Monday, December 31, 2007

I Am Legend

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Color me impressed, here. Francis Lawrence and Will Smith I imagine are patting themselves on the back somewhere, because they kind of pulled a fast one. Judging by the way this one's been marketed, I think the studio was expecting another blockbuster-y, underhand pitch, action and effects extravaganza a la Men in Black or I, Robot. Instead, what we got here is a rather effective, thoughtful sci-fi movie slash character study that genuinely tries to imagine what it must feel like to be the last man alive.

Not that this movie is high art, or perfect, or completely lacking in plot holes. But I didn't give a shit about that... there's a lot to love here, especially Will Smith's performance. There's some real creativity here, and some real poignancy. And I dig that his character is straddling a fine line between willful delusion and insanity. Like, you've seen in the trailers that he has a bunch of mannequins set up inside a video store, and he pretends they are his friends. What's even better, though, is the way he has a female mannequin set up looking at the adult section. And then he starts to grow a crush on her, and has conversations with his dog about whether or not he should ask her out.

Then, later, in a moment of desperation, he begs the mannequin to speak to him. I know that sounds stupid, and it probably should be, but Smith really makes the scene heartbreaking. I loved it.

There's more exciting shit, too, especially when one of the mannequins shows up somewhere it shouldn't be. Unless... is it possible that it's somehow alive? Smith does a good job of freaking out here, not sure what is going on or if he can trust it.

There are two pretty effective action/suspense scenes. One where Smith investigates a dark building that is creepy. And another where he slowly tries to crawl away from danger with a bad leg wound. (A touch I like here is that he gets stabbed in the leg, and leaves the knife in. The set up the typical action movie scene where he tries to man up and pull it out, only here is just can't quite work up the nerve. Good detail; throws in a nice human touch in the middle of a set piece). Sadly, the bigger action scenes are a little bland. I blame this mostly on the stupid, fake looking CGI-zombie vampires.

Ha. I know. Those things are the main villains of the movie. You would think their stupidness would be a big deal. It's not, though. So much of the rest of the movie is good, that I scarcely gave a shit about how fake they look.

I am one of the few dudes who liked Lawrence's Constantine, at least on a visual level. And he makes this one look good too, with the exception of the zombies. So I'm looking forward to his next.

There is one touch here, though, that makes me wonder. Constantine, obvious, has a religious slant to the story. Now here, in I Am Legend, out of nowhere, in the last 15 minutes or so, it suddenly gets all Jesus-y. Which I guess is fine, I don't mind movies having a religious message. But it comes out of left field, and isn't at all set up by anything that happens earlier.

And actually, it's worse than that. It steals it's ending from another genre movie that was otherwise really good but then, to quote Charlie Wilson, fucked up the endgame. A movie also with strong character work and visual style. A movie where the lead actor also made some comments that offended some Jewish folks.

That's right. I'm talking about Signs. I Am Legend has the exact same ending as Signs. No, not the part about the water killing aliens. The part about God having a master plan that makes no sense and is corny.

Still, I liked this movie overall. Let's not let a lame ending spoil the whole experience.

One thing that could have made it better: Will Smith's character should have been named Irving Michael Legend. and then when you're walking home you realize that his name would be I. M. Legend. That would have been awesome.

All About My Mother

Friday, December 28, 2007

Here we are continuing to go backwards through the films of Pedro Almodovar. And actually, this may be a good place to stop for the time being. I get the sense, from what I've read, that his earlier films are more for fans only. I'm not sure I like him enough to peep his entire filmography.

I really liked, and maybe even kinda loved, The Bad Education and Talk to Her. This one, like Volver, I enjoyed but was kind of lukewarm on. It has the same colorful visual style of his other films, and the same odd, melodramatic story and plot twists. But at the end of Talk to Her, I found myself surprisingly moved, and at the end of All About My Mother I just didn't feel much.

I suspect maybe it has to do with the fact that this one and Volver are Almodovar's tribute to women. (And people who want to be women). Maybe I just empathize more with the male leads in the other movies. Maybe these are working on some frequency that gets interference from my dick.

Oh, one note. I did appreciate the "Two Years Later" ending, which was so abrupt, and almost needless, that I think it may have been an intentional parody of movies that tack on an epilogue just to have a happy ending. Kudos.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Naked Lunch

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

David Cronenberg has the weird distinction of being one of the only directors I love who has a large body of work that I am genuinely enthusiastic about, but doesn't have a single movie that I would say is a favorite of mine, or that I would define as "great." (Off the top of my head, Robert Altman is the only other director in similar standing). I think the guy is probably some kind of warped genius, and he consistantly makes movies I greatly enjoy, yet never any movies that I love or really want to watch very often.

Naked Lunch is definitely one of his strangest, but not one of my favoritres. Definitely not one of his rare bad movies, but not one of his typically really good movies. More unique and curious than effective or satisfying. About the same as I feel about Videodrome.

I think the problem is that Naked Lunch is too deadpan. Because, I mean, some profoundly strange shit goes down in this film. Typewriters that turn into giant beetles with talking assholes, weird alien beasts that secrete powerful narcotics from penises sticking out of their heads, shadowy spy organizations that brainwash people into doing their dirty work, people eating bug poison to get high. Or, at least, the main character thinks all this stuff is happening. Yet, he reacts to everything with the same lack of emotion, almost boredom. So all this wild, out-there stuff is going on, but it's told in a very straightforward, maybe even dispassionate way.

This is intentional, I would reckon, and it makes for an original, but also a numb, disconnected film.

You may have noticed that Cronenberg tends to get really strong performances out of his lead actors. Think Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone, Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises and A History of Violence, and especially Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers. Some of the best work any of these actors have done. Naked Lunch is no exception. Peter Weller is great in the William S. Burroughs role. The thing is, the character is so emotionally dead that there is no entry point for our emotions as an audience. With these other films I just mentioned, Cronenberg and his actors work hard to build empathy, even in the most bizarre of scenes. In Naked Lunch, we see things through Weller's dispassionate eyes, and thus react dispassionately to the film.

This is somewhat similar to James Spader's character in Cronenberg's Crash, only much less effective. Crash is just so disgusting, and so single-minded in it's depiction of the disgusting subject mater, that Spader's seeming lack of emotion provides some extra-disturbing counterpoint. I'm not sure that's what Naked Lunch is going for. Early in the film, Weller's character (William Lee) accidentally shoots his wife in the head. His ensuing descent into drug addiction and paranoia stems from his guilt over this, and his seeming lack of emotion may just be a defense mechanism. Weller occassionally suggests this deep sadness underneath the surface, but I think he and Cronenberg are a little too interested in underplaying the emotion. The final scene, where certain tragic events are relived in a bizarre context, is meant to really rip your guts out and break your heart... but instead it comes off as sterile as the rest of the film.

Cronenberg's films usually have more heart than this one. His typically awesome sense of the bizarre and the grotesque is still enough for me to recommend Naked Lunch, but not until you've seen some of his better movies.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

One of my very favorites of the year. Got this for Christmas, and Shenan, Andy and I watched it that night.

This is the unrated, extended version, and I think thus far the Apatow team has done a pretty good job with these DVDs. The fear is, as sometimes happens, they will make the movie too long, and maybe swap out some of your favorite scenes for raunchier but less funny alternate scenes. Superbad only really adds back in a few extra, smaller moments, and I think that's the right way to go. Knocked Up went a similar route.

So far, The 40 Year Old Virgin is the unrated DVD with the most reinserted material. I think all the new stuff is great, and that it made one of my all-time favorite comedies even funnier. Still, it's a bit of a tightrope walk going on, and there was a considerable risk that the new material would just feel unnecessary and bloat the movie.

The worst offenders have been some of the unrated horror DVDs of the past few years. As much as I love gore, I think a lot of these DVDs have been shams... just inserting extraneous material so they can call it "unrated." I ended up buying the R rated version of Wolf Creek because I read somewhere that all that was added was a poorly formatted, poor quality deleted scene that isn't violent and doesn't add anything to the rest of the movie. They basically took a DVD extra feature, and added it to the film. Lame.

Sometimes the added gore is a bad thing. I bought an unrated copy of the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, and I have to say I actually thought the R rated cut was slightly better. It was already a pretty violent movie, and I think the re-instated gore distracts from some of the more intense/exciting scenes. I'm not usually in agreement with the "less is more, use your imagination" gore argument, but this is a major exception.

Then again, I didn't even notice a difference in the unrated Hostel DVDs. Might just be a matter of a few extra frames. I haven't had a chance to watch my unrated The Descent yet, but I'm hoping the original ending has been put back in. That's what these kinds of DVDs are for.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Monday, December 24, 2007

Ahh, yes. My favorite of the Jones saga. And somehow, the perfect Christmas Eve movie.

For as fun as this movie is, damn this is some dark and nasty shit. I mean, what with all the heart ripping, giant bug crawling, flaming skewer throwing, eaten alive by crocodiles, human skin dried and stretched out, chilled monkey brains eating, good guy turning evil, guys getting slowly crushed to death-type shenanigans going on throughout this movie.

I was pretty young when I saw Temple of Doom for the first time, and I remember how captivating all this grotesquerie was to me. I wondered this time, while watching it, if this movie didn't in some way help kick off my love of horror movies.

Could be.

The Horror of Dracula

Monday, December 24, 2007

I picked this one up really cheap as part of a 2-disc, 4-movie Hammer Films Dracula set. I'm currently committed to expanding my knowledge of horror movies, and these old Christopher Lee Dracula flicks seemed like a good genre to branch out to. I call myself a horror fan, but this is a pretty major gap in my catalogue.

Of course, no one wanted to fucking watch it with me until I finally basically begged my brother on Christmas Eve.

In the interest of full-disclosure, Andy and I did chat quite a bit during this one. So, I can't say that I was able to deeply study and analyze The Horror of Dracula.

That said, gosh darn it, I still kind of liked it, and I'm definitely looking forward to watching the other three. It was a relatively well made, good looking older horror flick with a good mix of class and sleaze. Although tame by today's standards, I bet this was considered pretty violent for 1958. Especially Dracula's awesome death sequence at the end.

The British-ness really adds a lot, too. I'm not really sure if the acting was good, but all the accents made it seem really top-notch and classy.

Good times. I believe next up is Dracula Has Risen From the Grave.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War

Monday, December 24, 2007

Gonna make this a quick one. Entertaining movie, definitely not a great one. A lot of good performances, but they all seem to get swept under the carpet by the end as the movie's story gets bigger and bigger. It makes the last half hour or so very informative, but not much of a dramatic/emotional experience.

Mike Nichols' filmography is a mixed bag to me, and this is a movie I have mixed feelings about. I do appreciate the lack of Graduate-esque show-off camera wankery (with a few unfortunate exceptions). I think he's a lot better when he's just being straightforward, trying to tell a good story with good characters. He has both here. He's good at getting strong performances out of his actors. But like I said before, by the end it all sort of gets downplayed by the bigger story he's telling.

Wait for DVD.

Sweeney Todd

Sunday, December 23, 2007

I do not share America's love affair with Tim Burton. Nothing personal against the guy or anything, I just don't get what people seem to love about him so much. I mean, I wouldn't by any stretch of the imagination say I hated his movies. Hell, I'm quite fond of Pee Wee's Big Adevnture and Ed Wood. But most the rest of Burton's films are pretty mediocre. And I don't get why some people have such a reverence for him, like he's an all-time great. I don't see that.

I'm not really that into movie musicals either. For that matter, I'm not big on the musicals in general, but the style at least makes more sense to me on stage. The whole delivery, attitude, performances... the way everything is played big and broad and "for the cheap seats" or whatever, I just don't think comes off well usually in movies. Not my bag, I'm saying.

So why, pray tell, did I go see Sweeney Todd? I'm a movie optimist, that's why. I'm open minded. I go into movies hoping for the best. I like to broaden my horizons. Etc. And so forth.

For the first hour or so of Sweeney Todd, I actually thought it might turn out to be the great movie some reviewers had made it out to be. It seemed like it might actually be the perfect blend of director and material. You know, finally all of Burton's moody goth-y bullshit made sense in the context of the movie. The weird mix of gloominess with some faint goofy humor... Burton's aesthetic actually worked for the movie.

And maybe for the first time since Ed Wood I felt like Burton maybe cared about his characters and telling their story. I guess some people would argue that Big Fish had a heart, but I felt that all the drama and whatnot was just an excuse to get to the next show-offy, visually fantastic sequence of whatever. Like most of his movies.

Sweeney Todd is a little like that, but in a more subdued way than Burton usually goes for. The story is a lot more internal, trying to expose the darkness in the hearts of the characters. The gloomy world around them seems a perfect extension of their inner-being. Almost every character in this story seems to harbor dark secrets, and seems capable of some rather heinous villain-ry.

The darkness of this story is really great, too. I'm not used to seeing a musical this fucking grim. Musicals are usually some big romp... even when they are melodrama, they are extravagant melodrama. Sweeney Todd is every bit as exaggerated as, say, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forumn, but it tells a really bitter, violent tale. Oh, and some of the music is fucking great.

So, wow, I'm pretty blown away for the first half or so. Then, as we're getting to the really violent, throat-slitting extravaganza part of the story (you know, the part that actually seems tailor made for me), it seems like a lot of the energy suddenly drains out of the movie. There's a lot of meandering, right when we want the revenge story to take off. There are a lot of subplots that don't seem to build up to anything. Then, the big, violent, finale actually seemed kind of anticlimactic to me. Even though practically everyone is dead by the end, it didn't feel like much actually happened. The ending is especially unsatisfying.

Maybe that was the point. I certainly wouldn't want this movie to have a happy ending, that wouldn't make sense. But it felt like a lot of buildup for not much of an ending.

So, I feel a little disappointed. For the first hour or so, I was convinced that this would be one of my favorites of the year. Instead it's another Tim Burton movie that I'm in no rush to watch again.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Talladega Nights

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Speaking of Ricky Bobby and Cal Naughton, Jr, Talladega Nights is awesome. I have trouble sometimes deciding if I like this or Anchorman more. I think Anchorman might have the overall better cast of characters, but Talladega Nights feels a little less slipshod... more like a real film.

Also, I don't know if it's because they had a bigger budget, or if Adam McKay took a film class in between the 2 films, but this movie looks about 50 to 60 times better than Anchorman. I mean, there's a real depth to the visuals, the colors are rich, and the camera actually moves in dynamic ways. The difference between the two is almost night and day.

Walk Hard

Saturday, December 23, 2007

Not a lot to talk about here. Funny, but disappointing. Certainly no classic.

I think it falls into the trap that these parody movies sometimes do, where it's so busy referencing scenes from other movies that it forgets to actually do anything funny during those parts. Not in every scene, but there is too much stuff that falls flat.

John C. Reilly is kind of amazing in this... really doing a pitch perfect imitation of an oscar-grab type performance. He's so good that he kind of makes you wonder if Jaime Foxx and Jaoquin Phoenix were overrated. And I think that's possible.

It's kind of a shame that Dewey Cox isn't a more distinct character, though. Like I said, Reilly is great, but he has to act completely different in every scene, depending on what movie or musician they are parodying.

That's maybe the main reason why this movie isn't going to be any comedy classic or minor classic. They are trying to position Reilly in a Will Ferrell-esque wacky leading man role, but Dewey Cox just isn't that great of a character. He's no Ron Burgundy or Ricky Bobby. Hell, he's not nearly as memorable of a character as Cal Naughton, Jr. Yeah, Reilly definitely gets the best laughs of the movie, but it's more because of his natural comedic ability than any specific Dewey Cox character traits.

Any way. Worth your money, but maybe wait until DVD.

Planet Terror

Friday, December 21, 2007

Well, count me in the minority here, but I like Planet Terror a lot more than I like Death Proof. As flawed as the entire Grindhouse premise was, at least this one keeps you entertained throughout. I like Death Proof, but it's the kind of movie you like with an asterisks next to it. You always have to explain that a bunch of it kinda sucks, but then there's some really great stuff. And, it's just... I will never just want to randomly pop Death Proof on for fun. There's too much of the movie where I lose interest and tune out.

We pretty much talked right over this one Friday night, but it's a great background movie. Every time you look up, something entertaining is happening. A good addition to the library.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I had wanted to check this one out for a while, because it was Bob Clark's first movie. Clark is best known for making one of the funniest movies and probably the best Christmas movie ever, A Christmas Story. But before that, he made two top-notch 70's horror movies:

Black Christmas, a classic proto-slasher movie and 2nd best Christmas movie of all time.


Deathdream, an ultra-low budget but rather effective horror movie / Vietnam parable.

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things is a zombie movie that only becomes a zombie movie for the last 15 minutes or so, and for the rest of the time is a not very funny comedy. It's about a troupe of actors, lead by some asshole named Alan, wandering around a deserted island for fun, I guess, and jokingly planning on reciting voodoo zombie spells. And so 80% of the movie is about them walking around talking. And talking. And talking.

Actually, for a low-budget movie, the acting isn't terrible. It's passable. And really, the dialogue isn't bad either. It's just endless, and not very funny. In fact, the movie this most reminded me of was Death Proof, where you just wish everyone would shut up and get on with the story. It's not that the writing is bad, it's that there is way too fucking much of it.

The big finale, where shit finally (finally!) hits the fan isn't really worth the wait. It's pretty standard zombie movie stuff, nothing special. It is a little interesting to see a movie that had, up until the end, an all-around jokey feel to it suddenly turn deadly serious. And it's pretty ruthless with killing everyone off at the end. However, this ranks as mild curiosity at best, and does not redeem the rest of the movie.

Alan, I was amused to see, was played by Alan Ormsby, Bob Clark's sometime collaborator, and director of his own weird 70's horror film called Deranged. That one wasn't a good movie, but it was weird in a more interesting way. It was a loose telling of the Ed Gein story, seemed to jump back and forth between being a little corny and trying to be very dark and disturbing, and for some reason had a narrator that would actually walk into the shot and look directly into the camera. It also had one really great creepy scene of the killer wearing masks made from his victims faces and playing some creepy children's music box.

My point is, both Clark and Ormsby have some talent for this genre, but Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things is a complete turd. Stay away.

Troll 2

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

If you haven't seen Troll 2, that's your fucking problem.

Troll 2 is one of the best so-bad-it's-good type movies ever. I'm not always a big proponet of this type of entertainment; usually I prefer movies that are so-good-they're-good. And then sometimes, with a movie like Roadhouse, I'm positive that, even though some people might think it's a bad movie and laugh at it, it's entertaining for the exact reason it intends and is meant to be laughed with. That's not Troll 2, though. Troll 2 is in the House of the Dead catagory of not being funny or entertaining on purpose.

Well, or maybe not. I dunno. Some of the performances and some of the dialogue go so far over the top or are so funny... maybe it's not all an accident. Hard to say. I mean, clearly the movie wants to be funny at times. Like when little Joshua pisses all over his family's dinner... that's genuinely a funny moment. And it's clear that it is trying to be a little corny and stupid at times.

One way or another, this movie is brilliant. Whether that's on purpose or not, is hard to tell. Perhaps some sort of mix.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Lookout

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Lookout is a fairly entertaining crime thriller, boosted by a couple of strong performances. It's about a young, brain damaged janitor who is sort of seduced in assisting a robbery at the bank he works at. He's a regular, good-looking guy, of normal intelligence, but has serious memory problems due to a car acident four years earlier. So, I guess it's a little like a less gimmicky version of Memento, what with the brain damaged guy getting caught up in a neo-noir sorta story.

Joseph Godon-Levitt, as the lead, is pretty good. The character is a little more sympathetic than characters in these movies usually are, because of his condition. There's a certain poignancy to the way everyone treats him like he's retarded, even though he's in most ways a completely normal person. Jeff Daniels steals the movie as the main character's best friend, and Matthew Goode from Match Point is also memorable as a sinsiter but seductive criminal.

I think the writer/director, Scott Frank, had his heart more in creating some interesting characters than he does in telling a good crime yarn. So, it makes for a decent character study, but is more run-of-the-mill as a thriller. Maybe he wanted to make a movie about a guy dealing with brain damage, but figured no one would want to see a straight drama. Dunno. It was still, overall, an entertaining enough movie.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

This is England

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Shenan and I saw a trailer for This is England back earlier this year when we saw The Ten. I can't say it intrigued me very much, but Shenan seemed really excited to see it. I tried to muster up some enthusiasm, but when I found out that it was directed by the guy who did Dead Man's Shoes, I lost what little interest I had stirred up.

Shane Meadow's Dead Man's Shoes has the distinction of being, of the glut of revenge-themed movies to come out in the last 4 or 5 years, probably the worst one I've seen. Really, just a boring fucking mess of a movie that fails to tap into both the inherent excitement/entertainment of the revenge-drama genre, and the dark-nature-of-man philosophical element. And I think Paddy Considine is a good actor, but he has to be the least convincing badass ever. Seriously.

I mean, just last night I was flipping around the TV with my dad, and we caught part of an 80's movie called Eye of the Tiger. It was a revenge movie where Gary Busey goes against a biker gang that killer his wife. At one part, he ties a wire across a street between two light poles, and the bikers ride into and it cuts their head off and then you see one of the heads roll around in slow motion for a while. Later, he stages a raid on the bikers' headquarters using a truck with built in machineguns, while his friend flies over in a biplane dropping TNT on them.

What I'm trying to say is, as fucking stupid as Eye of the Tiger is, it's a better movie than Dead Man's Shoes. At least it's kind of funny. And Gary Busey is, you know, actually an acceptable actor to play a revenge-obsessed nutcase. Also, it uses Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" as its theme, always a plus.

Right, well. Shenan still really wanted to see This is England, so I put it on the ol' Netflix queue, because I'm a good boyfriend like that. Also, I love movies, so I always try to watch them with an open mind and optimism.

And it turns out that This is England is actually a really good movie. I'm happy I saw it.

It starts as a pretty effective coming of age type story of a lonely kid named Shaun. It's the early 80's, and Shaun falls in with a group of punks. They are maybe not the best role models in terms of the drinking and the delinquency, but they are basically good kids who provide Shaun his first sense of belonging and acceptance.

That is, until the movie takes a darker turn. The group is sort of over-taken by a tough, scary but also somewhat charismatic skinhead named Combo. And Combo brings with him a racist doctrine that seems to lend a sense of purpose to the young, lost and easily influenced Shaun. Before you know it, they are threatening the Pakistani kids in the neighborhood, graffiti-ing up the streets and assaulting the foreign shop owners.

The guy who plays Combo is great. The filmmakers could have made his character a monster, but Meadows and actor Stephen Graham flesh him out into a real person. He is capable of violence and hatred, but he has a sort of tenderness with his friends, and the movie does a good job of showing where his anger comes from, and how it has become so misdirected. This was a smaller, foreign movie, and I guess it technically came out overseas last year, so I don't think Graham will get any awards recognition. But at the Dan Oscars, he's a serious contender for Best Supporting Actor 2007.

Shaun and Combo, I suspect, are meant to be parallel characters, with Shaun representing Combo as a child. They even look alike. So the film shows you how a young kid, looking for acceptance, might fall into this kind of lifestyle, and also shows how he might turn out when he's older. Yet Meadows is basically an optimist, and he presents some hope for Shaun's redemption at the end.

So my chief complaints are two:

1) They use some documentary footage of cultural events, especially the war going on at the time. I think it's to show how this subculture is a product of the cultural climate of the times, but I'm not sure the movie really earns the right to the power of these images. I mean, I don't know, maybe Meadows staged the footage. But if not, those are real dead dudes he's showing, and I'm not sure that really ties into his film. It's not offensive so much as maybe it tries to imbue some importance in his movie that's not really there.

2) I didn't much like the end. I don't think Meadows really knew how to bring closure to his story, so he just kind of ends it with an homage to The 400 Blows. I think the movie deserved a little better.

Still, this is a damn good movie, and worth your time. If you don't have too much trouble deciphering heavy British accents, you should check this one out.

The Crime of Padre Amaro

Monday, December 17, 2007

Have you seen this Gael Garcia Bernal fellow yet? I've heard him described somewhere as the Mexican Johnny Depp, and that's not a bad comparison. He's an impressively versatile young actor who is practically hot enough to be a model. I am starting to become a fan of his, so that's why I checked out The Crime of Padre Amaro.

This is the story of a young priest who has an affair with a... parishoner? Deciple? Church Goer? Attendee? Whatever Catholics call people at church.

Anyway, he nails this broad and falls in love with her, but he tries to keep it under wraps because he is trying to work his way up God's corporate ladder.

This is great fodder for an introspective character study, or even some good old fashioned melodrama. You have an opportunity to explore the contradicitons within this character... how he justifies or rationalizes his actions versus his beliefs, etc.

Only the movie is not really that. It keeps trying to frame Padre Amaro's transgressions and corruptions in terms of the larger transgressions and corruptions within the Catholic church. The movie always wants to pull back to the bigger story of how the church deals with scandal, and some of the politics involved. Early on we see them silence an unfavorable news story with questionable methods, and we see Amaro as very willing to play his part in it. He is meant to be seen as one flawed cog in a bigger, more flawed machine.

Well, I'll be honest, as someone who is not at all religious, this stuff wasn't very compelling to me. The central idea, on a human level, is interesting, but all the church-y politics left me uninterested. Maybe if it had been a more multi-faceted, thorough examination of the institution, like The Wire, that could have been up my alley. But it seemed like more of a vague and unfocused attempt to show how the church is wrong about some things.

Then, not only is the human drama downplayed a little, but then they don't really make us empathize with the characters much either. As I mentioned above, I think Garcia Bernal may just very well be a great actor, but he does not have much of a character here. I got that he was an ambitious but flawed priest, willing to manipulate to save his ass, but I never understood what was going on internally with him. Did he feel any guilt over his actions? Was there any crisis of faith? How serious is his faith? And so on. These are all important questions, and I don't think they were clearly answered.

It doesn't help that he's the main character, but we never feel any sypathy for him. He's kind of the bad guy of the story, or certainly not a good guy, and without any access to his inner-self, the movie is a bit of a hollow experience. Most of the other characters are equally bad or ambiguous. There is no real entry-point for our emotions.

The bottom line is, the movie falls flat dramatically, despite the inherent melodrama of the plot. It's hard to care about a bunch of bad things happening to a character you not only don't like, but don't really understand anything about under the surface.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hot Fuzz

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A serious contender for my best 10 of 2007, if I decide to write one up.

If I had to pick between this and Shaun of the Dead, I would pick Shaun, mainly due to my slight preference for horror films over action films. Still, I've seen Shaun about a million times now, while Hot Fuzz is a little more fresh to me. It's not quite getting the heavy rotation Shaun got on my DVD player, but it's still a great one to throw on when you have nothing better to do.

Bucket of Blood

Sunday, December 16, 2007

This was another one of the horror movies I recorded off of TCM in October. Like The Pit and the Pendulum, it was directed by Roger Corman. It's an intentionally campy and satirical low budget 50's flick about a wannabe artist who finds success as a sculptor by killing people and encasing their corpses in clay.

It pokes a lot of fun at the pretentiousness of the art community of the day. A month or two back, I saw a recent horror film called Murder Party that was also a satricial look at the art community. I didn't really like that one; thought it had some funny and clever moments, but it kept forgetting that it was a horror comedy and really just wanted to be a gentle satire of hipster types. Both movies are short and silly, but Bucket of Blood is funnier and actually committed to being a horror movie. So there you go, guys who made Murder Party. Bucket of Blood did what you did almost 50 years before you did it, and did it better.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Shenan and I went to see this Friday, but it was sold out so we saw Beowulf instead. Juno looked pretty great, and had really been hyped up, so I think we were both a little disappointed Friday night. Turns out that I liked the movies about equal, or at least as equally as two movies this different can be liked. That makes Beowulf a pleasant surprise, and Juno maybe a slight letdown.

Juno is basically like a warm-hearted version of Ghostworld. It has a lot of the same type of smart-ass, acid tongue, teenage hipster attitude. Only this time most of the characters are basically good people, and everything is happy at the end.

So this is a funny, sweet and likable movie, but I wasn't exactly bowled over by it's touching insight into human nature, as some reviews had lead me to believe. Ellen Page is good as Juno, but I don't know if being good at snapping off one-liners counts as creating a great character. She does remind me of certain ironic, hispter types I knew in high school. I thought an especially apt detail was that she has this stupid plastic hamburger telephone in her room that looks like a kid's toy or something. It barely works, but it's exactly the kind of stupid, kitschy, ironic crap a kid like Juno would want in her room.

On the other hand, Juno sometimes struck me as a little too fast and too clever and too cool... more like an idealized version of one of these kids. I'm really just nitpicking about this, but I think there is a bit too much of the grownup screenwriter poking through in Juno's dialogue.

I was trying to sort of point out problems I had with the movie, but I think they mostly come down to nitpicks like I mentioned above. So, I'm not really sure why, but Juno for me wasn't as lovable or touching as it was for others. I think maybe I enjoyed the low-key charm of the film a lot more than the bigger, dramatic moments. The most touching moment of the whole film, for me, was one line Michael Cera's character has near the end. And it's coming from a kinda peripheral character and doesn't really have an impact on the central drama.

I have a hard time truly embracing these kinds of movies. I don't like this whole quirky but serious comedy-drama set to mellow folk rocks tunes, Hal Ashby/Wes Anderson knock-off, let's-pretend-to-be-a-little-edgy-but-still-be-a-crowdpleaser genre that seems prevalent these days. Or, at least, I'm not inclined to liking it. Juno is one of the better examples, yeah, but it's like it has to start the exam with 10 points already taken off.

And it falls victim to the worst fault of these kinds of movies: the awful, awful fucking music. It's not nearly as bad as Garden State, which tried to underline every scene with some distracting, moody indie rock in such a way that you know this is significant. This means something. But Juno's soundtrack is still an obnoxious collection of mellow rockers that try sooooo hard to be quirky and funny and lovable that they make me want to vomit. Considering how good the rest of the movie is at being lovable without really trying, it's off-putting how desperately the music wants us to give it a hug and tell it that it's a good little boy. I realized maybe halfway in that the music was from the Moldy Peaches, or at least one of its members, and I really hate their fucking music. But then, I knew a dude in high school not unlike Juno who thought their music was, I dunno, funny or hip or something, so I guess it's accurate to put it in the movie. It still sucks though.

This has been a great year for Michael Cera, what with this and Superbad. And I'm going to have to say, although Juno seems to be getting all the praise and awards-buzz, Superbad was a better, funnier and more insightful teen movie. And I think that's, in part, because of how ambiguous or conflicted Superbad feels. Juno wraps up everything in a neat little bow at the end, and everyone lives happily ever after. That makes for a satisfying movie, but I think Superbad remembers that high school doesn't have a happy ending. It's a weird, confusing, transitional time. If 50 years from now, someone asks me for an example of what being a teenager felt like in my day, I'd point to Superbad before I'd point to Juno. It may be the less realistic of the two, but I still think it's more truthful.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Club Dread

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Here's another movie I've seen a million bajillion times. So I guess Saturday wasn't a day I really spent broadening my horizons. Shenan is a big fan, and neither of us had wacthed it in a while.

Club Dread is my personal favorite of the Broken Lizard movies. Having pretty much grown up with slasher movies as a part of my regular diet, I'm probably the perfect audience for this affectionate send-up of the genre. It's kind of weird that they mixed the slasher movie formula with some weird beach-party theme, but then I guess a lot of slasher movies tried to have some sort of hook to them. It does feel a little like they combined the ideas for two screenplays though.

It's main flaw is that at nearly 1 hour and 45 minutes, it's too damn long to be a slasher movie. However, that's neutralized by the fact that they use the extra time to add in my favorite joke, which is that the movie has about 4 or 5 surplus endings. You know the kind, where the killer you thought was dead shows up for one last scare. Club Dread takes the cliche of the gratuitous slasher movie ending to it's furthest extreme, and the last shot is a real treasure.

I Heart Huckabees

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I've seen I Heart Huckabees a million bajillion times, but Shenan hadn't. I love David O. Russell's movies, even if he is an asshole or bipolar or whatever and called Lily Tomlin the c-word.

Flirting With Disaster is his funniest, and Three Kings is probably the all around best, but there is a very special place in my heart for Huckabees. It's just so damn odd and unique, and although I'm no philosophy buff, I really respond to its goofy exploration of the big, pretentious life-questions. Oh, and Mark Wahlberg gives what is maybe my second favorite comedic performance ever, right behind John Goodman in The Big Lebowski.

Good stuff.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Man, around 2000 or so, I really hated Lasse Hallstrom. He represented everything that that pissed me off in movies. The guy was the epitome of a hack, to me. I mean, I suppose he could like, film snow or European cities and make them look pretty and shit. But everything else seemed so manipulative and creatively bankrupt.

The Cider House Rules is on my list of all time least favorite movies. It takes a very sensitive topic that lots of people (not so much me) have strong feelings about, and simply uses it as a tool to make the audience emotionally involved in the story without really earning it. It doesn't really seem to hold a viewpoint on abortion, moreso it just sees abortion as inherently dramatic. And then, you know, in case that isn't dramatic enough for you, it kills off a character every few minutes to make you sad.

Damn, does that movie want you to be sad. It's maybe two steps shy of showing you photos of dead kittens while peeling an onion in front of your eyes. I'm all for movies making people cry, but it should come naturally, and not be thrust aggressively at the audience.

And then there was Chocolat, a movie that doesn't inspire as much hatred in me, but come on. It was fucking stupid. As much as I'm all for some movies being unsubtle, a la Beowulf, few things irk me more than a movie that wants to be deep and important, yet treats the audience like they are a bunch of fuckin' toddlers. My memory of this movie is vague, but I remember in addition to the glaring obviousness of the story itself, they actually threw in a needless whimisical-voice-over to explain it further.

Oh, and that part where Alfred Molina cries while eating chocolate is one of the most unintentionally funny things I have ever seen.

Ok, that was some good groundwork for my post that I just laid. Kudos, Dan.

Sometime back, I decided to extend the olive branch of brotherhood and forgiveness, or whatever the fuck, and give Hallstrom another chance with What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Because I'm a good guy like that. Grape seemed to be universally well liked, and I thought the cast looked good. And I had always been intrigued by the movie ever since my uncle Maurice told me that he was convinced for years after seeing it that Leonardo DiCaprio was actually a retarded kid that they had somehow gotten to memorize dialogue.

Wow, I've gone a long way here without saying if I liked it or not. Building some serious excitement here. And let me kill the tension by telling you that I did like Gilbert Grape. I didn't love it, like my girlfriend does, but it was leagues beyond Cider House Rules or Chocolat. Doubtful I'll be running out to see any more of his films, but now he's less of a cinematic Hitler in my mind. He's bumped himself up to maybe a George Bush.

The movie is a fairly charming comedy/drama about a small town family with a whole mess of issues. The acting is, across the board, really good. Johnny Depp is, pretty obviously, top notch, but so is every one else. And I think Hallstrom does a good job of showing how they are all bascially good, likable people but with some serious flaws. It's a lot more melodramatic than real life, but still a relatable representation. It's funny and always entertaining, and I think at least skirts the edges of being touching, maybe not quite succeeding but still a good effort.

One interesting shot, and I wish I could remember specifically which scene it was in, comes during one of the big emotional points of the movie. There is a big fight amongst the family, and right at the peak of drama, Hallstrom cuts to a far away shot of the action. The characters are seen as just small figures in front of the house and the fields. I'm not really sure what they were going for, maybe trying to show the characters as part of their environment? Or maybe Hallstrom thought it was too painful or private to stay in tight on the scene? Anyway, for a movie otherwise unshy about taking a close look at the characters, it was a curious choice.

I think there were still some of the Hallstrom-isms that I bitched about before present here. Like Gilbert is fooling around with a married woman at one part, and she's sexily feeding him ice cream with her fingers, when her husband comes home. Hallstrom stages it so that, when they come out to greet him and act like nothing's up, the wife is still tucking in her shirt and Gilbert still has ice cream on his face. I mean, come on. There must have been a less blatant way of making their actions look suspicious. As it is now, they might as well have had Gilbert pulling his pants up on the way out the door.

So occassional moments like that did bother me. And in Cider House fashion, someone diess o that you know this movie is dramatic and not just a comedy. But here, at least, it feels like the movie is building to it, and it fits into the larger tapestry of things. I didn't feel like it killed the character off just to make me cry, more like it's an important part of the story, but they're still hoping you will cry so that you know it was a good movie. Please give them an Oscar, etc.

Well, hey, I still said that I liked this one, so let's end this review on a positive note. There's a scene, the morning after Gilbert loses his shit and beats him up, where Gilbert's retarded brother is hiding in a tree for fun. And Gilbert, just to cheer the little raggamuffin up, makes a big show of pretending not to see him. Anyway, my point is that the scene is really and truly delightful, and that at the very least makes What's Eating Gilbert Grape a worthwhile movie.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Friday, December 14, 2007

Bourne Ultimatum is, I think, clearly the best action movie of 2007. Probably best of the last several years. But Beowulf should get special recognition for best over-the-top action of the year. Sorry, Live Free or Die Hard. Maybe Live Free-er or Die Harder will fare better.

It took me forever to see this one. I wasn't really excited for it at all, until I came to my senses and said, "Dude. It's Robert Zemeckis. You fucking love Zemeckis. He directed your favorite movie ever. You owe it to him to see his new one, even if it does look like gay-ass Lord of the Rings shit."

So, as far as these mo-cap movies go that Zemeckis has been involved with, Beowulf isn't as good as his Polar Express or Gil Kenan's Monster House, but it is still pretty fucking sweet. It has a lot of big goofy performances, big goofy special effects and big goofy action, but done perfectly. It achieves hyper-exaggeratedly, almost satirical badassness.

The 3-D looks pretty amazing, except when they actually throw shit right at your face and try to make it look like it's coming off the screen. Then it just looks blurry and indistinct. I don't know, maybe it's something wrong with my eyes. It also was giving me eye strain after a while. I definitely don't see 3-D as the future of movies, but I do like it as an occasional gimmick.

Just one of the action scenes in Beowulf would be worth the price of admission on it's own, but there are a solid 4 great action sequences. Especially the brief story he tells of fighting a team of sea-monsters (which contains the funniest, most ridiculous moment in the whole film) and his climactic face-off against a dragon. In the final scene, he does a heroic act of self-mutilation to kill the villain, even topping McClane shooting through himself and into the bad guy in Live Free or Die Hard. So, sorry again LFoDH. Up until last night, I really thought it was gonna be your year.

The Pit and the Pendulum

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I tivoed this one back in October when TCM was showing a bunch of old horror movies, and just got around to watching it. I still have a few others to catch up on as well.

As a horror movie fan, I've been working to expand my knowledge of older genre entries. This here is a Vincent Price movie from the early 60's loosely based on the Poe story.

I saw a few Vincent Price movies when I was a kid, and I always liked Price, but never liked the movies. He is a pretty hammy actor, I suppose, but in a really good, really entertaining way. He's corny, but he's got a lot of presence, you know? I am making an effort to see some more of his films.

I'm happy to report that The Pit and the Pendulum is the first Vincent Price movie that I liked. The rest of the cast besides Price suck, and it's a little too talky, but it's entertaining. It's colorful and visually over-the-top, has a pretty good story, and some really good scenes. The last 10 minutes-ish, when we finally get to the titular pit and pendulum, are pretty awesome.

Next up, I think I will give Price's Theatre of Blood a chance. He plays a Shakespearian actor who kills off the critics that don't like his work. That sounds pretty awesome.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ok, time for some catch up.

On Wednesday I watched Bugsy, a sort of mini-epic about about mobster Benny Siegel (don't call him Bugsy, he hates that). Long story short, it's pretty good.

This is definitely the best Barry Levinson film I've ever seen, and I like how he really goes overboard with the 1940's atmosphere. I think it was nominated for costume and set design Oscars, and they may not be the best ever, but they are some of the most noticeable. They try to cram so much detail into the design of every scene, and it's a nice hyper mix of period detail and old-fashioned gangster movie glamor. The visual style is also way over the top, in a good way, with all sorts of needless montages and silhouette shots and heavy rainy scenes to make it feel like some sort of coked-up, colorized update of a 1940s movie.

And Warren Beatty is great in this. He's got a natural charm, so you can understand why people would be drawn to Siegel, and he is so enthusiastic and ingratiating, and he has a lot of great rapid fire dialogue. But then, he always has this violence boiling right under his exterior charisma, and you know sometimes with just a quick look in his eyes that he could explode at any minute. He doesn't kill a whole lot of people during the movie, but there is a lot of tension running through many of scenes because you're always aware of his potential for violence.

So by the hour mark in this film, I thought maybe I was dealing with a gangster movie classic, but it wasn't to be. It stays entertaining throughout the 2 1/2 hour running time, but I think it treats the material too seriously in the later half. If it had just stayed an energetic, stylized throwback the whole way through, I think I would have liked it better. I could have done without the way the movie tries to make us, I guess, care for Siegel and his dreams, and his girlfriend and blah blah. I mean, the guy is an evil creep and murderer, I don't sympathize with him. I will gleefully revel in his debauchery and crime, and "like" him in that sense, but I won't actually care for him. But then, you know, something dramatic happens, and some very dramatic music cues up dramatically on the soundtrack, and I think the movie is telling me that his downfall is sad. It's not.

Ok, so, not an all time classic, but still really entertaining and lovingly made, with great dialogue and a great lead performance. See it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Wait Until Dark

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

This week is shaping up as a good one, with a 2nd great movie I can blog about. Sweet.

Wait Until Dark is a film, as a fan of the horror cinema, I've been meaning to see for a long, long time. It's a 60's horror/suspense dealie, based on a stage play. It's about three criminals who believe that heroin is stashed in an apartment, unbeknownst to the inhabitants. The twist is, the inhabitant is a blind woman(played by Audrey Hepburn), so they concoct an elaborate con to get themselves in the apartment to look around without raising her suspicions about their motives.
Of course, Hepburn is more observant than they realize, and as she slowly starts to piece things together, the criminals' actions become more sinister.

This movie starts out more like a crime movie, and only slowly becomes a horror film as it moves along. And it's got to be one of the best shifts in tone I've ever seen in a movie, really ratcheting up the tension more and more until a truly fucking awesome last 15 minutes or so.

Hepburn seems like a weird choice for such dark material, but it turns out to be a brilliant idea. Her charm and lovableness, and the character's vulnerability seem out of place in a horror movie, but it makes us care about her more, and hence fear for her more as shit starts to hit the fan.

The blindness angle is an old standard in horror movies, and has been exploited a million times before and since. (See every Italian horror movie ever). Wait Until Dark may use it better than any other movie I've ever seen. First, it works as a gimmick to show how an otherwise intelligent woman can be manipulated. Later, to build suspense when she has no idea what the hell is going on around her.

And at the end, she breaks all the lights in her apartment, and holy shit, now the playing field is level. This last chunk of the movie is the best, when she faces off against Alan Arkin in the pitch black apartment. There is a great back and forth, as he tries to find light sources, and she tries to use sound to find him. I don't want to go into too much detail, but there is one great set piece after another, as they try to one-up each other.

Alan Arkin makes for a great villain. He is a little weird and goofy, wears these stupid beatnik glasses, and tries to project incompetence. But we realize that his oddness and incompetence is maybe a put-on to get everyone to drop their guards. You get the sense that he's a lot more dangerous than he wants you to realized. Still, I was surprised at how small his role is. His scenes are mainly confined to the first and last 15 minutes. When he shows up in the middle, it's brief and he's often in disguise. Much more prominent is Richard Crenna, as one of the other con men, but he gets billed after Arkin in the credits. I think that's probably because his role, while larger, is less memorable.

Let's wrap this up: Wait Until Dark is a bonafide classic, a must-see for any fan of thrillers and horror films. Might have to pick me up a copy one day.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

This would be the Michael Bay Transformers, not the 80's cartoon movie.

I'm not sure if this means that I have bad taste, but I enjoy Michael Bay. The Rock and Bad Boys II are two of the best fucking action movies ever made, plain and simple. Transformers is not close to their level, but I do enjoy it. I liked it back when I saw it in theaters, and maybe I liked it slightly more this time. Dunno.

Michael Bay is both the best and worst thing that happened to this movie. His action kicks ass, the movie looks fucking great, he knows how to make a goofy movie but keep a straight face doing it, and he knows how to make special effects fun. (I am not usually one to praise big special effects in movies, especially CG. The best special effects in the world don't mean dick if they aren't used to create a good film. But I have to say it, the effects in Transformers are actually fun to watch all by themselves, and would be fun even if the rest of the movie sucked). Better yet, and maybe something I wasn't expecting from Bay, is how fun all the scenes with Shia LaBeouf are. He captures a lot of the wonder, and excitement, and humor of being a teenager with a robot car. It's not a realistic portrait of teenage life, but it's a great fantasy. I'm assuming some of the credit is due to Spielberg's influence, and a lot to LaBeouf himself, but still. Kudos.

But then there's all the stock Michael Bay stuff that keeps Transformers from being a great action movie. Namely, all the shit involving the military or the government or scientists. I don't know why Bay loves guys in suits sitting in control rooms barking orders, but boy does he ever. He loves people spewing a lot of meaningless technical jargon, and bureaucrats getting into pissing competitions, and computer nerds trying to say shit that sounds smart, and army guys blowing shit up.

I think maybe Bay put all this crap in the movie to make it seem more plausible. Like, he really wants to imagine how the government or military would react to robots from space. And I guess maybe he thinks that makes it seem more epic, and makes the stakes seem greater, I'm not sure. But it really sucks ass. Bay has this great, goofy story about giant fucking robots that turn into cars and fight, and he has a charismatic teenage kid that we can identify with along for the ride. Oh, and in case that's not enough, we have a hot girl to look at. That is enough awesomeness to sustain a feature film. Every time Jon Voigt shows up to bark orders at computer nerds, or some government agent drops the phrase "non-biological extraterrestrial" to I guess make the silly as story sound more believable, the movie is fucking boring.

I do have one other complaint, and it's about the All Spark. It's the coolest idea in the movie, and they completely under use it. We get to see it turn a cell phone, an XBox, an SUV and a Mountain Dew machine into killer robots, and holy shit that fucking rocks. But that's all we get to see. It's maybe about 1 minute worth of the film. I don't know about you, but I could watch a 90 minute film about innocuous electronic devices turning into missile shooting robots. The tiny cellphone robot shooting tiny missiles is the best part of the whole fucking movie. If they do part 2, I want more All Spark.

Okay, that's enough of this. Bottom line: the good stuff outweighs the bad. Transformers is good fun.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Lives of Others

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ok, here we go. Finally. The first "new" movie I've watched since starting this blog that I would actually classify as great. I was going to congratulate myself for finally picking a great one off of Netflix, until I remembered that my dad actually got this. Damn.

So, I tried to write about this last night, but I was out of it or something, and all that came out was a bunch of nonsense. It was basically a long, yet vague, synopsis.

That's not what I started this blog for. Fuck synopsizing. I'm not writing professional reviews. I'm here to document all the movies I watch, and comment on them if I feel like it. What matters is that I understand these entries.

Moving on. The Lives of Others is definitely worth commenting on. I think a major part of it's appeal comes from the main character. I'm fascinated by cold, emotionally withdrawn or seemingly empty characters, and I'm a sucker for movies about loneliness. Wiesler, the main character of The Lives of Others, doesn't betray much emotion, and what little life he has seems pathetic. He has no friends, and when he asks a hooker to stay with him a few extra minutes to just hang out, she says she has to leave to meet another appointment.

It's 1984 in East Germany, and Wiesler is part of the secret police. The movie deals with his spying on a German author named Dreyman. By listening in and spying on the author's every private moment, Wiesler slowly begin to care about Dreyman, and to question his own actions and the actions of his government.

There is, obviously, a heavy political element to this movie, but I was a lot more interested in the emotional side of the tale. The actor playing Wiesler does a great job of conveying a lot of information about his character without using much emotion or dialogue. Wiesler is a limited man in terms of his feelings, but the performance suggests a great depth of loneliness and emptiness.

The film is captivating throughout, moving back and forth between character study and thriller, but I was surprised at how touching the ending was. The movie is low key and reserved, even as the thriller elements of the story build. Certain plot points, that could be melodramatic in another movie, are curiously muted, as we witness them from Wiesler's perspective. What's crucial is the way the movie lets us understand this sad, lonely man. The final scene simply involves a written message being received by Wiesler, but our knowing of what the message means, and what it means to Wiesler, is incredibly moving. The movie never pushes for big drama or forces any emotion, yet achieves great emotional power on it's own subtle way.

I think this will make the list of the all time great movies about lonely or empty characters, right up there with Le Samourai and Brokeback Mountain. Unlike the others, The Lives of Others leaves us with some hope, maybe a final sense of connection in the end. Yup, a great movie.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Knocked Up

Sunday, December 9, 2007

I decided to follow up Anchorman with Knocked Up to prolong my happiness until I went to sleep. Then, I realized I had watched Knocked Up pretty recently, and opted to view the commentary track. I've decided to include commentaries on the blog as part of the official count.

It's a funny commentary, but not the most informative. I was most interested to find out that about 50% of the movie comes right out of Judd Apatow's real life. It was also interesting to see just how much they were winging during shooting. Even though this feels a lot more tightly structured than Anchorman, they apparently were making just as much shit up as they went along. Most shocking to me was that they couldn't decide whether to make the kid a boy or a girl, so they shot alternate takes of every reference to the child's sex. You'd think that would be something they'd determine during the writing phase!

My point is, kudos to Judd Apatow for knowing how to reign in all this material and make a good movie out of it. The pacing of Knocked Up is perfect, and you'd never guess how loose the shooting style was. The more I think of it, the more I think one of these movies deserves some sort of award for the editing. More than 99% of other movies, these films really take shape during the editing process.

I like Knocked Up a lot, and it has held up to repeat viewings, but I'm still a much bigger fan of The 40 Year Old Virgin and Superbad. In think my main problem may be the cast of KU, which is a great one, but lacks a diversity of style. Too much of the movie is about Seth Rogan's character and his friends, and they are all pretty much interchangeable. Virgin and Superbad I think do a better job of fleshing out an interesting supporting characters and subplots.

Also, I think KU isn't as insightful as the other two movies are. Apatow does have a lot of insight into marriage and raising a family, but I don't know that he digs deep enough with Rogen and Katherine Heigl's relationship. Superbad and Virgin both have surprisingly touching payoffs, but I couldn't really care if Rogen and Heigl stayed together or not. The movie just relies on childbirth being touching. Which is more default than it is an earned emotional release.

Still, don't get me wrong, some very funny shit. Just falls a little short of the greatness of the other Apatow/Rogen collaborations.


Sunday, December 9, 2007

I just wanted something fun to cheer me up, and Anchorman is a perfect movie for that. It's just a bunch of good-natured silliness, guaranteed to make you laugh.

I'm always impressed, while watching it, that it didn't turn out to be a complete train wreck. The way they filmed it, seeming to make so much of it up as they went along, sounds like a recipe for disaster. And if you've ever seen Wake Up, Ron Burgundy, then you know the entire last act of the film was originally completely different.

You'd think the disorganized method of planning, coupled with the out-of-left-field style of humor would make for a big mess, but I guess Adam McKay and Will Ferrell know what they're doing. Funny motherfuckers.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Isle

Sunday, December 9, 2007

I watched a bizarre movie with Shenan and my dad a few weeks back called Time. It's Korean, so right there you know it's probably not going to be a very mellow or restrained film. The plot concerns an obsessive young woman who becomes convinced her boyfriend no longer loves her. So she decides to disappear from his life, get complete facial-reconstructive surgery, and then re-enter his life 6 months later and pretend to be another woman.

As I alluded to before, I've noticed that the Koreans seem to like really melodramatic, extreme behavior in their movies. No one ever seems to act like a real person, but in the best of their movies, there is usually an internal logic where it all makes sense in context of the exaggerated, heightened, fictional world the characters inhabit. It's not at all like real life, but maybe does hit at some essential human truths. Like Oldboy.

Time, I thought, I was a pretty good example of this. The characters were compelling and sympathetic in their own, whacked-out unrealistic way. And the story was so fucking bizarre that you couldn't help but love it. I think I knew the movie was something special when the main character puts on a cardboard mask of her old face in an attempt to convince her boyfriend that she had returned. You don't see that every day.

The Isle is an earlier film by the same director, also dealing with obsessive love, but this time throwing in more extreme sadomasochism. It is about a mute woman who becomes obsessed with a suicidal man who lives in a tiny house on a little floating barge thingy and...

...Ok. You might have noticed that I talked a lot about Time before even mentioning The Isle. That's because I liked it a lot more. The Isle had some effective imagery, but didn't have much of an entry point to relate to any of the (underdeveloped) characters. And, as it goes along, I think it relied too heavily on trying to shock the audience with big, gross-out moments.

Time definitely got fucking weird, but it kept throwing in little human moments to make us care about what was going on. Like one part where the heartbroken boyfriend gets drunk with friends and does some really, really bad karaoke. Funny and relatable. The Isle mostly consists of long, silent scenes of the two main characters staring at each other in "meaningful" ways, while tension boils under the surface. Later, they jam fish hooks into places they really shouldn't go. At the end, like Time, the movie ends on a surreal, poetic note that makes no sense whatsoever. In a good way.

The cinematography and whatnot seemed nice (although the DVD I had was not the best quality), and they do a lot of the obvious shots of reflective water and sunsets and all that. But I'm not sure it really has anything to do with the rest of the movie.

I still might check out another film by this director, but The Isle did not live up to the promise of Time. Not poetic or insightful enough to illicit an emotional reaction, and not weird enough to be enjoyed for weirdnesses sake. More of a mild curiosity.

Home Alone

Saturday, December 8, 2007

I'm not sure how it came up, but Shenan and I decided that we wanted to watch Home Alone on Saturday night. Maybe because it's getting to be Christmas time, I don't know.

I liked Home Alone as a kid, but it was never a favorite of mine. Yet I somehow managed to see the fucking thing so many times that I pretty much have the script memorized. I couldn't even help myself last night, talking in unison with the characters.

"Fuller, go easy on the Pepsi"

"I'm gonna give you 'til the count of 10 to get yer ugly, yella, no-good keyster off my property before I pump yer guts fulla lead. One. Two. Ten!"

And so on.

What struck me as interesting last night is how Home Alone bends over backwards to believably explain how the family could leave Kevin behind. It seems to me that the central premise of a kid being left alone to rule over his house without parents is perfectly designed to appeal to the children in the audience. Yet the movie spends so much time trying to make the premise believable to parents, showing every step along that way the leads to Kevin being left alone.

I guess they were worried about the parents in the audience calling the movie's credibility into question?

The Darjeeling Limited

Saturday, December 8, 2007

I keep meaning to go see Beowulf in 3-D over in Georgetown, but no one ever wants to go with me. I kind of had my girlfriend agreeing to see it on Saturday, but we got caught up helping with the Christmas decorations and before you knew it, it was too late to go.

I scanned the paper for another movie, and was a little surprised to see that The Darjeeling Limited was still playing up the street. It came out a while ago, and wasn't exactly a blockbuster hit.

I had not bothered to see it, mainly because of how much I didn't like The Life Aquatic. Wes Anderson has a distinct and amusing style, but to a fault. As much as I loved Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, it was becoming clear that he was just making the same movie over and over again. The Life Aquatic seemed almost like a parody of his style, with the goofy characters and story even more over-exaggerated than usual, and then randomly having a character die in the middle of all the goofiness to let you know that it's, like, serious, man. Oh and then a guy sings David Bowie songs in French for no fucking reason. OMG it's sooooo quirky!

It was so disappointing that I actually went back and saw it again, figuring that there must have been something wrong with me and not the movie. The 2nd viewing just confirmed my initial reaction.

Any shit, this was all just a long preamble to get to the part where I am happy to say that I liked The Darjeeling Limited. It's not one of Anderson's best, and it is basically the same movie he's already made 4 other times, but it's a satisfying experience. Maybe it's just a cover song, but it's a good rendition.

Like Aquatic, this one is more colorful and energetic than his earlier movies, but here he keeps the zaniness modulated to a perfect, non-distracting level. And unlike Aquatic, most of the humor actually seems to derive from the personalities of the characters instead of just being a bunch of arbitrary lunacy. Darjeeling stays mainly focused on its three leads, and knows that it can rely on their interactions to create most of the entertainment and drama.

Before, I complained about the way that Aquatic randomly killed off a character just so there would be some drama. For a minute, it seems like something similar is happening in Darjeeling and I was growing disappointed in how the movie seemed to be creating false drama and expecting me to be moved. Then, however, the movie flashes back a year earlier to the funeral of the main characters' father, and you realize how this is stirring up all sorts of confused emotions and memories with the characters. And then it really does become a little moving.

Hopefully, this means that Anderson has regained his footing. At the very least, Darjeeling is a step in the right direction. Unlike this time, I will actually be looking forward to his next movie.

Army of Shadows

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Continuing with my exploration of the films of Jean-Pierre Melville is Army of Shadows, which deals with the French resistance during WWII. Melville apparently fought for the resistance during the war, so it's likely that this was a very personal project for him. I heard this one was a lot darker and more serious than Le Samourai or Le Cercle Rouge, and I was pretty much ready for this one to be his definitive masterpiece.

When I started this blog I was really hoping to find some truly amazing movies I had never seen before to write about. So far, my luck hasn't been great, and I haven't seen anything that succeeds past "really, really good." And Army of Shadows is, sadly, no exception. It is a film with many moments of greatness, with scenes that really stick with you, but also a lot of stuff that drags on and doesn't really compel.

Maybe the problem is with me, I don't know. I really wanted to love this one... and I did, at times. But I also felt bored and restless during other areas. One day, I should give it another shot.

Melville seems to have really conflicted feelings about his material, but in the best possible way. He fought for the resistance, but obviously finds himself saddened and disturbed at what they had to do in order to fight. He makes the violence very sad, and ugly, and none of his heroes seem very heroic. The best scenes are the ones that examine the way people can do cold, inhuman things to further a cause they believe in. Maybe it's the "right" thing to do in the larger sense, but brutal and soul-crushing on a personal level.

The best and most heartbreaking sequence of the movie is when some of the main characters are captured by the Nazis. The Nazis line a bunch of them up in a large hallway, with a manned machine gun on the one end. The prisoners are told to run to the other end of the hallway. Anyone who can make it to the end of the hallway without being shot will be spared until the next execution.

The main character tells us, in a voice-over, that he won't run. He refuses to let them steal his dignity and play their game. The bullets start flying, and at first he holds his ground. But before he even knows what he's doing, he's scrambling down the hallway with the other prisoners. He can't help it.

Nobody wants to die, and everyone can be broken. He gives up his dignity to try to save his life, and we'd all do the same. This scene, and a few other moments like it, really penetrate you while you watch.

Again, maybe it was just something wrong with me, but other parts of the movie were problematic and kept me from really being blown away by Army of Shadows. Too many characters involved in too many stories that sometimes seem to drag, or not build up to anything. Too many scenes with characters trading redundant dialogue that doesn't seem flesh out the characters or the story. Too many digressions and detours that I couldn't understand.

This warrants another viewing, some day. It's worth seeing, absolutely, and is a damn good movie if not a great one. Perhaps my expectations were too high, or maybe I was expecting something different.

But, hey, they actually translated the title to English this time. Good job.

Thursday, December 6, 2007


Wednesday, December 5


I had a little trouble with what to make of this film, but I think I might have liked it. It's a thriller about a cop, played by Al Pacino, who goes undercover to a bunch of gay, leather, S&M bars to catch a serial killer who is picking off gay men. It was directed by William Friedkin, who did the undisputed classic The Exorcist amongst other things, and whom I've been slowly seeing more films by. I'm curious to see a bunch of his stuff because he's essentially a genre-film director, yet seems to have a more respected artistic reputation than these guys usually get. I think his results are mixed, but he's clearly talented, and I'm hoping to find another gem or two. In fact, Bug gets a pretty high recommendation from me to you.

OK, this is a great story set-up. We have this straight cop trying to fit in with an extreme subculture within the gay community, and you figure that he will be bothered in some way by this, or his sexuality will come into question, he'll find new things out about himself, etc. Lots of potential for drama.

Except, weirdly enough, it doesn't explore any of those ideas at all. In fact, Pacino plays a lot of his scenes low key and ambiguous. He goes from leather bar to leather bar, witnessing all sorts of lurid sexual practices and possibly engaging in some himself, but the movie is vague on how he feels about it. Disgusted? Turned on? Indifferent? Dunno. He tells his girlfriend at one point that it's wearing on him, but never says how.

The movie, instead, seems content to watch him try to adapt to his surroundings, learn the culture, etc. And, it's actually kind of entertaining, in a police procedural sort of way, watching him do this for a while.

I'm somewhat surprised Pacino was even in this. He doesn't show up until a good 15 minutes into the film, and then occasionally disappears for short stretches. Then, as I've implied, they don't actually build much of a character. We don't learn anything of his past, and not much about his personal life or anything along those lines. So, I thought, maybe he just did it for the money and was only on set for 2 weeks. Except that he's involved in some pretty strange, graphic and extreme scenes, so you have to imagine he felt enthusiastic about the movie in order to agree to be in it. It's a role that could have damaged his image, so it seems unlikely that he did it just for a paycheck.

After a little Internet browsing, I found out that this movie was protested by the gay community, as they perceived that the film made them look like a bunch of degenerates, and perhaps encouraged violence against them. They may have a point, but it's hard to tell. On the one hand, I think the movie tries to present a few positive gay characters, and has Pacino's character express anger that someone would kill the victims just because of their sexuality. On the other hand, the movie does show a lot of sleazy, gay themed stuff, always in dank locations, which gives it all a weird, creepy vibe.

And, man, does this movie wallow in the sex. We get all sorts of gay club orgies, blow jobs and buttfucking, and even some fisting thrown in. I suspect this is done to be shocking, but at the same time, is the audience watching this movie going to be shocked? We know what we're getting into when we watch it, the sort of people who would be bothered by this movie probably know better than to watch it. Speaking personally, this kind of stuff doesn't offend or bother me. So all the long sequences of sadomasochistic homoeroticism get a little boring after a while.

And for whatever reason, Friedkin always makes the clubs dank, ominous, and joyless. I mean, I get that the movie is a thriller and it shouldn't be light hearted, but this approach strikes me as false. Let's say you were doing drugs, dancing to music you loved in a bar full of people that wanted to fuck each other. That'd be fun, right? You'd be having a great time. It wouldn't be all eerie and sinister. So, I can see why the gay community might not like the way this film depicts them.

There is one scene where Pacino is dancing while high and gets really into it, but even then everyone has a really determined look on their face. Too busy concentrating on dancing to enjoy themselves, I guess.

Right, so this post has been mostly complaints so far, but let me explain what started to fascinate me about Cruising. About the time in the movie when we're getting frustrated by it's unwillingness to explain Pacino's sexuality, it throws in some really weird and interesting scenes and ideas. It starts messing with our perception of cops and homosexuals, blending or confusing the two groups and their imagery. Normal movies often present the dichotomy of straight vs. gay; the dichotomy in effect in Cruising is cop vs. gay.

Early in the movie, two cops berate a couple of trannies, but then force them to perform sex acts. And none of the other cops will believe the trannies when they try to report the incident. Later, as Pacino dives deeper into the club scene, he goes to a strange, almost dreamlike cop-themed gay bar. There are kinky uses of handcuffs, guys sucking nightsticks, etc. Everyone is play acting as cops and fucking each other. Then, the bouncers sense him as an impostor and kick him out for not being dressed as a cop. Even though he really is a cop.

Even better, and more bizarre, is a scene where the police are interrogating a possible suspect. Pacino is in the room, and the police are pretending to interrogate him as well, so as to not blow his cover. Then, out of nowhere, a large, muscular black man wearing only a cowboy hat and a jock strap comes into the room and punches Pacino in the face.

WHAT WHAT WHAT?! Do the police typically employ naked gay men to beat up on suspects? Why not just have a regular cop beat him up? What the fuck is going on?

Alright, so weird shit like that is sprinkled in the movie, making it fascinating and borderline surreal. But let's get to my favorite part: the last 15 or 20 minutes.

From what I gathered, the main complaint about Crusing is the stuff I mentioned before about it's seeming unwillingness to deal with the sexual issues raised. Only, the last act of this movie suggests that something altogether different is going on that we weren't thinking of.

Well, it starts earlier. We are shown scenes of the killer doing his dirty work at the beginning of the film, and we briefly see his face a few times. Then, when Pacino is on the case later, the killer is only shown in shadows. I wondered: Why are they hiding his face now, after we saw it? At a later point in the film, a gay man is killed in the park by a man with a biker hat and lather jacket. In the next scene, Pacino is wearing the same outfit. Hmm.

Near the end of the movie, Pacino finds the man who clearly killed the initial victims. He lures him out to the woods with the promise of sex. They are dressed identically. The killer sits on the top of a bench. Pacino does the same. The killer takes out a cigarette. Pacino does the same. He does everything the killer does. Then, the two seem about to make with the loving, when Pacino punches the killer, then pulls out the same knife the killer was shown using earlier and stabs him. Unprompted. And then tells his boss that he was attacked. At the end, Pacino's gay neighbor is mysteriously killed.

Okay, so I looked around online and didn't find a lot of reviewers mentioning this, but here's what I think is going on. The movie never comes out and tells you, but Pacino is also preying on gay men, carving them up with a knife. He's the killer in the shadows. That was his reaction to his assignment, he's going around taking out his pent up aggression or homophobia or sexual desires on the gay men.

But like I said, the movie never states this explicitly. If the idea hadn't popped into my head when I noticed Pacino and the killer had the same clothes, then the thought would never have occurred to me. The ending is so weird, open, and inconclusive that it blew my mind a little.

So, Cruising has a lot of problems, but is fascinating enough that I think it warrants a look by anyone that likes this sort of thing. It is a bizarre, unique and mysterious entry into the serial killer genre. The premise of this movie deserves a remake, where it actual explores all those sexual issues I mentioned before. But as it stands, the final product of Cruising is a one of a kind movie. I still can't even decide if it's a good movie or not, but damn am I glad I saw it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

28 Weeks Later

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

I'm going to hold off on doing a longer post on this one. I was reflecting on the horror films of 2007, and noticed that we had a lot of really fucking good ones this year. So I was going to do a longer piece or two about the horror films I liked this year.

I will say that 28 Weeks Later is the sequel to a personal favorite horror film of mine, one that is probably my 3rd fave zombie film of all time. Weeks isn't quite that good, but it was still first rate in a lot of regards. So if you haven't seen this one, and you like these kinds of movies, you need to get on it.

More to follow when I get to the larger article.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Last Seduction

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

You might remember a few posts back when I mentioned that I expected The Taking of Pelham One Two Three to be a gritty crime drama, and it turned out to be more of a fun, comedic cops and robbers type of flick. Well, I need to start doing my research better, because something similar happened with The Last Seduction.

I had heard this movie mentioned as a neo-noir with frank sexuality and a great Linda Fiorentino performance. For whatever reason, in my mind this movie was going to be some darker, heavier drama, maybe even a little bit tragic. I end up being pretty thrown off during the first few minutes when it turns out to be a quick-witted, quirky dark-comedy that's even a little goofy at times.

This movie have a number of classic noir-ish elements, but the cool twist is that this time the femme fatale is the lead character. It's a great character too; maybe the most heartless bitch in film history. Manipulative, greedy, vengeful and oh-so acid tongued. Linda Fiorentino is a lot of fun too watch.

I enjoyed this one, but not as much as I had hoped. One reason is the inconsistency in tone. A lot of the movie plays as very dark but relatively restrained comedy. But then, Bill Pullman keeps showing up in a really bizarre, really over-the-top performance. He does a good job, but it feels like it's from another movie. And then other really broad moments start popping up, and it's like the movie can't decide which style is more fun.

I would also say the movie is maybe a little too long or slow in parts, and it drains on the fun a bit. There is a lot of snappy dialogue, but sometimes the movie drags on too long without much seeming to happen. In retrospect, I can see that some of these scenes are important plot points (in true noir fashion, the plot is absurdly dense), but they can have done more to keep the energy up and make these scenes fun.

I've yet to see a movie by director John Dahl that I didn't at least somewhat enjoy, with Joy Ride being a personal favorite of mine. The Last Seduction, however, doesn't build up nearly as much suspense or interest as that film does. This one is a lot more like his Red Rock West, with a little Double Indemnity or Body Heat thrown in. Fun, but I wanted to like it more than I did.

UPDATE 12/6/07
I forgot to mention this in my original thoughts, but I always thought Dahl had a cool visual style in his other films. However, I couldn't really appreciate it as much here, because Netflix only had a full screen version. Arg!

Sweet Land

Monday, December 3, 2007

Sweet Land is a low key, feel-good, predictable comedy drama of modest charms. It apparently won an Independent Spirit Award, but it's such a straightforward crowd-pleaser that I don't think I can give it much street cred. It's the kind of movie your mother will really like. Maybe even your grandmother.

It tells the story of a German woman who travels to post-WWI America to marry a farmer she has never met. The community is xenophobic and causes complications for her. Meanwhile, after an awkward introduction, she and the farmer start to fall in love.

This is all played rather laid-back as opposed to melodramatic, which I appreciated. It's story has such a predictable arc that you can pretty much map out the rest of the movie step by step after the first 20 minutes or so. No points for guessing that the woman and the farmer slowly fall in love after initial hesitancy, or that the community slowly embraces them. What makes the movie somewhat enjoyable is the way it is told with easy going warmth and humor.

Alan Cumming plays a goofy neighbor, and no it's no surprise that he steals every scene he's in. The rest of the cast is, again, modestly charming and watchable. It's not exactly a compelling or exciting movie, but it's pretty hard to dislike it.

The worst thing about it is the weirdly convoluted wraparound story. The story is, I think, told in flashback by either the main character's son or grandson (I can't remember which), remembering his father or grandfathers funeral where the main character told the story of or flashed-back to the story I described above. Since the part in the 20s or 30s is the only interesting part, I don't know why they framed it with this twice removed story.

So, for one of these kind of movies, it's a somewhat entertaining but not particularly great example. I wish they could have put that quote on the DVD case.