Recent Movies: 2007 edition

A thread for the discussion of films the v-idiots have seen in 2007.

83 Responses to “Recent Movies: 2007 edition”


  1. Reid

    The Queen (2006)
    Dir. Stephen Frear
    Starring: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, etc.
    97 minutes
    6/10

    I’ve been wanting to see this for a while now for at least two reason: 1.) For a long time, this film had the highest score on metacritic (92); 2.) it’s long run in the theaters seemed to indicate it was good. (A third reason is that Helen Mirren was in it; her performance was to be award worthy.)

    So was the film deserving of the high rating and praise? The simple answer is no, but it was a pretty good film. (It was a slow at parts.) Was Helen Mirren’s performance award worthy? Yes, she is good in this, and I think she is deserving a nomination.

    I think many other idiots would give a simliar ranking, but I’m not sure. (Larri gave it a 7.)

    **
    The film is about Queen Elizabeth II and the way she handles the death of Princess Diana.

    ***
    There were several things that surprised me about the film. First, I wasn’t expecting Tony Blair (played convinginly by Michael Sheen) to be so prominent in the film.

    Second, the film really humanizes the Queen and creates a very positive and likeable portrayal. I was surprised to see the Queen dressed in “normal” clothes, driving a jeep (standard) and knowing about cars. (She says in the film that she was a mechanic.) My impression of her is that she is this stuffy, imobile old monarch. But that’s not the way Frears’ portrays her. One of the questions I had was the accuracy of the portrayal: what was true and what wasn’t. The film was almost an apology for the Queen and the British monarchy. Frears seems to think the British public has been unfair to the Queen and this film is going to right that wrong. The film seemed primarily directed at a British audience, and I wondered if a missed any subtle aspects that only the Brits would get.

    One other comment. Frears seems to give a lot of credit–perhaps, the point of considering her great–to the Queen for changing her position. I have mixed feelings about that. On one hand, from the perspective of an audience member wanting to be entertained, I was wanting to see the Queen rise to the occasion in some dramatic fashion; I want to her to be great. On the otherhand, the Queen seems to give in strictly because she’s hurt and her monarchy is threatened. In other words, the Queen makes the move more for self-preservation than for the benefit of the British people. The film is such that it could be a little of both.

  2. Reid

    Pollock (2000)
    Dir. Ed Harris
    Starring: Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden, etc.
    6/10

    Mitchell recommended this film to me, and I really enjoyed the first three-fourths of the film. I’m really into the artistic process of developing an original voice–the struggle, the innovation and the refinement. Harris shows us that through the life of abstract painter, Jackson Pollock. What really impressed me was the decision and execution of the painting scenes. Harris actually paints–in one scene he stares at a large blank canvas, and we see the beginning strokes and later more work on the painting. The filmmakers really did a good job with that. I also liked the quotes they used in the film, particularly the one about modern art drawing from the internal instead of the traditional way of drawing from the external (nature). I also liked Pollock’s response to the questio, “How do you when you’re finished with a painting?” His reply: “How do you know when you’re finished making love.”

    However, I gave the film a six because it peters out in the last third of the film The excitement is just not there, and, if it were a fictional story, the filmmakers probably would have done something more dramatic. But this is a biography, and what we see is apparently what happened. Still, I wish they could have done something more with the ending.

    we don’t live here anymore (2004)
    Dir. John Curran
    Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Peter Krause, Laura Dern and Naomi Watts
    6/10

    Look at the cast and you can see why I was interested in this film. This was one of those independent films that didn’t really last that long in the theaters, if it came to Hawai’i at all. The trailer–specifically some of the dialogue–made me want to see it.

    **
    The films is about two married couples and the way they struggle with their relationships. Other films like this: Ice Storm, Closer and Carnal Knowledge.

    ***
    I think the main problem with the film is the script. The dialogue is pretty good, but the story doesn’t have a strong center. Or the story may be more situational–characters struggling with their marriages. I felt like the characters couldn’t have been developed a little more; I felt like they were without a context that maybe some kind of backstory could have given them. I’m not sure what is.

    I did like Mark Ruffalo’s performance and his part in the script. The filmmakers executed the psychological game-playing of his character with subtlety and believeability. Dern is a big reason for that, too. Her realization of what her husband is doing to without being obvious about it was cool to see. Her performance and the character creates had potential to be an Academy Award winning one, but falls short. Again, I the lack of a strong story and character development may be the cause for that.

    One thing about the characters. I found the male characters to be despicable and hard to relate to. Dern was the most sympathetic character for me.

    This is one of those films you see at the video store that intrigues you. It’s not a bad a film, but I can understand why it didn’t get a lot of attention.

  3. Reid

    The Haunting (1963)
    Dir. Robert Wise
    Starring: Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn, etc.
    112 minutes
    2/10

    According to the book, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, the movie is based on a Shirley Jackson novel, considered one of the “most frightening tales ever committed to paper.” The book also claims that this is one of the scariest films of all time–if not the scariest. Usually, I try to avoid talking about the genre of the film until later, but given the title and the fact that this film is not the scariest in the least, I figured it didn’t matter. (You can read the above as my confidence that most of you would not enjoy this film.) Oh, I recently read a reviewer on the imdb site say that this film is rated “G.” That’s totally believeable and that should tell you something.

    For this film to be the scariest of all-time, the viewer would have to have not seen The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Shinning, among many others. The last one is pertinent, because in that film, the house is both a character and the main source of creepiness. Compare the two houses and the way the directors (Wise and Kubrick) use them, and it’s not even close in my opinion.

    There is one or maybe two moments that are somewhat creepy, but for the most part, the extent of spookiness is loud banging noises and the watching the actors get scared.

    That’s another reason the film didn’t work. The acting was pretty terrible.
    In the film a anthropolgist gathers several people at a reputed “haunted house” to prove that paranormal activity is real. Eleanor (Julie Harris) is a neurotic–almost hysterial–single woman who wants to escape from her sister; she has taken care of her invalid mother, who has recently passed away. Her acting is just bad, almost to the point of being campy. She’s so neurotic and hysterical, even in non-spooky situations, that when she gets freaked out, I felt indifferent.

    (spoiler)

    The best chance this film has of being interesting is the psychological underpinnings of the story. Let me try to explore that. There’s an important backstory to the history of this house, namely the lady whom the house was built for died, supposedly because her caregiver neglected her. The caregiver eventually commits suicide in the house. (Several other wives of the builder of the house also die in it.)

    Eleanor has been caring for her invalid mother for a long time, and she feels her lack of responsiveness to her mother may have caused her death. In the film, the house seems to want Eleanor–because she deserves punishment? because the house lady of the house wants Eleanor to take care of her? Either explanation doesn’t make the film better or scarier.

  4. Reid

    The Hunted (2003)
    Dir. William Friedkin
    Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Tommy Lee Jones

    3/10

    Friedkin has directed some good action/thrillers–The French Connection, To Live in Die in LA and The Sorcerer. The first two have arguably the best car chase scenes ever. I like the plot–basically similar to First Blood–a specially trained killer goes wild and his trainer must hunt him down.

    Before
    Since this film didn’t last long in the theater, I’m guessing something didn’t work. My first guess is that Benicio, as a lead action character just didn’t work. We’ve seen Tommy Lee Jones as a tough guy in pursuit (i.e. The Fugitive), so I don’t think that would be the problem. Maybe there’s also some stupid situations in the story. I’ll report back after I watch the film.

    After

    There’s a certain look, sound and I guess even acting that distingushes TV and film. This film had the look and feel of a USA cable movie. The poor acting–even by Benicio Del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones (who I starting to feel is not a very good actor)–and writing kinda surprised me. Del Toro could have been good for the role, but script is not very good. He doesn’t really turn in a good performance either, but I blame that more on the script and director if anything, since I’ve seen Del Toro in other stuff where he was much better.

    The most interesting about the film was the extras, which revealed the man that Jones’ character was based on Tom Brown. Brown learned to become a tracker by a Native American man, and he has taught U.S. military soliders how to track, survive and kill with knives. He’s even developed his own knives, one of which can be made from flint. Brown appears briefly and talks about tracking. At one point he talks about the way you blend into a crowd when someone is pursuing you. He says that pursuers look for your height, so if you bend down four inches, you’ll easily disappear. I wanted to see a documentary on him.

  5. Reid

    Kagemusha (1980)
    Dir. Akira Kurosawa
    179 minutes
    5/10

    This is not one of the Kurosawa films I’d recommend strongly. I don’t think many of you idiots would really love this, although I could be wrong.

    **
    I’ve seen enough Kurosawa films to be excited about any film I haven’t seen. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really get into this film. One of the big reasons is that the film is a partly historical (chronicling the wars between the Oda, Tokugawa and Takeda clans). Perhaps the other reason is that the film works as a kind of fable on power. I felt like the film was a little too slow and deliberate. There’s a sense that Kurosawa is borrowing from traditional Japanese forms like Noh and Kabuki.

    One of my favorite scenes is when Nobunaga does a little dance/song about the shortness of our lives.

    The Last Wave (1977)
    Dir. Peter Weir
    Starring: Richard Chamberlain, etc.
    106 minutes
    6/10

    More interesting for its concept and ideas than for being entertaining, although I wouldn’t call it an art film. The film has a relatively straight-forward and accessible narrative. If you’re a fan of Weir, then I think this would be a must. I can’t recommend for or against this film when thinking of others here, although for some reason I think Tony would like this (not sure why I think that).

    **
    Kind of good companion to Weir’s other film, Picnic at Hanging Rock (which I think is better). The film is about a lawyer (Richard Chamberlain) who must defend Australian Aborigines in a murder trial. Along the way, Chamberlain has these weird dreams that are related to the Aborigines.

    I’m not a big fan of Richard Chamberlain, but he’s not really a problem. The bigger problem for me was the pace of the film. Also, the ending of the film didn’t impact me as much as I think it should have.

    The Trouble with Harry (1955)
    Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
    Starring: John Forsythe, Edmund Gwenn, Shirley MacClaine, Mildred Natwick, etc.
    7/10

    I think most idiots would give this between a 5-7, so it’s not something I’d strongly recommend; it’s worth watching it plays on TV. I knew very little about the film before seeing it, and that made the experience more enjoyable.

    **
    The film is about a dead body that a couple of people in a small town work to get rid of.

    ***
    I was delighted when I realized this would be a comedy. I really liked John Forsythe and Edmund Gwenn in this. The dialogue works when it’s read in a relatively straight forward fashion, and these did a good job of making it work. Not a great film, but a pretty entertaining one. It’s the only comedy I’ve seen by Hitchcock.

  6. Mitchell

    Some recent flicks:

    We are Marshall
    (Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox)

    Marshall University’s Thundering Herd was an incredible success story in the late nineties and in the early part of this decade; such NFL standouts as Chad Pennington, Randy Moss, and Byron Leftwich are former Marshall players.

    But in 1970 a charter plane carrying the football team home from a road game crashed just before landing. The movie is about that first year when the school’s administration decided to keep the program alive.

    It’s about what you’d expect, with some slight overacting on McConaghey’s part, and what I think is a nice performance by Matthew Fox. There’s not much to say except that if you have a predisposition to liking sports movies, you’ll like a lot of this.

    There is one scene that moved me a great deal, involving a really classy thing that Bobby Bowden, then the coach at West Virginia, does for the new Marshall coaches. I’ve done some Internet searching to see if this really happened, and all accounts seem to point to yes. Very, very cool.

    If you’re prone to enjoying tear-jerkers, I think you’ll like this one, too. Honestly, though, I wish there was a little more football. Finally (finally!) I understand what Reid’s always griping about when he talks about movies with fighting. Since I enjoy football, I really wanted to see the football plays unfold the way you might see them when you watch them on TV, but what you got was basically a lot of close-ups, the noise of contact, and jump-cuts to blurry action. It was exciting enough, but it wasn’t FOOTBALL. Of course, it doesn’t want to be a football movie, so I sorta get that.

    Let’s call it 6 of 10.

    The Pursuit of Happyness
    (Will Smith, Thandie Newton)

    A rags-to-riches story, also based on real events. This is all about Will Smith’s acting, and it’s pretty solid. He’s a very charming, charismatic actor, so whether or not this film succeeds for you is whether or not he wins you over in the early scenes. I think he will. There’s one amazingly heartbreaking scene in a train station bathroom that is very, very well done. This movie will not blow you away, but you won’t think it a waste of your time, either.

    6/10.

    Freedom Writers
    (Hillary Swank)

    The first film in this post is a typical sports movie; the second a typical rags-to-riches story. This one is a slightly atypical amazing-teacher story, but I think most people will find it not very different from films like Stand and Deliver and Mr. Holland’s Opus.

    Swank plays Erin Gruwell, a real-life teacher about whom I’ve read a few times in some of my teaching texts, and she turns what is otherwise a formulaic (though true-to-life, apparently) story into something believable. However, I have to say that I’m saying this because I’m a teacher. There are things Swank does here that convinced me and the two teachers I saw this with that she really understood what teachers go through. In this respect, I have to say that the film is slightly better than typical, because it is the first film I’ve seen where I thought the actor really knew what teachers are like.

    The film shows, too, what happens to Gruwell’s personal life as a result of her dedication to her classroom. I saw the movie with two other late-thirties teachers who are also single, and I think this aspect of the story rang true with each of us.

    I admit I bought it. Give it a 7/10 with the caveat that the thing I most liked about it is something most people couldn’t relate to.

  7. Mitchell

    Okay, a few recent views on television:

    The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
    (Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston, directed by John Huston)

    “Batches? We don’t need no steenkin’ batches!” If you dig old movies, you’ve probably already seen this. Bogey is great here as a bad guy — basically a bum who goes into the mountains with two other prospectors to search for gold. Remember that episode of Gilligan’s Island where everyone gets “gold fever” except for Gilligan? This is the movie version of that, sorta.

    The acting is SOLID here. I hadn’t seen this since the first time, in the summer of 1984, and couldn’t believe how much of it I’d forgotten. Definitely worth seeing again many years later.

    8/10

    Save the Last Dance
    (Julia Stiles)

    I love Julia Stiles, even though most of her movies are kind of lousy. My niece really likes it, and she’s thirteen, so I thought I really should at least check it out (I’d given her The Princess Bride and The Prince and Me on DVD for her birthday, which led to this conversation).

    Eh. It’s fine. I can see why a thirteen-year-old girl would like it. I thought the Stiles character’s relationship with her father was the most interesting part of the film; it gave the movie one extra little dimension that I appreciated.

    An unenthusiastic 5/10, and I can’t wait until Julia’s too old to do high-school and college movies.

    Mystic Pizza
    (Julia Roberts)

    Julia is lovely, of course, but this is now the fourth or fifth time I’ve seen this, and it just seems to get worse and worse. I don’t even know why I’m commenting on it here.

  8. joel

    “The Curse of the Golden Flower”

    I know there is no such thing as the number “UGH!” but that’s what I would give “Curse of the Golden Flower.” (UGH! out of 10).

    Think greek tragedy with a Chinese twist. I was certainly thrown a curve ball thinking it would be some kung fu/high drama with a great story, but I was wrong on all accounts.

    The scenery, especially in the castle was awesome! I love the color schemes and costume designs, but that was about it. The acting is decent enough to move the story along, but in all honesty I wasn’t very interested in the story at all.

    Well okay maybe I was a little harsh on the (UGH out of 10) comment. I would probably give this film (4 out of 10).

  9. Reid

    Ugh out of 10. Haha! That’s a good one. But “ugh” is actually equivalent to a “4?” I was thinking more like “0” or less than “0.” (I actually didn’t read much of your review, since I didn’t want to know too much.) So what was lame about the story?

    Mitchell,

    Re: We are Marshall. I never knew you never understood why I get irritated at badly filmed fight scenes. It’s the same thing with dance sequences. If you had quick edits to parts of the body or body parts and blurry movements, how could you really enjoy that?

    I’m assuming I wouldn’t really like this one.

    Re: Freedom Writers More than getting the life of the teacher right, I think getting the way students actually behave is more critical–actually, I should say the interaction between students and teachers. If a teacher says or does something and you feel like the students response is not believeable, than the film will be hard to really get into, imo; basically, the emotional payoffs are just not going to be satisfying. If the interactions are believeable, I could get into the film.

    Re:Treasure of the Sierra Madre I agree with the 8/10 score, and the acting. Bogey is good, but Walter Huston was also pretty great. It might be the best film on the subject that it covers.

    Re: Save the Last Dance. I like Julia Styles, too. (I think she’s fairly talented.) For some reason I saw this in the theaters. For some even stranger reason, I came out feeling like this was not bad. I think I liked Styles and the relationship she had with the guy. (The Flashdance ending was kinda dorky though.) I think I gave this a “6” when I first saw it, but that was before I saw 700+ films, so it would probably get a 4 or 5 now–which is not bad considering the type of film.

    Re: Mystic Pizza. I haven’t seen this in a long time, but I’m curious to hear why it’s getting worse for you.

  10. Mitchell

    Joel:

    How would Curse of the Golden Flower compare to other Zhang Yimou / Gong Li movies? Have you seen any?

    R:

    I don’t really care if I can’t see the fighting or dancing because I don’t caare about fighting or dancing, and never really go to a movie to see them. I know lots of people don’t go to a football movie to see the plays unfold, but that’s pretty important to me. I feel ripped not seeing the actual football-playing.

    I don’t know about the student thing. I do know that there are aspects of teaching that they don’t really show in movies, and I think this movie gets to a lot of them. It was nice for me to see a movie teacher who probably could have been a real teacher. You know I’d be tough to impress that way.

    I saw Casablanca again today, and loved it as much as every other time I’ve seen it. It is the best movie I’ve ever seen. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine…”

  11. joel

    M

    Kudos to the “casablanca” post. To many quotable lines…Bogey is just awesome…smooth…fonzy “cool.”

    I haven’t really seen any Gong Li films and I know I should. I hear she’s a great Asian Acress and watching her in “Curse of the golden flower” I can see the potential.

    As for the director Zhang Yimou. I believe “House of the flying daggers” is my favorite, but that’s not saying much. I’ve really only seen that and “hero,” from him. Not any of his earlier works.

    Reid. You are asking me why I didn’t like the story, but at the same time you didn’t read to much of my review because you don’t want to know more about the film? Sounds like a trick question to me. I thought I spoke in “RA” (REID APPROVED) fashion when critiquing “Curse of the golden flower,” extremely vague.

    But if you really want to know why I didn’t like the story. I don’t really like watching movies where no good bullys just get their way and people have to take it. No matter what happens you cannot do anything to overcome…that’s torturous pain–ala “clockwork orange” style. Soooo sadistic! I suppose some people are into that, but I am certainly not.

  12. Mitchell

    Pan’s Labyrinth

    This thing has a ridiculously high metacritic rating, which is why Reid thought we should go see it. It seems everyone liked it except me.

    I thought it was fine, but the words people have used to describe it are all wrong, I think. “Magical,” “wonderful,” “brilliant,” and “engrossing” don’t cut it for me, because while I don’t shy away from darkness in such supposed fairy tales, I don’t think the film does a very good job at ALL of selling the magic, and this is critical for me. The main character is in a horrible, horrible situation, but there is no evidence at ALL that the place she’s going to is any better. This is no Narnia or Prydain or Terabithia or Hogwarts.

    Perhaps it is wrong of me to hate a film for not being something it never meant to be, or even for what others seem to think it is, so let me just say that at the very least, this film does not work because the payoff is lame. I felt ripped off. I’d suffered through images so horrible I had to leave the theater for a moment and when we finally see where the main character ends up, it’s almost nothing.

    2/10.

    Written on the Wind
    (Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, Lauren Bacall, Dorothy Malone. Directed by Douglas Sirk)

    This is my first Sirk film, and I have to say I liked it a great deal. It does move a bit too far into melodrama for my tastes, but the story is compelling and the actors very, very likeable. There’s a certain horrifying, believable tailspin that I just found myself so engrossed in that I could not look away. The acting itself is not especially good (save Malone’s Oscar-winning performance), but I like the film-making. And yeah. It’s an interesting story. Plus, for once, there’s a character named Mitch who’s the good guy.

    If you’ve seen Todd Haynes’s Far from Heaven, you know that it was a film inspired by Sirk, and you can really see that here. I’m glad I saw this.

    7/10.

  13. Reid

    Joel,

    Thanks for the commens about Curse of the Golden Flower. You’re right, normally I wouldn’t want to know the details you revealed, but, in this case, I’m I did. I really have to be in the mood to watch that type of movie.

    Mitchell,

    I saw Written in the Wind, and I think I have a review somewhere in here. I’ve seen two other Sirk films–Imitation of Life and All that Heaven Allows. I liked Imitation of Life the best. The thing I like about Sirk is his juxtaposition of cheesy melodrama with serious social commentary.

    Re: Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
    5/10

    (I was going to write a review, but I’m too lazy.) Wasn’t that metacritic score ridiculous? I think it was 97–which would qualify it as one of the highest rated fims of all-time. The film no way lives up to that. Perhaps my opinion will change if I really analyzed the film and knew more about Spanish history, but at this point the movie was just OK for me.

    The visuals and special effects were solid–the look, particularly the lighting reminded me of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, director of Amelie and Delicatessen. Still, that wasn’t enough to warrant one of the higest scores of all-time.

    Mitchell, I don’t think we all really liked the film. Larri liked it, but not excessively (6/10). Grace seemed to have a similar reaction.

    I wouldn’t strongly recommend the film.

    On a sidenote, I found the reviews I read really disappointing because they don’t really show why the film was so great. Maybe if I have more time I could break it down.

  14. Reid

    Correction: I spoke to Grace recently, and she loved the film. If it wasn’t for the nature of some of the scenes, she said this could have cracked her top 10 of all-time! So maybe Mitchell and I just don’t get it.

    I don’t know Tony’s tastes real well, but somehow I think he might like this.

  15. Reid

    Volver (2006)
    Dir. Pedro Almodovar
    Starring: Penelope Cruz
    6/10

    The first question: Does Penelope Cruz deserve a nomination? Perhaps. It would depend on the other performances. I don’t consider it an award winning performance, although it’s fine. Her character and performance is in a similar–but not equal, imo–vein of Cher in Mask.

    The next question: should you see it? I don’t think it’s an exceptional film, although some of you may really enjoy it. I’m pretty sure Penny and Grace will enjoy this. As for the guys, it’s hard to say.

    **
    This film is about a woman struggling to raise her daughter. Her daughter gets in trouble and the mother has to help her out. The woman’s sister and friend from their hometown village also plays a prominent part. (This is terrible description of the film, but I’m too lazy to do any better.) As to the type of film, it’s a melodrama, almost soap-operish.

    ***
    This is pretty straight movie (in more ways than one) for Almodovar. It’s pretty accessible. At some point in the film, Korean TV dramas came to mind. This is also a good mother-daughter film. I recall reading that this was Almodovar’s masterpiece. I don’t feel like that at all.

  16. Reid

    Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
    Dir. Clint Eastwood
    132 minutes
    5/10

    Originally, I didn’t have any desire to see this film. I’m just not interested in WWII films, maybe even war films in general. What can a new film cover that hasn’t been covered before–the horrors of war, senselessness, chaos, etc.
    What changed my mind was watching the clips to Letters from Iwo Jima. Not only did the trailer look compelling, but the idea of having one film showing the American perspective and other depicting the Japanese perspective on the same battle intrigued me.

    So I went. The film started off pretty well–setting up the characters–who appealed to me–and the battle. The battle scenes weren’t shot very well. Then again, after you’ve seen the beach landing in Saving Private Ryan what else can be done? The film takes a different direction and while there are some interesting elements of the story, I didn’t feel the film really explored this enough to make the film worthwile.

    My verdict is you’re not missing much if you don’t see this film. It’s OK, but not great.

    ***
    (spoilers)
    The idea that the three main characters–the soliders who raised the flag–were reluctant heroes and just did these promotional tours to help the government raise money was sort of interesting. Perhaps if Eastwood explored this a little more, the film could have been better. I’m not exactly sure where he could have gone though.

    There’s also narration in the beginnig of the film about how this one shot symbolized and eventually help achieve victory. The person speaking says that this pictures can win or lose or war citing the famous Iwo Jima flag raising in WWII and the Vietnamese solider shooting someone in the head in the Vietnam War, which signified the impossibility of victory for the US. I thought this was an interesting idea, but the film doesn’t go beyond that. Perhaps, a documentary would have been more interesting. In that way the film reminds me of Clooney’s Goodnight and Goodluck. The narrative and characters aren’t strong enough, although the facts and details are compelling.

  17. Reid

    Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
    Dir. Clint Eastwood
    5/10

    I thought about not seeing this, but since I saw Flags of Our Fathers I figured I should see this. I believe Eastwood was nominated for best director for this. I don’t think the direction was noteworthy.

    I have similar feelings towards this film as I did Flags: you’re not missing anything if you don’t see it. The premise of having one film for each side is an interesting concept, but what we actually was not very interesting for me.

    On a good note Eastwood potrays the humanity of both sides–meaning there are no simple good or evil depictions of the characters or their armies. All people have a mixture of both. Like other anti-war films we see the horror that the soldiers experience (some pretty graphic scenes, reminiscient of Private Ryan) and that the enemy is like us.

    I guess the film would be good for those who have a see war and it’s participants in more simplistic, “good or evil” terms. And if this is the first anti-war film you’ve seen, you’d probably appreciate it a lot more than I did.

  18. joel

    “smoking aces” (6 out of 10)

    I thought this film had the potential to be sooo much better than what turned out. The set up and the drama which unfolded had a “pulp fiction” like quality that really appealed to me. But in the end, it fell way short of expectations.

    There was enough action–although not great–to keep my attention, but with a mediocre story and underdeveloped characters I never felt like the film had a chance to realy “get off the ground.”

    I did enjoy Jason Bateman’s “bit” part in the film. His character is very colorful and animated.

    Still with his (Jason Bateman’s) role and mediocre action I gave it the typical. “6” rating. Enough to entertain, if you got nothing else to do, but more of a dvd night film in my book.

  19. Reid

    Thanks for the review. I was curious about this film because I was in the mood for an action film, and I liked the look and premise. Too bad it doesn’t sound like something I would like.

  20. Mitchell

    Super-busy lately, but a few I’ve squeezed in:

    Ocean’s Eleven
    I saw this edited for television, so I don’t really know if that counts, but I was surprised at how much I liked this. Very stylistic film. I enjoyed the cool angles and the whole attitude and tone of the picture. I wondered going in how the film was going to convince me to root for thieves, and it did a good job. The cast is loaded, of course, but I was surprised also by how much I liked Brad Pitt here. Julia Roberts is lighted HORRIBLY almost in every scene, so that she looks like some kind of monster; I can’t figure out why. There are maybe one or two moments where she is as luminous as she usually is (and as luminous as Clooney and Pitt are throughout the film). Such a disappointment.

    7/10 and very re-watchable.

    The Pelican Brief
    I’d seen this before, but couldn’t remember much of it except that it has some of Julia’s best acting. Now I remember why I couldn’t remember much of it. This is an entirely forgettable film, with one or two good moments for each of the leads. I was fairly engaged throughout, but at no time did I feel I was looking at something especially interesting. You’d think just LOOKING at either Denzel Washington OR Julia Roberts would be interesting enough, but something about this film just fails to satisfy on any level. There’s some good acting by Julia here, especially in the scene where the professor’s car explodes; however, the movie just seems to lack energy.

    5/10

    Sideways
    I bought the DVD for myself last Christmas and haven’t gotten around to watching it until recently. Now I’ve seen it six times, and I love it just as much every time. I like to put it on after hours at school, listening to it as background music while I work. Paul Giamatti is just soooooooo perfect in this movie that I can’t imagine him ever, ever, ever finding a better role. I can’t believe he was not nominated for a best actor Oscar for this movie! And I still love (just love!) that part of the movie where Giamatti goes into the bathroom to chastize himself for breaking the moment he’d just shared with Virginia Madsen out on the porch. It’s so…me, I guess. I think I like this film as much as I do because I relate so well to it.

  21. Reid

    I think The Pelican Brief was the film that made me vow never to watch a John Grisham adaptation. That didn’t happen though. I saw The Rainmaker (Hey, Coppola directed it, and I like Matt Damon; the film was not bad) and The Gingerbread Man (good cast), which really sucked. I also saw A Time to Kill which also sucked. I think those last two finally killed any desire to see a Grisham adaptation.

  22. Mitchell

    The Client was pretty good, and I kinda liked A Time to Kill. Samuel Jackson.

  23. Reid

    Zodiac (2007)
    Dir. David Fincher
    Starring: Jack Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards,
    158 minutes
    6/10

    If you didn’t know, this is based on true story. (I won’t say what it’s about just in case you don’t know.) Going into the film, I suspected, like some other films based on a true story, that the movie might be better as a documentary. While that may be the case, I think this film worked fine as a feature film.

    Should you see it? Basically, this is the type of film I like to watch on a Saturday night when I don’t know want to do anything except veg in front of the TV. Not a great movie, but good for that situation.

    I should also say that the cast is solid in this film, except they’re not used in any spectacular ways.

    **
    So what is this film about? The movie is about the Zodiac killer in the 70s. It’s a basically a crime film where we see reporters and the police trying to catch the killer. There are some violent scenes, but for the most part the film is not super intense.

  24. Mitchell

    Pizza
    Written and directed by Mark Christopher
    Starring Kylie Sparks and Ethan Embry (with Julie Haggerty and Alexis Dziena)

    As some of you know, I’ve been watching WordPlay regularly lately, and one of the trailers on the DVD is for this film. It didn’t look too good in the trailer, but I recently joined NetFlix and I needed to test it out to see how it was on little-known indies.

    This movie doesn’t suck, but man, it is not good. One of those “best nights of my life” movies where a girl who’s just turning eighteen hangs out all night with an intelligent, enlightened pizza-delivery guy. The actors give it a fair go, but the script is lousy. Well-intentioned, but lousy. We follow the principal characters from birthday party to apartment to nightclub to delivery destinations to other pizza joints to make-out party to…well, never mind. It’s really not worth it.

    I can honestly UNrecommend this movie for just about anyone I know. Seeing this won’t piss you off, but really, there’s no good reason to see this unless you’re a Julie Haggerty completist (she’s the stewardess in the Airplane! movies). There are two appearances by Alexis Dziena, whom I’ve never seen before but apparently was the girl who appears naked in front of Bill Murray in Broken Flowers.

    Two and a half out of ten. That half is for at least being better than Men in Black II and for the earnest performances by the cast.

  25. Mitchell

    Factotum
    2005
    (Matt Dillon, with Lili Taylor and Marisa Tomei, directed by Brent Hamer)

    This is really Matt Dillon as Charles Bukowski, ‘though Dillon plays Henry Chinaski, Bukowski’s fictional alter-ego. It’s a short film (94 minutes) but plays a lot longer, which isn’t bad in this case.

    There’s really no story; instead, we get episodes of Chinaski’s life, going from job to job (seldom does he keep a job more than one day) and woman to woman, all the time writing and writing and writing.

    I’ve read a little of Bukowski’s work, and what I remember is that you’re in it for the ride, not for the big finish, and that’s what this film is like. If Bukowski (I mean Chinaski) appeals to you, you’ll enjoy the episodes and possibly the entire film, as long as you don’t really expect any kind of character growth or plot development, and certainly no resolution (there’s no conflict, really, to resolve).

    The voice-overs are great; Dillon does a fine job of reading Bukowski’s words, and the sort of somber, whiskey-infused, whatever-happens attitude he carries throughout the movie is spot-on.

    I give it a strong 7 out of 10. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

  26. Mitchell

    49 Up
    2005
    Directed by Michael Apted

    It was going to be tough to beat 42 up, which I think to be the best of the series so far, and the latest installment in Apted’s series doesn’t quite do it.

    This is that series where the director interviewed fourteen seven-year-old children from the UK’s upper and lower classes, back in 1963, and then revisted and reinterviewed them every seven years after.

    There are a few surprises here, and of course there’s the compelling story of Neal, which Apted again saves for last. Neal again is the most fascinating of the lot, but I found something interesting and touching in just about every story.

    The theme of family seems to thread itself through this episode, which is a nice thing; many of the subjects have buried parents in the past seven years, and many are grandparents. Another interesting commonality is that many of the 49-year-olds talk about what it’s been like to have Apted drop in on them every seven years.

    Not as good as the last one, but still a wonderful movie, and as Roger Ebert says, “The most noble use of film ever.” Don’t know if I’d go that far, but it is a fascinating film.

    8 out of 10.

  27. cindy

    I just watched 7 up so I stopped reading Mitchell’s review mid-sentence.

    MUSIC & LYRICS

    Yes, it’s a chick flick, but as such, it’s a credit to the genre and I have heard a few guys admit to seeing it and liking it. Dry brittish wit and who doesn’t love Drew Barrymore’s quirky-beautiful girl-next-door-who-has-had-some-serious-therapy.

    made me feel like watching “Love Actually” again.

    P.S.

    Penny! I was so bummed. I thought the new “Bridge to Terabithia” was a travesty!

  28. Reid

    Music and Lyrics (2007)
    4/10

    My sister recommended that I see this with Larri. I know why she recommended it, but I didn’t reallly care for the film. There were several problems for me (which you probably shouldn’t read if you want to see the film, although I’m not giving away any major spoilers).

    First, while I like both Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore they just didn’t feel right for their parts and for each other. The phrase that came to mind for Grant was that he didn’t feel “properly calibrated” for the role or vice-versa. His comedic ability, which I usually like, just felt a little out of sync. A part of me feels like he was a little too well-adjusted, responsible and optimistic for his film persona.

    Second, usually with romantic films there has to be some conflict between the couple and then a resolution at the end. In this film, the conflict was really weak. (spoilers) I felt like the director and writer steered away from the obvious tact–namely, Grant’s character would forget about Barrymore’s character at his moment of success. That was a good thing. But what he replaced it with, especially the scene where Grant says she’s just like the character in the book–just seemed out of character. Because of that you don’t feel the rift isn’t as poignant, so the make-up is not so satisfying.

    Finally, the song that they eventually write is OK, but not that great. She’s supoosed to be a naturally gifted songwriter, and that didn’t come across so well. That’s a minor quibble though.

    I did like the music video in the beginning, which really nailed the early-mid 80’s video. Visions of Wham! and A-ha came back to me. I gotta admit, though, the class of 87(!) reunion scene was a bit disconcerting. I mean, do I really look like the same age as those people? Man, that’s depressing.

  29. Reid

    The Host (2006)
    Dir. Joon-ho Bong
    4/10

    This film did not live up to the hype (in this case all stars from the critics’ table in the Friday Honolulu Advertiser). I don’t recommend the film, although I’m sure some of you will like it more than I did, but I’m not sure who that will be. I should say that I had a higher expectations, and if I didn’t have them, I might have liked this a bit more (say, a 5 or 6).

    ***
    The film was touted by several critics as an interesting mixing of genres. Yes, there is that element, but I didn’t think that it was particularly effective or orginal. Here was my big problem with the film: the look of the monster. It was this mutated and sluggish looking creature with a silly (not menacing) beak. Seriously, that ruined a lot of the suspense and horror aspects for me. That’s one of the dangers with making monster movies–if the monster looks silly, the movie won’t work. It’s not the stupidest looking monster I’ve seen, but it’s not good.

    The other thing was that they reveal the look of this monster early on, and the show it quite often. That’s totally the opposite of a film like, Alien.

    The comedic moments were sometimes funny and there was some tense moments, but overall I don’t think it was a very good film.

    300 (2006)
    Dir. Zack Taylor
    7/10

    I was surprised to find myself liking this film. Why? Well, the previews seem so sparse; it looked like a low-budget, poor quality film. But I ended up really liking this, and I think people like Joel and maybe John and Don should see this. Mitchell and Grace shouldn’t see this. Think of the kind of films a stereotypical guy would like and this is it.

    **
    This is a film about the battle between 300 Spartan warriors and Xerxes Persian army. That’s the essential part of the plot–it’s a battle between these two forces. Thematically, the film is about being a warrior. Fighting and being a warrior that’s basically the heart of the film. If you liked Braveheart (similar thematically and in terms of action) and even Gladiator (action period film), you’d probably like this. I like 300 better than both.

    ***
    The casting, direction and music make the execution of these themes and plot give the film it’s worth. I especially like Gerald Butler as leonides: he’s not only built like a warrior, but he acts like one and he has a Greek look to boot.

    Many of you know that I like good action scenes. There are some really good ones in this. I like the way Taylor uses slow-motion, in a way very similar to the Wachowski brothers in the Matrix films. The lighting (and I don’t know what else) gives the film an almost animated look. I heard that the film is very similar in terms of look and the scenes to the graphic novel on which it’s based. If so, perhaps Frank Miller deserves more of the credit. The film looks good and, again, the action scenes–mostly sword fights–are well-executed.

    If you’re not into fighting scenes, then you probably wouldn’t want to see this. It’s almost one battle scene after another, or at least it feels that way. But the artistry and execution of those scenes are really top notch. I must admit I got caught up in the warrior ethic, too.

  30. Mitchell

    You are the first person I know who is older than twenty years of age and really liked this movie. Until this moment, I’ve told students that I probably won’t see it because the only people I knew who liked it were…students. However, based on this review, I guess I still won’t be seeing it.

  31. Mitchell

    The Ant Bully
    With the voices of Nicholas Cage, Julia Roberts, Paul Giamatti, and a bunch of other notable names.

    Man, what a waste of time and talent. This is the most ho-hum animated flick I’ve seen in ages and ages. It was so uninteresting that I didn’t care when the DVD player struggled through several middle-of-the-picture scenes and then just skipped to the next track. I don’t even think I’d let my kids see this, just because life is too short for them to be watching sub-mediocre entertainment.

    I saw this because I’m trying to see everything Paul Giamatti’s been in, and even his brief appearances were not enough to perk me up.

    3 out of 10.

    The Illusionist
    Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel

    I won’t go as far as Reid and say this is about as good as a good television movie, but I can see why he’d say it. The plot is pretty dang linear, and pretty straightforward. I didn’t care for Norton’s acting here — it seemed detached and lackluster — but I did like Jessica Biel and of course I enjoyed Paul Giamatti.

    The less said about the plot, the better for potential viewers. I will say that the romantic tension is sweet; I really liked Jessica Biel’s character and I bought the Biel/Norton relationship. I wish more were done with the Giamatti/Norton dynamic, but the 90 minutes this film fits into really don’t allow that.

    However, it is interesting enough and engaging enough not to be a waste of time. Good for a rental.

    I still don’t understand why American, English-language films set in non-English-speaking countries are filled with British accents. It doesn’t make sense. The characters would have been speaking German, in all likelihood (they even refer to each other as Herr So-and-So). However, the actors are not. I don’t get why British accents are called for in this case! If the actors speak with British accents naturally, then fine. But why affect a British accent for a film in which the characters would have been speaking German? What illusion is being created with that?

    6/10

    Slight spoiler:
    This film does not pass the Sixth Sense test: Watching it again does not make you say, “Aha. There it is.” That’s a major ripoff.

    Goodbye, Mr. Chips
    1939, Robert Donat and Greer Garson

    This is traditionally THE movie about a beloved teacher, and I’ve been waiting for decades to see this. See, 1939 was quite a year for films, and I’ve wondered how films like The Wizard of Oz, Dark Victory, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington could be beaten so handily by Gone with the Wind (which I still haven’t seen) and Goodbye, Mr. Chips. It’s one of those canonical films, and I’m pleased to have finally crossed this one off the list.

    Donat plays a shy, beloved teacher at an all-boys prep school in London. The story is episodic and shot in flashback, and shows us how Chips progresses from scared, overwhelmed beginning teacher to dearly loved school institution. Sort of a cross between Mark Twain and James Stewart, Chips has a winning personality and it didn’t take long for me to love him as much as the students love him.

    But the thing that makes the film is his courtship and relationship with the Greer Garson character. This is the first I’ve ever seen of Garson, and I can see why she still shares the record for most consecutive Best Actress nominations (five, with Bette Davis). She is the epitome of the Hollywood movie star, but with a certain vulnerability and sweetness you don’t see in Lauren Bacall or Katherine Hepburn. She’s definitely more like Ingrid Bergman’s strong-but-sweet character in Casablanca, and you can really see how she’d be taken in by the overly shy Mr. Chips, and how the two characters are so good for each other. Donat won the best-actor Oscar; Greer was nominated but lost to Vivian Leigh.

    This is a classic, a definite must-see for those interested in the Hollywood canon. It’s perhaps not The Godfather or It’s a Wonderful Life, but it deserves at least a mention on anyone’s best-ever list, if for no reason other than Greer Garson.

    9 out of 10. A true classic.

  32. Reid

    Mitchell,

    My sense was that younger audiences liked 300, too, which partly explains why I wasn’t excited to see this.

    Part of the reason I liked it was that I am a fan of Frank Miller’s (the illustrator of comic books). I found this one more satisfying than Sin City for some reason.

    I’m also a big fan of action, and the action sequences were executed well. Finally, there’s another element in the film that resonates with me–and is often found in films that I love–and that is this idea of putting aside one’s well-being, even life, for some higher principle.

    Re: The Ilusionist

    The direction, production values and even the acting were very “TV” to me.

    I don’t get the Sixth Sense test.

    Re: Goodbye Mr. Chips

    I can’t remember if I saw this version, but I did see the remake with Peter O’Toole and Petula Clark. I liked that film, but I wouldn’t consider it great. Maybe I should track the earlier version down.

  33. Reid

    The Lives of Others (2006)
    6/10

    This won the Best Foreign Film Academy Award. I thought the film was just OK, but it probably gets a 6 for me because there are some good acting. I really liked the New York Times review by A.O. Scott. The review helped me appreciate the film a lot more, but it still didn’t change my overall view of the film. Maybe I just didn’t get it.

    I can see Penny and Grace liking this film at least on some level. Kevin really liked this film, and I’m curious to hear his comments on it.

    **
    The film takes place in East Germany in the 1980s. A playwright is being monitored by the East German intelligence agency–the Stasi, which basically spies on people. The playwright is a pro-communist artist. In the film we see him wrestle with his own well-being and convictions.

    ***
    While there are some good acting in the film, I felt a little underwhelmed by the way the film explores themes of pressures artists faces with their personal well-being and their convictions. I guess, I partly felt the way the film dealt with these themes wasn’t very fresh. Or maybe I just didn’t get it.

  34. cindy

    This isn’t a movie, but worth a mention. I finally got around to watching the “Up” series that began airing on Brittish television since the mid-’60s. Several 7 year-olds from different social strata were interviewed. The project continued to interview them every seven years to get a glimpse into “the future of Brittain,” and I believe they taped “49 Up” just recently. I’ve watched the first two (7/14 combined and 21 Up). Fascinating.

  35. Reid

    I think those programs count as movies. I saw 35 up first, and enjoyed it. I also saw 21 Up (I think) because it made one of the top 100 lists I was trying to watch. I agree they are fascinating. However, I’m not as interested in seeing the new editions.

  36. Mitchell

    35 is probably the most gripping and fascinating, but I can’t imagine myself seeing 35 and not following that up with 42. 42 is almost necessary; it’s almost the resolution of the minor chord, if you will. 42 is Sweet Thursday to 35’s Cannery Row.

    49 is not as interesting, but it is STILL extremely interesting. Everyday people living everyday lives. I can’t imagine anything more compelling.

  37. Reid

    The Lookout (2007)
    Dir. Scott Frank
    Starring: Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, etc.
    6/10

    Some of you may not have heard of this film, and those of you who know about it may be curious (after all, how can you not be curious about a film with Jeff Daniels in it?).

    **
    This is one of those smaller films that involve a bank-robbery. If you like that type of movie, you’d probably like this at least a little bit. The other reason to see the film is Joseph Gordon-Leavitt. He’s the cute kid in the TV show, Third Rock from the Sun. He’s sort of a leading man in the Tobey Maguire vein, although much more brooding. (I recommend seeing him in the film, Brick.) If you like leading men like Nic Cage (at least in the earlier years) or Maguire, then you’d be interted in Gordon-Leavitt. The direction is pretty solid, and the story is OK, although not spectacular. It has the feel of films like A Simple Plan and Memento–small indenpendent contemporary crime films. Larri didn’t want to see this, but actually ending up mildly enjoying it.

    I think most idiots would find this fairly entertaining. If I had to get specific, I’d say Tony and Penny would like this the most. This is more of a video movie, and a pretty good one if your in the mood for this type of film and you have nothing better to do on a Saturday night.

    ***
    I think the biggest problem I had was the motivation for Chris Pratt (Gordon-Leavitt) to get involved with the robbery. Either his acting didn’t convince me or the director and writer didn’t show enough before hand to make it believeable. It convinced my mind more than my heart.

    The resolution is OK, not super great. I could tell the writer/director was really trying hard to avoid a predictable ending. There seemed to be a lot of roads the film could have taken at the end, but didn’t. I liked that, but somehow the end was just OK.

    Jeff Daniels was OK, too, but I expect a lot from him. To me, a bit of chemistry was missing between he and Gordon-Leavitt. He wasn’t as likeable as he needed to be, too.

  38. Reid

    The Shooter (2007)
    Dir. Antoine Fuqua
    Starring: Mark Wahlberg, etc.
    6/10

    I like Mark Wahlberg in action films (ever since The Big Hit). That’s one of the reasons this gets a score of 6 from me. The other reason is that the situations (i.e the motivations of the characters, the believability of the motivations, etc.) that accompany the action scenes are not really stupid, at least not until the finale. The filmmakers also steer clear of unnecessary scenes, which I won’t reveal until later. If you don’t like action films, or you’re not in the mood, don’t bother.

    I’m so eager to see a decent action or sci-fi film that, even ones that are just mediocre or OK can be somewhat satisfying. I like Mark Wahlberg, too.

    (small spoiler)

    The situation I’m talking about is a love interest. The filmmakers could have gone there, but didn’t, which was a good thing.

  39. Reid

    Grindhouse (2007)
    Dir. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino
    3 hr. 15 min.
    7/10

    Not a great movie, but entertaining and different.

    Normally, I would say Grace and Mitchell shouldn’t see this for reasons they can guess. Then again, they both saw Sin City, so I guess the question is should they see this, even with the type of preferences they have? I don’t think the films are so terrific that you need to see them, but I guess if you like the directors, you’d be interested in these films.

    As for others, I think Penny has the best chance of liking this. I think Don and Joel may give it lower scores than mine. Kevin and Chris may have a simliar view to mine. I’m not sure, though.

    You can read on to get a better idea. But as I feel with a lot of films, if you’re going to see this anyway, don’t read on, and try to know as little as possible. There are some elements that may be nice surprises.

    **
    The film is basically a tribute to double-feature of cheesy 70s drive-in action films with lots of blood, violence and big-breasted women. The film actually contains two films, one directed by each director. The films are these recreations of these post-modern recreations of this type of movie–a style I never really cared for. Oh, it reminded me of Russ Meyer, but better.

    *** (spoilers)
    My main problem was the length of both films. If they both had been an hour, I think the overall movie would have been better. There were some dead-spots in both that could have been eliminated, I think.

    Maybe I should talk about the films separately.

    There are couple of things that stand out with Death Proof Tarantino’s film.

    1. The dialogue in several of the conversational scenes are without the Tarantino’s trademark witty cultural references. Because of that, I found the conversations pretty dull. However, there may be something I’m missing. There’s a parallel between the first set of female characters and the second. There could be something important in the dialogue that I missed. Right now, I feel like the first set of female characters are sort of like a “Janet Leigh” strategem Hitchcock employed in Psycho: you think the film is about them, but then they get killed off, and a new set of characters come in. For some reason, I liked that.
    2. The car chase was noteworthy for the live action stunts. The scene made me realized how much is lost with cgi. The tension from a real sense of danger for the stuntperson was palpable. It really added a jolt of adrenaline to the scene. A car chase scene hasn’t made me feel that way in a long, long time. That scene may be the other reason the film gets a 7.
    3. I like Kurt Russell generally. And initially, he’s his likeable self, but then turns into this creep. The creep persona just didn’t come off so well, but it was OK. I’m not sure who they could have got. But this could have been part of the Psycho strategem once again. Tarantino’s trying to get you to think that nice guy Russell is going to hook up with one of the girls. Then he turns into, well, a psycho. The film becomes a Thelma and Louise movie sans the dark ending (at least for the women). That’s the aspect that Grace and Penny would probably like.

    Planet Terror

    This probably my favorite Rodriguez “film.” (Well, this or El Mariachi.) As I mentioned earlier, it was a bit long. Here are some additional comments:

    1. I like Josh Brolin, for some reason, as the creepo doctor. Just his look and his acting (the biting of the thermometer) made him interesting. Freddy Rodriquez was also an interesting casting choice. I don’t know if he fit the part exactly, but he was fine.
    2. I wished the trailers hadn’t shown a lot of the “machine gun leg” scenes. Those were cool in an over-the-top way.
  40. Reid

    Meet the Robinsons (2007
    3/10

    This reminded me of the animated movie Robots (or something like that): great animation, but no soul. This movie has emotional situations, but they feel superficial for the most. I suspect others would like it more than I did, but the characters and story felt hollow. In a way, if you had read the script beforehand, you might not have detected the actual result–so I don’t necessarily thing the general story was a major problem. The characters weren’t well-developed or something. The animation was OK, but nothing mind-blowing. The 3-D was a waste.

  41. Mitchell

    Way too busy to see movies lately, but Tony got two tickets to the advance screening of Spiderman 3 and invited me to go along. I really dug it. It was at least as good as Spidey 2, and possibly slightly better. I liked Spidey 1 a LOT, though, so keep that in mind. Can’t write a proper review now, but my early thinking is 7/10.

  42. Reid

    Spiderman 3 (2007)
    3/10

    Mitchell liking this movie more than I did is not necessarily surprising because he likes films for different reasons than I do; I think that’s especially true in the action genre. But even I was surprised that he gave it such a high score. The only thing I can think of is that there’s something about this film that resonated with Mitchell on a personal level. Objectively, I have a hard time imagining anyone saying this was a good film or even really enjoying it. (Even Larri didn’t care for this.)

    Now, I can see people like certain aspects of the film, but overall, it’s not a very good movie (imo).

    ***
    (spoilers)

    Basically the film suffers from an overload of storlines (at least four) and characters. In the comics, the storylines would have (or did) play out separately. The only reason I can think the filmmakers crammed all these stories together was they really liked the idea of having cool villians like Venon and Sandman in one film–the cool factor of using cgi to bring these villians to life. Maybe the fact that this could be Tobey Maguire’s last film had something to do with it as well.

    Whatever the reason, they’re not good reasons for putting all these story lines and characters into the same film. Because of this overload, the filmmakers don’t have adequate space for the stories or characters to develop. Two things come to mind. First, the issue of Peter learning to put MJ ahead of himself. The change in Peter and his relationship with MJ does not come off well. Perhaps, the problem could be acting, but I just feel there’s enough film to develop this well. Bouncing from different stories had a disorienting effect; I had a hard time knowing what the characters were actually feeling and the status of the relationship. This weakened the drama and realism of the important stories, making the important themes like revenge-forgiveness feel hollow. The stories and characters needed some breathing room.

    As for the action elements, I think the cgi worked fairly well, considering they used a lot of it (something I getting more and more turned off by). But these scenes felt like the main focus of the film versus the story and characters. I could tell the scenes (particularly with Sandman and Harry and his “flying skateboard”) were scenes Hollywood types would relish. But if there isn’t a great story that’s well-executed, it doesn’t matter. That’s what I felt like in this film.

  43. pen

    Well, I liked Spidey 3 more than Reid. What a shocker! It is strange, because taking each of its parts, it is not that great a movie. Reid is right: the storyline is crowded and the character development is pretty shallow, although the movie does try to touch deeper areas than the ubiquitous “i like you because you are pretty” and “i am so misunderstood.” Some of the action sequences were pretty cool, although Grace and I both felt the pacing was somewhat off (and slow) for an action film. It’s almost like the movie wanted to accomplish too many goals that everything ended up suffering.

    Yet despite all that, I still enjoyed the film. NOT because Grace actually cried more than me (although it was almost like a moment of personal victory that someone cried more than me). I do not know why. The only thing I can think of is that somehow the sum of the parts make for an inexplicably better whole. The feeling I got while leaving the theatre was *sigh* that was good, although intellectually there were all these obvious flaws. Perhaps there was something added to my diet coke? I don’t know. I still would recommend this film…you need to see it on a large screen. Go to the $1 theatre or see a matinee, but go see it.

  44. pen

    Drat! Sorry, I must have not properly or something. Ignore my whispering…or just consider it part of my demure personality reflected in my voice. Heh.

  45. Reid

    I needed some of that diet coke.

    Seriously, after thinking about my score, I have to say that is seems a bit harsh. However, I think I have a pretty good explanation. First, I was just totally annoyed by what the filmmakers did to the storylines. If the Venom-story had been developed separately, the movie could have been great. They just ruined that character/story–and for very poor reasons.

    Second, I don’t like when filmmakers think they can just add cool action sequences/effects and that will be enough. That’s what this felt like. I could just picture the Hollywood executives (and maybe Raimi) salivating at the prospects of the flying skateboard scenes and the Spiderman battling Sandman and Venon at the same time. Throwing in Harry to join Spiderman was also super cheesy.

    I guess what I’m saying is that they not only ruined the film, but other potentially great storylines.

    Penny, I wish you and Grace could have seen Snow Cake. You both would have liked it. I’ll try to get a review soon.

    I also saw Hot Fuzz. 3/10

    I don’t care for films like that, but there was nothing else. I’ll try to write more on it later. This is the type of film Jill usually likes, but I don’t think she would like this much.

  46. Reid

    Snow Cake (2006)
    Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Carrie-Anne Moss
    7/10

    I think most idiots would enjoy this movie, and I would say Mitchell, Penny and Grace have the best chance of liking it more than I did. Larri and Jill both enjoyed the film. It’s a solid film worth seeing, especially relative to the majority of films released. I’m not saying this is a great film, but I’m fairly certain people will enjoy this, so I’ll say you can see this without knowing more.

    **
    This played at the Academy of Arts and the write-up described the film as the “best film you never heard of.” Again, I wouldn’t say this is a great film, but I agree with the description. This is not an art film, but conventional filmmaking that could and should be made via the Hollywood studio system. It’s a film for grown-ups–not all pandering to the teen market. There are other films that are in a similar vein–Tully, Running on Empty and Man in the Moon. All of these are relatively obscure, smaller films that are basically Hollywood films–only well-done.

    The film is about a man who visits a mother of a girl who has recently died. Both have problems of their own, but manage to help each other in the process. I’m purposely being vague because I want to give as little information as possible. But for those who don’t care about knowing more details–let me give you a more specific description:

    The man picks up a hitchhiker and is hit by a truck, which kills the hitchhiker. Feeling guilty (even though it’s not his fault), he goes to look for the hitchiker’s mother. Finding her, he discovers she’s autistic. He stays to help her with the funeral.

    ***
    There are several things that stand out about this film. First, Sigourney Weaver’s performance as an autistic mother. I’m tired of roles like this because I think it’s overdone, and people think it’s more difficult than it actually is. Anyway, I like Weaver’s performance, in general, because it wasn’t so over-the-top. The performance wasn’t noteworthy because she could accurately portray an autistic person, but because the character was more important than the performance, if you know what I mean.

    Second, the film avoids going in melodramatic and cheesy directions that many Hollywood films so easily take. That was really refreshing. The film wasn’t perfect, nor was it entirely fresh–the subject matter about a man trying to find redemptition and forgiveness with the help of a “holy fool” is hardly original–but it works. And it works partly because the filmmakers manage to key things subtle, low-key and realistic. For example, they don’t have to make Rickman and Moss run off into the sunset.

    Some other comments. I thought Alan Rickman did a good job, but I would have enjoyed seeing Judd Hirsch in this role. Also, I thought the film should have ended after the shot of Weaver’s character eating the snow cake from her knife. To me that should have been the ending; it punctuated the film by revealing the significance of the title. If they really wanted to show Rickman’s character, they might have shown the scene with him looking into the sunset before the snow cake scene.

  47. Mitchell

    Snowcake has been getting good reviews — I saw it reviewed on Ebert & Roeper several weeks ago.

    I recently saw The Negotiator with Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey. The principals are usually quite strong, and you know what to expect if they’re on their game, which they pretty much are in this film. I saw it because I’m trying to see everything Paul Giamatti’s in. Giamatti’s got a supporting role here, as in all his pre-American Splendour films, and he does a great job. You can see why he was categorized as a “character actor” before he got any leads. Just a solid actor who fills his parts well without overstepping his boundaries. He leaves lots of room for the principal actors and yet he puts his own stamp on the characters he plays — I think Frances McDormand does the same thing.

    It’s a good, entertaining flick. My head says 6/10 but my heart (which loves Paul Giamatti) says 7/10.

    I also saw the pilot for an animated TV series called The Amazing Screw-On Head, which is based upon a one-shot comic book by the guy who does Hellboy. Paul Giamatti voices the lead role. It’s a good, 22-minute show with a bit of silly humor played totally straight. It’s probably the first time in history the phrase “hand over the turnip” has been uttered in film. Or maybe at all. In any case, a fun cartoon, but maybe I wouldn’t think so if I had to watch it as part of a series.

    No rating, because it’s not a movie. But I do love me some Paul Giamatti. David Hyde Pearce and Molly Shannon also lend their voices.

  48. Mitchell

    Cinderella Man
    with Russell Crowe, Rene Zellweger, and Paul Giamatti; directed by Ron Howard

    This film owes a lot to Rocky.

    Crowe is (predictably) very good in this movie about James. J. Braddock, a Depression-era boxer who defeated the legendary Max Baer and later lost the title to Joe Louis. I like the film, but you know how I wrote that Rocky totally affected me, despite its major shortcomings as a film? Cinderella Man seemed to have difficulty affecting me, despite its excellent performances.

    It’s a bit heavy-handed, which I guess is what does it for me. Or doesn’t do it for me, really. Until 2/3 of the way through the film, I though Zellweger was very good, but then she got kinda Adrian-like and I didn’t really need to see that. Crow continues to amaze me with how well he plays Americans.

    The real star is Giamatti, who steals the show here. Have I mentioned recently that I really like him? 🙂

    Worth seeing, but don’t plan to be blown away.

    7/10.

  49. mitchell

    Confidence
    Edward Burns, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz, Paul Giamatti

    Roger Ebert gave this two stars, saying that it was a well-put-together flick with no heart or soul, that it didn’t make us care enough about the characters to really invest anything in its outcome. While I agree with the explanation, I disagree with the rating, because this IS a very well-put-together flick. It is stylistic as heck, and you cannot help but be fully aware of the director’s decision-making. I guess that can be a bad thing, but in this case, I thought it made the ride fun. Yes, this is one of those movies where you’re never really sure who’s playing it straight and who’s putting you on, which can be frustrating. I didn’t think it was this time.

    Paul Giamatti is excellent as usual!

    7/10

    Man on the Moon
    Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito, Paul Giamatti, Courtney Love (directed by Milos Forman)

    I liked it. I know it got mixed reviews, and I can see how it really drags in parts, but Carrey does a good job. I also like Giamatti in this, and Courtney Love reminds me that she really can act; I’d love to see her in more films.

    My biggest criticism is that the film does such a good job REPORTING to us what Kaufmann did, and REPLAYING for us what he did, but it doesn’t really explore what he was doing, at least not to my satisfaction. I like when DeVito as George Shapiro says, “He’s totally insane…or maybe he’s a total genius.” More commentary and deconstruction of this sort by different people in the film would have been cool, especially if Kaufmann was given to engaging others in discussion about his brand of entertainment.

    We never get a single conversation between Giamatti’s Bob Zmuda and Carrey’s Kaufmann, and that’s extremely disappointing. Zmuda played a big part in getting this film put together; why didn’t he let us in on some of those conversations?

    6/10

  50. Reid

    Waitress(2007)
    Dir. Adrienne Shelly
    6/10

    Attention Penny and Grace: here’s a film you guys would like. The film had it’s moments, but it took a while for it to get going. Larri liked it less than I did, although she was expecting something a little different. Jill really loved it.

    **
    This is one of those films that basically falls within a Hollywood style movie, except for some subtle differences that give the film a freshness–as if they’re being made be an individual and not cookie-cut. The Full Monty and the more recent, Little Miss Sunshine are films that come to mind. There’s a quirky or slightly odd sensibility in these films, although not so odd to push it out of the mainstream. I wish more Hollywood films would have this quality.

    Anyway, the story and even the characters are pretty bland and uninspiring. The humor is something not unlike something you’d see on TV. Indeed, the characters and situation is very similar to Alice and the movie, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.

    What saves the movie for me is Keri Russell. She was able to portray this sorrow that was quite intense, yet at the same time, manage to be radiant. There was something about her performance that made the film glow.

    The other part I liked the mixing of tones in the film–from light TV-sitcom sensibility to a more scary and brutal realism. The realism was effective and this is something that I don’t think a more typical Hollywood film would have included.

    Still, the film wasn’t entirely successful for me. I thought the first half dragged a bit, and, again, I thought the characters and plot were kinda dull. Also, I was a tad disatisfied with the ending. While initially Jenna (Russell) and Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Filliom) have a relationship, it later deepens into something more. I thought it was a bit unrealistic that she could easily dismiss him at the end. In short, the whole feminist fantasy was not entirely satisfying. (I’m pretty sure Penny and Grace will disagree with me.)

  51. mitchell

    Some quick stuff about films I’ve seen recently:

    Donnie Brasco
    Al Pacino, Johnny Depp, Michael Madsen, Anne Heche, Paul Giamatti (directed by Mike Newell)

    I keep forgetting how great Pacino’s acting chops are. I guess because he’s so over the top so much of the time. But when he’s given a chance, he is capable of great subtlety. He makes some acting decisions, especially when he’s not delivering lines, that just amaze me. Depp is pretty good, too. I have to say, though, that I only really saw this because of a small part Paul Giamatti plays. He’s an FBI technician (partnered with Tim Blake Nelson) with one really good scene, when he asks Johnny Depp’s character what “fuhgeddaboudit” means. He does a really good job in this scene.

    Very good movie, but kind of depressing, in a lot of ways. 7/10

    My Best Friend’s Wedding
    Julia Roberts, Rupert Everett, Cameron Diaz, Paul Giamatti

    This is what I wrote elsewhere about this movie:

    saw My Best Friendʻs Wedding when it was in theaters and didnʻt like it because while Julia Roberts was actually quite good, I couldnʻt stand her character. Then I found out recently that Paul Giamatti was in it, and Iʻm trying to see everything he’s in. So I added the film to my Netflix queue and got to watch it today while I worked on the Joomla. I still don’t like the film much, but I still think Julia is really good in it. I’d forgotten how good Cameron Diaz could be: She’s pretty dang good here, too, and definitely holds her own when on the screen with Julia. The one Paul Giamatti scene is EXCELLENT. I had absolutely no recollection of it, but it’s near the end of the film, when Julia’s character is sitting in the hall outside her hotel room, smoking a cigarette. Her best friend is on the phone in the room, pretty much calling off the wedding because of something horrible Julia has done (only he doesn’t know it). Paul Giamatti as a bellhop walks over and talks to her for a bit, eventually sharing her cigarette and offering some wisdom from his grandmother.

    “Character actor” is one way of saying someone in Hollywood isn’t a star, and it’s how Giamatti had been described until he did American Splendor and then Sideways. When you see guys like Giamatti do what he does, “chracter actor” ceases to be anything but a major compliment. There’s another old cliche that says there are no small parts, only small actors. Giamatti proves that true in everything he’s in! He manages to fill these small parts with the kind of depth minor characters seldom have in movies but always have in real life. When Giamatti does one of these characters, you see a person there, not a body delivering lines. The artifice of a film falls away for a moment when you get to watch actors do this, and for a moment, you forget you’re seeing a movie.

    I can’t get enough of Giamatti. But this is not a very good film 5/10.

    Sherrybaby
    Maggie Gyllenhaal

    This is the film that earned Gyllenhaal a Golden Globe nomination for best actress in a dramatic role. Which is totally irrelevant, because who gives a rip about the Golden Globes? Not me.

    I do love me some Maggie, though. Here you have a nice indie picture that is thoughtfully written and avoids too many shortcuts where shortcuts could have been taken. Gyllenhaal’s Sherry is in a difficult situation and doesn’t come to solutions easily. I don’t know why, but I think the film is very believable, and this film is worth a look.

    7/10 but if I didn’t love Gyllenhaal as much as I do, probably 6/10.

    True Romance
    Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, with James Gandolfini, Brad Pitt, Michael Rappaport, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, and Dennis Hopper. Directed by Tony Scott with a screenplay by Quentin Tarantino.

    There are sections of this that were repeated in Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs, but that’s okay. This is the script Tarantino sold so that he could finance and direct Rerservoir Dogs. It’s pretty good. Interesting, with characters I sorta liked and cared for. I found myself rooting for them, anyway — especially Arquette in a violent fight scene with Gandolfini.

    Interesting dialogue, but not THAT interesting. Good story, but not THAT good.

    6/10. I must be feeling grouchy today.

    They Drive by Night
    Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, Ida Lupino, Ann Sheridan

    Great cast, good acting, pretty good story, lame resolution. Bogart and Raft are brothers who drive a big truck, owing money to some guys and owed money by others. They portray this life quite well, I think. Raft is really the star here, and he does a good job. Bogart’s pretty good, too. Lupino (in a real Bette Davis kind of role) is good, but they didn’t beautify her enough, if you ask me. Ann Sheridan is LOVELY. Machine-gun-quick dialogue and a couple of surprisingly good stunts make it an enjoyable 95-minutes, even if the end is kinda overwrought and silly.

    I saw this when I was fifteen but didn’t remember a thing about it until I saw it again this morning. I’m glad I gave it another view.

    7/10 for the actors more than the acting or story, really.

  52. Reid

    Away From Her (2007)
    7/10

    Waitress, Snowcake and Away From Her, are the type of movies that I would see at the old Art House at Restaurant Row. They’re the type of film that are made by intelligent and original–at least not cookie cutter–filmmakers; the kind of films, that at the very least, wouldn’t leave me asking, “Why did they make the film?” I loved that.

    Well, Away from Her, is more than that. It’s a solid film that is worth seeing before it leaves the Varsity Theaters. However, the sound system at the Varsity seems in worse shape them I remember, so maye waiting until video would be better. A film I think most idiots would find appealing.

    **
    The film is basically about a husband who must deal with a wife slowly succumbing to alzheimer’s. The acting is subtle, and the director refrains from overly dramatic situations that a typical Lifetime film or most mainstream Hollywood films would succumb to.

    ***
    I loved the quietness and subtlety of this film. It made the moving scenes even more moving. (Guarenteed to make Penny and Grace cry.) However, if there was a problem I thought the actor who played the husband was a bit too subtle and opaque. I wanted to see more of the emotions and transformation that his character goes through. Julie Christie is old, but still beautiful–particulary her eyes, which glowed through the whole film. Man, I wish I remembered specific scenes in the film to write about because there are some good ones.

    The Valet (2006)
    5/10

    This is a French film playing at the Varsity now. I wouldn’t recommend it, although some of you may think it’s not bad. While the film didn’t offend my sensibilities, it was kinda dull. The film probably deserves a 4, but I’m giving it a 5 just because it sort of kept my attention throughout the film.

    **
    The plot, which I don’t think gives too much away, is about a man has his photo taken with his mistress–a supermodel–by paparazzi. To get out a messy divorce with his wife, he makes up an elaborate plan to convince his wife that another man in the picture is the wife’s actual lover.

    ***
    The characters started off promising (the male lead looks like Buster Keaton and the female lead like Catherine Deneuve(sp?). In the end, they’re not really interesting, and there really weren’t many humorous scenes. It’s not terribly made, but it’s not very interesting or funny either.

  53. Reid

    Samurai I and II
    5/10

    I think most idiots would respond in a lukewarm way. On the otherhand, if you no little about the subject matter and have no expectations, you may like this more. I know a little about the subject matter and I had a variety of expectations, which I go into later.

    ***
    These are the first two films based on the biographical novel of Miyamoto Mushashi. I have to say that I was disappointed by both. (There’s a third film, that I haven’t watched yet.) First, I don’t find the filmmaking very remarkable or interesting. (I’m a little surprised Criterion chose these films.) Second, I was disappointed by the action, in general, and the fight sequences specifically. I think if you go into thinking this will be action-packed, you’ll be disappointed. Finally, I was not impressed with Toshiro Mifune’s performance. The guy definitely has star power, but that’s about all he brings. There’s very little subtlety and inner development of the character. It’s all about intensity (which he does a good job at). The film is partly about Mushashi’s transformation from a wild-man to a refined and skilled samurai. To me, the film fails at showing the inner transformation of the man. That’s what I wanted to see. To me, the actor and chacter, Takuan, is more interesting, and I wanted to see more of him.

  54. pen

    I saw two movies last Saturday. And yes, I paid separate admission for each one.

    Ok, Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer. It was ok…a fun comic book action romp. Although I actually kind of feel mean for saying this, I’m gonna say it anyway: Jessica Alba does not seem to be a very good actress. Or else she was directed terribly in this film. She is super gorgeous and she’s not a horrible actress, but other than making puppy dog endearing eyes to the Silver Surfer, I am not sure how much she contributed to this film. Frankly, that look she does kind of reminded me of Puss in Boots from Shrek. (I could almost hear the background music swelling). Plus, she still seems too young for the dude they have playing Reed Richards (who is pretty hot, by the way).

    *******Spoiler Alert*******

    But anyway, the film I would really like to write about is Waitress, written and directed by Adrienne Shelley. She also acted in the movie as “Dawn” a fellow waitress and friend of the main character Jenna (Keri Russell). I believe she also sang the song at the end of the movie while the credits scrolled. The film is dedicated to her memory, because she was killed on November 1, 2006. According to IMDb:
    “Shelly’s death was first considered a suicide. Days later, a 19-year-old Ecuadorian illegal immigrant and construction worker confessed to slaying the actress, who he left hanging by a bedsheet from a shower rod in the bathroom of her Manhattan office/apartment. She was found by her husband.”

    How tragic. She was obviously very talented. She also had a daughter, who played Jenna’s daughter at the end of the movie. She was such a cutie with bright yellow curly hair and an angelic smile.

    I enjoyed the movie. It was told almost like a fairy tale. It is the kind of story a mother tells her daughter when her daughter demands a bedtime story about how she came to be. A story to be repeated, with sometimes a new detail added here or there, but basically the same. A story that, when that little girl grows up, she will tell her own daughter…and so on and so on, down through the generations. Eventually it becomes almost like a fable (kind of like the movie Big Fish). A story about how the love of a mother for her daughter changed the course of that mother’s life forever by freeing her from her fears and insecurities.

    And Nathan Fillion was hot. I’ve liked him since I first saw him on that television show, Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place. But really loved him as Capt. Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly (and the subsequent movie Serendipity). Of course, he’s a big cheater in this movie, which was kind of distracting, because I wanted to like him (he plays this awkward, neurotic, yet endearing doctor), but I kept thinking, “he’s cheating!” Ugh.

    Andy Griffith was also in this movie, and I liked him (and his character) a lot. In fact, the supporting cast (Jeremy Sisto as Jenna’s controlling jerk of a husband, Cheryl Hines as the smart-talking waitress/friend, and of course Adrienne Shelley) were stellar. There were some inconsistencies and incongruence regarding the plot and the actions of the characters, but I am ready to forgive them because the movie was so charming and I feel, meant to play out like a fairy tale or fable.

    Plus, did I mention how hot Nathan Fillion was in this movie?

    The main character makes pies. She makes pies because it is a link to her past and reminds her of times when her life was better (as a young girl baking with her mother, who obviously loved her very much) and because it is a creative outlet for a life that is slowly suffocating her spirit. It is her means of escape (some people do drugs or otherwise create alternate realities), she bakes.

    Jenna names her pies after whatever circumstance she is going through at the time. I just wish the pies would have tied in better with the names…or vice versa. That would have been cool. I think one of her pies was “Baby waking me up in the middle of the night” pie and it had pecans and nutmeg in it. What does that have to do with a crying baby? There was an Earl (her husband) killing me because I’m having an affair” pie that had raspberries and blackberries crushed up…allusion to bruises? A bit of a stretch, since none of the other pies really matched their names.

    But still, I enjoyed Waitress a lot. One thing I really liked about it is that she did not choose any of the men. It was Jenna and Lulu (her daughter). Although, if one chose to be very picky, one could say that she did rely on a man to “save” her…that man being Old Joe (Andy Griffith) who gives her enough money to create her own pie business. I choose not to be picky here. Perhaps it is a refrain from a feminist archetype, but not in a militant way.

    Plus, have I mentioned how hot Nathan Fillion was in this movie?

  55. Reid

    OK, I’ve been to a lot of the summer movies, and I’ll try to give quick reviews for each.

    Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
    4/10

    Basically, I think the story is pretty weak in this. (The characters/performances also seemed flat, too, although I think that may have a lot to do with the story.) So why do I give this a 4? Well, it was mildy entertaining, but I would have to probably give it a three or less objectively.

    **Spoilers**

    Not seeing Galactus was a disappointment. Dr. Doom’s presence in the film seems to be solely because the film lacks a villian. In that way, it feels contrived. The film feels more like the first part of a two part film, the second part being the confrontation between the FF and Galactus. Oh course, we never get that.

    Transformers (2007)
    Dir. MIchael Bay
    4/10

    Again mildly entertaining, but really not a very great film. The characters may have appealed more to some, but I was mostly bored. I probably would have liked it more when I was in high school.

    ***
    There are two points I’d like to make. First, the f/x was pretty cool. The “transformations” were pretty well-done. The filmmakers were really recreating the transforming machines in anime, and they did an excellent recreation of that. On the other hand, this is a Michael Bay film, and so you don’t really get good views of the action.

    The second thing that I wanted to comment on was the fact that the film seems just as much of a commercial as a entertainment film–specifically for the US military and cars. The scenes with the military feel and sound very much like a commercial. I don’t care for Bay, but his use of music and moving cameras and edits prior to action sequences are really effective and appealing. These pre-battle sequences are effective. He’s effective at creating a kind of feel and sound, but it can be frustrating, too.

    Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
    5/10

    I was surprised that I found this film not bad. Not a great film, but a little more entertaining than the other films.

    ***
    I think this film actually had a pretty decent premise, namely a group posing as terrorists (post-911 versus the original Die Hard film) with the aim of stealing money (for the most part). There may have been a scene where McClain realizes figures this out based on his past experience.

    One of the things the filmmakers could have done was take out the daughter. I understand the reason she’s in there–the whole father saving his daughter bit can be compelling–but I think it posed problems. For example, how does the terrorist get a hold of the daughter? To me, if they really wanted that sub-plot, they should have a thought of a better way of her capture, perhaps she could have been an intern at the Pentagon, or had a relationship with one of the villians.

    The other thing that hurt the fiilm, imo, was the amount of traveling that McClain and Matt (the hacker) go through. A NYC cop driving a key suspect to D.C. seems ridiculous. Wouldn’t someone meet him at the airport or station? The trip to the powerplant, the helicopter (?!) ride to Warlock’s house and then the trip to the special base. That’s just too much traveling, and it takes away from the film. It didn’tt ruin the film, just as the unbelieveable scenes (e.g. the fighter plane), didn’t, but the film could have been better without them.

    Finally, I know that the Die Hard films formula is to have this everyday Joe get out of tough situations in clever ways, but I feel like the film could have worked without these situations or at least the film would have been better if the filmmakers didn’t have to try so hard to follow that formula. If they had concentrated on the relationship between McClain and the kid–which was pretty good–and McClain and the villian, I think the film could have been better, without the cleverness.

    Ratatouille (2007)
    4/10

    The metacritic score was a 95. A lot of the critics giving this score came from highly respected newspapers, too. Initially, the film didn’t appeal to me. But this was Pixar and Brad Bird (director of The Invincibles and Iron Giant), so I wanted to see this.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t care for this. I’m guessing that’s not going to mean that much to most of you, and even I would admit that it shouldn’t in this case. Still, I’d be a little surprised if people like this as much as the critics did. (I think there are certain themes in this that Mitchell would love and therefore he could really love this film.)

    ***
    Let me go into reasons this film really didn’t work for me. First, the side charcters and their stories really aren’t very well-developed. Linguini, Collette, the villian and even Remy’s relationship with his father seem to be introduced, but never fully resolved. Also, these side-stories don’t seem to connect very well with the main story–Remy trying embracing who he is as a great chef, despite who he is goes against that. It’s the heart of the film, adn it’s a strong heart, but the parts around it don’t support it very well, imo.

    Some critics raved about the animation and humor, but I didn’t find these very impressive. Maybe I’ve seen them before–and better executed. There are some slapstick moments, but I thought they were pretty dull.

    The cooking aspects were that thrilling either. That was one part of the film I was anticipating, but I was ultimately disappointed by that.

  56. Reid

    Knocked Up (2007)
    3/10

    Don told me The 40-Year Old Virgin was pretty funny and this movie got some pretty good reviews, so I was slightly interested in seeing this. But the real reason I saw was because there was no other film I wanted to see.

    Now, I’m giving this a 3, but I realize that there are other people who like this type of humor and may not have the same criticisms as myself, so they could easily like this a lot more. I can’t see too many of the idiots liking this, except for maybe my brother and sister.

    ***
    Part of the reason I didn’t want to see this was because it didn’t seem believeable. How Alison (Kathryn Heigel0 fall for someone like Ben (Seth Rogen)? I heard someone explain that she falls for him because she gets drunk. Yes, that’s partly true, but she and her sister actually talk to Ben and his friend before they’re really plastered. Why she would be interested in them is beyond me. He’s not especially funny or charmy, and the filmmakers don’t establish a reason Alison would go for these guys (maybe she’s sick of good looking guys who are jerks?). Even if Alison is a nice person (and she seems to be), I can’t see her going for Ben–not initially anyway. Ben’s not only not attractive, he’s gross and without any direction in his life (read: loser).

    Even after Alison finds out she’s pregnant, her openess to him–not to mention actually falling in love with him–being a part of the pregnancy, just struck me as odd and unbelieveable. Well, this is a movie, you might say. Yes, that’s true, but you have make your audiences care about the characters and the relationship, and part of that depends on making it somewhat believeable.

    Having said that, I found the director and actor’s approach to Alison somewhat interesting. There’s something about this film that is different from other films of this sort. There are some good insights about marriage and people of our generation. Overall, though, the relationship didn’t work for me, and, for the most part, the film wasn’t very funny. If anything, poking fun at Ben and his friends depressed me. I guess, I either know people like that and I feel like I”m not that far from them.

  57. Reid

    Casino Royale (2006)
    8/10

    That’s a pretty high score isn’t it? I’ll go into why that is later, but first let me make some comments about what I think others would think. (I already know that Don thought it was just OK.) I think Penny, Mitchell and Grace would like this film, although I’m not sure they would like it as much as me. I think Kevin, Chris and Tony would find this worthwhile, at least as a somewhat effective diversion. I will say that if you don’t like the other Bond, you might want to give this a shot.

    ***
    In music, I really love when musicians approach original material with a different arrangement or approach, for example, Clapton tranforming “Layla” from a rocking, electric number to a smouldering acoustic one. That’s what I really liked about this film. The filmmakers moved Bond from a cartoon to more a real drama. Yes, there are plenty of action scenes–some of them really good (the initial chase scene–top 10 material, imo) and some of them not so good (the collapsing building). But the characters and the drama between is really the heart of the film.

    Whereas the characters in previous Bond films are cartoons, the filmmakers in this film have worked to create realistic characters. Daniel Craig is convincing as a cold-blooded killer, and he is, imo, the best Bond ever. I liked the way they also tried to subtley portray more vulnerable aspects of Bond, such as, the psycholofical effects of killing and his feelings for Vesper.

    The dialogue is also well done and once again it’s the acting that brings it to life. I really enjoyed the back-and-forth between Vesper and Bond; it made me think of movies of the 30s and 40s (Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks, etc.). While I generally liked Eva Green as Vesper Lind, I thought there could have been a little more chemistry with Craig. Their love for each other could have been more convincing. But that’s a minor concern.

    Good action movies have to have a solid villian, and I thought Mads Mikklesens’ Le Chiffre was one of the best in a long time. (Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s villian in MI:3 was very solid; with the right part, he could be a great villian). Mikklesen is like a less cartoonish Christopher Walken. He’s somebody creepy, not in a goofy, almost comical way that Walken’s performances veer into.

    So the casting, acting and dialogue are big reasons I gave the film the score I did. I also like this fresh approach to the Bond films. The approach responds to what I often say about action films: develop the characters and story first and then worry about the action scenes and special effects. A lot of the action scenes aren’t that great and they’re not that critical to the film, but the film works because the characters and the story is so solid. This fresh approach to Bond is the thing that bumps this film to an eight for me. Some of you may not care about that, so you may not like the film as much as I did. If you like the Bond films for the cool gadgets, scantily clad bimbos and cool stunts this is not for you. But if you care about good acting, casting, dialogue and story, I think this will provide solid entertainment.

  58. Reid

    Sicko
    5/10

    Mitchell thought I would really dislike this, but I didn’t. I did not care for the oversimplification, but that may have been necessary to communicate effectively his major points. There was a good Fresh Air interview with an academic expert on healthcare and politics on Fresh Air who basically comments on the film.

    The Departed
    7/10

    Not a great film, but it was entertaining. The acting was solid, although I woudln’t say it was the best I’ve seen. (Several people hyped the acting for me.) Still the film kept my attentio.

    Stranger than Fiction
    4/10

    In a way this film reminded me of Adaptation, the cleverness and the way that the writer is creating the story as it happens. I thought there were a lot of flaws in what could have been a better film.

    First, I don’t know if Will Ferrell was the best casting choice. He’s likeable, but it seems he’s largely a waste. I kept waiting him to do his thing, but it never happened. That wouldn’t have been so bad, if what he brought to the table drew me in. It didn’t. Same with Emma Thompson (an actor I usually enjoy). Her character and story just didn’t interest me in the least. I wish the filmmakers did more to make me care. Also, I thought there would be more to her depression than just writer’s block. To me, I kept feeling like the film would have been better if Ferrell’s character/story had some link to Thompson’s block/depression.

    Next, the film was just kinda boring. I think the scenes with Dustin Hoffman were the most funny for me. (It made want to watch I Heart Huckabees again.) I liked Maggie Gyllenhaal, but she couldn’t save the film.

  59. Tony

    Any movie that makes you want to watch I Heart Huckabees can’t be too bad!

  60. Reid

    Hey Tony,

    Long time no see! I was surprised at how much I enjoyed I Heart Huckabees. I don’t know if you saw my review here.

    Have you seen any good movies or read any good books lately?

  61. Tony

    Well, I say The Simpsons this past weekend and really enjoyed it. It’s been a pretty decent movie summer, in my opinion. There’s been something good and new out every couple of weeks.

    Bookwise, I’m rereading Ender’s Game for the third or fourth time right now. Have yet to make it to Kite Runner, the new Jasper Fforde book, or the new Michael Chabon book.

  62. Reid

    I started Ender’s Shadow a few months ago, and I stopped because I wanted to re-read EG. ES seemed really pretty entertaining though. I need to get to that sometime.

    How’d you like Ratatouille?

  63. Tony

    I enjoyed Ratatouille enough that it made me want to cook more creatively more often. Granted, the impulse didn’t last very long. It was beautifully rendered, though. And while not hilarious, it was funny in a nice way. The big “flashback reveal” with the critic was great. I plan on seeing it again when it hits the dollar theater, I think. I think a lot of people overlooked the movie because it starred a rat or wasn’t an “obvious” hit like other Pixar movies.

  64. Reid

    Well, the critics I’ve read certainly didn’t overlook it. I think the metacritic score was like 96 or something. I totally didn’t get that.

  65. Reid

    Once (2007)
    Dir. John Carney
    8/10

    I would guess that Kevin, Chris, Tony, Jill and Mitchell would like this film. On other hand, I can see how expectations could get in the way. The better you can push aside you’re desire for the film to fulfill certain expectations, the better chance you’ll have at liking it. The other thing is people’s enjoyment really depends on a little subjective elements that are tough to predict. There are a lot of elements that either work for you or don’t. Having said all that, I’d recommend all of the above to see the film.

    As for Don and Joel, it’s really a tough call, although I think both my like the film, at least a little. (I don’t know Cindy’s tastes, but I’m going to guess you’ll like this.) Penny and Larri really liked the film and Grace just thought it was OK.

    Add this to Snowcake and Away From Her for my favorite films of the year.

    **
    I wish I knew nothing about the film because there were certain elements that would have been even more pleasantly surprsing. But knowing the plot won’t ruin the film. The movie is about a street corner musicians who meets an immigrant woman, who happens to like his music. They make a little music and get to know each other in the process.

    ***
    There are three main reasons I liked this film: 1.) I liked the main characters; 2.) I immediately bought and liked their chemistry; 3.) I enjoyed the music. The last item surprised me because I expected more alternative singer-songwriter material–i.e. lyrics that are about social political issues or poignant narratives. The music in the film dealt mainly with the primary theme in pop music: everything and anything revolving around romance and love (and/or sex). Like most mainstream pop tunes, the lyrics were relatively easy to understand. For the most part they didn’t intense concentration and anaylsis–in a way that I think alternative rock songs often require. I also just liked the music–the melodies, guitar rhythms and the voices of the two main singers.

    To me, if you don’t like these three components of the film, you probably won’t enjoy the film very much. These are very subjective elements and it’s hard to predict who will like them and who won’t.

    I also really liked the fact that the film interwove the relationship with the love and creation of music. The film showed the way some of the music came together and that was really cool, although I wished the film spent more time showing the process (for example, like the film Hustle and Flow).

    The plot was really simple, and I liked that. They director didn’t try to explain too much, nor did he try provide the audience with easy resolutions. By “not explaining too much” I’m thinking of the nature of the relationship. Is there just a connection because of music or is there something more? I don’t think it’s clear. I’d guess there could be something there, but the relationship is in the early stages. Perhaps, there’s a desire on both sides to explore the possibility, but they also have other relationships, too. Still, I liked the way they could appreciate their relationship and the gesture at the end with the camera pulling away from the Girl looking out the window really touched me.

  66. kevin

    hey, idiots!

    well, i’ve finally resurfaced on this blog, momentarily. i did have some time last week to see “once” w/ kelly, and liked it as well. (8/10 for Reid? high praise, indeed.) after the movie, i went and did what i often do: i re-read the review in the New Yorker, and i scan blog sites like imdb for other reactions. anyway, a couple of ideas that really added to my appreciation of the movie:

    *spoilers* :

    1. while the Girl did find Guy interesting, the romantic rapport from her end was intentionally underdeveloped to support this idea all along that she always knew her relationship w/ her husband & daughter was a priority. it reminds me of something like Christo’s Gates: it’s a rare example in our culture to have placed a thing of beauty to be appreciated for its temporary and appropriate place and time in our lives, then having it go away without overindulging in it. the restraint of it was the thing of beauty.

    2. at first, the rough and raw quality of the video bothered me, but after awhile i realized it was exactly appropriate to the folk & street music style. there’s part of it that still bothers me about the commercial aspects of the movie being a “long music video” for the Frames, but i’m willing to overlook this for the part of it being about something larger than just a band, or the music.

  67. Reid

    The thought of a “music video” never came to mind, but then I didn’t know the director and main actor are in the band, The Frames. However, I read that the actor chosen for the “guy” was not who the director thought of at first.

    Anyway, the “music video” comment has some validity. Kevin, what did you give the film?

  68. Reid

    Stardust (2007)
    4/10

    The film got a 66 from the metacritic site, so I thought this would be a decent film to try. Plus, I thought Larri would enjoy this based on the snippets of reviews I read. Surprisingly, Larri liked this less than I did (3/10)!
    Penny enjoyed the film, but I’m not sure if others would like it. It’s not worth going to unless you desperate to see a film.

    ***
    The plot of the story is solid if not basic fantasy/fairy tale stuff. A shopboy dreams of winning the hand of the beautiful girl, but must do something heroic (in this case retrieve a fallen star for her) to win her hand. The ending was pretty satisfying in the way that it wrapped everything up (at least as far as a feel-good fairy tale), but the big problem was that the film had no heart. The characters are made of cardboard and the filmmakers do little to bring them to life and interest viewers. In the case of Robert DeNiro, he manages to almost embarass himself with his performance of a gay pirate. (It’s definitely a low-point in his career.)

    I really love Claire Danes as actor, too. She has solid acting chops; she’s beautiful, but not in a glamorous movie star way, and she has a winning spirit. But even she can’t make her character shine.

    About a third of the way through the film, I started trying to figure out why I was so bored with the film, and I think it has to do with the characters–their backstory and the cliched plot. The filmmakers are not bringing anything fresh to the story here. In a way, this is a type of story that works better by reading it or hearing it; those media enlists the imagination to fill in the blanks. Here the filmmakers have to do that, and they don’t do a good job. That’s my explanation at this point anyway.

  69. kevin

    No End in Sight (2007)
    8/10

    Sober, engaging documentary of the Iraq war and specifically, almost in a historical way already, what went wrong in the first 2-3 years of the war that changed its history. This director has a deductive agenda, of course, but it’s less bombastic than the other war documentaries out there. What is most compelling is the testimony of the players, as they speak for themselves, and those who were actively out there trying to save the country from going down in flames, and being thwarted from doing so.

    There’s a strong clarity & logical structure to the film that helps build the case for its argument. Again, as with most documentaries, not without its particular viewpoint, but it’s hard to argue against much of the facts now clearly acknowleged as Administration failures. The gut punches come at the end, when pointing out the magnitude of the war’s legacy.

    The lingering feeling upon leaving the movie theater is of recognition that one’s life will somehow, in some way big or small, be ultimately affected by the decisions & blunders made halfway across the world, and that the worst of what’s been produced may yet be revealed. Yikes.

  70. Reid

    Kevin,

    Do you think the documentary is worth watching for someone who has knows a little of how the Bush administration handled the post invasion?

  71. mitchell

    Dan in Real Life starring Steve Carrell, with Juliette Binoche and Dane Cook.

    No time for a proper review, but time enough for some quick thoughts.

    Good flick. Depressing. Well acted. I like Carrell. Reid won’t like it.

    7/10 for now…maybe a, 8 after I think about it for a while.

  72. Reid

    2 Days in Paris (2007)
    7/10
    Dir. Julie Delpy
    Starring: Julie Delpy, Adam Goldberg, etc.

    I kinda wished I reviewed this because I think several idiots would have at least mildly enjoyed this one. Not a great film, but entertaining. The humor and sensibility was very similar vein of Before Sunrise/Sunset films. If I had to describe the film, I’d call it a “GenX Woody Allen” movie. There are some decent comedic moments, which kept me entertained. Even Larri laughed at points in the film that surprised. I leaned over to her at those moments and said, “Hey, if you liked those scenes, you should give Woody Allen a second shot.”

    Eastern Promises (2007)
    Dir. David Cronenberg
    6/10

    There’s an decent and entertaining storyline to this, but I didn’t think it was good as the impression I got from critics. (I also didn’t think that History of Violence was that great either.) Then again, I started appreciating more elements of the film as I thought about it.

    ***
    One of the things I realized was Cronenberg’s decision to shoot a fight scene with the main character, played by Viggo Mortensen, in the nude. It occurs in the a steam room and I didn’t realize the purpose of it (although the scene stayed with it). At least part of the reason I think Cronenberg made this decision was to indicate the violence is part of our primal nature and how that nature is still very alive in all of us–perhaps more in men. The scene is an interesting way to communicate that idea.

    At the end of the film we see a shot of Naomi Watts taking care of the baby she’s adopted and Viggo sitting in a restaurant as the new “godfather.” I felt like Cronenberg was saying that violence, ambition and work are essential driving forces in men, while the maternal instinct is the power that drives women. Regarding the latter, I don’t think this was meant as a sexist anti-feminist gesture, as Watts’ character is a strong powerful woman. What drives her character–to do some brave, even reckless things–is her maternal instinct. It’s as if Cronenberg wants to say these are primal forces that drive women and men.

    While I like the fact that Cronenberg communicates these ideas within a straightforward and decent story, it’s a little banal for me to get really excited about. I had a simliar reaction to History of Violence. Now, Crash, on the other hand, I thought was bold and way more interesting.

  73. Reid

    Across the Universe (2007)
    Dir. Julie Taymor
    5/10

    I think the basic concept of the film would interest many idiots, but, for me, the film was disappointing, which I will go into in a minute. Even though I think some of you would like it a little more than me, I don’t think you would like it so much that would warrant a strong recommendation.

    **
    The film is really a kind of long playing music video medley of Beatles tunes. The characters and story are about as well-developed as the ones that appear in narrative based music videos. Besides the music of the Beatles, the film is about the 60s.

    ***
    My impression of the film based on the trailers was that it would have cool visuals, but the story line would be uninteresting and predictable. It also looked like another in a long line of films on the 60s.

    I was right about the story line and the depiction of the 60s. But I was really disappointed by the visuals and overall direction of the film. The film really looked like it could have been made in the 70s; there was nothing really original or fresh about the look or the direction of the film. That’s what struck me most. There are some interesting shots and costumes, but Taymor brings these elements together in a clumsy way. She just doesn’t seem comfortable being a film director.

    As for the Beatles interpretation, the performances were solid, but I didn’t arrangements are really conservative (unlike the arrangement in Moulin Rouge). Basically, I thought the creative elements just weren’t very creative.

  74. Reid

    Julius Ceasar (1953)
    Dir. Joseph Mankewiscz
    Starring: John Gielgud (Cassius) James Mason (Brutus), Marlon Brando, (Marc Antony), etc.
    6/10

    There’s a lot of great lines in this play, but the score reflects more of the acting and casting. I don’t recall who played Julius Ceasar, but he didn’t have the gravitas and charisma that I would expect for Ceasar. Granted, it’s a small part, but whether we believe this was a great, admirable person will impact the power of the great funeral speech later on.

    I was curious to see Brando in a Shakespearean film, given his renown for improvising and method acting. He does a fine job here, and harnesses his ferocity in the funeral speech to good effect, not making taking it over-the-top. On the other hand, I was less impressed with Gielguld. I thought his acting was too theatrical and affected. There are other moments that I think the filmmakers didn’t really do a convincing job. For example, I was curious to see if they would be able to depict subtlety and complexity in Brutus’ character. I didn’t think Mason was convincing in the way he arrived at his decision to kill Ceasar. I also didn’t think the filmmakers captured the conflict in Brutus between his respect for Ceasar and protecting the state.

  75. Reid

    Art School Confidential (2006)
    Dir. Terry Zwigoff
    Starring: Max Minghella, John Malcovich, etc.
    4/10

    Objectively, I’d give it a 4, while my own enjoyment of the film is probably around a 5. I kept feeling that I should have laughed at more of the scenes, but I just didn’t. I think the problem stemmed from the dialogue and direction–either the way Zwigoff cut between characters and/or the takes he decided to use. The other thing was Joel Moore’s performance as the smark-aleck buddy. He just didn’t deliver the witty perceptions (e.g. when he describes the various types of art students) effectively. Someone like Jason Lee would have been good in that role (although Lee probably would have been too old). The humor was just flat, not bad, but just lacking something.

    I was also disappointed in the use of John Malkovich. He played the character, too straight and normal; he didn’t have the kooky quality that when you combine with his earnest translates to hilarity (at least for me).

    The end was a bit cynical, too, although at that point, I didn’t really care that much.

    Merchant of Venice (2004)
    Dir. Michael Radford
    Starring: Al Pacino (Shylock); Jeremy Irons (Antonio); Joseph Fiennes (Bassanio), Lynn Collins (Portia)
    7/10

    I think this was a solid adaptation, although my own personal enjoyment was probably around a 6. As a film by itself, I don’t know I’d probably give it a 6. The play in general is not something I’d strongly recommend to a lot of people. However, there is some interesting layers in the film. Specifically, while the film is considered a comedy, the filmmakers add some dark elements make determing the tone of the film difficult. Shylock is supposed to be the villian, but we can’t help but sympathize with him–particularly in that great crie de coeur about revenge and oppression against Jews.

    The other interesting twist (well, I don’t know if it’s a twist or the standard interpretation) is portraying Antonio as a homosexual in love with Bassanio. This slant explains his melancholy in the opening scene, which I never really got from just reading the play.

    Finally, I thought the end with Jessica looking longingly/guitily? at the lake and her father’s ring was an interesting twist. I’m not sure what my take is on that. Perhaps, it’s to show that we should be more sympathetic to Shylock.

  76. Reid

    The Science of Sleep (2006)
    Dir. Michel Gondry
    Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal (Stephane Miroux), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Stephanie), Alain Chabat (Guy), etc.
    7/10

    I’d be curious to see what Mitchell thought of this, as the characters have qualities that Mitchell would find very appealing. I think Kevin might also enjoy this. I could see Penny at least mildy enjoying this. I think Tony saw this, but didn’t care for it. Larri probably wouldn’t care for this.

    ***
    Gondry is the one that directed, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and I associate him with films by Charlie Kaufmann and Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich and Adaptation). I’m not a really big fan of those films, as I find them really clever and original in concept, but not really satisfying in overall execution–as if the films are trying to stand on cleverness alone. But for some reason, I was in the mood to see that type of quirkly, ultra-clever type of film for some reason. (The previews of Bernal with the oversized hands appealed to me.)

    Initially the film felt like it would meet my expectations–the creative sequences felt self-serving, not advancing or enhancing the overall film–, but after a while I began accepting these moments. For whatever reason, I just appreciated the look and execution of these sequences. What also helped was that I gradually became interested and liked the characters, particularly Stephane, Stephanie and Guy. I cared about the film’s main story of Stephane and Stephanie being attracted to each other, but not being able to connect because of their insecurities–when one is ready to risk vulnerability, the other is not–and so they’re never quite able to connect.

    To me, the acting really made this appealing to watch. I think it was a hard film to both act in and direct, just because the film moves between dream sequences and reality so often. The scenes and dialogue that Gondry uses to depict the psychological and emotional states made it a challenge, too. (I can think of an example right now.) I especially liked Gainsbourg. Her performance was so convincing and real to me–her shyness and moments when she’s more expressive. She’s an attractive actor, but also has some features (her lower jaw) give her a odd look and, maybe, a plain look. (I liked that she didn’t mind looking schlepy in this.) I want to see her in more films.

    Garcia was also good in this. I liked both his comedic and dramatic moments in the film. (One moment I liked: Stepanie says over the phone, “You shouldn’t cry. Women don’t like it when men cry.” And he replies, “I know it sucks,” with a whimper, weepy voice.) Alain Chabat, as the obnoxious co-worker, was also enjoyable. (He had everything the side-kick in Art School Confidential did not.)

    I guess, all in all, the creative moments in the film (the studio scene representing his mental activity) were both appealing and relevant to the overall story of the film for me, and that’s what made me enjoy this. It’s a film that’s very hard to judge because I can easily understand people liking it or hating it. It’s the type of movie that has cult quality to it.

    Finally, I just want to say that I loved the scene where they’re in the cat outfits singing the song, “Rescue Me.” Garcia looks like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, and just his reaction–patting himself all over and looking shocked, when the outfit appears on him is hilarious, as is seeing him sitting plainly the drums with Alain Chabat playing the upright bass with a kind of deadpan look. I had to watch that scene several times, and it made me laugh everytime. Incidently, the song was written by a lady (kind of goofy) who tries to rescue cats, and that’s what the song is really about. (There’s a short segment in the dvd extras that has the feel of the “Pets or Meat” segmen in Roger and Me.)

    Three Times (2005)
    Hsiao-Hsien Hou
    Starring: Qi Shou, Chen Chang
    7/10

    Kevin did you see this? I’m not sure if you’re going to like this, but I’m pretty sure the style and approach is something that will appeal to you a lot. I recommend it. I really liked the direction, although I have to say that there were a lot of distractions while watching this, so I probably missed imortant details and didn’t get to fully digest the film. It’s hard to say how much other idiots would like this, but some of you would be interested in elements of it, but many others would not be interested at all.

    ***
    The film is made up of three different vignettes, each taking place at a different time period in China (1911, 1966 and 2005). What struck me was restraint in filmmaking creating a minimalist–or maybe a better word is reductionist–film. The vignettes reminded me of films like F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise or Wong-kar Wai’s films that seem to focus on a particular universal situations (e.g. husband and wife fighting and making up), except Hou leaches out most of the dramatic situations, leaving behind very quiet and mundane moments. It almost seems as if Hao is trying to find the most mundane and simple moments to convey universal situations and heartful emotions. However, it’s not just the situations that are mundane, but there’s a severe restraint and austerity to the acting as well. Most of the times the actors have neutral expressions and body language. Every so often subtle expressions or simple gestures appear, the effect can be quietly moving. (For example, the couple holding hands in the first vignette.) These moments before or after more dramatic ones can be really effective because they leave the powerful moments for the viewer to imagine. When it works, it can be haunting and powerful.

    To the most effective was the first vignette entitled, “A Time for Love.” I probably liked it the most because I understood it the best. I also loved composition and cinetmatography, particularly the Ozu-influenced repeated shot of the pool table and outside entrance.

    Hou seemed to use the other vignettes to make sociological or cultural comment beyond depicting certain emotions or telling a story, and I think that’s partly why I didn’t appreciate them. (The first story also has a politics/history in the background, as the male character is heading off to war, but I could appreciate the story without knowing very much about those details.) Actually, the characters’ stories seem to move in parallel with the historico-politico situation of the time they occur.

    The second story, “A Time for Freedom” seems to be about the “slavery” of the female character and the China being under Japanese power. I think the tragedy was supposed to lie in the fact that the man grieves over China’s lack of indepedence, while failing to feel anything for the woman’s. Still, that seems a little simplistic and unsatsifying.

    The third story, “A Time for Youth” has the feeling of a moral lesson, like a slight chastisement of Westernization/modernation of contemporary China? That sounds dumb. I should watch this film and Hou’s other films.

    Upcoming reviews: Sixteen Candles and Tarnation

  77. Reid

    Tarnation (2003)
    Dir. Jonathan Caouette
    4/10

    I don’t really know of other idiots would like this film or not. I wouldn’t really recommend it to anyone.

    **
    The film is about Jonathan Caouette, his mother and her parents that raised Jonathan. Caouette utilizes family films and photos to a assemble a film about his family–a dysfunctional one that is sad and at times creepy (the grandmother is particularly freaky looking). If you liked Crumb, you’d be interested in this. Or if you like underground art film techniques utilized in a documentary, you would be interested in this.

    ***
    I didn’t care for this film, not because it was a bad film–it is a unique and creative way of making a documentary/memoir–but because I didn’t really care for the subject matter. But that’s not saying much as most people wouldn’t care for the subject matter. At the risk of sounding callus, I’m not interested in a film who’s main objective is chronicling a dysfunctional family-especially if the film doesn’t seem to reveal any insights or interesting people. That’s how I felt about the film, Crumb.

    But the film is interesting for the way it utilizes underground art film techniques to tell the story of this family. It opened my mind up to different possibilities of making a documentary. (Another documentary that was interesting stylistically is The Kid Stays in the Pictures.)

  78. Reid

    Killer of Sheep (1977)
    Dir. Charles Burnett
    Starring: Henry G. Sanders, Kaycee Moore
    8/10
    86 minutes

    This is one of those films I never heard of before reading 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. I don’t know if it’s something you must see, but I’m not going to argue too strongly. This is a unique film on what I consider a well-worn subject–or at least I’m not very interested. My rating reflects more of my objective assessment of the film, rather than my enjoyment. (More later.) I think the film is definitely worth watching for people who are open to non-mainstream films. (You know who you are.) Out of everyone I would recommend this film the most strongly to Kevin, as if nothing else the approach and visuals of the film would really appeal to him. Next, I would be the fairly confident that Penny would be glad to have seen this (probably Grace, too, although I don’t know how much she’d enjoy it.)

    **
    The film is about an African-American family and the lower-class environment that they live in. Basically, we’re talking a ghetto film, but one superior to anything else like it (at least in terms of the artistry). Think of the TV show Good Times, with a more sublime aesthetic–both in the simple mundane situations as well as the composition, cinematography (black and white) and editing. The other films that come to mind are John Cassavetes’ Shadows–for its humanity and realism of its African-American characters–and Luis Bunuel’s Los Olividados for its realistic and more subdued version (in contrast to films like City of God or Boyz in the Hood which are more blatantly brutal and dramatic) of life of poverty. This is a must for viewers interested in African-American films (so much better than anything I’ve seen by Spike Lee) or ghetto life.

    ***
    In many ways the characters, situation and community are cliches. We see the crime, the squalid dwellings, depressed environment, limited economic opportunities, but what sets this film apart is the artistry in this film. Let me expand on that.

    First, Burnett chooses to focus on mundane situations. We don’t see dramatic displays of violence or emotions, nor is there a strong dramatic narrative that pulls every thing together. The film has a more slice-of-life, cinema verite sensibility. But it’s precisely the simplicity and quiet nature of many of the scenes that give the film its artistic power. The one that comes stands out for me is the final scene with Stan and his wife sitting on the couch. With small gestures and subtle facial expressions (Stan expressing physical affection and hint of happiness that was absent throughout the entire film), Burnett is able to convey a sense of optimism in a way that’s believeable and not cheesy. It’s the quietness and subtlety that make it work. A more dramatic display of emotions may have awakened the audience’s skepticism. In addition, since the filmmakers don’t employ a dramatic narrative to justify the ending, leaving a possible source of cynicism out. (There are filmmakers that are skilled at doing that. I think of Kore-eda, Michael Haneke, Ki-duk Kim, Lynne Littman’s Testament and strangely enough Hsiao-hsien Huo–the director of the film Three Lives, a film with a very similar, albeit more austere approach, that I recently watched.)

    What’s refreshing is the way Burnett is able to convey the nature of the African-American experience without being preachy or heavy-handed. The characters maintain their humanity and avoid being cardboard characters we so often see in this film.

    Second, I think the compositions, cinematography, editing and use of music give this film an artistry often lacking in other films of the same type. I like the scene where Stan and his wife are slow dancing in the dark. There is light coming in from the outside window and as they slowly turn, Stan’s wife moves closer; we only see glimpses of her facial expressions in shadows, but we see her yearning in her arms slowly caressing and pulling her toward her. Stan continues dancing a wooden fashion. He’s a man worn out–both physically and spiritually. Burnett uses Dinah Washington’s, “This Bitter Earth” as an effective complement. Burnett uses the song again at the end with a more positive spin.

    This may be the best film I’ve seen on African-American experience–certainly one of the most successfullly artistic.

  79. Reid

    Sixteen Candles (1984)
    Dir. John Hughes
    Starring: Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, etc.
    3/10

    I was suprised at the start of the movie as I didn’t feel like the movie was totally inane. I liked Molly Ringwald’s acting in this–her acting as a teenager and some of the other teenager felt real. Then it just slowly got worse, specifically the totally implausibility of the senior stud going for Ringwald’s character and his popular girlfriend eventually liking the Freshmen nerd (Hall).

    But I was shocked by Gedde Watanabe’s character, Long Duck Dong. It was like Mickey Rooney’s character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s all over again. I didn’t realize how ugly the portrayal was.

  80. Reid

    Klute (1971)
    Dir. Alan Pakula
    Starring: Jane Fonda (Bree Daniels), Donald Sutherland (John Klute), etc.
    6/10

    I think many idiots would find this entertaing on some level; some of you may really like certain aspects (more later).

    **
    The film is about a detective, John Klute (Sutherland) looking for a close friend who has been missing. The big lead he has is a call girl, Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda) who may have known this missing person, a surprise to many since the man seemed happily married. Along the way, we see the seedy underworld of drugs and prostitutes. Is the friend alive? Was there foul play? What was Bree Daniels’ connection to all of this? Watch the film and you’ll find out.

    The film is an OK thriller, but it’s a really a character study of Bree Daniels–revealed through a relationship with Klute. (“Bree” would have been a more accurate title of the film.) Many criitics highly regarded her performance, and this is what some of you may really get into.

    ***
    So what did I think of Fonda’s Oscar winning performance? I thought her performance was OK. What took away from it, imo, was that I noticed her acting. The specific scenes are thinking of are the ones where she’s with her psychiarist. Maybe this was partly due to the writing: the dialogue was filled with 70’s slang, that seemed corny and even false (I just had a hard time believing real people actually spoke that way) and the notion of exploring a call girl and the transformation from being emotionally detached to falling in love seemed a bit contrived.

    I also didn’t care much for Charles Cioffi as the villian. He just didn’t seem menacing enough. My dissatisfcation may also stem from the climactic scene–where Cioffi’s character confronts Fonda’s and Sutherland comes in to save the day. I felt indifferent to what was going on.

    Having said all that, my criticisms above didn’t take too much away from watching the film with interest, specifically the watching the evolution of Bree Daniels and her relationship with Klute. I also thought the filmmakers didn’t good job creating suspense and mystery. From the git-go, we learn about this missing man, and I wanted to know what happened to him. The use of shadows and camera angles–creating a sense that someone is watching Bree–was effective. For the most part I found the development of the relationship between Bree and Klute, starting off with the characters at arm’s length and slowing evolving into an emotional relationship, interesting to watch. Klute is a straight-laced (Bree refers to him as “square” at one point) detective, while Bree is not. There are some false steps, or at least steps that aren’t entirely convincing, but not so much to competely ruin my interest.

  81. Reid

    I Am Legend (2007)
    6/10

    A decent popcorn film. The first half was good, but I was disappointed by the second half, although not because of anything that insulted my intelligence or was too cliched.

    When the Levees Broke (2003)
    Dir. Spike Lee
    4/10

    This is the documentary about the damage of Hurricane Katrina on the city of New Orleans. Using primarilyanecdotes from residents who lived through the event, Lee captures what it was like on the ground. There are some compelling stories, but, personally, what I was looking for was an explanation (or at least at a serious attempt) to answer why the levees were not made stronger and why the response to help victims were so slow. He barely scratches the surface of these questions in the video.

    Lee throws out the race explanation, but I wish he would have explored other possible explanations like incompetance of the government, particularly with the way administrative structure of Homeland Security could have caused delays.

    There’s also a point in the film where interviewees criticize Barbara Bush for some of the comments she made–something about some of the New Orleanians liking staying in Houston because they had more than they ever had before or something to that effect. However, later some of the interviewees seem to confirm that statement when they talk about the issue of people wanting to return. I believe at least one person comments that they have better opportunities and conditions elsewhere. I don’t know if Lee intentionally put this in to give balance or not.

  82. Reid

    Half-Nelson (2006)
    Dir. Ryan Fleck
    Starring: Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps, etc.
    7/10

    Most of you would think this is a least an OK film, I would guess. I’d recommend this to Mitchell, not necessarily because he’d like this, but because of the genre.

    **
    I think I’m burned out on the whole teacher movie genre–a la Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, etc.–especially the white teacher that “saves” inner city kids. If you’re like me, Half-Nelson might be for you. Yes, the film is about a white teacher working with inner city kids, and, yes, this teacher has a good rapport with the kids, but that’s where the similiarity to other films in the genre stops.

    The acting is fine and the characters, specifically Ryan Gosling as the teacher, Dan Dunne, and Shareeka Epps, as Drey, are instantly likeable. What’s interesting in this film is the flaws in the teacher.

    However, like many other independent films, there are flaws that don’t make it totally satisfying. But like many independent films, I find it worth watching because the filmmakers are not simply following a formula for commercial reasons.

  83. Reid

    Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971)
    Dir. Melvin Van Peebles
    97 minutes
    6/10

    From 1001 movies book. I can’t imagine any of you really enjoying this film, but many of you would find some of it interesting. It’s not likely that you’ve seen another film like it, but that’s not necessarily a reason to see it. I didn’t really enjoy watching the film and, even objectively, I’d have to say it was around a 3. But the spirit and inviduality of the film bumps it up to a six.

    **
    Melvin Van Peebles is the father of Mario Van Peebles, and as he explains in an interview, the film came about as a result of his frustration with “the Man;” he wanted to find a way to get the “Man out of his ass,” and this film was his answer–despite not having any money or knowing little to nothing about making a film. You gotta love that (and, indeed, it probably added at least a point to my rating).

    The film is about a black sex performer who beats up some cops after witnessing them beat up another black man. The cops are after him and he’s running away. About a third of the film is comprised of various footage of the main character running–not necessarily being chased by anyone specifically; just scenes of him running. If that sounds boring, it is. There are other sequences that are pornographic, which brings me back to the part about the film being a way to get back at the “Man.” Besides the several scenes where the lead character is beating up white cops, I’m not entirely sure how the film gets back at the “Man.” Maybe it’s because I’m not black.

    The filmmaking is raw, definitely B-quality, which is generally a bad thing, at least for me. The good thing is that the film exhibits a sense of originality and freedom. For example, there’s a scene of a man sitting on the toliet; it’s a frontal shot; we hear “noises” and see him wipe himself. Not a bad thing, not really crucial to the film (not really graphic, btw), but it was refreshing, as it were. But where the originality can be seen in the way the film goes beyond any category–it’s a porn and social commentary film–and that probably doesn’t capture everything about it.

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