30 Days Season Three - this season tackles:
spurlock working in a coalmine. pretty tough gig. avg. guy gets 65k/year which is nice, but you're digging most of the time and it doesn't look like fun. 10+ years and you are likely to get black lung. wish we could stop depending on this stuff, but we still use it for about half our electricity. even one of the coalminers said we needed to get away from coal. my understanding is that mining doesn't even create very many jobs anymore, either. lose-lose.
living in a wheelchair. ex-nfl DB lives in a wheelchair for 30 days. this one is obvious and i think most people have thought about it. as someone who builds stuff, i think about clearances and ramps and blocking for handlebars, etc. i'm not building my own place with curbless showers and whatnot, but i certainly have thought about the everyday pain that goes into being a para/quadrapeligic
animal rights. meat eater stays with PETA nuts. he ends up finding out about some of the bad treatment from factory farmers. the thing is, that i don't know a single meat eater who thinks "yeah, fuck those cows, they should be raped and tortured before turned into steak." unfortunately we have corporate farmers who don't give a shit and give the entire carnivore nation a bad name. oh, and spay/neuter your pets!
same sex parenting. dumb woman stays with gay couple who adopted. they go at it from the perspective that there are a lot of gays who want to adopt and a lot of kids who need adopting. even that strategy didn't work. she was very stubborn (and mormon) and didn't budge on anything. neither did they.
guns. woman who thinks guns only do bad things stays with a guy who loves guns. this aired after the VA tech shooting and i watched it shortly after the CT shooting. in six months you could watch it and it would still be topical because we're going to continue to have these shootings. unfortunately i think that her POV was too indicative of liberals on the issue - many think that guns are never good, guns are owned by right wing wackos, etc. the truth is that guns on the range are fine, guns for hunting (especially for rural people who supplement their income with deer meat) are not bad, guns for home protection are fine so long as properly secured. the problem is all the other guns. until we get liberals to understand that and conservatives to understand that we don't want to rid the country of all weapons, we're not going anywhere.
spurlock living on an indian reservation. he gets all spiritual and stuff and loves the navajo grandma who shows him how to make navajo fry bread (i'd love her too because that stuff is awesome). B+.
Parenthood - first saw this in the theater and i was about 11 years old. obviously a different experience watching it that time than watching it now, with a daughter on the way.
it's like "what to expect when you're expecting" in that it gives you a variety of different possible ways that parenting can turn out. in the end, it's affirming of the whole process, despite the turmoil of it all. B+.
Revolutionary Road - second time around it was just as good. it's an example of all the things i don't want to become. an everyday schlub. spiteful. angry. bitter. what this couple does to each other and the conclusion it reaches is about as frightening as anything you'll see in a horror film. B+.
Sting - haven't seen this classic con-man movie in ages. holds up well with a good cast and a good plot. B+.
After Porn Ends - documentary about porn stars after they get out of the business. some of them get back into the business for money. others retire. others pick up new lines of work. others work to fight against the business. generally speaking, porn doesn't attract the most mentally and emotionally stable women. the men seem much better off. in fact, of all the documentaries i've seen on the topic, i can't recall one man who seemed far outside the norm while in the business or afterwards.
basically, for many of the women it's best paying of the easy choices in life. there aren't many women who grow up wanting to do it and work hard toward the goal (sasha grey being the exception). instead, it's just a higher paying form of stripping or hooking. it's for good looking women who don't want to work at denny's or try to get a real job. mix in some past abuse, low self-esteem, etc. and you have a porn star. B-.
30 Days Season Two - topics tackled this time: immigration (minuteman lives with family of illegals in LA), job outsourcing (guy lives in india to see the people who replaced him), atheist lives with a christian family, guy tries new age treatment for stress, pro-choice woman lives at pro-life shelter for women, morgan goes to jail. there were some big topics this season and it's interesting as usual. the immigration one was interesting because the minuteman eventually realized that the mexican family was coming from abject poverty, but i don't think that the family ever came to understand that we can't just open the border for everyone in the world because they are living a very difficult life.
the computer programmer in the outsourcing episode came to the realization that his salary was better off paying for 10 indians than one american. that was unexpected.
the atheist didn't change any minds, but was respectful and i think the christians didn't think of her as the devil afterwards. i guess that's some progress.
morgan spurlock going to jail was interesting. there were two jails - one where they had no structure, and just wasted time. that was a pathetic display and unfortunately it's a too common occurrence. the other jail had structure and it seemed like there was some effort at rehabilitation. in the end, the friends he made who got out of prison were back within a couple months. B+.
30 Days Season One - good tv series from morgan spurlock. the concept is basically the same as the one in super size me - do something for 30 days and see how it affects you. in this season he lives off minimum wage (or thereabouts) for 30 days and has other people try: anti-aging regimen, living like a muslim, living like a gay person, live off the grid, binge drinking like a college student. in most cases he has someone far outside of the subculture trying the thing out, so he has an anti-gay christian living in the castro district with a gay roommate, etc.
some episodes are better than others, but they all get to a common end point where people basically find greater understanding of something that they had judged prematurely. it's the old saying about walking a mile in another man's shoes. some of the methods or specifics in the show are suspect. for example, when morgan and his fiancé live on minimum wage they put down a deposit on a new place, get new furniture, etc. it's as if they hadn't existed before. they also don't have any friends/family around which is probably atypical of most minimum wage earners. that said, it does get to the realities of moving on a meager wage, and it does force you to think about what it's like for some people living that life.
in most cases, i can't say that it was all that eye-opening for me. i go through most of my life trying to think about what it must be like for the people i judge or the people who may judge me. we can't assume we know what it's like to be on welfare or to be muslim or to be a hippie living off the grid. some of these things are bad or odd choices, but you can only judge so much without interviewing every individual from every different walk of life. hopefully more people watch the show in syndication or on netflix in order to truly appreciate this fact. B+.
This Is 40 - apatow has good ideas and a good sense of humor. he also is good at working in moments of emotional truth without coming off as sappy or false. that said, he's too successful for his own good at this point. you get to a point in hollywood where you are successful and it buys you autonomy. that's generally nice for the artist, but with some it leads to overly long, didactic, or rambling films. here we have something that could have been better served with the apatow touch, but without his fingerprints all over it. in other words, he's a better producer right now than he is a filmmaker. of course, so long as the money keeps coming in, no one is going to tell him that. what he did with freak and geeks and developing so many young talents is where his mark will truly be left. lena dunham aside, he's helped some really talented and funny people be discovered (the freaks and geeks crowd) and allowed others to show the talent they always had (kristen wiig), but hadn't really fully exhibited before. he's got a good sensibility, but he shouldn't be charge anymore. B-.
Jack Reacher - one of the best movies of the year. i hope they make a series out of it. good action, some suspense, "and a little sex in it." other than the poor writing for, and acting from, rosamund pike, the film was real solid all around. lately it seems that the hero is on the outskirts of the law - batman, taken, etc. bad ass guys doing the right thing, but usually breaking the law in the process. reacher is more in the mold of the goody two shoes hero. i like both types, but it doesn't feel like we've had the relatively pure heroes as much lately. B+.
King Of The Hill Season Seven - hank keeps getting better. the scary thing is i sympathize with him more and more. i like his parenting of bobby for example: "this is a carburetor - take it apart, put it back together again and repeat until you're normal." B.
Chasing Ice - global warming documentary that follows the extreme ice survey as they go throughout the northern hemisphere planting cameras to take time lapse photos of glaciers receding. as far as convincing people that global warming is real...this one probably isn't going to convince the skeptics. it's a nice idea to have visual evidence of what we know is happening, but the people who are still skeptical have reasons beyond what is addressed here for doubting the science. some actual arguments i've heard: the ice is receding in the north arctic, but expanding in the south arctic. the globe is warming, but it's because of the sun - not because of us. the whole thing is a conspiracy by the people in charge to take control of us.
it's definitely interesting to see what james balog is willing to go through for this cause. the multiple knee surgeries, the time away from his family, the failed equipment, etc. it's cool to see the photography they are able to capture in these remote areas. it's sad to see how much that part of the world is changing. B-.
Dexter Season Seven - you gotta feel for deb. she's so torn in this season after last season's finale, wherein she sees dexter about to murder someone. she's dealing with a tremendous amount of crap. she's the heart of the show, probably always has been, but certainly is at this point with other characters being pushed more toward the background. dexter continues his slow march away from "the code" and away from the audience's ability to rationalize his "habit." his new female interest is probably the most like him to date, and that may very well be his downfall. their relationship reminds me of the one depicted in the book "the getaway." it's a relationship between people that can never trust anyone else and is thus damned as soon as they stop running from others. B-.
There's Something About Mary - total classic that holds up to multiple viewings. so many classic moments and scenes throughout the film. 6 minute abs, the hair gel, the zipper, the two scenes with the dog, the pearly white teeth, the damn nepalese coins, brett fav-ra, etc. just classic. A+.
Sister Wives Season Four - continues to get overproduced. they do some shady editing, they have more filler stuff, and there's less philosophical content than there was before. pretty disappointing that this is what tlc decided to do with this series. tlc is basically just another joke network chasing the dollar and ruining everything along the way. a perfect example of how the profit motive can corrupt art and learning and other things we don't normally put a price tag on. B-.
King Of The Hill Season Six - continues to be a good series.
lately i've been liking dale's character. he's a political conspiracy type and i run across people like him online who think that everything is some sort of conspiracy between the bankers and the government. pretty wacky stuff. B.
Sister Wives Season Three - getting to be a more mainstream show at this point. they are doing more staged stuff which is clearly for the show. trips to the gym or a flower shop (actually, that happens in season 4), etc. as filler or something to give the season/series some long term and short term interest points. i don't really mind it, though. mostly, i watch the series to see how the family interacts and to hear them talk about the lifestyle and each other. they continue to be remarkably open about their own frailties and jealousies. i don't agree with them, but i admire their maturity, honesty and communication.
most of them seem to approach subjects with the feelings of others in mind more than their own. it recalls the wooden quote: "Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights." they also talk openly and unabashedly about values and morals. it's interesting to contrast how much they talk about those things with how much i talk about those things with others or how much other reality tv stars talk about those concepts. i have a feeling sometimes that we're too libertarian to talk about morals and values because we're afraid of offending someone or seeming immoral by comparison or too preachy. it's too bad, really, that we don't talk about these things more often; and that's coming from me who (i think) talks about it more than most of my peers. B.
Sister Wives Season Two - things heat up for the family and the production gets a little more dramatic. musical cues and edits do more to accentuate, or produce, drama. it's still plenty better than the average reality show fare, though. the family now has 4 wives and is "out" so they are now the subject of a bigamy investigation in utah. they decide to move to las vegas and do so with little notice to most of the kids, which causes some friction. it's interesting to see them all grapple with everything that is happening - a big move, four houses instead of the one that the series began with, a criminal investigation, etc.
for them, it seems like this way of life works pretty well and i find myself wishing for them that people would just let them live. why does society investigate this guy for openly loving and providing for four women, yet there are guys all over the country with 8 kids from 6 different women who aren't breaking any laws? it just makes no sense. they also don't seem like the type of people for whom the struggle against tyranny is the thing keeping it all together. with some relationships, once you eliminate the opposition the whole thing falls apart; i don't think that's the case here. B+.
Sister Wives Season One - started watching this on a lark and it stuck. the first season doesn't dramatize it at all, which is refreshing for this kind of reality tv. it merely presents the family of polygamists as they are. if you know a mormon then you basically know these people, which is kinda messed up to say, but also kinda true. they are well-intentioned, fun, cheesy, conservative socially, wholesome, and basically good people. personally, i don't know that i could have more than one wife, or share a wife with others, but if that works for you then so be it. the fact that we chastise them for sleeping around in the most honorable way possible is pretty pathetic. B+.
Benji - story about an up and coming high school basketball player who was shot in the streets of chicago. this is an all too familiar story of a great talent that doesn't see its potential fulfilled. with athletes like this it's usually because of drugs or crime. with musicians it's because of drugs or mental illness. basically, you've seen this story a million times if you've watched more than a couple documentaries in your life. of course that doesn't make this story any less tragic. if you believe the mainstream narrative, benji was caught up in a robbery gone bad. if you believe the (now reformed) murderer, then benji challenged the kid and was shot twice in an act of self defense.
the interesting thing about this one was the community response. thousands of people at the funeral, jesse jackson comes out of the woodwork once again, and even some positive reforms like a rule that requires gunshot victims go to the nearest trauma center instead of the nearest hospital (duh). a death that shouldn't have happened, but this is the kind of thing that happens when poverty, crime and drugs take over a community. you take out a few of the best and brightest of a community, take out many of the young men (through death and prison sentences), insert drugs, insert crime, insert fear, and you get what we have in many (mostly black) urban communities today. pretty sad stuff. B.
There's No Place Like Home - wacky kansas fan tries to get someone to buy the original rules of basketball so they can be displayed in the kansas basketball arena. talks with a lot of former KU players and coaches and they all say it belongs there. none of them pony up any money, though. and this is the part of the documentary that makes you understand where some conservatives are coming from - all these well off former/current nba players/coaches want the document in kansas, but, in the end, it falls on the back of one rich KU alum to spend 4.3 million to buy it and donate it to kansas. would have been nice if larry brown, bill self, and other rich basketball-loving alumni would have chipped in a few thousand. B-.
Skyfall - the daniel craig bond is more ornery, old, and rough around the edges than the others. more true to the book, from what i'm told, but also more true to likely reality. this installment isn't anything special plot-wise, but i like the evolution of his character and seeing some of the background. bardem was pretty good as well. B.
Red Dawn - the original was cheesy and bad and so is this one. the little brother character is miscast. the north korean thing is funny since it was supposed to be the chinese originally but they changed it so the movie would be more marketable in china. C.
30 Rock Season Six - some say that the series lost its touch after the first few seasons, but i continue to find it funny. liz lemon is one of the great female characters in tv and alec baldwin is a perfect foil. is it kinda the same stuff over and over? sure, but it was funny at first and continues to be funny now. B+.
Pruitt-Igoe Myth - pruitt-igoe is the federal housing project developed in the 1950s for the st. louis poor. i hadn't heard of it before the documentary, but the story of this one seems similar to the story i've heard of projects in general. white, male, government types get together to address the issue of poverty, they come up with a housing plan, it fails. why does it fail? it's a thorny issue. on the conservative side there would be people who would say that the government meddled in the price of housing, did a big project, etc. and it was doomed to failure because the government can't do these things as efficiently as the free market. some on that side would also blame the residents for failing to keep up their cheap housing and have pride in where they live. others would point out that the government failed to plan for real maintenance work so the buildings fell into a state of disrepair. then there was government insistence that women not live with men in order to qualify for the low rent. the documentary has one interview with a woman whose parents broke up so that her 11 siblings and mother could get the low rent while the father moved elsewhere to make money. to me, this is a telling parable or microcosm of the whole project. 1) government fails with a backwards and silly rule (to only allow women without able-bodied men into the housing) 2) woman and man don't earn much, have 12 kids. 3) woman and man think that breaking up for cheap rent is better than staying together and finding another way.
watching the documentary it made me re-realize that something i've thought about oftentimes before - there are so many things wrong with the world (or in this case, wrong with this housing project) and there is so much blame to go around, that one can make up pretty much any narrative they want and find some supporting evidence.
on the larger scale, this project was about the changing look of the city. in the 50s st. louis was projected to grow to over 1 million people. instead, it reversed course and the suburbs grew thus gutting the city. the pruitt-igoe projects weren't well conceived, but once people started moving out of the city, they were truly doomed. of course, tangled in all of this are issues of class, race and politics. messy stuff with plenty of sad stories to go around. recommended. B+.
Ghosts Of Ole Miss - 30 for 30 that takes a frank, but partisan, look at the 1962 ole miss team and the desegregation of the school. it's told from the perspective of a mississippian filmmaker and football fan which is the partisan part - he's clearly a homer. at the same time, the film is honest about the unsavory parts of ole miss' past, and even its present. in a way the film asks us "what will it take for us to get over what mississippi did?" and "what more do they need to do to get rid of the ghosts of that dark time?" i have no love for mississippi or much of the deep south which did so much to hurt the country between the 1860s and 1960s. at the same time, we're going to need to move on at some point; both the north and the south.
the ole miss team itself had a great season in 1962. they went undefeated and beat arkansas in the sugar bowl. usc, it should be noted, also went undefeated and won in the rose bowl over #2 wisconsin to gain the #1 ranking in the final poll. interestingly, ole miss was ranked #1 at the beginning of the season just a couple years later and ended up losing 5 games that season. in 2012 usc was ranked #1 in the preseason and has also lost 5 games. the documentary doesn't mention usc at all, but that's because that no good SEC filmmaker doesn't know a good football team when he sees it. fucking hick. :) B.
Before Sunrise - actually saw the sequel before i saw this. wish i had watched them in the right order and closer together.
it's a simple story of two young people who meet on a train and spend the night together in vienna before the guy (hawke) has to catch a train. it's an honest story. honest to the feelings a 20 something person would have in that situation. honest about the good and bad. the actors and writing portray it all very well and, for being essentially plotless, the film captured me pretty well. linklater's thoughtful films are always engaging in this way. neither is the kind of film i'd watch over and over, but both are worthy of at least one viewing. they're also the kind of films that change as you change. had i watched this film 10 years ago i would have had a different view of their relationship. in 10 years i'll have yet another view of it. in this one they are hopeful about the idea of a soulmate. in the second one they seem regretful and beaten by life in some ways. things haven't worked out as well as they might have if they had been able to meet again and stay together.
good film. B+.
Lincoln - the production, acting and words were all good. unfortunately it's an overly long and heavy handed film. as a west wing person and political junkie i liked some of the wrangling with the lobbyists and the vote buying and that kind of thing, but that's not for everyone. daniel day-lewis will probably win the oscar. what else is new? beyond those things the film wasn't all that interesting. to me, the most interesting thing about the film was that it points out just how impure the whole system is. even a guy like lincoln, who is supposedly one of our most pure presidents, lied to congress, was implicit in buying votes, etc. to get this piece of legislation (13th amendment) passed. the 14th amendment passed a couple months later and the 15th amendment passed about 18 months after that. so, it would seem (and the film confirms this at one point), that the amendment was basically inevitable anyway. the counter argument would be that without the 13th amendment being passed, the 14th and 15th amendments wouldn't have had a chance, or would have taken much longer. i don't buy that argument. B-.
She's Having A Baby - more serious john hughes film about a young couple growing up. mostly it's about kevin bacon's character coming to grips with the fact that he's part of a partnership now and can't live the solo life anymore. becoming okay with living in suburbia, struggling with his job, etc. has a lot of the usual john hughes suspects. B-.
Happy - documentary about happiness. what makes us happy? what is happiness? etc. some of the science was interesting. i was sorta in and out of this one, though, so i don't remember a lot of it. the film basically makes the assertion that being with others makes us happy. it's not about things or riches. i think most people understand that being rich helps with a lot of stuff, but it isn't the key to happiness. would like to see a better version of this same film. C+.
Under The Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story - documentary about the titular board game. fun little story and similar in some ways to king of kong, the documentary about donkey kong players. it gives you a history lesson on the game, some basic strategy, some insight into the subculture, etc. basically exactly what you would expect. B.
Running The Sahara - documentary about three guys who decide to run across the sahara desert. it takes them a little over 100 days with an average of basically 2 marathons jogging per day. it's a ridiculous thing to do, but it's somewhat interesting to see them do it. at the end there is a little coda about some water project that they donated to, but really the whole thing was just an ego trip from three (apparently) rich guys. they did it and i never will. good for them. C+.
America In Primetime - four part series on tv throughout the years. arranged by themes like men and women in tv, heroes, etc. good balance of older and newer series. nice enough and it fit in with my watching tv series lately. B-.
Something Ventured - documentary about venture capital. the film doesn't make the distinction, but there's a difference between venture capital (new firms) and what romney did (which is called private equity). the real job creators are profiled here. even ayn randian bob valentine admits that a lot of his success has been because of luck. nice because most people who have done well in life attribute it almost solely to hard work and smarts. i don't know what the actual mix is on average, but luck certainly helps.
the film doesn't really look at the nuts and bolts of what it takes to be a venture capitalist or attempt to outline what makes a successful startup or VC firm. rather it just profiles some of the people who have been involved in the industry over the years. focused a lot on the silicon valley. B-.
King Of The Hill Season Five - hank hill and his band of misfits continue to entertain. not sure when i saw season 4 so i just picked a date. B.
King Of The Hill Season Four - nothing to say. B.
Future - weird indie film about a couple who decide to adopt a cat and feel like the world is over as a result. they reason that getting a cat is like a 15 year commitment and they'll be 50 at that time which means their life will basically be over. they figure they have a month to live their lives before the cat adoption happens. in the end i'm not really sure what happens other than that the couple has problems and the cat is euthanized because they don't adopt it in time. bizarre and occasionally funny. ultimately didn't do much for me though. C+.
Flight - good, solid film. washington turned in a good performance, as did everyone else, and the writing was good.
didn't really get the god angle to the film. not sure where they were going with it, but there were a lot of references to religion and god. i think the crash site was the church that the stewardess had mentioned prior to takeoff.
perhaps the most notable part of the film for me, though, was the fact that the audience was so enabling of the pilot's drug abuse problems. for example, near the end he falls of the wagon, hard, and needs to get ready for a major appearance before a committee that is investigating the crash. so, he takes some coke to get up after his hangover. the crowd essentially cheered this section of the film. it was played for laughs when his dealer (john goodman) comes into the hotel to get him up for the testimony, but i saw it as the character's nadir and they seemed to view it as a triumph of his will. pretty sad. in the end, it's a good way of presenting the story of drug abuse. he's able to do heroic things and be charming and funny, but ultimately he's a drug addict who fails the most important people around him - his ex-wife, his new girlfriend, his son. i don't know if the people in the theater didn't see that or didn't care. B+.
Wreck-It Ralph - a video game version of toy story. nice enough story and animation. this is the kind of stuff i have to look forward to in a few years. B-.
Pitch Perfect - nothing special comedy that is probably similar to glee, but i don't know because i don't watch that. doesn't have too much singing, but could have less. no real memorable laughs or down times. C.
9.79* - another 30 for 30 documentary, this one is on the 1988 olympics wherein ben johnson got a world record time in the 100m. carl lewis ended up with a second place finish, but after johnson tested positive lewis got the gold. it's not a great installment in the great series of sports documentaries. part of that may be because it's essentially very pessimistic - it seems as though everyone is under suspicion, at least, and guilty of doping at worst. pretty depressing that there's nothing pure in the world. B-.
Argo - better than i had anticipated. gives a little historical background for us middle east ignorami. pretty well edited and written, dare i say directed, too. nice use of cross cutting toward the end.
a central theme is the anonymity that the CIA operates under. it's a no glory position in a lot of ways. that institution is both the villain (because of their role in overthrowing the democratically elected leader of iran) and the hero (because they helped rescue the six hostages that the movie follows).
after the movie ended affleck gives a little nod to carter and lets him have the last word. someone in the audience said something about the remaining hostages being saved "no thanks to you." i found that funny because, while it's true, it doesn't exactly acknowledge the deal reagan and ollie north did. we live in funny times. B+.
Chasing Mavericks - good directors (apted and hanson), but not very good direction. some bad acting and cheesy moments and some bad writing to go with that. i know nothing about the subject of the film (some famous surfer from santa cruz), but that may have actually been a good thing.
knowing about him may have detracted from the enjoyment because no one is as clean cut as the kid in the film. a wholesome film overall so i don't have much to complain about from that perspective. karate kid of surfing i guess. C.
Detropia - not as good a documentary as i would have liked. it focuses on detroit and its economic woes and potential rise from the ashes. the filmmakers follow a few detroit denizens and you get an idea of the culture and what people on the ground think about things. the video blogger's perspective was basically worthless. the union president was interesting, as was the saloon owner. i see detroit as a solvable problem with the right government intervention and private/public partnerships. of course it's also a canary in the coalmine or microcosm of what could happen to the country if we don't watch out. get back to making things, don't let the unions get too big, don't let industry move capital during times of great success without repercussions, support local business, keep quality in mind, don't rest on our laurels, etc. B-.
Jiro Dreams Of Sushi - documentary about one of the great sushi chefs in the world. he has an unassuming place in tokyo with only 10 seats. the rice is as important as the fish and no detail gets missed. sushi is his life. it's inspirational in that it shows what dedication can do. it's also sad because there is undoubtedly a cost to his family because of his singular focus on work. B-.
Master - can't quite settle on a single review of this film so here are a few ideas:
dear p.t. anderson, fuck you.
it's a story about two guys - one who is insane and the other who is retarded. that's about as interesting as i can make it sound.
with anderson's last two films he's made me question whether his previous films were any good after all. considering how highly i regard magnolia, boogie nights and punch-drunk love, that's an accomplishment in its own right.
i told my dad i'd rather watch a dog lick itself for two hours than watch this again. i meant it.
Business Of Being Born - documentary that looks at the healthcare industry and how they handle childbirth. pretty depressing stuff, but it is just another example of how far big business has gotten our culture away from life's fundamentals. there are some real nutty hippies that go along with the home at birth movement and that frankly is a turn off from that whole idea. but ultimately i think they have good points. i'm also a guy who generally thinks about getting back to nature and doing things without technology. in a lot of ways it makes sense to eschew the technological approach to something that women's bodies are fundamentally designed to do. B.
Broke - another great 30 for 30 documentary from espn. this one tackles the high rate of bankruptcy and financial problems from athletes. it all makes perfect sense, of course. you reach your most marketable at a young age when you are least capable of having the discipline to handle that kind of cash. this is the opposite of the ebb and flow of most careers - start at the bottom, work your way up until you are most profitable in your 50s when you are also most equipped to handle that kind of dough. ultimately the idea of making millions and losing it all by 30 or 40 years old is anathema to me and unacceptable, however i can certainly see how such a thing can happen. great stuff, lots of food for thought. B+.
Blue Velvet - promised john and my dad that i'd revisit it. i watched it once when i was 16 - it was the only film my dad explicitly said had an age limit. i watched day of the dead when i was like 7 years old so not being able to watch blue velvet until i was 16 was kind of a big deal in my mind. funny how a kid's mind works. anyway, i thought the film was crap back then. and for the first 30 minutes or so i thought it was crap again. eventually it sorta grew on me and i accepted it as somewhat interesting. overall i'd much rather watch a real douglas sirk film instead of a douglas sirk film on acid, but that's just me. B-.
Client 9: The Rise And Fall Of Eliot Spitzer - frank documentary about the rise and fall of elliott spitzer. for those who believe in the banking cartel conspiracies, this one isn't going to exactly shake you of that belief. spitzer was a real attack dog against wall street abuse and he had a good run. unfortunately he couldn't keep
his personal life together so he strayed from his marriage and the witch hunt began.
another documentary that shows the folly of humankind. we're a frail and weak species when it comes to certain things. B.
Looper - my dad said it was a cross between carrie and the terminator. it also has shades of film noir and blade runner.
the makeup crew did a really good job on joseph gordon-levitt. it's a bit on the long side. would have liked about 20 minutes worth of tightening and cutting. don't think the logic of the time travel and the conclusion made much sense, but they kinda get around that by saying it's complicated and leaving it at that. don't get hung up on that. it's ultimately about the circle of violence that humans seem incapable of escaping. B.
Freaks And Geeks Season One - a really good one and done series. it takes a few shows to find its feet which isn't unusual, but the writing is consistently good and on point. never did like the final episode much. not sure if they knew whether or not they would get picked up for more seasons. perhaps if they knew it would be over they would have wrapped things up more. i liked the merging of the two groups with the james franco character playing d&d in the end. of course the unoriginal music they chose is great. also liked the many movie references of the time. didn't like the original music much, though. a bit cheesy and sitcom-ish for my taste.
casting was great and the actors nailed it in pretty much every instance. lots of success came to them afterwards, too. B+.
Darkman II: Return Of Durant - pretty awful sequel to a good film. whereas the first one had the right tone and mix of funny/serious. this one was just a b picture from the word go. really nothing about this one that's worth mentioning. D-.
End Of Watch - david ayer is pretty consistently and interesting writer to watch. lots of cop-centric stuff and usually takes place in LA. nothing he's done has been amazing, but it's generally safe to pencil in a b or b+ for one of his films. this one is no exception.
the two protagonists (gyllenhaal and pena) have great chemistry and are very well-written. by now it's safe to say that ayer knows how to write for cops. brash, basically good, sometimes over the top and macho. a film like this is one of the reasons i keep coming to films - to see a day in the life of someone i don't already know. i have a theory that a person will be a liberal if they watch enough movies. not because of some hollywood bias and indoctrination, but because, by experiencing the lives of others and walking in their shoes for a couple hours, you gain some degree of sympathy for what it is to live the life of a cop, soldier, poor person, black person, rich person, politician, etc. a good film shows you that it's never as simple a job or position to be in as you might think. B+.
Somewhere Between - so-so documentary about adoption of chinese babies. they aren't chinese, they aren't american - they're somewhere between. i've never really understood the depth of cultural connection that some people feel. i'm serbo-croatian on one side and a mutt on the other. i've never felt a great connection to any of my jewish, serbo-croatian, or other hertitages. that kind of thing is too tribal for me. one part of the film did resonate, though. one girl goes back to the area which she thinks she came from. she is posting fliers hoping that she can find her biological parents. amazingly enough she does and her father's reaction to being around her is very sad. you can tell in his eyes that he was very sad that he had to let her go (actually it was the mom who gave her up for adoption because they couldn't afford another baby). sad stuff. C+.
Arbitrage - very fine film about family, greed, business, etc. my dad brought up a great bible quote "what does it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul?" very applicable. fine performances all around, nicely written and directed. a definite recommendation. B+.
Girl Model - documentary that follows a russian 13 year old girl who is becoming a model as well as a 30 something talent scout/ex-model who is responsible for finding the girl. the girl is exactly what you'd expect. country girl with little knowledge about the modeling world or the world in general. she's thrown into this world because the modeling agency thinks she may get some jobs. her family is over-promised and she is under-tutored. instead she's just shuffled around from audition to audition to see if she has the right look.
in the end all this is basically good for everyone except for the talent. the agencies get their cut, the scout gets her per diem and her cut, the bookers get plenty of new talent coming in and get their pick of the litter. one more poor girl taken advantage of. one more family disappointed and swindled by the big city a-hole who sold them a bill of goods.
based upon what the documentary shows the scout comes off as pretty bad indeed. the more i think of it the more i think that the female scout is not only a pedophile, but satan himself. what a worthless cunt. at some point in life you need to ask yourself what role you play in society. what if everyone did what you do? and you need to remember the words of cool hand luke "calling it your job don't make it right." B-.
Parks And Recreation Season Four - this season has leslie knope running for mayor. the cast continues to be really solid. at this point i think that parks and rec is probably better than the office is now that steve carrell is gone. B+.
Friday Night Lights Season Five - another somewhat inconsistent season. still getting settled into the new characters and deciding how i feel about them. to me, watching these tv shows has become so much (perhaps too much) about the ending. unlike a film which i see as a story about usually just one series of events or a single time in a person's life, a tv series has the ability to encompass an entire life, or at least a significant chunk of it.
the ending of the series makes sense (begins and ends with the coach's career in dillon texas). it's also a little bit too tidy. i can't say i disliked it. it's nice that things end well for everyone (except for luke, maybe), but it also leaves a little less impact as a result. there's not much bittersweet - just sweet. overall a very good series that's well-acted and written (some gaps aside). wish it had received more popular attention. B+.
King Of The Hill Season Three - good show that passes the time. bobby is a classic. dale reminds me of a lot of conservatives i debate from time to time. sky is always falling, someone is always looking over your shoulder...general doom and gloom paranoia.
lots of texas tv watching between this and friday night lights. B.
Samsara - from the cinematographer of the qatsi trilogy and the director of baraka comes more of the same; and that's a good thing. it felt like it had more social commentary than baraka. other than one performance artist scene which had me scratching my head, it was a mostly peaceful film with excellent visuals and plenty to think about. how we fit into the world, the cylce of life, and other big issues. not for everyone, but i like these films from time to time. B+.
Friday Night Lights Season Four - a lot of the characters that we've grown to know over the last three seasons are now graduated so season 4 is somewhat of a reboot. a new school, new team, new characters. coach and his wife remain the same, but the environment has changed. these final two seasons give a different perspective on the impact of football on the community. the athletes are mostly lower class kids, a few of them have criminal records, etc. while these characters never "took" as much with me as the original cast did, they did have some moments. this season did have some of the toughest moments of the series. saracen's father dying and tim going to jail were among them. it also featured some of coach's toughest challenges in dealing with the day to day operations of getting a field ready, sporting a full team, etc.
overall a somewhat inconsistent season, but still a good one. B+.
Friday Night Lights Season Three - best season so far and i hope the series continues to improve. of course the acting continues to impress and the writing continues to show the depth of the characters. they're really coming to life with their complexities and the volume of experiences we've been privy to. one complaint is that they sometimes drop storylines without incident - for example the kid who was staying with buddy. he was on the football team, living with buddy and then he's just gone without mention. other than these sorts of storytelling issues, the series continues to keep me interested and engaged.
a small town football team is actually ripe for a tv show. there's drama of the game, the drama of the different personalities, the playing time issues, the micro issues of coaching or of learning the game, the town pressures, along with the usual life stuff like being a teenager or parenting one. it's basically an endless well to draw from in terms of characters and stories. B+.
Friday Night Lights Season Two - the series continues to improve. all the actors (except for minka kelly) have settled into their roles well and act their socks off. taylor kitsch, zach gilford, and kyle chandler are all standouts for the men. but the females also have great performances and are well-written. connie britton is excellent. aimee teegarden and adrianne palicki are also very good in less difficult roles. some of the twists and turns of the plot and characters are larger than life, but that's what the series is. living a big life in a small town and everything seems like the end of the world.
it's great to get the perspective of the small town athlete and get into the head of stereotypical characters like riggins (the dump jock) or lyla (the head cheerleader). to be able to view people beyond stereotypes is an invaluable skill in life and the show helps develop that over the course of many episodes. series like this are more lifelike than feature films because we get to see the ebb and flow in a more realistic timeline. the slutty girl at school gets to have a few episodes worth of screen time where she is doing well, getting ready for college, etc. and then she falls off the wagon. the same goes for the star running back who does well through most of the series, but has occasional setbacks which normally define these sorts of people in the public's mind. B+.
Branded - there are about a billion ways to make a film and we see very few of those any given year. for better or worse there is a certain style, rhythm, and language of film that the average audience expects. this is one of those films that is familiar (it's not a film wholly outside of the normal like decasia or koyaanisqatsi), but also decidedly different. and, to cut to the chase, not very good either. there's a decent idea for a sociological allegory in this film somewhere just dying to get out. unfortunately it never does. the allegory isn't fully formed or thought out; or maybe i just didn't get it. i get that it's anti-branding and anti-corporate hegemony, but it never spells out how this story is commenting on those things specifically. and what does the ending (wherein all advertising is banned) say about the filmmakers? not that we become enlightened as in the matrix, rather that the government now much replace the corporations in deciding what is best for us. really? only in russia... D.
Breaking Bad Season 5 Part 1 - spoilers ahead.
the season starts off with walt turning 52 and he looks to be on the run, presumably trying to get away from the authorities or a rival cartel...we won't really know until the second half of the season, evidently.
the first few episodes took a little while to get rolling. or maybe it took a while for me to get back into the swing of the show. but by the end of the season i was wanting more just like always. just like always bad shit happens and walt needs to solve the problems he's created for himself, jesse and whomever else is sucked into his black hole of a life. it's truly a cautionary tale. seeing skyler on the edge of a nervous breakdown, jesse being pushed to the edge again, and the children out of the house...it starts what will likely be a season long collapse from walt who gradually gave into ego, greed, and self-pity. the series could just be called "breaking." B+.
Compliance - another film that shows that truth is stranger than fiction. this one covers the strip search prank call scam and one of those instances in particular. it's a pretty unbelievable story, but there are a lot of dumb and compliant people in the world so i guess this kind of thing was just a matter of time.
it's reminiscent of the milgram experiment, only it's even more real than that. it shows just how far people are willing to go when they feel someone else will take the fall. most of us are meant to be sheep. pretty important to remember that when going through life, so at the very least this film reminds us of that. B.
Play Misty For Me - too much jazz music, but other than that it's a pretty good first effort from eastwood. it's a fatal attraction type film and while it didn't leave me as unsettled as that fatal attraction did, it did have a lot of visual interest. B-.
Killer Joe - pretty damn weird film. felt like fargo as done by david lynch. other than emile hirsch the film was well-acted. matthew mcconaughy was as good as he's ever been.
in the final analysis i'm just unsure what i'm supposed to get out of this experience. it's a weird and unsettling film, but those aren't emotions i look for in my film going experience. maybe that's why i don't like lynch. i like going to a film to laugh, to cry, to see a new point of view, to be scared, to learn something...but i never go to a film to be weirded out. if you like being weirded out then watch this. C.
Friday Night Lights Season One - first couple episodes were directed by peter berg who did the film version and produces the series. they're stuck in the same style as the film visually and musically. i have less problem with the visual style because it works, but the post rock music that is supposed to make you feel like every moment is of the greatest importance, can be a little grating when you pay attention to it. i thought the film was pretty good, but didn't really think i wanted to see an entire series worth of the same stuff. after a couple episodes, though, it grabs you pretty good.
coach taylor and the team have to deal with all the pressure of being the only good thing in a crappy little fictional texas town. they get the threats when they don't win right away and the benefits (hot chicks and superstar status) when they do win. a good start. B.
2016: Obama's America - figured i should give this hit piece a shot since i watched most of the anti-bush documentaries several years ago. as far as this kind of documentary goes, it's more "bush family fortunes" than fahrenheit 9/11. the production values are poor, the arguments are weak and it's just not an effective film. it's pretty shocking to find out that the filmmaker is a serious conservative thinker as much of the film is pretty fluffy in my estimation. he does have a couple decent points and an interesting theory that obama's anti-colonial view is what drives him more than anything. i don't entirely buy it, but i can see the logic there.
as far as the facts go, it plays fast and loose with them, but that's not entirely unusual with these partisan hit jobs. just google 2016 obama movie fact check for more on that.
not well produced, no great revelations, no radically new way of thinking, no serious thinking...this isn't going to change any minds or be remembered 20 years from now. D.
Premium Rush - other than the fact that fixed gear bikes are stupid, this was a pretty good little film. i expected a bit more depth from michael shannon and joseph gordon-levitt, but it was a good enough as just a fun little star vehicle. B-.
Step Up Revolution - there's a good film in here somewhere just waiting to get out. unfortunately it's tough to see this fact because the acting is piss poor and the writing is more cheesy than wisconsin (see how painful cheesy writing is?). it's about a crew of dancers who want to win a popularity contest so they stage all these flashmobs and dance for attention. as far as worthless 20-something activities go it's relatively harmless.
then, though, they find a purpose when their community is threatened by a wealthy developer (peter gallagher) who wants to raze the neighborhood and build luxury condos. after this they use their dance antics to raise awareness and, ultimately, stop the developer's plan. on the whole, it's a pretty wholesome film - they are a bunch of hip-hop style dancers who annoy somewhat with the flashmobs, but they don't do fundamental harm to the community, they don't tag buildings, they don't do drugs, they don't even seem to engage in premarital sex. in this way it's a pretty interesting film. it's a wholesome revolution that is occurring, it has elements of class and art, etc. there really is a potential in a film like this if only the right people were in place to do it properly. C.
King Of The Hill Season Two - poor hank hill. good series. B.
Imposter - documentary about a texas family that loses their son; he just disappears and isn't heard from for a few years. then, in spain, there is a boy who claims to be the son. he claims he was abducted, abused, tortured, etc. and brought to spain. he's returned to his family and they accept him as their own. turns out, though, that this guy is just an imposter. he's done this before with other families and other lost children. bizarre to say the least. sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
it says a lot about the psychology of the family that they took this kid in. i think they wanted so badly to believe that he was who he said he was that they believed it. and what does it say about this guy that he does this serially? giving people hope and then crushing it. what the hell is his problem? B.
Community Season Two - still a smart and fairly funny sitcom with good writing and a nice ensemble. lots of geeky references keep you on your toes. should be interesting to see how it will change without the creator running the show in the fourth season. B.
Get The Gringo - saw mel gibson give an interview to someone on the cable provider that was offering this film as an on demand option. honestly it looked like he was on something and had completely lost his touch and was grasping at straws to justify a direct to tv film production and ignore his fall from grace. got a copy of the film and figured i had to see this train wreck of a film from a guy on the edge of charlie sheen territory. unfortunately it was a pretty standard film by most accounts. nothing great, but certainly not the train wreck i had expected. the production values are good, the story is nice enough and gibson still has the chops that have defined him as an actor since lethal weapon and the mad max films.
it's a film about a white guy (gibson) who is stuck in a mexican prison. the prison is basically a small town with money, commerce, an open square, etc. evidently this is pretty true to reality, at least according to gibson and the only mexican i asked about it. pretty interesting from that perspective at the very least. C+.
Life During Wartime - basically a sequel to solondz's happiness, but with only one cast member returning. i'm writing this review a couple weeks after watching the film, but honestly it didn't leave much of an impression while i was watching it either. ciarin hinds plays the dylan baker character (the father who molests his son's friend) in this part of the story. in the first film that was the most reprehensible of all. in this one, hinds gives him some more depth and that was probably the highlight of the film.
like most aging filmmakers, solondz is losing his touch and i knew that going into the film. however, this film didn't have the humor that his best work has. it seemed to try be solondz (weird and uncomfortable), but without the humor. i guess he's trying to be more mature or deep. didn't work for me. C.
King Of The Hill Season One - my sister told me i was like hank hill (at least in the later seasons) so i figured i should start watching the show. usually tv show dads are either completely inept (homer simpson, peter griffin, al bundy) or strong centers of the family (tony soprano, archie bunker, etc.). hank hill is somewhat of a hybrid. he's put out by the things the people around him do, like an al bundy, but he's also usually the problem solver and he's definitely the alpha of the group (tony soprano). al bundy's life is one where everything around him is failing and falling apart and he is powerless. tony sopranos life is one where things are happening and he feels the pressure, but he's always solving the problems of his and others' making.
peggy hill is a stronger character than you might expect from a show about a texas family. she suffers through hank's fits like a champ and keeps the family balanced. the show itself is balanced as a result.
bobby hill is the sole son of the family and he's decidedly unlike his father. he's nerdy and out of it, even somewhat effeminate at times. he's also consistently very funny. voiced by pamela adlon of louis c.k.'s show. i've got another 250+ episodes to go if i want to finish out the series. we'll see about that. B.
Campaign - reminded me of the adam mckay movie "the other guys." comedy about a serious issue with underlying social commentary. these are the kinds of films that will stand the test of time. frankly i'm unsure why there aren't more comedies that choose to have some meaningful commentary on the state of society or human nature. instead they tend to just be silly. sometimes they are good for a laugh, but don't say anything about society or what it means to be human. i would like to see more ambitious comedies. B+.
Queen Of Versailles - really good documentary about a rich family that seeks to build the largest private residence in the u.s. well, they sought to build a house that took care of all their wants and it turned out to be the largest. it's a pretty stereotypical setup - blond woman with huge tits married to a much older entrepreneur who is filthy rich. they have 8 kids and several house staff, a private jet, etc. all your typical crap that people with a lot of money have. then the financial meltdown happens and their credit dries up. the house is in the middle of construction. they never really put any money aside so they have to adjust, just like the rest of the
there is more than meets the eye, though. the blond wife isn't as dumb as the stereotype would want you to believe. the entrepreneur (a republican, of course) isn't as uncaring and insulated from the crisis as some may think. he's got a huge ego and money means far too much to him, sure, but he's as pissed at wall street as the average walmart shopper. so, they start to cut back. kids go to public schools, wife's shopping habit is satisfied at walmart instead of gucci, they lay off most of the house staff (as a result pets start dying and dog shit litters the house), the husband complains about people leaving the lights on throughout the house, etc. but the wife still does charity work and tries her hardest to keep the family together. see, she came from relatively low means so this isn't that unusual to her and she rolls with the punches. there's a lot of strength from her character. as much as i expected to hate the bitch, she's not evil. she let the wealth get out of control and she's too wrapped up in image, but she's a caring person who wants her family to succeed. so when the family begins to unravel because of the stress that the patriarch feels, it humanizes the experience. sure, they're rich people with no forethought and with some skewed priorities, but just as dark days is about humanizing those who live in the gutter, this humanizes those who live in the tower. don't get me wrong, i'm not shedding tears for these people because they have to sell their dream home and cut back to only two house staff. they had it better than most ever will and had plenty of opportunity to squirrel away some money for the rainy days.
that's the big difference between the rich and the rest of us. their downfall means going from billions to "broke" like trump. one time he was walking on the streets with his daughter and he pointed at a homeless guy and told his daughter that that man was richer than he was because he (trump) was in debt so much. the arrogance and ignorance of a statement like that can easily turn into a general disdain for all wealthy people who fall on hard times. this movie is a reminder (should we even need one?) in this time of "us vs. them" and "1% vs. 99%" that they are human too.
it's also got lots of little side stories about the family dynamic - an adopted kid, a somewhat estranged son, divorces, las vegas being the undoing of two generations of siegels, etc. and of course it's a good cautionary tale about the power of ego, money, losing perspective, etc. B+.
Workaholics Season One - funny comedy central show about three guys who are recently out of college and currently employed as telemarketers. there's some off the wall stuff and a good deal of wordplay comedy here. one of the more memorable ones for me was when one of the three got a minor promotion so they went to an olive garden to celebrate. he's acting fancy and asks the "garçon" to come over. he then asks the waiter if he can speak with the house "Somalian" (instead of sommelier).
it's reminiscent of a lot of comedies that cover this age group from kicking and screaming and old school to animal house and super troopers. it's not at that level, but it provides consistent laughs and the cast is offbeat enough to pull it all off. B.
Take This Waltz - sarah polley film about a young married canadian couple who get along, but aren't the most passionate couple ever. they both work at home and have basically lost the spark in their relationship. the male (seth rogen) seems more content than the female (michelle williams) does. williams gets into a flirtatious relationship with a guy while on a work-related trip. they share a cab back home and it turns out they're neighbors. it's a prosaic little story that ultimately left me about as unfulfilled as michelle williams feels in her relationships. can't recommend it, but i wouldn't call it awful either. if there's a lesson to be had from the film it's that unhappy people are unhappy i guess. sometimes you have to make things work, maybe? i don't know. i give it credit for not giving in on the ending, i suppose. C+.
Dark Knight Rises - spoilers.
too bad the last installment doesn't address the over-politicization of society along with its other social commentary. this one has been somewhat of a lightning rod with the shootings in aurora and then dumbass rush limbaugh saying that the character bane was a leftist plot against romney. that said, there is an element of the 99% vs. the 1% and there's a banker character named daggett which made me think of the atlas shrugged (a financial conservative's bible) character t. daggart, and the bane vs. bain thing too. i'd have to see it again to fully grasp what the commentary was this time. it honestly seemed muddled to me. bane seemed to
use the idea of the 99% against itself. he also talked about giving them hope in order to crush their spirit. i didn't fully grasp what his strategy was, especially since the ultimate plan was to just nuke them anyway.
batman is forced to grow yet again. he's a broken man at the beginning because of a 7 year hiatus. he must build his mind and body again after this fallow period. the lack of a fear of death is finally seen as a weakness instead of a strength - thus turning the traditional view on its ear. it is posited that without the desperation to stay alive, you can't reach your full potential. this also ties into the ending, though i won't give that away.
the music wasn't quite as good this time around. i'd say it was about as good as the first installment, with the second having the best use of music. i still think that nolan needs to pull the camera out to see more of the fight scenes.
i'm not going to say that nolan is the best director right now, but i can't think of anyone making better films right now. p.t. anderson's best is behind him, same for coen brothers, spielberg, scorsese, fincher, kiarostami... B+.
Dark Knight - with the arrival of the joker gotham is seemingly even worse off than it was before. lawlessness is an all time high, etc., but now they at least have batman. perhaps, though, batman is a crutch. perhaps he does so much for them that they can't do for themselves, this is addressed a bit in the final installment.
i love the allegory of the three films, but this installment in particular. have we become too decadent a society? are we so stupid and hero-hungry that harvey dent's legacy must be protected by throwing batman under the bus? in this way it reminded me of the ending of the watchmen. they decided that ignorance was bliss and that everyone would be better off not knowing the truth that the "alien invasion" was manufactured to unite the world. of course rorschach screwed that plan up in the end. at the end of the dark knight batman must become the fall guy. he sacrifices his legacy and (it turns out) the next 7 years of his life for the good of
harvey dent's legacy and gotham is better (though this is debatable) for it as a result.
adding to the 99% stuff...there's a lot going on not only with bane and his plot, but also with bruce wayne losing his fortune. he becomes a regular guy, at least by his standards. it's basically unbelievable that he doesn't have any money anywhere socked away for something like this. also unbelievable that the lights go out and he doesn't have any friends (asshole or not) to help him with something that basic. that's the difference between a "broke" donald trump and a broke homeless guy - access, connections, and credit. anyway, that added another layer to the story.
superhero films, sci-fi, zombie movies, apocalypse films, war films, prison movies...they all have in common the ability to reflect the best and worst of humanity and this is what i love about them. they show us at our most desperate or extreme and illuminate our nature in the process. dawn of the dead comments that all the zombies go to the mall "because it meant something to them at one point." it's a pointed commentary on the mindless consumerism of americans...and that was in 1978. to me, the best ones make this element a central pillar of the story. the dark knight trilogy definitely does this and is all the better for it. so much is revealed about human nature and society as a result of the epic battle that occurs between batman and ra's al ghul, the joker and bane. A-.
Batman Begins - i had only watched this once before and meryl hadn't ever seen it so we decided to revisit it before watching the final installment. in my mind i had it as a b or b- movie, but my actual review was less kind - i gave it a c+. some of the points i make i still agree with. nolan, though a good director, doesn't film fight scenes very well. i said he didn't film action scenes well and that's what i meant. he ratchets up tension very well with cross-cutting, but the actual action is sometimes muddled with too close shots and the fight choreography is lacking.
the character arc of the three films is seeing bruce wayne face his fears, be the scapegoat that gotham needs in a critical time, and (dark knight rises spoiler alert) then finally become what he wants. i enjoy seeing superheroes transform from ordinary to extraordinary. it was the only thing i liked about the first spider-man movie and i liked it in this one. even superman has some awkwardness about being a superhero in the first two superman films. in a lot of ways these stories are inspirations for what we desire to be in real life and seeing those struggles to become great is appealing to me.
the other story arc through the three films is that of gotham. gotham is a nickname for nyc and was named so after a uk town that was made fun of for its stupidity. so it follows that the people of gotham are largely fickle and stupid. in batman begins they are basically lawless and without a hope. batman enters and saves the day. but then the joker is the new threat so his work isn't done... A-.
Back To The Future Part III - gets a little more silly and mary steenburgen, though innocuous enough, doesn't add to the film much and changes the dynamic that was established in the first two films. the ending with doc's other time machine felt almost tacked on and didn't really work for me. he comes there, says hi
and then leaves. it's just weird. B+.
Magnolia - 8:2 comes up probably a hundred times in the film. the introduction of the film lists several dates that add up to 8 or 2, the ropes next to sidney before he jumps off the roof, the number on one of the guys in the murder at the beginning, the number on the plane that picks up the scuba diver, 82% chance of rain, the sign on magnolia blvd towards the end...
it's been 11 years since i last saw this one. last year i started going over my top 25 again to see how well some of the films held up. of course i have a memory of them, but that always differs from reality and as you rewatch a film you see new things or things that struck you as bold or earth-shattering before aren't so much anymore. i'd say that 11 years ago this film was probably a 99/100. the day before i watched it it had diminished somewhat to a 98 or 97. after watching it again i'd say it's probably a 96 or 97. this feels like a bad thing to me because everytime i had seen it before it made me cry. this time around i got teary eyed at the end, but no more than that. still a great film after all these years, but no longer a better film than boogie nights.
i actually understood the film better this time around. the stuff about the worm, the role of the black kid, the kids vs. the parents stuff, the moses/exodus stuff...i picked up on more and filled in some of the blanks on the internet. in this way it took some of the mystery out of the story for me. in a way it was better being caught up in the story and the characters and the shear force of the film. thinking too much has somewhat of a diminishing effect on all that. it's like going to church and knowing that the guy on stage probably collapsed because of low blood sugar and the hot spotlights they use on stage instead of it being the hand of god.
all that said, i still love the film. in watching it this time around i saw how avant-garde it was for a mainstream picture. it's probably the most avant-garde film i'll ever love, which probably says more about me than the film. it's not a real experimental film, but the frogs, the fourth wall breaking, the music video in the middle, the style, the story structure...it's all definitely unconventional. p.t. anderson deserves the tarantino award for use of music in film. with this and boogie nights the music moves the film forward so effortlessly. it takes probably 30 minutes off the runtime of the film. the entire middle of the film has music playing and it has the effect of constantly pulling the narrative forward. you feel like something momentous is happening.
the malora walters/john c. reilly storyline continues to be my favorite. i love his character and i love that there love is unreasonable and powerful and unconditional. their love answers so many of the problems that the film brings up in the other characters. it's what makes anderson an uplifting director. it's like the ending of rashoman. hopeful. A+.
Boogie Nights - just great filmmaking all around. last time i mentally compared the two, boogie nights was better than magnolia, though the opposite was true for a long time. it had been about 7 years since i saw BN and 11 since i saw magnolia.
boogie nights establishes its many characters so easily and quickly that it puts to shame about 95% of filmmaking in that one element alone. add to that the camera movement and music and you have an instant classic. anderson is like tarantino in that he's inspired by a lot of filmmaking before him and wears it on his sleeve. you can see the altman influence in the sprawling stories he tells. the cinematography always reminds me of jan de bont's work. in this and magnolia, though, anderson outdoes pretty much everyone he borrows from.
i used to think that the film was alternatingly funny and sad. this time around i felt like it was both at the same time. when dirk diggler breaks down and throws a fit on a shoot it's funny how he breaks down ("it's my big dick...you're not the boss of me..."), but seeing him in that state ("what the state of california? i know where i am, jack.") is also quite sad.
i love the simplicity of the characters. they have simple desires and thoughts, as do most people, yet we also are drawn to them. the fact that they are simple doesn't detract from my enjoyment or sympathy for them. this also ties into another element that i have enjoyed since first seeing the film - it's oddly positive. for all the awful things that happen, things end fairly well and the family never really breaks apart. they have to fight the outside world and they have their inner demons (for amber it's the drug abuse, for dirk it's his ego and drugs), but they stay together. it would have been very easy to have dirk and reed snipe at each other since dirk is the new guy on the block, but it never happens.
anderson is a hopeful filmmaker in his three best films - boogie nights, magnolia and punch-drunk love. a lot of times people compare him to kubrick. if that's the case anderson is more like paths of glory, which has a shimmer of hope in the end, than the killing, which ends with the protagonist's imminent arrest. A+.
Back To The Future Part II - some say that the second is the best of the bunch, but i still think #1 is. each one gets a little worse than the previous. #2 is even more dated than #1 because we're so close to the date that was in the future and most of that stuff is really wishful thinking at this point. funny how things never move as fast as the movies seem to think. although there is a miami baseball team now and it's not completely crazy to think that the cubs could win the series in 2015. maybe i'll place a bet...
the doc/marty combo is every bit as good here as it was in the first one. there was some stilted acting, though, in the opening scene which had to be reshot to include elizabeth shue as the new girlfriend. the rest of the film played well though.
it's a fun ride and biff is a good villain. he should have made it to the afi list of heroes and villains. A-.
Moonrise Kingdom - has the wes anderson feel, but doesn't really approach his early stuff in terms of interest or quality. basically, i think that wes anderson is off the must see list at this point. he had one great film and a couple other good ones, but i'm no longer seeing the point or entertainment value. if you want a quirky film with the anderson look and feel then every couple years you can watch whatever he comes up with next. i'd rather just rewatch rushmore, though. B-.
Back To The Future - definitely felt dated this time around, but in a way that only adds to the film. the blu-ray transfer is very good. marty mcfly is everything you'd want to be at that age and doc brown always seemed like a really cool friend to have. he lets marty use his amplifier, he takes him on great adventures...it's just a great pairing. great music. A.
Magic Mike - more than anything else, this film made me want to watch boogie nights again. it's a similar kind of story about a young man growing up in an adult sex industry. of course, boogie nights is superior in every possible way. it has a better look, soundtrack, cast, direction, screenplay...the characters are more deep (and there are more of them) in the first 30 minutes than in the entire 1hr 45min of this film.
this is the second straight soderbergh film that i entered without remembering that it was soderbergh. the guy is a chameleon. the more i thought about this film the less i liked it. there are so many places where they went wrong. we hear that the protagonist wants to be a furniture maker, but we never see him refining his craft. he says to his girl to be that he's not magic mike in real life, but all we ever see is him partying with girls and stripping. one time he goes to the bank to get a loan, that's it. in 6 years he's saved $13k which doesn't seem like that much, especially when you see the truck he's driving and the house he lives in and the other truck he has for his auto detailing gig (another thing we never see him do). don't tell me how good this guy is, show me. then again, i'm not the target audience. i didn't fall in love with his smile and blue eyes and dancing, so i actually looked at his character critically. C-.
Savages - oliver stone lost it several years ago. he still has an eye for good visuals, but he's basically a shadow of the director he once was. the storytelling, the characters, the story itself...they're all lacking. the storytelling is sloppy and lazy. the characters are picked out of a book of stereotypes. and the story is only interesting in the most basic way - you are curious to see how things turn out.
all i really got out of it is that stone thinks pot should be legal so the cartels aren't so powerful. i guess he doesn't have anything to say anymore. he used to tackle things like the media, jfk conspiracies, the cost of war, etc. now he's tackling threesomes and medicinal marijuana. C.
Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World - so-so steve carrell film about a guy who tries to find a connection before an asteroid hits the earth. funny at first, but got less interesting as keira knightley spoke more and more. C+.
Louie Season Two - continues to be a quality show that shocks with its edgy humor and makes you feel/think as well. B+.
Darkman - came out the same year as the keaton batman. directed by sam raimi who shows off some of his evil dead tricks and shots, unlike his direction in spider-man. this is a better film than most of the comic book movies we've gotten in the last 20 years because of raimi's direction. it's well-stylized, sometimes funny and sometimes dark. it really captures the comic feel in many ways. frances mcdormand isn't quite right as the female lead, but other than that i don't have any complaints. saw this when it came out in 1990 and then again today. B+.
Community Season One - good referential humor. solid cast with no real stars to speak of. the highlight of season one was the paintball war they had where they reference a bunch of action films like die hard and predator. can't go wrong with that. smart comedy. B.
Coal Miner's Daughter - good rags to riches story based upon the life of loretta lynn. sissy spacek is good and they make the transformation very believable from a makeup and costume perspective. she plays both lorettas very well. nice look to the film. tommy lee jones was good, not great. this must have been a john hughes favorite. there are a couple actors who appear in his films later and he uses two songs in this film in planes, trains and automobiles.
of course the film also has a good soundtrack. maybe too many performances for my taste, but that's what you get with these biopics about musicians. B-.
Louie Season One - if you know louis ck then you know his brand of humor is cringe-inducing, gross, and honest stuff. his show is basically the same. it's seinfeldian in its structure, but it really only has one character (louis) who produces any consistent laughs. it's also a very thoughtful show. he questions morality and religion and sexuality and growing old and plenty of other deep, and often taboo, topics. it's a good show if you can handle his humor. it's also not the kind of show you want to watch if you're prone to depression. because, let's face it, life can be depressing and louis embraces that fully. has the potential to be something really great. B+.
Ted - pretty much what you would expect from the family guy creator. sex jokes, immaturity, some good laughs. the only thing that stands out now as being particularly hilarious was the white trash names rundown that mark wahlberg goes through when trying to guess ted's girlfriend's name. lots of 80s references, if that's your thing. B.
Curb Your Enthusiasm Season Eight - the biggest problem with cye is that the seasons are so short. it's very derivative of seinfeld, but sometimes that's half the fun - finding the correlations between the two shows. in this season david is a bachelor so it's even more like seinfeld who was of course a bachelor with each new show. david seems to be pushing the boundaries even more this season with jokes surrounding hitler, a homosexual 10 year old, race relations, parkinson's, etc. funny stuff. B+.
Dirty Dancing - total chick flick. i'm not sure i've seen this all the way through before, but i've seen bits and pieces. it has a decent soundtrack and a pretty standard plot propelled by average characters. the best part of the movie is the "nobody puts baby in a corner" line. it just doesn't make any sense. why did he say that? funny stuff. C.
Weight Of The Nation - good hbo documentary about the obesity epidemic in the country. looks at it scientifically and biologically as well as sociologically and politically. from a public health standpoint, obesity is easily the number one problem in the country. it feeds (no pun intended) the notion that we are a nation of lazy people. to me, though, it's more interesting to view america as a nation of contradictions. we're amazingly obese yet we have this incredible pressure to look thin. do we have one because of the other? are we obsessed with being thin because it's increasingly rare? or is it because of a new agey phenomenon called pushing? the idea there is that the more you push against something the more you attract it. so, ponder how the war against drugs has gone or the war on poverty. if you think about the problems too much, you make them worse; so goes the theory.
anyway, it's a good film that addresses the issue in a straightforward manner. the frustrating thing is that it's a pretty simple fix on the face of it. educate people that they need to work out more and eat less and better. if you have enough willpower you can avoid the problem altogether. the problem is that people don't have that much willpower and you really do need it these days in order to overcome the obstacles toward healthy living. obstacles like: poorly planned cities which require cars instead of bikes/walking, poor health education, scientifically manufactured foodstuffs designed to keep you eating, subsidies of cheap calories, evolution telling us to consume as much as possible while progress has made calories extremely easy to acquire, etc. the documentary doesn't get too much into that stuff, unfortunately. B+.
Nursery University - documentary about finding a nursery in NYC. suffice it to say that it's a ridiculous process and it reaffirms many stereotypes that people have about manhattan-ites in particular. i completely understand wanting the best for your child at every turn. however, at some point, you actually do harm to them and society by giving them the best that society has to offer. "that which does not kill me makes me stronger" holds real meaning in my mind and some of these parents have forgotten the lesson of hardship. B.
Sphere - only so-so sci-fi flick. probably a decent book since crichton was good around this time, but didn't work very well on film. C.
Portlandia Season One - very short and very offbeat season. i hope they're all like this. it's basically a series of skits with fred armisen and carrie brownstein as the central characters. both are funny and the skits are perfectly written for their talents. it's very off the wall so it's not for everyone, but if you like subversive comedy that makes fun of hippies and hipsters, then this is good one.
portland is its own character and it's a good choice because it has elements of the seattle hipsters and the berkeley/san francisco hippies. as the name suggests the series is about the idea of portland and the unique culture the city has. fun show so far. B+.
Lost Season Six - for someone who is as logical and rational as i am, sometimes to a fault, a show like lost can be challenging. however, it can also be rewarding. the final episode reminds you of the mystical and unexplainable in life. jack embodies the hyper-rational more than anyone else in the show and locke is a good foil for him - constantly embracing his destiny and role in the island ecosystem. if nothing else, the show's finale is a reminder that not everything needs an explanation.
all that said, i can't say it was an entirely satisfying show or ending to the show. ask me in a month what i thought of the show or why they were on the island or anything else and i probably won't be able to tell you much. i guess the most interesting long term thing about the show is the characters. their changes throughout, their evolving relationships, their frailties and strengths, etc.
in the final analysis this isn't a great show for me, but i can see how some would think it is. i just don't have the stamina to keep interested in the plot twists and cliff hangers. C+.
Experiment - based on das experiment which was loosely based on the stanford prison experiment. they took a bunch of college kids and had some be guards and others be prisoners. pretty quickly the kids started acting out their roles and did some fairly dehumanizing things. i believe it even led to the apa stating that no longer should studies be conducted that bring psychological or physical stress. this version wasn't as good as the german one, but it gets to the same core concepts - namely that most anyone is capable of doing bad things if they feel like someone else is in charge. it relates to what happened in 30s/40s germany as well as abu ghraib and even enron. we're dumb sheep with little moral backbone.
forest whitaker is good at playing both sides of his character here - reserved/soft-spoken and then the sadistic leader who gets the other guards to brutalize the prisoners. the film is good because it piggybacks on the ideas of the stanford prison experiment and das experiment before it, not because it does anything special with those ideas. the execution is fine and maybe it's more watchable for people who dislike subtitles. other than that, i'd say just stick with the original. C+.
Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap - basically just a documentary with ice-t hanging out with other rappers talking about rap and hip-hop. there's some nice material in there for hip-hop heads, but it's mostly a missed opportunity in my opinion. the interludes were nice and the cast included most of the big names (jay-z and the beastie boys being the two biggest omissions that i could think of). B-.
That's My Boy - "adam sandler" should be my entire review, but if you're still reading then i guess i should continue. starts off pretty flat and then it gets into "hangover" territory and succeeds with some good laughs. there are some cameos here and there from pop culture has beens as well as a couple guys from his usual entourage. it's not as gross or mean-spirited as statutory rape might imply or as jack and jill may have been. the farrellys and adam sandler have definitely given way to apatow and the fratpack when it comes to comedic supremacy. B-.
Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 - watched this one out of curiosity since there was a good deal of talk about it from both sides. the conservatives said it was going to be great and was a necessary political philosophy film during an oppressive time. the liberals trashed it as awful and stupid. it wasn't awful, the production values were actually pretty much on par with a lower level hollywood production. the acting wasn't very good, but it didn't fall under the "awful" category. the writing, though, left plenty to be desired. sometimes it was just so transparently preachy that i had to chuckle. look, i know it's an ayn rand book and that there's going to be some heavy handed treatment of the individual and the role of government, but it got ridiculous at times. the two main characters would drive to an abandoned factory and the conversation would literally be "well, the management gradually eliminated their best employees by flattening compensation rates thereby drowning out entrepreneurial motives. it's the way the whole country is going, the new "anti-dog-eat-dog" legislation being just the most recent example of liberal nanny state fascism." ok, maybe it wasn't that bad, but you get the point.
all that said, when part 2 comes out ,i'll watch it. there's no freaking way i'm reading all 1200 pages of the book just to see what happens. i've always thought of rand as a philosophical lightweight. her ideas are pretty simple and simplistic as best i can tell, and this film certainly didn't elevate her in my eyes. C-.
Lost Season Five - definitely can feel the series start to wrap things up and begin to make sense of some former questions. i can't say that i've really followed it all very well. part of that is the immense weight of the plot and characters and part of that is my memory. at this point i'm just in it to see what they come up with in the final season, which i started today. C.
30 Rock Season Five - hasn't gotten much better or worse since season two. liz lemon continues to be crass and enjoyable. baldwin's character is the crazy business tycoon conservative, but with a compassionate treatment from the writers. it's a good show that fills my time between getting in bed and falling asleep pretty well. i chuckle and occasionally laugh. most of it isn't memorable in the way that great sitcoms are, but there are a few quotable moments per season. B.
Dinner For Schmucks - longish and fairly funny, this might be most notable for its cast. it has people from the office, daily show, and plenty of other comedic touchstones of the time - apatow films, office space, and other frat pack tag-alongs. B.
Prometheus - disappointing in that i didn't know i was going to see the first of a multi-film series; though i guess they all are these days. we went through a stage a while back where we had lots of remakes of older films like the day the earth stood still, and now it seems like the studios have figured that it's even better to just remake the same movie over and over again in a revival of the serials like thin man and the charlie chan movies. so, we get four movies of twilight and a series of films around the avengers and now they're going to milk this one. i've love to see a little less of this, but i understand it and, sometimes i even like it.
prometheus is co-written by damon lindelof (who co-wrote lost) so it's a fair guess that there's going to be a fair amount of obfuscation in the storytelling. there's really nothing new that is introduced here. it's a film about the origins of our species and, in this case, the writers posit that aliens did it. ok, i've heard that before. the wrinkle, is that they don't like us and want to wipe us out. i guess we'll have to stay tuned for more to see why that is or if we care. lindelof's writing is decidedly unintelligent in some critical ways. the verdict isn't out yet on lost as i haven't finished the series, but here it's obvious that he's either not smart or doesn't think much of scientists. i'm guessing it's him. for example, theron's character says that they've traveled half a billion miles to find the aliens. right away i started thinking to myself - well, the sun is about 92 million miles from earth which means that they didn't travel very far and there's no way that they would need to be asleep for two years to get there. what a joke. also, these brilliant scientists who are on the leading edge to the extent that they travel to the outer reaches of space, are disappointed after six hours on the new planet because they haven't gotten a chance to ask the aliens why they were created? huh? or, how about these brilliant minds taking off their helmets in an unknown world without any precautions? leave your helmets on. or their constant desire to touch and prod the unknown things on this planet. it's just silly and illogical writing. find a way to advance the plot without making the characters look like completely morons, it makes it so much better for the audience.
the film is successful, though, not because of its deep meaning or writing, but because the actors and scott do a good job. he ratchets the tension well and they sell the terror or (in fassbender's case) vacancy very well. it's also cool to see the way the film references the alien films or 2001 or any number of other sci-fi films.
bad writing aside, it's a good and captivating film that was also nice to look at. hopefully they get someone with some brains to write it next time around. B.
Men In Black 3 - harmless film with good cinematography (sonnenfeld started as a dp with the coens), but not much other than that. if you like the franchise then you'll be fine with spending 8 bucks to watch this. if you're borderline, like me, then you're probably better off saving your money for the dark knight or whatever. C+.
Snow White And The Huntsman - not as good as mirror mirror which wasn't as good as the disney version. it's the 200th anniversary of the original story which explains why we got two versions this year. both remakes this year seemed to sag during the time spent in the forest with the dwarfs. perhaps it's just a story that
shouldn't be remade anymore.
both versions have admirable elements - the cinematography of mirror mirror, the witches of both, the dark beginning of this one...but neither is a good film. had peter jackson done this, i think it would have fulfilled its potential.
chiclet face is definitely the weakest link here. i think chloe moretz would have been a better choice, even though she's a bit young for the part. C+.
Lost Season Four - ok, this is a sci-fi show and it asks that you suspend disbelief quite a bit, however it seems to get even a little too absurd for me in this season. more and more characters are getting introduced, and it's kinda like the clowns coming out of a small car.
in this season and season 3 i found myself overwhelmed by the number of characters, their backstories, the twists and turns, the unanswered questions, etc. with my poor memory i find it rather difficult to keep up in an engaged and informed way. the show is really beginning to sag under the weight of its plot. looking forward to the end at this point. C-.
Lost Season Three - the others take center stage in this season. some questions are answered, but even more are raised. sawyer's character moves up a couple notches here. funny how that works - when a larger enemy is introduced, we rally around former enemies. during an alien invasion, for example, i'm sure the
u.s. would gladly befriend china and russia.
ratings continued to decrease this season. things definitely started to get ridiculous and difficult to follow during this season. locke starts to buy ben's load of shit, the mysterious invisible friend (jacob) is introduced, a couple more dharma stations are introduced...despite some of the leaps of faith the writers request you make, the show remains mostly interesting. the finale and show endings pretty reliably give you something to think about. C+.
What To Expect When You're Expecting - a comedic take on many of the possibilities when you are having a baby. they cover miscarriages, adoption, easy pregnancies, tough ones and have a comedic version of each. unfortunately it wasn't all that funny. it was grin-inducing, but there wasn't much laughter for me. so, watchable, but not recommended. C+.
Battleship - better than i thought action flick. it is definitely a michael bay inspired film and i couldn't help but draw the parallels while watching it. the visuals are right out of the bay playbook, as is the music. of course it helps that steve jablonsky does the music since he's done a few michael bay movies (transformers, island, etc.) as well. peter berg is the actual director (though michael bay should get some kind of kick back if the film does well) - you'd recognize him as an actor, but he's done some direction (hancock, friday night lights, kingdom) as well. he's a more political guy than michael bay so he's a good choice for the film since it actually has some political undertones. there's not a lot of political stuff in there, but it does work in some semi pan-nationalism and commentary on the costs of war. it has some stuff that is vaguely reminiscent of "the best years of our lives." in this case, the harold russell character is played by gregory d. gadson who is a soldier who lost both this legs from the knee down.
of course the majority of the film is action stuff and it does that pretty well. it's over 2 hours long and doesn't feel too drawn out. it also has some blatantly patriotic stuff that might normally ring as jingoistic, but worked for me here. a japanese captain played a key role and the bad guys in the film are aliens, so there's not the twinge of guilt you might get in a similar film that is set up as usa vs. afghanistan, for example. good flick. B+.
Mansome - documentary about the growing trend of "manscaping" as well as men's beauty in general. we can get into all kinds of discussions about the pressure to look good in society and how important appearance is for the two sexes and how that manifests itself differently with each...we can talk about which sex has it worse and in which ways, but those conversations are generally antagonistic and unfruitful. what this documentary does is start the dialogue about the male side of beauty, and i think we can all agree that that is a much less discussed topic. in this way the film is very successful because it starts a dialogue that we almost never see in popular culture regarding men, but see all the time regarding women.
as is usual for a spurlock film, the subject matter is addressed with humor and presented in a fairly interesting way. it felt longer than it was and it ended somewhat abruptly. other than that, it was an interesting film about a topic that doesn't really get discussed. B.
Dictator - not as good as his previous two films, but still a good combination of high and low art that succeeds fairly well at each. there's some good commentary about how america has become a dictatorship in some ways as well as some nice jabs at extremists of the hippie variety. the production values aren't of the highest level, but they're fine enough. the best bit was when the dictator was in a restaurant and the former exiles of his country wanted to know his name so he gave them a name based upon objects he found around the restaurant. it's not a new bit, but it was done to a greater extent than i've seen before and produced plenty of laughs for me. B.
Avengers - better than expected action film and franchise vehicle. scarlett johansson was pretty awful as the black widow. they didn't give her much, but maybe that's because they realized she couldn't act her way out of a paper bag. i have no idea what her character is really about, she doesn't seem to have any worthwhile powers, and she was so poorly acted that i wish she was left out completely. other than that, the cast was solid. i'm not a huge avengers fan so i don't know all the back stories, but i was compelled by the interactions of all the different, strong personalities. like battleship the film was unexpectedly political in this way. the underlying theme of them having to band together is that unity is required. drop the ego, drop your agenda and work together to get shit done.
a bit long, but still a good film. B.
Lost Season Two - i don't know if it's possible to ever write an ending that will either satisfy my curiosity or answer all the questions that the show has raised so i'm bracing myself for that already. but this is one more way that the show is like life. my take so far is that they're all on the island, lost, looking for something that life hasn't given them or trying to find some meaning or utility in life. when they all solve their life problem they will return back to the real world and be ok. just a thought, there's a lot more to this rabbit hole left, though, so it could get really far out there before it's done.
in a way it's an absurd show and a bit like the proverbial slippery slope. if i'm willing to believe that these people survived that crash then i'm willing to believe that john locke can walk all of a sudden and if i'm willing to believe that then i can believe that a polar bear has found its way to this island (though that gets explained-ish in season 3).
i think the production and acting have gotten better as the series has gone on, though it's still an obvious tv production at times. B.
30 Rock Season Four - tina fey proves (even though i'm not sure if it needed proving) that women are equals in media. she farts and belches with the guys, she's their boss, etc. B.
Awesome; I Fucking Shot That! - well, mca is no longer with us and this is one of the last things he left us with. as was the usual with him, there is something that is done normally by other bands done in a different way here. in this case it's the band concert film. it's been done a million different times to varying success, but it's never been done like this - with a camera in dozens of fans' hands edited together by mca to create a concert film made by the fans.
mca's legacy could be said to be as much about his musical contribution as it was about his visual one. from shadrach and shake your rump to body movin' and awesome: i fucking shot that! he was always trying something new and bringing a specific vision to his videos. he'll be missed. B+.
War - pretty predictable action star vehicle. it's a shame to see jet li using guns so much since his skill is in hand to hand combat. watchable, but not noteworthy. C+.
Bully - content-wise, this documentary about bullying in american schools is pretty good, and timely. however, the style of the filming was distracting. it was shot with handheld cameras and the filmmaker constantly chooses to rack the focus as if to indicate that none of what he's seeing makes sense. it's either overly literal commentary on the subject matter or crappy camerawork. either way, i prefer the maysles style of documentary which is a relatively well shot fly on the wall style.
as far as the content goes, it's an important documentary. i don't know if bullying is better or worse than it used to be, but it's worse than it probably should be. there's always going to be some degree of poking fun or derision in schools - it's part of socialization and growing up. it's not all bad, actually, because it prepares you for the real world and nudges people to act in accordance with certain social norms. however, this kind of socialization should be used to keep kids from eating a third burrito for lunch or crapping on the floor, not from acting gay or being interested in comic books.
the kids who do the bullying are to blame, sure, but the parents and administrators are the real problem. why they don't have the common sense and moral standing to do something real about these problems is beyond me. maybe they don't want to get sued for yelling at a bully for being an asshole. or maybe they just don't give a shit anymore. B-.
Toy Story 2 - not as good as the first one. the plot seemed a little strained at times. certainly the animation is better here. B-.
Lost Season One - production-wise this certainly isn't at the filmic level of the finer tv series like breaking bad, however i didn't find the less-than-great acting and cheesy music cues to be all that offputting. it's a series that is notoriously plot-heavy and serpentine, but it also has some good character work which i did not expect. seeing the backstories of all these characters and how those stories relate to what they are experiencing in each episode is where the series excels.
some of the first season stuff that annoys me (other than the production) is in not meeting more of the characters and the haphazard way in which the group goes about their first few weeks on the island. that said, both kind of make sense. for one, in a situation like this, probably the majority of the people are going to do whatever the most vocal in the group tell them. so, having the bulk of the survivors be basically unknown is fitting in this way. secondly, i thought of a million different things that they should have done that they didn't seem to do, or didn't do until late in the game. build shelter, explore the island (why do they always assume it's an island when no one has explored the shoreline thoroughly?), set up some system of governance and rationing, etc.
all in all it's a compelling series so far. hopefully it keeps churning out the quality drama. B.
American Reunion - definitely better than american wedding, which had poor production values and couldn't even keep the entire core cast together. this one has the usual gross out humor and cringe humor (courtesy of jason bates mostly), along with some mild t and a. the most important thing here is that it produces some laughs and reunites us with those core characters we've followed now for 13 years and 4 films. it deals, in a mostly superficial way, with the realities of aging and marriage and living in the real world. it doesn't say anything new about any of that, however it did give me the opportunity to think about that stuff given that these characters are basically my age and theoretically going through the same things. B.
Safe - well done action film. i'm not sure if statham picks good directors or if he just gets lucky, but he seems to have a better success rate than most action stars these days when it comes to getting talent behind the camera to make his films artistically worthwhile.
it's about a guy who is down on his luck and doesn't have much reason to live anymore. when things are looking most bleak, he sees a little girl who is being chased by the very mobsters who killed his wife. so he saves her and kills them. we actually follow both their stories before this intersection and they weave together the storylines well. she's important to two warring mobs because she has a code memorized which unlocks an unknown treasure. it's an interesting, though far-fetched, conceit. why would these mobsters trust this little girl to keep all their most vital financial information along with this important code? having to protect her is just as difficult as having to protect a briefcase.
other than the questions the setup present, it's a really good action film. B+.
Five-Year Engagement - over two hours long, though i don't recall checking my watch. it felt long, but i wouldn't have guessed it was over 2 hours. it's a nice story about a pretty typical situation faced by couples these days. one gets a job offer that would take them both away from their current life and the other has to decide whether they are ok with going or not. in this case it's the woman who wants to move and the guy who has to go along. edelstein thought it was a regressive film because the woman couldn't move without the man losing something as a result or something like that. my recollection of the film was that segel was more than willing to go along with his fiance (played by emily blunt), but only became truly disturbed when the 2 year committment turned into 5. sure, he was put off by the fact that he had to take a major step down in his career - from sous chef at a great place in SF to a sandwich maker in ann arbor, but he seemed happy other than that. edelstein read too much into it, in my opinion.
it's a mostly funny film wich a strong supporting cast. i think casting directors and writers are getting better at encorporating supporting talent into films and a lot of them are coming from comedy clubs and tv shows. this one had mindy kaling and chris pratt, for example. for me, it was a solid picture, but i laughed more than anyone else in the theater so you probably won't like it as much. B.
Murder On A Sunday Morning - academy award winning documentary. same director who did the 6.5 hour staircase documentary. shows both in content and style. this isn't as compelling a film, but it's another courtroom/crime documentary that brings together several threads. it's about a black kid who is accused of killing a white woman for her purse. he supposedly shoots the woman within a couple feet of his husband and then steals her purse. he then confesses to the local cops (i should note that this takes place in florida so it has some trayvon martin elements to it) and he's on trial for his life. i won't tell you how it turns out, but suffice it to say there is plenty of intrigue and drama. the defense attorney is a real character, as well. i could watch these rashomon documentaries all day. B.
Cabin In The Woods - i never officially said so, but i sorta figured that scream was the alpha and omega when it came to postmodern horror films. it spoke to the genre and inhabited it equally well and i figured it would basically never be touched again. it's kinda like unforgiven in that way, though not as great. well, cabin in the woods takes it another step further. and while the ending left me wanting something else, it's a solid film on the whole that does a lot of thinking and commenting on the genre. horror is, despite its appearances, one of the most thoughtful film genres there is. stuff like bloodsucking freaks and scream call into question the norms of the genre and even question the audience and its fascination with these films. cabin in the woods does those things as well and portrays the genre as a paint by numbers sort of exercise as well as a catharsis and substitution for "something worse." in other words, we get off on watching these kids get butchered in the woods so we don't have to quench the thirst of our dionysian/id in more destructive ways. B+
Three Stooges - if you like the original stooges stuff then you'll probably like this. in a way it's what the farrelly brothers have always been about. silly, slapstick comedy. it wasn't great, but looking back on some of the stooges' shorts - they weren't always great either. to me it's more about the stooges on the whole instead of a few classic moments or bits. so, remaking them in one movie doesn't necessarily make that much sense. it's an homage to them and scratches the surface of what made what they did great, but not much more than that. B-.
Eraserhead - trying to revisit some david lynch to give him another shake. never seen this film in its entirety until now. it's weird and that's really all i can say about it. what is he trying to say or accomplish? what is any surrealist film trying to do? if you have something to say, say it. i'm too straightforward a guy to enjoy these films so this kind of stuff is at a decided disadvantage from the get go. i guess it's about isolation and relationships with some cronenberg body disfigurement stuff mixed in. it felt like a mix between cronenberg, rosemary's baby and the begotten. that's mostly a bad thing. D.
Raid: Redemption - more gory than anticipated, but this is a great action film. the fight choreography is really good, reminiscent of tony jaa's stuff more than anyone else. good cinematography during the initial raid and then it felt like they gave up on being creative with the camera and chose more to film it somewhat traditionally.
it also has a surprisingly poignant and meaningful ending. the two brothers embracing what they are and eschewing what they are not, but still remaining brothers. a good film worth seeking out for action film fans. B+.
White Heat - classic gangster film. the thing that really makes this film is cagney's character and performance. his relationship with his mom, his psychosis, his complete break from humanity...all leading to the infamous ending. B+.
[Rec] - original version of quarantine. the u.s. version is basically an exact remake of this so they're pretty much interchangeable. no reason to see both or one over the other, really. jennifer carpenter is in the remake and some good looking spanish chick who won a goya for best new actress is in the original. i'm actually
interested in seeing the sequel for this one because it follows the original storyline and aftermath. quarantine 2, though, just goes with a similar plot in a new place with new characters. B+
30 Rock Season Three - pretty consistently b+ show. some laugh out loud moments, but mostly just solid comedy. salma hayek is jack's season long love interest. there are some funny moments there and she's good eye candy, but no great comedy comes from it. the sexual tension between baldwin and fey's characters has got to give at some point. or maybe not. B+.
Arrested Development Season Three - it may be a good thing that the series ended when it did. other than the ending which was anti-climatic, i never felt that the quality dropped off. at the same time, there's only so long that you can prolong this kind of plot without losing interest.
the series references seinfeld quite frequently and so it's fitting that it went out on top, as seinfeld did. B+.
Arrested Development Season Two - season 2 continues with the laughs and absurdity, but we see some of the beginning of the end coming through when fox goes from 22 episodes to 18 and it is alluded to within the show. AD isn't the first show to refer to itself or push the boundaries in this way, but it does it well and to even greater effect in the third season when the end is in sight. B+.
Arrested Development Season One - starts off solid and doesn't take too much time to find its voice and point of view. there's maybe a little too much recap stuff from the narrator (ron howard) in this season, but that makes sense because they were trying to establish the story with a new audience.
it's pretty edgy stuff overall with the implied incest some of the other innuendo and subject matter. in this way it fits into the fox model which has consistently been about pushing boundaries with simpsons, married with children, and family guy.
the writing is very good and smart. self-referential, pop culture aware and edgy. but its greatest success is probably in the characters which are well cast and well drawn. they are very clear cut individuals, there's never any mystery about these characters. another strength is that there are several characters who are funny in their own way - gob, tobias, lindsay, george michael...all are clueless or entitled or utterly lost in their own way and uniquely funny as a result. B+.
Friends With Kids - very quickly falls into the rom-com genre, but without much of either. adam scott is good and there is other capable talent attached, but it never achieves lift off and is basically flat throughout. i blame this on the writer/director jennifer westfeldt. the last line of the film is "fuck the shit out of me" and it's supposed to be romantic, so i guess you get the idea. i actually thought at the time "poor leading actress who had to deliver that line." then i saw the credits role and i realized that the writer/director was also the leading lady. perhaps because she wanted to be a big star or perhaps because she couldn't convince anyone else to deliver that line. not god awful. C-.
Six Feet Under Season Five - spoilers...
overall, not a heck of a lot better than the previous season. i started out this series with reservations, so i wasn't really disappointed by the first couple seasons, but these last two were underwhelming. i also knew that in the end we see everyone die. oddly, knowing that bit of spoiling information didn't take anything away from the series, or from the ending. as bad as parts of this series were i'll say that it was worth it because of the 6.5 minutes that cap it all off.
honestly i didn't think i cared much about any of the characters, and despised some of them. by the end of the series i had some degree of affection towards david and keith, but could do without pretty much everyone else. the strength, though, in seeing all these characters die in that final sequence isn't just in the characters and having spent 50+ hours with them over the last five seasons. it's also the weight of life and death itself. ahead of time i thought about knowing how it ends. i suspected that i might have feelings about the ending despite not liking so many of these people, but i didn't know to what degree that would be true. as annoying as these people have been in these last five seasons, seeing them pass away in basically average ways (other than keith, i'll get to that later) - old age, heart attacks, etc. - was still quite moving. death is a sad thing even for people as troubled as nate or claire or ruth. david, who did a lot of unsavory things in his life, was a well-meaning guy with a deep love for keith and it was beyond sad to see him pass while envisioning keith playing football with the guys. seeing keith get killed, as an old man still trying to make ends meet as a security guard, was particularly poignant because at the end of the series he was pretty much the only primary character i could say i liked.
as shitty a series as this was at times, and it really was a slog to get through from time to time, i have to say it was worth it because of those final 6.5 minutes that will probably always stick with me. they do about as good a job as i can think of when it comes to portraying life's arc. not just the sadness of death or the triumph of life (there are better films that address those). the show looks at life and death in its totality. this arc isn't exclusive to good people or likable people; it's life. there are ups and downs and chapters and regrets and losses and breakdowns and triumphs and, in the end, probably a great emptiness. as much as it portrays that emptiness, though, the show also demonstrates how we live on in others and that's about the only afterlife i'll probably ever believe in. the legacy we leave behind in the form of our children or our apprentices or our artwork or friends. it's as good as anything i can remember at showing how close life and death can be. at showing how the two interact and inform each other.
i wish there wasn't so much sex-centric stuff. i wish the last two seasons were more solid. i wish nate was played by a better actor and wasn't written as such a back slider. overall, though, it's a decent series with a homerun ending that makes it all worth it. that ending made me bawl like a little kid, it was kind of pathetic actually. there's some wisdom in the series, too, if you look for it. at one point nate is dreaming about lisa and saying that he feels like he had a once in a lifetime chance and he fucked it up. lisa tells him that she's not a chance, she's a person. often, i think we do that - project upon people in our lives our hopes and dreams. to him, she was a chance to get things right in the traditional sense. he was looking at it the wrong way of course and it was destined for failure.
another one spoken to nate: "If you think life's a vending machine where you put in virtue and take out happiness, then you're going to be disappointed." that one in particular struck me. because i've always wanted life to be like that and have increasingly tried to play the game "the right way." it gets frustrating if that isn't rewarded. that's the conservative side of me i think - the side that looks for justice and fairness instead of allowing shortcuts and freeloading to be rewarded. but life isn't always like that. so much of life is about learning to accept things, even characters as flawed as claire living to 102 while keith dies at 60.
the season as a whole: C. the final 6.5 minutes: A+.
Mirror Mirror - a nice take on the snow white tale. unsure how two of these got green lighted for release in the same year, but it should be interesting to compare and contrast. i have no idea how any of them compare to the original grimm fairy tale. the cast is good, roberts is a real standout as the queen. she's devilish
and has just the right amount of tongue in cheek humor in her performance to never be over the top, nor to underplay the tone. lily collins is attractive and perfect as snow white. she has a quiet strength and of course the beauty you expect from snow white.
since it's a tarsem singh film you know the visuals are going to be great and he doesn't disappoint here. the costumes and sets are oscar-worthy as well. all that said, something about it didn't quite come together for me. it was funny and good to look at and all that, but i wasn't drawn in quite as much as i would have liked. maybe it was the direction or the writing or maybe it was just because i was tired. B.
Hunger Games - full disclosure: i own stock in lions gate so i have a vested interest in everyone watching this. never read the books so i won't go there. it's surprising that the film has as much hype as it does. it's a good film, but i didn't see anything in the themes or storytelling that would indicate to me that this would be a big blockbuster. i would have given it the green light if i were an executive, but i wouldn't expect it to be a billion dollar franchise. i can see the appeal to young women and people who like character development which is to say i wouldn't think it would do all that well in america.
there's some real meat to the film which was a surprise considering it has been compared to twilight so many times and appeals to the same demographic. whereas twilight sets women back 50 years and is about the worst thing to ever be filmed, this is empowering, interesting, and has some actual depth to it. since it's a trilogy or quadrilogy (i think there are going to be four films, but i'm not sure) you know you're not going to get real finality out of the ending which is always a downer. that said, i thought they did a good job of keeping you interested for the next chapter while closing this one. it's a bit slow and long, especially for today's audiences. that's an encouraging thing, though, because it's a long,
slowish film that is hugely popular, empowering and has some depth.
jennifer lawrence is great. B+.
Six Feet Under Season Four - the series gets into real depressing and fatalistic territory in this season. perhaps i'm viewing it without the right point of view. perhaps there was a tongue in cheek quality i missed in this season. perhaps the over-the-top awfulness of the characters here is supposed to be funny. or maybe the creators and writers just hate the characters. i honestly don't know. how i read it, though, is that these characters whom we have followed for the last 3 seasons are now falling apart even more than ever. they're either pathetic, grating and annoying (ruth/david) or lack all moral fiber and seem to take themselves far too seriously (claire/nate). it was during this season that i basically stopped caring about the characters because i didn't see much hope for them. they were devolving, moving backwards, and in a pretty depressing way. some moments were just laughable in their dramatic flair. the end of episode three shows them all having a bonfire in the backyard (in la?!) and staring at it longingly. then clair turns on some radiohead and nate adds his sheets to the fire to cleanse himself of lisa. whatever. nate once again looks for meaning through sex, this time with anna gunn of breaking bad fame, and that goes nowhere (big surprise since that strategy was so successful in the past).
federico falls apart and starts a sort of affair with a stripper. claire gets an orgasm from one of her artsy fartsy friends. david assaults someone and keith has to fix things for him by (what else?) debasing himself sexually.
it's a real downer of a season and i felt like it just went through the motions. D+.
21 Jump Street - solid laughs throughout the entire film. tatum and hill have good chemistry and there are a couple decent supporting characters. generally these buddy comedies, and comedies in general these days, get bogged down by plot in the latter half of the film and lose sight of keeping the laughs going. they get overly sentimental or figure out that they need a bunch of explosions and plot to check things off the list. that didn't happen here, though, so it was money well spent. B+.
30 Rock Season Two - continues to get better. it's easy to see now why alec baldwin receives so many emmy's for this character. men in comedies are hardly ever very complex. generally they seem to fit the homer simpson (or maybe ralph kramden) mold of being dumb and simple. alec baldwin is a right winger so some might call him dumb, but he definitely pretty simple. he cares about status and sex and not much else. of course he's also funny as hell. B.
Senna - there's a lot going on in this documentary about the brazilian formula one driver of the 80s and 90s. he's like a brazilian prefontaine, only he had a chance to fulfill his potential before passing away. in this way it's an interesting film, too, because we see him rise and fall somewhat. toward the end of his career he begins to blame his car and he accuses another driver of using illegal equipment - these are the same things that he accuses prost of doing in the twilight of his career. the contrasts between prost and senna aren't just about racing style, they're also about how we live life. prost plays it by the numbers and ends his career with 4 championships. senna pushes the limits at all times and ends a shorter career with 3 championships. as someone who is intensely interested in how to live a good life these two and their racing styles are quite interesting to me.
overally it does a good job of rising above the confines of the documentary subgenre of great young fill-in-the-blank dies too young. it presents senna somewhat more organically than the documentaries that show the subject via archival footage and a lot of doting peers and commentators. we see senna has he rises to greatness. even the casual or non-racing fan can see his skill in some of the footage they present, so getting me to appreciate him on that level was an accomplishment of sorts. it would have been nice to have a little more explanation of some of the rules of f1 racing for those of us who know nothing about the sport, but overall most of the stuff was fairly well explained and decipherable for the average person.
interesting character. B+.
Game Change - i'm not sure how much of the behind the scenes stuff is based on verifiable fact, so i'll get that out of the way now. much of the film jibes with what i know about mccain and palin and the 2008 race in general, but some of the more scandalous, gossipy things i hadn't heard about. anyone with a brain can see that palin doesn't have one in the traditional sense. the right thinks this film is a hit job, but i found it to be mostly pretty fair to her. she comes off as ambitious and not altogether well-versed on politics and foreign policy 101. however, she does come off as principled - she supposedly wanted to return all the expensive clothes that the campaign bought her and her family, she didn't want to appear with anyone who was pro-choice, etc. it's clear that she has a very strong sense of what is right and wrong; though i disagree with her on most points.
the film itself isn't all that great. the writing could use an aaron sorkin punch up and most of the actors turn in less than stellar performances. jay roach is tapped again to do a political recount (no pun intended) of an actual event. last time he did this it was on another star-studded hbo film - recount - which was about the florida recount in 2000. he's an odd choice for these films since his strengths are really as a comedic director. B-.
Jeff, Who Lives At Home - reminded me a bit of magnolia in addition to signs which it explicitly references throughout the film. all the leads do a good job and ed helms turns in an uncharacteristic performance in that he plays a porsche driving jerk. jerks always drive porsches - bridesmaids is another example.
the characters are spot on in my estimation. jeff reminded me quite a bit of my old best friend phil, as well as my sister. he's a ne'er-do-well pothead who lives at home and doesn't exactly have his crap together. that is, until he gets a phone call and follows this "sign" everywhere it takes him. ultimately it's a life-affirming film about taking control of your life, being honest, not wasting time and all that cheesy stuff. jeff is vindicated in the end because his hippie-dippy idea about following this sign ends up working out for everyone involved. everything comes together and maybe we even believe it a little bit because we want to. we want to think that everything we're doing - all the precautions and training and experiences we have are leading to our being able to do great things at some moment in the present or future. if not then it's a total waste of time, right? take shelter touched on this in a different way. he, too, was vindicated. what appeared to be psychotic was actually prescient.
sometimes people say that they have no regrets or that they wouldn't undo anything that they've done in the past because if they did then it would mean that they wouldn't be where they are at that moment. this is supposed to affirm that they are happy with where they are, i guess. i've said it before and sorta believed it at various times. but the truth is that of course i have regrets. there are things i should have differently or not done at all. i don't think that doing a few things differently in the past would make me such a radically different person that i would have such a different outlook on life or be such a different person that all my relationships would be different.
ultimately i suppose it comes down to the fact that those mistakes (hopefully) make us less like to repeat them in the future. even that, though, doesn't necessarily need to be true. if there were only some way of learning from the mistakes of others rather than making our own every step of the way. for some i guess this is the bible or others it could be listening to the regrets of those before them or aesop's fables which outline as well as anything else the foibles of humanity. anyway, it was a really good movie. B+.
Six Feet Under Season Three - kind of similar in feel to season three of breaking bad. it gets even more depressing than the previous season because the flaws of the characters continue to grow while the characters seem to devolve. david continues to invest himself in a seemingly dead end relationship with keith. nate has gotten rid of brenda and tries to fly straight, but he's just going through the motions and it shows. claire is really the only one who exhibits growth this season and it only seems to really occur in the last few episodes when she dumps her boyfriend and tells her teacher what a douche he is.
things definitely heat up this season with more characters coming in (rainn wilson and ben foster among them) and some things finally coming to a head at the very end of the season. B.
Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King - the extended version is absurdly long (4hrs 15 minutes) and it seems to meander and ruminate too much on battle scenes or little moments. i had only seen this once in the theater, but this viewing confirms that it's the worst of the trilogy. in rewatching them with my cousin i'd have to say that each one gets a little worse than the former. it's certainly not a bad film and the first two weren't short by any means, but this one takes the length to an absurd level in my opinion.
the ending feels anti-climatic, though i suppose anything would after 11+ hours of build-up. this one got all the oscars because the previous two didn't, not because this is the one that actually deserved all the praise. as a trilogy this is in must-view territory, unfortunately this final installment doesn't quite rise to that level. i'd like to rewatch the neverending story because it has so many similar elements in a tighter package. B+.
30 Rock Season One - netflix describes the series as smart, but i found that most of the first season was actually relatively puerile. it's good, but it was silly and juvenile through most of the season.
going into it i expected tina fey's character to be a bit above the fray.instead she's just one more of the flawed characters which is kinda cool. she's actually more likable because of her flaws. the comedy mostly derives from her and alec baldwin with tracy morgan and others chipping in occasionally. the self-referential quality is endearing and a good source of humor. B.
A Bug's Life - it's a cross between an aesop's fable (the ant and the grasshopper) and kurosawa's the seven samurai. it's about a group of bandit grasshoppers who never store their own food for the winter and always steal it from the peasant ants. so, one ant goes out and recruits some other bugs that he thinks are badass mercenary types (the seven+ samurai). unfortunately they turn out to be circus performers so hilarity ensues. it's a good take on those two prior works and was interesting in that way. it's also interesting how water was used in the film - even a drop can be a destructive force. overall not a bad film, though the animation (especially that of the bird) left something to be desired. with a film like toy story the plasticy-fake look worked ok, but not so much here. pixar still didn't have the texture looking right yet. B.
American Pie - immature and overly sexualized drivel. in other words it perfectly matches what it's like to be a teen boy. total classic for its iconic moments, premise, and characters. A-.
American Pie 2 - a worthy sequel. B+.
American Wedding - low production values here. it felt like this one was made just for the money. stifler's character is way over the top and most of the jokes are of the gross out type. nothing special with this installment. C+.
Patsy - this might actually be the only jerry lewis film i've seen. he's pretty funny here. it's basically a pygmalion type setup where he's a bellboy or whatever who is sculpted by some hollywood handlers who have lost their star in a plane crash or something. B.
Hour Of The Gun - sturges film that picks up where gunfight at the ok corral ends. jason robards (who was seemingly the same age for the last 40 years of his career) plays doc holliday and that's the acting highlight of the film. there are other notable stars, but they don't do anything of particular note here. the film itself isn't all that special. it's a good enough drama film with the typical western elements. it felt like the searchers and the wild bunch, both of which are better. a posse (this one happens to be lawful) looking for the bad guys, bonding all the while. the earps are an interesting subject largely because of doc holliday. holliday was basically an outlaw who was riding with the earps. so it's an interesting juxtaposition of the shining example of the law in the west (earps) alongside doc holliday who was a gambler and wanted murderer. but, hey, that's the wild west. C+.
Crazy Horse - uninteresting and uninspired documentary from frederick wiseman who is somewhat of an icon in the genre. it's about the crazy horse strip club in paris which is evidently undergoing some artistic changes to its show. the first 15 minutes or more of the film, though, is basically the audience getting an idea of the show, up close and personal. there's a reason it's an NC-17 picture. it's not especially sexy or educational so i wasn't really sold on it from the very start. as the film progresses we get to see a bit more of the behind the scenes stuff. usually this is taken up by long bouts of exposition where one person gives their opinion of how the show should be or how things are going. apparently the french are extremely long-winded and opinionated. the only time there seems to be equitable debate is when the dancers are discussing the show. unfortunately, no matter who is talking, we don't learn a whole heck of a lot about the industry, the art form, or anything else. D.
Six Feet Under Season Two - definitely better than season one. season two sees the characters all growing or regressing or changing. no matter what direction they are going, things are getting more interesting and complex. they are difficult characters and that's probably the most rewarding aspect of the series so far. in a series like dexter, for example, it's fairly easy to root for dexter even though he is a murderer. here, though, the characters, and their complexities, are more true to life. we see them, warts and all, and it makes liking them all the more difficult.
the plot, too, has picked up. the rival corporate funeral service company ratcheted up their bid to take over, nate's health deteriorated further, david's love life continues to ebb and flow, things with the mother's work and love life get more interesting...all in all it's a more solid season and i'm looking forward to season three more than i was to season two. B.
A State Of Mind - unparalleled documentary that follows two north korean girls who are training for the mass games. the games are a large gymnastics exposition which displays the all for one mentality of the nation. thousands of athletes work together doing the same movements; it's quite an impressive show.
more than anything the film is valuable because it shows a country that is seen by so few. somehow the filmmakers were able to get unfettered access to the families and were able to get out alive. seeing a country that is as isolated and purely communist as is possible for a nation that size is pretty compelling stuff. it's a great foil for the u.s. and how we live and how we view ourselves.
honestly, i can see the appeal of this kind of communism. they've done a good job of balancing the needs of the individual as well as the desire to be a part of something larger. they all have a common enemy (u.s.) which tends to help. they also have a term for individual effort that essentially states that the individual must do everything they can to make do with what they have. it's the communist equivalent of rugged individualism and it was interesting to see one of the fathers talk about it. they don't simply submit themselves to the state as we may think from the outside. the reality is more nuanced.
i can't argue that their system of government is better than ours, but it clearly has its advantages. thought-provoking stuff. B+.
Parks And Recreation Season One - wasn't sure if i was going to review these or not, but meryl said i should. the first season is iffy but promising. the characters were there (poehler and ansari, especially showed promise early on), but the writing didn't seem like it had found its feet yet.
it's a series that is fitting for the times we live in when trust in government seems as low as it has been since watergate. at least now we can laugh at the thought of a pit taking several years to be filled in and turned into a park or inane bureaucracy. B-.
Parks And Recreation Season Two - season two is where the series found out what it was about. chris pratt and aubrey plaza beginning their flirtation was a good comedic match. nick offerman's character really blossoms as a libertarian curmudgeon working for the government; what a setup. i was skeptical of adam scott and rob lowe at first, but they turned out to be nice additions to the show. not only from a character standpoint, but also from a plot perspective as well. B.
Parks And Recreation Season Three - best season i've seen so far. poehler's character continues to anchor the show, but aziz ansari, nick offerman and plaza/pratt get most of the laughs. B+.
Lorax - slept through about half of this film, but what i did see didn't impress me much. i think i also remember sleeping through some of horton hears a who so maybe dr. seuss shouldn't be adapted to film anymore. just a thought. C-.
Project X - it's this generation's ferris bueller's day off or risky business. more the latter, though, because ferris bueller's day off is the only true classic of the bunch and, even with the totaled ferrari, not as destructive as the other two. they do all have the common element of a trouble maker kid taking advantage of their parents' trust and going a step (or several) too far.
this film is better than risky business in part because it has a really good soundtrack that can appeal to a variety of people. it's also a film that is sort of the logical conclusion of risky business. risky business goes into some darker territory (drugs and prostitution) than the usual teen comedy and this one takes the baton and runs toward the lawlessness without reserve. the characters in project x make about as much trouble as they can without completely losing the audience. in this way the film really does go as far as the teen trouble genre can go without turning into criminal drama. B+.
Under The Tuscan Sun - pretty much by the numbers midlife crisis chick flick. diane lane is a better than average actor so that certainly didn't hurt the film. C+.
Without Limits - compared to steve james' "prefontaine" this may have been the more watchable, accessible film. most of the performances were better here than they were in prefontaine. the notable exception being that i thought jared leto did a better job than billy crudup. they both show pretty much the same stuff and begin and end with prefontaine being recruited and then his death. unsure why only two films have been made about him and both came out with a year of each other and both are so similar.
they did a very good job of accurately reproducing the 1972 race. that said, they didn't do as good a job as "prefontaine" in capturing the time that pre lived in. this is a slightly easier film to watch, but i think the steve james version captures more of the context as well as the importance of pre as an athlete and runner. B.
Gone - better than expected thriller/mystery. it preys on the usual genre conventions and uses them to create tension. it also overturns some of them like the expectation that this rogue female will end up needing a man's help at some point to defeat the bad guy. in the end, it's a good mix of convention and convention-breaking that makes the film relatively unpredictable and surprisingly watchable.
seyfried's character is unstable, ballsy and very resourceful. she's everything that a male counterpart might be, but with the added dimension that everyone underestimates her because of her gender. it's like butch says in pulp fiction "That's how you're gonna beat 'em, Butch. They keep underestimating you." B.
Good Deeds -you can't come into a tyler perry film expecting standard fare. things will be more exaggerated or silly or, in this case, melodramatic than you've probably come to expect from average films. sometimes this comes off as grating or amateurish, and sometimes not. good deeds is kinda in the middle for me. once you resign to yourself to the fact that you're watching a soap opera, i think you can get a lot more enjoyment out of it. the audience got it, i, however, took a while to catch on.
i haven't watched a lot of soap operas, but basically it's clear that no one is perfect and everything seems like it's the end of the world. perry's version is toned down a bit (which makes it harder to like, actually), and is ultimately positive. so, there are some nice messages that the film has and it tackles some real issues of class and race and family obligation. it does so in a style, though, that i don't think most are receptive to. also, his direction doesn't seem to capture the right tone. he doesn't sell it very well, in other words. add to these problems the many little issues with the screenplay (perry is a 5th generation ivy league graduate [barely mathematically possible, i would imagine], the janitor doesn't receive any kind of benefits from her daughter's dead army dad, etc.) and you have a sloppy, well-intentioned film that doesn't really achieve meaningful lift-off. C.
Wanderlust - paul rudd is must-see these days, i just wish he did more stuff. even when he's aping in front of a mirror while psyching himself up for sex it's hilarious. really, you could just set the camera up in front of him, no plot and just have him mess around for an hour and it would probably be plenty entertaining. B.
Six Feet Under Season One - first season takes its time establishing the characters, but by the end of the season i felt invested enough and interested enough in them and their various struggles to commit to the second season.
plot-wise the series is a bit slow, but the characters are compelling enough to keep my interest. michael c. hall turns in a good performance throughout and the series has hints of dexter. both revolve around death, both have a dead father who makes recurring appearances, and (for most of the first season) hall is hiding something (his homosexuality) from even those close to him. i think we'll give it one more season to see if it gets better. B-.
This Means War - technically speaking this is the perfectly crafted date movie. it's got a little bit of eye candy for both sexes, it's a love story, it's got some action, it's got a bad boy looking guy who is a softy and a pretty boy who is a bad boy character, and it's got a happy ending. there are some nice moments in the film, mostly in the middle. chelsea handler is good as the raunchy friend of reese witherspoon. well-executed fluff. B.
Antz - quite a collection of stars do the voices of this dreamworks animated film...dan akroyd, sly stone, sharon stone, woody allen, anne bancroft, gene hackman, j. lo and others. unfortunately the animation is distractingly bad and the story is formulaic at best. it's a precursor to bee movie which is about bees instead of ants and they do a much better job in that film of relating the charm of the colony and of squeezing a lot of material out of telling the story from that point of view. here there are some little jokes or bits of material that are gotten from the fact that it takes place in an ant colony, but mostly it either is played straight or the stuff falls flat. the mis-spelling of the title is, i guess, a nod to the protagonist's name - "z." so, i suppose it can be read as ant Z as well as the plural of ant, modernized. C.
Searchers - a perennial top pick when it comes to best westerns or best films lists.
i've seen it 4 times and slept 2 or 3 of those times. wayne's character is tortured by racism and the civil war and probably a host of other things. and this is the strength of the film - the host of other things that we don't really ever see or know about. there's a lot in the film that we don't see - the damaged bodies left by the comanche, the affair (or whatever it is) that occurs between wayne and his brother's wife, the surrender of the south in the civil war, the scalpings, the kidnappings, and many other things. the most dramatic elements of the film are excised, purposely i'm sure, but i don't know that it's something that translates today. and this is what i was getting at in my review in 2002 - the film leaves a lot out and i think that plays well in the 50s. today's audience, for better or worse, wants to see what they're missing. on the whole i think the film is overrated. wayne's performance is good, not legendary. the setting is great (despite being factually inaccurate - monument valley isn't texas, though texas might wish it was). the cinematography is another of the film's strengths. so is the music, though it's sometimes too literal for me.
the plot is slow and contains seemingly excessive elements. i think you'd be hard pressed to justify the existence of every scene in the film. when seen in light of what is purposely left out, it's puzzling that some of these scenes are included.
ultimately, i predict that that film will fade in its perceived greatness in the coming decades. or maybe i'm wrong. i'm apparently wrong about john ford. i've seen many of his films, certainly enough to judge him, yet i don't think of him as a pantheon director. andrew sarris does, though. so does my dad. kurosawa called him "the master." and orson welles said he learned everything he needed to know about cinema from "stagecoach." all these people know more about film than i ever will, yet i can't get excited about any of his films outside of the grapes of wrath and, to a lesser extent, the man who shot liberty valance. it's an important film
that has had elements borrowed from it in films like star wars, but that's not the way i judge a work, as you well know. if it were, then the bible would be the best book of all-time, followed by aesop's fables. B.
Prefontaine - i think steve james (hoop dreams, interrupters, etc.) and i would get along. this is his only feature film, and i can't say that it's great filmmaking, but the subject he picked is a good one. the 1972 olympics are probably the most interesting from a storytellers point of view. you have the israeli hostage situation, the russia/usa basketball game, and young steve prefontaine making one of the most daring moves in running history against possibly the greatest distance runner ever (lasse viren). i first saw this race when i was 16 or 17 years old and a runner myself. our coach showed us the 5000m race on vhs and we all kinda thought
that prefontaine had a chance when, with three laps to go he made his move toward the front. unfortunately he didn't have the kick that viren and others had. ultimately, the slow pace is what killed it for him.
the film itself captures all the drama of the 72 olympics and adds the drama of the time politically and socially as well as the pro vs. amateur fight that was really heating up at the time. i don't think this issue was resolved until the 90s when they finally allowed pros to compete in the olympics and that's most famously manifested in the dream team which is still the greatest assemblage of athletic talent the world has ever seen (except for christian laettner). it also catches the early days of nike. phil knight isn't in it, but of course bill bowerman is.
the downfall of the film is in its more human moments. the relationships it portrays never fully work. some of the acting is flawed as well. ultimately, james is a documentarian who wanted to tell the story of someone who interests him, but who had died many years ago. so, you get what this film is. it's a faux documentary (it's told after his death with many of the characters narrating their thoughts about prefontaine like they would in a documentary). it's shot in a cinema verite style as well. i don't think it's going to draw the average person in very much, but i'm a fan of prefontaine. he had a great gift and was extremely devoted to it.
so if you like prefontaine and/or steve james it's worth checking out, otherwise probably not so much. B.
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory - third and final (one must assume) installment of documentaries covering the west memphis three and the child murders at robin hood hills.
the first 30 minutes or so is basically unnecessary for those of us who have seen the first two installments. i'd like to see a version that is combined into one film, in two parts, that cuts out all the redundancies. once you get past the recap portion of the film, though, this is a great cap to the story and the trilogy of films. when watched along with the staircase and into the abyss (which i watched a few months ago), you get a pretty interesting glimpse into the criminal justice system in this country. these films do well when watched together.
certain themes and motifs consistently arise. like the women who are drawn to these guys on death row or life imprisonment. i've worked with one of them before, actually. basically they come off as normal people on the whole, but i guess there's just one part of them that desires a man who can't hurt them, but is dangerous at the same time? or maybe they're ultra jealous and want their man to be locked up? who knows. i know that scott peterson is extremely popular and i find that extremely creepy. pop psychology aside, there are other similarities between all these films.
you see how quickly truth not only becomes muddled, but also how quickly it becomes secondary to the rest of the circus. these high profile murder cases become their own subcultures. you have mr. byers who is probably the most colorful character in the three films who goes from grieving stepfather (paradise lost 1) to nutty potential murderer (paradise lost 2) to possibly the most reasonable guy in the circus (paradise lost 3). by the end of the film you have the alleged murders who have always looked the part, but always said they were innocent (except miskelley's one-time confession under pressure) finally say that they are guilty. once they admit guilt they are let free by the state, after 17 years in prison. make sense? it's called an alford plea which is one of those things that can only exist in a system devoid of real common sense. maybe it makes sense to some philosopher, but i'm a simple guy so it doesn't make a lot of sense to me. essentially, in order for the convicted murderers to finally be set free they must admit that they committed the crime. this allows the state to not admit any wrongdoing, avoid being sued, etc. it also allows the convicted (and now admitted) murderers to be set free into society. basically, the state knew that they were going to get off because of dna evidence (actually lack thereof) as well as other new evidence, so they let the guys go...after 17 years of wrongful (in my mind) incarceration. brilliant system.
the whole thing is so bizarre and twisted. there are all these little subplots and interesting sidebars and secondary characters. meanwhile we have three innocent men who have had their lives basically ruined and three innocent boys who were murdered a long time ago and are always in the background, forgotten.
this installment is the cherry on top and its grade is indicative of the trilogy, rather than just the last film. A-.
Safe House - pretty much played out as you expect once you know who all the characters are. lots of acting talent here with farmiga, denzel, and gleeson, but it's not really utilized well. plays like a tony scott film in terms of look and feel, but ultimately doesn't deliver like one. a little longish, otherwise it passes the time albeit not in the most inspired way. B-.
Animal Kingdom - not quite sure why this one received so much hype. it's reminiscent of many family crime dramas where anything can happen and you get that the protagonist needs to worry about his life/well being all the time. i found it to be a fairly lifeless film, though, and, as a result, i can't say i would have minded the death of any of the characters. sure, the acting was good and the matriarch was creepy at times, but it never achieved lift off for me. B-.
Staircase - maybe the best courtroom/criminal justice documentary of all-time, can't think of a better one except maybe the paradise lost trilogy. follows a man who is accused of killing his wife. she's found at the bottom of a staircase dead with a lot of blood at the scene. was she beaten or did she fall? the plot thickens with every 45 minute episode of this 6.5 hour drama. yeah, it's long, but it's very compelling stuff.
the victim, as always, is lost in the shuffle as is the truth. everyone around michael (the accused) gets sucked into this thing, sides are chosen, politics, his sexual orientation, etc. all factor into the case in some way. i feel like these courtroom documentaries are like war films where the first casualties are truth and innocence. it's a depressing work in the final analysis because each side is so tenacious in its argument, because things that shouldn't be considered, are. because a family is torn apart, once again. because we'll never really know what happened and yet so much is on the line. it shows, as if we didn't already know, that truth isn't obtainable and that people (on both sides) are blind to facts and arguments that don't fit their views. A-.
Dexter Season Six - spoilers. sure the show is formulaic in its ebb and flow and conflict setup, but it's solid entertainment with some meaty stuff to think about as well. with this season we're officially all caught up with the rest of the world and it's too bad because, for the first time, the end of the season left a cliffhanger.
the dexter/deb relationship is what drives this season more than anything else. her feelings for him, her walking in on him killing yet another victim...how is this going to affect an already fragile deb? how will he explain things? will he come clean or draw a new line of defense (e.g., say that it was just this one time because he felt so strongly about the case). if he covers his ass and kills her, dexter will never be the same again. we won't be able to ever side with him again, that's for sure. of course, in reality, he crossed that line a long time ago, but, in a fictional world, we can still root for him right now. B+.
Chronicle - felt like cloverfield, but it wasn't as exciting. there was a latent power in the film that was only barely ever released. and by the time things did peak i wasn't sure i knew what i was supposed to make of it all. is it just a story about coming of age? B-.
Dexter Season Five - after losing rita because of inaction at the end of season four, i sorta figured dexter would turn for the worse. i also figured he wouldn't find anyone who could fill the emptiness left by her absence. i was wrong on both accounts and this leads to a possibly even more depressing finale than last season.
the main plotline here is the bonnie and clyde setup with dexter and lumen (julia stiles) hunting down men involved in the rape of stiles and 12 other women. in lumen, dexter finally finds someone who he can open up to, who is like him, and who isn't completely nutty. there's a caveat, though, which is that lumen is only like dexter so long as she is hunting the men who raped her. so, by season's end, after the task is complete, lumen realizes that her need to avenge is gone; her "dark passenger" has left her, as dexter puts it. it's sad, but inevitable and this inevitability is what keeps it less tragic than rita's murder, for me anyway.
deb continues to be a strong character. she's the rock and moral compass of the show in many ways. sure she loses it from time to time and she has a way of getting involved with people she shouldn't, but she's also a strong character with character. everyone else seems to have their issues - angel is blinded by lust, maria is power hungry, dexter is a murderer...deb, though, seems to always have the best intentions even though it may not always work out for her.
these last two seasons have been the best so far. i only wish they could increase interest in the first half of the season. it seems like a back loaded show in that all the drama comes late. B+.
Artist - i've always wanted hollywood to revisit silent and noir films, but it never seems to happen. sure, they do it in their own way with fargo or l.a. confidential or something, but they never fully embrace the style of yore. luckily, we have the french who love early hollywood. sometimes it creates crappy, overrated wannabes like godard, but occasionally you get a solid film like rififi or the artist. there's nothing amazing about this film, but it revisits the style in a loving and charming way. film geeks love movies about movies so this one should get a strong showing at the academy awards. someone has probably written about the interesting relationship between the french and the americans, i'd like to read it. they bailed us out in the revolutionary war, they gave us the statue of liberty, we bailed them out of world wars one and two, they labeled our greatest film genre (film noir), etc. this film adds another page to the book. and while it's interesting in that way and as a piece of film history, it doesn't strike me as a particularly great film. it's solid. it's fun. it's a nice throw back. but i didn't see greatness in it. B.
Breaking Bad Season One - so i'm going to start reviewing select tv series as i watch them. each season will count as one movie, i think that's fair. i plan on only counting series that have a running plot like like breaking bad, sopranos, etc. in other words, south park, the simpsons, twilight zone, etc. won't be included. there are going to be more spoilers in these reviews than in my movie reviews so don't read any of the reviews if you haven't already watched the season in question. i'll try to keep spoilers to the seasons they occurred in.
most tv series have trouble finding their feet the first season, but bb is an exception to this. it pretty much hits the ground running from the pilot episode. it keeps you interested right away with a problem or clue in the opening scene that needs solving or figuring. i like their opening scenes for this reason. it reminds me a bit of far country (james stewart/anthony mann western) which opens with three men riding into town. one of them (stewart) has the guns of the other two, but we also get the impression that they were partners at one point. how did this happen? what will come of this tension? the beginning asks a question and the rest of the episode (usually) answers it. it's a great device.
the first season is really well pitched. there's plenty of drama, things are still very believable and i felt like jesse and walt could still emerge from things (relatively) undamaged. the titles of episodes 2 and 3 reference a line from the sweet smell of success. i'm writing this review a month or two after watching the first season so i don't have too much to say about it specifically, but i will say that breaking bad is the series that started me thinking about getting into tv more. when i lived in ohio i watched twin peaks (season one) and sopranos and west wing in their entirety, but didn't feel compelled to write about them as much as i do about this. breaking bad is top notch. cranston is great. aron paul really grew on me and the secondary characters are intriguing, good foils, good for plot, and great comic relief. A.
Breaking Bad Season Two - probably my favorite season of the series through the 4th. things with tuco really heat up and jesse and walt are forced to grow even closer, while also getting more tense. walt is forced into lies that grow increasingly deep and convoluted. the blackout lie and getting close to hank finding out about everything when he is at tuco's really stretch the limits of walt's imagination and resourcefulness. there's also still a good amount of science in this season and i found that that fades as the series progresses.
this season shows the highs and lows of the business as well as any other and does so while maintaining believe-ability. after all that jesse and walt go through with tuco they're still broke. it's the classic case of having to go deeper or dropping out completely. they choose to go deeper. saul's character is introduced (my favorite outside of jesse/walt) and they go from rags to riches after finding gus.
there are a lot of professional changes as well. hank moves up in the dea and there's a life changing event there. walt has trouble at work. jesse realizes he can't break into normal society. skyler gets a job and drama emerges there.
we also see jesse continue to evolve. his run-in with the meth heads and their son is a highlight. unfortunately as jesse seems to be getting better femme fatale jane takes a turn and they drag each other down the drug rabbit hole. jesse is too much of a follower for his own good. walt turns a major corner in the second half of the season culminating with him allowing jane to die in front of him. A.
Breaking Bad Season Three - things really fall apart for the first half of this season. i stopped pulling for walt and jesse as all their wrangling and lies had seemingly left them bereft of possible redemption. hank emerges as a more central character this season and skyler is much more active as well. jesse and walt get as close as ever to being caught when hank finds the rv at the junkyard.
this was a tough season for me. it hurt to see jesse off the wagon last season, but it's almost worse to see him resigned to criminality here. his strong moral compass when it comes to kids is redemptive and walt stepping up for him, thus strengthening their partnership, are good things to see. of course this is capped off by the finale which is as tense as any episode in the series.
the series continues to be about walt/jesse and them solving problems together, but this is the season where hanks and skyler really are central to the plot. i think of it as a plot-driven show since so much is always happening, but the characters are so strong and complex that it works on both levels. as always, actions have consequences and we see that here. A.
Breaking Bad Season Four - this season gets a little outlandish with some of the plot. things are almost ridiculously tense. it's contrived hysteria at times, but i mean that in a good way. the writers do a good job of ratcheting up the drama without straying too far into absurdity.
in gus, walt finally has an adversary worthy of his intelligence. much of the series walt is obsessed with the fact that he's underutilized in this regard so it's nice, in a way, to see him finally challenged to the fullest. his potential is being realized and i guess that's all any of us can hope for, but it so completely destroys everything around him - his family, jesse, the community, order - that it's also depressing. hank's idleness is similar - he's bed-ridden and unable to fulfill his potential until he goes out with walt looking for heisenberg and breaks the law in his pursuit of his white whale.
i'd like to think that walt and jesse can return to some normalcy in the final season, but they've passed the point of no return. walt is far too tenacious to give up and there are loose ends that will surely bite them next season. ted's death may haunt skyler, the cartel wanting a piece of jesse (who helped gus in his overthrow), etc. at the end of the season it looked like maybe they were done with the business, but the business may not be done with them. A.
Dexter Season One - the first season takes a little while to lift off, but it is intriguing enough to keep you coming back for more. dexter is a more plot-driven series than it is character-driven. i found myself much more interested in who the ice cream truck killer was than what motivated any of the characters. part of that is a lack of great secondary characters and part of that is the voiceover, which inserts for the viewer, dexter's interpretation of the characters and events. so, instead of interpreting things yourself, you are given his opinion; in essence you are told what to think. i think that the use of the voice over evolves a bit as the series progresses. it's less present and more seamless. it's more funny, too.
dexter is like a lot of people and he has a code, he has scruples which makes him capable of some sympathy. i think audiences appreciate when psychopaths draw a line, it allows them to connect at least a little bit. towards the end of the season dexter is forced to decide what kind of person he's going to be, and this is the kind of decision he'll likely face throughout the entire series.
luke got me started on this and i wasn't really sold on the series until about half way through the first season. you really have to give a series several episodes if you see any potential. even seinfeld took a little while to find its feet. glad we stuck with it. B.
Dexter Season Two - this season was about the hunt for the bay harbor butcher and dexter battling with living a normal life or a life in the closet. i think this will be a long standing theme of the show. if he ever goes fully in one direction or the other the show will lose much of its intrigue. this is also the season where lila plays the foil for dexter. his brother was the foil in the first season, but he was firmly on the insane side of the spectrum. lila comes off as embracing her wickedness in a less destructive way. turns out, though, that she's a total nut who is willing to do whatever she needs to get what she wants. her insane energy and dastardly
manipulation make for some good episodes.
it was during the first part of this season that i found myself finally warming up to dexter the character. i was already sold on the series, but the character hadn't quite won me over yet. now, though, i started thinking to myself "maybe we need a guy like dexter around to do the dirty work for us from time to time." just a thought.
it's a really taut season as it revolves around looking for the bay harbor butcher which is dexter. lundy is hot on his tail and so is sgt. doakes. dexter comes as close as he can to giving himself up without actually doing it. B.
Dexter Season Three - the season of jimmy smits as foil and friend of dexter. took a little while to get into the plot of this season since the stakes weren't as high. but smits' character was good and unpredictable. dexter, and the audience, think that smits is for real - a potential partner and friend for dexter. someone who finally understands dexter but isn't a sociopath. someone who dexter can teach and learn from at the same time. but, as always, things unravel and smits turns out to be another nut job. a formula is arising here. we have a foil for dexter. dexter becomes more normal and assimilated. dexter reaches out to someone who understands him. this person proves to be unstable and unreliable. dexter kills this person out of self-preservation and in line with "the code" since this person also happens to kill the innocent.
i'm left wondering what will happen once dexter is wrong about someone he kills. he uses science, sure, but one day may come when he is wrong about who he decides to kill. this season wasn't as good as season 2, but the production is better in these two seasons relative to the first. secondary characters like angel,
deb and rita get a little more meat to them. B.
Dexter Season Four - just finished this one so it's fresher in my head. it's the best season i've seen so far. john lithgow is a great foil for dexter because he's, from afar, the guy who can balance being a killer with being a family man. sure, he doesn't live by the same code as dexter (and thus must die), but dexter can learn something from him...or so it seems. deb goes through some more awful stuff when lundy dies. she's basically the show's punching bag. things with angel and maria heat up out of nowhere. he's too good for her, in my opinion.
really, though, this season is about dexter settling into married/family life. can he successfully manage those two worlds? probably not, and in the final moments of the season it turns out he kinda doesn't have to. rita is killed (presumably) by lithgow, though i'm not sure how he would have found out about dexter's past. it's possible it was just a coincidence, i suppose. i accidentally looked up julie benz online and saw that she was dexter's wife through season 4. it was a fleeting glimpse and at the end of the season i still held out hope that i had seen it wrong. turns out i didn't, but it wasn't too much of a spoiler because i never saw it coming that she died the way she did. honestly it was a very sad moment. dexter needs rita, i think, and now that he doesn't have her i'm afraid he's going to wander into even more despicable territory.
season four also saw dexter being wrong about one of his murder victims for the first time. john dahl directed several episodes in this season and season three, so i guess that explains where he's been lately. i also noticed a difference in the way harry appears in the last couple seasons. instead of being used solely in flashbacks, harry is now used as dexter's conscience and comments on what's currently happening. i think it's a more seamless way of inserting the character and was a good change. B+.
Haywire - i went into this movie knowing that a lot of stars were in it and that was all. meryl sets our movie agenda and i told her a while back i wanted to see it, but had completely forgotten about it by the time we saw it. as i was watching it i kept thinking that it felt and awful lot like a steven soderbergh film. the long takes, the movement of the camera, the david holmes-esque music. it felt like a laid back ocean's eleven. then the credits roll and it says directed by steven soderbergh and suddenly the world makes sense. and then it says music by david holmes and i feel like a genius for about 2 seconds. then i find out that the lead is gina carano who is an mma star. this makes sense for two reasons. she's a pretty convincing fighter in the film (though the editing needed some work to make the fights tighter) and it fits the girlfriend experience mold that soderbergh made with sasha grey. in that film he got a porn star to play a prostitute and here he gets an mma fighter to play a mercenary.
the plot wasn't exactly clear, but it was interesting enough to keep me engaged. carano cleans up nice, too. all in all it wasn't a bad movie, but it wasn't as good as you expect from soderbergh. B-.
One For The Money - gotta respect the truth of the title. katherine heigl could easily move to the next level in the acting world if she chose to. she's a pretty good actress when the material is there and she has plenty of pull. in knocked up she made $300k for her starring role. now she's making over $12 million a picture and, it appears, taking any work that comes along. this picture is bad and formulaic. heigl tries a jersey accent, but it's inconsistent and not particularly good anyway. gross commercialism here. glad we stole this one. D-.
Grey - thinking back on this movie a few days after seeing it, it's hard to say exactly why i liked it so much. not a whole lot happens and it's not the film that the trailer depicts, but it's a real good film nonetheless. there's a great balance of tension and comedy, some good mystery, and a nicely chosen cast. liam neeson is pretty much must-see these days. it's not often that i'd rewatch a movie within a week, but i'd definitely check this one out again if i had the opportunity. B+.
Man On A Ledge - nice enough working class tower heist-esque little movie. the big problem here, though, is that they cast elizabeth banks when they meant to (or at least should have) cast vera farmiga. every line that banks delivered had me thinking that farmiga was the one who should have been the one delivering it. other than that this is a good enough flick to pass the time. B-.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - more like extremely obnoxious and incredibly gay. the kid is annoying and not well acted, though not helped by the poor screenplay. overly long and cheap in its use of september 11th. not at all worthy of nomination. not the kid, not the movie, not max von sydow. the one thing it had going for it was the mystery of finding out what the key is for and then we find out it's for a stranger's safety deposit box and we never find out what's inside. a waste. D+.
Iron Lady - total piece of junk with no soul and no discernible narrative structure. streep, of course, is very good, but her performance alone doesn't save this from the scrap pile. a total bore. another shitty british film. please, someone take away their cameras. D.
Addiction Incorporated - addiction incorporated primarily a talking heads documentary that covers the downfall of the tobacco industry. in my college years i did a fair amount of research on the anti-tobacco lobby and the tobacco settlement around which the movie revolves, i've also seen the insider a few times, so it's a not unfamiliar topic to me. despite, not because of, that i found the documentary to be engaging and informative. it not only illuminates the tobacco industry and their fight for survival, but also the special interest and political system we have. by now all this stuff is fairly old hat for a cynic like me, but it served as a good reminder that sometimes the truth actually makes a difference. a rare feel good story in the world of politics. B.
Silent House - uruguayan horror film supposedly based on real events. basically it's paranormal activity with the academically interesting twist that the whole thing is shot in one take. it's the second longest take i know of in film history, with the first being russian ark. i must say that both films are not entirely interesting beyond the gimmick, however. plus, like hitchcock does in rope, there are some cheats in the film that allow there to be a few cuts, though i'm unsure whether they used them to cut or not. i just kept wondering why she was wandering around this house aimlessly as things got more and more terrifying around her. the ending reminded me of high tension, but it made even less sense. C-.
Bellflower - the trailer is really good and enticing, unfortunately it's not entirely indicative of the feel of the film. the film wanders about as does its protagonist. i kept waiting for something inspiring or weighty to happen and then the ending finally delivers, only it doesn't. acting and directing showed promise, but really uncertain how i feel about the story as a whole. i get what happened and what didn't and i think i understand why everything was portrayed as it was, i'm just not sure it was worth the build up. B-.
It's Kind Of A Funny Story - pretty good the second time around as well. funny and touching with a nice style to it. it's like one flew over the cuckoo's nest meets 500 days of summer or catcher in the rye or something. B+.
Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - better than original overall. it told the story better and the music and direction were better. both are overly long, but the books are long and detailed from what i've heard so i understand why. i almost feel like the ending of both should be an epilogue instead of the final act. summarized over the credits using news reports would suffice. one aspect where the remake fell short was the ending wherein the girl feels let down by blomkvist who continues his romance with another woman. i just didn't buy the sentimentality from her character. the way she first comes onto blomkvist, for example, isn't the sign of a woman who is an emotional wreck going out on a limb. rather it's a sign of a woman who takes what she wants and evidently wants blomkvist at that moment.
i can't recall all the other differences between the two films, but the american version had a better feel in my estimation and i attribute that largely to fincher. it follows in the mold of se7en (and, to a lesser extent, zodiac) more than any of his other films. it's not his best work (that's behind him at this point), but it's a nice enough film and i'll be watching the others as they come out. B+.