5 May 2009 — Beam Me Up, Scotty (5)

The reviews for the new Star Trek film are glowing. They’re positively glowing. I’ve read every one so far, and they’re beginning to bring tears to my eyes. I’m not joking. I’ve waited so long for a Star Trek to make me rekindle my love for the franchise. Rumor has it, this is it. This is the one.

It’s only Tuesday afternoon, I know, but Rotten Tomatoes is showing 100% of 32 critics giving favorable reviews and an average score of 8/10. That’s pretty damn good. Meanwhile, Metacritic tallies a 94% rating on eight reviews. That, too, is pretty damn good.

I’ve told both Kris and Paul J. that I’ll see this with them. And I think it goes without saying that I want to see with Dave and Andrew (right, guys?). Plus I want to see it in IMAX. And on opening night. I don’t really care, to be honest. I’ll watch this over and over and over again.

But what I really hope is that this isn’t just a one-shot. I want for this to be the beginning of something grand and glorious, a brand new journey to brave new worlds. I want to see these folks boldy go where many have gone before.

p.s. Just for fun, here’s the original trailer for what is still the best Trek film, The Wrath of Khan.

p.p.s. I just checked Fandango. Have you seen how many screens this is playing on? With this wide distribution and the rave reviews, it has a chance to set a record for box-office opening…

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19 December 2008 — Au Revoir, les Enfants (0)

Kris and I have seen a lot of fine films together. Slowly over the course of our lives, we’ve been picking our way through various lists of great movies. (One of my goals is to see every film ever nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.)

On Wednesday, we watched Sunrise, a long film from 1927, the silent era. It was fascinating. Tonight we watched Au revoir, les enfants. It takes place at a boarding school in Nazi-occupied France. It doesn’t adhere to common tropes, though. It’s more about friendship and childhood than it is about the war.

I particularly liked the following scene, in which the main characters, Julien (a stand-in for writer/director Louis Malle, on whose life this is based) and Jean, play for the pretty young piano instructor.

“That was a great scene,” I said when it had finished. (I made the same remark about two other scenes later in the film.) Secretly I wondered if I could find it on YouTube. Turns out it’s the top search result.

Au Revoir, les Enfants is a great film. I’m glad we watched it. (Malle produced two other amazing films, as well: My Dinner with Andre and Vanya on 42nd Street.)

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24 November 2008 — Those Sorts of Movies (8)

After watching Michael Clayton and re-watching Casino Royale for the fourth time, I told Kris I “like those sorts of movies”, though I couldn’t really put my finger on what “those sorts of movies” were. I decided that the Bourne films probably fit the bill, so I put them on the our Netflix queue.

I waited patiently for The Bourne Identity to crawl to the top of the list. Kris was in the midst of her Foyle’s War obsession, so it took a couple of months. Eventually, however, Netflix shipped my movie.

The other night we sat down to watch Matt Damon in an action role. We grabbed some dinner, plopped in the disc, and sat down on the futon. The disc didn’t work. “Crap,” I said, pulling the disc from the player. It was damaged. We sent the disc back and waited for a replacement.

In the meantime, I joined Paul J. for a trip to the new Bond film, Quantum of Solace. As you’ll recall, I recently watched all 22 previous Bond films back-to-back-to-back, and thought the previous film (the afore-mentioned Casino Royale) was the best Bond film to date. It effectively reset the films’ continuity, starting from day one. The new film picks up immediately where that one left off: it’s as if its part two to the story, and this story exists in a parallel universe to the other 21 Bond films.

The problem is that while the new movie has the same writers as Casino Royale, it has a different director. I don’t like him. And for the first half hour, I didn’t like Quantum of Solace. It was a flurry of quick-cut chases that were impossible to follow. No, I’m serious. They were impossible to follow. With cuts twice every second, the film becomes disorienting, and that’s not fun. Toss in bad acting and terrible dialogue, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Fortunately, the film eventually changes tempo. It never truly becomes good, but it does become enjoyable in its own way, with one truly great chase scene (in airplanes!).

Anyhow — a couple of days later, the replacement Bourne Identity disc arrived in our mailbox. On Saturday night, we watched the film. It was okay — almost good. I have trouble buying Matt Damon in this role, but that’s a personal problem. The story was interesting. I like “this sort of movie”.

As the film was ending, I said to Kris, “You know, I think we own this DVD.”

“What?” she said, dumb-founded. I stood up, dug in the stack of DVDs on the TV, and sure enough: there was a copy of The Bourne Identity.

“When did you buy that?” Kris asked.

“I didn’t,” I said. “I got it in a white elephant gift exchange last year or the year before. I forgot about it until just now. See? It’s still in the wrapper.”

All she could do was shake her head, and I don’t blame her. I was shaking my head, too.

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16 November 2008 — Star Trek Trailer (5)

I have such mixed emotions about the upcoming Star Trek prequel film:

Yes, it looks exciting, but it doesn’t look like Star Trek. Yes, I like J.J. Abrams sometimes, but the man cannot end things, and he’s on record as not liking Star Trek in the first place. (I think I read somewhere that he took this gig because he though it would be foolish to pass it up.) Of course I’ll go see it. But I’m not expecting it to be any good.

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18 July 2008 — Movie Meme (9)

It’s been a while since I did one of those silly internet games, yes? Well, Frykitty recently posted a movie meme, and I’m going to join in. This list is apparently based on Entertainment Weekly’s 100 classic movies of the past 25 years. I’m going to break from the ongoing list method (”bold everything you’ve seen”? uh, no…) and use the following format:

  • If I haven’t seen it, the film is listed in red.
  • If I saw it but would never watch it again, the film is listed in strikethru.
  • If I saw it and loved it, the film is listed in bold. (I own many of these on DVD.)
  • If I saw it but have no strong reaction, the film is listed in normal type.

And here’s the list:

1. Pulp Fiction (1994) — I have never understood the lovefest for Quentin Tarantino
2. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-03) — we all know my love-hate relationship with these films
3. Titanic (1997)
4. Blue Velvet (1986)
5. Toy Story (1995) — though I haven’t seen it, I’ve heard it twice, and think it’s very loud
6. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
7. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
8. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
9. Die Hard (1988)
10. Moulin Rouge (2001) — the first half hour of this is amazing
11. This Is Spinal Tap (1984) — Kris and I love this film
12. The Matrix (1999)
13. GoodFellas (1990)
14. Crumb (1995) — almost a cross-off; interesting, but not redeeming
15. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
16. Boogie Nights (1997)
17. Jerry Maguire (1996)
18. Do the Right Thing (1989)
19. Casino Royale (2006) — my favorite Bond film; can’t wait for this fall…
20. The Lion King (1994)
21. Schindler’s List (1993)
22. Rushmore (1998) — I love this movie so much I paid like $80 for the Criterion version…
23. Memento (2001)
24. A Room With a View (1986)
25. Shrek (2001)
26. Hoop Dreams (1994)
27. Aliens (1986) — I know everyone loves Aliens, but the first film is one of my favorite movies of all time
28. Wings of Desire (1987)
29. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
30. When Harry Met Sally… (1989) — hilarious; havne’t watched it in a while
31. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
32. Fight Club (1999)
33. The Breakfast Club (1985)
34. Fargo (1996)
35. The Incredibles (2004)
36. Spider-Man 2 (2004) — one of my favorite superhero movies
37. Pretty Woman (1990)
38. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) — meh
39. The Sixth Sense (1999) — I was surprised by this movie TWICE! (I couldn’t remember the ending the second time around)
40. Speed (1994)
41. Dazed and Confused (1993)
42. Clueless (1995)
43. Gladiator (2000)t-e-d-i-o-u-s
44. The Player (1992)
45. Rain Man (1988)
46. Children of Men (2006) — an underrated film; loved it
47. Men in Black (1997)
48. Scarface (1983)
49. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) — one of my favorite movies
50. The Piano (1993) — ugh, I hated this movie
51. There Will Be Blood (2007) — sitting on our DVD player, though (and has been since April)
52. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad (1988)
53. The Truman Show (1998)
54. Fatal Attraction (1987)
55. Risky Business (1983)
56. The Lives of Others (2006)
57. There’s Something About Mary (1998)
58. Ghostbusters (1984)
59. L.A. Confidential (1997) — at one time, I loved this film; haven’t seen it in a while
60. Scream (1996)
61. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
62. sex, lies and videotape (1989)
63. Big (1988)
64. No Country For Old Men (2007)
65. Dirty Dancing (1987)
66. Natural Born Killers (1994)
67. Donnie Brasco (1997)
68. Witness (1985)
69. All About My Mother (1999)
70. Broadcast News (1987)
71. Unforgiven (1992) — a great film
72. Thelma & Louise (1991)
73. Office Space (1999)
74. Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
75. Out of Africa (1985)
76. The Departed (2006) — how this won Best Picture (even in a weak field) is baffling
77. Sid and Nancy (1986) — no desire to see it
78. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
79. Waiting for Guffman (1996)
80. Michael Clayton (2007)
81. Moonstruck (1987) — saw this on a “date” with Kristin, if I remember right!
82. Lost in Translation (2003)
83. Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)
84. Sideways (2004)
85. The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
86. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2002)
87. Swingers (1996)
88. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
89. Breaking the Waves (1996)
90. Napoleon Dynamite (2004) — “do the chickens have large talons?”
91. Back to the Future (1985)
92. Menace II Society (1993)
93. Ed Wood (1994) — this movie was awful
94. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
95. In the Mood for Love (2001) — a gorgeous film
96. Far From Heaven (2002) — a typical example of type of film (like “The Piano”) I hate
97. Glory (1989)
98. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
99. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
100. South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut (1999)

I used to watch a lot of movies, but my pace has really slowed over the past eighteen months. (And we all know why, right?) I’m sure I’ll watch many more in the future, however. (Kris told me to remind you all about her list of classic films. After seeing that list and knowing how much work she put into it, I’m going to find a way to port it to Get Rich Slowly…)

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17 July 2008 — Watchmen Trailer (3)

I’ve been sorely disappointed by a lot of comic book movies. That’s a tough thing for a life-long comics geek like me. There’s a bare handful of comic films I like: Spiderman 2, Iron Man, Batman Begins. (And I hear The Dark Knight, the new Batman film, is pretty good.)

When I first heard that Watchmen was being adapted into a film, I was nonplused. How could anyone possibly do it justice. This is one of the best comic book series of all time (from one of the greatest comic book writers). Early production stills didn’t do anything to bolster my enthusiasm.

But this? This is the trailer. And by god, they might actually pull it off:

At the very least, this trailer has ruined my plans for the afternoon. Forget writing. I’m sitting down to read the graphic novel.

Note: I’ve replaced the pulled version with a new one. It works!

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Kris and I met Dave and Karen on Sunday to see the new Indiana Jones movie, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. This was a fun nostalgic throwback for me because I saw the first two Indiana Jones movies in the theater with Dave when we were much younger. (Much younger.)

Though I had hopes for the new film, they weren’t very high. I had seen the trailers, which promised new-style George Lucas instead of old-style George Lucas. (Translation: plenty of improbably CGI effects in place of story and characterization.) I’d also read how Lucas’ original idea for a new installment in the franchise was called Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars.

Let me state up front that I did not hate Crystal Skull. After my criticism of Peter Jackson’s Helm’s Deep, many people thought I hated that film. I didn’t. I just wish it had been better. And that there’d been one-tenth the CGI. (I did, however, hate Attack of the Clones.) I liked the new Indiana Jones movie, but only mildly. I don’t ever need to see it again.

Now I know many of you will tell me, “When you watch a movie like this, you should just enjoy it. You should turn off your brain and have fun.” But my brain doesn’t work like that. I can’t just shut it off. Besides, there are plenty of smart action flicks out there — why should I compromise just so filmmakers can have a license to be sloppy?

The acting in Crystal Skull was mostly okay. Karen Allen, who returns as Marion Ravenwood, is rather clumsy, but everyone else does a good job. Cate Blanchett makes a delicious Russian villain, though I get the impression that several scenes with her were left on the cutting room floor. Shia LaBeouf also does a fine job, taking the baton from Harrison Ford and opening the door for twenty more years of Indiana Jones films.

But my real problem, as usual, is with the script. I don’t like the script, neither on a macro-level nor a micro-level.

On a macro level, the story is sloppy. It feels like a patchwork, as if it were made up of several different ideas grafted together. Certain scenes go on far, far too long. The climax is lame in a George Lucas sort of way. The film just lacks an overall sense of cohesion that I would have liked to see.

But most of the problems occur at the micro level. This is yet another movie in which the filmmakers have become so obsessed with the neat stuff they can do (with CGI, of course) that they forget to be sure things make sense. Some examples:

  • At the beginning, the story focuses on the hunt for a relic lost inside a vast warehouse. “It’s a powerful magnet,” Indiana Jones declares, and to prove his point, he tosses metal stuff into the air. Look! Magic! The metal stuff is pulled toward wherever the lost relic is! And once the relic is discovered, we see that its magnetic force is so strong that it tugs at the dangling light fixtures and at guns and at other objects. Fine. But why isn’t it exerting this magnetic force all the time? Why is it only magnetic when the plot needs it to be magnetic?
  • Here’s a small spoiler. At the end of the extended introduction, Indiana finds his way to a strange small town in the middle of the dessert. He’s stumbled upon a nuclear experiment. When he hears a countdown broadcast over loudspeakers (why? to whom is it being broadcast?), he quickly tucks himself into a lead-lined refrigerator. Why? How does he know to do this? Worse, when the nuclear explosion occurs, the town is incinerated. Everything is vaporized. Except for the refrigerator containing Indiana Jones. That is thrown into the air for miles before it lands outside a prairie dog mound (without startling the prairie dog that lives there). Indiana tumbles out unharmed. Sorry. I can suspend disbelief with the best of them, but I can’t take it to the level of stupid.
  • Later in the film, a caravan of trucks is making its way through the Amazon jungle. (Well, it might not actually be the Amazon jungle, but it’s close.) There’s a big tree-cutter machine in front slicing down the overgrowth so that the other vehicles can pass. This makes no sense. When it cuts trees, the trees fall, right? Don’t they just fall into the path of the oncoming vehicles? And what about the stumps. Later, the vehicle caravan devolves into a race through the forest. I could buy this in Return of the Jedi because everyone was riding speeder bikes which had no contact with the ground. I can’t buy it here. And I can’t buy it when the race moves to the edge of a CGI-cliff, a cliff miraculously free of rocks and boulders.
  • Did you know that it’s possible to swing from vines like Tarzan at speeds much faster than those obtainable by jeeps?
  • The titular crystal skull apparently has the mass of a plastic resin skull. Shocking.

That’s enough. I don’t have all day. This movie just feels like a Roland Emmerich-like production in which appearance matters more than substance. That’s a valid choice, but you know what? Movies made this way do not stand the test of time.

Again, I did not hate this movie. I had an okay time. I enjoyed the motorcycle chase. I liked Cate Blanchett’s villainess. I thought the story showed glimmers of promise. And I’m not saying that I expected the film to be a classic. I just wish it had more of the old George Lucas in it instead of the new.

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17 April 2008 — Coming Attractions (4)

“You know, I’m usually excited about the summer movie season,” I told Dave at lunch last week. “But this year, I have no idea what’s coming out.”

“There’s Iron Man,” he said.


Iron Man opens May 2nd

“Ugh,” I said. I may be a comic book fan, but there are limits to my enthusiasm. Iron Man seems targeted squarely at junior high boys. I have no desire to see it. “Doesn’t the new Batman movie come out soon?” I asked.


The Dark Knight opens July 18th

“Maybe,” he said. “I don’t know. And isn’t there a Star Trek movie in the works? And another X-Files movie?”


Star Trek opens Christmas 2008


The X-Files 2 opens July 25th
Love the fan reaction in this vid. Makes me want to re-watch the series.

We must be getting old. This morning I did some research. Turns out there are a few movies that look interesting this summer. First up is the Speed Racer film, which Paul J. is skeptical of, but I think looks just like a Mario Kart game. Since I love Mario Kart, I’m all over this…


Speed Racer opens May 9th

My brothers and I loved Speed Racer when we were kids. Loved it. We didn’t have a television, so we didn’t get to watch it very often, but when we did, it was a treat. We also loved Indiana Jones. Can an aging Harrison Ford really pull of a fourth film? We’ll have to wait and see.


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opens May 22nd

That’s the best they have to show us? Looks a little tepid to me. The following week, there’s a movie for my Kris:


Sex and the City opens May 30th

Comic book movies are a dime a dozen today. Too bad so many of them suck. Many people didn’t like Ang Lee’s take on the incredible Hulk — I did. All the same, I’m interested to see the new, revised version of the myth:


The Incredible Hulk opens June 13th

Okay. It looks dumb. Another film for junior high school boys.

Is there any hope for a good summer movie? Why, yes there is. Instead of going to see the new Batman movie on July 18th, I’ll be on my way to see this:


Mamma Mia opens July 18th

Meryl Streep? Pierce Brosnan? Colin Firth? ABBA? Damn straight, I’m there! (Long-time readers know that ABBA is one of my favorite guilty pleasures.)

Finally, I’m really looking forward to the new James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, which is due in theaters November 7th. I thought the last film, Casino Royale was the best of the bunch so far, and I have high hopes for continued excellence from Daniel Craig.

Tags: Movies  → 4 Comments

5 April 2008 — Atonement (4)

Kris and I watched Atonement tonight. It’s a movie about love and betrayal set in England between 1935 and 1940.

The film opens with a shot of an English manor. But panning back, we see that it’s not actually a manor, but only a dollhouse. Lined up in front of the house in meticulous order are a collection of various toy animals. Thirty seconds into the film, I paused the DVD.

“You see,” I said. “This is the kind of thing that could only happen in film. Look at that. Everything is too neat, too orderly. I hate stuff like this. The entire film’s going to be like this.”

I pressed PLAY.

Atonement unfolds slowly. But, paradoxically, things happen quickly. It’s difficult to explain unless you’ve seen the film. The cinematography is stylized, but not overtly so. Each frame is gorgeous. The composition of each shot is beautiful. So much can be revealed in short twenty-second scenes, and yet the story takes its time. The acting is nuanced. The script is perfect.

There were only three things that bugged me about this movie, and two of them would have gone completely unnoticed in any other film. (Example: In one scene, a police officer at the edge of the frame shifts in a strange way, distracting from the perfect composition. Very minor.) The third thing is a major flaw, but not a fatal one.

For twenty minutes in the middle of the film, there’s an extended scene during which one of the characters has an almost hallucinatory experience. (And maybe not “almost”.) This scene goes on far too long. Perhaps it needs to for the sake of the story, but somehow the film loses its tempo at this point.

That’s too bad, because despite my worries from the first twenty seconds, I thought Atonement was excellent. In parts, it was brilliant. The first 40 minutes (excepting that opening sequence) are almost perfect.

“I guess you can’t judge a movie by its first scene,” Kris said when the movie had ended.

“No,” I said. “I guess not.”

Postscript: I ♥ this review of the movie from Amazon: “Couldn’t understand what the British actors were saying and it jumped from one year to the next with no explanation. I had high hopes, but thought it was very mediocre.” Damn those British accents, and non-linear stories!

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As a follow-up to yesterday’s musical extravaganza, here’s a masterpiece of narration. George Lucas should take lessons:

I can picture it now: a blog devoted to the creative arts for the pre-school set. Song! Film! Naps!

(My favorite part of this clip? The “symbolic” calendar. (Which is the same cat calendar that Kris and I buy every year, by the way — we love that thing.))

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