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Desolation Angels (1995)
Well-intentioned but mediocre
I am astonished (and a little outraged) at the critical raves this unexceptional film has garnered.
The film is long and boring, frankly. The primary characters are somewhat generic and angsty. Much of the action feels naturalistic but also unfocused and improvised in a way that recalls the worst of the mumblecore films -- I primarily recall an interminable scene of the protagonist yelling and pounding on his nemesis' door over and over (with the nemesis never opening it, aka nothing happens). Both my GF and I anticipated the twist that happens with the protagonist's primary revenge scheme. It's terribly one-note: the entire movie centers around one conflict, with the no other threads, themes, or subplots to speak of. And the characters and their plights never seemed really compelling.
It is a debut film, and from '95. I do appreciate the tone of semi- realism and the strength of conviction in a lot of the acting. There's also a nihilistic approach that shows narrative maturity, although the ending really isn't anything to write Shakespeare about. It has a lot of the components of a good film.
Overall, I wish I'd skipped it. It's an admirable achievement esp to have completed this movie without digital tools, but movies of this caliber are commonplace today. It is far from "blazingly provocative" (Rolling Stone) and "a drama of extraordinary power" (Chicago Tribune). To see such raves lavished on this film only emphasizes the subjective nature of these critics and the way good movies (especially foreign ones) are ignored.
Funny Ha Ha (2002)
the joke's on us
This seemed to be just the kind of movie I enjoy, but turned out to be a shell of the same.
The director gets some things right, like his choice of star and some of the scene pacing. Dialog and character interactions breathe properly; they're languid and yet vaporous, as some other reviewers have said.
Too bad they all come to nothing. Marnie's a vacuous amalgam, not a character; she's the camera, not a human being. Encounters and relationships don't build through sequence or consequence; almost nothing happens that informs or affects a subsequent scene. Through her, we see the other characters, who are almost universally portrayed by much lesser actors. There's no character arc; the script feels self-indulgent and ultimately trivial. The entire movie is Marnie amused, Marnie bemused, Marnie bored... audience bored.
Bujalski had the pieces to make a remarkable film, but instead he never got the transmission out of neutral.
El camino de mi destino (2004)
we showed this at our film series in Austin, and it was a stunner. if you get a chance, see it... very cinematic and some very smart audio and camera work.
here's our description: "In this astonishing short documentary by UT's Gabriela Yepes, we follow Maruja, a twelve-year-old kid who lives in the poorest, most violent, and populous district in Peru, San Juan de Lurigancho. Futureless and yet hopeful, Maruja sells candies in Lima, supporting his two elder brothers, his three-year-old little brother and his thirty-six-year-old mother. At night, he and his friends fight ceaseless turf wars against other loose gangs of kids in some of the most gripping war reportage we've seen all year."
Huo yuanjia (2006)
Trite, shallow film partially redeemed by some OK action
I'm pretty sure IMDb has been spammed on this film by some marketing flacks... especially if you read the hyperbole oozing from other comments.
This is a sad finale for one of my favorite action stars, and the dynamic central figure of the mindblowing "Fist of Legend." See that instead and avoid this treacly, moralistic, and horribly-acted film. There were certainly some good fights, but the action is a bit cartoonish. In combination with the dreadful acting (Jet's OK, but the kids made me want to tear my eyes from their sockets), the action gets trivialized by the lack of emotional weight. I mean, I enjoyed the action, and some of the moves had us "oohing and aahing," but the fight pacing, the emotion, the tension ... generally subpar. Jet can do SO much better with a decent script and situation.
Also, the fights take second fiddle to the crappy plot and each tends to be on the short side. There are only two longer fights and in one of them, one of the combatants is at a serious unfair disadvantage (can't tell you more than that).
There are some pretty scenes, but it felt like an update of a bad chopsocky film from the '60s, not an original work.
In short, I really wish I'd rather seen something else. Avoid.
The Chipotle Diamonds (2005)
memorable indie feature
we screened this feature at our movie series, and we have no regrets! this picture is ambitious and well-crafted. the director has experience as cameraman and assistant director on major Hollywood pictures, so although it's very low-budget, there are some real standout shots and nothing amateurish.
it's a kind of "mistaken identity" crime movie, but with its own flair and a touch of the supernatural.
great writing, thoughtful, surprising, and funny. Stand-out performances by the two stars. if you get a chance, see it! I think the restaurant in the movie (Nueva Onda) sells them for $10, if you happen to be in Austin.
Roam Sweet Home (1996)
Not sure why this isn't rated higher! A funny yet contemplative piece about Americana, freedom, and the open road. Mostly focuses on eccentric retirees who live in Airstream trailers, having left "normal" lives behind.
The piece is "narrated" by Spiro's dog, Sam. This would be hokey in other hands, but the words match the images well, and they are quite poetic and thought-provoking.
At times the pace lags a little, but not much, and given the subject matter and the gentle soundtrack, making a lot of that is only quibbling.
Apparently the piece was aired on PBS... worth watching.
turgid, sexist, self-indulgent, and boring
Travesties like this give indie film a bad name.
Jagblom had his cast improvise most of the material, with a rough scripted story structure. Sometimes this works; here, it's a dismal failure.
The riffing about weight gets old fast, and is laughably preposterous to anyone who isn't an LA actress (i.e., most of his cast). Jagblom's "woman-sensitive" directing is almost immediately exposed as lecherous posturing, as his beautiful star is trotted out topless for no reason within the first 15 mins. Nice rack, Henry, but what about the movie?!?
Worst of all, it's just horribly boring. None of the characters seem worth following, and the film does a terrible job focusing on a few so you can get a toehold on some drama. For comparison, I enjoy female-friendly films like "Mystic Pizza," "Moonstruck" and "Clueless." I love foreign films. I would've walked out on "Eating", but sadly it was a rental.
Central conflict? Woman vs. pastry. Cinematography? Bland and undistinguished. Best use for Eating? Doorstop.
Pearl Harbor (2001)
stinker of the summer... and long too
paper-thin characters, plot alternately silly and cookie-cutter, narcisistic slow-mos, ridiculous closeups, jittery action... the effects are ok but not worth 3 hours!
did I mention the jingoism? the weepy tie-a-yellow-ribbon sentimentality? the laughable speeches about American heroism?
avoid avoid avoid avoid!