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60. Charlie Wilson’s War
Funnier than most political movies, and it doesn’t really get heavy-handed until the last few minutes. Mostly because it doesn’t need to - it would be difficult to find a member of this film’s target audience who wasn’t aware of what training and arming Afghani freedom forces eventually led to. So instead the movie concentrates on how that happened and the reasons behind it, letting the audience draw their own connections to more recent history (at least until the movie ends with a quote from Wilson hammering in the point). The only time the filmmakers falter is when they try to match archival footage with their own special effects shots, even though the two bear little to no resemblance to each other. It makes a couple scenes stand out as poorly-executed in a movie that works much better when it concentrates on the plot and dialog.

Well, that wraps it up for 2007. 60 movies, which is less than I expected but still more than one a week, which is not too shabby. Plus, looking back, only a handful that made me regret the loss of two hours. It’s been a good year, movie-wise, and I’m looking forward to catching up on some of the 07 releases I didn’t make it to.

Starting next year (i.e. tomorrow) I’m going to track DVDs in addition to theatrical viewings, to see how it all adds up. Should mean a lot more posts about movies in 2008. Happy New Year.
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59. Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Is there something in Tim Burton’s contract that requires Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter to be in every movie he makes? Admittedly they fit their roles well in this one, even if their singing voices aren’t on the level of some of the lesser-known supporting cast. Plus Burton’s style works well with the material - the costumes and sets are all impressive. In all, it’s an enjoyable movie, provided you aren’t adverse to blood or musicals.
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57. I Am Legend
Mostly entertaining, but the ending felt forced, which hampered the enjoyment of the movie as a whole. So much of the film seems to be building up to something, so when that something is a let-down, it kind of cheapens any investment in the preceding two hours. I’ve heard a lot of people say the book is far superior, and I see how it easily could be. There were hints to what what was going on in the protagonist’s head that could be more effectively explored in text than on-screen - after all, there’s only so much you can get from him talking to his dog. Unrealized potential aside, Will Smith’s performance is impressive. Like John Cusack in 1408, he carries the bulk of the film without any co-stars to interact with. That he can build an emotional connection with the audience speaks to his credit. In fact, the emotional high-point of the film is a single close-up of his face at the end of the 2nd act, but combined with the sounds of what’s happening just off-screen it is enough. If only the film hadn’t started a slow decline after that, with a sharp drop-off at the end.

58. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Long title for a long movie. While the pace does drag a little, and there are a couple bad cuts, there is plenty to recommend about this film. Excellent cinematography and use of lighting, especially in the train robbery that opens the film. An interesting story that plays out naturally. Strong performances from the entire cast, especially Brad Pitt and Sam Rockwell. And an understated ending that still has substantial impact.
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54. August Rush
Sweet movie that sometimes relies a little too much on coincidence, but the whole thing is meant to be fantastical so that can be easily overlooked. Good performances all around, especially from Robin Williams (who really should give up trying to be funny and play creepy full-time). There were complaints at the screening we attended that the ending was too open, but I think the word they were looking for was “subtle.” The movie takes you so far, then assumes you’re smart enough to figure out where things go from there.

55. Beowulf
This was a lot of fun. An interesting take on the source material that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but still manages to have some emotional weight. The animation works, even if the uncanny valley is occasionally distracting. The meta-references to the poem, and how the story told in the film differs, are well-done, and the action sequences are exciting and well-choreographed. Still not completely sold on the 3D, but it’s much better here than it was in Harry Potter. The 3D trailer for Coraline was a nice touch.

56. No Country for Old Men
I’ve read a lot of reviews saying that the Coen brothers are at the top of their game with this film, that it’s a masterpiece, that it’s one of, if not the best film of the year. None of that prepared me for how great this movie was. I can’t really think of a way to describe it that would do it justice, so I’ll simply mention that the dialogue is excellent, the use of sound better than anything I’ve heard in along time, and that Javier Bardem’s portrayal of Anton Chigurth should be remembered among the great movie villains for years to come. Oh, and that you should go see it.
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53. Forfeit
Well-written low-budget thriller about a religious nut bent on revenge. There are a few places where the film’s ambitions exceed its abilities (an unconvincing fake hand and an obvious cutaway/sound effect of a gun shot they couldn’t manage visually), but the script works well enough that it doesn’t need a big budget to tell a good story. The acting is good (not great, but good), and the editing does a good job of keeping the pace without glossing over any of the pertinent details. The film also sets itself apart from other movies about religious obsession by making it clear the character in question isn’t representative of his faith as a whole: he takes the fire and brimstone bits that reenforce his views and openly rejects the bits about compassion and forgiveness.
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52. Faces of a Fig Tree
Beautifully shot rambling narrative following a family over the span of a few years as they go trough several life-changing events. The story itself is very loose, but seeing what these people go through and how they react to the changes that crop up is consistently fun and interesting. Plus it’s chock-full of great deadpan humor, brilliant colors, wonderfully composed cinematography, and foul-mouthed ants.
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50. Gone Baby Gone
I’m a fan of Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie/Gennaro series, so I was apprehensive when I heard this adaptation was going to be directed by Ben Affleck. Fortunately, it seems he’s much better behind the camera than in front of it. It’s a solid adaptation, keeping true to the story while making the changes needed for it to work as a movie. It’s smart, suspenseful, and superbly acted across the board - even by Casey Affleck, who I never thought would have fit in the roll of Patrick Kenzie. And while I still wouldn’t buy him as the Kenzie from the books, he took the character in the script and made it work. Michelle Monaghan and Slaine were perfectly cast as Angie Gennaro and Bubba Rogowski, respectively. My only real gripe is that this is the fourth book in the series, so some of the impact at the end of the movie is lessened without a more developed back story. But that’s only a complaint as someone who has read and enjoyed the source material; as a movie the whole thing stands very well on its own.

51. Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium
Rivals Ratatouille for the best family movie I’ve seen this year. It’s entertaining for both kids and adults, being fun and smart enough not to insult the intellect of anyone in the audience. The acting is good throughout, but Dustin Hoffman steals every scene he’s in as the titular character. And the dual messages about keeping a sense of wonder and dealing with the departure of a loved one are clear without being too heavy-handed. I don’t think this has the marketing behind it to be a hit in the over-crowded holiday season, which is a shame because it really is worth checking out.
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...although part of that’s the lack of movies I’ve been to lately.

48. Halloween
Actually saw this almost two months ago, and forgot to post about it. Although really, the less I remember about this movie, the better.

49. Across the Universe
I’m a fan of both Julie Taymor and The Beatles, so I was very happy to se the two work together so well. The songs as sung by the cast are distinct from the originals, often adding meaning to make them work with the narrative without altering the lyrics or music. Like Cirque du Soleil’s Love, Universe sets the action if the time of The Beatles, but without featuring the Fab Four as characters (although Jude looks a little too much like McCartney to be coincidence), instead using the music to tell a story of what the youth of that era was going through. The attempt at a universal experience is likely why the cast is mostly unknowns (Eddie Izzard as Mr. Kite is the most recognizable face in the entire movie), a decision that makes it easier to see the characters as characters, as opposed to actors. In the end it’s not as deep or emotionally powerful as Taymor’s other films, but it’s true to The Beatles’ music (even throwing in a number of references to songs not featured in the film) and tells a good story in a visually interesting way.
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46. The Simpsons Movie
Like a good episode of the show, holds up on a second viewing.

47. Resurrecting the Champ
Pretty good movie with a great performance by Samuel L. Jackson as a homeless former boxer. He’s almost unrecognizable behind the makeup and wheezy voice, which makes the role more convincing - if he looked like Jackson, he wouldn’t be believable as a homeless man of questionable mental stability. Despite the most noteworthy performance, it’s not a boxing movie so much as a journalism movie, spending more time of the quality of writing and investigative journalism than punching and dancing around the ring. Additional bonus points for setting it in Denver and doing so convincingly (much of the filming was done locally, and even the bits shot in Calgary managed to look like Denver). Not a great movie, but a pretty good one.
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45. Superbad
This reminded me a lot of my own high school experience, only much funnier. It’s vulgar, but in a way that seems natural coming out of the mouths of teenage boys, and there’s a real heart under all the talk of genitalia.
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44. Stardust
Loved it. Very fun and faithful enough adaptation of the book, with strong performances throughout. There have been a lot of comparisons made to The Princess Bride, and I can definitely see why: It’s a light, enjoyable romantic fantasy comedy that is entertaining from start to finish, rarely if ever underestimating its audience. Unfortunately, like Princess Bride, the marketing department didn’t know what to do with it, so it will likely have a so-so theatrical run before gaining a stronger following on DVD. Which is a shame, because some of the visuals really are worth seeing on the big screen.
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43. The Bourne Ultimatum
I’m happy to see that three movies in, the series still holds up, and I hope it’s the last film they make. Although the Bourne series continued after his death, Ludlum only wrote the three books, and it works so well as a trilogy I would hate to see them bring the character back for, in the words of Paul Greengrass, The Bourne Redundancy. There are a lot of great throwbacks to the previous films, some more obvious than others, but I suspect the movie would be plenty entertaining to someone who hadn’t seen the first too. After all, how much back story do you need to enjoy a really excellent car chase (they still haven’t topped the chase in Identity, but that’s a pretty high bar and they come damned close). Best of all, like its predecessors, it’s an action movie that you don’t need to place your brain under the seat to enjoy. The audience’s intelligence is never insulted - a rarity in the summer action genre.
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41. The Simpsons Movie
I haven’t been watching the show for a while now, but this made me want to start again. Funny throughout, with a good story that justified the run time (as opposed to a half-hour story stretched to 90 minutes), it’s the movie that Simpsons fans were hoping for but afraid they wouldn’t get.

42. Sunshine
I have yet to see a bad Danny Boyle movie. Everything about this works, from the constant danger of the sun to the sequence of events that jeopardizes the mission to the extremes that the characters are willing to go to so they can complete that mission. Movies about people saving the world are a dime a dozen, but in Sunshine, without even seeing the Earth that is in peril, we actually believe that humanity is doomed if these eight astronauts fail. That belief drives the rest of the movie, and makes the sense of danger real. All of which makes this one of the best horror thrillers since, well, 28 Days Later.
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40. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
As with every adaptation of a book with a rabid fan base (the four previous films in the franchise included), I’ve heard a fair share of complaining that this isn’t a 4-hour epic that includes every detail of the source material. Personally, while there were things I noticed missing, I don’t think the movie suffered for any of them,* and in fact works better as a movie without them. While Rowling’s books do a good job of exploring much of what happens to a variety of characters over the course of a school year, in order for them to work on screen they need to be pared down to the main story. Order of the Phoenix does this incredibly well, showing how far the main characters have come in five years while putting them up against the series’ best villains to date. I think it’s a toss-up between this and Prisoner of Azkaban as to my favorite movie of the series so far; Azkaban had an incredible look and feel to it, but Phoenix was probably the more fun to watch - especially the climactic battle scenes.

On a side note, I saw this in an IMAX theater, where said climactic scenes were presented in 3-D. I’d be interested in watching it again in two dimensions, because while the giant screen and high level of detail that come with IMAX are great, transferring a flat image into three dimensions is a science that is far from perfected. At times it was more of a distraction than an asset, and I think that sequence of the movie would work better presented in the same format as the rest of the film.

*Except maybe the conversation with Nearly-Headless Nick at the end, but that’s less about importance to the plot and more about it being one of the best scenes that Rowling has written.
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38. Waitress
One of the cutest movies I have seen in a long time. Some of the scenes with the husband were unpleasant to watch, but to me that just says that writer/director Adrienne Shelly did a good job of making him unlikable. Those scenes also stood out because the rest of the movie was so light and fun to watch, despite the serious issues the characters were dealing with. My main concern throughout the movie was wondering how they were going to end it, because the movie could have had any number of dissatisfying endings. Thankfully it did not, and I left the theater mostly satisfied (the only dissatisfaction came not from the movie itself, but from the knowledge that it is Shelly’s last contribution to cinema).

39. Knocked Up
Very entertaining. Not quite as funny as Judd Apatow’s previous film, but works just as well on the emotional end. Easily the second-best movie about pregnancy I’ve seen all week.
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37. Transformers
A lot of cool-looking action and special effects, but not quite enough story to support it. Two and a half hours apparently isn’t enough time to create characters interesting enough that you care if they live or die. There was a lot of potential in the movie that could have been better used if the characters had been better developed. And the climactic battle was hard to enjoy, because I missed the logic that the main characters used to justify taking the MacGuffin to L.A. when they knew they were being pursued by giant evil robots (and somehow the existence of the Transformers is still a secret at the end of the movie, despite everyone in a five-mile radius of downtown L.A. witnessing said battle). Fun to watch if you don’t think too much, and probably more enjoyable if you were more into the cartoon/toys as a kid than I was, but as current action movies go this one falls far short of Live Free or Die Hard.
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36. Live Free or Die Hard
Best straight-up action movie I’ve seen this year. I think it could have been even better if they hadn’t toned it down for a PG-13 rating, but even so it was fun from beginning to end (the action sequence with the semi toward the end was worth the matinee ticket price on its own).
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35. Ratatouille
It’s a Pixar movie by Brad Bird. Of course it’s great.
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33. Paris, je t’aime
Very entertaining collecting of short films in and about Paris (hence the name). 20 shorts in all, from 20 filmmakers (well, 21: 19 individuals and one by the Coen brothers), each one about six minutes long. There’s a great range of styles here, and a number of the directors would be recognizable without having their name at the front of their short (the main exception being Wes Craven, whose romantic comedy entry directly follows the collection’s single horror piece). A lot of times when you have this many short films lumped together, there will be some good, some bad, and a few great. This time there’s more than a few great ones, the majority are good, and there are some that aren’t quite as good as the others, but no bad ones.

34. Day Watch
Not quite as good an Night Watch, but still more visually interesting than most of what I’ve seen this year. Actually wraps up the majority of the loose ends from its predecessor without creating many new ones, which is odd for the second movie of a trilogy; I’m looking forward to seeing what they do in the third film. There’s been a lot written about how confusing the plot is, all of which is lies. It’s intricate, but not exactly hard to follow if you pay attention (and I’d rather be challenged a little than spoon-fed the information).
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30. Mr. Brooks
I’m as shocked as anyone: a movie with Kevin Costner and Dane Cook that not only doesn’t suck, but is actually pretty good. It helps that they’re working with an excellent script about a man who is addicted to killing people, which covers a lot of different subplots without ever straying too far from the main story and without including anything unnecessary. Plus the ending used a device I tend to think of as a cop-out, but it really works in this case. Performance-wise, a lot has been said about William Hurt, who essentially plays the personification of Mr. Brook’s compulsion, but while that praise is well-deserved I think it’s actually Costner who makes the movie work (never thought I’d be saying that again). He makes the title character likable, to the point that you want him to beat his addiction because, apart from the whole serial killer thing thing, he’s actually a pretty good guy. My hat’s also off to the art director for the excellent use of color (or lack thereof); Brooks is surrounded with black and white - at home, at work, in the clothes he wears, everywhere. My guess is it was done to highlight the dichotomy between his public and private selves, but regardless of meaning it creates some striking visuals.

31. Paprika
The latest eye-popping anime from Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue) deals with a technology that allows dreams to be recorded and studied, and what happens when that technology is misused. But the story, while interesting, is not nearly as important as the visuals, the fluid animation, and the mind-bending dreamworlds created in this movie. Excellent animation throughout, and just plain fun to watch.

32. 1408
FInally, a horror movie that actually tries to scare its audience, rather than gross them out. Very psychological and very effective, this is a movie that could have gone wrong very easily. It’ll never happen, but I’d love to see John Cusack nominated for some acting awards simply for the fact that he carried the majority of the movie alone. With a lesser actor this wouldn’t have worked, but Cusack pulls it off. I wanted a little more from the end, but for the most part the movie succeeds in its goal of creeping out the audience.
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