Monday, August 29, 2005

Movies To See List - September

A couple of weeks ago, I received in the mail (as many of you probably did as well) Entertainment Weekly's "Fall Movie Preview" issue. Or as I call it, The Moviegoers' Bible. Fall, as you may have noticed, is when most of the higher-quality films come out. Studios are anxious to get out their Oscar-contenders between Labor Day and New Years, so while summer is mostly about fun and fluffy movies, autumn is a good season for the crème de la crème.

I did a full list here, but in case that's too long of a read, I'll post them on the blog a month at a time.


(9th) The Exorcism of Emily Rose - [Insert inevitable comparisons to The Exorcist here.] Seriously, though, people are saying good things about this movie. I like that the story apparently doesn't center on the exorcism itself, but the trial of the priest who performed it.

(9th) An Unfinished Life - I am determined to see Jennifer Lopez make a decent movie. I know she can do it. I've seen Out of Sight. I think the key is a good director, and Lasse Hallström is certainly that. Add to it the presence of Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman and I'm very hopeful indeed.

(16th) Everything is Illuminated - I think Liev Schreiber is one of the finest actors who rarely if ever gets recognized for it. I'm interested to see what he does behind the camera. Plus, you know, Frodo is in it and all. :P

(16th) Just Like Heaven - *hums The Cure song* I was dubious about this one. The trailer reminded me of City of Angels - which I STILL refuse to see. But the line about "why can I see her when no one else does" and the promise of a "great twist" as Reese Witherspoon calls it has me interested.

(16th) Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang - Robert Downey, Jr. is in it. Period. Oh, and the trailer is hilarious.

(16th) The Libertine - Johnny Depp, Samantha Morton, and John Malkovich. And did I mention Johnny Depp? The director has been at pains to let people know that they will not see Captain Jack Sparrow in this movie. To which I say - I would have expected no less of Mr. Depp. :)

(16th) Proof - Great play, but I'm wondering how well it will translate to the screen. Reuniting Gwyneth Paltrow with her Shakesspeare in Love director, John Madden, seems like it would yeild great results. But I can't quite forget the travesty of Captain Corelli's Mandolin. I'm hoping that was just a one-time slump, though.

(16th) Thumbsucker - The trailer for this is quite amusing. Keanu Reeves as a dentist. Hmmmm...

(23rd) Flightplan - Jodie Foster is one of my favorite actors, and she only makes one movie every three years, it seems. So I pretty much have to see this. Also, the premise is very intriguing - woman and her daughter get on a plane, daughter apparently vanishes while the plane is in the air, everyone thinks the woman is crazy, and the audience wonders if the daughter ever existed.

(23rd) A History of Violence - David Cronenbeg directing Viggo Mortensen (and Ed Harris and William Hurt). Should be good.

(23rd) Oliver Twist - Polanksi does Dickens. Should be fantastic. Although I'll have difficulty not humming "Consider Yourself". This movie has some big shoes to fill.

(23rd) The Thing About My Folks - I saw this at the Nashville Film Festival, and it's excellent. Worth seeing again for the pool hall brawl alone.

(23rd) Tim Burton's Corpse Bride - Burton. Depp. Stop-motion animation. Zombie puppets. I'm there.

(30th) Capote - Interesting subject matter and a very worthy cast led by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

(30th) Mirrormask - Written by Neil Gaiman. Directed by the guy who did the Sandman covers (I've never read the comic, but those covers are rather hypnotic). And the trailer is really impressive.

(30th) Serenity - Dude, if I have to explain why this is a must-see, you need to get your hands on the Firefly DVDs right this second.

Saturday, August 20, 2005


Ingmar Bergman is a cinematic poet. He says things with film that almost make it feel like ... not film. Admittedly, I have only seen one of his other films, Fanny and Alexander. That film was, incidentally, the last feature film he made until Saraband. So it's been 22 years since Bergman has created a film. And Saraband will be his last film, apparently. I'm not as familiar with his work as I should be, but Saraband would be a remarkable swan song for any director.

It's a sequel to Scenes From a Marriage and revisits the characters from that film, Marianne (Liv Ullmann) and Johan (Erland Josephson), as they meet for the first time in three decades. They were married once, but they have been divorced for many, many years. There is still, however, a sort of affection between them. Marianne comes to visit Johan and arrives in the midst of some family drama involving his son from another marriage, Henrik, and his granddaughter, Karin.

The story of Henrik and Karin makes up most of the story. Henrik's wife, Anna, has died fairly recently, and Henrik is preparing Karin for an audition to join a conservatory and play the cello. Henrik is apparently a very strict teacher, and Karin is becoming more and more frustrated with him. But she feels she cannot leave him, because she is all he has left now that Anna is gone.

This is a quietly intense film that thrives on stillness. The performances are exquisite - as one would expect from Ullmann and Josephson. Börje Ahlstedt is wonderfully intense as Henrik, and gives an immense amount of heart to a character that is difficult to like. The real standout for me was Julia Dufvenius, though. She has a broad range of emotions to play as Karin, and a lot of it is quite showy, actingwise. But I thought nothing was more moving than a scene where she simply lies in bed, listening to her father tell her a story about her mother. She's absolutely still, but I couldn't take my eyes off of her.

I've always been somewhat intimidated by foreign films, especially films by the greats. And I think I've been intimidated by Bergman's films in particular, feeling that I haven't been ready for what they had to say. After seeing Saraband, however, I think I'm going to risk it.

The 40 Year Old Virgin

The teasers for this movie are a bit deceptive, and I'll tell you right now that this movie is better than you think. It's about a lot more than some guys trying to get their buddy laid for the first time. This movie could easily have been just a one-joke waste of time, but it's really a neat little film.

I love Judd Apatow. He created one of my favorite TV shows ever, Freaks and Geeks, which - like Joss Whedon's Firefly - slipped through the network cracks, despite being an outstanding show in pretty much every aspect. Apatow has a way of seeing people and loving them, warts and all. And that really shines through in The 40 Year Old Virgin. The key relationship in the movie - other than the obvious romance - is the relationship between Andy (the eponymous virgin, played by Steve Carrell) and his mates at the electronics store. They invite him to a poker game, basically because there isn't anyone else and they think he'll be easy to beat. This is when they find out his secret in a scene of hilarious awkwardness during which Andy tries to tell a fake "sex story" and it's painfully obvious that he has no idea what he's talking about. The guys decide they're going to "help" him, but matters are soon complicated when Andy meets a woman (Trish, played by Catherine Keener) who he thinks may be The One. Not just a woman to sleep with to get his initiation over with, but his Match.

The relationship between Andy and the guys could have been so badly done, but it's very sensitively done. These guys are dealing with relationship issues of their own, and we're made to care about them almost as much as we care about Andy. Their relationship really gives the film its heart. They even have a hilarious Bollywood-style dance number together. This is what American Pie came close to doing, but it didn't quite succeed on the level that this movie does.

The courtship, too, between Andy and Trish is very beautifully done. Andy's quest is not just to have sex for the first time. His virginity is kind of a metaphor. The first time we see his apartment, it's filled with action figures. All of them in their original packaging, because (as we all know) such items lose their value if they've been opened. Andy is just like these toys - he's still hermetically sealed, and it's not just because he hasn't ever had sex. Before the movie starts, he hasn't really opened up to anyone - as a friend or otherwise. He's not living, he's just a man-child sitting in his box, collecting things. Part of his journey is simply coming out of that shell. And part of the message I think the movie is trying to get across is that Andy is not really ready to be with Trish until he's come out of the plastic covering.

This is a funny, smart, and cool movie. I've been a fan of Steve Carrell's since he used to be on "The Daily Show," and I hope that this movie makes it possible for him to do a lot more films.

Broken Flowers

I may never be able to see Bill Murray without a fleeting thought of Ghostbusters or What About Bob?, but he is becoming one of the great artists acting in films right now. And what he does in Broken Flowers is nothing short of amazing.

Murray plays Don, a retired computer entrepreneur, who pretty much lives alone, except for the comings and goings of his string of girlfriends. He gets a letter from an old flame, telling him that he has a son and that the son is coming to look for him. The letter has no return address, it isn't signed, and the postmark is so faint that it can't be read. So there's no way of knowing who sent the letter. With the help of his neighbor, Don reluctantly goes on a trip to visit the likely candidates and try and figure out which of them sent the letter. Or if it's all just a big hoax.

I didn't really care much for the film itself. It was sometimes painfully slow-moving and the ending was just ... it just ended without finishing. But as a playground for actors, it was really remarkable. Murray has found that thing that makes great actors great - the ability to be still. At times during the movie I was reminded of David Letterman. How he doesn't have to do anything. He can just sit there until you laugh. Murray has the same kind of gift. He can just sit there, apparently not moving a muscle, and convey something. And a good bit of what makes the movie intriguing is just watching his character doing the most mundane things - watching TV, driving a car, sleeping on an airplane, etc.

Jeffrey Wright, who plays Don's neighbor Winston, should be in every movie. He is so incredibly versatile, and unrecognizable from role to role. Here, he plays an Ethiopian working father, who spends his spare time solving mysteries and fiddling around on the internet. His relationship with Don is probably the best thing about the film.

The ladies who play Don's exes - Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, and Tilda Swinton - are all great in the small parts they play. I loved how the movie doesn't ever go the obvious route with Don's visits to these ladies. A lesser movie would include a heartfelt scene with each of the ladies to explain why things didn't work out between them and Don. And all of them would probably add up to some sort of life lesson for Don. That's not the case here. He just spends a bit of time with them - at least long enough to ascertain whether they might have sent the letter - and moves on.

The movie opens with Don's current girlfriend, Sherry - played by Julie Delpy - leaving him, accusing him of being emotionally unavailable ("I'm like your mistress, only you're not married."). At the end of the film, I felt a lot like Sherry. I'd spent all this time with him, and I still didn't know him. That was quite unsatisfying to me, but the performances definitely made it worth seeing.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Beautiful Girls (Retread)

I seem to be drawn to movies that have these few elements in common - ensemble cast, lots of dialogue, and a sense nostalgia for a more innocent time in the characters' lives.

I went to Ted Demme's Beautiful Girls several times, and it's one of those movies I can't get sick of. Timothy Hutton plays Willie, a piano player who goes back to his hometown for a high school reunion. His girlfriend is supposed to join him later in the week, so he spends the next few days getting drunk and reminiscing with his old buddies.

Nostalgia is a dangerous thing for the guys in this movie. They're getting a bit too old to be into the same things they were when they were in high school. Each of them is dealing with it in their own way. Tommy (Matt Dillon) is being a very bad boyfriend to Sharon (Mira Sorvino), because he can't stop reliving his high school days, especially with regard to his former (and now married) sweetheart Darian (Lauren Holley). 'Mo' (Noah Emmerich) is trying to be a good father while still playing the big kid on the playground. Paul (Michael Rappaport) still has posters of supermodels on his bedroom wall and names his dog Elle Macpherson. And Willie finds an unexpected soulmate in Marty (Natalie Portman), telling himself at one point that he can wait four years for her to turn 18.

I was particularly drawn to the Willie and Marty storyline. I mean, OBVIOUSLY it was never going to happen, but there seemed to be a real connection between them. But Willie's right when he says that by the time she's 18 she'll have forgotten all about him. That he'll be the Pooh to her Christopher Robin - when she grows up, she won't need him anymore. He tells her he can't be a Pooh, and I really identified with that (still do). There are a lot of people in our lives that burn bright for a short time and then just kind of fade out. I think the movie really has a lot to say about the transitory nature of the relationships in our lives.

It's not a particularly great film. In fact, it's rather ordinary. But it's got some moments of real greatness. And some of the best lines ever. Examples:

Tommy: You bought a colored diamond for a girl you're not even seein', man, you been eatin' retard sandwiches again!

Tommy: He makes you happy?
Andera: Yeah. I look for that in a man, you know. The ones that make me miserable don't seem to last.

Paul: See these guys? Pete, Rizzo and Sammy B? They work all day and drink all night for 40 ****ing years. Two weeks out of the year, they take a vacation and go to the Cape. What do they do? They drink all day, they drink all night. If we don't step it up, we're gonna wind up just like them.
Kev: Cool.

Willie: I was jealous of a little kid on a bike, because he gets to be her age, and I'm this vile old man. Like that guy, what's-his-name...
Mo: Roman Polanski?

In addition, this movie has an amazing soundtrack. Music plays a fairly significant part in the guys' lives, and there's a memorable rendition of "Sweet Caroline". And, while I'm not a fan of Rosie O'Donnell as an actress, she gets the best speech in the whole movie.

It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I found it very enjoyable. I developed a huge crush on Timothy Hutton after seeing this movie. He's drunk and his hair is messed up most of the time, but he's still incredibly sexy.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Lagaan: Once Upon A Time In India (Retread)

[Note: Since I don't have the resources to see new movies as often as I'd like to update this blog, some of these posts are going to be "retreads" about older movies.]

I was totally ignorant of the Bollywood phenomenon until three years ago when, attending a movie at the local arthouse theater, I saw the trailer for Lagaan. An Indian musical?, I thought, That sounds AWESOME! I saw it a couple of times and instantly fell in love with it. It's on my top 10 favorite movie list. If you've got four hours to spare, definitely check it out.

It's set in 19th century India, during the heyday of the English colonization. Every year the villagers have to pay a tax - a significant portion of their harvest, called "lagaan". It hasn't rained much that year, and the village where Bhuvan lives can't pay. They go to their rajah for help, but he can't do much without the approval of the local British officer, Capt. Russell. Bhuvan eventually goes to the Captain himself and after a battle of wills a wager is proposed. If the villagers can put together a cricket team that can beat the Captain's team, they won't have to pay lagaan for three years. If the villagers lose the match, they have to pay triple.

Of course, the villagers haven't the first clue how to play cricket. But they have hope, and this is a movie, so that obviously makes all the difference. The Captain's sister, Elizabeth, is staying at the encampment. She takes pity on the villagers - and takes a fancy to Bhuvan - and promises to teach them how to play. Roughly the last hour of the film is consumed by the cricket match itself, and it absolutely never gets dull.

The story is quite formulaic, and you might be wondering how it manages to stretch over four hours. But this movie is absolutely amazing. It's got sports, politics, social commentary, romance, slapstick comedy, high drama, and music you will want to find a CD of as soon as the credits start rolling. There are only six musical numbers, but the film makes them count. There's no music just for music's sake. Every song has a purpose and is intricately tied to the story.

I also love the non-intrusive social message of the movie. The villagers are clearly oppressed by the English government and particularly by the Captain. But they, too, are guilty of mistreating others not in their caste. There's even a bit of a religious element to the film - but again, it's not intrusive. And, despite the fact that the villagers follow a very specific variety of Hinduism, the "big prayer scene" was incredible applicable and moving to me as a Christian. They're praying to a different god, but the feelings are the same - "O Savior ... we have no one but You".

This movie also has the most satisfying romantic resolution I think I've ever seen. I positively wanted to jump up and shout "YES!".

It's indecent how much I love this movie. It's a very well-told story. It's a BEAUTIFUL film (and not just because of the oh-so-gorgeous Aamir Khan) - beautiful landscapes and gorgeous colors. And the soundtrack is my anti-road-rage therapy. I can't possibly be upset while those songs are playing.

If you've never seen a Bollywood film before and don't think you'd be interested, give this one a shot. If you have seen a Bollywood film, but haven't seen this one, give it a shot. It's four hours of wow.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Dukes of Hazzard

Yeah, I went to see The Dukes of Hazzard. Got a problem with that? I went to a full-price evening show, too, because I wanted to see it with a good audience. I further went to the trouble to go to the other side of town and see it with a decidedly blue-collar crowd (this would not have been the same movie in the "snooty" cineplex).

I'd already heard the scathing reviews. "Stupid" seemed to be a common term throughout most of them. But I grew up on the "Dukes of Hazzard" television show (part of a stellar Saturday night lineup of Southern intrigue - "Dukes of Hazzard", followed by "Dallas"), and my small-but-spirited sense of Southern pride was dying to see this movie.

First of all, reviewers who called it "stupid" and "trash" weren't just being ornery. It's not great filmmaking, and it's not for everyone. Just to put it in a frame of reference, if you can't enjoy something like, say, Road House (even if the entertainment you get mostly comes from laughing at it), you're going to hate The Dukes of Hazzard. I daresay most people who aren't in or from the South will not "get" this movie, much like that same demographic didn't get the TV show.

But it's a LOT of fun for the right kind of audience. Here are some things that I loved about it.

Seann William Scott. Confession time. I was engaged to John Schneider (Bo Duke) when the original show aired. Yes, I was six at the time and he ended up marrying some other woman. But he was mine. I was wary about Scott playing Bo Duke. He wasn't "pretty" enough, and I couldn't get past the image of him as Stiffler from American Pie. But he's one of the best things about the movie. He made the part his own, and he's so, so funny. And kind of a hottie as well.

Johnny Knoxville. Yum. I don't remember Luke being such a ladies' man in the TV show, though.

Jessica Simpson. I have to say that she's quite good as Daisy. She has a cool, self-deprecating humor and some excellent timing. And she has one of the funniest lines in the movie ("Those two boys are gonna land themselves in jail, and I'm gonna have to shake my ass at somebody to get 'em out.").

Car chases. That's really what the TV show was all about, and there's lots of good chases in the movie. And all the chasing makes for a hilarious scene late in the movie when the General Lee gets stuck in Atlanta traffic.

How the movie handles the non-PC stuff. The General Lee doesn't have the Dixie flag on it at first - it's an amenity Cooter adds when he repairs the car early on. I was wondering if and how it would be dealt with, but I think it's handled just right - with appropriate amounts of humor and sensitivity. Other "Dixie" references (the car horn and someone's ringtone) are simply there, with no attempt to "soft-sell" them. It makes for a good balance, I think, and it doesn't feel like you're being hit over the head with the Obvious Stick.

Willie Nelson singing the theme song. 'Nuff said.

Favorite line. Roscoe to Cooter - "You couldn't fix an election if your brother was the governor." I was one of maybe four people in the room who got that that was a dig at President Bush.

So, yeah, it's a dumb movie. But it knows that it's dumb. It's funny, energetic, and knows when to wink at the audience. I enjoyed myself immensely, and I'm glad I went to see it. And frankly, if you're looking for style, substance, and intelligence from a movie called "The Dukes of Hazzard", you probably need to take a step back and look at your futility issues.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Devil's Rejects

I didn't have high hopes for this film. I saw it's predecessor, House of 1000 Corpses, a couple of years ago at "Butt-Numb-A-Thon" in Austin and it was truly horrible - and not in a good way. The Devil's Rejects is, um, the "good kind" of horrible.

The Devil's Rejects is a sequel - of sorts - to Corpses. It's a sequel in much the same way that Evil Dead 2 is a sequel to Evil Dead. It takes the same characters and tells a totally new story with them - as if the events in the first film never happened. The characters from Corpses are taken out of the modern context of that movie and have now been plopped into the late 1970s.

This film is obviously a nod to classic grindhouse or "snuff"-style films of the 1970s, most notably The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Instead of the seizure-inducing, music video style of Corpses, director Rob Zombie (that still feels a bit weird to say) has made a much more natural - and hence, much more disturbing - film with The Devil's Rejects.

It follows a family of homicidal maniacs - from the police raid on their home that yields the arrest of the matriarch through the series of grisly murders they commit to the Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque conclusion. It seems a bit perverse to have the killers be the protagonists. You almost feel like you're supposed to root for them. Almost.

But I think the cop who's hunting the killers down is as much a villain as the killers themselves are. It's a little confusing, but perhaps that's by design. I mean, yes, these people deserve what comes to them, but the lawman takes a little too much sadistic pleasure in the elaborate punishment he's carved out for them.

This is a depraved, disturbing, and downright evil film. But for what it is, it's actually very good. I was surprised that I didn't have my usual sense of fear while watching this. It's not particularly scary, nor is it really all that gory until about halfway through. But it's terribly unsettling, especially during one segment where the killer trio terrorizes a country band. Oh, and another scene where Sid Haig tells a mother and her son he needs to comandeer their car for "Secret Clown Business" - a scene that would be laugh-out-loud funny if Haig wasn't so flippin' scary.

The movie makes good use of late 1970s music as well. Great, classic songs that don't hit you over the head with how scared your supposed to be. There's a really cool sequence at the end that has "Free Bird" playing underneath it that makes for a nice little emotional moment before the bullets start flying.

I'm pretty sure I'm not going to see this movie again - I can only take the terrifying Sid Haig in small doses (he is the scariest clown ever, and that is saying something). But the movie is definitely not without artistic merit, and if you're into the sick and the twisted, this will be right up your alley.

Side note: There are lots of horror movie icons in bit parts in this film. Most recognizable is probably Michael Berryman, the creepy bald guy from The Hills Have Eyes.

March of the Penguins

I knew literally nothing about this film going into it, aside from the fact that it was a documentary about penguins and that everyone who had seen it seemed to love it. There are very few films that live up to such hype for me, and while this one didn't exactly live up to the hype, I still acknowledge that it's really an astounding film.

The filmmakers follow hundreds (thousands?) of Emperor penguins in Antarctica through their 8-month mating ritual. The lengths these penguins go to to survive and propagate their species is absolutely amazing. I don't want to go too far into details, because I think part of the power of the film is seeing the events up close.

The main flaws in the movie are that the narration is just a little too precious (despite being read by Morgan Freeman), and that there are couple of what I felt were unnecessary scares. The movie isn't really something children would get into anyway, but there are some things that made me question the G rating.

I don't think this film is necessarily "Oscar material" (whatever that means), but it is an amazing story. I think it works well on film, too, giving the viewer a lasting impression of the penguins' intimidating surroundings. And every single shot of the baby penguins will make your heart melt. It's a real testament to the will of these creatures to survive.