Quick reviews
The following are quick reviews of films I wrote up in emails.




Sideways
In other news, we saw "Sideways" (nominated for Best Picture, among other things) over the weekend.  It was really terrific, and you could tell that the audience loved it.  This is ambiguous enough not to give away anything, but the end leaves things sort of open like, "What's going to happen next?" (not in a cliffhanger way; that isn't the style anywhere else in the picture), and when the credits went up, the audience collectively said, "Awww!"  As in, "No, we were enjoying this!"  We all did.

A Beautiful Mind
Ever read "A Beautiful Mind"?  There's a fictional movie based on the non-fiction biography, but there's very little overlap except in the characters' names.  Actually, they left a lot of the characters out, like Nash's first son (also schizophrenic) and the woman who bore him (not his wife).  Oh, and the mathematicians he had affairs with (all men, incidentally).  Yeah, it's a little different version of the story.

Much of the story is fiction or at least fiction by omission.    Specifically, Nash had a son from a previous relationship (he also grew up to become a schizophrenic mathematician and spent about 15 years in untreatable dementia), Nash married his wife twice, he supposedly had homosexual relationships, and was apparently vocally anti-Semitic (although I do not know the nature nor circumstances of the comments).  Ironically, the math depicted in the film is more accurate than the events.  I doubt anyone would have picked up on the fallacy is the reverse was the case.


X-Men2
The director called the first X-men movie, "just a trailer for the second movie."  I kind of figured they were going to do that.  I think they probably should have come up with a better, shorter story for the first movie and dedicated more time to establishing the characters and their origins.  In comic books, a character's origin is almost also delivered in narrative form at some point.  Why not do that with the X-Men?  Only Rogue received that treatment, and only a cursory one at that.  Of course, the same could be said of the Phantom Menace serving as a trailer for AotC.  I think it was one of the critics who said that the second movie improved his view of the first because he understood better where the story was developing toward in the first.  It's debatable if this should be a filmmaker's goal, but it is a valid phenomenon, one that may present itself in the next Matrix movies.

Hitchhikers
Dani and I did finally see "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" last night. That was pretty good, although I could see places where they might have done things differently. Of course, every word of the book is a classic, so there were a lot of compromises to be made along the way. Maybe they'll improve with the sequels. There are, after all, four more books in the "increasingly misnamed trilogy."

What Dreams May Come
It was pretty, but I had problems with it.  Again, as with the Matrix, you're dealing with a realm in which all things are possible (recall the conversation with von Sydow in which he comments on the futility of wearing glasses).  It's silly to stick to such limited definitions, but I realize they're making this for a general audience, it's a fairy tale version of Dante's Inferno, etc.

Spartacus
If you liked Gladiator (and I didn't), this movie is ten times better.  Even if Russel Crowe had not been in Gladiator, I still wasn't crazy about it.  The odd camera treatments (as in the flashback sequences) and hyper-fast editing during the action sequences seemed out of place in a historical picture.  There just wasn't enough substance to it to satisfy me that it was worthy of the hype.  Spartacus satisfies.  It is the father of the historic epic (Braveheart included; wait till they get to the battle scenes).  It's sad how much modern movies have borrowed from this one.

The only problem I had with it was that there are many scenes without dialogue that seem to drag on far too long.  However, I have a vcr with decent control over fast forwarding (it accelerates to full speed immediately and stops on a dime).


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon the week it came out.  Once again, I thought I had found a movie no one else had heard of (I did this with the Blair Witch Project), and found out that everyone had heard of it.  I liked it a lot, but it is a bit more complex than the trailers let on.  The movie operates on a number of levels, and previews try to imply only one of those at a time, so be prepared for a feeling of awkwardness in viewing it.  That's an admonition, but I am still whole-heartedly recommending it.

Akira
I finally managed to see Akira the other night.  This happened to be the original version released on video.  I understand the DVD version will be a little longer in addition to the extras.  I may watch that version if someone owns it and I can borrow it.  However, I was disappointed in the movie version.  I knew the plot would be stripped down to accommodate a 2 hour movie, but they didn't just snip elements out, they also dumbed everything down to a really superficial level.  The characters are just pawns to forward the story up to the action scenes.  For that matter, I was disappointed in the last half of the comic series because it did more or less the same.  The first half the series was really great.  Unfortunately, I read the first half the series about 12 years ago, then left off.  I managed to get the last few issues in the last year or so, and finally read them in the last couple months.  I imagined that the plot would continue to develop in the subsequent issues, but it really began to stall, even in the face of a lot of unexplored opportunities.  It was very disappointing.

Jurassic Park III
My in-laws saw JP3 and didn't like it.  C was surprised to hear that.  I said, Why?  You saw the same trailer as I did.  Did you think they just made it look like a cheap scream-fest because people hadn't seen enough monster movies lately?

Planet of the Apes
Planet of the Apes hasn't received any good reviews from any respectable critics I have heard.  The original movie carried a lot of subtext about class warfare, etc.  None of that is present in this one.  One review: "Tim Burton dropped the ball."  Another conversation I heard on NPR... Interviewer: "But Tim Burton is a respectable filmmaker, isn't he?  He isn't a hack?"  Critic: "Well, he wasn't up until this weekend."

I might eventually retract my assessment of "Planet of the Apes."  Though I have yet to see the film itself, I have lately been inundated by the media deluge following the opening weekend.  Although much of it is strictly hype, some of the clips have been more tantalizing than the all-action-no-dialogue trailers for the past couple months.

Still, I could see room for a lot more social commentary within the framework of the Planet of the Apes concept.  Of course, the inclusion of such material would preclude box office success.  (Note: A.I., Contact, etc.)  Sigh….


Oh Brother Where Art Thou?
C really liked "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" so we rented that while we were home.  I like George Clooney well enough (just not enough to see Batman & Robin), but he's really funny on talk shows.  Bob Saget's like that.  Richard Lewis as well.

Moulin Rouge
I know opinion about this movie is far more subjective than most films, but this one absolutely rocked.  I was majorly impressed.  It is a major technical feat.  The editing alone was amazing.  It must have taken hours to put together every few seconds of footage.

Breaking the Code
I finished watching “Breaking the Code,” the movie about Alan Turing.  The title, to my disappointment, was extremely deceptive.  So very little was said about Enigma or anything else he worked on (mathematical concepts, computers as models of intelligence, etc.) that the movie itself was almost unnecessary.  The story (such as it was) dwelt almost entirely on the fact that he was homosexual.  My suggestion for a more appropriate title: “Turing: Portrait of the Scientist as a Gay Man.”



Ice Age
Movie recommendation: Ice Age.  Better than Shrek (I didn't care much for Shrek, so that isn't saying much).  I think I enjoyed listening to the older guy behind me (the dad or grandfather of the kid who chose the movie). The jokes were funny, but this guy laughing out loud pushed me over the edge to do the same.  Also, I got to see the latest "Attack of the Clones" trailer.  Quothe C: "Ohhhhh, pretty!"  The dumb frat guy down the row from me was completely agog.  He was like "Whoa!"  It was pretty obvious he had not seen it before.

Last weekend we saw Panic Room.  Skip it.  There isn't much there.  Instead, go out and rent "Bound," a much better thriller from a few years back that most people missed.  I will say no more since I probably enjoyed it largely because the only thing I knew about it going in was that the chicks were lesbians.

Here's a sort of funny page: http://theforce.net/humor/posters/ It is a collection of modified movie posters that take a Star Wars theme.  However, if you want something even better: http://download.theforce.net/humor/Ray-Chung-whosonforce.mpg   I have never laughed so hard at anything so stupid in all my life.


Time Machine
C and I saw the Time Machine today.  A+ for appropriate use of special effects, but poor marks for either the script and/or the direction.  I went in with really low expectations after hearing poor reviews, so I went away liking it more than I thought I would, but I still can't recommend it.  There were a number of really obvious inconsistencies outside of the basic time travel premise.

The Straight Story
Here's a cautious movie recommendation:  "The Straight Story"  If you don't remember or never heard of it the first time around, it is based on the true story of 73 year old Alvin Straight who drove across 3 states on a riding lawnmower to visit his sick brother.  And get this- it was directed for Disney by David Lynch.  A bizarre pairing indeed!  I caution you that there are a number of very slow spots in which you are just watching a man on a lawnmower for significant stretches at a time; I only enjoyed it because I'm pretty handy with the remote.  However, there are a number of great scenes with Lynch's weird touches.  If you recall his "Wild At Heart," there is definitely an element common to the characters of both movies (both are road trip movies besides).  Sissy Spacek gives a great performance as Alvin Straight's "slow" daughter.  There are a couple scenes with her early on that are hilarious.  Also, Richard Farnsworth earned a well deserved Oscar nomination for his very convincing portrayal of the title character.

Blade Runner
It's pretty, but it's kind of a supermodel.  All the aesthetics are there, but there aren't a lot of brains behind it.  I'll make a comparison.  Ever see Hellraiser?  Great characters and underlying mythology.  But mostly lame movies.  It's more fun to imagine your own stories in that universe than to watch the ones Hollywood supplied.  Blade Runner is kind of a weak story, although there are a few treasures in it (e.g., the "tears in rain" soliloquy at the end).  Oh, and the soundtrack has actually turned up in my dreams, and that almost never happens to me.

The Man Who Wasn't There
Here's another Billy Bob movie recommendation: The Man Who Wasn't There.  This one came out a little over a year ago, and (deservedly) received good reviews.  The Golden Globes nominated it in several categories, but it was completely snubbed by the Academy (a fact that was much remarked upon in the media).

The film is written/directed by Joel and Ethan Cohen, who, if you aren't familiar with them, usually put together quirky movies that might be described as David Lynch-lite, such as Raising Arizona and O' Brother Where Art Thou.  Thornton is characteristically unrecognizable in this picture.  He is very quiet and subdued throughout, but is somehow just as weird as ever.  It's sort of arty, but worth watching.


The 5th Element
I hated this movie the first time I saw it (except for the soundtrack).  The story was cheesy, the bad guy was lame, there was never any confrontation between the heroes and villain, the comedy was often misplaced, there was never an explanation for the connection between the evil space blob and anything else, and the ending (as you understated) was the biggest load of crap ever flung at a movie screen.  I honestly walked out of that movie feeling sick over it being such a waste.  However, once I went back and watched it a second time, I was better able to sink into the environment of that world and really appreciate all the nuances.  I love everything except the basic plot now.  The soundtrack is second only to some of John Williams better work.  In fact, I have listened to just about everything else by Eric Serra as a result of seeing/hearing that movie.

Slingblade
 
Believe it or not I finally got around to watching Slingblade the other night.  I am definitely glad I waited a few years to see that.  I don’t think I would have been nearly as impressed with Billy Bob’s performance as if I had seen it when it first debuted.  We all judge the quality of an actor by the distance between his talk show persona and his most extreme character.  Having kept up with Billy Bob over the years, I’ve seen quite a bit of him on talk shows and in other films.  Had I seen this movie before he starting showing up on Leno I don’t think I would have given him all that much credit.

The movie itself was surprisingly well written.  It wasn’t that the story was terribly unpredictable (it was either going to end the way it did or like “Of Mice and Men” and I guessed correctly), but everyone did a really great job.  I caught a little bio show the other day that had a segment on Billy Bob, and they interview the guy who played Slingblade’s boss at the lawnmower repair place.  It turns out that guy is runs the furniture store in Thornton’s home town.  Billy Bob talked him into taking the role.

It’s easy to dismiss this movie because the character is so “Forest Gump.”  He’s easy to do impressions of because he’s immediately recognizable and has a handful of catch phrases, but both movies had a much deeper meaning that probably a lot of people missed.  Here’s a good test: ask 10 people you know what the significance of the feather was in “Gump.”  I’ve gotten some pretty bad responses.





Copyright 2005 In a gAle[x]y far, far away....
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