Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
As a film, awful--As an educational video, not so bad
I am a Christian, but, perhaps because I grew up in the 70s and 80s, I've developed a knee-jerk antipathy against any pop culture products that are explicitly labeled "Christian." I'm a big fan of the "in it, not of it" concept, and when Christians start labeling their music, "art," movies, books, bookstores, t-shirts, summer camps, and breath mints "Christian," that strikes me as being more "neither in it nor of it." Anyway, I watched Fireproof because I thought I should, and I wrestled with my get reactions all the way through.
As a film, I thought Fireproof was utterly wretched. The acting is contrived and amateurish, the screenplay is simply horrifying--completely lacking in art or subtlety, and while the production values aren't bad, the two music video montage sequences made me throw up in my mouth a little bit.
But this isn't really a movie, in any normal sense of the word. It's really an educational video. It's a self-help book on saving your doomed marriage combined with a Chick tract on becoming a Christian, and then translated into a made-for-TV- or after-school-movie format. As didacticism, it's not bad. I was married and divorced young, and I kinda wish someone had given me some of the advice, guidance, and support Kirk Cameron's character received in this movie.
I guess that's my conclusion about Fireproof. If you put it alongside other educational media--I am Joe's Stomach or Merchants of Cool--it fares pretty well because it gets its message across very clearly and it's occasionally entertaining and even emotionally moving once or twice. But if you compare it to actual movies about domestic turmoil--American Beauty or The Savages, for instance--it looks like a pile of crap. This movie's idea of artful dialogue is an early conversation in which Cameron's fire-fighting protagonist tells a fellow firefighter, "You have to stay with your partner, especially in a fire" and then oh-so-cleverly bringing that line of dialogue back toward the end of the movie in relation to Cameron's marriage. Basically, the philosophy of screen writing here is: "tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them," which is fine for a student speech in COM120, but not so wonderful on the big screen.
Classified X (1998)
I've meant to watch this documentary for quite some time, primarily because Spike Lee cited it as a major influence on his own narrative film, Bamboozled. Classified X is good, especially in its presentation of 100 years of movie representation of African Americans. I especially like its useful designation of periods in film history (the decades of independent black cinema, the "new Negro" period, the "no Negro" period, etc.).
There are a few times when I wish the film provided more careful explanation of how the discrimination against African Americans generally and African American films specifically happens. For example, near the end of the film, Van Peebles says that, with movies like Malcolm X and Panther, theaters siphon off the profits at the box office. I'd like to know what that means. Is it a problem of how many screens the movies are shown on? Or how many screens are hogged up by movies that the studios support more wholeheartedly?
I plan to use this movie in a college course about race in the mass media, and I think it will be provocative and educational, but the occasional lack of detailed explanation will be a slight stumbling block for my mostly white, mostly middle class students (as it is at least a minor disappointment for white, middle class me!). Perhaps this movie will simply be a bold starting point for a longer and sometimes difficult learning journey.
David & Layla (2005)
laughing, violence, conflict, dancing--yup, it's a wedding!
David and Layla is a romantic comedy, a light-hearted and optimistic take on the star-crossed lover theme that so often ends in tragedy. David, a Jewish-American man, falls in love with Layla, a Kurdish immigrant who hopes to stay in America (after the death of her family at the hands of Saddam Hussein). When their families find out, hijinks ensue.
I imagine some people will find the movie un-funny, if not offensive, because the couples work out or gloss over their differences in order to get married. In the "working out" process, there is enough to make people on all "sides" of the issues represented feel slighted. In America, especially, people tend to gravitate to the extremes when it comes to their understanding of middle east conflicts: either we know (close to) nothing about it, or we feel that such serious matters should never be joked about because they're too dire.
Jonroy chooses a middle way. His movie repeatedly acknowledges the centuries of conflict between Jews and Arabs and between Jews and Muslims, and it even pauses to provide some straight-up education about the oppression of the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq, especially. That's somewhat bold for a romantic comedy, but he walks the fine line well. Jonroy's comedy doesn't depend on ignoring, belittling, or (God forbid) posing simplistic solutions for these problems. Rather, the local, romantic celebrations in this movie are joyous in spite of the hideous and exhausting violence that forms a sort of context for them. One character sums up the movie's "philosophy" when she says something like, "tolerate the differences, and enjoy life" (I'm paraphrasingdon't remember the exact wording). Toleration, in this case, doesn't mean pretending they're not there; it means seeing them, fighting about them, crying and yelling about them, and dancing at a wedding anyway. To me, that's what comedy is about.
I was reminded of Sullivan's Travels while watching this movie (and while listening to the director talk about it afterward). In Sullivan's Travels, a comedic filmmaker decides to make a serious film about the "plight of the poor" in America. After striving to understand the experience of poverty in America, he decides to make a comedy instead, realizing that his gifts would be better used in providing laughter in an unfunny world than trying to "make a statement" that would only tell the poor what they already knew while telling the rich nothing they cared to understand.
David and Layla fits into that traditionit's a comedy that says, "the world is hard, and its problems can't be solved by a movie, but let me remind you that there is still love, there is still joy, and there is still dancing." When it comes right down to it, the movie is much more about love, sex, celebrating, and family than it is about "politics." P.S. Many of the comments on IMDb refer to a sort of "beta" version of the movie that made the festival circuit last year (2006). This (summer 2007) version is complete, so it's production values are generally better, and the music for the score is finished.
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Not all that great, actually
The Bourne Ultimatum, like the other 2 movies in the so-called trilogy, promises to be three things, and fulfilling any of the three promises would make it a satisfactory moviefulfilling all three could make it great. It promises to be a political thriller, a psychological drama, and a pure action movie. Unfortunately, the Bourne films, especially this one, fail to deliver on all three promises. The first two are obviousthe politics of the movie are way too vague to support a plot (ooooh, there are shadowy conspiracies running amok in the higher echelons of the security establishmentso original), and the Bourne character is so underdeveloped (and the amnesia plot so hackneyed) that I don't see how anyone could care about these movies as psychological dramas. That leaves action.
The Bourne Ultimatum comes closest to delivering when it comes to its promise to be a good action flick. There are fight scenes, chases, explosions, near-death experiences, and tense confrontations. But I have a problem with the way the action sequences in the Ultimatum are filmed (this has been true of all three Bourne movies): the fight sequences are so fast and chaotic, that you really can't tell what's happeningyou take it on faith that Jason Bourne is kicking the bad guy's ass, and when the bad guy's on the ground when things settle down, you figure you must have been right. I guess it's kind of like the Psycho shower scene on crystal meth. And maybe that's the point. Hitchcock would have liked to have shown more actual violence, gore, bloodshed, and nudity, but he knew he could never get that kind of scene past the censors, so he got creative, and since Hitchcock was a genius, his creativity produced a murder sequence that is probably better than anything more gory and explicitly violent could have been. I have a feeling that the action sequences in Bourne have been shot and edited in this hyper-fast, frenetic style, in part, to secure the valuable PG-13 rating. After all, what's Bourne supposed to be good at? Inflicting unthinkable injuries on people in a very short time. If we really got to see this clearly, it would be gross. It would not be PG-13 fare. Plus, Matt Damon would have to know how to fight really well, or the filmmakers would have to get even more clever with stunt doubles. Instead, we get fight scenes in a blender and chase scenes shot so close that we don't know whose car we're seeing, what direction we're going in, or who's crashing into whom.
OK, so, what's the problem? After all, I love Hitchcock, and I think the impressionistic shower scene was brilliant. So why do I dislike the action sequences in Bourne movies? Well, when I see an action film, I guess I've grown accustomed to seeing the action. My complaint about Batman Begins was the same: this guy trained to be a bad-ass fighter, and now whenever I see a fight scene it's too sliced up and dark for me to get a good look at him using those hard-won skills. Give me Jet Li or Michelle Yeoh...or even Bruce Willis...anydayI'm paying $10.50 for my action, so I'd like to see it please.
There will be more Bourne movies. But I think I've paid to see my last one.
Charlie Bartlett (2007)
A big cut above the typical teen movie, but...
I saw this in a members' preview at the wonderful Bryn Mawr Film Institute.
I truly enjoyed this movie. It was smart, hilarious, well-acted (especially Downey, Yelchin, and Davis), and well-scripted. I definitely recommend it, but not with the type of superlatives that other commenters have used here.
If my regard for this movie fades over the coming days, it will be in part because it's so easy to write a "recipe" for the film: it's 3 parts Pump Up the Volume, 1 part Rushmore, a generous dollop of closure, and enough cuteness and sweetness to smooth all the potential edginess out of the subject matter. Unfortunately, it's the sweetness that renders this movie inferior to both of those earlier movies (which are excellent). Once I was struck by the Pump Up the Volume comparison, I couldn't shake it, and I kept thinking that, although it has not aged wonderfully, Pump Up the Volume was the more honest and hard-hitting movie, and Rushmore was simply better.
Rocky Balboa (2006)
legitimately could have been great, but it settled for "not horrible"
(I think I've written this review without "spoilers," but, really, how could any review spoil the end of a Rocky movie?) I went to see Rocky Balboa with a friend last night, mostly because he had given me the special edition of the first Rocky movie on DVD, and it came with a free ticket to see Rocky Balboa. Over the past few days, I'd been surprised to see quite a number of positive reviews of the new (and hopefully last) Rocky movie (from now on, I'll call it "RB"). So I went into the movie with a pretty open mind, although I couldn't stop thinking that people probably liked it because they went into it with such abysmally low expectations. If you're expecting "horrendous" and you just get "fairly bad," you might end up thinking that the movie was a reasonable success, right? As it turns out, I think that's what happened for me, too. I didn't hate the movie, and I certainly got my money's worth (it was free after all). But I wouldn't go so far as to say that the movie was good. In fact, I gave it a 4 out of 10 on IMDb, and here's why...
Stallone and his collaborators basically had a choice to make: this could either be a good movie, able to stand on its own as a cinematic work (not unlike the first Rocky), OR they could make a movie that would pay its respects to the whole Rocky franchise and basically put the old horse (or stallion) to rest. Stallone et al. chose the latter. And I can see how it would have been difficult to make any other choice--this movie definitely seems to be designed to provide Rocky with a fitting send off, and most viewers seem to appreciate it as such. My complaint is that the movie could have been something better if it didn't need to be an homage to the rest of the series.
In my viewing experience, I VERY quickly grew impatient for the final fight. As the supposed human interest subplots flickered in and out like dying florescent light rods, and as the actors kept delivering clichéd nuggets of pseudo-populist street philosophy (all of which seemed designed to stud the pages of some kind of 365 motivational thoughts for the stereotypical guy from South Philly), I lost interest in everything but the boxing match at the end. The only question that remained for me was whether Rocky would win the big fight and teach Mason Dixon (seriously, Mason Dixon???--who comes up with this stuff?) a lesson about heart, or would he lose the big fight and teach Mason Dixon a lesson about heart? And the fight at the end did its work: as I left the theater, I felt for several minutes as if RB had been pretty good, all in all. But that was only because the fight sequence was exciting and overstimulating (and dialogue-free) enough to make me forget what had gone before it.
In short, RB has the unfortunate task of needing to resolve too many story lines in the hour before the final fight--it has to deal with Rocky's inner demons (which are left oddly undefined--alternately referred to as "the stuff in the basement" or the "beast" within), his memories of Adrian, his alienation from his son, and Pauley's failed life (really, has Pauley had anything constructive to offer in any of these movies?), all legacies from the previous Rocky movies. And, to make matters even more impossible, the movie takes on the added burden of creating, developing, and resolving several new plot lines: Rocky's efforts to be a positive force in the lives of Little Marie and her son, Steps; the potential for a romantic relationship with Little Marie; and the character and career of Mason Dixon. There's too much here to work with when everyone knows that the climactic fight is really why we're here.
If Stallone had chosen to make this a real movie, rather than a bookend, he could have done this many ways. I think one interesting approach would have been to focus on Rocky, his son, and the young champ, Mason Dixon. All three of these characters are fighting with opponents that come from within, and even though Rocky has learned this lesson before, he continues to struggle with it--even so, he has some wonderful insights to pass on to his boy and to his opponent, Dixon. We don't really need Pauley, Marie, Steps, or any of the other distractions--we don't even really need the memories of Adrian, although they could probably still be worked in. This approach would necessitate finding some skilled, capable actors to play the young Balboa and Dixon, and it would require time spent developing these characters into complex, round, dynamic characters. But that extra character development would have the potential to come together explosively and dramatically in the final fight sequence--we'd care much more about the fight if Dixon mattered as a human being (rather than just a generalized stereotype of a young, black, hip-hop athlete), and if Rock's son in the corner meant something real to us as the audience.
...anyway, it's just an idea.
If you're a Rocky fan, you virtually must see this movie. And if you just kinda like the Rocky series, you'll probably still enjoy the movie. But I can't help regretting that this movie could have been something great (which is more than I can say for 2, 3, 4,...), but it settled for being something not horrible.
The Painted Veil (2006)
Third world pestilence as the backdrop for domestic reconciliation
Painted Veil is not a bad movie. In fact, I enjoyed it quite a bit as I watched it, but all along I realized that it was offering very little new (yes, I understand that it's a remake of an earlier film, so perhaps new is not to be expected). Although the first reel or two offered some promise (provided you have enough stupid pills to induce belief in the massively improbably chance that Norton's character would ever submit to marrying Watts's character, or vice versa), as Ed Norton's character showed an unexpectedly venomous streak of hatred and vindictiveness. But for the final 2/3 of the movie, there was little in the way of surprises. I said there would be spoilers, but, even so, all I'll say here is that it can be no shocker to any audience member who's seen a movie before that the couple finds reconciliation in the wilderness and, yes, someone important dies. Cue the tragic ending music here.
Again, I sound more negative here than I feel. It's a pleasant enough movie. There is some gorgeous scenery--China is a beautiful and many-splendoured country. There are some rewarding moments. But, all in all, this seems to be one more movie in which the suffering of the "exotic" poor in some third world country serve as the backdrop for some white, Western couple to discover something about themselves, as if the entire world exists to facilitate the navel gazing of British and American people who struggle to "find themselves" at home. The filmmakers seem to realize this: there's a near-obligatory and very politically correct subplot about Western imperialism, which I applaud, as far as it goes, but it seems like too little, too late--a kind of apology for symbolically exploiting the country again! Needless to say, the movie is not about Western imperialism in China--it's about two people who should never have married finding some sort of common ground just before one of them dies, thus ending the marriage on a brief high note.
Hmmm...maybe I didn't like it that much after all. I'd better stop writing before I convince myself that this movie sucked.
Naomi Watts is pretty.
A Prairie Home Companion (2006)
All good things must end
This movie is much more an elegy than it is a narrative. There's really no plot or story. In fact, Altman is fairly aggressive in refusing to let narrative concerns dictate the movement of the film. This is not all that odd for Altman--this movie frequently reminded me of the superior 1977 film Nashville--but it was especially pronounced here, mainly because Altman employed a kind of MacGuffin plot device. As the movie opens, we're quickly informed that the independent owners of the theater where A Prairie Home Companion (APHC) is staged and broadcast have sold out to "a big radio company in Texas," which is hard not to see as Clear Channel. In fact, that night is expected to be the last night of APHC. We're also told that a corporate exec from the big radio company is arriving to oversee the shut-down of the theater. So, it seems utterly clear that this will be another re-making of that movie where the gutsy lifers in a dying institution convince the cold, calculating capitalist to change his mind and let the institution survive after they bring back his fond memories of childhood loss, right? Wrong. The actual movie diverges from this presumptive standard plot in countless ways. Perhaps the most troubling is Garrison Keillor's adamant refusal to get excited about the demise of his 30 year old radio program, even though this demise probably means he won't see many of his fellow performers ever again. He's not in denial--he believes that the show will end, but the prospect is anything but troubling to him. In fact, he seems, at times, relieved and at other times merely philosophic.
Meanwhile, subplots swirl and dissipate--a distant love affair between one of the singing Johnson Sisters and GK, a morbid Johnson daughter who is nevertheless super-excited to make her stage debut on the show, a befuddled and bumbling Guy Noir (a real man born from one of the recurring mini-dramas on the APHC radio show) wanders through the film like a confused thespian who's become detached from his Greek chorus-mates, and a strangely wooden and not-quite-fully radiant angel haunts the cast and crew bringing death and hope (sometimes at the same time) wherever she goes.
It's a somewhat disorienting potpourri, and I think it works, but I'm not entirely sure--there's just something unsatisfying about the movie as a whole. The film weighs in at well under 2 hours, and that might be part of the problem. It's a rare Altman movie that doesn't break the 2 hour barrier, and I think this one could have used an extra 30-60 minutes to deal more fully with promising messes that it made. As it turns out, I think it's safe to say that none of the subplots I mentioned in the previous paragraph get resolved. And the main decoy plot fizzles as well. But, I have a feeling that this was probably the intent of the filmmakers.
SPOILER coming up--don't read if you think you might see the movie. You can skip ahead to the last paragraph if you'd like. It'll be a safe one.
In the end, the theater and the show are not saved. That in itself is mildly surprising, but the movie reacts much as Keillor has been reacting all movie. It simply moves on, accepting the death of APHC as a matter of course, something that is inevitable and, like the death of an old man, something not to be mourned excessively. After the closing of the theater, we're shown a kind of epilogue, maybe a few years later, as the cast considers a reunion tour, but there's no sense that it will actually happen. Really, they seem satisfied sitting in the diner reminiscing over old times and re-telling corny jokes that just get better and better over the years.
The entire film seems designed to convey this sense of inevitable demise, of grief tinged with joy and warmth. As might be expected, I think the movie is a sort of response to the changing media landscape that threatens staples of media history, like radio theater. But, far from marshaling the troops to save their beloved old friend, the movie seems more interested in softening the blow that will surely come, in reminding us that all good things must end, and that death is part of life.
I liked this movie, even though, as I mentioned earlier, I sometimes longed to see more of its secondary intrigues and conflicts (and more Lily Tomlin, who gets a little eclipsed, I think, by Meryl Streep's strong performance). Also, as funny as Kevin Kline was as living fiction Guy Noir, I think his character and his performance were a little half-baked. The funniest, purely comic moments of the film came from Lefty and Dusty (John C. Reilly and Woody Harrelson), the cowboy comedian/musicians who bust out with one corny, off-color joke (and a few loud farts) after another. In all, I think this movie does a fine job capturing the "no there there" delightfulness of the radio show, and, despite some of my little disappointments (in fact, I think my disappointments were entirely in compliance with Altman's intentions--I don't think we're meant to get full satisfaction from the main narrative or the subplots; the only really satisfying things about this movie--and, perhaps, about life itself--are the small moments, the stories, the memories, the emotions, the people), it was an enjoyable film, and I think it is a beautiful, wistful invocation of the "glory days" of radio and the radio people who refuse to let them slip away: the cast and crew of A Prairie Home Companion...hopefully their demise is still years away!
Superman Returns (2006)
Spacey is tremendous!
First, a rant about 3-D movies. Let me say that I didn't mean to reserve tickets for a 3-D showing. I wanted to see Superman on the IMAX screen and didn't realize that the IMAX version was also a 3-D version. I find 3-D movie screenings really annoying. It makes sense that people in the 50s were into them because technology was so peachy-keen back then--people would try anything as long as it was new and cool. But high technology, to me at least, is a little more routine these days, so I want my high tech gadgets to have real impact. At the very least, the impact should far outweigh the inconvenience or sheer corniness. 3-D movies don't make the cut, as far as I'm concerned. Those disposable plastic glasses are uncomfortable--they cut into the bridge of my nose--plus, they don't fit well over my own glasses. Not only that but, hello, DISPOSABLE? In 2006, should we really be finding new plastic crap that we use for 2 hours and then dump in a landfill where they'll last for hundreds of years? Not the best use of precious petroleum, in my opinion. OK, so that's little picture suddenly becoming very big picture (no IMAX or 3-D puns intended). Also, there's something undeniably campy about 200 people all putting on their 3-D glasses at once when they see the little flashing signal on screen--which, I guess, could be either fun or annoying, or both. Add to that the fact that the 3-D effect made scenes with rapid action difficult to focus on, and you begin to see the problem. I would MUCH rather have seen the movie on a big huge screen with really loud surround sound. So, if given the option, DON'T see this film on 3-D--at least, that's my vote.
But do see the movie. Superman Returns is exactly that, the return of a movie franchise that's fun for the whole family. Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth are easy on the eyes, the special effects are quite good, and the Christian overtones are pretty overt and actually contribute just a little bit of moral heft to the picture, which I think I liked. Moreover, I think the movie avoided some of the production decisions that made the 1978 film age about 3 decades in 3 years.
But I've determined that there is a first rule for making a comic book superhero movie. Somewhere down the list of rules, there are commandments like: have good special effects, get a John Williams score or something like one, get a hunky but wholesome male lead, get a lovely female lead, include a dog, call the city something else but let everyone know that it's really New York (even if you film it in Canada or Australia or wherever), etc. But Rule #1 should be: do whatever it takes, pay whatever is required, but get a top-notch actor to play the villain (a corollary of this rule should be to have only one villain). No offense to Christopher Reeve, but the liveliest moments in the 1978 Superman were scenes starring Gene Hackman. The same goes for Superman Returns. Brandon Routh is fine, but at best he's an "everyman" and at worst he's a cipher--he looks good in the costume, and he doesn't suck at acting Super. But Kevin Spacey is the guy in the movie who can act, and act he does. Spacey's performance here, as in so many other movies, is worth the price of admission. He's coldly sadistic, satirically humorous, brilliantly jaded, and, as Lex Luthor must inevitably be, ultimately bungling. Plus, he looks pretty good with no hair.
I think we're in for more Superman movies. Let's hope the new franchise doesn't go the way of the Batman travesty. If the filmmakers remember the rules--especially Rule No. 1--they should be fine.
P.S. Just a side note. It's hard to complain about looking at Kate Bosworth on a really big screen for 2 and half hours. The filmmakers knew this, and they included plenty of close-ups of all the film's leads. But she's no Lois Lane. Lois should be pretty and all, but she needs to have an edge to her, and Bosworth is all soft curves--no edges in sight. I'm not sure who should have played Lane, and Bosworth doesn't ruin the movie or anything, but she's just not quite right.
horrifically disturbing movie
I watched Monster last night, and it's one of the very few movies that's ever stayed strongly with me this long after it was over. I had trouble sleeping because the movie's scenes kept playing through my mind, and then I woke up early and couldn't get back to sleep because I couldn't stop replaying the horrifically disturbing scenes of Aileen's life as a prostitute.
I guess I'll comment briefly on Charlize Theron's performance--everybody else has. It was good, but not as great as I've heard over the past couple years. Her facial make-up sometimes seemed like a mask that obscured her expressiveness, but then again, maybe she was playing it a little dead at times to show the numbness that Aileen sometimes must have felt. OK, I'm not sure this will come out right, but I'm just not really into the idea of a very attractive actress dressing down to play a rather non-attractive woman. In a way, and I don't mean to cheapen this by analogy, but it's kind of like blackface. Here we have Hollywood, where beautiful women get almost all the roles available, and out comes a movie with an amazing role that calls for a woman who's not the gorgeous Hollywood glamor type, and who gets the role? A gorgeous Hollywood glamor type. That's what I mean by the blackface comparison--it's a little like having a movie with roles for black actors and choosing instead to cast white actors with painted faces (although Theron's portrayal was not, in itself, derogatory, unlike blackface). It happens all the time--"need an Arab? cast a dark-skinned Italian." In Monster, it's, "need a woman whose life's pain has made its mark on her face and body? cast a woman whose face and body perfectly represent our nation's weirdly skewed ideal of beauty and then make her fatter and, pardon me, uglier." Just doesn't seem quite fair to me. Perhaps it has something to do with the Academy's penchant to give awards for this kind of role (think of Hilary Swank's role for Boys Don't Cry), and part of it probably also has to do with the fact that Theron was one of the film's producer.
Anyway, the film made me feel ill, and that's a good thing in this case. I have a lot of trouble believing that there are so many men who would hire prostitutes along the side of the road (or anywhere else for that matter). Or, rather, I don't want to believe it, but I guess it's sadly not hard to believe. Even more broadly, I think the film is another scathing indictment of a wealthy society that cares so little about its poor, particularly its poor children. I'm not so naively "liberal" as to agree that Aileen's character had no choice but to do what she did to survive, but I think it's painfully obvious that the choices available to her were fewer by many orders of magnitude than the choices available to me, or to people of the wealthiest groups in our nation. What can we do to open up more opportunities for the poor, and when will we do it? Good movie, although I hope I never see it again.