Movies Reviewed, 2011
REVIEWS, BY YEAR:


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12/30/11
Darkest Hour - apocalypse film that takes place in moscow. part of it felt like a commercial for russia ("hey we're clean and safe now, come visit. p.s. we have lots of hot young chicks and fun clubs to visit.") which would explain the russian producers, or vise versa. the production values here were poor - bad writing, bad effects, bad acting. they somehow attached a few b-level stars in emile hirsch, max minghella, and olivia thirlby. there was a decent amount of on location shooting which made the ending (done on green screen) all the more obnoxious and quizzical. all that said, it's an apocalypse film so it was fun enough for that reason alone. C+.
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol - another overly long popcorn film that usually would be released in summer. the gadgets and stunts were highlights. the attempts at obligatory character development were not. paula patton was good and believable as an action actor which makes her a certifiably good actor. B-.
Hangover Part II - if this was the hangover part one then it would be a B or B+ type of film, but when it comes after the first one then it gets dropped a couple notches. there were just a lot of unrealistic expectations around this and that hurt it. that plus the fact that they almost made a carbon copy of the original and only changed some of the specifics (location, baby turns into monkey, missing tooth turns into tattoo, driving to wedding turns into boating there, etc.), makes for a less enjoyable film. still has some funny moments and good characters, but it's not up there with the original. B-.

12/29/11
Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows - wasn't thrilled by the first one, but figured i'd give this one a shot. well, i won't repeat that mistake again. it's heavy on unintelligible plot and not much else. there's potential in this franchise, but they need to get different writers and a good editor for the next go round. if it's under 115 minutes then i'll give it a shot. C-.
Adventures Of Tin Tin - pretty solid animated spielberg film. it's spielberg's first 3d or animated film and i found it to be very spielbergian and a good use of the format. we didn't watch it in 3d, but i can definitely see how it would translate, though probably not as well as scorsese's hugo did. it's basically a cross between indiana jones and the encyclopedia brown books which i used to love as a kid. andy serkis does a good job as a drunken captain. other than that the voice performances weren't all that notable. runs long. B.

12/27/11
Twilight: Breaking Dawn: Part 1 - this is seriously one of the worst films of all-time. the twilight series is basically the godfather (original two only) or star wars (original three only) of bad film series. the film you're watching at the time is the one that is the worst of all-time. there's basically nothing redeeming or interesting about this film, unless we're talking about the sociology of twilight fans. when bella is giving birth to her baby it might be the most unpleasant movie watching experience i've had in a movie theater. F-.
Bee Movie - after finishing the disney marathon i decided i should take on dreamworks and pixar films. i had seen this film before and we owned it so it was a convenient place to start. the writing and animation are really good and jerry seinfeld really rounds the film out nicely. renee zellweger's voice work is less impressive and actually detracted from the film a bit. i'm not sure if it's her voice or the fact that it just didn't seem to go along with the animated character she was voicing. plot-wise the film is cute because it looks at a valuable and overlooked part of the world (honeybees) and imagines how they might feel or live. it's a topic that is perfectly suited to animation. B+.

12/25/11
Bad Santa - pretty reliable winter comedy. A-.
Hesher - the year's best film even though imdb has it as having been officially released last year. the cast is uniformly excellent and it floats between drama and comedy effortlessly. strictly speaking i'd say it's a comedy and it has plenty of good laughs, but it also has a heart that is believable. joseph gordon-levitt has a knack for picking good scripts and this may be his best find to date. unfortunately for everyone, the film didn't make very much money so i'm not so sure we'll see another susser film anytime soon. A-.
Last Frontier - unexceptional anthony mann western that never really grabbed my attention. ended up working on cabinet design instead of watching it very closely. C.

12/23/11
Fantasia 2000 - not as good as the original, but it has some of the original pieces in it, but with a better quality picture. the original idea was that fantasia would be updated every few years, but it took them 60 years to do it. there's nothing like the original, which also gets points for being so ahead of its time. this one is good, but unnecessary. this was the last film i needed to watch to complete the disney feature animated film marathon. here's a recap. B-.

12/21/11
Shame - this film leaves a lasting impression, for better or worse. i think it's a good film and a successful one. it's another quality film about mental illness (other recents include: it's kind of a funny story, take shelter (?), martha marcy may marlene). in this case the mental illness is addiction to sex. fassbender is really good in the lead role. the star, though, is the style and tone of the film. steve mcqueen (no relation) does a really good job with the flow and tenor of the picture. it's occasionally obnoxious (like the achingly slow carey mulligan version of new york new york), but it mostly builds into the film the idea that we're just witnessing everything that is happening. there's not a lot of artifice to the film. there are some nice shots, but i didn't feel like mcqueen was trying to draw attention to the direction, per se. the music fit right into this as well of course and, after i saw it in full, seeing bits later on instantly recalled the feelings i had when watching it the first time. it's a good and effective film about an addiction that i'm guessing we're going to see more and more of in the next few generations. B+.

12/18/11
Dinosaur - the animation on this one was distractingly bad. they went with the computer generated stuff here and tried to make it look as realistic as possible, but it just wasn't working for me. they used live-action backgrounds which is a nice idea, unfortunately it didn't work very well. none of the characters here did much for me and the plot wasn't exciting enough to make up for it. one of the worst disney pictures in my opinion. C-.
Bad Teacher - still funny after the second viewing. diaz is really good and the script is snarky and funny and never sells out. B+.

12/17/11
Young Adult - diablo cody is one of the best writers in hollywood today. she's funny and edgy, she has a voice of her own, and she just has a knack for writing well. in 5 minutes you knew exactly who charlize theron's character was and what she was all about. later in the film she gets some greater depth that adds to the character and then, in the end, she comes full circle and there's no joy in mudville; as should be the case. that probably doesn't make any sense unless you've see the film, so go watch it. oswalt and theron are really good together and the reitman's direction takes cody's baton and runs with it, just as it did in juno. B+.

12/16/11
Hugo- it's embarrassing how much better the 3d is in this movie when compared to avatar. for the first 15 minutes or so it's like scorsese is showing off and basically stating "i'm the best filmmaker in the world right now - i can make 3d movies better than anyone, i can make kids' movies better than anyone, and here's proof." beyond the beautiful visuals and use of 3d, the film is a nice little story and a homage to early film. it's scorsese the film lover. it's the scorsese we know from his interviews wherein he espouses his love of the cinema. maybe a little slow at times, but it has a nice balance and is better than anything else i've seen in 3d. B+.
New Year's Eve - a pretty awful film. valentine's day was better, not that that's saying much. merely a star vehicle. there's one semi-interesting plotline with deniro as an old dying man. other than that it's just a bunch of good looking stars cashing in. it also has sarah jessica parker in it and they seem to think she's still 30 years old. F+.
Emperor's New Groove - i liked david spade's voice work here and it's a nice enough story about an emperor finding some humility after being changed into a llama by the film's villain. not one of the strongest disney pictures, but i liked it more than tangled which seemed well-reviewed. B-.

12/12/11
Bridesmaids - a little better than i remember it being the first time around. i don't watch snl anymore so i didn't know about kristen wiig until she was in knocked up, but i love her cameo there and have been a fan since then. here she proves that she can carry the lead position in comedic films to come. i also love rose byrne's ability to do different roles so effectively. B+.

12/11/11
Many Adventures Of  Winnie The Pooh - not as good as i remember it being. pooh is actually somewhat annoying at times because of his inefficiency and single-mindedness. maybe that's a sign that i'm getting to be an old curmudgeon. C+.

12/09/11
My Week With Marilyn - starts out well enough and michelle williams does a decent job of capturing some of the mannerisms of monroe, but doesn't totally sell it in the end. i'm not a huge fan of monroe, but she does have something that set her apart on film. that said, it would appear that she was a bear to work with, and she was far from a genius as an actress so i have to conclude that she was more trouble than she was worth. honestly, whether it's steve jobs or marilyn monroe, i'm pretty much over the idea that so-called genius gets a pass in our society. you need to work well with others regardless of your ability as a supposed innovator or actress or football player for that matter. C+.
Sitter - funny jonah hill pic. he carries the comic weight of the film and does it well. the supporting cast fills in nicely here and there, but it's really about hill. the little girl is cute and funny and up there with chloe moretz. i guess david gordon green is officially a comedy director at this point. never would have guessed that 10 years ago. i'd watch it again. B+.

12/08/11
Man Nobody Knew: In Search Of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby - documentary about william colby former cia director and operative who was working during vietnam and started his service career during ww2. somewhere buried in here there is a good documentary. god knows that the content and subject matter are interesting enough. unfortunately it's barely personal and not particularly good as a history lesson either. it's directed by colby's son and he provides a lot of background info and context, but it's so haphazard and unorganized that a narrative barely emerges. it would have been more interesting if he focused on the sacrifice his father made as a family man in order to be a cia man, unfortunately there's not much of that. when there is, though, the film gets more interesting. C.

12/07/11
J. Edgar - another film that has some potential that is unfulfilled. pretty much across the board this film fails to succeed like it could have. dustin lance black writes another story about a gay man in political service. milk was a pretty good story and movie, j. edgar, not so much. his agenda, it seems, is to expose america to historical gay figures in a light that shows they're just like everyone else. he accomplished that in both milk and j. edgar, but failed to provide much in the way of interesting narrative here. he's an ex-mormon gay guy so his filmography (milk, j. edgar and big love) makes perfect sense to date.
leo is usually quite reliable, but here he falls flat. naomi watts is decent in a supporting role as is judi dench. armey hammer is quite bad. eastwood is a capable director of course, but it seems like he slept-walked through this one. it's shot well enough and has some grit to it, but there's just no bite or anything new to say here. it's another conservative political type with mommy issues and there wasn't any life given to it by anyone involved. C.

12/06/11
Paradise Lost 2: Revelations - this follow-up documentary to the 1996 film comes 4 years later and (mostly) follows the people who are trying to free the west memphis 3. a lawyer and his new expert witness as well as a group of people who found out about the trial from the first film and have gone about trying to get a retrial. it also follows the stepdad (john byers) of one of the victims. he was accused of potentially being part of the murder, but none of the claims stuck. 4 years later his wife is now dead, bite marks are discovered on one of the victims, and john byers has artificial teeth all of a sudden. so the plot thickens. the other family members of the victims chose not to participate this time and the courts didn't allow cameras in this time so the documentary has a much more external pov.
this one turns into a bit more of a media circus with these people who are like groupies trying to free damien echols, echols increasingly playing up his victimization, and byers looking more and more like the kind of guy capable of actually doing this unthinkable crime. this whole thing is just so bizarre. basically all the people involved are hillbillies or weirdos in some way. even some of the people who are trying to free the west memphis 3 come off as a few screws short of a hardware store. a total mess. B.

12/05/11
Graduate - i don't know where to start with this review, so i guess i'll just ramble.
i've seen this film no more than 10 times in my life, but i know without a doubt that it's my favorite. it's not a perfect film, but it's as close to perfection as i've seen a film ever get. it begs to be written and thought about and it also is hilarious and touching and cathartic. it's emotional yet  technical. for me, it does everything a film should do.
the first 45 minutes basically fly by for me. we get to know benjamin and all the preening adults around him (none of whom have first names) who push and prod and influence him as if it were going to improve their lives. that's what the film is for me - a battle between the old guard and the new. we all know the mid-late 60s culture that produced this film and what they were fighting against so i needn't do more than mention it. but the film is much more timeless than a bygone era of hippies fighting against the vietnam war and patriarchy. the film is timeless because it's a coming of age story about a guy (and then a girl) who buck the old ways and strike out on their own; as each generation should, i believe.
if i ever find myself not liking, nay, loving this film then i need to take a hard look at who i am and where i am in life. films like this and cool hand luke and paths of glory provide a moral and philosophical compass for me that is as strong as the bible is for real christians. and i don't think the fact that i haven't seen the graduate in six years diminishes that either (though it was too long to go without having seen it). the graduate reminds me that we have to make our lives ours. elaine's mom, mrs. robinson, famously says "it's too late," to which elaine responds (quite perfectly and succinctly) "not for me." it takes elaine a while to get to the same place that benjamin is at, but she gets there and if not for her who knows what would have happened with him.
the courting of elaine act is the least amazing of the three acts. the time where ben is in berkeley following elaine and trying to convince her to marry him is the slowest part of the film and the only imperfection the film presents, in my opinion. it's a necessary element, though, and i think they play it quite well. it's not overly long, but it's long enough to make you feel what ben is feeling. it also gives some insight into elaine's character. she's lost, as many college-aged kids are. she's not sure what she's doing. she waffles, a lot. there's another man in the picture. there's a landlord to deal with. ben is tested. it can be argued that this is when ben actually grows up. he grows in a very superficial way during the first musical montage after popping his cherry. but this is much more, and more subtle, than that. then comes the final act when ben chases after elaine. it's perfectly punctuated by simon & garfunkel's "mrs. robinson." and then there's the ending.
it's a perfect ending, by the way. some will point out that elaine is already married or that they're not smiling at the very end. correct on both points, and all the more perfect as a result. benjamin is in the alfa romeo (is it a coincidence that our film's romeo is driving a romeo?) when he runs out of gas. his father bought the car for him so it's perfect that he should have to make the last leg of his journey powered by his own two feet. he is locked out of the front door of the church. i love the literal symbolism throughout the film. i'm a literal guy, it's just my style i guess. of course a guy like benjamin wouldn't be able to come in through the front door of a church, especially to do what he has to do. he interrupts the end of the wedding. the film audience, and the adults in the film all think he's too late of course because they're trapped by their own conceptions of what the world is and can be. benjamin rattles the cage, elaine comes to. she's drawn towards him and she wakes up, figuratively of course. she makes a run for it as does benjamin. he has to fight off the father and then the rest of the wedding ceremony, this time with a cross (need i comment on that?). they exit, he locks them inside using the cross (again, no comment necessary). they run for a bus. it's a yellow bus, like a school bus, but it's been converted to a municipal bus. again, a perfect choice. you think of them as kids getting on a school bus, but you soon (if you hadn't already read the side of the bus) find out that it's a public bus with a bunch of older people as passengers. the two run to the back of the bus. the bus takes off going forward, naturally. everyone is looking back at them though. they are moving forward, but looking back. this image of moving forward but being positioned to look backwards may have been stolen/borrowed from flannery o'connor's "wise blood." the meaning, either way, is the same - they are literally moving forward in life, but looking to their past. just like all the adults in the film do. they look at the younger generation and try to live vicariously through them. ben's father with the scuba diving suit that cost over $200. the guy who talks to ben about plastics. the women who preen over him at the beginning of the film. mr. robinson who tells ben to sow his wild oats (because he couldn't because he got caught in a loveless marriage with mrs. robinson whom he had knocked up). mrs. robinson who is finally able to sow her wild oats, though in the most rote possible fashion. so, you have the older generation looking back while ben and elaine look forward to their lives with the past that they left behind still visible through the back window. they are giddy at first, like children. but they know. they know what they've done and that life isn't a fairy tale. this is what tom (from 500 days of summer) didn't know. he thought that love would conquer all and that after that it's happily ever after. they know it's not happily ever after, necessarily. what it is, though, is up to them now. they're not a fairy tale nor are they part of a life that doesn't make any sense and whose rules were written by someone who is long gone, as ben (more or less) puts it while eating in the car on their first date.
the editing is also perfection. some great cuts, a few great montages, the sound bridges really make the first part of the film fly and lend a fluidity to the film. this is probably what bogs down the berkeley scenes somewhat.
starts with a plane landing in los angeles, same as die hard, another top 3-5 film. A+.

12/04/11
Page One: Inside The New York Times - there's not much of a narrative here, but the content and characters are interesting enough to make it watchable and memorable. being inside the world's best, or at least most influential, newspaper is exciting and interesting. david carr is a standout as is the meeting he has with some of the guys from vice magazine. i can't help but think that this is the beginning of a two and a half hour documentary that would have been epic. it could have gone over in greater detail the arc of the newspaper business, the ny times, the digitization and emerging nature of news, the logistics of embedded reporters, etc. they touch on much of this stuff, but not in great depth. B+.

12/02/11
Melancholia - i learned two things from watching this movie: 1. kirsten dunst has a nice rack 2. lars von tries too hard has nothing to say anymore.
ok, the real review. this might actually be the worst film i've ever seen. usually i will tell someone that gigli or kangaroo jack or something like that is the worst film ever. true, those are epically bad films. gigli had good actors and a capable director who came together to make a steaming pile of horse shit. but it's also a film that is so bad, and bad in such a way, that you can make fun of it. melancholia is not like that at all. it's just bad. really bad. honestly, if not for the low cut wedding dress the dunst wears in the beginning, the first half of the film would be utterly unwatchable. because of the dogma movement i had confused von trier as the maker of "celebration," (it was actually vinterberg) which is actually quite a good film. unfortunately for von trier, he didn't direct that. he did do dancer in the dark and the idiots (both of which i watched and didn't like) as well as dogville, breaking the waves and antichrist. he also did a documentary called the five obstructions which was intellectually interesting. long story short, the guy isn't much to write home about yet people still watch his films because he strikes a chord. often it's a very bad chord. i've heard awful things about breaking the waves, for example, which makes me want to watch it despite my bad experiences watching his other movies. i heard great things about dancer in the dark and antichrist. whatever.
melancholia isn't an offensive film, it's just awful. terrence malick is probably thrilled that someone else made a pretentious piece of shit this year. i bet von trier wishes he had thrown in a scene with a dinosaur or two; it would have made for a better film. frankly if he had found a way to put in some of his personal views on hitler in the film i would have found it more watchable. it would have been a more reprehensible film, but at least it would be watchable. F-.
Lilo & Stitch - other than the animation of the characters' noses, i liked this film. it takes the theme of the outcast and does it in a unique way. middle of the pack disney film. B.

11/29/11
Paradise Lost: The Child Murders At Robin Hood Hills - in terms of the subject matter the only documentary, off the top of my head, that is as fucked up is body without soul. i've never met anyone who has seen it, but it's firmly in that genre of waking up privileged young white kids along with dark days and, these days, 75% of the internet. this film, and its sequels, are getting a bit of a resurgence because the west memphis three recently got out because of dna evidence. the sequel came out in 2000 and the third installment was just release this year, but isn't on dvd yet. it's a classic errol morris thin blue line type of documentary where we get talking heads and fly on the wall content and are left to our own devices to develop an opinion. i didn't know anything about the dna evidence or the verdict until after i watched the film, but as i got near the verdict i put it this way - i wouldn't convict them if on the jury, but i could see them doing it. primarily because damien seemed like the kind of guy who could get into that kind of trouble without much worry and could convince the two dumber kids to go along with it.
just like the media covers the presidential elections like a horse race, it's easy to see that this case turned into a circus. it's easy to look a million different ways - at the dressing black angle, blame it on metallica (sanitarium is one of my favorite songs of theirs by the way, and it comprises most of the film's soundtrack), look at the stepdad who maybe did it, look at the idiotic police department, etc. what it comes down to, though, is that 3 kids were raped and cut up savagely and none of this circus is going to help that. pretty messed up. good documentary though. B+.

11/27/11
Rookie Of The Year - kids sports movie that is neither bad nor good. gary busey plays a half way likable and normal guy and that was the highlight of the film for me. boy has that guy gone off the deep end. C+.

11/25/11
Good Hair - chris rock documentary about black people's hair. it's really well done and chris rock interjects some humor while also holding people's feet to the flame a little bit. for example, i knew that black women would get a weave done to have long, flowing hair and i knew that it would take several hours. however, i didn't know that it could easily cost over $1,000 (+ the cost of the hair) to do so. when rock finds out about this he asks the women in the parlor what job they have that they can afford such an extravagance. it's an interesting documentary because it touches on so much about our society and about black society. why does society generally reject black hair as beautiful? why did blacks turn away from the pro-black movement of the 70s? why do blacks buy 80% of the hair care products in the country? why does worrying about beauty manifest itself this way for blacks and in body image (liposuction, botox, breast implants, etc.) for whites? it caused me to think a lot about society and beauty and how we spend our money so i had a good time. the hair show competition, that he follows to add some narrative to the film, didn't do much for me. B+.

11/24/11
(500) Days Of Summer - a different experience the second time around, but not necessarily in a bad way. still a really solid and fun/moving film to watch, but knowing how it turns out took some of the edge off. both leads are perfectly cast. cathartic and funny, this is a great film. A-.

11/23/11
Jack And Jill - fart. if you just laughed then you might like this movie. otherwise, probably not. it's adam sandler, i mean with every one of his films i feel like i don't really have to say much because you know how you're going to feel about it already. i laughed the first half of the film and the second half fizzled. it gets a bit mean-spirited i suppose and it's not one of his best efforts, but if you're considering watching this then you're probably about as sold as you need to be already. if you groaned when you heard about another happy madison production then this one certainly isn't going to change your mind about sandler. C.
Descendants - alexander payne at his best is cutting edge, funny, and an envelope pusher. he took on abortion and statutory rape with his first two features and both were funny and entertaining. about schmidt was a step backwards in my opinion, but sideways was funny and engaging and maybe more mature than his previous films; certainly you couldn't knock him for that. here, though, he takes another step back. again the film is about a man facing a crisis in his life, but this time it's a wealthy, good looking george clooney not a midwestern school teacher or a huffing pregnant female or a (let's say) less attractive and desperate alcoholic. the casting choice doesn't work and even payne knows this. in his interview on fresh air he laments the fact that in order to get a movie made you have to have a star attached who is popular at the time that you're looking for funding. when asked why clooney was right for this part, payne said "he's the right age, he's the right look and coloring for someone, one of those handsome rich guys out in hawaii..." he also said something about a sense of detachment that clooney exudes, but the first things he cited were: age, look and coloring. clearly something is missing in that answer.
as for the writing, which is usually quite sharp in payne films, it just lacked here. the situation that the film presents is difficult, but there's just no snap to the dialogue or characters. here it is a week later when i'm writing this review and i can't remember much about the film other than the look of it. yeah, it captured island living pretty well so i guess that was nice. it had some good laughs and at least one good character (the smart ass kid who tags along with clooney's family the whole time). the kid actors were good and considering that fact i think that the film would have been better off following their perspective more than the adults. it probably would have made for a more dramatic and humorous film if we didn't know about all the b.s. adult problems in the film - the land trust decision that clooney has to worry about, for example. C+.

11/22/11
Other F Word - good documentary about punk rock musicians who have become fathers. they talk about their parents, punk music and what it's like being an authority figure after railing against authority their entire professional career. it's a great topic and even though it doesn't have a great narrative structure, it's got plenty of great content. they get a decent number of second, third and lower tier musicians. for me the top tier is: ramones, clash, sex pistols. after that it's everyone else. the guys they get are in the position where they can tour reliably and get paid, but aren't so popular that they can retire off their royalties. so not only do you have the ideological battle between authority and punk, but you also have the practical battle between needing to tour for money and wanting/needing to be a parent. has some truly touching moments and is worth checking out if you're a music fan or parent who had some rebellious times in your past. B+.
Thank You For Smoking - better than i remember it being. it squeezes a lot of juice out of the idea that freedom and equality of representation of ideas are necessary in culture. it's odd because usually it's the conservatives who deride the liberals for saying that all forms of sexuality should be accepted, but when it comes to smoking causing deaths the conservatives are much more, well, conservative on the issue. "well...i don't know the science isn't real strong on that or global warming or evolution." at any rate, it's a funny film that's well written and acted. B.

11/21/11
Into The Abyss - i'm not a herzog fan, but this one was pretty good because it's a documentary with some valuable content. generally speaking his opinions on the topic didn't add much to the discussion, but the people who were involved in the triple murder that the film follows were interesting enough to make his comments fade into the background.
perhaps the most compelling interviewee is fred allen who carried out dozens of state sponsored murders while being employed by the state of texas. it was his responsibility to prep the inmate before each execution, including the first female in the state's (country's?) history. he spoke candidly about it and how it affected me. why we continue to do this is beyond me.
i would have loved to see the same documentary done by errol morris and watch them back to back. B+.

11/18/11
Couples Retreat - it's your basic comedy in every way. vince vaughn and jason bateman are solid as usual. kristin davis has a place as an actress, but here she is supposed to be a woman on the prowl looking to get away from her marriage and it doesn't work. other than that it passes the time effectively. B-.

11/17/11
Like Crazy - it's a film about young love, but it works. as older people we roll our eyes and judge their stupid choices, but we should never forget what it's like to be young. i'm reminded of it everyday i go to work on the cal campus and see people who are struggling with the things that we all struggle with at that age. we're never fully formed humans, and we're certainly not there at age 20. the film captures this age well and the sort of relationships that come as a result. it's not rational, it may not last forever, it may be messy, but that's why the film is titled "like crazy." both leads did a good job and the writing and editing are noteworthy. the editing, in particular, was effective in the way that it portrayed the passage of time with bridging sound and time lapse photography among other techniques. solid flick. B+.

11/16/11
Happy Gilmore - this is the adam sandler movie that even non-sandler fans can like. it's juvenile, but in a somewhat more endearing way that usual. perhaps it's the dynamic between him and julie bowen. perhaps it's the juxtaposition between the stereotypes of hockey players and golfers. here you see happy trying to become a better person, because of bowen and his grandma. we see him struggle with his anger and ultimately triumph. it's funny to see him relapse and fight with bob barker, but we know he's trying. this is different than some of his other films where a switch is just flipped and the puerile guy matures overnight. whatever it is, the film works both as a comedy and it even earns the sentimentality that it injects. A-.

11/14/11
Airplane! - good off the wall comedy with plenty of classic moments. wasn't a huge fan of kentucky fried movie, but this one is similar yet effective for me. B+.

11/09/11
Revenge Of The Electric Car - shows four different people who are working toward making electrical cars a viable product. the tinkerer, the entrepreneur (tesla motors) going up against the big guys, one of the new school big guys (nissan) and an old school big guy (chevy). it's interesting stuff if you're interested in the technology and the movement. ultimately it's going to come down to cost and how long these people stick with this stuff. i hope that the big players stick with it for the next 10-20 years because that's what it's going to take. B.
Gattaca - good sci-fi film with a thought-provoking premise. often, for me, the sci-fi film is about the premise more than anything else. what fundamental difference in the future are they highlighting and what does that say about our society today? what does it say about humanity in general? here the idea is that nurture can be as important as nature. it also shows the fundamental humanity that cuts through societal norms (love triumphs, personal achievement is still important (hawke's boss), communal is still present, etc.) good film. B+.

11/07/11
Martha Marcy May Marlene - knew absolutely nothing about this film going into it. turns out that the lead is the olsen twins' little sister which i guess makes sense once i look at her long enough. but 1) she's a better actress by a long shot and 2) she's way better looking. it's a really good film and olsen and hawkes both turn in great performances. the writing is spot on accurate with regards to the dynamic between the sister wives within the cult/commune. the human mind is a twisted thing and this film does a good job of exploring how twisted it can get in the right/wrong circumstances. the eponymous character reminded me of an unholy mix of the worst of my cousin and sister. i was disappointed by the ending. B+.

11/06/11
Unguarded - from the writer of 'the best that never was' which may have been my favorite from the 30 for 30 series, comes another cautionary tale about an athlete who fell short of his potential. this one is a basketball player (chris herren) from massachucetts who basically shits away his life thanks to his addiction to drugs of various kinds. it captures the essence of addiction well and you see the way it eats away at everything around herren. addiction is all-consuming and it's really a shame that we don't have a better system in place to deal with it. some say that addiction doesn't go away it just gets replaced. well, in this case the addiction to drugs is replaced by an addiction to recovery and telling his story. if you've ever hung out with people from the 12 step program you know that it becomes they're new addiction in many cases. they talk about the system all the time and the people they know in the program, etc. it's the lesser of two evils i guess.
at any rate, the film does a really good job of showing the ebb and flow of herren's life. B+.

11/05/11
Bedtime Stories - it's adam sandler so the review pretty much writes itself at this point. this isn't one of his strongest, but it's watchable. it has elements of fantasy along with the usual sandler motifs. something that doesn't go noticed between the farts and puerile humor is that sandler's films are actually quite wholesome in their content. ultimately good always prevails, hard work and humility are rewarded, etc. B-.
Collateral - good michael mann film that held up well a second (or third?) time around. good soundtrack. dvd version doesn't show the gritty nature of the cinematography nearly as well as the theater experience did. foxx is good, cruise is better. good movie for six degrees of kevin bacon. B+.

11/04/11
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas - about as good as the second one which is to say not nearly as good as the first one. has lots of wink wink references to real life which added an extra layer of interest. ultimately the laughs were decent, but not as great as the first. could have used a punch up. B-.
Tower Heist - better than anticipated and that seems to be the consensus. the entire cast is good, but i have to give a shout out to precious' sidibe who was funny and showed some good range. i'd watch it again. B.

11/03/11
Killer Elite - not horrible, but longish and short on narrative interest. the action wasn't special, none of the characters were unusual and the 'based on a true story' aspect wasn't enough bait to keep me interested. C.
In Time - i'm not one to normally point out a lot of questions about the plot inconsistencies or logic gaps raised by the idea of picture, but this one certainly had some things that made me wonder. the key with this kind of thing, at least with me, is to either keep it vague enough that i don't ask a lot of questions or to answer all the questions throughout the film.
timberlake has a niche in film and this isn't it. he just can't pull off the character who is supposed to be of great morality and strength. instead timberlake plays him flippantly because that's timberlake's acting card. this role needed paul newman or steve mcqueen, someone with quiet strength. ultimately it's an interesting idea that gets you thinking about how society would be if time were currency. how should we function, how would we keep order, etc? but the film itself wasn't great. C+.

11/02/11
Horrible Bosses - still funny the second time around. all the bosses are great and so are the guys who are enslaved by them. good chemistry with the cast and writing that fits everyone's talents well. B+.
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective - not as good as dumb and dumber, but one of the important comedies because it established the jim carrey style. not a huge number of laughs for me at this point, but it has its place. B.
Cops - good keaton short with plenty of misunderstanding and an epic chase through town. the extension ladder gag was memorable. B.
Scarecrow - another good keaton short. this one has him on the farm where he lives with another guy in a small room so everything has to have two purposes. so the bed is also a bookcase and that kind of thing. reminiscent of electric house in that it gave keaton an opportunity to show off all these clever devices. he was a very creative filmmaker. one of a kind, really. B.
Make Mine Music - series of shorts made into a feature length animated film. this one was self-censored by disney so i only saw nine of the ten shorts that were in the original. the hatfield and mccoys short (entitled the martins and the coys) was taken out of the dvd version because it was too violent. bullshit. it's on youtube so i watched it that way later. this also has the casey at bat short. i actually liked this one, even the musical segments. B.

11/01/11
Margin Call - good cast with subpar writing and directing. some of this stuff is really cliched and film schooly instead of being natural or tense. i didn't believe spacey's character even though he does his best to sell it. in the genre of unemployment drama that we're getting these days, this film ranks as one of the lowest because of its wasted potential. needed a total rewrite. C.

10/26/11
People vs. George Lucas - documentary that pretty much rehashes all the usual star wars issues, loves, gripes, etc. i'm not a huge star wars guy, but i know in fair detail the argument against lucas and how he's treated the original films as well as the many faults of the prequels. i know he's squeezed the fans for all they're worth with useless merchandise and i know that his filmmaking career died after star wars. this summarizes all that in exhausting detail. if you're a huge fan you'll like it and if you're not aware of the considerable controversy as well as some of the fandom surrounding the films then you may like this. otherwise it's not worth the time. C.

10/25/11
Take Shelter - spoilers ahead. it's a picture about a man who sees visions of what he thinks is an upcoming apocalypse. for almost the entire film this was a great picture about mental health issues and how they affect the afflicted as well as those around him. it approached that topic with as much tact and honesty as any film i can recall. then, in the end, it seemed to throw that away; maybe. frankly i'm really split on the ending. i'm not ambiguous about what happens, but about how i feel about it. does it matter that the hallucinations end up being prophecy in the end? does that undermine what the film portrayed about mental illness? dunno. for as thin a plot as the film had, though, this moves pretty well. michael shannon is oscar worthy and so is jessica chastain. chastain has one of the better female characters i've seen of late and she nails it. B+.

10/23/11
Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers - the extended version maybe needs some trimming, but it's a solid installment in the series. things really get going and i love the orcs and the orc theme. wish there was more of them and more of the battle stuff at helms deep. maybe the first one is better after all. A-.

10/18/11
Home On The Range - nice enough disney film with some star power (more than usual) in the voice department. not particularly memorable one way or another. C+.

10/16/11
Playhouse - keaton short about a playhouse and all the high jinks that occurs there. keaton at one point plays about 20 different characters, including a monkey which he does quite well. there's nothing amazing or particularly memorable here, but it's an entertaining short. B.

10/12/11
Brick - (unsure of date i viewed this) good flick with a crazy screenplay that you almost need subtitles for because so much if is made up (kinda like juno). it's a teen noir film so it comes will all the style of the great noirs, but updated. great film in terms of originality and writing, but not as entertaining as i recall it being. B+.

10/11/11
Dotted Line - short spurlock documentary on espn about sports contracts. easily could have been twice as long if it went back and looked at curt flood and other important sports contracts in the past. it could have gone into further depth about the realities of pay for play in collegiate athletics, the realities of the short termers in sports, etc. there's just a lot to be addressed when it comes to the economic side of sports and what goes into getting the next big fish to sign with your team or sports agency. what it did touch it did well with, it's just incomplete in my opinion. B.
Black Cauldron - a lot like sword in the stone in terms of animation and characters, but much darker. this is the only film in the disney line-up that i've seen so far that i felt wasn't suitable for all ages. it gets quite dark and features some pretty heavy themes. could have been a cool outsider film in a mostly family-friendly catalog, but it was unfortunately not very engaging. B-.

10/09/11
Ides Of March - taut political thriller. has a good deal of the backroom dealings that happen in the political world. as a fan of the west wing, this is the kind of thing that i really enjoy.
i can't say i'm a huge fan of the two clooney-directed films i've seen, but this one was interesting and fun. it's also more complex than many may expect from a guy who is an obvious liberal. it doesn't just portray the liberal candidate (played by clooney) as some idealistic and perfect fdr reincarnate. he's a flawed guy, i'll leave it at that.
the film also has a really good supporting cast. lots of big names doing what they do best. in the end, gosling is the star and he is a michael coreleone type character. i half way expected the film to end with a door closing in our face. B+.
Real Steel - rocky with robots. long runtime and a definite cheese factor detract from the film, but honestly it wasn't as bad as i had expected. spielberg is good at getting good kid-centric films and this is no exception. he only produced it, but it has his stamp in that way. the kid (dakota goyo) was really good and followed well in the footsteps of other spielberg proteges like drew barrymore (e.t.) and dakota fanning (war of the worlds). C+.

10/07/11
Brother Bear - starts off corny, but picks up steam after our native american protagonist turns into a bear and is forced to experience life from a different point of view. it definitely fits into one of those native american stories you hear about bears or bisons being reincarnated chiefs or something. the idea being that we're all connected in that way so we should respect one another. really liked the pair of canadian moose who provided some good comic relief. B.

10/06/11
Southern Belles - another anna faris film. this one is crap and it's the film that made me realize that i should probably go short on netflix stock. D.

10/04/11
Sarah Palin: You Betcha! - nick broomfield's latest effort has the hallmarks of his previous works. he's always looking for truth and he doesn't really seem to care who is giving him their opinion. there doesn't seem to be a vetting process with his work which i guess is kinda refreshing. like errol morris, broomfield investigates subjects that have no clear truth and he demonstrates this very well. here he gets a lot of the wasilla folks to talk about their thoughts about palin and it's not altogether flattering. he also gets her parents to talk, but she never bothers to give her side of any of the stories. basically the film makes her look like a career politician who wants influence and attention. i don't think that's news for most people who follow her. it is interesting, though, to see people from her home town talk about her growing up as a person and politician. B.

10/03/11
Electric House - keaton short about a mix-up that causes keaton (a botanist) to be in charge of designing the electrical work for a rich man's house. he does a really good job in reality - installing many rube goldbergean type devices throughout the house. unfortunately they're just a little too prone to keaton's clumsiness. keaton is bean or the pink panther before they existed - the hapless hero who bumbles about. B.
Swimfan - erica christensen plays a psycho (what else is new?) in this nice little teen thriller. it's a cautionary tale on the downsides of sex and infidelity. completely predictable genre piece, but it's well done. B.
Groomsman - more or less the same as beautiful girls. it's one of those buddy flicks with a bunch of good old boys meeting up for the first time in a long time. they get drunk a lot, walk down the middle of the street late at night, have big arguments, but ultimately they're all there for each other. how sweet. D+.
Carnal Knowledge - a pair of college roommates talk about sex a lot and go through several relationships. garfunkel and nicholson are both good and the dialogue was engaging. it's nowhere near the brilliance of the graduate. frankly, it's abundantly clear by now that nichols is a fine, but unexceptional director who got lucky with the graduate. he was a good player on a great team. here he's a good player on a good team and the outcome is a decent, decidedly 70s picture. it was entertainingly enough, but i'm not sure where it was going. B-.

10/01/11
Chicken Little - not one of the better disney films. it's cgi animated and it has a lot of action so i think they were trying to appeal to a young pixar audience. unfortunately none of the characters were very striking and the music was subpar. C+.

09/30/11
What's Your Number? - typical of today's romantic comedy in that the characters are well-versed in the sexual arena, but still looking for love. in this case, though, she doesn't put out because of a superstition brought on by a cosmo-esque article that says 96% of women with 20+ partners don't find a life partner. in the end she finds that her true love was in front of her the whole time and all is well. anna faris is a funny actor, but she's gotten a distracting amount of plastic surgery and that's too bad. chris evans is a good looking guy who is totally forgettable outside of his role as captain america which was a breakthrough for him since he finally had some humanity and depth to his role. this film is firmly in the prosaic and forgettable category. not so bad as to be distasteful, not good enough to be memorable. depending upon who you ask that's either the worst possible thing or not so bad. C.
50/50 - not as good as i had hoped. it's aptly named because it's exactly in the middle of drama and comedy and unfortunately didn't do either exceptionally well. ultimately i think the blame is on the director and the writing since the cast was certainly good enough to execute a good screenplay. anne kendrick is moving up in my book quickly, seth rogen is a proven commodity and joseph gordon-levitt is already one of the best of his generation. ultimately the film never found strong enough footing to make it fulfill its potential as a moving and funny film. B-.

09/27/11
Catching Hell - story of the infamous steve bartman play. for those who have lived in a cave, away from baseball for the last 10 years, the play involves the perennially cursed cubs finally making it deep into the playoffs with a good team. 5 outs left to get to the world series a ball is hit down the left field line stands and hooks just enough to be on the border of the stands and out of bounds. multiple fans make a grab for it as does left fielder moises alou. steve bartman gets his hands on the ball first and alou isn't able to make the out. he blows up and everyone in the stadium eventually gets wind that bartman has ruined the game. this feeling escalates as the cubs proceed to choke in epic fashion, allowing 8 runs in the 8th inning. double play ball is missed in the 8th by the shortstop and the pitchers couldn't get a hold of the game seemingly after the bartman incident.
the film is directed by alex gibney who did enron: the smartest guys in the room and taxi to the dark side, which i think may have won an oscar for best documentary. it's not just a documentary about bartman and the one play, though, it's a film that looks into the very nature of humans and the mob mentality that takes over in these situations. people are savages, it's really that simple. it's very easy to see that we "evolved" from apes because most of us are still quite close to them.
gibney gets a lot of good interviews with people who called the game, people who were close to bartman at the time of the play, other people who were at the game, writers who have tried contacting bartman or have written about the play, as well as players who were involved in the game/series. he also puts it in the context of bill buckner, another infamous scapegoat who also blew a play in a critical game 6. unlike bartman who was a fan, though, buckner was an athlete on the field. like bartman, buckner was singled out despite the facts. in each case it was the 6th game, not the deciding game. in each case there was a play either just before or just after that was just as bad as the scapegoat play - for buckner it was the wild pitch by the pitcher which allowed the tying run, for bartman it was the double play ball that was bobbled by the shortstop.
it's a depressing sight to see a humble and innocent guy be lambasted for doing what basically everyone who has been around baseball would do - go after the ball. the documentary runs a little bit long, but it's great because it works on so many levels. it recalls other close calls, it gets conversations started about sports, the role of the spectator, mob thinking, the role of the media, etc. good stuff. B+.

09/26/11
Mean Girls 2 - mostly shitty sequel to a mostly good and well-intentioned comedy. the original had a good message, some nice laughs, and a good cast. this one merely capitalizes off the name and nothing more. cliché and actually more of a remake than it was a sequel. D.

09/24/11
Moneyball - i'll just say it up front - major league is the only other baseball movie that comes close to this one for me. with one viewing this movie just about moved to the top of the baseball movie genre. aaron sorkin does another true story and brings it to life as few can. he's great at mixing drama and comedy and building characters. he did it well with the west wing, he did it well with the social network and he's done it again here. moneyball is about billy beane and paul depodesta who, while everyone else in baseball is looking right, look left. another of lewis' books is also like that - the big short is about the economic collapse of 2008. everyone looked one direction assuming that derivatives and securitization of mortgages were a great idea, but a few didn't and became very rich as a result.
as good as brad pitt was, i think that jonah hill was even better. he's typically a funny guy, and he gets laughs here, but he's more subdued than usual and to good effect. also well-directed. B+.

09/22/11
Other Man - cliché, uninteresting and poorly written film about a guy goes looking for the man with whom his dead wife had an affair. there's some talent here, but none of it is in the writing department so it never gets off the ground. heavy handed and not at all interesting on a human level. C-.
Prowler - good noir with van heflin as a cop who does some pretty dark stuff. typically there is the femme fatale, but here it's all van heflin coming up with the idea to kill the husband of his lover and cash in on the insurance money. the woman is caught between that and her absentee husband so it's unique in the way it represents the woman. i love it when the noirs get really dark and this one goes there; mostly with the way heflin plays the woman's emotions and doesn't tell her what he's up to. again, typically it's the woman who is pulling all the strings, but here heflin has a master plan and executes it perfectly; almost (of course). in the end the well-intentioned neighbor type gets in his way and the shit hits the fan. good stuff. B+.

09/21/11
Wild And Wonderful Whites Of West Virginia - documentary about a family of hicks in west virginia who come from a tradition of dancing. the film doesn't really cover the dancing too much, rather it focuses on the inane and insane characters in the extended family. they're pretty much all on drugs and it seems that at least one of them is in jail at any given time. it's the liberal stereotype of the southern or back country hick. the conservative side of the same coin is the black welfare queen living off the government and having 8 kids from 7 different guys. it's essentially the real life version of winter's bone, but, oddly, without any meth. they seemed to do every other drug in the book, but not meth. to me, it just proves that these problems are caused by upbringing and class, not race or geography. B.

09/19/11
City Lights - basically a compilation of skits or set pieces with a narrative strung around it. from a plot perspective, this isn't chaplin's finest work. from a laughs perspective, however, it's quite good. it also has some real tenderness to it with the tramp and the blind girl and the love there that exists outside of class and appearance. chaplin was a romantic. it's a great film and a very funny one. A-.

09/18/11
I Don't Know How She Does It - pretty basic fare here. olivia munn is good as a somewhat misanthropic, hard-working woman who is parker's assistant. she's the comedic highlight of the film. the rest is your standard red meat for women, and there's nothing wrong with that. they need their transformers/western film equivalent, too. a safe and unexceptional film. C.
Straw Dogs - saw the original almost 10 years ago and didn't review it for some reason. i recall that one being more violent and having a somewhat different plot, especially when it came to how the home invasion came about. i also remember it being a more disturbing and unsettling film. i also remember the original playing up the emasculating of hoffman's character more, but i could be wrong about all this. i'll have to revisit it.
right off the bat i felt like marsden was wrong for the main character. he's too good looking and well-built. hoffman fits the bill of the twerpy outsider more than marsden. it was a miscast part, but he did relatively well with it. relocating the film to rural mississippi was a good move. set against the backdrop of the war in iraq and high school football and all that it worked pretty well. too bad it didn't come out 5 years ago when it would have been even better. not a bad remake. B-.
Drive - 9 out of 10 times when you go in to watch a movie there's a pretty small number of things that you can expect to happen. when i watched "i don't know how she does it" i knew what to expect; and this is by design. we know the stars, we know what they do, and we can expect a certain kind of entertainment. sarah jessica parker is a working mother so we know we're going to have some pro-women's rights stuff, probably some voice over narration to make the transition nice and seamless for the sex and the city crowd, some tough times, a little romance and naughty sex stuff, and, ultimately, some triumph. we'd be surprised, for example, if she fell into a deep depression and went on a killing spree or if she divorced her (good and doting) husband and didn't regret it. we'd be shocked if she shirked her duties as a mother. movies are like life in that they're fairly predictable if you've been around the block once or twice. well, drive isn't like that so much.
watching drive was kind of like watching pulp fiction for the first time. i'm not saying that this is on that level, it really isn't. but when watching both i felt like anything could happen. you're on a ride. as the film is capable of anything, so is the eponymous character. gosling has come into his own since half nelson came out a few years ago. he's a real actor in a world of mere characters.
i wasn't entirely thrilled by casey mulligan. where gosling didn't show his cards came off as mysterious and like the proverbial river whose current runs deep, mulligan's vacancy was more puzzling than mysterious. what's she thinking, what's she doing, what's her story? obviously she's in a dead end relationship with her husband, but what drives her? is she just floating along like a leaf on the water or what? it would have been good to know her more.
i also felt like refn held back a bit. refn's pusher trilogy is the thing of legend among certain circles, but this is his first american film. the opening scene is perfectly understated and probably the best opening scene of the year. it's both what the film was and wasn't quite. there's a latent power aching to be unleashed in this film and i felt like it never really reached that. it's like the tron soundtrack - great, but could have been epic.
unfortunately a film like this just won't play well with american audiences. it's a great film with a lot of power just under the surface, but it's not the kind of action that people expect these days. it's not a michael bay film with 15 minute long action sequences. it's got bursts of intense horror and action (which got my audience audibly disturbed) followed by long breaks of the relatively prosaic. it's an exercise of tension and that tends not to work round these parts. B+.

09/15/11
Meet The Robinsons - another surprisingly good late-era disney feature. it's up there with bolt and atlantis and has the cgi animation of bolt and pixar productions (it's also a lasseter-produced film so that makes sense). it's about an inventor kid who travels through time to learn about himself. it's similar to back to the future in a couple ways, but it's its own film. like treasure planet it has a likeable villain, but this film is much better than that one. i actually had some feelings for the characters and that's always a good thing. predictable plot and ending, but that's no scar on a film made for kids. B+.

09/14/11
Contagion - similar to outbreak, but better from what i remember (though it has been 16 years since i saw that). builds the tension well and doesn't get preachy or too outlandish. i did nitpick some of the specifics. i don't think that a vaccine would be developed so quickly, for example. mostly, though, they get it right. chaos ensues, the outbreak spreads quickly, etc.
i'm a pretty liberal guy, but i think they overestimate the ability of the government to get on top of an outbreak. there are some good policies in place, but i just don't trust that they would have identified everything as quickly as they did in the film. there's always a lot of misinformation and unwillingness to act (as evidenced by one of the local politicians who didn't want to stir up fear). bottom line is this: if this kind of thing ever happens it's going to be a couple weeks at least before you can expect any kind of substantive help from anyone. if you think this kind of thing could happen then you should be prepared with non-perishable food and water. probably wouldn't hurt to have protection, gas, and a generator as well.
as someone who has watched a lot of apocalypse-type films, and loves the genre, i'm always thinking about this kind of thing. i found this one to be pretty accurate in terms of what to expect from individuals and social systems.
soderbergh consistently entertains and always gets his audience to ask questions. there's only one film of his that i've seen that i didn't like (full frontal) and for a guy who makes films that are so different, that's a pretty damn good record. he's also the kind of guy who probably has one film that can please just about anyone. for some it might be sex, lies and videotape for others it could be ocean's eleven or traffic or che or erin brockovich or out of sight or contagion. there's enough diversity in his stuff that he's probably pleased everyone who likes moves with one of his films by now. B+.

09/13/11
Hercules - one of the less entertaining disney animated films i've seen. the songs leave something to be desired, the animation of the characters isn't very good, just not much here. some good talent in the voice department and a few funny puns, but that's about it. clements/musker direct, they also did treasure planet which was another disappointing film for me. C-.

09/10/11
Apollo 18 - paranormal activity on the moon. unfortunately it doesn't build the tension like paranormal activity does and it's very predictable. had this film come out 10 years ago it would be a different story, at least then it would have been somewhat novel (though still a blair witch rip off). C-.

09/07/11
Interrupters - from steve james (hoop dreams) comes another story about chicago youth. this one is about a group of crime interventionists who work to stop violence. it follows several of them as they work with chicago youth who are violent or surrounded by violence.
it's a good documentary to watch at this time because we're at a crossroads politically. to me, though, the documentary shows the failure of ideologies from both the democrats and republicans. the republicans say that the inner city kids should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. i'd like to see you do that after generations of slavery, disenfranchisement, and a lack of opportunities and role models. the other side says let's give them food stamps and money and cheap rent. that doesn't work either. the majority of them stay in the hood and don't better their situation with the hand out. one girl said she'd take any money she got, buy drugs and then sell them for a profit. the work these (mostly ex-cons) do is inspiring and unfortunately necessary. it's also sad to see that these are the only people that most of the kids in the inner city will respect. the white woman teacher at one of the magnet schools in the film is basically laughed at when she suggests that the children can talk to her if they have problems at home with violence. they would much rather talk to the eddie, the reformed murderer who is one of the eponymous crime preventers. it's understandable, but also a sad commentary on ghetto culture or human nature, at least.
these problems aren't going to get any better anytime soon. we have a lot of dedicated people trying to solve them in a lot of different ways. change has been incremental at best. one guy at a community meeting said that "we need to fix this on our own." the local mortician expressed dismay "i never thought i'd see a black president and now we have one, but this is still happening." others pointed out the crumbling infrastructure of the schools. B+.

09/06/11
Girlfriend Experience - starring former porn star sasha grey this is one of soderbergh's indie efforts. soderbergh is one of the most interesting filmmakers of our time in part because he so effortlessly switches between indie and mainstream films. for every traffic and ocean's eleven there is a girlfriend experience or schizopolis. he's known just as much for sex, lies and videotape as he is for contagion. he does both equally well, too. the film is about a high class/price call girl who has a lot of financial sector clients and it takes place during the recession and financial crisis of 2008. you'd think that a topic such as that with a porn star as
the lead would  mean lots of sex, but there really isn't anything. it's a substance film and there's more here about gold vs. the dollar than there is about sex. i'm really uncertain about the film's purpose or message, if there even is one. the ending left me wondering. is it a film about us all paying to get screwed by the financial sector? is it simply a small story about one girl during a turbulent time? i don't know. it's an interesting film regardless. B.

09/05/11
No Strings Attached - decent romantic comedy that gets sappy at the end. lake bell is funny as the awkward stopgap that kutcher hooks up with after portman ends things. B.
Piranha - in the tradition of the 80s nature horror films. has tna and plenty of gore and not much substance beyond that. in other words, a great distraction from the real world. i never saw the original, maybe i'll add that to the list. B.

09/04/11
Pacific Heights - michael keaton does well as a renter with bad intentions. matthew modine is miscast as the fiery landlord/boyfriend of melanie griffith. kinda fits into the stalker genre. B-.
Atlantis: Lost Empire - one of the better late-era disney films. doesn't have the music that makes little mermaid, beauty and the beast and aladdin so good, but the characters and animation are there. james garner and michael j. fox are both good and able to make a good showing in a film despite being 70+ years old and having parkinson's disease. many of the disney films have different animation leaders for each major character, but it seemed to really make a difference with this one. the audrey ramirez character looked like something out of archie comics (round and sweet). the commander rourke (james garner) character looked more like something out of g.i. joe (angular and menacing).
the film wasn't as sweet as many disney films and the main character is a boy instead of a girl, which is somewhat unusual, but not unprecedented (101 dalmatians, aladdin, hercules, bolt). it also had some jokes that would play mostly to older audiences. i don't know how much the kids would like it, but i suspect that the parents would enjoy it. B+.

09/03/11
Help - much talked about early oscar contender. it's rocky to start off, but it finds its legs later on. emma stone isn't especially good here which is a disappointment since she's been hot lately. the rest of the cast picks up the slack though. it's ostensibly a film about race in 1960s mississippi (do we really need another about this time and place?), but to me it was more of a film about being a woman. there really aren't a heck of a lot of men in the film and they play very minor roles anyway. i appreciated the spectrum that the film showed. a lot of times when you have an all-black or all-woman film the men or the whites in the picture are stereotypes - the men are all brutes and the whites are all racists. here, though, we see a wide variety of southerners and whites and men. the truth is much more complex than black and white and the film portrays this gradient fairly well. unfortunately it's probably true that some blacks liked the simplicity and stability of staying with one white family for most of their lives. it's also true that some in mississippi probably saw the fundamental unfairness of the situation and wanted to move past the jim crow, separate but equal type thinking. and, of course, we know well of the deeply-engrained racism and how that played out.
the tone of the picture belies, somewhat, the subject matter. it was more light and playful than most stories that cover this time and these themes. it was off-putting and a bit unsettling at first, but either it found the right balance or i got used to it as the film progressed.
some of the talk i've heard surrounding the film revolves around the question of what it means to like the film. does it make you a racist for thinking that only whites can help blacks out of their situation? is it an uplifting film about race relations or does it just perpetuate the tired cliches? i think there's something to be said about this, but i don't buy it completely. on the one hand i think the 70s films were much more honest about race relations in america. pam greer and rudy ray moore films showed a country that was still uneasy about its race relations and still had things to work out. they acknowledged the differences in cultures in an honest way. today's films on the topic are more hopeful, but perhaps more unrealistic. this film has a bit of all of that which makes both sides of the debate easy to argue.
in the final analysis i think that the film shows a range and what you latch onto may say more about you than it does about the film. you can latch onto the deeply racist women who push their housekeepers into different bathrooms. you can latch onto the emma stone's housekeeper as an example of whitey trying to feel good about basically enslaving a black woman ("she wanted to be emma stone's housekeeper so it was okay"). you can point to octavia spencer's character as a stereotype (she's got an attitude and a husband who beats her). or, you can look at the whole thing and see it as one person's representation of the times. i think it was both representative and aspirational. there were elements that were honest and true and there were elements that were reflective of how we wish things were. B.

08/31/11
Treasure Planet - based on treasure island, this disney pic takes place in space. they lean more heavily on computer animation for the backgrounds especially so it has a different look than the early stuff. not necessarily better or worse, just different. it's more crisp, but it's also not as artistic. the main villain is interesting because he's a sympathetic character and he doesn't really get punished in the end because, as it turns out, he has a good heart. the true villain is some relatively minor character that gets his due, but doesn't figure all that prominently. music was below average. morph was a good character and so was the villain (john silver), but no one else was all that interesting. B-.
Midnight Run - a year after planes, trains and automobiles came out this similar film was released. it's not in the same class as that masterpiece, but it's a good film. deniro is a bounty hunter and grodin is an ex-mob accountant who didn't know he was working for the mob and ended up stealing from the mob and giving to the poor. now he's being hunted by deniro, a competing bounty hunter, the mob, and the fbi. it's got a little bit of comedy and adventure. the growth of the two characters and their journey are what drive the film. deniro and grodin both turn in good performances. a little on the long side. B+.

08/27/11
Superbad - about as good as i remembered it being. first half is better than the second half. the middle is basically your run of the mill night on the town while trying to get laid sequences as seen in harold and kumar or any number of high school/college flicks. has some iconic characters and moments, but isn't a brilliant film. B+.
Knocked Up - the best of the apatow productions thus far. realistic, funny and touching. a bit long, but a very solid film on all fronts. i like the scene where rogen chews out rudd for not warning him about heigl's feelings. immediately after this rudd flips the switch and begins singing happy birthday for one of the kids. it's about compartmentalization which is a necessary attribute for a good parent. A.

08/26/11
My Idiot Brother - rudd is really good and i wish he was in more stuff. it's a black sheep comedy with rudd as the idiot hippie brother. his cast of sisters is an unlikely grouping, but they work well together comedically. B.
Colombiana- luc besson has done better, but he chose the wrong director here. he chose megaton, when he should have gone with morel. both are french action directors, but morel did district b13 which had the kind of direction that would have saved this film. zoe saldana is officially unimpressive. the film relies too heavily on cliches. the characters do the "latin temper" thing during arguments and that's about the extend of their acting. relying on a racist cliché isn't acting. C.

08/25/11
Tarzan - good use of movement in this disney flick. i think they relied on computers to do a lot of the complex movement through the forest. i liked tarzan's animation. his facial movements worked well when interacting with both apes and humans. none of the songs did much for me. tarzan's relationship with his ape mom and dad were good and effective. pretty good on the whole. B-.

08/24/11
30 Minutes Or Less - decent enough writing to earn a "b," but the direction and casting weren't up to snuff. swardson and mcbride were good together. swardson plays a character i wouldn't have cast him for, but he actually does a good job with it. the biggest problem with the cast is that eisenberg isn't very funny and ansari was woefully miscast. the film passed the time and i didn't think it was as bad as the reviews are indicating, but it definitely didn't deliver the kind of laughs we can expect from the a-list comedies of judd apatow or the frat pack. C+.

08/22/11
Crime After Crime - story of a middle-aged woman (debbie peagler) who killed her boyfriend and had served 20+ years by the time the documentary begins. two lawyers take up her cause pro-bono to get her out. she was beaten and pimped out by the guy and more or less arranged for the guy to be killed, but didnít do it herself. the lawyers argue that the most she should have served is 6 years for a lesser charge. a new california law makes it possible to rehear the case and introduce the abuse as part of the reason behind the murder (it wasnít brought up in the original trial).
it turns into a multi-year legal marathon with the requisite ups and downs. i think you have to be careful to not read too much into the film. the filmmakers definitely make the case that her case is indicative of many others in california. they say that 80% of the women serving time for murder were involved in abusive relationships of some kind. the ďsome kindĒ makes me wary because that could mean a lot of things. kinda like when they mention that arnold reduced funding for domestic abuse programs around the same time that peagler was facing parole. taken out of the context of state-wide cuts and a financial crisis like the state has never seen, this looks callous and like one more snub by the system. in reality, everything got cut under arnold, so itís disingenuous at best.
quibbles like this aside, it is a good and compelling story of someone who was clearly failed by the system, her family, support structure, community, police, d.a. and pretty much everyone along the way. on an individual level itís a sad and somewhat inspiring story. she overcomes a lot and perseveres in spite of a roller coaster of legal issues. on the larger level itís really disheartening to see, again, how slowly the wheels of ďjusticeĒ turn. doing the right thing is a painful process for those in power. admitting wrong doing is painful for them. the film doesnít even mention the increased emphasis on plea bargains in criminal trials. clearly, peagler should have been given a better day in court, but she was railroaded like a lot others are. i believe that most people in jail probably did something to deserve it, but they should get their day in court and they just arenít because the numbers make it impracticable.
one other thing i liked about the film is that it opens up a whole debate about personal responsibility vs. governmentís role, purpose and effectiveness of the criminal justice system, biggest factors leading to her fate, etc. some will say that her fatherís absence was a breakdown of the family unit and that was the biggest factor. the fact that she wasnít married will be a problem for them as well. others will point out the lack of quality police involvement and community resources for battered women; the police could have ended things before they got as serious as they did. others will cite the overcrowded criminal justice system or the overreach of the government as the most atrocious aspects of the case. some will say she probably got what she deserved. she didnít kill him herself, but she had him killed so 20+ years is appropriate, regardless of what happened to her. B+.

08/21/11
Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - finally got around to checking this film, the first in the millennium series, out. it's pretty standard in terms of its arc and substance. it's part revenge film and part mystery film. the combination of the two isn't even all that unique. however, that doesn't mean the film isn't a good one. the two main characters work well next to each other and the other characters in the film highlight something about the main two in one way or another. it's a long film, but that makes sense because originally film was conceived as a two part miniseries on tv (six total parts). it's a bit difficult to keep up with the family tree, especially if you're bad with names like me. a good film, i look forward to the others and the remake(s). not necessarily for the timid. B+.
Boys And Girls Guide To Getting Down - comedy that is shot like a how-to documentary. actually, it's very informative on drug and club culture so it was fascinating from that perspective as well as providing some good laughs. lots of boy vs. girl humor which is always fun. definitely off beat, but a nice little film. B.
Girl Who Played With Fire - not as good as the first one, but good enough to keep me interested in the series and watch the third. B-.

08/20/11
Bolt - one of the better late-era disney films i've seen. it's also the only one i've seen that uses cgi. it's produced in part by john lasseter who does a lot of pixar stuff, so that makes sense. the look is actually better than pixar in my opinion. a good sort of classic story, maybe similar to oliver and friends. it's, to my knowledge, an original story which is somewhat unusual for disney which relies on adaptations for many of their films. bolt is a good character and the animation was a good change. B.

08/19/11
Fright Night - another summer, another vampire movie. this one's not too bad though. anton yelchin is the a kid next door to a vampire (farrell) who has recently moved into the neighborhood. yelchin ends up being the only person aware of the fact that farrell is a vampire and there's a rear window kind of dynamic that develops. it's one of those films where the kids are in charge of solving the mystery and saving the day. it drags a bit toward the end, but it's forgivable. B.
Final Destination 5 - pretty standard for the series. one really good kill and the rest were pretty average. i wish they had done a little more rube goldberg type stuff leading up to the kills. if you liked the others then you'll probably dig this one as well. it does a good job of passing the time and there's a little twist at the end. B.

08/18/11
Guard - funny little irish comedy with cheadle and gleeson. starts off funnier than it ends. in the very beginning we see a car full of idiotic kids driving too fast and they crash. gleeson is a cop who doesn't react as one might expect. he nonchalantly walks up to the car and checks their pulses; they're all dead. then he goes through their pockets and finds some drugs. this is the most important part of the movie - is he going to book it into evidence or throw it away or take it for himself? he takes one for himself and throws the rest into the sea. it's funny and tells about as much as you need to know about him. B.

08/17/11
Winnie The Pooh - haven't seen the original in a long time so i can't compare the two, but this one is a nice enough little adventure for pooh and the gang. short and to the point. didn't love the voice of piglet and eeyore. B.
Inside Job - great documentary that mows over everyone who helped contribute to the financial meltdown. they throw academics and politicians under the bus just as quickly as they indict big banks. barney frank and chris dodd seemed to get off a bit easy as i think they were part of the problem was well, so maybe there was a bit of partisanship there.
here's a blow by blow of the financial crisis of 2008, as told by the movie and as summarized by me. they didn't get everything. there are a million great stories in this meltdown. stuff about magnetar, the big short, the conversations in the room between paulson et al, the madoff story that came later, and much more. we're going to be picking this one apart for many years and we'll probably never learn from it because some forces are extremely good at painting this as a failure not of the market, but of overregulation. 2+2=5.

securitization
lenders no longer on the hook for loans. the deconstruction of intelligent reforms begins.
pushed toward suprime mortgages
    -higher interest, higher yield
    -incentivize predatory lending. because people need more motivation to be selfish and evil.
once unable to speculate with savings, that ended.
investment banks
    -board/partners put up money in past, that ended.
deregulation of savings and loan associations, under reagan. who else?
    -keating, hired by alan greenspan. match made in heaven.
income disparity spikes in 1928 and 2008 (my note)
2004, paulson lobbies sec to lift limits on leverage. because he's really smart.
    -bear stearns and morgan/stanley leverage more than 30:1. great idea.
no regulation of credit default swaps. de facto insurance. multiple people insuring same properties/securities. genius at work.
front loading compensation for investments. high bonuses for short-term payoffs. long-term? not my problem. i'm rich, bitch.
magnetar. movie just mentions them. pro-publica wins pulitzer for their reporting on shiesty ass company.
many see collapse coming.
fbi in 2004 say they see epidemic mortgage fraud
imf, roubini, raghuram rajan, and allan sloan all write about impending doom between 2005 and 2008.
3/16/08. bear stearns bought by chase. $2/share
9/7/08. freddie and fannie taken over by govt.
9/9/08. lehman stock collapses
sept. 2008. mishkin jumps ship like a douche.
sept. 2008. b of a acquires merrill lynch
9/16? lehman brothers allowed to go bankrupt. international markets seize
9/17 aig taken over by government. we pay 100% of stock value because we're chumps.
9/18. $700 billion tarp bill proposed. paulson says "trust me," republicans don't fall for it. i thank republicans for the first time in my life.
A.

08/16/11
Enron: Smartest Guys In The Room - "what's the difference between california and the titanic? at least when the titanic went down the lights were on." - jeff skilling, inmate #29296-179, former enron ceo, class A douche bag. i don't know what it is about white collar criminals but i hold them in the same regard as pedophiles and rapists. honestly, give me five minutes alone with either class of individual and it's not going to be pretty. i consider myself a pretty lenient and liberal guy, live and let live and all that, but guys like ken lay and jeff skilling are total scum in my book. this is a great documentary and so much of it applies to the housing meltdown. lots of little cogs along the way not doing their job correctly or ethically or doing just their job and not asking questions. then there are the architects and the scum traders who planned the whole thing or actively "took grandma's money" as they put it. these people are parasites and i have more sympathy for the average death row inmate (who at least has the excuse that he was probably butfucked with a bucket of bleach by his dad) than the average bernie madoff or jeff skilling type a-hole.
ok, i got that out of my system, sorry about all the cussing. a $45 billion money grab from california to texas and i have to put up with articles about how fucking great the texas system is?! shiesty fuckers. ok, now i'm done. A.

08/15/11
Pocahontas - disney marathon continues with this one. i thought the animation was a strong point here. pocahontas is a bit angular at times, but if you look at who voiced her it actually makes sense. good pastoral scenes reminded me of bambi or a thomas kinkade painting. at least two solid songs including the one towards the end where both the whites and the indians sing about the other side being full of savages. there was a point in my life when i was anti-establishment and disney represented that in a lot of ways. they were too wholesome and vanilla. now, though, i've come to respect them to a certain degree for their longview on topics like habitat destruction (bambi), inner beauty (beauty and the beast), and differing perspectives on colonialism or "the other" (pocahontas). this is a good one. B+.

08/11/11
Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad - not quite sure when i watched this, but it was in the last couple weeks. barely remember this one. it has two stories that didn't seem to have much to do with each other thematically or otherwise. one of the worst of the disney films from a story standpoint. missable. C-.
Protector - this is the kind of action stuff that jackie chan would be doing if he were still 25 or 30 years old (although it lacked his sense of humor). some great stunts and one really memorable scene. jaa raids a building that is reminiscent of the guggenheim in nyc - circular with a ramp leading you to the top, but this one has stairs. at any rate, he fights his way to the top and it's all shot in what appears to be one take. he kicks ass, throws people down into the center courtyard below, breaks things over fighters' heads, etc. you can tell he's getting tired by the time he's disposed of like 50 different attackers and made his way to the top, but that makes it all the more believable and awesome. some good, creative fight choreography. the story is pretty average for the genre.
foley artists worked overtime and probably went through enough celery and pig bones to feed a small village. B.

08/10/11
Picture Perfect - harmless jennifer aniston romantic comedy with jay mohr. definitely made in the 90s and it's funny how dated that makes it in some ways (music, fashion). it's about a woman who claims she's engaged so she can get a better job - actually her friend makes up the story, but she plays along because of the extra money, etc. of course things all come out in the end and it ends happily. nothing out of the ordinary here, but it does have at least one good scene when her bosses meet her "fiancé" and she tries to "break up with him" so she doesn't have to keep up the charade any longer. a few laughs, but nothing great here. other than aniston's hotness of course. C+.

08/09/11
Hunchback Of Notre Dame - disney animated version isn't as good as the laughton version. starts off well and had some promise. unfortunately the songs weren't all that great and none of the secondary characters helped propel the entertainment in any meaningful way. animation is nice - more on par with beauty and the beast than pocahontas. B-.

08/08/11
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes - james franco is a good actor, but he's not on his game here. his character is definitely problematic, but instead of playing him as tortured and conflicted by his allegiance to caesar (the laboratory chimp), his father and science, franco plays him as a guy who doesn't do a lot of thinking. instead, he's just a guy who kinda does what he needs to do to make others and himself happy at the time - steal some drugs and inject them in his father to hopefully cure him. take caesar to a park in spite of the fact that he's a goddamn chimpanzee. it has several little references to the first planet of the apes movie which was cool. the visual effects were really good, especially when the chimps weren't moving. movement still poses a problem for the effects artists, but they'll get that eventually.
andy serkis (who plays caesar and played gollum in the lotr movies) was really good. he has this market (motion-based acting) cornered and will be remembered as a pioneer 20 years from now. caesar was actually the best character in the film and he's largely to thank for that. B.
Change-Up - good, raunchy comedy in the tradition of freaky friday or like father like son. both leads did a good job of playing the other person. the casting works, too, because both has a definitely comedic style so it's easy to pick out elements of reynolds in bateman when they are switched, and vice versa. leslie mann is good as bateman's wife. it feels like an apatow film because she's in it and because the emotional points of the film actually work on some level deeper than the average comedy. B+.

08/06/11
Johnny Guitar - mercedes mccambridge is a class a bitch in this hayden/crawford western. it's about a guy who is a hired musician who comes into town and it turns out there's a lot of internal turmoil. there are a lot of layers here and much of relationships within the film is more implied than explicit. you have to read between the lines when it comes to the motivations of certain characters or their feelings for each other. to me, the film is primarily about these relationships.
a major aspect of many westerns is the unknown or unseen relations of major characters. there seems to always be some big grudge or previous slight that motivates the characters. they seek revenge or they're wary of others because of something that happened. they're tortured, tense, mysterious, angry. perhaps it all relates back to the civil war or something. B.

08/05/11
Crazy, Stupid, Love - pretty standard mid-life crisis kind of movie here, with at least one really good scene that makes this one recommendable. the cast is uniformly good. ryan gosling shows his range even more here. he's one of our best young-ish american actors. B.
Cowboys & Aliens - really good idea with the unique setup of a sci-fi flick that takes place in the past. they almost always take place in the future or present. time travel movies don't count. unfortunately there's not much meat here. frankly it was a disappointment. favreau is a good director and there was talent elsewhere, but the script just wasn't there. everything was flatter than it should have been (insert inappropriate olivia wilde joke here). oh well. C.

08/04/11
Terri - decent, but odd indie pic about a kid who has trouble fitting in and basically has to take care of his senile uncle (also his sole guardian). it felt longer than it was and had a couple odd scenes, but was fine on the whole. john c. reilly was the driving force as the assistant principal who takes terri under his wing. he's great at what he does because of his honesty and vulnerability. he screws up, but he's always well-intentioned and honest about his shortcomings. realistically, that's all you can ask for in a mentor. B-.

08/03/11
Hall Pass - just good the second time around. christy lemiere didn't seem to like it, but i thought it was one of the more thoughtful farrelly brothers movies. hmmm, maybe that's not saying much. at any rate, it hits the nail on the head when it comes to man-woman relations and it's got like 20 seconds of dick shots so there's something for everyone! B+.

08/02/11
Project Nim - one of the better films of the year. it's about a science experiment wherein they sought to see how much a chimpanzee could adapt to humans and learn language. the chimp was named nim chimpsky (after noam chomsky the linguist who said that humans are the only species that could form sentences and use proper grammar). long story short, it turns out he was mostly right, but this experiment was carried out by one of the dumbest and least ethical scientists i hope we've had here in the last 40 years. he slept with his students and practiced poor science to boot. one of his ex-students took care of the chimp for the first few months and she was a total 70s hippie who let nim do whatever he wanted. the film shows more about human nature than it does about chimps. it's an aggravating film to watch because of the idiocy of some of the people involved and their expectations of a wild animal and its ability to fit into our world. morons. B+.

08/01/11
Ox-Bow Incident - good western with henry fonda on the back burner a bit. it's about a posse going after a murderer. they get their men and blood is shed, but was it just? reminds me of 12 angry men and shows you the power of a group/mob. short but sweet. B+.

07/31/11
Groundhog Day - a nice take on romantic comedy. it also shows the full evolution of a character over the course of a long time (just how long is a matter of debate). usually a film takes place over the course of less than a year and in that time you see the protagonist come to some epiphany and they change radically and are then able to finally settle down or be the right match for someone or whatever it is. often this isn't altogether plausible, in part because of the time constraints. here, though, we see the protagonist (who is rather unlikeable to begin) go through an entire evolution in a believable way. it begins with denial and then he has fun with it by embracing all the sinister things he couldn't before - he becomes a glutton, a thief, a serial lover, etc. then he becomes depressed and kills himself in several (comical) ways. then he tries to get something a little deeper and works on attaining it by learning the piano and actually becoming a better person. in the end he has evolved enough that the universe kicks him out of the moebius loop and back into the human world.
in a world of films that may be entertaining but unoriginal, it's nice to see one that is both. bill murray is the perfect actor to play this character. the jerk who we find entertaining in spite of his many flaws. A.
Miracle - one of the best sports films of all-time. they get everything right here. the accuracy of the game, the look of the in game footage, the backdrop of the cold war, etc. add to that the fact that it's one of the great u.s. sports stories and you have a classic. A.

07/30/11
Freakonomics - documentary of the book. there's a good assortment of directors doing each chapter within the film so that keeps things interesting. they don't cover everything that the book covers, but they do a good job of getting the thrust of the book which is that incentives rule behavior and we should always keep them in mind. it also illustrates just how scheming and immoral humans can be. as a race we pretty much look for the path of least resistance and do that which is in our own self-interest. they conclude that it's impossible to foresee the consequences of a given policy with the seeming conclusion being that we shouldn't even try to shape human behavior. B.
Mulan - between lion king and princess and the frog there were about a dozen disney films that i never watched. this is one of them. it's about a strong-willed girl who dresses as a boy to be a warrior. it's a bit different because it's not about a powerless girl waiting to be rescued by a guy. for that reason it's a nice departure. none of the secondary characters, though, were all that interesting and the song didn't do much for me. nice idea, just not very well executed. C+.

07/27/11
Friends With Benefits - not as good as no strings attached, which is essentially the same film, however it does have some poignancy to it thanks to the underrated richard jenkins. jenkins plays timberlake's father who has dementia. timberlake's issue is that he can't open up with people, especially girls. kunis' issue is that she can't seem to find the right guy. they're both 20 something hip, successful big city types. there are about 25 jokes about new york and la in the first half hour of the film. frankly i found it obnoxious how much they wanted the audience to know that the movie was filmed in new york (to such extent that there was a fake film within the film that served as fodder for the characters to comment on how fake other romantic comedies are - "that's shot in a studio in la." "oh, listen how the music swells to signify that we should be feeling something." etc.). the point being that the filmmakers know this is a "rom com" and it is therefore limited by its genre. it's referential to film and pop culture in other ways too. there are a million references to music (closing time, third eye blind, kriss kross), celebrities (clooney, heigl), and movies (it happened one night, on the waterfront, bob & carol & ted & alice). it's always reminding us where it is physically and within pop culture. honestly, none of that added to the film in anyway for me. i'm not sure if it was to make a point about expectations of love because of the media that surrounds us or what.
overall it was a passable film with two stars that have been better elsewhere. it wasn't great as a comedy, but the romantic arc was more or less believable. the big finale isn't cliché but we knew it wouldn't be after they say how cheesy rom coms are. B-.

07/26/11
Sullivan's Travels - classic film with a basic idea. for me it boils down to this: life sucks and we can't even know how much it sucks for some people, but as long as we have comedy it's probably worth living.
it's about a film director who wants to get away from making crowd-pleasing comedies and musicals and make a picture that will change the world. he calls it "o brother, where art thou?" (yes, that's where the coens got the title). his producers tell him he's crazy and he's had a silver spoon in his mouth since day one so what the hell would he know about hardship. so he resolves to live the hard life and travels with the tramps and eats out of trash cans and comes back a changed man. but things get real when he's robbed and mistaken for dead and ends up in a chaingang and gets a real taste of the hard life. it's a great and simple story with
a simple yet profound message during a time when people could use such a story.
there's even "a little sex in it" with veronica lake in the shower pressing her body up against a clear shower curtain while yelling to someone in another room. A.

07/24/11
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon - for me, this was the best film in the series. megan fox is hot and was an adequate actor for the role she played in the first two. the new girl(huntington-whiteley) gets more material to work with (she actually plays a critical role in the fight against the decepticons), but isn't as hot. my major gripe with these films is that they play down to a younger audience too much for my taste. they have these cheesy little jar jar binks type characters that are pretty much useless.
that said, the film pretty much roles along fairly well. we establish some stuff with our protagonist and his new girlfriend, his worried parents and his role in the new economy. kind of a lot of plot and much of it has nothing to do with saving the world, in other words it could be called character development. weird. but the real thrill of the film comes in the last hour which is prety much cgi/effects artists and michael bay showing off. and it's about as impressive as it gets in my opinion. there are some stunning effects and the colors are as impressive as you expect from a bay film. it's a spectacle that's for sure. we watched it in 3d and he uses the format well, though i still am not sold on it being worth the extra $5 or whatever it is.
honestly, for it being 2.5 hours this movie went by pretty quickly. for me it's pretty much all id when watching this stuff, but you need that kind of thing from time to time. if you're a boy between 11 and 40 you're probably going to like it. if not then maybe not so much. B+.

07/23/11
Captain America: First Avenger - liked the first half better than the second. the origin story, seeing captain america skinny and weak, etc. that made his character a lot better in the second half when he's kicking ass. without that this would be just another story of a kick ass superhero. B.

07/22/11
Tabloid - classic errol morris in content and style. there's no philip glass or robert mcnamara, but it's still an interesting story told from a few different perspectives. the engaging protagonist is a woman (joyce mckinney) who abducts her onetime boyfriend (a mormon who has moved to the uk, presumably as part of his mission). her story is that he was abducted and the other story is that he went there as part of his mission and felt guilty spending time with her. what really happened on god will ever know, but it's still a compelling story and another film from morris about the power of perspective. B.
Beats, Rhymes, & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest - i own (yes own) all but one of a tribe called quest's albums, but i'm not the hugest tribe fan of all-time. i love their first two albums, but was a bit surprised to see this documentary about them hold midnight marauders on such a pedestal.
it's like many other music documentaries. it tells of the internal divisions, the creative genius of the artists at their height, their maturation (and lack thereof in some instances), etc. i don't watch a lot of music documentaries because all the stories are pretty similar and this one fits that mold, but tribe was an important group in hip-hop and two of their albums are classics so i figured i'd give it a shot.
it's directed by michael rappaport and he did a fine job of telling the story and an even better job of picking who did the score. the music of madlib and peanut butter wolf dovetails nicely with that of tribe so that was a good touch. it was also good to hear q-tip talk about his dad's influence on his musical tastes. while dr. dre and nwa were sampling funk and r&b, q-tip and tribe were sampling jazz. it was an exciting time in hip-hop (late 80s, early 90s), i just wish it was the same today. B.

07/21/11
Mysterious Skin - watched this just because joseph gordon-levitt was in it. it's about two boys who are raped as kids and how that experience manifests itself later in life. jgl becomes a gigolo and the other kid becomes an alien chaser (because he has suppressed the memory and thinks he was abducted by aliens instead of raped by his t-ball coach). on the whole it's a relatively difficult film to watch and i didn't get much out of it. even for jgl fans i think this one is a pass. C-.

07/19/11
Pony Excess - the final 30 for 30 in the set and one of the few feature length documentaries they made. this one is about the smu football program and the "death penalty" judgment that the ncaa handed down after a second violation of pay for play rules. my views on this are probably well known if you know me - simply put, i think that the athletes that generate billions of dollars of revenue that is shared by the schools, apparel manufacturers, media outlets, video game makers, etc. should get a cut of the pie. they are the ones taking the physical risk, they are the talent, they should get something more than a free education. you can decide where to draw the line as to amount of compensation and who gets it (only division 1a? only the marquee players? only men's programs with media contracts?), but the bottom line is that they deserve more than they are getting monetarily and the ncaa should also do more to protect the kids from the vultures and leeches who inevitably work their way into these programs.
the smu case is somewhat unique (at least in terms of programs that have been caught) in that they displayed a pattern of skirting the regulations and putting their players under contract. they were de facto professional players at a college program. did they deserve the punishment they got? probably, especially after they were warned before. should it have ever gotten to that point in the first place? not in my opinion. in order to make things right, we need to do the right thing by these kids - educate them on fiscal responsibility, educate them to the fact that only 3% of scholarship division 1 football players are going to make it to the professional level, educate them about the pitfalls of stardom, inform them of the kinds of people who are going to try to take advantage of them, and (not least of all) pay them. if the ncaa made things right in those ways then they could get on their high horse and hand down punishments with some actual moral authority. until they fix a broken system, though, i really can't be all that critical of a program like smu or usc or unc or miami. there are degrees (least to worst offenders: usc, unc, miami, smu), but even a case like this can't get me too upset because of the degree to which the system is unjust. B.
Three Caballeros - disney (mostly) animated film that takes a little tour of the countries south of the border. donald duck has never been my favorite. animation is at times good, but mostly just average. no great songs. the best part of the film is the documentary aspect of it which looks at local customs in many different central and south american countries. B-.
Saludos Amigos - pretty much the same as the above film. B-.

07/18/11
Lord Of The Rings: Fellowship Of The Ring - still a good film, though some of the effects are a little opaque by today's standards. the essence here, though, is in the characters and the battle between the evil of the ring and how that interacts with each person. this time around i was looking at it as a story that upholds the fundamental worth of each person. despite race, each person in the fellowship brings something unique and necessary to further the goal of destroying the ring. it's a long film (we [sean and i] watched the extended version), but it plays well. A.
Exit Through The Gift Shop - read the accolades on the dvd cover and you'll think this is some amazing documentary that is going to rock your world. in reality, it's a fairly average documentary on the street art scene and one man in particular. a hanger-on who documents everything in his life, including many nights he spends helping street artists throughout the world as they put art (usually) on the side of buildings. he ends up taking a liking to it and decides to become a street artist of his own. he then drums up a bunch of hype, mortgages his house, and puts together a ridiculously large show of his work. he's basically a wannabe and all his art is a regurgitation of warhol or banksy or fairey. he's a farce, but the art elites seem to buy his crap so he makes a ton of money and makes the street artists either jealous (because he got so popular/rich so quickly) or angry (for selling out). either way, this isn't that amazing of a documentary and it certainly isn't as iconic as style wars which is the definitive graf documentary. B-.

07/09/11
Best That Never Was - this should be mandatory viewing for every prospective division I ncaa athlete, particularly those in basketball and football. it's about marcus dupree, a mississippi running back who went to the university of oklahoma and could have been one of the great running backs of all-time. he had reggie bush type talent, but matt leinert type work ethic and may as well have gotten advice from his pet dog. it shows everything that can and does go wrong at the college level and exposes (without being an expose, per se) the weaknesses of a system that cares only about money.
he's poorly advised at every stage.
he has no father.
his mother is well meaning, but ignorant of the business and laws and expectations of being a top level recruit.
his "agent"/advisor - some shithead pastor takes total advantage of him at every turn and is nothing more than a svengali manipulating a young kid after earning his trust.
the coaching staff at oklahoma failed him by trying to play the tough love card on a guy for which it wouldn't ever work. a big part of being a great mentor/coach is either changing your approach to fit whomever you are working with, or only recruiting the guys who will fit in your system. barry switzer picked up dupree not because he was going to fit his system, but because he wanted the biggest fish he could catch that year.
he failed himself with a poor attitude and work ethic.
his community failed him by constantly holding him on a pedestal.
the ncaa failed him by not having adequate rules and systems in place to make sure he was being advised of his options along the way.
if a top level athlete watches this perhaps they will realize they're really only a knee tendon away from being forgotten trash along side the college athletics highway. it's really a sad story, but it's one i've heard too many times to be shocked by. it's one that the ncaa should do something about, but they really only do the minimum required to look like they care. B+.
Wizard Of Oz - one of the best films of all-time. directed by victor fleming who also directed gone with the wind in the same year. name one director who has two better/equal films released in the same year and i'll be shocked. it's a playful musical ahead of its time. feels more like a film from the 50s than the 30s. the use of color is especially striking. how did they find so many little people for the munchkin scene? as good as it is, i don't think it's one of my favorites, maybe because it has a more theatrical feel to it. i could watch it anytime and have a good time and find joy in it, but it lacks something that would make it reach that next level; at least it did this time around. A.

07/08/11
Horrible Bosses - really funny comedy that i'd watch again tomorrow. the ensemble cast does a really good job and is excellently cast. the writing may not be for everyone, but it fits well with today's brand of humor and kept me laughing. one of the best movies of the year. B+.

07/07/11
Marion Jones: Press Pause - puff piece that tries to make marion jones look like she's reformed and was never that bad a person to begin with. she cops to what she did at a couple points in the documentary, but then also  tries to equivocate or explain away what happened. she says that her going to jail came down to a split second decision to lie when asked if she knew about, or had ever seen, the steroids the interviewer was holding in front of her. in reality, she went to jail because she constantly tried to keep her drug use a secret thinking she'd never get caught. not to mention the check fraud that she was involved with or the bad husbands she married along the way. it's a story of redemption where there really isn't much. she's a marginal wnba player and a marginal human who took us for a ride because she has lots of talent and a good smile. C.
Kings Ransom - story of wayne gretzky being traded to the la kings. it shifted the balance of the nhl - two more california teams came after gretzky arrived. but more importantly it changed the oilers and gretzky. wayne made it to one stanley cup finals afterwards (he had won 4 already with the oilers). it's one of those business decisions that probably made sense, but killed edmonton fans for many years. it's not unlike the lebron "decision" and his move to the heat. B.

07/04/11
Silly Little Game - (watched earlier, forgot what date). 30 for 30 about rotisserie league baseball and the advent of fantasy baseball. it's interesting to see how these geeky guys created a phenomenon that is such a part of baseball and football entertainment now. B.
16th Man - (watched earlier, forgot what date). basically a 30 for 30 version of invictus. don't watch them both. C.
House Of Steinbrenner - directed by barbara kopple who did harlan county usa and a couple other notable documentaries. odd that she was involved in this one, though, as it doesn't seem to fit her barbara ehrenrich type sensibilities. basically covers the yankees under george steinbrenner. say what you will about the guy (and they say most of it here), he cares about his team and wants to do everything he can to win. i'd bet money that any fan of any team in sports would love an owner like him or mark cuban. B.
Into The Wind - this 30 for 30 is about a canadian kid who loses a leg to cancer and begins a run across the country (a marathon a day, on one leg) to help raise money and awareness for the fight against cancer. he gets through a couple thousand miles and then gets another couple tumors, this time in his lungs. he dies before he can finish the run. it's one of those stories that's just unreal because of how strong and determined the guy is, yet life still beats him down. sad shit. B+.
Four Days In October - covers the red sox comeback vs. the yankees. down 0-3, they win 4 straight (only time in baseball playoff history) to their bitter rivals. it's one of the best comebacks and stories in baseball history. the bloody sock, big papi's big homeruns and hits. crazy stuff. B+.
Once Brothers - feature length 30 for 30 on vlade divac and drazen petrovic and yugoslavia. they were teammates on the yugoslavian team and after winning gold, a spectator with a croatian flag came on the court. vlade took away the flag because he wanted people to respect the victory as one for yugoslavia, not as one for just croatia or just serbia or any other region in the former yugoslavia. petrovic, a croatian, took it the wrong way and they were no longer friends after that moment. the documentary gets into the fall of yugoslavia, divac's and petrovic's rise in the nba, and the broken relationship between the two. it's one of those sad stories of human nature. we keep grudges too long sometimes and can't reach across the aisle often enough, and there's no shortage of such stories; sadly. one of the best of the 30 for 30 films. B+.
Tim Richmond: To The Limit - playboy nascar racer is surprised when he gets aids and dies. ok, it's not that bad, but the truth is that the guy lived a dumb life having sex with every woman who walked his way and ended up paying for it. that said, aids wasn't known to be the problem that it is today. in a way the real tragedy here is that he continued to deny he had the disease because of the stigma it had as a "gay cancer." had he been more up front he could have made his life a little more useful than it was as a guy who makes left turns his whole life. B-.
Fernando Nation - i knew about fernando valenzuela, but i didn't know how dominant he was his rookie year. he was a big time acquisition for the dodgers and turned around the team for the foreseeable future. if not for him, the latino fanbase that is the majority of dodgers fans, might be very different. B+.
Catch Me If You Can - one of spielbergs better late-era films. the story of frank abignale is quintessentially american. a kid who wants to do better than his dad and judges his success monetarily. makes it big as a thief and conman and then ends up working for the government. classic stuff. we love our outlaws and we love people who are great at what they do. abignale was both. A-.

07/03/11
City Hall - adequate political thriller of sorts. felt like an episode of law and order more than anything else. i'm interested in politics so it kept my attention, but nothing about it was particularly noteworthy. cusack's new orleans accent wasn't good, pacino was fine, the script had some clever stuff, but wasn't much better than a good tv show. C+.
Little Big Men - old guys recalling their glory days as usa little leaguers when they beat the heavily favored taiwanese team. i guess it was a great triumph because of how good taiwan had been the previous 11 years (won 9 championships, was banned for one, and lost one), but it's taiwan. they're a little island country so i have trouble making this into the little league equivalent of the miracle on ice. not all that great overall, but a nice part of sports history anyway. C+.
One Night In Vegas - compares mike tyson and tupac and how they were similar in many ways and how, during one night their lives took a similar path (sort of a stretch). tupac was shot and killed. tyson was never the same boxer as he once was. interesting structure with comic book stylings and spoken word interludes. wasn't a huge fan of that to be honest. but it was an interesting way of telling a story of these two friends who are both misunderstood, even by their fans. B.
Unmatched - probably the worst of the 30 for 30 documentaries so far. chris evert and martina navratilova were in 80 matches against each other and are two of the best women's tennis players of all time. they basically talked about their rivalry and tennis for an hour. no other talking heads, no more context or expansion on their rivalry other than what they talked about. there's plenty of meat between them for a good documentary, but just seeing them talking to each other the whole time was boring. it's as if the filmmakers were going to make a real documentary about these two women and their great rivalry and got a bunch of interview footage, fell in love with their subjects and decided to just cut what they had. wasted potential. C-.

07/02/11
Birth Of Big Air - 30 for 30 that covers the rise/fall of mat hoffman. he's a guy who basically didn't care about the limits of his body or what was normally done in the sport. he was about quantum leaps without regard for practicality or safety. his body has taken some brutal abuse all for the sport his loves. i'm not sure whether he's a short-sighted idiot without self-regard or a sort of competitive genius who is pushing the boundaries of humanity like any great athlete or astronaut (which he is seemingly equal parts of). B.
Jordan Rides The Bus - 30 for 30 documentary on mj's first retirement and stint in minor league baseball. terry francona was his minor league coach, which is an interesting note. it's mostly interesting, though, because it's a very rare moment in sports history - a guy at the top of his game, retires for a couple years to try another sport, and then comes back later to be dominant again. we see what the sport and team was like without him (nothing much worthy of note). and when he returns he's arguably even better than he was before (a rarity in sports comebacks). could he have won 8 championships instead of 6 if he had played those two years? or was starting out from the bottom the perfect motivation for a guy who had done so much already? we'll never know of course, but seeing him work in the minors and riding the bus and all the rest was an interesting time for anyone interested in sports at the time and the documentary captures it well enough. B.
Legally Blonde - not a bad comedy on the whole. turns the expectations of the viewer on their head. basically a remake of my cousin vinny, but with the emphasis being on marisa tomei this time around. B.

07/01/11
Two Escobars - another 30 for 30 documentary, this one follows the rise and fall of columbian soccer on the national scene. its success was primarily due to the influx of money from drug lords and one of them was pablo escobar. the other escobar in the title was a great defender who had a bright future and whose only "own goal" resulted in a critical loss against the u.s. in the world cup (when columbia was ranked #4 in the world). that escobar was killed shortly thereafter, probably in part because of his error. it's a pretty fucked up world and it makes you happy to not be a citizen of columbia or involved with drug dealers. B.

06/30/11
Dangerous Minds - not the best of this kind of ghetto education film, but actually a pretty well done film on the whole. it's tough to direct these because we know what's gonig to happen and it's kind of a cheesy idea to begin with. smith, though, does a capable job of directing it and it never gets overly hackneyed. coolio's "gangster's paradise" begins the film and may be the best part of the movie. it's a perfect song in its own way and it fits the film perfectly as well. pfeiffer-fffphf does a solid job. stand and deliver is still the best film of this kind. B.
Fun & Fancy Free - lesser disney animated package (compilation) film. the bongo the bear story didn't do much for me, though the jack and the beanstalk story was decent enough. didn't like the dinah shore narration or writing in the bongo sequence. not entirely memorable for me. C.

06/28/11
My Bodyguard - 1980 matt dillon and adam baldwin film about a kid who gets picked on too much so he hires a bodyguard. the kid and the bodyguard are an unusual pairing, but they get along and band together to bring down dillon and his gang of bullies. it's a coming of age film in some ways, an odd couple picture in others. it's always stuck out to me as a good film because chris makepeace and adam baldwin are so good together. baldwin has a quite strength that he used later in full metal jacket, but this was his first performance. underrated and appreciated movie. A-.

06/26/11
Pinocchio - one of the best of the animated disney films. gepetto, jiminy, pinocchio, honest john, and everyone else are all good characters and well drawn and realized. it's a classic coming of age morality tale. pinocchio's character spoke to me as a young kid trying to differentiate right from wrong. the music is real good too. a definite standout. A.

06/25/11
Tree Of Life - a really unexceptional film except for the fact that it's terrence malick and is weird. really, if a nobody had done this with nobody actors it wouldn't get any attention as a good film. the cinematography is really good and probably deserves and oscar, but the film is bad other than that. the dinosaurs, the 2001 stuff, the god stuff, it's just a mess of a film that reeks of daddy issues and pretension. honestly, i could have written about 4 different reviews for this movie, but that would require my caring first. D.

06/24/11
Bad Teacher - not as good as i had anticipated, but still a funny and engaging film. cameron diaz is really good as the unscrupulous and unredeemable eponymous teacher who cares only about herself. there's really nothing we're supposed to like about her - she's not the lovable loser, she's not really good at being a teacher, she's just a mean and selfish loser, but we like her in spite of ourselves because she's cooler than all the insufferable people around her. the goody two shoes teacher across the hall, the dolphin loving principal...they're way too good and/or annoying to be liked.
there's no great redemption in the end. she finds a place where her brutal honesty can do some good (guidance counselor's office) and she ends up with the most likable guy in the movie, but there's no great epiphany that knocks you over the head, she just realizes that the guy with the money who she was chasing throughout the film, isn't as worthwhile as the fun guy without money. B+.
Super 8 - definitely draws from stand by me, e.t., and other 80s buddy flicks. the film does its best when the main group of guys is together being kids and talking shop. the love story and the alien are diversions or allegory to add depth or interest for a greater audience than 13 year old boys (or those who still have 13 year old boys inside them). since i'm one of those, the love story and alien stuff was less interesting to me. alien encounter films usually don't do it much for me because the end tends to be unsatisfying. no, for me this film is much more about the kids and the proximity to, but dichotomy between, the adult world. both worlds
run in parallel with only occasional crossover. i always liked this about a film like stand by me. you have these kids on their own, trying to figure things out. on occasion they have to deal with the adults, but they're mostly on their own, solving their own problems. they have their own take on the issues and actually can see, or are privy to, a lot of things that the adults don't.
it's a nicely shot picture and the big train crash was a nice spectacle. B+.

06/23/11
Run Ricky Run - tells the story of ricky williams and his outlook on life, his nfl career, etc. he's a wacky guy and he squandered a lot of potential and wasn't a great guy, but in the end it appears as though he's gotten on track. he's a better father to his multiple kids from multiple women, he's a better runner again, and he's a better person. B-.
June 17, 1994 - straightforward documentary about the eponymous date in sports history. it's the day that arnold palmer retired, o.j. went on his little drive down the freeway, and the knicks and rockets played in the finals. nothing real special, not a lot of talking heads or context, just a narrative. B.
Straight Outta L.A. - ice cube directs this film about gangster rap, the raiders and how the two have intermixed. interesting documentary that has more style than many of the others in the 30 for 30 series. the subject matter is also interesting, and somewhat unfortunate. B.

06/22/11
Guru Of Go - more the story of paul westhead than lmu or hank gathers, though it spends a lot of time on those subjects in the course of telling westhead's story. the lmu stuff is the most interesting to me because it's the first time i remember actually getting into basketball. i had been into baseball already with the rise of the bash brothers and the oakland a's, but basketball hadn't clicked with my until lmu's run after gathers' death. unlike len bias, gathers died because he didn't take enough drugs. like len bias, gathers had tremendous potential at the next level and died too young. bo kimble shooting the free throws left-handed, the cinderella run to the elite 8...great story here. for westhead it was topped off by a wnba championship utilizing "the system." he's the only coach to have a championship at the nba and wnba level. B+.
No Crossover: The Trial Of Allen Iverson - i've liked allen iverson at various times in his career. i thought he was misunderstood or that some of his sideshow stuff was blown out of proportion. however, it's also undeniable that he's done some things he shouldn't have done and acted rashly from time to time. this documentary (from steve james of hoop dreams fame) is about his high school years when he had his first run in with the law and was convicted of participating in a brawl that was basically conducted on racial lines (though that may or may not have been the cause of it).
james attempts to unravel the story and find some truth while looking at some of the racial tensions of hampton virginia (hometown of james and allen iverson). he's the perfect guy to tell the story since he's from the area and he directed perhaps the best documentary of all-time. this one isn't on that level, but it's a good story about a lot of different things.
iverson stands in for inner city youth here. it didn't need to be him, really. for both the whites and blacks in the community he is emblematic of something much larger. the blacks tend to rally around him and his story of persecution while the whites tend to think it's p.c. treatment of a star athlete. they're both right.
to me, he's a good guy at his core. i still believe that people misunderstand his drive and bravado, but he's also a selfish product of his environment. under different circumstances iverson would have been a role model instead of a cautionary tale. B+.

06/21/11
Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks - chronicles the 90s matchups between the pacers and knicks. they had some good matchups back then and some epic games. this one does a good job of recounting them. B.
Melody Time - not the best disney film, but better than fun and fancy free (another compilation film). retells a couple tall tales and has some original stuff as well. i remember parts of this from having watched it as a young kid, but i counted it as new since it's been a really long time. B.

06/20/11
Rachel, Rachel - somewhat artsy film about a small town girl who is coming of age. has style and substance, but didn't really grab me. does a good job of capturing what it's like growing up as a reclusive woman in a small town and having a repressed sexuality and personality in general. definitely captures a certain feeling and was successful in that way. paul newman directs his wife here so it's interesting for that reason as well. B.
Nevada Smith - good, not great steve mcqueen western about a guy who is hunting down the people who murdered his mom and dad. there are a hundred pictures like this, but this one is unique because it takes place over the course of years, instead of days or weeks. the lengths that mcqueen's character goes to in order to hunt down each murderer are pretty extensive. he gets put in prison and escapes with one of the guys responsible for his parents' murder, just so he can kill him after he's been freed. he joins a gang and participates in a heist just so he can kill another. pretty dedicated guy. B.
Naked Ambition: An R Rated Look At An X Rated Industry - not great documentary about a mainstream photographer who is covering the avn movie awards. it's basically him talking about the adult film industry and his photography career. he likes photography subcultures and remarks on the uniqueness of the adult film community and how accepting they are. it's a lot of fluff and nothing very interesting. as stated it is r-rated so it's safe for most adult audiences. C.
Anvil! The Story Of Anvil - another documentary about another under-appreciated music act meets a behind the music/some kind of monster type documentary. on its surface that's what this is, but it's also about aging and holding onto the past and relationships. i wasn't especially moved by the story or the arc it followed, but it was also a bit better than the genre usually provides. B.
U - "the u" is the university of miami, specifically referencing the miami football program. this is another 30 for 30 on the rise and fall of the miami football program in the 80s and 90s. they produced a glut of nfl talent but were always marred by rowdy players and bad sportsmanship. their bad boy persona was definitely earned in my opinion and while one could point to the upbringing of many of the players or the fact that other programs wouldn't recruit them as some form of motivation, it just doesn't hold in my opinion. ultimately a lot of these guys just didn't conduct themselves properly and the coaching staff was complicit in a lot of ways. they're the adults, they should have helped raise these guys above where they came from.
at any rate, it's a great documentary on a controversial program. A-.

06/19/11
Mission- good score and cinematograhy, but the subject matter wasn't all that interesting to me. longer than it needed to be, it's the kind of film that generally doesn't do it for me, though, so it's not like it was a big disappointment. C+.
Female - don't remember much about this because i was nodding off through most of the middle. basically about a powerful woman who gives it all up for love. wasn't overly thrilled. there are exceptions, but film didn't really get rolling for me until the late 30s and early 40s. C.
40 Year Old Virgin - definite classic. A.
Sword In The Stone - upper-middle level disney flick. nice retelling of a classic story, i like merlin, nice animation. made at a time of consistency (peter pan through sword in the stone), but no real greatness. B.

06/18/11
Devil And Miss Jones - another jean arthur/charles coburn flick. this time she's a store clerk and he's the richest man in the world. after his workers threaten to strike he goes undercover and tries to find out who the troublemakers are. arthur befriends him and he gradually learns what it's like to be a worker. this is the kind of depression era film that really shows the contrast between the social attitudes of the 30s/40s and today. of course there's some romance in the film as well, but somehow they always manage to make it much more palatable than the dreck we usually see in films today. there's a particularly good bit of dialogue from arthur on the subject of love. she's at the beach speaking with coburn (who has no wife) about the topic and she speaks on it about as well as you're likely see.
unforunately this isn't available on dvd and i deleted my copy from tivo. B+.
Quantum Of Solace - not as good as casino royale, but a good action flick nonetheless. B-.
Elmer Gantry - been a while since i've seen this one. reminded me of a face in the crows this time around. lancaster is perfect for the role and really nails it. it's a particuarly american film since we seem to have a unique relationship with religion. from the mormons to the pilgrims and the abolitionists. watch this and then leap of faith for a good double feature. B+.

06/17/11
More The Merrier - good film that takes place in d.c. during the housing shortages of the 30s/40s. joel mccrea and charles coburn are real good, but jean arthur is even better. she's always good, though. the three stars share an apartment and hilarity (and love) ensue. good solid picture that, like many pictures of the time, encorporates ww2 into the background of the film. jean arthur and barbara stanwyck are probably my two favorites of the era. bacall is up there, as is k. hepburn, but arthur and stanwyck are more consistent for me. even in bad films, they are good and worth watching. B+.

06/16/11
Midnight In Paris - takes the simple and unprofound idea that we wish to be in a different time/place when our lives aren't what we had hoped for. in this case it's owen wilson who wishes he was alive during the 20s amongst the literary and artistic heavyweights of the time. eventually he realizes that everyone thinks the grass is greener on the other side at some point. it's a simple idea that isn't really fleshed out in any revelatory fashion. so, the rest of the film is about the characters and the jokes and neither of those were anything special. there are some literary and art references, but since i couldn't tell you a damn thing about the private lives of hemingway or djuna barnes or zelda fitzgerald, i guess i missed much of the comedy. that said, not a lot of people around me were really laughing that much either so i don't think anyone found the movie to be hilarious.
one character makes the observation that we wish to be in a different time because of feelings we have about the present, but he's a pretentious butt of jokes, so is allen romanticizing the very idea of being a romantic? the ending surely would seem to bolster that view. i don't know. overrated. C.

06/15/11
AristoCats - nothing really worthy of note from this one. uses a lot of the same talent as was used on other disney films of the time - eva gabor, phill harris, sterling holloway and director wolfgang reitherman. the story left something to be desired, though, as did much of the animation. i think i actually prefer the fairly basic animation of dumbo, aladdin and cinderella. there's a simplicity in their faces that works better than the more complex or artsy stuff. C.

06/11/11
Band That Wouldn't Die - bought the 30 for 30 (50 minute short films on different sports stories) boxset from espn and here are the first five i saw... this one is the story of the baltimore colts band. the band symbolizes the city and their desire to have a team after theirs was taken from them in the middle of the night. that is actually the more interesting story so i'm not sure why they didn't tell it. C+.
Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? - tells the story of the usfl which briefly tried to compete against the nfl. they didn't do so hot in part because donald trump was involved and wanted to use the usfl as a springboard to nfl ownership, rather than actually make the usfl a competing force. it's interesting from an nfl history standpoint, a legal one, and a business one. good film that ends with trump looking like a douche. big surprise. B.
Muhammad and Larry - interviews and footage of the training before ali fought larry holmes (his penultimate fight i believe). it's shocking that people let the fight go as long as it did or that it ever happened in the first place. you look at the guy and he looks like a mess, even when training. (what the documentary didn't cover is that the ref was richard green. he's the same guy who let duk koo kim get literally killed in the ring 2 years after this fight). when foreman came back in his 40s, he was big and certainly not in great shape, but he was still relatively spry. ali is relatively dim-witted at this point in his life, yet those around him looked the other way. people are real good at convincing themselves everything is ok and looking the other way. call them an enabler or whatever and they'll get all defensive. rationality doesn't work with some people. hopefully i surround myself with people of better moral character and judgment than ali did. you should think about doing the same in your life. or you could just repeat the mistakes of others and try to reinvent the wheel. it's your grave. B.
Without Bias - every generation needs a story like this - local boy makes good only to ruin it for himself at too young an age. the positive spin is that people learn from his well-publicized mistake and downfall (len bias was a great basketball player who ODed on cocaine shortly after being drafted #2 by the champion celtics). the result is that his one death saves the lives of many others who choose not to turn to a life of drugs because they saw what it did to their hero. some are smart enough to learn from the mistakes of others. unfortunately, most people are egotistical, solipsistic, hubristic lemmings who insist on making their own mistakes. have fun, morons. B.
Legend Of Jimmy The Greek - i had heard of jimmy the greek, but i didn't really know who he was until i watched this 30 for 30 episode. it's another classic downfall story. working class, street smart guy says some dumb racist shit and gets canned as a result. people blow this kind of thing out of proportion. happened to howard cosell, too. that's because we're a country full of morons who can't be bothered to apply decent judgment or historical analysis to any given situation. yippee. B.

06/10/11
Rescuers Down Under - not as good as the original and that wasn't my favorite to begin. didn't like the animation style. liked the selection of george c. scott as the voice of the bad guy. pretty simple setup, not a lot to it. C+.

06/08/11
Something For The Boys - it's like a marx brothers musical meets a ww2 mr. blandings builds his dream house. i think it's the first carmen miranda film i've seen and i wasn't overly impressed. like a lot of musicals this one has a plot that is just a vehicle for the songs. this one barely registered in my brain to be honest. C-.

06/06/11
Fast Five - i think i saw number 1, 2, and 4 of this series. 4 was awful and turned me off of the idea of watching this installment, but meryl insisted so i went along with it. as weird as it is to say, this film actually had a tender side and was much more human than i expected. there's a budding family and an intimacy that the gang has that makes you feel like maybe spending time watching all these characters wasn't such a waste after all. of course it's also a great showcase for the talents of all the stunt people and coordinators who dream up some of the more wacky stunts you're likely to see. it's a fun film with some good tongue in cheek humor to tide you over between action scenes. B.
X-Men: First Class - this is the film that they should have started the x-men series with. not only because it's the first in the story chronologically, but also because it made me want to see what happened to the characters in the future, more than the future films made me want to know what happened in their pasts. i don't remember much from the other films. it's been 10+ years since i saw the first one so i kept thinking that patrick stewart's character was ian mckellen's and i couldn't remember that ian mckellen was even in it. anyway, even with my poor memory for the characters you can watch the film and have a good time and some of the film will make you remember elements from the other films.
thought they put together a good cast on the whole, though one or two characters were superfluous. speaking of superfluous, there could have been 10-15 minutes cut from the film. vaughn directs another good one here. B.

06/04/11
Mean Girls - good film about women and growing up and rumors and cliques and appearance and a lot of other things. it's ripe material for tina fey's point of view and everyone involved does a good enough job in their roles. amanda seyfried isn't the best actress in the world, but she plays a bit off character and even does a good job here. it's kind of a modern classic for girls and for good reason. missed the first part because i was watching it on cable. B+.

06/03/11
Life As We Know It - predictable and unimpressive rom-com. i like heigl, but she tends to waste her talent on tv sitcoms and films with little content or poor execution. duhamel is barely good enough and the only supporting actor of note is melissa mccarthy who was also really good in bridesmaids. this is the kind of film that is all conceit and nothing else. it works well in the 2 minutes that the producer gives you to pitch your film idea while you're walking with him to his next meeting. unfortunately that's all it is - a nice setup with little after that. of course it gets hackneyed because it can't do much else other than to rely on the usual formula. then again, you're probably not expecting much if you're watching this film so you're not going to be disappointed either. C-.

06/01/11
Sleeping Beauty - not bad, not great. more of it occurs before she falls asleep than i had recalled. B.

05/30/11
Jungle Book - mowgli (voiced by the director's son) is the best-anmated character i can think of in the disney catalog. he's drawn simply, but so smile-inducing it's crazy. the rest of the film is also quite good. there are a couple good songs and the supporting characters are pretty good, especially louis prima's king louie and baloo the bear. also you gotta like george sanders' voice work as shere khan. this is one of the better disney animated films. A-.

05/26/11
Hangover Part II - they tried to go bigger here and up the stakes. to me it didn't work as well as the first one did because it felt more like one-upmanship than about the unraveling of an outrageous night. bradley cooper wasn't on his game as much here, but ed helms picked up the slack with a better than expected performance. zach galif... did a fine job with what he was given. ultimately the writing wasn't as good here as it was on the first one. of course, they stuck with the formula so you're not going to have a bad time watching the film, just don't expect the classic that the first one was. the music, the interludes, the writing, the suspense at the end were all a full notch below the original.
edit 5/31/11: it's reminiscent of those old noirs where the guy/girl wakes up after a bender and thinks s/he killed someone (black angel and blue gardenia). then the whole movie is about retracing everything to see what happened. it's also like the sequels to the saw movies which all had diminishing returns, at least in part because we knew that the end would throw a curve at us. like godfather 2, this sequel has a familiar plot arc, but more conceit than plot. it also lacks the depth of character that the great sequels have; and, yes, i count rocky 2 in amongst them. B.

05/25/11
Lady And The Tramp - better than i remembered. peggy lee is good as lady and lady is well-animated, as is the tramp. these disney movies do about as much for animal rights and pet ownership as peta would ever hope to do. storyline is a bit thin and the ending with the rat is anticlimactic. storyline is really the same as toy story 3 in a way - the pets get discarded because the owners have a baby vs. the toys get discarded because the kid grows up. assigning those feelings of neglect and abandonment to toys/pets. B+.

05/24/11
Thor- two natalie portman movies in two days. this one was far inferior and pretty uninteresting. branah was a weird choice for director and didn't seem to bring much to the film, except maybe he helped with the antiquated language used by thor? largely uninteresting and by the book film that didn't need to be made and certainly didn't need to be in 3d. C-.

05/23/11
Hesher- great little film that reminded me most of mary poppins. now if you see the film, don't see it because of that comparison. it's not at all a mary poppins/disney type film. but the eponymous character is the type who comes into the lives of the other characters, changes everything, and then leaves as mysteriously as he arrived. it's a heavy metal version of mary poppins for the new generation, without the musical interludes. it's also yet another joseph gordon-levitt film that is up for film of the year. though it was first released in 2010 at a couple film festivals, it's basically a 2011 film. in both 2009 and 2010 JGL was in my top film of the year. i guess i have to consider him one of my favorite actors at this point. he's got great range (brick, 500 days of summer, inception and hesher) and he picks them as well as anyone else these days. his stuff is must-see material at this point.
hesher is a great film about love and loss and coming of age and bullying and depression, but it's told in such a wonderfully disarming and human way that you can't help but laugh and be moved as well. it seemed that most of the people in the theater didn't quite know that they were allowed to laugh until 30 minutes in, but as soon as the hesher film title came up (after a sullen opening) and it's "hesher" with the "h" and the "r" done like the lightning bolts in metallica's logo and a quick burst of "battery" accompanies it...i knew this was going to be an interesting film. in those first few minutes susser shows us a depressing moment, gives a nod to e.t. (the film also takes place in the mid-late 80s), and then gives us a wink with the title card. brilliant stuff.
i don't want to get too far into the film, but it has some great symbolism and parables that make it even better than just an immensely entertaining film. watch it. good trailer. B+.

05/20/11
Made For Each Other - there's a reason they call 1939 the best year in hollywood history. because even after you get through the obvious greats like mr. smith goes to washington, wizard of oz, goodbye mr. chips, and gone with the wind there are less well known gems like beau geste, and two from jimmy stewart - destry rides again and made for each other. this one is about young love and the first couple years of marriage. it's a coming of age story for a couple and for a family. it has a capra-esque feel though it was directed by john cromwell, who has done some good films of his own. nice film worth checking out to fans of the era or capra fans looking to see something similar. B+.

05/18/11
Aladdin - one of my favorites. i think this one actually may be better than beauty and the beast. a couple songs from that were better, but overall the songs in this one may have been better. robin williams also helps and aladdin is more likable than the beast. though jafar isn't as good a villain as gaston. tough call, maybe it's a draw. at any rate, this is up there and jasmine is one of the hotter disney beauties. A.

05/17/11
Team America: World Police - pretty funny, not as good as the south park movie. the sex scene is classic and you gotta love the jingoistic parody stuff. B-.

05/16/11
Fantasia - one of the top animated disney films of all-time. artistically it may be their best and it's clearly a must see film. several good pieces of music and plenty of inspired imagery. when it comes to fusion of music and film there's this and koyaanisqatsi that stand tall above everything else i can think of right now. A+.

05/15/11
Everything Must Go - didn't quite do it for me. ferrell is a good actor and is capable of playing semi-dramatic roles (he nailed it in stranger than fiction), but only if the screenplay is right. here, i didn't think that the film every found the right tone. it was waffling between humor and drama and didn't do it very successfully. some films can toe the line and go back and forth with ease, but here it felt more like they were unsure of what the tone was supposed to be. cast does a fine job. ultimately the writing left something to be desired and the direction didn't save the material. C+.

05/14/11
Bridesmaids - funny female version of a judd apatow film. feig's direction left something to be desired at points. lighting was off or scenes felt flat. on the whole, though, it is a nice film that feminists seem to like because it shows female characters can be funny and all the rest. whatever, ask them because i don't know anymore what we're supposed to be doing to be good people. B.
edit: i should have mentioned that rose byrne continues to show good range. here she plays a stuck up, but funny woman who doesn't ever want to lose. she also played this year a scared and vulnerable wife in the horror film insidious.

05/07/11
Oliver And Company - subpar disney animated film. oliver twist is the basis for the characters, but the plot is different, at least from my memory of that story. the music and animation are both subpar. one memorable tune, but not for good reasons. animation is different, but again, not in a good way. C.

05/06/11
Hanna - good action-esque film with a good soundtrack from the chemical brothers. acting is good all around and there's more depth to the characters than you see from the typical action film these days. the film is partially a coming-of-age story. has some music video influences that make for a couple good sequences and a nice stylistic touch to the film. B.

05/05/11
Tillman Story - documentary that dissects the media response to pat tillman's death in iraq. everyone knows the story about tillman - left the nfl to go to iraq after 9/11 and was killed in battle. turns out it was a case of friendly fire and was covered up by the military. as is typical by those in power, humanity means nothing to them, they just manipulate the circumstances to their benefit and move on. later, when the truth comes out, people are too distracted by other things to get outraged. the initial lie is always more powerful than the truth that is eventually revealed. if it was revealed tomorrow that jfk was killed as part of a conspiracy or that 9/11 was an inside job there would be outrage, but it would be a shadow of the sadness and anger that followed the initial events and the purported truth of the early coverage.
the documentary gets a lot of interview footage from the parents and family of tillman and they sort of debunk the idea of this macho numbskull football player who was gung ho about war. he was a patriot, sure, but he read chomsky and didn't like how the war was going. he didn't fit the typical solider archetype that was portrayed by the media. seemed to be a thoughtful and relatively good guy who believed in actual sacrifice and committment. B+.

05/02/11
Great Mouse Detective - pretty fun disney animated feature that's really just a sherlock holmes told via mice. disney has a thing for mice and a thing against cats. maybe walt was raped by a cat when he was young or something. not sure. B.

04/27/11
Lion King - really didn't dig the animation on this one. again, the villain here is the best part and the rest fell flat for me. they just weren't able to get simba and the rest of the lions to look good in my opinion. scar, was good and scary and dark, but the good lions weren't anything special. good musical numbers, but the rest of it wasn't as great for me as everyone else seems to think it is. frankly, i don't get it. B.

04/22/11
African Cats - as a nature film, with the sound off, this works just fine. i used to watch the old national geographic stuff on tv all the time and this one has better camerawork than those. however, where those succeeded and this one failed is in their ability to tell a truthful story about the circle of life. this one makes it much more of a narrative in human terms and doesn't have the same objectivity that those had. watching those early nature films was a good experience. i would watch one following cheetahs one week and another following zebras the next. of course each time you root for the protagonists, but it eventually makes you realize that there are two sides to every story. when you're happy that the cheetah is finally able to feed her family you then have to remember that the zebra just lost a member of their family. such is life, but it's a perspective many adults still don't grasp.
at any rate, the narration is really where this film suffers. jackson's delivery is adequate, but the writing is piss poor. C+.
Scream 4 - not a bad way to end the franchise. it has the usual self-referential stuff and twists and turns. B.

04/21/11
Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs - groundbreaking and influential this film also has a nice little story and a couple real good songs. artistically and technically it's a great achievement for 1937. frankly, looking at animated films today i don't see 70+ years of evolution. pixar features use a different method and have gotten better since toy story, but i still prefer the cel-animated stuff to today's computer-animated features. it also was one of the early animated works to use rotoscoping which was later used in everything from films like fire & ice and waking life to the music video for shadrach by the beastie boys. A.

04/18/11
Cedar Rapids - funny ed helms picture. it's about a small town insurance salesman who goes to the big city for a conference and sort of grows up. john c. reilly and the rest of the supporting cast do a good job. solid comedy. B.
Fatal Attraction - iconic film in large part because of glenn close's character. she defines a type of woman that every man would probably rather avoid. it's a cautionary tale wrapped in a thriller. unlike unfaithful, this lyne picture is really well directed, acted and realized. the thriller portion is much more satisfying and close's character is much more compelling than anything in unfaithful.
films like this really strip away the civilized veneer of humans and show us as the monkeys we can truly be. douglas wants only to get his rocks off and close obsesses over him, emotionalizing a strictly physical interaction. humans are hilarious. A.

04/16/11
Fox And The Hound - hadn't seen this disney film before. it's about a fox and a hound that grow up together and are good pals until they grow older and they realize they're supposed to be enemies. the hounds owner turns him into a hunting dog and it doesn't exactly bode well for their friendship. it's sad to see them at odds after being so friendly early on, but it recalls the story of the scorpion and the frog. each animal is what it is in the world and they shouldn't expect anything different, sad as that may be. animation isn't particularly good, this one is just about the story. B.

04/15/11
Naked Kiss - one of the most seedy noirs you're likely to see. it's outside the typical noir window (1941-1958), but it has the feel no matter what you call it. it's about a prostitute who tries to escape her past in a new town with a new profession. she falls in love and, just when things are looking their best, they all fall apart. it's this moment that is the most shocking of the film. liked it more this time around. A-.

04/14/11
East Of Eden - the bulk of this film wasn't as good as a remember, but the ending lived up to my memory in every way and then some. at it's core it's about human interaction and i suppose there are a number of ways of putting that. it reminds me of the scene from citizen kane where bernstein says "A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember. You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl." it's about longing for human interaction. having more than the mere superficial human interaction, but having a deep interaction with a person. cal (james dean) longs for that with his father, but feels constantly overshadowed by his brother who is a great person by most accounts, but perhaps not the most aware or curious of souls. that is his weakness of character, if you will. then there's the father. also a great man of great morality and high standard, but perhaps too self-sufficient to know what his own son craves in life - his love. cal, the protagonist, has many weaknesses - he's perhaps overly curious, awkward socially, impulsive, etc.
really, the first 90% of the film is about establishing the characters and the interpersonal dynamics so that the end works, and works well. each character has their weakness and need and all the pieces sort of shift together in the end. cal and his father finally finding some understanding thanks to aron's fiancé mediating and allowing the father to understand what cal needs and making cal give his dad a shot to do the right thing now that he knows what that is. isn't that sort of part of the tragedy of the human condition, though? when viewed from the outside it's very easy to know what a person needs and where that person is likely going. when i watch the up series, it's easy, with very limited information, to know a good deal about the future, desires, thoughts of most of the characters. but when it's our lives things are so much more difficult to analyze and we don't see that we're a train on a track towards another train. there's a trajectory that we create early on and we generally don't change it unless some really big event occurs or we rise above the pack upon self-reflection (epiphany) and through hard work, desire, luck, etc. A.

04/13/11
Bad Behaviour - barely funny british comedy with stephen rae. barely understood what they were talking about. speak english! fucking brits. C-.

04/11/11
Stuff - one of the cool things about growing up in la was that they always had interesting movies on local tv. the z channel was one thing, but they would have films like "the stuff" on channel 5 along with old kung-fu films, etc. it was a really eclectic mix; one that tarantino has talked about more than a few times. this is one of those weird movies that i was exposed to 20 years ago on network tv that just never left my head. only saw about 10 minutes of it, but it still stuck. it's a cross between the blob and soylent green, if soylent green was highly addictive. it's about a mysterious food product that takes the nation by storm and is seemingly good for you and great tasting. it turns out that the stuff is actually highly addictive and has some interesting side effects. fun film that is more 70s in style and substance than 80s. not sure if it's an allegory about cocaine use during the time or something else. it's fun to watch though. B.
Peter Pan - middle of the road disney pic that my sister made me watch every morning before we went to school for seemingly months. B-.

04/10/11
Unfaithful - adrian lyne's strength is deviant erotica and it's more of the same here. it's a pretty standard plot - bored housewife cheats on her husband with a younger french guy, husband finds out and kills the guy. it's jerry springer, but told from a different income tax bracket which makes it compelling to watch, i guess. really, other than diane lane's hotness, there isn't much keeping this movie afloat. i was mildly  interested in the plot and it's a film that looks good enough, but there's really very little character development, even the most simple, cliché kind. C-.

04/09/11
Fab Five - these guys hold a certain place in my life because choosing them to win it all against unc proved a pivotal moment in my relationship with my grandfather. we were in hawaii and he was hungry for some action so he said he'd bet $20 against whatever team i wanted to win the game. i asked my dad if michigan was a good choice and he said yes so michigan was my team. in the end webber sort of blew it for michigan despite getting 23 points and 11 rebounds. at one point during the game my grandfather said "looks like my niggers are doing better than yours." in hindsight i suppose it was good that i chose michigan and suffered the heartbreak of that game. if i had chosen unc and won the $20 i may have been too happy to have properly reflected on that comment.
this documentary covers a lot of the cultural impact the fab five had and what they represented in sports and black culture. webber is noticeably absent, but the film is still excellent without his voice. the fab five were a contrast to the real powerhouse of the time - duke. they were the ghetto players with the long shorts and a more freewheeling style of play. duke was about character and discipline. jalen rose commented that he felt grant hill and others were uncle toms for going to duke and having good families, but he's reflective on this point and remarks that it was a feeling he had more because of jealousy that his own father wasn't in the
picture than anything else. in this way the story of the fab five is also the story of young black males in today's society. 56% of black youth grow up with only one parent, the struggle for identity, trying to fit in, but also to be an individual.
it also gets to the elephant in the room when it comes to college athletics - money. chris webber is one of the most infamous cases of a college kid getting money while playing for a big time team. he was indicted as a result and the ncaa moved on to their next victim. meanwhile the system hasn't changed a lick and the core problem remains that talented kids get no representation and no slice of the pie they help bake. it's sharecropping.
the film does a really good job of balancing all the secondary implications and issues that the fab five were a part of. other than chris webber's absence, it's a really great film. A-.

04/08/11
Arthur- a bit better than the original. russell brand is perfectly cast and brings more of a soft and lovable side to the character than moore did. gerwig and garner do good jobs as well on opposite ends of the spectrum. script could have used some tightening in spots. B.
Dumbo - real good disney animated flick. animation is simple, but emotive. they kept it simple here going with the separation from the mother and outcast themes. dumbo's character is a good one and one many of us can relate to in that we all have trouble fitting in or find ourselves on our own from time to time. A.

04/07/11
Godfather, Part II - the bulk of this one isn't as good as the first, but it ends real well and brings the whole story of the corleone family, and michael in particular, full circle. nothing is more important to michael than his family, his male offspring in particular. michael is one of the most compelling characters in the history of cinema and pacino's performance here is one of its best as well. A+.

04/06/11
Longest Day - long film that was reminiscent of gettysburg and toro, toro, toro. it's essentially a blow by blow account of the d-day invasion told from the british, american and german points of view. oddly, i found myself more interested in the scenes following the generals than the foot soldiers. most of the foot soldiers scenes were pretty average war flick fare. there was actually too much comic relief for my liking. it seemed to lighten the film too much given the subject matter. some comic relief in a war film is fine, but this one had a little too much for me. B-.

04/05/11
Insidious - good horror flick on the whole, though it fades a bit towards the end. james wan directed the first saw film, which was really good and helped define the torture porn subgenre. this one is much more in line with paranormal activity, though it doesn't have the same realism - this knows it's a movie. it's a scary flick with effective scares throughout. the last 20-30 minutes are slower and have some comic relief, which i had mixed feelings about. good atmosphere, acting was on spot, scary. B+.

04/03/11
Sucker Punch - high concept story about an abused girl who gets committed to an insane asylum by her stepdad. she retreats from her reality through an imaginary world. most of the film is dedicated to one of two levels of imagination and we only see the real world level at the beginning and the end.
the three layers go like this:
women's insane asylum - all the characters are guards, doctors and patients
brothel/dance club - all the characters are bartenders, businessmen, and dancers
fight sequences - all the characters are bad guys of various kinds (robots, demons, etc.) and good guys (the girls)
it's a cool idea and a new approach to a genre (prison film) that has been done a million times. i typically like prison films - shawshank redemption, great escape, one flew over the cuckoo's nest were/are all on my top 25 at one point. unfortunately, zach snyder isn't a good storyteller. he's got a great eye and his visual style and sense of the epic appeal to this generation raised on video games, but the story and character development are paper thin here and. even. in the watchmen, which should have been a lot better. the film plays a lot more like a video game with the familiar structure of story, fight sequence, story, fight sequence, etc. each fight sequence representing a level and new challenge. they did an ok job of making the fight sequences relate in someway to what was happening in the second level of reality. each fight level had a new song as its theme and they're all performed by women and, except for one by bjork, were all crappy covers of good songs. search and destroy, tomorrow never knows, and where is my mind are all 4-5 star songs and were all covered to poor effect here.
lastly, there's the gender studies questions of the film. it's an interesting film to study from the gender roles perspective because it's an empowering film on one hand, but then they're all running around in skimpy skirts most of the time, too. so is it empowering them through sexuality, or are they empowered outside of their sexual prowess, while also being sexual (the modern woman who is both empowered and sexy)? the men are almost all deviants (except, ironically, for david carradine who is the good guy who sets the stage before each fight sequence) so there's not much gray area there, but that happens a lot in these kinds of films - all the white people are evil in dances with wolves, for example.
on the whole the film is overly long (in part because snyder is in love with slow motion more than anyone i've ever seen) and thinly developed from a story/characters perspective. good idea, poorly executed. snyder should get a new line of work as a visual consultant and leave the directing to others. C+.
Source Code - sci-fi film that is almost sullivan's travels-esque in its conclusion. the final note is a bit more happy than one may like (too hollywood), but i was fine with it. it's a high concept film that thrills and gets you thinking. i'm not sure the logic of it works out, but things always get pretty muddy when you deal with potential time travel and parallel universes and the like. gyllenhaal is well-cast here. both vera farmiga (a favorite of mine) and  michelle monaghan are also good in limited but important roles. B+.
Limitless - good film that is sort of a cross between the matrix and wall street. deniro is good and has one really nice little scene about still being the top dog and having a few tricks left to teach the young bucks. it's about a guy who finds a drug that clears his mind and allows him to use the untapped 80% of his brain that humans don't usually use. nice idea and good execution. there's more potential to the concept than is realized. B.
Little Mermaid - one of the better disney films, it has most of the usual themes and elements. it also has possibly the best soundtrack from beginning to end. beauty and the beast is also up there, but this one may be a bit better. ursula is really good as the villain and the supporting characters (especially scuttle) are good. animation isn't as good here as it is in beauty and the beast, though it does have some of the more infamous concealed images. A.

04/01/11
Informer - reminiscent of m, though not as good. honestly, i'm not sure what it is about john ford that makes so many people fall in love with him. mclaglen is good here and the script is nice enough. B.

03/31/11
Multiplicity - only seen parts of this movie before. michael keaton is actually really good here as four different versions of the same guy. nice idea, basic plot, good laughs. B.

03/30/11
Alice In Wonderland - trippy and creative this version blows the burton version out of the water. none of the musical numbers are excellent in my opinion, but it's more about the imagery than anything else. nice flick that doesn't do much for me beyond the visuals and immense creativity. B+.

03/28/11
Rebel Without A Cause - only seen this once before, and it was better than i remember it being. i think i missed a lot of the 50s subtext the first time i saw it many years ago. i've seen james dean's three films where he had any real presence and have ranked them: east of eden, rebel without a cause, giant. giant is sprawling and never really caught my attention. east of eden has always been my favorite and rebel without of a cause i saw as good, but not as amazing as everyone else thought. like i said, i definitely missed some stuff.
there's so much implied dysfunctionality here. it's a cross between john hughes and douglas sirk and is influential to a lot of teen angst and coming of age films, especially those in the 80s. beautiful to look at and chock full of symbolism. one of my favorites is when the three teens are making like a family at the abandoned mansion (symbolic on its own) there is a rocking chair that mineo rocks with his hand. when we see a wider shot, though, it's revealed that it's only half of the chair. everything in that place is falling apart and a shell of what it was or should be. it's one of those great films like sweet smell of success or sirk's work that shows the seedy underbelly of a time that is usually portrayed as glossy and pristine. it's easy to glorify humanity sometimes, but these works show humanity as ultimately flawed. unlike sweet smell of success, though, magnificent obsession, all that heave allows, and rebel without a cause all end with an uplifting and hopeful note. in spite of the oft-hidden frailties and weaknesses of the species, there are moments of beauty and rebirth. A.

03/27/11
Rescuers - decent disney pic, but not great. none of the music is memorable. liked the sketchy animation which is reminiscent of 101 dalmatians. the evil woman (medusa) character is a cross between cruella and ursula. she even has two alligators which could very easily have been named flotsam and jetsam. liked two main characters and medusa well enough, but didn't do much for me beyond that. B-.

03/26/11
Dances With Wolves - hadn't seen this one in a while. it surprised me how humorous it was, something i had evidently forgotten, and it goes a long way. the three hour run time wasn't too bad on the whole. there have been 100 minute films that have felt longer. the ending does get a little preachy and slows a bit. overall, though, this is a solid picture and i can understand it winning best picture since it's a good film with some good themes and a nice balance. that said, goodfellas was still robbed. in two hours scorsese made an even more epic film that i think will age more gracefully. A-.

03/23/11
Rio Lobo - i'm not going to say this is the best wayne/hawks collaboration, but i kinda want to. it really grabs you from the opening scene and doesn't let go. it's a gold heist that the rebels are performing on the union army. there are all these nice details that add interest and realism to the picture (reminiscent of michael mann's "thief" and "heat"). it shows them greasing the tracks on the uphill portion of the ride so that the train stalls. then they use a hornets nest to get the guards to jump out of the train and they slow down the train on the downhill side by stringing ropes across the track and tying them off to trees. it really appealed to the logistics side of my brain.
after the heist there is a hunt on wayne's (a union officer) part to find the informer who ratted out the location of the gold to the rebels. after the war ends he befriends two of the soldiers who were part of the heist and they help him find the turncoat. as he puts it: it was war and you (the rebels) were doing your job, the guys i'm hunting down were traitors. it's kinda cool to see union and confederates banding together to fight those who don't have conscience enough to not stab their own in the back during the war.
jack elam is really good as the crazy mountain man type who is fighting the good fight and ends up joining forces with wayne and his buddies. he's in a walter brennan-esque role here, but more wacky and he does a real good job with it. jennifer o'neill and sherry lansing are both super hot and have a feisty side to them that makes them even better. great cast overall. A-.

03/22/11
Resident Evil: Apocalypse - not an especially good film. mostly just a bunch of action and nothing in the way of character development or anything else really. somehow, though, it was watchable and i'd probably watch another of the sequels if bored and given the chance. C.

03/21/11
Robin Hood - another in the series of animated disney pictures. not my favorite of theirs. perfectly adequate, but not especially great. reminiscent of jungle book which came out six years earlier. liked the greedy prince john as voiced by peter ustinov. B-.

03/19/11
Karate Kid, Part II - really doesn't add much to the first film and shouldn't have been made. that said, it's not a bad film and the characters are still good so i found it enjoyable. the problem with this film lies with the fact that it is a sequel to one of the greatest films ever. a film about hard work and determination, growing up, bullying, being a fish out of water, finding your first love, the nature of violence and power and many other basic things. this film doesn't function on that level nearly as well. there is no epiphany and it's just a film that coasts on the momentum of the previous work. B-.

03/18/11
Bambi - one of the better disney films. the backgrounds have a pastoral, painterly feel to them and the foregrounds are much more lively, but still have a simple animation style. it's a simple and great story of growing up as well as the circle of life and man vs. nature. it's dramatized to a certain extent on that last point, but it humanizes the forest in a way that not many films do. they don't make em like this anymore. A.

03/17/11
Taking Lives - wanted to see all of d.j. caruso's films since i've been mostly happy with his work. this is probably the worst of his films i've seen (i am number four, eagle eye, two for the money, disturbia, and salton sea). it's pretty standard fare for the thriller genre. hotshot fbi agent matched up against sadistic killer. twists and turns, in the end the good guys win and all is good. jolie isn't much here and ethan hawke has a grating sort of personality in some of his films. B-.

03/16/11
One Hundred And One Dalmatians - a couple good songs and a nice story, but not one of the best animated features from disney. the style of animation is nice and it's old school enough that it has a sketched look to it. i liked the faces of cruella and the lead guy. solid, but not as good as b&b or little mermaid or cinderella. B.

03/14/11
Unknown - bourne identity type film with liam neeson. would have liked to see more of the bad ass stuff we saw from him in 'taken,' but that only really comes up late in the film. the rest of the time he's giving us a tour of the city and questioning himself and others. it's about identity and memory and morality and the rest. when he gets hit on the head it's as if his morality is reset. an interesting philosophical question. B.
Battle: Los Angeles - not awful, but not good. it's independence day and war of the worlds on the ground level following only one platoon of marines who are fighting the aliens on the front line. there's nothing here that you haven't seen already and it's mostly fairly cliché. there wasn't a martyr in the end, though, which was an expectation of mine. eckhart has done much better in his career and takes a step back with this one. C-.

03/13/11
Adjustment Bureau - pretty good high concept thriller that could have been a lot more. i wish it had been about 20 minutes longer and explored the philosophy of the conceit more. blunt and damon had pretty good chemistry. overall i think the film could have used a little bit better direction with more exploration of a couple of the characters. when i rewatched a couple scenes they didn't thrill as much as the first time around. B.
Beauty And The Beast - doing a disney marathon over the next couple weeks. this is one of the best of the animated features from disney. animation is solid, good story, great songs, and gaston is a great villain. A.

03/09/11
Cinderella - possibly the best of the disney animated features. it has all the usual elements with the animal characters, the down-to-earth girl who becomes a princess, the evil stepmother, an evil cat, etc. animation is more simple, but there's also something to be said for that style. simpsons features animation that is about as basic as possible, but you can still get plenty of emotion with a few lines on the face and there's still plenty of room for story and character. tight storytelling. A.
Enchanted - pretty good rehash of the disney princess stories that has fun with the genre while introducing it to a new generation. amy adams is really good in the role as the princess. the rest was more referentially interesting to me than it was anything else. B.

03/07/11
Gasland - didn't like the narration of the film, but it's otherwise a nice look at hydraulic fracturing and the health/environmental problems that go with it. it would at least be nice to know how much of a problem this is so we can figure it in the calculus of natural gas vs. oil vs. coal vs. nuclear vs. solar. B.
Godfather - excellent film on all fronts. michael is the loved son who gets caught up in the family drama. sonny is well-intentioned (for the family at least), but a hothead and not particularly good at being a don. fredo is fredo. tom is smart, but ultimately on the outside of the family in spite of what people may say about him being part of the family. i feel like tom from time to time because i'll never be part of the club with some friends or family. it's a sad place to be and his character has a quiet, lonesome sadness. the end of godfather II is perhaps better than the end of this one because we are reminded of michael's tragic character arc.
coppola's direction is about storytelling more than flash or anything else. the look is iconic and the acting, writing and score are uniformly great, but the storytelling is where coppola shines. it's such a well-balanced and well-told film that even 3 hours goes by quickly. one of the best. A+.

03/06/11
Freaks - thin on plot this short feature film is notorious for being possibly the first exploitation film. as the title indicates it's about circus freaks and the film is basically just about giving them screen time. i wasn't particularly impressed by the filmmaking nor was i shocked by the exploitation, but i maybe less than sensitive because i've grown up with the internet. seminal film, but not altogether great. B-.

03/05/11
Aviator - scorsese's best picture since casino and it should have been the one to get him an academy, but people fell in love with million dollar baby instead. it won 5 oscars that year, but also lost 6. millions dollar baby was a good film, but not as good as this fast moving epic. of course, they made up for it two years later and gave him the oscar for the departed.
it's an epic film in scope. it touches on aviation and film history while telling a human story about an enigmatic entrepreneur (howard hughes). it features many good/great supporting roles from the likes of alan alda, alec baldwin, cate blanchett and others. scorsese continues to move the camera well here and the colors are excellent. it was also nominated for its sound mixing and dicaprio's performance, but both lost to ray. ray was a good enough film and jamie foxx did a good job, though i don't see that film standing up like this one will. this and miracle are my favorites from the year. A.

03/04/11
Wings Of Desire - really dense and very german film. it's serious and reflective and reminscent of some bergman stuff both in look and content. there's a lot there to think about which means it would probably hold up fairly well to multiple viewings. it's a bit on the slow side for me, but not as bad as you might think considering how much actually happens (not much). it made it to a couple different top ten lists from members of the family so that's why i finally got around to watching it. B+.
Jaws - great thriller/horror film. felt like the mid-point between the birds and predator. the captain makes one of the best entrances in film history with the nails on the chalkboard. hadn't seen it in a long long time. good stuff here. A.

03/03/11
Pete's Dragon - didn't like this disney effort nearly as much as their animated film. it's too long and the musical numbers didn't really grab me. the story is a nice enough one. the dragon is sort of a representation of the child's id as well as his aimless wandering. in the end he gets a family and discards the childish things and the dragon leaves. it's a bit like mary poppins in this way. mary poppins comes along to set the kids straight and when they're ok, she moves onto the next kids. perhaps they were trying to tap into the success of that film here, but it didn't work nearly as well here. C.

02/28/11
Heaven Can Wait - good film about male-female relations, love, regret, etc. i liked that it was set on an opulent backdrop with very well-to-do people, yet they had very common insecurities or problems with jealousy or regret. in a way i suppose it is a soap opera, but one that is well done and humanistic. even though it deals with these heavy topics it's basically a comedy at its core, as any film about life should be. B+.

02/25/11
Eagle - i'm not a fan of period films in general and ones revolving around honor and military men in ancient rome are sometimes even less appealing than the latest bronte adaptation. it's essentially a buddy film about two guys who shouldn't be buddies. it's your typical setup in a lot of ways, but with a different backdrop and little (if any) sense of humor. ultimately it sags under the weight of cliché, a bad lead (tatum) and too much action that doesn't do anything. C.
Hall Pass - this is the only farrelly brothers film i can think of where the leads already have a wife/girlfriend. however, in true farrelly brothers fashion, the leads are still on the prowl. it's also a more mature farrelly brothers film. now, don't get too down - you're still going to see a fair share of shit and dick gags, but the overall themes of the picture are more grown-up than they have been in the past.
this time around the farrelly's have two leads who already have a wife and family and are grappling with the erosion of their freedom and feelings of regret that life is changing. they're not college guys anymore chasing tail and having fun. it's a realization all (reasonable) men must deal with at some point. we may continue to fetishize the hugh hefner lifestyle or fantasize about what life would be like without the old ball and chain, but ultimately we know that we settled down for a reason. the farrelly brothers get this.
they also get that it's a two-way street. women can always get action if they want it (though they may deny it), but ultimately they also settled for a reason. like us, they have their own insecurities and regrets that go along with or come with a married lifestyle. hall pass is about shedding these obligations for a week and what might happen; at least according to the farrelly brothers. some of us will stray and others will flirt with the idea only to realize that we're actually pretty happy with what we have. the guys want to plant their seed and the women want to feel important and loved. men don't understand women and women don't understand men. it's the ultimate comic dynamic because we're drawn to each other undeniably, but we don't understand each other very well either. honestly, it doesn't get much more funny than that. B.

02/24/11
Mechanic - never saw the original, but i found this one to be a pretty engaging action film. there's not much beyond the usual action themes of redemption and honor and revenge, but it's fairly well-executed with a nice little twist at the end and a good final action sequence. as an actor, ben foster kinda gets under my skin. jason statham is solid as usual. B.

02/23/11
Just Go With It - basically the same as any other happy madison production in the last ten years and that's either a good thing or a bad thing depending upon how you feel about adam sandler. i happen to think he has a pretty good formula and he mostly follows it here. he doesn't have his usual snl friends make cameos here (though kevin nealon does make an appearance, we don't see david spade or rob schneider). no big losses there. jennifer aniston is fine and the writing produces some laughs. B-.
Roommate - subpar remake (essentially) of single white female, this time set on a college campus. the villain is really underdeveloped and, other than looking hot, the protagonist doesn't have much going for her either. it's just a flat film with very little effort expended on character development, suspense, or even a wild finale. i'll give away the showdown's exciting ending: the villian finally fights with the protagonist who stabs her in the back with a utility knife. that's the end. no second wind, nothing. a utility knife? really? that's like the least lethal construction-related tool there is. C-.

02/19/11
Other Guys - just as funny the second time around. will ferrell and adam mckay are meant for each other and i enjoy their off-the-wall humor. also love that this one weaves in a story about the average guys and the screwing of the american people during the latest financial crisis. B+.

02/18/11
I Am Number Four - better than expected coming-of-age story. it has a wholesome feel that sometimes added to it and sometimes detracted from it. you'll notice, for example, that there's only one kiss in the movie and not much in the way of real bad language. actually, i thought there was going to be some christian message behind it in the end, but i didn't find one. dj caruso has done some other pretty good things in the past too. disturbia was good for the genre, eagle eye was enjoyable. salton sea is a bit of a cult classic. two for the money wasn't bad. i thought some of the action scenes were nice enough and the film moved along fairly well for me. it's definitely derivative of other films, but you're not likely going into this thinking that you're going to see some original piece of genius either. B.

02/14/11
Departed - gets a little less interesting each time i watch it which is unfortunate. a little slow at times. like shutter island, though, it has a great ending that helps its cause. one scene that i really liked this time around is the scene where dicaprio is getting recruited by wahlberg and sheen to do the undercover work. the camera moves left to right throughout the scene and scorsese cuts on movement. it has a dizzying effect which is probably how dicaprio felt being told that he'll never be a cop in the traditional sense, but he could be useful by acting like a criminal - the very thing he was trying to escape in the first place. B+.

02/12/11
Shutter Island - the film drags in a couple different spots, but it's a nice looking film with a great ending that is right up my alley. not scorsese's best work, but nice enough to tide us over until he churns out his next masterpiece. B+.

02/11/11
Social Network - engaging and engrossing film that is surprising in its very existence. it's the kind of film that one wouldn't think would get made in this climate and so quickly, at that. it seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen, but i don't really know how that crap works since people are always getting sued for silly shit on the one hand and perfectly reasonable lawsuits get thrown out on the other.
the cast is uniformly great and worthy of the nominations they have gotten. the editing is also a strong point. the choice to tell the story without regard to typical chronology is a good one and not just a gimmick. it changes how we see zuckerberg while keeping us interested. if all the litigation stuff was placed at the end of the picture it would have been a form of catharsis for the audience, but it may have also dragged the flow of the film to a slog.
one of the better films of the year and a sort of historical landmark for the generation. this time around i was much more involved in the personal relationships and less caught up in thinking about the effects of facebook on society. good flick by fincher. B+.
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02/09/11
Parking Lot Movie - nice enough little documentary about a single parking lot in a north carolina college town. the film is at least partly about a certain sort of working class person. the kind of guy who spends a lot of time reading and/or thinking about things and isn't necessarily concerned about material wealth. these are the parking attendants and they're all sorta outcasts and/or slackers when compared to the bar crowd that they have to deal with every friday/saturday night. they tell stories about getting stiffed out of $1 by spoiled sorority girls and the like. it does make you think about parking lots and the position of parking attendant in a different way, the way you might after seeing a film like dark days, though to different effect. it's kind of amazing (though not surprising) to see how some will get in such a tizzy over the smallest amount of money. a couple times these interactions are caught on camera - a customer complains about the price or is seemingly indignant about the idea of paid parking. some people are really divorced from reality and social mores, in other words. B.

02/06/11
Fargo - watched this after writing the review below and found all the comparisons i made to be accurate. this is the best coen brothers flick there is. if anyone can give me a good reason that ncfom is better i'm open to hearing it, but i haven't heard it yet. fargo was first and better. now, big lebowski, millers crossing, blood simple...those you might have a case for.
strikes the perfect balance for me and has a much better look and sound than ncfom. visually only raising arizona and miller's crossing are comparable. don't think another one of their films has as good a score. this is the one. A+.

02/04/11
No Country For Old Men - inferior to fargo in every way, but still a pretty good movie. the actors are all fine, none of them spectacular. the dynamic between jones and his underling is similar to that of mcdormand and hers in fargo, but not as funny or charming. they're pretty similar films in arc, but fargo is more balanced has greater breadth. frankly i can't see any way to this being the best film the coens made. fargo and big lebowski will always be better in my estimation. it's not even their best adaptation of a book. o, brother where art thou and true grit were both as good or better.
all that aside, ncfom is another solid pic from two great american filmmakers. they do a good job of building tension and portraying the pecularities of texas. anton chigurh is one of the more frightening villains in recent years. didn't understand the importance of either the opening or closing monologue. i suppose my biggest problem with the film is the lack of humanity that fargo has. instead of some rambling dream from tommy lee jones you have frances mcdormand reflecting on the useless acts of the convict in the back of her cruiser. instead of a relatively lifeless tommy lee jones you have a more dynamic and central mcdormand. you see more of her home life and reuniting with her awkward high school friend. instead of brolin and bardem you have william h. macy and his father in law and steve buscemi. the characters and dynamics are much more interesting, fun, and humane. there's a starkness to this film that just has no pulse. maybe when you're an old man you're too tired of life to care anymore. maybe that's the point. maybe these guys are all just going through the motions because they have no drive anymore. not sure, but i am sure that it's not as fun to watch. B+.

02/01/11
Stand And Deliver - inspired film about ghetto teacher trying to lift up kids via math. good and classic film. it proves that high expectations and hard work are the cornerstones of success, however so is opportunity and even then it's not always enough (since the test administrators didn't believe the test results since they came from inner city latinos). in other words, we need a little bit of the left and a little bit of the right in order to fix these problems. hopefully people will watch more of these films and slowly come together. yeah, probably not. B+.
Taken - top notch bad ass action flick. A-.

01/31/11
What's Up, Tiger Lily? - like mst3k, but instead of making witty comments the film is entirely re-worked for (presumably) a different story. of course the original is some unseen japanese film so it could be the exact same thing for all we know. it's off the wall satire that allen did in his early years. these were generally mildly humorous, but not amazing. this one is one of his worst films. it has a couple laughs, but isn't really entertaining. the novelty of it is good enough, but not enough to carry the film. only laughed a couple times. C.

01/29/11
Union Station - good detective noir. william holden is a tough guy in charge of security at union station. he gets wind that some shady characters are using his place to get ransom for a blind girl and he gets on the case. it goes through the usual plot and ends predictably, but none of that matters when you have some nice direction and good character acting. the noir genre formula provides such a solid base that you really only need to have some good dialogue or an interesting secondary character or two in order to stand out. this one didn't necessarily stand out, but i was intrigued throughout and it's a good flick. B.

01/28/11
From Prada To Nada - pretty bad movie, but not as bad as i was expecting. i was expecting something marginally better than material girls, but, alas, i got something slightly better and, therefore, less interesting. through most of the film i found myself in a sort of stupor - somewhere between brain dead and mildly entertained. in this way the film was able to make me sympathize with the main characters like few films are able. for the duration of the film i felt about as vacant and idiotic as the characters must have on a daily basis. i doubt that this was the intention of the filmmakers, but that was my response. perhaps it was a self-defense mechanism to just shut down mentally while i was watching the film. who knows. C-.

01/26/11
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House - like money pit, this is a comedy about home renovation. first half hour or so is really hilarious. we get to know cary grant's character as he makes his way through a typical day - waking up, brushing his teeth, eating breakfast, going to work. he's totally put out by life in general and is basically hassled from the moment he wakes up. it's something we can all relate to on some level. sometimes it seems that life is setup just to annoy the hell out of us and that's how it is for him, but to comic effect. eventually he and his wife figure that getting a house in the country (they currently live in manhattan) is the answer to all their problems.
as it goes on the film returns fewer and fewer laughs. it gets a bit bogged down by extraneous plotlines (jealousy and pressure at work begin to eat away at grant) that take it into the drama genre a bit. but there has to be a story in there somewhere so it works for me. myrna loy is good as the matter-of-fact wife who seemingly always gets her way. good flick. B.

01/22/11
Adam - good film about a guy with asberger's syndrome. there are a lot interesting things about asberger's and some things that i find in myself so i found myself enjoying the eponymous character. of course, it's a movie so things may turn out unrealistically, but i still found it an interesting window into the syndrome. B.

01/21/11
No Strings Attached - another in a long line of modern romantic comedies in which the couple is either married or sexually involved before falling in love. as far as romantic comedies go this one is real solid. i don't like ashton kutcher, but he does a good job here and i think he knows how to pick roles that are within his comfort zone. natalie portman is having a breakout year and this adds to her resume. it's more accessible than black swan, but there's still some good writing for her character and she shows what can be done with the genre. this one was also a bit more interesting than most because the gender roles were reversed. how they did that without tilda swinton i'll never know. B+.
Company Men - good film about the economic meltdown. is told from the point of view of white collar men who are victims of and perpetrators of massive layoffs. they may not be responsible for the economic meltdown (they're not bankers or regulators), but they're the kind of guys who certainly haven't helped the country by looking at the bottom line, stock prices and shifting jobs overseas. it's good to see it from this point of view because it's one that i think is easily forgotten in an anti-bourgeois climate. these are people too and while their economic realities may not be as stark as most of the rest of country's, it shows that even the well off are suffering too. tommy lee jones and craig nelson are the only company men who don't really have anything to worry about from an economic standpoint. affleck is well off, but not obscenely rich and basically of just above average intelligence. it's easy to say that he, and the people he represents, should have tucked away more for the future, but hindsight is 20/20 and even many of the "best" analysts didn't think things would go the way they did. also good to see that it showed a couple truths about the recession: it has affected mostly men and especially the older generation.
one of the best ensemble casts of the year.
by the film's end i got the definite feeling that the only thing that's going to get us out of this is working together again and getting back to the roots of any economy - production, hard work, honest living. the film is optimistic about this, but i'm still undecided. B+.

01/20/11
Stone - kind of a strange film about fate and life and such. i'm not entirely sure what was trying to be said, but i was fairly entertained along the way. most of the film i felt that everyone was just sort of off and odd so i never really got into any of the individual characters. plot and the meaning thereof is what drove the film for me. when i didn't really know explicitly what was trying to be said, i was disappointed a bit. perhaps it's just another film that sorta skirts around a point without every making one in an easily summarized way. fair enough. B-.

01/19/11
Same Time, Next Year - neat and simple idea for a movie. it's about two married people who decide to meet every year in the same place and have a weekend affair. the movie follows them every 5-6 years and we get to see how they change and how their relationship evolves. it's a pretty good film with a lot of dialogue and character study. both actors do a really good job with the material. however, the first two minutes (which feature some johnny mathis song) and the last two minutes (which feature an ill-advised ending) are kinda crap. everything in between is solid. B.

01/17/11
Dilemma - starts off slowly, but gets going after 10-15 minutes. frankly, most of the opening few scenes could probably have been scraped altogether. it's a vince vaughn movie with the ron howard touch. it's kind of an odd combination, but it works pretty well on the whole. vaughn disarms and howard gives us a little of the touchy feely stuff that takes it beyond the simple comedy.
winona ryder is actually quite good in a fairly twisted, complex role. kevin james is adequate and jennifer connelly is solid as always. channing tatum is surprisingly funny in a nice little supporting role. it's a good rewrite away from being really solid. B.

01/14/11
Season Of The Witch - pretty awful film that shouldn't even be considered. it's not a repulsive piece of trash, but it's not entertaining or interesting in any meaningful way. D.
Blue Valentine - didn't expect much from this indie romance, but was pleasantly surprised. the indie aesthetic hasn't done much for me the last few years and it was off-putting at first, but i settled into it a bit and i think the director toned it done as the film went on. i can only  handle all the close-ups and hand-held stuff for so long.
both leads did a good job, but gosling was probably the better of the two. it's a good film in the vein of revolutionary road, but in a completely different style. B+

01/13/11
Collapse - the best errol morris movie i've seen that's not directed by errol morris. this is directed by chris smith who did the brilliant american movie: the making of northwestern, but it's done in errol morris' style from stem to stern; the lighting, the music, the content, the format - everything reeks of errol morris.
content-wise it's an interview with one guy about his predictions on the collapse of modern society. he looks primarily at peak oil and how he thinks it will affect our economy and society once we reach that point. he's more or less an alarmist, a chicken little of sorts, but what separates him from the average alarmist is that he's been right before. he was right about the economic collapse and its causes, so that lends some creedence to his current predictions. nothing here is new to the semi-well-informed person. most of us know about peak oil and the gold standard/fiat currency and the general fragility of our society. he discounts our ability to come up with new technologies to get out of problems of scarcity. for example, if we ever figure out fusion we're going to pretty much set. nuclear isn't great, but if we had to, we could use it for a large percentage of our energy needs. the biggest ace in the hole, though, is the population problem, which is an inescapable one for environmentalists and doomsday-sayers. no matter what we do, the population of the earth (around 7 billion now) is an enormous problem.
overall, not a bad film, but the guy came off like a bit too much of a crackpot to take completely seriously. in the end, maybe we want doomsday to happen because we know it's going to come for us (death is inevitable). B.

01/05/11
Gold Diggers Of 1933 - pretty sure this is the first busby berkeley film i've seen. i'm not much of a musical fan, but this one is real solid. i guess it works for me as a musical in part because it makes sense within the film - the three protagonists are all showgirls. it's also good because outside of the musical aspects the story is fun. it's a prototypical 30s comedy in a lot of ways. the girls are real sassy and a good time is had by all. the musical sequences are actually more fun for their visual flair than anything else, though the music is also good. berkeley clearly had a good eye for arrangements and how things would play on film. chicago tried to be a throwback to some of this kind of stuff, but to far less success to my recollection. B+.

01/02/11
King's Speech - the biggest problem with this movie is its title. upon first blush it seems as though it's a film about a specific speech given by a king. however, you could also read it as the king's way of talking, which is a more accurate title for the film. either way, it's probably better to go into the theater with a title like "the unexpected king" which is far less specific. when you're expecting a movie to be great and you think it's only about a single speech then it's a pretty high mountain to climb for the filmmaker.
the film itself is a pretty solid one. both the main performers were real solid and oscar-worthy. the most pleasant surprise was the comic relief which balanced the film quite well. without it the film would have been far too heavy and the characters too distant and unrelatable to enjoy. B+.
Little Fockers - loved the first one and liked the second one. this produces only a few laughs and will probably be the nail in the coffin for the franchise which is okay by me. everyone pretty much just goes through the motions and it's clear that there's no real inspiration behind this one. C+.
 

grading scale:
A+ 4.3
A 4.0
A- 3.7
B+ 3.3
B 3.0
B- 2.7
C+ 2.3
C 2.0
C- 1.7
D+ 1.3
D 1.0
D- 0.7
F+ 0.3
F 0.0
F- -0.3