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)
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.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
...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.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
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.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
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.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
35. Ratatouille
It’s a Pixar movie by Brad Bird. Of course it’s great.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
28. Once
Very beautiful Irish movie about a street musician and a Czech immigrant who want to fall for each other but are held back by past relationships. The movie looks very unpolished, but it’s deliberately so. Shot on 35mm with smooth camera moves and beautiful (for conventional movie definitions of “beautiful”) people, Once would have lost its impact. Instead we get hand-held digital video of actors who don’t look like movie stars, but instead look like real people (and I can’t think of any major actor whose face is as expressive as Glen Hansard’s is in this movie). That the leads look their parts so well is a bonus, but they weren’t hired for their looks: Hansard and Markéta Irglová are both singer/songwriters, and they wrote the bulk of the music in Once.

That music is what elevates this movie from good to great. All the songs work as something the character would write/sing while fitting perfectly into the emotion of the scene. I was not the only one in the theater nodding along with the music (especially the last few songs as the movie hits its emotional climax), nor was I the only one to pick up the soundtrack in the lobby as soon as the credits finished rolling. Looking back on what I’ve watched in 2007, Once is easily the best drama, and a serious contender for best movie I’ve seen this year.
cwfilmbuff: (plate)
26. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Not as good as Curse of the Black Pearl, but better than Dead Man’s Chest. In fact, the third movie makes the second movie better, and they would probably be best as a double feature (they really make up one long story told in two parts, whereas the first stands on its own). The story had better dramatic impact than I expected, and the visuals (both effects and cinematography) were incredible. The political commentary at the beginning was a little much, but the scene’s dark beauty was enough for me to forgive it, especially since they didn’t carry it through the rest of the movie. It was almost three hours of fun with a story complex enough to reward you for paying attention and satisfying resolutions for its characters. Unlike some other third installments this summer, Pirates more than lived up to expectations.


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