Friday, December 29, 2006

Little Children

by Jackrabbit Slim
Having read and enjoyed Tom Perrotta's book, Little Children, I was eager to see the film version, and after much waiting for it to reach the hinterlands, it finally arrived, and I was not disappointed. I will say, though, that the film is not the feel-good hit of the year, and it is quite arid. As with Todd Field's first film, In the Bedroom, Little Children at times feels like a scientific examination of his subjects. This is established at the outset, when a voice-over tells us that Kate Winslet's character likes to think of herself as an anthropologist as she sits with the catty, small-minded mothers at a park, watching the children play.

Winslet's character is the focal point. She has a master's degree in English literature, and struggled to find a place in the land of Goldfish crackers and juice-boxes. She is married to a man who is more interested in Internet porn than anything else. Enter Brad, who is mooned over and called The Prom King by the other mothers. Winslet, though, actually speaks to him, and before long they are banging each other in her laundry room.

Brad (Patrick Wilson) is married to the gorgeous Jennifer Connelly, who would seem to be perfect. But Brad is drawn to the harried, disheveled Winslet. Into this mix enter Ronnie, a sexual offender and pedophile, who has been released from prison and wants to live a quiet life with his elderly mother. But a citizen's "committee", led by an ex-cop, seeks to harass him into leaving town.

What we have here is a very Cheever-esque situation, updated to the age of Oprah. It is certainly not novel for a writer or film-maker to lift the rock and take a look at the nastiness lying below the perfectly-manicured lawns of suburbia. What this film does, though, is take a slightly different view of hypocrisy. So often when you hear the phrase, "For the sake of the children," it's a cover for all sorts of petty behavior. Ronnie, deftly played by Jackie Earle Haley (you won't think of Kelly Leak at all while watching him), is a creep, to be sure, but a human being with rights. It's not easy for an audience to accept this, which creates an unsettling rustle in the theater.

Little Children has copious voice-overs. The narrator sounds like someone in nature documentary. Instead of watch the lion eat the gazelle, it's watch the disaffected suburban mom make a grasp at happiness with the handsome young father. Voice-overs are always tricky in films, because they tell rather than show, but it's clear that Field didn't want to lose a lot of the sterling prose from Perrotta's book. I wouldn't disagree with someone who thinks it's all a bit much, though.

Despite this slight reservation, Little Children is one of the best films I've seen this year, and Kate Winslet in particular gives an outstanding performance.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Opened in Dallas, 12/25

by Brian
Children of Men (trailer): Been wanting to see this for awhile, for a few reasons. But the biggest reason isn't the end-of-the-year acclaim it's been getting, or the high-quality filmmakers and cast involved, but that it just plain looks interesting on its own, without taking those other things into consideration. There's only a handful of movies that come out every year that I think that about.

Dreamgirls (trailer): Of course I'll go see it, but it's kinda the opposite of Children of Men; it doesn't look all that interesting, it's not made by filmmakers whose work I particularly look forward to seeing, and even the reviews have been disappointing given the advance hype.

Black Christmas (trailer): More Dimension dreck from the Weinsteins, but again, they have the high-quality awards season films to make up for it. For example, just this year they have ... um ... Bobby, I guess. Which was frankly awful. So it's been an off-year, but last year they had ... hmm. Mrs Henderson Presents and Transamerica, but those were hideous also. Oh, well, guys, keep plugging. Maybe someone will like this little Black Christmas movie of yours.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

50 Lost Movie Classics

by Professor Wagstaff
The English Guardian newspaper recently ran an article listing 50 lost movie classics - not only because they've been underrated but that many of them haven't even been released on DVD as yet. Below is the list of titles (as well as director and year of release) - I've added comments to the ones that I've seen:

1 Salt Of The Earth Herbert Biberman, 1953

2 Petulia Richard Lester, 1968 (fully deserving of appearing here. Terrific film that benefits from repeat viewings and more then any other film I've seen presents an excellent portrayl of what life would've been like in the hippie centre of San Francisco at its peak in 1968.)

3 The State Of Things Wim Wenders, 1982

4 Newsfront Phillip Noyce, 1978 (Also deserving of an appearance here. Doesn't get the kudos that other Australian films of its era do (probably because its less pretentious) but is very entertaining and manages to capture an accurate snapshot of Australian life in the decade after WW2).

5 Fat City John Huston, 1972

6 I Wanna Hold Your Hand Robert Zemeckis, 1978

7 The Swimmer Frank Perry, 1968 (Like 'Petulia', another unjustly neglected film from 1968. Brillantly done and insightful with a superb performance by Burt Lancanster, who handles the pysical aspects of the film despite being over 50 when the film was being made.)

8 Under The Skin Carine Adler, 1997 9 The Front Page Lewis Milestone, 1931

10 The Damned Joseph Losey, 1961

11 Ace In The Hole Billy Wilder, 1951 (Saw this many years ago. Very well done and ultra-cynical in the traditional Wilder style but I wonder whether this would hold up as well today in these far more cynical times, especially when journalism is regarded in such a low esteeem.)

12 The Beaver Trilogy Trent Harris, 2001

13 Top Secret! Jim Abrahams, David and Jerry Zucker, 1984 (Don't really think it deserves a place in here. It's pretty funny and has some classic bits (best of all is when they're in the cow disguise) but it's slow and sluggish early on, and only really gets going once the 'Blue Lagoon' character joins in.

14 Bamboozled Spike Lee, 2000

15 3 Women Robert Altman, 1977

16 Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me David Lynch, 1992

17 Let's Scare Jessica To Death John D Hancock, 1971

18 The Low Down Jamie Thraves, 2000

19 A New Leaf Elanie May, 1971

20 Quiemada! Gillo Pontecorvo, 1969

21 The Hired Hand Peter Fonda, 1971

22 Safe Todd Haynes, 1995

23 Housekeeping Bill Forsyth, 1987

24 Le Petomane Ian MacNaughton, 1979

25 Lianna John Sayles, 1982

26 Bill Douglas Trilogy Bill Douglas, 1972-78

27 The Parallax View Alan J Pakula, 1974 (The template for how a paranoid/conspiracy thriller should be made. While Pakula's 'All The President's Men' is probably a better film overall, I'm personally biased to this film and how it's made - one of my favourite films of all time, let alone most underrated). 28 Babylon Franco Rosso, 1980

29 Dreamchild Gavin Millar, 1985

30 Ride Lonesome Budd Boetticher, 1959

31 Breathless Jim McBride, 1983

32 The Day The Earth Caught Fire Val Guest, 1961

33 Less Than Zero Marek Kanievska, 1987

34 Day Night Day Night Julia Loktev, 2006

35 Tin Cup Ron Shelton, 1996

36 The Ninth Configuration William Peter Blatty, 1980

37 Cutter's Way Ivan Passer, 1981 (Admirable in many ways, but bleak, depressing and not particularly entertaining and not a film I'd want to watch again).

38 Save The Last Dance Thomas Carter, 2001

39 The Mad Monkey Fernando Trueba, 1989

40 Cockfighter Monte Hellman, 1974

41 The Narrow Margin Richard Fleischer, 1952

42 Terence Davies Trilogy Terence Davies, 1984

43 Wise Blood John Huston, 1979

44 Robin Hood Wolfgang Reitherman, 1973

45 Two-Lane Blacktop Monte Hellman, 1971

46 Beautiful Girls Ted Demme, 1996

47 Millions Danny Boyle, 2004

48 Round Midnight Bertrand Tavernier, 1986

49 Jeremy Arthur Barron, 1973

50 Grace Of My Heart Allison Anders, 1996

Any underseving entries in there? I haven't seen it but 'Tin Cup' I would've thought was the classic ho-hum Costner effort that saw his career decline so rapidly during the 1990s. And the Disney version of 'Robin Hood' has generally been seen as symptomatic of their decline during the 1970s. Any others that deserve a mention under this category?

I Cried

by Count Olaf
It was too short. Other than that, I thought Rocky Balboa was the perfect ending to an excellent series. There's so much I want to say about this, and it may include spoilers so beware, but I don't know if I can get it all in.
To get in the mood I've been listening to the soon-to-be-released Rocky Balboa:The Best Of Rocky Soundtrack on Rhapsody for the past few weeks. It's excellent, dated, and excellent again. I watched the original Rocky OnDemand last week. I've been talking it up to people at work. Been reading about it online everyday. I checked in for every single one of the Q&A's at AICN.
So, yes, I'm a fan.
And, yes, that makes my opinion biased. But as a fan your opinion can go a few different ways. You can be so tied to what already exists that you feel you know what happens and needs to happen next. We all know LOTR fans who hated the movies because they dropped key parts of the books only to find other fans who adored the movies because they were exactly how the books were envisioned in their heads. Who's more right? Were the ones who liked it less justified than the ones who hated it? I've already told you I loved the movie and that I'm a diehard fan. Am I more or less valid than Bill Simmons? I don't think so, but you've got to make your own decision on that one.
Rocky Balboa not only works as continuation or sunset on the fictional life of Rocky Balboa and all of the characters that come with it. I could see myself and people I've read about and heard from in this movie.
The beginning surprised me. Adrian has died of cancer 4 years prior (not the surprise) and Rocky visits her often (everyday it would seem). Paulie can't take the visits to the grave and the old haunts anymore because, while it helps Rocky remember the good times, it makes Paulie remember how horribly he treated his own sister. This makes Paulie more real to me. For him to say that in the beginning broke my heart. He's always been a lousy shiftless layabout moocher wanting nothing more than to ride Rocky's coattails while drinking himself through life. And I expected nothing different than that from him this time around. But while he's still incorrigible, he clearly hates himself for how he was previously and doesn't see any way to make it right.
Rocky's son, to me, alludes to movie fans who are questioning this comeback. When I first heard about this movie and its premise in 2005 I thought it was ridiculous. I forwarded the news blurb to my friends as if it was the latest YouTube joke of the day. We laughed about Mason "The Line" Dixon and how ludicrous it would be for an old fighter to come back. Especially after the RockyV bomb! Dumb dumb dumb....Which is how Rocky's son is inside the movie. He distances himself from Rocky...wants to come out of his shadow...doesn't like the attention...thinks he's too old...thinks the comeback is all about ego...until he realizes he hasn't made that decision on his own. He's let people around him feed him this as well as create the shadow that he thinks his father is casting. Rocky gives him a great talkin-to outside of the restaurant and while I think the turnaround is a little too quick, the right things were said.
Paulie, ESPN, the press, Mason Dixon, the boxing commission, et al, represent basically everyone who said it couldn't be done (which is almost everyone). Fans & non-fans included. They call him a Balboasaurus (as you heard in the trailer) and scoff at the ridiculousness of it all. A friend of mine at work laughs off Rocky because he's a boxing fan and the fighting in this movie is not real. And Stallone is too old. Of course! It's a movie! My only response is "You DO know that Johnny Depp is not a real pirate, don't you?" I do agree that there has to be some believability to this, and 60 years old is definitely too old to fight, but once you see the kind of shape he's in, you can suspend your disbelief for 90 minutes to think he might be able to drop a few "hurtin' bombs". And if you can't, then you can't.
Little Marie (great addition) represents the few...VERY few...who believed that Sly could get this done and do it well. When Rocky questions himself (as I'm sure Stallone did), wondering if it's only about vanity & ego, Marie is there to tell him that he needs to do what's right for him. "Fighter's fight." Kudos to anyone who stood behind Stallone and helped him get this done. I think this movies shows that he was right to finish off the series this way.
Overall you know that Rocky is "the greatest underdog story of our time." The message is to stay true to yourself, if you believe it you can achieve it, don't only care about what others think, etc etc etc. Themes we've heard a million times, but they resonate profoundly in this simple character created 30 years ago. It's like hearing from an old friend as opposed to a random person on the street. You can trust Rocky in his simplicity.
I would say for Rocky fans this is a must see. For people who don't like Rocky, you're not going to find anything really new here except more insight into the genuine heart of Rocky and things I've already mentioned. For those on the fence, I'd definitely recommend seeing it. Especially if #5 soured you on the whole series. That was not the proper closure needed on this character. He gets it right in this 6th "round".
I thought it was a well-directed, well-written, well-acted, too short (and therefore too easily moved from point to point), but ultimately satisfying, finish to one of my favorite movie series of all time. Sure, I'm a fanboy drooling, but I think you can trust me.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Opening in Dallas, Weekend of 12/22

by Brian
Finally! A few movies to get excited about.

The Good German (trailer): I know buzz on this hasn’t been terribly strong, but I couldn’t really care less. A new Soderbergh movie is a genuine cinema event as far as I’m concerned, even though (or maybe because) he’s all over the place, whether in terms of genre, style, or quality.

Volver (trailer): At long last. Previously reviewed here by Nick.

The Good Shepherd (trailer): I don’t know what to make of this one. I’m generally of the mind that a willingness to cast Angelina Jolie in any role indicates a fundamental lack of seriousness by the filmmakers towards a project, since it’s been awhile since Angelina Jolie has seemed serious about acting. But the movie seems first-class in every other respect, although again, reviews have been spotty so far.

Curse of the Golden Flower (trailer): The second Zhang Yimou film to hit the US this year, after the fairly decent but ultimately slight Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles. This one looks like Hero, but with a lot more cleavage.

Rocky Balboa (trailer): I’m sorry, but I’m too young by about 3-4 years to have really gotten Rocky. I’ve seen 1-4, of course, but like Star Wars, I feel like I just missed the cutoff date for the age when Rocky was a mandatory part of American childhood. And ultra-Rocky fan Bill Simmons’ review kinda confirms my suspicions that the new one just isn’t very good.

We Are Marshall (trailer): Ordinarily, this would be higher, because it actually looks somewhat decent. But there’s just one thing … the “Directed by McG” line at the bottom of the poster. I’m not just trashing the guy out of antipathy towards Charlie’s Angels, either - I also genuinely hated the dude’s trashy music videos back in the day. I’ve been a hater ever since Sugar Ray’s “Fly”. Or maybe it was Fastball’s “The Way”. Or Smash Mouth’s “Walkin’ on the Sun”. Or…

Night at the Museum (trailer): I’m kinda tired of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, but on the other hand, Mickey Rooney’s “He looks like a weirdie!” is pretty strong. So yeah, it’s at the bottom of the list, but I really don’t feel all that bad about it.


IndieWire Poll

by Jackrabbit Slim
As the Village Voice, as part of neutering it's film criticism, dropped the year-end poll, it's been carried on by IndieWire. The results can be found here:

Lots of films here I haven't seen. Most of them can be found on Netflix. (Army of Shadows can not, although it does seem to exist on DVD).

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Last King of Scotland

by jaydro

I spent last week in Puerto Rico, and I was reminded of another reason I haven't been seeing as many films in theaters lately--I haven't been on enough vacations. Going to at least one movie while traveling is always a must.

This was my first time in Puerto Rico, and I was amazed that the newspaper ads there for movies featured art/independent films, and most days the only ads were for art films. Just a block or so down the street from my hotel in San Juan's Miramar district was the Fine Arts Cinema, run by Caribbean Cinemas, who seem to have a near-monopoly on theaters in Puerto Rico, or at least a near-monopoly on newspaper advertising for films in the San Juan Star.

While I went to PR with the intent of catching The Fountain (just for the Ponce de Leon verisimilitude), I found it wasn't playing when I arrived, though it did start there last Friday at one theater that I wasn't sure I could easily find (English version, no subtitles).

So I saw The Last King of Scotland (with Spanish subtitles), and I enjoyed it, though it's one of that genre of films I find a little tiresome--it's saying to the audience, oh, you poor deluded white man, you thought you could go amongst these savages and fix things for them, and look at what a mess you have made; while I'm usually thinking, oh, you poor deluded white filmmaker, you think you can tell the black/yellow/brown man's/woman's story by making a white man/woman the central character.

Anyway, the only reason to see this film is for Forest Whitaker, who is great as usual, but I don't think this is anywhere near his greatest performance. Like his recent work in TV's The Shield was way better than what he does in this film. But everyone thinks he's going to win an Oscar, and I'm cool with that.

The Last King of Scotland is the first English-language film I've seen with foreign subtitles, and I found myself unable to ignore them, which made for a somewhat interesting experience as I was getting a few Spanish lessons along the way.

The Queen started playing at the Fine Arts Miramar last Friday, and I wanted to catch that, but time did not permit.

Puerto Rico is a pretty cool island, and while there I thought it was a little bit sad that I know several acquaintances who have been to Cuba while I did not know anyone who had been to Puerto Rico (other than through the San Juan airport). Like Puerto Rico isn't hip enough for the with-it traveler, and it's not safe enough for the Caribbean traveler whose only interest is to hit the beach and Carlos 'n' Charlie's or Señor Frog's. Maybe instead of going to Alaska on my next trip I should go to Libya, just so I can be the first on my block?

No Tony Montana in Puerto Rico, but Michael Corleone appeared in sticker graffiti in Old San Juan.

Balneario Punta Guilarte on 16 December. 85 degrees. Water temperature 75 degrees. And the place is deserted....

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by Jackrabbit Slim

Coming after one of the most controversial films in history, Mel Gibson has followed up with a film that is cozily familiar, at least in structure. The only dissent I've read is by someone who is angry that actual Mayans weren't used in the cast of the film, which concerns Mayans in the sixteenth century (I suppose only Danes can play Hamlet, too). The world that Gibson takes us into is certainly unique, going so far as to use the Mayan language, but the plot of the film is straight out of Hollywood B pictures of the forties.

The story concerns a young man named Jaguar Paw. He lives in a village that are hunter-gatherers. One morning his village is raided by an opposing force, which captures several of the men and leads them on a trek to their land. These Mayans are temple builders, a somewhat more developed society, except they still have the nasty habit of commiting ritual sacrifice, which includes ripping still beating hearts out of chests and decapitation. Oh well, all societies aren't perfect. Jaguar Paw attempts to escape, and leads his captors on a merry chase back to his jungle. It is this portion of the film that reminded me, no joke, of Home Alone.

I can't speak to the authenticity of Mayan life in this period. As a coddled person of the 21st century there are many moments when I looked at the many piercings the tribespeople have and said to myself, "That must have hurt," or after a nasty wound, "That's going to get infected." The violence is certainly vivid, but is usually so over the top in a Grand Guignol manner that it's almost comic.

This film is dressed up like it is an important picture, it is simply a fun time at the matinee, and really makes no particularly insightful statements about the nature of man.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Opening in Dallas, 12/15

by Brian
You know, it's mid-December already, and I keep waiting for all the good stuff to come out. I'm starting to think that it's just not going to happen.

The Pursuit of Happyness (trailer): Funny thing in the EPK featurette that's been showing before movies during the past month: Will Smith talks about "Doing these scenes with my real son, uh, definitely adds to, uh, the ability to, uh, become Chris Gardner for those scenes." Because nothing helps you transform into someone else like working with your own actual kids, I guess. Otherwise, I've read a few times that this movie isn't really as sentimental as the trailer. And good thing, too.

The History Boys (trailer): Really, this just looks boring. I know nothing about the play, and I'm sure it's great, but we all know that a good teacher is great and inspiring and ... whatever.

Cave of the Yellow Dog (trailer at official site): From the makers of The Story of the Weeping Camel, which I'm kind of sad I didn't see. I believe that, although there are 3 theaters and 16 screens in town that are supposedly dedicated to independent film, this will be the only actual independent film playing in Dallas next week.

Charlotte's Web (trailer): Not much to say; it's not for me.

Eragon (trailer): This really looks incredibly bad. As in, really, terribly, awful - dumb story, laughable acting, fake special effects, even relative to all the fake looking special effects we've seen in the CGI era. Even the name is stupid - Eragon. Yes, I'm feeling hostile.

No More Chinese River Dolphins

by Nick

The Chinese River Dolphin is now extinct. Whoops.

Ennio Morricone

by Jackrabbit Slim

An honorary Oscar has been awarded to Ennio Morricone, film composer. This award, which usually translates to: Sorry We've Overlooked You in the Past, But Now That You're Old Here You Go Award, would seem to be for passing him over as much for his memorable music. He was nominated five times but never won.

I think it's proper recognition. He wrote what is perhaps my favorite bit of music from any film--the main theme of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It's running through my head right now, and it's hard to resist whistling it. His music was also the best thing about some films, particularly The Mission.

Congrats, Ennio. In light of what happened to Robert Altman, Federico Fellini and Satyajit Ray, who all died within a year of winning this award, you may want to buy extra life insurance.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Peter Boyle Has Died

by Jackrabbit Slim
Although probably best known to most in the U.S. for his long-time role as Frank Barone on "Everybody Loves Raymond," I will always remember him as the monster in Young Frankenstein. One of my favorite comedies, his performance, mostly without dialogue, has many priceless moments.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Awards Season Begins

by Jackrabbit Slim
"Awards! They do nothing but give out awards here! 'Greatest Fascist Dictator: Adolph Hitler!'", Woody Allen as Alvy Singer in Annie Hall.

The two most prestigious critics' awards have been announced, and, as usual, the bloggers are poring over the results, trying to portend what this means for Oscar. The LA and NY film critics results can be found all over the Web, and this new format isn't allowing me to insert a link, so you'll have to trust me on that. Basically, the highlights are that LA went with Letters From Iwo Jima (as did the almost completely irrelevant National Board of Review), while New York chose United 93. Both went with Forest Whitaker from Last King of Scotland for Best Actor (in LA he tied with Sasha Baron Cohen, aka Borat), and Helen Mirren for The Queen.

So what does this all mean? Well, remember that critics are voting on these awards, and zero critics vote for the Oscars. The only influence is that a critics award could remind Academy voters of certain films, and help build buzz on performances. Clearly, Letters got a big boost, and looks like it could be Million Dollar Baby all over again--a film with a release date moved up, and also directed by Clint Eastwood. In my earlier predictions, I think Letters could easily knock out Babel, which is getting skunked in Critics' Awards. I have trouble imagining it could win, though, because no film that is not primarily in English has ever won the Oscar for Best Picture (Letters from Iwo Jima is, of course, in Japanese).

United 93's win probably means less, although it could have established itself as the choice of this year's "9/11" films, leaving World Trade Center behind in the dust.

For the performances, this certainly revives Whitaker, whose buzz had been previously thought to peak too soon, and solidifies Mirren's march toward the podium at the Kodak Theater. I'd be very surprised to see Baron Cohen get an Oscar nomination--it's difficult to imagine the staid Academy recognizing that kind of work. He should be a cinch for a Golden Globe in the Comedy category. It would be interesting to see if he came to the ceremony in character.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Blood Diamond

by Brian
Saw Blood Diamond this afternoon, thought it was kinda stupid. It tries very hard to be a serious-minded movie, but it's too much of an action movie to have much impact on a political level. I'll give Zwick credit for bringing up an issue that no one really wants to think about, and at times being willing to deal with it in very brutal terms. However, I think stopping every 20 minutes to blow some shit up just for the hell of it really trivializes the issues at hand. Maybe that's just me.

And it's not even a very good action movie. It relies too much on lots of machine guns being fired and not hitting anyone, and it's the type of movie where the action scenes always start just as an important conversation is ending. It's like a Michael Bay made the thing.

As for the acting, I can somewhat respect what Leo does here, but really his character is too ridiculous to be believed. It's like he's part Rambo, part James Bond, and part Rick Blaine. It's a testament to his ability he's as credible as he is, but there's only so much he can do.

Jennifer Connelly is close behind. Again, she's not bad, but she's stuck playing off of two female character cliches: the tough-as-nails professional and the girl who swoons for the badass. Djimon Hounsou comes across best, but late in the movie his character goes into Complete Idiot Mode, and it really makes him hard to root for.

By the end, I was actually laughing at it. I don't want to spoil anything - so if you're worried skip the rest of this paragraph - but during the last scene of the movie, the ending of Michel Gondry's Human Nature came to mind. "Would you testify to Congress?" "OK, if you think it would help." Funny stuff.

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Seen in 2006

by Nick
It's getting to be the end of the year, so I thought I'd start summarizing.

All in all, I'm surprised. There's been a lot more good stuff released this year than I thought before I began the list. Little Miss Sunshine caught me by surprise, but it is hands down excellent.

There are some bigger fishes I have gotten around to yet (Departed, Prestige, Fountain, Pan's Labyrinth), and some I've seen but just forgotten to mention, but I'll probably be completing the list all through next year.

Great: Little Miss Sunshine, Brick, Half Nelson, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, The Proposition, The Queen, The Lives of Others, United 93, Election 2: Harmony is Virtue, V for Vendetta, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Babel

Very good: Inside Man, Cocaine Cowboys, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, Crank, The Squid & the Whale, Boys of Baraka, The Host, Tsotsi, Casino Royale, Why We Fight, Monster House, Talladega Nights, Thank You for Smoking, Running Scared, The Banquet, Perfume

Good: 13 Tzameti, The Devil Wears Prada, Volver, Mission: Impossible III, After the Wedding, Slither, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Dark Horse, Nacho Libre, Storm, Brave Story, Election: Triad Elections, Miami Vice, Find Me Guilty, Accepted, A Scanner Darkly, Akeelah and the Bee, Cars, Ice Age: The Meltdown, Over the Hedge, Click, Friends with Money, The Matador

Flawed: Superman Returns, X-Men: The Last Stand, Art School Confidential, The Illusionist, Lucky Number Slevin, 16 Blocks, Shooting Dogs, La Moustache, Falkenberg Farewell, Fearless

Bad: The Break-Up, Just My Luck, World Trade Center, Silent Hill, Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, The Sentinel, Underworld: Evolution

Horrible: Da Vinci Code, Running with Scissors, Poseidon, RV, Hostel

Notable performances: Steve Carrell (Little Miss Sunshine), Shareeka Epps (Half Nelson), Michael Sheen (The Queen), Ah-Sung Ko (The Host), Yeong-ae Lee (Sympathy for Lady Vengeance)


Saturday, December 09, 2006

What I'm Watching

by Count Olaf
All times PST (the personal beginning of this article is on the Timewaster)


Football. Anywhere. Everywhere.

NBC really made a good decision to grab the Sunday night game AND get Al Michaels & John Madden. Al is by far the best sportscaster in the biz (IMHO) and he & john go together like peas & carrots.


Heroes - 9pm NBC.
I've already written 3 posts on this subject so you pretty much know where I stand on this show. They've been taking it slowly and revealing a little bit at a time much to my delight.

24 - 9pm (?) FOX
As you can already see, I'm going to have a dilemma on my hands once these two shows return in January. Shall I shell out the $600 for a dual-tuner Tivo series 3 HD? Don't think so.

I've been watching this show since hour 1 of the first season which was set to debut right after the Sept11 attacks. They subsequently delayed the start and edited a few things, but it's been a (cliche alert!) "non-stop thrill ride" since the beginning. My only wish is that they'd quit jumping ahead 18months - 2 years between each season. I'd like to see what happens in between, but I guess that's what the video game and movie are for...

Monday Night Football - 5:30pm ESPN
ESPN messed up when they broke up the Sunday night crew. They weren't the best, but at least they had been doing it awhile and had a good rapport with each other. These guys don't even remotely sound like they get along and with Tony always questioning Joe, it's a wonder there aren't more brawls.

Now they're bringing in celebrity guests every week to liven things up and look like a kid's lemonade stand compared to NBC's Sunday Night Starbucks. (I'm not so good with the analogies)

Friday Night Lights - 8pm NBC
I accidentally caught the ending of the pilot (when I flipped it on the Panthers were celebrating on the field, then praying, then going to the hospital) and it was enough to grab me for the season. I love the style of this show. No sets or lighting or makeup, a few semi-known actors and away we go. And it's less about football than you'd expect.

The ratings are in the toilet, but NBC is giving it a full season. All episodes are currenly online for free with nothing to sign up for or download. You don't even have to give an e-mail address. Just click here and you can start with Episode 1.

American Idol - 8pm FOX
No one over 12 or under 60 admits they watch this show. But I love it. I caught ithe first season by accident after I saw an ad where Simon berated someone onstage. I was sold! Each year it starts I say I'm not going to watch and each year I keep getting sucked in. It's definitely a juggernaut. But it may get supplanted by my love for the Dillon Panthers.

House - 9pm FOX
Liked more by my wife than me, Hugh Laurie is more irascible than ever this season. I hope probation does him some good.


American Idol - 8:30pm (?) FOX
The so-called results show. More fluff than anything, I watch the end to see who goes.

Lost - 10pm ABC
Trying to sidestep the American Idol juggernaut... We discuss it weekly on this blog (when it's on) so you can tell the emotions run high on this one.

My Name Is Earl - 8pm NBC
The "dumbest" show on my list. I watch it because I've been a fan of Jason Lee (and Ethan Suplee to a lesser extent) since Mallrats. It makes me laugh. And last week's episodes with John Leguizamo were HI-larious.

The Office - 8:30pm NBC
For me, it's the funniest show on TV right now. I do like it better than the British version but that's mainly because I'm not British. Some of the jokes I just can't get from across the pond. I do think Ricky Gervais was brilliantly hilarious though. Steve Carrell isn't as offensive as "David Brent" but he is certainly as hopeless. The 3rd season is just getting rolling and I think they are hitting their stride. Everyone in the cast is perfect for their parts.

Numb3rs - 10pm
Another one of my wife's shows. David Krumhotlz will always be Bernard the Elf to me, so it's hard to take it seriously. But you gotta love Judd Hirsch. Been on TV as long as I can remember.

And thus concludes my week. A sad state of affairs, to be sure.

New Blogger version

by Brian
I upgraded to a new version of Blogger this morning, and the upshot is that you'll now need a Google ID to sign in. I think that everyone will be able to sign in OK without me doing anything further after registering with Google, but if not, let me know. Thankfully, you don't need to give any info except for an email address to sign up with Google.


Opened in Dallas, 12/08

by Brian
I'm obviously late this week, and between a fairly busy work week and new-Blogger-version related technical frustrations, I don't have any comments. I may go back and add them later in the weekend. At any rate, Apocalypto is the only one I really want to see, although I imagine I'll actually see the top 4 on the list.


Blood Diamond

The Architect


The Holiday

Coffee Date

Unaccompanied Minors

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Host (Gwoemul)

by Nick
I really love Asian films. I think it's the cinematography that gets me, mostly.

One of the hardest genres in cinema has to be the monster movie. Seriously, considering the output, and how little is good, it's gotta be a bitch to make one that is actually worth watching. Try to count them up the good ones in my head, and I get Godzilla. And that's not good.

The Host is one of recent years biggest box-office successes in South-Korea. Probably one of the more expensive ones, too. And it's a good monster movie. One of those rare things, a foreign blockbuster.

Directed by Bong Joon-Ho (Memories of Murder), there's a lot to love about this film. Like his last film, the horror and thriller elements are masterfully done, and the performances, mainly from Kang-Ho Song (Memories of Murder) and Ah-Sung Ko as his daughter, are an amazing mix of naiveté, sorrow and humour. Incredible for being credible. The first third of this film propels the film forward at an exhilirating pace.

Like Memories of Murder, though, it has some uneven narrative problems. There are places that drag, some unnecessary back and forth-ing, more than one cliché and a third act device so silly I didn't know whether to giggle or groan.

But what gets me is that it's gripping. I cared about what happened to the family at the focus of the film, a family struck hard by the monster. And the monster itself was nice. There are times you stop thinking "oooo, nice fx" and start thinking "eeew, creepy" or just plain "fucking hell".

A story about the sacrifices a family is willing to do for their loved ones, it's a film I can recommend to almost anyone. While there are clichés and some bad plotting, there's a core that's good enough to withstand it. But don't forget to bring the popcorn.


by Nick
In 1999 Almodovar's mother died and it's obvious something about this event changed his state of mind, his perspective. A more somber artist, more mature, less given to the screaming hysteria of his earlier work emerged from that. I personally wonder how, even if, a film like Bad Education would have been made if his mother were still alive.

Volver is obviously him working out the trauma of losing his mother. Yet it's as much a film about dealing with the living as the dead. And, as is his wont, it's the women who have to deal with the consequences of men's actions.

The problem I have had in reviewing Volver has much to do with that while I know it's a good film, might even be a very good film, I didn't feel it. How explain why you had a lack of film for a film? While there may be good thoughts and themes in the film, I mean, I know there was, I found nothing under the surface. A lack of emotional undercurrent, you might say.

It's a pleasant film. It's, as usual, usually funny, people dealing with dealing with tragedy with that distinctly Almodovian mix of hysteria and panache. And it's very nice to look at, nice production design, but nothing engaged me, made me feel it was real.

I think the best way to summarize my feelings is Penelope Cruz. The woman is a goddess in this film. All those who have been speaking of Cruz as one of the great beauties of the screen, all right, I get it now. But there's no way such a magnificent woman works as a cleaner. I might admire how Cruz' skills in trying to project herself as a regular salt of the earth type, but there's no way I'm going to believe it. There are no great panoramas of pain written in her face, even though by the end of the film you realize there clearly should be.

In the end I feel for the film much the same way I feel for that glorious behind Cruz carries and swishes around throughout the film. It's looks great, but I just know it's fake.

Monday, December 04, 2006


by Jackrabbit Slim

I had resisted seeing Borat, but being out of the loop, culturally speaking, was getting the best of me, so I finally took it in this weekend. I had resisted it because I generally don't care for humor in which not all participants are in on the act. This ranges from Candid Camera, to prank phone calls, to the "found" style of humor practiced by personalities like David Letterman.

I did find Borat to be funny, sometimes brilliantly so. There were elements of satire in the film that are worthy of Swift. I will admit, though, that it was not easy to watch. Sacha Baron Cohen, the creator and inhabiter of Borat, is so extremely gonzo in his approach that anyone with any shred of empathy will feel crushingly embarrassed for him.

The story, for those who are living in a cave, has Cohen playing Borat Sagdiyev, who is a TV reporter from Kazakhstan (a fictionalized version, mind you). He has come to America, "the greatest country in the world," to learn new things to take back to his homeland. While in his hotel room, he stumbles upon an episode of Baywatch, and becomes enamored with Pamela Anderson, and he changes his mission to heading to California to make her his wife and "make a romantic explosion on her stomach."

Along the way he meets various types of Americans. Part of the time while I was watching these segments I had to wonder how much of it was staged and what was ambush. Some frat boys from USC, who reveal themselves to be bigoted lushes, are suing, which indicates they weren't in on the joke. But how could they not, with a camera stuck in their faces? Were releases signed? Did Cohen really go to a dinner party in the south (on Secession Drive) and hand his hostess a bag of his own feces? And have a hooker come over? If so, the mind boggles at his temerity.

In addition to sending up American values, Cohen also has some classic slapstick and deliciously rude humor, such as a naked wrestling match with his corpulent producer, played by Ken Davitian, that has to be seen to be believed. Suffice it to say that Borat later yells at him, "I can still smell your testes on my mustache!"

Borat is a classic of its kind, but it also gave me a nervous stomach. Prepare to watch part of it through your fingers.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Opening in Dallas, 12/01

by Brian
Does any of this sound good to anyone?

The Nativity Story (trailer): New Line kinda seems to be trying to ride The Passion of the Christ’s coattails on this one, but I don’t think this movie has the raison d’etre that showing Christ beat to a bloody pulp offers. In terms of art, I mean. And religion, I guess.

Sleeping Dogs Lie (trailer): Bobcat Goldthwait film about a woman who once blew her dog. Her husband has a problem with it. I would assume that arguments follow. So, that sounds fun.

Turistas (trailer): High school kids get chopped up while visiting Brazil. Good riddance, probably.

Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj (trailer): I have to admit, the title of this movie got my attention, as it strongly implied that there had been a Van Wilder 1, and that it was successful enough to spawn a sequel. After some diligent research - I take this column quite seriously, thank you - I discovered that, yes, there had been a Van Wilder I, only it was called simply Van Wilder. It starred Ryan Reynolds and Tara Reid, and was released in 2002. Now Reynolds and Reid are gone, which I guess in their own way makes them a kind of current-day Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz.