Archive for March, 2008

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Southland Tales (2006)

March 31, 2008

I’ve waited years for Richard Kelly to make another movie.  Donnie Darko is one of my favorites, so I assumed, like most people, that his next movie would be even better.  Unfortunately I can’t say I liked it as much as I liked Donnie Darko, however it does have it’s merits.

At first the plot seems simple.   In a world of war and dwindling resources, everyone is on edge, there is a new revolutionary movement in the US and they hatch a plan to mess with the election in California.  When Boxer Santaros  reads off his script it sounds so dumb, so illogical, you just think it’s a metaphor for all the other crap films coming out of Hollywood.  The movie gets progressively weirder from their, trying to turn a B-movie plot idea into “real life”.

For me, the movie peaked too early.  This was it’s major disappointment for me, that the ending didn’t thrill me or bring me to tears the way Donnie Darko did.  The peak was when Boxer was leaving the mansion, with Krysta leaving before him, the weird little lady from Poltergeist behind him, and Muse’s “Blackout” cuing up.  That was a good moment, and unfortunately the ending did not come close to matching that.

One of the film’s major downsides was it’s casting.  It was like someone took the cast of Donnie Darko, mashed it up with Saturday Night Live and Mad TV, then crapped out the Rock.  He just couldn’t lead the film at all, and his lack of skill nearly made me beat my TV.  Sarah Michelle Gellar was great as the “now” porn star, and Justin Timberlake actually surprised me with his abilities to not piss me off and remind me of a teen idol.  Seann William Scott also managed to stay serious in a role that he probably didn’t even understand, but still make it seem like he did.  The rest of the cast just couldn’t get their act together and play people other than themselves.

Some things in this film did not need to be there, and I felt were just added for the “weird” effect.  Midgets don’t have to be in a movie to make it “weird”.  Respect the midget, let them be humans and not props.  Pimps don’t commit suicide, ok… but what does that have to do with the plot or the film?  Why would the Wife and the Girlfriend comment about him having to die, when they die too?  It’s not like he sacrificed himself to save others, which would have made more sense given the build-up for it.   The Christianity bit didn’t really make sense to me either.  Calling the ice cream truck a “pale horse” was a stretch, and the rest didn’t really fit with what happened on the screen.   And in the end, it’s not clear whether all of human life ended because of the rift, or just Los Angeles, or just the people blown up in the Zepplin.  And lastly, Kevin Smith as a white-bearded guru that apparently has no place in the world besides to try and explain to the Rock how fucked up the plot really is… sigh, I give up.

Despite these criticisms, I still did like the film.  My husband said, while watching it, that if I had succeeded in ever making a film, this would have been it.  I took it as a compliment.  I take the flaws for what they were, and I can still enjoy a film that doesn’t make sense.

One of my biggest regrets from my very short-lived film career is that I never got to work with Richard Kelly.  I hope his next film gives him more success.

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The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream (2004)

March 31, 2008

This documentary was well-done and very informative.  I had already read about peak oil and resource depletion in several articles in New Scientist, but this film also lets you know how very much we depend on oil, and all the different aspects of life that will be affected by the oil shortage.  I had always thought that it would be easy to just switch to solar power when the oil runs out, but I had no idea that oil was used in pesticides, herbicides, and basically every other aspect of food production.  I also didn’t realize how damaging the oil shortage could be to the economy and to world peace.  This film, made in 2004, has already made some amazing predictions regarding the increasing cost of oil, the decline in GDP, and recession.

I think it went a bit overboard with it’s doomsday predictions, and that will turn a lot of people off.  Yes there is a problem, but there will be a way to fix it.  One thing I liked about An Inconvenient Truth is it made many suggestions at the end of how you can reduce your carbon footprint and personally use less resources.  However, this film only mentioned New Urbanism, which I don’t believe is a real cure.  From what I understand about the “New Urbanism” developments around cities like Madison is, it’s a glorified subdivision with a few more stores nearby.  They’re still made in wasteful builder-homes, away from jobs and entertainment.

To me, a real solution would be a return to true urbanism, but we need to improve a majority of our cities first.  Right now I live in Durham, which is an unattractive city with poor planning.  This city would need to do some major improvements to attract people to live in the city and not need their cars.  However, when I lived off State Street in Madison, we really could have lived without a car.  I used the car maybe once every 2 weeks to go do laundry at my parent’s house and buy some groceries, but it would have been possible to do my laundry at the laundromat and buy all my groceries from the smaller local grocery store.  That was urban living at it’s best, and I enjoyed it a lot.  I walked to work, walked to the drug store, walked to the lake, walked to parks, and at the time I wasn’t even thinking about peak oil or carbon footprints.  I just really liked living that way.

Someday I would like to live in a city like that again, where I can walk everywhere.  I’d like to have a townhouse with no lawn, because grass is just wasteful and too much work.  When I visited the family in Belgium they had an urban townhouse with a full garden in the backyard, and I thought it was perfect.  They made onion jelly from their onions and served it on fresh endives from their garden.  Heck, in the right city you could even raise some chickens and have fresh eggs every day too!

So I guess my not liking the suburban lifestyle and having already read the studies has made me more accepting of the movie.  But I suppose for someone who likes suburbia, who likes driving their SUV, this movie could feel very threatening.  I wonder if it will really change any minds, or just further divide people into their respective camps.

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Zwartboek (2006) Black Book

March 31, 2008

I’m not sure why I didn’t like this film.  It’s regarded as one of the best foreign films of last year (it wasn’t shown in the US until 2007) and it tells a tale rarely seen of the Dutch resistance and the good and evil on both sides during the war.  I suppose my biggest problem would be lack of character development for the “bad” guys.  Yeah, it does show good guys can exist on both the resistance and the Nazi sides, and the audience can understand that no matter where fate puts you, you can still try to be a good person.  The whole plot twist of the prison raid being a trap, Franken knowing exactly where Ellis put the bug, Smaal being confronted and showing the black book.  It just seemed to convoluted, too perfect, too arranged, and too absurd.  Especially the part where a Canadian officer would follow through with a Nazi execution order sounded just nuts.  You didn’t see the Russians and Americans killing off the rest of the Jews when they got to the concentration camps, why would it be different for other Nazi orders after the war?

I know many people have a problem with Paul Verhoeven’s way of showing as much nudity and violence in his films as possible.  I think in some films, especially RoboCop and Starship Troopers, he did go way too far.  However I think he held back a lot for this film and didn’t go farther than was necessary to tell the story.  But it really doesn’t deserve the praise it has gotten from critics and wanna-be critics.

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Smokin’ Aces (2006)

March 13, 2008

There are some things in this film that are done very, very right and are lovely to look at them in action. The scene where one of the Tremor brothers “speaks” to dead Ben Affleck was great, and the lead-up to a big shoot-em-up ending was not too disappointing. There was certainly enough gunfire to make it worthwhile, though unfortunately most of the interesting characters met with less than interesting endings. To lose Acosta, the infamous killer in an elevator shoot-out was just bland and boring, and though he is hinted at later with a glimpse of his wristblade, it’s basically a dead end. Ivy and Georgia presumably ride off into the sunset, never mind that her friend just gets blown away and Georgie never even made it into the penthouse. And the 3 bounty hunters would have been better off all dying, because having the small subplot with Hollis just detracted from the movie.

I was hoping for more in the end, but all I got was the FBI running in. Then to find Locke was behind the plot to saving Sparazza by sacrificing his boy Buddy, well then it just gets silly. First off, no one with half a brain would be surprised that the FBI guy who got tons of plastic surgery was actually Sparazza. The illegitimate child thing was just silly, you don’t need to have a blood relative to get a heart transplant from, though I suppose it would help. But why would they give a heart transplant to an 80+ year old mafia man that they shot in the past? Because they thought he would give them more information than Buddy? That’s silly, just silly. The organization would have dissolved naturally when the old man died, with Buddy’s leads helping take out possible usurpers or rogue organizations within.

Had they just stuck with the build up to an all out shoot-out, it would have been a better film. But in the effort to put some kind of important story or twist to it, it just made the whole thing that much more mind-numbing to watch.

p.s.  Andy Garcia- please don’t try to do accents anymore.

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Das Leben des Anderen (2007) The Lives of Others

March 10, 2008

The acting in this movie is simply superb. Often I ignore the acting in subtitled movies because I’m too busy reading, but that’s the best part about this one. So much of the story is told through facial expression, and the silence of the actors.

Something that bothered me in the beginning was Wiesler’s almost sudden conversion from Stasi to sympathizer. He had only been listening in on the apartment for perhaps a day or two before he started to become attached to Georg and Christa-Maria. It was odd, and the struggle inside of him was not shown to the viewer. I can imagine it must have been quite a struggle, but not seeing that was a bit disappointing. I think the scene with the prostitute tried to convey his loneliness and want for humanity, but it didn’t really work for me.

As the story progresses, and as he begins to do favors for Georg and his friends, we know it can’t last. I was just hoping for the least sad ending possible. I don’t know what that would have been, but perhaps something where no one died. But I suppose there were things worse than death for some.

But as the ending went on, I got my glorious conclusion. Because no matter what people say about realism, I want my movies to have a conclusion, not just an end. Seeing Georg find out the truth about his “HGW” was just so satisfying. However, just picking apart the last bit, couldn’t he have sent the poor guy a free copy? It almost seems like Georg profited off Wiesler’s efforts in the end, while Wiesler was stuck in his post job. But I suppose if Wiesler was happy with the dedication, so should be the audience.

On a brief side note, I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought Ulrich Muehe (excuse the lack of umlauts) resembled Kevin Spacey. It’s a shame he died last year, he was a terrific actor.

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Fanny och Alexander (1982)

March 8, 2008

This movie is too short, but at the same time entirely too long.  It’s the predicament that follows when one tries to condense a TV serial into a theatrical release.  It’s unfortunate I’ll probably never be able to see it as it was intended, because I did not enjoy it as a 3 hour movie.

For being another masterpiece of Bergman, I was shocked to see how poor some of the editing was.  Many of the shots were at poor angles with jarring cuts to slightly closer shots, or just not timed correctly.  This may have been a side effect of being cut from the TV series, but I worry that some of these cuts may have been in the original as well.

As a movie I thought they could reshot it to be an hour and a half long, sticking mainly to the latter part of the story.  The most intriguing parts would have been to see the emotional manipulation of Edvard, which unfortunately is spoken of but not really seen with his wife.  The degradation of the relationship would have been more interesting to me than the affair of Gustav Adolf and Maj.

I am still quite puzzled by the goings-on at the Jacobi house.  Why was Ismael, described as a brother, a woman?  Why, in general, are androgynous characters played by women, such as Gabriel in “Constantine”?  How would making Ismael a female give the scene less sexuality, as was the common interpretation?

If I watch the film again it will have to be the long version, spaced apart as it was meant to be seen.  I cannot give an accurate review on it as a whole, and can only say that the 3 hour version I saw was lacking.

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The Sweet Hereafter (1997)

March 8, 2008

There was not much for me to like about the film.  It was slow to start, and dragged out scenes which were not at all relevant.  One of the more revealing parts of the plot many people will miss on the first viewing (the incestuous relationship of the Burnell father and daughter).  Because characters were not adequately introduced, relationships were not well defined, I thought at first the girl was just meeting a boyfriend in the barn.  The plot just seemed to clumsy, the way it was presented, it really made me think the director was just some amateur indie director starting out his first film.  Imagine my surprise when I saw on IMDB that he had many many films under his belt, just nothing I had ever heard of.  Seems he gets a lot of money from the Canadian government to make his mediocre films no one watches.

The soundtrack was horribly misplaced in this film.  Every song or sound was jarring and ill-fitting to the context.  Some of the scenes were completely jarring to the rest of the movie now.  I was always thinking “where are we now”.

The film seems to have no resolve.  The dad is never punished for his incest, and for all we know could be boinking the younger daughter now.  Do the lawyer and his daughter ever make up and get along again?  Who knows, but apparently Delores drives another bus.  Yay for her.

I feel like I’ve wasted my time with this film, and if this is the best Atom has to offer, I won’t be seeing any of his others.  If I were a Canadian citizen I’d petition the government to stop wasting my tax dollars on this man.