Recent Films: 2011 viewing

Another year of movie watching for idiots.

129 Responses to “Recent Films: 2011 viewing”

  1. Reid

    Quiet City (2007)
    Dir. Aaron Katz
    Starring: Erin Fischer, Chris Lankenau, etc.

    I would recommend this to Tony; then Kevin and Chris. I’d cautiously recommend this to Jill. I’d be surprised if Don, Joel, Larri, Gregg and Marc liked this, so I wouldn’t recommend it to them. Mitchell and Penny saw and liked this (how much, I’m not sure), but I’m pretty sure I liked it more then they did.

    A young woman, Jamie (Fisher), arrives in NYC to visit a friend. When the friend doesn’t show up, she ends up spending a few days with a guy, Charlie (Lankenau) she just met. They basically hang out and talk–and not necessarily the type of humorous or romantic dialogue you would expect from a feature film. Mainstream viewers will probably scratch their heads at many of the scenes and complain the the film is too boring. (I’ll go into the reason I didn’t think so in the next section). The film does look good, which is all the more impressive because they didn’t seem to have a big budget.

    I loved the fact that this is a kind of stripped down boy-meets-girl rom-com. It is like an artier, more independent version of the Before Sunrise/Sunset films. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are grungier, less glamorous leads, but Fisher and Lankenau are even less glamorous (probably because they’re unknown actors). The production value is a lower (but probably better looking from what I remember).

    But perhaps the biggest difference is the treatment of romance. Conventional notions of romance drip from bothBefore Sunrise/Sunset films, but in Quiet City, the film reduces romance to the simple need for human touch and connection, one that occurs between a man and woman, to be sure, but also not something overheated like love or lust; rather, something more delicate and tender–like the first attraction between two shy people.

    Delicate–add subtle and subdued–are words that can also describe the filmmaking. Katz uses a lot of silence or a very simple score played on a piano or keyboard. There isn’t any high tech effects or expensive looking shots in the film. Katz also stays away from any overtly romantic situations or dialogue. If there is any attraction between the two characters it is only hinted at in a very subtle way. (People might argue that this is not really a romance or comedy.) The filmmaking perfectly complemented the film’s theme and that’s another reason I loved this film.

    (I also wanted to talk about the way the film reminded me of parts of Claude Lelouch’s A Man and A Woman, but again in a way that strips down the romantic elements.)

  2. Reid

    Jermal (2008)
    Dir. Rhavi Bharwani, Rayya Makarim and Orlow Seunke
    Starring: Iqbal Manurung, Didi Petet, etc.

    It’s hard to say who would like this. I think Penny, Grace, Kevin and Chris would find this interesting to some degree. I’m not sure about Tony and Mitchell, but I would think they would think this is OK at the very least. I probably wouldn’t recommend this to Joel, Don, Marc, Jill and Larri. I’d expect that they would think this is OK at best.

    On one of the online forums I participate in, there is a group of Indonesians that meet and hang out. I asked them to recommend a handful of Indonesian films, and this was one of them. The film is about a young boy, Jaya (Manurung), who is brought to a jermal (a pier in the middle of the ocean) to see his father, Johar (Petet), whom he has never met.

    There isn’t much of a story and I would describe it as a kind of coming-of-age story and involving an estranged father and son. The style of filmmaking reminds me of the film Ballast and to some extent Antonioni’s films.

    I must first say that I didn’t really sit down and analyze this film completely, and it is the type of film that could get significantly better if I did so. Actually, I’m going to try and do some of the analysis here in this section.

    When Jaya first arrives, he attempts to talk to Johar, but Johar–a large, Samoan-like individual–gruffly rejects Jaya’s attempts–denying that Jaya is his son. There are other boys on the jermal (it seems to be a commercial fishing venture–with young boys–between 11-16–working there), and they are cruel to Jaya. They might be even more cruel because Jaya brings books and an insect collection on board (indicating that Jaya is intelligent and educated; the leader calls him “Professor”).

    Jaya has to learn to get along in with them, and he soon makes some friends. One boy likes to sit on the edge of the pier at night, looking for whales while calling out for them. Some other boys start liking Jaya because he writes letters for them (he seems to be the only literate boy there).

    While this is going on, Johar has a deaf mute friend, who is trying to get Johar to open up to Jaya. Johar starts to re-read letters and pictures sent by Jaya’s mother. But there is something that causes Johar to tear up and try to destroy the letters. (I can’t remember now.) It’s as if Johar wants to detroy his past.

    Later, the film suggests that Johar has killed a man and that is one of the reasons he can’t return to land. Jaya asks him about this and later judges him harshly. The tables turn as Johar starts to reach out for Jaya, but Jaya–in his anger–rejects Johar. Jaya also learns the painful truth that Johar’s mother took a lover and that Jaya had killed the lover out of uncontrollable rage. Jaya doesn’t want to believe that his mother would take up a lover, but Johar shows him the letter. Jaya is sullen and goes through a similar process that the father did.

    About the same time, Jaya finally lashes out against the leader of the boys. Johar breaks up the fight as Jaya is hitting the boy with a stick. Johar decides it is time to stop hiding and go back. Johar sees Jaya in himself and fears that Jaya may be headed on the wrong path. Johar cleans himself up and–takes Jaya, who resists at first, back with him.

    There is the reconciliation of father and son theme going on; there’s a sense of dealing with the past and accepting it. Is there an issue of past, present and future in the film.

  3. Mitchell

    Quiet City

    So there’s this film genre called mumblecore, and while I have an issue with that nomenclature (adding -core to anything just to give it a name is weak, and unless there is some kind of reason for the suffix, such as elements of hardcore punk, it doesn’t make any sense), it’s a kind of film-making that attracts my interest.

    I’ve expressed many times my affinity for some of the values articulated in the Dogme 95 manifesto, but the part of it that really draws me is the insistence on the use of only ambient sound. When it’s done well, as in Italian for Beginners, you might not even notice the absence of an intrusive musical score. That’s what I want in a good movie: a score that enhances what’s on-screen, not something that substitutes for storytelling, acting, or direction. And if that can’t be done, don’t use a score at all. This Hollywood aesthetic that says everything needs music is ridiculous; if we want art to approximate life, as we often (though admittedly not always) do, why aren’t there more films that include no musical soundtrack at all? Music is a huge part of my life, but it’s not omnipresent. There are many times when I drive to work listening to nothing at all except the sound of the traffic around me and the light swishing sound that may or may not be my rear brakes telling me they need replacing. And I almost never go to bed with music playing on the radio.

    Quiet City takes some of the better elements of mumblecore but doesn’t stick stubbornly to any rules about it. It does have an artificial soundtrack, but only in two places I can think of, and in those places it’s done very well, very thoughtfully, and unlike what you see in most films anyway. I won’t reveal it here for those who like to discover such things on their own. I’ll just say that I was nodding in approval both times the music made its appearance.

    Jamie, played by Erin Fisher, is a twenty-something waitress visiting New York City. The friend who’s supposed to meet her never shows up, and Jamie finds herself befriending Charlie, a twenty-something guy who’s between relationships and between jobs. She stays at his place and the two of them spend the next day and a half together, visiting acquaintances and conversing about relationships, music, and all the other silly, mundane things we might talk about if we had to spend longs periods of time with someone we liked but barely knew.

    In Funny Ha-Ha, background dialogue often overlaps foreground dialogue so that you can’t hear what the main characters are saying to each other, a lot like what I imagine you’d get if you were observing the characters from some vantage point across the room. There’s not as much of this in Quiet City, but there is some interference from, say, a closing door or a passing bus. It works well. Where most films’ scripted dialogue cuts out awkward pauses or the verbal punctuation that’s usually marked with “um” and “like,” this film leaves that stuff in, so that we see the real-life spaces between the thoughts and sentences we’re meant to hear.

    In fact, that describes other aspects of the film-making, too. We don’t go from a conversation in a diner to Charlie’s apartment without also seeing the characters walk from one to the other. We see the action (or non-action) in between the action, and this is something that I really like. Where film-makers like Quentin Tarantino or Kevin Smith (both of whom I admire a great deal) like to fill those spaces with interesting dialogue, Quiet City director Aaron Katz just lets those moments happen. This can make an audience restless, but once I realized what was happening, I enjoyed it the way I might enjoy taking that walk myself, just soaking in the moment.

    A more mainstream flick would have these two characters get together. I won’t say if that’s what happens here or not, but I will say that in real life, we don’t get together with everyone we might, and we don’t get together with everyone we want, and a lot of weird things have to happen for two people to get together, not the least of which are real-life, beyond-our-control circumstances like time and place. One of the beautiful things about movies is that they can take us to those unusual confluences of circumstances that foster two people meeting and falling in love, but when that becomes the default, we can forget that life isn’t really like that, and life is beautiful the way it is, too. I’m reminded of a Newbery-winning novel called I, Juan de Pareja, in which a portrait artist explains to his student, “Art should be truth; and truth, unadorned, unsentimentalized, is beauty.” How true the characters and story are in Quiet City is debatable, but I think it reaches for a certain truth, a certain realism, that I admire.

    I need to admit that one huge appeal for me is Erin Fisher, an attractive actress who reminds me faintly of some women I have known, only I can’t really figure out which. She’s great to look at on screen.

    Parts of the film really don’t work for me, moments of seeming artifice that I just don’t buy, but I saw the film with Penny and Reid and they thought those moments were pretty good. Interestingly (and unexpectedly), Reid likes this movie too, especially certain things about it that I didn’t consider that big a deal. I mean, I liked those things too, but they aren’t what made the film for me. For me, Quiet City is a very good slice of life that drops us into these characters’ lives and then lifts us back out of it. It’s mostly satisfying despite a few flaws, and definitely worth a rental, especially for those who appreciate a bit of realism in their somewhat angsty, somewhat restless post-college entertainment.

    Wikipedia. IMDb.


  4. Reid

    Mitchell said,

    Interestingly (and unexpectedly), Reid likes this movie too, especially certain things about it that I didn’t consider that big a deal.

    I meant to address this more fully in my review. I especially wanted to respond to a question or remark you made the night we saw this, namely, what made this better or why I liked this more than King’s Speech.

    But first, let address some other things. First, while I can understand describing this as a slice-of-life film, I sort of feel that is a misleading and, perhaps, inappropriate designation. Slice-of-life films generally don’t have a strong story and they often don’t have a prominent theme or general point to make. The point, if there is one, is primarily to give viewers a taste of the character’s world, of their life or a time in their lives.

    While Quiet City has a similar flavor, I think it’s more accurate to call the film a boy-meets-girl “romantic-comedy”–albeit a different (indy) sensibility towards both romance and comedy. This type of variation on a well-worn format is something that I liked about the film–especially since I thought the update of this form was successful and fresh.

    The second reason I liked the film so much–and how it differs from typical slice-of-life films–is that it had a central theme or point to the film. In this case, this theme, stated by the character Robin (Jamie’s artist friend), is the simple need for physical touch and connection with someone of the opposite sex. I can’t think of many films that have reduced romance down to such a delicate and simple emotion. This leads me to something you said that I want to comment on:

    …but I will say that in real life, we don’t get together with everyone we might, and we don’t get together with everyone we want, and a lot of weird things have to happen for two people to get together, not the least of which are real-life, beyond-our-control circumstances like time and place.

    I don’t think the film is really about love or romantic relationships per se. Rather, I think the film depicts a kind of attraction one has for someone else, the type of attraction that occurs when you first meet someone; when the feeling hasn’t reached something powerful like love at first site or getting really hot over someone. It’s something a lot more mild, the type of thing that leads to flirting, maybe holding hands, putting your head on someone’s shoulder, but not much more than that. I love that the film captures something so delicate.

    Robin speech–something that could have ruined the film, but does the exact opposite–introduces this other delicate feeling of just having some connection through touch–not a touch that’s highly sexual, but something more warm and emotional–and consquently the film sort of holds these two feelings side-by-side in a way that suggests a connection between the two. I love that about the film!

    (Btw, on a side note, Erin Fisher, in the commentary, talked about the way the original plan for the scene with Erin was supposed to be a conversation about Jamie’s feelings towards Charlie. But the Katz thought that was too obvious. Fisher mentioned how she loved that fact that the “main speech” came from someone from outside the relationship, and I totally agree with all of these points.

    Another thing Fisher mentioned while commenting on the dance sequence was how innocent they all seemed. That struck a chord with me, and I think this is one of the reasons this scene worked for me as well as the racing sequence. There is this innocence and carefree, youthful feeling that I found really appealing .The cinematography (use of the sun flares) and the music (the simple childlike score in the dance sequence) support and enhance this feeling as well.

    In any event, the fact that the film is about these feelings–and not just a slice-of-life of these characters–is something that made me love the film more than the typical slice-of-life film. Other slice-of-life films that I like are generally about something that I find interesting or compelling, too.)

    Now, how does this differ from King’s Speech. The latter, imo, doesn’t have much of a story–or not a very strong or interesting one, imo. As a character or “relationship” study, it feels unfinished or anti-climactic. Yes, Firth’s outbursts are interesting, but we never understand why he is that way (and the film teases the audience that it will reveal the reason for this). I think Lionel’s commoner status–not to mention his outsider status as an Aussie–and the complications this causes and how it relates to his character is not fully fleshed out. Frankly, the filmmakers seem indifferent to these things–things that I think could have made the relationship and characters interesting; it would have given the film purpose and a point. Instead, we see good acting, but without a script or director that will steer it to something more fruitful.

    One last thing about Quiet City. I think the film is a wonder and inspiration–especially for young filmmakers with little resources. If there are talented filmmakers out there, this film proves that a sublime film can be made without name actors or high production values. In this way, I’m glad you mentioned the Dogme aesthetic, because this film definitely fits the spirit behind the manifesto. I really see it as a small miracle.

  5. Mitchell

    Gulliver’s Travels
    Jack Black, Amanda Peet, Emily Blunt.

    You know, this had some potential. The set-up was there, the sweetness, the pathos for the film’s main characters. The talent. But somewhere between an engaging first fifteen minutes and a rock-and-roll song-and-dance sequence final five minutes, it gets horribly lazy. And that’s too bad, because with a little more creativity on the part of the writers and director, Gulliver’s Travels could have been one of those (lately rather rare) films that cracks the kids up and rewards the parents who pay for the admission tickets.

    Lemuel Gulliver (Jack Black) works in the mail room of a New York newspaper. He has been crushing on the editor of the travel section, Darcie Silverman (Amanda Peet), a pretty, smart, sweet journalist who seems to like Gulliver at least on friendly terms. In order to impress Darcie, Gulliver asks for a chance at a writing assignment for the section, a three-week, off-the-grid boatride through the Bermuda Triangle. A waterspout in the Triangle sends Gulliver to the land of Lilliput.

    The rest of the story’s not really important; it’s enough to say that Gulliver goes from being feared to being loved by the Lilliputians.

    Those with literary bents would want to know (at least, I would want to know) that the Brobidnagians make a very brief appearance, but there’s no mention of the Houyhnhnms or any of the other peoples (not even the Glubdubdribs or the Japanese!) in the source novel.

    Look. This movie is pretty much what you’d have every reason to expect. Nobody is going to be very surprised at what’s here. What I’m suggesting is that, especially based on a pretty good setup and a cast that could have handled it, this film COULD have surprised its audience by being all that and a bit more. It could have been a lot smarter in its stupidity, but while I can forgive the movie its lengthy urination sequence, I could forgive it a lot more easily if other aspects of being enormous could have been explored in other, more creative ways. However, near the end, when the film takes an unexpected (and pretty interesting) turn, it immediately returns to its lowest-common-denominator territory and a seemingly centuries-long war is settled by the singing of a song from the 1960s.

    A lot of critics seem to be wasting their breath on the effects. It’s true that the effects are pretty bad, but that’s not what makes this a bad movie, and better effects wouldn’t have improved it one iota. What would have improved the film is if the writers had given their audience some acknowledgment of brains. The film pretty much accomplishes what it sets out to do; it’s just disappointing it didn’t set its sights higher.

    Early in the film, one interesting approach occurred to me. This movie is set in the modern-day United States, a country in which just about every educated person is familiar with the Gulliver’s Travels story. Why deny that? Why not set this film in a world in which Gulliver’s Travels exists? Then, rather than create the mythology out of scratch, there could be the irony of a character discovering that the mythology is real. In this way, some attempt at social satire might be made, perhaps in an updated spirit of Jonathan Swift’s original work. I’m not saying this had to be Wag the Dog to satisfy me, but some kind of effort in that direction could have been so cool.



  6. Reid

    More comments about Quiet City

    I forgot to say that I really don’t care for the mumblecore label, not for the same reasons Mitchell cited. The name doesn’t seem to capture the essence of the films. What distinguishes the film is not this sense of not being able to hear the dialogue well; I’ve only seen a few films, but whatever.

    Btw, Mitchell, I think you should check out Mutual Appreciation–actually, you should check out more of the films in this movement.

    Finally, I wanted to mention another film the Quiet City seems to allude to, namely, Elvira Madigan. In a way, Quiet City is like an Elvira Madigan of our times (very different from the 60s).

  7. mitchell

    Season of the Witch
    Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman.

    We were all set to see Country Strong, but there was a problem with the projector. Theater management gave us re-entry vouchers for our next visit and told us we were free to check out any other film in the theater. Somehow, Season of the Witch seemed like our best option even though I’d seen the trailer twice and KNEW it was going to be awful.

    And awful it is. Almost everything about this Medieval adventure story looks and feels cheap except for the two lead actors who seem from the beginning to be too good for the material and fully aware of it. I wouldn’t say they play the scenes in any kind of slumming or condescending way, but in a film that sort of calls for excessive acting, they seem to hold back just a little, as if this were the night game versus a bad team and they’ve got a day game versus a good team in just a few hours.

    Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman play sword-wielding Crusaders, knights in service to the church who grimly but competently kill scores of men in battle without breaking much of a sweat. When Perlman says to Cage, “I’ll take the three hundred on the left; you take the three hundred on the right,” it sounds cocky, but in a very well-edited sequence of battles fronting different landscapes in different kinds of weather, we can see that the arrogance is well earned.

    And that’s pretty much the highlight of the movie.

    After years of slaughter and pillaging, the main characters are stung by a bit of a guilty conscience, and they decide that while they will continue to serve God, they no longer serve the church. They wander homeward, one guesses, until they come across a town that has been hit by the plague. The resident Cardinal (Christopher Lee) is sure the plague has been brought by the Black Witch, and begs the two knights to take the witch to some monastery six hundred leagues away, where she might be exorcised or given a fair trial or something.

    The journey from town to monastery is a dismal onslaught of dimly-lit action sequences, melodramatic dialogue, and spooky noises from a Halloween haunted-house special-effects CD. It’s pretty dull.

    Leaving the theater, I was pretty sure this was one of the worst movies I’d seen in quite some time, but I gave it a night and a day to seep its way into my good graces, and I decided that taken seriously, this movie just sucks. However, taking seriously a movie that doesn’t want or expect to be taken seriously makes it impossible to appreciate, so I wondered if taken tongue-in-cheek, Season of the Witch could work, like a film made intentionally to be played on Joe Bob Briggs’s Drive-In Theater.

    There just isn’t enough there, ‘though some of the cheesy dialogue would certainly be entertaining fare at two in the morning if enough Bagel Bites were present. I might actually enjoy most of this movie’s badness, if it were not separated by so much dullness. And I do like the interplay between Cage and Perlman. For these reasons, I’m going to give it a little bit of a bump in score.


  8. Reid

    Beeswax (2009)
    Dir. Andrew Bujalski

    I recommend this to Mitchell; maybe Tony and Penny next. I can’t tell if Kevin, Chris or Grace would like this. I’m pretty sure Jill, Joel, Don, Marc, John and Larri wouldn’t like this, though. I don’t love Bujalski’s films (although I don’t fully understand the reason I like them as much as I do), but I think he’s a really good director.

    This film is about two twins, Jeannie and Lauren, twenty-somethings in Austin, Tx. Jeannie is in a wheel chair and runs a clothing boutique. Lauren is a free spirit without any direction in her life. Jeannie runs the store with Amanda, but problems arise when Amanda hardly comes to the store. Jeannie also has a friend named Merrill, who tries to help her with this situation.

    I have a feeling the plot description won’t really appeal to many people. I really can’t say much, except to say that I think the film is partly interesting because of the characters are people we don’t normally see in film–average twenty-somethings portrayed in a realistic way. In some ways, describing this as a Gen-X (i.e. “slacker”) film is pretty accurate, but I think this film does more than depict the Gen-X condition. Instead, the film has a kind of story or at least theme that it’s trying to get at. (See the next section.)

    What seems to be at the heart of the story (I’m not totally sure) is this character portrait of twins–twins that have opposite personalities: one is a free spirit, not really organized and sort of drifting, while the other is organized and controling in an anal way. What makes this film interesting is Bujalski’s sensibility towards characters: partly the characters are people we don’t really often see; partly the way the characters behave seems very real and natural. These qualities of the characters turn a rather boring and well-worn plot into something fresh and interesting to me. (At least that’s the best explanation I can come up with so far.)

  9. Mitchell

    Country Strong
    Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Leighton Meester, Garrett Hedlund

    Holy mackerel what a disappointment. I wanted to like this so much; it looked so much like the kind of film I might see multiple times. I guess last year’s Crazy Heart had me yearning for another country music character study, and while the music, the second-biggest draw for me (after Gwyneth), is quite excellent, that’s really the best thing to be said about this predictable, formulaic, lazy, cheap movie.

    There are two things I cannot fault here: the music and the performances. Paltrow as fictional country singer Kelly Canter is what she always is: focused, magnetic, believable, likable. She looks great, of course, but shows her age (she’s thirty-nine) in this flick, sometimes from angles many actresses might consider unflattering. She’s always, always, always the best thing to look at on the big screen whenever she’s in a movie, and although she’s trapped in a flimsy script, you’d never know it based on how well she holds up this role. Tim McGraw as her manager/husband is solid, too. He’s not the actor Paltrow is, but the story doesn’t really call for huge chops, and McGraw does his job solidly, just as he does in The Blind Side as Sandra Bullock’s husband.

    Garrett Hedlund and Leighton Meester as two young, up-and-coming wanna-be country music stars would steal this movie right from under an actress of less formidable presence than Paltrow. They are charismatic and talented, good actors and great singers. The camera loves Hedlund especially, who as Paltrow’s apprentice has a boyish charm tinged with the right amount of mischief for country music; he might be singing Merle Haggard songs, but you know he’s got as much in common with outlaws like Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. He’s got a serious singing voice, too. Meester is adorable as the former beauty queen singing pretty pop country songs and getting opportunities perhaps earned as much by her looks as by her talent. She, too, has quite a singing voice.

    Paltrow as the aging country music superstar is recovering (and rehabbing) from a very public meltdown that results in a miscarriage and creates tension between her and McGraw, not to mention her and her fans. McGraw seems at this stage of the marriage more concerned about Paltrow as money-machine than as wife, ‘though to the film’s credit it at least doesn’t keep relationships so two-dimensional. There’s just enough complexity in relationships here to make for interesting country songs but not enough to make for a satisfying film. Meester and Hedlund, by virtue of talent and good looks, are hanging on to this crazy comeback tour that could make them the next superstars, but there are entanglements there, too, as you might expect.

    Performances this good can make up for a lot of weakness in script. However, the chasm that must be bridged here is too wide even for Paltrow, McGraw, Hedlund, and Meester, and it’s a darned shame. There isn’t a plot turn, shoving match, drunken outburst, wistful look, beer bottle, pill bottle, or snide remark that you don’t see coming right down Nashville Boulevard from miles away, with the possible exception of two things near the end, one of which I think is interesting and a good idea, and the other of which completely ruins the picture for me. Without spoiling it, I will just say that the plot takes us somewhere it hasn’t earned the right to take us, and then when we’re there it doesn’t do enough with the situation to justify it, explain it, or move on from it.

    Seldom does a so-so movie irritate me and disappoint me as much as Country Strong does. I spent the rest of the evening sighing, I was so torn between loving the performances (dramatic and musical) and hating the story. The whole experience was just too much of a downer to repeat, and I cannot recommend this picture, although if you go in prepared to hate the story, you might at least enjoy the acting and singing.

    Country Weak is more like it.


  10. Reid

    I’m going to review three more films and before I do I just want to recommend these films to Tony and especially, Mitchell. Two are from the so-called “mumblecore” movement and the other is not. Essentially, I think these mumblecore films are within the spirit, if not the law, of the Dogme 95 manifesto. These films–along with *Quiet City* and *Beeswax* –are also solid, if not very good films. (Well, one of them is so-so, imo.) If Mitchell would saw all these films in a row, I think he’s be pretty satisfied, even if he didn’t love everyone of them. I think it sort of changes your perspective about Hollywood films–these films show what Hollywood could be like. (Well, at least, Hollywood films for grown-ups.) Here we go.

    Honey (2004)
    Dir. David Ball

    Of the three films, I give the weakest recommendation for this film–although I did not like one thing about the film and if others disagree they could really like this. Besides, Tony and Mitchell, I would mildly recommend this to Penny and Grace. I’m really not sure what Chris and Kevin would think. I’d guess Joel, Don, Marc and John wouldn’t care for this.

    This is a very low-budget film about two pairs of couples–John and Ruth (married) and Charles and Elsie (bf/gf). (They look like they’re in their 30s.) They all knew each other in college and the most of the film’s action takes place at a party for Elsie, where we see different problems of the past arise. If you’re familiar with John Cassavetes’ films like Faces, this is sort of in the same vein.

    The script is pretty good, if not very good, but the acting is amateurish (particularly the male leads; I think they are all amateurs), and it really hurts the film, imo. The movie depends on really good actors because the scenes have a whip-lash of one emotion to the opposite in an instant. Even really good actors might have trouble, and it would be interesting to see with better actors.

    Btw, I saw the film (which is not on dvd but can be seen here) because of a person’s remark about Quiet City not being “messy” enough (as in, not having enough messy, life details).

    Cry Funny Happy (2003)
    Dir. Sam Neave

    Recommended to Mitchell, Penny, Tony and probably Kevin. I think Chris would probably like this on some level. I also recommend this to Jill. I think Don and Marc could like this, too, but it’s a fifty-fifty thing. Not sure about Joel.

    This another film relationships. Wes is turning thirty and he’s just moved in with Sophie, who is throwing him a birthday party. Lenny, a good friend of Wes, is bringing his girlfriend, Ally, who has just come back to NY from Paris (She’s also an old girlfriend of Wes’). Dylan is the third friend that comes to party. With Dylan is a Iranian woman, Naima, that Dylan met on the train.

    This film is similar in a broad way to Honey, but the acting is a lot better. Also, the situations and dialogue are not as contrived. In Honey, the writer creates scenes that feel like acting-gymnastics. Here, the acting and characters, while dramatic, feel more natural and not as “writerly.”

    This is a solid movie and impressive movie. Once again, like many of the mumblecore films, this shows that a good movie can be made with a limited budget.

    Btw, you can watch this on netflix streaming. Oh, and I think the title is sort of weak.

    Nine Lives (2005)
    Dir. Rodrigo Garcia
    Starring: Robin Wright, Holly Hunter, Amy Brenneman, Glen Close, Joe Mategna, Kathy Baker, Mary Kay Place, Sissy Spacek, Aidan Quinn, (you get the idea)

    Again, Mitchell. Tony next. Penny and Grace would at least like this mildly. Larri and Jill might like this a little, but she could pass on this. Tough call with Don, Marc, Joel and John.

    This is a nine vignettes about nine different women. The vignettes are more like scenes. Honestly, I was sick when I saw this, so I wasn’t concentrating fully. But the acting was good enough that I enjoyed this. Btw, Rodrigo Garcia is the son of novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez . He also directed 2010’s Mother and Child (a solid film).

  11. Mitchell

    Reid: Don’t let your wife see Country Strong. She will hate it.

  12. Reid

    Too late. She was really bummed. If it wasn’t for one thing, she would have loved it, too. I felt bad for her.

    Btw, I wish you could watch those films that I reviewed together. I think it’s sort of eye-opening and provides a strong contrast with what’s out there now. Actually, I don’t think you’ll love the films above, but you’ll like and appreciate them. It’s another world of film–and not a weird, arty one, either.

  13. Mitchell

    Three movies in one day is EXTREMELY unlikely.

  14. Reid

    I didn’t mean to suggest seeing them in one day, but one after the other over a period of time. In some ways, the films are like a secret, underground world of Hollywood.

  15. Reid

    Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
    Dir. Edgar Wright
    Starring: Michael Sera,

    I’d recommend this Tony. Then I’d recommend this to Jill. I’m not sure if Chris or Kevin would like this, but if I was forced to choose, I’d say they should see this. Penny and Grace would come next. This is also a toss up for Don, Marc and Joel. They could end up liking this quite a bit or just thinking it was OK. I don’t think Larri would really like this, although she wouldn’t hate it.

    I must say that I didn’t really love the film, but my score reflects the overall quality of the movie. (If I rated my enjoyment of the film, it would probably be 60.)

    This is the type of teen fantasy that some can dismiss as silly, but it’s so well-done and committed to its vision that this criticism would be, well, silly. Indeed, the film is so well-done that I wouldn’t have minded if Edgar Wright got a best director nomination. I don’t think it’s a great film, but I do think he did a lot good things in this film.

    The movie is about Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), a twenty-something and bass player in a local rock band. He’s has just met the girl of his dreams, but in order to get the girl, he’ll have to fight and defeat her seven ex-boyfriends.

    FWIW, I really liked the effects (like sound effect words appearing on the screen like in a comic book). Btw, I find Cera an odd case because I can appreciate his style and humor, but I rarely laugh at his schtick. Ditto Kieran Culkin–should have been more enjoyable.

    Troubled Water (2008)
    Dir. Eric Poppe

    I think I could recommend this all the idiots–in this order Penny, Mitchell, Tony, Kevin, Chris, Marc and John. Jill and Joel would appreciate this, too, but it’s not something they would love. I think Don and Larri would like this on some level, too, but I don’t think they would love it.

    This is now streaming on netflix, and it’s worth checking out if you’re in the mood for this type of movie. (See next section for details.)

    This is a Danish film about a man, Thomas, who is released from prison after serving time for killing a young boy. He tries to move forward with his life by getting a job as an organist at a church.

    The direction and the script are very good in this film and probably makes the film worth-watching by itself. The film not only looks good, but the storytelling is outstanding. If you’re looking for a good well-made drama–which can be intense and harrowing (especially for parents), this is a good one to pick.

    The film seems to be about redemption and forgiveness, but in the end I think it’s about something the female pastor says about dealing with evil–namely acceptance and atonement. And this seems to be the resolution at the ending. Thomas and Agnes don’t receive or give forgiveness, but they both seem to accept the evil and do something to atone for it. I do think that the way this happens is a bit contrived, but I could live with it.

    The other thing I really loved is the way the director and/or screenwriter rearrange the chronological events in a way to tell this story, particularly the way the film switches to Agnes’ point of view at the half way point. Think of something by Tarantino or Capra’s *It’s a Wonderful Life* and you’ll get an idea of what I mean.

  16. Mitchell

    Letters to Juliet
    Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Redgrave, Chris Egan, Franco Nero
    Directed by Gary Winick

    There is an elegance, a grace, a kind of sobriety that some older actors seem effortlessly to carry with them into a role. Think of Burt Lancaster as Moonlight Graham in Field of Dreams, or Jessica Tandy in Driving Miss Daisy, or Richard Harris in the first two Harry Potter movies. Even Betty White, a comedic actress given silly roles lately, seems to bring with her an amazing credibility (not to mention her still impeccable timing) that makes even her easy, obvious jokes funny. Is this really there? Are these experienced actors who have produced some of the great performances of all time demonstrating the same acting chops that made them stars decades ago, or are we merely attributing to them an earned benefit of the doubt for performances that seem too easy? A dearth of meaningful parts for older actors means that the better actors still working are most likely to get the good roles, so maybe these really are great performances and what seems to be effortlessness IS the good acting at work. Or maybe, in a medium where youth and beauty have always ruled, the chance to see our once-idolized icons in less-glamorous roles is enough to present the illusion of good acting, kind of like when Morgan Freeman gives any kind of important monologue in any kind of movie: it has to be good acting because it’s THEM.

    Whatever it is, it is in full effect in Letters to Juliet just about whenever Vanessa Redgrave is on screen. The moment she makes her first appearance, she is the loveliest, most luminous thing in the picture, and that’s even while standing next to the adorable Amanda Seyfried in some of Verona’s lovely, sunlit countryside. Redgrave’s every move, glance, and gesture betray not only a character of manners and breeding, but also an actress of considerable skill. Her performance is so nice that the film’s weaknesses are more noticeable than they might otherwise have been, and while that works against the film’s overall effectiveness, it adds enough quality to the movie to keep this from being as awful as it made almost every effort to be.

    Redgrave plays Claire, who fifty years earlier chickened out on young love and left a heartbroken, sorrowful letter in a crevice in the wall outside what is supposed to be Juliet Capulet’s house. Seyfried is Sophie, an aspiring writer on a pre-honeymoon in Verona with her fiance, a chef about to open his first restaurant in New York. He is a passionate, interesting young man, but so passionate is he about food and so preoccupied with the opening of this restaurant that Sophie finds herself exploring the sights of Italy on her own while he chases down opportunities to procure wine, cheese, and cooking lessons for his restaurant. Sophie discovers Claire’s long-forgotten letter and writes a heartfelt response. With the kind of speed only possible in films, it’s not long before Claire, inspired by the response letter, is in Verona with her grandson Charlie. Claire is recently widowed and has convinced Charlie to accompany her on a search for Lorenzo, the object of her long-lost teenaged love.

    However, there are a thousand men in Italy who have the same name. Determined to help Claire find her Lorenzo, Sophie comes along on this quest that Charlie is vocally not in favor of. He is angry at Sophie for planting the idea in his grandmother’s head, and he is concerned about the stress that chasing a fifty-year-old memory is having on her. You can pretty much fill in the rest of the story if you’ve seen more than three American romantic comedies in the past ten years. There are no surprises in the plot here, ‘though the writers do throw in some depth of character by giving us believable backstories for Charlie and Sophie.

    The weak link (story aside) is Charlie, played by Christopher Egan. He’s a character assembled by a long history of cliched, wealthy grandsons of English barristers: snooty, well-spoken, close-minded, and aloof. A more carefully considered character here might have raised this film above its predictable plot, but instead it seems to point it out with flashing neon lights. And the stumbling block is really that the film is determined to be about the romance between Charlie and Sophie rather than the friendship between Sophie and Claire. A more thoughtful plot would have Sophie and Claire interact more, so that it is Charlie’s and Sophie’s shared love for Claire that brings them together, and not just the experience of driving through the lovely vineyards of Verona. Determined as it is, though, the film keeps pushing the Charlie-Sophie relationship on us even when what we really want is more Vanessa Redgrave, and it doesn’t work.

    Which is too bad, because Seyfried is just shy of wonderful in this. In addition to being adorable, she is likable and fun to watch. She has a remarkable whiteness of skin that almost makes you wish the film were in black and white, if that makes any sense, and she has a sort of very real sexiness, the kind you don’t see enough of in movies. Yes, she is remarkably pretty, but she moves and stands in ways that don’t look like she’s in a movie; we see her at angles that normally get edited out or acted away, angles from which we see the pretty women in our own everyday lives. I know I’m being unclear about this because I’m trying to be tactful and diplomatic, but I will say (for those who might know what I mean) that one good example of this is the way Seyfried’s bosom moves. There’s something very non-Hollywoodish about the way she’s allowed to move, stand, hide, and reveal that we are used to seeing in real life. I don’t know if I’m actually seeing this or if it’s something of my own construct, like the perceived great performances by elderly actors in movies like this, but boy does it work.

    I have now seen four films directed by Gary Winick. The others were 13 Going on 30, Charlotte’s Web (a film I really liked), and Bride Wars. I think it’s rather telling that it’s Charlotte’s Web, a film whose story is a children’s classic and for good reason, that is the really good film. 13 Going on 30 and Bride Wars share with Letters to Juliet strong casts capable of excellent acting and stories with enough potential but not enough originality to make fullest use of the outstanding talent.

    Good performances by Redgrave and Seyfried give it a boost, but horribly thin story brings it down.


  17. Reid

    Hannah Takes the Stairs (2007)
    Dir. Joe Swanberg
    Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mark Duplass, Andrew Bujalski, Kent Osbourne, etc.

    I’m pretty sure Mitchell would find this interesting at the very least and could really like this. Next, I’d guess Tony has the best chance of liking this. Penny, Chris and Kevin would be the next guys, but it’s 50-50. Grace and Jill would be next in line (i.e. less than 50-50 that they would like this). I probably wouldn’t recommend this to Don, Marc, Joel or Larri, although they wouldn’t hate it.

    My enjoyment of the film is probably lower than the score, but I’ll explain the reason for the higher score in the next section.

    The “mumblecore” film is primarily a character study of Hannah (Gerwig), a twenty-something jumping from one relatinship to another, seemingly out of confusion and insecurity. Gerwig’s performance in the film–the awkward moments which are funny, poignant or both–is the highlight for the film. (I also think Mitchell will find her attractive, so I think this is another reason he’ll be interested in the film–she reminds me of Gwen Stefani.)

    The camera work and editing is sort of amateurish and not very interesting. The storyline is also pretty bland; however, it is a low-budget film.

    The Puffy Chair (2005)
    Dir. Jay Duplass
    Starring: Mark Duplass, Rhett Wilkins, Katie Aselton, etc.

    I’m not confident about who will like this, but I think several people like Kevin, Chris and Don (I don’t think I’ve had that combination before) will like certain things about it. That doesn’t mean I’d recommend the film to them. Well, I would recommend this to Chris and Kevin. I’d cautiously recommend this to Joel, who could really enjoy scenes from this, but might not like the overall film. Ditto Don, although it might be a little more risky (I could see him giving this two stars). I also think Penny would like parts of the film, and think it was OK at the very least, so I’d recommend this to her. Again, I’m going to recommend this to Tony and Mitchell, not because Im’ sure they’re going to like it, but because I’m pretty sure they’ll think it’s OK at the very least, and might even really like it.

    The score is a little higher because I found the film more entertaining than “Hannah.”

    This is a mumblecore comedy-drama about Josh (Mark Duplass) driving to see his parents. He’s taking his girlfriend, Emily (Aselton) and brother, Rhett (Wilkins). Along the way, he’s picking up a lazy-boy type chair for his father’s birthday gift.

    I must say that the film cracked me several times, and I think Don, Joel, Kevin and Chris (maybe Marc) would also crack up, too. What’s interesting is that Mark Duplass clearly has comedic talent (Rhett Wilkins is also good in this, as a more subtle version of Jim Ignatowski), but he also has a punky vibe (which sort of turns me off). In any event, there are some funny scenes in this, and I think they would make the film worth watching by themselves.

  18. Mitchell

    No Strings Attached
    Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Kline, Mindy Kaling

    Penny and I seem to have felt the same way about this. It isn’t bad. It’s much better than the trailer led me to expect. While it’s true that this is not an outstanding movie, not even in its genre, it could certainly have been a lot worse, and I say the difference is in the details.

    Portman and Kutcher are f— buddies, to use a common crude term. Friends with benefits. They have known each other, off and on, since they were teens, and now in their mid-twenties, they enjoy each other’s sexual company without the attachments of a romantic relationship. Portman is a doctor in the middle of her residency. She says she doesn’t have the time or makeup for a committed relationship, but she seems to be using that as an easy excuse for some deeper issues, none of which get more than a cursory discussion here and there. Kutcher is an assistant director on a TV series that looks a lot like Glee and struggles to find his place in a business where his father has made a mark before him. Kevin Kline is his father, the star of what looks like a ridiculous and ridiculously successful sitcom.

    You can imagine what happens with the love story, but you probably won’t predict the details that make the predictable plot more interesting, somehow separating it from most of its romantic-comedy ilk and making it somewhat more believable.

    One non-spoiler example: Portman and her roomies (doctors, all) are in the midst of a difficult part of their menstrual cycle. They are lying around the apartment in really foul moods. Kutcher shows up at the door, is initially turned away, and then is welcomed in when he says he bears cupcakes. So far, this is about what you’d expect. Kutcher also brings a mix CD, one of the great cliches of our time, but this is custom-made for the occasion: it’s a bunch of songs about bleeding and blood. It’s a period mix.

    Another scene, in which we are brought to one of the emotional climaxes, involves a physical altercation, a funny but heartfelt fistfight that capitalizes on the considerable size difference between the stars. A fight is nothing new; however, this is done well in a visually interesting setting, and the characters’ reactions during the fight, while comical, are also sincere.

    Details like this don’t turn a bad movie into a good movie, but when they help develop characters in a way that you haven’t seen a million times before, they can turn a so-so movie into a pretty decent movie. Kutcher does not do a whole lot of acting: he is the solid, interesting lightbulb around which Portman’s moth flutters frenetically from scene to scene. He presents as charming, smart, and conflicted without being melodramatic or especially overwrought. Portman is alternately cutting and cute, smart enough to make you feel stupid but sweet enough to make you like it. One of the nice things I can say about this film is that when Portman tells Kutcher that he’s a really nice person, you agree with the assessment. The film does a decent job of showing us who these people are before telling us who these people are.

    Mindy Kaling and Greta Gerwig play Portman’s roomies. I love it when the supporting characters are smart and interesting. Kaling’s very appearance in the trailer was the thing that made me want to see the film. Portman had me teetering on the brink; Kaling is what tipped me over. Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly says of these supporting characters, “the real strings worth tying are those that bind this sisterhood of sharp, interesting, sexually active women together. Where’s their starring movie?” It’s a good question.

    The weak link in the cast is Kevin Kline as Kutcher’s father. The role is important to Kutcher’s story, but in a film where almost everyone tries to look and sound like someone who actually exists in the world, Kline seems like a cartoon. Of course, his character is a celebrated Hollywood star and I don’t know any Hollywood stars, so maybe his portrayal is actually spot-on. It’s just annoyingly unbelievable.

    Reviews seem to be mixed, and that’s about what I’d expect. As Michael Phillips says, “You’ve seen worse. The film industry is capable of better.” Subtract 10% from my biased rating if you don’t particularly like Natalie Portman.


  19. Mitchell

    A multiple-Oscar-winning film editor writes to Roger Ebert about why 3D doesn’t work. I don’t get all of it, but I am at least encouraged to have physiology on my side.

  20. Reid

    It’s a shame you didn’t give Avatar a shot, though. (Didn’t Ebert think highly of the 3D in that film.) I think you know 3D films haven’t impressed me, and you know I didn’t really care for Avatar. That said, I think the visuals were quite good and probably the best thing about the film. I strongly suspect that you would not only agree with this, but you might also enjoy the film a lot more than I did.

  21. Mitchell

    Maybe. But you should try wearing a pair of 3D glasses over a pair of prescription glasses. That’s a lot of unpleasantness to get a close-up of Zoe Saldana’s blueness.

  22. Reid

    FWIW, I put the 3D glasses over my prescription ones.

    Onto more pleasant and happier subjects, namely two films that I found quite satisfying.

    Blue Valentine (2010)
    Dir. Derek Cianfrance
    Starring: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, etc.

    I’d recommend this to Penny, MItchell and Tony. I think Kevin, Grace and Chris would probably be interested in this, but I’m not sure how much they’d like it. Jill might like this, but I’m not sure. I probably wouldn’t recommend this to Joel, Marc or Don. No, to Larri.

    The film is about a marriage between Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams). What noteworthy, imo, is the quality of acting and the way the film tells the story of their relationship. Williams received an nomination for best actress, which I won’t argue with, but I thought Gosling’s performance was a little better.


    The performances are good in this, but that’s not what ultimately made the film good, imo. What I liked was the way the film told the story of the marriage by two streams: one starting at the end of the marriage and the other starting at the beginning of it. I especially liked the way these two streams get closer and closer until the film ends with the wedding and the what seems to be the end of the marriage. The filmmakers do a terrific job making the courtship romantic and they do an equally good job of depicting the dissolution of a marriage. The title sort of captures these two sentiments.

    I’m curious to know what people think about the significance of fireworks and ending the film on the 4th of July.

    Another Year (2010)
    Dir. Mike Leigh
    Starring: Jim Broadbent (Tom), Ruth Sheen (Gerri), Lesley Manville (Mary), Oliver Maltman (Joe), Peter Wight (Ken), David Bradley (Ronnie), Karina Fernandez (Katie).

    I would recommend this to Penny Then I’d recommend this to Tony, Mitchell, Kevin and Chris–although I’m not sure if they would love this. I do think there is enough to make it worth seeing. I’d cautiously recommedn this to Jill. I probably wouldn’t recommend this to Marc, Don, Joel or Larri.

    The film centers around a family–Tom,, a geologist, Gerri a counselor/psychologist at a hospital and their thirty year old son, Joe, a lawyer who seems to handle cases for people who can’t afford it. The story follows the family interacting with a group of sad-sack characters, especially one named, Mary, who works as a secretary as the same hospital as Gerri. Mary is in her late fifties, early sixties, and lives alone. By the way she dresses, you get the sense that she’s a woman who has not resigned her helf to her age; she’s flirty and flighty in her speech and mannerism. But she’s extremely lonely. Ken is also very lonely. He’s a long time friend of the family and comes for a visit.

    This would be a good film to discuss as I think there may be different interpretations of it.


    Somewhat like In the Bedroom, I read the film as a strong critique against the middle class–particularly the liberal one. Tom, Gerri and Joe are good liberals. They work in a community garden; they invite their older, single friends to their homes for dinner, and they’re very amiable and kind and generous people. But, by the end of the film, I’m convinced that these characters really didn’t care about Mary, Ken or Ronnie. Their kindness and concern was all very superficial–lacking a deeper compassion and empathy for their friends and family member.

    Manville received an nomination for best-supporting actor, and I wouldn’t quarrel with that pick. But here’s a situation where the viewers can overlook a less showier performance(s)–namely the ones by Broadbent and Sheen–especially Sheen. Who is Gerri? At first she seems like a really sweat person, the kind that would be someone’s favorite aunt. But really there’s a coldness and detached quality about her character and Sheen creates this in a subtle way. Gerri is a decent person and likable person, except she doesn’t have have any empathy. Actually, her entire family is like this. They not only seem incapable of understanding the pain around them, but they are almost oblivious to it. For example, they seem unaware that Mary has romantic intentions on Joe. Even if they were not one hundred percent certain, they should have seen and reacted to some of the red flags.

    There’s another scene where Ken blatantly breaks down after talking about his loneliness. Tom offers to go “pub hopping” with Ken, and it’s a nice gesture in a way, except Tom ignores–i.e. doesn’t acknowledge–Ken’s suffering; Tom doesn’t express some degree of pain from seeing his friend suffer. Btw, the suffering we see from these lonely characters are absolutely heart-breaking which makes Tom and Gerri’s amiability all the more appalling to me.

    I really love the end sequence around the dinner table. The way the camera pans around the different people at the table, ending with Mary with the sound going out. Someone mentioned that this signified Mary blocked everyone out, but I feel strongly that the shot signifies that the other people don’t “hear” Mary’s pain and suffering.

  23. Reid

    Dogtooth (2009)
    Dir. Giogios Lanthimos

    Not sure if anyone would love this film, but I think Kevin and Penny would have the best chance. At the very least they would find the film interesting, as would Chris and Mitchell. I think Tony, Grace and John might be interested in this, but I’m less sure about them liking this. There’s a slim chance Marc, Joel and Jill would like this. I’d guess no for Don and I’m sure Larri wouldn’t care for this.

    This is an Academy Award nominee for best foreign language film this year, and it’s streaming on netflix.

    Talking about this film without spoiling the film is a little difficult because it’s meaning unfolds with the details gradually presented. I can say it is about a family in modern day Greece. We gradually learn details about the way this family operates. In the next section, I’m going to talk in more detail about what the film is about, but I think viewers would want to discover this for themselves as the film unfolds. Also, I do think there is some flexibility with regard to interpreting the film.

    The film is a kind of political allegory-satire similar to Orwell’s Animal Farm, but it also could apply to attempts to control people in general–e.g. the way a parents attempt to control their children. The point of the film is that totalitarian control is futile because the desire for liberty and self-actualization cannot be contained. There are some hilarious ways we see the cracks emerge in control. I particularly liked the Flashdance sequence. Btw, some people have compared this to Michael Haneke films and I think the comparison is apt. This would be an interesting movie to analyze and discuss.

  24. Reid

    La Pointe Courte (1954)
    Dir. Agnes Varda

    I recommend this to Kevin. I’m pretty sure Grace, Penny, Mitchell and Chris would appreciate this. Not sure how Tony would feel. I wouldn’t recommend this to Don, Marc, Joel, Jill or Larri. I liked this quite a bit.

    La Point Courte is a tiny fishing village in France, and the film basically depicts life in this village, in almost a documentary fashion. The film depicts married couple on the verge of a break-up, which sort of parallels the events in the village.

    This is Varda’s debut as a filmmaker, and it’s very impressive. It is enjoyable just for the camera work and visual elements alone. The film does borders on prententiousness at times, but it didn’t cross the line for me.

    I might be reading into the film a bit too much, but I saw it as a tension between urban/modern living with a more rurual/traditional approach. The couple also represents this tension as the husband is originally from the village and the wife seems to be from Paris. In a way, the film seems to favor the rural/traditional lifestyle, as the village seems to have a positive effect on the wife and subsequently the marriage. What is great is the way the film conveys these ideas through its images.

  25. Reid

    Deja Vu (2006)
    Dir. Tony Scott
    Starring: Denzel Washington, Val Kilmer, Paula Pattonetc.

    I’d recommend this to Grace and Penny. Larri would enjoy this, although probably not love it. I think Marc, Chris, Joel would find this enjoyable, especially if they were looking for something light on a Saturday night. I would think Don would enjoy this, at least mildy. Tony might like this, and Mitchell would probably think this is OK. Not sure what Kevin would think. The film gets a higher score because I like the genre.

    Denzel Washington stars as a federal agent for Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms department, who also specilializes in terrorism, especially involving explosions. A bomb goes off on a boat in New Orleans and with the help of a device that can see four days into the past, Washington has to try and find the killer.

    The scenes with the special device are well-shot, and if you can accept the premise of the device, you’ll probably find the scenes interesting. The ending is just so-so, but this is a decent sci-fi thriller.

    Days of Thunder (1990)
    Dir. Tony Scott
    Starring: Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Michael Rooker, Nicole Kidman, Randy Quaid, etc.

    Recommended to those that liked Top Gun. I only saw this because I’ve been watching Tony Scott’s movies, but this film held my attention for the most part, and it was better than I thought.

    Tim Daland (Quaid) owns a car dealership, but he wants to enter a car into NASCAR. He coaxes retired crew chief, Harry Hogge (Duvall) to build him a car and check out a driver Daland has in a mind. The driver, Cole Trickle, is a first time stock car driver, but he’s a natural. There are other side stories that are similar to Top Gun, but I won’t go into those details.

  26. Reid

    The Exploding Girl (2009)
    Dir. Bradley Rust Gray
    Starring: Zoe Kazan (Ivy), Mark Rendell (Al), etc.
    79 minutes

    Recommended to Mitchell (who could love this) and Tony. I think Kevin and Penny would also like this, but I’m less sure about how much. I’m even less sure about Chris and Grace, but I suspect they would like this, at least a little. I want to recommend this to Jill and Larri, although they could not like parts of this, too. I feel like Don, Marc and Joel could like this, but I’m guessing no.

    Ivy and Al are back in NYC for a break from college. They’ve been long time friends and Al, not having a place to stay due to a misunderstanding, stays over at Ivy’s. Ivy has a boyfriend, but he’s somewhere else, and we see her interactions.

    This film is very similar to Quiet City, except the acting and visuals seem to be more professional (more costly). If you liked Quiet City, you would probably like this film.

    I had an unusual experience with this film: the last minute of the film changed my entire opinion of the film–or at least I went from not liking the film to liking it. At the end of the film, my only complaint was that I thought it could have been shorter–even at 79 minutes. Imo, the filmmakers could have shaved off twenty minutes and not really diminished the film; indeed, it might have worked at 30 minutes.

    The cinematography looks very professional, as if the filmmakers had more money at their disposal. Mark Rendell is a professional actor (not sure about Kazan), and it shows.

    The last scene is my favorite even though it’s a rip off from the first vignette of Hsiou-Hsien Hou’s Three Times

    Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her (1999)
    Dir. Rodrigo Garcia
    Starring: Glenn Close, Holly Hunter, Cameron Diaz, Amy Brenneman, Calista Flockhart, Kathy Baker, Valeria Golino, Matt Craven, Gregory Hines, etc.

    Recommended to Mitchell, Penny, Grace, Larri, Jill and Tony. I’m also pretty sure Kevin and Chris would enjoy this on some level. I think Don, Joel, Marc and John would like this a little, although it’s generally not the kind of thing they would choose to see.

    Look at the cast! Like other Garcia films, this is made up of several vignettes. Most of them are character studies, centering on female characters. One can understand the draw for actors. The acting is very good, and I enjoyed the ending–which is the primary reason I liked this more than Nine Livess. Garcia’s films, imo, could easily play on the Lifetime network. They also happen to be quality films.

    My favorite vignettes: the one with Holly Hunter (especially moments with the bag lady) and Glenn Close. I also like what I’ve seen from Brenneman, and I’d like to see her in more films.

  27. Reid

    The Illusionist (2010)
    Dir. Sylvain Chomet

    I’m not 100% certain Mitchell is going to like this, but I highly recommend it to him because there is a better than average chance that he’ll love this. I would also recommend this to Penny. I’m not sure about Grace, Kevin, Chris, Jill and Tony, but I’d guess they would like this, and maybe like this a lot. Really not sure about Joel, John, Marc or Larri, but if I’d anticipate a lukewarm reaction from them.

    This is playing at the Kahala theaters, and it might not last long, so…

    This is a French animated film made by the same director of Triplets of Belleville, a film I really didn’t like. I still don’t care for the animation in this film, but I loved the story. Jacques Tati wrote the script a long time ago and the film features his inconic Hulot character, so it’s essentially a Tati film.

    The film deals with a magician who moves away from France because of diminishing interest in his act. When he goes to Scotland to perform, he meets a young woman–who…well, I don’t really want to say any more about the story.

    If you liked the silent sequence in Pixar’s Up! and wanted to see a feature length film done in that style, then I would recommend this film. I will also say that two moments really moved me, to the point of weeping (although I’m not sure others will react the same way; I’ll say more in the next section). Another thing: the film is fairly slow and there are scenes that seem a bit too long or dull. (Idiots like Don and Joel might not like the film for the reason.) Finally, if you’ve seen other Hulot films and not really cared for them (Penny and Grace) that shouldn’t necessarily stop you from seeing this. Imo, this film has much more emotionally moving story than any of the other films I’ve seen by him.

    I did not go into this film with high expectations. I really didn’t like Triplets as I mentioned, and I was skeptical about an animated version of Monsieur Hulot. But someone who didn’t like Triplets, but loved this convinced me. Still, I didn’t have much hope.

    But when the Magician goes to the small Scottish village, I was hooked. Although the film is set sometime in the 1960s or 70s, the people in this village seem removed from the modern world. A lightbulb is a wonder to these people as is a jukebox and they express genuine pleasure at these things–as they do with the Magician’s tricks. Then the young-and rather impoverished–cleaning woman named Alice appears. Both the fact that the magician makes needed shoes appear “magically” for the woman and the fact that she doesn’t realize the magic is not real touched me.
    Bu what really got me was the guy who invites the magician to his community. He’s so full of life and genuine exuberance; when he drops the Magician off at the departing boat and gives him a hug instead of shaking the Magician’s hand, I lost it. That one moment was so beautiful and touching.
    The other emotional moment, perhaps not surprising, comes at the end when we see the words written to Alice, the cleaning lady: “Magicians do not exist.” This revelation, plus the departure of the Magician as the young man enters Alice’s life, just floored me. The loss of magic accompanies the passage to adulthood the moment seemed to say. At the same time, the film combines this rite of passage with the death of certain stage magicians, ventriloquists and clowns. There was sometime very “Toy Story-ish” about all of this. I think the fact that the film is largely without language partly explains the emotional impact of the scene. The sentiment and ideas are rather clichéd and I can understand a tepid reaction to this scene. But it just worked for me. Loved the last montage sequence, the ventriloquist’s dummy is now offered for free; I liked the little firefly flying away from the theater, too.

  28. Mitchell

    Weird. Where did my embedded images go for my film reviews this year? I worked hard on making those look good. Must investigate.

  29. Mitchell

    My _The Social Network_ review also disappeared.

  30. Mitchell

    Oh wait; no. That’s in another thread.

  31. Reid

    The Wayward Cloud (2005)
    Dir. Tsai Ming-liang
    Starring: Kang Sheng-Lee (Hsiao Kang), Shang-Chyi Yen (Shang Chyi), etc.

    Not sure how much Penny would like this, but I’m recommending this to her because I think she would find this interesting. I’d cautiously recommend this to Chris, Kevin, Mitchell and Grace. (Of that group, I think Chris and Kevin have the best chance of liking this.) I’d say no to Don, Joel, Jill, Marc, and Larri. I have no idea about John or Tony.

    This is a wild film. You want to know how wild? OK, how’s this for a description? The film is an avant-garde porn comedy–with almost no dialogue, unless you count the singing from musical numbers that occur (with only a tenous connection to the “story”) in between the main “action.”

    The “action” takes place primarily in an apartment complex involving two neighbors, one a porn star and the other a woman who is obsessively collecting water bottles because of a water shortage (water is turned off during certain hours of the night). I have action in quotes because there are quite a bit of slow scenes where nothing seems to be happening (e.g. walking through corridors, etc.)

    For those of you familiar with the film Tampopo, The Wayward Cloud seems inspired by some of the comic-erotic scenes from the former.

    Just a reminder: when I say “porn” I really mean that. (I’d guess that the porn scenes account for no more than thirty minutes of the film, and I’d guess it was more like fifteen minutes–of a two hour film.)

    I’m not sure if I understand the film, but I liked it quite a bit. I really liked the fact that there was almost no dialogue, and I found the musical numbers pretty amusing (not great singing or dancing, but whimsical overall). I think the film deserves some analysis with regard to teh significance of water and watermelon in the film. Also, the last sex scenes seems to be pregnant (no pun intended) with meaning, but I’m not sure what that meaning is.

  32. Reid

    Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)
    Dir. Bela Tarr
    Starring: Lars Rudolph (Janos), Peter Fitz (Gyorgy Eszter), Hanna Schygulla (Tunde Eszter),

    I’d guess that Kevin might like this (but it’s hard to say). Penny would find this interesting, although I’m not sure how much she’d like it. Ditto Grace and Mitchell. I’m not sure if Chris and Tony would like this, but I’d cautiously recommend it to them. No to Marc, Don, Jill, Joel and Larri.

    This is an Hungarian film that is more about ideas than a story (i.e. an art film). A traveling sideshow is coming to town featuring a giant whale and a mysterious person called, “the Prince.” There is a unrest among the townspeople stemming from some vague sense of dissatisfaction (related to economic instability). Janos is a childlike man who investigates what is happening while his Aunt Tunde works with the local police to prevent disorder and crime.

    Really, there isn’t much of a plot. The film is more about ideas, which I’ll talk about in the next section. I must also caution that the pace is very slow. The film feels like a collection of paintings that move in time, if that makes any sense. I would compare the filmmaking to something like 2001: a Space Odyssey.

    This next section will my notes on my interpretation of the film (which may constitute a spoiler(s)).

    OK, what is the film about? To put it simply–and in some ways I feel like the point of the film is simple–the film deals with humility and hubris and the way hubris–specifically, the failure to recognize the limitations of human beings–has lead people to establish civilization on a foundation that is inherently unstable–i.e. will lead to ruin and destruction.

    Here is a key speech from Gyorgy Eszter (Janos’ uncle and a pianist/aristocrat):

    “I have to make it clear that not even for a moment is there a doubt that it is not a technical but a philosophical question. So that the tonal system in question through researches, has lead to us inevitably to a test of faith, in which we ask: on what do we base our belief that this harmony, the core of every masterpiece, referring to its own irrevocability, actually exists or not. From this it follows, that we should speak of, not research into music, but a unique realization of non-music which for centuries has been covered up and a dreadful scandal which we should disclose. Hence the shameful situation that all the intervals in the masterpieces of many centuries are false. Which means that music and its harmony and echo, its unsurpassable enchantment is entirely based on a false foundation. Yes, we have to speak of an indisputable deception, even if those who are less sure, a little moderate, babble on about compromise. But what kind of compromise, when for the majority pure musical tonality is simply illusion, and truly pure musical intervals do not exist. Here we have to acknowledge the fact that there were ages more fortunate than ours, those of Pythagoras and Aristoxenes, when our forefathers were satisfied with the fact that their purely tuned instruments were played in only some tones, because they were not troubled by doubts, for they knew that heavenly harmonies were the province of the gods. Later, all this was not enough, unhinged arrogance wished to take possession of all the harmonies of the gods. And it was done in its own way, technicians were charged with the solution, a Praetorius, a Salinas, and finally an Andreas Werckmeister who resolved the difficulty by dividing the octave of the harmony of the gods, the twelve half-tones, into twelve equal parts. Of two semi-tones he falsified one, instead of ten black keys, five were used and that sealed the position. We have to turn on this development of tuning instruments, the so-called constant tempered, and its sad history and bring back the naturally tuned instrument. Carefully, we have to correct Werckmeister’s mistakes. We have to concern ourselves with the seven notes of the scale but not as of the octave, but seven distinct and independent qualities like seven fraternal stars in the heavens. What we have to do then, if we are aware, is that this natural tuning has its limits and it is a somewhat worrisome limit that definitely excludes the use of certain higher signatures.”

    In the film, the arrival of the whale and Prince represent a choice given to the people. They can choose the whale–which represents a recognition of a higher power and thus requires a degree of humility–or they can choose the Prince, who is a kind of rabble-rouser and harbinger of destruction. To choose the Prince signifies a failure to humble one’s self and continue the status quo (which will lead to destruction and ruin).

    Actually, I tend to feel the whale is a kind of Christ-figure (similar to the way Bresson used the donkey in au hasard baltazar). It has a grand entrance in the fillm (that inappropriately reminded me of the star destroyer sequence in Space Balls); the people’s lack of interest in the whale (except for the childlike Janos); the whale lying on the ground after the destruction of the town (like the crucified Christ); Gyorgy’s sad and maybe startled expression after staring at the whale–which may signify sorrow at the inability to repair Werckmeister’s mistake.

    At the same time, the Prince seems to represent the Devil or an anti-christ figure. He deceives beguiles and incites the people to riot and destruction. The people choose the Prince and the city is destroyed. (The film suggests that the destruction stops by the old man in the hospital, who could represent God, the Father.)

    Despair and perhaps a warning that could be read as hopeful are at the end of the film. Gyorgy says, “Nothing counts” in the hospital room while Janos sits, shell-shocked. But then he goes to the town square and sees the whale. The message I got was that we have to turn back to the whale–to be humble and recognize the limits of people and embrace or accept the mystical.

  33. Reid

    The Last Embrace (1979)
    Dir. Jonathan Demme
    Starring: Roy Scheider, Janet Margolin, Sam Urdell, etc.

    I don’t think many idiots should go out of their way to see this, but if this came on TV on a Saturday night, I think most of you would find this at least mildly entertaining. It’s streaming on netflix (but not available on dvd, I think).

    Scheider plays Harry Hannan, an intelligence officer, who has been on leave because of a tragic incident. When he returns someone seems to be trying to kill him, and he has to figure out who and why. At the same time, there’s a nerdy grad student (Janet Margolin) living in his apartment (which was mistakenly sublet when Harry was away).

    Demme really tries to recreate Hollywood films of the 40s and 50s–the music and even the acting. What is terrific, imo, is the pacing of the film. It really starts off pretty quick and moves along nicely. Scheider and Margolin are great, too, and if it wasn’t for a certain plot turn that occurs, I might have really loved this film. (Btw, Margolin plays Woody Allen’s second wife in Annie Hall.)

    The Japanese Wife (2010)
    Dir. Aparna Sen

    Not sure if any of you would love this, but I’m fairly sure many–like Mitchell, Grace, Penny, Kevin, Tony and Chris–would find this mildly entertaining, at least. Jill, Don, Marc and Joel would probably think this was OK at best (at least that’s my guess). I don’t think Larri would care for this.

    In the film, Snehamoy, an Indian teacher, via letters gets to know and eventually marries Miyage, a Japanese woman. The catch is that he lives in India and she lives in Japan; yet they get married and continue to stay married over many years. At the same time, a widow, Sandhya, and her son, Paltu, come to live with the Indian man (a widow who was once a possible wife for the man via an arranged marriage. Purely out of kindness for the Sandhya’s desperate situation, Snehamoy and his aunt allow them to stay).

    What’s interesting about the film for me is the way it portrays a 1.0 world to really examine a 2.0 one. (Recall the thread on The Social Network and Zadie Smith’s review of the film.) The film may not really be about internet relationships, but I do think the film serves as a catalyst for discussing the.

    For me, the film raised all these questions about the definition of a “real” relationship and also clarified the differences between a virtual relationship versus one that occurs face-to-face in real time and space. For example, Snehamoy and Miyage both express that fact that they have never been as open with anyone else. I have heard other people say this about their online interactions. Indeed, I know some people consider their online persona a more real and true representation than their offline one.

    On the other hand, Snehamoy live together. They do not have a child together. When Miyage gets sick, Snehamoy very lovingly tries to help her by getting medicine and diagnoses from medical experts in Indian. I thought this pointed to the limitations of online relationships—as well as the absurdity of the notion that online relationships are more real or important than offline ones.

    In contrast, Sandhya is there in person, and a potential for a meaningful relationship between her and Snehamoy is obvious. Yet, he chooses to remain with Miyage—ultimately giving up his life in her interests. To me, this made me think of the way we often place our lives on the internet above our lives in the real world. We miss golden opportunities right under our noses.

    I also want to add that online relationships are appealing in that they can be less messy and easier than offline ones (especially if we’re talking about living with someone). I So I can understand the allure for maintaining a relationship with Miyage, but my own sense is that, while their relationship is sweet and touching, there is something absurd and maybe misguided about it.

  34. Mitchell

    Blue Valentine
    Michelle Willams, Ryan Gosling

    I saw this a few weeks ago but have struggled to put my thoughts down. It’s not an easy film to review without spoilers, yet if I want people to know whether or not my feelings about it mean they should (or shouldn’t) see it, it’s a task I really want to complete. So I’ll give it a go.

    Dean and Cindy are a young married couple, married perhaps too young for reasons easily but not accurately guessed. Blue Valentine is the story of their marriage, told during their courtship and a few years later. The narrative switches back and forth, recounting their past and superimposing it on their present. There is a large gap in the tale, and the film gives us enough information in both threads to figure out enough of what happened in that gap.

    The ambitious (yet low-key) script is up to the difficult tasks it sets itself. Somehow, ‘though the two narrative threads are perhaps six years apart, they each build toward the same conclusion, as if the end of one thread is also the end of the other. Jumps from one time period to the other are at first dramatic and disorienting but then start to feel natural, as if this story is begging to be told this way.

    Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling play the young couple, each playing his or her character with honesty and vulnerability. Williams received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, but Gosling’s performance is perhaps only slightly less impressive. It seems the word courageous is usually slapped onto an actress’s performance when the actress takes her clothes off; yet there is a figurative nakedness Gosling and Williams both present that seems kind of surprising and is the really impressive thing. There are scenes that appear to be completely impromptu and there are scenes that must surely be carefully scripted. Both are played believably.

    I imagine it’s easy to play a couple falling in love, but when the best couples hit a few bumps in the road, actors and screenwriters seem to have difficulty presenting them without resorting to histrionics and cheap plot devices. In our real lives, even when we fight with each other we are fully conscious of our love for one another, and that dimension is so absent in most films about couples. Williams and Gosling nail it, and they do it so well that they call attention to the film’s few plot-related weaknesses. Oh, what a small ache I feel when I think of how great the movie could have been if the writers had trusted themselves just a little bit more. Each of the threads’ turning points, though well-intentioned and well-written, could have been so much better with just a little more honesty.

    Despite these two little missteps, I must give Blue Valentine a fairly strong recommendation. Excellent acting and very good writing are the film’s strengths, but there is a lot more to be discovered here that I don’t want to ruin for potential filmgoers. If you appreciate good, thoughtful film-making, you should check it out. 2010 was a pretty weak movie year, and this could help save it for you.


  35. Mitchell

    (spoilers for Blue Valentine)

    I don’t think the fireworks are an especially important thing, but I think they are a clue to the viewer that this marriage is over. As Dean walks away from his crying daughter, I wondered if (in fact I hoped that) the relationship might somehow be repaired and that the two main characters would live happily ever after, together. The thing about a fireworks show is that once it’s over, there’s nothing left; after the glorious display and the violent, explosive climax, all you have left are memories. I was reminded of Friar Lawrence’s words to Romeo:

    These violent delights have violent ends
    And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
    Which, as they kiss, consume. The sweetest honey
    Is loathsome in his own deliciousness
    And in the taste confounds the appetite.
    Therefore love moderately. Long love doth so.
    Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.

    Like fire and powder, this is a romance that flamed out too quickly. Show’s over.

  36. Reid

    Oh, that’s a great interpretation (and terrific quote)! No more calls, we have a winner.

    Other comments (with potential spoilers) for Blue Valentine:

    Mitchell said,

    I imagine it’s easy to play a couple falling in love,…

    I don’t think it is easy to play in a very convincing way–especially if it is a love-at-first-sight situation like the movie.


    Each of the threads’ turning points, though well-intentioned and well-written, could have been so much better with just a little more honesty.

    Are you sure “honesty” is the appropriate word? That seems a little harsh and I would say unfair. I don’t think the film lacks honesty so much as it is cliched–not just the conventional dramatic devices utilized, but almost everything about the story and characters. This is one of the criticisms of the film that I have heard about the film, and I think it’s a valid criticism–or at least one that I don’t have a good response to. The characters and situations are not very original. If I just read the script, I probably wouldn’t be very interested in the film.

    This film is all about the acting, imo. (This would be a mediocre movie even if the acting was just decent.) Would the film have been without the more dramatic situations that precipate both the beginning and ending of the relationships? Maybe. But you could say something similar about the characters, too: they probably could have been more interesting if they weren’t so cliched.

    But again, the acting is good to the extent that these cliches didn’t bother me (although I couldn’t argue much if they bothered someone else). Also, I did like the the past and present converge in the film.

    Btw, 2010 was not a good year for film and yes, Blue Valentine may be one of the better films. But I think Another Year and The Illusionist are better. They’re both playing at Kahala, but probably won’t be playing for much longer.

  37. Reid

    Primer (2004)
    Dir. Shane Carruth

    I would have definitely have recommended this to Grace. (She saw it.) I would recommend this to Penny, Mitchell and Chris next. I’m not sure how much Marc, Kevin or Tony would like this, but I could seem them liking this. (I’d probably lean towards recommending this to them.)

    Carruth directed, wrote, acted (and maybe edited and filmed) this very low budget film. The film involves four engineers working in their garage inventing devices–when they accidently stumble upon an invention of a lifetime.

    The film is more like a brain-teaser than a film, and that’s basically what you need to know going into the film.

    I have no idea how to score the film because after about fifteen minutes, I really didn’t know what was going on. (Well, I could follow along, but I was definitely clueless to a lot of details.) This could be a really good film, or a terrible one. My sense is that it’s not going to be a terrible film and at worst it’ll just be OK.

  38. Reid

    More on Blue Valentine‘s ending:


    A guy I know mentioned another thing that should have been obvious to me. The film ends on Independence Day–i.e. both characters gain their independence, but it’s not a happy event. This only enhances the interpretation of the fireworks you mentioned earlier.

  39. Mitchell

    The Company Men
    Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kevin Costner

    This could have been a much better movie, and I have the feeling that I’m missing something in my assessment. The Company Men seems to have all the right stuff in it, but one production decision makes it largely ineffective, something I don’t think is intentional.

    Ben Affleck is Bobby Walker, a mid-to-late-thirties corporate executive who does one of those jobs that doesn’t make any sense to me even when people take time to explain them. He works for a large company that builds ships but at his level, the real business is building wealth, for his fellow executives and for the company’s stockholders. Walker has a wife (Rosemarie DeWitt), two kids, a huge house, membership at a country club, and a Porsche. It isn’t long before that list is whittled down to just the wife and kids.

    Walker is downsized, his position cut by the very colleagues with whom he has slashed others’ jobs. He finds himself on the market for a new position, but that market is glutted with guys just like him: experienced, smart, charming, middle-aged.

    The story follows him through the agonizing process of having to cut things out of his life as he continues to search for work. I’ve been there a couple of times, and the toll it takes on a man’s self-worth is huge. The stages Affleck puts his character through are familiar to me, and he does a pretty good job. DeWitt as his wife is also very good, understanding that Walker needs to remain the decision-maker about many things, but standing ready to swoop in when missteps lead them close to disaster. I was reminded of the women in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath who leave the decision-making up to their men but who really keep things from getting catastrophic.

    We also get to see Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper as men who still work for the corporation. They have been with the company for a very long time, working their way up from actual hands-on work on ships. They know what it’s like to wield both a blowtorch and a pink-slip, and there is a toll taken on them as the company they helped build slowly goes under.

    The lives of these men are compared deliberately to the life of Walker’s brother-in-law, Jack Dolan (Kevin Costner), an independent contractor who renovates houses and employs a small group of men. Times are up and down for him, too, but he works alongside his employees and has lunch with them and sees the product of his own labor. The film’s presentation of Dolan is its most heavy-handed move, a blatant effort to pound home a message that would have been clear without so much attention pointed its way. I think it’s testament to Costner’s acting that after an initial annoyance with this plot element, I found myself looking forward to the Costner parts of the film.

    It probably sounds like I’m doing a lot of summarizing, but that’s pretty much all there is to say about this film without getting interpretive. The acting is solid. The writing is mostly fair to pretty good. I enjoyed the dialogue, I enjoyed the performances, I liked the one-on-one scenes with Affleck and DeWitt, and I even liked the kids, which just about never happens. Scenes with Costner and Affleck are kind of cheesy and heavy-handed, but whatever. They kind of work, too.

    My problem is that for all its good pieces, the film fails to affect me much. I do care about the characters, but what happens to them leaves me strangely unfeeling. There is a coldness, a distance director John Wells seems to place between me and everyone on the screen. Colors are cold and grey, scenery seems to be filtered through some kind of emotion-sieve so that what gets through is the feeling that I ought to feel something, but also the realization that I really don’t. Is this intentional? I suppose I’m to be reminded of how this kind of thing goes on every day and that it apparently affects me only insofar as it contributes to my 401(k), but that is a layer of finger-pointing that the film doesn’t really earn. Does it want me to feel something about these characters or doesn’t it? The fact that I have to ask pretty much says enough about whether or not anyone would want to see it.


  40. Mitchell

    Gnomeo & Juliet
    James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Jason Statham, Maggie Smith, Patrick Stewart, Ozzy Osbourne, et. al.

    I’m not going to waste a lot of ink on this one, because it just isn’t worth it. It’s not very good and not very bad and not very memorable and not very funny, but it’s entertaining enough, I suppose, to recommend to kids, gnome enthusiasts, and Elton John fans. As an English teacher, I look for hidden Shakespeare allusions in any adaptation like this, and there were a couple of early ones to keep me perked up, but after about the first half hour, they either stopped showing up or I’m just not Shakespeare-literate enough. Both are possible.

    The Capulets and Montagues are human next-door neighbors who detest each other. Both have exquisite lawns populated with all manner of ornamentation, including pink flamingos and gnomes, of course. Because their owners are feuding, lawn ornaments are feuding. You can sorta figure out the rest, but don’t expect many similarities between this flick and Romeo and Juliet. Although many of the characters share names (and even, to a tiny extent, personalities) with their Shakespearean inspirations, you would do best to forget the play, as one gnome warns in an interrupted recitation of the prologue: “Two households, both alike in dignity…”

    The animation is cute and shiny, like what you might see on a high-budget animated TV special. The plot exists mainly to string together a series of action sequences where the writers actually do a pretty good job of incorporating the novelty of a movie starring gnomes. The gimmick wears thin for me, but I suppose if you’re really into gnomes, you might get a kick out of these visual gags.

    The only other meaningful thing to comment on is the soundtrack, which is made up entirely of re-worked Elton John songs. Let me just say that you really have to love Elton John to be consistently amused. I love Elton’s earlier songs, so the instrumental sections of the score are kind of fun and interesting, but you know that part in “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” where Elton shouts, “Saturday! Saturday! Saaaaturday Saturday! Saturday?” Sing that part but replace the word “Saturday” with “Gnomeo.” Yes. Those are actual lyrics from the soundtrack. This is sort of typical in this film, ‘though I cite here the most egregious example.

    Now, I don’t have a problem with that in principal, but the execution is atrocious. There’s no reason to use this song this way. The section of the movie where this song appears is a lawn-mower race between Gnomeo and one of the Capulet gnomes (Tybalt, perhaps? I don’t remember and don’t really care). The Montague gnomes sing this as Gnomeo revs his lawn-mower’s engine. What does the source material have to do with racing lawn-mowers? Removing any of the song’s original meaning, lyrics, or context leaves only the melody, in which case it’s hardly an Elton John song anymore, if that makes any sense. This offends my sensibilities as a fan of popular music, the way Sunday Night Football uses Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself for Loving You” to sing “I’ve been waiting all day for Sunday night…” There’s just no connection at all between the original material and the new material except for melody. This is not only surreal but stupid, too.

    Anyway. I didn’t especially enjoy this flick, but I know at least one woman my age who thought it was really cute, so you might give it a try.


  41. Mitchell

    The Green Hornet
    Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Walz

    This has to be one of the worst-reviewed films of 2011, but I like comic-book movies and I mostly like Seth Rogen and pickings have been slim at the multiplex for the first part of the year, so what the heck. I know almost nothing about the source material or any older adaptations; what I know comes from the O.J. Simpson trial, believe it or not, and small snippets of info I picked up in listening to others talk about Bruce Lee. Any shortcomings this film has in being compared to any of its other incarnations are lost on me, just so you know where I’m coming from.

    I guess you can just add that stuff up and come up with my review. Very low expectations plus ignorance of the source material plus a mild fondness for Seth Rogen plus a liking of comic book movies equals mild enjoyment.

    Rogen plays Britt Reid, the spoiled, immature heir of a fortune built on a big-city newspaper. Jay Chou is Kato, Rogen’s auto mechanic and coffee-preparer. They decide together that they can fight crime with their apparently limitless resources, and they’ll do it while appearing to be outlaws. Using the newspaper he now owns as his own publicity machine, The Green Hornet and his sidekick take on the city’s leading drug-dealing operation, headed by Christoph Walz.

    In between silly action sequences is a lot of dialogue between Rogen and Chou, something a lot of haters seemed to dislike. This was the best part of the film for me, the interaction between hero and sidekick, especially since the sidekick in this case is the more capable hero. There are some cool gadgets, some cool cars, and a surprising amount of waiting around, it seems, but it all flows pretty well for me. Cameron Diaz is Rogen’s secretary at the newspaper, and because she’s done college research on criminal behavior, Rogen gets his cues from her predictions about what the Green Hornet is going to do next. This is kind of a neat plot device, and Diaz does a good job staying in her little corner of the movie. Others have said she exists mainly to be pretty, but I think she exists to create tension between Kato and Reid in addition to giving the ignorant wannabe heroes their cues.

    The action sequences are kind of lame, except for one really fun fight scene between Reid and Kato, something that I would have enjoyed much more if that weren’t the clip Rogen took to all the late-night talk shows and I therefore hadn’t seen it five times before it showed up in the film. Still, it’s the Kato-Reid dynamic that I enjoyed most, and while even that wasn’t especially good, it was pleasant enough and fun enough for me to enjoy the ride. I should probably repeat something I’ve said in reviewing other actions flicks, though: I’m a lot more interested in what happens between the action than I am in the action. I realize this is atypical, but am I the only one? I’d pay to see a sequel.


  42. Mitchell

    Couple of things I saw on video this weekend.

    Revenge of the Nerds
    Anthony Edwards, Robert Carradine, Curtis Armstrong, Ted McGinley, and John Goodman

    I actually saw this in the theater in the summer of ’84 while visiting my grandparents in San Diego. My uncle and his friend took me to it. I don’t know what made me want to see it again this week, but I’d been thinking about it and the opportunity presented itself.

    It’s not bad for what it is, and that’s mostly because there’s some decent acting amidst all the silliness. Anthony Edwards, especially, really seems to rise above his material without trying any of the attention away from the stuff people watch a movie like this for. There are moments of tenderness that in a film like this can be so hard to pull off, but Edwards does a pretty good job, especially in some of the scenes with that Omega Mu girl he likes. I watched very carefully for signs that Curtis Armstrong had what it took to become the rather successful actor he became, but there’s really nothing there. I mean, he’s better than most of the other secondary nerds in the flick, but the character’s just too two-dimensional to really show anything. The end is as cheesy and lame as I remember it; I really wish I’d stopped watching before the church-like pep-rally speech, but oh well.


    Ice Princess
    Michelle Trachtenberg, Hayden Panettiere, Joan Cusack, Kim Catrall

    I wanted to see this Disney tweener flick when it was in theaters but never got around to it. Trachtenberg is a high-school science geek with Harvard aspirations. In order to win a scholarship, she conducts research during the summer after her junior year in which she applies principles of physics to the athletic moves in figure skating. She discovers that she has a real passion for the sport and although she can’t afford the enormous expense of pursuing amateur competitive skating, she’s able to exchange her scientific findings with other skaters in exchange for the rink time she needs. Hayden Panettiere is her rival/buddy, a girl with all the advantages Trachtenberg’s character lacks, including a mom who owns the rink and a brother who drives the Zamboni. Catrall and Cusack are the girls’ moms.

    This could have been sleep-walked through, and some of it definitely is. I don’t know why so many of these movies employ the plot gimmick where the parent shows up for the final performance just in time, but that’s here among a few others. What sets this one apart (and above) so much of its ilk is a willingness to offer every character a bit of redemption, a reluctance to flatten any character into a caricature, and some pretty good, pretty believable, pretty heartfelt dialogue. I would totally want my tween kids to see this with me so I could discuss several issues with them.


  43. Mitchell

    The 40-Year-Old Virgin
    Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd

    This was a rather well-reviewed film and something I’ve wanted to see since it was in theaters, but it’s another one I never got around to until this weekend. Carell plays Andy Stitzer, something of a loser, a loner, a misfit who works in the stockroom at a Best-Buy-like electronics store. Although he’s a bit odd, he’s an average-looking guy who’s had his opportunities with women but has never gone all the way. His immature co-workers think this is a terrible thing and they make it their goal to get him laid.

    This whole thing only works if Carell pulls it off. I’m so tired of lame portrayals of geeky guys and I resent recent attempts to paint them as today’s heroes, but Andy is like a lot of people I know in most ways and a lot like the way I see myself whether or not that’s really me. When his co-workers admit to each other that they’ve spent years keeping Andy at armslength because he’s so strange, once they spend some time with him they see that he’s a really nice guy, harmless and misunderstood.

    The plot could have gone many bad ways. The title sounds so condescending, and in a way I know that’s the only way a LOT of people can read it, yet Andy’s celibacy is—though not necessarily by choice—portrayed as pathetic but virtuous, the result of a combination of bad luck, bad timing, and decent choices. Meanwhile, all these people around him, people who have supposedly been liberated by sexual activity, are paying the price, some in exaggerated comedic fashion (as with the co-worker who’s cheating on his long-time, live-in girlfriend) and some in much more sober fashion, as with Catherine Keener’s Trish Piedmont, a sympathetic business owner who likes Andy for what he is but is a single mom of three and much too young to be someone’s grandmother.

    As with many Judd Apatow projects, there are moments of juvenile crudeness. Apatow loves to put his characters in awkward, embarrassing situations and draw those scenes out to their most ridiculous conclusions. I don’t usually find these elements very funny, but there is one scene where Andy gets his hairy chest waxed that I could not stop laughing at. Yes, it’s an idiotic plot element, but yes: the way Carell plays it and the way Andy’s friends take so much harmless pleasure out of seeing him subject himself to this treatment (even the girl who does the waxing cannot contain her amusement) combine to turn what could have been mean into something silly and fun without crossing the line into grossness. That pretty much sums up the movie right there.


  44. Mitchell

    Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Hopper

    A film as storied as this (at least storied among sports fans) carries a huge burden to the sports fan who finally sees it twenty-five years later. It’s kind of like watching Star Wars for the first time two decades later after having seen all the films that were influenced by it and after hearing all the lore that surrounds it. Tough to meet expectations.

    Gene Hackman is Norman Dale, a former college basketball coach, now the new head coach in a tiny Indiana town that doesn’t have much to root for other than its high-school basketball team. Although the team itself hasn’t been extremely successful, because the entire town is invested in it, everyone feels qualified to tell the new coach what he should do. Dale resists, much to the chagrin of most but to the admiration of a few, including Shooter (Dennis Hopper), a drunken former player whose son is currently team captain, and Myra Fleener (Barbara Hershey), a colleague at the high-school. Preaching the importance of fundamentals and teamwork, Dale slowly brings his team around and (thanks to the addition of the school’s best player) the Hickory Huskers find themselves winning games.

    My problem with most sports films is that there’s not enough sports, but my small problem with Hoosiers is that there’s too much basketball, especially basketball during games. The non-basketball stuff here is terrific. My impression after the first ten minutes of the film was wow, what a beautiful-looking movie. The camera does a great job here of emphasizing (without overdramatizing) the middle-of-nowhere feel of this small town. We see huge vistas of fields and lonely roads, but not in a picture-postcard way. There are brown, fallen leaves all over the place, in piles against walls or blowing across neighborhood streets, and they are not the lovely yellows and oranges we’re treated to in so many pictures set in New England autumns; they are dirt-brown, part of the land, like the muddy ditches and the potholes in the road.

    The small-town stuff, too, is really good. Everyone here has a story, and everyone seems to know everyone else’s story. To the residents of this town, those stories seem like part of the landscape, too, but to the viewer they add richness and depth, even though we only get little hints about some of the stuff that’s not being said. Because of this, I found myself wanting more attention paid to people in this town and less attention to the drama that unfolds during each basketball game. ‘Cause to be honest, that part gets a little tiresome.

    What doesn’t get tiresome are the performances by Hackman and Hershey who seem destined from their first encounter to kiss later, which they do. And when that happens, it happens in such a nice way punctuated by just the right words. It feels awkward when it happens, as I think it really should, but it also seems like the right thing.

    Hackman’s job is tough, because his character is the sort to do what he does without explaining his actions to anyone. We have to base almost all of our feelings about him on what we see him do. This distance the writer and director put between Dale and the rest of the town extends also to the audience. It’s a distance that’s just slightly wider than the film is able to bridge, I’m sorry to say, so even though you root for him and for his team, you just don’t feel as invested in either as you think you should.

    Still, it’s a nice movie; the principal actors and the lovely visuals make it worth seeing even if you’re not much into basketball.


  45. Mitchell

    Dirty Dancing
    Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze

    This is one of those movies I’ve always said I disliked even though I never saw it. Well I’ve seen it now, and it’s quite a bit better than I expected.

    This is what I thought the movie was about: A teenaged girl goes to some kind of summer camp, where she has a fling with someone who works there. Everyone there is a good dancer except her, but because of this romance, she learns to dance from this guy and they win some kind of dance contest at the end, and somewhere along the way, someone says, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

    I was way off. There are actually some interesting themes here, as overdone as some of them might be. We have the wrong-side-of-the-tracks people inhabiting the same space as the spoon-in-mouth people and the girl from one side who falls for the boy from the other. Mix in some unplanned pregnancy in an era where abortion is illegal, lots of nostalgia for the 1950s, parental expectations, and most of the usual coming-of-age stuff, and you get the picture.

    So yeah. I’ll give the film-makers a few props for giving their story a darker edge than I expected and for giving their lead character enough to deal with without taking the easy way out most of the time. But they get huge deductions for the heavy-handed wrapping-up at the end. I can kind of look the other way with the too-much-dancing criticism I have of this film (I mean, that’s what the film is about, so you have to expect it), but after doing a decent job of building a pretty good story, they feel the need to tidy it all up, to summarize the resolutions and tie up the loose ends, all in one final sequence in the last fifteen minutes during the “final show.”

    In the middle of this final musical sequence, one older character tells another older character something like, “You and I have seen it all through the years, but you know? Things are changing. Kids today are…” This wistful summation of an over-romanticized decade almost had me running for the barf-bag. This is not a real character in the Fifties telling us what it was like; it is a writer in the Eighties putting words in that character’s mouth to tell us what we all feel NOW, not what people felt THEN. This is the heaviest of the heavy-handed examples, but this long scene is rife with such exposition.

    Minus the last twenty minutes, I enjoyed this picture a lot more than I thought I could. The dancing held no interest for me at all, but Jennifer Grey does a pretty nice job, and there are some well-done scenes, including the sequence where she’s practicing her dance moves alone on the footbridge that geographically separates the resort staff from the resort guests and a similar montage where Swayze is teaching Grey a dance move that she keeps messing up with her laughter.

    I know that young women everywhere were smitten by this movie. I don’t get it unless it’s all hormonal. I suppose there’s something there about being the good daughter, set to make the world better, who discovers that her father’s not the greatest person in the world, who is chosen by the hunkiest guy in the movie. The film just feels kind of empty for that, though. Maybe if I were a pubescent girl I’d understand better.


  46. Reid

    Noite Vazia (1964)
    Dir. Walter Hugo Khouri

    Maybe Penny would have the best chance of liking this. As for everyone else, I have no idea–except definitely no to Don and Larri. The score reflects more of my personal reaction to the film rather than the actual quality of it (although I’d guess my “objective” rating wouldn’t be higher than 60).

    I never heard of Khouri before, but I watched this for a movie discussion group. This is a Brazilian film about two middle-upper class guys that cruise the night time looking to pick up women. The two guys encounter two prostitutes, and shows the interaction between them. Think of a film like Mike Nichols’ *Closer*–with a more 60’s psychological analytic approach–and you get an idea of what this film is like. The psychological elements didn’t interest me much and the film didn’t offer very much beyond the typical sense of ennui you see in characters like this.

    Under the Blossoming Cherry Trees (1975)
    Dir. Masahiro Shinoda

    Grace and Penny would find this interesting. I’m not sure about the others–although no to Don, Marc, Joel and Larri.

    Another movie discussion pick, and again, I never heard of the director. The film takes place in feudal Japan. A savage mountain man robs passers by and takes a beautiful (upper class) woman as his wife. The man has other wives, but when the new wife arrives she orders him to kill them all, save one. Later, she gets bored and demands to move back to the city. The mountain man has trouble fitting in.

    The movie definitely feels like a Japanese folktale, and while some of characters behave in bizarre ways, there’s something real and compelling about it, too. I don’t quite understand the film, but I found it interesting and compelling nonetheless.

    Frownland (2007)
    Dir. Ronald Bronstein
    Starring: Dore Mann, Paul Grimstad, etc.

    Recommended to Mitchell, Penny and maybe Chris. Not sure about Kevin and Tony, but they would be next on the list. Not recommended to Marc, Joel, Don, Jill and Larri.

    This is not a film I personally loved or enjoyed, but I do think it’s a good film.

    Another so-called mumblecore film–a character study really, of Keith, a guy with probably some mental health issues. The film follows Keith through a series of interactions with people in his life, a trouble female friend; his roommate, etc. and from these interactions we learn more about Keith and the people around him.

    There are a couple of interesting aspects to this film. First, there is Dore Mann’s performance as Keith. Normally, I don’t care for actors who play mentally disabled characters, just because it seems actor-y. Here, Mann, seems to inhabit the character. Actually, I think the main reason is that Mann is not a well-known actor, so I can more easily accept him as the character.

    Second, the film caused a shift in perception for me regarding Keith and the people around him. Initially, Keith seems like a very difficult person to like and be around. He seems to be someone who would have great difficulty in life, not only for social reasons, but for more practical day-to-day ones, too. But gradually we learn that Keith has a level of competance and that it is the “normal” people around him that may have the problem. The viewer has to watch the whole film to get this full effect, so watching the film requires patience, but I think the payoff is worth it. In the beginning of the film, we see a shot of a monster in a cheap horror film. This sets up Keith as a modern day Quasimodo, but by the end we realize that the monsters are around him.

  47. Mitchell

    Lethal Weapon
    Mel Gibson, Danny Glover

    My fill-in-the-blanks pursuit for 1986 and 1987 continues. No, I never did see this movie, but somewhere along the line I did see the last half hour, which might be the reason I never did see the rest of this film.

    Everybody (and I mean everybody!) seems to say that what makes this film is the relationship between Glover and Gibson. I have to say that this aspect of the film felt pretty flat to me. When you think about it, there’s very little real relationship development going on here. There are some very fun, very interesting scenes of dialogue and action in which the main characters get to interact. I enjoyed those, but I don’t think they’re sufficient to create as special a relationship as we’re supposed to believe.

    I keep forgetting what a likable actor Mel Gibson is. This is him at his most charming and interesting.

    For its genre, I have to say the plot is pretty interesting, ‘though if you’re looking for a police procedural, you’ve definitely got the wrong film. In this post-CSI era, the police work here looks a lot like the main characters read the script of this film before they found themselves in the story, but whatever. You’re really watching this for the interaction and action, and those are pretty decent. I don’t know what it would take for me really to like this film—perhaps more Tarantino-like conversation or more moral dilemma for the main characters—but I suppose I like this about as well as I could like a film in this genre.


    Hannah and Her Sisters
    Woody Allen, Michael Caine, Mia Farrow, Diane Weist, Barbara Hershey

    You pretty much only have to know two things about a Woody Allen movie. First, is it a typical Woody Allen movie in the way that people think of Woody Allen movies? And second, how do you rank it among other Woody Allen movies you’ve seen?

    The answer to the first question is mostly yes, although this film takes a lot of the action away from the Woody Allen character and spends more of it with the others, something I rather liked. The answer to the second question for me (and I haven’t seen THAT many Allen films), is that it’s not quite as good as Manhattan or Annie Hall, but I think I’d put it at the top of the next tier.

    The usual Allen themes are there, but he lets some of the other characters deal with many of them, including some of the tricky things about being married, older-men-younger-women relationships, and a certain slice of the lives of the cultural elite in New York City. Dialogue is mostly quite interesting, with several laugh-out-loud moments. Situational humor is minimal; most of the situations seem to exist for the conversations (internal and external) that emerge from them, and of course I’m totally fine with that.

    I’m not going to summarize this except to say that the film kinda moves around between several episodes in several characters’ lives. It’s a little weird for me at first, but one very good scene about a third of the way in really kinda makes the whole thing start to affect me. It’s a scene with Barbara Hershey and her parents, taking place after her mother has fallen off the wagon. I don’t know what it is about this scene that moves me except that the acting is just terrific and it kinda helps me understand the three sisters in a way I can’t put my finger on. It’s a great scene, though.

    Caine and Weist won supporting-actor Oscars for this (and Allen for original screenplay), but I think the good performances are by Allen and Hershey. I don’t know why Caine doesn’t work for me. He seems so out of place. His acting is fine, but I just don’t like the way he feels among these other characters.

    I wouldn’t call this a must-see unless you like Manhattan and Annie Hall. A very enjoyable film.


  48. Mitchell

    Hall Pass
    Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate

    Farrelly Brothers. Penny says one of the actors described this as the Farrelly Brothers’ version of a romantic comedy. I can see that. You go into a Farrelly Brothers flick with one expectation: laughter, at just about any price. There’s laughter here, some of it grosser than gross but most of it just juvenile. The gross stuff I can really do without. You’ve probably had your fill of projectile vomiting, but what about projectile pooping? Yeah, that’s here.

    How to walk the line between gross-out comedy and sincere romance? It’s a tough question and the Farrellys show that if they wanted to, they really could write a straight romantic comedy. The main characters are fairly well thought-out and the actors do a good job of making them seem real despite the unbelievable circumstances they find themselves in. Wilson, Fischer, and Applegate are a likable trio of actors I wish I could have seen in some other picture. Sudeikis plays a combination of every SNL character he’s ever done; it takes away from the believability the others bring, but it also provides the bridge between serious exposition on marriage and family and projectile pooping.

    It does a poor job of being both films. While I kept wishing these characters would somehow find the escape hatch and climb up into the sunshine where they could have some beers and good conversation, I think most viewers will wish they would just shut up and get back to more pooping.



    Pineapple Express
    Seth Rogen, James Franco

    This film, written by the Apatow/Rogen/Goldberg team, is equal parts stoner buddy flick and buddy action flick. It’s a good idea, and Rogen’s Dale Denton is a good character. He means well and he’s got a good heart, but his priorities are juvenile and slightly out of whack, mostly because of weed. The problem is everybody else in the movie.

    Denton’s friends are either detestable or uninteresting, so the buddy aspect of the film is a huge disappointment. The action sequences are interesting but they’re too long! I did laugh out loud a few times, mostly because Rogen just does that to me. That’s worth a few points. However, you get the feeling that what Denton needs are some better, more interesting friends with whom he can have smarter, more interesting conversation. I hear there may be a sequel, so here’s hoping.


  49. Mitchell

    Johnny Depp, Abigail Breslin, and others.

    I’ve heard a hundred different opinions about this and mine doesn’t really match up with any of them, so here’s mine. When I saw the first trailer, I thought this looked like a loser of a movie because the only thing in the trailer was a rather extended chase sequence, where a hawk chases a lizard across a rather desolate plain. The second trailer was a lot more interesting, since Rango, a lizard, actually spoke to some of the other characters who live in the town of Dirt. Aha, I thought. This is more like it.

    Even that doesn’t really give you a good idea of what the film is, however. Rango is a sort of tribute to spaghetti westerns, a genre that I have some fondness for. Some of the imagery, lots of the story, and quite a bit of the music make reference to conventions of the spaghetti western; so much, in fact, that I wonder if only people old enough to have seen enough of them will enjoy the picture.

    Rango the character is likable enough. He’s something of a would-be actor, someone’s pet who finds himself homeless and lost. When he stumbles into the town of Dirt where nobody knows who he is, he realizes he can now remake himself into any of the pretend characters he’s acted out. Since Dirt needs a lawman, that’s what Rango becomes.

    Dirt is being terrorized by a wicked rattlesnake and by drought. When he is made sheriff by accidentally impressing everyone, the burden is on him to figure out where the water went. That’s pretty much all the story you need.

    The characters are pretty interesting, but what I really enjoyed were the four mariachi owls who serve as the Greek chorus and repeatedly predict Rango’s demise. The music is great and the owls’ dialogue is hilarious and wonderfully poetic at the same time. Los Lobos does the theme song and one other excellent tune on the soundtrack. If you never seen the film, you might at least want to hear parts of the soundtrack, especially if you love the sound of those old westerns the way I do!

    I must also give props to the animation, which doesn’t have that shiny glow that Pixar films and all their copycats seem to have. Where those look like pieces of candy you could just munch on all day, the images in Rango a warm and dry and dusty and very textured. I find it impressive that the visuals in this 2D film are so much more alive and vibrant than anything I’ve seen in a 3D movie.

    I have heard some people rave about this, saying that it will unseat Pixar at the next Oscars. It’s not that good. But it is a good, fun, funny entertainment that this forty-something found interesting. Don’t know what younger people will think.


    “Walk Don’t Rango” by Los Lobos from the soundtrack:

    “Rango Theme Song” by Los Lobos. Cute video, too.

  50. Mitchell

    About Last Night…
    Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, James Belushi

    It has been my purpose of late to see those films released in 1986 and 1987 that slipped through the cracks somehow. I chose these years because my senior year of high school began in 1986 and ended in 1987. So far most of what I’ve seen has been fluffy, stuff I didn’t see in those years because I just wasn’t interested or because I wasn’t yet comfortable with attending R-rated films, but several things on the list are films I really did want to see but never got to for whatever reason. About Last Night… with Demi Moore and Rob Lowe is one of them. I heard a local radio DJ raving about the film, and being something of a Brat Pack admirer, I knew this was one to check out. It’s twenty-five years later and I have finally seen it.

    And it’s good. Lowe and Moore play twenty-something professionals, sexually active but not in committed relationships, when they meet in a Chicago bar. Things move pretty quickly from flirtation to sex to relationship to shacking up, and except for the early stages of the relationship which I just can’t relate to, each step seems genuine and believable. Director Edward Zwick leads the actors through those tentative getting-to-know-you moments, including the awkwardness of shifting dynamics when best friends spend less time together and more time with boyfriends and girlfriends and the logistical challenges of bringing one’s stuff into an apartment already crammed full of someone else’s stuff.

    This is an interesting movie to see so soon after seeing Blue Valentine, another film that presented a believable couple falling into love and then experiencing stones in the road. Where that film presented the couple at two different, critical periods separated by about six years, this one pretty much stays with our characters throughout their first year together. Where Blue Valentine is heavy on style and what sometimes seems like carefully improvised dialogue, About Last Night… is stylistically like almost every other modern-day comedy-drama filmed in the mid-to-late Eighties. Dialogue is quick and witty (based on David Mamet’s play Sexual Perversity in Chicago), but Moore and (especially) Lowe seem to discover their characters as the film moves along. Each movie has a lot to recommend it, but one could easily look past this film’s superficialities and miss a film whose heart is in the same place.

    Most admirable are those more difficult periods in the relationships. The fights and tensions seem real, and one can really see the characters struggling through them, in love but not always in like. The reconciliations, too, are well done; the characters’ words and actions seem familiar, like our own words and actions when we kiss and make up. Things may not be settled, but the important things are affirmed and sometimes a sincere hug is more in order than lengthy talking-things-over.

    My biggest problem is with the acting, especially by Lowe and James Belushi. They’re given some challenging situations, mostly in the form of the verbose dialogue characteristic of many Mamet scripts, and they just don’t pull it off most of the time. Lowe has never really impressed me much with his acting anyway, and here he really seems out of place for at least the first half of the movie. Belushi seems to be channeling Bill Murray at his most obnoxious and most of the time his juvenile crudeness is too much for his supposed caring-best-friend persona to overcome. You’d think Lowe would be happy to get away from this guy, but he seems unbelievably to miss his company through too much of the film.

    Moore is tentative at first but quickly seems to find her character’s groove. She seems much surer of her character, just as her character seems sure of herself most of the time. I have often thought Moore is better as a supporting actress (see: A Few Good Men), but she finds a note here that I wish she had carried into the Nineties—smart but not too smart, sexy but not too sexy, playful but not too playful.

    Lowe’s awkwardness aside, this is quite a good film, perhaps better than I’m giving it credit for because of how much time has passed between its release and my seeing it. I appreciate the arc the characters take us through; the ups and downs feel real and I especially like the way the closing scene is handled. I recently saw Dirty Dancing and my biggest criticism of that film was the awful way every loose end was tied up neatly and quickly in the last twenty minutes. About Last Night… treats its audience more intelligently: we don’t know all the details of what’s to happen next, but we know the characters well enough by now to figure it out.


    ps: Ashton Kutcher was eight years old when this film was in theaters.

  51. Reid

    Some comments on Mitchell’s reviews.

    Dirty Dancing

    I’m a bit surprised by your rating of the film and your lack of understanding of why teenaged girls would like this film. You touch on the reasons (the good girl and her relationship with her dad), but there’s also the romance with the bad-boy-who’s-really-a-nice-guy (not to mention the compelling fantasy of the good girl reforming the bad guy); and then there’s the (shy) good girl who learns to dance–and dances triumphantly in the final performance. What’s not to understand (unless you think the film did a terrible job with these points)?

    I also curious to know what makes this film significantly less entertaining for you then other Hollywood rom-coms/romances.

    Lethal Weapon

    It’s true that the relationship is not really built on much. It works more because of chemistry and the premise. I can think of several ways to improve the film, but the one that comes to mind first is the villain. He’s lame. The climax of the film (a fight on the lawn) is pretty lame, too.

    Hannah and Her Sisters

    Loved both Dianne Wiest and Michael Caine in this, although I can sort of understand why you think Caine seems out of place. I suspect it’s because he’s not a New Yorker, but he’s supposed to be intimately connected with the family (unlike Max von Sydow’s character). I should watch this again to remind me how good Woody Allen could be as a director and writer.

  52. Mitchell

    Barney’s Version
    Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver

    My admiration for Paul Giamatti is unabashed and well-known. When Giamatti did the talk-show circuit to promote Barney’s Version, it should have been obvious to anyone that this was one of my few must-sees. I even ventured out of my geographic realm of comfort and into that dump of a theater in Kahala. I’m glad I did it, and not just because I admired the film. Now I know why I don’t go to that theater and now I know about what level of expectation I must have for a film if it is to compel me to patronize that establishment. Henceforth, it shall be known as the Barney Line.

    I suppose many people would consider it faint praise at best to say that the role of Barney Panofsky seems to have been written just for Giamatti, that what we have here can most efficiently be described as a Giamatti movie, the way you might call something a Steven Seagal movie or a Jim Carrey movie. I wouldn’t be one of those people. This is vintage Giamatti, and that’s a very, very good thing.

    Giamatti’s Panofsky is a cigar-smoking, heavy-drinking television producer who hates the fruit of his labors but enjoys the lifestyle it affords. We first meet him in his youth, hanging out in Rome with some friends and getting married for the first time to a wannabe painter. His male friends are a Bohemian mix of painters and novelists, and they spend most of their time in Rome talking about their art and consuming large quantities of drugs and drink.

    The film takes us then to his second wedding, this time to the sexy-but-knuckle-gnawingly-irritating daughter (Minnie Driver) of a very wealthy businessman. Barney’s friends are there again, and they again engage Barney with juvenile behavior underscored with lots of alcohol. Barney’s father (Dustin Hoffman) engages similarly, much to the offense of the bride’s family.

    These two marriages are really the setup for the heart of the film, which involves Barney’s third marriage to a New York radio personality named Miriam (Rosamund Pike) who is too smart and too sophisticated to fall for the likes of Barney but does so anyway, believably smitten with Barney’s considerable charm. Barney’s self-destructiveness is part of the draw for her, as it is for the film’s audience, and it is to the credit of the film’s writers, director, and actors that what should be such a despicable character is so convincingly likable.

    Giamatti is almost as good in this film as he is in Sideways, but not quite. Here is a hefty take-me-as-I-am persona that he plays well, but it doesn’t work quite as well as the I-loathe-myself-too-much-to-let-you-love-me air he carries in the earlier film. Hoffman is wonderfully Hoffman, a working-class former cop convinced he never ascended the ranks of the police department because of universal antisemitism. Late in Barney’s life when his father dies, he does it in a place that might be embarrassing for the son who has to retrieve him, but Barney’s stunned reaction and follow-up reaction are so note-perfect that they are the highlight of the film for me. This moment doesn’t come for free: the actors, writers, and director earn it admirably, the way they earn a lot (though perhaps not all) of the film’s humorous and weighty scenes.

    Something must also be said about Rosamund Pike, an actress I was completely unfamiliar with until this film. There is a startling glow about this actress contained in an amazing down-to-earth wrapper that seems in no way able to contain the luminous qualities of the person Barney falls in love with. The words that come out of his mouth when he first confesses his love for her seem just slightly too poetic for even this learned, intelligent man, but one doesn’t doubt for a second that such a woman could inspire it. She brings out his eloquence just as she brings out the other hidden, admirable qualities in the whiskey-soaked crudeness of this man.

    Bundled all together as nicely as it all is, there is something about the film’s conclusion that leaves me mildly unsatisfied, wistfully sad that the story has to end here, like a bus ride whose route terminates tantalizingly close to one’s destination but too far for a comfortable stroll. I needed something else, and I’m not sure what it is, especially since most of what I’ve been able to think of would have been enormous failures. It’s not a neat tidying-up I need, nor some kind of expository expression from Miriam, but where I normally love the bittersweet note that often concludes movies such as this, I think I wanted something grander, something more sweetly uplifting than what I got. It is this slightly too-bitter bittersweetness that keeps me from putting it on the same level as Sideways, my favorite movie of the 2000s so far, but don’t let that keep you from checking it out. It is still quite a good movie, especially for admirers of Paul Giamatti.


  53. Mitchell

    Man, I nailed that review.

  54. Reid

    The Aura (2005)
    Dir. Fabian Bielinsky

    My guess is that most of you, at best, would think this was pretty good (although I think the chances of hating it are unlikely). The ones that might consider the risk: Penny, Joel and Marc.

    This Argentinian thriller/heist picture had a promising start. A mild-mannered taxidermist with a near photographic memory talks about the way he could easily pull off a bank heist. The film finds a (very contrived and roundabout) way to give him chance to prove it.

    Bielinsky also directed Nine Queens, a con film, and like that one, The Aura had similar unbelievable and unnecessary plot turns to make the story work. For example, to get taxidermist involved in the heist, Bielinsky him accidently shoot the criminal mastermind (after having a seizure–the so-called “aura” of the film) while on a hunting trip. The way the taxidermist gets an important key is also both unnecessarily contrived and long. (I don’t want to go into it.)

    Flaming Creatures (1963)
    Dir. Jack Smith

    I think this would be only for hardcore film buffs. Personally, I didn’t think it was a great film, although, I really haven’t analyzed it. FWIW, my score reflects my personal reaction to the film.

    This is a relatively famous New York underground film. It’s more dreamlike than narrative based, and it’s sort of hard to describe. What’s notable is the black-and-white film stock, which is really beat up, creating the sensation that it was made in the early 20th Century. What little there is of a story involves the arrival of a character, ostensibly Ali Baba (of the forty thieves). All the characters are either lying around, dancing or making facial expressions in the camera. (There is also some full frontal male nudity, but not shot in sexually provocative way.)

    Besides the cinematography, the main thing I liked the about the film was some of the overhead camerawork and positioning of the actors (lying sprawled on the floor).

    When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960)
    Dir. Mikio Naruse
    Starring: Hideko Takamine, Tatsuya Nakadai, etc.

    Recommended to Penny and Grace first. Then I would mildly recommend this to Mitchell, Kevin, Chris, Tony and Jill (“mildy” because I’m not sure how much you all would like this). I think Marc, Don, Larri and Joel would think this was OK at least.

    First, let me say that the film is accessible to mainstream audiences (at least those not biased against black-and-white films or subtitles). Next, I’d say the film is in the same vein as some of the socially-conscious Hollywood films–specifically the ones that try to educate the public on a social issue–e.g. Days of Wine and Roses, Philadelphia, Accused, etc.

    In this case, the subject is the life of a bar hostess in Japan. The film is a strong character study of one such hostess–and the strong female character reminds me of films like Nights of Cabiria or Story of Women. Takamine, plays “Mama,” who is getting older and must make a choice between getting married (generally signifying marrying some individual for money) or starting her own bar. Takamine is a good (and beautiful) in this and if what I’ve said appeals to you, I’d recommend seeing the film.

    This is a solid film, although I thought the ending was a little too pat.

  55. mitchell

    Reid, let me know if you hear about the new Aaron Katz film playing here before I hear about it. The reviews are encouraging.

  56. Reid

    I will. I hope it does play here. Btw, what about seeing the other Katz film I have?

  57. Reid

    Franklyn (2008)
    Dir. Gerald McMorrow
    Dir. Ryan Phillippe, Eva Green, etc.

    I’m not real confident about recommending this film, but I wouldn’t be totally surprised if Grace ended up really liking this. Chris and Tony, too. I think Penny and Mitchell would probably mildly enjoy this and find some interesting things about it. (I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up liking this quite a bit, too.) Marc and Joel have a better chance of thinking this is better than OK; Don and Jill, just OK.

    The title is sort of weird and not very informative, as it doesn’t give the viewer any good idea of what this is about. It might be an interesting film to go in blind, but I’ll say that it is basically a mainstream film, so it’s not too weird or inaccessible.

    The beginning of the film takes place in what seems to be a post-apocalyptic world, a world where everyone has (or must have) a religion. One man in is planning an assassination. Later, we see two different characters, seemingly living in the present. One has been stood up by his fiance; the other is an artist on the verge of suicide.

    You know how a film like Donnie Darko has a bunch of really loyal fans that get a little more ethusiastic for the film than it deserves? I can see this film having the same effect. (I prefer Darko much more than this, though.)

  58. mitchell

    On Dirty Dancing
    You’re surprised that my rating is this high or that it’s this low? I’m surprised that it got as high as 5/10 because I was sure I wouldn’t like it. Even thinking about it now, after I’ve seen it, I’m surprised I didn’t give it a 4, really. I mean, look at how many things it contains which I dislike. First, there’s lots of dancing to pop music. I can handle a certain amount of dancing, but dancing is clearly the main element of this film, and I find the dancing here neither very interesting nor very creative. At least in Footloose, a film I like, the dancing is kind of fun and celebratory, except in that scene where they sneak across county lines, flash some fake ID, and get into a bar fight because that punk guy dances with Lori Singer, a scene I dislike.

    Then there’s the smart girl who gets turned on by a punk guy. I hate that. But at least it’s somewhat true to life.

    Add two songs I despise (“I’ve Had the Time of My Life” and “She’s Like the Wind”) and it’s testimony to the REST of the picture that I was able to endure it at all. As far as its being less entertaining than other Hollywood romantic comedies or straight romances, it has very little in common with any romantic comedy I like, and the few straight romances I’d rate 8 or higher are just so much smarter.

    This is not a complete list of what I’ve rated, but it’s the most complete list I’ve got (it’s a long work in progress). Interestingly, all three of the films I’ve rated 10 are romances, the first (Beauty and the Beast) a musical, even. I realize it’s unfair to compare the next two (Casablanca and The African Queen) with Dirty Dancing, but it’s good to keep in mind that that’s what it takes to get a 10 in my book.

    Looking at the 8s, I see 50 First Dates, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Aladdin, Flipped, Maid in Manhattan, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Tangled, Two Weeks Notice, and Up in the Air. What do these have in common when compared to Dirty Dancing? First, no boring dancing. Second, in all of these films, I want the romantic couple to be together (except the Shakespearean play, which I think we should just take off this list because it taints the data). There’s either some idea that these couples SHOULD be together, or some desire on the viewer’s part that they try it out. They have leading men who are smart and sensitive, if perhaps at times clueless and misguided (except Up in the Air, which presents the pitfalls, the other side of that romantic coin, in some ways). The leading women are smart and purposeful, complicated and independent, but also somewhat needy.

    This is not to say that a film about a summer romance, which this is, can’t make it on my list. And taken as a coming-of-age film, it works a lot better for me (that’s probably why it gets a 5), because it really has all the elements of the classic coming-of-age story, most impressively the disillusionment with parental authority and wisdom. But until her father forbids her to see Patrick Swayze for the wrong reasons, I don’t see a compelling reason for us to root for them to be together beyond this summer.

    Anyway, that’s too much analysis for a movie that barely makes my okay list. I don’t know what happens to Baby after this summer, but I do hope she goes to Mt. Holyoke and then off to the Peace Corps.

  59. Reid

    Re: Dirty Dancing

    I’m not sure why you’re even comparing the films to films you’ve given an 8 to–which is a rather high rating. Why not compare it to films that you rated a 6 or 7. I’m not surprised that you didn’t rate the film an 8 or higher, but the 5 surprised me. But, as you say, this is probably not worth the analysis.

  60. mitchell

    I’m still not sure if the 5 surprised you with its lowness or highness. You would have expected me to like this more or less than I did?

  61. mitchell

    Remember, I’m the guy who finds Grease unwatchable.

  62. Reid

    I’m surprised at the lowness of the score. Maybe there’s more music and dancing then I remember, but I just thought the coming-of-age story of the girl and the romance–which is at the heart of the film–would appeal to you a lot more (more than a 5, anyway).

  63. Reid

    Woman on the Beach (2006)
    Dir. Hong Sangsoo

    I have no idea what others would think, but I’d guess most of you would just think it was OK.

    Did you ever watch a film that, on the surface, wasn’t hard to understand, but you felt you were missing some key information nevertheless–as if you were not on the same wavelength with the film? That’s how I felt about this film. Here’s the plot: a movie director and his assistant go off to a beach resort to work on a script. The assistant brings his girlfriend. The director and girlfriend fall for each other. The director decides to return to the same place the following weekend, but without the assistant’s girlfriend (who can’t make it). He meets another woman, that reminds him (or so he says) of the assistant’s girlfriend. Through these events, the director is able to write his film.

    Imo, the characters and situations feel like the sort of thing you’d see in a TV sitcom or TV drama. (This is a Korean film, btw.) And I just didn’t get it. I could see this appealing to Mitchell, Penny and Tony, but I’m not sure if they would like it.

    Tokyo Sonata (2008)
    Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa

    I’d guess Mitchell, Penny and Grace would have the best chance of liking this. Kevin and Tony could also like this quite a bit, too, but I’m not sure. Jill and Joel might like this, but I’m less sure about them.

    If I had to describe this in a few words, I’d call this the Japanese version of American Beauty. The film follows a Japanese family–a husband who is middle-manager position at a business company; a housewife; a disaffected teenaged son; and a younger son who wants to learn to play the piano. The film starts with the husband getting laid off, and we see the gradual effects on the family (and other men in his position). The film, imo, is one of those socially conscious films, not unlike Days of Wine and Roses (alcoholism), Philadelphia (gays with AIDS), The Accused (rape), The Best Years of Our Lives (what returning war veterans faced), etc. It’s also similar to Up in the Air, in the way it touches on the effects of economic downturn on people.

    So why the relatively low score? Well, I mainly gave it a low score because I think the essence of the film lies in depicting the disintegration and ennui of a modern suburban family. There really isn’t a compelling story or interesting character (we’ve seen them all before, imo). I also thought the ending was a bit heavy-handed in many ways and too contrived.

  64. Reid

    Movern Callar (2002)
    Dir. Lynne Ramsay
    Starring: Samantha Morton, etc.

    I think Penny and Grace should see this, although I’m not sure how much they would like this. The next person that comes to mind is Kevin, for some reason. I think Mitchell would find this interesting, but I’m not sure if he’d like this. Ditto Tony and Chris. Maybe if Jill was in college, she’d be interested in this, but I’m not sure she’d like this now. No, to Don, Marc, Joel and Larri.

    The score reflects my opinion of the film’s quality, more than my personal enjoyment.

    Movern Callar (Morton) is a young woman in the UK. Her boyfriend has committed suicide leaving her some money, which she quickly uses to buy a plane ticket to Spain, taking a good friend along with her. The film is essentially a character study and I would describe it as a kind of Gen X/Y version of Thelma and Louise (although the film focuses on one character, hence the title). Like the Thelma, I’d call this a feminist picture–but I appreciate the lack of histrionics and simple victories.

    The pacing of the film is rather slow, and very little seems to happen, so keep that in mind, if you decide to see this.

    This is about a woman who breaks free–free from her small town, the conventions and expectations of being a woman of a working class background. She wants something more–more meaning, more fulfillment, perhaps–without really knowing what or how she will get that. The fact that she seeks this out is what makes her interesting, even though she does a reprehensible thing and ultimately ends up lost.

  65. Reid

    Lincoln Lawyer (2011)
    Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillipe, William H. Macy, etc.

    I think I could recommend this to everyone, although I wouldn’t say the film is great; but it is good, solid entertainment. I would probably single out Marc. Larri, Joel, Jill and Penny saw this and liked it.

    This is courtroom drama/thriller and it’s one of the better ones I’ve seen in a long time. This is partly due to the dialogue and, partly due to Matthew McConaughey. (The other actors are wasted for the most part.) McConaughey plays a lawyer who operates out of his car. He generally defends unseemingly characters from the street–although in the film, they portrayed in a more favorable light.

    Like other films in this genre, the film creates a tricky situation for the protagonist. If the situation is interseting and formidable and the protagonist gets out of the tricky situation in a relatively satisfying way, then the film works. That’s what happens in the film (although you have be somewhat forgiving for certain plot points that may be hard to swallow.)

    This was one of the more entertaining and satisfying films I’ve seen recently. (But I’m a sucker for courtroom thrillers, so…)

  66. Reid

    The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
    Dir. Scott Derrickson
    Starring: Laura Linney, Tom Wilkenson, Campbell Scott, etc.

    I recommend this to Joel, Penny, Larri and Marc. I’d also recommend this to Don, although I’m less sure. I think Mitchell, Grace, Kevin, John and Chris would find this entertaining, but I’m not sure. I liked this film quite a bit.

    The first thing I must say is that this is not so much a horror film as it is a courtroom drama. A priest (Wilkinson) is being tried for homicidal negligence while performing an exorcism on a young girl. Linney is the attorney who has to defend him. The horror scenes occur in flashbacks as we learn about Emily, her condition and the actual exorcism. Personally, I didn’t find these scenes very scary or gruesome, and I suspect others would agree. If you really like courtroom dramas (as I do), I’d recommend this.

  67. Mitchell

    Note: I wrote the bulk of this in the first week of April. I’ve finally gotten around to writing my conclusion after several weeks of not having the brainpower to finish the draft.

    With the 2011 remake of Arthur in theaters and on my wanna-see list, I figured I should finally see the original 1981 film with Dudley Moore and Liza Minelli. I was twelve when that movie was in theaters and clearly not the target demographic. Somehow I managed not to learn much about it until recently, when some of the radio programs I listen to (via podcast) discussed the potential for this remake. I was surprised by how popular Arthur was among them.

    What a surprising movie. This isn’t at all what I expected.

    Arthur (Dudley Moore), who appears to be in his mid-to-late twenties (‘though his behavior might put him in his mid teens), is the heir to an enormous fortune. He’s threatened with being cut off from the family wealth if he doesn’t marry the woman his father and grandmother have strategically selected for him. Although he does not care much for this woman, he happily agrees to the terms so that he might continue his reckless, rich-boy, hedonistic lifestyle. Immediately after agreeing to the engagement—and accompanied by his lifelong caretaker and friend Hobson (John Gielgud)—he meets Linda Marolla (Liza Minelli), a quick-witted, big-eyed waitress with aspirations of being an actress. That’s pretty much the gist of the story and it’s really all this film needs because it has such a terrific cast.

    What surprises me most is how likable Moore and Minelli are in these roles. I have never been fond of either one (‘though Minelli’s Emmy-winning stint in Arrested Development certainly had a few of the cells in my brain rethinking my dislike for her). Moore’s drunken charm, a much-written-about facet of the movie I’ve heard enough of in my life to convince me it was overblown, is strangely disarming and winsome. He’s not more likable drunk than sober, but he’s pretty dang likable when he’s drunk.

    And Minelli! She’s all eyes and bubbles and sharp wit! Within a few scenes of her first appearance, the question is not why Arthur would fall so hard for her; it’s why everyone else in the world wouldn’t. She’s got this impossible down-to-earthness about her but at the same time she’s almost fairy-like with her sparkles and energy. I wonder if it’s because she lacks the usual Hollywood beauty or cuteness that she plays both ends of the terrestrial-heavenly (yes, I’m resisting quoting a certain theme song) spectrum so well and fills in all the space in the middle. Surely, it’s acting chops that pulls off the rest. Minelli is a joy to watch in this film, such a joy that I can’t think of an equivalent role in any other film. Cher in Moonstruck comes to mind (another lunar theme!) but Cher’s obviously still beautiful in her dumpy, pre-shoes state, and it’s really Nicholas Cage who lifts her off the planet, and not Cher liberating Cage. If Jenna Elfman weren’t so cute, or if Glen Close weren’t so sexual and serious, I can think of a few roles that might compare, but really, this is a unique performance. Minelli wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, and looking at that year’s nominees (Katharine Hepburn, Diane Keaton, Marsha Mason, Susan Sarandon, and Meryl Streep), I can sort of see why, but holy moly she should at least have been considered.

    John Gielgud won a supporting actor Oscar for his loyal caretaker role. He’s good in this, and he knows that as the lightbulb for Moore’s moth, he needs only to stay still and deliver his lines as seriously as possible for best comic effect. Too many movies now seem to trust their actors too little, forcing them into some silly behavior in order to demonstrate a character’s fun side. Gielgud is given a script that makes party-hat-wearing or disco-dancing unnecessary, thank goodness, and the love Arthur and Hobson share is convincing without being stupid.

    Most of this film is just lovely and terrific. There are still flaws, mostly in some of the peripheral characters who are not as lucky to be liberated from caricature as Linda and Arthur, but these can mostly be excused simply because of Linda and Arthur. A little more thought could have popped these characters off the flat screen too (look at how good the supporting characters are in films like Notting Hill and No Strings Attached), turning this into a real classic. As it is, it’s a very good movie with excellent performances.


  68. Reid

    Of Gods and Men (2010)
    Dir. Xavier Beauvois

    I highly recommend this to Penny, Chris, Tony, Kevin, John and Mitchell. I would also recommend this to Marc and Grace. I would like to recommend this to Jill, Don, Larri and Joel–but this is not the type of film that they would generally enjoy.

    I really liked this film. In terms of my personal reaction, I could give the film a higher score.

    The is based on a true story involving French monastery in Algeria, specifically a tiny, ostensibly poor, Muslim village. The monks help the villagers–especially in terms of medical care (one of the monks is a trained physician)–and coexist harmoniously with them–despite the religious differences. But in the mid-90s a terrorist group begins a series of killings in the country. The film is about the way the Monks handle and come to terms with this situation.

    It is a very spiritual–and human–film. With films like this the more spiritual characters can appear almost super-human, like saints of yore. This film doesn’t take that approach. We see the monks weaknesses and fears. This is a film about struggle–specifically the struggle over giving one’s life to God–in both a figurative and literal way.

    A few comments about the film. There are slow, meditative scenes in the film (this is Don, Larri, Jill, et al., may have trouble). Personally, I liked this scenes as they added a contemplative element to the film. Indeed, these scenes, plus some of the dialogue and singing (the Monks do a lot of singing in that Gregorian chant style) made the viewing very close to worship for me. I found myself nodding my head (wanting to say, Amen) or praying quite a bit throughout the film.

    There are very few good spiritual films. I think this is one of them.

  69. Tony

    I saw Of Gods and Men when it first came to Kahala: good movie that painted a beautiful picture. It didn’t resonate as much as I thought it would, though.

    I guess I’m more in the mood for summer movies at this point. Thor was better than I expected. I may be a comic fan, but I go warily to most comic book movies (which could make this an interesting summer for me). It had some really nice, humorous moments. I like the Asgard stuff, even though the costumes still look too manufactured to me. Natalie Portman seemed to enjoy herself, which made her character all the more believable. Not as good as Spider-Man 2 or X-Men 2, but still pretty enjoyable.

    Saw Bridesmaids this weekend in an attempt to not be in a Friday evening funk. It helped quite a bit. I think I really like Maya Rudolph a lot. Kristin Wiig plays her part very well. Many of the best moments were the ones where they seemed to be ad-libbing things; it made you think these two are actually friends. The movie had quite a few more serious (and unexpected) moments, probably more than enough to balance out the gross-out humor. I’m glad I saw it.

    I really wanted to see Priest, but I find myself frustrated over the fact that I’m going to be paying a chunk of change for a movie that doesn’t make it to the 90-minute mark. I can barely handle that with animated movies. With live-action, I definitely expect more.

  70. Reid

    Tony said,

    …but I find myself frustrated over the fact that I’m going to be paying a chunk of change for a movie that doesn’t make it to the 90-minute mark. I can barely handle that with animated movies. With live-action, I definitely expect more.

    But do you feel this way even though “more” results in a weaker film? I think there are many films that suffer because they’re trying to reach a certain length–not unlike writing assignments that have padding just to meet the required length. Have you seen very many live-action films under 90 minutes? I’ve seen a bunch of really good ones recently, and I find these films way more satisfying than films that are unnecessarily longer.

  71. Mitchell

    Porky’s Trilogy

    I didn’t especially want to see Porky’s when it was in theaters in 1982. I was thirteen, and although it promised all the things a teenaged boy wishes he could see in the movies, I had also read the reviews (such as I had access to at that time) and was pretty sure I wouldn’t enjoy it. Some friends shared some of the highlights with me, making for interesting storytelling and hypothetical discussions at the bus stop; it just wasn’t especially tempting film talk.

    I still wasn’t particularly interested when I brainstormed my list of 80s films (focused mainly on 1986 and 1987, as I’ve mentioned) I wanted to catch up on, yet something about Porky’s cannot be denied: it is something of an iconic movie. What person my age does not conjure some kind of image as soon as the film is mentioned, whether he or she has seen it or not? This presented one very strong reason to see it and I couldn’t think of any reasons not to (unlike, say, Fight Club or Se7en). So whatever. I saw it. And then I saw its two sequels.

    They don’t suck. They’re certainly not very good, but collectively, they have something to recommend them, and I’ve seen a lot worse from filmmakers much more highly esteemed and actors much more talented. Add to that a rarity in serial films, and there’s something worth writing about here. The Porky’s trilogy actually gets better with each successive film. I can’t think of another trilogy—especially one with a bad first episode—about which this is true.

    They are teen exploitation films, designed to lure teens into theaters and generate enough locker room talk to get other teens to cough up the admission. They are also adolescent male fantasy films: just about everything the young men do in all three movies would never happen in real life, and you’d have to be an idiot even to ponder attempting them. Yet for all their raunch and nudity, there’s an underlying sweetness here that’s tough not to like. In general, the laughs come at the expense of the main characters themselves, and nearly all of the laughs are good-hearted and not mean-spirited. Characters with names like “Pee Wee” and “Meat” are caught in embarrassing, humiliating situations, often the victims of elaborate (and impossible) pranks, but they bounce back like Wile E. Coyote and come back for more, and grudges are held only as long as it takes the film to segue into the next scene.

    The nudity usually (I said usually!) steers clear of the high-school shower-room stuff. There’s enough, perhaps, to maintain the films’ reputations as naughty flicks, but a great deal (if not the majority) of the nakedness is male. It’s almost as if the filmmakers are playing a joke on the young men who pay to see the film: we’re going to give you a few women’s bodies and LOTS of male bodies, suckas!

    Plots are irrelevant, and anything more than a cursory look at the themes is really kind of not worth it, but I will give the film-makers props here for creating a horny-teenager trilogy that attempts to rise above such a label. A huge part of the story in the second film revolves around the main characters’ participation in a Shakespearean play and a local religious group’s efforts to prevent the show from going on. The film skewers hypocritical authority (in school, in the community, in church, and in government) while certain other uptight authority figures redeem themselves by standing up against it. In the third film, the main characters spend their last days at Angel Beach High trying to help out their down-on-his-luck basketball coach, whom they recognize as a “good guy,” while they literally expose a self-righteous biology teacher’s adulterous relationship with the school chaplain. Meanwhile, where Porky, one of the films’ major antagonists, is brought to his knees for his evil wrongdoing, the other major antagonist, Ms. Balbricker, is humanized and redeemed.

    I am reminded of the American Pie series, whose fondness for its characters (and their fondness for each other) seems genuine enough to be even more memorable than the scenes talked about in locker rooms. There’s really nothing here that even begins to approach some kind of meaningful character growth, but the characters are at least developed enough so that when they finally graduate in one last naked moment, you’re not as relieved to be leaving them behind as you might expect.

    Films like the Porky’s movies have a certain technical look and feel, so when something unusual pops up, it can be very noticeable, as with the soundtrack for the third film, Porky’s Revenge!. I noticed it rather early: the songs are well produced and the songwriting is pretty good, dated as it may be. There is a certain sophistication, a certain quality in the songs’ presentation that had me running for Wikipedia to see what was up. The soundtrack is produced by Dave Edmunds who performs a few original songs, and includes George Harrison doing a previously unreleased Bob Dylan song, and Robert Plant with Phil Collins performing another original. Cover songs are performed by the likes of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Jeff Beck, Carl Perkins, Clarence Clemons, and Willie Nelson (doing “Love Me Tender”). It falls just shy of excellent for a soundtrack, but given its film, it is an outstanding collection of songs and should be mentioned in any review of what was a rather poorly reviewed film.

    The third film is the best of the lot, but it was the lowest-grossing. This is too bad, because it is really just a notch or two below the first two American Pie films, which definitely owe some tribute to the iconic Eighties trilogy. I am unlikely to see these films again, but I don’t regret the six hours I spent watching them the first time and think they perhaps deserve another look by those who dismissed them.

    Porky’s (1982): 3/10, 39/100
    Porky’s II: The Next Day (1983): 4/10, 46/100
    Porky’s Revenge! (1985): 5/10, 52/100

  72. Reid

    13 Assassins (2010)
    Dir. Takashi Miike

    I would recommend this to Marc, Joel, Don and Kevin. I also think Chris, Penny, Grace and Jill. I don’t know about Tony and Kevin. I really enjoyed this film. Larri, to my surprise, did not like this film, finding it “boring(!).”

    When I first watched Seven Samurai, I went in expecting a great action flick, and so I felt disappointed. This film is the action version of Seven Samurai–or to be more precise, the Sam Peckinpah (a la The Wild Bunch) version of the film. Gone are the emphasis on character and drama; the observations on social class and human existence. Instead, we have more strategy, tactics and action!

    But this isn’t a mindless action film. At the heart of the film is a battle between two men–one out to kill a psychotic and evil higher ranking official and the other sworn to protect him. The film does a pretty decent job of setting up the action, making it more meaningful and dramatic, imo. (Larri found the set-up too boring, but I’m going to wager that most of you who like action films will not.)

    One of the more enjoyable films I’ve seen in a while. See it on the big screen.

  73. Mitchell

    Yeah, yeah. I know everyone in the world has already seen this. I was working on a Master’s thesis, remember?

    Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman
    directed by Jason Reitman

    It’s a heck of a movie. Ellen Page (Shadow Cat!) plays the title character, a high-school girl who gets pregnant and decides to carry the baby to full term. She agrees to let Vanessa and Mark (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) adopt her child. Her parents and best friend are supportive, and in his awkward teenaged way, so is the father of the child, Paulie (Michael Cera), ‘though Juno has issues with the way Paulie expresses his support.

    There’s been a lot of talk about this film. Pro-choice and pro-life people each seem to be split on whether or not the message here is supportive of their arguments. I think this is evidence that it’s a good, thoughtful film. Abortion issues aside, Juno is really a film about moments (big and small) of grace, moments where the good people (and the movie is full of them, as are most of our lives) choose more often than not to extend grace rather than to pass judgment.

    One scene that resonates: Juno is on her way into an abortion clinic. A schoolmate is standing all by herself outside, holding a sign and pathetically (‘though sincerely) chanting, “All babies want to get borned!” Juno chit-chats with this girl before entering the clinic, listening to what the girl has to say. There is a small measure of condescension in the exchange, but where you might expect two characters with opposing positions on such an issue to stick to rhetoric and to call each other names, you have one moment where instead they connect, still disagreeing but seeing the other as a person and not the mouthpiece for an ideal.

    The movie is filled with little moments like that, not to mention much bigger moments. I find it thoughtful and believable, despite others’ criticisms about how eloquent and smart Juno is. I’ve known a lot of smart high-school girls in my life, and I find Juno believable. She may string together words a bit more stylistically than the typical teen, but she’s not a typical teen, and I’ve known girls who’ve tried to be this cool with their sentences.

    The screenplay won an Oscar, but supporting acting Oscars could as well have gone to Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner. Garner especially is kind of amazing in this. She’s an underrated actress because of many of the types of roles she’s played (hellloooooo Elektra!); however, she’s got some serious chops, as you might have noticed in The Invention of Lying and Catch and Release if only you’d seen them. Even her performance in the spotty (but fun) 13 Going on 30 wasn’t too far off Tom Hanks’s similar role in Big, and he was nominated for an Oscar for that.

    Cera and Page do really well, too, and Jason Reitman seems to do a good job of putting his main characters in the center of the picture without making them too large for their roles in real life, if that makes any sense. They don’t seem like grownups trapped in small bodies, or like little kids behaving the way we think young people should be. Rather, they exist in exactly the place sixteen-year-olds should be in their school, in their houses, and everywhere else. An excellent soundtrack that includes several songs by Kimya Dawson feels familiar yet new, and it does a good job of setting the film in its time and place. I was humming one of the songs one day at work and my students recognized it immediately as “that song from Juno” even though none of them knew who Dawson or any of her bands were.

    I have now seen all three of Jason Reitman’s major films, and I have to say I’m turning into a fan. While nothing about Juno‘s story begs to be seen or remembered, such attention is paid to the quality of all its pieces that the result is one of the most memorable films I’ve seen in a long time.


  74. Mitchell

    X-Men: First Class
    James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, January Jones, Rose Byrne, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence.

    I don’t know what it is about live-action, comic-book superhero films that turns me on, but I really do like them even though I’ve never been a reader of comic books (they’ve interested me, but with a ridiculous passion for baseball cards, I knew I could never afford to get hooked). I believe this makes me almost an ideal audience for these films, since I am predisposed to liking them while I have no knowledge of or loyalty to the source material. It doesn’t matter to me if Hugh Jackman’s interpretation of Wolverine is inconsistent with the comic books; all that matters to me is how he works within the context of the films.

    Of the recent swarm of such films, the X-Men films have been my favorite. Themes of alienation always turn me on, and in this case I love the way each mutant differs from the others, so that there is a certain alienation even among the alienated. I will confess (‘though perhaps it goes without saying) that the juvenile male fantasy aspect of the female characters’ existences is part of the draw, too, and as long as I keep getting that in fair doses, I will probably keep coming back for more.

    X-Men: First Class takes us way back to when Charles Xavier is a brilliant adolescent, aware of his own special abilities but unaware that there are others who are similarly, genetically unusual. He meets a very young Raven (who will later be Mystique) at this early age, and the two forge a brother-sister relationship that takes them into their young adulthood. Meanwhile, Erik Lehnsherr loses his mother at the hands of the Nazis in World War II, then spends his post-adolescence hunting the responsible Nazis down. He will become Magneto and Xavier’s best friend. We’re then led through the discovery in 1962 of other mutants and up to the formation of the factions that already exist in the first X-Men film.

    The performances, especially by James McAvoy as Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Magneto, are pretty good. The friendship that develops between them is convincing, and we can see how two men with such opposing approaches to non-mutant relationships can care about each other so deeply. The sympathy Patrick Stewart conveys so well as Professor X in the earlier films seems easily traceable to McAvoy’s Xavier, ‘though I wish I could have seen even more of that. And although Magneto can easily be called evil in the earlier films, we can see what set young Erik on that path and it’s difficult to blame him.

    Other characters we get to know are Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Emma Frost (January Jones), Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), and Moira McTaggart (Rose Byrne). They are all well played except for Bacon’s Shaw, who somehow lacks the charisma of the others. I like Kevin Bacon, but something about his performance here is stiff and uninteresting. I especially love Lawrence as Mystique; she has a wonderfully appealing round-faced sweetness tinged with mischief that I found very sexy. Byrne as Moira is just about as sexy, with a brainy toughness (think Jennifer Garner in Alias) that’s hard not to love.

    As I’ve said before, action sequences don’t do much for me, but I did enjoy them in this film, especially some of the stunts in the Cuban Missile Crisis sequence. What’s more interesting to me is the interaction of the characters between these scenes, and I found that to be entertaining, engaging, thoughtful, and fun. The film moralizes from a sympathetic viewpoint without banging the viewer over the head with the issues (unlike X2, which felt almost like an Afterschool Special about accepting differences) so that while it’s still clear which side is the good side, it’s not so easy to judge those who choose the other side.

    An excellent summer film and a standout in its genre.


  75. Tony

    Friday was a two-movie holiday for me, my first in a good while. The day started with an IMAX playing of Super 8. I saw it in IMAX because I’ve had a “free IMAX” ticket for over a year and thought this would be the movie to use it on. I’m glad that I did. The movie, I think, captures so much of what makes movies magical. What I like most about the movie is its use of understatement. In so many of Spielberg’s recent works, everything was just so darned obvious: the moral, the big moments. Abrams takes things to just the right point and then lets the moment breath in a good way. Nothing seems forced; everything flows well. Plus, the credits at the end of the movie give us the best treat of credits this summer.

    Then I stuck around (all right, I went back outside, looked at the board, and bought another ticket) to see the new Woody Allen flick, Midnight in Paris. Owen Wilson plays a writer visiting Paris with his fiancee and her family. At midnight, he finds himself transported to 1920s Paris and the excitement of the city of that time. It works well, time travel does, in this context. It just happens when he gets in a car, no need for some science lesson in time travel or cause and effect.

    Two very idealistic movies, I think. I do believe that there is more to Super 8 than meets the eyes, something about its subtle nature that begs to be thought about more. Allen’s movie is what it is, a nice trip through time with the reminder that time and place are so important. Two great movies in a summer of quality stuff.

  76. Reid

    Super 8 (2011)
    Dir. JJ Abrams

    This is sort of difficult for me to call, but since Larri and Grace liked this, I’m guessing most others will, too. I think Penny, Jill and Mitchell have the best chance of liking this. At the beginning of the film, I thought this would be something Don would love (Joel, too), but now I’m not so sure. I’m not sure about the rest of the idiots.

    Btw, I told some of you that I’m less uptight about knowing things about this movie, but the NPR headline on the film really took away from my experience of it, and I would caution others about knowing too much about the film. (Grace agreed that the headline revealed too much about the film, too.)

    The film starts off with a group of kids making a super 8 movie. During the filming the witness a big accident that leads to mystery and danger. OK, admittedly, that’s a lame description, but I’m trying to give too much away. I’ll say a little more, and those who don’t care about knowing too much can keep reading.

    The film is an homage to 80’s filmmaking, specifically the films and filmmaking style of Steven Spielberg. That alone would probably attract many of you (and it did appeal to me). The film does get the feel and tone right, imo, but there are big problems which I’ll go into the next section.

    First, let me start by saying some positive things. I thought Elle Fanning was good in this, and I just wish the part were better for her. I also thought the train wreck scene, including the filming of the monster movie, was really good–but it was the pinnacle of the film for me. Actually, the movie moves along fairly well after this scene–primarily because it doesn’t reveal key details–but the more details that emerge the more disappointing the film became for me.

    I also don’t think the various parts (the movie-making, the relationships between the characters, especially the parents and children) of the film add up into a cohesive whole by the ending of the film and the emotional payoffs felt hollow and unearned. On the other hand, this might be an appropriate tribute to Spielberg because I feel the same way about many of his films (especially those involving children and parents).

    Tony mentions the subtlety in the film, and I think some of the sentimental elements weren’t as syrupy as a Spielberg film (which was a good thing), but last scene was not one of them. When I think back to the scene–the two parents finding their children, the locket floating in the air and eventually flying away–I almost feel like Abrams is making fun of Spielberg. The scenes seems ridiculously heavy-handed and it’s a little difficult to imagine that someone could present this scene seriously. But again, this is the type of the thing that Spielberg shamelessly does in his films, too. (There are a couple of them involving the father and son in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds.)

  77. Mitchell

    Don’t you love E.T., though? Almost all of your gripes about this film seem to apply twentyfold to that film, a film I really dislike.

  78. Mitchell

    I saw Flipped again (my review from September 2010 is here) because I wanted to see if that lack of something I alluded to in September still unsatisfied me. Before I go to spoilers, I’ll say that this movie was just about as good the second time as the first, meaning it could have been great but Rob Reiner fell too easily into familiar, previously-mined territory when two easy decisions could have fixed that: soundtrack decisions and time-setting. So my original rating of 85 isn’t too far off, ‘though I think I’ll drop it down to 81 because of some of the cliched parental characters. If the parents were a bigger part of this film, I’d drop it even further; that’s how annoying that aspect of the movie is.

    The thing that I found interesting the first time I saw this was that there is no major climax. The story has a climax-like feel near the end, but the event that sparks that feeling isn’t really that big a deal, not like in Stand By Me. Without a big moment, the film seemed to just cruise into an ending.

    On second viewing, I have decided that I like this decision, mostly for reasons I hinted at in my original review. What we remember is often more important to us than what really happened, and while the Basket Boys Auction isn’t really that big a deal, to these characters at this time, it’s a huge deal. And if it seems the characters’ memory of the event seems much larger than it should be, I guess that makes a lot of sense. If it is a turning point, even a little one, the characters would remember it as a big one.

  79. Reid


    I loved E.T. as a kid, but I’m not sure if I would still love it now. Two things: a) I’m surprised you dislike it as much as you do; b) I still think it’s way better than this film–it’s more cohesive and has a stronger story, anyway.

  80. Mitchell

    Kristin Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne

    I know I don’t have to say that Kristin Wiig is a real talent, but in case someone out there is somehow unaware of this, I will say it now. In the long, colorful history of Saturday Night Live‘s Not Ready for Prime Time Players, there have been three women who have blown me away with the depth of their comedic pathos: Gilda Radner, Cheri Oteri, and Kristin Wiig. There have been a few others who could bring the tragedy, but these three seem to have done it regularly, as if they don’t know how to be funny without it. I think this is why Wiig is in so many supporting roles in so many films. She adds dimension to characters who could be played like caricatures.

    So here she is in a starring role in a film she co-wrote, playing Annie, a smart but downtrodden middle-aged single woman who’s just been through a rough series of painful turns. One gets the feeling she hasn’t always had such low self-esteem, but at this nearly rock-bottom stage of her life, she seems unable to muster the will to pull herself back up. This is a role you would have written for Wiig if she hadn’t written it for herself, and she really nails it. When her best friend Lillian (played by Maya Rudolph) becomes engaged, Annie agrees to be the maid of honor, assuming responsibility for a motley assortment of bridesmaids, none of whom is already acquainted with the others, each adding some different crazy aspect to the group.

    Bridesmaids has been talked about as a kind of women’s version of the crude Judd Apatow films (Apatow produced this), and while there are some moments of great crudity, it doesn’t even approach a film like Superbad for such humor. And while there are heavy doses of screwball antics, the underlying mood of loneliness that pervades the film almost makes you forget them. Annie is lonely. Lillian is getting there, faced with the reality that her marriage is going to mean less time with her best friend. The other bridesmaids bring their own versions of loneliness, one of them so pathetically socially bizarre that she doesn’t even seem aware of her alienation. Wiig moves around among all these characters and keeps them in orbit, playing Annie in such a way that you cannot help but root for her, even when she destroys everything in her own life with her own silly choices.

    Most of the supporting actor choices here work well, especially Rose Byrne (Moira!) as one of the bridesmaids and Chris O’Dowd as Annie’s potential love interest. I have always thought Maya Rudolph was too over-the-top to be a very good lead, but Wiig seems to understand her friend’s strengths; this part as written for Rudolph is just about perfect, and their chemistry really holds the whole film together.

    It’s pretty entertaining. Although many of the plot elements are impossible to swallow, the believable performances make it a memorable experience.


  81. Mitchell

    Midnight in Paris
    Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates, et. al. Written and directed by Woody Allen

    Midnight in Paris, written and directed by Woody Allen and starring Owen Wilson, is impossible to summarize without spoiling, so I am not going to summarize it at all and I will simply say what I like about it without ruining it. There are people who shouldn’t even read the cast list before seeing this film if they would like to experience all its many surprises. Knowing who the actors are is fine, and I’ll mention a few of them here, but if you are confident in your cultural literacy in its old-school characterizations, perhaps because you received a good liberal arts education or because you read a lot, you will not want to know more about the film’s characters or plot beyond what I’ll share. Avoid reviews other places.

    If this does not describe you, you will still find a lot to like about the film, but you may wish to jot down a few notes after you see it and look up a few references in Wikipedia. Of course, this is a humanities teacher writing this, so you might also just roll your eyes at such a suggestion and enjoy a good movie, which Midnight in Paris definitely is.

    Wilson, channeling Woody Allen but filtering him through his own quirky screen presence, plays Gil Pender, a successful Hollywood screenwriter engaged to Inez (Rachel McAdams). The couple is visiting Paris: Inez is there to shop, but Gil is in love with the city’s cultural, artistic ambiance. He is working on a novel he will not show anyone, and longs to take walks in the rain, walks Inez will allow but not participate in. There is a time-travel element here, the critical element of the plot, but Allen doesn’t bother to explain any of it because this is no science-fiction story. Rather, it is a fantasy; Roger Ebert says in his review that it is “sort of a daydream for American lit majors.” And it’s a wonderful, sweet, rewarding picture with something I don’t attribute to Allen films: a satisfying story-arc.

    Wilson’s please-pet-me-I’m-an-eager-puppy-dog persona works wonderfully here. Combined with his ability to deliver Allen’s verbose, literate dialogue, it strips away the majority of the cynicism that Allen carries with him into his films. Without Allen’s defeatist, hypochondriac, cynical air, we are left with a likeable, wide-eyed, younger version of Allen that I just love. His acting chops aren’t especially challenged here, but he does fine with what he’s got.

    There are some terrific performances by Kathy Bates and Adrien Brody, but what really struck me was how good the young actresses are. Marion Cotillard, Alison Pill (she was Scott Pilgrim’s drummer in Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World), Lea Seydoux, and Carla Bruni (she’s that model who’s married to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and she’s not young but she seems young in this film) each provide a kind of mysterious, Parisian romance of the sort men like me imagine must populate the entire city at every turn. The one performance I’m not sure about is McAdams’s. She carried Morning Glory with a spunky, smart, cute charm that reminded me of Amy Adams, but here she is kind of flat. She’s smart but not interesting, pretty but not magnetic in a way that reminds me of Katherine Heigl.

    One piece of the film almost ruined it for me. There is a character who is so distasteful that I couldn’t stand him even for a few seconds at a time, and I wanted to walk away from the theater just to avoid having to listen to him. Allen does this on purpose, of course: the character is a pseudo-intellectual (that’s Gil’s description) of the sort Allen has poked fun at in other movies. He had me squirming in my seat, I found him so irritating, but thank goodness most of his stuff is in the beginning of the film. It is testament to the rest of the movie that I am still able to say I found it to be sweetly enjoyable and one of the three or four best films I’ve seen this year.


  82. Reid

    Midnight in Paris

    My parents and Larri liked this–more than I did, I think.

    Other comments:

    Rachel McAdams was a big disappointment. My feeling is that she can’t do comedy very well, as she wasn’t very good in Sherlock Holmes. My disappointment stems from the promise she showed in films like The Notebook and Red Eye. Here she’s utterly flat, as Mitchell mentioned and maybe even bad, at times.

    But I also didn’t really care for Owen Wilson very much, too. To me, the setting and the detail that Mitchell doesn’t want to reveal were the parts that made the film appealing for me. I also like the way the film deals with nostalgia, although it gets a bit didactic.

  83. Mitchell

    Huh. I just read Reid’s Another Year review, much of which we already discussed, but did any of the rest of you think Mary was in her late 50s or early 60s? I didn’t see that at all. I got the feeling she was in her mid 30s to mid 40s. If Reid is right, then I can see his interpretation of the inappropriateness of her attraction to Joe. My feeling was that she was perhaps twelve to fifteen years older, something that would have been a lot less inappropriate.

  84. Reid

    I saw Tree of Life, but I’m not really prepared to talk about it. I do want to say a few things. First, this may be obvious, but it’s worth saying, namely, that if you’re going to see this, you should see this on the big screen. (The film is screening on one of the smaller screens, but it’s still better than a TV.)

    Second, I think people like Penny, Grace, Mitchell, Kevin, Chris and Tony will find this worth watching. I could see Tony really liking this, but I’m not entirely sure. I would also risk adding John to this list, but that’s risky. I think Don, Marc, Joel and Jill might like this, but I’d be surprised if they love this film. They have more chance of a negative reaction than a positive one, imo.

    Finally, I’m not sure if this is a great movie or not, but I tend to think it’s not. However, I do think the filmmaking is really cool and made the film worth watching by itself.

  85. mitchell

    Tony’s already seen it. I don’t remember whether he liked it, but I got the impression that he didn’t dislike it.

  86. Mitchell

    Under the Yum Yum Tree
    Jack Lemmon, Carol Lynley, Dean Jones, Paul Lynde, Imogene Coca, and Edie Adams.

    I first (and last) saw this when I was fifteen and really liked it. A few years ago, I lamented its not being available on DVD (it still isn’t, as far as I can tell), but man. I finally saw it again this past week and it’s a pretty bad film. In the style of those pre-Vietnam screwball sex comedies, it has good actors in a ridiculous story saying and doing things that are just about impossible to believe.

    Jack Lemmon is Hogan, the owner of an apartment complex whose units he only rents to young, single, beautiful women so that he may either date them or spy on them from the patio of his bachelor pad. Everything he says or does is motivated only by the desire to get these women in bed. The newest tenant is Robin (Carol Lynley), a forward-thinking college student who wants to know that the relationship she’s in with Dave (Dean Jones) is based on something other than physical attraction. She and Dave are trying to live together platonically to test their compatibility in the absence of sex. Hogan initiates a two-pronged plan to keep Dave away from Robin’s bed while trying to trick Robin into having sex with him instead.

    Lemmon tries his best to make his character likeable, but Hogan’s actions are so deplorable as to make this impossible. Lemmon was a great actor, but in his younger years he had a tendency to ham it up a bit, mugging his way through comedic scenes in a way that reminds me of Jerry Lewis at his worst. One cannot question his comedic timing; his overacting, though, is unbearable at times, especially when his character is so awful. Lynley as Robin is simply gorgeous. So many of the women who populate these roles tend to be pretty faces with just enough acting ability to react to the stronger male actors. Lynley is better than most of them and does a good job with her part. She’s much more than a pretty face in this film. I’d never heard of Dean Jones; he does an okay job, seeming to have built his whole screen persona around younger James Stewart roles.

    There’s just no way this plot could work. Too much depends on one’s ability to see Hogan as silly and charming, if horribly flawed. Instead he comes across as creepy. Lemmon famously hated this role and did not want to do this film. It’s too bad he didn’t win that argument.


    Mister Roberts
    Henry Fonda, Jack Lemmon, William Powell, James Cagney

    Snippets. I’d seen snippets of this thing here and there; perhaps it was on a few times while my dad watched it and I paid little attention. I’d also seen the last part of the 1984 TV stage performance with Howard Hesseman and Kevin Bacon, but I only remember the very end of that. So this was the first time I’d seen the whole thing from beginning to end, and the strength of the actors’ performances had me enthralled.

    James Cagney is the captain of a cargo ship, a small boat with a small crew, far away from the action in the Pacific during World War II. He runs the tightest of ships in hopes of earning a promotion, eager to get the credit that really belongs to the ship’s executive officer, played by Henry Fonda (the Doug Roberts of the film’s title). Fonda is the buffer between captain and crew; although he can do little about the captain’s unreasonable expectations, the crew sees him as the good guy, the one doing his best to lighten the burden. William Powell is Doc, Fonda’s confidante and a trusted advisor, and Lemmon is the young ensign in charge of the ship’s laundry, an officer so intimidated by his captain that after eighteen months aboard, he’s still unknown by Cagney.

    Fonda wishes to be closer to the action: he left medical school so that he could fight for his country. This is a war he believes in and it bothers him that other men are fighting it for him. Powell is the laid-back, mellow observer, an older officer who seems to have seen everything and whose words are listened to by all. Lemmon is the tenuous one, eager to be respected by his fellow (older) officers, but not eager to follow through on his big plans to show the captain up in front of the other men.

    The performances are great. Even Cagney, who seems to make some bizarre choices as an actor, is thoughtful and careful. Lemmon is kind of clownish, but Powell and Fonda really know how to take up their space. The film is based on a play in which Fonda also starred, and there is a wonderful stage-play presence he brings to the small, cramped set. He plays big, as if there are people in the back row who have to see what he does, but no movement, gesture, or expression seems exaggerated or false. Neither does he feel the need to be the focal point of all his scenes; he tosses the ball to Powell and Lemmon almost as if he doesn’t expect to get it back and is happy to watch the others play. The thoughtful ease with which he seems to propel the dialogue from scene to scene almost makes you wish you were seeing this on stage instead, even as an improvisation with no scenery or props.

    It’s an episodic plot where each chapter builds toward a confrontation between Fonda and Cagney. The episodes by themselves aren’t especially engaging (except for a fascinating, long scene where Powell, Fonda, and Lemmon make Scotch whiskey in their quarters), yet the performances are so interesting that it almost doesn’t matter what the sequence of events looks like, just as long as these characters get to interact. Lemmon won his first Oscar (Best Supporting Actor) for his performance here, and his work was only half as good as Powell’s or Fonda’s. See this if you get a chance.


    The Caine Mutiny
    Humphrey Bogart, Jose Ferrer, Fred MacMurray, Robert Francis, Van Johnson

    Bogart is a strange naval ship captain in World War II. MacMurray, Francis, and Johnson are officers convinced he’s not just strange but possibly crazy enough to be a danger to his men. Ferrer is the lawyer who represents Francis and Johnson at their court martial after they lead the mutiny that gives the film its title.

    You know those movies and TV shows that show military units who seem to be made up of screw-ups who have no regard for military discipline but in fact execute their duties almost to perfection? This movie starts off like that. Then a young officer complains, the captain is relieved of his command, and a new captain is introduced. This new captain (Humphrey Bogart) is stricter than reason might dictate, and it’s not long before the officers and crew begin to question his competence.

    Up until the thrilling storm scene, where the Caine is tossed about like the S.S. Minnow and tensions between the officers come to a head, it’s not that interesting a movie. Bogart (as Captain Queeg) and MacMurray are great to watch, but the story up to this moment is only mildly engaging. Part of this is because the action is centered mostly on the young ensign (Robert Francis), and not on the executive officer (played by Van Johnson) who actually commits the mutiny. We know very little about Johnson’s character, while we know all about Francis’s character. There is even an extraneous subplot involving Francis and the woman he loves.

    Why do they always ruin a good war movie with a silly romantic subplot?

    There’s also a little bit of a problem with the structure of the story. The movie wants you to think of Queeg’s testimony in his court martial as the climax, but it’s really that scene on the bridge during the storm. Because of this, the resolution is too long in coming and while there’s some really good stuff in the last half hour (notably Ferrer), it all feels just a little still after the excitement of that scene.

    Performances are solid, especially by Bogart and MacMurray. I keep forgetting what a good actor MacMurray was. The script doesn’t make enough use of him, either, especially given how critical his testimony is in the trial. There’s really one character too many in this picture, which happens a lot, I guess; it’s just sad that the extra character is the one the movie wants to tell its story through.

    I would probably give this a 6/10 if not for the excellence of that one scene, plus the interesting acting by Bogart and MacMurray. Give it a little bump, and do see it if you get a chance, because that one scene makes the whole film worth it.


  87. Reid

    Green Lantern (2011)

    I’d guess Joel would think give this a 50-60. Maybe Chris and Marc would give a similar rating. I found this to be pretty insipid; even Larri didn’t really like it.

  88. Reid

    Tree of Life (2011)
    Dir. Terrence Malick

    I’d recommend this to Mitchell, Penny, Grace, Kevin, Chris and Tony. I’d cautiously recommend this to John, but I think he would at least find this interesting. I’m not recommending the film because I’m sure all of you will love the film or even like it. (I could see Mitchell and Tony really liking the film, but I’m not confident about they will.) There’s a chance that Jill might like this, and maybe even a slimmer chance that Marc would like this,too. I can’t see Joel or Don liking this. Like any other Malick film, this one should be seen on the big screen. This might literally be the last chance you’ll ever have of doing that, so take advantage of the opportunity.

    A word on my rating. I’m not confident about my rating as I don’t feel like I fully grasp the film. The score could go up, or it could go down (but not lower than a 70, I think).

    I’m going to try and post my thoughts on the film later.

  89. Reid

    Secretariat (2010)
    Dir. Randall Wallace
    Starring: Diane Lane, etc.

    I think Don, Jill, Joel and Penny would like this, at least mildly. Mitchell, Marc, Tony and John would all think this is OK, at the very least. I’m not sure about Chris and Kevin, although I would guess that would think its OK. Larri liked this.

    This is a film of what many consider the greatest racehorse of all time. The circumstances surrounding the horse–specifically, a housewife taking over her father’s horse-racing farm (if that’s the correct term)–make the story even more remarkable. If you liked Seabiscuit, you’ll probably like this film.

    I thought the film was OK, but it was quite bland, too (particularly with her family). I felt the film had some unnecessary scenes and could have been trimmed.

    Battle: Los Angeles (2011)
    Dir. Jonathan Liebesman
    Starring: Aaron Eckhart, etc.

    I mildly recommend this to Joel; maybe Marc and Don, too. Penny might think this was an OK popcorn film. Not sure about the rest.

    Aliens attack earth. A group of marines are sent out to rescue some civilians in an area that the U.S. military will soon bomb. It’s a fairly simple plot. One’s enjoyment of this film depends greatly one’s limits on suspending disbelief.

    The film feels like the U.S. marines paid a Hollywood studio to make a recruitment for them. Think of Top Gun, with a greater emphasis on getting boys (and girls) to join the marines. I wouldn’t let your children watch this if you don’t ever want them to join the military.

  90. mitchell

    My Secretariat review is here.

  91. mitchell

    Oh, and Tony would not think this is okay. He claims to hate horse movies, ‘though I doubt that’s actually true. We’ll never know, though, because he refuses to see one!

  92. Reid


    I think there are people who could hate, or at least dislike, this movie (hating the actual events might be another matter). The characters are not very well-drawn, imo, and because of that, they’re a bit bland. For example, the scenes involving the family, tensions caused, just seemed flat, lacking dramatic impact. Part of the problem was that we never see the family really struggle with these issues, nor do we see the way they resolve these tensions. They just seem to magically deal with these problems.

    On a different note, I sort of wished the film explored Penny’s decision to keep Secretariat despite having $6 million in taxes to pay. I know we’re supposed to accept this decision as something inspiring, but, in real life, this must have been a really difficult, complicated decision. Or if the real life Penny was obsessed and determined (in a reckless way), Lane doesn’t really convey this convincingly.

    These criticisms don’t necessarily make the film terrible, but they’re examples of the blandness in the film, I think.

  93. Reid

    The Night Watchman (2011)
    Dir. Natalia Almada
    75 minutes (free viewing at

    I think Kevin might have the best chance of liking and appreciating this. I’m pretty sure Penny would find this interesting, but I’m not sure if she would really enjoy this. Ditto Chris, Mitchell and Grace. I’m unsure about Tony and John. I’d say no to Don, Joel, Jill and Marc.

    This is a film about a cemetery in a violent part of Mexico. The film, not fictional or a documentary, is closer to a photo exhibit. There isn’t a narrative and the images convey most of the ideas and feelings–sometimes long takes with little activity occurring on the screen. On the other hand, I don’t think the idiots that have a chance of liking this film won’t have too much trouble interpreting the images. (I might be wrong about that, though.) I’ll go into some of this in the next section.

    There are certain movies I have no interest in seeing–one of them being films primarily about ghetto life–specifically the effects of drugs, crime and poverty (usually in urban settings). I’m thinking of films like City of God, Pixote, Boys ‘n the Hood, Gomorrah, and Xyclo among others. Well, this film is an exception–although it takes a radically different approach from all these other films. For one thing, the film takes place in a cemetery, not an urban setting; for another thing the style of filmmaking–eschewing a narrative and employing a more “photographic” approach. (The night watchman serves as a sad sentinal watching over the cemetery and accompanying the viewer.) More importantly the film has no graphic violence or displays of suffering.

    Let me say something about the cemetery, one that I haven’t seen before. (spoilers) I’ve seen graveyards with mausoleums (think New Orleans), but nothing like this. Many of them are two stories and quite elaborate–some looking like mini-churches, others looking modern or contemporary homes. A friend described it as death mansions. Furthermore, they’re so plentiful that the cemetery looks like a little–but thriving(!)–town.

    The film focuses on this “thriving” aspect, and it’s what makes the film interesting. The film shows construction workers busy building these death mansions; we see what a appears to be a widow cleaning up one of these death mansions, while her children happily play outside. There is funeral featuring a marching type band and even a vendor selling refreshments to attendees–making the event seem like more like a sporting event, than a funeral.

    Meanwhile, the film shows us the the rundown shack where the night watchman rests and the construction workers change and store there things. The contrast between this place and the structures in the cemetery are striking. What’s great about the film is the way it shows how activities we associate with living might now be shifting to places of death–while activities we associate with death–not just killing, but decay–have shifted into areas of living. Signs of life in place of death; signs of death in a places of life.

    (I liked the last shot of the film, with the man driving away, revealing the size of the cemetery, which I didn’t realize.)

  94. Reid

    Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003)
    Dir. Tsai Ming-liang

    I think Kevin has the best chance of liking this–and he may be the only one. I’m sure Don, Joel, Jill, Marc and Larri won’t like this. I’ll also add that I think viewers need to see a bunch of the directors films (preferrably in the order they were made) to really appreciate them–althougth this is one that might stand independently by itself.

    In a way, this Taiwanese movie is like a movie theater version of Tampopo–where the latter is about food and woman trying to make a successful ramen shop, the former is about movie theaters–the experience of watching movies in theaters and, perhaps, an older, dying age of moviemaking. Like Tampopo, there are the little humorous vignettes about situations in the movie theater (noisy eating movie-goers; looking for a dropped item, etc.).

    There are also two “stories” in the film–one involving the ticket lady and the projectionist and another involving a Japanese tourist coming in from the rain. “Stories” is in quotes because very little happens, to the point where using that word might mislead people.

    One other thing. Like Tsai’s other films, there are several long takes where nothing seems to be happening (e.g., a woman walking down on hallway). This is part of his style, and it’s not for everyone.

    I should also add that the film feel within Film Comments’ top thirty greatest films of the 2000s list.

    This is a legitimate pick for one of the great films of the 2000s. I’m undecided, but it would probably make my second tier list. I want to go into what I think the film is about. There seems to be three “stories” or themes:

    1. The story of the Japanese tourist seems to be almost autobiographical–a time the filmmaker remembers about going to the theater and cruising for guys. (I knew that the filmmaker is gay.) In this way, the filmmakers is indulging in fond memories. I didn’t mind as some of these scenes were amusing and they sort of tie into movies and going to movie–i.e., that we’re looking for some kind of magic or escape.
    2. The other story involves the projectionist and ticket lady. Here we have an unrequited love story–one that is stripped down into silent gestures. Love is reduced to a simple act–in this case giving a pink colored black sugar manapua. The projectionist doesn’t eat the gift, so the lady takes it back. Finally, the projectionist, while closing up, finds the manapua and runs after the lady (thinking maybe she forgot it and would really need it). The lady leaving in the rain is sort of the perfect–romantic self-pitying moment. It might also dovetail nicely with the elegy of the movie theater and movie-making.
    3. Finally, we have the story of the movie theater–it’s swansong, as many of these types of theaters are dying out (not sure if this is the case in Taiwan)–and along with them, some of the older movie stars and their films. (The film shows this with the two older actors running into each other.) I must this aspect resonates with me because I also have fond memories of the going to movie theaters, and I also love movies. I imgaine that those who don’t share those sentiments might not like the movie less.
  95. Reid

    Tabloid (2011)
    Dir. Errol Morris

    I could see Mitchell being fascinated by this, but he’d like this so much that I’d say he should rush out to see this. Ditto Kevin and Chris. Penny seemed to think was just OK.

    This is a documentary about Joyce McKinney, a former beauty queen who tracks down her Mormon boyfriend and possibly kidnaps him from three days of “fun, food and sex.” The film is a good example of the adage that truth is stranger than fiction. The film reveals details that become more lurid and outlandish–to the extent that it feels like a satire of tabloid stories (only it’s not fictional).

    If you’re one who finds juicy gossip irresistible or tabloid stories strangely compelling, then this film will definitely keep your attention. (But that raises a question. Is this film different from a tabloid story?)

    At some point during the film, I realized that Joyce McKinney is a character out of a Stephen King novel–a la Annie Wilkes, the psychotic character in Misery. Indeed, there are other connections to King novels (the kidnapping, and even a detail that recalls Pet Sematary, of all things!) Unfortunately–and for whatever reason–I have no interest in watching such a person.

    Some people I know make the argument that the film provides a social critique, but I don’t find this reading very convincing.

  96. Mitchell

    That is one confusing review.

  97. Reid

    You mean, you can’t tell if I really liked the film or not? I sort of lost interest in writing the review at some point. What are you confused about?

  98. Mitchell

    I can’t tell if you’re saying I could find it fascinating, as in there’s kind of room for me not to find it fascinating, or if you’re saying I’d like it so much I should rush right out to see it. That sounds like two different opinions. And then you add that Chris and Kevin should also rush out and see it. Are you giving us a strong recommendation or a lukewarm recommendation?

    And then you say that thing about juicy gossip or tabloid stories. I can’t stand either of those, ‘though I guess it’s well-known that what I really like are interesting, unique stories about real people.

    It’s an interesting story, and I liked the reviews. It doesn’t seem like a rush-out-and-see it film, though. Like, I’m almost sure this can wait for a rental, no?

  99. Reid

    Oh, I see the problem. (Sorry about that.) What I meant to say was that I don’t think you would like it so much you should rush out to see it. (While writing this section, I waffled on this point.)

    And then you say that thing about juicy gossip or tabloid stories. I can’t stand either of those, ‘though I guess it’s well-known that what I really like are interesting, unique stories about real people.

    That’s what makes this a tough call. If you would like a real life person in a real life circumstances that mirror an outlandish, tawdry tabloid story, then this film is for you. McKinney is interesting in that way, but this type of person/story is not my thing.

  100. Reid

    Apollo 18 (2011)
    Dir. Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego

    Maybe Penny would have the best chance of liking this. Joel and Marc could like this (but I’d be a little surprised if they gave this more than a “just OK” rating). Not sure about Chris. I disliked this quite a bit, so I have a hard time gauging if anyone else would like this.

    The filmmaker claims to have edited real footage (from NASA presumably) to make this film. The footage is of a secret moon landing mission, Apollo 18. You can guess that something fishy went on–in this case something disturbing, which also explains the reason we never went back to the moon.

    The premise actually appealed to me–as I can get into conspiracy type of films. But this film utterly fails, and there’s one primary reason for this. The success of the film depends almost entirely on whether the footage is believable. I the footage seems fake or if the filmmakers decided to just make a fictional film with the same concept, I don’t think the film would be very good. In any event, the film totally failed for me. For one thing, the actors didn’t didn’t look like normal people from the late 60s and their acting wasn’t very good (it didn’t seem real). Another small detail was the sound of the aliens, which sounded like other recent movie aliens. Finally, the film was pretty boring (no doubt because the film’s premise of using real footage failed).

    Colombiana (2011)
    Dir. Olivier Megaton
    Starring: Zoe Saldana, etc.

    Joel, Marc, Don, Penny, Grace, Chris and Mitchell could think this was a decent popcorn flick. I wouldn’t strongly recommend it, but if they had nothing better to watch, they might be somewhat satisfied. Larri gave this a 6 and she seemed satisfied.

    A girl’s parents are murdered and she grows up to be assassin seeking revenge. Luc Besson co-wrote this and he essentially recycles elements of La Femme Nikita and Leon: the Professional.

    Zoe Saldana makes the film–not because she’s good as an action lead (she’s OK), but her dramatic skills she brings to the role. There are moments with her uncle and her love interest that show a more emotional, touching side to the character and this made her appealing to me. (I would have liked to have seen Zhang Yi-yi in this role: she has the ferocity, dramatic ability and fighting prowess to make this role work.)

    But the film falls short for several reasons. First, the general idea of a woman getting revenge on her parents’ killers is fine, but the film doesn’t flesh this out very well. For one thing, the woman’s plan is to kill a bunch of people in a way that will get the attention of her parents’ killers–which will hopefully reveal their whereabouts. However, she needs the FBI to make this public in order for the killers to get the “message.” This seems a bit far-fetched and more like an excuse to have some action sequences prior to the final confrontation.

    Second, the final confrontation is pretty unimaginative. There is no clever plan or interesting action sequences. (It’s not terrible, but it’s not very interesting, either.)

    Finally, the film utilizes a lot of low-budget actors. I’m not just talking about no-name actors, but no-name actors that can’t act. They’re mostly in small parts (although one plays an important FBI agent). Some may not think this is a big deal, but it made me feel like I was watching a late night USA network film or a foreign made action film with English speaking actors (who are almost always terrible).

  101. Reid

    Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
    Dir. Ed Wood Jr.

    Most idiots would not like this, although I could see Penny being interested in seeing this (although she probably wouldn’t like it). Chris and Kevin might also be interested. I guess, if you’re really into films, one could make a case for seeing the films–but you have to really into movies. (More on this later.)

    As many of you know, this is considered one of the worst films ever made. I went into the film knowing this, maybe the score would be even lower. The film is basically about a group of aliens that come to Earth to make contact with humans, warning that if they’re technology progresses, they will not only destroy the Earth, but the entire universe. The problem is that the humans have been ignoring aliens, to the point of ignoring their existence. So the aliens decide on “plan 9,” which calls for raising dead humans into a zombie army that will destroy the planet (or maybe just finally get a response). Of course, a handful of humans get involved and try and stop the aliens.

    Yes, it’s a bad film, but it’s sort of interesting to see, as the film helps one understand the differences from a good film from a bad and maybe from a bad to the worst. (More in the next section.)

    I don’t think this is the worst film ever made. Let me explain this; but first, let me explain the reason I think the film wasn’t very good (putting aside all-time worst). To my surprise, the terrible filmmaking–e.g., the acting, writing, production values–basically every facet of filmmaking you could think of!–is not the primary reason this film failed. I know what you’re thinking: What?! How can that be?! Reid is putting me on. No, I’m not. Well, let me qualify: the bad filmmaking, per se, is not the primary reason this film failed. The film largely fails because of the quality of ideas and vision of the filmmaker. While watching the film, I thought it had potential, up until the very end when we get the film’s ultimate message–namely, that mankind better wise-up with the way they use technology or risk destroying the world. All the fuss in the movie seems to come down to the earnest and important–yet banal–message. And, yes, it all depends on that message, imo.

    I feel I have to do a little more explaining for this, so I will. I’ve seen other films with bad filmmaking (maybe not as bad as this, but still) that still managed to be good, if not great. I’m thinking of films like Pink Flamingos, Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song (sic), and Putney Swope. (We could maybe throw in some of Russ Meyer’s films and, to a lesser extent, John Carpenter’s films–the latter is not bad filmmaking so much as low-budget filmmaking). Sweet Sweetback in particular reminds me of Plan 9. There’s a sense that both filmmakers don’t really understand what constitutes good filmmaking or a good film. But in the former, that leads to something really refreshing and exciting. (Personally, I didn’t enjoy the film, but I appreciated these qualities in it.) The difference, I suspect, is that Van Peebles had a clearer, more coherent vision or idea he wanted to get across. Actually, that’s not quite right. Wood had a pretty clear message, but I guess vision implies more than just content–it also implies something about style as well. Therefore, when I say coherent vision–I mean the clear ideas about the ideas as well as a clear idea of the way this would unfold. I also think the quality of the ideas are important and Wood’s ideas just weren’t very good. That’s the bottom line.

    Still, does bad ideas and bad filmmaking constitute the worst film ever made? Well, if they’re the worst ideas and the worst filmmaking, how could it not be, right? OK, I’d probably agree to that, but determining the worst ideas and worst filmmaking would be a little difficult. More importantly, I think there’s something else to consider–namely, the level of resources and talent involved in the project. A filmmaker with no talent and little resources is sure to a really bad film; that’s not noteworthy. But a filmmaker with talent and a significant resources making a really bad film means something. It’s an accomplishment in a way. I’d argue that this is the type of film that should qualify as worst ever, not some b-movie hack like Ed Wood Jr.

  102. Mitchell

    That’s what I said.

  103. Reid

    Is it? My sense was that you thought Wood’s vision was noteworthy or at least you seemed excited about the fact that he had a vision.

  104. Reid

    Underworld (1927)
    Dir. Josef von Sternberg

    I don’t think Don, Marc, Joel, John, Jill or Larri would like this much. The other remaining idiots might be interested in seeing this–but I’m pretty sure it’s not something they would love. (See next section for more details.)

    This silent film follows a bank robber, Bull Weeds, and his two faithful companions–Feathers, his girlfriend, and Rolls-Royce, an alcoholic Bull helped get on the wagon. We follow the exploits of Bull–involving a rival gangster who vies for Feathers.

    The film is considered the first gangster film by many. So if you’re interested in the history of gangster films, I’d definitely recommend it. It’s also a pretty effective film, which says something for me because that’s often not the case with silent films.

    Three other things make the film noteworthy to me:

    1. Some of the compositions–especially of the faces–are really exceptional in this film. (Many of the famous head shots of Marlene Dietrich come from Von Sternberg, I believe.)
    2. The script is suprisingly good, especially in terms of plot developments or little details that enhanced the film. Near the end of the film, I couldn’t really guess the ending.
    3. The casting is solid and the actors are pretty compelling and effective–which is often not the case in silent films, in my experience.
  105. Reid

    Drive (2011)
    Dir. Nicholas Winding-Refn
    Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carrie Mulligan, Albert Brooks, etc.

    I’d be surprised if Don, Marc, Joel or John loved this film. My guess is that they’ll think it’s OK. I’d be a little surprised if Chris, Kevin, Mitchell, Tony, Penny and Grace really loved this. I think there’s a chance that they would like this, but I’d guess they’d think it was OK, too. I’d guess, Jill wouldn’t really like this, but I would have guessed the same for Larri, and she thought it was OK. (She also thought it was boring, too, if that helps.) For Mitchell, Kevin, Penny, and Chris, I’d say that if you know nothing about the film, I’d try to keep it that way. Read the next section to get an idea if this is something you’d like.

    The film is about a stunt driver who “rents” himself out as a “wheel man” or getaway driver for criminals. Sounds like a promising idea for an action film? Well, don’t get your hopes up. The film is closer to an art film than an action one (although it has a narrative that is easily understandable)–meaning the film focuses on images and ideas, more than telling an entertaining story. (Most people won’t find the story completely boring, but entertaining story is a secondary consideration, imo.) The filmmaking is interesting and even very good. If this appeals to you, then I recommend not reading anything else, and just seeing the movie.

    In a way, the film takes the story of Shane, except changes the protagonist to an expert stunt driver, but, again, the film has aspirations as an art film, more than a Hollywood one.

    I want to start this section by listing some of the influences and references I saw in this film:

    1. The opening credits–with the font type in pastel pink and the soundtrack–made me think of an early 80s film (’82-’85). The overhead shot night shot of LA also made me think of Michael Mann.
    2. Indeed the film seems to tip its hat to Mann in other ways as well. This is a film about manliness–that is to say it is both macho and about what it means to be a man.
    3. There’s an influence of filmmakers in a more contemplative vein, though. For example, I thought of something like In the Mood for Love–with its spare plot and emphasis on images and mood.
    4. I also thought of David Cronenberg’s two recent films, History of Violence and Eastern Promises especially the latter–as both films seem to have similar concerns (getting to the essence of gender).

    But what does all this mean? For me, the film was interesting in the way in drew on the influences, but seemed to do something different. It is also a more reductionist version of a Michael Mann film (e.g. Thief), as if Mann decided to make an art film about the manliness. And I think the film works for the most part. The visuals are quite effective and interesting. There’s a spartan quality to them and the way this contrasts with the violence is interesting. The violence and images are almost abstracted–and the way the film moves from quiet and spare moments to volcanic eruptions is almost musical. (This is what I mean when I say I see the violence and images in an abstract way.)

    Having said all that, I tend to feel this is a film that might get over-hyped, precisely because the things I mentioned above can be exciting for a critic or movie-lover. At this point, I don’t think it’s enough to make the film great, although I do think the film is good, if not very good.

  106. Reid

    Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010)
    Dir. Tsui Hark
    Starring: Andy Lau, etc.

    Not sure who would like this. I will say that Larri didn’t care for this (but she liked it more than me). See more comments in the next section.

    This is martial-arts film that has a mystery plot–with a detective–at the heart of the film. In other words, it’s a mystery, just as much as an action film. If you like the mystery and the action sequences, you’ll probably like the film. I didn’t. Let me tell you why. First, I found the plot hard to follow and understand–and at some point I just lost interest in the film. I should say the plot wasn’t just confusing, but it was also not very interesting. Second, the action sequences were also hard to make sense of, where you can’t easily tell what’s going on. Some people don’t care about these things, and if you don’t then you might like the film. Finally, I also didn’t really care much for the characters. Put all these things together and you get score of 28.

  107. Reid

    In the City of Sylvia (2007)
    Dir. Jose Luis Guerin

    I’d rule out Don, Marc, Joel, John and Larri. There’s a slim chance Jill would like this, but I doubt it. Of the remaining idiots, I think Kevin and Mitchell might have the best chance of liking this. I’m not sure about Chris and Penny, but I’d place them third in that list. With Mitchell and Tony, I could see them really liking this, or they might have a lukewarm reaction. (I think Mitchell should see this.)

    Btw, this is streaming on netflix, and it’s under 90 minutes.

    Here are several ways I describe this film: a Gen X Romance–done in a contemplative, European style. Translation: minimal plot, long takes of seemingly little activity.

    Here’s the plot. A twenty-something male hangs around at a cafe outside a conservatory. He spends his time writing and sketching in his journal. He spends much of the time people watching. The film really tries to recreate the actual feeling of sitting alone, while watching others. (In other words, it might be boring for some.) If you’re a guy (or if you’re a guy like me) and you’ve done this, you know that you direct some (if not at much) of your attention on attractive women. Maybe you wonder what it would be like if you went out with them. The protagonist spend his time sketching various women he spots–until one catches his eye.

    I don’t really want to say more, but I will caution readers that the film is very deliberate–using lots of long takes of people, as well as streets and buildings. Personally, I liked these scenes because I liked the look of the city (my guess it’s Paris) and by the end of the film I felt like I really got to know the place. (We see the same people and same places.)

    I think it’s an excellent Gen X (or Y) art film.

    One last thing that might interest some of you: the film has almost no dialogue.

    What is the film about? (spoilers) Right now I think the film is about being a young Gen X/Y male right after college–especially when you’re unattached and have no idea what you’re going to do with your life. Of course, you’re interested in female companionship–and that’s something probably on your mind quite a bit. The film captures this well.

    I especially liked the idea of looking for this ideal person that one meets, but loses touch with; and then the fact that the protagonist mistakenly follows the wrong person only adds to the feeling of this moment in one’s life: you look, but fail to find.

    There’s some really nice filmmaking in this–the way the shots are composed with certain people blocking the view of others; the way we see characters in reflections. I especially liked the penultimate scene of the blond hair blowing in the wind, the reflections of “Sylvia” and then that actual person talking to someone on the train, only for the train to quickly zoom away. That image sums up much of the film.

  108. Reid

    Real Steel (2011)

    Of all the idiots, I’d recommend this to Jill. I’m mildly recommend this to Don, Joel and Marc (although Don could like this quite a bit). My guess is that Tony would have a chance at liking this. Grace, less so. I suspect Chris and Kevin would think this was OK.

    The film combines the plot of Over the Top (the Stallone film that involves a professional truck driver/arm wrestler, who tries to win back his son from his father-in-law)–except the film involves boxing robots (a la the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot game. It also combines elements of Rocky and Iron Giant–minus the well-developed characters and relationships.

    If you’re like me, you’re not excited by this description, but it’s really better than I thought. The film does manage to have exciting moments. It could have been so much more (but I won’t go into those details).

  109. Reid

    Hanna (2011)
    Dir. Joe Wright
    Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, etc.

    I’m not sure if they would really like this film, but the film has enough qualities to make Grace, Chris, Penny and Tony take the chance and watch this. I I’m less sure about Mitchell, but I do think there are interesting elements that would make this interesting for him. There’s a chance that Jill might mildly like this, too (then again, maybe not). I think John, Don and Marc could like this, but it’s a toss up. I think Joel would think this was just OK (and maybe a little less than that.)

    Here’s the premise: an ex-CIA agent raises and trains his daughter to one day leave him. You see, if and when she leaves, her father’s ex-boss will be out to kill her (which the film will explain). There’s at least one thing that makes this film interesting and unusual (if you don’t want to discover this for yourself, don’t read on–it is the kind of thing I wouldn’t want to have know): the film uses fairy tale motifs and storylines and weaves them into an action film. I like the concept, but I didn’t think the film really executed the concept real well.

    In short, I thought the film was incredibly bland–the story, characters, action sequences and the use of the fairy tale motifs. The film wasn’t terrible, but it was fairly dull–despite the very cool concept. (Maybe I didn’t pick up on all the fairy tale allusions, so if someone can point them out, I might like the film more.)

  110. Reid

    Take Shelter (2011)
    Dir. Jeff Nichols
    Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, etc.

    My reaction: meh, and I think most other idiots would react the same way. Maybe Tony might react differently. Others might like it a lot less (Larri).

    The premise is pretty simple. Curtis is an average schmoe who starts having these nightmares about some apocalyptic event. Like Noah, he starts building, not an ark, but an underground shelter. Is Curtis crazy or are the preomonitions of some real, upcoming event?

    I’ll say a couple of things about the film. First, it was kinda slow and boring. At the end of the film, I thought the film could have been one hour, maybe less. (It’s a two hour film.) Second, I don’t think the ending is really interesting–although maybe I don’t really understand the film well.

    I’ll offer one interpretation for the film–one that might improve my judgment of the film. (spoilers)

    Zardoz (1974)
    Dir. John Boorman
    Starring: Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, etc.

    No to Larri, Don, Marc, Joel and Jill. I could see Chris and Kevin liking this–maybe Penny, too. There’s a chance that Grace, Mitchell and Tony might be amused by this. I wouldn’t strongly recommend this to anyone, but read the next section for more information.

    A film that reminds me of Logan’s Run (except cheesier), both in terms of the look of the film as well as the futuristic setting. There are basically two classes of humans–the keepers of the culture, who have developed mental powers and eternal life, and the “brutals,” basically normal humans that live in the “wild.” One of the higher class citizens has created a god–“Zardoz”–to control the brutals.

    The film actually had some potential, but a combination of the clumsy handling of the themes and dates art direction and costumes pushes this film towards the “so bad it’s good” realm. To wit, Sean Connery dressed up in these cheesy loincloth outfits and dialogue like, “The penis is bad; guns are good.” (These details, for some reason, made me want to see this film.)

  111. Reid

    So I went to the HIFF this year and I saw some really good films.

    Night Fishing (2011)
    Dir. Park Chan-wook and Park Chan-kyong

    I’d cautiously recommend this to Kevin–and Grace. I’d guess Penny, Chris and Mitchell would find this interesting at least. Jill might have a shot of liking this, but I think she’d have to be in the right mood. No to Larri, Don and Marc. Btw, this was probably the best film I saw–and maybe my favorite. I had no intention of seeing this but it played as a double-bill with another film I saw.

    This is a short film (30 min.) about a man who…yep, goes night fishing. I don’t really want to say much more, but I’ll say that Don, Joel and Larri would find this too weird. It does combine several different genres (including an intro that feels like a Korean folk-rock music video) and what makes the film great is the skillful way it blends these different genres. I also knew nothing about the film and there were some surprises on the way.

    As I said, I loved the way the film incorporates different genre elements (albeit in subtle ways), but I especially loved the way the film transitions into the ritualistic scenes–revealing the scenes that preceded it as well as evelvating the film into a moving and spiritual experience. Imo, it reminds me of Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Recalls His Past Lives, only a lot more successful, imo.

    The Day He Arrives (2011)
    Dir. Hong Sang-soo

    Generally, I’d recommend this film to Mitchell and maybe Tony, but based on my viewing, I’m really uncertain. I have no idea about the other idiots, except I wouldn’t recommend this to Larri, Don, Marc, Joel, Jill and John.

    I really unsure about this film (and Hong’s other films).

    This is a dialogue driven, comedy-of-manners film about two old friends that get together and hang out–often involving female friends and amorous partners along the way. The adjective I used are appropriate, but somehow I feel they might be misleading–or mabye I’m just uncomfortable about the film’s humor or point. I think this is the third film I’ve seen by the director and I still don’t feel like I have a good grasp of his films.

  112. Mitchell

    Your pursuit of Korean cinema is curious but also cool. Are you recognizing some kind of Korean film aesthetic as you delve?

  113. Reid

    I don’t think I have a special interest in Korean cinema per se. I’m just seeing films that I think are interesting, partly because other people think highly of Hong.

    I don’t think I’ve seen enough Korean films to notice a generalized aesthetic, though. My sense is that the aesthetic is fairly similar to Japanese films–although, with some of the films I’ve seen, the blending of genres seems to be common (but again, this is based on a very small sample).

  114. Mitchell

    The Ides of March
    George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei

    There really ought to be more films like this, not because The Ides of March is especially good, but because its subject is really interesting and somehow believable even though I don’t really know the first thing about it. There are neither car chases nor explosions; there is no cute couple falling in love despite its best efforts not to; there is no potty humor; there is no 3D gimmickry; there is very little of what seems to infuse most of the things I see in theaters. If there is a cliche in this film, perhaps I don’t recognize it because political dramas don’t cross my path often enough.

    George Clooney, who directed, is Mike Morris, the governor of Pennsylvania running for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination. His campaign is managed by Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who is assisted by Steve Meyers (Ryan Gosling). The film is centered on Steve, a master of using the media for his own purposes, a young, admired political up-and-comer. Steve’s job is to coordinate the Morris campaign in Ohio, considered critical for Morris’s nomination prospects.

    Stuff happens, and it seems to happen quickly. Steve is wooed by other campaigns. Morris’s campaign is approached by an also-ran opponent offering his already-won delegates in exchange for the promise of a cabinet appointment. Steve strikes up a relationship with the daughter of the chair of the Democratic National Party. There are poll numbers, behind-the-scenes machinations, on-camera debates and speeches, and all the things that make a political drama interesting.

    Everyone’s good, especially Clooney, Hoffman, and Paul Giamatti, who plays Morris’s opponent’s campaign manager. Marisa Tomei as a reporter for the New York Times seems slightly off most of the time, but I found myself wishing for a movie more about the dynamic between the press and the campaign. I still say that Gosling looks to me like every other hot young actor who seems popular with the critics now (where are the William H. Macys and the Paul Giamattis?); however, I can’t complain because he has the tailored, polished look of someone who knows there’s a camera on him all the time.

    The direction is confident and interesting; I especially like the little private moments away from the action, moments that give us both more insight and more confusion about the characters’ motivations. There is a great scene in a car where Morris confides to his wife what he’s worrying about, and what comes out of her mouth is sincere but obviously the thoughts of someone else. The exchange is framed intimately and the dialogue exchanged in quiet tones, an eavesdropping-like effect that really works.

    I normally get excited about movies that drop us into the middle of a character’s life and then take us out without really telling us how the character’s story ends. My one problem with The Ides of March is that it doesn’t play out in small enough a way; nor does it swing for the fences. If this wants to be a character study, it fails because it doesn’t give us enough insight into its main character. If it wants to be some kind of statement about politics in this country, it just doesn’t swing hard enough for the fences. In this way it is unsatisfying despite all its well-placed pieces. Still, it’s very engaging and good-looking picture.


  115. Reid


    Depending on what you mean by “interesting subjects,” I think there are movies without car chases, couples falling in love, etc., but you’re just not choosing to see them. You may not love all these films, but they’re out there (mostly at Kahala, but also playing at Dole, too).

    If this wants to be a character study, it fails because it doesn’t give us enough insight into its main character.

    I basically agree with this, although I would say that the film doesn’t establish the character it seems to want to present, not in a coherent or believable way, anyway. For example, Stephen is supposedly a pretty seasoned and experienced veteran, but the film portrays him as an idealist as well. The film doesn’t really flesh out what this means and how his character evolves to something darker, imo.

    If it wants to be some kind of statement about politics in this country, it just doesn’t swing hard enough for the fences.

    Agreed. Who was the targeted audience and what was the message for that audience?

  116. Reid

    A Hole in the Head (1959)
    Dir. Frank Capra
    Starring: Frank Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson, Thelma Ritter, etc.

    I think Penny would like this, at least mildly. A part of me also wants to recommend this to Don, although that’s somewhat risky. I think most other idiots would mildly enjoy this or think this was OK. Read more to find out.

    I really liked this film, although I’m a big fan of Frank Capra, who happens to be one of my favorite filmmakers–if not my favorite.

    Tony (Sinatra) is a single-parent father of Ally, a young, bright lad, and the struggling owner of a Florida hotel. Tony has big dreams of making a Disneyland resort in Florida (hey, he was prescient), but he’s broke and about to be evicted, unless he can come up with $5,000. Desperate, he calls his brother Mario (Robinson), asking for money and lying about Ally’s health (Mario and his wife, Sophie (Ritter), really love Ally). Mario and Sophie race down to Florida to check and tell Tony that if he agrees to get married and give up his big dreams, Mario will help him start a small business. There are two problems: 1) Tony’s free-spirited girlfriend; 2) who’s he supposed to marry? It turns out Sophie has a friend, a widow, and Tony agrees to meet her.

    Often the dramatic moments and humor in older films fail to work because they haven’t stood the test of time, but that’s not the case with many Capra films, and this film is no different, imo. I especially loved the moments with Robinson and Ritter. (Don, I think you’ll like those moments, and you might like the kid.)

    The film really makes for an interesting companion with It’s a Wonderful Life–especially the similarities and differences between Tony and George Bailey. Not realizing their dreams frustrate both characters. But that’s probably where the similarities end. George fails to see that he’s made a difference in people’s lives–and in the end, having friends and family and loving them well is more important than any of his dreams. On the other hand, making it big prevents Tony from appreciating what he has–namely, his wonderful son and a pontential wife and happy life. (There’s also an interesting parallels with the two characters big moments–George’s involving meeting Clarence and Tony’s involving meeting his old friend. It’s be interesting to go into, but I don’t have the time.)

  117. Reid

    Twenty-four Eyes (1954)
    Dir. Keisuke Kinoshita
    Starring: Hideko Takamine, et.

    Recommended to Penny and Grace. I suspect Mitchell, Chris and Kevin would like this, too, at least on some level. I think there’s a better than average chance that Don and Jill would like this. I’m not sure about Marc or Tony, but I’m sure he would think this is OK at least.

    I enjoyed this film quite a bit.

    This follows Ms. Oishi (Takamaine), new teacher, who arrives on a small rural island in Japan. More than her physical beauty, Takamine has an incandescent and winning spirit that is a pleasure to see. At the same time, the actors playing the children are cute and endearing (which the reason Don might have a good chance of liking this).

    For those of you who need more plot details, I’ll say that the film shows various episodes–many of them touching–with her students, many of them coming from poor backgrounds. Someone called this a “five-hanky” film, and I think that’s about right (at least for me it was).

    I’ll say one more thing. I’ve grown tired of the teacher-as-savior movie, but this one actually brought something new to the table (besides the appeal of Takamine and the child actors).

    Here’s what surprised me about the film: the anti-war message. I don’t care for anti-war films, as the strategy for most is to depict the horrors of war–and I don’t think you need to see more than a few of these films. Here, by showing a teacher’s love for her children, as well as her reactions to the jingoistic mood of the country and her students going to war, the film takes a different tack. In addition, Ms. Oishi doesn’t give anti-war speeches or lesssons; nor does she defy authorities in a Norma Rae/Erin Brockovich style. Instead, she’s mostly passive, although she does express her sorrow. This makes the film more powerful as it is more believable and allows the viewer to be angry for her.

    What is also interesting about the film is that it spans many decades and doesn’t really contain much of a story. Instead, it almost feels like a series of various episodes with her students. Moreover, the film also doesn’t really show a lot of scenes that establish Ms. Oishi’s relationship with her students–they sort of seem to have a strong bond immediately (although other people may feel like the film does establish these relationships). In any event, I bought it.

    I also thought the children were wonderful in this. So often these days children in film are so precocious that they seem more like adults or teenagers, more than young children. That’s not the case with this film, which made the film refreshing.

  118. Reid

    The Next Three Days (2010)
    Dir. Paul Haggis
    Starring: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, etc.

    Penny might like this; Marc, Don, Joel and Grace, too. This doesn’t seem to be Mitchell’s type of film, but he might think it’s OK. Not sure about Kevin or Chris.

    The trailer for this film looked really dumb, but learning that Haggis wrote and directed this got me interested. Plus, I was desperate for this type of movie–which is basically a prison escape film. Lara Brenan (Banks) has been in prison for murdering her boss, and because of certain circumstances, John (Crowe), her husband, has to break her out of prison. (See, sounds pretty dumb, huh?) John’s not some ex-CIA, ex-military guy, but a mild-mannered English professor, which makes the plan even more crazy.

    I must say that the film actually interested me, primarily because it took a more realistic approach. For example, while John was an intelligent person, he wasn’t so intelligent that he didn’t make mistakes or encounter serious set-backs. I liked this aspect, and the plan actually satisfied me–not being as dumb as I thought (although you really have to suspend your disbelief quite a bit). In the next section, I’ll explain what dragged this film down for me.

    As I mentioned, the film painstakingly shows the difficulty John goes through to plan and execute the prison break, establishing a “realism” that made the film somewhat unique. Well, to my surprise and dismay, the film manages to dismantle this realism in the last thirty minutes–specifically in the way the police figure out that a prison break is occurring. It’s too complicated to go into and not worth the effort, but, that’s ultimately what ruined the film for me. (Here are some brief notes to remind myself later: effort police make into identifying killer of drug-dealer; speed at which they figure out the prison break plan; other improbable ways of finding clues–e.g., searching through neighbor’s trash.)

    Three Outlaw Samurais (1964)
    Dir. Hideo Gosha

    I could see idiots like Chris, Marc and John being mildly entertained by this–and I’d guess they have the best chance of liking this more than the others. Larri probably wouldn’t care for this.

    I thought it was mildly entertaining.

    Really, this doesn’t seem like a good idea for a film, as it’s basically a modified version of Seven Samurai. The film starts with a ronin who comes upon a group of farmers, holding the daughter of a magistrate hostage. The farmers feel they have been mistreated, and their complaints unfairly dismissed. They’ll give back the daughter, if only the magistrate will take their complaints more seriously.

    Perhaps, with better action sequences and set-up for them, making this movie would have made sense. (Better acting would have helped, too.) But that’s not the case, imo, although you know how I can be picky about these things. Still, fwiw, I don’t think any of you would love this film.

    I guess if there’s some value in the film, it is in showing how good Seven Samurai is.

  119. Reid

    The Way (2010)
    Dir. Emilio Estevez
    Starring: Martin Sheen, etc.

    I’d cautiously recommend this to Don–as it is the type of film I can see Don liking, although certain elements make me uncertain. I think Penny, Mitchell, Jill, Marc and Tony would at least mildly enjoy this–but it’s not something they should go out of their way to see, imo. Not sure about Chris and Kevin. Larri would probably think this was OK.

    Tom (Sheen) must go get the remains of his dead son, who died while taking a famous walking pilgrimage in Europe. Tom decides to complete the walk and he meets some interesting people along the way.

    The extent to which you will like the film depends on how much you like Tom, the characters he meets and the situations they get into. What’s interesting about the film is the restrained Hollywood sensibility of the film. What I mean is that the film feels like a Hollywood film, but at the same time, it avoids really silly humor or overly-dramatic moments. Some may find this approach bland, while others may find it subtle and restrained in a positive way. (The former applies to me.)

    Le Havre (2011)
    Dir. Aki Kaurismaki

    I’d mildly recommend this to Penny, Kevin and Chris. I’m cautiously recommend this to Tony. I’m not sure how Mitchell would react to this, but he might like this quite a bit, and I think he should watch a film by the director (although, another film might be a better film to watch first). I suspect this would be too odd for Don, Joel and Marc. Jill might have a slight chance of liking this, but probably not.

    Marcel is a shoeshine man who helps a young immigrant boy hide from authorities. The film takes on the immigration issue in Europe from a more anecdotal angle.

    Kaurismaki’s operates in a deadpan style–both in terms of humor and emotions in general. Some may find this odd and dull, while others will find this charming and endearing. (I’m in the latter.)

    Kaurismaki weighs in on the immigration in two ways: a) the immigrants are human beings–reminding (or manipulating) us that they are often very likable and not very different from the viewer likely watching the movie; b) normal people can behave with compassion and courage and that can make all the difference in this issue. At best, this is a touching and hopeful message. At worst, it’s overly sentimental and glosses over very real and difficult challenges immigration poses for states. I’m sort of somewhere in the middle.

    The Match Factory Girl (1990)
    Dir. Aki Kaurismaki
    Starring: Kati Outinen, etc.

    I think Kevin and Chrs could really like this, but it’s not something I’d highly recommend. I’m not sure about Penny, Grace, Tony and Mitchell, although I think they would be at least mildly interested. (A part of me feels that Mitchell could become a fan of Kaurismaki, though.) No to Don, Marc, Larri and Joel.

    The film follows Iris (Outinen), a homely young woman who works in a match factory. She lives with her strict, conservative parents and goes to dances in hopes of meeting a man, which she finally does. What you should know is that the film gives this information with very little dialogue and very little expressiveness on the part of the characters. This is a crucial part of Kaurismaki’s style and charm.

    If there’s a criticism, I would say the film is a little long, even at 68 minutes (then again, I was a little tired when I saw this.) This is a one note type of film, and it might have been better if the film was shorter. Btw, don’t read comments about the genre of the film, as that sort of diminished the impact for me.

  120. Reid

    Permanent Vacation (1981)
    Dir. Jim Jarmusch

    I don’t think I would strongly recommend this to anyone, but I think Chris and Kevin could like this. Mitchell and Penny might like this, too, but I think the chances are a lot slimmer. I don’t think Grace would care for this much. Definitely not recommended to Don, Joel, Jill and Marc.

    I liked this film primarily because I like Jarmusch’s aesthetic and the way the film adds to my understanding of Jarmusch and his films.

    The film follows Allie, boyish twenty-something, dressed as if he were from the 50s; Allie wanders NYC bumping into various people, most of them strange (seemingly mentally ill). Allie is a drifter, and we learn that he either doesn’t like to get too close to people or he quickly gets bored with them; hence, his wandering ways. That’s essentially the “story” of the movie. The movie is also slow-paced.

    Urban decay and retro-50’s vibe are two things that I like about Jarmusch’s aesthetic. I also love the way he finds amusing or poignant moments in otherwise boring situations–although I didn’t notice this so much in this film.

    Here’s a question I find interesting: what’s the difference between this film and a Gen-X one? The main character seems to be slacker and the film does have a “slacker” vibe to it. Yet, I wouldn’t call it a Gen-X film. Why? I think the answer reveals distinguishing features of Gen-X–at least the way I think of it. I think Gen X films feature post-college, twenty-somethings. They don’t know what they want to do with their lives and spend time in a self-conscious stupor–talking about movie, music and sports and coming up with pseud-philosophical musings on existence.

    Allie doesn’t really fit the mold. He doesn’t seem very well-educated, and the conversations in the film don’t have a post-modern quality to them. Still, if nothing else, Jarmusch is a forefather to Gen-X filmmakers or even a quirky filmmaker like Wes Anderson. (See the next film.)

    Mystery Train (1989)
    Dir. Jim Jarmusch
    Starring: Masatoshi Nagase, Youki Kudoh, Sreamin’ Jay Hawkins, Cinque Lee, Nicoletta Braschi, Elizabeth Bracco, Steve Buscemi,

    I think Chris, Mitchell and Kevin could like this quite a bit, but I’m not confident about that either. Penny would find this interesting, and Tony might, too. Jill might have a slight chance of liking this, too. No to Larri, Don, Joel and Marc.

    This film didn’t work as well as I think it should have, but I still mildly liked it.

    Three vignettes involving characters in Memphis. The first involves a young Japanese couple–big fans of 50s rock n’ roll–coming to Memphis to see Graceland. The second involves an Italian woman (Braschi) stuck in Memphis. She encounters a few strange people and ends up sharing a room with a loquacious woman. The final story involves the talktative woman’s brother (Buscemi), her boyfriend (a British guy) and the boyfriend’s friend. The hub of film is a rundown hotel run by characters played by Cinque Lee and Screamin’ Jay.

    I think Mitchell might find the first couple charming and amusing (and he may be hot for Kudoh). Actually, he might like all the vignettes.

    Most of the characters and situations are supposed to be amusing and even droll, but, for some reason, many of them don’t work for me, and I’m not sure why.

    Still, I love the scenes of decaying Memphis and the overall look and feel of this film.

  121. Reid

    The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
    Dir. Rob Epstein

    I’d guess Penny, Chris, Kevin and Mitchell would like this–although I wouldn’t tell them to rush out and see this. Ditto Grace. I’d predict that Marc, Don, Jill, John and Joel would at least think this is OK. Larri wouldn’t want to see this.

    After watching Milk, I felt a documentary would have been a better format deal with the subject, and this film only strengthens that feeling. Perhaps, the film doesn’t reveal any deep insights or surprise revelations, but it competently handles the subject matter (at least as far as I can tell).

    When I watched Milk, Dan White, the man who shot and killed Milk and Mayor Moscone (who seems to get short-shrift in the film) stood out for me, particularly his relationship with Milk. Although he was conservative, he didn’t seem to be bigot. That fascinated me, and I wanted to know a little more about him. (Creating scenes to dramatize the relationship between Milk and White was one of the more compelling reasons to create a feature-length film of Harvey Milk, imo.) Unfortunately, the documentary doesn’t really reveal much about White (which is understandable).

    There’s one thing that the film could have explored a little more regarding White, however, and that was his motivation for killing Moscone and Milk. In the film they refer to the murders as “assassinations,” which imply political reasons for the murders, but I get the sense that White killed both individuals out of resentment, humiliation, etc. because Moscone wasn’t planning to reappoint him and that Milk urged the Mayor not to. Does that constitute a political assassination? I’m not sure. But the larger, unresolved issue for me is whether White killed Milk because he was gay. I get the sense that wasn’t that case. I think this point is somewhat important because when I think of Milk and his murder/assassination, I tend to believe it occurred because he was gay. But that might not be the case.

    Tokyo Drifter (1966)
    Dir. Seijun Suzuki

    I’d recommend this to Mitchell. Penny would be interested, but I’d guess she would think this is OK. I’m not sure about Chris or Kevin, but they could both end up liking this. I’m not sure about Grace. No to Don, Marc, Jill, Larri and Joel.

    A yakuza B-movie with flair–although what I call “flair” I suspect others will call cheesy, dated filmmaking. The film seems to be the Japanese take on the French New Wave, and I have to believe this film (or filmmaker) influenced Tarantino.

    The film is about the Kurata clan trying to go legit, involving a dispute another rival clan. The main character is Tetsu, the toughest guy of the Kurata and also the son-like figure to Kurata. I don’t think the details are very interesting, so I’ll spare you. I will say the action isn’t very exciting or the plot very interesting.

    The main point of interest, imo, is the filmmaking. Suzuki uses color in the set-pieces in interesting ways; the editing–often skipping huge chunks of information; the use of musical numbers (Tetsu whistles and sings in way that recalls the use of music for Hakaida), etc. Some of these are of its time, and I can understand if people find them dated. These were the best parts of the film for me, and I wish there were more.

  122. Reid

    F for Fake (1973)
    Dir. Orson Welles
    72/100 (could go higher)

    I’d mildy recommend this to Penny, Chris, Mitchell and Grace. Marc and Tony have a chance of liking this, too. Jill and Joel might have a chance of liking this, but the chances are slim, so I’ll say no. No to Larri.

    This is a stylish documentary that about fraud and fakery. The film centers around Elmyr, ostensibly the greatest art forger in the 20th Century. From there the film has all these interesting connections to fakery and hoaxes. For example, the film also features Elmyr’s biographer, Clifford Irving, a man who supposedly lied about interviewing Howard Hughes. And Orson Welles, the director and narrator of the film, was also involved with a famous “hoax”–the War of the Worlds radio show that caused a huge panic. The film has layers upon layers connections to fraud and fakery, and that’s what makes it interesting. But these layers make processing the film difficult, too (something I haven’t really done, yet–hence, no “***” section).

  123. Reid

    The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
    Dir. Rob Epstein

    I’d guess Penny, Kevin, Chris, Mitchell, John and Grace would find interesting. I’d recommend it over the feature film, *Milk*, which deals with the same subject. As Jill is getting into documentaries, I’d midly recommend this to her. I think Marc would find this interesting, but not something he’d love. I’d guess Don and Joel would think this is OK.

    This is about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician. It’s a documentary of the same story featured in *Milk*. When I saw the latter, I felt a documentary would be a better format, and the film confirms that feeling.

    Meek’s Cuttoff (2010)
    Dir. Kelly Reichardt
    Starring: Michelle Williams, etc.

    I’d recommend this to Penny–and maybe Grace (although I’m not sure how much she’d enjoy this). Next, I think Kevin and Chris would find this worth watching, but nothing I would urge them to see. Ditto Mitchell. Risky for Jill. No to Don, Joel and I’d throw Marc in that bunch.

    This is about a group of settlers traveling to Oregon. They’re lead by Stephen Meek, a seasoned guide. But during the journey, the group seems to have gotten lost and start to question Meek.

    First, I should say that the film, imo, is more allegorical, rather telling a good tale. Second, the pace is very deliberate. We see very mundane scenes of the settlers walking alongside their wagons, sitting down and eating, etc. In other words, some may find this boring. Visually I thought the film looked good, although not spectacular. The acting is just OK, not exceptional, imo.

    What is the film about? To me, the film presents a situation: a source of information that becomes suspect and then a possible alternative source that is foreign and mysterious. Uncertainty surrounds both options. Said in another way, I think the film is about the dilemna between choosing experts that seem questionable versus relying a more mystical or faith-based; or perhaps instead of “mystical” we could say some mysterious or unfamiliar source of information. Meek represent expertise and scientific knowledge, while the Indian could respresent knowledge from another culture, religion/spirituality or something unfamiliar.

    The way the film doesn’t favor one over the other, and the way it always maintains a sense of uncertainty for either approach is a notable strength of the film. The settlers don’t have an easy choice–and that’s the way some of these tough issues are in real life.

    (Crazy reading: Meek=George W. Bush/Republicans; Indian=Obama. 🙂

  124. Reid

    The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
    in 3D
    Dir. Steven Spielberg

    I think most idiots would think this is at least OK. I’d recommend this to Jill, as I think she would think it was more than OK. Next, I’d recommend this to Penny and maybe Marc. Don would probably like it more than I did, so I’d recommend this to him. Larri liked this quite a bit, and I think Joel liked this, but didn’t love it.

    Except for the opening credits, I don’t recall the 3D playing much of a roll in the film, although maybe I’d notice the difference if I saw the 2D version.

    This is an animated film based on the Tintin comic strip. Tintin is a young (teen?) reporter who travels the world, chasing after a story or solving a mystery (at least that’s the sense I get, as I never read the comics). In this film, Tintin tries to solve a mystery involving the descendent of a 17th Century sea captain.

    Someone compared this to Indiana Jones, and the film is very much in a similar vein. It seems to take place in the 40s or 50s and it does have quite a bit of action and adventure. Another comparison I’d make is Miyazaki’s *Castle of Cagliostro*. Indeed, this film seems inspired by the former.

    Unfortunately, unlike Indiana Jones and Lupin, Tintin is bland character. I didn’t really care or like him, certainly like the other two. Having said that, I must mention a couple of outstanding features of the film (maybe making the film worth the price of admission by themselves):

    1. The opening credits is terrific–the visuals, the score and the use of the 3D.
    2. The chase sequence was exhilirating and among Spielberg’s best. (The scene reminded me of fun sequences from “Cagliastro.”) The creativity and complexity of the sequence is breathtaking. At the same time, because the film is animated, one accepts the over-the-top nature of the scene. Next to the beach landing scene in Saving Private Ryan, this might be my favorite scene by Spielberg (whom I considered one of the best directors for this type of scene).
    3. I also enjoyed the “crane dueling” scene.
  125. Mitchell

    Does the dog talk?

  126. Reid


  127. Mitchell

    It was an interesting year for me, film-wise! While my theater-going didn’t stray very far off the beaten path, I spent a lot of time during my breaks from work filling in some holes, so that my home-viewing was really a lot more interesting than my theater-viewing. Many people are predicting the quick demise of theater movies; I will not be adding my voice to the chorus. For the past three years, I’ve been seeing about one movie per week (more during school-breaks) in theaters, and the first priority in these outings is always being out to see a film. I honestly don’t care much if the films I see in theaters during my weekly visits are very good. What matters to me is spending the time out, sometimes with friends and sometimes alone.

    Unlike most of my film-loving friends, I have not yet gone the streaming-Netflix route. Almost everything I’ve seen at home has been on cable television or on DVD via RedBox or similar. Perhaps this is a difference. Once I venture into streaming content, maybe I’ll be like everyone else and find it more convenient and pleasant to stay home, not to mention more economical.

    The word today is that ticket sales in theaters are down 5% from 2010, and streaming video is getting a lot of the blame. Some customers are citing price as the main reason; others are saying home is just better than out. Pundits say that the public will support film in theaters, but that it is looking for the blockbusters in theaters. Ugh, ugh, ugh. For me it’s almost all about two things: price and availability. Right now, most of the good non-mainstream films play in Honolulu at the Kahala Theaters, and the Kahala Theaters are crap-holes. Almost everyone I know who loves movies hates seeing them at Kahala. Unlike them, though, I express my displeasure by not going there.

    Let me see these films in a nice theater, and I will pay the going rate. Let me see them at lower prices and I will see even more of them. I first wrote about this when I was in college and I was appalled at the price of a new CD at the local shopping-mall music store, expanding my criticism to the prices of movies. My sentiments are the same today, decades later: I’ll see a lot more movies if you lower the prices and spend MORE money on sodas and snacks. I know I am not going to get my way.

    I have spent the past few hours revisiting my 2011 viewing, so let’s go.

    My ten best films of 2011:

    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.
    How wonderfully sad to see this series come to an end, but what a fitting conclusion. My greatest regret about this series is not that I saw the last two films before I read the book they were based on; it is that I was already a grownup when the novels and films were released. It would have been wonderful to have grown up with them.

    It should be pointed out that I gave Deathly Hallows 2 a 9 of 10 rating, while I gave 50/50 and the film that follows it an 8 and everything else in this top ten a 7. I saw a lot of fair-to-middling films, and my numbers 4 through 10 are really the best of the better-than-okay. 50/50, as you’ve heard, is an attempt to make a comedy about cancer. The fact that it manages to be funny and sensitive tells you how carefully it was put together. Bonus points for having that sweet, sweet cutie Anna Kendrick. It’s also a good movie for people who think they dislike Seth Rogen.

    Midnight in Paris.
    What strikes me as I read my own review of this film is that overwhelming sense of romance this film communicates. People call it an exploration of nostalgia, which it certainly is, and how we over-romanticize that, which we certainly do, but you can’t make a film that explores that without actually over-romanticizing nostalgia, which is maybe why this film feels so good. Sure, we all know we can’t find what we’re looking for by stepping back in time, but that doesn’t stop any of us from really wishing we could. This film both chides us for it and indulges our desire to do it. I don’t care that Woody Allen fans think he’s retreading old ground. For what it is, and for who I am as a viewer, this is a most satisfying film.

    Something that has always puzzled me about people who get hooked on destructive drugs like crystal meth is that we’ve all seen the after photo. How does that photo not deter us? I get how smoking is still a draw: the destruction smoking visits upon us is far, far down the line. But meth’s work is ugly and quick. It’s not very long at all from before to after, and I’ve been unable to understand with clarity how it happens. Now that I’ve seen Limitless, I think I get it. The very idea that I might possibly be able to multiply my mental capacity is so freaking tempting that I can’t say what I’d do if the chance presented itself in the form of a pill. This is a highly stylized movie with an intriguing plot line; it gave me a lot to think about, something that not many films I saw in 2011 can claim.

    Win Win.
    There’s something strangely unsatisfying about this film about a lawyer who finds himself taking care of a wealthy old man on the verge of dementia and this old man’s criminal-type grandson. Paul Giamatti is really good, as is Amy Ryan playing his wife. The story is Alex Shaffer, though: before this film, he was a seventeen-year-old state wrestling champion with no acting credits. He plays the grandson Kyle so well that you just can’t believe he’s never been in a movie before. How director Thomas McCarthy (who directed The Station Agent, one of my twenty best films of the first decade of the 2000s) gets you to like Kyle while still remaining wary of him is kind of stroke of genius. McCarthy plays Shaffer off of Ryan in scenes that are carefully casual with undertones of distrust; the tension (and the trust that follows) is so right and so intimate that the scenes border on inappropriate in a way I simply cannot explain. There is nothing here, objectively viewing, that suggests anything out of line, but one just gets the feeling that it could happen. Everything in the plot works and makes sense except perhaps the final few minutes, which left me feeling slightly gypped. Still, definitely worth a look.

    I feel kind of dumb putting this at number 6, but then I remind myself of how good Kristen Wiig is, and how good Kristen Wiig is most of the time. She really is an amazingly gifted comic actress, creating characters that crack you up while they break your heart. There’s a lot here to make you cry for America, but I don’t think you can deny how good Wiig’s character is and how well she presents her. If you haven’t seen it, I totally get that. You know why you haven’t seen it and I sympathize. But see it anyway and you’ll see what I mean.

    X-Men: First Class.
    I’ll say that if you don’t care for comic-book movies, you really won’t care for this, so just move along to the rest of this list. For what it is, this is an entertaining film with interesting characters and interesting character development. I still don’t like Kevin Bacon in the role he plays here, and the whole Cuban Missile Crisis thing is pretty lame, but the intercharacter dynamics are really intriguing. And the women are pretty to look at.

    One Day.
    This could have been a great film. You have to get past Anne Hathaway’s bad English accent to see that potential greatness, but her performance is solid enough that you can do it. The story is nicely told and despite some maddening choices by the lead characters, Hathaway is too likeable not to root for. Which is why the last few minutes are so ill-advised. One can see why the writer and director send the film in the direction they ultimately do, but understanding it doesn’t make it good. Worth a look for Hathaway’s performance and for some of the storytelling, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

    The Muppets.
    Good (not great) songs. Good (not great) gags. Good (not great) plot. Good (not great) performances by humans and Muppets, ‘though Amy Adams and Jason Segel are really solid. I wanted so much to love this film the way my fellow Muppets fans love it; I just see too many slight failings, some of which are nobody’s fault. I have a feeling this will grow on me. I plan to buy it when it’s on DVD so I can allow it to find its space in my heart, but I am not sure it will. I cannot deny that the very existence of this movie made me happier in a theater than I’d been in a very, very, very long time. Happier than I’d been in a long time, period.

    Friends with Benefits.
    I would never have predicted that the one with Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake would be better than the one with Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, but it is. The characters are more fully realized. The relationship is more believable. Everyone’s more likeable. And it’s just funnier.

    Best actor: I’m going with Matt Damon in The Adjustment Bureau.
    Best supporting actor: Alex Shaffer in Win Win.
    Best actress: Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids.
    Best supporting actress: Anna Kendrick in 50/50.
    Best direction: David Yates in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.
    Worst film: Season of the Witch.
    Ubiquitous award: Justin Timberlake. Saw him in three films this year!
    Hormones award: Amanda Seyfried, with Rose Byrne a close second.
    Not as bad as I expected: Footloose remake.
    Disappointing: Young Adult, which I saw in theaters twice. And Larry Crowne.
    Good ingredients poorly assembled: What’s Your Number? and I Don’t Know How She Does It.
    Might have been great with no-names in the leads: The Big Year.
    Give me these people in better films in 2012, please: Anna Faris, Anne Hathaway.
    Most likely DVD purchase: Young Adult.
    Most sad that I missed: Moneyball.

    The best 2010 film I saw in 2011 was Barney’s Version. Paul Giamatti and Rosamund Pike are soooo good.
    The best older film I saw for the first time in 2011 was Juno.
    The best thing I saw at someone else’s urging: Quiet City.
    Why didn’t anyone tell me about: Shoot the Moon.

  128. Reid

    The Descendents (2011)
    Dir. Alexander Payne
    Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, etc.

    I’d probably recommend this to Jill. Next, I’d recommend this to Don. I’m not sure about Marc or Tony, but they would come next. Mitchell had a similar reaction to me, while Penny liked it. I think Larri wouldn’t care for this–maybe a little less than OK. Kevin or Chris could like this, but I’d be a little surprised if they loved it. Still, I think Kevin should see this.

    I think many of you know this is based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, a local girl. The story centers around Matt King (Clooney), a descendent of Kamehameha and missionaries. His wife is in a coma, and in addition to dealing with this, he has some personal issues to deal with–involving his wife and a parcel of crown lands. King also has two daugthers, Alex (Woodley) and Scottie (Miller)–who seem to be a bit on the wild side.

    First some good things about the film. The film does an excellent job of presenting Hawai’i as seen by someone who has lived here, if not all of his/her life, a long time. I should qualify that by saying that the Hawai’i we see is largely the Hawai’i of some from the upper-middle to upper class. Payne should be commended for his effort at capturing Hawai’i–at least in terms of place. He really gets the costumes, buildings (many on location versus sets) and music (lost of Gabby Pahinui) right.

    I also thought Payne did a good job with the actors. I thought all the scenes involving crying or intense emotions were excellent. Payne also seems to manage the actors well in terms of the extent he should use local actors (he doesn’t use very many), and Amara Miller (who is an amateur). The remark about local actors may sting, but given the one of the more prominent moments for a local actor, I think it’s the right decision as the acting wasn’t very good (I’m sad to say).

    OK, so what didn’t work for me? In a nutshell, I don’t think there’s much of a story or character. Both are fairly predictable and well-worn, I think. Payne seems to not want to flesh out the characters and their relationships–in order to avoid sentimentality and predictability–but, for me, this made the characters seem superficial.

    The events in the story also don’t tie in well with the character arc. Matt’s reckoning with his relationship with his wife and his family inheritance seems to come together, but the way it does isn’t very clear or fleshed out, imo.

    Finally, I think there is an abscence of non-white characters that make the film feel slightly less authentic. (This is a minor point, though. But some examples: the white doctor, the fact that the family seems entirely white–no interracial marriages.)

    Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows (2011)
    Dir. Guy Ritchie

    Let me just say a few things about the film.

    First, I enjoyed the first film (71/100 or something close to that). Second, this film was both boring and flat, for the most part. (Even Larri didn’t care for it much.) My guess is that the first film worked because it was fun to see Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law create the iconic characters. I also enjoyed the way Holmes uses his powers of deduction in fight sequences (a novel approach). But that’s all old hat in this film, and the story/plot isn’t very interesting by itself, imo. (Then again, I can’t see anything terribly wrong with the story or plot; or at least I don’t think the story/plot of the first film is much better.)

    For what it’s worth, Noomi Rapace is largely wasted in this film.

  129. Mitchell

    I’m still planning to review most of what I saw in 2011; I am not quite sure why I fell behind, but writing at least a few paragraphs will help me cement them in my consciousness so that hopefully I won’t be asking myself in a few years if I saw I Don’t Know How She Does It? or asking someone if How Do You Know? is the one with Reese Witherspoon or the one with Anna Faris.

    So for the record, here are the films I saw for the first time in 2011. There are a few missing, so I reserve the right to edit this comment later when I figure out what they are.

    2011 films:
    No Strings Attached
    Gnomeo and Juliet
    The Green Hornet
    Hall Pass
    The Adjustment Bureau
    The Lincoln Lawyer
    Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules
    The Conspirator
    Water for Elephants
    X-Men: First Class
    Midnight in Paris
    Bad Teacher
    Larry Crowne
    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
    Season of the Witch
    The Descendants
    Young Adult
    Arthur Christmas
    The Muppets
    In Time
    Tower Heist
    The Ides of March
    The Big Year
    What’s Your Number?
    Dolphin Tale
    I Don’t Know How She Does It
    Seven Days in Utopia
    Cars 2
    Our Idiot Brother
    One Day
    Friends with Benefits
    Win Win

    Films released in 2010 but seen in theaters in 2011:
    Gulliver’s Travels
    Iron Man 2
    Blue Valentine
    The Company Men
    Barney’s Version
    Country Strong

    Older stuff I saw for the first time, including 2010 stuff I rented:
    Porky’s 2: The Next Day
    Porky’s Revenge
    Under the Yum Yum Tree
    The Caine Mutiny
    Mr. Roberts
    Arthur (1981)
    About Last Night…
    The 40-Year-Old Virgin
    The Social Network
    Letters to Juliet
    Quiet City
    Tucker: The Man and His Dream
    Another Year
    Ice Princess
    Dirty Dancing
    Lethal Weapon
    Hannah and Her Sisters
    Pineapple Express
    Yankee Doodle Dandy
    The Courtship of Eddie’s Father
    How Do You Know?
    The Kids are All Right
    Shoot the Moon
    Beach Blanket Bingo
    Private School
    My Tutor
    Pretty in Pink
    Be Kind Rewind
    The Runaways

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