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?