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The Strangers (2008)
Is there an adjective that describes worse than "terrible?" Feel free to use it.
Let me start by saying that I like scary movies...but to be effectively scary, a movie has to follow some coherent internal logic. This one doesn't. Characters in a good scary movie ought to behave--at least initially--as though their brains were functioning. These characters don't. There's nothing wrong with gore and brutality--assuming they're used for some reason. No rhyme or reason here. A group of masked kids terrorize a young couple who, as the film unwinds, behave inexplicably--leaving each other alone at moments where it makes no sense to do so, failing to make use of potential weapons at their disposal until it is, conveniently, too late for the weapons to do any good. Why does all this happen? Who knows? Who cares? Fairness compels me to point out that most of the audience--almost exclusively between the ages of 13 and 15 (which should have tipped us off) spend the entire length of the movie screaming constantly, which, I imagine, was why they'd come. To suggest that this film deserves remotely to be compared with films like "Psycho," "Silence of the Lambs," or "Alien"...well, I'm at a loss for words that aren't too tasteless for this forum. What a criminal waste of celluloid.
The Sopranos (1999)
Loved it when it was new---Love it even more seeing it all again
We've been renting the DVDs of "The Sopranos" and watching the entire series for the second time. Originally, we became ardent fans after the first couple of episodes and stayed with it throughout. There were occasional periods when the show declined slightly in quality, it seemed- but only compared to the incredibly high standard it had set for itself. Every aspect of the show--writing , direction, casting, acting, choice of music (Only maybe Kubrick was better at choosing appropriate pre-existing background music)--you name it. Now, watching it all at the rate of about 3-4 episodes per week, and in the light of knowing how everything turns out--my admiration for the show has grown. It is, in a word, brilliant. The way in which characters develop (please note that I don't say "grow") is remarkable. (SPOILER) And I especially LOVE the way in which Chase has used viewer expectations for TV series or movies with respect to wanting closure and/or a sense that characters HAVE grown and matured in some way to amaze us at the end---because in the last analysis--none of the central family "grows" or matures or has any kind of epiphany whatever. Everything just keeps on, status quo ante. Of course some characters die or are killed or whatever...but the Soprano clan remains pretty much as it began. Television simply has never been better than this. Some adaptations on TV have managed to live up to its source material, but in the realm of original creations--this is the pinnacle, as far as I am aware. And DON'T bother with the bowdlerized version currently on view--watch the original, with every 4-letter word intact.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
This stunning, masterful film has a lasting impact.
Thirty seconds into this film, I was hooked. The stark opening sequence, coupled with the remarkable music, generated a level of tension that became electric, and never really let up. As a study of a certain kind of human nature, and certain all too human characteristics, it would be hard to conceive of a more potent blend of components: writing, cinematography, and--above all--virtuosic acting. While the cast as a whole was wonderfully effective, the work of Daniel Day-Lewis simply towers over anything I've seen on any screen for quite some time. I like to think I have a large store of descriptive language at my disposal but, i this instance, I feel somewhat stumped: volcanic (in places), nuanced (where nuance is needed), and always showing great care in the choices made, Day-Lewis, who is seldom off-screen, simply overwhelmed me. (HERE COMES A SPOILER) The final climactic sequence, coming at a point when it didn't seem that DDL could possibly have anything in reserve, was both hypnotic and horrifying. Happily, while I had felt that DDL simply blew Leonardo DiCaprio away in Gangs of New York, in this film he was superbly supported by everyone. Yes it was not fast-paced, but what of that? It was relentless and infinitely absorbing. It deserves at east a couple of Oscars if these awards have any significance at all--and this in a year when there was some very fine competition. I expect that this is a film that will stand among the very best of the coming decade. I look forward to seeing it again once I've had a chance to catch my breath. This movie shows how effective a motion picture can be as a synergistic work of art. DON'T miss this one.
El laberinto del fauno (2006)
if stomach-turning violence won't turn you off--this is one to see--sui generis
I don't think this extraordinary film alternates fantasy and reality. Seems to me, it alternates two kinds of fantasy: the haunting and evocative world of fairies and fauns on the one hand, and a world of naturalistic but utterly unredeemed villainy vs. unqualified heroism and nobility--a world that, even though seemingly more real, comes off as rather two-dimensional, though no less effective. Both worlds have horrific, even upsetting, elements, so those with delicate sensibilities should be prepared for uncompromised ugliness on occasion. For some this is probably a deal-breaker. This was a stunningly successful realization of an evocative, often deeply disturbing cosmos. I gather some found it slow or boring, but I was absorbed throughout and think it ranks right up there with Coctaeu's "Beauty and the Beast" as a cinematic expression of imagination. The acting, design, direction, cinematography, music--all the elements came together brilliantly. But DON'T see this if your stomach is very easily turned. By the way--I trust that no fairies were harmed in the making of this movie.
a truly self-indulgent and self-aggrandizing waste of time
I saw this film when it came out. Let me see now--this guy who had earlier skied down Mount Fuji manages to accumulate the funding and hire personnel to document what sounds on the surface like a bold and daring act---to ski down the world's highest peak. Well--AND HERE COMES THE SPOILER--what happens, see, after a large crew of people manage to help him get near the top--and a life is lost in the bargain--he gets on his skis, manages to make it down a very very short way, at which point his PARACHUTE OPENS...and that's that. And instead of burning the footage to hide this amazingly anticlimactic ending to an embarrassing debacle, the guy goes ahead and releases it. SPOILER ENDS I do admire the amazing courage and effort it must have taken the film crew to get some of the stunning shots they got. ANOTHER SPOILER--Oh yes, one of the Sherpas is killed by falling into a crevasse. The narrator, who is quoting the "daredevil skier, casually remarks that, according to the Sherpa religion, since this man's body cannot be recovered his soul will roam the world forever and never know rest. Is it worth it, the narrator muses. YES he answers--because it served the purpose of letting this clown "ski down Everest." I can't remember ever seeing a more meretricious piece of celluloid. This is one to miss at all costs.
A Prairie Home Companion (2006)
Altman is a national treasure and Keillor is sui generis.
I'm a fan of Prairie Home Companion on radio--with some reservations--and I imagine that the show's devotees will be more likely to enjoy this quirky, gentle film more than those who loathe Keillor--and they're out there, too. However, this movie isn't simply a cinematic extension of the radio show. Arthur Miller said that "After the Fall" was about a woman who, if she existed, would be like Marilyn Monroe, but she doesn't. Similarly, APHC is about a radio show which, if it existed, would be like PHC--but it doesn't. The movie does display the familiar Altman trademarks: a huge and talented cast at their best;a tangle of story lines that, somehow, more or less resolve; a consistency of mood and wonderful blend of comic, tragic, and touching elements. Keillor is a unique phenomenon and doesn't exactly play himself in the movie--though I doubt he can really play anyone else, either. No, his character is called "GK," which allows him to do what he always does, SPOILER BEGINS while having a romantic history, an affair gone bad, with the Meryl Streep character. He does no monologue (alas) but this is somewhat made up for by the running thread of variations of "how I first got into radio," which are gems. END SPOILER The high quality of the acting is to be expected, given the actors involved, but the quality of the singing did come as something of a surprise; Tomlin and Streep, Harrelson and Reilly, and Lindsay Lohan do wonders. So, of course, do the usual PHC musical regulars--including Keillor. SPOILER I appreciated the nice plot touch that, even though the dreaded Axman--Tommy Lee Jones--is done away with before he can carry out the radio show's execution, the show is killed off anyway. No deus ex machina here. The coda, where some of the cast reunite in the coffee shop is a lovely way to end the film, with the enigmatic reappearance of the Dangerous Woman--or Angel of Death, perhaps. Who has she come for? Or then again, maybe she's just dropped by for a chat. END SPOILER As soon as we got home from this film, we ordered the sound track album, and expect to play it to death. Unless you don't like Altman and have no use for Keillor, this is one to see and cherish.
The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Better than the book in that the dreadful writing style isn't a factor
I read the book and thought that the central idea was very clever, but the writing left a whole lot to be desired. To put my reaction into context, I'm not Roman Catholic, or religious in any organized sense. I can see why some practicing Catholics might find this central idea offensive. Considering the movie solely as entertainment, I thought it was a pretty good, if slightly slow and ponderous entertainment. Tom Hanks is an actor I almost always admire; here he seemed to express his seriousness as a character and the gravity of the story by wearing a perpetual frown that wrinkled up his face. No, there's no chemistry between Hanks and the female lead--but under the circumstances, even a suggestion of libido might be inappropriate. Ian McKellan is his usual wonderful self and I didn't think anyone in the cast was less than competent. I figure those people who regard the suggestion that Christ was a man and subject to manly impulses ought to stay away and not expose themselves to this outrage. That's what happened in the case of Mel Gibson's "Passion" film: a lot of people simply avoided it lest their sensibilities be bruised. As for those organizations who have fulminated against the movie and urged that it be embargoed--they've almost certainly done the Box Office a huge favor. Although, what with all the ancillary Da Vinci stuff on the market (the Da Vinci Code DIET??? really!) the Box Office probably needed no outside stimulation. I'd save this one for a weekend when the pickings are otherwise pretty slim.
Art School Confidential (2006)
funny moments and great cast aren't necessarily enough
After seeing the trailer and noting the high-octane names in the cast, I went to this with the bar set fairly high--maybe that was part of the problem. True, there are worthy performances and some amusing touches, but the plot is all over the place and the, um, message--there's a lot of shucking and jiving in the art world--is made early on, then driven home hard, then pounded mercilessly, and finally bludgeoned into a bloody unrecognizable pulp--and it wasn't all that perceptive in the first place. Terry Zwigoff has done better. I did think John Malkovich delivered, as did Jim Broadbent. But there is, alas, less here than meets the eye.
A Cock and Bull Story (2005)
It's one long quirk and a very funny one, too.
Judging from the comments I read, this movie seems to inspire either extravagant praise or loathing--and, somewhat to my surprise, some of the loathers are British. Okay, count me among the fervent admirers. For me this film worked in several ways: as inspired lunacy, as pointed satire on the hangups of people in the industry, and even--here and there--as a nice representation of some of the book's more comprehensible bits. If you've read the book, tried and failed to read the book, or never opened the book or even heard of it, I think this movie is worth a shot. (SPOILER)I loved the use of music here, especially the extensive quotes from Nino Rota's score for "81/2". It's very apropos; the film is a sort of "81/2" without the angst. I hope it does well at the box office, even though I have my doubts. It certainly deserves to make some money.
Zazie dans le métro (1960)
When it came out it created its own lunatic genre.
I saw "Zazie" in Paris in 1962, and my French at that time was rudimentary. Nevertheless, for sheer manic energy, wonderful visual comedy, and performances that transcended the language barrier, I loved it. I've seen it since and still love it. Among its other virtues for me, this film introduced me to the marvelous actor Philippe Noiret. Malle proved to be a director with virtually unlimited range with respect to style and mood. Consider some of his other fine films: "Lacombe, Lucien," "Atlantic City," "Murmur of the Heart," and "My Dinner with Andre," to name only a few. I guess what Richard Lester did with the Beatles might be close to this when it comes to sheer antic charm, but I think "Zazie"still stands alone. Unless you have zero tolerance for whimsy and insist on Deep Meaning in your movies, I think that you're likely to enjoy this one...if you can find it.