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Movie Reviews

The rules: Ratings go from one to four stars, no halfsies. No giving away the plot. No long windage. Only includes movies I've seen in the theater. I tend to rate generously, because hey, I like going to the movies.

My older reviews page is here.

20 Sep 2009

The Informant! ***

Corporate whistleblowing black comedy based on a true story. It was OK, but sort of uncompelling. The Insider is a much superior take on a similar story, while Hoax is a similarly uncompelling take on a similarly farfetched but true story.

13 Sep 2009

Extract ***

Jason Bateman runs a flavor-bottling factory and comedic hijinks ensue. From Mike Judge of Office Space fame. While there's nothing really wrong with this movie, it's no Office Space.

7 Sep 2009

District 9 ****

Great action story with a crazily intriguing premise. Millions of poor and desperate aliens arrive in Johannesburg, so the humans confine them to a fenced-in shantytown. Whoah. The action part of the story is very skillfullly developed, while the politics are ever-present but left messy and ambiguous. One of the most interesting movies I've seen in a while.

30 Aug 2009

The Hurt Locker ****

Super intense, unsettling, very realistic-feeling story about a US bomb-tech unit in Iraq.

23 Aug 2009

Inglourious Basterds ****

Very strange and silly, but also entertaining and interesting. There are a few scenes that dragged on so long the audience was practically groaning but fortunately the acting is fairly captivating (unlike the awful Kill Bill movies). The script has hints of the awesome cleverness of earlier Tarantino films, which pleased me.

9 Aug 2009

500 Days of Summer ****

Indie romantic comedy. There's a thick layer of clever stylizations but fortunately it doesn't ruin an engaging and sometimes surprising story.

2 Aug 2009

Funny People ****

Interesting and kind of sad/emo, even for Judd Apatow. I probably need to see it again, due to twin perils of focus problems on one of the reels, and texting/talking teenagers in the theater. Gah.

5 July 2009

The Brothers Bloom ***

It was all right; grifter brothers hook up with a peculiar heiress and have whimsical adventures. The director previously made Brick, a far superior film. This came off more like imitation Wes Anderson.

14 June 2009

The Hangover ***

For me, this movie was cursed with the aftertaste of Very Bad Things, one of the least pleasant movies ever made. Same setup, some guys go to Vegas and things get terribly out of hand.

Fortunately, the main characters in The Hangover are funny and there is some actual cleverness in the situations. So on it's own terms I think it's a pretty good movie.

7 June 2009

Drag Me To Hell ****

LOL! The plot-to-hilarious-scariness ratio is higher than in the Evil Dead movies, which would not be my preference. But the plot was pretty amusing in its own right.

8 May 2009

Star Trek ****

Action packed, geeky, fun. A little too much glare effect; that's my only, minor, complaint.

19 April 2009

Anvil! The Story Of Anvil ****

Anvil was evidently one of the progenitors of speedmetal back in the early 80's but slid into obscurity at the same time that Metallica and Megadeth built huge fan bases. This documentary rejoins the two founders of Anvil, now in their 50's, who still live in Toronto and still record and play gigs together, while working ordinary day jobs.

The story arc is amazingly Spinal Tap-esque, although nobody who has toured with a struggling rock band should be surprised by the events that transpire. Really the only surprising thing about Anvil is that they are still at it.

The subjects are endearing in their own way, and the movie is both funny and touching at times. The one criticism I have is that they show lots of short clips of Anvil performing, but unlike in Spinal Tap, you never get a full uninterrupted song.

16 April 2009

Lymelife ****

A good movie, 1970's suburban family drama, somewhat in the style of The Ice Storm, but, uh, warmer and funnier.

12 April 2009

Watchmen ***

This is one weird movie, and definitely deserves much respect for its weirdness and its very unusual ending, for a big-budget superhero movie. Certainly I think it's worth seeing, if you're into sci-fi or superheroes or counterfactual histories. Unfortunately it's way too long and jumbled as a movie to earn four stars from me.

5 April 2009

Adventureland ***

Written and directed by the director of Superbad, a modern classic. Unfortunately it doesn't live up to that standard. It's not bad, but a little too melancholy for me. Too much Lou Reed.

22 March 2009

I Love You Man ****

Funny Apatow-style stuff.

15 March 2009

The International ***

Hm, mostly generic globe-trotting thriller. There is a striking shootout inside the Guggenheim rotunda but otherwise it didn't pop off the screen.

13 March 2009

Man On Wire ***

Enjoyable documentary about a nutty obsessive guy, who in the early 70's with the help of his buddies, strung a wire between the two towers of the World Trade Center and walked across it.

8 March 2009

It Happened One Night ***

Once again I was dissatisfied by the choice of first-run Hollywood fare. This time I found myself at Film Forum seeing a black-and-white movie from 1934 with a bunch of other middle-aged asocial geeks.

Anyway, this romantic comedy won Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress for 1934 so I figured it would be great. Sadly no. I thought it was kind of mediocre. There were a couple of funny moments. The 30's setting was kind of interesting.

1 March 2009

Billu Barber ***

I had been disappointed by the usual movie selection so I decided to check this Bollywood movie at the ImaginAsian theater. I got a little freaked out during the previews when the trailers were all in Hindi with no English subtitles, but fortunately the main feature itself was subtitled.

The script was kinda weak, and it was way way too long (including an intermission!) for the amount of plot, but it was quite attractive to look at, and absolutely bizarro in entertaining ways. For example, about 20 minutes in, they've been following the protagonist who is a struggling barber in a small rural village. Suddenly they cut to a 5 minute long science fiction themed song & dance production number with totally different actors. I looked around, thinking "geez, somebody cued up the wrong reel!", but nobody else in the theater seemed the least bit concerned. It turned out it was not a mistake; the sci-fi thing was in fact part of the same story.

So -- not a good movie, but a good movie experience.

25 January 2009

The Reader **

Postwar Germany, Kate Winslet has an affair with a teenage boy, then boy grows up, there's a holocaust angle, etc. There are moments when it seems to have some decent drama, but other very significant moments it is unbearably cheesy. I also decided it is intolerably cynical -- despite its pretensions, the movie does not exist to tell a story or explore an idea, but to try to win an Oscar.

19 January 2009

Let The Right One In ****

Fun/creepy/black-humor Swedish teenage vampire flick. I'm led to believe by the professional critics that it is much better than Twilight.

16 January 2009

Waltz With Bashir ****

Animated memoir/documentary of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, from the point of view of various soldiers, most of them very young, who were in the IDF at the time. An intense and disturbing trip; brace yourself and see it.

Re animation: I usually don't like it in movies, but I thought it worked really well here.

12 December 2008

Milk ****

Gus Van Sant biopic of Harvey Milk, who ran for City Supervisor of San Francisco in the 70's on a gay-rights platform. Sean Penn does a fine job in the title role. The movie doesn't have much of the trademark Gus Van Sant dreamy quality but it gets the job done.

7 December 2008

Slumdog Millionare ****

It's a heartwarming holiday story of struggle with adversity by Danny Boyle, the director of Trainspotting. Take Trainspotting, replace the Edinborough heroin squalor with Mumbai slum squalor and mash it up with "Who Wants to be a Millionaire". The story is more conventional than that makes it sound, but it's pretty entertaining. I would recommend it in general, and if you're the kind of moviegoer who goes to the theater once a year around Christmas, I think it's a good choice.

1 December 2008

Role Models ****

A solid Paul Rudd/McLovin vehicle.

23 November 2008

Zack and Miri Make a Porno ****

A sweet nougatty center inside a thick coating of disgusting juvenile humor. The plot is not exactly airtight and Seth Rogan is not exactly the greatest dramatic actor, but whatever.

16 November 2008

Rachel Getting Married ***

Why oh why did I go see this movie??? It's a chick flick about a wedding, for pete's sake. The truth is, I went to see it because somehow I got the idea that it's a comedy, and I have in the past enjoyed funny chick flicks starring Anne Hathaway. Sadly, and I mean that literally, this is definitely not a comedy; instead it's an emotional family drama shot documentary-style verite complete with interminable wedding toasts and fricking wedding music and all the rest of the stuff I find tiresome about real-world weddings. Sideways is more my idea of a fun wedding movie.

To its credit, it's a well-acted and well-directed tiresome wedding/family-drama movie, so if that's your thing, there it is.

9 November 2008

Synecdoche NY ***

Charlie Kauffman writes and directs. Typically weird, complex and interesting, and may be worth a second viewing (on DVD though). Unfortunately not especially pleasurable to watch, because the protagonist is such a sad sack. This is a case where I would have preferred Jim Carrey in the starring role in place of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

8 November 2008

Madagascar 2 ***

OK kids movie. Not as amusing for adults as the first Madagascar though.

12 October 2008

Miracle At St. Anna ***

This movie centers on an episode in Italy, late in World War 2. While I'm a Spike Lee fan in general, this movie has some problems. For one thing, it's too long. And it features several incredibly hammy, cringe-inducing sequences, including the climactic final scene. There are some other scenes that broke me out of the fiction, where I just didn't buy what was going on, either because the dialog was hard to swallow or the special effects didn't measure up to the usual Hollywood standard.

But, looking past those flaws, there are aspects to this movie that transcend previous Hollywood formulas, and I'm glad I went to see it. Especially, the tensions within the different warring factions are on full display, but the reality and brutality of the war itself is stark and unmistakable. I've never seen another war movie that seemed so honest in that respect.

21 September 2008

Vicki Cristina Barcelona **

Half plotless and half tedious.

14 September 2008

Pineapple Express ****

Another good Apatow production. This one features lots of pot smoking, male bonding and grisly violence.

The 4-star scale isn't descriptive enough to classify Apatow movies, so let's try this:

Mind-blowingly Great Regular Great Good Enough
40 Year Old Virgin
Knocked Up
Pineapple Express
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Walk Hard
Talledega Nights

7 September 2008

Traitor ***

Decent triller about an Islamic terrorist with ambiguous loyalties. They could have gone full Paul Haggis/Crash style cheese with it, and there are a couple nods in that direction, but for the most part it's semi-realistic and semi-thrilling.

24 Aug 2008

Tropic Thunder ***

Funny but a smidge overdone. Tom Cruise steals it.

17 Aug 2008

Tell No One ****

Very intense French thiller/mystery about a pediatrician who starts getting emails from his wife, 9 years after she was killed. There are a few parts of the story that are distractingly far-fetched, but for the most part I found it gripping and very entertaining.

3 Aug 2008

Frozen River ****

The main characters are two convincingly poor single mothers, involved in human trafficing across the borders between NY State and Canada, with Mohawk Nation sandwiched in between. Good combination of extreme situations embedded in an ordinary setting with ordinary people.

18 July 2008

Dark Knight ***

Heath Ledger is good as the Joker, and some of the stunts are pretty cool, but otherwise I thought it fell far short of Batman Begins. The main problem, in my opinion, starts about halfway through, when the plot gets really overstuffed and hard to swallow.

12 July 2008

Get Smart ***

Pretty decent for what it is.

6 July 2008

The Wackness ****

I loved this movie. It's set in 1994 during the summer between high school and college, for a Manahattan kid who can't get a date, or even a real friend. His summer job involves dealing vast amounts of pot from an ice-cream cart. One of his clients, a psychiatrist, pays for his drugs in the form of therapy sessions. Our hero yearns, awkwardly, for the shrink's hot and popular step-daughter, who snorts Ritalin. Etc.

The movie is packed with period detail, which is often played for nostalgic laughs, but also manages immediacy and a feeling of realism.

Wall-E **

Pixar has really worn thin for me. Not that I was ever a huge fan. I find their movies so intensely calibrated and manipulative, with a measured amount of cleverness, calculated for maximum demographic appeal, it's like the movie equivalent of IKEA or U2 or something. Though I like IKEA a lot more than Pixar.

Anyway, much as I disdain it, it's watchable, and Hazel loved it.

10 June 2008

Kung Fu Panda ***

I stayed awake through the whole thing and wasn't bored or annoyed, a signal achievement in computer animation! Hazel (age 5) loved it. She has a low scare threshold, and there were a few moments she thought were scary, but otherwise she didn't have a problem.

6 June 2008

The Fall ***

A greviously injured Hollywood stuntman, back in the silent era, convalesces while spinning a meandering yarn for a young migrant worker girl fellow-patient. The stuntman is troubled and the relationship turns intense; meanwhile the visuals that go with the fairy tale are fantastically inventive and vivid.

It's a good movie and definitely worth seeing, but I was disappointed that the drama is very vague on some key motivational points.

26 May 2008

Reprise ***

A comedy/drama featuring nerdy/hip aspiring highbrow-Norwegian-lit-writing young men, bonding and coming-of-age, etc. Partly funny, and partly boring in the way I imagine highbrow Norwegian lit is boring.

12 May 2008

Iron Man ****

Let's hear it for the engineer-inventor superhero! I don't think the plot will surprise anybody, but the effects, humor and attention to detail made me happy.

5 May 2008

Baby Mama ***

Lots of star power (Steve Martin!) and a few good comedic moments, but otherwise kind of slack. Amy Poehler is still fun to watch, but like pretty much all the Upright Citizen's Brigade alums, she seems to have left behind some edge or spark of genius.

4 May 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall ***

Decent but mainly conventional romantic comedy in the Apatow vein.

27 April 2008

Harold And Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay ***

Pretty much as advertised.

20 April 2008

The Visitor ***

Watchable, but eh. The main problem with this movie is that it seems to arrange the drama to make a political statement.

13 Apr 2008

Paranoid Park ****

Gus Van Sant film about a teenage skater kid who gets into some serious trouble. It seemed dangerously vague and arty to begin with, jumping around in time and repeating certain sequences, like a bad David Lynch film. But as the story unfolds, the whole movie starts to fit together and becomes more and more coherent and affecting. By the end I was desperately engrossed.

6 Apr 2008

My Blueberry Nights ****

A Wong Kar-wai movie, in English, set in America, starring Norah Jones, Jude Law, Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman. I doubt that a smarmier cast has ever been assembled.

I was sure I would hate it. Maybe I did hate it, while it was happening. Any of the elements taken by itself, from the melodramatic script to Natalie Portman's blond permed hairdo, could have been calculated for maximum cheesiness. Oh -- and some fake southern accents, always a plus.

But, by the end I seem to have surrendered to its insistent hypnotic rhythm, shifted into an altered state of mind. Mr. Wong, you win again.

16 Mar 2008

The Bank Job ****

I think this movie is totally great. It's just pure escapist suspense/espionage/action, except that apparently it's a "true story". At the movies, often that means nothing, but whatever the actual truth of this story, it manages to be both extra believable and extra fantastic.

9 Mar 2008

CJ7 ***

From Stephen Chow, the guy who made the astonishing Kung Fu Hustle. It's a tale about a poor little boy in a posh private school and his extraterrestrial dog. It might be from the boy's point of view. Don't go in expecting the torrent of pure awesomeness that is Kung Fu Hustle. But, I think it was worthwhile. Funny, weird, sometimes confusing, other times very poignant.

24 Feb 2008

Juno ****

Slightly self-satisfied feel-good indie about a pregnant teen. The performances are good though, and there is quite a bit of amusing dialog.

23 Feb 2008

There Will Be Blood ****

There was some blood. To some extent this movie suffers from a case of raised expectations due to all the critical acclaim. Certainly Daniel Day-Lewis gives a tremendous performance, and it's fun in a portrait-of-an-obsessive way, but I wouldn't say the movie touched me deeply.

2 Feb 2008

In Bruge ****

This is a pretty strange & interesting movie. I dug it. It's about professional killers and their existential dilemmas, with some grisly action, sightseeing, seriousness, and a lot more comedy than you would expect.

This was the second Sunday movie in a row starring Colin Farrell. And the third Sunday movie in a row with too much inappropriate tittering in the audience. Because I'm a bigot I blame the preponderance of Eurotrash amongst Upper West Side theater-goers. Please, you don't have to force yourself to laugh out loud to prove you got the joke.

20 Jan 2008

Cassandra's Dream ***

Woody Allen British thriller. Very similar plot to "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead", and similarly suffering from a lack of someone to root for. Also, the trademark Woody Allen no-fuss approach leaves a few cracks. Rent "Match Point" instead.

13 Jan 2008

Persepolis ***

Memoir of a girl growing up in revolutionary Iran, adapted from a graphic novel. The visuals are always attractive and occasionally stun, but personally I get tired of so much handmade imagery. The story was good but didn't blow my mind.

2 Jan 2007

Walk Hard ***

As a movie, not great. A few genuine yuks here and there but I guess the term is "campy", eh, not my favorite. On the other hand, John C Reilly can really sing and the songs themselves are both great and hilarious.

It reminds me that Walk The Line had the opposite problem -- decent movie, but what the hell were they thinking having Joaquin Phoenix re-record Johnny Cash's vocals??? That's just stupid, and offended me as a fan of the Man In Black, and music in general.

16 Dec 2007

I Am Legend ****

This is probably the best big-budget zombie movie that could possibly be made. The Fresh Prince is likable as usual. Deserted Manhattan looks spectacular. And one of the main characters is a dog! I'm a fan.

Now, no more zombie movies for a while!

9 Dec 2007

No Country For Old Men ****

This is the proverbial movie that doesn't insult your intelligence. It might have insulted my intelligence a little bit though -- I think I will need to see it again to fully get it. In any case, it's totally fun to watch.

1 Dec 2007

The Savages **

Ugh. A dark gray comedy/drama about dementia, death, abuse, relationships, etc, starring excellent actors. Somehow it fails to hold together. I found it tedious and unaffecting.

25 Nov 2007

Dan in Real Life ***

A movie of extremes: amazingly conventional romantic comedy plot, astonishingly preppy New England setting, extraordinarily empathetic Steve Carrell.

(Footnote: Steve Carrell is everywhere right now, but this is the third movie in a row starring Amy Ryan.)

22 Nov 2007

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead ***

Well made with many admirable parts (not least, those belonging to Marissa Tomei) and good performances. But the protagonists are deeply icky, and make stupid decision after stupid decision. Not who I really want to spend two hours with.

9 Nov 2007

Gone Baby Gone ****

I always figured Ben Affleck was a dope, but he has directed a very good and smart movie here. Some of the shots of "regular folks" around Boston neighborhoods are grotesque enough to strain belief, but in my opinion (as a former resident of the outskirts of Southie), they capture a glimpse of reality.

21 Oct 2007

The Darjeeling Limited ****

Sweet, sad, funny. I think this might be the best of the Wes Anderson movies.

19 Oct 2007

Michael Clayton ****

99% good, cynical, ambiguous, realistic-feeling movie with great details, dialog & performances. 1% Hollywood B.S.

4 Oct 2007

Superbad ****

I pretty much loved it. The first high school movie since, like, Dazed & Confused that resembled high school.

30 July 2007

Sunshine ***

The setup is phenomenal -- the future world's top 8 astronauts on a risky multi-year mission to jumpstart a dwindling sun. Lots of possibilities for mistakes, conflicts, cool special effects, nerdy problem-solving, etc. Unfortunately the movie goes badly astray in two ways: 1) the astronauts make some devastaingly stupid, un-astronaut-like mistakes, and 2) there is a totally unnecessary Bogeyman subplot. In other ways it's stylish and has some provocative moments.

15 July 2007

The Kingdom **

Cheesy, teetering on the brink of coolness. I saw this at a pre-screening so maybe it has been edited out, but I really appreciated the chilling final line. However, I found much of the movie literally unwatchable due to the gratuitously shaky camerawork.

7 June 2007

Knocked Up ****

Comedy gold! Do I hear Oscar?

30 June 2007

Broken English ****

I ended up really liking it. The ever mesmerizing Parker Posey as a rudderless young lady. Similar in many ways to Lost In Translation, though not as atmospheric and also notably lacking Bill Murray. But less gimmicky as well.

23 June 2007

Ratatouille ***

Animated film about a rat gourmet. Tolerable for adults.

15 June 2007

You Kill Me ***

Kinda funny situation, a cold-blooded hitman goes to AA meetings. But the pairing of Ben Kingsley and Tea Leoni pushed my ability to believe far past the breaking point.

9 June 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean III ***

Really, just like the last one. Too long, with some egregiously hammy acting, but also some funny, fun & spectacular moments.

26 May 2007

The Namesake ***

Nice family saga of an Indian-American family. The acting is a bit uneven and the story is kind of rambly, but there are a few great sequences, mostly involving the engineer dad.

12 May 2007

Hot Fuzz ***

Tough London cop is transferred to sleepy village in the countryside. Hilarity and graphic violence ensue, a combination of crazy action movie and fish-out-of-water buddy-picture. By the people who brought you Sean Of The Dead, which was a much more seamless blend of genres.

8 May 2007

Spiderman 3 ***

Good for a younger audience, I'd say. Like, between 7 and 12 or so. Bruce Campbell has a pleasing cameo that made me long for the Evil Dead series or even Jack of all Trades.

5 May 2007

The Valet (La Doublure) ***

Dumpy shlub (played by handsome movie star) makes his girl-next-door girlfriend (played by stunning movie star) jealous, when he is hired to pretend to date a supermodel (played by a gorgeous movie star, or maybe a supermodel for all I know) by her super-rich cheating corporate mogul boyfriend (played by shlubby character actor) whose wife (played by glamorous movie star) is suspicious.

Deadly predictable but sometimes funny, and you get to look at a lot of French movie star/supermodel.

28 April 2007

The Hoax ***

Not bad. The basic story is mindblowing, given that it is apparently true. The movie itself is too repetitive to take full advantage.

19 March 2007

Fast Track aka The Ex **

For once, I get to see a movie in Botswana before you Americans.

Great cast (Charles freakin Grodin, Amy Poehler, Donal Logue, etc) but sadly wasted. Reminds me of so many funny movies (Office Space, Flirting With Disaster, Meet The Parents, There's Something About Mary), without being very funny itself. There are a few moments of offbeat comic goodness, but the story is pretty depressing, derivative, and bad.

Apparently this movie is being renamed for release in the US; and presumably they'll edit the crap out of it to try to make it better.

16 March 2007

Blood Diamond ****

Exciting violent action movie. It has at least one huge advantage over dreck like The Constant Gardener -- the annoying self-righteous hot young white female world-saver is not the main character. Instead it's a morally ambiguous badass played by Leonardo DiCaprio. That guy can act, and this is a great role for him.

25 Feb 2007

The Prestige ****

Fun & twisted tale of rival magicians. The character motivations were neglected to some extent in favor of the trickery, but that is OK with me.

12 Feb 2007

Deja Vu ****

Suprisingly good, for a big-explosions Jerry Bruckheimer kind of movie. The sci-fi mumbo jumbo was preposterous as usual, but it looked cool, it was self-consistent, and most importantly it supported the story.

5 Feb 2007

The Holiday **

My dirty little secret: I like romantic comedies. And I'm an easy sell, media-deprived here in Botswana. But even I couldn't find much to enjoy here. Cardinal sin: it's not funny -- Jack Black is wasted in a dramatic role. And it features, not one, but two tedious yet underdeveloped plots.

19 Jan 2007

The Departed ****

Pure entertainment. Alec Baldwin is priceless. There were moments during this movie when I thought, "now that's just not realistic". But then I remembered reading "Black Mass", about Whitey Bulger & the cops & FBI in Boston, which is equally unbelievable but nevertheless true.

12 Jan 2007

Happy Feet ***

A pretty OK kid movie. I will never understand adults who watch these kinds of movies by choice though.

14 Dec 2006

Casino Royale **

Less than the sum of its parts; it's heavily dragged down by some overlong romance and ludicrous poker scenes. The action sequences are pretty good though.

7 Dec 2006

Borat ****

They should show this in schools.

17 September 2006

Mutual Appreciation **

Aggressively low-key/indie/grainy/black-and-white about a struggling slacker rocker who moves to NYC etc. So boring that several people walked out. I stuck with it and it was kind of OK.

10 September 2006

Half Nelson ***

An addiction movie kind of like, but not nearly as terrible as, Leaving Las Vegas. But still pretty much pointless and depressing.

4 September 2006

Pirates of The Caribbean 2 ***

I was swashed, I was buckled. A bit too long, and ends with a very shameless segue into the sequel. Oh, was that a spoiler? Shame on me.

2 September 2006

Lassie ***

I'm a sucker for the doggies, though the humans are better actors in this. Hazel dug it.

27 August 2006

The Illusionist ***

Not bad, not great. Needed more surprise, or more ambiguity, or something.

23 August 2006

Barnyard Animals **

Pretty bad. Hazel stayed with it the whole time, but there was a lot of, "What are they doing /now/?"

20 August 2006

Talladega Nights ***

Some good stuff. A little long.

13 August 2006

The Devil Wears Prada ****

A light frothy cruise into the heart of darkness.

9 August 2006

The Descent ****

The buzz about this flick is overblown (when is it not?) but still, I was scared, creeped out, and entertained.

17 July 2006

A Scanner Darkly **

The animation kind of ruined it for me -- all due respect to the talents involved, but it just made the movie look cheap and flat. An undeserving fate for an amazing book. I'm also a little disappointed that the script dropped the part of the story where the character Donna (played by Winona Ryder) is a compulsive shoplifter.

16 July 2006

Cars ***

Good for a three-year-old, tolerable for her dad.

2 July 2006

A Prairie Home Companion **

Garrison Keillor can be a godsend during hour six of an eight-hour drive to Buffalo. But as a movie, I found this more than a little on the boring side.

24 June 2006

The Break Up ***

Some good parts, and admirably deviates from romantic-comedy formula. But the parts never fuse into a compelling whole.

17 June 2006

An Inconvenient Truth ****

It's definitely a slow stretch for movie releases when a documentary starring Al Gore reaches the top of my list. Nevertheless, a worthwhile outing. Gore retains an irritating tendency insert himself where he doesn't need to be -- e.g., "My friend <eminent scientist X> told me ...", like being friends with Gore has any relevance to the importance of X's statement. Gore also doesn't get too deep in scientific explanations, and leaves a loose end untied here and there. Nevertheless, it's a well-constructed presentation and the graphics & visual aids look great on the big screen. By the end of it, you should be very worried indeed!

12 June 2006

Brick ****

Delectable twisted noir murder mystery. Set in a suburban California high school, complete with brooding loner, obnoxious jock, rich femme fatale, hedonistic drama geek, menacing vice principal, and many more! At times I wanted to slap it for over-precocious dialogue, but there are many scenes that are pure genius.

28 May 2006

United 93 ***

A dramatization of the fate of the fourth hijacked flight on 9/11. It's verite and not too cheesy, congrats on that. But not too interesting either -- I already knew the whole story, having looked at TV and newspapers a few times in late 2001 and 2002. Seeing it acted out on the big screen didn't do much for me. Except, the shaky handheld camerawork did, at a few points, make me want to hurl.

20 May 2006

The Da Vinci Code ***

I went into it with very low expectactions, and was entertained. The basis for the plot is preposterous, but I have to admit the structure is clever and suspenseful. I enjoyed all the little digressions into Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Constantine, Da Vinci, etc. I also enjoyed some incredibly unlikely dialogue, like my new favorite movie quote: "I need to get to a library... fast!"

15 May 2006

The Notorious Bettie Page ***

Agreeable low key bio of a pinup icon. Reminded me of "Ed Wood". Watch for the notorious Lars Hanson.

28 April 2006

Tsotsi ***

South African township hoodlum redemption. Interesting, some good acting. Too melodramatic, but better than, say, Crash.

26 March 2006

Thank You For Smoking ***

Clever, funny, truthy. Good insight into the what & how of a spin master, a bit light on the why.

19 March 2006

V For Vendetta **


27 Feb 2006

Match Point ****

Woody Allen movie set in London. Great tense dark drama. Woody doesn't act in it, and Scarlett Johansen does -- the way it should be.

18 Feb 2006

Curious George ***

Perfect for a three-year-old, fortunately I brought one with me.

12 Feb 2006

The Matador ***

Sweet/cynical/funny assassin movie. Brosnan is amusing.

4 Dec 2005

Syriana ***

On paper, this is a fantastic film; on screen it's not so exciting. I don't think it's bad, really, but it goes out of its way to obfuscate and underdramatize a good story.

28 Nov 2005

The Squid and the Whale ***

Funny the same way Welcome to the Dollhouse was funny; i.e. not funny but painful.

20 Nov 2005

Cape of Good Hope ***

Likeable lightweight ensemble multiracial romantic-comedy dog movie set in Cape Town. Distractingly amateurish at times, but the characters and predicaments are far more believable than the typical hollywood movie.

Capote **

Certainly the acting is good, but I found it basically boring. Maybe it's more interesting if you have read In Cold Blood.

You Me & Everyone We Know ***

Pretty decent, especially considering the director/star has a background in Performance Art. Some wildly hilarious bits & some disturbing bits & some poorly paced boring bits.

Wallace & Gromit ****

Pixar's render farm should be tossed into the Pacific Ocean, and all future animated films done in claymation.

Grizzly Man ***

Timothy Treadwell played with bears, then finally was eaten by one. It's a crazy story about a crazy fella. I could have done without some of Werner Herzog's heavy-handed narration. Also, I wanted more Treadwell wildlife footage, less talking heads.

Serenity ***

A rag-tag band of swashbuckling outlaws (with hearts of gold) careen across the galaxy in a souped up rustbucket etc etc etc. Treading water in a sea of pompous cliches and suffering very marginal acting from the protagonist. And yet, it feels like real sci-fi with spectacle, nerdy themes, and a few memorable characters. For me, that adds up to decent entertainment.

2046 ****

Mysterious noirish romance tragedy. Most of the time while I was watching it, I thought it was too mysterious, but it started to make more sense towards the end, and in hindsight it feels satisfying.

The 40 Year-Old Virgin ****


Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance *

By the Oldboy director, Chan-wook Park. Strong visuals & often interesting story, but the violence is so realistic, pointless and disturbing that I found the movie hard to watch and ultimately unredeeming.

Broken Flowers ***

Has its moments, but mostly it's too understated for my taste. Imagine Lost In Translation with less momentum.

The Wedding Crashers ***

If you've seen a preview or even a poster of this movie, you already know everything you need to know, but I'll repeat it anyway: the actual plot is retarded, but Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are funny.

The Aristocrats **

Documentary about the world's dirtiest joke, with many famous comedians. George Carlin's rendition, early in the film, is gut-busting, and there are a couple other highlights, but other than that the movie is kind of overstretched and tedious. This would be a good thing to watch on HBO when nothing much else is on TV.

Batman Begins ****

Good actors, great visuals, not-too-embarassing script == super superhero movie.

Hustle And Flow ****

Yet another "redemption through music" flick, but a good one.

Charlie and The Chocolate Factory ***

(The new one with Johnny Depp.) Entertaining, perhaps more faithful to the book in mood and some details. But overall not as great as the original movie adaptation with Gene Wilder.

The Beat That My Heart Skipped ***

French toughguy rediscovers an interest in playing the piano seriously. Features some action, some real-estate deals, some piano playing, and other miscellaneous vignettes from the life of the protagonist. Overall I thought it was engaging and not cheesy.

Joint Security Area ***

The first feature by Chan-wook Park, the directory of Oldboy. It's a thriller set on the heavily armed border between North and South Korea. Decent, with lots of nice details, but I found it a little slow at times, and definitely not as exciting as Oldboy.

Look At Me ***

French character-driven dramedy. There are some parts where it hits a nice groove, but then there are other parts where it just kinda drags along.

Layer Cake ***

Not great, but mostly good. At times, it's oddly slack, bordering on dull, for an action/crime thriller.

Star Wars: Episode III ***

Some of the acting & dialog is just incredibly bad, it's too long, and the computer effects are missing the famous grit of the original Star Wars movies. But the fight scenes are good, and the story is coherent and wisely focuses on characters we love from the first Star Wars.

Crash **

Not a total loss; the acting is generally good and there is some good dialog here and here. And I don't think it's valid to criticize a movie for being "manipulative". After all, the whole point of watching a movie is to have your feelings manipulated. On the other hand, it is valid to criticize a movie for being pretentious, contrived, overbearing, cheesy and boring.

Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy ***

Good, but I have a sneaking suspicion I've encountered this material somewhere before...

Fever Pitch ***

Fun Romantic Comedy Starring Drew Barrymore (tm). Really there is nothing wrong with this movie; it's pretty funny with good comic detail, but it's not nearly as gross/hilarious/intense as the best Farrelly Brothers work. It's great to see Boston on the big screen though.

Kung Fu Hustle ****

Pure Viewing Satisfaction. Reminiscent of classic Jackie Chan. I predict this will be the best action/comedy movie released this year.

Hotel Rwanda ****

Excellent, worth seeing.

Steamboy **

Quality Japanese animation, but the story is awful. Sadly, Steamboy is no Oldboy.

Oldboy ****

Some imperfections, but this is a thoroughly entertaining Korean suspense/thriller. Avoid if you're squeamish.

Constantine **

The Matrix + The Exorcist - Suspense - Story

Head On ****

Brutal, bloody, disturbing but engaging love story.

Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior ***

Thin plot, good stunts.

In Good Company ****

No knife fights, no flashbacks, no hostage situation, no period costumes, no deadly virus, no animated bears, just people doing normal stuff. A fine fine movie.

Million Dollar Baby ***

A lot like Rocky, but with some twists. I had a big problem with one of the twists though.

House Of Flying Daggers ***

Good looking, and has a lot of nice kung fu fighting. I found the story kind of disappointing.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou ****

It's a good movie. You could be distracted by the cute/clever/odd Wes Anderson stylizations, or you could enjoy them; it's better to enjoy them.

Bad Education ****

Gay, but good. (Or, "and good", if you prefer.)

The Aviator ****

I broke my "no biopics" moratorium to see this w/ my brother on Xmas. What do you know, it's a good movie.

Ocean's 12 **

Nominally entertaining, but highly redundant.

Sideways ****

I think this movie would probably be most enjoyable if you forget all the Oscar garbage and think of it as a somewhat crude buddy-pic road movie and keep your expectations moderate.

Hero ****

Toothsome martial arts fairy tale. Yet I find the political message disturbing in light of modern China's one-China obsession. I may be reading too much into it.

The Incredibles **

Just about perfectly made. It's got humor, heart, action, visuals. The problem, for me, is that it's so relentlessly competent and agreeable in all areas, that it completely lacks any element that is interesting, disturbing, flawed or provocative. I don't often walk out of a movie thinking "Gee, that was a waste of 90 minutes," especially if the movie is basically well put-together, yet that is how I feel about The Incredibles.

Of course, it is a cartoon.

Bourne Supremacy ***

Pretty good.

Collateral ****

I liked this a lot. I usually like Michael Mann's flicks.

Team America World Police **

Amusing concept. Not terrible, but could have been better.

Garden State ****

A little sappier than I normally tolerate, but so sincere that I don't mind.

Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow **


Primer *

I blogged about this. Aimed for greatness, but nailed terribleness. I will definitely see the director's next movie though, if there is one.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind ****

My top movie for 2004, by a long shot. I found the characters often weak, foolish and annoying, and yet (or therefore) easy to identify with. The depiction of memory erasure felt more violent to me than anything I've seen in a movie in a long time.

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