This year I'm going to do it a little differently. I'm going to debut my list in this space over the next few days before giving it its permanent home at Balgavy. Consider this the soft launch.
MY LEAST FAVORITE FILM OF THE YEAR
I don’t like Don Roos. His films are so fucking “clever” and overreaching. I knew what I was into when Lisa Kudrow gets hit by a car at the very beginning of the film. A message from the filmmakers appears on the screen to let us know that she is okay “because this movie is a comedy, well sort of.” Ugh. If this were on Showtime, I’d give it one and a half epidoes before quitting. In fact, this felt like a TV show the whole time but shows like Weeds kick its sorry ass. Maggie Gyllenhaal is the only thing worth watching in this film and she is sure worth watching. Oh yeah, did I mention that there is a fake documentary being made during the movie that they decide to call Happy Endings? So meta, so fucking trite, so dumb.
Kicking and Screaming
I saw this film with a bunch of third graders. They were more impressed than me. A standard issue life lesson kind of kids’ flick. Will Ferrell was funny at times but this movie isn’t really worth seeing. The pacing was really off as well. It seemed very choppy and off.
Save the Green Planet
Imagine if Miike directed Silence of the Lambs as a bad Twilight Zone episode and then imagine it ten times worse than you just imagined.
It is hard to be a teenager, blah blah blah.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
It was jokey and silly. We've gone from great lines like "Would someone get this giant walking carpet out of my way?" to slapstick routines of Yoda knocking over guards. Come to think of it, that was pretty funny.
It looked flat and dull and too crowded all at the same time.
Yoda's sentences were way too long for the convoluted way that he speaks. Ridiculous.
There were shots in it (the white corridor of the ship to look like the beginning of Star Wars --I refuse to call it "A New Hope", and Luke's uncle on Tattoine looking out onto the horizon) that were supposed to make us reminisce about good movies.
George Lucas continues to prove that he doesn't know what he's doing. There is no suspense at all in this movie. Everything seems to be in a rush to do nothing.
The scenes of Darth Vader becoming Darth Vader were supposed to remind us of Frankenstein, but instead reminded me of Young Frankenstein.
We are supposed to believe that Anakin goes from "Oh no, what have I done?" to "I will do whatever you tell me master" within three seconds.
How amazing was the birth scene when Natalie Portman is handed her babies and immediately names them? And then promptly dies because she has lost the will to live? Tom Stoppard is a genius!
I loved the scene when Darth Vader starts screaming out "NOOOOOO" when he finds out his wife is dead.
Youthlarge cried when the Wookies' were killed. I couldn't quite believe that anyone could find any real emotion in this film.
At one point, Youthlarge asked me to clarify a certain plot point. I responded, "I kind of stopped fully understanding all of this stuff in 1983."
I did truly like some of Natalie Portman's costumes -- from the Princess Leah look to the Buck Rodgers thing she had going on. Lovely.
I didn't really mind the silly little ways to tie this film into the next episode -- "We must wipe out the droids' memory" or Yoda, "I will go into exile until the time is right." However, I was struck by how little I gave a shit about characters that I once cared about -- Chewbacca, R2D2, etc.
All in all, I wasn't really disappointed by this film. It was what I thought it would be after sitting through the first two episodes. The whole endeavor seems like a wasted opportunity. Lucas clearly is a good idea guy and as Chris Larry pointed out, a great special effects person as well. Star Wars was not perfect but it was fun, inspired, and it had a human pulse. The Empire Strikes Back is a great film -- good screenwriting and great direction from a Irvin Kershner - a director who was used to directing small character driven films. He got the most out of his actors than any of the other six films. Return of the Jedi is pretty bad but at least it had Harrison Ford.
These last three films are so drab. The first three films all felt like new worlds and creatures were being introduced to us. The last three all feel too computer generated and blue screened out for my tastes. I still can't believe how Lucas has gone back and screwed with the first three films. I wonder if his next project is to digitally add souped up T-Birds to American Graffiti.
I wish that Lucas had franchised these three films out to different directors. The Alien films are not all great, but all four have their own look and feel to them because each one had a talented young director in charge. Even the Harry Potter franchise is mixing it up. I haven't seen the last three films, but from what I understand, the third and fourth installments are better than the first two Chris Columbus crapfests. A good director can make such a big difference.
Obviously, Lucas thinks that he can do these films better than anyone else. He has made his millions on them. but does anyone really truly love these films in the way that a generation ago loved the franchise? Maybe, but in my opinion, they are kidding themselves if they think these films are good.
However, if Lucas changes his mind and decided to bring back Ford, Hamill, and Fisher for a seventh episode, I'll be as excited as anyone else -- at least until I see how boring it all turns out to be.
Todd Solondz needs to be put out to pasture.
What is Gus Van Sant up to? With Psycho, he tried to recreate a classic as an art experiment. With Gerry, Elephant, and now Last Days, he is determined to rework true stories into a fictional tableau. One of the things that worked for me about Gerrywas thatI didn’t know anything about the story. Elephant was fairly interesting because Van Sant could create characters to fit the Columbine killers and I was none the wiser since I don’t know what those two clowns were like. But Van Sant stumbles badly here in his attempt to ape Kurt Cobain. Yes, the situations are made up and the other characters are as well. But what is the point here? I wanted to pummel the shit out of the mumbling Michael Pitt during the entire film. Much like Titantic where I was praying for the ship to hit the iceberg already, I couldn’t wait for the shotgun explosion so I could be put out of my misery.
On the Outs
A sort of Scared Straight for the hip-hop generation. The filmmakers spent time with 25-30 girls in a New Jersey detention center in order to put together a composite story of three girls growing up in the ghetto in Jersey City. What the filmmakers lack in technique, they make up for in their earnestness.
Bad News Bears
This did not need to be remade. The original movie is just too damn good. It has spawned countless retreads on the same ragtag team makes good story. So not only was this film fighting the ghosts of the original but also it found itself trying to compete with all of the other films of the past thirty years that ripped off the original. Richard Linklater did what he could.
The look of the film is fantastic -- all washed out like it was made in 1976 and the colors had faded. The baseball scenes are pretty damn good and I appreciated that we were allowed to watch much of the action unfold in front of us in one long take with the camera placed behind home plate.
However, I just don't get the point of this film. Near the beginning, I thought the film might try to make interesting societal comments like the first one did. There is a part when Billy Bob Thornton first meets his team and assumes that the black kid wearing #25 idolizes any number of black players who have worn that number. When it turns out that the kid's favorite player is Mark McGwire, Thornton can't quite believe it. It is a funny moment in a movie that otherwise just piles on the cursing to seem as edgy as the original. Sometimes it felt like a really bad ripoff of Bad Santa on the baseball diamond. Billy Bob Thornton is no Walter Matthau.
Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
I remembered loving this book when I was a kid but obviously I didn’t love it so much that I wanted to read any of the other books in the series. This is a pretty straightforward adaptation and it was what you would expect. Under the age of ten and this movie probably would kick your ass. It has all the violence without any actual blood that you could possibly ever hope for. It does have that wondrous feel of stepping into the closet and then being transported into another world.
But it also has some terrible special effects (I guess all the money went to Aslan), some ears clearly borrowed from the set of the original Star Trek series, too many Renaissance Festival touches, tons of sooooooooaring music, and some real underlying creepiness to it. I do have to admit though that Aslan was a much more convincing Jesus than Jim Caviezel. Any movie with four screenwriters in the credits can never be a good thing, right?
5 X 2
I have really enjoyed following Francois Ozon’s career. He has put out almost a movie a year since I moved to New York. His career started right as I moved here and I’ve grown up as he has! I haven’t loved all of his films but they all have been interesting. From See the Sea through Swimming Pool, all of his films have been worthwhile. However, I was pretty bored by this film about a marriage that ends in divorce. The decision to have the first scene be the two of them signing the divorce papers and the last scene of them falling in love makes things a little interesting but not enough to save the film.
Turtles Can Fly
The first film shot in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein revolves around children who find themselves in an impossible situation. I liked director Ghobadi’s previous films (A Time for Drunken Horses, Marooned in Iraq) much more than this one.
Not terrible but not good. This movie had its heart in the right place I guess but a movie that is trying to make a big point doesn’t have to be so damn boring, does it? I just didn’t care. Other movies this year have had big ideas but weren’t quite as ambitous as this sprawling epic. I did like parts of it though and I can’t fault the filmmakers for trying something as big as this. Guaranteed to win an Oscar for best editing.
Claire Denis is an interesting filmmaker. I loved Beau Travail, was intrigued by Trouble Every Day, and the buzz around Friday Night was interesting if nothing else. This movie looked amazing. Denis always has so many amazingly tight close-ups of her cast. Even when her movies aren’t great, they are really interesting to look at. And this one needed that help because I had no friggin’ clue what was going on. Oblique in the worst kind of way.
The Syrian Bride
Family drama set in the Golan Heights that, of course, finds its structure in the political. Decent but I wanted it to be better.
I’m not sure why this got so much press. It was okay but I was kind of bored. It kind of reminded me of a duller, happier version of The Butcher Boy.
A Tout de Suite
Benoit Jacquot makes his French New Wave film. It looked good but it went nowhere. I didn’t care about the characters or what was going on. However, it was much better than 2004’s The Dreamers which also attempted to pay homage to films of the past. However, Bertolucci’s characters were painfully recreating these film moments themselves whereas these characters were unawares to the films that Jacquot had them paying homage to.
There are some really good elements to this film. The set design is great. Michael Caine is great. The back story is interesting. But Chris Nolan couldn’t handle directing such a big movie. The action scenes suffer from Gladiator and The Bourne Identity syndrome - too much cutting, too many closeups making it impossible to tell what is going on. I found the Scarecrow laughably stupid and the last hour dragged beyond belief. Christian Bale was good as Bruce Wayne but crappy as Batman. I never would have thought that I would miss Michael Keaton in the role but merely uttering the classic line “I’m Batman,” proves to be too much for Bale. Using, the Spider-Man, and the X-Men films as a basis of comparison, this film is sorely lacking.
As I read over all the comments from a blog entry on this film, I found myself shocked that two days after seeing the film, I couldn't even remember many of the details that people were referring to. I'm not quite sure why more of it didn't stick with me considering that for the most part, I enjoyed watching this film.
I expected to hate the dialogue, but I actually think it worked for the film. I liked the narration, film noir style. But this wasn't really noir in the classic sense of the word. It had more of a pulp feel to it. Rather than femme fatales and snappy dialogue, it had tons of hookers and gore. Recent films with classic noir elements (The Man Who Wasn't There and Mulholland Drive among others) had characters that I found myself interested in. This film did not. That is okay though. This film is based on a comic that is influenced by noir and pulp. As each layer is added, more classic elements are lost and new elements are added.
I expected to not like the story, but I did like it. A whole bizarre world is created in this film. I'd imagine that if I had read the comics, I would have been super excited about this movie. More than any other film based on a comic, this film really felt like it had literally been ripped from the page. I loved the crazy Frodo shit. Some of the stuff was so incredibly and twisted and I dug it.
But overall the film seemed off to me. I'm not disputing that the film looked interesting overall, but everything seemed very flat to me. I did like the reds and the yellows that looked great next to the black and white. Maybe the print wasn't great, but the black and white looked dull to me. I suppose gray best emulates the look of the comics but I'm not sure since I haven't read them.
The actors never seemed to be in the same room when talking to each other. Everything seemed very stiff. The dialogue sounded like it had been recorded in a vacuum. It kind of sounded like the crappy dubbing on parts of 20 Midgets. If nothing else, I was expecting a thrill ride, but I didn't quite get that. I got a lot of fucked up murders and freaky scenes, but I didn't get a jump out of my seat, heart pumping, transcendent movie experience like Tarantino's best moments deliver. If Tarantino had directed more of it rather than Rodriguez, this film would have been much better.
This film has its heart in the right place but after a rousing start, the filmmakers lost steam. A recently married Chicago Outsider Art gallery owner visits rural North Carolina with her husband to visit his family for the first time and to woo an artist for a show at her gallery. In this increasingly polarized country, this film set itself up for an interesting study of our society. It doesn’t quite pull it off.
Wheel of Time
Warner Herzog’s documentary about the trek Buddhists take to Bodh Gaya, India where Buddha found enlightenment. This film begged to be shot on film because the digital video aspect of it is terrible. Still, I could listen to Herzog all day long talk about any topic.
Walk the Line
A by the book biopic but it still kept my attention. Nevertheless, this format is so bone tired. However, Joaquin Phoenix held his own muscially and Reese Witherspoon was amazing. I don’t think I’ve seen her in a movie since Election and I might just have to go rent a bunch of DVD’s to catch up. Sweet Home Alabama anyone?
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
The first hour of this is great, the second hour drags. I’ve been reading a lot about Chan-wook Park and this is the third of his films released this year so I felt like I should finally get around to seeing what his films were about. This film leaves me wanting to see more but not completey satisfied with what I got.
Let's get some dialogue going. Come on, convince me that Batman Begins was actually good or that I'm an idiot for not loving Sin City or bring up whatever movie talk you want to put in this space over the next few days.
Camp: Day 4
15 hours ago