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I like a wide variety of movies. My favorite directors are Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Alfred Hitchcock, and the Coens. My favorite actors are Philip Seymour Hoffman, Matt Damon, and Tom Hanks. My favorite actresses are Amy Adams, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Jennifer Connelly, and Naomi Watts.
Dead Birds (2004)
Most of the recent horror movies that I've seen have been so dismal that Dead Birds gets a slightly favorable review just for not being awful, despite the fact that it's not particularly scary.
The setting and time period were refreshing and the build-up and pacing of the movie were enjoyable. However, once the full story behind the haunted plantation is revealed, it was disappointingly generic. I only paid about $3 for Dead Birds, and I suppose that it's worth that price and a hour and a half of the average horror fan's life. You won't hate it, but a few months from now you won't really remember what the movie was about.
And yes, there was a dead bird in the movie, but what's with the name?
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Fun to watch!
The first thing that struck me about O Brother, Where Art Thou? was the locations. The Coen brothers did a stellar job of portraying the Mississippi of this time period as I have always imagined it would look. It makes me want to seek out these parts of my state myself, just to see what true rural Mississippi once looked like.
The second thing that caught my attention about this movie is how over-the-top it is. That will automatically make it unpleasant for some, but it became endearing for me after only a short time. Yes, George Clooney's accent doesn't work nearly as well as John Turturro's or Tim Blake Nelson's, but after a while it all seems to fit and just seems right.
The third element that stands out about O Brother is the songs. Awesome. Every scene is highlighted by some of the most kick-ass, old-timey tunes known to man. Anyone who doesn't want the soundtrack after seeing the movie is just being contrary.
The fact that this is loosely based on The Odyssey is only occasionally apparent, but the story that is here is more than enough to entertain. Every new character is captivating, no matter how long or brief their screen time.
The movies starts off brilliantly, sags a bit toward the middle, and then finishes fairly strong. It's not quite consistent enough to be a classic, but I definitely would like to see it again. O Brother, Where Art Thou? is just a lot of fun to watch.
Role Models (2008)
First of all, what's with the sudden pop culture saturation of LARP- ing in the past few years? It went from a fringe, nerds-only oddity, to the subject of a few documentaries, to a large portion of a mainstream comedy. Craziness!
As for a review of the actual movie, Role Models is a comedy that's a bit more palatable to female tastes than the average film of this kind. It has a positive core at the center of its amusing and slightly raunchy exterior. Paul Rudd is as funny as always, Sean William Scott does his usual thing, and Elizabeth Banks lends her beauty and potent appeal, but it's Jane Lynch who steals the spotlight in her short, but numerous scenes. It's nice to see that Arrested Development alums are still the funniest in the biz.
Role Models isn't nearly as touching or heartfelt as many critics would have you believe, and I do feel like it could have been much funnier. But overall, it left me with a good impression after I finished watching it, and that makes it a success in my book.
A dark fairy tale.
Coraline is a modern day, adult fairy tale. Neil Gaiman is known for his imaginative, genre-bending tales, and Coraline is no exception. It shifts in tone from whimsical to frightening to somber, but it's all presented in a truly engaging manner.
Even if the story wasn't as good as it is, Coraline would be worth seeing for its strikingly beautiful art style and fluid animation. It's different from that used in The Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride, but it does remind one of them.
Kids may like this film for its pretty images, but it lacks the snappy humor and wackiness that many modern fairy tales have. It takes a older child or an adult to appreciate the subtleties, melancholic sensibilities, and depths of Coraline.
A good effort at making a difficult movie.
The Watchmen film adaptation is both helped and hurt by its cool trailer and its source material. The trailer was amazing enough to encourage those with no previous knowledge of the graphic novel (like me) to check it out before the movie was released. Unfortunately, this only served to raise my expectations a bit higher than they would have been if I would have gone into the experience completely fresh.
Taken for what it is, Watchmen is a laudable effort. While a few key scenes and important plot points ended up on the cutting room floor, that's more of a reflection of how well-written the source material is, rather than gaffs by Zack Snyder.
The narrative and overall flow suffers the most from the necessity of having a reasonable running time. At times the movie just feels like it's a string of cool events that are taken directly from the comic frames, separated by a bastardization of the rest of the story. But then again, once I think of how complex the story is to begin with, it's easier to give credit to it being handled the way that it was.
The acting was OK for the most part, by the end of the movie I had basically accepted everyone in their roles. Dr. Manhattan, Laurie and Dan took some adjusting too, while Rorschach, Adrian Veidt and Edward Blake were more of a natural fit. Some of the dialogue that works so well on the printed page seemed a bit clunky on the screen, but that's to be expected. Watchmen was written as a comic book, not a play.
I think that open-minded newcomers who watch Watchmen stand a pretty decent chance of liking it. It works fairly well as a superhero movie, even without all its depth and complexity. Watchmen veterans, on the other hand, will just have to come to terms with the fact that while the movie wasn't perfect, it will be very difficult to make a better version of Watchmen. Perhaps we should enjoy what we have, changes and all, and just be grateful that this movie was even made. Don't expect perfection from the Watchmen film adaptation, that's what the graphic novel is for.
One of my favorite movies.
Doubt is a compelling, emotionally dense drama. Not a typical, watered-down contemporary film drama, but the kind of drama that usually only comes from a compelling work of literature. It continues the tradition of No Country for Old Men and There Will be Blood in the way that it suspends your own sensibilities and thrusts you wholly into the world of the characters.
The film wouldn't be so captivating without it's marvelous cast, but they wouldn't be able to shine so brightly without this outstanding script. The exchanges between characters are eloquent, yet believable. There's almost a music to the dialogue, and the theme of the tune switches from kindness to confrontation to lingering disquiet with every scene. It's no surprise that mixing acting titans with an extraordinary screenplay resulted in Oscar nominations for all the principal actors, as well as one for the script.
Doubt is essentially about the crisis of seeing the world in black and white, good and evil, when there's no way of knowing with certainty that you are right. Even if your actions or intentions are good, the consequences that they bring about will not come with a price. The subject matter is distasteful, but it's never handled in an exploitative or crude manner. Doubt is a marvelous achievement, and is an amazing movie for anyone who is willing to give it a chance.
The Guitar (2008)
A surprisingly good movie.
I thought that The Guitar was a pretty swell movie. I usually hate movies about people who suddenly find out that they're dying, and then finally start to live their lives when their lives are about to be taken from them. But The Guitar handles this kind of a story in an organic, modernistic manner that doesn't rely on sappiness or melodrama to connect the audience to the protagonist.
Saffron Burrows does a marvelous job. Her facial expressions almost tell the story well enough to preclude any dialogue on her part. There are other fine acting jobs here, but they all drift on the periphery of Saffron's excellent performance.
It's nice to find a movie from time to time that I like despite my reservations. I'm not the kind of guy who would typically be interested in this genre of movie, but The Guitar was more than enough to get me to overlook that particular bias.
Exit Speed (2008)
Worth a watch with low expectations.
Exit Speed has no big stars and not much production value, but it offers an agreeable enough entertainment adventure. It definitely has that low-budget, made-for-TV vibe. I actually think that this could have been a solid big screen movie with an upgraded cast and a bigger budget.
The plot basically pits some everyday bus passengers against a biker gang out in the middle of nowhere. Some familiar character types are here, but there's also some left-field personalities (bow and arrow elven princess!) to keep the movie from being too cliché. It does drag on a bit, but it's extremely satisfying to see all the bikers meet their end at the climax. Watch it, if these kinds of movies are your thing.
Charm and humor to spare.
Enchanted begins as a typical, Disney-animated princess story. But after a gorgeously animated intro, it shifts to the real world, and suddenly all the cartoonish clichés and fairy-tale staples are unleashed upon the real world. If that doesn't sound interesting to you, clearly you're childhood was devoid of Disney or you don't have any young relatives in your life.
Enchanted is funny enough for any lover of (clean) comedy, charming, and...pretty much enchanting. All the fairy-tale characters fit their roles perfectly. Amy Adams perfectly captured the voice, mannerisms, and wide-eyed naivety of a real-life Disney princess. The Dashing Prince, Evil Witch, Comic Animal Sidekick, Inept Lackey, they're all present and accounted for. Disney did an excellent job of gently lampooning itself, but in such a way that it comes off as more of a loving tribute than any kind of mockery.
This movie has a lot of positives, and few negatives to speak of. I was slightly disappointed by most of the songs, none of them besides "That's How You Know" were really that memorable. How weird is that for a Disney movie? And occasionally the lovey-dovey factor went a little high for anyone that isn't an eight-year-old girl to be comfortable with. Hmmm, but it is a fairy-tale. so anything else could hardly be expected.
Enchanted is clever, sugary sweet, and amusing. Any past or present Disney fans owe it to themselves to see it. And the rest of you (if there's anyone left) should do yourselves a favor and watch a movie that's guaranteed fun.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
The first great animated Batman movie.
Superhero fans of my generation had tons of great cartoons to watch while we we're growing up, and Batman: The Animated Series was right up there among the best. It combined action with a cool art style and serious plots that made the show just as appealing to adults as it was to kids. Mask of the Phantasm is a side-story of that amazing show, so it's no surprise that I still love it all these years later.
Phantasm works so well because it pairs the usual themes of the show with an extremely bittersweet love story and tons of the detective elements that are always present in Batman's best tales. Equal time is spent with the present day mystery of the Phantasm, and Bruce's early experiments with vigilante justice.
It's great to see Bruce Wayne get equal focus in the story, and in many ways the scenes with him out of costume are the most interesting and pivotal to the story. The Joker plays a crucial part in the plot, and a woman is introduced who had a powerful influence on Bruce's decision to become Batman. What more could the true Batman fan ask for? Mask of the Phantasm is worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as The Dark Knight and Batman Returns. There's a classic story within its animated trappings.