Recent Films: 2009 Viewing

What are the films, dvds, videos that you have seen in 2009?

240 Responses to “Recent Films: 2009 Viewing”


  1. Reid

    The Visitor (2007)
    Dir. Thomas McCarthy
    Starring: Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, etc.
    7/10

    I know Penny and Grace saw this and liked it. I would recommend this to Mitchell and Kevin. Chris would probably be at least interested in this. The director is the same person who did The Station Agent. Just because you liked the latter doesn’t mean you will like the former. I thought The Station Agent was OK–likable characters, but a film that didn’t seem to go anywhere. This film has a better focus and better developed character. Penny thought that I wouldn’t care for this much, but I can’t say I blame her because I can understand why she would feel this way. Btw, I know this film just showed in Hawai’i last year, but imdb lists this is a 2007 film.

    **
    The film is about Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins), an economics professor, whose going through the motions in his life. His life changes when he develops a relationship with a young Syrian immigrant, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and his girlfriend, Zainab (Jenai Gurira) in a chance encounter. Through music (specifically drumming), Walter and Tarek connect–so much so much that when Tarek is arrested and held an immigration detention, Walter goes out of his way to help. The film is primarily a character study–Walter’s development is the backbone of the story. But there are also interesting political observations that are fleshed out from this.

    ***(spoilers)
    Usually in character driven films that I end up liking quite a bit, I have to end up liking the character or at least thinking highly of the performance. That’s not really the case in this film, which is a bit odd. Don’t get me wrong: I think Jenkins does a solid job, but I would expect liking his performance more, given how much I liked the film.

    What makes the film so good is the direction (perhaps deserving of a nomination). Many of the scenes are well-crafted, showing character develop and sometimes simultaneously addressing political issues–mostly in a non preachy way. Let me start with Walter. In the opening scene, the filmmakers establish all the important details of the main character. We see him drinking wine in a large suburban home (he’s well-educated professional); he’s a middle-aged man just learning to play the piano (he loves music and he’s possibly seeking to grow); finally, we see a candid conversation–to the point of rudeness–between him and the instructor (he has no time for emotions, other’s or his own).

    I also liked the way the filmmakers worked up to and revealed more of the inner life of the main character. I’m thinking particularly of the scene where Walter articulates and reveals the state of his life–especially the way this parallels with Mouna, Tarek’s mother, and creates a bond between them. (The scene where Mouna opens up was also well done.)

    Another reason I really liked this film was the way the filmmakers used music in the film. While Walter has no time for emotions (perhaps because many emotions come out from mundane situations, situations where the emotions may be ultimately trivial); while he’s a kind of walking zombie–he responds well to music: music is the thing that brings him to life.
    Music is also the thing that connects him with Tarek–and I liked what that implied.
    For one thing, Walter does not respond to playing the piano (an instrument from his culture), but does respond to the drums (African). It’s a subtle way of saying and celebrating the idea that people–specifically people from the West and the Third World–can have a connection that transcends their cultures; that there is a common humanity. Again this message is implied by the scenes rather than preached by the director.

    The filmmakers have more overt political scenes, my favorite being the one on the Staten Island Ferry. The enjoyment they got from the ride–seeing the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island–and the fact that Walter’s indifference (he didn’t know you could walk up the Statue) provided a subtle but effect contrast between the appreciation of Muslims of our country with the indifference of many Americans. There are also other scenes that take a more direct and critical look at U.S. policy on immigration and terrorism in scenes involving Walter visiting Tarek and Tarek’s ultimate fate.

    On a slightly unrelated note, there were several scenes that could have hurt the believability of the film and some viewers may not be convinced as much as I was. First, I’m thinking of the way Walter allows Tarek and Zainab to stay in his apartment. Haaz Sleiman, who plays Tarek, is a big reason for this. He just seems approachable and trustworthy, even though he violently attacks Walter (mistaking him for a burglar). A more important issue is the believability of Walter helping Tarek–to the point of hiring a lawyer in addition to giving free room and board to Zainab and Mouna. The scenes where Walter is getting into music (through Tarek) are so compelling that I believe he would help Tarek. But I understand if others don’t feel the same.

    If there are false notes in the film, they come at the scene where Mouna departs for Syria. Two details felt like missteps to me. First, Walter lets Mouna go a little too easily. He probably hasn’t had enough time with her to develop anything deep, so maybe that justifies his rather cold send off. (He’s never going to see her again–and she and Tarek are probably going to have a very rough life.) Also, his reaction is in keeping with his character. So maybe this wasn’t so false, and maybe I was disappointed because I wished they could be together. (At the same time, I sensed the filmmakers didn’t want the standard Hollywood ending, and I sympathized with that.) The other problem was Mouna calling him “beloved” in Syrian(?). It just seemed a little too strong and false. Everything that happened before that scene didn’t support her calling him that. But that’s a minor problem. I also didn’t think the scene where Walter snaps in the prison felt particularly true either. It wasn’t completely false, but not entirely convincing either.

    But, overall, I really enjoyed this film. When I started watching the film, I had a similar sensation I had at the start of Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky. Both films present the audience with a particular premise: here’s an extreme character (either an emotionally callous and distant or the opposite), my film be about the way this character deals with a direct challenge to their character. The anticipation lies in seeing how this all unfolds. Both films make the viewer’s time and attention worth it.

  2. Mitchell

    Didn’t read the spoilers, but this does sound like my kinda movie. And I loved the Station Agent.

  3. Reid

    The characters aren’t as quirky, imo, but I predict you’ll like this, maybe even love it.

    Transsiberian (2008)
    Dir. Brad Anderson
    Starring: Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, Ben Kingsley, Kate Mara, Eduardo Noriega, etc.
    5/10

    This is a hard one to call. I think all of you could go either way. I will say that you’ll take a chance. (I’d guess that the highest score most of you would give is a 7, while the lowest would be a 4.) The cast is good (I saw this because I like Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer). FWIW, the metacritic score was 72.

    **
    The film is about a married couple, Roy (Harrelson) and Jessie (Mortimer), traveling on train from going from China to Moscow. Along the way, they meet another couple, Carlos (Noriega) and Abby (Mara), which leads to some challenges for Jessie. The film is a drama that gradually becomes a thriller.

    ***
    The film ultimately disappointed me because I don’t think the characters went very far beyond cliches. I mean we’ve seen these situations and characters before, but they may have been interesting if the filmmakers developed them. I think the biggest problem has to do with the writing and direction, not the acting. Jessie is a key character in the film, but the scenes to develop her character don’t really interesting facets of her character. I think of Mortimer as an actor who plays frail characters, but here I believed her as someone who ran away at a young age, and had a pretty hard life. The problem is that there isn’t much more to her character than that description. A similar thing occurs with her relationship with her husband Roy. Roy is this straight-laced, Mid-Western, church-going businessman, who ostensibly helps Jessie turn her life around. But again, the filmmakers don’t add much more to the relationship than that. Roy mentions that they’re marriage has been experiencing problems, but we don’t see the reasons for that.

    In addition the thriller aspects of the film don’t tie in well with the story of her character and her relationship with Roy, imo. But the thriller aspects of the film also don’t work, imo, because the villians are not very compelling either. Basically, the film has potential, but the filmmakers do very little to develop the characters, story, especially tying the various plots together in a fresh and seamless way.

  4. Reid

    Casino (1995)
    Dir. Martin Scorsese
    Starring: Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone, etc.
    7/10

    I think most idiots would give this film a 7, so I would probably recommend it. While it’s a good film, I don’t know if it warrants a selection in the 1001 book.

    **
    This film is about Sam “Ace” Rothstein (DeNiro0, a successful bookie the Mafia appoints to run a Las Vegas casino and his relationship with a childhood friend and mafia appointed “protector”, Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci). Trouble occurs when brings his criminal ways to Las Vegas. When a woman, Ginger (Sharon Stone) enters Sam’s life, which further adds complications.

    ***
    I have very little interest in Vietnam, Holocaust or Mafia films–so if I do watch any of these for some reason, I have a significant level of reluctance. With this film especially, I though Scorsese would just be retracing old terrain. While that’s true (Pesci was essentially the same character in Goodfellas), there was enough to keep into the film for most of the 3 hours.

    What I found interesting was the operations of the casino and DeNiro’s character having to always keep an eye out on everyone including his own personnel. I also like the way his strengths–attention to detail with regard to making money was also a weakness (hurting his relationship with his wife). The relationship between DeNiro and Pesci was interesting, but I don’t know if, in the end, the filmmakers didn’t develop this in interesting ways. (They’re relationship reminded me of DeNiro and Keitel in Mean Streets.)

    One of the problems I had was with the De Niro. I think his character was supposed to be vulnerable, not so intimidating and strong at times, even though he’s totally organized and knowledgeable. But DeNiro’s aura prevents that from happening. It’s the same thing that happened with Jack Nicholson in As Good as It Gets. The vulnerability and insecurity of the character are totally unconvincing, primarily because Nicholson exudes confidence. Ditto DeNiro.

    I also thought Sharon Stone’s performance, which I believe won her an Oscar, wasn’t that great. I’ve never seen her in Basic Instinct, but of the other films I’ve seen her in, I don’t think she’s a very good actor at all. Her acting is visible for one thing and sometimes doesn’t seem very authentic or convincing.

    One last thing. Scorsese used a lot of pop/rock music of the 60s and 70s in the film, and I think he went overboard, especially cutting partial songs into other ones. It got distracting, gave the film a choppier feel.

  5. Mitchell

    It’s a watchable film, but not really very re-watchable. Saw it in the theater and have never had reason to want to see it again or to even discuss it. Stone was fine, but not Oscar-worthy (and in fact, she didn’t win the Academy Award; she did win the Golden Globe, which tells you something about the Golden Globe awards). This film does not pass Gene Siskel’s lunch test: Is this film more interesting than a same-length film of the same actors having conversation over lunch? No.

    I’m just happy I saw this before I saw Goodfellas, or I don’t know if I’d have even liked Casino as much as I did.

  6. Reid

    I’m assuming you liked Goodfellas a lot more, so if you had seen it before Casino, you would not have really enjoyed Casino? I’m glad we agree on Stone–well, I actually think her performance was between OK and a little less than OK; it’s nice to know someone else feels the same. I don’t know if I agree about the lunch test though. The film was kept my attention fairly well, especially for a long film.

  7. Tony

    Saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button yesterday. Good movie. At 2 hours and 45 minutes, it’s a tad long. Then again, it’s about one man’s life. Told in reverse, you could say, for sure.

    I was most worried about the special effects of “Baby Benjamin.” In the end, though, it wasn’t that distracting. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett were amazing in the movie. Tilda Swinton had a good turn as well, though she looks a little but too much like Blanchett for my tastes.

    Because the film is more ruminative, there’s not much action. BB goes to war once, and that’s about it. So if you are looking for a movie to sit in and be washed over by, this is one. It lacks the conviction of Doubt and the exuberance of Slumdog Millionaire, but it’s still a solid viewing.

  8. Reid

    Gran Torino (2008)
    Dir. Clint Eastwood
    Starring: Clint Eastwood
    6/10

    I think Jill, Penny and Don would enjoy this the most. Other idiots will find this entertaining, although not exceptional. Larri gave this a 6.

    **
    When I saw clips to this, I thought; “a reverse Karate Kid, and that’s not that far off the mark. A crusty old widower, Walt Kowalski (Eastwood), gets entangled with his Hmong neighbors, particuarly a young girl, Sue (Ahney Her) and her younger brother, Thao (Bee Vang)–when he inadvertently helps them against a Hmong gang.

    ***
    Clint Eastwood has one of the greatest faces in cinema; no one will equal the toughness in that iconic stare. In this film, Eastwood brings that look in it’s full on Dirty Harry mode. The surprise was that he’s also channeling Archie Bunker–to pretty good comedic effect. The panache with which Eastwood unleashes a torrent of racial epithets is up to par with Carol O’Connor. That’s the good part of the film.

    Now, I know I can be overly critical, but I bet most of you will think this is moderately entertaining, but not great. So why is that? I think there are several reasons. First, I think the acting is somewhat limited. One of the challenges in this film is the way this cantankerous man will somehow connect with his neighbors. The movie doesn’t take a false step, until the crucial scene where Walt and Sue talk in the truck, after Walt rescues her from thugs. The chemistry between the two actors is lacking, imo. And Ahney Her’s acting seems forced. Part of the problem is with the writing of the scene, which is centers around Sue’s explanation of Hmong culture. The dialogue seems canned, a bad lesson of the white man on Hmong customs. It feels like the filmmakers are trying to teach the audience.

    But that’s really a minor problem. The bigger problem has to do with the ending, which seems pretty good on paper, but it’s missing the guts to make the scene work. I think part of the reason is that Walt, as a character, his past, his inner life and the movement of this throughout the film, don’t really tie in with the final resolution. Consequently, the ending seems hollow, when it should be full of feeling. Part of this could be due to Eastwood’s acting, which was never the type that could convey complex emotions. (Think if Robert DuVall played the role. Of course, Duvall wouldn’t be a match for Eastwood in the tough guy department.) The writing could also have something to do with it, too. They could have explored more of Walt’s past and his psychological progression in the film.

    All in all, it was great to see the spark of Dirty Harry flicker. I felt wistful, as if this were the last time I’d say this persona–something that is completely sui generis; something we’ll never see again in film.

  9. Marc

    I saw Benjamin Button and didn’t like it that much. I don’t think these are spoilers. I thought it was slow and that there wasn’t a whole lot to grab my attention beyond the driving idea behind the story and it’s associated visual effects. I just thought it lacked tension and I really enjoy movies (or stories/writing for that matter) that set up tension, maintain it for an appropriate length, and resolve it satisfactorily. I didn’t think the movie was bad, but I didn’t think it deserved as much critical acclaim as it seems to be getting.

  10. Mitchell

    I totally wanna see Gran Torino.

  11. Tony

    Saw Gran Torino a couple of nights ago. It was exactly what I thought it would be. If Slumdog Millionaire is a symbol of Obama’s optimism, Torino might be seen as the last gasp of an old-world mentality. I’m wondering how many white Americans feel like Eastwood’s character on some level or another.

    The movie was competently acted. Nothing spectacular on that end. Eastwood was great. The tension was great. And the ending was well-rendered. And hopefully not symbolic of anything, yeah?

    Also saw Appaloosa last night at the dollar theater. I’m not a huge fan of Westerns. And this movie doesn’t really change my opinion much. Renee Zellweger is much more suited to comedies, in my opinion. The lead actors were good, their friendship was humorous and believable. Other than that, though, it was simply a fairly decent movie. No real action. No real reaction.

  12. Reid

    Tony,

    What did you think Eastwood’s character was feeling?

    I’m not sure what you mean by the end not being symbolic. What is your source of concern?

  13. Marc

    reposted from the 2008 thread-

    I saw Revolutionary Road with Christi this weekend and didn’t like it very much. The performances have been praised by several critics but seemed pretty shrill to me and I simply didn’t connect with the movie. It could be that I have a basic disagreement with at least part of the message behind the film. I guess the real question in my mind was why DiCaprio and Winslet chose this movie to follow up Titanic.

    In any event, if someone saw this movie and liked it, I’d be curious why. I may check some of the reviews to see what the bigwigs thought. But I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone.

  14. Reid

    I had no desire to this see this film, and your post doesn’t help. I have zero interest in seeing a film that is mainly about the ennui, conformity and the way middle class couples feel trapped by suburbia. And based on the previews, this is basically what the film seemed to be about. (Thanks for re-posting this, Marc.)

  15. Marc

    I think Reid captures issues involved in *Revoluionary Road* but I would say the heart of the movie is about how these issues plus unhappiness are dealt with. And to risk a spoiler, the message here is not very encouraging. Beyond that, I wasn’t sure what to think as I left the theatre since the actions portrayed in the movie were not ones that I agreed with. I mentioned earlier about how I thought *Benjamin Button* lacked dramatic tension. *Road* has tension which is poorly (imo) resolved.

    Roger Ebert and Peter Travers both loved the flick and they both used the word “devastating” in their reviews. Fair enough.

  16. Reid

    Le Cercle Rouge (1970)
    Dir. Jean-Pierre Melville
    5/10

    I saw this with Grace, Penny and Renee. Renee liked this; Grace seemed to like this, too; and Penny seemed undecided. I didn’t care for it that much. Mitchell, Kevin and Chris might like this, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was something they could pass on. I wouldn’t recommend this to Joel, Jill or Don. I saw this as at the Academy of Arts, part of the Friends of Film Friday series. (You got a free glass of wine and Da Spot offered entres of Middle Eastern food.)

    **
    Corey (Alain Delon) is a convict who is helped by a prison guard to get out of prison so that he can rob a jewelry store. By chance he meets a recently escaped suspect Vogel (Gian Maria Volente) and, for no reason, decides to help him. They both team up to steal the jewels, bringing in another accomplice for the job, Jansen (Yves Montand), a former police officer. Detective Mattei, the man whom Vogel escapes from, is hot on their trail. This a French film noir. I preferred others like Le Trou or Rififi or Bob le Flambeur

    ***
    Here are some of the problems I had with the film. First of all, it was very slow, especially in the beginning. Now, I’ve heard some people like the deliberative quality of these scenes, but my question is what is achieved by this? Just because it’s radically different from mainstream Hollywood doesn’t make the approach meritorious by itself. I didn’t think this slow approach–showing characters doing mundane things–added anything to the film, with the exception of some of the more suspenseful moments. (I also thought the use of natural ambient sounds in the heist scenes were good. But that was my favorite part of the film.)

    The other problem I had was with the main characters particularly the actors that played Corey (Did the French think this was a cool or tough name?) and Mattei weren’t that appealign to me. I’m not a big fan of Alain Delon in general. Yes, he’s good looking, but that’s about all he is. He’s just a pretty boy with no substance–no inner toughness, charisma or cool. On the other hand, the guy who plays Mattei, Bourvil, is old–and not convincing as a super smart detective. He’s just not appealing. (He reminded me of Art Linklater or Ralph Bellamy.)

    Finally, I think there’s this whole poseur wannabe aspect to the filmmaking, particularly the characters, that weakened the film, imo. I’m thinking specifically of the characters dressing in trench coats and acting like American cops and robbers of the 30s and 40s. This really felt out of place, especially since the sets of the film seem to be in the late 60s. The actors seemed like they were trying to hard to be American film noir characters.

    On the positive side, I liked the heist scene, particularly the use of ambient sounds (mostly silence) and no score, but these were diminished by my already having seen Rififi and Le Trou, which had similar, but better executed scenes. I also liked the idea of the red circle–the meeting to two strangers because of fate or something mystical or unexplainable. Strangely, I didn’t have a problem with this aspect of this film.

  17. Reid

    The Wrestler (2008)
    Dir. Darren Aronofsky
    Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, etc.
    7/10

    If there is anyway you can see this without the hype, go see it. The hype took a little away from my enjoyment of the film. I would not have recommended this to Joel, but he saw it and kinda liked it I think. I wouldn’t really recommend this to Don or Jill. I know Grace likes Aronofsky, but I’d be surprised if she really liked this. Mitchell is going to see this no matter what, but I would warn him too. I think Marc might find this interesting, but it’s not something I can see him totally loving. Kevin, Chris and Penny would probably find interesting elements in this film, but again, I don’t foresee them loving this.

    **
    Randy “the Ram” Robinson (Rourke) is an aging professional wrestler. Because his body is breaking down, Randy attempts to mend a damaged relationship with his daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), at the same time reaching out to a lap-dancer, Cassidy (Tomei). The film has elements of a documentary, giving a behind the scenes look into the world of professional wrestling, particularly the perspective of those that are no longer in the spotlight. More of an independent drama than a Hollywood action film. This is the type of film that if you saw knowing next to nothing about it (including how great Rourke was in this), you’d tell a lot of people how great this was. It’s a good film, but the hype probably takes a little away from it. I also found it different from other Aronofsky films (Pi and The Fountain) that I’ve seen, which are more philosophical/metaphysical. Still, I liked this one the best, despite its bleakness (It’s a downer folks.)

    One final warning. There is one particularly brutal scene. (It’s brutal enough that I think Grace and Mitchell should be warned.) I’m pretty jaded when it comes to gruesome scenes, but even I felt squeamish. I didn’t think I could take much more of those scenes; luckily, it was the only one.

    ***(spoilers)
    The obvious comparison is Rocky. (In many ways, The Wrestler is a much better final installment of the Rocky series.) The characters and storyline are similar. Both Randy and Rocky are guys who really can’t make it anywhere else but in the ring, and both are striving for some dignity. They are also both drawn to women in a similar predicament, “losers” like themselves.

    But where most of Rocky offer hope and inspiration, I found The Wrestler very sad and bleak. Even the final shot of the film of the Ram jumping off the top ropes delivering his signature move, I found ultimately sad, rather than triumphant—for Randy is most likely plunging to his death, a death that he chooses given that his only meaning is found in a pathetic world of aging wrestlers, and the fans that come to these events.

    The way Randy can’t make it in the normal world–being humiliated at work (in some charmingly acted scenes by Rourke); failing to reconcile with his estranged daughter; and unable to pursue a potential loving relationship–is pretty cliche, but they are still moderately effective, partly because I wanted them to work emotionally. On the other hand, I didn’t find the acting by Wood or Tomei sufficient to make the scenes fully convincing. Actually, the screenwriter and director bear equal responsibility. For one thing, what made Stephanie decide to breakdown and give Randy a second chance? More importantly, how does she get to the point where she lets him have an intimate conversation, where he confesses and breaks down? (The scene where they dance together is also not substantiated in any way.) Things happen way too fast for these developments to be believable and Wood does not show us through her acting how this happens in a credible way.

    Similarly, I don’t think the scenes between Randy and Cassidy establish that there is something potentially really meaningful between them–certainly not enough to make her spontaneously quit her job and go looking for him. These dramatic moments, including her racing to stop him at his last fight, seemed hollow; the filmmakers hadn’t worked hard enough to establish the emotional truth of these scenes. (Still, I gotta give some credit to Tomei for doing those risque dance sequences–not just for her courage, but learning to dance that way.)

    Despite these flaws, there are still some interesting things about the film. I liked the way Aronofsky used grainy film stock and shot right behind Rourke’s head, following him like a camera in a documentary. (The scene where the camera follows Rourke as he head out into the meat counter, mimicking his entrance into a ring, was particularly effective, if a bit obvious.)

    The most interesting part of the film is the social critique (and it’s the main thing that bumped the film up to a 7 for me), specifically on the entertainment industry, broadly speaking (including sports and lap dancers) and our culture that is so obsessed with it. The professions of Randy and Cassidy are so dehumanizing that they lose their humanity, and their ability to function in the normal world. Aronofsky suggests that both of their “work” is a kind of sacrifice of flesh for the audience that pays to view them; a sacrifice that Aronofsky compares with Jesus’ punishment. The comparison may be pushing it, but it is interesting critique of our entertainment and society. To be appeased and satiated we require people to sacrifice their bodies for us. This is not a stretch when you think of professional sports like football, boxing and ultimate fighting, not to mention pornography and other related entertainment. The dehumanization of these “entertainers” is the price paid for us. In a way, Randy the Ram Robinson is a kind of Christ figure–but a tragic and pathetic one. He sacrifices himself for our entertainment, not for our salvation. This is what makes the film bleak and depressing.

    The other good thing is Rourke’s performance (which I probably would have enjoyed a lot more if I didn’t go in with all the hype.) Like Stallone’s Rocky, Rourke’s Randy the Ram is charming and very likable. He’s just a good guy that you’re rooting for. He also was convincing as broken man (in more ways than one). While it’s good, it is not better than Heath Ledger’s, which ranks as one of the all-time great performances.

    Addendum (1/27/2009)
    I forgot to add one other thing. Something Tony said about Gran Torino hinting at the death of an older (white?) way. In a way The Wrestler has a similar feeling–although I might be reading too much into the film. I don’t think there is much in the film that can back that interpretation.

  18. Reid

    Assault on Precinct 13 (2005)
    Dir. Jean-Francois Richet
    Starring: Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, Brian Dennehy(!), Maria Bello, Gabriel Byrne
    6/10

    I’m recommending this to Joel, Marc, Burgess and Don–with the qualifier that this is a good one to see on a Saturday night when you don’t have anything else to watch. I think Penny would think this is a good popcorn movie. Chris, Kevin and Grace might mildly enjoy this, too. Larri gave this an 8! There are some things that I really liked about this movie, despite the relatively low score, but I’ll save those comments for later.

    **
    This is a remake of John Carpenter’s original version of the film, which I understand was an update itself of Rio Bravo and El Dorado (which are basically the same movie, both directed by Howard Hawks, I believe). I never saw the Carpenter film, but I grew up enjoying El Dolrado. Anyway, the story involves a police officer, Sgt. Jake Roenick (Hawke), who is in disarray because he lead a botched undercover operation, leading to the death of two cops. Now, he’s overseeing a soon-to-be-closed precinct office on New Year’s Eve. Because of snowstorm, the busload of prisoners–including a major crime boss, Bishop (Fishburne)–must be held in there until the next day. Things heat up when a group of armed men try to break into the precinct to get Bishop. This the type of film where low expectations can help you enjoy the film (while conversely high expectations will take away from it).

    ***(spoilers)
    When I see this many good actors listed on a relatively small, unheard of movie like this while browsing at a video store, there are two possibilities for their being in the movie: 1.) They were really desperate for money; 2.) The script and roles (or something worthy) attracted them. I think it was the latter because I can see the actors signing up because it is a worthwhile script. (Actually, a more accurate depiction of the actor’s decision may have been, “I need the money and this is a decent script, especially given the choices out there.) In an interview Ethan Hawke said that this was the “smartest action script out there” (or something to that effect), and I’m not going to argue with him too much. James DeMonaco is the screenwriter, and he also wrote the screenplay for The Negotiator (which was a decent action-thriller). I wanted to mention him because the screenplay is the thing that stands out for me the most. I mean, it’s not the greatest story, but there are so many interesting plot developments that keep you engaged in the story, even though some of them will challenge the viewers suspension of disbelief or they were not completely executed well. Moreover, I liked the way the plot developed in ways that conformed more with reality than with Hollywood conventions. I’m thinking specifically of the way certain characters were killed off (more abruptly than I expected), characters you would expect to survive. These decisions indicated that the story came first (versus pleasing the audience or filmmakers, who may want certain characters to survive).

    The script also attempts to cover problematic plot holes. For example, how could the bad cops expect to get away with the assault? Explanation: they would blame it on Bishop’s men, presumably in a botched breakout. But how could this massive assault take place without authorities–or anyone–knowing about it? Answer: a heavy snowstorm and the precinct is located in an industrial area. These aren’t completely satisfying explanations, but I appreciated the thought and effort to deal with these plot points, which are often missing in many Hollywood action films. I also liked the way the screenwriter (and other filmmakers) use the story and characters to drive the action rather than the other way around.

    So why didn’t I like this more? Although the cast is very good, the acting may have been the main reason, especially Laurence Fishburne’s performance. I remember Michael Caine, in an interview, saying that crime bosses (and people of power) don’t move very much and speak slowly and calmly. That’s true, but a menacing energy must be percolating beneath that. Fishburne brought that calm approach, but with very little menace. He often seemed bored and uninterested in the role. This may have contributed to the weak chemistry between him and Hawke. There scenes together lacked something–credibility, tension,…I’m not sure. I don’t think Hawke was the problem, as I found his acting decent, although he didn’t quite fit the role of a tough cop. The Negotiator, by contrast, worked because of the rapport and charisma of the two lead actors Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson. The movie worked because they both were effective. That’s not the case in this film. For all my praise of the script, the characters are pretty flat, and if they were more finely drawn and their back stories were integrated in the dramatic drive of the story, the movie would have been a lot better. Still, the plot twists and the attempts at helping the audience suspend their disbelief should be commended and make this a good action film, especially when you are desperate for one.

  19. Reid

    Frost/Nixon (2008)
    Dir. Ron Howard
    Starring: Michael Sheen, Frank Langella, Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt, etc.
    5/10

    People like Penny, Grace and Mitchell probably would like this more than I did (Tony liked it.), but it’s not a film I’d strongly recommend. It’s a tough call. FWIW, I certainly don’t think it’s best picture material. I wouldn’t recommend this Joel, Don or Jill, either, although I don’t think they would hate it. As for Kevin, Marc or Chris, I can’t really tell, but if I had to guess, I think their reaction similar to Penny’s et al.

    **
    Was this interview so significant that it warranted a feature length treatment? That was the first question I had in mind when I heard about this film. After watching the film, a part of me wants to say yes, as what happens may have been significant. I hesitate to answer more definitely, however, because I don’t know what kind of impact the interview had on the country or politics.

    Besides the historical significance, however, the story of how the interviews occurred and the actual interviews themselves are actually pretty dramatic and would possibly warrant a feature length treatment. Frost scrapped and clawed, against all odds, to make this interview happen. He really bet everything on it. Then there’s the interviews themselves that are interesting as a boxing match, rather an examination of the president and the politics of an era. You don’t have to care about politics to get into the interviews.

    I’m making this sound better than it actually was for me. And I would say if you disagree with the following comments, you might really like the movie. As appealing as the description in the previous paragraph may sound, the film was lacking something; the film should have been more gripping than it was.

    Here are some possible explanations:

    • Nixon has a very distinctive look and way of speaking. If the actor playing him doesn’t get it right, the actor can be distracting. Langella did a pretty good job, but he just did not look or sound like Nixon–except as an actor playing Nixon (or a caricature).
    • I think the drama and tension of the interviews was a bit flat. Part of that stem from the fact that I felt like I didn’t have the proper context–since we only see portions of the interview.
    • The psychological exploration of the characters and the way that drove the drama was not explored well. The depiction of the characters (the writing, direction and acting) seemed to lack substance to me–and yet that was the crucial part of making this work. For example, what really drove Frost? Why was he taking the interviews so lightly at first and–I was going to say how did he turn things around, but we see why Frost changed. But even the scenes after his phone conversation with Nixon before the final interview, we don’t really see or connect to what’s going on inside of him. And then with Nixon, why didn’t he finally crack? How did Nixon get to that breaking point? In the film it’s so abrupt. Nixon is a very smart and tough guy.

    Like Milk and Good Night and Good Luck, I think this film might have been more interesting as a documentary. A documentary could have got inside the heads of the key people to see what was going on. Indeed, the documentary style talking heads in the film were some of the more interesting parts.

  20. Reid

    Goodbye, South Goodbye (1996)
    Dir. Hsiao-Hsien Hou
    5/10

    I wouldn’t recommend this to any idiots, although some of you might like this. (I’d guess Kevin has the best chance followed by Penny, Grace, Mitchell and Chris.) But with so many films to see, this is something you can pass on unless you’re a big fan of Hou. (I’m a fan.)

    **
    The story follows Kao (Jack Kao), a middle-level organized crime man, as he travels with his two partners, “Flatty” (Giong Lim) and his girlfriend, “Pretzel” (Annie Shizuka-Inoh), as they travel around Taiwan. Kao’s dream is to start a restaurant in Shanghai (or somewhere in mainland China), but he’s not making a good go at it. In a way, this is like a very tame version of Mean Streets or Casino. I must admit that I had trouble figuring who was who in this, and sometimes determining who was talking was difficult. (In conversations, names were being thrown out, and I wasn’t always sure which character they were referring to.)

    ***
    Hou is a very deliberate director, someone who likes letting the camera linger on mundane activity. In this film there’s a lot of driving scenes where the camera just lingers on the characters as they…well, drive. Hou also seems to love shadows and light, and seeing how he uses them has been something I look forward to.

    But I didn’t get much out of the story. I did like the ending where the protagonists crash and get stuck in a field. It seemed to perfectly sum up the whole film.

  21. Reid

    Candyman (1992)
    Dir. Bernard Rose
    Starring: Virginia Madsen, etc.
    2/10

    The only person that I would consider recommending this to is Penny, and I wouldn’t recommend this to her. Bad choice for the 1001 films book. It does not hold up well.

    **
    Two graduate students Helen (Madsen) and Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons) are doing research on urban legends, when they stumble upon a series of murders in the Cabrini-Green Housing projects in Chicago, where residents are attributing the murders to a mythic figure known as the Candyman. The Candyman is summoned when people look into the mirror and say, “Candyman” five times (sort of like the “Bloody Mary” myth that a lot of us grew up with). As expected the myth turns out to be true, and the Candyman goes after Helen. This is a horror film that was not scary in the slightest. I’m going into reasons in the next section.

    ***
    After watching this film the first question that popped into my head was is this a 2 or 3? I was sure that this was a bad film, but was it a really bad film? I really didn’t like and the score of 2 would reflect my personal enjoyment of the film. Is there objective reasons I could give this film a better score? I’m having a hard time thinking of any. I can think of reasons this film didn’t work.

    The biggest reason is the villian, the Candyman (Tony Todd), who was not scary in the slightest. He had that deep “scary” voice that appears in the opening part of the film and it sounds silly, like someone telling a campfire ghost story and doing a voice of the boogey man. His weapon–a hook shoved into the stump of his arm–was also not particularly scary.
    Basically, the film is a classic story of spooky ghost story that turns out to be true. In this day and age, I think it is very difficult for that type of story to work.

  22. Reid

    American Teen (2008)
    Dir. Nanette Burstein
    6/10

    This a movie Mitchell will want to see whether it’s good or not, (I expect that he’ll at least think it’s OK.) so I’d say he can see this without knowing anything more about it. I’d recommend this next to Tony; then Penny and Grace. Kevin and Chris will probably this at least somewhat interesting, although I wouldn’t recommend they go out of their way to see this. Joel, Jill and Don would probably think this is OK. I gave it a t because I thought it was fairly entertaining and well-made, even though I felt disappointed in other ways.

    **
    Burstein selects five 2006 high school seniors–each of whom fall into the stereotype of The Breakfast Club (a “heart-throb” replaces the “criminal”) and follows them for a year. Basically, it’s a “reality film” in similar way that MTV’s “reality TV” was produced.

    ***
    The best way to approach this film is not to think of it as a documentary, but as a “reality film.” What’s the difference? In a documentary, I think there greater effort to document the subject as they are. Of course, the director’s decisions for the camera, questions and editing significantly influence the film, but the goal is to minimize this influence and provide the most realistic portrayal of the subject as possible. I think documentarians seek to understand their subjects more so than entertain the audience.

    The film didn’t feel like the director was going for these things. There were a lot of questions and situations that I felt would have been really interesting (if not crucial), but were never explored or asked. In a way, I feel like see only the surface of these people, not who they really are. But the editing is pretty well done, keeping the film moving along; we see melodramatic situations that make reality TV entertaining, and it does keep your interest.

    There’s also the issue of the way that the filmmakers don’t distort the subjects and the reality of their lives. The fact that reality TV is part of the landscape adds another obstacle to getting at “reality.”

    On a personal note, I found the film difficult to watch at times. There are scenes that are obviously painful to watch (Jake). But it just made me think of how fast my life is going by. It’s been twenty-two years since I’ve been in high school, but it sure doesn’t feel that long.

  23. pen

    He’s Just Not That Into You (or something like that).

    I enjoyed this movie although it perpetuates the very myths it seemingly wants to dispell.

    What I liked: Most characters were quite engaging and for such a large cast, things were tied together nicely (not particularly super clever, but believable). Some scenes were funny and others quite painful. I laughed and I got teary twice. Maybe three times.

    Formulaic, but not necessarily in a bad way, but just…predictable. Nothing particularly inspired about it all, but a fun movie to watch. You can wait for it to come out on DVD.

  24. Reid

    The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
    Dir. David Fincher
    Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, etc.
    6/10

    I think Penny has the best chance of liking this and maybe Jill. I think Grace would probably like this or least think it was OK. There might be some aspects of the film that Mitchell may like. I don’t think this is best picture material–and in that way, I agree with Marc that this is a little over-hyped. That doesn’t make it a bad movie, just not a great one.

    **
    It’s best to go into the movie with knowing as little as possible, but the most unique thing about the film is probably known to most people. Benjamin Button (Pitt) comes into the world as an old man; he’s an infant, with the problems of a very old man. As he grows in chronological age, his physical body gets younger. Abandoned by his real father, Button is raised and loved by Queenie (Taraji Henson), who is a caregiver at a convalescent home. At this home, Benjamin bonds with a young girl, Daisy (Blanchett) and eventually falls in love with her. But it’s a love that has to wait, until their bodies reach similar point of maturity. The waiting for love and the travels made by Benjamin through time and other places, as well as the superb technical work, make the film similar to Forrest Gump.

    ***
    How would you live your life if you could start it with the kinds of knowledge you would acquire at the end of it? That’s one of the more interesting questions posed by this film. My assumption is that most people would be able to make better decisions and probably live with less regrets if they had this opportunity. There is a perspective I imagine you get at the end of your life–a clarity of what is really important and an acceptance of death (as soon as reached a level of understanding he expected to die any day)–that would increase the chances of living without fear, without much regret. I guess you could say Benjamin lives this way, but why do I feel let down? Ultimately, I feel let down because the filmmakers didn’t give me an interesting insights from the character and the character himself wasn’t so interesting as a result of his unique circumstances. Also, the two lead characters seemed a bit one dimensional for me, which wouldn’t have been so bad, if the actors had more charisma and chemistry between them. I think of a film like Titanic, which had very cliched, one-dimensional characters, but managed to work mainly because DiCaprio and Winslet were so appealing individually and together. This film lacks and could have used that same sort of chemistry. So while the performances were OK, I didn’t find them exceptional.

    As for the story, I know what Marc means when he says the film lacks tension. I sort of agree with that, although I would say the “tension” or point of interest is in the way Benjamin and Daisy get together and how they will deal with Benjamin’s “aging” problem. I don’t think the final results make the film deserving of a best picture, but they’re enough to make the film mildly entertaining. I agree that with Tony and Marc that the film is on the slow side, but I didn’t feel bored because of those story elements I mentioned.

    One final note. I was surprised to find out the film received many Academy Awards. The technical aspects of the film–the effects, the cinematography, set design, etc.–were all very good. This is a nice film to look at, and execution of all these different technical aspects of the film was an achievement. This quality, plus the epic nature and romance of the film, make this the type of film the Academy loves to reward. These reasons–more than whether merits of the film–make it a best picture nominee. There are other 2008 films that are equally good, if not better. And there are other films that will probably be remembered more than this one.

    Addendum: I liked these comments by New Yorker critic, David Denby, from his piece, “Curious Cases: This Year’s Oscar Picks” (in which he has a low estimation of the best film nominees; I agree with him, fwiw):

    As Benjamin makes his way, many people puzzle over the discrepancy between his age and his temperament. But who cares? The movie is given over to an infinitely patient and scrupulous working out of its own bizarre premise, and you come away from its sombre thoroughness with the impression that something profound has been said without having any idea what it could be.

    Later,

    Pitt’s modesty when he comes into his own handsome flesh is becoming, yet his eyes are unforgivably blank. Where is Benjamin’s exhilaration at shedding his infirmities? He tells us very little of what we want to know, which is how he feels about what has happened to him. Perhaps if you’re born old with an infant’s brain and get younger, you never know much of anything (including the ardencies and the anxieties of youth), but that kind of mental void doesn’t yield much of a protagonist.

    I was half-amused and half-enlightened by this remark:

    The central drama in the picture turns out to be Brad Pitt’s makeup. By degrees, lines and wrinkles fade; soft flesh tightens into muscle; a stiff, wobbly walk eases into a saunter. What is this strange movie really about? A guess: many people in Hollywood endlessly have “work” done to put off aging, and here’s a movie that begins with a wizened baby and ends with physical perfection, a progression that may encapsulate both the nightmares and the dreams of half the Academy.

  25. Reid

    Taken (2008)
    Dir. Pierre Morel
    Starring: Liam Neeson, etc.
    3/10

    Of the people that I think would like this film, Joel, John and Penny top the list. But even with them I wouldn’t urge them to see it. I wavered between a 3 and a 4. I’m pretty confident that on an objective level it is not a good film, but I also watched with some interest through the film (although as the film got close to finishing, I had enough). FWIW, Larri gave this a 6 (and I would predict that action fans would give a rating around there.)

    **
    Liam Neeson plays Bryan Mills, an ex-CIA agent, who has retired to be close to his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace). The filmmakers do a good job of setting up the relationship between Mills and his daughter–particularly how much Kim means to him. The acting here is very solid, including the performance of Famke Janssen, who plays Mills’ ex-wife. Things heat up when Kim gets kidnapped in Paris by an Albanian sex-trade outfit. Mills has ninety-six hours before his chances of finding his daughter will be virtually impossible. That sounds like a potentially entertaining action film, and as I said the film does a good job of setting up this premise. The problems begin after this set-up.

    ***
    The two biggest problems I think have to do with Neeson and the number of unbelievable events that happen in the film (the greater problem). Neeson is a good actor and his performance of a man who is devoted to his daughter is convincing and even touching. This really provides the emotional core to the film. But the filmmakers needed to show a little more desperation from the character, perhaps to the point where Neeson would behave psychotically–which would be entirely appropriate given the ever growing prospects of losing his daughter to the underground sex-trade. It would have been interesting to see this gradual deterioration and made his actions perhaps a bit more believable. (This character arc could have possibly made the character more interesting in that we could see how this decent into crazed desperation may have irreparably damaged him, altering the way his love for his daughter manifests itself.) For example, there’s a scene where he shoots his friend’s innocent wife in the arm to get his (corrupt) friend to help him. The lack of desperation and psychosis in Mills makes the scene less effective and convincing. A movie that came to mind that serves as a contrast in this regard is Payback with Mel Gibson. Gibson, unlike Neeson, is convincing as someone who’s gone over the edge, someone near an amoral approach. That’s what the film needed. (Actors like Clive Owen, Daniel Craig or possibly Robert DeNiro could have brought this “crazed” element that would have helped the film.)

    But the bigger problem was in the number of improbable circumstances in the film. Most action films can succeed or fail based on whether they break or don’t break the threshold for suspension of disbelief. Almost every action film has circumstances that defy belief. How many of these occur and the ways the filmmakers try to minimize the improbability of these situations often determine the degree to which the film is entertaining. This is obviously a subjective thing. For me, if the filmmakers make a decent attempt to explain improbable situations I can deal with scenes that would otherwise have me rolling my eyes. The filmmakers make almost no attempt at this. I’ll mention two off the top of my head. In one scene, Mills attacks one of the Albanians in a taxi. The driver runs and gets some French police officers. Mills steals the taxi and goes after the Albanian, who is running up a freeway off ramp–not far from where the taxi started. Mills chases the Albanian on foot and eventually falls and gets hit by a car. Mills just walks away. Where’s the police? How’d he get away. There’s not attempt to explain this. Later Mills steals a French police id and infiltrates one of the Albanian hideouts. The problem is that he doesn’t speak French, nor does he have an accent. Yet, he still manages to sell the story that he needs more bribe money to allow them to operate. There are other things like this that just keep accumulating and eventually, for me, broke my ability to suspend disbelief.

  26. Marc

    Reid, regarding this comment from your post on Benjamin Button-

    “How would you live your life if you could start it with the kinds of knowledge you would acquire at the end of it?”

    Why did you think that Benjamin was born with the knowledge and experience of an old man? I just thought he was born with the body of an old man but the experience of a newborn and gained experience as time went on while losing years physically. In a way, this sort of justifies the complaint that the critic had- if Benjamin isn’t aware of how astonishing his reverse aging is, why would he react to it?

    I’d also say that Brad Pill’s performance was more over-rated than the movie. How did his work justify an Academy Award nomination.

  27. Reid

    Benjamin Button spoilers

    Marc,

    Button doesn’t have all the knowledge and experience of an old man (he gained any experience). However, he is born with a broken down body and he must face death every day–two things that people near the end of their life have to deal with. I would argue that living with these conditions really gives older people a different perspective on life, specifically a sense of what is really important. Add to this condition, Button growing up in a convalescent home where death is a normal part of life and I think it would give Button a unique approach to living.

    Why do you think Button wasn’t aware of how astonishing his reverse aging was? I think he is aware of it, at least at some point.

    Finally, I do agree that Pitt’s performance is overrated, and I’m just as mystified as you as to his receiving a nomination.

  28. Marc

    We’re getting into semantics and I apologize since I brought them up. In regards to the question about why I don’t think Button knew his reverse aging was astonishing, it’s because he never showed astonishment. This is a big point of the Critic that you cited. But regardless, it doesn’t really make a difference to me in terms of how much I enjoyed the movie, which wasn’t very much.

    And this is my thing about what Button may or may not have realized as an old man. The guy was never went to school and the only place he ever knew was that nursing home. During his formative years, old folks and death were probably normal for him. And I thought he did have a unique approach to life. Just to me, it wasn’t a very interesting or compelling one.

    But this is all speculation about a movie that I didn’t particularly like, so I will cease now.

  29. Reid

    Last Chance Harvey (2008)
    Dir. Joel Hopkins
    Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson
    6/10

    I’m going to go out on a limb and recommend this to Mitchell and Tony–that is I think this would be worth the effort to see (although you could definitely wait for the dvd). There are elements that could make Mitchell really love this. There’s one thing about this that I think Tony could really enjoy. I’d say Penny, Jill, Marc, Don, Kevin, Chris, John, and Joel could enjoy this, too, but I’m almost sure it’s no big deal if you don’t see this. Certainly, it can wait for dvd. Perhaps, this film deserves a rating closer to five, but there are reasons (which I go into later) that bump it up to a six for me.

    **
    Hoffman plays a Harvey Shine, a jingle writer, who’s having a tough time at work: if he doesn’t close his current deal, he’ll be fired. What’s more, he’s off to London for his daughter’s wedding–someone he’s lost touch with. His icy relationship relationship with his ex-wife doesn’t help. Along the way, Kate (Thompson) enters the picture and…well, you have to find out the rest for yourself.

    One of the good things about the film is the absence of Hollywood”s attempts at cheap laughs and romance–well, for the most part. I don’t mean to give the impression that the film is completely atypical–it is a conventional romance–but the film avoids (melo)dramatic and comedic developments that I would expect in a typical Hollywood film–and that’s a good thing.

    ***(spoilers)
    The comments I remember about this film was that the script is cliche, but it was a good acting vehicle for Hoffman and Thompson, who make the most of it. I almost agree with both statements. The story is cliched, but that doesn’t really have much bearing on the quality of the film, imo. The film is also a good acting vehicle, and Hoffman, someone I think is overrated at times, does a very good job. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Thompson, who is an actor I find attractive and likable. To be fair, the actual character (and chemistry between the principal actors–more on that later) depends upon the director and writer just as much as the actor (or at least determining blame is pretty difficult). The bottom line is that the character failed to communicate what she was supposed–namely that she was this person who wanted to find someone to love, but kept getting disappointed. Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but that was not conveyed to me at all–at least I didn’t believe it–so much so that when Kate articulates these feelings at the end of the film, I was surprised. And I so wanted to believe what she was saying. Thompson was not unsympathetic or unlikable in this film. She is likable, but some aspects of her are just not communicated effectively.

    Equally important for me was the lack of chemistry between the two actors–chemistry, which if present, would have made this a really enjoyable movie, cliched script and all. When Harvey has the first meaningful encounter with Kate, his charming was utterly unconvincing. For example, he says something like, “If you smile more, I’d be happier” or something to that effect, which makes her smile more. Scenes like that, pivotal to convincing me that they really like each other, didn’t work for me. To be fair, the lack of chemistry can’t be blamed entirely on Thompson or both actors. The director and the writer could also significantly affect the chemistry. For example, in many of the scenes where Harvey and Kate are walking around, getting to know each other are just not that interesting or convincing (that they really have a connection). I think the director and writer bear significant responsibility for this (or at least could bear responsibility). In any event, the success of the film depended on the actors and chemistry.

    Despite this, I still mildly enjoyed the film. Part of the reason is that I kept wanting to believe in their relationship. Part of this had to do with the fact that I really liked and felt for him. I completely bought Harvey’s pain at his ex-wife and daughter’s embarrassment of him. He’s awkward, uncomfortable and deeply hurt. That’s part of the reason his speech to his daughter is the highlight of the film. The other part is the speech itself and Hoffman’s touching and totally convincing delivery. I’d go far as to mention it is as one of my favorite moments in 2008 films. (One of the interesting things is that we learn that Harvey hasn’t been a good father and probably not the greatest husband. The film suggests that his ex-wife and daughter have reason to be disappointed in him, but the film doesn’t flesh this out, so we’re a lot more sympathetic towards Harvey, I think. I’m a little ambivalent about this tactic, but I guess I liked Harvey so much that I didn’t really care that the filmmakers made this omission.)

    Earlier I alluded to the way this film avoided Hollywood conventions of romance and humor. I wanted to be a little more specific. If this were a typical Hollywood film, perhaps the ex-wife would have been more blatantly mean and then she would have received her just desserts. I also thought the film could have tried to show Kate grow to appreciate her mother in some melodramatic ending, but that never happened (thankfully). Also, in a Hollywood film, I’d expect to see Kate and the mysterious neighbor hook-up in some humorous finale. Instead, the neighbor politely invites her in to his house with no innuendo of anything naughty. Pretty boring, but simple and real. I liked that sensibility and it runs through the film, with the notable exception of Harvey proposing to Kate. I would preferred if Harvey and Kate will pursue their relationship to see what happens. They could have made this promising and something that would leave audiences on a positive note.

    A worthwhile project and solid attempt which, if it worked for me, would have made a very good movie.

  30. Reid

    Coraline (2009)
    Dir. Henry Selick
    6/10

    Grace will see this almost no matter what I say, but I think she would probably like it. I think Mitchell would have the best chance of liking it next, but, if I had to guess, I wouldn’t predict that he would love this. Other idiots may like it, too, but I wouldn’t say it’s something you shouldn’t miss. Penny saw it and had a lukewarm reaction, which was similar to mine own. We saw the 3D version at Dole.

    **
    The film is about a girl Coraline, who has moved into a new house. She quickly learns of parallel world complete with other versions of people she knows in her world. The main difference is that this other world has almost everything Coraline could ever want. Of course, there’s a catch.

    ***
    I’ve never been impressed with the use of 3D in film (except for maybe Michael Jackson’s “Moonwalker,” which is technically not a film), but I was intrigued by Leonard Maltin’s comment that this was the best use of 3D he had ever seen (or something to that effect). Maybe this time 3D would be really cool. The verdict? It was basically the same as any other 3D film I’ve seen. The 3D did add depth to the film, but I feel like if I saw the film without 3D little would have been lost.

    The film also got attention for its stop-motion animation. Again, I was pretty underwhelmed, perhaps because of the hype. It didn’t seem that much better than other stop-motion animation I’ve seen.

    That leaves the story. The story is entertaining, if not predictable and pretty generic. There’s nothing really new or interesting, and I don’t think the characters or anything elevate this film very much. This is a decent bit of entertainment, but nothing really special. I think the hype took away from the film. Oh, the film also may not be appropriate for younger aged children as some of the scenes may be a bit scary for them.

  31. pen

    Glad to hear the 3-D in Coraline added “depth.” Heh. I wanted to see “My Bloody Valentine 3-D,” but it left the theatres already (junk!) I think that would have been good use of 3-D. “Journey to the Center of the Earth” was decent 3-D, while “Bolt 3-D” was worthless.

    I can’t say much about Coraline, as I kept falling asleep. It was kind of slow in the beginning, but I had also had little sleep the night before and had just come from spending the day at the beach in the sun (which always drains my energy).

  32. pen

    Uninvited (high 5/almost 6 out of 10) was better than The Unborn (low 4/solid 3 out of 10) which was more like R.L. Stine wrote an Afterschool Special. It seemed like these two movies had the same marketing team working on them, as I got them easily confused with one another.

    “Uninvited” is the better film, though. Creepier, more “thoughtful” and not as straight forward as “The Unborn.” If you’re not really into PG-13 horror flicks, then I say you can wait for both of these to come out on DVD.

  33. Reid

    Re: Coraline

    If Penny had not been so tired, I’m pretty sure she would have found at least mildly entertaining. I don’t think that readers should take Penny’s falling asleep as a sign that the film was boring. It was a little slow in the beginning, but not so slow as to warrant falling asleep. Also, the film does get more exciting later. It’s pretty fun, although, most will have seen a version of the story done before. I also think the amount of hype took away from the film experience.

  34. Reid

    The Wedding Banquet (1993)
    Dir. Ang Lee
    6/10

    Penny, Grace and Mitchell and other fans of Ang Lee will want to see this. Jill would probably like this, as well Kevin and Chris. I think Tony would like this, but I’m least sure about him. I predict Don will think this is OK. Perhaps, my rating of 6 is a bit low, objectively it could be a 7; the score reflects my own enjoyment of it. Larri liked it, although I don’t know her rating. While this isn’t a bad film, I don’t think it”s a close call in making the 1001 book.

    **
    The film is about a Chinese man, Wai-Tung (Winston Gao), who fakes a marriage with a Chinese woman, Wei-Wei (May Chin). This will help Wei-Wei stay in America and also satisfy his parents (in Taiwan), who have been nagging him to get married. The main problem is that Wai-Tung is in love with Simon and Wai-Tung’s parents have unexpectedly decided to drop in for the wedding.

    ***
    Ang Lee’s interest and skill in depicting people frustrated by circumstances preventing happiness–usually because of unrequited love–is on display once again here. What’s slightly different is that you get some of his comedic touch, a la screwball comedy combined with the tragic situations. The film not be limited by accepted genres is something I really liked.

    Lee’s skill in direction is also evident in the fact that two of the male leads aren’t very good actors, (Winston Chao was an amateur) yet he manages to create both funny and touching scenes in the film.

    So why didn’t I give it a higher score? I guess the limitation of the main actors was a big reason for this. I think this limited the level of connection I had to them as well as lessening the effectiveness of the comedic scenes.

  35. Mitchell

    I saw it. Good movie. Gotta think about it some.

  36. Reid

    Let the Right One In (2008)
    Dir. Tomas Alfredson
    5/10

    This currently has the tenth highest score in metacritic at 82 (a high score) and it’s now playing at Kahala. I’ve heard some good reviews about this film in addition to the metacritic rating, so I wanted to see this. I’m going to recommend this to Penny, Mitchell and even Grace and Tony, but I don’t want to say why, as I think it will take away slightly from the film. I’m no sure how much you’ll like this (if I had to guess I’d say somewhere around a 6-8), but at the very least, I think you’ll say it’s worth seeing. I know for sure there are elements that will appeal to Mitchell. You could probably wait until the video, but if you’re looking for a film to see, this won’t be a waste of your time. Kevin and Chris could also like this. There’s a chance that Jill might like this, but I think she could skip it. Larri didn’t care for this, giving it a 3/10.

    **
    Before I get into a description of the plot I want to say some things. First, if you don’t know anything about the plot–or the genre, try to avoid it. There’s one detail that will sort of take away from the first twenty minutes of the film–and this detail is revealed in the advertisement. Second, after reading some of the comments from critics, I’m guessing that this is the type of film that one can easily get over-excited about, especially if one knows nothing before going in; in other words, a lot of hype can take away from the film. The film does have elements that justify enthusiasm: it’s not easy to pidgin-hole in that it mixes some genres and even the elements within the conventional genre are not typical. It goes beyond any category used to describe (which I’m intentionally avoiding). The lead characters are ones you want to root for, too. But overall, I don’t think it warrants the high rating, at least in my opinion. However, my personal rating is somewhat based on subjective elements, and I can understand the difference in rating. Still, I don’t think the film is as good as many critics thing–although it is a film you cheer for. It is very much like the decent, but flawed independent/art films that you would see at Restaurant Row.

    This is a Swedish film about a lonely 12-year boy, Oskar, who frequently gets picked on. A new girl moves into the apartment next to him and they begin a friendship. But strange happenings start occurring.

    ***
    I think there were two main problems for me with this film. First, I thought the pacing was too slow; the film dragged on at times. I don’t mind deliberate filmmaking–if it creates an interesting effect or serves the film. Personally, I felt scenes and editing could have moved the story along quicker. The story as written may have also had something with the slowness. The other problem has to do with the acting. I liked and rooted for both leads (although I liked the female actor more), but I think acting limitations (I think both had little acting experience–if that’s true the director and actors deserve credit for the performances) or direction may have hindered the connection I had for them. Both of these criticisms are very subjective, so I understand if people really connected with the characters and liked their performances. Finally, I think the plot was pretty predictable and not very original. Still, I can understand the critics’ enthusiasm for this film–I share their enthusiasm for the child actors (well, I was wanting them to succeed); the relief of a horror film that didn’t rely on torture; and mixing of genres. But ultimately, I don’t think the film lives up to the hype. But like other satisfying independent/art house films, this is worth seeing. (I think the predictability in the plot and other limitations, especially the draggy quality, lead to my ultimate score.)

  37. Reid

    Waltz with Bashir (2008)
    Dir. Ari Folman
    6/10

    I’d guess Kevin and Penny, followed by Grace, Chris and Mitchell would appreciate this. Many would think this is a decent to good film, but whether it’s enjoyable or worth checking out depend on your interest in the subject matter. I think it was a solid film (I had a few quibbles), but the lower score reflects my lack of interest in the subject. This is now playing at Kahala. (I don’t think you have to see it on the big screen.)

    **
    This is an animated film (really a documentary–I believe the characters are real people) about a 1982 war incident involving the Israeli army, Christian Phalangists and Palestinians. The main character was present at the incident, but can’t seem to remember anything about it. Thus, he searches for people he knows that were at the incident.

    ***(spoilers)
    Like Grave of the Fireflies, the use of animation heightens–rather than dampens–the emotional impact of the film (I liked the animation in general, too.)–which the film does have. On a more objective level, I think the film could have been shortened–the director could have trimmed some of the early interviews without losing much, while keeping the film from dragging. On a subjective level, while I was interested in learning about the war, the actual incident, while terrible, was not unlike many other war atrocities. That doesn’t make it less important or less horrendous, just that I don’t know if I need to see this. The ending was very effective though, and I thought that was a good move on the director’s part.

  38. Reid

    Flight of the Red Balloon (2008)
    Dir. Hsiao-hsien Hou
    4/10

    Kevin has the best chance of liking this, although this would not be the Hou film I would recommend. I wouldn’t recommend this to Don, Joel and Jill. I really like Hou, but I just did not get this film. This got a metacritic score of 86.

    **
    Remember when they would show films–not videos–in elementary school. One of those films I remember was called, The Red Balloon. The film was about this red balloon that followed this little boy around Paris. (I believe there was no dialogue.) Flight of the Red Balloon is takes that film and builds upon it, in a way that pays homage to it. The basic plot is an eccentric puppet performer, Suzanne (Juliet Binoche), hires a nanny (Fang Song) to watch her son, Simon. Slowly, we learn about the problems Suzanne faces in her life–some involving a husband(?) who has been living in a Montreal for a long time; a tenant in her apartment complex that won’t pay the rent–and just juggling her busy life. There isn’t much of a plot or story; the film is basically an art film–one that requires interpretation from the audience.

    ***
    There are some art films that I click with–either during the film or soon afterward. By “click” I mean specifically that I understand and develop an interpretation of the themes, symbolism and intention of the director. Without this interpretation, I’d be totally lost and the film would seem pointless. Unfortunately, that’s what happened to me in this film. Reading the reviews from the Village Voice and The Washington Post illustrate what I mean by the film depending on an interpretation–both of which make the film interesting and more meaningful (even though I may not completely agree with the entire interpretation). Because I didn’t have a way of understanding the film, I gave the film a 4.

    Not only did I not understand the story, but I had a hard time making sense of the decisions involving the camera (a lot of scenes shot in the reflection) or the editing. Perhaps, if I put more time and thought into the film, a light bulb would go off, but until then…So why a 4 and not a lower score?

    I did like the feeling and images of Paris that I got from the film. One reviewer said described the movie as a tribute to Paris–which is strange in a way because I didn’t think the film was trying to do that; at the same time, I liked the urban vibe. By slowly revealing the stories and situations of the characters, the film kept my interest–because I wanted to find out what was going on–but the pacing also seemed a bit slow, which was exacerbated by the fact that I had no framework to understand the film.

    Clueless (1995)
    Dir. Amy Heckerling
    Starring: Alicia Silverstone, etc.
    5/10

    I’d recommend this to Mitchell, Penny, Tony and Jill. Generally, this is not my type of film, but it’s better than the typical film in the genre. A so-so pick for the 1001 book.

    **
    Silverstone plays Cher, a super rich teenager that sets up to help others find love. In the process, she starts falling in love with someone unexpectedly. This is an above average teen comedy. What makes it above average is the dialogue–filled with slang that supposedly became part of the American teen slang–and Silverstone’s performance. This is not the type of movie I usually enjoy, but I fount it surprisingly tolerable.

    ***
    Recently, I’ve been seeing the success of a performance or character as a very collaborative process–mainly between the director, writer and actor (although editing, costumes and cinematography can be crucial). It’s hard to pinpoint who to credit or blame. However, I’m fairly confident that Alicia Silverstone deserves a lot of the success in creating a memorable “dumb blond”–one that should be mentioned whenever discussion of this archetype comes up. Her timing, delivery and vocal quality bring the dialogue to life and take it to another level. Yes, the dialogue has to be good and yes, the director could play a significant role in helping the actor find this character, but the bottom line is I can’t imagine many other people pulling off this role as well as Silverstone. She has a crazy combination of sex appeal, childlike-ness, cultured sophistication, plus the traditional “clueless” blond–and she makes it all work. I wasn’t cracking up, but I did chuckle and smile and many of her lines. She deserved an Academy Award nomination. (I looked up the other nominees: Susan Sarandon (won) Dead Man Walking; Elizabeth Shue, Leaving Las Vegas; Meryl Streep, Bridges of Madison County; Sharon Stone, Casino; Emma Thompson, Sense and Sensibility. I think Silverstone’s peformance was better than Stone or Thompson’s. I think Streep should have won. I think I would have picked Shue over Sarandon, too.)

  39. Mitchell

    Oh dear. First of all, I loved that Red Balloon film in elementary school. Most of us did. It was rather popular. So I am very interested in this movie

    Second, while I thought Silverstone was TERRIFIC in Clueless, the only performance on that list of Oscar nominees hers topped is Sharon Stone. You could make a strong case for any of the other four to have won that award and I wouldn’t mind, but I certainly can’t find fault in Sarandon’s wonderful performance in that terrific film. I believe I was rooting for Shue to take it home, but as I say: Any of those four would have pleased me.

    I liked Clueless mostly because, as you say, it definitely rises above other films in its genre. However, I disagree with calling Cher a dumb blonde. She may be something of an airhead, but the movie makes it plain that she’s a sharp girl and I think it suggests that what we consider dumb is in fact a different kind of smart. Gardner’s multiple intelligences would have pegged Cher as easily gifted in interpersonal intelligence, something a social misfit like me finds admirable. I am quite in awe of students with this kind of intelligence and I openly communicate my admiration.

    Dan Hedaya (Nick Tortelli!), who plays Cher’s dad, is a great foil for her: He is obviously smart in certain ways (he’s enormously successful in business), but he’s not as bright as his daughter in interpersonal matters; in fact, nobody in the film is, and it is this disarming ability to see through the social complications around her that enables her to float with ease from one person’s problem to the next person’s problem. I also really like the relationship she shares with her father. It’s charming and interesting and sweet.

    This is one of those rare films that, I think, actually rises above others in its genre so that it’s not really part of that genre. I’m not saying it’s a GREAT film, because it really isn’t, but it’s unique. I would like to say that I’m completely uninfluenced by the fact that this is a modern literary adaptation, but I can’t honestly say that and I’ve been up-front about that elsewhere on VI: I do like my literary adaptations. 🙂 And no, I haven’t read the source material. Are you kidding? The Victorians drive me up a tree!

  40. Reid

    I did say that Silverstone’s performance was better than Stone, and I also added Thompson’s. (Actually, I can’t remember her performance, which is saying something.) Streep was terrific and so was Shue, who made the cliched “hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold” compelling. I thought Sarandon was good, but not outstanding–not as good as the other two. But Silverstone’s performance deserves to be up there because her character is unique take on the dumb blond archetype–which I still contend she falls under. And, as I mentioned, I can’t see many other actors pulling off the character in the same way she did.

    I don’t know how long it’s been since you’ve seen this, but she’s superficial and says some inane things in this film–all of which is part of the dumb blonde archetype. Yet, she’s well-educated and actually smart in an academic sense, at least in some things. For example, she corrects her step-brother’s girlfriend who insists Hamlet says, “To thine own self be true”–although she knows this because she knows all of Mel Gibson’s movies. There’s also other scenes where she displays an academic intelligence. Yet, she can still mess up pronouncing words like Haitian, which she pronounces, Hay-tee-uns. (Btw, Silverstone pronounced it this way thinking this was the correct pronunciation, and Heckerling made sure no one on the set changed this.)

    I also disagree with the suggestion that the filmmakers were saying she had interpersonal intelligence, especially as a way of establishing that she’s not a “dumb-blond.” For one thing, the match-making she does, as in getting the two teachers together, are silly. It felt like one of those ridiculous events that Hollywood films employ to elicit cheap laughs. Also, her match-making doesn’t always work. Finally, she’s “clueless” about her on attraction to her step-brother.

    Anyway, I think Silverstone is good in this, and she makes the film.

  41. Reid

    De-constructing Harry (1997)
    Dir. Woody Allen
    Starring: Woody Allen and a whole ton of stars…
    6/10

    I can’t think of any idiots that I would recommend this strongly to. Mitchell comes to mind first because there are certain aspects that will appeal to him. I would not recommend this to people who generally don’t care for the Woodster. This is not a bad film, but I don’t think it should have made the 1001 book.

    **
    Allen, in his film persona, plays Harry Block, a writer who has a huge group of friends and family that are angry with the way he has used details from real life in his books. The general plot is that Harry is struggling with writer’s block, while also having difficulty finding someone to go with him to receive a college award.

    ***
    I haven’t been a big fan of Allen’s films in the past twenty-years. Most of them either seem to be unfunny, duplications of older films and themes or both. If you’ve seen Allen’s films up until the mid-80s, you’ve probably seen all that you need to–at least in my view. For the most part the same applies to this film, except I did like it a little more than I expected. Maybe my low expectations plus being in the mood for an Allen film explains this. There are some good lines, and perhaps a little more than I find in his recent stuff, and that may also explain it.

    The idea of having showing us characters from his books come to life on the screen as well as seeing the characters they represent may have been another reason. (One of the things that will appeal to Mitchell, albeit a small thing.)

    I want to mention a couple of other things. One is that the film has the most profanity of any Allen film I’ve seen. I don’t know the significance of this. Perhaps this relates to the second thing I wanted to mention, namely that I believe this was made during a rough period in Allen’s life. (Was the Soon-Yi-Mia Farrow thing going on?) This probably provides important context to the film. Allen screen alter ego is dealing with a lot of criticism from people, too, and the film seems to be a way for Allen to address the personal heat he was taking. Was it satisfying? Honestly, I can’t remember the details to I hesitate to give a definitive answer, but my impression was that the ending seemed similar to the ending in Manhattan–which was a kind of “throw your hands in the air and try to enjoy the ride” type of ending. Not very profound or new, but not real offensive either.

  42. Tony

    Not sure if I should admit this or not, but I saw Watchmen last night. As with Wanted, I think comic book adaptations work best for me when I don’t really know the source material. I basically knew two things about the movie going into it (plot-wise). I was quite ambivalent about the movie going in. I left not hating it but not loving it. The violence and sex was gratuitous. The story is dark. It’s not an action movie. I felt like it flowed well (many critics have given that part of the movie a “no”). The acting was fine. It’s just not what I’m looking for in a movie.

    Ironically, I started reading comics back when the comic series was coming out in serial format. Along with a few other titles, Watchmen helped herald in the “dark period” of comic books. I’m glad that period is over. Funny that it’s taken twenty years for the movie version of things to get there.

  43. pen

    Tony: Why the shame in admitting you saw Watchmen? Or is the shame because you saw it on opening night?

    The Reader. I really liked this movie. For discussion purposes, I think it’s a close second to Doubt. There’s lots of room for interpretation and supposition, which generally makes for good discussion. Kate Winslet is very good, but I’m not sure she was as good as everyone else said…maybe I missed some subtleties in her performance. I thought the young man did a terrific job. I didn’t know about the relationship between Kate Winselt’s character and the young man, and while it was important to the movie, I still felt a bit yuk about it.

    Let the Right One In. I wanted to see this at the Film Festival, but missed it. This was an interesting movie. Touching, but a little bizarre and sad. I am not sure what to make of the ending. It was a little slow in the beginning, but picked up as it went along.

    These comments are probably not very “satisfying,” but I did not want to spoil the experience by giving away plot details. Let’s just say I feel they’re both worth seeing…but for those who generally do not like foreign movies may decide to skip Let the Right One In and see it for “free” on Netflix or something. 🙂

  44. Reid

    Days of Being Wild (1990)
    Dir. Wong kar-Wai
    Starring: Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Andy Lau
    7/10

    I don’t think any idiots that would be super enthusiastic about this, although there are those that would find this interesting and worth viewing. Kevin would probably top the list, followed by Mitchell and then Penny, Grace and Chris. I don’t know about Tony, Jill, or Marc (although I’m pretty sure Marc wouldn’t be into this). Joel, Don and probably John wouldn’t get into this.
    I’m a fan of Wong Kar-Wai, and if you are, too then you should see this. One word of caution and advice: if you have not seen any of his stuff, I recommend seeing them in chronological order as much as possible. This is Wong’s second film, and I’m not sure if the first one is available on dvd.

    **
    Yuddy (York in my translation played by Leslie Cheung) is a heartless womanizer, whose attitude stems heavily from the fact that his adopted–and manipulative-mother refuses to reveal the identity of his biological parents. Revolving around Yuddy’s story are two woman: one a shop girl (Maggie Cheung) who falls for him and the woman (Carina Lau) that replaces her. Like other Wong films, unrequited love is a big part of the story, but of all his films (I haven’t seen the first and the most recent), this has the strongest story.

    ***(spoilers)
    I know I put the spoiler warning up there, but I’m afraid to write some of my thoughts in case some readers may accidently read what I’ve written. Let me write about things that are safer. Leslie Cheung does a good job in this. He’s interesting as this super cool, but troubled womanizer. I may be impressed because he has an effeminate look to him, but he plays this fairly tough philanderer very well. Maggie Cheung is also very good. She has one of the best sad/lonely expressions in terms of beauty. It’s terrific. You know how Audrey Hepburn has a certain look that’s compelling? Maggie Cheung has a similar power (but the looks convey different things).
    The really cool thing about this film is the way it’s connected with two other films. The ending will make no sense, unless you know about the other films. Anyway, I’d have to say this film along with the other two, make for one of the most original sequels of all time.

    Chinese Ghost Story (1987)
    Dir. Siu Tung Ching
    6/10

    I don’t think that many people should rush out to see this, but the idiots that come to mind who would enjoy this on some level are Chris and Mitchell. I can see Penny, Grace, Don, Jill, Joel, John and Marc liking this a little; they’d find this mildly enjoyable, but nothing to go out of the way to see. The film moved up to a six because I thought giving it a five would be a little too churlish. There is some justification for making the 1001 book, although it’s a little difficult

    **
    A bungling (in a slapstick sort of way) young tax collector Ling Choi Sin (Leslie Cheung) stays in an abandoned, haunted temple. There he meets a Daoist monk, with skill in both the sword and magic, and a beautiful female ghost. The tax collector endears himself to the monk, but also starts falling in love with the ghost (not realizing she’s a ghost). The problem is this ghost has been seducing men and in the process luring them to their deaths. This is part of the reason the monk is trying to kill the ghost. I don’t want to say too much about the genre of the film, but I will say there are kung fu elements, but if you’re expecting a typical kung-fu movie you may be disappointed.

    ***
    One of the most interesting things about this film is the way it successfully crams in many different genres into one film: kung fu, sword and socercy, horror, love story, musical, comedy and maybe others that I’m not realizing. What’s noteworthy is that these elements work fairly well–both separately and together. The fight scenes, although few, are not bad–not great, but fun; the love story and comedic elements were surprisingly effective for me–although maybe I wasn’t expecting much. (The musical elements–two song numbers–weren’t that great, the cheesy 80s sound didn’t help.)

    The fx is definitely dated (stop-motion photography and semi-cheesy looking giant tongue that is reminiscent of Kikaida costumes)–and in that way the film doesn’t hold up very well. But what made the film work was the fun I experienced with this film. This is not a serious movie, but it’s not trying to be. This is about entertainment and fun and the film manages to convey and succeed at bringing that about.

  45. Marc

    I saw Watchmen tonight. In a word, painful. In three words – didn’t get it. The best part, for me, was after the movie listening to my friend express disbelief at how often he had to look at “the naked big blue guy” and his overexposed nether area.

    In retrospect, I’m not surprised that I didn’t like the flick and atribute the decision to watch it to the extra beer I had to order when I ran out and still had sushi on my plate. It’s a fine art to run out of beer and sushi at the same time and I must work on this dilligently to avoid foolish decisions like this one…

  46. Reid

    The novel is good and worth reading.

    The Class (2008)
    Dir. Laurent Cantet
    6/10

    Mitchell will probably want to see this, but I have a hard time gauging if he would like this. Penny, Grace, Kevin, Tony and Chris would be interested in this. (Everyone else could probably skip this.) If any of you will have the same problems as I did (and there’s a good chance that you may), then you could probably skip this. (More later.) In some ways I just didn’t get this film, so I can’t really say if it’s a good or not. This film got a metacritic score of 92, the third highest last year (behind Wall-E and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days)

    **
    The film is about an inner city teacher in France and the class he teaches. Many of the students are immigrants and probably from the lower class.

    ***
    Sometimes foreign films work despite the lack of cultural understanding on the viewers’ part; other times this lack of understanding hinders a full appreciation of the film, and that’s what happened to me in this film. There were many scenes where I couldn’t tell if the character’s behavior was unbelievable or this was the way students and teachers behaved in France. For example, there’s a level of respect that the teacher (and the school) requires of students–standing when teachers enter a room–that I think would be tough to achieve in some US schools. There were also some moments where the students were sharing what they were ashamed of. I just couldn’t see the kids opening up like that, not in the way they did, unless they had a real strong rapport with the teacher (which didn’t seem to be the case for me–but maybe for a French viewer the rapport would have be evident). To make matters worse, there is a lot cross-talk, so knowing who said what was difficult via subtitles and the teacher’s subject was French. These were significant barriers for me.

    Besides not being able to judge the level of realism in the film, I also think I missed a lot of socio-political messages and themes in the film. The movie definitely felt like a critique on the France school system–or at least a chronicle of the challenges facing the French public school system.

    Wendy and Lucy(2008)
    Dir. Kelly Reichardt
    Starring: Michelle Williams
    7/10

    I recommend this to Penny, Grace, Mitchell, Chris and Tony. (I would included Kevin, too, but I saw it with him; I’d guess he liked it.) You could watch this on dvd, but if it were out in theaters, I’d say it’s worth paying to see. I’d cautiously recommend this to Marc, John, Don and Jill, especially since they might find it too slow. (The others may find it slow, too.) I don’t think Joel would like this. Larri gave it 5/10. I knew nothing about the film except the metacritic score (80), the title and the length (80 minutes) and the director made the critically acclaimed film Old Joy(?). It would have a good chance of cracking my top ten of 2008.

    **
    The film has a very basic plot: a young woman, Wendy (Williams) is traveling with her dog, Lucy (the main reason Don would have a chance of liking this) from Indiana to Alaska, where she hopes to get work. This is a film that doesn’t spell everything out; that requires the viewer to fill in the blanks–and that’s a good thing.

    ***
    This movie took a while to get going for me–the pacing is definitely deliberate and sometimes slow. But this pacing has a purpose, namely it gives the film a realistic and quiet feeling lending more impact to the some of the dramatic situations. And there are some dramatic, and even slightly suspenseful moments, in the film. Every person that Wendy meets, you never know if that person will be a nice or a jerk (especially the men). This creates both at least a mild suspense and interest in what’s happening. The drama turns up even more when Wendy loses her dog, her closest companion. (The dog is well-cast as he’s/she’s definitely a cutey.)

    What’s cool about the film is the way it strips down the character–she loses her car, her best friend, money–in a way that heightens little occurrences, occurrences that people of more able means are oblivious, too. For example, the security guard’s letting her use the cell phone, words of encouragement and ultimately giving her some money, were really touching. (The fact that the amount is so little is even more touching in a way as the security guard most likely doesn’t have a lot of money.) These gestures are significant because she has so little and is facing really trying circumstances. Friendship–even from a dog–really matters for someone like her, too, and its the importance that adds to the drama of the film.

    Finally, I liked the way Alaska represented hope in the film, that thing people look forward to which allows them to endure the trying circumstances that come their way. I saw this at the Academy of Arts and there was a discussion afterwards. The moderator asked if the audience felt like she made it to Alaska or not and people gave their comments. I thought whether she made it or not was besides the point. The image of her leaving for Alaska, to me, meant that she–like many of us–have a dream that keeps us going; that allows us to survive. I don’t think the film needed to say much more than that.

  47. Reid

    Knowing (2009)
    Dir. Alex Proyas
    Starring: Nicholas Cage
    5/10

    Tony, Joel, Penny and perhaps Grace would have the best chance of liking this–although, except for Tony, I’d be surprised the above really loved this. Pretty much everyone should see this on dvd. It would be an OK dvd to see on a night when you’re bored. Objectively, I think the film is about a 4, but, subjectively, it kept my interest enough (around a 6). So I averaged the two. The metacritic score was 40.

    **
    In 1959 an elementary school buries a time capsule filled with pictures drawn by children. One girl writes a series of numbers that ends up in the hands of the son of an MIT professor who finds meaning in these numbers.

    ***
    Ebert raved about this, calling it “…among the best sci-fi movies I’ve ever seen….” The comment leaves me scratching my head, even after having read his review. Except for maybe Tony, I’m pretty sure most of you would feel the same way. Yes, you may like it? But “among the best ever?” (I know there aren’t a ton of great sci-fi films, but still.) There’s just not enough in the film to warrant that remark. The characters are cliched and bland. We have the scientist who is confronted with the supernatural. At the same time, he has adopted a philosophy that there is no meaning or purpose to life because of a past tragedy. The unbelievable events happening in the film challenge these beliefs. Nothing fresh is added to these well-worn story-lines. I also found the film’s exploration of determinism and randomness superficial and dull. Others may disagree on this point, but I just didn’t think the film said much–except to show events that went contrary to that. Using Nicholas Cage, who, when he started out, was an interesting actor, but is no longer, doesn’t help. The resolution of the film was kind of a let down, too. On the other hand, I’m preferred it to a perfect, but forced and fake happy ending.

    There were some plot points that were problematic, too. I thought the biggest plot point involved the purpose of predicting the future. If the aliens could speak to the chosen ones, why did they need to predict future disasters?

    Having said all that, the film does move along at a good pace and many of the scenes that were supposed to be exciting were effective. (Ebert raved about this.) But this did not outweigh the other problems I mentioned earlier.

    4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)
    Dir. Cristian Mungliu
    7/10

    I would recommend this to Penny, Grace and probably Kevin and John. Mitchell, Chris and Tony would appreciate this, but I have difficulty saying if they would like it. Marc, Joel, Don and Jill would appreciate this, but I don’t think this is the type of film they’d really want to see. Knowing the subject matter will mildly spoil at least the first fifteen minutes of the film.

    ***
    With a score of 97, this was the highest rated 2008 film at metacritic. Was the rating justified? Personally, I’d say no. The film was well-made, but I don’t think it warrants that high of a score. But I will say that the biggest factor for judging the film would be the viewer’s position on abortion. Those who favor legalized abortion will probably thing this is a terrific film, while those against legalized abortion will have a lukewarm reaction at best. I definitely lean closer to the latter, but that’s not the only reason my reaction wasn’t fully enthusiastic. Generally, I don’t care for films whose main purpose is to depict a social issue (e.g. Philadelphia, Do the Right Thing, The Accused), especially if the treatment is simplistic. I think the simplicity and one-sidedness weakened the film for me.

    When people make arguments in favor of legalizing abortions, one of the things cited is the terrible things that happen to women when they must find ways to perform abortions. The film is a fleshing out of this worst case scenario to support legalizing abortions. There is also a ultra-feminist point of view in the film: it’s the woman who must stick together; the main male characters are exploiters of women. It’s a film that Leftist/Feminist ideologues would love.

    But there are some good acting, especially the argument between Otilia and her boyfriend. I also liked the use of a lot of long two-shot scenes with the actors just talking to each other. The film does a good job of pulling you in, making you want to see what’s going to happen next. I just wish it added more to the abortion debate.

  48. Reid

    Withnail and I (1987)
    Dir. Bruce Robinson
    Starring: Richard E. Grant,
    6/10

    If I hadn’t known that Chris saw this, he would have been the first person I would have recommended this to, followed by Kevin and then Penny. I think Mitchell would be interested in this–I could see him really like this. I’d guess Marc would be lukewarm on this; ditto Tony. Don and Larri (who after reading the description on the cover decided not to watch this) would definitely not like this. There’s an outside chance that Jill and Joel would like this, but those chances are remote. I saw this because it was on the 1001 list. I think it’s a so-so pick.

    **
    The film has very little plot: In 1969, two out of work British actors, Withnail (pronounced Withnall), played by Richard E. Grant and “I” (his name is never mentioned), played by Paul McGann, decide to take a “holiday” at Withnail’s rich Uncle’s country cottage. The dialogue takes center stage and the actors bring it to life–especially Richard E. Grant and Ralph Brown, who plays a drug-dealer with a touch to the “wise-fool” in him. If you have a taste for British wit or if you like Richard E. Grant, then this is a must see.

    ***
    I was going to describe this film as a precursor to Trainspotting and the Gen X slacker films that came after it, but that doesn’t seem quite right, as it essentially is a slacker film, albeit the characters are from the 60a. Made in the mid-80s about characters existing in the late 60s, the film and the characters feel completely contemporary. Strangely prescient and definitely a film that twenty and thirty somethings will be able to relate to. If they like the humor, they’ll love this.

    I have mixed feelings about the humor. I didn’t find myself laughing very hard or often–although I did enjoy Grant and Brown’s performance–both deserving of Academy nominations at least. However, the film has memorable lines/scenes, but it would be funnier for me talking about it afterward.

    Back to Grant and Brown’s performance. They really made the dialogue work: I can’t imagine anyone else in those roles. Brown has qualities of a Jim Ignatowski and Jeff Bridges’ “the Dude” Lebowski. The vocal quality, delivery and energy (low for Brown) just make it work. Grant is his over-the-top self, and it works. Grant’s larger-than-life style is interesting because its restrained enough to make his performances believable. I don’t feel like I’m watching a farce. I think he’s unique in that way. He also really good facial expressions, especially the one where he gives this wry smile that conveys a feeling of being appalled or scared, but trying to play it off. It’s hilarious.

  49. Mitchell

    I Love You, Man
    Paul Rudd, Jason Segel

    Mostly mindless entertainment. It tries to be a guy version of a chick flick, and I appreciated the effort, but the execution is weak. Rudd plays a real-estate agent trying to sell Lou Ferrigno’s home (the Lou Ferrigno angle is actually pretty funny, which is why I include it). He’s about to get married and is forced to deal with the fact that he has no real guy friends; there are really no good candidates for a best man.

    You know that great sequence in Notting Hill when Hugh Grant goes on a series of set-up dates? There’s something like that here. It’s appropriately awkward, because this, of course, is not how guys meet each other. This is the one of only a couple of notes the film hits right on, this idea that guys getting to know each other by sitting down and talking just doesn’t work. The only time we get a sense that the Rudd and Segel characters are really becoming friends is when they are DOING stuff together. There are moments that work really well.

    Alas, they are few and far between. Very little of this film is horribly bad (except for a few slapsticky moments, including projectile vomiting). However, very little of it is especially good. I can’t think of anyone to whom I’d recommend the film.

    Two not-very-relevant side-notes. First, Andy Samberg, who’s usually way out there in his SNL videos, finds a nice supporting note here. The role doesn’t demand a lot of depth, but he definitely lends a little bit of sweetness and surprising competence to the cast. Also, Rush (the band) does a cameo, and its music plays a central part in the main characters’ becoming friends. Rush fans will like those parts.

  50. Reid

    The Edge of Heaven (2008)
    Dir. Fatih Akin
    8/10

    If we went back in time to the beginning of 2008, this would be one of the films I’d say was worth going to see. Well, for most of the idiots anyway. Penny, Grace, Kevin and Chris would top my list. Next, I’d choose Tony, Mitchell, and maybe Marc and Don (who might not love it, but think its OK). This got a metacritic score of 85–pretty deserving, imo. There were some themes that resonate with me perhaps more than it would some of you, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you don’t like it as much as me. Still, I’m fairly sure the people at the top of the list will appreciate, if not really like, this. The dvd is available at the Hawaii public library.

    **
    Many of the arthouse films are worthy efforts that I don’t mind paying to see even when they don’t totally succeed. A few, however, do succeed, and The Edge of Heaven was one those films for me. The film is tough to describe, especially without giving too much away, but I’ll attempt to give details for those who aren’t as uptight about knowing these things. This is a Turkish film (or about Turkish characters)–and like other Eastern European/Central Asian films the politico-historical context is important, but this film also deals with universal themes that the idiots that like the arthouse films will find interesting. Another general comment I can make is that the film feels like one of those multiple story/character films (eg. Magnolia), even though there are only two main stories. If there’s a film I’d compare it to, I’d say Babel, except more focused, stronger story and substantive, just better overall.

    To go beyond these general description into more specific details about the plot will take something away from the experience, so read at your own risk. The first story involves a Turkish widower, Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz), his adult son Najat (Baki Davrak), a professor of German literature and the prostitute, Yeter (Nurtel Kose) who comes to live with the Ali. The second story involves a activist, Ayten (Nurgil Yesilcay) from an underground political group fleeing Turkey and coming to Germany to look for her mother. Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowlska), a female German college student befriends Ayten and invites her over to her mother’s,(Hanna Schygulla) house to live. Problems occur in both stories that lead eventually lead the characters to Turkey.

    ***
    One of the problems with films like Magnolia, 13 Conversations About One Thing, et. al., is coincidental and unbelievable way the characters and stories intersect with each other. The same type of coincidence occurs in this film, too, and I can see that bothering some people. However, for some reason, which I’m not sure of, I didn’t have a problem with it. I think the main reason is that I just enjoyed the stories and themes. There is a lot of analyze, and this would be a film I’d like to watch again. But let me mention a few things.

    The main thing I liked involved the theme about parents and their adult children and the mixture of love and conflict in the relationship. There are three of these relationships in the film: Nejat and Ali; Ayten and Yeter; and Lotte and her mother, Susanne, and I liked the way they were all intertwined. All of them involve some kind of estrangement: Nejat rejects his father after he (accidently) murders Yeter; Yeter and Ayten are estranged, at least partly, because of Yeter’s profession; and Lotte and Susanne have a falling out over Ayten. But the stories are not just about estrangement, but reconciliation, healing and the way tragedy and loss bring these about. For example, Nejat searches for Ayten after his father kills Yeter. The search ultimately leads him to Suzanne–and it’s her loss that allows him to appreciate his father and seek him out. With Suzanne, the tragic loss of her Lotte leads to several things: Ayten’s freedom and perhaps a new “mother” in Suzanne, while Suzanne gains a new “daughter.” At least the film suggests this and while it’s not totally satisfactory for the characters, it is good and beautiful despite that. The title–the edge of heaven, which I interpret as almost heaven–nicely supports that. Nejat’s reconciliation with his father also fits with the title in that the audience never sees the reconciliation (perhaps it doesn’t happen), but the fact that Nejat goes looking for his father and sits at the beach waiting for his return–recalling a role reversal of the Prodigal Son–is beautiful no matter what happens in the relationship. He’s sitting at the edge of heaven. (Terrific ending.)

  51. pen

    Knowing
    Reid was right (gasp!) I enjoyed this film, but it won’t stick with me. While I watched it was entertaining and a bit suspenseful, which had a lot to do with the pacing of the film. There were jumps in logic, but I only really thought about it after the film was over. It did not bother me while I was watching. Good popcorn flick.

    I Love You Man
    Mitchell was right (gasp!) Nice and mindless…good for the middle of your work week. Paul Rudd and Jason Segel do have some nice moments, but too many gag-type stuff in here (i.e., projectile vomiting, etc.) to make it more meaningful. It does bring up a topic I was thinking about awhile back…how we make friends as adults. Paul Rudd does a good job as leading man here. I definitely squirmed in my seat when he created all these awkward moments!

  52. Mitchell

    Superbad
    Jonah Hill and Michael Cera
    Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

    Man, this is a funny, clever movie. Raunchy as heck, which of course you know, but there is something real here that it’s nice to see. I didn’t usually engage in the kinds of conversations the main characters have in this film, but I certainly heard my fair share of them, and I know guys who talked about these things all the time. Hill and Cera are a terrific on-screen duo; the rhythm and flow of their conversations, especially the argument with Fogel (McLovin) over the fake ID, are just terrific.

    At least half the movie is spent with Seth Rogen and Bill Hader, who play idiotic cops. This half of the movie was lame. Tired. Played-out. Not funny. It was like a much-too-long episode of Reno 911, a show I also do not find amusing.

    Everyone talks about how sweet this film is and how much heart it has. I have to agree. I really like what the writers and actors do with the last scene and have watched it several times, just to see the way the actors look at each other. It’s very well done.

    Half of this movie gets an 8, but the other half gets a 4, so we’ll split the difference and call it a 6.

  53. Reid

    Watchmen (2009)
    Dir. Zack Snyder
    6/10

    I’m not going to recommend this movie, even though many of you would probably say it’s OK. (Marc’s strong negative reaction surprised me a little.), although I’m pretty sure no one will say it’s better than OK (at least not by much). And I also think people will leave with a lukewarm or negative impression of the graphic novel, which is a shame and probably another reason I’m not recommending this movie.

    **
    It’s 1986. The US won the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon is still president. The Cold War is at its peak; nuclear war is imminent. Super-heroes have been outlawed, yet they are being murdered.

    ***
    Terry Gilliam, who was reported to have been called on to direct this, supposedly called this film unfilmmable, and half way through the novel, I felt the same way; at the very least, this is not a good candidate for a film treatment. Perhaps, if they get the right actors that might make it worth it; or if they did something really unique in the storytelling, which would probably dramatically change the novel. That latter doesn’t happen, but the former does. The casting is really spot on–particularly Hollis Mason, as Nite Owl and Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan. Actually, they’re all good. I can’t imagine a better casting job. The actors do a very good job of creating a faithful depiction of the characters in the novel. But it’s not enough. Their performance doesn’t justify the making of this film.

    Another justification for the adaptation may have been showing action sequences. The action sequences are solid. Snyder does a good job of shooting the action, particularly the action. But again it’s not enough. Indeed, the action takes away from the story because in the film all the super-heroes seem to have super-human strength. This makes the fight scenes exciting. But in the novel. all but a few are basically normal human beings, with above average to very good fighting ability–but no superhuman strength. This makes them seem a little pathetic and deviant. You could understand individuals with super-human abilities becoming super-heroes, but when regular people do it, it’s a little creepy. And that’s exactly the type of vibe Alan Moore was going for; he wanted to show the dark and creepy aspects of super-heroes.

    In saying this, I must point out that Zack Snyder is not really to blame. In fact, he–and the screenwriters– really do a good job. They leave out sub-plots and don’t develop certain characters–even the changes in the story–specifically using Dr. Manhattan’s powers to destroy millions of people instead of a phony alien–were improvements to the story. Still, it falls way short of capturing what makes the novel so great. As I mentioned, I don’t think anyone will think highly of the graphic novel based on this film, which is a shame. Because the novel could very well be one of the top 100 novels of the 20th Century.

    Two Lovers (2008)
    Dir. James Gray
    6/10

    I think Mitchell, and perhaps Tony, should see this, although they could probably wait until video. (I’d guess Mitchell would give this at least a 7, but no lower than a 6.) Chris, Penny, Grace, and Kevin could also like this, but definitely can wait until video. I think everyone else would rate the score similar to mine, if not a little less. Larri gave it a 4. I think the metacritic score was 80–which is a bit too high imo.

    **
    The film feels like an adaptation of a short story. LeonardKraditor (Joaquin Phoenix) lives with his parents and works for his father’s dry cleaning store. He meets and becomes interested in Sandra (Vinessa Cohen), the daughter of a family friend, and a sweet girl-next-door type. Right when this starts, Leonard also runs into Michelle (Paltrow), who is not the girl-the-next door. This is the type of arthouse film that I wouldn’t regret, but I don’t find fully satisfying either. Also, this is not a movie that you can leave at any point (or its impossible to know when it will be OK).

    ***
    The cast is very good, and the acting is solid, although not exceptional. In some ways, the characters are pretty well-worn, and the filmmakers don’t bring anything really fresh; ditto the story. Still, for what it is, it’s good. I must say that knowing about Joaquin Phoenix’s recent weirdness (hopefully, an Andy Kaufmann-like stunt) kinda took away from sympathizing with his character. I kept thinking that the bi-polar aspects of the character didn’t come from acting. Paltrow was solid and appealing. Some people will find her performance interesting as the “bad girl,” or at least the lost, perhaps not too intelligent girl. She is convincing.

    As for the overall film, the ending just didn’t totally connect with me. (Of course, I totally missed the scene where Sandra gives Leonard the gloves! Still, even when I learned the significance of the gloves, the transformation in Leonard wasn’t totally believable and I couldn’t fully grasp what he was feeling. Was he getting together with Sandra to help his family? Was it a conscious choice for happiness? If so, it wasn’t entirely convincing, and therefore not fully satisfying. Still, it was a decent film

  54. Marc

    **potential spoilers**

    *Watchmen* was just too long and too convoluted for me. I wonder how Reid’s reaction to the movie was influenced by his reading the graphic novel beforehand and I’d remind folks that I didn’t. While I was able to follow the plot it was difficult to do and I just got tired of the movie after the two hour mark.

    The other thing that truly annoyed my friend was Mr. Manhattan being naked and exposing his rather overdeveloped male organ prominently throughout the movie. This seemed pretty gratuitous to me although it didn’t really bother me that much. At least he was never excited during the three hour flick…

  55. Reid

    Certainly my having read the novel could have helped me understand the film, although Larri had no problem with understanding the story. I think there might have been a few parts of the story or characters that were confusing, but I can’t recall any right now. Do you recall what parts seemed “convoluted” to you?

    Marc, if I remember correctly, you sort of liked comic books, and if that’s correct, I would consider reading the novel. It’s the type of novel that is hard to enjoy, but I think you would admire many things about it.

    (Some minor spoilers about the novel)
    A word about whether the sex and violence were gratuitous (which is slightly related to the nakedness of Dr. Manhattan). I think this is an aspect of the novel that did not translate as well to the screen. As I mentioned in my review, the graphic novel looked at the darker side of comic book heroes. If we actually knew someone who dressed up in a costume to “fight” crime, we could reasonably expect that individual to be strange, at the very least, and even severely disturbed psychologically. We certainly wouldn’t call that person normal. Yet, I’d guess these thoughts don’t cross the mind of comic book readers–and even non-comic book readers. Watchmen challenges that view and gets the readers to look at comic book heroes in a more realistic way. Take the graphic violence, for instance. The violence is muted in most comic books, making it more “acceptable” to parents. Watchmen challenges that view by making the violence more graphic. Moreover, I think the violence with characters like Rosharch illustrate that some of these heroes have serious psychological problems. I think the graphic nature of sex in the film (it’s more graphic in the movie) is done for similar reasons. Heroines are almost always drawn as beautiful large breasted woman in scantily clad outfits. It’s almost pornographic. If we’re honest this is part of the appeal of comic books–and the movie (and graphic novel) brings this front and center. That’s just one of the reasons the novel was so great. When I read it I knew I was reading a comic book–the art and situations certainly had the right feel–but there was something very different and it left me with an odd feeling. And that feeling stemmed from the way the graphic novel exposed these hidden aspects of the comic books.

    But the film didn’t do a good job of doing all of this. However, since I knew the graphic novel, I didn’t think the sex and violence were gratutious. (In the novel, the writers make Hollis’ (aka Nite Owl) sexual hang-ups clear. He has trouble having sex when Ms. Jupiter is not in costume. He also happily accepts one of the pornographic comics of Ms. Jupiter’s mother.)

  56. Marc

    Again, I was able to follow the plot, but some of these issues below are probably more evident to those who have read the novel.

    *spoilers*

    1. It was easy to identify Rorschach as one of the Watchmen since he wore his mask. It was a little less easy to identify the others. It was not clear to me at first that the heroes did not have superpowers. Dr. Manhattan had powers, why didn’t the others have powers? Rorshach had the moving mask, why didn’t he have a power? At some point you realized that they didn’t really have any although this is never explicitly stated and probably became obvious around two hours into the movie.
    2. The whole sequence with Rorshach investigating The Comedian and the former arch enemy takes a large part of the middle of the movie, leads to Rorshach’s arrest and subsequent escape, and is resolved at the end. Yes, the end made clear what was happening, but I didn’t have any idea what was going on with that thread for the first 2.5 hours. By the time it became clear what was going on, I was waiting for the movie to end so I could hit the facilities and cleanse my bladder of the beer that I had consumed earlier that evening.
    3. The movie implies that the Comedian, not Lee Harvey Oswald, killed JFK. What exactly was going on there?
    4. Was the Comedian really a hero? Did he do anything good in the movie? Did he do anything good in the novel? Is this just one of the things that is supposed to be unclear?

    I should just probably say this: The movie was long with a dense plot. It was certainly ambitious, but it failed to hold my interest long enough for me to appreciate all the stuff that was onscreen. I guess it seemed like it had more flash than heart. Maybe the novel is different.

  57. Reid

    Marc,

    The novel is very different..well, the storyline and characters are faithful to the novel, but the richness of the novel doesn’t translate well. Again, I think the graphic novel is very good, a novel that challenges and expands on the genre. There are also stylistic elements that are cool, too. You might want to give it a shot, as it’s not a long read (although it took a lot longer than most comic/graphic novels I’ve read).

    I’m going to respond to your points, but if you decide to read the novel, you might want to skip them (although I don’t think there are any spoilers):

    The characters having powers or not was ambiguous in the film (except Dr. Manhattan)–although it seemed like to possessed extraordinary strength and speed. I think this was a minor point though. What threw me off about their lack of powers–or pretty boring powers if they had any–was that most comic book heroes do have powers and the powers are pretty interesting. Indeed, I think that’s what makes them appealing–the nature of their powers, how they got them and use them. But here, the powers are irrelevant or non-existent.It’s hard for me to comment about Rorshach’s investigation. I think the book makes Moloch’s identity a bit clearer, but I don’t know if that would have helped or not.The thing about the Comedian killing JFK was not in the novel (unless I missed that). Basically, the act falls in line with Comedian’s character and his attitude.The Comedian doesn’t have any pretense about good guys or superheroes. My sense (and this is not explicit in the novel) is that he feels like the super-heroes are a joke: they’re not really “white knights,” but people who are bored, troubled and their decision to be super-heroes comes more out of desires other than altruism. The Comedian is aware of that, and he just jumps on the super-hero bandwagon to profit from it. Actually, each of the characters are a way of looking at the super-hero phenomena from different angles. I haven’t worked them all out yet, but it might be worth it to do so.

    If I had to guess, you wouldn’t be enthuisastic about the graphic novel, but I think you would appreciate it in many ways. In my opinion, it is worth the time.

  58. Reid

    The Last Emperor (1987)
    Dir. Bernardo Bertolucci
    5/10

    I know that I wouldn’t recommend this to Joel, Jill, Don or Larri–although I don’t think they would think it was a bad film. Of the other idiots, I have a hard time deciding. I can’t think of anyone that I feel confident strongly recommending this to, although I’d pick Mitchell (because of what I know of his tastes) and Kevin. Still, it’s not something I’d strongly recommend to them either.

    **
    The film is about the life of the last emperor in China. By following his life we also see the political and cultural upheaval China experienced in that time. This film received a lot of Academy Awards (nine, I believe). Except for the costumes, set pieces and perhaps cinematography, I don’t know if the film is deserving of such attention.

    ***
    Based on a few films, I’m not a big fan of Bertolucci, although I will say that his films have some nice visual moments. The same is true for this film. The costumes and sets are very good and hold up fairly well–this is probably the most noteworthy part of the film, at least for me; on the other hand, I think films like Hero and House of the Flying Daggers sort of lessens the sets and costumes.

    As for the story, I found it fascinating, but I wanted to see a deeper exploration of the themes and psychology of the main character. The film covers a lot of ground so perhaps only a book could satisfy what I was looking for. The story does feel a little too compressed and probably needed more time.

  59. Mitchell

    I saw the first half when I was in college and liked it a great deal. Never did see the rest, ‘though I’ve listened to the soundtrack on multiple occasions (David Byrne and Ryuichi Sakamoto). Unless the second half makes it a worse picture, I’d guess that I would like this film based on what I’ve seen. You didn’t think the score was Oscar-worthy, huh? I like it. A lot.

  60. Reid

    I glad you mentioned the score because it was one aspect of the film I forgot to mention. (Now, I’m thinking of other.) I recall liking the score, but I felt it didn’t fit the movie. The score had too much of a contemporary and even pop feeling (Sakamoto has this melodic sense that I associate with contemporary Japanese soap operas and movies), but the movie spans from the 40s to the 60s. Used in the film, it felt obtrusive, distracting and inauthentic.

    The other problem I had was the main characters speaking in English rather than Chinese. (This stood out when extras spoke in Chinese). I felt this took away from the authenticity and made it more difficult for me to buy and inhabit the world the filmmakers were trying to recreate. I got used to it, though.

    If you liked the first half, you’ll probably like (or at least not hate) the second half.

  61. Mitchell

    Would it have been better if all the characters had spoken Chinese-accented English?

    I’m trying to remember what the course was in which I saw this. I think it was World Civ, the second half, a course I took with Byron and Gregg in summer session. Gotta ask them if they remember.

  62. Reid

    I don’t think that would have helped, and it probably would have made it worse, especially if the accent sounded phony.

    What hurt my film experience is that I’ve seen other Chinese films that cover the same time period and similar subject (not Pu Yi, the last emperor), and these films, like the The Blue Kite and Farewell, My Concubine, among others, seemed much more authentic, and they looked really good. The Hollywood treatment is written all over The Last Emperor; it feels like it was made for American mainstream audiences.

  63. Mitchell

    …yet aren’t you the one who disagrees with me that it’s stupid when movies set in Europe feature actors speaking English with British, French, or German accents? It’s one of my peeves.

  64. Mitchell

    Adventureland
    written and directed by Greg Mottola
    Jesse Eisenberg, Ryan Reynolds, Kristen Stewart, Kristin Wiig, and Bill Hader

    This is not the film you think it is. The only thing it has in common with Superbad is its desire to get things fairly close to the way the screenwriters remember them. Yes, there are some crude moments, but nothing at all like the how-far-can-we-push-it crudity in Superbad and its ilk. Adventureland, rather, plays like a “What the heck do we do, now that we’re out of college?” movie and in this (thematic) way, it will appeal to most of the Village Idiots.

    Before I summarize, I will just say that the most intriguing thing about this picture is that while it was written by a Gen Xer about Gen X characters (the film is set in the summer of 1987), I think Mottola made a Gen Y movie, and this is why I’d really love to hear Tony’s and Reid’s thoughts about it. Penny agreed that this was a lot more Garden State than Reality Bites and I’d love to be able to point to specific elements that make it so.

    Eisenberg plays just-graduated-from-college James, who is supposed to be spending summer vacation in Europe with some friends, but his father’s changing situation at work makes that impossible to finance, and in fact James is going to have to get a summer job just to pay for his housing at Columbia in the fall. He gets a job as a Games guy at Adventureland, a local theme park (in reality, the park is in New York, but in this film it is in Pittsburgh).

    The film explores the inner workings of the theme park from the points of view of the regular workers. James hates his job, but he likes Em, one of his coworkers, and Joel, another coworker who will remind most of us of at least one person we knew in the years following college. Joel is brilliant, witty, clever, socially awkward, and seemingly unable to get himself out of the inertia of his disappointing post-college life. Em has issues at home and in her love life but seems genuinely to like James. Other characters move in and out of the main action, mostly coworkers at the theme park, and we are brought into their mini-dramas and stunts.

    There’s a kind of realism I appreciated about this film; I don’t think Mottola either over-dramatizes the reality of that post-college what-now mentality, nor does he forget that it really was an angsty bummer. He chooses music from the time period, but it’s mostly so far on the fringe that the soundtrack will sound fresher; in fact, the film could easily pass for a mid-nineties piece, which I think the director did on purpose. Why a Gen Xer would write about Gen X characters but create a film that feels like a Gen Y film is beyond me, but THAT’s what I’m dying to talk about with someone!

    My friend Jenn says Mottola didn’t make a Gen Y film; he really made a teen movie. I can see the argument, but I’m going to have to look at it again before I can agree or disagree.

    Its likable characters and clear memory of what those days were like make this a re-watchable film for me. A high 7/10. I don’t use decimals in rating movies, but this is really a 7.75 if I did.

  65. Reid

    I still don’t know what the significant difference is between Gen Y and Gen X.

    Re: accents.

    I vaguely recall having a conversation with you about English speaking characters speaking with German, French accents, etc. But I don’t think I have as much a problem, for some reason, with those than I do in the Asian situation. Do you remember the specific context?

  66. Mitchell

    Observe and Report
    Seth Rogen, Ray Liotta
    written and directed by Jody Hill

    This is the blackest black comedy I think I’ve ever seen. There are moments of tenderness in weird places, many moments of comedic violence that goes so far as to be disturbing, a borderline date-rape scene, and characters you root for but can’t stand. Just about every positive emotion the film makes you feel lasts only a moment because whatever scenario the filmmakers use in generating that positivity is taken to such extremes that it quickly becomes repulsion.

    It’s not a movie one likes or enjoys. I suppose one can appreciate it, for it does seem to be successful (I think!) at what it tries to do, but there were moments when I laughed at something and then a minute later felt awful about laughing at it because as events unfolded the thing I laughed at became atrocious. In this way, I feel I was played, or manipulated, as if this were some elaborate Andy Kaufmann experiment.

    I mentioned in my Twitterstream last night that it was a super-black comedy and someone responded that he’d heard one reviewer call it a comedic version of Taxi Driver. This comparison almost totally works, and I’ll have to think about it some. Taxi Driver is another film that is impossible to say you like or enjoy, and there are a lot of similarities between the films’ main characters and storylines.

    Impossible to recommend. I’d pretty much tell everyone to stay away unless they’re into this kind of thing.

  67. Reid

    The Rapture (1991)
    Dir. Michael Tolkin
    Starring: Mimi Rogers, David Duchovny, etc.
    7/10

    There are only a few films I can think of where knowing the title of a movie would actually take a little away, not from the film itself, but the film experience. Alas, I can’t think of anyway to write about this film, without letting you know the title. Mitchell and Penny were the “lucky” ones to get to see this without knowing the title. (I’ll let them comment on how “lucky” they felt.)

    Of the people I would recommend this to–Kevin, Chris, John, Tony and Grace–I would qualify the recommendation by saying that I don’t necessarily think they would like this film. Mainly, I’m recommending this because I think the film would lead to an interesting discussion, and unlike other films that inspire good discussion, the good discussion doesn’t depend on significant amounts of time for individuals to digest and analyze; a good discussion can occur immediately after the film. I’d mildly recommend this to Marc if he saw it with others and was in the mood for discussion. I would not recommend this to Don, Joel, Jill. I probably wouldn’t recommend this to Larri. I think she gave the film a four. This was a pick from the 1001 book, and I think it was fairly decent choice.

    I have mixed feelings about my rating–I’m going back and forth between a 6 and a 7–but I finally decided on seven (to Mitchell’s dismay). You can read about the reasons in the third section.

    **
    I hesitate to describe the plot because I think even a general description will take a little away from it. Still, many of you may find the loss negligible, so I’ll proceed. The film is about a woman, Sharon (Rogers) who has meaningless sex at night and, by night, works as a phone operator. She develops a more serious relationship with Randy (Duchovny). At the same time, Sharon begins her exploration of Christianity and eventually converts to a group that believe Jesus will be returning soon. A good film to see with a bunch of people, especially those with a diverse view of Christianity.

    ***
    I think I’ve said somewhere else that because I’ve watched so many films in a relatively short period of time, originality–seeing something I’ve never seen or rarely seen–counts a lot more for me. This film gets points on that criterion alone. For one thing, it’s one of the only Hollywood films I can think of that takes Christianity in a serious way. What’s even more interesting and rare is that the film can be interpreted as a pro-Christian film, even though it is most likely made by a non-Christian. (I don’t believe Tolkin is religious, but if he has he sounds like he is a Jew.) The Christians in the film are not portrayed as the cardboard villians typical in Hollywood films. On the other hand, one could argue that they do appear weird. My response is that, in many ways, Christians do appear weird especially to non-believers. But I don’t think the filmmakers are creating caricatures, nor do they want to simply mock Christians/Christianity. Instead, I think the film’s value is in posing questions about Christianity: is morality and a sense of guilt that comes from violating it something innate or taught? how does one become saved? what will happen if and when Jesus returns? who will be saved and who won’t? If you see this film with other people–particularly a mix of Christians and non-Christians–I think these questions will be inevitable–and that is a significant accomplishment, especially from a Hollywood film.

    On these points alone the film is noteworthy, but there is also good direction, particularly in the way the director holds your attention and keeps your curiosity. You wonder what is happening in various scenes, you’re not sure what’s going to happen, and you want to find out. The editing and pacing keeps the film moving along, too. (Some of the effects seem a little cheesy, but you can tell this was a low-budget film.) Another part of the film I liked was the character, Foster, played by Will Patton. (Btw, Mitchell, the girl with the tatoo played Roxy in Mannequin.) He had good lines and delivered them well.

    So why didn’t I give this a higher rating? For me, while I liked the serious treatment of Christianity and the questions the film raises, I think the portrayal of Christianity felt false. Not only did I disagreed with the theology of the film, but I just felt like the spirituality of the film felt artificial or at least shallow. Compared to other films that portray deeply spiritual people, the spirituality in this film just didn’t seem real. Although in fairness to the filmmaker, perhaps they never conceived of Sharon as spiritually deep. I think for that reason–and the way this film raises questions about Christianity–I have to give this a 7. The score does not reflect how much I personally liked the film, but I feel, objectively, it deserves that score.

    I want to address some criticisms Mitchell made about the film, namely the poor development of Sharon and the other characters. I agree that the filmmakers didn’t give enough time to make Sharon a more realistic person; that adding in some scenes could have accomplished. But I think the arc of her character’s story–particularly the stages she goes through and the questions related to each stage–was more important than the realism of the character.

    One more thing. There is another interpretation of the film which I haven’t explored, namely that this film is not necessarily about Christianity per se, but about the mood of the times (90s): the emptiness and longing for something more meaningful; the sense of foreboding doom (perhaps more relevant to the 80s, pre-Perestroika).

  68. pen

    Withnail and I
    After the first 15 minutes of this movie, I thought to myself, “Reid thought I would like this movie? Bleh.” But it began to grow on me (in a good way, not like a fungus) and by the end I realized that I did enjoy it quite a bit.

    There is definitely a Gen X slacker vibe going on, but with more drugs and less angst. Also, the two main characters did have hope and goals. The main characters have this intense relationship that the viewer senses is only for this time in their lives and and there is some question as to whether we are seeing the beginning of the end of their relationship.

    Let’s just say I liked this film a lot more than The Rapture.

  69. Mitchell

    Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000 remake)
    Nicholas Cage, Angelina Jolie

    Mind numbing car-stealing movie. Cage, a retired car thief, reluctantly takes a job stealing 50 high-end cars in one night in order to save his brother (Giovani Ribisi). This film doesn’t suck, but heavens, it ain’t good.

    3/10

  70. Tony

    Caught The Solosit last night. The movie, based on a true story, is solidly acted and well-directed. The trailer for the movie makes it look like it is going to be a very moving movie. It is, but it is by no means done in a sentimental way. In some ways, it is kind of difficult to watch. In the end, music is important, but it’s not the main thing. It’s the choice we make to be responsible for others that changes things. It’s letting people in and not letting them go, even if they spit in our face and reject us.

    I almost went to see it again this afternoon, just because I wanted to revisit some things. Took a nap instead. Just rewatched the previously mentioned trailer, which tells you everything you need to know. And yet the movie is so much more. Not as feel-good as you hope, but definitely a story that we need.

    It’s funny, really. It’s almost a kind of I Love You, Man movie. Without the humor. And with a bit more bite and real world effect. Anyone else see it this weekend?

  71. Mitchell

    Tony, have you been getting my weekly emails about the Tuesday movies?

  72. pen

    17 Again

    What could have been a schmaltzy, tired, regurgitated movie with some teen eye candy was not. It was more. I wouldn’t go so far to say that it breathed new life into a well-used premise, but it was touching and heart-warming and real. The relationships and “touching” moments did not feel forced , especially in the scenes when Zac interacts with his “kids.” I think a lot of the credit for this goes to the director and Zac Effron. He has the potential to have leading man chops. He definitely did his part to carry this film. Worth the price of admission.

  73. Reid

    Moolaade (2004)
    Dir. Ousmane Sembene
    4/10

    I think Penny, Grace and Kevin has the best chance of liking this, but I think there might be some things about the film that may temper their enthusiasm. (These elements bothered Larri, and I wouldn’t have expected them to.) Mitchell, Chris, Marc and Jill might also like this. The film got a metacritic score of 91. I’ll explain why I think the score was this high.

    **
    The film is about a woman (the second wife in an African village) who protects several girls from a ritual involving genital mutilation. (Note: there are really no graphic depictions in the film.) In this village, the ritual is essential for cleansing the woman and making them acceptable to marry. The men refuse to marry women who have not gone through the ritual, and thus sets up a cultural battle. The story also includes the way technology in the form of radio and other Western influences disrupt this village. It’s a feel good story that liberals would love. In my opinion, some of filmmaker’s decisions to create this good feeling is way over-the-top, akin to the kind of moves common in Hollywood feel good movies. But the woman has a strong Feminist component (“I am Woman. Hear me roar!”) that I could see the liberals (most critics) would really like this–hence, the score of 91. I would guess others wouldn’t be as bothered by this as me, but I was surprised that Larri agreed with me.

    State of Play (2009)
    Dir. Kevin Macdonald
    Starring: Russell Crowe, Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams, Ben Afleck, Robin Penn-Wright, Jason Bateman, Jeff Daniels, etc.
    5/10

    Penny would find this a good popcorn movie. Pretty much everyone else would at least find this mildly entertaining; the type of movie that would be acceptable if you were desperate to see something at the theater. To me, it’s not that great of a film, but it was sort of kept my attention.

    **
    The film is basically a political thriller involving journalists a la All the President’s Men, but no where near as good. I’m too lazy to go into the details of the plot, but I think the above sums it up fairly well. Someone told me that the film is examines journalism–and perhaps the examination in the TV series was a lot more insightful–but if it did, it was superficial.

    ***
    Look at that cast. It’s so good, I went largely because of it. But I knew going in that there were possible explanations for this: 1.) They were desperate for money–and maybe chose this because of the other actors in the film; that is Helen Mirren signs on, which leads to Russell Crowe, etc.–a kind of domino effect; 2.) the script was really good or at least something interesting about it. I was hoping that it was the latter, but I don’t think so. Actually, since the film was based on a supposedly good British mini-series, I’m guessing this is the reason the stars signed on.

    Unfortunately, the film is just not that good. The film really wastes the actors. The characters are flat and close to cliches. The dialogue is bland and the story gets confusing to the point where I really didn’t care. (Perhaps, they compressed the movie, too much, or they had the memory of the series in mind and forgot how much information the audience who hadn’t seen the series would need to know.)

    One word about Jason Bateman. I’m really beginning to like him. His role in Juno and this film shows me that he’s an interesting actor, subtle. He should be given a shot as a lead in a serious drama/comedy. I could see him playing a young father of a suburban family or an everyman in a thriller. In some ways he reminds me of a cleaner, boy-next-door version of Mark Ruffalo. I look forward to seeing him in better roles/films.

  74. Reid

    Gomorrah (2008)
    4/10

    Although some of you will find this interesting (read the next part to see whom), I’m not going to recommend this. I can’t say it’s a bad film, but the subject matter is something I’m totally not interested in. I’m pretty sure many of you would give this a higher score, and, in some ways, the film deserves a higher score–but not the 87 metacritic score!–but the score reflects my own preferences and should be seen in that light.

    **
    The most interesting part of the film came at the end, when the credits gave real life facts about the situation in this Italian community involving a drug organization called, the Camorra. I felt like just reading a short article giving these details would have been sufficient for me; I didn’t need to learn this story through several narratives–whose stories and characters are nothing new (at least for me) and not really exceptional. However, in my view, stories that are primarily about depicting ghetto life–almost always involving drugs and crime–are so similar that if you’ve seen one, you’ve almost seen them all. If you disagree with this, that is, you don’t tire of seeing this depiction, then you probably will want to see Gomorrah. It reminds me of City of God, Boys n’ the Hood and Martin Scorsese gangster films.

  75. Tony

    X-Men Origins: Wolverine. What a way to start off the summer movie season! Not great, but not horrible. Slightly more plausible than X-Men: The Last Stand. I can think of at least three things that make the ending horrible. But Jackman does a quality job as Logan. Pretty much every other character is forgettable and slightly off. I did kind of like the scenes with the elderly couple.

    Still, it’s kind of what summer movies are about: something mostly familiar, slightly engaging, and sort of forgettable. At least until this coming weekend with Star Trek, which has every possibility of being utterly amazing.

  76. Mitchell

    Tony, have you been getting my weekly emails about the Tuesday movies? Just wondering.

  77. pen

    X-Men Origines: Wolverine Okay, first and foremost, Hugh Jackman is H-O-T! *sigh* Wow, I mean, seriously, wow!

    Okay, now that I’ve got that out of my system, have I mentioned the Hugh Jackman is hot?

    Kidding! I think I may have liked it a little more than Tony. I am unfamiliar with X-Men (aside from the 3 movies, which I feel I will have to watch again and will understand better now that I understand Logan). There were a few surprises along the way and while his performance won’t get him any Oscars, Jackman carries this movie well.

    Oh and just as a last note, Hugh Jackman was hot! 😉

  78. Mitchell

    Couple of recent views:

    17 Again
    I agree with Penny. This film coulda been all kinds of bad things it really wasn’t. Zac Effron has some acting chops; unfortunately, he overacted quite a bit in several parts, but you can definitely see a future for this unknown. Hee hee. The best parts of the film WERE when the main character was talking to his children, when they didn’t know he was their dad. Those scenes were genuinely moving, and it really makes you think about how a message, delivered by caring peers, is so much more effective sometimes than the same message delivered by a parent, especially when the peer can see things from the teen’s point of view, which this parent could not, until he was 17 again.

    I had been super super super tired from lots of work, and looked forward to this movie because I needed a cool, dark, quiet place in which to take a nap. It was a GREAT nap, and when I woke up, I didn’t think I’d missed much. So a good movie to fall asleep during.

    6/10

    Lord of War
    I asked my students to email me their top-five films lists, and in one class (senior men, all of them), this film was a clear favorite. I’d never even heard of it! But Nicholas Cage is good here, and I can see why they like the film. More thoughtful and thought-provoking than their usual fare, it addresses a lot of the issues they’re interested in (that is, history, war, and weaponry).

    7/10

    Forgetting Sarah Marshall
    Richard Roeper called this one of the ten funniest movies he’s ever seen, but I don’t see the same thing. It’s still a pretty good flick, written by and starring Jason Segel. Mila Kunis, from That 70s Show does a surprising, Nia-Peeples-like turn as the love interest in Hawaii. She manages to play small but fill up a lot of screen. Very appealing and attractive. I like the way the film doesn’t take too any easy ways out, giving us direct, one-on-one interaction between the principals in all their combinations. There are some pretty scathing statements about television, too, that I found amusing, ‘though they certainly aren’t the emphasis here. One scene involving a gigantic chessboard really had me laughing.

    6/10

  79. Mitchell

    Oh, in case I forget to get back to it, as I frequently intend but often don’t, here’s a film that deserves more than the hit-and-run.

    Tender Mercies
    Robert Duvall, Tess Harper

    Nominated for five Oscars and won two. Terrific movie with a great performance by Duvall, an actor I never tire of. It’s quiet and gentle, and the kind of movie I wish Hollywood cranked out more often. You won’t find much in the way of expository dialogue here; in fact, you don’t get answers to all kinds of questions that pop into your mind. But that’s what I love about this movie. Reid totally loves this film, calling it possibly a top ten, and while I won’t go that far, I can agree that this is a Great Film.

    9/10

  80. Reid

    I really enjoyed watching Tender Mercies with you, Mitchell. Hopefully, I can get up a review soon.

    I also reviewed Lord of War at v-i, but I can’t find it. I thought the film was interesting, but, ultimately didn’t work.

    Man, I saw a bunch of films that I enjoyed quite a bit. I’ll start with that I can recommend to almost anyone.

    Gone Baby Gone (2007)
    Dir. Ben Affleck
    Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, etc.
    7/10

    This is a good film that I recommend to all the idiots, especially Don, Marc, Joel, Jill and Penny. I’m pretty confident about the pick (guessing that most of you will give a similar rating), so you don’t have to know anything else about it. If I worked at a dvd rental store and a customer asked me for a recommendation–if I knew nothing about his/her tastes–I’d pick this one.

    **
    I like finding films that seem to fall through the cracks, especially ones that would appeal to wide audience. I don’t know many people who have seen this, and I have a feeling that this goes beyond my circle of acquaintances: if more people had seen this film, I think it would have gained gotten good word-of-mouth and not been as obscure. This may not be a great film, but it’s a very good, entertaining one.

    The story involves a private investigator, Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck), and his girlfriend, Angie Gennaro (Monaghan), hired to find a missing girl. Like Mystic River the film is based on a Dennis Lehane novel, and the film follows similar terrain, except I’d say Gone Baby Gone is more entertaining.

    ***(spoilers)
    I really enjoyed this film, partly because it took me by surprise. Even with the great cast, I had relatively low expectations. It didn’t seem to get much critical attention, or good word-of-mouth. It also didn’t seem to last very long in theaters. So when I finished this film I was surprised. I felt sure that more people would like this, if they had seen it. Certainly, this would be a film that could lead to a pretty good discussion afterwards.

    As I watched this, I thought how Affleck’s efforts compared with Clint Eastwood’s. While the films were similar, I had this feeling that Eastwood (and his crew) made a better film; things like the acting, cinematography, score, just didn’t seem at the same level. Perhaps, the difference lies in experience–and a part of me feels if Eastwood had directed it, this could have been great. Part of the reason for this is that I think this script is really strong (particularly for a Hollywood film), and Eastwood’s. Ultimately, this is a minor quibble: this filmmaking is more than sufficient, and I can’t think of many people who wouldn’t enjoy this film.

  81. Reid

    Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
    Dir. Craig Gillespie
    Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, John Schneider,
    6/10

    I think Mitchell has the best chance of liking this. I predict Penny, Grace, Jill, Chris and Kevin would like this too. I know Tony saw this and liked it (I couldn’t find his review, though). I know Don thought this was OK, and I probably would have gave mildly recommended it to him. I would mildly recommend this to Marc, Joel and John. Larri gave this a five or six, I think. I almost gave this a seven.

    **
    This is definitely one of those independent films that largely succeeds and may probably could appeal to mainstream audiences. The movie is about two brothers, Gus (Schneider) and Lars (Gosling), who live together….well, sort of. Lars lives in the garage, and Karin (Mortimer), Gus’ wife, is forever inviting Lars to dinner. Lars never goes. One day Lars surprises both his brother and sister-in-law by announcing that he’s bringing over a girlfriend for dinner. Based on the film’s title, you can guess what kind of girl attends–except Lars really believes the girl is real. A doctor, played by Particia Clarkson, advises that Gus and Karin (and the whole town; it’s small) play along to help Lars.

    Now, this doesn’t sound like a good movie, and I would agree that if this film came out of Hollywood, this would be a terrible film. The fact that it is not–that it is a pretty good film makes it noteworthy. The filmmakers were always in danger of going over-the-top and doing things to make the film laughable, in unintended ways. The fact that they mostly didn’t do this–that the film allowed me to suspend my disbelief–was an accomplishment.

    What I really liked was the way the filmmakers played the scenes straight. Indeed, at times the film felt more like a drama than a comedy. And the funny scenes were actually more funny because they were played straight. A lot of the credit goes to the actors especially Mortimer and Schneider. Gosling is also solid. I don’t normally like actors playing in “disabled” roles, nor do I care for the “holy fool.” Gosling’s performance didn’t bother me and he brought something a little original to his performance. Again, this is not a great movie, but it was enjoyable and aspects about it that are worth noting.

  82. Marc

    I enjoyed *Gone Baby Gone* and was surprised at Casey Affleck’s performance, I didn’t know he had that in him. I enjoyed it more than the the movie version of *Mystic River* I don’t really know how to compare the directing since that’s a little beyond my understanding of film making, but I think Amy Ryan in the role of the mother of the kidnapped child gave a performance that was equal to anything in *Mystic River* including Sean Penn and Tim Robbins.

    I’m not interested in *Lars*.

  83. Reid

    I don’t know if Mystic is better directed, but my memory of it gives me that feeling. In any event, don’t you think Gone Baby Gone would entertain more people and therefore more people–at least you average moviegoer–would like the film more? At this point, I might prefer GBG.

    As for Amy Ryan, I thought she was OK, not outstanding, but even if she was, she’s a supporting character. The performances of the leading actors, while OK, didn’t feel as weighty as the leads in Mystic River. Perhaps, the mood, tone and performances are more effectively dark in Mystic River and that’s why I think it was better directed. Again, I’d have to see MR again.

    I can see you not being interested in Lars and the Real Girl, and there’s other films you should see before that one. Still, you shouldn’t write it off; there’s a chance you might like it.

  84. Marc

    Minor spoilers

    I liked GBG better, I suspect the average moviegoer may as well. This may be in the fact that while both stories feature the solving of a mystery of a missing daughter, they resolve the cases in very different ways and with different moral overtones. GBG ends with a very interesting decision with significant ramifications for all the characters, which is probably what you would be interested in discussing among friends. There was nothing like this in MR.

    Regarding the actors:

    Yeah, Sean Penn was weightier than Casey Affleck, but Penn’s role was itself meatier and more showy. It seems hard to compare the two. Penn was being asked to play a tough-guy gangster type dealing with tragedy, which doesn’t seem like all that big a stretch for him. In some ways, I’d argue that Affleck was the bigger revelation. All I can recall seeing him in before was *American Pie* and the Oceans 11 series. Like I said earlier, I didn’t know he had that in him to be convincing in the role of Patrick Kenzie. Casey certainly seems to pull off edgy and tough better than his brother Ben.

    The big supporting role in MR was Tim Robbins. I just think that Ryan was as good in GBG as Robbins was in MR. Again the performances were very different though. Robbins was asked to give a restrained, somber performance. Ryan was asked to give a showy obnoxious one. To me, Ryan made a bigger impression but maybe that’s in the nature of the parts.

    Kevin Bacon as a cop vs Ed Harris as a cop… probably a wash although Bacon had more of a lead role, at least in the book he did. I’m having a hard time remembering what the character was like in the movie.

    Admittedly my view may be colored by the fact that I read MR before seeing the movie, and as usual that book was considerably better than the movie. It also removed any surprise for me regarding how the movie played out with regards to the fates of the central characters as well as the resolution of the central mystery. I have not read GBG.

  85. Reid

    I think MR was more about the characters than the story, so the acting may seem “better.” But my overall impression is that MR may have been a better directed film, while GBG has a stronger story. I’d have to watch both films again to give specifics.

    With reagrd to Ryan and Robbins, Ryan’s part was small compared to Robbins’ (He’s almost in a lead role.), so Ryan’s performance wouldn’t really tip the scales in GBG’s favor in terms of acting quality. Also, while Casey Affleck was a solid lead, the traits that enabled him to be effective don’t necessarily constitute really good acting, imo. An actor in a leading role can be very effective, without really displaying great acting. I think Affleck’s performance is along those lines.

    I also had some problems with Monaghan. She’s likeable and a good match for Casey Affleck, at least in terms of having the right look, but her character was pretty one-dimensional, and I wished she was a stronger or more interesting partner. Sometimes she seemed out-of-place, too–a little too cute for the places Kenzie takes her. Ultimately, she didn’t hurt the film, but there could have been more there.

    With Harris, I just felt like he went a little over-the-top at times, and I wonder if a more experienced director wouldn’t have reigned him in a bit and got a more subtle performance.

  86. Marc

    Fair enough. Most of this stuff is a little beyond my level of interest in movie making. So I’ll just throw in one more thing regarding the Angela Gennaro character played by Michelle Monaghan. I understand that the character is considerably stronger in the series of books by Dennis LaHane (which are generally referred to as “Kenzie/Gennaro novels.”). I think your complaint about her character has been voiced more loudly (is that possible, louder than Reid?) by many who are fans of the books.

    Either way, I enjoyed the movie more than *Mystic River*. Ben Affleck appears to have directed a good flick, so I’d be willing to see what he does next. Don’t forget, he actually owns an Oscar as a screenwriter for *Good Will Hunting*.

  87. Reid

    Talk to Me (2007)
    Dir. Kasi Lemmons
    Starring: Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ojiofor, Martin Sheen, etc.
    5/10

    I can see people like Penny and Mitchell thinking this was OK, but I wouldn’t really recommend seeing this to them or pretty much any other idiot, although it’s not a bad film. This got a metacritic score of 69, which I think most of you will say may be a little high. There are many other films out there that many of you would enjoy a lot more.

    **
    With Don Cheadle playing an outspoken radio dj from the 60s, this film looked promising. When the film didn’t seem to get much box office success or critical attention, I wondered if this was a film that fell through the cracks. It is not, imo. The film is based on a true story, and while it’s not a bad film, it was flat. I’ll explain more in the next section.

    ***
    Talking about the ways a film didn’t work is more sometimes more interesting than the film itself. That’s the case with this film. About half way through the film, I realized something was missing, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. The filmmakers didn’t insult my intelligence; the acting wasn’t bad; the story itself was fairly interesting…well, let me stop there. I did feel like the story was well-worn or at least predictable and that the filmmakers weren’t adding new life to it.

    In the second half the film, I realized that the film was not only about Petey Green, but Dewey Hughes (played by Ojiofor), the radio manager. This surprised me, although reflecting on the film, I realize the filmmakers introduced Hughes early in the film. However, they did not adequately introduce and establish his character–who he was, what made him tick, etc. (They really didn’t do an adequate job for Petey Green for that matter.) After seeing the film, I believe these two characters, specifically their relationship, were at the heart of the film. This film, imo, should have been a character (relationship) study, but the filmmakers concentrated more on the story, resulting in superficial portrayals of Petey and Dewey, which made the depiction of their relationship superficial. I got the impression the filmmakers felt specific colorful episodes in Petey Green’s life were the main source of interest. I think that was a mistake. Those episodes–specifically the way Green supposedly helped prevent more severe rioting in D.C. after MLK’s assassination–were interesting, but they weren’t more interesting, or at least more important, than getting at Petey orDewey’s character or Hughes’ character and their relationship. One of the best lines from the film expressed the way the characters needed each other because of the way they perfectly complimented the other, but the filmmakers really don’t really show the truth of that line. I think this explains the flatness of the film and the reason it wasn’t more successful.

  88. Reid

    Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)
    Dir. Sidney Lumet
    Starring: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney, etc.
    7/10

    I have a hard time thinking of specific idiots I can recommend this to: Chris, Penny, Kevin, Mitchell, Grace, John come to mind first. I can say that I think the film will hold the attention of almost everyone. I’ll give a little more information in the next section that will help determine if you would want to see this. The film received an 84 from metacritic, and I think for the craft alone the film deserves that rating. My score is a bit lower because of personal preferences and some problems I had with the film.

    **
    This movie deserves more attention (I don’t think it played in Hawaii.) This is a good film and good filmmaking, and I think most of you would agree. I know that some of you may not really love the film, but if good filmmaking–writing, direction, camera work, acting, etc.–alone make a film worth watching, then I would strongly recommend this film to you. Btw, this is not an arthouse/independent film. It’s a well-made mainstream film that will hold attention from the first shot to the last.

    I like many of Lumet’s films (Network and The Verdict to name a few) and with the cast and positive critical feedback, I was interested in this film. But my impression of the film’s storyline–the main characters do something bad and spend the entire film covering it up and/or betraying people in the process–held me back. I have an aversion to watching films like that because I find them stressful, and I don’t like not being able to fully support the main characters. (In some of these films, I’m rooting for them to confess and turn themselves in.) I’m thinking of films like Goodfellas, Fargo, A Simple Plan and Double Indemnity. On some level, I don’t enjoy watching these films, but they do a good job of sucking me in and holding my attention. I’m pretty sure Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead will do this for all of you.

    What I want to emphasize is the quality of the script and direction, both worthy of Academy nominations at least, which it didn’t receive. The film is better than several of the nominees that year (Michael Clayton, Juno, There Will Be Blood). In terms of direction, I think Lumet’s job was right up there with the Coen Brothers. It really fell through the cracks. This is really good storytelling, and the acting is also good. (Hawke, Tomei and even Hoffman deserving of nominations; I haven’t seen many Ethan Hawke performances, but he’s starting to impress me.) The story involves two brothers, Andy (Hoffman) and Hank (Hawke) Hansen, who concoct a “full-proof” plan to rob a jewelry store out of a desperate need for money. As expected things don’t go as planned.

    ***
    What makes the film so good is the way the filmmakers decide to tell the story using a series of flashbacks reminiscent of Tarantino films and even Memento. In the commentary, Hoffman talks about the illusion that the flashbacks are scenes the audiences have seen before, but they’re really not; Lumet shoots the flashbacks from a different camera angles and from different character perspectives (almost in a Rashomon fashion). I loved the way the film was put together. This film will excite younger movie fans who like Tarantino and Innaritu’s rearranging of time.

    The other thing I liked was the family melodrama aspects of the film. I only wished that the filmmakers made it a more integral part of the film, establishing and developing the relationships earlier. The scene between Andy, the oldest son, and his father (Finney) that happen at the end of the film, seemed to come out of nowhere. In the original screenplay, Andy and Hank weren’t brothers, but Lumet changed that. I think this was a good move, but it also might explain why the family melodrama didn’t feel completely organic.

    This may also explain the ending felt a little flat for me. I didn’t have a problem with the bleakness, but it just didn’t felt like the film established the relationship enough for the ending to have the tragic impact that it should have.

  89. Reid

    The Fall (2006)
    Dir. Tarsem Singh
    6/10

    I saw this with Penny and Mitchell, and they seemed to like it. I think Tony, Larrilynn, Jill, Joel, Chris and Kevin would like this. Don might like this for several reasons. Actually, I think most idiots would think this is OK at the very least. When I saw this, I had a hard time hearing some of the dialogue and I was also distracted at times, so if I saw this again, I might give this a higher score. I

    **
    This is story set in a US hospital in the 1920s. A suffering man begins a friendship with a young girl by telling her a fairy tale. (Think Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Princess Bride–but not as funny.) The tale is fairly engaging and definitely accessible to mainstream audiences, but the visuals make this film noteworthy. What’s remarkable is that the film supposedly doesn’t use any cgi, many of the shots are on location (several continents).

    Seraphim Falls (2006)
    Dir. Don van Achen
    Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson, etc.
    5/10

    I’m not going to recommend this to any idiots. Penny and John might like this, but I’d guess not that much. My rating should be taken with a grain of salt as I don’t know if I fully understand the film, particularly the last act.

    **
    Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neesen in a Western seemed promising, and the movie literally starts off with a bang. A man (Brosnan) alone in the mountains is suddenly shot. He takes off while a group of men, including Liam Neeson’s character. We don’t know who these people are or why they’re trying to kill Brosnan’s character. And thus begins a chase after Brosnan. If that sounds good, I agree. But the final makes a radical change towards the end.

    ***
    This chase portion of the film was pretty engaging. Brosnan, often with only the use of a huge Bowie knife, reminded me of Rambo. But the last section of the film lost me. At that point the film seemed to turn into a dreamlike meditation on the futility of revenge. Who were the Native American character and the female peddler that appear out of nowhere and what was their significance? I have no idea. The filmmakers seem to say that revenge is futile at the end, but the way the film made this point seemed pretty hollow.

  90. Reid

    Star Trek (2009)
    Dir. JJ Abrams
    7/10

    The people who I predict would like this probably plan to see this, if they haven’t seen it already–Marc, Chris, Grace and Tony. I know Mitchell saw this and loved it, which was a little surprising. Larri really liked this, too. I’m going to recommend this to everyone else: Jill and Don should enjoy this, even though they’re not big Star Trek fans. This got a metacritic score of 84.

    ***
    I almost gave this a six because in many ways the film is just a little better than OK. But I ultimately bumped up my rating to a seven because I really enjoyed myself. I think the filmmakers did a great job of generating excitement and keeping the film moving. The pacing was just right, the visual aspects of the film (e.g. the battle sequences), f/x and sound really made the movie fun. In a way the experience felt like watching a Star Wars film. What’s interesting is that if I sat down and really thought about the script there would be a lot of criticism: the story itself seems to weak modification of the plots from The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek: Nemesis (two of my favorite Star Trek films); the villain is also pretty boring and poorly developed; and there’s a bunch of plot holes. Despite these flaws, this was an exciting film–what Penny would call a really good popcorn film. Perhaps the other reason the problems didn’t bother me was that this was essentially “origins” film–and a solid origins film. Just seeing how the characters got started is the story, the main interest of the film. (This was true of Iron Man, which did not have a great story and villain.)

    I will say that I thought the way the filmmakers wove the original Spock (Spock Prime, according to the credits) pandered too much to the fanatics, but that was mostly a minor annoyance.

    One last thing. I really don’t like when a series employs time-travel to create alternate realities. I especially don’t like this when the filmmakers have to preserve the “real” reality. But in this film, my impression is that they’re going to create a new story with these characters, and I liked that–that the filmmakers don’t have stick to the history of the original series.

  91. Reid

    My Blueberry Nights (2008)
    Dir. Wong kar-Wai
    Starring: Norah Jones, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Rachel Weisz, David Strathairn, etc.
    7/10

    I recommend this to Mitchell, Penny, Grace, Jill, Chris and Tony. Kevin would probably like this. Marc might have a chance, too, although I would guess his reaction would be lukewarm. Larri enjoyed this film, giving it a 7. FWIW, there are things that appealed to me in this film that may not appeal to others. I like Wong as a director, and I really enjoyed this.

    **
    This is Wong kar-Wai’s first American film, and in a way, it’s a good film to start with–possibly being one of his more accessible films. Elizabeth (Jones) is having guy problems and turns to Jeremy (Law), a cafe owner in NYC. To change her life, Elizabeth leaves New York and works as a waitress in Memphis and then Las Vegas. This is a good looking film with some good performances and nice literary touches. This is a romantic film with an independent, but accessible, aesthetic.

    ***
    I was really got into this film. First, I loved the visual aspect of the film–the use of color (blueberry?), lighting and camera work (even the font on the title screens), creating his typical romantic-sad atmosphere. There is one scene in particular that I really liked, the one where Law is speaking with an old girlfriend outside his shop. The camera shot through the front picture window, while the exhaled smoke from a cigarette is lit up.

    The other thing I liked about the film was the way diners and late night bars seemed to be prominent characters in the film. He makes these places feel sad, but cozy and warm, too. This is one of those things that others make not like as much as I did.

    I should also mention something about the casting and the acting. I loved the Law-Jones and Jones-Portman combination. Jones said that she and Portman really formed a bond and that in some of the driving scenes, they both felt like driving off together. The chemistry is evident in the film, and I would love to see Wong direct them as the same characters in another film. Wong’s producer wasn’t sure about casting Portman in the role she played–a terrific poker player with a Southern accent–and I’d feel the same way. But Wong said he had a good feeling went with it. Well, his instincts were right. Portman was an odd choice for the role, but it totally worked. (She also seemed to be channeling Matthew McConaughey.)

    Having said that, I think David Stathairn and Rachel Weisz weren’t good picks, and Weisz’s acting, in particular, didn’t seem very good. She wasn’t a convincing Southerner (although to be fair to her she was pregnant at the time and tried to fit the film in her schedule).

    Finally, I really loved some of the metaphors used in the film: the blueberry pie (something no one seems to want and the way the color fit the mood of much of the film) and the jar of keys. I predict Mitchell will really like this aspect of the film.

  92. Reid

    Amazing Grace (2006)
    Dir. Michael Apted
    Starring: Ioan Grufford,
    5/10

    Maybe other idiots would give this a slightly higher rating, but I’m not going to recommend this. The film’s subject is worthy of your attention and would interest most of you, but I would recommend getting it in another format (e.g. book, documentary).

    **
    This is the story of the abolition of slavery in England in the 19th Century, focusing on one of the key abolitionist in Parliment, William Wilburforce. If you’re familiar with British Parliment, you know that the arguments can be combative. I generally like seeing debates, but I found the scenes lacking in rhetorical power or even good drama. The other question some of you may have is the relationship between Wilburforce and the song, “Amazing Grace.” To me, the connection is very tenuous and could have been omitted from the film.

    Films like this (others are Amistad, Talk to Me, Good Night and Good Luck) surprise me because while the subject matter is interesting, even inspiring and important, the cinematic results are flat. What I’m beginning to feel is that while some historical incidents are compelling and important, they are not a always well-suited for the feature film treatment (while they would probably be suited for a documentary.) I don’t think I can clearly articulate the critical qualities that would make a historical event suitable for a feature film. But let mention one: if the results on the screen are essentially the same thing the audience could get through another medium–in other words, the film medium doesn’t add anything to the telling of the story–than the story probably won’t be suited for a feature film. In Amazing Grace, I basically felt that a good lecture or book would have been just as good, if not better than the film.

    Having said all of this, I will admit to one compelling reason for making stories like this into feature length films (which does not make the film well-suited for a feature film), namely the fact that they will reach a wider audience, especially an audience that doesn’t read or watch documentaries. The approach has validity, but I’m just not interested in seeing these type of films.

    La Vie en Rose (2007
    Dir. Olivier Dahan
    4/10

    I’m not sure who would like this film, but I’m pretty sure Don, Joel and Marc would not like this. Then again, one of the reasons I didn’t care for the film is very subjective, and those that disagree may like this a little more. Read the next section to get a better sense if you would like this. Larri didn’t really care for this.

    **
    This is a bio-pic about Edith Piaf, the popular, early-to-mid 20th Century Parisian singer. Before I describe anything more, let me just that I’m losing interest in a bio-pics–generally, but of musicians, specifically–especially if those bio-pics are essentially the same (or inferior) to those VH1 Behind the Music documentaries. Unless the bio-pic does something more–depict interesting character development or have an interesting story that goes beyond the typical rags-to-riches and eventual fall from glory–I probably won’t like the film. I find that the stories in these bio-pics are essentially the same or so similar that they’re boring. Btw, Walk the Line, the film about Johnny Cash and Ruth Carter Cash, was an exception. The interesting story, in that case, was the romance and relationship between the two people–played by actors who could act and had chemistry–and how they eventually got together. But I digress.

    I get the sense that sometimes the filmmakers feel that if they can find an actor who can flawlessly impersonate the subject, then that, almost by itself, is sufficient. I disagree with this. I haven’t seen Piaf in person or in footage, but my sense is that Marion Cotillard did a very good, if not great job of bringing that Piaf to life. Still, seeing a great impersonation does not a great film make, imo. There has to be an interesting story, interesting character development. (I wish I could articulate more precisely the necessary ingredients. Btw, this is similar to the issue of bringing a historical event to the screen.)

    But that wasn’t the only problem for me. The other big problems was that the music. There’s a line in the film where Piaf says, “Americans just don’t get me, and I don’t get them,” or something to that effect. Well, count me (and Larri) among the Americans who don’t get her. Except for performance of the French National anthem(?) when Piaf was a child, I was unmoved by her voice and the music. Perhaps, the music captures Paris, it’s spirit and flavor, particularly of that time. Well, I’ve never been to Paris, so that could be the reason I didn’t get into the music. Others may disagree, and if that’s the case, they may like the film more.

    One thing I did like about the film was the look, particularly the cinematography (dark). It was a nice film to look at.

  93. Mitchell

    Star Trek
    Good cast. Entertaining, engaging story. I’m still undecided about the alternate reality. Uhura is the hotness. John Cho as Sulu is fine. Doesn’t matter that the actor is Korean, because Sulu’s ethnicity was never specified in the series. Hikaru is a Japanese first name, but what kind of last name is Sulu? I’m planning to see this again next week if my options aren’t better. 8/10

    X-Men Origins: Wolverine
    Very entertaining. Wolverine is cool. I never understood why everyone thought Gambit was cool until I saw this film. He is super cool. Silver Fox is the hotness. Deadpool is one of the freakiest bad guys since Darth Maul. Storm was supposed to be in this, but I didn’t see her. I have no idea what comic-book fans’ gripes are with Wolverine or the rest of this film series, but I find them thoroughly engaging and interesting. I am in the middle of a long argument with my students about whether Cyclops ever saw Wolverine in this picture, because they seem to be complete strangers to each other in the first movie. Surely, even if Cyclops hadn’t encountered Wolverine in this incident on Three-Mile Island, he’d have heard Wolverine’s name in all the discussion about what happened, right? Unless for some reason Professor X kept all the details a secret from the youngsters he rescues. 7/10

    Monsters Vs. Aliens 3D
    This is the first 3D film I’ve seen in a theater since some kind of Kamen Rider thing back in the Seventies. The new technology is cool. I liked it. The visuals were the most interesting thing about this picture, since the story and characters were really not that strong. However, some of the previews were in 3D, and one of them, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs looked terrific. I took a nice long nap during part of this film and that was kinda cool, too. 5/10.

  94. Mitchell

    Rented The Dark Knight from iTunes this week. Good movie, but I don’t understand how it possibly generated as much discussion as it did. It wasn’t THAT kind of movie, if you ask me. But will go back and read what others have written and then chime in. I do love me a good superhero movie, and this was. More later, when I’ve caught up on the Reid v. Marc wars.

  95. Marc

    I enjoyed the Star Trek movie, as those who know me probably expected. I got to see it on an IMAX screen that measures 80 feet in width, so it truly was an experience rather than a viewing.

    And I don’t thing there’s really a whole lot of fireworks in the most recent Reid-Marc opus since I think we agree about the primary question even though we’re looking from different viewpoints. I’m mostly interested in pointing out how statistical analysis of basketball play is becoming more and more sophisticated although not nearly as much as baseball.

  96. Reid

    Mitchell,

    Dark Knight, for me, lead to an in depth discussion because I think it had so much potential to be better than it was. I’m interested in reading your comments after you check out the DK thread.

    As for Wolverine film, I’ll respond after I post some movie reviews I’m behind on.

    The Machinist (2004)
    Dir. Brad Anderson
    Starring: Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, etc.
    5/10

    Joel probably has the best chance, followed by Tony, Penny, Chris and possibly Kevin and Mitchell. Objectively, this film should probably get a 6, but my own reaction was more like a 5.

    **
    Any time Jennifer Jason Leigh is in a film several things immediately come to mind: 1.) This is an independent film; 2.) This is a weird/off-beat film; 3.) and/or she will be playing some weird/off-beat character. Well the impression proves true in this film. The film is strange, but not in an inaccessible way to mainstream audiences. The story is a machinist (Bale) who has insomnia. He turns to two women, a prostitute (Leigh) and a waitress () at a late night diner during these moments. But strange things to happen when a new appears at his work. If I had to describe the film in one sentence, I’d say it was David Lynch doing Dostoevsky.

    ***
    Now had I not seen the film that description would appeal to me. But the main reason I didn’t care for the film was that I anticipated the ending—not all of the details, but even when the details were revealed, it didn’t make the story any more interesting for some reason. Perhaps, because I like and am familiar with Lynch and Dostoevsky, the story seemed stale.

    Guys and Dolls (1955)
    Dir. Joseph Mankiewicz
    Starring: Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons, etc.
    5/10

    One caveat before I say anything about this film: I was not giving this film my full attention, not seeing all of some scenes because I was on the computer. (I lost interest.) Not a terrible film, but I can’t think of anyone that I can recommend this to. This appears in the 1001 book, and I guess there are valid reasons for choosing it—but I probably wouldn’t have chosen it.

    **
    Marlon Brando in a musical—singing and dancing, no less. That’s the main source of my interest in the film. The verdict? Well, his singing and dancing are barely passable. A lot of the songs are good though and the sets—making the film look like a play—are appealing (just not enough for me to get into). There are two stories in this. One involves a Nathan Detroit (Sinatra), a guys trying to find a place for the biggest crap game in NYC. There’s only two problems: 1.) he promised his wife he’d quit gambling; 2.) the police are hot on his trail; 3.) and if that’s not enough, he doesn’t have the money to secure a location.

    Enter Sky Masterson (Brando), a high stakes gambler and the character involved in the second story, who makes a bet with Nathan that he can get any woman to go with him, because, he claims, all of them are the same. Nathan Selects zealous and prudish Sgt of the Salvation Army (Simmons) as the woman in question. I liked some of the dialogue between them—my favorite occurring the first time they meet.

    Mirrormask (2005)
    Dir. Dave McKean
    5/10

    I could see Mitchell really liking this, but even if he didn’t, I believe he would be interested in watching this. I would also include Grace. Penny may like this, too, but I’m not confident enough to recommend this to her. I know Chris really liked this, and he recommended it. In fairness to Chris, I think objectively the film is better than a five, and while I liked some things about it, there were some things that prevented me from enjoying it more.

    **
    This is part live action, part animated film based on a Neil Gaiman story. The film is about a girl Helena, who, helps her parents run a circus. After a fight with her mother—about having a normal life—Helena’s mother feints and later needs an operation. The night before the surgery, Helena enters a strange world, a world that is divided into a realm of light and realm of darkness. Helena learns that the Queen of Light is dying, and sets out to get the charm to save her. The story has similarities of the other Neil Gaiman adaptation, Coraline.

    ***
    The best thing about the film for me was the way the story addressed conflicts between parents and children. I liked the way the light and dark realm represented the good and bad tendencies in Helena. I specifically liked the use of dichotomy of the light queen-daughter and dark queen-daughter; the way the world was created by Helena but being destroyed by the anti-Helena who switched places with her.

    But somehow the story–which felt stale–didn’t resonate with me. I do think this would be an interesting and thoughtful film for 4th-6th grade students. I also was a little disappointed by the animation—which was mainly cgi—because it looked too geometrical, stiff and lifeless. Perhaps the way the film merged live actors with the animation, which had a low-production quality, didn’t help either. At the same time, I did like some of the graphics and images.

  97. Mitchell

    Get Thrashed
    directed by Rick Ernst
    With members of Overkill, Metallica, Megadeth, Exodus, Anthrax, Slayer, and a bunch of other bands.

    One of the best music documentaries I’ve seen. The film-makers really hit the major themes and they got ahold of some great footage from the early days of thrash metal. The interviews are the highlight, and while some of the major players’ memories seem a bit exaggerated (especially Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine), hearing the story of this underground music from the mouths of those who created it and lived it is very, very cool. One funny moment: throughout the film, reference is made to the Big Four, which any metal fan will tell you is Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax. One guy, in telling a story, makes reference to the Big Five. Big Five? Who the heck is the fifth? I’m thinking Exodus, if anyone, but I think he meant Overkill, which is pretty dang funny. But you see? That’s what we’re dealing with here: The kind of adoring fandom that marks this kind of music. What I love is that bands tended to be each other’s hugest supporters; they were the biggest fans of the music.

    Two highlights for me were hearing about the Clash of the Titans tour (Anthrax, Slayer, and Megadeth with Alice and Chains as the opener) from the guys who saw it, and the really cool section about life on the road. These bands were struggling to make it in a completely non-lucrative genre, and the way they describe what they had to go through just to get in front of audiences is heart-breaking. You realize that it’s just love of the music that kept the survivors going. People say grunge killed thrash, but from the sound of things, maybe it was life on the road.

    It was cool hearing from Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, and I liked what the guys in Death Angel had to say. There wasn’t enough mention of Dark Angel (one of my faves) for my tastes, but that doesn’t keep this from being a terrific chronicle of a scene so many people don’t know (or care) about.

    8/10 and probably in my top 10 documentaries of all time. 🙂

  98. Mitchell

    Forgot to add another highlight: Hearing from the founders of Metal Blade and Megaforce records was really cool. They were just fans of the music, record-store owners and tape-traders, but they believed so much in the music that they each (one on each coast) put their money where their mouth was and got these bands recorded. I’d never really considered the role of these record labels on the whole scene, so it was cool to hear about it from them and from the musicians who are clearly grateful for them.

  99. Reid

    X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
    5/10

    I must admit (grudgingly) that the flim kept my attention and was mildy entertaining. I would say it’s better than the second and third X-Men films, but, like all the X-Men films, I sat there shaking my head.

    Mitchell said that he can’t understand the reason fans are disappointed, and I’m not going to take that rhetorically (even though I think I’ve given an explanation before). First, many Wolverine fans love him for his hot temper and his love of fighting. The real Wolverine would find the smallest reason to get into a fight (including with the X-Men). He would have this cool way of expressing himself before or doing a fight, reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s many screen characters. For example, he would say, with a bloodthirsty grin, “Bub. You just made the biggest mistake of your life. And your last.” (Yes, that’s not the greatest line, but you get the idea.) Jackman is nothing like this–at best, he’s a weak attempt at it. Indeed, there are scenes in the film where there are allusions to this characteristic of Wolverine–but Jackman’s Wolverine doesn’t justify these allusions. For example, in the scene Wolverine meets Gambit, Spectre (?) makes a comment that Wolverine fights with everyone or something to that effect. But that doesn’t describe the Wolverine on the screen. This bloodlust was a good contrast with Wolverine’s soft-hearted side–his desire for love and care for the vulnerable (e.g. Kitty Pryde). In the comics, most people see Wolverine as a vicious animal, but the X-Men learn that he’s not that way and they become a family for each other. None of that is conveyed on the screen.

    That family quality–and better character development of the other X-Men–is made virtually impossible with the revolving door approach of characters. It’s clear to me that the filmmakers are trying to please everyone but cramming in as many characters as possible–which makes Gambit’s appearance annoying.

    This cramming approach is not limited to characters, but the stories, too. This is one of the most infuriating aspects of the series, since I’m certain that some of the storylines are perfect for an action film. By combining story lines, they have essentially ruined them. A similiar thing happened in Spiderman 3. But I digress slightly. I never read the comic book version of Wolverine’s origin, so I don’t know if the filmmakers employed the same approach to the stories and characters. I do think the story in this film is a lot more coherrent, but I know there are changes from the early X-Men comic books (The Canadian government put adamantium on Wolvervine’s bones, not the U.S. government, and he was part of the Canadian “X-Men,” Alpha-Flight.)

  100. Reid

    Black Snake Moan (2006)
    Dir. Craig Brewer
    Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, etc.
    6/10

    I think Penny, Mitchell, Chris, Kevin, Tony and John would find this worth watching, even though they might rate the score with a similar, or even lower, score. On the other hand, a higher rating would not surprise me much either. Check out the next section to see if you want to take a chance on this film (although I do reveal some of the elements that I liked discovering as the film unfolded.) As for the other idiots, there are things that other idiots may find interesting, but not enough for me to recommend it to them.

    **
    I’ll say one thing about this film: it’s diffent. While the film is not entirely successful, I really liked what the filmmakers were going for. You know how Tarantino likes to give post-modern updates to B-movies? Well, this is Craig Brewer’s spin on those “gator bait” movies. I don’t know if “gator bait” is the right term, but I remember seeing a scantily clad female hillbilly on the cover of a film called, Gator Bait. I never saw the film, but I could guess what it was like. This film uses the trappings of what one would expect in that film to make a film about redemption and healing via the blues and spirituality (Christianity).

    Ronnie (Timberlake) has just been deployed to Iraq, leaving behind his girlfriend Rae (Ricci). Rae loves Ronnie, but has a powerful need for sex and seeks other men to satisfy that craving. Lazarus (Jackson) is a former blues musician whose wife has left him for his brother. The film revolves around Lazarus helping Rae—through the blues and pastor–and in the process helping both of them.

    ***(spoilers)
    The originality of the film surprised and delighted me. I can’t think of a film that combined semi-porn, b-movie elements—e.g. the situation of a man chaining a scantily clad horny girl to a radiator in his secluded cabin—with Christianity and the blues to ultimately tell a story about redemption and healing. For a mainstream film, that’s pretty wild. (It played at Dole Cannery for a while.) The fact that the film wasn’t entirely successful wasn’t surprising. (It would have been a miracle if it did work!) I want to talk about some of those reasons.

    Casting was probably the most critical decision in this film, especially for the roles of Rae and Lazarus. Chemistry between these two characters was essential, and in my opinion it was lacking. Without this chemistry, the idea that Rae could eventually develop trusting and caring—and non-sexual—relationship with Lazarus wouldn’t be believable—and therefore unsatisfying. The actor cast in the role of Lazarus would also have to be a good blues singer/musician, and, again, imo, Jackson was lacking. He could sing OK (he clearly couldn’t play guitar, but that was a minor problem), but not good enough to evoke powerful emotions. That was key, since he and Rae were characters who were hurting. Great music would have made the movie a lot better and the blues performances were not entirely convincing. In addition to weak chemistry, I also felt the acting was somehow lacking—or perhaps the blame goes to the direction or the dialogue. Whatever the source of the problem, the characters’ pathos was not as strong as I felt it should have been; they never hit me on a gut level. If the chemistry and acting and music were good, this would have been a terrific movie.

    I also thought some of the ideas were just a little too unbelievable, and I’m mainly thinking about this idea of chaining Rae to the radiator. They needed to do something to make that more credible.

    This film really had a terrific concept, but my sense is that the filmmakers (probably the director and writer) weren’t talented enough to pull it off.

    One things I liked was R.L. and the portrayal of Christianity in the film. It’s one of the few Hollywood films that actually has a positive portrayal of Christianity and a Christian pastor.

    I’ve Loved You For So Long (2008)
    Dir. Phillipe Claudel
    Starring: Kristen Scott Thomas
    8/10

    Thanks to Kevin for recommending this film. Recommended to everyone. Maybe Don, Joel and John might not think this is great, but they won’t think this is bad, nor a waste of time. Larri gave this a 7. The least you know the better. The film received some praise for certain things, and it is helpful if you don’t know what these were. Also, I think the less you know about the plot the better.

    **
    A couple of posts ago I said that if someone asked me for a dvd recommendation, I would choose Gone Baby Gone (especially if I didn’t know the person’s tastes). I would add this film to the list—unless they don’t like grown-up dramas. I really enjoyed this film, and it would most likely be in my top ten (possibly top five) films of 2008.

    I had heard that Kristen Scott Thomas gave a terrific performance, so I partly expected the film to be average or mediocre, since the comments I heard didn’t praise the film itself. To my pleasure, I agreed with the former and was proved wrong on the latter. The film involves a woman (Thomas) with a mysterious past who goes to live with her sister and her family. This is not much to go on, but let me say that Thomas’ performance and the execution of the script is top-notch. One last thing. Despite hearing good things about the film, my expectations were on the moderate to lower side. This undoubtedly contributed to better experience and higher rating.

    ***
    I want to focus on the two aspects of the film that stood out and made this film so good, namely Kristin Scott Thomas and Phillipe Claudel’s direction. (Thomas received praise from critics, something I don’t like knowing as it can raise expectations, but luckily, for whatever reason, my expectations weren’t that high)

    Let’s start with Thomas. In the opening shot we see Thomas sitting alone at an airport. Her expression is plaintive and subdued, but you sense right away that there are powerful emotions and/or troubling thoughts swirling around inside her. Whatever is going on, it’s something significant—so much so that I immediately felt the desire to know what it was. This is a key to the success of the film, for the film is a mystery and that mystery is contained in Thomas’ character. Thomas’ job in this is to make the audience want to know what that mystery is and care about her character. She succeeds at both. Part of the way she achieves the latter involves something a psychologist’s explanation of female movie stars I recall reading. If I remember correctly, he said that female movie stars make male audiences feel like they have a problem that the male viewer feels like he can fix. Thomas has that kind of effect in the film. Thomas is a physically attractive actor, but since The English Patient, her subsequent roles have made me forget this. Until now. She is gorgeous in this, and her ability to create this mysteriousness and sadness makes me want to know her secret and save her from it. Thomas is already physically attractive, but these qualities make her irresistible. But I don’t think this is just about sexual attraction, as Larri—and I think female viewers—found her compelling.

    That was the first important ingredient. The other crucial element of the film is the way the mystery is revealed—the quantity and nature of the details, as well as the timing and situation for their revelation—was crucial to keeping the viewers’ interest. Too few or too many details in situations that were not believable or lacking in subtlety could ruin the experience. But I found the director’s (and here I’ll single in on the director, since he is ultimately responsible for this) decision making virtually flawless. I think his work warranted some nomination because the script/story itself is not really remarkable or fresh. Some viewers may complain that the ending was predictable, and I wouldn’t argue much with that. But I would respond that, while some viewers may feel certain about the direction of the film and the ultimate ending, the filmmakers do enough to keep them from being totally certain—or at least that was my experience. Hats off to Thomas and the Claudel.

  101. Mitchell

    More on X-Men.

    You have to admit, for the purposes of a 21st-Century audience and a different medium, adjustments have to be made. What worked in a 1970s comic book is not always going to work in a 2009 film. Since I never read an X-Men comic book, I can’t honestly comment on whether or not the screen Wolverine is faithful to the print Wolverine. But it does seem to me that if one were a fan of the 1950s Batman and never read the Dark Knight Batman installments, the last several Batman films would seem horribly inappropriate. It seems to me that comic book heroes are constantly being reinvented. If you miss Wolverine’s Eastwood-like catchphrases, I guess there’s nothing I can say in response except that if what you’ve cited is an example, I can’t say the films are worse off without them. I do know that the Hulk films are made better without Hulk’s stupid way of talking in the comic books, and one of the main reasons I never saw the Fantastic Four films is that I just can’t see someone saying “It’s clobberin’ time!” effectively in a 21st-Century film. It sounds dumb.

    Based strictly on the Wolverine I know, which is just the guy in the movies, I have to say the strong, silent, semi-flammable persona works. It can’t be easy to act, this character who has so much history and so much depth, but I have to say that Jackman really makes me feel for the guy, and I liked the Wolverine-Rogue relationship in the first film. I don’t remember who Kitty Pryde is, but this Wolverine’s got a lot going on, and it totally works for me.

    I don’t know if you know this, but the agreement to do a sequel to this film has already been made. Also, the bit after the credits roll was different in different theaters, I hear. [spoiler: skip ahead to next paragraph if you haven’t seen the film] In my theater, Wolverine is sitting at a bar in Japan. He orders another drink. The bartender, in Japanese, asks if he’s drinking to forget. Wolverine says he’s drinking to remember. Some speculate that the next film will be a popular storyline set in Japan. I look forward to it.

    My Blueberry Nights
    Saw this with Reid and Jill. Norah Jones hits a good note and mostly sticks with it. The other actors do a good job with the material they’re given. The film is beautifully lighted, with lots of bright (yet muted) colors. I like the first two acts very much and the third not much at all. I think the writers unnecessarily (Kar Wai Wong and Lawrence Block) go too far with the dialogue, explaining their own metaphors where no explanation is needed, or making their characters say things we don’t have to hear. Still, a nice movie and I recommend it. 7/10

  102. Mitchell

    Charlie Wilson’s War
    Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julia Roberts

    This film got a lot of hype upon its release (Julia Roberts did a whole Oprah Winfrey show about it) but seemingly no word of mouth. I don’t get why, because it’s a quality film. Apparently, the largest covert operation in U.S. history was begun by an unknown Congressman from a tiny district in Texas, spurred on by a wealthy Texas socialite, and enacted by a very pissed-off, very smart CIA guy.

    Believe it or not (and I wouldn’t have believed it), the story is compelling and interesting. Hoffman as the CIA guy is truly fantastic here, managing to be likable despite an extremely abrasive personality. He’s so good at what he does that you come to admire him, even for his lack of social grace. His supporting-actor Oscar nomination was deserved.

    Tom Hanks, too, does a very good job. I keep forgetting what a good actor he is.

    What surprises me is how believable the main characters’ motivations are. We were so young when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and not much was taught about it when we were in school. Someone says something that really opened my eyes, though: “Right now, there is one place in the entire world where people are actually fighting the Soviets, and it’s Afghanistan.” The idea that we could somehow secretly help the Afghans in this struggle would mean an actual (not Cold) war against them, even if publicly and diplomatically we had nothing to do with this war. There are some implied connections to the World Trade Center bombings in 2001, as well as what seems to be some commentary on what we need to do in Iraq, but I won’t spoil that stuff.

    The toughest thing about the movie was following the dialogue. It’s very fast, very detailed, and sometimes very confusing. I frequently stepped back the DVD so I could hear some of it again. This would be a good one to watch with subtitles on.

    Good flick all around. 7/10

  103. Reid

    Mitchell,

    I understand the need to update a comic series to suit the contemporary audiences. For exaample, the filmmakers have decided to abandon the original costumes–which probably would look goofy in a live-action film. I think that was a wise decision. However, Wolverine’s lust for fighting is not something that needed to be eliminated. Indeed, that violent aspect, plus a tender heart, would make–and does make the Wolverine in the comic book–more interesting and likable. Jackman’s Wolverine doesn’t have that lust for fighting/violence, at least not even close to the comic book version. You may not care about that, but you asked why fans of the comic book were irritated, and I’m just trying to explain the reason. Btw, those one-liners would also translate well, if the one liners were good (and I admitted the one I quoted wasn’t that great) and the actor could deliver them. My point is that this is another quality that didn’t have to be sacrificed for contemporary audiences.

    I also don’t think Jackman is a great silent tough guy. Having said that, when I don’t compare Jackman to the Wolverine of the comic books, I think he’s not completely terrible. Btw, next time you come over, I’ll let you take a look at the original Wolverine in a comic books.

    RE: My Blueberry Nights

    Except for the one instance you cited where the writers explain too much, were there many others?

  104. Reid

    Lucky Number Slevin (2006)
    Dir. Paul McGuigan
    Starring: Josh Harnett, Lucy Liu, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley, etc.
    7/10

    I know Joel thought this was just OK—maybe even a little less than OK–but I thought this was a good, entertaining flick. And I think most of you would agree. Marc and Don would be at the top of my list of people I’d recommend this to, but I think everyone would enjoy this at least mildy. A good dvd rental.

    **
    The only critical quotes listed on the dvd box called this one of the best crime thrillers in years, combining the best elements of Pulp Fiction, Usual Suspects and The Professional. That would make a great film, if accurate, but as I was driving home with the dvd I realized the “critic” saying this was Shawn Edwards. Who’s that, you say? Well, Mr. Edwards is from a local Fox-TV affiliate in Kansas City (maybe he’s not even a critic). The fact that his quotes are the only ones used should have and would have normally dissuaded me from seeing this, as I have a rule about the quotes movie companies print to promote films: focus on the source of the quote before looking at the actual quote. If the source is reputable, then you read the quote; if it’s not, don’t bother reading the quote; if the only quote(s) are from unknown critics, then the movie sucks. Well, this film is the exception to the rule.

    The title and cover (with multiple characters) also don’t make this look promising. It seems like a Pulp Fiction clones—i.e. culturally hip, yet violent. Joel’s lukewarm review, only supported my expectations, but I rented this because I was desperate for an action film. Undoubtedly, I liked this more because my expectations weren’t high, but I think most of you will enjoy this (as long as your expectations aren’t too high). This is a solid script—intricate, witty and a satisfying resolution–good casting (with one exception; more on that later) and good execution of that script. I’d say it was one of the better crime films that I’ve seen in a long time.

    The plot is intricate, and I don’t want to reveal too much. There are two crime bosses, former partners, now turned enemies. Harnett’s character is mistaken as the guy for a guy who owes money to both bosses and must find a way to repay them or lose his life.

    ***
    One of the big reasons this movie worked for me was the performances of Josh Harnett and Lucy Liu. If you didn’t like Harnett in this (which Joel didn’t, finding him too much of a punk), then I think it would be a little difficult like this. I found him likable enough—especially his understated humor. His quiet approach was a nice contrast to Liu’s zaniness. I also thought they had nice chemistry in the film—enough to make me root for them.

    The other actors are adequate, but perhaps a bit disappointing given that I expect more from Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley. A part of me thinks the filmmakers should have cast others. I definitely think they should have got someone else for the Bruce Willis role. I just don’t understand why Hollywood thinks this guy is a good silent tough guy. He’s not. He and Kurt Russell are similar: Hollywood feels like they can do the silent tough guy, but they’re both better at tough guys with a comic side. Back to what I liked. I think the script was pretty solid, particularly the way all the pieces came together and resolved itself at the end. I don’t know if I’d say this film takes the best elements of Pulp Fiction, Usual Suspects and The Professional, but it does have similar elements, and while it may not be as good as those films, it’s still an entertaining film, one that I’d say fell through the cracks.

    Come Early Morning (2006)
    Dir. Joey Lauren Adams
    Starring: Ashley Judd
    6/10

    Penny and Grace would find this interesting, and might even really like it. Mitchell, Kevin, Chris and Tony would probably like this a little, too. Still, I’m not confident enough to recommend this. Larri gave this a 4. Objectively, I would give this a six, although I probably liked it a little less just because I felt I’ve seen this story before.

    **
    Roeper loved this film, calling it one of his favorites of the year. Ebert added that this was one of Ashley Judd’s best performances. Those comments intrigued me—as I love Ashley Judd–in what otherwise looked like a romance/romantic-comedy that went straight to dvd. That, and the fact that I thought Larri would like this, were the reasons I picked this up.

    Judd plays a Southern woman who doesn’t have a problem sleeping with men and leaving them at the crack of dawn. One day she meets a guy—who wants a little more than a one night stand. This is feminist film and character study of this 30-ish woman trying to find her way. Think of Ruby in Paradise, except with an older woman, and you get an idea of what this film is like.

    ***
    I think the main reason I didn’t like this more was because I’ve seen stories like it before. Yes, Judd had some nice acting moments, and I also liked the way the film avoided typical characters/plot developments, especially the character of Cal and the way his relationship with Judd’s character. He seemed real to me, and I would be curious to hear from Southerners if they agree. In films like this, I would have expected his character to be more sensitive and emotional; someone who actively tries to help Judd’s character deal with her insecurities. Cal is not insensitive, but he’s not a real touchy-feely type either. He’s a guy, normal and fairly decent, but a guy nonetheless.

    Besides that I didn’t think the film added much to this story of a woman growing as a person and finding her way in life. The acting is solid, but I don’t think the story is exceptional.

    Whatever Doesn’t Kill You
    Dir. Brian Goodman
    Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Ethan Hawke,
    4/10

    Not a bad film, but I’m not confident recommending this—although some people (like Mitchell and Joel) might think this is OK.

    **
    The title comes from a quote from Nietzche—“whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” I had a desire to see more Ethan Hawke since he impressed in recent films I’v seen, and this looked like a cool action/crime film. The fil–more of a drama and certainly not an action film–is a true story about two good friends who work for a local crime boss in South Boston. One of them, Brian (Ruffalo) also has a wife and two kids and eventually wants to get away from a life of crime. The film is similar to films like Mean Streets and even Goodfellas to some extent, but is not as good as either.

    ***
    I realize that this was based on a true story of the director’s, and there is something nice about that—especially given the fate of at least one of the characters. Unfortunately, I have to say this was slow and boring. We’ve seen this story a thousand times, and the filmmakers don’t really add anything fresh—certainly not enough to make this worth watching imo. That, in a nutshell, describes my problem with the film.

    This film partly depended on Ruffalo’s performance, especially his love for his wife and kids; his desire to turn his life and the frustration of not being able to. Ruffalo is a solid actor, but here I don’t think he delivered the goods. Perhaps, the blame goes to the director, but I can’t say for certain. The poor Boston accent (was he even trying?) didn’t help, although that’s a minor complaint. Not showing the way his character really had a serious change of heart—partly because of his love for his family—was a more significant problem. He just didn’t convince me, and when his character shows a desire to change, I was a little surprised. I would have liked the film more if the filmmakers had convinced me about this transformation.

  105. Mitchell

    Bee Movie
    Jerry Seinfeld, Renee Zellweger, Patrick Warburton, Chris Rock, Matthew Broderick

    Seinfeld was involved in an enormous part of this movie, from its conception and story to its casting and production. It’s very well-intentioned, and there are some very funny moments, but over all, the film feels kinda flat. The story’s not very compelling for one thing; so non-compelling that when the resolution is kinda lame you don’t really care because it was a lame story to begin with. The interactions between Zellweger’s and Seinfeld’s characters is quite good, and Patrick Warburton is maybe the best thing in this movie. The animation’s pretty good, but not good enough to keep you fascinated throughout the picture (as it is in Kung Fu Panda). I’d like to see Seinfeld give it another go, to be honest. I think the ingredients are all in place except for a good story.

    5/10

  106. Mitchell

    Sin Nombre

    Compelling, tense film about a Mexican gangster trying to help a Guatemalan family make it across the border to the U.S. Casper has betrayed his gang, who is now in pursuit. The Guatemalan family includes a teenaged girl. I’m trying not to give anything away here because the manner in which events unfold contributes to how compelling the story is. Everyone involved in this film does a good job at creating likable characters you really find yourself caring about.

    You know, I have always been aware of the struggle people go through just to get across the border into the United States, but I never thought about how far some people have to come just to reach that part of Mexico. It’s an easy thing to take for granted, but I don’t think I will anymore.

    It’s a good, solid film and had me interested throughout. Give it a strong 7/10.

  107. Mitchell

    My Life in Ruins
    Nia Vardalos, Richard Dreyfuss

    I will say right off the bat that Reid would really not like this film. But if Larrilynn wants to see it, he should see it with her anyway, ’cause I think she’ll like it.

    It is a nice, sweet, well-intentioned film. Vardalos is her usual charming, winning self, and there is just something about her that I think is wonderful for romantic comedies. She’s attractive but not HOT, smart but not sit-com clever, vulnerable but not helpless. You cannot help but like her character, even when it is forced to say and do some stupid things.

    And that’s my biggest problem with the picture: The material is weak. At times, it’s quite stupid. People do and say things they just wouldn’t do or say in real life. On the other hand, the principals (Vardalos and Dreyfuss) are much stronger than their material; some of the best moments are when there’s no dialogue and the actors are allowed to inhabit a moment and respond. That they can rise above some of the ridiculous situations they’re put in is testament to their skill as actors.

    Non-spoiler summary: Georgia (Vardalos) is a professor of Greek history but the job she had lined up in Greece has fallen through and for the past year she’s been a tour guide for a cut-rate tour group. Her customers don’t like her because she treats them like students in a history class; she’s not fond of them either because her boss gives her the less-desirable tourists (the obnoxious Americans, the drunk Australians, the fighting Brits, the flirty Spanish divorcees) and a bus with no air conditioner. She wants to help her tourists appreciate the rich history of the ancient ruins they visit, but they want cheap souvenirs and ice cream.

    Irv (Dreyfuss) is the American senior tourist who thinks he’s funny but isn’t. He can see that Georgia has lost her kefi, or mojo, or life-energy. He gives her a little advice and, well it’s a romantic comedy and there’s this Greek-mythology-looking bus driver, so you can figure out the rest.

    I erroneously thought Vardalos was to blame for this lousy script, but it’s a guy named Mike Reiss. You’d think that with Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson in her corner, they’d make sure she had (a) a good script and (b) a director who knows what to do with actors like Vardalos and Dreyfuss, but maybe the Illuminati interfered or something, ’cause the material is WEAK.

    But you know what? You go into a movie like this WANTING to buy into it (or at least, I do; this is why I know Reid will hate it!) and Vardalos makes that easy, so despite its many flaws, I enjoyed myself and am glad I saw it.

    I give it a biased 5/10 (4 is probably more like it).

  108. Reid

    The problem you cite about this film sounds like the same problem I had with My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a film that I thought was bad. I actually wanted to like that film, as I rooted for Vardalos (I agree with your description of her).

    Sin Nombre (2009)
    Dir. Cary Fukunaga
    7/10

    I think most other idiots would at least think this is OK. Others like Penny, Grace, Kevin, Chris, John and Tony would probably like it more than that. This got a metacritic score of 77.

    Btw, I totally agree with Mitchell’s review–so much so that I’m not writing one. He pretty much said everything I wanted to in a very concise way.

    Slacker (1991)
    Dir. Richard Linklater
    7/10

    I’m pretty sure Chris liked this, and I would recommend this to Penny, Mitchell, Grace and Kevin, Tony and possibly John. Even if they don’t really enjoy the film (and they may not), this is something they would want to see. I’m pretty sure Don, Marc, Joel and Larri wouldn’t like this. A worthy pick for the 1001 book.

    **
    For some reason I have no trouble identifying films that capture the spirit of the 70s, but I can’t seem to think of films that capture the 80s and 90s. Well, Slacker is definitely a film that captures the 90s. In a way, it is almost more like an ethnographic film–capturing a milieu of a particular sub-culture in a specific time—more than a feature film. This is also probably one of the first and best Gen X films. At the same time, I wouldn’t necessarily call this a great film, but it is different and—as I said—it really does capture Gen X sensibility.

    The movie has no plot or set characters. Instead the film moves from one conversation to another (I’d guess about 20 different ones). Indeed, the film is like My Dinner With Andre with revolving participants. Many of the characters are played by non-actors, and even though all the characters aren’t in or right out of college, the conversations are what you would expect from college students hanging out and shooting the bull. There are a lot of wild crackpot theories, pseudo-intellectual ramblings and cultural references, and unlike My Dinner with Andre, I didn’t find the conversations very interesting or amusing. The conversations and characters also don’t really connect with each other, but Linklater seems more interested in depicting a type of person—and for me a generation. I think the film did an excellent job of that. The film takes place in Austin, Texas, but it reminded me of my time after college in Seattle. I can’t help but think that the film captures what it was like in most college towns of that era. That’s the main reason I liked this film. It’s more like a sociological document than a feature film.

    The Piano Teacher (2001)
    Dir. Michael Haneke
    Starring: Isabelle Huppert, etc.
    4/10

    I’m sure Jill, Joel, Don, Marc would not like this. If I had to guess, I’d say Grace and Penny would have the best chance of liking this, but I’m really not sure. This is not a bad film, even though my score suggests it. My score reflects my inability to relate to this film, which I may be to blame more than the film. 1001 film selection that I’m ambivalent on.

    **
    Several critics really loved Huppert’s performance in this. It was good, but I prefer her role in Story of Women–although I really didn’t understand this film, being on a totally different wavelength of this film. A middle-aged piano teacher (Huppert) who lives with an overbearing mother, meets a handsome, talented student and begins a relationship with him, which reveals her turbulent psychological frame of mind.

    ***
    My reaction to the film boils down to my complete inability to relate to the main character. Is she a sado-masochist, crazy or both? Her relationship with her mother and, perhaps her dissatisfaction with her life seems tied into her psychological make-up, but I’m not sure how. I also feel like the film is definitely an exploration of power, but again, I felt too outside the characters to understand this.

    Twilight Samurai (2002)
    Dir. Yoji Yamada
    7/10

    For some reason Chris comes to mind first for people who I think would like this. Grace, Penny, Mitchell and Kevin would come next. Tony and John might have a shot at liking this, and I’m going to go out on a limb a bit and recommend this to Marc. Jill might have a shot of liking this, but I’m not sure. I think Joel and Don just thought this was OK. I enjoyed this film.

    **
    A lower level samurai loses his wife and gets in debt to pay for her funeral. He struggles to raise his two daughters and farm his small plot of land. His life becomes more complicated when a female childhood friend returns to his village after a bad marriage. He’s a samurai who actually prefers a simple life to that of a warrior, but he gets drawn into several fights that he can’t get out of.

    ***
    That last line makes the film sound a bit like Shane, and in some ways it is, except the audience really doesn’t know how good a swordsman he is. If anything, he seems like a mediocre one—otherwise why would he be content with his lower status? with being a farmer and raising his daughters? In this way, the Yamada modifies the conventions of the genre. In keeping with that, the point of the film is not to glamorize fighting or even ambition, but to praise the simple life. Yamada spoke about how the film comments on lower level businessmen and their upwardly mobile ambitions. This film seems to suggest another path, and I liked that. There are two other films that follow this, forming a loose trilogy, and I look forward to watching those.

    Proof (2004)
    Dir. John Madden
    Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Hope Davis, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anthony Hopkins, etc.
    6/10

    I think Grace saw this and thought this was OK. I know Mitchell is a fan of Paltrow, and he would like this. I think most idiots will find this fairly engaging, but I’d guess most people wouldn’t get into this that much.

    **
    Catherine (Paltrow) takes care of her father (Hopkins), a mathematical genius who has lost his mind. When her father dies, Claire (Davis), Catherine’s sister returns home to help with the funeral and help her sister, who may also have the same mental instability.
    At the same time, a former student, Hobbs (Gyllenhaal), is searching through his mentor’s last writings, looking for something brilliant. In the process, he and Catherine get closer and eventually they find something that could be a revolutionary proof.

    ***
    While watching the film, the thought that Paltrow could be one of our best actors came to mind, not necessarily because of this performance. It’s pretty standard stuff for her, which is generally very solid. Perhaps, one of the best leading movie actors is a better word. She’s a good actor, but there are other attributes that make her appealing. I’m thinking of her shyness—which turns the girl-next-door looks into something really sexy. With the right roles, she could be this generation’s finest actor.

    But back to the film. I have to say that I only understood the surface of the story—not the deeper issues that the film tried to get at. The film seems to be about Catherine—and the decisions she must make: her talent that may bring with it madness; her accomplishment that may humiliate and devastate her father; her growing love for a man who may only be using her; submitting to a sister whose love may actually destroy her.

    What does the proof have to do with these themes? The film seems to suggest at the end that there is no way to get definite answers to these issues—critical to the character—but you just have to work them out—or “talk them out”—as Catherine and Hal do at the end. If that’s true, I might give the film a higher score, but this aspect of the film weren’t clear to me while watching it.

    A Star is Born (1954)
    Dir. George Cukor
    Starring: Judy Garland, James Mason, etc.
    7/10

    I would recommend this to Penny. I think Grace, Mitchell and maybe Jill would like this. Kevin and Chris would find this interesting, but I would guess they really wouldn’t be into it. I’d guess Marc, Don, John and Joel would just think this was alright, not really worth watching. I did not care for this film initially, but I was hooked by the end of it. A deserving pick for the 1001 book.

    **
    This is a musical I liked mainly for reasons other than the singing/dancing/songs. Garland plays a club singer, Esther Blodgett, who is spotted by a popular actor, Norman Maine (Mason). Maine sees her talent and urges her to quit her job and take a chance in Hollywood. The film chronicles her rise to stardom and her relationship with Maine. There are also two other versions of this film, one made in 1937 and the other in 1976, starring Bette Midler.

    *** (spoilers)
    My expectations sank during the first forty-five minutes. For one thing, I was not really impressed with Judy Garland. Yes, Garland is a famous star, but my personal reaction to her singing was lukewarm. I also thought the songs or the dance numbers were OK at best. But then the songs did get a little better and the sets and dance sequences got more interesting. I liked the film-within-a-film sequence which told the Esther’s actual rise to stardom. The dance number with Garland and Mason at home was also fun and inventive.

    But there were other aspects that really began drawing me into the film. First, I liked the way the film depicted the way Hollywood creates and manages its stars. I was a bit surprised by the less than flattering depiction. Second, the film, for me, turned into an effective drama/tragedy—which surprised me. I was expecting a bad end for Norman (Mason), but I was surprised how much it affected me; credit James Mason and Garland for their performances, although at times their acting seemed affected. When Norman interrupts Esther’s acceptance speech, I was mortified, but mainly my heart broke for Norman. I can’t think of any other musicals that are dramatic–not to mention tragic. The film deserves attention for that alone. The fact that it is well-done

  109. Reid

    Requiem for a Dream (2001)
    Dir. Darren Aronofsky
    Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Damon Wayans, Jennifer Connolly, etc.
    5/10

    I know Marc hated this film. I don’t think I would recommend this to others, except for maybe Grace, who wants to see all of Aronofsky’s stuff. I think Penny, Mitchell, Kevin, Chris, Tony and John would find this interesting on some level, but I don’t feel confident recommending this to them. Jill, Larri, Don and Joel would not enjoy this.

    **
    I think I’ve seen most of Aronofsky’s films, and if I had to describe him I call him a talented, but pretentious filmmaker. This film does not change that. Because of the creative use of editing and camera work, I enjoyed watching this film. There always seems to be something going on with filmmaking techniques to dazzle you. In that way, he reminds me of Danny Boyle. Indeed, a short description of the film could be a darker version of Trainspotting. That film made drug addiction almost glamorous, whereas this film does just the opposite, not only with drug addiction, but addiction in general. But the film is pretentious in the way that it attempts to make a serious statement about addiction, but seems to say little beyond was it is obvious. I believe Marc hated it because it seemed so nihilistic, and I agree it is bleak, and if audiences leave asking themselves what was the point, I would sympathize.

    You Kill Me (2007)
    Dir. John Dahl
    Starring: Sir Ben Kingsley, Tea Leoni, Luke Wilson, Bill Pullman, Dennis Farina, etc.
    6/10

    This is a hard call. Almost all the idiots have a chance of liking this (even really liking this), but many of you could just think this was so-so, too. If I had to guess, I’d choose Chris, Kevin, and Mitchell with liking this. For everyone else it’s a bigger gamble. Read the next section if any of you want to take the risk.

    **
    Good cast and good director (Red Rock West and The Last Seduction), plus I heard some positive comments about the film. And after seeing the film, I believe the script would interest these actors. This is a black comedy, crime film that involves an Polish mob family sending their alcoholic hitmen (Kingsley) to San Francisco to clean himself. There, Bill Pullman’s character makes sure he attends AA meetings and gets him a job at a mortuary (a job suited for him since he doesn’t have a problem with dead people). Through that process he makes friends with (Wilson) and falls in love with Leoni. As he’s sobering up, his family gets into trouble with a rival gang, and must return to help them out. Don’t see this for the action or the crime elements. The film is primarily a comedy.

    ***
    The script is solid and probably the strongest part of the film. I could see understand why these actors worked in this film. On the other hand, I wonder if the other actors—particularly for the Kingsley and Leoni roles—would have made the film a lot better. First of all, I had difficulty buying Leoni’s attraction to Kingsley’s character. Do film studios think Leoni is homely and that audiences wouldn’t have trouble believing that someone with her looks would go for someone who looks like Kingsley? (This is the second film I’ve seen where this happened with Leoni. The first was Ghost Town, which paired Leoni with Ricky Gervais.) Kingsley and Leoni also didn’t have the instant chemistry to make the attraction believable either. Leoni’s comedic chops are solid, but really her character shouldn’t be as beautiful as Leoni. Or the filmmakers have to make adjustments—i.e. get a better looking actor or an actor with better chemistry than Kingsley; creating character traits that make us believe Kingsley is one of the few guys Leoni could snag. The fact that I didn’t buy their relationship was a big flaw for me. I think another actor could have pulled off the role better—or at least I’d like to see someone else in those roles.

  110. Mitchell

    I soooooo do NOT want to see Requiem for a Dream.

  111. Reid

    Why?

    I don’t think you would like it, but I think you would like the filmmaking techniques employed in the film.

    Standard Operating Procedure (2008)
    Dir. Errol Morris
    7/10

    I know Mitchell likes documentaries, so I’d recommend this to him. I’d also recommend this to Chris, Kevin, Penny and Grace. I think John and Tony would find this interesting, but I’m not sure. I’m not sure about Marc, but if I had to guess, I wouldn’t recommend this to him. I’m pretty sure Joel, Jill, Don and Larri wouldn’t care to watch this.

    **
    Errol Morris’ documentaries often go beyond their subject, exploring issues that may be only remotely related. For example, while this film focuses on the infamous photographs of abuse and torture at Abu Gharib prison and the people who took the photos, the film also explores the medium of photojounarlism—especially the way photographs reveal and hide information.

    One of the things I liked was the intention of the film. Morris said that while the photos are extremely famous and even significant, very few people seemed interested in the people who took them: who they were; the pressures they faced and the reasons they took these pictures. His film tries to answer to those questions.

    ***
    I had a lot to say about the film, but I saw this awhile ago, and I no longer remember all of my remarks. I do remember feeling like I wished Morris underscored and provided evidence that the soldiers’ behaviors were more a result of policies emanating from the Department of Defense. I also felt like I detected more of Morris’ political leanings influencing the filmmaking, not in a positive way.

    Europa, Europa (1990)
    Dir. Angieszka Holland
    4/10

    I’m not sure who would like the film. I wouldn’t recommend this to Larri, Jill, Joel, Don or Marc, though. The score reflects my personal enjoyment of the film, more than the quality of the film. 1001 pick, that I don’t think warrants it.

    **
    I had low expectations for this film, mainly because the premise didn’t really grab me. The film is based on a true story about a Jewish boy who survives during WWII by pretending to be a German and consequently becomes a member of the Hitler Youth. The story is incredible, and the film is not poorly made, but for some reason I just didn’t get into it. If that description appeals to you, then I would recommend the film.

    The Tin Drum (1979)
    Dir. Volcker Schlondorff
    4/10

    My rating is reflects more my lack of interest in the story rather than the actual quality of the film. 1001 pick

    **
    Any talk about this film should begin with the performance of David Bennett, the eleven year old, non-professional actor who played the lead role. The film is based on the Gunter Grass novel about a three year German boy who decides to stop growing during WWII Germany. Bennett was an eleven year old, who—for some unexplained reason—had the body and appearance of a six year old. Schlondorff, in the commentary, also remarked about Bennett’s great voice, which he used in voiceover narration and which he said was like another character in the film. I agree with these remarks. Because of that, I can’t imagine making this film without Bennett. While I wasn’t crazy about the film, he was indispensable.

    What is the film about? There seem to be at least two areas of interest. On one hand, a strange coming of age tale—a boy who, by will, stops his body from growing, but still experiences a sexual awakening. On the other hand, his story also seems to comment on Germany, both during WWII and, possibly, in the 1970s, when this film was made. Like many European films that take a similar tact, my unfamiliarity of the politics, culture and history of the country in question makes appreciating the film extremely difficult, creating an arm’s length experience of the film.

    I’ll close with a few random thoughts. First, there are some controversial sex scenes in the film involving Bennett—nothing really graphic, but morally questionable since this eleven year old actor is involved in these scenes. (Schlondorff addresses this in the audio commentary.) Second, I liked some of the playful filmmaking techniques, especially in the beginning of the film. They made me think of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Danny Boyle.

  112. Marc

    Regarding *Requiem* I hated it because I felt miserable coming out of the movie. This may be a SPOILER…

    but everyone’s life is destroyed in this movie. In vivid and graphic detail. Everyone’s. When I talked about that being the reason that I hated the flick with Jon Abe, he pointed out that perhaps that what Aronofsky was trying to achieve, and therefore the movie could be viewed as a success. I will grant anyone that point, but I have no interest in seeing this type of movie successful or otherwise. In some ways, *Revolutionary Road* is similar and that may be why I disliked that movie as well. I’ve noted before that I really enjoy movies in which tension is created and resolved effectively. The tension can vary in many ways: dramatic, dangerous, romantic, comedic, visual… whatever. But to me, movies like *Requiem* or *Reservation* are artsy ways of depicting destruction and hammering a message home with a sledgehammer. No thanks.

  113. Reid

    I understand Marc’s negative reaction to the film. I didn’t care for it myself, but not because the film was merely an “artsy way of depicting destruction…” My impression is that Aronofsky wanted to say something insightful about addiction, specifically in American society–perhaps demonstrating the equivalence between drug addiction and other socially acceptable addictions, i.e. weight loss, coffee consumption, greed, etc. My problem was that I didn’t find the connections or observations very revelatory.

    Mishima: a Life in Four Chapters (1985)
    Dir. Paul Schrader
    Starring: Ken Ogata, etc.
    9/10

    I strongly recommend this to Kevin. Then I would almost as strongly recommend this to Grace, Mitchell, Penny and Chris. If you think you’re going to see it, I recommend reading no further. I would probably also recommend this to Tony, although I know so little about his taste. Not recommended to Marc, Don, Joel, Jill or Larri. I enjoyed watching this film, and I also think it is objectively terrific. It would probably make my best films of the 80s list. An excellent choice for the 1001 book.

    **
    I’m becoming less and less interested in bio-pics, especially since they often feature musicians whose stories seem to the be the same, but I have to say this was one of the most fascinating, creative and successful—both in terms of subject matter and filmmaking—that I’ve ever seen. The film is about Japanese writer Yukio Mishima. I knew of Mishima before seeing this film, but I never read any of his work. I also knew one other key thing about his life (which I won’t mention)—but there were a lot of other fascinating details the film revealed about him that I didn’t know, and I think will fascinate the idiots I recommended this film to. One of the main issues that Mishima seemed concerned with—the dissatisfaction with art, especially in relation to real life actions, and the desire to merge the two—really resonated with me—which is one of the reasons I enjoyed the film so much. In any event this is a terrific film—even a great one. Everything comes together in this film, which remarkable given the ambitious concept. The direction is really fabulous—and it is major oversight if this film didn’t at least receive nominations—and in some cases did not win outright—for several categories, like direction and art direction. Schrader pulls off a very ambitious and bold approach, and in that way ranks with up there with Fellini’s 8 ½ and Fosse’s All That Jazz–although the former is not really a bio-pic, but more about the creative process. I also thought of Naked Lunch which was equally ambitious, but not as coherent and therefore not as successful in my view.

    ***(spoilers)
    Can a work of non-fiction be considered great art? This film would be exhibit A that it can and should. I viewed the film not so much as a film about Mishima so much as a film providing important context for one of his key “works.” Indeed, it’s not a very good film biography—although it makes you want to find out more—but it does provide an interesting take on his final “work.” And I really loved Schrader’s approach to doing this—namely, using excerpts from several novels and shooting them like plays with fabulous set pieces by Eiko Ishioka (award worthy). Not having read any of Mishima’s work, knowing anything about his life or being Japanese national, I can’t judge the success of this approach—at least not in the sense of providing an accurate context. But the excerpts provide clues that organically create a reasonable “explanation” of Mishima and his suicide. Still, there are a lot of unanswered questions or questions not answered fully, so those looking for a more comprehensive depiction of the man or more definitive (if that’s possible) explanation are bound to be disappointed. Indeed, I can imagine dissatisfaction from people familiar with Mishima and his work. But I do think it is a good “appetizer” and does pose an interesting context for Mishima’s final act.

    There are other details about Mishima that the film doesn’t convey so well, but I learned about in the commentary (which was worth listening to). For example, Mishima combined art, literature, the media and reality in a way that is normal for many artists/performers (think Madonna). I didn’t get that from the film, but it’s something that makes me want to learn more about him.

    Criterion did a nice job with this film. I also liked the commentary. This is one dvd I wouldn’t mind owning.

    An Unfinished Life (2005)
    Dir. Lasse Halstrom
    Starring: Robert Redford, Jennifer Lopez, Morgan Freeman, etc.
    6/10

    Don doesn’t remember recommending this to me, but I remember him saying he thought this was a good film worth checking out. It is a decent film, and while I wouldn’t tell other idiots to rush out to see this, I know most of you will at least mildly like this. If you like the actors and you’re looking for dvd to rent, this is not a bad choice.

    **
    This is an example of a good film that could also play on and appeal to fans of Lifetime network. A single parent mom (Lopez) and her daughter leave an abusive relationship. With nowhere to turn, she takes her daughter to her father-in-law—a small rancher who still holds a grudge against her for a driving accident that lead to the death of his son, her husband. There is also a side story involving Morgan Freeman’s character, a friend and worker of Redford’s, who was mauled by a bear.

    The story is well-worn and pretty bland—with some predictable situations (e.g. granddaughter and grandfather developing a relationship)—but there are several things I liked about the film. First, I liked the filmmakers’ treatment of a well-worn material. They don’t do anything to offend the audience’s intelligence, avoiding being too cute or melodramatic.

    The second thing I liked was the performances of Redford and Freeman, which is a bit odd. I say this because while Freeman may be the best buddy/sidekick of all-time, and Redford’s had some nice buddy roles himself, their chemistry and acting are not great in this–perhaps I’m tired of seeing them in these roles–but it is good enough.

    Finally, there is some decent use of a bear metaphor, which is borderline sophomoric, but, ultimately acceptable for me.

    28 Weeks Later (2007)
    Dir. John Carlos Fresnadillo
    2/10

    This movie sucked, and I don’t recommend this to anyone, including Penny (and John) who probably have the best chance of liking this.

    **
    This is the sequel to 28 Days Later, Danny Boyle’s zombie update. This film starts twenty-eight weeks after the 28 Days film. British citizens are returning to London, living exclusively in a secure area. While all individuals with the rage virus—a virus which essentially turns people into zombies—have died, wild dogs and dead bodies are prevalent outside the secure zone. The residents are told this as they return. I mentioned that because two children actually disregard this piece of information and sneak off to their old house. Why? Well, the younger of the two is afraid he might not remember what his mother looks like. His sixteen year old sister doesn’t reassure him that they can get the pictures later. Instead, she leads them out of the secure area, evading the military. Actually, the military actually spot them almost immediately, but don’t actually catch up to them until they are at the house—which seems to be a quite a distance away. If this sounds dumb, it gets worse. I won’t go through all the problems in the film, but let me mention two. First, there is a stupid plot element that involves the father (Robert Carlyle) of this children who gets infected in a preposterous way. For some unexplained reason, Carlyle has the key to every single door in the secure area—including the military base where they hold infected individuals. Anyway, Carlyle’s character “sneaks in” to see one of these individuals, his wife (who miraculously survives a “zombie” attack). I say “sneaks” because there really aren’t any military personnel present along the way. After he gets the disease, he escapes from the facility—killing several soldiers along the way, without any weapons. He later explicably escapes sniper fire and a fire-bombing (the camera shows him hiding around the corner). Near the end of the film, he coincidently finds his children (I guess they wanted to milk Robert Carlyle’s presence for it was worth) for a “dramatic” confrontation. I think few would dispute that this is a dumb movie.

    One other thing. For fans of horror and action, films like this can “redeem” themselves by having thrilling action or effective horror scenes. This film has almost none of that—and I think people who normally like action and horror films would agree with me.

  114. Reid

    I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by the reviews I have hanging over my head, so I’m just going to try and rush them out there.

    The Shape of Things (2003)
    Dir. Neil LaBute
    Starring: Paul Rudd, Rachel Weiscz, Gretchen Mol and Fred Weller.
    7/10

    Grace wanted some of us to see this because she thought it would lead to an interesting discussion, and she was right. I think Kevin, Mitchell, Tony and Chris would find it interesting for the same reason. Joel could also like this. I’m pretty sure the film will hold Don, Marc, Joel or Jill’s attention, although they may not be so satisfied with the film in the end.

    **
    The film is based on a play about four college students. A nerd, Adam (Rudd) meets and falls for Evelyn (Weiscz), an assertive art major. Evelyn gets into an argument with Phillip (Weller), Adam’s roommate, and Jenny (Mol), his fiance. Tensions arise from these relationships—and the film explores relationship and power issues as well as issues of art.

    I admit that is a vague and pretty lame. I was planning to write more in depth comments about the film in the third section, but I can’t remember enough details to do so.

    The Ballad of Narayama (1983)
    Dir. Shoei Imamura
    Starring: Ken Ogata, etc.
    7/10

    I wouldn’t recommend this to Larri, Joel, Jill, Don, Marc and probably Tony and John. Of the remaining idiots, I think Kevin and Grace might have the best chance of liking this. This is a 1001 selection, and I’m not going to argue too much with the choice.

    **
    This is one of those films where my appreciation for it grew as I wrote this review. The film is a slice-of-life depiction of a remote Japanese village, focusing on one family–comprised of a grandmother, her two sons and grandchildren. The film seems focused on crucial life issues, primarily sex and death, and the ways humans—particularly on a societal level—deal with them. In a way, the film reminded me of Ki-kim Duk’s Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring…Summer–shots of copulating animals and insects, suggesting human connection to the animal world and even the hint of the cycle of life, and the spiritual qualities of the film—but less abstract.

    ***
    For me the film’s value lies in the way it contrasts with the modern society. At first, I felt many of the village practices were crude and barbaric. I’m thinking of the way sex seemed to be the basis for marriage: if a man and woman started having sex (sans any civilized courtship) they would be married; the various ways the yakkos—the second sons prohibited from marrying and therefore having sex—found sexual gratification. There were also practices not related to sex: burying the family of repeated stealing, and the village practice of leaving old people to die in the mountains.

    But my attitude began to change. For one thing, I found the honesty and no-nonsense approach to sex refreshing. There seems to be a total lack of intellectualizing sex and therefore lack of sexual hang-ups that plague our more “civilized” society. That is not to say their approach is better—and the filmmakers, for the most part, don’t romanticize the village—something that is rare—but it raised the question of which approach is actually the more humane one (of course, modern society’s handling of sex is not the most humane).

    I also liked the way the film depicted the death of the grandmother. Here the filmmaker’s could be guilty of over-romanticizing the practice—although they did show a horrible death experience—but nevertheless there was a beauty in the way the grandmother accepted her death. (I wish I had more time to analyze the final scenes particularly the scene with the bones.)

  115. Reid

    Two recent films I saw, with two quick reviews:

    Everlasting Moments (2009)
    Dir. Jan Troell
    5/10

    This is a Swedish film that seems to be bio-pic of a photographer. I can’t remember the photographer’s name, but she’s a woman in the early 20th Century. She has an alcoholic husband and finds comfort in photography and the friendship with a photographer. I thought he movie was a little slow, and included aspects of the main characters life that seemed a bit mundane.

    The Limits of Control (2009)
    Dir. Jim Jarmusch
    4/10

    While this is not as arty as Jean-Luc Goddard, this was definitely an art film that reminded me of Goddard, mainly because it went over my head. In a way the film is similar to Dead Man, another Jarmusch film that I didn’t care for. Jarmusch seems to be interested in two types of films, which overlap. One type involves finding interesting, funny and profound moments in the banal. The other is really arty, demanding a lot from audiences to provide meaning. This was mainly the latter.

    The plot involves what seems to be a hit man, who has an assignment we gradually learn throughout the film. Like many of Jarmusch’s films, there is a lot of “dead” scenes where nothing seems to happen. When Jarmusch’s film work, subtle, even sublime moments occur in these scenes, but, for me, many of these scenes were just dead.

    There’s also a Lynchian feel to the movie in that I was never sure what is a dream and what is reality. But I really don’t have a credible interpretation of the film; hence, the low-rating.

    Three Brothers (1980)
    Dir. Francesco Rosi
    4/10

    Sometimes stories that occur within a particular culture and time capture universal qualities to an extent that people outside that time and culture connect with the story. However, I experience a lot of European films with a strong political/cultural/historical content at an arm’s length. If I’m largely ignorant of the country’s history, politics and culture, I feel like I’m missing a large part of the film. That was partly the case with this movie.

    The film involves three brothers that return home to attend their funeral of their mother. The film uses family members to represent different groups in Italian society (in the 70s?): the oldest brother, who happened to be a judge, representing law and order, perhaps; the second oldest representing compassion and the importance of reaching the youth; the youngest representing, what I guess was an aggressive labor movement in Italy at the time. This is another problem I had. Still another problem was the way the characters would discuss political issues throughout the film, which made the film too didactic for me.

    This was a 1001 film pick which I didn’t care for, but again, I think my lack of understanding of Italian society at the time period of film made appreciating the film extremely difficult.

  116. Reid

    Arrested Development (1st season)

    Because I’ve been impressed with Jason Bateman in several of his recent film roles and because Mitchell raved about this series, I decided to check it out. I do like Bateman and a young Michael Cera in this. But the other characters are just so over-the-top stupid/incompetent/irresponsible that I gave up after six episodes. (Larri would have kept watching it.) You know how many sitcoms have one character that is unrealistically stupid? Well, this sitcom has about five of them. I generally don’t care for these characters unless there is some plausible reason for their stupidity (i.e. Jim Ignatowski abused drugs). Mitchell explained that the characters are that way because their family is so dysfunctional. Perhaps, but the level of ineptitude just not believable and just seems there to get laughs.

    The Hidden Fortress (1958)
    Dir. Akira Kurosawa
    6/10

    Kurosawa just doesn’t seem capable of making a bad film. Even a so-so film like an effective story–one that inspired Star Wars. The film involves two bungling peasants who want to return home after joining an army. They put the journey on hold when they find gold in a valley. In the process, they run into a general (Toshiro Mifune) and a princess, the last of her clan, fleeing from the enemy. Thus begins a long journey to get the princess to safety. The story develops in satisfying ways, only to be spoiled (or at least I thought so). Still, the moving is entertaining, except for those scenes that linger a bit too long.

    Tale of Zatoichi (1962)
    Dir. Kenji Misumi
    5/10

    For those of you who don’t know, Zatoichi is a blind swordsman, former masseuse–and a member of the yakuza (at least in this film). There are many films and a TV show with this character. I was surprised by two things: 1.) the artful visuals and use of black-and-white in the film; 2.) the way he seemed eager and even arrogant about his sword fighting prowess. My impression of Zatoichi was that he was like Columbo: he acted dumb and helpless when he was just the opposite. (There is some of that, but not to the extent that I expected.) Larri liked this, but I didn’t like it enough to be very interested in watching more of the films/TV series.

  117. pen

    Away We Go. This film has been touted as Sam Mendes’ best film since American Beauty. I enjoyed it. In particular John Krasinski (the guy from The Office) is very good in this role. Maya Rudolph is also good, but I think John makes the movie. There are an assortment of wacky side characters that keep the movie moving along. They’re crazy, but not so out there that it’s unbelievable. Also, there is pain and hurt underlying some of the smiles and craziness. It’s one of the better movies I have seen this summer.

  118. Tony

    Finally! Someone else saw Away We Go! Saw it opening weekend (it was written by one of my favorite writers)! I quite enjoyed it. I laughed quite a bit. And it was also pretty sobering. I quite liked Rudolph’s character. I really liked the last twenty or thirty minutes, especially the scene with the trampoline. Genius! I even went out and bought the script.

  119. pen

    There were several really great scenes. The trampoline scene was definitely one of them. I also laughed a lot at his efforts re: the baby’s heart rate…especially in the car. The huge silly grin on his face after was priceless. I like that their siblings were pretty normal. I also liked the scene in the beginning when she’s eating the apple. I liked the characters and their relationship with each other.

    Also saw Departures. I did not realize I would cry buckets in this movie. There are also some slapstick humorous scenes, but other scenes are heartwrenching. I was wrung out (but in a good way) after this film.

    Public Enemies was also great, but I have to admit that I kinda have a thing for Johnny Depp and am likely to be more forgiving to anything he is in. That being said, he delivers a solid performance. I even actually liked Christian Bale in this movie. He refrained from using his low mumbling Batman voice, which was good. The movie was well-paced and visually appealing. Plus, Johnny Depp is hot.

  120. pen

    Oh yes, and several people have recommended The Notebook to me. A friend lent DVD to me and I finally watched it. I do not know why I was so reluctant to see it, but I did quite enjoy it. I really liked Ryan Gosling in it. The scene near the end of the movie with James Garner and Gena Rowlands hurt my heart. The expression on his face…

  121. Reid

    Does Away We Go have the same sensibility as Juno and Little Miss Sunshine?

    Penny,

    I enjoyed The Notebook and I know Joel really liked it, too. Rachel McAdams really impressed me. I thought–and still think–she will be a star. She has that “it” factor, and she’s a solid actor. Actually, I could see her as the next big romantic lead.

    Whatever Works (2009)
    Dir. Woody Allen
    4/10

    I would guess Penny, Kevin and Chris would think this is OK, but no better than that. I wouldn’t recommend it to them or anyone else.

    **
    Allen wrote this script in the 70s for Zero Mostel and shelved it when he died. The fact that this is an old script is not surprising, since it rehashes a lot of the Allen’s themes, specifically the idea that life has no meaning and you just have to enjoy it in the best way you can. The film only confirms my feeling that Woody has run out of ideas and he’s just repeating himself. That wouldn’t be so bad if the jokes were great. I do think he has a knack for witty dialogue and one-liners (maybe he should do TV), but the jokes or delivery just didn’t work. I tend to think the delivery was the problem because Larry David, who plays the role for Mostel, was not good at all. Evan Rachel Wood is good as a the ditzy blond, but it’s not enough.

    Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
    Dir. Godrey Reggio
    6/10

    For originality this deserves to be in the 1001 book, but I don’t know how good it is. However, I did see this at 1:00 AM, and I was falling asleep. The film is basically images of nature and modern life set to a Phillip Glass score. My favorite images are those speeded up images of the city at night.

    Honeydripper (2007)
    Dir. John Sayles
    5/10

    **
    If Sayles is not the most talented filmmaker/writer, he’s at least a grown-up who cares about writing, story and characters. This film doesn’t challenge view, but, unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. For one thing, the story is sort of cliched: a bar owner and former piano player (Danny Glover) in the 50s needs to have a big night to prevent losing his place to a loan shark. His plan is to bring in a famous R&B singer, hoping to make money on the admission and alcohol. But he takes a lot of risks to make this happen, including taking money his wife has saved for her daughter’s future. The situation worsens when the singer doesn’t show, and Glover uses a young stranger, who says he can play music, to pose as the famous singer.

    ***
    There are several problems with this film. First, the story is pretty cliched, which is not so bad in and of itself. The problem is that the characters, although pretty likable (particularly Glover and Charles Dutton), their appeal doesn’t rise about the pedestrian quality of the film. I would say the same about the insights offered about the time period and culture (the 50’s rural South). Not only are the observations not that interesting, the film drags at times. (I think it could have been shorter.) Finally, the film’s cover art gives the indication that R&B would be prominent in the film. It’s not, and it’s just OK.

  122. Reid

    El Norte (1983)
    Dir. Gregory Nava
    6/10

    I think Kevin, Penny, Chris and Grace would find this interesting, although I don’t know if I would recommend this to them.

    **
    The film is about Enrique and Rosa, siblings that flee Guatamala for the U.S. after their father is killed for organizing peasant laborers. The film depicts their struggle—both getting and living in the U.S.

    ***
    Like the recent Sin Nombre, part of the film’s value is to show the struggle people make just to get to the U.S. border. The film also does a good job raising awareness the role and plight of low-wage immigrant workers in our society. For me, the biggest problem was that the filmmaker’s depictions of the hardships the main characters faced. For example, to get across the border, Enrique and Rosa must crawl through an old sewage pipe. The pipe is infested with rats and is supposed to have been pitch dark, but the scenes are filled with light, ostensibly so the audience can see the reaction of the actors. This lessened the harrowing nature of the trip. The duration of the scene also seemed to go a lot quicker than it should have, making it seem less difficult.

    When they get to the U.S., instead of struggling for a significant time before making any progress, they almost immediately get a place with a job. Enrique gets a pretty decent job working as a bus person at a ritzy restaurant. He’s not making a lot of money, but he does work in a clean environment and has meals. His circumstances seemed a lot easier than I would have imagined.

    I think part of the problem is that films like City of God or Sin Nombre which came out after this have upped the ante a bit. The conditions depicted in these films of people in poverty are much more harrowing and bleak than I saw in El Norte. Still, the film is interesting and is worth watching.

  123. Tony

    Reid- Away We Go has been compared to both Little Miss Sunshine and Juno. I’ve even heard it called Juno for Adults because of the subject matter. I suppose that I see the comparisons, though it never crossed my mind while watching it.

    I recently caught Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. I needed a little slapstick humor in my life. The film was fine. When Simon Pegg’s character Buck showed up, though, was when the film really took off. Great character. Matinee at best, though.

  124. Reid

    Thanks for the feedback, Tony.

    The Hurt Locker (2009)
    Dir. Kathryn Bigelow
    Starring:
    7/10

    I think most of you would enjoy this, so I’m recommending to almost everyone. (Mitchell could probably pass on this.) Just don’t go int thinking it’s a super great film. The metacritic score is 93–highest score of current films and to give some perspective, Star Wars has a 91 and Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring a 92. None of you will think this film is better than those films.

    **
    The film is about a U.S. Army bomb squad in Iraq. That’s basically all you need to know. But I’ll write a little more for those interested in knowing more.

    The feels like it is based on a former bomb technician’s memoirs, stringing together a series of harrowing anecdotes. There isn’t much of a story, but the situations are effectively suspenseful. This is not a movie for people who don’t like a lot of tension, but if you like that sort of think, the film will carry you a long.

    The other reason the film feels like it’s based on a memoir is the realism of the life of a soldier. I’ve haven’t been a soldier, but there is a gritty, unglamorous moments. You also feel the uncertainty the soldiers face.

    All in all, this is a solid summer, probably better than most of films out there now.

  125. Reid

    The Big Kahuna (1999)
    Dir. John Swanbeck
    Starring: Kevin Spacey, Danny Devito and Peter Facinelli.
    7/10

    I want to draw the attention of Mitchell, Tony, Penny, Kevin, Chris and John to this film. This is not a great film I think they will love (although they might really like it), but I’m sure the film will keep their attention, and I’m sure there are aspects of the film that will interest them. I’d recommend this to Grace and Joel next. I think Marc, Don, and Jill would find this interesting, but this is not something I’d say rush out to see.

    **
    The film (adapted from a play) involves three businessmen–two seasoned veterans Larry (Spacey) and Phil (DeVito) and one rookie, Bob (Facinelli)–who host a party in the hopes of making a business deal, especially with a very big potential client. The film involves the three of the characters talking. Larry is blunt and confidence. Phil, a long time friend of Larry, is somber, almost depressed as he’s just gone through a tough divorce. Bob is a twenty-something with strong religious convictions. They conversation involves business, life and even religion. Spacey is good in these conversations, as you would expect. The film takes a turn when Bob has a conversation with the big client about Jesus.

    ***(spoilers)
    The film is a rare in the way that it deals seriously with Christianity, particularly the subject of witnessing. I liked the twist at the end of the film regarding Phil’s admonition of Bob. However, DeVito didn’t seem well-suited for a down-in-the-dumps character who is getting serious about life. Also, in terms of the script, I thought he reflections about life from Phil–the dissatisfied businessman–were banal.

    The Holiday (2007)
    Dir. Nancy Meyers
    Starring: Cameron Dias, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Black, Eli Wallach, etc.
    7/10

    I heartily recommend this to Penny, Grace and Jill. (I found out that Jill saw this, and she just liked it mildly.) I would also recommend this to Mitchell and Tony, but not as strongly. I think there’s a good chance that Don, Marc and Joel would enjoy this, too, but I’m not as certain. I’m even less certain with Chris and Kevin—this is not the type of film I see them usually liking. Larrilynn gave this a 9 and said that this film definitely would make her top 10 favorites list. I think that’s excessive, although with some changes, this film could have been a nine. But the positive elements, for me, outweighed the negative, and I really enjoyed this.

    **
    The film involves two stories. One about a British journalist, Iris (Winslet), who runs away to LA during Christmas to get away from the man she loves, but who plans to marry someone else. The other story involves a business woman, Amanda (Diaz) who goes to England after a failed relationship. Despite some of its flaws, this is a solid Hollywood romantic comedy—reminding me of another Nancy Meyers film, Something’s Gotta Give. Both are good Hollywood romances, with a few flaws keeping it from being really good.

    I’ve been mentioning this film with enthusiasm and my sister seemed genuinely puzzled about this. I don’t blame her because I’m a little puzzled by my reaction to this film, too. In the next section I’m going to try and explain that enthusiasm.

    ***
    I’m generally very critical of many Hollywood films, but there is Hollywood aesthetic that can be quite appealing. I’m thinking of the films that effectively showcase great film stars. These films often surround the stars with a score (usually orchestral), cinematography, art production, make-up and costumes that create a sense of glamour and romance that independent films just can’t duplicate. However, for some reason these films seem rare in Hollywood. (Pretty Woman and maybe Notting Hill are the ones that comes to mind.)

    The Holiday reminds me of these older Hollywood films, and it’s the main reason for my enthusiasm. Now, the film is a mixed bag, and while it realizes that Hollywood aesthetic on some level, it also fails on other levels.

    Let’s start with what works. In short, Jude Law and Cameron Diaz. (I consider Kate Winslet a star, but I’ll explain later why I didn’t mention her.) They were the main
    reason I liked this film. However, it didn’t start off that way. I thought Diaz’s acting in the opening tirade with Ed Burns was terrible. But something happened when she was with Law. First of all, the screen just lit up. With those two actors beaming at each other, there aren’t too many other actors who are as cinematically incandescent. It’s not just their good looks, but the way they deliver their lines and respond to each other. The chemistry reminded me of the great screen chemistry from couples like Bogey and Bacall or Tracy and Hepburn (perhpas not as good, but a notch below). They manage to almost single-handedly create a powerful feeling of romance and love, a romance that really wins over the audience. I generally prefer romances with a well-constructed story, a story that convinces me of the characters love for each other by developing the relationship in a real and convincing way. “However, sometimes movie stars with great chemistry can transcend the what’s written. The chemistry is so strong, I’m convinced just by the way the two actors look at each other. It’s magic. Law and Diaz have that magic and it’s worth seeing, especially since that kind of screen magic that can be compared to older films seems so rare.

    What’s interesting is that, Law has failed to work for me in many of the films I’ve seen him , which is hard to figure, because he’s got the looks and acting ability. Part of the problem is that there is something smarmy about him, something that prevents me from liking and trusting him. He has the kind of good looks with deviousness built in. (That quality serves this film well, as it makes the twist more effective.) But somehow with Diaz, whatever problems I may have had with Law were not really there. And Diaz appears even more beautiful when she’s with Law. It’s a chemical reaction that’s bigger than the sum of its parts. Add to that the romantic British country town, a terrific score from Hans Zimmer and solid dialogue, and you’ve got the ingredients of what Hollywood does so well.

    Unfortunately, that was only half of the film. The other half of the film involves Kate Winslet, Jack Black and Eli Wallach. Kate Winslet is star in her own right, but a similar chemical reaction doesn’t occur with Black. He was just the wrong guy for the part. Whatever humor Black could bring to the role (not very special) was less important than having good chemistry with Winslet. A good script and direction–one that took the time to convince audiences that they had a good thing–could have helped, but the script was not good. Wallach’s character–whose main purpose seemed to be to help Winslet’s character get confidence and dump the guy she was hung up over–just seemed a waste. It woudlnt’ be so bad, if Wallach and Winslet had chemistry together, but they didn’t, imo. While this half of the movie wasn’t terrible–I liked Winslet and her character and kept rooting for her–the filmmakers needed to rewrite and recast it. Had they done so, this could have been a great film.

    Addendum July 14, 2009
    I forgot to add something regarding the Kate Winslet portion of the film. There have been a few films (Waitress) were I complained about the feminist fantasy ending. Well, here’s a film where I would have preferred a “feminist” ending (for the Winslet story). Because she lacked chemistry with Black and the filmmakers did such a poor job of establishing their relationship, I would have preferred if the film ended with Winslet finally breaking ties with Jasper–a triumphant act that felt good, particularly since I felt for and liked Winslet’s character. Ending it, without having Winslet hook up with Black would have almost been preferrable (or maybe just a hint that there could be something for them in the future).

  126. Mitchell

    Up
    Pixar is so consistent that it seems the only review necessary is to say whether or not each new film upholds the studio’s lofty standards. This does, and then some. The first ten minutes alone are a magnificent demonstration of amazing storytelling. The rest of the picture doesn’t quite measure up to those first ten minutes, but it is still entertaining, clever, engaging, and…sad. This movie will yank your heartstrings like no other Pixar film since the first Toy Story. My one negative: the 3D did not add to this picture at all, and in fact, the glasses had a horrible dimming effect on the picture. I sorely wished halfway through the movie that I hadn’t opted for the 3D screening, and took the glasses off for a greater portion of the rest of the picture. 8/10

    Whatever Works
    I thought it was fun, engaging, and entertaining. It was certainly flawed: I felt Woody Allen made a couple of too-easy choices, but can’t complain too much about them. Larry David is not an actor, but he was good enough in this role, ‘though he was really unsteady in the first third of the film. Evan Rachel Wood was quite appealing, and I look forward to seeing her in other flicks. 6/10

    I Love You, Beth Cooper
    Silly, stupid movie with Hayden Panettiere (can you believe this is the little blonde girl in Remember the Titans? wow!) and a bunch of no-names. The critics and hoi polloi seem to be in agreement that it’s a bad picture, but I quite enjoyed it. I found it sweet, with some good moments for the actors to flex their chops. Almost nothing that happens, plot-wise, is believable, but the two primary characters themselves were likable and quite believable. Denis is the nerdy class valedictorian who takes the opportunity presented by his graduation speech to confess to a classmate that he has loved her since the seventh grade. She’s the most popular girl in school, of course, and the rest of the movie mostly involves Denis trying to run away from some of the people who took offense to his speech (because he doesn’t leave it at “I Love You Beth Cooper,” adding a few other thoughts about his classmates he’s been saving up) and getting to know Beth Cooper. Reid, I’d stay away from this one if I were you. 5/10

    The Proposal
    Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Betty White, Mary Steenburgen
    Wow. Here’s a romantic comedy that pretty much sticks completely to the formula. I was sure from the trailers that I would dislike this film, but Roger Ebert’s review and Penny’s recommendation had me eager to give it a chance, and it paid off. It is all about the actors here, and I have to admit I never thought Reynolds had the kinds of skills he demonstrates in this movie. The dialogue is cute, sharp, and clever, but it’s really the way the actors deliver it, full of glances, breaths, and pauses that really won me over. The camera is not afraid to give us frequent close-ups of the actors so that we can see some of their nonverbal moves, and it totally works. I would also like to say that Mary Steenburgen is just sooooooo hot. I have always thought so. She doesn’t need to play older women; she is hot enough that all these mom roles she gets aren’t really fair. She should be a lead in a film like this. 7/10 keeping in mind my preference for romantic comedies.

    Year One
    Michael Cera, Jack Black. Directed by Harold Ramis.
    Weak. This is an awful movie with a few parts that I actually found offensive, and I don’t offend easily in movies. Cera and Black aren’t bad, but the material is bad. I can’t believe this is the same writer and director who gave us Groundhog Day or even Ghostbusters. 3/10.

    Imagine That
    Eddie Murphy and Thomas Haden Church.
    Here’s a movie that caught me off guard: a film where Eddie Murphy doesn’t go completely over the top. Murphy plays an investment counselor who has been quite absent from his six-year-old girl’s life. She spends a week with him, much to his annoyance, but he discovers quite accidentally that the characters in the girl’s imaginary world give cryptic (but always right on) advice about corporate stocks. The catch is that in order for Murphy’s character to receive this advice, he has to play along in his daughter’s imaginary world. In the process, of course, he learns again how to be daddy. Murphy is back to his most charming self here, and while I enjoyed most of the story, the end was really weak. The end was so bad that I cannot recommend the film, though I confess that I had a good time. 5/10

    Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
    Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner
    With Jennifer Garner in it, it was going to have be even worse than Elektra for me not to like it, and this was a lot better than that. I liked it. McConaughey is visited, in the manner of Ebenezer Scrooge, by ghosts of girlfriends past, present, and yet-to-come. He is made to see the error of his ways, and it’s a romantic comedy so you can figure out the rest. Very likable performances from everyone except Michael Douglas, who I thought was ridiculous even given the ridiculous premise of the film. You pretty much know already if you’ll like this. 7/10.

  127. pen

    Whatever Works is the new film by Woody Allen and I enjoyed it quite a lot. Larry David goes on these tirades that were quite funny or quite sad, but mostly funny. I periodically burst out in laughter throughout the movie. Something about the look of the film reminded me a lot of Vicky Christina Barcelona. In that movie there was a narrator (voice over). In Whatever Works, Larry David sort of takes on that role. There are other similarities between these movies, now that I think about it. Some superficial ones (like is Woody Allen fascinated by menage a trois?) and some deeper ones about how random circumstances can bring out something consciously or unconsciously hidden within us.

    Very Woody Allen. New York, intellectual, a pretty young thing, tirades and flawed, quirky characters.

  128. Reid

    Old Joy (2006)
    Dir. Kelly Reichardt
    6/10

    I probably would recommend this to Kevin. After that, I’d guess that Penny, Mitchell, Chris and Grace would have a shot at liking this. Don, Joel, Larri and Jill would not like this. Marc probably wouldn’t care for this either. I must say that my copy of the film had an unplayable fifty second segment that came at a potentially crucial moment in the film, so I don’t feel like I’ve fully seen the film.

    **
    This is about two old friends who get together for a weekend hike. Mark (Daniel London) is married and about to become a father, while Kurt (Will Oldham) is unstable (possibly mentally ill). This is a quiet film that depends on the audience to interpret the film.

    ***
    I’m not sure what this film is about, but it seems to be a meditation on friendship, particularly the way old friendships change and how we deal with those changes. I had a hard time reading Mark. Was he scared or mistrustful of Kurt–or was he just a quiet guy? Were they at one point really close? The film certainly doesn’t answer these questions, not in any obvious way at least. (Of course, I could have missed a crucial segment of the film.)

    Naked Gun: From the Files of the Police Squad (1988)
    Dir. David Zucker
    Starring: Leslie Nielsen, etc.
    2/10

    I think Penny saw this, and she would be someone I’d recommend this to. I borrowed Joel’s copy so he must like this at least a little. I think Jill and Mitchell might like this. (Marc do you like these type of films–i.e. Mel Brooks, Airplane!). I think Kevin liked Airplane!, so he–and anyone else that likes those films would probably enjoy this. I’m not sure how to approach this review as I really don’t like those type of films. I watched this because it made the 1001 movies book. All I can say is that Blazing Saddles and Airplane! made it into the book, and that was more than enough of this style of filmmaking, imo.

    **
    This is basically a movie version of the short-lived (at least I think it was) TV show, Police Squad. It’s basically a spoof in the style of Airplane!. I’m just not into the humor, hence the score of 2. At one point, my sole interest in the film became whether I would at least laugh at least once in the film. There was one moment where I smiled and gave a half chuckle. Nielsen’s character is searching a desk drawer and says, “Bingo.” He pulls out a Bingo card. Yuk-yuk.

    Ping-Pong (2002)
    Dir. Fumihiko Sori
    5/10

    Mitchell, Penny, Tony and Chris might like this, but I’m not confident enough to recommend this.

    **
    This is a Japanese film about two high school friends, who also happen to be good ping-pong players. One is brash and loud while the other is quiet and shy. They both train to face formidable opponent from a rival high school. There is also sub-plots that involve a the coach who was once a great player; a past incident where the loud friend helps out the quiet one from bullies. Some of these sub-plots took away from the film. Btw, the film’s cover art gave me the impression that this would be like Stephen Chow films (Kung Fu Hustle)–with the ping-pong players performing superhero maneuvers, but the film is not like that.

  129. Reid

    When you watch a lot of films, there are moments when the films you see just happen to have an interesting connection. That’s what happened recently with three films I saw: In the Realm of the Senses, Splendor in the Grass and Fast Times and Ridgemont High–all of them from the 1001 book. (I’m ambivalent about “Realm,” but I think the other two deserve to make the list. These two films would also be great for high school students.) They would make for an interesting combined review which I will try to do to some extent.

    Splendor in the Grass (1961)
    Dir. Elia Kazan
    Starring: Natalie Wood, Warren Beatty, Pat Hingle, etc.
    7/10

    I recommend this first to Mitchell, Penny, Chris, Tony, Kevin and Grace. Joel, Don, Marc and Jill would probably think this was OK, but I don’t think this is something they would especially enjoy. I think the film held Larri’s attention, but she ultimately didn’t care for it. A good pick for the 1001 book.

    **
    The film is about a teenage lovers, Deanie (Wood) and Bud (Beatty). Both are seniors in high school, and Bud wants to quickly marry Deanie and work on a farm after graduation. But Bud’s wealthy father wants to him to postpone marriage until he can finish school at Yale. This makes life difficult for Bud primarily because of the strong sexual urges he has for Deanie, urges that cannot be sated until they get married. Deanie’s mother also makes it clear that not only are “good girls” not sexually active outside of marriage, but they don’t even have sexual urges. The story is about the way Deanie and Bud–along with their parents–struggle with the issue. Recommended to any individual who works with or cares about teenagers.

    ***
    Pre-70s melodramas films often feel hamfisted–giving the film a dated quality, especially the acting–and so they don’t impact me in the intended way, but this is a very powerful and provocative film. I don’t know if I would go so far as saying the characters/acting aren’t dated, but they really tap into some raw emotions that feel authentic. The result is a really effective melodrama, particularly the anguish of both characters. For me, much of the pathos comes from Natalie Wood’s performance (although Beatty is solid in this, too)–particularly the innocence and intense adoration for Bud (almost unhealthy) and the confusion and psychological breakdown that follows. I believe the performances would impact modern audiences–teenagers included–which would say something since today’s teen would find the drama of many teenage characters in older films laughable.

    These good performances are used to explore key question raised by the film, namely how should a society deal with sexual desires of adolescents? I really liked adolescent perspective on this issue, as well as the way the parents and adults handle the issue in the film. The parent’s (and society’s) approach is repression, denial and an attitude that sex is bad and dirty, something that good people–or more accurately females–don’t do. The result is severe psychological and emotional damage to the young lovers.

    The feeling the film left me with was the way adults–or more precisely society–has utterly failed to help adolescents. In this way, the film reminded me a lot of Gus Van Sant’s films involving teenage characters. I have to believe the film was controversial and must have provoked serious conversations from thoughtful and caring parents and adults. Part of the reason for this is the depiction of the parents on the screen. On one level they seem like villains, insensitive and thoughtless. But on another level, they deserve some sympathy; this is not an easy issue to deal with. After all, after fifty years, we still don’t handle the issue very well.

    Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
    Dir. Amy Heckerling
    Starring: Judge Reinhold, Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, etc.
    7/10

    I know Mitchell has seen this, but if he didn’t I definitely recommend it to him. I would recommend this to Tony, Larri, Chris, Penny, Grace and maybe Kevin. Joel, Don, Marc and Jill might think there are some interesting things about the film, but they wouldn’t really love it. This film surprised and impressed me. While I don’t think I enjoyed it, I do think it possesses enough noteworthy qualities that make it a good film and also one that deserves a spot in the 1001 book.

    **
    The film is based on a book by Cameron Crowe, who posed as a high school student to write a book about life at a high school, and the film feels like an enthnographic case study of American high school students. This was a popular film when I was in high school, and I had the impression that the film was raunchy and crass, a typical 80s teen sexploitation film. While it does have some crude elements, if you have the same impression of the film, don’t let that stop you from seeing this. Calling this a serious ethnographic film is not far off. There is an honesty that is unsettling and sometimes sad–which makes the feel relevant today.

    ***
    Like Splendor in the Grass, Fast Times demonstrates a willingness to honestly explore the life and issues adolescents face. However, where repression is the MO for dealing with teen sex, Fast Times depicts a society permits the opposite approach. The sad thing is that the results are not that much better.

    Of course, I recognize that the film is not just about teen sexuality. There is archetypical (the prototype?) surfer “dude” character, created by Sean Penn’s classic performance. There are also some memorable dialogue and slang (Did “wuss” originate from this film?).

    In the Realm of the Senses (1976)
    Dir. Nagisa Oshima
    4/10

    Definitely not for Marc, Don, Joel or Jill. I wouldn’t recommend this to Mitchell. Everyone else might find this interesting on some level, but I wouldn’t recommend this. I haven’t decided what I think about this film yet. I do know that I didn’t enjoy it very much. I’m unsure the film has merit or deserves making the 1001 list.

    **
    The short description of this film: two sex-crazed lovers. You should know that the film has some graphic depictions of sex—both conventional and outlandish. This definitely a candidate for considering exploring the difference between art and pornography.

    ***
    This film just completes the journey on the spectrum of approaching sexual desire, staring with Splendor on the repression, moving to Fast Times, which had a free love approach, and ending finally with Realm, which dealt with extreme sex and an all-consuming sexual desire.

  130. mitchell

    I would highly recommend the director’s and writer’s commentary on Fast Times too. Heckerling and Crowe (I think it was) do a great job of breaking down the film and increasing the viewer’s appreciation of it. Don’t forget to note Forrest Whitaker’s first performance (I think).

  131. Reid

    I listened to some of the commentary, but stopped because it was late. I did watch the “making of” segment, which mentioned that this was the first film for a lot of actors (Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, Nicholas Cage, Jennifer Jason Leigh, etc.) Or if wasn’t their first film, it might have been the one that really go their careers started.

  132. Reid

    I saw two films that were highly recommended by Ty Burr, my designated critic: Turtles Can Fly and DiG!. I didn’t like them as much as he did (at least based on his metacritic score), but the recommendations have not weakened his designation.

    I also review three more films from the 1001 book.

    Turtles Can Fly (2004)
    Dir. Bahman Gohbadi
    6/10

    I think Penny and Grace would rate this higher. I also think that Kevin, Chris and Mitchell would like this. I’m not sure about John and Tony, although I can see them liking this. Marc, Don, Joel and Jill might like this, too, although I’m not confident about that, so I wouldn’t recommend this to them.

    **
    This is a story about refugees (mostly Kurdish?) at the Nothern(?) Iraqi border right before the U.S. invasion. There are many children and the story focuses on four of them: Satellite, the de facto leader of the small village where the story takes place; and three siblings: an armless boy who can see into the future, his depressed sister and blind(?) little brother. Satellite is a young teen whose power stems from the fact that he’s the only one who can install a satellite dish to watch TV (everyone wants news of the impending invasion). Satellite falls for the sister and tries to woe her.

    I think others will find the film sad and sometimes funny. One of the merits of the film is to depict the effects of the U.S. invasion regular people, especially children.

    DiG! (2004)
    Dir. Ondi Timoner
    6/10

    I saw this with Mitchell, and he liked it. I would recommend this to Chris. Penny might find this interesting, but I wouldn’t tell her to rush out and see this. Marc might like this, but if I had to guess, I’d say no. I wouldn’t recommend this to Don, John, Joel or Jill. I have no idea about Tony.

    **
    This is a documentary about two 90s indie bands: The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols. The focuses on the two leaders of the band, Anton Newcombe and Courtney Taylor, respectively. I had never heard of the bands or leaders, and I don’t think you have to to get into the film. I do think you have to be interested in pop/rock music to the point where you would be interested in a rock documentary. On the other hand, some viewers not interested in rock documentaries might find Newcombe, particularly his ego, fascinating to watch.

    ***
    Mitchell wanted to see more analysis and commentary about the music, especially since the people in the film talked about how great and revolutionary it was. I agree with this. For all the hype, I didn’t think the music that they did play warranted the degree of praise in the film. I would have liked to have heard a defense from the people–including maybe other notable musicians and journalists.

    I also wanted to see more probing questions or analysis of the principle subjects and the people around them, something that create a richer portrait of the people in the film. I just felt that the portrayals were a little superficial.

    Heaven and Earth Magic (1962)
    Dir. Harry Smith
    3/10

    Maybe Penny and Kevin would have a chance of liking this. Don, Jill, Joel, John and Marc should definitely not watch this. This is a 1001 film. I really don’t understand the film at all. Based on that, I would say belong on the list.

    **
    From what I know, Smith is a experimental musician (I think he made his own instruments.) and filmmaker. This is a black and white, paper cut out animation film, which looks very similar to Terry Gilliam’s work for Python, complete with the 1920’s drawing style. The film is highly symbolic and surreal.

    ***
    On a purely visual level, I didn’t find the film very interesting or compelling. On an intellectual level, I have no interpretation to give meaning to this film. It would be interesting to hear interpretations that shed light on the meaning of the film.

    The Docks of New York (1928)
    Dir. Josef von Sternberg
    Starring: George Bancroft, Betty Comson, etc.
    6/10

    I’m not sure who I’d recommend this to. Kevin would like aspects of the film. I could see Grace, Penny and Mitchell liking this on some level, but it’s not something that I would strongly recommend. No to Don, Marc, Joel, John and Jill. This is a 1001 film pick, and it’s not a bad one.

    **
    This is a silent picture that takes place, where else, but on a dock in New York. A coal shoveler saves the life of a prostitute while on furlough. Not a serious person, he slowly gets drawn into caring for her.

    ***
    The black-and-white photography is really good in this film, as well as some of the camera work. I liked the initial premise of the story, particularly because Comson made me feel for her character. The main problem was that some of the actions of the characters just didn’t seem real to me. Often in older pictures, characters speak and behave in ways that seem untrue to me, but I never know if this is simply the way people behaved in another time. In any event, these decisions kept me at arms length of the characters. Still, there was enough to make this an interesting film. I think this is the third von Sternberg film I’ve seen, and I definitely want to see more.

    The Quiet Earth (1985)
    Dir. Geoffrey Murphy
    5/10

    I’d guess Grace would have the best chance of liking this, although I wouldn’t strongly recommend this to her. I didn’t think this was a great pick for the 1001 book.

    **
    Like Omega Man/I Am Legend, this is one of those “last men on earth” stories. This time and an accident involving tapping into the eath’s energy is what kills everyone…except one person. Zac (Bruno Lawrence), a New Zealander, is a scientist who was involved in the energy project.

    ***(spoilers)
    I’m not sure why the writers of 1001 book chose this film. While the film kept my attention, I didn’t think it was interesting enough to warrant a selection. There may have been a subtext to the relationships between Zac, Joanne and Api, and I just never got that.

  133. Reid

    Housekeeping (1987)
    Dir. Bill Forsyth
    Starring: Christine Lahti, etc.
    7/10

    I would recommend this to Mitchell–and Tony (which is going out on a limb). I think they will both like this, and maybe even love it. Penny, Grace, Kevin, and Chris would also enjoy this, too. Marc, Don, Joel, Jill and John would also enjoy this–although maybe not enough for me to recommend this. This was a 1001 pick, and I don’t know if it belongs in the book, but I will say this was a well-done (albeit smaller) picture that is worth seeing. This is only on vhs so it’s difficult to track down. (I borrowed the UH copy.) It’s sad that this film will remain unseen and relatively unknown since it’s not out on dvd. I’ll go into why I liked this film in the next sections.

    **
    This is an obscure, small independent film, but it’s a very well-done coming age film with a terrific performance. Still, I was surprised to see this film on the list. I remember that it was playing on Bravo when I was in college, and the little I remember of the film didn’t make think this was a must see. Normally, I don’t like talking about the aspects of the film I really liked–since it might raise expectations too high–but if I don’t mention some of these, readers probably won’t make the effort to see the film.

    The first reason for seeing this film is the character of Sylvie, played by Christine Lahti. She’s one of those endearing eccentric, free-spirited characters that can often garner attention from the Academy (Lahti or the writers weren’t). Lahti’s performance is subtle and realistic; I was never sure if her character was just eccentric or mentally-ill. Indeed, I’m pretty sure her character was mentally-ill, but the fact that I’m uncertain is a testament to her subtle performance. I think that quality is noteworthy because other actors in similar roles often play the part in too actory ways. I’m thinking of Dustin Hoffman in Rainman or even Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump. As likable and good as these performances are, you know you’re watching a performance. Lahti inhabits her role so naturally that you feel like you’re watching a real person, not a performance. And some of the scenes–caused by obliviousness to social conventions–are hilarious. I also loved the fact that they were totally played straight.

    So what is the film about? This coming-of-age story involves two sisters who grow up with different people–all of whom abandon them at some point–until their Aunt Sylvie (Lahti) visits them and decides to “take care” of them. Sylvie appears when the girls are teenagers and the two sisters, very close, begin to grow a part. Lucille (Andrea Burchill), the younger, is becoming more sensitive to how others perceive her and becomes increasingly embarassed by her aunt. On the other hand, Ruthie (Sara Walker), her socially awkward older sister, is more compassionate towards her Aunt–perhaps because her own shyness draws her to her Aunt.Tensions mount when neighbors in the small town grow concerned over the girl’s welfare.

    Besides the Lahti’s terrific performance, I liked the issues of alienation, conformity and the way relationship between Sylvie and Ruthie, particularly the way Ruthie finds some joy and comfort in her eccentric Aunt.

    The film is based on a book, which is not surprising given the film’s literary feel to it (another reason I think Tony, Mitchell and probably Penny would like this).

  134. pen

    The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
    My co-worker did not like this film because he could not get past the English accents coming out of people who were supposed to be German. Not just the accents, but they acted more English than German (taking tea at midday, etc.) I, on the other hand, am more relaxed about such things (in general).

    Like The Reader, while the movie is set during the Holocaust (and naturally something as huge as that tends to become a character whether you want it to or not), it is about more than the horrors of that time. This movie examines familial relationships, (mis)perceptions and friendship. The two young boys in this movie are quite good. I did not feel emotionally manipulated by this movie, either.

    If you can get past the accents, see this film.

  135. pen

    Wow, am I the first to write something about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? I almost don’t want to say anything…the pressure! I shall just start the conversation and everyone else jump in, okay?

    What I liked:
    The acting by the main trio gets better in every movie.
    The look of the movie set the right tone and was artful.
    Dumbledore was more palatable (not as hippy-ish, if you know what I mean).
    Snape

    What I did not like:
    Instead of a stand-alone film, they did the Pirates of the Carribean II thing and made it a transitionary vehicle for the last film(s). There just was not enough substance there for me.
    The teen love relationships were throw aways. Soooo fake and contrived.
    I felt Luna was wasted in this movie. She was good; the script was not.
    Draco’s angst did not come across well. I did not feel sorry for him like I did when I read the book.

    Next!

  136. pen

    The Ugly Truth was not ugly, but not pretty either. Rather, plain and middle-of-the-road. No real sparks between Katherine Heigel and Gerard Butler the two main stars, though there was some funny banter. All in all, I liked Sanrda Bullock and Ryan Reynolds in “The Proposal” better for this genre.

    This movie reminded me a little of “He’s Just Not That Into You.” Same kind of mixed message given out that guys are visually-oriented dogs that can’t really control themselves and how all women over-analyze everything in their desperate attempt to be in a committed relationship. Whatever. These movies may preach that you are the rule, not the exception, but what movie was ever about the rule? The main characters always end up being the exception and therefore continue to perpetuate the idea that you’re the exception, not the rule.

    Does this make sense? The Ugly Truth is not so convoluted. It is a straight-up, formulaic movie that does have some charm.

  137. Mitchell

    Thanks for seeing that. It looked weak. Now I won’t be tempted.

  138. pen

    Ice Age 3. Some critics said it was the best of the three. I still think the first one was the best. Cute movie with some chuckles (mostly cheesy or dead-panned one-liners) and action. Romance and babies are in the air in this one. Buck the weasel (voiced by Simon Pegg) was a great addition. Buck proves it is possible for animated weasel to be a scene stealer.

    Wait for the DVD unless you are a huge Ice Age fan…and maybe even then.

  139. Reid

    Food, Inc. (2009)

    I would recommend this to everyone, although those of you who like documentaries will like it more than those who generally don’t. I will say that the reason I’m recommending it is that I think the information is important, but I also think the film won’t bore those who don’t generally like documentaries. It’s 90 minutes and goes by pretty quickly, too.

    **
    The film examines US food production, relying heavily on Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, and Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemmna. The filmmakers do a good job of organizing the material in a easy-to-follow and engaging way. However, I suspect this is the type of film that viewers knowledgeable about the subject would not enjoy as much. But the primary value of the film is that it brings this important issue to a wider audience.

  140. Mitchell

    I know the dessert chef at Longhi’s and he said it’s an interesting film but provides a one-sided view. I didn’t ask him for details but his quick summary did make me want to check it out.

  141. Reid

    It may be one-sided, but it is worth checking out.

    The Duck Season (2004)
    Dir.
    5/10

    I think Penny, Mitchell, Tony and Chris could like this, although I’m sure. (They could really like this or just think it’s OK.) I explain the reasons I didn’t care for this film later. FWIW, I saw the film based on the recommendation from my designated critic. I consider this ball one.

    **
    This is a film (shot in black-and-white) about a lazy Sunday afternoon (somewhere in Mexico?) with two bored teenaged boys stuck in their apartment while their mother is out. They are visited by a neighbor–a teenaged girl that wants to borrow their stove. They also order pizza, but refuse to pay on the grounds that the delivery man was several seconds outside of the guaranteed delivery time. The delivery man refuses to leave. The film is basically a conversations between these four characters.

    ***
    The premise was appealing and I would have liked the film more if the characters–and what’s revealed about them–were more interesting. The conversations weren’t funny, true-to-life or poignant. While watching this, I thought of the director Jim Jarmusch, thinking of it as a kind of Jarmusch film of teen characters. Like Jarmusch’s films, the characters are bored and the film focuses on those boring moments–including the dialogue–when nothing interesting seems to occur. But Jarmusch’s successful films, find nuggets of insight, subtle humor about people and the human condition. This film provide any of that for me. I also felt the situation and premise were well-worn and that the film didn’t really make it interesting or entertaining.

  142. pen

    Funny People. Pretty funny and while not all the good one-liners were in the previews, many of them were. Still, it’s not a straight-up comedy. It’s definitely not as dark as Punch Drunk Love, but there are some serious moments.

    Overall I liked the film and thought the actors did a good job, although Eric Bana was kind of a characature of a real person. Adam Sandler plays the older, commercially successful comedian that has the big house and girls to have sex with, but no real intimacy in his life. Seth Rogan is the young, up-and-coming assistant/protogee of Sandler’s character.

    I laughed quite a bit, but the humor was quite raunchy. Made me wonder if guys really talk like that with each other. A lot of jokes about the size of a certain part of the male anatomy. It is a Judd Apatow pic.

    One thing I found interesting was that Jason Schwartzman wrote some of the music for the movie.

  143. Reid

    Zabriskie Point (1972)
    Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni
    7/10

    Definitely not for Larrilynn, don, Marc, Joel, Jill and probably not for John either. The other idiots may be interested in this, but I can’t see them loving it. (Read more later if this might be something you want to see). The film made the 1001 list, and it’s an acceptable pick.

    **
    Here’s Antonioni’s arty attempt to capture of the spirt of late 60s/early 70s America. Like other Antonioni films, there is a very bare-bones narrative that involves a kind of journey for the main character(s). Here the poetic interludes–where the images and music become the main focus of the film, dislodging themselves from the story–are the most dreamlike and surreal that I’ve seen from him. If you can handle these unconventional moments (and they worked for me), and you’re interested in the period, then I would recommend this. The film does have a chance of making the top 10 list of films that represent the 70s. Overall, I think I liked the filmmaking more than the actual content of the film.

    ***
    I was a little surprised at how well the desert orgy sequence worked for me. It just pops up out of nowhere, but I guess I liked the images and the location. I also liked the sequence of the plane “courting” the car sequence.

  144. Reid

    The Hidden Blade (2004)
    Dir. Yoji Yamada
    6/10

    I’m sure Grace would be interested in this, and probably would like this. Penny, Mitchell, Chris and Kevin would be interested in this–and I think they would like it. I think Jill and Larri would like this, at least mildy. I want to say that John, Tony and Marc would like this, but I’m less certain. I would’ve added Don to the list, but I think he didn’t care for Twilight Samurai, which is a similar film made by the same director. I enjoyed the film, although not as much as Twilight.

    **
    This is a samurai film, but don’t watch this if you’re looking for action. The film is mostly a chivalrous Romance with minimal action that seems almost tacked on to the movie (although it’s well filmmed). The story involves a lower-level samurai, Munezo Katagiri, whose father was ordered to commit sepuku because of a scandal and a young servant girl, Kie, who worked for his family while growing up. One part of the story involves Kie, who eventually marries into a family that mistreats her, and the way Munezo saves her. The other part of the story involves Munezo and his good friend accused of inciting rebellion that he must kill.

    ***
    I can’t think of many films that I can call a male and female fantasy, but this one (and Yamada’s previous film) comes close (probably too boring for the typical guy). Actually, a more accurate discription of the film is a fairy tale for adults–especially those who embrace traditional Japanese gender roles, with some modern updates. For examples, I can’t help but feel the protagonist represents the middle class manager of a corporation in Japan. Like a good Japanese person, he’s loyal and obedient to the company–even going against his close friend. The fantasy part is that he’s able to defy and kill his boss and run away to a simple life with the love of his life. On the female side, we side the Japanese ideal for a woman: obedient and vulnerable, needing to be saved by the “White Knight.” I’m not sure what progressive women in Japan feel about the film, but I would guess it wouldn’t be positive.

    The film not only embraces traditional gender roles, but Japanese culture in general, depicting the adoption of Western waves in a negative light. That’s obvious by the caricature of the instructor of using Western weaponry. But it’s less obvious in the way the film (and the previous one) seems to reject materialism bred from a capitalist mentality by having Munezo giving up his samurai status to live on farm. His former teacher also did the same thing earlier. Yoshida (in Twilight) seems to be calling for embracing a simpler lifestyle and spending time with one’s family. I believe this film won awards in Japan and was popular. It would be interesting to hear Japanese cultural critics talk about the significance of that.

  145. pen

    Julie and Julia. This movie made me hungry! Went to Kinkaid’s after for steak and shrimp scampi on linguine. Yum, but not as satisfying as beef bourguignon and scalloped potatoes would have been.

    It was a fun movie that tried to be a little deeper than it was and did not quite succeed. Characters were engaging and the Julia Child part of the story was the more compelling for me. Not that Amy Adams is not a good actress, but Meryl is so much better. She does so much more with her character.

    Food definitely takes a starring role in this movie. The power of food. How it can comfort and inspire and be a means of communication and an expression of spirit. For people (like me) who seem to love food more than the average person, it was affirming to find food-obsessed people on the screen. Nice to know I’m not alone.

    The Orphan. Pretty good movie with some nice suspense scenes. Not too gory. Follows the formula fairly closely, but there is a bit of a deviation, which was nice. Otherwise it was a bit frustrating, because you (the audience) and the main character know what evil lurks, but others seem so oblivious. You can wait for it to come out on DVD.

  146. Reid

    Love and Honor (2006)
    Dir. Yoji Yamada
    7/10

    I’d recommend this to almost all the idiots except for Don (who, I think, did not care for Twilight Samurai.

    **
    Like the other two Yamada “samurai” films, eliminate any expectation of copious sword fighting and action. This is a drama–old fashioned romance, to be specific–not an action film. In this story, a lower level samurai, who serves as a food-taster for his Lord, gets accidently poisoned and loses his sight. To make sure he is cared for, his wife (without his knowledge) sleeps with a higher level officer in return for a steady income. The samurai finds out, kicks out his wife and plans his revenge on the higher level samurai. The story is pretty basic and some may find the chivalry old fashioned, but the direction and acting are solid.

    The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)
    Dir. John Cassavetes
    Starring: Ben Gazarra, etc.
    6/10

    Movie fans will want to see this. This made the 1001 book, and I don’t know if it qualifies as a “must” say, but I think it deserves to be seen. I liked it (and might give it a higher score if I analyzed it more).

    **
    If you like independent films–that is films that deal with characters, stories and storytelling that Hollywood has no interest in–then John Cassavetes’ films are a must see. In this film, Cosmo (Gazarra) is a strip club owner who gets builds a gambling debt with the an organized crime outfit. Instead of money, the mobsters want Cosmo to kill a Chinese bookie that they have been having trouble with. That plot description doesn’t really do justice to what this film is about, which is about the lengths an artist/entertainer must go through to do what he loves. Choosing a strip club owner to represent the artist/entertainer is an odd, but interesting choice.

    Faces (1968)
    Dir. John Cassavetes
    6/10

    Same as above. I wouldn’t recommend this to Don, Joel, Jill and probably Marc. Another 1001 film. Again, I’m not sure it’s a must see.

    **
    Fans of Ice Storm and other films about suburban dissatisfaction and loneliness will want to check this out. It may be one of the first American films to really go deep into the pysche of the white businessman and white housewife, particuarly in the late 60s.

    A general description of the movie would be the ending of the marriage of Richard and Maria Forst. But the film is more of an exploration of the psychological and inner world of these two characters. What’s unnusual and intersting is the scenes Cassavetes selects to show this. For example, early in the film we see Richard, a good friend and a prostitute, Jeannie (Gena Rowlands). They’re drunk to the point where emotional fraying occurs. I couldn’t really relate to the characters, but I found something real and fascinating about the performances. There is another scene like that when Richard and Maria talk. It’s one of those late night conversations when you get the giggles (convincing performances by the actors).

    I wish I had more time to analyze and think about this film because I think there might be a lot of interesting things

    (Edit: I’ve been thinking about the last film a bit more, and I realize that the third section of my review is really bad. Actually, I’m not happy with all three reviews…hopefully, I can rectify the problem later…)

  147. Pen

    (500) Days of Summer. I really enjoyed this movie, except for the very end. For me, it felt a little like cheating, because the rest of the movie was so clever and engaging. I loved the characters and the relationships…not just the boy/girl relationship, but the boy/sister and boy/friends relationships, too. Definitely one of the better movies I have seen this summer.

    A Perfect Getaway. Mostly what you would expect in this type of film, but not gory and no sex. Some will figure out who the killer is right away, but it took me awhile, so I did enjoy the ride. Kauai is beautiful in this movie and is definitely a supporting character. Not bad at all.

  148. Reid

    District 9 (2009)
    Dir. Neil Blomkamp
    5/10

    I think idiots like Tony, Chris, Marc, Penny, Grace and Joel would have the best chance of liking this.They would probably not have the same problems I had with the film, not to the same extent anyway. (If I had to choose, I’d recommend this to Tony.) Mitchell would find this interesting, although there are aspects he might not care to see, too. Jill and Don might like this, but I can’t see them loving this. I think this film had potential. The less you know about the film the better. Larri really didn’t like this.

    **
    The film takes place in South Africa, where an alien craft hovers over Johannesburg(?). About a million aliens from the craft have been kept in a shanti town for the past twenty years and are now about to be moved by a corporation overseeing them. During this process, one of bureaucrats, Wikus, gets infected by a virus(?) that begins turning him into an alien. In the mean time, one of the smarter aliens makes plans to return to the ship and leave the planet.

    There are some good ideas in this film, but these ideas are developed well imo. I’ll go into that in the next section. I must also say that the first third of the film moved rather slowly, although some of you may disagree.

    ***
    Some random thoughts:

    The way Wikus espcapes and then breaks back into the corporate headquarters just seemed too easy.

    Christopher, the intelligent alien, needed to be developed more. Also, the filmmakers needed to put more effort into making his relationship with Wikus more believable.

    The allusion to apartheid seems to be a throw away sub-plot. The filmmaker’s don’t really do anything beyond the superficial.

    Wikus is not very likable or appealing. He’s dorky and nerdy, and his concern for the alien seems half-hearted.

    There is a campy aspect to the film, almost a B-movie vibe. Had the directors gone more in that directions the problems I had may have lessened.

    I liked the concept of Wikus changing into the alien and tying that into the idea that only aliens could use the advanced weaponry.

    The film left a lot of intriguing questions unanswered: why were the aliens here? what is the nature of their society (Were they workers waiting for the “queen”? What happened to the “queen?”) Also, in many ways the film felt like the first part of an ongoing story. The second part would answer these questions and involve a return and attack from the aliens. (Ender’s Game anyone?)

  149. Reid

    Ponyo (2009)
    Dir. Hayao Miyazaki
    6/10

    Probably Penny, Grace and Jill would want to see this. I think Mitchell, Kevin and Chris probably would at least mildly like this. I think most other idiots would find this at least OK and probably enjoy it on some level. However, if you’ve never seen a Miyazaki film, this is not the one I’d recommend. I’ll go into more reason I didn’t like the film more later.

    **
    Miyazaki is a Japanese animator and his recent film is a variation on the Little Mermaid story. A girl–daughter of a (former) human scientist (living under the water) and a water spirit–runs away from her father. She meets a human boy, who takes care of her.

    ***
    I know Miyazaki is revered by many, but the story here is really weak, which is a shame because there are some appealing features of the film. For one thing the boy, Sosuke and the girl, Ponyo are really cute and likable–but also very believable. Miyazaki really has a feel of children; his child characters ring true. There’s also some nice animated sequences in the film. My favorite was the exhilarating scene with Ponyo running on the fish. (I must say that I love scenes with the speeding car and scenes with where we can see through the water.)

    But as I said the story is really weak. We have appealing lead characters but no engine to drive the story forward. Some of the scenes and characters (like the old folks) don’t really seem necessary. The story also doesn’t develop well around the Sosuke loving Ponyo. There’s really no test for him and the adventure he and Ponyo get in doesn’t connect very strongly with that question.

    Still, it’s not a bad film, but it really lacks a strong story.

  150. Reid

    The Stranger (1946)
    Dir. Orson Welles
    Starring: Edward G. Robinson, Orson Welles, etc.
    5/10

    Not a bad film, but not a film I would tell other idiots to see, either. This is a Welles’ film that shoudln’t have made it into the 1001 book. I read in that Welles made this film after several previous films were financial flops. That makes sense when you see this film: it’s pretty standard suspense film (and pretty well-done) for the time. So how come I didn’t like it more? I just don’t think the film is that good; it’s not one of the best suspense/thrillers for its time. The filmmaking–acting, camera work, writing, etc.–is also not exceptional–although there are some editing that in the beginning that reminded me of Citizen Kane (alas the rest of the film doesn’t have them) and the cinematography is nice. But again, this is not an exceptional film, imo. Welles seems to have reined in his creativity and daring for this one to ensure financial success.

    (small spoiler)
    The film is one of those stories where the protagonist has committed a crime and has to maintain lies to hide this crime. I have a hard time enjoying stories like this, but, ultimately, that wasn’t the reason I gave the film a relatively low rating.

    Dawn of the Dead (1978)
    Dir. George Romero
    5/10

    I’d recommend this to Penny, but I don’t think she would love it. Other people like Mitchell, Penny, Kevin and Chris might find this interesting, too–although I don’t think they would really like it. There are just some interesting things about the film that warrant a consideration, even if you don’t like horror. I found the film boring, but I did find some interesting qualities about it.

    **
    The world has been plagued by zombies and a group of people find refuge and eventually a good life in a shopping mall. Not scary in the least.

    ***
    Really, this is not a horror film so much as social commentary. The trick is finding out who the different characters represent. The zombies probably represent the masses of mindless consumers in our society. But then there is the biker gang that threatens and ultimately destroys the quiet upper-middle class existence of our protagonists. The protagonists perhaps represent the those who have striven and obtained the material comforts of the upper-middle class.

    ——–

    Finally, two quick reviews of vampire movies, both of them on the 1001 list. (Dracula has to be the most remade film of all time.) Both films have some interesting qualities, but they don’t warrant making the list. Oh, and most modern audiences wouldn’t find the films scary in the least.

    I wouldn’t recommend this to any idiot, except for maybe Penny, just because she likes horror. But even then, I don’t think she would like these films very much.

    Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night (1979)
    Dir. Werner Herzog
    Starring: Klaus Kinski, Bruno Ganz, Isabelle Adjani, etc.
    5/10

    (spoilers)
    Like almost every Herzog film, this one has some cool images (the rats in the village while the people are eating). I liked the way Herzog turns the story into a science versus mysticism–with the scientist playing the part of the fool. I also liked the ending with Harker going out in the darkness as a vampire.

    The main problem is that it has the same super slow pace as the Murnau’s Nosferatu. I don’t mind films that move slowly, if it ehances the experience. The slow pacing in the film didn’t enhance the impact of the scenes and images (except in a few instances), and more often than not made the film boring.

    Vampyr (1936)
    Dir. Carl Theodor Dryer
    4/10

    I really like Dreyer as a director. The images–particularly the faces of some of the actors and their expressions–stand out for me; they’re effectively creepy. But the film wasn’t very exciting or scary.

  151. Reid

    Bandslam (2009)
    5/10

    Mitchell, Penny, Jill and maybe Tony would probably like this, but I don’t think they would love it. Marc might think this is OK–definitely something to see on video. Larri liked this (although she gave this a 5, I think). I must say that I missed several minutes of the beginning (not sure how much), but I don’t think that would change my rating too much.

    **
    That’s a pretty good rating coming from me and considering the type of movie. I saw this because I heard some critics say that it was actually decent. Plus, this was a film that I thought Larri would like, and I wanted go see a film she would really like since she hated District 9.

    The film has a pretty generic plot. A group of unpopular high school kids get together to form a rock band to compete in a high school competition. A popular girl, for some reason, befriends one of the band members and encourages him to form a band.

    I will say this. The problem with the film didn’t stem from a formulaic storyline. I actually the formula can lead to an entertaining film. The problem is in the execution of that formula. More about that in the next section.

    ***
    Like most films, casting is almost everything. The actors weren’t that great, particularly in the important roles (the blonde and the nerdy leader) The relationships betwen wasn’t that compelling either. Another problem with the execution had to do with establishing the nerdy leader, who supposedly had a love and a good ear for music. Why would the other kids listen to him? (The Commitments had the same problem.) Films with this storyline should also show the band progressing from bad to good, which leads to a more satisfying climax.

    The two best things about the film for me: the music (which was not great, but pretty good–although I think they could have chose a better song to cover than Bread’s “Everything I Own,” even with the upbeat arrangement) and the way the film avoided some cliches. For example, there really isn’t an evil villain in this, which would usually be the case in movies like this.

  152. pen

    G.I. Joe. Let me lay the ground work. I had very low expectations for this movie walking into the theatre. I do not know anything about G.I. Joe, except that there are G.I. Joe action figures which are army men-type deals.

    So, my low expectations coupled with my ignorance made for a pretty darn good action movie. Some parts got a little slow (aka boring) at the end, but on the whole, I enjoyed it. I shoveled popcorn into my mouth as I got more anxious and when the tension built. I laughed at Marlon Wayans’ quips and antics. All in all, a good popcorn movie.

  153. Reid

    Julie and Julia (2009)
    Dir. Nora Ephron
    6/10

    Mitchell, Kevin, Chris, Jill and maybe even Marc and Don would probably like this mildly. Not something I would recommend, but it would provide harmless entertainment. I thought

    **
    The film combines two stories. One storiy tells the story of how Julia Child became a cook and the arduous journey her book took to get published. The other story invovles a woman who tries to cook every recipe in the book in one year and blogs about it.

    ***
    Penny said,

    It was a fun movie that tried to be a little deeper than it was and did not quite succeed. Characters were engaging and the Julia Child part of the story was the more compelling for me.

    I agree with this. Julia Child’s story was more engaging, partly because Streep’s performance–the enthusiasm and spirit she brings to the role–made her so likable and engaging. Streep didn’t always have this effervesence, but, at some point in her career, she developed this inner kind of inner spark that really shines through and makes her an effective lead–a true movie star. (What was she before? A good actor, but not necessarily a star.)

    The story to get her book made is a bit more interesting and stronger than the story of Julie’s life and blog. Because of both stories weren’t as strong, there are moments when I felt the film lost a little steam. Luckily, the main characters–particuarly their relationship to their spouses–held my interest and made me root for the film.

    When Penny says that the film “tries to be deeper than it is,” I take her to mean that the film tries to show the way cooking (particularly Julia Child’s recipes) saved Julie’s life. I don’t think the film made a compelling case for that.

    Samurai Rebellion (1967)
    Dir. Masaki Kobayashi
    Starring: Toshiro Mifune, etc.
    6/10

    For some reason John comes to mind when I think of who I could recommend this to. Chris would probably like this on some level. Actually, most other idiots would probably like this, at least a little. But given the amount films out there, this is not one I recommend strongly.

    **
    The film involves a samurai, Isaburo(Mifune) who is ordered by his Lord to marry his son, Yogoro to a mistress he is displeased with. Isaburo reluctantly accepts and to his great pleasure, Ishi turns out to be a great person–not only is a she a great wife, but she and Yogoro fall in love. Unfortunately, the Lord now needs Ishi to return to him.

    ***
    Mitchell and I were recently lamenting the plight of Darth Maul. Here was a really cool character that Lucas never really developed, not to mention killing him off in such a weak way. Lucas could have taken lessons from Samurai Rebellion. One fo the strengths is the way the film builds to the inevitable confrontation between Isaburo and the Lord. For one thing, the backstory of Isaburo–namely that he was unhappily married and didn’t want his son to go through the same thing. That he was not because of Ishi made him even more determined to defy his Lord.

    There is also the unfairness and moral outrage of the Lord ripping the couple a part (not to mention their newborn baby).

    But there were two things that weakened the film for me. For one thing, Ishi actually did seem a little too selfish when she’s approached by family elders to return to the Lord (otherwise bringing dishonor and maybe a loss of position to the family). I would have liked her more if she at least felt regret for them.

    The bigger problem was Yogoro and Ishi’s love. Isaburo claims their love is really beautiful and inspiring but I didn’t get the same feeling from what I saw on the screen.

    Oh, sword fights at the end, which were OK.

  154. pen

    Taking Woodstock. More than an interesting docu-drama about an iconic event. More than a commentary about turbulent times and the commerce of “freedom.” More than a story about a son and his relationship with his parents. More than a beautifully shot film by Ang Lee’s discerning eye. Taking Woodstock encompasses all these and more. More, because you care about the quirky characters…and because the performances are sincere and real and subtle.

    I really enjoyed this film. There were parts (handheld camera) that started to make me feel a bit ill, but other than that, awesome. Emile Hirsch, Liev Schriber and Demitri Martin are stand-outs as well as the people who play Demiti Martin’s immigrant parents.

  155. Reid

    GI Joe: the Rise of Cobra (2009)
    Dir Stephen Sommers
    4/10

    Joel would probably enjoy this on some level and maybe Tony, but that’s a guess. Marc, John and Don might like this if they rented it on video and had really low expectations.

    **
    I had no desire to see this, but I was willing to go because Larri wanted to see something. I was surprised by the quality of the f/x and action scenes–specifically I was surprised that I found the sequences entertaining to the extent that I did (mainly becuase my expectations were low). If it wasn’t for this, I would’ve hated the film. The film’s characters, dialogue and story are so bland even I was a little surprised. (Maybe I just didn’t see an action like this in a long time.)

    In the Loop (2009)
    Dir.
    5/10

    I’d expect the following people to like this at least a little: Chris, Kevin and Penny. Grace and Mitchell might like it, too, but I wouldn’t recommend it. I think everyone else wouldn’t really care for this. The metacritic score was in the low 80s, which is too high in my opinion.

    **
    The film follows several characters mainly on the British side of the days before the Iraq invasion. At the center of the film (at least for me) was the clever, expletive filled tirades/dressing-downs of the characters, mostly notably Peter Capaldi. Just think if the writers of BBC’s The Office wrote a political satire, and you get the idea of this film (although there is no one as funny as Ricky Gervais). I enjoyed some of these moments, but it wasn’t enough for me. The other moments of political satire just didn’t grab me, I guess.

  156. pen

    Inglourious Basterds. Great film. Great pacing and an engaging storyline with quirky yet believable characters. Tarantino does a great job of creating this underlying tension that does not let up throughout the entire film. Sometimes is lessens, almost fading into the background and sometimes it is heightened and brought to the forefront of your thoughts, but it is always there…almost tangible and a character itself in the film.

    Great performances by the actors all around. I appreciated that the people who were supposed to be German spoke German and the English spoke the Mother tongue and the French spoke French. The Americans were as Europe probably perceives us…brash, loud, uni-lingual, and kick-butt.

    Tarantino does a great job weaving the stories together and does not overly complicate things, thereby tripping himself up. His vision stays razor focused and he moves the film along with a sure and deft hand. I think even those who are not big fans will find something that appeals to them in Inglourious Basterds.

  157. Reid

    Videodrome (1983)
    Dir. David Cronenberg
    Starring: James Woods, Deborah Harry (of Blondie), etc.
    6/10

    I think Grace would find this interesting. I wouldn’t recommend this to Don, Joel, Jill, Larri and Marc. Other idiots would find things of interest, but I wouldn’t strongly recommend it. An OK pick for the 1001 book.

    **
    I think Cronenberg mentioned that he considers himself as an artist more than a horror filmmaker, and I believe that his films should be seen as art, rather than a horror film or entertainment. Videodrome seems to be metaphor depicting the way TV influences (and to some extent controls our lives). I think if you like media critics like Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman, you’ll find this film interesting.

    Yes, there are some horror elements, but they’re relatively mild, so I wouldn’t let that stop you from seeing this.

    Unfortuntely, I really didn’t analyze the film and it’s images to really provide comments of interest. (Yes, I know, I’m copping out.)

    Dead Ringers
    Dir. David Cronenberg
    Starring: Jeremy Irons
    7/10

    I think other idiots like Penny, Grace, Mitchell, Kevin and Chris will find this worth watching. (In the next section, I’ll reveal what makes the film worth watching, if you need to know more.)

    **
    The main reason to see this film is Jeremy Irons’ performance(s) as twin gynecologists. In the previous review, I spoke of Cronenberg as an artist, but this film is more a psychological portrait of twins, specifically the difficulty some twins have with living independently (psychologically) of each other. I’ve heard that Irons’ is a fine actor, but, while the performances I’ve seen have been OK, I’ve never been super impressed. This is one of the performances that justifies the praise.

    In the extras, Cronenberg comments that other twins in other movies usually behave very differently, so in this film he wanted the two characters to be really similar, with only subtle differences. And that is what happens. There are times when you know who the characters are based on these subtle differences. It is a terrific performance, maybe even a great one.

    The story itself is nothing special. One of the twins, the less assertive, more conservative one, falls in love with a woman. But that disurpts his relationship with his brother. That’s the basic plot, but, again, the heart of the story is the psychological portayal of the two characters. I think the performance is good enough to make the film worth watching.

  158. pen

    District 9. I really liked this film. I agree with Reid that the pacing about 15 minutes into the movie gets slow, but it eventually picks up again and I was engaged in the story and to a lesser extent, the characters.

    I think what I liked about this film are the contradictions and multiple facets of the characters and situations. The “hero” is not always virtuous, brave and self-sacrificing. I think I also liked that there was a lot of room for interpretation. Not much was explained. Some people might find that irritating, but I liked creating different back stories.

    The movie also touches on a bunch of social and moral issues: prejudice, apartheid, segregation, immigrants, private vs. government medical experiementation, weapons development and military for hire (aka Blackwater and Haliburton), etc. Also nature vs. nurture questions like: were the aliens prone to violent behavior, or was that created by their shanty town/slum environment?

    I left the theatre feeling entertained.

  159. Reid

    (spoilers)

    The “hero” is not always virtuous, brave and self-sacrificing.

    He’s almost never this way, and that was one of the problems I had with his character: there didn’t seem to be anything redeemable or likable about him. He was not only a whimp and syncophant, but he was super self-centered. His attempts to prevent the guards from hurting the aliens seemed to stem from squeamishness, rather than compassion. And think about the last act where he knocks out the alien and tries to fly the ship on his own. It’s not only selfish, but stupid (OK, he was desperate but it’s still pretty selfish–he could’ve ruined the aliens last chance for help; remember the alien took twenty years to obtain enough fuel.) To me, the leading actor was really miscast. I really didn’t sympathize or like him at all. To be fair, the director didn’t seem to have a clear idea about this character, too.

    As for the other social and moral issues, I thought the film just sort of threw these elements into the film thoughtlessly. I didn’t think the film provided any interesting insights or observations, nor did it provke me to think about these issues.

    To me, the film felt like a first or second draft. If the filmmakers had put more thought into the film–ie. thinking of better ways for Wilkus to escape and return; developing the relationship between Wilkus and the Christopher; etc.–I think this could have been a good film.

    Penny, do you think any other idiots would like this?

  160. pen

    ***spoilers for District 9***

    The main character is brave at the end. He knows he’ll probably die, but he puts himself in the line of fire so Christopher and his son can safely get to the mother ship. He also sincerely loves his wife and wanted to do a good job (tho’ you’re right when you say synchophant and stupidly arrogant), but his true devotion to his wife is admirable.

    He’s a flawed guy. He’s genuine. He wants to be liked. He’s self-centered and self-serving, but in the way many of us are. He’s arrogant in his dealing with “the prawns” (and he continues using this derrogatory name although without any malice, at least towards the end…the “unknowing” prejudice).

    I looked at this world they created as a snap-shot. We get a glimpse into the current state, but do not know what came before or what will happen. But the snap-shot we get is rich and with some detail and color and highlights and angles. I liked it.

  161. Marc

    I saw District 9 and enjoyed it. I agree with Penny’s view of the main character rather than Reid’s. I sort of enjoyed the many flaws of the main character and definitely think that you can’t describe him as a “hero,” in any way. I’d probably be willing to see it again in a theatre to figure out what I missed the first time.

    I also saw “Inglourious Basterds.” It’s definitely a Tarantino movie with some parts that are surprising, fresh, shocking, sucessful, unsuccessful, and over-the-top. I thought two scenes in particular were extraordinary. The first scene evolves from a “what the heck is going on?” vibe to a “oh my gosh this can’t be happening” vibe. Then there’s a scene in a basement bar where the tension builds and releases really successfully. I’m a huge fan of the creation and resolution of tension and for me, these two scenes were nearly perfect. I didn’t find the rest of the movie quite as satisfying and I thought the ending was sort of anti-climactic, but overall I enjoyed it. However, I don’t think I’d want to see it again in a theater and wouldn’t make any special efforts to go out of my way to see it on video.

  162. pen

    I missed Perfume: Story of a Murderer when it came out in theatres in 2001, but I recently saw it on DVD. It is a disturbing story, but lushly filmed. It is as though the filmmaker knew his audience would not be able to experience the scents in the movie, so he overloaded the other senses in trying to convey scents to the audience.

    The main character is odd, awkward and compelling. I didn’t like him, but I felt a little sorry for him…all the while horrified by his acts. The actor did a good job of conveying unconscious menace. This is not a film most would enjoy. I can’t even say I “enjoyed” it, per se. But it was beautifully filmed and raises some interesting questions about morality and people seeking to realize their passions only to realize that maybe that is not what they wanted or needed.

  163. pen

    The Informant! Something about the way this movie is shot (use of long shots and close-ups?) and the music make is a distinctly Soderbergh film. Matt Damon does a good (maybe even great) job, but can’t help the slow pacing, which caused my mind to wander occasionally…like. what I was going to eat after the film. Some genuine funny moments with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Too much of the movie went into the trailer.

    All About Steve. I was expecting this movie to be pretty mediocre to mildly entertaining, so it was a pleasant surprise to discover that Sandra Bullock wasn’t the only charming thing about the film. There was more to her character than the “quirky misunderstood girl” and a bit more to the story than girl goes after boy. If you see this movie, stay to the very end. My friend and I were the only ones left who got to see a little snippet of a scene after the credits.

  164. Reid

    The One and Only (2009)
    Dir.
    Starring: Renee Zellwegger,
    6/10

    Penny, Grace and Jill would probably like this, although I don’t think they would love it. Other idiots would probably mildly like this, too, but I wouldn’t really recommend it. I think Larri gave this a six, too.

    **
    A woman catches his husband cheating and leaves to go across country with her two boys. Mainly, she’s looking for a husband to support her and the boys. It’s sort of like a lighter and inferior Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.

    ***
    I think the most interesting thing about this movie is trying to figure out why it wasn’t more successful, because it’s really not a bad film. But it could have been better–even terrific. It’s the type of film that could have launched a career (in the Zellwegger role). So what was wrong? First, the acting, which may stem from the casting choices of Zellwegger and Logan Lerman, the actor who played Zellwegger’s son. You really had to get the right people for these roles, particularly the chemistry between them. This could have been much better had they done that. But chemistry aside, the acting felt flat at times, lacking a kind of lift the film needed, particularly in some key dramatic moments. Part of the problem could have been the dialogue, which is pretty pedestrian. Somehow I suspect the directing may be a problem, as in he didn’t get good performances or didn’t know what kind of performances he wanted from them. With better dialogue, directing and acting, this could have been a terrific film. As it is, it’s just OK.

    9 (2009)
    Dir.
    6/10

    I would recommend this to Grace and Tony. Everyone else would enjoy this, too, at least mildly. This would have been a great sci-fi network movie to watch on a Saturday night.

    **
    This is an animated film that takes place after humans basically kill each other off–mostly through using intelligent war machines. In this situation, the only “survivors” are nine sentient “dolls” left by a scientist. The dolls struggle to survive amidst one of the war machines that still operates.

    ***
    I had heard the animation was good, and it is. At times, it looks like a live action film. However, the story felt a bit too compressed (under 90 minutes) and rushed. It moves a long at a fairly good pace with some decent action sequences.

  165. Reid

    I saw Kitt Kittridge: an American Girl (2008) a while ago, and I forgot to write a review. It’s a good children’s movie, one that I wouldn’t mind showing to my daughter when she gets older. I saw this with my nephews and nieces, and the film kept their attention (except the youngest one).

    For my own enjoyment, I would probably give this a 6/10, but given the target audience I would say the film is a 7/10.

  166. pen

    I finished watching Chan-wook Park’s “Revenge” series: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and (Sympathy for) Lady Vengeance.

    Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance was probably the slowest and also the one I liked the least. Oldboy’s pacing was the best, as you and the main character try to find the “bad guy” and understand why he did what he did. The script takes you to an unexpected and surprising place. Lady Vengeance fell between the two. There is tension, but she finds the “bad guy” rather easily. The tension is built when the families affected by the “bad guy” decide whether to and how to take their revenge.

  167. pen

    Penelope was a cute movie about a family curse and learning to love yourself. Nothing particularly special or original about it, but nice entertainment. Christina Ricci and James McEvoy don’t really have great chemistry, but they both do a solid acting job here.

  168. Mitchell

    A bunch of catch-up.

    Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
    So far, the best film of the year for me. Acting by Alan Rickman and Helena Bonham Carter is just terrific. Rickman as Snape seems to let is tongue savor every unpleasant word he utters, and it is the best movie for Snape since the first. Bonham Carter as Bellatrix LeStrange is Oscar-worthy here. Her frenetic, joyful evil is terrific to watch, especially in the close-up scenes with Rickman. In this film series, there are few casting decisions that I consider a better representation of the novels’ characters, but this is one. Bonham Carter is a better Bellatrix than the novel’s Bellatrix. The acting by the princpals gets better with each film, but I’m especially impressed with Emma Watson as Hermione. Evanna Lynch continues to be the most perfectly cast of all the actors.

    Everything about this movie moved me. The story, ‘though it continues to get darker, becomes sweeter as the main characters deal with opposite-sex relationships. The cinematography is perhaps the best since the first film in the series; I’ve felt that the films in between are too visually dark, in the literal sense. There are scenes in this film that are practically completely white, and when Harry tells Ron and Hermione in a special moment, “I’d forgotten how beautiful this place is,” I had been thinking the SAME THING. Films 2 through 5 seem to have forgotten what a beautiful, wondrous place Hogwarts is, and this film remembers. Of course, Harry is also talking about this wonderful friendship he’s developed with Ron and Hermione, and that makes it even better.

    Love, love, love this film. 9/10 and quite possibly endlessly re-watchable.

    Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
    I’d heard from numerous sources that this was the best in the series. And although I didn’t see the second film, this sequel doesn’t even come close to the original. It tries too hard to play cute, and it’s just way, way more warm and fuzzy than it needs to be. Queen Latifah, God bless her, ruins the dynamic of this movie, such that John Leguizamo is a distraction half the time and Denis Leary seems an afterthought. The introduction of a mentally ill weasel does not help. Scrat continues to take his 21st Century version of Wile E. Coyote in interesting directions, and normally I’d have considered his sequences a distraction, but in this case they were a most welcome distraction from the rest of the picture. This film just barely works for me. 5/10.

    Funny People
    Seth Rogan and Jonah Hill work better as support guys, and here they are given Adam Sandler, a much more charismatic lead than they usually get. The dynamic really works, and the story, ‘though it unravels a bit just past midway through, is interesting enough to keep me locked in. I was pleased to see that the trailer and commercials totally misrepresent the Eric Bana character (he plays the husband of Sandler’s ex-girlfriend). It takes a lot for me to still care about a film when its main character becomes increasingly unlikable, but I still care even at the end of this picture. Rogan, who can be a weak link, instead is quite solid here as Sandler comes apart. This is sort of Adam Sandler’s version of Julia Roberts’s Notting Hill, only it’s not as good. 6/10

    Julie and Julia
    Everything people have said about Meryl Streep as Julia Child is true. What I really love about her portrayal is how totally physical her role is. Streep takes over Child’s body the way a lot of people take the wheel of a rental car, flinging it about with a jab here and a swivel there. One really gets the sense of this woman’s being so huge, and how larger than life her personality AND body are. Such a good job. Rachel McAdams is perfectly fine, but she’s not given the strongest story here. I don’t know exactly what weakens her half of the movie, because on paper it looks like a great idea. I will be surprised if Streep is not nominated for an Oscar here. 7/10.

    Ponyo
    Gotta agree with Reid on almost every point. I’m giving this film a weak 6/10 based strictly on its visuals, because the story does absolutely nothing for this film.

  169. pen

    The September Issue. Interesting, even for those who do not find fashion particularly interesting. One of the things I liked most about this documentary, is that it sets a lot of things up, but does not necessarily resolve them for you, nor do they beat you over the head with things.

    Yes, Anna Wintour is cold. Just a look froze me for awhile, and she wasn’t even directing “the look” at me. Yet, she was relaxed (as she could be on camera) with her daughter. She will seem vulnerable with her thin neck barely able to support the weight of her head, then she’d make me squirm in my seat as she’d raise her eyes and give her “bored” look. But the vulnerability will return as she talked about the things her siblings are doing (saving farms in Latin America, editor of The Guardian, etc.) and how they view her work as “amusing.” Her daughter, too, sees fashion as something not to take seriously. She wants to be a lawyer. Go figure.

    Just as they juxtapose Anna’s different sides, they showcase Anna (business minded, fashion forward, etc.) with Grace, who believes there is beauty all around her and wanting to capture that beauty or ugliness or truthfulness on camera. She sees the commercialism part of the magazine as a necessary evil, while Anna is fully engaged in that portion of it. Both women started as models. Both women started with the American Vogue on the same day. They balance each other as they butt heads and Vogue is a better magazine because they are both there.

    Throw in some colorful characters, an up-and-coming designer getting his first taste of fame and celebrity and the incredible back-drops of Rome, Paris and New York and you’ve got yourself quite a film.

  170. pen

    A Tale of Two Sisters (2003, South Korea). This horror film got a bit confusing for me. Once I read the synopsis in Wikipedia and imdb things became a lot clearer. Perhaps I was not paying enough attention, because I missed things that if I talk about it here, will get Reid to raving about not giving away too much of the plot, so I will simply say, “pay attention…especially toward the end.” With the reveals, it’s a much more clever and intricate plot than I originally thought.

  171. pen

    Capitalism: A Love Story. Michael Moore is more even-handed between the conservatives and the liberals in this film. During the film I found myself looking forward to his “stunts,” because they added some humor-relief to the overwhelmingly sad and depressing story Moore laid out. You won’t necessarily learn anything new, but it served as a good reminder for me about my role and commitment to social justice.

  172. Tony

    So I’m in Seattle for a few days. I attended an advance-screening of Where the Wild Things Are with the kid playing Max in attendance. Dave Eggers, who co-wrote the screenplay, was also there. They opened the movie, which showed at the Cinerama (which was amazing), with some talk about making the movie. The movie was pretty good. It has serious overtones but also has some nice moments of joy and fun. The “wild things” were quite believable, even when they did really weird things. And the character of Max is just the right blend of likable and frustrating.

    The movie is definitely worth seeing. It’s surprisingly straight-forward. It’s funny what you get used to with tv shows and movies that do flashforwards, flashbacks, and cutaways. Beautifully shot. Wonderfully scored. Definitely seeing once.

    (Plus I got to speak with Dave Eggers afterwards, which is one of the highlights of my adult life. One of my favorite writers of all time.)

  173. Reid

    Tony, you’re lucky to be in Seattle! I wish I were there with you.

    I look forward to seeing the film. It was one of those films (that I wanted to see) where I allowed myself to watch the trailers–which looked great.

  174. Mitchell

    Extract
    Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Kristin Wiig, Ben Affleck. Directed by Mike Judge.

    I really enjoyed this, but something could have been better and I’m not sure what. Bateman is his usual terrific self, and this is the second thing I’ve seen Mila Kunis in where she’s impressed me, and with the exception of a couple of things on SNL, I’ve never seen Kristin Wiig so good. I think it’s that the story, while interesting, isn’t especially compelling, ‘though I think that’s intentional. Is Jason Bateman a better-looking William H. Macy? He seems to be getting a lot of the roles that Macy might have several years ago. Not a waste of time, but not great. 6/10

    Inglourious Basterds
    Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, and others. Directed by Quentin Tarantino.

    What a good, fun, stylized movie. As with most QT films, quite a bit of willing suspension of disbelief is required, but Tarantino makes it easy to just let go of reality and to immerse yourself in the movie’s version of the world. The characters are big, saying big things that people probably wouldn’t ever say. They are put in big situations, the kind that stretch the limits of believability. The conflicts are suspenseful and thrilling, the action is startling and creative. The women are beautiful. The men are beautiful. The story is far-out. The setting is impossible to pinpoint even though you know the film is set in WWII, because there are anachronisms all over the place. Something of a cross between the Kill Bill films (because of its foreign locales and fantastic plot) and Jackie Brown (because of its suspenseful plot), this Inglourious Basterds will remind you of why you like OR dislike QT. 8/10.

    The Informant!
    Matt Damon and Scott Bakula.

    Damon does some really good acting here. Actually, so does Bakula. The story gets a little confusing, so I think I need to see it again, only I’m not really sure I care to. I think Damon’s acting is a lot better here than might seem obvious, only because his characters gets kind of annoying. But he finds a good note and pretty much holds it throughout the film, so that by the end you’re sorta forgetting how good he’s being. Kinda like Larry Linville in MASH. 6/10.

    The September Issue
    Documentary with Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington.

    Good (not great) documentary with some fantastic visuals. I love documentaries like this, where the camera seems practically to be spying on the people involved in something big, in this case the production of Vogue magazine’s September 2007 issue, which is the largest single issue of any magazine ever published at 840 pages. I’ve been a yearbook advisor for four years, and before that I was involved in college newspapers and literary journals, so I know that every issue of every publication has a hundred interesting stories behind its production. It was cool to see that played out here, with such interesting people. There’s drama and comedy and intrigue and suspense and politics and passion, and it’s all focused on one thing: to crank out a quality product. 7/10.

    The Invention of Lying
    Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Jonah Hill, Rob Lowe, Tina Fey. Directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson.

    It’s a good (not great) film set in an alternate world where everyone tells the truth all the time, until one man discovers he has the ability to tell a lie. In a fashion similar to another film that gives me lots to think about, Groundhog Day, the character goes through different stages in dealing with his new-found power, accidentally creating religion along the way. At its heart, it’s a love story, and it’s easy to feel for the Gervais character who is loved by Jennifer Garner but is not attractive to her.

    I have to say that I was in tears three or four times, mostly because of some of the very positive things that happen in the film that I found somewhat convicting. There are parts of the film that had me asking myself why I don’t have the kind of positive effect on people’s lives the main character demonstrates. Basically, I found myself asking (as I do when I watch Groundhog Day) why I don’t use the abilities and powers I have to be an encouragement to others, the way these characters can. It’s a tough question.

    But the film provokes other kinds of thinking too, about truth and lying, about negativity and positivity, about unhappiness and happiness, and even about sex and love. Overall, this film’s got a few weaknesses that prevent it from being great, but I will see it again because I think it’s got something important to say and I want to hear it again.

  175. Reid

    Inglourious Basterds (2009)
    Dir. Quentin Tarantino
    7/10

    I know Penny and Mitchell liked this. Larrilynn liked this, too. I liked this as my score indicates, but I feel a little lukewarm, too. I think Marc, Don, Chris and Kevin would enjoy this, but not be super excited.

    ***
    Penny calls this a “great film” and Mitchell gives this an 8. It’s not a great film, imo. Yes, the movie does move at a decent pace (although not great; I could understand if people thought the film dragged a little). Except for Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa–who I thought was terrific–I didn’t think the characters or the lines they delivered were memorable–certainly not close to any of the characters in Resevoir or Pulp. I thought Pitt’s performance and character were OK–funny at times, but missing something. The Jewish American soldiers were pretty uninteresting, too. (I really didn’t care for Eli Roth’s “Jewish Bear.”) The ending–particularly the fate of Landa–was a little disappointing.

  176. Marc

    I actually commented on “Basterds” back on September 16, where I noted the great building and release of tension in two specific scenes: the opening French farm scene and the basement bar scene. I also noted that I thought the ending was anti-climactic. Reid pretty much nailed it on the head when he guessed that I would like it (I did) but not be super excited about it (I wasn’t).

    Overall, my impression of Tarantino is that he writes snappy dialogue and creates interesting scenes/acts. Sometime he creates memorable characters. But I’m not convinced that he can sustain tension and energy throughout an entire film.

  177. Reid

    Sorry, I missed your post Marc. I liked the French Farm scene–mainly because of the acting of the two characters. The bar scene was good, too–although those type of scenes can be agonizing.

    I just want to mention again how interesting Waltz was–even seeing him crunch on the strudel was somehow engaging. Weird.

    Did you not think he sustained the tension and energy well enough in *Pulp Fiction* and *Resevoir Dogs*?

  178. Marc

    I thought *Pulp Fiction* was a terrific film with remarkable energy and tension. But I think it also played to Tarantino’s strengths because it could really be viewed as four 30 minute mini-films that were connected, not one long sustained film. Each of his vignettes were great and they combined into a very entertaining movie.

    I haven’t seen *Reservoir Dogs* so I can’t render judgement. I’ve seen *Jackie Brown* *Kill Bill* (both), and *Death Proof*. Based on those movies, I’m just not blown away with his feature length movies which focus on one over-riding story. But I am blown away by his ability to make specific scenes memorable.

    Regarding the bar scene in *Basterds*, I’m even more impressed because the scene was done in German with subtitles. I would have thought that a writer like Tarantino who relies so heavily on dialogue would struggle with scenes set in a different language, but clearly this isn’t the case. I loved almost every part of that whole sequence and didn’t find it agonizing at all.

    I think Tarantino was very clever in how he set up the *Basterds* plot and came to the ultimate resolution, but I just didn’t find the action at the end to be very compelling.

  179. Reid

    Good point about the German in the bar scene. On the other hand, I didn’t find the dialogue (translation) so memorable. Btw, when I say the scene was agonizing, that was actually a compliment. But the resolution of the bar scene was a little disappointing, partly because I was interested in seeing the psycho German develop in some interesting way. And that reminds me of another small reason I was a little let down. I was expecting to see more character development and action from the Jewish-American battalion.

    You may have a point about Tarantino being better at creating scenes than one long narrative.

    I didn’t really care for Jackie Brown and Kill Bill 1 and 2–although if I saw them together I might change my mind; then again, I didn’t care for the casting of Uma. Death Proof had a great scene, but the dialogue and characters weren’t that great.

    Btw, you should see Reservoir Dogs. It’s a notch below *Pulp Fiction*, but it’s good, and I think you will like it a little less than Pulp

  180. pen

    I enjoyed Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It a lot. I think she was able to get sincere, credible performances out of her actors. There were a few scenes that went on too long (pool scene) or were kinda cheesy (food fight), but forgivable, because the interaction between the characters were so real and lovely.

    Drew Barrymore casts herself in a minor role, which really feels like an indulgence on her part. There’s no real depth to her character, but she does some funny things. It would have been just as good a film without that character. Kristin Wiig does the best acting job that I’ve seen her do (and she’s been in a lot of movies recently). Ellen Page (main character) and Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern (as her parents) are also very, very good.

    There’s some cliche, but overall, a solid movie. I didn’t feel emotionally manipulated by the more “touching” scenes and the roller derby scenes are exciting. I found myself tensing up and holding my breath. I think it’s a good sign when you have to remind yourself to breathe during a movie. Entertaining stuff.

    Sunshine Cleaners was a pretty good movie. There are a lot of things to like about this movie…engaging characters, a relatable sub-text and humorous moments. And while I am glad I saw it and enjoyed watching this film, I am not overly excited about it. It was good and interesting, but something was missing or didn’t quite mesh to make it a great film. Kind of like eating decent Chinese food. Nothing you can point out that was particularly bad, but nothing to rave about either.

  181. pen

    I saw Fruit Fly a musical set in San Francisco about a performance artist moving into an apartment with a gay guy, a lesbian couple and a teenage runaway. It was a fun, raunchy movie (one of the songs was, “Fag Hag”), but also some dramatic overtones about finding one’s place in this world and the direction one decides to move in. Still, this movie does not take itself too seriously as one of the characters describes his distaste for the self-indulgent monologue…as he delivers it in a monologue.

    I’m kind of a sucker for musicals anyway, so I probably liked this more than others would. It was nice to see people of color starring in an American film. The cast was likeable (especially one of the supporting characters, Mark).

  182. Reid

    Lake of Fire (2006)
    Dir. Tony Kaye
    7/10

    I think Mitchell, Penny, Grace, Kevin, Chris, John, Tony and Marc would find this interesting. I think Jill, Joel and Don might also like this, too–but I wouldn’t say that they should go out of their way to see it. It would be interesting to hear your reaction.

    **
    This is documentary about abortion…well, to be more accurate I’d say it’s a documentary about abortion and a documentary about radical anti-abortion Christians (groups that advocate killing doctors that perform abortions).

    ***
    I had heard good things about this documentary, specifically that it was balanced. That is partly true, although I would say the film is slanted towards the pro-choice side. I say that because the film seems to focus on the lunatic fringe of the Right, but not the Left. (One could argue that the Right has more “lunatics” than the Left, but still….). More criticisms seemed to be directed toward the pro-life side, too–e.g. if they took all the orphans, they’d have more credibility. To be fair, I think the filmmaker challenges the pro-choice side, too; it’s just that the challenge seems stronger toward pro-life and pro-life advocates seem more fanatical and irrational.

    The film does have some thoughtful remarks by people like Nat Hentoff, Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz, among others (They really seemed to appreciate the difficulty of the issue, even though you sensed they held a position)–and I wished the filmmaker would have focused on these arguments and the counter-arguments to them in a more organized way. Instead, the filmmaker weaves the story of crazy pro-lifers, including several that murdered doctors who performed abortions between these remarks.

    On a personal level, I was shocked by one of the scenes that showed parts of an aborted fetus at twenty-weeks. I actually gasped out loud, out of horror and sadness. To me, it was clear that a baby–a human being–had been killed.

    Carnival of Souls (1962)
    Dir. Herk Harvey
    7/10

    I’d recommend this to Penny, although I don’t think she would love it. I do know there are elements that she would like about it. Other idiots like Mitchell, Grace, Kevin and Chris would find this interesting, although I wouldn’t recommend it to them strongly. Tony and John might also find this interesting. Joel might actually like this, although that’s a risky pick. I probably wouldn’t recommend this to Don, Jill and Marc. This not a film I really enjoyed, but I think it’s well-made and impressive, given the constraints it operates in.

    ***
    The film feels like a wannabe-director gets together some friends and a little money and makes a film. Sounds like a bad movie, right? Wrong. This is really a pretty well-made film–under the circumstances. That’s what I like about this film: that it manages to be pretty good, despite the limitations. For example, the acting is not very good (probably amateurs). The writing is serviceable, and you can tell they have no budget for special effects. But with some simple make-up and great casting for one of the main “apparitions,” this movie manages to create an effective spooky mood. The ending is a little predictable, but may have been more surprising for audiences in the 60s.

  183. Mitchell

    I must respectfully disagree about Reservoir Dogs being a notch below Pulp Fiction. While Dogs has much to recommend it, it is quite the raw, somewhat unsatisfying picture. Pulp Fiction seems to me a complete product, something Reservoir Dogs could have been if it had been made later, but then again maybe it was Tarantino’s experience with Dogs that made Pulp Fiction so great.

    Jackie Brown is considerably better than Reservoir Dogs for basically this reason. Where Dogs was a thrilling, interesting picture by a director who seemed not quite to have found his voice, Jackie Brown is deftly told with great attention paid to details. The dialogue, the soundtrack, the confidence Tarantino has in giving smaller parts to actors who are normally top-billers, they all combine in a way that is rather distinctly Tarantino. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the plot of this film, which is actually its strength even though it is quite the character-laden movie, is Elmore Leonard’s. Yes, I think Tarantino is a very good writer, but plot is perhaps his weakness. Given a strong, compelling plot and the freedom to drape his Tarantino-ness upon that plot, QT totally excels in what I think is his most satisfying picture. It’s his second-best film. I put Dogs below Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, and Inglorious Basterds in that order.

  184. Reid

    Pulp Fiction seems to me a complete product, something Reservoir Dogs could have been if it had been made later, but then again maybe it was Tarantino’s experience with Dogs that made Pulp Fiction so great.

    This is what I basically meant by calling it a notch below. Pulp Fiction is in a similar vein, everything (the scenes and overall story) click together in a way that Reservoir does not.
    But I certainly wouldn’t put Reservoir below Jackie and Inglourious. RD and PF both have more memorable characters and scenes than JB and IB, imo. Perhaps I need to see JB again, but I can’t remember the scenes or much of the dialogue from that film. The characters aren’t as memorable as the ones in RD either. In some ways, JB has a stronger story than RD, but without any great character, scenes, memorable dialogue–or effective recontextualizing of music–all the things that I really like about Tarantino. On the other hand, the story felt pretty bland. I remember leaving the theater thinking: that was it? Maybe I need to see it again.

    I don’t know if Marc saw JB, but I’m guessing Marc’s views will be similar to mine after he sees RD. Let us know the verdict, Marc.

  185. Marc

    I may get around to watching Reservoir Dogs but this is fairly low on my priority list… sorry…

    However, I’m blogging because Reid questioned whether I’ve seen Jackie Brown or not… and I definitely remember seeing Jackie Brown at the former Varsity Theater in Manoa… WITH REID!! I’m not surprised that Reid has forgotten this since that particular movie event is probably around #562 (or lower) in Reid’s movie watching experience. Either Reid or I (or both) are going senile and this is amusing…

    And to maybe interpret Mitchell’s comment about disagreeing that Reservoir Dogs is a notch below Pulp Fiction, I think I’m hearing him say that this is too generous to RD and that it’s several (or even many) notches below. Given how highly I regard Pulp Fiction, I think that a movie that is only ONE notch below would still be a very good movie…

  186. Reid

    Did we see that film together? Man.

    And yes, I do think Mitchell is saying RD is way below PF–or at least that JB and IB are above it. I think you’ll think RD is a good movie, Marc–if not very good.

  187. Reid

    Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
    Dir. Spike Jonze
    6/10
    My guess is that Mitchell would like this a lot, but I could be totally wrong–as some of the elements in the movie may fail to meet Mitchell’s specific expectations when it comes to fairy tales and children’s stories. I’d recommend this next to Penny and Grace. Kevin, Chris and Jill would be interested in this, although I don’t know if they would like this or not. Marc, Don, John and Joel would probably think this was OK (not something I would strongly recommend to them). I don’t think Larri would have liked this much.
    **
    If you don’t know this is based on the children’s book by Maurice Sendak. It is very different from the book (or at least what I remember), and may not be appropriate for some children. (I’ll go into the reasons later.)

    ***
    One of the best parts of the film for me were the monsters–the costumes, effects and puppeteers that brought these creatures to life were fantastic. I saw that Jim Henson’s crew was involved with the creatures, and all I can say is that we’ve come a long way from Dark Crystal. The life-life eyes and the expressiveness of the face stood out for me.
    On the other hand, other visual aspects of the film–like the cinematography, camera work, etc.–were a little disappointing for some reason. The use of the hand-held camera didn’t seem to be as appropriate to me and along with the editing I felt like my sight the scenes and characters were too constrained; I wanted to my eyes to see a lot more.

    Besides the visuals, I had mixed feelings. I liked that the film used the monsters to explore darker aspects of childhood–particularly the way the monsters were like children. (Actually, they reminded me of mentally ill patients–some of whom behave in childish ways.) When Max enters their world he gets to see himself from his mother’s perspective and perhaps gain a better understanding of himself. I guess, I felt let down by the ending and what Max actually gains from the experience. Of course, if a child could experience something similar and gain insight into himself and his situation, that would be valuable. But as an ending that seems unsatisfying. The realization that being an adult is difficult, that he behaves in violent largely out of fear are all valuable lessons, but I’m not sure the filmmakers convince me in a believable way that Max got all this.

    Other questions:

    What is the significance of Max becoming king? (He becomes the parent? He becomes the center of attention, someone important? All of the above?)

    What was the significance of the KW’s two owl friends? Could the monsters understand them or were they a kind of “imaginary friend?”

    Why did KW want to leave the group? (Carol’s violence and petulance?)

  188. pen

    I saw 4 films during HIFF (Hawai’i International Film Festival). If you care to read about them, check out this link: http://sweetlydemure.livejournal.com/

    Reid: Mitchell and I saw Where the Wild Things Are on Tuesday and it sparked an interesting discussion (I thought so anyway) about symbolism in the movie (and if it was intended or were we overanalyzing?) It was a complicated movie, not really geared toward children.

    I, too, loved the muppets! They were so expressive and real. Plus, it was funny that they found a kid named Max to play a character named Max.

  189. Reid

    So what were some of the things you guys talked about?

  190. pen

    ***spoilers***

    We talked about whether the monsters represented different parts of Max’s personality or that along with people/influences in his life. (Did KW rep Mom or maybe even sister? Judith his teacher?) Who or what did the owls (Bob and Terry) represent? What did it mean that Max and Carol couldn’t understand them while the others seemed to? Mitchell thought they were held against their will and the others just pretended to understand them. I thought the same until the knock-knock joke, then I thought while they may not have wanted to be felled and held, the others did actually understand what they were saying.

    We also discussed that even in this imaginary world where Max would have control, things still did not go well / as planned and the significance of that. Also, Mitchell asked if the monsters were any better off for having Max enter their world. I asked what is the significance of having a king? Why was it so important (especially to Carol) to have a king and the significance of them eating their previous kings. Was Max subconsciously looking for an authority figure? Someone to exert control when he felt he had no control? Was he trying to be the parent and did he realize that it was harder than he thought (re: his mom trying her best?)

    Mitchell had an interesting thought. He was wondering what KW might have stood for (if anything). He said the best he could come up with was: King of the World. Remember the inscription on the globe in Max’s room from his dad?

    Anyway, that’s a sampling. I’m sure you regret asking the question now. Heh.

  191. Reid

    No, I don’t regret it, although you might regret telling me because it will launch my own take on these issues! 🙂

    The more I think about what this film is about the more I think the monsters were manifestations of the type issues Max and, to a lesser extent, children in general struggle with. By becoming king Max becomes the center of attention (something the film suggests he lacked), but he also becomes the parent–the person responsible for the monsters, specifically their emotional well-being. In that way, the monsters are also like children or Max. Children need a parent to keep them safe, to provide boundaries–which includes helping children control their impulses. That last point was a big issue for Max–and Carol, who was a kind of alter-ego. He struggle to deal with his frustrations and control his temper (most dramatically displayed his biting his mother). Both Max and Carol wanted that from a parent/king, but never really adequately got that.

    I think the death of the kings underscored both the difficulty of parenting and the dark side of Max/Carol–and children/human beings in general. We have the potential for great violence in all of us, including children. Some people have this to a great degree and some can control it better than others. But violence is deeply connected to us, I think.

    I also think that Max’s experience helps him to realize the difficulty of being a parent as well as giving him an understanding of his own emotions. To the filmmaker’s credit, they don’t show Max getting this in any overt way. My sense is that this is the value of the experience.

    But that was one of my problems with the film. I don’t know if I bought the fact that this was something that Max got. Perhaps if Max was older–say in 11 or 12–I would have bought it. Also, the lessons about children and parents, etc. seem a bit too obvious and, in some ways, pat. The idea of using the monsters to deal with these issues–and the filmmakers that brought these monsters to life–were terrific, the best part of the film for me. But the handling of the material seemed wanting for some reason.

    There might have been another false step for me, and that involved the scene where Max and Carol initially connect when they destroy the houses. I’d have to watch the scene again, but I think that this impulse to destroy was mostly a negative thing in Max. He sort of lost control when this happens, and both Max and Carol seemed to regret acting this way. Yet, in this scene, it’s a positive, joyous type of emotion and activity. That seems a bit false.

    I’m still not sure about the owls, too. You both make good points. I just thought of another possible interpretation: maybe they represented the mom’s new boyfriend. They were a threat to Carol and actually precipitated the breakdown of the community (family). You could see Max’s perceiving the presence of the boyfriend in that way. The fact that Carol and Max can’t understand the owls further underscores the “foreign” nature of the boyfriend. I don’t know, if I buy that just yet, but it sounds decent.

    Did Mitchell like it?

  192. Mitchell

    [spoilers]

    I totally don’t think the destruction of the houses in that first scene on the island is joyous at all. It’s clear that Carol is full of anger and confusion and angst. Max might joyfully jump in, but that doesn’t make it a joyful scene, especially when Max sees that he’s damaged the house of someone who’s still inside.

    What I really like about this film is what I also really like about the book: It just tells this story, and it doesn’t try to moralize or preach or anything. Like the sad story Max tells his mother about the vampire who loses his fangs, sometimes a story’s value is in its telling alone, and not in whatever message we’re supposed to get from it. The best children’s literature is like this anyway: what lesson is supposed to be gathered from Scrambled Eggs Super, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, or Harold and the Purple Crayon?

    I like how several sequences are designed just to be looked at, like when Max and KW are walking through the desert, or when Max is traveling across the ocean. Like pages in a book.

    I found the story kind of confusing, but in the end I felt pretty satisfied, and some of the satisfaction came with not knowing the answers to all my questions. I like that the story ends sweetly, but with enough ambiguity not even to be sure of what happened in the real-life part. When Max is sitting there eating chocolate cake and his mom falls asleep, are we sure that’s not all that happened once Max was sent to his room with no dinner? Maybe the boyfriend went home after dinner and Max was allowed to come back downstairs and have cake. Remembering that the events in the book happen when Max is sent to his room makes this a real possibility.

    The film has grown on me the more I’ve thought about it and discussed it, and I want to see it again. Especially since I (appropriately!) fell asleep during a few long sequences.

    Oh, and I love the soundtrack, especially the stuff with Karen O’s lead vocals, like in the closing credits.

    A tentative 7/10 pending a second viewing.

  193. Reid

    (spoilers)

    Re: the destruction of houses

    When Max jumps in and starts banging on the houses, Carol says something like, “See, he gets it.” And he says this in a positive way. They then go on smashing the houses as if it were fun. This is how I remember it anyway.

    At first I was going to say that the film doesn’t really preach or explain the lessons learned, but thinking about it more, I think it does. The lessons seem obvious and rather simple–one of my problems–namely that being a parent and being in charge is not an easy thing. Parents are suppose to have all the answers, solve all the problems, provide for every need, but obviously parents are not like this. Max’s discontent partially stems from this–that his parents (and sister) fail him. When he becomes the king, I think the film is saying that he gains an understanding of this. In addition, Max also gains some understanding of the darker impulses within him–the often uncontrollable aggression, for example. This films depicts this enlightenment when he’s in the stomach (womb) of KW he gains this understanding and then he is reborn.

    Btw, a part of me feels Max’s realization seems more believable for an older child (pre-teen). Indeed, I think the film may be best suited for 11-13 year olds because they would be able to understand it. It’s too difficult and confusing for younger children and, perhaps, too obvious for adults.

    Can you articulate what made you confused about the film? I’m asking because there were aspects of the film that didn’t feel right (like the example above), and I’m wondering if we had the same problem.

  194. Tony

    Caught a couple of movies this weekend.

    Friday night I saw A Serious Man at Kahala. While I will probably never see it again, the movie is one that I will be thinking about for some time to come. It pretty much plays out as an almost-modern take on the book of Job. It is quite dark, and there’s not an awful lot of redemption in the piece. But it is wonderfully-acted and thought-provoking. I suppose it was cringe-worthy because of how “true” it actually is, especially in terms of the struggles of a religious seeker in today’s elusive religious culture.

    Today I saw Still Walking at Kahala. It’s the latest Japanese import. It has a perfect 100% at Rottentomatoes.com. It deserves the rating. It is the most non-sentimental family movie I have ever seen. Nothing comes across as forced except the movies relentless attempt at showing you the beauty of the everyday. The dialogue is terse. The photograph is beautiful. It’s 2 hours of immersion in the life of a family on a very important day in their familial history. It may not be for everybody, but it probably should be.

  195. pen

    Law-Abiding Citizen. Interesting movie with an ending my co-worker didn’t like, but while it may have been a little pat/too tidy/a bit heavy-handed, I was okay with it. I did not feel cheated or anything. Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx do a good job and play off each other well. The movie is violent, and I think wants to be a little more complex and psychologically thrilling than it manages to be. Still, good popcorn movie with some interesting heavy-handed nuances.

  196. pen

    Chuck, Mitchell, Marshall and I saw Near Dark and the documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Woods and its follow up, Paradise Lost: Revelations on Halloween at Reid and Larrilynn’s house.

    Near Dark was kind of slow and not very engaging, until the last quarter of the movie. Then things picked up and I started to care what was happening. It was not very scary and there was some gore, but not overly so.

    Paradise Lost seemed to raise more questions among us than answers. I guess it is because the documentarians focused on the trial and the defendants’ lives more than the investigation of the murders. They had amazing access to the court system in the first movie, which was restricted in the second. The second focused on one of the victims’ step-father who is an odd duck. A kind of scary, unstable duck. I think we agreed that he was like a preacher turned professional wrestler. He also seemed to love the camera and the attention it brings.

    The most compelling of the three defendants is Damien Echols. He is smart, disenfranchised and possibly a psychopath. Or he could just be a misunderstood, arrogant kid who feels he’s smarter than most of the adults around him (which he may be). Was he convicted based on evidence not presented to the documentary viewer and/or something the jury saw that I did not see? Or was he convicted because he was different in a city that treats difference with fear and suspicion? Unfortunately the second, follow-up documentary does not manage to shed much light on that either.

  197. Mitchell

    Rolling into Oscar season I’ve seen 29 films in theaters so far. According to my ratings, the 15 best are

    9
    Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

    8
    Inglourious Basterds
    Star Trek
    Up

    7
    Adventureland
    Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
    Julie and Julia
    Sin Nombre
    The Invention of Lying
    The Proposal
    The September Issue
    Where the Wild Things Are
    Whip It
    White on Rice
    X-Men Origins: Wolverine

    I saw all but one (Ponyo) on Tuesday nights, usually after work. Honestly, that factors into my decision-making because after work I’m seldom in the mood for a serious, thoughtful picture. I don’t know if I’m more likely to see the Oscar contenders as we head into that season, but I suppose if those pictures make up the majority of what’s available, I might.

    My up-through-mid-November picks:

    • Best actor: Matt Damon, The Informant! (2nd: Ricky Gervais, The Invention of Lying)
    • Best supporting actor: Alan Rickman, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2nd: Stanley Tucci, Julie & Julia)
    • Best actress: Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia (2nd: Jennifer Garner, The Invention of Lying)
    • Best supporting actress: Helena Bonham Carter, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2nd: Marcia Gay Harden, Whip it. Almost 2nd: Kristin Wiig, Whip It)
    • Best picture: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  198. Reid

    Paradise Lost spoilers

    According to the “Free the West Memphis 3” site, eyewitnesses reports establish that Terry Hobbs, a stepfather to one of the boys, was the last one to see the boys. The site also says that they found hairs of Terry Hobbs (not Mark Byers), the stepfather to Steven Branch, one of the murdered boys. Another hair of Hobbs friend–someone who was supposedly playing guitar with Hobbs hours before the boys’ death–was also found at the site.

    This is the kind of details that I wish the filmmakers had covered in both films. They didn’t have the DNA evidence, although they could have attempted to identify who were the last people that saw the boys. That seems simple enough, and it would have helped the audience make up their own mind about the likelihood that the defendants committed the crime.

    Here are some other interesting details:

    The bodies bore hundreds of wounds including a reported castration — evidence of a ritualistic, satanic slaying, prosecutors suggested at trial.

    Prosecutors’ assertions of a satanic motive was key to the convictions of then-teenagers Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin, all widely rumored to have been involved in cult activities. The three, all now in their 30s, are in prison; Echols is on Death Row.

    However, forensic reports offered by the defense attribute nearly all those injuries to predators — possibly dogs or raccoons — who fed on the bodies after death.

  199. Mitchell

    Marc wrote

    On the lighter side, I just finished “The Blind Side” by MIchael Lewis – author of “Moneyball.” It’s sort of a football treatise written with some of the tools and style that were used to describe baseball in his previous work. But this book uses the story of one young high school football player who has a rather amazing set of circumstances to connect some changes in football strategy over the years, college football recruiting, and racial/economic class struggles. I found it entertaining and enlightening and recommend to those who are at least mildly interested in football/sports.

    I saw The Blind Side last night. Cry cry cry cry cry cry cry. Sandra Bullock has an outside chance at an Oscar nomination she probably doesn’t deserve, but she’s quite good here. Tim McGraw surprised me with a very Beau-Bridges-like, low-key performance as Bullock’s supportive husband. The cute actress who plays their teenaged daughter is Phil Collins’s daughter, which doesn’t add anything to the film but she’s a nice character. I wasn’t fond of the actor who plays the young son.

    As a teacher of students who learn differently (and often need to be assessed differently), I was moved by the way Michael Oher eventually found academic success. There’s much more to like here, of course, but don’t expect a football movie. This is really more of a family drama of the major tear-jerker variety. I cried nearly all the way through it.

    If this film hadn’t been based on someone’s real-life story, I’d have found it intolerably sappy. However, because Michael Oher was a first-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens and has started every game so far in this, his rookie season, it was a lot easier to buy what the movie was selling. I give it a fond 7/10.

    Pirate Radio
    A fun story with fun performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rhys Ifans (he’s the gangly fellow who plays Hugh Grant’s roomie in Notting Hill). The soundtrack is killer, with a lot of very familiar tunes and also a lot of unfamiliar tunes that sounded great. An interesting effect the soundtrack had on me: I never noticed how menacing, how bordering on wickedness songs like “The Letter” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” are. Really cool.

    The story, set in real circumstances but completely made up, borders on the fantastic, but the characters are fun enough and the music is great enough to make this a good rock and roll movie. Not sure how people not into the music will get into it, but I like the little plots and sub-plots that move through this fun setting. A solid 7/10.

    —–

    Amelia

    I really like the Hillary Swank / Richard Gere pairing here. I’m not a big Gere fan; however, I think he’s pretty good in this supporting role. Swank is really good the way she always is. She sinks so completely into a role that I think it’s easy to forget what a good actress she is; you admire the acting but I think she makes it look effortless so that you don’t really notice her skill. It’s too bad the material surrounding her is kind of weak. The story is rather slow and not very interesting, to be honest. The cinematography will probably win nominations; it’s very good. I’m not sure this film could have been better than it is and still be about what it’s about. 6/10.

    —–

    White on Rice
    It’s probably unnecessary for me to issue the disclaimer that I love Japanese women with Japanese accents. In this film, that’s the Japanese actress Nae Yuuki (billed here simply as Nae), whose brother is a forty-year-old loser from Japan doing dead-end jobs in America. His wife has left him, so he’s living in L.A. with his sister, her husband, and their ten-year-old son. Jimmy’s life is going nowhere, mostly because he’s something of an idiot, but he’s charming and mostly sincere, so he’s likeable. He develops a crush on Ramona, a twenty-something niece (by marriage) played by Lynn Chen in a very Kelly Hu kind of performance. She looks like Hu and acts like Hu and even sounds like Hu. So that part was pretty hot. Jimmy makes a fool of himself as he rejects one woman after another while causing his family stress and chasing Ramona. It’s not a great film by any definition, but it’s fun and entertaining. 7/10.

  200. Reid

    I need to catch up on a bunch of reviews, but I wanted to mention one of the better films I’ve seen all year.

    Vertical Ray of the Sun (2000)
    Dir. Ahn Hung Tran
    8/10

    I’d recommend this to the following idiots: Kevin, Grace, Chris, Mitchell, Penny, Tony and Jill. I think Don, John and Marc could also get into this, but I’d not as confident about. I’m even less sure about Joel.

    **
    This Vietnamese film starts off with a brother and sister waking up, getting ready to attend a memorial for their mother’s death. They go to meet two other sisters. In the process, we learn about each sister’s love interest–each with a different set of challenges. The story is accessible and sort of melodramatic (but not cheesy), so people not into foreign/art films can get into this. (Larri was enjoying it before she had to do something else.) I thought of films like *Eat, Drink, Man, Woman* (but better) or *Joy-Luck Club* (but not as melodramatic)

    ***
    While the movie has a pretty conventional narrative, the movie is like an art film in that it is gorgeous to look at, particularly the colors, which I almost want to call deliriously sumptuous. A lot of that has to do with the lighting and set pieces (loved the architecture of the homes–with nature flowing from inside and out). The lighting is that harsh light that gives a glamorous, romantic similar to Christopher Doyle in Wong-kar Wai films. The mise-en-scene is also very good. The film would almost be worth watching for the visuals alone.

    Luckily the stories involving the characters are also appealing. My favorite is of the oldest sister and her husband.

    Man, what a movie.

  201. pen

    I don’t usually like end-of-the-world by natural disaster or act of God films, but I liked 2012. Not just because John Cusack is in it…anyone could have been in any of those roles, but he does a nice job, as always. Not just because the girl who plays his daughter is a really cute kid. But I liked this movie, because there was more to it than the world ending and thus the desire to make amends amongst your loved ones. There are larger themes addressed here and for the most part, this big-budget movie does a fairly good job (altho’ it does get a bit preachy towards the end). The suspense was handled well and the film was paced well. More than I thought it was going to be. 7/10.

  202. Reid

    Precious (2009)
    Dir. Lee Daniels
    65/100

    I’d guess that Penny has the best chance of liking this. Next, I would choose Mitchell, Chris, Tony, John, Kevin and Jill. I don’t know if these idiots woud like the film or find it great, but they would be interested in the subject matter and the film is good enough that it wouldn’t be a waste of time. I think Marc, Don and Joel might like it, but I can’t see them really liking the film to the point where I would tell them to go see it.

    One thing to keep in mind is that my own relatively lukewarm reaction to the film could stem from my own personal experiences with similar people. In other words, the film’s impact may not have been as strong or poignant because I have a familiarity with similar people. I will say that I thought the main character and her mother felt pretty authentic to me.

    **
    The film is based on a true story of a 350 pound illiterate black 16 year old girl who is abused by her mother. The girl, Precious, also has had one child with her father and another on the way. The story chronicles her attempts to improve herself and her life.

    ***
    First let me talk about an obvious problem I had with the film. There is an inspirtational teacher” component to the story that is totally cliched and in the same mold as films like Freedom Writers, Dangerous Minds, etc. The glamour and beauty of the actor playing the teacher didn’t help matters. Also, Precious’ classmates didn’t seem believable–not in terms of their behavior, but also in how supportive they were of each other and Precious.

    There were also some creative moments of the film that just fell flat for me. I’m speaking of the fantasy sequences which Precious enters when she enters into painful situations. These give the film an arty-feel, but they were not very imaginative, imo.

    OK, so what worked? I thought the actor who played Precious did a solid job. I also think the actor who played the mother is deserving of an Academy nomination. Her final scene was quite effective and real for me. However, I thought the scene would have been more powerful if the filmmakers had shown more of her positive feelings towards Precious earlier in the film. In the final scene the mother expresses love for her daughter and that felt real, but the lack of any degree of positive feelings towards Precious in the previous scenes weakened the credibility of this powerful moment.

    Finally, a word about the ending. As terrible as the mother’s actions were, I still felt tremendous deal of compassion for her. Here is a woman is both ingorant, almost in a Medieval sense, and so needy for love, that it warrants our pity and compassion. Her terrible actions come out of these weaknesses–not out of some calculated or intentional evil. I don’t blame Precious for her reaction, but I wished the filmmakers would have had a more compassionate response to the mother.

  203. Marc

    65/100??? Good grief. First the four and five point scales weren’t enough. Now the ten point scale isn’t enough??

  204. Marc

    With my somewhat simpler rating system for new movies:

    Fantastic Mr. Fox: enjoyed a lot.

    A Christmas Carol (Jim Carrey): Liked, didn’t love. It helped that I saw it in 3D at IMAX.

    Up: Enjoyed a lot

    Paranormal Activity: Liked. Enjoyed the tension. The movie certainly was unnerving. May have enjoyed more if all the hand-held camera action didn’t make me so nauseated.

    New Moon: Absolutely LOVED… just kidding. Haven’t seen it and don’t plan to…

  205. Reid

    Harakiri (1962)
    Dir. Masaki Kobayashi
    90/100

    This is terrific film. I strongly recommend this to Kevin and Chris. I want to give just as strong endorsement to Penny, Mitchell and Grace. I know they would be impressed with this, if not really like it. Next, I would recommend this to Don, Marc, John and Tony. This would also keep the attention of Joel, Jill and Larri, but I don’t know how much they would ultimately like the film. I could eventually give this a higher rating.

    **
    Before I talk about the plot, let me say that this film is not hard to get into. From the beginning, the film will hold and keep your attention. Also, someone on another site claimed that Kobayashi is better than Kurosawa, which I was skeptical about. Well, Kobayashi may not be better, but this film puts him on the same level.

    On to the plot. A ronin (Tatsuya Nakadai) approaches a clan, requesting that he use their courtyard to commit seppuku. This is categorized as a “samurai” film, but that can be misleading. Most of the action takes place in the dialogue, although there are some action sequences. This is definitely a film that transcends the genre.

    ***
    This was a great film to look at (i.e. compositions, cinematography, etc.) and easy to get into. What’s fascinating is how riveting the dialogue was in this film: there’s the storytelling that’s so captivating, but then there are scenes that are almost like great courtroom debate. And I never knew what direction the film was going to take. Finally, I just loved the way the film offered a critique not just towards tradtional samurai values, but large institutions/governments. Awesome!

    Along with Vertical Ray of the Sun, this was one of the best films I’ve seen all year.

    Addendum: This did NOT make the 1001 list, which is a huge oversight imo.

  206. Don

    re: Harakiri

    I seen this and did like it a lot (although there were some slow parts if I remember correctly). In fact I think once over the phone you asked me what I’ve seen recently on Netflix and I told you I seen this. I told you, you should watch it, but I had no idea you would like it this much.

  207. Reid

    Dang, I don’t remember that conversation at all. So what did you give this movie? Btw, if you liked this, I highly recommend High and Low. The story and context are very different, but I think anyone who really liked Harakiri will also really like High and Low. I recommend watching it knowing little or nothing about it.

    Marc, if Don really liked this, there’s a good chance you would like it, too.

    OK, on to some quick (hopefully) reviews of recent films I’ve seen:

    United 93 (2006)
    Dir. Paul Greengrass
    68/100

    I have a difficult time knowing who would like this or not. There are aspects that other idiots would like (Don and Marc especially comem to mind.) But I guess you’re decision to see this depends on your willingness to go through the events on 911. I’ll go into that in the next section.

    **
    For those of you who don’t know, the film is about the passengers that attempted to take over the plane and eventually stopped the terrorists from hitting their intended target. I had no desire to see this (or any of the other films about the events on 911), even though critics seemed to rave about this. I thought that the positive reviews came from not wanting to appear unpatriotic or unsupportive of the vicims and their families more than the actual quality of the film. In one way, I think I was wrong. This is a well-made movie and there are some really riveting moments in the film (and I’m sure all of you would agree). Greengrass decision to use a lot of unknown actors was a good move and his documentary style really made a more powerful impact.

    On the other hand, I don’t feel like the film added very much to my understanding of the events of that day (there a few exceptions, which I’ll go over in the next part), particularly the events that occurred on the plane. Because of that, if I knew what I know now, I probably could take or leave this film. There are some really exciting and riveting parts early, but they’re also a bit stressful/painful, too.

    ***
    The parts I’m talking about are the activity of the air-traffic controllers–including the military (NORAD) that tracked the planes taken over by terrorists. This part was absolutely exciting–but again, a little stressful and sad. The military’s performance in this was less than to be desired and a little shocking. (They had a hard time getting planes in the air–at one point, only four to protect the whole Eastern seaboard!) They–and the other traffic controller–had difficult identifying and tracking the planes–which planes were OK, which were flown by terrorists and which ones crashed, etc. It did not inspire confidence, I can tell you that.

    Carrie (1976)
    Dir. Brian DePalma
    72/100

    Penny should see this and a part of me also thinks Mitchell and Tony should see this as well. I think Grace, Kevin, Chris would be interested in this as well, but it’s not something I think they would totally like. Ditto Marc, Don, Joel, Jill and John. Oh, I saw this because it appears in the 1001 book. It’s an OK pick, but it could have easily not made the cut.

    **
    This is a Stephen King adaptation of a senior in high school, Carrie, who is a social outcast that gains telekinetic powers at the onset of her period. (She starts late for some reason). The film would fall into the horror genre–although by today’s standards the horror elements are relatively tame. I really liked the concept, which a kind of revenge fantasy for teenage social outcasts.

    ***
    There are some very good cinematic moments in the film. The early shower scene–with the panning camera, while the audience can only hear the score. The best scene, however, starts with one of the characters discovering the prank against Carrie (to her horror) and ending with Carrie going on a rampage. The use of slow motion and once again, muting the live action sounds and only playing the score.

    However, there were some problems I had with the film. First, Piper Laurie as Carrie’s fanatical and crazy Christian mother was silly and took away from the film. (DePalma use of Christian imagery and references seemed empty, too.) Next, the filmmakers needed to do a better job of establishing Amy Irving and William Katt’s characters, specifically that they were capable of doing something nice for Carrie–particularly giving up her senior prom and her date for Carrie! Finally, I was a bit disappointed that the gym teacher dies. She genuinely seemed to care for Carrie. But that’s a minor quibble. Btw, I liked the ending, which seemed like a fairly good horror ending.

    OK, one more.

    An Education (2009)
    Dir. Lone Scerfig
    68/100

    Mitchell really liked this, and I’d guess Tony probably would, too. I think Penny, Jill and Grace’s reaction would be mildly liking this to really liking it. I’d be a little surprised if Chris and Kevin really liked this. Don and Marc would probably think this is OK; Joel, too, but maybe even less so. I’m not sure about John.

    **
    This is based on a memoir that deals with a seventeen year old British girl. Jenny, in the 1960s. Her parents hope she can get into Oxford, but along comes a dashing older man, who brings excitement into her life.

    This film has gotten some Oscar buzz, specifically for Carey Mulligan. Yes, she is solid in this, as well as Peter Sarsgaard, but I wouldn’t have considered her for a nomination.

    ***
    I think the acting was solid in this, and the film held my attention for the most part, but the story is rather bland and predictable. Jenny runs off with this man that’s too good to be true and learns the hard way, that, indeed he was too good to be true. She picks herself up by the boot straps and proceeds with her life.

    At the same time, I felt the film had something beneath the surface, perhaps an interesting insight or point to make. But I’ve given this film some thought, and I haven’t found anything to take it beyond on the surface. Mitchell has a more interesting take on the film, although I didn’t really buy his explanation. Hopefully, he’ll share some of that later.

  208. Reid

    Ballast (2008)
    Dir. Lance Hammer
    77/100

    I think Kevin would have the most interest in this and the best chance of liking this. Chris and Penny would be next, followed by Mitchell (some of the filmmaking he will love), Grace and Tony. John might like this, too, but I’m less certain. I think the chances are slim that Joel, Jill, Larri, Don and Marc would like this. This is one film where I recommend reading the next section to help your decision.

    **
    This was Roger Ebert’s number one film of 2008. It’s a very good film, but I’m not sure it warrants that choice. Most of you would agree with me (and some of you would be scratching your head in confusion). Before I describe the plot, I must say that the film is not about plot or story. How much you like this film depends heavily on finding a meaningful interpretation for the film. (There is one—and makes the film a very good one, imo.)

    The film follows three black characters: Lawrence, a man who has just experienced a tragic loss; Marlee, a struggling single-parent mom and her son, James, who is headed down the wrong path. While there’s not much to the story, Hammer does a fairly good job of drawing the audience in and keep them guessing. Often the scenes raise questions that you want answered. For example, one of the first scenes is of a man peering into a dark room, and we see a silouette of a silent man. The man peering is asking to come in, but the silent silouette says nothing. One can’t be sure if he’s threatening or just somber, which pulls the audience in. On the other hand, others may find this approach not active enough and may be bored by the film.

    In the next section, I’m going to write my interpretation of the film.

    ***
    There’s a plot point in the film involving James crossing a drug gang. Add to that Lawrence’s calm and even caring reaction to James’ repeated robberies of him, and I wondered if the film would end with Lawrence saving James in a dramatic confrontation with the gang–which would be a more conventional resolution. But because that didn’t happen, I knew the film was going for something else, possibly more profound.
    Indeed, I believe the film has a profound message about the needs of African-American families, in general, and young African-American males, specifically.

    I don’t care for “message movies,” particularly where the message is banal and un-insightful, and while the film’s point is not very revelatory, the quiet way it makes this point, through a gradual unfolding of the characters and their lives, makes the film noteworthy and powerful. For example, the film begins with the characters’ lives in disarray: Marlee, the young mother, is losing her son to the streets and losing her job only makes matters worse; Lawrence losing his twin brother (Marlee’s lover and the biological father to James) brings him to the point of despair and even suicide.

    But then the characters begin to turn their lives around. Marlee gets an opportunity to run a store—with the flexibility and support (including childcare provided by Lawrence) to raise James. Lawrence moves out of his depression to help both Marlee and James, and the way Hammer shows this—versus explaining–is really crucial. One scene stands out: After Lawrence takes out his gun (probably to kill himself), he realizes that James has taken his bullets, and he rushes out to find James because he thinks James has a gun. When James shows where he threw the bullets away and that there is no gun, there is little reaction from anyone—but we can infer several things: there is relief that James didn’t have a gun and that both James and Marlee realize the precariousness of James’ life. A little later Lawrence gets into the car with Marlee and James, and I believe this signifies that Lawrence has decided to put James’ interests ahead of his own (including the pain of Marlee’s rejection). This is the final shot in the film and it makes a powerful statement—all the more so, precisely because of the minimal dialogue and lack of overt drama. Instead, the filmmakers rely on the audience to infer what has happened and piece together the significance of the scenes—making the “message” and meaning exist in the audiences’ imagination. This is what gives the film its power.

    So how do I interpret the ending and the film as a whole? For me, the film seems to address the necessary elements for stability in the African-American family (or perhaps any family). Single-mothers need economic opportunity and quality childcare/education for their children. That is their “ballast.” For African-American men, the film may not identify the keys to their stability, but it does strongly suggest that whatever their disappointments and frustrations, that they need to put the needs of African-American children, specifically young boys, ahead of all other considerations. Perhaps, this will give “weight” and meaning to their lives, but, in any event, it should be done. The support and involvement of a man combined with a mother who has the economic means and social support is what young African-American boys like James needs. And that’s ultimately the message of the film.

    One last word to some viewers who will undoubtedly call the film boring or pointless. The spare story and lack of overt drama not only allows the audience to construct the meaning and “message” in their minds, but it allows for a richer interpretation for the film, which wouldn’t occur if the filmmaker was more didactic. Moreover, explicit points made by directors can come across as heavy-handed and awkward, and these simple scenes avoid that pitfall.

    Addendum: I don’t want to put in the time to rearrange my review to insert additional comments, so I’ll just haphazardly spew them out here. I really wanted to mention similarities between this film and Michelangelo Antonioni–particularly L’Avventura. No, I don’t think Ballas is on the same level, but it has a similar approach–e.g. the bare-bones storyline; the characters as symbols and even the ending.

  209. Reid

    Dear Zachary (2009)
    Dir. Kurt Kuenne
    78/100

    I recommend this to all the idiots–in that I know it will hold your attention. I might offer a word of caution to Mitchell–not that he would think it’s a bad film, but that it might be something he doesn’t want to watch. But besides him, I’d recommend this to everyone else. I had heard about this from someone online, and I got into this film. I’m sure all the other idiots will, too. You don’t know have to know more–and you shoudn’t–but read on if you want to. (Beware of reading reviews of this, as it might reveal too much.) If you have netflix, this is available for instant viewing.

    **
    This is documentary about Andrew Bagby, a friend of the filmmaker, who died. Kuenne learning that his childhood friend was into photography from a college classmate inspired Kuenne to make this film. What other things did he not realize about this good friend? His friend would no longer be there to reveal these things, so Kuenne sets out to interview the people that knew his friend.

    There’s a lot I’m not revealing about this film, but trust me, it is gripping and intense. If you’re not in the mood for an intense, emotional film, don’t watch this. But it is very engaging and easy to watch in that regard.

    ***
    This film is a sledgehammer, and even now as I attempt to write about it I’m having difficulty. It’s probably one of the more emotional, and at times, harrowing films I’ve seen. The polar opposites in the film–people of so much warmth, charm and love (Andrew and his family), on the one hand, and an individual that is truly creepy and scary, on the other. It still reeling a little every time I think about it. Some quick thoughts:

    I’m a little uncomfortable by black-and-white portrayals of people. In this case, the Bagby’s come across as saints (which they really seem to be in many ways–or at least they’re just super decent and caring people) and Shirley Turner comes across as the incarnate of evil. No doubt, she has some serious problems, but a part of me wants to know about her, what made her the way she was. It’s too much to ask of Kuenne to do that, but still, I have that interest. Despite the terrible things she did, I believe she’s a human being, not a devil. We all have evil in us, but some people, for whatever, reason can’t control it or it manifests itself to a greater extent.

    Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
    Dir. Wes Anderson
    Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, etc.
    67/100

    Mitchell, Penny, and Marc liked this film, and I would recommend this to Jill, Tony, Kevin, Chris and Joel. I’m going to take a chance and recommend this to Don. I think he could really like this, and at worst, he would just think it was OK. I’m not sure about John.

    **
    The animated (stop-motion) film is based on a Roald Dahl story. After revealing that she’s pregnant, Mrs. Fox (Streep) makes Mr. Fox (Clooney) promise to give up stealing livestock. But when the Foxes move in a view of three industrial type farms the temptation is too great. He, along with a new friends and family get caught up in his schemes, which lead to inevitable trouble. Can the fantastic Mr. Fox prove that he can save the day?

    ***
    I felt excited at the beginning of this film. I loved the world Anderson created, and the I found myself laughing and smiling at the characters. But then as the movie progressed, imperceptibly, something happened. The characters and story didn’t seem to develop in any interesting ways; the jokes were amusing, but most often failed to be sufficiently funny. I don’t know if I can pinpoint the problem, but the film started dragging at points. (The same sort of thing happened in *The Royal Tennebaums”, too.) It was really maddening because I wanted to like this film and it just seemed to drift or miss the level of entertainment that would be satisfying. It’s not a bad film, but that’s precisely the source of frustration: it just misses being completely satisfying.

    Part of me wonders if the writing is the main source of the problem. For one thing, I think the film could have benefited from clever gag writers, like the kind in Pixar films. I thought Kylie could have been hilarious side-kick, and he is funny at times, but at other times he’s just flat. (Maybe the actor was the problem, too, but I think the writing is the bigger problem.) Yes, Anderson has a quirky sense of humor and it works well at times, (I really liked Ash!) but he need to sustain that with all his characters. And maybe some of his characters need the kind of witty lines that sitcom writers are so good at.

    Also, I think the main characters lack soul and hearts; I didn’t care about them enough. Again, compare this to the characters in Pixar films, and you see what I’m driving at. This lack of concern could be the reason the drama in the story seems so flat at times. In any event, I found this film enjoyable, but frustrating, too because I thought it could have been better.

    Blast of Silence (1961)
    Dir. Allen Baron
    71/100

    I wouldn’t recommend this to Don, Marc, Jill, Joel, Larri, John and probably Tony, too. I wouldn’t recommend this to Mitchell, Penny or Grace, too, although they would find interesting things about it. Chris and Kevin would have the best chance of liking this, but I wouldn’t push them to see this either.

    I had never heard of this, but it got the criterion treatment, and I had heard some good comments about the film. Plus, I liked the title, and I was really in the mood for film-noir.

    **
    This films really is a minor miracle in that Baron, a struggling actor, knew almost nothing about directing and had almost no money. What results is a solid work of art–think of European film-noir (a la Jean-Pierre Melville), worthy of the criterion treatment, imo.

    The film is about a hitman who goes to New York to kill a middle level mafia type. He’s a hard, even slightly delusional person, but he runs into some childhood friends; and that brings out painful parts of him.

    ***
    There are some wonderful cinematic moments in this film–made even more miraculous given the lack of experience and resources of the filmmaker: the opening sequence of the train coming through the tunnel that starts off as a dot of light, while the hard-boiled narrator speaks about the main character’s literal birth; the long shot of the killer walking from far off coming straight into the camera, etc. (A British paper mentioned the next Orson Welles, which goes to far, but you can understand the enthusiasm.)

    Having said that–and this is going to seem unkind–I think a better actor in the lead role could have really elevated this movie. Baron is not bad, but a better actor could have really helped. (Originally, Baron had no intention of playing the part, and Peter Falk was supposed to do it. But Falk got offered a paying gig, and couldn’t take it.) For example, Baron (in a documentary) talked about Frank Bono, the main character, being lonely and delusional, but Baron, as an actor, doesn’t convey that effectively in the film. In a way, he’s a Travis Bickle character (DeNiro might have been great in this), but all the psychological complexity is not really there. If it had, the film would have been more powerful, imo.

  210. pen

    The Brown Bunny Although I am very partial toward bunnies, this is a movie no one really needs to see. Vincent Gallo wrote, directed and starred in this 90 minute movie that really could have been a short (maybe 15-20 min.?) I know he’s trying to be clever, but everything seems a bit contrived. Long shots of Gallo driving with only ambient noise. Odd camera angles. Virtually no dialog. Bleh. Insipid waste of time. Definitely skip, although there are some cute bunnies in the movie, it’s not enough to save it. 2/10 (and that’s +1 for the bunnies).

  211. pen

    Fantastic Mr. Fox is pretty fantastic. I enjoyed it more than Reid (shocker!) although I do agree with his criticisms. One thing I think Anderson did well was have the thinnest layer of darkness in the movie. It’s very subtle. Other adaptations of Roald Dahl’s writing were more heavy-handed with the dark side, but here, Anderson lightens it up a tiny bit. Like adding a healthy dollop of whipped cream to your dessert batter.

  212. pen

    Baghead. Disappointing. More like a student filmmaker kind of film when you get your friends to act and you shoot on location guerilla style (e.g., no permits). It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t very good either. Another one you can pass on. It’s not even scary. 3/10.

  213. Reid

    But did you like the concept of Baghead? I saw the previews, and Larri and I both agreed that it looked like a film you would like. Sorry, it didn’t work out.

    Maborosi no Hikari (1995)
    Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda
    76/100

    I know that Kevin really loved this film. I could see Grace liking this, and possibly Penny, Chris and Tony. I’m not sure about Mitchell and John. I’m pretty sure Joel, Don, Marc and Larri could pass on this. (Read the next section to find out.) This is the second time I saw the film–mainly because so many people I’ve been interacting with raved about it–and it definitely got better after a second viewing and taking the time to analyze it.

    **
    The film is about a woman Yumiko who experiences loss in her life and struggle with questions about life and death. The plot is very simple and the style of filmmaking–use of a still camera of mundane scenes–is very deliberately paced and meditative. The visual aspects of the film are similar to photographs (good ones). In many ways the film has a style reminiscent of Ozu.
    The one thing Mitchell will like is that the director shows more than tells the audience what’s going on. But, imo, the story and characters are not interesting in and of themselves. To appreciate the film, one has to find a good interpretation of it.

    In the next section, I’ll give you my interpretation of the film.

    ***
    (In a discussion about this film at another site, some of the posters felt like the medium-long shots used pervasively in the second half of the film represented Yumiko’s loneliness, isolation from others and her inability to express her grief. Below is a different take on that.)

    For one thing, I never really felt like Yumiko was having difficulty expressing her sadness and loss. Right after her husband dies, she’s clearly grieving, but then her mother gives her this rather insensitive “pep” talk. Yumiko doesn’t really say much, and she soon gets married her second husband. Now, my current reading of her going to the fishing village is that she’s starting a new life—and by all appearances she’s happy. She’s easily laughing and enjoying herself when she’s riding in the car with her husband; when she meets the people in the village; and when friends and family sing at her wedding. There’s also an affectionate and playful scene with her new husband. Her son and new step-daughter are getting along well, too. To me, there was no sign that she’s struggling with sadness. The film seems to be saying that she’s moving on with her life, and all is going well.

    But then she goes back to Osaka and the memories of her first husband—particularly the remaining mystery of the reason he killed himself—shatters the happiness and normalcy of her new life. When she goes back, her grief is now clearly evident—even though she doesn’t talk about it. At that point, I would agree that she’s struggling to express or at least deal with her first husband’s suicide. Here the film seems to be saying that you can’t really bury and run from these kinds of things.

    When she finally asks her second husband to explain her first husband’s death, he says something about the way the ocean has the power to beguile us; and how the Maborosi—the strange lights out at sea—something within it—called out to his father (when the father was still an active fisherman). And then he says that happens to all of us.

    After this, life seems to return to normal (as it was prior to her Yumiko returning to Osaka). We see the kids playing with the second husband; Yumiko asks a mundane question about the weather to her father-in-law, and he gives a mundane response.

    I don’t know if things are now alright, but the second husband’s cryptic answer seems strangely satisfying. The answer suggests that there is some unexplainable spiritual force—e.g., nature, God, the universe, etc.—that calls out to us and sometimes we respond. At the same time, the answer is not pat or explicit. The answer doesn’t clear up all of the mystery.

    As for the long shots, particularly in the fishing village. Based on that line about the ocean, I interpreted the long-shots to be a kind of observation from…the spirits or what have you. There’s a bunch of shots taken from the ocean of the house and drive way. There’s several shots looking down on the whole village. I didn’t think these shots communicated Yumiko’s emotional distance to others (because she was fairly open and engaging with her new husband—there’s an intimate and playful scene where she’s sitting between his legs and they’re both practically naked, and other scenes like it), as much as the notion that the humans are being observed. Consider how the ocean sounds also permeate the fishing village scenes. (Yumiko also says the ocean is awesome and her new husband says something like, “Maybe too awesome.”) The ocean represents this spirit that beckons us to the other side.

    Along with the ocean as some kind of spiritual force, there’s the scene where the old fisher woman goes out to sea, and takes a long time coming back. Yumiko is worried, but the old lady does come back. Her husband and other remark, prior to the lady’s return, that she’s “eternal.”

    One other thing. A part of me feels that just as the ocean is crucial in the fishing village, the train plays a parallel role in the urban setting. The loud roaring and rumbling of the train are in many of the scenes; the train kills her husband; they ride a train to and from the fishing village. Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but I sense there might be something to this.

  214. Reid

    The Blind Side (2009)
    Dir. John Lee Hancock
    62/100

    I think Penny and Jill would enjoy this. Next, I would recommend this to Don and Joel. Normally, I would include Marc in that bunch, but I’m uncertain because I know he read the book the movie is based on. I wouldn’t be too surprised if Chris and Kevin liked this, but this is not something I would recommend. Mitchell and Larri really liked this.

    When I spoke to Mitchell I gave this a higher rating, but thinking about it more, I dropped the score down. Objectively, I think the score is somewhere in the 50s, but I mildly liked this–and I surprised that I didn’t dislike this. I’m a little suprised at Mitchell’s comments to the film, and I’ll respond to them in the next sections.

    **
    The film is based on true story of affluent white family that takes in a poor–but athletically gifted–inner city black boy. The boy, Michael Oher, attends the same private Christian school as the children of the white family and one rainy night the family discovers that Oher has no place to stay. The matriarch of the family Lee Anne Tuohy (Bullock) decides to let him spend the night. The film shows both the way Oher helps the school’s football team and the relationship that develops with Oher and the family.

    This is a pretty typical inspirational Hollywood film: predictable story line and pretty simplistic characters. Bullock does a decent job, but not great. On the other hand, maybe the story and Bullock’s performance was better than I think. Normally, I’d think a film like this was boring, stupid or even offensive. But that wasn’t my reaction.

    Having said that, I’m surprised by Mitchell’s reaction, not that he liked it, but that the film moved him so much. I can understand getting emotional at certain points, but crying throughout the film? I really don’t think others will react this way, except for maybe Penny (but she cries if you kill a mosquito).

    ***
    I’m still not sure why I gave this a relatively high score. Bullock was likable. Ditto McGraw (I agree with Mitchell about his performance.) I think the fact that the story was true, has a lot to do with it. A part of me feels like the book or a documentary would have been a better format. I’m curious to hear interviews with the actual people, as well as see the interact to see for myself the quality of the individuals and their relationship.

    Invictus (2009)
    Dir. Clint Eastwood
    62/100

    I would mildly recommend this to Joel, Don, Marc, Penny, Grace, Jill, John, Mitchell and Tony. All of these individuals will probably like it more than I did, but I would guess their scores would be in the high 60s/low 70s. Larri might think this is OK, but I wouldn’t recommend this to her. (Btw, I’m pretty sure I went to the same screaning as Tony.) To see more details as to why I’d guess others wouldn’t really love this, read below.

    **
    This is based on the true story of President Nelson Mandela (Freeman) interest and support of the South African rugby team, led by their captain, Francois Pienaar (Damon, in a rather bland role). In the film, the South Africa is hosting the rugby world championship and the South African team are underdogs. This is partly a sports film, and, as such, it’s an OK film (I think most would agree, although if you’re expectations are low, you might like it more) but the most fascinating parts involve the reasons Mandela took an interest.

    The film is based on a book, and I think that format–or a documentary–would are better suited for the subject. To me, the strengths of cinema–conveying emotion and action, among other things–are not really suited to the story; or they’re not used effectively. The main value of the a film adaptatio, perhaps, is exposure to a wider audience to the story. In that way, the film reminds me of other films like Good Night and Good Luck and Milk. I think documentaries or books would be the better vehicle, except those media probably wouldn’t reach as many people. However, the stories in Good Night and Milk warrant greater exposure in a way that I think Invictus doesn’t.

    ***
    When I interviewed Gov. Waihee, he surprised me when he said the most important thing on his mind as governor was race relations. Indeed, he went even further saying that he’d bet that all the governors would say the same thing. With disbelief in my voice, I asked him if he was thinking of something like the danger of a race war. He replied that while race relations may be stable now, you couldn’t take it for granted. We don’t really understand fully why there isn’t a great racial animosity and the factors that could trigger it.

    Those are the thoughts that went through my mind while watching this film. Mandela’s aid couldn’t understand the reason he paid so much attention (including risking political capital) on this issue, but given what Gov. Waihee said above, it made sense. The fact that this sport could play such a crucial role in the well-being of a country is fascinating, and the fact that Mandela understood the importance of this showed that he was as wise leader. But again, I think reading a book or watching a documentary would have been the better format.

    Dramatizing the story really didn’t add much to the film, imo. Damon’s character is pretty bland, and the sports scenes are entertaining enough, I guess, even though they’re predictable. But I don’t think the warrant turning this story into a feature film. Undoudtedly, many of you will disagree with me on this, but I still don’t think most of you will really love this film.

  215. pen

    The Blind Side. I do not cry if a mosquito gets killed. I only cried twice and it was toward the end of the movie; thus according to Reid’s comment, I cried LESS THAN Mitchell. So there.

    I enjoyed this movie a lot. It was sweet, but not syrupy. It was heart-warming, but not manipulative. I believe it probably glossed over a lot of adjustment-type problems, but that did not bother me enough to take away from my enjoyment of the movie. The story was simple and straight-forward. Bullock and McGraw did good acting jobs and I liked their on-screen relationship. I enjoyed seeing the pictures of the real-life people during the credits.

  216. Reid

    Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 (2008)
    Dir. Kevin Rafferty

    I’d expect Mitchell, Don, Marc, Joel and John to like this–perhaps not something they should go out of there way to see, but something they’d enjoy if it came on TV. (See below for more information.) Penny and Grace would also probably like this. Not sure about Chris and Kevin. I wouldn’t recommend this to Larri.

    **
    This is a documentary about the famous 1969 football game between Harvard and Yale. At the time, Yale was ranked 16th in the country (which I didn’t realize). Rafferty interviews many of the participants (except for Calvin Hill–yes, of Cowboy fame and Grant Hill’s dad–which was disappointing), which he intercuts with live footage from the game. The film focuses on the game and the players (the Harvard players talk a bit about their coach and teammates), but, at certain points, it also touches on the cultural and politcal issues of the day. Some of you will find this part fascinating, but I found it a little empty–harmless, but not very enlightening or interesting.

    Btw, I’m sure the idiots I recommended this to will find the game worth watching.

    Oh, one other thing. Rafferty interviews Tommy Lee Jones, who played for Harvard, quite a bit. Jones comes across as overly serious to the point of being weird. It’s actually hilarious at some points.

    Revanche (2008)
    Dir. Gotz Spielmann
    63/100

    I woudln’t recommend this to Larri, and I’d be pretty surprised if Don, Joel, Jill and Marc would like this. I’m pretty sure Penny and Grace would at least find this somewhat interesting. I’m not sure about John and Mitchell. Somehow I feel slightly confident that Tony might like this or at least be interested in this. Chris and Kevin could really love this, but I don’t feel confident enough about that to recommend this to them. Btw, I believe this had a metacritic score of 84.

    I’m not quite sure what to make of this film, although my initial reaction is lukewarm. I’ll go into that more in the next sections.

    **
    This is an Austrian film that starts off with two Ukranian immigrants in Austria–Alex (played by an actor who reminded me of Robert Carlyle) and Tamara (who sort of reminded me of Jessica Alba). Tamara works as a prostitute at a brothel and Alex, her boyfriend, works there as a hired hand at the same place. Things get a bit rough for Tamara, and so they both decide to leave. Things aren’t as simple as that as complications occur with their plans.

    There’s a lot I’m leaving out, and this may not give you enough to decide to see the film. If you need more, I’m going to say a little more–but it could take away from the film.

    (minor spoilers)

    The film starts off in a way that makes it seem like a thriller, but it really turns into a more quiet exploration of guilt and the way people deal with it.

    ***
    Some notes/comments:

    The film sort of reminds me of Psycho in that the director seems to be setting up the audience: the film seems like it’s going to be a thriller (with the couple on the lamb from the organized criminals). Normally, this would appeal to me, but, for some reason, it doesn’t work for me. To me, the first act seems to take longer than necessary.

    The meeting between Robert and Alex–while interesting–didn’t impact me as much as I thought it would have. I liked the fact that Robert asks the question turning the responsibility back to Alex, and I liked Alex throwing the gun into the lake (with the wind creating ripples). But something seems lacking.

    Also, I’m not sure about the significance of Alex impregnating Susanne (Robert’s wife). In a way, it’s an act of revenge on Alex’s part that actually brings healing and joy to Robert and his wife. (What is Susanne’s attitude towards finding out that Alex is the bank robber? A: She doesn’t care about that. She’s cares more about having a child and how that will help Robert. Alex is not concerned that Susanne will call the authorities because he may reveal that he is the true father of Susanne’s baby.)

  217. Reid

    Goodbye Solo (2009)
    Dir. Ramin Bahrani
    73/100

    This had one of the highest metacritic scores all year (89). Hard to say who would really like this, and there’s one main reason for that (which I’ll go into later). I could say any number of you liking this–and depending on how you feel about that one aspect, some of you could really like this.

    **
    An old man, William (Red West), makes an arrangment with a cabbie, Solo (Soulymane Savane), to drive him to an area with high cliffs on a particular day. Sensing that the William plans to end his life, Solo tries to befriend Willian and convince him otherwise.

    What makes this film work for me is Savane’s winning performance. I immediately bought his genuine concern for William (why should he be so concerned with the fate of a stranger?) and his gregariousness. Solo is definitely one of those Mr. Aloha-types–and imo Savane is deserving of a nomination. West is also solid in this, and their relationship is what carries the film.

    ***
    There’s one part of the film that I’m not sure what to make of, and I think some of you may have problems with it. I’m talking about the ending. Solo’s starring off over the cliff and throws something over it (can’t remember what). What does that signify? I’m still not sure.

  218. pen

    Everybody’s Fine. From the previews of this movie, I did not expect it to be as emotionally draining as it was. When I got home from the theatre (7p.m.) I felt like it was time to go to bed already (11p.m.) I was that exhausted and wiped out.

    Some really strong performances by the actors and very believable story. The relationships between siblings and between children and their father (and to a lesser extent their mother) rang true. My heart was actually hurting about half way through the movie. I ached for this family.

    You’re going to want to hug your dad by the time the credits roll.

  219. Reid

    Avatar (2009)
    Dir. James Cameron
    57/100

    Grace liked this film (for a specific reason that others may not care about). Larri gave this a 6/10; Jill really liked this; Joel sort of like this (sounded like 6/10). This is a hard one to call, but of the remaining idiots, I’d say Tony has the best chance of liking this. (I wouldn’t be surprised if he loved this.) Then I would choose Penny. Mitchell, Don and Marc are a toss up. I could see them liking this (7/10) or I could see them being lukewarm, too. I don’t think they would hate the film, and I guess they would find it worth watching at the theater. I’m not sure about John, but I’d put him in with this bunch. I’d almost put Chris in this bunch, but I tend to feel his reaction will be more negative. I’m pretty sure Kevin wouldn’t like this.

    If you’re going to see this, I’d recommend seeing this in the theater on IMAX, if possible. I didn’t get to see it on IMAX, but this is the type of film to see in that format.

    My score is a mixture of my level of enjoyment of the film and a more objective assessment of the film. On an objective level, perhaps the score would be in the 40s, while my enjoyment was in the high 50s. FWIW, I don’t have a snobbish attitude towards Cameron. In fact, I think he’s one of my favorite action directors. I was initially excited to see this film, but some of the reactions gave me the sense that the story wouldn’t be good, so I went in with pretty low expectations.

    **
    Ebert review took me aback. Except for one or two comments, I couldn’t disagree more. But before I respond to Ebert, let me give a brief plot description to those who don’t care about knowing such things. The film is about an emerging conflict between humans and the Na’vi that occurs on the planet, Pandora. The humans want a valuable minerals, particularly located under the tree-home of the Na’vi. Scientists who are studying the planet and the Na’vi are trying to find a diplomatic and peaceful way for the Na’vi to move. These scientists use “avatars” which are genetically engineered Na’vi that combines some of the DNA from the scientists who use them. (Cool idea) One of the scientists who was supposed to go to Pandora dies and so his twin brother, Jake, replaces him (since the avatars are so expensive to create). Jake is a marine, who has lost the use of his legs.

    I’ll stop there. I will say that the plot is almost exactly the same as another film–and I think that might be a problem for the remaining idiots (even if you liked the original film). On the other hand, there is a chance that the liking the characters, the action and visuals will be so appealing that the plot won’t really matter much. That was not the case for me.

    The film I’ll compare this to is the first Jurassic Park. Like Avatar, there was a lot of buzz about the fx, and people saw the film to see the cgi dinosaurs just as much as to see a good story. The value of seeing the film is in seeing the fx and 3D (not good enough to override the other flaws, imo–although some of you will not share this view).

    ***
    If I had to find the shortest way to express my criticism of the film, it would be this: “Dances with the Na’vi.” Folks, this is almost exactly the same plot as Dances with Wolves (with the exception of the ending). I liked Dances with Wolves when I first saw it almost twenty years ago, but the story of a white man becoming accepted–and eventually becoming a great hero–of an indigenous and/or minority group (Last Samurai, Lawrence of Arabia, etc.) no longer appeals to me; indeed, it’s a little troubling. Moreover, the Na’vi (except for their language) are almost exactly like a Native American Indian tribe–including the use of bow and arrows and war paint. Except for biological differences (the most interesting being an appendage that allows the Na’vi to connect with other living things), the Na’vi are basically Native Americans. Not only is the plot essentially the same as “Dances”, but you realize this very quickly (I’d say the moment you see Zoe Zaldana’s character attempt to kill the lead).

    Besides the re-cycled plot, the characters are bland, and largely one dimesional. (The Na’vi characters are essentially recycled from other films.) The biggest problem is the lead, Jake Sully. The character is not written in an interesting way, so casting an actor that makes the audiences care about the character right away is really important. Sam Worthington just didn’t do it for me. Btw, Cameron (he wrote the screenplay) could have added to the characters. Let me just list some:

    • Jake’s backstory could have established him as runtish marine who made up for his lack of physical ability with grit and heart–sort of like a “Rudy” character. That would have made him more likable and would fit with the idea with video-game nerd fantasy.
    • The Na’vi said that they couldn’t teach the scientists because their “heads were full” (or something to that effect). This sort of created a tension between science and indigenous approach to nature that I thought could have been interesting. At the same time, Jake would have something about him that made him open to learning a different way.

    Besides the recycled plot and bland characters, the film attempt at a serious environmental message was pretty lame.

    Despite these problems, there are things that could have made me enjoy the film, specifically
    a stronger lead and villain and a better ending–specifically the way the Na’vi triumph.

  220. Mitchell

    Interesting. A friend of mine compared it to Pocahontas. I wasn’t going to see this anyway, but thanks for the warning.

  221. Reid

    I never saw Disney’s Pocahontas, so I can’t comment. But the film I compare Avatar too is glaringly obvious, imo. I’m a little surprised you weren’t planning to see this. Did you read Ebert’s review? Knowing how much you respect him, I think you’d want to see the film based on his review.

  222. Mitchell

    I don’t read everything he writes, and since I haven’t one iota of interest in this picture, I didn’t read that review. I read yours, and that’s about it.

  223. Tony

    Heh. Did I love Avatar? Well, no. But I did really enjoy it. Saw it in 3-D, which was a new experience for me. I really just sat back and enjoyed the movie for what it was. It wasn’t too preachy. I had bought into the story quite well by its end. Not sure I’d see it again any time soon. It was well acted, too. Never saw Pocahontas, so any comparisons there are lost on me.

    I did see Up in the Air before I left for the mainland. Really enjoyed it for what it was. Solid, thought-provoking movie. Well-acted and tightly written. I will definitely see it again before it leaves theaters.

    Saw Sherlock Holmes with the parentals a couple of days ago. It is an enjoyable movie. Having read a good number of the stories and books, I wasn’t too taken aback by the turning of the story into a bigger action-movie. It was humorous and intense in all the right ways. Also well-acted (though the editing was choppy at times). The Holmes character is a little different than usual, but that wasn’t too distracting (like the boxing scene).

    I think it’s been a good year for movies, really. I only ended up seeing a couple of stinkers. And I saw quite a few movies total. Looking forward to what’s coming up next.

  224. Mitchell

    An Education. Carey Mulligan with Peter Sarsgaard, Emma Thompson, and Alfred Molina.

    There’s an interesting thing about precocious high-school students who are probably ready to head off to college but still have a year or so before their graduation. A lot of them start to act as if they’ve already gone off, and it can be tough for their teachers to remember that they are still children, still their charges, and still in need of the guidance and instruction they seem to shun. You can see parents, teachers, and even administrators already letting go, some of them intimidated (if I read it correctly) by the student’s self-assuredness, some of them sympathetic to the student’s desire to go NOW, and some of them just resigned to the fact that the student will not take seriously these last months of school, as if they feel it’s not worth the fight.

    I’ve felt all of these things, and I’ve known students like Mulligan’s Jenny. As Jenny quickly withdraws from the world of her private prep school and takes steps into a grown-up world she’s not, in fact, ready for, you can see all kinds of stupid things her teachers and parents say and you can think of a hundred things they should say, but there’s room for sympathy for these adults who drop the ball in the red zone in the raising of this child. And that’s what this movie’s about.

    You’ve probably already read about how wonderful Mulligan is in this role. I don’t think the praise is overstated. She’s quite good. I also like Olivia Williams as Miss Stubbs, the only teacher who vocally disapproves of Jenny’s choices.

    It’s a good-looking film with one star-making performance, a film that I’ve grown fonder of as time has passed. A good 8/10.

    The Fantastic Mr. Fox
    This is how perfect I think George Clooney is for the voice of Mr. Fox: when I saw Up in the Air today, it took a good five minutes before I was able to stop picturing Mr. Fox whenever George Clooney’s character said anything. I agree with those who say the story is less than satisfying, but I also agree with those who say the animation and voice-acting are among the best I’ve seen in recent years. I especially like Bill Murray’s Badger and Clooney’s Fox. I get the feeling this picture’s a little bit longer than its material demanded, something I don’t usually find fault with, but I was ready for it to be over perhaps fifteen minutes before it was. 6/10.

    Everybody’s Fine. Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale.
    Major tear-jerker. I like De Niro in this mode, a kind of quiet, lonely mode. Barrymore is her usual self here, which I say is a good thing. Beckinsale was the surprise for me. I don’t think I’ve seen her in too many things where she’s been allowed to act, but she really impressed me as the daughter who seems to hold the siblings together. The story is pretty straightforward and there aren’t too many surprises; however, the film does do a couple of weird things that I didn’t think worked for this movie, things that stuck out like cheap cinematic devices. Penny’s right, though. Near the end, I kept thinking that I really should call my dad. 5/10.

    Precious. Gaboureh Sibide, Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey, Paula Patton.
    It’s fine. It’s even pretty good. But heavens, it’s not THAT good. It is an affecting story that dares to let its characters talk (and its actors act) out some horrible stuff, but after taking us through an emotional wringer, after showing us some possible career-changing performances from actors you didn’t think could go there, the story itself seems to have balanced some heavy stuff atop a flimsy table. I was left with a “is that it?” feeling, and on further reflection, all I could think was that the author of the source material wrote a book as if she were trying to get noticed by Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey, not as if her heart was really with her characters and certainly not as if she allowed her characters to drive the story.

    It is worth seeing, undoubtedly, if only for the very good acting. It is not, however, one of those oh my goodness! movies that makes you want to drag all your friends to the theater. I’m giving it a low 7/10.

    Invictus. Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.
    A good film. I liked Freeman as Mandela, and I liked that the film doesn’t treat him like a saint, acknowledging some of his personal difficulties without veering the film unnecessarily in those directions. It’s pretty cool to see a ripped Matt Damon in this film so soon after his paunchy look in The Informant!. Interestingly (or not), I left the theater not really understanding rugby one bit more than I did going in. 7/10.

    Public Enemies. Johnny Depp, Billy Crudup, Christian Bale, Giovani Ribisi, Stephen Dorff.
    It’s a great-looking film and probably fantastic for fans of gangster pictures, especially those who like the historical Dillinger, Nelson, and Floyd. I’ve never been one of those guys, and have never studied much the cinematic history of gangsters, so I can’t say why this version is better or worse than those. So yeah. I didn’t find the story very interesting and once the actors established their characters, I wasn’t too interested in the characters either. I did really like Bale as Melvin Purvis. 5/10.

    Sunshine Cleaning. Amy Adams and Emily Blunt.
    Okay, I’ve read the lukewarm reviews, and I can definitely see the reviewers’ points. It is a good idea and it does perhaps treat the subject matter in too comedic a fashion, but I liked it. I like the dynamic between sisters Adams and Blunt, and although I thought the Alan Arkin part was a distraction, it was easy for me not to focus on him and instead to look at the really good acting by Adams and Blunt. The characters are touched by a sadness involving their mother, and her presence seeps through every scene even though she herself is absent for most of the picture. I think Roger Ebert said something like, “The material is here for a great movie, but this isn’t it.” I guess I agree with that, but that doesn’t make this less than satisfying for me. I’d totally see this again. 7/10.

    Up in the Air. George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick.
    It’s not as great as the critics seem to be saying, but it’s better than whatever Reid and Penny said about it when I asked them about it last week. This is a very good picture with terrific acting by all the principals, especially by Anna Kendrick who could be the next Anne Hathaway. Clooney’s character flaunts the societal expectation of family and romance and love, and I think the film does a good job of either dooming Clooney to his comeuppance or validating his position, depending on where the viewer is coming from. As someone who’s been unapologetically single myself for most of my life with a few of the reservations Clooney’s characters SEEMS to express only once in a scene in which he MAY have been disingenuous, I felt somewhat validated while still leaving the theater with the nagging suspicion that I need to reevaluate my choices. Is this Best Picture material? Probably not in a good year, but this hasn’t been a great year so far. I think it’s a better film than The Wrestler, which won last year, and perhaps a better picture than anything I’ve seen this year except Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. A strong 8/10.

  225. Reid

    Mitchell,

    I’m surprised that you “don’t have one iota” of interest in this film. Some are calling the cgi innovative with visually stunning results. Doesn’t that interest you in the slightest? I can see you enjoying this film. In fact, I’d be a little surprised if your reaction was like mine.

    Up in the Air (2009)
    Dir. Jason Reitman
    Starring: George Clooney,
    62/100

    This one is a toss up. I could see almost all the remaining idiots either liking this mildly or really liking this. I think Don might have the best chance of liking this; maybe Marc next. I don’t think they’ll think it’s great. Oh, I’m pretty sure Larri could take a pass on this.

    ***
    There are some nice things about the film. Clooney is as charming as ever and his chemistry with Farmiga is very good–so good that I wanted the film to be a more straight romance between them. The film is put together well (I liked the opening credits). But I had several problems with the film. Let me rattle off a few of them:

    • To me, the filmmakers either didn’t draw the Bingham character well or Clooney was the wrong actor for the part. What kind of person is Bingham supposed to be? At first, I thought he was going to be this insensitive and heartless individual–in the Aaron Eckhart mold. But then there are several scenes where he seems genuinely affected by the pain of others. Because of this, the character didn’t feel believable to me. How could he continue the job–and even enjoy it to some extent–if he could empathize with the fired employees to the degree that he did? Clooney’s performance didn’t allow me to believe that he could display the levels of sensitivity that he did and still continue his job.
      Then I thought that maybe he wasn’t callous so much as shallow–i.e. his superficiality allows him to do his job. Ultimately, I think that’s what the filmmakers are going for. But again, for me, Clooney didn’t convey the shallowness very well. Clooney is too intelligent, likable and sensitive for this role, I think–or he lacks that superficiality that could make the character work.
    • The ending of the film was a bit heavy-handed and trite. The montage of recently fired employees talking about the way having someone special in their lives is really what’s most important (contrasted with the beginning of the film where they’re talking about the devastation of losing their jobs). Reitman juxtaposes these talking heads with Bingham left alone and empty flying the skies. The lesson here, to quote It’s a Wonderful Life: “Remember George, no man is a failure without friends.” If you’re a victim of the economic crisis, count your blessings if you have loved ones in your life. Look at Ryan Bingham. You don’t want to be like him. (I think the film is pretty clear about it’s attitude toward Bingham, but I’d be interested in hearing a case for the film’s endorsement of Bingham and his approach.)
    • There were a number of problems with Bingham and Natalie’s relationship. First, Natalie posed a threat to Bingham’s job and lifestyle. He’s hostile to her in the beginning–and yet, when he meets her at the airport (and soon afterwards) he’s pretty helpful. What the? Perhaps, if the actors had a strong chemistry that made me believe this happened, I’d buy it, but that wasn’t the case. I’m not quite sure about the function of Natalie and the sub-plot involving her. She seems to provide a contrast to Bingham: she’s young and ambitious, but gets out of the heartless business befores she suffers the Bingham’s fate. Is there a larger message for the sub-plot involving the use of computers to fire people? I hope it’s not simply the idea that importance of face-to-face, human approach in matters like this.
  226. Tony

    If you liked Olivia Williams in An Education, be sure to see her over the next few weeks as her current TV show, Dollhouse, comes to a conclusion. The entire cast of that show is brilliant. I was quite pleased and surprised to see her in An Education.

    Not to belabor any point, but I found Clooney’s character in Up in the Air totally believable. . . at least in a movie kind of way. Is there tension in his character? Sure. He does what he does as a job well. He does it with a certain amount of respect, I believe, for those he fires. Does he have some genuinely human moments? Totally. We’re all like that on some level, ambiguous in ways large and small. Also, just because he is frustrated one minute and polite the next doesn’t make him disingenuous. It makes him human.

  227. Reid

    Tony,

    I think I’m having difficulty putting my finger on Bingham. Sometimes that can be a good thing, specifically when it occurs because the character is so complex–i.e. filled with contractions and different facets to the character. I generally enjoy a performance that shows this in a believable way, but that’s not my reading of this performance.

    Does Bingham really enjoy his job? If so, why does he enjoy it? Does his motivation stem from a desire to help these people? He seems too callous and shallow for that. Or is Bingham neither shallow or especially callous? If he is as decent as he sometimes appears, how could he do his job for so long, let alone “enjoy” it? Clooney’s performance didn’t show me how that was possible.

    Also, what is really behind Bingham’s lifestyle? Is he a sensitive guy who has thoughtfully chosen a life without any meaningful relationships? What is your take on his treatment of his sisters? He’s pretty absent from their lives–and yet, when he goes to his sister’s wedding, he seems to value their relationship. So did he neglect his relationship with them because he was simply having too much fun?

    These aspects of his character aren’t explored very well, imo, and it makes me feel like the filmmakers just wanted to by-pass these issues, but in doing so they create a poorly realized character that I have hard time believing.

    RE: your remark about Bingham being frustrated one moment and polite the next, are you referring his outburst towards Natalie? If so, my problem is not that I think Bingham is disingenuous, my problem is that I think it’s not believable. She’s threatening the part of his job that he loves (constant travel). Not only that, but he says it’s beneath him to show her the ropes. Yet, he becomes pretty chummy and even caring towards Natalie–and the filmmakers don’t show us how this happens.

  228. Mitchell

    Up in the Air. SPOILERS

    Reid said:

    At first, I thought he was going to be this insensitive and heartless individual–in the Aaron Eckhart mold. But then there are several scenes where he seems genuinely affected by the pain of others. Because of this, the character didn’t feel believable to me. How could he continue the job–and even enjoy it to some extent–if he could empathize with the fired employees to the degree that he did?

    One gets the feeling that he’s good at his job, even among the others in his company who do the same job. The way Jason Bateman’s character talks to him, for example, and the fact that he assigns Natalie to shadow him of all employees, seems to indicate that he’s good. I agree that he seems genuinely affected. He knows that what he’s doing is a difficult thing for the people he has to fire, and the sensitivity he exhibits is admirable; he seems to know where people are hurting the most and to address those hurts without altering his basic message, which is that these people are fired and there’s nothing they can do about it. I don’t get why this is so unbelievable to you. It’s very possible that he loves what the job affords him (a lifestyle that suits him) and that he’s good at what he does and STILL also be possible that he dislikes hurting the people he has to hurt. Doctors have to do the same thing, but the ones who are good have to build up certain personal defenses that allow them to continue to do their jobs even though telling someone he or she is going to die has to suck. The doctor who enjoys that is clearly not good at his or her job, just as the firer who enjoys firing people is probably not good at his or her job. Remember, one of the concerns of the firer is that the person leave the room with some amount of dignity, without threatening to sue or get violent, and without promising to kill him- or herself.

    You mention empathy. I’m of the opinion that there’s no way of knowing whether empathy exists (how can we KNOW that we feel exactly what people are feeling?). I agree: if Bingham feels empathy for these people, there’s NO WAY he could do this job. In the same way, I don’t think counselors, doctors, cops, or social workers could do what they do if they actually felt genuine empathy for their clients. Sympathy, however, seems a requirement, and Bingham seems to have it, or at the very least the ability to fake it. If he genuinely feels the sympathy he displays, can he do his job? I say yes.

    Reid says:

    Then I thought that maybe he wasn’t callous so much as shallow–i.e. his superficiality allows him to do his job. Ultimately, I think that’s what the filmmakers are going for. But again, for me, Clooney didn’t convey the shallowness very well. Clooney is too intelligent, likable and sensitive for this role, I think–or he lacks that superficiality that could make the character work.

    I believe a big part of this film is the exploration of this character. Is he shallow? I don’t think so. The fact that his priorities are different from society’s norms and that he rejects the notions of love and commitment does not make him shallow. On the contrary, we see evidence of chinks in the armor, of vulnerabilities in the wall. He has clearly distanced himself from his sisters, but when he’s there with them in real life, we see a genuine caring for them, even if they are all but strangers to him. I have to say that I know this feeling well. I’m crazy about my sister, but if I were involved in her daily life I don’t know that I’d be able to enjoy the things in my own life that I pursue. I’m there for the crises, but I don’t really want much to do with day-to-day drama, and I think this makes me a bad brother. Similarly, although Bingham’s relationship with Alex starts off extremely casually with no strings, we see during the long wedding weekend that he seems genuinely able to be affected by Alex. I agree with you that Clooney didn’t convey shallowness well; where we disagree is on whether or not the filmmakers intended for him to be shallow. I say no.

    Reid said:

    The ending of the film was a bit heavy-handed and trite.

    That one scene’s being heavy-handed, I will agree with. I’m not sure I agree that the filmmakers are putting it here as a message to the viewers (“as long as you have your loved ones, it’s okay, and don’t end up like Ryan Bingham!”). I know that’s what the reviewers seem to be saying, that this film is a document of (and message for) the times, but I really feel that the economic bad times are just the setting for what’s really a story about one man. Rather than a heavy-handed message for the viewer, I think those short monologues are there for Bingham; perhaps he’s heard them before but hasn’t listened to them. Perhaps now that he (possibly) feels the self-imposed isolation in a negative way, he’s beginning to hear and consider another way for himself. In this way, I don’t think it’s trite because I don’t think we’re meant to shun Bingham or to look down on him. We might be meant to feel sorry for him, in which case these monologues are still heavy-handed but not necessarily the voice of the filmmakers telling us how to think of ourselves.

    Reid said:

    First, Natalie posed a threat to Bingham’s job and lifestyle. He’s hostile to her in the beginning–and yet, when he meets her at the airport (and soon afterwards) he’s pretty helpful. What the? Perhaps, if the actors had a strong chemistry that made me believe this happened, I’d buy it, but that wasn’t the case. I’m not quite sure about the function of Natalie and the sub-plot involving her. She seems to provide a contrast to Bingham: she’s young and ambitious, but gets out of the heartless business befores she suffers the Bingham’s fate. Is there a larger message for the sub-plot involving the use of computers to fire people? I hope it’s not simply the idea that importance of face-to-face, human approach in matters like this.

    I think Bingham’s initial reaction to Natalie is as you describe, and it’s what one would expect. Jason Bateman’s character pretty much says the same thing: at first he was annoyed but then he realized she had good things to say. I suppose if you don’t buy Bingham’s sympathy for the people he fires then it would be hard to buy that he has sympathy for Natalie at the airport on that first day. However, Bingham takes a certain pride in knowing his job well, and I think his response to her in the airport is a mixture of sympathy and pride. That she (a Cornell grad who has probably excelled at everything she’s ever done) is so open and willing to learn from him surely plays a part in winning him over, just as I think it wins the viewers over. We, the audience, see an earnest character who means well, a smart young woman who could probably do whatever she wants (as Bingham acknowledges later). One way she wins us over is by not being a know-it-all, and I think she wins Bingham over the same way. She’s a genuinely likable character.

    As for what she brings to the film, I didn’t think any of the things you suggest. What I see is a nice foil for the Ryan and Alex characters. When Natalie is cutting loose at that party they crash, we see that she parties a very different way from the way the older couple parties. Sure, part of it is because she’s hurting from the sting of being dumped, but that’s part of it too. It’s unlikely that Ryan or Alex, if dumped via text message, would allow themselves to sob in the middle of an airport terminal. What we’re seeing is the Ryan and Alex of a loooong time ago; the conversation they have in the hotel bar is a huge part of that. Natalie describes alllllll the things that are important to her in finding the right guy, and we (older audience members) see through Alex’s and Ryan’s eyes that yes, we used to have lists like that too, but that as we get older most of those things aren’t that important. I had very condescending thoughts about Natalie’s list as she was rattling it off, but then I remembered that I had a similar list at that age, only mine was longer and more specific.

    What happens to people like Natalie if they hit their mid-forties and still haven’t found someone? I’m going to be 41 in exactly a week, so I know the answer. In a lot of ways, we become like Ryan Bingham. The longer I go without a life-partner, the less I feel I need one, and that’s totally true: if in fact there were a NEED for that kind of presence in my life, if I hadn’t found some way to address those needs (and I’m not talking about sex, ‘though you can read into that whatever you wish) by now, I’d be a mess, because I have got to function in those other areas of my life that require me not to be distracted by my aloneness. Anyway, that’s what she’s doing in this picture, reminding us of where most of us were at 24.

    I’m going back to address this:

    (I think the film is pretty clear about its attitude toward Bingham, but I’d be interested in hearing a case for the film’s endorsement of Bingham and his approach.)

    I wouldn’t call it an endorsement, but I am reminded of Dead Man Walking, which I thought of while I was watching the credits roll and which Penny mentioned when we discussed the film today. I think if you are more inclined to agree with Natalie, you are going to leave the theater convinced even further that you are right: we need to be with people; we need connections. I think also that if you are more inclined to agree with Ryan, that you will leave the theater feeling validated. “Unapologetically single,” I always call myself when people ask me what my status is, and while the film doesn’t make a hero of Bingham, I think it leaves room for his choices as a legitimate approach, especially since by the end of the film Bingham himself seems to be opening up to the possibility that if the right one comes along, he might be persuaded to put a few things into his backpack. I believe already that he’s added his sisters to his backpack (he literally carries his sister around in his backpack for half the film) and although he may not be an omnipresent figure in their lives, I get the feeling he’ll call more often and drop in more often. Similarly, although things don’t work out with Alex, there is the possibility that he’s open to allowing someone like her into his life again. There’s also the possibility that this bad experience with Alex in Chicago will result in his slamming the door forever shut, but I like that ambiguity. It gives us something to think about when we ponder Bingham’s future. When Ryan sets up his sister and brother-in-law with around-the-world trips, I think we get the feeling that there’s a connection here he wants to maintain. I’m not sure, but I think the letter he writes to Natalie’s future employers in San Francisco are another indication; he might be leaving open the possibility that a friendship with Natalie is something he’d like to maintain.

    Reid says:

    my problem is not that I think Bingham is disingenuous, my problem is that I think it’s not believable. She’s threatening the part of his job that he loves (constant travel).

    I disagree. Anyone whose job it is to fire lots of people every day has got to develop a few philosophies about being fired. It’s true that we don’t hear Bingham reflect on the possibility that he himself will be fired someday, and what that would mean, but he’s already established himself as a thoughtful guy, so it makes sense to assume that when his job is threatened, once the initial indignation wears off, he’d be able to approach the situation with the kind of grace that he encourages others on a daily basis to exhibit.

    Not only that, but he says it’s beneath him to show her the ropes. Yet, he becomes pretty chummy and even caring towards Natalie–and the filmmakers don’t show us how this happens.

    In case I wasn’t clear, I do think the filmmakers show us how this happens. Take a look at the Natalie character and take a look at the way Ryan responds to her. She’s a winning personality; we get that from Jason Bateman (who says it) and then from Ryan Bingham, who seems to enjoy her company even though he’d rather be without it.

    I’m reminded of Shrek, a movie I thought I’d hate but which I liked. The Donkey character is super annoying, to the audience and to the main characters. But as the film progresses and we see how well-intentioned and wide-open Donkey is, we find ourselves warming up to him and we even find ourselves annoyed that it’s taking Shrek so long to warm up also. He eventually does, though, and it’s testament to the writers’ ability to make us like the annoying character. We believe Shrek likes Donkey because we like Donkey. Similarly, we can see in Natalie all the things that have made her the successful (so far) person she’s been, and we come to like and care about her even if she was annoying at first. We expect Bingham also to like her, and it’s no surprise when he does.

    The question nobody has asked but which has given me lots to think about is whether or not Ryan is sincere when he talks to his future brother-in-law in the church Sunday-school classroom. “Think of all the best times you ever had,” he says. “Were you alone?” Is this Ryan who knows how to talk people down from the ledge speaking, or is it perhaps a softening of his own attitude about his sisters and Alex, now that he’s had this terrific weekend with them all?

  229. Mitchell

    Tony said:

    Not to belabor any point…

    Are you paying attention? Belaboring points is what we do here. 🙂

  230. Tony

    I guess I have committed the fallacy of seeing myself in Bingham. Concerning the sisters/family thing: I rarely if ever see my family (my brothers family even more so. . . or is that less so?). Does it mean that I don’t love them? No. It does mean, though, that I miss out on the rhythm of life that is regular with those connected more closely to their families. I totally got the moment where Bingham asks if he should walk his sister down the aisle and they say no. That’s part of the unfortunate price you pay for being so far away or removed.

    I think Bingham believes in a lot of things. I believe that he is sincere in what he says to his future brother-in-law, even if he hasn’t experienced it himself and even if his own life seems to contradict what is said. You can speak something true and not live by it. Most people do it all of the time. The tricky thing is that he does know how to talk people off ledges, and so we assume that he is making it all up much more easily. I think he enjoys enough about his job that he is willing to do the thing that puts people out of work. And he does it well, which is why he sticks with it. Is he selfish in it? Of course! But, to quote Wolverine, he’s the best at what he does. It doesn’t make him fake.

  231. Reid

    Mitchell said,

    He knows that what he’s doing is a difficult thing for the people he has to fire, and the sensitivity he exhibits is admirable; he seems to know where people are hurting the most and to address those hurts without altering his basic message, which is that these people are fired and there’s nothing they can do about it. I don’t get why this is so unbelievable to you.

    This is unbelievable because if he’s truly sensitive, the firing has to take its toll on him, to some degree. The filmmakers don’t show this affect on him. In fact, he seems impervious to it. Even doctors who have defenses ar e not impervious to having to tell someone they’re going to die. Consider that the firing is constant as well. This has to affect you psychologically, but the filmmakers seem to want you to believe that Ryan not really affected by this. (He’s been doing this for a long time.) Now, perhaps there is an individual who is genuinely caring, sensitive and thoughtful who could do this job as long as Bingham has, but Clooney did not convince me that he’s one of those individuals.

    Re: Bingham

    What I think you and Tony are leaving out is that Bingham chooses his lifestyle in a cavalier way. (Remember when he glibly counters Natalie’s defense of marriage.) He revels in his lifestyle–single, not married, etc. His sister calling him is seen as an annoyance initially. Through the course of the film, the filmmakers portray Bingham’s growth–i.e. realizing the cost to his lifestyle and the importance of having more meaningful relationships. I don’t think Clooney and the filmmakers do a good job of this transformation–particular the internal aspects of this change. Indeed, that’s one of my biggest complaints: not showing the internal workings of the character. Yes, his willingness to help Natalie and his giving a round trip to his sister and her husband tell us that something has changed in his attitude, but I don’t think Clooney’s acting shows the internal change that has gone on.

    In any event, these changes, imo, unequivocally demonstrate that Bingham was wrong! Or at least it unequivocally shows that the filmmakers think he was wrong. By the end, what parts of the film could one use to make a case for Bingham’s lifestyle? I think people who are inclined to agree with Bingham (who, again, doesn’t seem so cocky and confident about his lifestyle at the end) would disagree that this film presents a balanced view.

    When Bingham leaves in the middle of a prime speaking engagment and then gets slammed (almost literally) from Alex, isn’t it clear repudiation of his earlier ways? His character, imo, is in a similar vein as the main characters in Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilyich and Kurosawa’s Ikiru. They’ve invested their lives in business and neglected meaningful relationships, and they realize that this was a bad move.

    As for the ending, you have to remember that the clips of the talking heads are shot as a counter point to Bingham (I think he’s getting on a plane ready to resume his lifestyle.) Put those things together–the talking heads saying how having loved ones matter most–and then seeing Bingham without any loved ones (and yes, he may turn over a new leaf–but that only reinforces the point, doesn’t it?)

    Re: Natalie

    You said,

    I think Bingham’s initial reaction to Natalie is as you describe, and it’s what one would expect. Jason Bateman’s character pretty much says the same thing: at first he was annoyed but then he realized she had good things to say. I suppose if you don’t buy Bingham’s sympathy for the people he fires then it would be hard to buy that he has sympathy for Natalie at the airport on that first day. However, Bingham takes a certain pride in knowing his job well, and I think his response to her in the airport is a mixture of sympathy and pride. That she (a Cornell grad who has probably excelled at everything she’s ever done) is so open and willing to learn from him surely plays a part in winning him over, just as I think it wins the viewers over. We, the audience, see an earnest character who means well, a smart young woman who could probably do whatever she wants (as Bingham acknowledges later). One way she wins us over is by not being a know-it-all, and I think she wins Bingham over the same way. She’s a genuinely likable character.

    First, Natalie’s proposal doesn’t threaten Bateman’s character in the way that it does Bingham. Basically, Natalie’s going to take away what Bingham loves most. It would take a lot for Bingham to be helpful to Natalie at the airport, even if he was really sympathetic or took a great deal of pride in his job. Indeed, I could see the pride would mame him more resentful (i.e. who does this young kid think she is?) Btw, I don’t think she’s genuinely likable initially (She becomes more likable as time goes on.)–and there’s definitely more qualities that make her unlikable. Btw, Bateman’s character likes Natalie primarily because she’s going to save the company money. She’s also not threatening his job. Pretty easy to like someone in those circumstances, especially if you’re primarily concerned with making the company profitable.

  232. Mitchell

    Up in the Air spoilers!

    I’ll hit the rest of this later, but:

    In any event, these changes, imo, unequivocally demonstrate that Bingham was wrong!

    Whoa. Unequivocally? If it’s unequivocal, it doesn’t matter what support I provide from the film, does it? Because it’s unequivocal. Anything I bring up in support of my (and Penny’s) assertion that whether you agree with Bingham or not you’ll leave feeling the same way is moot. However, I’ll soldier on, keeping in mind that I simply can’t make my point because I’m unequivocally wrong.

    Or at least it unequivocally shows that the filmmakers think he was wrong. By the end, what parts of the film could one use to make a case for Bingham’s lifestyle? I think people who are inclined to agree with Bingham (who, again, doesn’t seem so cocky and confident about his lifestyle at the end) would disagree that this film presents a balanced view.

    I think it makes one question Bingham’s choices, the same way it makes Bingham question his own, but at the same time has Bingham not also made Natalie question her own choices, and doesn’t the film make opponents of Bingham’s view question their own choices? Since you asked, I offer:

    1. Natalie “followed a boy” to Omaha, took a job she didn’t really want, then found herself living in a town she never meant to live in doing a job she never wanted to do and without the boy she thought she loved.
    2. The older of Ryan’s sisters is separated and living in a hotel, clearly not in good emotional shape.
    3. If Alex’s married life is so terrific, why does she have a job that requires her to fly 65,000 miles a year? Why does she need Ryan as a “parenthesis” in her life?
    4. This one’s not as strong, but I felt it personally while I watched the movie. Many of the people Natalie and Ryan fire are upset because of mortgages and families. While they expressed their anguish on the screen, I thought several times that getting fired is not nearly as big a deal to me because any time I want I can just take my stuff and go. No kids to worry about and no mortgage to default on.

    When Bingham leaves in the middle of a prime speaking engagment and then gets slammed (almost literally) from Alex, isn’t it clear repudiation of his earlier ways?

    On the contrary, doesn’t it emphasize that he was wrong to allow himself to get attached to her? By the end of the film, I am rooting for Ryan to at least leave open the possibility, if someone special comes along, to connect with someone else someday, but I have to admit that I’m not sure an experience like this won’t add more walls of defense against this kind of thing. I’ve had that door slammed in my face and I’m still standing on the stoop, wondering what happened. And for me it’s been more than five years. Part of me thinks Bingham’s a fool ever to have let it happen; part of me is begging him to give it another shot if the opportunity presents itself.

    His character, imo, is in a similar vein as the main characters in Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilyich and Kurosawa’s Ikiru. They’ve invested their lives in business and neglected meaningful relationships, and they realize that this was a bad move.

    I haven’t read Ivan Ilyich or seen Ikiru, so I can’t comment on those, but from Bingham’s perspective, is the bad move the lifestyle he’s chosen for himself, or is it the momentary lapse of judgment? It seems clear that you think Bingham’s philosophy is messed up, but I’m telling you that there are some of us who are sympathetic to it. You’re seeing the movie as an indictment against his lifestyle, but I see it instead as a suggestion that the door should be left open at least a crack, just in case an unmarried Alex comes along.

  233. Reid

    I suspect that our interpretation of Bingham’s approach is different. Let’s talk about that and see if we can agree. For me, Bingham view is to eschew marriage and basically any kind of deeper, meaningful relationship (i.e. he’s happy to have superficial relationships with people). Basically, he doesn’t believe you need meaningful relationships in life. Now, I suspect you disagree with that interpretation. In any event, if you interpret his philosophy in that way, all the examples you cite do not support a lifestyle that has little or no meaningful relationships. Natalie’s relationship with her fiance was not a good one. Ditto Bingham’s older sister and Alex. Does it follow that we shouldn’t have deeper, meaningful relationships? I don’t think so. All these examples demonstrate is that these characters didn’t have good relationships.

    I think your fourth example might be the strongest. There are risks and burdens when one has a strong relationship with other people. One definitely has less freedom and to some extent more stress. But do you really think the film is making that argument when it shows the fired employees at the end? Personally, I don’t think so. Besides, even without these attachments, losing a job can be a devasting thing (consider if you owned a house or had significant debt).

    On the contrary, doesn’t it emphasize that he was wrong to allow himself to get attached to her?

    You really think that’s what the film is saying? I find that a little hard to believe. It would mean that the film is leaving open the possibility that falling in love is not a good thing; that not having meaningful relationships is actually a viable and appealing way to live.

    I have to admit that my interpretation is based on my own bias and belief that having meaningful relationships is critical in life–if one wants some level of happiness and meaningful; that imagining an individual could be truly happy without any meaningful relationship is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Maybe there is a person or a character in a story that could make a convincing case–but this film doesn’t even come close to doing this. And I don’t think it’s the film’s intention to do so.

    It seems clear that you think Bingham’s philosophy is messed up, but I’m telling you that there are some of us who are sympathetic to it.

    Sympathetic to not cultivating any meaningful relationships with people you are attracted to? with family members? I can’t believe you’re sympathetic to that. However, if you’re sympathetic to an unmarried life, that is something I can believe. But Bingham is not just saying he doesn’t want to be married; he saying he really doesn’t need any intimate meaningful relationships in his life.

  234. Reid

    The Set-Up (1949)
    Dir. Robert Wise
    Starring: Robert Ryan, etc.
    77/100

    I enjoyed this film, and I think other idiots would, too–although I don’t know how much. Strangely, I think Mitchell and Joel might have the best chance of liking this, although I don’t think this is something they should rush out to see. Actually, I think I might add John in that group. Penny, Grace, Kevin, Chris and Marc would probably like this, although, again, I don’t think they should go out of their way to see. Larrilynn, Jill and Don could probably take this or leave it.

    **
    This one of those films that occurs in real time (70+ minutes), and it’s about an aging boxer, Stoker Thompson (Ryan) and his bout with an upcoming boxer, who also happens to be supported by an underworld figure named “Little Boy.” I’ll say a little more about the plot, for those who need more information a little later. Let me say that there are elements of Rocky in this. Also, the direction is quite good–the way Wise uses the camera to tell the story and the use of images to suggest themes.

    ***
    A little more on the plot (which, too me, would be better left for viewers to discover on their own). Stoker’s manager sets up a deal for Stoker to throw the fight–only he refuses to tell Stoker so he can pocket more of the money. He’s so confident that Stoker will lose. At the same time, Stoker’s long-time girlfriend (wife?) can’t stand watching any more fights, so she refuses to see the fight.

    This is a small, underrated film that has almost no wasted film. There are some dated aspects (like the way the film tries to show how unexpected people possess a kind of bloodlust–for that time period, it’s a good idea, but the shock value doesn’t hold up so well, imo.) I also found the ending of the film very satisfying.

    Thieves’ Highway (1949)
    Dir. Jules Dassin
    76/100

    Mitchell, Penny, Grace, Kevin and Chris would probably top my list. I think other idiots would think this is a pretty good film, but they probably could take it or leave it. Like The Set-Up, I really enjoyed this film.

    **
    I liked the way the film begins: a son returns home from merchant marines(?) work and learns that his father has lost his legs while doing a delivery of vegetables. The tragic occurred because a store owner (Lee J. Cobb) got the father drunk so he didn’t have to pay for the groceries. (As a result, the father drove home, got into an accident and lost his legs.) To make things right the intense son, goes to see the crooked grocer.

    ***(minor spoilers)
    I loved the way this film pulled you a long. I never quite knew what to expect. There was also a gritty harshness to the film–the way people scrape and claw for money. If there is a complaint, it’s the Hollywood ending, which gets tied up a little too quickly and tidily. In some ways, this might not be a bad film to remake.

  235. Mitchell

    Possible Avatar Spoilers:

    Reid said it was exactly like Dances with Wolves, plot-wise.
    Someone in my Twitterstream says Pocahontas.
    Tony Patrick, one of our classmates, says Alien plus FernGully.
    Joan, my college dorm-manager, says FernGully plus Pocahontas.

    None of these makes me want to see the film! 🙂

  236. Reid

    Mitchell,

    In defense of the film, I would say most people who like the film would concede that the plot is not that good, but they like the film despite the plot. I can easily see you being in that camp. As I mentioned, even if you didn’t love this film (which I don’t think you will), this is a film you would be perfectly fine seeing. There are other reasons to see this film: 1.) most of your students will probably see this; 2.) the cutting edge visual aspects of the film. (Didn’t you like Sky Captain primarily because of the visuals effects? This should interest you for the same reason.) I’m surprised that you’re so against seeing this film.

  237. Mitchell

    I never said I was against seeing it. I said I wasn’t interested in it.

  238. Reid

    You’re right. I shouldn’t have said, “against seeing it.” But it sounded like you really didn’t want to see this (“not one iota of interest”)–which is surprising.

  239. Mitchell

    Did You Hear About the Morgans?
    Sarah Jessica Parker, Hugh Grant, Sam Elliott, Mary Steenburgen

    There are about fifty things about this movie that are just ridiculously awful, and there are one or two things about it that are pretty good. Luckily for me, the good stuff is on the screen a good 75% of the time and the ridiculously awful stuff gets the remainder of the screen time.

    The plot is an annoying, stupid contrivance. Parker and Grant, a married couple going through a trial separation, witness a murder and are forced for their own safety into the Witness Protection Program. They are relocated to a small, rural town in Wyoming, where they will share close quarters with Elliott and Steenburgen, a married couple who are both U.S. Marshalls, until the trial is over and they are out of danger. The plot contrivance allows Parker and Grant to do two thing: first, they are stripped of the busy distractions that take up most of their lives, such as cell phones and the successful businesses they run. Second, they are given lots of time and opportunity to discuss the things that went wrong with their marriage.

    What the film does well is give the characters time. Rather than air out all their laundry in one melodramatic speech, Parker and Grant get time to think about things between their conversations. This feels right, and it makes you wonder why more films don’t do this. The issues aren’t many, but they are as complicated as they ever are when two people who love each other stop getting along.

    Similar films give their characters a chance to air their grievances but mostly rely on the concept that the characters will be reminded of why they fell in love in the first place, and all is forgiven or whatever. This film takes a slightly different approach: the characters are well aware of why they loved each other; it’s all that other stuff that gets in the way and the writers and director let Parker and Grant bring those out gradually and deal with them a few at a time.

    These one-on-one scenes between the principal actors are very good. Everything else is awful, including (and I hate to say this because I love her so much) most of the stuff with Elliott and Steenburgen. Throw in Wilford Brimley (really? is there enough room for an Elliott and a Brimley in the same movie? aren’t they basically the same actor nowadays?) and a town of aw-shucks-we’re-just-simple-folk and, well, you can figure out the rest.

    I give this a solid 5. If you’re flipping channels one night and it’s on, you could probably do worse (but see what’s on ESPN first) than to park it there for a while.

    5/10
    55/100

  240. Mitchell

    This is probably old news, and it’s definitely an old thread, but the West Memphis Three (the Paradise Lost documentary, reviewed above, is about them) was released this past weekend. They were allowed to plead guilty to murder without admitting guilt (meaning they agreed the state had enough evidence to convict them while they maintained their innocence) and were sentence to time served.

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