On Her Majesty's Secret Service - probably the most unique and interesting of the bond films from the direction standpoint. hunt directs what, at times, looks like a b-film. some of the fight sequences, in particular, are done in this style. this is also the only film in the series that i can recall having broken the fourth wall. lazenby, after a fight on the beach, turns to the camera and says something like "the last guy didn't have this much trouble." the ending is also notable because of its abrupt and somber tone. it's the most interesting of the series for these reasons, but i don't know that it's the best. B.
Rocky - avildsen also directed karate kid, which really isn't that different from this film. both are about sympathetic characters tapping their true potential and overcoming fear while falling in love. with rocky it seems he is almost afraid to succeed, which is why mickey finally kicks him out of the gym. of course, in the end rocky is inspired to put together a highly unlikely 5 week blitz of training and loses to apollo creed in a split decision. it's an inspiring film, but not as great as i remembered it being. i think i conflated rocky and rocky II and had an image of one really great movie instead of two pretty good ones. such is the nature of memory.
bill conti's music is a highlight. stallone's performance has a few weaknesses, but is generally pretty good. pauly is probably the best character in the film because of his volatility and realism. mickey (meredith) is also a good one. B+.
Levity - if i had a dictionary (or internet access) i'd look up the definition of "levity," but i don't, so i can't. i think that the first definition would say something about being lighthearted, like a joke or humorous conversation. but another definition might reference something about the lightness of being, as in levitation or floating upwards. this definition is probably more along the lines of the film's intentions. it's much more a film about levitating towards the heavens than it is about anything lighthearted or joke-related. billy bob sort of reprises his role in sling blade, only he's less of a simpleton and the ending is different, though not in spirit. the overall theme is one of forgiveness and redemption and how that is manifested in, and sought out by, different people (thornton, freeman and dunst). dunst turns in a good performance as an upper crust spoiled floozy. her character's sympathy level benefited from her family situation, but was good in spite of this easy ploy. solondz once said that it's easy to make the audience feel some sympathy for an evil character - you just give them cancer. his point is that getting sympathy for a character is easy, doing it in a crafty manner is more difficult, especially when you strive for realism as well as sympathy. all babbling aside, it's a well-done film that's worth checking out. B.
Good Thief - nolte plays a recovering junkie thief looking to go for one last score. if you're still with me then i guess you won't mind watching the film. it's not that the film is really bad, it's just been done before and better. a surprise ending, a talkative prostitute, a junkie pinched by the cops, a french cop tailing nolte, a loan shark played by fiennes, a transvestite strong man, and a rare painting heist. C+.
Night At The Museum - if you don't like ben stiller then it isn't worth watching since about 90% of the film derives humor from his character. it's mostly a kids movie with a feel good conclusion. it's funny enough, but isn't really hilarious. C+.
Little Miss Sunshine - a wonderful film. it has elements of malcolm in the middle, p.t. anderson and national lampoon's vacation. in fact it is even linked to two of those - bryan cranston appears here as stan grossman, but he plays the father in malcolm in the middle; and mary lynn rajskub is in both punch-drunk love and this film.
from start to finish the film engrosses the audience. in fact, if you're not engrossed by the time the title appears i'd be damned surprised. it opens with a quick introduction to the various characters and their various obsessions, vices, or problems. as the film unfolds it becomes clear that the emotional center of the film is the young girl whose quest to become little miss sunshine dominates the plot of the film. everyone is brought together by her enthusiasm for life which contrasts the other characters, who are in varying states of death. kinnear is obsessed with his 9 steps of life program and winning, arkin is enraged and addicted to drugs, dano is anti-social and unable to appreciate his family on any level, collette is struggling with keeping the family together and her smoking habit, and carell is in a deep depression and comes into the story shortly after a botched suicide attempt. put this way the film doesn't seem like a comedy, but it most certainly is. it's a bold comedy that isn't afraid to be different, audacious, and profound in the process.
the symbol of the vw bus, which requires a push to get it going, works perfectly within the film. not only is it the perfect choice of vehicle for their family, but it also represents their reliance upon each other to get where they need to go. it also works as one of the many effective comedic elements of the film. the image of them coming back to pick up olive is unforgettable.
the final act sees the family's goal complete - they have arrived at the little miss sunshine pageant. but it isn't quite what is expected for any of them and each grows during their time there. kinnear realizes that some things in life aren't worth winning, dano redefines his dream and embraces his position in the process, and carell finds a new place as a mentor. the family, too, coalesces. they realize that they're different and, for better or worse, a unit. this is seen most clearly in the dance scene. breslin dances to "super freak," much to the astonishment of the pageant organizers. this is perhaps the best scene of the film because it is humorous, poignant (because we see the family truly coming together) and profound (because of the commentary). the commentary can be simply put as anti-beauty pageant, but that doesn't really do it justice. breslin's dance, done to rick james' "super freak," is overtly sexual and shocks the pageant personnel. what it really does though, is redefine an already atrocious parade of overt sexuality in young girls. breslin's dance is certainly sexual in one context, but because we know her character and see her ignorance of sexuality, it is seen as precious and cute. however, much is revealed by the fact that the pageant organizers don't see it this way. essentially, breslin's dance and music choice turn the overt sexuality of the pageant on its head. it's a brilliant commentary on one of the more sickening aspects of our culture. the jonbenet ramsey type pageant participants function as the perfect foil for breslin and her family. in the end, they exit the parking lot through the entrance and drive off into the horizon. A-.
Little Miss Sunshine - watched it this time with the directors' commentary. learned that the film took six years of writing and looking for funding to get the film made. i guess it figures - films of this type and caliber don't generally get made these days in hollywood. forgot to mention a couple nice touches in my last review. i love olive's red cowboy boots, for example. they just give her character a unique quality that works so well to differentiate her from the rest of the girls in the pageant. i also liked the various glasses and cups they had at the dinner table; very realistic. a family like this probably wouldn't have a bunch of matching silverware and glasses. instead they would have a mix of plastic cups, glasses from mcdonalds and regular tumblers. details help make a picture great. A.
Good Shepherd - takes a little while to hit its stride, but is a strong film once it does. it's actually more a film about a man and the impact his job has on his family, than it is a history of the c.i.a. certainly it tells that story as well, but it focuses more on the sacrifices of damon's character and the lack of family life he has as a result of his position. it is also about the nature of trust and the consequences of deceit. B.
Training Day - when i first saw this film i thought they took the easy way out by completely demonizing denzel's character in the end. as i watched it this time, though, i realized that the character was always completely dark and evil, i just didn't see it. part of this is because of the allure of the character. he has a crafty ability to persuade, like a con-man, and it's this quality that persuaded me into thinking his character was less evil than he actually is. not incidentally, this is part of what keeps ethan hawke's character on board as long as he is. denzel will do something we know to be bad and without merit, and then find some way of selling us on its long-term value to society. for those "undecided" voters of 2004 who happened to fall for bush (again) it might be a good idea to check this film out and parallel how bush and denzel's character sell their audience a bill of goods for their own profit. ethan hawke finally figures it out when his head is in a bathtub about to be blown off, hopefully it doesn't take the rest of us that long. an even better film (and performance from denzel) than i had originally realized. good direction from fuqua. B+.
Rocky Balboa - "i was bored." "i had nothing better to do." "i've seen the other five so i figured i may as well." "i was in the neighborhood." all are good, and true, excuses for why i watched this film. sly stone talks like a retard and is in a lot of shitty movies. there, that's out of the way. the truth, though, is that he's a relatively smart guy. he paints, and he's written and directed some decent pictures. say what you will about judge dread, the original rocky and rambo films are good. in other words, i consider myself relatively able to judge this film on its own merits.
the film is essentially a synthesis of two things: the "american spirit" and the true story of george foreman's inspired coming out of retirement in his mid-late 40s. i think a popular reaction to hearing about the new rocky is "the guy's like 60 years old, there's no way he can be a boxer." true, sly turned 60 this year and that would make his pretty damn old for a professional boxer. a few things about that: foreman came back and won the heavyweight championship in his late 40s, rocky is in his 50s in the film, satchel paige pitched a couple hitless innings in his 60s, it's a movie.
the outcome in the film is the same as it was when george foreman faced evander holyfield (one of the greats of our generation) in the early 90s. if you're able to get past it being a sylvester stallone film and him being a really old fighter, then the film isn't half bad. there are some quality lines for rocky, and his character is a real salt of the earth kinda guy. he embodies a horatio alger spirit and, partly because of his simplicity, does so without being too corny. this is contrasted with a flashy young fighter who doesn't feel like he's gotten enough respect. there's a clear message here about hard work, humility, fighting on despite adversity, etc. what's less clear is the race issue. is there some commentary on the young black athlete or am i reading too much into it? 1) the fighter he's facing is black, rocky is white 2) the fighter symbolizes the stereotypical black athlete - bling bling, lots of cars, doesn't feel he gets enough respect, etc. and rocky works hard and represents the middle class in spite of his fame 3) in the film rocky's opponent is referred to as: mason "the line" dixon. that last one is the thing that really calls attention to race. the mason-dixon line, of course, is the line which once marked slave/free territories. presumably that's intentional on the part of stallone, and serves some purpose beyond being just another creative boxer name. remember, too, that rocky is called the "italian stallion." there's also the fact that rocky befriends a woman with a bi-racial son. when rocky first sees him he's with a white kid and he assumes the white kid is her son. she says that it's the other one and then she says that his father was jamaican (philly has the second largest jamaican population in the u.s.) and rocky says "oh, he was european, cool." har har. so, i don't really know what to make of it, but the race issue is there.
the film is a bit longish for the plot and it uses a little too much footage from the previous films. C+.
Half Baked - under 80 minutes and all about weed, it's a pothead's dream. has some good laughs. harold and kumar go to white castle is better. B.
Little Big Man - dramatic comedy, or comedic drama about a 121 year-old man who recounts his days in the old west. well shot, good performance from hoffman, but wasn't amazing. B.
Thomas Crown Affair - mctiernan (predator, die hard) directs this so-so heist movie. mctiernan peaked in the late 80s with die hard and bottomed out 14 years later after directing the awful remake of rollerball. there are nicely photographed parts in the film and the story is good enough, but there's nothing really enticing about it. rene russo shows a lot of skin and the ending was creative enough. through much of the film, though, i found the twists and turns to be relatively obvious. pretty average. C.
In America - anything but average. follows an irish immigrant family coming to live in nyc to start a new life after the death of their five year old son. i could say all the usual stuff like: it's a film about love, loss, growth, etc. and all that is true, but none of that matters if you don't do it well, with characters who matter. sheridan gets a gift from the filmmaking gods in the form of two sister actors (the bolgers) who play sisters in the film. they really keep the film centered and grounded. films told from the perspective of children tend to be a little more emotionally credible for me. i'm not entirely sure why this is. shane is the first, and best, example that i can think of. sarah and emma bolger are just wonderful in the film. they're precocious, sweet, believable and they steal the show from considine, hounsou and morton. samantha morton is a good talent, but i haven't seen her in a really great role until this film. i was underwhelmed by morvern callar and didn't love her in enduring love. and i haven't seen much else that she's been in. she's certainly good here, though. in fact, everyone is. one character that isn't really credited in the film is the city. i think the film is supposed to take place in the 80s (since they go to see E.T. in theater), but there were signs that it was a contemporary film as well. in the film new york city certainly had a pre-giuliani feel to it. it never felt safe and i think sheridan used that extra layer to keep the film engaging throughout. B+.
Queen- frears has never been a real great talent in my book. films like dirty pretty things, sammy and rosie get laid, and high fidelity have their moments or are well-filmed, but never really coalesce in an interesting and entertaining way. the same is true here. he makes a film that is occasionally moving and thoughtful, but not all that watchable; at least not repeatedly so. mirren's performance is the talk of the town and it's good, but not knock-out good. perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the film is in portraying the impact of princess di's death on the country and royal family. we see the conflict of the royal family - on the one hand they are traditionalists who felt marred by diana's scandalous actions, and on the other they need to be supportive of their people and william and harry. it doesn't get on the soapbox as much as one might think, considering the high emotions involved in this subject matter. in other words, it's a pretty balanced look at the fallout after di's death. reminds me of a paul greengrass directed film. B-.
Holiday - chick flick dreck. actually, it does have some redeeming qualities. 1) when winslet is going through diaz's dvd collection she picks out a dvd of punch-drunk love. any reference to p.t. anderson gets a film points. 2) jack black is fairly funny. 3) eli wallach is very good. he plays an old-time jewish hollywood writer who has had it with the new-fangled hollywood writing and film-making. he recommends winslet watch films starring barbara stanwyck and other strong, leading ladies. he's the best character in the film and any reference to stanwyck earns a film points. other than those points, though, the film is pretty basic. jude law, and the storyline that surrounds him, is just so cheesy and underdeveloped; very simple. hopefully your girlfriend doesn't drag you to this one. D+.
Interpreter - three movies with one word titles. expected this movie to be pretty bad, but it wasn't. that's not to say that it was great either. whatever success it has is owed primarily to the few salient points it manages to raise about forgiveness and non-violence. i think that mlk said something to the effect of "non-violence is the sword that heals." this movie doesn't get that poetic, but it tries. i hope that sean penn is able to laugh in real life because god knows he doesn't do it in his movies. C+.
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome - gene siskel said that this series keeps getting better, which implies that this is the best of the series. he was wrong, dead wrong. okay, sorry, low blow. at any rate, this film doesn't really compare in quality to the first two. by the way, i think i neglected to mention in my recent review of road warrior that it's one of the best sequels of all-time. at any rate, this one tries to emulate the success of the second one - they have similar hero themes and they end in pretty much the exact same way. i'm not perfectly certain what the filmmakers were doing with the story. it has three distinct acts, and acts 2 and 3 differ quite a bit from act 1. i presume there is symbolic story being told, some parable that is being imparted, but i didn't quite pick up on it. there is some commentary on the nature of law and religion and scarcity of resources, but nothing as profound as the simplicity of road warrior. and that is really where this film fails - it complicates the story and tries to do too much. part of the reason the second one was so successful was its sparse and simple presentation. C-.
All About The Benjamins - mike epps is like martin lawrence, only not as funny, and ice cube always looks pissed. the film itself is fairly uninteresting because it's just an action/comedy like most these days. eva mendes does a good job. she's great looking and a more dynamic actress than you might think. watch her in this, out of time and stuck on you and you'll see what i mean. i've noticed that a lot of "black films" (films that are made for/by african-americans) tend to play up race as an issue. there are more jokes about being white or black in films starring martin lawrence or ice cube than in those starring their equivalents (dane cook? and john cena?, close enough). i think this illuminates an important point: for black americans, race is still a very prominent issue. if it weren't, then they wouldn't feature is in their films as much. one can speculate as to why race is an issue, but that's not my job here. in reading this particular cultural text i see the continuance of a trend, and i leave it up to you to assign meaning. C+.
Dark Blue - james ellroy wrote the original story, but took his name off the film and had nothing to do with the screenplay. which makes sense since the film isn't all that well-written. it's also not acted out very well. in general the film lacks in execution. the idea is good enough - it has controversy, conflict, diverse and deep characters, etc., but it's drawn too simply. characters are good or bad, and things are either black or white (literally and figuratively). it would have been more effective, and realistic, if it had better acting and more roundly drawn characters. C.
Elizabethtown - sometimes the world makes perfect sense. i'm watching this movie without having any prior knowledge about its making, and it is quickly apparent that i'm not going to like it. there's a certain poetic license gone too far, coupled with recycled themes and situations that just isn't doing it for me. at the end of the film, it all becomes clear: it's directed by cameron crowe. there's something about the majority of this guy's films that just does not work. there will always be some degree of craftsmanship in the writing, but it's usually outweighed by his pretension or flimsy characters.
the film is essentially a mix of garden state and moonlight mile, also featuring susan sarandon. while neither of those were all that great, this one wasn't as good as either. to make this as painless as possible: there's little chemistry between bloom and dunst, it's unrealistic and doesn't function well on the poetic level, it's pretentious and fails to be anywhere as good as it hopes to be. in this way it's similar to almost famous, but less offensive and with a worse soundtrack. C-.
Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back - this was once my favorite film of the trilogy (six films were made? sorry, i don't know what you're talking about), but not anymore. i like that it ends on a down note, but i think that the original is a more well-made film. it features better music, acting and the storyline is more intriguing. this one is still a solid film overall. A-.
In Her Shoes - the library from which i borrow dvds has a limited selection (500?). i'm starting to get to the point where i've either seen all of the movies, or am not interested in the titles they offer. so, it's getting to the point where i take chances with films like this...
i once took a fiction writing class and for one assignment we were made to write a story of 7 pages and then workshop it in the next class. one of the girls wrote a story that went, quite literally, like this: "mary and sue were friends. they were best friends and couldn't be separated. one day mary was raped and felt really sad about it. sue decided to help her. the two women went out one night and killed the man who raped her. afterwards they were fugitives and they hit the road." it was a story that was beyond awful, yet it has a value. that story made me appreciate all the other stories in the world which are so much more well-written and crafted. without stories like that it would be more difficult to appreciate good writing when you see it.
chick flicks, like guy movies, are typically not very well-written. both genres are usually mired in clichés and bad acting because the filmmakers know they've got an easy target. every once in a while, though, someone will write a good film that may or may not shatter the mold, but at least shows what good writing is about. that girl's story in my fiction class and most chick flicks are useful, at least in part, because they illuminate quality films like this one. in her shoes is a chick flick in that it would probably be advertised in cosmo, rather than maxim, and has women as its main characters, but it's more than a chick flick because it tells a very human story as well. at its center it is about relationships and growth and the weaknesses and strengths each person has. so, in this way it's quite a bit more than a mere chick flick.
if told by the girl in my fiction class, the story would not impress. if pitched to a producer on an elevator ride the story would not stand out. so, it's in the telling. with this film curtis hanson (l.a. confidential, 8 mile) gives every director of the genre a lesson on how to tell a compelling story. collette and maclaine are both great and diaz certainly holds her own. the writing is very smart, impactful and real. writing and acting of this caliber elevate even the most simple plots. i could sympathize with every character at least a little bit, and that's an accomplishment. that's not to say i wanted to be every character's friend, but i understood their perspective and had some degree of sympathy for their situation. the title metaphor works well, too. B+.
Touch Of Greatness - documentary about a nyc teacher whose unconventional methods won him the hearts of his students, but brought him some ire from the faculty. the documentary didn't play up the problems other teachers had with his flamboyant and challenging style and i appreciated that. making something out of nothing is a drag. i had a teacher almost exactly like this one, also in fifth grade. he, too, taught his students shakespeare and held high expectations for his class. he, too, had an ongoing vocabulary list that was determined by the students, not the teacher. we'd see/hear a word we didn't know and he'd write it on the board. one thing that mr. manitzas (my teacher) did that the subject of this documentary didn't was throw pennies to whoever answered a question correctly. it made for a little contest, it gave us money and it made him cooler because he was going against the grain by throwing things inside. the subject of the documentary, too, threw things, but he would throw chalk and erasers at his students. nowadays that would get him canned, but i don't have too much of a problem with it. the difference, as one former student noted, is that he allowed the students to throw it back. there was an equity in the classroom that really inspired the students, even the trouble-makers, who he literally asked to have in his class.
as inspiring a figure as he was, the documentary doesn't do a great job of really building that inspiration. there was stock footage and plenty of interviews with former students who went on to lead happy and successful lives, but it lacked heart in some way. i suppose it never really got close enough to anyone and didn't develop a story. since the documentary was made in the 2000s and he was teaching mostly in the 60s, truly developing and showing the style is difficult. it would have been infinitely more rewarding, for example, if we could have seen him deal with problem students over the course of a year. seeing the progression and impact he undoubtedly had would have been quite a treat. luckily i had a teacher like this so i can fill in the many blanks. B-.
Woman Of The Year - the first of nine films tracy and hepburn did together. this one gets as dark as any of the five i've seen (woman of the year, pat & mike, guess who's coming to dinner, adam's rib, and desk set), and that certainly makes it stand out. in adam's rib they have a rough patch, but it never gets as dark as it does here. though it's a bit slow in the first half, it picks up in the second half when some conflict arises. other than some slack in the storytelling, the picture was well-directed. it's no shane (also directed by george stevens), but few films are. stevens does show his ability to film indoor sequences with style and efficiency here, 11 years before shane was made. the scene at the ballpark and the final scene are highlights.
thematically it sets the stage for many of their films. it's about the battle of the sexes and, more importantly, the cohabitation of the sexes. hepburn plays a very successful reporter who eventually is named "woman of the year," but her personal life suffers. in a way it's a fairly commonplace story, but it's noteworthy because the woman is the one faced with the need to balance career and family and the man is the one left feeling left out and abandoned. this storyline has been addressed in films like donnie brasco and many others, but it's generally the man who is overly committed to his work and the woman who feels neglected. in the end hepburn decides to quit her job and learn to cook and clean for her husband (something she turns out to be awful at). tracy, though, summarizes her over-reaction thusly: "why does it always have to be the extremes with you? i don't want to be married to mrs. craig anymore than i want to be married to ms. harding. why can't you just be mrs. harding-craig?" here, is the essence of the bulk of the tracy-hepburn collaborations - moderation. true feminism doesn't mean having the problems of the most successful man, it means being able to choose, it means being equal and that means being able to balance home life with career. B.
one of the better lines from the film:
they're at a yankees day game during the week...
are all these people unemployed?
no, they're all attending their grandmother's funeral.
i'll remember that one the next time i need to get out of work to see a game. great line.
Last Holiday - well, it stars two ex-rappers so the acting isn't great. actually, queen latifah isn't that bad and ll cool j is only mostly bad. early in the film the music is painfully plain, but i didn't notice it after a while so i assume it got better. hutton's character drives the bulk of the conflict portion of the film. his performance isn't fantastic, but the character is mean enough so it does the job. the footnote at the end of the film wherein the filmmakers tell you where each character is now, was worthless and should have been left out.
other than those complaints and the fact that the story is formulaic, the film is fairly decent for what it is. it's about a woman who discovers she has 3 weeks to live and decides to quit her job and live life to the fullest. in the process she discovers some things about herself and the way she was living her life, and she inspires those around her. in the end (i'm not spoiling anything here because it's so painfully obvious) she discovers that she was misdiagnosed so everything works out just fine. when you get beyond the poor acting and cliche premise there's a good lesson so that should count for something. at the very least it's not a movie about an idiot teenager breaking up with her boyfriend or not being able to go to the prom. C+.
Blood Diamond - pretty typical zwick (glory, last samurai, blood diamond) drama here. he likes to mix themes of race and conflict and love and action. the film is very reliant upon the performances of the three stars (hounsou, dicaprio, connelly) and succeeds in large part because of them. the plot is a cross between hotel rwanda, romancing the stone and tears of the sun. there's high drama mixed with some hollywood timing and poetic license. that said, the story is a poignant and important one. the film ends on a bittersweet note and that's appropriate because these sorts of issues are hardly likely to disappear anytime soon.
the character dynamic is probably the most interesting element of the film. each character needs each other in some vital way so they have a tenuous relationship based upon this need. at the same time, there is an undercurring bond that goes beyond the symbiotic one that is clear. going into the film i knew that hounsou would turn in a good performance, but that it probably didn't have the same potential as dicaprio's. when i look at performances i judge them not just upon their filling the role, but also by their dynamism and range. dicaprio's range here is above that of the other characters so his is the most interesting performance of the film. shame on me for ever doubting this guy. B.
Blood Alley - two blood movies in one day, purely coincidence. stars john wayne and lauren bacall. william wellman directs. it's basically a cross between african queen and great escape, but not as good as either. actually it's pretty uninteresting and disappointing. wayne isn't very good and bacall shouldn't be with anyone except bogey. C-.
two bits of interesting info:
'Robert Mitchum' (qv) was originally cast as Capt. Wilder. He was fired from the film after an altercation in which he shoved the film's transportation manager into San Francisco Bay. 'Gregory Peck' (qv) subsequently turned down the role of Capt. Wilder, and 'Humphrey Bogart' (qv) wanted a $500,000 salary, which would have put the film over budget. Without a major male star involved, Warner Bros. contacted producer 'John Wayne (I)' (qv), threatening to pull out of their distribution deal for the film unless he took the role himself. To keep his new production company, Batjac, afloat, Wayne agreed to play Capt. Wilder.
Average Shot Length = ~6.2 seconds. Median Shot Length = ~5.6 seconds. Both of these figures are fast for an early CinemaScope film, and much faster than William Wellman's first CinemaScope film, _High and the Mighty, The (1954)_ (qv).
Robin Hood: Men In Tights - satire of robin hood films and popular culture at the same time. jokes range from race comedy (a brooks favorite) to referencing pump shoes (remember those?) and other contemporary films. the most interesting thing about the film is that it's a period piece, yet it references movies (including blazing saddles) and contemporary trends. brooks also employs some fourth wall comedy and weaves in a couple musical pieces. it's only mildly funny. C.
Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo - why is it that this trashy stupidity is more entertaining than a mel brooks film? is that wrong? happy madison productions makes another movie that's funny enough to watch without growing bored. the plot isn't anything special, but there's a decent range of juvenile and offensive humor so it was more than merely watchable. C+.
Tucker: The Man And His Dream - artistic biopic of an automaker (bridges) whose cars never made it to market. it's a well done and interesting story. watch this and then follow it up with the aviator. B.
Dark Corner - hathaway seems to have flown a little under the radar as a 40s director, and that's a shame. lucille ball does a good job as does the rest of the cast, with the exception of cathy downs. william bendix is another smallish actor who most people haven't heard of, despite being a capable actor in some good films. good film noir here. B.
Goldfinger - probably the best of the bond films, but i have to see on her majesty's secret service again before i say so for certain. it has one of the more classic bond girls (pussy galore, a lesbian in the book version), henchmen (oddjob, or "random task" in the austin powers film), and one of the more diabolical villains. goldfinger doesn't want to steal all the gold in fort knox, he just wants to destroy it so that his gold is worth more - how fucked up is that? the aston martin is a cool car with plenty of fun gadgets, bond gets with plenty of hotties, and the film keeps it short. for the kind of film that it is, it's just well done from top to bottom. that said, i can't really forgive bond for saying "there are some things you just don't do....like listening to the beatles without ear muffs." wtf?! you limey traitor, why you gotta knock the beatles? i guess the film was made in 1964 so he's at least saying it about the early beatles, but still. B+.
March Of The Penguins - when watching this film i compared it to others like it, this is an important point. i'll admit up front that i'm more cynical and critical than most and that certainly didn't help in viewing this film. my major problems with the film, documentary, whatever you want to call it, are: the artifice, the manipulation, and the anthropomorphic narrative.
right away you are given the impression that the filmmakers are out to tug on your heart strings by any means necessary. what do i mean by this? well, 1) they want to move you to tears and 2) they're willing to fudge the facts and make something out of nothing, or more accurately, a lot of something out of something else. what leads me to believe this and how did they do it? it is evident in several scenes that sound effects were added after the filming. whether it's because of wind or the fact that cameras are too far away, we know that a lot of the sounds had to be dubbed in while in the editing room. in some instances it appeared as though sounds that didn't actually go with the action were being added in, to heighten effect. e.g., a penguin falls on another penguin and the second penguin gives a little squeak. it's funny, but the camera was too far away and i didn't see the beak open, so i suspect the squeak was added for effect. the effect is two-fold - it makes us laugh and it makes us think penguins are like us. this anthropomorphic idea is echoed throughout the film visually, auditorily and in freeman's narrative. e.g. "they're going on this journey for love" or "they're not that much different from us." this is all without even mentioning the fact that is put in plain view at the end of the film while the credits are rolling: two credits come up of significance - a foley artist (studio sound creator) and a digital effects person. neither would be necessary in a similar documentary put out by national geographic. and this is gets to my major complaint: the story of life, and of these animals in particular, is very very fascinating yet the filmmakers felt the need to meddle and manipulate anyway. it's not all that much more interesting than the story of the great blue herons, or monarch butterflies, or salmon, or many other animals that go on long journeys in their lives. but since the penguins waddle along like old humans we find it cute and go to the theater in droves.
this is at least the third french documentary on wildlife which has reached the rest of the world. the first (microcosmos) was by far the best, but barely had a narrative and it was about insects and small bugs, so it didn't do very well. the second was winged migration which employed an extremely questionable methodology (essentially caging the birds each night so they could follow them the next day for filming) and was moderately successful. the first two, by the way, were done by the same guy (perrin). the third is march of the penguins which has done very well and is much more aggressive in its narrative and anthropomorphic viewpoint.
a lot of all this comes down to personal preference, as it often does. i much prefer a national geographic style documentary which shies away from crafty editing to mold a storyline that isn't really there. the national geographic style is much more of a fly on the wall style - they give the facts, follow the animals, explain certain behaviors and leave out the commentary. microcosmos does this extremely well. i don't think it's possible to watch this film as anything other than a documentary, and, as a documentary, i think it's intellectually dishonest and manipulative. all that said, it's not the worst thing in the world - they didn't outright lie and even if they did, it's only a documentary about interesting birds; it's not like lying about weapons of mass destruction or something. again, ultimately the story is quite an interesting one. life has hundreds of stories like this, though, so let's not think that this one stands alone. and, let's not think that this documentary tells the story the way it actually is. C- as is, B- if muted.
Pat & Mike - another hepburn and tracy comedy, only in this one they don't play a married couple. hepburn plays a babe didrikson type woman who feels restrained by her fiancé. she meets tracy at a golf tournament and he encourages her to allow him to be her manager. eventually she agrees in part because she wants to get away from her controlling fiancé. they hit the road together entering her into athletic competitions (mostly golf and tennis). after a while a bond forms - he learns honesty from her and she finds support and strength with him - and, well, you know the rest. it's a humorous and entertaining film so it's good on that level, but it's also a good film on a social level. hepburn was a true feminist and took roles which reflected that fact. if you consider yourself a feminist and you haven't seen at least three of her films then you may as well buy a mini skirt and start taking tricks on hollywood and vine, you freaking poser. in all seriousness, she was great.
cukor employs a sympathetic camera in key scenes to enhance the audience's connection with hepburn's emotions. it's surrealistic, but it works well within the film because it's a little silly and used only a couple times. B.
Just My Luck - the first time i went to see this movie was in calgary and i walked out after less than five minutes and watched "stick it" instead. if you can get through the title sequence of this film then you can probably get through the rest. it's a very very bad movie, but it's not in gigli territory. there are a couple of laughs and it's not too too long so it's relatively bearable. the plot follows lohan and some guy who represent the two ends of the luck spectrum - she's got great luck and he's got awful luck. when the kiss, they swap luck and hilarity ensues. it's actually nice and cathartic to see lohan fall in mud and get electrocuted and the rest so that part of the film was enjoyable. in the end they fall in love and give the good luck to someone else. it's very sweet. D.
Tomorrow Never Dies - better than the average bond film and probably one of the best post-moore bond films. much of that is owed to the stunt work and the michelle yeoh. the stunts are exciting, but not completely outlandish. michelle yeoh is good looking, but can also hold her own. the scene with bond and yeoh's character evading the bad guys on a motorcycle is well-choreographed and also symbolic. they are handcuffed together and represent their respective nations which are tangled in a game of international warfare waged by a wealthy media tycoon. they must work together peaceably to evade the bad guys, but they both have strong personalities so this proves difficult. another bonus is that this is one of the few bond films that comes in at under two hours. B.
Someone Like You... - relatively smart romantic comedy starring ashley judd, greg kinnear and hugh jackman. all are good in very different roles. it reminded me a bit of films like easy, only smarter, or sex & the city, but less vapid. essentially it's about a 30-something woman who is sorting through troubles with her relationships and gains some notoriety through an essay she writes about the opposite sex. the end is a let down, and i didn't like some of the cutesy touches that were woven into the storytelling, but it was thoughtful and deep enough to get a pass. anytime marissa tomei is the second hottest woman in a film, it's a notable occasion. C+.
Big Empty - non-sensical film that reminded me of another ensemble film - 11:14. in both films you get pieces of a puzzle and are essentially asked to hold your judgment for the film's ending. depending upon how well the pieces fit in the end, the film succeeds or fails. well, this one strung me along through the whole film without much to keep it afloat, and then it disappointed even more with its ending. 11:14 was entertaining and engaging while it was developing the mystery and the ending was icing on the cake. this was the opposite. jon favreau is on some wild goose chase and it's not very interesting, but the audience hopes, at least, for some interesting conclusion to tie together all the little clues we've gotten along the way. in the end, though, the film seemingly takes the easy way out by essentially saying the aliens were behind it all. wtf? oh, bud cort (harold and maude) has a small role in the beginning of the film. anytime he shows up it's noteworthy. D.
Dr. No - the first bond film. i'm not sure why they chose to lead with this book rather than casino royale, which was the first book written, but i would guess it's because of the compelling villain. dr. no is a megalomaniac with thoughts of world destruction, as are most of the others, but he's also a more interesting villain than many of the others. born of two countries, he turned into a man without any. i don't know. this isn't the best film of the series, but i've heard that argued before. connery is good, it establishes plenty of the traditions (the opening sequence, the music, the plot formula, etc.), and it's actually shorter than most of the others. B.
Die Another Day - lee tamahori is one of the worst directors who still gets work. producers should have cut this guy off after he directed along came a spider, but they went on to give him die another day and then xxx:state of the union (his crowning achievement). die another day is a mere prologue to the awfulness that would follow in the sequel to xxx. it shows much of the "promise" that xxx2 shows, but it benefits from the fact that it's semi-well-written and has a well established formula. that doesn't dissuade tamahori, though, as he tries his damnedest to butcher the series, and the entire genre, through his bad direction. perhaps the best way to see how he makes a film bad is to watch a film like this followed by a john woo picture. woo directs action very well, tamahori manages to suck the life out of the efforts of the entire stunt crew. the stunts in this film were as good as any in the bond series up to this point, yet tamahori's direction zaps it of its potential impact. how, exactly, he does this, is unclear. some of it is his bad editing style and some of it is his desire to make the action completely unbelievable. but there's more to it than that. as kurosawa has a sixth sense which guides his storytelling, so does tamahori. only his sixth sense finds a way to make worse films that otherwise might be merely sub-average. maybe he's just the producers' punching bag. they see a project that's bound for failure and they just hire him so they can blame him afterwards. who knows. madonna makes a cameo and does the title song. yuck. there are some good one-liners and gadgets, but the film is otherwise uninteresting. D+.
Road Warrior - the best australian film i've ever seen, and one of the best post-apocalyptic films of all-time. it's so spare and economical, yet it sticks in the mind like a larger film might. plus, there are few films that make me want to drive real fast more than this one. the modified falcon that gibson drives is just such a cool car - it kicks ass on the road, but only because that's the most practical possible configuration. i want that car. beyond the car, the film is solidly built from top to bottom. none of the performances are stilted, the production design is nearly flawless, the direction is spare and taut, the music is large and looming....the writers said they discovered joseph campbell's "hero with 1,000 faces" after making mad max and wanted to explore campbell's idea of the universal hero further by making road warrior. i've never read the book, but gibson is a martyr character of sorts who, in the end, sacrifices his own self-interest for that of the group. beyond that, i'm not sure how he fits the campbell mold.
if i had to isolate one strength of the film i'd probably highlight the production design. the setting is perfect for the post-apocalyptic world and the sets and set pieces bolster the sparse, dirty, and rugged themes of the film. abandoned and destroyed vehicles, the boomerang throwing kid and his custom mitt, the "northern tribe's" fort, the raiders' weapons and outfits, etc. all round out the idea that the world is only a shadow of what it once was. this is a film that sticks in your mind because of how unique and visionary it is. A+.
Adam's Rib - good film about the battle of the sexes. stars two incomparable actors: katharine hepburn and spencer tracy. tracy was in at least two other films where he played the voice of reason, either in front a court (inherit the wind), or close enough (guess who's coming to dinner). there's something indescribably great about him and the characters he chooses. they're everymen in the sense that they're grounded in reality, but they're also idealistic and supremely capable and intelligent. katherine hepburn can be as big a pain in the ass as you're likely to see in cinema, but her heart is always in the right place and you always like her in spite of her nagging or annoying characteristics. think african queen, adam's rib, on golden pond, etc. she's strong and stubborn, but ultimately the audience likes her, and it's no different here. relatively ahead of its time.
in my first review i didn't like the direction, but i didn't have the problem this time around. maybe i'm just more accustomed to the style now. B.
Ice Harvest - decent enough noir-ish comedy. oliver platt turns in a good performance as a drunk friend of john cusak's. cusak plays another character who is in the rain at least one time in the film. what's up with that? connie nielsen is fairly good looking and turns in a good throwback performance. william robert (billy bob) does his bitter, misanthrope thing and it works pretty well. would have liked the visuals to be more exaggerated and bluish to accentuate the feelings of cold. B-.
Out Of Time - well-made film about a police chief (denzel) who needs to cover something up before several different factors close in on him and the shit hits the fan. being intriguing without giving away plot is difficult...anyway, carl franklin (one false move) does a very good job of keeping the audience leaning forward and on the edge of the seat. it's one of those movies that is edited and told with just the right efficiency and pace. some films are too slow so the audience's mind wanders, other films are too fast so the audience is lost or the effect of each twist isn't felt to its fullest effect, other films are herky-jerky and lack flow. this one finds the right pace and pitch and flows quite well. the beginning and end are understandably slower and that was fine. denzel and eva mendes were good, sanaa lathan wasn't amazing. the interactions between washington and dean cain were very good, especially the key confrontation in the bar. well-written and directed; a solid film that didn't seem to really get much press. B+.
Chinatown - well-pitched mystery noir by roman polanski. generally i don't really like his work because it's too slow and often very highly (over)rated. here, though, nicholson and dunaway turn in good performances and help keep the film compelling when the story sags; which isn't often. that said, the film does feel longer than the 2hr 10min running time. perhaps this is because there is so much that goes on, rather than it being boring. the last line "forget it jake, it's chinatown," is overrated. i should say more about this classic, but i don't feel like it. B+.
A View To A Kill - if you see enough bond films they all start to blend together. this one's kinda cool because it takes place in the bay area and it's got christopher walken and grace jones. those things make it a little closer to home so i might be more likely to remember this one more than, say, from russia with love. this one takes place in the air, under the sea, and on land. doesn't have much in the gadget department and only has one good looking bond girl. walken is a good nemesis with one of the more sinister plans. has some good, sexually-tinged lines. what's with the title? B-.
Little Man - surprisingly funny picture. it's got the wayans touch (lots of silly stuff, gross out humor and cultural references) so take that for what it's worth. there's a cute featurette on the dvd about the kid who does the body acting for marlon wayans in the film. the sfx could have been plenty worse, but will be laughed at in a few years. B-.
Fast Food Nation - one thing you can say about linklater is that he's prolific, if not necessarily consistent in quality. i like him because he, like soderbergh, alternates his films - one hollywood, one indie. so for every "slacker" or "a scanner darkly" he has a "school of rock" or "bad news bears." this one is more towards the latter than the former, but is more in between than most of his films - it's got a sizable and notable cast (including avril lavigne), it's playing in theater chains, and it debuted in more theaters than "a scanner darkly" was in at its peak, though it's no spider-man 2 (which debuted on more than 4,000 screens). here he makes a fictional representation of schlosser's insightful book by the same name.
what the book had going for it was the following: well-written, it was new, it was credible. the movie lacked those things in many ways. frankly, it came off as a made-for-tv movie in many ways. the entire thrust of the film just works better in documentary or written form. it's not just that the film didn't add anything to the book or the discussion as a whole, it's that it actually detracted from the book. i sorta came away from the film thinking the way bruce willis' character does in the film; and i know that's not what was intended. i acknowledge that it's somewhat of a character flaw within me that i move the opposite direction of prevailing opinion, at times just for the sake of being contrary, but i feel that, in this case, the film incited me towards that. it came off as some what pedantic and presented such a specific and anecdotal set of story lines, that i was really turned off by what was being preached, even though i agree with a lot of it. either you have to be ignorant of what is presented in the film or you have to be really sympathetic to its cause. i was/am neither so it didn't do it for me. if this is a subject that interests you i would highly recommend reading the book instead. it's a good book with plenty of good information. it talks about mcdonald's, monsanto, working conditions, slaughtering conditions, etc. it does everything the film does, only better, with more depth, with greater credibility and more enjoyably. oddly, schlosser co-wrote the film. C-.
Deja Vu - pretty novel film that engrosses you well enough that you don't notice it's longer than usual run-time. it's got an unusual chase scene which reminded me of the mario kart time trials on snes. after you would race a track a few times a shadow of yourself would appear. essentially you would race against your past self. the film takes this concept and applies it to a chase between denzel and the bad guy. i don't want to say much about the plot since it could be confusing and i don't want to take away the mystery.
tony scott is making headway against his brother. ridley has made a couple duds lately and tony has, even with his bad films (like domino) at least been interesting. three of his best films have been with denzel. speaking of which, ridley is stealing him for a film called "american gangster" which comes out next year. not sure if there's a rivalry, but there should be. tony is making some visually interesting films these days and his brother is unsure what he's doing. kingdom of heaven was long and uninteresting. a good year looks like a piece of crap. i found gladiator and black hawk down to be overrated...you get the picture. tony uses a lot of movement in deja vu, perhaps to indicate the fluidity and ever-changing nature of life. this makes more sense if you've seen the film, so go ahead and do that. B.
Mr. Deeds Goes To Town - another great frank capra film. this one was remade with sandler playing deeds instead of gary cooper. when i first saw that version i hadn't seen the original yet so i had nothing to compare it to. i found the remake enjoyable and funny enough. well, i finally got around to seeing the original and its amazing to see how watered down the remake is in comparison. this film starts as fairly light comedy, but grows into something resembling "gabriel over the white house" meets "grapes of wrath." i said before that capra creates films that "are so easily made fun of, yet so undeniably inspiring that it almost seems a paradox." what i essentially meant is that he creates situations that, if taken out of context, could seem cheesy or saccharine. but, when within the context of the film, are also quite inspirational at the same time. as it turns out, he summarizes this idea better than i ever could via jean arthur who, in this film, says "do you know what he (mr. deeds) told me tonight? he said me when he gets married he wants to carry his bride over the threshold in his arms." the roommate responds "the guy's balmy." and jean arthur replies "is he? yeah, i tried to laugh, but i couldn't - it got stuck in my throat." this is the essence of capra's work - sometimes your outward skeptic tries to laugh at the themes or situations he presents, but you can't because his work is so effectively poignant that the laugh gets stuck in your throat and (often) turns to tears. he should be an inspiration to any director who wants to tell a story without frills. his compositions are fairly simple, but effective. his editing and camera placement aren't overly technical or artistic. the music in mr. deeds goes to town is minimal. in other words, he tells these great stories through acting and writing. as strange as it may seem, these two elements are overlooked in today's hollywood. actors are chosen as much by their ability to draw as their ability to fill the role. writing is mechanical, simplistic and uninspired.
jean arthur (one of my favorite actresses) is fantastic in a role that has been done a million times (usually by men and usually in "teen" flicks like 10 things i hate about you or she's all that). she plays the reporter who dupes mr. deeds into thinking she's just a girl who wants to get to know him, when in fact she is in it for the story. gary cooper plays the eponymous character and does a better job here than in "pride of the yankees." his character is variable, complex and inspiring. he's a simple, but tough and intelligent man. who fills this role now? who plays the inspiring everyman like cooper or stewart did? do these roles still exist? tim robbins in shawshank redemption is the first one that comes to mind. lionel stander also does a good job as mr. deeds' loyal right hand man. B+.
Nothing To Lose - pretty funny odd couple meets road trip type humor starring tim robbins and martin lawrence. when lawrence had his own show i wasn't a fan of his work, but i've come around since then. i hear he's not a very good guy to work with, but i find him to be pretty funny. B.
Spy Who Loved Me - fairly run-of-the-mill bond fare here. it's kinda cool because we get to see bond working with another secret agent (a hottie from russia) and that's pretty novel in bond films. the other thing that separates it from the average is jaws as the henchman. he's one of the cooler henchman in the bond films. other than those two elements, though, the film is pretty standard. a couple nice locations, an evil villain, some action, some "love," and a few cool gadgets. actually, the gadgets in this one were pretty good too. come to think of it, on paper this one is above average, but the execution wasn't quite there. glen was a second unit director and some other guy was the main director. glen went on to direct five films later, including octopussy, so maybe they should have promoted him more quickly. C+.
American Dreamz - simple and mildly entertaining satire of american idol and george bush. there were some decent moments and it only drags during the mock performances. shows some of the ridiculous elements of our culture. C.
Live And Let Die - definitely one of the worse bond films i've seen. the boat chase in louisiana was nice enough, but everything else was pretty lackluster. other than the main theme, the music was surprisingly bad. surprising because george martin (beatles producer) did the score. john barry is better. bond's main squeeze is cute enough, but the secondary squeeze is a helpless moron. bond himself looked pretty stupid in this one. he kept getting himself in trouble and it was quite disappointing. C-.
On Golden Pond - stylistically and tonally it reminded me of "ordinary people." the performances were somewhat scattered in my opinion. henry fonda would be really spot on and in the pocket one moment, and then would over-act the next. i found the same to be true for hepburn and the rest of the cast. i think this one gets a bit overrated because the two fondas were airing their dirty laundry a bit in the film. interesting side note: i saw mark rydell (the director) at sxsw during his screening of "even money." C+.
Three Burials of Melquiadas Estrada - is this movie over yet? not really clear why this was considered a good movie by so many critics. it's nice enough to look at at times, has some intense moments and decent performances, but there's no one to root for and the plot really drags. C-.
Fountain - i'm starting to become a fan of hugh jackman's, but i can't say the same for rachel weisz. aronofsky (pi, requiem for a dream) makes films that are, above all, about obsession - pi is about one man's obsession with Truth (that's with a capital "t"), requiem for a dream is about obsession as manifested in the addiction to drugs, and this is about a man's obsession with (take your pick) his lover or avoiding death. i think it's more the latter than the former. the thesis seems to be that one can't enjoy life if he is always trying to avoid death. this isn't necessarily a mutually exclusive philosophy to the one espoused in ghost dog. in that film the protagonist meditates on the inevitability of death every day, this enhances his life, where as jackman's obsession with escaping death in the fountain, lessens his life.
there are three parallel storylines and you can choose to view them in a number of ways. in each storyline there is jackman who is on a quest to find the answer to immortality, for the sake of saving his terminal wife. that's a simplification, but it'll have to suffice. at any rate, one is set in 16th century spain, one in the future, and one in the present. in the present day version jackman's wife (weisz) writes a book called the fountain, a book she wants him to finish for her. incidentally, the 12th chapter is the final chapter which he must write - a possible reference to the 12th step; again, addiction. when he reads the book we pick up the 16th century spain storyline and when he's asleep we see the future storyline. one could view each as reality across time, or one could view the present day storyline as real and the others as symbolic representations of the real storyline. that's how i viewed it. there's a great deal of depth to the storyline, and indeed the entire film, so watching it more than once is necessary.
visually aronofsky creates another wondrous opus. he always has at least a couple really nice, original shots or setups. musically clint mansell always brings his best stuff when he works with aronofsky. he's worked on other films, but nothing is ever as good as pi or requiem for a dream (which also included the kronos quartet). don't go into the film if you're in the mood for a light film. go with someone who enjoys talking about films afterwards and plan a long drive or walk afterwards so you can talk about the questions it raises and the philosophy behind the film. i don't foresee this film making a whole lot of money and that's probably a good thing. i wouldn't want to see aronofsky get spoiled or tainted by the hollywood process. he's good enough to garner big talent, but not successful enough to get the interest (and meddling that goes with it) of big name producers. B.
Casino Royale - new film, new bond actor. here craig seemed to lack the smooth sophistication and class that the better bond actors have had. peter lamont (octopussy, golden eye, for your eyes only, aliens, etc.) returns to work on the production design. the first chase scene features the parkour stunt style. it's used quite well in district 13 and ong-bak, if you're interested in seeing more of that. the audience seemed to like it and so did i. this bond film lacked the hot chicks that many of the others have in spades. the title sequence lacks the silhouettes of women and features chris cornell doing the main title. i think this is also the first bond flick done since sony bought the rights to mgm. it was a bit odd to see the mgm lion followed by the columbia lady, but i guarantee it goes unnoticed by about 90% of the population, especially people who (like me) aren't old enough to really remember the days of studio supremacy. along with sony comes viao computers, sony/erickson cellphones and sony digital cameras placed throughout the picture. strictly business i guess.
all that said, this is one of the better modern (dalton and beyond) bond films that i've seen. i liked brosnan and could do without dalton. the writing here is good and balanced, though craig lacks something in its execution. i found him to be too much of a blunt instrument (as m put it), but perhaps that's the point. maybe his character doesn't get sophisticated until later in the series. as i've never read the fleming books, i wouldn't know. anyway, if you like the bond franchise then i don't think you'll be disappointed too much here. it does lack in the skin department (although we do see craig naked), but it has a gadget or two, a couple nice cars (including a nod to the old aston martin), and some good action. p.s. the guy who plays the neighbor in broken flowers is in this as well. B.
Stranger Than Fiction - it's like a cross between delirious, or a film written by charlie kaufman, and punch-drunk love. punch-drunk love is written and directed by p.t. anderson, who is probably my favorite of contemporary directors, so stranger than fiction doesn't stack up to it, but it's a solid picture nonetheless. i suppose the two biggest stories of the film are will ferrell's performance - which is reserved and relatively complex - and the chemistry between him and gyllenhaal. i've thought much of her and her brother since donnie darko, and here she shows a sexiness and offbeat appeal that we don't see in many mainstream pictures or leading ladies. she's funny, intelligent, dynamic and different and it makes for a more fun picture with a fresh love story.
regarding ferrell, i began to tire of his routine after seeing talladega nights. in my review for that film i commented on the fact that he does his typical running around in his underwear bit and not much more. in stranger than fiction, though, he still has his unique comic energy, but it is restrained by the traits of his character and the tone of the film. this is one of the reasons i compare this film with punch-drunk love. in that film adam sandler steps outside of his usual routine and enters a different kind of character to great effect.
dustin hoffman seems to have found a new character for himself. in i heart huckabees, meet the fockers and stranger than fiction he plays a laid back, new agey, hip older guy. he continues to add facets to his amazing career.
marc forster, who directed this, finding neverland and monster's ball, turns in his best film to date. actually, i haven't seen finding neverland, but i've heard it's depressing and i'm going to project that forster doesn't do depressing very well. monster's ball was a yawn without soul, so i'll just say that stranger than fiction is his best film. visually it's interesting and he does a good job handling the tragic and comic elements. though i do have a bit of a problem with the ending. B+.
Sixth Day - it's like a cross between the island and total recall only not as good as either. the father from "everybody hates chris" plays a tough guy in this. that's two of his movies in one week. for being a second-rate sci-fi flick with an old arnie, it actually does a good job of raising fundamental questions. back in the day when i was obsessed with playing doom 2 on the computer i would get to certain levels which were really difficult and, rather than start the level over after each death, i would save the game compulsively in case i died. that way i'd only have to redo the part that i screwed up on. when you do this enough it sorta cheapens the game because it's like cheating. you can go forward recklessly without having to worry about any mistakes you make, which is nice, but eventually you realize that it takes away a lot of the challenge.
this same idea can be applied to themes addressed in the sixth day. in it scientists have, in spite of international laws, perfected human cloning and have come up with a technique that allows them to save a person's memories as well. in other words, for $1.2 million you can have yourself cloned and have your last saved memories applied to said clone. the film begins by showing a football game wherein the star quarterback breaks his neck and dies. the team has him cloned and he's ready to play again next week. problem solved. arnold plays a pilot who is, through a series of complicated events, mistakenly cloned and must be killed before people realize that an illegal clone has taken place. he gets wise real quick and evades his would-be assassins and goes on a quest to figure out who is behind the whole affair. turns out that robert duvall and some other guy are responsible for a large illicit cloning operation. the head of operations justifies it as such: under international law most human organs can be cloned, but human brains cannot. how, he asks, can you justify to the father of a dying child the fact that the boy next to his, who has liver cancer, can be cured, but his son, who has brain cancer, cannot. to make things more devious the head of operations has included an insurance policy in each illegal clone he has performed - a degenerative disease gene has been implanted in each so that they have only 1-5 years of life post-clone. this keeps them loyal in case they change their minds. there's more to the plot, but you get the idea. it's pretty twisted shit and it's pretty far-fetched, but so was slowing the speed of light.
it's longer than i expected, but the time went by quickly so i guess that's a good sign. production values are low and the acting isn't anything special, but i liked the ideas presented. interesting side note: spottiswoode (the director) directed what was the most expensive bond film at the time. i'm on a little bond film watching spree, but watching this film was purely coincidental. B-.
Octopussy - one of the better bond flicks i've seen. maud adams is hot in this one (maybe because she's not as waif-like and helpless as in "man with the golden gun."), the title is pure bond, the opening scene is exciting and well-done, the fight on the outside of a flying plane is awesome, the chase through the streets of an unnamed street in india is great, the gadgets are good, and the comic relief is very good. the only drag about the film is that moore seems a bit over the hill here. physically he still seems up to the task, but he just looks like an old guy. overall it's james bond done very well. B+.
Fun With Dick And Jane - i saw a hermaphroditic porno once called "fun with jane's dick" that was better than this. or was it the gay porn "fun with dick?" not sure. all kidding aside the worst thing about this film is the way it was marketed. the trailers made it look really bad and played down the elements of commentary that the film clearly has. there was one trailer that they showed far less frequently which hinted at the "getting back at the man" aspect and i'm now sure why they buried that one. perhaps i was in texas at the time and they didn't think the anti-enron angle would play as well there...i really couldn't tell you.
at the end of the film, before they roll the credits, they thank, by name, the heads of tyco, enron, arthur andersen, worldcom, etc. great stuff. there's also a part where alec baldwin, who plays the ceo from georgia who gets away with the bogus accounting practices, is being interviewed about the employees who are suffering as a result of the fictional enron which has just collapsed. he's out hunting while the news crew is following him and someone asks what his thoughts on the situation are. he says "well, i lost a lot with that company too. my heart really goes out to all the people who are having trouble getting back on their feet and who have lost their pensions. (pause) now watch this shot." and he shoots at some animal in the distance. it's funny, but it's made more funny by the fact that he's taking it straight from an actual event when our tactless leader (bush) was playing golf and talking about the war.
i never saw the original so i can't compare the two, however i say that this one was better than expected. besides the business and political commentary there was some social material as well. one of the motifs of the film was the roll of mexican immigrants in the lives of dick and jane. there wasn't a cohesive commentary, but the issue wasn't avoided either, which says something. i guess this gets at one of the strong points of the film - its boldness. it wasn't a really daring film, don't get me wrong, but i was expecting something completely prosaic and i got a film that wasn't afraid to poke fun at the president, show the difficulties of immigrant life, and call out business executives a bit.
the premise is fairly stupid, but this film shows what decent writing can do with a sitcom-ish plot setup. judd apatow (freaks and geeks, 40 year old virgin, etc.) is one of the writers and i'm sure he had something to do with this film not being a total flop. C+.
Transamerica - well done character study mixed with a road trip film. the obvious highlight is the performance by huffman who transforms herself physically and mentally here. it's a sad film and goes places you sorta wish it wouldn't (towards the end), but it's probably more touching and meaningful as a result. the interaction between huffman and her son seems realistic enough and they provide good foils for each other. the scene where they're in the diner and he's outside trying to get money and she's inside talking with the native american guy is the most obvious scene to illuminate their differences, but it occurs throughout.
a couple minor quibbles: she refers to taking I-95 west, I-95 runs north and south. the beverly center isn't technically in beverly hills, its address is in los angeles on beverly blvd. and i would consider it part of hollywood before beverly hills, but that's just me. the hippie character refers to himself as a level 4 vegan - he doesn't eat anything that casts a shadow. so far as i know that was originally used in an episode of the simpsons wherein lisa falls in love with a tree hugger. she comments on the fact that she's a vegetarian and he scoffs. she comes back and says that she's trying to become a vegan and he scoffs again and replies "i'm a level 5 vegan - i don't eat anything that casts a shadow." it's possible this is a stock joke, but these are the only two times i've heard them. there was something else, but i forgot. good film. B.
Broken Flowers - jarmusch isn't a director for the masses. he has a slow, off beat style that most people aren't all that entertained by. i like his stuff because it's different and always has good music. here he features mulatu astatke's ethiopian folk as well as some rock by the greenhornes. both are, like jarmusch, good but mostly unknown. bill murray does the new bill murray schtick. i'm not sure if that is a good thing or not. he's good at it, no one else does it like he does, but it is getting kinda old. it seems like he's been getting a lot of good reviews for his performances since his rebirth in rushmore, but i don't know how merited that praise really is. he was great in rushmore and the role was perfect for him and well-written. whatever, this is a losing battle. good movie, jarmusch is worth watching even though bill murray does the same thing all the time now. B-.
Serving Sara - r. crumb once said that sometimes he'd see a girl so good looking that it would ruin his day. now, he's a sexual deviant and blah blah blah, but he has a point. elizabeth hurley is too hot to be in films without being distracting. all that aside, the film actually isn't half bad. there's a decent cast which includes cedric the entertainer, bruce campbell and the (under-rated) father in "everybody hates chris." i like stories about novel people or professions so this one, which is about a guy whose job is serving people their court papers, qualifies. C+.
Mr. Smith Goes To Washington - as profound, moving and relevant today as when it was made in 1939. if the film were made today (and it wouldn't be, but perhaps that's part of our problem), it wouldn't be more than 20 minutes long. about 20 minutes through the governor is given the duty of assigning a new senator. the political bosses want him to pick a party stooge so he presents the stooge as his nominee, but it is met with vigorous outcry from the people and press. this is where the modern-day version would end. a vigorous outcry would never happen - the press is inept and impotent and the polity is ignorant, apathetic and disengaged. end of movie. but in 1939 the people felt they had reason to be politically aware and engaged so, in the movie, they reject the stooge and the governor is forced to make a different choice. enter james stewart, boy scout leader, local hero, all-around good guy.
james stewart is unmatched in cinema - i have him near, if not at, the top of my list of greatest actors of all-time. his range is great and his work with three major directors created at least three different james stewart personas. with capra he crafted the good guy/everyman persona. with hitchcock he crafted a more complex persona - in vertigo he's a tortured soul, in rope he's a bright professor who plays devil's advocate, but he's still the moral compass. with anthony mann he's the supremely capable, but solipsistic and darkened westerner. with each director he added a layer to his work. here is no exception. in this film he sometimes acts without subtlety, yet that lack of subtlety lends a vulnerability to his character. it's perfectly plausible that my love for his work has blinded me, but i really think that the overacting he does here is exactly what the film (and role) demand.
much of that is because of capra's direction. i'm by no means a capra expert, but i feel like his style is one of being overly dramatic while still being poignant. it's not pure luck that he was able to make some of the most inspiring films of the time - mr. smith goes to washington and it's a wonderful life being the two biggest. both those films are so easily made fun of, yet so undeniably inspiring that it almost seems a paradox. exploring this ability would take studying his films more closely and i don't have access to them right now so that'll have to wait. at any rate, capra's direction style is one of over-dramatization in spurts. the love that develops between jean arthur and james stewart is treated with care and subtlety, but the reaction james stewart has to claude rains' daughter isn't subtle at all. stewart's realization that his filibuster is "another lost cause" isn't overblown, but his introduction to washington d.c. is. the most important points of the film are dealt with just right, while some of the more whimsical or silly things are treated as entertainment. it's as if capra comes up with an amazingly simple and inspired story, tells it in a fun and entertaining way, but slows it down just enough at the key moments to allow you to really feel the weight of what you're experiencing. and, like george costanza, he quits while he's ahead. there's no fluffy conclusion, just the cast listing and a final piece from tiomkin. A.
Matador - well-written, shot and acted picture about two very different men who meet in mexico city. brosnan plays a wonderfully off-kilter killer who reminded me of the dude (lebowski) just a little bit. he's aloof and self-involved, uncaring, unique and somehow likable - so long as he's onscreen and not in your living room. kinnear, meanwhile, is so prosaic and average that he's likable relative to brosnan. they make a good team here. it's primarily a film based on character, but there's plenty of plot to chew on for those who are into that. a solid and unusual film. B.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - i used to think it would be really cool if studios went back to making noir films, i don't so much anymore. the movie's only a so-so nod to chandler and the rest of the noir makers of the 40s. each chapter in the film is named after a chandler book - lady in the lake, simple art of murder, little sister, etc. the characters are fine enough, but the writing isn't up to snuff. needed to be slicker and more snappy. the plot is pure noir and fine enough. visually it left plenty to be desired. the post-modern narrator with his penchant for making self-referential comments (e.g., "don't you hate it when movies end like this...") detracted from the film, rather than giving it a modern twist on an old genre. i'm surprised how much hype this got from cineastes. it's not that it was particularly bad, it's just that it could have been plenty better. C+.
Man With The Golden Gun - pretty standard bond fare here. he's got his main girl, at least one girl on the side, it ends in a major complex of some sort, there's a showdown with the nemesis and his sidekick, etc. this one's no better or worse than most of them. the main girl isn't all that hot and roger moore probably isn't as good as connery, but that's a debate for the ages. B-.
Agronomist - featuring original music by haiti's own wyclef jean, this documentary follows the life and career of jean dominique against the backdrop of political turmoil in haiti. it's varying degrees of informative, inspiring and moving; and also well-edited. directed by jonathan demme, who has a range of quality films and documentaries under his belt now, it's not the story you're likely to hear, see, or read about unless you are thorough and have good sources. that said, dominique is a figure worthy of a documentary - not just because of his influence and importance, though. he is also a unique and dynamic character which makes him naturally compelling on film. B.
Prestige - twisted tale by christopher nolan. nothing will ever approach memento so we should stop viewing his films in the hopes that he matches it. nothing about the film was really amazing, but it does make you think and it does entertain for most of its long running time. B-.
Borat - in 1835 de tocqueville published the first volume of "democracy in america," 171 years later sacha baron cohen released a film called "borat." the first is widely acknowledged as a seminal piece of literature - a work that highlights the strengths and weaknesses of a nascent democracy in a newly formed country. the second is number one in the box office, but has yet to receive the same canonization as the first work. until now. cohen's film/documentary offers more insight into the fundamental strengths and weaknesses of this still young country as any film or documentary released in recent years. what's more, it does it so well and without notice that it passes as mere comedy. he's able to do this because he's an outsider and perceived as harmless, not in spite of these facts. his child-like demeanor allows us to see things that we might not otherwise see. filmmakers know this instinctively - when there is background or explanation that needs fleshing out just include a stupid character or child who asks the questions the audience would like to ask. borat's character operates in a similar fashion, only, rather than probing as a documentarian might, he exposes, as a hidden camera might.
one semi-serious problem i had with the picture is it's edited. the seamless transition from film to documentary made me wonder how much of the documentary was "set up" or created, rather than captured. it would have been easy to avoid this problem through the use of few cameras and less editing. in the scene where borat is at the rodeo, for example, i don't recall seeing people actually booing him, yet the audio clearly indicates this. we do see people look at him oddly, but i didn't see people actively booing him. was this overdubbed? was it looped to make it seem more substantial than it actually was? another example is when borat receives a telegram telling him some sad news. this portion seems to fall into the documentary genre because the camera is inside his room and over his shoulder. it appears as though the hotel employee is not in on the joke. until, that is, there is a reaction shot of borat from outside, in the hallway, over the employee's shoulder. was this set up later? i'd have to look at it again more closely. part of me wonders how much of borat is really william hurt in "broadcast news." watch the movie and you'll get the reference. you should have seen it by now anyway.
these concerns aside, the film is hilarious and quite telling. B+.
Employee Of The Month - jessica simpson can't act and dane cook isn't funny. andy dick and harlan what's-his-face have had better moments. D.
Old School - better than i remembered it. ferrell isn't great, but he isn't bad. wilson and vaughn are highlights. B.
Pusher - very cool film about a drug dealer who needs to raise a bunch of money because of a deal gone bad. the gritty look and handheld camerawork support the naturalistic writing and acting. refn went on to make two sequels to this film and this one makes me want to see them. B+.
Gambler - documentary that's thematically linked to american movie: the making of northwestern, but doesn't have the depth and range that that film does. it follows filmmaker refn who is working on a sequel to his hugely popular Danish film "the pusher." as a result of his two more recent films, though, he's in debt and this is the reason for his revisiting the film that made him big. the documentary reveals much about the film industry, general artistry and the business end of art. refn doesn't necessarily want to make sequels to the pusher, but he knows it will get him out of debt. he struggles with writer's block, overwhelming debt, a new child, his marriage and apparent stomach problems (as evidenced by the copious [and humorous] use of alka-seltzer). definitely worth checking out if you ever get the chance. B.
Flags Of Our Fathers - decent use of sound, though not as good as saving private ryan. acting was weak at times. story was sometimes slow and could have used some work. message was clear and, of course, relevant. B-. note: wrote this review on 2-13-7 because i forgot to write it after original viewing.
Viva La Muerte - bizarre surrealist film about a boy whose father was taken from him for being a revolutionary. eventually he discovers that his mother turned in his father and he grapples with this realization and loss. things happen, but the plot isn't all that memorable. the memorable thing about the film is the way in which arrabal uses film to portray the boy's feelings and thoughts, as well as flesh out the themes of the picture. lots of tough visuals and oblique references, etc. mark the visual style, but this is the norm in the genre. probably the most i can say about the film is that it's watchable; compelling even. i put it on with the intention of just seeing what it was like, but i ended up watching the entire film. not only did it make me want to see it, it did this despite being a surrealist picture. i'm not a huge fan of surrealism, as much of it is pedantic and too tough to penetrate. here, though, that wasn't the case. worth checking out for those who are interested in film, not just movies. B-.
Saw III - a really uninteresting installment of the horror series. this one stretches the viewer's disbelief to the limit and doesn't even provide a very substantial surprise ending. the direction style officially crosses over into the realm of annoying, after only flirting with it in the second installment. the writing in this one is just bland, stale, and unimaginative. put the nail in this coffin. C.
Man Of The Year - the film's dialogue and plot seemed to be written by two different people. the dialogue was funny, topical and edgy and the plot was pedestrian and obnoxious. for example, laura linney is able to access the president elect within 24 hours, but it takes her three days to tell him what she came to tell him. the conspiratorial aspects were cheesy and poorly drawn. there were some pointed bits of commentary along with some referential comedy. funny stuff here and there, but nothing that really made me laugh all that much. C+.
Wolf Creek - australian horror film that emulates the formula of texas chainsaw massacre. it claims to be based on true events, it's about twenty-somethings being stranded in the middle of nowhere, and it's about a crazy guy chasing them everywhere. the beginning takes its time to establish a sense of normalcy and develop the characters a bit. their car breaks down, but a nice local offers to tow them to his place and fix the car while they wait. and thus begins their down going...(to quote nietzsche)
a lot of the film's horror and unfolding turns out to be fairly unexciting and predictable. at one point their watches stop working and i thought that the film might take an unexpected twist, but this was merely a red herring. the crazy murderer is fairly inept in his ability to tie up his victims. of the three protagonists, two of them escape their bindings. the chases aren't too exciting and his method of execution lacks novelty or shock value.
the film received a fair amount of hype, but doesn't live up to it. it's not that the film is bad, it's just not all that great. C+.
Little Children - well done and oddly pitched film that takes a certain kind to appreciate. it's not as clearly off-the-wall as solondz's work, but it approaches it at times. that said, the film trumps solondz in that it has a poignancy that his films generally lack. solondz can make you uncomfortable and push your boundaries and make you laugh, but this film does that (to a lesser degree) AND it makes you feel something. stylistically, it's a cross between solondz and p.t. anderson.
the cast is uniformly solid. jennifer connelly is up there with lauren bacall in terms of onscreen beauty. kate winslet plays a tough character well. and patrick wilson provides some contrast to his character in hard candy. i can't think of a stilted performance or miscast role in the entire film.
i'm not sure what the purpose or thesis of the film was. perhaps it, like seinfeld, was hoping to show how simple even adults can be. perhaps it was an attempt to humanize modern archetypes. maybe it just wanted to tell a poignant suburban tale. maybe it's a bit of all of those. no matter what, it's an entertaining and engaging film that will make you think, laugh and feel for a couple hours. B+.
Star Wars (original version) - what can you say about a film that has already had everything said about it? what can you say about a film that made carrie fisher hot, harrison ford huge, and mark hamill a hero? a lot, but not much that's going to be insightful or novel. if not for pulp fiction, reservoir dogs might still be a relatively unknown cult film by an unknown director. though i have to say that i saw reservoir dogs in the theater, so i would be among the few who would have appreciated it without pulp fiction, but i digress...i think that john williams' score is to star wars as pulp fiction is to reservoir dogs - without the sweeping, moving and epic score, star wars might not have been the huge blockbuster that it was. this isn't a knock against the film, rather it's a praise of the music. the main theme and the finale are both among the finest pieces of music ever composed for film.
it's got a great balance of comedy, action and philosophy. i would be remiss if i didn't mention kurosawa's "hidden fortress" which served as an inspiration for star wars. lucas "borrowed" several elements from it: telling the story from the point of view of two lowly characters, the traitor character (which comes later in the series), and the sword fighting. he also borrows from flash gordon (the title sequence) and the writings of joseph campbell.
the empire strikes back is still probably my favorite, but this one is fucking great. A+.
Departed - bottom line on top: watch it. this review is likely to have more spoilers than usual. "consider yourselves... WARNED!" - public enemy track one off "it takes a nation of millions to hold us back"
it's said that when a door closes a window opens, such is the idea of the film. the film's title refers to those who have "passed;" the departed. with each death a new window opens, alliances shift, characters are revealed, people ascend and fall with equal ease. the film begins with nicholson, a gangster, collecting a payment from a local business. we are introduced to matt damon as a young boy, ogling nicholson while he strong arms the business man and hits on the under age girl who runs the register. damon, we gather, lacks a father and lives with his grandmother. this first introduction of a departed person is one in a line of many whose absence weighs heavily on those the story follows. nicholson brings up damon goodfellas/ray liotta style and thus a gangster is born. but damon doesn't go the way of liotta in goodfellas, rather he's a mole in the state police. meanwhile, dicaprio is his foil. a boy with a dirty family, but he wants to make good. the state police, though, know his character smacks more of a criminal than that of a white bread cop. thus they (sheen and wahlberg) use him as their version of donnie brasco.
the characters are as compelling as anything else within the film. the story, too, is top notch. the direction, though perfectly capable and at times quite good, isn't as good here as it was in the aviator. this, and the fact that the departed is more a boston film, rather than a new york, film, are the reasons that an academy award with this film would be somewhat bittersweet. scorsese's use of music here isn't as good as it was in the casino, but it's worthy of mention and better than most.
dicaprio and farmiga were the most compelling characters for me, but it's really subjective. every major character has a duality and depth that make them compelling in some way. dicaprio has, for me, officially cleansed himself of the pretty boy persona he had following the titanic. the guy's a serious actor who has found a good mentor in scorsese. i'm glad he has chosen to go the route of gilbert grape and this boy's life, rather than becoming a pretty boy. he's been putting together quite an impressive collection of performances lately.
the film's ending is appropriate yet surprising and moving. these are the best kind - the ones that belong, but are still somehow unexpected. B+. it'll be an A- the next time i see it.
"i've always thought you should treat the feds like you treat mushrooms: keep them in the dark and feed them plenty of shit."
Bob Roberts - pretty much as good as the first time i saw it. B-.
Lucky Number Slevin - very well-written yarn about...well, i can't say too much. it's one of those twisted con-artist type flicks with a good ensemble and snappy writing. recalls the days when people knew how to write dialog and tell a story. freeman, kingsley, and willis don't generally get invovled in duds, so if you don't believe me then believe them. B+.
Beat Street - classic hip-hop film featuring the talents of more true old school hip-hoppers than i care to list here. the plot isn't all that special, but what the film means to the hip-hop community and how cutting edge it was makes it noteworthy. the music is vintage old school, but isn't particularly amazing. the break dancing, though, is off the hook. watch this and then style wars for an authentic early 80s new york city experience. B-.
School For Scoundrels - so-so comedy that doesn't go as far as it needs in order to be successful. thornton more or less mails this one in and heder isn't strong enough to carry the film. there are some good gags that stem from the premise, but not much derives from the characters or the script. that said, stiller's small part is a highlight. jacinda barrett does a decent job. remember her from real world, london? neither do i. fairly run-of-the-mill. C.
Back To The Future II - officially not as good as the original, but still a great sci-fi flick. the storytelling and sfx are a notch below the original, but the characters grow and the plot thickens. a classic trilogy. A.
Single White Female - decent enough thriller. both leads are good. some elements are obvious, but it's entertaining overall. C+.
Rookie - jim morris' stats here. the film's primary achievement is in its ability to humanize an otherwise overlooked role. the old, middle-aged reliever who comes in for one or two batters, or only in trash time, is often balked at. here, though, we see the position in a different, more human light. quaid does a decent job, but the direction is poor and it's a typical disney production. C.
St. Elmo's Fire - hancock hasn't ever done a really good movie and this one is no exception to that statement. i understand that this film brought together a lot of budding talent, but none of them were really exceptional here. nelson was pretty good and the others were varying degrees of mediocre. none of the characters were worthwhile and the direction was bland. some of the writing was good, but most of it was pretty run-of-the-mill. the storylines were often pretty outrageous, but the film felt like it was going more for realism. soundtrack is dated, and not in the endearing "breakfast club" sorta way. C.
National Treasure - good little da vinci code/indiana jones with u.s. mythology instead of that of europe or ancient civilizations. i liked the balance of comedy and drama. also enjoyed the storyline. look for a sequel next year. B.
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story - actually better with subsequent viewings. stiller creates a unique villain who is comic and tragic at once. good writing, vaughn is better than i had previously given him credit for. B.
Jet Li's Fearless - uneven action film with higher aspirations. on a symbolic level the film might be most interesting. the symbol of turn of the century china and its relations with the west might be analgous to the middle east and the west in contemporary times. the themes of unity and latent power are powerful ones, but aren't fully fleshed out here. yuen woo-ping's fight choreography isn't as inspired as it has been in the past. C+.
Marie Antoinette - sophia coppola makes a period piece with a (mostly) modern soundtrack. not sure if this is an attempt to make a point about the timeless themes, or if it's just a matter of personal taste. beyond some funny moments in the first hour, the film drags and lacks focus. it's a personal view of the queen, but we don't really come out all that informed by the film's end. coppola personalizes antoinette more than history has, but don't mistake this film as a historical piece. jason schwartzman was good and kirsten dunst was capable. overall, the film felt undeveloped and unfocused. it has bits of humor and drama and history, but doesn't do any of them all that well. lastly, look for the converse shoes about half way through the film. what an idiotic mistake. C.
Grand Prix - a perfectly mundane and dull film in every scene except for those that feature racing. frankenheimer (ronin, manchurian candidate) shows his ability to capture racing like few ever have. the in car cameras and editing are amazing and worth watching the film for; just skip all the love scenes and character development. C+.
Jackass: Number Two - the first few stunts are either obvious set pieces or less organically derived than most of their previous works. i was a bit put off by this because i thought maybe they were doing it more for the money, than for the love of stupidity. as the film progressed they get back to their roots. organically derived or set up, i guess it doesn't really matter. if you like them then you like them. i don't know why most people like them. i think there's a universal pleasure derived from seeing other people get hurt. monkeys seem to like it, and i think the popularity of jackass is in much the same vein. i did find, though, that much of my pleasure derived from what i see as an uncommon justice. very infrequently in this world do people get exactly what they deserve. in jackass, though, all these idiots get what they deserve. it's not that i hate them or anything, but i do look down on them because they're stupid. with every stunt i was pleased to see that each of them got the pain that they deserve for doing what they do. there is a small measure of justice in the world after all.
this installment of the jackass series is more rude, crude, gross and over the top than the first. it's a reflection of our times; we're an internet society now, and as a result every sickening facet of humanity is known to anyone who cruises around the internet for a (in)decent amount of time. it takes more to shock us these days and this film is as much a testament to that as anything else i can think of right now. B+.
Aviator - better than i remember it being. it'll be a shame if scorsese doesn't ever get an academy award, he really is something special. dicaprio does quite a good job in a challenging and demanding part. we like hughes, but wish he was different. we like that he's a visionary and is good at everything he does, but we wish he had the self-control to rein himself in on occasion. the film, the story, and the acting are all so engaging that i couldn't stop watching the film after i turned it on a bit into it. that's remarkable for a film i've already seen, especially one that is three hours long. tragic and triumphant, the aviator is. A-.
All The King's Men - follows a down home political candidate who works his way up the political ranks by bending and breaking the rules. he starts as an idealistic and inspiring character and turns into the typical crony. the film proves the adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely. good ensemble acting. there are a few very nice shots. a bit slow about half way through as the film shifts from one storyline to the next, but otherwise engaging. B-.
Idiocracy - good concept that runs a bit dry after the first half of the film. it's about a future which is a result of stupid people breeding faster than intelligent people. the culture is dominated by corporate sponsorship, brutality and oversexed behavior. the plot isn't anything special so the second half of the film falls relatively flat. that said, the first half was filled with such spot on satirical comedy, that the film is worth checking out. mike judge (beavis and butt-head, king of the hill, and office space) directs. B-.
Dodge City - fairly entertaining flick about a power vacuum in dodge city. it's not much different in theme and plot than many westerns, especially those that follow the earps. errol flynn does a good job and it's well-directed. good balance of comedy, action and drama. other than the comedy, though, the film doesn't really separate itself from the pack. B-.
Passionless Moments - cute short film from the director of piano about the little moments in our lives that don't define us, but occupy most of our time. jarmuschean. B.
Defiant Ones - one of afi's 100 most inspiring films. poitier and curtis play convicts who are on the lam while chained together. it's a very obvious conceit that serves its purpose fairly well. what sells the picture more than anything else is the acting. poitier in particular is quite good. overall i felt it was overly (and overtly) symbolic, but i can recognize the power and importance, especially given the context. a fine film, but not brilliant. B-.
Snow Walker - the best canadian film i've seen in a while. takes place near the arctic circle and revolves around barry pepper, who plays a hot shot ex-war pilot who runs contraband for his boss. while making a drop he comes across some inuit who have a woman who is sick, apparently with TB. while transporting her back to civilization (for a fee of course) the plane breaks down and they crash land in the middle of nowhere. the remaining story is essentially a survival tale of two people who couldn't be more different. it actually begins at the end, with a single figure carrying something off in the distance. seemingly giving the ending away like this is like saying: "we (the filmmakers) are aware that you (the audience) know this is a film and, as such, there's going to be a happy ending. this film isn't about the ending, so instead of focusing on whether they get out alive or not, focus on the journey each takes." this approach works quite well.
i like war films, prison films and survival films because they strip humanity down to its most bare essentials. this film is no exception. the acting is surprisingly good and the interaction is naturalististic. it's not a film you're likely to see or hear about, but it's one that's worth watching. B.
Wild Bunch - a brilliant film. some brilliant films are striking while you are watching them (graduate) and others take a while to settle in (taste of cherry). this film has a bit of both. the wonderfully edited action sequences (the famous opening, the bridge scene and the finale) demand your attention and wonderment. while everything in between - the pensive moments between the men, the shots of mexican villages and villagers, etc. pay dividends after the film is over.
these slow moments, which add to the long runtime, may not seem necessary while you're watching the film, but when you look back on the film, and are able to separate yourself from the minutes of nothing happening, you realize how important those seemingly meaningless scenes actually are. the wild bunch is like the good, the bad and the ugly in this way (and others). when i watch each film i sometimes find myself bored and the first reaction to that is that the film isn't engaging or is less of a film as a result. really, though, these ebbs between the action make said action more impactful. additionally, these slower portions are what keeps the film together. there's a lot of meat between the action and it takes a while, several viewings, to digest it all. for example, it's called the wild bunch, but there's a lot of the film that isn't about the wild bunch. a lot of it is about the landscape. whether that's the western milieu, or the mexican civil war, or peasant life...there's a lot to chew on.
one reason i think the film resonates with so many people is, for all its wild shoot-outs, it is, like ride the high country, a pretty realistic film. it's got a gritty look, a cinema verite look at the townspeople and landscape, it's not shy in portraying these ugly men and all their imperfections (physical [think of the sauna scene] and moral), etc. of course peckinpah contrasts these gritty realities with moral ideals (stand by your man) and some kick ass action scenes. the opening sequence is fucking brilliant from top to bottom. very reminiscent of the goosebumps that i get from watching the final half hour of the good, the bad and the ugly. which brings me to the music....fielding does a superb job throughout. it's not morricone, but it's still spot on, inspiring and complementary. A+.
Killer Elite - when i first heard the particulars of this film - peckinpah, caan, duvall, hopkins, kung-fu, the title - i was pretty excited. that faded quickly. killer elite isn't, everything that wild bunch is. absolutely awful from the opening sequence to the finale. before the film, a peckinpah biographer commented that the first 20 minutes of the film are brilliant, but that things sort of fell apart after that. he was half right. the rest of the panel gave varying excuses for what, even they, must have known to be inferior - there were six different stunt coordinators working on the martial arts finale, the producer had too much influence, the producer's wife played the female lead (a rather small part), etc. the truth is that the screenplay sucks and the execution didn't even come close to saving it. fielding, who does the brilliant score for wild bunch, turns in his best rendition of a 70s made-for-tv action film. in other words, it's awful. robert duvall mails it in with his usual routine. james caan, coming off the inspiring rollerball, turns in a lackluster performance. bo hopkins, as nice and funny as he is in person, is the definition of amateur in this film.
in killer elite we see peckinpah relying on tried techniques. a cross-editing technique (e.g. cross-cutting between someone falling in slow motion and something else happening at the same time) which is so well-executed in wild bunch, falls flat here. storytelling and character development are non-existent, two-dimensional or cliché. one producer, silliphant, was behind the bet that produced manos: hands of fate. perhaps we can blame the entire thing on him. oh god i don't even want to write about this movie anymore. F.
Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia - peckinpah film that gets better as it progresses. at first it's fairly straightforward, but, gradually, the protagonist descends and the film ascends as a result. peckinpah's finest moments here are in his work with oates and his direction of the action sequences. great ending leaves you wanting more, but knowing there can't be. B-.
Ride The High Country - quite an enjoyable peckinpah film that differs enormously in tone from 'bring me the head of alfredo garcia.' joel mccrea and randolph scott have a great chemistry. scott brings humor while balancing his good and evil tendencies. mariette hartley is good in her debut. hartley was in attendance and said this was the film she was most proud of. i can see why. peckinpah gives a realistic portrayal of the spare life. he shows the men in their longjohns and even shows mccrea using an unusually small knife - it's more about realism than toughness. B.
24 Hours On Craigslist - okay documentary with more potential than is realized. follows several craigslist users as they recount their experiences and search for whatever it is they they're looking for. one interesting story finds two american couples in italy. one couple asks the other why they're out here and they reply that they were inspired by a couple on craigslist who sold all their stuff to move to rome. turns out that they were talking to the very couple that inspired them. slow in parts and fewer interesting characters than you would expect. C+.
Peeping Tom - very good film that plays with the viewer a bit. the film follows a peeping tom who films women as he stalks and kills them. powell puts us in the position of the killer by putting us inside the camera as the deed is done. we are complicit in the act while we are observing it. the character is well conceived and performed. worthwhile. B.
Back To The Future - a masterpiece of storytelling and fantasy. the acting is top notch in a difficult genre to master. sfx hold up pretty well. A+.
Idlewild - i really like outkast's funky brand of hip-hop, but this movie mostly recycles their tunes and actually isn't that much of a musical. some nice visual flourishes. the story is relatively standard, the acting leaves something to be desired. that said, the end is surprisingly poignant and that's what puts the plus in the C+.
Beerfest - an adequate frat-type film from the guys of broken lizard. it's about as good as club dred (which wasn't great) and it shows that they'll probably never get back to the genius that was supertroopers. that said, i laughed a good deal. THAT said, i can't really recommend the film because it's fairly simplistic (even for the genre). people who have seen the amazingly wonderful film Das Boot, will enjoy a bit character and a reference or two to that film. B-.
Far Country - probably my favorite western since i can't think of another one i'd like to watch as much right now. it's filmed in jasper and banff, it's got an amazing cast, i love the dark character of stewart and mcintire contrasted with brennan and calvet, i love the cinematography, i love the themes, etc. just a brilliant film done brilliantly. check out my better review here. A+
Accepted - pretty good comedy with some good secondary characters who kept it edgy and interesting. almost everything about the film is a cliché or a footnote to animal house, but you knew that already. herschman (his debut) and hursley are highlights. B.
Material Girls - a truly awful film that is either just truly awful or truly awful AND racist, classist, and a window into the true depth of depravity and vapidity of our culture. hopefully it's not the latter, but i think it may be. mgm is the number one distributor of shitty films these days, it's sad because they distributed films like good, bad and the ugly, ronin, thelma and louise, hoosiers, terminator, network, etc. F-. oh snap, imdb.com fans agree with me.
Trust The Man - has a few good one-liners, but doesn't produce consistently enough to be noteworthy. very much in the style of friends with money and other 30-something films about relationships, sex and humor. needed a rewrite. clint mansell does the music, but it's not that great. C.
Lost City - difficult to follow. visually a noteworthy film, otherwise it was slow and overwrought with ambitious failure. D.
Happy Gilmore - classic sandler comedy. sandler is his definitive working class, youthful, out-of-control self in this, his crowning achievement. A.
Little Miss Sunshine - nice, unique comedy from a first time writer and a directing team that has basically just worked on music videos. in little miss sunshine they craft an offbeat, but not entirely unbelievable, family unit that goes on a road trip that rivals national lampoon's vacation; dead grandparent included. there's a great dynamic between all the family members partly because the film isn't a star vehicle. sure carrell is the hottest one in the group, but arkin (catch-22) shows he isn't washed up yet, kinnear proves again that he's an underrated comedic talent, and collette (japanese story, sixth sense) adds to her round resume. paul dano is a relatively unknown actor whose big breakout was the flawed, but good, indie film L.I.E. abigail breslin plays prospective little miss sunshine herself and does quite a textured and impressive job, especially given her age. also look for bryan cranston in a slimy role as stan grossman, a character name also used in fargo; there's a millersmovies exclusive for you. yeah right.
overall it's quite a unique and funny film. it's not purely comedy and the few dramatic moments are made more poignant because the film is so effective in drawing characters and keeping the comic relief at the forefront. watch this and then rushmore. B+.
Lady In The Water - there are a lot of reasons to dislike this film, but i didn't really bother myself with any of those because i was too busy laughing and going along for the ride. sure the plot is implausible and everyone seems to buy into the whole story far too easily, but that's part of the point. shyamalan is a clever guy and he shows it here as well as he ever has. he's completely aware of what he's doing, even going so far as including a character who is an overly aware film critic. shyamalan knows what the cliches, tricks and formulas are and he plays with them. he is able to overcome the "oh whatever" factor through liberal use of comic relief. and that's actually what the film rests on more than anything else. the film is more funny than it is scary. further, the ensemble does a very good job of keeping things fresh, funny and interesting.
christopher doyle, surprisingly, is the cinematographer here. he specializes in vibrant colors and asian cinema, but shows neither of those characteristics here. he's most well known for his work with wong kar-wai and his amazing work on the jet li flick "hero." he's also worked on the psycho remake, rabbit-proof fence and the quiet american. here, though, he moves the camera well and works well with muted colors. he's clearly one of the better talents working today.
this isn't a brilliant work, but it isn't worthy of the panning it's likely to get either. it's a good, interesting film from a guy who clearly knows about film. B.
Descent - pretty well done scary movie about some chicks trying to discover a new cave. it's got plenty of good scares and doesn't pull back on the ending. it's well-filmed and worth checking out if you're into horror flicks. B.
World Trade Center - it's true what they say - 9/11 did change the world, so much so that oliver stone is a softball director with an apparent penchant for fluff and hero-making bullshit. i expected this movie to be crap (that's why i snuck in, rather than paying to see it), but i didn't expect it to be this kind of crap. the guy who directed platoon and jfk, after all, couldn't make a film glorifying the new vietnam or not even hinting at the possible conspiracy behind 9/11, could he? well he did. the movie is trite, the acting is strained at best and this film is hardly worth reviewing. F+.
John Tucker Must Die - everything that mean girls is, this isn't. it's not very funny and its stunning epiphany is that you can do anything you want, so long as you tell the truth about it. sometimes a film grows in stature as you look back on it, this film shrinks with time. while i was watching it, it was a mildly obnoxious little teen flick. now, a couple days later, it's a pathetic shell of a film that may very well set back humanity 10/20 years. actually, it's not that bad, but it sounds good. D.
Talladega Nights - not hilarious by any measure, but decent enough by most. will ferrell does his usual dumb guy routine and you get the obligatory scene with him running around in his underwear (ala old school). there are a couple good supporting cast members - john c. reilly has been a favorite of mine since chicago (ha ha, i meant boogie nights), ali g, etc. there's a shitload of advertising in the picture which is partly farce and, probably, partly brilliant design. making a film about nascar, and making jokes about the stranglehold advertisers have on the "sport" and its "athletes," provides a convenient way of getting in some extra product placement dollars. or maybe i'm just a cynic. either way, this film has more advertising than any i've ever seen. C+.
Maltese Falcon - a must-see. A.
Robocop - this came out in 1987 and i saw it in the theater; that would make me about 8 at the time. watching it past the age of, say, 16 is a completely different experience. when i first saw it, the camp and commentary went completely over my head while the gruesome action did not. now, the film is much more interesting as a form of commentary about the potential future of our society and the role of corporations. it was good to see the sizable crowd gathered for this double feature, since this is the kind of film that could easily be relegated to "stupid action film" status. A.
Starship Troopers - the best moments of this campy verhoeven action flick come in the form of fake commercials and news broadcasts, a form he explored to equal effect in robocop. denise richards looks like a deer caught in headlights almost the entire film and that's neither sexy nor interesting. she's got a freaky little nose and a penchant for bad acting so i shouldn't write about her anymore. the script has some good one-liners, but the film isn't as good as i remembered it. C+.
Scoop - relatively uninteresting woody allen flick. the premise is that a great reporter gets the scoop of his career and goes back to the physical world to help amateur reporter johannsen crack the case. it has none of the thoughtfulness of match point or the comic brilliance of annie hall or creativity of bananas. as seemingly interesting as the main idea is, it doesn't even have the novelty of melinda and melinda. scarlett johannsen does her usual pouty lip acting routine. she's supposed to be funny in a highstrung sort of way, but she comes off as stupid and she overacts at almost every opportunity. there were a few laughs, but not many and the plot was fairly simplistic. it was (rightly) pointed out in one review that there were references to hitchcock's "notorious" (the wine cellar scene) and "suspicion" (the whole doubting your significant other element). throwaway ending. D+.
Miami Vice - a film like this must be measured on a different scale than something as insignificant as "my super ex-girlfriend," and that's the downside of being as good as michael mann. in collateral mann employs the use of one song by audioslave, in miami vice he employs audioslave on at least three different occasions. perhaps audioslave is a good metaphor for mann's last three films. audioslave rose from the ashes of rock gods rage against the machine and soundgarden. while audioslave is good in theory, they just don't work together. mann's last three films, despite some flourishes in acting and visual style, have just not worked - especially when compared to the previous two. it's not that miami vice, ali or collateral have been BAD, but they're not that great either. collateral was an interesting story with good acting and a new visual style, clearly the winner of mann's last three. miami vice has some flourishes of the same kind, but is dragged down by some of the action cliches. cliches can be overcome by great directing, but they aren't in this instance. miami vice could have been less serious and been an homage to the james bond genre, or it could have been a little more serious and been more inline with mann's own "heat" or "thief." it was a little too in the middle and dragged down by some of the lovey stuff and the ending. lastly, one of the things i like about mann is the sounds he uses. his gun fights sound better than anyone (other than speilberg's in saving private ryan). usually sound guys use stock sounds and work with those, it seems that mann, or, maybe more accurately, his sound guys (callahan/coretz) has/have his/their own set of sounds. C+.
My Super Ex-Girlfriend - from the director of stripes comes this poorly thought film. it's not that the film doesn't produce some laughs, rather it's that the story is just such an amalgamation of other genres and cliches, that it turns out to be a farcical mess by the end; and you're either forgiving enough to look past the stupidity, or you're not. the cast is full of potential - thurman, wilson, faris, sykes, izzard, and that other guy (who plays wilson's chauvinistic friend) - but only the other guy really shines. the others have their moments, but none of them show their true talents here. stupid premise and unfulfilled talent-related potential aside, the film entertains and never drags. C+.
Stick It - strangely enough this film actually had some potential. it's directed by some chick who worked as a consultant on sex & the city, but hasn't done much else. the film's strong point is its visual style which is lively and fresh. the plot is relatively unexciting and turns completely didactic in the final act. if not for the last third, or so, of the film, this might have actually been an okay piece. the lead is played by someone i've never heard of, but she's good in the role and might be the next keira knightley type. C.
You, Me & Dupree - a not very well-directed comedy with some stars who are capable of better work. wilson essentially reprises his role in bottle rocket, which is okay because no one has seen it and it's a good character. he's a hapless flunky who also happens to be very likable, much to his friend's downfall. the script was lacking, but it was more about the poor direction than anything else. i wouldn't doubt if the director (whose name i didn't catch) had zero comedy direction on his/her resume. the cuts, the way he handled the actors, etc. just didn't work in a comedic context. a better director would have given them more free reign over the work which would have made the film a more freewheeling (and funny) work. directors mckay or roach would have probably made the same film a full grade higher. C.
RV - sonnenfeld interjects some of his usual visual flair though the film is much less visually interesting and visually active than raising arizona, for example. the film begins with a syrupy sweet interaction between robin williams and his young daughter. he's putting her to bed with a sock puppet routine and then she talks about how he's her hero, etc. yuck. at this point, you're certain you're in for a disney meditation on family values. the next scene, though, takes place 10 years (or so) in the future and this is where the film stays. the young daughter (jo jo) is now a teenaged bitch and toddler son has grown into a body-building young teen with a napoleon complex. what ensues is national lampoon's vacation part 24 and, despite its familiarity, it's done pretty well. williams is torn between work and family and tries to juggle the two while on a road trip that involves multiple RV-related mishaps and run-ins with partridge family look-a-likes (lead by kristen chenoweth and jeff daniels). cheryl hines (curb your enthusiasm) rounds out the cast playing her usual character as well as she always does (pretty well). it's not a brilliant comedy, but it has enough depth (to keep it interesting) and shallowness (so it doesn't get too corny) to keep the film worth watching. B-.
Stolen - decent, but ill-focused documentary about a philanthropist, an art gallery, a few paintings, a heist and a fine art detective. nothing is resolved in the end and the film's focus wanders between the various storylines that intersect the central event (the heist), but there is some interesting material here. i would have liked more information and investigation on the heist itself, as well as a more personal look at the detective who seeks to solve the crime. one of the maysles brothers shares camera duty with the director. C+.
Cars - pretty decent little pixar pic with a bevy of stars behind the mics. i liked the story of a bygone era due to the infiltration of major highways. i think one strength of these computer-animated pictures is that you can add depth to them easily and depth is also a result of the process. that is, adding a digital piece of text in the background is easy and might make for a joke or witty element that is only noticed after repeated viewings. further, the fact that you have complete control of the landscape and that it takes a while to build these landscapes from scratch on a computer, gives the artists more time to come up with, and incorporate, details like the mountains that look like car hoods, etc. in a regular film the filmmakers would have that latitude and often don't have the time to think of these creative touches either. B.
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest - here's why i think people like this movie: depp's character is unique in recent mainstream cinema and is likable, despite his many flaws. the sfx and action keep the movie going. it's got some good comic relief balanced between some darker themes and plenty of adventure. unfortunately, i haven't liked either of the pictures all that much. i think i liked the first one more than this, but primarily because keira knightley played a larger part and i liked looking at her. depp does a good job with the character, but i don't like the character the way i'm supposed to so that doesn't work for me. add to that the fact that the movie is far too long and has a weak conclusion and you have a disinterested viewer named chris. oh, i did like the score. C-.
Benchwarmers - it's a happy madison production which means it comes with the adam sandler seal of approval. what THAT means depends on hold old you are on the inside. if you still have that 13 year old kid in you then you won't be deterred by the copious shit jokes and gross out humor, if not then steer away. i still dig adam sandler so i liked the movie. it's not as ambitious as click or as funny as happy gilmore, but it keeps the laughs up and was worth the $2.50. B.
Sentinel - often, enjoying films like this require the viewer to be caught off guard by the ending. i guessed the ending correctly, including the fact that douglas would be shot, but not killed. that said, i still found the film to be enjoyable enough. the acting by the three stars wasn't their best (except maybe for the housewife chick), but was still fine enough for a film like this. i kinda liked the score, but nothing else really grabbed my attention. C+.
Waist Deep - from the director (vondie curtis-hall) of gridlock'd and glitter comes a film more in common with the latter. in gridlock'd curtis-hall made a good film with two actors who could pull their weight. with glitter he made a film so mired in genre cliches that it made its viewers sick. with waist deep curtis-hall shows an uncanny ability to bring out the very worst in a very mediocre script. waist deep is essentially about a guy who needs to raise $100k to save his child. he finds a female companion who is also desperate and the two go on a spree to collect the money. rapper "the game" plays the bad guy and, though he looks the part, he doesn't do a very good job. he's sort of an uglier, poor man's version of ice cube. the film lacks a poignant ending, a moral, heart, lively action or anything else that would normally sustain a picture. it does produce one good laugh and a set of good boobs, but that's not saying much. D-.
Devil Wears Prada - did i hate the film or just the characters in it? meryl streep's performance was savagely good and i think her character was well-conceived. hathaway does a serviceable job and her character is supposed to be likable, but ultimately isn't. she turns out to be a huge sellout and no amount of hollywood redemption can save her character from disdain. originally we like her because of who she is. as that changes we still like her because we hope for her to turn things around and also because character is all relative. that is, she's measured against the other characters (most of whom are despicable) in the film and so she comes out looking decent. but, by film's end, she's about as sullied as the rest of them, only she should have known better so maybe she's worse. then again, she does the right thing in the end, so maybe she's better. either way she's not better or worse enough to really differentiate herself from the pack. she's kinda like al gore versus bush in 2000. maybe she is better somewhere deep inside, but she sure ain't showing it. C.
Superman Returns - let's get this part out of the way first: it's not as good as the original. christopher reeve, sad horse story aside, was really good as superman and this other guy can't fill those shoes. further, kate bosworth isn't very good as lois lane. she turns lane's character into a nuisance who, though attractive, isn't really worth superman's time. in the original, she was a free spirit, but she wasn't obnoxious, so you could understand clark kent's crush. most of what this film has going for it comes from the original works (comic books and original films), not from anything novel that this version puts forth. sure, kevin spacey does a very good job with lex's character, but, again, he had hackman's big shoes to fill. parker posey has a good turn with her character. she's devilish, but not too cold and she's given some funny material as well. it doesn't do the original a disservice, but it doesn't add anything either. C+.
Nacho Libre - i was never a huge fan of napoleon dynamite, but i like jack black and i didn't have anything else to do so... nacho libre is a decent film that mixes the comic styles of jim jarmusch and the farrelly brothers. it's got some offbeat humor, but it delivers it in a deadpan manner. the story sags a bit, as it does in napoleon dynamite. overall it's probably only for people who liked hess' previous work. C+.
Omen - i thought this one was actually better directed than the original, but the acting in the original was better. pretty good scares from time to time, but the end was better executed in the original. overall, pretty decent. B-.
Click - atypical sandler comedy in some ways, but completely sandler-esque in others. the first half has its share of potty humor and crude teenage-friendly jokes. while the second half shows a maturity and perspective that you rarely see portrayed in such and honest and straightforward way. that said, the second half still has some comic elements. it's interesting to compare this film to lake house for a couple reasons. both pulled their punches by showing the difficult ending, but ultimately going with the easy one. and both deal with elements of mysticism. in the lake house it asks you to believe that two people are communicating to each other across time, but in the same space. in click you are asked to believe that there's a remote control that can manipulate time. click benefits from the fact that it's a comedy and thus is afforded a greater degree of leeway. meanwhile, the lake house takes itself seriously so its mystical premise comes under greater scrutiny. both disappoint with their ending, but click makes its point better and is more entertaining in the process; it's also a more bold film because of its tonal shift halfway through. B.
Wordplay - pretty cool documentary in the tradition of scrabylon, word wars and spellbound. this one is about nerdy word puzzle people, specifically those interested in crosswords, specifically the ny times crossword. stylistically it reminded me a bit of american movie because of the way it catches the offbeat humor of its subjects. B.
Lake House - visually a more interesting film than i would have ever expected. it's not stunning or anything, but it does some things that step a bit outside of the hollywood romance mold. i suppose the film in general is like that because of the absurd premise. the physics and logistics of the film are completely absurd and not at all explained, but i suppose it's probably better that way. by not explaining it they essentially ask you to take a leap of faith - and you're either with the film or not from this point on. if you are then you're willing to look past the inconsistencies and paradoxes presented by the premise. you're also willing to look past the conversations they have which seemingly occur in realtime (complete with partial sentences and interruptions) but are actually supposed to occur in the written realm where these things wouldn't happen. but anyway, i don't want to burst your bubble if you bought this crap so onto the rest of the film. the acting isn't all that good and the ending is predicable and cowardly. if the film's ending was different i would have liked it more, but this film wasn't made for the kind of person who wants that kind of ending. by the way - keanu reeves is about as much of an architect as george costanza. D+.
X-Men: Final Stand - basically more of the same superheroes-as-reflections-of-ourselves stuff here. i can dig the blockbusters that make you think a bit about humanity and society. i'm sure the comic books do a better job, but i'm not a big comic book guy so the movies are fine by me. the film lacks a bit in the character development realm, but i missed the second film so i'll assume some of missing character bits were covered in the previous film. passes the time well enough. C+.
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective - pretty funny, but not hilarious film featuring a younger jim carey in one of his more dynamic roles. he got a little more dynamic here and there, and has recently gotten more reserved. B.
An Inconvenient Truth - the film begins with gore's voice over and several shots of him from behind, in the darkness. then, as he says "i'm al gore" we see his face. beginning in this way it's clear that the film is going to be more about gore's reemergence into the public eye than any pet issue of his. this documentary is ostensibly about that pet issue of global warming, but is much more in the way of explanation to the dominant question regarding gore lately: "whatever happened to him?" the answer is that he's been touring the world, asking tough questions, meeting with world leaders and organizing all in the context of doing something about global warming. most of the science is pretty well covered in a global warming episode of nova which i saw a few years back. some of the stuff is new, but it mostly serves as an cohesive intro to global warming and it's useful in that regard. but the other half is mostly shots of him looking stately and talking about personal triumphs and tribulations and portraying himself as someone with a sense of humor. it's basically a well-done campaign video that's really informative. i was a bit turned off by the commercial aspects of the film, but i have to acknowledge that the film was honest from the get go that this was going to be an al gore film, not a documentary on global warming. if you go into the film knowing that then you should be totally fine. B.
Break-Up - surprisingly real and funny anti-romance starring vince vaughn and jennifer aniston. aniston's performance is funny and heartfelt and clearly, but sadly, is helped by the audience's knowledge of her personal life. vaughn adds some emotion to his usual everyman/frat boy comedy and pulls it off fairly well. the emotional ending might seem cheesy out of context, but the film earns its digression from comedy. the earlier scenes are not only funny enough to buttress this tonal shift, they're also tinged with an undercurrent of their own emotion, and gritty reality, which makes the later scenes seem more natural and less of a departure than they would be in most comedies of this ilk. the supporting cast is solid and quirky. B.
Mission Impossible III - pretty run-of-the-mill blockbuster material here. cruise turns in his usual performance - the one that he's used for all but a couple of his films. cruise, lately, has made an ass of himself and, in doing so, has made his films about him and his persona more than anything else. consequently this film, and his future projects, will be increasingly judged based upon the audience's view of the man, not the movie. that said, i'm not a cruise fan, but i tried to be objective.
objectively, this film is inferior to the 007 films and the other two MI pics as well. the first was done by depalma, who is an imminently capable director, the second was done by john woo, who is one of the finer action directors of the last 15 years, and this one was done by some guy who only has tv credits to his name. what results is a film based entirely on action at the cost of true plot/character development. D+.
Murderball - good documentary about quadriplegics who play rugby in their wheelchairs. at first we see a bunch of pretty typical tough, rugby playing type guys. as the film unfolds, though, we see their softer side, including how they deal with their handicaps, personal problems, etc. the film does a good job of balancing the heavy (how they became handicapable) and the light (how they have sex) topics. it's not an amazing film in any way, but the subject matter is fresh and it's handled tastefully so it's worthwhile. B.
Da Vinci Code - so-so rendition of the book that i've never read. i would imagine that the book was more detailed in the plot and conspiracy elements so i would imagine that i'd enjoy the book more. i felt as though the film just didn't make a very good case and didn't flesh out the alternate version of the story of jesus and the holy grail. that said, the story was just as believable as the official story that catholics (or any religious groups) peddle. hanks was adequate, but his character seemed fairly simple. he has the childhood experience which is supposed to round him out and explain things, but it doesn't work all that well (no pun intended) and there's not much else to his character. tatou's character was more conflicted and faceted, but i didn't really care about her. i guess it came down to the fact that the film is about plot, not character and if you don't have a well-developed and interesting plot then you're sunk. watch any of the indiana jones films instead. all of them have a great balance of suspense, plot and character. C.
Memoirs Of A Geisha - much of this well-photographed film was shot in CA, and that's about the most exciting thing about it. it's certainly not the most boring film i've ever seen, but it has a slow pace and the characters weren't developed and dynamic enough to buttress the film's slow pace. the art direction and cinematography are standouts, but the rest of the film is fairly commonplace. hero is a more exciting and beautiful film, but it won't appeal as much to the ladies. C-.
Hells Angels On Wheels - cult film that doesn't cut it. it's solidly directed and the fight sequences are decent (thanks to gary kent), but everything else is pretty uninteresting. the characters aren't particularly interesting or dynamic, the commentary (if there is one) isn't as compelling as that of easy rider, and the acting has only a few high points. presumably, people like this film because of the kitsch factor and some comic moments, but the characters just aren't all that sympathetic and it mostly meanders from one adventure to the next. the ending got a rousing applause and laugh from the audience, but i was unmoved by it. D+.
Failure To Launch - the usual formula film with the retard from gigli (he was also in national treasure) and the jock in wedding crashers. mcconaughey is a UT fan and not much of an actor either. there is one good performance here by zooey deschanel who plays parker's roommate. parker plays a woman who dates men who still live at home to their parents' chagrin. in this instance she is hired by mcconaughey's parents (bradshaw and bates) in the hopes that his newfound love and self-esteem will get him out of the house. from there on it's pretty much the same teenage comedy formula you've seen before in films like she's all that, etc. nothing noteworthy here, but it does provide a few laughs. C.
Poseidon - not a very interesting remake of a classic blockbuster. the original had some intentionally campy elements, some humor, some commentary, some good performances, some good characters and some thrills. this one has some thrills. indicative of hollywood's current slump and the reasons for it. C-.
Akeelah And The Bee - T-R-I-T-E, trite. C-L-I-C-H-E, cliché. seriously though, at pretty much every turn this film, which follows a somewhat underprivileged spelling bee contestant, is cliché and cheesy. it's basically a cross between finding forrester and spellbound, only much worse. it's not that the film wasn't well-intentioned or without potential, it's just that the execution, at nearly every turn, was awful. the music swelled at cliché moments, some of the acting was transparent and forced, the writing was anything but realistic...
akeelah is supposed to be an underprivileged inner city girl who doesn't fit in, but her family seems to have plenty of money. they have a car, plenty of clothes and food, a nice tv and a computer and the home looks like something out of a design show on hgtv; it just doesn't fit. all the relationships are cut from the same cliché cloth that mars so many ambitious films. for example, her father is dead and she happens to find a spelling bee coach (fishburne) who lost his young daughter when she was about akeelah's age. the end panders to the audience by allowing everyone to be a winner (how fucking cheesy and easy is that?). i feel bad because the film had a good heart, but the filmmaking is awful so... D-.
A Day At The Races - funny marx brothers feature with a couple long musical interludes. good stuff here, as usual, but not as good as duck soup or cocoanuts. B.
Hollywood Handicap - keaton short about some band members who get a horse from their employer and try to make some money. i laughed a couple times, but it's nothing remarkable. that said, it does work well with the film above because of race and horse racing. C+.
Toolbox Murders - pretty bad 70s slasher flick about a guy who lost his daugther and is searching for a replacement while also doing god's work i.e., he kidnaps one young woman and kills a bunch of other ones because they're sinners. there's some value in the cheese factor here, but i don't know how intentional it is and the horror stuff is pretty flat. not all that good, but worth the price (free midnight showing at alamo downtown). C-.
Gabriel Over The White House - excellent film about a president, played by the immutable walter huston, who is a classic pork-barrel party politician. after a reckless driving accident, though, he changes to an FDR-like character. the title derives from the angel gabriel who is, among other things, the angel of revelation. huston does a brilliant job with both sides of his character. the script and direction are also excellent and, rather than being cliché, ring true and are emotionally resonant. this is a great film and is a great example of how to make an inspiring and heartfelt film without making the audience roll their eyes. A.
Hard Candy - good, taut film with two excellent performances. but the whole thing had me asking two questions: how she find him? and what is the filmmaker trying to say? is it some feminist commentary, or a commentary on youth in our society, or is it without commentary? these questions were unanswered so i left the theater less impacted than i could have otherwise been. B.
Monster - there's nothing really amazing about this film, but that's not to say it's not good. theron's performance was worthy of the oscar, but not worthy of ebert calling it one of the cinema's best performances. it's a thought-provoking and often moving film, but it rarely reaches the level of emotion for which it strives. it's not that theron's performance, or the subject matter was without emotional resonance, it just somehow fell short for me. B.
Brick- good film noir type film set in a modern day high school. it's an odd pairing to be sure, but it works because the writing is gritty yet slick and the performances are remarkably capable. some good cinematography and visual noir motifs strengthen the film. unique and worthy of watching. B+.
United 93 - director paul greengrass' most famous film is the follow-up to the bourne identity, but the film most similar to united 93 is his recreation of the "bloody sunday" massacre of the 70s. this film is likely to inspire powerful reactions, good and bad. after the film i tried to listen to what other people were saying. generally people said one of two things: it's horrible that they tried capitalizing on the events of 9/11 or the passengers on the plane should have done x, y, or z. i find both these responses to be silly. i didn't see any capitalization on the events - it wasn't overly dramatized, part of the profits are going to a 9/11 fund, and many of the victims' families endorsed it. further, greengrass sent out an e-mail to the theaters requesting that they not advertise before the film. the theater i saw it at didn't show any previews. as for the conjecturing about what the passengers should have done - first, all the scenes on the plane are educated conjecture so events might have unfolded differently; second, there was such a limited amount of information at the time, that expecting the passengers to react in a fully lucid and informed way is just unrealistic.
but enough about the bs surrounding the film...the film itself is quite good and tastefully done. there's very little music to accent or embellish the scenes (though the final scene does have some fairly heavy music which i would have left out or toned down). the camerawork is entirely handheld and relatively gritty which aids the cinema verite feel. greengrass kept the cast small and (mostly) unknown. there were three actors who i recognized, but none of them had significant roles. so much of the film's effort is in making the film seem an effortless fly on the wall documentary. there are plenty of edits, but few are unnecessary. all the camerawork is naturalistic and in a documentary style. there is no comment through juxtaposition (michael moore) or framing (frederick wiseman). rather, the film is told (basically) in real-time.
the film is remarkably capable of staying out of the way of the events. it's as if the events are affecting you, rather than the film. through every step of the film i found myself comparing my experience with those of the people in the film. in this way the film is amazingly cathartic and reflective. in many ways it's like reliving those hours again in parallel ways - the way you experienced them and the way the people in the film experienced them at the same time. the film brings those experiences together much more naturally than "9/11" did, in spite of the fact that that film was a documentary. ironically, that documentary had much more artifice and exploitation, and was more affected, than the fictional recounting of united 93.
equally worthy of remark is the fact that the film stays away from commentary. the real stickler inside me would point out the music in the final scene and the endtitles as potential commentary, but i think both are negligible. at any rate, throughout the film greengrass lets the events speak for themselves. i think my thought process and reactions are as much a testament to this as anything. i felt, in equal measures, an overwhelming sense that i was part of something larger (the rally around the flag effect), as well as anger towards the administration for its inaction, as well as forgiveness for the various people involved because the scope of the events so well portrayed. that is, the film does such a good job of putting you back into that feeling of experiencing the events for the first time that, for a second, you remember what it was like before the events. we take it for granted now that four planes could be hijacked and we could be under attack. then, for most of us, this wasn't a realistic possibility. seeing people first realize the scope (we're actually under attack. how many planes could be hijacked? how long will this last? what happens tomorrow?) of those initial attacks is one of the more powerful moments in the film. again, much of the film's success in this regard is in its ability to put you, simultaneously, into the shoes of those involved and back into your own shoes. in hindsight it's so easy for us to say that people (from those in united 93 to those in the administration) should have done x, y and z, but the film makes us remember what it was like to experience the chaos of that day for the first time. again, this isn't a film about commentary. it doesn't attack, or apologize for, bush or those in the military or those at the faa.
it felt a little longish towards the end, but it's done in close to realtime so you can't really fault it for that. it's a great and moving film that does a better job of putting you back into that day than any documentary, news footage, book, or film ever has. "harrowing" only begins to describe it.
"I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live." - MLK Jr. Speech in Detroit, Michigan, (23 June 1963) to me, this film may have solidified my feeling that MLK may have been completely incorrect in his quote. if no one was willing to die (or kill) for a cause then nothing like this would have ever happened. granted, MLK preached (and practiced) non-violence, but i still must disagree with his sentiment. in many ways i have to agree more with the teachings of pyrrho on this subject; perhaps inaction (or apathetic action) is preferable to the fanatical actions of those who are willing to die/kill for their cause. A-.
Cool Hand Luke - truly great film. rosenberg wasn't really a great filmmaker, but he was capable and was working with great people here. the cast does a brilliant job with a great script, but conrad hall (american beauty, road to perdition, marathon man, butch cassidy and the sundance kid) is the most underrated member of the crew. his cinematography is visionary and works well with the material. luke is a christ-like figure, but he is more nietzschean than he is christian. he demands that people "stop feeding off" him and wants only to inspire, not to lead. really, though, he does both. he shifts the brutality and "yessir boss" attitude of the camp into one that coalesces around an egg eating competition rather than weekly boxing matches. the subservient attitude which once permeated the group is replaced by one of self-impowerment and community. to me, luke is probably the most inspirational of all film characters. he's a nearly unflappable non-conformist whose power, panache, and charm are undeniable. newman's role here has always felt similar to mcqueen's role in the great escape and it's for this reason that i always compare the two actors. overall, i think i prefer mcqueen, but newman's performance here is unmatched by mcqueen or, for that matter, almost anyone in the history of cinema. my favorite line: "Boss: Sorry, Luke. I'm just doing my job. You gotta appreciate that. Luke: Nah - calling it your job don't make it right, Boss." on paper this line doesn't play all that well, but in the context, and with newman's delivery, it's a powerfully defiant mantra that highlights a melancholy truism.
1967: graduate, cool hand luke, bonnie and clyde, in the heat of the night, branded to kill, dirty dozen...they don't make 'em like they used to. A+.
Thank You For Smoking - well-written and well-directed comedy about a man (eckhart) who is a lobbyist for big tobacco. he's hated by all, but insists he is just a voice for the voiceless. it's all done in a simultaneously humorous and thoughtful way. by the film's end we almost agree that there isn't all that much wrong with cigarettes relative to, say, cheddar cheese or automobiles (both of which can also kill people). it has a stylistic flair that helps keep the film fresh and watchable. B.
Towering Inferno - inspired by the building of the world trade center this film asks the question: what would happen if there were a fire in a high rise building? the fictional building is 140 stories tall and there's a fire on the 81st floor. newman plays the architect, holden is the building's owner, and mcqueen is the fire chief responsible for the response. other stars include: faye dunaway, fred astaire, robert wagner, oj simpson, etc. to my knowledge it's the only time mcqueen and newman appear in a film together and for some reason i've always thought of them as the pacino and deniro of their time. so i guess that would make this the "heat" of their time, which is interesting since this film is about a fire and "heat" is named heat.
anyway, this is one of irwin allen's disaster films that were big in the 70s. this and poseiden adventure were probably the two most popular, but there are more: beyond the poseiden adventure, flood, swarm, etc. the formula is pretty simple: lots of stars and contrived hysteria. i preferred the poseiden adventure because it's shorter (towering inferno is 165 minutes long) and has a better subtext. the commentary here was one that looked at greed and hubris as the cause of suffering. in the end mcqueen remarks "one of these days they're going to kill 10,000 in one of these firetraps and i'm going to keep eating smoke and bringing out bodies until somebody asks us how to build em." newman replies "ok, i'm asking." here the problem appears solved, in the poseiden adventure things are more bleak. i definitely thought this one was good, but it was too long for its own good and the ending was a bit syrupy sweet. C+.
CSA: Confederate States Of America - intriguing idea for a film, but not well-executed. it's a fake documentary that takes place in an alternate universe in which the confederate army beat the union army. as a result, the confederacy and jefferson davis run the what we think of as the USA. the premise is ripe with potential that isn't fully realized here. there are some good moments which poke fun at confederate sensibilities, but i would have preferred a more academically tinged examination of the potential realities given a slave based economy. some of the commercials which are created show the racist society peddling such products/businesses as "niggerhair tobacco," "coon chicken inn" and "sambo car grease." some of them were over the top and, rather than being funny, made me uncomfortable. meryl and i were among the few in the theater who didn't laugh. by the film's end it is revealed that these same products are based upon real products which were in production as late as the 1980s. beyond the idea, this was easily the best part of the film because it's the most surprising and thought-provoking. C.
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House - fairly funny precursor to "money pit." james wong howe does the cinematography, cary grant stars. visually it's more active than most comedies. B-.
Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid - even better than i remembered. the acting is great, the characters are well drawn and rich, the script is witty and funny. cinematically it's fresh and exciting to watch. midnight cowboy beat it out for best picture and that's understandable since it's just as good and has more weight to it. the lack of acting nominations is regrettable. i haven't seen true grit, but from what i understand wayne won mostly because he hadn't won before. it did win for best screenplay, song, music, and cinematography though.
overall just a great piece of work top to bottom. it gets a bit slow in parts, but that's really the only negative thing that i can say about it. A+.
Cul De Sac: A Suburban War Story - hour long documentary about the guy (nelson) who stole a tank and went ape shit on the streets of san diego. it's a pretty interesting documentary because it's not a hatchet piece or a superficial examination of a "crazed man." rather, it's an in-depth look at the man, the event, and its varied causes. it looks at the proliferation of crystal meth use in san diego after the vietnam and korean wars; it looks at nelson's own mental problems; and it looks at the aftermath of the event. B-.
Italian Job - entertaining enough heist film. C+.
Scary Movie 4 - yes, i've seen them all. this one is the worst of the bunch and i think that's, in part, due to the fact that the wayans brothers weren't involved at all. this one references fewer films that the previous ones and isn't all that biting in terms of its pop culture references. the main storyline borrows from the grudge, war of the worlds, and the village. the humor just wasn't as edgy and fresh as it is in the first three films. the premise still has plenty of bite - horror films and popular culture are always ripe for this kind of mockery - it's just that this one falls plenty short. C.
V For Vendetta - i liked the political elements of the work, but felt that the film was overly long and not as well-realized as it could have been. in the first reel or so of the film there was a genuine comic book look to the picture. later it seemed to lose some of the mystery and darkness that made it look like an alan moore comic might. it's worth noting that moore took his name off the credits of the film even though he was one of the two people responsible for the graphic novel...perhaps that says something. one other note about the look - v's mask probably works very well on the page, but it doesn't work as well in an animated context. because everyone else is constantly moving it makes his character seem lifeless and this detracts from our sympathy for him. that said, weaving still did a good job of breathing some life into the character. it's just a difficult aspect of the story's translation to film - one that isn't seen in other comic-based films like batman, x-men and superman because at least part of the faces are showing.
it's obviously a wachowski production - androgyny and 1984-esque socio-political commentary are prevalent. here's a good chance for me to recommend watchmen - an alan moore graphic novel that hasn't made it to film. read it and be prepared to have a good time. excellently drawn with a great story. C+.
ATL - urban drama that has more comedic elements than films like boyz in the hood or menace II society. the film begins with the premise that atlanta is a tough place and the characters we're about to see are students in the school of hard knocks. what unfolds, though, is a story that is much lighter than that premise. it's got plenty of light moments and a few scenes at the local roller rink which split the film up and keep things entertaining - at least that's the goal. unfortunately the film is neither urban comedy nor urban drama. it does a little of both, but neither very well. there are some ambitious moments of drama which have mixed results, mostly because the film's tone is uneven and the acting is inferior. the underlying themes and goal of the picture are commendable enough - it's not another film glorifying the ghetto lifestyle - but the film doesn't have the same resonance as something like menace II society which is realistic in its depiction of the glory and downfall of living a gangster lifestyle. C-.
Chronicles Of Narnia - fun for a family, but not really my kind of film. the sfx were certainly a highlight. a lot of these fantasy meta-narratives share so many common storylines and themes, it really makes you think that joseph campbell was onto something. C.
Weird Science - as pretty in pink was mostly a girl's hughes film, weird science is mostly for guys. the plot is a teenage boy's wet dream. beyond the idea, which only really applies to immature guys like me, the film doesn't do all that much. there are a couple flourishes of hughes's patented use of sound, but not much else. pretty typical teenage 80s fare overall. C+.
Of Human Bondage - the film that earned bette davis wide recognition and a write-in vote for an academy award. the film's other strong point is the wrenching storyline. leslie howard is suitably sympathetic, though the club footedness makes this a bit to easy, and much of davis's evil character is well-contrasted against howard's good samaritan role. worth watching. B-.
God Who Wasn't There - flemming's documentary takes a look at some of the inconsistencies of the bible, specifically the timeline immediately following jesus's death. flemming is an ex-fundamentalist and he clearly has a bone to pick here, but it seems that most of the narrative he provides is well-informed. that said, a lot of this stuff is new or foreign to me so it would have been nice to have an informed voice from the other side to balance out flemming's attack. it's not a documentary that's likely to sway any views, but i like its alternative perspective. the film's weakest point is its clear bias. C+.
Inside Man - like lee's last good film, 25th hour, this film functions fairly well on an allegorical level. it is, in some important ways, a comment on a post 9/11 america. in 25th hour lee addresses the issue from the standpoint of ed norton's character who is a day away from going to jail. norton plays a character who blames his troubles on others and his friends enable his behavior through their lack of involvement. in inside man the story follows a bank robbery that serves as a way to explore the different facets of post 9/11 america - racism, terrorism, and most importantly - one's greed/history haunting their present/future. the acting was good as was most of the direction. the ending was a bit too cute and there are some logistical/plot issues, but neither detracted too heavily. B-.
my ranking of spike lee films from best to worst:
Do The Right Thing
He Got Game
Get On The Bus
Summer of Sam
Mo Better Blues
Original Kings Of Comedy
also seen, but can't remember:
As You Desire Me - plot and theme-wise it's sort of a mix between vertigo and rebecca. regrettably, this is the first greta garbo film i've seen. through most of the first reel of the film there is musical accompaniment similar to a silent film experience. it's not a particularly amazing film in any way, but it does a decent job of exploring themes of control, identity and love. C+.
Pretty In Pink - the worst of the hughes films that i've seen, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. plus, hughes didn't direct this one so it's not purely his work. this one is probably the worst because i'm not a girl and this film is much more of a girl's film than his other pre-1900 works. i think he does a good job of capturing some of the typical concerns, crises, and triumphs of a teenage girl, but it's less relatable than something like the breakfast club. the ending is cheesy (though less cheesy than 16 candles), but i think most of his endings could be considered a varying degree of cheesy. plus, you could always just blame it on the director - deutch. overall it's decent, but a bit girly, heavy and dated. C+.
Constant Gardener - a mostly uninteresting film that feels like a dozen others i've seen, though i can't place my finger on any great examples. visually it's sort of a mix between traffic and 21 grams and the beginning reminded me a bit of solaris and syriana, but it's not really all that similar to any of them. that said, it definitely feels familiar. other than the photography i didn't really care for the film. maybe i'm just jaded. maybe i don't like it when a film makes such an easy distinction between the good guys and the bad guys. i don't know. i do know that i nodded off in the middle of this one and found the plot to be tiresome and predictable. the acting was predictably good, but not stunning. these roles just don't offer anything new. it's a good film, but not a distinctive or enjoyable one. C.
Thin Man - a bit of a disappointment. james wong howe does the cinematography, but, other than the first shot, there's nothing all that eye-popping from him here. the main characters are rich lushes who happen to be good at solving crimes. it's somewhat entertaining to see them do their work, but it's not as funny as it's intended to be and the dialogue isn't as snappy as many other detective films. C.
Midnight Cowboy - a powerful classic. it has an unconventional, avant-garde style of storytelling and a bold subject matter which makes it an important film, but it also has an increasingly rare ability to mold sympathetic characters. and really that's what the film is about. after you strip away the great filmmaking style, the gritty portrayal of nyc (only upstaged by scorsese's taxi driver), and the sexual themes all you have are characters. in ratso rizzo and joe buck, schlesinger creates two of the best film characters i can think of. they're an unlikely pair, but they work together and they are great manifestations of their respective environments. it's a phenomenal film which you should have seen by now. A+.
Kinsey - just as bold a film as brokeback mountain, but predates it. that said, i don't think it's as emotionally powerful. it works better as an informative thought-provoker than it does a personal study. to be sure, kinsey is an interesting person and so is his relationship, but his work and its findings are more interesting. of course you have to view it all with the knowledge that kinsey and his father had fairly extreme upbringings and experiences with sex early in life. B.
Duck Soup - absolutely hilarious marx brothers film. they employ all sorts of humor, something you hardly ever see these days. there's slapstick, puns, crude humor, just everything. there are far too many great quotes to list here, so just refer to this page. some of them come off a bit flat on the page, but they all work very well with the marx brothers' delivery. margaret dumont is a good sport throughout the entire affair. really, the film is genius in so many ways. not only is it immensely dense, quick and intelligent (sometimes you don't get a joke until minutes later), it serves well on the level of political commentary. it pokes so much fun at politicians, war and the like that it, in a lot of ways, is more political than some of the tom clancy type political thrillers that come out these days. great great film. A.
Dead Zone - i'm not a huge cronenberg fan, but he generally has some compelling or provocative elements in his films. walken's performance was oddly kiltered. at times he was like a travis bickle at other times he was like a kindly james stewart character and occasionally he was as self-aware of his own humor as jerry seinfeld. i'm not sure if it was really good or something else. the story is reminiscent of phenomenon and unbreakable so i suppose they owe this film a bit. martin sheen's character was prophetic and made the film more chilling than it might have been even during the cold war. sound was used well. B.
Curly Sue - i can understand people not liking this film because it can be sentimental at times. but the film rises above the sentimentality that it does have. fist, the ending, while typically "happy" works within the framework. hughes actually does himself a disservice by inserting a false unhappy ending and then turning it upside down. at first we think belushi leaves, but it turns out that he doesn't. this plot twist works against him in two ways: it comes off as manipulative to some and it makes the "happy" ending seem like a cop out, when it really is the only ending that makes sense given the context of the rest of the film. in this case, a happy ending makes perfect sense and works and doesn't require any drama.
other than the ending i actually liked the film despite its cuteness. there's a cellphone gag in the film that's 10 years ahead of its time, the sound is typically great (hughes always uses sound amazingly well), and the whole film has an almost cartoonish youthfulness to its humor. there's always something to like about a hughes film. B.
Through The Fire - decent enough documentary following sebastian telfair (high school age basketball phenom) as he decides whether or not to go pro (he does). it does a fine job of documenting what it's like to be in this rare position - the pressures from scouts, family, etc. it's not all that personal or critical in any way, rather it takes more of a fly on the wall position. the biggest drawback is that it doesn't get all that personal or in-depth in any way. B.
She's Having A Baby - offbeat comedy from the great john hughes. it's tough to watch a hughes film because i have to compare them all to planes trains and automobiles and uncle buck. this isn't as good as either, but it produces some good laughs and captures what it's like to be in a listless relationship. i think the alec baldwin character was supposed to be a foil for bacon's character, but he seemed superfluous. overall it was decent enough and was notable because of its freewheeling style. B-.
Postman Always Rings Twice - starts off well enough, but is too long-winded and lacks the snappy script that sets great noirs apart from imitators. the end was good, though preachy, but the middle sagged too much. the primary theme necessitates this fact. everything happens twice - they try to kill him twice, he goes to trial twice, etc. it's just too long for a noir and its structure amplifies this fact.
if you compare the dynamic between garfield and turner to that of macmurray and stanwyck in double indemnity you see that the male is more in charge here, and less a victim of the femme fatale. here the motivation seems to be more greed and lust and less about love. C+.
Fever Pitch - fun film that captures what it's like to be a fanatic very well. barrymore isn't my favorite actor, but she has a way of playing the girlfriend pretty well in films like this and 50 first dates. it also captures the plight of the boston red sox franchise and the pain of their fans. if you don't feel at least a little sorry for them after this then you're either a yankee fan or a heartless devil worshiper; though i suppose they're one and the same. funny film. B.
Independence Day - flag waving blockbuster that got really overhyped. it's good because the sfx stand up fairly well and the all-star cast gives it an experiential breadth that serves one of the film's themes (unity) well. we're able to be involved with the many characters, in part, because they're stars. i'd certainly rather see great acting and writing (think of other films with many characters - short cuts, magnolia - that did it well) than just throwing a bunch of stars at the problem, but i guess it works well enough for the kind of film it is. it's got an abundance of plot holes and it's not what i would call high art - in other words: don't watch it with a skeptical eye and you'll be fine. C+.
Come Live With Me - stars hedy lamarr and james stewart. film that's kinda like hitchcock's mr. and mrs. smith, but not as good. it's funny and feel good in places, especially once the story moves to stewart's grandmother's place. she has quilted words of wisdom throughout the house which give some sequences added meaning or humor, it's an original idea. C+.
They Live By Night - i know it's sort of a small, mostly unknown film that has a bit of a reputation, but i didn't find it all that impressive. i guess it's notable for being nicholas ray's (johnny guitar, rebel without a cause) first film. performances are good enough and i liked the one-eyed character, it was a nice touch. not very memorable overall. C+.
Ugetsu - supposedly one of the best japanese films of all-time; i didn't see it. it's a mildly interesting story about two men who leave their wives to pursue their dreams - one becomes a samurai and the other falls in love with a well-to-do woman who likes his pottery. i didn't sense any social or political commentary, i didn't glean any grand message regarding family or obligation. C.
Svengali - it's not often that a film's strongest element is its art direction. anton grot (mildred pierce, sea hawk, life of emile zola) does the set design in this 1931 version of the novel, which was originally entitled "trilby" after the female lead, and it's truly great. the art school sets are wonderfully eerie with a gothic (think "cabinet of dr. caligari") feel to them. in one sequence wherein svengali extends his powers of control across paris, the camera glides over grot's miniature paris rooftops. barney mcgill's german expressionism tinged cinematography rounds out grot's sets.
of course the most noted element of the film is barrymore's superb acting. he shines here with a role (think an evil version of henry higgins) that most actors probably couldn't pull off. it's a difficult character to portray effectively because he has a sense of humor, is devilish, and yet must remain tragic because of the film's end. like bogart, barrymore acts better with his hands than most people do with their entire body. without an actor like barrymore as the lead this film would be crap. archie mayo (petrified forest, a night in casablanca, etc.) directs. B+.
Celebration - fantastic film whose plot is shocking and surprising, but being aware of how it turns out doesn't detract from the film's enjoyment. there's plenty of material to chew on here: issues of race, class and family are at the forefront. to my knowledge, this is the first, and best, dogme film that's been made. it uses the minimalist form to draw you into the birthday celebration that is taking place and really takes advantage of the audience's immersion in the film. i don't want to say too much about the film, but it's a must-see. A.
Omen - one of richard donner's (lethal weapon 1-4, 16 blocks) first feature films is this horror film in the tradition of rosemary's baby. gregory peck plays the father of what turns out to be the devil's spawn. the end is similar to the chilling final shot of the 70s version of invasion of the body snatchers. it's not a particularly amazing film, but it keeps the suspense rolling nicely and has at least two chilling thrills. worth a watch. B-.
Jackie Chan's Who Am I? - another good jackie chan flick. there are some stand out stunts and the plot is pretty typical for his post yuen woo ping collaborations. B-.
Pee-Wee's Big Adventure - why do we like pee-wee herman? i've seen this movie maybe 10 times and i've always considered him a sympathetic character (though i'm not as obsessed about him as the burtonophiles are), but i never, until now, asked why. if you look just at pee-wee's actions it's clear that he's not a very nice person (he's got an attitude, he's mean to francis, and he is extremely mean to his closest friend - dottie), he's creepy (he talks to his food, he has an obsessive personality, he uses "x-ray glasses" to catch a look at an unsuspecting woman - she is visibly disturbed by this, etc.) and he lacks social graces (he tells patrons of a bar to shut up, etc.) if you look at these facts and strip away the context and the "charm" of the film then it's quite clear that pee-wee herman is no one we should like; but context is everything.
burton creates a world in which even pee-wee herman seems somewhat normal and nice. it's a world filled with ex-cons, deviants, thieves, devil worshiping bikers, rich spoiled kids, dead truckers, and more. we also like him for two other reasons - he's the protagonist and we almost always like the protagonist, and he's been wronged so we sympathize with his loss. the major accomplishment of the film is in creating a unique, often unpleasant character, and placing him in a wicked world so that we don't even question his many shortcomings. until now i've never heard anyone deride pee-wee and that's a major accomplishment for ruebens and burton. unfortunately, it's hard for me to see this film after paul ruebens did what he did - it casts a pedophilic shadow over the entire film that is have trouble shaking, especially in the final scene when he's watching a movie. that said, the film's still good for a ride and a laugh. B+.
High Fidelity - pretty good film overall. the soundtrack isn't as good as one might expect considering the subject matter, but it gets the job done. as an ex-record store clerk, the most entertaining parts of the film were when jack black and co. were being music elitists. cusack's growth in the film is well-drawn and the entire dynamic of relationships was well-done. B.
Crimson Tide - i've never heard this called a great film, but i think it is. i've seen it several times and it never gets old. tony scott has such a good control of suspense here that the film really flies by. sure it steals from the das boot mold, but the characters and direction make it good enough to not matter. of course i also like the political commentary and the racial conflict that the film presents. a tautly told thriller. A-.
Princess Bride - a true classic. all the acting is great and spot on. really, the most important character in a film like this is the villain. we're always going to like and pull for the hero, and we'll always dislike the villain, but for a film like this to be successful we have to hate and fear the villain. both guest and sarandon do a great job with their villainous roles. this time around i especially noticed the fairy tale feel to the music which really rounds the film out. the sets and locations are also worthy of note. A+.
Outrage - okay remake of kurosawa's rendition of the japanese short story "rashomon." the most notable thing here is james wong howe's cinematography, it pops like few films do...it reminded me of "night of the hunter," which i consider to have some of the best black and white photography ever. i liked kurosawa's movement and use of the camera more in his rendition, but you can't knock this one for its visual qualities. that said, this remake falls a bit short in other arenas. paul newman plays a mexican bandit and does his best toshiro mifune impression, but falls well short. his mistake is in trying to emulate mifune rather than making the character his own. shatner does his usual gig and, as usual, it's good. edward g. robinson is a standout as the cynical criminal character of the trio.
acting and photography aside, this film just wasn't as well directed as rashomon. martin ritt has some good credits to his name (norma rae, hud, hombre), but this one just doesn't have the same emotional resonance that the original does. at the same time it doesn't do as good a job of exploring the shifting nature of perspective, or demonstrating the relative nature of truth. there are two directorial decisions that kurosawa made that ritt left out which helped buttress these points: kurosawa has each character tell their story while facing the camera - this gives the impression that the audience is the jury; ritt doesn't do the same things with the camera movement and having the camera obscured by plants and trees - this lends well to the theme of fluidity, and is especially effective when the forest canopy obscures the sunlight when kurosawa points the camera directly at the sun (something which he may have been the first to do). B.
What Are You Having? - short about a young man and woman who are in a diner and have the hots for each other, but don't have the guts to approach the other. the colors were bright and oppressive without reason. the end left me a bit sad because the woman leaves and the potential connection is missed, but it wasn't anymore sad than the idea itself. that is, the idea of someone getting cancer is sad, just because that idea is conveyed in a film doesn't mean that the film did a good job. sure, it didn't detract from the already sad event, but it didn't add to it either. C.
Soldiers In The Army Of God - documentary chronicling the movements of people who consider themselves soldiers in god's army. these particular nuts see it as their duty to rid the country of abortion, by any means necessary. the film follows several subjects, many of them ex-cons, as they go to various gatherings - a conference, multiple protests, etc. pretty much all of them agree that killing a doctor who performs an abortion is an acceptable thing to do. it's an amazing documentary because it shows how dedicated these people are and it is granted access that you wouldn't think was possible. it's stunning to see the frankness with which many of them speak of murder "for god's sake." B.
Love Story - somewhat embarassedly i must admit that i didn't even know about this film until a couple years ago. apparently i'm the only one as it did amazingly well and, along with the godfather trilogy, helped save paramount in the early 70s. strangely, the film started as a screenplay and was released as a book to promote the film, it became a bestseller before the film became a huge blockbuster (#34 of all-time, adjusted for inflation).
it's a love story (obviously) about two young people of differing class. at the film's opening it's revealed that ali mcgraw is dead and the film tells the story of their love in flashback. noirs start at the end to reinforce the sense of fatality, but why does this film choose to begin with the knowledge that mcgraw will die at age 25? i think that it's a practical demonstration of a nietzschean (think "ghost dog: the way of the samurai") idea - we can only appreciate life if we are constantly aware of our mortality. throughout the film, the specter of death hangs over the audience's entire experiencing of the events. we grow found of her and the relationship in spite of our knowledge that it is fleeting. this is how life is as well. further, i think that this knowledge lends a perspective that is absent in everyday life.
we grow fond of the characters and their relationship because it is real in so many ways. of course the writing buttresses this, as does the acting; and it doesn't hurt that mcgraw is h-o-t. the opening lines, especially when matched with the main theme, are practically enough to make you cry. the writing isn't just heavy stuff, though. there's plenty of balance in the film - she calls him preppy, he calls her a bitch, and it's all funny and naturalistic. because of the writing we know that this is a real relationship with real highs and lows, it's storybook love, but if you believe in that then the film works. if you're jaded and cynical then it'll likely come off as trite, but that's more your problem than the film's.
the score was simple, but quite effective. the aforementioned opening theme adds an emotional weight to the film. what's most interesting is to note its subtle changes as the film progresses. the most marked difference comes when o'neal leaves the doctor's office and the theme mixes with the din of city traffic; it perfectly echoes his emotional state. great film. A-.
Bruce And Me - documentary about a woman and her recluse father. it reminded me of pop & me, a documentary about a father and son who bond while on a trip around the world. there's much to be learned from the title - first, it's bruce and me, not dad and me. seidler calls her father by his first name and this reflects their emotional distance and the "grown up" childhood she lived. both her parents were hippies so she traveled the world and tripped on mdma with her dad at a young age. second, there's a documentary by agnes varda called gleaners and i...notice the grammar difference in the two titles. to me, the use of "I" over "me" indicates a subtle difference in subject. with bruce and me the implication is that the film is about bruce and me. with the gleaners and i the implication is that the gleaners and i are together. "the gleaners and i do this and that" vs. "this film is about bruce and me." if you're being grammatically correct there are limitations to I and Me and this reveals something about the respective films. the gleaners and i links the gleaners of the fields and varda as a gleaner of images in life. in bruce and me the film is about each individual - "bruce" and "me." i hope that's somewhat clear.
anyway, bruce is a vietnam vet turned hippie who now lives off the grid, doesn't pay taxes, and juggles several identities. his stories about meeting jim jones or stealing vw bugs from dealers are entertaining, but it's also interesting to see how seidler gets along with her father. there's plenty of material here to reflect upon your own parental relationships if you choose to. it's a good documentary. B.
Ring Two - sequels like this tend to either stick too closely to the formula created by the previous film(s) or, worse, stray too far from the initial mythology (see the matrix sequels). this one got pretty strange and focused far too much on the odd little boy. it wasn't all that atmospheric or scary and lacked the good ideas that the original had. it's directed by the same guy who did ringu (which i found to be inferior to the american remake by verbinski) and it's also the same guy who is doing a remake of the eye - another so-so japanese horror film. by the way - i've seen ringu, but somehow forgot to put it on my list. C-.
Phantom Raiders - so-so noir from jacques tourneur, who did out of the past and night of the demon. both of those films are superior to this one. here we follow p.i. nick castle (whose catch phrase is "if i'm wrong i'll apologize.") and his sidekick, b-man (whose name comes from the fact that he carries live bees in his pockets at all times. it's an often silly film with a couple decent lines and it feels like a series; turns out that it is. some of the tricks castle employs are pretty simplistic and don't hold up well to time. if you're a noir fan it's fun enough, if not then you're probably better off staying away. C+.
Harlan County, USA - solid d.a. pennebaker/maysles brothers style documentary that follows the bitter miner strike in harlan county, kentucky. it predates norma rae and it's a true story so it really should be more popular than it is, but it was made before documentaries were popular. it does a really good job of highlighting the usual grievances of the workers and the ways in which they attempt to get raises, benefits, etc. it exposes the corruption of some union bosses (yablonski is challenging doyle for union president and is murdered as a result) as well as that of the company involved. it documents the (large) role that the women of the community played in keeping the picket lines strong. kopple is also there when the strike is finally mutually ended in large part because of a scab murdering a picketer. it incorporates guthrie style folk done by people of the community to give it a grassroots feel that complements the film quite well.
it's a very strong document of the american experience and the labor struggle. one portion of the film finds picketers in nyc hoping to sway stock holders of the company. one picketer discusses the labor issues with a cop. both cop and picketer get along well and discuss the merits of each other's contracts. the discussion beautifully shows the collaborative spirit that seems all but lost amongst laborers today. another scene captures this spirit equally well. a black miner is talking to kopple (who is off camera) while two of his white co-workers look on. they are in a doctor's office being tested for initial signs of black lung. the black miner tells kopple how, at the end of the day, they are coated in black coal dust - they are all brothers. the three miners chuckle knowing the truth of the statement. the film is full of these moments of solidarity in spite of the efforts of violent strike busters. B+.
Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room - great film documenting the "rise" and fall of enron. it lays out in good detail how fastow, lay, and skilling built the paper empire using various schemes like mark to market accounting, opening bogus funds, lying to investors, bilking california out of $30+ billion to inflate profits, etc. it looks at a range of effects this had including the almost complete loss of personal 401k accounts of pg&e and enron employees, the myriad problems (economic and political) caused in california from the energy crisis, the thousands of jobs lost by enron employees and employees of firms (arthur anderson being the largest) associated with enron. it portrays enron's culture as one of greed, pride, machismo, and a darwinian world view. for example, skilling introduced an employee review process which mandated at least 10/15% of the employees receive the lowest grade possible on his 1-5 scale. these employees would then be let go. the film uses specific examples of failures like the one in dabhol, india which lost $1 billion for the company, yet yielded millions in bonuses for the executives who put the project together. it documents enron's role in the california energy crisis, like energy traders taking power plants offline to increase energy prices. at the same time it shows how arthur anderson and banks like citibank, merrill-lynch, and chase were complicit in enron's attempts to mask their massive losses. they explain the culture of enron's rank and file through evocation of the milgram experiment; a great way to explain how people could have done what they did, at the same time it's a stunning indictment of humanity.
one of the more maddening segments for me was the california segment because it affected so many innocent people so greatly. i still think davis got the raw end of this one - pete wilson, the legislature, and enron were more to blame than anyone else. during this segment skilling tells the following joke while giving a speech to what i assumed were enron shareholders: "what's the difference between the titanic and california? at least when the titanic was going down the lights were on." it's a stunning and rage-inducing story told quite well. the way the lies and deceit pile up and ultimately drown the executives who were purporting them reminds me of the stephen glass story as told in "shattered glass." it's amazing what pride, greed and hubris can do. in many ways this is a modern fable - a reflection of our culture and a warning to those who should hope to emulate it. this is one case where i honestly believe in frontier justice for these guys. fuck the trial, string them up and display them in the city square; well, just about anyway. should be required viewing. good soundtrack featuring tom waits and philip glass, among others. B+.
Conversation - hackman stars as a surveillance expert in this academy award nominated f.f. coppola film. it reminds me of depalma's blow-out (based upon antonioni's blow-up) in the way it features a central charcter trying to reconstruct an event in an attempt to solve a mystery by using his craft. the use of sound and music are quite good here. coppola's command of tension and suspense is also worth note. i think it's an especially relevant film because of the watergate issue since it focuses on themes of surveillance, secrecy, and privacy.
hackman justifies his work by saying he's just doing his job, that he has no control over what his clients do with his surveillance tapes once he gives it to them, yet he clearly exhibits signs of guilt over some of his past (and present) work. and he spirals into near insanity when he is the one who is being watched in the end. coppola's security camera style shot at the end works well towards this effect.
it's a solid film, one worthy of plenty of analysis, but the ambiguous ending and seemingly illogical story left me disappointed. without giving things away - the precise roles of important characters is left entirely unanswered and i can't figure out what coppola intended. then i found this: "In an interesting book by Michael Ondaatje called The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, (Vintage Canada/Random House, 2002), Murch says in an interview with Ondaatje that the twist was not part of the original plan for the movie. He goes on to explain that due to the challenges of making the recording in Union Square, he took Frederic Forrest and Cindy Williams to an isolated park and made several recordings of the conversation while they strolled alone. On one of the takes, Forrest (either on purpose or by accident) changes the voice emphasis from "kill" to the word "us." At the time it was regarded as a mistake, but months later during the film editing, they decided to use the line in the picture." so it turns out that coppola may very well have not had the plot pieces lining up at all. to me that just smacks of laziness. he wants to make a certain impression, but might not even have a feasible plot worked out? lame. edit: here's the crux of my complaint: if coppola's motive is similar to 1984's then these plot holes distract from his point. as you can see i'm obsessing more over the inconsistencies of the plot than of the message the film is trying to convey. that is a direct result of coppola's inability or unwillingness to sharpen up some of the plot details. B.
Why We Fight - the film revolves around the famous eisenhower farewell address in which he lays out his warning of the "military-industrial complex." it follows a few individual storylines, most of them are 9/11 centric, but all of them revolve around the worries related to eisenhower's warning. it's a decent overview of the problem - the politics, the ideology, the money, etc. that said, it would have benefited from a more tight focus and a bit more digging. with the glut of documentaries available on the subjects addressed this one just isn't as valuable as it would have been 10 years ago. there are plenty of good interviewees here, but unfortunately i think it produces a better trailer that it does a feature length film. you're better off watching fog of war and reading addicted to war. C+.
Sixteen Candles - i'll give hughes a pass on this, his first, directorial effort. certainly he shows some promise - there's a good use of music and he captures the teenage experience fairly well - but overall this one falls short. it's not that he's representing the teenage experience in an entirely realistic way, though there are certainly elements of realism here, it's more that he's conveying the hopes and fears of teenagers in a somewhat outlandish story. the whole bit with anthony michael hall and his driving the prom queen type girl home or ringwald's parents forgetting about her birthday are less meant as realistic possibilities and more as symbols of what the teenage experience is about. as teenagers we think our parents don't care about us or don't notice us or ruin our love lives when they do (as exhibited by the grandparents temporarily scaring off ringwald's love interest over the phone). he also captures the hierarchy of high school, though he focuses on it more tightly in the breakfast club. high school is a caste system if there ever was one in america and this is something hughes knows and exposes. so, in many ways this is a great film because of its ability to capture the teenage experience, though it doesn't do it in a "realistic" way.
where this film fails is where its imitators failed even more miserably - the ending is cheesy. also, there is too much exposition from ringwald here. in ferris bueller's day off broderick's fourth wall commentary worked amazingly well, here ringwald's talking to herself just doesn't. but hughes quickly figured out what works and what doesn't. in the next five years he created planes trains and automobiles, uncle buck, breakfast club and ferris bueller's day off. joan cusack does a fine job. one last note - the thing that makes uncle buck and planes trains and automobiles near perfect and separate from his other work, is the discovery of john candy. john candy incorporates a working class element that is missing from his other films, an element that elevates the humor and texture of hughes's work to pantheon levels. B+.
Al Franken: God Spoke - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL, WORLD PREMIERE
franken describes himself as a judo artist - using the words of his enemies against them; and, essentially, that's what this documentary sets out to prove. the trouble is that it really isn't as entertaining or as thorough as his books, which is strange since chris hegedus is responsible for some pretty entertaining and informative documentaries (startup.com and the war room chief among them). don't get me wrong, it's a fun little film that pokes fun at, and keeps in check, people like michael medved, karen hughes and ann coulter, but it doesn't really add much to the debate. i think it's best suited to fans of al franken. one of the more humorous moments comes with ann coulter and al franken debating on a stage together. the mediator asks each of them who they would most like to be in history. coulter goes first and says something like this: "there are two ways of looking at the question. 1) you can be someone who did something great or 2) you can be someone in order to prevent them from doing something awful. in the first case i'd be senator joe mccarthy and in the second case i'd be FDR to stop the new deal from ever happening." al franken says something like "i think i'd rather be someone like hitler so i could stop the slaying of millions of people." it is a perfect illustration of the blinding power of hate and ideology exhibited by ann coulter and her ilk. B-.
Punk Like Me - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL, WORLD PREMIERE
documentary about yuppie filmmaker zach merck who sets out to live his dream of becoming a rock star. he finagles his way into a spot on the warped tour under the premise that he's a gonzo journalist who wants to do a story on the tour for rolling stone magazine. he forms an admittedly shitty punk band named carne asada and hits the road with wife in tow. by the strictest sense him and his posse are touring, but they're living in such relative comfort and luxury that it's sort of a joke. as the tour progresses he grapples with his ideas of what being a rock star means, missing his daughter, the rigors of the road, and his disappointment with his band's performance. he quickly finds that his initial notion that he'd have no problem with being part of a shitty band was flawed. the band and he discover that they can't live with being shitty and set out to have at least one decent performance. merck constructs a happy ending and all is well.
stylistically the film was too mtv for my taste. cheesy animations, too much voice-over, and a faux punk aesthetic marred the film. philosophically i felt that his wealth and connections allowed him to too easily purchase his experience. he foots the bill for all his bandmates, they rent a massive tour bus, they never run out of alcohol, and his hollywood resume (which is absent on imdb) allows him to too easily acquire a spot on the tour. merck ends the film with some thoughts on what he learned in his journey which can be essentially summed as: touring is hard work and i respect anyone who does it, and connecting with the audience is a great rush, but i like family life more. don't get me wrong, the guy seems nice enough, his antics are fairly funny, and he's pretty ballsy for being the lead singer in a punk band when he can't sing for shit and for conning his way onto the tour, but the film is mainly just fluffy reality entertainment. C.
Who I Am And What I Want - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
black and white animated short done by a british duo. it tells the story of a nudist outcast who lives a full life. the film has a strong, sad voice that lends it a resonance that feature films often lack. possibly the best short i've seen since the australian "harvie krumpet." B+.
George Washington - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
silly short which tells a different kind of story about george washington. it's told over a simple electronic beat and is sort of rapped and essentially paints washington as an anti-hero. it's definitely more funny than it is political. it's main refrain is "george washington loves children, but not the british children." funny. B.
Pity Card - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
bob odenkirk short about two guys who are looking to get some action. one of them takes his date to the holocaust museum, but, unbeknownst to him, she was not previously aware of its existence. after much crying she gets a new found respect for him because he's jewish. the other guy ends up wrestling with some random partygoer on the lawn. it's pretty off the wall comedy, for sure, but it makes sense when you see it. funny. B-.
Pretty Kitty - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
odd short about some guy who talks to his cat and eventually takes his own eyes out with a melonballer for reasons i can't remember now. pretty off kilter shit. C.
Lighten Up - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
all these shorts were part of a midnight shorts collection so you'll see a trend of off-the-wall stuff here...this one is about two guys in a car. the driver is taking the passenger to the ER because he can't get the light bulb out of his ass. they talk about how gay or not gay this activity is for a while in a humorous way. eventually the passenger convinces the driver that doing it isn't gay and that it serves as a nice release. at the end (no pun intended) of the film the driver is in the hardware store and he buys a light bulb "for his chandelier." the title is funny as is the dialogue. B.
Couch - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
nyu student film about a shrink who fantasizes about one of his (very attractive) female patients. he draws pictures of them getting it on as a way to release the sexual tension. at the end of one of their sessions she leaves him a note which invites him to meet her at his office later that night. he does and they proceed to get it on, but he interrupts things and confesses that he has been ani-mating (ha ha) with her. this turns her off and he booty calls his secretary who clearly has a crush on him. he goes to her place and they ani-mate together. it's a funny little short which is well-acted. B-.
Question Of Clean - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
don't remember much about this animated short. it dealt with issues of sex and death and the guilt associated with impure thoughts. free-wheeling. C+.
Zorlonn Of The River - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
cheesy short about zorlonn who lives in his own little world. he fantasizes about battling a monster in the wilderness, but it turns out the monster is a mailbox and he's on a city street. chuckled. C+.
Cheap Date - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
crude puppet short about a rabbit that wants to jack off in the bathroom but can't get any peace and quiet. slightly humorous, but incites less laughter than grossed out "oh no"s; but that has its place too. C+.
Maxed Out - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL, WORLD PREMIERE
documentary which focuses on america as a debitor nation - both as a people and as a government. it addresses some of the causes and effects of this lifestyle.
the film opens with a moving interview of an upper class woman from the las vegas area. she talks about having to spend money to make money and how much credit has helped her invest in real estate and make amazing profits. from here the film builds its base of interviewees - two mothers whose college aged kids were swamped with debt, a pawn shop proprietor, dave ramsey (the dr. phil of finance), a couple of debt buyers (the guys who call you incessantly to collect owed debts), and a few others. the filmmakers give a people's view of the subject and, as a result, seem to neglect the issue of personal responsibility a bit. certainly there are plenty of corporate and social forces acting against the average and below average person, but most of the film characterized the debtors as people who had fallen on hard times or had been taken advantage of by a credit card company. at its worst, the film demonizes creditors and their goons to the point of almost calling them murderers. this was the major weakness of the film because it undermines some of the more compelling factual evidence that the filmmakers present.
i've been in pretty deep (relative to my salary) debt and i have had people close to me in deep enough debt to file for bankruptcy so i know what debt can be about. the film explores the extremes of debt well and documents the causes just as well. that said, there was a pbs piece done on this subject that was just as in depth and lacked some of the emotional stretches that this film exhibited. while the film is heartfelt i don't know if this is the subject for this kind of emotion. instead there needs to be education and regulation. that said, the film probably provides more education than many high school grads have on the subject. B-.
Metal: A Headbanger's Journey - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL, U.S. PREMIERE
very well thought out and produced documentary on heavy metal as an art form, a social lightning rod, and everything in between. he begins the film with the assumption that metal is extremely controversial and he attempts to discover what it is about heavy metal that is so divisive. first the documentary gives an overview of metal's roots from wagner, beethoven, and opera to deep purple, led zeppelin and black sabbath. he gets into academic points like the use of the diminished fifth chord and tritones, or the general qualities of a metal song - heavy bass and high vocals, etc. from here he characterizes other elements of metal: the environment (mostly the disaffected youth of suburbia), gender roles, religion, etc. in the end he concludes that metal is a) largely misunderstood and b) a victim of its own decision to constantly push boundaries and isolate itself from the dominant paradigm.
i know a bit about metal and i watched it with someone who knows more about it than anyone probably should. we both considered the film to be informative and impressive in both depth and breadth. it's the kind of film that has an infectious quality to it. after the film's end i found myself craving some iron maiden and black sabbath and it's not often that a film compels you to do something (even as simple as listening to music) after viewing it. dunn achieves this through his own passion, the aforementioned educational elements, and humor. for example, there is a frightening, yet very humorous moment, while interviewing nordic death metal vocalist gaahl (of gorgoroth). dunn asks him what the main theme of his music is. gaahl is dressed in black and doesn't look at the camera, the room is lit by candlelight and he is stoic. after a few moments he simply says "satan," and takes a drink of wine. the film is filled with entertaining interviews like this. at the same time it shows a true love for metal in its various forms and that love of the subject makes the film special. B+.
Slither - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL, WORLD PREMIERE
decent, but longish, comic horror flick. actually, the first half is really good and funny, but the second half gets bogged down a bit in the pursuit by the aliens and then the eventual eradication of the threat. i liked the creature design and the score/sound (both stole elements from predator). it was odd that the film had an R rating and plenty of cursing, but purposely stayed away from t&a. generally real horror films incorporated plenty of t&a, yet this one, even when during the sex and bathing scenes, placed the camera in just the right (or wrong) place in order to avoid nudity. one has to wonder what was going on there. rob zombie and lloyd kaufman have cameos. C+.
Summer Camp - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL, WORLD PREMIERE
the best film (documentary) i saw at the SXSW film festival. co-directed by beesley (okie noodling, fearless freaks) and sarah price (yes men, american movie) this documentary follows the goings on at a three week nature camp. the real genius of the film is the material and the way it's edited. in a way, the film functions as an extended version of "kids say the darndest things." there are 99 children at the camp and about 10 are profiled in the film. i think that that the film succeeds because we get to see the kids in a way most films miss. these kids are real individuals. some of them are unfocused and obnoxious, others are precocious and sweet, others are mysterious and all of them are reflections of society and remind us of our own childhood. issues of family, medication, isolation, conflict resolution, etc. are raised.
the editing holds the storylines together well, has a balanced tempo, has a good balance of comedy and drama, and keeps pace and time well with shots of exteriors. the final shot of a dog under the shade of a trailer is particularly telling. as the camp closes a truck pulls the trailer away and the dog is exposed to the sun symbolizing the return of the kids to the non-camp world. as someone who has done that several times i completely understood that feeling. it's a great film that needs to be felt to be really appreciated, but it certainly gets that other part of the brain working as well. well worth checking out. B+.
24 Hours In L.A. - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
saw it again accidentally. see 3-13/06 below for review. B-.
Conversations With Other Women - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
aaron eckhart and helena bonham carter star in this pretentious and surprisingly uninteresting film about relationships. the film has a vertical split throughout and is notable for this reason. carter dominates on the left hand side and eckhart on the right. perhaps there is something more to this - some statement about left/right brain or male/female brains or worldviews, but i didn't see it emerge. rather, it just came off as pretentious without a purpose. actually, there were two moments when the split screen produced an interesting effect. one was when the two were very close to each other in reality, but appeared far apart because of the split - perhaps it was some statement on, or reflection of, the status of their relationship. the other is the end which sees them in separate cabs going different places, but the split disappears almost without notice and we are left with the image of the two of them in the cab together. maybe they'll always be together or something, i don't really care because neither of the characters was particularly interesting or compelling.
plotwise the film is about the two of them meeting at a wedding after not having seen each other for many years. each has moved on - she has a husband and he has a meaningless girlfriend. they spend one night together, have sex, and talk about the past. i much preferred this film when richard linklater did it and called in before sunrise. okay, it wasn't that direct of a rip off, but the general story was similar and this film wasn't all that great so i felt compelled to take a pot shot. C-.
Monster - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
really cool b&w short which maximizes its jolts and scares. it's about a boy who imagines that a monster lives in the closet and is out to get him. his mom confronts the monster and keeps it in check. the scares are genuine because the look complements the effect and the sound heightens everything. B+.
Population 436 - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL, WORLD PREMIERE
horror film about a census worker who visits a town to understand why the population has been 436 for the last 50+ years. stars jeremy sisto and fred durst (yeah, really). really, it's a cross between the village, shirley jackson's short story "the lottery," the twilight zone, and wicker man. lookwise the film is nice, but too clean for the application. to me it looked almost like a cable movie. perhaps because of the sets, or the computer generated props (the potholes or the bird's eye view of the town, for example), or the colors, i don't know. that said, there were some nice uses of deep focus and wide angle lenses.
the film doesn't work very well primarily because it's too derivative of previous works and because the forced love story isn't developed in any meaningful way. characters looking at each other softly doesn't constitute affection or attraction or love in a realistic or meaningful way at all. as a parable the film works, but not as well as the village or the lottery. C.
Before The Music Dies - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL, WORLD PREMIERE
documentary which focuses on the current state of the music industry as depicted by several interviewees involved in the music industry; people like dave matthews, bonnie raitt, questlove, ex-label executives, small artists, unknown songwriters like david poltz (who co-wrote the jewel hit "you were meant for me"), and many others. forest whitaker narrates.
they begin by giving a brief overview of the music scene of the last hundred years. they begin with blues, jazz and the black experience's effect on popular music. they contend that strife and urban dwelling make for a good environment for the development of quality music. as an aside, the documentary "metal: a headbanger's journey" makes a similar contention, but for suburbia and the disaffection that it fosters. for metal artists, it is said, being away from everything leads to strife which makes some turn to heavy metal as an outlet. in "before the music dies" the contention is that the poor, urban setting is a perfect catalyst for artists coming together and making great music. either way, hardship creates good music. all this is contrasted to today's artists who are portrayed as, largely, having it too easy and being more about image, youth, beauty, style and fashion rather than heartache and musicianship.
the filmmakers obviously have an axe to grind here and, as a music lover and someone worked in the industry for four years, i can't blame them. that said, my major gripe with the film is that it gives a rather simplistic view of the music industry - a view that is in many ways 5-10 years outdated. they spend ample time telling the story of the 1996 telecommunications act, which essentially took the ceiling off of radio ownership, and the windfall that that created. they characterize the music scene as being ruled by radio and don't really give much mention to the minor artists who have made it big outside of radio. they also portray the music scene as being extremely pop-centric when i think that now, more than ever, this is untrue. the internet, ipods, limewire, myspace, etc. have increased the breadth of music this generation is into quite a bit. granted, you're still probably not going to hear teenagers talking about amadou et mariam or sun ra, but they do listen to more stuff now than they did 10/20 years ago because it's so readily available.
while they do mention that there is money to be made outside of the major labels towards the end of the film, the film still seems to be stuck in 1998. what i mean is that the filmmakers view the music industry as being about spins, pop music, and mtv, when popular culture has disproven this with such successes as bright eyes debuting at #1 on billboard, wilco, death cab for cutie, the increase in minor labels, mars volta, arcade fire, outkast, etc. these artists either don't fit the pop mold that the filmmakers depict as so dominate, or do well in spite of not being on clear channel's 40 song playlist. implicit in their representation of the music industry is an elitism that turns many people away from so-called indie music. phrases like "some people don't like music they have to think about" add to this elitism and detract from the cause. erykah badu provides another perfect example. she distills the debate this way (roughly): "there are three kinds of artists - the bleeders who sweat over their work and feel it in their bones, the imitators who try to act like the true artists, and those who just do what they're told. they ask 'how do you want me to dance? what chord do you want me to play? oh, you want me to wear a wig? okay.'" of course she thinks of herself as belonging to the first group and, judging by the crowd's pleasant reaction to her explanation, most others do as well, but i have to wonder how many people in the audience know that she wears a wig. to me, she's as much about image as anyone else in music. granted, it's a different image, but i found her remarks throughout the film to be incredibly hypocritical. towards the end there is some discussion of the role of the internet but it seemed, in my estimation, to be given less import than it deserves.
the film essentially boils down to the ubiquitous struggle of art and money. while i agreed with some of their sentiments i found that the film was often hypocritical (badu and the rock-centric viewpoint being my two biggest points of contention) and didactic. there were certainly some high points - the illustrations of just how simply a pop song can be written or how easily a pop princess can be made were great; as were the interviews with branford marsalis, bonnie raitt and questlove. C+.
Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That! - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
nathaniel hornblower (aka adam yauch or MCA) has a great visual mind. he's demonstrated that in the past with videos like body movin', alive, shadrach and so what'cha want, and he does it again with this concert film. it's a film shot from 61 angles, including 50 cameras which were given to fans attending the madison square garden show. yauch takes the resulting footage and mixes it together to form a pretty great idea of what goes on during a typical beastie boys show. there are plenty of shots of the b-boys performing and fans (including ben stiller and wife) dancing, but it also includes some backstage footage and footage of the beasties preparing for the encore (which they perform on the upper level). it's a great film, regardless of your feelings about the beastie boys, in part because it keeps things interesting by switching up the looks. it begins with a great fish eye lens shot of nyc and runs the gamut throughout the picture - from b&w footage to negatives to some of the weird color negatives employed on the so what'cha want video. yauch freezes the frame from time to time for effect, he also loops the video and has a little fractal segment involving a bass guitar which is pretty nifty. highlights include money mark's keyboard antics, the rattling picture during paul revere and the board game t-shirts the band wears (electronic battleship-mmm, mah jong-mca, critter-mike d, scrabble-adrock, boggle-money mark), a fan's bathroom break, and doug e. fresh's appearance.
there was a q&a after the screening. B+.
Shadow Company - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL, WORLD PREMIERE
professional looking documentary on the little known, but important, private military sector. mercenaries have been around as long as war yet we don't think of them in today's world. 9/11, iraq, and afghanistan have raised the awareness and use of mercenaries.
the film pieces together the past, present and potential future of mercenaries with interviewees from a few different backgrounds. there are the intellectuals and analysts, those in the field (present and ex-mercenaries and one president of a mercenary company), and ex-military personnel. bicanic does a fairly good job of staying balanced in his representation of the role of private security companies (as they prefer to be called). he cites past successes (sierra leone in particular) and leaves room for the personal responsibility of the company, thereby avoiding condemning the entire industry. at the same time he brings up real concerns like the effect outsourcing war has on the budget, troop morale as well as its ethical implications.
it's definitely worth watching since it is, to my knowledge, a one of a kind documentary about a subject much more relevant and important than penguins and spelling bees (not that there's anything wrong with those). i would have liked a bit more exploration of the potential futures of mercenary groups, but i can understand the filmmakers's hesitance to explore this area since it would probably lend itself to a more leftist than centrist view of the subject.
edit: upon further reflection i remembered one segment in the film where the filmmakers were a bit of an anti-american bent. there was a quick shot of an american mercenary saying "america, fuck yeah." people in the audience shook their heads in disgust. at first i felt the same, but then i realized that there was a very strong possibility (because of his inflection) that he was sarcastically referencing a song in "team america." whether or not the filmmakers knew this or took it out of context accidentally i can't know. either way it should be noted. B-.
S&Man - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL, WORLD PREMIERE
horror director j.t. petty's documentary explores the line between documentary film and fiction, as well as the psychology of the horror film audience. in a lot of ways the film is two documentaries in one. one focuses on the themes in, and social significance of, horror films. the other is a documentary that follows a horror filmmaker named eric who eventually becomes the demon of the film. in the first part, petty looks at films from peeping tom and texas chainsaw massacre to halloween and henry: portrait of a serial killer. he explores such elements as the audience being implicit in the violent act, while sympathizing with the victim at the same time; the fact that we all know movies are fake and what effect that has; our obsession with violence and death in cinema (as evidenced by early films like "the execution of mary scott" 1895 and "electric elephant" 1903); as well as the masochism of the audience.
the first part of the documentary which explores the role of the audience in horror films is interesting from a philosophical and academic perspective. is the audience implicit in the actions of the film's bad guy? are we morally reprehensible because we watch this stuff and get pleasure out of it? why do we want to see this done to people? why do we like to be scared? do we feel more alive through the possibility of death? what role does the fact that this is all fake play? what about snuff films? why do some constantly seek out more and more extreme films?
the second half of the film follows eric, who is a horror film director who becomes increasingly unstable as the film progresses. eric's films are about a man who follows women on the street, picks them up and then murders them in various ways. petty begins to wonder how much the woman are aware of the fact that they are being followed. through editing, petty essentially creates his own cinematic demon, in eric. much of the film's charm is in picking up on petty's manipulation of eric's words. petty follows eric, just as eric follows the women, in order to see just how far eric is actually going with his stalking. in doing this petty implicates us because we want to know the truth behind eric's actions as well. in this way, petty brilliantly manipulates both the facts and our emotions in an attempt to call attention to the audience's desire to know. in many ways he is attacking reality tv and films like march of penguins or winged migration which are anthropomorphic to the extreme or create filmable situations and present them as natural when they are anything but. B+.
24 Hours In L.A. - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
short about a british photographer who spends a day in l.a. taking photos of female street gangs. the story is somewhat humorous and is made more so by his delivery. marked by quick edits, the photographer looking into the camera with a pane of glass between him and the camera. on this glass he puts pictures of the gang members and scenery. as the story unfolds he adds more to the glass and it obscures our view of him. it reminded me a bit of clouzot's "mystery of picasso" in this way. it's difficult to grade shorts, but it gets points for being quick, dynamic and humorous. black and white. B-.
Nevel Is The Devil - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
the best short of the showing. office space inspired comedy which finds to workers in their boss' office while he tries to determine who painted devil horns on his picture. what ensues is great fun. it involves a young boy standing unflinchingly in the corner of the office, the boss debating the merits of a comparison to him and the devil, and the subordinate ultimately attacking him. laugh out loud funny. the humor is off kilter and guaranteed to make you laugh. website. B+.
Coney Island, 1945 - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
artist's retelling of his days spent in coney island with his mother. there's a muted sexuality that drapes the short, but i'm not sure what the point is. artfully done - the artist's drawing comes to life on the screen and the flashback shots are appropriately grainy, etc. otherwise not compelling. C+.
Larrylandia - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
funny short that's on the longer side. larry lives in his own world where he comes from a long line of great aztec basketball players. it's definitely funny to see the delusions of grandeur acted out by the capable lead, but i don't really know what the picture was trying to achieve. there is, early on, some mention of larry existing in a chaotic world and other references to the post-modern condition, but this wasn't realized in the rest of the film, at least to my eyes. C+.
Calm - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
"(after the storm)" should be the second part of the title. the short focuses on a girl who leaves her home after a hurricane. she walks through the wreckage of the town with her little brother in tow. when she reaches her destination (a store) she sends her brother in to buy some maxipads. her sexuality is also present in her wardrobe - a short skirt, the weather conditions could be construed to reflect some changes in her body, some hot dogs make an appearance, and the redness of her sunburn could even be construed as perversely sexual. look-wise it reminded me of a cleaner "gummo." the credits roll with godspeed you black emperor! playing. i think there's something here, but it wasn't all that clear to me; shorts are tougher than features, apparently. B-.
Persistent Vision - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
unremarkable, very short short film. features a couple kids making an animated film. sorta fun to look at, but that's it. C.
First Date - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
sometimes funny, sometimes frightening film about an ex-con who arranges a meeting with a gay guy via a chat room. the middle portion of the film is dedicated to his quest to find transportation. first he goes to a job counselor (or something similar) to borrow a car under the premise that he needs to use it for a job interview, then he goes to a bar and yells at a friend (?) hoping to use his car, lastly he goes to a market and steals the keys to a woman's minivan. the ending was chanced upon by the filmmakers and it's obvious. it's a car crash and the ex-con wanders around as if to help the victims, but mainly just asks questions. doesn't make much sense.
the two most interesting things about the film were that the lead is played by a cop who does a lot of undercover work who met the director while he was working at a library and the cop was checking out kurosawa films. the cop does a good job of acting. the other is the excuse his character gives to the man he picks up when he asks the ex-con why he doesn't consider himself gay. he says that, in latin culture, he's not considered gay because he's still the aggressor. interesting. C+.
District 13 - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
the two standout elements of this film were the soundtrack and the stunts/choreography. the soundtrack features a bunch of work by some guy i've never heard of named da octopusss and it's basically big beat type of electronica, only bigger. the choreography is reminiscent of tony jaa's work on ong-bak: thai warrior and everything jackie chan has ever done. this is a better film than ong-bak because of the soundtrack, pacing and social commentary elements, but the choreography in ong bak was probably better. that said, the stunts here are pretty cool.
visually the film is better than the standard fair because of the gritty, saturated look which complements the themes/settings. speaking of which, the film is essentially just a french remake of escape from new york with the caveat that the protagonist is a good guy instead of an ex-con. the film is also reminiscent of danny the dog (unleashed in the U.S.) which makes sense since luc besson wrote this one as well.
in order to make some of its political points it does tend toward the preachy near the end, but that's forgivable. it's clear from films like this and cache, and from reading the news, that the french/muslim problem is getting worse these days. there really seems to be an upswell of french art (a hip-hop scene is growing there as well) that is addressing this fact. one other note is that the subtitles in the film weren't too amazing - the translation could have been better. speaking of subtitles, there seems to be a trend of films that have the subtitles interact with the action on the screen. subtitles might appear or disappear based upon the movement of characters across the edges (think "man on fire"). it's something to look out for. B.
Heart Of The Game - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
a very fine smaller, female version of hoop dreams. it's not the sweeping epic with amazing incisiveness and depth that hoop dreams is, but it tells a heartfelt story along the same lines and adds the caveat of an eccentric coach and a female team.
whereas hoop dreams was rich in cultural, social, racial and economic fodder, heart of the game is more a fly on the wall look at an eccentric girl's high school coach (ressler) and the teams he coaches over the 6-7 years that the film covers. i think that this film is slightly more about the game than hoop dreams and that might turn off some viewers, but, really, this aspect of the film can be extrapolated to reveal things about life and society. the game sequences are more plentiful than they are in hoop dreams, but this drama is easily relatable because the games are often in the context of something larger like redemption, perseverance, or growth.
without getting too much into the minutiae of the film and its plot, lemme say that the film becomes as much a film about ressler's star player (darnelia) as it is about ressler and his approach to the game. she is a willful, black, lower class student attending an upper class, predominately white school with an equally willful, focused and driven basketball coach. they are good foils for each other and it's fun and compelling viewing to see their personalities at work.
don't let the sports setting turn you off of this film. it really has something for everyone and is a well-done, heartfelt and provocative documentary. i enjoyed serrill's hands off, maysles brothers-esque, fly-on-the-wall approach and i think it's the best film of the festival so far. ludacris narrates. B+.
Friends With Money - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
here's an example where an ensemble cast actually works. i think it works because of two major points: the script is solid and it's a comedy. ensemble comedies have less stress and less burden than ensemble dramas. with an ensemble drama you almost have to hit it out of the park because it's like having a bunch of sluggers in the line up - if you don't score 10 runs a game, you're going to be a disappointment. here, though, the cast is full of non-comedian actors doing comic drama. by not comedian i mean none of the big names are seen as comic actors first. mcdormand, keener, aniston, and joan cusack head up the female dominated cast.
as a comedy the film is successful because a) the writing is sharp, candid and witty b) the actors, though not strictly known for their comic chops, do well with the material c) it's relatable and fresh (because of its honesty). as a drama the film is also successful, though there was much less of a focus on this aspect. it works, though, because we like the characters because they make us laugh. often dramatic films forget that characters who make us laugh are just as sympathetic as characters who move us; not to mention the fact that it's easier to draw a funny character than a heavy one. drawing a heavy one requires a greater balance between the sympathetic and the pathetic/maudlin. at any rate, these characters were true to life and likable because of their humor.
aniston plays the loser of the group and her character reminded me of jane adams's frail character in happiness. mcdormand plays an incessantly peeved designer, cusack is the rich one, and keener plays arguably the most textured of the group. keener is a talent. B.
Even Money - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL, WORLD PREMIERE
yet another ensemble film, this time directed by mark rydell (cowboys, james dean story) and produced by bob yari (crash). this film made me realize how much of a collaboration filmmaking really is. every person in the chain has to share the burden of telling the story to the audience. if the score doesn't fit then the burden falls more on the acting or the direction or the cinematography. great films have a capable and inspired crew which shares the burden equally. this film did not do that.
the direction was definitely the worst element of the film. while the broad story had potential and the cinematography was decent (lots of interiors and dark locations gave a claustrophobic feel), the direction just didn't hold up its end of the bargain. some minor examples include all the basketball sequences which were clearly shot by someone who has no understanding or love of the game. or how about the blackjack sequence wherein basinger gets a bout of bad luck - she busts with 22 hand after hand after hand; it's just not realistic and it was done in, frankly, a cheesy way. the entire premise of the final scene relied on us believing that a major gangster was interested in a high school basketball game. i'm sure there are some high school games with some decent action, but it just didn't make sense in this instance. the most disturbing choice was the use of voice-over at the beginning and end of the film. here, rydell spells out exactly what he wants you to get from the film and then summarizes things for you nicely at the end. sometimes a film can get away with this, other times it cannot.C.
American Gun - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
i'm getting a bit tired of the ensemble dramas. i'm not sure if this trend (if there is indeed one) is for a social reason or merely because of the success of films like crash or love actually; nor do i care. i don't have anything against them, per se (short cuts and magnolia are great), but it seems like they are becoming the next big thing and for no great reason. it doesn't elevate your story to throw a bunch of supposedly good actors into the same room. this one features the talents of marcia gay harden, linda cardellini, donald sutherland, forest whitaker, etc.
the plot is less an intertwining of storylines and more a paralleling. each of the storylines have a set of common themes, chief among them: guns and family. this recalls a rage against the machine lyric from bulls on parade (republicans): "rally round the family with a pocket full of shells," but i digress. each character is in some way affected by guns - whether it is the abuse of guns or a perceived power that they gain from having command of one. this equity may have been the film's strongest element. avelino (who was in attendance) did a good job of not making an easy anti-gun film.
sadly, the film lacked in some more fundamental ways - characterization, dialogue and some story elements. characterization was mostly thin, a drawback of the ensemble film. i think that many directors have difficulty with creating living, full characters and when you thin out a character's screen time you amplify this deficiency. some of the writing was also weak. dialogue was occasionally unrealistic or affected and there were too many cliché story elements. his columbine recreation capitalized more on the effect of the actual event than it did on any created drama or emotion. some of the cardellini storyline, too, was something more appropriate for an after school special than a moving treatise on gun use.
all that said, the film was (with a couple notable exceptions) fairly well acted and did manage to create some emotionally resonate scenes. above all, the film served as an adequate catalyst for thought on this issue, so, while it wasn't all that well executed, it wasn't a waste either. C.
Wide Awake - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
documentary about filmmaker alan berliner who battles insomnia. berliner is cut from the woody allen cloth - he looks jewish, is well-educated, and is neurotic in a humorous way (at least to the audience). he tells the story of his many sleepless nights and their consequences through voice-over, testimonials, stock footage, interviews (with doctors, family), etc. it's hard to make a film about yourself, but he's taken a page out of ross mcelwee's book and done a pretty good job of being open and honest. it's only when a filmmaker holds things back or makes excuses or refuses to be candid that a film like this really suffers.
sleep, or the lack thereof, is the focus of the film, but he uses it as a springboard to other topics. for example, he argues that the amount of sleep a person gets could very well determine things as disparate as presidential decisions to world series outcomes. for berliner, quality of life is associated with the amount of sleep one gets. this idea becomes an obsession. he makes a film about it, he stays up at all hours of the night working on his film in various ways, he sees several doctors about the problem, he researches the issue, he talks with his family about it and eventually all of this comes to a head with his wife. his obsession and his insomnia hurt the relationship and hamper his ability to be with his newborn son. the film ends with his resolution to address the problem in earnest.
after the film, berliner talked about the fact that the resolution at the end of the film was one he didn't really take to heart. the doctors proposed resetting his clock, but he rejected the idea because he felt that it would cut into his creative time too much. he has resolved to get control of his sleeping pill problem and hopes to incorporate his son into his new project in an attempt to balance family and creativity.
unlike small town gay bar, this is a real documentary made by someone who clearly understands how to tell a story, keep you interested and add some depth to the film. there's plenty here to chew on, regardless of your relationship with sleep. B.
Day After - rare example of a tv movie that is actually well done. "brian's song" is the only other film i can think of that falls into that category. it's a pretty chilling telling of what might happen in anytown usa in the case of a nuclear attack. it takes place in kansas city and starts soon before the nuclear war begins. russia escalates things in west germany (the film was made in 1983) and then we escalate things and missiles are fired. it all happens very quickly and we don't see much behind the scenes stuff. this is effective because it gives us the same sense of disconnection that 99% of the population might feel. the film deals with the topic and the dirty aftermath in a sober and straightforward way. it's not sullen, maudlin, or heavy handed, but it has the requisite weight.
one woman character in the film remarks that she isn't too concerned about the russians invading w. germany because we don't have as much of a stake there, she adds: "if the russians were taking oil from saudi arabia then i'd be worried." prophetic if you ask me. a mother remarks to her family "we're lucky to be alive" the father responds "we'll see how lucky that is." there's nothing fancy or poetic in that remark, but it beats the point home well nonetheless. the only point in the film where the filmmakers come off as didactic is the final note which essentially states that the film was made with the hope that it would sway the leaders of the world to find peaceable solutions to their differences. it also states that the aftermath depicted in the film is likely more severe than would be experienced by the average person in such a situation. i could have done without both of these end notes. B.
Fuck - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
good documentary which examines the roots, impact, and effect the word "Fuck" has on our culture. anderson uses myriad cultural texts from the big lebowski, pulp fiction, bad santa, planes trains and automobiles, fuck the police by n.w.a., an interview with a cubs manager, and numerous quotes from the bible, philosophers and ex-presidents to paint a broad portrait of the ways in which we use and react to the word. some of the interviewees include: ice-t, kevin smith, jeanine garofalo, pat boone, miss manners, tera patrick, sam donaldson, chuck d, drew carey, alan keyes, ron jeremy, hunter s. thompson, bill maher, etc.
to me george carlin has always been my hero when it comes to our culture's hypocrisy on this subject, but i know that a lot of his work is indebted to lenny bruce - who i just never found to be that funny. anyway, beyond carlin's the seven deadly words routine, anderson adds some legal evidence (fcc vs. pacifica), the bono incident, the janet jackson incident, and some numbers like: number of complaints to the fcc in 2000: 40,000; 2001/04 (during bush's reign): almost 8 million (99.9% of which were brought by a single "family values" group). anderson touches on the culture war aspect a bit, mostly through his interviewees, but generally keeps things civil. he pokes fun at some ex-presidents who have used the word: bush jr. said "fuck saddam" at some point and LBJ once said something like "pantyhose are awful because they ruin finger-fucking."
well done, moves along nicely, and is entertaining. i thought he should have edited in pat boone's crude joke from roger & me since boone was so anti-cursing, but you can't win them all. B.
Small Town Gay Bar - SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
decent documentary about small town gay bars in mississippi. it opens with establishing shots of middle america and then goes into a profile of "rumors" a gay bar in NE mississippi. most of the film focuses on the life of this one bar and it branches off a bit from there - profiling one other bar (crossroads) in a tiny town (under 2,000) in MS, one martyr associated with rumors (scotty), and one hater of all things gay (the infamous fred phelps). just as fred phelps would depict homosexuals as stereotypical child molesters who look like the village people, leftists use fred phelps as their token bible thumping zealot. while it's true this guy is awful, i think he's appeared on too many news programs and documentaries by now. i first saw him on michael moore's "the awful truth" but he's appeared in several things since then. i honestly think it would be better to ignore the guy so he'd lose some of his power. but i digress...
one thing i found disturbing is that, like phelps, scotty's brother felt that scotty was killed as part of god's plan. phelps thinks scotty was sent to hell for his sinning and the brother thinks scotty was chosen as a martyr to make the gay community stronger. this sort of thinking, while it may make each feel better, is so presumptuous and ugly i would know how to begin to denounce it.
for most of the first half of the film ingram uses the music well and tells the story in a fairly efficient way. in the first half i enjoyed the music choices - mississippi queen takes on a new meaning and he had a familiar song about turning away in the context of gays not coming out of the closet. in the second half, though, i think he runs out of material. he has a lot of false endings: he chose music that felt like it was building to a close and he'd play it for its entire length as you might when ending a film. he'd also fade to black during these sequences, thereby giving you the feeling that the film was coming to a close. unfortunately he did this for at least the last 30 minutes which has a tiring effect on the audience. another thing he did, seemingly in an attempt to pad the runtime, was add two montages of interviewees standing outside of rumors while the music played. these, and other, superfluous scenes really detracted from the film. had it been 50 minutes, instead of 81, it could have been a full grade better.
the audience was extraordinarily kind to ingram during the q&a after the film. i was actually a bit surprised that no one challenged him on anything (like the easy choice of phelps as the film's demon, or the poor editing, or the choice to tell the story of basically just one gay bar, or...) C.
Slap Shot 2: Breaking The Ice - fairly poor sequel to the seventies classic with paul newman. it sees a return of the hanson brothers and that humor, but isn't much like the original in other ways. not particularly funny or entertaining. D+.
Soylent Green - pretty decent film that reminded me of fahrenheit 451 or 1984 because of the themes and look. longish and not as visually compelling as fahrenheit 451 or as moving as the original rollerball. C+.
Call Northside 777 - good, but not amazing, noir from henry hathaway. it's notable for its realistic use of technology and onsite shooting. stewart echoes the audience well and brings us along from skeptics to believers. lee j. cobb is solid as his boss. richard conte is great as the "wrong man" and really sells the ending which might be cheesy if not for his winning our affections earlier in the film. B+.
Nightwatch - essentially a mix between blade and constantine - it's hard to say exactly where this film (which was nominated for the equivalent of a russian academy for best picture) went wrong. i'd say that the best thing about the picture is that anything seemed possible. the imagination of the filmmakers is evident and it's sorta nice to see them construct a mythology for the film. unfortunately that may have been the worst thing about the film as well. it seemed that the filmmakers more or less made things up as they went along; they just made up the rules of the science fiction as the film progressed. one, of many, aspects that makes the matrix so great is that they lay out the rules in the beginning and then stick to the premise throughout. this film does not do that.
the film grows tedious because the characters are uninteresting, the story is thinly developed and the action sequences are poor. not very fun. D.
Brokeback Mountain - first the bad: i thought the music was trite and unimpressive. they did a bad job of aging ledger, so much so that you could see his makeup; these are not hallmarks of a best picture nominee. it's a bit on the slow side and if i were to watch this at home, rather than in the theater, i would probably give the picture a full letter grade lower; but my tolerance in a theater is higher. in a way, this film was like an extended, gay version of the middle part that ruined "crouching tiger, hidden dragon." the film was relatively low on character development. a typical anthony mann western has more character development in 15 minutes than this had in 2 hours and 15 minutes.
now the good: the cinematography was pretty good, though not great. gyllenhaal's performance was a strength in part because his character was more sympathetic than ledger's. ledger seemed less gay and more interested in the relationship as a sexual and mental release from his domestic life. early in the film it could be argued that ledger did it for one of the same reasons that men in prison turn to each other for sex - necessity rather than choice. later in the film it seems that he looks forward to their time together more as an escape than as a way of bonding with a partner. as a result i found myself sympathizing with gyllenhaal's situation more. as the film winds down it tugs on our heart strings because of the guilt and regret ledger feels as a result of his relationship with gyllenhaal.
i didn't think it was a great story and i didn't think it was a bold statement. on a scale of 1-10 of impressiveness (1 being paris hilton's intelligence, 10 being jerry rice's football career) i'd say the film's courage was about 6. there was a certain element of risk involved, but i think it was a calculated risk and a risk that was clearly justified. i'd have been more impressed if the film failed at the box office, or if this was released prior to beau travail, boys don't cry, or philadelphia. really, though, the courage of a film doesn't matter that much to me so even if it was released 20 years ago it wouldn't have affected my grading that much. the real draw of the film is emotion behind the film. we feel for gyllenhaal and williams in an honest way and that really sustains the film. the social stuff and hype are mostly just undeserved background noise. this isn't a great film, but it is a good one. B-.
Poseidon Adventure - solid film produced by irwin allen (towering inferno) about a cruise ship that capsizes on new year's eve. the crew is forced to find their way through the ship to the hull hoping that they can reach help from there. the set pieces are notable. everything is upside down and all the sets are flooded at some point in the film. the filmmakers manage to put together a pretty suitable story. in functions well from on an allegorical level (their world is turned upside down on the new year and they are under water [rebirth], etc.) and it also allows them to work in more base elements like the women shedding their dresses early on in order to climb to safety; this leaves them in their knickers throughout the remainder.
also impressive is hackman's character; he really is the axis of the film. he plays a preacher who has been outcast because of his unorthodox beliefs. in the beginning he gives a sermon espousing his belief that we all have god within us. god doesn't want us to be weak, he says, he wants us to help ourselves - he wants us to be strong. early after the ship capsizes most of the crew chooses to stay in the ballroom hoping that someone will come to save them, but a few follow moses, er hackman, to the hull of the ship. of course hackman is solid and he sells the martyr ending in a way that a lesser actor wouldn't. once at the hull the remaining survivors bang on the ceiling hoping god, er the rescuers, will cut the hull and free them.
it's a good flick that functions on several levels and that's the real key here. B-.
Caché (Hidden) - the most difficult films to review are the ones that may be great, but for unclear reasons. films that affect you, make you think, and are well-constructed, yet still, somehow, evade easy analysis. cache, directed by michael haneke, is like some of abbas kiarostami's better films (namely a taste of cherry and the wind will carry us) - films that are somehow able to teach without being didactic and say something without being overly specific. we get impressions, ideas, and brushstrokes of a master's work while being spared the overt didacticism that sinks so many films which try to make a point. at the same time it manages to not turn into syriana, which suffered from a lack of character and plot development.
but let me bring it back a bit...the film follows a family (man, woman, son) who begin to get tapes and drawings left on their front door. the tapes are simple shots of their house from the outside and the drawings depict a boy with blood coming out of his mouth. it's all very mysterious at first, but haneke slowly reveals the hidden layers which illuminate the mystery - or do they? it's a difficult plot to summarize, especially without giving the film away completely. as the film progresses the tapes get more personal and the husband and wife are pulled apart by the things the husband hides from her. adding another layer to the film is the fact that the protagonists are french and the apparent maker of the tape is an algerian from the husband's past.
in one critical scene, wherein the parents discover their child missing, news coverage of the current iraqi war is on the television in the background. in doing this, haneke expands his exploration of the effects of colonialism as portrayed in this more personal form. first he has the french-algerian aspect, and here he adds a more modern context to the discussion. but the film isn't just about politics. that's only one element of the multi-faceted story haneke has crafted. also bubbling underneath are more immediate issues of trust, loyalty and the future. i draw the kiarostami parallel because all three films have unconventional (by american standards) endings. in cache we see the son of the algerian and the son of the protagonists talking in the distance, but we don't know what they're saying or how much time has passed. what exactly is said, though, isn't that important. we see the two sons get along much better than their fathers, and that's the important point. despite the harsh way in which haneke depicts the husband and wife (representing the bourgeoisie), maybe he holds hope for the future. or, maybe, this is the most paranoia producing scene in the film. maybe the sons were in cahoots the entire time. i don't think it's really possible to know.
stylistically the film is stripped down. there is no music and the sound design is very organic, again like a kiarostami film. like kurosawa, haneke employs contrasts throught the picture. long, slow, dark scenes will be followed by more busy, brighter scenes. his edits in these cases are harsh and jarring. another style/editing choice was the way he introduced the new tapes that were sent to the protagonists. we would get an exterior shot of their flat for a minute or two and then it would pause, rewind and they would speak over it. in this way, haneke, in a sense, is telling us that we can't believe what we see. throughout the first 2/3 of the film there are scenes of this kind. later, when the husband is editing some footage for his television show, there is a shift. is he controlling the film's action now, or is this where he loses control?
it's a cryptic film to be sure and there is no clear resolution, but that doesn't make the film any less engrossing while you're watching it. it does make it all the more maddening afterwards, but i don't really have a problem with that. maybe that's the point. this is definitely the kind of film that needs to be watched again. B+.
Hills Have Eyes - i like craven, but i don't love any of his individual films. this one didn't really speak to me on any allegorical level and didn't chill me the way "last house on the left" did. i liked the active camera, but beyond that it didn't really do much for me. C+.
Mary Poppins - this, music man, willie wonka and the chocolate factory, my fair lady, and wizard of oz are pretty much the only non-animated musicals i enjoy. this one has a rare vitality and imagination and has withstood the test of time. i can't say that i enjoy it as much today as i did 20 years ago, but it's still a fine film. A-.
Dog Day Afternoon - slows a bit in the middle, but overall a solidly built picture. the acting and the oscar winning screenplay are strengths. B.
Rudy - same director as hoosiers, but not as textured a film. it's inspirational and a heart tugger (maybe a little bit too much so), but it's just not as balanced as hoosiers. then again, hoosiers is high company. B+.
Block Party - great documentary following dave chappelle while he plans his dream block party. i'm not going to comment on the music or the comedy because you should probably know your feelings on both by now. chappelle is what he is (great, in my opinion) and the music is what it is (mostly good, though the fugees showed plenty of rust). rather, i find it more interesting to look at the editing and the film as a marker in the career of dave chappelle.
the editing reveals a subtle fact that we might want to ignore, but one that i think is important: these guys aren't genius by accident, they work at it. like "comedian" showed rory what's his face and jerry seinfeld honing their material, block party shows (to a lesser extent) the musicians and dave chappelle working on their material. sure, there's plenty of natural talent here, but it's more inspiring to see a guy work on his delivery and timing and the subtitles of his delivery in practice than it is to see a genius come up with things on the fly. that said, both are here. chappelle's encounter with "mr. t" is one such example. chappelle couldn't have planned for that and yet he makes the encounter fun and funny. certainly some of the best humor of the film is unplanned, but i really enjoyed the way gondry intercuts the live performance of a joke or musical piece with its rehearsal. it's like one of the students says at the end of the film: "dave chappelle is just a guy, like me."
chappelle's career, i think, is entering its third stage. the first stage was his film career which was marked mostly by bit parts and the cult break out of half baked (directed by tamra davis - mike d's (of the beastie boys) wife). the second stage of his career started with killing them softly and ended with his trip to africa. this was filmed during the second stage and was released during the third stage of his career. it's interesting to see him evolve as a person and as a public figure. great artists always have different stages in their career wherein their material or performances or work changes shape. chappelle's work has matured and i think we'll see him be more overtly political and socially conscious in the future. this isn't to say that his work in the second stage of his career wasn't conscious, it really was, but it was possible to miss. maybe in the future it won't be. B+.
16 Blocks - two films with mos def and "block" in the title in one visit to the theater. odd.
75 year old richard donner (superman, goonies, lethal weapon 1-4) makes a bit of a return to his previous form here after some poor films like assassins and timeline. mos def is a witness who needs to get to the courtroom in 2 hours and willis is the cop who has been assigned to take him there. willis is aging well as an actor. though he's still slated to do die hard 4, i think he understands that he can't be the same type of action star anymore. hostage and 16 blocks show an understanding of his age. in both he appears aged and weary. in this film he plays a cynical lush who has a less than perfect record of service. but there is still potential and the audience knows this because of his reputation. just as deniro capitalizes on his tough guy roles of the past in doing comedies like meet the parents and analyze this, willis brings a credibility to the screen because of his previous work.
the first half of the film is relatively engrossing and sharp, but it peters a bit as the film progresses. one major flaw is that it falls into the usual genre sympathy ploys and tricks in the final reel. sometimes the switch-a-roo works (bandits) and sometimes it's too obvious (16 blocks). all in all, though, it's a pretty good film if you're looking for a good, easy time. willis and mos def do a good job with basic genre characters and i didn't find myself checking my watch too often. B-.
Freshman - saw this one in the theater 16 years ago with my great grandmother. it's okay, it generates some laughs, but doesn't do anything spectacular. broderick has at least three films with voice-over: this, ferris bueller's day off and election. C+.
L'Avventura - well-filmed picture by antonioni. unfortunately it doesn't have much in the character/plot categories. C+.
Date Movie - a truly awful spoof of date movies like "what women want," "meet the parents," "hitch," "wedding planner," "mr. and mrs. smith," "kill bill," "along came polly," and many more. it's co-written by two of the guys who worked on scary movie 1, 2 and 3, but it lacks all the quality edge and wit that those films had. i'm not opposed to puerile humor, as you know, but this one takes it to a new level and leaves the laughs behind. F.
Match Point - first i'll be nit picky to get it out of the way: i didn't buy meyers as a professional tennis player. his stroke is decent, but it didn't look professional.
the thing that most reviews of this film have in common is that this is an un-woody allen like film. good or bad, the reviews i've heard generally mention this. i disagree with this assertion. first, woody allen, though generally a director of a certain style, does do films that don't fit the annie hall mold. he's done a fake documentary, a musical, and he's inserted darker themes and crime into his films before. so, while it's not the prototypical woody allen film, it still has the woody allen signature. thematically it's very similar to crimes and misdemeanors, it has the same elevated language of the rest of his films, it's heady, and it has the same color palette as a good number of his films. also, though it's not a comedy, it does have some comic moments which serve to break the drama a bit.
when i heard that the film was a basic moral tale my first response was: "who the hell is woody allen to be telling a moral tale?" personally i don't see the film as a moral tale. sure, it has a simple message about luck and guilt and fidelity and priorities, but i felt these were better conveyed and explored in crimes and misdemeanors. i also felt that sven nykvist's (bergman's right hand) cinematography was superior, and more fitting, in that film. that said, i felt that the ending was more chilling in this film than it was in c&m, but i don't know that c&m was going for chilling so...
one complaint i heard about the film is that the middle doesn't evolve much; it's sort of the same thing over and over again. i found that there were subtle changes in the dynamic of the characters and their situation. i was actually more interested in the middle part of the film than i was in the denouement, which i found to be somewhat chilling, but otherwise a let down.
i liked watching the film, but it's not the kind of film i'm going to go back to over and over again and, for that reason alone, i can't say it's one of the year's best. the acting was good, i liked allen's command of the language, and i thought it did more for london than "manhattan" did for manhattan (but i think that movie is overrated). i guess this is one of many examples where there are people who love it and people who hate it and i come down somewhere in between. B.
Letter - short film which will be in the south by southwest film festival. a woman finds out that her husband has died in a war abroad and then she tries to deal with her emotions. the version i saw was a rough cut and was only 6 minutes long. didn't do much for me. some interesting photography choices, but nothing all that special. C.
Final Destination 3 - this trilogy (yes, i've seen them all) is mostly about finding inventive ways of dispatching the main characters. this one does a pretty good job of coming up with interesting ways of kills off the characters. i think the weakest part of the film is that it actually tries to be scary. i think that the second one didn't try to do that and so it leant itself better to mockery. worth checking out if you're bored and aren't too much of a film snob. C+.
Grizzly Man - i have to agree with dave chappelle when it comes to calling people crazy. just because you don't understand this guy that doesn't make him crazy. when i first heard about this film i pictured a grizzled man living amongst the animals with herzog capturing it all. this initial expectation is important because grizzly man is pretty much the exact opposite.
the film's protagonist shot all the material himself. afterwards herzog takes the footage, adds some interviews from friends and experts and weaves together the story of the protagonist. instead of an unshaven mountain man living with bears we see a clean shaven, rich, prima donna who thinks he's saving the world. he's always clean shaven, posturing in front of the camera, and bragging about his exploits in the area.
all this isn't very noteworthy and it made me wonder why herzog (and so many critics) found the subject so compelling. sure, there's a man vs. nature component, but it just wasn't all that provocative. herzog's editing didn't tell any great story. for example, he didn't show the more sane moments of the protagonist at the beginning and then the less lucid moments at the end. he didn't weave together any sort of compelling story arc. really, the most interesting element of the film was his voice-over commentary which i found to be somewhat separated from the reality of the protagonist.
an over-rated and underwhelming documentary which provides only a few moments of unprompted thought. C-.
Three Kings - well shot and balanced precursor to jarhead. it doesn't have the weight, reality, and commentary of jarhead, but it predates jarhead, is more balanced (dramatically/comedically) and is more enjoyable. i hadn't seen this one in a long time so it was disappointing to see that jarhead essentially ripped off the partying scene in the tent. both films have their version of essentially the same scene and both feature public enemy playing in the background; interesting. visually just as compelling as jarhead, but in a different way. saturated colors, grainy film, etc. complement the scenery well. B+.
When A Stranger Calls - better than i expected. i have seen the original (1979) and its sequel (don't ask why, i don't even know), but this one is the best. it's not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but it ratchets up the suspense fairly well throughout the picture. i think that most will consider it too slow, but i found it to be well-paced.
there were a few too many "cat jumping into the frame" type of scares, but other than that i felt that the scares were well-built. it didn't rely too much on tightening the music or sudden cuts (though it did use those). it actually built some scares in pretty respectable ways. the director would establish a pattern of subjective camera shots and then switch that pattern by cutting to a shot of the protagonist. the effect of this is that the audience expects to see what she is seeing, but when west cuts to a shot of the protagonist it gives the impression, for a second, that she is the stalker. it's a minor effect produced entirely through editing, but it's efficacious. a good enough portion of the film is psychologically scary and the acting isn't horrible so i'll give it a B-.
Zorro, The Gay Blade - fairly funny flick with a standout performance from george hamilton (who plays four characters here). some of the humor is on the subtle side and some of it is completely absurd; in other words, it's got a good balance of comedy. i think the worst thing about the film is that it doesn't really hit you over the head with its humor so i suspect it's the kind of film that grows in stature as you watch it more and more. C+.
Breakfast Club - a classic teen comedy from the great john hughes.
it's been a little while since i've last seen this one so there were a few things i had forgotten. it's always interesting to see what elements or scenes from a film i forget after i've gone a while without seeing it. in this instance i forgot the very beginning - the quote and the breaking of the opaque, black glass - and the very end - the unlikely romances. it's interesting because this film has always been about a couple things: us (the powerless/students) vs. them (the power structure/teachers) and the bonds forged between the unlikely groups represented by the five kids.
one can view the film in at least two ways: the kids are just individual kids, with their own problems OR as the letter with which the film begins and ends states, the kids are archetypes - the brain, the outcast, the queen, the jock, etc. i think the film is enjoyable and relevant either way, but the ending is more palatable if viewed in the second way. i found the ending, which finds the jock and the weirdo, and the bully and the queen, hooking up, somewhat disturbing this time around. what is it saying? the brain doesn't get any action, the queen forgives judd nelson, and the weirdo gets a makeover and subsequently hooks up with the jock. what's the deal? is it a statement that the jock and judd nelson are reformed? is it a statement that, deep inside, the queen and the weirdo still crave the bad boy and the jock? is hughes trying to make a utopian statement that all kinds can mix? is it that we're all the same when we open up and drop the front? i certainly see the humanity of all the characters, and understand that they are, at least somewhat, symbolic archetypes. when i first watched it, the breakfast club struck me on this level: maybe the cool kids aren't as vaunted as i thought. in that sense the film will always be a success, and a must-see. at the same time, hughes interjects the reality of the situation - the kids openly acknowledge the temporary nature of their new found friendships. this might explain the quickness with which the queen and the weirdo accept judd nelson and the jock. is hughes building and destroying this utopia in one fell swoop? maybe it isn't about utopia, maybe it's a harsh reality - we ARE all the same underneath, but we'll never acknowledge it openly.
there are a lot of questions that the film brings up. there are also a lot of truisms and wonderful insights. despite being 20+ years old (wow), the film barely shows it age. some of the language is outdated and judd nelson rearranging the card catalog is funny, but probably wouldn't even register to kids these day. that said, the film has aged well and is universal in so many ways that it really is a classic. A-.
Four Minutes - relatively well done sports biopic about roger bannister's quest to break the four minute mile. i'm partial to the film since i was a runner and the sport, and its history, interests me greatly. from what i could tell, the filmmakers were pretty faithful to the facts of the story. the running scenes were filmed well and the acting was better than one might expect from an espn production. C+.
Walk The Line - i wouldn't classify myself as a huge cash fan, but i definitely like the guy. naturally i was hesitant when i heard about the film, but i finally watched and must say i wasn't disappointed.
the first two minutes of the film begin at folsom prison with the rhythm line of "folsom prison blues" playing somewhere deep within the prison. the sound here, as it is throughout the film, is just great. it's tight, strong like a train, and heavy on the reverb to give the impression that the music is coming from the center of a cavern. as the credits roll the music gets louder and the camera gets closer to the stage, which lacks cash. the inmates are beating along to the rhythm and the tennessee three are punching out the rhythm section while waiting for johnny. it's a powerful few minutes, especially for those who know the power of his work. the camera goes "backstage" where phoenix is in front of a bandsaw thumbing its teeth pensively. from here we go back a number of years and it's not until about 60 minutes into the film that we pick up where we left him in the prison. it's a great beginning that draws you in immediately. don't be like the dozen or so texans i saw who strolled into the film 5-20 minutes after the start time.
the music and the sound were absolutely great. i can't remember a film with such a good use of sound since the aviator (which was nominated for an academy for its sound - it lost to ray). i think that walk the line had a better use of sound than ray or aviator. take note during cash's outburst in a hotel room during which he collapses and the music loops backwards and forwards with one of songs building slowly in the background. difficult to describe, but trust me it's good; as is the rest of the film in this regard.
i liked most of the performances. the woman who played cash's first wife (vivian) was less than stellar, but otherwise it was a solid cast headed up by oscar worthy performances by phoenix and witherspoon. she's sassy, fun and strong. his voice is pretty close to cash's, and his performance captures the cash fairly well. i still think hoffman should win though. phoenix first piqued my interest in 1992 with to die for. since then he's gone largely unnoticed to the mainstream so it's good to see him get such a big role.
johnny cash's songwriting is his strength. he captures the essence of the proletariat struggle and the pain of existence so succinctly and in such a heartfelt way. add to that the fact that his songs are always so steady and walk the line (pardon the pun) between folk, country and rockabilly so well, and you have a man who truly is a legend.
could this be the new hollywood? we know that hollywood can't tell new, original stories the way it used to. perhaps hollywood could be the source of blockbusters (which it has always done well) and biographies. i suppose that wouldn't be such a bad thing. we'll see how it shakes out, but there certainly does seem to be a trend: ray, walk the line, capote, north country, frida, erin brokovich, monster, hotel rwanda, aviator, ali, beautiful mind, etc. all based on true stories, all of a high caliber. anyway, walk the line is great, check it out. B+.
Blazing Saddles - i'm not a huge mel brooks fan, but i certainly can appreciate his early work. this one is more overtly political than any of his other films that i can remember. he pokes fun of the folksy, quaint and racist history of the western genre.
one striking thing about the film is its ability to get you into a comfortable place. perhaps it's the cred that comes with richard pryor being one of the writers, but i found myself unaffected by his use of "nigger" in the film. the people who use the word in the film are so clearly buffoons that my tendency to wince at the word was greatly diminished. pulp fiction was another film where i found this to be true, but for different reasons.
well-balanced humor. a classic. B+.
McLibel - not a very engaging or balanced look at the libel case in england which found two working class stiffs going against mcdonald's. mcdonald's sued them for passing out flyers which detailed the various ways in which mcdonald's was bad for the world (pollution, health, animal cruelty, etc.). the dramatizations were done by ken loach which was surprising because he's reputed to have talent. also, not to be a mcdonald's advocate, but a lot of the data was false as much of the film is outdated; the same is true for "Fast Food Nation," the author of which is interviewed throughout the picture.
overall, i felt that the film was more libelous than the leaflets for which they were sued. i'd skip this one. C-.
Office Space - a modern classic, especially for guys in their 20s and 30s. it's not only a brilliantly told comedy, it's also comedic telling of the modern condition. there really is a lot of brilliant observations and truisms within this film. from the opening scene which shows michael bolton listening to scarface while locking his door as a homeless black man walks by his car to the electric shock ron livingston's character gets as he opens the metal door leading to his cubicle. the film is full of small observations which often get overshadowed by the brilliant discussions of flair and tps reports.
one wouldn't think a film like this, done by the creator of beavis and butt-head, to be technically noteworthy, but office space certainly is. judge's use of music, for example, not only elevates the film, but the music as well. tracks like the aforementioned "no tears" by scarface go from relative unknowns to perfectly placed near classics. the same goes for tracks by the geto boys, ice cube and perez prado. judge's direction during montage sequences like the copier destruction and the virus implant is excellent. it's funny, well-executed, and dynamic, yet not showy or out of his depth. i am looking forward to his next live action effort: idiocracy, starring luke wilson. A+.
Pieces Of April - a wonderful thanksgiving film that, without being too corny, shows us all the true meaning of the holiday. off the top of my head i can only recall one thanksgiving picture that is better than this one: planes, trains and automobiles (of course).
hedges wrote what's eating gilbert grape and about a boy, but this is his first foray into direction. both are in top form here. his characterization and the way he complements it with his direction is a thing of beauty. natural lighting, almost exclusive use of diegetic (source) music, and handheld camerawork all add to a dogma feel, but without all the stuffiness of some of the work (especially by von trier) put out under this heading. the writing is well-balanced and naturalistic. A-.
Closer - an odd film from mike nichols (catch-22, who's afraid of virginia woolf?, the graduate). odd because i didn't know what to make of the ending. i think that that's intentional. nichols wants you to know the power and effects of deceit. i think that clive owens is the key to the film because he's the only character who never lies. everyone else, cheats and lies about it. he cheats and tells roberts about it. i won't get into the plot anymore than that.
nichols takes all the love and sex out of the relationships. what we're left with are relationships we know very little about. all we really know is how they are formed and how they end. it's an interesting way of telling the story of a relationship, especially those as dysfunctional as the ones represented in this film. also of note is the way he advances time. without notice there will be a one year gap between scenes. it's always linear, and it's usually pretty easy to pickup, so i enjoyed the effective storytelling on that front. other than that, nichols captures the ugliness of the relationships well. i guess it was a good film because it made me think and nichols' craft is well-honed here, but the story and characters were so ugly that the film was less enjoyable. B-.
Squid And The Whale - very fine film that's part wes anderson and part woody allen. it's well-written, extremely well-balanced, and has a very solid cast. a sleeper hit. nice to see it get a screenplay nomination.
i liked the realistic portrayal of separation - the way the parents use the children as pawns, the way the kids take sides, the relative nature of "good guy" and "bad guy," etc. also impressive was the realistic treatment of other relationships depicted in the film. ann paquin's inappropriate relationship with daniels and the older son, is a prime example. it's too frequent that a film depicts sexual relationships like this in a melodramatic, overblown, or romanticized way. the squid and the whale, though, treats these relationships with the requisite complexity and depth.
perhaps my favorite element of the film was its balance. it shifted between comedy and drama so effortlessly, and did both so well that it was quite a joy to watch. worthwhile. B+.
Porky's - from the director of A Christmas Story comes a much different film about a similar time period. has some good moments, but isn't a laugh riot. B-.
Revenge Of The Nerds - i don't quite understand why this film is considered a classic. it doesn't seem to really add much to the animal house formula. personally, i felt pcu to be a better film. C.
Ocean's Twelve - pretty decent flick overall. i still feel it lacks the vitality and richness of the first, but it still provides some laughs and good heist scenes. C+.
Uncle Buck - a true classic. hughes was at the top of his game here. this, planes, trains and automobiles, and ferris bueller's day off comprise three of the best films of the entire decade. his characterization, storytelling, and use of sound are strong points here, and in his other masterpieces.A+.
Looking For Comedy In The Muslim World - funny flick that is just as much an examination of our culture as it is of theirs. B-.
From Russia With Love - pretty standard bond fare here. B-.
Glory Road - i really liked miracle so i figured this one might be worth a shot. it's got a good, inspiring story, but is poorly acted by most. the coach, especially, comes off as either wooden or overly animated. unlike miracle, the script feels restrained by disney's no cursing policy. it's tough to make a film about racism and all its ugliness if you have a self-imposed PG rating policy. that said, the issue was dealt with relatively well. the people outside of the team were a bit simplistically portrayed, but the team members did a good job of expressing their concerns about the various forms/impacts of racism. C
Hostel - roth is a pretty decent horror director, but not quite worthy of some of the hype he has garnered. the first part of this film is basically just a more funny, more t & a filled, version of euro trip. the second half is the horror film. everything that is beautiful in the first half of the film (the women, the country, the freedom) turns ugly and twisted in the second. it has shades of an american werewolf in london, tarantino, and 70s horror flicks. i liked the title. it has two potential reads - "hostel", the place where all the action begins; and "hostile", as in "a hostile environment." "saw" is another film with a great title. really, that film could only have one title. saw because the perpetrator saw everything and because of the hacksaw which figures prominently in the plot. B-.
Munich - a fine film all around. sags a bit in the middle, but is otherwise engaging, balanced and fair. B.
Cheaper By The Dozen - fairly pathetic little movie. steve martin and bonnie hunt aren't bad, but most of the writing is subpar and the characterization is abysmally flat and simplistic. there's not much more to say. D+.
Capote - i'm tired of chicken. generally it tastes okay and is relatively healthy, but when it's unseasoned it doesn't tickle my tasetbuds. this film is chicken. sure, it has its strong points - hoffman's performance and its honesty being the two biggest - but overall it didn't have much flavor. i think the film did quite a good job of fleshing out capote's character. we get a very good idea of who capote is. from his self-absorbtion to his many eccentricities, the filmmakers develop the details of his character throughout the film. perhaps most refreshing is the fact that the film didn't make excuses for capote, or try to turn him into a hero or some sort of genius whose transgressions are eminently forgivable. B-.
Family Stone - on the whole it's a good, quirky film. i wasn't quite sure what the film was trying to accomplish. the comic moments were genuinely funny and disarming. the dramatic scenes were jarring and heavy. it was difficult to see a message behind these scenes. a unique film worth checking out. B-.