Monday, December 31, 2007


MICHAEL CLAYTON is a very intelligent, well-acted, and well-written political thriller. George Clooney is very good in it, but Tilda Swinton, Syndey Pollack and Tom Wilkinson steal the scenes they are in.

One thing the film reminds me is how much I hate lawyers. You'd think that half the lawyers in the world would be good guys, fighting on the side of right, but the truth is somewhere in between, where right and wrong are not as important as how much money there is to be made.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


SHOTGUN STORIES is much better than the other Spirit-nominated films I've seen so far this year. That's not to say it's great, there are a lot of rough edges, and it's certainly not original (half-brothers from two families fight each other), but at least it's competent, which is more than I can say for some of the other nominees.

The acting ranges from pretty good to pretty weak, with most of the major parts being the good part, and the minor roles a lot weaker. Unfortunately, being more of a genre film than a real drama, it's a lot more predictable than it should be.


ENCHANTED is one of the best films of the year. It's a brilliant, original idea (a fairy-tale princess enters modern-day New York). It's funny, charming and entertaining, with some fantastic acting. Amy Adams was nominated for an Oscar for her excellent performance in last year's JUNEBUG, but this year she deserves another nod for her completely original and inventive performance in ENCHANTED. The film accomplishes the rarest of feats; it's a (mostly) live-action film that is entertaining for all age groups. The songs are great and funny as well.

I highly recommend the film.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


I'm not a fan of Sondheim.

There, I said it. He's very overrated as a composer and songwriter.

SWEENEY TODD is a very strange musical. It's a black comedy that's not very funny, and without a single memorable song. The best part of the musical is the book, which is usually the least important aspect of a musical.

The weakest part of the book is the first act, and that stands true in the movie. Tim Burton does his best to rise above the difficult material, with the excellent casting of Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, and Sacha Baron Cohen, but the first third of the movie slogs along endlessly until the murders finally begin. Yet there is also the bizarre casting of several unknowns who are very weak, including eye candy Jayne Wisener and Ed Sanders.

The visual design is excellent, as always for a Burton film.

It's worth seeing, but certainly not awards-worthy.


FOUR SHEETS TO THE WIND certainly has its heart in the right place; unfortunately, it doesn't amount to much. It's a coming-of-age story of a young American Indian leaving the reservation after his father's suicide.

The movie is all over the place. The first third of the film is like a different movie; a black comedy about the family dealing with the father's suicide. Then suddenly the focus shifts and it's about one of the kids.

Virtually everything about the film reeks of student-filmdom. The camera is rarely in the right place, the script lacks structure, coherence and focus, and the acting is uniformly terrible. It's always amazing to me that so many minorities complain about the lack of good roles, then when someone makes a movie with nothing but minority cast members, they can't find one good actor. Can it really be that difficult?

Somehow Tamara Podemski managed to get a Spirit nomination out of the film. I have no idea why or how. She isn't as bad as everyone else, but she certainly does not have a memorable moment in the entire film. It's sad to me that a movie this weak can get a nomination; it almost seems as though the nominating committee is bending over backwards to support minorities rather than rewarding good work.

Friday, December 28, 2007


THE SAVAGES is a black comedy about two middle-aged children dealing with their aging father.

It's funny, sad and intelligent. It isn't brilliant, but very much worth watching. Perhaps it's that I went through my own father's illness and death six years ago, and now I'm seeing it again in my father-in-law. Dealing with illness and death is going to be something everyone will have to deal with, but with the human lifespan continuing to expand, the length of time dealing with the aging process is only getting longer.

There's some great acting in the film, although nothing Oscar-worthy. Laura Linney continues to surprise me with her range. Philip Seymour Hoffman is good in several scenes. Philip Bosco's part as the father is minimal but very good.

The last shot of the film is very powerful.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

No Film for Young Men

For the first 110 minutes of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, I thought it had a chance of being the best film of the year, as well as one of the Coen's best films. There are a lot of great things about the film. It is very much in the vein of their first film, BLOOD SIMPLE, and very Hitchcockian in tone. There's some fantastic acting, cinematography and sound work. It's a film with virtually no dialogue, and very little music. The action in many scenes is in real time, frequently with characters who are alone.

Badim's badass is one of the most frightening screen creations in a while. His subtle acting talents only add to the strong script. Tommy Lee Jones is also good, but the real surprise is Josh Brolin, who apparently had to shoot his own audition tape in order to get considered for the role.

I have to discuss the ending now. I'll try not to spoil it (if that's even possible) but if you don't want to know anything about the end, stop reading here. The film is worth seeing, but be prepared for a letdown at the end.


Unfortunately, any film is only as good as its ending, and there's a bad taste left in the mouth when the ending is, well, a rip. Major, major action occurs off-screen, but worse than that, there is no sense of finality about the end. Normally I like films that don't feel the need to wrap every thing up by hitting it on the head, but here, there is no sense of closure, just a pretentious cut to black, not unlike the SOPRANOS series finale. It just doesn't work. In the end, the film doesn't add up to very much.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


AN UNREASONABLE MAN is a documentary about Ralph Nader.

It's hard to even write the word Nader without becoming overwhelmed with emotion. My wife and I were active in the 2000 election and it was painfully disheartening when Nader refused to pull out of the election, even though it was obvious that he was going to force a close race into a possible loss for the Democrats. With 7 years of hindsight, one could only imagine what would - and would not - have happened if Nader had dropped out and Gore had won. Perhaps no war, no Patriot Act, and no erosion of human rights here in our own country.

So I was a little afraid to watch the film. However, they approached the issue in the first few minutes as though they were going to spend the next 120 minutes haranguing Nader, which made me feel better about watching it.

Then they did something very smart; they spent an hour talking about Nader's accomplishments in the 60s and 70s. I knew all of it; I lived through much of it, yet I had forced it out of my mind with the sheer hatred I had built up for the man between 2000 and 2004. And throughout the hour, my opinion of the man slowly changed. Suddenly I began to feel sorry for him. Here's a guy who spent more than 30 years of his life doing amazing things for our country. So much of what we take for granted in our lives was started by him and his small core of followers in the 60s. And now it's very likely that he will be remembered for only one thing. Making Bush our president. Twice.

The film continues to humanize him by talking about his New England upbringing, and his family's involvement in local politics, very similar to my own.

Then suddenly the film leaps forward in time from the election of Reagan to the 2000 election, a leap of 20 years. It's a strange edit, but they spend a lot of time going into the election and how Nader botched things for America. There is a lengthy but very well-edited sequence intercutting his defenders with his detractors. Both sides are so overcome with emotion that neither really sounds intelligent in the argument.

This is definitely a documentary worth seeing, regardless of what your opinion of the man is or was. It is very thorough (almost to a fault, the running time feels long) and although the majority of the film canonizes his past, the important parts criticize his current involvement in politics.

Quiet City

I believe it was Aristotle who said thousands of years ago that drama as an art must be more interesting than real life to keep an audience involved.

Unfortunately the makers of QUIET CITY have not studied drama at all, and think that pointing a camera at just about anything or anyone and letting reality play out in real time constitutes a movie. Every few years there are new film students who think they have come up with a brilliant, original idea when they do this, but of course all they manage to do is alienate any potential audience.

The director seems to think that casting a pretty girl is enough eye candy to keep an audience watching. The lead actress is certainly attractive, but she tries much too hard to be "cutesy" throughout the movie to be as realistic as the movie clearly wants to be. The lead actor on the other hand is completely natural, but also as interesting as watching paint dry. It's not his fault, there does not appear to have been a script (contrary to the three credits at the end of the film!). It appears as though the actors were told to improvise, and none of these actors is smart or mature enough to come up with anything worth listening to.

If you want the same experience as seeing this film without having to sit through it, do to a diner and sit and listen to the people around you talk for 90 minutes. You'll get the same experience, but it will almost certainly be a lot more interesting.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Starting Out in the Evening

Starting Out in the Evening is all over the map.

There are some great scenes, but much of the film is filled with the type of trite melodrama you would find in a daytime soap opera. Some of the actors rise far above the material, most notably Frank Langella, who continues to surprise me as an actor. His character is written rather one-dimensionally, but he manages to infuse layers into his performance that make a cranky old writer interesting to watch.

I can't say the same for his screen partner Lauren Ambrose, the annoying and cloying redhead who made me stop watching SIX FEET UNDER. She maintains the single dimension written into her character, and her big moment near the end of the film elicits a laugh in the wrong place (although the writer is as much to blame as she is).

Typically I love Lily Taylor, but her entire subplot could easily have been excised completely from the movie, or at most could have consisted of a handful of scenes. The film isn't that long, but it certainly feels like it's a lot longer.

Film Independent this year has decided to screen their nominees via the Internet. The wave of the future is definitely not here yet. In the past, most of their nominees were distributed to members via Netflix, which allowed viewers to see and hear DVD quality with great convenience.

The streaming video looks and sounds like crap. It's an insult to have a cinematography award and then stream the movie for a resolution appropriate for a cell phone. I watched a movie on the plane a few days ago that sounded 100 times better than this crappy download. In addition, the film keeps hiccuping, and there is no easy mechanism for stopping and restarting the movie if you need to take a break. Even if you note that you stopped at 70 minutes, there's no easy way to get back to that point, you have to guess where it is along a very short unlabeled timeline.

Add to that the fact that none of my computers are set up to comfortably watch a 2-hour film, and it's a just a huge inconvenience to work this way. I'll try to see as many nominees as possible on the big screen, the way they were meant to be seen! Unfortunately, not all of the films are available for screenings.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Le Scaphandre et le Papillon

The Papillon in the title of Le Scaphandre et le Papillon has nothing to do with our dog Riley, unfortunately.

THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY is based on the true story of the editor of Elle magazine who had a debilitating stroke and ended up dictating his autobiography by moving one eyelid, the only part of his body over which he still had muscle control. Directed by artist Julian Schnabel, the film goes to great extents to make the audience feel what it must have been like to be trapped and immobile. The film has a lot of wonderfully cinematic moments, but it is an incredibly depressing movie.

I have to admit it was strange watching it in a house where my father-in-law is essentially in the same condition. Once a brilliant lawyer, he is trapped in an immobile body from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Unfortunately, he cannot blink to tell us what he wants.

The hospital scenes also reminded me of my own time in the hospital, and the incredible depression I associate with that. Recently I went caroling with the Burbank Chorale at the hospital where I was trapped for a month, and it brought back a flood of depressing memories as well. At least I was never paralyzed.

The film has been nominated for a slew of awards, including some Spirit and Golden Globe awards. It's too soon to say if it might win, as there are many films I still haven't seen, but it is certainly in contention, particularly the cinematography of Januzs Kaminski.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


JUNO is a strange little indie black comedy about a pregnant teenage girl and how she deals with her dilemma. The cast is great, especially the lead actress Ellen Page, who is reminiscent of indie Queen Christina Ricci, and who has been nominated for a SAG award and a Golden Globe for the title role. Several of the other cast members are known mostly for TV; Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner as the "perfect" adoptive couple, and a nice cameo in the opening scene by Rainn Wilson.

It's a surprisingly honest take on a difficult subject, with very real, likable, and flawed characters. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Pirates 3

I gave a quick review to Pirates 2 last year, stating that I had liked the light-hearted approach in the first film, but hated the fact that the sequel took itself way too seriously, diminishing the role of Jack Sparrow and bloating its running time well beyond welcome.

Reviews for the third film were better, so I had higher hopes, but when I saw that the running time was nearly 3 hours, I passed on seeing it in the theater. Watching it on DVD, I literally fell asleep about 30 minutes in. There are some humorous moments, particularly when it gets surreal, but the film is so bogged down in its own plot that it's almost impossible to follow. Do they really think I remember the first two films? I flushed the plot of the second film from my memory cache before the end credits were over; I'm certainly not going to remember it a year later. There are too many characters, and peripheral characters I didn't like the first time around now get full-blown and undeserved subplots.

Yet it looks like there will be a fourth film.

Friday, December 07, 2007


I was already grown up when the toys hit the store, so to me, Tranformers were always something for children that was overly marketed. The fact that they made an animated TV show out of it on Saturday mornings was the last straw in pretending that there was a difference between children's' television programming and free advertising.

So when I heard they were making a feature film out of it, I had no desire to see it, particularly when I heard that Michael Bay was the director. Clearly they were relying on the grown-up children's nostalgia factor, while at the same time trying to market the toys to a new generation. Hollywood cynicism at its finest.

However, at the Hollywood Bowl this summer they showed a scene with live orchestra playing the score, and it didn't look like it sucked out loud. And even Vanilla Snow said it wasn't as bad as he expected, so I figured I'd watch the DVD.

It sucked out loud.

The problem is, the scene they showed at the Hollywood Bowl seemed like the opening of the movie. Optimus Prime introduces himself to our hero, played by Shia LeBeouf. Turns out, that scene is 70 minutes into the movie. The preceding hour could have easily been collapsed into about ten minutes. The movie is almost 2 1/2 hours long, and overstays its welcome a long long time.

It has all the troubles of a Hollywood blockbuster; weak script, terrible acting, over-reliance on visual FX, unbelievable plot points, 25 year-olds playing teenagers.

Plus, they make no attempt to keep the Transformers real. You can't have something the size of a car one minute and the size of a four story building ten seconds later. There's no regard for the laws of physics. This is the type of problem that wouldn't be an issue if the script were strong enough. I'd suspend disbelief.

At one point a character says "This is worse than Armageddon!" referring to Bay's film. That would be hard to be true, but it may be.

Nonetheless, the movie made a ton of money and will sell a lot of toys.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

USC beats UCLA

I didn't make it to the game today.

It wasn't the runaway that everyone expected (although USC's turnovers might be the only reason for that), but USC beat UCLA to advance to the Rose Bowl.

#2 West Virginia lost today. #1 Missouri is losing. It's unlikely USC would move up much in the standings, but they were #8 going into the weekend.

I did make it to the USC-Oklahoma hoops game Thursday night. It was the first time I saw a game at the new Galen center. It's a nice place to see a game, although nowhere near as nice as it should be. During the course of construction, costs exploded and they were forced to cut back their plans. It's too bad, it turned it into a standard court instead of the top-notch facility it could have been. But certainly it's a lot nicer than the Sports Arena.

USC looked good but rough around the edges. What's amazing is that they are doing so well with such a young team (they've won 6 in a row and only lost their opener). I think Floyd is a good coach and will clean up the team quite a bit as they come into tougher teams, starting with Kansas tomorrow, and Memphis next week at Madison Square Garden.

As for the Coliseum debacle, I can only assume this is a desperate measure to get them to take renovations seriously. It's almost unthinkable that USC would go to the Rose Bowl as their regular home stadium. Especially since their recent record there is less than stellar!!!