23 March 2011

Fat Head

Great information about how saturated fats are good for you and how carbohydrates work in your body. Otherwise, it's exactly the documentary you'd expect from a computer programmer trying to tackle one aspect of Super-Size Me that he didn't like.

Go into this one knowing the author had blinders on about the food industry and obviously doesn't do much research except for the one thing that bothered him.

Freakanomics

The book was better. But if you don't like to read, just watch the part about crime.

The Men Who State at Goats

Unwatchable.

Play Dirty

Michael Caine in a World War II film about British commandos in North Africa.

Good film, with a great ending.

Although, it has many distasteful elements. Most of which are part of the 1960s anti-war stance, I'm sure.

catching up on old films

In no particular order, I watched the following films recently. None of them really need their own review, but for sake of full disclosure they are.

The Rookie (Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen)
Uncommon Valor (the movie that started the all of POW film franchises of the 80s)
K-9 (Jim Belushi and his dog partner fight crime)
Silverado (Lawrence Kasdan tries to prove he's a movie director in this neo-classic western that draws on 2+ hours of movie cliches)
The Chase (another Sheen film with cars, or A car)

Stranded

Vincent Gallo does for Stranded, what Sam Rockwell did for Moon.

Except this movie has five actors in it. Well. Four actors and some whiny douche whose character can't die fast enough in my opinion.

The ending isn't exactly ground-breaking, but I do love a low-budget science fiction film that doesn't LOOK low-budget.

Moon

I remember seeing Sam Rockwell in Galaxy Quest and thinking, this guy is going places.

And I was right.

This is one of the smartest science fiction films you will see.

Nothing more to say. Kevin Spacey plays the voice of the A.I.

There. I found something else to say.

XXX

Good action movies will stand the test of time. Smart dialog and well-written characters become icons. Who cares about bad the explosion of the Nakatomi building is, with Willis spewing dialog and wit at every turn? What does it matter that Mel Gibson is a crazy SOB when Detective Riggs is such a huge part of the action film cultural landscape? Even though he hasn't made a good movie in two decades, no one will ever forget the impact of seeing replicant Han Solo killing Nazis for the C.I.A.?

XXX is not one of those movies.

At all.

If you remember the action being smart or fun, you are misinformed.

8MM

Andrew Kevin Walker is the writer of both Se7en and 8mm (among others). Had a more skillful director taken on 8mm, his career would have skyrocketed as a writer. Instead, Cage and Keener try to breath life into characters that Walker purposes makes sublime animals sleepwalking through life.

At least, that's always been my take on it.

8mm, instead, was directed by Joel Schumacher who has been stinking up films for a long time. Even with Tigerland and Phone Booth (considerably his best movies), the films are both saved by a young Colin Farrel and two outstanding scripts.

So.

How does he continue to get work.

In researching this review, I found out Schumacher directed Veronica Guerin... a film with one of my favorite actresses of all time, that I couldn't drag myself to go watch. And now I know why.

You can blame him for Batman 3 and 4 all you want. For my money, there's nothing worse than watching him butcher films like Flawless and Number 23... movies with subtle scripts and dark material that probably needed a gifted hand to guide them, instead of someone who directs with a hammer and machete.

Christ. Even Tarantino would have done something interesting with 8mm. It wouldn't have been watchable. But it would have been interesting.

Please Give

There's no question that director Nicole Holofcener likes working with Catherine Keener. She's cast her in all three of her girl-centric full feature films. And Keener is one of those actresses that is hit and miss for me. Granted she always plays the ball-busting, narcissistic, monotone "bitch" that I think everyone casts her for. The question is, why do people pay to see that?

On some level, movies are supposed to entertain. Even the artistic ones.

Why would anyone ever pay money to see someone tell them to fold their socks? Because that's what 90-minutes with Keener in this movie is like.

The script is smart. The direction solid. The acting is good too. But Keener pushes the envelope of annoying with this one. All the hidden meanings, symbolism, and metaphor can't really compete when your main character is in a bad mood for the entire movie.

Sad is an emotion. Angry is an emotion. One can even feel dejected or betrayed. But a bad mood is not an emotion.

And therefore it's not something to empathize with. It's just something that makes you eventually ask, "Can someone get this woman a midol? Please?"

Battle: Los Angeles

There are a number of different ways to approach a review of this film. So in no particular order, here they are.

Battle Los Angeles. It's like ID4 for people with a three-digit IQ. Or Black Hawk down for dummies.

Join the Marine Corps and kill aliens. Yeah. We're that badass.

Come find out how to direct a good movie, even when the screenplay is pulped with 10 cliches per minute.

Holy crap. Michelle Rodriguez can play something other than a badass mother -- oh no. Wait. There it is.

Aaron Eckhart. Saving bad dialog. One line at a time.

07 March 2011

Media Malpractice

A conservative with a hair up his butt about the bias of the media makes a very long documentary/essay that should have been posted to youtube with all the other cranks.

30 January 2011

The Fighter

Amazing film. From top to bottom. I won't go into the details, because I'm saving up all my strength for Black Swan, but this film really impressed me. Bale and Wahlberg are amazing. Adams was luke warm. Not sure why she got an oscar nod. But Melissa Leo (Frozen River) was really the most amazing of the four.

For the uninitiated, The Fighter is based on the true story of Micky Ward and brother Dicky Eklund (same mother, different father). Dicky is a has-been fighter who once fought ten rounds against Sugar Ray Leonard (before drugs ruined his life). Micky Ward is a loyal, albeit slow, boxer turning pro... and not doing it well.

Amazing character study and dramatic action. Not to mention some really good boxing.

Better than the King's Speech, but not as good as Black Swam.

Black Swan

Movie of the year. Hand's down. Aronofsky is the king of complicated film-styles, story-telling, and character development.

Granted everyone is going to focus on the lesbian love scene, but they are clearly missing the point if they do. The movie is a constant dichotomy regarding the inner struggle of courage and cowardice (displayed visually in the visual landscape of black and white costuming), which also reflects the white and black swans of swan lake, which is a metaphor for Natalie Portman's fracturing sanity.

That said, the lesbian sex scene isn't about sex at all... as Aronofsky clever does in most of his movies... sex is always about something else. It's about Portman's obsession with how Kunis can be so carefree and she is so inhibited by everything.

Portman is sensational here. But than again, she's in an Aronofsky film. And what did everyone say after the Wrestler came out? [Actor X] was sensational. Kunis is also good, considering how much I usually dislike her. And Barbara Hershey is phenomenal as the control freak mother who can't let go of the past or her grip on her child.

Winona Ryder (oh yeah, can you believe it) also makes a small appearance and raises her game a little. Vincent Cassel is creepily good as well. But the true strength of this and all of Aronofsky's work is that everything seems so effortless. I can't even imagine how hard this movie was to make. All that dancing.

Crap.

The final word of the film is "perfect." And I have to ask myself... is Aronofsky arrogant or sublime? Does he know that his film is near-perfect? Or did it just happen that everything came together so well and he never analyzed the gravity of this final statement on the film?

Rotton Tomatoes gave this movie an 88... and I want to meet those 12 people who need to be trepanned.

The King's Speech

A true account of King Charles VI's stammer and his rise to power after his father passes and his older brother marries a twice-divorced American woman (and falls from grace). Colin Firth never really does anything wrong and Geoffrey Rush is one of my favorite actors. And of course, Helena Bonham Carter had to be quirky, even in her small role.

Emotional. Courageous. And very very British.

It was the weakest of the three powerhouses I saw this weekend, but that's hardly saying much against The Fighter and Black Swan. I could have waited for video on this, but I'm glad I saw it anyway.

The Mechanic

Dear Simon West,

Next time you make a movie, please make sure your name is bigger on the credits, so I know to avoid your film.

Thank you.

- jim

Dear Simon West,

Was this an action movie, plot-drive narrative, or a character study?

Thanks for your quick response.

- jim

Dear Simon West,

Who was the protagonist of this film? Was he a good person?

Thanks in advance for your attention in this matter.

- jim

Dear Simon West,

Is anyone available to play aging criminal "fixers" other than Donald Sutherland?

Just wondering.

- jim

Dear Simon West,

Was this film enjoyable to make? Because it wasn't enjoyable to watch. I'm curious if anyone had a good time.

Awaiting your reply.

- jim

Dear Simon West,

What do you want to do when you grow up? I'd like to make movies. I bet you'd like to make them someday, too.

Have a great summer.

- jim

Dear Simon West,

Thanks for unburdening me of my $11. You're the best.

- jim

Beer Wars

What starts poorly and ends even worse is a good documentary in there somewhere about the beer industry... once you get past the grandstanding of annoying self-important director, Anat Baron.

Anat Baron is the female, non-political version of Michael Moore. Or is she? She's hardly intelligent or interesting. She's not really pushing 90 minutes of information at me. And she clearly has a political agenda as you near the end of this tiresome documentary.

However, somewhere in between the bad minutes are a few good interviews with people with elocution, a mind for business, a quality product, and a real story to tell. Instead of someone who quits the industry and then comes back a year later to still feel involved.

27 January 2011

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Banksy rules.

That is all.

Samurai Rebellion

One of hundreds of samurai films made between 1950 and 1980, this one is really really good. While Mifune doesn't bring as much to this character as he does other roles (and the sword fights are bland), the story here is very very complex. And the three main characters weave a rich tapestry as they deal with the constrictive bureaucracy of the opposing samurai.

Having thoroughly studied feudal Japan, many of the complexities and subtitles mean more to me than they may to the average viewer, but I still think people will enjoy it.

Class Action

A 1991 Court-Drama that is only 5% Court, this movie feels more like a mid-80s film than the four-star recommendation that Netflix let me to believe. Peppered with awful dialog and mired with cliches, the movie is still okay.

But just okay.

It's really a family story more than a courtroom drama. However, all of the court scenes are filmed inside real courts, with real law being practiced.

And that was kind of neat.

Capturing the Friedmans

Directed by Andrew Jarecki in the style of an Errol Morris documentary, this complex and an inconclusive documentary starts as one thing, grows into something else, and ends without answering half of your questions.

From IMDB
In the late 1980's, the Friedmans — father and respected computer and music teacher Arnold Friedman, mother and housewife Elaine Friedman, and their three grown sons, David Friedman, Seth Friedman and Jesse Friedman — of Great Neck, Long Island, are seemingly your typical middle class American family. They all admit that the marriage was by no means close to being harmonious — Arnold and Elaine eventually got divorced — but the sons talk of their father, while also not being always there for them, as being a good man. This façade of respectability masks the fact that Arnold was buying and distributing child pornography. Following a sting operation to confirm this fact, the authorities began to investigate Arnold for sexual abuse of the minor-aged male students of his computer classes, which he held in the basement of the family home. Based on interviews with the students, not only was Arnold charged with and ultimately convicted of multiple counts of sodomy and sexual abuse of these boys but so was eighteen year old Jesse, who was mentioned by many as the aggressor of the two in the acts. Arnold admitted that he is a pedophile, but that he did not abuse the boys in his class as charged and convicted. The trial process brought out the dysfunction that previously existed within the family. But the issue of Arnold and Jesse's guilt of these acts is hotly debated among the family, among the authorities, among the media and among the students of the computer classes.

Except for the run-on sentences and lack of focus, this is a thorough-enough explanation of the documentary. I do recommend it, despite it being almost a decade old.

The Parking Lot Movie

Surprisingly amazing documentary. One of the best studies of humanity and inhumanity in American culture you will find. This is not the heavy metal parking lot documentary, but the three year study of a small corner parking lot in Charlottesville, VA... where college, elitist, and conservative cultures collide with the overly-educated slackers who run this one of a kind parking lot.

Unbelievably good. Pair this one up with the donkey kong documentary and you have the perfect stew of American culture.

23 January 2011

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

That's right. This movie is so bad ass, it has a color and a "en-dash" in the title. If you don't know what an en-dash is, go ask a teacher.

Now. If you haven't seen the original Bad Lieutenant with Harvey Keitel, what are you doing? Get off your ass and go rent it.

Are we clear?

Next. This movie has nothing to do with the original except that the main characters are constantly on drugs. That said, Herzog probably should have watched the original, just so he could have learned a thing or two about just how depraved Keitel got.

That's right. Werner Herzog directed this movie. And it is really, really good. Nicholas Cage actually acts in it. And Val Kilmer even has a small role, although he's had better dialog/performances. All in all, a smart movie. But not nearly as depraved as the other unrelated film.

22 January 2011

Operation: Endgame

A disappointing attempt to make SALT funny. With all this talent, something good should have come out of it.

Sigh.

Ensemble cast, too.

What a waste.

Blue Gold: World Water Wars

Another documentary are water, this one is a macro issue, with about 2% overlap on the previous documentary. Vandana Shiva makes an appearance in this one. She was in Fed Up! as well, a documentary about food shortages.

Blue Gold is a vastly better produced documentary than the other, but the two must be seen side-by-side to see the full spectrum of the issue. If you are a small-minded person, this documentary will overwhelm you.

Tapped

A documentary about bottled water. A must see.

Seriously. If you watch this and you aren't moved to change your bottle water habits, you deserve to be euthanized.

And of course, it ends with "if you want to learn more about how to, blah blah blah."

21 January 2011

The Secret in Their Eyes

I finally watched the 2009 Foreign Language Oscar winner. And not because it won the Oscar, but because of the premise. Ricardo Darín plays Benjamin Esposito in one of the most even-keel films about rape and murder you'll ever watch. The film is so delicately and elegantly handled from top to bottom, we only ever see Darín lose his cool once in the entire movie. He's like a machine delivering punch after punch of dialog effortlessly (although the opening 3 minutes of dialog are just garbage... not sure what happened there).

I remember thinking as I'm watching this film about a man paralyzed by the past and the mirrored themes of men being unable to forget their passions that Scorsese's Kundun is about the only movie I can remember being handled and acted so smoothly. Every one of the four main male characters is haunted and crippled by their pasts. Four bullets defined in the metaphor of a murder that never really happens, but that is boasted of, just the same.

It's truly glorious to watch.

Intimate Stories was another Argentine film I watched recently, again dealing with some of the same themes, but also directed so delicately and effortlessly at the same time. Really a great pair of movies to watch back to back.

Soledad Villamil plays the main female lead, chosen mostly I believe for her eyes and expressions than her acting acumen. She's not bad. She just brings so very little to the role, with the exception of the scene where she helps an interrogation. But everyone's eyes are so expressive in this movie (of course) that the issue trumps her lack of acting skill.

Carla Quevedo plays the dead girl and may be the prettiest thing to ever come out of South America. Whew.

What was I saying?

19 January 2011

House of 9

If you liked Cube, then you've already seen this movie. If you liked "Ten Little Indians", then you've already seen a BETTER movie. If you liked "Saw", you will be sadly disappointed.

Lacking on details, hit and miss on direction, failing on acting (in every direction), the movie should have been menacing and twisted and suspenseful. Instead, it's more of a drinking game or pool to see who will die and in what order.

The final minute was predictable (for minute), but maybe you'll enjoy it anyway.

Kelly Brook is still hot, though.

Hard Eight

Philip Baker Hall (Sydney) is the man. This character study by Paul Thomas Anderson is amazing from stem from stern. John C. Reilly plays Sydney's protege trying to get by, despite his lack of decision-making skills.

Meticulously directed, I was really impressed with this one. Lots of parallels and interweaving stories. Metaphors abound. Dang. It really is hard to review a film like this, because I don't want to give anything away.

Just add it to your queue.

Samuel L. Jackson makes an appearance. And Gwyneth Paltrow phones it in, but she's hardly in the film.

Batman: Under The Red Hood

Taking part of the origin of Joker, part of the Death in the Family story, and adding in some interesting twists that are wasting because of the poor reveal and you've still got a pretty good Batman story. Nightwing is always a pleasure, the Joker is sinister in this one, and Batman is almost a supporting character. Lots of bad dialog, but still watchable.

I do get tired of the illogical actions of Batman when it comes to collateral damage in the cartoon. I could like them, but I have two more reviews to write tonight. Suffice to say, that this could have been a 5-Star cartoon, but it's more like 3.5.

The Education of Shelby Knox

Imagine a documentary that is supposed to be about "sex education" in Lubbock, Texas — a city of 200,000 in central Texas with twice the national average of pregnancies and STDs. Now imagine watching that documentary through the eyes of a 15-year old girl who believes she wants to change the poor sex education policies of the city school board. Now imagine that documentary takes three years to make and that 15-year old girl is now 18 and her views have changed and she just wants to get out of Lubbock, despite still being a virgin and making a "purity oath."

Now imagine it's 90-minutes later and you care less about Texas then you did before you started this documentary.

16 January 2011

The Education of Charlie Banks

I really like Jesse Eisenberg. Mostly because he's not Seth Rogan or Michael Cera. But also because he takes on subtle affectations for each character he plays. In the Education of Charlies Banks (a character study honoring the Great Gatsby), Jesse plays the lead character subsumed by his own principles in a world where those principles are hard to apply.

Sadly, this is the synopsis of the film on both IMDB and Netflix
College student Charlie Banks has to face old problems when the bully he had an unpleasant encounter with back in high school shows up on his campus.
Which hardly suits a character study or a two-hour film about college life. The fact that we go about 40 minutes before the "bully" resurfaces and the plot takes a back seat to mood flies right over the head of the marketing genius who wrote the previous tripe.

In all, if you like character-driven films with very little plot, you'll enjoy this movie. Especially if you like to see the underdog remain an underdog and never compromise.

Otherwise, stick with the originally tragic Great Gatsby.

Oh yeah. Fred Durst from Limp Bizkit directed. Just in case you wanted to be completely blown away with the non-sequitur to end all non-sequiturs.

Manufacturing Dissent

Ugh. I hate puns. And this parody title on Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent lacks all of the intellect of the latter.

In short, a few well-meaning, but skeptical Canadians made a documentary about how a perennially partisan milk-toast Michael Moore grew into the voice of the left... and without the principles the left really needs from a mouth-piece.

Complex at times, but never flattering for Moore, his team actually does everything they can to stop the Canadians from making their movie... which is the ultimate hypocrisy.

8: The Mormon Proposition

I have several Mormon friends. All of them are amazing people, even those who have turned their back on the church. That said, this documentary does not make the elders look very good.

And man do they have some explaining to do.

If you care at all about gay rights, this is an okay documentary.

If you care at all about churches abusing their authority and tax-exempt status, this is a GREAT documentary.

Either way, the material is a little dated now, but relevant enough if you like keeping tabs on people abusing power.

Kimjongila

While the title would sound like a parody/pun of Gojira/Godzilla, it's actually the name given to a flower in North Korea in honor of the "Dear Leader." This documentary is specifically about those people who have fled North Korea and lived to tell about it.

Hard to watch times, this should be required viewing for everyone who is or is not Korean.

Chisum

I should start by saying that I hate John Wayne movies — usually. The Searchers is great and anything by John Ford is usually worth watching. But Chisum is a late-era John Wayne film. And while the dialog, direction, and acting are all questionable, the story and violence are all unpredictable.

And I'm saying this of a 1970 Western.

Sadly, it's one year after the Wild Bunch and it's obvious the director either never saw a Peckinpaw movie or just couldn't adapt his film to the changing horizon of Western cinema.

Ironically, Ben Johnson (from Wild Bunch) is in this movie playing the exact opposite character. In Chisum, Johnson plays James Pepper, a character whose only role is to feed stupid lines to Wayne, so Wayne can bat them away and appear manly. It's really so transparent it hurts my eyes to think of it.

The color stock is ass as well. Be aware before going in. Half the film looks like it was done with color-form paste-up. And the rest is a mish-mash of poorly timed action sequences that couldn't be refilmed.

All side-effects of having a TV director in 1970 try to make a full feature motion picture "talkie."

But with all it's flaws, the story actually comes out okay. It's a typical Western. Takes its time building. Villain is established early. Billy the Kidd has to make an appearance. Dodge City MUST be mentioned in passing. A posse is formed. The list goes on. But the flow of this two-hour story doesn't seem to follow the routine the way you'd expect. It's almost as though the film was trying to be a vehicle to launch a couple other careers instead of just making John Wayne look good.

[I hate John Wayne.]

Sadly, no one can really act in this movie. Even Ben Johnson has trouble believing the idiocy coming out of his mouth. And the rest of the cast talk like audition rejects from Saved by the Bell. I hope they were paid on scale.

If you choose to watch this movie, you've been duly warned.

Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows

While this documentary is not by the same team that made Beyond the Mat, there is one place where the two documentaries intersect (this one covers it in more depth): Bret Hart losing to Shawn Michaels in Canada after Vince promised Bret that the match would end however he liked. This documentary leads up to that fateful event, while the other documentary continues to tell other tales (including the stories of Jake the Snake, and Mick Foley).

This is one of the best WWE-related documentaries I've seen... and mostly because it's not self-serving to the WWW Brand.

It doesn't hurt that I think Bret Hart is one of the best.

Death at a Funeral

This is the Afro-Centric American version of a British film of the same name. And it is hilarious. The humor is too smart for Americans I'm sure, but everyone worked so hard to not be a stereo-type in this... it deserves a lot more credit than it got. It's sad to see Chris Rock make such a smart movie and then go on to Grown Ups (which I didn't see). This reminds me of how good movies were in the 90s.

Ensemble cast of course.

Hearts and Minds

Because I was three when the Vietnam War came to a close, I'm still constantly learning about this costly and stupid conflict. Made in 1974, Hearts and Minds was the nerve-wracking, jaw-dropping, gut-wrenching Academy Award winning documentary of that year. And because there is no narrator telling you what to think of it, and really a very loose thread tying all the material together, you are left alone to make sense of this nearly two-hour long film.

The final 10 minutes are the most poignant to me. And I wonder if Nixon died with any regret over being such a disappointing human?

13 January 2011

Tron: Legacy

Awful. Awful. Awful.

Go to the ticket window and ask for your money back before even buying a ticket.

Awful.