December 17, 2007
5) The Bourne Ultimatum
This was just a great all around action movie. Smart and intense with a fast pace and an entertaining storyline. Even the acting and writing were alright. Full Review
4) Into the Wild
It would be difficult to not be intrigued by the story of Into the Wild. This movie is beautifully shot and well executed in every way. Full Review
3) Fugitive Pieces
A haunting tale that nobody should miss if you have the good fortune of being within driving distance of a theatre that will play it. Look for Fugitive Pieces in a slightly less limited release in the spring. Full Review
2) American Gangster
American Gangster is not being universally loved, but for me it was almost perfect. I don't think I've ever seen Denzel Washington better. Full Review
1) The Darjeeling Limited
The Darjeeling Limited is another one that is getting mixed reviews but not from me. This movie hit on every emotion in existence and may be Wes Anderson's best movie to date. Full Review
Check out the Large Association of Movie Blogs (LAMBs) here if you haven't been there yet. There will be a top 5 list for 2007 posted there at the end of December based on a compilation of LAMB reviewers top 5 picks. You've just read my contribution.
December 7, 2007
Frank Lucas took over the heroin trade in New York after the French Connection dope dried up in the 1970's. Lucas found a way to bring better heroin to the US for a fraction of its normal price by going straight to the source in Thailand and having US soldiers in Vietnam smuggle the drugs back into the US for him. This massive advantage gave Lucas instant power and notoriety in a world where the Italian mob normally had no competition.
Lucas does not horde his success but lavishes his family with a great life and never forgets to be a good and respectful man to his mother and for the most part his wife. He involves all his brothers in the wildly successful family "business" which at its height took in a million dollars a day in profit.
In American Gangster's parallel story we follow an honest cop named Richie Roberts who is heading up a drug task force that ends up hot on the tail of Lucas' entire operation. As honest as Roberts is as a cop he is an equally terrible husband and father and cannot get his private life together.
It is this play between good and evil, light and dark, and the many shades of grey in between that fascinated me the most about American Gangster. I found myself painfully aware of the evil in Lucas and yet I was able to also see the good in the man as well. The sames goes for Roberts. The writing in this movie achieves this tension in a way that had me never quite knowing who to route for and enjoying every single minute.
The performances are spot on in American Gangster, each supporting role is played tremendously well and Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe each bring their best performance in years playing Lucas and Roberts respectively. Washington to me should be the early favorite for actor of the year for his portrayal of Lucas, a gentleman who knows how to smooth talk anyone but who also has breaking point and will snap on those who disappoint him. Another performance worth noting is that of Chiwetel Ejiofor who plays one of Lucas' brothers. I've enjoyed Ejiofor in several roles in recent years and he is brilliant in this supporting role alongside Washington.
Ridley Scott directs American Gangster and while his work it hit or miss for me this one is right on the mark. Everything in the look and feel of this movie had me involved and along for the ride from start to finish.
American Gangster is not to be missed. I put it on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $9.
December 1, 2007
I loved a few of the moments in this movie but overall I can't shake the feeling that Last Days was mostly a directionless voyeuristic movie that left me feeling very unsatisfied.
Last Days is loosely based on the final days of Kurt Cobain's life and mostly follows a character named Blake who is meant to be some sort of representation of Cobain. The movie is set in a large and beautiful house in which Blake is hiding from everyone and anyone. There are several friends he is allowing to stay in the house with him seemingly because they purposefully leave him alone and aid him in his desire to stay hidden.
Blake spends the movie in a daze, drifting in and out of sleep and in and out of the house and its many rooms. He is portrayed mostly as an absolute mess, mumbling to himself and at one point unable to carry out the simple task of making a bowl of cereal. Blake has his moments though, he writes and mumbles his thoughts in a notebook in a moment of inspiration and the bits of his inner monologue that are audible are deep and powerful. There are also a couple of incredible scenes where Blake is creating music by himself in the house and these glimpses into the creative mind and talent of his character are amazing.
I also especially enjoyed a scene which involved a Yellow Pages salesman coming to the door, in a case of mistaken identity he tries to sell ad space to Blake believing him to be the owner of a locomotive company.
Last Days is not a bad movie. Gus Van Sant has once again created a unique film experience and as I said earlier, there will be those who will love it. I appreciated parts of Last Days such as the cinematography where many things happen off camera and the audience is left listening and knowing exactly what is happening without seeing it. It undoubtedly took courage to make this movie.
For me though, besides some exceptional moments in the film, I was left waiting the entire time for a story to be told and I never felt like that was accomplished. There were some very small stories told in between long moments of nothing but overall Last Days just didn't have enough holding it together to make me enjoy it.
I hesitantly put Last Days on my 'Don't Watch It' list and give it a value of $4.
- Please leave a comment if you agree or disagree, I'm really curious to know how others of you interacted with this film.
November 25, 2007
Ratatouille is the story of a rat named Remy who is tired of eating the garbage his colony collects for food. Remy has a very enlightened taste for good food and he also finds a way to learn how to cook by sneaking into the kitchen of the house whose walls are his home. Through a series of traumatic events reminiscent of the animated classic American Tail, Remy ends up seperated from his family and alone in Paris. From there he befriends a garbage boy named Linguini in one of Paris' finest restaurants and predictably ends up helping the garbage boy become an amazing chef.
The story in Ratatouille is the typical underdog tale Disney has brought us so many times with warmhearted comedy and life lessons abounding throughout. Remy struggles with his lack of full acceptance in both the human and the rat world while Linguini struggles with the immense praise and credit he is getting for work that is not his. Remy and Linguini are completely dependant on each other for their individual success and of course their relationship hits a few bumps throughout the story as well.
While the specifics of the plot of Ratatouille are unique it's the underlying themes which are nothing new. This was an impressive movie in many ways but it was also a story I've seen before from Disney.
Still, Ratatouille is well worth seeing, the voice acting is very good and the writing, while not unique, is very good. Of course the visuals are the main reason you need to see this latest animated Disney/Pixar colaboration. While animation has become increasingly impressive the last few years Ratatouille has raised the bar to a whole new level. No other animated movie I've ever even comes close to the quality and detail in this one.
I can forgive the flaws of Ratatouille as they are to be expected in this genre. The good far outweighs the bad and it is going on the 'Watch It' list with a value of $8.
November 24, 2007
If you have not heard of Paris Je T'aime you need to know a few things first. This is not really a movie at all, it's a collection of 18 short films related to each other only in that they all take place in Paris and all have love as their theme. These two commonalities were enough for me to feel like the entire film was one big experience rather than 18 individual experiences.
Not all the films were amazing to me but the more people I talk to the more I realize that everyone seems to have a different take on which were great and which were duds. That's really part of the magic of Paris Je T'aime, as long as you don't arbitrarily hate all short films I can guarantee you'll thoroughly enjoy at least a few of the stories told here.
The most impactful ones for me were the real life love stories such as the husband who is about to tell his wife he is leaving her when she announces she is dieing, in that moment he alters his entire life plan and chooses to take care of his wife. As she fades away he falls back in love with her more deeply than ever before. There is also entertainment to be found in some of the strangers short films including one about two mimes and another about a vampire falling in love with a tourist.
Paris Je T'aime features many great directors such as Gus Van Sant, the Coen brothers and Alfonso Cuaron, and an impressive list of actors, Steve Buscemi, Elijah Wood, Natalie Portman, Willem Dafoe, Rufus Sewell and Catalina Sandino Moreno, I could go on but there's nothing quite as affective at losing a readers interest like a list.
Paris Je T'aime will not be perfect to anyone but it will be enjoyable to everyone. Go and watch this today if you haven't seen it yet.
This is unquestionably on my 'Watch It' list and I give it full value at $10, it's not perfect but it's worth every penny.
November 16, 2007
Into the Wild is the story of Chris McCandless, a 24 year old who has grown up in privilege and wealth but breaks from all that after graduating from University. McCandless donates his $24,000+ college fund to charity, burns his ID and cash and sets out on a journey that takes him all over the US, to Mexico and eventually to his ultimate goal, Alaska.
The debate around this story is between those who see McCandless as an intelligent visionary breaking away from what is wrong in the world and those who contend he was running from his life and drastically unprepared for the wild he longed to live in. Sean Penn wrote and directed this film version of the Jon Krakauer book and though they each paint a slightly different picture of McCandless what comes through is a version of the story that finds balance between the two extremes.
In the end what we're left with is a brilliant movie that left me thinking for days. The cinematography is breathtaking in Into the Wild as Penn gives a great feel for the surroundings of McCandless and an appreciation for the peace that nature seemed to give him. The performances in this movie really bring it all together, McCandless meets and befriends several people in his journeys and each character is played very well and brings cohesiveness to the story when only McCandless is the common thread between them all. Emile Hirsch plays McCandless and likely deserves most of the credit for finding chemistry with each and every actor he is alongside in Into the Wild.
This is a great story and a very good film. Whether the themes of Into the Wild inspire you, frustrate you or both you will come out of it having witnessed skilled storytelling, superb imagery and fantastic acting.
I put Into the Wild on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $9.
November 12, 2007
The previous Die Hards, especially the original, brought the audience character driven stories and raw action done nearly to perfection. Live Free or Die Hard relies heavily on big special effects and stunts and doesn't give the viewer nearly enough story. The villain was never convincing to me, nor were his motives clear and as much as it's always far fetched that our main character John McClane lives through the many near death experiences each movie has brought his way, it went from far fetched to ridiculous in this one. At one point McClane jumps from an air force fighter jet and slides down a broken concrete overpass with the jet exploding overhead. I can shut off my expectations of reality for an action movie but he walked away a little too quickly from that one.
Overall Live Free or Die Hard is not awful. There are entertaining moments and when the action is bound by the laws of physics it is quite entertaining. Bruce Willis is great as always playing John McClane, and his co-star Justin Long is quite good as well as the funny bumbling sidekick.
For me this movie just didn't work though. The tame villain combined with the impossible to believe action sequences left me unable to forgive the thin and undeveloped storyline.
This is a movie worth seeing if you're a Die Hard fan but I have to put it on my 'Don't Watch It' list and give it a value of $4.
November 10, 2007
When I say Evan Almighty was implausible I don't mean the supernatural parts of its plot line. Anytime a movie has supernatural elements in its premise I'm willing to suspend my normal life expectations for the sake of the story. The impossible to believe part of Evan Almighty was every single character's reaction to Evan during the story.
Here's the premise, Evan Baxter (the news anchor from the mildly enjoyable Bruce Almighty) is a US congressman who is visited by God and asked to build an ark just like the one Noah built in the bible. Evan is convinced he has to do this and over the course of several days he miraculously grows a ZZ Top length beard and suddenly is followed everywhere by two of all kinds of wild animals. There's a little more to it but not much, and I don't want to give away the ending.
Think about what would happen if a person suddenly grew a foot long white beard, built an ark by hand and had birds, lions, monkeys etc... following them around. Honestly think about it, they would be a supernatural phenomenon that people would clamour to meet. I would venture a guess that they would be worshipped.
What happens here? Every single person in Evan Baxter's life thinks he has gone crazy, they betray him and completely discredit him. This includes his own family who sees the miracles first hand and knows them to be real but takes until the half way point of the story to rally around him. I realize that this movie is not meant to be a dramatic study of real people and their reactions to unexplainable events but I don't think it's too much to ask that the humans in a movie act like humans.
Besides Evan Almighty's MASSIVE plot holes it also brings you terrible writing and some truly awful CGI for many of the animals. Not even the brilliant Steve Carrell could save this one.
Please don't ever see Evan Almighty, you'll never get that time back. I put it on my 'Don't Watch It' list and give it a well deserved value of $0.
November 5, 2007
This story takes place mainly on a train travelling through India called The Darjeeling Limited. Among its passengers are the three Whitman brothers who have not seen each other in the year since their father's death. One of the brothers, Francis, has organized this reconnecting trip for his brothers with spiritual experiences scheduled on each days laminated itinerary. While the brothers make a valiant effort with each scheduled attempt at creating a spiritual experience, it isn't until the trip seems a total failure that an unscheduled event actually does give the brothers the experience they crave.
Adrian Brody, Jason Schwartzman, and Owen Wilson play the Whitman brothers, Peter, Jack, and Francis, and Brody fits in impressively with Anderson's movie making style, one that is quite unique and that Schwartzman and Wilson each have experience with. For most people there is something very hit or miss with the subtle, witty and pause-filled dialogue that Anderson writes. For me it hits the bulls eye, or home run or target, or whatever metaphor you prefer. The Darjeeling Limited had me laughing and moved, sometimes at the same time, by the broken relationships of its emotional broken characters.
While the writing and humour are often subtle in Darjeeling the major themes of the movie are anything but. Three brothers on a journey together each having brought their belongings in their fathers old luggage (baggage) which they haul around with great effort throughout the whole movie. There are no big surprises or twists in this plot but the story is still captivating.
Visually the train setting allows Anderson to use some enthralling cinematography where at times the world is going by on the outside and at others the train itself is going by and must be caught. Frequently used are Anderson's characteristic slow motion sequences and long moments of holding a single shot.
The performances in Darjeeling are pitch perfect, the look of the movie is detailed and fascinating and the writing is as good as any Anderson has done to date.
I enthusiastically put The Darjeeling Limited on my 'Watch It' list and give it the rarely awarded value of $10.
October 30, 2007
It's rare that a movie can pull off a storyline that includes everything from an alien invasion to a debate on faith. Along the way Signs delivers some of the creepiest scenes I've ever witnessed.
3) The Sixth Sense
If you know me then you should have expected M. Night would make my list twice. Sixth Sense is not my favorite of his movies but it is certainly his most frightening.
2) Dark City
Dark City is an extraordinary film. This is a dark movie which is shot and acted to perfection. It may not be known for being frightening but you'll know why it's on this list if you've seen it.
1) The Shining
Straight up scary. This is a great movie made terrifying by fantastic acting and imagery only Kubrick could provide.
These are all frightening movies and each one surprised me with how well it was made.
October 25, 2007
I went into Knocked Up with very high expectations, this was supposed to be an intelligent and refreshingly realistic comedy and almost every critic has been praising it. I am going to disagree with the critics here fairly strongly.
I'll first tell you what I liked. The performances of the four main characters are all quite good and there were certainly a few funny moments in Knocked Up. Some of the dialogue is very intelligent and witty, but this is the minority of the movie unfortunately.
My main problem with Knocked up is the lack of plausibility in the story. I know it's just a comedy but in any movie the story does need to be believable and this one is not. Basically Ben (Seth Rogan) has a one night stand and Alison (Katherine Heigl) gets pregnant. When Alison decides to keep the baby they decide to try to make the relationship work. All believability ends here.
Ben is an unemployed loser who lives with unemployed losers who are all more disgusting and vulgar guys than any I've ever met. Alison is a beautiful woman with a promising career in television broadcasting. She is about four divisions out of Ben's league and though I can believe that she would want to make an effort with the father of her child she starts to like Ben pretty quickly without much reason.
I think I was supposed to see a transformation in Ben as the movie went on to being a more responsible guy willing to do what it takes to make this whole thing work out. What I saw was a guy stay unapologetically a loser and really only at the tail end of the story does he make some minor changes in his life by moving out on his own and (gasp) getting a job.
Besides the major plot line being outside the realm of reality for me I also just didn't find Knocked Up all that funny. What laughs there were came from witty dialogue but most of the humour stemmed from pretty simplistic potty jokes.
Overall Knocked Up is really just a vulgar movie. I'm not trying to say all movies need to be polite and star PG characters but most of the humour in this one is just unoriginal.
Knocked Up just didn't work for me. I know I'm in the minority with this opinion but there you have it.
I put Knocked Up on my 'Don't Watch It' list and give it a value of $3.
October 20, 2007
Across the Universe follows a few years in the life of a British dock worker named Jude who travels to America in the 60s to find his estranged father. The main storyline is rather simple actually, Jude makes a friend named Max and falls in love with Max's sister Lucy. Max is drafted to fight in the Vietnam War and mild mannered Lucy becomes an anti-war activist.
The unique catch to Across the Universe is that the entire movie centers around more than 30 Beatles songs; each one is woven into the storyline and sung by the movie's characters in the style of a stage musical. At times this was a bit of a stretch but for the most part the music was well done and the story worked.
While I found the main storyline fairly simple there are many other themes touched on in this movie. There's the love story intertwined with the anti-war movement, there are the social protests and civil rights movement, and of course the casual use of hard drugs like LSD.
I am at best a casual fan of Beatles music. I've heard it all and like almost all of it but I can't claim to be a huge fan. Those of you who are will surely enjoy Across the Universe even more than I did. I understand there are even visual comparisons to some of the Beatles movies from the 60s and 70s.
No matter what you think of musicals or this movie specifically I believe writer/director Julie Taymor should be celebrated for making this original, entertaining and truly imaginative film.
I put Across the Universe on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $7.
October 15, 2007
This movie is an adaptation of the celebrated novel (with the same title) by Canadian author Anne Michaels. I've read parts of this extremely poetic book and going into the movie I wondered how a film would do such a book justice, but this one truly has.
Fugitive Pieces is the story of Jakob, a young Jewish boy who miraculously escapes death as child in Poland during WW2. Jakob hides in the wall of his home while Nazi soldiers ransack his house and kill his family. Later Jakob is saved while hiding in the woods by a kind man named Athos who risks his life to get Jakob out of Poland. Athos raises Jakob as his own son in Greece and later in Toronto. Jakob grows up to become a good man who never forgets his past and struggles to truly grab onto the present.
This is a well told story and a wonderfully shot film. The adaptation from novel to screenplay has to have been challenging but is done very well by writer/director Jeremy Podeswa. Podeswa is best known for his work directing the acclaimed TV series' Carnivàle and Six Feet Under and he makes an affective transition to the big screen in Fugitive Pieces.
This is a moving film with great character development and very good acting performances from each of the several main characters. Unfortunately for you I saw Fugitive Pieces at the Vancouver International Film Festival and the rest of the world will have to wait until March 2008 to see it, but see it you must.
I put Fugitive Pieces on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $9.
September 27, 2007
Boston Legal takes place in a law firm in (you guessed it) Boston. The law firm is run by a man named Denny Krane, a legend in the law circles of Boston and a man with an ego big enough to match his faults, which are many. Denny is going through the early stages of Alzheimer's, though he claims to have mad cow disease, and it is established early on that he doesn't actually run the firm in any tangible way, but it's his name on the door none the less.
William Shatner plays Krane and this show is a welcome return to television for a guy long thought to a one dimensional actor. He is fantastic in Boston Legal and even manages to never sound like that caricature of himself, Captain Kirk.
The cast is rounded out by the likes of James Spader and Candice Bergen as well as a host of other talented actors playing extremely varied characters.
Boston Legal is primarily a comedy but this is no cheesy sitcom, serious issues are dealt with and made light of, often at the same time. I've seen everything from Asperger's syndrome to Scientology to abortion explored in this show and each time an issue is raised an effort is made to present all sides of it to the audience. There is usually a bias that comes through and sometimes the show can even seem a little preachy but it is almost always fair, and always funny.
I enjoy Boston Legal immensely and unfortunately I now have another TV show to watch.
I put Boston Legal on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $8.
September 26, 2007
Jon is 32 today, an age that sounded old to me not long ago but which seems young now that I approach 30 myself. I have little opportunity in my life to pay tribute to Jon and while a blog entry can hardly do a person justice I will honour him here.
Jon and I have not always gotten along, as with most brothers we went through a competitive and sometimes violent stage as young teenagers. As we got older though and started to grow up we realized we had become friends somewhere along the way. I say "started to grow up" because I know I have much more ground to make up in that category. In my later high school years I began to count Jon as one of my best friends, so much so that we shared many of the same friends and still do to this day.
Eventually I had the privilege of going to College with Jon and in later years we stood for each other on our wedding days, each as the best man for the other.
Jon is honest, kind, gentle in disagreement but principled in his opinions, he is intelligent but not prideful and he excels at teaching others. I am testament to that teaching as I owe much of who I am to the positive influence and gentle challenging Jon gave me throughout my life.
Jon is a great brother, a great husband to his wife and a great father to his two boys, he is also a great friend.
Happy Birthday Jon. Here's to many more years.
Check out his blog on Christian spirituality and theology: http://www.thissideofsunday.blogspot.com/
September 20, 2007
Blades of Glory is the story of two rival male figure skaters who are banned for life from competition but find a loophole wherein they can compete as a pairs team. That's the premise I spoke of as being the only original part of this movie.
Will Ferrell and Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) star as the two skaters and they play their roles well. They are both quite funny in their ridiculous rivalry which turns into a friendship as the movie progresses. Will Ferrell plays a very similar character to a few others he's played in the past; he is loud, dumb and out of control. I pretty much find anything Ferrell does funny so while I knew I wasn't seeing him do anything new, I still loved watching him do it.
You won't be interested in Blades of Glory if this type of humour isn't your style. For those of who in this category this movie may still be worth seeing just to watch the real life husband and wife duo of Will Arnett (Arrested Development) and Amy Poehler (Saturday Night Live) who play a brother/sister pairs team. There is a interview with them on the special features of the DVD which alone makes this worth renting.
One thing is for sure; Blades of Glory is not a great movie. If you're not into the Talladega Nights and Old School type of comedy that Will Ferrell brings to the table you won't want to watch it. This is also not a movie on par with either of those previously mentioned comedies. It's good but just not great.
For this reason I am taking the unprecedented step of putting Blades of Glory on both my 'Watch It' list and my 'Don't Watch It' list and giving it a neutral value of $5. Watch it if you like this kind of movie but please don't watch it if you have no time for Will Ferrell.
September 12, 2007
Grizzly Man is a documentary by Werner Herzog about a man named Timothy Treadwell. Treadwell spent several months of the year, every year for 13 years, in a remote area of Alaska heavily populated by grizzly bears. Treadwell filmed over 100 hours of footage and would tour and speak to school children about the bears he had come to know. All this until he was killed by one of the Grizzlies he's dedicated his life to protecting.
Herzog has compiled Treadwell's footage and watching Treadwell interact with the grizzlies is astounding. While he does not live alongside them or touch them he is in close proximity to them regularly with a surprising lack of aggression from the bears considering their reputation.
What I took away from Grizzly Man more than anything though was the respectful and yet honest portrait of Treadwell that Herzog has created. He does not shy away from showing the footage of Treadwell that makes him look unstable but he also shows many examples of the compassionate side of Treadwell, a man who had clearly pulled further and further away from the "human world" as he called it and escaped fully into a life he created for himself among these animals.
Grizzly Man is a movie I will never forget and is likely the most engrossing documentary I've ever seen.
I put Grizzly Man on my 'Watch It' list and give it the rare, full value rating of $10.
September 4, 2007
Stardust is the story of an insecure teenager named Tristan who attempts to find a fallen star to win the hand of the snobby girl he loves. Tristan ventures into a magical land and an unpredictable adventure begins which involves everything from flying pirate ships to witches to princes battling for a throne.
While I watched Stardust I was acutely aware that the pacing was inconsistent and that some parts of the fantasy aspect were not being explained well enough to be plausible, even for fantasy. Overall these flaws turned what was likely meant to be a fantasy epic into nothing more than Hollywood summer cinema.
Despite a series of serious weaknesses in the storytelling I still cannot deny that I enjoyed Stardust. The imagery was exceptional at times and the movie was funnier than the last few comedies I've seen. The story itself had me interested and along for the ride the whole way. I knew this was not an epic but I was never bored and I was even slightly involved with the main characters right to the end.
Stardust also features performances from the likes of Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Claire Danes, Peter O'Toole, a short comedic role by Ricky Gervais and narrating by Ian McKellan. None will blow you away but they each play their role well and added to my enjoyment of the movie.
Regardless of Stardust's faults and "mindless" status, this is a movie you may very well be entertained by, as I was.
I put Stardust on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $6.
August 23, 2007
Hot Fuzz is the story of Nicholas Angel, an overachieving London police officer who is transferred by his superiors so that he will stop making the rest of the London cops look bad. Angel is transferred to the small town of Sandford and he quickly realizes that Sandford is not the sleepy village it appears to be. This suspicion is confirmed when townspeople begin turning up dead, each death chalked up to being an unfortunate accident to everyone but Angel.
This movie works on quite a few levels; it is first and foremost a buddy cop parody, though it is as much a homage to buddy cop movies as it is a mockery of them. Hot Fuzz even manages to parody the idea of parody itself when Angel's partner tells him all about classic cop movies such as Point Break and Bad Boys, Hot Fuzz then proceeds to imitate specific scenes from both of those movies.
Despite this movie being a comic parody don't make the mistake of putting it in the category of something like the Scary Movie franchise, the thing that sets Hot Fuzz apart is that each element of it is done well. The action sequences, while imitating everything from Desperado to the aforementioned Bad Boys, are actually done in a high quality and entertaining way. As a viewer I am able to watch these scenes and enjoy them while not having to turn my mind off because unlike a regular action movie which tries to pawn these elaborate scenes off as realistic, Hot Fuzz admits the silliness of them in its very premise.
Hot Fuzz is a funny movie with intelligent writing and very good comedic performances by the main actors. If you see it be warned however, though the murders and swearing in this movie are part of the comedy they are still not family viewing.
I put Hot Fuzz on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $8.
August 14, 2007
Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is a trained special ops hit man who has only been able to remember bits and pieces of his past since a near death incident detailed in the first of the three movies, The Bourne Identity.
Once again in The Bourne Ultimatum we are treated to a story where the skills of escape and combat are thoroughly explored in the character of Jason Bourne. The action sequences in this movie include everything from a slow speed chase on scooters to the killing of a man using a hand towel. I realize those things don't sound interesting but considering the fact that both were good scenes you can imagine how spectacular the standard car and foot chases were as well.
For those who've followed the Bourne story from the beginning, Ultimatum provides some much anticipated explanation for how Jason Bourne came to be the killing machine that he is. I appreciate however that this movie, like the other two, does not really explain everything. You are given enough as an audience to figure out the basics and make some guesses at the details. I prefer this kind of storytelling to the kind which spells out things for me in an intellectually insulting way.
The Bourne Ultimatum is well directed in a tone and style which reflects the pace of each scene. There are some great acting performances as well, Damon as usual is pitch perfect as Bourne and is supported well by the likes of Joan Allen, Albert Finney and David Strathairn to name a few.
This is quite simply an entertaining, high quality action movie.
I put The Bourne Ultimatum on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $9.
August 11, 2007
Hot Rod is a story about Rod, a young wannabe stuntman whose stepfather needs a heart transplant and Rod wants to raise the money for it because he doesn't want his stepfather to die before he has succeeded in beating him up. Rod decides to raise this money by performing a motorbike jump over 15 buses.
This movie makes no attempt to be anything more than a goofy comedy, the plot line and the acting is purposely outrageous, the characters are really caricatures and the whole thing feels like a really long SNL sketch. A good sketch, but a sketch none the less.
I left the theatre feeling like I did the first time I saw Billy Madison and after repeated viewings of Billy Madison I came to love it. This is a comedy that is either ahead of its time and will become a cult classic, or it is a comedy that is just dumb. Only time and multiple viewings will tell.
The cast in Hot Rod is truly funny and some great comedy careers are sure to come from the likes of Andy Samberg (Rod) and Bill Hader who plays Dave, one of Rod's crew.
I keep going back and forth on whether to recommend Hot Rod. As I said it was strange and not a particularly sophisticated style of comedy but it did make me laugh and I was never bored.
I put Hot Rod on my 'Don't Watch It' list, but just barely, and I give it a value of $5. If I see it again that rating will change, I just don't know if it will improve or become worse.
July 29, 2007
Shooter is a self indulgent and intellectually bankrupt action movie. The main problem is that it thinks it's a complex, conspiracy-revealing thriller. It is not.
Mark Wahlberg gives a good performance as Bob Lee Swagger, a world renowned sniper hired to find out how someone might kill the president. He is then framed by a US government organization, an organization so absurdly morally bankrupt it is comical. This organization is run by a US Senator who is basically the worst human being who has ever lived. This Senator states at one point that every atrocity in human history was either committed, or allowed to happen by a government somewhere and that if you have to pick a side you might as well pick the one where you make some money.
The portrayal of the villains in Shooter were completely over the top, from the writing to the truly awful performance of Danny Glover as the head of the organization which frames Swagger.
The action in this movie is impressive and combined with Wahlberg's performance it is the only thing keeping this one from getting a $1 rating from me.
I put Shooter on my 'Don't Watch It' list and give it a value of $2.
July 20, 2007
The Prestige was a movie I went into with high expectations and I was not disappointed. I'm becoming a big fan of Christopher Nolan, (Memento, Batman Begins) who wrote and directed this movie and once again he has created a great film with solid story telling and wonderful imagery. The look of The Prestige is superb, from the costumes to the sets, it is nearly worth watching for that alone.
There is far more to see however as The Prestige is capped off by a mysterious storyline and great acting performances from Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Scarlett Johansson. The team of Bale and Nolan is one I will go out of my way to see in the future as I'm sure this is not the last movie they will do together.
My only slight criticism for this otherwise engaging film is the performance of Hugh Jackman. Because Jackman is in one of the lead roles he is pretty much the only factor keeping my rating from being higher than it already is. I've just never understood Jackman; in every movie I see him in all I see is Hugh Jackman and I never feel fully engaged in the character he is portraying. Jackman is not a bad actor, and neither is his performance in this movie all that bad, but he was overshadowed by the other actors and was not quite subtle enough for the role he was playing.
Overall The Prestige is a movie well worth your time, it is an engaging movie that makes you want to see it again to experience it from the beginning with the knowledge you glean during the unfolding of the story.
I put The Prestige on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $8.
July 7, 2007
I was worried when I heard Michael Bay was making the live action version of my favorite childhood cartoon, as I'm no fan of his. I find Bay normally sacrifices story for image and leaves his characters with little to do but look good. Transformers may have been just the right project for Bay however as no one can honestly expect this movie - based on a cartoon based on a toy - to tell an epic story or have a moving dramatic back story. Bay provides his audience with just what the cartoon always did, funny dialogue and over the top action.
I'm sure some purists will find the modernization of the Transformers too much to take. I thought it was appropriate and as cheesy as the GMC product shots were the movie makers stayed true to the essence of each character. For me any inconsistencies with the original were overlooked as soon as I heard the familiar sound of Optimus Prime's voice in the opening narration.
I enjoyed Transformers immensely, it was great fun to watch these toys come to life again in a live action movie with some of the best CGI I've ever seen. This movie will win no acting or writing awards but if you have ever been a fan of this implausible story then you shouldn't have any trouble being entertained by the big screen version.
Watch for Shia LaBeouf's career to take off as well, he carries much of the story and especially the comedy in Transformers playing the movie's main character Sam, a teenagers whose Father unwittingly buys him an Autobot from a used car lot. In this modern retelling of the Transformers story all the Autobots are GM vehicles (I can't imagine what GM must have paid for that product placement) and the Camaro Sam buys turns out to be Bumble Bee. As a tribute to the old Bumble Bee he is placed next to a yellow bug in the car lot.
Overall this is not a perfect movie nor is it a movie for those who don't like senseless action and were never fans of the Transformers. It is however wonderful fun and worth seeing. I'm sure there will now be a whole new generation of Transformers fans that will finally understand what all those 30 year old geeks like me are talking about.
I put Transformers on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $8.
June 2, 2007
Dan is a living example of the worldview he is teaching his students; a worldview that sees history not just as individual events but as the slow change brought on by opposing forces. Though Dan is in control in the classroom, his personal life is very much out of control due to a serious drug habit. Drey, one of Dan's troubled students, catches him in the act after school and an awkward and yet touching friendship is started.
Half Nelson is a great character movie. Several of the acting performances are subtle and powerful but none as much as Ryan Gosling's portrayal of Dan Dunne. The Academy got something right for once by picking out his performance in this small festival movie and nominating him for best actor. They got it wrong by not giving him the award but at least hey recognized his work.
This movie was an intense look at a person who is teetering on the edge of control trying to deal with his inability to change the world around him.
Great writing and directing compliment the solid performances in Half Nelson which is also rounded out by a fantastic sound track. This is a movie that should not be missed.
I emphatically put Half Nelson on my 'Watch It' list and give a value of $10.
May 28, 2007
My Life as a Dog is the kind of movie that I will always enjoy when it is made well. Set in Sweden this movie is a sort of Scandanavian "Catcher in the Rye".
The story centers around two young brothers who constantly fight as all young brothers do, their Mother meanwhile struggles to fight a serious illness while attempting to deal with the two boys. It is decided that the two brothers will be boarded at separate relatives houses for a few months to attempt to allow their Mother to rest and get well.
This story then follows the younger brother Ingemar as he goes to live with his uncle and aunt in a small town full of interesting characters including a neighbour who is constantly and obsessively fixing his roof and an inventor who is trying to perfect a zip line for the kids in town. The most signifigant character in town to the story is a young girl who becomes a friend of Ingemar's while pretending to be a boy so she can play organized sports.
This is an amazingly well told story and a great film about a boy coming of age and dealing with the fact that his the mother he loves is dying. My Life as a Dog touches on many emotional themes, adolescent sexuality, death, and family dynamics to name a few. The adults in Ingemar's life seem to fear telling him the truth about what is going on in an attempt to protect him, ironically this only makes things harder for Ingemar when the truth comes out.
For all of it's intense emotion My Life as a Dog is also quite funny which makes it even more touching. This movie's range is possible thanks to the great writing and superb performances by talented actors.
I highly recommend My Life as a Dog, it is certainly on my 'Watch It' list and I give it a value of $9.
May 22, 2007
The characters are diverse and are all going through very different types of situations and yet as the story unfolds we see that Babel using a classic movie tool in drawing the viewer in; all the characters are connected in some way.
Babel was very good, it gripped me and had me involved in the story. I was concerned for those who were going through difficulties and found myself wishing some of them would make better choices. This kind of conscious involvement is always a good sign to me that I am being impacted by a movie.
The acting performances in Babel are superb. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett are the biggest stars here but are only two of many strong performances I enjoyed in this film.
My favorite part of Babel however was the directing. The imagery and cinematography were fabulous. There a few different settings and each is shot beautifully and really captured in a detailed and yet broad sense at the same time.
Babel is one of the best movies of 2006. I put it on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $9.
May 16, 2007
Unfortunately Spider-Man 3 is not a good movie. It is in fact terrible. The 3rd installment in this series is a massive disappointment in comparison to the far superior 1st and 2nd movies of this same series.
The action is good, of that there is little doubt. The director is the same person who directed 1 and 2 and the action sequences are again amazing, the pace is fast and is likely the main reason so many people have already gone to see this movie. Though it could be said that there is also really nothing new here.
What went wrong then you ask? Basically everything else. The love story of Peter Parker and MJ is awkward and I found myself a little bit pleased when it wasn't working out during the movie. The dialogue in Spider-Man 3 is truly awful, cheesy jokes and lame one liners dominate a script that is devoid of the quality character development and tension that the first 2 movies contained. The villains in this movie were underdeveloped, we were left to guess how they were able to do most of what they could do and their hatred of Spider-Man was not believable to me.
The most glaring problem with Spider-Man 3 however is the major plot line. A living black sludge that falls from space attaches itself to Parker's scooter and later to his Spidey suit; this sludge (as Parker's chemistry teacher explains) increases the aggression of its host when it attaches itself to something. That's all we're told about it really. When Spider-Man is affected by this material he turns black and becomes more vengeful. Parker however basically turns into a bigger nerd with nicer clothes and a new hairdo.
There is a scene where the post-black-sludge Parker goes shopping and takes a girl to a Jazz club, this scene was intended (I believe) to show that Parker has become cooler and darker since the affect of the space sludge. I can say in no uncertain terms that this was the worst series of scenes I've witnessed in a movie since Crawlers. The cringingly bad acting was only eclipsed by the terrible writing in this part of the movie. At one point I leaned over to my wife, who I was at the movie with, and said "is this really happening?"
Overall it was painfully obvious that Spider-Man 3 was written by a new team of writers and not by the successful team which wrote 1 and 2.
If you are a big Spider-Man fan you may want to check this out anyway but I adamantly put Spider-Man 3 on my 'Don't Watch It' list and give it a value of $2.
May 11, 2007
This is a movie in the now popular ensemble-cast style. There is no dominant story but several sub plots that only intersect mildly. Each story relates to the fast food industry, we follow Mexican migrant workers on their journey across the border to becoming workers in a meat processing plant, we follow the VP of marketing for the fictional Mickey's restaurant as he investigates why their meat has feces in it, and we follow several teenage part time fast food employees in their day to day lives.
Where Fast Food Nation went wrong for me was that it tried to do too much. Through the characters in this movie, their dialogue, and the situations they get into we are exposed to commentary not just on fast food but on suburban housing, safety in the workplace, unclean farming practices, environmental effects of modern farming practices, sexual abuse in the workplace, teenage dreams and adults with unfulfilled dreams and believe it or not, even the Patriot Act.
I really wanted to like Fast Food Nation. I agree with a lot of the sentiment expressed in its message about farming and how fast food has affected farming practices in the United States. Some of the imagery of the movie was affective as they filmed the meat processing plant scenes in a real meat packing plant while it was operating, the actual plant workers were the extras. In the end however, this was a movie with a lot of unrealized potential.
I know that there was a message that got out through this movie, I'm sure that many people who saw this movie came away with more knowledge about where their fast food comes from; the problem is they likely didn't come away feeling like they'd just watched a well told story and if they're anything like me they certainly didn't come away entertained.
In the end this is a movie with awkward pacing and a wandering plot that leaves the viewer wondering what the point is on more than one occasion.
I put Fast Food Nation on my 'Don't Watch It' list and give it a value of $3.
May 7, 2007
The Big Lebowski opens with the narration above in the low, silky, cowboy voice of Sam Elliott. This begins one of the strangest and funniest movies of all time. I recently watched The Big Lebowski again and I'm convinced that I enjoy it more each time I see it.
Basically this movie follows the Dude, a lazy man in LA who bowls and drinks White Russians for a living. The Dude's life is thrown into chaos when he is mistaken for a rich man with the same name and thugs soil his area rug. The usually laid back Dude is convinced by his friend Walter to demand the rich Lebowski replace this rug as it "tied the room together." This simple act of attempting to get his rug back begins a spiral of more and more problems for the Dude. There is a kidnapping, a lost toe, a death, bowling, a drugging, a ransom hand off gone bad and many more circumstances for which the Dude is the least qualified person on earth to deal with.
I've met people who don't like The Big Lebowski, it's not for everyone and you'll know in the first 5 minutes whether you're going to enjoy it or not. If you don't laugh in the first scene just take the movie out and chalk yourself up as someone who won't like The Big Lebowski. I won't judge you.
For my part I love this movie, I watched it alone most recently and laughed out loud and I've always said that one of the true tests of comedy is whether it makes you laugh out loud when noone is around.
Jeff Bridges is nearly flawless as the Dude and John Goodman performs my favorite role of his career as Walter, the unstable friend of the Dude who is obsessed with his time in Vietnam.
The Big Lebowski makes me laugh with it's dialogue, it is quick and character driven and often 3 characters are having 2 or 3 conversations at the same time. The writing in this movie is only surpassed by the performances of the actors delivering those lines.
All in all what pulls this whole comedy together is the fact that it is well made in every way a movie can be well made. The directing, the lighting, the music...it is all great.
The Big Lebowski is one of my favorite comedies of all time. I put it on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $9.
May 3, 2007
This highly implausible plot is the framework for Deja Vu, a movie that is as entertaining as it is hard to believe.
I'll start with what I didn't like. The explanations for how this technology work were not extensive, I assume that was on purpose due to the fact that there is no actual explanation, but it made this part of the story difficult to believe and considering how pivotal this was to the plot I was left unable to ever really let myself fully get into Deja Vu. At one point they figure out how to send a note to someone 4 days and 6 hours ago which leads to the discovery of how to send our main character Doug Carlin back as well to save a woman who gets murdered by the bomber; Carlin believes that if he can save her he can stop the bombing.
Implausibilities aside, even with my inability to fully buy into the science fiction I enjoyed Deja Vu. It is an entertaining movie with some of the most unique scenes I've ever witnessed. Case in point is the chase scene where Carlin is wearing special goggles which are sending him a feed of what is happening 4 days and 6 hours ago, Carlin uses this to find where the bomber was 4 days ago and follow him, of course all the while he has to keep one eye on the present to avoid present day traffic. Sounds dumb as I type it but it really was a fascinating scene.
Ultimately Deja Vu is worth watching (even if just barely) thanks to some great performances. Denzel Washington plays Carlin and people tend to either love or hate Denzel. I fall into the former category and this movie is another great role for him as a smart determined "hero." James Caviezel plays the bomber perfectly, just creepy enough but not overacted as many villains tend to be. Val Kilmer is also fantastic in this but rounding out a cast of great performances is a favorite of mine, Adam Goldberg (of Dazed and Confused fame) who plays the lead scientist who discovered this hard to believe time warp thingy. The science isn't explained well but the scientist is played to perfection by Goldberg.
So basically I liked this movie overall. I loved some parts of it and was unimpressed with others but if you're in the mood for something entertaining where you can just shut your brain off, I'd put Deja Vu on the top of your list.
I tentatively put this movie on my 'Watch It' list and give it value of $6.
April 14, 2007
5) The Departed
The academy's choice for #1 is my choice for #5. Not the best movie made in 2006 but if you like the genre you likely enjoyed it as much as I did. Also if you admire strong individual acting performances there are about 10 in The Departed. Full Review
4) Talladega Nights
This movie isn't for everyone but I love it. I love Will Ferrell and this is Will Ferrell at his best. John C. Reilly is also fantastic as Ferrell's sidekick, who knew he could do comedy.
3) Stranger Than Fiction
This is another underrated movie. Very funny and touching and surprisingly well made in every way. Full Review
2) Little Miss Sunshine
Maybe the best all around comedy I've ever seen. If you haven't seen this movie yet your life is incomplete. Full Review
1) Pan's Labyrinth
This movie is a treat for the senses and deserved more accolades than it received from the assorted Hollywood movie awards. Full Review
April 7, 2007
Children of Men takes place in 2027, no person on earth has had a baby in over 18 years and humanity is in complete and total chaos. Set in England, Children of Men also shows a future where illegal immigrants are being rounded up and deported or killed. There are massive refugee camps everywhere and anarchy reigns in these camps. The story follows Theo, a former activist who is thrust back into a rebel movement he left long ago to help a miraculously pregnant woman avoid government detection.
Where Children of Men is successful is in some of it's imagery, there are some incredible cinematographic moments in this movie, particularly in the battle scenes in the storey's climax.
Where Children of Men fails for me is nearly everywhere else. While at times the cinematography was gripping, at other times it had the feel of a home movie. This method of going back and forth between regular movie making and documentary style filming was unconvincing and left Children of Men with a TV movie feel.
The writing does not make up for the choppy filming style. The characters are one dimensional and the dialogue reminded me of an airport novel. Even Michael Caine could not make up for the bad script he was given, though he and Clive Owen (Theo) deserve credit for their effort.
Though there is some creative imagery, overall this is a movie full of unexplained plot lines, cheesy stereotypical characters and a picture of the future so bleak it's laughable. It was never clear to me what connection the lack of fertility on earth had with the complete and total crumbling of society. I suppose there is an implication that with no children there is no future, but why that would make people all over the world give up on any sense of order is never explained.
Children of Men is on my 'Don't Watch It' list and I give it a somewhat generous value of $4 due to it's imagery and a couple of adequate acting performances.
April 3, 2007
Stranger Than Fiction is the story of Harold Crick, an IRS agent who finds one day that he can hear a voice narrating his dull and mundane life. Very quickly this voice, which only Crick can hear, begins to affect every facet of his boring life, even to the point of telling him he is going to die.
Telling you more about this movie would spoil it and I think the best way to experience Stranger Than Fiction is without knowing much about it beforehand. If you're anything like me you will be pleasantly surprised.
Directed by Marc Forster, (Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland) Stranger Than Fiction brings the audience into Harold Crick's world in a creative visual way that was simple but drew me in.
As for the writing, I can't say enough about it. This movie centers around the world of literature; Crick receives help from Jules Hilbert, a literature Professor, as he tries to find the author who is currently writing about him and whose voice he is hearing. These themes seemed to prompt the writer of Stranger Than Fiction to use intelligent and witty dialogue that is so often missing in movies today.
The performances in this movie are also very well executed. Will Ferrell is deserving of his Golden Globe nomination in what has to be considered his most understated and well acted role to date. I love Ferrell's purely comedic characters as well but this is the first time I've seen him really act and he did not disappoint. Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson are also nearly flawless as supporting characters in this great story.
I'm guessing that not everyone will love this movie as much as I did, and that's fine, but as I said Stranger Than Fiction was a delightful surprise for me. I laughed, I was moved and I was most certainly entertained.
I put this movie on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $9.
March 27, 2007
Blood Diamond is a story set in 1999 in civil war ravaged Sierra Leone. The economy of Sierra Leone, then and now, revolves around diamond mining and in 1999 the country was in chaos as rebels and the military fought over control of these diamond mines.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Danny Archer, a diamond smuggler for a major international diamond company. Archer shows no regard for where he gets the diamonds from, only that he acquires them. Djimon Hounsou plays Solomon Bo, a fisherman whose village is destroyed by the rebels who force Bo into slavery in one of their diamond mines. Bo`s wife and children escape the rebels but are impossible for him to locate on his own. While working in the mines Bo finds a priceless diamond and realizing its significance, he hides it. Archer and Bo cross paths as Archer hears about this diamond and knows that Bo he can lead him to it. A deal is struck between the two wherein Archer agrees to help Bo find his family in exchange for help in finding this diamond.
Throughout this movie Danny Archer`s disregard for the origin of the diamonds he trades causes the trading of many diamonds that come from rebel controlled and slave labour driven diamond mines. These are blood diamonds, or conflict diamonds, and they end up mixed with legitimate diamonds and sold to Jewellers all over the world. This is where this movie is controversial, it is unclear how many of the worlds diamonds are conflict diamonds and critics say this movie exaggerates the problem. Sierra Leone is now peaceful and it is said that legitimate diamond mining is the backbone of their economy, critics have said that because of these facts Blood Diamond undeservedly casts a shadow over Sierra Leone`s current mining industry.
Whether conflict diamonds are as big a problem as this movie implies is not clear but nobody disputes that they have been a problem and still exist today. The makers of Blood Diamond should be applauded, in my opinion, for bringing attention to our need in the wealthy west to consider a diamond`s origin before buying it.
Blood Diamond is a well made movie with outstanding acting performances by DiCaprio and Hounsou. An intense movie with images that at times haunt the viewer and at other times inspire. This movie was not without its faults, the pacing dragged at times for one thing, but this can be overlooked in the bigger picture of the powerful story being told.
I put Blood Diamond on my `Watch It` list and give it a value of $8.
March 24, 2007
300 is a legendary tale told in the exaggerated way only a graphic novelist could get away with. The Spartans are depicted as nearly flawless warriors and the Persians as inhuman abominations. Battle scenes dominate the story line with severed limbs aplenty, yet somehow the exaggerated comic-book-style depiction of these battles made it easier to watch for me than the realistically graphic battles I've seen in other epic war movies.
The dialogue of 300 even feels like a comic book and was part of the entertainment value for me. King Leonidas is regularly inspiring his soldiers with such wisdom as; "Give them nothing! But take from them everything!" and "Spartans! Enjoy your breakfast, for tonight we dine in Hell!" In any other movie I would attributed this kind of dialogue to poor writing but in 300 it worked with the rest of the over the top and unreal aspects of the movie.
This movie does not overwhelm you with historical facts or deep life lessons. What 300 does is entertain its audience from start to finish. If you go to see 300 and expect anything more than this you will be disappointed. This is a movie of excess and simplicity but it is certainly not boring.
300 is full of impressive computer generated scenery and slow motion action sequences and if battle scenes and graphic novel story telling are up your alley then it is not to be missed.
This movie is worth seeing despite its faults. I put 300 on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $8.