Recent Movies: 2008 Edition

Discuss the movies you’ve seen in 2008.

173 Responses to “Recent Movies: 2008 Edition”


  1. Reid

    Atonement (2007)
    Dir. Joe Wright
    130 minutes
    6/10

    I think most idiots would enjoy the film (6 or higher).

    ***(spoilers)
    The movie is an adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel of the same title. I have a hard time judging the film independently of the novel, so I guess most of the review will refer back to the book. First of all, the film is a faithful adapation of the novel, and Wright does well at tightening up the book by cutting away unimportant elements of the novel (one of the head servants as one example).

    Having said that, this is not a book that I would have been a great candidate for a film adaptation. So many of the good parts of the story deal with internal workings of the characters–Briony’s insights about writing; the description of the library scene (boring and disappoiting in the film); the mental “tendrils” of Mrs. Tallis. I could go on.

    But let me try and judge the film independently of novel. I don’t know if Robbie and Cee’s relationship would really engage viewers, although there are some nice moments, specifically the one in the cafe. (McAvoy is good in this; he reminds me of a young Russell Crowe, both in terms of his looks and his acting ability.) If the viewer is not really into the relationship, than enjoying the film is pretty difficult.

    On a technical side, there is one long single take shot that reminded me of the one in Children of Men, although maybe not as difficult. It’s impressive, but a part of me feels like it was a little wasted. The shot sets up the situation of the beach at Dunkirk–a scene even in the novel which I didn’t think was that crucial to the story.

  2. Reid

    The Marriage of Maria von Braun (1979)
    6/10
    and
    Lola (1981)
    6/10
    Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder

    I can’t see many idiots getting really excited about these films. If you haven’t seen a Fassbinder film, I’d recommend starting at Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. Fox and His Friends is also very good, especially for Fassbinder’s acting.

    **
    Both films are about women who sacrifice any kind of meaningful relationship for material gain. In the first film, Maria is waiting for her husband to return from the war. (He’s a German officer in WWII.) While waiting, she has a series of relationships, one heartfelt, the other purely mercenary, to purchase a home and material wealth when her husband returns.

    In the second film, Lola is a stripper who has to make a decision between a relationship between a man who can give her a normal life or move up in the ranks of her world. Recommended to those really into Fassbinder or post-WWII Germany.

    ***
    Both films are the first two parts of the BRD trilogy (whatever that means). The films seem to confirm what I’ve read about them–namely, that the main characters represent the post-war Germany, largely a critique (or at least ambivalence) on the “economic miracle.” That critique is largely shown in the cost–usually a loss of humanity. That’s rather simplistic, but that’s what I got out the film (although maybe that indicates more of a failing on my part rather than the film’s.)

    As in other Fassbinder films, I appreciate the juxtaposition of melodrama and social commentary, but I’m not knowledgeable or very interested in post-WWII Germany, so I didn’t get into the films that much. They were well-made and kept my attention.

  3. Tony

    I caught Juno this weekend down at the Cannery. It was one of those movies that I’ve been interested in but never heard another friend say that they wanted to see it. My students have talked about it quite a bit recently, so I thought I’d give it a try.

    The movie is good. Very smartly written- in fact, sometimes Juno comes across as being too sarcastic and too witty, really. The boyfriend, played by Michael Cera, doesn’t do very much in the movie, which was strange to me since he gets second-to-top billing. Still, everyone in the movie plays their role well, especially Jennifer Garner, who does a much better job at dramatic here than she did in Catch and Release. Ellen Page, of course, is spot on as well.

    There’s a lot to this movie, really. More than just teenage sex and abortion. The last big conversation between Juno and her dad is quite amazing, and almost had me going to see the movie again the next day.

  4. Reid

    If I see it, I’ll respond. I was thinking about waiting until it came out on dvd as it looks like a film that won’t lose much on the small screen.

    Story of Women (1988)
    Dir. Claude Chabol
    Starring: Isabelle Huppert
    8/10

    There’s a lot of film reviews I need to catch up on, but I want to complete this one because it is a film that I would recommend–especially Penny and Grace. This would be a good film to talk about afterward. In the next section, I’ll give a little more specifics without giving away spoilers.

    **
    There are some films where the main character is so interesting that the depiction of the character is the story. That’s true of this film. Isabelle Huppert, who plays the lead character, gives one of the best performances I’ve seen. If you’re curious about in seeing the all-time best performances, just stop reading and go see the film.

    The plot of the film involves a woman, Marie (Huppert), and her children in occupied France during WWII. The husband is off at war, and the woman resorts to questionable means of making money. What makes this movie so interesting is the complexity of the character created by the filmmakers. (More later). If you’ve seen the film Vera Drake and liked it, I’d recommend seeing this. Imelda Staunton gives a good performance in that film, but Huppert’s performance the character created by her and Chabrol is superior in terms of complexity and richness.

    ***
    As I was watching the film, several adjectives came to mind to describe Marie–innocent, childlike, narcissistic, amoral, cold, mentally retarded–but none of them seemed to fit just right. She doesn’t seem well-educated or very intelligent at times. (She has trouble spelling, and has difficulty helping her children, 4-10 years old, in their school work.) On the other hand, she displays a level of shrewdness in terms of money-making (e.g. lending out rooms to prostitutes).

    This is the main character that Chabrol uses to explore social issues like abortion, specifically, and attitudes of social liberals and conservatives in general. What’s so good is the way Chabrol avoids portraying characters and situations in black-and-white terms. Marie is someone that is not easy to love or simply despise (but that would also depend on your position on these social issues.) She’s very cold and insensitive to her son. For example, she remarks that her daughter is the perfect one in front of her son. She also spends more time with the daughter. On the other hand, she doesn’t a very responsible parent to both children, in one scene sending them out to play in the rain while she goes out to have fun.

    But there’s a key scene that would be interesting to observe the reactions from viewers. This is the scene where a lady visits Marie because her sister died from an abortion performed by Marie–leading to the suicide of the father and several children without parents. However, the lady comes not to condemn Marie, but to pay her the money still owed to her. Marie accepts the money without remorse and returns to frolick with a lover (She’s married.) in another room. The lady also happens to be religious and she displays a mixture of judgment and pity on Marie.

    What makes this scene (and others like it in the film) is the way Maria seems totally unaware of how inappropriate her reaction is. She is without remorse and doesn’t seem to be aware that she should feel any. It’s a kind of childlike innocence that moves into an amorality. But “childlike innocence” doesn’t seem to be an apt description as most children have a pretty strong sense of right or wrong at least at a certain age. Huppert performance is believeable and convincing, which is something.

    Another aspect of the film that I would find interesting is different viewers’ reactions to the way Marie treats her husband. On one level, she is pretty callous and cruel to her husband. On the other hand, one could argue that she doesn’t love her husband so she doesn’t have to give in to his sexual needs. Yet, she could be a little more sensitive as well. (At one point she goes so far as asking a hired housemaid to sleep with her husband, arranging to pay the maid for this.) The husband, on the other hand, allows himself to be treated by Marie this way, lacking the backbone and self-respect to tell Marie off or simply leave the relationship.

    There’s also some historical context that I’m not sure I fully appreciate, specifcally the fact that the French government felt bad about their cowardice towards the Germans and took this out on sentencing Maria to death (because of her abortions and renting rooms to prostitutes).

  5. Reid

    Juno (2007)
    Dir. Jason Reitman
    6/10

    Before I go into comments and responses to Tony, I’ll just say that most idiots would probably enjoy this more than me–especially Chris; I’d recommend this film to him. You can wait to see it on dvd, or if you really want to go the movies this is not a bad choice.

    ***
    Tony mentioned that the Juno is almost too sarcastic and witty, and I agree. Her dialogue felt like a team of sitcom gag writers were behind it, and it interfered with the more serious moments in the film. Like characters in a sitcom, she seemed primarily seemed a vehicle for smart ass dialogue, rather than having more dimensions of a real life character. Or perhaps the problem was with actor, Ellen Page, who played Juno. Her moments of vulnerability and humanity didn’t convince me. She had the verve and cocksure attitude to deliver the funny lines, but not the insecurity or vulnerability of the more poignant moments, like say Thora Birch’s perofrmance as Enid in Ghostworld.

    That’s a shame as their are some good dramatic moments in the film. I agree with Tony’s comment about Jennifer Garner, but I want to also mention Jason Bateman. They’re nothing flashy about the acting her, nor are their characters exceptionally interesting. They’re normal people and Bateman and Garner make them real. I also appreciated the subtlety in the acting and directing. When asked if he’s ready to be a father, Bateman’s reaction suggests that he’s not. The scene where the couple is painting the nursery also demonstrates their estrangement.

    I liked the fact that the filmmakes straddled the line between witty comedy and a more serious drama, but, ultimately, it had uneven results. If the filmmakers would have toned down the Juno’s dialogue, they helped the dramatic moments without losing the comedic ones. By the way, I found the dialogue funny in the beginning of the film, but it grew tiresome, and I rarely laughed.

    Oh, one other thing. I really liked the soundtrack. It was amusing and totally fit the mood of the film.

  6. Reid

    Gabbeh (1996)
    Dir. Mohsen Makhmalbaf
    75 minutes
    8/10

    I think Kevin would like this. But Penny and Grace would also find it interesting. I really enjoyed the film.

    **
    From what I understand a gabbeh is a kind of woven rug that has human figures woven into ostenbily capturing an actual moment (like a celebration). There’s a sense that gabbeh’s tell a story. In the film an old woman and man are washing their gabbeh and listen to a young woman recount her woes about not being able to marry the man she loves.

    The film has a primitive myth-like quality told through the use of low-tech cinematic effects. creating really cool images and cinematic moments. It reminded me of early filmmakers like F.W. Murnau and Jean Vigo. If you’re tired of the same-old-same-old and are open-minded check out this film.

    ***
    I liked the images such as the water running over the gabbeh or the gabbeh floating in the river. I also liked the way the director used color and low-tech effects as in the scene where the uncle teaching kids the different colors and “grabbing” the colors from various locations. It reminded me of something I’d see on Sesame Street or other children’s films from the late 60s, early 70s.

    The other thing I liked was the freedom the director had with characters and storytelling. The gabbeh was seen as a girl (a girl who is also helping wash the gabbeh). The way the director showed the recollection of time was also interesting.

  7. Tony

    Cloverfield: everything that you expect only less. Or something like that.

    Caught the new “JJ Abrams” movie this afternoon. My initial thought was something like: Lost better have a better ending than this. It’s the kind of movie that ends in a way that fits but that you won’t necessarily like.

    Don’t want to give too much away. I will say that I thought the acting was spot-on, especially for a cast of new-comers. The shaky camerawork was frustrating, but there were enough moments of solid shooting that it evened itself out. The “monster” works well.

    I guess the thing is that, like another movie that I vaguely remember (I think it was a war movie), the fact that you see things from one perspective is frustrating because you don’t get all of the information that you want.

    The movie is short, and it certainly feels like it in the end. The credits don’t add anything except some actual monster-movie soundtrack music.

    There’s one genius touch that the movie has, and that has to do with the videotape/disc used in the camera in the first place. It adds some nice context to things.

    How far will you go to tell the one you love how you feel?

  8. Reid

    I haven’t read your review, Tony, but I want to know if the jerky camera was a bit much.

  9. Reid

    Cloverfield (2008)
    84 minutes
    4/10

    The film kept my attention although at almost no time did it elicit the type of emotions that it probably wanted to. It’s not that great of a film, and I’ll go into more of that later. I think other idiots will think it’s OK, but not something that I would rush out to see.

    ***
    I liked the idea of shooting the movie through the perspective of a hand-held camera. Yes, Blair Witch Project already did that, but I thought it was a nice touch in more “standard” feature film. I could see the jerkiness causing some to have problems, but it was not as bad as Blair Witch imo.

    The beginning of the film is pretty cool if you didn’t know it was a monster film. The filmmakers do a decent job of building up the characters and story of what looks to be a drama/romance about 20-somethings.

    Here’s what ruined the film for me:

    1. The monster looked stupid. You can make a good monster film if you can’t take the monster seriously. The tentacles are the first thing you see and they didn’t look right. The spindly legs and beady eyes didn’t help either. Also, the monster’s roar sounded too much like Godzilla, which doesn’t have a strong association with terror for me;

    2. Hud’s “comedy”, really stupid (almost along the lines of an idiot in the sit-coms) weakened the scarier factor. His comments are dumb, and he’s totally unconvincing as someone who is afraid. I also didn’t buy the fact that the other characters would follow the main character to find his girlfriend, but I could lived with that;

    3. The situations the characters faced weren’t that interesting or thrilling. The subway scene and rescuing the girlfriend from the building were all not very exciting, imo.

  10. Reid

    No Country for Old Men (2007)
    Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
    Starring: Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, etc.
    7/10

    I thought this was a good movie, and I enjoyed it. It may even be a great movie, but I’m not at the point where I can say with confidence. I haven’t seen all of the Coen Brothers’ films, but this could be one of the best, or at least one of my favorites. Penny said she liked this; Grace, Don and Joel gave me a lukewarm response. For the other idiots, I would say it is worth seeing. I think most of the film will engage the rest of you, even if you don’t feel completely satisfied in the end.

    **
    The film is about a ruthless killer (Javier Bardem) hunting down a man who has found and decided to steal some drug money. At the same time, the sheriff is trying to track down the man who stole the money. That may not seem that interesting, but the Coen brothers craft at structuring the escape and pursuit is top-notch. What mainstream viewers may not like is the injection of philosophical musings and even a mystical element. Thing of the way High Plains Drifter goes beyond a mainstream Western, and you get sort of similar vibe in this film.

    ***(spoilers)
    As mentioned above the filmmaking of Brolin fleeing his pursuers is really top notch. From the moment he appears on the screen, the filmmakers had me hooked. One of the things that is great about this is that the Coen’s have a knowledge of what has happened in these type of movie situations in the past, and they avoid expectations; I found very difficult to predict where the film would lead.

    There’s also some good suspenseful scenes and, for the most part, satisfying ways the hero gets out of them. I liked the way Brolin’s character hides the money and gets it out of the first motel. Another detail I appreciated was the scene where Brolin tries to drive a truck from the passenger side. Ususally in these type of movies, the filmmakers allow the character to do this successfully, which is not very realistic. I like that the Coens allow for realism and still manage to get the hero out of the situation.

    Now, if the film were mainly about this chase and a showdown between Brolin and Bardem’s character that would have been a more mainstream approach (and a part of me would have wanted to see that film), but that’s really not what the Coens are interested in. (Here’s where they could lose out of typical fans of action/thrillers.)

    They seem interested, instead, in evil and it’s senseless manifestations that result in a kind of horror and chaos in the world. Tommy Lee’s sheriff is the world-weary man who observes and comments on this. Right now, a part of me feels like these parts of the film feel tacked on to the main story (i.e. the chase), but I would need to analyze some key scenes particularly towards the end: what was the significance of the sheriff’s conversation with characters at the end, specifically the the other law enforcement officer near the end of the film and his uncle(?). I also need to figure out the significance of the sheriff’s dreams–one about losing money that he was given (I think) and the other about he and his dad riding on horses with his dad carrying a horn of fire into the darkness. To me, the latter was meant as a sign of hope in the darkness of the world.

    Back to the conversations. The nature of the conversations mostly seemed to deal with the insanity and violence in the world. The sheriff just didn’t want any part of it–which was one of the reasons why he was retiring.

    Also in the beginning of the film, the sheriff talks a boy who killed his girlfriend, and how he wanted to understand that. He didn’t, but he just had to be a part of the world, or something to that effect. At this point, these scenes signify that Tommy Lee (and the filmmakers perhaps) don’t really know the reason for violence and chaos in the world; they just know it seems to be an essential and inexplicable part of it (Bardem’s seems indestructible.)

    What the filmmakers say about violence/destruction perhaps may be the most interesting. What they seem to say is that there is such a thing as karma–that your actions have consequenes; “those who live by the sword die by the sword” and probably get other innocent people killed in the process (Llewellyn’s wife). Perhaps, that’s not right, since some Bardem kills some innocent people that have nothing to do with the drug money–the guy who gets pulled over; the hotel attendant.

    So maybe the filmmakers are saying that this force of violence happens and it’s not something we can understand, reason or negotiate with (“You don’t have to do this.”) The best explanation for the reason this force acts is chance. That’s not very satisfying treatment of these themes, if that, indeed, is all there is to it.

    But Bardem turns in a good performance as Chiguur, who has that mystical quailty similar to Eastwood’s character in High Plains Drifter.

    Oh, one other scene that I have to evaluate–the scene where the sheriff goes into the room with Chiguur (the grim reaper?) hiding behind the door. There’s the light streaming through the shot out lock and there’s Chiguur hiding behind the door with a shaft of light framing him. The sherrif sense the danger and cautiously enters in and eventually sits down on the bed. Nothing happens to him. I need to figure out the significance of that scene, too.

  11. Reid

    Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
    Dir. Tim Burton
    Starring: Johnny Depp, Helen Bonhan-Carter, etc.
    4/10

    I think Grace said this was OK. The more I think about the film, the more I feel like giving it a 3. But the film did manage to keep my attention and the look (that dark look that Burton is good at) was well-done. I’m go into more comments later. As to whether other idiots would like this, there are some subjective factors that are hard to determine, but I don’t think I could recommend this to any of the idiots.

    **
    The film is based on the Stephen Sondheim musical about a wrongly imprisioned barber that returns to seek revenge. It’s equal parts musical and equal parts horror film. I was very surprised by the amount of spilt blood and scenes of graphic violence (i.e. seeing throats slit and seeing bodies landing on their heads and crumpling to the ground). It felt gratuitious to me.

    ***
    My feelings about this film can be summed up by saying I didn’t like the story or the characters. (That’ll do it.) I have a hard time imagining anyone really getting into the story or plot, particularly the way the story resolves itself. The revenge seems so anti-climatic; ditto what happens to Sweeney Todd. In a way, I didn’t really care for or sympathize with him, which took away any chance of me enjoying this as a tragedy. When I think about the characters are pretty one-dimensional.

    The story also leaves the plight of two characters–Sweeney’s daughter and the boy who falls in love with her–unresolved. Sweeney’s meeting with her seems rather pointless, too. The dramatic arc suggests some resolution between the boy and the girl and Todd and the girl. I wonder if the film version is shorter or changed.

    I also didn’t get into the music. (I had a really hard time understanding the lyrics in some of the songs, too.) There were some amusing numbers (like the song about how certain people will taste as meat pies) but, overall, the tunes didn’t instantly grab me stick with me. It’s not that the music was bad or the singing–I liked Depp’s singing (A.O. Scott described it having a rock n’ roll quality, and I agree) and everyone else was decent.

    The look of the film was probably my favorite part–everything from the lighting to the gothic make-up and costumes and the dark set pieces. It’s typical Burton, and I thought it was well-done and well-suited for the film.

    While watching the film, the thought occurred to me that Sondheim and whoever else made the musical made it on a dare that the story couldn’t be made into a successful musical–that’s how bad and unsuitable the story seems to me to be. If that’s the case, then, in that regard, I think the musical is a kind of victory; otherwise, I didn’t care for it.

  12. Reid

    The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
    Dir. Julian Schnabel
    6/10

    This had one of the highest metacritic scores (92) of last year. Personally, I didn’t care for it, although I didn’t think it was a bad film. My enjoyment of the film was probably a 5, but the direction is solid, so I gvve it a 6. I’m not sure how others would like it, but I’m glad Larri didn’t go with me. (She saw The Bucket List, which she gave a 9/10.) If you’re undecided, I’m going to describe the plot (which won’t take too much away from the film) and make comparisons to other films/stories.

    **
    The film is about a man waking up from a 3 week coma. The thing is he’s paralyzed from the neck down. Most of the film is told from that man’s perspective. It’s based on a true story and in that way it is similar to other films like My Left Foot–stories about real people who made a life out of extremely difficult situations.

    ***
    Initially, I was intrigued by the story, particularly the specific tack the director seemed to choose, namely telling the story strictly from the point of view of the disabled man, Jean-Dominique or “Jean-Do.” When Jean-Do cries, the camera lense gets blurry; when characters speak outside of his vision, since Jean-Do can’t move his head, the characters disappear off-screen. The other thing is that we hear narration from Jean-Do that sounds completely normal. You see, his mind works perfectly, it’s just his body that’s completely disabled. This is an interesting perspective because people can look at victims of a severe stroke and assume that their mind is as crippled as their bodies. Not so with Jean-Do, as the film shows.

    One of the main points of the film (at least the point I fixated on) was the cinematic and narrative challenge of filmming from the first person point of view (the camera does this for a lot, but not all of the film). In that way, the film reminded me of the book, The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night Time (or something to that effect), which is the story told from the perspective of an autistic boy. It’s a neat idea and seeing the world from their perspective is fascinating, but the story and character seemed lacking outside of that.

    That’s how I felt about this film. There are touching moments, but I wasn’t really affected by them, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps, I kept thinking about the novelty of telling the story from the point of view of man trapped in his own body. Perhaps, I never really got to know or, as harsh as this may sound, care for the main character. Maybe I lack sympathy. I didn’t care for My Left Foot, too.

  13. Reid

    There Will Be Blood (2007)
    Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
    Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis,
    7/10

    A lot of the critics compiled on metacritic raved about the film, throwing out descriptions like “an American classic,” and even a favorable comparison to Citizen Kane. I watching the film and even though I didn’t feel like I fully understood the film, I felt like there was more to it, if I took the time to dig. Well, I took the time, and I don’t feel entirely satisfied about what I’ve found. Nevertheless, I don’t feel a need to change my rating (for what that’s worth).

    As for other idiots, I can’t really say. I don’t feel like people will love or hate the film.

    **
    In a way, the film reminds me of other films about ambitious male characters that pursue the American Dream, films like Scarface (the DePalma version), Godfather. But there are some big differences, which I go into later. The film is based on Upton Sinclair’s book, Oil! (although I heard it’s a loose adaptation). The film follows an entrepreneur wanting to make his mark by finding oil. Along the way, he adopts an orphaned boy of one of his workers. The main action of the story occurs when the man, Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis), convinces a town to let him dig for oil in their community. He is challenged by a local religious leader and Standard oil.

    ***
    Here’s what I think the film is about: Plainview is a man whose greatest desire is to have a family, primarily children (a son). But he never fully recognizes this–or the filmmakers don’t show him admit this, although there are many scenes that establish, beyond question, imo, that he really loves HW and, perhaps, children in general–e.g. stopping Eli’s father from beating the girl, Mary. Plainview seems driven by one thing–to find oil and maybe more precisely, to beating others at getting oil (at one point he confesses that he has this competitive streak where he has to beat everyone else). The tragedy is that this competitiveness which makes him such a success at business is what ultimately prevents him from getting the one thing he wants–his son, H.W. When H.W. decides to make start his own oil company–the Plainview’s drive to be exclusively on top crashes headlong into his love for his son. The competitive side wins out.

    There’s also another twist (or what I thought was a twist) on Plainview’s character, specifically that he was deep down more genuine about family values than he liked to admit or show. He tells H.W. that he adopts H.W. strictly to win over people in business deals (as people will be more trusting of a man taking care of a cute boy); he tells the townspeople that he will build a community with good schools for their children. In the end of the film, I don’t think there’s anything to indicate that he wasn’t really genuine about these things. A part of me feels like he really wanted to create a good community for children and families and actually have a family of his own (he and H.W.), but he doesn’t openly admit this or maybe even realize it himself.

    This is partly the reason he hates Eli so much. Eli is a con man, using religion for personal gain, while Plainview, perhaps, thinks of himself as a con-man, only to hide his true feelings. When H.W. is injured, Plainview rages at Eli for not being able to heal his son. I wonder if the rage stems not only from his frustration from his son’s condition, but also a disgust with Eli’s hypocrisy. There’s a sense that Plainview knows he’s not a fraud, and the contrast with Eli is what enrages him.

    In this way, I wonder if Thomas-Anderson considers Plainview a hero, afterall he takes on the Big Corporation (and wins) and religious hypocrite–two big American villians. If so this is somewhat surprising, as I kept expecting Plainview to be cynical and ruthless like other American characters in a similar story.

    There’s an alternate theory about Eli that I considered, but didn’t really think too much about, namely that Eli is Thomas-Anderson’s perception of the religious right: they have an inferiority complex (See the scene where Plainview lashes out at Eli calling him inferiority to his brother) and they’re really interested in money. That seems kinda hokey if so.

    Actually, the interpretation above, if accurate, seems lacking for some reason. I’m not quite sure what it is. Perhaps, I feel that way because I’m off the mark.

    Some other comments. Is Day-Lewis’ performance great? I thought it was fine, although I’m not really a big fan of his. Partly because his performances feel like performances. The fact that he sounded like he was trying to imitate Jack Palance didn’t help matters.

    The direction was OK, but not mind-blowing to me. The visual part of the film was OK. Yet, I liked the movie. I’d be interested in comments on my take.

  14. Tony

    It was a day of B-level movies for me, which I don’t mind at all as long as I enjoy them. Some movies are just meant to be that way.

    First up was Jumper. Interesting concept. Decent acting. Very cool effects. A few too many small “jumps” in plot-logic, though. Could be an interesting mini-series or TV show. Visually, the movie is stunning. So many different locales used in some interesting ways. The acting wasn’t that bad, even though two of the primary actors were pretty bad in the last couple of Star Wars movies. All in all, a decent flick. Worth a matinee.

    Then I saw Definitely, Maybe. Haven’t seen a rom-com in some time, so I was ready for one. And it was pretty good. All of the lead roles were well-acted. Ryan Reynolds wasn’t stupid-funny. One through-line that was cool was the candidacy of Bill Clinton (much of the movie is told in flashback). And the twist that comes near the end of the movie? Almost had me verbalizing a “no way” at the screen. But then I realized what was really going on, and that calmed me down. Worth at least a matinee. Maybe even a second viewing at a dollar theater.

  15. Reid

    I wanted to see Jumper, but the comments and low score on metacritic (35) discouraged. Poorly developed story and characters seemed to be a common theme. I enjoyed other films by Doug Liman, so I thought this one had potential.

    Persepolis (2007)
    Dir. Vincent Paronnaud/Marjane Satrapi
    95 minutes
    7/10

    Grace, Penny and I liked the film. Larrilynn really did not like it (2/10; “I wouldn’t watch it again; I didn’t like characters; and I didn’t enjoy the story.”) I would recommend the film to Kevin, Chris. I’m not so sure about Mitchelll and Tony, although I think Mitchell would find interesting things about it. Don might like it a little, but I don’t think I would recommend it this to him. I don’t think Joel or John would care for this. Jill might like this.

    **
    The film is about a girl growing up in Iran from the late 70s to the early 90s. It’s animated film based on a graphic novel by Satrapi, which is based on ostensibly the author’s actual experience.s. The animation is in black-and-white and pretty simple. If you’re interested in political and cultural events that occurre in Iran during the 70s-90s, I’d recommend this. One film that I think is similar is Grave of Fireflies. Both effectively tell the story of historic events through the eyes of children.

    ***
    What I liked about the film was the way we learn about Iranian politics and history from the 70s to the 90s through the experiences of a girl and her family. What I hear about the Middle-East mostly comes through journalists, politicians or experts, but this film allows you to see the politics through normal people “on the ground.” Iranians are humanized and the film brings out the universal qualities (teenagers wanting to rebel). I thought the film also avoided preaching any ideology. Sure the film is critical of certain policies, but they seem to arise from real life situations that most people would find annoying and tiresome (e.g. not being able to hold hands with a lover in public).

    The cartoon and the child’s vantage point also makes the emotional scenes even that much more powerful.

  16. pen

    Just some brief comments:

    Juno: Loved it! Yes, a little contrived, but still believable and sparkling. It’s the way we all wish we could speak off-the-cuff. Ellen Page does a great job with Juno and the family interaction is great.

    No County for Old Men: Can’t really say I “loved it!” because of all the killing, etc., but thought it was very, very good movie. Addresses the question whether our choices or capricious fate determine our future. Also about the evil in this world…where does it come from. Awesome acting and directing. Grace made a great comment about how the Cohen brothers like to pick up a rock and put a microscope to what’s crawling around beneath it. It was a combination of that kind of laser focus (the parts that had me squirming in my seat) mixed in with larger issues about the evil in mankind and fate’s role in our lives. Some dynamic panoramic views, but I kept thinking, “if Ang Lee directed this, it would have blown me away.” Anyway, still definitely a great movie to discuss. There is a lot there.

    There Will Be Blood: Talk about turning a rock over and looking at the guck beneath . . . this movie was pretty raw. It was also long (and parts were slow). Gotta admit I got a little antsy at times. The movie does not pretty up the oil industry in any way. The kind of people who succeeded the way Daniel Plainview did had to be hard, tenacious, competitive, charming, mean, and at least a little bit crazy. Plainview is a tragic figure. What makes him a success in oil is what prevents him from having his heart’s desire…to have a family. A legacy. Something that will ensure he (Daniel) lives on through the generations. He envisions himself the patriarch or a grand dynasty. The movie is pretty scathing about religion–at least organized religion. There’s a lot here to talk about, too.

    Persepolis: I think I have a special affinity for this movie because the main character and I are the same age. We grew up in the same time and yet our experiences were so different. I cannot even imagine what it would be like to live in a country at war for most of my life. To have my neighborhood bombed, my relatives in prison because of their beliefs and yet some things were so similar…teenage rebellion, how parents cannot understand us, how we are embarassed of who we are, etc. One part I wish the movie delved into more was her relationship with God. In the book, that relationship plays an important part.

  17. Reid

    I had the same take on There Will Be Blood (for the most part). I didn’t find the attack on religion very scathing as it seems very tired. Speaking of which I’m tired of the stereotypical portrayals of Christians in films. They’re either hucksters, freaks or both.

  18. Reid

    Catching up on some recent films I’ve seen.

    Storm Over Asia (1928)
    Dir. Vsevolod Pudovkin
    127 minutes
    4/10

    This is not a bad film, but I wouldn’t recommend it to any of the idiots (unless you really are interested in some things which I will go into in the next section). Objectively, the film is not a 4, but the rating reflects my personal take on it. I saw the film because it appears in the 1001 films book. Personally, I don’t think the film is a must see for it’s entertainment or aesthetic value.

    **
    The film is an adventure/political propaganda film involving a Mongol herdsman and his encounter and eventual revolt against an oppressive regime (the British occupying a part of Russia?).

    Orphans in the Storm (1921)
    Dir. D.W. Griffth
    150 minutes
    4/10

    Again not a bad movie, but something I wasn’t really interested in (hence, the 4). Again, I wouldn’t recommend this film: I don’t think many would really like it, nor do I think it’s critical for film appreciation.

    **
    Griffith tells the story of the French Revolution through a soap-opera story involving two sisters, one of which is adopted and born from an aristrocrat and commoner. This sister, Louise (Dorothy Gish) loses her sight and is taken to the city for a cure by the other sister, Henriette (Lillian Gish). Various adventures take place.

    Army of Shadows (1969)
    Dir. Jean-Pierre Melville
    6/10

    This film was recently re-released last year or the year before that. The critics raved about this. I thought it was OK, but I didn’t think it lived up to the hype. I’d be surprised if any other idiot really ended up loving this, but a few of you may find it interesting, maybe even moving.

    **
    The film feels like a collection of anecdotal stories about the French Resistance during WWII. Melville was a part of the Resistance, and the book is based a memoir.

    ***
    I appreciate the fact that the film avoids simple villians and heroes. If there are villians, they are portrayed with some level of sympathy and the heroes are not glorified. Indeed, the strongest feeling one gets from many of the characters is sadness. What we see are people who had to make tough decisions–whether to continue to fight and be loyal or save one’s own skin.
    I almost want to describe the film as a slice-of-life, and I think that’s the part I didn’t care for. We have episodes that don’t seem strongly connected. The overall objective seems to be to depict what it was like to be in the Resistance rather than follow characters in a conventional narrative. For some reason that left me a little dissatisfied.

  19. Reid

    Tetsuo: the Iron Man (1989)
    Dir. Shinya Tsukamoto
    67 minutes
    7/10

    I wouldn’t recommend this to most of you, except for maybe Penny. (I’ll reveal the reason below.) I liked the movie, but when I think about the 7 seems high. However, for what it is, I think the score is justified. One of the films of 1001, and I think it’s justified.

    **
    This is purely an art film and maybe more specifically a cult film; one of the first “cyber-punk” films(?) (the reason Penny would want to see it, as she seems to like cult films). Think David Cronenberg making his version of Eraserhead and you get an idea of what this film is about. It is nighmarish, although it has a more understandable plot than Eraserhead imo. A man puts mechanical parts into his body to become a fast runner. Later he is accidently hit by a man and woman and taken out to die, except he does not die. Someone the man sends out a kind of “industrial virus” that transforms a woman into a cyborg and later the driver of the car. Eventually, the two battle it out. The film is a sort of valentine to David Cronenberg as it covers a lot of the themes Cronenberg seems interested in sex, gore, the human body and technology.

    ***
    Part of the reason I hesitated about the 7 score was that this the narrative is sort of weird. Well, it barely exists. What I liked was the visual qualities (gritty black-and-white) the editing and the industrial sounding score. The film had an energy and vibe that I just enjoyed.

  20. Reid

    Mother and Son (1997)
    Dir. Aleksandr Sokurov
    8/10

    I liked this film, and I would recommend it to Kevin. Other idiots might also find interest in the film. Read more to find out. Deserving of being included in the 1001 book, imo.

    **
    I remember people talking about the beautiful landscape shots in recent films like Brokeback Mountain and There Will Be Blood. The shots in those films never really grabbed me, and I attribute (or blame) that on Terrence Malick. He’s spoiled me. Along comes Mother and Son, and while I can’t say the scenes of nature are better, they did really impress me. I’ll go into that more later.

    The film barely has a plot: a son is taking care of his sick mother. They talk and go for walk. That’s about it. But the movie is really not about the characters or story–at least not developed through dialogue–but rather about visual poetry. Think of a movie made up of a series of portraits or landscape painting, and you get the general idea. The actors move very little and when they do it creates an effect of watching a painting where the human figures make subtle movements, a change in facial expression or position of the body.

    Many of the shots look like some paintings–sometimes reminiscent of Impressionism or mroe realistic painting styles of say the19th Century (e.g. Rembrandt). The light, coming from mostly overcast clouds creates a pale and faded painted look to the screen. Supposedly Sukurov also shot the film through glass giving some of the shots a hazy and even distorted look. I liked the film simply based on the photography alone.

    ***
    This leads me to some interpretation of the film. Honestly, I don’t really have much of an interpretation. The mother is very sick and ends up dying in the end. The son seems to kill himself at that point, telling his mom to wait for him in the afterworld. What happens in between?

    The mother wants to go for a walk. The two first sit on a bench while the son reads and looks at her mother’s old postcards. There’s one from a former lover or husband. They take a walk, stopping at several points to sit. I can’t remember specifics of the conversation. I think the mother feels regret for the son because he has to take care of her.

    When they arrive back at the house, the son leaves his mother and goes for a walk by himself. He sees a train in the distance. Then he goes by a tree and starts sobbing. Why? I’m not really sure. Does he feel trapped? Is he crying because his mother is dying? I don’t really have any opinions. I’d probably have to watch it again. But the visuals alone made this a satisfying film experience.

  21. Reid

    Signs and Wonders (2000)
    Dir. Jonathan Nossiter
    Starring: Stellan Skarsgard, Charlotte Rampling, Deborah Kara Unger, etc.
    101 minutes
    4/10

    The score reflects the fact that I didn’t understand a lot of it. There are things about the film that would interest some of the idiots; I’d guess Kevin would have the best chance of getting into this.

    **
    The film is about a man, Alec (Skarsgard) who cheats on his wife, Marjorie (Rampling) largely because of “signs” he sees in the environment. For example, he may read seeing yellow flowers and the woman he’s having an affair with (Kara Unger) wearing yellow as a sign that he should continue. With this kind of superstitious/mystical notion of decion making, the filmmakers also weave American politics with Greek politics and history. The film mostly takes place in Greece; Marjorie works for the U.S. State Department and Alec is a businessman. This mixture of politics, fate and history is the reason I think Kevin might be interested in the film.

    ***(spoilers)
    I didn’t care for this film because I had a hard time understanding key moments. For example, why did Marjorie have a fling with Alec just before she was going to marry someone else? Why did Andreas, Marjorie’s new husband fall off the cliff? Like other Greek films I’ve seen, I felt a little lost because I’m unfamilar with the history and politics of that region.

    UTU (1983)
    Dir. Geoff Murphy
    104 minutes
    8/10

    A remarkable film that is a worthy selection for the 1001 book. While I’m not sure how many of you will like this (I think most of you will think it’s OK at least), I recommend it.

    **
    The film takes place in 19th Century New Zealand. A Maori, Te Wheke (Anzac Wallace), leaves the British army to lead a revolt against them after seeing a village destroyed by the British. The film is complex having multiple characters which the filmmakers do not portray in black-and-white terms–something that makes this film remarkable. The only other film that did something similar that came to mind was LA Confidential. It’s a thoughtful adventure tale with action sequences (OK), but also an examination of issues involving conflict between indigenous people and Europeans. This would be an excellent film for older Hawai’i students studying Native Hawaiian issues or a great film for communities in Hawai’i to watch and discuss.

    ***
    I like complex characters that are neither completely good or completely evil, but I feel that making characters like this in an action/adventure film is very difficult. You want to unambiguously root for the good guy and equally hate the villian. Also, how do you create a satisfying resolution to the film? But UTU manages to pull this off, particularly the resolution!

    The film is also noteworthy for the way the filmmakers avoid two common moves in films of this sort: 1.) romantic and glorified depiction of indigenous people; 2.) an “enlightened” white man that goes “native.” (See Dances With Wolves.) You have whites in the film that seemed to have lived in New Zealand a long time: Lt. Scott (born in New Zealand?) and Williamson, a farmer who can speak Maori. The way they respect the Maori seems more humane and normal–their interest is familiar and natural versus based a romantic curiosity of the exotic. They’re like local Caucasians who have grown up in Hawai’i. and embraced they culture. They’re ties to the culture are just as strong as Native Hawaiians.

    On the Maori side, we sympathize with Te Wheke’s desire to fight the British, but he also commits heinous acts–the murder of Williamson’s wife and attempted murder of Williamson himself; wrongly killing two Maoris. Probably the most interesting Maori characters is Wiremu, who is a corporal in the British military. He’s extremely intelligent and capable, but it is unclear why he continues to stay in the British army. He seems to sensitive to not care about what the British are doing to the Maori. Anyway, the actor playing him, Wi Kuki Kaa, deserved an Academy Award nomination at least.

    I must also mention the ending. I loved the haka(?) by Wiremu and the his revelation about his identify. Te Wheke’s speech is also very moving. The fact that the film successfully condemn’s Te Wheke to death and yet honors him at the same time is no small feat.

  22. Reid

    Still catching up on previously viewed films from the 1001 book:

    Evil Dead (1981)
    Dir. Sam Raimi
    2/10

    I’m not a big horror fan, but still I didn’t think this was a very good movie. One of the first questions I have about older films is is it scary? The answer is a definite, no. When aspects of the film look ridiculous and/or unbelieveable, that’s not a good sign and there are a lot of moments like that in this film. Camp is a good adjective to describe this. I don’t think it wears well, and I’m not sure why it made the 1001 list.

    The Wrong Man (1956)
    Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
    Starring: Henry Fonda, Vera Miles, etc.
    6/10

    This is based on a true story that works as a procedural film–specifically how the criminal justice system can get the wrong person. There’s really not that much suspense in the film, but there is an uneasiness created by the way the criminal-justice so easily get in wrong. The film makes your question our confidence in the system. Fonda’s performance as a timid and meek cooperation with authorities only heightens this unease. His behavior gives them no reason to suspect him and it should have made them question his a guilt a little more.

    The 1001 book describes this as Hitchcock’s bleakest, and I agree it is a downer. The direction is very solid. I enjoy watching the images and editing that make his film seemless and logical.

    Blackmail (1929)
    Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
    7/10

    A decent pick for the 1001 book. On one level we get to see early Hitchcock (and his abilities are already on display) and, on another, this is a pretty effective film. Other idiots would find this enjoyable and worth-watching, but it’s not something you would really run out to see.

    **
    The film is about Alice and her Scotland yard boyfriend Frank. After a spat, Alice meets an artist. What does the blackmail entail? Well, I’ll leave that part of it out.

    ***
    The first five minutes of the film are essentially without sound. According to the 1001 book the film was supposed to be a silent picture, but, mid-way through, they decided to add sound. I mention the first five minutes because it’s good. There are no title cards, but you know exactly what’s going on; the acting didn’t seem so dramatic and pronounced like you see in other silent films, too.

    Since this is a Hitchcock film, you have to be thinking if the suspense worked. Imo, it did, to the very end, although I felt the ending was ambiguous. On one hand, Hitchcocok may have intended that. Is Alice comfortable with pinning her act of murder on Tracy? It’s hard to say, but I don’t know if I could live with that. Donald Calthrop as Tracy is good at playing a slime-ball. Audiences must have felt satisfied with his end. The acting was decent all-around.

  23. Reid

    More reviews of films from the 1001 book.

    Dear Diary (1993)
    Dir. Nanni Morretti
    100 minutes
    6/10

    Perhaps not a great film, but entertaining, and I think Penny, Mitchell, Grace, Kevin and Chris would find it so. Not a bad pick for the book, I guess, but I wouldn’t consider it a must see.

    **
    The film is a diary (combining fictional and real life situations) of director, Nanni Moretti. There are basically three segments which aren’t really connected: the first is about different sections in or near Rome that we see by Moretti driving on a scooter; the second is about his attempt to work on various islands off the coast of Italy; the third is about his experiences dealing with doctors. If I had to give a short description of the film, I’d say it was an Italian version of a Woody Allen film, a la Manhattan. The humor is similar and there are similar strategies–e.g. spontaneously starting conversations with random people on the street. Amusing and unique in a way.

    David Holzman’s Diary (1967)
    7/10

    Kinda slow at times, but interesting and I guess worthy of a selection especially if you’re choosing 1001 films. I think Penny, Grace, Mitchell, Kevin and Chris would find something interesting in this, although I don’t think it would be something they loved. I’m not sure about John, Tony and Cindy, but I wouldn’t recommend this to Joel, Don and Jill.

    **
    The film is about a man, David Holzman, filming his life to try and better understand it. Not only do we see people important to David, but we get a glimpse of the environment he lives in (NYC). The film really feels like a first draft of Taxi Driver. There is even a scene that is akin to the “You talking to me scene” except David is talking into the camera. Like Travis Bickle, from Taxi Driver, David is unstable (but less so). There’s a sense that part of that comes from the city, although that interpretation may stem from having seen Taxi Driver. The film is different and interesting in the way that it raises questions about truth and the way film reveals or doesn’t reveal that. In that way, the film also is sort of a precursor to reality TV.

    She’s Gotta Have It (1986)
    Dir. Spike Lee
    6/10

    I liked the film, although there are some flaws. The dialogue and acting for one thing are not that great, with the exception of Lee’s performance as Mars Blackmon, which I found funny. The black-and-white photography by Ernest Dickerson was also a high point. I liked the ending of the film, and I thought it would have worked better if the actor playing the lead was a lot better. I think the film doesn’t feel so much like an excuse for Lee to pontificate on race issues, and I liked that aspect.

    Tongues Untied (1990)
    Dir. Marlon Riggs
    6/10

    Pretty unique and in that way a worthy selection. The people who find that simple description appealing would probably be the ones most likely to appreciate this on some level. I don’t feel strongly that there is anyone that should rush out to see this though.

    **
    The film is basically about the difficulties gay black men experience. The film is made up of various black men reciting poetry or telling anecdotes that give the audience a view of the hardships they face. The title refers to the going against the common strategy of keeping silent; silence about how one feels and how one is mistreated is the thing that is most damaging, according to the film.

    ***
    I didn’t care for the poetry so much, and I didn’t find the stories especially moving. The film is interesting in that it examines a class of people who have two strikes against them: being black and being gay. The individuals in this group face an almost deeper type of prejudice. So why wasn’t I more moved? I’m not sure.

  24. Reid

    The White Balloon (1995)
    Dir. Jafar Panahi
    Starring: Aida Mohammadkhani, etc.
    8/10

    I really enjoyed this film, and I think it’s a safe bet to recommend this to every idiot. I don’t think it’s out on dvd yet, so you would have to get it on vhs. The Hawaii public library has a copy.

    **
    This is an Iranian film (written by Abbas Kiarostami). If you’ve never seen an Iranian film, this is a good one to start with. The film starts off with a universal situation: a little girl is begging her mom to buy her something (in this case a goldfish). The rest of the film shows the girl trying to get that godfish. Yes, it’s simple, but it’s surprsingly effective. Indeed, I could describe this as a Disney film, only better.

    ***
    What makes this film so good is the charming and, sometimes even touching performance of the lead actor, Aida Mohammadkhani. I don’t know how old she is, but she’s playing a seven year old girl. Not only is she cute, but she really makes you feel for her–her expressions of joy and sadness (really realistic crying) were so touching.

    Because you like her so much, when she gets into difficult situations, there’s a strong tension created that one could almost understand classifying this as a suspense film. In some of these situations, she meets individuals that could possibly harm her, but when they don’t, you feel a sense of hope for humanity. Indeed, the film seems to affim the goodness in people, and the fact that I didn’t sneer cynically surprised me a bit. Perhaps, my acceptance stems from the fact that I see the Iranians as less modern and Westernized and therefore I could believe these people were more caring. Whatever the reason, it’s nice to be able to enjoy this film at face value.

    One final note. I’m still not sure why the film is called “The White Balloon,” as opposed to the more logical name of “The Goldfish.” I should spend time to try and figure it out.

  25. Reid

    She Done Him Wrong (1933)
    Dir. Lowell Sherman
    Starring: Mae West, Cary Grant, etc.
    6/10

    Basically, a vehicle for Mae West to perform–she sings and delivers one liners in the same vein and caliber as Groucho Marx. Of course, she has her own style. The two performers/actors that kept coming to mind was Jaque(sp?) and Wanda Sykes. I kept wondering if West was part black. The story is not terrible, but it’s a little too complicated for a film that mainly cares about West. FWIW, West is supposed to be a sex symbol, and I didn’t really find her very sexy. Her hairstyle for one is pretty unappealing and her “growly” voice got kinda annoying, especially when she kept saying, “Come up and see me.”

  26. Reid

    Trying to catch up on reviews.

    Little Caesar (1931) (3/10) supposedly launched the career of Edward G. Robinson. He’s not great although you can see the potential. The problem is the script, acting and directing are not very good. The sets, camera angles and editing make the film seem more like a play than a film. Also, some of the acting is really amateurish. The heavies seem unbelieveably whimpy in this and there is a lack of realism. For example, the way Rico muscles in on two different bosses. The first backs down easily and is not killed, but continues in the group. The other is too easily scared away by Rico. This is so different from another film of the 30s–The Public Enemy, which I’ll try to review later. It would not have made my 1001 list.

    Caravaggio (1988) (3/10) In defense of the film, I saw this on an old vhs tape, on an old TV (from the 70s!) to boot. That may have significantly affected my judgment as the visuals were crucial to this film. Besides that, the film just didn’t connect with me at all, and I found some of the poetic voiceovers pretentious. Supposedly, this was a bio-pic of the painter Caravaggio. I say supposedly because the film has motorcycles and other early 20th Century fashion and technology (don’t know the reason for this.)

    Like the film above, my opinion of Red Sorghum (1987) (6/10) is colored by the poor dvd quality (a Chinese copy from the public library). Some of the compositions and shots look like may look really good on a clean version. The story itself is interesting, but not great enough to warrant a selection in the 1001 list.

    Wild Reeds(1994) (5/10) is a French film by Andre Techine. The film is a coming-of-age film, particularly focused on sexual exploration and identity, politics and class. While I wasn’t too bored, I didn’t feel like the characters or film was particularly interesting or fresh. Not a film I would have selected for the 1001 book.

    The Phantom of the Opera (1925) (3/10) is one of the better horror films of that time period. By that I mean that it’s not super campy and silly like Dracula or the Frankenstein films. No, it would probably not scare modern audiences, but Chaney’s mask is suprisingly effective. There are also so good set-pieces in the film that add a lot of the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the acting is dated and hamfisted, which takes away from the overall impact of the film.

    I liked some of the effects in early part of Segei Eisenstein’s Strike (1925)(3/10)–a shot of the reflection of factory towers and then men trampling over the puddle; four pictures of spies, who suddenly begin moving, etc. Overall though, the film bored me. It’s basically a propaganda film about factory workers starting a strike.

    Maybe I was in just the right mood, but Seven Chances (1925)(6/10) felt like my favorite Buster Keaton film. The version I saw seemed restored and the clean images helped. Keaton is known for his slapstick, but I never how much he also used camera tricks as part of his filmmaking. The story is basically about a lawyer (Keaton) who must get married by 7 PM that evening to inherit millions. He already has someone he loves and that loves him, but because of a misunderstanding, she rejects him. Thus, he goes about trying to get married, until the misunderstanding is cleared up. The bad news is that he’s running out of time and the other women he’s tried to marry are now raging mad. I don’t know if I would pick this film, but it was mildly entertaining.

    Three Lives and Only One Death (1996) (6/10) is another film that was fairly entertained, but I don’t think warrants being on the list. I knew nothing about the film and it started out well, which made the film interesting because there possibly an element of magical realism and a complicated plot; watching the plot unfold was the interesting part. The ending was a little disatisfying though.

  27. Reid

    The Bank Job (2008)
    7/10

    This is solid entertainment. Not a great film, but it’s good–nothing that would offend one’s intelligence and the story moves sufficiently. There’s nothing to really rave about, but no major complaints either. I recommended this film to everyone–as long as you don’t interpret that to mean that I think you will love this or that I think this is a great film.

    **
    The film is supposedly based on a true story of a bank robbery sponsored by the British MI-5. A black radical possessed compromising pictures of one of the members of the royal family, so he could get away with all kinds of crimes. MI-5 “contracted” common criminals to steal these pictures from a bank safe deposit box. Not better than Italian Job, but if you like heist pictures this is a good pick.

    ***
    One of the interesting thing about this film is that the plot, characters and action/thriller elements are rather unexceptional; there’s little that we haven’t seen before. There are no really original tough predicaments and clever ways of getting out of them. The protagonists are not super appealing (but they’re likeable). In short, the film is bland in many ways. What’s suprising is that it works to the extent that it does.

  28. Reid

    Meshes in the Afternoon (1943)
    Dir. Maya Deren
    18 minutes
    7/10

    The score reflects more of my own enjoyment of the film more than the actual quality which would be higher. Grace and Penny would probably be interested in this.

    **
    Supposedly a classic avant-garde silent film. It really feels like a dream, and in that way the film reminded me of Eraserhead. This film is better. Even though the film is dream-like, it is more coherent; it feels like a poem with someone intentionally crafting the images. I really like the coherrence of the images, although I’m not sure about the meaning. It’s one of the more artistically successful avant-garde/art films I’ve seen.

    Color of Pomengranates (1969)
    Dir. Sergei Parjanov
    9/10

    This could one day move into the 9 range. Kevin you should see this.

    **
    The film is loosely about an 18th Century Armenian poet, Aruthin Sayadin. But to me that is really irrelevent. You know how there are poems that you like even though you have no clue about what they mean? That’s my experience of this film–and I consider this one of the great visual cinematic poems. Perhaps, calling the film a performance art piece will give you a better idea of what this is about. The film also makes you feel like Parajanov is a painter–the way he uses space, color and objects; it’s all orchestrated masterfully. I think the film is very close to the same league as 2001: a Space Odyssey.

  29. Reid

    Be Kind, Rewind (2008)
    Dir. Michel Gondry
    Starring: Jack Black, Mos Def, Danny Glover, etc.
    9/10

    Even I think the score is a bit high, but I don’t care: I really loved this film. Now, I’m going to recommend this film to other idiots, but I can totally understand if others will not like it–indeed, I will be a little surprised if people like it as much as I did. I can see a wide range of opinions towards this film.

    **
    This is a movie for fans of movie making and perhaps creativity and art in general. The plot is not really that important, but it basically involves a video store clerk, Mike (Mos Def), who with the help of his friend, Jerry (Jack Black), must recreate movies of erased VHS tapes. There’s also a sub-plot involving the store owner trying to find ways to save the store from a developer. This film is recommended to people who love movies. This is a comedy, and if you liked Gondry’s other films: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or The Science of Sleep, I’d recommend this.

    ***
    I loved the way the film celebrated films and filmmaking, in general–and creativity and genuine play, specifically. Mike and Jerry’s “sweded” versions of mainstream films do not have big stars, worldclass directors, incredible special efx or the backing of huge Hollywood film company. What they do have is enthusiasm, creativity (the props deserve at least a nomination for art design) and a lot of fun! As the film develops, Gondry seems to also celebrate the process of filmmaking–especially participation from anyone, irregardless of talent. Participation and fun is what matters, not the actual results. The films may not be great works of art or huge commercial successes. And the films didn’t stop the Hollywood company from destroying them, nor did the films save the video store. But they did bring pleasure to people–both filmmakers and film viewers. I can tend to be cynical, but I found this spirit totally convincing and beautiful.

    There’s something else, too. My first reaction to seeing this filim made me think of the way it repudiated Hollywood filmmaking/films. But “repudiates” is too strong word. On further consideration, the film is not out to scold or satirize Hollywood or the capitalist system. The big Hollywood film companies and developers win, but what was so refreshing was that Gondry does not display any bitterness or venom. These things happen and the heroes just move on: they play, have fun; celebrate. I loved that about this film.

    All of this overshadowed elements in the film that I would probably consider too silly and stupid for me to enjoy the film. Let me list some of these things: Mike and Jerry’s decision to “re-make” the films and expect that there would be a chance that others would like it; patrons loving the films, including street-wise teenagers! I can’t argue with anyone who would say these plot points were ridiculous. Also, I can understand if viewers had the same feelings towards Jack Black’s antics. (In the context of the film I enjoyed Black for the most part.)

    My response is that I personally enjoyed the “sweded” movies. I love movies, and seeing these films “sweded” was hugely entertaining. The low-tech props and solutions to recreating these scenes were inspired and complete delight. I don’t see how anyone who has seen and loved these films would not get a kick out of them.

    The other response I would make is that the tone of film is one of whimsy and even elements of fantasy (e.g. Black getting electricuted and magnatized). Gondry is not intending to make a completely realistic film.

    One final note. Gondry seems to play with this idea of the past on how, ostensibly in film, we can alter the past. Other films of his have touched on memory and dreams, but I haven’t determined his ideas and attitudes towards them. In this film, I took the mentioning of how the truth can be altered as another reason to celebrate filmmaking and art making in general.

    The best film in 2008 for me so far.

  30. Reid

    The Commitments (1991)
    Dir. Alan Parker
    3/10

    I know Penny said she loved this when she first saw this, but I don’t think she would like it now if she saw it (although she probably would like it more than me.) Probably other idiots wouldn’t rate this so low, but I don’t think they would like this either. Even Larri didn’t care for this.

    ***
    There’s good reason for her not liking this. The filmmakers either don’t 1.) care about a good story or intereresting characters; 2.) don’t know how to build a drama. If I gave the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt, I would say it was the former. Continuing along this train of thought, I would say the filmmakers felt like the music–particularly the fact that these Irish musicians could play convincing soul music–would be enough to carry the film. The music is good, but they’re basically cover versions whose primary distinction is that they’re being made by white Europeans. (“Wow, can you believe those Irish kids singing black soul music!”) That’s just not enough to impress me, personally. If I want to hear that kind of music, I’d go to the originals.

    I think a lot of the idiots here would not find the music so good as to overcome the lack of story or character development. The movie starts pretty quickly with the appearance of Jimmy (Robert Arkins), a young lad with ambitions to start a soul band. The filmmakers do little to establish his relationship with his friends, especially why they would choose to follow him as their leader. Arkins is likeable enough as Jimmy, but he doesn’t have the natural charisma or charm that would instantly convince audiences that others would follow him. I also must add that Jimmy’s passionate speeches about soul-music were rather hollow, too. The filmmakers needed to do more to show how and why Jimmy was loved the music and why it would connect to his friends. But as I alluded to earlier, the filmmakers don’t seem interested in that.

    Another problem was the assembly and development of the band. The memebers come together pretty quickly and accept for some comic audtions (which weren’t that funny), Jimmy seems to face little challenges–which would have made this part interesting–putting together the band. The same can be said with the development of the band. Usually in movies like this, we see the band struggle to develop; they go through some adversity to develop as a group. While they go through difficulties (they’re cliched difficulties of a rock band–romance between members and the problems arise; the growing ego of the lead singer, money problems, etc.), they don’t really involve the difficulties of the music. The bands first rehearsal doesn’t sound that different from the later performances. (This is partly what I mean by lacking skill in developing a sense of drama.)

    The different conflicts that arise don’t work very well because the filmmaker does little to develop the characters–their backstory, previous relationship with each other, etc.–so when conflicts occur I think audiences won’t have the emotional investment for the scenes to work. In some ways the conflicts that arise and the way they’re shot feel more like a documentary, think of a straight version of This is Spinal Tap. But the situations are so cliche and hollow of any dramatic/emotional interest that I just didn’t care. The best thing about the film is the music, but, as I said, even that’s not enough to carry the film.

  31. Reid

    Iron Man (2008)
    7/10

    I’m always complaining about many of the film adaptations of Marvel comics. I’m happy to report that this is one of the better adaptations. I think other idiots will find this mildly entertaining at least. I think Joel will like this. I think the metacritic score is somewhere in the 70s.

    ***
    This is one of the best vehicles for cgi. Cgi tends to make human figures look stiff or the movements look fake. In this film, the cgi is done on essentially a robot, so any stiffness seems to fit perfectly (not that there is a lot of stiffness). Usually the effects aren’t enough to carry a film, and while that’s true in this film, it was one of the reasons I enjoyed the film. That’s partly because the story involves the development of the “Iron Man” suit.

    Having said that, if Robert Downey wasn’t so good in the role–both delivering his snarky comments (as the NPR critic described it) without taking away from the action persona–the effects wouldn’t be enough. Downey is probably the best cast marvel character other than Tobey Maguire as Spider-man and Wesley Snipes as Blade. I really like Gwyneth Paltrow and if you do too, you’ll probably like her in this.

    In a way the film gets by because it is the origin film. We see how Tony Stark becomes a super-hero. Where the Marvel adaptations have messed up is in the subsequent films where the story involves some challenge from a villian. I enjoyed this film so much that I want to see the next film with the next villian. Of course, if I stop to think about it, I shouldn’t expect much given Marvel’s track record.

  32. Reid

    Catching up on some reviews for recent films:

    Speed-Racer (2008)
    Dir. Wachowski Brothers
    4/10

    The main reason I wanted to see this is because the Wachowski brothers, filmmakers of Bound (a film that deserves more attention from mainstream audiences) and the Matrix films, made this.

    I’m sad to report that I didn’t care for the films. I don’t think many of you would enjoy the film, except for maybe Penny. The film got some attention for being innovative, ostensibly for its use of color and cgi. But films like Dick Tracy, in its use of vibrant, solid colors and shadows to recreate the look of a comic book and Sky Captain, in its extensive use of cgi, seem to have already done some of the things the Wachowski brothers strive for in this film. Even the video game look of the action scenes are not very different from the approach employed in the Matrix films. Still even if the Wachowski used these elements in innovative ways, I didn’t find there wasn’t much story or characters to support.

    The film’s racing scenes, where most of the action occurs, was also hard to follow and its similarity to video games sort of made it difficult to successfully thrill this viewer. I felt those scenes had to have some semblance or connection with reality them to work.

    Perhaps the best and maybe fairest comment I can make is that the film was not designed for people like me, namely adults. Given the humor, look, action and story line does seem to feel like the Wachowski made this film for ten year old boys. If so, I think they have made a good film. I just didn’t care for it. (That was supposed to be a short review.)

  33. Reid

    Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
    Dir. Steven Spielberg
    3/10

    If your a fan of the Indiana Jones’ films, then what I say probably won’t matter; you’re probably going to see this no matter what. I loved the first film, liked the second, really didn’t like the third film and felt the same way about this. I know that Larri liked the first three films, but I didn’t really care for this one.

    ***
    One of the reasons I didn’t like the third film, “The Last Crusade,” was because of the cutesy relationship and jokes that came out of Indy and his father. This spilled over into the clownish take on Marcus. (Note the difference between the Marcus in Raiders and the Marcus in the Last Crusade.) Because of that I was not excited to learn that Shia LaBouf was going to be in the latest installment. I thought the same sort of dynamic was going to occur. The one thing that surprised me, at least initially, was the fact that Spielberg didn’t seem to be taking this tact. Unfortunately, as soon as the Marion character comes on the scene, we get the cute family situations, that really annoy me–especially the way Spielberg handles these situations. I must say, though, the whole tone of the film in the early parts of the film reminded me of the tone in Raiders–no family sentimentality or cutesy jokes. I was really excited and hopeful. But alas, it didn’t stay that way.

    Let me stop there and comment on specific aspects of the film.

    Harrison Ford:
    I wondered how his age would affect the role. The verdict? His face looked older, body frail, but most of all, he just seemed tired and worn out. It was disappointing and sad–sort of like watching Joe Montana play for the Chiefs.

    Karen Allen as Marion:
    She also seemed old, but the bigger problem was that her acting seemed so wooden. It was a little creepy, although that’s a bit strong. I guess the main problem was that I didn’t think she had much chemistry with Ford; they did not convince me in the slightest that they had great love for each other.

    Cate Blanchett:
    Terrible villian. Not imposing or formidable at all. More of a cheesy cartoon character (with the cheesy Russian accent like Natasha from Rocky and Bulwinkle). The strapping Russian commander was much more imposing, and I thought he would have made a better villian.

    The action sequences:
    I was expecting the action sequences to be too contrived and unreal. I was happy to find that they weren’t that way. Unfortunately, the action sequences were just boring. The scenes felt like Spielberg didn’t have anywhere to go.

    The pacing.
    Temple of Doom had too much action. Raiders was perfect. Crystal Skull had too much down time.

    If I had to sum up this film, I’d describe it as a great athlete that has played past his prime. There’s nothing really to prove, and there’s nothing left in the tank.

  34. Reid

    The Incredible Hulk (2008)
    7/10

    I’m pretty sure most of you reading this would probably enjoy this film, at least to some extent. I’d recommend seeing it, especially if you’re in the mood for an entertaining film.

    ***
    After seeing trailers of the film–with the cgi Hulk–I lost interest in seeing this, but I was desperate to see an action film, so I took a chance on this. Maybe because my expectations about the cgi was so low, I was able to resign myself to this part of the film. While I still think the face (especially the eyes) of the cgi characters look fake, I think some of the action sequences were pretty good, and surprisingly, some of the scenes got my heart pumping.

    This film doesn’t have a great story, but it does have good direction and good casting and acting–at least by Edward Norton and Liv Tyler. Norton is likeable, and he and Tyler bring life to what is an otherwise a bland romance.

    I was more impressed with the direction–specifically the way the director kept only the essential scenes–giving the audience important information, without much wasted scenes. This contributed to the good pacing in the film. The opening montage which basically tells the origin story was well-done for it’s economy as well as a nice homage to the TV series (using the similar machines and even film stock).

    The story and characters aren’t very interesting in an of themselves. There are no psychological nuances of the characters or interesting metaphors or symbolism that filmmakers mine. Basically, it’s a guy scientist who turns into this super-strong monster and kicks butt–especially the butt of another super-strong monster. The second monster, played by Tim Roth, was probably one of the weaker elements of the film. I don’t think he was able to bring life to his character, which is not really very interesting on paper (none of the character are, really).

    All in all, I think the film does a good job of introducing the character and staying true to the comics. Like Iron Man (which I liked more), the real test is going to be in the next films. Marvel, which has taken over production of these films, has gotten off to a good start. (I’m skeptical that they can bring Thor and Ant-man to life though.)

  35. burgess

    I received The Onion Movie for Father’s Day, and thought it was the most awesomest gift ever, until I actually watched the movie, and was left a little disappointed. I didn’t hate the movie, I just thought it was lacking something, a result of either trying too hard to add a plot line to an already hilarious, satirical news program, or not trying hard enough.

    The Onion is a movie lacking direction. It is sketch comedy with great writing that I could watch for hours, bogged down by a lame story line. Like so many movies, the book is so much better than the movie. In the Onion’s case read th print edition instead of seeing the movie.

  36. pen

    Is The Onion Movie related to the e-zine?

  37. burgess
  38. pen

    I finally saw Michael Moore’s “Sicko” on DVD. Love the extras. Read my thoughts here: http://sweetlydemure.blogspot.com or http://sweetlydemure.livejournal.com

    Even if it’s underlined, you probably have to cut and paste to actually get to the site. I tried just clicking it and it went somewhere else.

  39. Reid

    I wrote some comments here a while ago. I didn’t care for the oversimplication, so I guess that’s why I wasn’t as moved as you are. There are a lot of things that need changing (i.e. the campaign finance system), yet little progress has been made. I guess my feeling is that we can do things, but change depends on timing, too.

  40. pen

    Sex and the City — Went to see it with a bunch of girlfriends, of course! It was pretty much what one would expect. I think regular viewers of the show won’t be disappointed and there were enough elements that the movie could also stand on its own. The heart of the movie was not about romance or finding love, but about the elasticity, strength and vulnerability of womens’ friendships with one another.

    Whatever criticisms this movie accrues (all probably true to some extent), the bottom line is that if you like the characters, have been with them through the series, this movie will satisfy you.

    Get Smart — Oh my! I am not sure if it is because I went to this movie with relatively low expectations, but I really enjoyed it! I have never seen a full episode of the t.v. show, so I am not sure how those fans will take the movie, but I thought Steve Carrell hit all the right notes and he truly is the star of the movie.

    Alan Arkin, Masi Oki and Nate Torrence are great support as well as The Rock (who gets to flex his comedic muscles) and Anne Hathaway who was okay and did not outshine her co-star. It was a fun popcorn movie. It doesn’t try to be more than it was intended and it did not fall into truly sophomoric humor, either. I enjoyed it quite a lot.

    Kung Fu Panda Thumbs up for Jack Black in character as the unlikely hero with big dreams. Dustin Hoffman was great as the sensei/master dude (I forgot his name). This movie was cliche in all the good ways. There was a bit of a lull towards the middle of the movie, but easily forgiven. Fight scenes were fun. Like many movies, I wish the trailers didn’t give away so much.

  41. Reid

    Larri and I have been watching the HBO series The Wire (although Larri has lost interest). I’m on the third season now, and it’s getting really good. I can strongly recommend this to Penny, Kevin, Chris and, possibly John, without giving them any further information. I’m confident you’ll be interested in this. Marc, Grace, Mitchell–and I’m going to say Don (if he sticks with it)–will probably be interested, too, but I don’t know how much they would get into it. There’s an article about the series that said the dvds of this series belong alongside the great American novels. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I wouldn’t strongly contest it either. I get excited with originality and ambition–especially when that ambition is realized. I don’t like to use the word “remarkable” a lot when I describe something, but I’d use it for this series so far.

    Let me write say a little more about why I think this is a noteworthy–even remarkable–series. Calling the series a crime drama is not inaccurate, but it’s a crime drama like you’ve never seen. There are traditional crime storylines–with the good guys trying to outsmart the bad guys and vice-versa, complete with clever policework and equally clever counter-moves from the criminals. (This is by far the smartest, most sophisticated drug organization–a drug organization that utilizes equal parts ghetto thuggery and business principles.) But there are several things that make this series unique and special. For one thing, we see the way politics, bureaucracy, money, government, social forces affect both organizations. You get an expansive view of the way a city operates–from both the government and criminal point of views. It’s ambitious and so far the series’ creators are largely successful. I think holding a series with multiple characters and storylines is extremely challenging; usually, the series starts out promising, but inevitably disappoints because spending the right time developing stories and characters seems next to impossible. (See the series Heroes). I don’t get that sense in this series. I feel like the series creators have found a good balance and focus. (In a way the series feels like films like Traffic or Magnolia, but not as contrived. The flow and plot developments seem more natural and believable for the most part.)

    To add further complexity, the series shows the different layers within the police department as well as outside agencies like the judiciary, city council, unions and the way these affect the story. Add to the mix a similar depiction of the people the police are pursuing, and you get a sense of how ambitious and complicated the series can be. The drug organization and the world of the street is particuarly interesting–it’s part Godfather, part Boys n’ the Hood with some rather sophisticated business principles. Speaking of that, when the film incorporates business principles, on one hand, the move feels self-conscious; the series producers almost seem like they’re “teaching” you about economic forces; on the other hand, I don’t feel like they’re preachy or that the characters or storyline are an excuse to comment on social issues or business ones (like Spike Lee films). I’d say that’s true because the story and the characters are compelling in their own right.

    Some notable characters: Omar is probably my favorite. The actor is great, and the character is becoming one of the all-time great TV characters of all-time. Jimmy McNulty (the closest to a main character) is the least interesting and becoming less and less likeable lead characters in a while. I wish the producers would add more nuance to him to make him more sympathetic or complex.

  42. Reid

    Wanted (2008)

    I can’t really rate this because I didn’t get to see the last part of the film (because Zane was not very happy), but I wouldn’t recommend this film. This is the type of film Larri usually likes, but even she didn’t like it (3/10). Maybe John would like it; Penny and Joel might think it’s OK (but I doubt they would like it more than that).

    **
    The film is about an office worker loser, Wesley (James McAvoy), who really has the pedigree of a super-assassin. Wesley is soon recruited by a secret society of assassins because he is needed to stop a “rogue” assassin who has turned on the society and killed Wesley’s father. We see the society–particularly Fox (Angelina Jolie)–train Wesley into the great assassin he is meant to be. The other part of the film involves Wesley going after this rogue assassin. The film is basically an action/sci-fi in a similar vein to Matrix, in terms of action sequences and even this idea of a nerdy loser who is really a great hero that must save the day.

    ***
    Unfortunately, the story and characters just felt flat to me. Now, I wouldn’t be totally surprised if other people had a different reaction (the average imdb score based on 3,000+ votes was a high 7), but Larri’s usually less picky about these things than I am, and even she didn’t like the story and characters.

    Sometimes the direction and casting can bring life to a weak story and characters (as written)–e.g. The Incredible Hulk–but that doesn’t happen here. James McAvoy (the new Russell Crowe?—well, the jury is still out based on this film), Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman have strong enough screen personas to bring life to otherwise uninteresting characters, but they didn’t do it for me.

    Some of the action sequences were pretty good, too. They were the type of over-the-top that sequences that I find satisfying even though they are ridiculous. But the film just didn’t have life for me (again, I didn’t see the end, but I don’t think I missed much, after Larri explained what happened).

  43. pen

    I also saw Wanted this past weekend. Reid, did you see the 6:45 p.m. show at Dole? I heard a baby crying, but it didn’t sound like the Z-man.

    Anyway, I had mixed feelings about this movie. Some aspects were cool and clever and even (to a certain extent) “realistic” in the world the movie created. Other things bothered me, but I can’t really say what they are without giving up too much of the movie. Anyone soooo interested in my opinion can take me out for a cup of coffee and hear more than they care to about it. (What? No takers? What a shocker!)

    Here’s what I can say: One thing I did not like was the ending. The very end. Another thing…Morgan Freeman swears twice. It was jarring because it sounded so unnatural. (Not the narrator of March of the Penguins!) I did care about the characters though and felt the leads (McEvoy and Jolie) did a fair to good job.

    I may have been disappointed, because I think this movie had the potential to be so much more than it was.

  44. Reid

    No, we weren’t at that showing.

    What were the things that bothered you?

    See, now I didn’t think McAvoy and Jolie made their, otherwise dully written characters, live. I think the way the dialogue was written had something to do with it; also the direction–specifically, the way the scenes established the characters and the story. That’s not real specific though. Perhaps, the lack of an interesting back story of the assassin group and their abilities explains part of the reason. The characters in the Matrix series weren’t very interesting on paper, but the premise of the story and the way the story developed was so good that the characters didn’t matter so much.

  45. Reid

    Wall-E (2008)

    Pixar has been one of the most trustworthy brands out there. I go to a film just because they’re the ones making it. Wall-E does nothing to weaken that trust, although I didn’t love the film. I think most of the idiots would enjoy this film, so I would recommend it. I think Penny and Grace probably having the best chance of liking this. Next, I’d say Kevin, Tony, Jill and Don. I don’t feel comfortable rating this film as I went with my summer fun kids, so I missed some scenes.

    **
    The film is about a the trash-compacting robot (Wall-E) that’s still operating after the humans destroy earth. Wall-E goes about his business when all of sudden he has another robot visitor. Is it a friend or foe? You’ll have to watch the film to find out. This is a sci-fi film that may not be really original, but, like many of the other pixar films, does manage to successfully tug at the heartstrings.

    Hancock (2008)

    This the movie that will cause us to never bring Zane to a movie again until he’s older. This second time I missed the ending of the movie because Zane got antsy. Luckily, it wasn’t a movie that I wasn’t really into. (More about that later.) I could see Penny calling this is a decent popcorn movie, and I could see Jill liking it, too. Others might be mildly entertained, but I’m not confident to recommend it.

    **
    The film is about Hancock (Will Smith), a man who basically has the powers of superman. The difference is that he’s a jerk. That’s where Ray (Jason Bateman) comes in. He’s a struggling ad-man who Hancock saves one day. Ray feels like he understands Hancock, and wants to help him change his image.

    ***
    The problem with this film has to do with the casting. I like Will Smith, partly because he’s so likeable. That’s the problem. He’s not convincing as a jerk. The same sort of thing happened with Jack Nicholson trying to play a vulnerable man lacking confidence in As Good as It Gets. Jason Bateman, another actor who I kinda like, also didn’t work in his role, mainly because the chemistry between he and Hancock just didn’t work for me. This film is more of a comedy than an action film and the comedy just didn’t work for me, primarily because of the leads. Now, I didnt see the ending of the film, so it’s hard for me to judge the film, but I don’t think the ending would have overcome the issues I mentioned above.

  46. Mitchell

    I saw Hancock last night and loved the first half, but hated the second half.

    Don’t listen to Reid about the casting: It’s terrific. Smith as the surly, abrasive superhero with the small amount of vulnerability is well done. I know Smith is charming and charismatic, but he is totally capable of being a jerk. One of the songs on his Homebase album is called “You Saw My Blinker,” in which he repeatedly (angrily) says the line, “You saw my blinker, Bitch!” Anyway, I think the film doesn’t dwell on that because it agrees that Smith as a jerk is tough to buy.

    Now, Jason Bateman is PERFECT in his role. He’s almost fully in his Michael Bluth mode from Arrested Development: Understated, ironic, able to interpret a moment quickly and identify its critical components. The Charlize Theron character says what we already have a pretty good sense about: He sees the good in people, even when it’s not there.

    The best Bateman/Smith moments are when they’re close together, just talking to each other. Halfway through the film, I was going to declare this the best superhero movie ever. There is an obvious vulnerability, a neediness that Smith communicates mostly with his eyes. He does some solid acting in this first half, where his body language says one thing but his eyes and mouth say another.

    We do not see this kind of interaction between the Charlize Theron character and ANYone else in the film. She’s fine with what she’s given, but the movie takes us away from an interesting character-development plot and into an action movie with NO real character development, and that’s where it falls flat. The first half of this movie is Men in Black. The second half is Men in Black II.

  47. Reid

    I’m glad Mitchell posted his comments. Personally, I like reading more comments about a film before I decide to see a film. I would guess other people would agree with Mitchell on this. If someone else sees this, let us know who was “right.”

  48. pen

    I saw Mongol yesterday and have mixed feelings about it. I think I left the theatre with more questions than answers about Genghis Khan. They did not really develop the characters well, but glimpses were provided through their actions. I am not sure if this was on purpose or not. Also, I was unsatisfied with the ending. Are they planning to make a sequel?

    There were things I liked. I think the actors did a good job with what they were given. Some scenes are gorgeous. Perhaps not Terrence Malick or Ang Lee gorgeous, but still gorgeous. Pacing of the film was good until the end when it seemed they were in a rush to wrap things up.

  49. Mitchell

    Wall-E
    7/10

    I saw Wall-E late Sunday night (in celebration of completing my first draft). What I love about Pixar films is what Ebert refers to as the artists’ tendency to “paint in the corners.” Visually, it’s just impossible to beat the detail and scope of a Pixar screen. I know Reid wasn’t impressed with Ratatouille‘s animation, but I thought that was one of the best ones, animation-wise. I’ve got some screen captures I’ll post later as evidence. Wall-E wasn’t as good-looking as that, but it was still very impressive in that sense. I was captivated by this film’s visuals.

    I was also more affected by the story than I expected to be, partially because of the love story but mostly because of the Axiom’s captain’s resolve to do what’s right even in the face of difficulty and overwhelming adversity. Parts of this film reminded me a little bit of The Giver, which I guess isn’t too surprising, given both films’ dystopian themes.

    I describe this film as part 2001: A Space Odyssey, part CastAway, and part The Blue Lagoon.

    Couple of spoilers:
    My friend noticed (and I was really annoyed that I didn’t think of it) that the President of the United States was the only really human-looking character (besides those non-animated portions of My Fair Lady, I think it was, and the photographs in the Axiom’s encyclopedia). I like how Pixar films tend to make the humans look more cartoony than the non-humans, but this part baffled us.

    The other thing that bugged me was the fact that the Axiom was soooooo far away from earth! Why would it have to travel that far if the eventual plan was a return? Wouldn’t the Axiom want to stay somewhere in the neighborhood of earth’s orbit, at least, in order to approximate earth’s orbit and climate? The only thing I can figure is that it planned to go out for a period of time and then to turn around, but then it just continued for 700 years on its course because earth’s habitat never became friendly in all that time.

  50. mitchell

    I saw Iron Man this evening (thanks for the gift card, R&L!) and was thoroughly entertained from beginning to end. Robert Downey, Jr. has been great for the past ten years or so, and he presents a very engaging character here. I am only the slightest bit familiar with the comic book and therefore have nothing to compare the film to; however, this movie makes me want to read the comic book. I don’t know of movies are supposed to inspire that, but this one does.

    Gwyneth Paltrow acts circles around just about everyone she’s ever on screen with. I’m scheduled to teach drama again this year (first time in nine years, I think) and I’m thinking of showing part of this to my students. Gwyneth is always acting and knows how to be her character when the attention’s not necessarily on her. I think I learn something new about acting every time I see her.

    The other supporting actors are fine. Good soundtrack, good effects, good action, good bits of humor. I, too, give it a hearty 7 of 10.

  51. pen

    So what did you like so much about Gwyneth Paltrow in the movie, Mitchell? I kind of thought she was wasted on the role…I mean, she did okay, but I do not see what she did that was so special. I felt like a number of people could have played that role.

  52. Reid

    I really like Gwyneth Paltrow, too. I find her acting style to be natural, almost subtle. Plus, she has a rare kind of look and presence: she’s attractive, but in a plain way; she seems like a normal person versus a Hollywood movie star. She also has a quiet quality that makes her appealing. Claire Danes also has a similar vibe.

    Having said that, I’d be curious to hear what you found so good about her performance in this role. I liked her, but, like Penny, I didn’t find her performance noteworthy.

    As for the comic book, I haven’t read much of it, but from what I remember, Tony Stark is not as engaging as the character created by Downey Jr. But the storyline is very similiar, and you might like that in the comic.

  53. Reid

    Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008)
    4/10

    I’m not recommending this even though some of you might be satisfied with it. Maybe Tony and John (who I know liked the first film) would enjoy this.

    ***
    To me, the story isn’t that great and the characters–which were appealing in the first film–fail to get me to care. The emerging relationships (and the lack of the father-son relationship) wasn’t very compelling or convincing to me. Then actors also weren’t able to bring their characters to life, and I don’t recall feeling the same way in the first film. Sometimes adaptations work because they rely on viewers knowledge from the source material to fill in blanks that the film leaves out. Maybe that”s the case here. In any event, the film just felt sluggish to me.

    The costumes and blend of cgi and “real” fx were well-done as in other films by del Toro. Other directors should look at the way he balances these things. (I wish the same kind of creativity would be in the script.)

  54. Mitchell

    Get Smart

    I am a HUUUUUUUUUUGE fan of the television series and simply cannot BELIEVE that Penny has never seen a full episode! Penny, it’s totally your kind of humor. You would love that show.

    I’m enough of a fan to know the Chief’s agent number (it’s Q, from the days before they switched to numbers) and his first name (it’s Thaddeus). I’m enough of a fan that I would have been sorely disappointed had Agent 13 not made an appearance in the film (he does, and he’s played by an appropriately mopey Bill Murray). I’m enough of a fan to have been pleased to see Bernie Kopell (The Love Boat’s Dr. Adam Bricker and the original Siegfried of K.A.O.S.) make a quick cameo.

    So this film had a gigantic task ahead of itself if it hoped to please me. Luckily, I am not the only one of my kind, and the filmmakers were aware of that. Every catchphrase is in there, but not in a dumb, “look, here’s the catchphrase!” way, except for both times Agent 86 used “Missed it by that much!” The rest of the catchphrases were worked in almost naturally, as if they were the sorts of things you or I would have said in the same situations. The “portable” Cone of Silence shows up, as does the updated version, which also doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. Even Hymie makes an appearance, which I just considered bonus.

    I thought it was an interesting and effective decision not to have Steve Carrell affect the Maxwell Smart / Tennessee Tuxedo voice. This new Maxwell Smart is a reasonable, acceptable update on the old character. The new Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) is good, but the dynamic between the characters was unexpected. In the television series, 86 is all business and it’s 99 who longs for his attention. In the film, those roles are reversed. In the series, she lets Max make the decisions and it’s her competence that cleans up the mess; she would never have fought with Max over who was in charge. Max was always in charge but successful only because of 99.

    I have to say that as much as I like Hathaway, I disagreed with the way the writers and director present her here. In the television show, 99 is pretty, but it’s her smart, earnest competence that makes her sexy. In this film version, she’s presented rather sexually from the very beginning, and while I can’t argue with results, I don’t like what it does to the overall picture.

    Still, Carrell and Hathaway are good choices for these roles, which I hope they get to reprise someday.

    The action sequences were fine, but they were of little interest to me. I was much more interested in the dialogue and character interaction, both of which pleased me a great deal. Masi Oka and Nate Torrence as the new gadget guys are hilarious. Dwayne Johnson is perfect here as C.O.N.T.R.O.L.’s number one agent. Music by Trevor Rabin is effective and enjoyable.

    A solid 7 out of 10 for me.

  55. Mitchell

    You Can’t Get Away with Murder (1939)
    Humphrey Bogart, Billy Halop, Madge Stone. Directed by Lewis Seiler.

    Bogart is a gangster, and Halop is one of his stooges, a young punk who sees Bogart as a kind of mentor. When Bogart and Halop get thrown into Sing Sing for an armed robbery, they take their sentence willingly because it means getting away with a murder. However, the man tried, convicted, and sentenced to death in that murder is Halop’s sister’s fiance.

    Halop is one of the Dead End Kids who appear with Bogart in several pre-High Sierra films. This is the first I’ve seen. His performance is rather overwrought in the way punk kids are always presented in films from this era: “Say, mister. What’s it you?”

    Bogart’s okay, but his role isn’t very demanding. After all those gangster roles he played in the thirties, this seems rather phoned-in. Still it’s a decently engaging ninety-minute movie and you could do worse.

    Let’s call it 5/10 counting a half-point bump for starring Bogart.

  56. Mitchell

    A few other thoughts in response to comments above:

    Reid, did we see The Commitments together with Penny in her parents’ living room? I liked it. It wasn’t a great film but the songs were very entertaining, and it was a reminder that rock was really made popular by white people in Europe trying to play American music.

    Iron Man was a first for me! It was the first time in my LIFE that I went to a film in a theater and was the ONLY person in the whole room! Yah! The dream has been realized!

  57. Reid

    I didn’t see The Commitments with you and Penny. I just saw it on netflix. I wonder if you would like it as much now. I think part of the excitement came from reintroducing this music and the novelty of seeing white groups do it so well. But the story and character development is really poor, imo.

    What did you find particularly great about Paltrow’s performance in Iron Man? I can’t recall a time I went to a film when I was the only one.

  58. pen

    I saw Dark Knight, the new Batman movie and it was pretty awesome. Heath Ledger was amazing (in one scene he is just sitting in the jail cell and you can sense the madness and energy around him…blew me away). Really, solid performances all around (thank goodness Morgan Freeman doesn’t swear in this movie)…except Christian Bale had some “American Psycho” moments going on. Plus, I don’t like how Batman growls everything. Sounds phony. And one scene was difficult to understand because of they way they shot it.

    Otherwise, LOVED this flick. Cool stunts, but what was more intriguing was the moral aspect to it. All about choices and at what point do “decent” and “civilized” people become indecent and uncivilized. Also brought up themes about what and who a hero is and is not and what the people need and what they want are not always the same.

    And in the comic book is Bruce Wayne kind of a playboy jerk? I thought he was kind of a loner/mysterious and more philanthropist than playboy. Just wondering.

  59. Reid

    Dark Knight (2008)
    Dir. Christopher Nolan
    8/10

    Penny thought I’d like this, and she was right. I’m not sure how many of you will enjoy this, but I do know that some of you–like Mitchell, Grace–would appreciate seeing this, at the very least because there is an aspect of this film that ranks among the best of its kind. While the film is good, I found it uneven, too, and I’ll go into that later. Larri liked it, but my brother only gave it a 6/10. Btw, I did not care for the Batman Begins. (I think I gave it a 4 or 5.) Metacritic score is in the 80s.

    **
    Is a plot description necessary? Everyone knows who the Batman is. Ditto the Joker. The film has the Batman and the Joker, nuff said, right? Well, OK maybe not. I can say that if you’re just expecting a typical super-hero action film you might be disappointed. But if you don’t like those films, you should consider seeing this. Personally, I think the interest of the film is mainly in the characters and some of moral issues that arise in the film. This film presents, by far, the most interesting moral situations and complex characters than any of the other comic adaptations.

    ***
    There is one thing that stands out and must be talked about before anything else and that is Heath Ledger’s performance. He has created one of the all-time great villians and perhaps turned in one of the all-time best performances. Yes, I mean that. His performance alone makes the film worth seeing, at least if seeing great performances matters to you.

    For one thing, I didn’t even know that was him playing the role. Yes, the makeup and puffed cheeks had something to do with it–btw, whoever decided on the make-up and hairstyle, particuarly the smeared look and the greasy, stringy hair, deserved credit in the creation of the character–but it was also his mannerisms and voice that threw me off. I still can’t believe it was Ledger.

    The other extraordinary thing about this performance is the way Ledger brought life, in electrifying and terrifying fashion, to a character so well-worn that he’s boring. Not only that, but this is a specific role that actors can easily turn into silly burlesque (See Jack Nicholson’s performance in the Burton Batman). Ledger’s Joker is anything but silly. (Indeed, there were lines delivered by Ledger that I might have expected the audience to chuckle or laugh, but in those moments all I heard was a deathly silence.) The character he creates is utterly creepy and believeable–someone I took very seriously. What is truly remarkable about this performance is the realism of the character. I can hear some people saying, “The Joker from the Batman comics? he guy played by Cesar Romero in those dorky purple outfits.” Yeah, him. Ledger takes that Joker and makes him someone you’re actually afraid of. The last time I felt that way toward a fictional character was probably Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter, but Ledger’s Joker may be scarier.

    I’m focusing on Ledger’s performance, but not giving credit to the other filmmakers involved (like director, Christopher Nolan, the cinematographer) would be unfair. There is a whole mood and look to the film that adds to the believabilty and creepiness of the Joker’s character. You can really see this in the opening scene, which has an almost hazy look and very spare and simple musical score. This last part was very crucial, I thought. Often in action films, especially comic book adaptations, filmmakers utilize an orchestral based score, but here the sounds are more like loud noises and sometimes there is an absence of sound altogether (someting I know Mitchell will probably appreciate). Nolan also made a smart decision to forgo all the gadgets the Joker’s gadgets, asmart move. All of this created a realism that helped make the Joker believeable, which made him that much scarier.

    There’s another thing that Nolan and Johnathan Nolan (screenwriters) add to the Joker character, namely his strategic intelligence. With some quibbles, most of the Joker’s strategic moves were very satisfying. This is what made him so formidable (and perhaps one of the most formidable villians of all-time). I found myself feeling like I wouldn’t have minded if the Batman killed him off before the film ended; I was looking for some relief.

    I’m talking about this Joker almost as if he’s a villian in a horror film and that is basically what he is. My sister-and-law took her kids to this film and had to walk out because she was getting creeped out by him. The word “malevolent force” comes to mind when I think of this character and it alludes to the vibe Penny felt when the Joker was in prison. It’s a shame that Ledger is no longer alive. I can’t imagine anyone playing the role. (Well, maybe someone can, but they’ll basically be trying to copy Ledger’s performance.) I also can’t imagine anyone else turning in a better performance than this.

    On to other matters. Penny mentioned the moral aspects to the story. I liked those parts, too, but I felt Nolan’s treatment of them were uneven and not fully satisfying. Why? Well, I just feel like he lacked certain a deeper understanding of the psychological and spiritual aspects of human beings to satisfyingly deal with moral themes and situations he presented. I have a hard time recalling things from this film. One of the reasons I think I have a hard time was the way Nolan edits and places the sequence of events. I missed some dialogue, too. Penny mentioned that she had a hard time understanding certain lines, and Larri and I had the same problem, although it wasn’t just limited to Christian Bale’s growling (I didn’t care for that, too; it gave him a “Columbia School of Broadcasting” super-hero voice, where a more natural realistic voice would have been more helpful, I think.).

    Btw, I’m not a big fan of Christian Bale. He’s too “white-bread” for me: plain and dull. Penny mentioned the “American Psycho” side coming out, but I didn’t get that at all. Yeah, he got angry, but the darker side of his personality failed to convince me.

    As for the action scenes, there were some pretty good ones. The chase scene was pretty good. I especially pretty much excluded any score in those scenes. The scene where Batman takes on the Joker while on his bike was also pretty thrilling. The other scenes, especially the fight scenes with Batman I found dull for some reason. Partly, it’s because Nolan didn’t shoot the action so the audience can see everything unfold (the camera too close to the action).

    Back to the moral questions. I should go back and watch the film so that I can give specific reasons I was not totally satisfied. I did like a lot of the issues and complexity he brought up; they were way more interesting than the action parts of the film. Maybe part of the reason was that I didn’t think the Batman character was as interesting or realistic (psychologically) and was not a worthy protagonist to the Joker’s antagonist. I think Bale is too bland, even wooden. I don’t feel convinced that this is a guy that wants to really do good and help people. At the same time, the conflict and temptation and the resistance to the temptation lacks the a believeable drama. I don’t know. The more I write about this, the more I want to re-watch the film to analyze these specific points.

    Something might have been lacking in the Harvey “Two-Face” character, too. He’s an interesting character, but I may have needed more understanding of his motivation to do the good things he did; Eckhart didn’t fully convince me that he was this genuinely righteous person (he needed more of that Jimmy Stewart element; it would have been interesting to see Stewart play this character). And when he melts down (no pun intended), his aggression seeemd incongruous. Yes, he’s gone crazy, but the character or scene lacks something to fully convince me.

  60. pen

    This movie would have been utterly fantastic if Bale and Eckhart’s performances rose to the level of Ledger’s. Perhaps we would not be as critical of their performances if Ledger had not been as amazing as he was, but he was amazing and Bale couldn’t keep up. Batman is presented with some serious quandries and while there is a hint of it, Bale’s performance failed to flesh it out. Batman (or Bruce Wayne) does not seem to agonize over his decisions; and they are truly agonizing decisions. And if Bale’s performance had been stronger, the dichotomy between the Joker and Batman would have been heightened, which would have made the movie more dynamic.

    I agree with Reid’s assessment of Eckhart’s “Two-Face” performance. I started thinking about how “No Country for Old Men” did a better job at portraying a similar aspect of a character’s perspective about chance and justice and fairness.

  61. Mitchell

    Geez. I saw the 2001 Planet of the Apes with Mark Wahlberg, Paul Giamatti, and Helena Bonham Carter, directed by Grace’s favorite, Tim Burton.

    I thought certainly someone had reviewed it here, but no. Instead, a few comments from this thread.

    Reid:

    I was flipping through the TV channels, and I saw bits of the remake Planet of the Apes. That might qualify as one of the worst movies ever.

    Joel:

    Planet of the Apes remake as one of the worst movies ever? I thought the film was entertaining enough to keep my attention. The action sequences were enough for me [not to call it] … “one of the worst movies ever.” I didn’t think the acting was all that bad either.

    Let me assure you all that while this is no Event Horizon, it at least deserves mention on the Worst Movies list. This film SUCKS. And you know what? It’s not the acting. The acting is actually quite good; the actors do what they can with the material they are given.

    Some thought must be given to the director’s purpose, and I suspect that Burton was going for a certain amount of camp, but even if a lot of the dialogue was intentionally bad, it was so bad that it was nearly unwatchable. How such esteemed actors as Giamatti and Bonham Carter were convinced to utter such ridiculous lines is beyond me, except that this is pre-American Splendor for Giamatti and Bonham Carter has always seemed a little wacky.

    The action sequences were boring. The costuming, which the positive reviewers seemed to focus on, actually made things worse, because the very concept of these apes is so outlandish that the realer-looking the costumes, the dumber the whole idea seemed to be. This is a movie that was doomed to failure no matter HOW good the acting, costumes, action, and plot, unless the writers and director went completely the other way, along the lines of, say, Mars Attacks!

    Do not see this film unless you, like me, are trying to see everything Paul Giamatti’s in. I’ve been avoiding two Giamatti films in my quest to be a Giamatti completionist: Saving Private Ryan, because I’m not eager to see the opening sequences, and Thunderpants, for reasons I hope will be obvious to anyone who knows about this film. However, I survived Planet of the Apes, so I suppose I can handle even these two movies.

    2/10.

  62. Reid

    Yea! we agree on a film. (Well, I would consider giving it a 1/10.) I thought I had a review, but I guess now. Btw, isn’t Bonham-Cater married to Burton? That would explain her involvement in the film.

    I understand the reason you don’t want to see the opening of Saving Private Ryan, but it has to be one of the greatest battle sequences ever filmed. And I’m not a big fan of the movie.

  63. Mitchell

    I sheepishly admit that the reason it doesn’t get a 1 is because there was one thing that held my interest. Okay, so that’s a lame reason, but I’m being honest. I like pretty women.

  64. Reid

    I can’t think of a time when the beauty of an actress prevented me from giving a film a lower score….wait a minute, I thought of one, and you probably know which one it is. Then again, the actresses beauty wasn’t the primary reason. I gueess, you could say I liked the character.

    Back to Dark Knight (spoilers)

    Penny,

    I think Bale is partly to blame, but not totally. I agree that the audience sees very little of Batman’s struggle with the quandries he faced, but the Nolans (director and writers) give much camera time to this either. Moreover, the way Batman (and even the people on the boat) resolve these issues seem a bit hollow. This treatment gives the impression that the filmmakers are content to just get to a happy resolution. Batman can’t just kill off (running him over or allowing him to fall) or torture the Joker (not much anyway) because that would alienate the audience. But without showing Batman wrestle with these situations and work to a satisfying resolution, his decisions to behave in the moral and decent way are empty and unsatisfying, at least for me. Yes, Bale didn’t show us the inner struggle, and he may not have done a good job if he tried, but Nolan doesn’t give him much screen time to do this (at least based on my memory). This struggle and the resolution seems absent in the script as well. Seeing Batman compromise himself or lose control at behave immorally would have been more interesting, more dark. This Batman is not very dark, and if the filmmakers couldn’t come up with a satifying way for Batman to resolve these dilemnas, showing him succumb to darker impulses may have been more interesting. (There’s another issue that the filmmakers raise–namely, the fact that the existence of Batmen is leading normal citizens to copy his vigilante approach–but, as I recall, the filmmakers move on to other issues before they deal with this.)

    By the way, I have a similar complaint to the ending of A Few Good Men. The filmmakers don’t respond in a satisfying way to Col. Jessup’s tirade about the way civilization needs someone willing to commit horrendous acts in order to keep people safe. Are those horrendous acts necessary? The film totally chickens out and avoids dealing with the question. Dark Knight raises similar questions, and like A Few Good Men, pretty much cops out on seriously addressing them.

    On another note, did you find some of the scenes hard to follow? For example, the last scene with Batman using the “cellular sonar.” Telling who’s who and what’s happening was not easy. Some of the other scenes were like that, too. Also, the sub-plot with the Hong Kong accountant seemed uncessary.

    When I factor these deficiencies into the movie, I should give the movie a lower rating, say a 7/10. Ledger’s performance prevents me from lowering the score.

  65. Mitchell

    In this case, since she wasn’t that big a part of the movie, she didn’t give it THAT much of a boost. While I did not enjoy a single minute of this film, I was interested in seeing how it ended. That’s worth another couple of tenths of a point, I think.

    Besides, according to my rating system, only films whose very existence is offensive or immoral get one star. I believe only Event Horizon is on that list, ‘though I have to take another look. Planet of the Apes was as bad as a film could get without making me feel as if I needed a shower after watching it.

  66. Mitchell

    Duets (2000). Paul Giamatti, Gwyneth Paltrow, Huey Lewis, Andre Braugher, and Maria Bello. Directed by Bruce Paltrow.

    Talk about good ideas and good intentions that just don’t work. Three stories of three pairs of characters on their way to a big karaoke contest in Omaha. The acting’s not bad (except for Lewis, who seems stiff). The dialogue has its moments, but there’s no payoff. Most importantly, the whole framework upon which this movie hangs, the world of karaoke competition, is flimsy and it doesn’t work. The karaoke is more like an excuse to tell these stories, rather than the element that characters find themselves driven by. You can take a silly subject and, with the right treatment, make us understand the characters who dedicate themselves to it, as in Best in Show and Strictly Ballroom. In capable hands, these worlds become something we can laugh at and something we can sympathize with.

    The writers of Duets don’t bother. We see the characters on stage, performing “Cruising,” and “Try a Little Tenderness,” but we never really hear them talking with each other about what it’s MEANS for them to be onstage singing these songs. We don’t see them practice, ever, so the scenes where they get onstage seem like happy accidents. We don’t see the characters interacting with each other in karaoke-specific contexts except at the very beginning of the film.

    It’s not enough. And because we never really believe in this world to begin with, the gathering of these six people in Omaha seems forced and the plot resolutions unconvincing.

    Spare yourself.

    3/10.

  67. Reid

    Larri liked Duets, giving it a 6 or 7.

    X-Files (2008)
    3/10

    I have only seen a few episodes of the series, and I basically don’t remember a thing about them. I don’t think many people will like this film, except maybe hard-core fans. Really, the review can be summed up like this: a very mediocre episode.

    When you’re watching TV, sometimes a mediocre episode is fine. If you’re a hard-core fan, you probably want to see even the mediocre episodes. But why would you put this on the big screen? The movie held my attention (barely), but I gave it a three because it is clearly not a good movie.

    ***
    I’m debating if I should spend time critiquing the film as there’s probably better things to do with my time. Well, I’ll try to keep it short. First let me say that I think David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are solid actors, and I didn’t really have a problem with their performances. (I was kinda impressed by Anderson).

    OK, onto the problems. Where to start? The filmmakers should have showed more struggle and motivation for Mulder returning to the FBI. They just sort of gloss over this part; the FBI’s motivation to get Mulder back seems weak, too; How does Scully get approval to operate on the boy? That seems glossed over; how does Mulder get away from the dog and what was that severed arm doing there? (At this point I really didn’t care if the filmmakers had a reason or not). Finally, (and there’s more complaints, but I’ll stop here), the way Scully finds Mulder using Proverbs 25:2 is just dumb. It reminded me of the ending of Signs. The issues of faith and doubt could have been interesting in the hands of a filmmaker who understood these issues a little better.

  68. Mitchell

    Just saw the Roeper and Phillips review of the X-Files, which I am definitely seeing no matter what anyone says, and Phillips actually agrees with Reid that it’s not as good as the better episodes of the TV show. Roeper calls himself a casual fan and said he really liked it.

    I can’t wait to see it.

  69. Reid

    What made you decide to see it?

  70. Marc

    Ok, I’ll bite since I’ve actually seen Batman recently and I have a few different perspectives to offer. Spoilers will follow.

    I thought the movie was great. I agree that Ledger’s performance was the best thing but I also think that he really was the focus of this movie. Certainly in many superhero movies the villain is the most memorable character and I think this is the case in every Batman movie except *Batman Begins* which I thought was quite good too. In any case, Ledger was outstanding. Even more, as written, he was almost believable and he was really scary.

    My different perspective is probably on Christian Bale. I think of all the actors to play Batman since the first Burton movie, he is by far the best one, probably because he brings the most intensity to the role. I’m not sure how he could have done better in this role and I don’t know who would have done better. In past recent movies, I thought he was really good in *3:10 to Yuma*, *The Prestige*, and *Batman Begins*.

    I guess my problem with the movie is that there was so much going on. Some commented earlier about getting deeper in the quandaries and situations but the movie was already 2.5 hours long without very much space to breathe. I would have liked to have seen fewer plotlines and more depth but this is probably a matter of taste. For example, did we really need Two-Face to be involved in this movie? Wasn’t there enough with the Joker? Also, I guess I’d quibble that most of the danger faced in this movie was by supporting characters, not Batman. Sure, the main conflict was between Batman and the Joker but I never got the sense that Batman was really in danger of dying. His major conflict was whether to reveal himself and trying to save everyone around him. When all of the character’s motivations are altruistic it seems hard to delve into the dark side. In this movie, the Joker was remade to great success and Batman was left as is.

    In any event, I’ll probably make this one of the rare movies that I see twice in the theatres because I felt like I missed things and I feel like it deserves to be seen on the big screen, at least until I spend another bunch of money on my home theatre setup.

  71. Mitchell

    I didn’t “decide” to see the X-Files film. I’ve been psyched about it since I heard about it not too long ago. I like the series and really enjoyed the last film. I think Grace and I are seeing a Sunday matinee if anyone wants in on that.

  72. pen

    Okay, because a friend wanted to go see it and reminded me that Brendan Frasier is “dude-a-licious,” I went to see Journey to the Center of the Earth in 3-D, no less. I should not have poo-poohed so early. This movie was actually a “fun romp” as the critics like to say. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit and while some of the 3-D bits were hokey, some were really cool and added a whole new dimension (sorry, couldn’t resist) to the movie. The characters were engaging and pacing was pretty good and production was quite awesome. Plus, I got to take home my 3-D glasses for some future 3-D movie, I suppose. Hannah Montana?

  73. Mitchell

    I saw High Sierra (1941; Humphrey Bogart, Ida Lupino) for the first time since the summer of 1984. I’d forgotten almost everything about it, but really dug it this time around. Bogart plays a gangster (this is his last major gangster role) with some sensitivity. John Huston, who co-wrote the screenplay (he didn’t direct this) really gives Bogey some good scenes for establishing a depth of character you don’t see in these thirties-era gangster flicks. Bogart does a good job with the sensitive stuff and with the tough-guy stuff (which of course is why we love him). Lupino’s a bit over the top, but the nice surprise was Joan Leslie, to whom I guess I didn’t pay much attention when I was fifteen but wow.

    joanleslie.jpg

    Until High Sierra, Bogart was strictly a B-movie lead or a supporting, character actor in A-list films. This is the film that broke him out and sorta made him who he was. In fact, Lupino had top billing in this film; it was maybe the last time Bogey’s name wasn’t at the top of the marquee. He became really good friends with John Huston either during or just before the making of this film, which of course was huge for his career, but he also showed more range than other roles had allowed him, and Casablanca followed the next year.

    This is a flawed film; there is some over-acting pretty much on everyone’s parts, but it is fun to watch and it has some really good moments. I give it a nice 6 objectively, but it’s so fun watching Bogey become Bogey here that it feels more like a 7.

  74. Reid

    Let me know when you see In a Lonely Place. I really love that film (9/10).

    Actually, I thought that film had potential as a good popcorn film, but I still don’t have a strong desire to see it.

    Dark Knight spoilers

    Marc,

    To me Bale needed to reveal more of the internal struggle of the character, although this is an action film most of the important action and action should have taken place within Batman. He has a lot of tough issues to deal with: can he justify his actions in a society governed by “rule of law”–he’s partly responsible for the spate of vigilante copycats? should he give up his identity to prevent people from dying? who should he save–the love of his life or the one person who can “legitimately” clean up the city? should he kill the Joker? Batman’s struggle–and there not insignficant (they probably seem that way just because of this deficiency I’m talking about) and the way he ultimately resolves them were, to me, the heart of the film.

    Because I feel that, I agree that they should have eliminated some plot-lines or de-emphasized the action or gadgets made room for this internal drama. This is what the filmmakers did with the Joker character with good effect. What if they had done the same with Batman–such as cutting out the scenes going to Hong Kong, which put in for the action sequence. De-emphasizing the Batman’s gadgets would have been a bold move that could have helped the film by focusing on its heart. But the Hollywood suits would probably never go for that.

    As for who could have played him, I’m not sure. Someone like Clive Owen comes to mind, primarily because he has a dark vibe to him. What about Leonardo DiCaprio? Maybe too boyish, but he could bring the intensity, degree of darkness needed and the subtlety in acting. Daniel Craig might be very good, too, but he’s already James Bond. (Did you see Casino Royale. It’s really good, and I would recommend it.) Bale is too all-American and his acting too wooden. He doesn’t have a malleable enough face to let viewers into his thoughts. He would have been a better Superman, which is not a good sign. Batman, especially if they’re going to pursue the “Dark Knight” theme is not a clear cut good guy. Bale and the other filmmakers don’t really do a good job of showing that. What was so dark about him? There’s little that I can recall about him that I would label dark. Now, if he had behaved questionably that would have been interesting.

  75. pen

    I finally saw Hancock on Tuesday movie night (at Dole you get free popcorn and hot dogs are $1…awesome!) Anyway, I disagree with Reid (what a shocker). I liked this movie. Although it was like two different films slapped together, it still had enough to keep my attention and the pacing had a lot to do with that.

    ***Spoilers***

    I agree with Mitchell about Smith’s performance. Really nuanced (esp. in the first half). What was hard for me was buying Mary’s relationship with Ray. Not because of Jason Bateman, but because of Charlize Theron. I could kind of see some chemistry between Mary and Hancock, but even that was a bit of a stretch. The second half of the movie is a bit hodge-podge, but unexpected (well, one thing is unexpected), but not enough for me not to have liked the movie overall.

    Better than just a popcorn movie, thanks to Smith and Bateman.

  76. Marc

    A couple of things.

    I saw Hancock tonight and thought it was ok. Entertaining but not great.

    Reid, I just don’t think we’re going to agree on the Bale and Batman thing. In my mind, Bale didn’t really have the opportunity to show what was going on inside Batman’s head because the focus of the movie was so intensely on Ledger and the Joker and the movie was so busy. I enjoyed *Batman Begins* and thought Bale was very good there, he didn’t do anything to make me think differently in this movie. I guess I would say that Bale was a strength in *Batman Begins* but would disagree with the premise that Bale was a weakness in *Dark Knight*. I really don’t think any of the other actors you mentioned would have given Batman a darker flavor in the movie as it was written and directed. I think Owen and Craig are probably too old to have played the young Bruce Wayne in the first movie and I don’t know that we could have bought DiCaprio in the role. I even wonder if seeing Bale as all-American isn’t such a bad thing given that he’s a British actor portraying an American playboy. In any event, I think Bale is clearly the best of all the actors to have portrayed Batman and that there is no shame in being overshadowed by Ledger in *Dark Knight*.

  77. Mitchell

    Swing Vote, with Kevin Costner, Madeline Carroll, Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper, Nathan Lane, and Stanley Tucci.

    (no spoilers)

    This movie, about one man whose ballot in the presidential election is somehow not counted, has a lot to say about the political process and a lot to say about how we, the common people, play a role in it whether we know it or not. Sometimes, when we try to make an important point, we take one specific example and we try to expand it to apply universally: If you accept this idea in this one situation, will you also apply it to THIS situation? Swing Vote sort of does the opposite. By focusing on the vote of one man, we get an example of the entire voting process and all the compromises candidates and voters make.

    More than a lesson in civics, though, this film is sensitive, funny, and heartbreaking. Kevin Costner’s character, Bud Johnson, has a ten-year-old daughter named Molly, played by Madeline Carroll, who is the heart and soul (and brains, come to think of it) of the film, and she turns out a performance that is just amazing. She manages to be smart and still childlike (unlike Anna Paquin in The Piano), and not just a small grownup. I’m reminded of some excellent early performances of Dakota Fanning and Mara Wilson, but I think Carroll’s performance in Swing Vote might be better.

    The film is worth seeing just for Madeline Carroll, but there’s a lot more to recommend it; I was moved by the characters and by elements of the plot that had me crying throughout the entire final act. It’s easy for a political movie to make you think, but as for making you feel? Maybe anger, indignation, or disgust (see Wag the Dog or Bulworth), but not conviction, determination, and compassion, and that’s what Swing Vote did for me. I cried for the characters, but I also cried for the real-life, everyday Americans these characters represented, and I cried a little bit for myself and my country. A nation with such lofty ambitions and ideals as the liberty and justice for all is bound to fall short of them, but there is a nobility in trying to uphold them even in the face of overwhelming cynicism, and I think that’s something America does well: It makes us believe in the dream, even when all evidence points away from it. A film like this cannot change what’s broken in the political process, but I think it can call our attention to what’s wrong with our own (and I mean EACH our own) thinking processes and ask us what we are going to do about it, because if there’s one thing each of us can change, it’s our attitudes and actions.

    Kevin Costner kind of underacts here, but he does a great job in the final scene. Hopper is probably the weak link. I liked Kelsey Grammer quite a bit in this, and I have yet to see the role Stanley Tucci doesn’t totally impress me with.

    This film put me through an emotional wringer. I am really glad I saw it.

    8/10

  78. Mitchell

    The X-Files: I Want to Believe; David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson with Amanda Peet and Xzibit

    First, and most important, I am not a huge X-Phile. I saw the first film before I saw any of the episodes, and then saw pretty much every episode after the film until the end of the show’s run. Therefore, I cannot compare later episodes to earlier episodes, and people who think the series went steadily downhill after the first three seasons will really not care what I think of this new movie, because I obviously like an X-Files that’s different from the X-Files they like.

    Second, it’s important to understand why a person likes the X-Files if one is going to understand the person’s opinion of the film. I like science fiction, but I appreciate good writing and character-driven plots more than anything. The reasons I tuned in every Sunday to see those last few seasons of the show have more to do with Mulder and Scully than with anything else. I only vaguely understand who Cigarette Smoking Man is, and I thought the Lone Gunmen were one of the best parts of the last couple of seasons. Scully’s struggle with her Catholicism is much, much more interesting to me than Mulder’s search for a father or sister. Mulder’s compulsion is interesting and endearing, but Scully’s constant struggle to reconcile faith and science is what made the show for me.

    And yes, I did want them to get together.

    Grace, who has every episode on VHS and can tell you who the writers of each episode were, asked the best question before she asked me what I thought of the film: What was my favorite episode of the X-Files television series? I laughed, because I know that my favorite episode is one of her least-favorite: The baseball-playing alien episode that David Duchovny directed. A real X-Phile, I think, can tell a lot about a person based on his or her favorite episode of the series.

    It should be clear, then, that the joy for me was going to be in connecting with these two characters again. Connecting again after six years, to my satisfaction, was going to have to involve some kind of character growth that made sense, and either a satisfactory resolution of the issues that compelled the characters in the past or a believable continuation of these same issues.

    You’ve heard the snippets in television commercials, mostly from Scully: “I don’t work with Fox Mulder anymore,” and “I’m through chasing shadows in the dark!” Yeah, baby. Tell me about it, and don’t leave out any details, you know? Let’s hear it. What are you doing now, and why?

    So the story is secondary. The characters are primary.

    I liked the film. There are a few elements of the plot that seemed kinda silly or maybe ridiculous, but the story itself was compelling and interesting. The characters’ reactions to each other and to the developments in the plot, not to mention the directions the plot takes as a result of the characters’ actions and personalities, are more than satisfying. The acting is pretty solid, especially from Gillian Anderson and Amanda Peet. I liked Xzibit, and Duchovny was his usual dry self. The critics, even those who don’t like the film, seem to agree that there is pleasure in seeing the characters again.

    That’s really quite enough for me. I’ll give it a solid 7 out of 10, hoping (seemingly against hope) for a third film.

  79. Pen

    I don’t have much to add to Mitchell’s review of Swing Vote, except to echo how great Madeline Carroll was in this role. She’s definitely one to watch.

    Dennis Hopper was the weakest link (good-bye!) because he looked too weak in the film. Not like a viable candidate for President. One thing people may not like about the film is that there are several “silly” scenes in it. The overall messages, personal boundaries and under what circumstances will we cross them, the struggle we have regarding the idea of the American Dream and the personal failures we deal with on a daily basis were respectfully treated in this film.

    I also saw Mama Mia! this weekend, and while I do not like to label films this way…this was definitley a chick flick. That is not to say that men will not enjoy this film…just that women are much more likely to enjoy it. I wanted sooooo badly to sing in the theatre and I was tapping my foot to the beat. (I didn’t sing, because I care about my fellow movie-goers.)

    Campy, over-the-top and lots of energy and fun—infectious (in the good way). Several times during the film, I thought to myself, “wow, these people have no shame!” Also, “Pierce Brosnon looks fantastic, but his singing leaves a bit to be desired.” I think I need to buy this one on DVD so I can sing and dance in the privacy of my own home, where I won’t bother anyone/end up on You-Tube.

  80. Reid

    Bug (2006)
    Dir. William Friedkin
    Starring: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Harry Connick Jr., etc.
    5/10

    Penny would probably think this is a OK. Others may enjoy it for Ashley Judd (very good performance). The ending was disappointing, so that’s why it gets a five for me. This is one of those films that don’t last long in the theaters, but gets some good buzz, so I wonder about.

    **
    The film is about a lonely waitress living a motel. Her friend at the bar introduces her to a guy, who has some secrets. In the meantime, the waitress ex-boyfriend/husband gets out of jail and comes looking for her.

    ***
    I am a big fan of Ashley Judd, and basically she’s the main reason to see this film. I find her look and presence really appealing: she’s elegant, strong, intelligent and beautiful. There’s something of the old movie star in her. Somebody get some good roles for this woman.

    While the film may not be great, her performance is very good. There’s a lot for her to do on the screen, and I can see why she took this role. I kinda wished the filmmakers made a more straight drama rather than throw in the thriller/suspense angle. The ending was disappointing, too. Even Judd couldn’t overcome the scene where her character “puts all of the pieces together.” The spell was broken at that point, and she lost me; I just couldn’t buy it. Overall her performance was really close to award worthy.

  81. pen

    “Bug” had good buzz, huh? Heh.

    I haven’t seen this film, but guess I will now. Love the horror/suspense and even bad films I generally enjoy (especially if I have some microwave popcorn and a diet coke with me at the time.) Nice way to spend a few hours.

    None of the films recommended to me are in that genre, though. But, I don’t think any of those films are in my top 10 either. Maybe we need a “guilty pleasure” top 10 list? Tho’ that’s not quite right either, since I don’t feel guilty for liking those flicks. I mean, Silence of the Lambs was probably the best. More recently, “The Descent” was also very noteworthy.

  82. Reid

    Ashley turns in a good performance, but there’s probably a ton of other stuff you should see, including in the horror/suspense genre. You have to see the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s pretty standard, well-worn material by now, but it still holds up pretty well. I’ll try to think of some other horror/suspense recommendations for you.

  83. Reid

    Ringu (1998)
    6/10

    Penny should probably see this if she hasn’t, but not because I think she’ll like it. I almost gave this a 5. I don’t think the other idiots would think much of it. This movie made the 1001 list. You could make a case that it belongs in there for its influence, but not for the quality of the film itself imo.

    **
    I believe this is the film that launched the Japanese horror genre in the late 90s and maybe even kick-started the horror genre in general. The film starts with a pretty good concept: after watching a particular video tape, you get a call and then die seven days later. The film follows a reporter and her ex-husband (both of whom have seen the tape) trying to solve the mystery and save their lives.

    ***
    (spoilers)
    I gotta say that the film was more mystery (as in the protagonists trying to figure out a puzzle) and suspense more than horror. The film wasn’t that scary at all, and I would be surprised if this frightened the fans of the genre. First of all, there’s no “jump out of your seats” scenes, not that that is a bad thing. But the director didn’t really use music, cinematography to create a scary mood either. Having said that, I was curious about the way the film would end and seeing the mystery of the video solved and, for that, I gave it a six. But overall, I didn’t think it was that great of a movie.

    There is one slight “mystery” I had about the film and that is the title. My best guess of the meaning is that the “solution” to the video requires a cycle of passing on the video, hence ring.

  84. Reid

    Poltergeist (1982)
    Dir. Tobe Hooper
    6/10

    This is one of those 1001 films I hate to see because I saw almost all of the film in pieces, but I still don’t feel comfortable claiming that I’ve “seen” it. So I have to see it. Most of you have probably already seen it, so I guess it’s pointless to recommend this to you or not. Larri really thought this sucked (not sure why), but I was surprised that I ultimately felt like it deserved a 6. One of the key questions I ask about older films in this genre is “does it hold up well?” For this film, I would say the answer is uneven, but the fact that it worked in some moments surprised me.

    ***
    I don’t think a lot of the special effects held up well–particularly the scenes with the skeltons and coffins popping out of the ground; really, the whole popping out of skeletons is date and should be added with Dracula, wolfman and Frankenstein to the no-longer-scary list. But I have to admit there were some compelling and tense scenes, mainly caused by my concern for the little girl and the anguish of the mother; the idea that the girl was trapped and only the mother could keep her alive and bring her back sorta worked on me. (This may not have been the case if I just didn’t recently become a father.)

    The family theme, the special effects and some other qualities made this feel more like a Steven Spielberg film (He was the producer) than a Tobe Hooper one. (He directed the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But I don’t find the family themes as sacchrine and over-sentimental as I do in later Speilberg films. Whatever.

    The other thing that might be worth looking into is the meaning of TV in this film and the previous one I just reviewed, Ringu. Both are updating older ghost stories by using TV or video as a key theme/prop. Analyzing the significance of the TV/video in both films might turn up interesting insights. My sense is that TV in both film signify or hint at the way TV gets in the way of family life. The little girl, Carol-Anne (in Poltergeist) is trapped in the TV, which could represent the way TV actually captures and traps children from their parents.

  85. pen

    I’ve seen “Ringu” as well as it’s American spawn “The Ring.” Didn’t see “The Ring 2,” though. I liked the original Japanese version better, but they were both average films. I think “The Ring” was actually a novel first and I read another story by that author and liked the book.

  86. Mitchell

    I haven’t seen Poltergeist since the 80s, but I enjoyed it then and remember it fondly. The Poltergeist Curse has always been kind of interesting to me, too. I can see how it might not age well; perhaps I won’t see it again just so I can continue to remember it the way I do now.

  87. Reid

    Rocket Science (2007)
    Dir. Jeffery Blitz
    4/10

    The main thing I have to say about this films is that this is one Mitchell could really love. I’d be surprised if he disliked this film, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gave this film a 9. Penny, Grace and Chris would probably would like this, too. I’m not so sure about the others. I wanted to see this film because of the review at NPR, but the film just didn’t work for me.

    **
    The film is about a boy with a stuttering problem who gets asked to join the debate team. The thing is an older, and pretty female student is the one that wants him to join. The comes from a dysfunctional family–divorced mom who has hooked up with the a neighbor and the typical jerk for an older brother. The film is one of those independent teen comedy-dramas like Juno.

    ***
    What interested me in the film is that remark that while the film had a cliched situation, it managed to avoid typical moves. Yes, that’s turned about to be true, but with little effect. The main problem for me was that the lead character just did not interest me. I just did not connect, buy or feel for the main character. I don’t know what it was. He was not really likeable for some reason. The many painfully embarassing or heartbreaking situations, just didn’t work for me as a result. Also, for some reason, I didn’t find the movie very funny. Maybe the characters and situations seemed so cliched–the kooky boyfriend of the mother; the bullying brother. I don’t know.

  88. Marc

    Saw *Dark Knight* again this weekend. Can’t remember the last time I saw a movie twice in the theatre but Christi wanted to see it and there is a new theatre that just opened.

    Second impression: plot points that I missed the first time became clearer and man there were a lot of them (verrrry busy story), the Joker was still scary, the sound was still poorly mixed and the dialogue still difficult to understand, and I still think that Bale didn’t have much of a chance to do much especially when compared to Ledger.

    Still enjoyed it a lot though. Won’t see it a third time.

  89. Reid

    The Bronx is Burning (2007)
    6/10

    This is the ESPN mini-series on the 1977 New York Yankees season as well as some of the things that were going on in NYC at the time (the Son of Sam murders). I guess the series was OK, but disappointing in that I wished the series revealed more about the main characters–Billy Martin, the Yankee’s manager; George Steinbrenner, the Yankee’s owner; and Reggie Jackson, the homerun hitting Yankee right fielder–and their relationship with each other. The sense of disappointment was keener after watching the interviews with the real people portrayed in the film (including Billy Martin’s son and John Turturro, who played Martin in the series). For example, both Steinbrenner and Martin’s son mentioned that Martin and Steinbrenner were friends, albeit a rocky relationship. But from the series, I never got the sense that they were friends at all.

    The struggle, very much like a soap opera, between Steinbrenner, Martin and Jackson made the series interesting to watch, so on that level, the mini-series was interesting. I just wished they dugged deeper into these very interesting characters. The series probably needed to be longer, or the story would have worked better as a book.

  90. pen

    Saw Tropic Thunder yesterday and while it was not as offensive or as funny as I thought it would be, I enjoyed it. Ben Stiller skewers Hollywood (reality and move magic), actors (their “process,” insecurities, pressure that they are only as good as their last success, and egos), agents, moguls (and the struggle of power between financier, director and actor); as well as the whole art imitating life or life imitating art idea. It’s a lovingly baleful look which keeps it from being vicious, but Stiller’s “take it to the extreme to make a point and to make it funny” strategy is as firmly in place as tongue is to cheek.

    The more I thought about it, the more I liked what he was trying to say and the more substance I found. Robert Downey, Jr. and Stiller portray their archetypes very well and so does another well-known actor I didn’t know was going to be in this film. Great supporting cast, although Jack Black could have been utlilized better…somehow.

  91. Mitchell

    The more I hear about this one, the more I think I want to check it out.

  92. pen

    I saw The Mummy last night (free popcorn and $1 hotdog day!). I must say that Brendan Frasier is certainly dudelicious. *sigh* Is it getting warm in here? Anyway, before I get too distracted…

    Things I liked: action was good, Brendan Frasier and Russell Wong were HOT, Michelle Yeoh was kick-butt awesome, some “cool” characters (yeti).

    Things I didn’t really like: Maria Bello taking Rachel Weiz’s place as Mrs. O’Connell, Brendan Frasier looked too young to be the father of the guy playing his adult son, the interaction between them as a family did not quite ring true, supporting cast under-utilized.

  93. Reid

    Red Belt (2008)
    Dir. David Mamet
    6/10

    I don’t think I can recommend this strongly to any of the idiots. Of course, fans of Mamet should probably see this. This is one of those films that could improve in my mind as I think about it more.

    **
    The film is about a ju-jitsu (Brazilian style) instructor, Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ojiofor) and the challenges he faces running a school. The plot also involves drawing him in–a renown fighter–into a tournament. Even though there are some fight scenes, there probably isn’t enough to please action fans. (Larri did not really care for it.)

    ***
    (spoilers)
    One of the best ideas in the film was this idea of the way someone with integrity and focus can overcome those who are deceiptful and cunning. Terry is so pure he’s naive, but the film says that doesn’t matter. His purity allows he to evade and prevail over those more cunning than he is. That’s an interesting twist on Mamet’s interest of the con. As Terry says, “There’s always an escape.” Mamet may be saying the way out of con is to have integrity. That doesn’t sound quite like what the film is saying, but I like the flavor of that anyone.

  94. Reid

    Traitor (2008)
    Dir. Jeffrey Nachmanoff
    Starring: Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, etc.
    7/10

    Not a great film, but I think I could recommend this to most every idiot here. This would definitely satisfy you if you’re just looking for something to see at the theaters.

    **
    The comments that drew my attention to the film dealt with this film becoming popular with a wider audience because of complex characters and the way the film exists in gray areas of moral issues. That remark is justified. The film is about a ex-U.S. military man, Samir Horn (Cheadle) who is working with a Muslim terrorist organization. Horn’s Sudanese father died in a car bomb and later raised by his mother in the U.S. Horn’s father raised him to be a devout Muslim, and Horn joins up with a Muslim extremists after working with some of them in Afghanistan in the 80s. FBI agent Clayton (Pearce) is trying to catch Horn.

    ***
    (spoiler)

    The Kingdom, a film about an FBI forensics team that goes to Saudi Arabia to solve a crime, was a bad movie, but there was one redeeming feature about it: it brought a sympathetic Muslim character to an audience that might have a negative view of all Muslims. The film might have been one of the few things that caused some to re-think their view of Muslims. Traitor does a similar thing, although the movie is a better and more complex. The audience sees that Horn actually fights against the terrorists because of his Islamic faith.
    Before the final act of the film, I knew my ultimate judgment of the film rode on the resolution of the final act. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people could figure out the ending, but I didn’t. I thought that Horn somehow did something to the explosives to make them defective. Larri whispered that the terrorists would be on the same bus, but I thought she meant a few of them, not all. I thought it was pretty cool that Horn put them all on one bus. (I’m not sure how he got all of their identities; the bus driver was also an innocent victim.)

  95. pen

    Tell No One is a French thriller that keeps you guessing to the very end. Reid didn’t particularly like it, but Larri, Grace and I did. I liked the set-up…this couple who have loved each other since they were children face a tragedy, which becomes a mystery, which becomes a cat-and-mouse chase with the bad guys and the police, and then a twisty resolution. I rooted for the main character and his relationship with his wife.

    While there were chase scenes, deception and unanswered questions in Pineapple Express it was quite a different movie. I really liked James Franco in this movie. He was terrific. There are some hillarious scenes in this movie and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Seth Rogan was on “The Daily Show” and said the movie was even better if you watched it while smoking weed, but I wouldn’t know. It was great with popcorn, goobers and raisinettes.

  96. Reid

    I didn’t care for Tell No One because I had a hard time following the story and some of the characters. But Penny, Grace and Larri didn’t have that problem, so it’s probably just me.

    Elegy (2008)
    Dir. Isabel Coixet
    Starring: Ben Kingsley, Penelope Cruz, Dennis Hopper, Patricia Clarkson, Peter Sarsgaard, Deborah Harry, etc.
    6/10

    I predict Penny, Grace, Kevin, Chris and probably Mitchell would feel like this was OK, worth seeing, but not great; it’s a film that’s good if you really want to see a film, but can’t find anything worth seeing. The cast is pretty good, and I would say there are some good acting moments and good writing, but the thought of award winning performances did not cross my mind.

    **
    This is one of those independent dramas that is not completely satisfying, but not a waste of time either. The film deals with a writer and English professor, David Kepesh (Kingsley), who has a relationship with one of his students, Consuela (Cruz). There are other characters in the film: George (Hopper), a poet friend, who serves the role of advisor, therapist sidekick, like Bruno Kirby’s character in When Harry Met Sally or Tony Robert’s character in Manhattan; Carolyn (Clarkson), who is David’s longtime lover that doesn’t seek any commitments; and David’s son, Kenny (Sarsgaard), who is still bitter his father leaving his mother. The story has similarities to the Woody Allen films like Manhattan, but it is more of a drama than comedy.

    ***
    Initially, I had difficulty sympathizing with the character or the story. You know how there are films which are teen fantasies–a super hot girls falls for the nerd. Well, this felt sort of like that except the protagonist is a 60 years old. The other thing that made connecting to the film difficult was the other-worldly beauty of Penelope Cruz. It’s hard to imagine her falling in love with a mere mortal, let alone an old guy–who looks like (and was, in a manner in a speaking), Gandhi! (There are some love-making scenes with a bare chested Kinglsey that just didn’t work for me because I couldn’t get out of my mind that Gandhi was having sex with Penelope Cruz or Patricia Clarkson.)

    But I think the character got a little more interesting when we learned more about him through his relationships with Carolyn, the high-powered businesswoman, that consented to a purely physical relationship with no commitment, David’s son and finally with Consuela. The these relationships reveal David was a strong point of the film, and if I saw it again, I think I might enjoy it more.

  97. Reid

    Gimme Shelter (1970)
    Dir. Albert and David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin
    5/10

    I wouldn’t really recommend this to any of the idiots, although it’s not a bad film. This film appears in the 1001 films book, and I can see how it was picked. I just didn’t care for it, partly because the film didn’t add too much more information than I already knew about the subject matter.

    **
    This is a documentary about the Rolling Stones’ Altamont Concert. If you don’t know the details of the concert, you probably should keep it that way if you plan to see this. (I think it would make for more interesting viewing.) Like Woodstock, this is just as much a “slice-of-the-times” kind of film as it is a concert film. Basically, the Stones wanted to give a free concert in San Francisco. But things do go as smoothly as planned.

    ***
    I don’t get the Stones at all. I mean they do have some songs that I like and there are some moments where I sense something interesting going on, but I just don’t get accolades like, “the greatest rock and roll band of all-time.” The first third of the film features a lot of Stones’ performances before Altamont (They were on a U.S. tour.) I tried to pay attention, but I still don’t get it: Mick is not that great of a singer and his dancing is kinda stuipid looking. I don’t know what the big deal is about Keith Richards either: he doesn’t have a really interesting sound and his solos are unexceptional. I certainly didn’t get the energy and charisma that this group supposedly exudes.

    There were a couple of interesting things in the film. One is the irony of the concert. It was supposed to showcase the way the young people of that generation knew how to get along (versus their elders). In fact, the concert proved otherwise. One of the biggest problems was hiring–by promising all the beer they could drink–the Hell’s Angels to be security. I wished the filmmakers sort of explored who made that decision. The other interesting thing about the film is that portions of it contain the Rolling Stones reacting to the raw footage of the documentary. Seeing their reactions was an interesting approach, although I didn’t feel like it was a especially revealing or powerful.

  98. Pen

    Saw a bunch of films recently, because I raided my friend’s DVD collection.

    We Own the Night: Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall and Joaquin Phoenix. Duvall is the patriarch and Police Chief. Wahlberg is the dutiful son in the police force. Phoenix is the black sheep that runs a nightclub. Russian drug smugglers want to use the nightclub (and Phoenix) and target the troublesome Police Chief and son, not knowing Phoenix is their brother/son. Lots of testosterone. Decent movie.

    Knocked Up: Katherine Heigel, Seth Rogan. If Rogan is capapble of giving a nuanced performance, my guess is that he did it in this movie. He can be obnoxious and silly, but you can kind of see why Heigel’s character is attracted to him. I liked it.

    27 Dresses: Heigel, James Marsden. I enjoyed this movie more than I thought I would. Always the “perfect” bridesmaid, never the bride, Heigel (in unrequited love for her boss who is interested in her kid sister) forgives Marsden easier than I thought she should at the end, but overall a solid movie I enjoyed more than I thought I would.

    Definitely, Maybe:Ryan Reynolds is the dad of Abagail Breslin (am I butchering the spelling of these peoples’ names?) who tells her a story of the three women with whom he had a serious relationship with and she has to guess which one is her mom. I really liked this movie. Beyond the actors being engaging, this movie stuck a chord in me for some reason and I thought it was so charming and lovely.

  99. Reid

    Pen,

    (spoilers)

    I’m kinda surprised you didn’t have a problem with Heigel being attracted to him. There are a whole host of negative qualities of his character before we get to any qualities that someone like Heigel (or any decent, intelligent person) would find attractive. I’m not even talking about his appearance, although it’s hard to believe that someone that looks like Heigel would be attracted to someone that looks like Rogen. I’d have no problem with Heigel falling for Rogen she got to see his good qualities before being interested in him (let alone sleeping with him, wanting him to be part of the birth and then eventually wanting a serious relationship), but not only does the audience not get to see these things, but we see things that are pathetic and…well, gross. I’m thinking of the conversation in the diner. I think Rogen reveals he does nothing but stay at home and he reveals his web-site “project.” Yeah, someone that looks like Heigel and seems pretty decent and intelligent is going to want to get serious with this guy? Man, at least, try to give some reasons she would fall for him. I’m not saying Rogen is not likeable and sweet in his own way, but Heigel would have to overlook a lot of stuff to get to those attractive qualities.

  100. pen

    Reid: well the having sex thing was obviously a mistake that would not have happened if she was sober. But the fact that he genuinely tried to be a better person and that he went to his dad for advice and saw himself and his flaws so clearly gave one hope that there was some raw material to work with there. I’m not saying if she was my best friend I wouldn’t have reservations, it’s just that in the context of movie and movie magic, it was not so far-fetched that I kept yelling at the screen: “What?!? This makes absolutely NO sense and I’m a complete idiot for even watching this.”

  101. Reid

    But she showed interest in him before she got drunk at the club. This guy is a total loser, and I’m not thinking about his looks. The other thing is when she talks to him for breakfast, she’s sober, and I found it incredible that she would still consider pursuing some contact with this guy after that conversation.

  102. Reid

    Death Race (2008)
    3/10

    I don’t recommend this to any of you. It was one of those days where I was desperate to see a movie, and this was something Larri was interested in.

    **
    This is a remake of Death Race 2000 made in the 70s I believe with David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone. Believe it or not, when I saw the trailers, I actually thought the premise could have lead to a decent action film. The film takes places a future where the U.S. economy crashes and corporations run prisons. These prisons have turned to gladiatorial games like Death Race, which is a race around around a prison track. The cars are equipted with weapons like machine guns. Contestants who win five races win their freedom. The plot involves a former race-car driver (Jason Stratham) who is framed and sent to prison to race to improve TV ratings. The warden (Joan Allen) wants him to assume the role of a popular contestant, Frankenstein, who is so disfigured he wears a hockey-like mask a la Jason of the Friday the 13th series. (Frankenstein didn’t survive a car crash in a previous race.)

    ***
    I already knew the film would be bad from the opening sequence. The musical score wasn’t very good, and identifying the drivers and making sense of the racing sequences was difficult. The dialogue and acting wasn’t that great either. The characters and plot weren’t very imaginative either. The funny thing is that according to the Honolulu Advertiser three newspapers (NY Times being one of them) gave this a positive reviews. I should check out what they had to say.

  103. Reid

    Burn After Reading (2008)
    Dir. Coen Brothers
    Starring: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, etc.
    4/10

    Larri and I both didn’t care for this. (She gave it a 2.) No, I wouldn’t recommend it to other idiots except the hard-core Coen Brothers’ fans. The film should probably get a three, but there were some interesting moments and the film managed to keep my attention.

    **
    Linda Litzke (McDormand) is a health club worker who wants plastic surgery, but can’t afford it. Osbourne Cox (Malkovich) is a recently fired CIA worker who wants to get his revenge by writing a memoir. Chad (Pitt), Litzke’s co-worker, finds what appears to be notes of Cox’s notes. Chad and Linda plan to blackmail Cox for the notes. Thus, begins the Coen Brothers dark, screwball tale.

    ***
    (spoilers)

    The film is almost like a comedic version of No Country for Old Men, but instead of a more serious look at the chaos and absurdity of life, this takes a more humorous (but still very dark) look at a similar theme. The main problem for me is that the film just wasn’t that funny. I also didn’t root for many of the characters. There was also a kind of meaness in this film that just doesn’t translate to comedy or anything interesting. It just seems mean. I’m talking about the depiction and treatment of the characters who are big time losers. The Coens make fun of their intelligence and dreams, which wouldn’t be so bad if this translated to laughs or some other interesting point. For me it didn’t.

    I looked forward to seeing the actors in this film, but their performances didn’t work or the script didn’t. Pitt just wasn’t funny. One critic said that the film committed the cardinal sin of comedy and that is trying to be funny. I think that can be applied to Pitt’s performance. Malkovich was too over-the-top to be funny. I think Malkovich can be hilarious, but he has to tone down the psychotic antics.

  104. pen

    Vicky Christina Barcelona: I enjoyed this film more than I thought I would (because I did not like what I saw in the previews). It is kind of shot in the same style as Woody Allen used in his previous movie “Scoops” and has a narrator (which I’m not sure how I feel about).

    The actors all do a good job as Allen uses them to continue exploring relationships. A little about friendships, but mostly about romantic relationships, our expectations, our fantasies and what we will risk for what we think we want.

    It is a bit over-the-top (especially the end), but I think it’s symbolic, as much of the movie is. It would make for a good dinner topic discussion.

  105. Reid

    Man on a Wire (2008)
    Dir. James Marsh
    6/10

    This is not a great film, imo, but this is worth seeing especially if you’re desperate to see a film at the theater. I’d guess Penny and Grace would like this more than me. It’s now playing at the Kahala Theaters. This got a score of 89 on metacritic and 8.5 at imdb. One reviewer called this the most beautiful film or something to that effect. That’s going to far, imo. Btw, I don’t think seeing this on the big screen is critical; you can wait to see it on dvd. I

    **
    This is a documentary about a Frenchman who walks a tightrope across the World Trade Center towers in the 70s. When I first started seeing positive reviews of this, I was incredulous: how good can this be? But I was also intrigued: could the filmmakers really make this subject into a great film? If you feel the same way and these feelings are enough to make you want to see the film, than I recommend not knowing anything else and going to see the film. If you need more, here’s a pretty good review by David Edelstein at NPR.

    ***
    (spoilers)
    As some reviewers point out, the film is a like a heist film–focusing on the procedural aspects of the “heist,” in this case finding a way to get into the World Trade Towers (two of them–one team per tower) and carrying and setting up equipment. The film focuses on this part of it, as well as interviewing most of the people involved in the stunt. By combing a lot of old film footage and pictures of the people planning and practicing for the event with recreated scenes and interviews, the director does about a good a job as possible reconstructing the planning and execution of the event. I can see why some people enjoyed this part of the film, but for me, these scenes didn’t feel as exciting as it should have been. I feel like the story would have been better experienced by some telling you the story rather than seeing it cinematically. Still, it was interesting enough.

    One of the best part of the film for me was the actual moment the tightrope walker, Philipe Petit. I’ve seen tightrope walking a zillion times (even live), and I just didn’t feel like seeing it again would move me in any way. But I admit, that there was a beauty and magical quality to seeing Petit walk above the building (actual film footage–from on top of the building and below). But what actually made these moments magical wasn’t just the actual footage, but the reactions of some of the people involved, most notably Petit’s close friend, Jean-Louis and his girlfriend, Annie. Actually, their responses are my favorite part of the movie. Jean-Louis is the faithful friend, who we see vigilantly scrutinizing the plan, sometimes arguing with Petit; spending the night pulling up the slack of cable that accidently fell down the side of the building. He talked about how he saw Petit’s stoic face after the first couple of steps on the wire and the anxiety he felt at that moment. Then, he saw Petit break into a smile and then he knew everything would be fine. The emotion just breaks out when Jean-Louis gets to this part, and it was cool to see. The same thing happened with Petit’s girlfriend, as she stood below with onlookers and yelled out, “Look, up there! There’s a man walking!” Seeing the emotion and devotion they had for their friend was touching.

    But the film didn’t really go into these people–why they were so devote to Petit, who were they? etc.–and I wished they had–for the people, especially the three I mention are just as fascinating as the actual event. I felt like Marsh honed in on the infiltration, set-up and actual wirewalking, and I appreciate his focus. But I wished he let more human elements into the film. More critically, something happens to the relationship between Petit and Jean-Louis and Petit and his girlfriend break-up. Why? What happened? Petit had realized his dream and achieved fame, but in the process he lost or damaged two of the people who loved him the most. I wished the gave us more information to fully appreciate that.

  106. Reid

    Frozen River (2008)
    3/10

    This won the Sundance Grand Jury prize. A lot of critics like Richard Schickel of Time, Roger Ebert and Kenneth Turan really liked the film. The metacritic score was 82 and the imdb score was 7.3. I didn’t like this, and I was not going to recommend this to any of you, but I changed my mind. The main reason is that the film successes hinges on something that is very subjective. To me, this part of the film utterly did not work for me, while the critics seemed to love this aspect of the film. The film could get a 4, but I’m giving it a 3 because it was really boring. (Larri didn’t care for this.) The film didn’t insult my intelligence of make me wonder why the filmmakers even bothered. The film had potential, but it was boring.

    **
    The film is about a single parent mother, Ray (Melissa Leo) who desparately needs money, after her husband ran off with the money she saved to buy a new trailer house for her two kids. Out of this desperation and through chance, she has the opportunity to make extra money by smuggling illegal aliens from Canada to NY. I heard one description compare the film to Thelma and Louise and there is a connection in that the two main characters involved in criminal or anti-social behavior.

    ***
    Sometimes pinpointing the source of failure for a film is difficult, but in this case, I feel confident that the acting (casting) is the reason the film doesn’t work. Except for the lead–who has some decent acting moments of anguish and the perfect physical look for her character–a lot of the actors seem like amateurs, people who would star in community theater. The script is not that great either and the direction is not very noteworthy, but the film could have been interesting if the acting was good. If this had been cast well–with good actors that fit the role–this could have been good or even very good. The relationship between the Ray (Melissa Leo) and Lila (Misty Upham) are critical, as well as the relationship between Ray and her son, TJ (Charlie McDermott). But the characters and relationship fail to be convincing or interesting, primarily because of the acting. This is a very subjective sort of judgment, however, so I can see people having a different opinion.

  107. pen

    I know this will come as a shock to all, but I did not agree with Reid regarding Burn After Reading. While it was not outstanding, I did like this film and thought Brad Pitt’s performance stood out (in a good way). He was so earnest and transparent, which kept him from being too much of a characature. I thought he was great. I will agree a bit with the “meanness” aspect Reid talks about.

    The whole concept of “intelligence” in the government/spy world is dealt with in that quirky, sardonic Coen brothers way. Also at our own paranoia, loyalties and reliance on an unpredictable and flawed system to keep us “safe.” I found it amusing, and while I can see how some would consider this film a “miss” (especially as a follow-up to “No Country for Old Men”), I still am glad I saw it.

  108. Mitchell

    I saw Mamma Mia! Wednesday. Fun movie. Entertaining.

    I thought the choreography was kind of awkward and weird, at least for the main characters. The dancing in the choruses (all of them) was terrific, I though. One of my students, when I made this comment, said, “That’s probably because the choruses were made up of real dancers.” Aha. Yes.

    Also, I think because Abba’s music is so happy and fun and joyful, it doesn’t lend itself well to conflict or drama, yet because this was a film and needed both, songs had to be pressed into play that didn’t really do the job, such as Meryl Streep’s over-angsty “The Winner Takes it All.” There were some very pretty songs, and I thought Streep was terrific in just about every scene. I wasn’t too impressed with Brosnan as a singer, but his acting was pretty good, especially in the “The Winner Takes it All” scene, when all the attention was on Streep’s character.

    I’d see it again. I might even pick it up on DVD if it’s inexpensive enough.

    6 out of 10, which is high for a movie musical. 🙂

  109. Reid

    Catching up on some reviews of films from the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book. I don’t know if these films “must” be seen, but they’re good films, many of you would enjoy and/or appreciate.

    Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
    Dir. Adrian Lyne
    Starring: Tim Robbins
    7/10

    The solid and creative direction stands out for me, and I think other idiots would appreciate it–especially Joel and Penny; the film will draw you in from the beginning and keep your interest.

    **
    The story follows a Vietnam vet, Jacob (Tim Robbins) as he is haunted by weird and/or dangerous encounters. The film is combination horror (although mild by today’s standards) and conspiracy film. There are elements that remind me of David Lynch, too.

    ***
    Lyne creates a good flow of the film particularly the way the shooting of dream sequences and transitions back to reality scenes. The effects and other techniques hold up well. I can’t remember enough specifics to talk about. I liked the fact that he One of the weaknesses of the film for me was the theology, specifically the notion that when we die spiritual beings strip away are earthly memories so we can move on to the afterlife. Resisting this process makes these beings appear as demons, while accepting it makes them seem appear as angels. There are Biblical allusions with the names of characters like Jacob and Jezebel, but I haven’t thought enough about the film to determine the significance of the names.

    The plot point about the way Jacob learns about the cause of his death seemed questionable. If Jacob was on his death bed, how did the scientist appear in his mind/dream to give an explanation. I felt like the Vietnam conspiracy and death storylines didn’t seem to mess really well, but perhaps that’s a minor point.

    Taboo (1999)
    Dir. Nagisa Oshima
    8/10

    This might get a higher score from me if I had more time to digest it, but it’s definitely a film that has stayed with me; the type that does so because there’s a lot under the surface of my conscious mind. I think this is a good film and could be a worthy pick for the 1001 list. Picking which idiot would like this is difficult, although I probably wouldn’t recommend this to Don, Joel, Jill and John. I don’t know if I can say the remaining idiots would enjoy this, either, but I think they could find it interesting–the determining factor is subjective.

    **
    The film begins with militia of samurai looking for new recruits. Two are chosen, Hyozo Tashiro and Sozaburo Kano. Soon many of the samurai become smitten with Kano, and various conflicts arise. What’s interesting about the film is the way the filmmakers show these effects. Some of the characters openly express their attraction, while others don’t directly express any feelings, but their actions suggest that they are being deeply affected. I really liked that aspect of the film. Also, few films with homosexual characters often fail to connect with me, but this one really did for some reason. Kano is supposed to possess a mesmerizing beauty, and I could understand that. (The subtle reaction of some of the characters and the attractive power of Kano were the subjective aspects I was talking about.) What’s interesting is that Kano is also a very good fighter, too; and this seems significant, although I can’t explain the reason. Films with a female character (usually because of her sex appeal) getting in the way of male friendship is common, so this film is an interesting variation on that theme.

    What does Kano represent? He’s young, almost boyish and innocent. He has an effeminate quality that either makes him see boyish or feminine. Yet, he’s also formidable fighter, in terms of strength and swordsmanship. What is taboo is not necessarily the homo-erotic feelings, but something else. I think a deeper problem is that the leaders of the militia overlook the effects and problems that Kano brings to the group because they are attracted to him, although not necessarily in a sexual way. Capt. Hijikata (Beat Takeshi) openly question whether his close colleague, Commander Kondo, now has “feelings” for Kano. Kondo denies this, and that may be true, but you also get a sense that he does have some kind of attraction for Kano, although not necessarily sexual.

    At the end of the film, Hijikata cuts down a cherry tree in full bloom–which signified that beauty(?) (pleasure? longing for youth? powerful desire of pleasure?) has no place in a man’s world (not a samurai’s one anyone)? It’s a fascinating film that deserves a second viewing and more thought.

    Reds (1981)
    Dir. Warren Beatty
    Starring: Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, etc.
    7/10

    A long film–3+ hours–that did a good job of keeping my interest. A big reason is the performances of Beatty and Keaton, imo. I think Penny and Grace would like this film.

    **
    The film is based on real people, Jack Reed (Beatty) and Louise Bryant (Keaton) and their relationship and involvement in the Bolshevik Revolution in 1918(?). The tagline states that, “Not since Gone With The Wind has there been a great romantic epic like it!” and there are similarities: the epic quality, the historical connection and strong male and female leads. (I don’t think it’s as good as GWTW, though.) But the tagline is not correct: Dr. Zhivago came after GWTW (although I prefer Reds to Dr. Zhivago). A very good, if not great, epic romance. So if you’re interested in seeing great romance films, I recommend this. (Larri got into this, although I sense she didn’t totally love it.)

    ***
    Beatty co-wrote, produced, directed and starred in this. Beatty used clips of interviews with actual people who knew the principle characters, similar in format to what Rob Reiner does in When Harry Met Sally (although those people were actors). These scenes don’t work very well because the excerpts don’t seamlessly connect with the scenes preceding or following them. That was my impression anyway. Also, in the earlier part of the film, there’s a lot of jumping through time that created a disjointed feeling, and preventing firm grounding of the characters and the story.

    What stands out though are the performances. First, Diane Keaton. She puts in a performance up there with her acting in Annie Hall and Something’s Gotta Give. I don’t think she won the Oscar but she deserved a nomination at least. Watching her in this made me think that I haven’t really appreciated her abilities enough. What I really liked was the way her face was a canvas of emotions; so much came through her expressions. Beatty was also very good in this. His love and generosity with her was touching and, more importantly, believable. (They might have been actually dating at the time.) These characters and their relationship really make the film worth watching. In some ways, I thought of the relationship between Redford and Streep’s characters in Out of Africa. (I liked Out of Africa more.)

    These characters and their relationship overshadow the historical aspects of the storyline and the story of Reed and Bryant don’t always mesh well with the historical events. However, I did like the way we see the disillusionment of Reed, Bryant and their friends about the way the Revolution turns out. I did really love the scene and “speech” that Reed delivers in the train–about the belief that you can be an individual and responsible part of the collective (society)–indeed, he argues you can’t strip away what an individual loves, otherwise you strip away dissent, which is the necessary for revolution. Boom! I loved the literal explosion that punctuated that scene.

    I wonder if there is dispute about the political position of the film. To me, I took it as clearly anti-communist, but I know that Beatty is politically on the Left. Of course, Leftists and Communists are not the same thing, but I think some of the criticisms of the naive idealism of these American Leftist characters could also be seen as a critique on the political Left of the late 20th. The “free” independent love is portrayed as untenable; the failure of the Communist state at producing economic equality and preserving individual rights–all of these things seem like a critique on the 60s counter-culture/Left.

  110. pen

    Ghost Town was a bit more layered than it appeared from its trailers. I enjoyed this film a lot and not just because I love Greg Kinnear and think Ricky Gervais is hillarious (though they were both great in the film, along with a pretty and refreshed looking Tea Leoni). Some parts were silly and over the top, but there were a few scenes that I was laughing so hard I missed part of the dialog in the next scene. Have I mentioned how hillarious Ricky Gervais is?

    Anyway, Kinnear shows his ability to be smarmy and touching, which makes the over-the-top parts easier to take (the over-the-top parts seem to belong to Billy Campbell). There is an interesting realization towards the end of the movie and while some may criticize that the “change” in Gervais’ character may have been dealt with better, I still believed it.

    Recommended.

  111. Reid

    I don’t get the popularity and frequent use of the storyline of the person who can see ghosts and helping them in some romantic situation. I have zero interest in seeing this type of film. I like Gervais and, to a lesser extent, Kinnear, but I don’t know if it’s enough to get me to see the film.

    More 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die reviews:

    Attack the Gas Station (1999)
    Dir.
    5/10

    The is a Korean film with an interesting concept and fun approach (just not fun enough for me). I could see other idiots like Penny and Mitchell enjoying this. My rating is a balance reflects that fact that I liked the concept and some of the direction, on one hand, but wasn’t really entertained, on the other.

    **
    The premise is simple: four bored twenty-somethings decide to rob a 24 gas station, and then go back the next night to rob it again. However, on the second night the owner claims that he has turned over most of the money to his wife. The hoodlums then cloister the workers and owner in a room and begin to pump gas. A series of absurd events ensue, with some attempts at social commentary.

    ***
    The social commentary comes from the background of the four troublemakers. Each one has problems: a promising baseball player whose parents died at a young age; an inspiring rock musician; a not-so-bright brute; and a son of a wealthy and ambitious family. They seem to represent the way humanity and other values get crushed in the Korea’s economic rise. The poignancy of this felt a bit hollow to me.

    The other problem I had was that most of the humor just seemed more silly than funny. This is totally subjective, and others may get into it. I also couldn’t buy the fact that these four guys were so formidable that they could hold the group of workers hostage, not to mention beat up other group of thugs that come to the station.

  112. Reid

    More 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die reviews

    Hills Have Eyes (1977)
    Dir. Wes Craven
    2/10

    Even Penny wouldn’t really care for this, so there’s little chance the rest of the idiots would like this. Perhaps the film is objectively more like a 3, but my own personal reaction is closer to a 2.

    **
    A family traveling to California gets stranded in the desert. A mutated family (nuclear testing) attacks them. That’s basically it. It’s not scary, doesn’t hold up well in my opinion.

    ***
    In the 1001 review, there was one interesting line in it: the family of mutants represents disenfrachized groups in the countrys (e.g. minorities)–suggesting a tension between white middle class on other opressed groups? That’s interesting, but I don’t think the film has any interesting insights to offer regarding that relationships. My take is that it’s basically a horror film–one that is totally not frightening in the slightest. I just need to mention two reasons which should convince anyone: the mutant families dialogue and costumes. Think hillbillies in caveman outfits–with cheap make-up and cheesy acting to boot. I think it’s clear that there’s little chance the film would scare anyone today. The names of the family, the Roman gods, didn’t help. The father was, of course, Jupiter, except the other members referred to him as “Papa Jupe” to give it that extra scary hillbilly flavor.

  113. Reid

    Seconds (1966)
    Dir. John Frankenheimer
    Starring: Rock Hudson
    7/10

    Another film from the 1001 book and a worthy pick. I think there are elements that may not work for some, but I think many of you would find this worthwhile, specifically Kevin, Chris, Penny, Mitchell, Grace and maybe even John. I also think my brother could like this a little. I spent quite a bit of time writing about this film and I found the effort very rewarding. In other words, the film is rich and rewards those who spend the time thinking and talking about it. If what I’ve said is enough to interest you in the film, I recommend not reading further and just watching the film.

    **
    The premise is interesting and if you’re going to see this you might want to watch it without knowing the premise, knowledge of which will spoil the first twenty minutes of the film, which is well-done. Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) is a middle-aged banker who is unhappy with his life. Through an eerie incident, Hamilton is given a chance to fake his death and change his physical appearance to lead a new life. However, living that new life is not as easy as he thought. The film falls within the horror/suspense/sci-fi genre and could easily appear as an episode in Twilight Zone.

    ***(spoilers)

    One of the big problems was that the key dramatic moments could be seen a mile away, which naturally weakened the suspense and impact of the film. What’s surprising is that I still find the film interesting despite that. I’m not sure why the film has stayed with me. Yes, the film has some interesting direction–like the way the film draws you in, the use of weird angles and tracking shots. The opening credits are also pretty cool visually–shots of distending body parts, as in a funhouse mirror. (Frankenheimer gives a lot of credit and praise to cinematographer, James Wong Howe.) Rock Hudson is also great in this. I can only think of a one or two films I’ve seen him, but this feels like something that would be his best work. (In the director commentary–interesting btw–Frankenheimer said Hudson considered this his best performance.) He delivers one of the best performance of an intoxicated person I’ve seen (unfortunately, he was really drunk, which takes away from it). Still, it helps the film, and he has very good moments like the ending on the gurney, which is one of the most chilling screams of terror and panic in film, especially from a male character. There were also other less dramatic elements of his acting that were first rate.

    But the film’s handling of suburban ennui, materialism and commercialism is the real source of my interest. The dissatisfaction and emptiness of a man who has mindlessly bought into the mainstream definition of success (i.e. house, family, good job) as a subject for the film is something I usually find banal. What I found different was the critique of the materialistic solution this man sought–specifically, changing one’s physical appearances (to a youthful one)–and the commercial entity that provided this solution. The depicition of this relationship–its disturbing ramifications and even the idea of the company–is reason the film interested me.

    The relationship represents the nature of the consumer society we live in. We are very materialistic, seeking fulfillment by aquiring things. We also highly value physical beauty and appearances, especially youthful ones. The film dramatically represents this by showing the company transforming Arthur (John Randolph, an old frumpyish old man) into Tony (Rock Hudson), via plastic surgery, as a means of giving him a new, second life. Modern business and technology replaces God as the way to redemption.

    But the exchange is not a good one, a Mephistopheles for the Messiah. The transformation requires a second body, obtained through grisly means, to be used in the staged death of a client, thereby erasing his previous life. The plastic surgery transforms (rebirth) the customer, but the transformation is superficial and the assistance the company offers (Nora and a community of reborns to assist transition) fails because its artificial. Reality bursts through, in Tony’s drunken moment, and in this awakening he seeks his wife (the artifice of his death) learns something real about himself, an important clue to being fulfilled. (In the film, I believe this is the ability to choose and be free to express one’s self versus blindly accepting society’s definition of success.) Despite this enlightenment, he can’t seem to escape the idea that another physical change is necessary, hence his request for another operation! Regardless, the company is indifferent to Tony’s epiphany, and they won’t give him another operation. (His enlighment means little because he’s already made the Faustian bargain?) A commercial entity may say it wants to improve people’s lives, but ultimately it’s concern is strictly profits. I think the film also makes the point that the nature of technological progress is de-humanizing as well. In the film, individuals are ignored and crushed in the name of improving humanity in general.

    I also like the way the film showed the vicious cycle of the consumer system: 1.)People feel dissatisfied with their lives; 2.) Commercial entity claim their goods and services will provide fulfillment; 3.) people purchase these goods and services; 4.) people feel dissatisfied again and return to the commercial entities. The film shows this in two ways. Tony returns to the company for another operation, and the company requires referrals (seconds) from clients to generate revenue. Interestingly, the clients either are ignorant of the futility of the company’s work or they willfully deceive others; In any event, the clients are complicit in the perpetuation of this destructive cycle. One of the film’s points may be that we, as the consumers, are accomplices in this inhuman system

    Seconds has interesting connections to other films. Like the Matrix the film successfully updates older storylines and reframes them in contemporary context. Secondsalso is like Gilliam’s Brazil, except the target of the latter is government and its bureaucracy; however, both the techno-capitalist system and the techno-bureaucratic one crush the individual. The other film I thought about was Groundhog Day. In that film, a mystical force gives the main character many opportunities at redemption. In Seconds, the company can only give one and it’s not a very effective one at that.

  114. pen

    Saw Made of Honor with Patrick Dempsey on DVD and this is definitely one that can be skipped. No one in this movie had much honor, including whoever wrote the screenplay. Very formulaic, even the characters were not particularly special or memorable. It was so generic, you could cut and paste different actors, environment, lines and had the same movie. The best thing I can say about this movie is that it was pretty. It looked nice on screen and the actors were attractive.

  115. pen

    Went to HIFF’s opening night last night to see Divine Weapon, a Korean film about the first weapon of mass destruction (rockets and hundreds of arrows fired at the same time) apparently made in Korea (and not China). It was great (despite the hordes of people killed)! The characters were engaging and interesting, and the two leads had that Sam and Diane vibe between them. Throw in some good fight scenes and comical secondary characters all in the backdrop of a battle between the resourceful and plucky little guy against the domineering, arrogant big guy and you’ve got yourself a great movie.

    Definitely recommended, even for those who are not “into” foreign films.

    Also saw Fireproof the Christian film with Kirk Cameron playing a firefighter who is contemplating divorce with his wife of 7 years. His parents and a fellow firefighter are the Christian examples in his life.

    A bit heavy handed and melodramatic at times, there were moments of authenticity (I did cry). It was kind of like a hometown movie with great production value. Cameron is clearly the best actor and the others try to hold their own, some more successfully than others (some sounded like they were reciting memorized lines at a lecturn). The other firefighters served as comic relief as well as to expound on the themes of “not leaving your partner behind” and “needing to trust and honor each other.”

    Is there a city of Albany in the South? They worked at the Albany Fire Station but everyone’s accent, except for Cameron, were various degrees of Southern.

  116. Reid

    The Harder They Come (1972)
    Dir. Percy Hanzell
    Starring: Jimmy Cliff, etc.
    3/10

    Once again, another film I never heard of or would have seen if I had not read about it in the 1001 book. The film may warrant a higher score, but I just didn’t care for it. I can’t see many other idiots liking this. I can see some justification for choosing the film, but I just didn’t care for it. In fairness to the film, the subtitles were absolutely terrible. Many sections of dialogue did not have the subtitles for some inexplicable reason. That made it really difficult to understand certain sections of the film.

    **
    The film is cross between the rags-to-riches musician and Bonnie and Clyde (sans Bonnie). The music, in this case is reggae. The story follows a young Jamaican, Ivan (Jimmy Cliff) from coming from the countryside to the city to make it big as a musician. The story shows Ivan struggle to survive. Ivan gets a chance to record and makes a good record, but like other new artists, the record producer takes advantage of him. Ivan eventually gets involved with the drug (pot) trade, and–Here the film takes a wild turn–becomes this rebel with a gun: he rebels against being ripped off by those higher in the drug-trade. He becomes a man on the run with a gun: killing police paid off by the drug organization. The action sequences aren’t memorable. I suspect the heroes rebellion against the oppression and corruption from the business world, government and authority in general is what resonates with some. The film is filled with a lot of good music from Cliff and other reggae musicians. I will say that the combination of anti-hero criminal and reggae musician roled into one makes the film unique. Still, I had a hard time sitting through it.

    Underground (1995)
    Dir. Emir Kusturica
    7/10
    170 minutes

    This is a long film. I’m sure Don, Jill and Joel would not be really into this film. I wouldn’t strongly recommend it to the remaining idiots. My rating reflects my objective assessment of the film more than my personal enjoyment. This film deserves a more thorough review than I’m giving it: it’s ambitious and does a lot of good things.

    **
    I have a hard time getting into foreign films that attempt to capture a particular historical period in their country–usually one of political upheaval–especially if I’m unfamiliar with the history and culture of the particular country. I don’t see how anyone cannot feel lost or removed from this sort of film.

    In this case, the film is about the former Yugoslavia. If you’re really interested in Yugoslavia, I’d recommend this because the film is interesting in several ways. First, the tone shifts from zany absurdist humor to serious drama pretty effectively. Second, there is at least one interesting metaphor and several different Fellini-esque moments that may be of interest.

    The film is broken up into three sections: war, cold war and war again. The first section deals with WWII, Tito’s army against the Nazis; the second involves the post-war Yugoslavia; and then the Balkan wars of the 90s in the last segment. In each section we follow three principle characters in a love triangle: Marko and Blacky (best friends) and their love interest, Jelena (I that was her name).

  117. Mitchell

    Some recent DVDs:

    The Namesake (2007). Kal Penn. Directed by Mira Nair.
    7/10

    I thought this was quite a bit different from the usual Asian-American cultural identity thing, but I can see Reid disagreeing. What I like about this was how genuinely annoyed the main character is with his parents and yet how genuinely affectionate he is toward them. There’s some good acting here, and some nice visuals. I say it’s worth a rental, especially if you like those films that annoy Reid, like The Joy Luck Club and The Debut.


    No Reservations
    Catherine Zeta Jones and Aaron Eckhart with Abigail Breslin
    6/10

    There’s a lot to recommend this film, not the least of which is the on-screen charisma of the principals. Eckhart here plays the nice guy, not at all the slimy guy he does so well in other flicks. It’s Zeta Jones who is meant to come off as tyrannical, but she doesn’t really push it that far, and that’s okay with me. Scenes with Eckhart and Breslin are probably the best, ‘though Breslin’s presence in this film is mostly a device for getting Zeta Jones and Eckhart together. The film doesn’t do enough with what the sudden appearance of Breslin does to Zeta Jones, outside of being a major adjustment in logistics. There’s also a disappearing child sequence that I found cheap and excessively cliche.

    However, you could do a lot worse on a movie night when you need something to curl up with. I wouldn’t tell anyone to stay away from it, but one should be in the right frame of mind when one approaches it. I’m fond of romantic comedies, so I’ll give it a cautious recommendation.

  118. renee

    Enchanted (2007)
    107 minutes, Disney
    6/10
    V. once mentioned that this is one of her co-workers all-time favorite movies, so we decided to watch it this weekend for emi’s movie night at the mochi house. emi (will be 7 this month) loves princesses, but wasn’t really into this story – any scene that had any potential of being romantic sent her into distraction mode, completely ignoring the screen.
    i thought Enchanted was very predictable, and very Disney. i found prince charming very irritating, and initially could not believe that Nancy would have anything to do with him. morgan was the highlight of the film for me – she’s such a cutie and the shopping scene was both funny and touching. there were funny parts and i liked the mix of animation and live-action. i dunno, i guess i’m too jaded to get caught up in the fairytale fantasy with it’s happily-ever-afters…

  119. Reid

    The Official Story (1985)
    Dir. Luis Puenzo
    6/10

    I’m pretty sure Penny and Grace would like this. Chris and Kevin would probably like this at least a little. The other idiots would be at least slightly interested in this on some level. I don’t think I would have chosen it for the 1001 book.

    **
    This is a story about that takes place in Argentina (in the 70s). From what I understand, there was a government overthrow and those in power began arresting and killing political dissidents. Families began protesting and insisting they hear from their loved ones. Part of the tragedy is that some of the babies of these dissidents were “given” to Argentina’s who were willing to not question the way they adopted these babies. The film covers the story of one ladies political awakening revolving around her daughter. The film has some decent acting and would be a higher quality version of a Lifetime network movie.

    The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978)
    Dir. Ermanno Olmi
    186 min
    7/10

    Not something I would go out of my way to recommend although those who like foreign films would appreciate this on some level.

    **
    Essentially this is a slice of life film, slice of late 19th Century peasant life to be exact, which feels almost like a documentary. The film focuses on four peasant families, with creating a vignette for each one. The photography is solid. If you like paintings of rural European villages and peasants, this would probably appeal to you.

    ***
    My favorite moment in the film revolves around a widow who is desperately prays to God to save the family cow. The veterinarian advises her to quickly kill the cow before its imminent death. Instead, she goes to church and prays; she fills a bottle of war from the stream and asks the Lord to bless it to save the cow. It’s a heartfelt and genuine moment. The Catholic priest in the film is also portrayed favorably.

  120. renee

    The Namesake (2007) based on the novel by Jhumpa Lahiri
    (7/10) i read an excerpt from the book prior to seeing the dvd – think i’d like it better than i liked the movie – does a better job at explaining a lot of the little details.
    i like getting an insight into different cultures – and enjoyed the beautiful scenes and music of india (love their textiles). there’s quite a bit that got me thinking about my own ethnic identity. i do think about marrying okinawan a lot – or at least someone who is uchinanchu-at-heart and wouldn’t mind getting integrated into the okinawan community here. if i had kids, they’d be taking koto, sanshin, dance, or taiko very early on…
    It was interesting to see Gogol’s relationship with Maxine, and later Moushumi. I was a little unsettled at how Gogol just dropped Maxine, playing the ethnic card. He seemed to fit so well in her world but he shut her out of his, assuming she wouldn’t understand or ever be able to fit in. Moushumi is on the rebound when she gets involved with Gogol – and their shared ethnic identity plays a part in their decision to get married. She realizes later that this doesn’t mean marital bliss & her intentions of being a good Bengali wife are outweighed by her feelings for her French ex-boyfriend. food for thought there…

  121. Reid

    Gigi (1958)
    Dir. Vincente Minnelli
    Starring: Leslie Caron, Louis Jourdan, Maurice Chevalier, etc.
    3/10

    When I first I heard about this film several years ago, I was surprised to find out that it won so many Oscars (9, beating out Gone With Wind). I was surprised because the film doesn’t seem to get mentioned very much, even when I’ve seen programs about musicals. Now I’m not surprised. But before I go into that…would other idiots like this? It’s hard to say because it would depend on several subjective factors, but I wouldn’t really recommend this. I don’t think many of you would think the film warrants all the awards. Larri didn’t like it. In fact, she was upset that she stayed up to watch it.

    **
    The film is about a rich bachelor (Jourdan) who eventually falls for a young woman Gigi (Caron), who is trained by her French courtesan great aunt. It’s a musical, music no dance numbers. The music was forgettable, but that’s so subjective. The acting was terrible, too.

    ***
    Besides the costumes, I wouldn’t have thought the film won a lot of awards. The songs weren’t that great to me, nor the performances. Some people may like Maurice Chevalier, but I thought he was boring. Yes, “I remember it Well” was witty and amusing, but I can’t think of any other memorable songs, both in terms of lyrics and music. I also found the acting atrocious–totally artificial and not boring. I believe Jourdan and Chevalier are both native French speakers, but they speak with in English with phony sounding French accent. On the accent note, Gigi’s grandma and her grand-aunt are played by British actors with a theatrical British accent that was both affected and inappropriate, given the fact that they were supposed to be French.

    The whole idea that Gigi was the young girl that Jourdan’s character wouldn’t notice was kinda hard to accept, too. For one thing, her girlishness wasn’t very convincing. When he finally realizes he’s attracted to her, the transformation in Gigi is hardly dramatic or significant, at least in my view. Basically, I didn’t connect with the characters.

  122. Reid

    Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music (1970)
    Dir. Michael Wadleigh
    8/10

    Most of you know what this documentary is about, and if you’re interested in that time and the music, I would recommend this. I wasn’t very enthusiastic about seeing this, especially at the four hour length, so it’s an achievement that I got into this as much as I did. A deserving pick for the 1001 films book, imo.

    **
    This is the documentary about the concert at Woodstock in 1969(?) The film not only features music, but tries to capture the youth counter-culture of that time. Interviews with the residents (using older adults) of Woodstock and the young people attending the concert.

    ***
    There were several things that surprised me about the film. First of all, many of the older adults interview (including the chief of police) had positive things to say about the kids, and how nice some of them were. This could partly be because of the economic activity the concert generated for the town. (Maybe town leaders urged residents to speak favorably about the young people.) The other factor could have been the director’s bias (I don’t know if he had any) in favor of the counter-culture. The film does feel like propaganda for the peace movement. Surely, bad things must have happened at the event, but you almost never see anything like this. This is one of the reasons Gimme Shelter is an important companion film to this one because it shows the dark side of the counter-culture.

    I also didn’t know that the people initially had to pay for the concert, and that the fee was waived later. I wished the film explained the reason for this shift (did I miss it?) and how the promoters got away with this. In an interview, the promoters mentioned the money lost on the concert, but they didn’t explain how they were going to pay back sponsors or if the musicians were going to get paid.

    The editing was also quite effective, although I found the use of split screen distracting. But for the most part this was really well-done, especially with the performances. The editing and camera angles made the performances more interesting to watch (something that was not true for me in the Gimme Shelter film.) I was concerned that the performances would be boring visually, but that was not the case at all.

    Some of the performance highlights for me were Joan Baez’s rendition of “Swing Low;” Richie Haven’s performance which felt spiritual at times, especially in the second song; and Hendrix’s performance (although I thought one of his solos went a little long; btw, this section on the library copy I had was damaged, so I missed quite a bit of it); Crosby, Stills and Nash’s performance of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” such a good song. (Some of you may be surprised to know that Sha Na Na performed there–“At the Hop,” no less.)

    I haven’t watched a lot of concert films, but in terms of the direction, editing and performances, it’s not hard to believe that this is one of the best.

  123. Reid

    In the Year of the Pig (1968)
    Dir. Emile de Antonio
    6/10

    Only those interested in the politics of Vietnam would be interested in this documentary. What I found interesting and different in this documentary is that it examines the country from 1954 with the French; the film gives you a background before the US involvement. My score deserves a higher rating in terms of its quality, so the score reflects more of my preference.

    De Antonio has some skillfully juxtaposes images to make interesting parallels and political points–e.g. using American Civil War images. The dvd also came with an interview with de Antonio that I liked.

    A Class Divided (1985)

    This is a PBS Frontline documentary about a Iowan 3rd grade teacher who decided to teach her class about discrimination. On one day she gave the blue eyed kids more privileges and told the class they were superior to the brown-eyed ones. The next day she switched. The results were fascinating. The film also has a reunion of her class as well as the project being done on adult correctional personnel. The whole documentary is about 50 minutes and can be watched online at the pbs site.

  124. Reid

    More from the 1001 book:

    Superfly (1972)
    Dir. Gordon Parks Jr.
    Starring: Ron O’Neal
    4/10

    I don’t think many of you would enjoy this, except for Mitchell maybe. I didn’t enjoy this although I gave the film a four because some qualities gave the film value, imo.

    **
    By now, I think most of you are aware of the story of young Black Americans trying to escape poverty and crime, but maybe Superfly was the first. The film tells the story of a drug-dealer Priest (Ron O’Neal) and his partner Eddie (Carl Lee) who wants to make one big score to get out of the drug business. There’s a problem though as the special drug-enforcement unit is out to get him.

    ***
    Besides making an entertaining film, I get the sense that Parks really wanted to depict the plight and frustration of urban Black males, particularly those living in poverty. There are scenes with Priest and his girlfriend that show the anguish and hope for something better. Parks also used photographed montage to show the effects of drugs and the people as well as the people that are affected. At the same time, Parks also wants to create a hero for the Black male. Priest, the “superfly, is good looking, smart (he outwits the police and his partner) and he’s tough (he knows martial arts). O’Neal has a voice like Carl Weathers aka Apollo Creed and it adds that tough guy aura. The film would be noteworthy if it were the first film to depict these things and create a character like this.

    Mad Max (1979)
    Dir. George Miller
    Starring: Mel Gibson
    3/10

    No I wouldn’t recommend this, unless you’re die-hard Gibson fans. No I don’t think it belongs in the 1001 book. This is a low budget film and I don’t think it’s very good. There’s one thing to recommend it in, I guess, and that’s Mel Gibson, specifically the beginning of his starstudded career. Yeah, I guess you can see the potential, but I don’t know if I would have pegged him for the star him became just by this film.

    Judge Priest (1934)
    Dir. John Ford
    Starring: Wil Rogers
    6/10

    To me not that great of a film, but it was entertaining. I think other idiots would mildly enjoy this, although it’s not something that I would recommend.

    **
    I thought Richard Pryor was the first stand-up comic to transition into big screen, but maybe Will Rogers was the first. Rogers plays a Southern trial judge who connives ways to get his lawyer nephew, Rome (Tom Brown), hitched with their neighbor, Ellie May (Anita Louise). The problem is that Ellie’s father is unknown and Rome’s mother won’t have him marrying a girl with a suspect family background. Rome also ends up trying his first case with a man accused of assaulting another. This case ties into Rome and Ellie May’s relationship in a spirited court room scene at the end.

    ***
    A big weakness for me was Wil Rogers’ performance in this. He’s likeable, but he’s not a very good actor, especially scenes that require more serious emotions. There’s a poignant scene that he plays by himself that fails to convey the emotion of the moment.

  125. Mitchell

    I’m pretty sure Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song was the first of the Superfly genre.

  126. Reid

    Yes, I think you’re right. But they’re different movies with different protagonists. Superfly, both the movie and main character are more mainstream, closer to Hollywood standards. Sweetback is pretty raw in terms of technique, and also possessing a creative innocence; the film is unaware (or indifferent) to movie conventions.

    Open Your Eyes (1997)
    Dir. Alejandro Amenabar
    7/10

    I would recommend this to everyone–especially Joel and Penny–and I would also recommend just seeing this without reading anything else. The film is well-made (good direction), interesting and held my attention throughout. Penelope Cruz is in it, too. (On a side note. Cruz is obviously beautiful, but she really has the “it” quality; magical beauty. I saw some qualities of Audrey Hepburn in her: the magical beauty, and innocence. But there are other qualities that make them different, too.) It’s a good film, but I don’t know if it deserves being in the 1001 book.

    **
    Summarizing the film without giving too much away is pretty difficult, but I”ll try for those who need more than my recommendations. Cesar (Eduardo Noreiga) is a wealthy womanizer, who we find in a hospital for the mentally ill. He’s put there for several reasons: he’s severely damaged, both physically and psychologically, and he’s killed someone. But Cesar cant’ remember what happened and struggles to figure out what happened with the help of Antonio (Chete Lera), a psychiatrist. There are several movies I can compare this, too, but that would be giving away more than I would like. There’s also an American remake of this film, which I haven’t seen.

    ***
    This is a well-directed movie. It keeps your attention and there are some nice constructions of dream sequences. There are several films that I thought of after seeing this. Seconds because of both films’ interest in critiquing the value placed on physical appearance; Matrix for the questioning of nature of reality, partly a new reality offered by new technology; Jacob’s Ladder and Mullholland Drive because of the way the story occurs within a dream narrative.

  127. Reid

    The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
    Dir. Jack Arnold
    7/10

    I don’t know if I can recommend this film, as I forsee most of your enjoyment will be mild. Grace and perhaps my brother have the best chance of liking this. My score is a bit higher partly because my low expectations, but this is solid film (smart script). I don’t know if it warrants a place in the 1001 movie guide, though.

    **
    Scott Carey (Grant Williams) is hit by a radiation cloud while on a boating trip one day, which combined with an earlier exposure to pesticide, has now casued his body to shrink. Supposedly this is a B-Film, but I’d list it as one of those B-Films that ends up better than many A-list films. The script is smart and while the effects are dated, they are still pretty effective. A shortened version the film would have made a good Twilight Zone episode. I liked the ending

    ***(spoilers)
    Social critics could probably have a field day with this film (the shrinking man as a metaphor for the loss of male dominance and growing sense of helplessness at the advent of the atomic age), but unfortunately I haven’t put in the thought or time to analyze the film in that way.

    I do want to write about the ending, which took me by complete surprise. The man keeps shrinking until he becomes so small that he’s really big; he becomes one with the universe. I thought that was brilliant way to end the film and I did not expect the filmmakers to resort to metaphysical solution to the film.

  128. Reid

    An Affair To Remember (1957)
    Dir. Leo McCarey
    Starring: Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, etc.
    7/10

    The female idiots would definitely like this (Grace has already seen this). I think most of the guys would like this, too. I guess you could make a case for its place in the 1001 book. You could argue that it is one of the best in its genre (but I wouldn’t make that argument). I guess, it’s also a classic.

    **
    A celebrity playboy, Niki Ferante (Grant), is heading to New York on an oceanliner to finally tie the knot with a millionaire widow(?). But on the way, there he meets Terry McKay (Kerr). Sparks fly and they begin to fall in love. At the end of the trip, they decide to meet at the top of the Empire State Building six months from now to get married. Of course, things don’t go smoothly. Do they get together or not?

    ***
    There’s some decent comedic moments between the principals, but some of the gags few flat with me or went over my head. It’s the kind of jokes that feel dated. Grant is his usual charming self, but I don’t think he plays the scenes with great emotion very well. In the key emotional moments, he wasn’t very convincing. I must also say that the chemistry between the two wasn’t entirely convincing or engaging either. I mean, it was good, but not something I found compelling. It’s a good romantic film, and maybe it would crack my top 20 list.

  129. burgess

    I watched Saw V last night, and I confess that I am a huge fan of the Saw series. I like the little twists and turns as well as the big twists and turns, the unexpected conclusions. Saws II – IV fill in the gaps of Jigsaw and his accomplices, and Saw V begins where IV leaves off. Much of Saw V, again fills in the gaps, and advances the story a little.

    Overall, I liked the movie, and if there is a Saw VI, I’ll probably see it. The ending of Saw V was kind of predictable–I knew early on where the story was headed. There was no big plot twist I had come to expect from the first four movies. Also, the storyline of the “test subjects” of saw V seemed relatively unconnected to the Saw story, except for their need, in Jigsaw’s mind, for redemption, though the traps in Saw V were as good as the traps in other movies.

    Is this a movie you should see? If you like the Saw series, by all means, go see Saw V, understanding that their might be a bit of a let down.

  130. Reid

    I didn’t know you liked horror.

    Sombre (1998)
    dir. Phillipe Grandrieux
    Starring: Marc Barbe, Elina Lowensohn, etc.
    7/10

    I wouldn’t recommend this to Joel, Jill, Larri and Don. I’m not sure about the remaining idiots, but I think Penny and Kevin have the best chance of liking this. This is another 1001 film pick, and I think it’s an interesting film, although I probably wouldn’t have chosen this film.

    **
    The film is about a Jean (Barbe) who goes out with kills prostitutes. One day, Jean meets a woman, Claire (Lowensohn), whose having car trouble. Jean offers her a ride and he eventually meets Claire and her sister. Jean is an attractive and they eventually goes on a trip with the two sisters. During the trip, Claire accidently finds Jean with two prostitutes.

    ***(spoilers)
    Unfortunately, I don’t have time to really breakdown the film, so what follows will be obeservations, questions and notes on the film.

    • There are elements in the film that I’m unclear about, most notably the significance of the Tour de France. The film ends with a long shot of all the spectators sitting along a country roadside waiting for the cyclists to pass. I’m also not sure about the significance of the fact that Jean is a puppeteer. There’s a cool scene where we seen the kids in the audience screaming out of fright from watching the puppet show, which involves a wolf. I wonder about the significance of the scene where Jean catches Claire snooping in his stuff. He finds Claire wearing the wolf costume. This kind of seemingly tangential scenes remind me of Michael Haneke films
    • I liked the editing of the film, jumping through time and some of the cinematography, which again reminds me of Haneke.
    • The film starts out like a horror suspense (I actually thought it was going to be like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, which I hated.), but in the end I think it’s an art film mainly about the differences between men and women, particularly the approach to sexuality. I thought of L’Avventura in a way that men and women are drawn together on one hand, but are often alienated from each other at the same time. Jean as the sexual deviant killer is not so much as a character as a symbol of the male condition, namely that men are dogs. They’re driven by physical lust with violence intertwined within this. They don’t understand this drive and the more humane ones are deeply troubled by it. For some reason I bought the idea that Claire is moved–and maybe sexually unfrozen by Jean’s carnality (in the scene where he begins to rape Claire and her sister). Well, that’s not really the scene that I “liked.” The scene later when Claire and Jean actually have intercourse–something Jean is never did with his previous victims, something he seems unable to do until Claire, who reaches out toward him with love and tenderness, despite his bestial nature, reaches out towards him. Even though they have intercourse, Jean runs from Claire, perhaps because he does care for her, but he knows he won’t be able to stop himself from hurting her. There’s a final scene of Claire when someone is talking to her, and I can’t remember what the person was saying. (I might have to go get this again to figure that out.) And we see Jean killing someone else, and then being alone. Finally, the last scene is of the Tour de France spectactors that I mentioned earlier. Again, I have no idea what that means.
    • There’s an allusion to Beauty and the Beast I think. Jean is a beast on the inside (good looking on the outside). And Claire is the beauty that tries to save him but can’t.
  131. pen

    Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is a sweet, cute and predictable movie. Some clever and funny lines with engaging characters (like Cena and’s me flat. They tried to make a climactic ending, but failed.

    Nick and Norah are not of the Thin Man series (where’s Asta?) but a young artsy musician (Michael Cena) and his ex (a pretty, popular and mean girl who cheated on him during the 6 months they were together) and a quirky rich girl (not as overtly pretty, but fiesty and “in tune” with musician (sorry, couldn’t resist). In fact, as she’s checking out his iPod, she says, “Wow, you’re my musical soul mate.” That about sums it up.

  132. Reid

    In keeping with the season, I saw two horror films from the 1001 book.

    Alien (1979)
    Dir. Ridley Scott
    7/10

    I’ve seen so many scenes from this movie (including the famous one), and I basically knew the whole story, including the ending, so I never wanted to see this. I pretty much had seen the film beforehand. Anyway, the film didn’t have the impact that it could have, so it’s really difficult for me to evaluate. I imagine if I knew nothing about the film, I would have thought it was effective. The concept is definitely good. I did think the direction wasn’t as effective as it could be. For one thing the music wasn’t used well, I think. Well, for a horror film, I thought the music itself was weak.

    Night of the Living Dead (1968)
    Dir. George Romero
    4/10

    This gets a four only for one or two reasons (which I’ll go into later). I’d probably only recommend this to Penny, as she’s a fan of both horror and cult films.

    **
    This is a basically a B-movie–the acting especially. The acting really took away from the impact of the film, especially the woman who played Barbara. The actor who played Ben also wasn’t very good, too. Basically, these people are trapped in a house as zombies tries to get in. That doesn’t sound that great, but if you had known nothing about the film (or zombies–was this the first flesh eating zombie film?) there are some aspects that would have been scary. For example, the audience doesn’t really know what’s happening. Initially, the characters hear on the radio that there are murders caused by some mass hysteria. Gradually, they learn bits of the truth: these are undead creatures that eat people and if you are bitten you will turn into ghoul yourself.

    (spoilers)
    A couple of things were pretty creepy about an otherwise non-scary film. First, the scenes of the zombies actually eating parts of two burnt humans. You don’t really see the victims, but there are close ups of the zombies eating entrails and other body parts. This was more disturbing than I thought, given I’ve seen much more graphic gore. The other scene that was pretty effective was the one where the little girl becomes a zombie and kills her mother with a garden spade. The girl repeatedly stabs the mother with the sound of the spade thunking into flesh. Again, perhaps not scary by today’s standards, but I imagine it must have been freaky when it came out. Finally, I liked the use of still photos for the ending scene. The still photos added a documentary feel and elevated the creepiness factor.

  133. Mitchell

    Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
    NO SPOILERS, but one small spoiler at the end which I will clearly label ahead of time.

    In fact, as she’s checking out his iPod, she says, “Wow, you’re my musical soul mate.” That about sums it up.

    With all due respect, that does NOT pretty much sum it up. I saw this movie a few days after it opened, and then a few days after that with a different friend who was also seeing it again (she then saw it AGAIN with her husband later that week).

    For nearly 15 years, I’ve been waiting for a movie to come along that would be this generation’s The Breakfast Club. The 80s was the decade of teen flicks. Many of them (Porky’s most notably) fell into the Teen Sexploitation genre, designed to separate teens from their dollars, whatever it took. I think we know what it took if Porky’s is the prime example.

    However, there were also a few that made an effort also to relate to teens: they represented teens the way they thought they should be represented and, in rare instances, managed also to speak on their behalf. I don’t have to tell you that The Breakfast Club was the best example. TBC was OUR movie; not only did we feel we were being represented, but many of us (and I mean MANY of us) believed that the characters were speaking for us.

    That may be laying it on a bit heavily, but my sentiment is sincere. Even if we can’t all agree that the characters in these teen movies were speaking for us or that they stood for us, I think we can agree that they communicated a great many of our values and tensions.

    What happened to that? Has there been a film like that for the teens of the nineties? What about the teens of the first decade of the 2000s? I haven’t seen Juno, but I had a feeling from the buzz that it was getting close. My thoughts when I saw the trailer for Nick and Norah’s was that this might be it.

    I understood, too, that what I was looking for might not resemble in ANY WAY the teen movies of my youth: entertainment is different, and today’s teens grew up with completely different ideas about communication (no more fighting with siblings for phone time!) and entertainment (no more suffering through parents’ television programs or waiting for movies to come on cable!). Was the new The Breakfast Club possibly Napoleon Dynamite or Jackass? It might be and I’m just too old to recognize it.

    I have been begging my students to go see Nick and Norah’s, and the early results aren’t encouraging. Teens enjoy it, but for them it is not resonating. I wonder if there’s enough angst in this generation of teenagers for a teen movie such as I envision even to be possible. This is one reason I suspect what we’re looking for is something more like Jackass.

    So is Nick and Norah’s, at least from my perspective, the teen movie I seek? Well, it’s certainly not The Breakfast Club but it could very well be this generation’s Sixteen Candles. There are a lot of good comparisons, which I hope to share later. I took extensive notes the second time I saw the film and don’t have them sorted out yet, but consider:

    1. Both films are set in one day and one evening.
    2. In both films the female main character pines for a popular guy.
    3. In both films, there are quiet moments of sincere expression surrounded by ridiculous plot elements.
    4. Both films feature drunken secondary characters whom the main characters are forced to take care of.
    5. Music. Lots and lots and lots of music cool teens will get but grownups won’t.
    6. An obvious absence of grownups.
    7. Exactly ONE gratuitous F-bomb, in the first scene of each film!

    What I mostly took notes on were evidences of different social values and expectations. That’s stuff I have to sort through and categorize. I think there’s a lot here to compare it favorably to Sixteen Candles, which is an iconic film for us thirtysomethings, but certainly not the landmark The Breakfast Club is.

    small spoiler: don’t read past this if you don’t want to hear what the last line of the film is.

    I wonder if a whole essay could be written just based on the last lines of each film. In Sixteen Candles, Jake says, “Make a wish.” Samantha says, “It already came true.” It’s a private moment in a dark room. End of film.

    In Nick and Norah’s, Norah says, “Are you upset that we missed it?” Nick says, “We didn’t miss it. This IS it.” It’s a private moment in a dark subway escalator. End of film.

    What do you think? Which is the better last line? Are the last lines saying the same thing? Is this accidental, or am I seeing a commonality that doesn’t really exist here? Or are they very much alike but not that big a deal?

  134. Reid

    Rachel Getting Married (2008)
    Dir. Johnathan Demme
    Starring: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin, Tunde Adebimpe, Debra Winger, etc.
    8/10

    I loved this movie. I would recommend this to other idiots, although with some caveats. Along with Be Kind, Rewind, this is my favorite film of the year.

    **
    The film is basically a slice-of-life–with emphasis on the “life” part–film–perhaps my favorite of this genre, a genre I’m not enthusiastic about, so it’s surprising that I really enjoyed this as much as I did. An alternate title could have been, a wedding and a family because that’s essentially what the film is about, at least in terms of plot. Kym (Hathaway) leaves a drug rehabilitation hospital for the weekend to attend her sister, Rachel’s (DeWitt) wedding. The film depicts the last minute preparations of the wedding and the wedding itself. Along the way we see the tension and conflicts that are typical in most families, well, sort of. In a way the film is like other films about families getting together for an occasion like Home for the Holidays or Once Around, but what makes this film stand out is the realism and authenticity of the scenes and acting. Yes, Anne Hathaway is a very good (and probably worthy of at least a nomination), but so are the other actors (sadly, Debra Winger was the weakest link to me). The conversations just feel so real, and there’s hardly a false note. Demme also shoots the film as if a family member making home movies of the wedding, which creates a sense that we’re eavesdropping into a family party. (Demme also uses some close-ups that create a suffocating feeling, which, in retrospect, may have been appropriate for the characters.)

    ***
    I want to explain the reason I liked the film so much. Basically, the film did a great job of depicting life–life as a messy mixture of joy, celebration as well as tragedy and pain. Life is a struggle with no easy answers, no easy path to healing and redemption. And the film does such a great job of portraying both sentiments in powerful and authentic ways. On the joy side, there are terrific scenes of the family and friends sharing their feelings about the bride and groom, some say nice things, others perform a song (the characters really love music and live music, a variety of styles is a prominent feature in the film; another thing I liked about it). You know how there are weddings/reception you attend where you might not know the couple very well, but nevertheless enjoy yourself because of touching displays of love and joy? Well, that’s the sort of thing that happens in the film. (I enjoyed the wedding vows in this.) There’s another part of the happy side of the film that’s secondary to the story, but nevertheless significant and something that appealed to me. I’m talking about the multi-ethnic mix of characters present at the wedding (the bride is white and the groom is black) and the multi-cultural flavor of the wedding (Indian food and dress and various live music being performed throughout the film). The groom’s mother says in a toast that this is what heaven will be like, and they’re just starting right now. It was a good line. I also liked the causal way this was depicted: the characters seem to treat each other as people and the film doesn’t have a self-consciousness towards race, nor was it preachy. I found all of this refreshing. I want to mention the role the house played in the film. I really loved the house, a two story old fashioned house with a big porch and yard. The house and it’s role in the film made me think of The Big Chill. It’s the kind of house I’d like to have a get-together at and just made the wedding more appealing.

    But the authenticity of celebration, love and joy were equally matched with authenticity of pain, resentment and conflict. We gradually come to learn the tragedy of this family and we see the way no family member is left unscathed, how each member is still wrestling with it. But what makes the movie so good is the way Demme juxtaposes these moments in the same scene. There’s one where the father, Paul (Irwin) challenging his son-in-law, Sidney (Adebimpe) to stacking the dishwasher and the fun is apruptly ruined by a reminder of the tragedy. But the scene that really captured this idea well is the one where Rachel and Kym are fighting and, out of nowhere, Rachel announces that she’s pregnant. The whole mood of the conversation shifts from strain and conflict to euphoric joy. It’s a whiplash that leaves Kym protesting, and everyone else basically drained and spent. This is what the film does so well, capturing these opposite emotions and showing the way they can suddenly appear one after the other with no warning.

  135. Reid

    Mitchell,

    You ask some interesting questions–what are the films that represent teens in the 90s? And that leads to me to think of other questions: does TBC best represent teens in the 80s? What films actually represent the 80s, 90s and 2000s well? A part me feels like we should start a separate thread. What do you think?

  136. Reid

    The Changeling (2008)
    Dir. Clint Eastwood
    Starring: Angelina Jolie
    6/10

    I’d give this a mild recommendation at best. Go if you’re desperate to see a film. It’s the type of movie that you’d watch on a Saturday with nothing better on or nothing better to do. Taken at face value, it has minimal entertainment value. There might be more beneath the surface–some interesting statements about power of the state perhaps and truth, but I’m not sure. I’m just trying to get this out, so you guys have some information about the film in case you’re considering watching this. Larri gave it 7.

    **
    The film is based on a true story about a woman (Angelina Jolie) whose son is missing. The story takes place in 1920s California. The police department actually find the boy, except the mother claims he’s not her son. The police believe that the mom is delusional and try to convince her that the boy is her son. This aspect of the story carries the film a long and keeps your attention, although the ending is a little anti-climatic.

    ***
    If I had more time, I’d want to analyze the film’s point of view of state power–especially with regard to the truth. The police department wields consider power in shaping one’s reality. They bring in a psychiatrist to explain away the mother’s evidence that the boy is not her son (he’s shrunk three inches and is now circumcised). They use their power to lock her in an insane asylum. At some point, I got worried that she’d succumb to these pressures and begin to change her mind. There are some experiments conducted where opinions of others around you can change your opinions of reality–even when the reality is clear. You had that dynamic working here. I’m not sure if Eastwood wanted to say something about abuse of state power, too; and how we must be wary of it and the necessity of individuals to fight against it. The statements feel banal, but maybe I haven’t explored the film deeply enough.

  137. Reid

    Time Regained (1999)
    Dir. Raoul Ruiz
    Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Beart, John Malkovich, Marcello Mazzarella, etc.
    5/10

    Perhaps, Kevin, Penny, Chris, Mitchell, and Grace might like this, but I can’t really give a strong recommendation. My score reflects my enjoyment (comprehension) than the quality.

    **
    From what I understand this film is based on the last book in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time series. If this wasn’t in the 1001 book, I’d probably wouldn’t have watched this, as I never read the books. (I want to.). The film is basically about Proust in his death bed reflecting on different parts of his life. There are beautiful images and cinematography, but the film was hard to understand, which is not surprising.

  138. pen

    Rachel Getting Married. I am shocked by how much Reid liked this film. It is usually the kind of film he refers dismissingly as “just a slice of life flick” (no matter how good the acting, or whatever).

    This movie has some great acting. It’s realistic and the drama and comedy come naturally so that nothing seems forced or off-key. Demme relies on the actors and his direction to create tension, celebrate joyfully and have solemn moments all naturally. He doesn’t rely on music or plot twists or dynamic dialog to accomplish these things, he just lets them be. (I’m not sure if I’m explaining this well, but if it’s confusing, you can buy me a cup of coffee and I will try to be more eloquent).

    Let’s just say this is a quietly powerful movie. It goes beyond slice-of-life to tackle some deep issues about family relationships, forgiveness, love and addiction. This is not an “easy” movie…one to watch and enjoy and walk away from. Because of the deeper issues addressed, it stays with you a bit…frames and snips of dialog and facial expressions. Anne Hathaway is getting much praise and it is well-deserved. But the woman that plays her sister is equally deserving of praise. Her performance is subtle and so on-point the whole movie.

  139. pen

    The Secret Life of Bees. While not outstanding, I enjoyed this film very much. Likeable characters, dramatic tension and the strength and healing elements of hope and acceptance all combine to make a very good film. The social-political climate of the times (late 1960s) directly effect the specific experiences of these characters. Almost like a period piece, the overwhelming influence of race relations in the “outside world” literally colored everything during this time. I definitely want to read the book now.

    Paul Bettany (who plays Dakota Fanning’s abusive father) does a great job (almost forgot he’s English) as well as the English actress who plays Queen Latifah and Alicia Key’s empathetic sister May in the film. Dakota Fanning and Jennifer Hudson also do good work. More than just a chick flick.

  140. Reid

    Re: Rachel Getting Married

    (possible spoilers)

    I want to be a little clearer on the reason I liked this film so much more than the typical “slice-of-life” film. Actually, I think a better description of the film is “situational”–as in a film with a basic plot comprises of a universal situation. In this film, the situation is a wedding. (While I don’t usually get enthused about “slice-of-life” films, I do really like the “situational” films I’ve seen, some examples are Tokyo Story, Sunrise: Song of Two Humans, or L’Atalante or In the Mood for Love, the latter by Wong Kar Wai, a master who has taken this “genre” to another level.) However, what makes the film exceptional is the way the wedding–which has many authentically touching moments–has a past family tragedy running beneath it. The film slowly reveals the way this tragedy has affected each family member and the ways the different family members handle it. In effect, we see a family celebrating and we see this beautiful picture of (racial) harmony and joy–despite the very painful tragedy of the past. There’s something beautiful about that, the perseverance of the family; the joy and celebration despite lingering heartache. That’s life, albeit life at its most intense and dramatic. But that’s what makes it perfect material for a film. (I think Demme and screenwriter Lumet probably deserve nomination for awards, too.)

  141. Reid

    Happy Go Lucky (2008)
    Dir. Mike Leigh
    Starring: Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Alexis Zegerman,
    8/10

    I recommend this to Penny, Kevin, Chris, Mitchell and Grace. I would cautiously recommend this to everyone else. I think I preferred Rachel Getting Married, but this would make my top five films of 2008. Both films are the type of good independent films you’d find at the old arthouse. If that appeals to you, go see them.

    Mike Leigh is also a very good director, and deserves more attention–especially by grown-up film fans. Larri didn’t care for this film (4/10), and I’ll go into those reasons later. (Others may have a similar reaction.) One other thing. This is playing at Kahala, and it’s worth seeing in the theater (because it’s a good film), but the film won’t lose much if you see it on the small screen. Also, the British accents (Cockney?) is rather thick and hard to understand, so subtitles would be a nice.

    **
    The film is mainly a character study of Poppy (Hawkins), a single, thirty-something teacher. Poppy lives with her good friend Zoe (Zegerman). But let me stop my plot description there because Leigh seems to use the events that occur in the film–Poppy’s interaction with her sisters and more importantly, Scott (Marsan), a driving instructor–mainly to reveal Poppy’s character and her life. Right off the bat, Poppy’s excessive cheerfulness is evident, especially when things happen to challenge this positive demeanor. She’s a Polyanna. I wasn’t surprised to hear Larrilynn whisper, “She’s annoying.” Indeed, I was a little surprised that I tolerated and even liked her. I’ll go into those reasons in the next section. Before I do, let me say something about Leigh’s approach to directing, which I think will appeal to some of you. From what I understand, Leigh works individually with the actors to develop the characters. Then when he thinks he’s got the character at the proper development, he gets the actors together to improvise. This is where Leigh writes the script. It’s a cool approach and based on the films I’ve seen, the work pays off by creating realistic. complex characters.

    ***(spoilers)
    There’s an underlying artistic challenge that Leigh seems to take on in this film: take a really optimistic person (almost unrealistically so) and let her face hardship and evil in the world–and do this in a realistic way, creating a complex and believable character. I liked that underlying premise of the film, and that’s what partly made the character tolerable. The other reason is that she’s hilarious, specifically in the delivery of rapid fire dialogue, especially with her roommate Zoe and Scott. These scenes were funny, and they reminded me of the American screwball comedies of the 30s (except they weren’t as hard to understand). I do have a slight criticism with the acting, specifically with Hawkins and Marsan; at times their acting seems so over top the characters became cartoonish, especially Marsan. I wish he restrained himself a little more. Nevertheless, Hawkins still manages to make her character believable and likable. For me, the fact that her optimism didn’t depend on a lack of awareness made her character tolerable, even likable. Poppy is not oblivious to pain or evil in the world. Neither is she an insensitive person; just the opposite in fact. Hawkins shows Poppy absorbing the pain and digesting it. She responds with compassion and seems to maintain her optimism despite this.

    Like the other Leigh films, this one deals with pain and loneliness and very few other directors depict the pain of loneliness as incisively and realistically as he does. It’s painful to watch and at the same time inspires genuine compassion for these characters (humanity?). He’s the King of Pain. Scott seems like the typical male character in Leigh’s films, completely crippled and deformed emotionally. The scene where Scott explodes was so shocking–the violence and pain was so visceral. In this scene and the earlier scene with Poppy’s disturbed student, I watched with interest the way Hawkins gradually shifted gears from this over-the-top Polyanna to someone sensitively and compassionately dealing with pain; the overall tone of the film shifted, too, from cartoonish humor to more poignant and even tender moments. This unfolding was one of the most satisfying parts of the film.

    I think there is more to analyze about pain and loneliness. For example, I thought the Flamenco dance was an interesting contrast to Poppy’s character. Flamenco (as portrayed by the dance instructor in the film) is about expressing anger, pain and revenge through the dance. How is that similar or different to Poppy’s approach? The film also makes these social observations about the tension caused by immigration and weaves this into the pain and frustration of Scott’s character.

    Leigh is deserving of nominations for direction, writing and Hawkins deserves a nomination for her performance as well.

  142. Reid

    Real Life (1979)
    Dir. Albert Brooks
    Starring:
    5/10

    I can’t really recommend this 1001 pick, although watching the way Brooks deals with the premise is interesting. Like other films by Brooks there are one or two pretty entertaining moments as well.

    **
    Brooks plays a Hollywood filmmaker who is inspired to make a film about a real family. The idea is now passe, but in 1979 it was ahead of its time. The film starts with the way the family is chosen–putting families through a series of psychological tests. After the family is chosen, Brooks lives next door to the family and has cameras strategically placed to film them. Definitely a precursor to reality TV.

    ***(spoilers)
    The problem is that the film didn’t offer any interesting insights. As a director, Brooks has an interesting ideas for films (looking at America through a couple’s road trip; envisioning the afterlife), but I just find the insights mild and not very interesting. Having said that, his films almost always have two or three really hilarious moments. In this film, I loved the scene where Brooks’ character meets the wife/mother of the family. I loved it when she cries and hugs him and Brooks doesn’t want to touch her, but his hand moves in a comforting gesture.
    Brooks is aware though that there is no such thing as a “reality” TV–that the act of filming makes true reality all but impossible.

    Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke (1978)
    Dir. Lou Adler
    Starring: Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, etc.
    4/10

    Mitchell said he liked this when he was 12, but I don’t think I could recommend this to anyone else, except for maybe Kevin. I’d be taking a guess with everyone else. I was skeptical when I saw this in the 1001 book and the film didn’t change that.

    **
    The film is about two drug-addled losers who unwittingly smuggle a truck made up of marijuana from Mexico. Along the way, they pick up some hitchhikers and enter and punk rock contest. A group of police lead by Stacey Keach is in pursuit throughout the film.

    ***
    What can I say? This is just not my humor. I must admit that the humor is in some instances clever or at least not completely stupid. If there is one thing noteworthy about the film, it is the fact that the film is a variation on the road film. Instead of Hope and Crosby, you now how these two post-hippie dunces as the protagonists. The Cheech and Chong characters are an original and somewhat interesting update on Hope/Crosby, the Three Stooges and other slapstick personae from the past. That’s about the best thing I can say about the film.

  143. Mitchell

    Did I say twelve? I meant nine. I actually saw this at the Royal Sunset Drive-In. My folks, who never ever ever let me see R-rated films, sent my sister and me to the drive-in with a family friend and his wife (they were childless at the time and liked our company, I think). The feature was Meatball; I don’t think my parents knew we were also seeing Up in Smoke. 🙂

  144. Reid

    Appaloosa (2008)
    Dir. Ed Harris
    Starring: Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellwegger, Jeremy Irons, etc.
    7/10

    I don’t get to say this often, so I’m relishing it now: I recommend this film to John. I know so little about John’s tastes in film, but I thought of him while watching this. I can recommend this to Mitchell, too. Next, I’d say Penny, Kevin, Chris, and Grace would be interested. I don’t think Joel and Jill will be too enthused, and Don might like this, but he might be bored, too.

    I think seeing the film on dvd would be fine, but if you’re looking for something good to see, this is worth checking out (although Larrilynn didn’t care for this, giving this a 4 or 5/10; she thought it was boring). There are problems with this film, but many more strengths (so much so that I thought of giving this an 8). Rachel Getting Married, Iron Man, Be Kind, Rewind, Happy Go Lucky and now this film are favorites of 2008.

    **
    Two men, Virgil Cole (Harris) and Everett Hitch (Mortensen) are hired by a town to provide law and order after the previous town sheriff is gunned down by a local businessman, Bragg (Irons). The problem is no one can prove Bragg killed the sheriff. Cole and Hitch find a way to bring him to justice, while other complications arise. I’d describe the film as an independent Western, especially one made by actors–i.e. the characters are interesting. But that’s not to say the overall writing (plot) is not good because it is, but the narrative is not the main aspect of the film, especially in a Hollywood sense. (It’s not inaccessible at all, though.) I think fans of Westerns should see this. It’s an interesting and worthy take on the genre. Btw, the film is based on a book.

    ***(spoilers)
    This film is a good contrast to Open Range, the Kevin Costner Western starring Costner and Robert Duvall as cowboy buddies. Both films are buddy films that involve a woman who complicates their relationship. The difference is that Open Range< /i> felt like the filmmakers crammed in all the Western cliches into one film and largely developed the films in predictable ways. Appaloosa avoids the story and character development that you would expect given the premise. The filmmakers aren’t interested in telling Manichean story where the good guys simply prevail. The characters are complex, not easy to pidgin hole. You think they’re going to be a certain way, but then behave in ways that thwart your prediction. For example, when Cole gets complete authority to make the town laws and behaves in savage and irrational ways, I thought he was going to become a brutish tyrant. Cole has problems with some words (which also fed my expectations), and turns to Hitch for help. Because of that and Cole’s comment that Hitch is not as good a gunfighter/killer is because he feels too much, I anticipated that Hitch would be the more civilized, cultured friend, who may be faced with the stopping his friend. The film avoids these developments and create more complex characters. Even the love interest, Allie French (Zellwegger), is interesting. At one point, I thought she was going to be the traitorous tramp, but she’s not. She’s not really likable (I can see Penny and Grace complaining), but she’s not unsympathetic either. She appears to be shallow, essentially a golddigger, but really she’s just afraid of being left alone without any means to survive. Her jumping from the man mostly likely to offer her security is understandable.

    Another interesting thing is the relationships, especially the notion of love. I’m not comfortable calling Cole’s feelings for Allie love, but it’s not simply carnal or superficial either. He is attracted to her, but his feelings for her are more than that; he’s drawn by the idea of her, the fact that she possesses the qualities of the ideal, civilized wife. It’s something missing in his hard, ultra-male life. While the need for security motivates Allie, I wouldn’t say she’s not capable of a more substantive relationship with Cole, either.

    The friendship between Cole and Hitch is also complex. I citing specifics, but the filmmakers seem to want to mute the bond between the men. Unlike other buddy Westerns, there doesn’t seem to be a strong bond from chemistry (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid0 or manly code (Wild Bunch). They experienced things together, but the affection and connection seems muted–almost as if the filmmakers were consciously avoiding the trappings of a buddy film.

    This leads me to one of the flaws of the film, namely the acting. What I wrote above makes me think that the actors (Harris/Mortensen/Zellwegger) lacked chemistry, but now that I think about the problem more, I think the acting and direction the cause. Right at the beginning of the film, I felt the acting or the dialogue was a little stiff; or just not natural. As the film progressed I got the sense the actors weren’t really comfortable. It makes me wonder if Harris, as director, was trying to avoid these cliches and simple characterizations and relationships, and I wonder if that confused the actors or made them uncomfortable. Maybe I’m totally off base and making more out of it. (If any of you see this, let me know what you think.) One last thing about the acting. A part of me feels that Harris, Mortensen and Zellwegger are deserving of at least nominations for best and supporting actors, but the acting makes me hesitate. I’d be more comfortable if the award were for best character. One more thing, to end this section on a positive note, I loved the Harris and Mortensen’s faces in this–great, rugged manly faces.

    I mentioned how much I liked the characters, but I must mention the plot, particularly the interesting developments that occurred: Cole and Hitch establish themselves; capture and hold Bragg; the trial, Braggs escape with the Shelton brothers (Lance Henricksen–he gained weight); the showdown with Shelton; the showdown with Bragg. This aspect of the film would appeal to fans of good Hollywood (read: entertaining) Westerns.

    Also, I don’t know much about make-up and costumes, but I think this film might be deserving of nominations in those categories. I liked Viggo and Harris’ wardrobe especially, not so much for the authenticity (not that I really know authentic clothing of that time period), but the clothes and hats just looked cool. A word about the camera work and cinematography. Nothing comes to my mind as outstanding, all though Malick made getting excited about footage of wide open American space all but impossible.

    Oh, and narration at the beginning and the end (especially at the end) was so unnecessary. I’m wondering if someone forced Harris to do it. The one at the end was particularly annoying.

    Next up: Quantum of Solace. I’ll just that it wasn’t very good, but if you’re going to see it, seeing the previous film would be helpful.

  145. Reid

    Quantum of Solace (2008)
    Dir. Marc Forster
    Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Mathieu Amalric, Olga Kurylenko, etc.
    4/10

    I don’t recommend this. (Larri didn’t care for this either.) The film is not terrible, but it’s not good either, and I think the film mainly avoided a three because Daniel Craig was in it. Btw, I really liked Casino Royale, a film you should see before seeing this. (If you like Casino, you’ll be interested in this film, but I don’t think you will like it.)

    **
    The next installment in the 007 series. The plot and the way it develops is so weak that I have little motivation for describing it, but here goes. The British intelligence discover a secret organization that is made up of high ranking people throughout the world. M (Dench) sends Bond (Craig) to learn more and gets on the trail of a businessman, Dominic Green (Amalric) of a “green” company, which is really a front for this secret organization. The organization supporting a dictator in Bolivia in order to get control of desert, which supposedly has oil. In the process, Bond connects with a former Bolivian intelligence agent seeking revenge on the dictator for killing her family.

    ***
    Where Casino Royale advanced the Bond franchise two steps forward, Quantum of Solace essentially took the series two steps back. Besides Craig’s realistic and smouldering Bond and the lack of gadgets (two good things that made the series less cartoonish), this film is essentially a mediocre Hollywood action film. Gone are the intelligent dialogue, good acting and emphasis on story over special effects and action sequences; back are the emphasis on action and the Bond beauty played by a model pretending to be an actor.

    The filmmakers do a terrible job of filmming the action, too. The action sequences are edit and shot in a way where determining what’s really happening to the hero and villians are impossible. (Why Hollywood tolerate this kind of filmmaking is beyond me? I can’t believe this style is more profitable than one where audiences can understand the action. There is actually one sequence, where Bond fights with a villian on a scaffold, that would have been interesing, reminiscent of a Speilberg action sequence, but the quick editing, poor camera angles and close-ups ruin it.)

    These actions aren’t helped by Bond’s rapid and excessive traveling from one country to another. This prevented the character or the story to be fully grounded, creating an unsettling feeling in me. I think this exasperated the confusing way the story developed. I had a hard time following what was going on, as things happened quickly, but when I did piece things to get the development was so uninteresting I didn’t care.

    I also didn’t care one wit about Camille (Kurylenko), the new Bond babe. Yes, she’s beautiful; no she can’t act, and there is nothing written about her that makes her interesting in the slightest. A big reason Casino Royale was so terrific was the presence of Vesper. She was a match–intellectually and psychologically–for Bond, and she was played by someone (Eva Green) who could effectively deliver the smart dialogue written for her. And it’s not like you had to sacrifice looks.

    Another big disappointment was the villian, Dominic Green. He was bland, not menacing or inspiring of fear or revulsion that are qualities of effective villians, including the one played by Mads Mikkelsen (Le Chiffre) in Casino Royale. Amalric is a good actor, but he was miscase here. Then again, the writing for the character has a lot to do with it, too.

    If the filmmakers are listening, please return to the tact taken in Casino Royale. Go back to well-written characters and focus on developing a good story. Then follow that with some well-directed action sequences as a complement. Keep Daniel Craig, with his bleeding facial cuts and searing intensity. Get a better villian–Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and you’ll get the franchise back on track.

  146. Reid

    Synecdoche, New York (2008)
    Dir. Charlie Kaufmann
    Starring: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest, etc.
    ?/10

    I’m not ready to give a rating on this score, and it’ll probably take me a long time. But I wanted to say that there are two people I feel confident would be interested in this film–whether they like it or not, that would be Penny and Kevin. I’m not sure how much they would ultimately like this film, but I’m confident they would find it worth seeing. I think Grace, Mitchell (and possibly Tony) would also find this interesting. Larri would hate this. I wouldn’t recommend this to Joel, Jill and Don. Hopefully, at some point, I’ll come up with a score and a full review. I’m not sure about Marc and John, although I would guess they wouldn’t care for this.

    **
    I can give a brief synopsis of the film for those who want to know. The film is about a playwright, Caden Cotard (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who is struggling to make his ambitious play that blurs the lines between reality and fiction. In the process we see his struggles with various women in his life. This is Charlie Kaufmann’s directorial debut, from what I understand. The film is also written by him. Here are some films that have similarities: Mullholland Drive and 8 1/2.

  147. Tony

    So I just saw Synecdoche, New York.

    Heh. What else is there to say? It was one seriously weird movie. Probably the weirdest that I’ve seen of Northfork from a few years ago. It’s this thing you just have to sit back and watch unwind, really. And just when you think it’s about to end/make sense, it goes off in another weird direction.

    Which is probably what the movie was going for.

    Favorite scene? Obviously, for me, it was the one with the priest and the rain. It was very well-rendered and quite perceptive.

    Would I see it again? Probably not, except to see the previously mentioned scene again.

    Anyone planning on seeing Australia?

  148. Reid

    Hey Tony,

    I’m probably going to see Australia today.

    (spoilers)

    Re: Synechdoche, New York

    So…do you have an explanation for the film? The film is a puzzle that I think has a solution or some kind of explanation, and I can’t really judge the film until I figure it out. There are many mysteries to solve. I’m on the trail that Caden is Ellen–that either Ellen became the man, Ellen vice-versa. I’m also wondering if some of the characters (like Samantha Morton’s character and the therapist) are not real but products of Caden’s imagination–or perhaps, they are real, but largely embellished by Caden’s imagination, at least in the form we see on the screen. Some of the themes I think involve the danger of your real life passing you by when you put too much of yourself in intellectual pursuits (and I would include the electronic media). What do you think about the apocalyptic events at the end? The scene with the preacher was an important scene, and I liked it, too. I wish I could remember everything he said. here’s a lot of to figure out, and I might just go see it again to figure the film out.

  149. Reid

    Australia (2008)
    Dir. Baz Lurhman
    Starring: Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Bryan Brown, etc.
    6/10

    I think Grace and Penny have the best chance of liking this, although I think most others will think it’s at least alright. (However, Larri gave this a 5, which surprised me.) The film entertained me for the most part, although there were a few parts where the film’s momentum stalled a bit.

    **
    I think I’ve heard people refer to this as the “Australian Gone With the Wind” and that’s an apt description–in terms of its two strong leads and epic romance that captures a place. The film also has a lot of similarities to Out of Africa–Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman) goes to Australia to sell her husband’s property because she’s desperate for money. There she discovers that her husband has been killed and a rich cattle rancher, King Carney (Brown), who owns much of that region, has been stealing her husband’s cattle. Carney doesn’t want competition–especially since the British military are looking for cattle to feed the its troops–and when Lady Ashley discovers this, she is determined to drive the cattle to the docks, where the British await. She needs some help, so she enlists the rugged, Drover (Jackman). The film also involves a half-Aboriginal, half-Caucasian child and a second part of the film, which involves Japanese invasion as part of the WWII. The film also has elements of The African Queen (the uncouth man who falls for the prim and proper woman) and Red River (the cattle drive).

    ***
    The film starts off promising. I liked the tone and the visuals, which created a kind of larger-than-life adventure film, not necessarily realistic drama. The feeling is part Classic Hollywood and part comic book. The filmmakers create this by conspicuously using a lot of “green screen” shots versus location shooting. This made you aware that you were watching a film, rather than real life, and I think that contributed positively in some ways. On the other hand, the film could have had a more powerful epic feel in a Leanian sense, if they shot more on location with panoramic shots. (Perhaps, budget was a key factor.)

    The biggest downfall of the movie, however, was the fact that the film seemed to combine two stories–the cattle drive and the Japanese attack–in one film. If Lurhmann had focused on the cattle drive–maybe used on location shooting and developed the characters more especially King Carney’s villainy. He may have also been able to weave into the Nullah’s (Walters) story–both the Walkabout issue and being taken away to an orphanage–without taking the film into WWII territory. It almost seems like the screenwriters were dead-set on having that war backdrop, which did lead to very dramatic and romantic scenes. But it also made the film awkward and rushed–particularly in the transition from the cattle drive to the WWII storyline.

    By the way, I sometimes complain about the cliches in a film, and this one had its share. But I actually don’t have a problem with cliches if the filmmakers execute the story and create likable characters. There were some touching moments, moments of romance and action (stampede and docking scene). In this way, the film sort of reminded me of Titanic–not original, but effectively romantic. (Kidman and Jackman’s chemistry and charisma weren’t equal to DiCaprio and Winslet’s though.)

  150. Mitchell

    I thought you hated Titanic.

  151. Reid

    I didn’t hate Titanic. I actually enjoyed it on some level (probably 6/10). But I thought it got way, way too much hype. The notion that this was a great, great film was just ridiculous to me.

    Pink Flamingos (1972)
    Dir. John Waters
    Starring: Divine, etc.
    6/10

    I guess I would recommend this to Penny and perhaps Mitchell, with some caution. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this to Joel, Jill and Don. (Larri didn’t watch all of it, but hated whatever she saw.) This is not my type of film, and to say that I liked the film might be a bit of stretch, but there is a lot I liked about it, and I think, objectively, has some good things going for it. It’s a deserving choice for the 1001 book.

    **
    Divine–crowned the “filthiest person alive” by a tabloid–has taken an alias (Babs Johnson) and is hiding out in the woods, living in a trailer with her mother, Edie (Edith Massey) and her son, Crackers (Danny Mills). Unbeknownst to Divine, Raymond (David Lochary) and Connie (Mink Stole) Marble are appalled that Divine has won the “filthiest person” title and set out to ruin her.

    ***
    Some of my favorite musicians are those who don’t confine their music making to existing musical categories. This freedom allows their music to go beyond genres and often lead to something new and exciting. That’s one of the most refreshing things about John Waters’ Pink Flamingos. When watching the film, you get a sense of someone free from categories and conventional mores–some people may say that is not a good thing, especially the results on the screen, but I found this freedom super refreshing. Plus, the movie is not meant to be taken seriously. The film blends elements of horror, pornography and comedy in a way that I haven’t really seen. One of my favorite scenes was the one where the police close in on Divine and her guests at a party. Divine and her guest begin to attack the police and then proceed to eat them! The way Waters shoots the scene created a sense of Marx Brothers and George Romero. And the subject matter is hardly conventional either. The whole plot revolving around two parties fighting over the title of the “filthiest person alive” is not only bizarre, but pretty funny, too. Waters shows us a totally different world (at least to most filmgoers), and he takes us on a pretty fun ride. Well, if you can stomach gross out scenes, bad acting, writing and filmmaking.

    All in all, this is not my type of film. The acting and film techniques are amateurish, and I’m not into the trashy subject matter. (The movie is kind of funny, and could get funnier for me over time.) Still, I can’t deny the creativity and spirit behind the film. It’s definitely the best trash film I’ve seen.

    While I mentioned that I haven’t seen another film like it, the film does remind me of Mario Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Badaasssss Song. Both of the films are raw and b-quality, but they free from the rules of conventional filmmaking. It’s the opposite of the cookie cutter spirit behind many of Hollywood’s films. The film also reminded me of Tom Browning’s Freaks, the film about and played by real life circus “freaks.” The opening scene with Edie, Divine’s mother, sitting in a baby playpen asking for eggs made me thing of that film. (Edie later falling in love with the Eggman was deliciously dada.)

    Edie is weird and interesting, but Divine has to be one of the most interesting characters on film. He’s gross, violent and over-the-top. He’s a force of nature, which reminded me of Michel Simon in Boudu Saved from Drowning.

    The infamous last scene in the film was gross, but it’s not the grossest I’ve seen.

  152. Reid

    John Adams (2008)
    4/10

    While this was OK, I don’t think I can recommend this (except to Mitchell, who wants to see all of Paul Giamatti films). Unless you know a lot about the history of the time period, the people and events, I think the film can be pretty confusing, as it leaves out a lot of these details which are crucial to understanding and enjoying the story. Not knowing these details could make the series pretty boring, too, and except for those who really have an interest in the American Revolution< I think this series would be boring anyway> I think a lot of details are left out of the way Jefferson and Adams’ relationship developed. The film doesn’t give you a sense that they were really good friends. Many details that explain the way their friendship was damaged are also left out. Part of the problem is that there is so much ground the series is trying to cover. Having said that, the relationship between the two is central to Adams and, at least for me, one of the more interesting relationships in Adams’ life (besides his relationship with Abigail). They were opposites in so many ways–ways that you would think would make their friendship impossible. For example, Adams was very blunt and forthright whereas Jefferson was duplicitous; Adams seemed more of realist while Jefferson was an idealist. Of course, I should say that my information comes from McCullough’s book, which should give one pause as McCullough seems so smitten by Adams that his objectivity is somewhat suspect. I wished the filmmakers spent more time on this. This is a criticism that has to do with my personal preference, but I think there are many other details left out that would make appreciating and understanding the events in the story extremely difficult.

    The other problem was the acting. I found Giamatti’s acting to be a over-the-top and ham-fisted, as if he were channeling Al Pacino in his worst moments. In many ways, I think he was miscast, too, at least by my conception of Adams–someone with a little more gravitas. I also didn’t care for Laura Linney’s performance, too. I guess, they didn’t seem believable. Perhaps, the writing is partly to blame and the direction–as there wasn’t enough time to adequately establish characters, relationships as well as provide critical historical details.

  153. pen

    Role Models. Some may be surprised that I like this kind of film. It was funny (most of the good parts were in the movie trailer, tho’) and formulaic. It was nice to sit in a dark room and not have to think and eat my popcorn and be entertained (I’ve been a bit stressed). Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott had good chemistry and I believed in their relationship. It was over-the-top, but not in such a silly way that would make it annoying. It gave me some genuine laughs. Good popcorn flick.

  154. Reid

    Celebration (1998)
    Dir. Thomas Vinterberg
    4/10

    If I had to guess, I wouldn’t recommend this to any of the idiots, although it’s not a bad film. I just don’t feel anyone would really love it. The film made the 1001 list and the primary justification (and not a very good one) is that it is one of the early(?) examples of the Dogme ’95 approach (direct sound, hand held cameras, natural lighting, no fx, etc.).

    **
    The film is about a family getting together for the father’s 60th birthday. The party takes place at a small resort hotel (in Denmark; I believe this is a Danish film) that the family once owned. During the get together family secrets come out in dramatic ways.

    ***
    (spoilers)
    While the film held my attention for the most part, I was pretty jaded by the more shocking elements of the story. This is not the first story to cover incest after all. I found the overall story and its resolution pretty stale. Also, some of the reactions of the people in the film, just seemed unnatural and unbelievable. When Christian reveals his father’s sins, the reaction of the crowd of relatives–almost no reaction, little reaction shown anyway–doesn’t seem realistic. Even the parent’s reaction seems strange. The Dogma ’95 techniques were mildly interesting, but nothing noteworthy–at least that I could tell.

  155. Reid

    Cadillac Records (2008)
    3/10

    I think the majority of you would give this higher than a three, but I don’t think you would really like it. At best I think most people will say it’s OK. I wouldn’t recommend it. Definitely a film you can wait for video. (Larri just thought it was alright.)

    **
    The film chronicles the history of Chess Records, which recorded many blues and rock n’ roll musicians from the 50s-60s, musicians like Muddy Waters, Etta James, Chuck Berry, Howlin Wolf, among others. In that way, the film is like a biopic. From what I’m told the actors do all of their own singing, which was pretty good. (Beyonce was turned in the best performances.)

    ***
    There were several problems with the film. For the most part, the stories of the record company and the musicians were pretty boring. I mean, if you’ve watched a lot of those VH1 musician profiles or musical biopics, there won’t be anything new. The performances and music wasn’t good enough to carry this film either. Finally, there was a lot in the film that wasn’t true. The most glaring being the omission of Leonard Chess’ brother, who helped found the record company. (I have no idea why he’s completely cut out of the film.) The story of Chess Records, the music and musicians would have been better covered in a documentary–then you could play the original music, too.

  156. Reid

    Ashes of Time: Redux (2008)
    Dir. Wong Kar Wai
    7/10

    I don’t recommend this to Don, Jill, Joel, John or Larrilynn. As for the other idiots, I would guess Mitchell has the best chance of liking this, although Kevin, Grace, Penny and Chris would probably find something interesting in this. Wong is one of my favorite contemporary directors–I’ll see a film if he’s directing it, although I have to say that it took several films to get appreciate him.

    If you do decide to see the film, I recommend seeing it on the big screen. It’s playing at Kahala now, but his films don’t last long in the theaters.

    **
    This film originally came out in 1994, but, from what I understand, the original prints were in danger of being irrevocably damaged, so Wong sought to restore the film and in the process redo it. I believe he changed scenes (edited different or added new ones?) and rescored the film, too. Reviewers have commented on the beauty of the film, but I was surprised to see filmstock quality, which looked damaged and old to me.

    The film centers on a “samurai pimp,” Ouyang Fang (Leslie Cheung) that is someone who connects swordsmen with those looking for someone they want killed. The film is organized by three different characters that visit Fang, creating three different vignettes. The first visitor is a long time friend, Huang Yaoshi (Tony Leung Ka Fai)–whose is somewhat of a womanizer and possibly a swordsman. Next is a blind swordsman (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) that Fang hires to protect a village. Finally, Hong Qi (Jacky Cheung), is the last swordsman to see Fang. While the film has sword fights in a kung-fu style, the film is only a kung-fu movie in a superficial sense. The fight scenes are not only few and far between, but they are edited so that making sense of the action is difficult. The sequences are in semi-slow motion, too, which may appeal to arthouse fans. Kung-fu fans will find this film way too slow and the focus on more dramatic storylines disappointing. Those dramatic storylines deal with the woman in each of these characters’ lives and the frustration and melancholy from the things that separate these characters. If that appeals to you, just be warned that the story can be hard to follow. In my experience, Wong is more interested in images, moods and situations, rather than conventional narratives, although in this film the narratives do intertwine in interesting and coherent ways (once you figure them out). If that sounds interesting, then you might like this film.

    ***
    Wong’s focus is the things that separate lovers and the resulting tragic consequences. All of the characters are to some extent frustrated lovers. The one character, Hong Qi, who has a happy ending with his beloved serves as a contrast, heightening the sadness of the other characters.

    One of the things that stands out to me in Wong’s films is his quirky cinematic style. The way he uses his camera doesn’t always make sense to me. I’m often saying to myself, “That’s an odd shot,” or “Why’d he choose to shoot that way?” Yet, I find his style compelling, and something I connect to, even they are made up of odd decisions. In this film, Wong uses a lot of close-ups that I found strange. They shots are necessarily aesthetically pleasing either; I don’t know if they would work as stills. But I should go back and check. Like other films of his, repeat viewing will reward viewers.

  157. Tony

    Get in your car, head over to Kahala, and see Slumdog Millionaire as soon as you can. Seriously.

    It’s the new movie by Danny Boyle. Mostly native Indian cast. The story of two brothers and a girl framed by one brother’s appearance on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” Beautifully shot. Amazingly acted (even by the children). The movie fits together perfectly without being trite. And it has some of my favorite story-telling devices ever.

    Really. Truly. If you get the chance, go!

  158. Reid

    I want to see this, and I hope to see this soon.

    The Gleaners and I (2000)
    Dir. Agnes Varda
    7/10

    I think Kevin has the best chance of liking this, but Penny, Chris, Grace and Mitchell also have a good chance of appreciating this. I probably wouldn’t recommend this to the other idiots. I had no idea what this movie was about, and I ended up liking it. A deserving pick for the 1001 book.

    **
    The movie is a video essay on gleaning, and the concept of gleaning within the 21sth Century. What is gleaning? I believe it’s a concept that originated from the Bible, and it was basically God’s command for field workers to leave the small bits of harvest that weren’t gathered initially for the poor. In other words, after the initial harvest, the less fortunate were supposed to be able to pick the food. The film is a kind of documentary, but I intentionally avoided that description because, unlike many documentaries, Varda the filmmaker inserts herself–her physical self as well as her ruminations, and personal, poetic style of filmmaking. The style reminds me of a cinematic version of Annie Dillard.

    ***
    Like a good poem, this is a type of film that probably gets better after repeated viewings, but here are some things that struck me:

    1. The examination of this old principle sharply contrasts with the ethos and values of modern society and in so doing serves as a critique of society. We see this vividly by the wasteful practices of the industrial consumer society, which has no room to give perfectly edible food to those who desperately need it.
    2. Varda also offers criticism by showing the way individuals take the leftovers of society and transform it into art. I love the way Varda shows great paintings of gleaners working in the field as a set up for artists who use “trash” to make something beautiful. When Varda finds–and “gleans”–the amateur painting, combining two paintings she featured early in the film, it’s one of those magical moments in filmmaking that directors only dream of.
    3. I wish I had more time to reflect on the last person featured in the film, the guy with a graduate degree, but lives of leftover produce from a Paris market, lives in a shelter and teaches immigrants French for free. His lifestyle and values are antithetical to modern society and his teaching and his students seem to be another interesting modern version of gleaning–repudiating many of the consumer values.
    4. There’s a lot of cool images–like the heart shaped potatoes among others. Wish I could remember more and provide analysis
  159. Reid

    Milk (2008)
    Dir. Gus Van Sant
    Starring: Sean Penn, etc.
    6/10

    Penny liked this, and I think Grace would like this, too. Next, I would guess Kevin, Chris and Mitchell liking this. I thought it was pretty well done, and I’ll explain my score below.

    **
    This is a film about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician. He was a city supervisor (which seems to be basically a City Council member). Milk was an activist fighting for gay rights. He was also fighting to change society so that gays and lesbians need not feel like they were somehow abnormal.

    ***
    Like Good Night and Good Luck, the film about Edward R. Murrow, I thought a documentary format would have been better. (There is indeed a documentary about Milk, which I have yet to see.) Perhaps the main reason is that in a documentary can move more freely and quickly to interesting aspects of a subject. A feature film is more linear and there are many scenes that develop the character and story that take up (waste) a lot of time. For the most part, these scenes weren’t that interesting. What was interesting were Milk’s speeches, the nature of the opposition he faced–I wished they showed more about Anita Bryant, which they could have done in a more agile way.

    Having said that, there is one important advantage that the feature film has over a documentary: more people, especially strictly mainstream audiences, will see the film. I guess, that might been one of the reasons to make the film (that and the fact that a documentary already exists). For those mainstream audiences who don’t know any gays, the film can help humanize this socially ostracized group. That’s valuable.

    Beyond that, I don’t think this is a great film. Van Sant does a solid job directing the film< Penn"s performance is also solid< but not extraordinary> This is the type of film that the Academy will nominate more for its social message rather than the quality of the film (think of Philadelphia or The Accused).

  160. pen

    Reid is correct, I liked Milk very much.

    Harvey Milk, gay activist and apparently the first openly gay person in elected office is played by a subtle and honest Sean Penn. I think I was more impressed with Penn’s performance than Reid was. Penn could have been over-the-top or too retrained, but imho, he got that delicate balance correct and it made for a better film.

    One thing I appreciated about the direction was the sense of tension Van Sant was able to build toward the end of the movie. Harvey Milk died when I was still in elementary school and I did not know what happened, so I was stiff in my seat, anxiously wondering why I was so anxious.

    What ties this movie together is Milk basically taping his last will and testament. Not for the purpose of bequeathing material goods, but to explain the fight they were fighting. It’s origins, how it grew and faltered and in the end a bequeathment of sorts…his passing the torch. He remarks several times that this is a movement, not a person. The energy, sacrifices, dedication, passion are all bigger than an individual.

    Bring kleenex.

    Speaking of kleenex, I also saw the animated film Bolt in 3-D. I cried in this movie, too. It was touching! The hamster steals the show.

  161. pen

    I don’t think I enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire quite as much as Tony, but pretty close. I say this because you don’t have to get in your car and see this movie now…you can wait until the weekend if you want to. 😀

    Solid acting, engaging characters, good pacing and an interesting story-telling narrative all make for a good flick. I was willing to overlook some things I didn’t understand, because the rest of the film was so strong. Also, perhaps I didn’t understand certain things because I am not really familiar with Indian culture.

    Two things I didn’t understand (minor spoiler alert):

    1. Why the $ in the tub? They showed that image multiple times before we find out the context…so lots of foreshadowing, but what did it really mean (besides the obvious symbolism?)

    2. Why the host’s immediate dislike for the main character? Does this have something to do with the caste system? But American imports like “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” chip away at such a system and he’s the host of the show. Plus, obviously this kid was ratings gold.

  162. pen

    Seven Pounds was as intense as I thought it was going to be. I needed a massage after leaving the theatre…I still wouldn’t mind one now. Don’t see the late show and go home. Make sure you have someone to debrief with after…not necessarily because the subject matter is so disturbing, but because the “place” the movie puts you in as you become engrossed in the film is not necessarily the place you want to be in before you go to sleep (at least not me).

    SPOILERS (minor, but Reid should definitely stop reading):

    This was a very good movie, but I was bummed because I figured out the “secret” within the first 15 minutes of the movie…then I doubted myself…then I realized I was right even though it was kind of far-fetched.

    Will Smith is good and that is saying something, because I expect him to be good. There is a tension within him that hovers tenaciously like a shadow–always present even when the light seems the brightest. Rosario Dawson is also good. Her character is more than just a counterpart/foil for the main character (but she also makes a good counterpart/foil).

  163. Reid

    Do you think I would like Seven Pounds? The metacritic score was pretty low (36). Here’s a quote from A.O. Scott, the Time critic, “The most transcendently, eye-poppingly, call-your-friend-ranting-in-the-middle-of-the-night-just-to-go-over-it-one-more-time crazily awful motion pictures ever made.” Then again, the metacritic score is be no means gospel for me.

  164. pen

    I do not know if you would like Seven Pounds. I am much more confident you will like Slumdog Millionaire. I do not have a desire to call my friend to rant in the middle of the night about this movie, though. The best I can say is it is kind of an acquired taste?

    == SPOILER ==

    One thing I forgot to add to my “review” is about some of the choices the director made in shooting some scenes. I didn’t really like the hand-held shaky stuff and I guess it was to add to the “realism” and perhaps rawness of the feelings, but it just kind of made me sick. Some were also odd shots (like behind Will Smith’s head while he’s walking) with part of his head in focus and the rest out of focus, then sometimes part of his head not focused and what he is seeing is in focus. When the DVD comes out and the director explains her choices and what she was trying to do with these (I’m calling them odd for now) shots, I will probably say, “Oh my goodness! That’s brilliant!” But for now, I’m sticking with “odd choice.”

  165. Reid

    Seven Pounds (2008)
    Dir. Gabrielle Muccino
    Starring: Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Barry Pepper, etc.
    5/10

    This is the type of film my brother would like, although I can’t predict whether this one will work for him. Grace would probably like this, too. I think Don would like the concept, but I don’t know if he’ll ultimately like the film. Seeing how Mitchell and I disagreed about Sith’s performance in Hancock, he may love this. I’m not sure about everyone else. Larri didn’t care for it, as she found it boring, and, at a times, it was strangely boring. Oh, I don’t get A.O. Scott’s reaction to the film, and I wished he explained it in his review.

    If you plan to see this, I recommend knowing as little as possible.

    **
    Ben Thomas (Will Smith) is an IRS agent and a very troubled man. He’s contacting various people, but we’re not really sure why. What a lame description. But I’m trying to give you as little as possible. As I mentioned I found the film boring, which, when I think about it now, is kinda strange. There’s a part of me that feels I should not have found it boring. The film has a mystery that you see solved. I’ll go into that later. Penny mentioned the film was intense and she needed a massage, and I understand why she said that; some of you may feel that way (especially Grace), but I didn’t really feel that.

    ***(spoilers)
    I’m surprised that Penny liked this film so much even though she figured it out in the first fifteen minutes. That’s like enjoying The Sixth Sense even though you figure out the ending in the first fifteen minutes. Not that you can’t enjoy either film if you know the ending, but I think it would take away a lot from the enjoyment.

    Why didn’t this film work for me? I’m a little puzzled by this myself. In some ways, I knew that Ben was trying to atone for something that he did pretty early on, and I wonder if that had something to do with it.

    Penny mentioned that she liked Smith’s acting. Here’s where I have to disagree, and I think this may be a reason the film was boring and didn’t really work for me. To get to the point, I don’t think Smith doesn’t do anguish really well. The anguish seems forced, unnatural; it’s not seeping out of him. I see the acting. If you ask an amateur actor to play a troubled person, you see the person trying hard to show the audience that he or she is troubled. That’s the way Smith played it. Also, Smith has a limited way of showing this anguish. (Btw, I felt the same way about Smith in Hancock.) I really like Smith as a lead actor. He’s charming, likable and can even be an effective tough guy. But he can’t do the tormented soul very well. I just didn’t feel for him like I did for someone like Nicholas Cage’s character in Leaving Las Vegas. There are some similarities in the film. Both characters have a one way trip down and nothing is going to prevent that. Both try to find some sort of redemption or comfort along the way. But where I totally cared about the main characters in Leaving Las Vegas, I don’t think I cared about Smith’s character to the degree that was necessary.

    However, I did care for Rosario Dawson’s character. I agree with Penny that she did a good job, and I want to talk about her performance. I don’t think her performance is the type that gets Awards because she doesn’t create this original character or doesn’t give a performance whose difficulty doesn’t draw attention to the role. She’s just a normal person, but she does a really good job of creating a real, normal person. (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner’s performances in Juno were in a similar vein.) Well, maybe not so normal, as she is a beautiful, not just physically, but internally as well. She’s intelligent, witty and just a decent person. Her scenes with Will Smith are terrific, which may surprise some because there isn’t any obviously spectacular acting or super dramatic moments. Most of the scenes are pretty ordinary, but everything from the way she delivers lines and the timing of them and her reactions; her facial expressions–just spot on realistic and natural, depicting a range of emotions and attitudes: seductive and alluring; vulnerable and scared, angry. The beauty, her physical and spiritual, and her down-to-earth nature just shine through in quiet, subtle ways. I see a star here–especially in a romance. The female lead ina romance has to make the guys falls in love with her; she can do that big time. If she can find the right role, she’ll kill in it. Brando said something like if you see really great acting, it’s not. And Dawson’s performance is the flip side of that statement. Her performance is not the type that people will say is great, but it really is. At the same time, I wouldn’t tell people to run out to the theaters to see this performance; I wouldn’t consider it one of the great performances, but it’s just really terrific acting all the same. She should get a nomination at least, but I don’t think she will. Smith’s one-note playing of anguish in these scenes are just not connecting with me. And his moves from this anguish to enjoyment and even love in these scenes are not smooth, but awkward.

    There is another good performance that probably won’t get attention either because the character and her situation is so cliched. I’m talking about the scene where Smith goes to Connie Tepos’ house (Elpidia Carrillo). The filmmakers do a really good job in this scene with Tepos. Her reactions to Ben’s offer is totally believable. The dialogue, acting were spot on. Usually a scene that I sense something false sticks out, but this one sticks out for just the opposite reason.

    Another actor I like is Barry Pepper. His acting is OK in this–although I think he might have been better as in the Ben Thomas role; he could do anguish a lot better, I think. Pepper is an underutilized actor, imo; at least I haven’t seen him in a lot of films. I think he could be an effective lead, and he seems like he has some considerable acting chops.

    So I still haven’t answered why this film felt flat to me, besides my lukewarm reaction to Smith’s performance. Here are some ideas that I’ll throw out there: maybe what was missing were the conversations of Pepper and other friends trying to convince Smith not to end his life. Some kind of extraordinary deal or circumstances would have happened to convince Pepper to agree to help Smith, and resign himself to his good friend’s suicide. I’m too tired to continue, so I’m going to stop there.

    One last comment about Penny’s remark about the odd choices. I didn’t notice any of this at all. One explanation is that I’ve watched (recently) some films with more “extreme” choices, so perhaps that’s why I didn’t notice these things.

  166. Mitchell

    I saw Smith on Letterman last week, and they agreed they really couldn’t talk about the movie. The clip they showed was the vegetarian dog-feeding scene, which is a poor representative, but what else were they going to show?

    —> SPOILERS <—

    First, my own response, and then some responses to your responses, because I think this film lends itself well to discussion, although unlike Penny, I could have gone right home to bed.

    It is difficult not to like Will Smith. He has a charisma and likability that go a long way toward being forgiven his acting flaws. He can act, but even when he’s not up to the material, it’s mostly okay. Kinda like Kirsten Dunst, ‘though she lacks the luminosity Smith brings to a film (Reid’s use of that word in describing Cher in Moonstruck has it stuck in my head for some reason).

    Rosario Dawson is TERRIFIC in this film. It would be so easy for her to play this one way, to simply react to the lines Smith gives her, but she does more than just hit the ball back; she has a plan and knows where to hit the ball so that Smith either has to respond to HER delivery, or (as he usually does in their early scenes) let the ball go. You know that scene in Ben’s car, when Emily begins to ask him questions about himself? She asks a question, he responds with silence, and she responds to his silence with a facial gesture. She does this often in these scenes, so that if you were only listening to the film and not watching it, you might think it was Ben who’s steering these dialogues, but they are much more dynamic than that, and I think it takes some serious acting chops to pull this off the way she does, because some of these expressions catch you off guard, like even though this character is close to death, she’s got a lot of fight in her still.

    Great Danes are kinda like that, too. A huge dog with a serious face like that can stand absolutely still and FORCE you to respond in some way, with very little outward effort. I want to see this film again just to take notes on Dawson’s acting. She does deserve a supporting-actress nomination!

    A last thing about Dawson’s performance: She is a beautiful, hot, incredibly sexy woman who is willing to contort her face in very unattractive positions and to let the makeup people really do a number on her countenance. It seems to me, as I have mentioned in the past, that too many beautiful actresses seem unwilling to look bad, but the willingness to serve the role in this way is a good sign that an actresses is confident in what she can to. Susan Sarandon and Meryl Streep leap to mind. I think you can add Rosario Dawson to that list if she proves in the future that she’s got those kinds of chops.

    I didn’t figure it out exactly in the first fifteen minutes, but I got the gist of it, and in the flashback scene where we see young Ben with his father and brother at the Monterey Aquarium, looking at “the most deadly creature in the world,” I knew exactly what was going on, because I was trying to figure out why he needed the jellyfish in his motel room.

    I was at first judgmental of Ben’s allowing Emily to get to know him and to fall in love with him, but I wonder if maybe this character needs this as the final motivation to do what he does. It is because of his love for her that he goes through with the plan, I think. A 3- to 5-percent chance might sound like surmountable odds if it’s someone you just like, but not if it’s someone you love.

    I have to say that even though the last moments of Ben’s life are pretty much just playing out what everyone already knows is going to happen, I was really affected by the scene showing Emily’s pager going off. This film didn’t make me cry, but that pager’s beeping really moved me.

    I disagree with Reid and Penny both that figuring out what’s going on in the first fifteen minutes of the film is disappointing. In The Sixth Sense, unless someone told you ahead of time that there was something to figure out, you never would have thought that, so you would have simply enjoyed the movie as it played out. On the other hand, I saw that film already knowing the “something to figure out,” so I watched it a little differently, and it wasn’t bad seeing it that way either.

    With 7 Pounds, the movie makes it pretty clear from the beginning that there is something to figure out. Unlike The Sixth Sense, the film doesn’t work on two levels, one knowing the secret and one not knowing the secret. 7 Pounds, for the first half of the movie, is ALL about trying to figure out what is going on. I find this kind of maddening and I got impatient with scenes that either didn’t feel like they were helping me figure out the secret or only repeated what I’d already figured out. It was like being in a math class where you already know the math but the guy in the seat next to you needs it explained a few extra times. Figuring out what Ben is going to do early in the film relieves you of that tension; you know where it’s going, so all you have to do then is watch how the writers, actors, and director make it happen.

    I agree and disagree with Reid’s assessment of Smith’s ability to portray anguish. I agree that his anguish in this film is pretty flat; it’s one note that he finds and repeats: a furrowed brow, a curled lip, a distant look. He did that better (‘though perhaps because the script called for less) in The Pursuit of Happyness, but at least it wasn’t the whispered quiet acting Reid hates so much. That would have been worse. There is very little subtlety to Smith’s acting in the scenes that require the heaviest emotions, but I wonder how many actors today can really pull that off anyway, if put into the situation Ben is in.

    I could easily have predicted that Penny would like this film, but although I no longer try to predict if Reid’s going to like a film, I did expect him to like this much more than giving it a 5. While I was watching 7 Pounds, I was reminded of What Dreams May Come, another film where the main character must make a difficult choice for someone he loves. I hated, hated, hated, that film because I thought it was gross, ugly, and evil. Reid liked it because of what it said about the power of the Robin Williams character’s love. I expected this, a film with a much more plausible storyline, to tap into Reid’s passion so that he could at least find in Ben Thomas a character who overcomes a great deal, including love, to bringing his love to the ultimate expression. I wasn’t as moved by that aspect of it because I have believed for years that love sucks, but Reid’s not there, thank God. So that puzzles me a bit.

  167. Reid

    Doubt (2008)
    Dir. John Patrick Shanley
    Starring: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, etc.

    I recommend this to Kevin, first; then Tony, Mitchell, Chris and John. This is definitely a film that offers a lot for discussion. I think Joel, Jill and Don might like this, but this is not a film that makes me think of them. I saw this with Penny, Grace and Larri. Penny loved the film, and Grace liked it, too. Larri didn’t care for it. I don’t know how I will rate this film yet, but I can say a few things about it, which I will do in the next section.

    **
    The film is about an authoritarian nun and principal of a parochial shool, Sister Aloysius (Streep) accusing a priest, Father Flynn (Hoffman) of inappropriate relations with one of the students. Caught in the middle is an innocent nun, Sister James (Adams). The film is based on a play written by the director, and it feels like a play.

    ***
    The film is very dense, stuffed with a variety of social and political themes. Because of this, it’ll take me some time to sort out all the themes and the point of view of the filmmaker, which I think is very prominent in this film (as opposed to the characters). I can say that Shanley avoids painting simplistic and predictable characters.

    As for the acting, I have seen at least one review excerpt raving about the performances. I found the performances, particularly Hoffman and Streep’s performance to be too theatrical and obvious. In other words, I didn’t think the acting was that great, although it may have played better on stage than the screen. This is barely a review of the film, but, as I mentioned, it’ll take a while to really absorb and understand the film.

  168. Tony

    So last night I had the opportunity to catch a showing of the extended edition of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings. When I got there, I found out that the theater had just done a “back-to-back-to-back” showing of the trilogy the day before. I was excited but not really saddened. I was curious to see, though, how the movie held up after seven years a viewing clips from it dozens of times (it’s been some time since I saw it all-the-way-through).

    I still enjoyed it; I think it works best on the big screen. There were no surprises. I found myself paying more attention to detail. That, of course, can be a tricky thing on such an immense movie. You notice awkward transitions a little more. Still, this version is much, much better than the theatrical version. I still think Hugo Weaving is a tad melodramatic. I was surprised at how unimportant Legolas and Gimli felt this time around. Saruman and his Uruk-Hai were no where near as annoying as before.

    I still think the ending works. It was somewhat risky making every member of the Fellowship aware that Frodo was leaving the group by choice. That’s no where near what happens in the book. But it works. It does away with some of the dramatic tension found at the beginning of The Two Towers, but that’s okay.

    Looking back, I think this movie (and the trilogy) is a lot like a wizard: as Gandalf says: never early, never late, arrives just when he means to. I think this movie was made a the right time in the right way. I stands up well. I still wish that they had found some way to work in the fate of the Shire from the books. That is the part that I think would truly shock most viewers who had not read the series. That, I think, would be a good reminder for us today. But I digress.

    Tonight they show The Two Towers extended edition, and I won’t be there. It will be a long, long time before I sit through Helm’s Deep again. Though I do love the ending, masterfully narrated by Sam. I had hopes that they might show the extended edition of Return of the King, but the guy reminded me that they never commissioned a 35mm film of it, which means that’ll probably never happen. Because, let me tell you, I would have been there in a heartbeat!

  169. Reid

    Tony,

    My wife and I watched all three extended versions a few years ago, and I’d be curious to hear what you think of the two following films. I think the extended version in the film was fine, but the other films (especially the third film) seems excessive. I thought the film version was too long, too. Also, I think there is more cgi in the following two films, particularly in the battle scenes, and it just doesn’t hold up as well, imo. I think the current films that don’t use cgi discreetly, which usually means not using too much or finding the right balance between traditional fx and cgi, will not age well. Too much or not careful mixing of it with live action, can make the film look like a video game. Compare the first Matrix film (good use) with the last two (bad use).

    The other thing I’d be interested in seeing your reaction to Viggo and the way the writers develop Aragorn’s character, specifically the transformation of a ranger to king. After watching the three films, I think less of Viggo as Aragorn< and i think Jackson et> al> did a poor job of showing Aragorn embrace his place as King. This happens in the books and it would have been great to see an actor show this transformation. Viggo was OK as the ranger, but he wasn’t so good as a king. He’s too scrawny–both physically and psychologically to effectively portray the king. (My wife wanted Liam Neeson for the role, and I think he would have been great.)

    Also check out the below. It’s even funnier if you’ve seen Be Kind, Rewind, one of my favorites of 2008.
    Sweded Lord of the Rings

  170. Mitchell

    Tony and I saw the extended versions of the first two films at Ward on the same day, leading up to the premiere of the third film. Still one of the coolest movie-going experiences of my life.

  171. Tony

    So I caught Doubt a couple of days ago with my parents, and I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the movie! The trailer had me thinking that the acting would be heavy-handed, but it didn’t feel that way while watching the movie. What was really weird was how my parents and I left with differing opinions as to what was being said, who was guilty of what in the end. And I’m still uncertain about Streep’s character’s final comment. Great movie, though. Not a feel-good one by any stretch of the imagination, but something definitely worth mulling over.

  172. Mitchell

    Here are the theatrically-released films I saw in 2008.

    Ironman
    Get Smart
    WALL-E
    Hancock
    Mamma Mia!
    The X-Files: I Want to Believe
    Swing Vote
    Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (twice in theater)
    Slumdog Millionaire
    Seven Pounds

    This makes the second time in recent years I saw only ten films. I’m putting this here to help me put my top films in order and so I can answer Reid’s five film questions for 2009.

  173. pen

    Viggo made an awesome King! He is ever so dreamy! *sigh* ~melt~

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