brownrecluse62's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

Ashes of Time Redux
½

Plot-wise, I couldn't manage to keep track of how the characters were connected to each other, who was in love with whom, etc. But this is just so beautiful to watch. It's just a stunning ... meditation ... on space ... time ... memory ... love ... colors ... shifting ... visual ... layers ... See, I really shouldn't even try to articulate it, since whatever I'd say would turn out to be just a bunch of nonsense. So words, or at least my words, can't even come close to doing this experience justice.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
½

This is by far the best Harry Potter film. A director with real imagination, a splendid visual structure, a tight and well-crafted story, fast-paced and exciting. Very intelligently conceived and executed. Plus Julie Christie!

Night Across the Street
½

The late Raúl Ruiz's final film is a perfect way to draw a cinematic life to a close. It's a beautiful meditation on approaching the end of one's life, with memories, dreams and phantasms of the mind exquisitely interwoven. We often can't really tell which is which amidst the film's quirky and surreal humor, which is also sustained throughout. The film is characterized by languid camera movement with meticulous scene choreography and composition; unanticipated revelations lie just around corners and outside the frame, and seeing them appear is consistently disarming. There's a real sense of magic in the film's direction. And - *spoiler alert, I guess* - Ruiz doesn't settle for a traditionally beautifully wrapped-up conclusion; the movie goes beyond what feels like a perfect endpoint (and the film would still hold its power were it to end there) and moves into one more perplexing sequence, ultimately cutting to black mid-dialogue. Sounds from behind the scenes on the set are heard over the end credits, and as the final credit rolls, the movie ends with the sound of Ruiz calling, 'Cut!' What a way to go. (Ironically, this is the first Ruiz film I have seen; I'm already convinced of his mastery of the art of cinema, and I'm eager to explore the rest of his filmography.)

Brave
Brave(2012)

After my relative disappointment with 'Up,' I was rather surprised by how much I liked this. The film is exhilarating in its early stages. It becomes less so once the rather standard main plot sets in, and the film is clearly disjointed, but the movie remains engaging and enjoyable. Once again, the movement of the camera/viewing-eye is wondrous - it's Pixar's specialty, and better here, I think, than it was in 'Up' - and the humor is impeccable for the most part. The really interesting element that I'm sure is one of the main discussion topics about the film is that this is more or less a rebuttal to/subversion of the Disney princess standard: a film that's specifically about rejecting the notion of a princess's role as we are used to it (because of Disney) in storytelling and film. This is great. Of course, though, at the same time the film is under Disney's auspices and Merida is the latest addition to the Disney Princess line. I don't think Merida would approve of that.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

This is a pretty bad movie, but it's rather compelling if you're interested in the transitions in adaptation from stage to screen and in 'film-within-a-film' narrative techniques. The main story, the Joseph story, is presented as a 'play' (although actually a film with theatrical set-pieces) performed for schoolchildren, who are the 'outer' audience yet also participate in the 'play' as Joseph enters their environment and they enter the performance at certain points. The narrator occupies both worlds as well. The adults in the 'outer' environment are the same actors who play the characters in the 'inner' story (à la 'The Wizard of Oz'), and a running joke is that, although the children are the engaged audience, a good deal of the visual humor is sexual innuendo meant for adult appreciation. The musical numbers are competently performed representations of different genres, and some of the sets are reminiscent of Ken Russell, though obviously not as good as the real thing. Richard Attenborough doesn't really have to do much; he just kind of sits there. He's the most experienced artist in this thing, and he seems content to sit back, mildly amused, and watch the goings-on.

Spring Breakers

'Spring Breakers' is an extravagant film that manages often quite well to strike that precarious balance between irreverence and sincerity in examining the culture of trashy hedonism that for some might exemplify what the American Dream has come to. The narrative resembles a parody of both 'escape' fantasy and 'values'-oriented people's fears of the ramifications of youth culture - teen restlessness and disconnect from family leads to crime, signifying overall 'societal degradation' (as one IMDb viewer, who takes the message seriously, phrases it). Of course we have the 'hip' church group at the beginning to highlight this juxtaposition. The presentation is over the top, obviously so in Franco's performance; his rapping and his singing at the piano are uniquely amusing. Lines of dialogue are repeated over energetic montages, in keeping with the film's music-video and remix aesthetics. I take note of the 'youth star' status of several of the leads, notably the Disney-associated Hudgens and Gomez. I think Disney teen stars should be required to participate in a wild project like this when they part ways with that empire of processed childhood dreams.

Moonrise Kingdom

Probably Anderson's best in my estimation (I still have yet to see 'Life Aquatic' and 'Tenenbaums'). Usually his aesthetic, heavy with forced artifice and quirkiness, annoys me, but it works remarkably well with the children's story here. The film makes great use of a staging of 'Noye's Fludde,' and Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts are used wonderfully (his 'Carnival of the Animals' carries a special place in my heart from my own childhood). Roman Coppola is a much better writing partner for Anderson than the smug Baumbach; here they conjure a movie of genuine warmth, humor and wonder.

Boogie Nights
½

A very ambitious film, this is overall very well-made, but Anderson's immaturity as a feature filmmaker is apparent and detracts from the general impressiveness. He overindulges in visual acrobatics, his roving camera voraciously devouring as much of the mise en scène as it can. It's great camerawork, but a good number of the flourishes are superfluous and stretch their moments longer than necessary. The brief quick-shot montages punctuate the film wonderfully, but the images they repeat, such as camera lenses and flashbulbs, become too repetitive. The movie is excessively saturated with pop songs of the era (I counted 40 of them listed in the end credits). Most importantly, the film drags on too long, and Anderson doesn't quite sustain full control over the broad scope of his vision. But the positives certainly outweigh the negatives: the acting is excellent, and the film conveys very effectively a turbulent period of time and the human drama in a world of sleaze and the uncertainty in facing the era's inevitable change. As director, writer and co-producer, Anderson shows significant talent and skill in crafting and executing his vision, in spite of his shortcomings, and this film exhibits an impressive preview of the work he'll be capable of making as he matures.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
½

Offensive tripe. The underlying purpose for any Transformers motion picture is to sell toys. That's it. And if you're making a toy commercial that's TWO AND A HALF HOURS LONG, you need to either give it an extraordinarily compelling story or make it consistently entertaining by poking fun at your ludicrous excess in spending millions upon millions of dollars on it. Now, Bay is not good with serious storytelling, and his excesses tend to work best when executed tongue in cheek, so you'd think he would take the jokey, self-mocking route and the movie would be pretty entertaining. But no. Bay insists on taking this material for Serious Cinema, and has everyone play it that way - for two and a half hours, we're meant to be engrossed by the struggles of these 'characters' against an apocalyptic scenario in which the fate of the planet rests in the hands of the big clunky metal robots, some of which aim to destroy and others to prevent destruction. Normally in such a case I would try to tune out the plot and just be entertained by the action, but this movie is overloaded with this heavy plot, and for large chunks of the time it just drags, forcing us to dwell on the poorly developed characters (human and robot) and their poorly developed drama. It's an insult to our intelligence as viewers, the notion that we'll take this seriously.

And it could have been fun. Just listing the ingredients of the movie - McDormand, Malkovich, Turturro, riffs on moon landing conspiracy theories, cameos by Buzz Aldrin AND Bill O'Reilly, giant clunky fighting robots - I can't help but envision the amazing surreal extravaganza that could have been made out of all of that. Aldrin and O'Reilly just end up as wasted opportunities. I guess, though, that most audiences don't much care for the surreal. With people's attention spans supposedly shrinking, I'm surprised that so many people can sit through all 154 minutes of this and be entertained.

One more random note: at some point in this film, the bad transformers essentially teleport their planet to where Earth is. The planet partially appears, flickering, mid-teleport, as the good guys race to stop it. One of Orson Welles's last movie roles was the voice of a planet in an animated Transformers movie in 1986. I would have liked the foreign planet in this film to be a talking planet and for the film to use clips of Welles's voice - perhaps from recordings of him drunk or saying something particularly outlandish - flickering in and out as the planet begins to emerge. But, as I said above, what I want in a movie tends to be different from what the majority of audiences want. Eh. If you want to watch two and a half hours of advertising for toys, then I suppose that sitting through this is what you deserve.

The Tree of Life

I don't really think I can adequately judge this yet. Of course, since this is a Malick film, multiple viewings would be necessary to really get to know the film, grasp it and comprehend your relationship with it. For me, from a single viewing, I come away with a sense of experiencing life in constant motion. The camera's restless movement throughout the film reflects life ever flowing. (There's a river prominent in the film as well, and lots of water and fluidity.) The world changes, and thus your perspective keeps changing in space and time. You experience life as it happens and as you remember it, and at any given point in your life, past and present are jumbled together in your consciousness. Relationships. Family. Love. Loss. Childhood. Discovery. Growing up. Death. And on top of all that, as the film depicts, we try to comprehend our place in the greater universe. We struggle to think of infinity and the beginning and end of everything. We ponder our lives introspectively just as we gaze in awe at the life and everything else that surrounds us. I guess the characters are somewhat difficult to follow, and I struggled to situate myself in the layers of their lives, but the film is still an incredibly rich experience. Lots of classical music on the soundtrack, including a couple pieces very special to me personally: Smetana's 'Vltava' ('Moldau') and Couperin's 'Les Barricades Mysterieuses.' And the effects! They're magnificent. The great Douglas Trumbull worked on this, and it shows. He and Malick are a great team.

The Tourist
The Tourist(2010)

Opulent and colorful, with great-looking locales and costumes, but the whole thing is pretty tepid. The plot twists are handled clumsily, and the supposed thriller is lacking in panache. Too bad.

Crash
Crash(2004)
½

This is today's epitome of 'issue'-filmmaking. It has tokens in place of characters, and its message is simple-minded earnestness masquerading as depth. Yes, the performances are good and the emotions are effective, but the strokes are just too broad for this to be rightfully considered artistic. It's thought-provoking but in an extremely blunt way. The mix-and-match of racial and ethnic stereotypes in character roles is more effectively done in the clever 'How High': in that film, the racial and ethnic stereotypes are conflated onto a smart mix-and-match of genre and character stereotypes, whereas this one is just all-out melodrama and doesn't do anything interesting in terms of form. I liked this when I first saw it, but I don't feel like sitting through it again. See Haneke's 'Code Unknown' for a more intelligent approach to this sort of thing.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1
½

Overall this is a pretty solid movie. You basically know in advance how the film is going to go, so when you see it you can take the time to note more interesting observations than simply the contents of the plot. This one is up a notch from the last entry, more cohesive, less wishy-washy, and with a hint of shadow-puppetry (the animated sequence) to almost match the ink-in-water dissolve which was the sole remarkable thing about movie #6. I was very glad to see John Hurt again, though I wish they'd given him some more dialogue. Helena Bonham Carter has a ball, really seizing her moment. However, since the Potter films already operate by the method of casting noteworthy performers in what amount to very tiny roles, I wish they'd have gone all-out in celebrity casting for all the cameo roles that matter. It would give the characters added cinematic gravity, since the story itself isn't all that substantial -- it's really all just a visual retread of a popular book. So the movie could have gained some extra filmic depth by bringing in giants -- say, Max Von Sydow as Grindelwald, or maybe Ken Russell as Elphias Doge. And the creepy Bathilda (though the actress was certainly adequate) really needed to be played by an old film legend. Luise Rainer, maybe? Olivia de Havilland? Joan Fontaine? Take your pick. Anyhow, yes, it's a perfectly fine movie; it just could have benefited from stronger touchstones of legendary cinema.

Miss Tatlock's Millions
½

A weird comedy of manners in which a stuntman pretends to be the long-absent 'black sheep' son of a wealthy family in order to collect 'his' share of the inheritance. Chemistry develops between him and the sister of the guy he's pretending to be, which gives the film a weird quasi-incestuous element. That makes the film a bit uncomfortable to sit through (though definitely interesting to analyze), but there is nice snappy dialogue as well as entertaining portrayals of the selfish filthy rich people, including Monty Woolley and Robert Stack. Barry Fitzgerald is great, too, as the man guiding the protagonist. Co-written and produced by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder's frequent collaborator, and directed by actor Richard Haydn, who makes a cameo appearance under the pseudonym 'Richard Rancyd.' Ray Milland has a brief cameo, as himself, at the start of the film.

The Loved One

I wish I could have been there to see this movie upon its original release in 1965 and watch how everyone reacted. This movie broke so many rules in its day, and even today one can't get over how it really holds true to its spirit of having 'something to offend everyone!' as the tagline reads. Really, nothing is sacred here, and the movie revels in its mischief as it delightedly mocks everything from funeral businesses to sexual morals to mother-love and obesity (those last two together in an absolutely jaw-dropping way). All in all a fantastic dark comedy, wonderfully shot, energetically acted (Rod Steiger is a standout), and often laugh-out-loud funny -- even as the film's outlook on society is unquestionably grim. Believe me, this movie can still shock - just wait for that coffin-orgy scene.

Everything is Illuminated

How much creative control did Gogol Bordello have over this movie? I can't see how playing that loud 'Start Wearing Purple' song over the end credits would in any conceivable way serve the emotional quality the film seems to want to evoke. The film itself isn't great. There's memorable art direction with a striking color palette, but the movie's aesthetic is a little too showy. The offbeat tone of the film feels contrived, and the emotional scenes don't quite ring true -- they display sentimentality more than anything else. The pervading air of detachment isn't organic; though the journey is rather engaging, what we have overall is a film with an eye-catching artificial veneer but lacking authentic heart. It feels hipsterish, basically. Alex's fractured English is very amusing, though.

Tales From the Hood
½

I thought this was pretty good. It's a conscious throwback to earlier anthology horror works, most obviously 'Tales from the Crypt,' dressed up with themes related to African American culture. Spike Lee's production company made this, and there were definitely cinematically literate and intelligent people directly involved in its design. In particular I'll note how Corbin Bernsen is designed to strikingly resemble Klaus Kinski -- right down to the hair -- when his character becomes paranoid. There's a good deal of clever humor here as well. David Alan Grier is great in a menacing role.

A Boy and His Dog
½

A droll post-apocalyptic tale of a young Don Johnson searching for sustenance in the desert along with his dog, who can talk to him telepathically. Tim McIntire, who composed the film's music score along with Ray Manzarek of The Doors, speaks the dog's lines in cynical voice-over while the dog just sort of does its thing. The movie is nicely bizarre and funny, with some pretty outrageous depictions of the dystopian future society. Beware, though: the version on instant Netflix is heavily cropped to fit regular TV screens.

Yoo-hoo, Mrs. Goldberg
½

An informative documentary about Gertrude Berg, the writer, actress, and creator of The Goldbergs, a pioneering family sitcom on radio and then television, forerunner of many more famous ones to come, including 'Seinfeld' and Norman Lear's work. It was an urban sitcom set in the Bronx; late in its run, the setting was moved to the suburbs like the other family sitcoms, whereupon the show apparently became much less interesting. The movie explains the show's relevance and impact as well as the society it reflected, including the very sad story of a lead actor who was blacklisted in the Red Scare despite attempts by Berg and company to keep him employed. Berg was quite popular in her time and pretty influential. A good look at the life and legacy of a largely forgotten figure in entertainment.

Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump(1994)
½

Hanks gives a pretty good central performance. His character stays relatively fresh even when the movie around him falls into sentimentality. Had the attitude of the film overall been more like Forrest himself, looking at things from a slightly skewed perspective, this might have been a valuable and incisive work, perhaps along the lines of 'Being There.' Instead, since it follows boring cinematic conventions yet doesn't approach them with much skill or wit, it's quite mushy, though dazzling and clever in parts.

The Exorcist
The Exorcist(1973)
½

This movie hasn't aged terribly well, but it's still entertaining, albeit often as a grotesque sort of dark comedy. It's good to have Lee J. Cobb and Jack MacGowran on board. There's too little of Max von Sydow, who really deserved better in the final stand-off. The movie belongs to Mercedes McCambridge as the voice of the demon. Profane and mischievously menacing, she achieves an unforgettable outrageousness.

The Front
The Front(1976)

This film works because of its immediacy -- the fact that it was largely made by former blacklistees. Zero Mostel will break your heart in this. There's blood on your hands, HUAC.

All Good Things
½

Simply ridiculous. How many more 'jump!' moments could they have crammed into the last 10 minutes of the film? It's not like anything unexpected is happening.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

This film is poorly structured on every level, from the dialogue in the script to the pacing of the actual scenes, and ultimately to the overall layering of levels of perspective and reality. The film's world is not well put together to begin with, and the end just makes it fall apart even more in the name of open-endedness (read: the possibility of making sequels). Cheesiness and franchise mentality trump horror and craftsmanship -- though, to be fair, there wasn't a whole lot of each here to begin with.

Seeing this, though, made me really interested in figuring out how film devices become cheesy. Seriously, did anyone ever really think that techno chase music was in any way conducive to scariness? I find it hard to believe that this movie actually frightened a generation of viewers, and I genuinely wonder how this franchise gathered such a following.

The Apple
The Apple(1980)
½

A celebrated 'so-bad-it's-good' movie that actually lives up to the hype. An insane extravaganza of unabashed camp, 'The Apple' depicts a dystopian future (1994) in which society exists under a totalitarian regime run by the music industry -- they make you break into funky dance moves once a day and wear glittery triangles on your face. The head of said industry is Satan incarnate; he is played by Vladek Sheybal, who clearly relishes his performance: it's a delight to see him wink at the camera and to hear him pronounce the word 'master' ten different ways in the same musical number. The direction, by the incomparable Menahem Golan, often seems absentminded, but at other times one can sense a serious filmmaking intention on his part. The screenplay, which he also wrote, is terribly (delightfully) incoherent. Amazingly tacky art direction (station wagons with fins!), audaciously nonsensical choreography, and laugh-out-loud terrible song lyrics combine to form an unparalleled aesthetic experience, unforgettable in its awfulness. Featuring Miriam Margoyles's Jewish-mother-landlady act, and Joss Ackland playing both a hippie leader (who looks like a washed-up pirate) and a divine savior with a white car borne down from heaven in the glory of 1980's low-budget special effects. Golan told me he was utterly surprised by the film's cult success; I'm not sure what to make of that.

Gandhi
Gandhi(1982)

I'm not going to heap accolades on this. It's just not what I go for in movies. This is a mix of biography/history (summary and vignettes), spectacle, morality play, and travelogue. It's certainly very earnest, Kingsley's good and all, and the scope is often impressive, but... it's just not cinema. It's not art. It doesn't have vision, just location photography. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that it's directed by an actor. The celebrity cameos kind of detract from the nobility of the movie's aspirations. Although I did get a kick out of seeing Michael Hordern (one of the most amazing voices I've heard; he narrated 'Barry Lyndon'), though I did not catch Dominic Guard or Daniel Day-Lewis. I guess this will do all right if you wouldn't rather read a book about Gandhi but still want to get the gist -- that is, as far as popular imagination is concerned. It is meant to have a nice message and everything, and it did make me wonder who has the reigning cosmology in the world today. On whose terms do international relations operate?

Actually, here's a thought: the narrative is framed by news commentators observing Gandhi's funeral procession. To me, they are not so different from sports commentators. Thereafter, the film presents Gandhi's life the way these news people would likely envision it. (Martin Sheen plays the main news guy in the film's main storyline.) We don't really get a cinematic narrative. The film is ultimately not so different from the way TV structures real life into digestible stories. The presentation is lofty, yet shallow at the same time.

Inception
Inception(2010)

There's so much buzz about this film; I'm not sure whether it's for the right reasons. It's getting reviews with titles like 'Next Year at Marienbad.' Nolan is certainly no Resnais, nor is he of Lynch calibre, but he's ambitious and he tries, and his film overall works. It seems like a step toward breaking ground in building new types of narratives/metanarratives, but it's built within the confines of narrative structure as we are currently used to it. To start with, we have the perplexing notions of shared dreamscapes and messing with other people's subconsciouses, and then we get an action-heist story built around this. So basically, this is an okay thriller that involves truly fascinating notions of multiple nested dream levels. Occasionally the spatiotemporal relationships between these levels are exquisite; a lot of the time, however, the overarching composition is somewhat disappointingly artless (I wanted to see more of the labyrinthine character of the various worlds, more Escher, more cool architecture). The fascination of dreamscapes, though, and some truly striking - even profound - imagery and space manipulation, make the film more deeply involving, as viewers find how to situate themselves in the abstract structure (though not so much the physical space, disappointingly). Ultimately, as with any multilayered work, the power is in the reflexivity, as that relationship generates the more interesting questions. Inception of ideas is a pretty intricate concept. Who's really architecting reality, and whose reality is it?

The not-so-good: Hans Zimmer's score is loud and repetitive. The age makeup is distractingly artificial. I absolutely do not buy Ellen Page as an architectural genius. The action sequences are not terribly interesting by themselves; it is the fact that they're layered in interwoven dreamscapes that compels. In terms of spatial structure, the movie fails: well-architected space in film allows us to expand it into a full world that we can inhabit, but the architected world here is no more than the sum of what we see on the screen. (The movie promises to portray the human mind as physically structured space -- a hefty notion, certainly -- but it ultimately TELLS us this more so than it actually shows.) But some of the visuals hint at wonderful possibilities of future innovations. Take that warped-gravity sequence in the hotel corridors, for instance. It reminded me of Fred Astaire's famous ceiling dance in 'Royal Wedding' and the sheer wonder that it caused. Imagine being able to see something like that with added depth, being able to move the camera/viewing eye around over all three dimensions. And imagine that these dimensional enhancements could be combined with a more profound approach to reflexivity, to dreams and layers - deeper architecture. Won't that be something!

Cassandra
Cassandra(1987)
½

I sought out this film only because it was produced, and its score co-composed, by the Australian musician and music producer Trevor Lucas, who was married to the singer/songwriter Sandy Denny. It's basically your average horror whodunit in which our title heroine gradually discovers her family's twisted past as she attempts to identify the murderer. There are flashbacks, POV shots, and assorted eerie devices, but the movie is wholly unremarkable, including the music. It's an okay film, but I wouldn't suggest you go out of your way to find it.

The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard

Mediocre. The comedic sendup of the inspirational-underdog-success-story is becoming a genre in itself, and this is no better than par for the course. Some of the jokes work in their timing and/or absurdity, but overall there isn't a whole lot that's interesting here. Ving Rhames does his best with the material he's given, as does Craig Robinson, who has much funnier material elsewhere. Jeremy Piven can't really anchor the movie. And the little blurbs at the end explaining what happened to the characters after the movie has ended can sometimes add an extra layer by poking fun at what has transpired, but if the movie isn't interesting, as is the case with this one, then it's just not going to help.

My Dog Tulip
My Dog Tulip(2010)

A lovely and endearing animated film for adults, an adaptation of an actual memoir. The genuine emotion and investment that comes through in the animation is remarkable, especially considering it was all done in TVPaint. It's a must-see for all dog owners and dog lovers.

Dial M for Murder

I just got to see this in 3D. Man, Hitchcock really makes you conscious of your role as voyeur here, and the 3D definitely emphasizes that, as you're occupying the space as a peeping Tom. Spatially, the first half is more interesting than the second, but the rest of the film is engrossing too, if narrative-wise more than space-wise. Overall I was a lot more disturbed than the last time I saw it several years ago. The way Hitchcock sexualizes the murder attempt is unsettling, and one could argue that there's misogyny here as well -- the men control the story machinery and get the viewer's participation, while Grace is just there to get manipulated. Maybe. But this is definitely an important movie.

Patrik 1,5, (Patrik Age 1.5)
½

Unremarkable but ultimately endearing. Full review here: http://www.examiner.com/x-62315-NY-Indie-Movie-Examiner~y2010m8d6-In-Patrik-Age-15-controversy-takes-a-back-seat-to-family-drama

Toto le Héros (Toto the Hero)

'Toto the Hero' tells the story of Thomas, whom we see in childhood, adulthood, and old age. Thomas is a very ordinary person who has experienced a great deal of sadness in his life. Each troubling incident is somehow tied to Alfred, who was born on the same day as Thomas and raised in a more wealthy family. As their lives continue to intersect, Thomas feels that he has always rightfully deserved the life Alfred has. Jaco Van Dormael structures this film adeptly, weaving memories and fantasies throughout the story arc of the elderly Thomas as it builds toward its climax. The result is a deeply moving tale of love, loss, and the forces that shape a person's identity and purpose in life.

The Last of Sheila
½

A delightfully clever mystery from the unlikely screenwriting duo of Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim. It's fun, compelling, and full of smart jabs at the Hollywood crowd.

Great Directors

It must have been a great opportunity to get to talk at length to these ten filmmakers. As a film this is nothing remarkable - in fact, it's rather frustrating because it tries to confine the interviews with the directors into some arbitrary structure (sections on politics and Hollywood, for example). I would have liked to just see the filmmakers share their views, their words not manipulated by the demands of Ismailos's structure. Cavani and Sayles, and Breillat as well, deserved more screen time than they were given.

House of 1000 Corpses
½

Rob Zombie's horror-exploitation pastiche on steroids is overkill, in every sense of the word. The gore, copious as it is, isn't terribly offensive, and the humor is pretty much on target (though it's weird to see twisted depravity depicted with such exuberance, the material would be pretty hard to stomach otherwise), but there really doesn't seem to be a point. The 'Natural Born Killers'-style use of random cutaways and rapid changes in lighting and in film stock could potentially serve some clever reflexive commentary on overblown popular media, but as the film gets increasingly frantic, it feels like the disorientation is being done simply in order to disorient - and to enable the filmmakers to have fun doing lots of crazy stuff. There are random fun diversions to be found throughout, such as seeing people like Karen Black and Michael J. Pollard, and noticing the names lifted from Marx Brothers characters.

Across the Universe
½

Okay. To be honest, most of the dramatic scenes suck. Yes, they're terrible. The plot seems to have been written in one sitting by a couple of guys with a Beatles songbook and a pictorial summary of the 60s. This makes the first half or so rather agonizing; its musical numbers are competent enough but unremarkable (except for bits in the bowling alley and Joe Cocker's performance of 'Come Together'). The placement of 'Let It Be' is nearly groan-inducing, and we wonder why The Beatles' work is being used for such overly simplistic tripe. Then we come to the turning point - 'I Want You (She's So Heavy)' where the Uncle Sam posters come alive and reach out of the walls, and the entire space shifts. This is where Taymor's creative vision kicks into high gear, and therefore where the movie becomes significant. The reality-warping of the numbers in the rest of the film is extraordinary, and the wonderfully bizarre imagery drowns out the plot (mostly) for the rest of the movie, and we can ignore all those stupid character issues. When the free-form visual innovation becomes the main event, the great catalogue of music is finally being used in a way that means something and we can even forgive the filmmakers for the first part of the movie. Well, maybe - the film still has that annoying tendency to interpret certain lyrics literally (actually showing a picture of Chairman Mao? While they're singing 'Revolution'? Really?), which is just stupid and kind of discredits the really innovative stuff. The thing is, Taymor's genius lies in her boundless imagination, which is completely at odds with the hackneyed narrative bullshit. I want to see Taymor make a film consisting entirely of the former. Screw the latter. When this is accomplished, truly great cinema should result.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

I actually enjoyed this. Spielberg, Lucas and company pull out all the stops, throwing together a chaotic mix of huge, extravagant sight gags featuring swinging monkeys, fifties teens, and other assorted fodder. For the most part it's a lot of fun, though occasionally it tends more toward repetitiveness and tedium. It's a nice ride, yes, but couldn't all this money have been spent on something a little more, um... necessary? Actors like Cate Blanchett and John Hurt should be doing more productive things with their time.

Twin Peaks - Fire Walk with Me

Twin Peaks is perplexing, as it follows the TV-show model of attachment to characters within the confines of narrative, while Lynch is interested in traversing the assumed boundaries of space, time, logic - basically subverting everything that defines narrative in favor of what more closely resembles a dream. That's probably what turns a lot of people against this movie, as they go in looking for explanations and wind up in a strange netherworld with monkeys, strange sounds, and suffering manifested in the form of creamed corn. Lynch, of course, recognizes this, hence the presence of investigators (surrogate viewers) who are similarly lost. It's all quite cinematic, free from the constraints - and, simultaneously, the comforts - of the television world of Twin Peaks, departing from the reality we knew from there while also enhancing and expanding upon it. The film ranges from beautiful to disturbing to maddeningly bizarre, and these aspects are often combined. Laura Palmer's struggle, conveyed through Sheryl Lee's remarkable performance, is extremely powerful and affecting, but ultimately the mysterious paranormal elements are the most compelling. We can't resist the lure of the Black Lodge; its aura of the unknown continues to haunt us no matter how hard we try to explain it.

Silent Hill
Silent Hill(2006)
½

The really sad thing about this utter mess of a film is that there's definitely a very good movie buried somewhere deep underneath the stupidity. The mystery is really compelling, but it's overrun by ridiculous video-game nonsense (weapons to pick up, ludicrous monsters in horribly tedious chase sequences, and a truly laughable bit in which the main character tries to memorize a map). I'd watch Alice Krige in anything, but not even she can overcome the inanity here. What a shame.

The Room
The Room(2003)

I had a difficult time sitting through this, but when I look at it in retrospect I can't stop laughing. I don't know if I've ever seen another film of such staggering ineptitude. What is it supposed to be? I have no idea, but I guess that we're somehow all the better for it.

Hor B'Levana (Hole in the Moon)
½

Here's some sixties Israeli avant-garde. Before seeing this, my perception of Israeli film in 1964 was that the Israelis had no filmmaking experience or proper technology at the time (Sallah Shabati, for example, from the same year, looks quite dilapidated, with bugs visibly crawling on the camera lens, and the cinematographer was imported from Hollywood). This movie proves otherwise. The production values are quite good, and the filmmakers seem to know a lot about film. The movie interestingly juxtaposes Western cinematic and cultural ideas - Shakespeare, Felliniesque women, nods to the French New Wave, comedic theory - with content and identity that is uniquely Israeli - for example, the labor-Zionist propaganda film bits. So, while a Biblical-looking old man repeats 'To be or not to be,' the modern Israelis here contemplate what their main question is. It even has the self-reference element: the characters bring the shenanigans into existence merely by being filmmakers. Interestingly enough, the director/star, Uri Zohar, would eventually abandon filmmaking and its secular environment and devote himself to Orthodox Judaism. The duality never does go away.

The Saragossa Manuscript
½

A mind-blowing nested-narrative extravaganza, with stories within stories within stories that all tie together. The structure of this is so ingenious, and the reason the film is brilliant is because of its self-reflection: the movie is really about its own structure of layered narratives, which gets us to the really big ideas about perception and life itself. I really need to read the book on which this is based.

Showgirls
Showgirls(1995)
½

Do I even need to say how weird this is? Yeah, you feel kind of dirty watching it - maybe it's the novelty of seeing such a substantial budget and mainstream filmmaking team handling soft-core porn material - but there's really not that much to get offended about. It's basically your run-of-the-mill Hollywood rags-to-riches storyline about a simple girl who aspires to success and then gains it, only to find that the system is corrupt - except it's about strippers. Maybe the sheer normalcy of it is what makes this odd: we're made to expect something totally scandalous, but we get something really ordinary, only with more bare breasts. Kyle MacLachlan is awesome, as always, lending a bit of offbeat class to the dreary material.

The Watcher in the Woods
½

Eh. I'm a sucker for intriguing supernatural scenarios, but this one never really got off the ground. The main problem is that it's too constrained by being a kids' movie - the stakes are never high enough to evoke a threat that carries any weight. Plus they could have leveraged Bette Davis's presence a whole lot more. Pretty mediocre on the whole.

Strings
Strings(2004)

A fascinating idea - a marionette film, with their strings incorporated into their world - and you can tell that a lot of talent and tradition went into this, but unfortunately it's very plot-bound, and the richness of its background is not very accessible. The main thing wrong with this is that the universe isn't illustrated vividly enough for us to situate everything. Worth a look, though.

The Devils
The Devils(1971)
½

This is an extremely audacious movie, probably one of the most intense works of cinema I've ever seen. The most unsettling decision Ken Russell makes is probably to have the movie join in the frenzy and debauchery of the circus that the events in the film turn into - with crazy angles and rapid in-out-in-out zooms - rather than observing the drama sombrely as most 'serious' films probably would. It zealously shocks and disturbs, and depicts ridiculous amounts of sacrilege as well, and therefore it probably won't get the restoration it deserves; that is truly abominable. Featuring awesome sets (by Derek Jarman) and cinematography (by David Watkin).

The Red Shoes
½

I had the great fortune to see the restored print on the big screen. The ballet sequence that is the centerpiece of the film is the most stunningly beautiful piece of cinema I've seen in a long time.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

There really need to be more films like this getting made. Gilliam isn't necessarily a great filmmaker or storyteller, but his imagination is absolutely amazing. The story here gets a little out of hand at times, and the pace drags occasionally in the non-fantastic parts of the film, but the visual splendor makes it all worth seeing. As it seems there's a great dearth of imagination in the film industry, we really need more Imaginariums out there on our movie screens. Let the great imaginations flow, Hollywood!

Robin and Marian

This movie ponders some pretty deep questions about what heroism really is and the price of being a legend. Here, Robin Hood is aging, past his prime, and wrestling with the need to live up to his myth. There's great poignancy to this film; it recognizes that violence is not to be taken lightly, that lives are actually at stake. This isn't all rollicking fun, since people are getting killed, and it doesn't really seem like there's much of a cause behind all the fighting; Robin and the Sheriff resume their fighting seemingly more out of habit than anything else. When the people join Robin's band, they do so because they want to be part of the legend - they expect the fun and excitement we associate with the storybook Robin Hood (and the most popular previous film versions) and aren't prepared for the very real risk of being killed. The final duel between Robin and the Sheriff is great: two tired men heaving blows at each other with all the might they have left. Battered, broken, and bleeding, they push on in a fight to the death. The reason for their feud, if there was one, doesn't matter; by now it's become fighting for its own sake, and it's soberingly effective. The downside to the film is that it's uneven. Richard Lester is too deeply rooted in fun and physical humor to abandon those things, so there are comedic fights in here too, and they don't really mesh with the seriousness - though he still laces them with a hints of brutality: the good guys don't just knock the bad guys over as in sight gags; Robin clearly dispatches one by slitting his throat. Lester did a better job integrating the funny with the serious in How I Won the War, in which the absurdity of war was exactly the point to highlight the tragedy. Also, the character of Robin Hood isn't fully cohesive: early in the film he seems to want to just stop fighting, weary of 20 years of bloodshed in the Crusades, but later on he's addicted to the warrior lifestyle and becomes the attacker. His development from the one to the other isn't adequately fleshed out. Overall, though, largely due to the magnificent chemistry between Connery and Hepburn, the film mostly succeeds as a wryly affecting elegy for popular myth and the people behind it.

Random observations: I'm not a scholar on this, but I think that depiction of the Middle Ages in film changed a great deal after Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Since Richard Lester's crowd in large part paved the way for Python, I think it's fitting for me to make these observations while looking at this film, which he directed the year after Python's Grail film was made. The Python film gave Medieval outfits an irreversible sense of silliness; in Robin and Marian as well, you can't help but notice that those cylindrical helmets are awfully clunky-looking (in the opening scene, as two knights bend down facing each other to pick up a large rock, their helmets bump against each other - a wonderfully Pythonesque image), and that one guy's armor looks awfully like chicken feathers, which I'm sure Lester noticed, as it's very much in keeping with his style of accentuating - mildly, but just enough - the absurd little details in his scenes. (Perhaps the multiple close-ups of the heads of fowl in the film are meant to complement the featherlike armor.) This strikes me as a particularly Lesterlike way of making a point that the popular myths are a tad too rose-colored; real life just couldn't have been quite as smooth and dashing as those stories make it seem. (My other favorite touch was the prominence of Connery's balding head in his love scenes with Hepburn.) It seems to me that the alternative to embracing the silliness in depicting Medieval combat is to go the Ridley Scott route and be all-out brutal and hardcore. Since he and Russell Crowe are just now revamping Robin Hood, I think it may be apt to bring up a comparison.

Masked and Anonymous

This is a strange project, and I suspect that most people who watch it do so mainly because it's such a novelty. It's centered around Bob Dylan, playing basically a version of a concept of himself, Jack Fate, a once-famous musician hired by corrupt promoters to perform at a benefit concert in some country where there's a revolution going on. Dylan is in his aimless rambler mode, and since he co-wrote the film as well in that same mode, the movie itself is kind of just aimless rambling, as Dylan interacts with an awesome supporting cast, though all their characters are pretty one-dimensional. It's nice to watch and listen to Dylan here as well as the rest of the cast; they all speak in comfortably worn and vague metaphors. You get the feeling that it's all meant to represent something, but you're never really able to figure out what the point is. Maybe the filmmakers didn't either, and were content to just build a film that meanders about an enigma at its core. Still interesting, though.

Sunshine
Sunshine(2007)
½

Forget the plot, or at least the narrative developments. The story - in particular, the slasher-film turn of the plot - is bogus. But the magnitude of this thing, the sheer scope of how it overpoweringly warps your senses at its climax - that's amazing. It absolutely goes above and beyond in that regard, and this film should be recognized for that achievement. Really monumental.

The Magic Christian

What a crazy movie! It doesn't really have a plot so much as a series of odd skits. Generally these are centered on the idea that everyone can be made willing to do absolutely anything, no matter how bizarre or grotesque, if paid off with enough money, but much of the movie is completely random: offbeat interplay between Peter Sellers and Ringo, many aimless bits, a lot of guest appearances (oh man, Laurence Harvey's striptease Hamlet, and that green-colored chanteuse scene with Roman Polanski and... wait for it... Yul Brynner! Wow!). The mad extravaganza sequence, in which all hell breaks loose on a ship (including a familiar vampire who comes pretty much out of nowhere), makes the shocking final setup (which is supposed to be the clincher for the people-will-do-anything-for-money theme) almost anticlimactic, and some of the aimless material (especially early on) doesn't really go anywhere, but there's enough really effective stuff in here to make it worthwhile. The director doesn't necessarily have the visual mastery of someone like Richard Lester, who's associated with films in this vein, but he makes sure to fill the screen with strange material (random nuns passing by and such). Sellers, really, seems to be the driving force behind this (and does a lot of the voice-overs for unimportant characters). This movie is actually pretty damn subversive; some scenes are so striking as to be nearly worthy of How I Won the War, O Lucky Man!, or maybe even Sweet Movie. (And its hallway tracking shots are similar to The Shining.) I guess John Lennon and Yoko were keen on this project too. A pretty wicked time, it must have been.

The original tagline reads: 'The Magic Christian is: antiestablishmentarian, antibellum, antitrust, antiseptic, antibiotic, antisocial, & antipasto.' Yeah, that about sums it up.

Little Miss Sunshine
½

I enjoyed it and everything, but there's something about this movie and others like it that really bothers me. Basically, this movie gets attention and praise for being 'different' and 'independent,' but it's fundamentally just a mainstream story with some quirky characterizations to dress it up. These sorts of movies actually adhere very closely to the narrative formula while pretending not to, and they get lauded essentially for their pretense. That's deeply bothersome.

Avatar
Avatar(2009)

This movie should be seen as the next step forward from Fantastic Planet - a movie to be valued not for its line of narrative, but for the depth of its subtext and visual innovation. The narrative of Avatar, as many have said, is extremely one-dimensional and employs every evil-colonialism/corporate-machine-versus-angelic-indigens cliché in the book (with some phrases like 'shock and awe' thrown in for the current liberal crowd). But, just as Fantastic Planet was innovative in extending the notion of the consciousness, Avatar makes parallel innovation pertaining to the soul. The notion of a common soul and a deep, omnipresent spiritual bond is great, and its effect is much more powerful than that of the narrative. Also, ironically, the peaceful nature bond of the good guys here is completely antithetical to the very idea of an action movie, which is, by nature, a way for the audience to get off on violence. And that's how this film ironically climaxes: the forces of good and bad unite in an epic spectacle of collectively thrilling to the adrenaline rush of killing.

The visuals are astounding, though Pandora, as good as it looks, still feels like a computer-world. With all the innovations they've made in CGI, why does no one seem to be able to achieve lifelike definition in facial contours for computer-generated characters? The Na'vi are just too smooth.

It's entertaining to notice the similarities to Fantastic Planet: the larger humanoids are blue, and both films visually illustrate bonds that extend outside the realms of the physical (the mind in the older film, the soul in this one). In this category, I fault Avatar for skimping on the Na'vi mating. Fantastic Planet's mating scene was one of the most strikingly novel and profoundly beautiful depictions of the union of body and mind. I can only imagine how great Avatar's innovation in that realm could have been, considering its strength in showing spiritual bonds manifested physically. Instead, we just have a few seconds of cuddling, the camera shying away. What a loss.

In short: yes, this film is innovative as well as entertaining (in sometimes contradictory ways), despite the mediocrity of the storyline. Cameron has assembled a wonderful visual/technical team, and the sight of what they can accomplish is astonishing. I can only imagine what will happen when the really great and intelligent filmmaking masters come to harness these new tools.

Watchmen
Watchmen(2009)

This movie is a bizarre patchwork of sequences that are either campy (often due to music choice) or so meticulously designed down to the last detail that they fail to come alive. The design thing stifles the actors too - they're treated not like actors but like part of the design. Carla Gugino is no more part of the scene than her age makeup is. This is clearly the work of a visually ambitious but unintelligent filmmaker. He crafts striking tableaux (though mostly he reconstructs them from the images of the graphic novel) but can't construct a long-form narrative cinematically. Obviously no adaptation of Watchmen would do complete justice to the original, because the fact that it's a comic book is its whole raison d'etre, but a really good artist could have done wonderful things with structure - clockwork, for example, provided a huge opportunity that was missed. Some parts of the film are actually exciting, and it's all great to look at, but overall it's just sort of lifeless. It takes more than reverence for images to make a good film. My favorite thing in the film just might have been the presence of Mickey from Seinfeld, in what is perhaps the film's most lively role.

Pet Sematary
Pet Sematary(1989)

Bad horror films are so weird for me - especially when they contain some actually effective moments. This has a couple instances that might fit well in a real, serious movie, but they're just extremely jarring when placed amid a slew of really bad cheesy scenes and bizarre throwaway one-liners. The movie veers quite unpredictably between camp and material that seems genuinely serious or disturbing. And Herman Munster is in it.

The Tale of the Fox (Le Roman de Renard)

It's not so much one tale as a bunch of short tales strung together to make a feature. This was in fact the only feature from Starewicz, the early master of stop-motion animation. Very episodic but extremely clever, and a remarkable technical achievement that set the bar for stop-motion for many years. It's also rather cynical, showing how the devious, cheating fox always manages to get out of every situation and never loses his control over all the other animals. Very unjustly overlooked. Hopefully the homage paid to it by the recent Fantastic Mr. Fox (it owes an awful lot to Starewicz) will get more people to notice this one, but somehow I doubt this will get the recognition it deserves.

Inglourious Basterds
½

This is a nifty idea: a tongue-in-cheek, reference-laden alternate-history piece in which the entire fate of the Third Reich is literally contained in a cinema. A disjointed film, for sure, but it's got some good scenes and a nice construct in a dreamworld of history woven from impressions of old movies. My favorite scene was probably the one with Mike Myers and Michael Fassbender talking about UFA, with Rod Taylor (!) as Churchill sitting in the background. Toward the end it really got into an entertaining, exciting groove, but then suddenly I felt weird: do we really need this? Do we really need to machine-gun a dead Hitler, with Eli Roth as our Jewish revenge-seeking surrogate? I'm still not sure. I liked the tender Hitler-Goebbels chemistry, though.

Young Mr. Lincoln
½

Abraham Lincoln. He's a young guy. Doesn't talk much, and when he does he talks pretty slowly, but he knows a few things. He reads a lot. He's a pretty good thinker. He has a gawky backwoods charm. He plays the Jew's harp. And you don't want to go up against him in a rail-splitting contest. Oh, and he can quiet down a lynch mob and kick ass in a courtroom defending murder suspects. Betcha no one figured he could do that, huh? That's the film in a nutshell; an entertaining picture, a nice yarn of American lore spun by John Ford.

Burn After Reading

I'm a sucker for sendups of bureaucracy, so the way this was wrapped up was really effective for me. What do all these wacky shenanigans amount to? Nothing more than an infinitesimal void between the obscured back pages in the records of a big corporation.

Protocols of Zion
½

Interesting but disappointing. Marc Levin takes the fascinating subject of anti-Semitism and conducts some explorations into potentially loaded territory (interviews with neo-Nazis, street thugs, Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, and such) in order to ask and answer the big questions about it. Unfortunately, he doesn't dig deep enough. He conducts some nice interviews and gets some interesting opinions and notable quotations (e.g. the white supremacist who says he doesn't consider Hitler to have been suicidal), but he doesn't really go anywhere beyond scratching the surface. He goes for breadth rather than choosing to explore the depths, which makes this merely a thought-provoking starting point for discussion rather than an innovative film.

The Ring
The Ring(2002)
½

I'm very iffy when it comes to 'horror' films. Probably because I just don't respond to 'scare' moments and such conventions. In terms of imagery and construction, though, this is really rather good, especially the amazing centerpiece that is the mysterious video (how can you not go for the concept of people being randomly killed by video art?). The overall look of the film works too - all those greys. Yes, it does have its token sudden 'jump!' bits, but the atmosphere and visuals are haunting and mysterious enough to warrant a viewing.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Eh. The movie is entertaining enough, but something's missing. Everything seems to go too fast, too frenetically. The animation style works at times but is generally disconcerting - especially in the hoedown scene when the camera is supposed to be doing a circular pan, but in fact it moves in a straight line. The spatial design is frustrating; things are too flat. I admire the animation's nod to Starewicz's Tale of the Fox, but Starewicz handled space (and cynicism) far more effectively. (Also, in Starewicz's films, characters didn't talk too much.) There are a couple clear references to Disney's Robin Hood - the hoedown scene is one, and in an early scene you can hear the 'Love' song from Robin Hood being played - but those only serve to highlight how Anderson tries and fails to measure up to the older movie: that film had extremely charming characters (foxes and others) and a Roger Miller soundtrack; Anderson's movie's characters aren't as appealing, and the music by Desplat, who has written brilliant film scores before, is pretty average, aside from some welcome touches of bluegrass banjo and Jew's harp. The Anderson-Baumbach style of overtly idiosyncratic and self-conscious dialogue (making a big deal of characters' 'issues' and having them wonder out loud about existentialism) is annoying and feels labored; it doesn't help the story. And the title font is still irritating. [On a side note, the way the rat character moves reminded me of Jesus from The Big Lebowski.] Yes, this film has its moments, and there's some fun to be had, but at the core, where the soul should be, it's just sort of... empty. The Wallace & Gromit feature, to name one film in a similar vein, is far better. I can just imagine Roald Dahl's reaction to this one: in his cold, sneering voice, he's croaking out something to the effect of: Who let these bloody hipsters loose on my estate?

The Rising (Mangal Pandey)
½

To be honest, movies like Braveheart and Spartacus are really not a whole lot better than this. And Spartacus, at least, is definitely inferior to this one. An entertaining Bollywood epic with musical numbers.

The Day of the Locust
½

This is a movie that builds slowly but surely, the intensity hidden below the surface finally erupting in a climax that has to rank as one of the most horrifying sequences in film history. Unpleasant, difficult, scathing, and ultimately shattering. On a side note, I heard René Clair get mentioned in a line of background dialogue. Pretty cool.

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

Despite its setting and the year it was made, this movie is shockingly appropriate for our current media-obsessed generation. People slave and humiliate themselves to horrifying lengths, and it's all for the sake of the show that's being put on. The viewers - us - gobble it down; we'll watch anyone suffer in order to feel good about ourselves. How is the harrowing and cruelly exploitive dance marathon in this film any different from the degradation found in today's reality TV?

The Year of Living Dangerously

Good, but I wanted more of those shadow puppets. They were the richest material in the film, but severely underused.

Lola Montès
Lola Montès(1955)

I'm so glad to have seen this on the big screen. It is the very definition of lush - everything just looks so gorgeous, and the vivid colors and the opulence and the spectacle are simply intoxicating. This visual beauty, as well as the fascinating framing device of the circus reenactment, draws us in seductively. It starts to drag somewhat toward the end, and there is quite a bit of melodrama, but maybe that's the point: what, in the grand scheme of things, is all this - empty pursuit of social climbing, hollow pleasures - is it all just folly, cheap showmen's fodder after which kisses of this beautiful woman can be bought for a dollar? And still the spectacle in all its CinemaScope glory bowls us over. Now that there's a newly restored print, hopefully this movie can be more widely seen as it was originally intended.

And Then There Were None

Agatha Christie's classic mystery is reimagined stylishly under the deft hand of director René Clair. The result is a damn good suspense film laced with impeccable dark comedy. The cast is superb, and there are also some interesting camera angles and framing to be found here.

Meduzot (Jellyfish)
½

A very fine film co-directed by one of Israel's most compellingly offbeat writers, Etgar Keret (whom I met once, actually). Despite a few clichés here and there, this is overall a quite enthralling work. And it's great to see veteran Israeli actors Assi Dayan and (especially welcome) Zaharira Harifai.

WALL-E
WALL-E(2008)

A lot of this movie is poetic and beautiful. Unfortunately, it suffers from overreliance on conventions like standard chase music and a sound effects-driven depiction of outer space, not to mention some typical plot clichés. And Peter Gabriel over the end credits. I would have liked more of the contemplative silence that characterized the fascinating early sequences. This is a very good film, and on the journey toward really branching off and ceasing to depend on formula, toward making a true masterpiece, Pixar's getting there. But for now, the corporation wins.

On the other hand, if there had been more silence then there wouldn't have been anything to drown out the annoying kids in the back of the theatre.

Fred Willard plays the role he was specifically put on this earth to portray.

The Villain
The Villain(1979)
½

This is basically a mediocre attempt to recreate a Warner Brothers cartoon with a live-action film. It doesn't quite work, of course. The film has little structure, just a series of setups for Kirk Douglas (as the Wile E. Coyote/Yosemite Sam character) to try to hold up young Schwarzenegger (the straight man, and pretty dull, really), who's escorting horny Ann-Margret, who keeps coming on to him, but he's not picking up on her innuendos. Obviously, as the cartoon formula dictates, each segment ends with Douglas's trap failing miserably and usually injuring him instead. I'm not sure why Douglas tries so hard to play a cartoon character (and he doesn't seem quite sure either). Featuring some nice familiar faces, such as Jack Elam and, in his last film role, Paul Lynde, playing an Indian chief aptly named Nervous Elk. For some reason, the Indians' horses have swastikas painted on them, and I think I heard the Indians saying 'Schnell.' Bizarre.

Bruno
Bruno(2009)
½

Sacha Baron Cohen's meditation on the absurd nature of celebrity. Though the film is generally much more lowbrow than the above label, it actually does kind of have some sort of reflexivity to that effect. I'm not sure what to think of the movie, though. It's often hilarious in its offensiveness, though some bits seemed rather offensive-for-offensiveness's-sake, and I wasn't sure whether parts of it were even funny. Such, I suppose, is the style that Cohen and Larry Charles have adopted for their films - the crazy barrage of gross-out gags comes with the humor. Actually, the way the TV-show-to-movie transfer is handled is one of the main bothersome aspects of the Bruno film. I love Da Ali G Show immensely. Bruno, I feel, was the weakest character, but he was great for taking swipes at the hypocrisies and vapidity of celebrity and fashion culture. Much of the most successful comedic material in the film reflects that: the talk about Britney Spears's sister's baby, for instance, and the scene with the consultants for taking up humanitarian causes in order to boost one's image (seriously, who were those women? Was their extreme ditziness for real?). I really wanted to see more of Bruno's fashion program; there really should have been a whole scene of the 'In oder aus?' discussion - the horror of seeing issues like autism reduced to simply being either 'in' or passé is the essence of Bruno's humor. Of course, for the movie, though, they need more wild globetrotting fish-out-of-water gags, and lots of shocks. The baby photoshoot is an example of a shock that works well because it's in keeping with what makes Bruno's character work - shameless, horribly offensive mockeries being used for dumb egotistical self-promotion. His TV-show pitch works well too for the same reason. The more lowbrow homophobia exposés are appropriate, too, I guess, because that sort of thing is in character. Many of the other gags feel somewhat worn, though. Bruno playing dumb while interviewing high-up people feels like recycled Ali G material, and the martial-arts scene, to name one, is something that Borat basically did during the show, except here Bruno gives it a gay-themed twist. The scene with the psychic is essentially a retread of an older Bruno sketch that Cohen did for the show, except for the movie he takes it farther (and gets some laughs in doing so). Another problem is that Cohen seems to have reached the point where he's too tired to do this kind of intensive character humor any more. He has far less energy to invest in Bruno now than he did for Borat in that movie. It's time for him to move on to something else; he definitely has enough talent as a comedic actor in order to do that.

When it comes down to it, though, the Bruno film does have enough inventive and funny material to keep it engaging; the filmmakers had the good sense to structure the climax of the plot into a scenario that could be played out in front of a throng of unsuspecting viewers. And the final scene has some big laughs as well. I wish the outrageous humor could have been more focused on the strong areas of Bruno's character instead of following too closely in Borat's footsteps. However, the general focus on celebrity culture, though it could be tighter, works well. (Although if any character could have headlined a real masterpiece sendup of the cult of celebrity, it would have been Bruno.)

Skidoo
Skidoo(1968)

Oh, my. You need to see this one to believe it. It starts off as just a really mediocre gangster comedy in which Jackie Gleason gets into prison to bump off a snitch, but things go completely bonkers when he accidentally takes LSD. His hallucinations include Mickey Rooney dancing and Groucho Marx's head on a rotating screw. The rest of the people in the prison - including Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin ('I'm seeing an angel! I am an angel!'), Slim Pickens, Jaws from the James Bond movies, and Peter Lawford - follow Gleason's example and wind up inadvertently tripping balls themselves; dancing garbage cans, naked football players, and general mayhem ensue. Throw in a bunch of hippies, Carol Channing (in an old-timey general's uniform and a platinum-blond wig) singing the title song, and Groucho (in his final role, donning that greasepaint mustache once again) as the mob boss who ultimately sails off into bliss (the sails on the boat read 'Peace' and 'Love') smoking pot with Austin Pendleton while they wear hippie robes, and you've got this astonishingly odd mess of a movie. Harry Nilsson sings the end credits (and I mean that quite literally). I don't know how the hell Otto Preminger made this movie; I guess it had something to do with him dropping acid during production. (Groucho took LSD as well.) It's really something else to watch all these well-known figures trying to be hip and groovy. Wow. Those were the days.

Fata Morgana
Fata Morgana(1971)

I have no idea why I didn't grasp the fact that John Renbourn, one of my favorite musicians, was on the soundtrack of this movie the first time I saw it. As for the film, it's trippy, bizarre, surreal, beautiful, confounding... in short, pure Herzog.

A Time to Love and a Time to Die
½

Sirk's masterpiece, perhaps? An eloquent treatment of war, it puts a human face on the Germans of the Second World War, and in doing so it reminds us of the humanity that is unavoidably present in everything. We can never ignore humanity or human accountability, especially in times of war. A powerful and heartbreaking work.

Lured
Lured(1947)

Nice little Scotland Yard noir-type mystery from early in Sirk's Hollywood career. Good cast, nice images, and an absolutely smashing cameo by Boris Karloff.

EDIT: I should add that watching this film at a time when news reports are widely covering the 'Craigslist killer' brings out an entirely new dimension to the film, a rather complex one of hidden fantasies found deviant by society, a theme that Sirk would go on to probe in his most famous films. Fascinating stuff.

Love and Death

A lot of the jokes are rather dull, and pretty much every character seems to have been written for Woody to play (although the latter is the case with pretty much every Woody Allen movie), but if you can get past that, then there's some really great stuff to be found here, particularly the toying with Bergman compositions (the 'wheat' dialogue toward the end) and references to all sorts of material (the patchwork religious affirmation monologue, for instance) that resonate really well.

First Love
First Love(1970)

This is an awfully strange adaptation of the classic Turgenev novella. Dominique Sanda is gorgeous, and of course Sven Nykvist photographs her to perfection - visually it's all quite lush and colorful - but the thin storyline can't quite take such overmelodramatization. (A lot of it seems to be just a framework for Sven to go all-out, which is superb if all you want to do is look at scenery in many beautiful ways.) There are several 'what-the-fuck!?' moments and some bizarre 'artistic' sequences that are pretty incomprehensible. The period of this period piece is very ambiguous, and the music comes way out of left field. Among the cast are the wonderful Dandy Nichols (no one is better at playing annoying and decrepit old ladies) and an outrageous John Osborne (probably best known as a playwright) as the weirdo who creepily recites bad poetry while herding pigs. With close-ups of the pigs' rear ends. Told you it was weird, didn't I?

Taking Off
Taking Off(1971)

A little hidden gem from the early 70s, this was Milos Forman's first American film. Lynn Carlin and Buck Henry are two uptight parents who learn to loosen up after their daughter runs away. The comic timing is great in this droll adventure through the counterculture, punctuated by singers (including Carly Simon and a young Kathy Bates) who lend a sense of freshness and honesty to the experience. Highlights include the girl sweetly singing the 'fuck' song while playing the lute, and the hilarious scene in which Vincent Schiavelli teaches the fashionable society crowd how to smoke a joint. Overall, with its humor, music, and spirit, the film impeccably captures the time period. It should be seen on a triple bill with Hair and Swedish Fly Girls.

A Tale of Two Cities
½

Classic Hollywood storytelling at its best.

The Reader
The Reader(2008)

I'm not quite sure what to make of this. It's engaging and powerful and thought-provoking - and actually affecting rather than being all cold and highbrow as such Oscar-season films are wont to do - but what does it all add up to? It's difficult for me to put together. There are pretty much two distinct stories here: the affair and the trial/aftermath. I guess they're connected by the ideas of secrecy and coming to terms with the past; you can try to escape reality through sex and blissful ignorance and forming your own little world, but your past will eventually catch up with you and your future will be impacted. There's also the question of whether you can love someone without knowing who they really are, or whether you can love someone in spite of the choices they've made. The issue I'm struggling with is the legitimacy of using the Holocaust as subject matter for such a story. Is it motivated? Is there any major reason necessitating the Holocaust material here other than to exploit it for Oscar-baiting? I'm not sure there is. I was somewhat disturbed to see, on this movie's IMDb page, a photo of Elie Wiesel at the movie's New York premiere. I'm not sure I should be, but the Holocaust is a tremendously serious and delicate issue, and I'm wary of people simply using it to up the potency or 'importance' of their work. (The movie actually keeps such concerns in mind, best expressed in the speech Lena Olin gives toward the end.) However, The Reader did strike me as a good film, so I'll leave it at that for now and continue pondering on my own. Lena Olin and Bruno Ganz were probably my favorite things in the movie.

Doubt
Doubt(2008)
½

A real field day for the three main actors. The performances aren't brilliant, but they're powerhouses - it's all about them. You can tell that Streep, especially, relishes her material (watch the way her mouth moves). The film's theatrical basis is pretty clear, and perhaps this sort of thing - characters going head-to-head - is better suited to a play. How does cinema enhance this piece in which most key scenes are between two or three individuals? I guess the close-ups give us a better opportunity to speculate on where the characters actually stand, but the 'opening up for the screen' material doesn't really leave an imprint. The movie isn't actually about child abuse; it's about different worldviews clashing with each other: absolute decisiveness, absolute compassion, doubt. (Though these attitudes are connected to how the church functions as an institution, but that's inherent.) Hence the restriction of the action to the four principals; we don't get to know the children well or get any major revelations from them because they're not the focus, they're only there to set the issues in motion. Does the movie bring any great insight to the nature of truth or power or faith that we didn't already know coming in? No, but it gives us something to think about, and for the time being we're content to watch the sparks fly.

The Public Eye
½

The act of following, with the wordless communication between the two people involved, has so many delicate nuances. This movie contains those nuances. That's what it should be viewed for. That and Topol, who's always a joy to watch. The thing is, filmmaking-wise, it's far from Carol Reed's best. The filmmaking style at times feels mediocre. But it just has all that feeling below the surface - it's not so much cinematically expressed as it is purely felt. John Barry's haunting, lovely score helps bring out the full range of that feeling, which is the movie's best quality.

Portrait of Jennie

How do you film love? How can one convey, on a movie screen, a love that transcends space and time, life and death? Big, daunting questions - and they are dealt with as such; not much subtlety is to be found in this tempestuous Dieterle/Selznick production. But it still rings true, conveying love through the title image and the nice conflation of the canvas texture to the image onscreen. The cinematography is fantastic, with all those lights shining through mist and those mammoth rolling heavenly storm clouds. The most arresting image for me was the shot of Jennie's unfinished portrait, half of her not there... very fitting. Of course, then, they go over the top and roll out the spectacular green-tinted sea-storm sequence and the full-color reveal in the final shot. Very romantic and grandiose, with a great spiral staircase (reminiscent of Vertigo, which would come 10 years later - and Bernard Herrmann contributed to the music here too) and overall a great image sense. It works. With its being a supernatural romance, I'm glad I saw this close to Benjamin Button (which also addresses that first question in interesting ways) as well as during a period of Twilight Zone marathons.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

You might think that Eric Roth simply wrote another Forrest Gump, but that's not quite the case. True, this film has its brushes with cliche (e.g., 'It's God's way of reminding me I'm lucky to be alive') and is pretty episodic, but it never succumbs to pure sentimentality. Fincher's film is more mature, and its emotional power is genuine. It's beautifully filmed and well acted, but there's just something holding the movie back, keeping it from being great. I can't quite put my finger on what that is. Maybe I felt that the straightforwardness of the narrative obscured the more fascinating aspects of Button's life and physiological trajectory, the bizarre stuff, the 'curious,' such as what it's like to be old and a child at the same time. Maybe the movie opted for a more broadly 'meaningful' message than what I sought. I wish they could have more deeply explored the intricacies of the supporting characters, particularly Tilda Swinton's, as well as the intricacies of life, of this world. There's one sequence that really attempts this - the dissection of the moment of the car accident, the minute details intervolving like the gears of a clock. But other than that, the story just moves along. For a tale bookended by that wonderful elegiac clock, I guess there just wasn't as much focus as I wanted on the inner workings (clockwork) of life. But the filmmakers opted for a more human-narrative approach, and they do well with their choice. What we end up with is a lovely, touching, haunting film about life and its ephemerality. Perhaps it isn't quite the film I wanted, but it's a good film nonetheless.

Matilda
Matilda(1996)
½

Roald Dahl had a sick and twisted mind, which is what made him great. The way this is styled is quite Dahlian, more so than I remembered from watching it as a kid. The story is rather well suited to De Vito's rather nasty sense of humor. Dahl, of course, could be much, much darker; if you've read his non-children's work you'll know how seriously messed up it gets. Actually, you need to see him personally introducing stories like in his old TV shows, Way Out and then the more well-known Tales of the Unexpected, to see the full extent of his twistedness. For screen adaptations of Dahl, Matilda is one of the better ones; the best is The Witches, directed by Nicolas Roeg.

Stairway to Heaven (A Matter of Life and Death)
½

What a sweepingly beautiful film! The art direction and cinematography are marvelous - such vivid colors and amazing effects, particularly that astounding staircase. So wonderful, and so, so classic.

Slumdog Millionaire

Cinema Paradiso meets City of God, with a little bit of Quiz Show thrown into the mix. This movie is at times extremely predictable, but it makes up for that with its pulsating energy and vibrant spirit.

The Queen of Spades
½

I kind of wish this had been silent except for the music by the magnificent Georges Auric. The imagery is great, and Walbrook has the perfect look, but every time he speaks, things just get really cheesy. Aside from that, though, this is quite good.

Paperhouse
Paperhouse(1989)

Watching The Ring recently reminded me of this equally well-crafted psychological-supernatural tale. The concept of dreaming and drawing a world into being is so fascinating; it stuns me to the core. Inevitably the film is imperfect and doesn't quite live up, as films with brilliant concepts so often do, but the idea still pierces through, and the dreamlike force that drives this film is gripping. It has a great aesthetic as well.

Witches of Salem

The first film version of The Crucible, made by the French because of course no American who feared for his own safety would have filmed it during the period of the McCarthyist 'witch hunts.' Though the film is still set in 1692 Massachusetts, it feels very European - obviously influenced by Dreyer, though Rouleau isn't as cinematically fluent a director. Having performed in the play The Crucible, I find it extremely hard to distance myself from it enough to judge this film adequately. The performances are good, though; Montand and Signoret are strong lead performers, and Mylene Demongeot, with whom I'm not familiar, is fantastic as the lustful, crafty Abigail. Jean-Paul Sartre adapted the play for the screen, and, aside from some preachiness and banality, he writes a film of great power. A very effective film of religious people who, through their own overzealousness to conform, ultimately bring about their own hell.

Britannia Hospital

Lindsay Anderson's most obvious satire. For some reason, I'm not quite sure what, it simply doesn't measure up to the genius of its predecessors, If.... and O Lucky Man! Perhaps because it sort of gets lost in the excess of its own irateness. Despite this, the movie shouldn't be dismissed. I think a lot of people don't like this because they expect it to be more like the previous two, and it isn't - Travis (McDowell) isn't even the main character here. As satire, it's still pretty sharp, and overall it's very good - it just doesn't go above and beyond like Anderson's masterpieces.

A Child Is Waiting

This is the first Cassavetes film I've seen. It's a film from early in his career that demonstrates the scope of his talent for directing actors. Judy Garland and Burt Lancaster give strong performances, as does Gena Rowlands, but what really stands out here is the interaction between the actors and the children, many of whom actually have the disabilities that their characters have. The relationships played here are so natural and honest and intimate - qualities that are so hard to pull off, but Cassavetes achieves them with these characters. Overall, a remarkable early work from a genuinely gifted filmmaker.

Trapped in the Closet: Chapters 13-22

Some of the concepts begun in this part are rather interesting in principle/potential. R. Kelly seems to want to try to play with multiple overlapping layers of narrative, to want to make this decade's answer to the original Singing Detective. However, none of it quite goes anywhere, since R. Kelly has no idea what to do, and so the layers are merely presented and handled with the ineptitude of a non-filmmaker - and not a smart one at that. As with the previous section, this is also incredibly dull. You should watch The Singing Detective, though - the miniseries, I mean, by Dennis Potter, with Michael Gambon. It's visionary and brilliant. This just trips all over itself and the ideas too deep for it to take hold of.

R. Kelly - Trapped in the Closet: Chapters 1-12

I'm not sure why I bothered to watch this. It doesn't really qualify as a movie. Overall it's quite ineptly done, repetitive, and monotonous. Not to mention boring as hell.

The Patriot
The Patriot(2000)
½

I recall this movie just now because they played its main musical theme right after Barack Obama's post-election speech. Ah, the climax of this film was a fun one as I recall, with Mel winning the American Revolution by whacking and impaling British bad guys with the American flag, uttering a primal yell. Also you have one of the funniest placements of the 'token black guy' I've seen. I suppose this is at heart a remake of Braveheart, which was at its heart basically a remake of Mad Max. Meanwhile, John Williams's score takes its place in the canon of Americana muzak. (Check out The Cowboys for one of his best themes.)

The Old Dark House

The title is exactly right: this is a perfectly creepy 'old dark house' story, pure and simple, executed with all the right conventions - fire, shadows, quirky dialogue - before the formula got worn out and increasingly elaborated. Wonderful atmosphere, direction, and oddball characters; excellently spooky and laced with nice comedic touches. The movie begins with a disclaimer assuring us that it is, in fact, Karloff under that beard and makeup. Ah! for a simpler, more innocent time, when we as viewers could still be fooled, when we weren't so cynical and demanding.

Get to Know Your Rabbit
½

A fantastic early comedy from Brian de Palma, and stylistically it's very much his - he loves his tracking shots and overheads. Tom Smothers is just damn likable as the dissatisfied business executive who quits his lucrative job in order to become a tap-dancing magician. From this little plot summary alone you can probably surmise that the movie is a ridiculous one, and it is wonderfully so: there are random funny bits inserted everywhere, and Orson Welles lends the unique hilarity that only Welles can to the character of the magic instructor. This movie combines de Palma's almost surreal craziness with Tom Smothers's casual humor as well as a bit of old-fashioned madcap zaniness. (Bob Einstein, known for his work on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, even turns up for one scene, as do several other familiar faces of cinema, including M. Emmet Walsh.) Maybe all the parts don't quite all fuse into a single expertly crafted vision, but so what? The movie's wonderful - wildly off-kilter and entertaining. Love it!

The Wicker Man
½

I just saw a play by Neil LaBute. It was cutting, potent, unsettling. But could any of that intelligent dialogue ever compare to the genius of this film? Consider: 'How'd it get burned? How'd it get burned!? HOW'D IT GET BURNED?!? HOW'D IT GET BURNED!?!?!??!' Priceless. And we can't forget the bear suit, the punches, the women, and, of course, the bees. Honestly, I have no idea how this could have been made with serious intentions. Maybe LaBute just wants to mock the audience or something. Anyhow, this is maybe worth a rental if you're in the mood for a good laugh. It's quite hilarious.

Brand Upon the Brain!
½

Feverish dream phantasmagoria of ghosts of past desires and memory manifested then, now, forever... I won't bother trying to explain this. I'm starting to really like Maddin. The spaces in this film seemed to meld with my own dreams. This very bizarre yet extremely evocative kind of style is definitely not for all tastes, but for viewers who venture outside of the norm, this stuff is highly recommended.

The Last Command
½

Splendid! This is a killer work of silent cinema. Emil Jannings delivers a huge and captivating performance, and this movie exploits the added effect of regenerating the character's experience as part of a film-within-the-film. Possibly the best use of the wind-machine I've seen (extremely melodramatic, but it works so well!) - and then they show the movie-within scene being staged with the wind-machine. Awesome.

Afterschool
Afterschool(2008)
½

In many ways - in principle, mainly, but also largely in execution - this is the movie I've always wanted to make. I'm fascinated by school topics, and this film covers a lot of the most loaded ground - the disconnect that's come with the age of the Internet is a main theme, and the widescreen allows ample room for the characters to avoid direct interaction with each other. The teens here tend to speak in terse monotones with their eyes downcast. Trauma is dealt with in a world of removed viewing and voyeurism, and we see everyone trying to build and maintain various facades - including the school board, which is what I tend to get worked up about regarding real-life stories. And this young up-and-coming filmmaker applies a coolly yet astutely watchful eye to this world, satisfyingly not vehemently hammering a message in the process. Not perfect, but this is a remarkable work. I hope to see what Campos does in the future.

In the Realm of the Senses

An extremely striking look at the lengths to which a couple goes for the sake of pleasure and obsession. This is a movie that probes the depths of passion, its intertwining with violence, the heights of ecstasy it can achieve and the damage it can wreak. I can see how some might see this as pornography, and even I found myself disconnecting at times from what was on screen, but Oshima's work here is a deeply potent meditation not just on sex but on the shifting nature of power. Shocking, yes; outrageous, yes; obscene, perhaps - and quite graphic, be warned - but there's substance to this whether you like it or not.

Ha-Bsora Al-Pi Elohim (The Gospel According to God)

A satire on religion - Christianity in particular - made by very secular Israelis. It has some bite, but overall the film is pretty much just as lazy as its two main characters - God and Jesus, who have spent the last 2,000 years lounging on the couch watching TV commercials for slippers. This is probably the most blasphemous movie I've ever seen - and I don't intend that statement as a criticism - but of course, since this is just a little Israeli movie, no one else has heard of it. Basically: God is a horny old man and feels up Joan of Arc; and Jesus, upon returning to Earth for the new resurrection, gets a blow job from a woman dressed as a nun - because, I suppose, a modern-day Judas needs to use more than just a kiss. A lot of deliberately controversial images for a film with such an ordinary moral: that people have to work to bring redemption for themselves (because the higher beings have issues of their own to work out). For all its potentially charged humor, this is a surprisingly, disappointingly mild film. Assi Dayan's 70s romantic comedy Beautiful Troubles packs much more zest, and he's done much more affecting acting work, such as in Amos Gitai's Devarim - which isn't all that great overall either, but what a shattering performance! Too bad he couldn't channel more of that energy to here.

But it is really quite funny to see Jesus portrayed as a modern-day Israeli.

The Heart of the World
½

Simply dazzling. What a thrill!

Ne le Dis à Personne (Tell No One)
½

An excellent thriller, tense and gripping. The film suffers, perhaps, a little, from a lengthy 'explanantion' scene towards the end, but the dramatic tension between the actors therein is pitch-perfect, so I'm not complaining. Jean Rochefort delivers one amazing monologue about fear; he is, of course, hiding something, as are many of the characters. On an unrelated note, the police commandant is called Levkowich; perhaps someone involved in writing this is familiar with the work of Ephraim Kishon?

Mamma Mia!
Mamma Mia!(2008)
½

Middle-aged actors doing karaoke to Euro-pop for no apparent reason on a nice-looking Greek island. Although the action appears sprightly to the eye, the whole affair often feels a little clumsy and flat. Cinematically, it lacks the full vivacious spirit that this type of film needs in order to succeed. This lack is disappointing because the actors certainly seem to be having fun. It's an adequate diversion, but there are many other film musicals that offer more real delight than this does.

A Clockwork Orange

Quite an effective film, this. I love McDowell from If.... and O Lucky Man! (I feel like the only person to have seen those two before Clockwork), and Kubrick does well with him here. Though the stylized violence may have 'dated,' it still retains potency beyond simple shock value - it's off-kilter, throws one out of whack a good degree. Watch the original trailer; it's great: 'Funny - comic - bizarre - satiric - metaphorical - sardonic - thrilling - exciting - political - musical - exciting - witty - Beethoven - frightening - comic -- Stanley Kubrick's Clockwork Orange.'

Lessons of Darkness
½

A haunting and harrowingly beautiful meditation on the almost literal hell on earth created by war - land ravaged and burnt, raging infernos of flaming oil billowing from the ground. The end is sobering: 'Has life without fire become unbearable for them? ... Now they are content. Now there is something to extinguish again.' Is that what life is? This is another amazingly poetic and transcendent work by Herzog.

Ace in the Hole (The Big Carnival)
½

Absolutely scathing. One of the most uncompromisingly searing depictions of media manipulation in all of film. Wilder's bitterness is right on the money, and it never lets up. Damn, this one smarts.

A Walk Through H: The Reincarnation of an Ornithologist
½

Who knew that a film composed of filmed still drawings, narration, and footage of birds could be so compellingly layered, so fascinatingly cinematic?

Pickup on South Street
½

A gripping noir with intense buildup and terse, explosive action perfectly crafted by Samuel Fuller. Widmark is totally badass. Excellently done.

Breathless
Breathless(1961)

It's interesting to see Godard juxtapose the pursuit of American-movie cool in French film and to build this film around it, sparking something that subsequently took off in a big way. I really dug the chemistry between Belmondo and Seberg.

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle)(Every Man for Himself and God Against All)
½

The liar and the truth-teller. Dreams and reality. Logic versus understanding. The storyteller, the showman, the exhibit, the performer, the scribe. Science, experience, perception, religion, belief. What is real, what is imagined, what is fabricated, what is dreamt. The relationships, the overlaps, the tensions, between all of these - that is this film, this achievement of Herzog and Bruno S., that gives us this amazing story and makes us ponder its existence as truth or storytelling or showmanship. Why does this man fascinate us so? His background is a mystery, and people have been so often compelled to invent stories to 'explain' it. This need to believe something when no one really knows. 'The enigma.' 'Every man for himself and God against all.' From all that we see, how do we choose to see it - what do we choose to believe? This film, for me, defies explanation.

The Stunt Man
½

Do we really lead our own lives, or are we just characters in a movie? And who's in control? Here we have a man whose life becomes intertwined with the film within the film. It's a rough, crazy, darkly comedic thriller that is overall rather brilliant. Peter O'Toole is stunning as the larger-than-life director who enjoys playing god with his cast, crew, and especially the title character.

Rushmore
Rushmore(1998)
½

Pretty good, pretty good. Mainly because of Bill Murray.

Iron Man
Iron Man(2008)
½

Damn, we really needed this movie. After the hyper-melodramatic Spider-Man films, which took themselves way too seriously, how refreshing it is to see Robert Downey Jr., as far from corny mode as possible, playing the superhero. And Jeff Bridges is always good. They've given us a nice, fun superhero flick with very well placed humor and lots of shit blowing up.

Galileo
Galileo(1975)
½

Topol is one of my favorite actors, and this American Film Theater production of Bertolt Brecht's play is a tour-de-force for him. He's always wonderfully off-center, and he delivers one of the greatest comeback lines I've ever heard: 'What makes you think that I EVER eat my cheese absentmindedly?'

Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro)
½

This film isn't actually all that great; overall, it's pretty superficial. But it's definitely worth watching for the magnificent colors, the high spirits of the Carnaval, and, of course, the amazing music.

The Jazz Singer
½

Somehow, despite the corniness, the overacting, and all the other flaws, this movie works. It's certainly worth watching as a piece of movie history, and I can't think of any story more perfectly suited to bridging the gap between silent films and talkies than this one.

Home Alone
Home Alone(1990)
½

This film represents a lot of what's wrong with Hollywood today. For most of the duration of the movie, we get senseless bludgeoning, and then at the end we get some of the sappiest material ever put on film - and we cry. Not because the story or characters warrant winning us over emotionally - they don't - but because the movie has calculatedly manipulated us, pulled exactly the right strings, to elicit tears. And this is regarded as a family classic!? Cringe-inducingly nasty gags followed by an overflow of artificial sweetener is as far from heartwarming as can be. To me it's seriously bone-chilling.

On the positive side, the pratfalls are executed energetically, which shows that at least the stuntmen were trying. Maybe technically this movie deserves a higher rating than I've given it, but its negative repercussions deserve a harsher verdict.

Rabbit-Proof Fence
½

Other Australian films like 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' and 'The Last Wave' used aboriginal philosophies of space and time in remarkable, cinematic ways. This film, disappointingly, is mere Western storytelling. That's competent enough, but it fails to achieve greater depth.

Gone With the Wind
½

The high rating is pretty much entirely for this movie's value as a spectacle. Not a great film in any respect but the pure scope of it all. Substantial it isn't, but if pure spectacle and grand production values are what you're looking for, then it doesn't get much more magnificent than this.

The Inspector General

Danny Kaye is in top form here. His enthusiasm has no limits, and this is one of the prime showcases for the performer at his spirited, entertaining best. How I wish I could have known this man. Thank you, Danny Kaye.

The Falcon and the Snowman

What an odd movie - an espionage thriller essentially about two kids on a lark. Part of this is a reasonably good thriller; another part is laughably cheesy, with young Sean Penn whining his ass off as the mixed-up drug dealer/would-be spy. The film is so inescapably eighties; it even has the chick from 'Footloose.'

L.I.E.
L.I.E.(2001)

It's hard to judge a movie that deals with controversial issues because it's so easy to just get wrapped up in the subject matter rather than focus on the film itself. This movie handles its topic pretty well. What stands out are the excellent performances by the young Paul Dano as a troubled teen and by Brian Cox as the incredibly complex pedophile who is also a father figure for the boy who needs one.

Away From Her

Julie Christie is a goddess, every bit as beautiful and heartbreaking as she was forty years ago. Watching this, you fall in love with her all over again and feel the pain of losing her. The beautifully understated performances resonate deeply.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Beautiful, atmospheric, and poetic character study. It has the air of a portrait that moves deliberately across time in addition to conveying place. It's as if the characters are pieces in the greater fixture of time and space, with the force of history slowly shifting them toward their inevitable fates.

Code Unknown (Code inconnu: Récit incomplet de divers voyages)

This is an engrossing and thought-provoking ensemble film that only shows us the individual fragments of story threads. The points of connection are left to the viewer to flesh out. It reminds one of the recent 'Crash' (which I liked), except Haneke's film is more nuanced and ambiguous, which raises this one up a few notches in my book.

Michael Clayton
½

Solid, intelligent legal thriller with excellent writing and very strong performances.

The Pink Panther
½

Blake Edwards was actually quite skilled when it came to visual comedy. His staging might not be of the calibre of a master like Tati, but his scenes are composed impeccably. I love his long takes that utilize depth of field beautifully, making for cool, assured gag threads that, for physical comedy, are downright sophisticated. The contrasting auras of Niven and Sellers make for a film that is both elegant and funny.

Enchanted
Enchanted(2007)
½

Disney tries to have its cake and eat it too. Its attempt at hipness by making fun of itself lacks bite. From the setup of an exaggerated animated fairy-tale world, it unfolds in...a rather wimpy New York that looks nice and all but isn't 'real' enough to balance out the 'fairy-tale' part in the way it should. Mentioning the term 'irony' while being self-referential doesn't mean you've mastered irony. Timothy Spall is good, especially in one scene where he does what is best described as an Italian Borat impression.

Superbad
Superbad(2007)

Comparisons to 'American Pie' are being made, I'm sure. But this is better. Rather than getting itself tied up in juvenile sex-obsession, as 'Pie' did, 'Superbad' thrives on a more real kind of humor, deeply rooted in a very serious understanding of the struggles of adolescence. It's about more than just sex; it's about friendship and insecurity and separation anxiety and all this stuff that fills the mind of a high school senior. It rings true. We can feel for these characters. Yes, the movie suffers from unsure footing, from not quite knowing exactly what it wants to be, but being unsure of one's identity is what the movie is about. High school is an awkward time. Moving past high school is awkward. 'Superbad' really captures that. I had some issues with the way the adult characters were written: I didn't really buy the guy who hits Seth with his car, and the bit with the cops got silly - easier and less delicate than the more special kind of humor based in the adolescent relationships and interactions. I had trouble accepting those characters as true adults. But you know what? Maybe that's okay. Some people have a hard time growing up. Sometimes even grown people can't deal with maturity. And that's authentic. It speaks to us. And the filmmakers balance the humor and pathos very well. We laugh, and it's completely justified.

L.A. Confidential

Great twisted Hollywood noir, with a gripping plot that's convoluted to perfection. The cast is magnificent, and the filmmakers expertly tread the dark subject matter while still keeping everything snappy and wonderfully exciting. First-rate entertainment.

If....
If....(1968)
½

I find it rather fascinating that the DVD release of this film comes within close range of two recent cultural/societal phenomena: Harry Potter and Virginia Tech. And over the course of 'If....' you'll probably be reminded of both. One could produce a lot of connections and insightful conclusions from all that. I have to know this film better in order to do that, but right now I'll say that 'If....' is important viewing for thoughtful people who are up for a challenging, unconventional film.

No Country for Old Men

This is the kind of movie that one would probably be inclined to appreciate and admire rather than love. It's a film of superb quality, and I can't fault it for anything, but I'm not getting excited about it. It definitely warrants a second viewing, yet I'm not enthusiastically clamoring to watch it again. Perhaps it's just not my personal cup of tea. Everything about it is excellent, though - the sound design in particular stood out for me. Fully compelling from beginning to end.

Song of the South
½

For me, the big question was, controversy aside, does this movie have cinematic merit? Overall it's pretty average: fairly standard story, mostly unremarkable characters. However, this film is special in one regard: its fusion of live-action and animation. There are only a few scenes in which the live-action world and the animated world combine, but those scenes are truly magical and worthy of our attention. Of course, though, we must look at the film through another lens - the charge of racism. It's a rather interesting paradox, actually: the movie focuses on the friendship between the white boy and the kindly black plantation worker, Uncle Remus (this is all post-Civil War), but the black characters are heavily stereotyped and the film reeks of an 'Uncle Tom' mentality. 'Song of the South' is not a 'racist' film per se; I see it as a perplexing juxtaposition of the filmmakers' good - one might even say progressive - intentions with the ignorant attitudes toward race that were standard at the time. There are other films - widely available, renowned films - that are probably more racist than this. 'Gone with the Wind,' for example. That doesn't stop 'Song of the South' from being problematic, of course, but films like this and their contexts need to be examined, not shut away. As modern students of film who are cognizant of history, we have a lot of work to do.

Juno
Juno(2007)

When you take every teen vernacular quirk imaginable and cram them all into the mouth of a single character, it's pretty tough to avoid coming off as smug, and Diablo Cody's script does run into that problem somewhat in its early parts. Nonetheless, this film is really quite good, with some truly wonderful performances. [And I'm not really such a big fan of the kind of songs that make up the soundtrack, but that does not diminish the quality of the film and is entirely beside the point.]

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

This movie is like candy - it gives you a nice little rush and melts in your mouth leaving only a faint aftertaste of non-cohesive plot elements. But the entire cast is game, and I like watching Jon Voight and Helen Mirren when they're having fun, no matter how corny the dialogue or how blunt and obvious the storytelling. Just leave your logic at the door; you'll get exactly what you paid for.

Tom Jones
Tom Jones(1963)

A spirited and delightful comedy of manners, this film caused a sensation in its day but, from the looks of some other contemporary comments, is looked down upon and seen as dated by a lot of viewers these days. That's quite a shame, since its energy and humor are a joy to experience. The movie is viscerally entertaining and kinetic in a way I've rarely seen in any earlier film; the fox hunt sequence is particularly astounding. Visually and story-wise, this is rather like 'Barry Lyndon,' only more fun. 'Tom Jones' is - and I love saying this about films from the sixties and before - a total blast.

Petulia
Petulia(1968)
½

Richard Lester at the helm, kooky Christie and tightly-wound Scott, swinging London style (but set in San Francisco) - it has all the ingredients for a perfect swinging sixties screwball comedy. Instead, it's a great swinging sixties screwball tragedy. It's bleak, and so sad, and it's all shown with a glossy, stylish surface, which makes the underlying sadness all the more potent. Nicolas Roeg's cinematography magnifies the gloss to the point where the quick flashback/flash-forward editing, by Antony Gibbs, scrutinizingly dissects it so that we can see through it and feel the emptiness inside. (The two of them later teamed up again for Roeg's 'Walkabout.') Julie Christie is simply luminous, yet poignant with subtle pain. It's amazing to see how Lester deepens over the course of the sixties, that he directed two of the most gleeful films of the decade ('A Hard Day's Night' and 'The Knack') and also one of the saddest (this one) - all three of which are among the decade's best. A wonderful marker of the downturn of the 1960s - it's an excellent companion piece and foil to 'The Graduate.'

Mr. Hulot's Holiday (Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot)

Tati sets up this whole film as a canvas for his unique style of physical comedy. He's completely free of the constraints of traditional plot structure, which might annoy some viewers. It's a string of vignettes with lovely sight gags superbly staged and executed with wonderful subtlety. He meanders fluidly from setup to setup, and the result is calm and pleasant and hilarious and beautiful.

Bad Day at Black Rock

Terse, taut suspense movie, of few words and 'socially conscious' along similar lines as 'Crossfire,' except that was noir while this is more or less the residue of the Western in a modern (1940s) setting. (Interestingly enough, Robert Ryan is the bad guy in both films.) Very effective.

Spider-Man 3
Spider-Man 3(2007)

No, it's not actually that good, but it's really entertaining. The action scenes are thrillingly kinetic. But when Peter turns 'dark' it feels like a whole different movie, as if the fillmmakers just shrugged, 'The hell with it, let's get silly, do a little dance.' I mean, it's ridiculously bad, but in a really fun way.

The dialogue is absolutely awful. Rosemary Harris is the only one who gets away with saying it and not sounding like a complete idiot. The lines in the tearjerker scenes were so bad that I laughed out loud, as did everyone else in the theater. They spent so much money on this movie - why did none of it go to script supervision? Eh, whatever, it made me laugh. I guess that's all that matters.

There was definitely not enough screen time devoted to J.K. Simmons (Jameson). With his perfect comic timing and tone, he's been one of the best things in the series.

And the way the climax is resolved is a perfect summation of the popcorn-action-flick philosophy: an explosion solves everything. It doesn't even leave a mess.

School of Rock

Really, really entertaining.

This Sporting Life

Fascinating and often brutal portrait of a man gradually destroying himself by failing to get a grip on his own emotions. What a face Richard Harris has! You can spend the whole movie exploring its contours. If you've only seen him in the Harry Potter movies, you must watch him in his prime. He was a beast. Here he oozes primal brute force, perhaps comparable to Brando in 'A Streetcar Named Desire,' except more desperate, more needy. His outbursts are shocking. Rachel Roberts shows a vulnerable side that you can't really see in other movies like 'Picnic at Hanging Rock.' The relationship between the two of them is so infused with emotion and heartache. And those rugby scenes are quite vivid and intense, with the dirt and grime and blood and, oh, that thundrous sound!

Ali G Indahouse

The genius of Ali G's humor lies almost entirely in the fact that he's acting like this toward real people and getting genuine reactions. This movie is scripted, so it loses most of that. A lot of this movie is really dumb, but it has some genuinely funny moments along the way (Ali in Parliament, Michael Gambon high, Charles Dance saying he's a bellend...). Sacha Baron Cohen gives a spirited performance - he's still completely absorbed in the character - and I loved Martin Freeman as Ali's best mate Ricky C.

Romance & Cigarettes
½

This is a wildly funny and entertaining extravaganza that loses its way somewhat over an hour in, where it seems that the movie gets confused, and so it takes an ending that practically belongs to a completely different film. That's jarring and sort of kills it, but aside from that this movie is really something else. The gleefully audacious musical numbers could be worthy of 'The Blues Brothers,' yet are different, in a good way. The cast is great: Sarandon has some fantastic moments, Winslet is amazing as usual, and there's good support from Walken, Buscemi, the underrated Barbara Sukowa, and the wonderful Elaine Stritch, who can just grab a scene by the throat and steal it in an instant.

Gimme Shelter
½

The end of an era unfolds starkly before our eyes in this film's depiction of Altamont. Fascinating documentary with riveting concert footage.

Bedazzled
Bedazzled(1967)

Faust meets the swinging sixties courtesy of Cook and Moore in this solidly intelligent and funny film. Two words: leaping nuns. Yes, I mean that literally.

Ghost
Ghost(1990)
½

I've always wanted to dub over and synchronize the famous pottery-love scene with a different version of 'Unchained Melody' - sung at a fast pace by Peter Sellers in a squawking falsetto. It begins with a fart noise and ends with 'Ying-tong-ying-tong tiddle-aye-poh, I played my ukulele as the ship went down.' Now wouldn't that be interesting.

Arthur
Arthur(1981)

You can't help but love Dudley Moore. Having a guy just romp around drunk and laugh at his own drunken jokes wouldn't typically make for great comedy, but when Dudley does it, we're laughing with him.

The Star Maker (L'uomo delle stelle)
½

When you place someone before a movie camera, that person will often pour out for the camera a part of his soul that he would never expose under any other circumstance. This intriguing notion of soul-exchange and the power of the camera lies at the center of this film, but Tornatore doesn't take the opportunity to really explore it; he just sort of lets it stand there and meanders around to a slim, unremarkable plotline. Rather like the main character, who uses the camera as a con device and remains ignorant of the power it could hold. So this is a story of unfulfilled potential on two levels. Aside from that, this film is still worth a look. Tornatore has a terrific eye for the richness and beauty of small-town life, and there is much of that to be found here.

A Pure Formality
½

This is an odd film if you consider that it's coming from the guy who made 'Cinema Paradiso.' It's essentially a near-2-hour Twilight Zone piece. I guess that by making this Tornatore was trying to branch out as a filmmaker, but he's not nearly as successful here as he was with 'Paradiso.' This film is often quite murky, and I'm not sure that the ending really works, but Depardieu and Polanski are excellent, and certain moments of their interaction are wonderfully compelling.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

What a pleasant surprise! My hopes were less than stellar since the book is grossly overlong, bloated, and full of unnecessary distractions (which readers seem to mistake for sophistication), but this film remarkably cuts the bullshit and becomes solid, smooth, and focused in its story and structure, unlike the rushed, choppy fourth movie. (The odd bit out is the subplot with Cho, which seems to be put in due to external demands; it doesn't fit with the rest. If this film's Harry Potter should be falling in love with anyone, it's Luna, as she's the only female student character besides Hermione to actually exhibit a real - let alone compelling - personality. Evanna Lynch is a revelation in the role; her performance is one of the best things in this film.)

Yates builds the film's world around the characters rather than the visuals, but these characters are so solid and so natural in their interaction that they hold substance enough to make their world absorbing. (The visuals are good, though downplayed.)

Gambon finally clicks into place as Dumbledore. He came off as rather unpleasant before, but he's wonderful here. Perhaps it's because he gets to cast off his tough edge and be vulnerable this time around.

Viewers who haven't read the book might get kind of lost at times. But this is good storytelling - it lacks the stylistic flourish of the third film, but it's one of the better entries in this series.

Kaidan (Kwaidan) (Ghost Stories)

Be patient. This is a film that works its magic on you not so much while you watch it as it does in the days... weeks... months... afterward. Its potency grows as it lingers in your memory. 'Kwaidan' isn't a horror film in the standard sense, but a hauntingly beautiful work of art, with some of the most exquisitely composed images I've seen. The sequence in which spirits slowly manifest themselves when a boy sings to them is absolutely sublime.

Entr'acte
Entr'acte(1924)
½

One of the most joyous, vibrant expressions in the history of cinema. It's a masterpiece, an explosion of giddy surrealism. Clair and Picabia astoundingly pack a vast array of imagination and motion into just 22 minutes. There's so much on display here. All film lovers should experience this.

Air Force One
½

A disappointingly tired affair. Scenes of Harrison Ford kicking ass are few and far between.

The Last Wave
½

I have never seen anything quite like it. One of the most absorbing stories of the supernatural in all of film. It draws you into a world too haunting and compelling to forget.

Ella Enchanted

Overall cute and pleasant, but not quite enchanting as it hopes to be. It seems rather half-assed. The parts don't quite jell, but the combination is earnest and watchable.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie

As I recall, it's not all that bad. And it's got the bad guy from 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.'

Braveheart
Braveheart(1995)
½

This is not a Great Film. The first half is really thrilling because it's pure testosterone, all stirring battle speeches and Mel Gibson kicking ass. The second half gets pretty bogged down.

10
10(1979)

Dudley Moore at his most adorable. The movie is funny and actually really endearing.

Howl's Moving Castle
½

I was rather disappointed with this one. The plot is rather vague and the characters carry very little weight - but they are laid on so thickly that the movie gets bogged down by them. However, this is still a Miyazaki film, and he once again conjures a vivid and magical world that is glorious to inhabit.

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
½

Tune out the dialogue, and you'll have yourself an exhilarating, visually stunning experience watching this.

The Fountain
The Fountain(2006)

One of the most breathtaking visual films in recent memory, its design beautifully and astoundingly spans at once the expanse of the cosmos and the intimacy of the smallest life-forms. The movie can be seen as either extremely profound or ridiculous, depending on how you read into it (for me it's a little of both), but regardless, this is a wondrous cinematic experience.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
½

In this entry, Columbus's mediocrity and lack of vision are (for the most part) covered up by the astounding visual treatment - the intricacy and fluidity of production design, architecture, and superb cinematography. The first hour or so is energetic and a lot of fun, up to a wonderfully kinetic quidditch game. After that everything sort of descends into boredom, but the visuals make this worthwhile. Plus Branagh and Harris, the latter so poignant, are exceptional in the first two performances of the series to actually register.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
½

Not as good as the third. It's rushed and lacks structure. There are a lot of good things in it, such as a couple great flight sequences and a brilliant scene with a ferret, but with the hurried pace and fragmented storyline, it's overall a bit of a mess. Its awkwardness, though, is well in keeping with its subject matter: all the diabolical magic and threats of evil in the Potter world are nothing next to the fearsomeness of the adolescent social scene.

Fiddler on the Roof
½

Not until the second half does this film really start to become cinematic. Though much of this film is awkward and stagey, it contains much that is beautiful. Holding it all together is Topol, a very talented actor. Just watch the close-ups of his face in this film. That face alone says as much about the turmoil going on as the rest of the film does. It's one of the most moving images I have ever seen in film.

A Hard Day's Night

This is a great film. And not just because of the Beatles - it's Lester's filmmaking that really shines. If you want proof, watch his next movie after this one, 'The Knack.' It has no big-name stars and still resonates equally well. I love this guy's style.

Pinocchio
Pinocchio(2002)
½

Don't be fooled by this movie's horrible reputation. If you watch the uncut version in the original Italian with subtitles, you'll see that this is actually a wonderful, very lovely film. But if you can't tolerate Benigni prancing around going nuts, you might want to stay away from this.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Quite dull overall, except for some bright spots. It's sad to see so many wonderful actors being given absolutely nothing to do. Columbus is not a good filmmaker. He builds this according to the letter of the book instead of a real cinematic structure, and this makes for stodgy filmmaking. A printed page looks quite lifeless on celluloid, you know.

Napoleon Dynamite

What can I say? It made me laugh.

The Pink Panther
½

I don't think this is a travesty. Of course Steve Martin will never be Peter Sellers. We all know that. That's why this isn't a remake and is only superficially connected to the original. Take this on its own terms and you have a silly, good-natured, cheerful, fun little diversion.

Young Frankenstein

A beautifully reverent parody. Gene Wilder's incessant screaming gets on my nerves after a while, though.

Ghost Story
Ghost Story(1981)

Yes, it is deeply flawed; it promises something with the effect of an authentic well-told ghost story, and it does not quite deliver. But the performance of Alice Krige completely delivers. Here she shows her full potential as a great screen beauty as well as an exceptionally talented actress. Her embodiment of the haunting seduces even as it chills. It's perhaps my favorite performance ever. The cinematography by the great Jack Cardiff is tops as well. The cold, dark landscapes and the warm interiors are all bathed in the eerie glow of the haunt. Now if only they could have avoided those cheap shock moments with the rotting corpses and gone for a more deeply haunting image instead, this might have been a great film. It's still effective, though, and the tour-de-force that is Krige's very presence raises it to a level of something special.

Clue
Clue(1985)
½

When I last watched this, I think I was actually more entertained by my friends who had every line memorized than by the movie itself. It's fun and absolutely nonsensical, and I love Madeline Kahn's ad-libbed line, but by no means is this film of 'Murder by Death' caliber.

The Knack...And How to Get It
½

This is a gem. One of the quintessential Swinging London films, it perfectly embodies the spirit of the time and place in a dizzy, experimental style that could easily have become dated by now but still dazzles. And it is not easily forgotten, because it carries a substantial pathos under its giddy exterior. The music is lovely.

The New World
½

From what I've seen, this is the best movie of 2005. It takes patience, but if you can get into it you're in for some of the most mesmerizingly beautiful filmmaking you'll ever see.

The Three Musketeers

A rollicking fun romp by Lester, definitely one of the most fun filmmakers. It's got everything: sight gags, swordplay, Charlton Heston in a devil-beard, dogs acting as chess pieces, a fat guy running around in a bear suit - and, to top it all off, a catfight between Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway! What more could you ask for?

Robin Hood
Robin Hood(1973)

Great fun! Swordplay and swashbuckling are wonderful, but quite another dimension is added to those great things when they are done by animals. A big southern-accented bear and a giant Scottish chicken beating the crap out of a bunch of rhinos. A suave fox crossing swords with a gravel-voiced alligator. A bumbling vulture getting a big pie thrown in his face by a vixen. The aforementioned bear getting about seven pies in the face during a smashing chase scene. And, of course, a fat badger doing battle with a fat slob of a wolf. Terry-Thomas as the bad guy's snake sidekick. Roger Miller as the country-singing rooster narrator. And Phil Harris (what a wonderful voice) as Little John the bear. Who gets to dance with the chicken. Oo-de-lally!

Once Upon a Time in America

Leone is a master of cinema, and this is a great, epic last work. If it wants for anything, I wish it were even longer - and it runs for almost four hours as it is. Beautiful. A magnificent achievement.

Fahrenheit 9/11
½

It's well-made and everything, but my problem with this movie is that it's scattershot, which is Moore's greatest weakness. Mainly, he tries to portray Bush as both an evil schemer and a buffoon. Sorry, but you can't have it both ways.

Bowling for Columbine

The problem with Michael Moore as a filmmaker is that he aims at too many targets at once. If you do that, you're bound to miss as many as you hit. The best sequences in this film are the ones that deal with the 'culture of fear' and investigate why Americans are forced into a constant state of fear in which the wrong things are scapegoated. The other stuff doesn't stick as well. If Moore had focused this movie just on that one subject, he could have made a great film.

Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey
½

Airhead buddy comedy meets surreal death fantasia? I'm fairly certain that there is no other movie quite like this oddity of all oddities.

The Producers

This is Mel Brooks's best film.

Elf
Elf(2003)
½

Ferrell is wonderful. Even when the film gets cloying and heavy-handed, his spirited personality and authentic sense of fun almost manage to carry the film through. But even he can't quite keep it afloat amidst the saccharine swamp of the climax. At least his bright spirits shine for most of the way.

American Pie 2

Sprightly, with enough truly amusing gags to keep it going.

Love Happy
Love Happy(1950)
½

In a way, one can only appreciate this knowing that it is the last film the Marx Brothers ever made together. It gives a touch of poignancy to the sentimental weariness of the Brothers. Chico is touching, perhaps for the only time, waxing nostalgic. It isn't much of a good comedy, but Harpo's turn as the sad clown is beautifully bittersweet. Playing it all out on his harp for the last time in cinema, he tugs at the heartstrings.

The Holiday
The Holiday(2006)

The Kate Winslet-Jack Black scenes are wonderful. They are the reason to watch this movie. Black's ode to film scores in the video store is magnificent, although the movie regrettably opts for treacle right at the moment when Black was about to sing the best movie theme of all, 'The Mission.' Shame on you for cutting him off like that.

Oh, and it's a joy to see Eli Wallach, even in insubstantial fluff like this.

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
½

Some call this movie 'cute,' as if that were its only merit. They are greatly mistaken; this film is, in fact, extremely clever.

The Time Machine
½

This is a really entertaining movie. Sure, the plot is absurd. So what? It's a fun ride.

Armageddon
Armageddon(1998)
½

During the first half of the movie, it feels pretty good for what it is - a jokey, tongue-in-cheek sort of action flick. But at some point, it stops on a dime and does a complete about-face: it becomes a tear-jerker, and it expects us to suddenly care about characters who were no more than jokes up until a few minutes before. This switch completely negates the virtues of the first part of the film and turns the whole thing into a big cheat. I saw girls crying their eyes out at the end. It made my blood boil.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

The very concept of this movie, not to mention the incredible feat of pulling off such seamless interaction of two film worlds, is amazing. This is a landmark work of cinema.

The Mission
The Mission(1986)
½

Jeremy Irons playing the oboe. How great is that? Plus ravishing scenery and a score that is just heart-melting.

Snakes on a Plane
½

This is one of the most viscerally entertaining movies I have seen lately. It's expertly constructed to be a top example of its kind: with just the right combination of thrills, gross-out gags, and ridiculousness, it's primed for optimal fun, excitement, and enjoyment.

American Pie
American Pie(1999)
½

A long sex joke with no punchline, but some laughs along the way.

War of the Worlds
½

The city-destruction scenes are really good. The Tom Cruise-trying-to-be-a-good-dad scenes, not so much.

From Justin To Kelly

I am ashamed to have seen this. It is the cinematic equivalent of a dead fish.

Donnie Darko
Donnie Darko(2001)

I don't think it's quite as cinematically profound as some people say, but it's still a good movie.

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

Not up to the level of the original trilogy (obviously).

Bruce Almighty

A good idea, but by the end it was sappy when it should have been funny.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Should have been great, but the whole zombie plot was not right. It should have been a tighter, shorter movie just about pirate adventures. The non-zombie stuff is really good.

Love Actually

A very charming romantic ensemble comedy. Very well-written.

Kill Bill: Volume 1

It's a good first half, but I haven't seen Vol. 2 yet.

The Matrix
The Matrix(1999)
½

Pretty fantastic entertainment, very well shot.

Spider-Man
Spider-Man(2002)
½

Pretty good entertainment.

Rocky
Rocky(1976)

Very good, but definitely did NOT deserve Best Picture in 1976.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
½

Expected it to suck, but it was actually OK, for a secondhand 'Lord of the Rings.'

Austin Powers in Goldmember
½

Actually a lot cleverer than people made it seem.

Finding Nemo
Finding Nemo(2003)
½

It's a wonderful movie.

Wedding Crashers