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)
DVD 60: Sunshine
On repeat viewing it's still a solid, entertaining thriller. Caught some more of the visual foreshadowing this time around, but otherwise there's nothing new - just a fun ride to go on again.

DVD 61: Sleeping Beauty
For a movie made 50 years ago, the animation stands up to most of what has come out recently. I hadn't watched this since I was too young to notice that it was stylized after medieval tapestries, but seeing that style applied to classic Disney is a nice touch. I was also amused to see that in a movie with a heroic prince, it's the otherwise comic relief fairies who drive most of the action. Plus Aurora is one of the rare Disney characters with two living parents. On the DVD side, there's some interesting features, the best of which is an old feature demonstrating the differing styles of four of the films animators as they paint the same tree.
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 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)
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 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)
DVD 8: La Vie En Rose
Biopic of Edith Piaf, made interesting by Marion Cotillard’s performance. That’s not to say the story itself is bad, but it lacks the focus of other recent musician biopics, instead telling us interesting things that happened during Piaf’s life without forming one cohesive narrative. The film won two Oscars last night, for acting and makeup, and deserved them both. Either Cotillard’s performance or the makeup used would have convincingly portrayed Piaf as she aged three decades; together they make the movie.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
DVD 7: Elizabeth: The Golden Age
The performances in this film are all top-notch, and the costumes and sets are visually interesting. Unfortunately it lacks the compelling storytelling that made its predecessor a great movie. It’s frustrating too, because it’s clear everyone involved in the production is talented and working to make the best film they can, but the intrigue that drives most of the plot just isn’t that intriguing. Considering the elements in play - betrayal between family members, conflict between personal and political desires, a looming war with the Spanish Armada - this movie should have been a lot more exciting than it was.
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.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 1: Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007)
I was a little skeptical watching the trailer that this was going to try too hard to be hip and as a result seem forced. And early on in the movie it does (I can’t tell you how grateful I was that Rainn WIlson was only on one scene - nothing against the actor, but his character grated on my nerves). Luckily the movie eventually starts concentrating on the characters more than their quirks, and turns out to have some real emotion by the end. The relationships all seem real, thanks to well written characters played by strong actors. Everyone here has done more noteworthy work, but there’s not a false note among the principle cast, who work together to make every interaction work. There was no shortage of 2007 movies about unplanned pregnancies, but this one goes on the top of that list for me.

M2: Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008)
There have been and will continue to be comparisons to Blair Witch because of the shared technique of having the entire movie seen through the lens of a camera carried by one of the characters. But what this most reminded me of was amateur footage that ends up on the news when something happens that an average person happens to have a camera for. Reeves and his DP Michael Bonvillan did a great job of making the recording seem unplanned and unprofessional (something that’s a challenge to balance with making sure you get the shot you need), giving a real feeling of what average unsuspecting people go through when a monster attacks the city. Not a lot is explained because we only know what the characters experience, following their journey as ordinary people in the midst of something far bigger than them. The result is a very exciting movie that I look forward to picking up on DVD so I can see the making up features.

M3: There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
This looks and feels nothing like any other Anderson movie I’ve seen; it’s excellent for entirely different reasons. The main reason being Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance as oil man Daniel Plainview. This is one of the most evil characters I’ve seen in recent film, largely because he’s so good at convincing people he’s working for their own good, all the while delighting in his profits and their misfortunes. In truth, the fact that this is playing in an election year is fitting, because his false promises and insincere grandstanding are reflective of the worst in politicians trying to gain public favor. Also worth noting is Paul Dano as Eli Sunday, a preacher who is in every way Plainview’s opposite. The scenes between these two actors are the best in the movie, especially their interaction at the film’s climax, where Plainview is at his worst, and enjoying every second of it.

Book 3: Election by Tom Perrotta
Short, funny book about a high school election that does a good job of capturing the dynamics of teenagers. Probably the best example of this is the election itself - it’s noted early on that the title of class president is meaningless, but the kids (and a few of the adults) involved all treat it like it’s the most important event in their lives. The narrative rotates between the characters, which allows the reader to get inside everyone’s head and often see conflicting views of the same events. A satisfying read.

B4: I Am America (And So Can You!), by Stephen Colbert
This really is his character from the show in book form. The subject matter is less topical than his show, but his attitudes on American life are just as absurd as those he spouts off about the day’s news. In short, if you like the show (especially “The WØrd,” which the margin notes are reminiscent of), than you will enjoy the book. Especially if you’re looking for something to hold you over until his writing staff returns.

DVD 3: Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, 2007)
Another one I was skeptical about, because I thought Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, which also starred Viggo Mortensen, was very poorly executed. Luckily this one doesn’t suffer from the same pacing issues, and is actually an interesting and entertaining mob movie. I don’t think I’d add it to my library, but as a Netflix rental it was time well spent.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
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.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
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.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
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.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
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.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
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.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
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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