Errol Morris, whose name is synonymous with the latter-day documentary, was on Colbert last night promoting his latest film The Unknown Known, about former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld — whose name is synonymous with the worst presidential administration of all time. The Colbert-Morris interview is oddly humorous, and the film looks promising. The first documentary I remember seeing — the one that showed me what documentaries could do — was Morris’ 1988 classic The Thin Blue Line. Ever since then, true crime stories have fascinated me.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008) is almost never funny, which makes it a laugh riot compared to Anchorman II. Some fun creativity, likable characters, and just enough chemistry between the two stars, Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks, salvage this movie. But funny, not so much. 3/10
THE 300 SEQUEL is full of stunning visuals, tons of blood and gore, and a modicum of drama. It variously succeeds and fails as a narrative of the epic historical developments on hand, but does a good job introducing larger-than-life characters, then setting them free to clash in mighty battle.
The sequel is certainly not as good as the original, but it does deliver what you expect it to. Though my enduring theme of “story matters” endures not here, and the actual ascension of Greece becomes lost, 300: Rise of an Empire does at times reach awesome cinematic heights. Unfortunately, it just as soon becomes bogged down in too many slo-mo-riddled, redundant action sequences. My marginal recommendation applies only to an IMAX 3D screening — anything less is likely a thumbs down. 6/10
Before watching eXistenZ (previous post), I checked my Can I Stream It? app to see if I could watch it with my Netflix subscription. It told me I could, but it also falsely told me that I could not see it through the Apple/iTunes movie service.
Canistream.it had previously erred regarding two great movies, The Wrestler and Crazy Heart. In my post on those films, I called this omission an egregious mistake, and said that I’d follow up. Well consider this the follow-up: three strikes and you’re out. Since Canistream.it has proven unreliable, I am removing it from my list of links in the sidebar. I think, however, that it still works for Netflix — but the selection of movies on Netflix is highly constrained.
It would be a great convenience if Canistream.it or a like service (I know of none other) could be relied upon. I will still check it now and then; if its accuracy is shown to improve I’ll post another update. For now, the answer to “Can I stream it?” is: Who knows?
BACK WHEN IFC AND SUNDANCE channels were commercial-free and hence worth tuning into now and then, I caught bits of a lot of different movies that I noted for future follow-up. Alas, television sure has changed a lot in the last ten years. Add IFC and Sundance to the ever-growing heap of corrupted, once-great channels — Bravo having suffered the greatest fall since being purchased by NBC.
So on one of these movie channels, an intense scene with Willem Dafoe made me take note of eXistenZ (1999), and I finally got round to seeing it. Willem Dafoe does not disappoint — his gleeful exuberance is a blast. Only problem is he’s not in the film long enough. The movie, I learned at the outset, is a David Cronenberg production, so it is full of his characteristically grotesque props and visual effects, familiar to anyone who’s seen Videodrome, Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch etc.
The problem with eXistenZ is that despite the sci-fi parameters, the movie is fundamentally a very basic story of a couple on the run from a world out to get them — one of the most ubiquitous themes in cinema. Nothing wrong with that, but to me the movie felt a little like it was running in slo-mo, especially in the first half. That is to say, I was a little bored with eXistenZ, despite its fantastical physical manifestations. Also, though there were lots of twists toward the end, with the ‘game’ and reality spilling into each-other, it was all a bit ho-hum.
But eXistenZ delivered enough fun weirdness, and good performances from the stars, that on balance I was entertained. A marginal recommendation; naturally make sure the trailer appeals to you. 6/10
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ON AMERICAN IDOL THIS WEEK, I happened to catch a snippet of one of the hopeful singers performing a lovely song, and so kept tuned in long enough to recognize the source: an original piece from the Irish indie Once (2007), which I had just seen a couple nights prior. Fortuitous I caught that, as this year’s Idol bored me out of the gate — it seems they’ve done away with the humorously awful tryouts that always made the first several episodes of the show so fun. So I’ve done my best to avoid the show this season.
Why fortuitous? Because it allowed me to reach a better understanding of this special little movie. Upon watching it, I felt a little let down. It’s basically a broke boy (“Guy”)-meets-broke immigrant girl (“Girl”) tale that we’ve all seen before, with the main storyline distinction being that the characters both have considerable musical talent, and are both tied away from each-other in such a way as to make difficult the development of any romance.
The story is handled here and there in a contrived, clichéd way, and there are problems with some of the musical numbers sounding un-‘live’ — some of the supposedly live performances seemed to me like overt studio productions. For example, a scene in which “Girl” walks down the street singing with headphones must have been recorded in studio; there is a sonic quality which does not mesh with the picture. This problem I found distracting at times, though I imagine a lot of viewers might not notice the discord at all. In fact, it may just be that the movie did not play well on my stereo — but that’s all I have to go by. Another issue: I am generally very good at picking up on thick dialects, as long as the language is English. But there were times in this film when I actually had to turn on captioning to figure out an important word here or there.
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You might think by all I’ve said that I didn’t like Once, but that’s not at all the case. The obvious comparison here is last year’s Inside Llewyn Davis [prior post], which did not have any issues with sound recording. So why is Once such a better movie? One key element is the music. Whether or not the songs had an occasional unwarranted ‘studio’ sound, it was nonetheless lovely, original, compelling music. The music of Once is what really sets it apart — indeed, its theme song won the Oscar that year.
The budding, yearning romantic friendship, portrayed with excellent acting by all involved, is the other strength of this movie. I wish more had been done with the story — at a brief 86 minutes, this is one of the few times I would have liked to have seen a longer film — but what is there is golden. There is undeniable chemistry between “Guy” and “Girl”, and watching it play out on screen was a pleasure. 7/10
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Comparison Notes: Recommended: Les Misérables, Walk The Line, Rock of Ages, Shine, Ever After, Searching for Sugar Man, Crazy Heart, My Name Is Joe, Blue Valentine (street scene with guitar); Not Recommended: Inside Llewyn Davis
As I suspected, the new Godfrey Reggio / Phillip Glass movie Visitors is more an art piece than any sort of conventional movie. Indeed their prior collaboration, the seminal film Koyaanisqatsi [see post], is much more a linear tale than Visitors. I found Visitors to be intriguing, but it hardly blew me away. There were a couple rather well-turned moments where it touched the depths it was trying to reach as a whole.
And I will say I’ve never seen human fingers look so alien. The faces look almost alien too, which I think is one of the points the movie is trying to make. Though not a great film, it is unforgettable. Also to the movie’s credit, I was surprised when it ended that it was over so quickly. Make sure to visit the website first and watch the trailer to see if this is up your alley. A marginal thumb’s up; 6/10
I saw Welcome to the Dollhouse in the theater back in 1996, so my memory of it is not overly detailed, but it has stuck in my mind all these years later as an outstanding film that I had a lot of fun watching. Roger Ebert gave it his highest rating in his excellently-written review (I continue to be surprised at how all these great films from my past match up with 4-star Ebert evaluations):
Scene after scene, “Welcome to the Dollhouse” piles on its details, re-creating the acute daily misery of being an unpopular adolescent and remembering, too, how resilient a girl like Dawn can be–how self-absorbed, how hopeful, how philosophical, how enduring.
Dawn’s revenge, we hope, is that someday she will be rich, famous and admired, while the snotty little cheerleaders who persecuted her will have been sucked into the primeval slime of the miserable lives they deserve.
A refreshing little bright star of a movie, Welcome to the Dollhouse is a perfect celebration of the 90’s indie renaissance.
12 Years a Slave, easily the best film of the year and one of the most powerful stories ever told on film, won the Academy Award tonight for Best Picture. Congratulations to the Academy for getting it right this year.
Congratulations too to Spike Jonze, a much deserved win for Best Original Screenplay — just when the 2nd-best movie of the year Her was looking like it would get shut out.
Also — what was with all the shots to Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Why was he even there? Was the Academy trying to compensate for its snub of Don Jon?