Monday, June 30, 2008

The Grifters

I'd never heard of this movie (released in 1990 ... I was 8), but Blockbuster recommended it to me; seeing how Sexy Beast was a great success, I decided to give it a try.

Starring John Cusack, Anjelica Huston, and Annette Benning (the former two I enjoy), The Grifters had a little bit of star power (not to mention it was produced by Scorcese). I did not have outrageously high hopes, but I did have some hopes that it would be a decent movie. Additionally, it was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Director and Best Screenplay. And on a completely unrelated note, I wanted to like the movie because "grifter" is a term associated with the nineteenth-century American circus (it's sort of like a combination between "graft" and "drifter").

Wow, what a disappointing movie!!!

Cusack, Huston, and Benning are all grifters (con-persons) and they weave a tangled web that eventually destroys everything (and Scorcese's credibility as a producer). There's really odd sexual tension between Huston and Cusack (mother and son) which is seven kinds of vomit-inducing creepy. The plotline(s) are convoluted (the audience never really knows what's going on and if the characters' vague backstories are true) and there isn't a protagonist for which you can truly root.
I should've known it was going to suck since sunglasses are prominently featured on the movie poster and 83.7% of all movies with sunglasses on the posters are terrible.

Final Grade: F
Blurb: Do not watch this movie unless you want the cinematic equivalent of having your intestines pulled out through your mouth. If Siskel were still alive, I'd kick him right in the coccyx.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Arrested Development: The Movie

This clearly isn't a review, but it seems as if the speculation is over. Fast forward this video to the about the 3:15 mark and sit back and enjoy (if you want to watch the first part, you can ... it's just some video clips and then slightly amusing small-talk about Will Smith and the movie "Hancock").

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

2 Days in Paris

I don't like Paris or France (and I'm not that into the way French sounds). Never having been there, let me tell you all about it: it's full of cheese-eating surrender monkeys (and this movie portrays them as hyper-sexual, self-absorbed, semi-revolting bastards .... no, it's not a documentary). There, now we can get to the movie...

This film intrigued me from the first time I saw its
trailer because it didn't appear to be a typical chick flick ... and surprise, it's not! Julie Deply and Adam Goldberg have been dating for about 2 years and they're finally going to Paris--where Deply grew up--for a few days after a week in Venice. Goldberg discovers that Paris is the city of lovers, most of which seem to have "known" his girlfriend. Obviously, that causes a bit of strife between the two as trust issues abound.

The great thing about the characters played by Deply and Goldberg is that they feel real, they feel normal, they feel like people I could know (or already do). This doesn't seem to happen in a lot of love-story focussed films, as the hero and the heroine are usually super attractive do-gooders all of the time. Goldberg has been a hit-or-miss actor for me throughout his career (liked him: Saving Private Ryan, A Beautiful Mind, Zodiac, Entourage; disliked him (or the movies): The Hebrew Hammer, Dazed and Confused, EdTV). Deply, on the other hand, was a total wild card. The only thing she's been in that I've seen is Broken Flowers ... and that movie was one of the biggest disappointments I've ever seen (worst [postmodern] ending ever!). Not only did she do an excellent job acting, she also did a great job directing.

Final Grade: B
Blurb: Although it didn't deliver as many laughs as I thought it would, it excelled as a story involving characters that felt "real"--albeit far from normal. This is not your typical love story (this movie is sort of like cinematic marriage counseling), but that's exactly what sets 2 Days in Paris apart from the field.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others (AKA Das Leben der Anderren) is a film about East Germany in the 1980s. So many films focus on 1930s and 1940s Germany--for obvious reasons--but the Soviet Bloc era warrants more exploration. TLoO follows three main characters: one member of the Stazi (East Germany's secret communist police) and two members of the country's art community (a playwright and an actress). The trailer doesn't have any dialogue (the movie is in German with English subtitles), but will give you an idea of the film (it's also a very clever trailer ... there aren't too many trailers that can give you a better idea of what's going on without the use of audible words):

As you may suspect, the once-proud Stazi official becomes involved and intertwined in the story of the two artistes and he begins to examine his life and his job as a monitor of all things anti-socialist. Not being a Modern German historian, I feel like this is an accurate portrayal of life in communist Germany. I even imagined myself showing clips to future students if I gave a lecture on communism and/or the USSR.

The acting and direction are good. Ulrich Mühe, the actor who plays the Stazi official (and who I have not seen in other films), does a fantastic job. His character has to convey emotion while not display an overwhelming amount (it would subsequently render his character far less believable). Sebastian Koch portrays the troubled playwright also does a fine job (you might recognize him as the "nicest Nazi in Holland" in the film Black Book). There wasn't anything striking about the film's direction, but there wasn't anything distracting or annoying either.

The only thing about this movie that I would change--or at least shorten--is the ending. You get to a point in the film and you think, "Ah, okay, here's the end" ... but then it goes on for about ten more minutes. I won't give anything away here, but I felt like the ending wrapped up things a bit too nicely (although I'm sure a lot of you out there will appreciate that).

Final Grade: B/B+
Blurb: An interesting look inside communist East Germany, this storyline entices you, much like the Stazi official, to become captivated by the events in the lives of its main characters.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sexy Beast

Yeah, I know, this sounds like a movie I shouldn't even be watching. But trust me, the title is ironic. I had never even heard of this movie, but Blockbuster "recommended" it to me. Initially I was puzzled because the title suggests something very different than what this movie is: an organized crime drama.

Trailers for this film were a little hard to come across (I found three homemade ones), but here's the best one (warning: the voice over is lame... and there's plenty of foul language):

So I hope that gives you an idea of what the movie was about. Although I read the movie's description before I rented it, I didn't watch a preview and I'm glad because everything--everything--was fresh and more powerful (whoops, guess I should've warned you about that before I put the trailer up there). During the first 20 minutes of this movie, I thought to myself, "Oh no, another movie about a guy that doesn't want to come out of retirement to do a job but gets sucked in." But it wasn't. Most of the movie--as the trailer made evident--is about the resistance. And I can't go any further without saying that the acting in this film is outstanding. Ben Kingsly is simply amazing. You know how people say that Mark Whalberg did a good job in The Departed? Yeah, he wishes he could hold a candle to BK in this film. I didn't have a whole lot of faith in BK after You Kill Me--which I actually stopped because it was so boring--but he is unbelievably impressive in this film (IMDB just informed me that it was an Oscar-nominated performance). I was also impressed with Ray Winstone since he hasn't really had a lead role in any film (Beowulf doesn't count).

The film is one part Guy Ritchie, one part Coen Brothers (a few small parts reminded me of Raising Arizona), and the rest is a film of its own. Sometimes the plot is a little hard to follow due to the director's cinematic effects and the thick English accents, but my confusion only lasted for a few seconds. This movie is riddled with tension throughout and the times of inaction are still intense because BK's character is so unpredictable (similar to Brad Pitt in Jesse James..., only more so because BK is about seventeen times crazier).

Final Grade: B+/A-
Blurb: This movie is what The Bank Job should've been. Rent this if you enjoy Guy Ritchie films, stories about organized crime, or an appreciation for great acting... but don't take my word for it... and don't rent The Bank Job unless you want to be bored for 2 hours.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


So this isn't a movie, but since I watched the entire season this past week (just twelve 30-minute episodes), I didn't have anything else to review.

The show's premise, if you are unfamiliar, is about a white housewife in suburban California whose husband dies and she's "forced" to sell weed to her hypocritical suburban neighbors in order to maintain her lifestyle. Nevermind that they could sell their house for millions of dollars (it's huge and it's in California), sell their Land Rover, fire their maid, and move somewhere reasonable (she just has two kids) ... but if you're going to continue being a materialist suburbanite, I guess selling weed is your best option (?!).

Beyond the ridiculous premise, the show--created and aired on the Showtime Network--is adroitly aimed at the widest possible audience. The show is about drugs, so that will bring in a male audience; it stars a female lead character, so women will tune in, but she's also very attractive, so back to the men; there's lots of relationship drama, so women will eat that up, but there's also drama about drugs and a little violence, so back to the men again. Showtime clearly cast a net to snare the widest possible audience (unlike Sex and the City or The Wire/Entourage/Deadwood that clearly aim at a specific gender).

If I hadn't gotten both discs, I probably would've stopped after the first disc as I got sort of bored with it (and the novelty of the storyline wore off very quickly), but I kept going since I had both discs (and was without cable television). The second disc, especially the last 3 episodes really picked up and I'm now debating whether or not to check into the second season (so if were really great show, there wouldn't be a debate)... but I wasn't that impressed (a Golden Globe?)

Final Grade (Season 1): C+
Blurb: It's a fine show that appeals to a broad audience, but if you have to watch one
show about suburbanites selling illegal drugs, it should be Breaking Bad instead of Weeds.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

I had high hopes. All they had to do was stick to the Indiana Jones tried-and-true methods. It could've been a great, late addition to the series, much like the most recent Die Hard. I should've known better.

The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull got George Lucas-iszed. It was painfully bad. There was waay too much CG, and it was shockingly obvious that it was CG. Even when the sets weren't rendered by computers, too many of them were obviously soundstages. Poorly disguised sound stages.

On top of all that, the dialogue was horrible. It was uber cheesy and the pacing was entirely too slow. The cuts were too slow as well. The camera stayed on shots for much too long. The action was ponderous as well.

Even the soundtrack seemed to be thrown together on somebody's keyboard at the last minute. It was heavy-handed, telegraphing every emotion and situation. The whole thing was essentially a loop of the Indiana Jones theme at differing volumes. It was also ever-present - there was never a moment of peace.

To top it all off, the plot was outlandish beyond reason. Just ridiculous.

Essentially, this new Indiana Jones is much like the new Star Wars movies were ... bad. George Lucas should've left well enough alone.

Final Grade: F

Blurb: Terrible, terrible remake. George Lucas should not be allowed to make movies. The only reason this didn't get the lowest grade possible (F m-i-n-e-s) is because of the nostalgia factor. Seriously, please don't see this.