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12/14/08

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I'm extremely sorry if you're one of my few regular readers. When it rains, it pours, and I've been very busy with editing work. Good for me professionally, bad for What I Watched Last Night. The few times I get here or there to sit down and write, I'm too tired and brain-dead to do so. When I'm writing often, words flow out of me easily and I can write two or three full length reviews in an hour or two. When I'm not writing, trying to squeeze a few words out in a spare half hour, seems about as enjoyable as crapping out a bowling ball. Even now, this off-the-cuff type writing, that usually comes so easy is seriously taxing my brain. I'd rather veg out with another movie, but I want to catch up a bit on my reviews.

December is going to be another slow month, as I have another big project due, along with a break for Christmas. I might be able to get through the rest of the films I saw in October, with another series of shot reviews. I hope that sometime early next year, I can return this blog to its usual form. I miss writing, it feels cathartic, like I'm spilling my guts, when I'm only writing about movies.


The Fall


This is an utterly gorgeous film, nearly every frame in the film is jaw dropping beautiful. The photography is flawless, the costumes flamboyant, the set design is often unlike anything ever before seen, the film was shot in literally hundreds of exotic locations around the world, but ultimately story is deadly boring. Director Tarsem Singh proves he's a hell of an art director, but maybe not much of a filmmaker. The film doesn't flow naturally, the story is jarring and uninteresting. The opening scene is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen, a group of B&W shots of a train on a bridge and some men trying to rescue a horse from the river, which doesn't make a lot of sense until you've seen the rest of the movie.


The film uses the tired concept of a man telling a young girl a fantastical story, which is actually an allegory for his own life, they're both in a hospital suffering from various things. The little girl is incredibly annoying, every scene she's in is a small slice of death. The fantasy story is fun part of the film, but once you get past all the outrageous characters and their even more outrageous clothing, there isn't a whole lot there.


Singh was born to be a commercial and video music director, which is his daytime job, because he creates incredibly imagery. I really respect how he financed the film all himself, and shot it in his spare time, while he was on location around the world shooting other things, but that inconsistancy shows up in the film. As it's a thousand starkingly beautiful images crammed together with no sense of themselves. - Grade: C


El Topo


Wow, what a weird, weird film. Writer, director and star Alejandro Jodorowsky, has an extremely strange artistic sensibility. The film starts with him riding a horse through the desert, in full on "Man in Black" mode... not a much different start for a western, except for the fact that he's got a naked boy sitting on the saddle behind him. They take a few moments to bury something in the sand, then they ride off to a nearby town, that has been overtaken by some bad dudes. El Topo proceeds to clear the town, by shooting up nearly everyone in sight. On his way out, he sees a beautiful woman, and decides to take her on his horse, leaving his naked son with the town's monks.


Being the ultimate bad-ass is everything to him, so he and his new woman decide to ride through the desert taking out the top gun fighters in the land. El Topo prepares for his fights in weird ways, and fights even weirder opponents, including a duo of guys, one with no arms carrying a guy with no legs. After he's done proving his worth, he stops fighting, and takes up with a bunch of mutated freaks living in a cave, who he decides he's going to save. The rest of the film, is very strange, and very different from the rest, as he and a midget woman, decide to become street performers to raise money to dig out the freaks in a cave. The film is full of of weird imagery, offbeat, often jarring editing and a story that doesn't flow in the usual pattern. Made in 1970, this is a classic of cult cinema. - Grade: B


Last Detail


Lately Jack Nicholson has turned into one of the laziest actors around. (His performance in The Bucket List confirms that.) But once upon a time, he was brilliant, one of the best. His over-the-top, lunatic performance as The Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman, is the first time I remember being turned-on by an actor. He was really in top-notch form during the 70’s, before he became a movie star, and was still a true actor. Movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest attest to that. So I’m drawn to this period in his career, The Last Detail is one of those films, a true film of its time. Nicholson plays Bill Budowsky, an Army MP charged with hauling a young cadet, played by Randy Quaid, to Jail for a fairly minor offense. Through their talks while riding the various buses and trains they take on the long ride to prison, Nicholson learns that Quiad hasn’t lived much of a life yet, and is determined to give him a good time before he’s put away. Budowsky and his MP partner, proceed to take him out for a series of debaucheries; including getting him drunk and laid for the first time, Quaid, who at the start of the trip didn’t feel like he had anything better to do than go to jail for the next few years, begins to learn there’s a lot in life to live for. The film is a little slow and existential for today’s tastes, but it's also a lot fun, with Nicholson in prime, just a bit dangerous and full of charisma. Grade: B

Son of Rambow

I think I was one of the few people who really loved The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy film, and mostly that had to do with director Garth Jennings. He’s got a wicked sense of humor, a great visual eye, and a true knack for using special effects in a unique way. So it was with great anticipation that I wanted to see a film born entirely from his imagination. I also have a great affinity for coming-of-age films, especially ones that take place in the 80’s, add in some homegrown filmmaking and the cult anti-hero Rambo and this should have been about the most perfect movie made for my tastes.

And it has a lot of great elements, I loved the lead kid’s imagination, and the way it overtakes the film a few times, but mostly I was unimpressed. I think that had a lot to do with the two main kids, there was something about them, I just couldn’t relate to. One was a sort of prissy kid, with an over-bearing and over-religious mother. The other, had no parents, was free to run wild and do whatever he wanted. Neither had anything like my childhood, mine lay somewhere in the middle. But it wasn’t that entirely, because I usually find was to relate to completely foreign characters. And it wasn’t it the acting, I think both the kids did a fair job of it. Maybe it was my over-bloated expectations, but I’m not totally sure. It’s a movie that’s worth seeing; it’s well made and different, I’d recommend it to just about anyone. I need to give it another go, figure out where my brain and the film diverged. Grade: B-

Rogue

This is the best giant crocodile movie of all time. That’s not saying a whole lot, since there aren’t a lot of movies to compare it too; the fairly lame Primeval made a few years back and the cheesy 70’s Alligator, that I’ve never actually seen, but know enough about to say it can’t live up to Rogue. It’s not that this films is fantastic, but it has its charms. There are a couple of great attack scenes, the croc looks pretty convincing most of the time, and the location shooting is absolutely gorgeous. Shot in the remote canyons of the Australian Outback, the filmmakers paid a lot of attention to filling the film with gorgeous nature photography. Cut out the stuff about the killer croc, add in some informative narration, and you’ve got a top-notch nature documentary.

You truly feel like you’re on an exotic boat-ride with these folks, and when they get attacked you actually feel something for them. The characters a thinly drawn, and you never really get to know any of the characters beyond a few basic details. For example, our hero Pete, is a writer for a travel magazine and seems sick of his fabulous job. The heroine, Kate, is a Outback lifer, she learned everything she knows about these rivers and crocs from her old man. But we’re not watching it for them, we only want to see people get eaten up by a giant set of reptilian teeth, and the movie provides that in spades. There are attacks in and out of the water, and when Pete finally ends up in the den of the monstrous beast, it proves a worthy climax. Director Greg Mclean, who got ton of praise for his Aussie slasher flick Wolf Creek, (Which I wasn’t too partial too, I thought it was mean spirited, even for a torture film, but found it to be well made.) proves that he can show a little more heart, while ripping people to shreds. – Grade: C+

Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford

That has to be one of the most pompous movie titles in the history of film, it’s just ungodly long and spoils the end for those who don’t know their history. Aside from that, the film is a masterpiece. I hate long films, anything near 3 hours long, takes an awful lot of effort for me to get through, unless they’re this well made. This film flies by like a dream, I’m almost ready to watch it again. Top flight acting throughout, Brad Pitt makes the perfect Jesse James, he’s effortlessly cool, while being a horrible human-being. Casey Affleck shows he has some serious acting chops as Robert Ford, who worships Jesse’s every move, until he begins to see the true awfulness in the man. Great character actors seem to fill every single other role in the film, Sam Rockwell, Paul Schneider, Jermey Rennard and Sam Shepard among them. This is one of the most gorgeously filmed movies I’ve ever seen. Director of photography Roger Deakins deserves the Oscar that he didn't get, and probably lost because he was also nominated for No Country for Old Men. The film feels like an old fashion western, or at least one made in the 70’s, with a bit more reflection on the time, but it moves effortlessly and is constantly entertaining. It’s full of great dialog, that makes you think and laugh all at the same time. Filmmaker Andrew Dominik proves himself as someone to truly watch. Grade: A+

Star Wars: A New Hope

I've been playing the Star Wars Lego video-game with son lately, so he's learning all about the story and the characters. He's been running around the house calling himself Luke Skywalker, mom Princess Leah and me Darth Vader. I'd shown him the pod-race in Episode 1, but I knew that his first whole Star Wars movie had to be the original. He got bored during the talky stuff, but mostly he ate it up. One of my earliest movie memories is Darth Vader busting through the smoky door of Princess Leah's ship, so hopefully he'll remember this.
- Grade: A (Seen on 11/1/08)

Parenthood

This is a film I saw quite a few times while I was growing up and always found pretty funny. This was the first time I'd seen it since joining the other side, and it made it that much more enjoyable to see it from a parent's perspective. Sure, it's predictable and cliche, but the all-star cast, Steve Martin, Diane Wiest, Rick Moranis (boy do I miss him) and more, make the film work. Plus it's fun to see extremely young versions of Joaquin Phoenix and Keanu Reeves. - Grade: B
(Seen on 10/27/08)

Superbad

An incredibly funny teen-sex comedy, I'd say easily the best of the decade, maybe the best since the 80's. Just about everything in it works, some of the McLovin riding around with the cops stuff gets stale, but every scene between Jonah Hill and Michael Cera is comedy gold. Their teenage friendship feels perfectly real, which makes the story that much better. -
Grade: A (Seen on 10/22/08)

Sex Drive

After watching Superbad
the night before, I didn't have high hopes for this film, but the trailer had made it look fairly decent. Going into it with low expectations probably made me enjoy it more, but overall it's actually a pretty good comedy. The entire film is pretty much a series of scenes and characters from other teen comedies, with the opening scene being a direct rip-off from the opening scene of American Pie. The love story with the shy lead and his best friend, a hot girl, who doesn't know she's hot, is nearly twice as old the characters it portrays. But the film is well executed, the old jokes are told well, the film is well directed, shot and edited. I liked the new twists they threw in, with the character's misfortunes showing up on the internet. Overall the film is entertaining and funny, one of the better comedies to come out in the last few years. - Grade: B (Seen on 10/23/08)

The Incredible Hulk

I guess I was one of the few people who thought that Ang Lee's version of The Hulk wasn't all that bad. Sure it wasn't that great either, but I really dug the comic book style editing, and I thought that Eric Bana was pretty good as Bruce Banner and Jennifer Connely was good as Betty Ross. But I'm a sucker for any big budget Hollywood comic book movie, so I had to check out the new version, which I thought was the lesser of the two. It's all unbelievable CGI action and not much more. I like Edward Norton in just about anything, and I thought he had some good scenes in the 1st act, but soon became not much more than worthless shell for the Hulk to take over. The end battle between the Hulk and the Abomination is pretty fun and makes sitting through the rest almost worth it, but it drags on a bit too long. Ultimately very unsatisfying. - Grade: C-
(Seen on 10/22/08)

Body of Lies

My wife and I wanted to see something in the theater, nothing we "had to see" was playing, so I figured a Ridley Scott film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe couldn't be that bad. And like all Ridley Scott films, it was incredibly well crafted, impeccably shot, edited at a frantic but coherent pace, and with Leo and Crowe in the leads, very well acted. I really dug this look into the life of a current CIA spy, and I have some serious respect for the men that put their lives on the line to keep us safe from terrorism. The movie is pretty entertaining from beginning to end, there's always something exciting going on, and most of the movie feels like the truth. But there's something intangible missing, that kept it from becoming an outstanding film. I left there with respect to the craft, but I wasn't buzzing, like after I come out of a great film. I'm not quite sure what it was that kept it from reaching that next level. - Grade: B- (Seen on 10/18/08)

Definitely, Maybe

I'd heard that this film was a good romantic comedy, something that I think has died in the last decade, and it turned out to be a good try. I liked the premise, it was something I hadn't seen before. Ryan Reynolds is telling his daughter a story about how he met her mom, there are three women in his life, but he doesn't tell her their real names, leaving it up to the daughter to figure out which one it is at the end of the story. Writer/director Adam Brooks, gets three great actresses to play the three roles, Elizabeth Banks (who's in everything lately), Isla Fisher and Rachel Weisz. The script is funny and smart, though it tends to drag out some scenes too long. The film actually kept me guessing for quite a while on who the mom really is. It's not a must-see, but if you're out of romantic comedies to watch with the wife or girlfriend, you could do a lot worse. - Grade: B (Seen on 10/18/08)

On The Waterfront

"I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum..." There are movies that are instantly recognizable based off one line of dialog, yet there are so many of those films that I've never actually seen. I ran across this DVD at the library, and figured it was about time I got this classic out of the way. I had no idea what it was about going into it. I quickly learned that it was about longshoreman, standing up to the corrupt union that leads them. At the beginning of the film a young man gets killed by a couple of thugs, Marlon Brando is sort of responsible and it eats at his conscience, which gets worse when he falls for the dead guy's sister. Like all classics, it moves at a much slower pace than today's films, but it doesn't mean it's not entertaining. The film is too well made and Brando gives a performance full of fire to let it get boring. - Grade: B (Seen on 10/16/08)

Sex and the City

My wife and I used to love this show. I think we watched the whole series through twice on DVD. But what works in 25 minute increments grows deadly tiresome at a gruesomely long 2 1/2 hours. I was into it for the first act, it reminded me of the show, quick witted and sexy. But as soon as Mr. Big stands up Carrie at their wedding, it goes into over an hour of wretchedness. These four girls bumming is not entertaining. I was growing so tired of their bitching that I wanted to turn it off, but I powered through. The end doesn't save the film, but it manages to wrap up the series nicely. If you're the audience for this film, I'm sure you've already seen it. If not, stay far, far away. - Grade: D
(Seen on 10/2/08)

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