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Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2008)
Even if you don't like metal, you will like it
This was probably the funniest movie I've seen all year and also one of the most poignant. The director could have really taken the pi&$# out of these guys and made us laugh at them, and I thought that that's what the movie was going to be about, but it wasn't. It's about two guys who never stopped following their dream and if that sounds corny, well, somehow it works.
I did laugh, hilariously at times, (The manager spelling the name of the town they are in in Sweden with her bad English was a classic) but I also really felt for these guys and wanted them to succeed....even as I realized that they were a bit delusional for keeping on the same path for 30+ years, I also had to admire their tenacity and passion.
I highly recommend this human, funny film.
Should have been great but not so much.
Was just okay. What an amazing cast. What a potentially great story of a caper gone wrong.
I think part of it was the writing...I'm all for a non-linear approach but the way they did it it kept repeating segments, and not from a different enough perspective that it was interesting.
Another part was just the relentless humorlessness of it...every great tragedy has humor and every great comedy has tragedy. Don't believe me? Think of the toilet scene in Pulp Fiction.
The sound mixer should have been shot. The music was way too loud, dramatic and repetitive, and it muddied the dialogue a bit.
Okay yes you get to see Marissa Tomei naked and that's very nice and a great bunch of actors (Amy Ryan! Albert Finney!) ...but I had the sensation of being in a car with a bunch of people where I'm the only one who sees the imminent car crash and keep shouting and nobody's listening. And no, that's not a metaphor for the plot of the film itself, just the experience of watching it.
La môme (2007)
Great Performances, but could have been better
Firstly Marion Cotillard was great. She really moved like an old woman in the later scenes, and inhabited the decrepit voice and moves of Piaf. She will be nominated for an Oscar, but probably won't win because of the whole foreign language issue (only a handful of actors have won Oscar for foreign language performances) Having said that, Edith Piaf's life was such a great story and yet somehow the writers managed to botch it up. Events come up out of nowhere. Story lines are started and not followed up on. Stories come out of nowhere at the very end. Basically, every rule of good screen writing is broken, and if you are going to be using a format, as this director did, that is not linear and floats back and forth in time, you need to give your viewers some clues to hold on to.
As I said, spectacular performance by Ms. Cotillard, but the life of Edith Piaf has epic written all over it and that did not come through in this film.
American Beauty (1999)
Almost a Perfect Movie
I just saw this again last week for the first time since I saw it when it came out. What a great film. Great cast, great writing, great direction, great character arcs.
It speaks to a lot of universal themes that we all experience, even if we aren't going to drop out, smoke a lot of pot and buy a fast car.
The people in Lester's life have stopped appreciating him and that distance leaves him depressed. His wife is cold, sterile and interested only in money. His teenage daughter is, well a teenager, and she's off to start her own life without her lame family.
His infatuation with the hot young thing seems pretty cliché until you realize that it's just that that is waking up and making him finally live for maybe the first time in years.
Throw in the mad genius philosopher-pot dealer next door and his spiritual awakening begins.
I won't give away the ending, but it reminds us that we should all be grateful for what we have in this world.
Great Documentary, Great Story
Before the movie starts there is a note to the effect that none of the camera work has been speed-ed up. Once the kids start dancing, you know why this is mentioned.
The film starts with historical footage of the Watts riots in 1965, and then the Rodney Kind riots of 1992. Things are ablaze. People are getting beat up.
And then enters Tommy the Clown who is a hip-hop clown and I guess celebrity in Watts/South Central. He is a sweet man who has taken in kids who's parents are in jail, abandoned them, etc.
The dancing in this film is amazing, to be sure...you will wonder how people can move like that, so fast, so crazy, particularly when you see a 4 year old girl or a 300 pound woman do it.
But what was more astonishing was the kids in the movie. These kids have a right to be the most angry, aggressive, horrible kids ever. And yet they are generally thoughtful, generous, and very wise.
I realize some of this is in the editing, but a 20 year old kid who takes care of his siblings while Mom is in jail until she gets her act together is quite a human being, and most of these kids come across like that.
They dance as an expression of their anger, as a way to create family, and an alternative to the gang families that pop up in the void of traditional nuclear families in places like South Central.
Yes, at the end there is a scene with a bunch of them dancing in slow-mo and it looks like they've been oiled up and their hair is fabulous and you know, so what? David LaChappelle has a background in photography, and if anybody deserves to pretend to be supermodels, it's these kids.
Great great movie.
The Astronaut Farmer (2006)
Great Cast, So So Film
You would think with a cast like this, this movie is a sure-fire winner. Billy Bob Thornton is always great, comedy, tragedy or both. Virginia Madsen is some kind of luminous beautiful angel who never ages and yet is a great actress and Bruce Dern has become the goyishe Alan Arkin...go to guy for when you need a crusty old man.
And yet there are many holes in plot that you could drive a rocket through.
His name is Farmer and he's a farmer? If this was some early 20th century French play yes this would be clever, but here, not so much.
Too many obstacles appear in the film and then kind of fade away without being resolved.
People who hated Mr. Farmer and think he is crazy suddenly don't. And then suddenly do again.
Mrs. Farmer exhibits an unhumanly amount of patience with her husband as he throws away everything they work for. She gives him one angry speech about getting them into debt, and then she kind of forgets about it. I mean, I know she's angelic, but come on.
The kids, including the teenager, seem never to question that it might be time for Dad to take his meds.
Old relatives conveniently pass away quietly and quickly leaving giant bags of money.
In the end, everything was so unbelievable, and not even relevant as a parable or metaphor.
Somebody else invoked the "deus ex machina" and I agree.....The writer's should have to write on a blackboard a million times "I will not use the deus ex machina, I will not use the deus ex machina"
His best effort yet
Michael Moore's movies are not without flaws...he definitely edits selectively and stages some events with a publicity savvy worthy of PT Barnum.
Having said that, Sicko is a great, well rounded assessment of how our medical system falls down on the job here in the U.S. We have allowed our system to be privatized, when in reality like education, the police, fire, etc. it should be a public institution. (Can you imagine calling the police while you are being mugged and having them run your info through to make sure your taxes are up to date before sending out a car?) He also does a good job of deflating critics who say that universal healthcare doesn't work in other countries. It doesn't work perfectly 100% of the time, but on average it's working out a lot better for those people than it does here at home.
He shows that British doctors are well paid, that Canadian patients are treated fairly and that even that commie Fidel Castro manages to get good quality care for his people. He demonstrates how France walks the walk when it comes to "family values" by providing support and childcare for new parents. He shows how in general other countries treat their sick so they can return to being productive members of society.
I'm not 100% sure I buy into his premise that this for-profit system was created to keep us weak, docile and not voting....I think it was created for profit and if they really wanted us weak and docile, they would privatize the police, so we were prisoners in our own house and education and libraries, so we were illiterate. In particular I've come to believe that the Bush administration is so inept that they couldn't find eggs in a honchos, so the idea of a conspiracy on this scale, I'm not sure they could manage it.
This movie will move you from laughter to tears, often in the space of a few minutes. The end is upbeat, pointing out that we all have power (via our vote) to change the system. So...let's go!
Interesting Portrait of a Particular Place and Time
This movie did a good job of illustrating a particular place and time in American history.
A bunch of hippies beg some money from some Hollywood types, including apparently James Coburn, and go off to Northern California to begin their alternative lifestyle utopia.
The first winter is harsh and tests them. The reality of hard work sets in. The reality of relationships and kids sets in, and yet they try to stick to their principles of free love, no possessions, and anti-establishment living.
It's easy to make fun of these folks now, but as Peter Coyote says, you can't imagine that kind of idealism that people had back then, that they could create a whole new society. They were trying something new and experimental.
It's fun to watch them try, and sometimes fail. The women begin to emerge out of the show of the men and take some control over the ranch. The reality of raising kids with no schools, and without one committed partner often falls by the wayside. The kid rebels by getting a crew cut. Adults rebel by only sleeping with one partner.
It is, as another reviewer pointed out, a portrait of a time when people thought that anything was possible, and tried to create a new society. That they ultimately may not have succeeded is less important than the journey they took.
So bad that it's....still really bad
Wow...this movie makes Striptease look like Citizen Kane. This horrible teen tale is full of every cliché you can think of and then some...runaway mom, overprotective dad, teen pregnancy, teen sluttishness, and in all of this Britney gets to be the guiding moral light. (You know how bad something is going to be when Britney is the "Good girl".) For 90 minutes (that feels like twice that) you watch their roadtrip complete with singing along to the radio, the karaoke contest and the obligatory "should she or shouldn't she" decision about S-E-X.
I had a couple of drinks while watching this, and I suspect the only way I could have truly enjoyed it was to either a) drink more heavily or b) Break out the chronic. Yikes. Yuck. Yowsa.
Running with Scissors (2006)
Train Wreck Appeal
In the book Running With Scissors, Augusten Burroughs details a horrific adolescence, whether it's true or not is kind of beside the point.
He gets you into the head of his character, who is around enough messed up people that having a 35 year old boyfriend when you are 13 and having an insane mother seems kind of normal. The kid he was was strong enough to get through this and eventually come out of it into his own.
In the movie a lot of the focus shifts to his mother...but then again back to Augesten...then the crazy family. The problem being that there is no one point of focus.
As somebody else pointed out, there are no character arcs. Everyone ends up as bat-ass crazy as they started, except Augusten, who you kind of figured would be okay.
The director has managed to take a great story, and a great bunch of A list actors and make a soap opera....and not a good soap opera like Six Feet Under or Ugly Betty, but a really campy, MTV-like, video wanna be soap opera. Only with no payoff.
The climax scene where Dr. Finch is yelling at Bookman while Augusten and Natalie tear the ceiling down and Agnes talks to Deidre...you expect it will erupt in some major kind of plot point...
and then nothing happens.
Five points because of the great actors, the great ORIGINAL story, not this adaptation and the fact that it was kind of like a Train Wreck.