Good (and not so good) movies, reviewed in 500 words or less, with a grade, perfect for picking titles to watch. A=Excellent and recommended; B=Good but with flaws; C=Competent but not memorable; D=Bad but with some virtue that makes it worth looking at; F=What were they thinking? Click the comments count to leave a comment. See year's best list on Dec. 31st each year.
Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz
Big pharma company is testing a TB drug in
Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphey. Dir=Wes Craven
Remember when airplanes had those clunky "Airphones" in the seatback in front of you, and you could (maybe) call your office for $1 a minute? I haven't seen one of those in years. But this movie depends on them. The bad guy forces the girl in the seat next to him to call the hotel she manages and move a politico to a certain room so the (really dumb) hit men can get him. Otherwise, the hit men will get her father instead. Pretty creative story! Rather than tell a flight attendant that she is being threatened by this creepy guy, she goes along with his scheme, then runs off the plane when it lands to warn the victims just in time. Convenient! An inconsistent and degrading female character. Good thing they were in an older airliner or they wouldn't have had any plot at all. Good creepy bad guy though (CM).
Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright,
A rich ex-playboy gets an unsigned letter from an old flame that says he has a son. He looks up 4 girlfriends who could be it. No resolution.
Mail Order Wife
Andrew Gurland (co-writer, director, star with Huck Botko), Eugenia Yuan, Adrian Martinez, Deborah Teng. Independent film
A fictional documentary but not a mockumentary -- plays it straight. A doorman in
The 40-year-old Virgin
Steve Carell, Catherine Keener
A scatological hoot about male sexuality. The title states the childish plot problematic. Very sharp writing and outstanding acting. CK is fantastic. No guns, explosions, or violence. Just great script, lots o' funny dirty talk and a goofy, LOL ending.
A live stand-up comedy that had me laughing out loud. Her material is more politically pointed than in the past, less biological, less pure silliness. She is positioning herself as comic-activist, the next Lenny Bruce, and has the ability to succeed.
Connie Nielsen. Dir=Suzanne Bier. Danish, subtitled
Family man gets called to fight in
Melinda and Melinda
Written and directed by Woody Allen. Will Ferrell, Radha Mitchell, Amanda Peet, others.
Melinda is lonely, stays with friends, finally falls in love. The story is told twice, in intercut scenes, supposedly once as a comedy, once as a tragedy, but WA could have skipped that setup and just told the stories, like Sliding Doors. Humorous but not jokey. Characters are the usual NYC upper class, so rich that they can be caricatures. But the performances are amazing, especially RM. WF is a revelation. Fabulous photog, interiors, costume, dialog, directing. Masterful movie craftsmanship.
The Day I Became a Woman
Dir= Marziyeh Meshkini. Iranian, in Farsi, subtitled.
Three short stories, loosely coupled. A girl turns 9 and gets her chador; a young woman joins a bicycle race without her husband's permission; an old woman floats away on a raft, surrounded by consumer goods. Stunning photography full of striking images. Sparse dialog, masterful directing. Dreamlike, yet still a biting (bitter?) social comment.
Me and You and Everyone We Know
Miranda July = actor, writer, director. Casting by Meg Norman.
Three short stories loosely coupled (seems the trend these days). Young boys do sexual chat on the internet, young girls flirt with sexuality, and an adult couple tries to find common ground. Realistic dialog, sets, costumes, script. No real plot. Slow. Human, compelling and original.
Ellen Barkin, Jennifer Jason Leigh, others. Writer&Dir = Todd Solondz
Young teenager wants a baby, gets pregnant, parents coerce abortion. She runs away to try again, and bounces from highway hitchhiker to foster home, Different actors play the girl during that period, which is confusing at first but finally says, 'this is everygirl's story'. Knockout casting, fine acting, writing, directing. Story is loose but a metaphorical palindrome.
Angels & Aliens: The Basement and the Kitchen
Writer, Director, Star = David Fickas. Mo Gaffney as the mother. Indie.
Paranoid youth lives in his mother's basement, won't go out, thinks aliens are trying to get him. He's nuts. Or is he? It's not aliens trying to get him! Original story, hilarious at times, convincing sets & situations, good photog & directing, strong acting. DF himself is the weakest player.
Merci, Docteur Rey!
Dianne Wiest. Dir, writer = Andrew Litvack. French and English with subtitles
An American opera diva sings Turandot in
Off the Map
Joan Allen, Sam Elliott, Valentina De Angelis. Dir=
A poor family lives in
(in Farsi, subtitled)
Ten is the number of scenes in this movie, all of them of a woman driving a car in Teheran. Dash cameras show her or her passenger, and that's it. Passengers include her 14 yr old son, sister, prostitute, etc. The dialog tells the story of life in Teheran today for a woman. It's totally about gender. The son is especially disturbing. We only hear, never see the hooker, making her a subconscious voice. Brilliant.
Colors Straight Up
Michele Ohayon, producer, director
A documentary with high risk LA youth studying theater and dance. Gripping personal stories, good original music, excellent editing. Like Stand and Deliver but heart achingly true. No info on the teachers.
Million Dollar Baby
Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman
Two movies in one. The first, HS becomes a winning boxer, reluctantly trained by Clint. The second is about euthanasia after she is injured. The first movie is better. MF is CE's Boswell, a weak role. His award was probably for Unforgiven. CE acts like CE. Swank is the standout. Well directed & photo'd boxing scenes.
The Merchant of Venice
Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, Lynn Collins. Dir=Michael Radford
Pacino brings Shylock alive, especially in the famous "do we not bleed?" speech. Irons has presence but mumbles. Fiennes: outstanding. Collins good as a boy. Well-paced. Lines are not rushed. The language is only a very slight obstacle. Directing, editing, locations, costumes make it a compelling Shakespeare.
In My Country
Samuel L. Jackson, Juliette Binoche, Dir=John Boorman; Screenplay Anne Peacock.
2 Reporters cover the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in
Trey Parker, Matt Stone, writers, directors (The "
Puppets, actually, marionettes on strings, give a parody of military/police action movies, chasing terrorists (brown puppets) around the world, blowing things up. Script is hilarious, and the puppets are funny. Much humor tends to the prurient and puerile, but the political commentary and
Bad Boy Bubby
Nicholas Hope. Writ, Dir = Rolf De Heer. Released in 1993, very limited
A man has been locked in an ultra- squalid apartment with his mother for 35 years then gets out, joins a band, meets a girl. He is autistic maybe. Not a true sketch. Dark, horrifying, tragic, and hilarious at the same time. A comment on human development? Or it may mean nothing. Amazing performance by Hope. Totally original. You have never seen a picture like this. Best punk band in the world. Bad sound, experimental or not.
Dirty Filthy Love
Michael Sheen, Shirley Henderson.Dir=Adrian Shergold. Produced by the Sundance Channel
Man suffers from increasingly severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, with a touch of Tourette's. Loses wife, job. Joins a support group. A gripping, tragic, funny, realistic story by somebody who knows OCD . Meds are not given their proper due, but it is a human, not a psychiatric story.
Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Mos Def; Dir=Nicole Kassell
KB, in his best-ever performance, is a convicted pedophile trying to start over after prison. He gets hatred and loathing when his past is discovered, but also some understanding. He is not "cured" and there are some creepy scenes, but there is a quasi-happy ending. He says "I am not a monster," but isn't he? The movie is honest, courageous, not voyeuristic or trite.
The Assassination of Richard Nixon
Sean Penn, Don Cheadle, Naomi Watts, Jack Thompson. Dir=Niels Mueller
Sean Penn is a furniture salesman who can't find a way to success. Wife divorces, he loses jobs, due to a mild mental or personality defect which develops into full delusion and violent action. The mental condition is a cheap artificial motivator, unlike Miller's Willy Loman or De Niro in Taxi. But Penn's acting is pure genius. It leaps off the screen. Cheadle is also outstanding here.
Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte. Dir = Terry George
DC, Hutu, runs a luxury hotel in
Judith Ivey, Emily Grace. Writer, director = A. Dean Bell
A young woman escapes a small
A film by Neil Young, songwriter, singer, director of photography and cameraman.
The DVD package gives no clue what this thing is. It is a series of 8 Neil Young songs that tell stories about a family of characters. The stories are only related by the recurrence of the characters, though obvious postproduction tries to suggest a single narrative. Hand held super-8. It's incoherent; it means nothing. Like Horse With No Name on steroids. But it is an artistic achievement of the first order. It helps to be a fan of Young.
Writer, Director = Greg Pak
Four short films, all involving robots in one way or another, but these are human, not robot stories. Example: an old man has a holographic girlfriend but won't agree to mental/digital immortality with her, because it would be "a happiness he hasn't earned." Very strong acting, great writing and directing. Haunting.
Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington
A bio of Ray Charles. JF nails Charles' look and moves so totally, it is eerie. Lip sync to original music is flawless. KW gives a strong and subtle performance. Story, script, directing, photog are humdrum. The music is all.
Jet Li. Dir = Zhang Yimou, "Presented by" Quentin Tarrantino. Chinese, subtitled.
An abstract impressionist martial arts movie like Crouching Tiger and Kill Bill 1, but this one is stunningly beautiful, more so than Kurosawa's "Ran" which is quoted, and it has an engaging, Roshomonic story. Will be a classic.
The Five Obstructions
Lars von Trier, Jorgen Leth. Danish, subtitled
The dogmatic von Trier gives 5 short film assignments to his mentor. Each film has different rules, such as no sets, or no edit over 12 frames, or "you must star in it." An exploration of film and of the men. Wonderful pictures, great insights, but you must be "into" film. Otherwise it will be boring.
The Saddest Music in the World
Isabella Rosellini, Dir=Guy Maddin. Canadian.
A music contest in depression era
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring
Director and writer=Kim Ki-Duk. Korean, with subtitles.
A Buddhist tale, gorgeously photographed. The title tells the story: the seasons of life. Spring comes around twice to make sure we get the idea of the eternal cycle. In spring, a young acolyte lives with a wise old man on a raft hermitage. In the summer, the boy is a young man. And so on. Stereotypical ideas, but so beautiful and thought-provoking, you can't resist.
Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Dir=Richard Linklater
Sequel to Before Sunrise of a decade ago, in which a couple met briefly and passionately then lost touch with each other. Now they meet again in
A Day Without A Mexican
One day all the Mexicans in
Dreamworks. Voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, John Cleese, Jennifer Saunders
Incredible animation, very funny gags and enough story to pull it along. JS is a real standout as the fairy godmother. JC is disappointing except for one
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Dir=Michael Gondry
A love story, time-shredded Memento-like, yet another cultural expression of anxiety about Alzheimers. But in this case the acting is superb, especially JC who plays a dramatic role without a rubber face. He agrees to have his memory of his girlfriend erased, but then decides to fight it. The POV then shifts to his memories with her, being erased even as they occur, so a thriller of how to get out of that memory in time and find another. Nonsense story, but fine acting by the whole cast saves it.
Coffee And Cigarettes
Dir = Jim Jarmusch. Tons of actors, including Cate Blanchett, Tom Waits, Steven Wright, Bill Murray, many others.
Eleven short scenes of two people meeting "for coffee" & smoking cigarettes. All in beautiful B&W. The people mostly do not want to be there, so the social tension is palpable. The dialogs are Mamet-esque artistic abstractions, not realist. The acting and directing are riveting. Sets interesting. A true masterpiece of film. Memorable.
Mario Van Peebles
Documentary about the making of 1970's Sweet Sweetback Badass' Story by Melvin Van Peebles, Mario's father, who made that breakthrough movie. Fascinating, important, real.
Cho's third standup comedy movie. A million funny bits. She is a great face actor. Lots of crude body jokes, but also important social commentary. "A" for its genre.
The Singing Detective
Robt. Downey Jr., Mel Gibson, Robin Wright
A writer with a disgusting skin disease imagines himself a hard boiled Chandleresque detective who often breaks into song and dance - 50's pop (original sound tracks). Oddly, RDJ is poor at lip-sync. MG cures his condition by reflecting on his mother (really). Great makeup forces awareness of lookism. Weird, but good.
Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci
CT is a hooker at the end of her rope who finds it makes more sense to kill the men than endure the degradation. Clings for love to CR, who is abrasive and unlikable as always. A "true story", but without plot. CT is astounding. She is that character. Best actress award is well deserved.
Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishbourne, Marcia Gay Harden. Dir: Clint Eastwood
3 boys grow up in tough
In Praise of Love
Jean-Luc Goddard (Dir). French with subtitles
Goddard's swan song is a comment on his own career, on
The Triplets of Belleville
An animation by Sylvain Chomet. French, but there's no dialog so it doesn't matter.
Animated in the old Disney style: artists capture nuance in expression and gesture to make it "human" and affecting. A Tour-de
Quentin Tarrantino's fourth movie. Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu
Wronged woman seeks murderous revenge for the names on her list. Based on Kurasowa's 7 Samurai and Leone's spaghetti variations. Creative use of anime, and a nod to Crouching Tiger. Acting by UT and LL is excellent. Fantastic photog, directing, sets, music. Lots of gushing blood, but it is surreal comedy, not violence. A classic.
Lost in Translation
Bill Murray, Scarlet Johannsen, Giovanni Ribisi. Writer, Dir, Prod = Sofia Coppola.
Lonesome old actor, young girl make friends in
Nicole Kidman, Ben Gazarra, Stellan Skarsgaard, James Cahn. Dir = Lars von Trier
Woman on the run hides in a small town. She wins them over by cheerful service but they finally turn on her and put her in chains. Her father's men arrive, burn the town. Severe Brechtian minimalism. No sets to speak of. An allegory for some existential truth, but what? First class acting and directing. I really liked this movie.
Lisa Kudrow, Damon Wayans; Richard Benjamin.
Rich white jewish blonde falls for black vulgar rapper. Parodies both cultures perfectly. Great jokes & music, good acting. Good production values. Lame sitcom story line. Laugh out loud funny.
A Good Night To Die
Michael Rapaport, Gary Stretch, James Russo. British Indie
Professional assassins become friends and rivals, like Bronson's "Mechanic" of 25 years ago. Dynamite script- clever, funny, thoughtful. MR is electrifying - you can't take your eyes off him. Why isn't he a huge star?
Graham Greene, Native cast and dir.
Shot on Pine Ridge, story of alcohol and crime, searching for values. Good humor and acting, especially GG. Doesn't have the emotional connection of Smoke Signals but a better story.
Down With Love
Rene Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, David Hyde-Pierce. Dir=Payton Reed, Costumes=Daniel Orlandi, Music=Mark Shaiman.
A tongue in cheek homage to romantic comedies of the 60's. RZ is ever impressive. EM does an amazing Bobby Darrin bit. The real stars are the costumes, the music, and the amazing throw away song during the credits.
Ron Fricke, Dir, Photog
A visual feast. Stunning photography from around the world, edited like the "-qaatsi" films. Sound track of human and natural rhythms. Not a travel pic, it has implicit editorial content: from aboriginal ritual to
Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, Ed Harris
Virginia Woolf commits suicide, her spiritual double, JM, living in 1951 suburbia does not, nor does her fictional character, MS, living in 2002 NYC. Harris, opposite Streep, does. Good psychological drama, but confuses existential despair & clinical depression. JM should have won for acting, though NK is flawless.
Maura Tierney, Christopher Walken, James Lebros
Farcical comedy set in a '70's diner. Couple kills owner and takes the place over. Walken is the deadpan cop. A+ acting all around. MT is wonderful.
Dir=Phillip Noyce. Everlyn Sampi, Kenneth Branaugh
3 young aboriginal girls escape a gov't school in 1930's
The Fast Runner
By and about Inuit people of
Dumb story but fine acting, character-driven script, good photog and art direction. Bad music.
13 Conversations about One Thing
Allen Arkin, Amy Irving, Mathew McConaughey. Dir= Jill Sprecher.
Strong cast centered around office and home life in NYC. Captures middle class squalor and confusion. What is the role of luck in finding happiness?
Edward Burns (also Dir), Stanley Tucci, Heather Graham.
Love, Sex & relationships in
Adrienne Shelly, writer, director, star
Loopy woman has visions of murder, visits a medium for a seance. Surreal. Quite funny, well acted nonsense. Great camera work, editing, script.
Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor
A fabulous musical based on the story in La Boheme. New, not operatic music. Funny, ironic script, terrific sound. The photog is stunning. Each shot could be framed and hung in a gallery. I read that NK did her own singing, and it is remarkable. Way ahead of its time. It will be a classic.
Scarlett Johansson, Ewan McGregor, Steve Buscemi.
Can you imagine the girl with a pearl earring slamming someone in the side of the head with a .45 automatic? Neither could I, but Scarlett is plausible as an action figure in this highly vehicular chase. Visual access to her body is controlled but she looks OK. She's much better as a dramatic actor. EM does a great job. They escape a clone farm used for organ harvesting. Thin story, totally derivative visuals (Matrix, Star Wars, the Fifth Element, even the 1984 Apple commercial). Schlock ending. "B" is generous.
Dot the i
Gael Garcia Bernal, Natalia Verbeke, James D'Arcy. Writer, Director = Matthew Parkhill
A riff on The Graduate. Young woman is set to marry rich man (JD) but is pursued by GGB. Secondary theme is GGB takes a videocam everywhere, which allows audience and other characters to know what has previously happened. Well made, attractive actors, engaging story, good music, but doesn't add up at the end - breaks the social contract.
Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson, Andre Benjamin, Garrett Hedlund. Dir = John Singleton
4 young men, 2 white, 2 black, have been adopted and raised by a single mother, who is murdered. They vow revenge, bullying gangs, cops and councilmen in
Kings & Queens
Emmanuelle Devos, Katherine Deneuve; Mathieu Amalric; Dir = Arnaud Desplechin. French, subtitled
People live their lives in
Born Into Brothels
Zana Briski, Ross Kaufman, Dirs. English and Hindi (subtitled). Documentary.
ZB teaches photography to brothel children in
The Stratosphere Girl
Chloe Winkel. Writ, Dir=M.X. Oberg; Independent.
European girl works as a club hostess in
Wal Mart: The high cost of low price
Robert Greenwald, prod, dir.
This documentary is a one-sided attack on Wal Mart. Balanced views vanished with Michael Moore. Studies show that WM is neither good nor evil - an economic wash in most towns. But the film shows convincingly that the company does not really believe in free markets when it comes to labor: it cheats. Greed trumps principle. So my mind is changed.
Schultze Gets the Blues
German, subtitled. Harald Warmbrunn; writ,dir = Michael Schorr
Retired miner in a German town plays polkas on his accordion. One day discovers Zydeco and begins a Homeric quest to
Japanese, subtitled. Dir=Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Charisma is an ancient rare tree in a Japanese forest. Some believe it is secreting toxin, poisoning the forest around. Should you preserve the rare one at the expense of the many? Perhaps the tree is the emperor; preserve him at all costs? There is supporting imagery for that but the director denies all meaning. Maybe. Chaotic but beautifully photo'd.
The Man Who Copied
Brazilian, in Portuguese, subtitled. Writ & Dir=Jorge Furtado
Young man works at a copy shop in
Billy Bob Thornton, Lisa Blount
Slow talking BBT returns to
Don Cheadle (he's everywhere!; also produced), Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Brendan Fraser, Thandie Newton, others. Writer & Dir=Paul Haggis
Sets of ethnically different characters encounter each other randomly in LA. All are "racially" (ethnically) bigoted; most stereotypically. Trigger happy LAPD bullying blacks, young black men hijacking cars, Suburban whites terrified of blacks, Middle Easterners abused by ignorant redneck, etc. Not subtle. Vignettes rather than a real story. Some acting. Overall message: racism is bad. You heard it here first.
Funny Ha Ha
Kate Dollenmayer; Dir=Andrew Bujalski
A woman in her twenties hangs out with her friends, drinks, tries to get a job and a boyfriend. No real plot. Like Napoleon Dynamite for an older group, it is supposed to be a social mirror. The inarticulate dialog is realistic and charming at first but quickly becomes formulaic. Grainy hand-held photog. Reminiscent of Woody Allen's Three Sisters and even the Chekhov play. Worthy.
Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn. Dir = Sidney Pollack
When the two best actors in
Anatomy of Hell
French, Subtitled. Dir=Catherine Breillat
A woman with low self esteem pays a gay/bi guy to explore her body, to show him what "women are really like," e.g., with pubic hair, not shaved like porn stars, etc. Film attempts to demystify and even desexualize the female body, but the woman (and director) already accept the male valuation of it, undercutting the project. Lots of graphic sex and body parts, but it's a serious thesis, not porn. Not for prudes! Good idea, but not successful.
Christina Ricci, Jessica Lange
Terrific acting by Lange. Ricci is abrasive but gives a fine showing. Poor filmmaking spoils it all. Opening nude scene is without meaning: gratuitous boobs. Film does not show a descent into depression, only talks about it. Prozac is irrelevant. Talking heads only. A missed opportunity.
Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke,
Film adaptation, in the tradition of Dick Tracy, of a comic book by Frank Miller. Gorgeous visuals. Incoherent, repetitive story, hackneyed script, ho-hum acting except BDT. Some subtle digs at Reservoir Dogs and Harry Potter. Lots of bodily violence, gushers, etc - the QT effect. The visuals are comic book cliche but still an eye treat, better without sound.
Sara Foster, Jordana Brewster,
Charlie's Angels meets Spy Kids. College girls hunt bad guys mostly with catty dialog - very funny, but all the silliness frames a serious, well-told romance between two girls. Aoki does a great character well.
Adrien Brody, Keira Knightly, Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Memento meets Groundhog day, with a mix of Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Cuckoo's Nest. Totally derivative. But there is just enough love story and good acting to keep it going. Fine photography.
Quads! Freak Parade
John Callahan (Animation)
A semi-autobiographical "story" by Callahan, the famous quadriplegic cartoonist. The drawings and text are characteristically his non-PC humor. His 1-panel cartoons are usually bull's-eyes but this romp lacks discipline, becomes just silly. Still it's a very fast 100 min. of laughs.
John Heder. Writ, Dir = Jared Hess
Hess must be 14 years old because he perfectly captures details of the age group. Jr. Hi kids will recognize themselves. Napoleon is a geeky kid who wins some friends and finally applause in a fantasy-parody. No sex, violence or swearing, just real human drama. An original. Weak story line.
A Love Song For Bobby Long
John Travolta and Scarlett Johansson's lips
A Faulkneresque tale set in N'Orleans where everything is excused because of the damp heat. JT has a 2 day grizzle for weeks. How does that work? Story just goes on and on. Good editing, photog, sets. JT acts.
Elderly housekeeper moonlights by doing abortions in 1950 English town. She was "just helping young girls" but goes to jail. A pro-life theme but the moral issue is not raised. Good acting and wallpaper. A dark movie.
Beyond the Sea
Kevin Spacey (wrote, directed, starred) Kate Bosworth,John Goodman, Bob Hoskins, Greta Sacchi, William Ulrich
Bobby Darin will never sing again. Once you accept that, Kevin Spacey does a good job imitating him. He squeaks past Mac the Knife, Splish Splash and others, and nails Beyond the Sea. His dancing is adequate but he doesn't know what to do with his hands. Ulrich, as the young Bobby, channels. Acting is flat all around, but inspired directing & music, wonderful costumes and sets. Weird casting.
Gael Garcia Bernal. Dir=Almodovar. Spanish, subtitled
Two 10-yr old boys were sexually abused by the priest in their Catholic school. Now young men, they seek revenge through blackmail. They are gay, one was a transvestite, replaced by a mistaken identity brother (?). The gay erotic theme is lost on me, and what's left is an old story with nothing much to add. Well acted, important topic, fine photog.
The Life Aquatic
Bill Murray, Kate Blanchett, Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston
An apt parody of "Nature" adventure documentaries, specifically the Jacques Cousteau genre. Allusions to Star Trek, Nemo, and other films. The dry humor does not work well in such a goofy context. Highly creative, good acting, but no story or dramatic tension. OW does well being serious.
Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Naomi Klein, Milton Friedman, others.
A well-made, engaging, documentary about corporate business in
Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Clive Owen. Dir=Mike Nichols
Two couples fall in and out of love in hetero combinations. Plot points are arbitrary and characters are 2-D, unmotivated. They repeatedly declare their deepest love or lack of same, but there is no dramatic reason to believe it. The acting is scene by scene, since there is no possibility of character development. Even so, the results are amazing. Kudos to Nichols for that, but on the downside, the movie is offensively misogynist.
Paul Giamatti, Virginia Madsen,
4 adult characters hang out in CA wine country. Romance buds but news leaks that THC is to be married in a week, ruining everything. Laugh out loud wine snob jokes. Everyone acts their hearts out. But a writer's heavy hand leaves many scenes with no point. Chars are a collection of features, empty people. No plot, but funny and watchable.
Robin Williams, Mira Sorvino. Excellent photography: Dir of photog=Tak Fujimoto.
RW reprises 1-hour photo, but this time he edits "footage" from chips implanted at birth that record everything you ever see and hear. At death, he sanitizes your life story for the family. Entirely plot driven, and the plot is full of holes, but intriguing: the chip records your objectivity, not your subjectivity. Does that define a life?
Good Bye Lenin!
Dir=Wolfgang Becker. Daniel Bruhl, Katrine Sass. German, with subtitles.
An East German Woman goes into a coma for 8 mo. and misses the fall of the Berlin Wall. She revives and her family tries to protect her from the shock by pretending nothing has changed. A poignant, comedic comment on how totally disorienting that sudden change was for everybody in the East. Loses something in the cultural translation.
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth. A Miramax film that looks like a Disney, with characteristic themes: goal of female life is marriage. Pity.
A very lightweight romantic comedy that makes the grade thru sheer charm of the actors. Why RZ had to be plump is unclear- it adds nothing. She has 1000 faces. Story line is inconsistent. Some photographic moments. Cartoon characters. Low B
Basically, The Penis Dialogs. His penis was accidentally amputated as an infant. Now he awaits a donor for the transplant, meanwhile tries an artificial one. Every slapstick penis gag you can think of. Unlike the Vagina Monologues, the humor deflects serious commentary. Even the title shows that.
Harold & Kumar Go To
John Cho, Kal Penn
Guys smoke weed, get munchies, begin an odyssey to
Tim Robbins, Samantha Morton
Romance in the future. TR meets a girl on a business trip to
Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith (Will's wife). Dir=Michael Mann.
TC is a hit man in LA who forces cab driver JF to take him around to his "appointments." TC looks good, does not embarrass himself. Ends abruptly, like they ran out of film. Characters do not develop. Very good directing.
Shaun of the Dead
Simon Pegg; Dir=Edgar Wright; British
A parody of the zombie movie; Mild mannered store clerk ends up bashing zombies to oblivion with a cricket bat. Good acting, funny script. Watchable.
Will Smith, Bridgette Moynahan
Fab special effects and WS is cute. Brings up some thoughtful points for those who have never heard of Asimov. Quotes Forbidden Planet, 2001, and some others. Lots of close up mikes on slamming doors for no reason. Action for the sake of action. Boring.
The Bourne Supremacy
Matt Damon, Joan Allen, Julia Stiles, Brian Cox.
The Fugitive, with amnesia. MD is expressionless and JA is no Tommy Lee Jones. Story is engaging, tho it has no reason for beginning. Brian Cox is a standout, the only real actor. The "music" is all percussive.
Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, and of course, Jacques Derrida
Documentary of the important philosopher's life (died, 2004). He is genuinely provocative, and likable. His thoughts are alive and creative at every moment. His work is surveyed briefly and lightly. The man is evident. Not a balanced view, but good.
Teenage life at a Jesus high school. Parody of evangelical zeal and brainwashing. A ham-acted sitcom, but funny, socially relevant, and very well acted, esp. by EA, in a star-making role, who plays a Jewish transfer student .
Man on Fire
Denzel Washington, Christopher Walken
Hackneyed tale of DW as burned out, alcoholic ex-CIA assassin (amazing how many of those there are!) coming out of retirement to bodyguard a child in
The Weather Underground
Documentary of the radical revolutionary group of the 60's
Fascinating story with archival footage of the individuals, then and now. How ordinary hippies became terrorists. What's chilling is that even as adults, they still don't know what they were doing.
Joseph Fiennes, Dennis Hopper, Deborah Unger, Elizabeth Schuh
An ex con tells his story in flashback but he somehow merges with or relives the memory. Totally confusing. Reminiscent of Spider. JF gives an electric performance. Hopper does his menacing nutcase, large. Tough roles for the women, but they act their hearts out.
Kill Bill Vol 2
Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Darryl Hannah, Michael Madsen
A completely different movie from Vol 1. Swords are whooshed around unnecessarily, but there is no blood. Fight scenes are all in flashback. She does finally kill him, but there is no psychological drama, no operatic spectacle. MM does a great job. Looks like a movie started from the cutting room floor of Vol 1.
I Am Dina
Norweigan, in English. Maria Bonnevie. Gerard Depardieu. Subtitled.
Girl in a Norwegian seaside town causes an accident that kills her mother. She becomes feral from guilt and blame. Cello teacher brings her back in. Grows up quasi feral but a fierce cello player. It defies women's stereotypical roles, without flipping right over to hired killers. Character never develops, story zigs and zags arbitrarily. Excellent music, scenery, sense of place.
Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Dir=Tim Burton
Dying man tells surreal stories of life in flashbacks. He knows how he will die and so is fearless. Beautiful photography, surreal directing. Acting is cartoony, as in O Brother, but without the wit.
Somethings Gotta Give
Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Keanu Reeves, Amanda Peet
Diane Keaton has great teeth and can manufacture a smile as effective as Tom Cruise's. But would an existentialist feminist writer slap her thighs in uncontrollable mirth? A charming romance between older people, but 2-D, not real.
Jack Black, Joan Cusak, Really cute kids
Loser rocker teaches kids at a private school to be a rock band. Disneyesque story. Good music. JB is so far over the top he becomes obnoxious. Cusack steals every scene she's in. Not enough camera on the kids.
Once Upon a Time in
Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, Salma Hayek.
A spaghetti western in
Nick Nolte, Darryl Hannah, James Woods
Men in black, govt agents, but also metaphorical grim reapers, evacuate a town to be flooded by a dam. Some won't leave and build an ark. Biblical imagery throughout. Visually stunning. Colors like O Brother. Weird.
Tilda Swinton, Jeremy Davies
3 women are self-replicating computer automatons of a mad scientist. They must drink sperm to survive. They migrate out of the computer into the world, catch a computer virus, learn to love. Social satire with feminist themes. My wife loved it. I am less enthusiastic.
Life + Debt
A documentary on economic effects of globalization of farming and some manufacturing, in
Nicole Kidman with a great cast
NK is nuts, runs a huge manor home, has 3 servants who turn out to be ghosts. Ends up she and her kids are also ghosts but didn't know it. Huh? Really bad music helpfully indicates where the horror is. Great acting - NK.
The Man From Elysian Fields
Mick Jagger, Andy Garcia, Julianne Margules
Sir Mick is head pimp of an escort service joined by Garcia. Jagger is deliciously over the top.
Neanderthal ice age changes to warm. Well drawn, good voices, very funny. Not just for kids.
Happy Here and Now
David Arquette, Liane Balaban, Ally Sheedy
Internet chatters in antediluvian
Fanny Ardant, Jeremy Irons. Dir= Franco Zeffirelli. Costumes provided by Chanel.
A biopic of the great opera singer Maria Callas. If you're an opera fan like me, the gorgeous music alone will hold your interest. FA does a great job acting with a klunky script. JI has moments but mostly not. As with most biopics, the director confuses biography with filmmaking, to the detriment of the latter.
Laura Dern, Lisa Kudrow, Maggie Gyllenhall, others. Writ, Dir = Don Roos
A collection of characters in
We Don't Live Here Anymore
Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Peter Krause, Naomi Watts
Two academic couples are unfaithful with each other's spouses. This story has already been told. Cliche writing, sets, costumes, families. Does raise the question, what is jealousy about ? Is it sociobiological control of the eggs, or is it egocentric battle of wills? Fine talent (esp. LD) is wasted here.
Ben Kingsley, Carrie Ann Moss, Aaron Eckhart
Confused story of an ex-FBI psychic "remote viewer" (Kinglsey) who finds serial killers and kills them. Current FBI thinks he is the serial. Film is dishonest with the viewer about what's up. BK is worth watching for his Sexy Beast intensity. The story quickly loses its way and degenerates to nonsense.
George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Catherine Z. Jones, Andy Garcia, Julia Roberts, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac
Are we supposed to swoon from seeing so many famous faces on the screen at once? This sequel to a remake is so lame, by the time the story ended I couldn't remember what it was about. You could watch it with the sound off, (The music is way too loud). Some funny bits. A 'C' is generous here.
Daryl Hannah, Richard Dreyfuss, Tim Roth, Kris Kristofferson. Written and directed by John Sayles.
Candidate Pilager (get it?) runs for governor of
What the Bleep Do We Know?
Marlee Matlin. Interviews with Stuart Hameroff, Amit Goswami, other well-known scientists whose ideas are not in the mainstream of modern physics.
An off the wall indie that spread by word of mouth. It is a docudrama like Nova trying to explain an important scientific topic on PBS. Animations, diagrams, interviews with scientists, and vaguely relevant acted vignettes. High production values, but repetitive and boring. First it emphasizes quantum indeterminism to imply an idealist metaphysics where we all make up our own reality. But the second half sells the reverse view, that we are puppets of our neurotransmitters. That fairly reflects the ambiguity in contemporary thinking.
Cole Hauser, Robin Tunney, Dennis Farina
This Girl's Life
James Woods, Juliette Marquis, Michael Rapaport, Rosario Dawson
Adventures of a porn star who lives in a web-cammed house. There is a very slight story and a very slight message, but the heavy handed voyeurism swamps it all. Top notch acting all around, but a pointless waste of a good opportunity. Not even convincing porn.
The Day After Tomorrow
Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhal, Ian Holme
This is the first "disaster" movie I have seen, and the special effects were enjoyable. Sudden global climate change freezes NYC and makes hurricanes in LA. Lots of very loud, un- necessary music. Bad acting, dumb story, risible script.
Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones,
A man (Hanks) from a vaguely Slavic country is trapped in JFK airport because his entry visa was cancelled while he was in the air. He lives in the airport, eats condiments, befriends the maintenance crew, finally gets to NYC. Acting is ok, but the story is so disconnected and the characters so unmotivated that the movie is lifeless. Music, photography, and sets are good. Spielberg is way overrated.
Lindsey Lohan, Tina Fey screenplay by Tina Fey (head writer on SNL)
New girl in an all white, rich suburban high school has her boyfriend "stolen" by another girl, vows revenge. The standard HS comedy stereotypes, with SNL-branded irony, sarcasm, and non-sequitur jokes. Amusing but very lightweight. No acting to speak of.
Robert Redford, Helen Mirren, Willem Dafoe
RR is kidnapped by WD, HM pays the ransom. Logical loopholes in the mundane, uninteresting story, and mediocre directing, are overcome by fine acting from HM and WD. RR plays RR, still not convincing. HM however, is a modern master
Standup, mostly racial jokes. Funny but not biting, as he used to be. He is detached from the work. A forced performance, though fully competent.
Wm. H. Macy, Tom Selleck, Monica Potter, Felicity Huffman.
A Scott Turow mystery, driven by implausible story gimmicks. Macy is the defense atty for a death row nutcase. Selleck's wooden homicide cop buries outstanding performances by everybody else. Awful script & directing. Smells like TV.
Newcomers, I can't remember. Based on a story by Farley Mowat.
Survival in the arctic NW Territories, of a pilot and Inuit girl. Charming, some insight into Inuit culture and language, but predictable and stereotyped throughout. The Fast Runner is a better picture.
Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, Emily Mortimer
River barge worker in Scotland (EM), mounts every woman that crosses his path, then leaves them, sometimes for dead. The women don't seem to mind. A deeply misogynist film. Good sense of time and place. Adequate acting.
House of Sand and Fog
Ben Kingsley, Jennifer Connally
Loser girl's house is mistakenly foreclosed, bought by Iranian immigrant Kingsley. She meets a cop who goes berserk, then, guns, alcohol, pills, chaos, death. It is ultimately about ethnocentricism, but that story is not well told. Fine acting by the principals.
Japanese, subtitled. Dir = Sion Sono
Woody Allen, Stockard Channing, Jason Biggs, Christina Ricci, Danny DeVito
Humorous but stale NYC relationship jokes. Woody has not really developed that genre. Nice to see Stockard act. Ricci - bad directing or bad acting?
Rene Zellweger, Katherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere
Boisterous musical during prohibition. Surreal storytelling is good. Fosse style dancing is cliche. Music and lyrics mediocre. One good dance by professionals, 2 good songs. Much fleshy spectacle. The cast tries hard but the result is often embarrassing. Best Picture of 02 (!!?)
Punch Drunk Love
Adam Sandler, Emily Watson
A romantic comedy that is neither. AS is a dimwit who bumbles around Gump-like. Characters don't make sense. Photography is very good.
Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston, Morgan Freeman as God
JC gets to be God for a week . His manic shtick is an acquired taste but must be respected. JA is naturally convincing. MF a pleasure. Lots of toilet jokes for the kids, but also a sophisticated parody of local TV news.
Crop circles, aliens. Ludicrous sets. Good acting, but at no time was I "horrified." Still, hand-to-hand combat with aliens - how often do you see that?
A pale shadow of the original, which was visually gorgeous. Here, alternating blue and orange filters constitute art. No acting to speak of.