May 28, 2007

My Life as a Dog - $9

At the request of a reader, my brother actually, I'm expanding on my quick review of this movie. (See the side bar to the left for other quick reviews)

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

Babel - $9

Babel is a movie about tragedy, human despair and the types of actions and decisions that people are forced to make during these times.

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

Spider-Man 3 - $2

Spider-Man 3 is going to make a lot of money. It is an action packed movie with amazing special effects which will appeal to a young audience.

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

Fast Food Nation - $3

Fast Food Nation is a movie I had high hopes for. It is written and directed by Richard Linklater (of Dazed and Confused fame) and stars a number of actors I was looking forward to seeing on screen. Overall though this movie was a dramatic disappointment.

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 - $9

Way out west there was this fella I wanna tell ya about. Goes by the name of Jeff Lebowski. At least that was the handle his loving parents gave him, but he never had much use for it himself. See, this Lebowski, he called himself "The Dude". Now, "Dude" - there's a name no man would self-apply where I come from...

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 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

Deja Vu - $6

A group of scientists have discovered a way to look back in time to 4 days and 6 hours ago, and always 4 days and 6 hours ago, they can record what they see but can't look everywhere and they can't rewind. This discovery is being tested on it's first investigation, a terrorist bombing of a boat which killed hundreds of sailors and their families.

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.