Wed, Jun 29, 2005

: War of the Worlds

I worried this would have the same ending as the book, which I hated, and it does. (Spoiler alert: I’m going to reveal the ending since that’s essential to my comments). That ending — that Earth bacteria/germs kill off the aliens — could be made to work, but unfortunately, it’s not. In fact, it’s even stupider and more illogical in the film, since in the movie, the aliens have been planning their invasion for “millions of years” (how dumb is that). Wouldn’t you think such a carefully planned invasion would sort of, like, check for diseases before invading? Wouldn’t that be like Rule One of space exploration? Silly. Beyond that little flub up, however, the film’s excellent. The character of Tom Cruise as a separated dad struggling to raise his rebellious kids part-time was good, and the action scenes and special effects were amazing. Unfortunately there isn’t much intellectual depth here — it’s just a run-for-your-life sort of deal — but it’s well-done and interesting, which is more than one can say for most films.

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Mon, Jun 27, 2005

: Closer

Director: Mike Nichols

Unusually frank film discussing sex and relationships. The plot’s a little too structured (forced) for my taste, but an interesting experiment. Basically we have two couples who, uh, interchange. The couples periodically switch who’s with who and it’s a fascinating view of relationships. Unfortunately, while the dialog is brilliant and characters are three-dimensional, we aren’t really given an understanding for why the different people do what they do. For example, people love or don’t love with minimal explanation — and it’s like the writer expects us to believe that the same way we believe fantasy elements in a fantasy film (i.e talking pigs in Babe). There were definitely uncomfortable scenes in this film — I didn’t appreciate some of the explictiness which felt over-the-top, like it was there just to shock or provoke me — but overall the story and some of thoughtful discussion was amazing and profound. Not for all tastes, but certainly provocative.

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: Land of the Dead

Author: George Romero

Director: George Romero

I’m a big fan of Romero and was looking forward to this. It didn’t quite measure up to his Dawn except instead of the mall being empty, it’s now full of people. Romero has put together a good story with interesting characters to found his movie and that’s what makes it work. It’s a lot of fun with a glimpse of social commentary, but not quite as innovative as his previous works. Still, it’s better than 99% of other zombie films, and pretty cool overall.

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Sun, Jun 26, 2005

: Jurassic Park

It’s been a while since I’ve seen this and I was surprised at how the digital dinosaurs actually look slightly dated already. They looked so good in the past but now they aren’t quite as realistic: they seem slightly out of fit with the backgrounds at times and I saw a few scenes where the special effects weren’t so special. Still, the overall story and pacing was quite impressive and obviously engineered by a master.

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Sat, Jun 25, 2005

: MLS: LA Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes

I don’t usually write about televised games, but I’ll make an exception for this one. I should have been at the stadium, but I’m in Oregon now and 750 miles away. I was certainly there in spirit, however, to cheer our team and boo the traitor Landon Donovan who switched to our archrivals the Galaxy Scum in the off-season. Games against LA are always intense, but the build-up to this game was incredible, heightened by the Landon move and the Galaxy’s inability to win away from home. I really hoped the Quakes the would have a good game and they started off well, containing Landon and LA well and creating some good chances. But the goal didn’t come until two thirds of the way through the first half, which had me a little nervous (though Quakes’ keeper Pat Onstad didn’t have to make any saves). the goal was the result of terrific combo play with Brad Davis linking to Cerritos who crossed to Moreno who finished. Great stuff. In the second half, the Gals came out with a little fire and generated a scary moment about ten minutes in when a simple corner kick turned into a series of chances. Pat made the first save off a point-blank Kirovski header, then parried the second and third follow-ups. The ball still wasn’t cleared, however, and when the ball came in a fourth time, he ruthlessly punched it out. It fell to another Galaxy player who took a shot that was blocked by the Quakes who then went on a terrific counter-attack with Chung alone at the top of the LA box. Unfortunately, he thought he had more time than he had and a great tackle by the Galaxy defense took the ball away. But the Quakes were enlivened by that play and began to push harder, and not long after that a chance on goal created some confusion in the Galaxy box where a back-pass to the goalkeeper Kevin Hartman ended up in the goal! A two-goal lead was just what the Quakes wanted, and the rattled Galaxy foolishly gave up another own goal just a couple minutes later when Marshall’s header went past Hartman. Two own goals! Hilarious, but not undeserved by San Jose at all, who should have been leading by that score anyway. In the end, the 3-0 victory was just as it should have been, for other than that one flurry and a chance of a Landon free kick, Pat had nothing to do all night. A fantastic night for San Jose, deserved revenge on Landon, and a continuation of the Gals’ road woes. Final: 3-0 San Jose.

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Fri, Jun 24, 2005

: Ray

Jamie Fox is certainly impressive as Ray Charles, but I wasn’t as impressed with the musician’s life. We learn a little about his childhood, which was interesting, but not much about what made him tick as a musician. We see his womanizing and drug use, but his motives for either remain a mystery. I liked the movie, but it was much too long and over-dramatized much that seemed rather pointless. The main reason to see this is definitely Fox, not Charles.

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: Bewitched

Director: Nora Ephron

I was surprised at how much I liked this. I was a big fan of the TV show and the premise of the movie sounded dumb. The premise was a team remaking the TV show modern day casts Nicole Kidman’s character as Samantha without knowing she’s really a witch herself. This creates a complex environment where we really have three sets of witch-mortal groups: the original 1960s TV show characters, the remake’s characters, and the actress playing Samantha and her mortal co-star. Things definitely get confusing! But I liked the realistic approach taken by the script, which is intelligent and doesn’t take things into silliness. Kidman’s witch character is wonderful, full of innocence and wonder at the human world, and we love to see her grow and prosper and fall in love. Will Farrell’s arrogant actor is a harder to love (I fail to see why she’s attracted to him), but the whole thing adds up to a pleasant adventure with lots of fun homages and references to the original. Several scenes are extraordinarily good (like the one with Kidman and the dog), while others are ordinary or fall flat. Kidman really is the movie, though Will has a moment or two of charm. Overall, it’s a nice flick; not particularly mindless, almost brilliant in places, but lacking depth similar to the TV show.

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Thu, Jun 23, 2005

: The Incredibles

I liked this even better the second time. The first time it seemed extremely long and overly complicated, but this time it was a fun adventure. There’s tons of depth in this film, with new things becoming apparent each time you view it. Great.

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Wed, Jun 22, 2005

: Garfield: The Movie

Not as bad as I expected, but strangely flat. The cat’s commentary and jokes aren’t funny, and the plot — the cat trying to save the dog — isn’t engaging or dramatic. The humans are just cartoons, not fleshed out enough for us to care. The whole thing adds up to sheer boredom.

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: Godsend

Unquestionably one of the worst films I’ve seen in many years. The dialog is stilted, the plot ridiculous. In the opening scene, in which the boy is killed, everything is done with such exaggeration and foreshadowing it’s absurd: we see the mom worrying about where her son is (he’s playing near the street) which is stupid because there’s nothing to say this isn’t another ordinary day in which the little boy does not get killed. And of course this happens to be the kid’s birthday, which is excessively dramatic. The boy is a terrible actor, too, though he’s okay when not talking. The plot is just bizarre. It sounds simple enough — family’s kid dies and they replace him with a clone. But instead of this being a drama about the morality of cloning, the film sinks into some sort of weird horror mode where the clone seemingly has memories of his previous life. Just silly. How Robert DeNiro got hook-winked into this mess I’ll never know.

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Tue, Jun 21, 2005

: Laws of Attraction

Not as bad as I was expecting — it’s predictable as two rival divorce attorneys fall in and out of love with each other — but with a degree of realism I wasn’t expecting. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t have much depth beyond the love story, and the resolution is so easy that one wonders what all the fuss was about.

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Sun, Jun 19, 2005

: Wait Until Dark

Very good little thriller about a blind woman (Audrey Hepburn) fighting off thieves. That sounds more dramatic than it is, because the bad guys are more like con artists, trying to manipulate her. Those mental machinations are a lot more interesting than mere violence, as the clever blind woman outwits the men. Excellent, though a little claustrophic — like Hitchcock’s Rope it’s based on a play and the “whole movie in one room” aspect shows.

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: Whiteout

Author: Ken Follett

Rather routine by-the-numbers thriller from Follet. He takes a claustrophic situation — bad guys holed up a family’s house during a blizzard — but the resolution is pretty ordinary. Some of the characters were interesting, but there wasn’t much depth. Overall, I kept wondering why the book was written.

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Sat, Jun 18, 2005

: Head in the Clouds

Not a bad concept, but the film is too complicated and too slow at times. It takes place in France before WWII, and deals with three people, a guy and two women. One woman is the free spirit who loves the other woman. The second woman is from Spain and wants to be a nurse. The guy loves the first woman but is involved with politics and wants to fight in the Spanish civil war. He and the nurse go there against the wishes of the first woman, who cares nothing about politics. Later, however, when the man is involved with the Allies in WWII and goes on spy missions to France, he meets the first girl and discovers her secret: she’s really a spy passing information she gets from her German lover. The ending is sad and rather unusual (I guess it’s meant to be ironic). Unfortunately, the whole movie takes way too long to get going. The real plot doesn’t begin until the WWII spy stuff begins and that’s not until 2/3rds of the movie. Not great, not terrible, above average at times and slow and boring at others.

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Fri, Jun 17, 2005

: Batman Begins

Director: Christopher Nolan

Good film. I wasn’t excited about reliving Batman’s origins again, but then discovered the story isn’t so much about the specifics of why Bruce Wayne seeks revenge as it was about power and the nature of evil (essentially a debate over vigilantism). That’s extremely interesting. Is what Batman does revenge or justice? Who does Batman answer to? That is cool stuff to consider. I wasn’t as impressed with the plot, which is overly convoluted, but the presentation is well-done with great visuals and a routine but satisfying conclusion. A good start for a new franchise.

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Sun, Jun 12, 2005

: The Notebook

Author: Nicholas Sparks (novel)

I wasn’t expecting much of this as Sparks’ stuff is usually overly sweet and silly, but this one got to me. It’s a wonderful, simple story about true love. It’s told by an old man who reads the story from a notebook to an old woman in a nursing home and tells about a penniless young man who falls for the daughter of a rich man. Of course the daughter’s forbidden to see the boy and they are separated only to be reunited years later and realize they are still in love. Sparks did well to not overly complicate this conflict, since it’s really minimal, and the resolution is appropriately simple. (In too many love stories the conflict is silly and we’re just wondering why the two can’t just hook up and be done with it.) Anyway, this story has a little twist — completely predictable (I figured it out in the first two minutes), but it adds a nice touch. And the concluding scene is rather sweet (though unrealistic). Overall a very good movie with impressive acting.

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Sat, Jun 11, 2005

: Wimbledon

Nice light romantic comedy with a couple surprisingly earthy moments from Kirsten Dunst. I liked her character, however, as the reigning “bad girl” of the tennis circuit who falls for a former tennis great who’s game is down but goes up when he’s around Kirsten. Having him win Wimbledon is absurd but fun and well-executed, but overall the film’s a little short of depth to be a true romance or classic.

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Fri, Jun 10, 2005

: Mr. and Mrs. Smith

This is a film where you get exactly what you expect. It’s nothing intellectually challenging or unpredictable, but the chemistry between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie is electric and it’s a whole lotta fun. The two star as a married couple who each secretly work as paid assassins for different companies. Because of the elephant in the room neither will talk about (their secret jobs), their marriage is in the tank. Soon each have discovered the other’s secret and thinking the other was only pretending to fall in the love, their romance turns to anger and they try to kill each other in a spy-versus-spy comedy of failure. Eventually, of course, their fighting turns to lovemaking and all’s right with the world. Very cool, pretty, and loudly violent, with a suprisingly decent message about marriage at its core. Two thumbs up!

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Thu, Jun 09, 2005

: Code 46

This is one of those movies that has potential but doesn’t use it, let alone live up to it. It’s got some great science fiction ideas: viruses people take to give them special abilities (the way we’d take drugs today), and the main language is a mixture of English, French, and Spanish (practically a reality all ready). The plot stems from a law that says no one can reproduce with someone of similar genetic background, and with clones so common, people might be related and not know it. That’s what happens to the two main characters, a man investigating fraudulent travel papers and a woman who creates them. Instead of arresting her, he has an affair with her, but eventually finds out it’s a Code 46 violation (they share similar DNA, meaning his mother and her are genetically the same as apparently they were both cloned from the same batch). Unfortunately, this is all done with such vague grayness and mythical confusion that we aren’t sure what’s going on until halfway through the movie and then it’s anti-climactic when we do find out. The ending, while an appropriate resolution, is also weak and unsatisfying. In short, the film is slow, confusing for no good reason, boring, and in the end, doesn’t go anywhere. It’s a useless ride that promises far more than it delivers.

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Tue, Jun 07, 2005

: Love Song for Bobby Long

Pretty cool little flick. I doubt many have seen this, but it’s worth putting on your agenda if you like smaller slightly quirky films. It stars John Travolta as a washed up former English professor named Bobby Long. He’s now a drunk and a bum, living with his protege student at the house of his former lover, a famous regional singer. When Loraine, the singer, dies, her estranged teenage daughter, played by the lovely Scarlett Johannson, appears. Told that the house was left to the two bums and the girl, the three live together in chaotic harmony. The girl was raised by her grandmother and is angry and resentful of her mother; she’s confused by all the adoration her mother’s friends have for her. She’s critical of the two drunken bums who are useless and pointless; ostensibly working on a novel, nothing has been done. The girl is anti-school something the two educated men want to change, so they set out to help her graduate from high school. The film is basically about a group of misfits who each have problems but slowly learn to heal and help each other; they are like puzzle pieces who all fit together and make a whole. It’s well done and surprisingly entertaining, but can be slow at times and there’s an excessive amount of profanity — as though using the f-word is somehow brilliantly creative. It can be a touch elitist as well, as at times the author tries to show off how intellectual he is. But much of the movie is extraordinary and remarkable. It’s a little uneven at times and at least twenty minutes too long, but recommended.

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Mon, Jun 06, 2005

: The Alamo

Lackluster is how I’d describe this. I’m not sure why it didn’t work. The cast isn’t as bad as I expected (most do a good job), the script, while routine, is okay, and the production is of high quality. But somehow the pieces just don’t add up to much. The pacing is slow, there’s too much emphasis on “celebrity” Alamo victims like Davy Crocket, and the battles are too chaotic to be understandable. The Alamo itself — the fort, that is — is unimpressive. While that’s probably historically accurate, it is uninspiring in the film and a bit confusing since it appears that two kids with BB guns could take the thing so why can’t the whole Mexican army? I did learn some history (I hope it’s accurate stuff) and it’s not a particularly bad film; but it’s not a great movie. It’s boring at times and ponderous and suddenly it’s over. There’s just something missing.

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Sun, Jun 05, 2005

: Two Brothers

Terrific film with a sucky title from the director of The Bear. This is one of those films that I wanted to see in theatres — it’s about two tiger cubs who are brothers — but I kept forgetting the title because it’s so generic and has nothing to do with tigers. Stupid marketing. The movie itself is awesome. The tigers are amazing. This film has more humans in it than The Bear, but the tigers are still the main actors. What I liked was the story, the way the lives of the tigers intertwined, and the ending, where the tigers help each other to survive. (I don’t want to say more as it would spoil the plot.) Just trust that this is an excellent movie and everyone should see it.

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: Just Married

Not as bad as I expected. In fact, I liked it. It was predictable, in certain ways, but the performances of Ashton Kutcher and Britney Murphy actually made it work. The plot is routine: a young couple are in love until a disasterous sexless honeymoon leaves them hating each other. It’s all a bit silly but not raunchy like the promos made it sound. There’s even a little bit of heart.

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Sat, Jun 04, 2005

: The Codex

Author: Douglas Preston

This is a surprisingly well-written book, though the plot is obvious and the execution weak. The premise bodes well: three distant brothers are brought together by their father, who’s dying. Then he drops the bomb. Since he got most of his $500 million wealth robbing tombs, he has buried himself with all his treasures in a tomb somewhere on the planet and it will be up to the sons to find him to claim their inheritance. In the process, he hopes his useless sons will become men. This sounded intriguing as I pictured a globe-trotting adventure as the sons followed clues leading from exotic country to exotic country, but unfortunately the story immediately leads to the wilds of Central America and stays there until the end. This makes it rather tedious and boring, since reading about weeks and weeks of starvation hiking through jungles gets old quickly. Fortunately, Preston does better with characterization and other aspects of the plot, but for this kind of novel, it needs to be driven by the story, not characters. Weak.

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Wed, Jun 01, 2005

: Dogville

Director: Lars von Trier

This is an absolutely fantastic movie. It’s really a filmed play (which I did not know or expect prior to viewing) which I really loved. The set is sparse, an empty stage with painted lines signifying the boundaries of homes and rooms, and a few props like chairs and desks. The actors mime opening non-existent doors and such. This surrealist touch has dramatic import, since it reminds us we’re in a fantasy everyworld, and we focus on the characters and situations, not the props. The story is simple yet elegantly told. The town is Dogville, a tiny mountain community of a mere 15 people. These people seem normal, even idealisticly perfect, but as the play proceeds, we grow to realize that they are petty and mean, like everyone else. Innocence joins the picture in the form of a beautiful young woman who is running away from gangsters, though we don’t know why. In an exercise in acceptance, the town decides to host the girl, and hide her from those who seek her, though they are never given an explanation for why she’s being sought. The woman’s initial offers to help with physical labor are rejected, but eventually she finds ways to help people with “things that don’t need doing.” As pressures from the gangsters and the police increase, the town wavers on their commitment. What is the moral thing to do? Gradually the woman’s labors increase as she becomes, essentially, the town’s slave. People are mean to her, bossing her. One of the men threatens to expose her and uses her vulnerability to rape her and ensure her silence. Gradually the town of Dogville becomes a dark and evil place, the girl a captive. In the end the true colors of Dogville are shown, and the girl has her brutal revenge. It’s a fantastic, disturbing, and profound film. It shows the inherent blackness of the human heart, how people can turn, how what looks one way can really be another. Amazing. Highly recommended.

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