Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Prairie Home Companion (2006)

Plot: A look at what goes on backstage during the last broadcast of America's most celebrated radio show, where singing cowboys Dusty and Lefty, a country music siren, and a host of others hold court.

Ebert and Roeper were right. You will react to this like you react to the show. At least I did. Which meant that although there was a moment or two which made me smile, overall it made me just scratch my head and go, "Huh? I don't think I get it." I wasn't fond of the juxtaposition between the quasireality (if overexaggerated) and the complete fantasy of the Kevin Kline character. I really, really didn't get all that nonsense with Virginia Madsen's character. And I was as confused as anyone could possibly be with the ending. The movie ended and I thought, "I must have missed something." However, as I said, that's pretty much my reaction to the radio show, too. So if you can get into the humor of the radio show, go for it. If you can't... don't bother. 1.5 stars.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Harold and Maude (1971)

Wow. This has got to be the blackest comedy I have ever seen in my life. It actually left me somewhat depressed... and because of that, I can't rate it all that highly, nor can I think of many people I would actually recommend it to. Even in its humor it is unbelievably bleak, and although the ending is supposed to be less bleak, it just made me go, "Er. Okay." I had expected to like this a lot more than I did, I hadn't counted on the feel of it dragging me down quite as much as it did. 2.5 stars.

Paradise Now (2005)

The story is that of two young Palestinian men who are chosen to be suicide bombers. It would have been just very uninteresting if it had been entirely political: "This is why suicide bombing is wrong." But it's about so much more than that. Both sides of the story are given, and are interestingly done. There's the frustrated daughter of a martyr, who is convinced this isn't the way to go about it, and it's shown that she's probably right. But we also are sympathetic toward the two men who feel death is the only way to respond to oppressors.

The thing is, though, although the movie was indeed done very well, I really didn't feel much of personal connection to the characters, or much of an interest - until the very end. The last 15 minutes made sense and a sort of tragic beauty out of the entire rest of the movie. Now that was interesting. 3 stars.

The Life of David Gale (2003)

This was a "Yay-Wait-What" movie. As in, I finished the movie, went "Yay!" then thought about it, went, "Wait..." and then my final thought was: "Whaaat?" It's a political statement movie meets mystery thriller, except when you step back and look at them as a whole, neither aspect makes any sense, given what the movie gives us.

The story is of a man on death row who gives a set of interviews to a journalist. The journalist then sets out to prove he's innocent. Pretty straightforward. Except then it throws in a *lot* of political jargon about the death penalty (which doesn't make sense when connected with the ending) and a few twists (which don't make sense when connected with, say, the plot). It would have done better to focus on either the mystery or the message, because when they combined the two of them together, we got sort of a jumbled mess.

The difficulty is, though, that despite none of this hanging together, and despite their clearly not being quite sure on what their message *is*, I actually LIKED this movie fairly well. Heh. It wasn't until I actually sat down and started thinking about it that I realized it was nonsense. I can't actually recommend it as a fluff movie, though, because it's an unpleasant subject for a fluff movie. Oh, well. I liked it, but realize it wasn't good. How's that? 3 stars.

Looking For Comedy in the Muslim World (2005)

From what a friend of mine said about it, I thought it was a documentary, which it certainly was not. But I figured that out pretty quickly, and was able to just sit back and enjoy the movie. I really enjoyed the first 45 minutes or so, and only relatively enjoyed the last 45. It started getting just a little bit too silly and over-the-top for me to really enjoy it. Plus a few of the seemingly random dramatic moments (what was up with the assistant and her boyfriend? That was not particularly funny nor necessary to the plot) made me just wonder what on earth was suppoesd to be going on. There weren't very many laugh-out-loud moments, but throughout at least the first half of the movie I kept smiling. Too bad they couldn't have kept up the tone. 3.5 stars.

Life As a House (2001)

Normally, I wouldn't have watched this movie. It had too many opportunities for things to be silly and sappy, and I'm not a Hayden Christensen fan. But Anna recommended it to me, which meant I was either going to love it or hate it. :-) I leaned much closer to the "love" side. Although I wouldn't rave about it, I thought it was a very interesting movie. The few moments that were mildly silly were saved by the actors' performances. Both Kevin Kline and Hayden Christensen are superb in this, and although the drama was perhaps packed in a little too thickly at times, it still managed to come together into a very satisfying movie at the end. Another thumbs up for Anna's recommendations! 4 stars.

Liar Liar (1997)

I have to admit, out of all the "known to be annoying" comic actors, I like Jim Carrey the best (and Adam Sandler the least, but that's beside the point). He's good at what he does, even when he's not my style, and occasionally makes me giggle at things I wouldn't find funny if anyone else did them. He also has a good-natured air about him that most other comic actors lack. He actually has the ability to come off as a genuinely nice guy. (Back to Adam Sandler - even when he plays a supposedly nice people, I still want to shoot him.)

And therefore, this was not at all a bad movie. The premise is one of those that can, in the right hands, be hilarious, and in the wrong ones, horrendous. The screenwriters handle it just perfectly, with outrageous nonsense in nice proportion with the subtle humor and the sentimental plotline.

In conclusion... I liked this movie much more than I thought I was going to. I actually did laugh out loud a few times. That's pretty good. 4 stars.

L'Enfant (2005)

Earlier this week I saw Paradise Now, an Arabic film, and then this afternoon I watched this French film... and had the same reaction to both of them. Maybe it's the foreign film genre? I have no idea. I found this movie pretty not-compelling, up until the last 10 minutes or so, where suddenly it all came together and made sense and made an interesting story. Part of the problem with this one, though, was that I was annoyed with the main characters. They both seemed very young and very immature. There were several moments where I sat there, supposed to be sympathizing with this character, and not feeling any emotional response at all, except for maybe, "Geez, dude, that was stupid." He did manage to redeem himself a bit at the end, and she became much less annoying when she was angry than when she was the cheerful flirt, but still... the last ten minutes weren't enough to make up for the deadly boring hour and a half at the beginning. 2 stars.

American Beauty (1999)

What do you do with a movie where you were intrigued by the story, kept interested all the way through, but really disliked all the characters and couldn't actually relate to them? That's what happened here. Although it was a fascinating movie and had some really wonderful moments, I never warmed to any of the characters, whose flaws all overshadowed any good points they might have had. If that was a deliberate attempt to tie in to the theme of beauty in the world - a sort of "beauty's in the world, even if the people in the world aren't beautiful," then I agree it was wonderful. But if it was supposed to be a story about the people... I think it failed for me by not making the characters anyone I wanted to actually watch on screen. I'll give it the benefit of the doubt, though, and rate it 3 1/2 stars instead of 3 like I usually would. 3.5 stars.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Aquamarine (2006)

This movie about two girls who help a mermaid find true love was pretty much what it was advertised as... a fluffy, mindless pre-teen film. Except for a fairly crucial fact... none of the characters acted like real people. The most realistic person was Claire, one of the human girls, who's afraid of everything. Aquamarine is written wise as the ages one moment, stupid teen the next. Hailey is in serious denial but portrayed as the one who knows what's going on. And let's not even go into the shallowness of Raymond as a character. When you find out your girlfriend is a mermaid, your next move is NOT to ask her out. I would think there would be more important things on her mind.

I was going to say this will probably appeal to young teens, but the main girls don't get any cute guys, so I'm not sure that it would. Perhaps I'm being overly cynical about the state of the movieviewing world. 2.5 stars.

Monday, October 9, 2006

Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

This was really a very nice movie. Visually, I found it much more lovely than Spirited Away. (Spirited Away was more spectacular, but also more creepy in quite a few places.) I'm not sure I fully understood the plot, though. There were a lot of convoluted moments. A lot of interwoven plots I didn't catch connections to, I'm sure. I'd probably benefit from watching it over again. What I caught of the story, I liked. Lots of Beauty and the Beast type romance, which makes me smile and be happy. Also, I'm not sure if this is true of this genre in general, but both of the Miyazaki films I've seen felt very epic, without actually BEING epic. I really like that feel in a movie. It gets me engrossed in the story, even if I'm not entirely sure what happened the whole time. 3.5 stars.

Elizabethtown (2005)

Wow. TBG has more than one facial expression in this movie. Impressive. Okay, I really didn't expect to like this movie at all. Romantic comedy down-home small town charm Orlando Bloom = Hannah runs away. However, Anna recommended it so I faithfully trotted off to rent it. And I really enjoyed the first half of the movie. It had a pleasantly dry and morbid sense of humor without going too over the top, and the characters themselves were even mildly interesting. Then about halfway through, things started going downhill. There was a cliched "I don't care if you've failed" scene (followed by, of course, neither character being sensible). There was a very, very strange scene at a funeral/memorial service involving the deceased's wife doing a stand-up comedy routine, followed by a tap dance number. That was a true "what the flipping HECK?" moment for me. Perhaps it was meant to be charming, but for me it just baffled me. And then the end picked up again. So, you know, if you cut about twenty minutes from the middle, you get a pretty solidly good romcom. But those twenty minutes so jolted me out of my "this is a good movie" mindset that I don't think I ever quite recovered. 3.5 stars.

Chicken Little (2005)

I was expecting this movie to be much worse than it was, actually. I was expecting to be irritated out of my mind. And I wasn't, really. It had a few moments that made me realize this could have actually been a good movie. They've got enough talent, and there's a decent story (if you tone down the "my father doesn't understand me" silliness), and it could have been a much better movie, for both kids and adults, if it hadn't been tainted with as many moments of, "Oh, please." It isn't nearly as bad as Doogal though, nor many of the other children's movies of today. 2.5 stars.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (2001)

Plot: The lives of a lawyer, an actuary, a housecleaner, a professor, and the people around them intersect as they ponder order and happiness in the face of life's cold unpredictability.

As I said this week in my review of Crash, I like movies with interlocking stories, so there were moments of this I really liked. I loved the connections, I loved the fact that it moved backwards in time, and I loved the quotes used from the movie as section titles. I even liked (although not loved) most of the stories. But the dialogue... oh, man. The dialogue in several sections of the movie made me wince. NO ONE talks like that! Also, it was one of the bleakest movies I've seen in a long time. Even the stories that end up happy don't feel happy. I don't have a problem with unhappy necessarily, but this left me incredibly depressed. Too bad, because it had some wonderful moments. 3 stars.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Akeelah and the Bee (2006)

This came as a very refreshing contrast to Bee Season, which also claimed to be about a girl and a spelling bee, but was just bizarre. This movie was probably one of the best family films I've seen this year. It was incredibly well-done, despite having so many of the cliches (the coach's tragic past, the unsupportive mother, etc.). These really didn't get in the way of the story at all, though, somehow. The kids were believably intelligent but also believably middle school. I really got caught up in the story and the characters and despite it not having anything that made me go "OH MY GOSH! BEST MOVIE MOMENT EVER!" it was one of the most solidly interesting movies of the year. 4 stars.

Monday, October 2, 2006

Get Shorty (1995)

Teehee. Black comedies are often great fun, and this ranks right up there with Grosse Pointe Blank as one of the best. Not only was it amusing, it also had an action-heavy-enough plot to keep my brother entertained throughout. No real laugh-out-loud moments, but it managed to keep me smiling most of the way through it. Although I wouldn't ever buy it, I'd recommend it to anyone who's a fan of the genre in general. 4 stars.

The Enemy Below (1957)

This was a pretty decent movie. It's about an American submarine chasing a German one during World War II, which doesn't sound like all that interesting a plot synopsis to me. The back of the DVD described it as "a game of cat-and-mouse," and, honestly, that's what it felt like. It was actually fascinating to watch the German captain trying everything he knew to get away from the American sub, so he could complete his mission. A bit of political stuff about war, but the movie didn't feel like a political diatribe.

My only real complaint about the movie was some of the stuff at the end. The ending just didn't feel right. All of them seem to be peacefully co-inhabiting. Is there *no one* on either sub who's going to react negatively toward the other side? Other than that, though, pretty good movie. Probably wouldn't watch it again, though. 3.5 stars.

When Zachary Beaver Came To Town (2003)

What WAS this movie? We watched it in our kids' lit class and I'm still not entirely sure what was going on. It started off promising, but then degenerated into a series of ridiculous, randomly dramatic events. It also contained some of the creepiest child-in-love scenes I have ever seen in my life. Too bad, because most of the child actors were at least moderately convincing. But in general, it was too disjointed and too silly. 1 star.