Movies We've Watched on DVD - 2002
2002 Movie Total: 122
Friday, December 20, 2002
Cowboy Bebop — Often mentioned as the best anime series out there. I prefer Neon Genesis: Evangelion, but this one is not bad, espcially for the dubbing and the soundtrack. The art is awfully good. It ends on a kind of down note, which was not necessary, especially given the light nature of the series in most of the episodes. (6 discs)
Wednesday, December 18, 2002
Lenny — The actual jokes and bits that Dustin Hoffman performs are kind of weak, but I guess that's the point, the stuff never was all that profane to begin with—at least not by today's standards. The direction by Bob Fosse is flat out fantastic. It is sharp and edgy with constant cutting back and forth from reenactments of real events to reenactments of interviews with the principals. Valerie Perrine is the real standout here. She makes the love story believable and all the more tragic. She has a real presence, and her similarity to Kirsten Dunst is eerie, although it mostly shows how weak Dunst is in comparison. As I was watching I kept saying to myself that she really deserved an Oscar nomination for her work, it was that good—I was happy to see that she did.
Lilo and Stitch — This is a glorious explosion of color on the screen. It just looks great in almost every scene. Also of note is the beautifully rounded character design, which infects every element, even the fireballs. Very few sharp angles here, and it all works beautifully. The story is okay (the voicing is a bit weak), but it is the design and freshness of delivery that makes this so watchable. One clever aside is the way that Winnie the Pooh characters are spoofed in the alien scenes, there is lots of neat stuff hidden in the backgrounds here.
Monday, December 16, 2002
Lagaan — The thing about sports movies is that you almost always know how it's going to end: the important thing is how you get there. This movie does it is spectacular Bollywood style that is throroughly gripping for all of its 3 hours and 40 minutes (and the deleted scenes add another 20 minutes). the songs are good, the acting is good, and the story is classic melodrama, with good guys, bad guys, love triangles, and even nature playing a role. Very good, very fun film-making.
Saturday, December 14, 2002
The Anniversary Party — It's a bit talky and arty and all that, but it is also extremely interesting and very well done. The acting is great throughout and one has to applaud the lack of resolution to any of the dilemmas laid out. It gets even better on a second viewing. Sure, it's a bit self-involved, but when the actors are such greats, it is a small fault.
Friday, December 13, 2002
Lola Montes — A revelation! This movie was done in the fifties and yet it is as modern as it's near exact counterpart Moulin Rouge. The story of a fallen woman is there as is the fancy camerawork and the exquisite set design. What this movie has more of though, compared to its modern copy, is more genuine feeling and a genuinely creepy self-recognition. It is this self-recognition, mostly done through the mechanism of the circus with its share of freaks and clowns, that really makes this such a fascinating exercise. Quite amazing.
Saturday, December 7, 2002
The Reluctant Dragon — Not exactly an animated classic, because it's not exactly animated. It's mostly a tour of the Disney lot by a live action Robert Benchley which serves as an explanation of how the animated features are put together. "The Reluctant Dragon" cartoon itself is quite good, but hardly a classic. It's still notable, as are the other cartoon features, for the fine Disney standards everywhere in evidence. Overall, it's a pretty good tour, but mostly interesting for its curiosity and trivia value. This is part of the two-disc "Disney Treasures" set which shows off a lot of the footage compiled over the years which tells all about how Disney animation was really put together.
Thursday, December 5, 2002
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings: Extended Version — An extremely strong addition to the original theatrical version. The extra bits, while not exactly necessary, do a lot to fill out the characters and the fate of the Fellowship. The strongest addition is in how the character of Bormir is developed, and this new version provides a deeper understanding of his tragedy. We also learn more about Galadriel. It makes for a more epic scope of the movie, although at the cost of a slight diminishment in the dramatic impact of Frodo's personal journey.
Wednesday, December 4, 2002
Five Easy Pieces — A terrific character study that really shines for the wonderful acting and sharp ear for dialogue. It's a small movie that doesn't quite live up to its landmark reputation. It's aged a little but not too much, probably because the acting is so good, not just from Nicholson, but from from just about every character in it.
Saturday, November 30, 2002
Solaris — Moody and thoughtful piece on the nature of identity and memory, not to mention among the several sub-themes a discussion of the role of morality in scientific discovery. Despite its long length and slow pacing, it is fascinating, extraordinary filmmaking from Andrei Tarkovsky. Many of the scenes seem purposely designed to lend themselves to numerous interpretations. It definitely needs multiple viewings.
Thursday, November 28, 2002
Ice Age — A somewhat lame story that is wonderfully executed. As is usual with the latest 3-D extravaganzas, the voice talent is very well done. The animation is also good, approaching greatness with the wordless Scrat. There are a few good jokes, but the story is mostly only a hangar for the excellent picture work.
Monday, November 25, 2002
Red Beard — It is tough to have something coherent about a movie that leaves you in such awe of its quality and artistry. From almost the first frame, this 3-hour long thing has you spellbound by its humanity and love of people. Backing up the message is Kurosawa's amazing sense of space and mise-en-scene. His wide-frame compositions are simply a wonder to behold. As usual, this Criterion disk has a very useful commentary that not only gives historical perspective on Kurosawa's career and work, but also the time period of the movie and the history of medical development in Japan.
Saturday, November 23, 2002
Training Day — The story is pure pulp: an ambitious rookie slowly roped into a hideous world of corruption. What the movie has going for it, though, is the excellent performances of the two leads. The direction is solid, and the script is good, but it is Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke who really sell this movie and raise it above the fairly tawdry level it's really at. The Denzel character is Satan—both repellent and totally riveting. The commentary track is quite good on the kinds of research that went into the movie—lots of undercover cops and gang members.
Friday, November 22, 2002
Timecode — Essentially a cinematic experiment with four interweaving stories, all done in one take. Amazingly, it works quite well. While it's hard to follow along everything that's happening, the effect is pretty effective as things come and go. The story isn't all that great shakes, but the acting is good and the whole thing is pretty enjoyable. The fact that is was shot on video is pretty apparent. In the beginning it looks pretty bad, but the lighting is not too bad throughout and some scenes look quite good. The lighting, focus, and timing issues must have been a real challenge.
Wednesday, November 20, 2002
Haiku Tunnel — Utterly disarming and delightful. A light comedy about the office, that turns out to be more about the hero's personal foibles and triumphs than a real critique of the office. The opening bits are assured, rock-solid film-making. While there is a bit of lag in the middle, as might be expected in a first effort, the end wraps it up nicely in a surprisingly gentle and pleasant fashion. An added bonus are the occaional extremely funny asides that really round out the story. Very nice!
Saturday, November 16, 2002
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back — No sign that Kevin Smith is moving beyond his basic simple stuff, but he can still be awfully funny at it. While the subject remains teen angst, sex jokes, and Star Wars, the movie does pretty well at moving along at a brisk pace and keeping the audience's attention. For all its silliness, it's pretty well made and a nice diversion.
Friday, November 15, 2002
Montenegro — I kept wondering why in the world this movie was made. It seems a pretty basic, and uninspired, mid-life crisis movie. The theme song The Ballad of Lucy Jordan, sung by Marianne Faithful, is all you really need to understand where it's going (and is far better than the movie itself). And then at the very end it takes a detour, where it seems the woman at the center of things decides to start killing people. We also learn it's based on a true story. At least that makes a little more sense, but not much, and it is a seriously forgettable film. It was made in 1981, so that might explain something, but not enough to recommend it.
Thursday, November 14, 2002
Jackie Brown — The best part of Quentin Tarantino is his love of language. The next best part is his fascination with the way people deal with each other. Pulp Fiction is all about controlling onne's behavior and the kinds of manners that people need when they deal with people who have guns. At the bottom of that, of course, is the morality people create for themselves, even when doing horrible things. This movie has a lot of that, but its certainly no Pulp Fiction. Nevertheless, it's got great actors and the deep love of hearing people talk to each other. More than enough to keep it interesting.
Wednesday, November 13, 2002
Monterey Pop — There's a real freshness to this movie. It's short length, incomplete footage, and some great shots of the crowd, combine to give it lots of life. One has the feeling that something special was going on, but the camera only managed to capture part of it. One also senses the filmakers didn't really know what it was they were capturing, a sense that is not there when watching Woodstock or Gimme Shelter. This amateur style only increases the movie's charms. The two other movies have a much more sophisticated feel to them, which, in the case of Woodstock, leads to overload. In Gimme Shelter, of course, there is only dread.
As good as all the feelings are, the ache of painful waste grows as one watches Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, and Mama Cass is all their lively glory. This feeling is only intensified by watching the two specials on a deparate disc of more of Redding's and Hendrix's performances. The commentaries also really add a lot as well. The reality of what happened later makes the movie feel quaint, and at the same time precious, because those events will certainly never happen the same way again. Back to the fun though, the exuberant sixties clothes are almost reason enough to watch this one again and again. (2 disks)
Tuesday, November 12, 2002
Star Wars: Episode 2—Attack of the Clones — Okay, sure there are a number of problems with the movie, mostly centered around uneven acting and some unnecessary exposition. Those issues notwithstanding, the movie is still impressive for the scope of its goals and the beauty of its execution. Showing the descent into evil of Vader via a doomed love affair and the loss of his mother is pretty big on its own, but on top of that are the twin stories of the manipulation of the Senate to organize a war for Palpatine's personal benefit, and the decline of the Jedi order. For all his supposed clumsiness, Lucas manages to direct some spell-binding sequences that continue to impress even on repeat viewings. Just as the original trilogy was never really that superb, so this one and its predecessor are not nearly that bad. I thought this one, in particular, was actually much better than the summer's mega-hit Spiderman. One other note: this DVD looks simply spectacular.
Friday, November 8, 2002
The Ipcress File — A creepy spy thriller marked by incredible camerawork and a great performance by Michael Caine. This might have even been one of the first thrillers where the bad guy was one of our own—a strong start to an enduring plot twist. It's a little slow, but still a great movie to watch. The DVD has an astonishingly good commentary track with the director and editor talking about their experiences on the film. Lots of good stories and insight into how the two of them did their jobs. It also reveals the difficult relationship between the director and the producer of the film.
The camerawork really deserves more comment. Many of the frames are at dutch angles or are simply filled up with shoulders, walls, or the backs of heads. The only clear bits are little triangles in the corner showing the speaking actor. There is also a famous keyhole shot and a goofy shot right through a parking meter. The effect compounds the confusion and sense of mystery about the proceedings. Nothing is clear and we are all caught in a maze with only the tiniest sense of what is real. In fact, one measure of how effective the technique is is that one doesn't really notice it until the scenes are mostly over. One simply has a growing sense of unease as things move along. A great lesson in the power of the techniscope widescreen!
Thursday, November 7, 2002
Wicked City — This anime reminded me a lot of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. The stories aren't that similar, but the general feeling of unease involving an unknown evil power, as well as the love triumphs all ending, certainly make the moods very similar. The artwork isn't the greatest, but it's quite good in places and the character design is especially creepy for the villains: the evil spiderwoman is certainly unique. Quite good overall.
Tuesday, November 5, 2002
Joe — Nothing could be less subtle than this indictment of cross-generational hypocrisy. Nevertheless, it's marked by an excellent script and outstanding acting, especially by Peter Boyle. A very young Susan Sarandon also shows the screen presence that has kept her active for so many years.
Saturday, November 2, 2002
Beauty and the Beast — Great movie. I thought the colors were a bit more interesting in The Little Mermaid, and certainly the movement and action is more impressive in The Lion King, but overall, this one certainly deserves its numerous kudos. Story is king.
Friday, November 1, 2002
The Bad and the Beautiful — So much better than The Barefoot Contessa. This one is a much more lifelike movie about the movies. Good performances are key (especially the wonderful Gloria Grahame), but the best part is watching the way the screen fills up with so many people and things, and yet we're never at a loss for what's going on. I can't help but think it is the touch of the director, Vincente Minnelli, that's responsible. On the same disk is Lana Turner: A Daughter's Memoir. It's hardly a great documentary, but when the subject is this good, it's hard not to be interesting. It covers the amazing career, much longer than I imagined, of Turner and doesn't shy away from some of the seedier parts of her history.
Thursday, October 31, 2002
The Talented Mr. Ripley — Solid, serious, movie-making for adults: what an enjoyable experience. It's not a pretty story, but one to make you think. There are no cheap shots, no audience tricks, and it is beautifully done throughout. Cate Blanchett is extraordinary. There is no sign of the future Galadriel here, and she sells the spoiled heiress perfectly, down to the toss of the curls and her dismissiveness of the help. In every respect it is absolutely pitch perfect.
Spy Kids — It's really hard to beat Robert Rodriguez for pure exhuberant film-making. Desperado has the same qualities, but this one does it without the murderous bits. All the characters are fun, and it looks and feels as if it was an absolute delight to make. One clever bit is in the name of the characters: Floop, Lisp, the third Brain, and others are all computer language terms.
Tuesday, October 29, 2002
Arlington Road — Up there with No Way Out as a really well-done Washington thriller/conspiracy flick. This one is particularly spooky because it deals with domestic terrorism and false leads followed by the FBI. It's a little slow starting, but as it gets going the awesome cast and solid script really sell the whole thing. I found it a little difficult to watch because you could sort of guess it was going to end badly. After it's over it certainly stays with you and keeps you thinking.
This one reminds one yet again of the mystery of Jeff Bridges: he's so good, and yet can't seem to hit it off with audiences. He does project a certain distance from his roles, as if you're watching him act and inhabit the roles rather than actually watching him be the role. He's certainly more fun to watch than William Hurt, who gives off the same vibe. Joan Cusack and Tim Robbins are at their best as the cool creepy couple across the street.
Saturday, October 26, 2002
Possession — Accordng to the comentary on the disc, after seeing the movie Isabelle Adjani tried to commit suicide; I can understand why. This is an incoherent and bizarre movie. There are some interesting scenes, but it's hard to get past the overactive camerawork and the awful acting by Sam Neill. Adjani herself does okay, but even she's put through some stuff that is pretty embarassing: her freakout/miscarriage scene in the subway is ludicrous, and that's after a slightly tamer scene where she cuts her own neck with an electric knife.
Friday, October 25, 2002
Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend — Much like Akira, this one ends in a giant battle of weird creatures and left me with little or no idea what was going on. The images are pretty amazing and the plot is as complex as they come. Like Akira this one involves teens who have no idea about what is going on in the larger world. The biggest difference, though, is that this one makes explicit the strange sexual urges of the characters. If one is convinced Japan is a weird twisted society, this movie isn't the one to change your mind. As amazing as the pcitures are, this one hardly lives up to other, better, anime. It's good, but it's hardly great.
Thursday, October 24, 2002
Heathers — Apparently I've watched this movie before, although I can't remember it. Supposedly my reaction the first time was that it was a very good movie. That's my reaction now as well. The best teen movies set up the teen world as one completely apart from adults. Adults are there, but they have almost no impact other than as props or annoyances. They certainly serve no moral purpose. It's for the characters themselves to construct a morality out of their frightening world. The best John Hughes movies do it, Fast Times at Ridgemont High does it, and this one is the same. Fast Times has the broadest panoply of characters, but this one is almost better in that it takes the moral dilemmas to the logical endpoint—what if somebody just started killing everybody. River's Edge deals with a few of the same questions, but since that was based on reality it doesn't have the same universal appeal. This one can be funny as well as dark. It also probably marked the end of a series of teen comedies—you can't really top a murder—until Clueless came along and revived the genre, if only briefly before it collapsed into horror spoofs and sex comedies. The script in this thing is so good that repeat viewings provide ample rewards. Even the little throwaway shots, for example the Cliff's Notes version of The Bell Jar, serve a plot purpose and are really funny to boot.
Wednesday, October 23, 2002
Hilary and Jackie — Yet another entry in the incredibly ironic tragedy category of biographies. This one is in the always-fruitful doomed musician sub-category with the extra special feature of weird husband sharing as a bonus. It's gorgeous to look at, and the acting, especially by the eyes of Emily Watson, is great. Rachel Griffiths was also very good. So, what's the matter? The bond between the two sisters is clearly drawn, and, no doubt, it's an engaging movie. Yet something's lacking, something to lift it higher than a classy Jerry Springer episode. That something has to be the music, and it's in the story of the music that something is lacking. We're told that the sisters are good and that Jackie is great, but we don't really feel it. All we really understand is that she sweats a lot. And that's not quite enough. We see music as the prison, but there isn't enough of the beauty to make the tragic end sad enough to really hurt. In fact, by the time the end gets to us, we've recoiled so much from the scary things she's done, it's hard to muster as much sympathy for Jackie as the movie really needs.
Tuesday, October 22, 2002
Branded to Kill — A very strange, and by the end, incomprehensible, Japanese gangster movie. It's got lots of neat shots and weird angles which make it interesting to watch. The lead assassin, with a fetish for the smell of rice and the constant focus on his "ranking" as a killer, certainly sets the stage for innumerable later movies about quirky but dedicated "professionals." One highlight is that after a butterfly lands on the sniper's rifle and ruins his aim, the lead's mysterious lover turns out to have a house decorated totally in dead butterflies.
Monday, October 21, 2002
Bridget Jones's Diary — Why in the world did I watch this movie? Given all the really great movies out there, this one certainly didn't deserve my time. Nevertheless, it's a reminder that we live in a time of amazing technical achievement. The acting, especially by Renee Zellweger (a Texan!), is extraordinary, as is the camerawork, the design, and the whole production of the thing. Jim Broadbent is worth watching just chew his food. Even the script is classy, in the way it's light humor works with the overall thrust of the movie. Nevertheless, light is the theme here. There's never any real doubt about who Bridget will end up with at the end. The only tension is the way the movie plays off of Hugh Grant's usual gooey good screen image.
The British cattiness is fun to listen to, but the best part of that is in the director's commentary when she talks about how the movie reflected the reality of her own life. Bridget's character is eminently watchable as a biting sarcastic wit, and perhaps the movie is spoiled a bit by the fact that you can't quite imagine her being as much fun if she really ends up happily in love. In fact, one real plus of the movie is that you can't really imagine the future relationship being totally sweetness and light.
Saturday, October 12, 2002
Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles: The Klendathu Campaign — This is surprisingly good stuff for a Saturday morning cartoon. They managed to do an incredible job with the CGI animation. Sure, there are lots of holes, mostly due to the fact of time pressure, but it still amazing to see what can be done with desktop software. This is the same shop that did Babylon 5, and lots of Star Trek: Voyager stuff.
Thursday, October 10, 2002
The Sopranos: Season 3 — Any laxness from the second season is eliminated in this tight, thrilling, horrifying third year. The main focus is the kaleidoscope of loyalties and responsibilities that come from the entanglements of "family". As riven as Tony is by his conflicting desires and responsibilities for his minions, Carmella is almost the greater focus as she continues to try to square the circle of enjoying her prosperity while hating its source. A riveting and brief exposure to an honest broker (a one-time visit to a psychiatrist) lays it out: she can no longer hide the reality of her existence from herself or blame it on others. It isn't tragedy, but agonizing self-reflection as we watch the characters realize what kind of habits have developed over their years of trying to be comfortable. Sharp, like a needle. (Four discs)
Saturday, October 5, 2002
Rashomon — This movie has been talked about so much that it is hard to view it with the same eye that it received on its initial release. "Rashomon-like" is an adjective now, and the duplicity of an eyewitness has been worked to death. What's left however is excellent acting, and, once again, Kurosawa's astonishing camera work. There is an incredible tracking shot on a walking man that moves smoothly from long shot to tight close up and back to long shot within seconds. There is also the great lighting in the forest. The film is perfectly matched to its medium; in color it would never have worked so effectively.
Friday, October 4, 2002
Night of the Demon — Wonderful deep inky blacks and sharp rays of gray conceal an unspeakable evil in the English countryside. This is a really good study of how to build slow suspense over the course of a movie. It would have been better actually if one never saw the monster at all. The mood is that good. The camera work and direction are spellbinding. It makes one wish much more of the Jacques Tourneur oeuvre were available on DVD.
Big Night — This is billed as a comedy. It's not. Instead it's a really interesting study of two brothers and their attempt to run a viable restaurant. All the parts are good, with special credit to Tony Shaloub, who manages to make his mania for food perfection as central and believable as it needs to be to carry this movie through.
Bedazzled — Brendan Fraser shows some amazing versatility in this movie. The only problem is that the devil is not the delightfully evil presence she should be. As well as she fills out her numerous costume changes, Elizabeth Hurley can't do the same for her character. Compare Peter Cook's charisma in the original for what needs to be done. Unfortunately, this failing is what finally makes this one not all the great. Fraser really deserves to be in a lot more movies.
Thursday, October 3, 2002
The Professional — An incredible visual talent here is put in the service of a creepy weird story that barely survives its own preposterousness. That said, the pictures are exquisite. I remember seeing this in the theaters and thinking it was quite good. Now it just looks arch and silly. Gary Oldman is full of cute quirks and evil, but to what effect? Much less than it first appears.
Topkapi — A goofy caper flick that is not nearly as good as Dassin's other efforts, primarily Rififi. Maximilian Schell and other roles are unfortunately miscast, but the whole thing is saved by the astonishing presence of Peter Ustinov. He's near perfect as the idiot stumbling into the job of his life.
Goldfinger — The pace is slow and the story is pretty tame compared to other Bond films, but somehow this one manages to emerge as probably the best of them all. Perhaps it is the remarkable balance of all the little set pieces so that they work together in the service of the larger story. Or perhaps it is the cast which is perfectly cast from top to bottom. Or perhaps it is that the mystic allure of gold actually rubs off on the audience and we are all captivated by Auric's audacity and love affair with Au. An added benefit is the best line in a Bond movie ever: "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!"
Wednesday, October 2, 2002
Tokyo Olympiad — What kind of Olympic movie neglects to tell you most of the winners? A great one. This documentary is all about the specifics of competition; what the faces look like, what toll competition can take on the body, how the audience reacts. The final results are not that important. There is a little foreshadowing of the "up close and personal" stories that the Olympics are famous for, which perhaps shows how powerful the overall approach was. There is also precious little political weight given to the proceedings, which would have dated, and lessened, the film considerably. Best of all, the pictures, pacing, and effects—slow-motion, and black-and-white shots—are exquisite.
Sunday, September 22, 2002
The Rookie — This is a pretty good true story about a guy who made it to the big leagues long after he thought injuries had made it impossible. Dennis Quaid does a great job of showing the problems that he faces. Brian Cox is riveting as his uncommunicative father. That said, the movie suffers from sloppy editing and a labored, obvious script. It could easily have been almost a half-hour shorter by cutting some of the more drawn out scenes. At the same time, it is a pleasure to see Disney again produce a quality G-rated live action picture. The acting and story are certainly strong enough to overcome other problems.
The Cat's Meow — Very interesting look at a potential incident in the lives of Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies, and Charlie Chaplin, among others. The other players are not as well known, with one exception being Louella Parsons. The biography of Thomas Ince shows him to be a central player in the start of almost all the early California movie studios, but I can't say I've ever heard of him before.
In any case, the movie is interesting and pretty well-written. The problem is in the acting. Any impression I have of the central people comes primarily from the documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane. Edward Herrmann as Hearst is obviously trying to give some flavor of the businessman dictator who had a real fun streak and deeply loved Marion Davies. In this regard, the portrayal rings pretty true, although looks a bit stagy. Kirsten Dunst as Marion is also not bad, but Eddie Izzard as Charlie Chaplin is easily the best of the bunch. The problem is that the whole thing looks and feels quite staged. Only Izzard and maybe Joanna Lumley in a bit part have the right rhythm for their roles. The rest seems strained and artificial. Bogdanovich's direction is pretty smooth and, except for a few awkward pans, surprisingly fluid for what must have been a very crowded set. Because of the historical interest and the strength of the writing and story, I still have to give this one very high marks. It would be easy to sit through this one again.
Saturday, September 21, 2002
Object of Beauty — A very nice little movie with excellent acting by John Malkovich and pretty good stuff from Andie MacDowell. There are some amusing moments and the delivery of its message is feather light. Lots of little quotable moments that don't quite add up to a huge event, but very pleasant overall.
Monsters, Inc. — I thought this movie was a bit more honest in its kid appeal than Shrek. Where Shrek went for the easy toilet jokes in addition to the great presence of Eddie Murphy, this one passes on the easy stuff to reach for something a little more genuine. By and large, the reach is plenty long enough and the whole things works wonderfully. Steve Buscemi is fantastic as the bad guy. As much as I like John Goodman, he doesn't quite have the dramatic heft to balance things out. As an example, the one scene with John Ratzenberger provides some welcome fresh air. As always, Pixar does an extraordinary job on the animation—certainly better than the Dreamworks guys.
Tuesday, September 10, 2002
Stargate — Easily the best Roland Emmerich film around—not a compliment. James Spader is what really saves this movie. Kurt Russell is busy working on the stoic, no-emotion look that he perfected in Soldier. The really incredible thing is that, on its own terms, the movie is at least as credible as the two previous movies on this list.
Monday, September 9, 2002
The Thomas Crown Affair — A bit slow and stately, and, except for the one final scene in the museum, not really all that exciting (or believable). The Thomas Crown character, whom we are supposed to believe is a thief, gazillionaire, and predatory businessman, who has time for several hundred hobbies plus weekly therapy sessions, is only saved by the good acting of Pierce Brosnan. The same is true for Renee Russo's character. It's their interplay that makes this even barely watchable.
Space Cowboys — The plot here is laughably implausible. None of it makes much sense, from the first replacement of the pilots by a monkey, to the theft of secret guidance plans, to the final sacrifice by Tommy Lee Jones. Of course, Armageddon showed that plausibility in a space opera barely matters if you can get the emotions right, and this one actually does get the emotions right. Despite the plot holes, the dialogue has some believability, and the delivery and chemistry between the four seasoned actors (Clint, Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner, and Donald Sutherland, with the added bonus of William Devane and James Cromwell) makes it a pleasant enough diversion.
Saturday, September 6, 2002
There's Something About Mary — Giant hit movies like this are hard to judge after the fact. Half the fun of seeing an Austin Powers movie on release, after all, is the fact that you are seeing it and experiencing it at the same time as everyone else. The shocks, jokes, and thrills of these kinds of movies become part of society so quickly that, on seeing the movies later, it's hard to understand the initial enthusiasm and experience that the original audiences had. It is certainly the case that the cultural impact of this movie far outweighs its own intrinsic value.
In this movie, I'd heard so much about how disgusting it was that I was prepared for some serious perversion. In reality, it's not all that bad, and certainly many of the same body fluid jokes are now repeated quite often on prime-time TV (and not as well, for that matter). In any case, what's left is a light, occasionally really funny, comedy that's appears almost sweet and simplistic as compared to some later films. This is one of Ben Stiller's best performances, and it is anchored by solid support work all the way around.
Friday, September 6, 2002
Grave of the Fireflies — One of the saddest movies I've ever seen. Beautiful, quiet, gentle, delicate story about the most appalling hardships faced by two orphans in Japan at the end of World War II. The artwork in the anime is gorgeous, but the beauty simply emphasizes the horrible fate of the brother and sister in the story. They only have each other, and as Japan faces defeat, there is nothing for them and no one who will care for them. The sadness is almost completely unrelieved. Even the little bits of pleasure in their lives seem only to portend their slow decline. The only real bit of goodness is the love that they share between them. When the girl dies, there's really no need to see the decline of the brother. In fact, at that point we suddenly remember that the movie started off with his own death: we've simply been watching a retelling of the story. Real happiness was achievable only after their passing.
Tuesday, September 3, 2002
Ossessione — Very modern, very dark, Italian film noir from 1943. It was adapted from the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice and is quite amazing to look at. The actors are great, especially the woman who plays the murderous wife. Also a treat is the amazing camera work which swoops all around the actors. It is also an interesting view of what pre-war Italy must have been like for the common person—not much fun at all. A real tribute to director Luschino Visconti.
Friday, August 30, 2002
Perfect Blue — Pretty interesting anime about the problems faced by a pop singer as she tries to move into the world of acting. The story isn't bad, but the drawing is nowhere near the caliber of the more classic animes. Even the star just doesn't look all that good.
Excalibur — Really overwrought retelling of the King Arthur legend. Nicol Williamson as Merlin is just silly and super-hammy. The landscape is nice and some of the pictures are pretty, but it's too much like Zardoz and with not enough real feeling to be very worthwhile.
Ms. 45 — Very similar to Polanski's Repulsion, but without Denueve and the claustrophobia. In exchange we get a gritty 70's New York, a revenge motif, and some stylish directorial touches at the hands of Abel Ferrara. It moves briskly along during it 80 minutes and is not bad at all.
Sunday, August 18, 2002
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari I'd seen copies of this movie many times when I was in High School, and seeing it again (even in a very bad print) was just wonderful. It is a great, great movie, with extraordinary Expressionist sets that really set off the madness theme running through the story. It is also amazing how modern the story is. It could easily be transplanted into a horror pic today. The disk also has an interesting commentary track explaining how the artwork and story work together to make the movie so compelling.
Friday, August 16, 2002
Gumnaam The first Bollywood epic on this list. It's the one which Ghost World borrowed at the beginning and several of the musical scenes are really funny. Otherwise, it's a little long, with some barely credible plot elements and goofy slapstick. Not a bad diversion, but hardly a classic.
Saturday, Aug 10, 2002
Gosford Park Not as impressive as all the reviews would have one believe. The mysteries of the servant-master relationship just aren't all that interesting, not any more at least. However, it still holds one's interest because the craft is so brilliantly carried off. The acting, the cinematography, the sets, and even the details about how the houses worked are extremely well done. It's tough to figure out, at least the first time around, but I'm not sure it's worth a full second viewing.
Waking Life Absolutely original and breathtaking to watch. The dialogue isn't as deep as it seems to be trying to be, but it works so well with the pictures and the sense of dislocation presented by the animation that it works really well. Very, very good.
Thursday, Aug 8, 2002
Ghostbusters I never quite got the hilarity of the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man, nor of much else in this slow and simple movie. Bill Murray is an easy comfort to watch and Rick Moranis is a highlight, but overall, I can't help but feel this one is wildly overrated. One interesting thing is that this is exactly the same reaction I had when it came out roughly twenty years ago. Given that movies almost always seem worse over time, that may be saying something. I'm not sure what that is, however.
Friday, Aug 2, 2002
Ghost World Another tale of teen ennui and loneliness, enlivened by some very good acting, direction, and the awesome presence of Steve Buscemi. The dialogue is okay in parts, but it isn't quite as hip and cool as it's trying to be. This kind of quirky population has simply beeen mined to many times before. That said, director Terry Zwigoff hits some very nice notes and should produce better stuff in the future.
Tuesday, July 30, 2002
Nurse Betty A really interesting semi-comedy with a graceful touch and superb perfomrances from the entire cast, especially Morgan Freeman. There are a few loose ends floating around at the end, but the whole story is remarkably affecting. The reason is that the horrific situation that Betty is running away from is so finely laid out that it carries us along with it. The dialogue is very sharp and well-written. I was not quite prepared for the very sure directorial hand showed by LaBute. Framing, pacing, and the little touches like the scratches on the wall of the auto dealership all work beautifully together. an extra bonus was seeing Crispin Glover on the screen again in all his weirdness.
Tuesday, July 23, 2002
Pocket Change A light, delicate truffle from Truffaut. Totally without romanticizing anything, this movie does a wonderful job of laying the challenges facing children. It doesn't have the anger or punch of The Four Hundred Blows, but it's gentle rhythms are almost as satisfying. There is no sugar-coating here, abuse and neglect are dealt with straight on, but love and caring are there as well and the strength of children comes thorough clearly.
Sunday, July 21, 2002
McCabe and Mrs. Miller A strong addition to the stupid-people-driven-to-doing-stupid-things-by-their-own-stupidity genre. This one has all the classic elements: innocents being killed and the one bright person (in the Mrs. Miller character) who can't convince anyone to take her advice. An almost necessary element is the political and social commentary subtext about how cruel and evil society is. Roughly 30 years after release, this movie is still impressive in terms of it's setting and cinematography. It's less impressive in terms of pacing, and nuance. The viewer is basically clubbed non-stop by the film's earnestness. Julie Christie is good, but Warren Beatty is just not that credible.
Friday, July 19, 2002
The Story of Adele H. The craft is pretty compelling, but unless one is really into Victor Hugo and his amazing life, there isn't much here for the long haul. The central theme of an independent woman trapped by her circumstances and era just isn't that riveting. The tone and pace are nice, but the story isn't really strong enough to support the earnestness. Pehaps it was different in 1975. Isabelle Adjani must have been quite the sensation when this came out, given her striking performance at the age of nineteen.
Thursday, July 18, 2002
Neon Genesis:Evangelion 0:1 For a giant-robots-battle-to-save-the-planet anime, this disk, whch has the first four episodes of the series, has surprisingly few actual battles. It makes up for it in the wealth of nicely fleshed-out characters, each with their own significant backstory and little quirkslike the comely tactical genius who seems to live on beer. Thus far it very engaging and not quite as wrapped up in its own trickery as Cowboy Bebop tends to be.
Tuesday, July 16, 2002
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust The artwork is better than the original, the characters are more interesting, and the story is more complex. At the same time, it doesn't quite have the same mythic feel of the first. It's quite the amazing show though. In fact, it it probably more interesting for a quick look at than the first one. The older one's real power is in letting the mood and mystery slowly overtake you. This one is a better shoot-em-up, chase-type movie. Overall, one of the better anime movies around. The D character is just great.
Tuesday, July 9, 2002
The Royal Tenenbaums An exquisite little gem from the creators of Rushmore. Not quite the perfection of that movie, but it is reaching for a little more depth and variation with a wider cast of characters. Even with an amazing gorup of actors, Gene Hackman makes them all look small. He is incredible.
Sunday, June 23, 2002
Mission Impossible 2 Great style from John Woo with all the classic elements: slow motion birds flying, flames, standoffs between good and evil. And it all adds up toan incredible waste of time. This is one really dumb movie. The plot makes absolutely no sense and the acting is embarassing at best. Except for the color design and camera work, we're sorry we watched it.
Friday, June 21, 2002
Vampire Hunter D A classic anime from before the time of 3-D computer assistance. This is pure hand-drawn stuff and it looks good and creepy. It's more horror than sci-fi, but it all adds up to lots of fun. At times a little slow, but it takes the time to set a good mood. Particularly good character design on the hero.
Sunday, June 16, 2002
Black Hawk Down Just in terms of pure direction, this is an amazing movie. All the different elements hang together and the look combined with the music is very powerful. The thing moves along smartly and is gripping all the way through. Lots of similarities to Gladiator in that a complicated story is stripped down to its barest essentials and dependent almost entirely on the idea of manliness and honor to hold it together. While one could ask for a little more in terms of fleshing out the dilemmas faced by the characters, that's probably asking for too much given how successful what's there is.
Wednesday, June 12, 2002
The Hunchback of Notre Dame The Lon Chaney version of this movie was always a favorite when we could rent it on 8 millimeter from the library. This version is much darker than almost any other Disney animated feature. It has some great evil characters and while it suffers a bit from the schizophrenia of trying to be kid-friendly while also being dark, it is largely successful at both. Kevin Kline is a great voice actor who should be used as much as posssible.
Sunday, June 9, 2002
The Vikings Jack Cardiff was the Three-Strip Technicolor master who made Black Narcissus so incredible to look at. He's definitely the best thing about this boring semi-epic about marauding Vikings. The battle scenes are fairly gripping, but few and far between when combined with the endless (and seemingly pointless) dialogue. Did I mention how good the camera work was?
Oliver and Company A later Disney movie that signaled a return to good animation in the 80's. For one of Disney's lesser-known films, it has a great story with excellent characters. The songs aren't bad either. Good fun all around.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone About as literal a retelling of the book as possible given the time available. There's a little abbreviation, but everything important from the book is thereexcept for the wonder, the excitement, the suspense, and the fun. The whole thing is strangely flat, despite excellent acting and pretty good production values. The burden of doing this thing must have been huge, but the blame has to rest on the director Chris Columbus for not doing more with what he had.
Wed, May 22, 2002
Bamboozled An incredible, interesting, amazing movie. It's a scalpel-sharp satire that asks for dignity, self-respect, and, most importantly, self-responsibility. It does this with a score of deeply flawed characters each blind to the damage they are doing to themselves and each other. And this is acomplished while presenting a serious history lesson at the same time. This is one of the top five or so movies I've seen in the past three years in terms of richness of character and complexity of themes. Great acting. Funny, difficult, painful, and riveting all at once. And, it was shot on MiniDV! Spike Lee's commentary is not to be missed.
Sun, May 12, 2002
Memento A really neat and interesting movie. The real trick is how they managed to make watching the story in reverse so interesting. There is also the fact that you really buy the reality of this weird mental condition facing the protagonist. This is all a strong tribute to the director and the actors, who manage to sell this thing completely. But it's still a paper-thin premise that might have fallen apart in lesser hands. An awfully good one to watch though.
Metropolis No, not the Fritz Lang masterpiece, but the recent anime extravaganza. It really is gorgeous to look at. As usual the plot is barely comprehensible, but it is surely satisfying in other ways. There is a mix of cel animation and 3D stuff. As is usual, the mix of the two doesn't quite work as seamlessly as one might want. The characters are wonderfully drawn with nice rounded bodies and great design. The city and backgrounds have an impressive design of their own, but the two together lack a cohesiveness of design that is a little offputting. This shouldn't keep anyone away from this gem however. The color palette alone is interesting enough to carry one through.
Sun, May 5, 2002
Bottle Rocket As opposed to the previous night's viewing this is really good movie-making. All three (!) Wilson brothers are in fine form as Wes Anderson shows an extremely sure hand in this, his freshman outing. Simply delightful, perhaps especially so becaue of its none-too-subtle digs at Dallas's overpampered set. A little too arch to be really believable, the characters are winning enough simply by force of their earnestness and complete lack of artifice or irony. The supporting cast is especially strong, strong enough to make James Caan look out of place. Lots of fun.
Sat, May 4, 2002
Zoolander At times this movie is very, very funny. the concept is good and Will Ferrell make syou want him to be in every movie you see. Unfortunately the concept isn't quite good enough to carry the ninety minutes. Luke Wilson is also not up to his usual good form, perhaps the part was just too underwritten for him to really bite into. A nice diversion though, but hardly one to watch again.
Fri, May 3, 2002
Belle De Jour Apparently Bunuel himself said he didn't really understand the ending of this move. That makes two of us. I found this the least compelling of the many Bunuel movies I've watched. Much of the quirky sense of humor found in the others doesn't seem to be found here. Another problem is that while one tends to want to sympathize with the heroine, that is far from Bunuel's intent. The Catherine Deneuve character is an emotionally stunted and frustrated nut. Nevertheless, it is an awfully interesting film, and the commentary track does a great job of explaining a lot of Bunuel's tricks and mannerisms.
Mon, Apr 30, 2002
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad The movement is really nice in these two (very slight) animated bits. In the book The Illusion of Life, by two major Disney animators, they mention that human movement in animation reached its zenith in this movie. It is really wonderful how the huge feet of Ichabod Crane manage to gracefully dance around the floor. However, the stories are slight, and the very simple line work of the Mr Toad section doesn't quite deliver the richness one expects from a Disney movie. The final major problem is that the stories themselves are not too good. the presence of the narrator leaves the characterizations pretty basic. One final notethe coloring of the Ichabod section closely matches that of Alice in Wonderland. It's not a great palette, and the colors don't work quite as nicely as one would like.
Fri, Apr 26, 2002
The Larry Sanders Show, First Season This is one incredibly funny show. Garry Shandling is at the heart of it, but it is the supporting cast that pushes it way over the top. Just watching reaction shots of Rip Torn is enough to make these well worth repeat viewings. (three disks)
Sun, Apr 14, 2002
The Sopranos, Season Two Still extremely riveting story. It doesn't have quite the punch of the first season, the existential conflicts couldn't really be stretched out any more, but there are some new characters that are as compelling as anything in the first. Richie Aprile is just pure evil. Simply being on screen is enough to make you squirm. That character, among others, brings home the fact that these are bad people, real bad peoplea fact sometimes easily glossed over in year one. (four discs)
Fri, April 12, 2002
Atlantis: the Lost Empire Very much like Tarzan, this Disney epic moves along at a very fast pace. Very little extra stuff in here as we jump from action set piece to set piece. It's not entirely logical, but the story does hold together and, as usual, it is gorgeous to look at. The voices are really good, especially in the secondary characters.
Thu, April 11, 2002
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Hmmm, I wonder how I managed to see this one on DVD. In any case, the effects are amazing. The story, much like Atlantis, seems to jump pretty rapidly from battle scene to battle scene. there is some character development, but in the necessity of making this come in at under three hours, it looks as though they dropped a lot of the personality stuff. I'm certain this was better on the big screen.
Sun, April 7, 2002
The Third Man Peter Bogdanovitch describes this as "prehaps the greatest non-auteur film ever made." He's wrong about that, Casablanca fills that bill, but this is one amazingly good movie. The structure is odd, given that the real star doesn't show up until most of the way through the movie, but it all works out. The sensitivity towards how one deals with love in a brutal environment is awfully well done. The sewer scene is the most famous, but I really like the way they managed to make everybody look worn down, and slightly bedraggled. Even the cops have a weariness to themand it makes this a very special movie.
Thu, April 4, 2002
Tokyo Drifter This bad boy is completely baffling. Not a whole lot makes sense, at least not in a linear sense. There may be something here about honor and allegiance, but I think it will take (at least) another viewing. Some of the framing is nice, but it's too disjointed to get in one sitting.
Tue, April 2, 2002
The Wild Child I don't know what possessed Francois Truffaut to make and star in this little period piece, but it's really pleasant. A tricky exploration by a "scientist" into what constitutes knowledge gets away from him when he falls under the spell of the title character. There is such sureness and pace in all the scenes. The effect, at the beginning especially, with lots of wide angle shots, is wonderful.
Mon, Mar 25, 2002
Moulin Rouge The groundbreaking part of The Matrix was that it showed the camera could go anywhere the director wanted. This movie takes that even further. It is amazing how Baz Lurhmann manages to keep track of what is going on while his camera swoops and plunges up and around the actors. The story isn't really all that great, but it's diverting enough. The costumes and camera are so incredible you don't really care what the actors are saying (or singing).
Tue, Mar 12, 2002
The Crying Game Certainly full of twists and turns, but hardly a revelation. Stephen Rea is good, but I wish Forrest Whitaker had been around longer. Just hearing and watching him is a pleasure that's far too short-lived in this movie.
Thu, Feb 28, 2002
Sirens The erotic allure and danger of the Australian outback is hardly new. Walkabout and Picnic at Hanging Rock deal with the same subject and in a much better way. There is some lovely scenery here, but overall it seems just silly and forced. Hugh Grant's tics and twitches are easily more annoying than endearing.
Tue, Feb 25, 2002
My Man Godfrey Just pure and simple fun all around. There's a silly slapped on ending to draw it all to a close, but the real silliness is in the leadup. Wonderful fun with no attempt at any seriousness at all. The father and mother steal the show, but everyone is a pleasure in this gem.
Fri, Feb 22, 2002
Dead Man I've always been a big fan of Jim Jarmusch. This one, however, is not quite as engaging as the others. He seems to be reaching for something that isn't quite applicable to his usual genially offbeat style. Johnny Depp is good, but even he starts to look lost as this too-long movie drags to its conclusion. Some of the images are quite good, however, and the opening scenes on the train are very nice.
Wed, Feb 20, 2002
The Sopranos, Season One From the very first moment when James Gandolfini walks into his pool to play with some ducks this show grabs you. With some humor and some scary violence, this show captures the conflicts of its characters in a way that is simply spellbinding. At its heart this series reveals the real potential of television, and how a series can achieve an artistic level that is different, and even better, than the best movies. You want to stay with the series to see all the little character bits that slowly come out. The advantage of a series is time. There is plenty of time to delve into each character, to make them more than just sideline parts. When this show takes the time to reveal the weaknesses even in the minor characters such as Dr. Melfi's ex-husband, it easily surpasses almost every movie that has come out recently. In one sense, however, successful movies and this show still rely on the same quality ingredients: writing and acting. This one has both in spades. (4 disks worth of great stuff.)
Sun, Feb 17, 2002
The Getaway This is the original with Steve McQueen, directed by Sam Peckinpah. It has a truly great opening, with some awesome manly shots of Steve facing lots of prison time. From there it's nothing but downhill. What a major disappointment. To top off the freak show there is Sally Struthers as a complete goofball. Ali MacGraw is just an embarassment. The story seems to have such great potential, but it is way off on the rapidly disappearing horizon as this movie drags on and on and on.
Tue, Jan 29, 2002
Planet of the Vampires Man, oh man is this one bad movie. Barely making it watchable are the appallingly bad sets and goofy outfits. Bad acting, bad costumes, bad plot/writing, bad, bad, bad. Looks good on DVD though.
Sun, Jan 26, 2002
Secret Agent/Danger Man After a bit of time, we've finished watching six episodes (2 disks) of this precursor show to Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner. The writing is wonderfully crisp and the characters are quite well-acted. There's a certain sparkling charm to this series where McGoohan just seems to be having fun with all the great stuff he gets to do. Very nice.
Thu, Jan 24, 2002
The Night Porter A very good, very depressing movie about how evil can poison one's life forever. In this case, it is the ultimate evil of a Nazi past that scars both the perpetrators and the victims. A bold performance by a very young Charlotte Rampling, who easily holds her own against a spellbinding Dirk Bogarde. Serious and emotional filmmaking.
Mon, Jan 20, 2002
Titan A.E. The pictures in this movie are simply amazing. The story is pretty much by the numbers, but not so bad as to be embarassing. The whole thing is gorgeous to look at; I can't emphasize that enough. Very nice work.
Sat, Jan 19, 2002
The Big Heat The acting isn't the most spectacular, but the camera work and the dark story are certainly satisfying. Fritz Lang does a great job of putting it all together in a pretty noirish offering. A young Lee Marvin offers hints of the evil to come in his career.
Sat, Jan 12, 2002
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider A fairly enjoyable movie for what it is: a plotless excuse for Angelina Jolie to run around surrounded by cool looking sets. Angelina is quite good, but that's really the best thing about this movie. That said, it didn't really drag and was a funnway to spend a Saturday night.