Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)
Roommates Zack and Miri (Seth Rogan, Elizabeth Banks) set out to make an adult movie in an attempt to escape the mounting bills and debt that have them living below the poverty line. Craig Robinson (Darryl from The Office), Jason Mewes, and porn starletts Katie Morgan and Traci Lords co-star as Kevin Smith directs his second film to take place outside of the View-Askewniverse.
My Two Cents: Seth Rogan's irritating presence oddly fits the role, and Smith once again shows his softer side, despite taking vulgarity to a new personal high. Robinson holds this one together like a Lebowski rug.

Drew's Rating: 6/10

Monday, November 24, 2008

Leatherheads

Leatherheads (2008)
It's 1925 and pro football is a floundering sideshow of a profession. Dodge Connelly (George Clooney) tries to change that by recruiting Princeton standout Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski) to the league, but Rutherford's All-American aura becomes threatened by muckraking journalist Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger).
My Two Cents: Clooney apparently overhauled the original script (penned by smarmy ESPN columnist Rick Reilly) so I cringe at imagining how much worse this movie could have been.

Drew's Rating: 4/10

Further Thoughts:

While I don't want to insult the greatness of the Coen brothers by comparing this garbage to their work, this movie took me back to two of my favorite Coen comedies, The Hudsucker Proxy and O Brother, Where Art Thou. Zellweger's cutthroat female reporter reminded me of Jennifer Jason Leigh's Amy Archer, who so callously sought to tear down the bumbling-but-inspired Norville Barnes in the former, and Clooney's conniving misfit basically followed the character blueprint he created for Everett, the semi-modern day Odysseus, in the latter.

Leatherheads is vastly inferior to both of those films.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Crucible

The Crucible (1996)
A 17th century New England town is caught up in hysteria and corruption amid accusations of witchcraft. Arthur Miller adapted his own play for this feature film, which starts Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Scofield and Winona Ryder.
My Two Cents: Superb acting and a gripping story fuel a solid adaptation of the literary classic.

Drew's rating: 7/10

Sydney White

Sydney White (2007)
Show White gets a 21st Century spin when college freshman Sydney White (Amanda Bynes) makes friends with the campus misfits after her Kappa Phi pledge bid is sabotaged by the school's most notorious "srostitute."
My Two Cents: It's too wholesome to hate.

Drew's Rating: 4/10

Further Thoughts:

Whoever cast this gets an A+. And that makes me wonder: would it be worth what I imagine is pretty good money to make a career out of being typecast as a loser?

On, and why did I watch this? (1) I tend to like goofy high school/college comedies. (2) Sometimes I feel like I should watch movies that I assume are going to be terrible just so I can get my money's worth from my HBO subscription.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Sweeny Todd (Johnny Depp) re-joins society after a lengthy prison sentence, only to find his wife dead and his daughter in the custody of the evil aristocratic Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), who sent him away for a crime he didn't commit. With the help of haggardly co-tenant Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), Todd turns his barbershop into a venue to enact vigilante justice upon the wicked. Tim Burton directs this adaptation of the popular Steven Sondheim musical.
My Two Cents: How many times can I describe a Burton film as "typical Burton fare"? As many times as Burton and Depp can collaborate on projects like this, I suppose. I must admit: the singing made me uncomfortable

Alternate My Two Cents: Lost at least half a point (if not a full one) because Sondheim's goofy songs nixed the need for Burton's favorite composer, Danny Elfman. A Burton film without Elfman's mesmerizing melodies? Blasphemy!

Drew's Rating: 6/10

Further Thoughts:

Depp and Burton have only collaborated five times. Does that seem surprisingly low to anyone else? And if they ever made a movie about Jack the Ripper, wouldn't Helena Bonham Carter have to play a starring role as one of his victims?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cloverfield

Cloverfield (2008)
A "going away" party turns deadly for a a group of twenty-something New Yorkers, when a seemingly indestructible behemoth lays waste to all of midtown Manhattan. One camcorder-equipped party goer documents the group's struggle to survive in this fairly inventive movie that stars no one you'll recognize.
My Two Cents: I couldn't get past the gimmick - as his friends face death at every turn in a city being laid to rubble, this numbnuts continues to use his camcorder - and this movie requires the gimmick.

Drew's Rating: 6/10

Further Thoughts:

Maybe it wasn't the gimmick so much as it was the character fueling the gimmick. These types of movies always seem to involve a goofy supporting role that fulfills two agendas: (1) annoying the piss out of you, and (2) dying a satisfying death. I won't address the latter, for those of you that wish to endure the refreshingly short running time spoiler-free, but the former holds true. This character, Hud, just sucked out the enjoyment for me every time he opened his mouth.

FYI

(1) NetFlix stopped doing the "$0.02 Reviews" feature well more than a year ago. But I liked it more than I like the "Leave Note" feature they have now, so I'm keeping the status quo here.

(2) I've decided to start writing my own plot synopses. Why didn't I do that from the start? For the same reason that I went more than 18 months without posting a review - I'm incredibly lazy.

(3) Since there's no reason to distinguish between my "IMDB rating" and my "NetFlix rating," I will now offer only one rating. Please remember that this rating reflects mu initial thoughts after seeing a film, and is likely to change in time (or even the following afternoon).

Monday, November 17, 2008

2008: A Year in Review

What better way to renew this blog?

Two points I'd like to make:

(1) The chick flicks are my girlfriend's fault.

(2) I used to go to the movies a lot more than I do now.

With that said, here are my categorical rankings of the movies I've seen*

Best of the Best

The Dark Knight

Bale was good, Ledger was better. Gyllenhaal was terrible, but better than Holmes (and I'm guessing it wasn't the worst perfromance of the year from that family).

Potential Oscar Buzz?

Changeling

It's Eastwood; it's glum; it's got everyone's favorite celebrity couple actress.

Just Sit Back and Enjoy

Iron Man
In Bruges
Quantum of Solace
Charlie Bartlett

A superhero, two Irish hitmen, James Bond, and Max Fischer-meets-Ferris Bueller. Movies don't always have to be "films," right?

Not as Pretentious as You Might Think

Smart People

The characters, however, define pretense.

Sequels That Mar Their Predecessors' Legacy

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Starship Troopers: Marauders

Harold and Kumar was at least funny. Indy should have opted to kick it on a beach somewhere with a Holy Grail full of pina coladas. And I'm slightly embarrassed to admit I NetFlixed the last one.

Nothing in Common Except They Were Terrible

21
Cassandra's Dream

Granted, the latter had no chance. Woody Allen movies are predisposed to be "ho hum," and what are the odds that Colin Farrell appears in two good movies in the same year?

Because I Love my Girlfriend

Definitely, Maybe
Baby Mama
What Happens in Vegas
Sex and the City

Yeah, come take my man card, tough guy.

DEVELOPING...

*I'm using wide release dates as the qualification for "2008 Movies"

I'm Back...

Blood Diamond? Really?

I've seen a few movies since then.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Blood Diamond

Blood Diamond (2006)

Set during Sierra Leone's bloody civil war in 1999, this thriller stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Danny Archer, a smuggler who sells "blood" diamonds used to finance terrorists. When Archer meets a local fisherman (Djimon Hounsou) whose son has been forced into a child army, the two men's lives become intertwined, and they set off on an adventure that leads them through the world's major diamond centers. DiCaprio and Hounsou earned Oscar nods for their performances.
My Two Cents: In many respects it's a beautiful spectacle, and it overcomes the minor flaws inherent among films that allow geo-political arrogance to get in the way of things like acting, chemistry and story.

NetFlix Rank: Really Liked It
IMDB Rank: 8/10

Further thoughts:

Everything has to have a message these days, right? Look at the criticaly acclaimed films of the past few years and the subjects they've dealth with: inequality, corruption, relativism; it's almost as if filmmakers forget that their job is to entertain as much as it is to proselytize.

Blood Diamond deals with all of these themes, but its saving grace is that because the cast is so adept at conveying multiple dimensions, the film doesn't relegate its scope to simple propoganda. Instead it covers the full gamut of classic plotlines: survival, redemption, sacrifice, and a good ol' fashioned dichotomy between good and evil.

If for no other reason this film is worth watching because three of the best in the business display why they have a combined six Oscar nominations (and one win) among them.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Half Nelson

Half Nelson (2006)

Ryan Fleck's feature film debut tells the story of an unlikely friendship that helps a self-destructive educator pull it together. In his struggle to balance his personal and professional lives, inner-city teacher Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling, in an Oscar-nominated role) spends most of his time nursing hangovers. But who could've known that a life-changing lesson would come from one of his students (Shareeka Epps)? Gosling and Epps both won Independent Spirit awards for their lead roles.
My Two Cents: There's nothing subtle about its preachiness, or more importantly, the way Gosling's and Epps' powerfully complementary performances personify the film's running theme.

NetFlix Rank: Really Liked It
IMDB Rank: 8/10

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Core

The Core (2003)

The Earth's inner core has stopped spinning, and scientist Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) must discover the cause before the world literally falls apart. He and a group of brilliant researchers burrow deep into the Earth's center in a subterranean vessel piloted by Maj. Beck Childs (Hilary Swank) and Col. Robert Iverson (Bruce Greenwood). There, they'll detonate a device that they hope will get the world to turn again ... before it's too late.
My Two Cents: Armageddon w/o the all-star cast, and an even worse script. Why do I keep watching awful movies?

NetFlix Rank: Hated It
IMDB Rank: 3/10

100 Girls

100 Girls (2000)

When a blackout knocks out an elevator in a college girls' dorm, Matthew and a mysterious girl connect carnally and emotionally. But he's left in the dark as to her identity. He's got 100 suspects and a slew of hilarious schemes to worm his way into the hearts and panty drawers of each and every one of them!
My Two Cents: No different than your run-of-the-mill teen/young adult comedy. Probably would have been better with a less-annoying guy in the lead role.

Atlernative My Two Cents: Larisa Oleynik, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Jaime Pressly, Katherine Heigl... don't blame me for giving it a try.

NetFlix Rank: Didn't Like It
IMDB Rank: 5/10

Game Six

Game Six (2005)

Legendary scribe Don DeLillo wrote this fascinating film about a New York playwright, Nicky Rogan (Michael Keaton), who's immersed in failure. Unable to ride the coattails of success no matter how hard he tries, Nicky distracts himself from his endless career woes by obsessing about those of others -- namely, the perpetual underdogs of baseball, the Boston Red Sox. But Nicky can't sit out the game of life forever. Michael Hoffman directs.
My Two Cents: If you absolutely must watch one bad movie that ties in with the Boston Red Sox, I'd recommend Fever Pitch instead.

NetFlix Rank: Didn't Like It
IMDB Rank: 5/10

Easy

Easy (2003)

Jamie (Marguerite Moreau) has a big problem: She's a magnet for jerky boyfriends. But things might be looking up when she becomes the object of affection of two seemingly normal guys (Brian O'Byrne and Naveen Andrews). Unfortunately, there's the immense problem of picking just the right guy -- and "eeny, meeny, miney, moe" just isn't gonna do it in this case!
My Two Cents: Connie from the Mighty Ducks movies sheds her clothes early and often ([Borat] very nice! [/Borat]) in this brutal cautionary tale against being a ho-bag.

NetFlix Rank: Didn't Like It
IMDB Rank:

The Prestige

The Prestige (2006)

At the dawn of the 20th century, rival magicians Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) are desperate to reveal each other's secrets. Obsessed by the escalating competition, the two illusionists begin to perform increasingly risky tricks -- which soon turn deadly. Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson and David Bowie also star in this taut psychological thriller from director Christopher Nolan.
My Two Cents: Nolan's cerebral thriller compares in quality to previous efforts like Memento and Batman Begins, and proves his versatility; Bale needs no cape and cowl to prove his flair for the dramatic.

NetFlix Rank: Really Liked It
IMDB Rank: 8/10

Further thoughts:

I came close to calling it an "all-star" cast, but after further consideration I decided that Batman, Wolverine, The West Wing's Lord John Marbury, Scarlett Johanssen (in her 4,831st role of 2006), and Caine, who yet again worked his Sherpa-like brilliance, comprise a solid ensemble, but might slightly cheapen the term "all-star."
Not that it matters. The direction is what separates The Prestige.

Nolan's officially won me over with this film. Memento's genius can be chalked up to a gimmick, and with Batman Begins, you could say that he succeeded merely in becoming the anti-Schumacher. But here he takes a period piece about rival magicians and turns it into a beguiling sleeper of a film that deserves mention alongside some just about anything 2006 had to offer.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Stranger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Ficton (2006)

As a novelist (Emma Thompson) struggles with how to kill off her main character, IRS auditor Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) begins hearing her narration in his head and realizes he must prevent his own death. Crick's world turns upside down, and it's a life-or-death situation as he tries to persuade best-selling author Kay Eiffel to change the ending of her novel. Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman and Queen Latifah lead the fine supporting cast.
My Two Cents: Ferrell's distracting attempt to play it straight in no way detracts from the clever premise and mostly well-written story.

NetFlix Rank: Really Liked It
IMDB Rank: 8/10

Further thoughts:

This was supposed to do for Ferrell what The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind did for Jim Carrey, right? Nah, not really, but it's not a disasterous performance either. It's not that he's incapable of not playing a goofball, but it seemed forced here.

The story-within-a-story, on the other hand, did not feel forced. In fact, it manages to take every perfect turn, which isn't always the case with meta-fiction. And when it gets to the ending that seems impossible to nail, it nails it.

Perhaps most refreshing is that while it scratches the surface of "determinism v. free will," Fiction doesn't bog itself down in the kind of pseudo-intellectual meanderings that could often add meaning at the expense of pretense.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Poseidon

Poseidon (2006)

Battling the elements once again, Wolfgang Petersen (The Perfect Storm) re-creates Ronald Neame's 1972 action classic with help from an ensemble cast that includes Kurt Russell, Richard Dreyfuss, Josh Lucas, Emmy Rossum and Stacy Ferguson (aka "Fergie" of the Black Eyed Peas). A tidal wave spells disaster for a boatload of New Year's Eve revelers when it capsizes the mammoth vessel, pitching the passengers into a desperate battle for survival.
My Two Cents: Eh, the effects were ok, but two things would have improved it: a) A Scorcese-esque, "everyone dies" ending; b) Emmy Rossum losing her clothes.

NetFlix Rank: Didn't Like It
IMDB Rank: 6/10

One Night With the King

One Knight With the King (2006)

One Night with the King chronicles the brave and historic legend of Hadassah (Tiffany Dupont), a Jewish orphan with exceptional beauty who rises to become Queen Esther of Persia and saves Persian Jews from genocide. By revealing her heritage to the king, Esther thwarts the plan by evil Prime Minister Haman to annihilate all Jews in the Persian Empire. The annual festival of Purim is inspired by Queen Esther's heroism.
My Two Cents: It's not that I think it's bad, per se; I suppose I just didn't understand the need to turn a story that can get by on its own merits into a sappy chick flick.

NetFlix Rank: Didn't Like It
IMDB Rank: 5/10

Hollywoodland

Hollywoodland (2006)

When George Reeves (Ben Affleck), the actor who famously played the Man of Steel in TV's "Adventures of Superman," turns up dead, a dogged private eye (Adrien Brody) investigates and unearths a string of strange secrets. Diane Lane and Bob Hoskins also star in this gritty noir-style drama based on the true story of one of Hollywood's most infamous mysteries, a film that marks television director Allen Coulter's feature film debut.
My Two Cents: Brody does a great job playing Brody; the rest is "ho-hum." In other words, it met every expectation I had for it.

NetFlix Rank: Didn't Like It
IMDB Rank: 6/10

Running With Scissors

Running With Scissors (2006)

When Deirdre Burroughs (Annette Bening) impulsively decides that her adolescent son Augusten (Joseph Cross) should be raised by her unconventional psychiatrist (Brian Cox), her choice to give him away changes the course of his life forever. An all-star ensemble cast -- including Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Evan Rachel Wood, Alec Baldwin and Jill Clayburgh -- drives this quirky adaptation of Augusten Burroughs's best-selling memoir.
My Two Cents: Dysfunctional in every sense of the word.

NetFlix Rank: Didn't Like It
IMDB Rank: 6/10

My Big Fat Independent Movie

My Big Fat Independent Movie (2005)

In this parody of the independent film genre, Johnny Vince (Darren Keefe) is a hip cat who plays trombone in a swing band. Two bumbling criminals, Sam (Neil Barton) and Harvey (Eric Hoffman), mistake Johnny for a member of a crime trio put together by their mob boss in order to pull off a robbery in Las Vegas. On their way to Sin City, they take a gorgeous woman hostage, but have no idea that she's about to change their lives.
My Two Cents: Maybe the worst effort in the lowest common denominator of movie genres.

NetFlix Rank: Hated It
IMDB Rank: 1/10

The Ringer

The Ringer (2006)

Desperate for dough to help a pal erase a gaming debt, lowlife Steve Barker (Johnny Knoxville) plots with his buddy to rig the Special Olympics. The plan: Steve will masquerade as a competitor in the hope of unseating the high-and-mighty reigning champ, Jimmy. Some of the other contestants recognize Steve as a fake, but because they'd also like to see Jimmy fail, they go all out to help the imposter prevail. Brian Cox and Katherine Heigl co-star.
My Two Cents: Knoxville carries a decent enough comedy.

NetFlix Rank: Liked It
IMDB: 6/10

Date Movie

Date Movie (2006)

Skewering the gooey romantic comedy formula, this over-the-top spoof from the minds behind the Scary Movie franchise stars Alyson Hannigan (of American Pie fame) as a young woman in love with being in love. But after meeting the man of her dreams -- a dashing Brit (Adam Campbell) -- the hopeless romantic runs across every obstacle in the book, from disapproving parents to scheming best friends determined to put the kibosh on the couple.
My Two Cents: Off after about 25 minutes; This is almost surely the worst movie ever made that did not feature Ben Stiller or Owen Wilson, though they may have actually made it better.

NetFlix Rank: Hated It
IMDB Rank: 1/10

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Scoop

Scoop (2006)

A young American journalist hits the jackpot when she chances upon a major scoop and falls for an upper-crust Brit in this Woody Allen comedy. While visiting friends in London, college journalism student Jade Spence (Scarlett Johansson) beats out Britain's reporters by exposing a story involving murder and magic, and just as the story heats up, so do things between Jade and a hunky aristocrat (Hugh Jackman). Allen and Ian McShane co-star.
My Two Cents: Tolerable, if only for Scarlett's bodacious ta-ta's... In all seriousness, has Allen ever made a really good movie?

NetFlix Rank: Didn't Like It
IMDB Rank: 6/10

Note: You never actually see her ta-ta's, but her wardrobe accentuates their niceness.

Network

Network (1976)

Paddy Chayefsky predicted today's rash of trash television and shock-laden news broadcasts. The writer of Marty created network news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch), who loses his mind on the air. Unfortunately, his outrageous rants boost the ratings and intrigue cutthroat network executives Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall. William Holden contrasts their avarice as an old-school TV journalist hopelessly out of step.
My Two Cents: It's an engaging "dramedy" with first-rate acting, but 30 years later it can't escape feeling dated, despite its almost uncanny presience.

NetFlix Rank: Liked It
IMDB Rank: 8/10

BONUS BLOGGING

Robert's Two Cents: Deservedly in the AFI 100, a wildly unique and entertaining classic 70's film that was way ahead of it's time.

NetFlix Rank: Loved It

The Science of Sleep

The Science of Sleep (2006)

A timid young man can't control the fantastical plots and images of his dream world from intruding into his waking hours in Michel Gondry's science-fiction romance. After a promising new job sours, Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal) finds new inspiration in his neighbor Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg). To connect with her, shy Stephane releases the bolder personality of his dreams, but his waking insecurities threaten to destroy the relationship.
My Two Cents: The confluence of fantasy with reality makes it easy to overlook that these eccentic characters lead profoundly normal lives, and that I found endearing. This is a film that's instantly re-watchable.

NetFlix Rank: Really Liked It
IMDB Rank: 8/10

Further thoughts:

I give up. I liked this a lot, but I can't even begin to explain why. No adjective fits. "Surreal" is too cliched, and "quirky" is too pedestrian. I suppose I'll just have to watch it again. And maybe again after that. It'll come to me eventually. Until then I'll settle for its endearing outlandishness, and Gainsbourg, who I found oddly charming.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Sherrybaby

Sherrybaby (2006)

Golden Globe-nominated Maggie Gyllenhaal stars in director Laurie Collyer's feature film debut about a young woman's struggle for normalcy. After being released from prison, Sherry Swanson (Gyllenhaal) returns to the realities of life, visiting with her parole officer, finding a job and being a mother to her 5-year-old daughter. But complications arise when Swanson learns that in her absence her brother and his wife have become surrogate parents.
My Two Cents: Gyllenhaal sells it, but is it worth buying? I need to care before I can sympathize, and this just didn't make me care. Tales of redemption should try to redeem their characters along the way.

NetFlix Rank: Didn't Like It
IMDB Rank: 6/10

The Black Dahlia

The Black Dahlia (2006)

In this thriller based on James Ellroy's novel, Los Angeles cops Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) uncover corruption and conspiracy within the force while searching for the killer of Tinseltown hopeful Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner). The film follows Bleichert and Blanchard as they venture into Hollywood's darker side to piece together Short's secret life in an effort to crack the 1947 high-profile case.
My Two Cents: It still had 10 minutes left when I couldn't take anymore. What does that tell you? It told me that 35% on the Tomatometer may have been too high. Splat.

NetFlix Rank: Didn't Like It
IMDB Rank: 5/10

Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Billy Wilder's noir classic about Hollywood decadence remains as
razor-sharp as ever. Norma (Gloria Swanson), a faded silent film star plotting
her return, employs Joe (William Holden), a struggling screenwriter, to help
edit a script that she has penned. As the work progresses, Norma draws closer to
Joe, engulfing him in her fiery throes, but Joe wants out.
My Two Cents: Critics often favor the acting in classics compared to today's fare, yet this struggles with over-acting from both leads. I really liked Nancy Olsen's supporting role as the charming Ms. Schaefer.

NetFlix Rank: Liked It
IMDB Rank: 8/10

BONUS BLOGGING

Robert's Two Cents: A Good Movie, Strange. Dated if not pointless, void of substance. A movie about Hollywood you say ?? Please spare me.

NetFlix Rank: Didn't Like It

Monday, January 29, 2007

All the King's Men

All the King's Men (2006)

Sean Penn stars as corrupt Southern politician Willie Stark in this remake of the Oscar-winning 1949 film based on Robert Penn Warren's novel. The charismatic Stark wins the populist vote, but behind closed doors, he's as underhanded as the predecessors he smeared. Ex-reporter Jack Burden (Jude Law) unwittingly helps Stark gain political power, but it's just a matter of time before the governor's crooked dealings are exposed.
My Two Cents: There came a point when I decided I'd rather read the 600-page book than continue watching this disappointing snore-fest. It was around the 45-minute mark.

Alternative Andy from The Office Two Cents: Actors: Good; Cast: "Mis"; Story: Classic; Script: Yawn; Kate Winslet: Still Love Her.

NetFlix Rank: Didn't Like It
IMDB Rank: 6/10

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Oscars: Part One of Many...

I still have a lot to see before I feel comfortable making predictions or judgments on the recently announced Oscar field, but one I can now count the Best Picture category as complete.

Here's a quick look back at the Two-Cent Reviews for each nominated film from me and my friends (no predictions just yet):

Little Miss Sunshine

Drew's Two Cents: Many films explore themes like dealing with a dysfunctional family and coping with loss. Few do it in an endearing manner thats both dark and comedic, and even fewer do it as well.

Robert's Two Cents: The fact that it's not my kind of deal yet I liked it so much probably speaks to the strength of the screenplay. I kept thinking "there's no way to end this movie"... But WOW did they ever nail it.

The Departed

Drew's Two Cents: Things that lived up to the hype: Bush and Gore on Election Night 2000; Vince Young and Matt Leinart in the 2006 Rose Bowl; and Damon, DiCaprio, and everyone else in The Departed. Bravo!

Matt's Two Cents: Thrilling....Dicaprio and Nicholson are great. I thought the ending was a bit too forced and the easy way out, however.

Robert's Two Cents: A fun and very well made popcorn-thriller. The degree to which DiCaprio (who should get an Oscar here, imo) outshined Damon was really amazing.

Babel

Drew's Two Cents: Bizarre in that it stretches a shallow theme of "woe is me" unfairness into an intricately woven, engaging framework; The editing makes this film better than it really is.

Robert's Two Cents: Exhausting, as nearly all 142 minutes seem to create a constant sense of impending doom.

Kevin's Two Cents: Difficult to watch, but very well done. I'm glad I saw it, but I wouldn't want to see it again.

The Queen

Drew's Two Cents: Despite the silly hyperbole of its central plot, it's a fascinating "fly on the wall" political docudrama fueled by Mirren's Oscar-worthy performance.

Robert's Two Cents: Helen Mirren carries an interesting little movie into something much bigger..Yet I thought production was noticeably rough, and am surprised at all the praise it is receiving.

Letters From Iwo Jima

Drew's Two Cents: Touches on cameraderie, honor, duty, and sacrifice... and shows the universal nature of patriotism; Eastwood outdoes himself... or at least his previous trip to Iwo Jima.

Robert's Two Cents: I usually prefer big-picture flag waving above stories of moral equivalency between "men at war", but here a real pro does the latter in a subtle way that is just on the edge of greatness.


To be continued...

Letters From Iwo Jima

Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)

As tens of thousands of Allied troops push further inland, the Japanese troops defending Iwo Jima during World War II prepare to meet their fate in this Clint Eastwood-directed Oscar nominee for Best Picture, a companion piece to his hit film Flags of Our Fathers. Japanese Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) knows his men are outnumbered and, with no hope of rescue, that most will eventually die in battle -- or end up killing themselves.
My Two Cents: Touches on cameraderie, honor, duty, and sacrifice... and shows the universal nature of patriotism; Eastwood outdoes himself... or at least his previous trip to Iwo Jima.

NetFlix Rank: Really Liked It
IMDB Rank: 8/10

BONUS BLOGGING

Robert's Two Cents: I usually prefer big-picture flag waving above stories of moral equivalency between "men at war", but here a real pro does the latter in a subtle way that is just on the edge of greatness.

NetFlix Rank: Really Liked It

Further thoughts:

War is hell, right? It certainly is for the insignificant soldier in the midst of bloody carnage. Most reviews I've read agree that Eastwood hits the proverbial nail on the head in his depiction of Joe Nobody's batlefield horrors. I won't argue that. I will, however, take it a step further.

For the grunts war isn't always about good and evil. That exists in the macrocosm that the fighting men don't have time to ponder. It's about right and wrong, but in its most individual context.

Eastwood proves that a war movie can make a statement even when it lacks the aesthetics, emotion or grandeur of its peers. And for that I have to applaud.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Little Children

Little Children (2006)

In director Todd Field's titillating tale, the lives of several adult suburbanites, who have yet to surpass adolescence, intersect on the streets of their small town in unexpected ways. While on-the-go wife and mother Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) is preoccupied with her career, Sarah (Kate Winslet, in an Oscar-nominated role), a mother who does not know how to mother, is busy having an affair with stay-at-home dad Brad (Patrick Wilson) -- Kathy's husband.
My Two Cents: American Beauty w/o the pretense? What struck me was its ability to redeem tragically flawed characters without relying on cliched convenience.

NetFlix Rank: Really Liked It
IMDB Rank: 8/10

Further thoughts:

For the longest time (i.e., at least two hours into the film) I struggled with the question: Do I think Little Children is a great movie that I don't like? Or do I really like it and think that it sucks? Ultimately I ruled in its favor on both accounts.

Little Children keeps the viewer guessing. It doesn't necessarily play out the way it appears that it's going to play out. Despite downward spirals, forced metaphors and, yes, some predictability, the film sidesteps every groan-inducing story path and winds up in a (for lack of a better word) perfect spot.

In the end you witness a group of unlikeable adults earn the sympathy that you spend more than two hours trying to give them, yet do not for fear of losing your own self-rspect. Maybe that's what I found so remarkable. Little Children disappointed, surprised and fascinated me. It's the kind of movie that I can spend days ruminating... and that I probably will.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention these final thoughts:

1. Kudos to Phyllis Somerville for what I thought was a powerful supporting role as the film's lone tragically sympathetic soul.

2. Todd Field has to be an NFL Films fan, and I wouldn't be surprised if I learned that Steve Sabol directed the flag fotball sequence near the end. Outstanding and hilarious!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Revisiting the 2006 Oscars...

We're nearing time for the 2007 Oscar nominations, so since I hadn't really seen many of the contenders at the time of the 2006 ceremony, I figured why not look back at the list a year later?

Note: I went 2 for 6 in my predictions.

Best Actor

Nominees: Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Capote," Terrence
Howard in "Hustle & Flow," Heath Ledger in "Brokeback Mountain," Joaquin Phoenix in "Walk the Line," David Strathairn in "Good Night, and Good
Luck."
Won: Hoffman

Should have won?: I can't disagree. In fact I'll go so far as to say that he lapped the field. Phoenix and Howard were good, while I didn't see anything special about Ledger or Straithairn.

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: George Clooney in "Syriana," Matt Dillon in "Crash," Paul Giamatti in "Cinderella Man," Jake Gyllenhaal in "Brokeback Mountain," William Hurt in "A History of Violence"
Won: Clooney

Should have won?: Clooney wasn't a bad choice, but I'm still partial to Giamatti. Gyllenhaal was awful. AWFUL.

Best Actress

Nominees: Judi Dench in "Mrs. Henderson Presents," Felicity Huffman in "Transamerica," Keira Knightley in "Pride & Prejudice," Charlize Theron in "North Country," Reese Witherspoon in "Walk the Line"
Won: Witherspoon

Should have won?: I'll be honest; I still never saw three of the nominees (nor may I ever). But as much as I love Kiera Knightley (and loved Pride and Prejudice), I think Witherspoon was the right choice.

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Amy Adams in "Junebug," Catherine Keener in "Capote," Frances McDormand in "North Country," Rachel Weisz in "The Constant Gardener," Michelle Williams in "Brokeback Mountain
Won: Adams

Should have Won?: Good field, but I agree with the pick, and I'm glad she won, or else I may never have seen the delightful Junebug.

Best Director

Nominees: "Brokeback Mountain," Ang Lee; "Capote," Bennett Miller; "Crash," Paul Haggis; "Good Night, and Good Luck," George Clooney; "Munich," Steven Spielberg
Won: Lee

Should have Won?: Tough call. I think Miller did a great job, though Lee showed flashes of brilliance in his b-grade movie. And a year later, having seen it again, I think I was unfairly critical of Spielberg's effort. It was much better than I originally gave it credit.

Best Picture

Nominees: "Brokeback Mountain," "Capote," "Crash," "Good Night, and Good Luck," "Munich"
Won: Crash

Should have won?: Capote. Period. But in retrospect I think I've elevated Munich to number two (at least from the available choices). Brokeback and Good Night have no business in the discussion.

Who Killed the Electric Car?

Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006)

Amid ever-increasing gas prices, this documentary delves into the short life of the GM EV1 electric car -- once all the rage in the mid-1990s and now fallen by the roadside. How could such an efficient, green-friendly vehicle fail to transform our garages and skies? Through interviews with government officials, former GM employees and concerned celebs (such as EV1 driver Mel Gibson), Chris Paine (former EV1 owner) seeks to answer the question.
My Two Cents: Pedantic sob-story that panders to irrelavant emotional fixation with a certain car; misses its chance to make a meaningful "big picture" statement.

NetFix Rank: Didn't Like It
IMDB Rank: 6/10

Further Thoughts:

I'm on board with Global Warming, slowly but surely. I'm not Dennis Quaid in Day After Tomorrow, but unlike many of my conservative brethren I feel that there exists enough truth to continue examining the issue.

Who Killed the Electric Car? feigns interest in this issue, but it doesn't make much more than a feeble attempt to dissect how its subject matter can contribute to a long-term solution. It's schmaltzy and dishonest and annoying. Its title should be: Who Killed the EV1?, as maybe ten percent of the 90-minute running time relates the plight of these 100 or so EV1-owners to the larger concern at hand.

If you're looking for a documentary that makes a compelling argument then stick with An Inconvenient Truth.

Keeping Up With the Steins

Keeping Up With the Steins (2006)

While his parents plan an over-the-top bar mitzvah on his behalf, a 13-year-old boy struggles with his own shyness and his desire to see his father and grandfather reconcile. Directed by Scott Marshall, who deftly mocks Hollywood excess, this sharp but loving satire of materialism took home the Best Feature award at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. Jeremy Piven, Jami Gertz, Doris Roberts and newcomer Daryl Sabara lead the standout cast.
My Two Cents: Jeremy Piven's PG-rated Ari Gold does little more than tease interest in this sappy snoozer. I did really enjoy the Jeff Spicoli reset around the 0:30 point.

NetFlix Rank: Didn't Like It
IMDB Rank: 5/10

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Babel

Babel (2006)

When an American couple (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) vacationing in Morocco fall victim to a random act of violence, a series of events unfolds across four countries that demonstrates both the necessity and impossibility of human communication. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams) won Best Director honors at the Cannes Film Festival for this film, which weaves together three seemingly disparate stories of strangers in strange lands.
My Two Cents: Bizarre in that it stretches a shallow theme of "woe is me" unfairness into an intricately woven, engaging framework; The editing makes this film better than it really is.

NetFlix Rank: Liked It
IMDB Rank: 8/10

Further Thoughts:

I don't know that I buy the connection here between two American tourists, a deaf-mute Japanese teen, an illegal immigrant and a goat-herding Morroccan family. It's forced, and borderline silly. And the running social commentary that life is unfair for the underpriveleged smacks of naivete.

But... there's always the "but," right? Much like in his previous work, Inarritu spins multiple stories concurrently, aligned via a central connection. Here, though, it's not so much an event as it is a need. The characters all lack that "something," and it's what makes their stories compelling, even when I didn't personally like them. Then there's the editing; the vignettes don't intertwine so much as they blend, back and forth, playing off of each other. The style accentuates each situation, even as the message trips over its own heavy handed-ness.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Queen

The Queen (2006)

After Princess Diana's shocking death, Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) and Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) engage in intimate talks as Britain demands the princess be memorialized in a manner beyond standard protocol. This drama goes behind the scenes as the queen and prime minister try to manage Diana's death on a personal level while also dealing with a public calling for royal treatment for their beloved Diana. James Cromwell co-stars.
My Two Cents: Despite the silly hyperbole of its central plot, it's a fascinating "fly on the wall" political docudrama fueled by Mirren's Oscar-worthy performance.

NetFlix Rank: Loved It
IMDB Rank: 8/10

Further Thoughts:

What struck me most about this was the way it played out. It reminded me of Thirteen Days, though that film certainly tackled a more meaningful subject. The Queen operates in the back rooms of the political process, chronicling the spin-doctors, decision-makers and story-shapers at work.

Then there's Mirren. Her performance was as good as anything I've seen the past few years -- absolutely solid in every regard, as she lends an empathetic light to Queen Elizabeth. The rest of the cast complemented her work, but she no doubt steals the show.

American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile

American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile (2006)

An offshoot of the raunchy yet successful imprint, The Naked Mile stars Steve Talley as Adam Stifler, the virginal cousin and polar opposite of Matt and Steve. Adam and his girlfriend decide not to have sex until they're ready. But when Adam and his friends participate in his cousin's university's annual naked run across campus, Adam comes out of his prude shell and learns more about himself than he expects.
My Two Cents: Recycles a lot of the same shtick that made the first three funny, but it's not quite as good the second time around. The excess of boobs, though, helps.

NetFlix Rank: Liked It
IMDB Rank: 5/10

Jackass 2

Jackass 2 (2006)

In the second film based on the infamous MTV series of the same name, Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Bam Margera and the rest of the gang continue to shun dignity and embrace danger in a series of idiotic feats. As always, the gross-out factor is high in stunts involving horse semen, a fake beard made out of pubic hair and more as the crew travels to India in this Jeff Tremaine-directed sequel.
My Two Cents: Don't watch this one while you're eating.

NetFlix Rank: Liked It
IMDB Rank: 6/10

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd (2006)

Matt Damon and Robert De Niro (who also directs) star in this partially fact-based drama that examines the early history of the CIA as seen through the eyes of a dedicated agent. An upstanding, sharp-minded Yale student, Edward Wilson (Damon) is recruited to work for the fledgling CIA during World War II. Though loyal to his country, Wilson begins to feel the job eroding his ideals, filling him with distrust and destroying his personal life.
My Two Cents: Its intricately woven web of deceit and deception is as compelling as it is long; Damon turns in yet another stellar performance under Deniro's Scorsese-esque direction.

NetFlix Rank: Really Liked It
IMDB Rank: 8/10

Further thoughts:

Aside from its running time, I can't fathom why this film earned a 56% rotten rating. Maybe it helps to know a little bit about the life and downward spiral of James Jesus Angleton, on whom Damon's character was based. I definitely recommend reading up on him for further insight into the film's events.

Shepherd plays out along converging timelines, which help to accentuate the ambiguous nature of foreign intelligence. We see the end result -- successes and failures -- before we see how they transpired. Damon's character alternates between patriotism, paranoia, skpeticism and regret, and he does so convincingly (award-worthy, even).

What we end up with is a thorough depiction of one fascinating historical era.

Accepted

Accepted (2006)

After receiving rejection letters from eight colleges, Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long) and his slacker friends fool their parents into thinking they've been accepted at the South Harmon Institute of Technology, a university of their own invention. The only problem is, the boys have somehow managed to attract a freshman class of rejects just like them. Can the South Harmon coeds compete in a battle of wits with students from a neighboring college?
My Two Cents: Eh... Long delivers enough wit to salvage a pretty borderline comedy.

NetFlix Rank: Liked It
IMDB Rank: 6/10

Mission: Impossible III

Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Helmed by J.J. Abrams, the third entry in the explosive espionage series finds semiretired superspy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) forced back into action to save his protégé, Lindsey Ferris (Keri Russell). To checkmate her investigation, badass arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) abducts Lindsey, sending Ethan and his crack field team to Berlin on a rescue mission. Meanwhile, Ethan's agency superiors may be double-dealing their operatives.

My Two Cents: Hoffman plays a pretty good bad guy.

NetFlix Rank: Liked It
IMDB Rank: 7/10

Rocky Balboa

Rocky Balboa (2006)

Though long retired from boxing, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) returns to the ring for one last hurrah in this drama featuring the iconic action star. Now widowed, Rocky's settled into middle age running a deli. But the former champ misses the sparring life, and he's drawn back into the ring after suffering a personal tragedy. When he's offered a shot at the title, he'll have to go all out to prove he's still got what it takes.
My Two Cents: For all that can be said about Rocky Balboa, perhaps the best is that it provides the kind of fitting closure to the series that Rocky V did not.

NetFlix Rank: Really Liked It
IMDB Rank: 7/10

Further thoughts:

First off, that synopsis is off-base. He runs a restaurant, not a deli. And it's an exhibition, not a title fight.

Anyway... what struck me most about this movie is that it draws its inspiration from its predecessors. And it's not a movie about boxing; it's a movie about family and fulfillment, self-respect and self-determination.

It's probably the most complete Rocky film since the original. And at the very least it wipes away the embarrasment that was Rocky V. We see the former champion ride into the proverbial sunset with a finale that accentuates all that we loved about the diminuitive-yet-courageous hero.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Beerfest

Beerfest (2006)

Two German-American brothers vow to defend their family's beer-guzzling honor in this outrageous comedy. During a trip to Germany to scatter their grandfather's ashes, Wolfhouse siblings Todd (Erik Stolhanske) and Jan (Paul Soter) discover Beerfest, the secret Olympics of downing stout, and want to enter the contest. When their Old Country cousins sneer at the Yanks' chances, they return to America to prepare for a showdown the following year.
Meine Zwei Pfennig: Inebriated jingoism run amok... No, it's not good... but it's funny as hell... and if nothing else it'll make you want to drink. I recommend a nice Hefeweizen. Alles klar! Or somesuch...

Alternate Two Cents: Frau Spurlin would be disappointed that the little I can remember from her two years of instruction is being used to describe a juvenile movie about beer.

Alternate Homer Simpson Two Cents: mmmmmmmm... Beer...

NetFlix Rank: Really Liked It
IMDB Rank: 7/10

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Polar Express

The Polar Express (2004)

Chris Van Allsburg's inspiring children's book is brought to life in this warm-hearted animated tale directed by Robert Zemeckis. A young boy (voiced by both Daryl Sabara and co-executive producer Tom Hanks, who also lends his talents to the role of the conductor) with shaky faith finds it strengthened after he makes his way by train to the North Pole, where he finds reason to believe not only in others, but most importantly in himself.
My Two Cents: Falls somewhere between, and slightly below, 'heartwarming' and/or 'delightful.' Still, it means well. I feel that I missed out on the real experience by not seeing its IMAX presentation.

NetFlix Rank: Liked It
IMDB Rank: 6/10

Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Two sheepherders -- Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar (Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger) -- meet and fall in love while working together near Wyoming's Brokeback Mountain in 1963. Over the next 20 years, their lives take different courses: Jack becomes a rodeo cowboy while Ennis remains a ranch hand. Anne Hathaway, Randy Quaid and Michelle Williams co-star. Ang Lee directs screenwriter Larry McMurtry's adaptation of a short story by E. Annie Proulx.
My Two Cents: Why the hype? This poorly constructed B-movie dances between pastoral epic and gritty art film, while everyone but Ledger dials up the campy over-acting to beyond Lucas-esque levels.

NetFlix Rank: Didn't Like It
IMDB Rank: 6/10

Further thoughts:

I'll say this, and only this, about the controversial nature of this film: if its intent was to make some sort of social commentary about alternative lifestyles, then why did it choose to spotlight a couple of dishonorable, adultering cowboys?

Ledger earns points for his understated, brooding performance, but the rest is over-marketed mediocrity. In what alternate universe does a boring, unimaginative love story about characters as one-dimensional as these warrant Oscar buzz? It's a "Me Tarzan, you John" relationship that goes nowhere over the course of two-plus hours, which honestly feel closer to the two decades of elapsed time.

Give me a break.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Puffy Chair

The Puffy Chair

When Josh (Mark Duplass, whose brother Jay directs) finds the
perfect birthday present for his father, he decides to deliver it in person. But
with his high-maintenance girlfriend Emily (Kathryn Aselton) and granola brother
Rhett (Rhett Wilkins) along for the ride, Josh's simple road trip turns into a
much bigger journey than anyone anticipated. This indie romantic dramedy was an
audience favorite at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.

My Two Cents: The audience at Sundance apparently had frostbite of the brain. Proof positive that "indie" does not always equal "better than mainstream."

NetFlix Rank: Hated It
IMDB Rank: 2/10

The Nativity Story

The Nativity Story (2006)

Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) and Joseph (Oscar Isaac) make the hard journey to Bethlehem for a blessed event in this retelling of the Nativity story. From director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen), this meticulously researched and visually lush adaptation of the biblical tale follows the pair on their arduous path to their arrival in a small village, where they find shelter in a quiet manger and Jesus is born. Shohreh Aghdashloo co-stars.
My Two Cents: There's not a whole lot here not to like; it's a traditional, and at times beautiful, re-telling of a story we all know. (Extra points awared for its score's subtle incorporation of Christmas Carols.)

NetFlix Rank: Really Liked It
IMDB Rank: 8/10

Further Thoughts

With all of the hoopla that emerges this time of year about Christmas -- rampant commercialism, the secular "war on Christmas," the glee some people take in trying to dis-prove the widely held beliefs about the first Christmas -- it's refreshing to watch a film that at its heart simply celebrates a wonderful moment.

No matter how it transpired, the ultimate point of this story is that it transpired at all. Did it actually happen on December 25th? Were three wise men present to witness the delivery? Did they really bring gold, frankincense and myhrr?

Who cares?

The Nativity Story doesn't bog itself down in the minutiae of what's accurate and what's legend. It instead focuses on the elements of the story that matter -- namely that Jesus was born of a virgin womb to fulfill God's prophecy of a Messiah. It does that, and it does that very well.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Mini's First Time

Mini's First Time (2006)

Inspired by actual news articles, this dark comedy about a dysfunctional family and its deadly consequences is writer-director Nick Guthe's impressive first-time foray into feature films. Mini (Nikki Reed) hates her materialistic mother (Carrie-Anne Moss) and uses her rich stepfather (Alec Baldwin) to teach Mom a lesson. Luke Wilson and Jeff Goldblum co-star in this film bleeding with deception, sex and scandal.
My Two Cents: It really doesn't matter if I thought this was bad or good (or somewhere in between). I watched it because Nikki Reed is hot. Very Hot. And I'd watch it again for that very reason.

NetFlix Rank: Liked It
IMDB Rank: 6/10

District B13

District B13 (2006)

Produced and co-written by acclaimed filmmaker Luc Besson, this stylized action thriller is set in Paris 2010, where the government has fenced off the city's ghettos, the most dangerous of which is District B13. Teaming up to infiltrate the lawless sector, an elite-unit cop and a reformed vigilante put their lives on the line in a gutsy attempt to retrieve a stolen nuke and thwart a terrorist attack by the city's most powerful gang.
My Two Cents: Just watch it for what it is -- frenetic action, cool tough guys, and amazing stunts -- and you're unlikely to walk away disappointed at is lack of substance.

NetFlix Rank: Really Liked It
IMDB Rank: 6/10

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Casino Royale

Casino Royale (2006)

Martin Campbell (GoldenEye) directs this film adaptation (the 21st of the Bond franchise) of Ian Fleming's first novel. Daniel Craig (Layer Cake) debuts as the new Bond, who takes on a corrupt casino owner with ties to terrorists. You'll learn Bond's back story as the action-packed film takes you to the Bahamas, Madagascar and other exotic locales. Eva Green and Jeffrey Wright join the cast, and the sublime Judi Dench reprises her role as M.
My Two Cents: Craig's dark-yet-debonair take on 007 marks a refreshing reinvention of a series that had become little more than a product placement vehicle rife with bad one-liners.

NetFlix Rank: Really Liked It
IMDB Rank: 8/10

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Flags of Our Fathers

Flags of Our Fathers (2006)

From director Clint Eastwood comes this riveting World War II drama that recounts the story of six soldiers instantly immortalized when they were photographed raising the American flag atop Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi. Based on the book of the same name, the film reconstructs the events that preceded and followed the snapshot that came to symbolize the U.S. troops' triumph and America's indestructible spirit. Ryan Phillippe and Barry Pepper star.
My Two Cents: Its "Wonder Years" finale brought a sense of closure to a scattered presentation that said much more about cameraderie than combat.

NetFlix Rank: Liked It
IMDB Rank: 7/10

Further thoughts:

I really wish I could say more about this film. Perhaps I'm judging it harshly because it's not as dramatic or (forgive me for putting it this way, as it's wholly unfair and damn near disingenuous) as, gulp, patriotic, as a Saving Private Ryan. But thankfully it's not as schmaltzy as a Pearl Harbor either.

Eastwood finds his moments, and much like he did with Mystic River, sets a somber ambience from which to work. It captures the squalor and brutality of war, yet highlights the innocence and valor of the men who stood firm in the face of unspeakable horror.

But I never felt that it built on any kind of momentum. Flags follows a non-linear perspective of a handful of soldiers from before the Battle of Iwo Jima , to the not-yet-victorious, defining moment in which the American troops raised the flag, to the events that followed years later. Yet do we really get to know these men? I felt that the audience's connection was superficial at best. Perhaps that was intended? I don't know.

Here's what I do know: when I see a film such as this I want to feel something. Pride. Bitterness. Faith. Anger. Hope. Distress. Whatever. That's not to say I want to be force-fed propaganda, but is a little pathos too much to ask? I guess subtlety is more Eastwood's style.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Art School Confidential

Art School Confidential (2006)

Ambitious art school student Jerome Platz (Max Minghella) goes to extremes to conquer the art world -- and to get the girl -- in Terry Zwigoff's dark comedy. When his pure genius goes ignored and a brainless jock tempts his dream girl, Audrey (Sophia Myles), Jerome sets in motion a brazen plan to become an art world hero and win Audrey's heart. John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent, Matt Keeslar, Anjelica Huston and Ethan Suplee star.
My Two Cents: Works best when it over plays the anti-establishment stereotypes of the eccentric cast; misses the mark when it puts itself too much in the hands of the brooding lead character.

NetFlix Rank: Liked It
IMDB Rank: 6/10

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)

Fans of the HBO comedy series "Da Ali G Show" will be delighted to join one of their favorite characters -- the Kazakhstani reporter Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) -- as he travels to America to report on the "greatest country in the world." Camera in tow, the boorish journalist sets off on his cross-country road trip, but his original purpose is soon subsumed by a much greater quest -- finding and marrying actress Pamela Anderson.
My Two Cents: Disgusting, Disturbing, Shocking, Insane, and yet Maddeningly Funny. When I wasn't covering my eyes I had to wipe away the tears from them, because I literally laughed hard enough to cry.

NetFlix Rank: Really Liked It
IMDB Rank: 7/10

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Departed

The Departed (2006)

To take down South Boston's Irish Mafia, the police send in one of their own to infiltrate the underworld, not realizing the syndicate has done likewise in director Martin Scorsese's crime thriller. While undercover cop Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) curries favor with mob kingpin Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), career criminal Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) rises through the police ranks. But both sides soon discover there's a mole among them.
My Two Cents: Things that lived up to the hype: Bush and Gore on Election Night 2000; Vince Young and Matt Leinart in the 2006 Rose Bowl; and Damon, DiCaprio, and everyone else in The Departed. Bravo!

NetFlix Rank: Loved It
IMDB Rank: 10/10

Alternate Dave Chappelle-as-Rick James Two Cents: I wish I had two more arms, so I could give The Departed four thumbs up!

Lucky Number Slevin

Lucky Number Slevin (2006)

An identity mix-up places an innocent man in the middle of a mob war in this noir crime thriller. While checking out his missing friend Nick's apartment, Slevin (Josh Hartnett) is mistaken for Nick by thugs. Just how much trouble is Nick really in? Slevin finds out when he's forced to participate in a high-profile murder for a powerful crime boss. The top-notch cast includes Lucy Liu, Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley and Bruce Willis.
My Two Cents: Has a definite Elmore Leonard feel to it, but darker. A lot darker.

NetFlix Rank: Really Liked It
IMDB Rank: 7/10

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Inside Man

Inside Man (2006)


Dispatched to a crime scene where a bank robbery is in progress, police detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) hopes to apprehend the cunning thief (Clive Owen) so he can make his case for a promotion. But when a savvy negotiator (Jodie Foster) with questionable motives arrives on the scene, an already unstable situation threatens to implode. Spike Lee directs this tense action-drama co-starring Willem Dafoe and Christopher Plummer.
My Two Cents: H'wood should make more movies like this -- smart and captivating w/o coming off as pretentious, light but not superficial; Denzel's best performance I've seen in quite a while.

NetFlix Rank: Really Liked It
IMDB Rank: 7/10
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