Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Savages

This is one of those movies that I thought would be tremendous--although depressingly so--but it turns out it was simply an average movie. I had high expectations that I would relish this dark comedy for four reasons: 1) The trailer makes it look great; 2) Philip Seymour Hoffman is in it; 3) It was nominated for two Oscars; 4) It was the "certified fresh pick of the week" last week on Rotten Tomatoes and scored a 97% among the "top critics" (formerly "cream of the crop")

Here, see if you think the trailer makes this look really good:

I think this movie would have had more of an impact on me had I ever been in a position to put one of my parents (or even grandparents) in a nursing home; you know, the way Bringing Out the Dead might mean more to an EMT or the way a policeman might be more heavily impacted by Narc. The problem with The Savages is that it didn't let me into their world as much as the aforementioned films did. When I was 8 or 9
my family had to put my great-grandmother in a nursing home, but I obviously wasn't aware of the situation's implications. Don't get me wrong, I was aware of the drama and turmoil of each character, but it wasn't as acute as I thought it was going to be.

The acting was good, but I felt that Hoffman was bottled up for the first half of the movie. Part of it was his character, but the other part was the [Oscar-nominated] writing. Granted, the film's main character was his sister, played quite well by [Oscar-nominated] Laura Linney, but if they had unleashed Hoffman he could have made the movie better. Consequently, I never got a true feel for Hoffman's character (which could have been purposefully done to represent the lack of rich intimacy between the two siblings ... but I doubt it). The best acting was probably done by their father, who had to walk the fine line between believability and over-the-top-ness as an elderly man with dementia.

Final Grade: C+/B-
Blurb: The Savages is close to greatness, but it's missing something and I'm not exactly sure what that "something" is. This movie will be very powerful for those who have had firsthand experience putting a loved one in a nursing home, but for those of us lucky enough to not have had that experience, this movie feels a little flat at times and hovers just above average.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

There Will Be Blood

So this makes two movies in a row (Lars and the Real Girl) that I highly recommend. Unlike Lars, this is not a feel-good story ... at all. It is, however, a tremendous movie. If you've been living under a rock for the past 6 months, here's the trailer:

First, I need to admit that I was a big fan of P.T. Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis before I even saw this film, largely due to Punch-Drunk Love and The Last of the Mohicans, respectively. Now that my bias is in the open, I again declare that this movie is fantastic. On the other hand, I will warn you that it is "slow," as the first lines of dialog do not come until after the ten-minute mark. I'm a fan of "slow" movies if they are good (i.e. The Mission, About Schmidt, The Assassination of Jesse James...), and this is one of those movies, so don't watch it expecting it to have the pace of a Die Hard movie.

Having watched There Will Be Blood on both the big and little screens, if you missed it in theaters then you can't fully grasp the film's cinematic brilliance. Normally a movie necessitates a big-screen viewing because of action scenes; TWBB translates adequately to the small screen, but the grandiose vistas lose their impact. I still command you to see this movie, but keep the lack of the theater factor
in mind.

Daniel Day-Lewis gives what I comfortably call "the best performance I've ever seen." I might be guilty of presentism and I haven't seen all the "classics," but watching this movie for a second time confirmed my initial impressed impression. For instance, after Daniel places his son on the train and "goes to see the conductor," you can see his lips subtly moving as he walks away with his head down. The amazing thing about DDL in this film is that he never overacts in a film that features him on screen for about 150 of the 158 minutes.

I think There Will Be Blood should have won the Oscar for Best Picture over No Country for Old Men and here's why: the ending. I left NCfOM with a complete "WTF mate?" sort of feeling. What does the dream mean? Does it mean that Javier Bardem gets away or that he's eventually going to get caught? As I exited the theater after seeing TWBB, my mouth might have still been agape, and I probably shook my head in disbelief at how stunning--yet thoroughly fitting--the ending was. No ambiguity. It might be the best, yet most horrifying, ending ever.

Final Grade: A+
Blurb: This movie inspires the most deserved ("deserve-ed") hyperbole ... ever. Rent it. Right now.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead

A more appropriate title would have been I'll Sleep During this Movie. The gist of it is that an ex-gangster left London three years ago to escape his past, but now he has come back to find out that a mob did something to his brother that led to said brother's death. You can find the trailer here if you're interested.

This movie was simply aweful. It was so boring! I found myself fast forwarding through it to find dialogue or action. So many minutes of film were wasted on scenes of people driving or walking! And then when I finally did find some dialogue, it was painfully bad. I would be hard pressed to find a line that wasn't a cliche. It was almost laughable ... almost.

Lets talk about acting now. Yeah, didn't really happen. I used to like Clive Owen, but now I'm not so sure. He had one (count them one) facial expression during the entire movie. That's not an exaggeration.

The plot was indecipherable. I mean, I got the general idea, but the relationships between the characters were never explained. I had no idea why anyone was doing what they were doing to anyone else. And the ending was one giant, inexplicable slap in the face. Simply terrible.

To top it all off, there was a rape scene. It wasn't graphic, but it doesn't have to be - it was disturbing.

Final Grade: F "m-i-n-e-s"
Blurb: This film is horrible. Don't watch it ever, ever. It's films like these that make Uwe Boll look competent.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Lars and the Real Girl

Finally, a movie that I can gladly recommend to everybody. I saw this movie in theaters and I enjoyed it. I wanted to rent it when it came out to DVD because I wanted to see if the story's novelty would wear off, thus diminishing the film as a whole. That was certainly not the case; I liked this movie even better this time around (which, perhaps, isn't that surprising considering there was a gaggle of gals behind me at the theater that kept talking and laughing at the most inopportune times).

Instead of explaining the creatively unique (redundancy alert?) plot--which I'm sure I would make sound pretty dumb--check out the trailer:

I need to confess that I pretty much hated Ryan Gosling before seeing this movie. I thought The Notebook was one of the most overrated movies of all time (a friend loaned it to me and I watched it with a girl, so it was sort of excusable). Just like Lloyd Christmas did when he went from shaggin' wagon to moped, Gosling TOTALLY REDEEMED HIMSELF! I think he should have been nominated for his performance here. His mannerisms, sometimes subtle, were spot-on and never appeared contrived. An absolutely outstanding job.

Gosling was aided by great performances from Lars' brother and sister-in-law (and immediate neighbors), Paul Schneider and Emily Mortimer respectively (obviously). (Schneider was one of the main motivating factors for catching Lars in theaters because of this film.) Schneider is one of the best in Hollywood and I'm glad that he's gotten more than two good roles (see: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford).

Nancy Oliver's original screenplay is phenomenal. For a first-timer--excepting her work on "Six Feet Under," which I promptly added to my queue--it's one of the best inaugural efforts I've seen. She was nominated for an Oscar for its composition, but didn't win; very stiff competition this year in that category: Juno (winner), Michael Clayton, The Savages, and Ratatouille. The direction by Craig Gillespie is good too, especially considering he is also a first-timer (I do not, however, have much faith in his follow-up project).

Final Grade: A
Blurb: A one-of-a-kind story that is well told by all participants, especially Gosling. The story's novelty neither wears out nor grows beyond belief, which is surprising given the tale's nature. This movie is the definition of a "feel-good story," but it's not annoyingly or overbearingly so; but rather, it makes you feel good for all the right reasons.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

I'm not exactly sure how to start this review. For the last half of the movie I kept on trying to think of an analogy that would fit how it feels to watch this film. "Nails on a chalkboard" doesn't fit here because this movie wasn't rip-your-hair-out excruciating. Here's the best and most accurate analogy I came up with: watching this movie is sort of like having a canker sore--it's sort of painful, yet you can't leave it alone.

This was a limited release film, so here's a [2 minute] trailer to get you familiar with the story:

So there you go. I mean, going into it I knew it would be a little painful because of the amount of betrayal within the family, but it keeps getting worse as the film goes along. One thing that made this movie worth the pain of watching was the acting. I'm going to go ahead and say it: Philip Seymour Hoffman is in the top 5 on my list of best Hollywood actors. He can play just about any character--I have yet to see him fail in any role--and he is tremendous in this movie as the most villainous character (not quite
the Mattress Man though). Ethan Hawke plays a very familiar role as a good guy who starts down the wrong path. Hawke is good in this, but he can't stand up to Hoffman's presence in some scenes the way he could stand up to Denzel in Training Day. Marisa Tomei does a fine job, as do the folks that play Hawke and Hoffman's parents (AKA Peter Parker's Aunt May and Jason Bourne's nemesis Dr. Hirsch). Hoffman and Hawke--but especially Hoffman--are what make this film work.

The direction is fine (Sidney Lumet, nominated for 5 Oscars; I've only seen 1 of the 5: Network) and the screenplay is good, especially considering that this was Kelly Masterson's first. There are times where a cinematic effect is used to transition backward in time and I found it to be very late-night-television-from-the-1960's-ish; I would much rather have had the scene transitions from Battlefield Earth).

Final Grade: B-
Blurb: This movie has great acting and a good storyline, but its painful nature makes it too hard for me to heartily recommend it to anyone. If it's possible, I would classify this movie as a good film ... that you shouldn't watch.

Monday, April 14, 2008

THX 1138

First of all, let me preface this review by revealing my love of distopia movies (also a big fan of ghetto future movies, but we can deal with that later ...). There was also a time when I was a big fan of George Lucas, but those times have long since gone, leaving only bitterness and disgust in their stead.

THX 1138 is, I believe, the earliest distopia I have watched. Made in 1971, it predates Logan's run by five years! Since it is so old, it has earned some reviewing grace. This is important to remember, because much like Logan's Run, almost every distopia that has followed has borrowed some of its elements. As a result, when I was watching THX 1138 I saw very little that I hadn't seen in one form or another in a more recent movie. But, this is probably a testament to the quality of the movie.

The acting was alright. Better than in Logan's Run. And there are actually a few recognizable names - Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasence. The dialogue was very stilted and awkward, but it's supposed to be. Too bad George Lucas never stopped writing dialogue this way. Zing! He's probably crying now, but he deserves it after inflicting the pain of Episodes I - III on me. Which brings me to my next question.

What is up with George Lucas? The man is a mystery to me. For awhile now, I've been believing that he just got lucky with Star Wars (IV - VI) and Indiana Jones. He's made so many unbearably aweful movies: Star Wars Episodes I - III and Howard the Duck (seriously George? Duck nipples?). But as I look over his career I begin to see what's going on. George Lucas has good ideas, but he's bad at implementing them.

The only good movies for which he's written the screenplay are THX 1138 and Star Wars Episodes IV and VI. In all the good ones (Empire Strikes Back, the Indiana Jones Movies, Willow, Labyrinth), he's only responsible for coming up with the story and the characters. I've finally cracked the code! George Lucas is a creative guy, but as soon as he starts writing a screenplay it's almost guaranteed to be excruciatingly bad.

But, getting back to the review at hand ... THX 1138 was unable to elude the graps of George's CG. Please, please stop adding CG elements to your old movies! I guess he just couldn't resist adding the CG monkeys. Also, a lot of the same sound effects that are in the Star Wars movies are in this. With all the revising George does, I don't know whether to think they've been there all along or they've been added in decades after the film was completed.

Final Grade: B+
Blurb: While there's not much new to see here it's only because this movie was one of the earliest of the distopia genre. Despite George Lucas' CG meddling, it's reassuring to see that he hasn't always been totally inept. THX 1138 is good. Fans of the genre should definitely check this out.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Classic. That's basically what I think about Serpico - it's a classic. This is evidently one of the first (if not the) serious police corruption movies. It's really good. Now I understand why Al Pacino has a reputation as such a great actor. Lately, after seeing movies like Oceans 13, Two for the Money, and The Recruit, I haven't been too too impressed with him. Also , evidently he was in Gili?! Never saw it. But Serpico is Pacino at his best. He does a fantastic job.

Sidney Lumet directed Serpico. This guy is old school. He's been directing since the '40s. And since this movie was made in '73, it has a much slower pace than audiences today have come to expect. Once you get into the tempo (which doesn't take long) the movie flows fairly smoothly. And Lumet has proved that he can cater to our need for speed with Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. It's one of those movies that's kind of good, but not really recommendable. Seriously, don't see it.

Just a quick warning. Don't go into this expecting the same edge of your seat drama that cop movies deliver today. I know I've already talked about Serpico's pacing, but this is a different issue. This movie is about a character - it's about Frank Serpico (who's evidently a real guy).

Also, Charlie from It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia does a shockingly good Serpico impression (the full episode can be viewed at here, although you'll need to create a fee account because the show's TV rating for "language" and "mature themes") Here's a short youtube clip of Charlie as Serpico (sidenote: Charlie has documented cases of illiteracy and a learning disability):

Final Grade: A-
Blurb: Serpico is a slow moving but well-structured crime drama that has worn well. Al Pacino is at his best. It's worth your time to see the grandfather of police corruption movies.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The King of Kong/My Kid Could Paint That/12:08 East of Bucharest

Since Wednesday I've watched the three movies mentioned in this blog's title, but I didn't feel like any of them warranted their own blog. I probably would've left them all untouched, but I'm watching the Memphis/Kansas championship game, so I might as well multi-task (that way I won't feel too bad about watching the game instead of reading nineteenth-century circus songsters).

The King of Kong: A Fist Full of Quarters: This is not a boring or overly-political documentary (about 75% of documentaries seem to fall in those two categories); this movie is just plain fun. The story here is that there was a world record set for Donkey Kong back in the early '80s (held by the guy on the left with the long hair and the beard), and the guy on the left (the clean-cut family man) is trying to break that record. The filmmakers don't have to work hard to set up the record-holder as the prideful jerk that you want to see fall; all they do is turn on the camera (and later edit) and the guy talks about how awesome he is and how he's always been a winner at everything he has done. On the other hand, the challenger is a family man that has never really succeeded at anything, and was recently let go from his job at Boeing (which is what allows him to pursue the record). Being an engineer, the challenger diagrams and figures out the game like the character from the movie Beautiful Mind. I'm not going to play the spoiler, but I will say that when the movie was over, I felt like the challenger was a winner--because he's a better person--no matter if he broke the record or not.
Final Grade: B

Blurb: This documentary manages to examine its subjects without mocking them. The way the story is set up could have been more subtle, but you definitely get a sense of who the characters are. If you're in the mood to watch a documentary, this movie is worth 89 minutes.

My Kid Could Paint That:
This is a documentary about Marla Olmstead, a young girl (four years old at the film's beginning) whose abstract paintings created an international buzz in the art world. The movie touches on the whole is-this-art[?] business, but it's main focus is on Marla's family. About 6 months into the film's shooting 60 Minutes aired a piece that called into question the girl's ability to do all the paintings herself (believing that her father helped or "coached" her). The film, which began under the assumption that the paintings were wholly Marla's, began to examine her paintings, as well as the behavior of her parents. I won't play spoiler here, but the filmmaker lets you sort of form your own opinion (although he definitely believes one way). Sidenote: I wanted more anti-art-establishment, but that's just my own negative thoughts regarding the art establishment. Sidenote II: I liked some of her works.
Final Grade: C+/B-
Blurb: This film is interesting and you want to figure out the mystery of the paintings' creator/origins, but it's not necessarily compelling (and it's not as fun as The King of Kong).

12:08 East of Bucharest: (This is not a documentary.) I probably never would have heard of this film if it wasn't for Paste Magazine. It's hard to describe the plot of this movie, and even the trailer wasn't that helpful in explaining what the movie was about (the trailer was really hard to find by the way). Basically, the movie looks at three characters in a small Romanian town over the course of about eight hours or so. That sounds really boring, but it's all about the production of a television show which is going to investigate if the revolution occurred in the town before or after the communist officials left (at 12:08 p.m. on 22 December 1989). It's not a long film--about 90 minutes--and almost 30 of those minutes are of the actual show airing live. I know I just made it sound even more boring, but it is an intriguing movie, and the last five minutes are especially arresting (once again, not going to spoil anything here).
Final Grade: B-
Blurb: This is an intriguing movie despite the fact that it only covers less than half of a day, and a subject that has been largely untouched by films, but some of the humor--which may have been a hit with Eastern European audiences--doesn't always hit home, and some of the parody is lost on audiences that have not seen Eastern European television shows (which I'm guessing is about 95% of the world).

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Friday Preview

So I co-opted this idea from Brandon's blog: reviewing the films that debut without actually seeing them first. This is the ultimate in pretentious cinematic prejudice.

Leatherheads: This looks like a decent movie that I plan on renting rather than shelling out $8.50 on opening night. There are sure to be a few laughs and I'm also intrigued by this sports period piece given my rather recent interest in late 19th and early 20th-century popular culture (under which sports falls). The not-so-intriguing part about this movie is that it looks, based solely on the previews, that I can predict which guy Zellwegger will choose: Clooney. Where's the fun in that?
[P]review grade: B-

Nim's Island: Do I even need to watch the preview? No. That's how ridiculous I am. The story is about a young girl that daydreams (and writes) about adventures in the wild while she lives in the city. At the risk of making all of you groan outloud: Nim's Island should be rated PG-13, as in Pretty Good if you're under 13. I should evaluated based on how it accomplishes the goal it's going for (being a good movie for kids), but if I needed to evaluated on an adult scale...
[P]review grade: D+

The Ruins: A movie about a group of good looking twenty-somethings that go abroad and bad things start happening to them? I have never heard of a plot like before, so this is probably going to be the best movie opening this weekend. In the words of Borat, "This suit is black." Wow, this movie is going to be terrible. To be honest, I'd rather see this film if it were a documentary about a group of good looking twenty-somethings that went to South America, ate a bunch of questionably cooked meat, and then drank a gallon of unclean tap water; they could call it The Runs. Cinematic critique just reached a new low. :)
[P]review grade: F


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Michael Clayton

Alright, so I know this movie is old news but I just saw it last night. Despite all the awards and glowing reviews, I still did not think I was going to like this. I expected it to be heavy handed and preachy ... kinda like George Clooney. Instead it was suspenseful, well paced, and superbly acted.

George Clooney was nominated for oscar for his performance, but I'm not sure he deserved it. Don't get me wrong - he did a good job, but his performance wasn't really oscar worthy.
Tom Wilkinson, who was nominated for best supporting actor, did an amazing job. Unfortunately he didn't win it. But he should have! He was completely convincing and his intensity was fantastic. Plus he gets cool points for being Carmine Falcone (Batman Begins).

But enough about not winning oscars. Let's talk about someone who did win - Tilda Swinton. You probably know her as the White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia. But to me, she will always be Gabriel from Constantine. I admit, there is something strangely unsettling about her face, but she's a fantastic actress. And maybe the indefinable quality of her face (strangely attractive yet on the verge of an outburst) helps her. I don't know.

Michael Clayton was written by Tony Gilroy. Honestly, I had never really heard of him before but it turns out that he also wrote the screenplays for all of the Borne movies. Less impressive movies in his writing pedigree include The Devil's Advocate, The Cutting Edge, and The Cutting Edge 2: Going for the Gold. Overall, though, I'd say he's been successful.

The story was compelling and hit home - but I may be biased since I'm going to be a lawyer soon. I definitely identified with some of the struggles of Michael and Arthur.

Final Grade: A-
Blurb: You'll soon discover that I grade much more generously than my esteemed colleague. Also, I'm new to the letter grade system. Suffice it to say that this is a great courtroom/lawyer drama that will keep you interested until the very end. If you haven't already, watch it.