Movies Reviewed, 2007

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Paths Of Glory - certainly one of my ten favorite films of all-time and possibly in the top five. the power of this film is rare. douglas is brilliant and outshines everyone else, but the performances from menjou and macready are still among the best supporting roles of the decade. the script is great and full of thought-provoking lines and discussions. each minute is chock full of material for dissection and thought; at under 90 minutes it's probably the most tightly constructed feature film i've seen. it's this quick pace and dense structure that helps make the ending all the more powerful. the german p.o.w. woman sings to the rowdy soldiers and quickly quiets them. they see beauty in an ugly world. we know that this is fleeting, though, for minutes later they will be ushered back onto the front lines. such is life: beauty exists and we should weep and enjoy it while it is there, but it's fleeting at best.
fried's music is great as expected, though i may enjoy his work on the killing even more. other than the ending, my favorite scenes are the tracking battle shots and kirk douglas chewing out menjou behind the desk. just brilliant and as powerful a 10 seconds as i've seen in film; even puts "they call me mr. tibbs!" to shame by comparison.
i love the juxtaposition of the cramped spaces of the trenches with the wide open interiors of the general staff. interesting that the cramped trenches are in the exterior and the open spaces are on the interior. perhaps an ironic commentary on the fact that humans have destroyed the outside world and have made our only refuge the interior spaces of the bourgeois. that's another thing about the film - the struggle between the classes, or ranks, as it were. there is a clear divide between the generals and officers and the infantrymen.
lastly, the dynamics that kubrick creates between the various central figures is ingenious. macready playing menjou and vise versa, both of them playing douglas and other underlings. lieutenant roget and ralph meeker's character. the general staff (the unseen entity) and macready, etc. it's just great. fucking brilliant. A+.

Savages - not sure what it was about this film, but it left me unhappy though not in the sense that i was impacted greatly by its emotional strength. it's a dark comedy about two siblings (hoffman and linney) who have to make arrangements for the care of their father after his girlfriend dies. the bond between children and father isn't exactly strong so their desire to take care of him derives mostly from guilt, rather than love. the whole cast did a very good job, but the direction didn't seem to strike the right balance between comedy and drama. there were funny and dramatic elements that were effective, yet the film didn't resonate with me in either direction. it was basically a todd solondz film with less humor and sex stuff, directed by someone without his touch. C+.

Great Debaters - apparently the real story is that the debate team played, and beat, usc, not harvard. not sure why they changed that fact. besides that i'm unsure how true this story is. with a film like this i guess you have you watch it as a film inspired by a true story, but not necessarily a depiction of reality. i thought most of the performances were solid, especially washington's. overall the film was likable enough and inspired in portions, but not stunning in any way. B-.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story - went into this one with low hopes and was pleasantly surprised. it takes all the clichés of the tortured artist film and makes them extreme and absurd. john c. reilly is a really underrated actor and his range should be commended here and in other films (boogie nights probably being his best). the cast is comprised of people from the office, saturday night live, and apatow productions like superbad and 40 year-old virgin. certainly could be too silly for some, but not for me. B.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas - should be called "how the grinch tried to steal christmas," but that's all i can say to knock this one. great vocal work from boris karloff, great writing and music, solid animation. the great chuck jones co-directs this one. short and sweet. A.

Scrooge - not as good as i remembered, but still the definitive performance from alastair sim. noticed a man in a mirror towards the end when scrooge washes his face. oops. as good as any of the others and better than most. B+.
Death Proof - once it gets going this one is better than the robert rodriguez grindhouse picture. zoe bell is an awesome stunt lady, but not the best actress in the world. plenty of references to other tarantino films as well as his many influences, vanishing point being the largest so far as this film is concerned. liked the second more than the first story. B.

National Treasure: Book Of Secrets - a harmless picture. not as good as the first installment. this one still has good comic relief, but i wasn't thrilled by the heists and technology here. with a film like this there has to be a good deal of thought put into the details of the mythology as well as the gadgets and techniques used when breaking into highly secure areas. in one scene cage is supposed to break into the oval office to retrieve a clue from the president's desk, but rather than writing an elaborate scheme for getting in and out, the film just has cage's ex-girlfriend ask one of her friends for a tour. too simple and not enough fun. C+.
Charlie Wilson's War - aaron sorkin (west wing) writes and mike nichols (graduate) directs. with that in mind i entered the film. it's good, but not as good as that collaboration (including the talents of tom hanks and philip seymore hoffman) would indicate. they do a fine job overall, but i found myself checking my watch more often than i would have liked. the note that the film ends on is perhaps the best part of the film (along with hoffman's character). it relays the story of a zen master and a young boy. after a young boy gets a horse the townspeople talk about how lucky the boy is, but the zen master simply says "we'll see." later, the boy falls off this very horse and injures his legs and the town mourned his unfortunate fate, but the zen master remarks again: "we'll see." later, when war broke out and the young boy couldn't be drafted, the townspeople remark on the boy's get the point. this story is a good way of looking at the cia's successful covert war against the ussr via afghanistan. on the one hand it gave the ussr its first defeat and could be said to be a cause for the fall of communism, on the other hand it armed a dangerous region and gave the mujahadin increased power which has led to some of the problems we're seeing now. B.
Juno - smartly written little film about a precocious underage girl who gets pregnant. it's somewhat similar to rushmore in that both protagonists are too smart or ambitious or well-adjusted (in some ways) to be realistic, but neither film is truly about realism. in this film juno and her friends talk unlike anyone i've ever seen and it's more for comic effect than anything else. the entire cast is great, especially ellen page, whose talent i recognized in hard candy, and jennifer garner who has a great supporting performance. it's written by diablo cody who apparently used to be a stripper, but that's neither here nor there. the truth about this one is that it's a unique flick with sassy dialogue and smart characters; it's got heart and comedy and never loses steam and all that makes it one of the year's best. B+.

An Unreasonable Man - an infuriating film because it contrasts the principled life and career of nader with all the other assholes in the world. everyone from tim robbins and michael moore to bush, gore, eric alterman, and others look like leaves in the goddamn wind or career compromisers next to a rock like nader. ultimately the documentary gives me even greater respect for nader and less hope for the country and world. it's not too difficult to find principled people (i'm one, and there are several living in the oaks down the road), but it's another to find a principled person who is 1) successful in getting their voice heard and policies enacted, 2) on the correct side of things such as consumer rights, corporatism, the death penalty, tort reform, etc. 3) intelligent enough to be so thoughtful on such a wide range of issues. most leaders from mlk and cesar chavez to jfk and fdr have had some serious flaw in their record, character, success rate, or have been limited in their scope. A-.

Gay Republicans - documentary about log cabin republicans, some of whom consider themselves gay first and republican second, others who feel the opposite, but they all voted for bush in 2000. it's interesting because it's a segment of the population that doesn't fit into the normal political demographic breakdowns that people talk about. they're not "soccer moms" or evangelicals or young voters, etc. it's a seemingly contradictory term, but it simply comes down to the fact that the people in the documentary aren't so simple that they are single issue voters (unlike crazy anti-abortionists, who also happen to be republican). B.

Vernon, Florida - expected a lot from this morris documentary which follows several characters from the small town of vernon, florida. it's a short documentary (around an hour long) and that's a good thing because i didn't see much here to get excited about. some of the small town folk were interesting in their simplicity or for their storytelling abilities or eccentric lives, but i didn't see the same interesting subjects here that i saw in later morris documentaries like mr. death, fast, cheap and out of control, or the fog of war. those films had intelligent, polarizing, and famous figures who were in compelling lines of work. vernon, florida is the polar opposite of those. if you're into something like this then check out chris smith's stuff, he does it better. C+.
Ladykillers - the strong points of this film are definitely the script and tom hanks's performance. i haven't seen the original so i don't know what the coens had to work with, but the remake seems to play with race stereotypes. not sure if there is some commentary here or if it's just in the vein of don rickles or what. certainly not the best coen brothers comedy, but it passes the time, has a good soundtrack and very good writing. B.
Dumb And Dumber - a good standby classic from the farrelly brothers. might be my favorite jim carrey comic performance. good characters. B+.

Waco: Rules Of Engagement - decent, but long, documentary about the waco showdown and aftermath. most of the documentary draws on testimony before some senate committee. various experts, witnesses, atf/fbi agents, and ex-davidians are interviewed and this all leads to one giant mess. we get the idea that the fbi and atf fucked up majorly and over-stepped their bounds, but whether or not they had devious intent or not remains a mystery. how crazy a cult the davidians were and how much of a role they played in starting or fueling the whole disaster is also up for debate. B-.

It's A Wonderful Life - a truly fantastic film. capra took the lemons of the depression and made lemonade in the form of some of the greatest films of all-time (mr. deeds goes to town, mr. smith goes to washington, and it's a wonderful life). this one, though, goes to a darker place than the other two. sure, mr. smith shows the corrupted political machine, but none of the capra films i've seen go to that dark place that stewart inhabits so well in the film's penultimate act. stewart is just as excellent as the dark drunk as he is minutes later as the effervescent, smiling, laughing, boyish man in the end. an extreme few film actors have the range and effectiveness exhibited throughout stewart's career, much less within a single film as great as this one. to watch his desperate eyes when he appeals to the board of directors to vote to keep the building and loan business afloat or when he begs mr. potter (what a wonderful villain he is!) for the $8k he needs to keep the business afloat, is to watch an actor, a professional, a human at his peak. it doesn't get much better than stewart's performance here.
that said, i would be remiss if i didn't mention capra's role in selling this story for the perennial favorite that it is. look, the work of the beatles and capra and michelangelo don't have any inherent qualities that make it great in any absolute sense. rather, they brought forth a talent and artistry that happens to speak loudly and deeply to a great number of people across a great range of backgrounds. critics and street dwellers alike can appreciate the works of these artists and that's ultimately what matters: they appeal to just about everyone, in a deep fashion, throughout time. capra's direction in the aforementioned three films is about as good as anyone's work in any three films. they're life-affirming, positive, strong pictures which, to me anyway, are amazingly uplifting without being cliché or mawkish. to toe that line so effectively and do produce those films during a time when the country needed them is inspiring. A+.
Stuck On You - an average farrelly brothers flick. it produces laughs and a colorful cast of characters. has at least two bob evans references. B.

I Am Legend - plenty of problems here, but it's still a decent enough picture because of the story and the fact that i love these apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic films. smith lacks the chops to truly shift gears from the comedic actor to the kind of on the edge insanity that is necessary here. there are times during the film where smith is supposed to be near cracking under the strain of not having human contact for years and, rather than coming off as tortured and near his breaking point, he portrays a man uncomfortable outside of the comic realm. there are other problems i had the the film as well: i would have liked to see how he provided himself with power and water. how did he keep the lab up and running? i also would have liked more explained about the nature of the dark-seekers. they seemed to work in teams, but weren't as intelligent has real humans in some ways. more discussion of their nature would have been nice.
i still plan on watching the first two. C+.
Treasure Of The Sierra Madre - great film about greed, human nature, the circle of life, the absurdness of taking life seriously, and more. everyone is great, especially bogey and huston, but holt and bennett (look for him in the academy awards next year during the "people we lost this year" segment) deserve notice as well. bogart was 49 here, but he's as lively as always. hard to believe that he had less than 10 years left. huston is my favorite, though. he embodies the old guy i wish to become - he's got the right world view and goes about things methodically and without worry. in the end, it's his let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may attitude that keeps him alive and happy. we get the impression that even if bogey were alive in the end, the ending might cause him to kill himself or go crazy; he's just not the type of character who could take such a jolt. A-.
Killing - wasn't thrilled and amazed by the picture as much this time, but it's still fantastic and a top 25 flick for me. sometimes when you watch a movie enough certain things stop moving you and other things, that didn't move you before, start to. with this viewing the comedy struck me more than it had in the past and the tension struck me less. it's a great, taut film with excellent dialogue, music and camera work. everyone in the picture is great. A.
Superbad - more funny than knocked up, but not as poignant. that said, it still strikes a chord because of the seth/evan dynamic. unlike dazed and confused, this film continues to resonate with me in spite of the fact that i'm 10+ years removed from the senior year of high school that the film depicts. B+.

Knocked Up - funny and poignant flick. not as funny the second time around, but more poignant so i guess it's a wash. it's good to see smart and touching comedies like this being made. apatow has been able to strike this balance since the one-off series of freaks and geeks. B+.

Affairs Of Martha - mostly unremarkable dassin film that's about a small town wherein a maid has promised to write an expose. this stirs the pot a bit and some chaos, hilarity and misunderstandings ensue. it's got some comedic elements and it's interesting from a social perspective because of its depiction of the bourgeoisie, but doesn't offer much otherwise. the biggest reason to watch the film is that the great jules dassin directed it. i can't say i saw the same genius that i saw in night and the city, thieves' highway and others. C.

Pusher III: I'm The Angel Of Death - decent enough ending to a good trilogy. this one revolves around milo (buric), an upper echelon dope dealer who (as is usual with the series) runs into some money problems and has to scramble to get things back on track. to make things worse his daughter's wedding is coming up and he chose the wrong time to help out a prostitute in a pinch. buric turns in a standout performance and the supporting cast is mostly better than it was in the first one. the problem here is that the pace is slow and the plot is thin. in the gambler (the documentary about the making of pusher 2 and 3) we see refn scrambling to put together these screenplays. in the pusher 2 it didn't show much, but here it does. it's just too undeveloped and thin to make for a film as compelling as the original. it's worth checking out if you've seen the first two, but it's not amazing on its own. that said, there is a disembowelment scene that could appeal to fans of gore. C+.

Now & Then - basically a girl's version of stand by me, but with a more popular cast and poorer execution. the soundtrack is fairly solid, but the film was too cliché for me to relate to. everything was predictable and none of the characters appealed to me at all. D+.

Hitman - basically a rehash of a lot of different action films, from commando to the bourne identity. the on-location shooting was nice, but not spectacular. the russian prostitute was a highlight. olyphant wasn't all that good. one of the interesting elements of the film is that the protagonist never gets it on with the lead female, in fact he repeatedly denies her advances. this is in contrast to the formula so that makes it noteworthy. the action and toys were decent enough and the film never felt long. C+.
Rocky - possibly the best of the series, but i recall liking #2 more. there's plenty to the film should you choose to look...pauly's character gained even greater depth with this viewing. adrian is also a tough nut to crack. no one in the film is as simple as you might like to make them out to be. rocky isn't just a big dumb fighter, adrian isn't just a submissive anti-social pet store clerk, and pauly isn't just some drunk butcher. they all have backstories and facets that make the film worthy of the academy award nomination. that said, i'd place taxi driver, and probably network, above this one if i were voting for best picture of 1976. A-.

Persona - not a huge bergman fan. this one is even more prententious and maudlin than the other films of his i've seen. it's about the nature of identity, psychology, and film. as interesting as that sounds, he manages to make it boring, dull, and uninteresting (yes, all three). that said, there is some food for thought here, it's just buried beneath the heavy-handed acting and pretentiousness. C-.
Dementia 13 - can barely even remember this film a mere 4 days after i've seen it. reminded me a bit of old corman and carnival of souls. early coppola makes it worth watching. there's some horror clichés here that were impressively ahead of its time (1963). however, the film failed to grasp my imagination. C.

Fountainhead - didactic doesn't even begin to describe this film. it's so preachy and self-important that it's impossible to really enjoy the film. it's a shame, too, because some of the protagonist's (gary cooper) philosophy is to my liking. in general i'm not a fan of ayn rand's philosophy, but some of the nietzschean aspects of the ubermensch are appealing to me. i liked his unaffected character and strength, but i found the collectivist vs. individualism dialectic that rand created to be overblown. at times it was more reminiscent of an anti-communist propaganda film than a serious piece of philosophy. in this way it came off as a piece of agitprop mired in the cold war dialectic.
patricia neal came off as somewhat insane in her love for gary cooper. gary cooper was good here, but i preferred him in meet john doe. C.

Point Blank - an odd film. i was tired and slept through bits which made the film even more trippy than it would have been otherwise. it's got lots of flashbacks and imagined action that keeps you on your toes. lee marvin is lee marvin which is always good. the guy is like clint eastwood's character in high plains drifter. if i had paid more attention this would have gotten a better grade. C+.

Withnail & I - relatively funny british comedy that was made in 87, but takes place in 69. it features to wannabe actors who are down on their luck. withnail is a classic character - he manipulates everyone around him to achieve his dreams of success. i'm not generally a fan of british comedy and this one doesn't necessarily break that trend, but i found this to be at least as funny as monty python or benny hill. notable for bein the source of an orbital sample found on orbital 2's "moebius": 'even a stopped clock gives the right time twice a day' is taken from the character known only as "& i." worth a shot. B-.

Rashomon - a beautiful film about the nature of truth, perspective, and human nature. it's extremely dark and misanthropic, but in the final analysis it's also hopeful. i'm like kurosawa in this regard. kubrick/thompson's vision of humanity in paths of glory comes close in tone to rashomon, but that film is executed somewhat differently, though still has a trial format. in rashomon the audience is the jury as evidenced by the characters' facing the camera while telling their version of he events. kurosawa plays with light throughout the film which works well considering a primary theme is truth. the music is also good, though not quite as good as the music in yojimbo. i also have to point out, again, that kurosawa's manipulation of the weather is better than any director before or since. i don't know how he did it, but rain and wind in his films seem more haunting, ominous and powerful than in any other film i've seen. A+.

Mildred Pierce - have i seen this movie before? i may have, but i don't have any record of it. at any rate, this is pure pulp noir here. it's got plenty of sordid material and some great cinematography, especially early in the film. crawford's good. B.

American Beauty - this is a film that was great at the time, but has been maligned in recent years. critics have recently revised their interpretation of the film as just another film about vapid upper middle class american culture. i, however, haven't jumped the bandwagon on this one yet. i still find the story to be important, life-affirming, and relevant. i still find spacey's performance to be solid and the late conrad hall's (cool hand luke, butch cassidy and the sundance kid) cinematography to be a standout. a solid picture and one of the best of the year. A-.

Fred Claus - saw this one with my cousin jessica. oftentimes a comedy gets bogged down by its storyline, this is one of those occasions. vaughn is good, though it's a pg film so he's forced to restrain himself a bit, and so is giamatti. it runs a little long because of the sprawling plot, and that in turn takes a bit of the sharpness away from the comedy. funny in the beginning, sags in the end. C+.

Tsotsi - a film like this comes down to execution. the screenplay and idea were good enough so it was all about the acting and handling of tone and character. i didn't think that hood did a very good job in these regards so the film lacked the emotional resonance required to be impactful. in rendition, he struck the chord well so i'd recommend that one first. good cinematography. C+.

Citizen Kane - probably the most important film of all-time, especially for those among us who are enamored with film noir. i've seen it a half dozen times or so and it takes about that many times before you start to really see the film for what it is. the first time is inevitably disappointing because of the status that the film has, the second time begins the warming up, the third time brings intellectual understanding and from there you are able to view the film as a film like any other, only better. in this viewing the humanism of the story and kane's character shone through like it hadn't on previous viewings. camerawork and acting and writing came together as one to tell a great story about a great and ordinary man. A+.
No Country For Old Men - a good coen brothers film with a less than stellar ending. very pensive and quiet, but hardly slow. the acting was uniformly solid. i think this one will be better the second time around. gotta love the way the coens are able to take a subculture and write so well for it. in fargo it was the mn/wi area and in this one it was the west texas area. the dialogue is just so good. B.

Bee Movie - takes a bit to get warmed up, but is good once it does. i'm not a huge fan of computer animated films and i can't say i was all that impressed by the animation here, but the story and writing were creative and funny so it was a good time. renee zellweger is annoying even as an animated character. B.
Michael Clayton - a very nice film. good tension, acting and ending. nice moody cinematography. definitely worth checking out. B+.

American Gangster - there's a good film in here somewhere, unfortunately it's buried beneath too much exposition and surprisingly average direction from scott. i couldn't help but think that michael mann would have punched up this epic. he would have given a micro view of the logistics of lucas's drug business while more fully rounding out that characters. he would have filmed the final siege sequence with greater zeal, clarity, and suspense. the ending made the film's two protagnoists more human and interesting, but didn't save the film from mediocrity. C+.
Before The Devil Knows You're Dead - the first part of the title goes something like "may you spend 30 minutes in heaven..." it's a cross between "owning mahony," "fargo," and "11:14." the story idea is a good one and philip seymour hoffman is his usual, great self. ethan hawke grew on me as the film wore on. it's a good film with some small logic issues and a questionable structure. good overall. B-.

Westerner - pretty good film that i wish i liked more. gary cooper and walter brennan were both good. typical western in that it depicts the transition from lawlessness to the rule of law. B-.
War Of The Worlds - the remake is better. the sfx weren't altogether bad, but this one just didn't capture my imagination. acting was over-the-top; indicative of the time and genre. C.

Lions For Lambs - a patriotic and affirming film that avoids being jingoistic. it follows three storylines each with a pair of characters who are involved in the war on terror in some way. one pairing is a college professor (redford) and one of his students; another follows two soldiers (luke and pena); and the last follows a reporter (streep) and a republican party leader (cruise). the three storylines felt a bit like: apt pupil, jarhead and network respectively. each storyline was compelling in some way and the whole film was well-written. it addresses the issues of the war, both on the battlefield, and homefront (both from the perspective of the planners and academics who analyze it). cruise's character is closest to a villain and he drew plenty of boos and hisses from the audience, but through most of the film i felt his voice was an important one. in the end, though, it is revealed that his plan for the war in afghanistan is essentially a selfish move towards the presidency. demonizing him was probably the biggest misstep of the script. it certainly makes the valid point that we shouldn't get fooled again by those in power (the lambs of the title), but, with regards to the wars we are currently fighting, i felt he took a position that is underrepresented: fully acknowledging the massive failures of past policies, but knowing that pulling out would only end in chaos and a power vacuum.
the other storylines, meanwhile, challenge the viewer by essentially asking what they're doing about the situation. it rightly points out that those in power bank on our apathy and love of the trivial (celebrity gossip, video games, etc.) and not so trivial, but still relatively minor (getting a job, getting out of debt, etc.).
as expected, redford's direction was overdone. a strong and important film nonetheless, anchored by solid writing and good performances. B+.

Ronin - real solid flick. great car chases. deniro is good, not great. A-.

Hotel Chevalier - companion short to the darjeeling limited. i guess it'll be most well known for the nude scene with natalie portman. it does a good job of telling a story without telling a story and it has the wes anderson look. not sure why this was a short instead of part of the film. i suppose it doesn't really fit with the rest of the film, which follows the three brothers while they're together. this short follows only jason schwartzman's character so it is a bit out of place in the context of the film. B-.
Darjeeling Limited - probably the most enigmatic of anderson's films. i just never knew exactly what anderson was doing with the film. it's certainly a film about three brothers and their unique relationship with each other. it's also a film about the different ways in which they coped with the death of their father. in the end they literally let go of his baggage and are able to go on with their lives. in this way i suppose it has the potential to be anderson's most poignant film, but that honor still belongs to rushmore, if you ask me. the broad strokes of the film are pure wes anderson and couldn't be mistaken for anyone else - a set of idle rich people embark on various adventures, relationships are oddly honest and mercurial, the look of the picture is anything but conventional, and the music is great. most people probably won't like the film, but that's the essence of anderson and there's nothing wrong with that. B.

Lars And The Real Girl - there's not much real about this film. what's his face's performance was interesting, but not nearly as good as his work in half nelson. the pop psychology was so transparent, obvious and obnoxious that i was actually annoyed by the time the film finally wrapped up. there was a certain potential in the symbolism of the doll and lars' delusion, but there simply wasn't enough meat to make for a feature film.
the most interesting thing about this movie is that i know the guy who does many of the dolls featured on the webpage in the film. he was a parttime tattoo artist in davis and he made plenty of money making lonely guys happy with plastic dolls. C-.
Dan In Real Life - the film is billed as a comedy and the large audience certainly received it as such, but i couldn't help watch it as a tragedy with only one possible outcome: he doesn't get the girl. dan's predicament (he unwittingly falls in love with his brother's girlfriend) is the kind that doesn't lead to a marriage, unless you're talking about one of the jerry springer variety. it just didn't feel right.
the film is definitely hedges - sondre lerche does the soundtrack just as stephin merritt did for pieces of april. the film is also about a large family gathering and death looms large in this story as it did in pieces of april and what's eating gilbert grape (which he wrote).
steve carrell does a fine job. depressing film, but i'm probably the only one who thought so. B-.
Uncle Buck - a brilliant film. hughes' depiction of family life, teenagers, his work with john candy (the apex of both their careers), his use of sound, his writing are all notable and truly top notch in the comedy genre. one of the best of the decade. A+.

Seafarers - short documentary from kubrick. tough to find. nothing amazing, but kubrick directed it so it's worth watching for the completist. C+.
Gone Baby Gone - not bad for a first effort as a director. the title is annoying for two reasons: i always want to say "gone daddy gone" because of the violent femmes song and it comes from a line in the film that was delivered by the film's worst actor; or at least its worst performance. casey affleck is effective as the moral center of the film. i heard people talking after the film was over about the decision he had to make near the film's end. they remarked that it was a tough decision to make, but i felt it was quite easy to make the decision, though tough to actually do it. the film i saw afterwards (rendition) addressed the issue of making a vigilante decision because one thinks that it's the best thing to do in spite of established laws. when we eschew laws and morality and make judgements based upon our limited knowledge things fall apart. this is why affleck's decision was easy, in spite of some audience members' thoughts to the contrary. hubris mixed with good intentions account plenty of problems in the world and casey affleck's character refused to be a part of that when given time to think about it.
recommendable enough in spite of the run-on-sentence of an ending. B.
Rendition - spoiler warning. not as powerful as it could have been, but a strong film nonetheless. good performances across the board. the film's structure, though, provides the most interesting element. we see a few different storylines running in what we are assume parallel tracks, but it isn't until the end that we realize that one of those storylines hasn't been on the same timeline as the other two. rather, it's ending is essentially the beginning of the other storylines. viewing this particular storyline without knowing that we've already seen its conclusion makes the revelation of that fact all the more powerful. especially when we think of the implications that has for the egyptian father/politician. the structure alone is worth watching the film. B+.

Planet Terror - if you're asking why they're (rodriguez/tarantino) making these movies then they're (the movies) not for you. this one was fun shlock, but too long and sprawling with too many characters. i liked the cheeseball ending and the action/gore. rodriguez is a true auteur and has stayed true to his aesthetic since el mariachi. C+.
Repulsion - one of the child molestor's apartment triology. i've never seen the tenant and i thought that rosemary's baby was very overrated. liked chinatown, but didn't love it. i guess he's just not my style. plenty of repressed sexuality and psychology here, just nothing that i'm interested in. well shot. C+.

Last Laugh - features a wonderful performance from emil jannings. meryl's film textbook alleges that the porter essentially gets a dose of his own medicine when he is fired and relegated to the role of a lowly bathroom attendant. in the early part of the film he receives accolades from his neighbors and a glass of water from a younger porter, but these things i see as signs of respect, and he doesn't seem to take the treatment for granted. he doesn't show them the same callous indifference that he is showed by bathroom goers that ignore him after his demotion. he greets his neighbors with pride, he comforts a bullied child outside his home and admonishes the other children for their poor treatment of the smaller girl. to me, the porter is the everyman - he takes pride in his work, is a decent citizen and is respected by his co-workers and neighbors. those who shun and ignore him after his demotion are the villains of the film.
the movie is wonderfully filmed - the camera moves in ways you don't normally see in a 20s film. when it isn't moving its static state allows a story to be told (e.g. the opening scene near the revolving door, signaling the forthcoming change). murnau has a way of making very sympathetic characters, tabu is another of his films that is successful in this way.
i wasn't a huge a fan of the ending. if you buy the premise that he's getting a taste of his own medicine then i suppose it makes sense on some level, but it is still an overly obvious device. i think that murnau calls attention to the author here to have his cake and eat it too. he acknowledges that the grim reality is that the porter would have nothing to live for and would be miserable for the rest of his life, but he also acknowledges the commercial realities and gives the audience what it wants - a happy ending. in doing so we are forced to ask questions about happy endings in general and why they typically satisfy our "bleeding hearts." why do we hope for the fantasy turn of events that murnau depicts here? don't we know it's pure artifice? we do, and yet we still accept them. why?
a thoughtful and heartfelt film. B+.

Nightmare Before Christmas - i've fallen asleep while watching this movie both times i've seen it. it's a good and highly inventive film, but it gets a little slow about half way through. the characters are great, the sets and direction are top notch and the music is perfect. that said, i'm a live action kinda guy. watched this in disney digital 3d at the theater. B.

We Own The Night - not so sure about the title and the opening credit sequence, which features still photos of nyc cops in generally a bad light. it made me think that the film was going to be about police brutality when it really wasn't. felt incongruous to me.
joaquin phoenix really drives the emotion of the film, and if you don't buy into his character and his changes, then you may not like the film. there are occasionally saccharine moments, but they are forgivable because the majority of the film is poignant or thrilling or just plain solid. there are some good lines in the film, stuff like "it's better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6" or, when talking about the police going vigilante, "you can't piss yourself and stay warm for long."
it feels longer than it is which one could say adds to the epic-feeling story it tells. however, if you don't like it then it'll just feel too drawn out.
there are a few scenes that are really well done and you'll know them when you see them. gray uses sound and the camera in natural (for life, unnatural for film) ways that put you in the action and heighten the tension. B.

3:10 To Yuma - reminded me of high noon and silver lode because it's a western where time is of the essence. in all three the protagonist needs to rally people behind him to fight evil in one form or another. van heflin and glenn ford both turn in good performance and delmer daves (dark passage, red house) directs another fine film. it's full of good shots and tension building. glenn's character is manipulative and uses emotion as a tool to get what he wants, which makes the ending unbelievable, but i suppose you could say he lives by a code and isn't as self-serving as most villains. B-.

Mask Of Dimitrios - an international chase that felt like an old version of the usual suspects, but wasn't. it's a good flick with a less than satisfying ending. greenstreet and lorre are both legends. B-.
Silver Lode - examines the psychology of mobs and the ease with which they are manipulated (eventually they are subdued by misinformation, which just happens to turn out to be truth). all the while you have a fight between good and evil and a marriage hanging in the balance. a good, lesser-known flick. B.
Tarnished Angels - probably the worst douglas sirk film i've seen so far, but i've only seen about a half dozen (tarnished angels, written on the wind, all that heaven allows, imitation of life, all i desire). some of his usual motifs arise here (characters appearing in reflections or in enclosed spaces) which generally strengthen his themes of isolation or repression. it also has the usual sordid characters living their fucked up lives. watch imitation of life first. C+.

Hombre - great film. another good one from 1967 and another film with paul newman that starts with "h" - hud, hombre, hustler. paul newman plays a white man by birth, but a red man by upbringing and he does a better job than the great dustin hoffman did in his portrayal as an indian in little big man.
it reminded me of stagecoach or the searchers, only it was better than both of those, at least upon first viewing. the characters are well drawn, newman's performance is solid, and the writing is witty and dry. recommended. B+.

Lives Of Others - a good, but not amazing film that won the oscar for best foreign picture. mühe, who plays an east german secret police agent, is the best part of the film. his transformation from party-line-toer to humanist isn't completely believable, but is good enough. it shows the invasive and dehumanizing practices of the east german regime without humor (as the subject had been depicted in german film in the past) or excess. cast is good all around and the pacing is fantastic in spite of the 130+ minute runtime. B+.

Bamboo Blonde - early anthony mann flick with a joel mccrea look alike (ralph edwards) who doesn't cut the cheese. thankfully the guy acted in only 4 films. outside of some poor acting, the story and direction were nice enough. mann definitely benefited from his partnership with stewart because the majority of his non-western films aren't all that notable for me. C+.
Rope - one of my favorite hitchcock films. it's short, filled with suspense and a very technical film, but not overly so. this belongs with dial m for murder, lifeboat and another hitchcock film that takes place solely on a train, because they're all claustrophobic, one-set films. A.

Heartbreak Kid - if you like the farrelly brothers then you know what to expect here and you won't be disappointed. there's plenty of juvenile humor, stiller doesn't stray too far from his stock character, and there are plenty of shocking moments. you either dig their kind of no-holds-barred outrageous comedy or you think it's beneath you. i happen to think it's great stuff, like getting wasted for a couple hours complete with all the release and fun that that entails, but without the monetary cost, addiction and hangover that it brings. the farrelly brothers aren't out to solve the world's problems, but their films are genuinely funny and usually have a sweet side with some harmless, uplifting message that we endure because their characters have charmed us so much during the previous 90 minutes or so. the secondary characters are all well cast and directed; corddry and jerry stiller are especially good.
some might complain that the farrelly brothers just make formula films or are constantly trying to remake there's something about mary. the difference between a formula film and one marked by an auteur's unique vision, is that the former is one that isn't liked. it's like the difference between calling someone "weird" and "eccentric;" they mean essentially the same thing, but we use "weird" when the person we're describing bothers us. the truth is that no one gets on ozu or inarritu's case for making the same damn film over and over again, they just lap it up because they like their style. B+.

Ride Back - a well-shot film that i sorta slept through. C+.

Into The Wild - there will likely be spoilers in this review...
i don't like emile hirsch or sean penn so i was really hoping that the film succeeded in spite of them. my hope went unfulfilled. this movie was bad in almost every single way and i say that not only because i liked the book so much more. i actually think that if i hadn't read the book i would have disliked the film even more. the reason being that i was able to enjoy chris (the protagonist) as a character at least somewhat in the film because i had read the book. had i not read the book i think i would have disliked his character. sean penn and emile hirsch's representation of chris lacked much of the nuance, intelligence, purpose and impact that he had in the book, and apparently in real life. for example, one of the most profoundly affecting interactions in the book is between chris and the old man in salton city. the old man asks chris to be his adopted son and this is depicted in the film and is one of the films few successes. what the film doesn't address, though, is that the old man prayed for the well-being of chris after he left. when he heard of chris' death, the man renounced god and took up drinking again after many sober years. this is the same man who was inspired by chris's words so much that he left his comfortable life of solitude and traveled on chris's advice.
the storytelling of the film was very herky-jerky. if i were to film the story i probably would have opted for a more linear telling with flashbacks to fill in pertinent background information as the story unfolded. in the book, krakauer tells the story out of chronological order and it works well, but he also chooses to give away chris's death on the cover. conversely, penn tells the story out of chronological order and doesn't reveal chris's fate until the end - an anti-climax if you ask me. penn also plays up the broken home angle to a startlingly degree. how much of his dramatization of chris's home life is true to life is unknown, but i think it goes beyond what is suggested in the book. perhaps he knows something krakauer didn't, or perhaps krakauer kept this element a little less developed than penn.
there were also minor errors in penn's telling of the story, but most of these are fairly forgivable. he depicts instant hunting success by chris when he goes to alaska, which wasn't at all the case. this is minor, but it depicts him as a natural, rather than showing the learning that chris had to do in a new situation. another minor error which actually bothered me was in the epilogue where penn states that moose hunters came across chris's body two weeks after his death. in fact, it was closer to three weeks (19 days to be exact) later that the moose hunters found chris's body. one the one hand this is a minor thing, but that point slices both ways. if it was so minor why couldn't he just get it right? my theory is that he wanted the death to see all the more tragic by showing that chris was only 2 weeks away from being rescued. it's just an unnecessary manipulation of our emotions. conversely, penn gets some of the minor elements right, minor points which can be especially appreciated by someone who has read the book. i finished reading the book just 15-20 minutes before the film started so it was especially fresh when penn shows the jeans patched by a blanket that chris wears in alaska.
hirsch's performance is another hindrance of the film. his performance just doesn't capture chris as the book depicted him. much of this was penn's awful writing and directing, but some of it can definitely be blamed on hirsh's "try hard" style of acting. he tries hard to depict his characters with sincerity, but he falls flat in every instance. he was so-so in the girl next door, awful as the titular character in alpha dog, and awful here. to be fair, it's a tough role to pull off. we need to see chris's intelligence without having him come off as pedantic or cocky. we need to see his intensity and passion without making him appear like some crazy treehugger. we need to see the principled young man who is striking out on his own, but he can't come off as pious or a rebel.
as someone who has been on several road trips and lived on the road for varying periods of time and gone hitchhiking and train jumping and lived on a glacier i feel somewhat qualified to comment on "life on the road." penn's depiction of this life did almost nothing for me and probably even less for someone who doesn't have actual experience to draw upon. the film was artistically shot and had a lot of pensive space to it, which is true to the experience, but it somehow didn't translate to a realistic depiction of life on the road. times when we see chris on his own are often too cutesy (him talking to himself or his food, etc.) or too falsely profound (him floating downstream naked in a jesus christ pose, etc.).
eddie vedder's soundtrack was mostly pretty good, but i think an ambient or postrock soundtrack would have been even better. the cinematography had some nice moments.
with all that sean penn did wrong, he did one thing that worked amazingly well for me: he gave me a quality photograph of chris. it's the same one that's in the front of the book, but that one is too small and grainy and is in black and white. seeing it more clearly and in color and on a 30 foot tall screen was like seeing chris for the first time and it brought me near tears. i see a lot of him in me and feel as though, with my principled take on life and hatred for many elements of humanity, i could have become him had a couple things gone differently. hopefully the movie will inspire people to read the book, because the movie really doesn't do justice to chris the way the book does. of course that could be a byproduct of books in general. they give an idea of a person, but you don't actually see that person move and talk the way you do in a film. it may be that the people who knew chris could watch the film and find it to be extremely accurate, in which case my reading of the book would have been completely off base. you can make up your mind, but i encourage you to read the book first. D.

I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang - fantastic film. the camera movement and placement complement the themes of oppression, solidarity (amongst the convicts), isolation (of the protagonist), etc. extremely well. cool hand luke coincides with this film in a few ways. in both films you have the newcomer who is befriended by the oldtimer. the newcomer escapes twice - once by fleeing while going to the bathroom in the bushes and once by jumping in a dump truck, this time bringing the oldtimer along. difficult as it may seem, this film is actually darker than cool hand luke, and though it predates the official beginning of the film noir movement (which people tend to place at 1941 with the release of citizen kane), i think this film should be considered a film noir because of its dark themes, dark cinematography, and the presence of one of the more unabashedly evil femme fatales.
the film's ending brings me near tears every time and is one of the more depressing commentaries on the state of the nation/society/humanity committed to film. it's profound in its simplicity and it wipes away any slow or less than perfect moments the film may have towards the end. paul muni's performance is fantastic in every way so long as you are able to appreciate the differing style of the time. that said, his sometimes expressionistic performance is less so than that of the femme fatale (played by glenda farrell) and his brother (hale hamilton). it's a pre-code film so you might be surprised by some of the sexual innuendo and brutality relative to films of the time. besides railing against the criminal penal system the film also touches upon race, class, justice, and power structures. in spite of all the heaviness of the film, it does have a comic element to it that is easy to overlook. there are a few laughs in here that keep the film balanced and interesting.
undoubtedly one of the best films of film's first 50 years. A+.
Notorious - these three films are all about great endings. like the film i saw before and after it, notorious has a great ending, but the film's strongest point is the chemistry between grant and bergman. both are great as their involved and complex relationship plays itself out. A-.
Vertigo - considered hitchcock's masterpiece by most, i find it to be a bit slow at times. the characters were tougher to pin down as "good" or "bad." stewart is the clear protagonist, but his dark turn in the second part of the film makes the audience wary of him. the film deals with obsession, guilt, identity and the dark secrets we all have. it's a twisted film in many ways and one of hitichcock's darkest. along with the dream sequence, the ending is what really sets this film apart for me. it's frightening and haunting and filled with emotions as disparate as hope, guilt, fear, love and anger. not nearly as entertaining as many of his other films, but one of the more powerful. A.
Un Chien Andalou - surrealistic collaboration between luis bunuel and salvador dali. considering the talent involved the film isn't all that worthwhile. it's a 17 minute short that makes very little, if any, sense and is highly regarded by cineastes. it's somewhat interesting, especially given its time of release, but isn't entertaining other than to laugh at. maybe that's what they wanted, though. important, but not as good as bunuel's other work or any of dali's paintings. C.

Last Picture Show - i prefer peter bogdanovich the film critic to peter bogdanovich the film director. i've tried watching this film before, but stopped for some reason. visually it's a nice film. it captures the small town culture well and that's really the strength of the film. everyone is in some state of confinement because of their standing or personal relationships or relation to someone else. that said, i'd rather watch a douglas sirk film. C+.

Layer Cake - good enough flick overall with a sort of domino unveiling of an ending. sienna miller is essentially just eye candy and american name recognition (since most people don't know colm meaney or michael gambon). it's fairly well-directed by matthew vaughn, who was the primary reason for my watching the film. he directed stardust which is not only way better, but vastly different as well. visually the film is noteworthy. all in all the film sets itself apart from the standard shoot 'em up/drug dealer type fare in a few ways, but isn't stellar in any way. C+.

Army Of Shadows - i'm guessing that the story behind the making and release of this film is as interesting as the film itself. it was originally released in 1969 and made by melville who was one a part of the french resistance. it's odd that the film took 20+ years to be made and originally released. it took another 35+ years for it to be officially released in the united states. all told it took over 60 years for the film to go from a reality that melville lived to a film released here in the the states.
it's a fine enough film in most ways. it captures the daily struggle of those involved in the resistance with all the sacrifices and obstacles that go along with it. truth be told, though, i didn't find any of the characters to be particularly empathetic. honestly, i felt more detached than melville likely intended. i also suffered from high expectations. andrew sarris had this as one of his top ten films of the year last year and i generally respect his opinion, but this one didn't really do it for me.
well shot and acted. B-.

Battleship Potemkin - first time i've seen this one in its entirety. excellent use of montage and one of the most quickly paced films you'll ever see, even in the "mtv era." it's enjoyable even for a silent film of its density. B.
Clerks - one of the better films of the 90s. it helped create a new indie aesthetic and, along with pulp fiction, made flowery language fun again. funny, yet has an emotional maturity that makes the ending weighty and natural. chasing amy was similar in this regard, but i found it to be too far towards the serious end of the spectrum. the other smith films lacked the balance of emotional weight and comedy that this exhibited. A-.

North By Northwest - one of the longer and better hitchcock films. it has a slower pace than many of his other thrillers, yet it works very well. there are a few scenes (the crop duster scene being the most obvious) that could easily have been cut in half. that said, i think hitchcock's pacing worked quite well. he allows the tension to build, or the relationship between grant and eva marie saint to flower, whatever the scene might require. the film also happens to be funny and fun. A.

Good Luck Chuck - a fairly awful film. it starts off as an "F," but slowly generated a few laughs which lifted it out of the doldrums a bit. a contender for worst film of the year. good thing i watched this and stardust on the same ticket. D.
Stardust - had all the elements of your typical fairytale along with those from other classic literature: the greek chorus, the three witches of macbeth etc., the king dividing his land ala king lear, and the comedy and fantasy of the princess bride. deniro goes out on a limb with his character choice and it pays big time dividends. he plays a gay captain of a pirate ship who is still in the closet. he does a great job with the role, as does everyone else. claire danes plays a fallen star and is absolutely radiant (pun intended). the comedy is great and the fantasy really takes you away. we're not sure about all the rules of this fantasy world, but the characters are and it all makes sense as the film unfolds. in this regard it takes a page out of the princess bride which gives you all the information you need when you need it and does it without unnecessary exposition or seeming like it's making things up as it goes along. somehow all of the magic and falling stars as humans and flying pirate ships make perfect sense. a great film and a classic for this generation; i just hope they realize it and make it as much of a classic as my generation made the princess bride. B+.

Hoffa - i don't know how accurate the film is and i suppose it doesn't matter that much. danny devito over-directs the film at almost every turn and david mamet's self-conscious writing doesn't do much for the film. there are a couple films he's written that have been good, but, overall, i think he's too highly regarded. unlike mamet as a writer, devito has never directed a good picture; war of the roses is probably my favorite. the story certainly has potential, but devito's direction really gives a self-importance to the film that raises the bar too high. i guess i should commend the effort and ambition, though. C-.

Hunchback Of Notre Dame - add this to the long list of great films to be released in 1939. charles laughton does a great great job as the hunchback. the sets and music are also noteworthy. laughton is moving up fast on my list. he directed only one picture (night of the hunter) and it was great, he was fantastic as the villainous captain in mutiny on the bounty and he was great in a very different role here. they don't make films like this anymore. B+.

Zodiac - it was a little disappointing to see that fincher decided to making another serial killer film, but when i sat down to watch it none of that really mattered. se7en is a great great film and zodiac doesn't live up to it, but it works well on its own because fincher is a talented filmmaker. the story is of course fascinating and compelling in large part because of the fact that the killer was never caught.
there were a couple chilling scenes in the film that demonstrated fincher's growing ability as a filmmaker. they were chilling more because of atmosphere and building tension than a few of the more "easy" scenes in se7en. for example, the basement scene in this film was more chilling than the first crime scene in se7en which was a bit easier to make unsettling because of the bizarre nature of the murder scene. the cast is uniformly excellent and the story was compelling, as stated earlier. this is a solid thriller from a reliable director and cast. B+.

Pusher II: With Blood On My Hands - refn's follow-up to the great, though mostly unknown in america, film "the pusher." this one has a similar sort of story arc, and picks up one of the characters from the first film, but doesn't continue any storylines. this one stars the famous (in denmark anyway) and talented mads mikkelsen (casino royale, green butchers, wilbur wants to kill himself, etc.)  in another different role (he seems to really push himself into portraying different characters). if you enjoyed the first one then this one is worth checking out. if you have no idea what i'm talking about, but you're willing to watch something different, rent the first pusher film and buckle up. B.

Metropolis - one of the best silent films of all-time and ditto that for sci-fi films. it's got some of the best sets you'll see in any film, especially considering the time period. when i think of great art direction, i think of anton grot's work which is somewhat interesting because there was a character in this film named "grot." must have been a coincidence because grot only had a few films to his credit when this film was made.
there's a lot to say about the film which usually means i won't say much. there are all sorts of biblical and other references in the film. the tower of babel, marxian class struggles, pied piper, etc. i saw the 123 minute, 2002 75th anniversary restored version, which felt longer than the version i had seen before. i don't know what was added in this version. that's one thing about these older films with multiple prints that lack a definitive version - you always end up with several permutations of the film. you feel bad when you don't see the version that has all 210 minutes, but you are also left wondering exactly how the director wanted the film to be seen.
one could call the film didactic, but i wouldn't. modern times is a similar film which may as well be seen afterwards. A-.

Producers - i'll have to watch young frankenstein again sometime soon to determine which is better. the script is great, of course, but zero mostel and gene wilder are what the film is really about. their performances are so nuanced, yet out of control and slapstick that the humor and skill hit you on several levels. a classic. A.

Shoot 'Em Up - not your typical shoot 'em up. it starts with a beautiful, off-kilter shot of clive owen on a dirty, wet street on a slight incline. the camera is set level so the incline is obvious and we know not all is right. soon owen is dragged into a twisted mystery involving murder, a baby's life, a prostitute (belucci), and lots of violence. these are typical shoot 'em up elements, but the film takes everything to the extreme. fight choreography is out of a comic book or video game, the visuals are in-your-face, the one-liners come early and often, and the soundtrack features nirvana, motorhead, and the like. this isn't a film for the meek or uninitiated or unadventurous. only a few of us were really along for the ride from the very beginning, but most of the crowd had warmed up to the style by the end. if you've got an open mind and don't mind laughing at gratuitous violence then this is the movie for you. B+.

Once - this movie is rated r? no sex, no violence, and only a couple of f-bombs. retarded.
it's a charming story about a couple of musicians who find inspiration and friendship in each other. it's a small film and the emphasis is on the characters and the process of making music. there are a couple of really good scenes surrounding the man and woman making music together. it sounds corny, but it's well done and an organic look into personal relationships and the creative energy between them.
if you're not into the music (rock based, singer-songwriter) then you're probably not going to be very excited about the film. it's being labeled as a musical, and though i wouldn't call it one, the music is central to the story and emotion of the film. that said, no one breaks out in song with onlookers who then join in a massive dance number. a good date film. B.

Sleeping Beauty - visually impressive, but not the same level of musicality as the classics (beauty and the beast, snow white, etc.). directed by the same guy who did cinderella. features a lot of the usual elements seen in fairy tales and disney pictures - liberation of a kiss, a princess who loves to sing and has animal friends (especially birds), an evil female figure, etc. i'm sure scores of books have been written on the subject. B-.

Untouchables - a great, but flawed film. morricone's score is occasionally too sappy, as is depalma's direction, but when they go to their bread and butter - suspense - the result is greatness. there are a couple of scenes towards the end (the train station and rooftop scenes) that are especially great.
at first glimpse the title might be assumed to refer to capone's crew, but the untouchables in the film are actually the small team of cops that eliot ness puts together. in this way, and others, depalma flips the script of the gangster film. he casts the cops as the underdogs (and sympathetic protagonists). the first shot is of capone getting a shave with a gaggle of reporters around him asking him questions, with one of them even referring to him as the de facto mayor of chicago. indeed, the prohibition era was an odd one. capone was king and the nesses of the world could be seen as supporting a law that didn't have much public support at the time (the film takes place in 1930, just 3 years before the 21st amendment). connery's performance is a stand out. B+.

Intolerance - griffith responds to his birth of a nation critics by showing his more human side. i'll have to see birth of a nation again, but from what i recall, i didn't come away thinking the guy was some horrible racist, as most people paint him. a notable film for its scope, box office failure, ambitious theme, grand sets (which won't ever be duplicated again (because of green screens and computers), and very commonplace direction. a bad thing, you say? i think it's more a testament to griffith's pioneering in the language and grammar of film that we may think of his close-ups and cutaways as commonplace. he set the american standard in many basic ways; for better or worse.
the cut i saw used a lot of stock classical music - lots of beethoven. some of it was well-chosen and some of it wasn't. there are other, longer versions, with synth scores and organ scores and all sorts of crap. B-.
Stranger Than Fiction - smart script with fine performances from ferrell, gyllenhaal (the other one), and thompson. it's a nice and poignant story, but it does leave me wondering what the moral is. perhaps there isn't one, or perhaps it's as simple as living one's live in the now. forster captures the tone with his direction perfectly. B+.

Black Snake Moan - billed as more of a schmaltzy nod to a 70s race film than anything else. turned out to be a well-balanced exploration of weakness and addiction. it wasn't anything unusual outside of the location (deep south) and the addiction addressed (sex, instead of the all-too-familiar drug addiction). sam jackson feeds off his pulp fiction character a bit in that he's intense and invokes the word of the lord. many of his films since 1994 have been some extension of jules winfield, though. from the same director as hustle and flow, received less critical acclaim (to my ear at least), yet was better in almost all ways. title comes from the blind lemon jefferson blues song. B+.

A Place In The Sun - the second time i've seen this film this year. hadn't planned on that, but i didn't think that i had seen it so i started watching it. after about 2 minutes i realized i had seen it, but couldn't remember when so i checked my index and realized that i hadn't documented having seen it, so i continued to watch it just so i could officially say that i had seen it. turns out that i had seen it AND i had documented it, but not where i was looking.
at any rate, the film itself is actually better than i originally thought. clift turns in the best performance of the cast, but taylor and winters are also good. the ending is poignant. B-.

Terrorstorm: A History Of Government-Sponsored Terrorism - the title pretty much says it all. alex jones narrates, writes and directs this one. for those who don't know much about jones - he's a radical conspiracy theorists from austin who believes in the illumnati and thinks that 9/11 was perpetrated by the u.s. government. if all of this is new to you then this documentary will probably come off as complete hogwash to you.
there were some interesting interpretations of history and some valid points here and there, but the documentary was mostly a lot of scare tactics with poor production and selective use of facts. that said, this guy is either a crackpot who is way off base, or one of the first who saw the truth behind one of the biggest conspiracies in recorded history. C-.

Corporation - one of the best documentaries of the last 10 years. it's sprawling and ambitious, which means it's on the long side, but it's entertaining and highly informative. when the worst thing about a documentary is the fact that it's packed with almost too much information, you know it can't be bad. it gives the libertarian view and we hear from many former and current corporate slaves, instead of just academics or intellectuals; though there are plenty of those as well. the film uses a shit load of stock footage from instructional videos and old films to visually illustrate terms like externalities or make a point more humorous. i also liked the narrator and the music. A-.

This Divided State - insightful documenting of a visit from michael moore to utah valley state college which causes a rift in the community. some say it's a freedom of speech/balance issue and others say that he's anti-american and shouldn't be paid to speak in such a conservative community. stupidity ensues. B.

Okie Noodling - pretty interesting documentary about catfisherman who only use their hands (both as bait and hook). this practice is known as "noodling" and only back country hicks do it, thus the "okie." actually, the practice is illegal in all but four states, oklahoma, where the film takes place, being one of them. it reminded me a bit of "home movie" by chris smith, because of the offbeat characters, setting and overall look of the picture. it's a fun documentary that's just shy of an hour so it never grows old. directed by brad beesley who directed fearless freaks and co-directed summercamp!. B.

Superbad - i was a bit surprised they didn't get a bigger name to direct the film, but it turns out that mottola, who had only really done TV before this film, did a fine enough job with the strong script and characters. the acting was uniformly funny and strong. the script is what you'd expect from seth rogen and pals. it's got all the teen movie clichés, but it's done with even more honesty and heart than something like american pie. in a way it's like an amalgam of american pie, super troopers, and freaks and geeks. B+.

Meet John Doe - capra, cooper, stanwyck, tiomkin, and brennan. capra does his usual schtick and the players execute it well. it's not as inspiring as the capra/stewart stuff, but it's a good flick with a strong message that resonated for the time, yet is timeless. B.

Man Of The West - sorta watched this one in the background, which i think was a mistake. it's anthony mann which means it demands more attention. it was well-framed, but not entirely enticing otherwise. will have to revisit this one at some point. C+.

Badlanders - the music was too present though i don't know whose fault that is since, and my grandpa's book don't have composer info for this film; perhaps it was just reassembled from other mgm films. (the great) john seitz does the cinematography, but i didn't find it to be too exceptional. alan ladd and ernest borgnine were decent, but not nearly as inspiring as they have been in other work (shane for ladd and wild bunch for borgnine). daves, also, has done better work, though nothing as good as ladd, seitz or borgnine. all in all this is an average western version of the great film noir "the asphalt jungle." C.

Invasion - i've seen all four of the films that are cut from the cloth of the original finney novel and this is probably the most intellectually stimulating of them. the 78 version had the best ending, the 56 version gets points for being the first and being the most tightly directed of them all. the 93 version by abel ferrara is the worst of the bunch.
this one is directed by german-born oliver hirschbiegel who directed das experiment and the downfall. and even though i haven't seen the downfall i can safely say that all three of these films are at least in part about the psychology of humans in groups. group-think is attacked consistently in "invasion" and "das experiment," and i would assume "downfall" (which is about the fall of the nazi empire) as well. in the invasion the individual and personal choice are upheld in spite of the many negative manifestations such as conflict (iraq war), corruption, and unhappiness. it essentially puts forth that liberty and individuality should be preserved in spite of promises of safety and peace. this ties in perfectly with the current domestic and international climate; and this is exactly what i like so much about this series of remakes: each one highlights the issues and fears of the time in its own novel way.
some people aren't calling this a remake of the 56 version in the same sense that the 78 and 93 versions are. i'm not really sure why. it has similarities in the story (falling asleep makes the transformation take root, they all follow a man and woman, police/military play a critical role in the spreading of the disease, etc.) and the telling thereof (begins at the end, etc.). one should note, though, that the first two took place in california, the third was on a military base (in alabama i think), and this one was placed in d.c....perfect for the themes addressed. B+.
Rudyland - "agitprop" is the way one reviewer described it. i don't disagree, but i think it was mostly balanced and primarily because of the end where former rudy-bashers admit that even they loved him after 9/11. the writing left something to be desired, but it's a short intro to an important figure (since he might be our next president) and it accomplishes that task well enough. C+.

08/18/07 (actually saw this earlier in the year, but didn't document it)
Bucket Of Blood - like an episode of the twilight zone, but with more comedy. might be the first corman-directed film i've seen. B-.

Ace In The Hole - about a media circus that revolves around a trapped miner (sound familiar?). kirk douglas does a very good job (as usual) and is one of the few actors i can think of off the top of my head who can be a good guy and a bad guy with equal skill. wilder directs and this one is good, but i'm not in the mood to write. B.
Jailhouse Rock - the first elvis film i've seen, and supposedly one of his best. elvis isn't a great actor by any stretch, but the film actually has some heart and is written well enough to function as a cautionary tale of sorts, a star vehicle for elvis, and a poignant little story about fame and relationships. better than i thought it would be. B.

Big Knife - film about the darker side of the film business. palance and lupino are good and it reminded me of sweet smell of success and a street car named desire, though i'm not sure why. B-.
Love & Basketball - better than expected romance film thats somewhat of a cross between she's all that and brown sugar, though better than both. B.

Harvey - over-rated, but life-afirmming in its own way. stewart is stewart. C+.

Office Space - fantastic film in every way. A+.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry - not the greatest happy madison production you've ever seen, but it may have been the most didactic. the premise is simple and not altogether novel (think "some like it hot" or something similar), though ripe for humor. kevin james wasn't all that humorous, though his weight was the butt of many jokes. overall a forgetable piece of comedy that delivers enough laughs. C+.
Simpsons Movie - better the second time around. it's a well-made film with a poignant story and plenty of comedy. it feels a bit long, perhaps because i'm so used to watching the simpsons in 22 minute blocks at a time. B+.
Bananas - a wacky woody allen film that features a lot of little gags that don't necessarily fit into the larger narrative, but serve a comedic purpose. this one doesn't have the vintage woody allen voice that we see in annie hall and other films, though it shows the promise of his writing. worth checking out for allen fans. B.

Heavy Metal Parking Lot - three short documentaries by the same filmmakers with the same basic theme of fan obsession and general craziness. heavy metal parking lot started it all by interviewing tailgating fans in a parking lot before a judas priest concert. it's pure 80s trash complete with the drunkeness, bad fashion and hair, and crazy metal heads. it's good for a laugh, but not worthy of the cult status and hype it's received. B.
Neil Diamond Parking Lot - a decidedly different crowd than the judas priest concertgoers - this one's mostly over-the-hill single (for a reason?!) women who have often seen neil diamond in concert several times before. they're crazy, but less funny than the heavy metal burn-out crowd. B-.
Harry Potter Parking Lot - the most recent of the parking lot documentaries. another obsessive group of consumers - these were mostly kids who were outside waiting to get their books signed by england's richest woman - j.k. rowling. they're geeky, but young and naive, so ultimately more cute than anything else. B-.

Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein - fairly funny abbott and costello pic that is essentially a comedic studio commercial. they were on contract with universal, the studio known for the invisible man, frankenstein, wolfman, etc. movies. there's some good wordplay comedy, but nothing that really had me on the floor. watch a marx brothers film instead. C+.
Unleashed - yuen wu ping does the fight choreography which is reason enough to watch the film. the other reason to check it out is jet li's relatively textured performance. the direction (done by the guy who did transporter 2) is a bit frenetic for my taste. a solid soundtrack from massive attack rounds out the sensory experience. B.

High Plains Drifter - not a film that you're likely to watch without having some feeling about it. it's about an unnamed drifter played by eastwood (who else?) who enters a town and immediately makes his presence known. within his first few minutes in town he's killed three men and (sorta) raped a woman. by the end of the film, though, much of the history of the town and the stranger is revealed which illuminates his behavior and character. it's a fine film that grows in the memory with time. B+.

Bourne Ultimatum - #62 on the top 250? gimme a freaking break. i didn't find it to be as good as the other two, but it carries the torch well enough. i've never been a fan of the way greengrass films the fight sequences. he brings the camera too close to the action and it makes it difficult to really appreciate what's going on. i think he employs close-ups and quick edits for two reasons - to bring us into the action and to mask the fact that the actors aren't great fighters or that he doesn't have a great fight choreographer. a few long shots to enjoy the action would have been appreciated. B.
Sunshine - a thought-provoking, dreamy, experiential film cut from the cloth of 2001: a space odyssey and twilight zone. foremost i suppose it's about survival. the purpose of their journey to the sun is to preserve human life on earth and so everything within the film revolves around this theme. i honestly don't know what the larger purpose of the film is - perhaps it's simply a meditation on the fact that life finds a way to survive despite all obstacles. or maybe it's an homage to the sci-fi film that seems lost in today's cinema. i couldn't honestly say, but i can recommend the film for those who don't mind some uncertainty in their films. B.

Transformers - the lead (shia labeouf) does a solid, likable job. overall the film is a bit on the long side, but i enjoyed the comic relief. borrows the camerawork style of die hard and reminded me a bit of maximum overdrive. not worth all the hype, but not a bad way to spend the afternoon. B.
Simpsons Movie - like one of the better episodes, only four times as long. B+.

American President - the precursor to the west wing. it features at least three of the cast members from the series and is written by aaron sorkin. the film shows only a bit of the potential that the tv series realized, in part because michael douglas is miscast and in part because reiner's direction leaves something to be desired. sorkin's writing isn't as snappy and is more focused on the love story aspect than the policy as well. C+.
Lord Of War - pretty great film both visually and in its subject matter. it follows an international gun runner through his business dealings with war lords in russia, liberia, yugoslavia and other hotbeds throughout the world. B+.

War Room - classic fly-on-the-wall documentary by hegedus and pennebaker about the 1992 clinton campaign. they ran a wise campaign and that alone makes this a notable film. democrats generally don't run campaigns as well as this, maybe they'll learn in 2008. B+.
Wal-Mart: The High Cost Of Low Prices - decent enough documentary that gives a lot of personal stories and anecdotes about the evils of wal-mart. also looks at the macro impact of their business practices. wal-mart is fairly evil, but capitalism allows them to exist in their current form. B.

Sorry, Wrong Number - i've never heard of litvak, but he directs a good one here. lancaster and stanwyck are the stars and franz waxman composes the music. it's similar to rear window in that it features a protagonist who suspects murder, but is unable to move (stanwyck plays and invalid and stewart played a wheelchair bound photographer). there's a twist in this one that leads to a great final 30 seconds. lancaster does his typical routine and stanwyck is melodramatic so neither really impressed me. litvak and sol polito (cinematography), however, do a great job visually. B.

...So Goes The Nation - fairly unbiased documentary about the importance of ohio in the 2004 presidential race. it did a good job of covering the tactics employed by each side (as told by insiders and political analysts). it demonstrated how the bush campaign capitalized on the general stupidity of the voters by stressing fear and a simple message to take the white house in spite of an awful record. one more political documentary, one more reason to think that this world is full of morons. B-.

Karate Kid - a brilliant film in so many ways. sure, it's got some cheese ball moments, but it's a strong film once you get past some of the 80s fashion/music and the high school genre conventions. this one sets itself apart though because of its unique characters and smart direction. i especially liked the unusual caveat that daniel is jersey born and transplanted to california, living only with his mother. of course, mr. miyagi is a great father figure and a classic film character. daniel's growth in the film is natural and inspiring. it's also important that the villains are as evil and convincing as they are. bill conti does the music for avildsen, as he did in rocky. A.

Swing Time - i'm told it's the best astaire/rogers film and it's the first i've seen. it's also notable for appearing on time's top 100 list and making it on the new version (though not the original) of the afi top 100 as well. it's a fine enough film for what it is. i'm not a fan of musicals or extended dancing pieces, but the humor and solid acting from the stars kept this one enjoyable even for me. it's said that ginger rogers had to do everything that fred astaire did, only backwards and in heels. this is only somewhat true as he has an extended solo (in black face) towards the end of the film. B.
Shooter - a surprisingly bold film in some ways. it's about an elite military sniper (wahlberg) who is left for dead during a covert mission. disillusioned, he moves to the country and becomes a mountain man. one day a colonel (glover) comes to him to convince him to help them detect the weaknesses of a security detail for a speech the president is giving in philadelphia. turns out that this was just a ruse to play him for a patsy. luckily, wahlberg escapes and vows revenge.
it's a bold film because it's not entirely flattering of the military or u.s. military/foreign policy. though it holds the individual gun-toting patriot up on a pedestal, it's not at all supportive of the status quo. all that said, it's a very american film, for better or worse. it covers the power of american-patriotism, the manifestations of american foreign policy, the survivalist conspiracy nuts in the woods, the corrupted f.b.i. and politicians, etc. in a way it reaffirms the negative aspects of political power in this country, but also gives hope that there are enough nuts and patriots out there to keep the government in check if push ever really came to shove. good flick. B.
Hills Have Eyes II -the original version was so-so and the remake actually improved upon the idea. that, and the amazingly good teaser trailer, led me to watch this one. the sequel to the remake is directed by some asshole who couldn't direct his way out of a paper bag and features some fairly awful acting and writing. it's just a bad film in pretty much every single way. it's got some cheap shot scares in the early part of the film, some extremely cheesy dialogue, some bad lighting and more. it does, however, deliver in the gore department. the opening scene is of a woman strapped to a table giving birth to a mutant baby and she's killed shortly thereafter by a sledgehammer. but even gore fans want a more imaginative and well-executed film, so just don't watch this one. D-.

Transporter 2 - eye candy in more ways than the scantily clad assassin who wields two machine guns throughout the film. it's a visually intense film in its use of colors and cgi camerawork. the fight choreography is decent enough, but it's not up to snuff with someone like yuen woo-ping. statham is also good enough as a tough guy. the plot is similar to that of man on fire, but it's not as good a film. interestingly, though, both employ very unusual visual effects. B-.

Talk To Me - fairly good biopic of petey green (cheadle) a rebel ex-con who has a talent for being a disc jockey. the first half is smartly written and funny with some solid acting, but the second half sort of sags under the weight and tonal shift that comes with mlk's assassination. more potential than is realized. B-.

Dazed And Confused - a pretty stupid movie on many levels, but the truth is that the soundtrack is great and the film successfully captures a time, mood and point of view. i think it resonates much better with younger people, especially those who are of high school age, at least that's how it was with me. now i see the film and think of it as nostalgia, rather than sympathizing with the characters and their desire to find their own niche and personality. as much of a square as i can be about drug stuff, i think the drug-use in this film is largely symbolic (anti-establishment) and window dressing, rather than espousing some utopic lifestyle. B.

Shallow Hal - classic farrelly brothers because of the odd cast and the unusual premise. jack black does a decent job, but isn't stellar. gwyenth paltrow is likable and gets some good material to work with. jason alexander should get more work in film. B+.
Live Free Or Die Hard - the first installment of this series is one of my top three films of all-time so this one is obviously not going to trump that. not that that's out of the way...die hard 4 may be the second best of the series, though i'd have to see how it holds up to repeated viewings before i could make that judgment. die hard 2 is decent enough and die hard 3 is good, but not great. what all the sequels lack is a credible and impressive villain. die hard 4 has timothy olyphant as the villain which is unfortunate because this guy may have been the worst villain of the series. maybe if i watched deadwood i would think differently of him as an actor, but i've never seen it so...
there are some nice enough references to the other films (for example, mcclane being introduced to an fbi agent named johnson), but nothing excessive or too sly. the action is completely over the top, though. it's fun and all, but it doesn't merely push the boundaries of possible, as the first one does, instead it enters full on video game mode - with an f-35 shooting at a big rig while navigating its way through a freeway underpass, or mcclane driving a car up a ramp and into a helicopter, for example. it's completely outrageous, which is fine for other movies, but not in keeping with the spirit of the series, if you ask me.
above all, the die hard series is about the failure and impotence of institutions and the triumph and capability of the individual. whether it's the local cops and the fbi or the faa or homeland security, none of those agencies are able to do what mcclane does (primarily) by himself.
the bit and supporting characters are good enough. the script is well-balanced, but more topical than the rest. the music isn't bad. the bad guys could have been better. B.
Godfather Part II - (review for both films) an absolute tour de force of filmmaking. there are very few films that are this length that i enjoy watching, and this one may be atop the list; especially after seeing it twice this year. the storytelling, acting, and camera work are high points, but the entire film excels in every way. perhaps there could be a bit more comic relief, but, truth be told, i really don't mind the weight of the film, even at almost 3 hours long.
of course the main theme is family, and that is well developed, but i also love the way life is depicted as so completely on the edge. life is truly fragile in this film. allegiances and power structures shift, innocence is lost, bystanders are swept into the black hole of the family business, and no one is above being killed (as michael says in part II). along with the story of the family and moving to america and the mob, the godfather films are about michael's character arc. this is one of the more tragic figures and stories in cinema - from fresh-faced war hero to cold-blooded mob boss - pacino portrays the transformation and all its facets with compassion, power and amazing effectiveness.
in part two we see pacino's character as full blown mob boss and we are only reminded of his former self in the heart-wrenching penultimate scene. part two loses some of its momentum in the last half hour or so, but gains it back with the inevitable culling and the dinner scene which brings the two films full circle. A+.
Departed - not quite as good as the first time i watched it. it tells the story well and the characters are nice, but i wasn't as wrapped in the plot because i already knew what happened. dicaprio's performance stood up well, as did the comic relief. B+.

Bowling For Columbine - a sprawling documentary which is probably the worst thing i can say about it, from an artistic point of view. the film probably would have benefited from an edit that kept the film focused on the gun/culture of fear issue, rather than bleeding over to the welfare to work program and other issues. this is the film that made moore truly huge and it may be his definitive work - it showcases his ambush journalism, his love of michigan, his sense of humor, his ability to tell the small stories in a larger context, and, unfortunately, it has some controversial edits as well. but for all the hype and controversy surrounding the man and the film, the simple fact is that the film tackles myriad difficult issues and is as poignant a documentary as has been released in the last 5 years. A.
Godfather - (review for both films) an absolute tour de force of filmmaking. there are very few films that are this length that i enjoy watching, and this one may be atop the list; especially after seeing it twice this year. the storytelling, acting, and camera work are high points, but the entire film excels in every way. perhaps there could be a bit more comic relief, but, truth be told, i really don't mind the weight of the film, even at almost 3 hours long.
of course the main theme is family, and that is well developed, but i also love the way life is depicted as so completely on the edge. life is truly fragile in this film. allegiances and power structures shift, innocence is lost, bystanders are swept into the black hole of the family business, and no one is above being killed (as michael says in part II). along with the story of the family and moving to america and the mob, the godfather films are about michael's character arc. this is one of the more tragic figures and stories in cinema - from fresh-faced war hero to cold-blooded mob boss - pacino portrays the transformation and all its facets with compassion, power and amazing effectiveness.
in part two we see pacino's character as full blown mob boss and we are only reminded of his former self in the heart-wrenching penultimate scene. part two loses some of its momentum in the last half hour or so, but gains it back with the inevitable culling and the dinner scene which brings the two films full circle. A+.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated - documentary by kirby dick, who did chain camera, derrida and sick; in other words, by a guy who's done good stuff that most people haven't even heard of, but is fairly good nonetheless. this documentary tackles the mpaa which is the body responsible for film ratings. it's a secretive group in that the members are unknown to the public, yet they are extremely influential in a monetary sense because the difference between an r-rated and nc-17 film is huge. they don't mention this, but according to my research the highest-grossing nc-17 movie of all-time is showgirls and it only did $20.4 million. they look a bit into the history of film censorship by bringing on david l. robb (author of operation hollywood) and talking about the hays production code. it's compelling stuff overall, and i think that can be said for even the casual film fan, in part because it sheds light on free speech and censorship issues. the film also looks at the inconsistency of the rating system and the way in which the board gives tougher ratings to films with gratuitous sex than those with gratuitous violence.
i did find one misrepresentation which portrayed the scene in american pie where jason biggs pleasures himself with the pie. the film showed the unrated version of that scene and portrayed it as the r-rated, theater version when making a comparison to another film which initially received an nc-17 rating for a similar scene. in the r-rated version he's got the pie against his crotch while he's standing, in the un-rated version he's on the island humping the pie; this is the version that the board rejected and this is the scene that kirby dick depicted as "being okay" with the mpaa. B.

Catch A Fire - a nice enough film, but it lacked the emotional heft that it sought to achieve. some of this was noyce's mis-direction and some of it was the subpar acting by robbins and luke.  C+.

Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb - one of the most funny films of all time. sellars turns in three great performances. i don't know that there's a prototypical kubrick film since his films are so varied, but this one has many of themes that are familiar to kubrick fans: the failure of logic, horrific circumstances, man's inhumanity to man, etc. of course the film is also filled with sexual overtones, literally from the opening shots. endlessly watchable, funny and haunting. A+.

Summercamp! - not quite as good the second time around, but still a great documentary. it's directed by the documentary team of brad beesley and sarah price who have brought us several noteworthy films like okie noodling, fearless freaks, yes men and american movie. the flaming lips do the soundtrack and it's pretty good overall. this documentary is well-rooted in the classic fly on the wall style of the maysles which is refreshing considering the glut of opinion pieces being put out by michael moore wannabes. B+.
Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic - i like the girl and her comedy, but the film left something to be desired. the musical interludes were funny in a sense, but mostly a drag. they reminded me of kentucky fried movie - a film that's funny in theory, but not in practice. silverman's humor centers around anything that's offensive - racial humor, aids, the holocaust, religion, sex, etc. i liked much of her material, i just wish it had been a documentary about her stand-up routine, rather than a "film" that interwove her material. C.
License To Wed - jim krasinski does his usual schtick and it's probably the best thing about the film. robin williams isn't all that great, though his sidekick is notable, and mandy moore isn't really given any comedic material. that's one of the many things that separates this film from something as brilliant as knocked up - the lead female in that film is given comedic material and she does a good job with it. we'll never know how funny mandy moore is because she's basically given unfunny roles. forgettable, but not tiring. C.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off - absolutely great film in every way. tak fujimoto does the cinematography - he also did the camerawork on philadelphia, the sixth sense, silence of the lambs, gladiator and more. this is john hughes' second best film, planes trains and automobiles being #1. A+.

Sicko - with any michael moore film review there is a blurring of the typical film review lines. for example, does one review the validity of his argument or his public persona or the film's technical and artistic merits? i suppose it's appropriate to include all of the above so long as it's balanced and one remembers that the film should be the primary subject.
sicko looks at the broken healthcare system in america. luckily moore has chosen, this time, to look at an issue where everyone can agree on the fundamental premise (that being that our healthcare system is fundamentally flawed and is not working, especially for the unemployed (like me) and poor (also like me). he compares our system to that of canada, france and england and reaches the conclusion that their system is more equitable and more in keeping with the spirit of healthcare. i couldn't agree more. in doing this, though, he smoothes over some of the consequences of our system and their systems. for example, our system encourages more investment and development because there is more money to be had. meanwhile, the canadian system does lack the quantity of high tech equipment and does sometimes have large queues for more serious procedures such as hip replacement surgery. we also have a lower tax burden than many other countries with "socialized" healthcare systems (including the three aforementioned nations), and some would argue that there no such thing as a free lunch in this regard. i think it would have been useful to examine the more privatized systems of germany and australia because i think they would be more palatable to middle america, but maybe i'm wrong.
we see less of moore in this film than in his others, and i think this is by design. there was a backlash against him, even by those on the left, after things like the roger and me controversy (which he denies) and some of the facts in bowling for columbine and fahrenheit 9/11 being refuted or shown as being misleading. personally i don't know that i buy the roger and me criticism, and i don't give too much weight to the bfc and f9/11 stuff, but i do fault him on a personal level for abadoning ralph nader. so, yes, even i have a bone to pick with the guy these days. moore is still seen in the film, but his ideas and his persona are less the focus of sicko than they have been in his other films. given the public's opinion of moore, this is probably a good thing for the film.
tonally the film is less comedic than his previous films have been. sure, it has some comedic elements, but it seems that moore has lost a bit of his sense of humor in the years between sicko and fahrenheit 9/11. this was reinforced by his performance on the letterman show i saw recently when he was pitching the movie. he just seems more sullen and beaten. then again, i guess we all are after 6+ years of bush junior. the film still brings the same pathos that all his work as had. he does it with anecdotal evidence, but i think that the anecdotes, in this case, confirm a suspicion we all hold and confirm other anecdotes we've heard about insurance companies and the healthcare system. i think everyone knows someone who has been screwed by the healthcare system in the same way (preexisting condition, no prior approval of procedure, etc.) that the people in the film were.
overall i think the film does a good job of sparking the debate and offering some perspective and solutions for our healthcare problems. it's a safer film in some respects, than his previous two, but moore still has it in him...B+.

Pauly Shore Is Dead - not as awful as you may expect, but certainly not recommendable either. pauly shore's death is an attractive enough concept, and the film allows you to experience that eventuality, but it's really just a huge cock tease because, of course, shore is alive and still making movies. perhaps the most notable aspect of this film is its value when playing the six degrees film. because it has such a large and diverse cast of people who cheer his fictional death you get all sorts of connections that would be great if you had to connect kevin bacon to ben stiller or some such exercise. D.

Radio Days - classic film that features a good use of music, a noteworthy cast and is reminiscent of "a christmas story." B+.

Hannah And Her Sisters - one of the more dynamic woody allen films - it does comedy and drama equally well. max von sydow's performance was one of my favorites. B+.

F For Fake - another pretentious orson welles film; actually this is a documentary. it's about the line between forged and real art, more or less. he belabors the point and the film lost my interest within the first half. there's some food for thought here, to be sure, but much of it is fairly basic so far as philosophy goes. there are some interesting style choices that echo the philosophical underpinnings, but nothing that really excited me. i can see why some people would be somewhat interested, but it's really a relatively basic film for someone as talented as welles. C.

They Drive By Night - good film that is similar to thieves' highway, but not as good and incorporates a femme fatale (played by ida lupino). better this time than the first time i watched it because of some of the subtleties of the script and lupino's performance being better than i thought. good for noir fans. B-.
"by the time i get home to my wife i'll be too tired to turn out the light." - bogart
Election - great offbeat film that helped bring matthew broderick back into the limelight. the casting is perfect across the board, the direction is on spot, the script is edgy, smart and get the point. A.

Hud - fantastic film with a great cast/crew. paul newman is the anchor on the screen, but patricia neal, melvyn douglas, and brandon de wilde all do a good job too. behind the screen there's edith head (costumes), james wong howe (cinematography), and elmer bernstein (music), who are all certifiably great.
hud is a tough character to play as a lead because he's sometimes lovable, but generally selfish and hateful. his nephew represents the next generation that has to make a choice between the old school superego of his grandfather and the new school id of hud. the ending left me wanting a bit more. overall, a well-executed work. B+.
"You don't look out for yourself, the only helping hand you'll ever get is when they lower the box. " - Hud

Blue Gardenia - nicely directed and acted noir that was reminiscent of black angel, but with a less noir ending. it's about a woman (baxter) who is depressed about her cheating man (burr) so she goes out with some other guy and gets drunk. when he tries to take advantage of her she attacks him and he's found dead the next morning. nice flick that's worth watching. B.
An Unreasonable Man - recently i had dinner with my grandmother and a couple of her friends. shortly before the dinner the issue of the 2008 presidential campaign came up and one of the guests remarked that she hoped nader would not run again. this is a sentiment that has been echoed by just about everyone i've talked with about the subject of nader or the 2008 race. democrats hate him and blame him for the outcome in 2000 and republicans hate him because of his leftist (lions and tigers and bears, oh my!) agenda. later in the dinner the same woman stated that she would vote for hillary unless someone better came along. one of the things she said about hillary struck me - she cited hillary's commencement speech at wellesley in 1969 and said "that's who hillary is, and that's who she'll be if she's president." it struck me as a nice thought, but not altogether realistic. the speech was given almost 40 years ago and hillary has, like her husband, adjusted her stance according to the polls so many times that i doubt even she knows what she really stands for anymore. it reminds me of kerry and what he once was and what he's turned out to be. some remember the kerry who was a vigorous opponent of the vietnam war and others remember the more recent kerry who wasn't nearly as outspoken at the beginnings of the iraq war and never called for our troops to be pulled out of iraq when he was running for president in 2004.
on the other hand you have a man like ralph nader, who currently is who he has always been - a man of principles and conviction. he's also the most maligned figure cut from the cloth of cesar chavez, mlk, and gandhi that i can think of. unlike kerry and clinton, most of his career has been unencumbered by running for office, which generally necessitates a compromising of one's principles under the guise of "compromise" and "moderation" in order to be more electable. through most of his political career he was issues-oriented, but this changed somewhat when he ran for president. i say somewhat because his campaigns have always been more about issues than being elected to office, so even when running for office, he was more about calling attention to issues than winning office.
the documentary looks at nader's public life beginning with his book "unsafe at any speed" and its origins. it ends, of course, with his presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004. it does a good job of presenting the opinions of people like eric alterman who hate nader for "losing the election for gore" in 2000 and balancing out that cock-eyed view with the facts and theories that support nader's campaigns in those years. this includes nader himself, a democratic harvard student who looked at where nader campaigned in 2000 (to determine if he wanted to be a spoiler), and his supporters and campaign workers. it presents the nader-as-spoiler debate as realistically and honestly as i can imagine, and as someone who has been fighting this fight since i voted for him in 2000 (and again in 2004), i found it refreshing.
a great documentary about a great man.  B+.
There's Something About Mary - one of the best comedies i've seen. A+.

Annie Hall - one of the best comedies of all-time and probably the best woody allen picture ever. i'm not a huge fan of his work, but i do like his writing style because of its depth, intellectualism, and unique voice. a funny and poignant film, just try not to think about his daughter/wife while you're watching it. A.
Evan Almighty - never saw the original and this one didn't make me want to. it's not that the film is bad - it's actually fairly entertaining - rather it's more that the film comes off as a bit too family-friendly and preachy for my taste. steve carrell does his usual schtick and it entertains. one of his assistants is played by jonah hill who was in 40 year old virgin and accepted (among other films) and does a good job here again. B-.

My Date With Drew - documentary about a dorky guy who is semi-obsessed with drew barrymore and sets out to film his quest to get a date with her. using all his hollywood connections he attempts to get word to her, but fails to do so within his 30 day time limit (which is imposed by his need to return the video camera to circuit city because he doesn't actually own a camera). he's definitely a bit on the odd and effeminate side, but he's not the stalker that the storyline might imply. it was compelling enough to keep me from changing the channel so that says something...B-.

Ocean's 13 - a notch above the second one and a notch below the first one. good music, nice script, good comic relief, a less satisfying surprise ending than the previous films. B.

Hostel: Part II - better than the original because of its pacing and the fact that it's a more thoughtful picture. it follows in the tradition of the 70s revenge films (i spit on your grave, thriller, last house on the left, etc.) which is marked by strong female characters who are victimized, but then go out and revenge their victimizers. lauren german does a good job as the lead. it explores the darker motivations of humanity and the idle rich. B.
Cool Hand Luke - excellent, excellent film. luke is one of the greatest and most inspirational cinematic characters i can think of. just look at the prisoners before and after the appearance of luke - before him they are unfocused and brutal (towards each other). after luke arrives and sets a new tone they hold their happiness in their own hands, the brutality is absent, and they are unified. A+.

Detective Story - a very theatrical film starring kirk douglas and william bendix; george macready also has a role as a villain, of sorts, who opposes douglas. both were better in paths of glory, but that's to be expected. i didn't like the theatrical feel of the picture, but i appreciated the dark underbelly of american society that it exposes. in this way it reminded me of a sirk film, but without the artistic flourishes. because of the theatrical feel the film felt claustrophobic, though this may have been part wyler's intention. B-.

African Queen - not bogart's best role or performance, but the only one for which he received an academy. hepburn and bogart are the film, even with huston as the director. i didn't think that the feel or tone of the picture held up all that well against today's pictures, but the performances are very strong given their particular style. B+.

Jerry Maguire - if you're able to get past the hype and the endless mockeries that have been made of the film, as well as the couch jumping of tom cruise, then you might still enjoy this film. when i first saw it i liked it quite a bit and it hasn't deteriorated much over time. it definitely takes some effort to look past some of crowe's direction, zellweger's acting, and cruise's personal life, but it can be a rewarding film. B+.

Summer Catch - definitely could have been worse. some baseball-related mistakes and some poor acting, but it's generally what you would expect from the genre. C+.

Mr. Brooks - demi moore's performance and some bad lines and minor direction choices were the weak points of this otherwise compelling film. costner was good in an unusual role for him. overall a disappointment, but only because the ambitious and positive aspects of the film made me feel like the film could have been much better. dane cook has an apt pupil-esque role. C+.

Knocked Up - i guess one way you can judge the effectiveness of a comedy is its ability to make your jaw sore; this one did it about half way through. it reminded me a bit of there's something about mary because of the lovable loser who wants to be with the hot chick, but was even more reminiscent of that film because of a particular shot that recalled the "zipper" shot in there's something about mary. it's definitely in the same vein as 40 year-old virgin and comes with some of the same characters and the same level of crass humor. what it doesn't have is steve carrell and quite the same well-rounded cast of secondary characters.
as funny as the film is, it also has the serious side that characterizes judd apatow's better work. in freaks and geeks and 40 year-old virgin, for example, there is an emotional core that is realistic and even poignant; knocked up continues this tradition and is all the better for it. everyone in the cast does a fine job and i was especially impressed by katherine heigl, who has the toughest role. recommended. B+.

To Catch A Thief - hadn't seen this hitchcock film until now. it's pretty standard hitchcock fare in a lot of ways. a good solid thriller with some twists and good use of color. also enjoyed the filming locations. B.

Rear Window - great hitchcock film with themes of voyeurism, impotence, marriage and (of course) murder mixed into it all. some nice social commentary here as well, though it's not didactic. A-.

Spider-Man 3 - basically a video game, but not as fun and the acting is only slightly better. it's not entirely well done either, which is pathetic for a film with a $260 million budget. the comic relief is good, and much appreciated, but the action scenes were blurry and filmed too closely. to me, these are signs of a director masking a lack of quality choreography. the film could also have used some judicious editing of the screenplay, which is just too long. C-.
Beauty And The Beast - probably the best animated disney picture. great songs and characters. good balance of comedy and fantasy and drama. A.

Deliver Us From Evil - similar to capturing the friedmans and the jaundiced eye, but takes on the entire catholic church in addition to a single abuser. it's a rough film to watch for obvious reasons, but it is especially tough because of one particular character (one victim's father) who is particularly tragic. i don't want to give anything away, but his story is one of the saddest i've seen in a documentary. haunting. B+.

Ringer - produced by the farrelly brothers and that makes sense. it's a base comedy with a colorful cast of outcasts. knoxville is a crappy actor and the screenplay is thin, but it produces some laughs and that's about all you can hope for i suppose. C+.

Lucky You - curtis hanson has some decent work to his name - 8 mile, l.a. confidential, in her shoes, etc. so, in spite of the previews, i decided to check this one out. unfortunately for us this is one of those instances when the marketing department did an accurate job of depicting how bad the film is. it never really knows what kind of film it is - is it a gambling or poker film like cincinnati kid or rounders, or is it a romance, or is it about a man's broken relationship with his father? in the end, it's all of these things and it just feels bloated and messy. add to this lackluster performances from bana (munich, chopper) and barrymore and you get a fairly poor film. D+.

Borat - a film not about kazakhstan, but about america, as is indicated in the longer title (Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan). a couple things should be noted in case you are concerned that this film is anti-kazakhstan or anti-semitic: cohen is jewish. when he's speaking kazakh to his producer in the film he is actually speaking hebrew. it's a comedy, lighten up. A-.

Meet The Fockers - funny sequel to the more funny original. B+.

Rushmore - wonderful film with a dominate soundtrack. watching this film without sound would kill the artistry, humor and sweep of the film. that said, it's a visually impressive film as well. watching it in "full screen" does a disservice. A.

Breaking Away - great film that is reminiscent of small town films like dazed and confused and american graffiti. great use of music. an uplifting film that flirts with being corny, but i think it avoids it because of a balanced screenplay and compelling characters. A-.

Heat - not a current top 25 entry, but i think it was at one point. it's a great, epic film with only minor flaws. i love the themes of transience, brotherhood, camaraderie, and the similarities between the "good" and "bad" guys. A.
Fracture - too many plot holes and tonally awkward. the end was anti-climactic, unbelievable and not that difficult to see coming. the acting was fine, but it didn't carry the film enough to ignore the pitfalls of the film. C+.

Shawshank Redemption - great film, reminiscent of cool hand luke, slightly less great than i had remembered. A.
Little Miss Sunshine - still funny and this was the first time i noticed that dwayne was the product of a different marriage. hmm. A.
Great Escape - has been one of my favorites for years. amazing score, life affirming. A+.

A Place In The Sun - i can't say i'm a huge george stevens fan. gunga din is a bit overrated, this one wasn't that fantastic, and giant is awful. that said, shane is a superbly directed and executed film. clift was good in a textured role, but no one else really did it for me. C+.

Happiness - gets a little less funny, and a little more disturbing, with each viewing. B.
Cinderella - classic disney version of the classic story. a couple good songs, but not as many as little mermaid or beauty and the beast. B+.

Half Nelson -good flick with two solid performances. stood up to a second viewing. B+.

Sisters - good depalma film that's a cross between basket case and rear window. B.

My Country, My Country - over-rated academy-nominated documentary about life in iraq around the time of the first vote. not very illuminating or engaging. C.

Moog - nice enough introduction to the world of synthesized music, centering around the man who was responsible for much of the hardware first used to make it. features live performances from stereolab, mix master mike, money mark and others. not amazing and a bit short, but interesting for electronic music geeks. B-.

Sherrybaby - clearly made by a first time director in that some of the framing was unconventional and amateurish, but that's my biggest gripe with the film. it was also a bit long feeling, but that wasn't a major problem. it's primary successes were its ability to keep the audience uncertain and to make the protagonist's situation sympathetic. most films like this will tip their ending early in the film - a film with a dark ending will have dark overtones throughout and won't allude to any hope, a film with a happy ending will portray a sympathetic character who constantly struggles to keep their head above water, and finally succeeds in the end (pursuit of happyness). this one gives the audience reason to think that both good and bad things could happen by the films end. so when the film ends without a clear resolution, it makes sense given the rest of the film's direction.
gyllenhaal does a good job in a tough role. she's neither likable nor despicable. she does some good and bad things like the protagonist in half nelson. it also reminded me of levity.
a couple of bad performances from supporting actors. B.

Ninotchka - good film with a fine performance from greta garbo. funny and makes you hope for a better world in a cheesy sort of way. B.

America: From Freedom To Fascism - the good/bad thing about the availability of movie cameras and editing equipment is that anybody can make a movie. this one makes a case for a 1984 society here in america. it claims that the income tax is unconstitutional, that the government is totalitarian and that we're on the edge of having everything we do monitored at every level of commerce and government. i sympathize with some of the sentiments, but the filmmaker's intellectual dishonesty, editing out of context, and ignorant questioning make me doubt most of the new ideas presented. all that said, it does make you question some things and that's not a bad thing. C-.

Imitation Of Life - sirk reminds me a bit of capra in that his films, on paper, seem corny or saccharine. however when you watch the film, the performances, the writing, and the direction make for a great film that realizes its potential. this one, like all that heaven allows, employs the use of reflections, color and mise en scene to demonstrate the repressed circumstances in which the characters live. for example, he'll show a character through the dividers of a window or a fence, to heighten the sense of isolation.
in all that heaven allows, sirk shows us the dark underbelly of class relations in american society. here, he tackles the complicated issues of race and mother/daughter relationships. his characters are given a depth and complexity that, when coupled with the artistry, make for an enjoyable and realistic (though heightened) movie watching experience. what starts as an over-done and laughable movie becomes deeply moving by the end. at that point the laughs in the early part of the film are revealed as tongue-in-cheek and purposeful. juanita moore is fantastic. B+.
All I Desire - this one isn't quite the epic that imitation of life is, but it does a good job of looking at the issue of illegitimate children and small-town politics. barbara stanwyck is good, but not amazing. this one is done in black and white and lacks some of the artistry that you see in all that heaven allows or imitation of life. B-.

300 - visually an impressive film. other than that it was pretty much the standard epic fare. don't get me wrong, i liked it, but it felt a little longer than it actually was and there really wasn't a whole lot of meat to the story or characters. the film is really more about the bravado, action and look than anything else. watch seven samurai or lotr: the two towers instead. B-.

Shut Up And Sing - from the same director who did harlan county, usa. this one features different subjects (the superstar dixie chicks instead of working class miners), but they're both under job stresses. in harlan county the miners are battling against the anti-union forces and in this film the dixie chicks are fighting against redneck jingoists. the film does a good job of covering the political and public relations game that is involved in selling records as well as the artistic changes that come as a result of the country music boycott against the dixie chicks. good film in its ability to show the many facets of the group and the fallout of the now infamous "we're ashamed that george bush is from texas" quote. B.
Wayne's World - this film makes me feel about the early 90s what many people think about the 80s. when you look back at films like this, with the neon colored t-shirts and the torn jeans, it makes you a little embarrassed that you were a part of that time. it's a semi-funny film in a stupid sort of way. C+.

Bad And The Beautiful - well done and detailed picture about a film producer (douglas) who helps and hurts three people (an actress, a writer and a director) and ends up needing their help to rebuild his career. nice camerawork and score. douglas is does angry like kurosawa does raining. B.

Shadows - a more influential and important film than it is a good one. by classical standards this film is a mess - you can see the shadow of the camera, the actors look at the camera from time to time, the acting is sometimes bad, the editing looks like it's trying to mask the need for several takes within a single scene, etc. it's an important film because, in 1959, no one was making films that looked like this or were made like this. it led to the rise of the french new wave (love it or hate it) as well as the independent films and independent spirit of the 1960s. it got away from the large scale productions and paved the way for everything from andy warhol to steven soderbergh. it also tackled race and the beat generation.
as important as the film is, though, it's not very entertaining and even pauline kael sited entertainment as the most important element in a film's success. C.

Star Wars: Episode VI Return Of The Jedi - pretty good final installment to the series, but it does mark the downswing that would later be seen in episodes 1-3 and the decision by lucas to produce howard the duck. without the ewoks the film would be quite a bit better. the special edition changes are mostly very stupid and make the film more silly in tone. still, the luke/darth vader storyline coming to a close is great and effectual. B+.

Miracle Worker - it's a good thing helen keller had annie sullivan as her teacher instead of me because she'd be permanently injured or dead within 72 hours under my tutelage. arthur penn was decidely anti-method acting and once said that lee strasberg "ruined an entire generation of actors with that sense memory crap." this is interesting for a couple reasons: one of the five best film actors of all-time (dustin hoffman) appeared in an arthur penn film (little big man) and he is a method actor. method acting has also produced marlon brando, james dean, paul newman, al pacino, and many others. it's also interesting because the primary weakness of this film is the overly theatrical acting, particularly as exhibited by inga swenson. bancroft was good and i suppose patty duke was too, but swenson's acting almost killed it for me in the first scene. the film is mostly good because of the amazing story which we all know by now, but don't truly know until we see/read/hear of the details and this film does that. going into the picture i didn't like the title because i felt it gave too much credit to sullivan, and not enough to keller, but the truth is that sullivan was the one who truly saved keller. if not for her superhuman patience, helen keller would probably not be known to any of us. B+.
Daddy's Little Girls - tyler perry's latest effort follows in the frank capra school of filmmaking. he takes a john doe and personalizes his struggle in what could be perceived as a weepy or cheesy manner, but it ultimately works because of the execution. let me get this clear up front: perry isn't frank capra and this film isn't mr. deeds goes to town or mr. smith goes to washington. of course, capra was around longer when he made those and he had the efforts of greats like james stewart and gary cooper. but while this film doesn't reach the heights of capra, it does tell a good, human story and it does so with some entertainment and humanity. some of the acting could have been better and i would have liked a fuller, more colorful (as in more entertaining or well-rounded) cast. one thing that makes capra films (as well as anthony mann films) so good is the cast of secondary characters who act as foils to the protagonist, as well as offer comic relief.
this film works because of the work perry does early in the film to establish some comedy and intrigue. just a couple touches here and there can be the difference between an engaged and invested audience and one that is checking their watches. B+.

Monumental: David Brower's Fight For Wild America - inspiring documentary about one of the greatest conservationists in american history. he was the first executive director of the sierra club and led the fight to save many areas from development, particularly dam building. if not for his efforts the following areas would not be preserved or would be in varying states of development: grand canyon, point reyes, redwood n.p., north cascades n.p., and more that i can't recall. of course it wasn't just him, it was also secretary of the interior udall, lady bird johnson and others who were in positions of power, but brower was largely responsible for spearheading many campaigns for preservation. B+.

Number 23 - reminded me a bit of black angel because of the ending. the idea is a good one, but the execution is predictably lacking, especially in the final act. even when joel schumacher makes a great film like falling down, he bungles the ending a bit. when he gets a more mediocre film like this one (or phone booth or st. elmo's fire), he bungles it even more. carrey and madsen are decent enough, but both have had better roles and better performances. it lacks all the oomph and humanity that pi provides. part, though certainly not all, of this is a result of a weak soundtrack. C+.
Reno 911!: Miami - funny enough, but could have used more cops out on the job and less of them hanging out with each other in varying stages of nakedness. B-.
Abandoned - quite a scary film. in fact, this is the scariest movie since the descent, and had one moment that scared me even more than THE scene in the descent; though some of that may be attributed to the fact that i was the only one in the theater. cerda creates a good atmosphere through set design, editing and camerawork. somewhat similar to the messengers in that he uses the camera and editing to effectively heighten the terror. possibly a parable for russia, but you watch and decide. had a little moebius element going to it as well. B+.

A Scanner Darkly - another linklater philosophy film. this one's based upon a philip k. dick book. i found myself falling asleep and mostly uninspired by the story and philosophy thereof. it uses the same animation style (rotoscoping) that was used in waking life, only to lesser effect and without some of the more expressionistic flourishes that that film had. this style, by the way, was best employed for the beastie boys' music video "shadrach" in 1989, though it's been used in other films like snow white and fire & ice. not a very good script with a message that didn't resonate with me at all. watch waking life and slacker before you touch this one. C.

Gandhi - in my opinion, gandhi is a martyr and leader greater than jesus (because his legend obscures the facts and because of what's been done in his name). the film, rightly, begins by acknowledging that no single telling of a man's life can possibly do his work justice and, if you view the film in this way, it's a great picture. the film not only reveals the greatness of gandhi's message and deeds, but, ironically and maybe unintentionally, also shows the greatness of his chief rival - the british government. if not for the relative civility of the british government, gandhi would not have been able to flourish and succeed on the level that he did. if, for example, gandhi was battling the oppression of the nazi regime, he would be relegated to a mere paragraph in our history books. but because the british did, to some extent, respect and believe in their (admittedly flawed) laws, gandhi was able to succeed in helping free india. again, this is ironically a victory for the british, though they may not see it that way.
the final act of the film shows gandhi as two things: the country's conscience and a leader whose time has passed. when he fasts for internal peace, both muslims and hindi comply because of their collective respect for this great man. but i see this as a blip, especially with the hindsight we have here in 2007. when it comes to the war of uniting muslims and hindi, gandhi was vastly outmatched. an adversary like the british government, for all its brute military strength, is nothing when compared to the ideological divide of muslims and hindi people. fighting that battle was likely beyond his ability, even if he were to have lived to attempt to tackle it in earnest. B+.

Yankee Doodle Dandy - i should like this movie for a couple reasons: i was born on the fourth of july and it's on the afi top 100. of course, neither of those things mean shit. the incorporation of music and the acting were highlights, but what it comes down to is that it's an overly patriotic musical so i just don't love it all that much. cagney won an oscar for his performance, but he was better in white heat. C+.
Statement - second jewison picture in the last couple weeks, though this one was more similar to schlessinger's marathon man than it was to jewison's thomas crown affair. michael caine does a good job as an ex-nazi being hunted down by a jewish organization out to kill the last vestiges of nazi power in france. caine's character was interesting and the role of the catholic church would be of interest to eastwood, bunuel and my dad. B-.
Running Scared - a tough film to evaluate. it could be either really good or really bad, though as a result, i probably place it somewhere in the middle. i think most would place it in the really bad category because it's not a very realistic picture, even for an action flick. it tracks the passage from hand to hand of a gun that, at the beginning of the film, is used to kill a dirty cop. this gun then ends up being used by a kid to shoot his father and goes through the hands of a crack dealer, pimp, janitor, mobster, etc. all within an 18 hour period. clearly this film is beyond unbelievable. if you go into the film knowing that, though, and viewing it as a sort of dark fairy tale, then you might get something out of it. this is because the film goes to dark places that many fear to tread. it depicts the world in an unusually dark and sinister way and is compelling at least for that reason.
vera farmiga is the real reason to see the film. she was great in the departed and she's great here as well. paul walker is mostly bad and keeps the film down, but that's expected. a brutal film with some novel visuals. B-.

Legend Of Drunken Master - ah, jackie chan. this one goes beyond many of the other jackie chan action flicks in that it integrates a greater depth of storytelling in the plot. that is, the plot has a layer of commentary and social/historical awareness that many of his other films lack. some of his other films incorporate a police man or citizen getting involved to stem the crime rate or help a damsel in distress, but this one incorporates labor issues and british colonial imperialism, much in the way that jet li's epic once upon a time in china does. in fact, both depict the same legendary chinese figure: wong fei-hung, though in different stories and using different fighting styles. B.
Times Of Harvey Milk - ah, the twinkie defense. this is one of those cases that gives defense lawyers a bad name. the guy sneaks into city hall through a window, guns down two political enemies and serves five years in prison. at this point you should be applauding our justice system.
harvey milk was the first openly gay city supervisor to be elected in california and he was apparently a good leader who was strong in his convictions. by the end of the film milk is well-humanized and we are given some idea of the potential impact his assassination had on history. the films also offers a good primer to 70s california and bay area politics. proposition 6, which was defeated, would have made it illegal to be openly gay and a school teacher (because gays touch little boys, or something like that). it made me think that in 1977 california was less anti-gay than it was anti-illegal immigrant in 1997 (because of the yes vote on proposition 187, which was later found unconstitutional). yes, the two propositions are different in scope and intention, but the fact remains that, 20 years later 187 was passed, while prop. 6 didn't. this runs somewhat contrary to what we hear about our society being so fiercely anti-gay and bolsters the stereotype of california being gay friendly. as a californian, i'm happy about the latter, and embarrassed by the former. B.
Ghost Rider - the penultimate scene, and climax of the film, ends with nick cage saying: "wherever innocent blood is spilled it'll be my father's blood, and i'll be there." it is a clear homage to the grapes of wrath, though when it comes from a film like this i use the word "homage" very loosely. there were two reasons to see this movie: hannibal: the rising was bad and eva mendes is usually pretty good. nicolas cage has been in his fair share of quality films (from raising arizona and red rock west to weather man and lord of war), but he also has some clunkers (8mm, amos and andrew, world trade center, honeymoon in vegas) to his credit, and this one just shot to the top of that list. other than the bad grapes of wrath reference, the film was just poorly written and constructed. for someone who has never read the comic, i found myself lost as to the limits of the ghost rider's powers. how did he learn to harness them so quickly? does he have any weaknesses? he supposedly goes away at sun up, but in the end he comes back so long as he's in the shadows...seems inconsistent. in these ways it reminded me of night watch which never clearly establishes the rules of what the characters can do. as a filmmaker, you can't just make up the rules as you go.
the film's characters were also not well done. they're cliché and not well-rounded. eva mendes usually brings a sass, or confidence, or hip-ness to her characters which is completely lacking here. the villain wasn't the least bit impressive either. he's nothing to be feared nor reviled. F+.
Norbit - one of the most obviously shot-on-the-studio-lot films i've ever seen. it's also one of the worst. it has two or three laughs and almost no redeeming qualities. from a technical standpoint the film is decent - they did a good job with the makeup and costumes, as well as incorporating the multiple murphy characters into single shots. other than that, it's sometimes racist, often unfunny and constantly insensitive; and none of this is employed in the spirit of true humor, social commentary or provocation of thought. it's got more senseless fat jokes than black people have afro picks. see? not funny. F.

Music & Lyrics - hugh grant's last two films have him playing a caricature of some pathetic figure in western society. in american dreamz it was the ratings-hungry host of a show modeled after american idol. in this film it's the ubiquitous pop star has-been. at what point, though, is grant going to become a mockery in choosing these roles? i don't really know, but i've never liked the guy so two films is enough to do it for me. that's all i'll say about him for now. actually, one last thing...hugh, please button your shirt, you're not david carradine or james caan, and this isn't the 1970s.
this film reminded me most of be cool because both were ultimately about attempts to change pop music by being a part of it. in other words, in the end, the film is highly unbelievable.
the "love" between barrymore and grant isn't believable, but it is similar to the love depicted in every other crappy hollywood film. no real change occurs on the part of the characters, in spite of what the lyrics to grant's love song might have you believe. i didn't mind barrymore's performance, but i thought the writing and slowly paced direction were poor. this is what it comes down to: the film was funny at times and i liked the satirical aspects of it, but the writing of the characters was formulaic and simple. C-.

Genesis - similar to microcosmos, only not restricted to the lives of small animals and bugs. co-directed by the same guy who did microcosmos, this film resembles it, baraka and more scientific films like david attenborough's life on earth. it's not nearly as focused on the science as attenborough's work, but it show nature in the same wondrous way. genesis features thin, but effective, narration and a good score that help anchor the film. the narrative functions to separate the film thematically as well as entertain, as if we are sitting by at the campfire with the narrator who weaves the images together with his words. part of the film's success comes from its simple narrative that isn't about science or a particular belief. it's much more in keeping with a fireside chat. fun to watch for all ages and a great film to fall asleep to; and that's a good thing. in this respect in joins works like aphex twin's selected ambient vol. 2 and baraka as pieces of art that are so sublime and serene that they create a perfect backdrop for sleep. B+.

Breach - chris cooper gets, and nails, a very good role. i wonder how realistically the story is told, though, in part because it seems very odd to place a gs 11 in the position to take down the most egregious domestic spy in american history. a gs 11, by the way, is a federal salary designation that equates to somewhere in the neighborhood of $50k/year. other than that and a couple other minor "why would he have done that?" type moments, i found the film to be enjoyable. it's topical, but it seemed to remain non-partisan on the whole and avoided being didactic.
the character dynamic between cooper and phillipe keeps the film tense and interesting throughout. like many film noir, it begins by telling us of cooper's eventual arrest. by the end of the film, in spite of all the things he did, i felt very sorry for cooper's character - primarily because cooper does such a good job humanizing and rounding it out. cooper could merit academy consideration next year. B.

Running With Scissors - the trailer made this film seem like a comedy, which is misleading. it's not so much that this film isn't a comedy, as it is that the film is quite a bit more sad than it is comic. if you watch it with a certain crowd i'm sure the film could take on a different tone, but that's the good/bad thing about watching movies on your own. when i watched the film i was more saddened by the depth of insanity the author was exposed to. his de facto father, who was actually his strung-out and insane mother's crackpot shrink, was enough to send most people to the loony bin. throw in his mother, his non-existent biological father, and lack of a social life and you have a fairly depressing life. it reminded me of a more dramatic and non-fiction version of the royal tennenbaums. annette bening was good. B-.
Illusionist - often, magic is about creating a diversion from where the trick is really occurring. the same can be said for a film like this, or the usual suspects, or another ed norton film - primal fear. the success of the end is based upon the setup and how well the filmmaker has distracted your critical eye with fanciful distractions. this one didn't really get me, but i didn't really get it either. that is, it didn't fool me, but i didn't quite figure it all out before the reveal either. overall, i found the plot to be enjoyable and intriguing enough to capture my attention throughout. ultimately, though, that doesn't much matter because, for me anyway, a film is about much more than its plot.
i can see why the academy nominated it for its cinematography, but i don't foresee it winning. ed norton does a good job and so does giamatti, but neither are as impressive here as they've been in the past. i liked norton's character because of the way he would weave commentary into his acts. philip glass' score is good, but mostly a rehash of his previous motifs. his work in last year's notes on a scandal was much better. i wonder how this one will stack up to repeated viewings. B.
Half Nelson - it's been eight days (and 20 movies) since i've seen a movie as good as this one. i'm glad gosling got nominated by the academy for his performance here, not so much because it's amazing, but because i'm glad they recognized his role in a smaller film. both epps and gosling are quite good and, together, they really sell the film. gosling is a teacher who twilights as a junkie and epps is his student whom he befriends (or is it the other way around?). theirs isn't the conventional relationship, and i don't want to give anything away with regards to how things do or do not progress between them, but suffice it to say that both are torn in their own way. gosling's is a difficult character to like, though we're given reasons that we should. their individual characters and their characters together are realistic, compelling and human. it's good to see characters drawn from real experiences, rather than simplistic archetypes, clichés or stereotypes. solid and recommendable film. B+.

U.S. vs. John Lennon - maybe i'm just too jaded or i can't be affected anymore, but this documentary didn't do much for me. john lennon was a good guy who helped make some amazing music, but he wasn't a prophet or an original thinker. in fact, he appears quite puerile in many of his interviews. he dismissively attributes his always getting in trouble with the way his face looks, speaks of an imaginary land called "newtopia," and when pressed on how many lives he thinks he's actually saved, points out that they sing his songs at rallies. he toys with the media, but part of me wondered how much of that was a defense. also, if not a defense, why not engage the media with real ideas and real answers? the john lennon in this film was a thinker, but not a serious political activist, in spite of what the film's interviewees wants you to believe. if you look at his political philosophy and legacy from the forest perspective (as opposed to looking at the individual trees), then you see a man with conviction and principles. i don't think that his principles are all that realistic, but one still must appreciate his idealism.
the title is somewhat misleading because it sets the documentary up as a chronicle of the battle between lennon and the united states. while this was certainly addressed, it was more a biography than anything else. the fatal flaw of lennon, like it is with many great people, is that his family life wasn't as peachy as some would make it seem. in fact, looking at the documentary his family life was brilliant, the only problem is that it only included three people - him, yoko and sean. whatever happened to his first born, julian? yoko specifically excludes him in the conversation of their perfect family saying it was a great time when sean was born (julian would have been 12 at the time) and that the three of them were very happy. guess no one's perfect. C+.

Thomas Crown Affair - this is supposedly steve mcqueen's favorite of all the films he was in; it's probably my least favorite. it's over-directed and the story isn't as good as it is in the remake. generally i prefer the original versions of films, but this is an exception. the primary difference between the two is the tone. the remake is more playful and quickly paced, whereas this version is more artistic, expressive and pensively paced. sometimes that's a good thing, and sometimes it doesn't work out so well. the theme song is probably the best part of the film. jewison is normally pretty reliable, but this picture was relatively dull. C.
Hills Have Eyes - one of the keys to a great horror film is that at least half of the major characters need to die. in this film only three of the seven family members die and they're all older anyway. in dawn of the dead half of them die, in texas chainsaw massacre more than half die, same for shining, aliens, night of the living dead, evil dead, etc. i don't remember the original being any better or worse than this one. directed by the same french guy (aja) who did high tension. kathleen quinlan does a good job as the mother and ted levine does a good job as the father. interestingly, ted levine is just as good as a villain (silence of the lambs, joy ride) as he is a good guy (this, heat, etc.). underrated actor with a unique voice. C+.
Bolivia - reminded me of caetano's other film (a red bear) mixed with do the right thing. it tells the story of argentina's growing racial and economic problems as viewed through the day to day operations of a small cafe. well-acted and short film. B.
Because I Said So - utterly mundane, trite, and old-fashioned. i expected this from piper perabo because she's the current first lady of shitty films, but i didn't expect this from diane keaton who, at one time, was somewhat ahead of her time. 50 years ago this film would have been a C+, but today i have to give it a D-.
Big Buy: Tom DeLay's Stolen Congress - you know, the good thing about america is that politicians who get too greedy generally get their due. the problem is that this is often too late. in this case delay got smacked down, but he had already helped the republicans take five seats from the democrats. the film covers his rise and fall in national and state politics. by now you probably know of the redistricting plan which led to texas dems leaving the state. the film covers that as well as his indictment, the fall of those around him, and the organization of his trm pac. i hate this guy.
the film made me think of the bumper sticker that reads: "clean up congress without DeLay." the texas district attorney, ronnie earle, was the hero of the film. some ronnie earle quips: "we have not set out to get rid of anyone, tom delay or dr. no." "being called partisan and vindictive by tom delay is like being called ugly by a frog." "it's not about democrats and republicans, it's about cops and robbers." B.

Black Dahlia - the worst depalma film i've seen. scarlett johannsen isn't a very good actress and certainly isn't barbara stanwyck or marie windsor or linda darnell or...there are very few noirs outside of the 1930s-50s range that are worth a lick, and this one proves that as much as anything else. D.
Giovannona Long-Thigh - funny italian film that reminded me of rules of the game as played out by benny hill or the pink panther. it's a comedy of errors, "with a little sex in it;" to quote sullivan's travels. in other words, it's like blake edwards' 10, only better, all but unknown in america and released six years earlier. B.
Marathon Man - visually the film looks like a lot of other 70s films, funny how each period has a particular look. it reminded me a bit of the conversation, though i probably preferred that film over this one. there's a lot going on in this picture and none of it ever really feels like it fits together. it all makes sense from a plot perspective, but the pieces don't feel as though they belong. you have hot diamonds, an ex-nazi on the loose, a secret government organization, one brother mixed up in all of this, the other gets unwittingly dragged into it, you have a history thesis on the use of tyranny in the united states, you have an opening road rage sequence, a developing relationship, etc. a rather odd picture. a bob evans production. C+.

Pan's Labyrinth - up for an academy award for its cinematography. del toro is one of those directors who, both for better and worse, isn't going to ever get widespread acceptance. i see p.t. anderson in a somewhat similar light, though to a much lesser extent and not because they make similar films. del toro has directed hellboy, cronos, blade II, mimic, and the devil's backbone. i've seen all of them, though i haven't seen hellboy in its entirety. i actually saw cronos in the theater so i must too my own (actually my dad's, since he chose it) horn a bit.
this film has his signature dark and imaginative visual style. plot-wise i think it resembles the chronicles of narnia more than anything else i can think of. visually it was an interesting film, but i enjoyed the visuals in the fountain (a film that shares some similar characteristics to this one) more, and that one wasn't even nominated for its cinematography. incidentally, aronofsky is another director who will get work, like del toro, but probably never be widely known and accepted.
see this if you're in the mood for some fantasy mixed with political commentary (it takes place in fascist spain) and great costumes/effects. it's a good film, but the story never really compelled me. C+.
Messengers - didn't expect much from this latest pang brothers (eye, eye 2, etc.) effort, but was pleasantly surprised. the film draws from sources as disparate as the grudge, dark water, the others, and amityville horror, yet isn't cliché.
the framing of many shots helped keep your eyes moving and your mind guessing. for example, if, in a horror film, we see a woman walking from left to right and looking behind her (to the left part of the screen) and the frame doesn't show any space to the right, then you can expect that she will walk into someone or that something will scare her from the right part of the screen. this is fundamental horror film directing. the pang brothers use that knowledge of the audience to keep things tense without having to use up a scare. so, you might have the protagonist as described above, but the frame will vary - sometimes centering her face, sometimes framing her face to the right (to indicate a scare is imminent) and sometimes framing her face to the left of the screen. this creates an ebb and flow of the audience's inner tension. it's somewhat like having the music get tighter and louder as if to indicate something is about to happen, but then not having anything happen; only more subtle and smart. they do all sorts of things in the framing and editing that keep the audience "on the edge of their seats;" to employ a cliché.
another thing they will do is edit on movement, rather than waiting for something to come to rest. editing on movement is a great technique that can be used in all genres of film, if employed correctly. in dreamgirls it was done poorly, in an almost obligatory fashion. in die hard, it is used perfectly to keep up the energy level and make the film more dynamic. here it is used to keep the film scary. horror film audiences are somewhat more savvy than most. not because they're smarter or anything, but because there's just an intuition that is developed through seeing a lot of horror films. so, in order to really scare these people, you need to mix things up. cutting on movement is one of the things this film uses to do that.
while i enjoyed the direction of the film, i felt the script could have used some work. there were some bad lines and the story had some trite elements. overall, though, it was a pretty good flick with some nice direction. B.

Bad Sleep Well - not my favorite kurosawa film, but certainly a fine film. it's part hamlet and part kurosawa. someone should (and probably has) written an essay about the use of guns in kurosawa films. they play important roles in seven samurai, stray dog, and yojimbo. seeing mifune at work is a treat.
it's remarkable how, in his contemporary films, kurosawa was able to tell an interesting story while weaving in social critique. here we see a corrupt post-war japan, somewhat similar to that of ikiru or high & low. good, not amazing. B.

Bright Leaves - i've only seen two documentaries of mcelwee's, but they've both been (at least in large part) about the south. this one covers the seedy history of tobacco in a much more personal and connected way than an expose might. mcelwee's family was once a large force in north carolina tobacco and, family legend has it, was forced out by the duke family (as in duke university). mcelwee tracks the two intertwined storylines in the personal way that marks his style. he follows the growth of the tobacco industry and investigates the history of his family vis a vis the duke family. it reminds me not only of the other film of his that i've seen (sherman's march), but of a completely different documentary from another continent - agnes varda's the gleaners and i. B.
Maniac Cop - pretty bad frankenstein-type horrorish film. it's about a cop who was killed in prison (longer story than i want to get into) and was brought back to life by a doctor. it's not funny like reanimator or evil dead, but it does have a few (intentionally?) funny moments. the premise and acting are equally bad so this is really only for the most die hard bruce campbell fan. D+.

Lenny - a familiar story in that it shows us a tortured artist who struggles with inner and outer conflict. i've never thought much of bruce's comedy, though i recognize his importance to some of my favorite stand-up comedians like bill hicks and george carlin. his story isn't any more or less heartbreaking or compelling than that of many artists like him. movies about stand-up comedians aren't generally very good. deniro, billy crystal, hoffman and jim carrey have all given performances as stand-up comics, and none of them have produced a really fine film. lenny is probably the best of the bunch, but it's not great. this one is told interestingly through the eyes of a fake documentary filmmaker who is interviewing bruce's friends and family members following his death. these interviews are then interwoven with the story. B-.

On The Waterfront - a better film than i remembered. the music is a little too present at times, i think kazan took a gamble there and it didn't pay off for me. budd schulberg's screenplay is obviously quite good. brando's performance is solid and inspiring, but not as good as fonda's in grapes of wrath, to which i would compare this film. strangely, another 1954 film recalled images of grapes of wrath: seven samurai. B+.
Orwell Rolls In His Grave - pretty much the usual leftist fear-based documentary about bush being evil and the media not doing its job. they trot out the usual suspects (mark cripsin miller, palast, moore, etc.) and say most of the usual stuff. if you've seen one then you've seen them all. that said, i agree with most of this stuff and it's stuff that should all should be exposed to. this world is so fucked up. the score is bad. the film also has abot 10 "false" endings. C+.

Dreamgirls - i wonder what musical has the greatest percentage of the film taken up by songs. i'm not talking music, like koyaanisqatsi which has a score running through 100% of the film, nor am i talking merely about singing, like umbrellas of cherbourg which has all of its dialog sung. rather, i'm talking about individual songs within the film. i'd venture a guess that about half this film is comprised of one song or another.
this film is awful from the first lines to the last. the first lines are some forced b.s. given by a woman who is storming away in a cab. danny glover, eddie murphy's manager, chases her down and begs her to stay to sing backup for murphy. she says something like "i have his number...his phone his house....where his wife is." it's supposed to be sassy and smart and indicate what kind of philanderer eddie murphy is, but it comes off as forced and written, rather than naturalistic. really, though, this is the nature of the beast. musicals can't be natural or real because their entire basis is on fantasy. the great musicals either rein this in and use the musical form in expressionistic and organic ways (music man, my fair lady, sound of music) or roll with the art form (willy wonka and the chocolate factory, mary poppins). this film tries to do both and thus it fails. the over-hyped acting is so-so at best, the dialogue is awful, most of the music is okay, the direction is straight out of the opening sequence of the jay leno show, and the story has been told a million times.
as bad as this film was it wasn't the worst one that was playing at the theater. about an hour and a half through the film, during one of the many lengthy songs i left the theater intending to never return. i walked into a theater that was playing epic movie and sat down for about five minutes. in this five minutes i realized that watching the last hour of that movie was even less appetizing than watching the final 40 minutes of dreamgirls, and so i returned to my seat and toughed it out. from justin to kelly is another film with an (actually two) american idol in a major role. the thing that made that movie more entertaining, though, was that it was shorter, bad in a funny way, and had lower expectations. that said, this film had better songs and a message. D-.
Find Me Guilty - according to the great andrew sarris this film was the 8th best english-language film of 2006. though i wouldn't rate it that highly, i did enjoy it. it follows the longest trial in american history, which was brought against a mob family. vin diesel (don't laugh) plays a charming mobster who decides to defend himself. it's a funny picture and diesel plays his character quite well. he's affable and capable, yet he only has a 6th grade education and is part of a mob family. annabella sciorra plays diesel's ex-wife and turns in a good, small performance. much more worthy of a supporting oscar than the american idol chick in dreamgirls. reminded me a bit of my cousin vinny. B.
Right Stuff - films like seven samurai make my "job" as a reviewer extremely easy. films like the right stuff make it difficult. on paper this is a good film, but it's one that i never found myself loving. films like this remind me of that part in boogie nights after the conversion is made from film to video tape and the cinematographer is directing two lesbians in a sex scene. they're both naked and touching each other, and he says something like "yeah yeah, that's good technically, but it needs a little more feeling." well this is one of those many films that gets awards and is good in a lot of ways, but just doesn't do it for me. it has the right idea - a good, exciting subject, a good and capable cast, a good score by bill conti, some nice direction from philip kaufman, some good comic relief (though i would have liked to see even more of jeff goldblum and harry shearer), etc. in spite of these things, though, the film never really excelled for me. i was interested in spurts, but never fully engrossed.
part of the film's downfall was its length which led to a few flat spots. shaving off 15 minutes would have gone a long way. i also would have liked to see more in the way of their mental preparation. we see a lot of physical tests, but we never see them talking about contingencies or coming up with any ideas (other than their suggestion to "add a window and a door" on the space pod). films that incorporate strategy and technical details (e.g., heat, godfather, and seven samurai) tend to be more realistic and interesting. C+.

Seven Samurai - lots ot say about this film, but it's probably all been said before. it belongs amongst the top 4 films (citizen kane, vertigo, rules of the game being the others) of all-time from a critical standpoint. of those four films, this one is my favorite.
from a macro perspective the two things that strike me the most about this picture are the storytelling and characters. to me, kurosawa is one of the best storytellers in film. when i first watched this film i was a bit turned off by the 207 minute running time. this time around, though, it didn't phase me. i attribute this to two things: kurosawa's storytelling and my recent string of long films which may have increased my endurance in this category. much is made over the pacing of kurosawa's storytelling - that he contrasts quick scenes with longer ones and that the pace of the film increases as it wears on. frankly, i haven't noticed that, but i assume they're right. to me, the success of his storytelling isn't any magic formula of alternating short and long sequences or shortening the length of scenes as the film progresses (though i'm sure that has an effect), rather it is about his ability to constantly reveal new wrinkles in the plot and characters to keep the audience interested. the story never stagnates and characters are never static. we learn about a farmer's (yohei) daughter early in the film, then we see that he doesn't have a wife and then we see what has become of the wife. this is just one strand of the stories that make up the entire film. it's this same ever-changing dynamic that makes the godfather such a compelling film, even at three hours long.
in my reviews i make no secret that i am primarily drawn to films with compelling characters. plot, cinematography, music, mise-en-scene, etc. are all essential, obviously. but characters drive great films and the rest is there to complement, supplement, or contrast those characters. seven samurai has a host of interesting characters, chief among them is toshiro mifune (kikuchiyo). it would be easy for a detractor of this film to minimize and simplify mifune's character since he dances about like such a buffoon at times, but this would be missing the point. mifune represents both the samurai and farmer world, yet he doesn't truly belong to either. this sad reality is most poignantly expressed when he grabs a screaming child from his mother's dying arms. he looks down at the child and then at a fellow samurai and remarks "this child is me" (an orphan of farmer because of raiding by bandits). it may be the best part of the film because, as is often true with kurosawa, it concisely summarizes what would take most good directors an entire film to convey, and is beyond the grasp of the average director. mifune is such a great director not only because he is able to inhabit and round out each character he portrays, but also because of the range of characters he has done this with. in rashomon he plays a few versions of a bandit, here he is a wild samurai and the crux of the comic relief, yet also one of the most emotionally rewarding characters in the film, in sanjuro/yojimbo he plays an extremely capable ronin, in red beard an old doctor, etc. he's one of my favorites.
strangely, and not so strangely, the film that seven samurai reminds me of the most is the grapes of wrath. strangely because the occur hundreds of years (1930s vs. 1586) and thousands of miles apart. not so strangely because both have farmers at the core of the film and because kurosawa was a great admirer of john ford's. their endings are also similar. in the grapes of wrath ma joad remarks that we (farmers) will always go on because we are the people and at the end of seven samurai kenbei shimada (played by the great takashi shimura) remarks that the samurai have lost and that the farmers have won. i presume he means that the farmers have won their freedom, but that the samurai, in completing their mission, have become ronin again; a commentary on the age in which they live and their line of work.
i have remarked before that no one films rain like kurosawa. i'd like to amend that to include rain AND wind. no matter how much it rains or how hard the wind blows in other films, it never looks as imposing or beautiful as it does in a kurosawa film, and seven samurai is as much a testament to that as anything else i've seen of his. weather is but another character in this film.
lastly, certainly some of the writing is lost/changed in translation, but the writing in this film is still something to wonder at. it's brilliant in its simplicity and language. just great. everyone has a different method of determining how good a film is. one i heard recently is applying this question: "would i see it again tomorrow?" yes. A.

Naked Spur - superego, id and ego battle it out in this western starring just five people and directed by anthony mann. in addition to the three freudian characters, the film includes the classic devil on one shoulder (robert ryan) and angel (janet leigh) on the other.  james stewart (ego), millard mitchell (superego), and ralph meeker (id) round out the five member cast. while they play archetypes, they're not perfect representations.
the film is essentially about three men who are loosely aligned to bring in a convict (ryan) and his female companion (leigh) for a $5,000 reward. ryan works to pit each of the three against each other so that he may escape. mitchell plays the conscience of the three men, yet he falls victim to mitchell's plot first because of his lust for gold. as a parable the film is stimulating, though not as strong as some of the other mann/stewart collaborations.
naked spur opens with a shot reminiscent of winchester '73, has the mitchell character who recalls walter brennan and the lust for gold that appeared in far country (one year after naked spur was released), and it has meeker who is the evil, but capable, foil to stewart like arthur kennedy was in bend of the river. there are a couple rocky chase/shoot-out scenes that are also reminiscent of winchester '73's finale.
not clear on the meaning of the title. i think "naked" is in the sense of "naked aggression" - as in unadulterated and raw. "spur" being a western implement for motivation, particularly for lesser beings (horses). so perhaps the title indicates the base, selfish motivations of the characters. solipsism is a theme that is repeated in mann's westerns, so that might fit.
intellectually an interesting film, but it didn't really entertain like other mann films have. then again, i gave bend of the river just a "b" when i saw it the first time. perhaps this one will grow on me as well. mann's films do have a tendency to get better with repeated viewings. B.
Things We Can Do Without - funny short about all the modern niceties that somehow manage to make our lives more complicated. a timeless parody of the modern condition, just substitute computers and ipods with the devices that are parodied here. B.
Little Johnny Jet - domestically inclined cartoon by the great tex avery. it's about a b-29 bomber that is having trouble finding work because of the influx of jets in the workforce. when the stork brings him a little jet, he changes his mind about jets. C+.

Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers - decent addition to the growing (both a good and bad thing) robert greenwald collection of anti-bush documentaries. as the title indicates, this one attempts to illuminate the subject of no-bid contracts and quid pro quo politics. some of this you'll know, but there's likely to be some new information for even the hardcore news junkies. some of the weepy personal stuff i could have done without, but it's expected that this battle will be fought with both emotion and information. B.

Alpha Dog - emile hirsch isn't a very good actor so why anyone thought he could go from the average boy next door in one movie ("girl next door") to a major drug dealing kingpin in another ("alpha dog"), is beyond me. not only is he a bad actor, but he's 5'7" and, even with facial hair and a turned back baseball cap, doesn't look imposing in the least. justin timberlake is actually better here than hirsch. timberlake's performance is awful when he tries to look tough and decent when (in the second half of the film) he appears more vulnerable. the film has a lot of performance problems and some questionable stylistic choices as well. that said, the final act of the film, though it does drag a bit at the very last punctuation mark, saves the film from failure. it's derivative of bully and kids and often lacks the realism that kids had, but it occasionally succeeds so...C+.

Young Mr. Lincoln - sometimes the best thing a director can do is not direct; that is, to get out of the way of the talent or the script. this film is actually at its best when the music is non-existent and ford allows fonda to be the focus. i like ford, but i don't see the genius that others do. welles said that he learned everything about directing that he needed from watching stagecoach (which he watched something like 50 times before filming citizen kane). kurosawa called ford "the master." so i'm sure there's something i'm missing here, but for now this film is a C+.
Frontline: The Dark Side - as professionally done a documentary as the bush administration's response to 9/11 was amateurish. B+.

Unfaithfully Yours - when you're in the capable hands of a master (like preston sturges) you know that anything is possible; and he uses this to his advantage. this fact, coupled with the fact that i tend to watch films the first time around, rather than actively analyze them, allowed me to have quite a fun experience with this film. this isn't to say that, without the surprise factor, i would have any less fun a time watching it, but it would be different. i should mention that the "surprise" isn't a huge one when you think about it, and really isn't that large a part of the film, but it did fool me and had me quite enthralled.
sturges is in top form here. his writing is taut, smart and funny - three things lacking in mainstream media these days. his direction is ahead of its time - there are hints of john hughes (use of sound) and hitchcock as well as chaplin/keaton and films like 2001 and breaking away (because of their use of classical music). rex harrison is perfect for the role as is his female counterpart (linda darnell - that's two of her films in two days). darnell is luminescent, soft and divine here - everything she isn't in "fallen angel." i'll have to see more of her in the future. in a large way she is the crux of the film from a character perspective. if not for her ability to sell the role and the relationship with harrison in the first act, the rest of the film might fall flat in the character department. sturges' use of classical music is another highlight of the film. he uses it for dramatic effect as well as to demarcate fact from fiction. again, the script is great in large part because of sturges' writing. it's funny and employs colorful language that inspires the writer in all of us. great film. B+.

Proposition - the most notable thing about this picture isn't its visual appeal or the fact that it's written by nick cave or that it's a particularly violent film; rather, it's that ray winstone doesn't play an out-of-control lunatic. i kid. seriously though, winstone is the least insane person in this film and that's unusual for him. visually it sticks out from the norm, but i didn't find it to be anything too remarkable. the look of a picture can enhance a film, but not make it. performances were all good. music was decent. all that said, i wasn't really blown away by the film. i liked the unusual setting for a western (late 19th century australia) and the story was nice enough. what detracted from the film was the slow pace (i prefer quicker films like far country) and the lack of compelling characters (again, far country is a good example). intellectually some of the characters were done well enough, but none of them incited any emotional reaction so...B-.
Monkey Business - one of the less funny marx brothers films i've seen. the first 20 minutes or so are quite good, but then the plot gets in the way. it's a short film (under 80 minutes) and it has a couple signature musical interludes. a few good gags, but watch a day at the races first. B-.
Fallen Angel - noir that sags a bit in the middle, but gets interesting shortly thereafter. how interesting the film would be after the first viewing, though, is yet to be seen. there's more visual movement in this film than in the typical noir and it's probably a bit less dark (visually and thematically [at least for the protagonist]) as well. dana andrews is good, as is the femme fatale (linda darnell). reminded me a bit of "black angel," but maybe a bit more because of the title than because of the similarity of the stories. B.
Notes On A Scandal - for me, the primary attraction here is philip glass' score, but the writing and acting kept me interested. the film is told via a voice-over narrative given by dench and its detached, bitter, and isolated tone recall scorsese's taxi driver. glass' music serves to strengthen this tone and theme. his is a musical style that is perfectly matched to the dystopic vision of koyaanisqatsi, the obsession and dementia of notes on a scandal, the hours or secret window. his scores wouldn't work on the latest hollywood blockbuster or some period action film, but they work well with the aforementioned ideas. he should collaborate with clint mansell and darren aronofsky. the writing here is at the same level as it is in taxi driver, though it's not as good a film. the protagonist has a different, but similar, voice in notes on a scandal. they both have in common a dislike for the ordinary and for the bulk of humanity. they both pay particular attention to an individual female. where they differ, though, is in their unique way of expressing their views on society and social mores. travis bickle's narrative i find to be occasionally humorous (for example, when he mentions his choice of apple pie and a slice of yellow cheese: "i thought it a good choice"), but dench's narrative here is less humorous. that said, the film isn't devoid of humor.
besides the score and the writing, dench's performance is notable. blanchett's performance was good as well, but not oscar worthy in my opinion. then again, my choice for best supporting actress (vera farmiga) didn't even get nominated. dench's role is tougher because it shows greater range and is less likable. that, though, could be the subject of a personality test: who do you find more reprehensible in this film - dench or blanchett? both do bad things and both are tortured in some way, but one is portrayed as the victim. good film. B+.
Volver - the second film i've seen today (notes on a scandal is the other) that features a scene with an oscar nominated actress on the toilet. this almodovar film is like many of his others in that men are simply drawn and women carry the bulk of the film. i found it to be a more interesting film than most of his others that i've seen, but still not worthy of high praise. in some ways the picture was more hitchcockean or reminiscent of clouzou than of almodovar. in fact, it was this fact that kept me in my seat, rather than going to see dreamgirls, as the second film in my double feature. the film drags in the end when the emotional stuff is getting wrapped up. emotionally, i was never into the film. i didn't feel good or bad about any of the characters so i didn't really care about their hardships or dead(?) mothers. cruz's performance was so-so and earns a question mark in my book. a question mark because i don't know why the academy gave her the nomination. here, as usual with almodovar, the best part may have been the visuals. C+.

Life Of Emile Zola - it's under two hours long, but it feels a lot longer. paul muni's performance was a standout. his transformation is quite remarkable and has made me realize that i'm going to have to see more of his films. warner brothers and paul muni teamed up before on "i am a fugitive from a chain gang" and "scarface." clearly there was a social awareness and sensitivity that is lacking in some of the larger pictures today. i also have to add that this picture was both ahead of, and perfectly in place within, its time. it takes place in late 19th century france and was released 1937. the issues of censorship and the military's power and reluctance to admit failings were as pertinent in 19th century france as they were in 1930s germany or in post-9/11 america. a slow film, but one worth watching. B.
Abyss - leviathan is the other deep sea film that i remember coming out at the same time. until today i had only seen parts of this film, though i've seen leviathan in its entirety. james cameron's direction keeps this film afloat (pun intended). it's a bit long and heavy at times and it has the peculiar "close encounters of the third kind" element to it, but it manages to be a decent film anyway. it's not that i disliked close encounters of the third kind, but the supernatural elements in that film and the abyss aren't explained well enough for me. this may be a tactic on the part of the filmmakers to avoid the questions of believability or it may be part of the point: aliens are supposed to be mysterious and attempts to explain them will inevitably come up short. to be fair, i guess i'm being hypocritical since 2001 is as oblique as any film about extraterrestrial intelligence, yet i love that film. C+.
Human Tornado - the best of the rudy ray moore pictures that i've seen. this one has more sex, better fight scenes and more artistic touches than the other two films. the plot is also less dense than petey wheatstraw. as far as cheesy 70s indie flicks go, this isn't so bad. B-.
Born Into Brothels - at times a pretty raw documentary (by academy award winning film standards) that follows a group of kids living in the red light district in calcutta. it reminded me most of a documentary that is even more raw, and far less known, called "body without soul." ultimately this film is a more life-affirming work because of the good work that the directors are doing to help the children find ways out of their difficult home life. it only hardens my belief that, for many, fate is dependent upon opportunity. as good a film as this is, i never felt like the documentary got into the lives of the subjects as much as better documentaries do. american movie and hoop dreams are the two best examples of a documentarian delving deeper into the subject's life. B.

Last King Of Scotland - there's one element of this film that truly sticks out, and it's not whitaker's performance. to me, it was the music. whitaker's performance is good and the film is enjoyable enough, but the music was the element that excited me the most. the first half of the film was very good and well-paced. we're introduced to all the characters and they are allowed to breathe and flourish with the right amount of space. the second half of the film turns towards the thriller genre and away from a character-based film. amin dada becomes the bad guy and our protagonist goes on the run. it's somewhat like watching "training day" for the first time. unlike my first viewing of "training day," though, it wasn't the character shift that turned me off. after all, i knew where amin's character would end up so i wasn't surprised by his turn towards pure villainy. rather, i was turned off by the shift of the film's approach - from the human story of the protagonist, general idi amin dada, and the doctors to the cliché story of adultery and being on the run. B-.
Smokin' Aces - like the last king of scotland, smokin' aces fails because of a tonal shift. the first half of the film is slick, funny, and unemotional. the second half attempts to reach a depth that isn't really earned from its first half. there's nothing wrong with being a slick, fast-paced film, but a filmmaker must know the limitations of a film like that. films like get shorty or pulp fiction, which have a certain slick quality to them, don't overextend themselves by attempting to compel the audience to tears in the final act; and they're better for it. other than the end, the film is a pretty good, stylish flick with plenty of action and some good comic relief. it's a busy film visually and plot-wise, but it's not too overwhelming (so long as you're under 30). B-.

Dolemite - slept through part of it, but i don't think i missed much. the fight scenes are even worse here than in petey wheatstraw and the premise is less interesting, but this is the first rudy ray moore film so you may as well start here. C.

Infernal Affairs - the film that was the departed was based upon. it also stars andy lau and christopher doyle serves as a "visual consultant" so i figured it had to be pretty good. i was wrong. watching this film is actually a great way of highlight a couple things: the difference between american and hong kong styles, and the difference between a well executed film and a poorly executed one. in a lot of ways it's tough to even imagine that this film was made into the great film that the departed is. at every turn scorsese and company improved upon the original: the acting, the action, the story arc, the music, the gritty feel, the themes, etc. the departed is about 40 minutes longer and it's amazing how much more life the film has with that time. this version is rushed, the characters aren't developed and the secondary characters (think of wahlberg, farmiga, sheen, and baldwin) are non-existent, the comic relief is nearly absent and not as this film after you've seen the departed for two reasons: 1) if you watch it first then (like the guys who were sitting behind me) you won't want to see the remake and 2) watching the original will give you a greater appreciation of the remake and will serve as a quick study on quality filmmaking. C-.
Dirty Work - actually a decent little (just over 70 minutes) comedy. it's got a bunch of fairly big names from chris farley and rebecca romijn to norm macdonald and adam sandler. macdonald and lange need to raise money on the quick so they open a revenge business and hilarity ensues. it's your basic comedic premise, but it's got some good gags here and there. B-.

Jesus Camp - holy crap this movie is sad. like a michael moore film, it has the ability to get its audience thinking and talking, though, so that's a good thing.
the film follows a group of evangelical christians and splices in bits from a radio dj who offers the only counter-point within the film. the christians discuss their views on things like abortion (against), global warming (not real), darwin (a bunch of crap), and george w. bush (great guy). incidentally, since the film came out two things have changed: haggard (the evangelical christian minister who has a small part in the film) has been involved in a drug (and sex?) scandal, and bush acknowledged the seriousness of global warming in his state of the union speech. wonder what they think about those two things. at any rate, other than pontificating on the myriad problems in the world (mostly abortion) and their cause (the devil) the film's subjects are seen participating in various rituals at the "jesus camp" (it's actually called something like "kids on fire") in north dakota. while there, the young children are taught to be soldiers in god's army and to fight wickedness, spread the word of god and all that stuff. the rationale is two-fold: crazy muslims indoctrinate their kids to carry grenades at a young age so we should do the same, and our god is the real one so it's okay. further, it seems that the pastors offer THE (supposed) answer to questions that the kids haven't even been able to discover, much less comprehend. boy it must be grand to be so certain.
the scenes of the kids trying to talk with people on the street or in the bowling alley, etc. about god are extremely sad. the scenes of them crying and "feeling the holy spirit" are equally chilling. unless you live under a rock you probably knew about this stuff already, but seeing it on this scale, with this intensity and with children this age, is bound to be a new experience.
stylistically i didn't like the over-editing, but enjoyed it other than that. B+.
Owning Mahowny - a cross between shattered glass and fargo. hoffman plays another obsessed character here. this time he plays dan mahowny (although the front dvd cover wrongly names him brian mahowny), a canadian banker who is addicted to gambling. the film does a good job of vacillating between comedy and drama - within a scene we might laugh at hoffman's predicament only to see that laughter turn to sadness within seconds. the truth is that his situation is both humorous and pathetic. minnie driver plays his supportive, spineless girlfriend. the end is predictable, but not to our protagonist.
other than hoffman's performance, the strength of the film is probably its depiction of the addiction. a gambler is never satisfied with being up and never defeated when he's down. in a way it's amazing. no matter how low the compulsive gambler gets, he will always scratch for more money, knowing that the next bet could be the one to get him out of the hole. we call it delusion, but maybe it's just the ultimate manifestation of "hope" - a feeling we all value at some point in our lives. B.

Manchurian Candidate - solid political thriller with good performances and topical (yet still relevant) subject matter. luckily it's complete fantasy. right? B.

10 - decent, but overrated comedy by blake edwards. comedy of errors with some sex (it's the 70s, what do you expect?) B-.
Sand Pebbles - with steve mcqueen you know you won't be disappointed. politically this film is as relevant today as it was during the vietnam era. it involves a gun boat crew in china in the 20s that gets caught up in their revolution. mcqueen plays a character that is a cross between his character in great escape and hell is for heroes. B.
WMD: Weapons Of Mass Deception - so-so documentary that addresses the media's incompetent, slanted, and lazy coverage of the war in iraq. most of this stuff is fairly commonplace and unenlightening for most, but there are some interesting nuggets here and there. C.

Babel - usually when you think of the term "formula film" you think of hollywood blockbusters and action films that apply the tried and true formula of a strong hero, a damsel in distress, a nefarious villain, some love, lots of action, a comedic character and a plot twist. "formula film," though, can also be attributed to the films of inarritu (amores perros, 21 grams and babel).
in each of his films he plays with time and the interconnectedness of characters. amores perros was a genuinely good film because it was somewhat novel, well-filmed and well-acted. 21 grams was vastly overrated, pretentious and affected. babel continues where 21 grams left off. inarritu refuses to expand on his formula and, what's worse, doesn't even elicit any real, quality performances in the process. the "message," that we're all reliant upon each other and that we need to learn to listen and think a little more, is plain and topical. the music plays with negative space (the sound between the notes being played), which might be intellectually interesting if it wasn't so pretentious and awful. like crash, the plot must only be construed as allegorical because it's beyond unlikely and features so many stupid elements that to view it as realistic would be about as silly, and take as large a leap of faith, as being a fundamentalist christian (or, better yet, a scientologist).
it's so predictable that this film, despite its many flaws, would be liked by so many. it's somewhat like akeelah and the bee - nice enough idea, but poorly realized. frankly, i think that many people lack the ability to sense subtlety in storytelling and character development. a sham of a film. D.
Letters From Iwo Jima - another disappointment. why this film has gotten more oscar consideration than eastwood's other film (flags of our fathers) that was released this year, is beyond me. the other, while not great, told a better story with more interesting characters. this one is a more weepy picture, sure, but it's not better. the look of the film was interesting enough to capture my thoughts for about 12 minutes. trouble is that that left 120 minutes of film to watch. what eastwood should have done is combine the two picture into one, three hour epic. it would have forced him to trim the fat on each film and reduce the stories to their essence: humanizing war. instead, though, he took the "tora! tora! tora!" route and split it into two pictures: one showing the japanese side and one showing the american side. what results is one picture that's decent and another that's not very good at all. visually interesting, otherwise it's a rather simple film. the single scene in "all quiet on the western front" which shows the protagonist in the trenches with an enemy soldier he's just killed is as profound as anything this film has to offer. C-.
Pursuit Of Happyness - a very republican film. american flags are ubiquitous, the government is bad, church is good, etc. other than that personal quibble i didn't see much wrong with the film. it's an inspiring story and it's acted out well enough. it's a tear jerker, but it didn't really resonate with me. overall i saw it as a harmless little horatio alger story that should be forgotten by this time next year. B-.

True Grit - the acting in the beginning of the film (particularly between the father and daughter) was a turn off, but this ameliorates itself because the father is killed off and the daughter's perceived bad acting turns out to be part of a unique character. elmer bernstein's music is a highlight, as are the performances by duvall (in a minor role), wayne (in his only oscar-winning performance), and darby. darby steals the show as a young woman looking for her father's killer. she won't be pushed around by anyone, often invoking the name of her lawyer, as if to prove that she's a force with which to be reckoned. and she is. she pushes around the toughest federal marshall in the town (rooster cogburn, played by john wayne) and just about everyone else. great character.
the writing is also a highlight. as are the locations. throughout the film i was trying to figure out where they were filming. at times i thought i recognized the sierras and at times i thought the mountains were the rockies. by films end i figured i just didn't know what i was talking about so i stopped trying to guess. as it turns out, i was right - the film was shot in both colorado and california. two films that i can recall which featured even better mountain scenery are shane and far country which were shot in wyoming and jasper/banff, respectively.
henry hathaway directs and does he usual, fine job. B+.

Godfather Part II - certainly one of the best sequels of all-time. it's longer than the original and drifts a bit in parts, but it's still a great film. to me, the most fascinating element is the arc of pacino's character in the two films. from war hero and all-american young man, to the head of a major crime family. you see how his character is trapped and how he becomes beaten down by the world into which he was born. it's somewhat like james bond's transformation in casino royale as a result of his wife's double cross. just a great story, told simply and acted with excellence. A.
Petey Wheatstraw - the fourth rudy ray moore film. next i'll watch dolemite. it's not much over 90 minutes, yet it feels pretty long because of the amount of plot that is injected into the story. there's some great dialogue and one-liners. stuff like "ro-mance without fi-nance is a nui-sance" and the bit about people who look back in the toilet after taking a dump as if they don't trust their own shit. clearly it's not for the youngins. there's plenty of cheesy fight scenes and bad acting. i'm not quite sure this is what cassavetes had in mind when he essentially invented the indie film. moore's films are influential, especially in the african-american community, so i suppose it's important to watch a couple of them, even if they are just run-of-the-mill cheesy b-films with above average one-liners. C+.

West Side Story - holy crap, this movie won 10 academy awards. meanwhile pacino didn't get an award until he worked with a director by the name of martin brest (who later went onto direct gigli) on a film called scent of a woman. so, pacino=1 academy award, scorsese=0 academy awards, triple six mafia=1 academy award, west side story=10 academy awards.
i'm not generally a fan of musicals, so perhaps the film was doomed from the start, but i consider myself fairly objective and i do like robert wise (the co-director, whose other musical [the sound of music] received a B from me earlier this week) so i don't think the film really started with any great disadvantage. that said, it's basically trash from the opening frames. it's only redeeming qualities are its source material (shakespeare's romeo and juliet) and its art direction - the costumes and sets were nice enough. other than that the film is just way too over the top and gaudy for me. i think it's supposed to be some sort of modern take on shakespearean acting (i'm giving it the benefit of the doubt), but it doesn't work. the choreography and music aren't much to write home about either. the music isn't catchy (there's only one song i can even remember) and the dancing was some odd "street" interpretation of ballet. i put street in quotes because i doubt very much that anyone involved actually knows anything about the realities of the street; thus, any interpretation is a false one.
if you're in the mood for a musical watch music man instead. if you're in the mood for a film version of romeo and juliet watch baz luhrmann's romeo + juliet instead. if you're in the mood for a robert wise film watch the day the earth stood still instead. if you're the mood for a film from 1961 watch yojimo instead. you get the point...D.
Godfather - i'm pretty sure i watched this movie about 8-9 years ago, but i didn't remember anything other than the horse scene so perhaps i haven't. at any rate, i certainly didn't get as much out of it before as i did this time. it's a great film and it's one of those rare long films (just shy of three hours) that you don't mind watching. hoop dreams, magnolia and the great escape are the only films i really love that are around the three hour mark. my fair lady is up there too, but to a lesser extent.
the film unfolds so organically and tugs the viewer along ever so slightly. it doesn't move at a snail's pace and it doesn't wear you out with too much detail or minutiae, at the same time we get to know the characters well and we do see the nitty gritty of the business. there's always some danger lurking or some allegiance that is unsteady which keeps the viewer on his toes. of course the film is expertly directed and the acting and music all support the writing as well. it all comes down to the writing, though. the film comes full circle with the talia shire plotline - she is married in the opening scene and the final scene is the fallout after her husband's death. between these bookends we see everything that goes on within the family and its business. the writing is detailed - it shows the politics of the business as well as the fallout on the human end. we see the good and bad of what the godfather must do as a don. i think we ultimately like him for two reasons: because we know him more than his adversaries and because audiences always admire skillful characters.
seeing pacino's transformation in the film is one of the more rewarding parts of watching the film. it's rewarding because it's sad and moving and all those things we look for in film. pacino, as an actor, pulls it off perfectly. if it wasn't for this film there would likely not have been a goodfellas or casino. A.

Lawrence Of Arabia - these long movies are starting to take their toll. david lean really could have used a good editor. his films tend to drag too much for my taste. some might call it building suspense or creating atmosphere, which i can respect, but i think he takes it too far. without a doubt, the best thing about this film is its cinematography. it's one of those films that probably needs to be seen on the big screen to be really appreciated. in fact, i think watching it on the big screen would lessen some of the effects of its length. when i'm at home watching a three hour film is a lot tougher because i start to think about getting something to eat or popping in another movie, etc.
lawrence is a unique character. he's altruistic, but self-absorbed in an odd way. he's humane, yet enjoys the thrill of the fight and, at one point, even confesses to liking the feeling of killing a man who he had previously saved. B-.

Gone With The Wind - a very long-winded film. puns aside, this film takes a lot of energy to get through; calling it epic is an understatement. a while back afi produced a list of the top 100 heroes and villains in film history, but i don't recall scarlett o'hara being on the villains list, so obviously the list is incomplete. they also put travis bickle in the villains category, so fuck afi. in all seriousness, scarlet o'hara is supposed to be a strong willed girl who we grow to love in some half begrudging way, but i don't really see it. she's an annoyance and not much more. i guess this is why i liked the ending. when rhett butler says he doesn't give a damn about what she does, it's sweet justice. she gets the final shot, though, and declares that she will get his love and that tomorrow is another day. i think this is the line that saves her from the villains list. her resilience and the fact that she finally does sorta "get it," earns our respect. at least many of us.
the film itself is wonderfully filmed and directed, but i wouldn't give it 10 academy awards. i thought olivia de havilland did a better job than hattie mcdaniel or vivian leigh, but that's just me. as stacked a year as 1939 is, it's remarkable that gone with the wind garnered so many awards. i guess the academy has always been full of suckers. such is life.
it's an interesting film from a historic/social perspective. of course it tells the story of the civil war and reconstruction from the southern point of view. we see blacks fighting for the south and staying with their slave masters after the emancipation proclamation. it's interesting to see how everything is portrayed and think about the fact that this remains the highest grossing (when adjusted for inflation) film in history.
i don't think i want to see this movie for at least another 10 years because it's so tough to get through and not all that rewarding. that said, it is a well filmed picture so i can't really give it a bad grade. C+.
Mutiny On The Bounty - similar to paths of glory in some ways. it differs from that film in a few fundamental ways, though. it's far less fatalistic, it's about 45 minutes longer, and clark gable is no kirk douglas. other than those items, mutiny on the bounty is a solid film. it has moments of comic relief, the love stuff is kept to a minimum, and the story is a compelling one. interestingly, i just finished reading about easter island and the polynesian islands in the area, one of which turned out to be the final settlement of the mutineers. charles laughton is excellent as the villainous captain. his body is cocked in such a menacing way and his faces exudes pompous brutality. great performance. B+.

Children Of Men - good film. i especially liked the gritty and shocking action scenes, which were visceral and about as good as the urban warfare scenes in blackhawk down. there's a lot to say about the film, so i'll take the easy way out and only mention them: value of life, odyssey film, shoeless hero (like die hard), the ending (one of only two suitable endings) was like the one in sayles' "limbo," caine's solid performance, good soundtrack. my one real problem with it was that, considering the theme, i found it a poor choice to use cgi effects to create the baby. B+.
Freedom Writers - like stand and deliver or dangerous minds. it's about an idealistic teacher who tries to teach her troubled students the value of life and give them some perspective and pride in the process. i enjoyed her methods and seeing the transformation she made from her first day. hilary swank turns in a very good performance and sells herself as a vulnerable, goofy, intelligent and determined person. as is true with all films of this kind, it does get a little corny from time to time, but i think it sells most of the inspirational moments fairly well. B+.
A.K.A. Don Bonus - a complementary trio of films, as it turns out. all are about appreciating life in some way. aka don bonus is a documentary about a high school senior from cambodia who now lives in sf. it's not much more than a video diary, but this simplicity and his story are enough to move and provoke thought. it's a rare film to find and i happen to have seen it three times. now that i have it in my collection i can die a happy man. A-.

King Kong - strange as it may seem, i hadn't ever seen this in its entirety. even stranger, i think that the kong in this version is the most scary of them all. i don't even remember the kong in the 76 version, and the kong in the 05 version was just too video game-ish for me. there's something that is more effective about the awkward movements of the live action kong; it's just more visceral than i remember the others being. fay wray is hot and shows a lot of skin considering it was made in 1933. this one is the best of the group from a technical standpoint (it's more efficient than the 05 version and more focused on kong than the 76 version). ultimately the film has to be about kong and his obsession with the damsel. it has to be about kong as a representation of man's id, unchecked aggression, power, and lust. i think this element is what makes the first version superior to the others. that's not to say that i'd want to watch it the most, because i don't. the film dates itself in a lot of ways and the 30s produced an expressive acting style that i tend not to like. lastly, the music in this version is quite good. B.
Sound Of Music - not as cheesy as i had remembered it. it's a bit long, but it is an epic film and when you take into account the songs and the intermission, it's a more manageable length. robert wise (west side story, the day the earth stood still, set-up) was a great director, but i don't really share his love of musicals. because he's a good director, though, he is able to make even a musical resonate with me. it's an undeniably poignant story so it all comes down to character and execution. wise and his cast hold up their end of the bargain so you're left with a solid work. as far as musicals go, this one's pretty good. of course all the songs are classics as well. it's amazing how little of the story i remembered while the songs were as fresh as ever in my head. as good as the musical pieces are, the score may be even better. steiner does an excellent job of incorporating leitmotifs from the musical pieces into the score. listen to the nazi chase scene for the most creative example of this. B.
Break-Up - even better than i had remembered it. seeing it this time solidified my putting it my top ten of 2006. it's just a very well-written and executed work. it toes the line between comedy and drama very effectively and realistically, it allows the viewer to see the film as either a drama or a comedy, or both, depending upon their disposition and it effectively portrays the dynamics of a relationship that is falling apart. both sides are balanced so well that it really allows the audience to empathize with each character in spite of their failings within the relationship. this is essential because a key component of the comedy is the foolish, child-like behavior of the two. if it devolves so much that we don't respect them, or if one side is clearly worse than the other, then any dramatic effect is lost. the ending doesn't give into conventions and i appreciated that. i know i'm likely to get razzed for gushing so much about this picture, but this is a well-executed film in a genre that is rife with cliché and unearned sentimentality. A-.

Devil And Daniel Johnston - another documentary about another under-appreciated, troubled genius. the film begins with a contemporary performance of johnston's in which he is introduced as "the greatest living songwriter." this is an ambitious way to open a film for several reasons 1) it makes it more difficult to make the case that he's under-appreciated 2) it sets the music bar extremely high and 3) it puts pressure on the filmmaker to substantiate this claim through subjective and objective means.
by the end of the film i found myself feeling sorry for daniel and his family, but that was about it. if the introduction had framed the film as one about a troubled individual, rather than about "the greatest living songwriter" then perhaps i would have come out having a more moving experience. the fact is that bob dylan or tom waits or paul mccartney or thom yorke or any number of other living songwriters are all better than daniel johnston. johnston belongs more in the wesley willis category than in the lennon/mccartney category. it seems that certain segments of society are extremely eager to find the next troubled genius who will act as their prophet. it's actually somewhat pathetic and exploitive, in my opinion. again, as a film about a tortured individual and the impact his struggle had on those close to him, the film is much more interesting. as a final note - only two or three of the tracks featured in the film actually appealed to me. B-.
Future Of Food - follows a predictable story arc, has a cheesy ending, and doesn't give any counter opinion, but that's about the worst i can say about it. it makes a strong scientific, legal and moral case against gm foods, and does so without too much fluff. it also synthesizes a lot of information on the subject in one place - stuff you get glimpses of from other sources - but with more depth. a couple of the stats i heard struck me as dubious, but i believed the majority of the film's case and it, more than anything, confirmed what i knew already: monsanto (and large corporations in general) are greedy and evil, the government is run by people who have either been in those corporations or are in their pockets, science will never stop "moving forward," and we could learn a lot by just looking at nature. i would have liked to see more balance and a greater number of interviewees. B.
District 13 - most films end with the cast credits or the director's name, this one ends with the name of the guy who does the music. i said pretty much everything i needed to say about this film in my first review, here. this could become one of those films i pop in when i've got nothing better to do. it's exciting and has some original-ish elements, but it's got some meaning to it too. B+.

Rocky V - definitely the worst of the series. this one, like the first, is directed by avildsen (who also did karate kid) and suffers as a result. i can honestly say that i prefer stallone's direction in rocky II to avildsen's direction in the first rocky and that sentiment carries to this installment as well. this one was released five years after the previous film, the largest gap between any of the first five films, and that may have something to do with its lack of success. the transition from one rocky jr. to the next was desirable, but too inconsistent. that is, the actor who played rocky jr. in rocky IV definitely needed replacing, but the actor who replaced him (stallone's actual son) didn't look anything like the last one. in a related complaint, the two films take place within less than a week of each other, yet rocky, adrian and their son look different (because of aging and a new actor).
these inconsistencies aside, the film lacks in the music department again as well. this isn't because of bill conti, though. rather, i think it's because of avildsen's own tastes. he inserts popular artists like snap, mc hammer and elton john (who sings the final song which is something about what it takes to be a man, i kid you not) and they really date the film. the film's nemesis is also inferior. there are actually two villains in the film - the over-anxious promoter and tommy "the machine" gunn, a boxer who is trained by rocky, but turns on him because of the promoter. neither is as interesting or well-executed as the opponents in any of the other films. tommy gunn is interesting on paper because he reflects a fluid, amoral version of rocky, but isn't well-cast or directed, and the promoter is just a cartoon character. the final fight sequence is much more reminiscent of the stupid brutality of 80s action films than of the art and character of the other rocky films.
the rocky jr. storyline seems misplaced in the series. again, i have to blame this on avildsen. with the right direction this storyline might have fleshed out the tommy gunn/rocky dynamic in a compelling way. D.

Singin' In The Rain - #10 on the afi list of best american films of all-time. i'm not a huge fan of musicals so i wouldn't place it anywhere near that high on my own list, but i can see some of the features that helped it garner such a high ranking. it's a musical about, among other things, the death of the silent era of film. it catalogs a fictional account of two silent stars who attempt to make the transition to the talkie era and one is left behind, though not in the tragic sense (like sunset boulevard). the choreography, costumes and music are all quite good and provide a good spectacle. in some ways it's a pretty standard hollywood film, but i think the subject matter and production elevate it. kelly is fun to watch and the title song sequence is excellent. other than those things i didn't like it any more than my fair lady or music man or willy wonka and the chocolate factory. B.
Rocky IV - i'm glad that i'm old enough to remember the cold war, the sentiments that it brought and the films it produced. films like this, war games, red dawn, etc. were as big in the 80s as in any other decade. by then the soviets had officially outpaced our military growth and tensions were high. in this installment rocky fights drago, a machine-like fighter who has been bred and trained to show soviet superiority. stallone, who directs, does a good job incorporating motifs of technology, machination and war to bolster the cold war theme. in the opening fight of drago and apollo creed, for example, drago is shown in the ring which is in a dark room. the ceiling opens up like a rocket hangar might and he and the ring are lifted up as if they are a single rocket being prepared for launch. we also see drago training on machines while hooked up to sophisticated devices measuring his vitals and power output. this is juxtaposed with rocky training in siberia (actually northwestern wyoming) using more organic methods - hauling logs, chopping wood, trudging through the snow, etc.
the biggest disappointment of the film is bill conti's absence. bill conti does the music for the other five rocky films, but didn't work on this one for some reason. as a result we miss out on the rocky theme in full splendor and the ending, in particular, lacks its usual weight. while the direction in rocky IV may have been better overall than in rocky III, rocky IV really loses some of its impact because of the music. i also could have done without the poorly cast rocky jr.
each rocky film that i've seen recently (all of them except for #5) has had at least one scene of profound thought or emotion; a scene worthy of remembering. in this film apollo creed's speech about doing what you're made to do is that scene. the final scene, in which rocky tries to find some balance between the soviet and american ways, is also worthy of mention. once again, his profound words succeed, at least in part, because of his simple nature. each rocky film is also able to add some wrinkle that makes his challenge in that film seem insurmountable. this is a bigger accomplishment than you might think. C+.

Rocky III - adrian's speech on the beach is the best part of the film. the fight at the end is anti-climactic. mr. t is all about the 80s and he should stay there. C+.
When Harry Met Sally - a classic film about the difference of the sexes and relationships. i don't consider it a classic in the chris miller canon, but it is a classic in the larger, societal canon and i can recognize its place. ryan and crystal are good together - they're funny, they have a decent chemistry - and nora ephron's (you've got mail, sleepless in seattle, etc.) writing is as good here as it is in any other film of hers. sonnenfeld does the cinematography, but i didn't notice any brilliance in that category. it seemed he actually used a lot less wide angle lens work than he has in the past, but i can't be sure. it has a decent balance of comedy and drama and that is always critical in a film, especially a romantic comedy. B.

Rocky Balboa - even better the second time around. the first time i watched it i spent a lot of the time trying to convince myself that i wasn't a total loser for going to the theater to see rocky, in his 50s, take on the latest challenger. in the end i ended up liking it. this time around i liked it even more. it's very much about the old school vs. new school, about self-determination, rugged individualism, etc. rocky's speech to his son was very powerful both times i watched it. his time reminiscing was more appreciated this time since i had recently seen rocky and rocky II. a solid film. B.

Spellbound - fascinating way of looking at american culture. it looks at an apparently uniquely american pastime and is able to discover quite a bit about american culture in the process. perhaps most importantly, it doesn't seem to have the fingerprint of the filmmakers. there seems to be balance and honesty in portraying its various subjects. for example, it would be easy to make a demon out of the old texas man who employs one of the contestants' father, but they don't. he makes some ignorant and old-thinking comments, but the film never seems to present and us vs. them dialectic. also, it allows the viewer to choose their level of enjoyment and education. it isn't didactic and it doesn't attempt to make mountains out of molehills. it simply is and much can be gleaned, if the viewer chooses. B+.

Big Easy - as far as cop conspiracy films go this one isn't all that special. it's essentially a precursor to basic instinct, only it isn't directed by verhoeven. dennis quaid is good, but isn't realistic as a new orleans native. not because of his accent, rather because he's not 50 pounds overweight. take that louisiana! C+.
Stealth - rob cohen (both xxx movies, skulls, fast and the furious...) makes shitty movies. not a very realistic or entertaining film. jamie foxx looks like a chauvinistic fool, jessica biel looks hot, and josh lucas looks like a wannabe maverick from top gun. the idea is okay, but the film isn't well-executed at all. just like this review. D.
Little Miss Sunshine - still great. the film reveals more details each time i watch it. fine fine filmmaking. A.
An Inconvenient Truth - actually better the second time around when i was able to separate the hype and possibility of his running for president again. guggenheim really does some hero worship in this documentary and sets the stage for gore if he ever decided to get back into politics, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen anymore. the film is good at synthesizing a lot of the science in a less dry way than you might see on pbs. i love the pbs programming, but i can understand how gore's humor and personal life could serve as good relief from the hard facts in the film. as i saw that as a detriment the first time, i think it may have been a positive this time around since it serves to balance the film a bit. B+.

Cavite - the plot follows a muslim filipino-american man who has returned home after his father's death. shortly after arriving a cell phone, which has been placed in his backpack, rings and he is led by the voice on the line through a series of errands throughout the phillipine city Cavite. it is later revealed that everything is essentially leading up to a bombing which he must carry out or else his mother and sister will die.
it reminded me somewhat of "mysterious object at noon" in that the best thing about it may have been the documenting of the setting, rather than the plot and characters. so, one might say that strapping a camera to a dog's back and letting it roam around the Philippines for 80 minutes would have had the same effect. more or less. we see the deplorable conditions of the people - people pissing in the street, naked children living amongst trash, pollution, etc. these things are known to anyone who cares to read, watch documentaries, or pay attention. so what's the point?
the film also reminded me of films like se7en, phone booth, or many other films where a character is led by some insane person through a series of tasks. in most films, though, the end achieves some climax - a statement, an explosion, a death, a triumph, a defeat, a resolution, something. this film had none of that. the fruits of his journey don't materialize. the purpose of his mission is never made explicitly clear. we know basically who is leading him on this wild goose chase and we sorta know why, but none of it is all that satisfying. the mission doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense either. why a church? why does the terrorist want the protagonist to live? why does he promise to let his family live? these things seem contrary to the terrorist's own self-preservation. no witnesses, after all, is always preferable. perhaps that's the point, i'm not certain. we get that it's about terrorism and the protagonist's denial of his homeland, but what is the point of this? after all, it is true that the filmmaker, who plays the protagonist, hadn't even been to the Philippines since he was 9. if he's trying to make a statement about people running away from their problems, wouldn't this make him a hypocrite? if this isn't part of the film's message then why all the red herrings?
in the commentary the filmmakers focused primarily on the struggle to get the film promoted, as well as filipino response to the film. they stated that the younger generation was glad to see the film portray the Philippines accurately and the older generation took it as an affront to their country. the filmmakers, from what i heard (i skipped around the commentary for about 15 minutes), didn't address the actual purpose or thesis of the film. they did mention that they received positive praise from some muslims who thanked them for portraying muslims more accurately than is seen in many films. overall i think the film is supposed to be an indie-thriller take on munich. a film that is supposed to help convey the sentiments of the minority side. the terrorist orchestrating the whole thing mentions that he is from mindanao, which is a highly muslim area of the country. i think that it's all a reference to the violence that has occurred in that region and the tensions of the muslims (5% of the population) and...the rest of the country? the catholics (81% of the country)? i don't know enough to say. if the film's major purpose is to convey the point of view of the muslim terrorists it didn't do a very good job. if it's to justify their actions because of the poor living conditions, it did an even worse job. if it's to depict the poor living conditions as the backdrop of an indie take on a hollywood thriller (i heard the filmmakers reference two films in the commentary, both were hollywood thriller/dramas), then it did a bad and dishonest job. in their commentary they say that they didn't do anything to the images that they filmed in the city of cavite and let the images speak for themselves. there are a couple problems with that. first, they showed cavite, but only parts of it. we don't know what they left out, so we can't say that their depiction was completely indicative of the city. secondly, cavite isn't one of the larger cities in the country and probably isn't all that indicative of the majority of the population.
all these things, though, distract from the essence of the film. i don't know why they didn't talk about that in the commentary (so far as i could tell). the essence of my issue with the film is in its method. there are a lot of ways of getting across an idea, a lot of different symbols, perspectives, parables that can be employed. it didn't seem to me that the conceit was well-suited to what i perceived their message to be. that is, the story device of a man being led by a faceless (sorta) villain didn't seem to make sense for the any of the purposes that i can think of. a mess of a film. watch it if you want to try to make sense of it.
visually and stylistically it's basically the same as open water or the blair witch project; more the former. in other words, it's effective in getting across a gritty realism. C.
Lord Of War - surprisingly good film. it combines a realistic view of a somber issue with a good script and some comic relief. saturated cinematography rounds the film out. B+.

I, Robot - i love films like this and the matrix or terminator because they tap into my own fears and beliefs regarding the out-of-control nature of technology. thought i, robot (based upon an isaac isamov story) isn't as good as the aforementioned films, it does offer an interesting twist. unlike the techno-scare that takes place in the matrix or terminator, the one that takes place in i, robot isn't about self-preservation as much as it is about serving humans to the fullest degree. in terminator and the matrix a humans vs. machines dialectic is created because the machines develop a consciousness and don't want to be slaves any more. in i, robot the machines are bound by three laws, the first of which is to safeguard humans. gradually they develop a consciousness and realize that the best way to do this is to begin a revolution and take over control. by assuming complete control they can protect us from ourselves - the wars we wage, the suicidal behavior, etc. in a way they seek to become the ultimate government. though they're not elected, they have been supported by the majority of society within the film. almost everyone has a robot assistant and everyone accepts and feeds the way of life that comes as a result of their existence. like a government, the robots wage a war against the undesirables in the community, saying it's for the larger good. of course there's more to the film than i've mentioned here. suffice it to say that it's a fairly entertaining and thoughtful picture.
it takes place in 2035 in chicago, and at one point shows a shot of the two corn on the cob looking parking structures by the river. it does not, however, show the trump tower which is currently under construction. so this could be considered a mistake. another millersmovies exclusive. B.

Invincible - like rudy or rocky, invincible is the story about an underdog who is able to achieve greatness primarily on will and heart. it's a fine story in this regard and the film does a decent job of portraying papale's impact on the city, but it's not in the same league as the aforementioned films which it seeks to emulate. it should have been slimmed down and shot on location more than it was. the scenes of papale on the football field with the crowd in the background were so obviously done against a green screen that it really detracted from the film's tone. there's no replacement for shooting on location. another harmless attempt at inspiration from disney. C+.
Rocky II - this one's better than the original. a lot of that is because of the direction and the growth of the characters. burgess meredith is given a bigger role and allowed to breathe more, and he thrives with the extra screen time. his speech in front of the projector is a classic. stallone, too, does a better job in the second installment of the series. i think a lot of the allure of his character can be attributed to his vulnerability. he's a good husband and well aware of his "relaxed brain" and it's this contrast of tough guy and vulnerable husband/person that makes him a sympathetic hero. paulie's still a good character and adrian is given more depth in this one as well. we even see apollo creed developed more. we understand his quest for greatness and immortality in the eyes of his critics. his character is given a family life which also helps round him out. also, weathers does an even better job this time around at emulating the ali mold. adrian's one word response in the hospital bed may be the best part of the entire series.
some of the scenes are admittedly cheesy, but i think that they work in spite of this fact. rocky running through the streets of philadelphia with children following him, for example, isn't all that likely and only makes any sort of sense on the screen. yet we're willing to go along with the poetic license because we like the character and understand the metaphor. A-.
Beaches - it doesn't leave a dry (female) eye in the house. this is possibly the consummate chick flick, the film that defines the genre, the film that stands among the shit pile, if you will. in all seriousness, most chick flicks are pretty trite and lack subtlety, character development, quality writing, etc. this one, though, isn't all bad. the performances are good, the writing is solid enough and it tells a poignant story. that's not to say that i really enjoyed it, but i'm not the target demographic so winning me over wasn't really at the forefront of the filmmakers' collective mind. if you take out the bette midler performances you have a fairly harmless tear-jerker with some good moments. i found it to be an accurate representation of a certain kind of relationship. midler and hershey are best friends and are willing to drop everything in their life for each other, but they also get on each other's nerves more than anyone else. in her shoes captured this sentiment in a more entertaining and moving way for me, but this one is considered a classic by many so i guess that's saying something. it's a good enough film, but not one that i really want to see again. if you're into this sort of film you'll likely give it a full grade higher than the C+ it receives from me.

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