “egg.”  That all adds up to a great deal of effort for very little payoff.  While appreciate those of you who do regularly check my blog, I just don’t feel like I’m getting my work’s worth out of posting such detailed reviews.  I end up dreading the process of writing the reviews, so I put off watching the movies.  As you read this, I am thinking about the last two movies I watched –2 weeks ago.  I still haven’t written any reviews for them, because I just don’t have the energy.

There are some other factors also contributing to my unproductive movie watching.  Namely, DSL.  Starting in February, I got high-speed internet for the first time in my house.  Surfing the web has seriously been eating into my movie watching time, and I’m going to have to make myself cut back.

Another factor that you might not know about is that since all the television networks switched over to digital signals, we’ve acquired a channel that specializes in catering to my soft-spot–cheesy old movies.  Wait!?!  But watching old movies should fit right into the challenge! Right?!?  If only I were that sensible.  Early on, I decided that my challenge would only include movies I could watch without commercial interruption.  In reality, I’ve watched many more movies this year than what my blog reflects.  I don’t plan on dropping that criterion.

Are you still reading?  Wow, thanks for your devotion!

So, what’s going to change?  I’ve developed a system that I believe will help to rate the movies I watch in a way that will give you, the reader/watcher, the information you need to decide if the movie I watched is something you might be interested in.  Because of the nature of many of the movies I watch, a simple “star” system just won’t do the job.  I’m going to rate movies based on these criteria:

Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):

Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):

Kid safe? (Yes or No)

Reminds me of: name of other movie

Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I want it to have my children”)

I’m going to try to make it a habit to watch several movies a week, and post a summary post once a week listing the movies I watched and displaying the above notes on them.  I may adjust the criteria slightly until I get everything worked out fully, but that’s the basic plan.  Hopefully, these changes will help me along my way to meeting my self-imposed challenge.  Wish me luck!


Posted by on June 17, 2010 in Movie Challenge


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City of Ember

#25 City of Ember

City of Ember movie poster

It’s just your typical post-apocalyptic, underground city is going to be destroyed and all of humanity rests on two children’s shoulders, Christian allegory starring Bill Murray and Tim Robbins (Who, I’m pretty sure, is a devout atheist in real life–weird, huh?).  The basic plot is pretty straightforward.  Mankind, in the throes of some major catastrophe builds a city underground and sends a small group of people to live in it.  They leave instructions in a time-release box on how to leave the city in 200 years.  Somewhere along the line, the box is lost, and no-one knows they are supposed to leave.  Well, the city is falling apart along with it’s power source, and it’s up to a ragtag little girl and her ambitious young friend to rescue mankind from poor leadership and blind fear of the unknown.

City of Ember

It’s a little heavy handed at times, and the parallels to the walk of a Christian are pretty obvious throughout, but that doesn’t detract from the story.  You pretty much know how the movie must end before the first act is even done, and it seems a little slow in setting the stage.  I kept thinking to myself, “Okay, enough with the setup, let’s get to the story.”  Then, somehow, once the action really started, I realized that all the setup was necessary, and it wouldn’t have been nearly as good without it.  This movie is kind of sneaky like that.  You know what to expect, and yet, it still surprises you by doing exactly what you expected it to do, all along.  It’s based on a book, written for young readers, and the movie is clearly aimed at that same audience, but I think adults will also get something from the film.  Though it is dark, and sinister in places, and there really is a sense of urgency and terror throughout the movie that will surely enthrall young audiences, it also has a more or less positive message, and I believe that any stress it might cause youngsters will be worth it for the lessons learned.  The bad guys get their comeuppance, and the good guys triumph, and an adventure awaits in the City of Ember.

An added bonus for knitters:  There’s a couple of scenes involving yarn and knitting, including an integral scene near the beginning!

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Posted by on May 28, 2010 in Movie Challenge


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Gosford Park

#24 Gosford Park

Gosford Park Movie Poster

“Okay everybody, today we’re going to be making a…oh, excuse me, we’re going to be making a movie about a… pardon me, could you bring me a cup of coffee?  That’d be great…No thanks, I take it black.  Today we’re going to be making a movie about a murder.  It’s sort of like…oh, thank you, mmmm… just right… you know, what, could you be a dear and get me a cube of sugar after all, this is a little strong…The movie is sort of like another film you  might remember called…oh, thanks, that’s just right.  One more thing, do you think maybe you could bring me a donut–no sprinkles.  Thanks…Another film called “Clue.”  Everyone is a suspect, there’s this whole interplay between–wait, I clearly said, ‘no sprinkles’ now get it right or you’re fired–I swear you can’t get good help these days–interplay between the servants and the rich.  There’s this whole dynamic–much better, thanks…mmm, this is good, could you fetch me a napkin?–There’s this whole dynamic going on, where the lines between staff and employer are just starting to be tested.  Everyone will…hang on, let me just finish this donut…

Screenshot from Gosford Park

everyone will be talking over each other, and there will be at least one scene set at a dinner table… could we bring those lights down?  I want it kind of dark—darker—okay that’s good.  We’ll be focusing on the conversations of the staff and showing how it **really** was–darker…that’s good!  Now, get the costume designer in here, these clothes are far too vibrant… I want drab, drab, drab.   Okay, great!  Alright, so the story is set in the English countryside at a large estate.  It’s an ensemble cast.  It’ll have that guy that was in those Christopher Guest movies, that old British woman that used to play Miss Marple, I think, and then there’s that old British actor who was in those Kenneth Brannagh movies.  Oh, and for fans of British comedy, Stephen Fry is in this, too.  Who’s that?  Oh, he was the voice of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy–nothing?  How about this, he played Jeeves in “Wooster and Jeeves.”  Still nothing, eh… how about this—He plays the funny British psychiatrist on “Bones.”  Yeah, that’s him!  Anyway, the end is–well, I don’t want to give it away, but suffice to say, it just sort of dwindles at the end and leaves you feeling vaguely unsatisfied.  It’ll be a great movie, or my name’s not Robert Altman!”


Posted by on May 27, 2010 in Movie Challenge


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The Affair of the Necklace

#23 The Affair of The Necklace

Affair of the Necklace movie poster

Christopher Walken, Hillary Swank, Adrian Brody, and the guy that was in Brazil–in a period piece?  The guy from The Mentalist is in it, too?  Sign me up!

Affair of the Necklace screenshot

This is the story of a scam during the reign of Marie Antoinette.  The film is loaded with intrigue, twists and turns, and outlandish schemes, made all the more astounding by the fact that it’s based on true events.  Hillary Swank manages to make you forget that she once passed as a boy in Boys Don’t Cry, Adrian Brody doesn’t come across as a milquetoast, and Christopher Walken is delightfully creepy.  I could go into a vivid description of the movie, but what you really need to know is this:

1. Christopher Walken is in the film in a minor but important role.

2. Hillary Swank is in it.

3. It’s a story about a scam.

4. It’s a period piece.

5. The guy from The Mentalist is in it.

All in all, it’s a fun movie.


Posted by on May 23, 2010 in Movie Challenge


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Sherlock Holmes

#22 Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes poster

L: How long has he been like that?

W: About 35 minutes.  I suggested we take in a movie, and he grabbed his coat and rushed me out the door, flung me into the nearest hansom and here I find myself, watching my dear friend stand in the middle of a video store staring at a wall of movies.

L: Has he been at the pipe again?

W: I fear so.

L: Look! It seems as though his trance is broken; here he comes.

H: I wish I could say it was a pleasant surprise to see you here.

L: Have you figured out what movie to rent?

H: I have, indeed, not made a final decision as of yet.  I believe I am in the mood for an animated film, circa 2001, starring that blonde gentleman who later went on to portray a certain British secret agent.  I surmise the film was French in origin.  Would you be so kind as to go and fetch it for me, so that I might be on my way and distract you from your own search no longer than necessary.

L: It would be my pleasure to assist the great Sher–

H: Go!  Go!  Speed is of the utmost importance!

W: But–but–we watched that not more than 14 months hence.  It is not like you to rewatch a film such as that without purchasing it.

H: A mere ruse to distract our dear inspector from renting the very same movie I intended to take home this very night.  You see, there was only one copy left on the shelf and he was clearly interested in watching it, no doubt hoping to pick up a few pointers, as it were.

2 hours later

W: I say, how DO you do it?  How on earth did you know that would be the perfect movie?  Though some of the special effects were obvious, and the story was more action oriented than the books, the movie was an excellent example of an adaptation done well.  What I can’t figure out, is how the deuce did you know they’d get it so right?

H: It was really quite simple–a mere matter of deduction.  You see, the absence of any other copies on the shelf indicated that this movie was popular enough to have garnered good word of mouth, but not so popular as to have been consumed by the masses in entirety within mere moments of being made available for rental.  The muted tones and faux aged appearance of the illustrations on the cover indicated that this movie was being marketed with a proper sense of nostalgia and respect for the genre in which it belongs.  The prominence of the title, which, not coincidentally lacks a subtitle, suggests that this adaptation of a classic literary tale extrapolates from the entirety of the works, and not just from one short tale, thus serving as an excellent introduction to the characters and story as a whole.  The actor chosen to portray the lead role, while a little unorthodox in that he looks nothing like the character in question, is just different enough to make the character fresh again.  It is an added extravagence that the actor in question has a history of drug abuse, wild living, and a smarmy charm unequaled by his peers, not unlike our protagonist.  The director has chosen to render his name in small font on the back of the case, thus denying himself the privelege of bragging.  This told me that he either did not want to draw attention to the fact that he made this movie, and thus was not proud of it, or that he understood that the real draw of this film would be the stars on screen.  Since he was married for a time to a dance hall girl and performer of some considerable fame who later, unfortunately took leave of her senses, I can only believe that he has learned to accept his station in life and prove his skills in a quiet fashion.

W: You got all that from looking at the cover?

H: Well, that and the cute girl behind the counter suggested it to me yesterday.


Posted by on April 8, 2010 in film, Movie Challenge


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#21 Rebecca

Rebecca movie posterKnown as Hitchcock’s first American film, the master of suspense teamed up with Gone With the Wind producer David O. Selznick to bring to life Daphne Du Maurier’s modern classic supsense novel, Rebecca.  It becomes very clear early on in this film that Hitchcock was the right choice to direct this tale of internal suspense and romance.

The story follows the experiences of a young woman played by Joan Fontaine as she falls in love with and marries the mysterious widower Maxim De Winter, played masterfully by Lawrence Olivier.  The new Mrs. DeWinter is haunted by the memory of Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca, and all the influence she had on those around her.  Hitchcock does a great job  of portraying the paranoia that settles in around our young heroin and we watch with bated breath as the truth about the details of Rebecca’s tragic death emerges.

Rebecca screenshot

Many of the trademark Hitchcock signatures abound through this film; from camera movements that tell stories without really showing anything, to capturing just the right facial expressions on characters in the background, he leads the viewer down the path that Hitchcock wants them to go down.  When it’s all said and done, you feel like you still don’t know the full story, but you’re satisfied with what you do know.  If you like suspense with a healthy dose of romance and you enjoy seeing leading men who walk with an air of bravado, this movie is a sure hit for your next movie night.

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Posted by on April 4, 2010 in Movie Challenge


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#20 Ninotchka

Ninotchka Movie Poster

“Garbo Laughs!”

That’s the big marketing phrase that sold this 1939 romantic comedy starring Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas.  One of the few performers to successfully navigate the transition from silent film to “talkies”, Garbo had a reputation for doing serious dramas and “Ninotchka” was her big entry into comedy.  Sadly, she only made two more films after this.

Made at a time when the U.S. and Russia were still allies, modern audiences might be a little put off by the slightly sympathetic tone the film has toward Communist Russia.  The film does lampoon the more stodgy nature of Communists of the day, but it pulls it off in a good natured way.  As a child of the Cold War Era, I found it a little awkward.

Ninotchka screen grab

No stranger to screwball comedies, I went into Ninotchka  with a certain preconceived notion of what to expect;  I was pleasantly surprised to find a rather tender love story.  Comedy was still the order of the day, and I have a feeling it was even funnier in 1939.  The guys playing Garbo’s three eccentric Russian friends nearly steal the movie, but Melvyn Douglas is charming, if not a little unbelievable as a 36 year old lawyer who falls in love with Communist loyalist, Ninotchka, played by Garbo.  Fans of the horror classic Dracula (as well as b-movie classic, Plan 9 from Outer Space) will be amused to see Bela Lugosi turning a scene as Garbo’s superior.

If you want a light, entertaining movie that effectively uses the Nazi salute as a sight gag, this is probably a good film to catch.  Find out just what it is that gets Garbo laughing!

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Posted by on March 30, 2010 in Movie Challenge


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