Avatar (12.27.09): So after waiting a more than a week to see James Cameron's latest budget-busting movie spectacular and still ending up with a sold-out showing, we walked out with the feeling we usually get with James Cameron movies: Not so good with characters, a simple and familiar story line, amazing visuals and technology.
What stuck in my mind the most was the familiarity of the characters. The copter pilot who flies our heros into the aliens' territory? A lot like Private Vasquez from Aliens, no? And Giovanni Ribissi's Parker Selvridge character was certainly a lot like Paul Reiser's Carter Burke in Aliens, yes? The walking mecha that are used for heavy lifting and occasional combat ... also remind you of something in Aliens? The flying attack ships used by the company are reminiscent of the machines' flying attack craft in Terminator 2. And so on.
Sigourney Weaver's a great actor, but you wouldn't guess it from this movie. Cameron's a great filmmaker (especially see The Abyss, his best, IMHO), and it might take you a while to wade through all of the 3-D visual effects here to realize that you wouldn't guess it, either, from this movie.
Galactica (10.23.06): By now, the word is out about
this reimagining of the 1978-79 space opera series:
It's fantastic, adult, high drama, addictive. I ignored it during
its first season because I had been turned off by the Sci Fi
Channel pilot movie. But I caught up on those first episodes
during the second season and have been evangelizing for this
incredible TV series ever since.
television. Yes, it's set on a spaceship; yes, they have dogfights
in space; yes, they say made-up words like frack. But
it's a science fiction series that non-SF fans can appreciate,
and they are doing so in droves. Do yourself a favor and watch
a couple episodes and, once you pick up the storyline, see if
you're not hooked.
is indeed complicated. As in the short-lived original series,
it concerns the 12 colonies of humans on a far-away star system
that is attacked and destroyed by their long-time enemies, the
Cylons. They flee with a small fleet of survivors, looking for
the 13th tribe of mankind, which reportedly colonized a planet
where the similarities end. There are many of the same characters,
but their personalities, genders, and some of their roles have
changed dramatically. There are a lot of standout cast members,
from Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos (if only our political
and military leaders were that good!) to Jamie Bamber
and Katee Sackhoff and don't forget Grace Park
and on and on. Again, this is adult television drama; people
die, they make love, they fight, they swear, they have breakdowns,
and occasionally they do stuff that makes you grin from ear
to ear and say to yourself, Why can't all television be this
It's that good.
The Blind Side (12.03.09): I liked it, the critics hated it, and families loved it. I'm right.
Diamond (12.25.06): Leonardo DiCaprio continues to show
us he's not just a pretty face (and body) to look at. As he's
grown, he's also become a damn fine actor. In Blood Diamond,
he plays a smuggler involved in the transfer of diamonds in
Sierra Leone between vicious rebels and soulless diamond companies.
If the plot sounds straight out of a 1970s made-for-tv movie,
well, it has that aspect. Yes, you're supposed to root for some
sort of redemption for Danny Archer, DiCaprio's character. Yes,
who else sets him on the road to righteousness but a crusading
reporter (Jennifer Connelly) and a noble and pure African (Djimon
Hounsou) out to save his family. But it's okay. Hounsou and
DiCaprio sell the story very well, and they're both real enough
and strong enough in their roles that we forget about the preachiness
of the storyline and instead let their characters show us what
the story is about which is a situation that is indeed
appalling enough to stir men's hearts.
Bourne Ultimatum (08.05.07): The third Bourne movie
is more action than the other two in this series, and we still
miss German actress Franka Potente, but it's still a well-done
thriller that ... wait, I don't know if we can call it a thriller
when we know the hero is always going to survive every
attack. But unlike the James Bond films, which we're not supposed
to even measure on the realism scale, the Bourne films have
the pretence of some sort of reality, even though it is a bit
of science-fictiony brainwashing to create super-spy killing
complain, complain, right? Okay, I'll stop, because I do enjoy
the Bourne films quite a bit, and star Matt Damon is
always fun to watch. Probably the nicest thing about these films
is that they mostly take place in other countries, and instead
of being the fairy-tale version of Germany, Russia, etc., that
you'd see in a Bond flick, they have the look and feel of taking
part in a real Germany, Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain,
etc. (I know that street! We were there on our vacation
has a super spy killing lots of people while protecting the
innocent and avenging a terrible wrong. Now where else will
you see that in a movie?
(07.08.07): You just can't anthropomorphize cars for me.
Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (10.23.06):
Having never read the books, I was, forgive the phrase, one
of the unanointed. The religious terminology is apt because
religious conservatives have latched onto this flick as representative
of the invasion of Hollywood by the Religious Right.
if the Religious Right could make more movies like this and
produce less crap like the Left Behind series, I'd sign
up right now. I'm Methodist and all; that's got to count for
is that this is not a Religious Right film. But it does resonate
with the honest religious conviction of CS Lewis, whose source
material was the, er, source material for this movie, the first
of a welcome series. But anyone who's not religious who has
a problem with this movie and there have been some
because there's shades of someone's faith in it is showing the
same intolerance (and, frankly, lack of intelligence) of which
the nonreligious often accuse the religious. I say, just shut
up and watch the movie.
recap the plot because it's highly probable that, unlike me,
you have read the books. I just thought it was done well.
It is an intelligent film for young people that doesn't insult
and does tell a good story. And after the ending where an usher
comes out and anoints all the moviegoers with holy oil? Just
go with it, okay?
Curse of the Golden Flowers (12.25.06): Director Yimou Zhang
who also brought us such Chinese epics as Hero,
House of Flying Daggers, the incredible To Live,
the super-incredible (I'm running out of words) Shanghai
Triad, and many more brings us the story of nasty
secrets that are about to tear apart the emperor's family. Set
in a surprisingly colorful Forbidden City, this film guides
us through a very personal and ultimately very bloody confrontation
between Emperor Ping (Yun-Fat Chow) and his second wife, Empress
Phoenix (Li Gong). The era: Late Tang Dynasty, 10th century.
has been having an affair with the crown prince (who is the
son of the emperor's first wife, about whom we learn more later
in the film). That same crown prince has been having an affair
with the daughter of the chief physician (about whom we learn
more later in the film). The film begins with the return of
the emperor's second son, Prince Jie (played by the great pop/R&B
singer Jay Chou), from the provinces, where he's been getting
some real-world experience. The emperor plans to make him the
crown prince, but if you think that would be the main conflict
in this film, you're wrong. The existing crown prince gives
up his claim to the throne very easily. Instead, it's all this
sleepin' around and knife-throwing and various other killing
methods that cause a problem in the multi-icolored palace.
And I didn't
even mention the youngest son, who seems very pleasant and almost
innocent but is also determined not to be left out of the blood-letting.
once again delivers a very colorful and visually striking film.
The battle scenes in the Forbidden City courtyard are amazing
to watch. But they are not what makes this film interesting.
No, the quiet moments of interacting between the various actors
is what's worth watching. There are some great actors in this
film, and they almost always prove to be more interesting than
the multi-colored palace walls and the staggering battle sequences.
at a Funeral (09.09.07): It is usually a great setup for
laughter when you have awkward and inappropriate things happen
at a solemn occcasion. It might be a student acting up during
a school play. It might be a news anchor flubbing lines during
a serious newscast. It might be someone breaking up at a funeral
(remember Mary Tyler Moore and "Chuckles Bites the Dust"?).
should have been the perfect setting for slow-building lunacy.
The funeral of a patriarch brings together a family, with various
secrets and unexpected developments coming into play. Should
have been perfect, but it's a mess. Most of the characters
are simply too uninteresting to be truly funny or screwups,
so much so that the only way they could get one character to
be a distracting cut-up is to have him take some strange drugs.
(Hint to writers: If it's a drug that is causing the weird behaviour,
it really isn't that funny because we all know why it's happening
and there's no opportunity for triple or quadruple meanings
in what the person says or does. It's just silliness for the
sake of having someone act up.) But if that doesn't bother you,
perhaps the bathroom humor (and it's very literal -- you'd best
go to the snack bar when they start to wheel the incredibly
unlikable and unfunny uncle into the bathroom) will. Or the
direction of the film, which seems to think we'll just find
it funny when unfunny people pull faces or overreact to unfunny
Departed (10.22.06): Matt Damon. Leonardo DiCaprio. Jack
Nicholson. Mark Wahlberg. Martin Sheen. Alec Baldwin. All of
them star in this excellent but bloody Americanization
of the Chinese hit Infernal Affairs movies. For detail
geeks, the Infernal Affairs movies themselves were reportedly
inspired by the films of Martin Scorsese, who directed The
me? Dont worry. Knowing all of that will do you no more
good than give you something to mention to friends at lunchtime,
and even they wont be impressed. But that shouldnt
stop your enjoyment of this film. The Departed tells
the story of undercover cops and undercover gangsters
in the police organization in Boston. People fight. People
swear. They fight a lot. And its all done masterfully,
with few glitches. Part of what has kept this movie in my head
long after seeing it is realizing how much I enjoyed seeing
all of these great actors work at such an intensity that every
scene has something in it to make you stay focused. Heres
Wahlberg busting the chops of some cops at a surveillance site.
Theres Sheen trying to save his undercover agent. Theres
DiCaprio about to die no, hes saved by [censored]
no wait hes in danger because of [censored]. And
on and one.
Devil Wears Prada (11.26.06): This film is worth seeing
just to watch Meryl Streep go to town on a juicy role. Streep
plays the editor of Runway magazine, a Vogue-like
high-fashion magazine. Her character is bad; not quite as bad
as Adolf Hitler (see Downfall review, below), but bad.
Mean. Manipulative. Power-hungry and -abusing. And along comes
li'l Anne Hathaway as her new assistant, unconscious of the
fashion laws as dictated by Streep's character. An innocent
led to slaughter.
itself is nothing terribly new or involving. Obviously the new
assistant has to try to get up to speed to satisfy her new boss,
and she must juggle her personal life with her all-consuming
job. Eventually she must make a choice, but which will she choose?
Who cares? We're not watching this for her. We're watching it
for Streep, who really delivers.
District 9 (08.29.09): From South Africa comes this science fiction film about aliens who have been resettled on earth. I first heard about this film on Starlog.com's video list, and I had mixed feelings. It looked refreshingly original ... until the end of the trailer, which made it look like one big typical Hollywood-type shoot-em-up, which is my least favorite film genre. Boring. Seen that, done that. Predictable.
But then a co-worker told me she'd seen the film and liked it a lot. Knowing that she has a low tolerance for stupidity, I figured I'd be sure to catch the film ... when it came to HBO. But then, blessed global warming, we had a warm snap of 90-degree weather in San Francisco and I had to find air conditioned bliss. The documentaries about Anna Wintour and Hugh Hefner hadn't yet opened, so I decided to settle for District 9.
I'm glad I did. Yes, it ends with a lot of shooting and explosions, but when you watch it, you'll see there's a reason fo it that keeps you riveted. It features a somewhat stupid and innocent and unsympathetic idiot who must try to dupe these aliens to leave their shanty towns so their land can be used for more commercial purposes. Behind the scenes, his employer is tring to figure out how to use the aliens' weapons technology. He gets infected with something, and, well, things get icky.
If one knows anything about South African apartheid history, this film has wonderfully telling overtones that echo that time. And of all the films I've seen lately that suggest a sequel might be possible, this is the only one I'd like to see come to fruition.
(10.22.06): This German film of the very last days of Adolf
Hitler is an excellent picture of what went on in der Führer's
bunker as the Soviets closed in on Berlin at the end of World
War II. It might seem to be oxymoronic to say a film is intense
yet calm. But that's the eerie effect of watching Hitler eat
his meals with his staff and friends or watching a mother kill
her children so they don't survive the Nazi fall.
some controversy that this film humanizes a monster, but in
my thinking, the key to trying to counter the rise of other
Hitlers is to realize he wasn't a superhuman or an otherworldly
creature but a human gone terribly wrong. Only then will we
take responsibility for the children we raise, the culture we
create, the politics we support, and the moral obligations by
which we ought to live and die.
Fountain (11.26.06): So it's not just rebel Catholics and
Armageddonist evangelicals who can make nearly incomprehensible
spiritual-based movies. In this case, it's the new film The
Fountain, which tells a story about a man and a woman with
a relationship that spans 1,000 years.
If I had
individual headlines for these reviews, this one would be "I
Think." Not because the movie made me think, but because
every sentence I write about this movie should end with "I
think." As in, The movie is about a 1,000-year relationship,
I think. Cuz frankly, I don't really know. The movie is a mix
of Eastern and Western religion (kind of a misnomer, isn't it?
I mean, Christianity came out of the East, so it's an Eastern
religion too, right?) that includes a novel (read: incorrect)
retelling of the Spanish Inquisition, possibly reincarnation
(again, I think, because it ain't clear), and a tree
that either grants eternal life or kills you with a plant sprouting
out of your stomach.
reasonably well-done movie, but largely incomprehensible. But
a friend who saw the movie with me tagged it best as a movie
equivalent of a tone poem. View it as a poem and you may enjoy
it a great deal. View it as a traditional narrative story on
film and you'll be eating the plastic covering of your theater
seat in frustration.
(12.27.06): Once upon a time, the Thais decide they want
to make a monster movie. Using the almost-latest in CGI and
the oldest in by-the-numbers plotting, they created Garuda.
The villagers came to see the movie er, they rented or
bought it, actually, because it was released here on DVD
and their shock and amazement could be heard throughout the
province. Why? Because the movie offered nothing new and could
have starred a certain Japanese nuked-lizard or flying turtle
and it'd have lost nothing in the translation. The people did
not live happily ever after, once they realized they could have
seen this story free on any Sci Fi Channel Saturday-night movie.
I had hoped
I'd get to see a Thai horror/science fiction film with Garuda,
but there's nothing here that gives you Thai point of view or
couldn't be transplanted to any number of other countries. No
crime in that, of course, but if that's the case, then what's
left to recommend about a by-the-numbers monster flick?
Grudge (10.22.06): As long-time readers of this site, er,
as the long-time reader of ... well, IF I had any readers of
this site, they would know that I have little patience for Hollywood
formulaic storytelling, where you can sit in the audience and
anticipate each beat of the story. Boring. Tedious. And tiring,
too. So I am always happy to see films from other nations, because
they usually have different story-telling methods, tempos, and
other details that make them worthwhile.
horror films know that Japanese horror has become quite popular
in the U.S. But mostly what they are getting is American remakes
of Japanese horror films instead of the originals. Such is the
case with The Grudge, an American remake of the
Japanese hit film Ju-on: The Grudge. But this version
was made with the same director as the Japanese original, and
the story follows the original quite closely. The funny thing
is that it was released to American theaters within a short
time of the limited release of Ju-on, so people got to see both
of them and could make up their minds about which does it better.
face it: The Americans massacred Godzilla, taking a serious
and quite good Japanese Gojira and turning it into kiddie
fodder. But this American-Japanese hybrid The Grudge
is very close to the original; the mood, the storyline (mostly),
the pace. So, its quite good, right? It's as good as it
Potter and the Goblet of Fire (10.22.06): Teen wizard, Part
IV. Books and films for young people were generally pretty dim-witted
when I was growing up back in ancient times, the 1970s. But
the Harry Potter books and the films made from them have been
superb, and I expect the final book and the future movies to
live up to that high standard.
Harry has to take part in a tournament of wizards, which is
a bit complicated by the facts that, first, he doesn't want
to take part in it, and second, someone is trying to kill him
(again). Once again, the story gets darker, and the young actors
get steadily better. This is the type of movie we'll point to
when we're 60 and tell the young 'uns that, When we were young,
they really knew how to make great movies for kids! Then we'll
steal their hoverboards and fly off to our moon resorts.
Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (08.05.07): My personal
favorite of the Potter films so far, Phoenix tells the
story of the war between the general wizarding community and
the Dark Lord, who has constructed a Death Star at the moon
of Yavin from which he can unleash the ultimate terror on a
galaxy ... oh, wait, that was a different Dark Lord. This
Dark Lord is the guy who's name we're not supposed to speak,
and he wants to rule the wizarding world so that he can attack
is a bit older and so are his friends, and it's all to the better.
The acting's good, the story's strong and drives you through
the entire movie, and things get darker and darker for The Boy
Who Survived. Very much recommended, unless you're one of those
Potter-haters, in which case, tough luck, pal.
Host (03.11.07): This fantastic balancing act of a monster
movie from South Korea wait, that gives away in the first
sentence what I think about it. Let me be more circumspect.
The Host is a Korean film about a family's struggle for
survival against a man-made monster that is terrorizing the
city and wildly entertaining the audiences. Hmmm, that also
gives away too much. Let's try this: Balancing humor and horror
is an act that Americans almost never pull off, but this Korean
film does well, showing us endearing characters whose funny
actions and reactions never sink to camp even when they're
rolling around on the floor fighting with each other at a little
that didn't give away the fact that I found this film incredibly
endearing and immensely entertaining, did it? It's a difficult
thing for a writer to do, at least this writer regarding this
film. The Host is a B-movie, make no mistake. Though
it makes some side-swipes at political allusions, it's really
a film about a family trying to rescue a little girl from a
monster. The actors do great jobs giving us characters who are
imperfect yet for whom we root nonetheless (or even moreso,
considering that they can be sort of stupid at times). And it's
a pleasure to watch each of them on screen.
balancing act of a monster movie from South Korea is awesome
fun and shouldn't be missed. If a theater near you doesn't show
it, then thank God for DVD.
Illusionist (10.31.06): The main thing to remember when
reading about, viewing, or even thinking about The Illusionist
is this: It is not The Prestige. That's a different
19th-century film about magicians.
Illusionist is a film about ... dear lord, I'm not sure
I remember. I keep remembering the plot of The Prestige,
a film in which two magicians compete with deadly consequences.
That was a good film. Go see it. But The Illusionist,
well, give me a minute here.
It stars Edward Norton as (wait, let me consult the film's Web
site to refresh my memory) ... oh, yes: This is a love story.
Edward loves a noble woman, he doesn't get her, he comes back
to get her, and there's magic involved. Or slight-of-hand.
I rather enjoyed this film. Norton is good as the driven magician,
and someone is good as his love interest (I forget her name
and I'm sick of switching back to the film's web site, so you'll
just have to figure it out for yourself). A lot of other actors
walk around and act. A very act-y movie. Good
Li's Fearless (12.27.06): I am sooooo sorry. I really don't
remember anything about this film. Why am I still including
it on this review page? Because I remember things about movies
I saw on the second bill of late-night drive-in fare from the
early 1970s. I remember entire episodes of the original WKRP
in Cincinnati. I remember details of short stories I read
in science-fiction anthologies in 1978. But I don't remember
a darned thing about this movie, which I saw sometime in the
previous 12 months. Doesn't that really tell you all you need
to know about this movie?
from the Fall (05.13.07): An oustanding film about a family's
flight from Vietnam following Saigon's fall to the communists.
Like To Live about survival in China's revolutionary
upheaval Journey from the Fall tells us a lot
about the inhumanity going on in the world by focusing closely
on a family and its struggles and successes.
Julie and Julia (08.29.09): See this movie for the Julia portions, which feature the incomparable Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci. There's another whole story (the Julie story) that is cute but not up to snuff. But the Julia portions are great. Because Streep and Tucci are great. Even for people like me, who don't know a heck of a lot about Julia Child.
In short, this film retells how Child got her start as a famed chef who popularized French cooking for Americans. You see her as a human, as a leader, as an inspirer, and as a damn great actor. Oh, wait, that's Streep. I don't care. She's great. Tucci as her devoted husband (who's a bit busy himself fighting against red-baiting wingnuts in Washington -- he's a diplomat or somesuch) is great. Great. Great. Great. Both of them. So great, I kept feeling let down every time the film switched back to the Julie portion of the story. Maybe they thought younger audiences needed the Julie story to identify with the story, but that's ridiculous, really. Streep and Tucci can sell a story. Have confidence in your top stars in a film. And this is an enjoyable film. Most of it.
Fu Hustle (10.22.06): Uh, I think this was about
some folks trying to defend something against some bad guys.
Sort of a wacky martial arts flick, Kung Fu Hustle doesn't
try to be profound or draw on literary antecedents, like Crouching
Tiger Hidden Dragon. It just tries to provide some fun.
That it does.
Henderson Presents (10.22.06):
Judi Dench. 'nough said for me. I'll go see pretty much anything
with Dame Judi Dench in it. I still think she should have received
the Academy Award for Mrs. Brown, not for her supporting
role in Shakespeare in Love, but I'll let bygones by
bygones with the movie industry and just enjoy her fine work.
her finest work, but it's enjoyable and Dench and the rest of
the cast appear to have fun making this film about an upper-class
widow who opens a theatre featuring lotsa pretty ladies with
few clothes. Based on a true story, this film chronicles the
widow's battles with government authorities and her theatre's
strong-willed manager, played by Bob Hoskins. This is not deep
stuff and it won't change your life, but again: Judy Dench.
& Mrs. Smith (11.11.06): Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie
play two international hotshots who adopt a third-world baby
that turns out to hold the keys to the future of sustainable
life on the planet! Oh, wait, that's what they do in real life.
In this flick (and it's a flick, not a film), they portray two
secret agents/hitmen (hitpeople?) who end up being assigned
to kill each other.
high-concept film. Someone pitched this film I mean,
flick to the film studio with something like, Husband-and-wife
hitmen (people?) are assigned to kill each other! Hilarity ensues.
didn't ensue, though a few cute scenes did. So did a lot of
shooting, as the two try to deal with who's trying to have them
killed and try to figure out their stale marriage. (She has
a stale marriage with Brad Pitt? You're. Just. Not. Trying.
Hard. Enough.) Much formula ensues.
13 (07.08.07): Ocean's 13 is another caper flick
with an engaging cast of favorites (Damon! Clooney! Pitt! Gould!
Other Guys!) that doesn't seem to try too hard to do anything
other than remind us that we're seeing another omnibus star
grand slammer. But whereas Ocean's 12 had us enjoying
the stars and the twisty, surprising plot, this film
gave us a twisty plot in which all problems were solved too
easily and never really placing our heroes in the sort of danger
they faced in the previous film.
the actors are fun to watch and I'd welcome a fourth installment.
But it would be nice if they brought back Julia Roberts.
Labyrinth (01.15.07): Billed as an adult fairy tale, this
is still kid's stuff. Well-done, beautifully rendered kid's
stuff, but written with a child's ability to comprehend. Rated
R, quite violent kid's stuff, but presented with a child's idea
of clear-cut good and evil.
follows Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) as a 10-year-old girl dealing
with her widowed mother's new husband, a cardboard caricature
fascist captain tasked with ruthlessly destroying the remainder
of the resistance to Franco's dictatorship in 1944 Spain. Problem
is, Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez) reduces the story to an over-the-top
bad guy (he enjoys torturing people, he kills suspected partisans
and then shows no remorse when they turn out to be innocent)
and an overly romantic view of the anti-fascists. Yup, Franco
was a baddie; no argument there. But how much darker, more disturbing,
and ultimately frightening could this movie have been if director
Guillermo del Toro had managed to show humans on both sides
who made human and flawed decisions to choose a side in that
horrible conflict. And Ofelia's mother doesn't count, for she
plays a nonpolitical role in the movie.
Still, cool special
effects and an amazing acting job by young Baquero make this
a movie worth watching. It's just a disapointment because it
could have been much better and its political statement could
have had much more power if it had really been an adult fairy
Pirates of the
Caribbean: At World's End (07.08.07): Eh.The first Pirates
was such a surprise enjoyment, and the second one did quite
well at expanding on the first one. This third one mainly had
me checking my watch and thinking, Is it over yet? That
is, the movie and the franchise. It's not awful, but
there's no great film here.
Big ship goes to sea, people party, then something happens,
and ship goes blub-blub-blub. People run around ship, yell at
each other, swim, die, survive, and things blow up. Nothing
original here, and no one in this is going to be on the Oscars
short list. Im almost ashamed to write that I enjoyed
it quite a bit.
Prestige (10.23.06): So this is based on a book, see? I
didn't know that until I saw an article on it in a favorite
li'l magazine of mine called
Starlog. How much it hews to the book, I haven't
a clue. But this tale of a magician and another magician and
their quite brutal feud in the 19th century will entertain you
and keep you interested (even though you'll likely figure out
part of the puzzle long before the film is over). Three stars
Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale and Michael Caine
tell us the story of a rivalry that leads to murder and maiming
and betrayal. Not exactly a Merchant-Ivory period film, it nonetheless
is a game attempt to take you to another time and place and
play with your mind. Enjoyable.
with Scissors (11.11.06): Based on Augusten Burrough's memoir
of the same title, this film tells the hard-to-believe story
of the child of a mentally ill mother and an alcoholic father
as his parents split up and he eventually is taken into the
home of his mother's nutty psychotherapist. Hard to believe,
but apparently true.
this would be a strange enough film to see if you were prepared
for it and knew something of what it was about. We, however,
went to see it thinking it was a different film, so it was extremely
unexpected. But don't let the oddness of Burrough's childhood
turn you away. It's still an engagingly told story that includes
some hopeful moments for the young man. But you'll never have
nostalgia for the 1970s again.
The September Issue (09.12.09): Judging from the clothing on the other audience members at the Kabuki Sundance Cinema crowd with me this afternoon, most people who paid to see The September Issue were there because it highlighted the fashion industry. I, however, was there for the fun of seeing just how they put together the magazine. Magazines 'R' my business, and my interest.
The September Issue is the new documentary focusing on the creation of Vogue's mammoth September edition. We see the issue come together as editors plan photo shots, discuss which clothes to feature, meet with designers to see their collections, travel to Europe for photo shoots, and much more. Running the entire process is Anna Wintour, the much-feared and much-accomplished editor in chief, and heading up most of the photo shoots is Grace Coddington, the magazine's creative director. There are other characters -- other editors, magazine designers, clothing designers, photographers, ad sales reps, Ms. Wintour's daughter, and many others -- but it's when Coddington or Wintour are on the screen that the movie is at its best.
This film more than lived up to my expectations. Wintour shows herself to be an extraordinarily talented and clear-sighted leader. She knows what she wants, and she doesn't waste time dithering over what's right. When she makes a decision about a potential cover photo having too much teeth or a model in a billowing dress looking pregnant, she's quick with her decision -- and she's correct. That's her job. Such editors are very rare, and I'm sure she's worth every dollar of the reportedly multi-million dollar salary Condé Nast pays her.
Whether the audience likes her or not is likely to depend on the individual audience member's attitudes about quality, publishing, strong women, and whether they liked their boss. I've worked for bosses who were tough. Sometimes I could see the what and why of their behavior; other times, I could comfortably conclude they were just jerks. My feeling about Wintour (as is probably already more than obvious) is that she might not be the most touchy-feely boss, but she'll make you better and she's damn good at her job.
There's no villain in this movie. And there's no drama about whether or not they'll put together a successful issue of the magazine. We already know they will (it was the September 2007 edition, the fattest edition in Vogue's history) and we can clearly see that the magazine's staff is competent and professional. But for me the drama came from seeing exactly how they made decisions and exactly how the issue came together.
Though I was not like the large portion of my fellow audience members in that I was more interested in the magazine part of the story than the fashion part, I think there's a lot of similarity between the two topics. Readers of high-fashion magazines, or car magazines, get much of their pleasure from seeing things they'll never be able to buy or own, at least not completely. (They might not be able to afford the entire ensemble that the model is wearing, but they see in the photo layout how they can add a specific accessory to their clothing to get the desired effect.) For me, it was nice to watch how a magazine at the top of the market is put together. How they spend tens of thousands of dollars on photo shoots, have large staffs that can pull off anything they deem neccessary for an issue, how they can worry about doing the right thing and not just whatever they can afford.
The September Issue is worth picking up.
(07.08.07): Very good.
2 (07.08.07): Even better.
3 (07.08.07): Not as good.
3 (07.08.07): For this third outing, the Spidey crew makes
the typical superhero-film-mistake: Too many villains. It's
enjoyable and well-done, but it has the rushed feeling any film
would have when it's trying to tell essentially three different
stories within the same running time. Can't be done.
Spidey gets some alien goo on him that turns him bad. Black
suit and all. This eventually is fought off, but it gets onto
another photographer at The Daily Bugle, who then goes
bad well, badder. That should have been the story.
It would have allowed the filmmakers to mix all the action they
wanted with the personal tale of Peter Parker's struggle with
fame, ego, and his family's history. But no, we also get Sandman,
who's a man, er, made of sand. Oh, wait, like a Ginsu knife
commercial, there's more! We also get the revenge and redemption
of Harry Osborn. Again, another whole movie jammed into this
more, especially with a superhero whose charm lies in his personal
foibles and struggles. I hope they don't try to give us four
villains in the next sequel.
(08.12.07): Based on a best-selling fantasy novel by the
team of Gaiman and Vess, Stardust is the immensely entertaining
story of a young man out to impress his love by bringing back
to her a fallen star. Much ensues. Impossible to relate here.
(For example, Robert De Niro as a tough-acting gay pirate captain
of an airship. It just gets more complicated from there.)
Cox as the young hero, Tristan, has to carry the storyline on
his shoulders, but he gets a lot of help from De Niro, Michelle
Pfeiffer, Rupert Everett, Peter O'Toole, and a bucketload of
others, all of whom appeared to have had a grand old time making
the film. Often when the actors' enjoyment comes across on screen,
the audience is left with a sense of wonder wondering
why we're not enjoying it as much as the actors. But this time,
that's not the case. Much fun.
Thief Lord (12.27.06): New Zealand's Peter Jackson is sometimes
faulted for making films that are waaaaaayy tooooo loooooooonnng.
The Thief Lord, directed by Richard Claus, could have
used a little Jackson-action, because it's a reasonably good
film marred by a sense that they cut out every single micro-second
that wasn't absolutely crucial to advancing the plot. For a
movie set in the staggeringly beautiful city of Venice, Italy,
that's a crime.
the excellent novel by German children's author Cornelia Funke,
The Thief Lord tells the story of two orphaned boys from
Hamburg who run away from their aunt and end up in Venice, where
they try to escape their aunt's attempts to retrieve one of
them (she doesn't much like the older child) and become involved
in an enchanting scheme involving a merry-go-round that can
reverse or speed up aging.
(Herr der Diebe in German or The Thief Lord in
translation it's worth reading in either language) was
my first exposure to Funke's storytelling, and it made me a
fan forever. The movie actually does quite well at capturing
the attitude and sympathetic characters of the children and
the adults. In fact, if they had let themselves add an extra
10 minutes to the 98-minute running time, they could have added
some breathtaking slow shots of the city, some silent closeups
of the main characters at crucial moments, and other touches
that would raise this film to cinematic level. As it is, it
seems to have been edited to serve the television crowd, and
it's no surprise that it was released direct-to-video in the
United States. That's a shame. It's a better film than that.
But somewhere there's a Twentieth Century Fox movie executive
who thinks he or she made the right move by forcing this movie
into this straight-jacket. Hopefully, he or she is burning in
... well, I'll be nice. I just hope they're nowhere near as
pretty as Venice.
(07.08.07): Sam Witwicky (Shia laBeouf) is an annoying "teenager"
(yes, one of those high schools where all the students look
like they're 25 years old) who gets a car that turns out to
be a Transformer, from the planet Whateveracon, protecting him
from the BadGuysaCons. Much stuff is exploded. Characters do
stupid things for no good reason (why do they purposefully lead
the BadGuysaCons from the Hoover Dam into a densely populated
city downtown for the final showdown when they could have transferred
the stupid cube along the highway?), Witwicky briefly loses
his pants, his sorta girlfriend turns out to be a car nut, and
every genuinely funny line (like the idiot secret agent who
mistakes Nokia for a Japanese company) is passed over so quickly
it left the audience with which I saw the movie completely silent.
2012 (11.14.09): 2012 is the latest (and allegedly final) disaster movie from Roland ("Independence Day," "The Day After Tomorrow") Emmerich, the German-born blockbuster director. His fans shouldn't feel left out, though. If you've seen one disaster movie, you've pretty much seen them all. World ends. Some people survive (usually). Much unlikely stuff occurs. Giant things crash into smaller things, some excellent special effects take place, and the heroes make some impossible escapes. Same thing here.
There are some nice touches. John Cusack does a good job with a pretty uninteresting role, as the divorced father of two who is forced to come to their rescue -- and to the rescue of his ex-wife and her new husband. Danny Glover is okay as the president, who has to decide whether to go with the chosen escapees or to stay behind with the vast majority of the American people to meet his doom from the planet-wide disaster.
That's a key choice, even if his particular decision isn't key to anything in this movie. Basically, 2012 sets up an unfair conflict, in which the audience is expected to share the moral outrage of one of the heroes about people who are not allowed onto the arks that will protect a small minority of the population. It's false, because if there are only a certain number of slots available on the arks (and the film offers no other option), then only a minority will survive in any case. It's Sophie's Choice on a vast scale in any case, but one of the heroes throws a hissy fit right at a critical time, causing a delay in the launch of one of the arks and nearly killing many more people.
But it's silly of me or anyone to expect a philosphical masterpiece in a film, much less in a disaster film. So if you can turn off your brain for two hours and 38 minutes, then you will likely enjoy this movie. Despite my qualms above, I was able to enjoy it as the brick-stupid movie it is.
But I have one question: What's the deal with Wisconsin? It crops up quite a few times in this movie. Did the moviemakers not like the state? Or are they doing a friendly shout-out to it? Then again, I'm from Wisconsin originally, so maybe others won't notice that.
Vendetta (08.05.07): Sorry, but I've got to agree with the
right-wing nutcases on this movie. Vendetta is a love-letter
for terrorists. People who hate the contras and al Qaida but
wax romantic about the Baader Meinhoff Gang or other such idiots
simply have no intellectual standing with me. Other than that,
the movie's fine.
of the Worlds (12.30.06): I'd like to avoid the trendy bashing
of star Tom Cruise and instead talk about the film. The bashing
is more fun than talking about the film and, well, the bashing
is more fun than the film itself. But director Steven Spielberg
deserves better than having his film receive such treatment.
So here goes: A pretty well-made film, frankly.
know the story by now, this oft-filmed tale from writer H.G.
Wells. Aliens land on earth, they turn out to be less than friendly,
and they start blowing things up. With his personal beliefs,
maybe Cruise thought he was making a documentary. Anyway, Cruise
works hard to rescue his family despite all the blowing up,
and Spielberg does his usual fine job of making things blow
up well and making the people who are around the up-blowing
things look well-lit.
So if you're
in the mood for a no-brainer disaster film, War of the Worlds
will do just fine for you.