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TraveLog: (Mostly Crappy) Movies I Saw In Transit


With all of the time I’ve been spending on planes lately, I’ve had the chance to see a large number of movies I wouldn’t have the time for otherwise. So, in lightning-round format, here are five reviews of movies I’ve seen on small, glowing screens about two feet from my face.

  • The Water Horse — I didn’t have sound for this one (I didn’t need it), and didn’t really have a choice as to whether I could watch it or not. 2/10.
  • The International — “Hey, our plot doesn’t make any sense, let’s shoot it in a bunch of glamorous locations and hope people don’t notice.” 4/10.
  • Watchmen — Meh. Not sure what the big deal was. 6/10.
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — Not Fincher’s best, not Fincher’s worst.  A strange, lovely and–of course–curious film, one I suspect could grow on me. 7/10.
  • Milk — Great acting by Sean Penn, although the film seems to skip over a lot. 8/10.

I wonder what I’ll see on the way back.

Posted in MovieLog,Travelog at 9:55 am

MovieLog: Burn After Reading


Burn After Reading isn’t a great movie, especially by Cohen Brothers standards, but it’s not terrible, either, and is OK for what it is: An overly-complex relationship and espionage drama featuring a cast of characters who are, by any charitable estimation, rather dim. (Indeed, it’s a film where the two smartest characters never leave their offices, and basically sit back and scratch their heads trying to figure out what exactly the rest of the cast is doing.) Brad Pitt and his hair are hilarious, although they (spoiler!) leave the movie a bit too early for what they bring to it.

If I have a complaint, it’s that Burn After Reading feels like half a movie. The closing conversation is hilarious, but it seems like it’s there in place of an additional 20 or so more minutes of the film. Maybe the Cohen Brothers realized they didn’t have a home-run with this one, and just decided to get it over with. 5/10.

Posted in MovieLog at 8:13 pm

MovieLog: Update on The Dark Knight


Well, it didn’t take long for me to get labled a fanboy.  For what it’s worth, I don’t think The Dark Knight deserves to be at #3 on the IMDB’s Top 250 list.

Posted in MovieLog at 10:22 pm

MovieLog: The Dark Knight


So, The Dark Knight. It’s kind of stupid to review a movie that everyone has already seen, but humor me for a moment.

I could try to avoid repeating everything that’s been said about Heath Ledger’s performance, but, seriously, they guy was amazing. Nicholson was great as the Joker, but comparing the two makes Jack’s version look a child’s toy. Ledger completely owned The Dark Knight, and in doing so posthumously gave us the best acting performance of the year. Heck, he probably gave us one of the best performances of the decade.

The script gave him a lot to work with. The Dark Knight’s Joker is deliciously evil, a masochist with a serious need to fuck with people. Ledger became his character in a way few actors can—Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance in Capote is one of the few relatively recent examples that comes to mind—so his performance is really one to be appreciated.

But you know what? The rest of the cast was strong as well. Sure, things got laid on a bit quick now and then, especially Gary Oldman’s short monologue at the end, but on the whole The Dark Knight was an incredibly well-acted film. If there’s anything disappointing about any of the performances, it’s that many of them will never be repeats: The Dark’s Knight’s willingness to kill off central characters borderlined on shocking.

The story overall was quite strong, and managed to build on Batman Begin’s real-world envelopment of its superhero. While the concept of course remains fundamentally ridiculous, Christopher Nolan has come exceedingly close to making the story seem plausible. The supposed smarts shown by the characters actually damages the film a bit, though, as it makes gaps in the plot painfully evident. (If everyone was as smart as portrayed, someone would’ve thought to run a security check on the passenger ferries.) But, this is a film about a guy in a cape, so there’s probably something to be said about suspending disbelief.

If I have a complaint about the movie, it involves the hospital bombing, which came across as technically sloppy. While it was fun watching the Joker have a field day with explosives, it was exceedingly clear the building behind him a) wasn’t a hospital, and b) had nothing in it. Shortly before the big explosion, a couple of shots allowed you to see straight through the building, a goof so obvious that it was practically daring the viewer to ignore it.

So, that part kind of sucked. I could also complain that The Dark Knight’s Gotham looks quite a bit different from Batman Begins’ Gotham, which bugs me as the storyline only leaves a few years between the two movies. While it’s exceedingly obvious that Chicago was starring as Gotham in both cases, Batman Begins at least bothered to give us some long shots of a  CGI metropolis as if to say,” we know you know it’s Chicago, but play along with us, OK?” The Dark Knight was more “yeah, fuck it, it’s Chicago.”

And since I’m on the topic: Where the hell was the monorail?

Since I’m nearing rant-mode, I should probably just get to the rating: 9/10. (I’d give it a full 10 if not for the technical issues, but they’re there and I can’t get myself to ignore them.)  On the exceedingly slim chance you haven’t seen it already, go and see it while it’s still in theaters.

Posted in MovieLog at 7:21 pm

MovieLog: Cloverfield


I wouldn’t call it a waste of time, but Cloverfield proved to be rather disappointing. Since I’ve been in a bullet-point mood lately, let’s break it down thusly:

  • Acting: Okay.
  • Big monster: Eh. (Spoiler.) Shoot out his fucking breathing sacks and get it over with already.
  • Small monsters: Kinda scary at first, but cease to be as soon as you think “oh, they kind of look like crabs.” Mmmm, crabs.
  • NYC hipster body count: High. (Spoiler.) It would have been nice of them to kill off Hud a bit earlier, though. Like at the beginning of the fucking movie.
  • Gratuitous references to 9/11: Too many to count.
  • Incidences of military personnel saying really cliché things: Numerous.
  • Likeliness of monster taking a Godzilla-like place in American culture: Almost none, thank god. And if it does, I’m going to have to bust some fucking heads.
  • J.J. Abrams: In serious need of a tire iron to the side of the skull before he tries to top himself. Who knows, if he suffers some in the process, maybe his art will get a bit better.

After watching Cloverfield, I find myself concerned that he’s going to screw up the new Star Trek movie, and I don’t even care about that franchise. Still, I’d have to rate Cloverfield a 5 out of 10, as it was moderately entertaining upon first viewing.

But what about a second viewing? I don’t even want to go there.

Posted in MovieLog at 10:33 pm

MovieLog: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story


If you’re looking for 30 minutes of amusement but have two hours to spend, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story may be just the movie for you. I’d give it the arguably-generous rating of 6/10 only because when Walk Hard is on, it can be brilliant. An early Sun Records parody sticks out in particular, but it’s a high bar the movie only reaches a few more times over its, uh, 120 minutes.

Posted in MovieLog at 11:11 pm

MovieLog: Sicko


I always want to hedge a bit when writing such things, but Sicko may very well be my favorite movie by Michael Moore. It’s well written and, with the exception of a trip taking Ground Zero workers to Gitmo, not prone the sensationalism that can sometimes accompany Moore’s work.

While the fact-checking behind this movie is pretty solid—Moore has seemingly made a point of that since Bowling for Columbine was shot full of holes—you can find a lot of sources making some very legitimate complaints about the movie, particularly its tendency to gloss over some of the less spiffy sides of socialized systems. But focusing on such criticisms misses the larger point, as similar criticisms could easily be leveled against many healthcare institutions in the United States. The question should be would we as a country, as a whole, be better off with a nationalized system? Sicko makes a fairly convincing argument that the answer would be “yes.”

By a weird coincidence, Robin and Andy happened to watch Sicko the same evening Lisa and I watched it for the first time. While Andy seemed to think Moore made a good case for socialized medicine, he said felt the chance of such a system being instituted in the United States was unlikely. I’m not so sure. While immediate or even short-term change on the federal level does seem unlikely, there does seem to be the opportunity for change on state and local levels, as initiatives in San Francisco (more background) and Massachusetts have shown. Granted, those initiatives are very minor efforts compared to a national system (and, especially in the case of Massachusetts, can still be prone to the problems highlighted in Sicko), but they’re steps in the right direction, and if 25 years from now we had a de facto national health care system, that would probably put us in a better place than where we are now.

Anyway, to get back to the movie itself, not only do I recommend it, but I’ve bought a copy to foist upon unsuspecting friends and coworkers. 9/10.

Posted in MovieLog at 12:52 pm

MovieLog: Blood Simple & No Country For Old Men


As I mentioned a few days ago, Lisa and I caught No Country For Old Men with Robin and Andy back in Madison, and it was well worth the trip to the theater. I’m not sure I’d be able to pick my favorite Coen Brothers movie (how could I?), but if I were to make the effort it would definitely have to be in the running. The acting and cinematography were great, but the sound production was what really set this movie apart. This may be the best sounding movie I’ve ever experienced, and not in the stereotypical “holy crap, did you hear that car blow up” way, either. This is a movie where socks on pavement, the hollow echo of a pressurized air canister being gently set on the ground, or the unscrewing of a light bulb (seriously) are enough to make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, and, maybe, momentarily stop breathing.

The story is great. I’m not much of a fiction reader, but I may have to pick up the book by Cormak McCarthy. The movie is very, very dark, possibly the Coen brothers’ darkest, even when compared to Fargo or Miller’s Crossing. While there are characters that have a lot of humanity to them, they’re weak and unable (or unwilling) to fight the world around them, and grow even weaker as the plot progresses. By the end, not only has good not gained any ground, it’s actively on the retreat.

Maybe the best way to sum up the movie is to mention Lisa’s reaction–she had her eyes closed for much of the movie, and not out of boredom. It’s not a fun movie to watch, per se, but it is fascinating and wonderfully executed, and I’d definitely catch it again. 8/10.

~ ~ ~

Another contender for the Coen Brother’s darkest film would have to be their debut, Blood Simple. (It would lose, though, as humanity does manage to hold some ground.) While No Country For Old Men makes you cringe, Blood Simple relishes the opportunity to make you squirm. It’s a brilliantly painful movie, a 1980s interpretation of film noir, that at times can be exceedingly difficult to watch. Full of gullible or not-too-bright people making one exceedingly bad decision after another, the movie escalates from the bad to the horrific, with characters meeting gruesome fates along the way. As with No Country, the acting is great, and sound plays a major role in the movie (although not advancing the plot as No Country does).

It’s amazing to me this is the Cohen Brother’s first film. It is as mature and detailed as anything else they’ve ever made. Equally amazing is that it’s Frances McDormand’s first film, too. She’s fantastic in it. Or that Dan Hedaya can really act. Or that this movie was made by the same people who would go on to make The Big Lebowski of all movies… I mean, holy crap, talk about range. How the same people can make two such exceedingly different types of films is beyond me, but I’m grateful that they can.

I wouldn’t want to watch it again, but still have to highly recommend Blood Simple. (Part of me wants to give this a nine, but for some reason I can’t.) 8/10.

Posted in MovieLog at 8:05 pm

MovieLog: Shaun of the Dead


Shaun of the Dead is funny, but in the end the movie gives itself too much credit. Oooh, people with crappy customer service jobs are like zombies. Zombies, get it!? Ha ha. Clever, but not that clever. 6/10.

Posted in MovieLog at 10:00 pm

MovieLog: Thank You For Smoking


Its ending didn’t quite match the great ride leading up to it, but overall Thank You For Smoking was a hilarious and enjoyable film. Aaron Eckhart was perfect for the role of Nick Taylor, who summed up his philosophy of life while helping his son with a speech assignment: “That’s the beauty of argument, if you argue correctly, you’re never wrong.”

I can’t wait to see Jason Reitman’s next movie. 8/10.

Posted in MovieLog at 9:04 pm
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