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Gardens of the Night (2008)
A little masterpiece
Relentlessly raw, authentic and sad: I hope that description doesn't drive you away because it is also brilliantly directed and intensely human, and there is a loving relationship at the center that lights it all up like the sun. A scene in an arcade where the two main characters are doing Dance Dance Revolution together had me weeping. Catch this one, however you can.
IMDb says I have to add more lines so I'll say that the casting is as good as casting gets -- one character after another is blazingly real. And the cameo by Malkovich does not feel like a gimmick: he's a genius, and therefore always welcome.
Children of Men (2006)
One Big Question
Okay there's a big spoiler coming so if you don't want to know what happens stop right here.
I just have one question for the brilliant but sometimes muddled artists who made this movie: Why didn't Kee nurse the baby? What mother, no matter how unschooled in mothering, wouldn't put the baby to her breast? Wouldn't the earth-mother gypsy lady have told her to do that? Wouldn't Theo, who had a child of his own 20 years ago, have told her to do that? First of all, nursing would have quieted the baby's cries. Second of all, without nourishment that baby would have been very sick--or even dead--from dehydration and lack of nourishment well before the story ended. Third of all, the mother's breasts would have been so painful from the pressure of the milk--I think it's called engorgement--that she would have been screaming herself. To me, this highlights the problem with the movie, which is the victory of concept and idea over actual living moments. Which is not to say I won't keep going to see every movie Alfonso Cuaron ever directs.
But just tell me, Alfonso: did it not once cross your mind to have her nurse the baby?
United 93 (2006)
Why did they slander Christian Adams, the German passenger?
Imagine that you are the family of Christian Adams, the German wine merchant who died on Flight 93 on 9/11. You go to see the movie, bracing yourself for what you know will be a harrowing, painful experience. And what do you see? You see your loved one portrayed--based on no research whatsoever--as a collaborator and traitor to the passenger rebellion. This is inexcusable, chauvinistic and insensitive. Why, I would also ask, are all those passengers sobbing on their phone calls when in fact the reports are that they were calm? The truth would have been more moving. All of that said, the movie is powerful and I was sobbing hard at the end, and all other contenders for Oscar for best editing should not bother renting tuxes. Still: the film would have been ever better without the unnecessary creation of a villain among the passengers. Did Mr. Greengrass not think that the hijackers were villain enough?
Match Point (2005)
When does homage become ripoff?
***SPOILER ALERT*** Theodore Dreiser's estate, as well as the screenwriters of A Place in the Sun, should be clamoring for credit and dough. Radio Days was a love letter to Amarcord but it didn't rip it off point for point, beat for beat. I sat there in the theater saying: in the next scene the Shelley Winters character will tell the Montgomery Clift character that she is pregnant... in the next scene the father in law will offer the Montgomery Clift character a spectacular business opportunity... in the next scene, while happily at home with the Elizabeth Taylor character, the Montgomery Clift character will (gasp!) get a call from the police. And having read most if not all of Patricia Highsmith's books, I also knew pretty well how it was going to end. When in an early scene the main character was reading Crime and Punishment I even knew that somehow, one way or another, he was going to kill an old lady in her apartment. And yet... and yet... why five stars? Because over this overcooked oft-eaten meal Woody Allen lays one dazzlingly rich precise detail of life and character after another. One brilliant example--the wealthy parents of a newborn are never ever seen with their baby, because unseen nannies are always caring for it. And in the final scene, when a new baby comes home, the parents don't go anywhere near touching it--the nanny carries it and they coo at it from a distance. Brilliant. Woody, you are a greater director than George Stevens! You don't have to eat his leftovers!
Every master trips once in a while
Fellini had And The Ship Sails On. Hitchcock had Frenzy. Spielberg has Always. I'm sorry but dumping big vats of red stuff on forest fires, practice ones or real ones, does not dramatically equal dropping bombs on Nazi enemies. The vaguely 40's-esque dialog and attitude throughout don't help. Even the performances aren't tip-top: they all seem to know they're in a movie--you can feel the craft service table just outside the frame. But it's Spielberg, which means there's a restless and brilliant imagination at work in every shot, so if you go in knowing the great man dropped the ball on this one, there will be something here to enjoy. And then you can rent Saving Private Ryan or Amistad (underrated and masterful) and get back on the boat.
King Kong (2005)
Can the culture please retire this legend now? It's based on a story that's three sentences long and it's crazy to make a movie which spends over an hour on each sentence. Dinosaur after dinosaur, yucky bug after yucky bug, awesome shot of New York City 1931 after awesome shot of New York City 1931, tiresome crack from Jack Black after tiresome crack from Jack Black. And yet piece by piece a magnificent piece of work--truly breathtaking kinetics of man, woman, monkey and computer--but in the service of what? I did, however, form a whole new intimate relationship with the face of my watch, and worked out the cooking logistics for a party my wife and I are giving on Christmas day, and...
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Why can't I stop reliving this movie?
It's been three days now and this Brokeback Brain-flu shows no sign of letting up. I've tried watching other movies, going out with friends, reading, working, but nothing works: not unlike Jack and Ennis, I'm stuck on Brokeback Mountain. Why am I awash in an aching flood of longing? That wasn't my life at all up there on that screen--I haven't lived a life of regret and lost chances. When I was twenty, thirty two years ago, I spent a magic summer with a girl I fell in love with the second I saw her--and we've been together ever since. We're surrounded by our almost grown children, we have careers we love, we're still discovering things about each other and forging all kinds of new paths in our lives. So why the aching and the longing and the sweet-sad regret that took hold of me the second I heard the first strains of Santaolalla's awesome score and haven't yet let go? Is it that the themes of pain so powerfully explored in this great work of art go deeper than the satisfactions and achievements of any one life? Is it that the movie says something eternally true about how alone we remain no matter what arms may hold us? Looking back, the last time I walked around in a movie for days and days after seeing it was The Last Picture Show, over thirty years ago. . So maybe it's about the magic combination of Larry McMurtry and Randy Quaid. Whatever it is, this movie is now up there with The Godfather, Citizen Kane, Wild Strawberries, The Last Picture Show, etc. I was beginning to think I'd never again see a movie that I would consider calling the best movie I ever saw in my life. But I have. Thank you, Mr. Lee and Ms. Proulx.
It's an uncomfortable feeling, watching talented actors (the awesome Barry Shabaka and others) and writers (John Ridley, the man who wrote the awesome Three Kings) strain and strain for a joke and never entirely land one. Dismayingly two-dimensional characters, tired routines (guy coaching guy about how to talk sexy to a girl, somebody walks in and thinks it's a romantic/sexual moment between the guys, ha ha ha), strained plotting--something about a woman being hounded by a broadly drawn completely non-real anti-abortion activist and a broadly drawn completely non-real pro-choice activist--an old fashioned nudge-nudge wink-wink attitude to sex--a ridiculously caricatured would-be politician with a fake expensive watch--all adding up to a mish-mosh of wannabe. Where will it all go? Will the innate talent of all these players make it work as the series progresses? Will this be the old quality-challenged Showtime or the new?
Little Showtime, Happy at Last
This show is as good as it gets. As in, Six Feet Under good, without being any kind of clone: it's its own magical world, of which there will be many future clones, but nothing will ever come close to this for wit, emotion, pacing, or perfection of casting. This show says This Is Us like nothing I've seen in a long time. Showtime has done some good shows, and they've been getting better (after decades of astonishingly lazy creative thinking) but in Weeds the we-try-harder network finally has a true destination series. For one thing, Mary Louise Parker, who is always brilliant, here manages to pull it off with none of the mannerisms that have colored some of her lesser roles: she is luminescent and true in every moment. And the kids? And the son's girlfriend? You get this weird feeling there was no camera around--there couldn't have been for people to come off this completely real. Bravo bravo bravo! Can't wait to see episode 2.
War of the Worlds (2005)
Okay so you escape from your rundown low-rent home with a few meager groceries in a box and you get to a way upscale house in the suburbs with every pot, pan and kitchen device known to man, every piece of furniture and home decor placed as if by the hand of God, and you get all upset at the person who only brought the meager groceries, and then you start making peanut butter on untoasted bread and spreading it with a wooden spoon because you don't have a knife, and since somebody in the scene is allergic to peanut butter, well, that's the end of it, you're all just going to go hungry. But wait: didn't it occur to the brilliant writer, producers and directors who made this movie that the kitchen in which these people are standing would be stocked to the rafters with every kind of bread, spread and condiment known to man? That the drawers would be packed with every spreading utensil ever invented? Didn't they remember that two of the people in the scene not only live in this fancy house but were there a few hours ago and would know where every package of cream cheese, loaf of whole wheat bread and bottle of cranberry juice would be stored? That's just one scene in this inexplicably dull and meandering mess. The rest of the movie? Don't get me started.