Posts Tagged ‘Movie’

Review: ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’ – It really is as bad as you’ve heard

June 26, 2009

I had no desire to see Tranformers: Revenge of the Fallen. But my fiancee wanted to see it, so I knew I would eventually be dragged to the multiplex to waste my money and time on it. I didn’t really care for the first film–had it been an hour and a half of robots fighting, I would have been satiated. But no. They had to add characters and story (uninteresting ones, at that).

I usually don’t read reviews beforehand of movies I know I’m going to see (especially if I will review them), but because I didn’t think Transformers 2 would be worth writing about, I thumbed through some reviews to see how it fared. Here are a few quotes I found from some professional critics:

“This is so bad it’s immoral.”

“This celluloid abortion should be buried in a vault and shown to film students as an example of big Hollywood at its worst.”

“Not to damn it with faint praise, but ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’ is a flaming pile of poo.”

Now, I’m not big fan of immorality, abortions or flaming poo, but my curiosity was piqued. How could a movie–one that will probably make $300 million before summer is through–cause such a vitriolic response? (When I told my fiancee of the bad reviews, she changed her mind. So now I’m the one to blame for going to see it.)

Sometimes I like a truly awful movie, like Catwoman, a film so bad you constantly say to yourself, “there is no way that this movie could get any worse,” and then it does. A truly awful movie is like watching a train wreck or one of those medical oddity shows on TLC: you’re fascinated even though you shouldn’t watch. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is much like Catwoman in that it is gloriously awful; a shining pillar of when movies are used for evil. However, unlike Catwoman, this movie. Never. Ends.

What’s it about? The Autobots (the good robots) now work with a secret military organization called NEST, which seeks out Decepticons (the bad robots) that have been in hiding because…I don’t remember. Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBouf) is heading off to college out East but leaving his girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox, a.k.a. the most robotic thing in this movie) back in California because…ah, who cares. All you need to know is that robots fight in between scenes of extremely tedious plotting.

What’s good about it? This movie does, in fact, have more robots fighting, which for someone like me who felt he was short-changed by the first film, is kind of a good thing. But the fight sequences are so CG-heavy and edited so rapidly, you’ll have a hard time fully seeing what’s going on.

Is the film an immoral flaming poo abortion? No. But it’s close.

What’s bad about it? Plenty. Everything you’ve already read or heard from your friends about the movie is true.

What I was most surprised by was the stale direction from Michael Bay. He’s made his career out of directing big, loud movies where things blow up (The Rock, Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, the first Transformers–and the under-seen The Island, which I actually liked), but now his trademark style (slow motion explosions, swooping aerials, dizzying shots of people mostly talking, music video-worthy moments of people having special time) feels…old. And with a running time of 150 minutes, Bay really tests the audience’s interest level. Most well-known directors branch out and push themselves after a few films because they know they’ve either proven themselves creatively or box-office wise (Scorcese is the former, Bay is the latter, Spielberg is both). Bay seems bored with his own film this time around. I personally would love to see what he would do with a character-driven comedy-drama or a straight-up kid’s film. Even if they sucked I would have more respect for him simply for the fact he’s trying.

Perfect for: pubescent boys. Everyone else will regret their choice. If you want the most ideal way to watch this movie (even though you shouldn’t), wait for it on DVD. That way you can pause to see what’s actually going on in the fight scenes and you can fast forward the extremely boring everything else.

Playing catch up. Again. I make no apologies.

February 28, 2009

CORALINE

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This Tim Burton-esque animated fantasy is visually stunning and effectively creepy.  Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is a precocious tween who’s largely ignored by her workaholic parents (who, ironically, both work from home).  The family has just moved into a new apartment converted from a large old house.  In her attempts to fight boredom, Coraline befriends her quirky neighbors and discovers a portal to another dimension.  At night she visits the other world, which appears to be a perfect version of the world she inhabits during the day…except for everyone has buttons for eyes.  And things become increasingly disturbing.

I’ve seen a lot of weird movies, but this is one is way up there on the bizarre-o-meter.  It’s dark, twisted and downright morbid.  Definitely not suitable for young kids.  But the visuals are amazing.

Perfect for: Tim Burton, animation or fantasy fans.

MADEA GOES TO JAIL

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In addition to watching Why Did I Get Married, I also watched The Family That Preys and Madea’s Family Reunion this month as part of festivities sponsored by the White People Who Like Tyler Perry Movies club.  (It was just me and my friend, who after watching two movies back to back, suffered from Tyler Perry fatigue  and dropped out.  No hard feelings.)  After watching Madea Goes to Jail, I think I might change the name of the club to White People Who Like Tyler Perry Movies In Moderation.

Tyler Perry’s comedies go from Deathly Serious to Hi-Larious Hijinx within moments of each other.  This time around, the Deathly Serious story revolves around Joshua (Derek Luke), an Atlanta assistant D.A. who stumbles upon (in court, no less) his old friend Candy (Keisha Knight-Pulliam), during her arraignment on prostitution charges.  Excusing himself from the case and handing it to his fellow assistant D.A., fiancee and villain of the movie, Linda (Ion Overman), Joshua spends most of the film trying to get help for Candy.

The Hi-Larious Hijinx part of the film comes from Madea (Tyler Perry), the sassy senior citizen with a violent temper, whose frequent run-ins with the law have forced her to go to anger management therapy sessions with Dr. Phil (yes, that Dr. Phil) that end up going nowhere.   When a snooty white lady takes Madea’s parking spot at K-Mart, Madea exacts revenge by destroying the lady’s car with a forklift.  And then–you guessed it–Madea goes to jail.

I simultaneously like and dislike the Madea movies, because the humor is so broad and obvious, and knowing it’s kinda’ stupid, still has the power to make me laugh.  I should know better.

The character of Madea reminds me of characters found on Saturday Night Live–the less you know, the funnier they are.  Unlike the other Madea films (Diary  of a Mad Black Woman and Madea’s Family Reunion), this one fleshes out Madea’s character (do we really need to know that in her younger years she was a stripper???) and in the process, some of the humor about the character is lost.

Perfect for: Fans of Ernest P. Warrel movies.

THIS IS MY LIFE

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You’ve Got Mail is, in my opinion, the greatest romantic comedy of all time.  It’s funny.  It’s clever.  It’s filled with great performances.  I figured that This is My Life would be an alright movie because a) it’s directed by Nora Ephron (she directed You’ve Got Mail and wrote When Harry Met Sally) and b) I like movies about showbiz.  I was wrong on both accounts.

Julie Kavner (unmistakable as the voice of Marge Simpson) stars Dottie, as a middle-aged single mom who gets her big break in stand-up comedy.  Gaby Hoffman (Field of Dreams) and a frumpy Samantha Mathis (Little Women) star as her daughters, Opal and Erica.  The film tries to tell the story from both Dottie and Erica’s points of view, but ends up focusing more on the latter.  The real story that needed to be told was from Dottie’s side, but things like stand-up routines and dealing with agents get glossed over whereas Erica’s first romance gets way too much screen time (including a sex scene that really pushes it for a PG-13).

The film is, on the whole, rather tepid and unforgettable.  If nothing else it shows how far Ephron has come as a director.

Perfect for: Hmmmm…..

Review: ‘Australia’

December 18, 2008

Baz Luhrmann’s first film since 2001’s Moulin Rouge! has all the trappings of a sure-fire hit, with its attractive leads, money shots of rugged landscapes and immaculately designed sets and costumes.  But something in Australia is missing, but after sitting in the theater for nearly three hours, I don’t care what.

What’s it about? I’m not 100% sure, because for the first half of the movie I couldn’t understand what all these Aussies were saying.  (Like the superb Irish film Once, this one needs subtitles even though it’s in English.)  But this is what I gather: Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) is a rich British prude who comes to Faraway Downs, her husband’s money pit of of a ranch in the Australian Outback, to sell the property and bring her husband home.  Upon arrival she discovers her husband has been murdered, supposedly by an Aboriginal mystic named King George (David Gulpill).  It turns out that the ranch could actually turn a profit, should Sarah  be able to get her 1500 head of cattle to Darwin.

With the help of the rough and tumble Drover (Hugh Jackman, in full romance novel cover mode), Sarah and her hired help (including Nullah (Brandon Walters), the 10-year old half-white/half-aboriginal grandson of King George) drive the cattle across the unforgiving Outback.

Just when you think the movie’s over, however, there is an enitrely different story that drags on for the last hour: Japan bombs Darwin, and Sarah, Drover and Nullah are separated and–SPOILER ALERT–reunited in the end.

What’s good about it? Walters gives a fine performance, and there’s some beautiful cinematography.

What’s bad about it? Well, there’s not a lot that is bad per se (barring the fact that the movie is far too overlong), it’s just that there really isn’t anything great about it.  Australia reportedly cost $130 to make; when a movie costs that much, it should knock my socks off.  I am sad to report that my socks stayed on my feet the whole time.

The film feels like a glossed-up remake of 1985’s Out of Africa (one of my favorite films), but lacks any real dramatic weight.  Australia is cinematic cotton candy; Out of Africa is meat and potatoes.

Perfect for: Swoony Hugh Jackman fans.

Netflix this: ‘The Nativity Story’

December 14, 2008

I must confess: I planned on liking this movie before I even saw it.  As a Christian and as a movie addict, The Nativity Story seemed like the right amalgamation of spirituality and cinema.  I was in the mood to watch an uplifting film about the Christmas story, especially since I tried to watch the abismal Rankin-Bass special Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey the other day.  (Bastardizing Santa and Rudolph is one thing, but stay away fom the birth of Jesus.)

I shied away from The Nativity Story because when it was released theatrically in 2006 it got lousy reviews (Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer has it at 38%) and it only grossed about $44 million worldwide.  Quite a pitiful sum, when you consider that the target audience is all of Christendom (that’s a lot of people).  So I added it to my Netflix queue, wanting to get into the Christmas spirit in a medium that speaks to me.  (I’m not big on candy canes or tacky sweaters.)

It could be my innate bias towards such a film, but I found The Nativity Story to be a compelling and, yes, moving  portrayal of a story I’ve heard and read numerous times.  This is a film where you know what’s going to happen.  The key is to enjoy the journey of how they arrive at the final destination.

What’s it about? Regardless of your faith or your devotion to it, there’s a pretty good chance you know the gist of the story.  Set in the year before Christ’s birth, Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is told in a vision that she’ll give birth to a child that will be the Messiah the prophets have proclaimed would redeem the people of Israel.  Pretty controversial, considering that her betrothed husband Joseph (Otto Isaac) is still her betrothed (read: they haven’t consummated the marriage).  Despite persecution and King Herrod’s (Ciaran Hinds) constant attempts to locate the prophecied Messiah.  Add some shepherds and the three wise men, and you’ve got yourself The Nativity Story.

What’s good about it? This is one of those films where you can tell that meticulous research was put into this film.  You get a sense of the everyday life of living in Nazareth.  You get a better understanding of the political climate.  You have a little more context for why people did what they did back then.  There’s attention to detail and there’s sense of scope from seeing a studio-funded production.  And at a hour and forty-one minutes, The Nativity Story doesn’t overstay its welcome.

And while there are a lot of dramatic holes to fill with a movie based on scripture, screenwriter Mike Rich does a good job of developing the relationship between Mary and Joseph.  If anything this movie is the story of how they fell in love.  It added a nice human touch to a story so immersed in the divine.

This is the type of film I want to watch every year and make it part of my family’s tradition.

What’s bad about it? I wanted to like this film, so I don’t have much to say here.

Perfect for: Anyone needing a detox from innocuous Christmas tv specials or made-for-tv movies.  Oh, and the 2 billion Christians on earth.

DVD Review: ‘Gremlins’ – Yes, I’m blogging about ‘Gremlins.’

December 11, 2008

I have a love-hate relationship with Gremlins.  It’s a stupid movie.  I know this.  Yet, for some reason I cannot help but enjoy watching this movie.  Perhaps my affinity for Gremlins stems from not being allowed to see it when it was released in theaters.  I was seven, and the commericals (and the above trailer) refrained from actually showing what the fiendish critters looked like, which meant I didn’t think it would be that scary.

My parents wouldn’t let me see it, although my uncle (who, being a mere eight years older than me, was more like an older brother than an uncle) told me all about the movie.  The closest I came to actually seeing it was owning a t-shirt with Gizmo on it.  So yeah, not that close.  I don’t remember when I did, in fact, watch Gremlins, but I remember I loved it.  (I was twelve when Gremlins 2 came out, and I saw it twice in the theater.  Jealous?)

I had been waiting for quite some time to buy Gremlins, but never felt right about paying actual money for it.  Then Target had it on sale for $4, and that’s very close to no money, so I bought it.  And I’m happy/sad to say, I’ve enjoyed watching it again.

What seven year-old WOULDNT want to see this?

What seven year-old WOULDN'T want to see this?

What’s it about? Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) is a putz-ish bank teller whose dad is a putz-ish inventor.  Dad goes on a business trip and brings home a critter called a Mogwai named Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel–yes, that Howie Mandel).  There are some rules to follow when keeping a Mogwai: 1) keep it out of bright light; 2) don’t get it wet; 3) don’t feed it after midnight.

Billy accidentally spills water on Gizmo, which causes the little critter to reproduce asexually.  So now Billy owns five Mogwai.  The putz.  Then he accidentally feeds all of them (except Gizmo)  after midnight, which causes them to turn into little monsters who wreak havoc on the entire town.  Smooth move, Peltzer!

What’s good about it? The scene where Billy’s mother (Frances Lee McCain) is home alone with the Gremlins is effectively scary.  And gory!  (This film, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, prompted the MPAA to introduce the PG-13 rating.)

The film walks the fine line between dopey comedy and tepid horror, but does so with such panache, you can’t help but accidentally watch the whole movie.  And the final showdown between Stripe, the head Gremlin, and Billy is enjoyable, if for no other reason than to see Stripe shoot Billy with a crossbow.

What’s bad about it? It’s silly and gross.  (This may also be a good thing.   But I’m not the boss of you, so make up your own mind.)

Perfect for: I have no idea.

Netflix this: ‘Edward Scissorhands’

December 9, 2008

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Aside from the occasional cold, I don’t get sick very often.  But last week I was violently ill.  I spent a lot of time in bed.  Watching movies.  It was simultaneously terrible and awesome.

One of the films I watched was Edward Scissorhands, which I had first seen eighteen years ago in the theater.  (And no, I wasn’t a little kid.  But yes, I had to be driven to the theater to see it.)  I’ve loved the film ever since.  But have you ever forgotten how much you actually love a movie?  Such was my experience with Tim Burton’s 1990 film.

edwardposter1What’s it about? A man-made oddity named Edward (Johnny Depp) lives in a mansion on a hill, above the mysterious world known as Suburbia.  When local Avon representative Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest, in what is probably her best non-Woody Allen film role) comes knocking, Edward is whisked away into a world of identical-looking houses, perfectly manicured lawns, bowling on TV, and desperate housewives.  Peg’s husband Bill (Alan Arkin) takes to Edward like he’s one of the family (which means being agreeable if not slightly despondent).  Edward’s “specialness” comes home is hands made of scissors, which the ladies of Suburbia, led by queen bee Joyce (Kathy Baker), are enfatuated with.  His talent for making cool shrubbery morphs into crazy wild dog haircuts and then into bizarre hairstyles that all the ladies love.

Edward pines for Bill and Peg’s daughter Kim (Winona Ryder), but doesn’t know how to vent his frustrations with his unrequited love.  It’s not long that the one-two punch of Kim’s jerkface boyfriend Jim (Anthony Michael Hall) and the gossipy housewives being to take their toll on Edward.

What’s good about it? Tim Burton is, first and foremost, a director who puts style above everything else, and Edward Scissorhands is no exception.  Visually, it’s a marvel–from the big abandoned Mansion (which is more of Burton’s trademark) to the pastel-colored blandness of the suburban landscape.  Acting-wise, this is one of Burton’s best films.  Danny Elfman’s score is iconic–music from Scissorhands was used in trailers for years afterward.  Wiest, Arkin and Baker give wonderful performances as people trapped in a bland and empty word and they don’t even know it.  But the film really belongs to Depp, who, with this film, established himself as an actor willing to take creative risks (and we all know how that story panned out).

What’s bad about it? There are a few gaping plot holes, but you don’t watch a Tim Burton film looking for 100% coherence (Planet of the Apes, anyone?).  It’s all style over substance, but what style!

Perfect for: Johnny Depp and Tim Burton fans.

Review: ‘Four Christmases’ – The Case of the Missing Third Act

November 29, 2008

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The pairing of Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon in a comedy about family (not to be mistaken for a family comedy) is about as appealing as a peanut butter and tuna fish sandwich.  Separately, they’re fine.  Together?  Not so much.

And thus the joyless experience of watching Four Christmases begins.

What’s it about? San Fancisco couple Kate (Witherspoon) and Brad (Vaughn) are completely enfatuated with each other.  They’ve been a couple for three years now, and each Christmas they find an excuse to avoid visiting their respective parents (all of whom are divorced) so they can take an exotic vacation for the holidays.  Thick fog grounds their flight to Fiji, and while attempting to reschedule their flight at the airport the two end up on the local news.  All four parents just happen to be watching the same newscast, causing their cell phones to ring and ring and ring and ring.  and now Kate and Brad must spend quality time with relatives they really don’t like.

First on their list of visits is Brad’s white trash father Howard (Robert Duvall) and his UFC-enthusiast brothers Dallas (Tim McGraw) and Denver (Jon Favreau).  Brad is beat up his brothers.  Zaniness ensues.

Second is Kate’s mom Marilyn (Mary Steenburgen), a cougar-type who’s never met Brad and can’t keep her eyes off of him.  Marilyn and sister Courtney (Kristen Chenoweth) delight in digging up Kate’s past (She was fat!  The other kids taunted her!  They thought she was a lesbian!).  Inexplicably, Kate takes a pregnancy test, only to have to retrieve test applicator (Thing you pee on?  Pee reader?  I have no idea what the actual term for it is) from a bratty neice in the inflatble trampoline emporium known as a Jump Jump.  Oh, and Brad and Kate somehow get chosen to portray Joseph and Mary in Marilyn’s boyfriend’s (Dwight Yokam) church play.  Wacky and zany mix-em-ups ensue.

Next it’s on to Brad’s mom’s (Sissy Spacek) house, where Brad is still uncomfortable that his high school buddy (Patrick Van Horn) is now Mom’s live-in boyfriend.  A game of Scattergories ensues.  It’s not that zany, but it sure is unfunny.

By this time Kate and Brad have seen other sides to their significant others, and their three-year infatuation with each other has come to a screeching halt.  (In regular relationships, this happens much, much, MUCH sooner.)  Kate visits her dad (Jon Voight) without Brad as Brad visits his father again.  Lessons are learned.

What’s good about it? The movie is 82 minutes.  And there are some funny lines here and there.

What’s bad about it? This is one of those soulless, mean-spirited Christmas movies marketed in a way that makes you think you want to see it.  The Christmases in this film are a mere excuse to tie four family visits into one day (it could very well have been called Four Easters or Kate and Brad are so unlikeable, as are all their extended family members.  The pregnancy test was an invitation to raise the stakes, but it is dismissed with such nonchalance that you’re scratching your head as to why it was even introduced (other than a reason to have Witherspoon chase her neice in a Jump Jump).

What’s worse, THE MOVIE HAS NO THIRD ACT!  The movie, while humorless, follows a standard story arc, and at the point where Kate and Brad learn that Nobody’s Perfect and Like It Or Lump It, Your Family Is All You’ve Got, you expect their newfound knowledge to be put through one more test that will make or break the relationship.  Instead, [SPOILER ALERT] the film does the “one year later” thing and you see them on New Year’s Day with their newborn baby, and somehow they avoided not telling any family members about the pregnancy.  And lo and behold, a news crew ambushes them because their bundle of joy is the first newborn of the year!  And the cell phones ring and ring and ring and ring AGAIN!

So apparently Kate and Brad didn’t learn ANYTHING.  Perhaps they would have if there was a third act.

Perfect for: the Two and a Half Men crowd.

Playing Catch-up, part 2: More movies I’ve seen of late

November 22, 2008

THE BAXTER

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A good friend of mine recommended I take a look at The Baxter, Michael Showalter’s 2005 comedy about a putz who tries to win back his fiancee from her high school sweetheart.  She noticed that I had not posted about The Baxter, and I told her I was hesitant because I really did not like the film.  (She was okay with it–she watched The Devil Wears Prada per my recommendation and hated it.)

The film feels like a big inside joke, like you need to be part of the New York improv/sketch comedy scene to enjoy it (writer/director/star Showalter is part of Stella, along with Michael Ian Black and David Wain; Black and Wain have small parts in The Baxter.)  Elizabeth Banks is the fiancee, Justin Theroux is the old boyfriend, and Michelle Williams is the girl Showalter wants to be with.  With the comedic pedigree behind The Baxter, you would think the film would actually be funny.  The only bright spot is a cameo by Paul Rudd, who can’t help but infuse energy into any film he’s in.

CHANGELING

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Clint Eastwood has become one of Hollywood’s most prolific directors; since 2003 he’s directed five films (including Changeling) and he still has another one–Gran Torino–coming out in December.  His recent films have been real showcases for actors, and Changeling is no exception.  Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins, a single mother in 1928 Los Angeles whose son goes missing.  The LAPD, in need of some good PR, recovers her son…only it’s not her son at all.  (He’s three inches shorter.)  When Christine persists in refuting the LAPD’s claim, she’s thrown into a mental hospital against her will.

This is an exhaustive, heart-wrenching drama that’s not easy to watch.  Jolie’s performance is Oscar-worthy, and Eastwood’s direction is deliciously spare and restrained.  But Eastwood’s got to lighten up.  With Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima and now Changeling, Eastwood has become the King of Despair.  Doubtful if Gran Torino will buck the trend.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE

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I LOVE Casino Royale.  Hands down, it’s the best James Bond film.  Rebooting a franchise is always a risk, and Casino Royale gave James Bond a certain gravitas that the prior films (obviously) lacked.  It was dark.  It was intense.  And Daniel Craig’s Bond was a bit of a sociopath (after all, he’s a killer).

Quantum of Solace, however, is a much weaker sequel (the first in the series, really; this one’s a continuation of Casino Royale, not a standalone story).  The Villain?  Weenie.  The Girl?  Uninteresting.  The Action?  More of the same, but far less exciting.  This may also be the only Bond film that had locations that I don’t want to visit: Haiti?  The Bolivian Desert?  Russia?  Blech.

The film is watchable, but it definitely is missing something.  And coming in at around 105 minutes, Quantum of Solace is probably the shortest of 007’s adventures.  I wonder, however, what wasn’t good enough to make the final cut.

Review: ‘W.’

November 3, 2008

I’m not a big Oliver Stone fan; I don’t mean that I don’t like his films, it’s just that I haven’t seen any.  Barring half of 1991’s JFK (I was bored and confused.  But I was only 14 at the time), my exposure for Stone’s liberal agendas and conspiracy theories has been minimal at best.  Sure, I know where he leans, politically.  But his films?  Haven’t a clue.

I was eager to see W. because I am not a fan of George W. Bush and have, admittedly, been caught up in the election hoopla.  (I myself lean to the left in a state so red it glows at night.)  I’m an Obamaniac, to be sure, and what better way to sit in the choir seats and be preached to than a scathing expose on the complete incompetence of our 43rd President?

There were two big surprises about W.: 1) It’s kinda’ dull; and 2) If the film is anything, it’s a sympathetic (yet incomplete) portrait of man who, according to the film, had to become the most powerful man in the world to break out from the shadow of his father’s political legacy.

What’s it about? Uh, George W. Bush.

The film goes back in forth in time from the early 2000’s when Bush (Josh Brolin in an Oscar-worthy performance) and his team–including Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright), Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn), Karl Rove (Toby Jones) George Tenet (Bruce McGill), Paul Wolfowitz (Dennis Boutsikaris), Condoleeza Rice (Thandie Newton) and Vice President Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss)–as they contemplate, argue and ultimately decide to have the US invade Iraq; to various defining moments in W.’s life in the late 60’s (drinking!), 70’s (drinking!) 80’s (drinking…and then getting sober…and helping Dad (James Cromwell) with his Presidential campaign) and 90’s (running for Governor of Texas!).

What’s good about it? Brolin’s performance is spot-on, and the scenes of Bush & Co. debating the feasibility of a war with Iraq (with Powell being the wet blanket) are fairly engaging.  I also admire Stone’s willingness to portray W. as a tortured soul (his rocky relationship with George Bush Sr. is the sole dramatic force throughout the film).

What’s bad about it? For starters, I must admit I’ve never been a fan of biopics.  I like my films to have a first, second and third act; biopics don’t work that way.  Mostly, they’re Stuff Happening.  And while some people’s lives are larger than others, there’s no real narrative thread to drive the story.  W. is no exception.  The film, clocking in at around two hours, is about a half-hour too long.  We know the basic storyline, so why do Stone and writer Stanley Weiser drag it out for so long?

The film also shows W. drinking.  All.  The.  Time.  Booze is everywhere.  He’s a boozehound.  I get it.  There are also a plethora of scenes where people eat that usually feature W. talking with food in his mouth.

Perfect for: Bush fans.  All eight of them who are left.

Netflix this: ‘Black Narcissus’ – Nuns gone wild!

November 1, 2008

Okay, so only one sister goes wild in Black Narcissus, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1947 film about nuns in the Himalayas.  But the entire film has a wild undercurrent of unease that sucks all the nuns in; some fight the current with all their might and some surrender completely to it.

While made in 1947, Black Narcissus feels revolutionary in some ways; the film doesn’t feel like an oldie, thanks in part to its breathtaking cinematography and art design (the film deservedly won Oscars for both).  It feels new and fresh, and had it been made today, I don’t think much would have changed.

What’s it about?  The film starts briefly in India, where Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr, The King & I) has been assigned to lead of group of sisters to start a school and clinic in the Himalayas.  The Palace of Mopu was donated by a rich general, who housed his concubines there. 

Clodagh does not get to choose her fellow sisters for this assignment, which include Sister Briony (Judith Furse), the strong,no-nonsense nun; Sister Phillipa (Flora Robson), the anguished soul; Sister Honey (Jenny Laird), the perky and compassionate one; and Sister Ruth (Kathleen Bryon), the one who’s a couple beads short of a rosary.

Upon arrival at Mopu, Clodagh instantly locks horns with Mr. Dean (David Farrar) a Brit who lives down the mountain.  Dean is there to help, but often his methods clash with Clodagh.  But there’s a subtle–yet never consummated–attraction between Dean and Clodagh; Dean is a bit of a louse at times, and Clodagh frequently calls him on his crap.  Their relationship never even rises to flirting,  but Ruth senses something illicit is going on between the two and jealously obsesses over their platonic relationship.

Life at Mopu is hard; the wind blows incessantly, as if there will never be calm to Clodagh and the sisters.  Clodagh catches herself reminiscing about her life prior to becoming a nun; we get glimpses into a life that seemed so full of hope and optimism, contrasted to what Clodagh has now become: stoic and unsure of her ability to lead the sisters.

Sister Ruth becomes and increasing concern for Clodagh.  Ruth’s deterioration into madness is the juiciest part of the entire film, and what she does to defy the sisters isn’t really that boundary-pushing, but is nonetheless shocking.

What’s good about it?  The cinematography–as I mentioned before–is absolutely beautiful.  Kerr and Farrar’s performances are solid, but it’s really Bryon’s Sister Ruth who steals the show.  She’s not only crazy, she’s down right frightening.

While the film is (obviously) steeped in Catholicism, Black Narcissus isn’t really about religion.  It’s not a pick-me-up type of film.  It’s one of those films where people learn from their failures.  Sister Act this ‘aint.

What’s bad about it?  The film is on slow burn, so if you’re expecting Lots of Stuff Happening At Once, you’ll be disappointed.  

Perfect for: Deborah Kerr fans, cinematographiles, and anyone looking for a film with right amalgamation of drama, suspense and artsiness.