Saturday, December 26, 2009


THE HURT LOCKER has an awful lot of problems, the least of which is a story that is very simple, predictable, one one-dimensional. All I could think after the film was, "That's it?" followed by "two and a half hours, and I still have no friggin' idea what a hurt locker is."

The characters are all one-dimensional to the point of being caricatures, and the editing is so confusing that it's hard to follow what little plot there is. If this is the best film of the year, then it was a very, very weak year.

The first third or so of the film is very engaging, but the level of redundancy and the lack of character development make it hard to continue caring about them through the length of the film. It also has some pretty big pacing problems, especially in the second half of the film.

Perhaps it's that I actually follow the war news, but there was nothing remotely surprising in this film.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I liked A SERIOUS MAN quite a bit. It reminded me of other Coen Brothers films, but in a good way, not a derivative way. If you have not seen this film, be forewarned that it is an intellectual film, designed to be discussed, perhaps even argued about afterward. It is not self-contained entertainment for the masses. Although there are moments where I laughed, it is far from a comedy, and most people would find it quite depressing. I also think you must have some knowledge of basic religious ideas, particularly Old Testament, if you want to have an intelligent discussion about the film.

The serious man in the title is basically Job, a man for whom everything goes badly. And not in a funny way. Every time you think something is going to turn around, it only gets worse. It can make the film a highly frustrating experience to watch, yet, like a car wreck, you can't turn away. The characters are very interesting, even though there is no one in the movie that is even remotely sympathetic. Everyone is selfish in their own way, although our hero is the least flawed person in the movie. His biggest flaw is that he is a nebbish who allows the world to happen to him instead of vice versa, which is probably why he ends up in such a hole.

The acting in the film is exceptional. Most of the actors are not film actors; there are only a couple of recognizable faces. Richard Kind is not funny here, but pathetic. Alan Arkin is an apparently greedy and uncaring divorce lawyer. All of the other character actors are unrecognizable, which lends an air of truth to the film.

The eye for detail in art direction is amazing. Although it is never explained when or where the film takes place, the art direction and music place it in the 60s and every detail is very well done. I'm not sure how they found so many houses near each other that have not changed in four decades.

I recommend this film to people who want to think after they see a movie. If that's not you, I think 2012 is still in theaters.

Monday, December 21, 2009


500 DAYS OF SUMMER was watchable and occasionally amusing, but overall it was a pretty big letdown after all the hype I had heard. I suspect that 500 days from now I won't even remember if I saw it.

I also suspect that how much you like this film is directly proportional to how much you like Zooey Deschanel. She certainly is cute, but as an actress, I find her pretty one-dimensional, and the screenwriters don't really make much of an attempt to make her character very sympathetic, nor do they make much of an attempt to explain her. At the end of the movie she is still an enigma, which is very unsatisfying to the viewer.

The screenplay, on the whole, struck me as being written by someone who was either very young (like 20) or who has never been a serious relationship. The whole film seemed very juvenile. I hate to say "film-schoolish" because it was better than that, but it is a deeply flawed film with a few brilliant sequences. The two writers went on to do The Pink Panther 2, which I think says an awful lot about them.

I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who will enjoy this, though.


THE COVE is a documentary about the killing of dolphins in Japan for their meat, a practice which is supposed to be illegal, and which provides food that may be poisonous due to the amounts of mercury found in the meat. They do so under the guise of trapping dolphins for trainers.

This is an extremely difficult film to watch. In fact, if 'd had any idea how upset this film would make me, I would not have watched it on an airplane. I'd have watched it in private at home.

Very shortly into the film, they begin playing the theme from the FLIPPER TV series, which I watched as a kid. Music has a way of working itself into the subconscious. I remember very little about the show, except that I really loved it. In fact, I loved it so much, that I was not allowed to watch it until I had had my bath, which my mother (who died 35 years ago) tried to convince me was just like Flipper swimming in the ocean. So just hearing that music brought back a huge rush of memories and the associated emotions to me.

Unfortunately, they quickly explain that the reason that music is in the movie is that the main person in the film so far, who has been speaking out against animal abuse, was the dolphin trainer on the show. He then explains that the animals we see at parks like Sea World are all so stressed out from being in captivity that they are miserable and have numerous physical ailments from the stress. One of the animals who played Flipper was so depressed that she, according to the trainer, committed suicide by consciously choosing to stop breathing.

As someone who loved the show because I love animals, this was very depressing news, and it made me feel particularly guilty for watching it and buying "Flipper" brand shampoo to use in my bath. I know I could never watch it now, knowing that they suffered, and I could never go to Sea World or even the dolphin display at the Mirage.

The end of the film is truly gruesome, as they put a number of hidden cameras into the cove where the slaughter of the dolphins takes place. The sea water looked more like tomato soup as it is filled with the blood of dying dolphins.

I'm sorry that I have to recommend this film – as I mentioned, it is very disturbing, but I think it's important for people to know that this is still going on. An awful lot of people, both here in America and overseas, have lulled themselves into believing that international politics keeps matters like this under control. Unfortunately, it will take a lot to get it to stop.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


DISTRICT 9 is one of the better sci-fi films I've seen in a while, although highly derivative, and marred by a weak, action-film ending.

Only a few minutes into the film I was reminded of ALIEN NATION as the film is about a colony of aliens who must adapt to living on earth. However, these aliens do not integrate quite as well. There are a lot of leaps of faith in the film. (Don't South African authorities know how to track someone using their cell phone signal?) But there are definitely interesting themes touched on in the film, most notably xenophobia. However, it does not all come together in the end.

As the final act begins, the main character human must don a metal suit to fight other humans, which is immediately derivative of ALIENS and ROBOCOP. For a movie that pretends to be intellectual for the first two acts, it does fall apart in the end. In fact, there isn't really even an ending, as the film implies more will happen in three years, almost demanding a sequel.

But it was still an interesting two hours.

Sunday, December 06, 2009


CORALINE is a brilliant, beautiful, fascinating, and moving film adapted from a graphic novel. Just about everything is well done. The cast is very good, the visual design is amazing, and the combination of stop-motion animation and computer graphics is pretty seamless. I highly recommend the film to fans of animation.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Strauss, Mozart, & Beethoven

Julian Kuerti conducted again tonight for the CSO, a follow-up to his performance with Yo-Yo Ma on Wednesday. The choice of pieces was completely pedestrian, and the small size of the crowd confirmed that. The train coming in was crowded because of the light parade (which was terrible) before the concert, but it appears that no one stayed for the show. A better program might have kept people around.

The opening was Richard Strauss's tone poem Don Juan, probably the best piece on the program. It's an orchestral showpiece, especially for the conductor. Unfortunately, Julian Kuerti's tempo changes must have been very hard to follow, as this was one of the sloppier performances I've heard form this orchestra. The horns, however, sounded fantastic, and were worth showing up for.

The horn feature continued with Mozart's Concerto #4, featuring principal horn player Michael Thornton. Aside from his obsession with his spit valve, his performance was very good. But it's not the kind of piece that will be a huge draw, even though the final movement is one of Mozart's most popular pieces.

After a lengthy intermission, the highlight of the evening was Beethoven's Symphony #4. One of his shorter symphonies (which resulted in a very short concert), it certainly has its moments. Kuerti did his best conducting on this piece, and got a very exciting performance out of the orchestra, particularly in the final movement.

I look forward to our next concert on New Year's Eve.

Friday, December 04, 2009


I avoided seeing STAR TREK for quite a while, as I was of fan of the original and was afraid that I would not like the new version. For the most part, I liked the new film. The first two-thirds of the film are very well written, and has some nice character back-story.

However, I was a little put off by some of the massive changes they made to this alternate telling of the Trek story. There are also a few logic leaps in the middle of the movie that require more suspension of disbelief than should be required. It will be interesting to see where they take things in sequels. The last third of the film is a little weak, and doesn't really wrap up very well. But it was still an enjoyable movie.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Yo-Yo, Ma!

I was lucky enough to get tickets to the Yo-Yo Ma concert tonight with the CSO as part of our subscription. I've heard him play many times on TV and radio, and I own his recordings, but had never heard him play live.

The concert was an all Dvorak program, bizarrely opening with three successive overtures. The first was In Nature’s Realm, the weakest by far, sounding a little too much like the "Morgenstemning" of Grieg's Peer Gynt, except without the catchy melodies. This was followed by the more common Carnival Overture, which is bold and brassy and exciting, and would have been a better opening to the show. The third overture seemed even more superfluous, the Othello Overture, which seemed a little similar to the New World Symphony, which also ended big and brassy. I would rather have heard one overture, and maybe several of the Slavonic Danses to fill out the concert.

The concert was conducted by Julian Kuerti, assistant at the BSO, who was good, but I would much rather have had regular conductor Jeffrey Kahane.

The highlight of the evening was of course the Cello Concerto as performed by Yo-Yo Ma. During the intermission, I wondered how much life he could breathe into a piece that he had probably played at least 1000 times. He quickly put my fears to rest as he leaped fully into the piece in the opening bars. He is an amazing performer, and very exciting to watch. Unlike some other soloists, he is clearly very happy to be there, and listens carefully to every other instrument in the orchestra. If there was any criticism, it would be that the dark color of his instrument did not carry well in the hall over the orchestra.

As good as the concerto was, his unaccompanied Bach encore was much more moving. I didn't recognize the piece, buti t was very beautiful and he played with a broad emotional range. Well worth the ticket price.