cwfilmbuff: (movies)
39 movies seen in theaters.
80 DVDs watched.
18 books read.

I went to 21 fewer movies this year, and I can't even blame becoming a parent: by September of 2007 I'd already been to 48; I suspect being in school the first half of 2007 vs. working full-time in 2008 has more to do with it (although the fact that I've only seen three since the end of August can't be discounted).

I crunched the numbers the other day, and based on the number of DVDs I'm watching (especially the number that came in the mail vs. what was already on the shelf), I've determined that I'm spending more per movie going through Netflix than I would be renting at Blockbuster, so I'm canceling the one and getting a card for the other. Between that and watching more from my collection (which I'm likely to do without having a red envelope next to the TV creating a false sense of urgency) we should save a little money there.

I'd like to read more this year too. I have been since staying home - I'm more apt to crack a book during lunch (assuming I'm not eating one-handed with a baby in the other arm) now that I'm not eating at my desk to keep from having to take a lunch break.

Probably not going to track this stuff in 2009. Maybe that way I'll post more entries about my life rather than just what I've been watching.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 39: Slumdog Millionaire
An Indian game show contestant is accused of cheating (because the authorities cannot believe that someone from the slums would know so much trivia), so he recounts his life story to explain how he knows the answer to each of the questions. As a framing device it's interesting and entertaining, but not nearly as much as the story he tells about growing up in the slums of India and his search for a lost love from his childhood. The movie is unflinching in its portrayal of the hardships the characters go through, but for every heart-wrenching pain there are several of infectious joy that are all but guaranteed to put a smile on your face. This is on my short list of the best films of the year, and if you get a chance I highly recommend seeing it.

DVD 75: Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut
So the story behind this is that Donner and screenwriter Mario Puzo wrote the first two Superman movies as one long story in two parts, and were shooting both of them simultaneously. To meet the deadline for the first film's release date Donner had to put the sequel on hold with about 80% of it shot, and before he could resume the studio decided to get a different director for Superman II, it was rewritten and almost entirely reshot, and that's the version that was released. Twenty-five years later, some editors got ahold of Donner, found the vaulted footage he'd shot, and cut together his version of the movie as best they could (some of the replacement director's shots had to be used, as well as a screen test between Clark and Lois). Now I liked Superman II, but the tone seemed much lighter and more comedic than the first one, which distracted from the story at times. This version puts all the concentration back on the story, more closely matching the original's tone and filling in some plot holes, making for an even better movie.

DVD 76: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
From the advertising this looked like a heist movie, not the family drama it turned out to be. Which would have been fine if it were a more interesting family drama. Instead it's a bunch of miserable people getting more miserable because of their own mistakes, which isn't really that fun to watch. It starts with a lot of promise and has an ending that could have been much more effective, but everything in between is too weak to sustain interest in the characters.

DVD 77: Monty Python's Flying Circus season 1, disc 1
While it's less polished than their later work, it's still consistently funny in its absurdity. Looking forward to the other 15 discs of the set we picked up at a great price.

DVD 78: Man on Wire
Incredibly interesting documentary about Philippe Petit, a high wire walker who snuck into the World Trade Center one night in 1974, secured a wire between the two towers, and walked back and forth between them above a crowd of onlookers the following morning. Jumps back and forth between the act itself and Petit's life story, including other high wire stunts and the long planning process. Aside from being a fascinating story in its own right, the filmmakers make excellent use of reenactments, archival footage, and interviews to convey what was going on in the minds of Petit and his cohorts, as well as capturing the sense of awe that someone would actually do something so crazy ant impressive.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 38: The Wrestler
It’s a good movie, but nowhere near the level I’ve come to expect from Darren Aronofsky. There are hints of his unique style, but for the most part it looks like anyone could have directed it - there’s not enough to visually distinguish it from any other indie film out there. That said, the story and acting are both good, and I can’t recall any other film taking a serious look at the ups and downs of pro wrestling - there’s a lot there that you don’t really think about, especially what happens when the spotlight fades. But it’s just not quite enough to make the movie stand out.

DVD 66: Battle Royale
I love that the movie doesn’t take too much time to justify its premise of adults being so afraid of student protests that they start pitting teens against each other in 3-day death matches on a remote island. Instead it jumps right in, using the fight for survival as an extreme version of high school cliques and social drama. While it’s at times disturbing to see violence visited on youth, for the most part the absurdity of the situation and the fact that few of the characters are seen as helpless make it removed enough from reality to serve as an entertaining hyperbole.

DVD 67: House of Flying Daggers
The difference between the film stock and the CGI is at times distracting, but for the most part it’s a fun stylish action movie. I especially like how much the battle that will determine the future of the titular organization is built up for the whole movie, only to be overshadowed by the much more interesting love triangle.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 37: Burn After Reading
A fairly funny comedy based on throwing a bunch of extreme personalities together and watching what happens. Lack of any really likable characters keeps this from being on par with the Coen’s best comedies, but it’s entertaining throughout, which makes it better than Intolerable Cruelty or Ladykillers.

DVD 59: The Third Man
Easy to see why this is considered a classic film noir, and why Orson Welles’ character is often named among cinema’s top villains. He’s not as menacing as some others, but his speech on the ferris wheel alone demonstrates a chilling indifference toward hunan life. Interestingly enough the movie starts like a lighthearted comedy, which makes it that much more effective when things start to go downhill.

Book 15: The Road by Cormac McCarthy
A very interesting take on the post-apocalyptic dystopia, in that no explanation is given for why civilization has collapsed. Instead we follow a man and his son as they struggle to survive, seeing how the inability to trust anyone else affects them. Bleak throughout, the combination of suspense and poignancy make this easily the best book I’ve read all year.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 36: Tropic Thunder
It's uneven, but the funny parts are funny enough to make up for the parts that lag. As an industry parody it works largely because of people and companies willing to break type or self-deprecate.

DVD 49: The X-Files: Fight the Future
Satisfies on a few levels: It's entertaining, intricate enough to stay interesting after multiple viewings, and a big enough story to warrant a movie. The most satisfying thing though is that it helped get the taste of I Want to Believe out of my mouth and reminded me of why I liked the show.

Book 13: The Children of Men by P. D. James
An interesting read, especially after seeing the movie. It's a great example of very different takes on the same story that both work well for their respective mediums. Characters are switched around, the emphasis is on the main character's relationships (mostly with his cousin, who runs the country) rather than the action, and the pacing and endings are completely different, but neither is really better than the other, they both work wonderfully in their respective mediums.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 33: WALL-E
Upon a second viewing, this one has cemented its place as best film of 08 so far, edging out...

M34: The Dark Knight
Might not have seen this again if the heat wave hadn't driven me to seek air conditioning. Still holds up, but not quite as well as Pixar's offering.

M35: Pineapple Express
There are enough laughs and Tarantino references to keep me entertained, but the story and characters don't seem like they'd endure enough to justify a DVD purchase. It's refreshing to see James Franco not brooding for two hours, but he and Rogen needed a better script.

DVD 44: Les Diaboliques
What starts as a fairly straightforward story of a man's wife and mistress plotting his murder takes the first of many sharp turns about halfway through and becomes one of the most suspenseful films I've ever seen.

D45: Interstella 5555
Basically a series of music videos strung together to form a (somewhat) coherent story. Unfortunately this means the quality of the sequences varies with the quality of the songs, and like many albums the standouts were the ones I'd already seen outside of the movie.

D46: The Golden Compass
Watching this I could see a few things: One, it seemed like it would be a better book than a movie - a lot of the dialog and plotting felt like something that would work better on paper than on screen. And two, because of the translation issues the other two parts of the trilogy probably won't get adapted. Which is just as well, because one of them is titled "The Subtle Knife", and there was absolutely nothing subtle about this movie.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 32: The X-Files: I Want to Believe
I really liked Fight the Future; it was entertaining, interesting, and had a big enough story to justify the transition to the big screen. I Want to Believe has none of those things. The story feels like a leftover script from an episode that never got made unnaturally expanded with repetitive scenes hashing over Mulder and Scully's involvement with the case and each other. There are brief moments of fun, but they are so rare as to actually seem out of place with the rest of the movie.

Book 12: Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
OK, I see why this is so popular. The alternate history is well-handled, the characters are interesting and well-developed, and the story is what people are talking about when they argue for the legitimacy of graphic novels.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 31: The Dark Knight
Saw it again after the last post, and thought I'd do a move in-depth reaction. Some of this gets into plot developments late in the film, so I'll put it behind a cut )
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 30: The Dark Knight
A few weeks ago I named WALL-E as the best movie of 2008 so far. Now that title might have to go to The Dark Knight. Just about everything in this movie works, and the few minor quibbles I had are vastly outweighed by the rest of the movie. It’s a little more than two hours, but there’s no wasted time in there - everything that happens moves the plot along. The fact that most of it is visually impressive or has a strong emotional impact only serves to further elevate the movie. Of course everyone will talk about Heath Ledger’s Joker, and rightfully so. He steals every scene he’s in, creating an absolutely terrifying yet fascinating villain. But he doesn’t dominate to the point of detracting from the other characters. In particular Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent is very well realized, and actually has the most interesting arc of the movie.

OK, I’m rambling, and most of you were probably planning on seeing it anyway (if you haven’t already). So I’ll just say that in a year flooded with comic book movies, this one stand alone as a great film that happens to be based on a comic book.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 28: Hancock
This one was getting terrible reviews, so I was a little cautious. Luckily I had a free pass, so it didn’t cost me anything to find out that it’s actually not that bad. The main problem with Hancock is that you can see the makings of a much better movie in there, but it just never finds its direction. I’d be interested to see how the version that ended up onscreen differs from the original script, which has apparently had several false starts over the past decade and was probably tweaked at every stage.

M29: Hellboy II: The Golden Army
The second Hellboy movie, on the other hand, is satisfying and entertaining from start to finish. Unlike most sequels the action is actually a little toned down from the first movie, but a lot of the battles become more meaningful through the development of characters and relationships. These were all likable characters to begin with, so getting to see them grow adds to the enjoyment while giving more weight to their decisions. Plus del Toro seems to have been given more to work with following the success of Pan’s Labyrinth, so the visuals and creature designs are endlessly interesting. A good, fun summer movie.

DVD 39: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
Wow this was a great movie. A battle between geeky middle aged guys over the high score on Donkey Kong doesn’t sound like it would be very entertaining - in fact it sounds more like a comedy then a heartfelt documentary - but I was constantly on the edge of the couch with excitement. It was like watching a really good sporting event, but instead of hoping my team scored, I was watching to see if Steve Wiebe managed to get to the next level. It all works so well because the filmmakers show us that these are real people, not just a bunch of video game fans. They have the same concerns about family, work, and the rest that we all do, they just also happen to take 80s arcade games more seriously than most of us. And when you see their passion for getting that record score, you can’t help but get excited yourself.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 24: Get Smart
There are a few really good laughs, and the casting is as good as any TV to movie conversion I've seen, but in the end I'll take any episode of the show over this movie. It probably would have worked better with competent editing, but there are only so many pointless cutaways you can get away with, and this movie exceeds that number early on.

M25: The Fall
I like a movie that actively tells its audience not to worry about the story and just enjoy the visuals. There's nothing exceptional about the main story of a girl befriending a stunt man in a hospital, and the story he tells her to entertain her has little to no continuity because it's being told by someone who's making it up as he goes. But the look of that story within the story is incredible, and there are enough great ideas that the stories themselves are only there to support the design, and in that they serve their purpose.

M26: Wanted
I've been a fan of Timur Bekmambetov's Russian films, and he continues to impress as a director of stylized action spectacles. There's enough plot to hold the set pieces together, and the characters are more interesting than most mindless summer action films, in particular the protagonist's transformation from doormat to skilled assassin. Yes, the chases and shootouts are ridiculous and the reasoning behind them is paper-thin, but it all works.

I just scrolled through the other posts I've made this year, and it's official: WALL-E is the best film I've seen in 2008. It's a serious contender for best Pixar movie yet, and that's going up against a pretty impressive body of work. A lot is being made of the fact that the first act is almost entirely without dialogue, but the reason that works is what makes the entire film great: the animators are able to create fully-formed personalities and incredible emotion in these robots without relying on speech or traditional facial features. When the humans do enter the picture, we actually connect with them less than we do the robots. I cannot recommend seeing this movie enough; you'll be glad you did.

DVD 36: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Upon repeat viewing, the middle lags a bit when the movie gets caught up in the convoluted plot and forgets to be funny for a while. By the end it still hasn't gotten back to the level of its first act, but as a whole the self-referential humor makes it a fun watch.

D37: Persepolis
I was hoping for a more unified story, but even as a series of vignettes this provides an incredibly interesting look at life in Iran during the 70s and 80s.

D38: Shoot Em Up
You know the stylized action I was praising in Wanted? That's the kind of thing this movie is going for and failing completely. The characters are uninteresting, the dialog is terrible and not self-aware enough to be funny, and the stunts that should be impressive are too heavily edited to enjoy. It would mark a low point in the careers of some very talented actors if it weren't so forgettable that no one will remember it in a few years.

Book 11: Falling Sideways by Tom Holt
The title is a good description of how it feels reading this book about clones, witches, and super-intelligent alien frogs. It seems like every chapter completely changes the rules by saying, "You may have thought you knew what was going on, but this new bit of information changes everything!" This could easily hurt the book, but Holt manages it with enough skill that everything still makes sense and enough humor that even if it didn't you'd still be laughing. This has just become an author whose other work I'll have to seek out.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 21: Speed Racer
It’s absurd and mindless from start to finish, but the visuals are impressive enough that I’m glad I saw it on the big screen.

M22: The Incredible Hulk
I liked Ang Lee’s movie better. The main selling point of this one is that there’s less of that pesky story and character development between the action scenes, but some of us like to have a reason to care about the people involved.

M23: Kung Fu Panda
This was a lot better than I expected. I’d gotten so used to Dreamworks pumping out Shrek knock-offs that it was a nice surprise to see a story-driven action comedy that didn’t substitute pop culture references for humor. Plus, this had the best animated action sequences I’ve seen since The Incredibles.

DVD 30: Mystery Science Theater 3000: Godzilla vs Megalon
I’ve heard people complain about licensing costs holding up DVD releases of the Godzilla episodes of MST3K, but after seeing this I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. This is early on in the show before they really established their rhythm, so the humor is uneven and often repetitive.

D31-33: Battlestar Galactica season 2.0, discs 1-3
Not as strong as the first season, but it’s still keeping my interest. The political parallels got a little heavy-handed towards the end, but in doing so managed to introduce a new angle to the story without seeming contrived, so I’ll overlook it (along with the stupid “half season” trick, because I’m netflixing these and don’t have to wait while they try something weaker in the timeslot).

DVD 34: Meet the Robinsons
Not one I would have sought out, but I heard good things so I queued it up and was pleasantly surprised. The plot twists are predictable and it lags a little in the middle concentrating on how wacky the family is, but it’s funny enough throughout to stay entertaining.

DVD 35: Soylent Green
Too often this one gets boiled down to the ending, which is a shame because it really is a great movie from start to finish. Knowing where things are going doesn’t at all detract from the path the story takes getting there, and the dystopia is not only well-conceived but still fairly relevant 35 years later. Easily the best movie in this post.

Book 9: No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
This was adapted to one of my favorite movies last year, very faithfully as it turns out. Everything I liked about the story of the film comes straight from the novel, which is well-written with interesting characters providing compelling points of view for the action. It actually weakened the movie a little for me, because some of the places where the film faltered (such as the clumsy transfer of emphasis from Llewelyn to Sheriff Bell) were handled more effectively in text than onscreen. He’s definitely an author I’ll want to read more of.

B10: Dust by Elizabeth Bear
The concept of a ship getting stranded in orbit for enough generations that it becomes a self-contained world is handled well, as is the story of manipulation and intrigue, but would have liked more time spent on the characters. It’s apparently the first in a series, so I may get that later on, but Bear’s other series-starters (Hammered especially) were much stronger when it came to characterization.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
DVD 27: Raiders of the Lost Ark
It goes for all three of these movies, but after probably dozens of viewings over the years this still holds up. Even when I know everything that’s coming, the action sequences are still exciting, the humor is still funny, and the characters are still interesting.

D28: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Often called the weakest of the Jones movies, and if this is the worst they have to offer that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Sure, some of the comic relief falls flat, and the story doesn’t flow as well as Raiders or Last Crusade, but the movie still works and continues to be a classic with a great villain, tons of memorable scenes, and one of the most exciting chase scenes I’ve ever seen.

D29: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Raiders is usually considered the better movie, and with good reason, but this is my favorite of the series. Aside from being the first one I saw on the big screen, it’s by far the most entertaining, largely due to the way Ford and Connery play off each other. Almost two decades after I first saw it, I still spent the entire two hours grinning because watching this is just that much fun.

Movie 20: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
It has its flaws. The look is more polished than any of its predecessors, a lot of the CG seems out of place, and the shift from religious mythology to science fiction took a little getting used to. Most of this came to mind after the fact though, because sitting in the theater, watching the old-style Paramount logo dissolve into an in-movie peak, only one thing mattered: I was watching a new Indiana Jones movie. And as an Indiana Jones movie, it works. It’s fun, the action sequences are exciting, and the movie never takes itself too seriously. Unlike the Star Wars prequels, this is a film that fits with the rest of the series, and I look forward to many repeat viewings.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 19: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Not as epic as the first one, and strayed more from the source material, but still a very fun and entertaining movie, and if they continue at this quality I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of the series adapted.

DVD 26: Hogfather
A clearly low-budget adaptation of a book from the middle of the Discworld series, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one. But it does very well with the limited effects available, and only has a few misses throughout. It’s 3 hours long, broken up into two parts, but for fans of Terry Pratchett’s work it’s worth checking out. The sole bonus feature of the DVD, an interview with Pratchett, has a couple good bits, but the whole thing is so poorly put together that its hard to watch.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 16: Iron Man
Entertaining superhero movie with a strong cast. The climactic battle isn't as engaging as it could have been, but the rest of the film holds up well enough to make the whole experience worthwhile.

M17: Leatherheads
Apparently I'm part of this movie's target audience, which wasn't large enough to make it much money. It did a great job of mimicking the style of 1930s screwball comedies. There were a few weak points (i.e. the out-of-nowhere plot point thrown in to get the two main characters on opposite teams for the big game), but they are few enough to keep the movie fun.

M18: Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
Not nearly the gem that the first movie was. There are some really funny bits, but they are weighed down by the rest of the film, which trades the subversive wit of its predecessor for blunt, obvious racial humor.

DVD 15: The Darjeeling Limited
This movie starts with Bill Murray, a Wes Anderson regular, running to catch the titular train and just missing it. For the next hour and a half I found myself thinking about how much better the movie would have been if he'd been on the train. Darjeeling lacks the depth, both of story and characters, of films like Rushmore and The Royal Tannenbaums.

D16: Ninja Scroll
I'd heard good things about this, and I can't for the life of me figure out why. It's a series of cliche-ridden battles without a strong story to hold them together. Amidst the bloodshed is a strong misogynistic streak that made the film that much less watchable for me.

D17: Southland Tales
There are a lot of interesting ideas here, and most of them don't make much sense. Granted, a good deal gets explained toward the end, but not enough to make the story work. Oddly enough, the narrator only tells us things that are obvious from the action - nothing that adds to the plot.

D18: Futurama the Movie: Bender's Big Score
There's a pretty easy litmus test for this one: if you like the series, you'll like the movie.

D19: Walk Hard
The musician biopic isn't really a large enough genre to warrant this kind of parody, and the whole thing plays as a sub-par Will Farrell movie that runs too long.

D20 & 21: The Muppet Show season 1, discs 3 & 4
Other than the episode with Twiggy, the series continues to be strong and funny.

D22-25: Battlestar Galactica season 1, discs 2-5
Honestly, while the story and characters are interesting and entertaining, what I'm really getting into with this series are the technical aspects. There's very clever use of camera work, lighting, and editing to enhance the verisimilitude and ground it in reality (as much as a sci-fi series can be).

Books 7 & 8: My Boys Can Swim by Ian Davis & The Caveman's Pregnancy Companion by David Port and John Ralston
Two guides for fathers-to-be written in a humorous style. Caveman's is more in-depth, but in the end they both give a basic outline of what to expect while constantly repeating one important piece of advice to the reader: "Be nice to the pregnant woman."
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 14: The Counterfeiters
There were times when this threatened to become just another Holocaust movie with the standard cliches meant to cause an emotional reaction, but it never quite fell into that trap. This was thanks largely to the characters, who are well-defined and interesting.

M15: Forgetting Sarah Marshall
I think Judd Apatow is trying to become his own genre of comedy. Just about everything he produces has the same theme - men growing up and accepting the responsibilities of adulthood - and the same style of humor. It usually works, but this time it seems like they’re just going through the motions. It had some really funny moments, and some good meta-humor, but the quality wasn’t consistent throughout the film.

DVD 11: 3:10 to Yuma
Standard western fare that spent too much time on the lead actors. Not that they were bad, but Alan Tudyk, Gretchen Mol, and Peter Fonda all had more interesting characters that were barely on screen.

DVDs 12 & 13: The Muppet Show Season 1, discs 1& 2
Something produced more than 30 years ago is still funnier than most current television. It’s really interesting to see how the characters develop into the Muppets we all know and love. This has been our laze around the house entertainment for the past couple weeks, and will probably continue to be as we finish season 1 and move on to 2.

DVD 14: Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries
I’ve caught a few reruns of this on daytime television, and am beginning to see why it’s so popular. I may netflix my way through the rest; it’s a good way to spend the hour or so between coming home from work and actually sleeping in the mornings.

On a side note, I will be skipping The Life Before Her Eyes, a self-important melodrama about a school shooting that someone thought would be a good idea to release this weekend. I’ve seen some tasteless marketing decisions before, but this one takes the cake.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 10: The Spiderwick Chronicles
Quasi-interesting story, but the CG effects didn’t blend with the filmed action, and there was never really enough investment to get me excited. When I am more entertained by one of the trailers before the movie than the movie itself, there’s a problem.

M11: Doomsday
I’m starting to like Neil Marshall. Sure, his movies aren’t great works of art, but they’re consistently fun and entertaining, and he tends to use women in leading roles that would normally default to men, without turning them into sex objects or having them be motivated by motherhood. The movie itself is a retread of Mad Max, Escape from New York, and other post-apocalyptic fare, and is utterly unapologetic about it. Plus, the Scottish setting is used in a clever divergence from other films in the genre.

M12: The Bank Job
This one’s being called a heist movie, but I’m not sure that fits. Sure, there’s a bank robbery, but the focus of the movie isn’t the ingenious way they pull it off. In fact, it’s a very basic plan that works more because of luck than skill. Where the movie gets interesting is after the robbery, when it seems like half of London is after the heroes because of what was in the safety deposit boxes they raided. The reason this movie works is that the criminals aren’t smooth professionals, they’re small-time crooks in way over their heads who are just trying to bluff and improvise their way through.

M13: Stop-Loss
Kimberly Peirce doesn’t make many movies (this is her first since Boys Don’t Cry nine years ago), but there’s something to be said for quality over quantity. Stop-Loss succeeds where a lot of Iraq movies have failed by not trying to condemn the entire war, but rather focusing on how one policy affects a few specific individuals. Strong performances throughout really make this movie, especially Ryan Phillippe, who makes it easy to understand the difficulty of his situation and the decisions he has to make concerning himself, his family, and his fellow soldiers.

DVD 9: Lust, Caution
Typical Ang Lee fare, which makes it one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. This story of WWII intrigue is what Paul Verhoven’s Black Book wished it could be. The lengths that the characters go to are incredible, and the payoff is incredibly moving. Unfortunately it didn’t get a very wide release due to its NC-17 rating. It deserved the rating (although the title card before the movie said it was just for sex, no mention of the graphic violence) - this was definitely a movie for adults, but not the stigma that goes with it. And to completely change gears, on a minor note, I wish I knew more about Mahjong. I’ve played it a couple times, just enough to realize the action in the games were reflections of the how the characters related to each other, but not enough to completely grasp the subtext.

D10: American Gangster
By-the-numbers mafia movie. A couple interesting twists, but not enough to elevate the movie to anything more than a typical gangster movie.

Book 5: Above the Line: Conversations about Movies by Lawrence Grobel
Transcripts of interviews with filmmakers in the mid-90s. The interviews are interesting in how they form a picture of the producers, directors, actors, and critics profiled, but the concentration was more on personality than profession for my taste. There is a certain amusement factor in reading a decade later how big a star Van Damme knew he was going to be, and seeing the very real spite between Siskel and Ebert is interesting, but things like that are the rare gems in an otherwise dry read.

B6: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
This would have made a good movie. Heck, if the WIll Smith film had just kept the ending of the novella it would have been exponentially better. As it is, the title story in this collection is the best in the book. The rest are hit-and-miss, often being more about the supernatural process than the characters involved - making for ideas that never really develop into stories.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 8: Academy Award Nominated Animated Shorts
Technically five films, but they’re presented as one show so I’m counting them that way.

Even Pigeons Go to Heaven: The most entertaining of the lot. An amusing story of a crooked priest trying to sell a guaranteed trip to heaven to an old man, complete with the vessel that will take him there.

My Love: The impressionistic animation style is interesting, but too often more of a distraction than an asset to the story of a 19th century Russian teenager screwing up his love life.

Madame Tutli-Putli: This one starts off with dark humor, then just gets dark. It looks great and there are some interesting ideas, but none of them are ever really fleshed out. It lost me with the ending, which was almost directly lifted from Chris Wedge’s Bunny.

I Met the Walrus: In 1969 a teenager snuck into John Lenon’s hotel room and recorded an interview with him. Almost 40 years later, animation was added to illustrate Lennon’s words. It’s an interesting take on showing an interview, and the animation flows nicely, but as both an animated film or a documentary it lacked direction. Although it did get the biggest laugh of the entire show.

Peter & the Wolf: An animated take on the classic story, foregoing any narration and relying solely on Prokofeiv’s music. There are some very good moments, both light and dark, but they are kept too far apart by the slow pacing of the film.

In all it’s a less satisfying selection than in previous years. Unlike last year the nominees were long enough that they didn’t have to use filler, but since two of these were too long I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I’d like to see the award go to Pigeons on Sunday, but I have a poor record when it comes to calling this category.

M9: Academy Award Nominated Live Action Shorts
Tanghi Argentini: A man meets a woman on the internet, makes a date with her, and has two weeks to learn to tango as well as he’s told her he can. What could be a series of sitcom cliches is elevated by the interesting characters, dry humor, and touching reveal at the end.

At Night: The most depressing entry of the lot, although when your film takes place entirely in a cancer ward that’s hard to avoid. Three patients meet every night during the week between Christmas and New Years, trying to find happiness in their situation.

The Substitute: The first two thirds of this movie is uncomfortable at best, as we watch a substitute teacher toy with his class and attempt to make them squirm. The end does a little to make up for the beginning, but not enough.

The Tonto Woman: A cattle rustler meets a woman living by herself because her husband can’t stand the sight of her after she was captured by native americans, lived with them for 11 years, and had her face tattooed. A good western and interesting take on the accepted roles of women at the time.

The Mozart of Pickpockets: Two con artists team up with a small boy after the rest of their team of pickpockets is arrested. It’s funny at times, but the story takes a while to get going and seems to end shortly after the action really starts.

While they weren’t all great, this batch was much better than the animated selections. Most of the directors are relative newcomers, but I’d be happy to seek out work they do in the future.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 6: Enchanted (Kevin Lima, 2007)
Amusing spoof of Disney animation, but it doesn’t do enough to distance itself from the cliches it’s poking fun at. Yes, it’s funny to see a Disney princess in the real world, where her lack of personality is a hindrance instead of an asset, but the joke starts to wear thin before she has any character growth (in the last 15 minutes of the film). Entertaining at times, but overall it left me disappointed.

M7: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, 2007)
The first act takes a lot of getting used to, as it’s shot almost entirely from the point of view of Jean-Dominique Bauby, who has just had a stroke that left him paralyzed except for his left eye. Only after the audience has a good idea of how he’s forced to see the world does the camera shift to a third person perspective. The result is an ability to sympathize with him more easily than we’d be able to otherwise, and therefore the rest of the film is much more effective.

DVD 4: Away From Her (Sarah Polley, 2007)
A very honest-feeling portrait of a couple dealing with alzheimer’s. A lot has been made of Julie Christie’s performance, but while it was good I was much more impressed by Gordon Pinsent as a man who loves his wife even when she doesn’t seem to recognize him. The movie drags a little at times, but in the end it’s a very touching love story.

D5: Live Free or Die Hard (Len Wiseman, 2007)
For brain-under-the-seat action, this was the best 2007 had to offer. Fun from start to finish, and the “unrated” version gives the satisfaction of the series’ signature line uninterrupted by gunfire.

D6: Surf’s Up (Ash Brannon & Chris Buck, 2007)
This beat out The Simpsons Movie for an Animated Feature nomination? Really? Yes, there’s some impressive technical animation with the water, but there’s not much of a story behind it. The mockumentary format falls apart, unless you assume the same camera crew can be in five of six different places at the same time, and the plot is a series of sports movie cliches presented without the slightest hint of irony. Less annoying that last year’s animated penguin movie, but that’s not saying much.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 4: Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, 2007)
There’s not really anything new here. It’s a legal thriller in which everyone’s lying to everyone else, and no one’s above using shady or illegal tactics to protect their interests. That said, the execution is very entertaining, and despite the fact that the film opens with scenes late in the action, we’re constantly kept wondering where things are going and what exactly people are up to. There are three performances that stand out, all of which are up for gold statues later this month: George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, and Tilda Swinton. I don’t think it’s a great film, but it’s definitely a very good one, and fun to watch.

M5: Atonement (Joe Wright, 2007)
This is a movie with a great beginning and a great end. Unfortunately, the journey from one to the other drags considerably. One of the things I found refreshing was that the film doesn’t rely on a twist ending. Typically when telling a story where almost all the characters are led believe something false, the audience is only shown what those characters see until the reveal at the end. In this one, the entire first act is spent setting up that erroneous belief, showing us multiple perspectives of events so we not only know what really happened, but why it’s so easy for everyone to believe otherwise. There are revelations at the end of the film, but they’re not meant to surprise so much as highlight the struggle of the characters - a move that provides the emotional impact that was missing for most of the second and third acts. Less than ideal pacing aside, there are a few other areas where the film shines. It’s beautifully shot, especially in a long and complicated tracking shot, and the score is one of the more inventive film scores I’ve heard lately, incorporating on-screen elements (most notably typewriter keys) into the music.


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