30 December 2010

Joheunnom nabbeunnom isanghannom (The Good, The Bad, The Weird)

One part Sergio Leone
One part Indiana Jones
One part Clint Eastwood
One part Sukiyaki Western Django
Half-part Tarantino
Two parts Guy Ritchie
Two parts Asian History
One part Korean ridiculousness
One part vermouth

Throw in a treasure map, four or five out of this world action scenes, the Japanese Army, some Russian artillery, Machurian gangsters, opium dealers, hot Chinese hookers, and a train full of baubles.

Well damn.

I can't even tell you how awesome a stew that is. This really is a slam dunk of a movie. It's like farting thunderbolts and your TV is a lightning rod.

It also has Kang-ho Song; my favorite Korean actor. He's just perfect in the role of weird.

Seriously this film is brain-scrambling good.

06 December 2010

State of Mind

A fantastic documentary about Mass Games in North Korea. It clearly demonstrates that Americans do not understand the complex issue at stake in dealing with North Korea. While certainly the country is a prison-state, the people being filmed were followed around for nearly a year. You can see them start to relax (if only just a little) and tell the film-makers exactly how they personally feel about America and Iraq (filmed in 2003). They are not just parroting their leader's opinions. They really do worry about just how far the American Imperialism machine will go.

Since I am personally invested in the unification of Korea, I am fearful of events like the recent attack on Yeonpyeong island. And think that our black and white foreign policies in the US will only ensure more entrenching by Kim Jong-il and his successor son.

Despite all my soapboxing, State of Mind is a horrible title for anything, let alone a documentary.

World's Most Dangerous Gang

Since this is a National Geographic documentary it means they covered a topic that no one else covered, but ended the documentary with the audience more confused then when they started.

I'm not convinced that MS13 (or Mara Salvatrucha 13) is the MOST DANGEROUS GANG in the world, but they are the largest in America. If you're looking for a pilot program to test your euthanasia drug, look no further than this ever-growing, ever-stupifying gang of El Savadoran misfits.

Albanian, Russian, and Georgian gangs scare the crap out of me. Italian and Sicilian gangs earn the respect of nearly everyone in the world. Irish thugs have held portions of New England hostage for decades. Even the Mexican mafia has matched the strength of the Mexican government.

El Salvadorans are a menace, to be sure, but they are hardly a cancer in the system like the ever-present old school gangs of Europe.

I think they probably meant Ruthless or Unwavering or perhaps Friendless (since no one likes them). But dangerous? I don't think this documentary met the requirement of its thesis statement.

Casino Jack and the United States of Money

Documentary about Jack Abramoff from the man who made the Enron documentary. While informative, it's not gripping, a little long-winded, and easily shows a good director coasting. Abramoff might be on the top 10 list of most despicable humans in American history and he only got 4 years in prison. He was out of prison, before I saw this documentary.

According to Wikipedia
On November 15, 2006, Abramoff began serving his term in the minimum security prison camp of Federal Correctional Institution, Cumberland as inmate number 27593-112. The Justice Department requested that he serve his sentence there so as to be accessible to agents in Washington for cooperation as the investigation related to his associates intensifies.

He currently resides at a halfway house in Baltimore, Maryland and is employed by kosher pizza firm Tov Pizza, earning between $7.50 and $10.00 per hour.

He is scheduled to be released on December 4, 2010.

The order of those paragraphs cracks me up.

Here is the news of his release.

Link

The Crazies

The problem with horror movies is.
a. you know people are going to die, so there are no surprises
b. people make poor decisions, which leads to a
c. often times director's believe "mundane people" in "mundane places" makes for gripping movies
d. which is wrong, because if you don't care about the characters, nothing that happens in a or b is going to matter to us.
If you don't understand what that has to do with why I didn't like this movie, then you've never read this blog before.

Ultimate Heist

Could not finish it. Stopped watching after the seventh pause in the flow the was stopping the characters from uncovering the plot.

Really, really, really lame.

I Love You to Death

If you're like me, you avoid Lawrence Kasdan films after Silverado. In fact, I didn't even know this movie was made. It proved to be funnier than expected, but it's entirely misable.

The all-star cast does nothing to fix the film's inane act two.

War Made Easy

Do you distrust your government? Did you enjoy Why We Fight or Manufacturing Consent? Do you believe that both parties and the media work to keep you uninformed about crucial foreign policy? Is the BBC just that much better than any American news organization?

If you said yes to any or all of these questions, you may want to watch this documentary.

Or you can just go back to watching Dancing with the Stars.

Armour of God (Long xiong hu di)

In the states, also known as Operation Condor 2: The Armour of God, the history of this film series title is so long and laborious, let's just call the two films Armour of God and Operation Condor. Okay?

The short description on Netflix reads
Jackie Chan and his bumbling sidekick are sent on a quest through Europe to find a mysterious treasure held by a shadowy organization of monks.
Not only is this incorrect, it's also misleading, as the movie is really just four action scenes sewn together with some of the worst dialog ever. And an even less plausible story. Where Operation Condor goes to great lengths to be fun, funny, creative, and thrilling, Armour of God makes me wonder how the two films have anything to do with one another.

The chase city through the streets of some Italian/French town is really the highlight of the movie. You can skip everything else, including the poorly contrived fight with four black women who serve the evil "European" monks.

NOTE: This movie is the one where Jackie almost died during a routine jump to a tree branch. He fell and cracked his skull. This is the closest to death Jackie has ever been from a stunt, and it's so routine and boring, you wouldn't even notice it in the movie.

02 December 2010

Breakdown

The wife has never seen this classic suspense movie. So, of course I had to watch again, 15+ years since it's original release. Set in Arizona, a middle-aged yuppie couple are making their way from Massachusetts to San Diego, when their Jeep breaks down in the middle of no where. The wife gets into a passing truck while the driver waits for help. Everything goes wrong after that, when the husband can't find his wife.

Since it's a suspense story, I can't really tell you anything more. The movie is nerve-wracking and the lack of ubiquitous cellphones and technology make the thrills even more intense. It really is one of the movies where you don't know what's going to happen. The final five minutes don't measure up to the rest, but I blame that on a lot of things wrong with the 80s-90s view of movie tension.

30 November 2010

Arena

Because it's impossible to make non-cheesy science fiction, this b-movie tale would be so much better if half of the writing went away and someone put two more dollars into the set construction. It's not one of those "so bad, it's good" films, but it is one of those, "oh man, so close" films.

Chunhyang

An expertly crafter retelling of a classic Korean folktale. I was mesmerized. My wife knows the story, and said it's a great retelling, but that the sex scenes were unnecessary.

I probably agree. But wow. Just. Wow.

Eight Men Out

From Netflix
John Cusack and D.B. Sweeney star as disgruntled Chicago White Sox players who agree to lose the World Series for a big payoff in John Sayles's adaptation of Eliot Asinof's account of the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal. Owner Charles Comiskey underpays his players despite their talent, leaving the door open for gambling syndicate head Arnold Rothstein to swoop in. Some players have second thoughts, but it might not be enough to save their careers.
I finally got around to seeing this, some 15 years after it's release. Not sure what to say about it. It's good. Not great. I really didn't know who the players were, because baseball before Lou Gehrig is boring. As always, Sayles is a fantastic director.

Steel Dawn

I rewatched this classic, B-movie post-apocolyptic action film that has very little to do with the end of the world and very little fighting. But I still love it. I don't know what's wrong with me.

Bad acting, choreography, and dialog abound. Not to mention "what is this dog doing here?"

After Innocence

Another fantastic documentary. [I watched three today.] This one explores the world of people imprisoned unjustly and released into a world very different, sometimes decades later after being exonerated for their crimes, but without their records expunged.

Revealing, depressing, and aggravating. If injustice pisses you off, or you believe America is corrupt, do not watch this documentary. Or you will be up at 2am writing a review about it.

It will seriously challenge your belief in the death penalty.

Cocaine Cowboys

This eye-opening and shockingly unflinching documentary about the drug trade in Miami from 1979 to 1986 leaves you asking one question: Where did all that money go?

24 November 2010

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism

Robert Greenwald presents another of his formulaic essays disguised as a documentary. While I appreciate the THINK FILMS brings important information and debate into the forefront of American dialog, it is ironic that a documentary about how impartial and right-wing Fox News is (and it is, there is no question), has no other points of view in it. In fact, not a single person interviewed worked for Fox News at the time the documentary was being made (back in 2004).

So the question becomes, who watches THINK FILMS documentaries?

Liberals and progressives, right?

Don't we all know that FOX NEWS is one-sided? What possible epiphany was Greenwald expecting to unearth with this piece?

The final nail in the coffin of it's quality is the length and the same final message of all THINK FILMS documentaries... go out and protest. Ugh.

Tired. Really tired.

Protocols of Zion

What starts as an attempt to understand the conspiracy theories that incite and inflame people into believing no Jews were killed at 9/11, turns into a documentary exploring the roots of Antisemitism.

Using the debunked "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" as chapter gaps and a poorly threaded outline, the film fails at doing anything but show that Marc Levin is really really patient and will listen to anyone talk about anything.

I was neither impressed, nor disappointed.

Brooklyn's Finest

Antoine Fuqua's best work. Out-f**king-standing. And I've seen Training Day. In fact, I've seen all of Fuqua's films. And this is just amazing.

Wow.

Fuqua should only do cop dramas. If he'd done Street Knights, it would have rocked. Michael C. Martin writes his first "for the screen" screenplay. And I'm amazed that it was purchased, let alone made into a movie, considering he has no pedigree.

I am amazed.

Three incredible performances by Ethan Hawke, Don Cheadle, and Richard Gere. Seriously. When did Don Cheadle become so intense? I think Hotel Rwanda stirred something.

14 November 2010

Series 7 : The Contender

This is my fourth viewing of this absolutely brilliant and scathing send-off about reality television. A little dated now, with so many shows having similar highs of drama.

Low budget as it gets. But that doesn't stop it from being one of the best things I've ever seen.

Will Arnett makes a cameo.

13 November 2010

Born into Brothels

This is what happens when you let a woman make a documentary. Ha. In all seriousness, this is an unfocused and very boring documentary. I couldn't finish it, so if someone dies in the end, I don't know about it.

In the end, there was 5 minutes of new information in this documentary and 15 minutes of good footage. Otherwise, it's a documentary about kids learning how to take pictures.

06 November 2010

Red

Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Ernest Borgnine, Brian Cox.

Yep.

That's my review.

The Town

Interesting. Directed by and starring Ben Affleck. Not the film I was expecting. A little too much contrivance on the drama/romance end of things. Really smart research on the rest.

I don't have too much to say about it. Everyone was solid in it. Titus Welliver (from Deadwood) has a small role in it, and I would love to have seen more.

Blake Lively does good ugly… considering.

This movie is skipable, even if the previews were outstanding.

02 November 2010

Cop Out

Kevin Smith needs to stop directing. Seriously. I really, really, really enjoyed Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis in this movie. But the entire time, I'm kept asking myself... why does this movie feels so clumsy and uneven.

Films ends.

Credits roll.

Directed by Kevin Smith.

Ah.

There it is.

A Serious Man

This is the most recent Cohen brothers film for me. I've seen them all, and this might be the most frustrating. And while the ending pays for everything else that comes before it, it does not pay well. And it does not tip.

The movie is about a Jewish man and the movie about Jewish duality through and through. If you are not Jewish, you might not even get most of it. And I fear a lot of it was written to confuse us Gentiles.

The movie is about uncertainly, Schrdenger's cat, and self-imposed torment of being Jewish. Let me reiterate. Self-imposed. I say this not to be offensive to Jews, but to illuminate a failing principle in many Jewish-neurosis dependent films.

Our protagonist, Lawrence Gopnik (I'm not sure if the name has anything to do with young Russian punks or not), is not a hero. He's not sympathetic. He's almost unlikeable. He is unable to make decisions. He has no will of his own. And he's plagued on all sides by people who do nothing more than reinforce ugly Jewish stereotypes. All of his torment is self-imposed. He alone is to blame for his misfortune and gutless life.

He has, in effect, checked out.

And all of this makes him very hard to like. And it makes it even harder to watch for 90+ minutes.

I can see why the film got accolades. And I can appreciate the art of it.

But I just don't like it.

Smart, smart film. Kinda like a brilliant math teacher that you hate.

Les 7 Jours du Talion (7 Days)

It's been a while since I've watched any movies, mostly been watching TV series on DVD and taking a break from everything. This was not the kind of movie you jump into as a novice getting his feet wet again.

Les 7 jours du talion (7 Days of Retaliation) is part Lady Vengeance and part Funny Games. It is among the most disturbing movies I've ever watched and I'm not sure what I was supposed to feel at minute 100 that I didn't feel at minute 80.

This movie is just relentless.

Set in French-Canada (Quebec) and featuring subtitles and all those other things movie goers hate (French words), the movie has no music, no moral compass, and no tidy ending. In fact, you could say they made the last 20 minutes as difficult to relate to as possible.

This movie is not for people with heart conditions.

02 September 2010

Objectified

What I thought would be a documentary about iconography, turned out to be a documentary about industrial design. Fascinating at times, slow at others, this is the best documentary about "design" I've ever seen.

It's even better than Helvetica.

It's a great resource for teachers teaching any kind of design class. Highly recommended viewing if you are at all creative.

Shinjuku Incident

Jackie Chan in a drama... almost completely devoid of kung fu... and he's a bad guy... and it's really good. Seriously.

I can't even begin to fathom how this combination of elements came together.

But...

It of course has it's cheesy moments and it's not a perfect film. However, the film reports on how Chinese immigrants are treated in Japan (and most likely the world over).

I was very impressed.

Thunderbolt

Imagine Jackie Chan in Days of Thunder. Now imagine that the cars are the least interesting part of the film. And now imagine the last 20 minutes of the film are needless car racing scenes that go absolutely no where.

Add in two good fights. A photo finish you won't believe. And a villain who hurts Jackie's family on a scale you've never seen before. And then it's still only a 4 out 10.

Yeah.

It's that bad.

27 August 2010

Winter Light

As a growing fan of Ingmar Bergman, I would place this one at the top of the films I've seen so far. In one word: Severe. Bergman is just so on top of his game with this movie, that you almost don't realize there's someone behind the camera. From the austere cast, to the troubling plot, to the somber characters, filled with dread and ennui over the future moreso than the present.

Gunnar Björnstrand plays Pastor Tomas, whose shaken faith (over these last four years since his wife's passing) has driven everyone from his flock, reducing the congregation to a mere handful of people. His performance is masterful, even weaving his own malady (he was sick during a few days of filming) into the character's hubris.

Ingrid Thulin (Marta) takes the biggest emotional beating during the Pastor's harsh and unrelenting screed half-way through the film. I am stunned once again at Bergman's ability to write for women. Just jaw-dropping.

For me though, it is Allan Edwall, as the Hunchback (Algot) who steals the film with his one soliloquy in the final moments of the movie. I won't ruin it for you, but his dissection of the "Passion" as it pertains to physical and spiritual pain is what really finally sews the film together.

Allan makes Tomas look like a chump.

Fantastic film.

17 August 2010

Stalingrad (1993)

Presonally, I grow weary of anti-war "war movies." And while the atrocities of Stalingrad are worthy of discussion until the end of the 21st century, this movie provided no new insight into why someone should hate war. Everything this movie says, was said in Cross of Iron by Sam Peckinpah.

Precious: Based on the Novel by Sapphire

While I found the title pretentious, this movie deserved every accolade it received. Mo'Nique was brilliant, Gabourey Sidibe was seamless, and the film was gut-wrenching. I'm not sure why you need a better review than that... or even more words? Seriously. This movie is a must-see. Stop reading. Go rent it.

Jeesh.

Salt

Now this was as good as it could be. A very nice ending to the evening, after that painful lump of Expendables. Don't let anyone talk to you about this one. Just go see it.

The Expendables

Not even worth posting on my site.

The dialog was dreadful, the story infantile, and the direction… just another 80s action movie… that never realized the world had changed and people don't watch films about ridiculous dictators anymore.

Funny Games (1997/2007)

Austrian film-maker Michael Haneke writes and directs one of the single-most disturbing films you will ever see. It is a condemnation of violence in a way you cannot imagine. It is not what you are expecting and it is not for people with weak hearts, children, or the inability to watch something they are not being "entertained" by.

There is simply nothing "enjoyable" about the film. It is relentless, mean, and hard to watch… completely devoid of any measure of Hollywood "sensibilities."

The remake is shot for shot from the original, also by Haneke. The original is better.

25 July 2010

Mother

This critically-acclaimed film from director Joon-ho Bong (the Host, Memoirs of a Murder) is as good as everyone claims. Amazing. Absolutely, over the top good. As good as Memoirs of a Murder was, this one is even better. Hye-ja Kim is a top-notch Korean actress and the subtlety of her performance mixed with the boiling fervor of her more manic moments.

Bin Won, who I've never seen in a film before, plays the less than intelligent son perfectly. Flawless performances.

The final moments of the film made me laugh as the peasant "Hal-mu-nee" (할머니) dancing around on the bus. I'm all too aware of how my father-in-law views this "class" of older Korean woman and it made me laugh to see it portrayed in the film.

Not a formulaic film... even by Korean standards.

Finest Moment: Mother trying to walk out of Jin-tae's house with the golf club.

17 July 2010

Far North

I've never stopped watching a film half-way through to come and write a review of it, and that should tell you just how brain-numbing this film is. What is essentially a short-story (much like Solaris) has been dragged into a full-length feature (much like Solaris). The director has gone out of his way to take advantage of big, long sweeping vistas and film the characters in pain-staking detail when they are doing nothing. And then chopping through the story when something actually, finally happens.

I'm about to go back in and wait for the big ACT 3 twist... but I can pretty much predict what it will be.

Sigh.

UPDATE: Last five minutes were brilliant. Too bad the rest of the film wasn't.

Midnight Clear

On Christmas Eve, four strangers face despair and loneliness as their lives take unexpected turns. Trite and overly sentimental, the movie is filled with Christian overtones and unrealistic pablum. However, it has a few good moments.

Stephan Baldwin steals the movie with a very smart and subtle portrayal of a man who can't get anything right, not even his own suicide.

I won't bother going into it, but I'll just say that the ending is happy, the tone is silly and glib, and it can't hold a candle to Blue Powder.

Powder Blue

An ensemble cast of characters with semi-intersecting lives must deal with despair and regret on the days leading up to Christmas eve. While some of the "heaven" and after-life scenes were a little silly, Jessica Biel, Ray Liotta, and Forrest Whitaker give outstanding performances. Really surprising work, actually.

Eddie Redmayne is the (relative) newcomer in the film, but the most interesting from a "nerd does good" point of view.

It's an ensemble piece, which I love. It's down to earth (with Hollywood sensibilities, unfortunately). And the stories of despair and the forthcoming suicidal tendencies are all believable.

Sadly, the marketing text for this film gives away a good surprise, so I recommend avoiding it and just watching the movie.

11 July 2010

7 Faces of Dr. Lao

This was on the Cinemassacre top 10 or 20 movie list. And I gave it a viewing. I was pleasantly surprised. While the 1960s film style and special effects date the picture, the non-linear, non-formulaic approach to storytelling was refreshing.

I really liked it.

Barbara Eden is hot!

This would make a great, sanitized modern remake for kids.

09 July 2010

Predators

All you need to know is that it's the best of the series and the only one worth watching anymore. Lawrence Fishburne was a throw-away portion of the film, though.

05 July 2010

Pollack

I'm surprised that I took this long to watch Ed Harris' film about one of my favorite artists. While I generally hate biopics (see my previous post), I enjoyed this one... even with all it's liberties.

Some of it was quite accurate, like the filmmaker who comes out of the farm to make a movie about Pollack.

Other parts would be almost impossible to verify.

Stephanie Seymour has a small cameo. As does Jennifer Connelly. Damn.

Broken Arrow (1950)

Based loosely on the real life figures of Cochise and Tom Jeffords, this biopic is another in a long-line of biopics that embellish and dramatize, when the real events are perfectly interesting. Add to it the 1950s mentality of filming "Indians" on horseback and raids against soldiers and you've got a movie that could have been great, reduced to nothing more than tired platitudes.

I love Jimmy Stewart, but this was a little bit of a let down.

25 June 2010

She's Out of My League

I generally loathe romantic comedies, modern comedies, and any movie where the leading man is actually replaced by the leading sissy. Add in a pet, a montage, and a neurotic, self-absorbed Meg Ryan-clone and you've got the perfect film for me to steal the master of and set ablaze in my backyard along with Prince's music and books written by celebrities.

This movie has none of those things.

And in fact, it might be one of my favorite romantic comedies in a long long time.

Jay Baruchel plays Kirk, a TSA agent, two-years single from a breakup with his powerfully unfeeling ex (who remains great friends with his family). Kirk is not a stereotypical geek/loser that litters that detritus-strewn wasteland of Judd Apatow tripe passing as comedy. And the fact that Jay Baruchel plays the subtle boundaries between nice guy and a fated '5' so well, it's no wonder it failed at a box-office that has long since considered subtlety as important as subtitles and letterbox.

While formulaic, and it is every bit a formula, the movie has great characters, great dialog, and a "bridge" (what i call the scene in a romantic comedy where everything goes to crap) that is about as perfect as any I've ever seen. I watched the argument three times, it was so good.

My favorite part of the film is how Jay Baruchel never plays him like a sissy, a whipped-dog, or someone that ever has anything to apologize for. Unheard of in romantic comedies.

If you don't like it, I'll mail you a dollar.

Edge of Darkness

Mel Gibson and director Martin Campbell try to bite off more than they can chew is this distracted and often poorly timed and themed attempt at political suspense. A smaller budget would have been the first place to start with this making this a better film. Followed by a director cutting out a lot of script nonsense... I still don't understand why he was kidnapped, left on a gurney, and then allowed to escape back to the place he was just kidnapped from 5 minutes ago. Who writes like that?

There's some really good moments, overshadowed by two dozen bad choices and characters you don't really care too much about.

17 June 2010

Chop Shop

Another film by Ramin Bahrani, Chop Shop is very nearly the same film as Man Push Cart, only a little better, but with a very annoying co-star in Isamar Gonzales. Set in the back ass of Jersey or the Bronx or wherever it is that the NY Mets play, this film follows the life of young Ale (and his older and stupider sister, Isi) as he struggles to make a life for himself amidst the wreckage of a Chop Shop alley, which serves as a metaphor for his fracture childhood.

Both orphans, the pair live in a small shack about the Body Work place run by owner and friend, Rob — a silly contrivance, but a necessary vehicle for the other merits of the film.

Much like Man Push Cart, this movie has no real "plot" to speak of, but is an interesting character study, showing how a child relates to the adult world around him, and young actor Alejandro is up to the task of showing how a child might walk, talk, and even count money like an adult. Damn. Just watch his hands. The kid is obviously talented.

And much like Man Push Cart, it's the quiet time in the film one truly enjoys.

I could write a very long review about this, but you really just need to see it.

Excellent piece of film-making.

14 June 2010

A-Team

Absolutely perfect movie.

So good. I was crying, I laughed so hard.

06 June 2010

Julia

Clocking in at nearly two and half hours, this character study turns into a plotted tale around hour one... and takes you on a ride of poor decision-making via Tilda Swinton's starring role.

I can't tell you what to make of this. I know it's nerve-wracking watching someone make so many bad decisions for so long. This one may or may not be for you. It was enjoyable, but excruciating at the same time.

Everyone is really good in the film, at the very least.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Top ten reasons you should avoid this movie.

One. Let's stop making video games into movies. Video Games are better produced, more controlled productions with bigger budgets, better voice actors, great stories, and immersive worlds.

Two. Movies have none of that.

Three. Especially Jerry Bruckheimer movies.

Four. Or movies from this joke of a director, Mike Newell (who also made Mona Lisa Smile apparently).

Five. Jordan Mechner's video game story was amazing and still resonates among video game players.

Six. Why did they rewrite it?

Seven. Was it a good idea to hire Boaz Yakin (Dirty Dancing 2) to fix the original script? And then Doug Miro (The Great Raid), and Carlo Bernard to work collaboratively?

Eight. Which of those three mental giants decided to add Ostrich racing, assassins, two brothers (who do not exist in the original story), small business owner commentary on taxation, and events that would lead to the dagger (plot of the story) changing hands five times during the course of the adventure?

Nine. Why would you give away key details (like the dagger resetting time back as far as you'd like) half-way through the film so there's no tension over any of the characters dying?!?!

Ten. Why would you take such a fantastic video game and change everything about it?

Finally, I love Alfred Molina, but was he allowed on set when other scenes were being filmed? Because I don't think he's playing in the same movie that you and I are watching. In fact, he's doing everything he can to make this film even worse. The dialog was atrocious from round 1 and the movie just got worse and worse and worse.

It's not even a fun day out kind of movie. It's a bus full of special needs kids going over a cliff, very very very slowly.

Rolling Stone magazine gave this movie 2.5 stars... I assume that's out of 20.

02 June 2010

The Silence

As someone trying to understand the work of Ingemar Bergmann in the context of the 21st century, I have undertaken watching a number of his films. The Silence has proven to be the most enjoyable so far, but also the most difficult to watch.

As someone drawn to films with awkward moments, visceral emotional points, and unflinching candor, I am riveted by Bergmann's work, often in very obtuse ways. The Silence is an example of all three, containing in it many of those moments. In fact, for 45 minutes of the movie, I thought I was reading into it incorrectly. It turns out, I was not.

The Silence is — you guessed it — about two lesbian, incestuous sisters who have fallen apart from one another and now the older is sick and ill, and the younger goes about sleeping with men, without remorse. It is a movie you have to watch for yourself and determine your own response to it. It means many different things to many different people.

For Bergmann, it was part of his faith series (I'm about to watch the last of them). For others, it's a shocking portrayal of lust (although there's almost no sex in it, everything is exposition). For the 1960s, it must have been absolutely eye-opening and near-pornographic.

 For me, I was shocked at how vulgar my interpretation of the film was, even long before anything "provocative" was said. In the end, my interpretation proved correct, but I wasn't sure where my POV was coming from. I also thought I saw some incestuous inferences in Through a Glass Darkly, but I could reading too much into his work.

Highly recommended.

Fallen (1998)

The wife had never seen this old, fantastic supernatural crime drama. And so I had to rent it and play it for her. It holds up well, although the plot is kind of transparent when you have 3,000+ movies under your belt.

Still, everyone in it is great.

If you don't know anything about it, just rent it and enjoy the ride.

The story of Denzel's brother in the film is particularly smart and unconventional.

JCVD

Between his tax problems and his legal battle with his wife for the custody of his daughter, these are hard times for the action movie star who finds that even Steven Seagal has pinched a role from him! In JCVD, Jean-Claude Van Damme returns to the country of his birth to seek the peace and tranquility he can no longer enjoy in the United States.
Absolutely brilliant.

Seriously. Rotten Tomatoes has given it 85%... and it's well-earned.

Jean-Claude has probably been waiting for this kind of project for 10 years.

It's too bad, he won't be in Stallone's Expendables.

Taxi to the Dark Side

Done in the style of an Errol Morris documentary (in fact, Standard Operating Procedure was about nearly the same subject), Taxi to the Dark Side put director Alex Gibney on the map. In fact, with his follow-up documentaries (Gonzo and Magic Bus), he is likely becoming the face of "thinking, left-wing" journalistic documentarians.

As for 'Taxi', it is disturbing, haunting, and like all documentaries comes out far too late to be of any use. Now, the material was dated in 2007 was it released (the war with Afghanistan over five years old by then), the I didn't watch it until this last week, so I'm even three more years behind that.

Except for the fact there was nothing new in here for me.

But, that's because this material has been covered before. In many ways.

What Alex does bring to the subject is haunting though. His film work shows poignancy and his documentary plays out more like an essay about why people should be brought up on war crimes, and not solely as a documentary about American soldiers torturing (and enjoying torturing) their victims.

The truest test of the narrative, is the thread of interviews and documents regarding a single, simple Afghani Taxi Driver who is killed while in prisoner, despite not belonging there and being handed to the Americans by the guy who did. Dilawar was not the only person to die while in the Bagram detention center (or whatever horrible and de-sanitized Acronym the Army chose to ascribe to this locale). But Dilawar is the most famous.

[Ed. Note — He was a 122 pounds at the time of his death and the soldiers who beat him to death had him chained in a position that would assure their safety. Yeah. We can all understand their fears.]

Gibney's work is good, but he's made stronger documentaries. I know this won an Oscar, but it would have been a better piece of work to see closer to the time of the 2002 death of Dilawar. I look forward to Magic Bus and others.

Man Push Cart

Below is the marketing text for this film
Every night, Ahmad (Ahmad Razvi), a Pakistani immigrant, struggles to drag his heavy cart along the streets of New York to his corner in midtown Manhattan, where he sells coffee and bagels. In his free time Ahmad sells pornographic DVDs. He lives a hard life, drinks beer, smokes cigarettes and goes to clubs. Like the workers on every street corner in every city, he is a man who wonders if he will ever escape his fate.

It is off the mark, quite a bit, and in many cases is just flat out wrong. In the end, none of this has anything to do with the film. The film is a character piece and not a plot-driven story. In fact, there really isn't a plot. There are a few things that happen, but there's no thread that flows through the film (I'm avoiding the use of the word story here).

That's not a bad thing. It's just an important piece of information.

The last sentence is most troubling in this marketing text, because the subtext of "escaping his fate" is an underlying element of the film that one must discover as they watch it, not as the result of some marketing ploy to get the disc into my hand.

Film was good, but not great. It's not for anyone who likes plot. And it's certainly not for people who think Quentin Taratino makes good movies. Ramin Bahrini (the director) is being hailed as the next great American director, despite being Iranian-American (he was born here).

Anyway. The movie is Quiet. Slow. Thoughtful.

Killer at Large: Why Obesity is America's Greatest Threat

Despite it's awful title, superfluous subject matter, and odd choice of "experts," this documentary can add itself to the growing list of food-related documentaries. In fact, I think it completes the cycle for me.

It is a great introductory film on the subject, but it pretty much encapsulates everything you already know if you've watched the 20 other documentaries I've reviewed on the subject in the last couple years.

03 May 2010

Song of Sparrows

I recently mocked the marketing text for this movie on another blog. The text reads…
In this well-crafted Iranian drama, a broken hearing aid and a wayward bird become catalysts for a career change and sudden prosperity, as well as an ethical and spiritual quandary, for ostrich wrangler Karim (Reza Naji). Fired from his ranch job after one of his charges escapes, Karim sets off to get his daughter's hearing aid fixed in Tehran, where he's mistaken for a motorcycle cabbie -- and soon his fares and travels begin to warp his values.
And while this is "sort of" the plot, it has nothing to do with the film's theme or center. In reality, it's a film about an Iranian man who lets his pride override his decision-making. It's a great movie, done in the style of all "small" stories, especially out of the middle east. If you like these kinds of films, Song of Sparrows will surprise you.

If you must have explosions, move along.

26 April 2010

Såsom i en spegel (Through a Glass Darkly)

I am thoroughly convinced that I have met my match with Ingmar Bergman. I finally must admit that there is a film-maker who is smarter, more gifted, and generally more brilliant at every aspect of everything. Seriously. There's nothing I can say or add to his work. No critique or observation that will improve or otherwise shine a light on the worlds of his creations. He is simply a genius.

I'm awestruck by it really.

I still don't know what to say about what I just saw. And it's been a few hours since I watched it. I've been fumbling for the words and everytime I read some observation about his work, so concisely described and ascribed… I think… "yeah, that's great and all, but that's not all he was saying. God as a spider, crawling into my mouth doesn't just come from a place of questioned faith. Bergman wants me to examine this closer. He wants me to dance on the web of his creation and see just how far the darkness reflects. If he were just playing upon the predicated fears of existential longing, then we'd never leave the attic… and we'd never need the three other characters. Bergman wants to make us squirm and visit the same places he too fears to tread alone."

Any reviewer capable of saying that about his work, and know what he means by it, is certainly worthy of my respect.

This deserves more thought and analysis.

Chi Bi (Red Cliff)

I'm exhausted. I've watched four movies today, the last of which is over 140 minutes and includes a 40-minute battle scene. Seriously. Exhausted.

Directed by John Woo, this is a new perspective on the historic battle of Red Cliff, which marks the end of the Han Dynasty and the beginning of the Three Kingdoms era in China. Rather than tell the classic, romantic tale of the Three Kingdoms, Woo takes the historic route, showing key characters (like Cao Cao and Liu Bei) in their respective light, although the wikipedia page on the battle begs to differ on this topic.

Link

It's late now, but I'm going to do some more research on this battle (and you should, too). After that, go watch the movie. It is really good. And Zhou Yu's wife is hot.

25 April 2010

The Slammin' Salmon

Team Broken Lizard brings us another ridiculous comedy, this time with a restaurant theme and a plot to make $20,000 in one night or they lose the restaurant. While Beerfest is probably my favorite from this team, what's so interesting about this one is the characters. None of the actors play typical roles in this one… except maybe Jay. If you're familiar with their work, this one is especially funny when watched from that point of view. And even without that perspective, it's still pretty good.

Better than watching Apatow pull a baby out of a latex womb and calling it funny.

I especially enjoyed Erik Stolhanske as the "good-looking" waiter and April Bowlby getting burned twice in one evening, trying to win the prize. As the obvious "hot blonde," she had no trouble making fun of herself and her looks throughout the movie.

Duel

My vote for the only good Stephen Spielberg movie ever made. And among my favorite movies of all time. When you rent it, check out the original trailer... oh god... is it bad.

Winchester '73

Among one of the first Westerns from my childhood, this movie holds up well, considering my poor memory about many details in the film. The plot is simple… but grows more complex as it goes, starting a new era of Westerns after it's release.

Jimmy Stewart plays Lin McAdams, a gunslinger/cowhand looking for someone. He arrives in Dodge City just in time for a tournament to win a Winchester '73. Lo and behold the man he is looking for — Dutch Henry Brown — is here too… in the same tournament. McAdams wins the rifle, and has it quickly stolen by Brown. A cross-country chase ensues to find both Brown and the rifle.

SPOILER: Ironically, Stewart never gets to fire the very special Winchester '73 (one in a thousand) the entire film.

The story ends up becoming much more complex than that, but this is among my favorite westerns because of its tone and structure.

Charles Drake has an interesting role in the film as a coward. And Dan Duryea steals a number of scenes with his arrogant and unflinching portrayal of a womanizing, unapologetic outlaw. But, Millard Mitchell gets my vote as one of the best "loyal sidekicks" in movie history.

Corky Romano

Okay. Before you judge me, just look at the cast list:
Chris Kattan, Peter Falk, Peter Berg, Chris Penn, Fred Ward, Richard Roundtree
Okay? Satisfied?

Funny as all hell. Yes. I know it's stupid. It's still funny.

Bollywood Hero

From the Web:
"Bollywood Hero" revolves around Chris Kattan, who plays himself in this otherwise fictional comedy that stays true to Bollywood form and includes several musical numbers. Tired of being rejected as leading-man material in Hollywood, Kattan burns his professional bridges in L.A. and ventures to India where he's been promised a starring role in a Bollywood film. While in India, he encounters cultural differences and a system that, much to his shock, is even more challenging and competitive than what he faced in Hollywood. Bollywood Hero is co-produced by Starz Media and executive produced by Chris Kattan and Snackaholic's Ted Skillman and Belisa Balaban.

Yeah. It is as funny as it sounds.

The following people play themselves in the 3-hour (3-part) film.
Maya Rudolph, Keanu Reeves, David Alan Grier, Andy Samberg
Toby Huss also appears (as Chris' agent) and not doing a weird voice for the first time ever.

Ong Bak 2

What the hell did I just watch?

Dear sweet jesus. Someone tell Tony Jaa to stop making movies and just make fight scenes. That final 30 minutes was better than just about anything I've ever seen.

Sweet. Mother. Of. God.

Banlieue 13 - Ultimatum (District 13 Ultimatum)

Usually when I go into a sequel, one of two things happens.

a. It's a contrived piece of nonsense, with zero logic or fun
b. Is mindless and gets straight to the core of its mindless action.

Since District 13 Part Deux is neither of these, I am extremely perplexed by what I just saw.

Some of the action is great, but most of the jaw-dropping stunts appeared in the preview. And it's almost as explaining the overly-complex plot was more important than the parkour work that highlighted the first film. David Belle (Lieto) gets hardly any screen time, his footwork is not as rhythmic as the last film, and in general it's all about setting up about four massive stunts for him and their done.

In the same breath, Cyril Raffaelli (Damien), takes on about 800 crime goons in one of the most convoluted dragnet operations known to man. All of this is prologue to the plot, which doesn't really unravel until minute 60, when we start to see everything fall into place.

As I said, I am extremely perplexed by what I just saw.

It's not a bad review. It's more of a "huh… didn't expect that" kind of review.

Jungfrukällan (The Virgin Spring)

Spoilers
Having only watch one Ingmar Bergman film — The Seventh Seal — and having just read some information about how Last House on the Left is based on the same Swedish poem, "Töres dotter i Wänge," I decide to start educating myself on Bergman's work.

For starters, this movie is amazingly crafted.

Really.

Bergman, like many Scandinavian directors, prefers to keep his hands off the material and let the script and actors do their jobs. While simultaneously throwing in themes as obscure as Norse Mythology, faith, vengeance, the occult, and unabashed evil. The herdsmen are completely devoid of morals. Their rape and murder of Karin is kraven and foul. We know it is coming and yet there is nothing we can do about it.

Even the least important characters in the film are complex. Everyone is more than just the sum of their parts, with complicated expressions and passages that belie their sense of self-worth.

And this for me is what is so amazing to me about the movie. Karin's killers act in complete silence. Not a word is spoken for almost five minutes. And later, when her father metes out justice on the trio, he too does so in silence for an equal measure of time. It is haunting.

In the Poem, both girls are killed and the father, out of vengeance beheads the first two, only sparing the child when he can recite his family's name. In Bergman's version, the young boy isn't spared… and his death is perhaps the most gruesome at Max von Sydow's hand.

I have yet to see Wes Craven's Last House on the Left, only the newer version released a few years ago. I'm not sure I want to. But Bergman's work is effective for what it doesn't say, as much as for what it does say.

At the end of the film, Töre (von Sydow) turns to god, asking for forgiveness for his sin of murder, while also questioning how god could look away this day as all these murders took place. It's as though the answer were as simple as the primal forces of nature that exist without faith… and the presence of god which can only exist with fate… were not made from the same cloth. Or worse yet, are the same things entirely.

18 April 2010

Last House on the Left (2009)

Adult Content is Present in this Review
While I've never seen the original shockfest, nearly grindhouse-style film by Wes Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham, I have since read numerous posts online about both versions in an attempt to understand what I just saw.

Now. Mind you, I love somewhat deranged Korean films. Old Boy, Memoirs of a Murder, Lady Vengeance. The list goes on. I prefer to avoid depraved Japanese gore-fests like Ichi the Killer, Audition, and so on. Last House of the Left is not the kind of movie I would normally watch. In fact, had I known what the opening hour was going to be like, I would not have rented this… despite how excruciatingly intense the final Act of the movie is.

Really.

Now, I've taken a lot of chances on movies in the past. Watching stuff outside my comfort zone… or IQ… just to see something else.

And from what I've read about the 1972 version of this movie, the remake is tame and the new director, Dennis Iliadis, handles some of the mature, extreme, and distasteful elements with some degree of care.

Spoiler Alert
There is a rape scene in this movie that will make you want to vomit. You know it's coming. There's nothing you can do. Three very bad people have two teenage girls hostage in the woods. The inevitable rape is exploitative, gratuitous, and vomitous. Absolutely. Inappropriate.

If the point of this scene is to get bile to rise in your throat so you will enjoy the revenge that comes in ACT 3, there is no torment these three people can endure that will match how many times I had to look away from the screen.

And yes. I looked away many times.

The rape lasts over a minute of screen time, dragged across four different angles, with very long cuts, with an unflinching insistence of pressing your face directly into the scene, finalized by a panoramic shot of the scene as if to say... "This is important. Do not ignore this."

I am not naive. I understand rape has its place in cinema. I don't like it. But it has its place. Straw Dogs (before I saw this movie) had the most appalling rape scene in movie history. It had its purpose, I suppose, and one could argue its strong impact leaves you dazed. But I still don't think I'll ever shake it from my system. And it's been 10 years since I saw it.

Who knows how long it will take to clear this one from my subconscious.

And what seems to trouble MANY reviewers is the fact that movie is Rated-R and not NC-17. I'm the first person to say the MPAA is nothing more than a team of diaper-wearing baboons, fed on Styrofoam peanuts and Drano. But, how can you miss this? How can you rate a film R with a rape scene this graphic, this vulgar, and a finale that involves microwaving someone's head until it explodes… how do you miss that?

I've been mulling all of this over for several hours now. I've plugged in Jackie Chan's Police Story just to cleanse my palette with some acrobatic action that is impossible to offend. What could have been a masterful creation is sullied by a horrible lack of reality in the final moments of the film and a despicable and unapologetic sadomasochistic first act.

My recommendation is don't see it. I just don't think the solid camera work and pacing are worth it. The Strangers is much better at this. It just is.

Kick-Ass

Mark Millar is the author of the Wanted comic series (vastly improved with the movie) and Kick-Ass, which sadly remains painfully respectful to the source material. While the movie is very very good, it strays in tone from it's opening moments, to a crescendo of nonsensical action points that culminate with 11-year old Hit-Girl pretty much stealing the movie from everyone.



Christopher Mintz-Plasse played McLovin in everyone's favorite movie-stealing role. And that's where his charm ended. He does nothing to improve this movie.

Most of the actors are "nobodies" in this film, but the dialog, directing, and characters make up for all the inexperience of the cast.

Wanted is all-around better than this in everyway, but it's still a good film. I was disappointed that the film lacked a "heart" and instead just went for cheap thrills in the final third of the movie. When key characters die, we're not really affected because of this change in tone.... more "learning to fight" scenes with Kick-Ass would have made this a better movie for me, overall. And showing everyone's humanity, instead of showing comic book panels would have been a better touch.

And keeping the script focused on Kick-Ass would have been nice too.

Iron Man

Gearing up for Iron Man 2, I made the wife watch this original. And while I'm not a fan of the final 30 minutes of the movie, I did enjoy this a WHOLE LOT MORE this time.

Sadly, while looking up the sequel on IMDB, I found a number of distressing items.
  1. No Terrance Howard as Rhodes... I just hate actor changes like this. Mind you, I love Don Cheadle, but this is just… suckie.
  2. The rumored 2012 Avengers release will be directed by Joss Whedon. Suck. Suck. Suck. No mention of Thor on the cast list and Ed Norton is only "rumored" to play Bruce Banner. I'd probably say no if Whedon were directing, too.
  3. Olivia Munn is in Iron Man 2. I'm not a fan. I'm not some G4TV geek who wants to see her in everything ever. And while this was a smart move to make sure geeks show up, who the hell is going to miss Iron Man 2?
Anyway. Rant over. Back to your movie screens.

08 April 2010

Planet Hulk

Sometimes amazing, other times extremely stupid, this animated film is why HULK is never used properly in any property, including the TV Show, the movies, and now the animated films.

You want to see the real HULK, read Maestro or Secret Wars.

Those are true HULK stories.

Not a single named actor did voices for this.

Big Fan

Imagine Robert De Niro's Fan, only it's supposed to be funny. Except it's not funny. And it's not any better.

Big Fan fails to do what every black comedy fails to do... get the main character to stop making stupid decisions.

Patton Oswalt is funny, but the movie fails to go anywhere and at minute 50, we're wondering when he will stop being such a screw-up.

You can guess the rest.

Loose Change 9/11: An American Coup

Among the conspiracy theory films about 9/11, this is the smartest.

This is categorized as a documentary, but it's really a very well thought-out essay, with video footage and narration.

If this topic interests you, see it.

I can't really judge it, other than that.

I do not recommend it for conservatives, people who hate having their values questioned, or anyone who likes oil-rich nations for being oil rich.

Ponyo

Miyazaki tries to do the Little Mermaid.

And fails.

Horribly.

Really.

Really.

Bad.

Add to it a long list of actors who bring nothing to the film.

Timecrimes

I love smart time travel films. I recently did a top 10 science fiction list on my other blog and I totally forgot about Primer... and now Timecrimes comes along. Low-budget Spanish science fiction.

Who would have thought it.

Only four actors in the whole thing.

Brilliant.

02 April 2010

Watchmen

Bought the DVD. Watched it again. Man does that soundtrack suck. But, the movie does have as much replay value as the graphic novel.

Some decisions are bad: Rorschach's abbreviated story, the way he kills the child molestor, keeping Ubastis in the story for one tiny scene, etc. But many of the changes that updated the story and removed the tiresome "Black Freighter" distraction were appreciated.

My two favorite moments both involve Rorschach (who steals the story in both forms). One, is when he's in prison and he pours hot grease on the convict — "I'm not in here with you. You're in here with me." Two, is Rorschach's final scene where he screams "Do it!" Perhaps better than the book was able to project.

North by Northwest

Considered a classic, I believe this is the only pairing of Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock (who appears in this film during the opening credits, trying to get to a bus before the door closes on him). I'm not a fan of Cary Grant. At all. And I avoided this film for years because of it, but a recent movie reviewer that I respect put it on his TOP 30, encouraging me to view it.

I was not disappointed.

North by Northwest gets its name (I suspect) from the final flight of Northwest airlines (believe it or not) and Mr. Thornhill's trip on that flight (Thorn being an anagram for North). Or maybe its just all about misdirection, which this film exudes.

Now. The plot is contrived. The story filled with deux ex machina at every turn. And the context of the film is so flimsy, you can drive right through it. BUT. Hitchcock keeps you rooted to your seat for — wait for it — 2 hours and 11 minutes. That's 131 minutes, divided into only about 12 scenes.

I won't break it down for you, because some people still haven't seen this movie, but those are long, deliberate, laborious scenes. Real dialog (not Tarantino dialog) with real poignancy.

This is considered among Hitchcock's best, but I still prefer Rear Window and Rope. Maybe because Jimmy Stewart wasn't the tool that Cary Grant was.

31 March 2010

Smoke Signals

Smoke Signals is the telling of a modern tale of two Native Americans (from Idaho) using the classic Hero's Journey formula. Victor and Thomas are two young men living on the reservation, devoid of a past, present, or future, but haunted by all of them, just the same. Victor, the main star of the film is on his way to Arizona after hearing that his estranged father has passed away. Thomas, his rain-man like sidekick, is the heart that beats through the tale, with his medicine man wisdom and his amazing narrative.

A really strong and touching tale. Obviously made on a budget, but still a good film anyway.

Irene Bedard is a hottie.

29 March 2010

Crazy Heart

I liked this movie better when it was called the Wrestler.

Pandorum

While I firmly believe this film has ZERO horror to it and Dennis Quaid was done as an actor 10 years ago, this is one of the BEST science fiction films I've seen in a long, long time. I intend only to paste the plot of the film here, and leave the reader to decide for himself just how awesome the movie is and what actually happens there at the end of the movie.
Upon rousing themselves from hyper-sleep, Payton (Dennis Quaid) and Bower (Ben Foster), a pair of crewmen assigned to work on a spacecraft, discover startling gaps in their collective memory -- including who they are and what, exactly, their mission was in the first place. The plot thickens when they realize they're not the only ones on board the ship.
NOTE: Comments section may contain spoilers.

28 March 2010

Christine

The John Carpenter classic of a demon-possessed car. Much stronger than The Car.

What else is there to say? Don't tell me you've never heard of it.

Favorite Scene: When Christine starts to rebuild herself in front of Arnie and he says "Show me."

Awesome!

Typical Stephen King… horrible ending.

Capitalism : A Love Story

With its the horrendous title, the tired Michael Moore cliches, and the reams of unnecessary sobbing scenes — this "documentary" has all the subtlety of a German propaganda film. Which is really sad, because the film needed to be made and some of the things in it needed to be said.

Moore is both way ahead of his time and way behind the curve of his with his attempt to disassemble capitalism. For most of us who read Adbusters, believe it working enough to pay the bills, and whose minimalist lifestyle keeps them from spoiling the planet any more than necessary, Capitalism is a big fat yawn.

However, for people new to the concept of a "social state" of democratic economics (like co-ops, credit unions, and the like), this documentary could be enlightening. But the squeaky hinge in this melodrama is Moore himself, who can't stop putting his special brand of annoying into every scene, with belabored tones, ill-placed cameras (are you crying enough, yet?), and long-winded diatribes of "I can't do this alone anymore."

If you watch the special features and deleted scenes, you see Moore just interviewing people. Just getting the facts from people more lucid and illuminating than Moore ever could be. Instead, he feels the need to narrate, removing any possibility that his message might reach the viewer.

The data in the film is great, as always. Moore goes to great lengths to research pertinent information for consumers unable to get ready access to some of this stuff. The "peasant insurance" angle was especially interesting.

But, try watching it with an open mind and a desire to reach the facts and not the drama of Moore's "essay," which barely qualifies as a documentary.

Laura

The classic film noir movie about a woman who is murdered in her apartment and the ensuing investigation into this bizarre crime.

Features a very young Vincent Price and a very sexy Gene Tierney.

I won't bother telling you what I thought of it. Instead, I'll just let Roger Ebert tell you.
"Film noir is known for its convoluted plots and arbitrary twists, but even in a genre that gave us The Maltese Falcon, this takes some kind of prize ... That Laura continues to weave a spell—and it does—is a tribute to style over sanity ... All of [the] absurdities and improbabilities somehow do not diminish the film's appeal. They may even add to it ... [T]he whole film is of a piece: contrived, artificial, mannered, and yet achieving a kind of perfection in its balance between low motives and high style. What makes the movie great, perhaps, is the casting. The materials of a B-grade crime potboiler are redeemed by Waldo Lydecker, walking through every scene as if afraid to step in something."

22 March 2010

Quantum of Solace

I've been watching a lot of chase scenes lately. And I plugged this one in last night just to watch the opening 20 minutes. Instead, I ended up watching the whole thing. I've reviewed this several times, so I have nothing new to add here. Only this:

This movie gets better with each viewing. The subtle political undertones of the CIA, MI-6, Quantum relationships are just fantastic. Really watch how they work and how a blunt instrument like Bond manhandles all of them.

Tops.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

More like three movies in one, Mad Max 3 is the worst things Australia has every exported. It's like a drunk monkey playing the zydeco.

Let's start with the obvious tone shift from the first two films and then go into the really really bad parts of this movie. George Miller and Byron Kennedy on more than one occasion have stated that Mad Max 1 was a fluke. They had never studied storytelling… they just sorta mad up a bad ass character and went with it.

It wasn't until they started working on Road Warrior, that they took time to read up on how to create the "Hero of 1,000 Faces" by Campbell, that they further developed the character of Max — and the challenges he would face.

Now. Back to 3.

Three opens with a gritty landscape and a desperate character on a half-shambled vehicle, toed by camels (how camels got to Australia is anyone's guess). A plane, piloted by the sidekick from MM2 (The Gyro Captain) and his annoying son, buzzes the "carvan," knocking Max off. The Captain makes another pass, jumps on the "wagon" and steals the goods. A monkey throws crap from the back of the wagon, presumably so that Max can follow… but it's going to Bartertown anyway, so I'm not sure what the monkey is doing.

So far. Three instance of lame. And we're only 3 minutes in. No worries, the tone certainly corrects itself by the end of the Thunderdome scene and we've just finished the first of the three movies that make up Mad Max 3.

Part two is mostly Lord of the Flies, only in this version the Captain comes back to save Fatty and the all rest and turns out to be a lazy SOB. The kids have an interesting language all their own and they've developed into a tight tribe of independents, despite the ravages of the environment. Reminds me of George's Children, but I digress.

Soon, the group is on route to Bartertown for very contrived reasons (in storytelling this is called Deux ex Machina). And the third story starts.

And this is where the atrocity happens.

Slapstick action and sound effects ensue. A mindless chase follows. And physics are ignored for the next 20 minutes as stupid event after stupid event fires in machine gun fashion from the barrel of idiocy that is Mad Max 3.

Whatever ingredients that came together accidentally in Miller and Kennedy's alchemy lab to make 1 and 2, were used up when this movie was made. The lush and idiosyncratic characters of the Collector, Aunty, Ironbar, and Master Blaster wash away by the end of the film and are replaced with vomited caricatures of contrived cliches and Three Stooges antics.

Seriously lame.

And this isn't one of those "so bad, it's fun" movies. It's painful. Just painful. And I watched it, so you don't have too.

Mad Max 2 (Road Warrior)

My favorite of the Mad Max series, this is as tight as a low-budget film can get. There's few, if any, extraneous scenes, the action is solid, the bad-guys original, and the final chase, one of the record books.

Everyone knows this movie. Do I really need to say anything else about it?

20 March 2010

The Car

From my youth…

When a mysterious, driverless black sedan begins running people down in a small Southwestern town, new sheriff Wade Parent (James Brolin) must find out who -- or what -- is behind the killings. What he uncovers is a truth more terrifying than anyone expected. Is it pure evil? This cult horror classic from director Elliot Silverstein also features Kathleen Lloyd, R. G. Armstrong and John Marley.
I saw this as a kid and it scared me. Now it's just campy fun. Before Christine, there was the Car. This would be a worthwhile remake.

The Seven-Ups

Another film with an amazing car chase, I only rented this because Cinemassacre recommended it. But it actually turned out to be a smart plot, with some good character acting. The chase scene was just icing.

Icing I tell you.

Another 1970s film, done in the style of French Connection and Bullit. But with it's own voice.

As for the chase — they add a few little tricks during the chase you've never seen before. Check it out.

Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)

Not the Bruckheimer piece of nonsense. The original, when car chases were car chases and 70s films tried things that hadn't been done before.

Here's all you need to know…

Maindrian Pace (H.B. Halicki, who also directed) and his cohorts race to steal 48 cars in a week, which will net them $250,000 if they succeed. But the group runs into trouble trying to jack a Mach 1 Mustang, and the cops chase Pace through seven counties. The basis for the 2000 film starring Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie, this 1974 original has become a cult classic thanks to the wild, 40-minute car chase that concludes the film.
I'm not really going to say anything else about this movie. 40-minute car chase.

And you never get bored.

Saw it when I was a kid. I forgot how good it was.

The Big Empty

I rented this because of the title. No other reason. I get sucked in by verbiage with my word fetish. So a title that's evocative can really grab me. Sadly, the title refers to a big empty lake bed near Baker, California where both the world's largest thermometer and the world's smallest movie budgets collide.

I'm going to keep this short, because it's not a noteworthy film (a little fun), but I have a lot more movies to write about.

The characters are smart, the events unreal, and the main character as interesting as Favreau can be when he's phoning it in. But it's a good little Sunday afternoon movie.

19 March 2010

All the King's Men

A movie, based on a play, based on a novel, based loosely on a real politician but in no way a political story… whew. How can you make this kind of a movie without confusing the audience? And then cast Brits as Louisiana socialites?

You can, but I think the end result is very very muddy. Which is sad, because the book is considered among the greatest works of the 20th century.

Sean Penn is always good. James Gandolfini as a southern boy is weird. Patricia Clarkson is flawless, as usual. Jude Law is meh (but he's always meh). Kate Winslet is my muse. The rest of the cast is forgetable. Even Sean Penn is kind of a dead fish in this, and I think it's among the best of his generation... if not THE best.

Flightplan

What was I doing renting and watching this thing?

What a travesty of film-making.

Absolute drek.

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles

Zhang Yimou always finds a way by the end of a movie to kick you in the junk and make your ache. For fans of this reaction, this film does not disappoint. While Not One Less was a little more compelling and stirring, it lacks the Father-Son issues that can make movie-watching very hard for anyone with say… a father-son issue.

Very famous Japanese actor Ken Takakura stars as a father who has just learned his son is dying from cancer. While the two have not spoken in years, the father leaves Japan to visit China where he looks to film the production of a great opera (of the same title as the movie) performed by it's greatest actor.

In trying to film the performance, Takakura must travel hundreds of miles across China (unable to speak Chinese by the way) to gather up the discordant ingredients of the plot. This is mostly contrived to parallel the plot of the movie to the plot of the very popular Chinese Opera… but it doesn't matter. Because the journey is really where we get to know Takakura in a way that only a Chinese director filming a very terse and quiet Japanese man could.

Zhang is in his element here, drawing less on his historical epics and more on his knowledge of backwater China. The characters are real people. The Chinese supporting cast are kind and ingratiating to their foreign visitor. All of the ingredients for a sad and quixotic story are there. While it's not even close to being his best movie, but it's still better than what you'll see in an American movie theater.

Food Matters

This one is part food, part nutrition, and part "holy crap!"

Maybe the best and most important of all the food documentaries. I know I say that every time, but I changed some eating habits overnight after watching and researching this one.

The Future of Food

Another in a long line of GREAT food documentaries. I wish someone would compile all the key information from the these documentaries into one 15-minute short for schools and so on.

This is a must watch.

24 February 2010

The Girlfriend Experience

If I ever became a movie director — a dream of mine — I would like to be known as someone who pays homages to the Cohen brothers or who understands composition as well as Scorsese. But in actuality, I'd probably be more like Soderbergh, making movies all the time, taking silly chances, throwing symbolism and theme into films that no one gets, and generally missing the mark on everything I do. Oceans 12 and 13 come to mind as some of the worst director decision-making I've ever seen (next to Michael Bay of course). While Bubble may be one of the best Indie films I've ever seen.

Where Sophia Coppola is hailed as being an experimenter and a genius (Lost in Translation sucked), Soderbergh actually takes chances. Bubble casts actual people into roles who aren't actors (they worked in the doll factory that the movie was set in) and The Girlfriend Experience casts porn star Sasha Gray in a non-gratuitous, but more provocative role as a detached and arrogant escort who thinks nothing more than to surround herself with people who serve her ego, support her jaded opinions, and generally consider money more important than any other human endeavor.

It is, to put it bluntly, this is a daring enterprise. The film is complex and unforgiving, cast with people without devoid of any previous "movie pedigree." In this, everyone is believable as everyone they presume to be.

Film Critics looking through the lens of artistic rules and values may review this movie in a different light — I actually tried to avoid any other reviews of this movie in order to enjoy it from my own point of view — but I think they'll miss the point entirely. The movie, when viewed by a rational fan of movies (and not a critic), takes you to difficult, unflinching, and sometimes very awkward places. And if you've read my reviews before, you know I love awkward... I love the natural beats that take place between the places where people say or do something "naturally irrational" before seeing the results of that thought or action.

This movie pays rent in that place.

Chelsea is the main character of the film and her boyfriend (yes, she has a boyfriend who knows what she does) is named Chris, a physical trainer who actually comes across as a believable character beyond the realm of telling people to do more squats. Unfortunately, he also comes across as a big sissy in the end, when he can't even get out the words:

"Get the hell out of here."

to the woman who has obviously been taking advantage of him.

I never have a good closing statement for movie reviews, so you're not going to get one here, either. If you like what I've said, go rent it.

21 February 2010

The Hurt Locker

I am a fan of Kathryn Bigelow's work. She is not your typical action director. And she maybe the only female action director out there, however, I'm not completely sure how I feel about her latest work.

She's earn accolades for this film, but she also botched The Weight of Water. She made Strange Days, but she's also responsible for Point Break.

I'm not sure how to feel about all this.

I can see that Hurt Locker was supposed to mean something, but I think enough of it drags and the early tension drains you so much, that by hour 2.5 you're exhausted.

The movie earned a 97 on rotten tomatoes. 97! That's almost unheard of. Is everyone drinking the kool-aid? Are we so hungry for authentic war films, that we'll endanger our own taste buds to assert that "Yes. This is the one to see."

I'm not condemning it. I guess I'm saying, I don't necessarily see it.

The opening half is amazing, but the second half is not. And I don't know who to blame.

That is all.

I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell

Based on Tucker Max's amazing and true book and website (I'm still reading the book), this movie is good for about 55 minutes, before resorting to tired comedic tropes and platitudes. Unapologetic, sexist, over the top, and rampant with amazing dialog, this movie was 100 times the film that Hangover was. Before it too resorted to pooh humor. Sadly, the plot falls apart, but the characters and dialog do not.

Drew — played by Jesse Bradford — steals the movie every chance he gets.

The strippers and women in this film are only believable if you take into account that good-looking men can get away with anything. And once that seeps into your mind, you'll either love or hate Tucker Max… and certainly envy him.

I'm not sure how much is "made up" for the plot of this movie, but I assume a lot. The book is raunchy and the actions beyond imagination, but the film adds a lot of "Hollywood" at the right moments, that detracts from the events, in my opinion.

Overall, a good watch, though.

Traci Lords has a short cameo as well.

Justice League : Crisis on Two Earths

Drawing from the hugely successful comic "Crisis on Infinite Earth," this animated film opens strong (and with only a few failed guffaws) and ends strong as well. Flash is hilarious as always. And superwoman in the alternate earth is HOT!!!

er...

For a cartoon.

I could have done without the "Guido" accent contingent, but that's a small complaint about an otherwise fantastic movie.

While Marvel dominates the live-action market of superhero movies with hit and miss products, DC continues to release great animated films. And there's plenty of character "easter eggs" in this one for hardcore DC fans.

And James Woods in it, too.

And if you hate Superman, like I hate Superman, than you'll be glad to know he does not dominate this story. Sadly, Batman does (in a story filled with super-powered beings).

The Hangover

I can't believe I bothered to watch this. With such fantastic movies such as Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and Four Christmases under their belts, writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore complete their journey into the realm of moron humor with the worse execution of a brilliant plot ever devised since the 40-Year Old Virgin.

Comedies continue to get dumber and dumber in the 21st century. And thanks to guys like Judd Apatow, anyone can eek out two farts and a sodomy joke into a script, and it's comedy gold.

Sigh.

I've already written 100 words about the Hangover.

I'm done.

18 February 2010

Not One Less

If you've been reading for a while, you know two things:

I love Chinese Tragedies
I love Zhang Yimou

If you've seen the Road Home and the Story of Qui Juo, you have an idea of how intense and depressing this film is. But that doesn't mean you still shouldn't watch it.

You should.

In fact, right now.

Dizzying, bewildering, overpowering. Do you need more words to describe this movie?

The story of a 13-year old girl who has to substitute teach a class of students for 1-month, despite having no training or skill whatsoever... and being a typically immature 13-year old girl.

This film doesn't rank in Zhang Yimou's top 10, but that's like saying Cadillac isn't the comfiest car in the world. This movie is amazing. Amazing. Amazing. And if it doesn't get to you in some deep emotional way… well, I don't know what to do for you.

02 February 2010

Avatar Review Online

This is why I won't see this movie thing.

Link

01 February 2010

The Burrowers

Mostly Western and some horror, this movie is really, really good.

I was surprised. I was expecting low-budget schlock and instead I got a quality production, well-paced, and brilliantly scripted. Like any Western, the good and evil is clearly defined, and as always, the true enemy is always man. Even those the monster in this is pretty twisted... I won't ruin it, but the final moments of the movie are hideous.

The pacing is good, the characters semi-strong, and the story pretty engrossing. It reminds me a little of the old film, Leviathan.

I have only one complaint, it's the damned design on the monster. It's not an issue of cutting corners. They had a budget, but it's almost like they went with the first monster sketch the director's kid brother turned in. It makes no sense as a beast.

Before I saw it on the screen, I think the silhouette resembled a bunny.

A bunny would have been better.

31 January 2010

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Okay. I run out of superlatives in a situation like this. So. Here's my attempt to express how much I loved this film.

I've said before how much I hate kid cartoons and that even as a kid, Peter Pan and the rest all sucked. As an adult, my tastes have not changed. In fact, talking gerbils that fart are not funny to me.

Ice Age 1 was funny, the rest are stupid. Penguin films (all ten of them) are lame. Toy Story is just okay, and Cars was awful.

But once in a while, someone makes Up! or a gem like this one — Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

The Good:
Only one talking animal, and this one needs an invention on its head to talk.
No singing.
The Island they live on (Swallow Falls) is under the A in Atlantic Ocean on the map, where all they eat is sardines.
The main character actually has three dimensions and is not just a nerd in a lab coat.
His love interest is very close to three dimensional as well.
James Caan as the dad is brilliant casting.
Smart dialog and comedy.

This movie is so good, I'm not sure how it only got an 86 on Rotten Tomatoes.

And I'm not sure how any Studio greenlit such a smart film. It's not for Roland Emmerich fans, stupid children, or their stupid parents. It's slick. Really, really slick.

The Invention of Lying

What an absolutely awesome opening 25 minutes this movie has. An entire world of people who can't lie. And therefore know that everything they hear is true. Commercials are frank and honest. And movies are nothing more than lecturers readings from history books.

Very nice.

But the true genius of the film is when Ricky Gervais goes gambling and later invents the concept of god, because he (after all) has invented lying.

It's all an accident, however, and soon the movie can't seem to get back to the funny it once had. Half-way through the film you don't care anymore. It slowly, and sluggishly goes from funny, to pitiful-romantic, to kafka-esque sorrow.

Really.

Um.... saving up my strength for my next review, so... that's all.

ASIDE: I can't list the entire cast, because the cameos are so good, but you will like the first half of this movie. I promise.

Land of the Lost

Will Ferrell comedy that's less Will Ferrell than normal. The Matt Lauer scenes are hilarious and the movie is generally better than one would expect it to be.

But it's a silly spoof. Ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous.

That is all.

Undercover Brother

I'm not sure what's so special about the Collector's Edition (rental), but my wife had never seen the movie before.

So.

There.

Good movie. There's plenty of good reviews of it online. Since it's a comedy, I don't feel the need to go into filming techniques or anything. It's just a solid comedy.

NOTE: Orange Soda gags are always funny and Billy Dee Williams under mind control. Oh damn.

29 January 2010

Legion

So, if I had to judge the entire package, this film is a solid C.

If I'm just reviewing the story, surprises, and production value, it's a strong B+.

If I'm reviewing the fight scenes, dialog (oh god), acting, and directing choices, it get's a weak ass D–.

I don't know what else to say. Lucas Black was so bad, I hope he never works again. Tyrese Gibson should know better. And Adrianne Palicki is way too hot to be wasting her time with this thing.

I almost think anything smart was edited out, because you can see something smart wanting out. Sadly, it never escapes.

The Express

The story of Ernie Davis reminds me of every biopic about an African American — long, laborious, and always telling too many details and not enough story. I'm not sure if this is a conspiracy to make sure that Black biographies are less than interesting than White… but just look at the Johnny Cash movie vs. the Ray Charles movie. Both are slow and boring, but Ray falls faster, sooner, and flatter.

The Express has the same problem.

Ernie's story is awesome. The tempo is fantastic. And just when you think the movie is going to crescendo, nope… there's 30 more minutes of Leukemia to deal with.

Sigh.

Look. Ernie's story is sad. Really. Really. Sad. I get that. But decide what kind of movie you want to be before Act 3, okay? This is basic storytelling here. Do you want me to be happy that he played football so well? Or do you want me to be sad that he died too soon?

If it's the former, end if like the Lou Gehrig story.

If it's the latter, don't show so much frickin' football.

I can't encourage anyone to watch this, although I would never discourage it either. The 70 minutes that don't suck the energy out of you are pretty good. But, I've already made that clear.

Oh yeah. Dennis Quaid channels every single bad stereotype of football coaching in this movie, finally proving his career is over. Don't believe me, go see Legion.

23 January 2010

Cyrano de Bergerac

This movie is European from head to toe. From the costumes, to the writing, to the pacing, to the dialog (entire movie is in verse), to the agonizing way they make you wait for a final pay off (having just watched Lion in Winter, this really pissed me off). This movie is so French, it must hate itself.

But in all seriousness, it's pretty good. Not great. And not something I'd watch again (except to get another glimpse of Anne Brochet.

Gérard Depardieu plays Cyrano — the well-known fictional character based on the life of a real person — sometimes with aplomb and sometimes with such painfully long dialog, that you forget what the hell he is talking about.

Another long movie with poor pacing and an ending that won't quit. The bonus here is that the characters in this film are likable.

The Lion in Winter (1968)

Setting aside my dislike for Katharine Hepburn, this film is the best movie I've ever seen that didn't know how to end. The last half of the movie could have been cut in half. It just goes on and on and on. I'm rivited to see how it ends, but too much of it is self-grandising on the writer's behalf.

The best way to describe this movie is to think of King Lear, except no one is worth a damn. The father, mother, and children are all so inhumane to one another, that you want them all to suffer. Kurosawa should have done his version of THIS movie.

I know it's considered a classic, and I've researched some of the critiques of the film — but I'm at a loss as to how I feel about this movie. Hepburn is just dreadful. O'Toole outclasses everyone on the screen. The final 30 seconds make you believe the two of them are retards. And the three children conduct the final scene as cowards, betraying everything the movie is working toward.

What the hell was this writer trying to tell us?

Everyone is selfish and despicable. Most are crazy. And the last 30 minutes meander so much, I wonder if the character (or actors) really know what they wanted. Since it opens with some much ferocity, you'd think it would end with it too.

Instead it wimpers and limbs.

Sigh.

I guess I don't like. But I loved it when it started.

17 January 2010

Rush Hour

This movie is the only time I recall Chris Tucker being funny and Jackie Chan making a movie where no stunt men get hurt. The script is tight, the story a little silly, and the action pretty good for what it's supposed to be. As a package, it's strong. When you start to pick it apart… well.

The sequels only get worse from here.

Big Trouble

An infamous, yet amazing ensemble comedy about so much ridiculousness, that the funiest characters are the straight men (hit men played by Dennis Farina and Jack Kehler). A number of stars steal each of their respective scenes, while the director (Barry Sonenfield) and writer (Dave Berry) show how stupid people are in Florida. Speaking of, Andy Ritcher makes a cameo, and Heavy D (while not an actor) does hold his own in some hilarious scenes as an FBI agent.

I can't really detail the script at all. The movie just starts from the gate opening and in only 80 minutes, does what a good ensemble comedy should… never stop moving.

In no particular order, Tim Allen is funny and interesting for a change. Janeane Garofalo does not play herself. Jason Lee is calm and quiet. Rene Russo is sexy (and perhaps the only token character). Ben Foster is an annoying teen. Zooey Deschanel is Zooey Deschanel. Tom Sizemore is fun to watch. Johnny Knoxville entertains. Stanley Tucci goes the distance of depravity. Michael McShane does not play the token fat guy. And Dennis Farina steals the film.

Gator Fans!

Two Good Quotes from the movie:
If I don't shoot someone soon, I'm gonna forget how.

Snake: [remarking on his gun] Remember. I'm gonna have this thing pointed right at you. So, don't do something stupid.
Jenny Herk: How would you even know if I did something stupid?
Snake: I'll just know. Believe me, I can tell the difference.

16 January 2010

Book of Eli

First off. Wow.

Second off. Very interesting choices.

Third off. This is not so much a post-apocalyptic movie, as it is a religious film, shrouded in post-rapture themes. None of that really matters, though, because it's super good. Double super good, in fact.

Denzel Washington plays a lone wanderer, who carries a book that he reads every night and quotes from, with preacher-like charisma. Gary Oldman plays someone who wants the book. Mila Kunis plays a half-annoying after-thought. The film has very little talking, lots of great visuals, a few fights (to break the tempo up), and so many cool themes you can't see straight.

This movie is not for everyone and while I was enthralled all movie long — despite one or two plot hic-cups — most of the audience didn't know what they were looking at. Most expected an action film. Others a typical Denzel Washington drama. This movie is neither.

It is, however, in theatres now.

14 January 2010

The Madness of King George

I couldn't finish it.

It was flippant and almost insulting to the brain. What exactly were they trying to make?

A Man for All Seasons

Based on the play, and turned into a G-Rated film in 1966 (the movie ends with a beheading), this is among one of the best stories around. Fans of the Tudors TV Show should take a gander at the play based on the author of Utopia and whom science fiction author R.A. Lafferty refers:
He had one completely honest moment right at the end. I cannot think of anyone else who ever had one.
More is perfectly played by Paul Scofield, an actor I've never seen in anything else (although he apparently was the ghost in Mel Gibson's Hamlet). But the rest of the cast, as expert as they are, cannot touch his performance. Just amazing. Unwavering. Intelligent.

If ever there was evidence of the plague that was Thomas Cromwell, it is his unholy crusade to have Sir Thomas More tried, convicted, and executed for his own political agenda. Cromwell's toady, Sir Richard Rich makes an appearance as well. Both of them are a cancer.

If you like good movies, check this one out. But if you hate it when bad guys win, I recommend staying away from most historical biopics.

10 January 2010

Ji jie hao (Assembly)

Be prepared for misery.
That would have been a good caption on the DVD cover.

While the Chinese are masters at tragic dramatic tales, this movie makes the grade of being among the saddest I've ever seen. While To Live and Joy Luck Club (an American film, I know) make the top of the list of saddest Chinese stories ever, Assembly should be just as gut-wrenching, especially to those who can appreciate excellent films about war, revolution, sacrifice, and duty.

Assembly is baed on real-life events and follows the life Gu Zidi during the Chinese revolution as a member of the PLR (People's Liberation Army). Without giving too much away, Gu Zidi and his men are ordered to defend an important mine and intercept the advancing Nationalist Army (better equipped with American equipment and so on — these guys did their homework — the production value is top-notch). And after about 60 minutes, the film turns into something you wouldn't expect.

Expertly made and crafted, this movie received many awards and accolades. It deserves them all. I'm very pleased that I purchased this movie sight unseen.

Some idiot at UGO thought it was too "slick and fashionable." I'm not sure we watched the same film.

08 January 2010

The Dinner Game

From the director of the Valet, this absolutely brilliant (nearly) one-room movie is why the French are so good at this sort of thing. Based on the idea of bringing the biggest loser on can to a dinner party, this is a classic example of why a good writer is essential to a story. Acting of course helps and a director is key, too. Without those, you'd never have even heard of this. But the script is just pure gold.

Jacques Villeret is everything comedians wish they could be. Flawless in timing and delivery. Focused. Perfectly attuned to his character. Seamless.

I really don't know what else to say about it, but see it.

Malèna

Saving the best for last, Malèna is my favorite of the three Tornatore films. And once again, Tornatore returns to World War II and Sicily. Mixing Monica Belluci in one of her earlier works and Giuseppe Sulfaro (the boy) in his first film, Tornatore tells the perfect tale of a woman estranged from her husband (off fighting the war) and the young boy who loves her (secretly) regardless.

The movie takes some interesting turns and while American audiences will constantly want Sulfaro to do the honorable thing, the director always takes the realistic route — this is only a child and he is not equipped to deal with the emotions he is feeling. He never makes the right decisions and this always feels accurate, if somehow empty.

The movie is filled with awkward moments and incredibly powerful and dramatic highs and lows. Even when the supporting characters are at their loudest, I appreciate the level of emotion that the director has placed into every scene.

So very good.

And of course, we get to see Monica Bellucci getting dressed a couple times and that's hot too.

Ahem.

Ciao. Addio. Arrivederci. Pace.

La Sconosciuta

Titled the Unknown Woman in America, Tornatore shows a different side of his writing and directing talents with this tragic, overly depressing story of lose, redemption, and revenge. Instead of a young boy trying to find his way through the world, Tornatore tells the tale of a Russian woman who has come to Italy — however, he reason is unclear initially.

Without giving too much away, the movie details the horrific life of prostitutes in Russia, the level of disdain for Russian emigres coming to Italy, and the isolation of a single woman who shares nothing in common with those around her. Coming from deplorable beginnings (show in graphic detail), Irena must prove herself to everyone — even herself.

This is not the best of the three Tornatore movies I watched, but it was still damn good. European films have a different life and seem to rely on telling a different story. Even the modern world, the history and life of Europe comes to life in the simplest details. In this, Tornatore matches Modern Italy and storytelling with classic architecture and themes. Yeah. I'm probably over-analyzing it, but I really liked this one.

Eccellente! Molto bene!

Nuovo Cinema Paradiso

Placing itself among some of the most celebrated Italian films of all time, Cinema Paradiso (as it is known in the states) is part of three films by Giuseppe Tornatore that I watched recently.

Taking place in the flashbacks of a movie director, the movie highlights the major events of Salvatore di Vita (affectionally known as Toto) who grew up loving movies in the small Sicilian village of Giancaldo.

It's important to note at this time that Sicilians are not Italian. And as an Italian, I'm supposed to hate Sicilians. It's a law. Look it up. But the movie starts in Rome, before the flashbacks in Sicily begin. So. For today's purposes, this is an Italian movie. Capiche? Bel Fatto.

Like every Italian coming of age story (especially those by Tornatore), this movie shows the hurdles of being a man in post-war Italy, dealing with boyish hormones. Let me be very clear on this. Italian men are horny from birth. Until we're 13, though, we don't know what to do with this energy. So in the case of Toto, the kid acts out in horrible ways. He's not a monster, mind you. Just a impish child.

Endearing really. We all are.

The movie is a little slow for a while and the story tricks you in some of its turns that go nowhere. However, it all comes together in the last 15 minutes, which are just so over the top powerfully emotional. It's just. Wow.

It doesn't hurt that Salvatore's mother reminded me of my grandmother.

And the final minute of the movie. Just pure genius. Gold. I won't ruin it for you, but it's worth the watch, just for that.

Tornatore does not disappoint in this film, but he does need to learn when and how to edit himself. It's a minor complaint, but some of the movie drags a little and that could have been fixed with some better choices (four times he brings up how celluloid burns — okay, we get it).

Again. Minor complaints. I loved watching the village change from the day he leaves to the day he returns, 30 years later. Sopraffino.

Libertine

Oh goodness me. Was that ever good.

Wow.

Wow.

Wow.

What writing.

Seriously. Amazing.

Johnny Depp (everyone's favorite) takes on the role of infamous John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, known for his writing, courtly life, womanizing, drinking, and general debauchery.

This movie is not for the timid.

There were so many good lines in this movie, I had to stop and write them down.

Seriously.

Good.

Stuff.

Enough said. Add it to your list.

Daybreakers

An Australian vampire movie with Ethan Hawke, Sam Neil, and Willem Defoe — one of whom can't act anymore, one of whom phones in a performance of Ethan Hawke, and one of whom tries desperately to find a character inside his awful dialog.

I won't go into all the illogical steps that brought this film to utter submission and mediocrity. There are just too many dumb things to list and I have other things to do tonight. But I will say that the opening 15-20 minutes and the plot are utter genius. After that… it's like a monkey with a fussion reactor wondering which button causes the meltdown of all civilization.

I'll just give you one idea about how stupid it was — Vampires rule the world and a small group of humans need to get to safety. So, the obvious thing for the humans to do is to travel at night. In slow, stupid vans, devoid of cargo. Right? And stop for a flat tire.

And that's not the dumbest thing in the movie.

Skip this and pretend Ethan Hawke has only made Training Day and Gattaca. You'll be glad you did.

07 January 2010

The Valet

Francis Veber is known as one of the best comedy directors in France. Sadly, this film is not a showcase piece. While the premise is just down-right brilliant funny, the conflicts that arise in the film never get to bubble to the incredible lunacy of his other works. Which is sad, because the movie had potential.

Here's the description on Netflix. That's all you're going to get out of me on this one.
When a photo of billionaire businessman Pierre Levasseur (Daniel Auteuil) and his supermodel mistress, Elena (Alice Taglioni), makes the papers, he gets in dutch with his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas). To trick her and save his marriage, Pierre tracks down an unassuming valet (Gad Elmaleh) who was inadvertently part of the picture and pays him to feign a romance with Elena. But unintended consequences ensue in this merry comedy.