Reviews

8 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Cold Mountain (2003)
9/10
Beautiful and Sad
1 July 2006
Liking Jude Law has been elevated to the level of national pastime among my demographic. The last few movies I've seen him in, he was in his clever fop mode, and I started losing sight of why. In this movie, he was different. Spectacularly different. I never watched this movie when it came out, because I thought it was going to be sappy. It was not. The reason is Jude Law and his fierce, raw performance as the soldier dude who leaves the confederate army after coming back from the brink of death from a gunshot. He leaves to walk a thousand miles through a war zone, avoiding the home guard who want to put him back in the army. The reason he walks is Nicole Kidman, the awkward and beautiful belle he left back home in Cold Mountain, was being harassed by locals and starved by the war. She wrote him a letter telling him she needed him back.

It's rare when two actors can make love at first sight work on screen. These do.

Another reason I didn't watch it was that I have an irrational dislike for Renee Zellwegger and she got so much attention for her role, which I thought would be too precious. It was a little precious, but also was hilarious. In this very dark movie, which had me crying a bunch of times, it was a welcome bit of levity.

I'm glad I watched it finally. Wouldn't want to do it again soon, because of the wrenching sadness. In the ethos of this movie, there are more than two sides in a war, and none of them are good. The victims are the soldiers, the civilians, and everyone affected by the changed rules of war. "Hey, there's a war on," is an excuse for a lot of sick injustice, and that doesn't ever seem to change.
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6/10
It didn't melt me.
24 April 2006
The children liked it but they weren't riveted. That's the short of it. It wasn't a shocking disaster, but it was just a bit muddled. A little scattered. Fragmented. It failed to engage me.

But let's be positive. The writers wisely decided to vastly expand the role of Scrat the Squirrel in this version. Periodically we get to take a break from watching the mammoth, sloth, tiger, possums, and other mammoth walk very slowly along toward the vague "other end" of a vague "valley" to avoid a flood that is being caused by global warming. We get to step back from the grindingly uninspired mammoth love story and the other many subplots that go with the many characters. We get to watch a squirrel chase an acorn. And those sequences present some of the funniest bits in the film.

The rest of it is just kind of there. One problem is that there's really no reason for a sloth, a tiger, and a mammoth to be casting their lots together, except that they did in the first movie. That movie, I felt, had a storyline that involved actual characterization, growth, change, a real tension, etc. When the tiger almost fell off the cliff in Ice Age #1, I gasped. This time, I fidgeted. It just didn't seem real. And that's what I want from an animated movie about talking prehistoric animals -- REALNESS. No, but seriously, without some degree of actual jeopardy, of actual question of what will happen from scene to scene, without someone to root for and embrace -- it's just pointless.

The only character I was getting that for was the saber tooth squirrel. They could have saved a lot of money in celebrity voices.

Everyone had a subplot because they had to have something to do, so that was tidily arranged for them. But nobody's subplot had anything to do with the others'. And the global storyline about the flood was just a reason to walk... slowly. Slowly walk. And pester each other half-heartedly about how they were all going to die. Or not.

Like I said, the children didn't complain. I did laugh, many times, at the places I was supposed to. But it wasn't great.
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Red Herring with a Mystery Sauce
21 April 2006
It only took 24 hours, one Salon article, two conversations with smart thoughtful people, and twenty minutes of careful reflection on the way to the gym. I finally understand Mulholland Drive. Partially. Well mostly. Well sort of.

It's complicated.

The problem is that there are so many red herrings. And most of them are blue. In a complicated, non-linear, surreal type of movie you kind of expect that everything will be miraculously clarified, resolved, and tied back together in the end. I'm thinking of Memento, and Run Lola Run, and Go, and that episode of the Simpsons, for example. There's a certain expectation that no matter how weird it gets, it'll all be fine, because the director may dangle you over the edge, but he will definitely pull you back. With Mulholland Drive, you have no such assurance. All kinds of stuff is unexplained, and you're left with only a weak grasp of "what really happened." But don't sweat it. There's a whole lot of kinda robotic and predictable "girl love" scenes to console you.

There are also some familiar elements here. There's the sweet, innocent blonde character and the troubled, abused brunette with the very red lips. Kinda reminiscent of Isabella Rossellini and Laura Dern in Blue Velvet. There is also the soundtrack – very familiar and almost an instant hook-up to that feeling David Lynch movies give you that the bizarre and macabre are right behind the pretty flowers, the nondescript door, the next turn. There are unforgettable scenes here, and I'm sure if I went back through it, and tried to connect the dots, I'd find more scaffolding to help me understand. It's not really necessary though. Taken as an aggregate of its parts, rather than a sum, the movie is still rich and provocative. Nobody makes you feel like this – excited, confused, horrified, complicit, and satisfied – like David Lynch. At the end of the film, I'd rather be surprised and incited than have everything figured out.
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Corpse Bride (2005)
8/10
Perfect. A little too perfect.
19 April 2006
Corpse Bride was great, just like I thought it would be. In fact, it was exactly as I expected it to be -- which is good and bad.

I like Tim Burton and I like Johnny Depp, but I'm getting a little tired of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, together forever, true love always, etc. This time we have a Johnny Depp puppet. He is great, don't get me wrong, and I deeply understand the fixation, but... enough already. Note to Johnny Depp: More Finding Neverlands. More Pirates. Fewer deranged chocolate magnates. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a magnificent disaster.

Corpse Bride is neither a disaster nor a mess. In fact, it is lovely and charming, in exactly the way you would expect it to be -- no more and no less. The soundtrack is spot on, the visuals are haunting and exquisite, and the storyline is sweet. It did not blow me into next week like Nightmare Before Christmas did. However, this time I felt like I was in familiar territory, and when I saw "Nightmare" for the first time, I'd never seen anything like that before. Maybe if I'd seen this one first, I would have felt the same about it.

As for the love triangle between Emily Watson, Helena Boneham Carter, and Johnny Depp, I was definitely rooting for the Corpse Bride to win. The ending was tidy. The whole movie, in fact, was a little tidy. After the "Ahhhh cool!" moment of seeing how the real world was faded and the afterworld was saturated with color, I didn't see anything else in the movie to really charm me, apart from the usual Burton visuals.

I think that with the Legend of Sleep Hollow, Burton just lifted the bar so high that even he has trouble climbing over it any more. The one thing that did completely enthrall me was the fact that this is stop-motion animation. At the beginning of the film, I said to my husband, "It almost looks like stop-motion animation, but it couldn't possibly be. They must have used computers to kind of simulate it, for nostalgia purposes." No, it is really the genuine article. Which is stunning and beautiful. If you watch the "making of" featurette on the DVD, your teeth will fall out of your head with admiration for the effort that goes into this stuff. It is truly amazing.
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2/10
Cringe after Cringe
18 April 2006
This was billed as a comedy. It wasn't. Unless it's funny to watch miserable, irrevocably damaged people doing horrible things to each other, themselves, their children, and your own youthful idealism. For me, it was like getting poked in the eye with a pencil -- over and over. I kept standing there, expectant, hopeful, naive, thinking maybe I wouldn't get poked in the eye any more times, but inevitably it came -- the eye poke.

The movie is a long gauntlet of awkward situations, and unforgettably dreadful moments. There is no forgiveness, no redemption, no hope -- there is only wound heaped upon scar, from parent to child and back again, and from spouse to spouse -- kind of like the tennis that is a motif in the film. If you feel the need to cringe, here is your opportunity. I don't think my shoulders relaxed once throughout the movie, although their were many times when I stopped cringing with horror in order to clutch my mouth and say, "He did NOT just do/say that." I am not a person who needs things to be all joyful or demands the happy ending. I have never said, nor will I ever say, "Can't we all just get along?" However, tomorrow is my ninth wedding anniversary, and this movie makes marriage, parenthood, or really any relationship at all with another person just seem like a toxic prison, from which there is no escape but nihilism. NEAT! Happy anniversary to me!! For what it's worth, I also predicted everything that happened in the film as we went through it, including the development of the motif in the title. It was predictable in the wide view, but as for the many little barbs and spears that are thrown along the way -- unless you're as bloodless and depraved as the characters in the movie, you'll never see them coming.

I think, as a side note, this is the best acting Jeff Daniels has ever done. Pity it's in such a bamboo-shoots-under-the-fingernails of a movie.
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7/10
Still at a Distance
11 April 2006
Henry Darger was a janitor. He lived in one room. He cleaned a Catholic hospital for fifty years, and then died with a 15,000 page manuscript and yards and yards of artwork, unknown and unpublished, in his room. You can find out more about Henry Darger and his life work, chronicling the adventures of "The Vivian Girls" at the Henry Darger entry on Wikipedia.

"In the Realms of the Unreal" is a documentary about his life. The narrative comes through a few different sources: There are interviews with those who knew of Darger in his last days, including the landlords who discovered his work. There is an old man's voice reading Darger's autobiography. There are pieces of Darger's novel. Then there is a narrator who is about 5 years old, providing a little summary and connectivity now and then. The visuals behind the readings are sometimes photos of relevant locations, like the state farm where Darger spent his late childhood, or the hospital where he worked most of his life. Sometimes they are stills or animations of Darger's artwork.

The life of Henry Darger is fascinating. It's especially intriguing to think that there are people around us who are silently, secretly living these incredibly rich and complicated internal lives. It's sad that Darger was never "discovered," but even that sadness is complicated. I'm not sure what the world would have done with him, had we known what he was about. His was not the type of art that's comfortable to package and sell. Hard to contemplate a lonely old man drawing pictures of naked children, unless you put it in the context of his whole life. Not easy to reduce to a few key words.

The movie was kind of distancing. I came away knowing more about Darger but I felt unsatisfied somehow, like some primary source had been held back, like everything had been too filtered, too disjointed. Maybe it just goes with the subject matter -- Darger was a recluse, not open to interpretation or summary. The most meaningful parts to me were the pieces read from his autobiography. It was surprisingly kind, chatty, a bit apologetic, and patient. No bitterness. No angst. Isn't that strange.
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Galapagos (1999)
8/10
Heavy on the Ocean
7 April 2006
Before we watched this movie, we did a mini-unit on the Galapagos Islands. I'm homeschooling my six-year-old and two-year-old, and so our botanical and zoological studies didn't get much past "This is a Cormorant" and "Look, the cacti look like trees," and a vague understanding of natural selection. My son knows the name Charles Darwin, but does he know he lived 150 years ago? Probably not.

In spite of their young age and their tenuous grasp on the subject matter, this movie commanded the attention of both children, immediately. The storyline follows a young marine biologist as she investigates the various features -- and animals and plants -- of the archipelago. My son went running for paper to make sketches of what he was seeing, copying what she was doing. The narrative, read by the scientist herself, was very engaging, simple, and kind of sweet. A little too much on the "this magical place" for me, but for the little 'uns, you know, they like that "magical place" talk. They had fun at Disney World tool. That's just the kind of kids they are.

ANYWAY, it was a GOOD movie, and it afforded me a very warm happy feeling, when my little kids were jumping up and down watching a documentary, yelling, "MARINE IGUANA! MARINE IGUANA!" It got a little detached from the Galapagos Islands themselves (no blue-footed booby, darn) and more into the under the sea stuff. There were a few too many shots of many schools of fish, and scuba bubbles, which were probably great in an IMAX theater -- not that great on a small screen.

All in all, though, it was very satisfying. I could have used more land iguanas eating cacti with the spines and all, but the kids liked it. And that's something. They especially enjoyed the part where the scientist went down 3000 feet and used a vacuum to suck specimens up off the ocean floor. That was, I must admit, pretty sweet.
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The Village (2004)
10/10
Fantastic Experience
3 April 2006
This movie is fantastic. Completely smart, very scary, beautifully shot. Gorgeous on every level. It's the kind of movie I wish I hadn't seen, so I could see it again for the first time. I liked it better than all of M. Night Shamalayanadahan's movies put together, including The Sixth Sense counted twice. Husband and I kept looking at each other and saying, "This movie is so cool." And when it was over, we watched *all* the bonus features, including a ten minute thing on, like, EDITING it or something. We haven't responded to a movie like this since... maybe _Sleepy Hollow_.

It got *awful* reviews.

I think that when the movie came out (I didn't notice, I had a new baby) there was a lot of hype surrounding the plot twists. Kind of like Sixth Sense, where there's this huge thing at the end. So people were too focused on that, and analyzed the whole movie through that filter. We were fortunate enough NOT to know that, or read any reviews, or hear any hype before watching it. Yah, there are twists. But who cares? If you haven't seen it, don't think about any of the media surrounding it, if you can. Just watch it, and don't anticipate anything while you watch. I know, that's impossible.

I cannot express how much I liked this movie. It was... totally perfect. Every moment considered. Every line important, everything in every shot adding value, nothing wasted. A masterpiece.
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