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If you like emotion and objective correlatives, you'll like this movie ...
I saw this movie and was very pleasantly surprised. I really liked this movie. Although at first I didn't know why.
After all, the script, as narrative, is full of holes. Big holes. Without going into details, the initial scene with shot fired has been accurately described as full of holes as swiss cheese. Yet this scene is a key part of the movie, referenced again and again. This is not good.
The title, pictures, and promos were all fundamentally misleading. I went expecting a martial arts film. But it turns out to be a drama. If you are looking for martial arts action, you'll come away very, very disappointed. This too is not good.
The final sequence is utterly incredible. This has been pointed out again and again. This is a basic plot failure. And this too is not good.
And yet ... and yet I came away really, really feeling good about this movie I had just seen. Why?
Well, first, if you view the script not as a narrative, but as a sequence of loosely connected scenes designed to evoke one emotion or thought or the other ... like tableaux vivants, or what TS Eliot called objective correlatives ... well, it works. For example, we have a main character stripped of everything in a series of narratively impossible scenes; and yet the emotions involved in "losing everything" are conveyed powerfully and evocatively. Likewise the ending redemptive sequence is narratively incredible; but emotionally very, very satisfying. This is all to the good.
The characters, acting, and characterizations were all excellent. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mike Terry was superb. And the Mike Terry character is simply a delight, likable, appealing, interesting. Tim Allen was successfully cast against type. Ricky Jay's Marty Brown the sports promoter is utterly slimy and yet I couldn't take my eyes off of him. After every scene, I felt like running to the restroom to wash my hands and face and ears. He is sliminess personified. But all the characters were well drawn whether likable or disgusting. All to the good.
The cinematography and scenes were well drawn and well depicted. There were some really gripping, evocative shots I especially like: such as the Tim Allen character in dark profile. All to the good.
All in all, I'd say if you like emotion and objective correlatives, I think you'll like this movie. Don't go looking for martial arts, and don't go looking for a sound narrative; but if you want good, solid punch, you've come to the right place.
Snow Angels (2007)
How to Have a Short Miserable Life
I saw this movie today, 2 days after it opened here in Tulsa. And on the whole, I didn't like it. This movie does have some good features IMHO, but mostly it seems to belong to that genre of misogynistic movies in which misery is the main, though uncredited, character. Just not my cup of tea; but to each his or her own.
The acting is on the whole fairly good, with a special standout performance by Sam Rockwell as Glenn. But the characters are drawn so unpleasantly that it's very hard for me to feel much sympathy for any character over the age of 17. When I think about it, that's an interesting datum: but that age-divide doesn't seem to be a theme to be explored at all in this movie; it's just a coincidence. But generally the movie seems to be driven by a desire to depict any and all adults as unappealingly as possible. That to me doesn't make for a very engaging movie; and does make for a very unpleasant script.
There are some nice scenes, and some interesting camera technique ... such as focusing on a face and then slowly drifting left or right till the face is out of the picture, even though the character is still at the center of a scene. I think that makes for some interesting camera work, but of course the execution really reinforces the generally misogyny of the movie ... and if the movie doesn't "like" its own characters enough to treat them with greater respect, why should I? I do think there's much to be said for tragedy as a genre ... but this almost seems the opposite, in a way, because tragedy always treats the tragic hero or heroine with some sense of honor, decency, and respect. This movie depicts largely self-inflicted misery and seems intent on an absurdist treatment of such misery that is far from respectful or humanistic, but rather dystopian and disrespectful.
To anyone thinking about seeing this movie: unless stories about unappealing people wallowing in self-inflicted misery is inviting, I would recommend a pass on this movie.
Die Fälscher (2007)
Odessa Is Blue
I saw this movie today ... it opened here 2 days ago ... and was deeply moved. What an engaging, fascinating story, told well from beginning to end.
The acting was excellent throughout; but by far the greatest thumbs up should right go to Karl Markovics, perfectly cast, and perfectly performing, the Salomon Sorowitsch character.
The scenes are convincingly composed, with a strong sense of colorlessness and drabness supporting the script throughout ... but depicted in such a way that the characters and the story are strongly reinforced. I don't know when darkness and absence of coloration has gone so far to convey vividly a vividly colorful storyline.
The story has what looks to me like a few unconvincing scenes, but this is rare in what on the whole is a script that conveys authenticity at every moment in (almost) every scene. On the whole, the story is what makes this movie and the story is engaging, compelling, demanding, and never, ever boring. To me what really stands out in the story is the complex motivation of the characters ... and how humanity shines through in even the darkest circumstances. As one of the most brutalized characters says, of a black & white drawing he composed of his native Odessa, "To me Odessa is blue, always blue." That really could have been the title of the movie, it rings true at so many levels.
This is a dark movie, but one that is at the same time full of action, adventure, and hope. I can see why the movie won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language movie. It certainly deserves such an award.
Smart People (2008)
A Quirky Story with a Quirky Sense of Hope
I saw this movie today, the day after it opened here. And I was simply delighted. This is a fine story told with non-stop heart-tugging humor and verve. The movie captured my attention immediately, and held it from beginning to end.
The scriptwriter, Mark Jude Poirier, adapted his novel for the screen with extraordinary acumen. The ensemble of characters are just delightfully appealing. Their story is told here with humor and poignancy. Dennis Quaid as Laurence Wetherhold, Sarah Jessica Parker as Janet Hartigan, Thomas Haden Church as Chuck, Ellen Page as Vanessa, Ashton Holmes as James all turn in wonderful performances in a perfectly matched cast.
To me the pace is perfect, and the dialog is crisp, compelling, almost flawless, with lots of funny lines.
For me, one of the most uplifting features of this movie is the way the whole ensemble of characters develops together. The strangeness of the characters as individuals, along with the convincing balance as (extended) family, reminds me of the ensemble in Running with Scissors. The quirky dysfunctionality and functionality of this family in combination are like nothing so much as the family in Running with Scissors. In any event, these are characters who together gain a renewed sense of hope a hope that imbues this wounded band of characters with a sense of togetherness and vision that is to me very, very moving.
Another feature of this movie that I myself found especially appealing is the presence of such exquisitely composed visual scenes. These are of such delightfully crafted texture that in some ways this movie reminds me of the carefully composed scenes in Girl with a Pearl Earring and Atonement. The cinematography and beauty of scene after scene are just wonderful.
All in all, this is a fun, funny, moving portrait of a delightful band of characters. I highly recommend this movie to anyone.
Funny Games (2007)
Horrifyly, chillingly good psychodrama
I saw this movie yesterday and on the whole really liked it. Whew ... I don't know when last I've been to a horror movie / psychodrama that was so relentlessly scary ... in a lean, bleak, psychologically devastating way.
I thought the acting and scripting and directing and editing were all really excellent throughout. Everything but everything in this movie works together to draw you into an utterly horrifying experience.
What really captivated me was this understated but relentless tension that just grips and chokes and overwhelms from beginning to end.
This is the kind of movie that really, really makes you *feel* like you're there, going through what this unfortunate family went through.
If you haven't seen it yet and like good, chilling, judiciously bloody psychodrama, hey, check this movie out ... it's really scary psychodrama at its very best.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Great sets, good cinematography, lousy story.
I just saw this movie today ... "Whoa yeah ... finally!" I thought when I saw it in the movie listings here. It was released here yesterday ... about a month after it had hit wide release, I think. By now there have been so many positive reviews ... and I liked the trailer ... so I was looking forward to seeing this movie very much. Unfortunately, it really didn't live up to expectations.
First, though, the good things. I really liked the sets and scenery and cinematography. The good folks in charge of such things really seem to have worked hard to give us a vivid, convincing vision of period oil and period settings for oil production and life in a dry, arid land in the period West.
The acting performances ranged from very good to excellent throughout. Daniel Day Lewis did a wonderful job giving us as convincing a depiction of Daniel Plainview as I for one can imagine.
Having said that, though, Daniel Plainview as a character came across to me as affected, posturing, and very unconvincing. For that matter, most of the characters in this movie were to me unconvincing. And the script that gave them birth was to me generally very, very unconvincing. The action was slow, even boring, without being redeemed by any kind of realistic character development or story development. I honestly thought about walking out a few times, but persevered until the bitter end ... and ended up just shaking my head at a final scene that was to me just utterly incredible.
My own view of almost any movie that professes a realistic historical setting is that there are two major pitfalls to avoid: (1) treating a historical period as if it's a reflection of our own time: "just like us". And (2) treating a historical period as if it's a caricature, almost the opposite of our time: "nothing like us."
There Will Be Blood makes the second mistake,IMHO.
A movie about a bygone world that's really just a caricature, seen through eyes that don't have any sympathy for another time and another place, is an expression of what has sometimes been called "chronological snobbery": the idea that just because people and place belong to the past, they must be brutal or inhuman or idiotic or venal far beyond what we know in our own here-and-now.
So in this movie everyone seems driven by brutality and greed and inhumanity and sheer stupidity far beyond what we would regard as credible in our times, but apparently we're supposed to buy this kind of vision about the past. Why? Because ... "they lived back then" while "we live now" as if that's some kind of automatic reason to embrace a dehumanized view of people who lived and moved on this old world before we were born.
So we have a movie full of people who are all ... meaning, all, with (perhaps) one exception that I can think of ... driven, uncaring, brutal, greedy ... and too stupid to get out of the way of obvious dangers although somehow they've managed to survive, for years and years, in a dangerous, inhospitable environment. Not to give away anything, but the final scene gives examples of all of these incredibilities (if that's the word) in an especially unrealistic vision that (I guess) must be the scriptwriter's idea of how things were back in the early part of the century. Yet anyone with any actual knowledge of the period ... or with any actual knowledge of people in general ... would consider this to make no sense at all.
Don't get me wrong ... a bleak, Hollywood-type nihilism may not be appealing ... not to me anyway ... but it can at least be rendered realistically and convincingly. See for example No Country for Old Men ... another 2007 film that in some ways has the same "flavor" as There Will Be Blood.
But No Country for Old Men gives us a well-scripted story with a strong, convincing plot. There Will Be Blood, in contrast, unfortunately serves up a script that is unconvincing, unrealistic, incredible, ahistorical, and boring.
A Female Napoleon Dynamite
I saw this movie today, and found a sort of coming-of-age tale told with a large dose of campy humor. I thought this movie was on the whole a good movie, though not the stand-out dark comedy/drama that it's reported to be.
The movie focuses on a vivid 16 y.o. pregnant teen named Juno, who is in so many ways a female version of Napoleon Dynamite. If you liked Napoleon Dynamite, you'll very probably like Juno; if you didn't like Napoleon Dynamite, you'll probably be well advised to pass on Juno.
I myself liked Napoleon Dynamite ... although the constant sardonic humor and uber-Attitude becomes rather trying, both in Juno and in Napoleon Dynamite, the whole does kind of grow on me ... as on others. This is the kind of character that I myself find fun, if cloying. I don't myself enjoy sardonic put-downs as a part of my regular diet. One viewing is enough for me. But that's me; to each his/her own.
The storyline I thought was very engaging, and the supporting script conveys it well. The acting ranged from solid to excellent. Ellen Page as Juno is perfectly cast and delivers her character perfectly. Michael Cera did a solid job as Paulie Bleeker. Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, and J.K. Simmons all turned in decent supporting roles. Cinematography, sets, sound were all good.
All in all, if you like teenage coming-of-age flicks in general, and Napoleon Dynamite in particular, this movie is for you.
Charlie Wilson's War (2007)
Not bad ... but not all that good either ...
I saw this movie today and admit I went with high expectations - which were generally disappointed. Still, it's a good geopolitical flick, full of action, humor, and sex.
Think of James Bond Goes to the US Congress and you'll get the basic flavor. Not bad ... but frankly, not all that good, either. I myself made the mistake of approaching this movie with overarching expectations based on the cast, and on the movie's capture of an amazing 5 Golden Globe nominations.
However, from my angle, the movie turned out to be an OK flick. OK, but a movie that doesn't deserve to be burdened with expectations that it just can't fulfill.
The storyline - about a Congressman who singlehandedly organizes the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and thereby brings about American victory in the Cold War - is not really more incredible than any National Treasure or Die Hard storyline. But it's not better, either.
Similarly, the script wasn't outstanding, but it delivered the storyline and delivered it well: fast-paced, with great action, great dialog, cool humor, and plenty of alcohol and sex.
The cast - especially Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman - was stellar. These, and all supporting actors and actresses, turned in good, competent performances: nothing more, but nothing less, either.
Cinematography was solid and competent, again, no more, and no less.
All in all, I'd recommend this movie to anyone who would like a good, quick geopolitical flick with lots of action and humor. Think of National Treasure: Afghanistan or James Bond in the US Capitol and you'll have an idea of what to expect. Not bad ... but not all that good either ...
I saw this movie today and had a generally mixed reaction. It's basically "OK" but the storyline doesn't really to me provide enough interest to sustain a full length motion picture. Also, although any new musical production is to me a cause for celebration, this one just doesn't come near to matching other modern musicals in quality or appeal.
Music and songs naturally make for a big part of the appeal of any musical like this. And I am simply delighted that the movie musical has gained something of a revival within the past half decade or so. However, with some exceptions, I just didn't really enjoy the music and songs not nearly as much, anyway, as in other modern musicals, like Moulin Rouge, Phantom of the Opera, Chicago and Rent.
Casting and acting seem to me to be very solid throughout this movie, with two exceptions. One is Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs Lovett. Carter was perfectly cast and I thought gave a wonderful, exceptionally strong performance. On the other hand, I really thought Jamie Campbell Bower was either unconvincingly cast as Anthony, or was given a scripting for Anthony that was unconvincing. Johanna after all finds her heart captured by an Anthony who is supposed to be a handsome, romantic man she sees from a window and whose chief distinguishing features appear to be androgyny. I can believe in love-at-first-sight for a "manly" man; or in love-at-first-sight for a male lead known as a "heart-throb"; or in love-at-second-sight for a "metrosexual" man whose character or personality, captures the heart of a lovely lady. But Johanna has only brief glimpses of Anthony in the street. She has no "manly looks" to go on; she has no special "Errol Flynn" appeals to go on; she has never met him, so can't fall in love based on his "personality". All in all, the response of Johanna to this Anthony is just not convincing in a musical like this.
The script contained other problems that to me undermined the storyline by giving us events that didn't seem consistent or credible. The movie is not in a "realist" genre, so I'm not at all interested in every little detail being somehow "credible". However, even in a musical, I need at least enough a to help me to a "suspension of disbelief"; and at minimum, obviously inconsistent details don't need to be flaunted in my face. Alas, the script did exactly that every now and then. For example, early on, a charlatan is selling a "miraculous elixir" said to promote a lush head of hair. Sweeney challenges him to a contest in which he and the charlatan are both to give the fastest, cleanest shave. Up till that point, there's no slightest indication that the peddler is also a barber. And there's not the least excuse offered for a face-off in which facility in shaving is supposed to establish credibility, or lack thereof, for an elixir promoting fast hair growth elixir. Similarly, there's a point at which Sweeney's daughter tosses a key out a window to a stranger she's never met. Things like that leave me scratching my head, and it's hard to "buy into" a story I'm constantly scratching my heard over.
I did like some things: the sheer darkness of the conception, and of the settings, and of the humor these things I really enjoyed. The "life at the beach" sequence was a funny and light-hearted sequence that provided a welcome parody of Sweeney's perpetual gravity.
All in all, although Sweeney Todd is to me "OK", on the whole it just doesn't make for a good musical.
Beautiful, Moving, Utterly Captivating Story of the Greatest Generation
I saw this movie today the day after it opened here in general release. And I think this is the best movie I've seen in a long time.
The visuals captured me from the first frame. What an amazing series of scenes: a beautiful late 1930s English country estate; wartime France; Dunkirk; wartime London. Every scene appeared perfectly composed, perfectly filmed, with perfect colors and sights and sounds. Authenticity and beauty were captured on every single frame of this movie. The attention to detail was exquisite without becoming at any point distracting. If there's such a thing as perfect cinematography and perfect lighting and perfect editing, this movie must come about as close to achieving these ideals as I for one can imagine. In fact, if this movie had had no dialog at all, I think I would have sat enthralled by the absolutely amazing visuals, from beginning to end.
The story, though, was captivating in a special way. Special because of course we all know from the trailer what the basic plot is, and although there are important twists as things proceed, on the whole, we're watching a movie the storyline of which we already know. There's a special pleasure to watching something unfold like this, and I love the way the story was conveyed almost as much as I love the story itself. Deft flashbacks, with changes of point of view, convey so much of the richness of the story.
To me, the interaction between the characters and their context is what made the whole story so fascinating. Here we have really very narrow parameters laid down and our characters must make their choices within those parameters with consequences of personal enormity for each of them. The film conveys the Character--Context interaction in an especially fine way by showing & repeating again and again. Sometimes the repetition comes through flashback: for example, in the fountain scene. Sometimes it comes through interleaving points of view: for example, near the beginning, when Cecilia and Robbie are thinking about each other. Most fascinating to me is when the repetition comes through a sort of deft camera's wheeling slowly and deliberately through a scene, following characters moving this way and that: for example, the amazing Dunkirk sequence.
A key theme of the movie, as we all know from the trailer, is What's Real and What's Not. And this is played upon in so many wonderfully delightful ways. There are so many scenes through windows, and sights in mirrors, and POV shots up and down hallways and through fields; typewritten pages retyped and retyped and retyped. What we see, what we think we see, and what we do about what we see, or think we see, are all so intimately bound up with who we are: and this is expressed from beginning to end with a sense of authenticity and beauty that was for me just extraordinary.
The characterizations and performances were just wonderful throughout this movie. James McAvoy's Robbie Turner was excellent. Keira Knightly's Cecilia Tallis was solid and convincing. Saorise Ronan as the young, 13 year old Briony Tallis was just extraordinary for her age I hope that we see more of this young talent. All of the supporting actors and actresses were first rate. Special props should go to Vanessa Redgrave for her affecting and very convincing cameo as the elderly Briony.
Now I do have two criticisms that (to be honest) may or may not be reasonably laid at the doorstep of this movie.
One is that to me, the build up to the arrest felt like it *may* have been somewhat long. Maybe a little shorter would be better. Maybe.
Also, from time to time, I plain old had problems making out what was being said. I don't know if this is because I was simply so overwhelmed by the visual imagery that I wasn't paying as much attention to the dialog as I usually would. Or maybe the audio in my theater may have been a little off.
But these are really minor drawbacks to the movie, if they are drawbacks to the movie at all. Again, I'm just not sure. To me this is simply a splendid, wonderful, and captivating movie no less.
Before I close, I have something to say on a personal note.
My father & mother were both members of "The Greatest Generation" - the WWII generation which is depicted with such extraordinary clarity in this movie. My father was a soldier in WWII. My mother waited on the Home Front as she waited for him to come home. I take away from this movie a very strong sense that this is a true and authentic representation of what that period of time was like for this generation. I come away from this movie with a deep, deep, deep feeling of sheer gratitude for this generation. For the last half of the movie, I simply could hardly stop crying; and left the theater crying as well: tears of joy and gratitude and of sadness at the passing of this amazing generation.
All in all, then, if you want to see an amazing period piece about the extraordinary and ordinary people of the Greatest Generation, set in the late 1930s 1940s: please, see this movie. It is absolutely one of the most delightful and authentic human tales of the World War II generation that I've ever had the privilege of experiencing. And the movie conveys its story with the most lovely, most beautiful, most affecting images that I have seen in years, perhaps decades.
As I feel deep gratitude for this generation, I feel deep gratitude to Director Joe Wright and everyone who brought this movie to us. It seems so little to say, but I'll say it anyway: Thanks.