January 08, 2006

Our year in movies

I stopped writing movie reviews here in 2004. Didn't stop watching them though. According to my calculations, Becky and/or I watched 58 movies in 2005. I'm including a table of all of them with our ratings in the extended entry.

The rating is our idiosyncratic four-star system. We don't actually talk about them as stars. What shows up here as one star we call "don't bother", two stars is "okay", three is "pretty good", four is "don't miss". We added half-star indications as a synonym for "a little better than". "Don't miss" is our highest rating.

The notes are about where we saw the movie and who saw it. "T" indicates we saw it in the theatre. Other letters indicate who attended. The default is Becky and me. If only R appears then Rachel saw it with us. If just "J" or "B" appear then only the one of us saw it. "B, R" means I skipped that one, etc.

Please feel free to comment if you have questions or want to argue about something.

The table's sorted by rating and title in case that isn't obvious ;-)

****Finding NeverlandT
***+Being Julia
***+Big Fish
***+Brokeback MountainT, B
***+Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
***+Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireT
***+A History of ViolenceT, B
***+Pride and PrejudiceT, B, R
***+SidewaysT, B, R
***+The Station Agent
***+Wallace and Gromit: the Curse of the Were-RabbitT
***About Schmidt
***The AnimatrixJ
***Bells Are RingingB
***Born Into Brothels
***The Bourne Supremacy
***Danny DeckchairJ
***Dunescifi channel mini, J
***The Ghost and Mrs. MuirB
***The House of Flying Daggers
***The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
***March of the PenguinsT, SIFF
***Mean Girls
***Ocean's TwelveT, B, R
***The Secret Lives of Dentists
***We Don't Live Here Anymore
**+Cowboy BebopJ
**+Garden State
**+In Good Company
**+Jersey Girl
**+Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and FabulousT, B, R
**+Mr. and Mrs. SmithT, R
**+Napoleon Dynamite
**+SaharaT, R
**+SerenityT, *** after multiple viewings
**+Something's Got To GiveB
**+Spiderman 2
**+Star Wars III: the Revenge of the SithT, R
**Blast From the Past
**Silver City
**Unconditional LoveB
*+Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
*+The Hitchiker's Guide to the GalaxyT, R
*+The Ice HarvestT, B
*+The Ladykillersgreat dvd extras
*+Raising Helen
*+Tito and MeJ
Posted by jeffy at 08:08 PM | Comments (2)

June 12, 2005

March of the Penguins

I wouldn't have even known about this movie except that Julie posted about the trailer a couple weeks ago. Some friends had tickets for today's SIFF showing at the Harvard Exit that they couldn't use so they gave them to us. Thanks, friends!

So last night we were trying to figure out how to get there for the 11:30am showing. We wanted to get there in time to stand in line for decent seats so that meant getting to the theatre no later than 11. I used Metro's extremely frustrating trip planner to figure out the times for an 11am arrival and came up with these three options:

  1. 9:00 Leave Issaquah P&R on ST 554
    9:23 Arrive Rainier Avenue I-90 freeway stop
    10:20 (yes, 57 minutes later) Leave on the 7 for downtown which turns into the 49
    10:49 Arrive at Broadway and Mercer
    Elapsed time: 1:49
  2. 8:41 Leave Issaquah P&R on MT 271 (University District)
    9:42 Arrive 15th and 42nd
    10:33 Leave on 49 for downtown
    10:43 Arrive at Broadway and Roy
    Elapsed time: 2:02
  3. 8:00 Leave Issaquah P&R on ST 554
    8:09 Arrive Eastgate P&R
    8:58 Leave on the exact same 271 bus as option 2 and the rest is the same as option 2 Elapsed time: 2:43

None of that counts the fact that we live a 15-minute bike ride from the Park & Ride.

This is a pretty daunting prospect (especially when you had the Saturday we had: B biked to the P&R, bussed downtown, met a friend who drove them to Ballard for an art studio open house, then dropped B off back downtown where she bussed and rode through the rain home. I had a computer crash at work so I had to ride in and I was so mad when I left that I forgot to take my key card and when I got there and realized my mistake I spent half an hour cursing and pushing the various doorbells around the building trying to get the attention of the 24x7 security guard who seemed to have taken the day off. So I ended up riding all the way back home to get my damn card and all the way back before I could fix the stupid computer and ride back home. Biometric authentication now!)

So when Rachel called at about 11pm and offered to come spend the night and let us take her car to the movie in the morning, we couldn't quite bring ourselves to turn her down.

So this morning we got up, hopped in Rachel's car, drove to Capitol Hill, parked the car, and got in line for the movie. Elapsed time: 30 minutes.

Of course the irony of our transportational shortcut was not lost on us when we watched the movie, which depicts the rather bizarre reproductive cycle of the emperor penguin. When winter starts closing in on Antarctica, the penguins get out of the ocean where they've been fattening themselves up through the short summer. They walk 70 miles across the ice to their mating grounds. They pair off and consummate their relationships. Mom lays an egg. Mom hands the egg off to Dad, then she hikes 70 miles back to the ocean to eat some more. Dad hatches the egg (if he manages to keep it alive through 100 mile-per-hour winds and 80 degrees-below-zero temperatures), and tends the chick until Mom gets back with a full belly to take over. Now Dad trudges 70 miles to the sea for his first meal in 4 months. By the time he gets back, junior is big enough to boot out of the nest (if they had a nest), so Mom and Dad both take off and leave the kid to fend for herself. (Actually I think Mom and Dad take a few more trips for groceries before this; it wasn't quite clear in the movie.) Fortunately by this point the ice has melted back far enough that the mating ground is less than a mile from the open water so the kid can find her way to the water where she gets to live relatively care-free for 4 years before she has to go on the crazy march herself.

Nature is truly stranger than fiction. Made us feel kind of bad for quibbling over an extra hour and a half of travel time to see the movie by bus. ;-)

We enjoyed the movie. It seemed like it was pretty realistic, portraying some of the ways that the process can fail in addition to all the adorable footage of baby penguins and their almost equally adorable parents. Some of the failure scenes are truly heart-wrenching, so be prepared to talk to the kids about death and loss after the movie. The antarctic icescapes are stunning and make it worth catching this one on the big screen. Even if you have to take the bus.

Posted by jeffy at 10:52 PM | Comments (0)

May 23, 2004

The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)

montecristo.jpgThe IMDB lists over a dozen adaptations of this Dumas classic. Not having seen any of the others in recent memory, I can't be sure, but I don't really think this one has much to commend it over past versions. (It would be, perhaps, an amusing exercise to view as many versions as might be available in search of a favorite.) The principal cast members (James Caviezel as the titular Count, Guy Pearce as the friend who betrays him into prison, Richard Harris as the fellow prisoner who teaches him the skills he needs for his revenge, and Luis Guzmán as the Count's pirate turned valet) all give energetic and earnest performances, but they're not enough to elevate the film. It's been a month or so since I watched it, but I recall the script as being lackluster. The sets, costuming, and makeup look like sets, costuming, and makeup despite (or perhaps because of) the lavish sums of money obviously thrown at them. Overall there's just no magic here.

Posted by jeffy at 06:47 PM | Comments (0)


neverwheredvd.jpgNeil Gaiman wrote the teleplay for this BBC miniseries. Richard Mayhew is an everyman Londoner with a psycho fiancee. On his way to dinner with the aforementioned shrew, an injured girl stumbles across their path. Richard defies his date and takes the girl home. And his life is never the same. The girl, Door, gets him mixed up in a strange political battle going on in a supernatural underworld existing beneath and alongside the mundane London. Many of the characters and locations are puns on different stops on the London Underground (when the stops aren't actual locations).

The story is your basic plot coupon adventure (the characters have to find some thingamabob so they can get through the next trial where they learn that they need another thingummy to survive the next one). This works because Gaiman writes great characters and the actors are clearly having all kinds of fun bringing them to life. Especially entertaining are Mr. Vandemaar and Mr. Croup, the creepy sadistic villains of the piece.

The production has BBC written all over it. It's actually kind of refreshing seeing these shows where the producers didn't let a lack of state-of-the-art visual effects keep them from telling a good story. (Mists of Avalon was another one.) I get spoiled by reality-bending special-effects blowouts like The Lord of the Rings and The Matrix and forget that enjoying a fantasy is about suspension of disbelief, and some of the pleasure comes from engaging your imagination rather than having everything made to seem objectively real by effects wizards.

The overall running length is three hours split into six episodes. This is actually a good thing because it gives you ample opportunity to enjoy the trippy title sequence created by Dave McKean with music by Brian Eno.

Posted by jeffy at 01:41 PM | Comments (0)

April 29, 2004

l'auberge espagnole

international posterThis movie opens with Xavier, a French college student, visiting a large corporation's maze-like offices to seek the advice of a family friend on how to complete his schooling to best position himself to attain a similar job after graduation. The advice he receives leads him to apply to an international exchange program called Erasmus. He is eventually accepted into the program and leaves France to spend a term (or a year, it's not clear) at a Spanish university. The movie from here is predominantly about Xavier's adventures in housing, culminating in his moving in with a wildly international group all sharing an apartment.

The movie is a wonderful portrayal of how a college experience can be almost utopian with shared adversity and purpose forging intense bonds of friendship. The residents of the apartment represent different countries of the European Union in microcosm, with all of them dashing the stereotypes about their nations of origin. They struggle to communicate through the imperfect overlap of their various languages. The plot is comfortably mundane. People fall in love and out of it. People argue about who is supposed to clean the bathroom.

US posterThe actors are all lovely to look at, as are the shots of Barcelona, but even setting the eye-candy aspects aside, the movie is still a kick to watch for its snappy dialogue, endearing characters, and interesting (if uneven) shooting style.

The movie poster up at the beginning of this review gives an accurate impression of the film as an ensemble cast piece. That's not the picture that was on the cover of the DVD we got from the library, though. The one we (and I have to assume most US audiences) got has Audrey Tautou front and center capitalizing on her recognizability following Amélie. Never mind the fact that Tautou's role as Xavier's girlfriend is a fairly minor one. That's the cover we saw at right.

Posted by jeffy at 08:01 PM | Comments (0)

April 04, 2004

Freaky Friday

Freaky Friday (2003)Cute, energetic Disney remake of their own movie (ala their 1998 remake of The Parent Trap). Stars Jamie Lee Curtis as the tightly-wound mother and Lindsay Lohan (who also starred in the new Parent Trap) as the rock-and-roll daughter who wake up one fateful Friday in each other's bodies. The plot is thickened by the fact that the Friday in question is the day before the mother's wedding. It's a pretty slight piece made entertaining by the gutsy performances of Curtis and Lohan.
Posted by jeffy at 06:46 PM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2004


HidalgoThe movie named for a horse and marketed for a movie star. Viggo Mortensen stars as Frank Hopkins, a cowboy and US Army courier in the 1890s. While the movie claims to be based on a true story, more reliable sources indicate that while Frank Hopkins was a real person, there's a good chance his skills leaned more towards the telling of tall tales than long-distance horse racing. But we're talking about a movie here.

Hopkins is challenged out of a mid-life complacency into travelling to Saudi Arabia to compete in a (fictional) 3,000 mile race across the Arabian desert. He faces ridicule for the parentage of his wild Mustang from the owners and riders of the thoroughbred competitors. He makes friends with the Sheik (played disarmingly by the great Omar Sharif) and his daughter (the striking Zuleikha Robinson). Competes with the aggressive Lady Anne Davenport (Louise Lombard) and the evil Prince Bin Al Reeh (Saïd Taghmaoui). The plot is pure Saturday movie serial. The execution does justice to the genre with lots of characters to cheer and boo, and seldom a question of which is the appropriate response.

I suspect that had Mr. Mortensen not just come off the biggest movie event of all time with his starring role in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the movie might be a bit different. The character of Frank Hopkins is most interesting when he's interacting with his horse, Hidalgo, but it feels like the perspective of the film got dragged towards its popular star and away from its title character. Still, Mortensen is good enough to stand the scrutiny, and the horse is good enough to steal the occasional scene.

Posted by jeffy at 03:57 PM | Comments (3)

Romeo + Juliet

Romeo + JulietSecond in Baz Luhrmann's "red curtain" trilogy (after Strictly Ballroom and before Moulin Rouge!). He does the "update the Bard" thing with Romeo and Juliet changing the setting to Verona Beach and the swords to guns.

In the documentary features on the DVD, Luhrmann states his intent of reproducing the kind of popular entertainment Shakespeare was aiming for that would put butts of all persuasions in seats. The movie feels like that, but the language is a great distancer to modern audiences. I would have needed the play in front of me to figure out what the heck they were talking about a lot of the time. Actually, that's not true; Luhrmann's far too good a visual storyteller to let you get too lost even without subtitles for the Elizabethan English (it occurs to me that you could make this into an extremely funny movie by providing (un)suitable subtitles ;-)

While it might not have been successful as a broadly popular blockbuster, it is a lot of fun to watch these actors strut and sail through the hyper-stylized sets and settings Luhrmann and his team dreamed up.

Leonardo DiCaprio is the perfect mix of innocence and passion as Romeo. Claire Danes manages to combine girlish obsession with an open-eyed intelligence that brings Juliet to life. John Leguizamo's Tybalt is over the top but manages to avoid crossing the line into parody. Harold Perrineau Jr. plays the doomed Mercutio with verve. Also notable are Miriam Margolyes as Juliet's Nurse, and Pete Postlethwaite as a tattooed Father Laurence.

The DVD is chock full of extras including an early video version of some of the scenes put together to convince the studio that Luhrmann's vision would work on screen.

Posted by jeffy at 02:35 PM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2004


seabiscuit.jpgIt's an uplifting sports movie (sure are a lot of those) about a race horse and his human collaborators set during the Great Depression. Red Pollard (played by Tobey Maguire) is a young man abandoned by his parents. Tom Smith (played by the awesome Chris Cooper) is a down-on-his-luck horse trainer. Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) is an automobile millionaire tortured by the death of his young son. All these damaged people are joined by a horse with similar defects, both physical and psychological. Together they win races. Cue the inspirational music.

The performances are all as good as you'd expect from these actors (very good, indeed). The production design is impressive. The cinematography is lovely. The documentary-style interludes narrated by historian David McCullough resonate interestingly with current events (even if they don't fit into the film very well). William H. Macy is a hoot as the excitable radio announcer.

So why don't I like the movie very much? Mostly it's because I felt manipulated for practically the entire film. I don't know much about the psychological language of film, but somehow the folks making this movie caused me to react in a way that felt completely disconnected from my conscious perceptions. I'd be rolling my eyes at the swelling music and the sepia-toned imagery at the same time that tears were running down my face. Maybe it wasn't overt manipulation. Maybe the emotional reaction was to a genuinely touching subject while the eye rolling was a reaction to some ham-handed directing. Either way, that facet of the film was bad.

Extras on the DVD were pretty typical with the exception of a gallery of pictures taken by Bridges during the production with a cool panoramic camera I didn't catch the name of.

Posted by jeffy at 05:39 PM | Comments (0)

February 26, 2004

The Mists of Avalon

mistsavalon.jpgMarion Zimmer Bradley's tome, The Mists of Avalon, is one of the original doorstop fantasy novels. It's a retelling of the Arthurian legends slanted towards the female characters. It's been a while since I read it (11/20/92 according to my list), but I recall that it was largely about the collision between Christian culture and the Pagan Earth-mother faiths that prevailed in Britain in the time period. Or maybe I'm confusing it with Jo Walton's The King's Peace and The King's Name which have a different take on the whole Arthur thing...

In any event, the movie, which was produced as a mini-series for TV on TNT, concentrates mostly on the human part of the story in order to fit it into only 3 hours of screen time. Leaving out most of the Christian vs. Pagan stuff also probably helped keep the volume of appalled phonecalls down at TNT headquarters.

The characters and relationships are plenty interesting to carry the film and the actors who play them do a fine job. Julianna Margulies is wonderful as Morgaine, Arthur's sister. She convincingly takes the character from girlish playfulness to righteous anger to consuming lust to steel-eyed competence. She makes the character one of the most rich female parts I've seen on the screen. Anjelica Huston is fine as the lady of the lake, Viviane, playing the part with loving ruthlessness. Samantha Mathis was sort of an odd choice for Gwenwyfar, but she had good chemistry with both her true love Lancelot (played by Michael Vartan) and husband Arthur (Edward Atterton) and did a fine job going off her rocker as she continued to fail to deliver her king an heir. Joan Allen is good as the scheming, power-hungry Morgause. The male casting was less distinctive (as is only fair for this particular story) with the exception of Hans Matheson as a slimily psychotic Mordred.

The film is harmed by our having spent entirely too much time watching Peter Jackson's meticulously produced Lord of the Rings movies. Mists' visual effects are strictly video-game quality and the sets and costumes are merely "good". It's really unfair to compare the two, but it was a factor in my enjoyment that I kept being pulled out of the story by production details. I bring it up more to point out how much Jackson has spoiled me than to cast any aspersions towards the Mists production team who did a fine job with the resources they were working with.

Posted by jeffy at 07:10 PM | Comments (0)

February 24, 2004


serendipity.jpegDreadful movie. We pretty much knew it would be because it looked dreadful in the preview, but we held out hopes that John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale could make it watchable. The premise is your basic meet-cute romantic comedy. Kate and John both grab the same pair of gloves in Bloomingdale's right before Christmas. They each are with other people but there's some attraction between them that they investigate over coffee and ice skating. Kate's character refuses to give her name to John's character because in her opinion, if they're destined to be together they will be. They play little games with fate that all point to their eventual connection (though some aren't obvious to them). Years pass. They're both engaged to other people. They can't forget their brief fling and each tries to hunt down the other. Surprise, surprise, after many trials they meet and kiss, the end.

Throughout the plot the hand of the writer is palpable in the movement of the characters. There is some chemistry between John and Kate, but their actions in the face of it feel false (mostly Kate's—her fate obsession is inconsistent and dippy). It was interesting watching the deleted scenes on the DVD (yes, we're insane) because they were all actually better than the ones that made it into the movie. This probably points to some of the blame for the mess belonging to the director.

What makes it possible to sit through the whole movie are the supporting characters and the cinematography. Jeremy Piven gets to stretch out a bit beyond his usual best-friend-to-John-Cusack's-character role. John Corbett is amusing as Kate's new-age musician fiance, Lars. And Eugene Levy goes goofball over-the-top as a strange but helpful Bloomingdale's clerk. The cinematography part is the series of stunning time-lapse passages of the New York skyline.

Posted by jeffy at 10:50 PM | Comments (0)

February 03, 2004

Full Frontal

fullfrontal.jpgI suspected while watching this that it was a lot more fun to make than it was to watch. The movie doesn't really have a plot as such. There are a bunch of loosely connected characters. There are several layers of films within the film (I think I counted four at one point). So as an entertainment, the casual viewer must content herself with appreciation of some interesting performances (especially David Hyde Pierce, Catherine Keener, Mary McCormack, Nicky Katt, and Julia Roberts), and some Steven Soderbergh in-jokes (e.g., Terence Stamp appears as his character from Soderbergh's The Limey).

But there are subtextual pleasures to be had as well. Soderbergh is using the coarse digital video style and semi-documentary appearance to draw attention to the Fiction of movie making. If you're like me, you might not pick up on all that with one watching of the movie, but this DVD release has some great extras that illuminate the background of the film without ever making you feel like a doofus for missing it all the first time.

One thing that explains a lot about the movie is the set of rules that Soderbergh gave his actors. You can read them here, but the gist is that the actors were expected to leave behind all trappings of Hollywood and come to the film as actors, not movie stars. Things like the actors having to do their own makeup and hair and wardrobe. These restrictions effectively remove a layer of glitz and insulation between the stars and the audience. The rest of the DVD extras further this process. The section where Soderbergh is interviewing the actors in character is especially fun. You get to see them improvising answers that fit with their characters' personalities. Julia Roberts's interview is delightful in this respect when one of Soderbergh's questions dips so far into the layers of her character that you can see her completely lose her grip on where reality is. The commentary track with director Soderbergh and writer Coleman Hough provides more insight into how the normal movie making conventions were subverted for Full Frontal. The commentary also provides more consolation to those confused by the nested storylines as writer Hough completely loses her place at one point too.

All told, it's a two-star movie with a three-star DVD.

Posted by jeffy at 05:18 PM | Comments (1)

January 31, 2004

The Banger Sisters

banger.jpgGoldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon play long-separated friends who were LA rock and roll groupies in the 1960s. Hawn's character is still the free spirit she was back then, but when she loses her bartending job, she drives to Phoenix and discovers that Sarandon's character has become an uptight beige yuppie mom. On the way to Phoenix, Hawn picks up another uptight character, this one a down-on-his-luck screenwriter played with scene-stealing quirkiness by Geoffrey Rush. From this setup the movie becomes a kind of mid-life crisis version of Mary Poppins with Hawn's character cracking Sarandon and Rush each out of their self-made shells. I enjoyed the movie more than I expected to with the exception of the exceedingly ham-handed announcement of the Moral Of The Story in a graduation speech given by one of Sarandon's daughters.

Posted by jeffy at 03:03 PM | Comments (0)

January 27, 2004


hulk.jpgI was never a reader of the Hulk comic books in the few years that I was into comics. I was a Marvel fan, though. I read Thor and Captain America and Daredevil and some of the short-lived 80s series like Dazzler (the roller-skating crime-fighting mutant disco queen. Really.) and Moon Knight. But Hulk, no.

So coming into this movie I didn't know anything about the character except that he turned into a big green guy when he got mad.

I loved this movie.

For my money, director Ang Lee has done the best job yet of taking the experience of reading a super hero-style comic and translating it into the language of film. I'm not saying it's going to have this effect on everyone--it obviously isn't since the movie didn't exactly rake in the bucks in the theatre.

There are three things that I think made it work this well for me.

First and foremost, Lee and his actors show nothing but respect for these characters. I think the scene that brought this home to me was the introduction of Betty Ross (played by Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Connelly) where Bruce Banner (Australian (though you'd never guess until you watch the documentaries, his American is that good) Eric Bana) rides his bicycle to the lab at UC Berkeley and walks through the building with his helmet on. He talks to a colleague and then talks to Betty, and these characters are capital-G Geeks! They're all totally gorgeous, they speak intelligently to each other, and yet they have the geek nature in spades. This is not something you see every day in a movie. Most movies can't resist falling into the lame stereotypes of pocket protectors and clumsily-repaired eyeglasses and mis-matched socks and verbal tics. Here in this movie, that little scene convinced me that these were real people, and nothing else they ever did made me lose that conviction even when they were turning green and being attacked by mutant poodles. Nick Nolte and Sam Elliott are both great as non-cliche father figures, too. Nolte especially managed to portray an over-the-top wacko without ever sinking into caricature.

Second, I loved the visual style of the movie. Lee makes copious use of crazy angles and multiply-split frames and simultaneous views of scenes from different angles that is straight out of the comic book vocabulary and, for me, he made it work on the screen. It bugged Becky and Rachel, but I thought it was great.

Finally, the movie is chock full of effects shots and they never once felt like effects shots. Partly this goes back to the fact that Lee and the actors made the characters so real to me that my suspension-of-disbelief system was charged up to eleven, but it's also a tribute to the artists who made a big strong green guy who can jump half a mile look totally real. We watched some of the documentary features on the DVD that show how they did some of that, and it just makes it more impressive to me. They got it right.

We watched it from the library but I need to go buy a copy so I can watch it again.

Posted by jeffy at 11:38 PM | Comments (0)


x2.jpgSecond in the new X-Men franchise. The first one had to spend half the movie introducing all the characters, so this one had a little more screen time to devote to storytelling. In retrospect (it's been over a week since we watched it), I don't recall that they actually took advantage of the opportunity. There was a little bit of motion along a larger character arc for a bunch of the characters, but it seems like each one only got a few minutes of screen time for their story. If this were a weekly series that would be okay, but with years between installments it's going to take awhile to get to know these characters.

Actually, it'd make a great weekly series. It's got just enough of the soap opera thing going, and the overall comic book reality gives you plenty of opportunity for introducing outlandish events to keep the story hopping along. Probably wouldn't be able to get all these great actors in on a regular gig like that, though. Then there's the whole budget issue.

Still, it's a fun popcorn movie and left me looking forward to the next one.

Posted by jeffy at 10:35 PM | Comments (0)

January 25, 2004

Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde

blonde2.jpgIt would be hard not to like this movie.

The character of Elle Woods as depicted by Reese Witherspoon nearly defies description. She is a cheerful ditzy blonde fashion plate. She's also an over-achieving lawyer career woman. But her defining characteristic is that she is unfailingly kind. Somehow Witherspoon manages to make all these alternate Elles work well enough that I completely accepted her as a real person.

The movie has her leaving her law practice after discovering that her chihuahua's mother is a cosmetics test animal. She takes her outrage to Washington D. C. where she goes to work for a senator played by Sally Field. Elle uses all her skills and resources to get her animal test ban bill passed in the face of resistance from various other cogs in the political machine.

It's a fantasy, sure, but a fantasy with a vital message: in a democracy, politics should not be a spectator sport.

Posted by jeffy at 09:18 PM | Comments (0)

January 06, 2004

Movies caught up

That's it for movie reviews from 2003. Between us, Becky and I saw about 100 movies last year that we hadn't seen before (we don't record repeat viewings). That's down from about 180 in 2002. Here's hoping we manage to squeeze in at least as many in '04!

Now on to the book review backlog...

Posted by jeffy at 11:32 PM | Comments (0)

The Return of the King

returnking.jpgI went and saw volume 3 of The Lord of the Rings at our local multiplex with a group from work, but Becky decided to join me so we could see it together. Multiplexes suck! We got spoiled very quickly with the level of respect that the Cinerama gives to the films they show and the people they host to view them.

But the movie is as good as I could have hoped. Peter Jackson and his enormous team of craftspeople have built a film in three volumes the likes of which has never been seen. And amazingly he has done it while staying faithful in large part to both the letter and the spirit of Tolkein's book.

The movie starts with a brief spurt of Gollum backstory that lets Andy Serkis actually show his face on the screen—exposure that he richly deserves.

But following that brief aside, Return picks up right where Two Towers left off and delivers more epic excitement than you can shake a gold ring at. Shelob is terrifying. Minas Tirith is awesome. The big battles are jaw dropping.

Don't get me wrong. I could pick nits all day, but they got so much right that I'll let them all go (or at least wait to see if they fix them in the extended version!)

Now what will we do next Christmas?

Posted by jeffy at 11:15 PM | Comments (0)

The Two Towers (extended version)

twotowers.jpgOn the Monday following our viewing of the extended Fellowship, we went to see the extended Two Towers. Unlike with the previous movie, we hadn't actually seen the extended cut of this movie before we went to catch it on the big beautiful screen at the Cinerama. Also unlike with Fellowship, there was a pretty good crowd there for this one. We decided to try out the balcony and sat in the third row up there where the entire screen is in your field of view.

Watching these extended cuts, it's hard to remember what the original cut was like.

Since we saw the two extended cuts in the theatre, Becky and I have been watching them at home again with the writer/director commentary. It's very interesting to hear Fran, Peter, and Philippa talk about how they agonized over what to cut to bring the films down to reasonable lengths for a theatrical release. Frankly, I would have made different decisions, erring on the side of reducing action in preference to increasing character moments. But I can't complain about what they've done too much. I couldn't have done as well as they have overall. But the stuff that's coming back in the extended versions is largely small character moments and a few canonical moments from the books that didn't sufficiently contribute to the narrative flow for the short cuts. With full post production behind them, the new versions look just as good as the originals.

I think my favorite restoration in The Two Towers is the scene where Sam and Frodo are using the Elven rope gifted to Sam by Galadriel. They descend a sheer wall and are lamenting the necessity to leave the rope behind since they know there's no way Sam's knot will let loose. Sam shakes the rope to demonstrate how secure it is and it immediately falls to the ground in front of them.

There's a little bit of a scene that explains where the mysterious horse that rescues Aragorn following his little float down the river (carrying a sheathed longsword and a bunch of other knives and such. That Aragorn is one buoyant dude. Must be a little known property of his Numenorian blood ;-). I would have been happier if the whole float down the river thing had been scrapped altogether, it's really the clumsiest bit in these movies as far as I'm concerned.

On midnight the day after we saw Two Towers at the Cinerama, The Return of the King was going to be opening. For the truly dedicated they were showing Fellowship and Two Towers back-to-back before Return started. The reason I mention it is that there was a small group of people already in line for the marathon when we went in. It'd been sold out for ages, so they presumably had tickets and were in line strictly to ensure they would get good seats. We're not that obsessed. Quite.

Posted by jeffy at 11:07 PM | Comments (0)

January 05, 2004

Picnic At Hanging Rock

hangingrock.jpgThis movie is set in the late 1800s, but from the first frame it's sadly obvious that it was filmed in the 1970s. It tells the true story of a picnic trip to the titular Hanging Rock, a volcanic formation in Australia. The picnickers are a group of boarding school girls. It's hard to tell how old they're supposed to be. The actresses all look to be in their 20s, but they act somewhat like teenagers and somewhat like pre-teens. During the picnic, a few of the girls wander off and are never seen again. The remainder of the film follows the community's attempts to find them and come to terms with their disappearance. Directed by Peter Weir, the story almost seems to suggest that something occult or extraterrestrial was going on with lots of shots of the girls wandering off zombie-like accompanied by strange humming spooky music. The overall effect seems to have been intended to be artsy, and you can still watch it that way if you are very careful to maintain a straight face and elevated nose throughout. But if at any point you allow yourself to subside into giggles, you'll be as lost as those schoolgirls.

Posted by jeffy at 11:21 PM | Comments (5)

Catch Me If You Can

catchme.jpgSpielberg's movie treatment of the true story of Frank Abagnale Jr. (played with aplomb by Leonardo di Caprio), who as a young man became the most successful check forger in US history. In his spare time he impersonated airline pilots so he could get free air travel deadheading. Later he impersonated a doctor and later still a lawyer. The character who provides the plot is the FBI agent who is trying to catch Abagnale with little success (played by Tom Hanks in full dork mode).

As you'd expect from Spielberg and this team of actors (Christopher Walken does an unusually subtle turn as Abagnale's under-achieving father), the movie is technically brilliant. But there's just not enough of a story to really hold my interest, and it suffers also from characters none of whom really inspire a lot of sympathy except for some of Abagnale's victims. Looking back on it, I think my favorite part of the movie is the cool 1960s-style animated opening title sequence.

Posted by jeffy at 11:03 PM | Comments (0)

The Fellowship of the Ring (extended version)

fellowship.jpgWe've seen this movie in the original theatrical version at least half a dozen times. We have watched the extended version of the movie off DVD repeatedly with and without commentary. We pretty much have it memorized.

So why a review now?

What are you? Living under a rock?!

In preparation for the theatrical release of volume 3 (The Return of the King in case you're living under two rocks), New Line released the extended versions of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers to theatres so legions of rabid fans (like us) could get all charged up for the release of Return.

Here in Seattle, this feeding frenzy of Jackson's epic was taking place at the Cinerama a fine old big-screen theatre that has been restored by Microsoft gajillionaire Paul Allen. Becky and I had never been there before. We went to see Fellowship on a Tuesday night two weeks before the release of Return. We weren't quite sure what to expect in the way of crowds so we got there pretty early to get a good spot in line, but we needn't have worried as there were only a few score people there when the doors finally opened at 8pm.

We took seats in something like the 8th row of the center section. It's a beautiful theatre with red velvet seats, a real curtain, and a screen thiiiiiiiis wide. I moved up a row when it turned out that the guy sitting behind me was unable to sit still without kicking the back of my seat for two minutes let alone 3-1/2 hours, but other than that, the Cinerama provided a near-optimal environment for appreciating the spectacle of film one.

Oh, you thought this was going to be about the movie itself?

Just go read the book. Skip the Tom Bombadil section and you pretty-much get Jackson's movie of Fellowship. About as much fun as you can have in a theatre these days.

Posted by jeffy at 10:54 PM | Comments (0)

Bend It Like Beckham

beckham.jpgMore multi-cultural girl power. Jesminder 'Jess' Bhamra (played by the very cute Parminder K. Nagra) is the daughter of Indian immigrants to England. Her parents' expectations for her center exclusively on college and marriage. Her hopes for herself are all about football. She meets Juliette 'Jules' Paxton (played by the very cute Kiera Knightley) who invites her to join a women's football team coached by Joe (played by the very cute Jonathan Rhys-Meyers). The story and characters are funny and fun (and cute) and the direction is energetic and respectful of the people and cultures involved. The soccer scenes are especially notable for being a blast to watch (and I'm no sports fan).

The DVD has a bunch of fun extras including a session of director Gurinder Chadha cooking Aloo Gobi while supervised by her mother and aunt.

Posted by jeffy at 10:46 PM | Comments (1)

Pieces of April

piecesofapril.jpgHosting your family for Thanksgiving dinner has got to be one of life's most stressful moments. Add in a complete ignorance of cooking, a family that has written you off as an anti-social deviant, and an oven that doesn't work in a tiny New York apartment and you have the makings of a complete disaster. Katie Holmes's April somehow manages to summon the determination and ingenuity to fight her way back from an impossible beginning into something that while far from strictly traditional is an affirmation of the value of family and community in adversity. Patricia Clarkson is marvelous as April's mother who is dying of cancer (though she and April are the only ones who have accepted that fact (pretty much the only thing they have in common)). Oliver Platt has a fine understated performance as the father who still thinks that if he believes it hard enough, his family will not be falling apart.

The film is shot in a coarse indy style (and I bet they were wishing desperately that they'd been able to write it in a way that didn't involve having 5 people driving around in a car for much of the film) but since it's depicting a family with so many raw bleeding edges, the almost documentary shooting style fits perfectly. It's written and directed by Peter Hedges who wrote What's Eating Gilbert Grape and the screenplay of About a Boy.

I liked it a lot more than I expected to. The trailer makes it look like it's going to be a holiday disaster movie, and that kind of thing just makes me cringe and squirm. The actual film is far more subtle and human, managing to avoid nearly all of the cliches of the holiday film genre. The plot kept surprising me, and the surprises were always perfectly in character. Good stuff, and if you can watch the final scene of the movie with dry eyes, then you're more stoic than I am.

Posted by jeffy at 10:34 PM | Comments (0)

Whale Rider

whalerider.jpgIn every generation there is a Chosen One... Oops, wait, wrong story. In a Maori tribe in New Zealand, there's a patriarchal transferrence of power, but as the tribe's traditional culture collides with the modern world, the sons of the chief choose other paths than those of tradition. The chief tries to train the other young boys of the tribe into the position. He can't accept that his granddaughter is his clear successor. She trains behind his back and everything ends about like you'd expect. It's really a fairy tale story so you can excuse the fact that the plot seems derivative. It's derivative because it tells one of the stories that all the others derive from. What really makes the movie wonderful, though is the performance of first-time actress Keisha Castle-Hughes as the granddaughter. She's wonderfully natural as a girl called to lead her people. Beautiful magical movie.

Posted by jeffy at 10:24 PM | Comments (1)

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

master.jpgI haven't read any of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels which is a good position to be in when viewing a Hollywood adaptation of a literary work. Peter Weir's bracing flick passes my test for such occasions in that seeing the movie made me want to go grab the first book and dig in. There's really not all that much to the movie that you haven't seen in a million other high seas adventure films, at least in outline, but Weir's flick goes for a level of verisimilitude that will have you ducking and cringing as cannon balls rip through the wood work of the HMS Surprise (and it warmed the cockles of my galoot heart to see that same woodwork all being repaired without resort to skilsaws, electric screwdrivers, and three trips to Home Despot ;-) Russell Crowe manages to play a part that strays dangerously close to Ahab without making you think of the mad sea captain more than once or twice which is quite an accomplishment.

Posted by jeffy at 10:13 PM | Comments (0)

January 04, 2004

The Castle

castle.jpgThe folks down under make some pretty odd movies and The Castle poses no threat to that stereotype. The Kerrigan family is helmed by eternally optimistic and cheerful patriarch Darryl. They live in a house right off the end of the runway of the local airport. And they love that house like it's the castle of the title. Along comes an evil developer who wants to extend a runway through their neighborhood. The Kerrigans don't know anything about the law, but they know this is their house being stolen from them and they fight. Not very traditionally, but they fight and lose and lose and lose and... guess. The fun of the movie is in the characters of the family for whom nothing is more important than their love for each other and the house that is their home. They're goofballs, but loveable ones.

Posted by jeffy at 05:29 PM | Comments (1)

Two Weeks Notice

twoweeksnotice.jpgThere are only two reasons to watch this movie. Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant. They're doing their usual schtick with their usual aplomb. If that doesn't appeal to you, then give it a pass. If you start giggling just thinking about it, here's a way to kill an evening. I'd love to see this pair in a good movie, but for now, this will have to do.
Posted by jeffy at 02:13 PM | Comments (0)

Dancer in the Dark

dancerdark.jpgFrom the Danish director Lars von Trier and starring Icelandic singer Björk as a Czech woman who escaped to the Pacific Northwest with her young son in the 1960s. Björk's character is going blind, and as she loses her visual link to the real world she is more and more absorbed in her internal fantasy that she is living in a musical extravaganza. The musical numbers that result are surreal but sweet in a Bergmanesque sort of way. Their dreamlike quality is enhanced by von Trier's use of 100 fixed digital video cameras throughout the set to catch the action simultaneously from as many angles in a single (or a couple) takes. The scenes have a strange omniscient (or polyniscient) feel that is unique in my cinematic experience. Not sure I like it, but it's definitely interesting and von Trier does a good job of making it work within the sense of the movie. Despite the peppy musical numbers, this is a very dark movie with nothing even vaguely resembling a happy ending. I found that the immediacy of the digital video approach worked well to immerse me in the world of the film such that I found myself having personal emotional responses to the events depicted much more than I have from other films. It made me feel stuff vs. feeling that the people in the movies were feeling stuff, if you see what I mean. Weird. Dark. Good.

The DVD has a very interesting featurette showing how the 100 camera setup was used to film the musical numbers. There's also a couple of commentary tracks which we did not view.

Posted by jeffy at 02:03 PM | Comments (0)

What a Girl Wants

girlwants.jpgAmanda Bynes plays a young woman who's grown up with her mother, a singer in a rock band. Her father (Colin Firth) is nothing more than a picture from her Mom's time in Morocco and a story of how they met and fell in love.

Bynes goes to England to find her pa. He's a minor noble running for public office. He has a social-climber fiance with a similarly aged snooty daughter. Long lost American daughter doesn't fit with fiancee's plans. Cute plucky American girl wins over now-stodgy dad and reminds him of how much more fun his life was before he gave up his bohemian youth in exchange for a mundane adulthood.

All ends happily (unless you're the fiancee). It's a confection, but it has some cute moments.

Posted by jeffy at 01:39 PM | Comments (0)

A Mighty Wind

mightywind.jpgChristopher Guest has somehow managed to thrive as a one-man genre. First This is Spinal Tap, then Best In Show, and now A Mighty Wind, all "mockumentaries", movies about made up stuff in the documentary style. In a lot of ways, Wind is the best of the bunch. It's about a loosely connected group of folk-pop bands from the 1970s. What makes it work so well is that the cast wrote and performed all of the songs in the movie. The conceit of the film is that a reunion concert is staged following the death of the producer that gave them all their start back in the day. The movie shows what they've been up to since their heyday, how they get back in form for the reunion, and then the performance of the live show itself. The documentary bits are hilarious and filled with ad-libbed dialogue. The music is catchy and insanely silly. What's not to like?

Posted by jeffy at 01:52 AM | Comments (1)

Love Actually

loveactually.jpgIf you've seen any of the romantic comedy blockbusters Richard Curtis has written, (like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill), you should know just what to expect from this, his first outing as writer/director. And your expectations will be fulfilled. Lots of charming attractive people and some quirky attractive people have various romantic entanglements and some life-changing events while being cute, witty, and all British-like. The casting makes it watchable. You can't lose with Emma Thompson or Alan Rickman or Liam Neeson or Colin Firth or Laura Linney. And Hugh Grant somehow even manages to make his rumpled charmer thing watchable for the 17th time. Add in more excellent casting and performances in the more minor parts and you get a movie that while predictable to an absurd degree is still somehow fun to watch.
Posted by jeffy at 01:46 AM | Comments (1)

January 03, 2004

The Matrix: Revolutions

revolutions.jpgThird volume in the Wachowski brothers' existential action trilogy. There was a lot of carping and moaning about last summer's Reloaded and about this finale. I understand what people are kvetching about, but really, if it bothers you that much you're taking these movies way too seriously.

There really aren't too many surprises here, but what is here is presented with the same eye for over-the-top visuals and action. The main problem in the movie is that after two other over-the-top movies there's not much space at the top for this one to move into. Billions and billions of Agent Smiths, billions and billions of squids.

The highlights of this movie are all character pieces, though. The little bit acknowledging the new face of the Oracle (Gloria Foster, the actress who played her in the first two films, died and was replaced by Mary Alice). Trinity's part in the standoff in the Merovingian's night club. The awesome job Ian Bliss did playing Bane while posessed by Agent Smith. The very end of the Neo vs. Agent Smith battle. Jada Pinkett Smith's Millenium Falcon chase scene. Colonel Mifune's death scene. I swear I even saw Keanu emote a couple of times as Neo.

Anyway, it's not a masterpiece of the cinematic art, but it was sure fun to watch (2.1 times. I went to the show that started 10 minutes before the one I had a ticket for. I realized this before the previews ended and decided that I could use this like the Omega 13 in Galaxy Quest, so that I could rewind the film by 10 minutes at any one point. I never had occasion to use it, so I just left as the credits rolled and caught the Smith vs. Neo battle again. My second full viewing was on the 6-story-high Boeing IMAX screen at Pacific Science Center. That was fun, but about half-way through the movie I stopped noticing how big the screen was and was just watching the film.)

Posted by jeffy at 08:57 PM | Comments (1)

Laurel Canyon

laurelcanyon.jpgChristian Bale and Kate Beckinsale play Sam and Alex, a young engaged couple. Sam is doing his psychiatric internship in LA and Alex is joining him while she works on finishing her doctoral thesis in genomics. We meet Alex's parents who are sheltered high society suburbanites on the East Coast. Alex seems like she's on course to follow them. The plan while the young lovers are in LA is that they will stay at the home of Sam's mother while she is away.

When they arrive, they find that Mom's plans have changed because the album she's producing isn't finished yet and the band is staying at the house, too (the lead singer in her bed). Hearing just that much, this sounds like pure farce, but with Frances McDormand playing the mother, the film proceeds in much more interesting directions. McDormand plays an unapologetic sex, drugs, and rock & roll record producer. She's very good at what she does and she doesn't take any shit about who she is. Sam is appalled at his mother's lifestyle. Alex, though, is attracted to the danger and otherness of McDormand's world. While Alex is being seduced by hedonism, Sam is similarly distracted by a fellow intern played by Natascha McElhone.

The movie that results from this setup is a test of Alex's and Sam's commitment both to each other and to their chosen images of themselves. Good meaty performances by the principals captured with intimate direction by Lisa Cholodenko make it a sexy and thought-provoking film.

Posted by jeffy at 08:20 PM | Comments (0)

Door To Door

doortodoor.jpegWilliam H. Macy wrote, directed, and starred in this made-for-tv film depicting the life of Bill Porter. The story starts as Porter's mother helps him prepare to go interview for a job as a door-to-door salesman. From the beginning it's clear Porter has some condition that makes him talk funny (later we find out it's cerebral palsy). Through sheer determination, he gets the job and the rest of the story is how he kept it and how he affected his customers and how they affected him. It's got sort of a Hallmark feel to it, but that doesn't reduce the impact of Macy's depiction of a life well and usefully lived. And almost incidentally, the film shines light on another of the careers of old that no longer exists in the US.

Posted by jeffy at 02:18 AM | Comments (0)

January 02, 2004

Lost In Translation

translation.jpegWe've enjoyed Scarlett Johansson's work since we first saw her in Manny & Lo as a precocious young girl. Her portrayal of Rebecca in Terry Zwigoff's great Ghost World moviefication just confirmed Manny & Lo wasn't a fluke and she jumped to our list of young actresses to keep an eye on. Second-time director Sophia Coppola puts Johansson's talents to good use in this understated film which deserves all the critical attention it's gotten. Johansson plays the bored, over-educated wife of a distracted pop-culture photographer (played with forgettably cipher-like blandness and distraction by Giovanni Ribisi). She has come along with him on a work trip to Tokyo and is mostly left to herself in the elegantly insulated hotel. In the bar she encounters the other character in the movie: Bill Murray. Murray plays a past-his-prime adventure movie actor in town to film a commercial for Suntory Scotch.

The movie is a series of simple interactions between these two people at very different places in their lives. The plot is minimal, and what there is of it is kind of klunky. But while the movie doesn't say very much, it shows quite a lot in its depiction of a bit of authentic human connection in an environment that makes such a thing virtually impossible.

Posted by jeffy at 05:40 PM | Comments (2)

November 15, 2003

Punch-Drunk Love

punchdrunk.jpegPaul Thomas Anderson wrote and directed this movie. If you've seen any of his other work (Magnolia especially), just knowing that tells you that the movie is going to be an experience.

Adam Sandler plays Barry Egan. He's got his own business (novelty toilet plungers, but there's only one gag having to do with that (and it's in the preview)). He's got a whole raft of older sisters who are nearly indistinguishable from one another.

The events of the film are more or less mundane, but they paint a picture of Sandler's character. He starts off the movie afraid and confused, but as he begins to fall in love with Emily Watson's character, he starts pushing through the fear and acting out of love. This is complicated by the fact that having grown up with a raft of sisters who express their love for him by teasing him incessantly, his reactions to his feelings of love are all tied up with the feelings of angry frustration that his sisters have always inspired in him.

The DVD has some surreal extra features including some deleted scenes that further illuminate this contradictory array of feelings that Sandler operates under. Emily Watson is an interesting choice as his love interest, playing the part as both clumsily seductive and strangely maternal. It's a weird little movie. Good, though.

Posted by jeffy at 06:40 PM | Comments (0)


dd.jpgI knew this would be awful, but I had to watch it. I was never a rabid comic book fan as a kid, but for several years I was an avid reader of Daredevil. He's a blind superhero whose other senses were augmented by the toxic waste that blinded him. By day he's a lawyer, by night he takes care of the cases he loses by hunting down the baddies and taking them out. He's a pretty dark character.

The movie is a mess. It's trying to be edgy and rock-and-roll, and just comes off as over-calculated and vapid. Jennifer Garner plays Electra. Daredevil and Electra have a little wire-work courting fight, but it just looks fake (never mind the fact that he has this fight as his lawyer self which sort of blows the whole blind guy cover you'd think...) Ben Affleck as Daredevil is stiff and smarmy. Part of it is the costume, but this is really the worst thing I've seen him in.

Posted by jeffy at 06:34 PM | Comments (0)

Alex and Emma

alexemma.jpgI would have dearly loved to have walked out of this movie, but since we were watching it on an airplane it wasn't really an option.

Luke Wilson plays Alex, a writer with writer's block. He borrowed money from some gangsters and lost it gambling so they're going to kill him unless he comes up with the bucks. He can only pay them back if he finishes his new book and collects the money for it. But he has writer's block so he hires a court stenographer to take dictation of the book. The usually delightful Kate Hudson plays the stenographer.

As they begin to work on the book, the movie splits and shows the action of the book as it is written and revised intermixed with the "real" world of Alex and Emma who start off being prickly toward each other and then lighten up and fall in love. Oops, told you the end. Rob Reiner directed this disaster. I can see how the pitch might have sounded good, but when you've got a writer writing a really stupid book, you've got to balance it with a real-world story that is solid and meaningful. Instead, the movie story is exactly the same story as that in the book, and they're both unspeakably idiotic. Don't waste your time.

Posted by jeffy at 06:21 PM | Comments (0)

November 07, 2003

School of Rock

We watched this on a Sunday night in Hershey, Pennsylvania with a theatre full of teenagers. Jack Black plays an aspiring rock-and-roll guitar god. Now, you have to understand that this is a very specific flavor of rock-and-roll we're talking about in this movie. Think Cheap Trick and that kind of theatrical, epic guitar-heavy, make-your-ears-bleed power rock. Black's character is into this stuff, but the band he's in takes themselves seriously in a completely different way than Black does and find his antics embarassing at best, so they fire him. Naturally Black tries to form his own band, but gets no takers.

Meanwhile his roommate, a substitute teacher played by screenwriter Mike White, is trying to keep a relationship alive with his shrewish girlfriend, and delivers an ultimatum to Black: get a job and pay the rent, or get out.

This all sets the stage for Black to accept a substitute teaching job in White's name. And this is where you have to turn your suspension-of-disbelief knob up to eleven. Black manages to snow the extremely tightly-wound headmistress (played with wonderful depth and feeling by the inimitable Joan Cusack) and the rest of the teachers into thinking he knows what he's doing. And then when he turns his class of fourth-graders into a power rock band (and roadies and stage crew and costume designers and lighting designers and...), somehow no one in the school hears them or in any other way hears about the fact that the class isn't learning anything except rock history and practice.

The kids are adorable. Black takes a role that could easily be either brashly repulsive or sickeningly sweet and somehow manages to be neither. His character's love of the music is pure and complete and his dealings with the kids are always respectful and encouraging.

The movie has a slightly schmaltzy vibe to it, but somehow director Richard Linklater never lets it descend into formula. It's no masterpiece of the cinema, but it's a perfectly watchable feel-good movie.

Posted by jeffy at 07:38 PM | Comments (0)

September 19, 2003

Shanghai Knights

shangknights.jpgWatch this for Jackie Chan's riotous fight choreography. Or for Owen Wilson's shameless goofball acting. But whatever you do, don't expect historical accuracy. The movie is fun to watch, but it doesn't have a serious bone in its body.

To expect otherwise is to set yourself up for disappointment. Chon and Roy go to England to rescue the Chinese imperial seal stolen from Chon's father. They're helped in their quest by Chon's adorable sister (who Roy predictably falls for) and Arthur Conan Doyle (who has somehow become a Scotland Yard inspector, but remember what I said about accuracy). Cool fight sequences ensue.

The DVD has an interesting interview with Chan about the fights. There's also a couple of commentary tracks and the other customary fill.

Posted by jeffy at 10:20 PM | Comments (0)

September 17, 2003

Bowling for Columbine

columbine.jpgI sympathize with anyone who can't take Michael Moore seriously. His work in Roger and Me had the feeling of a personal vendetta against General Motors, and that lack of objectivity permeated the film.

In Bowling for Columbine (a title I still don't really get), though, he does a much better job of making a documentary. He still does the in-their-face confrontation thing where he confronts people with issues they don't want to face and then acts surprised when they ask him to go away. But I had a hard time feeling much sympathy for any of the people thus confronted in this movie. I felt some sympathetic discomfort as I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of one of Moore's interviews, but everyone he confronted was a public personality who has to expect to encounter some opposition.

The movie is surprisingly even-handed about the issue of firearms. Moore doesn't take a stand on whether guns in and of themselves are a cause of the high homicide rates in the US. In fact, he points to strong evidence that the presence of guns doesn't have anything to do with it (Canada has 7 million guns for 10 million households, and a tiny fraction of our gun-related homicide numbers).

So what is the reason that Americans shoot each other so much more frequently than residents of other first world nations? There's no one answer. But two of the biggest factors, according to Moore, are our economy, and our fear.

Mainstream media reports violent crime first and foremost. This leads us to feel that we could be attacked at any moment. We buy alarms for our houses and our cars. We buy tazers and mace. We buy guns. We move to suburbs where we think we'll be safe. We avoid parts of town that we think are dangerous. We avoid certain people who we think are dangerous. This isolation leads to more ignorance of who our neighbors are, which leads to more fear. Fear translates to anger when we're confronted, and neither fear nor anger are conducive to rational thought. Shit happens.

I was talking to a friend about the movie today. He hadn't seen it, which didn't surprise me since he's a politically conservative guy and a gun enthusiast. I asked him the central question of why so many more gun deaths in the US than Canada. He opined that the high numbers were caused by ethnic minorities killing each other just like they do in the old country. I didn't follow up on that partly because I didn't feel like I had the facts I needed at hand, and partly because I'm not comfortable with Moore-like confrontation. But I've been thinking about it. The Canada counter-example works again for his argument. Canada has similar racial diversity to the US.

But the racial argument points to the other half of Moore's theory, the economic. Ethnic minorities are typically in the lower economic classes. They work for long hours at low-paying jobs that can't cover reasonable living expenses. They don't have health insurance. They can't afford daycare for their kids. In the movie, Moore gives an example of a situation where this recipe led to an unsupervised child discovering a gun which he took to school and killed a classmate. Both children were first graders. (One of my beefs with the movie is that Moore never chased the question of what the hell the child's uncle was doing with a gun lying around where a first grader could find it.) That's one way that poverty can lead to gun violence, but the other is the more direct route of hopelessness. When you work two full-time jobs and can't make enough money to provide for your child, how much does it take to drive you to violent means of attaining security?

Then there's that special case of gun violence: war. Is the argument that we should take military action against countries that we don't agree with a cause of Americans' tendency to violence or an effect?

Now, it's hard to make conclusions from the data that Moore presents, mostly because he doesn't present data, he presents blanket statements. There were several times in the film where he would present one side of the argument, then present facts that didn't quite refute them, but seemed to paint a picture with a different overall hue. It's hard to draw any strong conclusions based on this. What the movie is good for is providing a jumping-off point for discussion of the issues and suggestion of some theories about causes. The hard work of figuring out how the numbers shake out is left to the viewer.

Posted by jeffy at 04:31 PM | Comments (1)

Duct Tape Forever

ducttape.jpgThe Red Green Show comes to the big screen. Unfortunately the movie suffers from the usual problems with translating variety show comedy programs for full-length features. What's funny when you're watching it for a half-dozen five-minute skits over the course of a half-hour becomes tiresome when stretched out to 90 minutes. There are bits that are amusing, but there's too much other stuff in between to make it worthwhile. Better to watch reruns of the show. The video tape we got from the library included a making-of mockumentary (all the actors stay in character) that was even more boring than the movie. It was fun hearing from some of the fans who got to be extras in the movie, but it went on so long I thought it would never end, and I finally rewound the tape without finishing it.

Posted by jeffy at 03:52 PM | Comments (0)

The Hours

hours.jpgIt's been a week or so since we watched this. It's a good movie. The casting is incredible (Streep, Moore, Kidman as the female leads, of course, but the supporting cast is impressive, too, with Miranda Richardson, John C. Reilly, Ed Harris, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Claire Danes, and Jeff Daniels). The story weaves back and forth between Woolf writing Mrs. Dalloway in 1923, a housewife in 1951 reading the book, and a 2001 editor who personifies the title character. Phillip Glass provides a score that sets tone and eases the transitions.

But while I enjoyed the experience of the film as I was watching it, looking back I feel like it could have been better. The cuts between the various timelines were rapidfire and frenetic, but when it stayed with a particular story for a while it felt draggy. The dragginess works for all the individual women's lives saturated with depression and despair as they were, but the contrast between the two speeds of the film didn't fit with the story for me.

I was also distracted by the makeup, not only the infamous nose they slapped on Nicole Kidman's mug, but also Ed Harris's AIDS makeup and Julianne Moore's old face at the end. They were all impressive, but they all looked like makeup to me.

But again, this is post-viewing analysis. The active presence of the film is engrossing. The emotions of the leads are a palpable experience. It makes Woolf's choice of suicide seem completely reasonable.

Interestingly, I ran across a discussion of depression and suicide just a couple of days after watching the movie. In a comment to her LiveJournal, Lydy wrote:

Did I ever tell you that I figured out a good answer to the question, "Why don't I just kill myself?" It's a perfectly valid question, and there are days when it's very hard to think of a good reason not to. My answer, though, is, "Next year, the medtech will be better." Life may not mean anything, but eventually it might stop hurting, and that would be an awfully nice thing.

The rate at which medtech improves can be cause for despair on its own, but certainly compared to 1923 or 1951, now is a better time to have screwed-up brain chemistry if you can afford to treat it.

The DVD has some interesting documentary material about Woolf, and a bunch of other stuff we didn't have time to watch since we had to return it to the library.

Posted by jeffy at 02:43 PM | Comments (1)

August 27, 2003

American Splendor

Harvey Pekar is a file clerk from Cleveland, Ohio. For many years he has been writing a comic book about his life called American Splendor (originally illustrated by his friend R. Crumb). At first glance, the title seems ironic. The comic is full of frames of Harvey walking down streets of urban decay, his hands in the pockets of his jacket, his back humped, his head down. The stories center around the simple activities of his life like puttering around the house, going to the grocery store, or pondering the futility of his existence.

It seems a strange thing to turn into a movie.

The film blends scenes with the real people involved, actors playing the same characters, and finally animated versions of the characters as drawn by the artists of the comics. All these layers are blended so seamlessly that watching the film feels almost like reading a comic and having the pictures come alive in your head.

Like the comic, the story is just about Harvey's life. How he met his third wife, how he came to be a regular on David Letterman's show (I actually remember seeing some of these back in the 80s when I was watching Letterman avidly), how he survived a fight with cancer.

Harvey is a gruff, depressed character. He questions whether his life has any value. And yet he is not resigned to his existence. He changes things, and the changes are in the baby steps that all of us are able to make in real life. There's no magical breakthrough that transforms Harvey into a prom queen, but he is transformed through small personal changes and nudges from the people around him.

In the end, the title doesn't seem ironic at all.

While Harvey Pekar didn't originate the mundane autobiographical form (witness Pepys' Diary), the influence of American Splendor the comic on our popular culture is clear.

In a lot of ways, American Splendor is like a good blog, wresting beauty and meaning from the events of everyday life. And indeed, Harvey, his wife Joyce, and their daughter Danielle all have blogs! (Thanks to Jeff at Beans For Breakfast for that piece of info.)

Posted by jeffy at 06:19 PM | Comments (1)

August 20, 2003

Kate & Leopold

katenleopold.jpgLiev Schreiber plays an inventor who finds a way to travel into the past. Hugh Jackman plays a 19th century duke who notices Liev's bumbling and chases him back to 2001. Meg Ryan is a market research executive and Liev's ex-girlfriend. Hugh and Meg meet and fall in love. Hugh has to go back to avoid temporal disaster.

The movie as a whole is cute and avoids some of the more annoying cliches of fish-out-of-water films. I like what writer/director James Mangold is doing with playing the integrity and manner of Jackman's character against the shamelessness of Ryan's 21st century marketing mentality.

The time travel aspects of the film are very sloppily handled. For instance, when Jackman returns to the past, Schreiber warns him that he will be returning before he left so he might have to re-live some of the day when logically what would happen would be that there would be two of him until the point where his original self went forward. Yes, time travel is theoretically impossible, but every other aspect of the time travel in this movie implies that your physical presence is what is transported, and this detail had Jackman's consciousness travelling back and replacing the one he had before. Consistency, please.

There are lots of anachronistic features. Most of them involve Jackman knowing about things that didn't happen until after he came forward, but one obvious one was the use of 50-star US flags in 1876 when it should have been the rather distinctive 37-star version. These kinds of blatant things are so easy to get right. I'm not going to quibble about historical inaccuracies like the economic conditions in Mangold's past, but if you're going to include flags, make sure they're the right flags. Sheesh.

But beyond these technical quibbles, there's still something just not quite right about the movie. I can't put my finger on it, but there's something about the pacing or the shooting style or something that just didn't let me sink into the film.

The DVD includes the theatrical version as well as an original director's cut with 4 extra minutes. The extra minutes consist of a brief glimpse of Ryan's character in the past at the beginning of the movie, a long scene with a cameo by Mangold playing a director having his film shown at a test screening, and a number of brief references that show that Schreiber's character is Jackman's (and hence (spoiler!) Ryan's) n-great grandson. Apparently the studio had a problem with the fact that Schreiber's character was in a romantic relationship with his n-great grandmother (before the action of the movie). Whatever.

There are also some deleted scenes and a commentary track plus two forgettable featurettes. The commentary is Mangold doing one of those "here's what I was trying to say with this film" kinds of things. I didn't listen to the whole thing, but it was mildly interesting.

Posted by jeffy at 11:33 PM | Comments (0)

August 14, 2003

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

pepper.jpg#92 on the IMDB bottom 100 films. We were going through some of our vinyl recently and listened to the Beatles albums that spawned this movie and I got a hankering to see it again (I saw it in the theatre when it came out!) The library had a copy (on tape) and Becky's off visiting Rosalind (and Steve & Hazel) so I feel like I can waste time watching really dumb movies ;-)

But it's weird because I think it's actually pretty good. (Not literally "pretty good" which is Becky's and my shorthand for 3 stars. Stars-wise it's more like "okay" or "okay plus" (2 or 2-1/2)). The deal is that they took all the songs on the Beatles albums Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road and a few other songs and used them as the score for a pop music opera. Even though all the Beatles were still alive when this was made (1978), none of them wanted to be in it so instead the producers enlisted the Bee Gees, fresh off their success with the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, and squared out the quartet with Peter Frampton. It's a testament to the surreality of the Lennon & McCartney lyrics that they form the only dialogue in the movie with the exception of some sparse narration spoken by George Burns (who sounds just like Peter Falk in The Princess Bride. Or Falk sounds like Burns, I guess.)

The bands involved all do acceptable covers of the Beatles tunes. The Earth Wind and Fire rendition of "Got To Get You Into My Life" is excellent. Aerosmith does nice work with "Come Together" and Alice Cooper contributes a creepy rendition of "Because". Steve Martin performs "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" in his late 70s pre-The Jerk persona.

There's an impressive number of music, tv, and movie personality cameos in the movie-ending number. Check out the list on the IMDB (click the poster as always) under "Our Guests at Heartland".

The movie makes about as much sense as any musical (there's even a brief hoedown scene ;-). As a historical document of the late seventies movie musical boom, it's really kind of fun. That boom was largely the work of producer Robert Stigwood who did this one as well as Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), Tommy (1975), Saturday Night Fever (1977), and Grease (1978)

If you can, see a letterboxed version (the DVD is) as there are quite a few scenes that suffer under pan and scan.

Posted by jeffy at 11:14 PM | Comments (0)

August 13, 2003

Demolition Man

demolitionman.jpgI didn't much like this movie. Except when I did. Sylvester Stallone stars as cop, John "demolition man" Spartan, so called for his tendency to destroy buildings in the process of catching bad guys. Wesley Snipes plays Simon Phoenix, a wacky psychopath who wouldn't be out of place in a Batman story. Spartan catches Phoenix, but lets the hostages die, so both of them are sentenced to a long sentence of being frozen. Fast-forward forty years and the world has outgrown violence in exchange for a goofy disneyesque rated G culture. Every swear word occasions a fine, and everything that's bad for you is illegal, and yet somehow this has all resulted in a complete lack of crime. Sorry, I'm trying to make the nonsensical make sense. Phoenix escapes from prison and goes on a rampage. Spartan is thawed out in the hopes that he can catch the 20th century psycho. Additional complication comes from Sandra Bullock playing Lt. Lenina Huxley, a bored police officer who pines for the good old days when there was action and adventure. There's also Denis Leary playing a rebel forces leader kind of guy named Edgar Friendly who, it turns out the benevolent dictator has programmed Simon Phoenix to kill.

No, it doesn't make any more sense when you're watching it. The movie has about as much cohesion as a smashed piece of safety glass. There's all these bits, but none of them fit together. Some of the bits are pretty good. Bullock plays her saccharine-sweet character in a charmingly goofy way that makes you expect her to break into uncontrollable giggles at any moment. Leary gets a few good lines in. Snipes is so over the top that "over the top" doesn't even begin to describe it. Unfortunately his character is so nasty that it's hard to enjoy his performance. Sly is Sly. The script tries to poke fun at the action movie genre, but mostly just makes fun of itself. And not in a good way.

Posted by jeffy at 10:33 PM | Comments (0)

August 12, 2003

Roger Dodger

roger.jpgCampbell Scott stars as Roger, a single advertising copy writer with the gift of gab. He is self-assured to the point of cockiness. He thinks of himself as (and is perceived as) a ladies' man. Roger's teenage nephew, Nick, appears in Roger's office and begs his uncle to give him lessons in the art of wooing women. Roger is unable to resist this challenge and the remainder of the film follows the master and the apprentice through the prowling grounds of New York.

As the evening goes on, the level of Roger's mastery of the subject comes increasingly into question. Layers and layers of veneer are burned away both from the jaded Roger and from the innocent Nick.

The film is fundamentally an extended character study of Roger. Everything that happens gives us a clearer view of who this man is. Scott's performance lets us see that Roger himself is learning some of these lessons along with us, though they are much more painful and difficult to accept for him. Writer/Director Dylan Kidd manages to keep the story honest and very personal. Every time it could have gone for the easy laugh or the cozy resolution, this story instead takes a turn into even more authentic territory.

The DVD is a film techie's dream. All the extras are about how the film was made, and seem to have been produced by the same crew that made the film itself. There's none of the usual banality of production featurettes, instead you get interviews with the costume designer and the producer and the casting director. We didn't watch the movie until it was already overdue at the library so we didn't have time to view either of the commentary tracks, but they sound like they'd be fun (one with director and DP, the other with director and Scott). From the sound of some of the interviews, the film got lots of criticism for the use of "shaky cameras", but I for one didn't really find that distracting at all. It felt like you were just in the room watching these characters a couple of tables away.

Posted by jeffy at 11:37 PM | Comments (0)

August 10, 2003

Talk To Her

talktoher.jpgI always have a hard time with the really good movies. Almodóvar was nominated for an Oscar for his direction, and won for his writing, and rightfully so. The film tells the story of two men devoted to women in comas. One of the women is a bullfighter, the other a dancer.

The film stitches together music, dance, bull-fighting, care for the comatose, prison incarceration, and film. The dialogue is sparse, but perfectly builds all the characters, both major and minor, into believable people.

That's enough. It's a movie to be seen, not to be read about.

The DVD has a whole bunch of trailers which is a plus in my book. The only other extra is a commentary track by Almodóvar and actress Geraldine Chaplin who has a minor role in the film. We listened to (well, read the subtitles, anyway) the first 15 minutes of the commentary, and what we heard indicated that there's probably some interesting stuff to be learned from it, but you'd have to get through a bunch of Almodóvar narrating the action on the screen to get there. This seems to be a fairly common failing of director commentaries. But the lack of extras is not a failing at all. The movie stands nicely on its own.

Posted by jeffy at 10:45 PM | Comments (0)

August 07, 2003

A Guy Thing

guything.jpgPlease don't let anything I say in this review lead you to believe that you should make any effort whatsoever to see this movie. It's really bad.

We got the movie from the library since it features Jason Lee (from many Kevin Smith movies and the charming Mumford), Julia Stiles (10 Things I Hate About You, the cute teen-retelling of The Taming of the Shrew), and Selma Blair (most notably Cruel Intentions, the surprisingly good teen-retelling of Les liaisons dangereuses). And indeed, all three of them manage to be appealing as long as you don't pay any attention to their dialogue.

Here's the story: Jason is engaged to Selma. After his bachelor party he wakes up in bed with Julia who he later learns is Selma's cousin. From that you can almost guess where the movie goes. Jason falls for Julia. Selma ends up with Jason's buttoned-down brother. You've seen that movie a dozen times. Director Chris Koch (Snow Day, the universally panned Chris Elliott vehicle), and principal story/screenwriter Greg Glienna (Meet the Parents, another movie to avoid) try to make up for the hackneyed concept by borrowing other hackneyed concepts from other popular films. Jason catches pubic lice leading to much crotch scratching and embarassing moments at the pharmacists counter. Har har. Julia's ex-boyfriend is a psycho cop who uses his power to harrass Jason (who gets recruited by internal affairs to wear a wire so they can catch the guy). Jason claims to have diarrhea to explain why he's hiding in the bathroom to avoid Julia. The gravy at the rehearsal dinner gets dosed with marijuana.

Even with all that, there is a watchable movie trying desperately to escape from the layers of kitsch. The title reference is from several occasions where complete strangers back up Jason in his pointless lies. Some of these are actually kind of cute, and if they'd pulled that element of the movie more to the foreground they might have been able to get something more in the spirit of The Tao of Steve meets dorky wedding movie.

As it is, the only redeeming quality is the personal charisma of the principals.

The DVD has gobs of extra stuff including deleted scenes, and a gag reel with scene after scene of the actors laughing in a way that seems to me to mean "I can't believe I'm in this worthless movie, I have to laugh so I won't cry."

Posted by jeffy at 11:57 PM | Comments (0)

August 05, 2003

Die Another Day

dieanotherday.jpgIt's a Bond movie. Cool gadgets, fabulous babes, over-the-top baddies, big explosions, absolute nonsense plot. Not as bad as The World Is Not Enough (Denise Richards as a physicist? Please.) or as good as Tomorrow Never Dies (Michelle Yeoh!)

This is the 20th (canonical) Bond film. If you look in the trivia section of the IMDB entry behind the poster picture at left you'll find a summary of all the homages to the other 19 films that are embedded in this one. This goes a long way towards explaining why this one feels over-long. First-time Bond director Lee Tamahori throws in a few Hong Kong-style bullet time and other quick-take effects, but they're so sparse within the whole picture that they're more distracting than fun.

Posted by jeffy at 05:16 PM | Comments (0)

July 28, 2003

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

pirates.jpgMuch is being made of Johnny Depp's performance in this big-budget pirate movie, and every word of praise he is getting is deserved. He just exudes the perfect combination of depravity, feral grace, and self-imposed honorability for a pirate captain.

The movie's fun to watch even apart from Depp's Jack Sparrow, but the plot is too plodding and the pacing too jerky to let the movie be the masterpiece of light action fare it could have been. Geoffrey Rush is fun in his scenery chewing mode (and his teeth look like he's chewed a lot in this one!), and Orlando Bloom cuts a fine figure as the young man (and blacksmith and expert swordsman) with a grudge against pirates.

Keira Knightley is acceptable as the pretty governor's daughter Bloom pines over. I have to give credit to the writers for giving Knightley's character a bit more brains than is usual for this sort of part. Many of the strategic maneuvers are instigated by this character, but Knightley plays them more as if the girl is a natural strategist with excellent instincts. It would be nice to have seen it played more as the result of hard study and calculation on her part.

But why quibble about details? This is a perfectly good summer movie with cool effects, pretty people, and, hell, yes, excellent pirates.

Posted by jeffy at 02:16 PM | Comments (0)

July 21, 2003


posterRobin Tunney plays Zoe Adler, a misfit computer graphics designer who can't sit still. Early in the movie she is arrested for running down a police officer with her car while drunk. No one believes her when she explains that she didn't do it, that it was actually the scary stalker guy who had forced her to drive drunk and sent the car crashing into the poor cop. Her lawyer (played with flair by Nora Dunn) plans to stall the trial as long as possible and somehow gets her out of jail and into the "bracelet program" where she is under house arrest with a location tracking bracelet on her ankle to ensure she doesn't get away.

Whew! complicated setup.

This film mixes up a brew of events that range through horrifying, depressing, pathetic, hilarious, suspenseful, sexy, heart-warming, triumphant. The amazing thing is that in the process, writer/director Finn Taylor has managed to make a movie that isn't a big muddle. Watching it, I was completely transported into Zoe's world and was able to accept all that variety of experience as the normal course of her not-so-normal life. In short, it felt real. Examined intellectually, the story doesn't seem very realistic, but still, somehow the overall effect is believable.

A lot of that verisimilitude has to do with the performances turned in by Tunney and the always wonderful Tim Blake Nelson who plays the lonely police technician who services her tracking bracelet and falls in love with her.

The soundtrack of 70s/80s hits you haven't heard in awhile is integral to the plot (the songs are those played by Tunney's character and are the soundtrack of her fantasy life) and makes it all seem more real as well--not something you usually get from nostalgic soundtracks.

Finally, the movie is full of little visual quotes from other movies from Run Lola Run to The Shawshank Redemption.

The DVD has a couple of deleted scenes (the first of which is a quote from Tunney's role in Empire Records), there's also a making-of featurette and an audio commentary with Taylor, Tunney, and DP Barry Stone.

The only thing I don't like about the movie is that you run the risk of getting the title song stuck in your head in spite of its sparing use in the film. Small price to pay.

Posted by jeffy at 11:28 PM | Comments (1)

July 12, 2003


zoolander.jpgVery silly movie about a dim-bulb male model who is brainwashed and programmed by an evil fashion designer to kill the new Prime Minister of Malaysia whose progressive policies threaten to put an end to cheap sweatshop labor. The social commentary takes up about 2 minutes of screen time, with the rest dedicated to a series of campy modelling skits. Ben Stiller as Derek (he also directed and co-wrote) manages to maintain the spacey dim-wit aura throughout. Owen Wilson is his usual hilarious deadpan self as a rival model. Will Ferrell is completely over the top as the evil designer--a completely shameless and very funny performance. The movie is also distinctive for having dozens of fashion and movie personalities in cameo roles. Mindless fun.

The DVD has even more of it with deleted scenes, extended scenes and outtakes as well as a music video, photo gallery, commentary, etc. etc. etc.

Posted by jeffy at 11:23 PM | Comments (0)

What Dreams May Come

dreams.jpgI'd wanted to see this ever since seeing the trailers in which the visual effects looked really cool. I expected the movie to be unbearably schmaltzy, and I wasn't disappointed. What I didn't expect was that it would also be pretty dull. Definitely could have used some major tightening up. The painterly effects were indeed very cool, but I'd have to say that it wasn't quite worth sitting through the whole movie to see them.
Posted by jeffy at 11:21 PM | Comments (0)

July 10, 2003

The Bank

thebank.jpgIt's an Australian thriller about banking and mathematical modelling. We picked this up from the library largely due to it starring David Wenham who has been seen more recently in The Two Towers. In The Bank, he plays a genius mathematician who is on the verge of perfecting an algorithm for predicting what the stock market will do. He is hired by a bank CEO played with relish by Anthony LaPaglia. LaPaglia's character gets to stand in for all that's evil about the banking industry in particular and big corporations in general.

The magic algorithm (for magic it would have to be to do what they show in the film, Clarke's Law be damned) is supposedly made possible by some aspect of chaos theory which is represented in the film by some spiffy rendering of the Mandelbrot bug and copious references to Benoit Mandelbrot himself. Gotta like that. The mathematical side of the film is also represented in some really cool cinematography.

The other part of the movie is a view of banking from the point of view of some hapless small business people who lose their business due to having taken a loan that was backed by some strange foreign currency arrangement that my decidedly non-bank-savvy brain can't quite parse. This being the case, I had quite a bit of sympathy for these characters even though their part of the story seems tacked on until you get close to the end and start figuring out what's really going on here.

There were other parts of the movie about which I had mixed feelings. Like their handling of computers which had all the usual movie problems of flashy graphical displays that don't seem to do anything except look cool. Then they turned around and had the most realistic looking super computer since Hal 9000: a big black box with a single line of 3 glowing LEDs and a small logo plate.

Despite the niggling annoyances, this is a smart, good-looking, suspenseful film.

Posted by jeffy at 11:19 PM | Comments (0)

July 08, 2003

Woman On Top

womanontop.jpgIn this magical realist confection, Penélope Cruz plays a young chef with extreme vertigo unless she is piloting whether it's in the kitchen, in the car, or in the bedroom. Her husband cheats on her after becoming frustrated with this last, and when she catches him at it she leaves him and Brazil to go to San Francisco where she promptly lands her own TV show where she eventually loses control all over again (this time to the always enjoyable John de Lancie). It's a cute, dippy little story with pacing problems, but hey, it's got Penélope Cruz in it which makes up for a lot.
Posted by jeffy at 11:18 PM | Comments (0)

July 03, 2003

Treasure Planet

posterMostly forgettable Disney animated sci-fi fantasy retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. What's fun about this one is the juxtaposition of 19th century swashbuckling style on far future star-faring techno culture. And Emma Thompson voicing a kick-ass felinesque alien starship captain is pretty cool too.

A friend who is more into animation than anyone I know was telling me that the art of the backgrounds in this movie appeared to be lifted straight from Titan A.E. I can see what she means. Though they also just look a lot like the amazing pictures that keep coming out of the Hubble which I'm sure were at least partly their shared inspiration.

Far more extras on this DVD than I had any desire to explore.

Posted by jeffy at 10:18 PM | Comments (0)

July 01, 2003

Castle In The Sky

castleinthesky.jpgDisney is finally releasing the various Hayao Miyazaki films whose US distribution rights they've been sitting on for years now. This one is set in a world where there are all sorts of surreal flying machines including an entire island complete with integral castle (hence the title). A young girl with a magic crystal discovers that her ancestors are from this flying island. She is being chased by some government agents who want the crystal as well as some pirates who want the treasure that's rumored to be on the island. This is all a little more linear than the actual unfolding of the plot, but this movie has an unusually linear plot as anime goes. The girl finds a boy whose father was obsessed with the floating island, and together they run from the various bad guys and towards the island.

As usual with Miyazaki, the visuals are top notch, and in this case, the imagined world is beautiful and cool.

The other thing Disney is doing with these releases is dubbing them with American actors' voices. The dubbing on this one is acceptable, but after watching a few minutes of the subtitled Japanese, it appears that they made major changes to the script (assuming that the subtitles are more faithful to the original, which could very well not be the case) which based on the small sample I read (had to get the DVD back to the library) were mainly intended to make the movie funnier in a pretty Disneyesque way. Bleh.

Posted by jeffy at 11:22 PM | Comments (0)

June 29, 2003

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle

posterThis movie will not challenge your mind. Not even a little bit. But it sure is fun.

Some rings that together contain the identities of all the witness relocation program clients are stolen by some baddies and the Angels have to get them back. (Why didn't the baddies make a copy of the data as soon as they got the goods, you ask? Hush.) There's eye candy for boy watchers and girl watchers, things blow up, really dumb jokes are made, evil plots are foiled. What's not to like?

The opening sequence alone was enough to make me grin uncontrollably as director McG and his team demonstrated that there is no longer any stunt sequence that can be conceived which cannot be filmed so as to appear real. Excellent summer entertainment.

Posted by jeffy at 11:07 PM | Comments (0)

June 28, 2003

Finding Nemo

posterI seem to always go to Pixar films expecting to be entertained, and then being, instead, completely transported. They're good at this stuff. Nemo is a young clown fish with a single father, Marlin, played wonderfully by Albert Brooks. Marlin is extremely risk-averse following the loss of his wife and their other children (an event depicted in a pretty scary scene in the first few minutes of the film). When Nemo is captured by a diver, his father embarks on a pell-mell quest to bring him home. Early on in his voyage, he encounters Dory, a fish with short-term memory loss (think Memento) and unquenchable optimism voiced by Ellen Degeneres who provides most of the comic relief in the movie.

It was interesting how subtle the environmental messages of the film were. Subtle enough that you might not even notice them. And that's only proper for this film. The characters are almost all fish, but the movie isn't about fish, it's about risk and courage and perseverance.

My therapist strongly recommended this film though it wasn't clear whether it was because he thought I could learn something from it or just because it's a good movie. I suspect the latter because I don't have anything in common with Marlin the risk-averse clown fish. Nope, not a thing. Not even a little bit like him. Not me. Nope.

Posted by jeffy at 11:07 PM | Comments (0)

June 26, 2003

Moonlight Mile

moonlight.jpgStarring Susan Sarandon, Dustin Hoffman, and Jake Gyllenhaal, this is one of those hyper emotional movies that let actors strut their stuff. Gyllenhaal plays a young man living with the parents of his fiance who was shot and killed pretty much at random. Hoffman and Sarandon, the parents, consider Gyllenhaal their son-in-law to the point that he's offered a position in Hoffman's commercial real estate business. What they don't know is that Gyllenhaal and their daughter had broken off their engagement and hadn't figured out how to tell the parents before she was killed. This sets the stage for some fine performances and, believe it or not, some pretty funny moments as everyone works through some difficult transitions.
Posted by jeffy at 11:21 PM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2003

Bedrooms and Hallways

posterAnother one from Hugo Weaving's history, in this one he plays a randy gay London real estate agent. He's a relatively minor character, but the movie is worth watching in its own right. It has the feel of one of those great ensemble set-in-the-UK comedies like Four Weddings and a Funeral or Notting Hill with the only difference being that the romance in this one isn't so heterosexual-centric. The movie is directed by Rose Troche who did the indy lesbian comedy Go Fish. In this one the main character is a gay man who gets involved in a late-eighties-style Sam Keen/Robert Bly men's group and falls in love with one of the members. It's a sweet funny movie.

Verdict: 2-1/2 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 07:02 PM | Comments (0)

Personal Velocity

posterSubtitled "Three Portraits", this film is actually three separate short stories, each portraying a woman in transition. Kyra Sedgwick plays Delia, a woman in an abusive marriage. Parker Posey plays Greta, an editor set to achieve her ambitions. Fairuza Balk is a directionless young woman who experiences a clarifying event. Each actress thrives with this meaty material giving performances that make these characters real and tragic and inspiring, each in their own way.

Verdict: 3 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 06:59 PM | Comments (0)

June 15, 2003


posterThis thing is over three hours long which is more time than I can generally spend concentrating on a movie. I watched it in 2 or three sittings, and with the scattered plotting, that worked okay. This is the movie version of Otomo's epic manga that I finished a couple of months ago. They made major changes to the story to fit it into three hours. But enough about the plot which isn't what this thing is about. What it's about is killer visuals, and they are here. The animation and artwork are beautiful. And when you dip into the huge volume of extra stuff on the DVD and find out that this movie is all hand drawn, your brain explodes with trying to imagine the amount of effort that went into this thing. The music is pretty cool too.

Verdict: 2 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 08:40 PM | Comments (2)

June 07, 2003

Far From Heaven

posterIt would have been easy for this film to step over the line from homage into parody, but Todd Haynes and his production designers and cinematographer managed to maintain the tone of flawed innocence intact. Set in 1950s Connecticut, the film tells the story of an outwardly "perfect" family whose private life is fatally flawed. Julianne Moore plays the model housewife, Dennis Quaid her advertising executive husband. They each fail to fit with the 50's behavioral ideal in their inmost selves.

The film is shot in the style of the 1950s melodramas of Douglas Sirk and it's great fun to look at for its deep saturated colors and contrasts and for the creative shooting angles used (I suspect) partly to communicate tone, but partly also to exclude anachronistic scenery.

Nothing particularly exciting on the DVD (it has a making-of, anatomy of a scene, director commentary, etc. etc.)

Verdict: 3 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 01:58 PM | Comments (0)

May 26, 2003


posterPart coming-of-age, part thriller, part dysfunctional family portrait, but mostly a sweet dominant/submissive love story. The unbearably cute Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Lee, a young woman recently released from a psychiatric institution for her use of imposed pain as a method of coping with the emotional pain in her life. Lee seeks independence from her family through employment and gets a job as a secretary for lawyer E. Edward Grey played by James Spader. Grey's idea of the duties of a secretary are somewhat unorthodox, but dovetail nicely with Lee's inclinations. Spader and Gyllenhall really carry the movie, making their decidedly non-Hollywood characters completely real and sympathetic. The overall tone and pacing of the film, the score, and the look of it are all nearly perfect reflections of the story as well. It does dip briefly into the semi-surreal towards the end, but overall the movie is a charming look at an atypical relationship form.

I wouldn't have minded more extras on this DVD. There's a making-of featurette with too-brief interviews with the actors, a small photo gallery, and a commentary track with writer Erin Cressida Wilson and director Steven Shainberg. We haven't heard the commentary yet, but will probably listen to it some time (yes, this one made it into the collection before we even saw it)

Verdict: 3-1/2 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 03:36 PM | Comments (0)

May 23, 2003

One Hour Photo

poster Robin Williams plays Sy Parrish, a photo processing technician at the one hour photo counter in a discount department store. We find out pretty quickly that Sy takes a personal interest in his customers.

In one case, Sy's interest is a little too personal. He is secretly obsessed by the Yorkin family, Nina (Connie Nielsen), Will (Michael Vartan), and young son Jake (Dylan Smith). When Sy processes their pictures he makes an extra set for himself.

The movie starts with Sy being admitted into police custody, and we are made to know that something untoward has happened, but not what. The rest of the movie is in flashback with a return to the interrogation at the end.

Williams is extremely creepy as the photo guy. The Yorkins are lovely to look at and play their parts well. The film has a stark over-clean look to it that heightens the tension. The photography details are convincing. The story mostly manages to steer clear of the stalker cliches.

I wanted to like the movie (as much as you can like a movie like this), but some plot details half-way through strained my credulity to the breaking point and made me question the reality of what was happening enough that for the rest of the film I kept waiting for the revelation that it was all a dream (as happens after a brief passage earlier in the film). I won't say what the details were (unless someone asks in the comments ;-). They're small things really, but they're so wrong that I was blown right out of the film.

The DVD has a Charlie Rose interview, and a Sundance "Anatomy of a Scene" segment neither of which we watched. The obligatory making-of featurette was worth watching for the behind-the-scenes shots of Robin Williams being his usual cut-up not-Sy self. There's also a commentary track with Williams and writer/director Romanek that has a few interesting details and some amusing bits from Williams, but was mostly pretty dull.

One other thing that was weird that had nothing to do with the movie was that I kept being reminded of my dad when I saw shots of Williams as Sy. Purely appearance; Dad isn't a psycho stalker as far as I know ;-).

Verdict: 2-1/2 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 11:35 PM | Comments (0)

May 22, 2003

The Matrix: Reloaded

posterThe software department at work went to see this as a group. (The occasional movie is a lot cheaper than paying all the overtime they should). It's a good movie to see with a bunch of computer geeks. Actually, I'm not sure it's possible to avoid seeing it with a bunch of computer geeks.

The story picks up pretty close after The Matrix left off. Keanu Reeves's Neo continues to kick Agent butt. The rebel forces continue to resist their machine overlords (Star Wars and Terminator echoes abound). But now the machines are drilling down to the human stronghold in Zion to stamp out the rebels, and Morpheus's (Laurence Fishburne) prophecy of deliverance by The One (Neo) seems imminent. That's all the plot there is.

The movie is a series of eye-popping fight and chase scenes stitched together with an equal number of talky, boring expository passages. The effects scenes are as good as any such scenes ever filmed (though some of them are a bit over-long). The dialogue in the other scenes tries to move the story along while exploring the existential philosophical issues that the premise of most of humanity living in a simulated reality brings up. It does neither well.

But who cares? The movie looks great, and is more fun than a roller coaster when it's moving, so if that sounds like fun, sit back and enjoy it. If not, you weren't going to go see this one anyway.

Verdict: 2-1/2 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 08:15 PM | Comments (0)

May 17, 2003


poster imageA look at the stars before they were stars. Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith in The Matrix, Elrond in The Lord of the Rings (and a whole bunch of other stuff over the years, of course)) plays a blind man with photography for a hobby. Which makes exactly no sense until you watch the movie and find out that he does it for perfectly sensible and very sad reasons. Russell Crowe plays a dish washer who becomes Weaving's friend after a chance encounter involving an alley cat. Completing the triangle is Geneviève Picot as Weaving's obsessive, ever-so-slightly psychotic housekeeper.

The movie reminded us of Memento with its similar theme of "who can you trust and what can you believe when you know your perception is impaired?" (The poster for Memento even echoes this film's a bit.) This is a much more accessible film than Memento. All three lead actors are excellent in what is basically a three-person story. A little more thought could have been put into the conflict--Crowe's character's actions strain credulity a bit--but with how well the rest of the plot was handled I'm willing to let that go. In amidst all the serious emotional issues, there is a fair amount of humor especially in a brief sequence where Weaving's character finds himself behind the wheel of a car being pulled over by the police.

Verdict: 3 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 11:04 PM | Comments (0)

May 15, 2003

Standing In the Shadows of Motown

poster imageFun documentary about the pool of studio musicians collectively known as the Funk Brothers who played the music behind just about every Motown hit you can name. The film interviews the surviving members, reenacts some memorable events from their history, and has live concert footage of the Funk Brothers now playing the hits they made for some contemporary singers, notably Bootsy Collins (who is that guy?), Joan Osborne (who had more soul in the 2 seconds of "Heard It Through the Grapevine" that she sang in a cafe interview scene than the entire full rendition later in the movie by Ben Harper), Me'Shell NdegéOcello, Chaka Khan. I don't include the names of the musicians here because I've never heard of any of them and assume you haven't either. They're the real stars of the film and it's unfortunate that the singers get more of the spotlight in the concert scenes than the players, just like it was back then. Still, the music is great and the stories are interesting.

Verdict: 2-1/2 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 12:41 AM | Comments (0)

May 14, 2003

The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

poster imageThis adaptation of Chris Fuhrman's posthumously published book The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys made me want to read the book, but it's also a successful movie in its own right. The story follows a couple of early-teen boys and a girl through the torture that is adolescence made even worse by the fact that they have to experience it along with the torture that is Catholic school. Intense friendships, youthful rebellion, first love, and the collision among them are spot-on here, and bring back memories of that time of my life, both horrible and ecstatic.

One of the coolest things about the movie is that it brings to life the comic book that the characters are drawing and writing in full-screen animation. This works really well to bring the characters' internal torture out on screen without having to make the real characters unrealistically melodramatic.

On the minus side, there was something a little off about the depiction of the 1970s that kept reminding me I was watching a movie. I can't quite put my finger on exactly what it was.

But the thing that really bugged me is the death of a character late in the film. It's probably straight out of the book in which case it will bug me about the book too. Why do writers feel like somebody has to die for their characters to experience strong emotions? In this case in particular, I didn't feel like the death made any of the characters involved go through anything fundamentally worse than what they'd already had to face in the rest of the movie.

The DVD has a commentary from the director that we didn't view. There's some slightly extended scenes that weren't really worth the time. The obligatory featurette is worth watching if only to see the glee that Jodie Foster obviously feels at playing the evil and repressed Sister Assumpta, glee that never once came through during her performance which is exactly as it should be since Sister Assumpta takes no joy in anything. The cast interview segment is hilarious for the sections with Jena Malone sounding like a jaded serious actress at the ripe old age of 16. Somehow she says this stuff that you've heard a hundred times about how "this script is so much better than most of the scripts that I read" that is just so cute when this little girl says them in all seriousness.

Verdict: 3 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 12:40 AM | Comments (1)

May 11, 2003


CharadeWatched the version on the flip side of the Truth About Charlie DVD. And, as I recalled, it's a much better movie than Demme's new remake. A large part of that betterness is due to the fact that the 1963 version is funny. Audrey Hepburn's character is forever making snide remarks and non sequiturs the way only Audrey Hepburn can, and there's no better straight man than Cary Grant. This was one of Grant's last movies before he retired from acting. It should count for at least a couple of roles with all the identities he goes through in the course of the movie (though they're all Cary Grant by another name). The fight scenes are all kind of cheesy, but they still manage to be suspenseful. Fun little movie.

Verdict: 3 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 11:02 PM | Comments (0)

May 03, 2003

The Truth About Charlie

the movie posterFrom the "what were they thinking?" files. The movie Charade was made in 1963 starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. And we need a remake of this why?

In the plus column, Thandie Newton is adorable and sexy channelling Audrey Hepburn, and Tim Robbins is a hoot in the Walter Matthau role. The soundtrack is pretty good.

In the not-so-good column I have to start out with Mark Wahlberg's performance which looked more like "in over his head con man" than the "who me? I would never do anything like that" suavity that the role calls for. A close second comes the wobbling weaving panning cutting motion-sickness-inspiring shooting style Jonathan Demme affects.

In the gutsy column comes the fact that the DVD release includes the 1963 original on the flip side of the disk so you can compare. We'll probably try to watch that before the disk has to go back to the library.

Verdict: 2 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 11:05 PM | Comments (0)

May 02, 2003


DaylightI actually only watched part of this, so Becky will have to correct me if I get any of the details wrong. It's your basic disaster action movie where a New York tunnel gets damaged when something explodes. (It doesn't matter what explodes, and you wouldn't believe me if I told you). Naturally there's only one man who can save the poor civilians trapped underground: Bruce Willis. No, wait, wrong movie, in this one it's Sylvester Stallone. Sly plays a paramedic (Becky says he's a taxi driver who used to be the director of emergency services or something) who has a major guilt complex about a rescue that went bad years before where people died and it was all his fault. Anyway, Sly goes through the big scary fans (think Chompers ala Galaxy Quest) and leads the scared and scary civilians to safety. Well, most of them anyway. Stuff explodes, stuff implodes, people freak out, people persevere, there's even a dog.

Why would we watch such a film you ask? Regular readers of Mad Times will have already figured out that the answer must be Viggo Mortensen. Viggo plays an extreme sports star (Becky says he's a sports equipment salesman who's into extreme sports. She agreed with someone on IMDB who called him an "adventure man") who gets squished like a bug for hubris half-way through the film. It's almost worth watching the movie to see his very funny performance. Almost.

The movie was released in 1996, and is, in a lot of ways, a tribute to emergency service personnel, so it's kind of eerie watching the final scenes of the film where the World Trade Center towers are the backdrop for practically every shot as paramedics and firefighters guide the victims of this fictional disaster to safety.

Verdict:1-1/2 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 07:50 PM | Comments (0)

April 27, 2003

Human Nature

Another from the twisted mind of Charlie Kaufman, the fellow who wrote Being John Malkovitch and last year's Adaptation. Patricia Arquette fearlessly plays a woman who has a genetic disorder that results in the growth of hair all over her body. Rhys Ifans (who I'm sure is looking forward to the day when he won't be remembered primarily as Hugh Grant's crass flatmate in Notting Hill) is a man raised in the woods as an ape by his delusional father. Tim Robbins is a research psychologist attempting to teach table manners to mice (and then to Ifans).

Between those descriptions and the title, you should be able to surmise that the movie takes all the conventions of civilized life and tweaks them until they break. The result is occasionally funny, but more often just made me wince, whether from sympathy with the characters or the actors or my own mildly offended sensibilities, I can't really say. I find myself wanting to pick at all the ways in which the film wasn't quite as good as it could have been. As audacious as it was, I feel like it was still pulling its punches, wavering on the line between full-out farce and satirical commentary, achieving neither.

One of the most fun parts of the film was Miranda Otto as the faux-French lab assistant femme fatale who could easily be an older version of her hilarious Dimity Hurley from the bizarre Love Serenade.

Verdict: 2 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 10:37 PM | Comments (0)

April 26, 2003

Rivers and Tides

Becky saw a review of this film in the paper on Friday and forwarded it to me at work. I read ten words of it and fired back a "when are we going?"

I've been a fan of Andy Goldsworthy's work for a number of years. He goes out into nature and makes art out of what he finds, then records the results in photographs. His works range from egg-shaped obelisks made from stacked stones to autumn leaves laboriously arranged in lines revealing their subtle gradations of color to structures laboriously contrived from sticks, often with a dark hole at their center.

The movie is a documentary filmed by Thomas Riedelsheimer showing the construction (and destruction) of many different works interleaved with interview footage. Riedelsheimer has done us a huge service by making this film. Inherent in Goldsworthy's art is its ephemeral nature. Piles of rock are upset, leaves blow away, stick assemblages are lifted and dismantled by a rising tide. The pieces are integral to the places where they are made, and part of the art is how the place interacts with Goldsworthy's strange imposition of human order on the more natural order it began with. Goldsworthy's still photographs give his pieces an illusion of stability and permanence. Even when multiple photos show a gradual change in a piece, the frozen moment is all we see. Riedelsheimer's motion picture reveals the fragility of the pieces, and draws out the fourth dimension of the work, revealing an even more complex depth to Goldsworthy's vision.

Verdict: 3-1/2 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 06:26 PM | Comments (0)

April 25, 2003


I suspect it was a good thing I hadn't read A. S. Byatt's acclaimed novel before seeing this film adaptation. For one thing, the first few minutes of the director's commentary track revealed that they changed the male lead into an American for the film which probably would have bugged the heck out of me had I known it while watching the movie. What little I know about the book suggests it's dense with literary detail, and that shows here by the fact that there were several places where I felt like important details were missing.

I read some reviews when the movie came out which were commenting on how unlikely it is to have English lit academics played by gorgeous movie stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart, and I have to agree. There are an infinite number of ways that humans can be attractive, and the narrow selection of them accepted by Hollywood is obnoxious. I had less problem with Jeremy Northam as his usual charming Englishman and Jennifer Ehle being sweetly impish as his lady love.

The movie is okay, but I suspect I'd enjoy the book more.

Verdict: 2-1/2 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 08:44 PM | Comments (0)

April 19, 2003

Spy Kids 2

Last night we watched Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams, director Robert Rodriguez's follow up to the hit kid-flick from 2001. (Rodriguez is almost a one-man production company on this movie. He's also credited as writer, cinematographer, editor, production designer, sound effects editor, and visual effects supervisor plus he shares credit as producer and composer!) The first movie wowed audiences with a spy movie for the pre-teen set, complete with gadgets James Bond would kill for. In this follow up there's more action, more gadgets, and more laughs. Relative unknowns Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara reprise their roles as the children of spy parents. This time the kids are spies in their own right and head off on a mission of their own. Their parents (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) follow after them to try to protect them, and their grandparents (Ricardo Montalban and Holland Taylor) tag after them cause they don't have much confidence in the parents' ability to bail out the kids.

It's a very light movie with a PG rating for action and some rude humor. But unlike some kid movies where there's nothing for the parents, this one has fun details that the kids probably won't notice. Like homages to Raiders of the Lost Ark and Spider Man and a skeleton fight scene that would make Ray Harryhausen proud. And the adult actors are fun to watch, especially Steve Buscemi as a mad geneticist and Montalban looking like he's having the time of his life as Antonio Banderas's father-in-law.

The DVD has a boat-load of extras. The most fun is a "10-minute film school" segment narrated by Rodriguez showing how he makes fancy shots for cheap (and not just by not paying anybody else to do all the stuff he's doing himself).

Verdict: 3 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 08:37 PM | Comments (0)

April 17, 2003

American Yakuza

I don't usually go in for mafia movies, but since American Yakuza stars Viggo Mortensen, it was a foregone conclusion that it would show up on our stack at some point. Mortensen plays an FBI agent in deep cover attempting (rather successfully) to infilitrate a Japanese mafia family in Los Angeles. The Japanese mafia is in the midst of a war with the American mafia, and the movie explores this scenario in a pretty predictable fashion. Lots of gun fire, lots of blood, lots of dead mafia guys. The conflict for Mortensen's character is that his friends in the Yakuza have so much more integrity and honor than his bosses at the FBI that his allegiances start getting fuzzy. Mortensen's performance and some interesting camera work ratchet this a notch above typical shoot-em-up standards. We looked to see if director Frank A. Cappello had done anything else, and he has one other film out there called No Way Back about an FBI guy (played by Russell Crowe) mixed up in a conflict between the American mafia and the Yakuza. Hmm...

Verdict: 2-1/2 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 04:06 PM | Comments (0)

April 16, 2003

Spirited Away

I took a break from work today to buzz out to the North Bend Theatre with Becky to see Miyazaki's Oscar-winning animated film Spirited Away. The movie is about a little girl named Chihiro who is moving to a new city along with her parents. On the way to their new house they take a wrong turn (note Audi product placement) and, well, strange stuff happens resulting in Chihiro having to rescue her parents. The plot makes exactly zero sense, but when you've got images like the ones on this screen, who cares? The spirit world denizens are a kick to watch, and the artwork is eye-poppingly luscious throughout the 130 minute run time. We saw it in a half-full theatre of which half the people were kids, and we barely heard a peep out of them. Lots of fun. Am I the only one who thought that the boilerman could have been drawn by R. Crumb?

Verdict: 3 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 08:06 PM | Comments (0)

April 13, 2003

The Good Girl

The Good Girl was written by Mike White and directed by Miguel Arteta, the same team who did 2000's loved-hated Chuck & Buck. Jennifer Aniston plays Justine, a 30-year-old Texas woman who works in a small department store, is married to a dope-smoking house painter (John C. Reilly doing his usual bang-up job), and is almost completely numb to the monotony and meaninglessness of her existence. A disaffected 22-year-old who calls himself Holden (after Salinger's character, of course) (Jake Gyllenhaal in a scenery munching turn) gets a job at the store, and the two become friends and then lovers. Things start getting complicated for Justine as Holden lets his first love become an obsession.

Arteta does an incredible job with this material, making a movie with a very even affect which isn't that easy with a screenplay that's basically a really depressing comedy. Aniston is surprisingly believable as the depressed housewife. The supporting actors all do nice work, especially Zooey Deschanel who is reason enough to watch any movie she's in and actually made one of her lines one of the most poignant moments in the film for me (When she says "You need a ride?" to an uninterested Holden, you get a look at a whole alternative course of history for all of these characters.) Tim Blake Nelson is creepy-endearing as Justine's husband's painting partner/buddy who has a sizeable crush of his own on Justine.

The DVD has deleted scenes and two commentary tracks, one with just Aniston, the other with Smith and Arteta lamenting all the great lines that had to be cut from the screenplay in the editing process. There's also a "gag reel" which consists mostly of shots of the actors bursting into laughter and is a welcome reassurance that they had some fun making this grey little movie.

Verdict: 3 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 08:27 PM | Comments (2)

April 03, 2003

Ma femme est une actrice

Last night we watched Ma femme est une actrice (My wife is an actress), a cute little self-referential French romantic comedy.

Yvan is sports writer who never seems to actually work (played by Yvan Attal who wrote and directed the film). Yvan is married to, yes, an actress who is known throughout the film simply as Charlotte (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, Attal's real-life spouse, and a well-known French actress.) There's also an understated performance by Terence Stamp as Charlotte's leading man in the film within the film.

The film circles around the issues Yvan has with Charlotte's life in the cinema. It's funny and sweet. Sort of a cross between Nora Ephron, writer of When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless In Seattle, and Nick Hornby who wrote the novels that were turned into the movies High Fidelity and About A Boy. (Hornby also wrote the book Fever Pitch (also a film) about a rabid fan of Arsenal, a football team. In the deleted scenes on the DVD of Ma femme..., there is a very long scene of Attal riding around in a London taxi. At one point he's making small talk with the driver who mentions being a fan of Arsenal. We wouldn't have had a clue what he was talking about had we not seen Fever Pitch.)

The DVD features are basic. A bunch of trailers (which is actually kind of unusual on DVDs for some reason. I personally like having a bunch of trailers on the disk. Always looking for more movies to watch, don't you know.), a short not-very-informative making-of featurette, a few (rightly) deleted scenes (outtakes, really), and a director's commentary (which we didn't screen).

Verdict: 2-1/2 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 09:55 PM | Comments (0)

March 26, 2003

The Reflecting Skin

I like weird movies. But either I wasn't in the right mood or this movie is too weird even for me. It's set in early 1950s Idaho and follows around a young boy whose life is pretty much hell. Evidently the cinematography was inspired by the paintings of Andrew Wyeth, which results in a striking appearance (at least as much as I could see on our pan-and-scan video from the library), but the script is just so thick with metaphorical allegorical mumbo jumbo that it's practically unwatchable.

Verdict: 1-1/2 stars (out of 4)

Here's as good a place as any to point out the Viggo connection. We've been watching quite a few movies that are a bit out of the way from our usual default fare, and the motivation has generally been the presence of Viggo Mortensen in the film. For those of you who live in alternate universes from ours, Viggo Mortensen has been thrust into the public eye as a full-blown movie star by his powerful portrayal of Aragorn in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. His performance seems to have especially caught the fancy of legions of women who are as surprised by their sudden obsession as their friends are. Becky is one of these Viggoners so she has watched a large part of his oeuvre in the last several months including (in order of release date):

  • Fresh Horses
  • The Reflecting Skin
  • The Indian Runner
  • Floundering
  • Crimson Tide
  • The Prophecy
  • Albino Alligator
  • The Portrait of a Lady
  • A Perfect Murder
  • A Walk On the Moon
  • 28 Days

And, of course, more watchings of The Fellowship of the Ring (both original theatrical version and the new extended version with another half hour of movie and 763 hours of documentaries and extras) and The Two Towers than it really bears considering.

Anyway, there's a bunch of movies left so I thought I'd let my readers (reader?) know that if you wonder "why the heck did they watch that", chances are you now know the answer.

Posted by jeffy at 07:28 PM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2003

The Portrait of a Lady

Watched this last night on letterboxed video tape. With this cast (Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich, Barbara Hershey, Mary-Louise Parker, and the incomparable Martin Donovan plus Shelley Winters, Richard E. Grant, Shelley Duvall, Christian Bale, and of course Viggo Mortensen. Adding Sir John Gielgud (in one of his last roles) takes it all the way into the absurd.), my expectations were extremely high, and those expectations were met and exceeded. I was just blown away by how good a film this is.

Having not read Henry James's novel about Americans in Europe in the 1870's, I can't judge how well writer Laura Jones and director Jane Campion captured the book. But the film made me want to read the book, and I consider that a mark of success in adaptation at least on some level. (There is an on-line version of the novel available here. I just put it on my Palm ;-)

As a film, I kept being startled by how beautiful it was in scene after scene. Sheer visual poetry. The story is tragic yet the tragedy is all from life, from the consequences of actions, not from twists of fate. Highly recommended.

Verdict: 3-1/2 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 02:10 PM | Comments (0)

March 22, 2003

8 femmes

Watched the DVD of 8 femmes last night. Starring some of the best French women actors working, the performances are predictably wonderful. The story is one of those claustrophobic ones where everyone comes to the country house for the weekend and becomes trapped there when the weather turns bad. One of them is murdered and the others try to find out who did it. While you may feel like you've seen that movie enough times, writer/director François Ozon has done something truly original with the form. (It's based on a play by Robert Thomas). It's set in the 50s and on the surface, the movie is kind of a Doris Day confection complete with a musical number for each of the 8 women of the title. But the dark secrets that each of the women reveal as the story unfolds are in stark and hilarious contrast to the perky technicolor veneer. It's kind of strange having seen this right after Chicago since here is another movie full of not particularly admirable characters, but in contrast, they all come off being likable despite their faults. Maybe it's just because they're not all murderers.

Do not, under any circumstances, try to view this film in a pan-and-scan version. Ozon uses the entire screen and you don't want to miss a thing.

Verdict: 3-1/2 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 02:37 PM | Comments (0)

March 21, 2003


Last night we saw Chicago at the North Bend Theatre. The movie is gorgeous, both because the stars and other dancers look great and also the overall cinematography. We hadn't seen this musical on stage, but it seems like they did a really great job with the screen adaptation. The nature of the story requires that the big dance numbers are very stagey, but the framing elements felt satisfyingly three dimensional. The song and dance throughout the film is dazzling, exciting, and often very funny.

Apparently people have been calling this a "feel good" movie, but they must not have seen the movie I saw. Roxie Hart is cheating on her husband with a guy who promises to help her get a start on stage. When her lover reveals that he does not have the showbiz contacts he claimed, she shoots him and tries to get her husband to take the blame. The only reason this despicable human being is watchable at all is that she's being played by the incomparable Renee Zellweger. Catherine Zeta-Jones's character killed her husband and her sister when she caught them together. Richard Gere plays a lawyer who will get anyone off as long as they have $5000. "Feel good" is not the phrase that springs immediately to mind. As social satire, though, it works very well, especially in the eye-popping court room drama scene whose song "Razzle Dazzle" isn't just an indictment of our legal system, but these days also of our political system.

But feel good or not, it is a good movie with great performances. On the minus side, Becky was distracted by the anachronistically buff/scrawny dancers, particularly Ms. Zellweger. The dancing by the principals was impressive, but part of what allowed it to be so impressive was the rapid-fire quick-cut editing throughout the film which was enough to repeatedly pull me out of the flow.

Verdict: 3 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 04:04 PM | Comments (0)

March 18, 2003

Morte a Venezia

Last night's movie was Morte a Venezia. It's based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Mann about an exhausted composer who goes to Venice to recharge and becomes smitten by the ethereal beauty of a young boy. There is hardly any dialogue in the film, and most of what is there is discussion of the meaning of Art, Beauty, Genius, and Life. All of the action takes place against the backdrop of the beauty of Venice, but even it is not allowed to be unambiguously beautiful as we discover that the city is the latest to be afflicted by an outbreak of Asian Cholera. The corruption of the city by this epidemic, the corruption of the composer by his obsession with beauty, and the corruption of the world for demanding that Art and Beauty be synonymous are all interwoven in a movie that while completely devoid of anything resembling happiness or even pleasure, is still undeniably both beautiful and artistic. The music in the film is portions Mahler's 3rd and 5th symphonies and is as much a character in the film as the actors and the city of Venice.

We watched a pan-and-scan video tape. See it letterboxed if you possibly can.

Verdict: 3-1/2 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 03:42 PM | Comments (0)

March 15, 2003


Tonight's movie was Floundering, the story of John, a twentysomething having a slacker crisis. He starts off the movie without a job, and in the first part of the film we learn he's also experiencing 3am visitations of dread. The normal world isn't being real nice to him either. The IRS is after him for back taxes, his unemployment benefits were overpaid so now he owes them money, his girlfriend isn't big on monogamy, his brother has checked himself out of rehab. He's obsessed with watching taped copies of the television coverage of the LA riots, and tortured by all the problems he sees in the world. He doesn't do anything about the world's problems or his own. James LeGros does a creditable job with the material, but the fact that John's interior life (told in unending voice-over) bears many similarities to my own mental landscape doesn't make him any more likeable. Probably less.

The end of the movie has an upbeat twist (however unlikely) which helps salvage some of it, but the picture as a whole isn't a whole lot of fun to watch except for nice performances in some of the smaller parts including a fun scene with Billy Bob Thornton as a good old boy gun salesman, a navel gazing pot smoking pseudo-intellectual meander by John Cusack, and a fine performance by Maritza Rivera as John's girlfriend who knows what she wants.

Verdict: 2 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 12:33 AM | Comments (0)

March 14, 2003


Watched Solaris the other night. This is the 1972 version directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. The film opens on simple pastoral scenes with no music or dialogue. Seeing it on this DVD, the visuals are exquisitely detailed and notable for looking like real locations. The colors are broadly varied, but all within normal natural hues. Everything seems a little muted, but I think it's only in contrast to the stuff I usually see in films which is exaggerated beyond what real natural landscapes look like. There's one shot in particular of an aquatic plant's leaves undulating in the current of the water in a stream that I could watch all day long, it's so beautiful.

The movie continues to be great looking even after the first couple of minutes when the dialogue and story start in. The talking (Russian with English subtitles for this monolingual watcher) is nearly as spare as the imagery at least in the beginning. It's not too clear what's going on. That's okay in the early parts when the things people say seem like things real people would really say, but when Kris Kelvin gets to the station above the planet Solaris, when the story is actually starting to unfold, the dialogue becomes like a strange philosophical subtext masquerading as conversation. Granted, the characters are all undergoing sanity-bending circumstances (immortal versions of people from the station-dwellers' pasts and imaginations appear and interact with the crew in often frightening and inscrutable ways), but even with that, it is hard to extract any practical meaning from what the characters say to each other.

And, okay, I get that this is partly the point, but I still expect my abstruse philosophical tracts to be good stories in addition to being mind-bending experiences. I need to go read the book.

Verdict: 2 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at 09:38 PM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2003

Titan A. E.

Titan A. E.Last night I watched the DVD of Titan A. E. I tried to talk Becky into watching it with me, but even with the voices of Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Bill Pullman, Jeneane Garofalo, and Nathan Lane, I was unsuccessful. "It's more space stuff", she says.

I'd seen it before on video, but it looks really great on DVD. This was the second animated feature from Fox Animation Studios after their extremely Disney-esque Anastasia. The basic story is that scary aliens come and blow up the Earth relegating humans to oppressed minority status in the universe. Their only hope is recovering the Titan project spaceship which escaped the destruction of Earth. Unfortunately, the only way to find it is with a map belonging (unbeknownst to him) to the son of its creator. Yeah, it's hip deep in sci-fi cliche (the Titan project in particular ends up being identical to the Genesis device in Star Trek's The Wrath of Khan), but there's a reason why all that stuff is cliche: it makes a good story. I remembered the movie as being like a bunch of animation set pieces loosely glued together with a glaze of plot, but it hangs together better than I remembered. The credits indicate that various passages were developed by different animation groups, so that may be what I was remembering. The soundtrack adds a lot with its punchy rock sound, but the dorky original score portions kept pulling me out of the movie.

The DVD has a director's commentary that I didn't watch, an interesting behind the scenes feature, a music video for the extremely dippy feature song "Over My Head" (this song has just _five_ words) by Lit, four deleted scenes, and trailers. All the usual stuff, basically. I got it from the library to see if I should add it to the collection, and I think I'll keep an eye out for a cheap copy.

Verdict: 2-1/2 stars (out of 4) for a fun rock music space epic with engaging voice talent and extreme animation eye candy.

Posted by jeffy at 03:06 PM | Comments (0)