Sunday, November 30, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

There are parts of this film that are stunning. The cinematography is gorgeous. There are many scenes that are thrilling to watch. I like the storytelling structure of flashbacks that explain how the protagonist has reached where he is on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? I like the attempt to show the drastic changes of Mumbai and the thriving slum life as part of the story rather than trying to make us feel sorry for the characters. I like some of the fairy tale aspects of the movie. There are moments that remind me of Oliver Twist and the television series City of Men.

Unfortunately, the movie has many weak moments as well. The two hours really drag. And a few of the plot developments don't quite ring true. The movie has a lot of flash (all of Boyle's movies do) and quite a bit of substance. But the movie never really connected the two well enough for me. The characters weren't terribly interesting either other than the Millionaire host.

I respect Danny Boyle's chameleon like film career. But for the most part, even his best movies are always slightly off from being the great movies that I keep thinking he's going to make. But perhaps this is the best that it will get. And that is good enough - but a masterpiece this is not.

Directed by Danny Boyle
2008
Times Square 25

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Made for Each Other

This movie flat out sucked. Edward Zwick recently raved about it in the New York Times and I thought that this would be a fun lighthearted 30's romp to watch over the weekend with SHR but it wasn't. It was boring, ludicrous, stilted, unfunny, and bizarre in a bad way.

The film is about two folks who get married right after meeting each other and then have to figure out what marriage is about -- meddling mother-in-laws, misunderstandings, babies, annoying bosses, etc, etc. This stuff is all ripe for 1930's exploration but instead it was 1930's crap.

For SHR to not like a Jimmy Stewart movie is really saying something.

Edward Zwick is on my list.

Directed by John Cromwell
1939
DVD

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story

Compared to Karl Rove, Lee Atwater came across like a pussycat. In fact, that's what made him so nefarious. Rove looks evil, talks evil, and is evil. Atwater seemed to be in on the joke and kind of seemed like a nice guy - that is when he wasn't playing some of the dirtiest tricks of any modern political campaign.

This documentary was well done. It was so entertaining that it pulled SHR in. She didn't know much at all about Atwater and was actively rooting for his painful demise - which did happen of brain cancer at the age of 41, three short years after Bush's '88 victory.

Atwater was a complicated figure. How could he have had so many African-American friends in the music world when he was responsible for ugly race baiting tactics like the Willie Horton ad?
What effect did seeing his brother die in front of him from burning grease when he was a kid have on him? Did he really repent on his death bed or was he merely guilt ridden and afraid of eternal damnation for his sins?

I still can't get over the blues jam to celebrate Bush's victory. Creepy and depressing but I could not take my eyes off it.

The interviews are illuminating, the footage is fascinating, the pictures of a bloated Atwater as he neared death were astounding. If you have any interest in political documentaries, check this one out.

Directed by Stefan Forbes
2008
PBS

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten

There were parts of this I really liked. There were parts that I was a bit bored with. It was strangely too broad and too specific at the same time. To be honest, I'm not sure how interested I am in Strummer's entire life. I think I would have preferred a 2 hour doc on The Clash rather than a two hour doc about Strummer.

The campfire interviews were a very interesting way to get around the usual talking heads doc staple. But why, oh why, did Bono have to weasel his way into this? Someone needs to tell that guy to shut the f up.

Directed by Julien Temple
2007
DVD

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Visitor

I liked the first third, didn't like the last third, and kind of liked the last third. SHR couldn't make it past the halfway point.

Was the plot a bit contrived? Yes. In fact, a lot bit. But I was able to buy into it for the most part. SHR was not. She just didn't buy that such a grumpypants professor in Connecticut would let two immigrant squatters stay in his Manhattan apt. upon discovering them. I didn't have a problem with that because otherwise the whole movie falls apart and the lonely professor can't change in profound ways.

The performances are good. The plot is interesting but I couldn't help feeling that the characters just weren't all that well-written. McCarthy was more concerned about telling the story than writing interesting characters. We don't need the characters to explain themselves in big pronouncements. The most effective part of the movie has no dialogue and is all the more devastating for it.

Overall, this is a letdown after The Station Agent.

Directed by Tom McCarthy
2008
DVD

Monday, November 17, 2008

Taxi to the Dark Side

Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) tells the story of an unlucky Afghan taxi driver murdered in an American prison camp during "interrogations" in Bagram, Afghanistan. It uses this one story to illustrate the bigger context of our country's penchant for torture over the past seven plus years.

This won a Best Doc last year and I can see why. It is quite good and well worth seeing. This is one of those films about the past seven years that will be referenced to and re-viewed for years. It is downright riveting.

Directed by Alex Gibney
2007
HBO

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

I'm astounded at how bad this movie is. Absolutely astounded. I was prepared for it to be bad because Jim and Mitch both hated it but I wasn't expecting it to be quite as bad as it was.

Sure, the characters were supposed to be bumbling. Sure, they weren't supposed to be likable. But they were so incredibly bumbling that it wasn't interesting. They were so irritating for no reason. There was no deeper meaning to it. They were bumbling and annoying for bumbling and annoying sake as opposed to building up any suspense or intrigue or any feeling in me other than a creeping fatigue.

Plus --

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as brothers? No way, no way.

The drug scenes are like a middle schooler's daydreams of what it would be like to be a coke addict.

The "shocking" ending is obvious for about 45 minutes.

The "edgy" editing and jumbled storytelling structure felt like a sad attempt by Lumet to try to stay hip and modern. Terrible.

An awful movie all the way through.

Marisa Tomei was naked a lot though and she looked damn good.

Directed by Sidney Lumet
2007
Showtime

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Happy-Go-Lucky

For the first third of this movie, I wasn't sure how I was supposed to feel about the main character, Poppy. She is always in a good mood and joking around and friendly and caring. But ... and it is a big but ... her constant good cheer is a bit annoying. Was this character going to ride through the whole movie like this? Where was it going?

The second third of the film, I settled in. Things began to really gel. Yes, Poppy is annoying. But the once a week lessons with her angry, racist driving instructor are fascinating to watch. She flirts. She jokes around but doesn't realize how some of her jokes and flirtations are taken. But she's too oblivious in her own silliness to notice. The eventual showdown between the two is startling and of the best scenes of any film I've seen all year.

The last third, it all comes together into brilliance. Poppy isn't immature in the way that the protagonists in Judd Apatow movies are immature but she definitely comes to a deeper realization of who she is and how her actions affect others by the end. The film just kept getting better and better as it built to a completely satisfying realistic conclusion. I shouldn't have doubted Mike Leigh.

Directed by Mike Leigh
2008
Cobble Hill

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Tomorrow is Another Day

The first half of this was a very good film noir type film. The second half was a pretty lightweight John Steinbeck wannabe.

But that first half was damn good, if for no other reason, that ten cent a dance scene. I assume that this kind of thing was common in 1951? Basically it was a big dance hall where men bought a bunch of tickets for a dime each. They then used the tickets to pay the women at the place to dance with them for a minute per ticket. At the end of each minute, a loud buzzer went off and you had to re-up or stop dancing all close like. Very odd.

Directed by Felix E. Feist
1951
AFI Silver Theater

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Synecdoche New York

While watching this, I kept going back and forth between thinking this is one of the best movies I've seen in a long time and "Wow, what a convoluted mess!" I guess my overall opinion is that this falls somewhere in between. But like any Charlie Kaufman effort, even a mess of a movie is still interesting and worthwhile.

I wasn't able to always exactly follow what was going on but that might have been because I was very tired while watching it. Or maybe the movie was the cause of my tiredness. I feel like I would need to see this at least two more times to have a complete grasp on it. But I doubt I'll be doing that.

Even if things got a bit confusing, the themes of loneliness, sickness, despair, artistic inspiration, aging, and death all are clearly stated.

The absurd notion of Samantha Morton's house constantly on fire was a definite "Only in a Charlie Kaufman movie" highlight.

Directed by Charlie Kaufman
2008
Times Square 25