Tag Archives: I’m Not There

New on DVD: Catch-Up Reviews

All of these films were released on DVD in the past few months. However, just because a film was just released on DVD doesn’t mean I’ll review it as a New DVD if it also fits in some other category. Some of the films I watched that came on DVD in March or April I’ve put in other categories and will appear in upcoming posts.

Michael Clayton
I rated this Well Above Average upon watching it, so I’ll let it stand, but I’m tempted to knock it down to Above Average. I wanted to be blown away by this – the lone mainstream film in last year’s Oscar race? A thinking person’s corporate thriller? Sounds like one to get excited about. And it was good, don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot to like about it, starting with the trio of main actors, all of whom are outstanding. George Clooney is the eponymous corporate fixer, the guy who gets called in to keep scandal and litigation away from his clients. This time, Tom Wilkinson has gone off the deep end, raving about all the bad things the company he works for does. That’s all tied up with Tilda Swinton and some reports she’s concealing about the unethical things the corporation has done in the name of research. There’s a lot of moral underpinning, too, as Clayton must decide whether to do the right thing and uncover the corruption or take the payoff he desperately needs to support his family. It’s a good story, but unnecessarily convoluted by the introduction of Clayton’s brother’s subplot (which is needed for background, but not in the detail we get). It’s also definitely an actor’s film, which is fine – but I would’ve liked a bit more crackle from Gilroy as writer/director.
Well Above Average
USA 2007; dir: Tony Gilroy; starring: George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton
IMDb | The Frame | see the bottom of the post for Amazon links

The Invasion
I was truly expecting the worst from this one, after the horrific reviews it got on release. Folks, it is not that bad. Certainly it’s no classic like the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but it’s a perfectly acceptable little thriller to kill a few hours with. The basic storyline is similar to the original – aliens land and start taking over the bodies of humans, turning them into emotionless husks that otherwise seem the same as ever. Kidman’s ex-husband Jeremy Northam is one of the turned, and he tries to get her to join him; she spends the rest of the movie trying to get herself and her son to safety. There’s a good mix of intense and quiet moments, and I’m not at all sure where the charge of incomprehensibility that a lot of reviewers made comes from, because everything made perfect sense. Apparently they need to watch Made in USA. Or, like, Pirates of the Caribbean 3. Anyway, the moral/ethic dilemma introduced is that supposedly if the alien beings won, there wouldn’t be any more conflict or war, which is introduced by emotion and passion (a similar theme to 2002’s Equilibrium) – the question left open at the end is which is better, peace or freedom. Normally I’m not a huge fan when remakes stick on moral quandries, but this time it works, mostly because these are the sorts of questions that classic sci-fi used to ask before sci-fi turned into mere alien-hunting action.
Above Average
USA 2007; dir: Oliver Hirschbiegel; starring: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam
IMDb | The Frame

Lars and the Real Girl
You’d expect a film about a shy man who orders an anatomically correct sex doll off the internet and then acts as though she’s his real girlfriend would veer quickly into Judd Apatow territory, with coarse jokes galore, but that’s not in the least what Lars and the Real Girl is (though the trailers tended to suggest it would be – yet another film mismarketed by the Hollywood machine). Instead, it’s a heartfelt exploration of the psyche of a very damaged man, and the lengths to which his family and friends, indeed, his whole town, will go to try to help him recover. It gets a bit sentimental at times, but there’s enough bittersweetness filtered in that it never gets too saccharine. Ryan Gosling turns in another winning performance as Lars, while Mortimer and Clarkson, as always, provide stellar support. (Seriously, Patricia Clarkson is one of those people whose films you can just about bank on being good.)
Well Above Average
United States 2007; dir: Craig Gillespie; starring: Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson
IMDb | The Frame

I’m Not There
I probably would’ve gotten more out of this if I were familiar with Bob Dylan’s life and music, but even so, I was fascinated by its approach to the biopic genre. Rather than give a straightforward account of Dylan’s experiences, director Haynes instead envisions Dylan as a series of characters, each with a different name (none of which is “Bob Dylan,” just fyi) and played by a different actor — or actress, in the case of Cate Blanchett. In this way, he builds a multifaceted picture of a person constantly reinventing himself, sometimes a kid prodigy twanging out blues rhythms, other times a self-centered hotshot pretending he doesn’t enjoy media attention, still other times a quiet man dealing with the breakup of his family, among others. And to add to the fragmentation, these personas don’t follow each other sequentially, but are woven together throughout. I was also intrigued by the homages to European art films, especially Godard’s Masculin Feminin and Fellini’s 8 1/2 (I’m sure there were others I didn’t catch), but I have no idea what they mean. Someone who knows Dylan better than I might be able to shed some light on whether those references have intrinsic meaning to a story of his life, or if they’re just Haynes playing around. There’s a bit of an unwelcome air of pretension about the whole project, but it’s mostly made up for by its undeniable virtuosity.
Well Above Average
USA 2007; dir: Todd Haynes; starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere
IMDb | The Frame

Shoot ‘Em Up
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A bit stymied on this one. Point #1: It’s a terrible film. Point #2: It knows it’s a terrible film. Point #3: It’s not a terrible enough film (or terrible in the right way) to fall into the “so bad it’s good” category. It’s basically like the filmmakers decided to rip off every bad action film ever and then go even further. There’s a pregnant woman in danger, being chased by a man with a gun, which pulls bystander Clive Owen into the action to rescue her. But wait! Let’s have him help her give birth while in a gunfight with the bad guys. Uh-oh, she got killed, so Owen has to take the baby with him to protect it. So he enlists the help of a woman who can nurse the baby. But wait! Let’s make her a prostitute who specializes in serving men with breastfeeding fetishes. Eventually they hook up, but not only that, they hook up while in a gunfight with the bad guys. Then they’re chased by Paul Giamatti, and they figure out that something serious is going on. I wouldn’t really feel bad about revealing the “something serious,” but hey. Even a bad film deserves its suspense, right? Eventually there’s a confrontation on an airplane. But wait! Let’s have them jump out and parachute to the ground while in a gunfight. Anyway, the dialogue is so bad it’s obviously intentional, and every time you think it can’t possibly go any more over the top, it does. By the end, my mouth was hanging open in sheer amazement at the audacity of the film. Not necessarily in a good way. But not necessarily in a bad way, either.
Below Average
USA 2007; dir: Michael Davis; starring: Clive Owen, Monica Bellucci, Paul Giamatti
IMDb | The Frame

Margot at the Wedding
Aw, Noah Baumbach, what are you doing to me?! I’d heard the bad reviews for this, his newest film, but somehow I convinced myself that the writer/director of Kicking and Screaming and The Squid and the Whale couldn’t possibly make a subpar film, right? Wrong. Nicole Kidman plays Margot, a cynical, bitter writer who takes her teenage son to her estranged sister’s wedding (to a man who disgusts Margot). Then there’s supposed to be some deep interfamilial and personal reevaluation, except that never happens. Instead, we get only a lot of uncomfortable scenes strung together by uncomfortable silences, and while I’m not generally against uncomfortableness in films, there’s nothing to offset it or make it worthwhile. The dialogue feels stilted, and I don’t know who to blame. Kidman actually does a really good job acting the part physically, but as soon as she opens her mouth, everything falls flat. But the dialogue isn’t really bad, either – I can see why someone reading the script would be attracted to it. Somewhere between page and screen it died, though. Perhaps Baumbach isn’t as good an actor’s director as he needs to be. Also, the complete lack of score actually works against the film, despite Baumbach and Leigh’s protestations that score would’ve ruined it (in a conversation on the DVD) – while score does, as they point out, manipulate the audience, it also gives the audience empathy. I could hardly have cared less about what happened to these people, and I wanted to. Badly.
Below Average
USA 2007; dir: Noah Baumbach; starring: Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jack Black
IMDb | The Frame

I Am Legend
In the near future, researchers create a cure for cancer by reverse engineering the measles virus. Yay! Unfortunately, viruses are tricky buggers and the cure mutates into a rabies-like disease that spreads like wildfire, turning 99% of the population into bloodthirsty zombie-esque creatures. Boo. The fate of humanity rests in the capable hands of Will Smith, as immune medical researcher Robert Neville, working in deserted Manhattan to reverse-reverse engineer the disease. What could have been a routine survival creature feature becomes a good deal more, focusing on Neville’s loneliness and abandonment. He depends deeply on the company of his dog and of the store mannequins for which he creates personalities and stories – a moment when one of the mannequins is “in danger” from the zombies and Neville breaks down in panic could be merely ludicrous but is instead tragically believable in his world of devastation and isolation. It’s quite obviously a Smith tour-de-force, and he doesn’t disappoint. The special effects on the creatures do, but I choose to believe their lack of believability is intentional, because they aren’t the real horror Neville has to face. I only wish the ending had sustained the contemplative quality of the earlier sections – it eventually does become little more than survival horror and never follows through on the implications of Neville’s psychological situation as much as it could have. Still, a solid blockbuster with a lot more thoughtfulness and integrity than most.
Well Above Average
USA 2007; dir: Francis Lawrence; starring: Will Smith
IMDb | The Frame

Favorite Posters of 2007

I love me some movie posters.  Especially when they’re either a) beautiful enough to stand as art in their own right or b) depict the film they advertise in a particularly apt or innovative way.  Thanks to the Internet Movie Poster Awards site (which is a wonderful resource for posters, award-worthy or no), I’ve been able to look closely at last year’s posters (and previous years, but let’s not push this Year’s Best thing too far–we’re already three months into a new year) and chosen several that I think ought to be recognized.

While narrowing down the choices, I did discover several biases I have–things that generally make me like or dislike a poster.  Floating heads of the stars = bad. Selling the film based only on the stars = bad. Lots of negative space = good. Characters depicted facing away from us or in long shot = good. Hand-drawn, cartoony, or stylized quality = usually good.  Anyway, here are my favorite posters from last year. (And regarding the order, I’ve changed it many many times even since I started writing this post, so I don’t even know if it’s at all accurate to my thoughts anymore.)

#10: Eastern Promises

hr_Eastern_Promises_10

 

Eastern Promises is about people who make their living with their hands – fighting and killing, surviving in the Russian mafia.  Highlighting the hands — and the numerous tattoos that identify relationships with specific underworld factions — is perfect, because ultimately what matters in the film is what the characters choose to do with the information they gain.  Plus, focusing on body parts other than the face makes for a much more interesting poster than most.  The only thing that would’ve improved the poster is to have left off the strip of faces on the bottom, which really adds nothing.

 

#9: 3:10 to Yuma

310toYumaPoster

 

Biases alert: character facing away from us, stylized look, focus on story (gunslinger waiting for train, seen between his legs).  This was one of my very favorite posters when it came out last year, but I’ve started to cool on it a little bit because I think ultimately, it’s a little too busy.  The grunge styling is cool, but there’s too much of it in too many places, too many flourishes, and the director blurb on the right side is indulgent.  Still, the monochrome coloring and unusual layout make it heaps better than most posters.

 

 

#8: Spider-Man 3

spider_man_three

 

Another tendency I have: a strong preference for teaser posters over the final one-sheets.  Regardless of how good Spider-Man 3 turned to be (or not be), this teaser is near perfection.  It’s simple, it’s iconic, and he’s wearing a black suit.  Which I know, I know, is evil, but it’s SO HOT.  The later posters made the conflict between good/red Spider-Man and bad/black Spider-Man more clear, but for pure visual impact, none of them match this one.

 

 

 

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Trailer Watch – Highly Anticipated

Haven’t done a trailer watch for a while. Most of the things I’m most interested in, especially this time of the year, are limited release films, and it feels weird to plug them when they come out when I know that I and most everyone I know won’t be able to see them for at least a few weeks, if then. So it’s sort of weird. But there are some things coming out that I’m super-excited about. Most of these are coming out in the next couple of months.

Juno

opens December 5th, limited

CURRENT MOST ANTICIPATED. I want to see it two months ago. Except if I had I couldn’t be enjoying the anticipation so much right now. Ellen Page is one of the best young actresses in Hollywood right now hands down, Michael Cera is adorable, plus Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner. And it’s a total festival darling of exactly the type that I always love. I’m also pleased that screenwriter Diablo Cody is getting as much attention as she is; screenwriters don’t get noticed as much as they should, and she was getting noticed even before the strike. Ooh, and I forgot until I just watched the trailer again–Thank You For Smoking was one of my favorite films last year, so I’m a fan of the director, too.

Atonement

opens December 7th

After I see Juno, Atonement will become my CURRENT MOST ANTICIPATED. Of course, that won’t last long, since it comes out two days later. Ah well. The book is one of the best I’ve read all year, the cast is great, it’s the same guy that directed Pride and Prejudice a couple of years ago (which quickly became one of my favorite Austen adaptations), and pretty much every review I’ve seen from the festival circuit has been nothing short of glowing. Read the book, folks, then go see the movie. Simple as that.

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