January 2008 Reading/Watching Recap

The good part about being home from school for the first half of January? LOTS of time to watch LOTS of movies. The bad part about going back to school for the second half of January? No time to write about all those movies from the first half. This is why I keep telling myself to write about the films as I see them, but that never ends up happening. Ah well.

After the jump, reactions to Atonement, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, There Will Be Blood, Weekend, Hairspray, All the President’s Men, All That Jazz, Easy Rider, Go, Papillon, Sherrybaby, The Crying Game, and several others.

Films

All the President’s Men
All the President’s MenThis has been on my to-see list for so long that I almost through I had seen it. But now I actually have. The danger in putting off a film I want to see is that by the time I finally see it, my expectations get all out of proportion and I’m disappointed. That was not at all the case here – this film is brilliant. The Nixon and Watergate scandal is presented as a mystery almost, from the point of view of Woodward and Bernstein, the rookie Washington Post investigative reporters who broke the story. The film unfolds like a very good procedural, balancing the fact-finding itself with the roadblocks Woodward has to overcome at the paper because of his youth and inexperience. Robert Redford does a great job as Woodward, but ultimately, it’s Dustin Hoffman that will probably stick with you, as the older (but not particularly respected) Bernstein, who throws himself into Woodward’s story. Writing, editing and directing aren’t showy, but are exemplary of classical Hollywood invisible craftsmanship.
Superior
USA 1976; dir: Alan J. Pakula; stars: Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman
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X-Men: The Last Stand
X-Men The Last StandDisclaimer: I have never read any X-Men comics, nor do I know anything about the X-Men except what’s in the movies. That said, I rather enjoyed this third one in the franchise. I like the ethical questions that the series continually brings up, and the political applications of those ethical questions, which are always there, but not usually anvil-heavy. Okay, maybe once in a while they’re anvil-heavy. Still, the question of whether mutants should have their powers/differences removed given the chance is an interesting one, and having a character like Rogue, whose mutation is pretty much only destructive, adds to the ambiguity. The final battle scenes was pretty overdone and I mostly just quit paying attention during it, but in general, I was neither bored nor put off. And having Ellen Page in it at all was a hugely pleasant surprise.
Average
USA 2006; dir: Brett Ratner; stars: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Famke Janssen, Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ben Foster, Ellen Page
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All That Jazz
All That JazzBob Fosse is a truly a triple threat in the world of show business movies. He’s an excellent dancer, an incredible and groundbreaking choreographer, and a very fine director. He doesn’t appear in All That Jazz, which sort of eliminates the first one, but Joe Gideon as a character is a stand-in for Fosse in the pseudo-autobiographical story. Gideon is a charismatic, highly-strung Broadway director/choreographer who is also working on making a film. The film is not going well, nor is his love life (his ex-wife is working in his current play, while his long-time girlfriend is constantly wishing he didn’t pay so much attention to the chorus line), and soon his overextended lifestyle catches up with him. Meanwhile his inner turmoil and boundless creativity explodes in dance number after dance number, notably the rehearsal scene involving a risque number that has the show backers sighing “Well, there goes the family audience,” and the series of dream/hallucinogenic dances that accompany his impending death. It’s very powerful on a narrative level, but even better, it’s the best opportunity many of us will have to see Fosse choreography performed under his supervision, and to see his long-time partner Ann Reinking dance. Fosse melded the Broadway dance style with ballet and jazz more completely than anyone else has before or since; his style may take some getting used to–it’s built on nuance and minimalism rather than showiness–but it’s well worth it, and the more I see of it, the more impressed I get. Also, RIP Roy Scheider, who died about a week ago.
Superior
USA 1979; dir: Bob Fosse; stars: Roy Scheider, Ann Reinking
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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Sweeney ToddI haven’t seen the show, but when I heard about the magical combination of Tim Burton+Johnny Depp+Helena Bonham Carter+Steven Sondheim, I was pretty much as excited as could be. And again, not having seen the show, I really wasn’t a bit disappointed. Burton had me from the initial flythrough his stylized London, Depp can sing better than I expected, and Bonham Carter’s blend of humor and humanity added a lot of depth. And Sondheim, oh Sondheim. I’m not sure I’m willing to replace Into the Woods as my favorite Sondheim musical yet, but still. He’s incredible. I will admit that I was not quite prepared for the cannibalism, but the song that accompanies it is utterly delicious (couldn’t help it, sorry). The film isn’t perfect, though–as many accolades as Depp has been getting, his performance struck me as a bit cold; Todd’s meant to be single-minded and obsessive, of course, but I would’ve liked to have seen a shimmer or two of Benjamin Barker. Maybe when I rewatch and can focus on more than absorbing the story I’ll see more in his performance. Basically, though, Burton’s direction and the gorgeous art design were the real stars for me.
Well Above Average
USA 2007; dir: Tim Burton; stars: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman
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Atonement
AtonementI wish I could experience this film without having read the book–a sentiment I often feel when watching adapations; I want to experience both the book and the film as my first time with the story, because whichever I experience first taints the other. That’s actually why I usually watch the films first and then read the book–that way there’s a better chance the book will add to the experience rather than the film taking away from it. With that intro, it sounds like I’m going to blast the film. I’m really not. It’s a very well-made, gorgeous-looking, extremely faithful adaptation. There are lots of things it does very well: both girls who play Briony are wonderful (in fact, it’s a bit of a shame that Saoirse Ronan is getting all the attention; she’s great, of course, but so is Ramola Garai, who plays Briony at age 18), Knightley and McAvoy hold their own as the thwarted lovers, and cinematography is pretty (though a little softer than I prefer), and the typewriter-overlaid-music is a perfect touch. I can’t fault the adaptation on faithfulness at all, which I think is part of my problem. If you like faithful adaptations, you won’t be disappointed; personally I find them a bit sterile. But people I’ve talked to who saw the movie without having read the book didn’t feel the film was sterile, so it may just be me. The war scenes also weren’t done as powerfully as I would’ve liked (the exception being the virtuoso steadicam shot at Dunkirk), and the ending could’ve been done more cinematically and less literarily. These are perhaps minor details, but they were enough to distract me and keep me from giving the film the unqualified praise I wanted to give.
Well Above Average
UK 2007; dir: Joe Wright; stars: Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan, Ramola Garai
IMDb | Wikipedia | The Frame

Hollywoodland
HollywoodlandDid George Reeves, TV’s original Superman, commit suicide or was he murdered? That’s the question facing detective Adrien Brody in this attempt at neo-noir. In all honesty, this is a better film than the similarly-themed and similarly-timed The Black Dahlia, even though it covers a lot of the same ground, but in all honesty, it’s still not that good. I liked the flashback parts dealing with Reeves’ frustration at being typecast more than the murder investigation parts (which suffered from the same “detective’s personal issues take over from the case” syndrome that plagued Dahlia), and Ben Affleck did a creditable job as the washed-up wanna-be actor; he seems to be better in supporting parts, and now behind the camera, than he ever really was as a leading man. Anyway, if you want a look at the underside of Golden Age Hollywood, stick with L.A. Confidential. Hollywoodland and Dahlia are just mostly failed attempts to do what that film did.
Below Average
USA 2006; dir: Allen Coulter; stars: Adrien Brody, Ben Affleck, Diane Lane
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Paprika
PaprikaIn this anime film, scientists working on a device to enter into people’s dreams (for the purpose of psychological healing) have to go on the offensive with the device is stolen by someone who wants to control people’s dreams (for the purpose of, like, world domination). The “Paprika” of the title is the sprightly dream-avatar of the main scientist; she carries on the dream-world activities while the scientist works with a patient of hers, a policeman, on the outside. The world of dreams and reality get more and more muddled as time goes on, but surprisingly, everything stays relatively coherent within the logic of the film. Incredibly inventive visually, though it does at times get a little busy.
Above Average
Japan 2006; dir: Satoshi Kon; stars: Megumi Hayashibara, Tôru Furuya, Akio Ôtsuka
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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
The Diving Bell and the ButterflyI was so moved after seeing this film that I wrote a whole review of it. And then I placed it fourth on my Best of 2007 list. Since then, it has already moved up to third second, and I’ve toyed with putting it all the way up on top. It’s that brilliant, really. Everything about it, from the understated acting to the wistful cinematography to the sardonic narration… I will wait until I have a chance to see it again to revise my year-end lists further, but a second chance to see it can’t come too soon.
Superior
France/USA 2007; dir: Julian Schnabel; stars: Mathieu Amalric, Marie-Josée Croze, Anne Consigny, Emmanuelle Seigner
IMDb | Wikipedia | The Frame | Amazon (preorder)

Lantana
LantanaThe Off-Hollywood Film Guide recommended this film by refusing to tell the plot, saying that watching the story unfold was too great a pleasure to spoil. I’m not sure I’d go so far as that, so I’ll tell a little of the plot. Four disparate sets of couples become intertwined over a murder investigation (one of the characters is the detective, another the murder victim, and another the suspect)…really, it isn’t a mystery at all, though, because the focus is not on the victim’s disappearance, but on the way her disappearance unravels the many layers of secrets which both bring together and separate each couple. It would seem this is exactly the sort of thing that I railed against in my reviews of The Black Dahlia and a little bit in Hollywoodland, but in this case, it’s done the right way. It’s set up from the beginning as a character-driven picture, rather than as a murder mystery; in the end, it ends up being much more noirish than films which try more explicitly to be so. Still, I didn’t out-and-out love it, largely due to the leisurely pacing.
Well Above Average
Australia 2001; dir: Ray Lawrence; stars: Anthony LaPaglia, Barbara Hershey, Kerry Armstrong, Geoffrey Rush
IMDb | Wikipedia | The Frame | Amazon

Go
GoIn the first section of this tripartite film, Sarah Polley, a bored clerk working double shifts at a grocery store, seizes an opportunity to broker a drug deal when the normal fence, a coworker, takes a trip to Vegas. It goes very wrong. Meanwhile, her coworker in Vegas gets mixed up in a murder there. Also meanwhile, two actors work with a narcotics officer to break up the drug ring. All three stories tie up together in the end, but not before a lot of Pulp Fiction-esque jumping around. It’s fast-paced, hilarious, and nearly perfectly constructed, a great example of what Doug Liman can do when he’s not doing Jumper (which, to be fair, I haven’t seen, but the reviews are horrendous; also to be fair, Liman’s other big budget films, The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith have been top-notch in their genre). And yes, it’s the same Sarah Polley that wrote and directed Away from Her. And yes, I think that movie plus this one makes her officially awesome.
Well Above Average
USA 1999; dir: Doug Liman; stars: Sarah Polley, Katie Holmes, Jay Mohr, Scott Wolf
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Miami Vice
Miami ViceI hardly remember enough about this one to competently talk about it. Not a good sign that. Even my scribbled notes after watching it aren’t very helpful: “Perhaps a bit better than the average cop movie, though got a bit confusing (my own fault, probably). And Colin Farrell’s American accent is flawless.” Hmmm. There was more to it plotwise and characterwise than just car chases and explosions, which is usually enough to get an above average from me, and that’s what I gave it at the time. This’ll teach me to watch of two movies a day for a month and then wait another month to write about them.
Above Average
USA 2006; dir: Michael Mann; stars: Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Gong Li
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Metropolitan
MetropolitanThis often gets tagged as “Jane Austen in Manhattan,” but really, it’s an apropos description. I’ve heard people say it’s basically Mansfield Park, but I haven’t read Mansfield Park, so I couldn’t say. The film follows a group of Manhattan socialite teenagers from party to party, focusing in especially on the one outsider, a boy from the blue-collar classes who has to rent a tux and pretend he likes to walk to avoid letting his new friends know he has to take the bus home. Though they find out soon enough, they keep him around because his intellectual nattering amuses them. In fact, it’s quite amazing that this film is interesting at all, given the amount of pseudo-intellectual nattering that goes on, from all the characters. But it is. It’s a very well-realized exploration of the wealth-based class system that exists in the United States, despite our protestations that we don’t have class stratification here.
Well Above Average
USA 1990; dir: Whit Stillman; stars: Carolyn Farina, Edward Clements, Chris Eigeman
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Weekend
WeekendI’ve been trying to watch Godard films in chronological order, but skipped a couple to see this one because the library had it. Logistics won out over continuity. The bad thing: Anna Karina isn’t in it, which makes me sad. The good thing: it’s good anyway. A spoiled bourgeois couple try to take a weekend vacation (with the ulterior motive of obtaining the woman’s inheritance, even if that requires killing her father, apparently), but keep running into obstacles. The most memorable of which is the longest traffic jam in the world, which we pan across forEVER, moving past car after car; some people have gotten out and are having picnics, others are honking madly, and still others, like our couple, pull into the other lane to try to get around it. The jam is caused by a car accident, the first of many crashed cars the couple comes across during the film, which I think symbolize the ultimate outcome of bourgeois life, as Godard sees it–a constant race to get the next big thing ending in tragedy that nobody cares about. The end lost me a little, but up until then, it was enjoyable watching Godard synthesize objects, ideas, and styles from his earlier films. And virtuoso tracking shots make me happy. No Anna Karina doesn’t make me happy, though. Someday I’m going to come to terms with the fact that she’s not in all his films, but I’m not quite there yet.
Well Above Average
France 1967; dir: Jean-Luc Godard; stars: Mirielle Darc, Jean Yanne
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The Crying Game
The Crying GameAn IRA cell captures Forest Whitaker, eventually ordering Stephen Rea, one of their number, to kill him. However, Rea has been talking with him while guarding him and finds it difficult to shoot him. When he’s killed anyway, Rea leaves his group to go find Whitaker’s girlfriend. Instead of telling her who he is, though, he falls in love with her. There’s another twist, which I won’t reveal, but if you know anything about this film, you probably know it already. It’s pretty much all anyone ever talks about with regards to The Crying Game, even though it’s really sort of a secondary thing. Heh. I didn’t even know it was an IRA film until I started watching it, though with Neil Jordan directing, I should’ve had an inkling. Jordan is a really good director, able to take strange plots and turn them into something more. Ultimately The Crying Game isn’t quite as successful as I’d hoped. It’s a quite good crime/terrorist thriller, but the, uh, unrevealed plot twist actually seemed unnecessary and sensationalist to me–though I suppose it does fit in with Jordan’s interest in identity, a fascination that I, oddly enough, felt was better realized in Breakfast on Pluto.
Above Average
Ireland 1992; dir: Neil Jordan; stars: Stephen Rea, Jaye Davidson, Miranda Richardson, Forest Whitaker
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Papillon
PapillonHolly suggested I see this after I raved about The Great Escape several months ago. Papillon (Steve McQueen) was a Frenchman imprisoned for murder (wrongly, the film suggests; I know nothing about the real story upon which the film is based) in the French colonies. He immediately starts to plan his escape, with the help of a rich prisoner (Dustin Hoffman). His first escape attempt is unsuccessful, and he is put into solitary confinement for two years. That would’ve been it for me, I would’ve given up and meekly served the rest of my term. Not Papillon. The man wanted to be free. The film goes on a bit too long, but McQueen owns the role so completely, and embodies Papillon’s drive for freedom no matter the cost so well that it didn’t bother me too much. It’s a much harsher film than Great Escape; if you believe these two films, it’d be way better to be a POW in Germany than a French criminal. In any case, thanks for the recommendation!
Above Average
USA 1972; dir: Franklin J. Schaffner; stars: Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman
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A Generation
A GenerationMost lists of great foreign films include Andrzej Wajda’s film Ashes and Diamonds somewhere. (Interestingly, the one I’m working my way through now does not. Huh.) Anyway, I started reading about it and turns out it’s the third of a trilogy, and A Generation is the first. Since I hate watching series things out of order (even if they don’t depend much on each other, which I suspect is the case here), I picked this up when I saw it at the library. Wajda was one of a New Wave of Polish directors (which also included Roman Polanski), and this, one of his earliest films, casts a neo-realist’s eye on the Polish WWII experience. It follows a young Pole right after the Germans take over Poland as he idealistically joins the resistance movement, only to find out that war isn’t a game. The moment when a mission goes wrong is at once very simple and straightforward and also quite powerful and devastating.
Above Average
Poland 1955; dir: Andrzej Wajda; stars: Tadeusz Lomnicki, Urszula Modrzynska, Tadeusz Janczar
IMDb | Wikipedia | The Frame | Amazon (only available in Wajda box set)

Radio Days
Radio DaysThis essentially plotless Woody Allen film consists of a series of nostalgic vignettes about a 1940s working class New York family. The title comes from their love for the radio, the center of pop culture at the time; the radio also provides the subplot following Mia Farrow as a wanna-be radio singer who gets mixed up with gangsters. Like Broadway Danny Rose, it’s not particularly deep, but it’s also very enjoyable. Having Allen only doing the voiceover (his alter-ego character is a played by a very young Seth Green) is probably a good thing.
Above Average
USA 1987; dir: Woody Allen; stars: Julie Kavner, Mia Farrow, Seth Green, Dianne Wiest
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Two-Lane Blacktop
Two-Lane BlacktopI’m woefully behind on my 1970s movies, and this one came recommended by The Off-Hollywood Film Guide, so I decided to check it out. It’s about a couple of guys who drag race their way across the US, eventually challenging a guy with a sleek sports car to a long-distance race to Washington D.C. (they’re in, like, Arizona when they start) for pink slips. In the meantime, a random girl has joined the entourage and shifts back and forth between the two cars every once in a while. The race itself devolves in importance as the rivalry over the girl increases, and the opposing drivers end up helping each other more often than not. In short, it isn’t the race that matters, it’s the driving. It’s a great road film and a great example of 1970s independent filmmaking; ambiguous, simultaneously arty and gritty, and never boring despite the fact that, honestly, not much really happens.
Above Average
USA 1971; dir: Monte Hellman; stars: James Taylor, Warren Oates, Laurie Bird, Dennis Wilson
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Divided We Fall
Divided We FallThe “we” of the title are the inhabitants of a Czech town during World War II; the Nazis are in power and many of the Czechs are working for them, but others are at least tacitly sympathetic to the plight of their Jewish former neighbors who have been summarily carted off or forced to flee. When a Jew returns to the town after his family has been captured, a neighboring couple hide him in their cupboard. However, their best friend happens to be a high-ranking Nazi supporter. Virtually everything about this film is perfect. The way the couple is torn between helping the Jew and fearing for their own safety, the divided loyalties of their friend (who is a Nazi supporter, yes, but also a friend and a Czech; what he will do about his suspicions is a huge source of suspense), the way the tables turn after Germany is defeated, and the incredible mix of drama, pathos, suspense, and humor. I was not expecting to like it nearly as much as I did, but I was riveted.
Superior
Czech Republic 2000; dir: Jan Hrebejk; stars: Bolek Polívka, Anna Sisková, Csongor Kassai, Jaroslav Dusek
IMDb | Wikipedia | The Frame | Amazon

Easy Rider
Easy RiderInterestingly, this is the film my mom always claimed made her stop going to the movies. I’m not really sure why, but that’s been my mental association with Easy Rider for so long that it’s like it’s part of the film to me. Anyway, it certainly didn’t stop me going to the movies; in fact, I quite liked it. Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper ride the roads on their bikes, apparently on their way to do a drug deal, but mostly they’re riding. And they pick up Jack Nicholson along the way (this was before he got annoying, although not everyone agrees with me that he got annoying, so whatever). They’re outsiders everywhere they go, and violence erupts in a Texas town, where the inhabitants see their countercultural status as hugely dangerous–and maybe it was, to them. It’s a sad film in many ways, chronicling a side of the sixties that mainstream film tended to try to avoid, but there are also many moment of joy and freedom. Not to mention the fact that it paved the way for many of the most innovative tendencies of 1970s filmmaking. The making-of documentary on the DVD was really interesting, too–as far as hectic filmmaking experiences go, it’s got to be right up near the top.
Well Above Average
USA 1969; dir: Dennis Hopper; stars: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Karen Black
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Sherrybaby
SherrybabyI wanted to love this movie so much. I mean, I already love Maggie Gyllenhaal to death. Really, though, it’s not that great. It’s all right. Sherry is a single mom who just got out of prison (something drug-related) and is trying to reconnect with her young daughter (maybe five or six), a task made very difficult by her brother and sister-in-law, who have been keeping the child and are now a little wary about Sherry’s ability to care for the little girl. It’s difficult to know who to root for most of the time; Sherry desperately wants to do right by her daughter, is terrified of losing her, and certainly tries her best. But, well, her best isn’t all that good much of the time. She backslides and falters, and honestly isn’t that pleasant of a person. At the same time, her sister-in-law is basically poisoning her child’s mind against her, which also isn’t that great. By the end, though there isn’t a really a resolution, at least all parties have shown both good and bad sides–it’s not a film that sugarcoats anything, and I appreciate its honesty on that front, but there’s not a whole lot to actively like about it. Except Gyllenhaal, who is utterly fearless and I still love her to death.
Average
USA 2006; dir: Laurie Collyer; stars: Maggie Gyllenhaal
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Running with Scissors
Running With ScissorsUgh. After remembering this film, I’m tempted to go back and rate Sherrybaby higher out of comparison. But, no, I’ll just rate this one lower. I must’ve paused this to go hang out elsewhere at least three times, out of pure exhaustion from sitting through it. I mean, it certainly isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen, or even the worst one I saw while I was home (both Lucky Number Slevin and The Black Dahlia beat it out squarely for that). But it’s interminable. The kid who plays Augusten Burroughs is actually pretty good, and there are enough wacky things going on that it should have been interesting. But it isn’t. The doctor’s family that Augusten goes to stay with while his mother has a nervous breakdown is supposed to be quirky-crazy but instead is just crazy-annoying; Annette Bening threatens to negate most of the great performances she’s given over the years as Augusten’s insane bitch of a mom; Augusten’s relationship with Joseph Fiennes is just creepy (although it also in a weird way seems like the most healthy thing in the film, which actually makes it MORE creepy); and did I mention interminable? It goes on forever and never gets anywhere. Evan Rachel Wood is a bright spot, but she can’t overcome everything else.
Below Average
USA 2006; dir: Ryan Murphy; stars: Joseph Cross, Annette Bening, Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Evan Rachel Wood
IMDb | Wikipedia | The Frame | Amazon

Hairspray
HairsprayHere’s what I wrote in my movie-watching file immediately after seeing Hairspray: “Infectious fun, but I also feel like it’s making me cynical, by a weird twist of reverse psychology. I think what I’m reaching for is that it’s calculating and manipulative and predictable, but saying that feels like raining on some kid’s birthday.” I still feel sort of that way. It was pretty much impossible not to enjoy it while I was watching it, but it took me a while to get rid of the saccharine aftertaste. Travolta is a joke, and Walken doesn’t help him out much. Blonsky, of course, put her all into it, and it’s worth watching for her and Michelle Pfeiffer, who’s delightfully wicked. The music is good, but I wish the dancing had been better. And I’m sorry, I don’t normally mind populism, but Adam Shankman is aggressively populist with no more vision than trying to please as many people as he can and offend as few as possible. There’s no art and little of interest in that, as was blatantly obvious in his choreography for So You Think You Can Dance last summer, which paled so much in comparison to Mia Michaels and Wade Robson that it’s best if we just try to forget it. I was, however, impressed by the racial issues addressed, something I wasn’t expecting. So I’ll bump my rating up a notch for that, and for Queen Latifah’s nuanced performance in a movie which is anything but nuanced.
Above Average
USA 2007; dir: Adam Shankman; stars: Nikki Blonsky, Zac Efron, John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah, Christopher Walken
IMDb | Wikipedia | The Frame | Amazon

Bottle Rocket
Bottle RocketGoing on a Wes Anderson kick meant going back and seeing this film. (I think I only have The Life Aquatic left to go now.) Honestly, I didn’t like it AS MUCH as I wanted to, but it’s very much a first film and taking that into consideration, it’s quite enjoyable. It has the quirkiness and ambivalence that trademark his later films; it’s just not quite as even or as confident. Owen and Luke Wilson play best friends who embark on a heist plan which is pretty obviously doomed from the start just by virtue of their not-particularly-level-headedness. Luke quickly gets distracted by a Latina hotel maid, which provides a charming romantic subplot. It’s probably Owen that kept me from fully embracing the film; he and I have a sort of love-hate relationship (or I do with him; he has a doesn’t-know-I-exist relationship with me), and while Anderson usually evokes the Owen I like, he only makes it about halfway there this time.
Above Average
USA 1996; dir: Wes Anderson; stars: Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson
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There Will Be Blood
There Will Be BloodAll right, time for people to jump in and tell me how wrong I am. Because I really didn’t like There Will Be Blood at all. At all. Maybe I was expecting too much, what with the rave reviews and the PT Anderson and all, but I’m not sure about that, even, because the trailers didn’t appeal to me at all. Daniel Plainfield (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) is an early 20th-century oil man, greedy for the next big gusher and placing everything else not only on the back burner, but completely off the stove. He’s calculating, opportunistic (but also a careful planner), essentially amoral. Now, I don’t think we’re intended to like him, so the movie succeeds on that point; but there’s no one else to like either. Daniel’s opponent is charismatic prophet/preacher Eli, who’s just as dangerous in a different way. It’s not that there’s nothing good about the film; there are a lot of good scenes and moments, but they’re uneven — I did particularly like the opening sequence, with its lack of dialogue and expressionistic photography. My friends raved about the closing sequence as well, but it went too over the top for me. Paul Dano is a revelation as Eli (no pun intended). He’s definitely one to watch for in the future. Day-Lewis will win the Oscar because intense method acting apparently impresses people, but I can’t stand it. What killed it for me, though, was its didactic take on the story — inherited from Upton Sinclair’s novel, I hear, but still. That’s the difference between this very dark film with amoral characters and No Country for Old Men, a very dark film with amoral characters, which I loved. TWBB is thought-provoking during the film, but climaxes by beating you over the head with its themes. NCFOM is thought-provoking AFTER the film, as it leaves you with such an ambiguous ending that you have to construct its themes for yourself. So in sum. If TWBB beats NCFOM to the Oscar, I’m going to be nearly as angry as I was last year when The Lives of Others beat Pan’s Labyrinth.
Above Average
USA 2007; dir: Paul Thomas Anderson; stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano
IMDb | Wikipedia | The Frame | Amazon (pre-order)

What a Way to Go!
What a Way to GoSlight but enjoyable Shirley MacLaine vehicle from the ’60s. She’s unlucky in love, in the sense that every time she falls in love and gets married, her husband suddenly makes a fortune, stops paying attention to her, and dies. An astounding array of men play her serial spouses: Dick Van Dyke, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly, and Dean Martin. Nice haul. The most interesting thing about it is that each marriage is introduced with a different filmmaking style. Her life with Dick Van Dyke is done as a silent film; she meets painter Paul Newman in Paris, so they’re a European sex comedy; Mitchum is rich already and their life together is a glamorous Hollywood lifestyle; Gene Kelly, obviously a musical. These vignettes are never taken far enough to be really ground-breaking, though, making them a clever addition to a mildly entertaining film, when they could have marked a highly innovative postmodern experiment if they’d been pushed to the limit. Ah, well. Expecting too much from 1960s Hollywood, I guess.
Average
USA 1964; dir: J. Lee Thompson; stars: Shirley MacLaine, Dick Van Dyke, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly, Dean Martin, Robert Cummings
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Live Free or Die Hard
Live Free or Die HardJanuary is honestly a bad time for me to watch big action blockbusters, because I’m not in the right mood for them. I’m in the mood for indies and foreign films. So I don’t really even feel right reviewing Live Free and Die Hard, because I think that if I’d seen in it the theatres in July when I was supposed to, I would have liked it a lot more. It’s not that I disliked it, just that I’m pretty meh about it. What I like most about the original Die Hard is that John McClane just stumbles into the situation, which is limited to a group of hostage-takers in a single building. He’s not acting in an official capacity, and the threat, though real, is contained. He jumps in because it’s personal and because he’s a hero. Once Live Free and Die Hard made it personal it worked a lot better; the first part, with the terrorists attacking an entire city, was too much. Made for some nice car chases, but that was about it. I also couldn’t decide if I was amused or annoyed by John’s technological ineptitude. Thankfully, Bruce Willis kept John’s sense of exasperated humor intact throughout, or it would’ve been much less enjoyable.
Above Average
USA 2007; dir: Len Wiseman; stars: Bruce Willis, Timothy Olyphant, Justin Long
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Filmed Plays

Fosse
FosseAll That Jazz (see above) got me into an insatiable Fosse mood; thankfully I had a flash of brilliance and realized that Netflix probably had DVDs of filmed Broadway shows, and they did! Fosse is a tribute to Bob Fosse, a series of numbers culled from the many shows and films he choreographed and/or directed strung together without plot. But that’s okay; you don’t need plot. I already talked about Fosse’s incredible innovations in dance a bit in the reaction to All That Jazz, and I won’t really go into it further. Really, you just need to see it.
Well Above Average
USA 1999; dir: Richard Maltby Jr.; stars: Valarie Pettiford, Ben Vereen, Ann Reinking
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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Sweeney ToddAnd while I was on a Broadway kick, I thought I’d check out the stage version of Sweeney Todd to see how it compared to the movie. I’ve seen some reviews from people who have actually seen the show and said the film wasn’t nearly as amazing. I’m sort of on the fence. Obviously, there are worlds of difference between a filmed stage show and seeing the show live, as there are between a show and a film, so the comparison isn’t really terrible helpful in my mind. Anyway, it was fun seeing Angela Lansbury, though I felt like she played the role a little too goofy. The guy playing Todd, though, actually seemed to nuance him a bit more than Johnny Depp did; that could just be because I knew the story this time and could focus more on characterization. But he wasn’t nearly as good-looking, so you’ve got to factor that in. ;) Oh! And the girl who played Todd’s daughter? SO ANNOYING. Seriously.
Above Average
USA 1979; dir: Harold Prince; stars: Angela Lansbury, George Hearn
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Books

Spook Country by William Gibson
Spook CountryI took eight or ten books home with me to read over break. How many books did I read over break? One. And one I got from the library, too. Someday I’ll learn. Anyway, I love me some William Gibson, and I’d been hoping to get a chance to read Spook Country for cheap, so thank you St. Louis library system. Unfortunately, though, I didn’t love it. The main character is a rock-singer-turned-journalist who takes a job, sight unseen, with a mysterious magazine which may or may not exist. There are also two other plots that converge with this plot, one involving a druggie working for a possible government agent, the other following a family of criminals marked by their freerunning ability. They’re all after the same thing, but none of them seem to know what it is or exactly how to get it. Everything and everyone is shadowy, a spook. There are a lot of good sections in the book, but the ending is disappointing–when they finally find the thing, it’s a bit anticlimactic. Bringing his trademark cyber/hacker situations into the real world, into a real world that is starting to become almost indistinguishable from a cyberworld, is a good move, but it doesn’t pay off as much I would have liked. (Nor as much as it does in his previous novel Pattern Recognition, which is a great book that I highly recommend.)
Above Average
USA 2007
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