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I will forget this movie pretty soon.
Not a complete dud, and containing a couple of half-decent scenes (one involving a unicorn and another a wickedly sympathetic take on a certain politician), this nevertheless falls right into the "seriously uninspired" category. This is in part because of pointlessly gratuitous stuff aimed at kids who can only hope to sneak it by Mom and Dad ("bottomless party, my ass!") and wasted opportunities (why spend so much time on building Rob Cordry's consummate jerk character and then not bother to give him a truly spectacular demise? I mean, a really juicy possibility was right there, but he just drops out of the picture.) If you need to see this, wait until it's on the bargain rack (this will happen sooner than you expect, I think).
Possibly the best "music movie"
Describing this movie by using a genre is problematic, because if you use the phrase "musical" or "music video" there are a substantial number of people whose eyes will glaze over as they back away from you. But that is essentially what is being done here, in terms of technique: It takes the too-cramped promise of the self-contained "story" music video and unfolds it to a series of effortlessly connected segments that, on paper, would be called a "musical." The unfortunate baggage that accompanies both of those genres is why my favorite way to recommend this movie is "See it! See it! SEE IT!!!!"
"Once" avoids both Hollywood and Broadway while managing to capture something elemental and deeply moving about the art of creating real music, the understandable dangers that can erode the dreams of creative people and the sacrifices that may be required to keep yourself on the path you believe is right.
Black Snake Moan (2006)
Brewer understands the Blues
Okay, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that you really should lock up the kids, throw some beer in the pickup and try like hell to find a theater...no, a drive-in showing "Black Snake Moan," the second feature from the neo-Memphian who gave us "Hustle and Flow." What other movie in recent history takes outrageous clichés from 70's exploitation films and inverts them to produce a movie about redemption? What other movie can boast a good-hearted black man having everyday conversations with fellow-businessmen, a potential girl-friend or his preacher while the whole audience is chuckling to themselves "yeah, except he's got a half-naked white chick chained up in his living room!!!" What other movie has a scene played like a classic horror movie scene "Kid, whatever you do DON'T OPEN THAT DOOR!" except what is behind the door is a very different kind of terror.
But seriously, even with the over-the-top aspects of the movie (really not so "over" twenty minutes into it I was thinking "Gee, I used to live next door to that girl in Memphis"), this is really a movie about people who are about as real as can be: good-hearted, wanting to fix life's problems and above all, looking for love even as they are hurting, conflicted and offhandedly profane. Watching this immediately makes you compare it to other depictions of "Southern Culture" (Dukes of Hazzard anyone?) and the comparison is like eating shredded pork from a can all your life, then discovering the slow-cooked contents of a blackened smoker under the stars of a warm Memphis night.
The critics are all over the map on this one, and it seems like the more seriously one takes (or believes Craig Brewer takes) the surface trappings of the movie's genre, the less one likes it, while the more you see something both playful and deeper going on...well, check out the rather surprising review at HollywoodJesus for Pete's sake. This isn't an exploitation film, no matter what it looks like. What the movie really is about is the conjuring up of the spirit of the Blues, and there is a scene, a figurative raising from the musical dead amid a raging thunderstorm, that may well push you towards the nearest guitar shop as soon as the movie is over.
L'empire des loups (2005)
Above average action yarn with some nice twists
I was pleasantly surprised by this film and have also wondered about the negative reviews. The movie has two problems 1) a problem of perception: it starts off looking like a fairly routine mystery / police procedural, but elements of other kinds of movies begin to trickle in as the plot reveals itself -- which may have confused some reviewers wanting a pure genre piece, 2) the plot IS a little hard to follow in places and depends on one important coincidence in particular. However, the overall story makes sense in a "gestalty" kind of way and I don't think it's a killer issue. Oh, and 3) the English dub (which I turned on a couple of times) should be confiscated and burned. It's a fairly good dub in syncing the lips, but the voicing is as inappropriate as any bad dub of a Japanese film. For Pete's sake, hire a mimic next time you dub an actor as well-known as Reno.
But I take real issue with the critics who labeled as "ridiculous" this or that aspect of the film. People have given high marks to James Bond films that stretched belief far more painfully. The real issue is that the French filmmakers aren't telegraphing the genre to the viewers. Good for them.
Offsetting any problems is the wonderfully mysterious setup that ends in a real surprise about 40 minutes into the picture. That's the point when the picture shifts gears and we start seeing the "action/adventure" film which is quite well done.
Donnie Darko (2001)
A small masterpiece
It's easy to understand why this movie floundered at first: Something that works so well on so many different levels can leave marketers catatonic with fear. Is it about a technology "indistinguishable from magic," (Clarke) or psychotic delusions or drug-induced hallucinations? It manages to mix drama, humor, social commentary, horror and a Passion Play mysticism into a crucible that is filled to its brim. Although it has its own style and set of (many) themes, it falls into the same category as films like Memento and Pi, which stick in your mind and make your brain itch until you realize that you just need to see them again -- preferably with a few friends. Once just wasn't enough and the third viewing is often even more rewarding than the second.
Tattoo, a Love Story (2002)
Definitely one to pass on to a friend
(First, let me say that I think the folks who did not add a numeric rating have artificially depressed this film's score without realizing it. It would be nice if that could be fixed.)
This is a date movie, even if you don't have a date, because at its heart it is a tale about the kind of hope that arises when you stop, look at yourself and see the possibility of something new and better waiting to be let loose. It effortlessly captures a natural attraction between two people who hold the key to each other's soul, while defining the difference between manipulating, suffocating love and love that liberates. What's not to like about that?
Bon voyage (2003)
Gloriously old-fashioned entertainment with a serious sub-text
On its surface, this is one of the most classically entertaining action/comedy/romance films I've seen in a long time, reminding me of pleasurable old "Saturday-afternoon" movies that had just the right balance of unexpected twists, well-timed humor and integrated action. Beyond this, though, there is our knowledge of this film's context. It has the same elements of "Casablanca," but is set just before many of the characters would truly understand the seriousness of what was happening to their country (and the world) and the consequences of some of their own behavior. This adds a strong note of irony to the humor (we sense that one of the female characters has a radical change of hairstyle in her future). This is a film that you will not regret watching.
The Deviants (2004)
Soft-core porn without the core.
As much as we might welcome a film that deals with people who have different challenges in the area of romance, I cannot shake off the feeling that this movie was intended as a direct-to-video grade-C porn movie in which either A) the actors backed out of doing the explicit scenes or B) the producers ran out of money to hire for the inserts (an amazing thing if it were true).
I had to go back to Blockbuster to figure out why on earth I had rented it, which was due to an admittedly amateurish gullibility regarding the cover blurbs, which seemed to imply a seditious John Waters-style humor-fest with a sexual theme. Okay, I laughed a couple of times and it definitely has a sexual theme (although most of it can't be described as stimulating in any way). But, on some movies you might rewind to make sure you heard the dialog correctly--on this one, you fast-forward because you already know what they're about to say. But there's nothing to fast-forward to, so just fast-forward past it on the shelf.
Two-night rental, ha! I couldn't take it back quick enough.
Over several years of looking for half-decent films to rent for my kids, I've developed a sixth-sense for spotting the really cheesy, direct-to-video efforts that are really painful to sit through (for anyone over the age of eight). I dropped the ball on this one and the kids spent half the movie asking me "what did she say that for?" and "why did he do that?" and my eyes got sore from rolling them every minute or so as characters did a really bad job of introducing seemingly random plot changes. And the next time someone decides that having absolutely no skill with a sword is simply "bringing realism" to a film, please run them through with a dull butter knife. "Prehysteria!" was head and shoulders above this. Arrgh.