Showing posts from 2011

Hello Down There

The only reason to indulge in this bit of pointless nostalgia is to see Richard Dreyfuss as a punk teen. I'm almost convinced.

Mutiny on the Bounty

I couldn't finish it. I'm sure it's a great drama full of huge ideals and brilliant acting (actually, Clark Gable isn't that good, as far as I can tell from his other films), but once again, the plot was long and had too many elements and turns to pull together into a coherent plot, at least in the first ninety minutes. Did I mention that it's long?

I say this, despite my love of sea stories. Do without this one.

The Great Ziegfeld

William Powell and Myrna Loy, though not together in this film for very long (as the film focuses largely on Ziegfeld's varied acquaintance), still manage to exude their typical chemistry. I have never seen those two in any films that didn't just make me want to hug them both. Powell alone has some panache, and a great deal of pleasant sarcasm, and Myrna Loy has enough humor to remind me happily of Ginger Rogers (one of the funniest ladies I've ever seen), but together, they make magic. I guess some screen personalities just happen that way.

Until Loy makes her appearance in Ziegfeld, I actually had some trouble sympathizing with the character, and the lavish stage scenes, though they made me gasp and wonder even now, actually seemed to drag on quite a bit. I fast-forwarded them once I got the drift. I think the camera might have moved too little, and my postmodern brain can't handle a shot longer than seven seconds unless Fred Astaire is in it. I don't want to bl…

Fun with Dick and Jane

An earlier version from which Jim Carrey's remake was made, this film, though obviously closely related to its remake, actually appealed more for its periodicity (though the remake was quite timely). The  middle-class spending which served largely to convince me I grew up in oppressive poverty actually elucidates American fiscal habits and our casual relationship with debt. Jane Fonda's portrayal of a woman determined to maintain the veneer of luxury both amused me, and made me feel pity.

The crime elements actually are quite funny. The way the two would-be criminals bungle their way through (assisted no doubt by the inferior police forces in seventies films) their first crime until they become almost shockingly proficient, and delightfully blase.

It's a great period piece. Check it out if you want to catch a wonderful glimpse of the past, and Jane Fonda's amazing body (mostly clothed).

Mistress of Spices

I love the actors in this movie, but I don't think I can fully stand behind it, or them. Several creative and colorful images enhance the production. I felt particularly fascinated by the language of spices, whose vocabulary, I must admit, seemed to have been expanded for the purposes of the plot.

Despite the imagination of the tale, and several of the interesting thematic elements, I can't help feeling that a moral outweighs the artistic considerations. In my own words, the movie seems to be saying that you can have sex outside of marriage (outside of the rules of your culture), and still have the support of your traditions. It doesn't work like that. As I watched, I constantly found myself saying those exact words: "It doesn't work like that." The mechanics of the theological realm created inside this story seem alien to my Western theological roots. The gods Tilo (Aishwarya Rai) worships are her spices. They speak to her in a kind of sub-linguistic revelat…

The Guyver

This movie fell squarely between Power Rangers and something black and white with Godzilla. It reminded me a little of Big Trouble in Little China, but in a bad way. I fully understand why nobody likes or recommends this movie. Critics won't rate it, and the audience at Rotten Tomatoes gives it a whopping 38%.

Let me tell you: the creatures defy any reasonable suspension of disbelief. They look cute. Even Doctor Who - universally known for camp and low budget - regularly invented aliens more frightening (even in the sixties!). The bad guy was slimy. Despite his admiration of the human mutations he creates (he calls them "beautiful"), he consistently molests the poor female lead. Clearly this directorial decision is meant to make us cringe and identify him as icky, but it made the character one-dimensional and inconsistent (a criticism that seems much too drop-in-the-bucket for the film as a whole).

There's more. I fell asleep. I never fall asleep. During the FIGHT s…


With typical post-modern reluctance (shown by his usual almost painful undermining), Christopher Nolan once again took his audience through to a conclusion that on some level satisfied the audience, as proven by the statistics on (93%). The movie reminded me very much of the British Life on Mars, in that the emotional ride necessarily becomes the basis on which we found our enjoyment because the literal facts remain confusing and unsatisfying. This idea of the real becoming subordinate to some less real/imagined . . . something (I can't ever call it a fantasy, because most of them contain some very nightmare-like elements) seems to circulate among British writers and filmmakers. Even Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat has toyed with the idea as he created The Flesh and then dared the audience/Amy to decide which was better.

Nolan actually did a very good job bringing the audience along in his intricacies (unlike Primer). I didn't get lost, and I was successfull…

Cyrano de Bergerac

Watching this stage version, my original impressions of the play were reaffirmed. The script is delightfully witty (albeit a bit over-rhymed), but Cyrano gets a bit too wordy in the final act. I remember Gerard Depardieu's version, and I thought it was a bit much, but after seeing this version, Depardieu's Cyrano seems pretty definitive.

Kevin Kline, Jennifer Garner, and Daniel Sunjata all fulfill their roles wonderfully. The supporting cast absolutely hold their weight. I'd recommend this version whole-heartedly as a brilliant look at what the live play should be.

Tron Legacy

An amazing update. Although I wish Bruce Boxleitner had gotten more screen time (for sentimental reasons), this experience satisfied me. The special effects were both reminiscent of the original, and thoroughly updated (although at some point, keeping the old forms seemed a little pointless). The plot had some emotional depth, and the action scenes were entirely memorable, and thoroughly suspenseful.

As all films have flaws, I think this one would be entirely in the character department. The characters had difference enough to be functional, but not enough to become more than two-dimensional with perhaps a lot of shading.

Anyway, I liked it.

Last Chance Harvey

This beautifully acted film really captured something important. The characters were played pathetically and realistically by two truly touching talents. All of the cliched scenes from any of a hundred rom-coms or chick-flicks in the hands of these craftsmen turn meaningful. Their age and emotional complexity add depth to what, in the hands of the young, would be mundane, trite, or even nauseating. I never once felt ill.

Brilliantly done, and an emotionally fulfilling experience.

The Worst Witch

I really like Fairuza Balk. I really like Tim Curry, and Diana Rigg can be fun. This unbelievably hokey production, however, can't be worth much. It's very pre-Potter, though. Much of it reminded me of the newer franchise, including the boarding-school/castle thing, and several of the classes.

I think this movie makes a good nostalgia piece, but it's impossible to take seriously. They sing.

The Boys are Back

Meh. I found the story interesting enough, especially the ending, but I'm just not enthusiastic about it. Perhaps nothing strikes my fancy that isn't more whimsical or surreal. I think the story was simply too mundane for my taste. I liked the emotionality. I appreciated the acting skill. I thought the characters/actors had a great chemistry. Positive, but not exuberant.

Me and Orson Welles

For a film that Rotten Tomatoes really loved, I found the ending somewhat unsatisfying, although just possibly because I ducked out of the room at that point; I'm moving in a week and I've been organizing stuff all day. My room, twenty minutes to midnight, is a disaster area, and I'm tempted to sleep on the couch.

Anyway, back to the movie. Orson Welles is so obviously the villain of the piece, and that makes me a little uncomfortable. So many characters simply say he's a genius, but we aren't given the specifics of how. Those of us who have studied his work are pretty sure he was a genius anyway (however insufferable and egotistical), and yet I didn't see it here.

I liked the film, and I would certainly give it a positive review, but it didn't dazzle me.

All Quiet on the Western Front

I hate war movies. Really, I'm the absolutely wrong person to analyze this, or even summarize since to me, war movies all have the same plot: a little zealous patriotism followed by a couple of hours of shooting, polka-dotted with tear-jerking dead/wounded scenes of stupidity and heroism. War movies never end well; as the great and eternal evil, they can't.

This one might be more picturesque than some. It might have some interesting effects. It has some very raw moments, but very few. It feels primitive. I think it deserved the award, though.


Another in a string of early films that can't quite decide into which genre they belong, this film might satisfy a number of human cravings. It might, but it probably won't. It's also another in a long line of undeserving Oscar winners. Loved Irene Dunne, though.

Rotten Tomatoes calls it rotten, with a sad 57%, but it's pretty easy to see why. Give this one a miss.


Brilliant. The only negative critique on seems to be that it's not shallow enough, which I think the film can handle.

I wouldn't call this work perfect, by any means. The explicatory speech given at the end by the psychologist seems to dull the impact somewhat, but we know that Hitchcock jonesed for resolution, never fully embracing Modernism. He also seems to be somewhat of a Freudian Hack.

Besides that, though, this movie is amazing. Anthony Perkins is attractive and endearing - the quintessential . . . (it's a classic. Forgive the spoilers). . . serial killer. Janet Leigh plays a nuanced but only marginally sympathetic victim. The movie provided horrors that frighten even when you look at them straight, unlike most thriller stories, which look a little too. . . chocolate syrup? . . . when you face them completely.

I loved this movie, and it was with great joy that I discovered Netflix reserved the rating, which allowed my mother to allow herself to w…


For many, many years as a child this was my favorite film. It was so much my favorite that I bought the book as a paperback (Love of Seven Dolls by Paul Gallico). Although many seem to love both stories, after reading the book I could only see the deep flaws. Rewatching the movie, I see many of those flaws reflected, and I find myself unable to relate to the childhood part of me that loved this film. Let me explain why.

Although the stage-like filming kept that feeling of carnival pretending, the emotions running through this film felt much too real. This mightn't be a flaw -- it could be the most important factor, making the emotions the only "real" thing in the movie -- if only the rest of the movie treated emotions more realistically.

As in the book, the character of the puppeteer proved much too violent and problematic to allow for romance to develop without severe conscience issues, unless you want to admit that you'd encourage someone to enter or stay in an ab…

Animals are Beautiful People

Although largely less than scientific, this documentary explores the human, human-like and anthropomorphized behaviors of various forms of life in the Namib desert, Africa's largest natural reserve. Check out this picture of The Moon Valley, part of the desert in Western Africa

If the narrator, Paddy O'Byrne, sounds familiar, you might recognize him from The Gods Must Be Crazy, a film from the same creator: Jamie Uys. This DVD has been re-titled as Beautiful People, according to, but is listed everywhere under the original title.

And now to my opinion: I loved it. I laughed, I cared about the animals, and I wished it had been a little longer. Although many of the scenes were enhanced with animation, edited, or altered to make the documentary more interesting, all of them were fascinating.

My Name is Nobody

You must see this movie if you have not already at least ten times. It's brilliant. It's funny. It's full of classic lines. It's dubbed over Italian. Love Sergio Leone, man. I totally dig the Ennio Morricone music, too.

This film also stands out as Henry Fonda's last western. He performs beautifully, and makes a respectable contrast to Terence Hill's good-natured comedy and pretty-boy blue eyes and dimpled smile.

Let me tell you a story. One of my best friends is seventy-six years old. She watches Australian soap operas and unfunny Brit-coms (nothing crass, just slow), and tells me how much she enjoys them. She fell asleep less than ten minutes into the movie, woke up just as the end credits were rolling, and said, "that film did nothing for me."

I cracked up just re-telling the story. Like most good things, this movie may require some effort: trying to stay awake, for instance, after a long, sleepless night. Some of the moments are a little more sub…

A Wrinkle in Time

Like most people, I read this book as a child and really liked it. I finished the series at some point, and spent a few years fighting with my little sister over ownership of one of the books. Happy childhood memories I have!

I attempted to reread the book once, but Madeleine L'Engle disappointed me by not standing up to scientific scrutiny. How pathetic! It's a children's novel! Am I really so demanding? Apparently.

I enjoyed the movie, although it was a little bit long. The child actors seemed to have fun, and fit their roles well enough to help with the suspension of disbelief. The adult actors disappointed me a little, but I think they did simply what was expected, and that was play to a very young audience. They raised the pitch of their voices, and spoke softly, and got all "mommy," which drove me crazy even in kindergarten.

Audiences on gave it a 47%. I think it deserved better, but not a lot. Maybe in the sixties would describe it well…

Washington Square

I hate Henry James almost as much as I hate Thomas Hardy. Fortunately for my impartiality, I didn't know this film was based on a Henry James novel until I started doing my research afterwards.

The film still left me miserable. The jokes weren't funny (typically of Henry James), and like most American literature, the ending completely lacks energy or optimism. Should I blame the actors? Jennifer Jason Leigh, playing Catherine Sloper, captured perfectly all her character's clumsiness and ignorance. Albert Finney struck just the right chord of contempt and affection. Maggie Smith, the comic relief, actually frightened me. I would never blame her, but I most certainly might criticize the director. I think she veered too much toward Andrew Davies, which is a mistake* for any filmmaker.

Sidenote: Although I like Davies's work very much, it lacks innovation. He has never seemed to struggle or reinvent himself. We like him because he stays pretty true to the texts with which…

Love's Labours Lost

Every bit as silly as the cover promises, this Kenneth Branagh's 2000 attempt puts Shakespeare's somewhat unimpressive text to all kinds of Fred and Ginger songs (written by Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, and Irving Berlin, mostly).

I think the effort was admirable, at least. The acting worked (I recognized and liked many of the cast - except Alicia Silverstone, who disappointed me), and the story seemed as plausible as any of Shakespeare's comedies, but so many other, little facets felt half-assed. The sets felt stagey (which isn't necessarily bad, except that so many other aspects of the film were meant to be rooted in film tradition), and the dancing. . . well, you can't have Fred and Ginger without, well, Fred and/or Ginger. Perhaps if it had been filmed in black and white it might have worked better.

Film critics on didn't like it either, giving it a predictable 48%. Most of them found that it simply didn't work. The project seemed vagu…

Grand Hotel

Greta Garbo is a terrible ham. I kept laughing whenever she overacted (which was kind of a lot). Plus I got to see that cliched line, "I want to be alone."

Joan Crawford, however, is actually pretty funny, and very pretty.

Although this film probably began as the intertwining as several smaller plot lines (much like I imagine Love Actually did), in reality it felt chaotic and badly paced. This film is not a favorite.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

Yeech. For pity's sake, DON'T see this film colorized! I'm convinced that colorization is/was the bane of cinematography (especially when they got the woman's dress wrong from The Secret life of Walter Mitty).

Well, even if it's colorized DO see this film. It's a brilliant blend of humanistic realism and emotional surreality. Even says it's worth it. They gave the film a completely earned 97% on the tomatometer.

Do you want to know what surprised me about silent films? I'm always surprised by the quality of the images. I have been used to watching things in snowy, fuzzy screens from bad cable connections, or degraded VHS. I always thought that the older the films were, the more degraded the images would be. I have so often been proven wrong, especially after groups like Criterion, who restore these old films and put them on DVD. I watch these movies and think, "they look like real people!" instead of vague, humanoid, painte…

In Old Arizona

It's Black & White, folks. 1928. It's a Best Actor winner (Warner Baxter), but not extremely deep, as films go. As one critic on noticed, the actors talk in twenties slang, although the film is supposedly set in the old west (1830s? pre-gold-rush, I believe). It actually made the whole thing that much more funny.

The main character is supposedly Portuguese, although his accent (completely fake, and really thick) seems more Italian. All the Portuguese Americans I know sound more French. Maybe they're from a different part of Portugal? At least anyone speaking Spanish spoke real Spanish, although some of the Spanish/Mexican accents were a little ridiculous.

The final, twist ending isn't really all that twisty. You pretty much see it coming from a mile away, which is fine, since that's what you want to happen anyway. Like I said, the movie's not all that deep. The acting wasn't brilliant, either (which makes me totally surprised that it won, but …

Last Holiday

Way fun, if a little naive. Sometimes we just like naive.

The Green Hornet

Although I fully appreciated how well the film avoided superhero cliches, Seth Rogen's character was much too over-the-top offensive for me to truly have any fun. I kept wincing. It falls into the same category as The Office (US) and Fawlty Towers - the "too painful to watch" category.

Kato was pretty fun to watch, though. I liked the effects during his fight scenes. I wouldn't at all have minded seeing him hook up with Cameron Diaz (although that was probably the obvious they were trying to avoid).

Maybe the movie was trying to avoid all its cartoonish predecessors of the nineties (The Shadow, The Phantom). In that case, it absolutely succeeded. Unfortunately, I liked its cartoonish predecessors (something of which I know I should be ashamed, but I'm unrepentantly NOT).

The characterizations seemed remarkably realistic, though. I enjoyed watching a superhero bungle his way into well-deserved infamy. Unfortunately, they pretty much nailed the "tortured past…