Movies 2013

What have you seen?

233 Responses to “Movies 2013”

  1. Reid

    Django Unchained (2012)
    Dir. Quentin Tarantino

    I know Mitchell really liked this, and that surprises me. Honestly, I have a hard time imagining other people loving this film, so I can’t really say who will like this. If I had to take a wild guess, I would say Joel would think this is just OK. I guess I’d everyone else would react that way, too, but I’m uncertain.

    Dr. King Schultz (Christof Walz), German bounty hunter, frees a slave, Django, because the latter can identify the men Schultz is pursuing. In the process, they become partners and Schultz agrees to help free Django’s wife. The problem is that she is a slave to one of the biggest slave owners in the South, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

    This is basically Tarantino’s take on a Spaghetti Western. The film isn’t fragmented like other Tarantino films, which is a good thing, but there aren’t very many of the memorable dialogue, characters or scenes in the film–at least in my opinion. The story and plot are standard exploitation action film (with some Tarantino touches, like the use of pop music; references to older films, etc.), and the movie feels like an A movie posing as a B movie. If you like those films, then this might be for you. The movie was flat to me and problematic. I’ll go into the latter in the next section.

    The scenes became problematic as soon as the protagonists enter into Candie’s world. I’m especially thinking of several scenes like the dog attack and castration scene. These were not only disturbing, but I felt they were inappropriate and in bad taste. It would be like making a revenge fantasy set in a Nazi concentration camp and showing villains using gas chambers and ovens. I can’t think of a justification for these scenes. Is it a serious condemnation on these practices? They seem to function as the reprehensible behavior of villains that will make the vengeful and violent climax justified and “enjoyable.” if that’s the case, then I think he could have chose some other way to achieve this. I felt the decision crossed the line into bad taste. Or am I failing to understand the film? That could very well be, so I’m interested in hearing an alternative explanation of those scenes.

  2. Mitchell

    Off the top of my head (with a little bit of help from Wikipedia), here are some things to look forward to this year.

    • Stand-Up Guys. This is that Pacino / Walken flick. February 1.
    • Movie 43. Huge ensemble cast with 12 storylines and 11 directors! January 25.
    • Oz the Great and Powerful. Sam Raimi. Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis. Also, James Franco, unfortunately. But it still looks good. March 8.
    • Iron Man 3. May 3.
    • The Great Gatsby. DiCaprio as Gatsby. Carey Mulligan as Daisy. Tobey Maguire as Nick. This casting is super super super intriguing, and it’s Baz Luhrmann. May 10.
    • Star Trek into Darkness. May 17.
    • Much Ado About Nothing. Screenplay by Joss Whedon. And directed by Whedon. June 7.
    • Man of Steel. All I know (and care to know) about it is Amy Adams as Lois Lane. Rawr. June 14.
    • This is the End. Another Evan Goldbergh / Seth Rogen flick, but it has Michael Cera and Emma Watson. June 14.
    • Monsters University. June 21.
    • Grown Ups 2. July 12.
    • The Wolverine. July 26.
    • Ender’s Game. November 1!
    • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. November 15.
    • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. December 13.

    Most looking forward to Gatsby, Wolverine, Ender’s Game, The Hunger Games, The Hobbit.

  3. Reid

    Of that list, I think I’m most interested and enthusiastic (somewhat) in the new Star Trek, Iron Man and Hobbit films. I’m a little worried about Ender’s Game.

    I’m sort of intersted in Gatsby and Wolverine.

  4. Reid

    7th Heaven (1927)
    Dir. Frank Borzage
    Starring: Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, etc.

    I would recommend this to Penny, Larri and Grace. I’d put Arlyn in that first group, too. I think Mitchell, Kevin and Chris would think this is OK at least. I’m not sure about everyone else, although I think Jill has a decent shot of really liking this.

    This is a silent movie about Chico (Farrell–who, in some scenes, looks like Matthew McConaughey, if that means anything), a sewer worker, who saves a poor girl, Diane (Gaynor), from going to jail. While the police arrest Diane’s cruel and abusive older sister, the older sister points out Diane and Chico has to pretend to be married to Diane to save her. The officer warns that he’ll be visiting Chico’s apartment to verify this, and if he’s lying, he’ll be thrown in jail. Chico is distraught, but Diane says she’ll stay and pretend to be his wife. Chico agrees, on the condition that she must leave as soon as the coast is clear.

    There are two reasons I’m unsure about how others may react to this film. First, it’s a silent film, so some of you may have negative feelings towards silent films and that might be hard to overcome. The second issue involves potentially cheesy scenes–especially with the dialogue and acting. These were some of the best moments in the film for me, primarily because I think Janet Gaynor is terrific in this. She is great at conveying emotions and winning your sympathy. Her performance is timeless (as it is in Murnau’s Sunrise). Farrell is fine, but Gaynor makes the film for me. If you react the same way (and that’s not easy to predict), then I think you’ll like the film as much as I did.

    If it’s not obvious, the film is very romantic, and it serves as a good test of how romantic you are.

  5. Arlyn

    Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)
    Directed by Roger Michell
    Starring: Bill Murray, Laura Linney

    Hyde Park is President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s hometown, located near the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

    The story is based on letters between FDR, played by Murray, and his cousin and close confidant, Daisy, played by Linney. Told from Daisy’s point of view, the film takes place in the summer of 1939 when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (Queen Mother) visit the U.S. for the first time and where a reception is held for them at the President’s home in Hyde Park.

    Roger Michell also directed Notting Hill and Morning Glory. I thought Hyde Park was good but not as good as his earlier movies. I’ve been a fan of Bill Murray’s since seeing him in Meatballs (“It just doesn’t matter!”) and like seeing him in almost anything. Linney’s understated performance as the naive and trusting cousin made the movie worthwhile. I’m not sure how accurate the details are but if you’re an admirer of Murray’s or FDR’s there’s a good possibility you may like this film.


    Possible spoiler.
    The movie also deals with FDR’s relationships outside of his marriage. I didn’t know anything about the movie and actually thought Linney was playing the part of Eleanor Roosevelt, instead of his cousin. I wasn’t aware of his affairs and didn’t care to see a movie about them so this really wasn’t the movie I expected to see.

  6. Reid

    Decision at Sundown (1957)
    Dir. Budd Boetticher
    Starring: Randolph Scott, etc.

    I actually John would be really interested in this and could possibly like it a lot. I could recommend this to people like Penny, Grace, Mitchell, Kevin, Chris, but I wouldn’t say they would love the film (although they could). Joel, Jill and Marc would probably like it a little.

    This is part of the “Ranown cycle” of Westerns (“Ran”–for Randolph Scott and “own” for Harry Joe Brown–who produced the films) Budd Boetticher made in the 50s. I’ve seen all but three and this is my favorite so far.

    I really don’t want to say much about the film. The way the film develops makes the film interesting. The film opens with a man sticking his gun out of a stagecoach and telling the drivers to stop. Is he holding up the stagecoach? He looks off into the distance as if he’s waiting for someone.

    I’ll say a little more, as I suspect that won’t be enough information to help you decide. Let me say some general things about the film. The script is excellent–particularly the way the story evolves and integrates characters (several side characters that are interesting and well-cast) and themes. This is pretty rare for film, even more so for a Western. Wow! I should also say that this is an accessible film, but it’s also very intelligent and has some substance. (It also doesn’t have a whole lot of action and the action it does have probably won’t be that satisfying to modern viewers.)

    OK, more about the plot. After the man–Bart Allison (Randolph Scott)– stops the stagecoach someone else arrives on with two horses. Bart asks if the man, Sam (Noah Beery) has found Tate Kimbrough. He has and begins to take Bart to the town where Kimbrough is at. When Bart gets to town, they learn that Kimbrough is getting married that day. The problem is that Bart wants to kill Kimbrough. Why he wants to do this and what happens is revealed as the film progresses. As I said there are interesting characters in the film and the film really brings them into the story in interesting ways. I think it’s worth watching, particularly since the film is a little under 80 minutes.

    There’s a lot I want to say about the film, but I fear that some of you will accidently see these comments and spoil some of the little delights in this film.

    I can mention some things about the acting, casting and characters, which shouldn’t spoil the film. I’m thinking specifically of the supporting characters. They’re not great characters or acting per se, but the actors in these roles really add a nice flavor and feel to the movie. Plus, the way Boetticher uses them–the scenes that involve these characters and how these scenes move the plot along and fit in with the themes–is just exceptional. There’s a lot of characters and complexity, to the story and, to some degree, to the characters. How the film handles all of this is something to see in my opinion. (I also loved the resolution of the film, although I thought it should have ended a few minutes earlier.)

    I must say that the film surprised me in some ways, and maybe others wouldn’t be surprised as I was. If so, your reaction may not be as enthusiastic as mine.

  7. Mitchell

    I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey again last night, this time in IMAX 3D (I saw it in 2D the first time). I’m going to admit that it was a cool effect, kind of a cinematic version of listening to Dark Side of the Moon with headphones in the dark. It just wasn’t an improvement, and the coolness factor just wasn’t worth $17.50.

    In addition to the dimming effect, which I have complained about numerous times, and the awkwardness and discomfort of wearing 3D glasses over my prescription progressives, which I have also complained about numerous times, I noticed that there is a blurring effect if you tilt your head more than about 5 degrees to the left or right. That’s not a lot of leeway, and I tilt my head for comfort almost all the time when I see a film in theaters.

    The sound in the the IMAX theater in the Cannery is excellent. Kinda made me wish they were playing Dark Side of the Moon instead.

  8. Mitchell

    I just realized that the blurring effect may be specific to people with multi-focal lenses. It sucks to get old!

  9. Reid

    Mikey and Nicky (1976)
    Dir. Elaine May
    Starring: John Cassavetes, Peter Falk, Ned Beatty, etc.

    I’d recommend this to Kevin, Chris and Mitchell–although it’s not something I’d urge them to see. I just think they would enjoy it, at least mildy. I think Penny would probably like this, too, but I’m not sure about Grace. Don might like some moments, but I’m not sure how he would feel about the film overall. I guess no for Joel and Jill.

    Nicky (Cassavetes) is panicking while holed up in a hotel room. He thinks someone has ordered a hit on him, so he calls up his friend, Mikey (Falk) for help. Mikey things Nicky is a paranoid mess, and despite trying to reassure his friend that no one’s after him, Nicky won’t have any of it. So, to humor him, Mikey says they have to hurry and leave. Thus, begins their journey on the lam.

    There are two things that stand out for me. First, May is excellent and mixing both serious dramatic moments with comedic ones. May worked with Mike Leigh doing sketch comedy bits, and you can see that on the screen. However, the scenes all feel more like straight drama, with these small comedic moments.

    Some of the comedic moments remind me of Charles Grodin and Robert De Niro in Midnight Run, specifically the way Grodin would exasperate and disarm De Niro. In this film, Cassavetes is in the Grodin role, except he’s a bit more wild and out-of-control at times. Additionally, this film is darker and more serious than Midnight Run.

    The scenes between Falk and Cassavetes are a pleasure to watch, and it’s the second aspect of the film that I really liked. Cassavetes is known for his directing, but based on the films I’ve seen of him, he’s also an excellent actor. If you like good acting, I think the film is worth watching. The film moves from one situation to another, but there’s also a decent plot that keeps moving the film forward. However, overall, one should keep in mind the film is closer to a character-driven independent film, more than a mainstream Hollywood film.

    May also directed the original version of The Heartbreak Kid, which also has a good mix of serious drama and comedy. If that appeals to you, I’d recommend that film as well. (Charles Grodin plays the lead and Eddie Albert is very good in that.)

  10. Mitchell

    Gangster Squad (2013)
    Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Sean Penn, Michael Peña, and Giovanni Ribisi. Directed by Ruben Fleischer.

    Gangster SquadIt’s 1949 in Los Angeles, and Mickey Cohen, a gangster with ties to Chicago mobs, is set on claiming L.A. for his own, severing all association with Chicago bosses. Because he has judges and nearby police chiefs in his back pocket, attempts to prosecute him and his thugs through legal channels fail. This inspires L.A. police chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) to form an unofficial squad of cops, led by John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), to take Cohen down, working outside the law. O’Mara’s Ganster Squad Unit is told to leave its police badges at home while it infiltrates and disrupts Cohen’s businesses, gunning down those who have a problem with that.

    gangster squadGangster Squad is a heavily stylized gangster movie, put together in the style of the great films of the Thirties. Dialogue is typically rapidfire and melodramatic; characters are exaggerated and cool. Gun fights are exciting and improbable. And the good guy gets the pretty girl in the end, even if that girl is Mickey Cohen’s own moll.

    It’s an okay movie, if stylized tributes to old formats turn you on. As a fan of early Humphrey Bogart, I’ve seen more than my fair share of such films and was pleasantly taken back to the black-and-white movies my dad let me stay up late to watch when I was a teen. Brolin as the square, do-right cop is pretty much dead-on. Nolte and Cohen give their characters the comic-strip treatment they beg for (I was reminded a lot of the Warren Beatty Dick Tracy film, for some reason, even though I remember very little about it).

    gsThe highlight for me are Ryan Gosling as a reluctant member of the unit, and Emma Stone as Cohen’s girl. People have criticized their lack of chemistry, but I found it to be one of the few understated elements of the story, and even that‘s slightly heavy-handed. Films in the Thirties were far more limited in how visually sexual they could be, and there is a moment I just love in Gangster Squad where Gosling casually, coolly tamps a cigarette on Stone’s bare upper arm before lighting it, the kind of thing that would likely have been okay in one of the old pictures if someone had been cool enough to think of it.

    There are forms of American film that have fallen by the wayside. Social guidance films from the Fifties, beach party films from the Sixties, and Blaxploitation films from the Seventies, for example, had their time and place. But the gangster film seems to be one that never loses its appeal. I like the concept of bringing back a disappeared style of a topic that’s endured, and while this isn’t the kind of thing that sticks with a viewer once he or she has left the theater, the truth is that most of the movies it pays tribute to never really did either. That doesn’t mean they weren’t fun to look at.


  11. Mitchell

    Reid says this approach was taken in the 1987 film The Untouchables, which by all accounts is a great film. I haven’t seen it, so if that’s true, I’m guessing you might not find this as much fun as I did, if you’ve seen that one. And Penny and Reid both kind of dismissed my pleasure at the cigarette-tamping scene, but I’ve been thinking about it and I stand by what I wrote here. I don’t want to ruin the scene for anyone who might see it, but the juxtaposition of that suggestive tamping and the other thing you’re seeing on the screen at the same moment is pretty cool. I almost challenge anyone who sees it not to agree.

  12. Mitchell

    Promised Land (2012)
    Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Krasinski, Hal Holbrook. Written by John Krasinski and Matt Damon. Directed by Gus Van Sant.

    Promised LandPromised Land, no matter what it looks like, is not a movie about fracking, the process of shooting water deep into shale in order to extract natural gas. That’s a hot topic right now, for some very good reasons, and those reasons are addressed (to some degree) by the characters in the movie, but Matt Damon and John Krasinski, who wrote the screenplay, mean to use fracking as a plot element to explore the problems faced by rural American communities in a changing economy that has left their treasured (and inherited) lifestyle behind. That’s what the movie’s about, and although it’s fairly well-trodden territory in film, it’s a noble ambition, one that’s worthy of even more movies.

    Damon plays Steve Butler, a representative of a huge natural gas company, purchasing drilling rights from the residents of a small Pennsylvania farming community. The farms have been in families for generations, but it’s been difficult for a long time for any of these families to prosper. Butler offers them the potential to earn a lot of money, simply by allowing the company to drill on their land.

    promised landSome residents are wary, not trusting the outsiders who stand to make a lot more money than they do. Others, including a town merchant who sells gas, guns, and guitars, see this as a chance to inject much-needed cash into a struggling economy. Butler brings with him his own small-town roots, explaining to residents, one after another, that when the Caterpillar plant closed down, he watched his own hometown die a slow death. His partner, Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand), brings the mommy angle: all she has ever cared about is that her children would have a better opportunity than she had to live a prosperous life. Together, they win the town over, one resident at a time.

    But at a town meeting one day, one citizen raises concerns about the safety of fracking. A science teacher at the local high school, this objector (Hal Holbrook) is able to raise enough concern that the town agrees to have a vote on whether or not to allow the drilling. Now this little town is a battleground, and a young member (Krasinski) of an eco-conservation group shows up and spreads propaganda, distributing flyers depicting dead farm animals.

    promised landThe reps are forced to stay in town longer than planned, Thomason striking up a friendship with the guitar merchant, and Butler becoming friendly with another teacher at the high school (Rosemarie DeWitt), herself the owner of a farm handed down by her parents and grandparents.

    It’s a film that’s about more than it seems, and yet it’s about less than it could be. In trying its best not to take sides on a contentious issue, it’s too careful not to let us get to know the town’s residents as well as it should, and it has more than ample opportunity to let us in. While the Damon and Holbrook characters are pretty well fleshed-out, most of the rest of the town isn’t, which makes it easier not to get swayed one way or another, but it makes it harder for us to care about these specific people in this specific town, which could have been a beautiful thing.

    Performances are solid. I was especially pleased to see Rosemarie DeWitt here, who was really good as Ben Affleck’s wife in The Company Men and as Ben Stiller’s wife in The Watch, and Hal Holbrook brings an unexpected sympathy not only to his fellow townspeople, but to Thomason and Butler as well. Yet as much as I was taken by the performances, I was disappointed by a script that just doesn’t let us in, and that’s the fault of Damon and Krasinski. They had a great idea, but one gets the feeling that they needed to spend more time on it. I’d love to see them work together again this way, as writers and actors.


  13. Mitchell

    Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
    Jessica Chastain. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow.

    zero darkZero Dark Thirty spans ten years in following a CIA agent’s pursuit of Osama bin Laden from September 11, 2001 until the time of his death at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALS in 2011. The agent, Maya (Jessica Chastain), is young, and her whole career has been spent only in this pursuit. Using intelligence gathered in a multitude of ways, including torture of prisoners with ties to Al Qaeda, Maya posits that the key to finding bin Laden may be a courier named Abu Ahmed. Singularly focused on the task of identifying Ahmed, she disregards the skepticism of colleagues, surviving terrorist attacks as she draws closer to her target.

    The story is kind of confusing at first, as we’re not really sure who Maya is or what her job is. As events slowly lead her toward what we know is the historical end of bin Laden’s life, we’re swept along with Maya’s obsession. Her frustrations become ours, and her cathartic payoff when it’s all over is also ours. That’s about as much character development as we get: Maya is a secret agent, so not much is known about her by the actors and producers of the film beyond the reported events. The film is presented the same way, as a series of events leading to a known end.

    thirtyThis is the first role I’ve seen Chastain in, and she does a really good job. She’s kind of a cross between Jodie Foster and Julianne Moore, giving a kind of smart spunkiness with just a hint of vulnerable sweetness. When she gets mad in this movie, it is a thing to behold, and one can see how one young agent like her could get just the right few people on her side so that she could reach her goal. Although there are performances I liked better in 2012, I’m not going to have a problem with her winning the Academy Award for best actress. Although this film is carried by its plot, that plot rests on one character, and she carries it well.

    Despite Chastain’s excellent performance and the excitement of the final act, it’s difficult to call this a very good movie. I was interested and engaged from beginning to end, and of course I cared about (and had investment in) the character’s success, but I’m not sure how successful is art that has as simple a singular purpose as telling us what happened. It makes a good story; I just don’t know if it makes for more than a pretty-good movie.


  14. Mitchell

    The Impossible (2012)
    Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland. Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona.

    lucasI suppose it would be easy to think of The Impossible as a disaster picture. I haven’t seen very many disaster pictures, so I don’t know what characterizes them. However, although I was moved by the plight of the victims in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami as represented in this movie, it was neither their despair nor eventual happiness that moved me to tears: it was the way some people, at the depths of human tragedy, still manage to reach out to help others, and that’s what I think this film is really about.

    If there is ever a time when human decency could be waived without blame, it is in times of horrible despair; yet there are characters in The Impossible, including members of the central character’s immediate family, who put personal peril on the back burner in order to help others stuck in the same peril. How does this happen? And is there any way to know whether I, in similar circumstances, would have the strength of character and the conviction of principal to do the same? I think it is a huge failure on my part not to know the answer, and if The Impossible succeeds in nothing else, it succeeds in reminding us that there are people in this world who are good, and that the only thing keeping any of us from that same virtue is choice.

    maria and lucasNaomi Watts and Ewan McGregor star as Maria and Henry Bennett, a couple visiting Thailand with their three young sons. When the tsunami hits the resort they’re staying in, Henry has his two younger boys in his arms. Maria is crouched against a glass window, retrieving a page from the book she’s been reading. Lucas, the eldest son, is standing alone near the pool. They are swept up in an unbelievably horrifying surge of seawater and debris, batted helplessly about by trees, cars, lumber, and the ceaseless ocean. In what is an emotionally draining sequence, the film-makers offer a jaw-dropping look at what it might be like to be trapped beneath water in such an awful situation, with sights and sounds ghastly and amazing to behold.

    As awful as the wave itself is, the aftermath is worse. The parents, now separated and unaware of whether the others are alive or dead begin their mission first to survive and then to locate their loved ones. We first see things from Maria’s perspective; then we see them from Henry’s. And as things seem to get worse and worse, we are given glimpses of incredible humanity, from villagers determined to bring those who need aid to the nearest hospital, from others who gather the dead for identification, and from the victims themselves as they offer what little strength they have to each other in whatever way they can, “even if it’s the last thing we do.”

    henryLucas, who can be no more than eleven or twelve, becomes the strength of the family, a horrible burden no little boy should have to shoulder, yet he is up to the task, and Tom Holland is excellent in this role, visibly fighting back panic in order to offer his mother peace, and then fighting back his worry for her in order to offer peace to others. I seldom am impressed by young boys as actors, but Holland really impresses in what cannot have been an easy job.

    The film makes a few missteps, especially in its setup. We are all aware, as the first frames flash before us, that we are about to see something horrible, but the film-makers find it necessary to give us a completely unnecessary sense of foreboding even before the Bennett family arrives in Thailand. Additionally, there is kind of miraculous finish that I suspect is true to events as they happened. Still, the fact that they may be true does not mean they are believable as presented: I wondered if something could have been done not to alter the facts, but to offer them in a way that might explain how it might have happened.

    I know what I sound like. I’m asking for an explanation of something that might have been a miracle, and what is art if it doesn’t give us a chance at witnessing and believing in a miracle? People fall in love, dogs find their way across the country, young Jedis bring down empires, and families are brought together in movies all the time. Yet I think that if I were the one to have experienced the miracle, I’d at least try to make sense of it, even if after the attempt I conceded that there is no explanation. As the film is, I have a few theories anyway; I guess I’d have liked seeing what the storytellers thought too.

    On the strength of performances by Watts, McGregor, and Holland in combination with some amazing technical accomplishments in depicting the horrible tsunami, I’m giving this one a pretty strong recommendation with the prayer that none of us should ever find ourselves in similar circumstances, but with the added prayer that if we do, we’ll have the strength of character to offer a hand to anyone who might need it.


  15. Mitchell

    In Another Country (2012)
    English and Korean with English subtitles.
    Isabelle Huppert, Yoo Jun-sang, Kwon Hae-hyo, Moon So-ri, and Jung Yoo-mi. Written and directed by Hong Sang-soo.

    2A French woman who speaks no Korean. A young woman who manages a bed-and-breakfast. A married couple expecting a first child. A muscular but air-headed lifeguard. A coastal Korean town, some soju, a lighthouse, and the line, “You have to be careful with that kind of Korean man.” These are the ingredients, presented three times, in three separate stories of Hong Sang-soo’s first English-language film, In Another Country, a fun, mostly light-hearted actors’ exploration of setting, character, and language.

    Isabelle Huppert stars as three different women named Anne: first a famous French film director, then a woman seeking time with a man who is not her husband, and finally a divorcee whose husband has left her for a young Korean secretary. In each story, set in the same town with roughly the same supporting actors, the French visitor has a different reason for visiting, and the surrounding characters provide different responses to her presence. Not exactly a character study, the film feels more like the result of an improvisation workshop where actors are given a rough skeleton of a plot and multiple chances to play it out, turning the best stuff into a movie script.

    1Unlike most films I’ve seen with similar structure, In Another Country is consistently interesting and engaging. Anne’s effort to express herself in the English that most of the other characters have only a basic grasp of feels genuine, and while a spirit of goodwill permeates most of the film’s mood, there are underlying currents of suspicion and mistrust, in doses small enough not to veer off into intrigue but present enough to give certain scenes a healthy tension.

    There is a strong mumblecore sensibility to Hong’s approach. A musical score is used extremely sparingly, and only as a transition from one scene to another. Dialogue is sometimes drowned out by ambient noises, such as the sounds of footsteps crunching on gravel, or a sudden gust of wind making that blowing sound we always hear in film clips shot with our smartphones or camcorders. The use of the ambient sound as part of the film, and not something to be mixed down or processed out, is one of my favorite things about this movie; I love the way it creates the voyeuristic illusion of detachment and intimacy with these interesting characters. Camera movement is mostly unremarkable, but there are a few scenes where jerky zoom-ins create the effect of our spying on these characters’ conversations.

    3One film-making decision I disagree with is the sequencing of the three stories. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the third Anne character is perhaps not quite as likable as the first two, and since she is the main character, it seems weird not to let us leave her in her most positive light, unless the film is trying to make a less-than-admiring statement about European women in Korea. If this is the case, it’s an even worse decision because the rest of the script does little to support such a thesis.

    The film really succeeds on Huppert’s gentle, graceful performance. Even in scenes where she tries awkwardly to help someone understand what she means by “lighthouse,” there is a pleasant lack of urgency in her delivery, and her confident acting serves the other actors well as they revolve around her and respond to her. At her most appealing, she is a glowing, laughing presence among friends, believably magnetic among others, and someone impossible to look away from in a most enjoyable movie.


  16. Mitchell

    Roger Ebert hasn’t been able to review films since he’s in physical therapy for a foot injury. He’s having guests review films on his website, and Richard Roeper’s review of Movie 43 is hilarious. I’ve read several scathing reviews of this picture, but Roeper’s is the best. Worth checking out, which may be more than can be said of the film.

    Even if you might think that sitting through Movie 43 would be an adventure along the lines of experiencing Showgirls or Howard the Duck, you’ll be filled with regret five minutes into this atrocity. There’s camp-fun bad and interestingly horrible bad, and then there’s just awful.

    Movie 43 is the Citizen Kane of awful.

  17. Arlyn

    The Impossible

    And is there any way to know whether I, in similar circumstances, would have the strength of character and the conviction of principal to do the same? I think it is a huge failure on my part not to know the answer…

    Hmmm, from what I know of you, I don’t doubt you’d lend a hand if in circumstances of peril and reach out to help others. Am I wrong here?

    In what is an emotionally draining sequence, the film-makers offer a jaw-dropping look at what it might be like to be trapped beneath water in such an awful situation, with sights and sounds ghastly and amazing to behold.

    When I saw this at the Landmark movie theater, they had to stop the movie because a woman had fainted in the upper balcony. No one complained and we were given time to go to the restroom. I’m not sure it had to do with the sounds or sights but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.

    The performances by McGregor and Watts were strong as usual and I, too, was taken by the oldest son played by Tom Holland.

    Additionally, there is kind of miraculous finish that I suspect is true to events as they happened. Still, the fact that they may be true does not mean they are believable as presented…

    I don’t know how this could have been done differently but I was disappointed in the finish as well.


  18. Arlyn

    In Another Country

    I saw this at the AFI Film Festival in November. Also, I’ve seen one other film by Hong Sang-soo, Night and Day (2008), a Korean language film taking place in Paris.

    …in three separate stories of Hong Sang-soo’s first English-language film, In Another Country, a fun, mostly light-hearted actors’ exploration of setting, character, and language.

    On the exploration of language, I thought about how one would go about directing a film where the dialogue wasn’t in his first language, mainly thinking about how he’d be able distinguish the tone of the delivery or emotions of the actors, not to mention that some of the actors were speaking mainly in English which I think is a second language for them. This is both intriguing and impressive.

    The use of the ambient sound as part of the film, and not something to be mixed down or processed out, is one of my favorite things about this movie.

    Good point. It’s been a couple of months but it’s coming back to me. I’m flashing back to Huppert’s “crunching on gravel” with her huge bag (she’s so tiny!) and umbrella as she explores the town.

    One film-making decision I disagree with is the sequencing of the three stories.

    I remember liking the third story the least too. True they should have ended with one of the better stories. I liked the older Korean woman a lot in one of the stories but I’m not remembering which. I’m referring to the scene where she told an amusing story while they were gathered around the dinner table outside but I don’t remember what the conversation was about.

    I love the way it creates the voyeuristic illusion of detachment and intimacy with these interesting characters.

    I felt this “voyeuristic illusion”, like we were peering into and at the same time were a part of what felt like experimental filmmaking and “improvisation workshop.” I liked this feel to the film and this “intimacy” with the very likeable characters, especially Huppert.


  19. Mitchell


    Why do you think the film doesn’t circle back around to the frame part of the story, the girl writing the scripts while waiting to see what becomes of her and her mother? I kind of wished it did. It feels a little too open-ended, the way it’s set up.

    In that third story, I thought Anne was terrible; it was tough to like her. She takes the girl’s umbrella. She takes the monk’s pen. She almost kisses someone else’s husband. Do you think she’s a flawed character, or is this awful behavior somehow her way of dealing with being left by her husband? I wonder if this is even worth thinking about.

    I’m glad you liked it too.

  20. Arlyn

    In Another Country

    I never really thought about why they chose to end it with the third story. But now that I think about it, the way it ended had a bigger impact than I thought. She was definitely flawed and although the third Anne was unlikeable, Huppert did a good job at these three interpretations of Anne. Actually I had forgotten about this script part. I assumed it was experimental and didn’t bother to question why it felt open-ended like you mentioned. If it “circled back” to the girl concluding her thoughts, then maybe it would have had a better finish.

  21. Mitchell

    Parker (2013)
    Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez.

    parkerI’ve never seen a Jason Statham film unless Statham’s turn as Tybalt in Gnomeo and Juliet counts, which it shouldn’t. I guess I can see what the big deal is, with his rough British accent and tough charisma. I could tell there was a decent actor in there wanting a better picture than Parker. And because I’ve seen Jennifer Lopez in films good and bad, I felt the same for her: there’s just not enough movie here for someone of her beauty and talent. This movie certainly doesn’t suck, but it’s barely memorable beyond a couple of violent fight scenes and one gratuitous look at Lopez in her undies.

    Statham plays Parker, some kind of big-time thief with a code of honor. He leads a five-man, million-dollar heist of the Ohio State Fair, and as he makes his getaway with his cohorts, he is offered a chance at using the fair’s loot as seed money for a much bigger operation. Parker doesn’t trust these other crooks, so he opts out, wanting only his fair cut of that day’s take. The other four, needing all the money for their new plan, shoot Parker and leave him for dead at the side of a road.

    parkerBig mistake, as you can imagine. Parker survives, and with the help of his fiance’s father (Nick Nolte), whom he refers to as his business partner, he tracks his four would-be murderers to the location of their big job: Palm Beach, Florida. There, Parker meets Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), a struggling big-ticket real-estate agent who agrees to help Parker look for a home. Leslie may be down on her luck, but she’s sharp, and it doesn’t take her long to figure out that Parker is up to something. And she wants in.

    I’m going to admit that although, story-wise, this film is pretty weak, there are a few nice touches that give it a little more resonance than I’ve come to expect from a movie like this. Characters who at first seem pretty shallow are given some semblance of depth, such as Parker’s fiance Claire (Emma Booth) and Leslie’s mother (Patti LuPone), who seems to have more going on than even her daughter is aware of. But the bad guys are just your regular bad guys, and I have a bit of difficulty rooting for a main character who’s a big-time thief, personal honor code notwithstanding, especially since very little is done to let the viewer get to know Parker. Much more time is spent developing Leslie’s character, and as a result, she’s the real good guy in this movie, and not enough time is spent on her.

    I’ll also admit that almost any movie that lets Jennifer Lopez fill the screen the way she can is at least okay by me, and that’s what Parker is: just okay.


  22. Mitchell

    Movie 43 (2013)
    Huge cast I won’t list. Thirteen directors I also won’t list.

    1Movie 43 has been compared by critics to The Groove Tube and The Kentucky Fried Movie, but I haven’t seen those, so what it reminds me of is Amazon Women on the Moon, an overlooked comedy from 1987 featuring short sketches, movies within movies, and fake commercials. Like that film from my frosh year of college, Movie 43 has a veritable who’s-who of currently popular actors doing silly things you’d never see them do in their own full-length features. Unlike that film, however, this one is rife with scatological, gross-out humor that you probably couldn’t see even on Night Flight, which is where I think I first saw Amazon Women on the Moon.

    2I get the feeling that the point of a gross-out comedy is to take a funny or silly idea and then to take it too far, to cross the line from comedy to tastelessness. Tastelessness is not funny, but I think the effort to push into it can be, and in that respect, the film is kind of successful, especially when the vehicles for that push are respected actors and actresses such as Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, and Terrence Howard. The thought of Naomi Watts and Liev Schrieber home-schooling their teen and including hazing as part of the experience is kind of funny. The idea of a speed-dating event in Gotham with Robin in full Dynamic Duo attire is kind of funny, especially since the sketch reunites Justin Long (“I’m a Mac”) and John Hodgman (“And I’m a PC”). There’s even something funny about Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant on a blind date, playing Truth or Dare in a Mexican restaurant in order to get to know each other better without going through smalltalk first.

    3But those are just the ideas. When the execution includes Watts seducing her homeschooled boy, an extended monologue by Batman about Supergirl’s pubic hair, and Berry using a turkey baster to inject hot sauce in her privates, the execution might be creative but it’s neither entertaining nor funny.

    Two other sketches almost work. In one, Richard Gere is the head of the corporation that markets the iBabe: an MP3 player contained in a life-sized, realistic-looking female doll. The sketch mostly works because of Aasif Mandvi, whose delivery automatically gives the bit a kind of The Daily Show feel, and Gere’s rant about how stupid it is to have to label his product with a warning to teenaged boys who try to have sex with an MP3 player. In the other, Kieran Culkin and Emma Stone play teens whose dirty talk is picked up by the PA system in a grocery store. That one almost works because Culkin and Stone are both so good at selling teen angst. The words that come out of their mouths might be outlandish, but they play their characters so straight and so skillfully that you believe they’d be saying them.

    I’ve now had something nice to say about five of the fourteen sketches in Movie 43, which is a higher percentage of favorable content and concept than I could give Event Horizon or the Tim Burton remake of Planet of the Apes. It’s definitely a bad movie, but there is a tiny, tiny, tiny spark of potential here, and there are at least a couple of things to like about it. Richard Roeper has called it “the Citizen Kane of awful,” but that’s overstating the awfulness of this film. It doesn’t suck THAT much.


  23. Mitchell

    I honestly don’t think this is spoiling anything about Movie 43, but if you’re sensitive to that kind of thing, this might be funnier if you experience it yourself without my telling about it.


    In the sketch with Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant, the characters start off with difficult but kinda tame dares. Merchant is dared to cup the buttocks of a big tough guy at the bar. Berry is dared to blow the candles out on a birthday cake before the blind birthday boy gets a chance to do it.

    Then the dares get raunchy: Merchant tattoos a penis on his face; Berry makes guacamole using a breast as the only utensil. The dares are presented very rapid-fire, with no dialogue in between. I laughed out loud when, amid all the raunchiness, one of the dares was Merchant sitting with Snooki (from Jersey Shore) while she read Moby Dick aloud. Hahahahaha. SO silly. And a funny dare.

  24. Arlyn

    Putting these two on my Bobby Cannavale Films I Have to See list.

  25. Reid

    Gummo (1997)
    Dir. Harmony Korine

    No to Don, Marc, Joel, Jill and Larri. I’m pretty sure Mitchell wouldn’t enjoy this, but I’m pretty sure he would be interested in this. Penny and Kevin would probably react in a similar way. Of all the idiots, I think Chris might have the best chance of liking this, but I’m not really sure.

    This film is basically a potpourri of scenes depicting…if I have to be blunt I’d say–white trash. Well, not just white trash, but also the macabre and strange underbelly of white America–white working class suburbia to be more precise. In a way the film deals with similar subject matter as David Lynch, except in a more direct and less stylish way; it’s also a kind of neo-realistic version of Pink Flamingos.

    Many of the scenes feel like real video footage (and they might be) and there isn’t a strong coherent narrative stringing them together. However, two main characters–two teens looking to kill cats–sort of guide us through the film.

    The lack of narrative and the downbeat nature of the film would mahe film unappealing to most mainstream viewers. Indeed, the film feels more like a anthropological documentary–a kind of ethnographic case study of American white trash. In the next section, I’ll discuss what the film is trying to do.

    Also, if you are a big cat or animal lover, this film is probably not for you.

    In the film, we see people talking about or actually killing cats, sometimes torturing them. For me, the cats come to symbolize not just the people in the film but the millieu they belong to. Near the end of the funny, one of the characters runs up to the camera, stares directly into it, while holding up a dead cat (after it’s been shot by the two protagonists)–as if to say, “Here, look at this.” And that’s what the film seems to be doing.

    Based on the principle that too much of a good thing can be bad, I think this is a worthwhile objective. It presents the “yang” to the “yin” of most TV family sitcoms we’ve grown up with–and it does provide a balancing effect–maye even an antidote, in some ways–that I find interesting and valuable. TV sitcoms present a white-washed (in more than one sense) version of American families, and this film presents a darker (not literally) and even more realistic portrayal (although the focus is on the youth) that directly challenge our images of white American presented on TV and many mainstream films. At the very least, the film can be a good conversation starter on white America and children in the U.S.

  26. Reid

    Oslo, August 31st (2011)
    Dir. Joachim Trier

    My reaction to the film is probably inhibiting my ability to say who will like this or not. I can say that Don, Marc, Joel and Larri wouldn’t like this. Jill is close behind. I’m not sure about the others, but I’d be surprised if the others really liked this.

    Anders is a thirty-something recovering drug-addict. He’s living at a clinic and the film follows him as he visits friends and family. The film begins with Anders attempting to commit suicide, so we know something is not right.

    For me, the film felt like a depiction of the typical well-educated twenty or thirty-something–that is, someone struggling to find meaning and purpose in their life. Maybe the film is going for something more that I’m not aware of, but that’s basically what I got out of the film.

    People Will Talk (1951)
    Dir. Joseph Mankiewicz
    Starring: Cary Grant, Jeanne Crain, etc.

    Penny, Grace and Mitchell would find this entertaining enough, but more of a pleasant diversion than a must-see. I think other people would feel the same way. It’s not somethign I can see others really liking.

    Dr. Noah Praetorious (Grant) is a doctor who has an unorthodox methodolgy: he believes in treating people humanely as possible. For this, he’s targeted by a envious colleague (Hume Cronyn) who tries to dig up dirt on Praetorious.

    However, the main story involves Praetorius and a young pregnant woman. She is troubled about the baby and doesn’t want to tell her father. Praetorious feels sorry for her and tries to help her out.

    There are moments of good dialogue and genuine mysteries that kept my attention. The weak link for me was Jeanne Crain as the pregnant woman. A relatively fun film, if not exceptional.

  27. Mitchell

    Kahala is showing an anthology of all the Oscar-nominated animated shorts. I had an appointment in Kaimuki yesterday so on my way home I took it in.

    longestI’d already seen two of the shorts: “Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare'” screened before theater showings of The Artist and is a great use of a background character in her own vehicle. I love that it’s set in an Ayn-Rand-inspired daycare center. It’s a cute, funny, sweet story. I wish I was more Rand-literate, because I’m sure there were a million sight gags I missed. As it is, I was the only one laughing at the sight gags I managed to catch.

    The other one I’d already seen was screened before Wreck-It Ralph: “Paperman,” which I think is gong to be the easy winner. An office drone meets a pretty lady on a train platform and devises a clever (but ill-executed) plan to meet her again. This is so sweet it made me a little misty. The animation is wonderful, too, reminding me so much of films in the fifties for some reason.

    If people frequently send you YouTube links to cool stuff they discover there, you’ve probably seen the cool stop-motion animation of PES. I admire the animation, but without a story or characters, it’s just cool animation. Which is fine if you’re not talking about Oscars. “Fresh Guacamole” is the name of the short, and I’ll bet it’s on YouTube if you want to take a look. My video students really appreciated the difficulty of the work and I’d love to try something similar, but it’s just not rich enough to be compared to the previous nominees.

    “Head over Heels” is the kind of thing I’m used to seeing in this category: a (married?) man and woman living in the same house experience gravity differently from each other: she lives on his ceiling and he lives on hers, the tops of their heads barely missing each other when they pass beneath/above. They share a fridge that slides up and down the wall for convenient access to both; they share a photo of them, which they take turns orienting to be right-side-up from their perspective. This is really sweet too, but it lacks the visual creativity that one sort of expects from such a creative idea. I’ll be surprised if this one wins.

    adamAnd here’s my choice: “Adam and Dog.” The combination of beautiful story and beautiful animation, plus some sound that really touched me for some reason, is too much for me. I’m not going to say anything more about this because it’s so nice to watch it unfold. But if you love dogs (and if you don’t, why am I your friend?), you will love this fifteen-minute short.

    The Oscar is going to go to “Paperman,” but boy would I like to see it go to “Adam and Dog.”

    There are another four or five shorts to close out the reel; they are not Oscar nominees but apparently were given high consideration for nominations. I have to say, they are a considerable step down from the first five. But they are still interesting and entertaining.

    Apparently, this is available right now for rental from iTunes, as are the Oscar nominees for live-action shorts and documentary shorts. Might be worth checking out.

  28. Reid

    Side Effects (2013)
    Dir. Steven Soderbergh
    Starring: Channing Tatum, Rooney Mara, Jude Law, etc.

    I’d recommend this to Joel, Marc and Penny. They won’t think this is a great movie, but I’m confident they’ll like it. Jill is really close behind.I’m going to recommend this to Mitchell, too. I may not be as confident as I am about the others, but there are several things I’m pretty sure he’ll appreciate–even if he doesn’t completely love the film. (At worst, you’ll say it’s OK. I predict a 60s-70s score.) Jill is close behind, as is Don, Chris, Kevin and Grace. Really, I think people will think this is a solid film. (Read the next section to get a better sense.) If you’re desperate to see a film, and you don’t know what to choose, I’d recommend seeing this.

    Here’s what I knew going into the film: a rich couple tries an experimental drug; the movie is a thriller. That’s all I’d recommend you know about the film going in. I’ll say a few more things. First, I’m pretty confident that the film will entertain most of you and that you’ll find it worth watching, if you’re in the mood for a thriller. However, the film did take a while to get going, which is the primary reason I’m hesitant to recommend this.

    The acting is solid (especially Rooney Mara), and the film looks good, but not necessarily spectacular. The film was pretty satisfying, and there are some films I could compare it to, but that would spoil the film. In terms of quality, I’d say it’s similar to something like Lincoln Lawyer: both aren’t great per se, but they’re solid entertainment movies; better than most of the Hollywood films in their respective genres.

  29. Mitchell

    This is not a review, but:

    I went to see Identity Thief against my better judgment Friday. It seemed to have everything going for it except a story that didn’t insult my intelligence. About midway through, I went to the restroom and as I came out, I thought I could just go to my car and leave and not really care about what I was missing.

    Alas, I went back to my seat. And the movie was almost over and I started to write on Twitter: Just end this movie already! But before I got halfway through that sentence, the film stopped and the houselights went up. It was a power outage.

    I stood in line for my reentry voucher and realized I do want to see how it ends, but man, I really don’t know if I can sit through all that one more time. There was maybe ten minutes left in the movie and I do care about how it resolves. Ugh.

  30. Reid

    That sucks. Something similar happened to me with Con Air. Luckily, I didn’t care about seeing the ending. (Hopefully, you can just wait until you see it on video or something.)

  31. Mitchell

    Stand Up Guys (2013)
    Christopher Walken, Al Pacino, Alan Arkin, Julianna Margulies

    stand upDespite the promising trailer for Stand Up Guys, in which Christopher Walken and Al Pacino play aging gangsters, I had very low expectations. Consider these factors:

    • Christopher Walken. I’ve written about this before: liking a Walken performance depends on his ability to make you forget all the comic impressions of him. This is known as the Nicholson Factor, or it would be if I had any say.
    • Al Pacino. Can this guy even act anymore? I saw him on Letterman last week and could scarcely believe this was once the actor who played Michael Corleone. During Pacino’s appearance on The Late Show, Kevin Spacey emerged from backstage and did a better Pacino than Pacino was doing.
    • Alan Arkin. Boy, have I not liked Arkin for the past few years. As I have also written before, he seems lately to be the go-to actor for lazy directors who need someone to play the lazily-written quirky older fellow with a store of wisdom waiting for the right person to request it. Ugh. I did like him in Argo last year, so of course there was hope that he could be on his way back, but how likely would that be?

    Sometimes you have to eat a lot of cereal before you get to the prize in the box, and I’m pleased to say that while this is true of Stand Up Guys, the prize is quite worth the effort. Walken and Pacino are unexpectedly tender, playing old, wistful, and battleworn. They have a few regrets about the way things turned out, but who doesn’t at that age? And there is little in the way of apology from either character: they made their beds, and they’re going to lie in them, perhaps sooner than one of them would like.

    guysPacino is Val, just out of prison after twenty-eight years. He’s done his time for killing the only son of another gangster, taking the rap and being a “stand up guy,” the whole time. Walken is Doc, Val’s only friend, who meets him at the prison gates upon Val’s release. Doc has been ordered to kill Val, and it doesn’t take Val long to figure it out.

    It’s an interesting setup, but what follows is a lot of silly coincidence and cheap comedy (in one sequence, there are a brothel, the burglary of a pharmacy, a Viagra overdose, a triumphant return to the brothel, and an embarrassing visit to the emergency room). Yet there are also moments when Val and Doc, sitting alone in a diner, talk about the kinds of things very old friends talk about, and you wonder how much of the dialogue is Val and Doc, and how much is Pacino and Walken. In moments like these, it’d be easy not to see the acting that’s being done, but it is there: in sighs, gestures, slouches, and awkward mid-sentence pauses. Pacino, Walken, and (to a lesser extent) Arkin demonstrate that they still can act, and they don’t need guns or f-bombs to do it. They just need a good reason.

    The actors and their characters come to life in a sequence that could be seen as another cheap screenwriter’s idea, but there’s something cute and sly about where the film leaves us. It’s kind of tricky in a weird way, and I don’t know whether the characters’ bold eff-you is aimed at Hollywood, at the actors themselves, or at the viewer. In any case, it is a good choice, and it leaves me feeling quite good about the time I spent with these actors.


  32. Mitchell

    Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

    sugarIn the early 1970s, a Detroit-based musician named Rodriguez released two albums that sold “six copies” in the United States, according to the owner of the label that produced them. Although the albums were highly regarded by critics and a tiny number of ardent fans, their being completely ignored by the buying public quickly sent Rodriguez into further obscurity.

    Except in South Africa, where Rodriguez’s popularity, completely unbeknownst to him or anyone connected with him, soared to heights surpassing that of Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones, at least according to South African music writers.

    Because his flame burned so briefly and obscurely, he never appeared in South Africa to perform, and very little was known about him in the country where his music could be heard at every backyard barbecue or house party. His socially conscious lyrics were compared to Bob Dylan’s, and legends sprung up about his demise. It was believed that Rodriguez committed suicide on stage, in some versions of the tale setting himself on fire and in others shooting himself in the head. Meanwhile, his records kept selling in that country, and the South African labels dutifully sent royalty checks to A&M, the distributor for the long-defunct American label on which the records originally appeared.

    manSearching for Sugar Man is a documentary film tracing the search for the truth about this singer. It turned out that not only was Rodriguez not dead, but he’d been living in the same Detroit home for forty years, completely unaware of his rock star status in a far-away part of the world.

    It’s a very good story, but only a pretty good movie. Too much time is spent on the process of tracking Rodriguez down, and not enough on the music. I have a huge issue with music documentaries that try to tell me about a musician but don’t do much to tell me what people think of the music itself. A lot of the music is played during the film, often set against the scenery of Detroit, which is presented in all its struggling glory, so that’s a plus in the movie’s favor. Still, the film takes too long to find its momentum, which happens when Rodriguez finally plays a concert in a sold-out arena in front of fans who can’t believe this adored musician is actually standing in front of them. One South African writer compared it to Elvis coming back from the dead, and the concert footage would seem to support that.

    The strange juxtaposition of the working-class day-laborer who spends his days restoring trashed apartments with rock star of beyond-Elvis proportions is kind of poetically beautiful, especially when his three daughters talk about how Rodriguez has spent his life rebelling against class in society, teaching his kids that poverty doesn’t mean the inability to go to the library or museum, or volunteering for the dirtiest, most humble of jobs as described by co-workers who had no idea they were working alongside a star.

    So much more could have been done with this, but the filmmakers seem determined that this was half a movie about the people who finally tracked Rodriguez down and half about the musician himself. That’s a bad decision, and the movie suffers because of it. Still, for this rock and roll fanatic, it’s a fascinating story worth learning.


  33. Mitchell

    ^^^ that movie is actually playing for the next week at the Laie Palms Cinema, if anyone wants to make the drive out there. 🙂

  34. Reid

    Julien Donkey Boy (1999)
    Dir. Harmony Korine
    Starring: Werner Herzog, Chloe Sevigny, etc.
    53/100 (?)

    Don, Joel, Larri and Marc definitely shouldn’t see this. I can’t see Mitchell getting into this, and I would be surprised if he did. Ditto Grace. Penny might find this interesting. I’m not sure about Kevin, Chris or Arlyn.

    This is an art film about a highly dysfunctional family. Herzog plays a patriarch, in the vein of a bizarre Great Santini. Julien, the oldest boy, is mentally ill; he has impregnated his younger sister, played by Sevigny (although the relationship doesn’t seem abusive or violent). There’s also a younger brother, an aspiring wrestler, who’s mostly bears the brunt of the father’s Santini antics.

    The arty part involves a very grainy video look, with super imposed images, and not much of a narrative. Mostly, it’s a character study of these people.

    I don’t have a good grasp of the film, so that should be kept in mind.
    For example, there’s some important symbolism with an ice skater, but I have no idea what it means.

    At the beginning of the film, we see a Dogma ’95 seal of approval, if that means anything.

    Mister Lonely (2007)
    Dir. Harmony Korine
    Starring: Diego Luna, Samantha Morton, etc.
    current score: 63/100

    Same recommendation above.

    There are two main stories in the film. The first involves a Michael Jackson impersonator (Luna) living in France. There he meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Morton), who tells him of a place where other impersonators live. There, they have a stage built and put on shows. She insists that he must come and live there.

    The second story involves a priest and Catholic nuns living in some third world country. While on a routine plane ride to drop off supplies, one of the nuns fall out of the plane. Miraculously, she survives and urges the other nuns to also jump out planes without parachutes as an act of faith.

    I’m not sure how either stories intersect. Like Julien Donkey Boy, I don’t think I have a good grasp of the film.

    I liked the film’s concept and at least the story about the impersonators involves the theme of being one’s self, being alone, etc. At the same time, I’m not sure about some of the scenes Korine chooses. There’s also some pretty important symbolism with sheep, but I’m clueless to how the film uses them.

  35. Mitchell

    Identity Thief (2013)
    Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Amanda Peet, Jon Favreau, John Cho. Directed by Seth Gordon.

    identityIt’s such a shame that a film with such talented actors as Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy manages to display their considerable talents but makes you sit through such a stupid story in order to witness them. Thirty minutes in, I was already looking forward to its end despite my fondness for both lead actors.

    You’ve probably seen the trailer ten million times, as I have, so you already know what it’s about. McCarthy is an identity thief in Florida who steals Bateman’s personal information and racks up enormous credit card debt that messes up Bateman’s plain but happy life in Denver. Receiving no help from employers or law enforcement, he heads to Florida to bring McCarthy back himself, in order to clear his name and credit.

    thiefMcCarthy’s living a cartoon life as a professional identity thief, spending thousands at bars for the temporary friendship her largess affords, and spending more at local stores on stuff she already has and doesn’t need. When Bateman catches up with her, convincing her to come to Denver with him takes some doing at first, but two gangsters pursue her for ripping off their boss, and suddenly she’s happy to jump into Bateman’s rental car.

    And now I will pause to say two things that have little to do with reviewing this film, because I don’t have much else to say about it. First, T.I. (the rapper) plays one of the thugs chasing McCarthy. I have always thought he had an uncommon charisma and stage presence, and am happy to see him in a film. He could be a serious movie star if he wants. Second, the other thug is played by Genesis Rodriguez. She was in Man on a Ledge as the main character’s brother’s girlfriend. I noticed her in that film, of course, because it is impossible not to: she is stunningly beautiful, almost in that unbelievable way many pretty actresses have in too many films, too beautiful to be for real, if that makes any sense. Anyway, I didn’t mention her in my review of that film mostly because that film is not served by more than minimal plot summary, but also because I didn’t have anything to say except that she was astoundingly attractive. But then she had a small part in What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and now here she is again, and so it seems worthwhile to point out that here is an actress who makes a movie worth seeing, even if that movie is awful.

    genesisWhich Identity Thief most certainly is. A great effort is spent trying to humanize the very cartoonish McCarthy character, but while she handles the acting part of that extremely well, she can do little to make up for the unbelievable stuff we see her do in the rest of the film. There was a way to make this a slapsticky, screwball comedy and still humanize the characters, but neither writers nor director finds a way to do it well. There is an end that redeems everyone who seems to deserve redemption, and in a way it’s a believable turn because McCarthy, Bateman, and Peet (as Bateman’s wife) do so much to make their characters feel real, but it’s too easy a wrap-up, as if the only other resolution the writers could come up with was something involving aliens, and they thought that was just not believable.


  36. Mitchell

    Charles and I took in Top Gun in IMAX 3D yesterday. It was totally worth it. I thought the 3D was extraneous: the huge screen and excellent audio were the main thing for me. Charles thought the 3D really enhanced the aerial sequences.

    Huge drawback: had to see one of the worst love scenes of all time in IMAX 3D. Ugh.

    Chuck says this made him really look forward to the forthcoming IMAX 3D treatment of Jurassic Park. I’ll admit that looks kind of interesting, but for me, Top Gun was the one. The only other film I think I’d especially care to see this way might be 2001: A Space Odyssey except I already got to see that on the Cinerama screen.

  37. Arlyn

    Top Gun was the first VHS video I ever bought. There are so many quotable lines from that.

  38. Reid

    El Sur (1983)
    Dir. Victor Erice
    current score: 80/100

    I think Arlyn has a good chance of liking this (especially if she liked Erice’s Spirit of the Beehive). I could see Kevin, Chris, Penny, Grace and Mitchell liking this, too, but I’m not so confident. An enthusiastic or lukewarm response wouldn’t surprise me. I’m confident that they would think it’s worth watching, if that means anything. I’d say no to Don, Joel, Marc and Jill.

    This is a Spanish film–set in 1950s–that plays like a personal memoir about a girl and her relationship with her father. (It wouldn’t surprise me if the film were based on a real person.) The film is divided into two sections: one, when the girl is in grade school (at the age of receiving one’s communion) and the other, as a teenager. The film is basically a coming-of-age tale centered around the relationship between daughter and father–specifically the way the path to adulthood often coincides with the awareness that your parents are complex human beings.

    There are some really good things about this film, so if you want to discover the film on your own, I would not read any more of my comments. With that said, what stands out for me is the way Erice structures the story and themes and infuses both with a sense of mystery (not in the suspenseful, whodonit sense). There are also some excellent images–using natural light in interior settings.

    Here’s how I understand the film so far. The film seems to be about the transition from loving our parents without any real understanding of them to developing an awareness of their complexity. We see the girl gain a greater awareness and understanding of a parent who was completely mysterious and unintelligible–and this awareness dovetails with the emerging complexity that arises from her interest in boys. The way Erice handles this is really good in my opinion.

    If I had more time, I’d want to write about the meaning of the title, which means “the South” in Spanish. The South is refers to the region where the father grew up, so it could represent the past–which includes an estranged relationship with his father and a former lover.

    In the end, the daughter, Estrella, is going to visit this region, and there’s a suggestion that she’s going to talk to her father’s former lover. This made me think that she would clear up the mystery, and it made me think the film might be about the search for truth.

  39. Mitchell

    That actually sounds pretty good.

  40. Arlyn

    I haven’t seen Spirit of the Beehive yet but it’s on my list. El Sur seems like one of those rare films that I can’t seem to find through my regular channels. I’m not on Hulu Plus but I hear their collection of Criterion films is free through February 18th. It looks like El Sur is streaming there so it’s at the top of my queue. Gracias.

  41. Reid

    When I went to Hulu, they offered me a week for free–so I signed up for that. Mikey and Nicky is streaming for free, though. Both films are very good. Arlyn, I think there’s a good chance you could love that film (as well as Spirit of the Beehive). Both films have that “magic of cinema” quality, too.

    Mitchell, I’m a little concerned that you might not like the pacing and the story might not be strong enough. I’m sure you’ll like certain things, which I won’t discuss, but I’m not sure how these factors will balance out.

    Edit: I must have signed up for my free week right before they presented free streaming. You guys should take advantage of it.

  42. Reid

    Black River (1957)
    Dir. Masaki Kobayashi

    I don’t think anyone would think this is an outstanding film. Kevin might have the most interest in this, but I’d be surprised if he was enthusiastic about it. I guess he’d think this was OK–ditto Grace, Penny, Mitchell, Chris and Arlene. Joel, Jill, Don and Marc might think this is a little less than OK or at least be less interested.

    This is Japanese film about a slumlord and local hoods trying to evict their tenants to build a “love hotel.” The film also features a love triangle between the leader of the hoods, Joe (Tatsuya Nakadai), Shizuko (?; Ineko Arima) and Harada (?; Tomo Nagai). Harada is a university student who recently moves to slums to save money. He meets Shizuko one day and they strike up a relationship. Joe has his eye on Shizuko and devises a complicated ploy to win her affections.

    The film seems mostly to be a critique of slum conditions, with some lightly comic moments and what I see as a heavy melodramatic love triangle. This last part didn’t work well for me. Still, it’s not a bad movie.

    What Did the Lady Forget? (1937)
    Dir. Yasujiro Ozu

    I don’t think I can strongly recommend this to anyone, but most people will find this OK, at the very least.

    This is almost a domestic comedy, almost morphing into a rom-com–at least for Ozu, anyway. Setsuko comes to visit her Aunt and Uncle (medical professor) in Tokyo. Her Uncle is a doctor and henpecked husband. Setsuko is bratty modern girl, who smokes, drinks and wants to go see geisha. Her Aunt strongly disapproves and admonishes Setsusko for this. But she get her chance to see geisha when she catches her Uncle at the bar (when he’s supposed to be golfing–in the film the wives _force_ husband to play golf–I have no idea why–and the uncle skips out). What ensues is a relatively complicated plot involving a lie and the Uncle’s student. There are some charming moments, and I would have given the film a lower score, if not for the ending.

    The ending isn’t great, but it has some nice sweet touches that worked for me, particularly the way the Uncle and Aunt reconcile–leading to an amorous resolution. Ozu has a sweet, charming way of expressing this. I also like the way this parallels with Shizuko’s emerging relationship and some insight on relationships between husbands and wives. The film is mostly a light film, with some nice touches.

    Comanche Station (1960)
    Dir. Budd Boetticher
    Starring: Randolph Scott (Jefferson Cody), Claude Akins (Ben Lane), Richard Rust (Dobie), etc.
    74 minutes

    I’d recommend this to John. I think Mitchell would enjoy this. Everyone else would at least find this mildly entertaining, but it’s not something I’d tell people to rush out to see.

    Cody (Scott) is a Cowboy who rescues a woman from Comanches. While taking her back to her town, he meets a group of men lead by Lane (Akins). Lane reveals that there’s a reward from bringing the woman back to town. They decide to travel together, since an angry group of Comanches has been raiding towns.

    The plot might not sound so interesting, but Boetticher makes it interesting–including using interesting subplots and support characters. If you like the solitary, silent tough guy–one who lives by strict moral code–then you’ll probably like Scott. The action sequences are noteworthy, and their dull by today’s standards. But here’s a filmmaker who focuses on story and characters. There’s nothing deep, per se, but this is really good filmmaking. I wish contemporary action directors followed Boetticher’s example.

  43. Arlyn

    I’m planning to sign up for the free trial on Hulu this weekend.

    Reid, have you heard of or seen the documentary and Ozu tribute, Tokyo-Ga, by Wim Wenders? It’s a good one.

  44. Arlyn

    I recently re-watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which btw, is such a timeless movie, and was motivated to watch more martial arts films to keep the momentum going.

    Touch of Zen (1969)
    Dir by King Hu

    This film inspired Ang Lee to make Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Not as good as CTHD but there are some amazing scenes here especially the fight scenes in the bamboo trees. I prefer older films like this more than the newer HD ones below. For some reason HD gives it a more modern feel which takes me out of the story at times.

    Ip Man (2008)
    Dir by Wilson Yip

    A historical/bio film during WWII China about Bruce Lee’s teacher, introducing different types of martial arts depending on the region. Also, the actor Donnie Yen is great here. I like martial arts films that doesn’t have the cg like in Matrix. The scenes are more natural here.

    Ip Man 2 (2011)
    Dir by Wilson Yip

    Not as good as the first film.

    Bodyguards and Assassins (2009)
    Dir by Teddy Chan

    Another historical film about bodyguards and assassins protecting Sun Yat-sen in 1905 Hong Kong, I was interested in seeing another Donnie Yen movie and liked this one more than expected. More great actors, including Nicholas Tse.

    Shaolin (2011)
    Dir by Benny Chan

    Not as much action as the other films, I liked this the least. Starring Andy Lau, Nicholas Tse and Jackie Chan.

  45. Reid

    I really liked the fight choreography in Ip Man and the story was decent. Ip Man 2 really went downhill when the British characters showed up.

    If you liked Donnie Yen, I’d recommend checking out Dragon, which is more of hybrid martial-arts movie.

    I haven’t seen the Wenders doc on Ozu. Right now, I’m trying to catch up on on the Ozu that’s on Hulu that’s also not on dvd. (They have a treasure trove of films that haven’t been transferred to dvd/blu-ray.)

  46. Reid

    I saw a ton of films over the past week. Firs up, a review of the more action-oriented films.

    Black Lizard (1968)
    Dir. Umetsugu Inoue

    I’d mildly recommend this to Mitchell, Chris, Kevin and Penny. There’s a chance all four could really like this, and at the very least they’ll think this is OK. I’d choose Arlyn next. Jill might have an outside chance of liking this. I think the rest would think this is OK at best.

    The movie involves a jeweler who has been receiving threats that his daughter will be kidnapped. The Black Lizard is the criminal mastermind behind the threats and the jeweler hires Akechi, the self-proclaimed world’s greatest detective to stop the Lizard.

    Think of something like John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China and you get an idea of the tone of the film–an action film with whimsy. However, the film feels more like a 60’s spy film a la James Bond, so in some ways it’s like a far more subdued, Austin Powers, sans spoof. It also doesn’t have the self-consciousness and irony you’d find in a Tarantino film (but I think it would be really interesting if Tarantino made a remake of this). It’s a film that is sincere in it’s fun, and that’s one of the things I liked about it.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t think the film was so successful. For one thing, the tone is fun, but there seems to be something missing–maybe with the actors cast in the film; the dialogue feeling a bit flat; or the camera work needed to be snazzier. I’m really not sure. (Somebody like Michel Gondry might also be another good person to remake this.) The action sequences aren’t very memorable as well.

    On the positive side, some of the chesslike manuevers between Akechi and the Black Lizard are OK. Even better, I liked the music in the film (especially the theme song) and the musical flourishes (e.g., henchmen sashaying).

    All in all, I loved the concept, tone and attitude of the film, and I wished the filmmakers executed a little better.

    A Colt is My Passport (1967)
    Dir. Takashi Nomura

    No to Don, Joel, Marc and Jill, although they might think this is OK (at best). Not sure about the other idiots, but I probably wouldn’t recommend them, just because the chances of them liking this isn’t very high. (The next section should give some indication if this would interest you.)

    The film involves two hit men who have to flee Japan after killing a rival boss. The problem is that they have trouble running away and eventually someone is out to kill them.

    In my opinion, the plot isnt very good. Nothing very exciting or interesting occurs until the very end (and there’s problem with the ending, too). Someone described this as a combination of Spaghetti Western, French crime films, Japanese noir and that’s a pretty good description. Basically, the film will be more about atmosphere and cool filmmaking then a Hollywood action story.

    The problem is I didn’t really notice any interesting filmmaking. I also didn’t really get into the lead characters (one of them having these puffy cheeks that I found distracting).

    The climax was certainly novel, but it’s a contrived and hard to take seriously.

    The Murderer Lives at 21 (1942)
    Dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot
    Starring: Pierre Fresnay, Suzy Delair, etc.
    84 minutes

    I think Penny, Grace and Larri would enjoy this. Chris, Kevin, Mitchell, Marc, Jill, Arlyn and Larri, too. I’m not sure about Don or Joel, but there’s a chance.

    A serial killer is on the loose and unless Inspectator Wens Vorobechik can solve this soon, he’ll be out of job. His wife Mila, an aspiring singer/actor, learns that she doesn’t have a “name,” so she decides that solving the case with her husband will give her one. If you’re familiar with the Thin Man series, this is very much in the same vein–complete with witty dialogue and some screwball vibe.

    But the film also has a decent mystery, although I’m not sure if everyone will agree. You have to give some leeway and maybe I did so because this is an older film. (Younger viewers today might not be so lenient.) Still, at under 90 minutes, witty dialogue, I could live with the mystery and resolution they provided. (I did have some problems with the end, but I largely overlooked them.) I’d easily recommend this to people who like mystery-comedies of the 30s and 40s.

    Zatoichi: the Tale of Zatoichi Continues (1962)
    Dir. Kazuo Mori
    Starring: Shintaro Katsu, etc.
    72 minutes

    I think Chris might like this. Marc might think this is OK, maybe a little better than that. I’m guessing everyone else would think this is just OK.

    I believe this is the second film in the Zatoichi film series. It does play like a longer TV episode, although it looks like a very competently made film. There isn’t much to the story. Zatoichi travels to a new town. He gives a message to one of the Lords, who, basically has gone insane. To ensure no one learns of this secret, the clan hires some yakuza to kill Zatoichi. ‘There’s also a subplot involving a one-armed samurai.

    The story is just OK–like an OK TV episode. There isn’t much action, but I did enjoy watching Zatoichi’s unorthodox fighting style. (I had forgotten about that.)

    Wolverine and the X-Men (2008; TV Series)

    I’d recommend this to Mitchell, Joel and Marc. I think Don has a pretty good chance of liking this, and he’d be the next person I recommend this, too. (Larri enjoyed this for the most part.) Penny and Grace would like this. I’m not sure about Kevin and Arlyn.

    I believe this has twenty-six twenty minute episodes. The art/animation is just OK to me. Actually, I tried to watch this earlier, but I stopped because I didn’t care for the animation. (It’s really not bad.)

    The series really has a good-to-very good storyline, and it does a good job of linking the episodes together. I also liked the way they handled the characters and integrated them into the storyline. Like the movies and some of the new comics (?), the humans are rounding up mutants. This eventually leads to a war between the mutants and humans via the Sentinels (giant robots). The series moves back and forth from the present to the future. In the future, a few mutants are struggling to survive. Prof X goes projects himself back in time to guide the X-Men in order to prevent the war. The series handles this fairly well and it serves as a model for the live-action films. The filmmakers of the live-action films should create storylines that occur over multiple films (maybe not twenty-six, but still), and have one person overseeing the storyline and films. This could lead to some really good movies, in my opinion. Also, perhaps it could lead to a new form of movie–that is, bringing back the serialized film.

    I suspect there are many differences and modifications made from the comics–and I know for sure there are big differences between the comics from the 70s and 80s, as well as the recent feature-length films. Here are some other general comments:

    1. Wolverine is better than the Hugh Jackman version. That’s not saying much, but there you go. However, the filmmakers (I’m going to refer to them that way, even though they’re technically not filmmakers) place Wolverine as the leader of the X-Men. It works out OK, but I have mixed feelings. I suspect they do this because Wolverine is the most popular character. I think Cyclops gets lost in the short-shrift in the process, though; however, that’s partly due to the fact that I grew up with Cyclops as the leader. (It’s hard to believe that Prof X would want Wolverine as the leader given his temperament. Indeed, he’s considered in the comics, but passed over, probably because of his temper.)

    2. Very good handling of the Phoenix and Hellfire Club–much better than in the original comics. I liked the comic book episodes with the Hellfire Club, but in retrospect the story is kind of weak. (I just like the fact that Wolverine has to break in and free the X-Men.)

    (I think I had some other comments, but I’ll stop here.)

  47. Arlyn

    Is Zatoichi a film or a tv series? I haven’t seen either but have seen the tv series at my library. I haven’t seen a lot of samurai films but I like The Sword of Doom (1966).

  48. Reid

    You know, I assumed they’re films (they sure look like films, although they’re relatively short).

    I’ve seen Sword of Doom. All I remember now is that the ending seemed really abrupt, as if the film got cut off.

    I’d say Seven Samurai is a must. Actually, I haven’t seen a ton of samurai movies as well.

  49. Arlyn

    El Sur (1983)
    Directed by Victor Erice

    I enjoyed this movie about a father and daughter. Great cast. From the title I thought I’d see scenes from Andalusia in the South of Spain and was disappointed we didn’t get to see what would meet Estrella at the end of her train journey. I agree that the interior natural light was really nice.

    “From the very beginning the story was ripe for fantasies.”

    Estrella narrates as she imagines El Sur to be a strange place from what she hears. Since her father never returned, I’d hope when she departed for the South we’d at least see her father’s home and find out why he never made the journey back especially since he lived just a few hours away by train.

    It felt incomplete. I’d read that the director was not finished with the film so it confirmed this. It would be nice for a second film to complete this journey since there are so many unanswered questions and possibilities. The sequel could explore her father’s past and the town he was from. Still, for an incomplete film, it’s still pretty good. Thanks for the recommendation Reid.

  50. Arlyn

    Tony Manero (2008)
    Directed by Pablo Larrain
    Starring Alfredo Castro, Amparo Noguera, Antonia Zegers, etc.

    Each of these films in Larrain’s trilogy is a look into the everyday lives of citizens living during the repression of Pinochet’s presidency in Chile between 1973-1990.

    This first film is about life in Santiago in 1978, the year Saturday Night Fever was released. This is a dark depiction of cinema magic and the love of movies following Raul’s obsession of John Travolta’s iconic character, Tony Manero.

    Alfredo Castro, who co-wrote the screenplay, is perfectly cast as Raul, a film-obsessed fan who reminded me a little of Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. Possible spoiler. Raul, sitting in the movie theater mesmerized, is reciting dialogue from Saturday Night Fever as the film is playing on the screen. He returns to the same theater days later extremely disappointed to find John Travolta as Danny Zuko in Grease. He’s so angry that he barges into the projection room and kills the projectionist.

    I didn’t totally like this film but liked how the director presented this social statement. The subject of a repressed society combined with the story of a violent protagonist obsessed with a John Travolta character made this intriguing and at the same time awkward to enjoy.

    Post Mortem (2010)
    Directed by Pablo Larrain
    Starring Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers, etc.

    I can’t really rate this film fairly. As with Tony Manero, I found it difficult to watch. Alfredo Castro is back, this time as a coroner’s assistant working in a morgue. This story is set against President Pinochet’s early days of office when he removed Allende from power in the 1973 coup. During this time, people were being kidnapped and interrogated. Some never returned home and the bodies are piling up. Even former President Allende’s body is being inspected in the morgue. It’s frightening for the staff to record the wounds suffered by these people and even more unsettling as the viewer to watch these naked bodies being prodded and sewn.

    No (2012)
    Directed by Pablo Larrain
    Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Antonia Zegers, etc.

    The last film in Larrain’s Pinochet trilogy, No is also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscar’s. I saw this film first before watching the other two.

    Gael Garcia Bernal is a television ad executive who is hired to make campaign films to use against Pinochet during the 1988 elections. Fine performances by Bernal and cast. This was the easiest to watch of all Larrain’s films set against Chile’s police state. I liked the visual style and read that Larrain shot this using a vintage u-matic video camera giving the film the grainy news footage look from the 1980’s.

    Larrain has said that this trilogy was unintentional. I’d watch for his next film and hoped that it didn’t revisit this time in history because these films left me exhausted. As much as they are disturbing, it’s a unique look into Chile’s malevolent past. Pablo Larrain was born in 1976, three years after the violent coup, and would live to tell this painful story of oppression. Exposing his country’s history through these unique films, including one depicting the love of movies, is a major achievement on his part.

  51. Reid


    I’m a little surprised to hear El Sur felt incomplete. I assume you felt that way because we don’t see her journey to the south. I really liked where the film ended. I can’t remember all of my feelings and thoughts, but I liked the way it preserved the mystery–almost suggesting that there are some things we will never understand; at the same time, part of being human is to continue on our quest for understanding. How’d you like the lunch scene at the Grand Hotel? I loved that scene. I also loved the opening scene. There were several scenes where the light ever-so-slowly leaked into the frame, revealing objects (as in the opening scene). I can’t recall another film that did that, and I really liked it. (I never realized that Erice didn’t complete the film. I need to read up on that.)

    Did you get to see Spirit of the Beehive? I’m planning to have a longer write-up soon, as I recently re-watched that.

  52. Arlyn

    Late Spring (1949)
    Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
    Starring Setsuko Hara, Chishu Ryu, etc.

    This is a story about family, specifically about a father and daughter. Noriko’s father and aunt are trying to find a suitable husband for her.

    The details in the opening scenes such as the tea ceremony and the wind rustling through the trees are memorable.

    Ozu would later remake this in color as An Autumn Afternoon (1962). This was also his last film. Ryu would again play the father trying to marry off his daughter.

    I’ve wanted to go through Setsuko Hara’s filmography since seeing her in Ozu’s Late Autumn (1960), where her late husband’s three best friends gather on the (seventh?) anniversary of his death and notice how beautiful she is after all these years. Here, Hara plays the mother who is trying to marry off her daughter.

    Of these three parent/child films, I liked Late Spring best. They’re all pretty similar but it’s the oldest of the three and it’s still great as comparable to the two more recent films.

    As part of Hulu’s Criterion films, the Ozu films I chose to see last week were Hara in Late Spring, along with Tokyo Twilight (1957). Tokyo Twilight struck me as unusual for an Ozu film. For one thing, it’s the gloomiest of all his films that I’ve seen. And the family conflict was not resolved. In reading up on Hara’s films I found she also did films with Kurosawa, No Regrets for Our Youth and The Idiot, which I’ve added to my list.

    On another note, I’m still unable to find Ozu’s The Munekata Sisters (1950).

  53. Reid

    I get confused by Ozu’s later films as the titles are similar. I believe I’ve seen Late Spring, but I can barely remember it now. I’m concentrating on Ozu’s earlier films and then I plan to watch finish watching the later films. I hope to write some comments on the earlier films soon.

  54. Reid

    Amour (2012)
    Dir. Michael Haneke
    Starring: Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trinigant, etc.

    I’m more sure who would not like this: Larri; Don, Marc and Joel—not a film for them (even if though they might mildly find this interesting). Ditto Jill. I don’t think Mitchell would enjoy this, although I can see him appreciate aspects about the film. Since I know Grace, Kevin, and Chris would appreciate some aspects of the film—and I know that Penny liked this—based on those two factors—I’m going to mildy recommend this film to these three people. (And I suspect Arlyn would fall into this category as well.)

    This is French film that follows an elderly couple as the woman experiences a stroke and slowly deteriorates, while the man, Georges, tries to cope with the situation. The characters and story aren’t so strong, in my opinion, and that is one of the main reasons I’m uncertain about how others will respond to the film. (I felt the film dragged at certain points.)

    Having said that, the film is not really character driven or narrative-based, in my opinion. It’s meant to raise questions and provoke thoughts (which I won’t reveal in this section). I will say that I thought the film did this in a rather superficial and simplistic way—making me feel like the film lacked substance and thoughtfulness. (I felt similarly towards Haneke’s White Ribbon.) At the same time, I should mention my personal experiences some of the issues raised in the film definitely colors my perception and understanding of it. The influence could be unfair and inappropriate, and this is another reason I’m uncertain about how others will react.

    One last thing. The filmmaking is solid, particularly the visuals, and I’m sure many would appreciate this aspect of the film. Riva received a nomination, and while I thought she was fine (ditto Trintigant), I tend not to be as impressed performances of disabled people. These performances become more like impersonations, rather than acting; and they also tend to be over-the-top. (Bradley Cooper’s performance in Silver Lining’s Playbook is an exception in my view.)

    Why does the film’s treatment of the issue feel “superficial” and “simplistic?” First of all, I think it doesn’t show the complexity surrounding the issue. For example, when Anne expresses her desire to spare Georges of the hardship he’s about to face—i.e., she rather die—the film seems to want us to take this at face value—as if the issue is settled; Anne is adamant and unequivocal about this position. But my sense is that people don’t always feel so certain about this and the feelings are more complex. Now, maybe Anne is the type of person that is certain. If that’s the case I wasn’t really convinced, and the film didn’t do enough to establish this.

    Similarly, Georges has to wrestle with various issues and feelings: Should he take Anne’s request at face value? Should he assume that Anne still feels that way? Is it better if Anne dies than goes on living? Is he doing this more for her or for himself? Is the strain of caring for Anne getting to him? I don’t think the film’s presentation of the character is rich and complex enough to address these issues. Moreover, the film didn’t do a good job of showing the way Georges worked through these issues or how the experiences affected Georges—helping him arrive at his final decision. So when he makes his decision, it felt abrupt and impulsive—and not really authentic.

    I generally don’t believe in euthanasia, and I have moral issues with it, but I could have been much more sympathetic with Georges and Anne in this situation. If Anne was suffering and was unequivocal and adamant about wanting to die—or maybe if Georges kills Anne in a moment of weakness and feels deeply remorseful and guilty—I could feel sympathy and compassion for any of these situations.

    On the other hand, Georges makes this decision without being certain of Anne’s (or their daughter’s) wishes; if he primarily kills Anne because he feels like Anne’s life isn’t worth living and/or she’s too much of a burden on him—for me—this would be far less morally ambiguous and I would personally object to his decision.

    Regardless of my reaction, we could argue that other people would react differently and the value of the film lies in raising the issue and provoking discussion. Those things have value, and the issues raised warrant serious discussion. However, but I think the film could have been more thoughtful and effective raising these issues. The filmmaking is better than something you’d see on TV movie, but the thought and substance in the presentation doesn’t seem to be in my opinion. I must say that given my feelings towards Haneke’s other films, I can’t help thinking this is empty or cheap provocation. Show or do something controversial to provoke a reaction. It feels like a cinematic version of trolling.

  55. Arlyn

    The Loneliest Planet (2011)
    Directed by Julia Loktev
    Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Hani Furstenberg, Bidzina Gujabidze

    They say that traveling together is a true test of a relationship. This movie is about Alex and Nica, played by Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg, on a backpacking adventure through the Georgian mountains, near Russia. They hire a local guide one day to explore the beautiful countryside and something happens that will impact their relationship.

    There are scenes in this movie that recount the intimacy of a couple. It’s freezing cold and Nica is waiting for Alex to bring a bucket of warm water as she bathes in a makeshift bathroom. He runs in with the water and helps prepare her bath. In another scene Nica isn’t feeling well and as she becomes nauseated outside of their tent, Alex runs his hand from her forehead down the back of her head, smoothing her hair, several times to comfort her.

    This is a quiet and slowly paced film. Not much happens except for what I’ve mentioned but I liked this movie of what seems like an unassuming story about love and travel.

  56. Reid

    I saw a bunch of Ozu silent and short films, and I want to get some thoughts down before I forget the films completely.

    What Did the Lady Forget? (1937)
    Dir. Yasujiro Ozu
    71 minutes

    Penny and Grace would find this mildy entertaining, at least. I suspect Aryln would feel the same way. Same with Mitchell, Kevin and Chris, Larri and Jill but they have more of a chance of just shrugging. Don, Joel, and Marc might have a chance of thinking this is OK, but I wouldn’t recommend this to them.

    This is about a bratty young woman going to live with her henpecked uncle (a medical professor) and his wife. It’s a lightly comic film, and I’m not sure there’s much to say. I do like Tastuo Saito as the henpecked uncle, and I also found the ending satisfying.

    I should also say that a big part of my enjoyment comes from seeing Ozu’s approach on the screen. I think I like his approach to the extent that I will get something out of his films even if the overall film isn’t so good.

    A Straightforward Boy (1929)
    Dir. Yasujiro Ozu
    Starring: Tatsuo Saito, Takeshi Sakamoto, Tomio Aoki, etc.
    14 minutes

    I’d recommend this to Penny and Arlyn–not only because I think they’ll like it, but it’s fourteen minutes, so c’mon! I’d put Grace in that grouping as well. Mitchell, Kevin and Chris could easily like this as much, too. Jill might like this, but I’m not going to recommend this to her. Ditto Don, Joel and Marc. Larri reacted positively in some moments, but she probably could have taken it or left it.

    I described this as Ozu’s version of O. Henry’s The Ransom of Red Chief, but I didn’t realize that it really is an adaptation of the story. If you don’t know the story, a man kidnaps and boy, and comes to regret the decision. The principle actors are all very good in this, including the moments of slaptstick. It’s not something I’m crazy about, but for a fourteen minute film, it’s quite good.

    I Graduated But… (1929)
    Dir. Yasujiro Ozu

    I think many would find this interesting (except for Don, Marc, Joel, Jill and Larri), but I can’t see recommending this, unless you’re into Ozu. Read on.

    A kind of moral tale about a man recently graduated from college, struggling to find a job. The film begins with the man going to a big company. The only job available is clerk position and the man leaves, because the job is beneath him. He comes home, surprised to find his mother with his wife. She’s heard about her son’s new job (a lie) and she couldn’t wait to visit….well, I telling the whole story, so I’ll stop here.

    A simple film, really–one of the few Ozu films I’ve seen with a “lesson.” (I actually liked the “lesson,” hence the pretty good rating.)

    That Night’s Wife (1930)
    Dir. Yasujiro Ozu
    Starring: Tokihiko Okada, Emiko Yagumo, etc.

    I could see Penny liking this, but I don’t think I’d urge her to see this. Same with Grace. Arlyn, Chris and Kevin might also like this, too. Less sure about Mitchell and Jill. I wouldn’t recommend this to Don, Marc and Joel.

    A man robs a bank to pay for medicine for his sick daughter. The police are close on his trail, though, and it doesn’t look like he’ll get away.

    The long drawn out ending is the most interesting aspect of the film for me. It reminded me of the ending of Bicycle Thieves.

    The Lady and the Beard (1931)
    Dir. Yasujiro Ozu
    Starring: Tokihiko Okada, etc.

    I don’t think I’d recommend this to any of the idiots, not because no one would like it. Some of you may find it mildly entertaining, but that’s not enough to recommend it. Besides, those that have a chance of liking this may also not like this very much.

    After participating in a kendo tournament, a college student heads to a party of his friend’s sister. Along the way he rescues a young woman from being robbed. The student has a big bushy beard and after graduating he struggles to find a job. He meets up with the girl he rescues as well as the woman who tries to rob him.

    It’s one of the least Ozu films I’ve seen, I think. There’s also some false notes in the film, which is pretty rare for Ozu’s films.

    The false notes involved the student keeping the hooligan woman at his apartment over night–ostensibly to reform her(?). Then when the girl the student rescues comes over the next day, she isn’t bothered by seeing the woman–and this is seen as a sign of great trust, something to be admired. Not only that, but this changes the hooligan woman and inspires to change her ways (because she wants to trust people in the same way). False on so many levels.

    The comedic moments didn’t work very well for me, either.

    An Inn in Tokyo (1935)
    Dir. Yasujiro Ozu
    Starring: Takeshi Sakamoto, Tomio Aoki, etc.

    Probably no to Don, Marc, Joel, Jill and Larri. I think Penny, Chris and Kevin would like this, so I’d recommend this to them. Arlyn would probably like this, too, but I’m not as sure. Unsure about Grace and Mitchell, but they would probably think this was at least OK.

    A man, Kihachi (Sakamoto) struggles to find a job to support his two sons. In the process, he meets a woman struggling to find work to support her young daughter. Kihachi takes a fancy to the woman.

    The visual style that I’m familiar with is in full display here. This one really feels like an Ozu film, more than the ones before it (at least of the ones I’ve seen). There’s a sad tone to the movie, especially with the Kihachi character and the ending reminds me of ending of That Night’s Mother).

    Sakamoto is another favorite.

    Record of a Tenemant Gentleman (1947)
    Dir. Yasujiro Ozu
    Starring: Choko Iida, Hohi Aoki, etc.

    I definitely recommend this to Arlyn, given what I know about her. I’m pretty sure she can go into this blind. I’d recommend this to Chris and Penny just as strongly as well. I’d also recommend this to Grace, and Kevin. I’m excited to say that Don comes to mind as well. It’s a risky recommendation, but I’m going to recommend this to him. I’m not sure about Marc. I could see Jill liking this on some level; maybe Joel, but it’s not something that would excite him.

    (This isn’t a silent film.) A man comes home with a lost boy. Apparently, the boy got separated from his father–or the father simply abandoned the boy. The man has a roommate who refuses to keep the boy and urges the man to take him to their next door neighbor, who happens to be a single lady, Otane (Choko Iida). She doesn’t want to watch the boy, either, but the man leaves the boy. Iida and the boy, played by Hohi Aoki, are good in this.

    This is one of the few Ozu films that seems to have a social message. Ozu rarely preaches or critiques–not as directly as he seems to in this, so the film is interesting on that level.

  57. Arlyn

    I thought you had discussed The Spirit of the Beehive briefly somewhere but can’t find it. What did you make of the final scene as Ana is calling out to the spirit?

  58. Arlyn

    In the few Ozu films I’ve seen, the stories were always about the father or mother trying to marry off their daughter, always with a similar cast so I’d always get the titles confused. He was only 60 when he died and never married so I’ve wondered if he was at peace with his life and his films at the time of his death. Oddly, I thought he’d actually appove of Haneke’s Amour guessing he kept re-making some of his films about family in search of some sort of truth or peace he could not attain. This same peace attained in Amour.

  59. Reid

    I thought you had discussed The Spirit of the Beehive briefly somewhere but can’t find it. What did you make of the final scene as Ana is calling out to the spirit?

    If you don’t mind waiting, I’ll try to start a thread with a more thorough write-up addressing this.

    I’d always get the titles confused.

    Same here. I’m still confused.

    Oddly, I thought he’d actually appove of Haneke’s Amour guessing he kept re-making some of his films about family in search of some sort of truth or peace he could not attain.

    Huh. I have no idea how he’d feel about Amour, but I never thought of him or his films as searching for truth or peace. (I haven’t seen his later films in a long time, though, and I’m trying to watch all his earlier stuff.)

  60. Arlyn

    Not at all. I thought you had said written something already. I’ve got some notes and will work on something too.

  61. Reid

    The Night of the Generals (1967)
    Dir. Anatole Litvak
    Starring: Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, etc.

    I could probably rule out Don, Larri, Marc, Joel and Jill. Out of the remaining idiots, maybe Arlyn has the best chance of liking this, although I’m not sure why I think that.

    This is a crazy WWII movie. It almost feels like three movies mashed into one–almost in a kind of haphazard way–as if the filmmakers were distracted or just started doing things on a whim. (In this way, it kind of reminded me of Baz Luhrman’s _Australia_.) To make matters worse, the film is told in flashbacks (with a French investigator visiting various people, similar to Citizen Kane).

    Now, the film starts off well: a prostitute is killed and the German officer (Sharif) investigating the case (really, he’s a lawyer) discovers that the killer is most likely a German general. He soon discovers that all but three have alibis, and he zealously goes after them. (This guy doesn’t care about the war–if a general murdered someone–even a prostitute–they deserve to be convicted.)

    Later, the film introduces a love story of sorts between the daughter of one of the three generals and a corporal. And then rather deep into the picture, the film turns its attention to the plot to assassinate Hitler. The connections are tenuous or not very interesting in my opinion.

    My problem (and others may disagree) is that the film moves between these stories–when I was mainly interested in the mystery. At certain points, the film seems to forget the mystery all together. Hmm, the more I think of the film, the lower the score I think it deserves.

  62. Arlyn

    I haven’t heard of this director but his filmography looks interesting. This reminds me… I still need to see Omar Sharif in Funny Girl.

  63. Reid

    I’m not sure if I saw anything else by this director, but I’d recommend seeing something like Ozu’s Record of a Tenement Gentlemen over this one, if you haven’t already seen that. I’d guess this film is more in your wheelhouse.

    The Castle of Sand (1974)
    Dir. Yoshitaro Nomura

    I think a lot of idiots would like this film–and I’d recommend the film to everyone. I’d probably put Penny at the top of the list. I think Arlyn and Chris would be next. Grace could like this a lot, but maybe she has seen too many films like this. Then I’d recommend this to Jill and Don. I’m less sure about Mitchell, Kevin, Marc and John–but I feel like there’s a strong enough chance that they’d like (maybe really like) this, so I’d recommend it. It is a long film (over two hours), but I saw this late at night and I had no trouble watching it until the end.

    This is streaming on Hulu+. (I’m not sure it’s available on dvd, too.)

    This is a Japanese film about two detectives investigating a case involving a dead body found near Tokyo train tracks. I’d describe this as melodrama(tearjerker)-police-procedural mystery. Indeed, this is probably the most intricate and complicated police procedural I have ever seen. (The way the detectives follow the clues and unravel the mystery feels similar to films like JFK, All the President’s Men or BBC’s State of Play–although this film is more crime-oriented, not political.) I can see that description being a turn-off (or at least it might be) and some of you might have trouble with this aspect, as it may seem too convulted or improbable. I didn’t have that problem and I was thoroughly enaged in the film. The expression “page turner” comes to mind and while that might be not completely accurate, it’s pretty close. In any event, I’d say the film is highly ambitious in terms the complexity of the plot, and it does a good job of doing this.

    As for the melodramatic aspects of the film, I don’t really want to say much, except to say that the quality of the melodrama is something I’d associate with Japanese or Korean stories. It can be a little excessive, but I liked it.

    A guy I know mentioned that some Japanese people consider the greatest Japanese film of all time. I don’t share that opinion, but I could understand if it were one of the most popular (and that is not meant as a slight).

    As an enticement to Mitchell (and others), I will also say there is a scene that reminded me of the “silent” montage sequence at the beginning of Up!.

    I’ll mention one thing I didn’t like about the film: the score. The music plays a crucial role within the narrative, which was an appealing idea. Unfortunately, I found the music too cheesy in a 70s melodramatic way. The music plays at the beginning of the film and I had a bad vibe. Luckily, the other parts of the film were strong enough for me that this wasn’t a problem.

  64. Mitchell

    Side Effects (2013)
    Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones. Directed by Steven Freaking Soderbergh.

    sideThere is a reason the reviews of this film have been vague. I didn’t read anything that made me want to see it, but I had some free time one night and a gift card to use up, and Side Effects became only the fourth film in my life (strangely, the third film in the past year) I saw all by myself in the theater.

    The nicest thing I can do for you is to tell you that it is not a psychological thriller, as it has been categorized. If you’re staying away because you dislike psycho-thrillers, as I do, drop that as a reason. See it for some pretty good acting, especially by Rooney Mara and Jude Law, and a story that, at the very least, kept me interested to the end. This is the first thing I’ve seen the waif-like Mara in, and she’s an interesting actress. Coupling her with the sensitively brutish Channing Tatum was a really good idea.

    I admire Steven Soderberg enough to at least be interested in anything he’s directed, and I like what he does with this film, with its lonely framing and whirling blurs. I was reminded of some of the better parts of Traffic. If you admired Traffic partly for its direction, there’s one more reason to check this out.

    Not a great film, but you could really do a lot worse.


  65. Mitchell

    Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)
    Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy. Directed by Bryan Singer.

    jackIf you’re going into Jack the Giant Slayer with high expectations, who the heck are you? There’s just no way to look at the possibilities and think this could be a great film. And it’s not, but it’s really not that bad either.

    The set-up is decent: As a young boy, Jack’s favorite story is a folk tale about a war between giants, who live in a realm somewhere above the earth, and humans. Elsewhere in the kingdom, the young Princess Isabelle also loves that story, her mother reading her the story every night before bed. Fast forward several years, and Isabelle meets Jack, and events lead to that famous beanstalk, and Jack climbs it accompanied by some of the king’s guard, including Stanley Tucci as an ambitious suitor of Isabelle’s and Ewan McGregor as the king’s military leader.

    jackThe giants are big, animated, foul things, and really: the less said about them the better. They’re passable foes as a group; they’re not especially interesting or entertaining individually, although I’ll say it was nice to hear Bill Nighy’s voice as the leader of the giants.

    Tucci and McGregor are most enjoyable, ‘though I guess it should be pointed out that I have a fondness for both and a predilection for liking just about anything they’re in. I have no idea who the lead actor and actress are, and they’re fine, neither of them especially glamorous but both of them interesting enough.

    As family fare, this isn’t bad. I strongly doubt it will ever be anyone’s favorite film, but it seems unlikely that it’ll be anyone’s least-favorite, and at least it’s not stupid.


  66. Mitchell

    21 and Over (2013)
    Justin Chon, Miles Teller, Skylar Astin.

    21I am the only person I know who did not find The Hangover the least bit funny. Don’t ask me why, because I have no idea. I wasn’t offended by it; I didn’t think it was low-brow or stupid. I just wasn’t entertained by it. And until moments ago, I didn’t know that the writers (and directors) of 21 and Over also wrote The Hangover, but it was clear that both movies had the same creative parentage somewhere, even if the relationship was merely by marriage or adoption. This is why it surprises me that I found myself laughing aloud multiple times at this newer film.

    I have not laughed at vomit in a film since Stand by Me in 1986, and even then it wasn’t the vomit so much as the narrative voice that described the vomit. It wasn’t funny in 50 First Dates when it was a walrus doing the spewing; it wasn’t funny in I Love You Man even though Paul Rudd did it on Jon Favreau; it wasn’t even funny in Pitch Perfect when the quiet Asian girl made snow-angels in it on the floor. But there is a vomit scene in 21 and Over that I admit I laughed at, and I laugh at it still, even in retrospect: Super slo-mo vomit. On a mechanical bull.

    Sorry if you consider that a spoiler. But someone had to tell you.

    I laughed, too, at several other scenes. There is a certain thread of meanness that runs through The Hangover, and that’s completely absent in this movie. The main characters are nice people just out for a good time; nobody’s doing it to hurt someone else, or to get away with something, or to behave in a way that needs Las Vegas or someone’s wedding as an excuse. This niceness gives the film an overall pleasant tone that makes it much easier to find teddy bears glued to privates or navel-shots taken from the tummies of fat guys funny.

    and overIt’s Jeff Chang’s twenty-first birthday, and his friends Casey (Skylar Astin, who was Anna Kendrick’s love interest in Pitch Perfect) and Miller (Miles Teller, who was Willard in the Footloose remake), insist on taking him out for a night of partying, despite the fact that Jeff has the medical-school interview of a lifetime the following morning. Jeff cuts loose, mostly at Miller’s urging, and passes out. Miller and Casey are unfamiliar with the neighborhood Jeff’s school is in, so they begin a drunken quest to find Jeff’s home, sober him up, and get him ready for the interview before his very-scary dad picks him up the next day.

    The film does a decent job of trying to make this also a film about the way friendships change when good friends go to different colleges. Miller has dropped out of college; Casey is going to Stanford; Jeff is having problems of his own at whatever school he’s in. The friends actually pause a few times and wonder if they’re actually still friends, or if they’re just past friends who still get together once in a while. But don’t let those few moments of rumination throw you: it’s a drunken college-students movie, and I found it unexpectedly entertaining, the way it seems everyone else found The Hangover.

    One other positive thing I will say about this movie: I was encouraged by the fact that for such a profane movie, there is a noticeable lack of sex. Drunkenness and sex are not a funny combination, and while there are a few scenes that flirt with the line, the drunken people themselves are never involved. The profanity and vulgarity manage to thrive in a largely sexless movie.


  67. Reid

    The Driver (1978)
    Dir. Walter Hill
    Starring: Ryan O’Neal, Isabelle Adjani, Bruce Dern, etc.

    This is the type of movie that Joel, Marc, and John would like–but I don’t know if they would like enough for me to recommend it to them. Penny, Mitchell, Grace, Chris, Kevin, and Larri would probably like this if they watched this at home on a Saturday night with nothing else to do. Maybe that’s selling the film short, though. I’d probably add Don and Arlyn to the list, but I’m less sure. For what it’s worth, this is a film I’m pretty sure my father would enjoy.

    The “driver” (O’Neal) is a getaway car driver, who hires his services. The “detective” (Dern) knows who the driver is, and he’s determined to get him. That’s the gist of the film. The actual story and excecution is quite good–including the scenes involving cars–i.e., chases, driving at high speeds, etc. Now, if you grew up on the The Fast and the Furious, I suspect the scenes will be quite dull, but I found them compelling and well-executed. (They’re nowhere near as flashy or spectacular.) The film is paced well, with few dead spots and at 90 minutes there is no fat.

    I want to mention a few some minor problems and one aspect I found interesting. The two problems involve casting to the two main characters–especially Bruce Dern as the detective. Dern is lanky and is better suited to play an eccentric type (e.g., a mad inventor) rather than a hard-nosed detective. He didn’t ruin the film, but I think another actor could have significantly elevated the film. I feel like this about Ryan O’Neal, although not as much. O’Neal is actually pretty effective as the laconic loner. But someone who has a more rugged and tough persona could improved the film.

    The one thing I found interesting about the film was the way it seemed to transpose the Western into a car movie–the driver taking the role of the lone gunslinger, with the car replacing the gun. Indeed, the detective refers to him as the “cowboy,” and the driver does carry an old colt .45. The film also has a final showndown, with the two cars and drivers driving straight towards each other.

  68. Reid

    The Southerner (1945)
    Dir. Jean Renoir

    I’d guess Kevin might have the best chance of liking this, but not enough that I would recommend it to him. Arlyn would be next, but I have no idea. I think most other people would think this is OK, so I’m not really recommending this to anyone else.

    A portrait of a farmer–a fairly idealized one at that–is how I’d describe this. (It could be seen as a representation of how America has viewed the yeoman farmer. Sam and Nona Tucker pick cotton and get the idea of starting a farm of their own. The film is about them trying to do this. There isn’t much of a story, besides what I described (at least I don’t think the details I’m leaving out are so important).

    I used “portrait” intentionally because the visuals do have a picturesque quality–and that might be the most interesting part of the film for me.

    The one disappointment I have is in the portrayal of the Sam’s neighbor. He could have been a lot more complex and interesting, but the film doesn’t want to go there.

    Our Private Lives (2007)
    Dir. Denis Cote

    Penny, Kevin and Chris probably have the best chance of liking this. I’m not sure I’d recommend it, as I don’t think they would love the film. I do think they would find it interesting. I’m pretty sure Mitchell and Arlyn would find this interesting, too, but I’m uncertain if that’s enough to warrant a recommendation. No to Joel, Marc, Don and Larri.

    This is a low-budget Canadian film. Milena is staying in a cabin out in the woods. Philip arrives (from Bulgaria–they’re both Bulgarian) and we learn that this is their first encounter after interacting with each other on the internet. Snippets of their conversation give us a sense of their relationship. What’s interesting is that you don’t know where the film is going to go with this relationship. Will it work it? Or will it be a disaster? They’re alone in the woods, so will this turn into a thriller? Since I didn’t know anything about the film, I didn’t have a clue. (If you don’t want to know, don’t read on.)

    For those who want to know, I’ll say that there isn’t much of a story and the film is a drama about intimacy.

    The filmmaking is good in this–mostly the visuals.

    So what is the film about–really? I think it’s about the difficulties of finding intimacy–and maybe within the context of internet. While Melina and Philip interact online (we don’t really know how long), when they both face a traumatic situation, they’re unable to go to the other person. They’re trapped.

    This reading might be correct, but it doesn’t explain the last shot of the film–namely, the man catching a muddy pig. Here’s my current take: the shot represent the relationship that Melina and Philip have “caught.” The muddy pig might be apt because their relationship seems based mostly on sexual attraction. (Philip behaves like a pig–in that makes out with another woman during his visit with Melina. I’m not sure why Melina allows this–although she does call him on it.)

  69. Arlyn

    Blancanieves (2012)
    Dir by Pablo Berger
    Starring: Maribel Verdu, Emilio Gavira, Angela Molina, Macarena Garcia, etc.

    Based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Snow White, Blancanieves is about a young girl, her famous bullfighter father and wicked stepmother, set in 1920’s Seville. An homage to silent films, this impressed me most for its originality. I think Mitchell and Reid would enjoy this film, based on what I know, for the music and photography at the very least. If you plan on seeing it, don’t read the reviews.

    The beautiful score, especially the flamenco guitar that accompanies this black and white film, adds to the romantic image of Spain, complete with bullfighters and flamenco dancers. What’s not to like about a story told through the eyes of child coming of age in Andalucia? After a recent discussion on El Sur, this story takes us to the South, finally! I should mention I liked this much better than The Artist. Blancanieves is one of my favorite films this year, so far.

    I wouldn’t recommend watching the trailer either.

  70. Reid

    Sounds interesting. I’ll keep it in mind.

    The Temptation of St. Tony (2009)
    Dir. Veiko Ounpuu
    70/100 (?)

    Chris comes to mind first, followed by Kevin. At the very least, they would find this interesting. I’d say Penny and Arlyn would have an interest, but I’m not sure how much they like it. Next, I’d choose Grace, but I’d put this low on her list. I’m sure would find things to like, but given his current preferences, I wouldn’t put this high on the list for him, too. I’d probably say no to Don, Marc and Jill. Definite no to Larri.

    I never realized that the temptation of St. Anthony was a favorite subject of painters. I don’t know many details, although supposedly the story involves St. Anthony’s ability to resist various temptations. At this point, I’m not sure if the film faithfully adheres to the story or if it just uses it as a springboard.

    I believe the film takes place in Finland, and it follows a middle-level executive of a factory, going through a variety of situations. The closest thing the film has to a story involves the man and a woman he meets and falls in love with. To be more accurate, the film has a variety of situations–beautifully shot in black and white, having a performance art feel to some of them. The film moves from reality to dreams, which makes the film difficult to follow and understand. If any of you have seen Roy Andersson’s Songs From the Second Floor, this film definitely reminds me of that.

    So what is the film about? I’m really not sure, but I suspect the film criticizes the main character rather than honor him. In some ways, he’s decent, but his decency is a bit of a farce. For example, in the opening scene, the car flies into the beach and the people in the procession completely ignore the event. One of the bloody survivors eventually makes his way to the church and asks Tony to sit in Tony’s swanky car. Tony obliges—but his kindness is absurd given that the man is seriously injured and Tony (and the others) completely ignore this. Another scene occurs when Tony is about to make-out with the daughter of the man Tony just fired. (The man starts screaming, “He fired me and is about to fuck my daughter,” or something to that effect. In retrospect, it’s pretty funny.) Tony isn’t just oblivious, but you could argue he’s totally insensitive and heartless—with little difference from someone who more overtly cruel.

    Now, the netflix synopsis says that Tony strikes a dangerous bargain with a mysterious figure. Can anyone tell me when this happened?

    Other questions and comments:

    >There’s a scene where we see Tony running, with what looks like a broken clothes hanger. He’s in a running suit and it looks like it’s splattered with something (blood?). What was going on here?

    >Any comments about the black dog and it’s significance? Tony bangs and kills the dog initially and tries to bury it. The dog reappears later (I can’t remember when) and Tony takes the dog home. Later, after Tony escapes from being eaten(?), he runs home, finds the dead dog and then he takes the dog out in the snow. What was that all about?

  71. Reid

    Spring Breakers (2013)
    Dir. Harmony Korine
    Starring: Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, James Franco, etc.

    I think Mitchell should see this. I’m not saying he’s going to enjoy this, but I think he should see it, and I’m guessing he’s going to want to see this (or be glad that he did). I’d probably recommend this to Chris and maybe Kevin and Penny. I’m don’t think Grace would like this and while parts of the film may interest her, it won’t be enough. Not sure about Jill or Arlyn. No to Larri, Marc, Don and Joel.

    Four college women decide to head down to Florida for spring break. Like typical college students, they want to party. But this isn’t your typical Hollywood movie. Instead of a fun or funny film about spring break exploits, we have a much more somber and even moralizing film about sex and violence in American culture and society.

    I must say that while I think teens and twenty-somethings should see the film, this is really the type of film parents would make them see. In other words, this is not something most young people are going to enjoy. (The first half reminded me of the “Sacred Straight” TV programs–programs where they take teens to see prison life and talk to inmates.) Now given the cast (and I suspect the marketing) I feel the film will suck in a lot of young viewers in a way that’s misleading and deceptive. I’m a little ambivalent about that as I feel like there is something dishonest about it.

    I think the filmmaking is quite good in this–from the cinematography, editing (including placing scenes that happen much later in the film with scenes in the present moment), and use of color and voice-overs. (I’m pretty sure Mitchell and others will appreciate this aspect at least.)

    However, for me, once I knew the film’s message and intent, the film gradually became a little tedious and long. I can see others disagreeing on this point, but I’m not sure

    (Edit: There is a quite a bit of topless and booty shots, for what that’s worth. In my opinion, it is not presented in a titillating or gratuitous way.)

    Here’s my take on the film. I think the film challenges–or even attacks–films like _The Hangover_–the frat boy films–films that glamorize alcohol, sex and drugs. The first part of the film portrays the spring break partying phenomenon in a negative and ugly light. I mentioned the “Scared Straight” programs, but I also thought of those anti-drug posters and commercials where they show cold, hard consequences of using drugs.

    The second continues on a similar vein, with some satirical elements. Franco feels like a Vanilla Ice-version of a gang banger, but, thankfully, the film takes a restrained approach on this. Ultimately though, I can’t imagine anyone coming away feeling thrilled or exhilarated by the film. The film seems to clearly condemn or at least cast the remaining girls in a negative light. Like Korine’s other films, I believe this one challenges portrayals of sex and violence from mainstream media and the entertainment industry, while critiquing our attitude and appetite for violence and sex as well. We should feel uneasy about our appetite for these things, and I think the film achieves this.

  72. Reid

    Bullet to the Head (2012)
    Dir. Walter Hill
    Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Sarah Sahi, etc.

    I can’t see anyone really liking this. Larri had the best chance, and she didn’t like it (although she said she would have been OK watching this on dvd).

    Stallone plays a hitman, Jimmy Bobo, whose partner gets killed in a double-cross. Kang plays Detective Taylor Quon who comes to New Orleans following a lead–which points to the guy that double-crossed Bobo. And so they team up, in a way that tries to replicate the similar dynamic in 48 Hours (another film that Hill directed; Torchies, the bar, appears in this film, too). The problem is, Stallone and Kang have almost no chemistry. (Kang, in particular, is pretty bad in this. At times, he seems confused–both as a character and maybe an actor.) The villains (including Wai’anae’s own, Jason Momoa) are really weak in this as well. The script is about what you would expect (not good), but it’s really the lack of chemistry that makes this fall flat.

    The Long Riders (1980)
    Dir. Walter Hill
    Starring: lots of brothers

    Mitchell and Aryln might like this, but I’m really not sure. I’m less sure about Penny, Grace, Kevin and Chris. I’d say no to Marc, Don, Larri, Jill and Joel, although I’d guess they wouldn’t think this is awful.

    Another telling of the Jesse James story. James Keach and Stacy Keach play brothers Jesse and Frank, respectively. The Carradine brothers (David, Keith and Robert) play the Younger brothers. The Quaids, Randy and Dennis, and Guests (Christopher and Nicholas) also have roles in this. The film reminds me of Andrew Dominik’s approach in his film version, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, except it might be less of a character study. Hill’s film is similar in that it is grittier and more realistic than a snazzy Western. There are quite a bit of domestic scenes with the women of these men (although I wasn’t sure what the point was). There’s also a bit of Sam Peckinpah in this.

    I completed the film scratching my head. It seems to want to portray the characters in a more realistic way–showing some of the domestic aspects of the characters, while also adding in some action sequences. (Well, I guess that’s not so hard to understand. The problem is the film just fell flat for me. A big reason is the casting of the Keach brothers in the lead roles, especially James Keach as Jesse. This is really an odd match and it just didn’t work at all for me. (Actually, it’s not that odd as the Keach brothers co-wrote the script. A guy I know told me they wanted to make a musical, but Hill talked them out of it. This explains quite a bit of scenes with live musicians (at the bar or socials; music by Ry Cooder).

  73. Arlyn

    (The first half reminded me of the “Sacred Straight” TV programs–programs where they take teens to see prison life and talk to inmates.)

    Interestingly, I would not mind watching a show entitled Sacred Straight or better yet Scared Sacred. Kidding. I saw this in elementary school.

  74. Reid

    The Woman in the Window (1944)
    Dir. Fritz Lang
    Starring: Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, etc.

    You know how we used to go out and choose a video to see with a group of friends? To make this work, you have to be flexible; you can’t expect to find a movie you’re going to love. In these situations, a movie that is decent can be a lot more satisfying than if you watched the movie by yourself. To some extent that describes this movie. If this is the movie we all choose (comprised on), I think most people would come out feeling satisfied. I could see Penny liking this the most, but I’m not sure about that.

    Remember when Fatal Attraction served as a wake-up call for some men? When this film has a similar kind of effect, although the plot is much different. With his wife and kids away on a trip, Prof. Richard Wanley (Robinson) has the night out with two of his good, middle-aged friends. Before meeting them, struck by a portrait of a beautiful young woman, and it becomes the point of conversation, and a bit of teasing from his friends–specifically, being tempted by woman while his wife’s away. Wanley playfully dismisses these notions, but on his way he home he just so happens to run into the woman in the portrait. She suggests they go get a drink, and that gets the ball rolling.

    Now, let me say a few things. First, the film isn’t as predictable as you might think–and that’s partly what makes the film entertaining. Second, I have to say that I don’t enjoy the type of movie with a protagonist who gets himself into a mess. Think of something like Fargo or Double Indemnity. Both are really good movies, but these type of movies tend to make me squirm in agony–at least for some scenes. The Woman in the Window may not be on par as those other two, but it’s still good. And I’m glad I stuck with it, despite the discomfort. (I’d recommend not knowing too much more about the film.)

    The Warriors (1980)
    Dir. Walter Hill

    I’m not sure who I’d recommend this to. I’d guess everyone else would think this is OK at best.

    New York in the 70s. A prominent gang-leader by the name of Cyrus is gathering on the gangs with a vision to take over the city by uniting the gangs. The film focuses on one of these gangs, the Warriors, who come to the meeting from Coney Island. Some trouble ensues at the meeting and the Warriors are blamed. Now, they must make the long journey back, while all the all gangs try to stop–or kill them.

    Whatever problems one may have with the film, I still like this plot. I was surprised to learn that it’s based Xenophon’s story, Anabasis–which is about a group of Greek soldiers that have to fight their way back home after the leader that hired them dies.

    The filmmaking is solid in this, especially for a b-movie. The initial set-up is very economical; the use of the DJ sending out messages is effective and fun; and I liked the scenes of the empty streets. The action sequences are just OK in my opinion, especially if you compare them by today’s standards. (A shaolin version of this story might be interesting.)

    The film is also a bit dated. I reacted to the dialogue the same way I react to hip slang used in much older films. The conception of gangs–with colorful names and uniforms–also seems dated and a bit silly. Indeed, I don’t know if someone mentioned this to me before, but I can believe the claim that Hill originally wanted to make the film as a musical. The gang uniforms are more stylish than realistic.

    With some better action sequences and stronger plot, I think this could have been a much better film.

    Pure (2010)
    Dir. Lisa Langseth
    Starring: Alicia Vikander, etc.

    I could see Arlyn, Penny, and Grace liking this–but I’m not sure how much. Mitchell, Kevin, Chris and Jill might also like this too, but, again, I’m not sure how much. I’d say no to Don, Marc and Joel–not because they would hate this (although they might), but the chances of them significantly liking this is pretty small.

    This is a film featuring a young woman trying to find her way in the world. While watching the film, I thought of Ruby in ParadiseKatarina (Vikander) comes from working class roots, and she’s living with her boyfriend and troubled mother. She has a love for classical music and by chance she gets a job at a concert hall. I’m not sure how much more I should say, but for those who need more, I’ll mention that she starts getting to know the conductor of an orchestra.

    I found the film cliched and the ending problematic. If others disagree, they could end up really liking this film. My rating depends mostly on Vikander’s performance. There’s a range of emotional states Vikander has to convey in this film and she does a good job of this. Most impressive is the way she’s able to convey some degree of mental instability without turning her turning her character into a caricature. It reminded me of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in Silver Lining’s Playbook.

  75. Mitchell

    Waaaaaaaaaariors! Come out to plaaaaaaaaaaaay…..!

    I always thought UHM sports teams should come out of the tunnels while the crowd chanted that.

  76. Arlyn

    Beyond the Hills (2012)
    Directed by Cristian Mungiu
    Starring Cristina Flutur, Cosmina Stratan, etc.

    Beyond the Hills is based on true events that happened in 2005 at an Orthodox monastery in an isolated part of Romania, befitting the film’s title.

    Two close friends who met as children in a Romanian orphanage find that their relationship isn’t the same as it used to be. Now in their 20’s, Alina has just arrived hoping to persuade her friend Voichita, to return to Germany with her but she has chosen to remain and serve her church rather than leave as planned. The priest is intolerant of Alina’s disrespectful behavior and the monastery intensifies their scrutiny of her. During her visit Alina suffers from a seizure and instead of seeking the proper medical attention, the priest and nuns have resigned to praying for her. This is a movie about judgment and persecution.

    In Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (2007), two college friends, in 1987 Bucharest, discuss their plan for one of them to have an abortion during a time when it was regulated and banned by a communist society. The same period that Alina and Voichita were born. Although Beyond the Hills isn’t as visually heart breaking as 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, you sense the unforgiving connection of the two films and how the history in the former film still has lasting effects on the latter. My first thought was: Finally, a film not taking place during communist Romania. In spite of what I thought, the two films are related. Instead of Ceausescu this film depicts the oppression of the church. As much as I’d love to see more of Mungiu’s films not dealing with the pain and scars of growing up in an oppressed society, I think it would be difficult to be passionate about telling a story that he couldn’t relate to as a filmmaker. This is the only world he knows.

    The performances are very good. I don’t normally look at the technical aspect of a film but it was hard not to notice the long takes. Also, I may have liked this a little more if certain scenes weren’t repeated. It’s an interesting story that made me think about my own convictions of others.

    Tales from the Golden Age (2009)
    Directed by Cristian Mungiu, etc.
    Screenplay by Cristian Mungiu

    Written by Mungiu, five short films dealing with the communist era in a humorous light. In “The Legend of the Party Photographer”, the newspaper editor is asked to alter Ceausescu’s photo so that he appears taller. SPOILER. They add a hat but forget to take out the original hat he’s holding in his hand.

  77. Arlyn


    My rating depends mostly on Vikander’s performance.

    She was great in Anna Karenina (2012), which was ok (71/100), and A Royal Affair (2012), which I thought was pretty good (78/100). I think both you and Mitchell might like A Royal Affair an 18th century period film about the king of Denmark, played by Mikkel Folsgaard, whose performance made this worth watching.

  78. mitchell

    I’m behind on my reviews. Just feeling a little brain-numb lately. But here are things I’ve seen since my last review:

    Oz the Great and Powerful
    Like Someone in Love
    The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
    Architecture 101 (2012; not in a theater, but a school auditorium)
    Certified Copy (2010)
    Bernie (2012)

    …and three more episodes of Star Trek Classic, bringing my total to 9. Next in queue: The Croods, Hot Coffee, and Beasts of the Southern Wild.

  79. Reid


    I’m not too enthused about period dramas, but I’ll keep that film in mind.


    How did you like Bernie? Do you think I will like it?

  80. mitchell

    I liked it a lot. I think you’ll think it’s not a waste of time, but not much more than that.

  81. Reid

    That’s the impression I got, too. Thanks for the feedback.

  82. Reid

    Drifting States (2005)
    Dir. Denis Cote

    My guess is that Penny and Kevin have the best chance of liking this, but I think it would be only mildly interesting. Arlyn, Grace and Mitchell might feel that way, too. No to Don, Marc, Joel, Larri and Jill.

    Christian takes care of his elderly, bed-ridden mother and one day decides to take her life. He drives away to a remote community in Quebec called, Raddisson. The film follows Christian as he explores the community, interacting with locals and walking around in nature. There are quite a bit of long takes with him doing mundane things, such as lap swimming, etc. So the film doesn’t have much of a story or character development. In a way, I got the sense that Cote got more interested in the community and the people in it than the original film he had in mind, and there’s a documentary feel to the film. (But maybe I’m not understanding the film well.)

    All That She Wants (2008)
    Dir. Denis Cote

    I think Arlyn and Penny would find this interesting, and I would recommend it to them. They would find this interesting and have a 50/50 chance of really liking this. Grace would be close behind, followed by Mitchell, Kevin, Chris and Jill. There’s a chance they would like this quite a bit, but I predict the best result would be little more than OK.

    This is set in a rural and secluded part of Canada. Coralie lives with her step-father (or grandfather or biological father–I couldn’t figure out which), Jacob. They both live next door to some local thugs–lead by the boss, Alain. Pic is an underlying and his cousin, Spazz, has recently arrived. Another key character is Pierrot, who gets out of prison and returns to live with Jacob and Coralie. (I wasn’t sure about the nature of his relationship to Coralie and Jacob.)

    The plot is hard to describe, and before I do, let me say something about the setting (which is one of the more interesting parts of the film). The film takes place between two houses–houses that are isolated, except for a major highway about a quarter of a mile in the background. Although they live in modern homes, Jacob and his family struggle to survive. They have to trade things for food. The setting has a post-Apocalyptic feel to it, as if the characters are the remaining survivors. There doesn’t seem to be many people besides the characters above, either.

    OK, on to the plot. The plot is hard to describe. It involves some conflicts between the “crime family” and “Jacob’s family.” I should mention that the drama is very low-key and something you’d see in an independent or art film. Having said that, the film is based on a narrative and conventional characters. Coralie actually turns out be one of the key characters.

    What stands out is the filmmaking–from the black and white and cinematography to the editing and unusual unfolding of the story. I Kevin and Chris would appreciate these elements, at the very least.

    Carcasses (2009)
    Dir. Denis Cote

    I’m not sure who would like this, but I know Don, Larri and Joel wouldn’t not like this. Marc and Jill probably wouldn’t like this much, either. I guess Penny would find this interesting; Arlyn, too. I’m sure about the others.

    Imdb lists this as a documentary, but it feels more like a fictional movie. Actually, it feels more like an Iranian film–one that blends reality into a fictionalized film (or vice-versa). The movie centers on a man who lives in a junkyard located in a forest or some remote rural area. It is a very slow-paced film, taking its time to show the man puttering around and talking with people who want to buy parts. One day four strangers enter the junkyard and interact with the man.

    I’d characterize the film as Contemporary Contemplative Cinema (CCC). These films don’t have much of a story, and long takes where seemingly nothing happens characterize these films. (Drifting States is like that, too.) I also think CCC employs a “reductionist” approach–that is, it eliminates big dramatic moments which allows for small gestures to have a much more dramatic and emotional impact. Think of some of handholding scene in In the Mood for Love as an example.

  83. Reid

    Holy Motors (2012)
    Dir. Leos Carax
    Starring: Denis Lavant, etc.

    Penny would be interested in this, and I’d recommend it to them, not because they would love this, but they would be happy seeing this. Kevin, Mitchell, Chris, Grace and Arlyn would probably also be happy seeing this, although I’m less sure if how satisfied they’d be. I’d have to say no to Don, Marc, Joel and Larri. I’m not sure about Jill, but, probably, no as well.

    I don’t really want to say too much about the film, so I’m going to stall….I think some critics listed this as one of the best 2012 films. I can understand that, and maybe if I analyze the film a bit more I’d feel agree more enthusiastically. I do think people who really love movies (not just going to the movies) would find this worth checking out. This is a concept film, not a narrative-based one, but the people that would be interested in this won’t find this too hard to follow. (I’m pretty sure Mitchell and Penny will like the concept.)

    OK, so what is this about? The film starts with a guy getting into a limousine. He’s given a file with a specific “job” he must complete. He begins by putting on make-up and an outfit. When he gets out of the car, he’s tranformed himself into an old bag lady. He gets back in the car and he’s given another file and taken to another job. You get the idea.

    I’ll say one other thing (although I wouldn’t recommend reading this, unless you’re pretty sure you won’t see the film). I had this idea once about making a movie that incorporated every film genre possible. The film would morph into one genre or include elements of various genres. Watching the film reminded me of this idea.

  84. Reid

    The Secret of the Kells (2009)
    Dir. Nora Twomey and Tomm Moore

    I’d recommend–almost strongly recommend–this to Mitchell. I would also recommend this to Penny, Grace, Arlyn, Kevin and Jill. I’d recommend Don, Marc and Joel to watch with their children as they get a little older. I believe Chris really liked this.

    This is an animated film involves a village/abbey that is in danger of being attacked by Vikings. The village is lead by Abbott Cellach, who devotes all of the villages resources to completely a wall surrounding the village. One day, a monk, Brother Aidan comes to the village. Brother Aidan is famous for working on the wonderful book known as the Book of Iona–which is partly wonderful for its magnificent illustrations. The Abbott’s nephew, Brendan, has heard stories about this book and eventually helps Aidan with completely the book. This involves some adventures in the forest.

    I’ll stop there, although the description doesn’t do the film justice. The movie isn’t a typical children’s book–where the boy goes off an exciting adventures. Refreshingly, the emphasis is not on action or beautiful princesses, but something else, which I’m reluctant to reveal. (But I’ll talk about it in the next section.)

    What I loved about the film was the way it exalts art and ideas–above action and adventure and physical beauty. It’s about how art and ideas are more valuable and powerful than physical prowess.

    If there is heroism, it involves the courage to face the darkest parts of one’s soul. Indeed, I love the way the film links great art with this ability to confront the soul’s dark regions.

    Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
    Dir. Mel Stuart
    Starring: Gene Wilder, etc.

    I’m guessing everyone has seen this already.

    Since I assume everyone has seen this, I won’t describe it.

    Does the film stand up? I think it does. Certainly, the experience was different as a parent, as the film speaks to parents (chides or warns them about spoiling their children).

    The Croods (2013)
    Dir. Kirk De Micco, Chris Sanders

    I suspect Jill and Larri would enjoy this. I could put Penny in that grouping, but she might think this was just OK. Ditto Mitchell, Joel, Marc and Don. I’m not sure about Kevin, Chris or Arlyn.

    This is an animted film about a caveman (Neanderthal?) family-the Croods. The Croods survive by living a very cautious life–staying in the cave and never being curious. Of course, one family member is curious and this proves critical, as the continents start shifting, forcing the Croods to find a new home. This leads to adventure, humor, and a message(involving a homo sapien they meet).

    The film’s heart is in the right place regarding its message, but I think it could have been more skillful in delivering the message. As for the story, characters, action and humor–they were OK, but pretty bland for some reason. I didn’t hate this movie, which was a little suprising, but it’s pretty so-so as well.

  85. m

    I would really like to see this. The Viking raids on Iona would place the story in the late 8th century (or early 9th). One theory about the art in the Book of Kells is that it was added in Kells after finding its way there from Iona. Another has the entirety of the Book of Kells being written in Iona around the time of the Viking invasion. Does the film depict any of the artwork and ornate lettering from the Book? I’d like to see what interpretation it has on the book’s origin and history, even if that interpretation is merely implied by details in the story.

    And does the film address the book’s subject matter in any way? How religious a story is it?

  86. Reid

    Does the film depict any of the artwork and ornate lettering from the Book?

    Yes, although I don’t know if it will have enough to satisfy you. But someone told me that the animation/art is based on the art of that time period.

    I’d like to see what interpretation it has on the book’s origin and history, even if that interpretation is merely implied by details in the story.

    It touches loosely on this. Let me put it this way. I didn’t know the Book of Iona was a real book or that any of the story was historical.

    And does the film address the book’s subject matter in any way?

    Not really (and that’s actually one of its strengths, in my opinion.)

    How religious a story is it?

    Not very–and I think this is intentional; and a good thing. I think watching the film as if it was purely fictional–that is, not having any connection with real historical events–is the better way to approach the film. I know someone who knew of the historical context and they didn’t like the film–partly because this person was hostile to Christianity–but it can work the other way, too–i.e., disappoint Christians who know about the historical context. Then again, Chris really liked this.

  87. Arlyn

    I didn’t like Holy Motors as much as I thought I would (67/100). Maybe if I hadn’t seen the high ratings, I would have expected less. It’s definitely original.

    After seeing that, I did end up getting a hold of other Carax/Lavant films which I liked about the same Tokyo! (2008), three short films filmed in Tokyo by Carax, Gondry and Joon-ho Bong, and The Lovers on the Bridge (1991).

  88. Reid


    I guess your reaction isn’t so suprising, and it sounds about right. I wouldn’t be surprised if the other people I recommended it to reacted in the same way.

    For me, I’m a little tired with these “meta” type of movies or at least I don’t get as excited about them as I used to.

    (Thanks for the feedback on other Carax films. I haven’t seen any of them.)

  89. Reid

    Battle in Heaven (2005)
    Dir. Carlos Reygadas

    I’d guess Kevin and Chris have the best chance of liking this, but I’m not entirely sure. Next, I’d choose Penny and Arlyn–as I think they would find this interesting at least. This would interest Mitchell and Grace, too, but not enough for me to recommend it to them. No to Larri, Don, Marc and Joel; probably no to Jill, too.

    This is a Mexican art film. It follows Marcos a chauffeur for a Mexican general. The film involves a botched kidnapping by Marcos and his wife. It also involves the general’s daughter, who has chosen to become a kind of pricey call girl. These details are not really that important to the film, though, and describing the plot would be pointless in my view.

    My sense is that the film is exploring issues of class, culture, politics and religion in Mexico–and it’s doing so in a more artfilm kind of way. For example, the film begins with the military raising a huge Mexican flag. The film spends a few minutes on this procedure and the film seems to want to inform viewers that this is a film about Mexico (versus a story or character study). Personally, I found some of the allusions and references difficult to identify, and if it were not for people familiar with Mexico, I would have even greater difficulty. (The issues involving class were a little easier to interpret.)

    While I didn’t have a good grasp of the film, I did find the film interesting and compelling. There is quite a bit of graphic nudity in the film, and many of these scenes were interesting–although I would struggle to explain the reasons for them.

    Silent Light (2007)
    Dir. Carlos Reygadas

    Same as above.

    The film takes place in a Mennonite community in Mexico. Johans is a farmer who falls in love with another woman. The film follows Johans as he struggles with this problem.

    The plot is simple, but easy to follow. The filmmaking is deliberate, and teh film is quiet, but it’s also very beautiful, and I didn’t mind the deliberate pacing at all. I had problems with the film, but I loved the cinematography (sometimes reminding me of Tree of Life)

    I’m still not sure what this film is about, and there’s an aspect of the film that is sure to divide viewers.

  90. Reid

    The Host (2013)
    Dir. Andrew Niccol

    I think Jill has a chance of liking this, and I would have said that Penny, Grace, Mitchell and Arlyn might like this, but since Larri didn’t care for this (although she said she wouldn’t have minded watching this on video), I’m guessing they won’t really care for this. Not sure about Don, Marc and Joel. I’d be a little surprised if Chris and Kevin liked this.

    Glowing tribble-like aliens have invaded the Earth. They live within the human being, taking them over. A young woman, who is one of the few humans that hasn’t been taken over, begins to resist the alien with her. She needs a way to find her younger brother and her boyfriend.

    If you’re wondering why I saw this, I have two reasons: 1) this is something Larri could watch; 2) Andrew Niccol has made some interesting films. This is not one of them. Let me list several reasons. First, the film isn’t very interesting visually. To me, it looked just a notch better (if that) than a TV movie. Second, the dialogue is, at times, atrocious–making it obvious that targeting pre-teen girls. Targeting that group isn’t so bad, but dumbing down the material to do so is. (Larri actually made this observation first.) Third, the pacing isn’t very good and the film takes a while to get going. Larri said that the film didn’t really have any dramatic tension, nor a good variation in intense suspense and more quieter moments. It was just dramatically flat for most of the film. I agree with that.

    And, yet, I did a degree of interest in how the film would end–otherwise the score would have been much lower.

    Track of the Cat (1954)
    Dir. William Wellman
    Starring: Robert Mitchum, etc.
    current score: 59/100

    I haven’t fully analyzed the film (hence the qualification on my rating), so it’s difficult to say who would like this.

    When you look at the cover art and see the cast, you’d guess this was a Western or an adventure film. It has the trappings of a Western, but it’s really a family psychological drama–closer to Edward Albee or Arthur Miller. (The film has the look and feel of a play.) than a conventional Western.

    The Bridges are a family raising cattle in a valley. One night Art, the middle of three brothers, hears strange noises from the cattle. He quickly wakes up Curt (Mitchum), his older brother, and Harold the younger. (They’re all grown men.) Curt is sure it’s a “painter” (mountain lion/panther), and his determined to shoot it. The men go to the kitchen and prepare to leave. We see their elderly mother (Beulah Bondi), father, sister (Grace) and Gwen–a woman Harold has been courting. We quickly learn that Curt is the strong one in the family–strong and somewhat of a bully. The mother seems to favor him, but most of the others seem a bit timid.

    As I mentioned, I don’t have a good grasp of the film, but my feeling is that the acting and the pscyhological aspects relating to the family dynamics and interpersonal relationships didn’t seem so convincing to me. I had similar problems with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. It’s difficult to know if others will feel the same way I did.

    The cat largely ends up being symbolic similar to the white whale in Moby Dick. A part of me feels like the symbolism and eventual significance of the cat is a little too obvious and simplistic (Harold eventually kills the cat and becomes a man in the process.), but I might not have a good understanding of the film.

  91. mitchell

    There’s no way I’m seeing The Host, unless, like you, my female companion really wants to see it. I just can’t get aboard the Stephanie Meyer train. And since Meyer wrote the source material, don’t be so sure anything was dumbed down. The dialogue might have been taken directly from the novel.

  92. Reid

    I just can’t get aboard the Stephanie Meyer train.

    If I had to choose, I’d say you wouldn’t like the film.

    And since Meyer wrote the source material, don’t be so sure anything was dumbed down. The dialogue might have been taken directly from the novel.

    Well, Niccol is still responsible for the film–unless he had no control over the dialogue. In any event, whether Meyer or the filmmakers are responsible for the dialogue, I’d still call it “dumbed down.” (The acting for some of these scenes was part of the problem, too. I’m thinking specifically of internal voice of the main character.)

  93. Reid

    Siegfried (1924)
    Dir. Fritz Lang

    I’d say no to Don, Joel, Jill, Larri and Marc. I can see everyone else appreciating on this on some level, but I don’t know if it would be enough to make them go out and see this.

    This is a silent film that tells the Nibelungen, a classic German/Norse myth. (This is part one of two parts.) The story involves Siegfried, who forges a sword and goes off to win the hand of Kriemheld, a sister of King Gunther of Burgundy. Along the way, he gets into adventures that transform him into a great hero.

    The tale becomes more melodramatic when Siegfried agrees to help King Gunther win the hand of Brunhild, a fierce warrior princess(?). To win her hand, a suitor must beat her in three competitions. Only Siegfried is capable of beating her. There melodrama occurs between the four characters, and I hesitate to say more.

    While watching the movie, I felt like I was watching an precursor to Lord of the Rings, and I’m sure these type of myths informed Tolkien. The formal qualities are often very good, but, honestly, it wasn’t enough to keep me interested. The film felt was a bit slow going. (It’s over two hours, so that didn’t help.)

  94. Arlyn

    Have any of you seen Mary Pickford films? Any favorites? I saw a book on her recently so I’m thinking watching some of her stuff.

  95. Reid

    Huh. I thought I did, but on checking imdb, I realized that I haven’t.

  96. m

    I’m pretty sure I haven’t. I have seen veerrrrrrrry few silent films I’ve enjoyed.

  97. Reid

    Have you seen over or under twenty? Why do you think you haven’t enjoyed them? For what it’s worth, I don’t have an easy time enjoying silent films–although enjoying them is getting easier. For me, these films are often dated and the oldness has a negative connotation. But I’m more able to look past these things now, although sometimes it can be rough–like with the film I just reviewed. Speaking of which, I watched the second part of Siegfried, and I’ll have some comments up soon.

  98. Reid

    Eccentricities of a Blond-Haired Girl (2009)
    Dir. Manoel de Oliveira
    Starring: Ricardo Trepa (Macario), Catarina Wallenstein (Luisa), etc.
    64 minutes

    I suspect Arlyn, Penny, Kevin, Mitchell and Chris would find this interesting on some level, but I’m not sure how much they would end up liking it. Marc, Joel, Don and Jill would just think this is OK at best, so I wouldn’t really recommend this to them. Ditto Larri.

    This is a short, Portuguese film that is an adaptation of a 19th Century short story. (Oliveira was about a 100 years old when he made this!) I really got hooked by the premise. A man is riding on a train. To himself, he repeats a saying, “What you can’t tell your friend or wife, tell a stranger.” He’s troubled and begins to tell his story to the person sitting next to him, who eagerly listens. His story begins when he first started working in his uncle’s office. One day he looked out and saw a beautiful young woman….

    Wallenstein, who plays the young woman, is really beautiful, and I really got excited about the film–wanting to know what would happen to both the man and the young woman, but I was a little disappointed by the end of the film, which I will comment on in the next section.

    I didn’t know that the original story was written in the 19th Century, but the characters did behave in strange, almost anachronistic ways (e.g., the nephew kissing the hand of the uncle, a sense of honor that seems foreign in modern times, etc.). But I wondered if this was just part of Portuguese culture that I was unfamiliar with.

    The ending was probably the most anachronistic element of the film. Luisa tries to steal a ring and Macario is furious–and seems to end the relationship, without really talking to Luisa about this. In the 19th Century, we might Luisa as someone who is clearly immoral or without honor, but in a modern context, the answer isn’t so simple in my view–especially since Luisa seems to come from a well-respected, upper-class family. In today’s world, I’d expect Macario would have questions–and not just assume that Luisa was a bad person. For example, maybe she has a psychological disorder.

  99. Mitchell

    Oz the Great and Powerful
    James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz. Directed by Sam Raimi.

    ozI had conflicting emotions headed into Oz the Great and Powerful. I love The Wizard of Oz and have always meant to read the series of books on which it was based. And I really admire Michelle Williams, who plays Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, and Mila Kunis, who plays another witch named Theodora. But boy, do I not like James Franco as an actor, mostly because I find him completely unmemorable, but also because in real-life interviews he seems to be so fond of himself. I know: it’s probably just some kind of resentment at his many so-called talents. Wherever it comes from, there it is, and it’s difficult for me to see past it.

    Although Franco, who plays the titular Oz the Great and Powerful, is not especially memorable in this role either, he’s not the worst thing about the movie, and is quite possibly one of its saving graces. The film has just about everything its lineage promises, such as flying monkeys, children made of porcelain china, and sly references to the 1939 Judy Garland classic, yet it manages to miss entirely the genuine sentimentality, the personal evolution of its main character, and (most egregiously) the shiver-inducing magic that make its forbear one of the greatest films of all time.

    ozThe principal actors seem only mildly invested in their characters’ situations. Williams is a believable Glinda, but she is strangely distant even while playing a possible love interest for the wayward Oz. Kunis is pretty good in the beginning, but a transformation midway through the film leaves the actress in territory she can’t convincingly navigate. Only Rachel Weisz as Evanora, Theodora’s sister, seems to walk the line between camp and realism with any aplomb, but as one of the movie’s few non-conflicted characters, perhaps she had the easier part.

    The real difficulty is with Franco and with the fact that his character is the supposed hero of this film. The script has to move him from wherever he is to what is eventually going to be the Man Behind the Curtain. How do you leave him, at film’s end, in a spot where the audience likes and cares about him even while knowing that he is to become the despicable character who sends Dorothy and her friends on a death mission?

    ozIt tries, and so does Franco, who plays the vulnerable bits surprisingly well, especially when rescuing the small porcelain girl from the ruins of her village. Yet despite the touches of endearing, almost parental sentimentality for the girl and the hint of deeply-held love for a beautiful woman he doesn’t consider himself worthy of, Oz cannot truly redeem himself until he finally gets Dorothy home, many years later in 1939. By film’s end, he may have used his “talents” to rescue the citizenry, but he is still the unrepentant con-man we all grew up irritated with.

    In multiple places along the line of this movie’s production, people involved should have understood that they were messing with one of filmdom’s greatest legacies, and that only a truly ambitious effort could possibly satisfy audiences. Content instead to please only the youngest audiences, Oz the Great and Powerful manages to be a passable film, which is simply not good enough.


  100. Mitchell

    Like Someone in Love (2012)
    Rin Takanashi, Tadashi Okuno, Ryo Kase. Directed by Abbas Kiarostami.

    like someone in loveOne of my colleagues, who has taught courses in Japanese film, described the Abbas Kiarostami film Like Someone in Love as “minimalist.” That could be putting it mildly. In many scenes, this Japanese-language film by the Iranian director could be described as minimalism on top of minimalism, with a dash of understated thrown in. An almost non-existent score, unembellished dialogue, a flatness of affectation presented by its principal actors, and long takes where nobody seems to be saying or doing anything are clearly the deliberate decisions of a film-maker trying to make a point.

    Whether that point is made or not is difficult to say. I’ve heard hesitant explications by a few friends, most of which I agree with, and these discoveries definitely help me appreciate the film more. There are themes of misunderstood, mis-aimed, and unrequited love, not to mention hints that Kirarostami is saying something about passion and violence. However, the film works for me without the deeper implications, strictly on an as-presented basis.

    like someone in loveThe film stars Rin Takanashi as a college student who works in prostitution in order to pay for school. Tadashi Okuno is one of her clients, a retired professor who seems only to want the girl’s company. Ryo Kase is the girl’s fiance, an apparently talented auto mechanic and (forgive me for saying it) a stereotypical Japanese punk of a young man. The film takes place in the course of about twenty-four narrative hours and at times seems to last as long in real-time.

    I enjoyed the almost lulling realism of a long car-ride taken by a girl who doesn’t want to go where she’s going, driven in a car by someone she doesn’t know. A seemingly endless series of phone messages listened to on the girl’s phone creates a tension that might not otherwise be felt if not for the spare action that surrounds it. And the initial interaction between the girl and the old man seems fraught with some kind of peril, even though the old man is kind.

    There seems to be a lot to unpack in this simple, seemingly uncomplicated film, and I like that it works as something to chew on and as something merely to experience. I can see a lot of people not liking its possibly unsatisfying story arc, but I think a lot of people might find its minimalism refreshing. I’d encourage viewers looking for something less bombastic than explosions and bar-brawls to give it a shot.


  101. Mitchell

    The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)
    Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin. Directed by Don Scardino.

    burt wonderstoneI slept through a great part of the first half of this film. And that may be a conservative estimate. I normally don’t attempt to review films I sleep through this much of (and it happens a lot now that I’m old), but I think I have something to say about what I did see that makes this brief review worth writing. Worth it to me, anyway.

    There is such a thing as a Steve Carell movie [a quick tip of the hat to my friend Tony, who first articulated what I’m about to explain]. Excellent examples are The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Dan in Real Life. These films feature a kind of hangdog, beaten-down character who has seen too many unmet expectations and disappointed ambitions. Carell’s is a tragic, comic persona who is extremely effective at pointing out the absurd comedy of our own daily tragedies. He is not snarky; he is not cynical; he is not jaded. What he is is resigned, with a tiny bit of hope and an even tinier bit of naïveté.

    burt wonderstoneIf you put this actor in a movie that’s not quite about that persona, it doesn’t matter what you were trying to make: you are making a Steve Carell movie. This is a good because Carell is a talented comic actor, and it’s impossible not to like his characters. It’s bad because that guy doesn’t belong in just any film. Which is to say that if you like Steve Carell, you will probably like him in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone even if you dislike the rest of the movie, and if you dislike Steve Carell, you probably won’t be at all impressed by this film.

    I love Steve Carell, and I love what he brings to this movie, which also features Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey (in an excellent performance as a rival magician, a scathing parody of David Blaine), Olivia Wilde, and Alan Arkin. Carell is Burt Wonderstone, a nerdy magician who was once on top during the glory days of performance magic in Las Vegas. Buscemi is his partner. Arkin is his lifelong hero. Wilde is the love interest.

    It’s cute and pretty funny, and held together by Carell, who brings his Carellness to a movie that might not at first glance seem to want it.

    I enjoyed what I saw of it, ‘though it’s hard to get excited about such a silly movie.


  102. Mitchell

    Admission (2013)
    Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Lily Tomlin. Directed by Paul Weitz.

    AdmissionIn my review of Steve Carell’s The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, I wrote:

    If you put this actor in a movie that’s not quite about that persona, it doesn’t matter what you were trying to make: you are making a Steve Carell movie. This is a good because Carell is a talented comic actor, and it’s impossible not to like his characters. It’s bad because that guy doesn’t belong in just any film.

    You could replace Carell’s name in this paragraph with Tina Fey’s and while they are far from being the same persona, you’d be just as correct. Another tip of the hat here to my friend Tony who first articulated this about Carell and Fey. He is totally right.

    Casting Fey in Admission is an interesting move, and all by itself, it defines the movie. I can imagine several other actresses in the lead role, such as Jennifer Aniston or Reece Witherspoon, each of them making this a slightly different picture. Tina Fey makes it something more yearning, something more bittersweet, and it’s a good choice, the best choice the filmmakers make in this all-over-the-place movie.

    admissionFey plays Portia Nathan, an admissions officer at Princeton University. She’s good at her job, which involves visiting schools in search of the best and brightest, and then rejecting most of their applications for admission. When she visits a new alternative school close to where her mother lives, she meets a former schoolmate, John Pressman (Paul Rudd), who runs the school and believes that one of his seniors might be the son Portia gave up for adoption while still in school. The boy is ridiculously smart, a self-described autodidact who hates school but has read just about everything in sight. He is somewhat interested in applying to Princeton despite his horrible academic record; his through-the-roof test scores being his only possible salvation, if you don’t count his possible relationship to one of the school’s admissions officers.

    There is soooooo much more, all of it good and all of it interesting, but none of it truly satisfied by film’s end. I love that this film creates such intricate characters with so many issues, and I love that it puts them in very, very specific, untrodden realms in film. I can forgive it for leaving most of it unresolved or unhinted-at, but what the film does resolve is too easy, too predictable, and not too satisfying, and that’s a huge disappointment.

    Especially wasted is the talent of Lily Tomlin, who plays Portia’s off-the-wall mother, a distant parent who seems like she’d be a great friend but has been a terrible mother.

    Through it all, Fey is a wonderfully transparent actress, the kind of comic actress who’s at her funniest in the tiny moments right after the audience’s laughter at some plot-contrivance or witticism. In this way, it’s great that the film makes Tomlin her mother, because there’s something of a comic lineage there that really makes you think. And then it makes you sad because this movie doesn’t give either one of them the finish they really deserve, ‘though it really, really, really tries.

    See it because you like Tina Fey. But remember that I warned you.


  103. Mitchell

    Architecture 101 (2012)
    Han Gae-in, Bae Suzy, Uhm Tae-woong, Lee Je-hoon. Directed by Lee Yong-joo.

    architecture 101This movie came sooooo close!

    Architecture 101 is a Korean language film about a young architect named Seung-min who is visited by Seo-yeon, the woman who, in their college days, was his first love. Seo-yeon wants Seung-min to design her new house, on the island where she once lived with her father. At first, Seung-min seems to have difficulty remembering who Seo-yeon is, but as their story is told in flashback, it’s clear that he couldn’t possibly have forgotten her.

    Their friendship begins because they live in the same, poor part of town, a long bus ride from the university where they are students. Seo-yeon, of course, is attracted to one of Seung-min’s friends, and for a while, the young man is content to be the friend and loyal confidante of the flighty girl. As they grow closer, romance seems the inevitable path, but circumstances and misunderstandings interfere, and we know that something must happen to cause them all these years of separation.

    (possible spoiler; skip this one paragraph if you’re sensitive about this kind of thing)

    architecture 101You know what? I wouldn’t care that this film takes a gigantic misstep at the end of the film if it weren’t for the fact that it set me up for something better. The relationship between the young college students is beautiful, fraught with peril and heartbreak and disappointment and all the wonderful things about young love. Even all these years later, as they work together on Seo-yeon’s new house, there is an easy communication, a manner of speaking through movement and expression that changes the meaning of the words they exchange, and you can see that these are people who should be together.

    The movie does so many things well and then it fumbles the ball in a big way. There doesn’t seem to be a reason for the play which causes the fumble, and this is a huge disappointment. But the acting is good, and the story is compelling, if somewhat familiar. There are a few parts that drag, and I wonder sometimes if the Korean aesthetic calls for longer spaces between lines of dialogue than the American, because there are times I wish the actors would pick up the pace a little. Still, an enjoyable movie, a romance with pretty actresses and a kind of where-did-we-go-wrong sadness that, at least for me, rang bitterly and sweetly true.


  104. Mitchell

    The Croods (2013)
    Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Nicholas Cage, Cloris Leachman.

    croodsThe Croods are perhaps the last cave family in a tumultuous world that wants to leave them in their cave and move on to more evolved denizens. They have outlived the other cave families by being especially fearful of everything: their family motto, preached endlessly by their patriarch as both mantra and recurring story-time theme, is “Never not be afraid.”

    The world they live in is changing, with earthquakes and landslides and floods and all kinds of terrors, and retreating to their cave in fear would now be detrimental to their survival. In order to survive, the Croods are going to have to go somewhere else, braving the elements in search of safer ground.

    They are guided by a young man named Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), who seems deft at navigating the unfriendly terrain but not familial traditions. Guy finds himself at odds with familial leader Grug (Nicholas Cage) while at evens with his daughter (Emma Stone).

    croodsThe film is a series of attempts by Guy to teach the Croods to think creatively and critically about each obstacle they are presented with, and never to be afraid. Grug, meanwhile, seeks to help his family understand that the old ways kept them alive and can continue to do so.

    It’s mostly kind of a bore, to be honest. The animation is garish and slippery, with characters’ movements seeming to be over-lubricated, a complaint I also had with Robots, but this does the same thing in (mostly) organic tones. One technical aspect I enjoyed was the excellent sound effects and music. They were surprisingly interesting for a movie aimed at kids.

    There is one extended sequence I found really interesting, when the family decides to split up and go four separate ways, in one situation grouped in a trio, in one situation grouped in a pair, and in the other two with solo explorers. It’s actually a pretty good metaphor for the new approach to learning in the classroom, with students taught a few basics to begin, and then left to discover for themselves whatever they will learn on their journey to some predefined goal. If I were still a classroom teacher, I would show this section to every class in every subject.

    Beyond that, the film is a bit ham-fisted in its preachiness and sentimentality. Especially in its sentimentality. One friend found something of a liberal agenda in the way the story is told; I think I agree with the argument, but I don’t see how, in general and by definition, a positive story could be told about these characters without some kind of liberal theme. Conservatism is, by definition, the concept of keeping things as they are, while liberalism is about change. The case can be made that a certain measure of both (in the conservative sense, a bit of the old brute force that forced open those cave dwellings to begin with) is the recommended dosage, but the movie really does set the old ways up as being the path to doom.

    There are ways to achieve meaningful sentiment without ramming down an audience’s throats. I wish The Croods (and other films aimed at very young people) would employ one or two of them. It would make films like this much more palatable to the entire family and not just to the very young (and the very young-at-brain).


  105. Mitchell

    Sound City (2013)
    Directed by Dave Grohl.

    sound cityIn the early 1970s, an unknown duo called Buckingham Nicks recorded an album in a new studio called Sound City, located in California’s San Fernando Valley in a dump of a warehouse. Because they hadn’t broken out yet, they continued to hang out in the studio even upon the record’s completion. While Stevie Nicks worked as a maid for the studio’s owner and Lindsey Buckingham listened to pieces of his new album in a studio listening room, Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac overheard some of their work. They became acquainted. Then they joined forces and in that same studio recorded Fleetwood Mac.

    Since then, some of the greatest albums in rock and roll history have been laid down in that studio, including landmark albums by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Neil Young, Rick Springfield, Foreigner, Pat Benatar, Barry Manilow, Nine Inch Nails, and Nirvana.

    sound citySound City is a documentary directed and narrated by Dave Grohl, the Nirvana drummer who, upon the recording studio’s demise, purchased the legendary soundboard and set it up in his own studio. Examining first the studio’s history and then its legacy, with lots of great stories sprinkled in between, Grohl and the film’s other participants pay tribute to the building that gave many of them their careers, ending the trip down memory lane with new recording sessions by these musicians on the old equipment in that equipment’s new home.

    Although I enjoyed the 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man, I had a problem with the lack of expounding by fans of the music, the absence of a critical examination of the music itself that made the musician such a big deal to them. This is one aspect Sound City gets right: there is a lot of talk about the space, and how good it was especially for the sound of rock and roll drumming, and there is a lot of talk about the soundboard itself, at the time a top-of-the-line piece of equipment that cost $75,000, or twice the price of the studio owner’s home.

    sound cityThere’s a lot of really good music. And a lot of backstory for some of the albums that every rock and roll fan loves. In one especially moving anecdote, Rick Springfield talks about how his parting with the studio’s manager, who had taken Springfield under his wing and managed him to enormous professional success, had not been pretty, and how Springfield had believed incorrect things about his former friend. “It didn’t end well,” says Springfield, wiping away tears.

    As something of a culmination to this project, Grohl invited many musicians (including Nicks, Springfield, Paul McCartney, Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic, and Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor) to get together in the new studio with the Sound City board and create new songs. The songs became an album, of new music, and a cynic could see the last half hour of the documentary as a hype to sell albums.

    I don’t see it that way, and most music geeks won’t either. What the extended footage of these musicians working together really does is let us see the creation process in a way we’re seldom treated to. We watch McCartnely pick up a left-handed, Bo-Diddley-looking guitar and crank into a loud, groovy riff with Grohl joining on drums and Novoselic on bass, creating as they explore each other’s musical ideas. During playback, the musicians discuss which parts they want to keep and how they want the song-in-creation to move from one good part to another good part. There is a joy in this process, a respectful collaboration and reverence toward the act of creating music that made me sad about my own lack of musical talent while convicting me to continue to develop my voice in whatever creative realms I might explore.

    Dave Grohl has created the music documentary I wish so many other documentarians had created when they made their less-than-satisfying films. There are a few flaws, so this is by no means a perfect example of its genre, but it’s exactly right, and I cannot wait to own this on DVD so I can watch it repeatedly.


  106. Mitchell

    Bernie (2012)
    Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey. Directed by Richard Linklater.

    bernieBernie is a Richard Linklater film, based on a true story, about a mortician who befriends a wealthy, domineering, elderly widow and then kills her, spending her money on projects to improve the small Texas town he lives in.

    Jack Black plays the title character, an enthusiastic, flamboyant character beloved by almost everyone in the town. As a mortician, he presents funeral services in a sympathetic manner that makes him very popular among the bereaved. As a citizen, he directs (and stars in) community plays, seemingly a friend to all, especially the elderly citizens of the town, many of whom see in Bernie as a gentle, kind man.

    When Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) is widowed, nobody seems especially caring, not even Marjorie’s kids and grandkids, to whom she has been mean and alienating. She turns her nastiness on Bernie too, at first, but Bernie’s persistent kindness turns into a friendship, and soon the two are traveling together and spending most of Bernie’s non-working hours in each other’s company. Marjorie disinherits her uncaring family and makes Bernie the sole beneficiary of her will, even giving him power of attorney. But as she demands more and more of his time, becoming more and more dependent on him for every mundane need, Bernie finds himself resentful of this woman who has allowed him to purchase cars for needy citizens and flying lessons for himself.

    bernieJack Black is brilliant as Bernie. Brilliant. Here is a comic actor whose career has certainly been helped by his willingness to say and do just about anything for a laugh, but who is a star because he is a great singer and performer. When we first hear him sing in Hi Fidelity, it is a shocking and beautiful moment to hear this passionate character belt such beautiful vocals in such a convincing way. Since most of singing since then has been of the comic variety, it has become easy to forget what a good singer he is, and here, in a manner completely lacking irony, Black sings classic hymns with such sincerity that I was moved to tears.

    The way Black throws himself so completely into these hymns is the way he absorbs every other bit of Bernie’s character, playing this thing as straight as can be, leaving it up to the situations and story to communicate both tragedy and comedy. When Bernie confesses to the police, it is a heartbreaking, believable moment that very few actors could pull off, because Black earns it with his right-down-the-line straight performance of an almost impossible-to-believe character. Black comedy can be a tricky thing, but Jack Black nails it.

    Nails it.

    bernieMatthew McConaughey as the district attorney who brings Bernie to trial is really good too, but he’s too McConaughey for this film, I’m afraid. And here is where I will apologize to Shirley MacLaine for thinking, these past many years, that the skilled actress lost her acting sense twenty years ago. She, too, is perfect in her role, and not at all the eccentric old-woman cliché she’s been relegated to in far too many pictures. She can still act: someone please give her a meaningful role.

    Bernie is not a documentary, so most of what I feel is missing is not the fault of the film. Still, I would have liked to see something from the real-life Bernie, something to explain his feelings about where he is now and how he feels about what led him there. And like most black comedies, there is something unsatisfying about the entire experience. I wish I could articulate what that is, but it’s something I have felt about just about all of them.

    The crime is not that the real-life Bernie committed this act of murder; the crime is that Jack Black did not win a Best Actor Oscar and that so many people haven’t seen this film. I can’t believe it didn’t play at my local cineplex, or that it showed for only a week or two at the mall theater that shows the indie films.


  107. Mitchell

    Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
    Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry. Directed by Benh Zeitlin.

    beastsIn Beasts of the Southern Wild, Hushpuppy and her father Wink live on an island on the other side of those New Orleans levees, a region they call The Bathtub. She’s five and in many ways independent, living in her own trailer about fifty yards away from Wink’s trailer. They catch and raise their own food, Wink ostensibly making his own whiskey, which he consumes in large quantities. Hushpuppy goes to school in a one-room shack on a pier, her teacher also a Bathtub resident, teaching the children about survival in the bayou.

    Wink is not healthy, and Hushpuppy is worried. And there is a storm coming, and helicopters flying overhead proclaim that there is a mandatory evacuation in progress. Wink and his friends ignore the notice, riding out the storm that floods their land for days.

    of theThe people and culture of the Bathtub are fascinating. While there is a pervasive, extreme poverty one simply cannot ignore, the citizens seem to have what they need and want, gathering for crab feasts, celebrating more holidays than the rest of the state, and refusing always to cry when someone dies. In one scene, an elderly man tries to teach Hushpuppy to open gently the body of a crab, but Wink will have none of it, demanding that the little girl “beast it,” breaking the crab’s body open with her bare hands and sucking the meat right from the shell. It’s toughness this lifestyle demands, and there are no age restrictions on toughness.

    There is a lot of yelling in Hushpuppy’s and Wink’s communication, another facet of this life they share. Joy, anger, sorrow, instruction, and love are verbally shouted, often accompanied by the throwing of some trailer decoration or the smashing of furniture, with a kind of emphatic desperation that is strangely touching.

    And the language! It’s some of the most poetic dialectic English I’ve ever heard. I was captivated by the beauty of these characters’ sentences and phrasing. The movie is fiction, and I don’t know how much real-life there is in its characters and setting, but I pray the language is not just something someone made up, because it’s so beautiful I long for it to be alive.

    southern wildThere are some plot things potential viewers might care to know, but see it anyway without my sharing them. The plot is an excuse for us to get to know these people. See it just for that.

    The film is often categorized as a fantasy, and there are some elements of fantasy, some of them obvious and some of them vague. There is a sequence where three of Hushpuppy’s young friends accompany her on a very long trek off their home island in search of Hushpuppy’s mom. Is it possible that this is part of the real-world story, or is this part of the same realm in which the prehistoric aurochs find their way from the Arctic circle to the Bathtub? That mystery adds to the beautiful magic of this movie.

    It is not a movie that needs figuring out. It is a movie that only requires us to get to know its characters, as Hushpuppy wishes: “In a million years, when kids go to school, they gonna know: Once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub.”


  108. Mitchell

    Certified Copy (2011)
    Juliette Binoche, William Shimell. Directed by Abbas Kiarostami.

    certifiedCertified Copy, starring Juliette Binoche and William Shimell, and directed by Abbas Kiarostami, is a mystery of a film, one of those rare movies whose presentation of the mystery is so excellent that it outweighs the need for a satisfaction of some kind of solution.

    When the film begins, the characters seem not to know each other. He is an art lecturer; she runs an antique shop. They meet, go for a drive, and are suddenly a married couple. Were they pretending earlier not to know each other, or are they pretending now to be married?

    That the film doesn’t really answer the question or provide evidence for the audience to decide one way or the other might drive viewers mad, a response I might agree with if the film weren’t so interesting and well done. Roger Ebert writes, “We assume there’s more going on here than meets the eye, but maybe what meets the eye is all that’s going on, and there is no complete, objective reality.” I agree with him: whatever the reality is, if in fact there is one, isn’t as important in this film as the way the mystery is offered, with (mostly) interesting dialogue, good acting, and interesting movement and counter-movement by the actors.

    copyI don’t adopt Ebert’s “take it at face value” approach in this movie mostly because some of the clues seem to point to these people at least knowing each other before the events in the first scene, but I’m not so beholden to that interpretation that I find the opposite preposterous. It works for me with its inconsistencies and unanswered questions because the whole doesn’t have to add up to anything if its parts are honest and real, and the film is made up of some very real in-the-now moments. There is one scene near the end, where Binoche rests on an outdoor stair, that I wish I could have frozen and painted. Does the moment give us any clues about the whole picture? I had the feeling that it did, but even if it did not, it was strikingly real then, and that was good enough for me.

    Which pretty much sums up my feelings about the whole movie.


  109. Arlyn


    A man is riding on a train. To himself, he repeats a saying, “What you can’t tell your friend or wife, tell a stranger.”

    This sounds really interesting. Have you seen the film Silent Souls (2010) by A. Fedorchenko? I thought of this movie for some reason because of the saying you mentioned.

  110. Reid

    That saying hooked me as well, as I liked the premise of the film. I have mixed feelings about the conclusion, and I’m not sure how you would react.

    I have not seen Silent Souls. Do you think I would like it?

  111. Arlyn


    What the extended footage of these musicians working together really does is let us see the creation process in a way we’re seldom treated to.

    In the beginning of the film I didn’t know where Sound City was leading but was thrilled at the ending when everyone gathered in the studio along with the soundboard. If anyone should have that soundboard in their possession it should be someone like Dave who has great affection of its history. In my next life I’d love to learn to operate a mixer. I’d guess you’d need a finely tuned ear but what about all those controls? I really enjoyed this documentary especially because of the filmmaker. Usually, I get a sense of a filmmaker’s musical inclinations. Like with Richard Linklater and Jack Black. Or with Linklater, Delpy and Hawke. From watching their films you can tell they all love music. But for it to go the other way around, a musician telling a story through film, just blows my mind.

    …creating as they explore each other’s musical ideas.


    There is a joy in this process, a respectful collaboration and reverence toward the act of creating music … convicting me to continue to develop my voice in whatever creative realms I might explore.

    That’s so great. I really loved the collaboration.

    It’s like I blinked and all these movie reviews were posted since I last logged on. I have some catching up to do so I’ll be back.

  112. Arlyn


    You know I feel a little uncomfortable recommending it but because we’ve discussed Dogtooth, I think it’s okay for me to do so. But yeah, I think you’d find it interesting. It’s a similar to the movie you just described in that the husband begins to tell, not a stranger, but a friend about his wife. And they’re on a journey too. I think Mitchell would find this interesting as well.

  113. Reid


    OK, I’ll keep that film in mind.

  114. Reid

    I’ve seen three Yoshitaro Nomura films, and I’m about to review two of them now. (I reviewed the third, Castle of Sand, earlier.) I wanted to make some comments about these three films. First of all, I really would really recommend these films to Penny. Out of everyone, I’m most confident that she would enjoy these films, and I would say she should go in blind. (I’m not saying she’ll love these films, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she did–specifically Castle in the Sand). Actually, I would recommend knowing as little as possible to all the other people as well. I’d also recommend the films to Chris, Kevin, Grace and Arlyn. I’m pretty sure they would all enjoy the films, although I would say they shouldn’t go in with really high expectations. (I’m a little less sure about Grace as she may have seen many other films like these and be less enthusiastic because of that). Marc, Mitchell, Don, Jill and Joel would all think these films are OK at least, but I would have to give specific recommendations for each film. I believe the films would keep Larri engaged, but I’m not sure how satisfied she’d feel by the end of the films.

    Let me say that these films are completely accessible, and most of them are well-paced. They don’t require a lot of effort to watch or figure out. For me, I really enjoyed watching these films, and I look forward to watching the two remaining films streaming on hulu. I’m not sure if how good these films are (in an intersubjective sense), but I don’t really care. They were fun films to watch and also more than just superficial entertainment.

    These films (along with two others) are currently streaming on hulu+.

    Now on to the reviews.

    Stakeout (Harikomi) (1958)
    Dir. Yoshitaro Nomura
    Starring: Minoru Oki (Det. Takao Yuki), Seiji Miyaguchi (Sgt. Yuji Shimooka), Hideko Takamine (Sadako Yokokawa), Takahiro Tamura (Kyuichi Ishii), etc.

    I would recommend this to Jill. I’m pretty sure she would find this interesting. I want to include Marc with Jill, too. I’m a little less certain with Don, although I think this is a good one to take a chance on. Joel, I’m not so sure.

    I really don’t want to say much about the film–even the synopsis I read gave away too much, allowing me to predict what was going to happen earlier than I would have liked to. Or, if hadn’t read the synopsis, I would have been less sure about my predictions.

    I will say that the film is about two police officers staking out the home of a woman who is the former (or current) lover of a suspected murderer.

    The film takes a while to get going–while the detectives wait, we don’t get much information, except we do learn a little about the woman’s life. Some of you might get impatient with the slow pace–and this is one aspect that makes me uncertain how others will take this. I wouldn’t go in expecting a lot of action or thrills. But for me, the payoff was worth it.

    Three things I really liked about the film:

    1. I really liked the way Sadako’s life informs Yuki about his own. This may be a trivial point, but I love the way Yuki gets this information as a third-party observer. By these observations, the lessons impact him a lot more than if someone delivered that lesson to him directly. In a similar fashion, we, the audience, get similar lessons in this indirect way. I liked that–and the fact that the film uses a mystery/police procedural as the vehicle for this message.

    2. I really liked the other key message–specifically, the life and humanity of a housewife, and the way society and even family members may not realize and appreciate these things. In this way, Sadako reminded me of Meryl Streep’s character in Bridges of Madison County. I liked the film gradually reveals this insight, getting to the core of matter.

    3. I liked the tragedy of the situation–and this idea that someone who lives a happy, but boring life can actually have passionate feelings and experience tragedies that family members and people on the outside may be oblivious to. (It makes me wonder much I really know my parents)

    Zero Focus (1961)
    Dir. Yoshitaro Nomura
    Starring: Yoshiko Kuga (Teiko Uhara), Koji Nanbara (Kenichi Uhara), etc.

    I’d probably recommend this to Jill and Marc. I’m a little less sure about Don, but, again, I say he should take the chance. Joel, I’m a little less sure about, although this (as well as the other two films) might be good to watch with his wife, as they could both enjoy the films.

    Teiko has been married for a week to Kenichi. Kenichi has recently been promoted to the Tokyo office (where Teiko and her family live), but he must help transition his replacement in his previous office in Kanagawa(?). On the day he’s supposed to return to Tokyo, he doesn’t show up. Days go by and Kenichi’s company sends a representative, along with Teiko, to find out what happened.

    The film moves along, and I’d guess most people would find the story satisfying–as long as they’re not too nitpicky. I will say that the plot is a little convoluted and hard to follow, but this was a minor concern for me.

    The other problem I had was with Koga. She wasn’t very likable to me. She has the look of someone who is a bit cold, severe and a little judgmental. Others may disagree, but I didn’t like her as much as I wanted to.

    Some comments:

    1. Like Stakeout, this is a mystery that has the plight of women at it’s heart. I feel sympathy for the characters the film wants viewers to pity, and I certainly don’t have negative or judgmental feelings towards them. Because of that, the film’s impact might have been a little less for me. Still, I appreciated the way the film delivers the message using a decent mystery story.

    2. I kinda thought the mystery was solved a little too quickly and easily. I understand that the mystery might have been a secondary concern, so this is a minor criticism.

  115. Arlyn


    Have you seen School of Rock or Me and Orson Welles? I liked those Linklater films but I did like Bernie better. 82/100

    Since most of singing since then has been of the comic variety, it has become easy to forget what a good singer he is, and here, in a manner completely lacking irony, Black sings classic hymns with such sincerity that I was moved to tears.

    The way Black throws himself so completely into these hymns is the way he absorbs every other bit of Bernie’s character, playing this thing as straight as can be, leaving it up to the situations and story to communicate both tragedy and comedy.

    This part of your review makes me want to watch this again. You’re right. Jack Black totally nailed it. And I liked the rest of the cast from Shirley MacLaine up to the townspeople.

  116. Arlyn

    Sparrows (1926)
    Directed by: William Beaudine
    Starring Mary Pickford, Roy Stewart, Mary Louise Miller

    I did end up checking out my first Mary Pickford film, Sparrows. I’d seen a few silent films before but had never seen one of hers so I asked the video store clerk who pointed me to this one. She plays Molly who lives on a “baby farm” where some of the kids have been kidnapped. I’d never heard of this term before. Mary Pickford’s character is the mother figure of all these kids that live in the barn with her. Because of the theme and the poor conditions the kids lived in, the film felt dark even by today’s standards. There’s an interesting scene where Mary prays and where Jesus appears in what seems to be a dream. The farm is located next to a swamp so imagine the action and suspense when the police come looking for a baby from a wealthy family that’s been kidnapped. There’s a scene in the film that reminded me of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping which I thought may have been the basis of this film but this came out six years before that actual event. Not sure how to rate silent films but I’d recommend this for the suspense and performances.

    Midnight Mary (1933)
    Directed by: William A. Wellman
    Starring: Loretta Young, Ricardo Cortez, Franchot Tone

    Next to the silent film section in the video store, there’s a pre-code section and I picked up a Loretta Young film, Midnight Mary. I’ve seen her before but this is my first pre-code film. It was interesting to see why this may have been considered distasteful. Loretta Young’s character, Mary, works in a brothel where she gets involved with a gangster. I’m guessing the camera shot of Mary’s leg as she walks into the office and the dialogue she has with the lawyer that wants to help her out of the brothel was probably considered a little risqué. In one scene one of the gangsters is killed and the way he’s gunned down is pretty brutal. I enjoyed this and would recommend it. The performances are good. And it was fun to see why it would be classified as pre-code.

  117. Arlyn

    Gimme the Loot (2012)
    Written and Directed by Adam Leon
    Starring Tashiana Washington, Ty Hickson, Zoe Lescaze, etc.

    I’m not sure who here may like this indie film. I didn’t know what to make of it when I first saw it. While the relationship between the two main characters and the inner-city setting reminded me of films like Do the Right Thing, Jason’s Lyric and Boyz N the Hood, their conversations while hanging out in New York City also reminded me of Woody Allen films except these characters walked slower and talked tougher.

    Gimme the Loot is the title of Adam Leon’s first feature film and also the name of a rap by Biggie Smalls. Set on a hot summer day in New York City, we first meet teenage graffiti artists, Malcolm and Sofia, shoplifting spray paint from the hardware store. As they jump into the getaway car, instead of rap, we hear a 1950’s song, Let’s Shimmy by King Coleman. This is a talkie kind of film. Malcolm and Sofia talk while walking around the city. They’re talking while they’re tagging their latest masterpiece. They’re talking while they’re scaling the wall. And it’s while they’re talking, in line for pizza, that they come up with a grand plan for their greatest possible art canvas. They want to “bomb” the Mets’ home run signage as a message to their rival taggers. Their security guard friend who works at Shea Stadium is willing to let them in for $500 so they come up with ideas on how to raise the funds, ranging from Malcolm’s periodic marijuana dealing to Sofia collecting payment on a graffiti job. The film gives us a look at their neighborhood and the characters that cross their paths after they go their separate ways to come up with the money.

    Having a title that could possibly categorize it as a heist drama, I was thrown by the film’s 1950’s R&B soundtrack. I was in college when I first saw the films I mentioned earlier by Spike Lee, Doug McHenry and John Singleton, respectively. I regard those films highly because of the huge impact these filmmakers made on the very impressionable moviegoer that I was then and that I still am. The music had a lot to do with it. Although this film’s soundtrack of 1950’s R&B is impressive, I would have preferred hip hop or something more current that Malcolm and Sofia might be listening to. The music felt out of place.

    Tashiana Washington as Sophia is impressive. She has the strength that I first remember seeing in Rosie Perez and Jada Pinkett-Smith with the vulnerability of Nia Long. Throughout the movie we see her guarding herself from rival taggers and hustlers. Sophia represents the unknown that the film opened with. Newcomer Ty Hickson is natural as Malcolm who’s more relaxed, balancing Sofia’s intensity with his awkwardness. His uncertainty in the delivery of some of the dialogue added to the indie feeling of the film. In one scene, Malcolm has a conversation with a marijuana dealer about how it’s inexcusable to see New Yorkers wearing “flip flops” in the city. This is as close as it gets to an East Coast versus West Coast battle. Adam Leon distinguishes his film from similar films that preceded it from the relationship of his two main characters. The strength of this movie lies in the performances of Hickson and Washington as Malcolm and Sofia whose friendship is at the basis of this story.

  118. Mitchell

    Arlyn: We have kind of a funny overrated/underrated thread here from eight years ago (wow!) in which we discuss School of Rock. Here’s what I had to say about it after Reid called it an overrated film:

    As for School of Rock, which I saw in theaters four times:

    First of all, the genuineness of the Jack Black character was what did it for me. I know guys like that. I am guys like that. “A great rock and roll show can change the world,” says Black a few times, and while you the viewer know it is not true, you believe that he believes it–enough to have dedicated his life to it.

    Those CDs Dewey Finn passes out to his students–Close to the Edge, The Dark Side of the Moon, and a Rush album I think was Permanent Waves but may have been Moving Pictures–are precious to me, and to see them treated with the appropriate reverence by a character I believed in was beautiful. That “family tree” of rock that he has on the board? I want the DVD just so I can freeze the frame and study it.

    The movie had definite problems. First, there were a couple of places where people do things that only happen in movies, and that irritated me. There was that scene in Joan Cusack’s office where everyone’s shouting at once. That never happens. Then at the theater, the parents explain that their kids are in danger, and the usher says, “Nobody gets in without a ticket.” Nobody would say that! And then the parents say, “Okay, let’s all get tickets.” Again. Only in the movies.

    And then the most glaring error of all, when Dewey tells his student to listen to Rush, he says that Neil Peart is “one of” the greatest drummers in rock. “One of?” What the heck? Was nobody paying attention to the screenplay while they were editing this thing? That guys who supposedly love rock and roll so much could let a huge error like this get into the finished film is appalling.

    One could say that only a rock fan would LOVE this film, and that might be true, but that doesn’t make it not a good film. I giggled with glee every time I saw it, because I saw myself in it and I saw a lot of people I know. How often does that happen? For me, not often at all.

    I haven’t seen most of the Linklater films everyone else has seen, so I think I’ll make that something of a priority.

  119. Mitchell

    I’d like to hear about your seeing one of her talkies (she did some talkies, yes?). I wonder how actresses like that compare with themselves in silent vs. talkie movies.

  120. Reid

    That overrated/underrated thread was pretty cool. (Is there a way to reactivate it? Man, I want to take back my Bill Belichik remark. I know what I was thinking, but what was I thinking?)

  121. Mitchell

    I’ll see what I can do.

  122. Reid

    Don’t go through too much trouble, Mitchell. We can always just start a new thread.

  123. Arlyn


    I should have known better but I’m glad I asked. Love that you saw it in the theater four times and appreciated your analysis of the film, especially its script.

    I looked it up and found that Mary Pickford starred in four talkies. I plan to see a few more of her silent films before eventually watching her talkies. Yes, should be interesting. By then I’ll get a better idea of who she is.

  124. Mitchell

    You know what I really like in that movie? When Dewey is lying in his bed in that little nook, he’s surrounded by stack of CDs. It looks exactly like what my own bed looks like at home (I’m single and live alone), with a lot of the same CDs. 🙂 I use this scene as an example for my students whenever we talk about art direction. Everything you see in that frame is a decision, and in the case of this film, they are really good decisions.

  125. Mitchell

    42 (2013)
    Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford. Directed by Brian Helgeland.

    42Something I have never been able to understand about American history is how the American Civil War ended in 1865 but it took until 1947 for Jackie Robinson to be allowed to play baseball on the same field as white men. I get that change takes time, but eighty-two years? Add another twenty for the Civil Rights movement to come to a close, and you’ve got a picture you just can’t admire about our country. Was it ignorance or hate that was so deeply engrained in our culture that we could accept these conditions for so long? And does it even matter, when the fruit of that tree, whatever it was, was so awful?

    I wasn’t expecting 42 to give me answers to my questions. All I wanted from this first contemporary cinematic telling of the Jackie Robinson story was a fair portrayal of what the legendary second-baseman had to put up with just to pick up a baseball bat in the Major Leagues. If some of the telling tilted toward myth over accuracy, I could live with it as long as long as some of Robinson’s personal struggle to maintain his public dignity was presented in a non-cartoonish way.

    42What I really wanted was a movie that kids could be compelled to see so that Robinson’s legacy would become part of the consciousness of a new generation, and not merely something to be dusted off every February for Black History Month. In this respect, 42 is successful, and it made me want to have kids just so I could drag them into the theater and make them watch this movie.

    Chadwick Boseman plays Robinson just about the way I expected, which is to say about as straight as possible. My only real complaint about the performance itself is that while Boseman cages his anger effectively, what he never does is communicate a love for the game of baseball. Maybe Robinson didn’t communicate that in his first few years, but it would have been nice to see the second baseman have fun within the game itself, racist teammates and opponents notwithstanding. Maybe that’s asking a bit much. I know I wouldn’t have fun at my job if I had to work with people like that.

    42Harrison Ford is the also-legendary Branch Rickey, the managing executive of the Brooklyn Dodgers who signed Robinson and directed him to be “man enough not to fight back.” Ford has been most annoying in his older years, an unpleasant interview on late-night talk-shows and less than enjoyable on screen. He’s mostly that here, too, but once the viewer is submerged in the reality of Robinson’s situation, it’s a lot easier to see Rickey as one of two lifelines in this socio-athletic endeavor (the other being Robinson’s wife, played nicely by Nicole Beharie) and then it becomes easier to see that Ford is putting a lot of thought into his performance, punctuating sentences with labored, deep breathing and the almost unnoticeable grunting of an old man trying to do something right.

    All things considered, 42 is good, but not great, and that’s good enough for me, because the story itself is great. It’s important, and people should know it even on the basic, factual level this film offers.


  126. Mitchell

    Oblivion (2013)
    Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Andrea Riseborough. Directed by Joseph Kosinski

    oblivionOblivion, the new Tom Cruise sci-fi film, is another of those films that’s better the less you know about it before you go in. For this reason, my summary is going to sound thin. There is more to it than I am going to let you in on, perhaps much more. I’m not exactly sure because some of it was explained so quickly or subtly that I don’t know exactly what happened even after reading the too-detailed synopsis on Wikipedia.

    It’s the year 2077. Earth is a ruins, destroyed by its own nuclear weapons in defense of the planet against an invading race from somewhere else in space. Earth’s survivors have set up a colony on one of Saturn’s moons. A few remain on the planet to harvest as much of Earth’s remaining resources as possible before leaving the planet for good. Cruise plays Jack Harper, who lives in a beautiful one-residence condo thousands of feet above the planet’s surface with his lover Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riseborough). Harper’s task is to maintain the drones that protect the machinery harvesting Earth’s resources (water, mostly) from the alien invaders who remain on the planet, known as the Scavs. Victoria communicates with Harper through an elaborate computer system tied also to the orbiting satellite from which they both get their instructions, the Tet(rahedron).

    oblivionSome stuff happens to some drones. Harper goes to investigate. Things get weird.

    The sci-fi hardware, always an important consideration in good science-fiction films, is impressive, especially the ship Harper flies around in. The drones, too, are pretty neato. Another important element, the moral dilemma, is not quite so fascinating, and the film basically turns into a slightly different kind of film whose explanation is pretty confusing. People who need to understand exactly what’s going on may have difficulty with this picture, and questions may remain even when it’s over. So more care could have been taken to explain a few things, but there is a certain sadness that pervades the second half of the film, and I found that sweetly satisfying.

    oblivionThis is a beautiful movie to look at. Many scenes in the first half of the film seem to linger, to move a bit slowly, seemingly in order to let the viewer soak up the beautifully composed scenery. I almost never do this, but since I was in the back row and nobody was behind me, I took my phone out and snapped a few photos. There were a few things I wanted to remember about the way it looked, and I was happy to have shelled out a few extra bucks to see this on my local theater’s very-large screen.

    I have to say that after all the hate leveled Cruise’s way these past several years, I’m rooting for him to do well on the big screen. I find distasteful the amount of intolerance aimed in his direction by normally tolerant commenters. Oblivion is an enjoyable, gorgeous film, the sort of science-fiction you just don’t see very much of nowadays, and its overall quality makes me happy for Cruise, who seems to have a pretty good time in this role.


  127. Mitchell

    Nord (2009)
    Anders Baasmo Christiansen. Directed by Rene Densted Langlo.
    sometimes listed as North in English.

    nordJomar is a (likely) alcoholic ski-lift attendant in Norway, apparently a former ski athlete who has come on hard times in this Norwegian-language film. He spends most of the early part of the film in his upstairs bedroom, even demanding that one customer come upstairs with a pot of snow (so he can melt it on his stovetop) if he wants to get his lift ticket. When a friend drops by unannounced, they immediately get into a fistfight and then share a meal. The visitor says that Jomar is the father of a young child, in a town he names that is far north.

    The friend encourages Jomar to travel north and visit his child, but Jomar seems incapable of moving. Then he does something stupid that causes him to flee, and he heads north, visiting with strangers as he slowly makes his way. At each stop, he seems to get along well with his host, sometimes unsure he wants to continue, but northward he continues to move.

    nordWhen the credits rolled on Nord, the others in attendance let out a collective, puzzled sound. I stuck around for a few minutes to eavesdrop on the discussions, but they were mostly of the “I guess it’s just a fun, light, slice-of-life kind of movie,” but while it kind of works on that level, my fellow moviegoers seemed to ignore a definite progression in the encounters Jord has with the people he meets. Not merely a simple tale of a guy moving north, it is almost certainly a journey of another kind, and if the conclusion leaves some unsatisfied, it left me feeling pretty good about our main character’s prospects.

    It is a nice, funny, hopeful movie, and I enjoyed rather a lot.


  128. Mitchell

    Cosmonauta (2009)
    Miriana Raschilla, Claudia Pandolfi, Pietro Del Giudice. Directed by Susanna Nicchiarelli.

    cosmonautaI’m sure I’ve seen several films set against the space race of the 1950s and 1960s, but Cosmonauta is almost surely the only I’ve seen where the Russians are the good guys. In this Italian film, Miriana Raschilla plays Luciana, a teenaged girl whose membership in the Communist Party in her Italian town causes tension in her family. Her father had been a party leader, but now that he has died, Luciana’s mother has married a conservative, don’t-stir-the-pot kind of businessman. Her brother longs to journey to space some day, but his epilepsy makes that just a dream, and his occasional seizures also cause Luciana some stress.

    cosmonautaShe is as serious as any focused teenager on her passionate ideals, but the other teenagers in her party don’t take her seriously, despite the respect they all have for her deceased father. They shoot down her ideas but applaud when one of the boys repeats them. If not for one of the women in the grown-up part of the party, and if not for the hormones coursing through the young men’s veins, she would receive no attention at all in her party’s meeting house.

    Being unfamiliar with Italian politics, if there is a political statement to be discovered in Cosmonauta, I am blissfully ignorant, and therefore must take the film on its more obvious, coming-of-age terms. Luciana is at turns noble, silly, and impossible, as most of us were when we were her age, begging to be taken seriously but not exactly prepared for everything that entails.

    The acting is pretty good, and the story fairly interesting. But you could probably skip this one without worrying that you missed something important.


  129. Mitchell

    About Cherry
    Ashley Hinshaw, James Franco, Dev Patel, Heather Graham. Directed by Stephen Elliott.

    about cherryAbout Cherry would like you to believe that its main character is an empowered woman who, while being introduced to nude modeling by a boyfriend with less-than-noble intentions, embraces it on her own terms without blaming her messed-up family life or her worrying about what her loved ones think. She very quickly drops the boyfriend, flees to San Francisco with her best (guy) friend in tow, hooks up with a lawyer, and begins a career in porn. Anyone questioning her chosen lifestyle is dropped, but alienation from people who don’t accept her decisions is the only consequence the film wants to consider, while its own evidence indicates that there’s more to explore.

    Ashley Hinshaw, a very pretty actress, plays Angelina (Cherry is a stage name) like the misunderstood runaway teen in those great MTV hair-metal videos, seemingly smarter about her circumstances than anyone else, riding a wave of brains and awareness slightly above an alcoholic mother and a menacing father. She is humanized by an undying devotion and protectiveness for her younger sister, but when she gets into the car with her guy friend (Dev Patel) and drives away, a few weeks away from graduating high school, she seems to think things between them will always be cool.

    abou tcherryPart of you wants to root for her. She seems to have found a working situation that pays well, that she has no moral qualms about, and that provides a respectful, friendly workplace where everyone loves and understands her. This isn’t like those other operations, where the women get taken advantage. When her boyfriend, a cokehead lawyer, asks her what she thinks she’s doing with her life, she drops him, and we feel it’s a good move because, well, because that lawyer is played by James Franco.

    about cherryBut the movie seems to want it both ways (not a double entendre, I swear), driving Angelina and her best friend to a confrontation that seems inevitable but possibly liberating. That it culminates with one of the most baffling responses to “I love you” I have ever heard hints at an attempt to say something meaningful about pornography, about the women who star in it, and about the men who watch it, but the statement doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, and when it’s all over, it feels like the end of those sad MTV videos, where the girl is her own girl now, but has also accepted a life that’s not quite what she set out for.

    I realize my condescending tone convicts me as exactly the kind of person the film ridicules, but there are realities of Angelina’s profession that it doesn’t address, as if the woman who chooses that career need only worry about getting paid fairly and being treated nicely. And anyone who would ask her to pause and reconsider can simply go screw himself (okay, that one is intended).

    Screw me? No. Screw this movie that aims at some kind of enlightenment but robs its character of really making an empowered choice by actually confronting the issues.


  130. Mitchell

    Hot Coffee (2011)
    Directed by Susan Saladoff.

    hot coffeeWe all know about Stella Liebeck, the woman who burned herself with McDonald’s coffee, sued the restaurant chain for medical bills, and walked away with nearly three million dollars to cover expenses and to punish McDonald’s. Hot Coffee asks people on the street what they remember about the case, and then presents the facts: a judge reduced the jury’s total to just $640,000; McDonald’s had received multiple complaints that people were burning themselves on its coffee; the jury’s punitive amount was equal to about two days’ worth of revenue collected by McDonald’s for coffee alone; and the injuries suffered by Liebeck were horrifying. Given everything to consider, do people think the original jury reward was excessive? The people on the street say no.

    This is only the first quarter of the documentary. The three other parts outline and explain how cases like Liebeck vs. McDonald’s led to pressure from corporations to enact tort reform with caps on damages, how corporations used their influence to elect judges who would then offer rulings in favor of these corporations, and how the seemingly less expensive mandatory arbitration many corporations write into their contracts legally rob American of their right to keep corporations accountable.

    hot coffeeIt’s heavy-handed, to be sure, but unless the facts offered by director Susan Saladoff are inaccurate, there is a lot here I was unaware of. Caps on damages used to seem reasonable to me, but when a hospital employs a doctor with a known history of misdiagnosing patients, and when that doctor makes a stupid mistake and a child is deprived of oxygen in its mother’s womb and suffers horrible brain damage, does a few hundred thousand dollars sound like a fair compensation for the family who will have to pay for care and surgeries for the rest of this child’s life? And if a corporation has its employees sign binding arbitration agreements, what does a woman do when she is raped by coworkers and the arbiters rule in favor of the corporation? Should it be legal for someone to have to waive due process without that person possibly knowing what might happen to her?

    The film underlines the importance of a citizen’s right to sue, and elaborates that laws limiting or restricting this right never work in favor of the public good. I’m feeling pretty convinced.


  131. m

    Reid, I actually saw a movie I think you might like. Cold Weather by Aaron Katz. I pretty much love it, which makes me think you’ll at least find it worthwhile. Not really a reach, since I think you like his other work. This is a bit less mumbly than Quiet City, but it does share the same aesthetic.

    I also saw Mud, which Tony and I agree is a good film. I don’t think Reid would like it much, but I’d recommend it to just about everyone else. Great McConaughey performance — the best I’ve seen from him.

  132. m

    Oh thank the stylesheet gods. This theme handles the emdash much, much better than our last theme.

  133. Reid


    I have seen Cold Weather–in fact, I recommended it to you (third tier recommendation). I’m not sure if I wrote comments on v-i, but I’ll try looking later. I liked the concept behind the film, but I don’t think it completely worked for me. Then again, it took awhile for me to figure out that Doug and Gail were brother and sister. (I was pretty tired when I saw this as well.)

  134. Reid

    The Central Park Five (2012)
    Dir. Ken and Sarah Burns

    My guess is that Penny would like this. Kevin, Aryln, Grace and Chris would like this on some level, too. I think this would keep Mitchell’s attention, but a part of me feels like this is something he could pass on. Jill, Joel and Marc would find this interesting, but I’m not confident recommending this to them. Ditto Don.

    This is a documentary about the a woman who was raped in Central Park and the five black and Hispanic teenagers that the state convicted of the crime. It’s very much like the Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line or the Paradise Lost films (about the West Memphis Three). There’s a thread on the Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory and much of my feelings and comments would apply to this film.

    The one thing I did like about the film was the five boys (now men) convicted of the crime and the relationship with their parents. This was probably the most compelling part of the film for me–mostly because I was very familiar with the nature of the case.

    This was streaming no the PBS website.

    The Belly of an Architect (1987)
    Dir. Peter Greenaway
    Starring: Brian Dennehy, Chloe Webb, etc.
    48/100 (current score)

    Kevin should probably see this. I have no idea who else would like this. I’d say no to Joel, Larri, Don and Marc–probably Jill, too.

    I don’t really want to review this. I’m pretty confused about the film, and I didn’t get much out of it. The film follows an American architect (Dennehy) and his wife (Webb) to Rome as he, Storley Kraklite, is planning a exhibition on a little known French architect. He encounters problems with this, including health and marital ones.

    The film definitely has all these visual references and meanings. For example, several of the shots have an inverted 3D quality, like a Renaissance painting. Then there’s are a variety of shots involving “bellies”–the belly of Roman statue, Kraklite’s belly, the wife gets pregnant, etc. I’m guessing belly=guts=the essence or foundation of architecture (hence the setting of Rome). But I don’t really care about the film much more to try to understand it better.

    He Who Must Die (1957)
    Dir. Jules Dassin

    I almost called up Chris to tell him to watch this (especially since it will no longer be streaming on May 1). I think he and Kevin, Penny and Arlyn would like this. I’m not sure about Grace. This would hold Mitchell’s attention, but he could pass on this. Jill might like this, but it’s not something I’d recommend. Ditto Joel, Marc and Don–they’d probably think it was just OK.

    This is based on a Nikos Kazantzakis novel. The film involves a small Greek village that is planning to do a Passion of Christ play. The town council designates the villagers to play certain roles in the play. During this process a large group of Greek stragglers comes into town. The Turks have burned their village to the ground, and they’re on the brink of exhaustion with no where to go. Will the villagers embrace and accept them?

    The film’s plot and the way it unfolds and weaves in plotlines and character are really the best thing about the film in my opinion, so I don’t really want to say too much more. I will say it is not hard to follow and the drama is compelling (at least for me).

    One caveat. The film involves a theme/plotline that resonates strongly with me, so I’m not sure if others will be as moved and captivated as I was. (I’ll mention this in more detail in the next section, although it is a bit of minor spoiler)

    The theme I like involves a moral dilemma: should one stand up for a principle at the cost of one’s well-being. In this case, the principle is tied into loving thy neighbor–which makes the situation even more powerful and moving to me.

    Now, there is one point of the film that I have significant ambivalence about. I’m speaking of the moment Father Fotis decides to take up arms and fight for the land Michelis has given to them. What’s more problematic is his quoting of Jesus–“I have not come to bring peace, but the sword”–which, in my view, is not a proper use of the quote. (I’d use “those who live by the sword, die by the sword” as a counter. Or, “My Kingdom is not of this Earth.” If it was my followers would take up arms and fight for me–or something to that effect.)

    Up until that point, I was completely with the film–but at this point towards the end, the film cuts off any spiritual/theological connection to the Gospel. I had some problems with that.

  135. Mitchell

    I can’t tell if your feelings about Cold Weather mean I was right or wrong about it. You mention that you didn’t love it; did you like it?

    I’m watching it again right now, with the commentary, and I really like it.

  136. Reid

    I think you were right–it was a film that I found worthwhile, and there is good reason to think I would like it. Unfortunately, as I said, the film didn’t really work for me. The actor who played Gail was one of the reasons for this, if I recall, but it was the lack of chemistry between her and Doug that hurt the film, I think. (My guess is you really liked the actor who played Gail.) Plus, I preferred the chemistry between Doug and Carlos, and the path the story started to involving the two of them. I liked the idea of a “mumblecore” version of a detective/noir, but I was thrown off and disappointed by the ending–mostly because I was wanting then to deal more with the detective aspect. In talking with some people after seeing the film, they pointed out that they felt the film was really about Doug and Gail–about how their relationship comes together after a period of being distant from each other. I like that reading, but my mindset was so different while watching the film that I didn’t see this angle. Still, I’m not sure the film works entirely on that level for me.

  137. m

    That’s too bad. I think it’s a really good story of an adult guy and his adult sister. The detective story part of it was really the vehicle for the relationship story. I really dig this director’s style.

  138. Reid

    I have his film Dance Party USA at home, which sounds like something you would like, too. Also, you should probably check out more “mumblecore” films. I’d recommend Bujalsky’s Mutual Appreciation. There’s a decent chance that you could really like that.

  139. Reid

    I’m about to review two films that star Sylvia Testud. Apparently, she was in La Vie En Rose, a film I saw, but I don’t remember her in it. I knew almost nothing about her, but she’s excellent in the two films I’m about to write about.

    The Captive (2000)
    Dir. Chantal Akerman
    Starring: Sylvia Testud, etc.

    I’d recommend this to Penny, Grace and Arlyn–although I would say it’s the type of movie they would find interesting, more than they would enjoy. Next, I’d recommend this to Kevin and then Chris. I’m not sure about Mitchell or Jill. No, to Don, Marc and Larri.

    This is a French film based loosely(?) on a story by Proust (I’m not sure if from In Search of Lost Time. Before I describe the plot, let me say that the film’s focuses on gender, sex and power dyanmics between the sexes–more than providing a good story. The way it deals with these issues is quite interesting–and it makes the film worth-watching. I especially liked Testud’s performance in this. (Her character is also quite fascinating.)

    I will say that getting into the film took a while. Indeed, I didn’t really get into the film until almost the end. (How often does that happen?)

    If you must know the plot, here it is: Simon is part of a well-to-do family and has a lover named Ariane (Testud). Simon has a friend spend time with Ariane in the day, but he soon feels insecure about whether Ariane is truly happy with him.

    What I found really interesting is way Simon and Ariane are a blend of male-female qualities/roles. For example, they’re both fairly extreme manifestations of traditional gender roles–Simon is domineering and treats Ariane like an object, while Ariane slavishly complies. On the other hand, Simon is completely insecure and wants to know Ariane’s every thought and motive. Ariane could care less. She also seems a lot more powerful than Simon, making me think that Simon is the captive, more than the captor.

    I should say that I associate the acting with the French New Wave, the type that is very emotionally distant. (It’s the type that is easy to and often parodied.) I don’t always care for this approach, but it worked well (at least towards the end).

    There’s also an exchange between the two characters that is my favorite scene. It also happens to raise an intersting take on the nature of romantic love:

    Here’s my favorite segments in the film. Simon has decided to end the relationship because he believes that Ariane is a lesbian and that she cannot truly be in love and be happy with Simon. Simon is driving, taking Ariane to her Aunt’s house. He makes a remark about how homosexuals are good liars because they have to learn how to lie about their true nature.

    Ariane: “There are such girls, but others who could care less. Who have nothing to hide. You should have taken a right. (She’s referring to taking a right turn.)

    Simon: “And you?”

    Ariane: “I am here with you. You know that.

    Simon: “Yes, but sometimes I wonder. You’re not happy with me. Indeed, lucky for you it’s over. You were happy before. You miss it.

    Ariane: Do you believe that? Really, Simon? You talk of things you do not know.

    Simon: No, alas. We are strangers at times.”

    Ariane: “At times, yes. But that’s what I like. You, you want to know everything as if that would change something. Me, I ask you nothing. Neither what you think, nor dream. And if you told me all I’d feel I’d love you less. I love you because there’s a part of you that I don’t know. I imagine you’ve this world that I cannot enter. It intrigues me. That it’s closed to me, only pleases me.

    Simon: See? We cannot get along. I’m the total opposite. For me, love is the very opposite.

    Is love actually enhanced when you don’t fully know the other person? I tend to think more like Simon. However, perhaps Ariane is referring to the idea that men and women will never fully understand each other because they are different in fundamental ways. To fully understand the other might be tantamount to eliminating the differences between them or at least diminishing the value of the differences.

    Fear and Trembling (2003)
    Dir. Alain Corneau
    Starring: Sylvia Testud, etc.

    I’d recommend this to Grace. I’m not sure how she would like it, but I think she would be interested in this. Next, I’d recommend this to Penny and Kevin, although they shouldn’t make this a priority. I’m sure Chris, Arlyn and Mitchell would find interesting things about this, and they could actually like this. I’m not sure about Jill. No to Don, Marc, Joel and Larri.

    Amelie is a Belgian woman who spend her first five years of life in Japan. Her family moved back to Belgium, but as an adult Amelie returns to Japan and seeks to work in a Japanese company. The film is really a foreigner’s perspective on Japanese corporate culture, specifically, and maybe the differences between Easten and Western cultures more broadly. A variety of movies can be made from this approach, and if you don’t want to know what approach the film took, don’t read on (although, you might want to).

    Basically, the film chronicles the abuse and humiliation that Amelie goes through in this company. The film pins the blame on the company, but Amelie’s misunderstanding, despite her good intentions and hard work, often compound the problem. I suspect some viewers will find the film funny, but I had some problems laughing or just dealing with the film overall as some of my own personal experiences in Japan and issues with Japanese culture were probably getting in the way.

    By the way, I believed the film is based on a memoir of the protagonist. This gives me pause because, if this is true, the film feels more like a revenge film–revenge on the people that mistreated her in the company (although there is an acknowledgement toward the people who were nice to her). I’m really curious to hear how Japanese nationals responded to this.

  140. Mitchell

    Mud (2013)
    Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon. Directed by Jeff Nichols.

    mudIt’s easy to get annoyed with Matthew McConaughey. All that running around shirtless and a few bad films can make you forget how good he was in some of his early movies, such as Contact and A Time to Kill. I didn’t see last year’s Magic Mike or Killer Joe, for which he got a lot of positive attention, but I did recently see him in Bernie and would have loved his performance if he didn’t stick out like a movie star among a bunch of regular people.

    Mud is a movie to make you forget all that shirtlessness (‘though to be fair, he does take his shirt off at least once in this movie, too), a performance that they will play clips of at the Academy Awards ceremony during the In Memoriam segment the year he dies. It is such a strong, memorable, compelling performance that even at film’s end, he seems to be revealing more about his character as a person and himself as an actor. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the regional accent McConaughey uses, but it flows out of his mouth so beautifully and with such injury that it feels strangely seductive.

    mudMcConaughey plays Mud, a fugitive from the law, hiding on an island in a river delta in Arkansas. Two teenaged boys named Ellis and Neckbone (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) befriend him, at first agreeing to bring him food and then to take letters to the woman he’s loved since high school. At the same time, all the usual fifteen-year-old stuff is going on in Ellis’s life, and Mud becomes something of a emblem for him. Ellis sees in Mud something of a romantic ideal when it seems that all around him are the cynical realities.

    There is something heartbreaking and sweet about the way Ellis moves through this movie, at times stepping cautiously into manhood, at times leaping rashly. And while the social structure of his life shifts beneath him unpredictably, like the floor of the houseboat he lives on, there is always his best friend Neckbone, steady and reliable, the way we remember our own best friends at that age.

    mudI have written before about how Reese Witherspoon seems to play every role as if she’s in an Oscar-winning movie, and for the first time in a while, the material seems to keep up with her in this film. This is not her movie, but she inhabits the part of it that’s hers like it’s her last shot to show what she can do. She is beautiful and tragic and kind of elegant even with bruises on her face and a cigarette in her mouth. This is one of my favorite performances from her.

    There is almost nothing new about the story itself, but it is told well, and it is a coming-of-age story that leaves some room for idealism, unlike so many that tilt in the direction of cynicism. For all its nostalgia, Stand by Me is something of a downer of a coming-of-age tale, while Mud, with all its muddy, mucky lack of nostalgia, manages somehow to make you feel good, a hard-earned payoff that I did not see coming.


  141. Mitchell

    Cold Weather (2011)
    Chris Lankenau, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Raul Castillo, Robyn Rikoon. Directed by Aaron Katz.

    cold weatherThere is a scene in Cold Weather where Doug and Gail (Chris Lankenau and Trieste Kelly Dunn) are sitting on the floor in Gail’s apartment. Gail is drinking whiskey from a tumbler. Chris is assembling a coffee table from Ikea. In the director’s commentary on the DVD of this film, Aaron Katz mentions that there was supposed to be some exposition in this scene. I think it was supposed to be something about why Doug has moved back to Portland after leaving school in Chicago. Katz cut that stuff out. He left in a short exchange between the brother and sister about whether or not the amount left in the glass dictates her swallowing it all in one shot or if there’s enough to make it two sips.

    This is what I love about this director. What we learn about the characters through these mundane-but-real conversational exchanges is deeper and more revealing, in sum, than sixteen lines that explain the backstory, and Katz has enough faith in the characters he’s written and in the actors who are portraying them that he doesn’t feel the need to fill in all the blanks. What we take away about these characters might not be something we can list in bullet points or even explain over a game of rummy and some cheap beers, but there is a realness to the characters that makes everything else in the movie feel like real life. There is more to be realized about someone, the director seems to be saying, in a discussion about a Sherlock Holmes book than in two people trading getting-to-know-you questions.

    cold weatherCharacters stand on a bridge in front of a waterfall. They eat sandwiches at a picnic table while a seagull seems unable to make up its mind about where to perch. They sit in a car and eat Swedish fish while waiting for someone to show up. And sometimes nary a word is spoken, and yet the scenes seem to communicate so much, especially when the viewer steps back and takes the entire film’s worth of these scenes into awareness.

    There is a story, and it’s pretty well done. Doug’s ex-girlfriend Rachel (Robyn Ricoon) from Chicago arrives in Portland, supposedly to attend a work-related meeting. She hangs out with Doug, Gail, and Doug’s co-worker Carlos (Raul Castillo) a few times but then she never shows up at one of Carlos’s DJing gigs, disappearing from her hotel room and never contacting anyone. The three other characters try to figure out what happened to her, inspired more than a little by Sherlock Holmes.

    cold weatherThis mystery is not told like any you’ve seen. When Doug discovers what he figures must be some kind of code, he asks his sister to drive him to the library so he can check out some books on codebreaking. We follow Doug and Gail into the library, to the shelves with the codebreaking books, to the circulation desk to check the books out, and to the apartment to watch them read the books, and then the books don’t even seem to do teach them anything useful. So Doug figures he needs something else, and we follow him as he pursues that, and even that doesn’t take him any closer to solving the mystery. And somewhere in there is a moderate-speed car chase involving only one car.

    And I loved just about every minute of it, because while the mystery is pretty interesting, it’s not as interesting as getting to know our characters, something horribly lacking in far too many movies. If Cold Weather goes too far in that direction (and I would argue that it does not), it seems to be making up for all the lame movies where we’re just supposed to accept truths about certain characters just because someone else in the movie says they’re true. So they fall in love, but why? Or they hate each other, but why?

    I was going to ask rhetorically if a great story with unconvincing characters is better or worse than a weak story with wonderfully realized characters, but I’m not sure the former exists, because without characters, I have a hard time accepting story. If this is a bias with no real objective support, I can live with it. As long as directors like Aaron Katz keep feeding my need.


  142. Reid

    Come and See (1985)
    Dir. Elem Klimov

    I’m not sure who would like this film. I suspect Arlyn has the best chance of liking this. Chris, Penny and Kevin would come next. Mitchell could like this, but I’m less sure. I suspect the nature of the film is something Grace wouldn’t care for. If Marc, Don or Joel like this more than “OK,” I’ll be surprised. No to Larri.

    This a Russian (Belarussian?) film about WWII. We follow a young teenaged boy as he joins the Russian army. It’s basically an anti-war film, with an artier approach (dash of Malick).

    I went expecting something really disturbing, as those are the comments I read, but it wasn’t as disturbing as something like Platoon for example.

  143. Reid

    Iron Man 3 (2013)
    Dir. Shane Black
    Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, etc.

    I’m guessing almost everyone will like this to some degree, but I don’t know how much (although, Larri had a rather lukewarm reaction). I’d guess Jill, Penny, Mitchell and Marc would have the best chance of liking this, although, I don’t know how much. There might be something in this film that really makes Grace love this, but I can’t tell. Joel and Don could really like this, or just think it was OK.

    The “Mandarin” is a terrorist who infiltrates the airways to get his message across. In one of his acts of terror, Hap, Tony Stark’s friend and former bodyguard, gets injured and thus Stark aka Iron Man now gets involved. There’s also other sub-plots that seems unnecessarily intricate in retrospect. These involve two other scientists from Stark’s past; a boy that Stark meets, who helps him in a dire situation; and some other details which I won’t mention.

    What’s frustrating is that the film incorporates ideas and story lines from Warren Ellis’ _Iron Man Extremis_–except they leave out some of the best ideas, in my opinion, and make the plot a lot more complicated. Had the filmmakers stuck more closely to the original version (at the least the motion comic I saw), this would have been a much better film in my opinion.

    I got the sense that the filmmakers started with several cool ideas and scenes and tried to build a story around them–rather than start with a good story and then bring in the cool scenes and ideas, if it fit the story.

    Having said that, the film wasn’t really that terrible–and I actually think I liked it a little more than The Avengers, which is a little strange. My guess is that I didn’t really have the same type of high expectations.

    There is a bit more humor, some of it involving a relatively cute kid, so I that might appeal to some of you.

    As I mentioned, the plot is unnecessarily intricate. Here are some specific problems I had:

    1. The detour to Tennessee involving the kid was unnecessary. My sense is that they liked the idea of Stark interacting with the kid. (It’s almost Spielbergian plot point.)

    2. Stark infiltrating the Mandarin base without armor;

    3. The Mandarin-terrorist subplot. This wasn’t an improvement on the original story, which involved a man who took the extremis “drug” as a way to get revenge on the government. I guess it was too simple and dull, but I would have preferred it.

    There are other problems, but I’m not motivated to list them.

  144. Mitchell

    Arthur Newman (2013)
    Colin Firth, Emily Blunt, Anne Heche. Directed by Dante Ariola.

    Arthur NewmanI wouldn’t have believed that Colin Firth and Emily Blunt could make a bad movie together, but Arthur Newman is pretty bad. It starts off promisingly, with Firth as a divorcee named Wallace Avery. Unhappy with his job and estranged from his son, he tells everyone he’s going on a solo camping trip for the weekend and fakes his own death. He’s got a plan to make his old self disappear and to reappear as Arthur Newman, a golf pro at a private club in another state.

    Circumstances hurl him into the company of a much younger woman (played by Blunt) who asks to be called Mike, also the owner of ID cards that might not have been originally issued to her. They travel through several states, breaking into people’s homes to play a strange game of pretend, assuming the personalities of the homes’ owners and making love as these characters, never as themselves.

    Arthur NewmanIt’s all downhill from there. Firth and Blunt put forth a decent effort, but the journey one way seems leisurely and fun while the journey back is sudden and unconvincing. Whatever it is that sets Arthur and Mike on their bizarre path is never dealt with in satisfying enough a manner to justify what they do next. I can’t even tell if the ending is supposed to be happy or not, or even what other choices the characters are supposed to have had.

    Colin Firth has the ability as an actor to really let a viewer into his head, even when he’s keeping his mouth shut. His scenes with Julianne Moore in A Single Man are almost magical in their revelation. There’s really no reason Mike couldn’t have been as well-conceived a character as Moore’s, but there’s so little there that Firth seems to have nothing to work with. It feels like a ripoff.

    Small complaint: I wonder if it was necessary to set this in America and to make Firth and Blunt act with American accents. Seems like a waste of good British talent to me.

    Not recommended despite its terrific lead actors. The writing feels incomplete and the direction is sloppy.


  145. Mitchell

    The Company You Keep (2013)
    Robert Redford, Shia Labeouf, Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Anna Kendrick, Terrence Howard, Sam Elliott, Richard Jenkins, Stanley Tucci, Chris Cooper. Directed by Robert Redford.

    The CompanySharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) is ready to turn herself in. She’s wanted by the FBI for her part in a Weather Underground bank robbery thirty years ago and for the murder of one of the bank’s security guards. When police pick her up, a local reporter named Ben Shepard (Shia Labeouf) does some follow-up, and is soon on the trail of Solarz’s accomplices, one of whom seems to be Jim Grant (Robert Redford), a local attorney known for defending social-consciousness-type cases. Grant feels the noose tightening, so he takes off, leaving a young daughter with his brother and heading across the country to hook up with other former Weather Underground members who might know the whereabouts of the woman who can provide his alibi.

    YouIt’s something of a chase movie, with Grant staying one step ahead of the law and Shepard trying to stay one step ahead of him. There is a little bit of moralizing, especially toward the end, where characters ask themselves whether they were right to use violence to further their 1960s-conflicted cause. Redford tries to play up the media angle, too, using his character almost to dare Shephard to exercise some journalistic scruples rather than go for the big story and mess up a few innocent people’s lives even while exposing some senior citizens who did crazy things in their youth.

    One thing I like about this film is its levels of introspection. Shepard sees for himself how his pursuit of the truth might injure some innocent people he doesn’t have any connections with, but he doesn’t seem to expect that it will alienate him from former girlfriends as well. This is really the most interesting aspect of the story, but Redford doesn’t flesh this out quite enough. He gives it a good try in the third act, looking Shepard right in the eye and asking him what the journalist’s insides look like, but we see it all in a kind of detached manner, never really getting to see Shepard think about the consequences of his actions.

    KeepThere is much more of that kind of thing between Redford and Julie Christie, who plays that former partner in crime he’s in pursuit of. Not only has she not mellowed in her convictions, but she continues to defy the government by smuggling what appears to be marijuana by boat. If there was collateral damage in the Underground’s efforts to stop the war, it is nothing compared to the collateral damage done by the government in waging that war. Grant insists things aren’t so simple, and he points to one victim they both know who has been affected by their activities even though she doesn’t know the first thing about them.

    It’s an interesting mix of cat-and-mouse with moral-dilemma. Labeouf is in his good-actor mode, but it is the senior cast that really makes this a movie to see. Redford is still move-star gorgeous and a darned good actor, and the others (especially Richard Jenkins, who really stands out for me) are all excellent. ‘Though I feel the script gets a little weak near the end, it’s still a pretty rewarding movie.


  146. Mitchell

    Rachel Getting Married (2008)
    Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie Dewitt, Bill Irwin, Debra Winger. Directed by Jonathan Demme.

    rachelFor many scenes in Rachel Getting Married, director Jonathan Demme didn’t work with cinematographer Declan Quinn to plan any of the camera shots. Quinn was instructed to let the action dictate where the cameras pointed while the actors were doing their scenes. Similarly, many of the scenes were never blocked or rehearsed, and the actors were encouraged to work off of each other. The result is a wonderfuly non-Hollywood-looking movie whose dialogue (often improvised) and staging seem amazing in their intimacy and believability. There are whispered arguments in dark rooms, and characters who follow each other through hallways clogged with other characters, and musicians playing on porches who are told to shut up by characters in adjacent kitchens, and it (mostly) all works to make one heck of a character study.

    Anne Hathaway is Kym, a twenty-something woman who leaves drug rehab for a few days to attend the wedding of her sister Rachel (Rosemarie Dewitt). The family house is crammed with people in the way that houses often are in those few days leading up to a wedding. There are guests from out of town, maids of honor all over the place, caterers, decorators, wedding planners, musicians, and old friends, all moving frantically about while Rachel, Kym, and their parents put on their best faces for this big event.

    gettingKym’s got problems, and it’s not hard to tell that Rachel has had problems of her own. The whole family is dealing with something terrible, too, and although this family is pretty vocal in its affections, the grieving never seems to have been shared, each member dealing with it completely alone, even when they are all in the same room.

    There are scenes where the emotions are so raw that you feel like an intruder, and those improvised camera angles heighten the effect. Similarly, there are scenes of great awkwardness that leave the viewer begging to be set free from the discomfort. I have said for a long time that one of the most dangerous things in the world is an open mike at a wedding reception, and there is a moment at a rehearsal dinner when Kym takes the mike and illustrates it perfectly.

    marriedAs a study of these sisters and their relationship, this is a heck of a movie, Dewitt and Hathaway turning in some amazing performances. I have a few problems with Demme’s insistence on setting a scene and holding it there; the rehearsal dinner seems to take forever, and there is a wedding reception scene that seems far, far, far too long, giving us little more than characters in different combinations dancing to different kinds of music. Demme took advantage of his characters’ ties to music and placed musicians all over the place, so that what sounds like soundtrack music is often actually ambient music played by friends of the groom all over the premises and throughout the film. He also gave the musicians instructions to improvise according to what what happening around them, something that seems like a cool idea but which I found tiresome.

    I will add that there are some musical scenes that seem to exist only because Demme likes the musicians. For instance, Robyn Hitchcock (or a character played by Robyn Hitchcock; it’s impossible to tell which) plays at the wedding, the cameras lingering on him as if Demme is saying, “Look who I got in my movie!” Tiresome.

    These failings aside, Rachel Getting Married is a good showcase of Hathaway’s and Dewitt’s acting chops, the kind of thing that says here are two actors who really know their stuff, if you didn’t know it already.


  147. Mitchell

    If you were thinking of seeing Renoir, I would reconsider.

  148. Reid

    Thanks for the head’s up. The trailer turned me off, but I might have saw this if I got desperate to see something in the theater.

  149. Mitchell

    Well if you get desperate, you could do worse. It doesn’t suck. But I would bet money that you won’t care for it.

  150. Mitchell

    Arlyn already saw Before Midnight but refuses to say anything about it.

  151. Reid

    Well if you get desperate, you could do worse. It doesn’t suck. But I would bet money that you won’t care for it.

    I already got a bad vibe from the trailer, so your comment sealed the deal.

    Arlyn already saw Before Midnight but refuses to say anything about it.

    I’m kind of glad she hasn’t said anything. (I want to know as little as possible.)

  152. Reid

    I re-watched 48 Hours recently, and I was surprised by how well this held up. The energy and repartee between Nolte and Murphy is still quite good. (Murphy’s acting is just so-so, though). The film moves along quite nicely. I’d like to also mention one of my favorite filmmaking moments. This is a long take that occurs in the police station, where we learn about Ganz. It’s a complicated shot, and it’s a really good example of efficient filmmaking. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a video of it.)

  153. m

    I wonder if The Golden Child holds up as well.

  154. Reid

    I have a feeling it will hold up fairly well, but who knows?

  155. Mitchell

    Renior (2013)
    Michael Bouquet, Andree Heuschling, Vincent Rottier. Directed by Gilles Bourdos.

    renoirProbably the most damning thing I can say about Renoir, a lovely-to-look-at French film with English subtitles, is that I can’t decide who the main character is supposed to be. Is it the celebrated painter Auguste Renoir, played in his last, arthritic years by Michael Bouquet? Is it his son, Jean Renoir, played in his young adult years by Vincent Rottier long before it even occurs to Jean that he will someday direct great films? Or is it the model Andree Heuschling, who was the painter’s last (and favorite) model and the younger Renoir’s lover and first movie star?

    The first two possibilities make this an awfully flat movie with nothing to remember or care about, except perhaps the physical beauty of Andree as seen, briefly and shallowly, through the eyes of these two great artists. The third is the most intriguing, a view instead of the two artists through the eyes of a woman who knew both intimately, but there is a notable dearth of meaningful interaction between Andree and the two Renoirs that one can hang onto.

    renoirThere is one very interesting conversation between father and son near the end of the film in which Auguste explains what it is about Andree that makes her such a perfect model. The painter sees something perfect in this young woman’s nude body, a character of roundness and lines that he cannot get enough of. “It is always the flesh,” says the painter, “Don’t you understand that?”

    I would like to, for the paintings represented in the film are lovely, but we get almost no time to view them, and the artist never says anything else about his craft or his subject.

    renoirNeither are we really treated to whatever it is that inspires Jean. He is home on medical leave from the war, and whatever his feelings for this woman are, they are not as compelling as his sense of duty to his country, and he is impatient to return to the front. Perhaps he wants her as someone to wait for him, as someone for him to come home to, something I imagine all young soldiers yearn for. But conversations between the two, while numerous, don’t tell us anything about the characters except that perhaps Andree is no house servant and refuses to let the servants treat her as one.

    There is one scene where Jean purchases a film from a traveling merchant and sets it up in the house for Auguste, Andree, and all the house servants to watch. They are mesmerized, perhaps Jean most of all, and if this scene is meant to foreshadow what Jean will eventually do with his life, it’s a fine and lovely scene. But if it’s supposed to tell us something about why Jean takes the path he takes, it fails miserably, and we are never treated to any kind of dialogue to give us any clues.

    In many ways, this film is a tease. I found it engaging because I wanted to get to know these characters, but the film refuses to let us in, and for that reason it is a huge disappointment. Although the acting, especially by Bouquet, is quite good, the actors are moving around confidently in a story that has nowhere for them to go.

    Not recommended.


  156. Mitchell

    From Up on Poppy Hill (2013)
    Voices of Sarah Bolger, Anton Yelchin, Gilian Anderson, and Jamie Lee Curtis. Directed by Goro Miyazaki.

    poppy hillI have to say that I had very low expectations for this film mostly because I so disliked Ponyo, the second-most recent Studio Ghibli film to make its way to American theaters. I found the animation in that film to be terrific, but where other Ghibli films work wonderfully at multiple levels for young audiences and old, Ponyo provided only great animation with a story too mind-numbingly dumb for any kid I might someday have. Last year’s The Secret World of Arrietty was good enough almost to make me forgive Ponyo, but it wasn’t good enough to make me forget.

    From Up on Poppy Hill is animated beautifully, and that’s reason enough to give this at least one screening. Like Arrietty, it presents a world in muted, almost pastel-like colors, a kind of washed-out nostalgic artwork that made me think of illustrations in Charlotte’s Web and Tom Sawyer. Like most Ghibli films, details in the animation are often reason enough for the film to take a little breath, to pause for a poetic beat and appreciate the beauty of small moments. Like most Japanese art, the film is meditative and ponderous of little things; whatever this movie’s flaws, the animation is not among them.

    poppy hillUmi is a teenaged girl, helping her grandmother run a boarding house in Japan while her mom is studying in the United States. Her father was killed in action during the Korean War, and Umi has taken on a lot of grown-up responsibilities while her mother’s away. She meets Shun, a boy at school, the editor of the school paper who makes an awful first impression on her but eventually befriends her.

    The school paper is housed in a dilapidated building on campus where the anthropology club, the psychology club, and various other clubs also meet. This building has the bizarrely puzzling name of The Latin Quarter and the school wants to demolish it to make room for a new building. Umi and her girl friends find themselves involved in a plan to save the building, and this struggle makes up most of the plot.

    poppy hillHowever, as Shun and Umi grow closer, they find that their budding romance may not be appropriate, and that makes up the other strange half of the plot. There is something very sweet about this innocent, perhaps forbidden romance, and as the young characters try to come to terms with their feelings, they press doggedly toward learning the truth about Shun’s parentage, whatever it might be, in an almost Sophoclesian subplot.

    It is a strange plot, and it’s organized in a way that leaves this American viewer mystified, but the combination of the film’s lovely artwork and the main character’s sweet relationship is enough to override its weird storytelling priorities, and I found myself sighing with sweet pleasure as the closing credits rolled. The only thing keeping me from rating it higher than the upper end of average is a story that might work for younger audiences but fails the believability test on a grown-up level. From Up on Poppy Hill is nowhere close to the league of Ghibli classics like My Neighbor Totoro or Princess Mononoke, but it’s good enough.


  157. Mitchell

    Iron Man Three (2013)
    Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley, Rebecca Hall, Jon Favreau. Directed by Shane Black.

    iron man 3The first Iron Man film was about the suit. What a cool suit. The second was about the suit in its new version, carried around in a suitcase. Even cooler. In this third film, Tony Stark has created a suit that will fly to him, wherever he is, in small pieces and cling to his body to build the suit around him.

    This makes the third movie a lot more interesting than the second, because there are scenes where we get the coolness of the Iron Man suit but since it is in pieces on his body, we get more Tony Stark. And more Tony Stark is the best thing of all in this series. I’m saying this even knowing that this third film also has more Pepper Potts, and my love for Gwyneth Paltrow in this role is well documented.

    iron man 3More Pepper and more Tony are all I would have needed, but a more interesting bad guy than in the first sequel really pushes this one over as my favorite in the series so far. The bad-guy situation in Iron Man 2 was terribly comic-booky in its presentation, and attention was taken away not only by Iron Man from Tony Stark, but by War Machine from Iron Man, a weird dynamic that left me feeling deflated.

    The War Machine / Iron Man dynamic is straightened out in this third movie, and now everything in Tony Stark’s movie world seems to be falling into a good place.

    After the horrible events related in The Avengers, Tony Stark is having anxiety attacks, and this anxiety is keeping him up at night. His new relationship with Pepper Potts makes him vulnerable, because now he has someone to care about. This edginess creates tension between Pepper and Tony, and when a new international terrorist starts blowing up buildings on American soil, injuring one of Tony’s best friends, Stark dares this new enemy to come and get him.

    iron man 3I am not a huge fan of action sequences, but I found most of the action in this film to be excellent. One rather long sequence that involves Stark’s residence is paced like a great battle scene, with repeated rising and falling action punctuated by humorous quips and big, violent danger. When the scene finally draws to a close, it feels like the welcome but satisfied relief of a thrilling Disneyland ride coasting to a finish as the safety bars come up.

    The good action is not all as good as in that one early scene, but it manages to be about as interesting, although the huge closing action sequence reminded me too much of something else I’ve seen, and I suspect it might be the lowly (and numbing) closing scene in the A-Team movie. Still, there’s enough good stuff going on (Pepper and Tony, plus War Machine) to forgive what I see as a cliché of a setting for a showdown sequence.

    If the writers of this franchise can keep coming up with cool suit modifications and snarky dialogue for Robert Downey, Jr., I don’t see why this series can’t continue for a long time with this kind of artistic and commercial success. I’ve enjoyed the X-Men series for its varied cast and bright, sparkly costumes and bright, sparkly characters, but where those films feel empty and pretty like a box of Skittles, these Iron Man pictures seem to have a bit more heft to them, like something you’d find with an embossed, leather cover on some rich guy’s private library shelf.

    Good performances all around, but especially by Downey, Paltrow, and Kingsley, who is the terrorist bad guy. More, please.


  158. Reid

    In this third film, Tony Stark has created a suit that will fly to him, wherever he is, in small pieces and cling to his body to build the suit around him.

    This makes the third movie a lot more interesting than the second, because there are scenes where we get the coolness of the Iron Man suit but since it is in pieces on his body, we get more Tony Stark.

    I liked the suit, but since the film was based on the Extremis issues, I thought the filmmakers left out the coolest parts of the issue–specifically, the way the Stark uses the extremis program to integrate his mind/body with his suit. Additionally, the Extremis issues deal with this notion of a new human, with two competing versions–one involving biological evolution leading to a superhuman and the other involving technology and human beings working together. I was disappointed that both were left out.

    I think I’m open to seeing more of Tony Stark sans armor–and I enjoyed witty dialogue–but the story line with the kid seemed a bit too cornball, and I thought the film bogged down a bit during that segment. Stark doing a MacGyver wasn’t sort of lame, too.

    I didn’t think the villain was very interesting, either, including the Mandarin subplot. Like a Christopher Nolan film, as well as some of the other superhero movies, this film feels excessively complicated in terms of plot, and I wish they would use a more pared down one.

  159. Reid

    Stories We Tell (2012)
    Dir. Sarah Polley

    I’m not sure who would really like this–although I’d take a wild guess and say that Arlene and Penny would have the best chance. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kevin, Chris, Mitchell, Jill and Grace liked this as well. It’s hard to say for Don and Marc, but I’d guess they wouldn’t really care for this. Ditto Joel.

    The current metacritic score is 97, and one of the reviews mentioned that you should go in with as little information as possible. That’s my preferred approach, but I don’t think I feel as strongly about this film (for what that’s worth).

    This is a film about Polley’s mother, Diane, particularly details about her past and Polley’s that seem to be a bit of a family mystery. Polley basically uses interviews with family members and friends as well as dramatic recreations of the past. If I had to give a short hand description, I’d call it a combination of Citizen Kane and El Sur. That might sound appealing, but the description pertains to the subject matter and nature of the film more than the quality. At this point, I don’t think it’s a great film, and I had a lukewarm reaction coming out of the theater. I haven’t really analyzed the film, but that’s still my impression.

    Let me talk about two various aspects of the film. First, there’s the actual story and events featured in the film. In my view, the film doesn’t really stand up on this level. Others may disagree, of course, but that’s my view. I’m trying not to talk about this too much as I don’t want to reveal spoilers.

    Second, the film does seem to explore certain ideas–the importance of stories, the nature of memory and truth. On this level, I didn’t find the film very interesting–not like Citizen Kane or El Sur, anyway. I’d recommend watching those two, and maybe Rashomon over this film.

  160. mitchell

    How was Frances Ha?

  161. Reid

    I wasn’t able to see it. 🙁

  162. Reid

    Frances Ha (2013)
    Dir. Noah Baumbach
    Starring: Greta Gerwig, etc.

    I saw this with Penny, and I think her reaction was very similar to mine, for what that’s worth. My guess is that Chris might have the best chance of liking this, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Mitchell or Kevin really liked this as well. It’s tough call because whether this film works or not is based on very subjective factors. Jill might like this, and I would also add Grace. Marc, Don and Joel would probably think this is just OK at best, so I probably wouldn’t recommend this to them.

    The film is about Frances, a twenty-seven year old trying to find her way in the world. Sophie, her best friend, is also a big part of her life. In a way, the film feels very much like a Gen-X film, but let me say a few things about that.

    First of all, I think the film avoids certain aspects of Gen-X movies that some people appreciate. For example, it’s doesn’t focus on self-conscious conversations about culture or the state of slackerhood–and in that way I’d call it a post-Gen-X film. Additionally, the film does manage to avoid predictable dramatic arcs and also manages to stay from melodramatic resolutions. As far as I’m concerned, these are all positive things.

    At the same time, there is a dramatically flat quality to the film, but this is one of those subjective aspects I’m talking about. Actually, there are moments that come alive and crackle, and then there are moments when the life just seems to drain from the characters and the film. I can’t remember when a film did this as often as it did.

    The funny thing is that I think Gerwig is an interesting actor and one that has all the trappings of being an indie-star (in this film she’s almost like a human Big Bird at times), and this is the film that should be her Annie Hall moment, but somehow it doesn’t fully reach that level (although, again, there are some good moments). Again, Mitchell, Chris and Kevin might disagree with me, and if they do, they could really love the film, especially Mitchell.

    The other thing that didn’t work for me was Frances and Sophie’s chemistry and friendship.

    There were some funny moments in the film, I just wished the film was able to sustain this throughout the film.

  163. mitchell

    Star Trek Into Darkness was excellent. Review soon.

  164. Mitchell

    Masquerade (2012).

    this review first appeared here.

    Lee Byung-hun, Ryoo Seung-ryong, Han Hyo-joo, Jang Gwang, Shim Eun-kyung. Directed by Choo Chang-min. Korean with English subtitles.

    masqueradeThe Korean historical drama Masquerade has plot elements similar to that of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper and will therefore remind people of many adaptations of the Twain story, but it reminds me most of “Boss for a Day,” that episode of The Flintstones where the Great Gazoo uses his magic to make Fred the head of a company for one day. You know the one: Without knowing what any of it means, Fred shouts, “Whose baby is that?” “What’s your angle?” and “I’ll buy that!” to whoever seeks his opinion or assistance.

    I make this comparison because most synopses of the film call it a historical drama, a genre not generally thought of as whimsical or humorous, and while Masquerade carries the gravitas of a nation’s history and is framed with all the costumes and set-pieces of a period drama, its intention is to uplift and inspire, and its first act is at least as humorous as The Flintstones on a good day.

    masqueradeLee Byung-hun stars in the dual roles of King Gwanghae, a paranoid ruler who is considering executing his queen’s brother for the crime of treason, and Ha-sun, a local comic actor who performs sketches mimicking the king. Gwanghae is poisoned and rendered incapable of governing while he recovers, so Ha-sun is called in as a substitute to present the illusion of strength and competence.

    Ha-sun’s secret is known only to a couple of very close advisors who first seem amused by the simple man’s unfamiliarity with kingly ways. But as Ha-sun grows more comfortable with the royal potty, the royal food-taster, and the ever-present chief of security, these close advisors find themselves warming to a kind man who takes time to know the names of his servants, and who expresses sympathy for the queen, with whom the king does not spend much time lately.

    masquerade3-300x450Lee is excellent in both roles, but as Ha-sun he is especially so, letting Ha-sun grow slowly into his strange job while maintaining a profound, simple air that values his countrymen over politics, and goodness over might. He’s helped by mood-influencing camera work and slightly heavy-handed music, but where I normally dislike manipulative film-making, I have to admit both elements are well done, as if the director’s purpose is to show Steven Spielberg how Lincoln might have been even better than it was.

    Supporting actors are also quite good, ‘though I have to admit I had a hard time keeping most of the noblemen straight; they were dressed alike and most had the same facial hair. A young actress named Shim Eun-kyung as the royal taster and Han Hyo-joo as the queen are solid, with Jang Gwang as the chief eunuch also offering a heart-wringing performance. All three give Lee characters he can move around with as he plays this absurd but somehow devastating role for a country that doesn’t know who he is and for these three specific people whose surprise at being shown grace is as touching as the grace itself.

    I was completely taken in, and I suspect most viewers will be too, with or without some kind of knowledge of Korean royal history. Director Choo Chong-min understands that history is not only a list of wars and elections, but also a story of people, and if there’s truth in the way these people are portrayed, the accuracy of the facts is almost irrelevant.

    Masquerade is scheduled for release on DVD on June 11. The DVD includes Korean-language tracks with English subtitles and English-dubbed tracks, but come on: watching the dubbed version only gives you part of the actors’ performances, so stick to the subtitles! Special features include 13 minutes of deleted scenes, an interesting 14-minute feature on the lighting and filming technique, and an 11-minute feature on the production design, all of which I recommend.


  165. Reid

    A New Leaf (1971)
    Dir. Elaine May
    Starring: Walter Matthau, Elaine May, etc.

    I think almost everyone could find some scene or moment that they would enjoy, but would they enjoy enough; and mor importantly, would they enjoy the overall film? I’m not really sure. I think Penny might have the best chance. Mitchell, Arlyn, Grace, Kevin, Chris and Larri could also like this, but I have no idea. They could like this quite or bit or just think it was OK. With Don and Marc, I’m more inclined to say they would just think it was OK. Ditto Joel. I’m not sure about Jill.

    Matthau plays Henry Graham, a wealthy man who finds himself broke after reckless squandering his money. To get out of the poor house, he schemes to find a rich woman to marry. That’s where Elaine May’s klutzy botanist character, Henrietta Lowell, comes in. Let me stop right there and say something about the humor. Mays’ background is in TV/theater sketch comedy (if I’m not mistaken) and many of the scenes have that vibe, almost like SNL from the 50s and 60s, using some slapstick in one of the scenes. If that sounds appealing to you, then I would recommend this, because I laughed at some of these scenes, and I could easily see other people doing the same.

  166. mitchell

    Now You See Me (2013)
    Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Mark Ruffalo, Melanie Laurent, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman. Directed by Louis Leterrier.

    now you see meThe Four Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco) are magicians of varying styles and talents, brought together by an unknown benefactor who instructs them in performing very large Vegas-type performances. Two FBI agents (Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent) are on their trail because for their big, closing act, the magicians cause large sums of money to disappear from locked bank vaults across the globe and then to reappear in a shower of cash falling from the ceiling. Their mystery is to figure out how the Horsemen are doing it and to prevent them from getting away from it. They recruit a retired magician (Morgan Freeman) who makes money by revealing magicians’ secrets.

    now you see meThis is all setting the stage for one of those movies where you don’t know whom to believe. Is the Freeman character leading the FBI on, and does he know as much as he says he knows? And why is the Laurent character, actually an agent from INTERPOL, seemingly out of nowhere assigned to this case with the FBI? The biggest mystery of all, of course, is who the driving force is behind the Horseman, who are merely following someone’s elaborate directions?

    now you see meNow You See Me sets this all up deftly but patiently, building the mystery with confidence and layering one doubt on top of another until you almost have to stop trying to figure it out and just enjoy watching it come to a head. And that’s amusing enough, I guess, since our actors are all enjoyable and pretty likable. I would have liked just a little more character development for the Horsemen; the movie wants us to believe there is a kind of bond forming between these people, but I had a hard time seeing it. Still, they’re fun to watch (Eisenberg and Harrelson are an especially nice pairing).

    It’s a great, big, ambitious set-up, one that would be amazing to resolve satisfactorily. Alas, this picture doesn’t quite deliver, with an explanation interesting to consider but walked through just a bit too quickly, and there is a weird, almost deus-ex-machina quality to one of the plot’s answers. It’s kind of all over the place and nearly manages to bring it all together but only nearly, and there is a serious lack of character development, which for some reason I didn’t notice until the whole thing was over.

    It’s not bad, but it’s not good, although I will suggest that the film hints at a possible sequel and I’d give that a shot if I got in at matinee prices.


  167. Reid

    Re: Iron Man 3

    I just read The Invincible Iron Man: The Five Nightmares, which are the issues the film relies on (combining it with the Extremis issues and probably some others that I’m not aware of.) The FN issues were good. The villain was far more interesting than the one in the film. The issues also incorporate the iron man army in a much more interesting way, in my opinion. I’m not concerned about faithful adaptation if the results are good, but when you compare the comic book issues with the film, the film is sort of a mess–as if the filmmakers don’t believe they’ll ever make another Iron Man film so they have to cram various stories into one film, and not even including the best parts. I still mildly enjoyed the film, but it could have been a lot better.

  168. Mitchell

    The Great Gatsby (2013)
    Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan. Directed by Baz Luhrmann.

    gatsbyI have said for about twenty years that among English majors, there are The Grapes of Wrath people and there are The Great Gatsby people, and one’s preference says a lot about what one values in literature, and it might say something about personalities too. Gatsby has always been a mystery to me, but previews for this latest film adaptation by Baz Lurhmann were so interesting, I was hyped from the beginning. I’m not sure what I was thinking.

    Given only one sentence to explain the film, I would say that the things I like about the novel I also like about the film, and the things I dislike about the novel, of which there are more, I also dislike about the film.

    daisyBut let us pause for a moment to acknowledge the film’s biggest asset, which is nearly perfect casting. Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway is really the key for this film, as so much of what makes the novel work is Carraway’s narrative voice reciting F. Scott Fitzgerald’s beautiful prose. Maguire as the trusted observer is great. Leonardo DiCaprio is probably nobody’s idea of Gatsby, but he’s an excellent actor and it didn’t take long for me to forget what I pictured Gatsby to look and sound like. DiCaprio from now on will by my Gatsby. Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan is a truly inspired choice; when I first heard that DiCaprio was going to be Gatsby, I said, “Hm. Interesting!” A few seconds later, I heard that Maguire was going to be Carraway, and I said, “That could work.” And then I heard that Daisy would be played by Mulligan and I said, “Oh my gosh, that’s perfect.” And she is perfect immediately, from her first scene. You could see how Gatsby could create himself for a woman like this. I wanted to do it too, just for her.

    Everyone else is fine. Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan isn’t quite as beefy as I imagined, but he’s fine, and in fact I found him easier to sympathize with in this film version of Daisy’s husband. I’ve been on a little bit of an Isla Fisher kick lately, and while not as curvy or fleshy as my imagined Myrtle Wilson, she’s also fine. And I know this is going to sound stupid, but I kind of pictured Jordan Baker as a dark-skinned woman, possibly black, but an Australian actress named Elizabeth Dibicki plays her and she is long and lean and pale, lovely to look at and probably a much more fitting choice that I would have picked.

    carrawayIf I have spent too much time discussing the casting, it’s because casting is the movie’s strength, and when you think about a film whose story is as familiar as The Great Gatsby, you’re not doing much more than evaluating the actors’ portrayals and the director’s interpretation. But of course that’s not true if you haven’t read the novel. So for those who haven’t, I will say that Gatsby is a big story about a bigger-than-life personality as seen through the eyes of someone who may be deluded. It’s an intriguing story with a great setup, but like its source material, it gets tiresome and it takes too long to get where it’s going. There is something ambitious about the story and about a film that tries to present it, but the film’s many strengths are still inadequate for propping either of them up. In this respect, the film is a rather faithful adaptation.


  169. Mitchell

    Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
    Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, Benedict Cumberbatch. Directed by J.J. Abrams.

    trekWriting about a movie like Star Trek Into Darkness is kind of different. Fans of the series, both casual and rabid, are going to see it anyway, and probably before any of these words is ever published. What they want to know before going in is going to vary, and they’re likely to control that as far as any person can. This means that I don’t really have to worry about spoiling anything for the Trek fan; if the Trek fan wants to know stuff about the film, he or she already knows it, and if he or she doesn’t want to know stuff about the film before going to the theater, he or she isn’t going to read this review. I avoided all reviews and conversation (and even the second trailer) because although I am only a casual fan, I had my suspicions about this second film in the reimagined series, and I wanted the film to confirm them or not, without interference from or influence by reviewers and friends.

    Someone reading this, then, has already seen it or is not really a Trek fan, so I am going to avoid spoilers. It’s really the first decision I had to make as a writer about this movie, because some of the pleasures come in the films many comparisons and call-backs to the original film series, and I’m not going to mess around with that.

    intoThe crew of the Enterprise violates the Prime Directive (you don’t need to know what that is before you see the movie) and its crew is dispersed to other duty stations. Kirk is given a First Officer’s job on the Enterprise, but a terrorist attack by a Federation officer puts him in charge of a mission to find the officer, who is hiding on a Klingon planet, and execute him. Kirk reunites his crew, but a disagreement with Lieutenant Commander Scott results in Kirk’s accepting his resignation. The remainder of the crew convinces Kirk to bring their bounty in alive for the purposes of putting him on trial, and all kinds of explosions, photon attacks, warp-speed chases, and strange bedfellows ensue, punctuated by the now-expected philosophical debate among Kirk, Spock, and their comrades, and colored by chases, fights, and other tensions.

    If you revere Star Trek you will either love it or hate it. If your fondness for the series is something less than that, I think you’ll like it. Not everything works. The movie tries to get kind of cute and clever in this parallel reality, in ways that had me rolling my eyes and groaning, and I’m not even religious about Trek. But I admired the effort, and there is a wonderful consistency of spirit in these two recent Trek films that honors the original series’ stories, characters, and even actors. And of the film’s many callbacks to the original series, one is especially gutsy, nostalgic, and brilliant. I honestly felt like standing and applauding at this moment.

    darknessHighlights for me are the relationship between Kirk and Spock, the re-defining of Uhura and Sulu, and the involvement by more of the supporting cast in key action sequences. Spock especially has an interesting fight scene. I was also really impressed with the effects. The new visuals for the jump to warp speed continue to be really cool, and Enterprise is shown in some blatantly worshipful, almost pornographic shots. She has never been lovelier or more badass. And one small note about the costuming: there’s a new shirt, a black undershirt kind of thing, tight-fitting and comfortable-looking. It’s black with a black Star Fleet insignia and it’s really, really cool.

    Observant readers will notice I’m avoiding discussing the villain. There’s a reason. He’s not a great villain, but he’s a good-enough villain to do what the film really requires, which is to further develop the characters in an interesting story that will have us yearning for a third chapter.

    Possibly the best movie of the first half of 2013.


  170. Mitchell

    Before Midnight (2013)
    Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy. Directed by Richard Linklater.


    midnightBefore Midnight is a ballsy movie, and it knows it. You can tell it knows it when, about midway through the movie, Jesse and Celine are on a long walk to a hotel, paid for them by some friends who wish for them a romantic night alone, and we finally get the movie we thought we were going to get. It gives us this scene, and it is a nice, sweet scene, and then it yanks it away from us and gives us something better, something challenging for the writers and actors and something challenging for the viewers. No, it is not exactly the movie we probably predicted we would get, but it is exactly the movie that makes the most sense, the one we should have predicted if we’d really given Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy the credit they deserved after just nailing it with the first sequel.

    midnightHere’s why it makes the most sense. First, it has to be talky. And the talk can no longer be getting to know you, and it can no longer be catching up. That’s been done. It is nine years later, and we have to be given a significant night, not just some night nine years after Before Sunset. This has to be one of those nights that the characters will remember, a mile-marker of a night. What might a night of important conversation look like, given these characters’ history and personalities and the audience’s familiarity with them? Yeah, you see? I don’t know why I didn’t see it coming, but I didn’t, but as it dawned on me that THIS is what they were doing, I almost couldn’t believe it.

    It’s rough, scary terrain, because Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke risk losing the audience’s fondness for these characters. We love them, and we love them together, and can we still love them after what happens in this hotel room this important night, and can they still love each other? The actors (slash writers) have to go there and find out, and they have to take us with them, and if there is the chance that we will love them less, they have to take it or this movie isn’t doing its predecessors justice.

    midnightBoy, is it tough to get through. I wondered if there was another layer going on, one that presented these third-act events in such a way that men would see it one way while women would see it another. I wondered if the momentum of the conversation swiveled on calculated moves by the participants or if the ebb and flow of conversation was incidental and not deliberate. I wondered how this conversation might be different if it were out of doors, and not in some small, plain hotel room.

    How I feel about the ending is kind of important, and I think one’s whole opinion of the film possibly depends on it. Do the writers and characters cop out? Or is this as right an ending as that given us in Before Sunset? Do we hope for a fourth movie, and is that even possible? My goodness, what a great attempt is made by this movie! I’m reluctant to rate it because it needs a second viewing, but for now I’m going to rate it slightly below the two films that come before it, both of which are top-tier films. But I am reserving the right to reevaluate it after a second viewing, which I hope to give it this week.

    Delpy and Hawke are still wonderful together, and I was just so happy to spend time with their characters again.


  171. Mitchell

    Sugar (2008)
    Algenis Perez Soto. Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.

    sugarMiguel “Sugar” Santos is one of thousands of young men in the Dominican Republic who hope to follow in the footsteps of Sammy Sosa, Albert Pujols, and countless other baseball players who found fame and success in the American Major Leagues. He is quiet but confident, and he works in one of his country’s many baseball academies, hoping for his chance.

    An invitation to spring training leads to a stint in single-A ball, which means money for his family, new teammates from different parts of the world, and a new language in a tiny town in Iowa. It’s a painful adjustment for Miguel, and it’s painful for the viewer to witness. He and his fellow Latino teammates go to a restaurant and, not being familiar with American dishes, all order what their teammate orders, a plate of French toast. When, days later, Miguel tries to order eggs, he’s baffled by the question of “How do you want your eggs?” and in defeat, orders the French toast instead. It’s one example of the young ballplayer’s struggle.

    sugarThere are two things that lift Sugar above most of the baseball movies that have come before it: First, the baseball stuff is excellent. It has a look and feel, a rhythm and pace to match Bull Durham in its realism. Second, this is no rags-to-riches story. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are trying to tell a different story, a story of a different, but probably more common American Dream, one that doesn’t necessarily end with the limousines and flashy jewelry of Sammy Sosa and other, more visible success stories. Baseball can be a cruel game, and only the best of the best see that kind of success. What about those fifteen hundred Dominicans in baseball’s minor leagues who never see a Major League ballpark? What’s their story like?

    It’s a really nice, really interesting story, but something about it drives me crazy and I think Boden and Fleck do it on purpose, presenting us with a ballplayer who’s good enough to dream. When things get sketchy for Miguel, those of us familiar with the usual story are likely to get frustrated at this talented player’s willingness to accept what we might not be as ready to accept. And it’s tough to witness, and it’s frustrating to have to endure. But the result is a different kind of American baseball movie, one that feels right, somehow, even though it presents a side of the game I don’t know anything about.

    Everything feels real in this movie, from the Dominican architecture to the sound of the ball rolling through the grass. There’s nothing on the screen that feels out of place or inaccurate or cliche, and that’s a great thing to see. There is a kiss, and it is handled so well by everyone involved that it almost makes the whole movie worth it just by itself, yet it is such a small, small part of the film. Kisses can be like that: small but significant, and that really describes a lot of other things in this excellent movie.


  172. Reid

    World War Z (2013)
    Dir. Marc Forster

    I think Marc might enjoy this, and probably Penny (decent popcorn movie). Chris could like this, too, but I’m not sure. I’m less sure about Mitchell and Grace. Don might think this is OK, but I’m not sure. Joel will probably think this is OK. Larri didn’t care for this, as it stressed her out too much.

    Another zombie plague movie. This time Brad Pitt stars as a UN investigator searching for the cause of the plague (patient zero). Like other zombie movies, the protagonists do a lot of running and getting out of tough predicaments. The predicaments aren’t especially creative, perhaps, but I thought the pacing was very good. This movie moves along, but with some slower moments to provide some rest (although Larri thought there weren’t enough of these moments).

    I suspect fans of The Walking Dead will be disappointed and underwhelmed because a) the characters aren’t very interesting or well-developed; and b) the action and suspense aren’t sufficiently better. Having said that, I actually liked the fact that the characters weren’t interesting or well-developed. This lead to me not caring about them so much and consequently I didn’t really feel much anxiety or stress over their fate, as I did while watching The Walking Dead.

    I also liked learning about the film’s take on zombies, specifically they’re weakness. The ideas aren’t super interesting or novel, but it was enough for it to be a good popcorn movie.

    Still, the 68 rating is really a bit high. In terms of a more objective evaluation, the film would probably get a lower rating (maybe in the mid to high 50s, if not less), so the rating reflects mostly my personal enjoyment of the film. It would be a good movie sitting at home on a Saturday night with nothing to do.

  173. Reid

    Man of Steel (2013)
    Dir. Zack Snyder

    I’m not sure who would like this. I guess, Joel and Penny might have the best chance. Then I’d guess, Don and Marc, but I’m not sure. It wouldn’t surprise me too much if Mitchell, Grace, Kevin, Chris or Arlyn liked this as well.

    After the film I learned that Christopher Nolan had a hand in the story, which makes sense to me, as this film tries to cram two stories into one–namely, the origin story and a variation of the General Zod story from Superman II. As a result, the film doesn’t give enough time for each story, characters and the important relationships to grow and take root into the viewer’s mind and heart. Others may disagree, but that was my reaction. As a result, I didn’t care much for the characters or what happened to them, and the film dragged at times.

    The Nolan influence can also be seen in the grimier, grayer, realistic tone and feel to the film. This manifests itself in the cinematography, music, content and action sequences. I like Snyder as a director, particularly the way he shoots action sequences, and the action sequences here are interesting–and realistic. Imagine watching beings with super strength and speed fighting each other and it might look at lot like what’s in the film. The execution is good, if that was the goal, but I also found it unsatisfying, primarily because the characters are moving too fast to appreciate the action. (The scenes of urban destruction and the super beings crashing into beings got a little excessive and became uninteresting as a result.)

    A couple of other comments:

    >I will also say that one of the subplots involving Zod and Jor-el, Superman’s biological father, wasn’t very interesting and/or well-developed.

    >Michael Shannon is not very effective in this.

    >I thought Henry Cavill looked too much like a jerk to be an effective Superman, but that really wasn’t the case. He was OK, for the most part (although I thought he was a little too buff).

  174. Reid

    The Little Lieutenant (2006)
    Dir. Xavier Beauvois

    My guess is that Penny, Arlyn, Grace, Mitchell, Kevin and Chris would find this interesting on some level–although the first two probably have the best chance of liking this. However, I’m not confident enough to give a strong recommendation to them. It’s hard to say about Don, Marc, Joel and Jill–but I’m guessing they’re going to think this was OK–at best. I wouldn’t recommend this to Larri.

    Antoine is a recent graduate from the French police academy, and he chooses to work for the homicide department–lead by Commandant Caroline “Caro” Vaudieu, a recovering alcoholic. The film also functions as a realistic slice-of-life–specifically the life of French homicide detectives. Many of the scenes focus on the mundane versus sensational or dramatic moments that you would expect in a Hollywood crime film. But the film does eventually focus on a particular murder case. It’s engaging, but probably not enough for those looking for an action film.

    One aspect of the film interests me–namely, what the film is about and how it functions. Generally, I don’t like revealing the type of details I’m about to discuss, but, in this case, for some reason, I don’t really feel that way (although if you’re already interested in seeing the film, then you probably shouldn’t read on).

    The film starts off with Antoine, but later it shifts to the Commandant, who is played by Natalie Baye. Seeing her character for the first time turned me off a little–mainly because she seemed too good-looking, and sexy for the part (sort of like a French version of Vera Farmiga–with some similarities to Helen Mirren; indeed, I thought they were initially going for a _Prime Suspect_ vibe). Yes, she is sexy, but she has some solid acting moments. In a way the film turns into more of character study, with a somewhat complicated structure relating to the Commandant’s past. I think the film doesn’t really develop the character or the story as much as it could have. (I get the sense that the filmmaker wasn’t quite clear about what the film was really about.)

    The structure I’m talking about involves the death of the Commandant’s young son, which happened many years from when the film takes place. The son would be about the same age as Antoine and as Antoine experiences difficulties, the Commandant has to relive those moments again. But I’m not really sure if the film deals with this parallel storyline very well or if the film has a clear idea of what it wants to do with the character and story.

  175. Reid

    Ride in the Whirlwind (1966)
    Dir. Monte Hellman
    Starring: Jack Nicholson, etc.
    82 minutes

    I might recommend this to John, but I’m not sure about the others. I think Mitchell, Penny, Grace, Chris and Kevin would find something of interest, but it’s not something I’d want to draw their attention to. I’m not sure about Arlyn. Marc, Joel, Jill and Don would think this is OK at best.

    This Western actually has a promising premise: three cowboys stop at a cabin to rest. The people at the cabin seem sketchy and with good reason. You see they recently robbed a stagecoach. A little a later a posse has all of them–including the innocent cowboys–surrounded. What are the three cowboys going to do? What’s going to happen to them?

    Let me say that the film isn’t quite successful as a straight action/suspense film. However, it seems to want to do something more. I’ll say more about this in the next section.

    Some comments:

    >The film had interesting moments of the characters simply talking and hanging out (something that I could see appealing to Mitchell). It reminded me of moments in Budd Boetticher’s Ranown Cycle. I liked these moments, but I’m not sure the film developed them in interesting ways;

    >I thought the ending was a little too positive. I almost would have preferred a bleaker ending, making the film similar to something like The Friends of Eddie Coyle.

    The Shooting (1966)
    Dir. Monte Hellman
    Starring: Warren Oates, Jack Nicholson, etc.

    I’d guess Penny, Arlyn and Kevin have the best chance of liking this, but I’d be surprised if they really like it. Next, I would choose Chris; then Grace and maybe Mitchell, although I think his reaction would be lukewarm. I wouldn’t recommend this to Marc, Don, Joel or Jill as they probably would think this is OK at best.

    Describing the plot without giving too much away is difficult, particularly since the way the film unfolds is partly what makes it interesting. But let me try. This Western begins with a man who returns to what seems to be a deserted mining camp. He learns that one of the men was shot and the other, his brother, has left. It seems the brother had some trouble in town. A little later a woman appears in the camp, looking for someone to guide her to town. Both men reluctantly agree.

    The film moves at a good pace and it kept me wanting to know what would happen next.

    I don’t really know what the film is about, as I haven’t analyzed it, particularly the ending; and I’m not sure if the film succeeded or not.

    Cockfighter (1974)
    Dir. Monte Hellman
    Starring: Warren Oates, etc.

    Same as above.

    This is about a cockfighter–as in fighting chickens. The film functions as an ethnographic docu-drama about a Southern subculture, on one hand, and a sports movie, on the other. Frank Mansfield (Oates) is an expert at training and fighting chickens. One day, his loud mouth causes him to lose a chance at the cockfighter of the year award, and he vows never to speak until he wins that trophy. Like other sports films, we follow Frank until the big climactic battle.

    The movie might sound cheesy, but it’s really not (at least not to me). At the same time, I don’t think the film really works so well, either, and I’m not sure why.

  176. Reid

    Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013)
    Dir. Morgan Neville

    It’s hard to know if anyone would really like this. I guess, Mitchell and Marc might have the best chance, but I would guess they would think this just OK. I think everyone else would react in a similar fashion. Chris, Penny, Marc, and Arlyn might have the next best chance of liking this, followed by Grace and Jill. I think Don and Joel would think this is OK, but they could like this a little more.

    This is a documentary about backup singers in pop and rock music. The film features talking head interviews, clips from performances as well as one or two performances for the film.

    In my view, the film lacks a bit of focus. There are several films that exist, but the director never really seems to settle on one. For example, the film could have centered one or two of the background singers, creating a kind of bio-pic. Instead, the film covers other issues–e.g., the difference between a lead and back-up singers–the most interesting aspect of the film for me–and the way background singers contributed to specific songs (I wished the film did more of this).

    Some people might like this potpourri approach, but I would have preferred concentrating on one or two aspects (not the biographical), with more in-depth exploration.

    What separates a lead singer from a background singer? I’m not sure I understand the answer, but it isn’t simple. The ability to sing isn’t the biggest factor. Apparently, there are a lot of good singers. I don’t even singing with one’s heart is the key difference. Instead the difference seems to evolve several factors:

    1. Personality, temperament, and ego. Lead singers need a bigger ego, and they not only have to feel comfortable in the spotlight, but they have to want to be in the spotlight. They probably have to also handle the other factors that come with being in the spotlight (handling fame, being the leader of a group, etc.). An analogy might be the way some basketball players have the temperament and ambition to be superstars, while equally talented players do not.

    2. Finding the songs and sound to best complement the singer. To me, these factors make a singer distinctive and individual–which might be the biggest factor in separating a lead singer from a background singer. I mostly assumed that a singer’s vocal timbre and singing style is what distinguished them from other singers. While this is true, I also think finding the right songs and putting the singer in the right context are also important and way to a singer can find a distinctive niche.

  177. mitchell

    I’ve only heard good things about this documentary. Well, until now. 🙂 But yeah: I can’t wait to check it out.

  178. Reid

    Actually, I should change my comments regarding your reaction to the film. Given how you and I react to these films, you’ll probably like this.

  179. mitchell

    I’m a Darlene Love admirer, so I have a feeling I’m already biased in its favor.

  180. Reid

    She’s featured quite a bit in the film, so you should like this.

    To me, Merry Clayton impressed me the most.

  181. Reid

    Only God Forgives (2013)
    Dir. Nicholas Winding Refn
    Starring: Ryan Gosling, etc.

    I’m not sure who would like this, but I’m sure who wouldn’t–Larri, Marc, Don and Joel. Of the rest, I think Kevin might have the best chance; Penny would be next, but I wouldn’t really recommend this to her. I’m not sure about Chris, Arlyn or Grace.

    This film takes place in Thailand. Julian’s (Gosling) older brother is killed and Julian’s mother (Kristin Scott Thomas, who channels Joan Crawford), a tough, crime boss, comes to Thailand looking for revenge. However, she encounters problems with Chang, the powerful and mysterious police chief, Chang. You see, Chang is involved with her older son’s death, which pits both Chang and Julian and his mother.

    Now, this sounds like the makings of a good revenge, action film. But that would be misleading. This is an art film (dedicated to Alejandro Jodorowsky).

    The filmmaking is good, but I have mixed feelings about it. At times, the film feels like it’s made by a college art major who happens to be a good photographer. The film looks good, but I’m not sure if the ideas have a lot of substance.

    The film has scenes of graphic violence (one torture scene), for what that’s worth.

  182. Reid

    The Wolverine (2013)
    Dir. James Mangold

    I’d guess Mitchell would like this. I’d guess Penny would probably enjoy this, too. After that, I’m not sure. I’d guess Joel would only think this is OK, but who knows? I think Larri kinda liked this.

    Logan goes to Japan to say goodbye to an aging Japanese soldier he met and saved during WWII. That solider has become the head of a powerful technology firm, and has plans to pass on the company. Logan gets caught up in a power struggle involving other family members, the yakuza, ninjas and other mutants.

    In the next section, I’ll go over reasons I didn’t like the film.

    1. I don’t care for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine;
    2. To be fair, none of the characters or acting seemed very good in my view; the chemistry between Logan and another important character didn’t work for me, either. (I did like the fact that the film spent a considerable time developing characters and a relationship, but it didn’t do a good job of this in my opinion.);
    3. The action scenes and villains were bland.

    R.I.P.D. (2013)
    Dir. Robert Schwentke
    Starring: Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, etc.

    I have no idea who would like this, mainly because I think the film depends on subjective factors.

    Short description: a Ghostbusters version of Men in Black. You can tell the filmmakers are going for a similar dynamic that Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones had. The verdict? Bridges and Reynolds don’t come close to the chemistry that Smith and Jones had in the same film–it’s more like their chemistry in the sequels. Indeed, I thought of MIB II while watching this. It also doesn’t have the novelty and freshness of the first film–where getting to the details of the MIB and the premise of the film was half the enjoyment. Really, the premise is almost the same, except it involves spirits and the after life instead of aliens. (Even the R.I.P.D. head quarters looks like the same set.)

    I’d go into the plot, but I don’t think it’s important.

  183. Reid

    My Childhood (1972)
    Dir. Bill Douglas
    45 minutes

    I’d give a pretty strong recommendation to Arlyn. Next, I’d choose Penny and then maybe Kevin. Finally, Grace, Chris and Mitchell. I think the last four people would appreciate the film on some level, but I don’t know how much they would like it.

    The first in a trilogy of autobiographical films. This one involves two half-brothers and their grandmother living in poverty. Both boys yearn for and struggle with not having a father figure in their lives. The film doesn’t contain much of a plot and basically moves from one situation to the next–but I think that’s one of the virtues of the film–as it focuses on simple, universal situations. The simplicity, combined with the visuals, make for a moving and effective film–at least for me. The visuals aren’t showy, and they remind me of good photographs. The film also makes me think of films like Wendy and Me–for the way the quiet mundane moments pack a punch; and even something like In the Mood for Love, both for the power of the images and barebones plot. (My Childhood is shot in black and white.)

  184. Reid

    My Ain Folk (1974)
    Dir. Bill Douglas

    I suspect Penny and Arlyn would like this, but I’m not entirely sure. I’m less sure about Chris and Kevin, and my guess is that Grace and Mitchell would just think this is OK. I probably wouldn’t recommend this to Joel, Jill, Marc and Don.

    This is the second part of Douglas’ autobiographical trilogy. In this film, Jamie and his half-brother Tommy are split up after their grandmother dies. Jamie goes to live with his paternal grandmother.

    For me, the images and situations lacked the power of the first film–that’s what it comes down to.

  185. Reid

    The Grandmaster (2013)
    Dir. Wong Kar Wai
    Starring: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Zhang Ziyi, etc.
    (U.S. release)

    I’m really not sure who would like this and who wouldn’t. My guess is that almost everyone would think this is OK, although some might like a little more or a little less than that.

    This is Wong Kar-wai’s bio-pic of Ip Man, the wing chun master who taught Bruce Lee. If you’ve seen Wilson Yip’s Ip Man, think of that film combined with In the Mood for Love and you get an idea of what this film is like. The Nothern kung-fu grandmaster heads south to investigate the martial arts styles in that region and issues a challenge to them. The southern masters select Ip Man to represent them. The film has starts off with action and basically sticks to a conventional action film. Later, the film adds elements of romance–in stylish and impressionistic way.

    My big problem is that the film doesn’t seem to know what kind of film it wants to be. Some critics have used the word “muddled,” and I agree. Because of that I’m curious to see the Hong Kong cut of the film as it is a twenty minutes longer, and I’m wondering if it will be more focused.

    The film looked good though. The opening scene excited me as it looked and sounded really good. I’m sure seeing this in the bigger theater at Dole was a big reason for this (I was told they have new projection as well). It was worth seeing just for the visuals and the venue.

  186. Reid

    Drug Wars (2012)
    Dir. Johnnie To

    I’m not sure who would like this. I probably wouldn’t recommend this to Joel, Don, Marc and Jill, as they’ll probably think this is OK at best. (Larri really didn’t like this, if that means anything.) Grace, Penny and Mitchell probably have a better chance of liking this, but I’m really not sure. Ditto Kevin, Chris and Arlyn.

    One review supposedly referred to this as a Hong Kong version of The Wire and superficially there’s some truth to that: the film does feature cops pursuing drug dealers. But it doesn’t examine the social and political aspects of urban communities in the way The Wire does. But I think (and I’m not 100% sure) the film does something else that’s interesting–namely, present a expression of Daoist ideology. OK, this seems nutty, and it just might well be that, but I’ll explain my hypothesis in the next section. At this time, I should also mention that this is an unconventional action/crime film, compared to Hollywood movies. I’m not sure I’d go so far as calling it an art film, but the film seems to operate in a way that is different from other Hollywood action movies.

    The film follows Captain Zhang and his drug-unit as they try to turn a prominent drug lord into an undercover informant. As a standard crime film it works fairly well–until the final act. (It’s a little slow at times prior to the final act as well.) By the conclusion, my guess is action fans will be scratching their heads. (I know I was.) In the next section, I’ll share my working hypothesis of the film.

    So here’s my hypothesis. This is film is mainly an expression of Eastern values–values influenced by beliefs Daoism and Confucianism. I think reading explains the climactic gun-battle, which seems a bit odd in terms of conventional action films. The characters seem to be move as if they’re chess pieces controlled by some outside force. A cop will kill the drug-dealer and vice-versa, until almost everyone is killed. It feels like an expression of Yin and Yang. That feeling is even more pronounced with Captain Zhang and Tommy, the drug-lord who double crosses everyone. Zhang says that he will always be with Tommy–whether they live or die–and at the end he even handcuffs himself to Tommy before he quickly dies.

    Tommy seems to represent someone a selfish individual who doesn’t respect the Eastern value system and beliefs–putting himself above his family and organization, breaking any moral code to preserve his life. In a way, I can’t help but wonder if he represents the Western way (at least a negative spin on it), particularly given his fate at the end: there’s no escape.

    Edit: OK, I found a much better interpretation of what this film is about. The interpretation comes from Grady Hendrix via David Bordwell’s blog post about the film. (Bordwell’s comments make for good post-viewing reading as well.). Here’s Hendrix:

    For me, the most interesting element is the long game that I think To and Wai are playing and what I see as the secret heart of the movie. I think that the meaning of the film isn’t conveyed so much by the narrative as by the tools used to create the narrative: the actors. All of the cops are Mainland actors, most of the drug dealers are Hong Kong actors. What are drug dealers besides capitalism run amuck, completely unregulated? What are cops but authoritarian impulses, completely unregulated? The two groups have similar goals: make money at all costs; catch the criminals at all costs.

    The cops in the film are China personified: they have unlimited resources, massive numbers, infinite organization, but they are heartless towards outsiders, unforgiving, and they don’t trust anyone. The criminals are all the stereotypes of Hong Kong-ers: they are family, they are stylish and chic, they eat meals together (Hong Kong people love to eat, after all) but they are only interested in money. They will save themselves and leave their wives to die, they will betray anyone (including their uncle and godfather), to make a buck. Both groups use the same tools, but they are opposites: unregulated capitalism vs. unregulated authoritarianism; the unstoppable object and the immovable force.

    The fact that when put into conflict these two forces destroy each other is, I think, a critique of both Hong Kong and the Mainland, and I think To and Wai want to show how each has gone too far and both have become merciless and inhuman. Of course, in the end, China wins out and Hong Kong’s biggest pop star is on a table whimpering as China slips in the needle (which is weird, since I don’t think China uses lethal injection to execute people, but then again it’s an instance of Chinese drugs beating Hong Kong’s drugs).

  187. Reid

    Where a Good Man Goes (1999)
    Dir. Johnnie To
    Starring: Ching Wan Lau Ruby Wong, Lam Suet, etc.

    The plot is pretty cliched and unspectacular: Michael Leung, triad gangster, gets out of prison. While trying to re-establish himself, he stays at a tiny hotel (referred to as an inn) run by a widow and her young son. During this process, an over-zealous police officer is out to get Michael.

    It’s really much of a crime or action film, and if anything the the film is more like drama-romance–focusing on Michael and his relationship with hotel owner.

    Having said that, I liked this film, but I’m not really sure of the reason. Well, one reason is Ruby Wong, who plays Judy Lin, hotel owner. Ching Wan Lau is another reason–he’s an actor I’m really starting to like, although he’s a bit over-the-top in this film.

  188. Reid

    Outer Space (1999)
    Dir. Peter Tscherkassy
    10 min.

    This a short film made up entirely of the film The Entity starring Barbara Hersey. I believe the original film involved some spirit or ghost that invaded a home of a woman living alone. Outer Space seems to stick closely with that idea, although it employs an experimental approach–e.g., superimposition of images, flickering film, even turning the film into black and white. Another person remarked that the film itself seemed to be attacking the character and that’s a good description. There’s definitely an experimental, abstract, and expressionistic feel to the film. In a way, it reminded me a little of Tetsuo: the Iron Man, which I also liked quite a bit. (Both have a bit of an industrial/noise quality.) Anyway, I really liked this.

  189. Mitchell

    This is the End (2013)
    Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Evan Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Emma Watson, and a huge ensemble. Directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.

    thisistheendI’m seeing an increasing number of big-studio films lately that really ask to be evaluated not as sequences of events, but as groups of comedic sketches loosely tied together by some concept of a plot. Last year’s This is 40 is among the more successful, more traditionally constructed of these, while 2013’s Grown-Ups 2 holds up the other end, with almost no meaningful storyline at all. If you dislike such a movie because there’s a flaw in the way one plot element leads to the next, or with conflicts and resolutions, you seem to be missing the film’s intentions, which tend more toward silliness, sight gags, and censorship-avoiding derring-do. Add This is the End to that list and proceed to the theater or DVD kiosk with caution: it’s got some idiotic, clever, laugh-aloud moments that might embarrass you, but don’t expect any semblance of the satisfying arc of, say, the same writers’ 2007 film, Superbad.

    thisistheendIn fact, it is not the lack of plot substance that leaves me most dissatisfied with This is the End, but the lack of believable sensitivity and heart for their characters that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were once so skillful in evoking. You could tolerate the unspeakably embarrassing situations characters in their other films find themselves in because they are handled deftly, with equal amounts of sympathy and humor. Craig Robinson, especially gifted at playing tragic while in the midst of insanely juvenile comedy, seems wasted here, ‘though among the lead actors he gives it the best go.

    This apocalyptic film features an enormous cast of actors playing fictional versions of themselves, the most impressive of whom is Emma Watson, whose funny, gross exchange with the male stars of this film after a night in James Franco’s house is the picture’s highlight. There was huge laughter during a pretty well-conceived exorcism scene, but I found it to be long and (mostly) unfunny, so I get the feeling I’m just not getting the joke.

    Which is not a bad description for my overall feelings about this movie. I’m predisposed to liking the actors in this film, and I went in wanting a really good laugh, but This is the End mostly left me feeling a little flat.


  190. Mitchell

    The Bling Ring (2013)
    Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien, Georgia Rock, Emma Watson, Leslie Mann. Directed by Sofia Coppola.

    theblingringThe Bling Ring is a black comedy written and directed by Sofia Coppola, so it’s got a lot going for it right off the bat. It is based (pretty closely, from what I can tell) on the real-life crime ring made up of teenagers in California who burglarized the homes of their favorite celebrities. And as with most black comedies, I honestly don’t know what to make of it.

    Israel Broussard plays Marc, an alienated high-schooler, a new boy in school, who befriends Rebecca (played by Katie Chung), a pretty schoolmate with pretty friends who casually skip classes sometimes to smoke weed on the beach. At a party one night, Rebecca persuades Marc to help her try the doors on the Porches and BMWs parked on the street. They find money and credit cards in these cars, and embark the next day on a shopping spree, Rebecca making a big deal out of purchasing the same brand-names as her favorite young celebrities.

    theblingringThis behavior continues, and then it escalates to trying the doors of celebrities’ houses, the friends picking evenings when the public figures are known to be out of town. Using information easily available on the Internet, they locate the homes of such celebs as Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Orlando Bloom, and steal clothes, jewelry, drugs, cash, and weapons, often inviting their friends to come along. The thrill seems as related to their secret proximity to their idols as to the loot itself.

    Coppola doesn’t give us a lot of insight on these young criminals’ minds or motivations, leaving it for us to judge families, schools, or whatever. Although Rebecca is clearly the leader of this ring, Coppola tells us a lot more about two of Rebecca’s friends, teenaged girls who are home-schooled by a mother whose idea of an education is getting the girls ready for acting and modeling auditions.

    I want to say that there must be more here than the easy condemnation of stage moms, conspicuous consumption, and obsession with celebrities, but if the evidence is there to support it, I’ve missed it. And you know, I have a feeling it has more to do with my grasp of the genre than the inadequacies of the material, because I don’t think I ever really got Heathers either, which this movie reminds me of (although The Bling Ring is far less stylized), or To Die For, or Death Becomes Her, although I enjoyed them all. The best I can do without spoiling the film is suggest that there may be something meaningful in the fact that we know more about the homeschooled girls, who are rich and pretty, than about Rebecca, who is pretty but from a family of much more modest means, and that the film is cast mostly with newcomers, except Emma Watson as one of the homeschooled girls and Leslie Mann, who plays that girl’s mother.

    Whatever its missed (by me) intentions, the film is kind of fun and fascinating until things begin to go bad for the main characters, at which point the film turns into kind of a downer. The acting is strong enough, and the direction pretty interesting, but I left the theater more puzzled than anything else, and in the long run, found The Bling Ring to be unsatisfying.


  191. Mitchell

    White House Down (2013)
    Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllanhaal, James Woods. Directed by Roland Emmerich.

    whitehousedownOne of the nice things about a movie like White House Down is that if you have seen the trailer, you pretty much know what to expect: lots of guns, explosions, smart-alecky remarks, and tension. I suppose for a lot of people, it’s the execution of those things in some kind of magic combination that determines whether or not the film is successful. I don’t dislike gunfights or funny one-liners in the face of mortal danger (although I do dislike chase scenes, as a rule), but what makes a movie like this good for me is the stuff that happens in between the action sequences. Give me characters I like, dialogue that’s interesting and (given the circumstances) believable, and some kind of big-picture theme to think about, and I’m pretty happy.

    Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx on the marquee offer the potential to satisfy me on that level. If the material isn’t dumb, they’ll probably be pretty good, and that’s what they are. Tatum as an action star works for me because he knows how to be a normal guy, too, something the action stars of the Eighties seriously lacked. I’m not a fan of writing him as the father of a young girl held hostage in the White House, but at least the girl isn’t super-annoying. Tatum’s character, in fact, is given a little bit more of an interesting backstory than one might have predicted for a film of this sort. Foxx is his usual charming self, and it mostly works for this film, ‘though the point was made by my friend that he could have been any handsome, charming actor and nothing in the film would be different. Totally agree.

    whitehousedownThere’s a bit more to the film than is presented in the trailer, and even though the villain is revealed about midway through the film, his true plan isn’t realized until much later, in a pretty smart plot that I for one did not see coming. It’s not in The Sixth Sense‘s league for plot revelation, but it is pleasantly somewhat out of the ordinary. The important thing is that it’s pretty easy here to like and root for Tatum’s character, and Foxx is pleasant company for him, and Maggie Gyllenhaal a nice (if not especially daring) choice for an ally on the outside of the White House.

    What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that this movie doesn’t suck. In fact, it’s a few notches better than it really had to be, and I appreciate that. It’s kind of fun, and kind of interesting, and not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.


  192. Mitchell

    The Heat (2013)
    Melissa McCarthy, Sandra Bullock. Directed by Paul Feig.

    theheatThe Heat is a buddy-cop, odd-couple flick with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in the leads. Bullock plays the neat one, competent and by-the-book but with no meaningful relationships or supporters despite excellent service in the FBI. McCarthy plays the slob, also competent but accomplishing her tasks in ways that get her in trouble with her superiors. She also has no real relationships in her local police department, and she is somewhat estranged from her family for arresting a brother who’s wandered to the wrong side of the law.

    theheatIt’s an excellent pairing, and one gets the feeling Bullock and McCarthy could do a whole bunch of movies together in different genres. Their on-screen chemistry (if you’re allowed to use that word in non-sexual situations) is superb, and the actresses work together as if they’ve done so for fifty years. They are such a likable duo that one is willing to (mostly) overlook stupid plot elements, such as accidentally dropping someone from a second-floor fire escape in what’s supposed to be a humorous scene but feels mean instead, and a stupid bonding-by-inebriation scene which is mostly a cheap shortcut, ‘though Bullock and McCarthy do drunk very, very well.

    As in many cop movies, the FBI finds itself interested in a case that a Boston-area police department is involved with. ‘Though both claim ownership of the case, the FBI’s Bullock is given authority, so the department’s McCarthy works covertly to find out what she can. There is the inevitable partnering up, and (surprise!) each agent of the law finds ways her strengths complement the shortcomings of the other, professionally and personally. The predictability of this film never wavers or deviates, but it’s mostly okay because the actresses make you want to see what happens next, even though you know what happens next.

    There’s an enormous (this is not a pun) amount of talent on this screen. One just wishes the same talent could have been put together for something smarter and different. Failing that, this is okay enough.


  193. Reid


    About White House Down, you said,

    I don’t dislike gunfights or funny one-liners in the face of mortal danger (although I do dislike chase scenes, as a rule), but what makes a movie like this good for me is the stuff that happens in between the action sequences.

    You saying that, makes me curious to know what you would think of some of Johnnie To’s action films. On the other these “in-between” moments are not necessarily filled with strong dialogue or character building, so maybe not.

  194. Reid

    The Mission (1999)
    Dir. Johnnie To

    No to Joel and Marc, although they might think this is OK. In fact, my guess is that most would think this is OK at best.
    Kevin and Mitchell might find aspects that make the film a bit more interesting for them.

    Hong Kong film about a gangster boss who has a hit out on him. He and his brother hire bodyguards to protect him. The film spends time showing the bodyguards hanging out and ostensibly developing a bond between them. This wasn’t so effective for me, personally. But it might be something Mitchell would like.

    Corridor No. 8 (2008)
    Dir. Boris Despodov
    74 min.

    No to Don, Marc, Joel and Jill. Grace, Penny, Kevin, Chris and Arlyn might find this interesting, but I don’t think it’s something they would love.

    The EU (?) decided to build a road, creating a corridor that would connect the Black Sea and Adriatic, a corridor running through Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania. This is a documentary that starts at the Black Sea and moves along the planned route, encounter various people along the way, and ends at the Adriatic.

    I’m interested in urban planning, and, having read a book about post-WWI in the Middle East and Eastern Europe–I also had interest in this region. Without this interest, I don’t think this would be very interesting, and probably not worth one’s time.

  195. Mitchell

    The Way Way Back (2013)
    Liam James, AnnaSophia Robb, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Amanda Peet, Rob Corddrey, Maya Rudolph. Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.

    thewaywaybackI sometimes wonder what grown-up former cool kids think when they see a teen coming-of-age film. Is there a personal recognition of themselves as the cool kids in the movie, the ones who shun the main character and run off to parties where their invitations are rightfully assumed? Or is the entire coming-of-age experience so universal that they somehow relate, at least metaphorically, to the main character, the loser, the loner, the outcast, the alienated? If it’s the former, I wonder if films like this help them understand how victimized others were by their very coolness, and if it’s the latter, I realize it’s an indication that I don’t get how hellacious growing up is for us all, but what I really think is, “How dare they relate metaphorically to something I had to go through literally?”

    thewaywaybackMaybe it’s not as important a detail as I’m trying to make it, but AnnaSophia Robb in The Way Way Back plays the character I think the former cool kids would like to relate to. She’s in the in group, but she’s somewhat alienated from them, not as eager to indulge in partying and drinking, more inclined to read a book on the beach than to posture for the boys playing football in the sand. Her character Susanna is not like the other pretty girls hanging out on the beach in Cape Cod, and that’s important, because that difference is something the main character Duncan (Liam James) can hold onto, the thing that raises her above the other idiotic people in this place where he is forced to spend his summer.

    thewaywaybackDuncan’s mom (Toni Collette) is dating a total prick named Trent (Steve Carell, wonderfully cast against type), who owns the summer home. In order to avoid having to deal with his mom’s relationship with Trent, Duncan escapes to a nearby water park, where the manager (Sam Rockwell) is an irreverent, sensitive stand-up comedian of a guy whose lack of an audience doesn’t keep him from cracking an endless stream of unappreciated jokes. Owen is a cross between Bill Murray’s character in Meatballs and Mark Harmon’s character in Summer School, and I suppose that younger viewers who haven’t seen both of those films won’t care, but if you’ve seen either, you may find something kind of ho-hum about Rockwell’s performance in this film. There are a lot of ways this character could have been envisioned, and my biggest disappointment in this picture is its failure to present this character as something other than stuff we’ve seen before.

    The truth is that this film is almost all stuff we’ve seen before, but its pieces are so interesting that it manages to be pleasing and rewarding. Duncan’s unexpected combination of down-in-the-mouth and what-have-I-got-to-lose is a winning characterization, and it’s as easy to accept his moping around Trent’s house as it is to see him do many out-of-character things in the water park, the site of his gradual emergence into his less-illusioned self.

    As for Susanna, is it possible to say without crossing the line into lecherous creepiness that AnnaSophia Robb’s character made me feel fifteen again? Because I think that’s her job, and I think she does it well. I’m not sure I’d relive the ridiculous angst I went through at fifteen if it meant one kiss from the out-of-my-league girl who was nice to me one summer, but I’d be sorely tempted.


  196. Mitchell

    Grown Ups 2
    Adam Sandler, Kevin James, David Spade, Salma Hayek, Chris Rock, and a cast of thousands. Directed by Dennis Dugan.

    grownups2I’ve already written about the way recent Adam Sandler films don’t want to be appreciated as cohesive stories in the traditional sense. Sandler and his buddies seem only to want to make audiences laugh, and Grown Ups 2 continues in the vein of its predecessor, as a bunch of silly moments strung together in some kind of story-like order. This latest project comes across almost as a high-school reunion, Sandler getting all his friends (‘though Rob Schneider is noticeably absent) together to see if they can make each other crack up.

    With goals like these, nothing has to be believable, and if you care about logic or a plot, you are likely to be banned from the movie. The only things that matter are whether or not the actors had fun (they seem to have) and whether or not audiences laughed.

    There was quite a bit of laughter in the theater when I saw it, but I found only a few moments truly funny. It’s too bad, too, because Sandler comes up with a few good ideas. The execution is all wrong, however, and I can’t put my finger on any one culpable element, but most of it just doesn’t make me laugh.

    grownups2One huge exception is Shaquille O’Neal, who plays a middle-aged cop. His scenes are wonderfully fresh, silly, and amusing. No one should be surprised that O’Neal can be funny, but his playful, nothing-to-prove approach to his character totally strips away most of the persona we’re used to seeing from him, and what we’re left with is just a pleasingly fun performance.

    When all the main characters are unbelievable and stupid-silly, the actors who play the straight roles come across as stronger and more convincing, and in this case that means Salma Hayek as Sandler’s wife and a couple of the main characters’ kids. There are enough stupid lines for all, but Hayek and some of the kids rise above them and put forth a noble effort in a losing cause. Most of the attempted humor falls woefully flat. I am not saying that repeated attempts at simultaneous burping, sneezing, and farting cannot be funny, but whatever the magic formula is for making it work is well beyond the reach of these actors.

    Grown Ups 2 is not guilty of being stupid, gross, infantile, and plotless, ‘though it certainly is all of the above, and goodness knows that can be a winning combination. No, the movie fails in the one way that cannot be forgiven: it’s just not funny.


  197. Reid

    Re: The Heat

    Their on-screen chemistry (if you’re allowed to use that word in non-sexual situations) is superb, and the actresses work together as if they’ve done so for fifty years. They are such a likable duo that one is willing to (mostly) overlook stupid plot elements,…

    I really have no desire to see this film, but your comment makes me a little curious.

    Whereas this line regarding Grown Ups 2

    I am not saying that repeated attempts at simultaneous burping, sneezing, and farting cannot be funny,…

    had the opposite effect. 🙂

  198. mitchell

    Turbo (2013)
    Voices of Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Snoop Dogg, Michael Pena, Maya Rudolph, Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by David Soren.

    turboEvery element of Turbo‘s plot is absurd right out of the starting gate, so absurd as to border on idiotic. But if you can get past that and accept it the way you’d accept, say, an immortal man with retractable claws whose skeleton has been replaced by adamantium, it’s a cute film with a few things to recommend it for kids and grown-ups.

    Turbo is a snail who dreams of speed. Ostracized by his fellow snails for endangering them with his attempts to break away from the snail’s workaday pace, he finds himself the miraculous recipient of a freak accident involving a race car and nitrous oxide, the result of which is race-car-like speed, eyes that turn on like headlights, and a built-in radio.

    He’s discovered by a poor Mexican taco-truck owner who has his own dreams of reviving a strip mall in a run-down community. He enters Turbo in the Indianapolis 500.

    I’ve seen too many movies aimed at kids lately whose reasonable story ideas but stupid executions were so annoying that I’d prefer it if my kids (if I had any kids) would fall asleep in the theaters, their sodas undrunk and their popcorn unfinished. It was nice, then, to see those movies’ opposite: a stupid story idea with clever execution. Turbo’s Dreamworks creators had a lot of fun with this film. Yes, they know it’s a dumb story, but look how much fun you can have with a dumb story: you can use jump cuts that remind you of highly stylized films of well-known directors. You can use anything you want for the soundtrack music, so why not something silly and unexpected? You can conduct the pace of action sequences so that they have enjoyable ebbs and flows, like a Beethoven symphony, and you can punctuate big moments with little details.

    Turbo is no Citizen Kane; nor is it even Pinocchio, really. But it is much better than most of the animated films I’ve seen recently, and there are scenes where, if I had any kids, I’d be really proud of them if they laughed at what I was laughing at, because much of the humor will be caught only by observant young viewers who realize they are watching something more thoughtful than the fare that’s usually thrown at them.


  199. Reid

    Yes, they know it’s a dumb story, but look how much fun you can have with a dumb story: you can use jump cuts that remind you of highly stylized films of well-known directors. You can use anything you want for the soundtrack music, so why not something silly and unexpected? You can conduct the pace of action sequences so that they have enjoyable ebbs and flows, like a Beethoven symphony, and you can punctuate big moments with little details.

    I wish I could remember more details of the film so I could reconsider the film. I didn’t have the same reaction, though. It just seemed like another animated kids film.

    Speaking of animated films…

    Redline (2009)
    Dir. Takeshi Koike

    I wonder if Chris would like this. Mitchell, might like this, then again he might dislike it. (In the right frame of mind, I could see him really liking this, though.) I’m not sure about Marc or Don.

    This is basically an anime update of the cartoon, Tom Slick. Everybody remembers Tom Slick, right? Tom’s a race car driver and in every episode he’s in a race, racing against various colorful characters. The episode I remember has Tom racing against various Halloween monsters (e.g. Frankenstein, Dracula, etc.)–with racing cars that matched the particular monster.

    This film takes place in the future, and the hero, “Sweet JP”, is a human like Tom, racing against other humans and aliens in the redline race, a race with no rules (so contestants have weapons to eliminate other racers). I wont’t go into the other racers, but the filmmakers come up with some good characters. (They don’t spend enough time developing and using them, however.)

    Now, there’s an interesting element of the plot that I liked, and I’ll mention. The race takes place on a planet within the Roboworld (or something like that). Roboworld’s government doesn’t want the race to occur, so they send their military to stop the contestants. (Roboworld is basically made up of cyborgs.)

    The story also involves an erotic component to the story line. I’m generally turned off by sexualized animation of female characters, but in this film, I liked the way the accentuated with connection between the cars and the erotic(similar to the way Cronenberg played with the metaphor) in Crash. I’m thinking specifically of the climatic scene (climax being the key word).

    What I also liked was the film’s cartoon quality–especially in terms of the animation and the vulgar tone (in fact, I think it should have gone a bit farther). Here, I’m thinking of the some of the profanity used in the film and some of the erotic elements. (I watched the dubbed version, and I actually liked it because of the profanity.)

    It’s not a great film, and probably could have been better, but I liked the animation and attitude. Also, I think it helped that turned the volume up while watching this. I putting aside my preferences for action films was a big part of the reason I enjoyed this. If you just embrace the film’s attitude and enjoy the animation and sound, it can be a fun ride.

  200. Reid

    Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (2011)
    Dir. Johnnie To
    Starring: Yuanyuan Gao, Louis Koo, Daniel Wu, etc.

    I think Penny and Mitchell would enjoy this, as in a film that would provide solid entertainment. I think Grace, Jill and Larri would probably feel that way, too. Don, Marc, Joel, Kevin and Chris could react this way, too.

    This is a Hong Kong rom-com, although more “rom” than “com,” in my opinion (The comedy is probably more charming than laugh-out-loud humor–but others may disagree.), and it’s not unlike other Hollywood romance films in my view (i.e., I think the typical American fans of this genre would have no trouble appreciating the movie.)

    This film involves a love triangle between Yen (Yuanyuan Gao), a financial analyst, and two men vying for her affections–Kevin (Wu), a down-on-his-luck architect, and Sean (Koo), a CEO of an investment firm. The plot details aren’t worth mentioning, but I do think there are some interesting parts of the plot and film, which I’ll go into in the next section.

    In my opinion, like other romance films, one’s reaction to the film depends on one’s reaction to the characters and their relationship. For me, Gao seemed to lack something, and I don’t know if the problem is in the writing or her persona. She’s definitely attractive in a cute, girl-next-door sort of way, but she seems sort of hollow as a character as well. But the male leads also have the same sort of hollowness. Now, maybe this is just typical of romance/rom-coms, I don’t know, as it feels like forever since I’ve watched one. In any event, I would have liked this a lot more if I liked the characters more than I did.

    I’ll mention one more thing, which might be a small spoiler (so don’t read on if you don’t want to know). I liked the way the film kept you guessing about Yen’s feelings. It did a solid job of doing this.

    Another scene that is noteworthy is the way the characters communicated through the window of the buildings. These weren’t earthshatteringly wonderful, but they were fun and charming.

    The other thing I wanted to mention was the symbolism and subtext–both of which I might not fully appreciate. For example, I like the use of the frog in the film, the way it represents Yen’s old, ruined relationship with her first boyfriend, how it ties in with Kevin’s redemption and the way the death of the frog seems to signify something else. Then there’s the building that Kevin builds, inspired by Yen’s shadow; and the way this building is used in the climax

    Romancing in Thin the Air (2012)
    Dir. Johnnie To
    Starring: Louis Koo, Sammi Cheng, etc.

    Same as above–although I would giver a stronger recommendation to Mitchell for this (and I would recommend not knowing why I think that, so be cautious in reading any more.)

    Another Hong Kong romance. Koo stars a movie start who goes on a drinking binge after he’s jilted by his girlfriend. He jumps in the back of a truck, which takes him to a secluded mountain inn. There he meets a woman who has been grieving for her husband, who got lost in the nearby mountains. I suspect some will enjoy the humorous moments involvement the other workers at the inn, as well as a local doctor, but I thought these were more charming/amusing, rather than laugh-out-loud funny moments (which isn’t a bad thing).

    The movie moved a bit slow for me, although I think part of this is due to my lack of enthusiasm for the genre. But it also didn’t have anything to offend my intelligence or sensibilities.

    There’s one other reason I gave this a relatively high rating, but I feel like that’s too much of a spoiler to mention. For those who of you who don’t care about such things, I’ll mention it in the next section.

    There’s a meta-movie moment that I really liked in the film–one with a message that reminds me a little of one idea in The Purple Rose of Cairo–namely, that movies can help us out of the pain we experience in life. Others may find the film’s handling of this on the cheesy side, but I kind of liked it. I’m not sure if this, alone, makes the movie good in an intersubjective sense, but it made it more noteworthy and interesting to me.

  201. Reid

    Gravity (2013)
    Dir. Alfonzo Cuaron
    Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, etc.

    I recommend this to all the idiots (although Larri gave this a 5/10–which surprised me a little, but when she explained I could understand why she felt the way she did). I’m not a fan of 3D, but I’d strongly recommend seeing the film in 3D–and the biggest screen with the best projection and sound. (I saw it in IMAX.). And this is definitely a movie you don’t want to wait until video. In my opinion, you don’t really need to know anything more. I feel pretty confident that all of you like this, at least on some level. I’m not saying everyone is going to love this film, but the chances are very high that almost everyone will like it quite a bit–Jill, Don, Grace and Penny come to mind first, but I think Joel, Marc, Kevin, Mitchell, Chris and Arlyn follow close behind. At the very least, I think people will say this was worth watching in the theater, and I’m almost certain the response will be more positive than that.

    The movie does have some flaws in my view, and may be some aspects that people will have problems with. I’ll try to go into that in the next section.

    Mitchell remarked that the film looks scary. For those who may not want to go to a film that could be scary, let me make a few comments. First, it’s not a horror film. Second, it is suspenseful–but in my view not anything that will be too intense. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so. (Grace is the only person I can think of who might have a problem, but my guess is she won’t. And there are other appealing features that would override that aspect for her.)

    OK, now let me go into the plot. Basically, the film is about these astronauts working in space (outside of a space shuttle), when they experience difficulties that threaten their lives. In short, they have to do things to get back to earth.

    I’ll say a few things I liked about the film (although, to me, you should just experience this on your own) and a few aspects I thought were a little weak. Let me start with the latter–basically two things.

    First, the characters are not very well-developed, which isn’t critical for this genre, but what is critical is caring about the characters. To me, the film wasn’t so effective in this area. I think it’s one of the reasons Larri didn’t like the movie as much, going so far as calling in “boring.” The comment surprised me at first, but the film didn’t really have me riveted to my chair–the way a film like Abyss did, for example. And I think that was because I didn’t meet a certain threshold of liking and caring about the characters, although I didn’t dislike or not care about them at all. I did experience many of the scenes at arm’s length, though, which weakened the suspenseful scenes.

    The other potential problem are the cliches, that some may find cheesy. I think this is a valid criticism, one that could pose problems for people. All I can say is that it didn’t for me, and I thought the film handled this in ways that I responded positively, too.

    And the film’s strengths far-outweighed those problems. What were the strengths? Again, I recommend just seeing the film without hearing my comments, partly because the expectations could get in the way of enjoying the film. But OK, I can’t stall any longer. What I’m about to say, people may already know, but I’ll say it anyway: the visuals were terrific. I’d never seen shots of space or action set=pieces shot in space that looked like this–and it was very well-done. Not only that, but the concept behind the action set-pieces–i.e., the situations, and the way the characters get out the situation–was also excellent. To me, great action/adventure/thrillers have great action-set pieces, and what makes them great have to do with the concept of the set-pieces–i.e., are the predicaments intelligently conceived and are the solutions clever and satisfying? And then, is the filmmaking good, if not great? Perhaps not all of the solutions were really clever (which was one of Larri’s other complaint–she remarked that the characters get out of problems mostly through physical prowess more than using their brains, which is sort of true), but they were satisfying and the string of predicaments and their resolutions were excellent. Ditto the filmmaking. Let me put in this way. Do you know how AFI does those top 100 films of all time, and how some of them focus on a specific genre? And you know how these programs feature scenes from these movies–scenes that we see so often they become famous? I think some of the scenes will achieve that status.

    I will say one more thing. The film strives to be more than a superficial thriller–covering more serious topics and themes. A lot of this is cliched–and one could argue that they’re handled in cliched, even cheesy ways, but I doesn’t preclude the film from having some substance. (This part could really work for people like Mitchell and Grace or really weaken the film.) It would be worth exploring the themes and ways the film handles these themes, but I’m not up to doing that right now.

  202. Reid

    Black Sun (1964)
    Dir. Koreyoshi Kurahara
    Starring: Tamio Kawaji, Chico Roland, etc.

    This is Japanese film about Gil, an African-American soldier on the lam after a shooting of another–white–soldier. The film takes place in Japan, and hides out in Akira’s apartment (in a condemned building). Gil reacts with hostility toward Akira, but Akira is excited. You see, he’s a big jazz fan and because of that he likes all blacks. This does nothing to placate Gil’s fear and hostility, though, and so they go through the film in this uncomfortable relationship.

    The acting is typical B-movie quality, I would say, and the themes have potential, I think the film lacks subtlety. It’s interesting, but not entirely successful in my view.

  203. mitchell

    I saw Gravity today. And (darn it) Reid was right: you really do want to see this in 3D on the biggest screen possible with the best sound. I’m still processing but will do a review during the weekend. It’s a strong 8 so far, tilting toward 9.

  204. Reid

    If it makes you feel any better, several people told me I should see the film in the same way.

  205. Reid

    It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown (1966)
    Dir. Bill Melendez

    This was a Halloween TV special, and I remember looking forward to watching this every Halloween as a kid. I recall reading/watching some of the Peanuts comics/TV specials as an adult and being struck by some of the darker and more poignant elements–and I had the same experience again watching this (and reading it) with my children.

    Here are some thoughts off the top of my head:

    >I didn’t realize how much of a bully Lucy is/was. Perhaps, the growing concern over bullies changes my perspective of Lucy and her behavior, and the way this cultural shift changes my perception of her is interesting. (Then again, maybe I felt the same way when I read/watched this in my twenties.)

    And, yet, she wakes up a 4 AM and goes to get Linus, who is sleeping out in the pumpkin patch. There are no dialogue in the scene and I think it’s really effective that way, particularly with the Guaraldi’s jazz playing in the background. (I think it’s Guaraldi.)

    >I continue to love Snoopy. I suspect that as a child I developed a strong emotional connection with Snoopy, partly because my parents gave me a Snoopy stuffed animal, and decorated my room with Peanuts decor. I don’t know. But the feelings still remain.

    What is about him? He’s fun-loving and cool (in more ways than one). And he’s just a sensitive and loyal character. In other words, he’s a great dog.

    >I completely forgot that the Great Pumpkin never shows up. What I liked was the way Linus remains a hopeful believer, despite the disappointment. I’m not sure how my children (especially the older one) handled this. I wondered if this dented his faith in the concept of God or other things that he believes. Perhaps I should have discussed this with him, but I don’t know how fruitful this would have been; I wonder if he could articulate his feelings.

  206. Reid

    Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train a Comin’ (2013)
    Dir. Bob Smeaton

    I’d guess Mitchell would like this. Penny and Chris would find this interesting. Grace and Kevin would also find this interesting, but I’m not sure how interested they are in the subject.

    This is documentary about Jimi Hendrix. I found the documentary mildly interesting, although, like most other music documentaries, I wished the film dug deeper into the music, specifically the reasons Hendrix’s music and his guitar playing were so innovative. The live footage was nice to see, though.

    Century of Birthing (2011)
    Dir. Lav Diaz

    I’d mildly recommend this to Kevin, Chris and Penny. No to Don, Joel, Larri and Marc.

    This is a Filipino CCC (Contemporary Contemplative Cinema) movie–really, three of them–in one film. CCC is characterized by long single takes, usually of very undramatic, mundane things. For example, there might be a static shot of a guy sleeping that lasts for about 2 minutes or longer. Now, imagine three of these films in one film and it’s no surprise that this film is about six hours long (as most of Diaz’s films are).

    Whenever I see a film of this length, I wonder if it’s worth watching, as the time commitment is obviously huge. I’d say the film does justify the length, although that doesn’t mean everyone will find the time worth it. Despite the length and the type of film, the film does move a long fairly well.

    Let me describe the three stories. One involves Homer, a filmmaker (who, I would guess, represents the filmmaker) who is struggling to finish his film. We see him hanging out with friends, talking about his film or cinema and art in general–which is a no-so-subtle way of talking about art and cinema.

    The other story involves the director’s actual film. In the film, a nun wants to have more physical experiences, and she seeks the help of an ex-convict.

    The third story involves a religious cult, comprised of young virgins. We learn about the cult and eventually follow one of leader of the young virgins.

    Now, these days films like this would weave the stories together, and the film doesn’t do this, not really in the way these multiple characters usually do–and that’s a good thing in my view.

    The visuals and filmmaking are quite good, although not as good as some other CCC films I’ve seen.

    There’s a really a lot to digest and process in this film, which I haven’t done yet, but hopefully I’ll eventually get to that.

  207. mitchell

    I can almost guarantee Reid won’t like Inside Llewyn Davis. I think it’s my first 9 of the year (I have to go back and see what I gave The Way Way Back, Mud, and The Spectacular Now).

    Penny will probably like it. Grace will like the music but little else. Better review later.

  208. Reid

    Aww, bummer. I’m sort of in the mood for a good Coen flick.

  209. mitchell

    You are much more likely to enjoy American Hustle. There are a couple of things that could make you dislike it, but since you responded so well to Silver Linings Playbook, I feel pretty good about your giving it at least a six, but possibly much higher.

  210. Reid

    I’m thinking about going to see a film. I’m in the mood for a Coen Brothers movie, but your comments are definitely dissuading me. I’m considering seeing American Hustle, but it kind of doesn’t appeal to me–I think it’s because it looks like one of those betrayal/undercover type of films, or a film where the protags aren’t very likable.

    Then again, I’m not really into seeing a film, too for some reason. (I haven’t been interested in watching movies for a while now, for some reason.)

    On another note, I did see the new Hobbit film. It was pretty good, until they got to Laketown and the mountain. That part seemed way too long. I’ll try to write more comment s later.

    I also saw Thor, which I didn’t really care for.

  211. mitchell

    How much did you like O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and how much of your liking it depended on your response to the music? Because I can tell you that if it was a large percentage, you’re not going to care much for Inside Llewyn Davis. The music is going to be super uninteresting to you (not bad or unpleasant, but just not something you enjoy), and that’s a huge part of the movie.

    I went through a similar movie-distinterest phase, but I seem to be pulling out of it. I’m on a roll with Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, and American Hustle, after a few good-but-not-greats like Catching Fire and The Hobbit.

    PS: The protagonists in American Hustle are very likable.

  212. Reid

    I liked the music in O Brother, more than the film itself. I heard a clip of the music (a scene where the titular character is listening to his old music, which reminded me of Simon and Garfunkel. The music sounded good.)I heard a few more scenes, which appealed to me, so I might check this out.

    I went through a similar movie-distinterest phase, but I seem to be pulling out of it. I’m on a roll with Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, and American Hustle, after a few good-but-not-greats like Catching Fire and The Hobbit.

    PS: The protagonists in American Hustle are very likable.

    OK, that might persuade me to see it (although I’m still not out of the “phase.”)

  213. mitchell

    Well if you like the music, then everything I’ve said is off the table. Because I never would have predicted that in a zillion years.

  214. Reid

    Well, the music I heard did sound like Simon and Garfunkel, so if the other stuff is like that, I would probably enjoy the music. The genre, though, is not something I naturally prefer or gravitate toward–but I do enjoy poppy-folk stuff. (But it’s not my favorite music or stuff I go out of the way to buy.)

  215. Mitchell

    Blue Jasmine (2013)
    Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Louis C.K., Peter Sarsgaard. Directed by Woody Allen.

    blueBlue Jasmine is a film that offers hope for Woody Allen fans who hated Midnight in Paris and To Rome with Love, because this film is definitely not those films. It has many of the Allen signatures, with leaps between picturesque San Francisco and seductive New York City, jumps between present and past, and extended monologues by the film’s main character, Jasmine, played by Cate Blanchett.

    Jasmine is a formerly wealthy New York socialite, formerly married to a wealthy businessman (Alec Baldwin). In the present, she is living in a less-than-posh apartment with her stepsister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and Ginger’s son. She’s enrolled in a computer class and working as a receptionist for a San Francisco dentist. How she got from there to here is the bulk of the story. How she’s going from here to THERE is the rest. The film rests on Allen’s storytelling and Blanchett’s acting.

    jasmineBlanchett’s performance has been rightly praised, many critics comparing her to Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. I wouldn’t go that far, especially since I never loved the Tennessee Williams play, but it’s the kind of performance that makes you wonder what an actress has to put herself though in order to convince you that her character is making this journey. She’s pretty much guaranteed a Best Actress Oscar nomination. To offer a more specific evaluation would be to rob the viewer of the opportunity to discover it him- or herself.

    Others in the cast perform almost as admirably, particularly Sally Hawkins as the step-sister and Louis C.K. as a love interest for one of the characters. But the whole cast is up to the task of creating the whirling sequence of events that put Jasmine where she ends up, and while it’s hard to call this a film anyone would enjoy, there is some enjoyment in tracing the spiraling paths of the innocent and guilty, not to mention the pleasure of observing an excellent actress as she does her thing. They say you’re not supposed to notice good acting, but here is a role where the good acting seems to be the point of the film, so not to notice it would be to doom it to failure. I don’t think it has anything to worry about.


  216. mitchell

    Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013)
    Logan Leman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Jake Abel, Stanley Tucci. Directed by Thor Freudenthal.

    percyYou know how so many of the great stories in Greek mythology seem to be sparked by the gods’ proclivities for parenting children with mortal earthlings? The Percy Jackson series of books (which I have not read) by Rick Riordan and the films based upon them (of which this is the second) supposes that those gods are still around, and that their promiscuity has continued through the centuries.

    The fruit of the gods’ dalliances eventually discover that they have certain gods-given abilities, often also finding themselves alienated from kids around them in these modern times. When their true parentage is revealed to them, they are taken to Camp Halfbreed, a place where they can explore and develop their abilities in the company of others similarly blessed.

    jacksonIn this sequel (I have not seen the first film), something evil is threatening the safety of Camp Halfbreed and its residents, and Percy Jackson, a son of Poseidon, teams up with some friends (children of Hermes, Athena, and others) to track down the Golden Fleece so that its protection can cover their special home.

    It’s a family film, so the usual teen adventures ensue, with all the teen drama, angst, and shifting loyalties you’d expect. As heroes, Percy and his friends are likable and charismatic, pleasantly flawed and admirably heroic, not to mention good-looking, which certainly doesn’t hurt.

    You could do a lot worse. If my kids became avid fans of Percy and his friends, I would be okay with it, not only because of the obvious themes of trust, loyalty, duty, and honor, but because Percy is a thoughtful, introspective young man who asks the (teen-level) existential questions I’d want my kids to explore themselves. The film is engaging and not stupid the way so many adventure films for grownups seem to be.

    Mildly recommended for older children and tweens.


  217. Mitchell

    We’re the Millers (2013)
    Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Emma Roberts, Will Poulter. Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber.

    we're theWe’re the Millers is a silly, silly movie, but if certain kinds of unrealistic, sophomoric, physical humor don’t offend your sensibilities all by themselves, there is some excellent comic acting to redeem it, by the whole cast but especially by Jennifer Aniston.

    Jason Sudeikis plays David Clark, a small-time weed dealer whose money is stolen one day before he gives his supplier a cut. Now he’s in huge debt and under the kinds of threats you’d expect from a weed supplier in the movies. The supplier offers Clark a way out: drive an empty RV to Mexico, visit the supplier’s source, pick up a ton of marijuana, return it to the supplier safely, and receive a huge cash payment.

    Clark’s plan is to hire some neighborhood acquaintances, including a woman (Jennifer Aniston) who lives in his building and on whom he might have a crush, to accompany him as his pretend family. You can predict the rest, really: the pretend family finds itself pursued by the law, by an angry drug cartel, and by an overly friendly family also returning from Mexico in an RV. There is fighting among the fake family, and then of course there is reconciliation and bonding.

    millersThis dumb movie wins you over with likable characters and good acting. Emma Roberts and Will Poulter, who play the fake kids, are annoying and kind of cliche, but the actors manage to make you sympathize with them, and the dramatic moments are convincing, and the laugher that emerges is believable, even if the circumstances which bring it about are not.

    Jennifer Aniston is so good in this dumb movie that I honestly think she deserves consideration for a Best Actress Oscar. It’s nearly impossible to compare this performance with, say, Cate Blanchett’s in Blue Jasmine, but the argument could be made that Aniston’s task is more difficult and that it is more successful, because I found myself laughing at stuff I normally don’t find funny, and I cared about her as if she were a real person in a movie that’s just about impossible to believe.

    Sudeikis, too, is a nice surprise. He has a kind of Jason Bateman Everyman quality, an ability to play straight and still make you laugh. It’s a gentle onscreen demeanor that has you rooting for him despite yourself.

    Don’t read me wrong: it’s a stupid movie, but it’s a pretty good stupid movie, and I enjoyed it. It’s much better than anyone should have expected.


  218. Mitchell

    Austenland (2013)
    Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Bret McKenzie, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Seymour. Directed by Jerusha Hess.

    austenAs I have said before, I am a sucker for a good costume drama, so how predictably I fell for the trailer of Austenland, which presents a modern-day, middle-aged woman who pays to vacation in a place that provides an immersive Victorian-era fantasy experience that culminates in a grand ball at which romance is guaranteed. A costume drama set within a romantic comedy? One for the balcony, please, and a large Diet Coke with lots of ice!

    Jane Hayes, played by Keri Russell (whom I have never seen in anything before), is a thirty-something American woman whose apartment is decorated with faux-Victorian dishes and doilies and a life-sized Colin Firth cutout from the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. After a breakup with her boyfriend, she spends her savings on a trip to Austenland, a kind of fantasy camp for Victorian literature majors.

    The experience is like a visit to Gosford Park, where the guests take classes in fox-hunting and needlepoint while employees are paid to court them while masquerading as wealthy guests in the home.

    landIt’s a disappointment from the start for Jane, since she could only pay for a third-tier experience while the other guests have paid for the Diamond-Level treatment. This means her dress isn’t as pretty, and her room is adjacent to the maids’ quarters downstairs. Plus, the handsomer, younger gentlemen court the other ladies, while she receives the attention of a much older, less appealing man.

    She is about to pack it in and go home when a couple of encounters with one of the paid servants gives her a reason to stick around. Though interaction with the paid help is forbidden (as are cell phones and other modern conveniences), Jane finds a way to get to know this attractive employee at the risk of being thrown out without a refund.

    And that’s when what you thought was a sweet, cute fantasy becomes a rather complex mystery with as many layers and possibilities as a well-crafted whodunnit. I experienced a delicious enjoyment observing the characters in the story while trying to figure out if what I was seeing was real or fabricated. Unlike most mystery films, the viewer is not solving along with a character in the story; rather, the mystery is the viewer’s alone, the characters on the screen just being themselves in that world while you puzzle over what’s real and what’s a setup.

    That may be more than potential viewers wish to know ahead of time, but unless someone tells you that there’s more to this picture than it seems, many would be unlikely to check it out. I was taken by surprise, and had a much nicer time than even I expected. Keri Russell is wonderful. Jennifer Coolidge, who can be great or awful, is also very good. I was much less impressed by the male actors, but it’s possible I’m not the target audience and a female viewership might have an entirely different take.

    A nice, fun, sweet movie that may or may not be a lot more complicated than it lets on.


  219. Mitchell

    The Spectacular Now (2013)
    Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley. Directed by James Ponsoldt.

    spectacularThe Spectacular Now opens with a voiceover by its main character, Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), who is reading aloud his response to a question on a college application. It’s clear by what he shares that he’s more interested in telling his story than he is in gaining college admittance. Sutter’s the kind of guy who seems always to be narrating a fun story of his life while he’s living it, and while he’s not especially good-looking or talented, he’s a popular figure at parties and in the hallways because he can make people laugh just by being himself.

    Sutter’s ability to embrace himself in the moment means he’s also able to pull others into the same moment and make them feel good about themselves. The effect he has on schoolmates, on his mother and sister, and on Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley), a brainy manga-nerd he meets one morning while waking up drunk on an unfamiliar lawn, tells the whole story. Here is a guy who has gotten by because he only cares about how he feels right now. In one of my favorite scenes, he is confronted at work by the very smart athlete who is dating his ex-girlfriend. This guy seems bent on doing Sutter some kind of physical harm, but Sutter immediately diffuses the situation and sends the guy off feeling encouraged.

    The film revolves around the budding relationship between Sutter and Aimee, and it’s a relationship that can frustrate viewers. Sutter’s commitment to living in the now means anyone who tries to make plans for the future (which would be everybody else around him) can be stymied by his insistence on not making any promises. It comes across as self-centered and selfishness, and one wonders if this character is capable of any smidgen of sacrifice or commitment.

    nowIt’s not always easy to like the central character, and there is tension between wanting things to work out with Aimee and wanting Aimee to break away and find something better, but nothing is as simple as that in this film, and it’s one of the things I like most about it. One of the elements of a coming-of-age tale is disillusionment, and there is plenty of that to go around for Sutter and for Aimee, and as Aimee hurtles and Sutter creeps toward their high-school graduation, they are confronted with ugly truths that should feel familiar to us all.

    Miles Teller is the guy who played Willard in the Footloose remake, and the less-serious best friend in 21 and Over, and in this starring role he gets to show a sensitivity and charisma I wouldn’t have predicted. Shailene Woodley is George Clooney’s older daughter in The Descendants, and she’s about to be as ubiquitous as Jennifer Lawrence, with central roles forthcoming in Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars, so her talents seem already to have been acknowledged far and wide. They are both excellent in this film.

    This is not a perfect movie by a longshot; there are a few plot elements that seemed ill-advised, and one important section of the film gets a little bogged down. But the interactions between the characters feel realer than anything I’ve seen in movies this year, even though Sutter’s world of drinking and partying is a completely foreign country to me, and by the time it ends, I am rooting for every character in it. That’s rare, and so is the believability of this film.


  220. Mitchell

    The Family (2013)
    Robert Deniro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron, John D’Leo, Tommy Lee Jones. Directed by Luc Besson.

    theThe concept is excellent. Take a mafia boss (Robert Deniro) and relocate him to France in the FBI’s witness protection program, but suppose that the man and his immediate family (wife, son, and daughter) have difficulty learning to do things along the straight-and-narrow. The wife sets fire to a market when she overhears its employees saying disparaging things about her in a foreign language. The son establishes a mini mafia in school after being bullied on his first day. And the plumber who tries to overcharge the father doesn’t quite make it home for dinner that night.

    This could be a really funny movie. And some of it is at least amusing, but while it’s hard to find fault with any of the individual pieces, its whole is largely unsatisfying and unexpectedly (because I had extremely low expectations going in) disappointing. The pacing feels strange, and the shifts in tone feel unnatural, but what really does it is that the irony is so thick that it separates the viewer from the movie. It’s isn’t just that Deniro plays a mobster, or that Michelle Pfeiffer again plays a mobster’s wife, but there are whole chapters of this film where we are meant fully to be aware of Deniro’s filmography and not at all expected to lose ourselves in the world of the film’s construction.

    familyIn one sequence, Deniro’s character is invited to a film society’s screening of Some Came Running, and as an American writer (that’s what he’s told the locals he is), he’s asked to lead a discussion about the film. When he shows up (with his witness-protection coordinator Tommy Lee Jones in tow), he’s informed that the wrong film has been sent. I’ll give you three guesses which American film the Deniro character finds himself watching and then speaking about.

    I’m not going to claim that it’s not funny; but it’s funny in a way that removes the viewer from the experience of watching a film, and that could certainly work if somehow the whole film were set up to do this, but instead we are jerked out of immersion and then plunged back in, on more than one occasion, and it’s just not interesting enough a movie to require that much work on my part.

    Which is too bad, because the sub-plots involving Deniro’s kids (Dianna Agron and John D’Leo) are interesting and funny, and the way the characters interact with each other in the context of their unique family is kind of clever.

    Still: must pass.


  221. Mitchell

    Enough Said (2013)
    Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Toni Collette, Catherine Keener. Directed by Nicole Holofcener.

    enoughI had to look up the name of Enough Said’s director, Nicole Holofcener, and I was pleased to see that she was also the director of 2001’s Lovely & Amazing, a movie that didn’t get nearly enough attention. That film, which is quiet and wonderfully paced, with realistic dialogue like you don’t see very often, has those things in common with this one, and now I think I might have to explore the director’s other work.

    Because dang. There are moments in Enough Said which are done so true to life that you wonder why it’s so rare to see them that way in other movies. A character says something. Then there’s a pause, because sometimes the other character is thinking of a response, or because the other character is processing, or just breathing, you know? And then the second character says something back, and sometimes it’s funny. And sometimes the first character laughs and sometimes she doesn’t, and nowhere do you get the sense that the funny line was already queued up and ready to fire as soon as it was time.

    This is Enough Said’s greatest asset, the willingness of a director to let her characters interact the way most of us really interact, and to let funny dialogue be only kind of funny, or maybe not funny at all but slightly awkward. She is certainly helped by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini, two actors who know how to occupy their space on screen and in time. There is a sentimental predisposition for liking this movie that will affect most viewers, I think, since Gandolfini died months before this film’s release, but the praise this movie is receiving is not just a by-product of that sentimentality: the starring actors are that good.

    saidLouis-Dreyfus is Eva, on the second half of middle age, divorced for a few years with a daughter about to go away to college. She’s a masseuse, the sort that carries her massage table to your house and then listens to your chatting while she does her thing. At a party one night, she separately meets Marianne (Catherine Keener), a famous poet, and her ex-husband Albert (Gandolfini) without knowing their relationship. She takes Marianne as a client and begins dating Albert, and of course it isn’t long before she’s hearing each talk about the other and then connecting the dots.

    The courtship is fun to watch; the deception and heartbreak a lot less so. You get to a point in life where it’s easier to let things go the way they are, and when Albert and Eva split up, the way they quickly retreat back to the existences they knew before they met is easy to relate to. They might get back together or they might not, but it’s to the film’s credit that either seems likely and believable, and while you want them to for Eva’s sake, you kind of don’t want them to for Albert’s.

    I had to see this film in theaters twice. The joy I felt in just soaking up the time and space its main characters share with me was that keen. I love hobbits, wizards, and dragons as much as anyone (possibly more than most), but give me also the movie where realistic characters are given unusual but believable situations and then deal with those situation the way real people would, and then let them speak and move in those situations the way real people do, and you’ve got me. This is a wonderful movie.


  222. Mitchell

    Gravity (2013)
    Sandra Bullock, George Clooney. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron.

    gravitySeriously, if you haven’t already seen Gravity, chances are you’ve missed out on what’s really great about it. This is a movie that needs to be seen on the largest screen possible, and although I am a hater of 3D movies, it should be seen in 3D. I do not think that I have seen this movie’s equal in technical accomplishment. The way it looks, sounds, and even feels is an amazing thing, and if the story is something less than a creative landmark, it can certainly be forgiven because while the destination is not exciting, the ride there is unforgettable.

    Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play space-shuttle astronauts. Something scary happens to the shuttle while the astronauts are outside the craft, and ninety minutes later you finally exhale. It’s like that.

    Bullock is really nothing short of great. I’ve heard some criticism that the acting in this thing is just okay, but don’t believe it if you’ve heard the same. And Clooney is pretty terrific too. Both actors are going to be overshadowed by the effects in this film, which is understandable but still a shame.

    I honestly can’t imagine how Gravity will play on a small screen, but I think if you own a pretty large television or if someone you know owns one, it can be effective. But if somehow, somewhere in your universe it is still playing on a big theater screen, see it there. I’m practically begging you.


  223. mitchell

    The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
    Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Directed by Francis Lawrence.

    catchingIt was going to be difficult for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire to top its predecessor, just as the second book in the Suzanne Collins dystopian trilogy, for all its many strengths, was a considerable step down from the first.  To summarize this sequel in even the vaguest manner would be to rob the viewer (who hasn’t read the novel, that is), of some of the biggest surprises in the series, so I’ll say what I’ve been saying lately about series films: if you liked the first movie, you might as well see the second, and if you haven’t seen the first movie, you should probably see that before you think about seeing this.

    This movie is similar to the first in that the action sequences are quite well done, but the film is missing a lot of the inner turmoil its main character, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, but you knew that), faces in continuing her subtle rebellion against the government.  There are a few nice call-backs to the first film, and some of the returning characters are much better-developed here, particularly Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks, who turns her character almost impossibly into someone to sympathize with), Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson).  Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman is great again, and new character Plutarch Heavensbee, the Head Gamemaker played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, is just about perfect.

    fireLawrence does a nice continuation here, but minus that inner conflict, she’s forced to carry the film largely as an action heroine, and while she does pretty well with that, the story forces her back a little, bringing other plot elements and characters closer to the fore.  It’s too bad, because a few more one-on-one scenes with Haymitch and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) might have been all this film needed to push it into very good territory.  As it is, it’s just an adequate follow-up, about as cliffhangerish as a second film in a planned quartet can be.


  224. Mitchell

    The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
    Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan. Directed by Peter Jackson.

    theI loved The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey so much that I had to rein in my expectations for the sequel, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I had a feeling it was going to disappoint in some way, but I didn’t want to predict what that would be.

    Well here it is: I could totally understand if people thought the first Hobbit movie was overly ponderous and took its sweet time in weird places. I would have disagreed, but I’d get it. That’s not a criticism one would make about the second movie. It’s hardly ponderous at all, and the kind and thoughtful Bilbo is reduced almost to a hanger-on in this film that shifts its focus to a possible dwarf-elf romance, a human (?) son-redeeming-father’s-failure story, and lots of running around and bobbing about.

    hobbitThere is a lengthy action sequence involving dwarfs in barrels, and that’s really fun to watch, but I was left pretty cold by the rest of it, especially scenes involving Smaug, the dragon who sleeps in the Lonely Mountain from whom Bilbo is meant to take the Arkenstone so that Thorin and his brethren may reclaim their city.

    I was pretty engaged throughout the film; I just really missed getting to know Bilbo more. Martin Freeman as the hobbit moved me to tears multiple times in the first film, but here he is just someone to root for, which is enough of a let-down to make this film just pretty good.


  225. Reid

    There is a lengthy action sequence involving dwarfs in barrels, and that’s really fun to watch,…

    Agreed. It was as good, if not better, than Spielberg.

    … but I was left pretty cold by the rest of it, especially scenes involving Smaug, the dragon who sleeps in the Lonely Mountain from whom Bilbo is meant to take the Arkenstone so that Thorin and his brethren may reclaim their city.

    Totally agree. Not only did it go on for too long, but I didn’t like how they handled Smaug or the interaction with Bilbo. In the book, I’m pretty sure Bilbo never takes off the ring. In the film, he allows Smaug to see him and I didn’t understand why Smaug just didn’t fry Bilbo to a crisp (maybe not immediately). In any event, I didn’t like that section and I felt it was too long.

    Ditto the scenes in Laketown (or whatever it’s called).

    The film didn’t have to be this long.

  226. Mitchell

    Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
    Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.

    insideReal-life stories are nothing like stories in movies, not even movies rich with subplots, or movies that play with timelines. Of course real-life stories are ruled by the inevitable forward movement of time, and in that sense they are linear, but when event A leads to event B, it also, at the same time, leads to events B1, B2, and B3, and each of those events, while perhaps not directly contributing to a selected narrative, are part of the larger story, especially when we’re talking about iconic cultural spaces in history and geography, such as the rock music scene in Seattle in the 1980s and 1990s, the music-art-literature scene in Harlem in the 1920s, and the folk music scene in Greenwich Village in the 1950s and 1960s.

    Who was sleeping with whom? How did so-and-so end up contributing vocals to so-and-so’s album? Remember that night at the open mic when that person nobody had ever heard of borrowed so-and-so’s guitar and changed everything? The little anecdotes that each contribute a puzzle-piece of the larger picture might not be the stuff of whole movies, but together they still tell a story, perhaps more like an all-over body tattoo with no specific beginning or end but with an ever-moving, contiguous truth.

    llewynI freaking love this nature of storytelling, love the way each little anecdote colors a previously grey area of my knowledge or understanding of a subject. I love the way one person’s account differs with another person’s account, or the way one person’s account fills in some of the holes left by another person’s. Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest film from Joel and Ethan Coen, while focusing on one week in the life of one musician in that Greenwich Village scene, taps into this patchwork understanding of story and reminds us multiple times why we care: the songs were just so dang good, even when ignoring their historical significance and focusing only on the very moment they are delivered in a recording studio, basement nightclub, or retirement home.

    You could call it a slice of life, or you could call it a week-in-the-life-of film. I like both approaches, but I like the movie best as a kind of reverse soundtrack: rather than choose the songs that will best enhance the story, it’s like the writers provide the movie that enhances the songs (produced by T Bone Burnett, of course). There is a reason almost every song is performed from beginning to end here. The soundtrack is the movie.

    davisIt is fiction, a bunch of little fictionalized stories of a fictionalized version of Dave Van Ronk and of fictionalized versions of others in the scene, and in these scenes these fictionalized, based-on-real-people characters sing some of the most beautiful songs (in most cases all the way through) in a single film I have ever heard.

    Oscar Isaac plays the title character, a struggling musician in the Village, and he gives us Llewyn’s life in the week leading up to Bob Dylan’s arrival on the scene. Llewyn crashes on the couches of the few friends he has, deals with a lover’s pregnancy, fights with his sister, avoids his father, visits his record label manager, and chases an orange cat (named Ulysses, in a cute tribute to O Brother Where Art Thou?) around the city, and everywhere there is the beautiful, beautiful music.

    The Coens have said that when they realized their movie didn’t really have a plot they added the orange cat to try and tie everything together. That’s fine with me, but as a metaphor for the success that seems always to be one step ahead of Llewyn, just around the corner or right there in his lap but not quite his yet, it’s even better. And set against the grimy walk-up apartments, grey sidewalks, and dark nightclubs, it is a sweet, soft bit of warmth in a great-looking but subdued film.

    Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan as singing duo Jim and Jane are wonderful, and the song they do with a fictionalized version of Tom Paxton is a highlight for me, as is one scene in a park, in which the Mulligan character spells out for Llewyn exactly why he is such a jerk. The Coens bring John Goodman back for another go-around, and he’s pretty good here but his sequence is too long, even as some kind of illustration of possible tensions among different creative musical forms (he plays a fictionalized Doc Pomus, and his driver is a young beat poet).

    I’ve written a lot of words to explain that this is one of the best films of the year for me, the kind of thing that makes me glad for film-makers like the Coens and music producers like T Bone Burnett.


  227. Mitchell

    Nebraska, or There and Back Again (2013)
    Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk. Directed by Alexander Payne.

    nebrDavid Grant (Will Forte) sells home theater systems at a consumer electronics store in Billings, Montana. His older brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) is a local newscaster who gets to anchor when the regular anchor is out. His mom (June Squibb) is a loud, crude, complaining woman who takes care of his barely functioning father (Bruce Dern). Both parents have reached the don’t-care-what-others-think phase; it is evidenced by Kate’s unwillingness to censor her thoughts as they come out of her mouth, and Woody’s is evidenced by hair that looks like he’s always just gotten off a motorcycle.

    David seems to have seen his best days. His live-in girlfriend has moved out, pleading not exactly for marriage, but for anything, as long as it’s different. David seems to be rooted in some kind of stasis, something I imagine a lot of just-turned-middle-aged guys must confront living in very small neighborhoods to which “dead end town” might apply.

    askaWoody is determined to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska, to claim one of those sweepstakes prizes the magazine brokers send out, despite everyone telling him he has not won anything. Since nobody will drive him, he walks.

    What makes David decide to drive his father to Lincoln is one of the nice mysteries of this film. It’s not a puzzle of JFK-like import, but it’s pleasurable to watch Forte’s performance for clues. Does he just feel sorry for a dad who seems to have nothing else to look forward to? Is he hoping to reconnect with a father who seems more and more to resist connection every day? Or is he looking his own future in the eye and trying to figure out if there’s anything for him in his twilight years outside of TV game shows and gossip about the neighbors?

    What I love most about this film is the way David, his brother, and their parents spend enough time together in this non-adventure for us to see the genuine affection they all have for each other, expressed in ways far less dramatic than movies might make them do it, but so much truer and more believable. David and Ross seem to have very little in common, but the time they spend together this one weekend is enough for them to slip into brotherly roles, circling the wagons when other relatives become aggressive.

    David’s family is brought together in this tiny way at this seemingly insignificant moment, and it’s sweet and charming, and while Squibb and Dern are getting all the awards-season love this year, it’s Forte, and his sad, stoic, eager affection and endless patience who holds this movie together and makes you think this could somehow be you.

    Everything about this movie feels good because even in the face of some ugliness, the central characters remain good people, and you get a sense that the thing that shakes David out of his stasis is a barely-beneath-the-surface goodness that was put there by good parents.


  228. Mitchell

    American Hustle (2013)
    Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Louis C.K., Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence. Directed by David O. Russell.

    americanAmerican Hustle is an excellent period piece, visually almost a sequel to last year’s Argo. The art direction in this thing is excellent, and it’s great to look at from beginning to end. I’m mentioning that first because it’s really the acting that everyone else is talking about, and while the acting is very good, it works in equal partnership with the look and feel of its world to really accomplish what it sets out to do.

    I know very little about the ABSCAM scandal of the 1970s, so I don’t know how accurate any of this movie is. However, I’m very familiar with the actors who play the principal roles, and they all succeed in showing a little more range than I think most of us might have predicted they’d have.

    Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, a small-time scam artist who connects desperate people to loans they can’t afford, then takes their ten percent application fees without delivering the loans. His partner in these scams is Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), who affects an English accent that gives loan applicants a false sense of confidence that everything is legit.

    hustleIrving and Sydney are doing all right until they get busted by an FBI agent named Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), a capable agent who has huge ambitions. When he figures out that Irving and Sydney might be able to help him nab a local politician (Jeremy Renner, in a very surprising portrayal), he sets his sights first on the mayor of Atlantic City and then he sets them even higher on Congressmen and mobsters.

    The plot gets a little confusing, but it clears up a bit as the film moves along, and even if it doesn’t, the performances by Adams, Renner, Cooper, Lawrence, and several others in small roles (including Michael Pena and Robert DeNiro) are so enjoyable that it doesn’t really matter. There are elements of movies like Confidence, where you’re not really sure whom to believe and you’re not sure who’s on whose side, and I suppose there might be a way to follow along and try to figure it out. I chose just to watch it all unfold, wondering how such a small-potatoes guy like Irving (whose scores are usually in the five- to ten-thousand dollar range) is going to come out clean on the other side of a one-step-ahead triangle involving the mafia, the FBI, and Congress.

    A fun movie, and if I weren’t already in love with Amy Adams, this is a film that would do it. There isn’t a frame of film she’s not beautiful in, and for her to be the most interesting thing in a film with performances like this is testament to her unique screen presence.


  229. mitchell

    Upstream Color (2013)
    Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensinig, Thiago Martins. Directed by Shane Carruth.

    upstreamUpstream Color is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a movie with characters difficult to care much about and pieces so difficult to fit together that the temptation is just to give up, which is what I did about a third of the way in. Content just to see what was going to happen, I watched the rest of the film in mostly a detached manner, which meant that by the time certain things started making sense, I had missed important details that would have filled in many of the blanks. Which is all to say that I neither enjoyed this film nor thought it was very good, but I can see why someone might have the opposite responses.

    I won’t ruin it for anyone who might see it, but a vague summary is called for, since I won’t be recommending this film and I think some info is necessary for readers who might be into it.

    colorA woman is drugged, kidnapped, and brainwashed, forced to do meaningless menial tasks and then forced to turn over all her money. She later remembers nothing, but somehow manages to put back together some semblance of a life, despite losing all her money and her job. She meets a guy who seems to have had a similar experience. The two are drawn together after repeated chance encounters, so intimately connected that each remembers the other’s experiences as his or her own.

    As the man and woman try to figure out what happened to each of them, the viewer is left to figure out what the heck is happening now, in their present, with clues as bizarre as drugs made from larvae, blue orchids, disturbed piglets, and a man who makes audio recordings of bricks sliding down the insides of large cement pipes.

    suckedThere are a few moments tinged with human emotion and connectedness that make you care briefly (but not meaningfully) about the main character, and I was intrigued by a recurring literary reference, but the walls of this labyrinth are too dense for my liking. I did stick around to see if the characters found their way out, but I honestly didn’t care how, why, or if they were actually going to make it.

    The movie is cold and emotionless, much to its detriment. Many of the central characters aren’t even given names, and nobody seems connected to anyone else except by the elements of this plot, whose elements themselves feel connected to nothing until just about the very end.

    However, if one can tolerate a prolonged state of bafflement and has the attention span to hold several important clues in mind until they are all needed at the end, this could be a rewarding film. That seems like a very specific audience I am clearly not part of. I really disliked this movie, but admit that it probably doesn’t suck as badly as my personal response might indicate.


  230. Mitchell

    Here they are. Just like in 2012, the end of the year was much stronger than the beginning, only it was even stronger in 2013. In 2012, I saw fourteen movies I ranked 8 or better. In 2013, that number was sixteen or seventeen (I’m too lazy to confirm).

    In order, the best movies of 2013.

    1. Nebraska
    2. Inside Llewyn Davis
    3. Gravity
    4. Before Midnight
    5. Enough Said
    6. Mud
    7. Star Trek: Into Darkness
    8. The Spectacular Now
    9. The Way, Way Back
    10. Her

    Honorable mention (films also rated 8 or better): Sound City, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, American Hustle, Blue Jasmine, Frozen, Dallas Buyers Club.

    Best actor: Matthew McConaughey, Mud. Honorable mention: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club.

    Best actress: Amy Adams, American Hustle. Honorable mention: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine.

    Best supporting actor: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club. Honorable Mention: Will Forte, Nebraska.

    Best supporting actress: Amy Adams, Her. Honorable mention: Reese Witherspoon, Mud. Julia Roberts, August: Osage County.

    Most likely DVD purchase: Inside Llewyn Davis. I’ve already purchased The Way, Way Back.

    Best soundtrack: Inside Llewyn Davis.

    Fell in love with: AnnaSophia Robb in The Way, Way Back, Julianne Nicholson, August: Osage County.

    Trending upward: French fries.

    Trending downward: $1 hot dogs.

    Unexpected pleasures: We’re the Millers, Oblivion, Side Effects.

    Disappointment: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

    Best chase sequence: Barrels and dwarfs in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

    Most desired of unlikely sequels: The Heat 2. I want more McCarthy and Bullock.

    Least desired of likely sequels: The Croods 2.

    Best older movie I saw for the first time in 2013: Rachel Getting Married (2008).

    Best foreign language film I saw in 2013: Masquerade (Korean).

  231. Mitchell

    Ah, shoooooooooooooot. How the heck did I forget to review The Wolverine and Man of Steel? Dang it.

  232. mitchell

    I noticed a couple of movies missing from my 2013 reviews, so I’ll spend the next few days filling in those holes.

    The Wolverine (2013)
    Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima. Directed by James Mangold.

    Spoilers for previous X-Men films.

    thewolThe Wolverine is the sixth film in which Hugh Jackman plays the immortal self-healing man with the adamantium skeleton and retractable knife-claws, and it still works for me. I was especially looking forward to this installment in the series when, in a post-credits scene for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Logan is seen drinking in a bar in Japan. He asks for another drink. The bartender, pouring the alcohol, asks, “Drinking to forget?” Wolverine’s answer is, “Drinking to remember.”

    The plot involves a very wealthy Japanese businessman whose life Logan saved during World War II. He is on his deathbed and has summoned Logan to Japan, so that he might repay his debt. It turns out that what he really wants is to offer Logan relief from his immortality, trading it for his own mortality. Logan declines.

    verineThen there are a bunch of weapons and fighting set against modern Japanese architecture influenced by ancient Japanese architecture, something I found visually beautiful and endlessly interesting. Logan is still dealing with the loss of Jean Grey, and he takes up with the granddaughter of the Japanese businessman. A Japanese ninja-woman with red hair is involved, as is an eastern European female doctor with the mutant ability to survive any toxin. Oh, and there’s a huge robot samurai made of adamantium.

    I found most of the action sequences enjoyable on a just-watch-it-go-by basis, loving the framing and picturesque backdrops, except maybe for the climactic fight sequence, which I found long and uninteresting, ‘though there are a couple of twists I didn’t expect.

    Like most Hawaii boys of Japanese ancestry, I’ve seen plenty of Japanese cinema without ever really pursuing it, and I appreciated the creative shout-outs to many of the aesthetics and schema of that tradition. I’m not sure, but there may even have been a quick tribute to the second Karate Kid movie.

    Logan as the deeply self-loathing misfit among mutants seems a natural fit for these stories, and I really wish he’d stick around for a few more stories set in the Land of the Rising Sun. I found the female characters lacking in depth or interesting backstory, which was something of a disappointment, but they’re pretty to look, which really says it all about most of this film.


  233. Mitchell

    Man of Steel (2013)
    Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe. Directed by Zak Snyder.

    man ofMan of Steel is an origin film and a reboot, and one thing I’ve learned about these movies is that you have to be patient. You’re going to slog though a lot of well-traveled territory, even for the casual viewer who isn’t familiar with the ten million universes in which Superman has existed. The exploding planet, the orphan baby, the adoptive parents, the pretty reporter, the grouchy editor, and the bland superhero: they are all here, and while the map is extremely familiar, the details in the trip are different enough here to keep one at least mildly interested.

    Henry Cavill plays the Man of Steel, and he is about what you’d expect. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane play his Earth parents, and they are excellent choices for the Kansan couple, about as down-to-earth while being Hollywood handsome as you can get, really, and when they reveal to a young Clark Kent the secret of his delivery by interplanetary stork, he takes some time to sort things out, a melancholy wanderer among everyday people, living mostly in remote areas and not letting anyone into his life even while he secretly saves the lives of others.

    General Zod (Michael Shannon), inadvertently released from Kryptonian captivity, finds his way to earth after discovering that no Kryptonian colonies have survived, determined to establish a new Krypton once he tracks down the carrier of the Kryptonian codex. You know who’s got it.

    steelEnter Lois Lane and Perry White (Amy Adams and Laurence Fishburne), the two most interesting characters in the film. Fishburne has been a bit tiresome in recent years with his quiet gravitas, but I really like the casting here, and hope his role in the forthcoming sequel is enlargened some. As for Amy Adams, who except a comic book fanboy is going to complain about her? She’s wonderful, and all the things Lois should be, ‘though I get the sense that she’s a bit old for Clark.

    Cavill, if given a chance to grow into the role, could really be a franchise player. In the sequence between his father’s death and Zod’s arrival, he seems likable and even friendly, and not in the I-don’t-mean-to-be-but-I’m-better-than-you way other Superman actors seem to come across. There’s something of a Jeff-Bridges-as-Starman quality about this Clark that the writers could really dig into if they let Clark and Lois have some decent time together in their downtime.

    The effects are kind of ho-hum, and there’s something disturbing and unsettling about the way Superman just floats in mid-air. The flying is okay, but it lacks the feeling of exhilaration you get when Andrew Garfield as Spiderman slings his way through the city. Where Spidey is an X-Games athlete, Superman is more like a missile aimed at a target. In fact, Cavill’s Superman in general is like that missile, which is why that bearded wandering persona Clark adopts is so interesting in contrast.

    Although I was underwhelmed by this movie, I liked some of its touches, and I look forward to the sequel in 2016, which is set to feature Ben Affleck as Batman and Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. Cavill, Fishburne, and Adams are already signed on to reprise their roles, and because of the talents of the additional cast, I’ve got to say there’s quite a bit of potential for greatness. Here’s hoping.


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