Thursday, September 18, 2008


SHOOT ‘EM UP (2007)
–The reliable Clive “no smile” Owen is just a schlub waiting for a bus when he notices a gunman trying to shoot down a pregnant lady. Although unarmed he tries to save her life and winds up with a baby for his efforts. From then on, a gang led by Paul Giamatti chases Owen and the bambino all over creation. It’s a funny movie that makes the villain a gun manufacturer and then entertains us with bullets flying everywhere and mostly into the guts of evil henchmen. The death toll is enormous and the stunts are inventive with early ones seeming a bit of a stretch and later ones downright impossible. It’s so over the top that you have to enjoy it on its own terms, and it helps if you aren’t sickened by the sight of blood.

AWAY FROM HER (2007) – Julie Christie seems to materialize once a decade for an Oscar nomination and here she is this time with Alzheimer’s. And it’s a fine performance all and all. It’s directed by Sarah Polley, the girl who played the cashier in GO and has been seen most recently as the daughter of JOHN ADAMS in the HBO miniseries. She does a fine job with good performances by Gordon Pinsent as her husband and Michael Murphy and Olympia Dukakis as another couple who figures big in the plot.

THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (2007) Last year I saw Julian Schnabel’s film about the artist Basqaut who died of aids in the 1980s before people even knew what aids was. To find a more depressing subject, Schnabel chooses a guy completely paralyzed by a stroke who has to write a book with eye blinks. What’s funny is that Schnabel seems like a pretty up beat guy in real life. I saw him interviewed once about some paintings he was exhibiting and he was smiling and was not the least bit pretentious. I can understand Schnabel’s nomination for director, because this book is not easy material to turn into a film and he does a wonderful job of bringing the paralyzed world to life. Still, the main character is a narcissistic bore and recounting his life doesn’t redeem him.

DAN IN REAL LIFE (2007) – Steve Carell is the affable widower who meets cute with Juliette Binoche in a bookstore. It turns out that the French babe is dating his brother although she and Carell might turn out to be soul mates. Dane Cook is the brother, Diane Wiest as mother, and John Mahoney plays dad. If that sounds appealing you’re in for no further surprises.

INTO THE WILD (2007) – Sir Saunders summed this up a in a post a while back and I agree that it’s a fine movie that showed all of the adventure of such a pursuit and the danger at the same time. Sean Penn is a very thoughtful director, which is baffling after seeing him on Larry King back in 2003 where he couldn’t speak a coherent sentence in an hour of trying. Steve and I recently spoke about the adventure and how the environment has really been romanticized in the last 10-15 years. It’s like the Garden of Eden myth is back in the consciousness. Talk about coming full circle. But the movie shows how the environment will kill you without remorse. Civilization is little overrated until you’re out of rice and on the wrong side of the river. I think that’s why conservatives make the best outdoorsman. They have the most respect for the wild and they don’t mind turning hooves into steaks. Progressives are hoping that Puck and friends will sweep into the camp and with manna. Emile Hirsch is solid as Chris McCandless and Penn casts the supporting players ably too. Catherine Keener stands out as the aging hippy who takes on Chris as the son she lost. Nominated Hal Holbrook didn’t appear until the last 30 minutes, but he was a joy to watch. I liked the film enough that I might read the book.

MARGOT AT THE WEDDING (2007) – I consider Noah Baumbach’s 1995 debut KICKING AND SCREAMING to be a minor classic. 5 movies later I just can’t imagine he’s the same guy after watching the tiresome MARGOT. Is there anything really left to say about dysfunctional families? Some people just don’t love one another as they should and some have baggage. If the point of movies is to make you uncomfortable then they rang the bell, otherwise this is a yawn.

– Another singer biopic and this time in French. Marion Cotillard’s Oscar for Best Actress is right out of the Charlize Theron book of “let’s ugly it up for the sake of art.” You can see her beautiful in awful film, A GOOD YEAR. I don’t see her winning that statue without the imagination of the voters thinking of her beauty. And isn’t it time we ban Oscar nominations for biopics about singers anyway? Edith Piaf was another interesting person that just didn’t have it easy. These scripts almost write themselves anymore. I can’t wait to see all the terrible things that happened to Pat Boone before he became famous.

WE OWN THE NIGHT (2007) – Duvall is a cop and the father of Marky Mark (cop) and Jaquin Phoenix (nightclub manager). Well the nightclub is mobbed up and Mary Mark takes a bullet and Phoenix quits his pals for family. Everything else about the plot is cat and mouse which is alright if you are in the mood, but not exceptional.

DARJEELING LIMITED (2007) – Wes Anderson has the style down pat and he loves unusual characters, but I’m convinced that he isn’t interested in story. I find that the majority of his movies aren’t really about anything. And although they are funny at times, they are mostly slow. I don’t think I have liked any of them since The Royal Tennenbaums, and that movie might not have worked at all without the brilliant Gene Hackman. Here three brothers Owen Wilson, Adrian Brody, and Jason Swartzmann are on a search in Asia to find their wandering mother Angelica Huston. Not as dysfunctional as MARGOT, but playing the same general idea for laughs.

KING OF KONG (2007) - Documentary on the guys who hold the all-time scores on classic video games, with a focus on two guys battling to be the best Donkey Kong player in the universe. Player one, Billy Mitchell, has been the Donkey Kong champion since he was a teenager in the 1980s. So famous was he during that time they included the guy in a Life Magazine spread about the best gamers. He’s now around 40 and the owner of a sports bar and wing sauce business in Hollywood, FL. He still enjoys in the glory of his teenage self, having never cut his long long hair. The challenger, Steve Weibe from Washington State is a normal looking guy with a nice family and an obsession to be the best Donkey Kong player anywhere. We watch him play the game for hours in his garage as his kids and wife yell for his help with various household things. The wife is both annoyed at the time this takes and proud when he achieves his goal. It’s not too unlike my own experiences with poker. The film maker builds up good drama between the two rivals especially the way the champion shows no respect for the budding challenger. It’s one of those stories where you really root for people.

2 DAYS IN PARIS (2007)
–Writer, Director, Star, Julie Delpy doesn’t have the French characters look down at Americans, but she does have the American, Adam Goldberg do so. He is the typically holier than thou American who is better than where he came from, even going so far as to give American tourists the wrong directions. I’m supposed to love him for it because one of the ladies is wearing a Bush/Cheney T-shirt, an unlikely possibility. That’s not the problem with the movie, but the problem with what Delpy finds funny. The real trouble here is that she tries to channel Linklater with a talky boyfriend/girlfriend piece and it has none of the charm of the BEFORE movies and with time it gets annoying. By the end it’s not even realistic. But it never really was realistic, because I don’t see Julie Delpy anywhere near the geekish Adam Goldberg even on a bad day.

JUNO (2007) – The script is full of quirky dialogue that sometimes surprises you into laughter. Ellen Page seems a perfect fit for the role as a cute yet somewhat harsh teenager trying to find parents for her accidental baby. The couple she lands on, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman, seem perfect at first like most couples, but underneath lies a struggle between the two. JK Simmons plays Juno’s father and is becoming quite a reliable character actor filling that unashamedly masculine authority figure device. My only real knock on the movie is that I don’t find Jennifer Garner all that sympathetic, she’s a bit of a pain really and seemingly phony at times, and yet she comes out better at the end than the story would have led me to believe.

EVAN ALMIGHTY (2007) – Steve Carell is winning enough, but this is the one-joke premise with few surprises. I didn’t see the Jim Carey version a few years ago and I don’t know why I thought this wouldn’t be mediocre. The God comedies are a little awkward, always having to stick with the Old Testament version and sidestepping the Jesus question. Remember how George Burns deflected the question as posed by John Denver. Here we get the humor of the prophet beard growing faster than he can shave, as if the beard were holy in itself.

– It’s more or less a remake of DEATH WISH with Jodie Foster in the Charles Bronson role. Like Death Wish, Foster loses a loved one to a violent attack and she fights back wild west style. Plenty of action, although the New York depicted here is really pre-Guiliani with a mugging on every corner. You’ll be surprised how many crimes Foster is the potential victim of and how quickly the perps become dog meat. It’s directed by Neil Jordan of all people. The original Death Wish has a few scenes that really test suspension of disbelief, and the Brave One is no different. Christopher Guest will never speak to Jodie Foster again.

– I liked Mystic River for the most part. An hour into the film it had all the making of a classic, but I found the last ten minutes disappointing and the ending disjointed. I can see now that my problem was with the book author, Christopher Lehane, who also wrote GONE BABY GONE. This plot is just too busy with too much grey area for the character to reside in. Casey Affleck is quite good. I knew Amy Ryan from HBO’s THE WIRE, and she continues to be a solid actress, although her screen time didn’t really warrant a nomination. I think using heavyweights like Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman in smaller roles gives too much away and the resolution is quite contrived.

ACORSS THE UNIVERSE (2007) – This could have been an interesting 90 minute movie, but at 133 minutes its way too much for way too long. If you like Beatles music and know a little of their backstory then you can enjoy the first 30 minutes or so, but the movie drops off a cliff soon after that. The story of a bunch of kids exploring the possibilities of life with the Fab Four in the background is nothing but the millionth baby boomer romantic fantasy. Will that generation ever grow up? Julie Taymor is overrated, her one hit being the Lion King stage show that already had a built-in fan base. Did you see her last film, Frida? I did and I don’t remember anything but Geoffrey Rush showing up as Trotsky.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007) – This was interesting material for the Coen Brothers. It really fits their crazy dark genre and yet fits into the realism universe at the same time. Javier bardem got all the ink and the Oscar, but it’s one of those performances that’s rewarded for the writing blended with the actor’s obscurity. I think Benicio Del Toro could have played the character just as menacing but we would have expected that. Tommy Lee Jones is so weather beaten that the guy has been playing an old man for ten years and he’s still not 65. I can’t complain about his performance though. They’re all good really. Even Woody Harrelson’s quirky personality seems to fit here. You could argue that it’s the Coen’s best film. I still prefer Miller’s Crossing. It may not have been the best film made last year, but it was better than the other films that were nominated for Best Picture.

CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR (2007) – No script can turn Tom Hanks into a whiskey- soaked womanizer. The first scene of the movie has him in a hot tub with naked strippers and you don’t believe it for a minute. WILSON does have a typically good performance by Phillip Seymour Hoffman and another icy performance by Julia Roberts. Is she no longer allowed to play fetching? Hoffman makes all of his scenes worth it and the scenes without him drag. The movie built a lot of good will with me by acknowledging the real bad guys. Enough time has passed that the Russians can be enemies even to Aaron Sorkin. But I guess it was all worth it to Sorkin so that he could have his little epilogue with Hoffman explaining to Hanks that without U.S. funding for Afghan schools, the whole place will fall apart, and he only needs $1 million. I don’t know what’s funnier about that comment, that a typical liberal solution of more education solves everything or that the whole country can be educated for $1 million. Orange County Florida can’t build a single high school for less than that. Good will or not, this is not a very memorable movie. I finished watching it 25 minutes ago and I’m having trouble remembering plot points.

1 comment:

Dude said...

After several days, I've worked my way through your reviews. I've heard of all these films but have only seen a few, which I've already chronicled.

I liked Gone Baby Gone more than you; Juno and Across the Universe the same. I will get Into the Wild higher on my Netflix list while it is still on my mind.

I just finished the final year of Sopranos and next up is John Adams. I've got a list of 20-30 films that I will review soon.

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