Sunday, January 07, 2007

Flick the Button

Massive backlog. I need to do this more often, because I start to forget seeing movies, let alone remembering what I think about them.

1. The Dukes of Hazzard: I hit on this in a post on football already. Better than I expected, and not bad either. Embraces Southern individualism that was the heart of the show, and also kind of does a good job at pointing out that folks down here are pretty sharp and witty. Fun soundtrack, and even the actors (I expected miscast) were alright. Enjoyable with a few great moments. Steak Knives.

2. The Island: As you'll see, there are a host of big budget action films I saw this time around. The term "OK" fits this one just right. The concept is a little interesting, and the actors are definitely game (especially Johansson). Michael Bay has a style I typically hate, but here he seemed a little toned down, and the movie was better for it. Plenty of worse ways to spend a couple hours (like with most of Bay's other movies). Dull steak knives.

3. American Dreamz: Pretty boring. Conceptually, I'm not sure how this movie got made. It's not very funny. The biggest flaw is that it's hard to watch a big-screen, large budget version of American Idol that just looks infinitely more cheaply made. The set looked like they filmed it on some high school theatre stage. And there really weren't any revelations or interesting twists that wouldn't have come up in a five minute brainstorm. This seemed just slacker. You're Fired.

4. Thank You For Smoking: OK, but felt like it pulled too many punches. Very watchable, and exceptionally well casted. Paced very well. But also not quite black enough. I wanted something either more outrageous or angrier. But that's not the director's goal, I guess. I'm not sure whether it's a good thing or not, but I do think this is the first movie I've seen Maria Bello in where her clothes have remained on. Weird. Edge of fired and knives... I'll go Steak knives.

5. Cape Fear: Original version. Kind of a disappointment. Mitchum isn't quite as menacing as I was expecting. Peck is great, though. Here's what confuses me: it's set for the most part in Savannah, Peck has to fly to Atlanta for a hearing with the state bar or something, but he rents a car and hauls ass to Cape Fear and says "I'll be there in a couple of hours". Cape Fear is in North Carolina, and is pretty damn far from Atlanta. Like at least 7 hours by car now, and when this was made, I'm not sure how great the interstate road system was in the South. Did the writers have no idea about the Southeast? The last 45 minutes or so, I dwelt on that. Unfortunately I thought it kind of dated too. Some serious plot holes too, I'd argue. No way that the transient girl Mitchum pounds on wouldn't press charges. You're Fired.

6. Brokeback Mountain: Boring, Boring, Boring. About an hour too long. Nothing happens for the first 45 minutes, and the second hour is extremely repetitive. Infidelity as love story doesn't work all that well, regardless of the orientation. Even the arguments of the beautiful scenery don't fly with me - dozens of westerns are shot as well or better. The only redeeming qualities of this movie were the costumes and hair styles of Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams. Especially Hathaway. You're Fired.

7. The Constant Gardener: Pretty good. I rather liked the lack of plot arrows, and trying to figure out what I was supposed to be paying attention to. Meirelles is an exceptionally talented director (City of God is one of my favorite movies of the decade), and while this isn't his best, it's still very good. The picture of Africa in this movie will probably be emulated by dozens of films in coming years - realistic, diverse, gorgeous and hideous. Thinking back on this, I realize how much I actually liked it. There were some simplifications and lecturing in the plot, but I kind of expected more. Might be the best non-comedy I saw in this group, and I kind of want to watch it again. Let's go Cadillac.

8. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan: For all my expectations and the previews I'd seen, it still blew my mind in dozens of ways. I'd argue that no character this year, and probably no film made this year is as indelible as this one, and none has become a part of cinema vernacular like this. Sacha Baron Cohen has done something amazing here. But you already knew that. All I can add is that it delivers on its promises. Cadillac.

9. Broken Flowers: Pretty forgettable. We've seen Bill Murray do this bit before and better. I think I've seen the Jeffrey Wright character before too (Portman's adoptive brother in Garden State?). Felt like a movie that confuses silence with depth, and forgets to be interesting in the process. A shrug of a movie. You're Fired.

10. Ravenous: Easily the strangest movie in this collection. This is a movie that has no idea what it is, and I as the viewer was left as confused. Kind of horror movie, kind of comedy, kind of period drama, kind of pretty-scenery-and-electronic-music movie. The actors seemed to have little guidance as to how ridiculous to perform. Carlyle goes over the top, Pearce goes restrained, and most of the other characters just go bad. Thoroughly odd. Had it chosen a particular path to go down, it might've been OK. You're Fired.

11. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby: Successful. I laughed hard frequently. Reilly is great. What I liked about it is that it didn't so much mock Southern NASCAR culture as much as it mocked sprawling suburban culture and a culture of "winners and losers" divisiveness (similar theme to Little Miss Sunshine, below). There are hints that Ferrell can go on cruise control, and the movie could've gone more ridiculous (it probably would've been better as an R-rated movie, as most comedies). But still, it's an ownable movie and one that'll get put in the player or left on when it's on cable. Edge of Steak Knives and Cadillac. I'll go Cadillac because I know I'll watch it dozens more times and find funnier things each time.

12. Aleksandr Nevskiy: Eisenstein's anti-German film released at the onset of World War II. The depiction of the Teutonic knights is shocking - swastikas appear on the high priest's garb, the depictions of child-murder are interspersed with prayers. But also there's anti-semitism and the suggestion of capitalist treason (the characterization of the Novgorod merchants). Like other Eisenstein films, it seems like every frame is an amazing photograph. The point of the film is hard to find common ground with, but incredibly powerful filmmaking. Time capsule is really the best way to describe it - it places the viewer in a position where he or she must pay attention to the propaganda. Prokofiev's score haunts. A film I'm unsure I want to recommend to others, but also inarguably great. Cadillac.

13. Stay: Not as messed up as it thinks it is. The camera tricks seem like more of a crutch and ingenuity. MacGregor's pants are too short - that annoyed me. I also don't appreciate being told that I shouldn't have made the effort to pay attention. You're Fired.

14. Primer: I've said before how much I like fast paced movies, and I liked this a lot. Yes, I didn't understand it very much, and I've been asking all of my friends if they've even heard of it just so I could have someone to talk about it with. Yes, the exposition is poor. But I kind of liked that - I felt like I was tiptoeing along the unknown, just like the characters. I honestly loved the twist that technology leads up to screwing up/fixing the mundane rather than the big questions of existence. Is this sci-fi dogme? Is it even possible? Cadillac.

15. Everything is Illuminated: A book like this shouldn't have been made into a movie, because too much of the enjoyment has to get removed. The depiction of post-Soviet Ukraine is nice - realistic, not romantic, but also not as backward. Eugene Hutz makes everyone else look bad. But it's not as fun as the book. Had I never read the book, I might've liked it a lot more, but it just seemed watered down and too-directly told. You're Fired.

16. Mission: Impossible III: Watchable, but with huge problems: (a) I was totally rooting for Hoffman to kill Cruise throughout the second hour; (b) the internal traitor angle almost directly mirrored the plot of the first installment of the series; (c) Ving Rhames was totally underused (as well as the other members of the crew). But still, there were moments where I was on the edge of my seat - Abrams does a great job on Lost and here of making the viewer feel the tension well. Not a great movie, but I never once thought about turning it off or opening the computer to pay less attention. Steak Knives.

17. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest: Just because a film is the middle part of a trilogy doesn't mean it can't resolve anything. And it doesn't mean it has to suck ass. Unfortunately, this resolves nothing and sucks. All the fun of the first one disappears, and we're left with a plot that just keeps circling itself, a script that prides itself on using a thesaurus - but with characters using accents that makes the dialogue virtually impossible to understand, and no geographic understanding. They're supposed to be in the Caribbean, right? So how do they end up in the South Pacific and then in the Louisiana Bayou without any traveling to each place? The ending is as unsatisfying as any film in recent memory. Second parts are supposed to make you excited for the completion - this gave me no reason to want to see the third one. The worst of the movies I saw over this stretch, easily. You're Fired.

18. Little Miss Sunshine: I loved the themes, and the actors were fantastic. More Alan Arkin is a good thing. Greg Kinnear surprised me a lot. I ask why this family was together in the first place, but that didn't bother me too much. Plot devices were a little forced, but that's forgivable too. Several laugh-out-loud lines and scenes, a great soundtrack, and a satisfying ending. A very nice film, and one I'll think about with a smile. Generously, a Cadillac.

I resolve this year to do this more frequently.