|Matt's Ultra-Complicated Rating System:
GO! I can recommend this movie without reservation
CAUTION I liked this movie a lot, but you should check it out before deciding.
STOP! This movie is unworthy of your attention.
|Juno is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale movie season. Ellen Page, who was
the best thing about the overwritten Hard Candy last year, shines as the title character,
a Minnesota high schooler who gets herself knocked up by a kid who's even more
unconscious than she is. After foregoing the abortion option, she decides to have the
baby and allow a couple played well by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman to adopt
him. Trouble ensues. Like the title character, the movie is more clever than
smart--but it is very clever indeed. J. K. Simmons and Allison Janney deserve special
mention as Juno's father and stepmother, who make lemonade from lemons with a
level of maturity and sensitivity that would be far beyond my grasp in a similar
The Walker How could a movie with Lily Tomlin, Lauren Bacall and Kristin
Scott-Thomas go wrong? Simple. Add Woody Harrelson. (With an irritating Southen
accent yet. Did he learn nothing from Palmetto?) Woody plays (at) a middle-aged
gay son of a Virginia senator, who works one day a week in the upscale Washington
real estate game and spends the other six days escorting wealthy and/or privileged
society women around town to operas, balls and canasta parties. In Washington
terms, that makes him a "walker". Naturally, somebody gets murdered, and Woody
faces the dilemma of pursuing his innocence or protecting a friend. Despite some of
the foolishness that comes out of his mouth, I've always liked Woody Harrelson. He
frequently makes whatever he's in more interesting than it would be otherwise. He
does that here too, but he can't overcome miscasting AND a bad script. The
production values are great, but the movie would have been better served if they had
used more of the budget to hire a writer who could provided a more original script.
I'm Not There There are two kinds of people in the world: people who think I'm Not
There is the best movie of 2007 and people who have actually seen it. I'm sorry to say
that I fall into the latter category. Does it make you think? Yes. It makes you think
that even Todd Haynes, who wrote and directed this, as well as two movies I liked a
lot, Velvet Goldmine and Far from Heaven, can't hit it out of the park every time. Six
actors play various parts of the psyche of Bob Dylan. Cate Blanchett gets the most ink
because her interpretation is closest to the persona that most people associate with the
legendary singer/crackpot. It's a long, long movie, and if you don't know much about
Mr. Dylan going in, you're going to be somewhere on the continuum between
frustration and irritation for most of the time.
The Savages This is a fine movie--but it's not for everyone. If you're between the
ages of 40 and 60 and dealing with aging parents--it's probably going to be painful.
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney play the middle-aged children of Philip
Bosco, who is compelled to move into an antiseptic Buffalo nursing home because it
takes Medicaid and neither he nor his children have the resources for anything more
upscale. The children have their own issues. The son is a waiting-to-be published
college professor who's an expert on Berthold Brecht (good luck with that), and the
daughter is a New York playwright/temp whose primary source of income seems to be
reselling pilfered office supplies. All three actors are outstanding. Mr. Bosco should
win an award. There are a few chuckles to had along thew way, but for the most
part, the movie is a gripping experience that will leave you squirming.
Enchanted Am I a bad person because I didn't think this movie was the greatest thing
ever? Yes, I enjoyed it. Yes, I thought it was something that "children of all ages"
could enjoy together. Yes, I thought Amy Adams was charming. But it just didn't add
up. I think it's the music. I saw the movie two days ago, and as I sit here I can't
remember even one of the songs. What's really odd about that is that I remember the
names of the songs. There was something called the Happy Working Song, and the
big finish was Ever Ever After, the Carrie Underwood song--but I couldn't hum them
for you to save my life. James Marsden, who was one of the best things about
Hairspray, has a song or two; but he's mostly wasted. And the most inexplicable thing
of all about the movie is that Idina Menzel is in it. In the last decade, she's created two
of the most memorable roles on Broadway--in Rent and Wicked. What does she sing
in this movie? Um, nothing. By all means go and take the kids--just don't expect to
come out of the theatre whistling a happy tune.
Desert Bayou Whenever I approach something about Katrina survivors living in other
places, I remember lying in bed in Cincinnati on the Sunday night before the storm hit,
listening to the news on the radio and hearing some idiot woman saying to a reporter,
"I'd rather die in New Orleans than live in Dallas." More than once, I've wondered if
she got her wish. This movie is about how two families from New Orleans dealt with
the challenges of being put on a plane and told that for the foreseeable future, their
home would bee an unused military base 45 miles from Salt Lake City. I was
prepared for a Spike Lee-esque diatribe featuring poor New Orleanians bitching and
moaning that George Bush still hasn't fixed their city for them. Instead, I saw a
thoughtful film about families uprooted from everything they know and plopped down
in an environment that is utterly alien to them. The families were stressed, badly treated
by some, welcomed and treated by very well by most Utahns, and they tried to put
their lives back together as best they could. It was an interesting story handled
American Gangster I guess you'd have to say that this movie's considerable reach
exceeded its grasp. It tried to be both The Godfather and Serpico, and while it did not
succeed in that task, it is compelling nonetheless. Mr. Washington perfects a character
he has played in other movies, and Russell Crowe shines in the Serpico role. Still, it's
as predictable as all get-out and about 20 minutes too long.
Lars and the Real Girl I'm sure you've heard that the set-up for this movie is that a shy
man in his early 30's announces that a life-size sex doll he has purchased on the
Internet is his girlfriend--and the super-supportive people in the town where he lives
like him so much, they go along with it. I went along with the premise until Lars
mentioned that the people in town had elected the doll to the local school board. That
one nugget--for me, anyway--demoted to movie from inspired farce to
"goofy-premise-gone-bad." Maybe it's just me.
Tim Burton's Nightmare before Christmas in 3-D Fourteen years ago, I thought
Nightmare Before Christmas was about the most inspired thing I'd ever seen. So when
I heard that there was a new 3-D version, I thought, "What a great thing to do on
Halloween night!" So I went. The good news is that there weren't many of us in the
theater. The bad news is that I couldn't believe that I had once liked this movie so
much. 3-D did nothing for the movie--except make it look even more flat and lifeless
than it was; the music--excepting a couple of songs--was boring; and all in all, this
movie is really dead to me now. Too bad.
Dan in Real Life For the past few months, I've been thinking there's not going to be
much competition for Avenue Montaigne when it comes time for me to put together a
list of my ten favorite movies of 2007. Now, I'm not so sure. In a year when the
French seem to have cornered the market on charming romantic comedies (and
perhaps it's no surprise that this movie features Juliette Binoche), it's great to see that
someone on this side of the pond seems to have remembered that we invented the
genre. Peter Hedges, who gave us the first great movie about Thanksgiving family
reunions--that would be Pieces of April with Katie Holmes--has done it again. Steve
Carrell and Juliette Binoche are about as unlikely a pair as you can imagine, but
somehow it works. When they first meet, she mistakes him for a clerk in a bookstore
and tells him that she's looking for something that's "funny and human and could sneak
up and surprise you"--something, it would seem, not unlike Dan in Real Life.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age I just want to say: what a crock! In 1588, when 40 was old,
and 50 was the new 80, we are led to believe that 52-year-old Queen Elizabeth I looked
a lot like thirty-something Cate Blanchett. The irony here is that Ms Blanchett is
probably the least vain actress you'll find. If anyone would be willing to be
photographed as a bald, toothless crone, it would be she. But no. Here, the throne
room is practically a catwalk to showcase her in designer duds--when she isn't giving
a bad Mel Gibson impression by inspiring the troops from horseback--in a suit of
armor yet!--prior to going into the battle with the Spanish Armada. (By the way,
what's the point of speaking to soldiers on horseback when the upcoming battle is to
be fought at sea? Just wondering.) And don't get me started on that cheesy-looking
CGI naval battle. As a matter of fact, just don't get me started.
Michael Clayton After complaining about bad movies all summer, it's a treat to be able
to complain about a good one for a change. And although it doesn't really live up to
the hype it's getting, it is undeniably a good movie. So why the sour comments, you
ask? Mainly this: Michael Clayton had everything it needed to be a good movie before
they let the editor go a little nuts in the process of cutting the film. Because of the way
the movie is edited, there are scenes that seem out-of-place. In several instances, you
don't get the information you need for a scene to make sense until one or two scenes
later. I guess it keeps you guessing to some degree--but not about anything important
(because this very traditional movie doesn't go anywhere any other movie hasn't gone
before), and the end result is that you just feel that the director and editor are just being
careless. The performances are excellent, and the technical aspects are impeccable.
Michael Clayton adds up, but somehow you suspect that someone is using funny
Across the Universe Walking into the theater for this movie, you know in advance that:
1) director Julie Taymor is going to give you incredible visual images to look at on the
screen (She directed The Lion King on Broadway and a visually stunning interpretation
of Titus Andronicus with Anthony Hopkins a few years back.); 2) improbable people
like Evan Rachel Wood and Bono are going to be singing Beatles songs (not as badly as
you might have imagined); and 3) you're going to see something that is
narratively-challenged because the movie is essentially thirty Beatles' songs strung
together. And you'd be right. There are probably people who will view the anti-war
messages of the film as a commentary on our current situation. Maybe so, but there's
nothing here to offend Mr. and Mrs. Middle America. Across the Universe is kind of a
mess, but it's kind of a gorgeous mess.
The Jane Austen Book Club A bunch of Californians start reading the works of Jane
Austen, and --surprise!--the books become all about them.
Two Days in Paris As an actor, Julie Delpy just can't help being the best thing about
whatever movie she's in. So it is in this piece of junk written and directed by some
hack named Julie Delpy. I think I remember that she was also one of the writers of
Before Sunset, the disappointing follow-up to Before Sunrise, which I thought was
wonderful. I believe everyone has the right to follow their dreams, but seeing this film
doesn't make me look forward to more of her directorial work or writing in the future.
Ms. Delpy and Adam Goldberg (who looks familiar, although I don't know where I've
seen him before) play a couple who are so disagreeable to each other and to everyone
around them that I keep getting surprised when Ms. Delpy's characters keeps insisting
that she has friends. I don't know what she was going for in this movie--certainly not
comedy or romance because there's none of either, nor is it even the kind of movie
that makes you want to visit Paris.
Moliere is a terrific movie. Some have accused it of being too clever because of the
way it makes Tartuffe an incident in Moliere's earlier life. I have no idea whether
anything like this ever really happened to him (I kind of doubt it), but it makes no
matter. The actors are outstanding. I don't know what Romain Duris (Moliere) has
done in the past, but I knew you'll see more of him in the years ahead. Laura Morante,
who was memorable in Avenue Montaigne shines as his secret love. Check it out.
The Brave One So America is now the kind of place where Jodie Foster qualifies as an
action hero. Great. Ms. Foster, who played a teenage prostitute in Taxi Driver, now
seems better suited for the Robert DeNiro role. (You lookin' at me?) For all the
sensitivity of Neil Jordan's direction and the pitiful wailing of Sarah McLachlan on the
soundtrack, this movie can't cover up what many of us have suspected for a long
time: inside every public radio geek, there's a homicidal maniac trying to get out.
Could it be said that this movie joins A Prairie Home Companion in a very limited
sub-genre we can call Death by Public Radio?
Stardust The Summer of Michelle Pfeiffer rolls on. In 1988-89, Michelle Pfeiffer had
four knock-out performances in a row with Married to the Mob, Tequila Sunrise,
Dangerous Liaisons and The Fabulous Baker Boys--four consecutive difficult and
different roles that would look good on the resume of any actor. Since that time, her
record has been spotty at best--highlighted by The Age of Innocence and Batman
Returns. But this summer, she's back. First as the hilarious Velma von Tussle in
Hairspray, and now as Lamia, a rambunctious,centuries-old witch trying to kill Claire
Danes so that she can eat her heart and attain eternal life. It's nice to have her back
where she belongs. If the part about killing Claire Danes and eating her heart didn't tip
it off, this is definitely a fairy tale for adults. Along with the witches, it's got evil
sorcerers, cross-dressing pirates (Robert DeNiro), and a quest for a star. It's great
My Best Friend So why are the French deciding that now, they want to be charming
again? What are they planning to spring on us? Are they going to raise the price of
wine and cheese? Sell us their used Concordes? Bring back the maxi-skirt? What?
All I know is that they've sent us another great comedy. This one boasts the added
accomplishment of really making you think about the nature of friendship--no small
task these days. Dani Boon as a Paris cabbie who could be a great contestant on Who
Wants to Be a Millionaire if he only had friends to use as lifelines, steals the show
from the irreplaceable Daniel Auteuil. I've been trying to think of an American
equivalent to Auteuil, but nothing comes to mind but perhaps some combination of
Geoffrey Rush and Mel Gibson. (I now that they're both Australian, but at least they
speak English.) he brings a middle-aged, upper-class comedic gravitas (if there is such
thing) to his roles that you seldom see in English-speaking movies. Maybe his
availability is why we're seeing an increase in the number of movies which require
what he brings to them. All I can say is that if they keep making them, I'll keep
Becoming Jane This movie is pleasant enough, but I always wonder, "Exactly how
much of this movie 'based on a true story' is really true?" How many liberties were
really taken with this woman's life? Did she really contemplate eloping with a
disinherited Irishman? Nothing in her "biographies" suggest such a thing, but the
notion sure does take up a lot of this movie. This is how people get dumb ideas into
their heads and think they know the God's honest truth about how someone "became"
Jane Austen. Let the moviegoer beware.
The Bourne Ultimatum It was interesting to see familiar sights of Madrid, Tangier and
other places, and I admit I was impressed by the fight and chase scenes which are
done in this movie as well as they have been done in any movie ever made. But at the
end of the third Bourne movie, I was still wondering, "What the heck was that about?"
The Simpsons Oh. Like anything I say will stop you from seeing it, if you're a
Simpsons fan. Even if I say you'll be turned into a pillar of salt if you go, if you're a
fan--you'll go. Which is my point. There are two kinds of people: people who can sit
through a 90-minute episode of The Simpsons, and those who can't. You know who
Hairspray is lighter than a cream puff, as bubbly as an ice-cold Tab, and as infectious
as TB. The third iteration of the Divine-ly inspired John Waters movie from 1987
doesn't have the audaciousness of the earlier film or the concentrated energy of the
Broadway extravaganza, but it still has enough of both to provide a great two hours at
the movies. John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer are wonderful in their creepiness, and
everyone except Queen Latifah looks as if they're having a swell time. If I have any
complaint at all, it would be with the Queen's character, Motormouth Maybelle. In the
earlier movie and the play, Motormouth was a minor character, but one who
contributed to the general hilarity. In the new movie, the Queen plays her as if she
were Rosa Parks, infusing her with a nobility and stateliness really out of character
with the rest of the movie. Hairspray grinds to a halt when she belts out the new,
anthem-quality tunes that weren't in the Broadway show. Even high-energy
performers like Travolta and newcomer Nikki Blonsky can do nothing but stand
around and look upon her admiringly. But that is a minor complaint. Get over your
fear of John Travolta in drag (and yes, he does look like Petunia Pig) and go!
Ratatouille Before taking this movie to task with some complaints that really cut into
my enthusiasm for it, I do want to give it its due by saying that it is the most amazing
computer-generated creation I've ever seen. From the wonderful colors of the Paris
sunsets to the wizardry that went into the animation, it's a wonder. I don't even want
to think about how many man-hours went into the scene in which a famous Paris
restaurant is "staffed" by hundreds of rats who collaborate to make the movie's
namesake dish. It's an astounding scene. But having said that, I have some serious
issues with some other things. First, the voices. I'm thinking that French people
watching this movie will be either confused or outraged--or maybe both. All of the
rats speak with American accents; the "villains", portrayed by Ian Holm and Peter
O'Toole, have predictably British accents; and only poor old Janeane Garofalo (as an
aspiring chef) speaks English with a French accent. What's up with that? Also, even
though I recognize that the point of the movie is that you should follow your dream
whoever you are, do we really need to have this point made by rats? Even when the
hero is pink and blue and the most adorable rat you've ever seen, he's still a rat. So
Paris, je t'aime I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation for the onslaught of French
films we've had lately, but off the top of my head, I can't think of what it might be.
Avenue Montaigne and The Valet have recently washed ashore, and Moliere and others
are set to arrive later in the summer. Actually, you might say that Paris, je t'aime
represents a flood of French films all by itself. It's a collection of 16 short films
(maybe about five minutes each), which each take place in a different neighborhood of
the city. The films are directed by a host of international directors as diverse as Wes
Craven, Alexander Payne (Sideways), Gus van Sant and the Coen Brothers. The casts
include everyone from Juliette Binoche, Natalie Portman and Maggie Gyllenhaal to
Steve Buscemi (in the Coen Brothers film, of course) and Nick Nolte. Since you
asked, my favorite segment featured the ever-luminous Fannie Ardant. couldn't tell
you more than two movies I've seen her in (Ridicule was my favorite), but I know I
always smile when she's on the screen. I thought the segment in which a Nigerian
immigrant was attacked by thugs and later comforted by a young woman was quite
powerful. If you're looking for a great antidote to movies with the word "Three" in the
title, here's your prescription.
The Valet Further down this list you'll see Avenue Montaigne, a delightful truffle from
France that is as light as air. Go see it, if you can. Unless you are just a completely
hopeless romantic, stay away from this clunker that seems to be the French equivalent
of a Jennifer Aniston-Vince Vaughn movie.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End Great Googly-Moogly. In the first of this
movie's two hours and forty-five minutes, innocent pirates (don't ask) are grimly being
lined up to go to the gallows. At the end, the two people in the world who seem to
have the least chemistry between them (Keira Knightly and Orlando Bloom) are
contemplating a marriage that will allow them to see each other once every ten years.
That' certainly more frequently than the rest of us want to have to put up with them,
but not what anyone would call a "happy" ending. In between the beginning and the
end is about $300 million worth of the most inane movie-making ever committed to a
screen. Yo-ho-Holy Cow. Spare yourself.
Avenue Montaigne This movie makes you want to learn to speak French. The people
on the screen are so interesting that you resent having to look away to read the
subtitles. A dozen or so actors give outstanding performances in this slice-of-life look
at the people who come and go on the decidedly-upscale referenced street. If it's
about anything, it's about the relationships between artists and the people who love,
enable or support them. Several stories are told; some are happy, some are sad; all are
interesting. I promise you'll have a good time at this movie. PS: At one point in the
movie, a character played by French actor Christopher Thompson has a sex scene with
a young woman whose acquaintance he has recently made. (I told you they were
French.) Ordinarily I wouldn't find this sufficiently remarkable to comment on, except
for the fact that the movie was directed by Mr. Thompson's mother, Daniele
Thompson. Wouldn't you like to have been invited to the set to watch on the day that
scene was filmed? It's a Saturday Night Live sketch that practically writes itself.
Year of the Dog This movie asks the question: Is the crazy lady down the street who
keeps two dozen or so dogs in her house really THAT crazy? This answer is, "Well,
yeah. Duh." Molly Shannon gives an interestingly deadpan performance as the crazy
lady on someone's street who eschews the company of humans for that of the
residents of the local animal shelter who would have been put to death without her
intervention. This movie makes the point rather clearly that such actions, while
entirely well-meaning, are ill-advised. It's hard to tell what the film makers were
getting at. I think they wanted to make the point that animals should be treated more
humanely. I think they succeeded, but it also showed that taking even this generally
good message to far isn't necessarily a good thing.
Black Book I guess it's possible that Paul Verhoeven, the man who directed Showgirls
and Total Recall could have directed this movie. It's got nudity, action and plot twists
galore, but it's all put into the service of an story "based on true events" of Dutch Jews
during World War II. It may well rival Life is Beautiful as the most improbable
Holocaust movie ever. Think Schindler's List meets Starship Troopers. I liked the
movie a lot, but some (including the fifty or so older Cincinnatians who sat through a
recent Sunday afternoon screening with me) might find it hard to watch.
Spider-Man 3 (Note: The following contents are valid only if this is the last Spider-Man
movie. If there are going to be more, I'm changing my mind.) This movie brings a
worthy franchise to a satisfying conclusion. The actors playing the main characters
are on the cusp of being too old to play these parts, and they are given cover here to
make a graceful exit. Spider-Man, while never one of my favorites as a child, has
always been a superhero with a message--that you always have a choice in life, and
this movie, like its predecessors, delivers that message with style, humor and lots and
lots of action. This movie gives you everything you want, but it doesn't leave you
wanting more--and I mean that in the best possible sense.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theatres The first five minutes of this
"movie film for theatres" could be the most brilliant movie-making you'll see this year.
However, that's no reason to see the movie, unless you are already a Cartoon Network
fan who thinks that the idea of an animated milk shake, meat wad and disembodied
french fries doing nothing in particular is something that might appeal to you. Even
though it's a cartoon, don't even think about letting a child see it If you plan to go
yourself, drink heavily and don't forget the designated driver.
The Hoax Watching this movie was painful. Richard Gere plays Clifford Irving, who
famously faked Howard Hughes's memoirs in the early 1970's. Avoid at all cost.
Disturbia A witless update of Rear Window, the great Jimmy Stewart-Grace Kelly
movie, in which Jimmy plays a homebound photographer who spies on his neighbors
and gets the idea that Raymond Burr has offed his wife. There really is nothing
mysterious about this mystery. As soon as you see David Morse's name in the credits,
you know he's the bad guy, and if you ever saw Rear Window in its daily showings on
Turner Classic Movies, you know how it's going to pan out. Shia LeBouef might
grow into a terrific actor some day, but in this movie, he's still learning.
Blades of Glory Did you see the commercial during the Super Bowl about two guys
who share a Snickers candy bar, end up kissing, and spend the next 45 seconds
denying they're gay? (Don't feel bad if you didn't. It was so bad they pulled it after its
first and only airing.) Try to imagine that joke being sustained for about an hour and
forty-five minutes, and you'll have Blades of Glory. Will Ferrell and Napoleon
Dynamite (yes, I know that's not his real name.) play the world's only heterosexual
male ice-skaters. I fully realize that no one in the world cares what I think about this
movie. If you like Will Ferrell, you'll see it. If you don't, you won't. Some of it is
pretty funny; most of it is not.
Breach I don't know if this movie came out this year or last year, but if it's been
released since January 1st, it's on the short list as one of my favorite movies of the
year. Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe and Laura Linney are all fine actors, and they're in
top form here. It's the story of Robert Hanson, "the worst spy in US history," who
was picked up by the FBI in 2001. Cooper is Hansen; Phillippe is the eager young
agent-to-be assigned to watch him; and Linney is his contact with the 50-person task
force handling the investigation. It's fascinating.
Music and Lyrics Not since Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson's awful A Star Is
Born has something calling itself a rock concert been so abused in a movie. Imagine
this scenario: A young singer who is alleged to be "bigger than Britney and Christina
combined" is playing a sold-out gig at Madison Square Garden. In the middle of the
show, she shuts up and hands to proceedings over to someone who sings--well, like
Hugh Grant. There are things lo like about this movie. For starters, I think most
states have laws in place stating that you can't dislike Drew Barrymore and Hugh
Grant. And I'll be darned if the audience I sat with didn't applaud at the end.
However, I'm guessing that it's been a long while since anyone in the theater audience
went to an actual rock concert. If they had, they would have been stunned by the
Zodiac You may be tired of my complaining that movies are too long. Generally
speaking, I stand by my claim. However, once in a great while, a movie comes along
that is too long, but at least you know why it's too long. The director of Zodiac
wanted to make the definitive work on the Zodiac killer in the San Francisco Bay area
in the late 60's and early 70's. It's not an open and shut case; the killer was never
caught, and the evidence is circumstantial. So in an effort to provide the best possible
guess at who the varmint was, the director made his case of circumstantial evidence as
compelling as possible--which took time. (Remember how long the OJ prosecutors
took?) In this case, I really didn't mind so much. Robert Downey, Jr., and Jake
Gyllenhall are excellent Mark Ruffalo is OK. The movie doesn't go for cheap thrills,
and the violence is handled effectively, but tastefully. It's certainly not for everyone,
but it's a very good telling of a very bad story.
The Italian was the official Russian selection in the Best Foreign Film category at the
Academy Awards. In another year, it would have been good enough to win. It tells
the story of children who are adopted (read "sold") legally for profit in Russia. The
"Italian" in this story is a young Russian boy whom an Italian couple has agreed to
adopt. The paperwork takes two months, and in that time, the boy decides he wants
one last opportunity to find the mother who gave him up. I wouldn't think of revealing
the ending, but he's a very bright boy. (Within two weeks of starting to learn to read,
he can read the word "mysterious.".) The young actors are all quite good, and the
story is compelling. Check it out if you get the chance.
Miss Potter For reasons too baroque to go into here, I found myself in Windermere in
the Lakes District of England for a couple of days a few years ago. (For some reason,
I think of the Lakes District as the Wisconsin Dells of the United Kingdom, but I
digress.) Beatrix Potter is the spirit of the Lakes District, just as William Faulkner is to
Oxford, or Ernest Hemingway is to Key West--only more so. In every gift shop, you
can find enough Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck figurines to choke a--well, a
puddleduck. Some time in the last century, Miss Potter (she did eventually get around
to marrying someone) gave 4000 acres of land in the district to the National Trust for
preserve its beauty; so in a sense, she's the patron saint of the local tourism industry,
as well as its mascot. This film--and I admit it, it's charming--tells the story of how
she became what she became and the obstacles that forestalled her along the way.
Renee Zellwegger and Ewan McGregor are much better here than they were in the
awful Down With Love, and Emily Watson is equally fine as McGregor's brother. The
average age of the audience the day I saw the film was probably about 70, and they
applauded at the end. That means: 1) it's quite good; and/or 2) the young crowd isn't
turning out for it so it won't be in theaters long. See it quick.
300 When the movie was unveiled at the Berlin Film Festival in February,
"I was getting bombarded with political questions" says (Director Zack)
Snyder. "Some Europeans saw Leonidas' lone wolf march against the
Persians as an allegorical defense of President Bush's incursion into Iraq.
When someone in a movie says, 'We're going to fight for freedom,'that's now
a dirty word. Europeans totally feel that way. If you mention democracy
and freedom, you're an imperialist or a fascist. That's crazy to me."
I was planning to reject this movie completely for the pornographic violence that it is.
However, if it makes Europeans uncomfortable and look like hypocrites, I may have to
rethink my position. (But it's still extremely violent.)
The Number 23 Growing up in the Mississippi Delta, one of the four channels our
television received was the NBC affiliate in Memphis, which featured an afternoon
kids' show called Looney Zoo. (No, I don't know why they spelled it that way.)
Looney Zoo featured Trent Wood (who was also the local weather man. This was
before meteorologists.) and someone called Tiny the Clown (who to this day remains
the main reason I hate clowns.) Like Little Orphan Annie in A Christmas Story, Trent
and Tiny had a secret numerical code that kids could write in for and use to decode
secret messages. Every time they read out a message, they'd cheer when the number
23 was mentioned. It didn't take a rocket scientist (or even a fourth grader) to figure
out that "23" stood for the letter "T". What does "23" stand for in the new Jim Carrey
movie? Damned if I know, and I'm pretty sure that the makers of this movie don't
have much a clue, either. This movie is a mess. Carrey usually makes such interesting
choices that most of the time I trust him and know that whatever he's in is going to be
interesting at some level. Which makes The Number 23 the first time he's let me
The Lives of Others This is why I hate the Academy Awards. A couple of weeks ago,
this movie beat out Pan's Labyrinth (and some movies that I didn't see) as the Best
Film in a Foreign Language. This is in no way a bad movie (although it could stand to
be about 20 minutes shorter), but in no way is "better" than Pan's Labyrinth. It's an
interesting, if not compelling, story of life in the bad old days (1984) in East Germany
before President Reagan encouraged Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." The state
secret police, or Stasi, watched and spied on everyone, whether they were up to no
good or not. In this movie, a Stasi agents gets too close to the writer and actress he is
assigned to watch and ruins his own career by helping them to stay out of trouble.
(His success in that regard is mixed at best.) The acting's good, but it wears you
down to spend so much time watching people watching other people.
Hurricane on the Bayou an IMAX movie produced by the Audubon Institute (which
runs the zoo, aquarium and other entities in New Orleans), is a well-meaning but
ham-handed attempt to call attention to the problem of Louisiana's vanishing wetlands.
It features a cast of Louisiana musicians (good ones like Allen Toussaint and Tab
Benoit) and tries to cobble together their experiences in Hurricane Katrina with a lesson
on the importance of the wetlands. The IMAX images are gorgeous to look at, but it
feels fake, fake, fake. Are we really to believe that after not being able to get to his
house for two weeks after the storm, Benoit took a fourteen-year-old girl and an
IMAX film crew with him to see what was left? Near the end of the movie, someone
says that musicians are doing their part to save the wetlands. Until I see a musician
blow up a levee to let silt into the swamp, I'm going to take that claim with a grain of
Tony Cachere's Seasoning Salt.
Factory Girl Sienna. Miller. Naked. Is that enough reason to see a movie? I don't
think so, but this particular movie doesn't have much else to tempt you. I thought the
most interesting thing in the film was seeing Andy Warhol presented as an absolute
jackass. You don't usually see Andy presented so unsympathetically. BTW, Guy
Pearce's portrayal of Warhol is the best thing in the movie.
Pan's Labyrinth There's no denying that this is a truly dazzling movie, alive with images
you've never seen on a screen before. Beyond that, it's hard to know what to say
about it. It's either: 1) a bloody and violent story of the insurrection in Spain in the
1940's intercut with fantasy tales devised by a young girl who desperately needed
some form of escape; or 2) a rich fantasy set amid the horror of war. Either way, it's
going to disappoint the fantasy crowd, and I hope to heck that no parents will be
foolish enough to bring their sub-teenagers. As a metaphor for anything remotely
related to real life, it is but halfway thought out. Given all that, it's a richly imagined
and well-acted story that adults should appreciate.
Letters from Iwo Jima "They" say that history is written by the winners. That certainly
seems to be the case here. In both Flags of Our Fathers and this movie, Clint
Eastwood has told the tale of the Battle of Iwo Jima, using washed-out sepia palates
and washed-out characterizations of fighting men. It's pretty obvious that he was
probably trying to do something noble. And while the films may be noble and I
appreciate the efforts, I'd rather that they had been engaging and memorable.
Children of Men The director of the last Harry Potter movie, of all people, presents a
dystopian view of the world, specifically the part of the world around London, in
2027. It's an age when women have become infertile, the youngest person in the
world is 18 years old, schools have fallen into disuse, and a rapidly aging population is
fighting over the dregs of the society left to them. As civilization swirls around the
toilet in preparation for being flushed altogether, a ray of hope is found. A baby girl is
born. This movie tells the story of how Clive Owen spirits the mother and child to
safety through the garbage heap that society has become. It's awfully well done. It
will make you squirm, but you'll be rewarded with a great movie-going experience.
The Good German The year isn't even a week old, and I think I've already seen the
movie I will have liked least. I know that you're supposed to judge a movie on its own
merits, not those of whatever book, play or whatever it was based on. However, I'm
making an exception in this case. Steven Soderberg et al mangled and maimed Joseph
Kanon's novel beyond recognition and stripped it whatever relationship it might have
had to human beings. In regard to "it's own merits," George Clooney, Cate Blanchett
and Toby Maguire were either sleepwalking through their performances, or they were
trying to recreate a style of performance of the past that richly deserved to die. In
short, it was boring.
The Painted Veil First, a disclaimer: Somerset Maugham is my favorite writer. I
was probably going to like this movie regardless of how good it was. Luckily, it is
quite good. Naomi Watts is an actress who doesn't nearly as much credit as she
deserves. (Can you imagine how insufferable King Kong would have been
without her?) Edward Norton is always outstanding. They really bring this work
to life. Check it out.
|2007 MOVIE REVIEWS