Curious Case Of Benjamin Button - easily fincher's worst film yet. from a technical standpoint the film is intriguing and successful, but from an enjoyment standpoint the film is dull, overblown, uninteresting, and sinks under its own weight. the best thing about the film's script is the conceit of a man born old and aging backwards throughout his life. it's a great idea full of (unrealized) potential. pitt isn't very good and blanchett was also uninspiring. pitt's character was interesting for a while and then just slipped into obscurity. it was almost as if he was sleepwalking through the film at times. the character had no presence, i honestly couldn't tell you what his (or her) motivations were. i also didn't see the point in having the voiceover narration. this just marks another great contemporary director laying an egg (p.t. anderson being the other). C-.
General's Daughter - not an entirely bad film that was reminiscent of a few good men, "with a little sex in it." madeline stowe is good looking, but not a very good actress. C+.
Doubt - better than i expected from a film made as much for the academy as anyone else. it's got big time actors, a star editor, casting director, cinematographer and composer...all of whom i'm pretty sure have been involved with academy nominated films in the past. all three of the stars did fine jobs with the roles, but the real star is the writing. shanley does a good job of leaving the doubt as perfectly centered between streep and hoffman as possible. in this way there is some artifice to the film - it's a purposefully ignorant omniscient point of view that we get. i suppose some could be bothered by this, but it's just part of the fun. a good conversation film. B+.
A Christmas Story - best christmas film there is. it's also probably the best film about childhood. it starts with the writing, but everything else is damn good as well. A+.
Bad Santa - great christmas film for those who don't have a conscience, like me. A.
Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell Of Fear - funny enough slapstick movie. some jokes only make sense if you were around at the time to get the pop culture references. B.
Step Brothers - really funny apatow production. it's about family and following your dreams and staying in touch with that immature side of yourself that keeps you grounded. of course it's also about john c. reilly and will ferrell being wacky. they play really well off each other and mckay knows how to let them loose in just the right way. richard jenkins got some oscar buzz with his performance in the visitor, but he's basically just as good as the father in this film. great performances. B+.
Freaky Friday - definitely a disney picture because of the happy ending and peachy outlook on life, but it's not a boring or overly sweet pic either. the leads (jodie fisher and barbara harris) are both quite good. it's a nice idea for a film, wish it could happen. B.
Sudden Fear - great noir starring joan crawford and jack palance. crawford is great as a wealthy playwright who fires a young actor (palance) for not being good looking enough. she meets this actor later, on a train on her way from nyc to sf, and they become bonded despite their initial meeting. it turns out that palance is playing her the entire time and has his eyes set on her money. gloria grahame plays a femme fatale who is an old fling of palance's who shows up mid-film to move his plans into fast forward. crawford becomes aware of the plan and comes up with a plan of her own. it's great stuff with some nice performances and fine direction. never heard of the film until i pulled it out of my noir stack and popped it in. underrated gem from a director (david miller) who hasn't done much i've heard of (lonely are the brave is the only other film of his i've seen). B+.
Advise & Consent - starts off slow and far too full of names and positions. preminger is trying to give us the impression of energy and movement, but it's just overwhelming, especially for someone like me who isn't very good with names. after the first 30 minutes, though, the film settles into the political thriller/commentary film that it is. it gets into the red scare stuff that was big at the time as well as gay scare (?) stuff that is more relevant today. plenty of big names in the cast. pidgeon, fonda, and charles laughton are all very good. laughton was an actual homosexual, but was playing a southern senator who was using mccarthy-esque tactics against fonda in the hopes that he wouldn't be approved as secretary of state. good film if you can get through the first 30 minutes. B.
Beach - unfortunately this film was essentially what i thought it was going to be. other than the hot french chick this movie doesn't have much going for it. i decided to watch it because slumdog millionaire made me remember how good danny boyle can be so i figured i'd give this one the benefit of the previous doubt. leo didn't do much and the script meanders about without really engaging the audience. the ending is completely flat. boyle usually does a good job with music, but this one featured some standards off of moby's "play." C.
Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory - best musical ever? worth asking the question. wilder really makes the film amazing. wilder and the set design, that is. the carpenters should be commended for custom making some truly wacky sets and devices. visionary. A+.
Wings - the first academy award winning best picture and the last of the 80 that i needed to see. it's a good film. a bit long and i'm not in love with silent films in general, but it's enjoyable with a good story. like many best picture winners after it, it takes place during a war and is longer than the average film released at the time. gary cooper is in it, which i didn't know, but he is on screen for about 4 minutes before he dies. it's directed by william wellman. clara bow is great. it's a precode film and you can tell, but it's not over the top. there's some great camerawork and even better effects in the film that really make it enjoyable and modern beyond its 1927 production date. it shows the ills and honors of war with equal balance and i don't have any problem with it beating out metropolis for best picture. B+.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall - one of the better films of the year. it is generally seen as a lesser apatow production, but i think it belongs in the same breath as knocked up and 40 year old virgin because of the unfunny parts of the film. some films are hilarious and nothing else, but i think that apatow follows in the hughes tradition by making his funny films about something more than just laughs; and is able to pull it off. whether it's family or friends or relationships, these comedies are held up by more than just laughs.
the breakup scene in this one is a classic. the feelings that seigel's character has throughout the picture regarding his ex are, i think, true to life for the most part. things are exaggerated and some of the plot is literal for comedic effect, but it touches upon the real feelings real people have when they go through a breakup like this. the film effectively captures both sides of the breakup, too, which is seldom seen in the standard chick flick or guy flick. B+.
English Patient - it's not awful, but it's not the best picture of 1996 either. it's a bad film with bad writing and acceptable acting. somehow it pulled off 12 nominations and something like 9 wins that year. one of them was for costume design, which is funny because this film is the only film where i can recall having seen an open stitch on a garment (about half way through when thomas fakes fainting so she can go fuck fiennes). go figure. fiennes manages to look remarkably good in spite of the fact that he's tramping through the north african desert all day long. he's always got the same perfect 5 o'clock shadow and slicked back hair with plenty of body. it's hilarious. at 2hrs 40mins it's a tough one to get through, but it's not the toughest cinematic opponent i've faced.
i'm one film away from having seen all 80 academy award winning best pictures. D.
Day The Earth Stood Still - the problem with remaking amazingly good films like the original version of this film is that you're screwed no matter what you do. if you remake it as closely as possible (as van sant did with psycho) then you're just wasting energy redoing what has already been done better than you can do. if you alter it drastically (as this one does) then you're going to get questions about why you screwed with a perfect formula. so the obvious answer is to just stop remaking films that have been done well. you don't play monday morning quarterback after phil simms goes 21/25 in the superbowl and wins the game. so, how about you asshole writers out there start remaking films that had good ideas, but didn't execute them well? just a thought.
reeves is no rennie, that's for sure. he's cast well enough for some of the (big) changes they made to the character, but he's still no rennie.
there are several big changes that they made over the original: the ending doesn't leave with the same ambiguous ending that the original does. sure, our fate is still unknown, but the original film's ending is almost a question to the audience: what will our future be? in this version the ending is more like a statement: you're getting a second chance. doesn't have the same effect, not by a long shot. another big change comes in klatu's character. in the original he's much less menacing and far more inquisitive. in this version he's more destructive and on a mission. it completely changes the dynamic between him and the kid (smith) and the woman (connelly). in this version the kid's character is written like a spoiled asshole. in the original he's written like a typical kid who is just curious about this new father-figure in his life. this version had a lot more special effects and explosions than the original and actually says a lot about filmmaking then vs. now. C+.
Frost/Nixon - fairly boring flick about the interview between nixon and frost in the late 70s. the film's essential thesis is that we should watch the last two hour interview between nixon and frost. the film all but explicitly states that the first three were worthless and that even the last one was meaningful only because of the way television distorts reality by allowing us to remember people and events in the context of sound bites. too bad howard didn't save me two hours by just telling me to watch the last interview of the series. i'll save you the time: skip this and watch the last interview which is available on dvd right now. C+.
Black Angel - good noir about an alcoholic (duryea) who unwittingly kills his wife in a drunken rage. the film is all about him realizing what he's done by investigating her murder in order to free the husband of a woman (vincent) he's interested in. duryea is solid, vincent wasn't stellar. had the female lead been played by someone like bacall this would be a really great film. B+.
Cavalcade - another academy award winning best picture. this one reminded me a bit of mrs. miniver or all quiet on the western front. it's an anti-war film told from the perspective of a british family. none of the characters really grabbed me which hampered the film's ability to resonate with me. gabriel over the white house was the real best picture of the year, this one wasn't even close. C+.
Milk - at its core it's a film about human rights and a grassroots political movement; that's the interesting part. all the personal stuff with milk's various lovers and white's possible closeted homosexuality are fairly uninteresting. penn was better than expected and brolin was decent, most of the other performances were fine enough. van sant over-directed it at times for my tastes, but it's a solidly written story by dustin lance black (former mormon who wrote some episodes of big love). disappointed by exclusion of homosexual women in the film and, apparently, in the movement at the time. also didn't know some of the specifics of milk's rise to power - his selling out vis a vis his image, the re-writing of the districts which allowed him to finally win an election, etc. the film also painted dan white in a more sympathic light than the documentary did. showed him as a more reasonable person who grew angry with milk's rise to power. the implication here is that white was a closeted homosexual who felt castrated by the mayor and flamboyant homosexual in harvey milk. in the end he kills himself after a short stint in jail. a tragic story all around. B.
Brute Force - less than stellar jules dassin noir. it has some great moments, but i wasn't in love with the characters so it never reached the level of night and the city or thieves' highway. interestingly, one of the scenes is filmed in the same location as black angel (another universal noir) which i started re-watching last night. liked the themes and the direction, but the characters needed work. B.
Where The Sidewalk Ends - noir about a cop who uses his strong arm tactics one too many times and ends up killing a guy. in a panic, he covers up the crime and spends the rest of the film trying to dig himself out of the hole. it's a familiar plot executed well by andrews, tierney, and preminger. of course you know how it ends, but it's great seeing andrews squirm at first and then change in the end. tierney is beautiful and soft at usual. B+.
Money Pit - this pic used to be on basic cable all the time. watched it again in anticipation of a home purchase on the horizon...i'm rethinking this whole home ownership thing. seriously, though, it's a really funny film in the middle. the beginning takes a while to get warmed up and the end is all about wrapping up the loose ends of the plot. hanks is great. B+.
No Way Out - good noir about a black doctor (poitier) who has a patient die on his watch and is then accused by the patient's brother (widmark) of deliberately killing him. it sinks its teeth into a lot of racial stuff and gets pretty ugly at times (widmark is pure vitriol), but i think that's how racism manifested itself at the time. B+.
Die Hard - not as great as the last time i saw it. A+.
Boy In The Striped Pajamas - at its core it's just another film about the holocaust. the twist that everyone seems to love about this one is that it's told from the perspective of a little boy. schindler's list, as i recall, was told from the perspective of just about everyone and that's why it's the definitive picture on the much-filmed about topic. the ending is at least halfway predictable (all the jews die), but it was surprising to see the non-jew protagonist die as well. ultimately, i was never very invested in any of the characters. the boy and the mother were the most interesting because they were either innocent or caught in the middle of the extremes. that's the problem with a lot of these films - they tend towards the easy stereotypes: the humble victimized jew and the evil blond-haired nazi. das boot is a film that recognizes that not all germans were jew-burning nazis. C+.
Twilight - directed by catherine hardwicke (thirteen, lords of dogtown), this teeny flick does absolutely nothing for older or intelligent viewers. i thought thirteen was pretty good, but lords of dogtown looked pretty crappy and this one was truly crappy. it glorifies stupid teenage love and the animalistic urges that we all have when we're at our most ape-like (our teenage years). i went into the film hoping i'd like it and glean something from the vampires as societal outcasts theme, but i didn't. i've never been much of a fan of the vampire genre and this one certainly didn't win me over. vampires seem like a good vehicle for social commentary, but i've yet to see one that really maximizes the potential. D-.
Slumdog Millionaire - great film. it's occurred to me that many of the films i love are just outside of realistic. my top three could be considered lies of some sort and this one tells a lie in its own way. sure, they're all plausible on some level, but they each stretch the truth or stylize it to dramatic effect. that's one of the things that film can do so well.
danny boyle is one of those directors whose work falls into the must see category. whenever he has a new film i do my best to check it out. i haven't seen beach or millions, but i've seen the rest of his feature films, including the made for tv "vacuuming completely nude in paradise." i love what he does in part because it's always something new. horror, straight-up comedy, junkie brit grit, etc. word has it that his dream is to make a musical; i'd even watch that if it came to fruition.
it's said that everything you've done in your life has led to this point. it's true and can be occasionally depressing, but this idea is at the crux of slumdog millionaire. boyle weaves the past and present together well and, for the most part, maintains the momentum. films about fate can sometimes come off as trite, especially if the characters aren't well presented. here, though, boyle presents us with great characters and uses the game show as an interesting plot device to bring about a familiar ending. it's a life-affirming film with a great balance of comedy and the kind of drama no one i'll ever meet will know. one of the three best of the year. B+.
Hamlet - i don't think it was the best film of the year, but it is the best film version of a shakespeare work that i've seen. actually, i can't imagine any rendition of the play being any better than this. olivier is old for hamlet, but he's olivier and there probably isn't anyone better at shakespeare than him. the language and plot are shakespeare's so i won't review that here. the film, though, is olivier's and is the only thing that should be judged in this case. he moves the camera well and gives great breadth to hamlet's character. i can't recall the play very well, but it felt as though olivier played hamlet as more of a punk than the play let on. i'm not sure about the ending in the film, i think it differs slightly from the play in that he kills the king with his sword. could be wrong there. excellent use of depth of field and camera movement are what set the film apart as a film rather than just a filmed play.
i've seen all but three academy award winning best pictures at this point. A-.
Somewhere In The Night - reminded me of memento, but is also like moontide and black angel in that the protagonist can't really remember his role in a dastardly deed. the film is primarily driven by the mystery caused by the protagonist's amnesia and it keeps things interesting throughout. the acting isn't great. hodiak reminds me a bit of a poor man's vincent price. richard conte is reliable as usual. part of the film takes place by the waterfront and the lead man ends up being a private detective (though we/he don't know this until the last scene). nice noir. B+.
Sands Of Iwo Jima - felt like a john ford-directed film. what was the point of clint eastwood making two more films on this? best line: "that's what war is - trading real estate for men." B.
Moontide - like black angel or the lost weekend. not very good overall in spite of the good performers. gabin turns in a dud and lupino's character is flat. interesting only because it falls into the subgenre of alcohol noirs. in this one we know the protagonist gets drunk the night of a murder, but we're not sure whether he committed the murder or not. C.
Pushover - like rear window meets double indemnity. novak isn't as good as stanwyck and the writing isn't nearly as good, but it's a solid pic nonetheless. solid noir. B.
Paradine Case - fairly average hitchcock flick. it felt a bit like rebecca when peck goes to mrs. paradine's home. the twist in the end wasn't all that fantastic. C+.
Four Christmases - good idea with so-so execution. wasn't thrilled by witherspoon's performance. vaughn did a decent job, but the writing wasn't up to snuff. more potential here than was realized. B-.
Transporter 3 - not as good as the second one, don't think i've seen the first one. the villain is pretty good and that's always key in these films. yuen povides some good fight choreography. the female lead was more annoying than attractive. C+.
Love Story - great film that wasn't quite as good the second time around. sappy to some and brilliant to others. i think that the main musical theme is the back bone of the film. i liked the use of profanity, especially from ali macgraw. the chemistry and abrasive relationship they have is fun to watch. the film also happens to be funny. it's a cousin of the graduate because of the themes of love and breaking away from your parents. B+.
Shop Around The Corner - pleasant comedy almost romance of the 40s by lubitsch. i'm learning to like the guy. the camera in the film has a great mind and personality of its own; they don't film em like this anymore. the plot was a bit shakespearean in that it uses what the characters don't know to good effect. margaret sullavan is excellent. B+.
Young @ Heart - nice enough documentary about a group of elderly singers who sing rock songs. it's the humorous juxtaposition of punk rock and old people that attracts most. it's got a sad storyline (hint: the subjects are between 70-92 years old). i didn't find it to be anything spectacular, but you might. B-
Baraka - first full length film i saw on my blu-ray player. it's got some of the best cinematography you'll ever see, but i still don't think it's as good as koyaanisqatsi. for some the overt socio-political message of koyaanisqatsi is too much, for me it makes that film even better. beautiful presentation, supposedly one of the best blu-ray discs around. A.
Quantum Of Solace - not as good as casino royale and a bit long, but a strong pic nonetheless. this is bond for the steroid generation, but craig is more than just bravado - he has a seriousness that first came with dalton, but hasn't really been pulled off by any of them until he came along. i think that the 007 series with craig has lost its cheesy edge, but has gained a brooding and menacing figure in the process. much has been made about the bond woman, but i didn't find her to be too out of the ordinary. the biggest difference is that she doesn't get it on with bond and that's a rarity for the series. B.
Rachel Getting Married - jenny lumet (daughter of the great sidney lumet) pens this pile of garbage. demme directs. hathaway is decent enough. i'm not sure how long the film is, but i know how long it feels (too long) and know that it could use some trimming. it stinks of one world liberalism that makes it seem like demme is trying to be too hip for his own good. it's a black guy marrying a white woman and they're dressed in indian garb and speak yiddish from time to time. they listen to dub and world music and jazz and hip-hop and rock. they're just so cosmopolitan and worldly. this, though, is a minor issue. the writing and direction are the most bothersome elements. everything is too in your face and the camera moves too much. it's as though demme thinks he can take you into the characters' heads by showing you every pore on their face. the sweet moments are saccharine and best left out. blah. D.
RocknRolla - best guy ritchie film ever? maybe. it's another pulp fiction homage with the guy ritchie look and there's nothing wrong with that. ludacris and jeremy piven weren't very good, but everyone else in the cast was, especially toby kebbell who plays johnny quid and takes on an increasingly important role as the film unfolds. show up on time and pay attention or else you'll be lost real fast. B+.
Role Models - fun slacker duo pic. nothing new for the genre, but it carries the time well and has an interesting plot that keeps it fresh. mclovin (does anyone know that guy's real name or care?), rudd, and scott are all fun. B+.
Battle Royale - highly touted fukasaku film based upon a famous book. it's become somewhat of a cult favorite and is often considered fukasaku's best, but i didn't think so. my favorite of the few i've seen is blackmail is my life, though even that isn't an amazing film. he was a good director with a lot of films under his belt and will probably be well remembered.
the story is probably the most notable element of the film. it's about a futuristic japanese society wherein school children are forced to fight for their lives on a deserted island. some of the film didn't make much sense. if there was social commentary i didn't get it. i would expect such a thing considering the film's plot, but i didn't find it. often a film that takes place in the future that features the breakdown of society has some comment on how/why the society got to that point. B-.
Decision At Sundown - sundown is the name of the city that randolph scott's nemesis has taken over (in classic western style the nemesis owns the law and the citizens are afraid of him). scott comes into town with his sidekick (who provides some comic relief) in order to avenge the death of his wife. things get more complicated as the the film unfolds and it gets more seedy than you might expect. it's a good film to show on election night because of some of the themes of bullies running the town and the citizenry having to step up and run the bully out themselves. tcm aired several films with "decision" in the title on 11/4 and this was the only one i saw. B.
Benny's Video - haneke lets the camera rest and would rather have things unfold in front of it, rather than movie to the action. he does this a lot here as well as in key scenes in cache and funny games. it's another good film from the director, but it's not great. B-.
Fall - visually impressive film that was a bit reminiscent of the princess bride because of the fairy tale being told to the child aspect. not entirely sure what was going on at times, but i think that there were some surrealistic aspects woven into the film to show the interweaving of reality and fiction. B.
Changeling - good, almost unbelievable, story, but left something to be desired in the execution category. there were a few cliche moments in eastwood's direction that reminded me i was watching a movie that was supposed to have an emotional impact on me. jolie may be remembered as a talented actress 30 years from now, but i'm a bit too close media circus that surrounds her to not be distracted by it. she's a good crier, but that doesn't make her a good actress. i liked the character, just not as interpreted by jolie. some of the cliche moments were things like a close up of ashes falling off a cigarette during an intense police interview, or jolie telling the police officer at the end that another child's interview gave her the one thing she didn't have before: hope. ah, how sweet. of course eastwood did a mostly good job and took on the corrupt 20s lapd. it'll get a ton of nominations, but probably shouldn't win anything outside of costume design or art direction. B-.
Zack And Miri Make A Porno - funny film with a predictable and tired plot line. the twist here is that the two life-long friends hookup for money, not because of one crazy night or any other contrivance. elizabeth banks is charming and good looking and seth rogen is the classic comic everyman, but you knew that already. look for a cameo from pittsburg native tom savini. there's some good gross out humor and sex jokes mixed in so it never gets to heavy. solid flick overall. B.
Game - life-affirming film that put you through the paces. a tour-de-force performance from michael douglas. when you watch it a few times knowing about the ending some of the things along the way are questionable, but it's a movie and most of it can be explained away. A.
What Just Happened? - watch the player first. this has some of the same stuff that that film has, just in a different form. it's a funny film with a good little performance from deniro. B.
Frontrunners - a solid fly-on-the-wall type documentary about a high school presidential election. there are some interesting characters in the film and it serves as a better view into the world of the teenager than american teen. films like this can make even a grouch like me feel decent about the prospects of the future of america and the world. though the kids weren't fully formed intellectuals, you see the beginning stages of a thoughtfulness that will likely guide them to successful lives. B+.
Mist - darabont adapts another stephen king novella to less stellar effect than shawshank redemption. some of the special effects left something to be desired, but the character dynamics were pretty good. wasn't in love with the ending, but i suppose it was better than the alternative cliche ending. a lot of actors you've seen before, but don't necessarily know off the top of your head. fun flick. B-.
Body And Soul - it seems like william conrad made a career out of looking tough and leaning up against walls. one of the best boxing flicks i've seen; need to see raging bull, but have to say that i liked this more the first time than that one. garfield looks like paul muni and has the physical acting style of james cagney. not as good as either, but a fine performance here. his african-american trainer is played by canada lee and he does a very nice job with a tortured character; should have been nominated for a best supporting actor award. possible influence for the butch boxing scene in pulp fiction. shows the dirty business side of boxing years before north dallas forty did basically the same thing for football. B+.
His Kind Of Woman! - decent enough film noir with robert mitchum. he's joe average who gets roped into going to mexico to be a fall guy for a gangster. it's more complicated than that, but that's a good enough synopsis. nothing really grabbed me, but it has a couple good lines and it's a film noir so you can't go wrong. vincent price plays an actor who goes on the hunt to help mitchum. his character goes through the film reciting shakespeare and pontificating about this and that. too long and too much shooting/action. B-.
Max Payne - never played the video game, but i think i recall the interesting thing being the "bullet time" feature that put it above other first person shooters like quake and doom. the film employed a bit of this, but only a couple times and not to the same effect as the matrix, which is the first medium i recall using bullet time in any way. wahlberg comes off as a bit wooden, not showing the same zeal as he has exhibited in some of his better performances. overall, the film felt like a lot of other films of this ilk - constantine, crow (to a lesser extent), etc. it also brings in elements from films like robocop 2 (the new drug sweeping the city) and the generic cop drama you've seen a million times. C.
W. - not quite as i had predicted, which was nice at first. i liked that it wasn't a complete smear piece because there are plenty of those around already. unfortunately, the worst stone seems to have to say about bush is that he's an innocent buffoon, a victim of his father's success, jeb's shadow, and those around him - chiefly rove and cheney. i think a better film would have shown the idiotic parts of bush for comic relief, but also revealed his part in the fiasco known as the bush administration. jumping around in time was interesting, but i didn't find much reason to the scenes that were juxtaposed. this marks another dud in stone's recent filmography if you ask me. he had as much material to work with as one can have with a biopic yet his pissed it away by telling a sad little story about an idiot with daddy issues. colin powell comes out looking like a saint. oh wait, he lied in front of the u.n. good job. C.
Quarantine - reminiscent of the blair witch project for more reasons than the shooting style. a good, scary flick, but i have a bone to pick. the trailer is god awful, for two reasons: it makes the film look less interesting than it actually is and, most importantly, it gives away the final shot. if you plan on watching the film, don't watch the trailer because the final shot will be ruined for you. very lame.
nice acting all around. straight forward idea that takes it to another level late in the film. some good comic touches mixed with true scares. recommended. B+.
Verdict - solid flick all around, but not on the same level as cool hand luke or butch cassidy and the sundance kid. newman turns in a good performance - you can see the him change from lifeless to lively as the film progresses and this is probably the best aspect of the film. it's an early mamet script and lumet does a good job with direction. B+.
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof - pretty typical tennessee williams southern melodrama. personally, i think this one is better than streetcar named desire, but i guess i'm in the minority. i'm also in the minority in thinking that paul newman was a better actor than marlon brando. this is like a sirk film without any of the easing into the steaming hot bathtub, rather williams jumps right into the sordid affairs of this fucked up family. good ending, most of the rest was just decent. ives and newman were good. B.
Flash Of Genius - two sad biopics tonight. this one's about a detroit inventor who comes up with the intermittant windshield wiper and tries to sell the idea to ford, but they steal his design and dump him. he becomes so obsessed by his quest for justice that it tears his family apart. the end gives you mixed feelings, but suffice it to say that you feel for greg kinnear's character. they do a good job of developing his character as well as the chemistry that the family has. i guess there is some justice in the world, though, because ford isn't exactly rolling in the dough anymore. B+.
Express - fine sports biopic about ernie davis, the outstanding syracuse running back who became the first african-american to win the heisman trophy award. of course his life was cut short. anytime i hear about one of these guys i think about steve prefontaine or james dean or hank gathers as well as the poem "to an athlete dying young" by a.e. housman. there is a mixed emotion with these great athletes - obviously there is the sense of loss the questions about how great they could have been, but there is also something to be said about dying before your fame dies. or, as housman puts it: "Now you will not swell the rout | Of lads that wore their honours out, | Runners whom renown outran | And the name died before the man." it's easy for the naysayer to say that prefontaine was overrated or that ernie davis never would have been as good as jim brown, but we can never know. what if lance armstrong had been killed by his cancer rather than beating it and then the world in the tour de france, seven times, in a row? what if jordan had retired on top after winning his sixth nba championship instead of coming back and being just good on a crappy team?
i don't know how accurate the film is, there's certainly some fiction peppered throughout to make things more compelling, but the facts seemed basically in line with what i know about the guy and what i've learned since watching it. B+.
Body Of Lies - good, not great, ridley scott espionage film centered in the mid-east. there's a lot going on here and the film drags a bit as a result. the overly serpentine plot serves a purpose, i just don't know that it's entirely necessary that things be this complex to essentially show how self-serving and manipulative all the top level characters are. good performances. B.
Safety Last! - first time i've seen this great harold lloyd flick. all sorts of good gags, too many to list or remember. a true classic. A-.
Religulous - documentaries are different than when i learned to love them. the fly-on-the-wall documentary is basically dead at this point, having been replaced by the visual essay of michael moore, anti-bush amateurs, and various other people with an agenda. i prefer the maysles brothers style of exploration and reportage instead of the point-of-view film. most of them seem to come from the left, but there are some (like ben stein's "expelled" documentary) that come from the right. regardless of their author, these types of documentaries have a singular point of view and impose it throughout the film. religulous falls into this category.
bill maher happens to be funny and i agree with his point that we can't really know if there's a god and what he says or wants from us. however, maher's biggest fault here is that there is only one type of religion to him - fundamentalism. he doesn't acknowledge the reality that there are some who practice religions of various kinds in peaceful and fairly intelligent ways. the times he does encounter people who choose to ignore many of the ridiculous elements of their religion he challenges their religion anyway, saying it's impossible to separate the good ideals of a religion from many of the contradictory or silly stories that accompany it. i respect his doubt and wit, but we have to acknowledge and respect the choice of others to believe in the god of their choosing. B.
Choke - interesting writing and uniquely palahniukian in many ways, but it falls flat somehow. gregg's direction didn't do it for me. B-.
Helvetica - documentary on the font, but also typesetters, design, and more. it's interesting to a point. for the most part people are talking about the simple elegance of the font, though there is one critic of the font, and i found his voice to be the most interesting. helvetica is a good font, but i'm not in love with the capital "r." C+.
Ghost Town - quite a good performance from ricky gervais carries the film to hilarity. the writing is also very good because all the plot elements fit well together. it's a thoughtful and life-affirming film (as my dad put it) with a feel good ending. B+.
Eagle Eye - spoilers ahead. this one has the feeling/themes of a bunch of other films you've probably seen/heard of. stuff like 2001, i, robot, minority report, the game, and more. i like shia labeouf's delivery of snappy, smart ass dialogue and there's a decent amount here to give balance to the otherwise non-stop thriller fare that makes up the film. a lot of times reviewers will write about a film being "an edge of your seat thriller" or they'll talk about how much it keeps you guessing and how exciting the film is, but rarely do those things actually apply to thefilm. here many of those descriptions actually apply. it's not an amazing film, but it does keep you guessing and it does ratchet up the action to a fever pitch.
d.j. caruso is a solid director having done disturbia, salton sea, and two for the money. i would describe all of those as enjoyable and thoughtful in some way, but not A-grade films. here he brings us another of that ilk and i'm just fine with that. B+.
Road House - widmark is devlishly good as usual. wilde and lupino are fine as well. the plot is decent enough. this is another fox noir, but isn't numbered as the other dvds are; not sure why. B-.
Big Country - sometimes the academy gets it right. burl ives's supporting performance won an academy, and deservedly so. as good as gregory peck was, ives was even better and he was a clear standout for the supporting actor category. they also did well in nominating the score for an academy as it was quite enjoyable. aside from peck, ives and the score the film was pretty damn good too. of the films that were nominated that i've seen (only two of the five), this is the best and it wasn't even nominated. gigi won that year. huh? interesting dynamic with peck's fiance and her father. another solid william wyler film. sarris was wrong about this guy. B+.
Reds - truly an epic film. tells the story of john reed and louise bryant, two communist revolutionaries living in the u.s. in the 1910s. it feels a lot like many other biopics and period/history films, especially those that deal with revolutionaries and artists. one interesting wrinkle with this one is that beatty weaves in documentary interviews with people who knew reed and/or bryant.
oddly, much of the film feels as though it takes place in the 60s, not the 10s. of course it could very well take place any time because many of the issues are as salient today as they were in the teens. overall the film was too long (194 mins) and heavy to do it for me. C+.
Saw IV - wonder how deep this series will go. the first two were solid, the third saw (no pun intended) a big drop off. this one was even worse that the third. things that need work: writing and acting. things they did right: gore level, twist at the end. the contraptions weren't as thoughtful and there was only one actual scare. much of the plot was a prequel of sorts that explains how jigsaw's life derailed. it goes beyond the initial explanation of mere cancer patient turned sour. they drag his wife into the story for the first time and it didn't do much for me; this plotline felt more like filler than anything else. it is what it is. C.
Illegal - interesting edward g. robinson noir. interesting primarily because of his character's arc. the ending was a bit flat. solid script. another film (decoy was the other that i saw recently) that addresses the death penalty, though this one showed the repurcussions of an incorrect verdict, whereas decoy used the death penalty as more of a plot device. B.
Fury - quite a good film. my only complaint is that it's occasionally overly dramatic, but i attribute that more to lang's roots in silent film than anything else. the few shots where characters look straight into the camera are haunting. it has the potential to be a bit like i am a fugitive from a chain gang, but pulls its punch a bit. it's not the same caliber of film, but it does have that dark social element to it. as is true in "m" lang exposes the mob mentality that characterizes much of our justice system. B+.
What Would Jesus Buy? - the idea of a stop shopping campaign is a good enough one, but the documentary follows reverend billy and the stop shopping choir on their cross-country tour and it just isn't very interesting. at times it feels as though the choir is actually a little insane, rather than just a dedicated group of social crusaders. C.
Mrs. Miniver - good, not amazing film about the beginning of ww2 in england. wyler directs. sarris thinks wyler lacks emotion and style, but the academy seemed to love him (12 oscar nominations for best director) and you have to admit that the guy made some quality films. his style is no style which works fine for me, but doesn't fit sarris' affinity for the auteur. greer garson does a fine job, about 80% of which comes from her infectious smile. the bomb shelter scene was a standout. the cute kid certainly didn't hurt the film's adorability factor. ben-hur was more epic and best years of our lives was more impactful (all three won for best picture/director). four best picture winners left to see. B.
Decoy - great plot with nice ending. gangster is going to the gas chamber, but finds an antidote and his girl gets in with the prison doctor who will administer the drug afterwards so that the gangster will be able to escape prison - in a casket. definitely a second billing type picture with a bunch of no-name actors (for a reason), but it's good nonetheless. viva la noir. B.
Crime Wave - great, sleeper noir with a solid cast. sterling hayden is the detective overseeing a robbery turned murder. gene nelson gets swept up into the dragnet because of his spotty past (he did time with the actual perpetrators of the robbery/murder). charles bronson (one of his first film roles), ted decorsia, and timothy carey are among the gang members who use nelson and his wife while the cops are on their trail. it's one of those wrong man noirs that gets worse for the protagonist as the film wears on. it does a good job of setting the scene in that the city becomes its own character - the noise, the surrounding unlawfulness, etc. seeps into the story. i also appreciated the sound design which makes it seem as though the film was shot almost entirely on location. the acoustics are such that every space feels small, as if it were filmed in a tin can rather than a controlled sound stage. great stuff. B+.
Burn After Reading - subpar coen brothers pic. in fact, other than john malkovich and an occasional laugh from brad pitt or frances mcdormand, the film is unfunny and uninteresting. i'd have to see hudsucker proxy again to be sure, but this is probably in the bottom two or three of all coen brothers films - man who wasn't there, this and the hudsucker proxy would probably comprise that list for me. yes, ladykillers and intolerable cruelty were both better than this one. C.
Lakeview Terrace - great thriller. i think that samuel jackson has had some great roles in the past, but until i saw this one i thought that his serious acting career was all behind him. this one, while not as good as his part in jungle fever or pulp fiction (which was a different kind of role completely), is a scary good role for him. on the other side, patrick wilson balances out the film with his performance. it's a bit like training day in that you have a cop who plays both sides of the law. whereas denzel's character in that one only gives the appearance of goodness, jackson actually has some compassion here. of course, things eventually spiral out of control and he has to commit to a drastic course, but this is out of self-preservation rather than simply being an evil character. loved the impending wildfires, the racial stuff, and the general discomfort that the film had. B+.
Out Of Africa - gotta call this one a chick flick. i like redford, but i think of him as a simple actor in a lot of ways. and the movie is the same way - there's not much mystery to it. every scene is predictable, it's as if i've seen the movie before. it's sort of the equivalent of that poster that describes the perfect woman: it shows a hot looking chick in lingerie and has multiple quotes like "do you want a blowjob before or after i make you dinner?" and "my hot friend wants a threesome with you and me, is that okay with you?" redford is basically the same thing in this movie. in one scene streep and redford are on a safari and two lions rush them, shortly after dispatching one of them (the inspiringly-strong-streep gets the other) redford looks at streep and wipes the blood off her lip (she bit it while shooting the first lion) with a handkerchief. in the next scene his hair is slicked back and he is neatly dressed and they have a full dinner (china and all) under the stars, in the middle of the fucking african bush; then they make out for a while. it isn't as crude as the ideal woman portrayal, but it's the same shit.
in a way it's like romancing the stone, only more dramatic and longer. perhaps that (superior) film was influenced by this one. liked some of the stuff about the not trying to tame africa and its people. good cinematography. also liked redford's character's philosophy. otherwise not my sort of thing. C.
Tension - good noir with a great femme fatale. all femme fatales are measured against stanwyck in double indemnity and marie windsor in the killing. audrey totter isn't quite as good here, but she does a great job nonetheless. cyd charisse plays the opposite of the femme fatale, whatever you want to call that, and is also great. she's a looker who counters totter's coniving and manipulation with steadfast loyalty. B+.
Rocky - yesterday i watched a documentary about a guy named roky (sic) and today i watched a film about a character named rocky. one of the better sports films ever. i think one and two are about even, two may be better actually. it has a slow pace, but it has some great stuff about the working class, the underdog, and americana in general. conti does a great score as well. conti and avildsen got together again on karate kid which is actually better than any of the rocky films. A-.
You're Gonna Miss Me - if you've seen one troubled artist documentary then you've seen them all. this one is a lot like the devil and daniel johnston, even the setting (austin, texas) is the same.
they start with a brief view of the artist's genius (perhaps some footage of them when they were sane and insanely good, or their music will play while snapshots from their childhood are shown on the screen). then you'll hear from other artists who you likely respect (or at least have heard of) about how brilliant this artist was and they'll talk about how when this person was at their apex they were the most influential or ingenious or groundbreaking talent around; this person defined a genre or did things no one else could ever dream of doing, etc. then they the director tells you (through a collage of interviews, clippings, music, etc.) about the artist's unfortunate downward spiral which always includes: family, drug, financial, and legal issues. inevitably it's either pointed out, or it becomes obvious, that the person had little control over their situation - drug abuse was a disease, family members kept them down in some way - and that their genius came at great personal cost. they would have been even better if not for...fill in the blank. most of these films will then end with a semi-uplifting recap of the last couple years - the person is doing better, playing shows, starting a family, they're as popular as ever, whatever.
frankly, the success of these films, for me, is about two things: how far from this formula they stray and how much i like the subject's music/art. C+.
Written On The Wind - another sirk masterpiece. if i were a filmmaker he'd be one of my major influences. the themes and motifs that he works with are inspired and thoughtful without being too oblique or too literal; they're right in the middle. sirk is to mirrors as kurosawa is to weather.
there's a lot to this film - the class issues within rock hudson, the impotence of richard stack, the twisted sexuality of dorothy malone, and the maternal, dutiful lauren bacall. i love that when people are welcoming bacall into the hadley family, after she marries stack, people say "welcome to hadley." it's a reminder of the institution of the hadley family - the town is named after them and it just reinforces the weight that stack ultimately feels as the male heir. the music is very good and uses source music in the score which is an interesting touch. A.
Where Danger Lives - pretty good noir with robert mitchum. has a decent femme fatale and a good plotline. mitchum is a doctor who is enticed by a young lady, one thing leads to another and they're on the lam. slowly he discovers things about her, but everything is heightened because he's suffering from a concussion. B-.
Warriors - classic pic that i finally got around to seeing. didn't do a whole heck of a lot for me, but i can see its appeal. the comic book style, the futuristic hell hole that is nyc, the warring gangs, and the realism all make for a good film. a lot of films that take place in the future take things too far, but this one keeps it believeable enough to have an impact. B.
Side Street - farley granger and cathy o'donnell star in this anthony mann noir. she plays the innocent woman role as well as anyone and he's got such a green look that you really believe it when his conscience gets the best of him after lifting $30k from some murderer. it's a good one. B.
Idiocracy - the first 45mins. or so of the film is really brilliant social commentary and probably why the film was blackballed by fox even before its release. the plot sort of gets in the way in the last half, as usual. dax shepard is good as a total moron, maybe because that's not much of a stretch for him. luke wilson plays joe average quite well. this one might become a bit of a cult classic because it's a mike judge film and because of fox's treatment. B+.
Birds - one of hitchcock's more overrated films in my opinion. the process shots are distracting and the film itself doesn't seem to have a purpose like his others. it is compelling because of the obvious question: why? but beyond that core question the film doesn't do much for me. the first 40 minutes is basically a lot of build up and some weird freudian stuff. that said, it's still well-filmed and the central question and open ending make it good enough for a B.
Ping Pong Playa - should be the asian napoleon dynamite, but probably won't be. about a suburban asian guy who acts like an urban black guy. when his family hits hard times he needs to step up and play ping pong in a tournament that could be good for the family business. besides the good sense of humor, the film brings a realistic view of second generation asians growing up in america. trying to fit in while pleaseing their parents at the same time. it's a good little film with some nice performances. B.
Transiberian - a bit like hitchock's lady vanishes meets hostel. anderson does a good job of ratcheting up the suspense as the film goes on which is good because it starts a bit on the slow side. performances were all fine. there's nothing here that really blows me away, solid nonetheless. B-.
Last Emperor - 74 down, 6 to go. nice, artistic film that drags in the second half. there's some beautiful photography and the costume design (acheson) is top notch. watch this one with blue kite for a double feature about this portion of china's history. frankly, i don't know enough to fully appreciate either. B-.
American Pie - this one is all about the writing. sure there are cheesy moments, but the characters are drawn in a way that draws in most anyone in this age range. it's basically the same as most films of the genre so it's not different, but it did help revive the genre and stifler defines the male "mook" as well as anyone since belushi in animal house. the unrated version doesn't really have any extra tn'a or shocking language. B.
Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner - good film with a solid ending. actually predicted the ending, but not sure if anyone would believe that. i've thought about athletes doing such a thing in the past (during the olympics, most recently) as a political/social commentary, but i hadn't seen it until this movie. felt like a cross between kids, chariots of fire and band of outsiders. B.
Big Combo - yet another noir with a title that has nothing to do with the film itself. this is one of the darkest noirs i've seen, ever. it plays like a b film, but has an a-list cast with conte atop the heap. it's got some real dark and seedy plotlines and the characters are a mix of gangsters and desperate souls. it's a billy wilder or jim thompson rewrite away from having a great script. loved conte and how dark the film was. the exterior stuff felt like sweet smell of success, only darker and less well shot. B+.
Witness For The Prosecution - spoilers ahead. good courtroom drama with a satisfying ending. recalls primal fear and every episode of law and order ever. it's sort of the anti-anatomy of a murder in that that one went out of its way to be void of drama and this one hoped to achieve high drama. marlena dietrich and charles laughton were brilliant, tyrone power was also good. B+.
Traitor - a pretty good, but unspecial film. don cheadle does a good role, but doesn't really stretch himself as the first part of the film portends. C+..
Death Race - not at all similar to the original; actually quite a bit more like running man. C+.
Steel Helmet - perfectly reasonable little korean war film, but nothing spectacular. reminded me of a cross between a walk in the sun and full metal jacket, both of which are better than this one. B-.
Great Ziegfeld - much lighter and less interesting version of sweet smell of success. instead of tony curtis you get the lesser william powell and instead of seeing the dark underbelly of the industry, you see a humorous representation of a guy who tells little lies and plays little con games to get his way. the serious moments in the film are awkward and gross rather than telling and poignant. down to seven unseen best picture winners now. did i mention that this one is over 3 hours long? jeesh. has about a million musical numbers on the stage (the show within the show). some of the music is well blended, but nothing spectacular. ray bolger (scarecrow from wizard of oz) has a small role as himself. pretty blah movie overall. C.
Fight Club - even better this time than the last time. the writing, performances and directing are all top notch. the core of the philosophy is finding your own way in a sea of consumerism and that probably won't ever get old. the cultish fervor of the followers had been a downside in the past, but i think that the film ultimately indicts that part of the narrator's persona; after all, that's what the death of tyler durden is all about. i also think that this is one of the most misunderstood films of the last ten years in that people take it as a glorification of fighting and brutality and mischief. in fact, i think the film acknowledges the existence of the id and allows us to see the good and bad of it. we also can't take things overly literally with this film, the whole idea of a split personality manifesting itself to this degree is a bit absurd so we should view it as a parable in some ways. great film, great comic relief, great soundtrack. A.
Dangerous Crossing - nice, short psychological-esque noir. felt a bit like an episode of the twilight zone. it's about a woman who boards a cruise ship with her husband, who then disappears. everyone seems to think she's crazy, though, because there's no record of his existence. michael rennie plays the ship's doctor who is trying to get to the bottom of her issue (psychosis? hallucinations? conspiracy?). good film. B.
Broken Arrow - sort of a precursor to dances with wolves. stewart stars as a white man who learns about native americans and befriends them in order to achieve some peace. a love interest ensues and the rest you'll have to see for yourself. westerns sometimes get an unfair rap as racist or plain in their depiction of natives, but there are many that are equitable. some, like this and cimarron, show some whites to be intolerant of indians while balancing that point of view with characters who appreciate indians as equals. B.
Broadway Melody - starts as a light-hearted little comic musical, but actually turns into an enjoyable drama of sorts. it's got a bit of showgirls in it in that it shows some of the darker elements of show business. it has an unexpected degree of poignancy in the second half and the characters seem to flourish as the film progresses. not a bad best picture winner. B+.
Changing Lanes - a more thoughtful thriller than you might expect going in. touches upon a lot of issues such as racism, classism, privilege, luck, the breakdown of civility and more. jackson and affleck were still decent actors when this came out so that's a bonus as well. might feature more cross-cutting than any film i've seen. B+.
Cimarron - 1931 best picture winner which is also the first western to receive a best picture win. it's basically a cross between birth of a nation and there will be blood. it also happens to be more entertaining and watchable than either. birth of a nation is more important and there will be blood is more overrated. cimarron is the kind of film that has somehow slipped through the cracks a bit, but should be considered an early classic. it's a great early western that establishes a lot of the genre themes of the untamed west, burgeoning cities, lawlessness, cowboys vs. indians (in a surprisingly balanced way), etc. i wouldn't have voted it the best picture of the year, but it may have been the best american film of the year. B+.
Falling Down - sort of a modern classic for me. shows the urban distopia that i relate to so much and allows you to live vicariously through douglas' character. there's some cold war themes in there and probably something to be said about the character arc and the inevitable ending and how that relates to his job (defense contractor) and larger themes of american militarism. fades a bit towards the end. A-.
Shock - mid-40s noir that looks at psychology (similar to whirlpool, but not as good) and the human mind. the twist with this one is that the wife, who witnesses a murder and goes into shock as a result, is actually a foil for her husband's psychological shell shock (he's a recently returned veteran). vincent price is good as the shrink. B.
Greatest Show On Earth - basically a season in the life of the circus. too many process shots, not sure why. one scene shows the star of the circus coming back after an injury, everyone else in the circus is greeting him as he walks by the tents. one woman is getting her hair washed and she says to the person washing her hair "why am i always wet when he comes around?" the person washing her hair says "in more ways that one" and then dunks her head into the water. not the wholesome 50s comedy/drama you might think.
charlton heston does a good job in his own over-acting way. the ending is surprising and doesn't seem to fit the rest of the film, but whatever. B-.
House Bunny - actually a somewhat clever film that makes fun of some of the stereotypes of bimbos and geeks alike. there are some good laughs. most of the plot derives from the animal house mold that we're all overly familiar with by now. anna faris does a good job with the breadth of the role. she's a naturally funny actress who will hopefully get some real comic roles in the future. C+.
Tropic Thunder - very funny film that makes fun of just about everything in a clever and referential way. the two highlights are the performances from robert downey jr. and tom cruise (a performance that might bring him back into the public fold). downey has a second career highlight in 2008 (ironman being the other). just a funny, irreverent film with the stiller touch (like a more refined, film-length version of his show). B+.
Daisy Kenyon - really good noir with dana andrews, henry fonda, and joan crawford (about the time she started getting the crazy look). all the stars do a really good job and each character has a compelling depth that is lacking in most films. dana andrews is a rich lawyer with a family, but he's got crawford on the side. fonda comes calling and steals crawford away, but she is still drawn to andrews for reasons she can't understand. sure, it's your basic love triangle film, but it goes into some dark areas and does so in a thought-provoking and offbeat way. it never falls into the realm of melodrama in part because fonda and andrews never seem to take things too seriously.
leon shamroy does a really good job lighting crawford. it gives her a really appealing and sympathetic look which helps sell her as the central character that the two men are so interested in winning over. preminger does his usual good job. B+.
Tell No One - hitchcock-esque in its plot of the "wrong man" looking to clear his name. left something to be desired in its execution. it ran longer than it should have and the plot was a bit serpentine for my tastes. the ending was too syrupy sweet. would like to see the original french version as i think this version had the music changed to accommodate american audiences. C+.
American Teen - "documentary" about the high school experience in a small indiana town. much of the documentary is typical mtv "hills" style bullshit and almost as staged/produced. if you look carefully at the way things are shot you can see that some of the scenes were shot again for the sake of the camera, though this alone doesn't make a documentary bad. after all, nanook of the north is similar in a way and that is a great film. what makes this film bad is the cliché and amateur filmmaking. i also suspect some of the props may have had product placement tie-ins. for example, they didn't blur mcdonald's soda cups, but they did bother to peel off the labels of coke brand soda bottles. the product placement seemed conspicuous. in this way the film felt like it was geared towards other teens, rather than serious film people as "hoop dreams" or wiseman's "high school" were.
one good thing about the film is that it points out the fallibility of teens with a humanity. it's easy when you're older to write off teenagers as stupid hormone-addled kids, but the truth is that we've all been through that stage and we shouldn't forget that fact. at this point these kids are still basically embryos, just meaner and less confident. C.
Whirlpool - good psychological noir about a wife who has deep seated daddy issues. these issues manifest themselves in the form of her kleptomania which gets her in trouble. she's caught stealing one day, but is rescued from a tarnished image by a suave psychologist of sorts who uses his power of suggestion to put our protagonist in such a trance that she does his bidding - including becoming the fall guy for a murder he actually committed. richard conte is solid as always, but the real star here is the svengali jose ferrer (father of miguel ferrer, and obviously so). he such a slimy and manipulative character; it's great stuff. gene tierney is also good in the starring role. she gets her mind all twisted up throughout the picture and does a nice job. directed by preminger. B+.
House On Telegraph Hill - robert wise directs. it's got a bit of citizen kane in the beginning (wise was the editor) and a bit of the haunting (directed by wise) and rebecca in the middle. it's about a polish lady who assumes the identity of her prisoner of war friend who has a rich aunt in america. ends up marrying the benefactor of the estate and things get weird. it's a good movie with some good direction. the comeuppance in the end is a good one. B.
Woman In The Window - good lang noir that uses the oldest trick in the book to have its cake and eat it too (think of sandler's "click"). robinson, duryea, and bennett (who acted in at least one film every decade from the 1910s to 1980s) all do a good job. it might be the noir with the most whimsical/humorous ending. B.
King & I - not sure why i saw this one. it's got one good song and yul brenner's performance is noteworthy. the lead woman (kerr) won an academy for her performance. i thought it to be fairly awful. the most notable element of the film, though, is undoubtedly the set pieces and the cinemascope photography thereof. other than this eye candy and the occasional laugh, the film doesn't have a whole lot to offer me. there are certainly musical/theater lovers out there who would disagree. C.
Pineapple Express - an unusual film for at least two reasons: it's an action-comedy and it peaks at the end, rather than in the middle, as most comedies do. it's also odd because david gordon green is the director and he's considered more of an indie darling than a director of stoner comedies. i happen to think he's overrated and this film didn't sway my decision. his use of music left a lot to be desired. there were only a couple songs in the film and some original music written for the film, but none of it really lifted the film. a good soundtrack would have made the film a good deal better.
franco is a standout and shows his range. B.
Boomerang! - docu-noir complete with the opening sequence as if the credits are part of a police file, on location shooting, etc. kazan does a solid job and the ending is amusing. it's another wrong man film, a lot of the time i'm hoping for a darker ending on these pictures. oh well. lots of big names and familiar faces. tough to find this one because the dvd was pulled before it was officially released, i got a copy though and you may still be able to find it on netflix or something. B+.
Exodus - about 3.5 hours of dealing with middle eastern politics - what a way to spend an evening. newman is fine and the camerawork is notable. written by redlisted, er blacklisted, writer dalton trumbo who also worked on spartacus in 1960 and lonely are the brave, which i saw recently. sort of a cross between ben-hur and the battle of algiers. C+.
Gigi - begins and ends with the song "thank heaven for little girls." pretty gross if you ask me. it's about an older dude who courts a young lady in turn of the century paris. the sets are nice and the songs aren't too obnoxious. that said, this isn't my kind of film. there are little laughs from time to time, but when i wasn't grossed out by the near-father figure courting the titular young lady, i was bored by the music and slow pace. it has an inevitable ending that i suppose is a crowd pleaser so long as i'm not in the crowd. according to the academy this film is better than vertigo. uh, i think not. maybe the worst decision in the academy's history? i'll try to do some sort of recap of my quest to watch all the aa best picture winners. C-.
Go West - pretty solid, but not upper tier marx brothers pic. the bit with the ten dollar bill and giving $9 change was good and reminiscent of the bit in another marx brothers pic where chico sells books about horse racing to groucho. B.
Once Upon A Crime - so-so comedy directed by eugene levy who makes a cameo. it's a whodunit of sorts where the butler(s) actually did do it. basically, a bunch of tourists in monte carlo are questioned for their role in a murder, in the end all the separate storylines come together and the true murderers are revealed. john candy is the highlight, most of the rest of the cast is forgettable. C.
Man From Planet X - came out the same year as the day the earth stood still. darker look, which is expected from the director of detour (ulmer). some of the dialogue is right out of a cheesy 50s sci-fi flick. oh wait, that's kinda what this is. engaging enough and a few good artistic touches, not cheesy enough to be really good. C+.
Black Widow - one of the rare films that calls itself noir but is a) in color and b) in cinemascope. i suppose it's a noir in that it's a twisted and depraved tale of deceit and murder and the like, but the stylistic touches aren't there, especially when put up against true 40s noir. it's a good film nonetheless and i enjoyed van heflin. couldn't help but feel, though, that the film could have been better. it has the dragnet/wrong man plot going for it, but things never get dire enough for heflin and the ending sees the audience's least favorite character get what's coming to her so we're not too broken up about it. B-.
A Man For All Seasons - scofield's performance and the historic story are the highlights of this best picture winner. as usual the academy dropped the ball here, but not as badly as in some years. the good the bad and the ugly, battle of algiers, el dorado, and who's afraid of virginia woolf all came out this year and were better than this. drags a bit in spots. considering the time period, though, the film was fairly enjoyable. generally speaking i don't enjoy films that takes place before the civil war. sarris writes that zinneman is capable, but boring. he indicts his lack of creativity and willingness to move outside of realism. can't disagree, but also have to note that he turned out some good, though unamazing, films. B.
Vicki - poor remake of "i wake up screaming" another fox noir, which was already a mediocre film. in the original cregar and mature do a solid job and so do carole landis and betty grable. not sure why they remade the film to be quite honest. the best part of the film was cregar's performance as the obsessive detective. in this film the role is played by richard boone who isn't bad here, but his performance doesn't have the same dark touch as cregar's. in pretty much every way this is an inferior film. too bad because the story has some potential with the my fair lady aspect and the obsessed dirty cop and the love triangles...oh well. might be the lowest grade i've ever given to a noir. C-.
Sherlock, Jr. - club foot orchestra's annoying 1993 score, which steals from koyaanisqatsi and james bond music, detracts from this decent longish keaton short. some really cool stunts, one of which actually broke keaton's neck (unbeknownst to him). when you talk about all-time best athlete actors you have to start the list with keaton and include guys like gene kelly and jackie chan. B.
Battle Of Shaker Heights - i don't know that most people over age 20 would give this a second look, but the film actually has some good bones. shia lebouf is good and the script has some meat that the conventional teen flick doesn't. i hope i don't ever become one of those old guys who doesn't remember what it was like to be a teenager. sure, now i realize that the guys think with their dicks too much and the girls don't think at all, but being a teen is rough in a lot of ways and this film captures some of those rough patches. it's about a teenager dealing with a first love of sorts, a hippie artist mom, and an ex-junkie dad. labeouf is about as good as any other young actor at delivering snappy dialogue. his more serious moments could use some work, but that'll come along with time, and hopefully some good role selections.
it's the result of the project greenlight thing that affleck and damon put together. the film is most notable for me, though, because it's one of many that was filmed at my old high school.
incidentally, it's one of my general guidelines that a film not end with a crane shot, it's just so damn cliché. B-.
Visitor - good, but a bit overly done film about a professor who finds two people living in his seasonal nyc apartment. haaz sleiman, who plays tarek (one of the people living in richard jenkins' apartment), is a bit too happy and pleasant to be believable. though it does add to the sad feeling we get when he is detained, i thought it unrealistic. his girlfriend, played by danai gurira, does a better job than he. richard jenkins does a very good job and has been getting a lot of oscar buzz, but i don't know if the movie is popular enough. then again what's her face won last year for la vie en rose so... B.
Oliver! - pretty crappy version of a good story. here's a funny story: this film is on a double-sided disc because it's so goddamn long. i put the dvd in on side a and started watching it. the film seemed to lack characterization, but i just kept watching. an hour later the film was over and i knew something was wrong. flipped the disc over and get the first half of the film. dvd is labeled wrong, oh well.
the makeup is good, the lighting is bad. carol reed is way overrated, even if he did direct the third man. D.
Lonely Are The Brave - spoilers ahead. the themes are simple and popular - the death of individualism and freedom. this is a favorite theme of mine and is manifested in many films from this to vanishing point and the shootist. in my opinion there's really only one way these films can end: the death of the protagonist. in this one the horse that kirk douglas rides is shot after it and douglas are hit by an 18 wheeler carrying toilets (that's progress for you). douglas, though, is driven away in an ambulance with his fate unknown. the original inspiration for the film is an edward abbey book and that makes perfect sense since he's all about the wild west and the downside of "progress."
the music seems to have inspired some of morricone's work on the good the bad and the ugly. this was kirk douglas' favorite film that he was involved in and he said was the only film script that was perfect after only one draft.
walter matthau plays a tommy lee jones in no country for old men type of character. i wouldn't doubt it if jones drew some inspiration from matthau's performance. douglas turns in a very good performance with an authentic feel to it. you actually get the impression that douglas has spent significant time on a horse, on the road, and dealing with the law in various ways. douglas was wrong, though, his best performance and the best film he was in was paths of glory. a bit slow, but that seems to be the nature of the on-the-run film genre. good supporting cast with a lot of people you'll recognize (like archie bunker and george kennedy). B.
Step Brothers - a hilarious romp. it's got a good "message" too, if you want to call it that. basically, the undercurrent of the film is that grownups lose sight of their youthful exuberance in their quest to plan out the rest of their lives and accumulate money. the film doesn't preach at all, but the theme is there if you are willing to think about it between laughs. as is always true with these films, the plot ends up getting in the way of the comedy in the latter third of the film, but that happens in even the best comedies (planes, trains, and automobiles, for example). basically didn't stop laughing for the first half of the film so it's definitely recommendable. B+.
Mongol - best part about this one is the scenery. other than that the film is a long look at genghis khan's early life and rise to power. wish i liked films like this more - the epic biopic complete with sword play, betrayal, and whatever else these films have. as it is, though, lord of the rings is probably the only film series that's like this that i really enjoy. C.
Executive Suite - ahead of its time film about a corporation whose owner/president dies in the first scene (filmed in the first person for some reason). ernest lehman (sweet smell of success, who's afraid of virginia woolf?) writes the film and proves again that he's one of the better writers of the era. another robert wise directed film, second in two days. solid cast anchored by william holden and barbara stanwyck (in a supporting role). always nice to see paul douglas as well. the reason it's ahead of its time is because it foresees the downfall of companies as purveyors of quality goods and the emergence of penny-pinching math majors running (in this case) furniture businesses. in the era of cheap/disposable chinese products and a distinct lack of craftsmanship this film is in many ways more relevant today than it was when it was made. B.
Kiss Of Death - noir well-known for widmark's breakthrough performance. widmark's performance may very well have inspired ledger's interpretation of the joker - he has such a devilish smile and laugh and voice here; unforgettable. hathaway is a lesser known, but capable workhorse of a director who did a lot of docu-noir stuff and is pretty reliably good. victor mature also has a good turn here and plays the good guy and the thug with equal skill. coleen gray isn't a great actress, but is somehow likable in her simplicity (she's especially effective in the killing). ends like a noir should. B+.
Anatomy Of A Murder - a fine and watchable film, but nothing extraordinary. it has a dreary ending, but it isn't at all dramatic or impactful - it's just empty. perhaps that's part of the point - all this (all 2hr 40mins, the whole trial) is for nothing; such is life. fine enough, but not real compelling for me.
the best courtroom dramas aren't simply good court room films, they expand the themes to contemporary society in some way - inherit the wind comes to mind. this film didn't seem to have that in any clear way. one could probably extrapolate some meaning from certain elements like the country vs. city theme or larger themes of justice in the mccarthy era or something, though those would be stretching quite a bit. it's a "realistic" courtroom drama in that there's only one "twist" in the plot and the lawyers aren't overly eloquent and witty. no witness breaks down under cross-examination and admits that they were the murderer, or anything like that. the title is fitting of the tone - it's very clinical and detached, it has no heart, it has no opinion; it just is. this is probably what divides most people on the film: some people love its clinical tone and the way the film deals with the subject matter in a frank way, while others are bothered by the lack of "resolution." i'm in the middle. i would have liked the film's conclusion to have a period, instead it felt like a sentence cut off short (and not to the same effect as the ending in sayles' "limbo"). at the same time i liked the realism and frankness of the film.
stewart did a fine job, though the character lacked pop. joseph welch played the judge and i found this performance to be the most entertaining. george c. scott would have been more likely to receive an academy award nomination from me than stewart, but it doesn't matter because they were both nominated. interestingly, the film was nominated for seven aa awards and didn't win any of them (ben-hur was the big winner instead). B.
Body Snatcher - not a bad film, but not great either. it's got the grave-robbing element that these frankenstein, mad scientist films seem to always have. this one's directed by robert wise which is normally a good sign, but this one isn't much to write home about. C.
Turnabout - hal roach directed film that feels at times like a marx brothers pic. it starts off as very old-fashioned in its depiction of the sexes, and this ends up being to good effect because, about a third of the way through, feuding husband and wife change bodies and are forced to live in the other's shoes for a while. in this way it's a precursor to films like freaky friday and trading places. it's also a good precursor to hepburn/tracy collaborations like adam's rib and pat & mike which were battle of the sexes comedies. it ends up being a nice little sweet comedy in the end. adolphe menjou has a good turn as a curmudgeonly old business man who has to hide his drinking from his wife. B-.
Sweet Smell Of Success - mackendrick doesn't get a whole lot of credit for his direction here, and i'm not entirely certain why. people say things like "it's such a good script that no one could have screwed it up," or they attribute the visual impact entirely to james wong howe. sure, the script is great and howe is a giant in the world of cinematography, but mackendrick does a very solid job here and shouldn't be overlooked. he stages people well and moves them in and out of the frame well. he obviously worked well with the actors, composer and cinematographer. he knew to keep his hands off the script, etc. it's about as seedy a film noir as you're likely to see. from curtis pimping out his part-time squeeze in order to get ahead to lancaster's whole existence. the power lancaster wields with his little pencil and pad. the dog eat dog world. it's a great little film. i'll get an email from pops if i don't mention the fact that there's a character in "diner" who recites lines from this movie throughout the picture. A-.
Chariots Of Fire - not the most stunning best picture, but not in the class of chicago and tom jones either. the single thing that kept me most interested was the running, which makes sense since i was once a runner. if the story was about swimming instead i think the film would have been rather marginal. frankly i'm surprised that this one won best picture for two reasons: it's not that great (raiders of the lost ark and on golden pond were both better [and nominated that year for bp]) and it's british. to me that seems to indicate that people really liked this film. i think that if it were a close call the voters would gravitate towards the domestic film, but apparently it wasn't close enough here.
i'm finding overall that the academy doesn't do a very good job of picking the best picture. most years they don't even pick a film that belongs in the top five, in my opinion. oh well. for the record, my top five from 1981 are (not in order): das boot, evil dead, raiders of the lost ark, road warrior, and my dinner with andre. C+.
Bullitt - more complex than i remembered. the car chase is the highlight of the film, though the visual nature of the film was also a joy. so much in the film is shown, not said. when mcqueen has his girlfriend drive him to a crime scene she walks in and sees the dead body. she looks at him and he sees her looking at the body so he walks between the camera (representing the dad body's pov) and her to shield her from the sight. the next shot is of him driving her car. the sequence shows the emotions of the characters without crying or talking or anything else.
the toll that the job takes on bullitt himself is also conveyed visually and otherwise. the film is about a lot of different things and it keeps you thinking - about the plot, the characters, etc. the film was made only a year after in the heat of the night yet i've never heard anyone mention the black doctor who plays a minor role in the film. it's easy to overlook now, but that was probably fairly progressive to just drop a black guy in the role of a doctor. there is a scene where robert vaughn asks for the doctor to be replaced citing "inexperience," but we know what the real reason is. in this way, and many others, the film is as much a marker of the time as it is an entertaining and engaging film. it's very much about the common people - the cabbie (robert duvall), the aforementioned doctor, the nurses, the onlookers at the airport in the final scene, etc. A.
14 Hours - another fox film noir. this one is about a guy who walks out onto a ledge threatening to kill himself. over the course of 14 hours cops, shrinks, and family members try to talk him down. it's about personal relationships and the importance of the family unit. since it tackles the issue of divorce i found it to be ahead of its time. it's a intriguing and captivating film, but i wanted the end to be darker. some nicely filmed angles. hathaway delivers another solid pic. B-.
Dark Knight - currently #1 on imdb.com's top 250 of all-time. this is generally a sign of overly-hyped movies - i've seen a lot of films shoot to the top 20 and then fall off the top 250 altogether once the films go to rental and more and more people watch the film. this one has also gotten as much critical hype as anything since there will be blood and no country for old men. usually that makes me play the voice of reason and dissent, but not in this case. this film is epic and great and worthy of the praise it's getting. simply put it's one of the best action films i've seen since the matrix and possibly the best comic-based film ever.
why is it so good? 1) heath ledger as the joker is reason #1. every great action/adventure type film needs a great villain and this one has one in ledger. the makeup transforms him realistically - the scarring, the clown makeup, the oily hair, the wardrobe all add to the slimy character. but it's his acting that truly makes the character. the slithering tongue (recalls the snake and original sin), the voice, the jerky movements all make up a performance that's at least as good as daniel day-lewis' performance in there will be blood; a performance that has been over-rated recently as one of the best in the history of cinema.
2) the writing is excellent. jonathan nolan (who also co-wrote memento with his brother) is a great writer and david s. goyer (blade) was probably responsible for some of the darker touches in the film. they made a good three-man writing team. batman's character is more compelling and darkly drawn than he is in any previous incarnation that i've seen. the themes of chaos, darkness, evil, good, light, etc. are so well developed and explored, yet not too obviously done, that you forget you're watching a "blockbuster."
3) the music. two of the best pieces of original film music in the last five years have come from hans zimmer - one in the third pirates of the caribbean film and the other in this film. the main theme is so well treated here that it just keeps reaping benefits. zimmer's main theme is used in small pieces, or leitmotifs, through the majority of the film and isn't allowed to fully bloom until the last half hour or so. great music used well, doesn't get much better than that.
4) nolan's direction. david edelstein poo-pooed nolan's direction, but, then again, he's about as worthless as most film critics. nolan's direction is actually quite good - his cross-cutting, the building of suspense, his work with the actors, writers, and musicians to bring the whole affair together are all commendable.
it's rare to see a trailer as good as this and have the film actually deliver on the promise. the last time i saw a trailer as good as the one for the dark knight was the teaser for the hills have eyes 2. in that case the teaser was awesome and the film sucked. great film, watch it. A-.
Terms Of Endearment - pretty standard 80s weeper here. reminded me a bit of sophie's choice, beaches, and a lot of other weepers of that era. brooks may be best known for his work with the simpsons, but he had a great deal of success before that with films like this and broadcast news. 1983 saw scarface and a christmas story being released, yet neither was nominated for a best picture academy. pretty lame year. C.
House Of Strangers - one of the better fox film noir i've seen from the fox film noir series (these don't include the dassin films released through criterion). this one stars richard conte and edward g. robinson and is as much about family as anything else. it actually felt like a prelude to the godfather in that it's about an italian immigrant family that goes into banking and then faces legal troubles as a result of some poor business practices on the part of the patriarch - robinson. the ending wasn't as good as it could have been, but the film is solid overall and it goes places the average noir doesn't. B+.
I Wake Up Screaming - i have trouble remembering whether or not i've seen a noir or not. one reason is that a lot of them are essentially the same, but the other reason is that about half of the titles have nothing, or little, to do with the content of the film. naked kiss, i wake up screaming, act of violence, etc. of course there are exceptions like maltese falcon or key largo, but the point remains.
this one is an early noir (1941) of mediocre quality. of course a mediocre noir is better than most. C+.
High Noon - about 75 minutes worth of foreplay in this classic. a parable for the cold war era and it works well with gary cooper's on-film persona of the lone man against the changing times. B+.
Hard Candy - hard candy is a term to refer to young children who are difficult to attain sexually; it's used by pedophiles. so that explains the title and subject of this movie, but not the title of the new madonna album. she's just so damn desperate for attention. diatribes aside, this is a great film where i first saw ellen page and gave her a best actress award a couple years before juno. self-horn-tooting aside, the film is certainly worth checking out if you don't mind the graphic nature. it creates an unease and world of gray area that is realistic even though the story isn't. B+.
Tom Jones - one of the worst films to win an academy award for best picture. tough to get through, an utter bore. D.
Bringing Up Baby - classic screwball comedy that finds grant and hepburn working outside of their normal selves: grant is geeky and overly sensitive and hepburn is girly and accident-prone. it's a fun film overall, but not the great film that philadelphia story is. that said, the writing here is full and fun; they don't make em like this anymore. B.
Philadelphia Story - very solid film all around with a good cast and excellent writing. it also happens to be a more introspective film than you see in the romantic comedy genre. i'm not talking about the faux epiphanies you see in films like "what happens in vegas," where the protagonists suddenly realize they're assholes who are meant for each other. no, in the philadelphia story hepburn realizes that she's put up certain boundaries to make loving her impossible. through an unlikely series of events over a few days she opens herself up to cary grant and all is well. good film. A-..
Going My Way - another best picture winner down, more than a dozen to go. bing crosby plays an unbelievably good priest who comes to a new church with the job of running it more smoothly (creditors are threatening eviction). there are too many musical numbers for my taste and the church themes don't really do it for me. it's a nice enough little movie, but not my taste. perhaps the most interesting element is the evidence of the role the church once played in the neighborhood. there's a lot of stuff here that shows kids getting into trouble and the church helps them right the ship, so to speak. C+.
Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde - great story that inspired several filmed adaptations. the effects in this one weren't too bad and reminded me a bit of an american werewolf in london. tracy and bergman do a great job with their respective roles. the film is good, but i think it benefits most from the power of the story. B.
Jewel Of The Nile - sequel to the awesome romancing the stone. this one doesn't have the same spirit as the first, but adds a nice twist by taking a post-modern view of the romance genre. it picks up after turner and douglas essentially sailed off into the sunset in the last film. it reveals the reality of relationships and uses turner as a romance novelist to effectively comment on the genre. this aspect of the film is noteworthy as are the three leads, but it could have used some work otherwise. C+.
Witness To Murder - came out a few months before rear window so i guess rear window the movie could have taken some cues from this one. stanwyck plays a single woman who witnesses what she believes to be a murder in an apartment across the street. the murderer also happens to be an ex-nazi (played by george stevens). the twist of this one is that stevens, rather than simply killing stanwyck to shut her up, convinces the police that she is insane which lands her in an asylum and all but clears his name. of course the bad guy doesn't get away with it in the end, but the ending did fall a little flat for me. good other than that. B.
Funny Games - not as good as the original, which has better actors across the board. this version just didn't do it for me for some reason. C+.
Crime Story - pilot for the tv show of the same name. had some potential, but wasn't all that impressed. abel ferrara really isn't very interesting. C+.
Around The World In 80 Days - there was a ny times article recently about people who do the same thing as the guys who get the whole premise of the movie rolling. it was about the idle, super-rich who made bets with each other that they couldn't get back to their college weight or eat a hamburger (for one of the vegans), etc. this film is about a guy who bets he can travel around the world in 80 days. the rules aren't all that clear which is kinda lame, but i guess they're all gentlemen so it's understood that niven will follow the spirit of the bet. more interesting than naked prey in that it goes a lot of unusual places and films wildlife and local cultures. the camera is located in unusual places as well - it goes in a dumb waiter, on top of an elephant walking through the jungle, and more. fun film which could have been shorter, but there was a lot of local culture interest in the film that added to the running time. B.
Hancock - an interesting film in that it could be read as a parable for modern america - reluctant hero who inflicts a lot of collateral damage and needs a good pr person. the twist isn't difficult to predict, though it does make the point of the film (if there is one) even more muddled. not really sure if the film has a point or just seems like it might. some of the better pieces of work are the ones that skirt an issue and then some ambitious critic comes along and makes a mountain out of a molehill, thereby making a simple film into an epic story about the struggle between two conflicting ideas in a time of social unrest. don't think anyone will do that with this one, but it does lend itself to some interpretation (in part because of the protagonist's name: john hancock). other than the rough plot, the film is basically an uninteresting video game. expect more from peter berg. C-.
Naked Prey - slow film with little dialogue that's based upon the true story of some white settlers who were captured and subsequently hunted by native americans. cornel wilde set the story in africa and it changed from just another western to a film showing some rare (at the time) shots of the unknown continent. some of the cinematography was noteworthy, but it's a fairly uninteresting film otherwise. the criterion collection thinks otherwise. i'd rather watch king solomon's mines or quest for fire. this is a step above the most dangerous game, though. C+.
Death Race 2000 - certainly makes sense that paul bartel (eating raoul) directed this offbeat 70s flick. tak fujimoto (sixth sense, happening) does a good job with the cinematography. this is another in a long line of 70s films about the open road or bizarre futuristic games - films like rollerball, vanishing point, cannonball (also with carradine/bartel), the cannonball run movies (unrelated to cannonball, at least formally), and more. i've written it before and i'll write it again: the 70s were the most exciting decade in film history. that said, there were a lot of exciting and interesting films that weren't all that good; this is a good example. the 70s had great films and bold films and offbeat films and epics and everything in between, but the best films weren't necessary made during this era of freedom and experimentation. i enjoy the 40s and 90s much more, but am constantly surprised by the stuff that was produced during the 70s. C.
Wanted - mick lasalle says there are two ways of viewing the film: "(1) as a go-for-broke action movie of mixed quality and modest but definite entertainment value, or (2) as a sick, sick movie for a sick, sick public." 90% of the time when a person says there are two types of people in the world or there are two ways of viewing something, they're wrong. lasalle makes a habit of being wrong so it comes as no surprise that he falls into the 90% here.
wanted is a fantasy film much in the mold of the matrix and fight club. you'll recall the furor over fight club because some idiots were too dense to grasp the real meaning of fight club and, rather than subject themselves to introspection and thinking about the modern condition, they beat each other up in the "monkey see, monkey do" mold. in "wanted" we have one of my favorite types of film: a film about the modern condition. incidentally, the modern condition films are only slightly less satisfying than the apocalypse films. in the films that highlight the modern condition there is an acknowledgment of the ills of modern living. in the apocalypse film, modern living is turned to chaos, and those are therefore more fulfilling. wanted has all the usual clichés of the cubical living and the ikea furniture and the cheating girlfriend and horrible boss. sure these are lazy clichés, but they also ring true to a lot of people and, while we might not have all of the above symptoms, at least a few of those will resonate with most viewers. so, cliché, yes, but not as bad as clichés normally are.
where the film goes wrong isn't in the fantasy of wanting to get out of the rut, the rat race that is modern life. rather, it goes wrong in some of its execution. the clichés are obvious and the plot is iffy. but this is a fantasy film and it makes that clear within the first few minutes. it doesn't stack up philosophically to films like fight club and the matrix, though it steals from them in an effort to meet their success. with a stronger writer the film might have worked better. danny elfman's music could have used some work too.
lasalle says that "few people who see "Wanted" will bother to think about it," but that isn't saying much. few people who watch anything truly think about it. the film inspires thought and action for those paying attention. i must say that i enjoyed the ending line "what the fuck have you done?" which is a reference to minor threat's song "in my eyes" (a song about, among other things, making a difference in the world) which ends with the lines: "at least i'm fucking trying, what the fuck have you done?!" B-.
Kung Fu Panda - cute enough little animated film. the intro sequence is the best part. jack black is the perfect choice for the panda's voice. another angelina jolie movie, didn't plan it that way. C+.
Romancing The Stone - haven't seen this one in a while, but watched it about a dozen times in the first 14 years of my life. classic comedy-action flick with some adult jokes/references that i didn't get until watching it later on. it's a fun romp through the jungles of colombia. this movie probably shaped my views of romance and colombia as much as any other that i can think of. A.
Bigger, Stronger, Faster* - ostensibly a film about steroids in america, the film is just as much about the filmmaker's family and american culture as anything else. it takes both a personal and macro view of the issue and does so with refreshing clarity and impartiality. bell's main arguments are: 1) steroids are used by a lot of people, professional athletes among the least. 2) steroids have legitimate uses and, when used in moderation, aren't any more harmful than many other drugs whose use isn't ostracized (anti-depressants, alcohol, tobacco, etc.). 3) other performers are allowed to use performance enhancers without congressional intervention and stigma (beta blockers to reduce anxiety for musicians, aderol for students who can't focus, lasik eye surgery for tiger woods [something i've brought up before], etc.). 4) steroids are an extension of a culture that values winning as a primary pursuit.
bell does a good job of cutting through a lot of the crap and media noise associated with this topic. in the end you're left with the inevitable feeling that steroids aren't as bad as the media make them out to be and aren't all that different from a lot of the other crap that we put in our bodies. you can't even really make the argument that allowing them disadvantages poorer competitors (in the olympics for example) because there are so many inequalities there already: state of the art equipment and training facilities, not to mention designer steroids that fool the tests. once again technology has led us down a perilous path where we have to more or less change our fundamental definitions. in this case countries like the u.s., china, germany, etc. are vastly more capable of producing humans with inhuman strength through genetic engineering, lasik-type surgeries, hgh, steroids, not to mention the already existing inequities of high tech training methods, tools, and facilities. gone are the days of
pure competition, and yes, i do believe it once (not so long ago) existed.
bell paints a fairly dark picture of the culture that supports steroid use/abuse. unfortunately i think he's mostly right: we live in a world where getting your own is most important. bell and his brothers have
failed to understand that creating your own terms for success is what leads to long-term happiness. by adopting the terms laid out by bogus role models (hulk hogan, arnold, sly, etc.) such as being buff and powerful, as well as those laid out by society in general (winning is more important than effort), they have doomed themselves to personal failure. instead they should have followed john wooden's pyramid of success which values effort, character, and industriousness over final outcomes such as a blue ribbon or a bmw. these faults of theirs, though, aren't uncommon - they're entirely human, sad as that may be. i don't think our culture will ever change drastically enough to make the point of steroids (gaining a competitive edge) moot. instead we're destined to keep marching down the road of technological "progress" which will include augmenting our bodies with the ligaments and muscles of gorillas, cheetahs, etc. as well as a cocktail of drugs and possibly computer chips and electrodes that perform better than our natural systems. that's the world we live in and fighting it is futile, but necessary. B+.
A Beautiful Mind - in my continuing quest to watch all the best picture winners i saw this one the other day. spoilers to come...pretty good flick all around and explores an important subject which is generally swept under the rug: mental illness. john nash is a paranoid schizophrenic who is also a brilliant mathematician. if not for that last part (and his amazingly patient wife [played by one of the top five beauties to hit the screen - jennifer connelly]), he'd be just another bum on the corner of telegraph and haste yelling to himself and begging for change. it's a bit long in the tooth, but it doesn't play as overly drawn out. it's easy to dismiss a film like this if you haven't seen it, but watch it, experience the pain of the nash family, and be impressed by crowe's performance - then make a judgment. all that said, it wasn't the best film of the year. then again, the best picture winner hardly ever is. and, i actually would have given crowe the best actor nod over denzel here. that was a make up call, though, just like the departed for scorsese and scent of a woman for pacino and so many others... B.
Orphanage - clichés abound in the first half of the film, but the second half redeems it with a not unpredictable plot twist of sorts and increased body counts. there will be a lot of little touches, shots, scenes that remind you of another horror film, even if you can't remember the specific reference. belongs with the better spanish horror films that began gaining traction in the 80s (thesis and in a glass cage). that said, none of these really belong with the upper echelon horror films like night of the living dead, exorcist, etc. B.
Big Store - so so marx brother flick. too many musical numbers for my taste and lacked the consistent punch of their classics. then again i was having my white blood cells sucks out of my body at the time so i may have been a bit distracted. even groucho admitted that his post-a day at the races work wasn't the best. C+.
Rare Breed - tells another story of the changing west. this one covers the out-breeding of longhorn cattle which were replaced by a bigger breed. it's an interesting story told not very interestingly. it's more romance than western or historical piece. stewart is past his prime here and still playing a young type. C.
Love Guru - not hilarious, but funny enough. it's gotten plenty of bad press, i think a bit unfairly. i do wonder how much better it would be received in canada where hockey is the national sport, or europe, where this kind of off the wall comedy is a little more their taste. C+.
Get Smart - don't remember the show as well as i'd like. hathaway is smokin' and carrell does his thing to moderate success. i felt they actually made his character a little more capable and sympathetic than i remember him being in the show. passes the time. B-.
Two Rode Together - sort of an oddly toned film for john ford. more comedic and light than much of his other films. stewart and widmark (especially) appear over the hill here. they both do a fine job in spite of coming off as old. of course stewart still had a few good roles ahead of him, not so sure about widmark in that regard as his best stuff was definitely in the 40s and he kinda withered away after the 50s. there's some good filmmaking here, and some old-fashioned sensibilities, and some fun. nothing great though. B-.
Way Out West - short feature film with laurel and hardy. may actually be the first time i've seen one of their films in its entirety, which is somewhat pathetic. there are still many gaps in my film credentials, that's for sure. not a great film, but it's entertaining enough. a lot of the gags are predictable to the modern audience, but may not have been in 1937. marx brothers, chaplin, w.c. fields, keaton, and laurel and hardy is how i'd rank the early film comedy giants. simple plot and slow pace keep it from being better. it's short at about 70 minutes, but it could have been even shorter. B.
Resolved - very good documentary reminded me a bit of spellbound meets hoop dreams and about as good as the former. the film follows high school debaters (no jokes about "mass-debate," please). shows the different levels on which one can experience debating as a hobby/competition and does a good job of staying impartial. if you haven't seen any debates before it'll probably surprise you to see just how strange the whole ritual is. louis and richard are inspiring people who miss the mark a bit. feel good flick available on hbo. B+.
Cat Ballou - afi recently rated this the #10 best western of all-time; i think not. first, if this is a western then so is blazing saddles and that's a better film than this. second, it's a decent enough flick, but it isn't in the top ten of anything, except maybe the top ten jane fonda films...it's got a catchy main theme that's sung in part by nat king cole. it also is interesting because of how it plays with the western genre by flipping things on their head. it's entertaining for that reason alone. C+.
Guns Of Navarone - longish film that reminded me of dirty dozen and other "impossible mission" type war films. unlike dirty dozen, though, the characters here didn't really do much for me. peck is always good, but he isn't great here. i think the major reason i watched this one is that it's referenced in pulp fiction. C+.
Diary Of The Dead - if you've seen the previous four films in the "dead" series (night of the living dead, dawn of the dead, day of the dead, land of the dead) then you may as well watch this one too. it was about as good as land of the dead, which is to say it's not that great. the acting is subpar and the storyline doesn't do anything you haven't already seen from the dead films or their imitators. the social commentary in this film extends to the media and brings in the youtube generation, but that's the only reason that this film is notable. it is remarkable that romero has been doing this since the 60s and has affected a few different generations with these films. C+.
Waitress - keri russell does a fine, but imperfect job in the lead. the ending was nice, but somewhat unbelievable. a quirky film with an indie bent. nice enough. B.
Faust - emil jannings and f.w. murnau team up again to great effect. this one isn't as entertaining or watchable as last laugh, but it's a tour-de-force of early filmmaking and one that officially puts both of them on my good list. i'm not a fan of silent cinema, or a whole lot of anything before 1939, but murnau's early stuff is as interesting thematically and visually, as anything else during that time. this one has as hefty a set of themes as you can probably address - good, evil, love. artfully done film that every film lover should watch once and then revisit every 10 years or so. B+.
Mystery Street - not sure about the title. follows in the footsteps of other docu-noirs like call northside 777 that have an emphasis on the science/method of crime-solving. in this way it will appeal to fans of csi and the like. overall it's not as good as call northside 777 which i consider the definitive film of this sub-genre. also, instead of james stewart we have ricardo montalban in the lead. montalban is good here and in border incident, but he's no jimmy stewart. also, 777 has great supporting actors like conte and lee j. cobb (one of my favorite character actors). nothing quite as good as film noir to get you out of a film watching slump. B+.
Happening - may be the best directed film by m. night shyamalan. still think that the sixth sense is his most enjoyable, but this one is up there. a bit of a disappointing ending, but i think that's to be expected with the genre. everything from close encounters to 2001 to war of the worlds lets me down with their endings so i pretty much shrugged this one off as just part of the genre in that regard. what didn't disappoint, though, was shyamalan's building of tension through framing, especially. strangely, the other film i think of when it comes to building tension through framing/cutting is the remake of when a stranger calls. this one was better of course. if you're a fan of shyamalan's work then this one shouldn't disappoint. B+.
Incredible Hulk - didn't watch too much of the show and didn't see the ang lee version of this comic so i don't have too much to compare this film to in that regard. however, as far as comic book films go, this one is pretty much in the middle of the pack. not as bad as fantastic four and not as good as ironman. liv tyler is a fox and quite good as a comic book woman, though not as good as gwenyth paltrow. ed norton does a fine, but imperfect, job as the lead. leterrier brings his euro-flash direction, but it's a little much in this context. it worked for the transporter films and danny the dog, but i thought it was a bit over-the-top here. comics can be over-the-top, but there's a tongue in cheek element to it and a slower pace that doesn't match his direction. his direction would work for a film like district b13, but not here. C+.
Act Of Violence - great noir. robert surtees' (ben hur, the sting, the graduate) cinematography is stunning as always. heflin and ryan are great as well, but the women are uncharacteristically good as well. leigh and astor play the wife and girlfriend of heflin and ryan respectively. they're given solid roles in this film and that's somewhat of a rarity in this genre. it's a gritty film with some raw themes. i love the locations in the bars, alleyways, and on the railroad tracks. it's a very different kind of coming home from the war film than love laughs at andy hardy. i would guess it was a bit of catharsis for zinneman. at any rate, very good film overall. B+.
Wuthering Heights - heavy, but good flick overall. toland's cinematography is very good, wasn't in love with newman's score. didn't appreciate the ending. B-.
Love Laughs At Andy Hardy - maybe not quite as good as "love finds andy hardy," but a solid throwback nonetheless. this is like the anti-noir or "best years of our lives" and that's not necessarily a bad thing. this one shows andy hardy returning from wwII with a love interest that goes unfulfilled (again). it's pretty much the same formula as the other film in this series that i've seen, right down to the singing sequence from the woman who ends up making him forget about his love earlier in the film. the father character is great and there are some great comic moments here. B.
Forbidden Kingdom - not a very good film. it's sort of a kung fu version of the neverending story, but the fantasy isn't as compelling and the acting isn't very good. direction is lacking as well. woo-ping yuen does a fine job with the fight choreography. C.
A Map For Saturday - first saw this documentary in a truncated form on mtv; that makes it one of the top 5 things of all-time to air on mtv. it's a great documentary about a man who quits his job and goes on a road trip around the world for a year. as someone who has traveled for a long period of time (though nothing close to what he did) i completely understood what it was like to be on the road for the first time and get the feeling of dread: "what the hell am i doing this for?" as well as the feelings of freedom and reluctance to join real society again. it encapsulates these feelings so much better than something like "into the wild" and does it without being pretentious or over-bearing or dishonest. silva-braga is honest about the pitfalls of life on the road and the niceties of a more conventional life. the truth, though, is that life on the road is a freeing, philosophical, wonderful way of life and people like me and him would probably choose to live it 6 months out of the year if we could afford it. this is a must see for anyone who has done, or is planning on doing, extensive traveling. B+.
28 Weeks Later - a lame follow-up to a great film. this one is interesting from a plot perspective because it's not about the outbreak of a new disease that no one knows anything about, rather it's about another outbreak of a disease that has already claimed thousands of lives and left london all but empty. from that perspective, and that perspective only, it's worth its weight. otherwise it's fairly pedestrian. it does have one sick twist and that is that the re-outbreak comes as a result of a husband kissing his wife who is a carrier of the disease because she has a natural immunity. twisted. C.
Sex And The City - going into the film you already know how you're going to feel about it. i happen to think that sex and the city is about as vapid, materialistic, and obnoxious as tv gets; and what makes it worse is that it's actually appreciated by intelligent people. what separates this drivel from reality tv is some good writing and introspection. this is what the intelligent fans probably latch onto, unfortunately it's so buried in product placement, objectification of both sexes, materialism, and whining that it's nearly impossible for me to appreciate the positives. that said, there are some thoughtful moments and good laughs in here and the series. as an aside, the film provides a better title for the series when carrie talks about the two "L"s: labels and love. that's what the title should be because that's what the series is really about. the sex is (for three of them anyway) about searching for love and the labels/fashion are easily as important as the (over-rated) city. D.
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull - better than the last crusade and as enjoyable as temple of the doom and raiders of the lost ark. i like temple of the doom the most, but it's basically dead even with raiders. this one is a fun throwback with an update in the level of stunts and effects. shia labeouf is great. ford is a step below his former self, but does an adequate job and seems to warm up as the film progresses. karen allen does a fine job. cate blanchett is always trying to stretch her acting talents and goes a bit too far here. overall the film is highly entertaining and does much of the same stuff that the other films did, but does it for a modern audience. the archaeology is a little less intriguing in this one because of the close encounters of the third kind element to it (the first shot of the paramount mountain fading into a shot of a prairie dog's mound is a nod to the close encounters of the third kind tie in). the reviews on this one are very mixed which i understand, but i thought it was great fun. labeouf and ford had an enjoyable chemistry, the stunts were fun, and the mythology they were chasing was intriguing enough. B+.
Hacking Democracy - some scary stuff here and i believe most of it which is why i'm as jaded as i am. B-.
Recount - hadn't planned on watching this one, but when i started it i didn't want to stop. does a good job of recounting (pun intended) the events surrounding the 2000 election. i thought it did a decent enough job of staying non-partisan, especially when the facts work against the bushies. good cast. in a sea of mediocre anti-bush/iraq films/documentaries this is one that is worth watching. B.
13 Tzameti - intriguing concept. the film ratchets up the tension and intrigue as it goes on. B.
Right At Your Door - disappointing ending to disappointing film. it does little with a genre that has the potential for a lot. it really amazes me how often people ruin potential. C-.
How To Marry A Millionaire - probably not the most feminist-friendly film. it's about three women who rent an upscale suite out of their price range in order to capture rich husbands. grable and monroe play dumb blondes and bacall plays the brains of the bunch who is jaded because of her last (penniless) husband. in the end the money issue becomes moot and everyone is happy. in this way it's a typical romantic comedy. C.
Cinemania - solid documentary about four cinema-obsessed social rejects who put my movie watching habits to shame. there's some good philosophy within the film and colorful characters who make it sad, funny, and enjoyable. B.
Man Who Knew Too Much - stewart and day are solid and the wrong man plot is pure hitchcock. haven't seen the original, will have to do that eventually. B-.
Starbucking - similar to cinemania in that it's about a guy who is obsessive-compulsive. his compulsion is manifested in drinking coffee and visiting every starbucks in the world, but it's not much different in its effect. unlike cinemania this film lacks direction and is focused on one subject, rather than four, so it doesn't make for a highly entertaining documentary. it's interesting and good conversation material, but isn't noteworthy from a filmmaking standpoint. C.
Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer - better than the original, but that's not saying much. it tries to use the quirky superpowers to comic effect, but all the gags come off as cheesy rather than comical. C-.
Iron Man - oh this movies is in imdb.com's top 250, what a fucking surprise. their top 250 is so fickle it's ridiculous. this is one of the better comic book films i've seen in recent years. not as good as the new batch of batman films, but better than spider-man, fantastic four, and some of the others. robert downey does a solid job in owning the two sides of the persona. gwyneth paltrow plays tony stark's assistant perfectly - just like a comic book assistant might be depicted. come to think of it, this is one of the more comic book feeling comic book renditions that i've seen. i wasn't a fan of the iron man series so i can't say how faithful the film is to the original source, but they pulled off the comic book feel fairly well so kudos for that. B+.
Made Of Honor - horrible dreck. these films are beyond predictable. it tells the tale from the male perspective, which is the only different thing about it. other than that it's very traditional (with regards to gender roles) and the dialogue/plot are utterly pedestrian. stay away. D-.
What Happens In Vegas - another predictable romantic comedy without imagination. this and made of honor are similar in that they're the same, but the location has changed. it's all about happy endings, eye candy and exotic locations. rob corddry and lake bell were the comic highlights, but they were secondary characters so there wasn't enough of them to save the film. D.
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed - everything that people claim a michael moore film is, and then some. it's truly bad propaganda without any intellectual honesty or real perspective. they weave in stock footage and film footage as a way of commentary on the topic at hand, thus making a judgment without having ben stein actually say anything. the highlight of the film was linking darwinism and nazism. what the nazis did, they said, wouldn't have been possible without the ideas of darwin. of course this is wrong for a number of reasons (eugenics is flawed in part because evolution is about the positive effects of genetic mutation, which the nazis clearly rebuked), but stein doesn't care to think too much about this (or anything). the film is all about making loose associations and weak critiques of evolution and academia in an effort to make "intelligent design" a more tractable concept. it's not that i'm interested in hearing the ideas argued on their own merits, but this film doesn't even touch the science in any real way. stein clearly fancies himself a cross between the wit and political hell raising talents of michael moore and the science and likability of the new al gore; but he's not even close to either of them. when someone wants to make a documentary that honestly looks at the shortcomings of evolution and the theories of intelligent design then i'll watch it. this film isn't that at all. D-.
Science Of Sleep - this one is like eternal sunshine of the spotless mind as written by michel gondry. it's not really my kind of film, but you can't help being drawn in by gondry's vivid imagination and visuals. B.
Redbelt - david mamet is hit and miss, and this one is a miss. glengarry glen ross was good and so was untouchables, but everything else is either bad or missable. this one is beyond bad in almost every way. the writing is poor and mamet's direction is a disaster. there are stilted performances throughout the film and he does nothing to rectify that. don't waste your time. D-.
Driving Miss Daisy - over-rated character film. actually, the best part of the film was beresford's focus on period features like the cars. nothing special here. C.
Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay - if you liked the off-the-wall potty and pot humor of the first one then you'll probably like this one. it's not as good, but it sticks to the formula pretty closely so you won't be disappointed. B.
Love Finds Andy Hardy - good 30s comedy with mickey rooney, judy garland, and lana turner. it's a fun little comedy with great performances from all the stars and some of the supporting characters. this one is from a series of andy hardy films, only two are currently on dvd. B.
Baby Mama - if you liked the preview then quit while you're ahead. C.
Disturbia - a cross between rear window and the girl next door. the difference is that this isn't hitchcock/stewart, but it's also not emile hirsch and elisha cuthbert; and that's a good thing. shia labeouf is actually an enjoyable young actor. he's got a comic sense that is naturalistic and effortless, he also has a boy next door quality that translates well to the screen. he's definitely an actor with potential, wish he got the roles that emile hirsch has been getting lately.
it's basically your typical thriller/teenage fare. caruso's direction is present, sometimes a little too so. the love interest next door is a hottie. B-.
88 Minutes - pacino's final great film was heat and that's as evident here as it has been in any film in the 13 years (hard to believe it's been that long) since that was released. he mails this one in, but i guess that makes sense since he's practically a geezer at this point and the script/surrounding talent is definitely not up to his usual standard.
the script keeps you guessing to a certain extent because it's (too) full of red herrings (though i picked the murderer fairly early on). the most interesting part of the film and the script was the role that technology played. a film like this 15 years ago would have unfolded over the course of a week rather than the eponymous time frame. because of cell phones and the internet, though, the film could be squished to a much shorter period of time in a single afternoon. one could write a compelling essay on the role of technology within films. from western films that highlight the role of new weaponry, railroads, telegraph lines, etc. to more recent films that highlight the role of cell phones (88 minutes, cellular) and the internet (the net, untraceable, etc.). C.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall - judd apatow makes honest comedies that consistently deliver, it's pretty much that simple. in pretty much every film that he's involved in there's an honesty inherent within the film's writing that you don't generally see in comedies. the end of this film wasn't as ambitious and ballsy as i would have liked, but it was likable enough for most and i can't fault it too much. mila kunis was surprisingly good (another hallmark of apatow's works are strong, solid leading women from freaks and geeks to 40 year old virgin, knocked up, and forgetting sarah marshall). apatow is the most important comedy mind in hollywood today. B+.
Blades Of Glory - part of the will ferrell series of sports films this one is as much about ferrell as it is about will arnet, amy poehler, and the rest of the supporting cast. jon heder is a crappy one hit wonder, but the others do a decent job. you know what you're going to get with a film like this so there aren't any surprises. it's like the kenny thomas (power forward for the sacramento kings) of sports movies. C+.
Ali G Indahouse - decent enough extension of the tv show. there's nothing special here and i actually prefer the ali g character in the bite size pieces, but this one still produces laughs (along with tna). B-.
Death Wish - love em or hate em, the 70s produced the most intriguing films of any decade i can think of. that's not to say that the best films of all-time came out at this time, but there was a raw freshness that was in full bloom during this time. this one fits into the revenge genre that the decade is so well-known for (last house on the left, i spit on your grave, fight for your life, etc.). i started watching this film on amc and quickly realized that it was going to get even more butchered than the average amc showing. ended up watching it later on dvd and that was a good decision. the first 10 minutes, which establish the severity of the crime, were completely watered down by amc.
it's not a great film, but it's a good film in a great decade with some great genre films. B-.
El Topo - if you're into surrealism then you probably already know about this one and you may like it. if you're not into surrealism then you might not know of this one and you probably won't like it. in other words - you probably already know all that you need to know about this one, whether that's everything or nothing. D.
You Can't Take It With You - capra rises another notch in my book. this one is sort of a prelude to "it's a wonderful life," but in a more theatrical form and more wacky plot. the original characters and busy mise-en-scene make for a fun and fairly quick film given the 2+ hour runtime. in the end, hope and friendship prevail. capra is actually underrated. B+.
Street Kings - exceeded expectations. this is probably the role of keanu reeves' lifetime. some would say that that's not saying much, but, to be fair, he's been in some good films and done well in a few of them - parenthood and the matrix being the two standout examples. here, he actually looks like an actor with some depth and something more beyond his simple face. he's generally the kind of actor who acts very literally and leaves little to the imagination, but here he allows you to read his performance, rather than hearing it. that is, when he's stewing inside he doesn't overdo it by saying "gosh i'm so angry right now" or by overacting, he just acts, and that's an accomplishment. kidding aside, it's a good performance by a notoriously subpar actor.
the writing, by james ellroy, is as good as you would expect. it grabs you almost right away (though, the alarm clock beginning is (i'm told) cliché) and never lets go. i once wrote a story that began with the protagonist waking up to an alarm clock and everyone in the class said that it was a cliché way to begin a story. wonder if those assholes would have told ellroy (author of l.a. confidential) the same thing. B.
Smart People - this film is all about the performances because the writing and directing leave something to be desired. page, quaid, and church are all good. quaid steps outside of his usual role the most here and it's fun to watch. unfortunately, the film starts well and fades with time. the predictable ending is a waste. B-.
A Night In Casablanca - average marx brothers is like average ice cream or pizza. B.
Shootist - great western about (what else?) the end of an era. technology plays a large part in the film - the phone, the horseless carriage, visible wiring, electric street cars, etc. it ends exactly as it should and it's well directed by don siegel. B+.
Last Casino - crappy canadian made-for-tv flick that's a precursor to "21" - professor enlists the help of some students to count cards in blackjack and bilk casinos out of thousands of dollars. this one was even worse than the american version. it's overly stylistic and lacks quality writing or acting so it's pretty much a disaster from the word go. the girl is good looking in a girl next door kind of way. D.
Leatherheads - clooney weaves in a pointless little nod to the swift boaters and it helps sink any momentum the film had as a comedy or romance. had some potential as a throwback ala intolerable cruelty, but it was ruined. C-.
Run Fatboy Run - the thinking was that two comedies would be as good a way as any to follow up ucla's defeat in the final four. the thinking was sound, the movies were not. a poor film with a couple laughs and a predictable plot. D+.
To Be Or Not To Be - great, gutsy film that reminded me of producers, but predates it by 26 years. why don't they make more films like this? unlike leatherheads it was able to tell a story in an entertaining manner, have plenty of comedy, and have some socio-political commentary at the same time. a good one. B+.
Plagues And Pleasures On The Salton Sea - semi-interesting documentary about the salton sea: the environmental disaster, the ex-rich person's paradise, and current home of many odd characters. it's an interesting story about a living environmental lesson. could have been done better, but the content was solid. B-.
21 - definitely cliché from time to time. it starts with a lame intro about the origins of the term "winner winner, chicken dinner" and it gives us a little preview of what our protagonist (ben) is goes through during the next two hours. the end, too, is cliché to the point of extreme predictability and, if you know anything about movies, you may as well skip the last 15 minutes because you know how everything's going to turn out anyway. that said, this film has some B+ moments that lift its overall grade. the relationship between kevin spacey and the overachieving m.i.t. students who feed off of his acceptance and the thrill of doing something other than burying their noses in books, is an interesting one. spacey is devilish and you can see why a naive (yet brilliant) college student like ben would fall for him. spacey's performance ebbs and flows as he manipulates the students to his needs. he feeds their egos as the carrot and threatens expulsion as the stick. the film also does a good job of depicting the allure of fast money and an alternative lifestyle for these bookish kids.
it's got plenty of little film references throughout the film, and the more you know about movies the more you're likely to notice them. for example, spacey's character is named mickey rosa which might be a nod to the late miklos rozsa, the film composer. spacey's character asks a question of his class and makes the famous ben stein/ferris bueller reference. there are plenty of others as well.
i can't say that i'd recommend the film, but if you happen to find yourself in the theater looking for a second film to watch then go ahead and check this one out. the film did make me want to read the book, even more so than the npr story they had on this group of students a few years back. C+.
In Bruges - good little crime comedy. gleeson and farrell are both good and fienes makes a good supporting appearance in an unusual role. recommended. B+.
Great Mouse Detective - not the best of the disney animated films, but it's an underrated classic. it cribs off of the sherlock holmes franchise and gives it the disney twist. it's a relatively dark disney film, and that's a good thing. vincent price is great. B.
Stop-Loss - it's a nice enough idea for a film, but it's not at all well-executed in any way. there are some mtv moments with photo/home video montages and music that seem misplaced, there's some bad acting, some bad military advising, etc. it's a long feeling film whose only real redeeming quality is the ending which just affirms reality in that it denies the movie ideal wherein the hero some how wins some moral victory by leaving the country or changing the system and getting the girl at the same time. in reality none of those things happen and life goes on. D+..
Counterfeiters - it's unusual to see a holocaust film these days that's at all different from the millions that have come before it. this one's at least a bit different from the ones i've seen though because the protagonist is, at least at first, a relatively unsavory character. he's a master counterfeiter and isn't the usual jewish saint or german devil that we're used to seeing in these films. his german counterpart is also a more moderate german than we're used to seeing. both are about adaptation and survival - they do what they need to do to get through the war. by the film's end our protagonist has learned to care about more than himself, but not unbelievably so. the plot (the germans get jewish counterfeiters/printers to print british/american money to help win the war) is also interesting and different given the context. B+.
Meet The Browns - the worst tyler perry film i've seen, but i didn't think it was that bad. rick fox is a horrible actor and wasn't much of a basketball player either. the acting overall was poor in this film and it felt very thrown together. that said, perry's films still address a reality in the black community and do so honestly and with humor that obviously resonates with them. this one just felt too much like filler while he works on his next real picture. C.
Doomsday - great splatter film that is a cross between road warrior and escape from new york. it starts out on with a dark tone and slowly settles into a fun ride with over-the-top action, a kick ass chick protagonist, and some good laughs. neil marshall directed the descent which is another film with strong lead female characters and was equally well-directed. he's officially on my list of directors to watch. B+.
Bride Of Frankenstein - the best part of this film is when the monster is wandering through the forest and a blind man befriends him. it's the most poignant moment in a film about man's inhumanity to man. B.
Horton Hears A Who - don't remember the book so can't comment on how it compares. it's definitely on the long side, but that's to be expected considering it's a feature length film taken from a short kids book. it's funny and has a nice enough ending. good overall for what it is. B-.
Lady In The Lake - the whole film is shot from the point of view of philip marlow which is supposed to draw the audience in an make us a part of the action/mystery. i suppose it was novel for the time (though dark passage also did it and came out the same year), but it's not a good enough technique to base an entire film around it. i mostly slept through this one and can't honestly say i liked much about it. when acting opposite a camera most of the actors look as though they're acting too much. i really think that having someone else to play against helps an actor and this film proves that as much as anything else. one mildly interesting note is that the lead actor is also the director and it's probably the only time in film that the lead actor and director were both "behind the camera." C-.
Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry - great 70s chase film about a trio of gearheads who are running from the law. it's a cross between two other classics - two-lane blacktop and vanishing point. it's better than blacktop but not as good as vanishing point, which predates this one and is more of a parable. the car chases were a bit of a let down as they tended to end too soon, but they were nice enough anyway. a nice mix of good and cheesy dialogue delivered by subpar actors makes for a fun flick. the ending is an homage to vanishing point. there's no decade in film like the 70s; it's more raw and uninhibited than any before or since. B+.
Gentleman's Agreement - a predictable and somewhat dated, yet timeless film. if that sounds contradictory, allow me to explain. the style and specific subject of discrimination (jews) felt dated to me, but the overarching theme of xenophobia is as timeless a theme as art can address. though the film isn't as good as merchant of venice and probably isn't the best film of 1947, it's a fine film for the most part. my gripes with the film are that it was too predictable and some of the characters' epiphanies seemed borderline stupid. e.g., when peck figures out that his angle for the anti-semitism story will to go undercover as a jew he treats it as if it's some major revelation, and it takes a while for him to even come up with the idea. this in spite of the fact that every story in his past were done in the same manner: e.g., he recalls that his story on coal miners was not a result of interviews with coal miners, rather it was a result of his becoming a coal miner and then writing about his experience...if this tactic worked on every story he wrote in the past, what took him so long to apply it to this one? it just wasted 10 minutes of the film showing him trying to come up with a good angle. his fiancé in the film had a similar epiphany when she realized how anti-semitism was being perpetuated in society.
lastly, the best part of the film was peck's performance. he may be the most principled actor of all-time. roles like this and that of atticus finch and general savage certainly place him in the running. B-.
Border Incident - not the best anthony mann picture ever, but a heady film worth watching for mann completists. it's ahead of its time in its subject matter, but it gives a somewhat rosy view of the way things work when the system is enforced. ricardo montalban does a good job. more of a docu-noir than anything else, a bit in the vein of call northside 777 and such. i've now seen about a third of the 44 films that mann directed or co-directed. B-.
Walkabout - not my style, but a good film nonetheless. i liked the themes of society vs. nature and innocence and coming of age, but i found the film to be too slow. B-.
Bank Job - good heist film. stylish, but not overly so. has a lot of sexual elements to it which are actually there for more than just eye candy. in fact, much of the film's main pivot points is the wariness of the british government to allow seedy photos of members of the royal family to leak. if not for the generally prudish nature of society the titular heist would not have occurred. B+.
Girls Rock! - not a very good documentary about a 5 day camp for girls that teaches them how to play musical instruments and be comfortable in their own skin. it's not a bad idea and it's not a bad subject for a documentary, but neither are executed well. the camp comes off as almost as much anti-man as it is pro-woman, and the documentary lacks focus. C.
Sunrise - murnau's moving up quickly in my book these days. this is the somewhat expressionistically told story of a love triangle: a man, his mistress from the city, and his farmer wife. the mistress wife seeks to convince the man to run away with her to the city after killing his wife. the man (as he is credited) takes his wife on a row boat in the middle of a lake with the intention of throwing her overboard, but isn't able to bring himself to do it. she becomes extremely afraid of him and runs away once they reach land, and he pursues her in order to convince her that his wicked intentions have passed. trying to explain the range of emotions that the characters (and audience) experience over the course of the film through plot recollection or any other means is somewhat futile. suffice it to say that this silent film, with very few intertitles, blew me away after this, my first, viewing. it's very rare that i give any film that is new to me a grade higher than a B+, but this one deserves that rare distinction. everyone's acting is expressionistic, but not overly so. o'brien and gaynor are both radiant in their happiness and truly bleak in their depression. murnau's falsely happy ending in the last laugh and somber conclusion in tabu made me think i knew where this film was going, but i was (thankfully) wrong. great film. a must see. A-.
Day The Earth Stood Still - one of the best, most timeless, and most outwardly political sci-fi films of all-time. there's not much wrong with it, quite frankly. it's tautly constructed, it jumps right into the juicy stuff, it's got some real substance, and the performances are all good. i'd watch it again tomorrow. A.
League Of Their Own - should have been cut to get under the 2 hour mark. marshall didn't do a great job with the direction, which is unfortunate, because the script has some good comedy and it tells a nice story. lovitz and hanks are highlights, davis is also good, everyone else was so-so at best. C+.
How Green Was My Valley - reminded me a bit of a cross between the grapes of wrath and the godfather. it's a film about a family living in a valley in wales, but i suppose it's really more about the valley and the town, than the singular family. it shows the transformation of the town and the family unit and it does so with varying degrees of success. i think the major flaw of the film is that the characters weren't as vibrant as they were in grapes of wrath or the godfather. the father figure and roddy mcdowall's character were compelling, but not as engaging to me as michael corleone or tom joad. i also felt that this film was a bit on the sprawling side, and not in the good way like godfather. grapes of wrath was a more focused picture and benefited from that focus. godfather was a sprawling epic, but everything that the story touched was fascinating; this wasn't so true with this film.
those slights aside, how green was my valley is a touching story about a world in a state of flux. the scene that really brought it home for me was when young mcdowall took out a map to show his mother the locations of her sons/his brothers. having left the coal mines of the valley to seek other sources of employment the sons become scattered around the globe. mcdowall illustrates this on the map and draws a star connecting all the dots of the sons in an effort to cheer up his mother, but this attempt only further illustrates how fragmented the family has become because of the economic situation of the valley.
strong film on the whole. had some slow parts and i wish the characters were a little more developed. B+.
She Wore A Yellow Ribbon - haven't seen the other films in the calvary trilogy, but i can't imagine there's a more definitive look at the calvary than this one. i didn't love the film overall, mostly because of the simplistic cowboys/indians dialectic. it's a fairly entertaining film, but there's nothing amazing here. my favorite element of the film was certainly the cinematography and location shooting. the monument valley is just so beautiful it's hard not to like a movie that's filmed there. C+.
Atonement - interesting film. knightley needs to eat a sandwich and learn to act. score was good and should win the oscar. inventive and incorporates the film's elements well.
strangely, i liked the first part, which was more period drama and love story, than the second part, which took place on the battlefield (sorta). none of the performances were very good, but knightley's was actually bad. it reminded me a bit of brokeback mountain, but that film's strengths and weaknesses were the inverse of this films. brokeback had good acting and so-so direction, atonement had so-so acting and good direction. it's a compelling story because of the elements of regret, love, memory, youth, and injustice.
cinematography was nominated for an oscar, but only had two noteworthy scenes. the best one was the tracking shot on the beach with all the soldiers waiting to leave and it lasted about 7 minutes. it was one continuous shot without a cut and it was impressively choreographed. don't let anyone tell you it was amazing, but it was very good. as for the film, nice enough, probably a better book. B.
Madame Tutli-Putli - oscar-nominated short about a woman on a train, other than that i couldn't really tell you what was going on. is there some commentary on materialism, is it just a trippy train ride, something existential, a dream? truly great animation and a good score make it watchable, but anything more than 15 minutes and i would want to know what the hell i'm watching. B-.
Last Man On Earth - the original version of i am legend and omega man. none of the three are all that good, which is a shame because the idea holds tremendous potential. price is better than heston and smith, but isn't great. the ending is a bit much with all its religious symbolism, but it wasn't too bad. the beginning was probably the best of the three, but overall i was disappointed quite a bit by this trilogy of interpretations of the original book. C+.
Panic In Year Zero - better than last man on earth and predates it. didn't know of milland as a director until i watched this one. like last man on earth this is an apocalyptic film - nuclear war breaks out all over the world and a family from los angeles heads for the hills to ride things out. it does a good job of covering a lot of the aspects of the panic that results from such an event. the breakdown of civil society, atavistic impulses surge, and a contemporary film turns into a western.
Be Kind Rewind - a good little romp. gondry is very imaginative and that is evident here as always. a lot of the humor derives from the youtube style renditions of popular films that mos def and jack black produce. in this way the film has a very amateurish (in a good way) feel to it. both leads do a good job with the film and have a good chemistry. overall the film feels like a few friends got together and had a good time making a film about something they wish they could do (make short films based upon real films, for money). they tacked on the stock storyline about needing to get a bunch of money quickly or face eviction (something which isn't ever really finalized). B.
Vantage Point - right away you know the film is going to suck. weaver's performance is mailed in and the direction and writing are about as cheesy as a fox reality show. even with all the talent and potential that of the film's premise present, it manages to end up being very poor and laughably cheesy. films like this make you appreciate the fine line between awesome action flick and cheesy and forgettable dud. D.
Maltese Falcon - not as good as the big sleep for one reason: mary astor, or lauren bacall if you prefer. mary astor isn't foxy and she's not all that convincing as a femme fatale here so bogey is left to carry the film with the help of greenstreet, cook jr., and lorre. in the big sleep, bacall matches bogey's greatness and they elevate the film together. here, bogey plays the ultimate realist/pessimist (depending upon your perspective). to me he reflects the character he is opposite. he's raging when he meets greenstreet (who is outwardly calm, but raging inside), he has a sly, devilish smile when he's with astor (which reflects her inner deceptive nature), and he gets rough with elisha cook jr. (who wants to be calm and cool like bogey, but is inwardly raging like greenstreet).
loved huston's economical direction and the male performances. the script is great as well. it's a great film all-around. A.
People Under The Stairs - very average horror film overall. it's notable because pulp fiction makes a reference to it: ving rhames is in the film and he finds himself in a house with a white couple, one of whom dresses in leather while rampaging through the house with a shotgun. pulp fiction references this with the ving rhames/bruce willis "zed" scene. there is a class/race dynamic here since the bad guys are actually the white slumlords who own the house and the eponymous "people under the stairs" are creepy, but really just victims of the true villains. C+.
Man Who Shot LIberty Valance - maybe the perfect western. it's certainly not my favorite western, but in a lot of ways this one represents the potential of the western genre. it has the basic western themes of good vs. evil and lawlessness vs. progress and it plays with these in a unique way. it does some hero-building and hero-destroying, and reveals some of the artifice of these tall tales we love so much. A-.
Winchester '73 - my favorite mann/stewart collaboration is still far country. B+.
Jumper - really bad writing and subpar acting lead to a bad film here. doug liman has shown some promise in the past with films like swingers, go, and the bourne identity, but this one falls well short of the mark. the idea is good enough for a film, but the execution lacks. characters could have been more developed, voice-overs should have been eliminated, etc. in writing 101 they tell you to show the reader something, rather than saying it. this film doesn't get that concept and fails as a result. D.
Definitely, Maybe - not horrible. abagail breslin is cute and precocious and ryan reynolds isn't all that bad. from a structural standpoint it was interesting because the audience is introduced to three potential lovers and has to guess which one reynolds ended up marrying. the end is a bit of a cop out because 2 of the 3 women turn out to be the "right" answer, but it's a clever twist nonetheless. C+.
Quantum Hoops - nice enough documentary about the caltech basketball team which has gone the last 20+ years without a conference victory. a lot of it focuses on the school, its history, and the history of the athletic programs in an otherwise academic institution. it's a bit like heart of the game, but without all the heart and winning. B-.
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days - it took a while to get here and it's got kind of a dumb title, but it's a great film.
the film starts with a shot of two goldfish in a bowl and you know right away that it's going to be a look inside the world of two people. this first shot, incidentally, is the key to understanding the last shot which is pulled off quite well. the film follows two roommates as they go about getting an abortion for one of them. you don't know right away that this is what they're setting out to do, but the hints are there and you'll suspect this is their goal before it's explicitly revealed.
it's shot in a very slow cinema verite style to accentuate the ordeal the two women go through in accomplishing their task. there aren't any unnecessary cuts and a few of the scenes last 5-10 minutes without any break. one of my favorites occurs at one of the girls' boyfriend's house where his mom is celebrating her 48th birthday. the scene shows the cultural climate of romania as well as highlighting the differences between the girl and her boyfriend. mungiu isn't afraid to show anything in the film. he doesn't shy away from topics and images that most media avoid or talk around. he explores every facet of getting an illegal abortion (and more) - the procedure itself, the payment, what to do with the fetus afterwards, etc. - with equal aplomb and honesty.
it's a fascinating film with some admittedly slow parts, but it's worth slogging through the first 20 minutes to get to know the characters and experience what they experience. one of the best new films i've seen in a while. B+.
Crimes And Misdemeanors - next to annie hall this is probably my favorite woody allen picture. it has the serious philosophy and moral difficulties of match point and cassandra's dream (vise versa actually) and some of the humor you'd expect from a woody allen picture. the film's serious center revolves around the dialectic between idealism and reality. the idealistic characters (sam waterson the blind (literally and metaphorically) rabbi and woody allen the principled documentary filmmaker) don't fare well, while the so-called realists (martin landau, alan alda, etc.) make various compromises and make out just fine.
when match point came out people said it was a very different film for woody allen. in truth, it was essentially just a remake of half this film. the same could be said for cassandra's dream. this film, though, is better than both because it's deeper, more well filmed and has even more meat to it. speaking of the cinematography - sven nykvist worked with bergman for much of his career and joins forces with allen here. he's usually lauded for his use of light, but here his use of space is what's most impressive. he moves the camera in and out of spaces well and uses space to convey emotions. my favorite example is probably when allen sees his former crush after her visit to london. the camera is tight on allen when he sees her enter and zoomed out when it shows her with (allen's nemesis) alan alda. it cuts back and forth between the two shots a couple times, but keeps this scale to emphasize her distance from him. it perfectly summarizes his feelings toward her at that moment. great film. A-.
Psycho - rightfully considered one of hitchcock's best. it's a bit like a kurosawa film, which i won't mention, in that the protagonist dies half way through the film thereby shifting the focus from the protagonist's life to something else. in the kurosawa film it was the way the protagonist touched those who survive him, in this film it's mr. bates and his twisted mind. great psychological stuff here. A.
Good, The Bad, & The Ugly - features one of the best scenes in cinema history. everything from the canon blast (when eastwood fires the canon at wallach) onwards is just great. wallach running around the cemetery with morricone's score blaring, the arrival of van cleef, the ensuing showdown in the circle...it's all great and so perfectly set to music. pure cinema. of course the rest of the film isn't too shabby either. the whole thing takes place during the civil war in the wild west. individual outlaws still rule the landscape and the government is in a state of turmoil. this is what westerns are all about. also loved how leone chooses to show (or not) things that are in, or just outside of, the frame. the first shot is of a western landscape and then a grizzled looking guy leans up into the frame. in the end eastwood is going to make wallach dig for the treasure when, from behind the camera, a shovel appears and is thrown between the two of them. van cleef emerges and is revealed. it's as if things don't exist unless leone chooses to show them. A+.
It Happened One Night - better than i remembered. i'm not generally a huge fan of clark gable, but he's smart and sassy here. claudette colbert is great and capra's direction is good, as usual. it's a fun film. A-.
Stagecoach - doesn't pop out to me as one of the greats in the western genre, but the experts say it is and welles says that he watched this film dozens of times to learn everything he needed to know about directing. shortly thereafter he created citizen kane and the rest is history. it's a solid film with a lot of the genre's themes and motifs. B+.
Teeth - comes from the funny horror film genre. it's about a young girl who lives near a nuclear power facility and this fact has apparently caused her female parts to acquire teeth. what ensues is hilarity and horror for male members (and the members of males) of the audience. it's not a film about how scary women are, rather it's about the brutality of men. in each case the men take advantage of the girl in some way and they pay dearly for their transgressions. by the film's end she comes to grip with her unique characteristics and embraces them. it's reminiscent of horror films i've seen before, but can't place right away. drags a bit in the middle, but it's a fun one with a good idea. B.
Cassandra's Dream - the best woody allen film i've seen in a while. better than match point, scoop, melinda/melinda, hollywood ending, and curse of the jade scorpion. beyond that i can't remember. never saw mighty aphrodite and barely remember celebrity. surely there were others in between. at any rate, this one had quality characters and a great score (from philip glass) which is unusual for allen who usually uses old jazz and classical tunes in his films. reminded me of crimes and misdemeanors and match point for obvious reasons. while it wasn't as well filmed as the former or as suspenseful as the latter, i enjoyed it more than either. B+.
King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters - funny and quirky picture in the vein of films like off the charts and spellbound. this one follows old school video game geeks and the controversy revolving around a world record donkey kong game. these are the kind of documentaries that drew me to the genre in the first place. more fly on the wall (chris smith, maysles brothers) in nature than filmed essay (greenwald, moore post big one). the end of the film shows the "good" guy winning, but brian mitchell has since reclaimed his world record so the story goes on... B+.
Funny Games - fascinating film. haneke has done several films, but i've only seen this and cache. suffice it to say that he's rising quickly in my book. it's a torture film that never becomes a revenge film, though the audience certainly wants this turn to happen. it's intriguing because haneke breaks the fourth wall and blurs the line between fiction and reality in a way that implies that the audience is complicit in the violence it observes. almost as if we are guilty participants for watching the film. there's a lot to this film and i'm not going to be able to give it its due in my current sickened state. watch it. B+.
Untraceable - reminded me of a spanish film called "thesis" which explored the darker side of society's interest in death. it's also like "saw" in that each person is dispatched in some novel way by some rube goldberg-esque device. it explores gender and society's fascination with the macabre in an interesting fashion so i liked it. B.
Grand Hotel - well done, but inessential 30s pic. garbo isn't as good here as she is in ninotchka. joan crawford looks as beautiful as she's ever looked, before she got all nightmarish later in her career. B.
27 Dresses - the first 20 minutes or so are truly bad, in large part because the music undermines (rather than underscoring) any emotional truth that the film might have. the music and direction get better as the film wears on and the decent writing and strong performance from heigl are able to shine through as a result. it's not a very good film, but it's better than the genre normally churns out. a couple of different casting decisions and a different composer (or director?) might have made this a film as good as "in her shoes." B-.
Cloverfield - blair witch project meets godzilla. i love apocalyptic films and this one's fun because it gives an average person's view of true chaos. the whole monster genre hasn't historically done much for me and the romance angle in they work in drives the film, but i wasn't really sold on it. seamless sfx sold the film visually, which is as important an element as there is in this film. B.
Wag The Dog - a prophetic and insightful comedy that doesn't incite as many laughs as it could have. the actors do a fine job and it's a good film, but i felt it had more potential than was fulfilled. B.
Resident Evil - not an awful sci-fi flick, but not really good either. the film ends on an open-ended note which left me wanting more so i guess the film was decent enough. some of the effects were cheesy, i assume they fix that in the sequels. C+.
Executive Decision - actually not a bad film overall. it takes the die hard mold and does some interesting things. seagal dies early in the film which is a surprise. the role of the american military in making the film is interesting to note as well. the president in the film was written out of the script in order to get the pentagon to help with the production. it's also a film about islamic terrorism before such a thing was popular in american film. there are plenty of cheese ball moments, but if you go into it knowing that you're going to watch something bad then it might surprise you. C+.
Big Sky - a decent enough western that i've seen a few times, but hasn't ever really captured me. the old guy always reminds me of a poor man's walter brennan. B.
Gabriel Over The White House - one of the great underrated and uplifting films i've seen. walter huston is great as the president of the united states who has an epiphany (thanks to the angel gabriel). he goes from a party politician to an even more bold and better version of FDR. interestingly, the film was released the same month that the real FDR was inaugurated. it's a tough film to find as it's out of print on vhs and hasn't ever been released on dvd. this is one reason i wish warner brothers had won their bid to get the rest of the mgm catalog. unfortunately, sony won, so they have the rights to the majority of the mgm films. wb would have given this one a dvd, sony is less concerned about their catalog. A.
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure - haven't seen this late 80s classic in a long time. i think i liked this at one point, but i'm either too mature or too serious or something, to not like it very much anymore. i'm a fan of juvenile humor, but this one is more dumb than it is juvenile. juvenile humor is potty jokes and laughing at people getting hurt, this is more about bill and ted just being retarded. the concept is fun enough, but the execution left something to be desired. C.
Cabaret- kinda reminded me of sophie's choice because of the three-way dynamic and look. an unremarkable film which somehow beat out godfather in several categories. some of the cabaret music sequences were nice enough and the historical element was somewhat interesting, but really nothing special. C-.
Who Killed The Electric Car? - not exactly thorough with its science, nor honest in depicting the full spectrum of problems associated with the electric car. they paint the car as a panacea and ham up its "death." they don't give an honest assessment of the electric car's impact - from batteries in landfills to increased strain on the power grid. that said, the film does point out the inevitable reluctance of society when it comes to change. it also shows hydrogen fuel cells as the false hope that they are: too expensive, no fuel station infrastructure, hybrid technology is already more viable, etc. ultimately there are some good points to the film, but i didn't like that they played a little fast and loose with some of the facts, glorified the electric car too much, and simplified the entire debate. for example. they pointed out that the short range (70-80 miles) of electric cars means they aren't for everyone, only 90% of the population which commutes under 60 miles a day. while this is probably true it assumes that all people do with their car (their second largest investment, behind their homes) is commute to and from work. i fit into that 90% because my commute is less than 10 miles a day, but, like many people i know, i like to take an occasional trip to lassen, tahoe, los angeles, etc. and all those places require travel through hills over distances much greater than 80 miles. it's kind of like saying the average person watches 4 hours of tv a day so they only need a tv that can play programs for 5 hours a day. what about july 4th when there's a twilight zone marathon or the times when they want to see the unedited version of das boot, which is over 5 hours long, or the times when there are back to back football games? who wants to spend $34-44,000 (the cost of the car according to wikipedia) for a car that only works for most of your uses? perhaps with time demand will increase and costs will be driven down. hopefully range increases as well and then the electric car will finally be truly viable. C+.
Shane - probably my favorite western of all-time, far country is up there too. i love the cinematography and the music, but the best element for me is the young boy. the story is told through his eyes and he's the sympathetic core of the film. shane's inability to escape his past, and his nature, is the most heart-wrenching part of the film and it comes to its crescendo in the film's famous ending. A+.
Nanking - this is the kind of film that beats into your mind one steadfast truth about war: it's horrible. it's a simple idea, but we spend a lot of time with smart bombs and geneva conventions, etc. to give the illusion that war can be sanitary or executed in a moral way. this is bullshit and this documentary shows the truth of war. not all wars are marred by the same degree of viciousness that the japanese exhibited in the nanking massacre, but all wars have these same trademarks to one degree or another. occasionally slow, but important and heavy. B.
Planes, Trains, And Automobiles - great in every way, one of my faves. it's got a cartoonish style from time to time which really frees the film up. candy and martin are great comic actors - both have good timing and are great physical comedians. john hughes at his best. A+.
No End In Sight - one could say that this documentary, which follows the history of the iraq war, is a bunch of second-guessing and negativism, and they would be partially right, but mostly missing the point. the point of the film is to demonstrate how ideologically motivated, and intellectually closed-minded, the bush administration is. i don't think that the film is going to convert very many people, but even the most ardent bush supporters would be hard pressed to rebut the many short-comings of the administration of the war. in many cases it appears as though there were competent people in high places making smart recommendations, but many of these recommendations fell on deaf ears. it's a good summary of the war logistics so it's valuable in that regard, but many of these documentaries are just preaching to the choir. B.
Wedding Singer - pretty solid sandler flick. fun because of all its 80s nostalgia, and those touches are everywhere in the film. it's fairly funny and moves along well enough. has the typical story arc so it isn't anything special in that regard. the soundtrack is probably the single best element of the film. B.
Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle - more funny and out there than i had remembered. the comedy is subjective, of course, but it runs the gamut from stoner fare to satire to farce to gross out humor. it's all great stuff and well-executed as well. hopefully the sequel serves up as many laughs as this one. perhaps the best thing about the film is just how freewheeling the writing is. there doesn't seem to be any boundaries to where the writers will take us next - riding on a cheetah, or to the home of a back country free love jesus worshipping couple, or into the twisted daydream wherein kumar is married to a bag of pot...no limitations. A-.
Break-Up - one of the better comedies to come out in the last few years. the whole cast is good, but aniston is the real standout here, probably channeling some of her experience with the tough breakup she had with brad pitt. the writing and directing make us feel the comedy and drama with equal measure and effect. they truly capture wide range of feelings of a breakup and are still able to keep the film light enough to be very funny. A-.
Sunset Story - solid documentary about a retirement home that houses political radicals. this part of their personality isn't really a central theme, but it does make the characters more sympathetic, especially when they're out on the streets (sometimes in their wheelchairs) picketing for their causes. the two central characters are funny and charming and that's really where documentaries like this succeed: in their choice of subject. B+.
A Christmas Story - captures the essence of childhood vis a vis christmas better than any film in history. the writing and diction are amazingly good and rich and colorful and effective. the film takes a child's point of view and does so to great effect. everything is bigger, more important, greater, more disappointing, more haunting, etc. than it is as an adult. consequently, when you watch this film as a child you relate to it and are drawn in to the story, and when you watch it as an adult you recall with fondness the simpler times when your world revolved around christmas or getting THE gift, rather than paying your rent, shitty bosses, traffic, politics, a failing marriage, war, health problems, etc. time is completely different as a child, as well. some parts seem to last forever and some not long enough. some memories are vivid and detailed, others are frayed and fragmented. the film captures these experiences well.
unlike films like goonies, as good as that film is, this film doesn't glamorize the relationships that kids have. personally, i always wish i had the friendships that are portrayed in films like the sandlot or goonies, but those never occurred and i suspect that the reality is that very few people have had those kinds of experiences. the truth is that kids rat each other out and abandon each other with ease. ralphie and friends leave flick out in the cold with his tongue stuck to a frozen pole. when the bullies confront them later in the film they leave another of their friends to fend for himself. these are the realities of childhood and it's neither inglorious nor profound, it's just how it is.
the music is great, as it is in any great film. stuff like excerpts from peter the wolf is used well.
i never noticed before that the chinese restaurant was an old bowling alley. the "w" on the sign is out and they apparently ran with it, calling the restaurant "bo ling." nice touch.
the film also depicts the reality of breaking your xmas gift on xmas. while ralphie doesn't technically break the rifle the day he gets it, there is a bit of a minor disaster caused by the new toy. this certainly resonates with me as i seemed to always have some problem on christmas with one of my toys.
great film for all ages, certainly one of the best christmas movies ever. die hard and it's a wonderful life are also in the running, though those aren't strictly xmas films. A+.
40 Year Old Virgin - great all around comedy. rings true in a lot of ways and is more honest than the typical comedy, a trademark of successful comedy acts like the farrelly brothers and the apatow productions. carrell and the rest of the cast give strong performances. A-.
There Will Be Blood - name another person with two p.t. anderson films in his/her top 25 and i'll concede that they might be a bigger fan of his work than i. i haven't met such a person, though, so forgive me if i say that i'm the biggest p.t. anderson fan i've ever met.
perhaps it's self-delusion or fantastic hubris, but i think critics and "experts" are strictly for the birds. in everything from music and film to food and sports i think experts are bullshit artists, idiots, incompetent morons who lack taste, fore-sight, courage, and the tell it like it is spirit that made me look up to my grandfather so much. with "there will be blood" the so-called experts are 8-10 years behind the curve in calling this "breathtaking," (wash. post) a "masterpiece," (onion), "The Great American Movie" (la weekly), #80 of all-time (imdb.com voters), the best character study in film since citizen kane (film threat), etc. those accolades weren't meant for this film as much as they were meant for boogie nights, or p.t. anderson's true masterpiece, and the film that even he says he will not likely top: magnolia.
this film isn't epic or masterful, it's actually fairly uninspired and hollow and that's something i never thought i'd say about a film directed by someone i (still) consider one of the few great active directors of my generation. the single biggest thing that makes this true is its lack of character development, which is unfortunate considering the acting talent and surprising considering the writing/directing talent of anderson. what's more is that the film doesn't have the hope or moral center that his previous films have had. nor does it have the sympathetic protagonist or sense of purpose that his other works have had. no, this is a dark film for dark times, but it's dark without purpose. when daniel day-lewis verbally rips apart his son and, later, his adversary it doesn't feel heart-wrenching or triumphant, it feels like nothing. those around me laughed, i waited for something real to happen. some around me may have cried, i sat and waited to feel. nothing.
the film's opening 30 minutes had me completely, the following two hours only had me in jerks and spurts.
there's something about the names in the film that probably has some significance, but i couldn't decipher it. the two main characters (dano and day-lewis) are named paul (at one point anyway, later he's named eli) and daniel, as are the people who play them. there's also the father who is named abel, but i didn't see a cain and the father didn't have much significance so...? then there's his son (h.w.) and the businessman who tells him to retire a wealthy man and take care of his son, this man's name is h.m. tilford. of course there's also the protagonist - daniel plainview whose motive are never in plainview and is hardly ever easy to get a true hold of.
it does remind me a bit of citizen kane and i've heard this comparison made on the radio advertisements. it's not like citizen kane in terms of quality or putting a filmmaker on the map or anything like that. rather it's a portrait of a great man who is a tragic figure, at least that's the thought. it's really about a man whose kingdom is great and could be a tragic figure if we gave a damn. ebert puts it best: ""There Will Be Blood" is no "Kane" however. Plainview lacks a "Rosebud." He regrets nothing, misses nothing, pities nothing, and when he falls down a mine shaft and cruelly breaks his leg, he hauls himself back up to the top and starts again." the film never gives us the young kane, it never gives us michael corleone before he is forced to take over the family business. those are the things that make a character like this so tragic and touching. those glimpses of innocence (and thus innocence lost) are what give films like citizen kane and the godfather the labels "breathtaking," "epic," and "masterpiece" that the so-called experts have sloppily lumped onto this film. an epic without those glimpses and that contrast of character, that change in time, is like a p.t. anderson film without heart. oh, wait, that's exactly what this is. color me depressed. C.
Knocked Up - even better this time around. one of the year's best. A-.