Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Tuesday, June 30, 2009) (80)

I watched this movie only an hour ago and yet I can't explain what the fuck happened in it - aside from a ridiculous t&a show by Megan Fox.... ahh....

This movie was a gigantic piece of shit. It's not totally clear what is going on in it. As far as I can tell, there's an old robot (uh,
a decepticon) named The Fallen (yes - the title refers to one robot called The Fallen, rather than the Fallen being a singular collective for, say, fallen robots or something... who cares...) who was on Earth in 17,000BC and now is back. Apparently Optimus Prime was around then too (I think) - which means that they had tractor trailers back then (I think)? So Shia LeBeouf has to find a magic metal key inside the temple at Petra and do something with it.... and apparently the pyramids at Giza are in Jordan - or Petra is in Egypt ... I'm lost. At any rate, robots blow the crap out of the pyramids and other archaeological sites there. Oh, and Megan Fox has a great ass and runs a lot so you can watch her boobs bounce... I think that's the main thing I got from the movie.

Seriously, director Michael Bay's treatment of women here is totally ridiculous. I would be offended by this if it was not entirely a 13 year-old boy's wet dream and totally dumb and not worth my hatred. All of the women here are hyper sexualized and none have any background character. In the first 20 minutes of the movie, we see Fox in super short cut-off jeans, a patent leather body suit and a tiny white dress... oh - and she CAN'T ACT AT ALL (get the money while you can, sister). She's really, really, really terrible when she opens her mouth to speak. There's another tits on legs, er, I mean girl at Shia's school... and all she wants to do is screw him... Interestingly, there are no female Autobots - because women have a secondary role in the robot world too, I guess....

Then there are the ridiculous twin black Autobots who speak bad jive as if they were in a joke of a Tyler Perry movie... they were really shocking and embarrassing.

Whatever - this movie sucked. It's half star is given entirely to Megan Fox's boobs and butt.... Brilliant!

Stars: .5 of 4

The Proposal (Tuesday, June 30, 2009) (79)

I'm not totally sure why this movie is set in Alaska.

I'm also not sure why this movie was made (well, money is the reason). It's a dumb and hackneyed concept and the lead actors in it are almost totally monotone and dumb. Well, I guess I should say that Sandra Bullock is totally unappealing (always has been), and though I guess Ryan Reynolds is funny-ish (with a good script), he's not a really funny guy.

But Alaska - it's easily the most random place to set this movie. I want to blame Sarah Palin for this, but, sadly, I think it was in production before she was known.

There is almost no life on screen in this movie. Sandra Bullock is totally dull and badly cast (or badly written). She's supposed to be some sort of Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada - but she's not that old or that evil - so that whole thing doesn't work. She delivers lines like she's bored and she bored me in the process. Reynolds is ok - but his character is limited (so Bullock can get the laugh lines?) and he doesn't have much to work with.

The writing is terrible and the second and third acts are really, really dull. After about 10 minutes in Alaska, I wanted to go back down to the lower 48.

Betty White is actually really great - even working with a terrible script. She deserves credit for being a really great comedienne and being the only respectable thing in this movie.

Stars: 1 of 4

Monday, June 29, 2009

Afghan Star (Monday, June 29, 2009) (78)

This documentary follows a season of the hit Afghan television show, Afghan Star - the Afghan version of American Idol. The interesting thing about this is that it takes contestants from all around the country from different ethnic groups and has the viewers vote for them - making some Pashtuns, for instance, vote for a Tajik kid. It also features (at least two) women competing in the show.

It should not go unmentioned that this show, which was watched by more than 11 million people (a third of the population) is produced on the smallest of shoe-string budgets and taped in a wedding banquet hall in Kabul (it's pretty funny to see the small space and how it's transformed into something that looks, at least on TV, to be rather nice). The winner of the show gets $5000 and the title of Afghan Star.

For me, the most important issue was how they dealt with the two women in the competition. That story was rather glossed over initially, but was addressed directly after a point when one of the women's lives was threatened after she slightly moved her hips on air. Apparently several religious leader folk had public pronouncements that the woman was loose and a whore. She was forced to move from her home in Herat to Kabul to hide. Even in Kabul, her safety is not certain.

After this incident, there are some semi-official government-ish rulings that the women can perform on the show if they don't dance, but just sing. There is also some discussion about the head scarves that the women wear - although I felt this was a bit under-discussed - especially considering how much we associate Afghanistan with burquas....

The strength of the movie is in the story - the remarkable fact that this society went from super oppressive only nine years ago, to a very modern one with a pop show whose winner is selected by text messaging. I can't say this is much better than a good Frontline special, but it is rather compelling and interesting. There are certainly things that it lacks in a filmic way, but it is nice.

Stars: 2 of 4

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Year One (Sunday, June 28, 2009) (77)

Before I went to this movie, I was talking to a friend about seeing it and he asked me why the hell I was going. I didn't have a good answer aside from that I thought it might be funny. The trailers made it look sorta funny - well, super stupid and funny - and I was hoping for a few laughs.

Well, it was heavy on stupid... though, I thought it was funny. And much more biblical than I was expecting. I thought it was just going to be a movie about know-nothing cavemen who do stupid shit. Instead it was about two know-nothing cavemen in Old Testament biblical times romping through Sodom pre-hellfire and brimstone. Seriously.

Some of the biblical shenanigans were funny, some were pretty dumb. Overall Michael Cera was funny in the aw-shucks high school dork way that he does. Jack Black was very... Jack Black.... he was annoying.

There is no reason to ever see this movie. It's funny and clever, but totally stupid.

Stars: 1 of 4

Quiet Chaos (Sunday, June 28, 2009) (76)

What do you get when you take an interesting story concept, a handful of great actors (including one acting/directing legend) and a long, long meandering plot that never seems to move above a snail's pace? Well, you get this film.

The story is very simple: After his wife kills herself, Nanni Moretti takes a (ridiculous) leave from work to sit on a bench in a park outside of his young daughter's school just in case she looks out the window. Through sitting out there, he acts as a therapeutic agent in the lives of the people around him and ultimately comes to terms with the events of his personal and professional life. (Honestly, when I write it like that, I'm sorta bored). Oh, and there's some hot middle-aged sex too.

I feel like there is a good movie lost somewhere in the middle of this, but it takes so long to get there, that you're sorta bored by the time you do. I like the idea of him as a therapeutic agent for those around him, but we never see him really struggling with the loss of his wife - as much as he sits outside the school because he feel like he should (which is rather strange, because life does go on, after all - and nobody in his life questions his judgement in this respect). I would have liked to see more self-evaluation or thought from him as to how much he missed his wife or the sadness he felt from her loss. I would at least like him to admit that he doesn't know what he's doing there and there is no master plan for what he's doing.

By the time we get into the professional storyline - where Moretti's firm is merging with another firm and there are some shakeups with the management of his company - it feels totally unrelated to the main gist of the movie. The sexual drama is (as I said before) super hot - but totally unrelated to anything else and totally unmotivated plot-wise.

Still, the acting is very good (I love Moretti's frank every-man style) and the writing of individual scenes is nice. I think I just wanted more ooomph here, that I didn't get. All in all, a nice film, just not brilliant.

I wanted to see this film originally because the trailer made it look like The Son's Room, a picture from 2001 also starring Nanni Moretti - at least the trailer made Moretti's character look similar. Well, it is interesting, but not as good as the earlier film.

Stars: 2.5 of 4

Easy Virtue (Saturday, June 27, 2009) (75)

This is a delightful genre comedy set in the late 1920s/early 1930s on an English country estate. The son of the family has just married an American woman who is a professional race car driver (what?) and the family doesn't approve. Well, the mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) and the two sisters don't like the new wife (Jessica Biel.... ahhhhh), but the husband (Colin Firth) likes her independence and her freshness in the stuffy world they live in.

What follows is a broad comedy at times reminiscent of John Schlesinger's Cold Comfort Farm where each character's exotic idiosyncrasies add to the fun story. One especially clever thing is the use of contemporary pop music played in a '20s jazz flapper style... it's clever...

There's nothing totally deep or fresh about this, but it's got great acting and a charming script. There are not a ton of genre pieces like this, and this one is really nice.

Stars: 3 of 4

The Hurt Locker (Saturday, June 27, 2009) (74)

I'm generally not a big fan of contemporary war movies. I think many of them present war as either a masculinizing force or a heroic thing or a specifically dishonorable and emasculating thing. The fact that this movie opens with a Chris Hedges quote about how war is a powerful intoxicant when it gets in you... well, it was very encouraging (I think Hedges is pretty great).

The film is rather episodic and without plot per se. We meet an elite bomb removal/defusal unit in Iraq who are a team of three soldiers who are very close after about a year of working together in the shit. When the leader is killed in action by a bomb, a new hands-on specialist comes in to take his place. He has a brash style that doesn't sit well with his two squad-mates. We follow them for about a month - their last month in their tour before they return home.

What we see over the days is how all these men are very well suited for their jobs, but not totally able to deal with the rest of their lives - the emotional and mundane stuff. At one point, after an especially stressful and successful outing, they find themselves drinking and wresting and punching each other Fight-Club-style. Clearly physicality and violence is the main way they relate to the world.

The directing by Kathryn Bigelow is really fantastic. She lets the actors (especially Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie) really exist in their roles with lots of space to move around (from crazy and brash to sad and emotionally on edge) and allows the scenes to play out without rushing them or being preachy or sentimental. Most of the film is shot with hand-held cameras - which made me rather sick, but was totally effective in putting us in the middle of the action.

We ultimately find that these men are trained warriors who see such sick and bizarre shit in their work that they lose track of the normal world and their places in it. The deaths they see are so random - almost cruelly ironic - that they have trouble understanding if they're living real lives or taking part in a written story (of course, as characters, they are in a real world of their own and not 'written' - but from their point of view, it seems to them like their lives are fated for one thing or another).

I really liked the costumes - which were mostly Army fatigues - but they added a lot of personality to the show (I guess I can thank the Pentagon and my tax dollars for this). The bomb detonating suit itself is amazing (having never seen one before) and other-worldly. It looks like a space suit and a mid-century, pre-SCUBA diving suit. I especially love how Bigelow lets the actors wearing it joke about its cumbersomeness.

I love that this is not sentimental and very matter-of-fact. The men are either animals or tech geniuses with balls of steel, depending on how you look at them. We don't get the 'war is hell, war is stupid' refrain common in many war films. These men have a job to do and they do it - and do it well. The few scenes of life back in the 'real world' (in the U.S.) make that life so mundane and ridiculous, that we understand the appeal of the action in Iraq.

This is one of the best films of the year. It is massively powerful and really beautiful in its own way.

Stars: 4 of 4

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Taking of Pelham 123 (Thursday, June 25th, 2009)

I guess there are two ways of watching a movie like this. You can sit back and enjoy the ride (so to speak) and see if it is entertaining on purely visceral action levels or you can say, 'I live in New York and take the subway several times a day, just about every day - so let's see if they do it right'. I had high-ish hopes for this as the original is a fun, fresh movie that is not too dated (aside from a different and grittier looking subways system). I love the subway and maps and the original has a wonderful sense of feeling that they are in the real subways system moving in a specific direction. I always love that the original follows the stations of the 6 train almost exactly as the train moves downtown - and as there is a car above ground chasing the train, they drive down Park Avenue South as the train rides underneath - a very cool twist of a chase.

This film, however, gets almost every detail of the NY subways stem wrong - to a point that it's almost funny how bad it is. Not only do they get subways wrong, but they get surface streets and bridges wrong too - and very wrong. The 6 train in this film somehow is on a line that goes to Coney Island, which is only about 6 stops south of 34th St./Herald Square (also not a 6 stop). At one point, the office where Denzel works is mentioned as being in Midtown, and yet, it's clearly the Staten Island Ferry terminal (complete with SI Ferry signage in several shots) and then at one point he has to get from that location *uptown* to midtown - to Grand Central. Meanwhile there are cool aerial views of the city with google-mapy kind of signage pointing to where they are and where they're going.

In one chase scene, they have to get money from somewhere in Brooklyn to Grand Central - so they get on the Brooklyn Bridge, and get off of the 59th Street/Queensboro Bridge - and then are back downtown, as if they had actually taken the Brooklyn Bridge. Then they have to get uptown in a rush, so they take the traffic-filled surface streets, rather than the FDR to 42nd St... stupid. All they needed was a freaking real map of the city and this could have all be done much better. I guess locations in NYC are a challenge - but then they should have written it differently to better fit the locations they did use.

There are also a ton of silly plot devices - like a kid who uses a wireless laptop *in the subway* to i-chat/skype with his girlfriend... this is impossible in reality - and they even say as much- but they still do it. This leads to one of the dumber moments when the girl wants the kid to say he loves her - despite the bad guys with guns walking all over the place.

Travolta is beyond ridiculous and overdone. HE'S CRAZY and he'll tell and show you clearly. This is just silly in the end. I think my biggest problem is that I can't find the motivation or connection between the character (and the character's background) and his totally nuts-o behavior. He's mad at the city - but it wasn't the city that screwed him. It would be like Bernie Madoff getting out of jail and becoming a terrorist because he's angry with Mike Bloomberg... it doesn't add up here. Denzel is pretty good with what he has to work with - but, oh look- he's playing an angryish black dude again - that's very original for him (sarcasm).

There's so much potential here for a good movie. Terrorism is still a good story in a New York City action movie - and they do modernize the background stories nicely to update the original. The idea is wonderfully simple that you can hijack a train in the subway and with a few guns have all sorts of leverage because of the difficult location of the standoff.

Still, many of the details are stupid and the geographical mistakes they make are totally stupid and unforgivable. For instance, why did the train have to be speeding toward Coney Island (which might take 20 or 25 minutes from midtown at 60 mph)? Why can't they be speeding to Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall stop - the terminus of the 6 line - and in many ways a more dramatic thing if there's a big train accident UNDERNEATH City Hall! Especially if the Mayor is in the story! (I think that's what the original one was.) Yes, I could watch this for fun and just enjoy the action - and I did for a bit - but the problems are so big, it's simply distracting.

Stars: 1.5 of 4

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Whatever Works (Sunday, June 21, 2009) (72)

Somewhere around 1990 or so, aliens came to the Upper East Side and took Woody Allen and replaced him with a sad old Jew who can't make good movies - and doesn't understand what the world thinks of his personal life or normal decency and social mores. There is really no other explanation for how he could consistently churn out one or two shity movies every year for the past 20 years (ok, there were a few ok movies in there - more at the beginning of the '90s than later... namely Husbands and Wives in 19920).

This current turd features Larry David playing a cranky Jew (big stretch for him) who would otherwise be played by Woody in another era. ... So, Woody, you're too old to play yourself in your own masturbation... er... movie, so you hire another white-haired Jew (with his own narcissistic marriage problems) to play you - clever!

The writing in this is terrible - and although David does a good job, he can't ever get past the terrible script. Once again we find ourselves inside Woody's screwed up head where a divorced 60ish year-old man with a 'kid at Yale' can have an affair with an 18 year-old high school drop out who looks hot and has nice legs. It's gross and it's been done before (like in Manhattan and Husbands and Wives). What follows are a series of sophomoric episodes about sex and relationships in New York City including some bizarre threesome 'marriage' between a woman and two guys.

There is absolutely nothing mildly funny in the film and it just feels old and sad and tired. David does an admirable job with what he has to work with. Ed Begley, Jr. (when not freaking out about carbon emissions) is very good in the 10-minute role he has.

I wish that (this alien version of) Woody would either stop making movies altogether or slow down and take a moment to concentrate on one good (fresh) drama (in New York - not London, please) and figure out what's wrong. In the meantime, we get crap like this - which is not good.

Stars: .5 of 4 (almost entirely for Begley and David)

The Windmill Movie (Sunday, June 21, 2009) (71)

So on my fifth documentary of the weekend, I really hit something great. This is a small and weird and interesting film about Richard (Dick) Rogers who spent most of his life filming his life - especially the summers he spent in Wainscott, Long Island at a fancy WASPy tennis club. In his life, he wanted to put the footage together as an autobiography, but mostly spent his time obsessing over the content and structure (at one point using actors to act out what was going on) and never making real progress on a film.

When he died of cancer in 2001, his widow/life partner (they only got married at the last moment) hired one of his students and protege, Alexander Olch, to do something with the footage. What comes out is a biography through erstwhile autobiography. We watch the film through Rogers' eye (or camera), sometimes with his voice over. He does seem guilty of his patrician WASPdom, for instance, the fact that he inherited a house on Long Island and didn't buy it. His inability to work on the 'Windmill movie' (which refers not only to Don Quixote, or course, but also to a windmill that sits at the country club in Wainscott) becomes a constant subject and an obsession of Rogers.

Another obsession is women and fucking and this is also the root of much of the drama in the film (at times he has two girlfriends who either know or don't know about the other). Oh - and one of Rogers' best friends is Wallace Shawn and maybe Bob Balaban (though its not clear that Balaban is a friend of Rogers or just of Wally). We see the two actors/writers walking though Rogers' Long Island house after his death - and see Wally reading lines that we had previously seen footage of Rogers speaking.

At a point in the film, Olch comes on in voice over saying that the good footage that has Rogers' narration on it is running out, so he will be reading from Rogers' diary and showing footage he shot from that point on. So we get silent footage that Rogers shot (lots of 'landscapes' and filler, plastic footage), footage with him narrating, footage with Olch narrating in Rogers' voice (from his journal), an actor playing Rogers and finally Wallace Shawn playing Rogers (and dressed in clothes we see Rogers wearing at one point). We get the sense that Roger's identity is totally intact, but like many of us, summing it up easily is difficult. At the same time we do get the idea of a rather constructed or plastic persona - in a way that I've rarely seen in other films. Is the man we come to know really the real man - or is he a construction too?

There is no mention of psychoanalysis here, but his mother does rather haunt him - especially his mother's family history and her WASPy life on Long Island. It's clear that his complicated relationship to his mother comes out in his rather bullheadish relationship with women and sex. Seeing this through the lens of his writing journal - being read by a third party is especially interesting and takes on the qualities of Rousseau's or Cellini's autobiographies. His sense of himself is at one moment that of a giant fuck-machine and at another time a pathetic, impotent artist struggling with his life's work.

I love the multi-facetedness of this and the fact that we are never lulled into easy viewing by a continuous and unchanging style. Instead we are always on our toes examining and re-examining him and his life - and he never really speaks directly to us.

Olch does a wonderful job in a directorial debut. The concept of sorting through the footage must be daunting (which is partly why, I guess, it took 8 years since Rogers died to see this film) - but to come up with this as a concept is fascinating and very impressive.

Stars: 4 of 4

Under Our Skin (Sunday, June 21, 2009) (70)

This was my fourth documentary of the weekend and the fourth documentary about nature and health and sad stories of people and things dying (well, Earth was only briefly about that, but still). This one was probably the best of the four (albeit with a rather grizzly title....ewww). I have no idea why I saw this - it's a documentary about Lyme disease - which makes it the second movie this year about Lyme disease that I've seen this year... the other one being Lymelife (which was really terrible) and its massive spread through North America.

Warning: This film will make you never want to take a walk in the woods ever. It will scare the living shit out of you.

The film follows a handful of people from all over the country who have Lyme disease and are having trouble treating it. It seems that some doctors don't believe that Lyme disease has long-term consequences, but rather that it can be treated easily and been done with in a matter of weeks. The evidence on screen is very hard to deny as we see people who are sick for many years (they are filmed over a period of several years) suffering from various symptoms.

The film is very nicely cut and generally follows a chronological format bouncing around from one subject to another. It's very easy to follow and very interesting. I must say I never thought there was so much to know about Lyme disease and never thought I would be interested... but I was.

One think I always object to in documentaries like this is that it's clear that the director has a strong point that he's trying to make and sometimes the information given is just there to support the one point. I did notice that here - although it's hard to deny that point of view (I say this knowing that I know nothing about medicine). Basically it seems that insurance companies are the ultimate bad guy (again) and they're rather unreasonable in the case of this virus. It's very effective to see one doctor denying that there have *ever* been *any* cases of a mother with Lyme disease giving it to her child in utero - but then you see a handful of such situations - showing that doctor to be a fool.

It's not a very important movie, but it's effective and good. I liked it.

Stars: 2.5 of 4

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The End of the Line (Saturday, June 20, 2009) (69)

I saw this entirely because it was playing at the right time near where I was and it looked moderately interesting.

This is a documentary about industrial fishing and the upcoming tragedy of many fish populations being over-caught and going extinct. Having just seen the documentary 'Earth', I was happy to see that that photography in this (produced by BBC, the Discovery Channel and the National Geographic) was as nice as the Disney picture, and in some cases even nicer.

The film was a nice mixture of talking heads and then those guys going out into the world to show what they were talking about. It is effective in making me realize that eating bluefin tuna is really, really bad... but it also made it seem that eating any fish is bad... which is bad, I think. It didn't give me a good alternative or give any examples of good fishes to eat....

I think one of my biggest pet peeves recently is documentaries that show a website to visit in the end credits. I guess I want the film to exist as its own stand-alone work - and tying it to a live website makes the film look like one part in a larger argument... I also wonder how those sites are kept up years later - like can you still visit the site connected to An Inconvenient Truth?
(I just visited it and it has an update that Al Gore won the Nobel Prize in October 2007 - how new!) Food, Inc. also had a website... ugh.

This is a visually pretty movie (nice shots of fish swimming) with a good message.... but it was very Frontline-ish and not very cinematic...

Stars: 2 of 4

Earth (Saturday, June 20, 2009) (68)

I decided that if I was going to see this I should see it on the big screen so I could get the most out of all the great cinematography. I don't totally regret seeing it, but it was not totally wonderful either.

My biggest gripe about it is that the structure was neither geographic, nor seasonal, nor chronological. We begin in the Arctic with a 'family' of polar bears, then later skip to a brief story of a lynx - then on to birds near the Equator, then a family of elephants. It was very hard to follow. No surprise, many of the pictures are amazing - especially the fish schools and bird flocks.

It was ok but not great - I don't know how it will work on a TV - maybe HD and Blu-ray will make it look good.

Stars: 2 of 4

Food, Inc. (Friday, June 19, 2009) (67)

When I first saw the trailer for this film, I thought to myself, 'ugh, another bleeding-heart polemic film about how the food we eat sucks'. Basically, my first reaction was totally right. This is basically a film version of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation - both great books about how the food we eat sucks. Unfortunately, the film was not much better than either book and lacked a lot of the detail of each.

Divided into a handful of random sections, such as fast food, economics of growing plants and animals, the significant role of corn in processed foods and organic growing, the movie jumps around rather randomly and it's hard to follow any real linear direction. Considering how much it jumps around, I was annoyed that several points were omitted (namely the dramatic influence the agriculture and animal/protein lobbies have on elected officials in the form of campaign donations and the unfair labor practices and union busting that all processed food corporations engage in). Yes - the film worked ok without these points, but I felt several times like the story kissed these topics but then moved along past them without addressing them.

One small personal beef (haha! pun!) with the film - or mistake at any rate - was in a section talking about the rise in the rate of diabetes in America (due to all the sugars and processed corns we eat that causes obesity) there was a title that flashed onscreen that said something to the effect of '1 in 3 children born in the US after 2000 will become early onset diabetic'. This is just a mistake as I'm pretty sure they mean that 1 in 3 children will become an early late-onset diabetic or a late-onset diabetic early.... or get type-2 diabetes early... any way, it's a mistake.

I think the film make Pollan seem like an anti-corporate food nut, while I don't think that's actually what he is. I think he wants people to be aware of what they eat and where it comes from, but I don't think he's a foodsnob who would refuse to eat standard meet if faced with it. Sure he would prefer organic, locally grown food, but this made him seem like a bit of a food maniac. For Schlosser, this seemed to touch on some stuff in his book, however, after the fast food section, there was not a heck of a lot for him to do. After the first 20 minutes of the film, he only briefly came back once in awhile... a shame....

A frustrating thing was that near the end of the film, there was a line from Pollan saying something to the effect of how organic food costs more, but oh, well. I think that should have been the central point of (at least the second half of) the film. It is a terrible thing that cheap food is bad food and good food is unaffordable - but we can't dismiss this. Pollan should be advocating changing how we subsidize food producers and make locally grown food cheaper for the masses.

I think the filmmaking, by Robert Kenner, was ok overall, but not wonderful. Again, this was not much better than the two food books - even with some nice and somewhat silly animation details. I did object to a few interview set-ups where he had certain people in green fields (happy) and some in brown fields (sad) - this was manipulative and unfair, I think. It's his first feature and I look forward to seeing what's next from him.

Overall an ok film but not amazing. As a polemic, it's ok - but the ideas are so old and unoriginal that it's hard to really care about. I'd much rather an argument that really 'pushes the envelope' and make me think about food in a different way. This doesn't really do that....

Stars: 2 of 4

Friday, June 19, 2009

The International (Thursday, June 18th, 2009) (66)

I got this film from Netflix because it was released in 2009 and I had missed it (as had most wise people) when it was in theaters in February. I watched it on a weeknight because there was nothing on TV. In retrospect I would have done better sitting and meditating in silence.

The main problem with the film is that it was almost impossible to follow. There is no introduction and in the first minute, there is significant information on screen. The characters bounce around from New York to Berlin to Lyon (?!) apparently working for Interpol (how 1960s) and the NYC DA's office.

From the beginning, the bank bad guy (the eponymous International) is named as the bad guy and does bad guy things. There is no mystery or misdirection - where, say, you think the bank is doing good, but they're actually doing evil. In one of the first scenes, there's a meeting between a bank officer and an African general who leads some revolutionary group where the bank guy says that he can sell the Africans weapons ... that's great...

There is almost no suspense and the action is so fast (not to mention the locations change so fast) that you can't really follow anything.

As always, Clive Owen is great (he always is), but Naomi Watts apparently forgot how to talk American and forces her accent so much that she almost sounds German or Dutch... weird....

Stars: 1 of 4

Sunday, June 14, 2009

List of movies so far this year

I realized I never posted my list of movies to this point in the year... I might go back and write blurbs about the better films... we'll see:
The Country Teacher ****
Goodbye Solo ****
Silent Light ***.5
Cherry Blossoms - Hanami **
The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema ***.5
Notorious **
Of Time and the City ****
Crips and Bloods: Made in America **.5
Taken *
He’s Just Not That Into You 0
Coraline 3-D **
Memorial Day **
Katyn ****
Ganorrah *
Watchmen **
Shall We Kiss? **
Sunshine Cleaners **
I Love You, Man **.5
Spinning into Butter *
The Escapist **
Hunger ****
Sin Nombre ***
Tulpan **
Adventureland **
Observe and Report ****
Valentino: The Last Emperor *
Lymelife *
Tokyo! *.5
Monsters vs. Aliens 3D *.5
Mysteries of Pittsburgh **
Sugar **.5
Guest of Cindy Sherman ***
Anvil! The Story of Anvil **.5
In a Dream ****
Gigantic *
State of Play *.5
Every Little Step **
The Soloist *.5
Bride Wars half
Nursary University *.5
Star Trek *.5
Angels & Demons *.5
Objectified **.5
Revanche ****
Lemon Tree **
The Brothers Bloom half
The Limits of Control *
Summer Hours **
Jerichow ***.5
Il Divo **
The Girlfriend Experience *
X-Men Origins: Wolverine *
Up 3D **.5
Terminator Salvation *.5
Pressure Cooker ***
Unmistaken Child ***
Burma VJ ***
I Bring What I Love **.5
24 City ****
The Hangover **
Moon *.5
Away We Go *.5
Herb & Dorothy *.5
Departures **
Tyson half

Tyson (Sunday, June 14, 2009) (65)

Before I begin this post, I should say that I'm not a big fan of James Toback at all. I find his films dim-witted and silly and rather misogynistic overall. But when I heard that he had made a documentary about Mike Tyson, I was interested....

The form of the film is a bit annoying to begin with as it's only Tyson talking about himself - and he's neither a smart man, nor an analytical man. Then Toback does all this crap with cutting multiple takes of Tyson talking and putting them in little squares on the screen - giving a sort of scattered and multi-faceted feeling to what he's saying (which is all style and no substance). There are also inter-cut sequences with Tyson walking on the beach reading poetry - including Oscar Wilde... it's almost laughable and reminiscent of Jack Handy's brilliant 'Deep Thoughts'. Ugh!

Tyson is totally unapologetic and generally child-like and not mature at all. He basically says he had a hard life growing up and then worked hard to become a champion and then fucked up his life from that point. I guess Toback does show how much of an animal the fighter is - with brawling and generally behaving like a pig at different points. He basically gets off scott-free with his life-long abuse of women - and strangely calls Desiree Washington, the Miss Black America contestant he was convicted of raping, a 'whore bitch' or something to that effect... this is unhelpful and disturbing.

Mike Tyson is not a philosopher king, nor does he have almost anything interesting to say about his (possibly interesting) life. Add to this some rather big sloppy editing and montage mistakes by Toback (like shots of Tyson with the face tattoo shown during voice over that has him talking about partying in the 1990s and non-chronological fight clips, or non-original source footage) and you get a pretty lousy movie.

Stars: .5 of 4

Departures (Okuribito) (Sunday, June 14, 2009) (64)

When the Oscars happened earlier this year, I was expecting 'Waltz with Bashir' to win Best Foreign Film, even though my heart was with 'The Class' - which I thought was the second best movie of 2008. Strangely on Oscar night, a film I had not heard of, 'Departures', won the award. It was finally released a few weeks ago and I was never all that interested in seeing it. It looked rather sappy and not as serious as I would hope the best foreign film to be.... and it is all of those things.

The film is basically about a guy who loses his job as a cellist in a Tokyo orchestra and then moves back to his rural country hometown where his mother (who recently died) left him a house. When he gets there he takes a job with a guy who puts people in caskets (before undertakers remove the caskets and cremate them). Basically the story is about this guy getting back in touch with his roots and re-connecting to his family that was rather broken.

It's a nice film and not offensive, but totally obtuse and much too long (2hrs 15mins). I liked the main actor a lot (Masahiro Motoki) and the score (cello music - get it!) is very nice. The photography is nice too - but sorta basic and not all that surprising (I get a lot of credit to the locations).

The film is way far behind 'The Class' and 'Waltz with Bashir' - but not hateful... just not brilliant.

Stars: 2 of 4

Herb and Dorothy (Saturday, June 13, 2009) (63)

This is a super small documentary shot on videocam about an eccentric New York couple, Herbert and Dorothy Vogel, who worked blue-collar government jobs (he as a postal worker, she as a librarian) and got interested in the New York art scene in the mid-1960s as the Minimalist movement was getting going. They ended up amassing a tremendous art collection of New York-based artists from the '60's to the present day. They've bequeathed it to the National Gallery of Art (East Wing) in Washington and have moved much of it there already because the 3000+ pieces no longer fit in their rent-controlled one-bedroom New York rental apartment.

This is a nice movie about two funny, crotchety old Jews... it's not wonderful and not worth rushing out for... a nice video rental if you're looking for one, but it's totally missable too.

Stars: 1.5 or 2 of 4

Away We Go (Saturday, June 13, 2009) (62)

I think I was interested to see this partly because I like John Krasinski as a comedian and I was wondering what he would do in a slightly more serious role (his performance in 'Leatherheads' was fine) and partly because I was interested to see a scruffy and small Sam Mendes movie.

It was ok and not great. Krasinski was good and funny and Maya Rudolph was good and ok. The writing was pretty miserable and the plot was a mess. In the end it was much more style than substance and sorta silly in its super moral conclusion. Mendes didn't seem to have a good grasp of the story and let it slip into cliche and triteness too much.

Stars: 1.5 of 4

Moon (Saturday, June 13, 2009) (61)

Going into this movie, all I knew was that it had one of the best posters I've seen in a long time
and that something I read made me think it was a newish version of 'Solaris' (either by Tarkovsky or Soderbergh). The story is about a future guy who works on the dark side of the moon where he harvests some sort of hydrogen something and sends it back to earth for use as fuel. As this three-year contract on the moon (where he works alone... strange) is about to end, strange stuff begins to happen to make him question his sanity.

Overall this is utterly derivative and almost entirely unoriginal. Kevin Spacey (gag) is the voice of Gerty the robot on the base - and it is so clearly HAL-9000 it's not worth talking about. There is a lot of Soderbergh's Solaris and elements of later Alien movies...

Still, Sam Rockwell is good (with little to work with) and the costumes and sets look great. It's not wonderful, but it's not terrible. Once you figure out the secret issue to the lunar operation, the movie stops being very interesting... In short, great poster, meh movie.

Stars: 1.5 of 4

The Hangover (Friday, June 12, 2009) (60)

I was generally looking forward to this sophomoric, gonzo comedy, and every time I saw the trailer, the clip of Mike Tyson singing Phil Collins cracked me up. Overall it was funny and good. I think I was hoping for a bit more than I got - and in the end, most of the best lines and moments were in the trailer... but having said that, I didn't hate it at all and laughed a good amount.

I guess I would normally think there are three groups of stupid comedies: Great, Good and Bad. The 'Great' group is small and proud with members such as 'Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle', 'Role Models' and 'Observe and Report'. The 'Good' group is pretty big and includes, among others, much of the Apatow oeuvre ('The 40-Year-Old Virgin', 'Knocked Up', 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall'). The 'Bad' group is also vast and includes works of shit such as 'Zach and Miri Make a Porno' (as well as other Kevin Smith turds) and 'The Love Guru'.

With that as prologue, I'd easily put the Hangover into the topish end of the 'Good' group.

Overall, Ed Helms is funny, although I'm getting sick of his Andy Bernard character (which is basically the same thing he did on the Daily Show too), which was definitely the backbone of his character here. Zach Galifianakis is very funny, but I think his jokes were almost too easy - though that's really a writing issue... the easy jokes are delivered well...

I think it's funny the movie is called 'The Hangover' because the hangover is really not what the film is about - it's about a bachelor party gone wrong and trying to piece the previous night back together after the guys have been ruffied... The hangover part of it is a five-minute segment in the first act... and not really that important. Clearly 'Bachelor Party' was already taken... but I think they could have done better title-wise... maybe 'Jaeger and Ruffies'... or 'All Ruffed Up'... or 'Don't Tase Me, Bro'.... whatever.

Stars: 2 of 4

This is a blog about all the movies I watch

So after considering it for a long time, I've finally decided to start a blog about all the movies I watch. As far as I can plan, this will be a blog only about the movies I watch and not about other things that interest me, such as television, politics, college sports or anything else. I guess you could look at this as a monument to a lot of time and money spent or wasted; I would have a hard time denying that. I love watching movies. I love watching bad movies and good movies and stupid movies and brilliant movies. I love going to multiple movies in a day; I love watching movies in theaters; I love watching them at home.

I have seen 194 movies that were released in New York City in 2008 and I watched a total of 206 movies last year (which is to say I saw a bunch of movies released in 2008 this year - in 2009 - and a bunch of movies that were from other years too). To this point, I have seen 65 films released this year and a total of 120 films total this year (Venn-diagram-wise, there are some overlaps there)... So I'm going to start by mentioning the six movies I saw this weekend....