Thursday, January 17, 2008


Here are ten films I've seen since my last list, ranked in order of enjoyment. Another list is in the works.

A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983) - This is one of those movies that I've mostly seen even though I'd never actually sat down and watched it from beginning to end. I rectified that deficiency last December by watching it with the kids. It is classic scene after classic scene adding up to a perennial favorite. I love the nostalgic feel and the familial tone yet with sprinkles of dark humor such as the visit with Santa at the mall. This film is really a treat and I expect to watch it several more times over the years as the kids get older and learn to appreciate it in new ways.

APOCALYPTO (2006) - Loved it. Many aspects of the story reminded me of a half-written story that's been in my head for two decades. This is one of those magical films that immerses you completely into a foreign world, showing the beauty and savagery of another civilization. The makeup and costumes are astounding. The lack of familiar faces and the use of subtitles are ingenious in keeping us in this world as observers without the subtle wink from the filmmakers begging us to suspend our disbelief. Act I introduces us to characters and situations and includes some surprising humor. Act II reminds me of PASSION OF THE CHRIST with the extended death march to the Mayan temple. Act III becomes THE NAKED PREY and all three acts are effective and wondrous. The story is simple but it perfectly sums up a culture that has been under-explored in film history.

SPEED (1994) - I saw this upon its initial release and loved it for being an unabashed adrenaline ride. It is still plenty fun although a little more ridiculous. The dialogue is plain silly - there is one instance on the speeding bus where two passengers are shouting and one asks "would you like to step outside?" That is so silly that it must have been on purpose. Keanu's lines are not much better. But, hey, we don't watch action movies for the dialogue and this one delivers on its titular promise.

BLACK SNAKE MOAN (2007) - This film is unique and interesting enough to get a recommendation from me. It is basically taking the blues and turning it into a film with plenty of music to set the tone. Christina Ricci is the neighborhood tramp who falls into Samuel Jackson's life just as he is abandoned by his wife. Ricci is injured and unwholesome besides so Jackson appoints himself as her salvation. He nurses her back to health, then chains her to the radiator so he can exorcise the demons that drive her to nymphomania. It's kooky but works anyways. Jackson's preacher pal is a great character in this story. The only part of the story that didn't work for me is the burgeoning romance between Jackson's character and the town pharmacist. I would have rather that subplot been purged.

ZODIAC (2007) - Marci watched this with her folks over Thanksgiving and I tried to pay attention from the other room as I played in a poker tournament. My review is qualified since I wasn't giving the film my total attention, but I can still give it an unqualified thumbs up. I've liked all of David Fincher's films - he has a great way with atmosphere and subtle creepiness. He delivers here with a creepy subtext underscoring even the most basic expository scenes. It is always a pleasure to find a well-crafted film made for adults. I will definitely watch this again some day.

RESCUE DAWN (2006) - It's not the best Herzog film although it is probably his most mainstream effort. I have a man-crush on both Herzog and Christian Bale so there was no doubt I would seek this out. It is entirely watchable and entertaining, though it suffers from the usual biopic by needing to stick to the actual story at the expense of what may be more fun or interesting to watch. In a supporting effort, Steve Zahn proves himself capable after one too many zany buddy roles. Bale punishes himself by losing a ton of weight and eating maggots.

LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY (1997) - Before the fictionalized RESCUE DAWN, there was this documentary, also by Werner Herzog. Dieter Demler is an interesting fellow and here, he gives a first-person account of his desire to become an American fighter pilot, his capture, subsequent imprisonment and torture at the hand of the Viet Cong. You can tell that Herzog has great reverence for his Bavarian mate.

KNOCKED UP (2007) - This film didn't work at all for me. I really liked THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN. I think Steve Carell really carried it with his genuine portrayal. The buddy interplay between Seth Rogan and Paul Ruud was fantastic in that film but it is stretched a bit thin here. I didn't believe for a minute that the Heigl character, after being portrayed as career ambitious, would want to both keep the baby and try to fall in love with Rogan. Seth was likable enough but there was absolutely no reason for a career woman to want to schlep him along just because he donated sperm. There were several scenes (such as the extended conversation with the bouncer) that just didn't belong in the film and were only included because they must have been fun to shoot. The next film I watch will be SUPERBAD and I'm hoping for an improvement over this one. I know it was the comedy sensation of '07 and it was a critics' darling and all, but I just don't see why.

LIGHT SLEEPER (1992) - I remember reading about this film in Premiere Magazine way back when so it's always remained in the back of my mind as something I would like to see. So, lying in bed with no Tivo, I am at the mercy of whatever is coming on IFC and one Saturday morning, there it was, commercial-free. Willem Dafoe plays an interesting character who is still a high class drug dealer even after he's kicked the habit himself. It's a good stable job with a nice income which frees him to write in his spare time. Susan Sarandon is his boss who is preparing to leave the business for a new industry, leading Dafoe to question where his life is heading. In the end, the premise is more interesting than the execution of the story, which climaxes similar to TAXI DRIVER, written 15 years prior by the same guy.

THE WILD BLUE YONDER (2005) - I read an article about this film a couple of years ago in the LA Times and was intrigued. Herzog had procured NASA footage from an expedition below the Antarctic ice and married it with some mundane footage depicting life on an orbiting space shuttle. The gag is that these astronauts are going to Europa to explore its liquid atmosphere. The film's running length is mostly boring footage set to nice music and it adds up to a very dull film.

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