Category: Film Page 98 of 101

Trailer Watch 10/06

So my most-anticipated movie of the year (A Scanner Darkly) came out, so I had to pick a new most-anticipated movie, which forced me to catch up on my trailer-watching. You’d think I’d learn that it’s easier to keep up than catch up, but I haven’t yet. (And I started this post like a month ago.) Anyway, here we go: top upcoming movies, at least of those that have released trailers on Apple Trailers.

So Highly Anticipated I WANT TO SEE THEM RIGHT.NOW.

Renaissance (imdb | quicktime trailer)
I’ve been super-excited about Renaissance since I first got wind of the French-language trailer about six months ago. Now that the English trailer has come out, and I can actually sort of tell what it’s about, I’m even more excited. ;) Story is sort of a futuristic conspiracy-theory science-fictiony thing, but the real draw is the highly stylized animation. I’m not sure whether it’s going to be released dubbed or subtitled here, but I hope it’s subtitled. Dubbing always sucks. (9/22 – limited)

Keeping Mum (imdb | quicktime trailer)
I almost fell out of my chair laughing at this trailer. It’s sort of Arsenic and Old Lace meets British comedy, and it looks hilarious. Rowan Atkinson plays it straight for once, as an Anglican priest who takes on Maggie Smith as a housekeeper. Only, she’s actually escaped from a mental institution after a murder spree. And she’d be happy to get you some tea. Looks terribly British, but that’s awesome for me. (9/15 – limited)

Children of Men (imdb | quicktime trailer)
P.D. James is more well-known for her Adam Dalgliesh mystery novels, but Children of Men was actually the first book of hers I read. This was several years ago, but I think I finished in two days. Basically, somehow the whole world has become sterile through some unknown cause, which is emphasized by the death of the youngest person on earth, at age 21. It’s a creepy scenario in any case, and with the recent stories of falling birth rates in places like Italy, it strikes even closer to home. Good book, highly recommend it, and I’m really hoping the movie lives up. Clive Owen is a mark in favor, Julianne Moore is equivocal…she’s so untrustworthy as an actress lately. (9/29)

The Departed (imdb | quicktime trailer)
Scorsese and Di Caprio, together again. Wonder if they’ll ever get separated again? I’m not really complaining, though, because this film looks awesome. Cops vs. mobs, great cast beyond just Di Caprio, the sort of story that Scorsese does so well (and hopefully better than the pseudo-historical Gangs of New York, which was a little odd, to tell you the truth). (10/6)

The Fountain (imdb | quicktime trailer)
This was my new most-anticipated film, until Venice Film Festival audiences booed it off the screen, apparently. But what do they know? Anyway, Hugh Jackman plays a character in medieval times, current times, and the distant future–he’s discovered some sort of fountain of youth, and spans all three eras trying to save Rachel Weisz from dying. I think. Apparently it’s rather confusing, hence the booing. But I like confusing, I love time-bending narratives, I like Rachel Weisz, I think Hugh Jackman is hot, and director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream) is a trip. So I’m totally in. (10/13 – probably limited)

The Prestige (imdb | quicktime trailer)
AKA the second magician movie of the year (third if you count Scoop). After seeing the trailer for The Illusionist, I was all over it, but then I saw the trailer for The Prestige, and there was no question of which one had my nod if I only got to see one magician movie this year. It was really the Jessica Biel vs. Scarlett Johansson question. I love Scarlett Johansson, and I wouldn’t care if the last time I saw Jessica Biel was the one episode of 7th Heaven I somehow tuned into like six years ago. Plus, The Prestige is directed by Chris Nolan (Batman Begins, Memento), and it is so hard to get better than that. (10/27)

Stranger Than Fiction (imdb | quicktime trailer)
Can I explain to you just how much of a me movie this is? Will Farrell’s just a normal guy, going about his normal life, right? Until he starts hearing narration of his life…not just describing it, but affecting it. Emma Thompson is writing a book about him. And we get to see both his side, trying to figure out what this voice that only he can hear is all about, and her side, as she struggles to keep her character under control. The blurring of reality and fiction? My single numero-uno favorite plot point. (Time-bending a close second.) And as if that weren’t enough, MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL. Who is enough to make me see ANY MOVIE, as will become clear if you read the rest of these rambling things. (11/10)

Casino Royale (imdb | quicktime trailer)
I don’t tend to advertise this around, but…*glances back and forth to check for eavesdroppers*…I’m a big James Bond fan. I’ve seen all but one of the Bond movies (A View to a Kill, which I’ve heard really sucks anyway, even compared with the other sucky Bond films), I’ve got about half of them on DVD, and I see them all in theatres with my dad. Now that that’s out, I’m even more excited than usual about this one: they’re going back to the books, back to the rugged Bond before he became so suave and debonair (they tried it with Timothy Dalton a bit, but he didn’t last too long), and DANIEL CRAIG is Bond. I fell in love with Daniel Craig in Layer Cake even though I didn’t really understand why. I don’t really think he’s that good-looking, but there’s something about him that’s just…magnetic. I have high hopes that Casino Royale can rescue the franchise from the last few sub-par outings. We’ll see. (11/17)

Eragon (imdb | quicktime trailer)
I haven’t read these books, but my fantasy-loving friends rave about them, and such great films have come from adapating fantasy novels in recent year that I have to believe this one is going to be good. The trailer definitely looks good.

Curse of the Golden Flower (imdb | quicktime trailer)
Let’s see, let’s see: Zhang Yimou (aka best Chinese director ever, Raise the Red Lantern, Hero, House of Flying Daggers), Gong Li (aka one of the top Chinese actresses ever, Raise the Red Lantern and many others), Chow Yun-Fat (aka one of the best current Chinese action actors, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), story set in historical China, with full-on Crouching Tiger-style flying martial arts? I am so there. (12/22)

The Good Shepherd (imdb | quicktime trailer)
Matt Damon, Robert DeNiro, Angelina Jolie, and the founding of the CIA. I don’t even know how to express how much I am there. What can I say, I’m a total sucker for pretty spies. Note my five-year love affair with Alias, despite its ups and downs. (12/22)

Spider-Man 3 (imdb | quicktime trailer)
For the black suit, ALONE. I was a little disappointed by the second one, honestly, though I know a lot of people liked it better than the first. I wasn’t impressed with mechanical spider guy, I guess. Anyway, Spider-Man is my second favorite superhero (after Batman), so I would see this anyway. The awesomeness of the black suit only adds icing to the cake. (5/4/07)

Ratatouille (imdb | quicktime trailer)
Usually Pixar trailers underimpress me, then the films wow me. That’s just the relationship we have. But the teaser for Ratatouille? LOVED. The title character is a Parisian rat who, in the best Parisian tradition, is a gourmet and can’t settle for the garbage the other rats eat, but risks his life to get the good food from the Paris kitchens. Who knows what the whole story will be like–that’s the story of the teaser. Anyway, it looks beautiful and hilarious, and it’s Pixar. ‘Nuff said. (6/29/07)

Ever-So-Slightly Less Highly Anticipated

The Science of Sleep (imdb | quicktime trailer)
Michel Gondry directed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is one of favorite films, so I have hopes that this one will at least be very good. The trailer isn’t intriguing me quite as much as I’d like, honestly, and I sort of doubt that it’ll match Eternal Sunshine…for one thing, the cast isn’t as amazing, and the lack of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman may be missed, but I’m still excited to see what Gondry can pull out. (in limited release)

Sherrybaby (imdb | quicktime trailer)
Maggie Gyllenhaal. I swear to you, I would go to see the woman read her laundry list, that’s how great she is. In this indie, she’s recently been released from prison and rehab, and now that she’s clean, she wants to go back and be a good mother to the daughter she hasn’t seen for four years. Except the girl’s father has moved on, and his new partner is less than receptive to Sherry’s return. I don’t really know that I expect to be a great film, but it looks like a good solid role for Gyllenhaal, and that’s really all that’s required. (in limited release)

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (imdb | quicktime trailer)
I have no clue what the title’s all about. The story’s all about a kid trying to get out of the tough neighborhood of Queens in the 1980s, and then having to come back several years later when his father is dying. It looks gritty, harsh, and unyielding…in other words, perfect for the type of story it’s telling. Plus, Robert Downey Jr. plays the man when he returns to Queens, and I have yet to see Downey turn in a bad performance. (in limited release)

Aurora Borealis (imdb | quicktime trailer)
This could be exactly the sort of slight, character-driven piece I like most this time of year. It’s always a gamble with these, but Donald Sutherland looks like a total delight, and I’m excited about Joshua Jackson doing something that actually looks good. It has a very Garden State-y vibe, which hasn’t been working out for me too well, because nothing’s been as good as Garden State, but I never give up hoping, you know? (in limited release)

Zen Noir (imdb | quicktime trailer)
This looks just obviously ludicrous enough to actually work–a stereotypical private detective is faced with a puzzling murder, which baffles him even more because it throws him into the world of zen buddhism. It looks like it’s definitely over the top at times, and perhaps depends too much on stereotypes, but I’m enough into film noir that I want to see it. They seem to be having difficulty getting a distributor, though. (in very limited release)

Babel (imdb | quicktime trailer)
Again with the difficult-to-decipher story–but this time, largely because it’s an ensemble cast, with one of those unrelated people concidentally coming together sort of things. It’s directed by the same guy who directed 21 Grams and Amores Perros, so he’s got a lot of experience with this type of film, which bodes well. Some have suggested that he doesn’t know how to direct anything else, but hey. When you’ve got a good niche… (10/6)

The Queen (imdb | quicktime trailer)
Hello, Academy? Yes, Helen Mirren would like her Oscar now, if you please. It’s almost even clearer this year than usual which films are going hard after Oscar. Mirren plays Elizabeth II in the days and weeks just following Diana’s death. Interestingly, the film isn’t really about Diana’s death, it’s about how Elizabeth deals with the realization that the monarchy isn’t really the monarchy anymore…that not only has the balance of power shifted (it did that long ago), but the whole concept of the monarchy is being lost. It’s an intriguing subject, and one that has been discussed a lot in journalism and books, probably, but which I haven’t really seen in the cinema before. (10/6)

Running With Scissors (imdb | quicktime trailer)
Augusten Burrough’s mother is having a nervous breakdown, or something, and decides to give the teenaged Augusten into the guardianship of her shrink, who’s also a bit odd. I’m up for quirky most of the time, and this looks to be just the right amount of quirky, and a good cast to boot (Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Alec Baldwin, Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow). (10/13)

Flags of Our Fathers (imdb | not on, but trailer here)
War movies bring out my inner sap every.single.time. There’s always a part of me that resists them, knowing that I’m going to give into sentimentality and make a fool of myself crying, but then I realize that, you know, if anything deserves my tears, war movies do. So then I see them, and I cry, and I’m glad I did. And this one looks quite good, and it’s on the Pacific front (Iwo Jima and aftermath), which I don’t see as often, so that’ll be interesting. (10/20)

Marie Antoinette (imdb | quicktime trailer)
Oh, Sofia Coppola. I do not know why you have chosen to cast Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette. I like Kirsten Dunst, but I must admit a concern about her ability to pull off Marie Antoinette. On the other hand, I’ve heard that the film looks great, and has a very post-modern angle to it, which intrigues me. And you get at least my tentative support on your films based on Lost in Translation. So I am interested to see how this turns out, but I’m not at all sure it’ll actually work. (10/20)

The Hoax (imdb | quicktime trailer)
Okay, I hate Richard Gere. I mean, I don’t know the man personally, so perhaps that’s a strong word, but I’ve disliked him intensely in almost every film I’ve seen of his. And because of that bias, I fear that I will also dislike this film. But the story is at least superficially interesting–about a man who basically hoaxes his way into publishing books. But what I think is really attracting me? The font used in the trailer. Talk about superficial! But there it is. (11/22)

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (imdb | quicktime trailer)
Is it bad that I mostly want to see this because the title amuses me so much? I also like westerns and am glad to see them starting to try to come back…for decades it’s been practically box-office poison to release a western, and I don’t understand why. Westerns are awesome! (2007)

Just Feel Like Mentioning

Flicka (imdb | quicktime trailer)
How much did I love the book My Friend Flicka and the original movie and the TV show based on it when I was little? I had a stuffed horse named Flicka. My rocking horse was named Flicka for a while (it changed names every time I got a new favorite fictional horse). And you know, it doesn’t really bother me that the boy in the story was changed to a girl for this version. It only bothers me a little that Flicka has moved from being the center of the story to being a catalyst for the girl and her father to rebuild their broken relationship. You want to know what really bothers me? FLICKA IS CHESTNUT, YOU DOLTBRAINS! NOT BLACK! WHO TOLD YOU FLICKA COULD BE BLACK? Honestly. Some people with their stupid ideas of artistic licence. It may sound like I’m joking here, but I’m really not…I probably won’t watch this solely because they frelled up the color of the horse. (10/20)

Lassie (imdb | quicktime trailer)
To start off, there’s no reason in the world to be remaking Lassie Come Home. It’s as perfect a dog-and-family film you’ll ever see, and it not really even dated. It looks they’re being incredibly faithful, though, which I’m actually not sure is a good thing or not…I love the story too much to have them change it around and mess it up, but then again, if you don’t bring something new to the party, why remake it at all? edit: Oh, I just pulled up the IMDb page and happened to see some of the posting board–not usually a terribly good idea–and found out the answer to “why remake it.” PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT THE ORIGINAL. They’re like, “so it’s just Homeward Bound, but with Lassie and without the other dog and cat?” *facepalm* I can’t believe there are people who haven’t seen Lassie Come Home. Please tell me y’all have seen it? Please? Roddy McDowall? Very young Elizabeth Taylor? Please?

And some I know about, even though no trailers out yet

It’s a sword-fighting movie! I love sword-fighting movies! The author of the book this is based on is Arthuro Perez-Reverte, and I’ve read one of his non-Alatriste books, which was very good and very literate. So if they keep half of the literacy of the book, it’ll have both a great story AND sword-fighting. What more do you want? (12/22)

Hot Fuzz (releasing 3/9/07) – Writer/star Simon Pegg is fresh off Shaun of the Dead, aka the funny British zombie movie from a year or two ago, and while I have no idea, really, what Hot Fuzz is about (I would if I’d take the time to go to the production website and watch the videoblog, but I haven’t), I’m interested. His Britcom Spaced is great, as well.

Grind House (releasing 4/6/07) – I’m a bit worried about this one, in a way–it’s a group project between Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, two very individual directors. Grind House, as currently conceived, will be made up of two short films, one by each director, with trailers and commercials and stuff directed by them in between. I’m not sure how it’s all going to work out, but it has high probability for incomprehensible mishmash as well as high hopeful-bility for awesomeness. We’ll see. edit: Scratch this one. Just saw an early trailer, and it’s pretty much all the horrific/nasty sides of both directors, and not the sides I actually like.

Ocean’s Thirteen (releasing 6/8/07) – First one rocked, second one was rocky, but there’s just too much pretty in these movies not to give the third one a chance. And pretty people carrying out heists is one of my favorite sub-sub-genres.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (releasing 7/13/07) – Duh.

Beowulf (releasing 11/16/07) – Wow. There was a Beowulf & Grendel film released this year, and now there are TWO Beowulfs scheduled next year. This one has particularly exciting people attached to it: Neil Gaiman writing the screenplay, Crispin Glover as Grendel (he is creepy), Anthony Hopkins as Hrothgar, king of the Danes, Angelina Jolie as the voice of Grendel’s mother (should be…interesting). I think this brings the total number of Beowulf films up to…four. That’s incredible. You’d think it would be a popular thing to film.

His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass (releasing 11/16/07) – I probably shouldn’t support this trilogy, given that it’s explicitly anti-Christian (although more anti-Catholic-church), but it is well-written and fascinating, and they’ve gone and cast Nicole Kidman as Mrs. Coulter and Daniel Craig as Lord Asrael (perhaps–IMDb lists him as “attached”). I’m intrigued in a way I really wasn’t by, say, The Da Vinci Code film. (Perhaps because Philip Pullman can actually write, and Dan Brown…can’t.)

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (releasing June 2008) – Prince Caspian is my least favorite of all the Chronicles, but still. You know? Gotta get through this one before we can do Dawn Treader and Silver Chair, two of my favorites.

Harry Potter casting

I hope Emma Watson doesn’t leave the Harry Potter films! I understand if she wants to consider other options than acting, and I understand that she may be reluctant to commit four more years of her life to the Potter films, but…for the sake of the films, I hope she decides to stay. It’s interesting that she’s reconsidering acting as a career, while both Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint seem to be trying to stick with acting (they both have indie films out, as well…Emma doesn’t). Reason being, she’s a much better actor than either of them, IMHO. If she wanted it, she could easily have a future acting career. And I want to see every bit of it!

The Last Kiss (spoilers)

I saw a movie opening weekend! And I feel like writing about it! I’ve been looking forward to The Last Kiss since I first read about it on Zach Braff’s blog. He stars in it, but doesn’t direct it, which makes it slightly less squee-worthy than Garden State, but still. Braff was largely responsible for the soundtrack, which is excellent. In honor of it, I have updated the music player to play Braff picks–from The Last Kiss, Garden State, and Scrubs. Okay, I cheated and also threw in some from Grey’s Anatomy, because they’re similar-sounding. And also very good.

Back to the film. Braff plays Michael, a twenty-nine-year-old guy with a good job, a great girlfriend (Jenna), and a baby on the way. Everything’s perfect in his life, but that scares him–he’s afraid that everything in his life is planned out, and there won’t ever be any more surprises, and he’s afraid to be an adult and have his life settled. In addition to that, of his three best friends, one is single and happy, one just went through a nasty breakup with his long-time girlfriend, and one is constantly fighting with his wife about caring for their infant son, not to mention that Jenna’s parents’ thirty-year marriage seems to be coming apart at the seams as well. It’s really not surprising that he’s wary of marriage and commitment with these sorts of examples around him. He winds up making eye contact with Kim (Rachel Bilson), a college student, at yet another friend’s wedding, and is rather vague with her about the existence of his girlfriend and even more vague about the existence of his unborn child, and Kim goes after him. I was so terribly concerned that Michael would end up throwing Jenna over for the new experience of Kim (he does, briefly)…I came so close to screaming at him in the theatre more than once. The actress playing Jenna (Jacinda Barrett) was excellent, and really made it hard to believe that Michael would even consider leaving her. It also stretched belief a bit that Kim would go after Michael so quickly–I mean, I love Zach Braff, but it’s his whole persona…certainly not his looks, which is all Kim had to go on when she first started pursuing him.

But overall, the end turned me toward it. Kim’s philosophy when Michael told her he couldn’t leave Jenna was “Relationships either work or they don’t; the fact that you’re here with me now proves yours isn’t working, so give it up…I could be your last chance at happiness.” And I was concerned that the film would end up endorsing that. It certainly could have. But instead, Jenna’s father came through with: “Love isn’t about what you feel. It’s what you do to the people you love, that’s what counts.” In the final analysis, the film came through strongly that you’ve got to work at relationships…they don’t just happen.

There were some sexual scenes I wish they’d left out–as I’ve said before, I tend to ignore such things, but in this case it really seemed unnecessary to show as much as they did. So I’ll give that as a definite caveat this time. But there’s plenty of good here, especially in the good acting turns from Braff, Barrett, Bilson (who seems a little flip for most of this, but is actually just being her character…wait for the moment when Michael tells her about the baby), and Tom Wilkinson and Blythe Danner as Jenna’s parents. Although Danner’s hair is seriously scary. And also, we need to set these people up with some marriage counselors, stat. It blows my mind that people jump straight from frustration to leaving without even trying to talk with each other…well, I get it a little bit, given my own avoidy tendencies. But when you’ve been with someone for years, and you both clearly love each other (or the little betrayals wouldn’t matter so much) how could you just give up without trying all available avenues first?

Did I mention the music is awesome?

(I post this with trepidation, as I’ve already discussed procrastination-via-blogging with my parents, and now I’m adding procrastination-via-moviegoing to the mix. But I swear, everything is done now, except reading for Tuesday and Wednesday! I’m golden.)

August Recap


Night Watch (imdb)
This was Russia’s entry to the Academy Awards in 2005, and judging from that and the trailers I’d seen, I was really hoping it would be great. It’s the first of a proposed trilogy dealing with the on-going supernatural battle between good and evil, fought unseen to most humans by races of superhuman creatures (they’re human, or were at one time, but with special senses and powers–it’s sort of like Star Wars force sensitives put into the vampires vs. werewolfs milieu of Underworld). The underlying mythology is extensive and detailed, and pretty interesting as a premise. Unfortunately, the movie was so torn between its concern for plot complexity and its preoccupation with cool visuals that the whole thing ended up coming out a muddled mess. It’s like the scenarist handed them a perfect, pristine backstory, and then they called in a bunch of rewriters and editors who said “okay, take that, leave that out, put that over there, throw this in on top, etc” until you can’t hardly keep track of who’s doing what, much less why or what the consequences will be. This is a problem. I wanted to like it so badly, and on one level, I did. The visuals are good (though the quick editing–pandemic in action films these days–lessens rather than magnifies the effect), the themes are intriguing (the main character, a good guy, has to protect his son, who is becoming aware of the supernatural powers he has, from the bad guys, but in doing so, may in fact lose him to evil…each person must choose his own side), and if the other two parts of the trilogy are made, they may in fact make this one clear enough in retrospect that the entire work is much greater than the sum of its parts. I think that potential is there. Unfortunately, Night Watch on its own doesn’t work.
Average; I don’t know whether to upgrade it because I liked the underlying potential so much, or downgrade it because it failed so nearly completely to realize that potential, so Average it stays.

Scoop (imdb)
You never know what to expect from Woody Allen anymore. I was hopeful going into Scoop, based on the quality of Match Point, and his recasting of Scarlett Johanssen, but also a little trepidatious, because Match Point, after all, was a thriller/drama, and Scoop is a quirky comedy, though still with a mystery/thriller angle; perhaps Woody hasn’t yet regained his comedic ability. Also of concern was the fact that Allen refrained from acting in Match Point, but took a rather large supporting role in Scoop…Allen is a director to be reckoned with, but adding the paranoia and neuroticism inherent in his films to his extremely neurotic acting style is often too much, especially as he’s gotten older. Thankfully, he continues his now two-film streak, and Scoop is an extremely enjoyable, if slight, entertainment. Granted, Allen does go overboard as an actor, and repeats his character’s jokes a bit too often, but Johanssen stands out as a calming force, despite the fact that she does, in some ways, share Allen’s mannerisms (a piece of directorial advice that’s a little iffy, but seems to work for the film overall). She is a journalism student who is visited by the ghost of a preeminent journalist who has recently died before getting a chance to follow up on a tip to an extremely juicy scoop–a series of unsolved murders attributed to the Tarot Card killer may, in fact, have been committed by the son of a prominent English Lord. Johanssen jumps on the story and insinuates herself into the English gentry to try to expose this Lord’s son, who turns out to be Hugh Jackman looking extremely, um, exposable (take that how you will). Tagging along is Allen, as a vaudeville magician who gets roped into playing Johanssen’s father for her little charade. There’s nothing really deep or profound to think about here, as in Match Point or Allen’s best films of the ’70s and ’80s, but it’s a rollicking good time without pretensions of being anything more.
Well Above Average

Little Miss Sunshine (imdb)
I have never been to a film that roused the audience as much as this one did–the entire theatre erupted into delighted laughter so often it became impossible to keep track. It would have been worth it just to experience the audience enjoying itself so much, but the film deserved every outbreak of emotion, both laughter and near-tears. It is, in fact, a great example of the quirky independent film–each character is well-defined with dreams and aspirations, quirks and weaknesses. If they get a little caricaturish at times, it’s due to the necessarily short amount of time we have to get to know them. Think of Arrested Development smashed into an hour and a half. Greg Kinnear plays Richard, the father of a family which includes: himself, a motivational speaker trying to get a book deal; his wife Sheryl (Toni Collette), overworked and stressed as she tries to care for her family without a real income from her husband, but who cares deeply about the desires and goals of her children; their teenaged son Dwayne (Paul Dano), who has taken a vow of silence until he gets his pilot’s licence and reads Nietszche constantly; their young daughter Olive (a remarkable turn by Abigail Breislin), who wants desperately to win the Little Miss Sunshine beauty contest; his father (Alan Arkin), an irascible and outspoken old man who supports Olive unequivocally, but in a somewhat unorthodox fashion; and Sheryl’s brother Frank (Steve Carrell, who is awesome), a recent addition to the family due to his recent suicide attempt. Put all of them in an old Volkswagen van with a faulty clutch for a three-day road trip to the beauty contest finals, and chaos ensues–but so does love. It’s a very successful amalgamation of comedy and pathos, of quirkiness and relatability, of witty dialogue and spot-on performances.

Ossessione (imdb)
Ossessione is based on James M. Cain’s novel The Postman Always Rings Twice (which was filmed by Hollywood in 1946, and more unfortunately in 1981), and also ranks as one of the first films considered to be part of the Italian neo-realist movement. Personally, it didn’t seem terribly “realist” to me, but that’s largely because the acting style hasn’t caught up with the other elements. The woman particularly overplays her character to the point of incredulity at times. The story, as in the book and American film versions, concerns a drifter who stops in at a gas station and insinuates himself into the life of the propietor and his much-younger wife. Before long, the drifter and wife have planned to get rid of the husband, who is decidedly in the way of their being happy together. That scene is particularly well-done, as neither of them explicity says what they’re planning to do, yet it’s completely clear. There’s also a young girl whom the drifter takes up with at one point (he’s not quite as committed as his murder accomplice is to the relationship), and I laud her performance as indicative of the sort of freshness and realistic acting that will characterize much of the neo-realist movement once it really gets going. Basically, the film has a lot of great elements, but they didn’t add up to a great film for me.
Above Average

The Island (imdb)
Great premise, average execution. Pretty much what I should have expected from Michael Bay. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johanssen are part of large group of people confined to a futuristic, sterile outpost due to the contamination of the earth…all except for “the Island,” where everybody hopes to be chosen to go. Except, all that’s a lie created to keep the inmates content; in actuality, they’re all clones created for the very wealthy as organ donors. There are a lot of very interesting ethical dilemmas that could be explored here–the rights of clones as opposed to their “owners,” the fact that the head of the corporation creating the clones has lied to the public (who all think that the clones have no consciousness), the knowledge that Johanssen’s double is going to die within hours without an organ transplant and leave behind young children–but the film doesn’t explore them hardly at all. Once the McGregor figures out what’s going on (a conclusion which isn’t sufficiently explained, either), the film goes into total “free the clones, preferably with as many explosions and chase scenes as possible” mode. Which, again, to be expected from Bay. McGregor and Johanssen are very pretty. And there are a lot of explosions. Sometimes that’s enough, but in this case, with so many big ideas hovering below the surface, it simply wasn’t.

Triumph of the Will (imdb)
Welcome to an all-but-impossible film to review. Triumph of the Will is the record of the 1934 Nazi Party rally, held very soon after the death of Hindenberg, which essentially made Hitler the supreme leader of Germany. It is the propoganda film to end all propoganda films. The question that has plagued film critics for decades is this: is it possible to evaluate this film on its own terms as a documentary film, and separate it from its propogandistic purpose and the knowledge of everything that the Nazi party would do over the next ten years? And of course, being me, I was like, of course! Technique can always be evaluated separately from ideology, right? But now I’m not sure. Because the whole time the camera was proudly surveying Hitler’s Youth Camps, and the whole time the hundreds of batallions were marching through the streets of Nuremberg, and the whole time the people were cheering themselves hoarse for the Fuhrer, I couldn’t help but be horrified, thinking of what would happen–what these boys, some of them ten, twelve years old, would be doing in ten years time. And it’s not as if the whole agenda was kept quiet–in the speeches preserved from Hitler, and Himmler, and Goebbels, and others, though it’s not emphasized as much as the desire for a strong German fatherland, there are explicit references to the necessity of preserving the Aryan race, no matter what, and retaking the lands that were split up after WWI, etc. It’s all there, already. And the most unbelievable thing is how small a man Hitler was. He doesn’t seem to be a strong leader at all. But boy did his speeches get everyone riled up, even though they were little more than patriotic drivel. It’s really incredible, the power he was able to gather to himself. I noticed that watching Downfall as well, but here…this is actually Hitler. One thing that did come out was how demoralizing the reparations of the end of WWI were to Germany, which goes a long way to explaining how quickly Hitler was able to rise to the position he did. See, I did an entire reaction that’s all about ideology. Wow. There’s a lot of rather boring marching and stuff, but even there, Triumph of the Will is chilling to watch. Must-see if you’re at all interested in Germany or WWII history.
Above Average

Grand Illusion (imdb)
You ever watch a film and have the feeling while you’re watching it that it’s a great, great movie? Sometimes I feel that when the credits roll, sometimes I feel it a few weeks later, and once in a very long while I feel it before the first reel is through. Grand Illusion is that sort of movie. For some reason, I expected Grand Illusion to be one of those anti-war movies that’s good, but not terribly enjoyable. But those fears were gone a mere ten minutes into the film, and my only concern was whether the rest of it would keep the same high. And it does. The story concerns two French officers in WWI captured by the Germans in the first few minutes–the rest of the film is about their time in the prison camp and their escape attempts. Along the way is some wonderful comment on the way WWI totally changed war, not only in actual combat (of which there’s almost none), but in the conception of the army. The German commander of the prison camp gives preferential treatment to one of the officers, because they are both noblemen, holdovers of a time when military leadership was the province of the nobility, and this–at least according to the German man–gives them more in common with each other than either has with their own fellow officers. I was a little skeptical of the easy time all the Frenchmen had as POWs, but director Jean Renoir claimed he took many of the scenes from firsthand stories from relatives in the war. I don’t know. Anyway. The scenes of cameraderie as all the POWs plan their escapes, the grimly triumphant joy that breaks into “La Marseillaise” when the prisoners hear that France has taken a town from Germany, and the despairing disappointment when the next day, Germany takes it back (“there won’t be any of it left,” one of them realizes), the passing of an entire way of life in the figures of the gentleman officers, the extremely beautiful section near the end, after the commoner officer escapes and hides out with a young German widow and her daughter–so many scenes worth remembering. In a way, it feels like three films in one, but it makes one whole that’s absolutely perfect. And every once in a while you’ll hear me caveat an older film by almost apologizing for the acting style…no need to do that here. There isn’t a wrong note hit, there’s not a hint of overacting (even by Erich von Stroheim as the German commander); in fact, all taken together, these are some of the most natural and fitting performances I’ve seen in a long time. I wanted it to keep going forever.


A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick (audiobook version read by Paul Giamatti)
I must admit to finding it pathetic that the only book I finished in all of August was an audiobook that I listened to in its entirety while driving from Waco to St. Louis. And I can’t even really blame school, because it didn’t start until the third week of the month! Still, if I only had one book in the month, A Scanner Darkly deserved to be the one. It’s an excellent example of the paranoia school of sci-fi, and honestly, it helped me understand the movie (which I saw last month), a lot better. I think I ran down the story when talking about the film, but I’ll do it again. In the future, a drug known as Substance D has taken hold of the population–it’s highly addictive and mind-altering, and eventually causes death. The main character, Bob Arctor, is a user and dealer, but he’s also an undercover cop working to out dealers, and he spends a good deal of the time surveilling himself and his friends. As the story goes on, the D affects his brain more and more, causing him to really split into two people, the dealer and the cop. This is MUCH clearer in the book than in the film. In the film, it’s unclear whether he knows at the beginning that he’s both Arctor and the cop, though by the end he certainly does not. In the book, he certainly knows at the beginning that he’s spying on himself, trying to find out who his supplier’s supplier is. His self-knowledge grows successively weaker, though, and by the end, he’s completely shocked when the police psychiatrists inform him that he is Arctor. I thought the book did a much better job with that part of the story, but I’ll need to rewatch the film to make sure. Like the film, it’s very trippy, but it does explain things a little more–that can be good or bad, I guess, depending on how into ambiguity you are. Also, since I listened to the audiobook version, it’s appropriate to point out how awesome Paul Giamatti is. I already knew he was an awesome actor, and it was the fact that he was reading that pushed me into getting the audiobook (normally I disagree with the way the reader reads a book so much that I can’t listen to audiobooks), and it was well-worth it. Even if you’ve read the book, I recommend checking this out from the library or something, just to experience Giamatti’s genius.
Well Above Average

July Reading/Watching Recap

Click through for reactions for Pirates of the Caribbean 2, The Gold Rush, Night of the Hunter, Shopgirl, A Scanner Darkly, Transamerica, and Hitchcock’s Films, among others.

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