Category: Film

Don’t Ask, Don’t Watch

The Onion A.V. Club has some of the best reviews of movies, books, music, and video games that I’ve read anywhere. Unlike their sister site, The Onion, the A.V. Club contains real articles about real nouns. I’ve been reading them for years and almost all of the reviews are well done. Regularly, they’ll deliver a gem; this one is for a review of Delta Farce, staring Larry The Cable Guy:

But instead of finally making the madcap cable-industry comedy he seems destined for [after Larry The Cable Guy: Health Inspector‘s questionable success], Larry The Cable Guy has instead addressed the issue of our time: war, and what is it good for? Like Paths Of Glory, Apocalypse Now, and Platoon, Delta Farce is a difficult, harrowing work offering little relief or humor. Unlike those movies, though, Delta Farce is supposed to be funny.

Well-played, Mr. Hyden. Extremely well-played.

Spider-Man 3

The final chapter in the Spider-Man trilogy lived up to my expectations. Last Sunday, Annie and I saw Spider-Man 3 and thought it matched or surpassed its predecessors. A few minor plot spoilers follow. As pretty much everyone knows by now, the black Venom suit Spider-Man wears in this version lowers Peter Parker’s inhibitions. Willful power is a dangerous thing. But it makes for such compelling cinema.

The longer Parker wears the black suit, the more selfish he becomes, forgoing responsibility in favor of revenge. I completely disagree with my friend, Joe, when he states that the period where Peter wears the black suit is the worst part of the movie. Part of what makes some superheroes a little annoying is that they act so selflessly so often. When Parker destroys Eddie Brock’s career—the perfectly-cast, Topher Grace—and gets the full-time photography job, I felt a sense of victory for Peter, regardless of his cruelty. And the scenes with Parker walking down the sidewalk and attracting stares of all types, it’s nearly impossible not to smile and appreciate how great he must feel. Yes, his hair does look a little emo, but I think it perfectly suits Parker’s mind frame while wearing the Venom suit.

My only complaint is that Spider-Man 3 does get a little preachier than the first two in the series. It’s never blatant or completely overblown, but we’re reminded of the story’s morals a little too often. Other than that, the film is a well-paced and fitting close to Raimi’s trilogy.

Borat Is Nice!

I finally got around to seeing Borat last night and it was glorious! I had heard good things about the film, but I didn’t expect to laugh that hard or as often as I did last night. What’s more amazing, is that it seemed everyone was laughing. It’s not for the easily offended, but the rest of us will love this movie. Believe everything you’ve heard about Borat—it’s probably all true.


Last Friday, Annie and I watched Casablanca because it was available for free from Comcast OnDemand (as is Citizen Kane, which we’ll be watching soon). It’s one of those movies that everyone has seen or wants to see—you know, a Classic—so I always feel a sense of anticipation that what I’m about to see has been overrated. I’m cynical like that.

Casablanca pleasantly surprised me. Yes, there’s some archaic dialog that doesn’t sound “normal” to the 21st Century, American ear, but the actors’ tension and apprehension is palpable in an unspoken way. In particular, Humphrey Bogart plays Rick Blaine as an icy cool “cynic,” unnerved through the tensest situations, but there’s something subtle in his performance that belies his cold exterior.

While some declare Casablanca to be the most romantic film of all time—and I can see clearly why they would—I didn’t see the movie as especially romantic. There are grand romantic gestures, but the characters also are very cruel to each other when necessary. Regardless of whether you’ll think it’s romantic, it’s definitely a film worth playing again (Sam).


Crash DVD

I watched Crash again last night. I’d been meaning to see it since it came out and Annie and I rented it last Saturday. The film—as the title suggests—is about crashes: in one sense of the word, it is a movie about car crashes. In the opening scene, Don Cheadle’s character remarks that in Los Angeles (a city that boomed after the invention of the automobile) people lack the close physical proximity that citizens in the world’s other large cities take for granted. That in order to feel something beyond a world of steel and glass, people crash into each other.

More importantly, Crash is about human collisions: the internal crashes of anger and fear and love inside each of us, and the external conflicts of races and cultures. The film expertly weaves several different subplots that continually draw in characters from other story arcs. I loved the way the movie surprised me when individuals from different worlds within one city were confronted with the unexpected. My favorite parts of the movie focused on the Hispanic locksmith and the Iranian (I believe) shopkeeper. When those two worlds meet, it’s just gut-wrenching.

The treatment of racial tension in Crash has merited a lot of discussion; some seem to think the movie’s characters were unrealistically racist while others see the racism in the film as an unblinking look at the cruel way people treat those they fear, justified or not. What do I think? Sadly, I think the movie gets the ugly, racist undertones in America right. However, in the film, the characters are often more vocally racist than most people act in real life.

As a final note, Crash does a great job of providing reasons for actions and events in the movie. By the time the final credits roll, all the T’s are crossed in the plot, even if life doesn’t always work out neatly.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Annie, Veronica, and I went to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at the Senator Theater in Baltimore yesterday. The first thing that struck me—as well as most of the critics—about the newest Harry Potter is how much darker the subject matter is when compared to the earlier films. This Potter installment finally breaks free of the “kid’s movie” label. As Roger Ebert notes, “the film is more violent, less cute than the others, but the action is not the mindless destruction of a video game; it has purpose, shape and style.” Granted, but on a side note, sophisticated video games can have those traits too.

I had never been inside the Senator Theater on York Road before we went to see Goblet of Fire, but now I know that I’ve been missing out on something great. The inside of the historic theater looks spectacular, with lighting and an attention to detail that’s missing from a lot of more recent architecture. The most shocking part of the whole experience, however, was the live, on-stage announcement of the previews, upcoming events, and a little information about the theater for new visitors. I could hardly believe it when it happened.

Lord of War

Lord of War DVD

Jason and I went to see Lord of War on Saturday night. It was better than I expected and both of us enjoyed the movie. The movie is a narrative told by Yuri Orlov (Nicholas Cage), a charming, intelligent, and witty gun runner who is a disgusting mess of a person. The film itself seems ambivalent towards Yuri; sometimes, it snuggles up to his humanity only to reveal just how morally repugnant true amorality can be.

From the opening title sequence over a smart short film about the life of a bullet to the sobering footnotes at the movie’s end, Lord of War is a black dramedy. The subject matter is dark and exciting, but laughing is the only way to keep from crying at the absurdity of the small arms trade and its disregard for human pain and suffering.

Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction on DVD

I’ve wanted to see this film for a few years; now that I have, Pulp Fiction ranks near the top of the Weirdest Movies I’ve Seen list. The movie begins with the entry for “pulp” from the American Heritage Dictionary New College Edition in white text on a black screen:

pulp n. 1. A soft, moist, shapeless mass of matter.
2. A magazine or book containing lurid subject matter and being characteristically printed on rough, unfinished paper.

These two definitions serve as a declaration, a warning, for what you are about to see. Pulp Fiction lulls the viewer into a type of interested trance; dozens of times during the movie, I kept wondering what the heck was going on, but I watched because I wanted to know. The movie seemed extremely (and very suddenly) violent, but most of the violence is off-screen. The plot and characters seem both derivative and highly unconventional… which seems impossible. Let me explain: although many parts of the story and players are ripped straight from other movies and genres, the whole they comprise is pure original. I see Pulp Fiction as a movie collage.

The DVD I bought was the Collector’s Edition—I highly recommend this slightly more expensive upgrade—which came with a ton of bonus features including an enhanced “trivia” mode. Similar to VH1’s Pop-Up Videos, short bits of background or related information was displayed on the bottom of the screen continuously throughout the movie. It would be great for those interested in learning about the inspiration behind different camera angles or scene layouts, but also those looking for information that an audio commentary wouldn’t necessarily convey.

I wasn’t sure what I thought of the movie the first time I watched it, but the film actually improves with repeat viewings. If you like witty and original movies and don’t mind violence or filthy language on the screen, buy Pulp Fiction (Collector’s Edition).

Sideways: Book v. Movie

Annie and I rented Sideways from Blockbuster tonight and I was a little disappointed. I loved the book which inspired the movie—as you well know—so I was hoping for greatness with the film. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but it didn’t do much for me. It’s almost passé to say that the book was better than the movie, but it’s certainly true in this case. Sideways the book was smarter, funnier, more informative, and more fun than Sideways the movie. My recommendation is to watch the movie first—Annie hasn’t read the book yet and really liked the film version—before you ruin a good movie with a great book.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I’ve been a big fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams since I first read it a few years ago, so I was excited to see that they were making a new movie based on the book. My anticipation only increased when I saw the trailers for the movie were a bit quirky—like the books—and still appeared to be high quality products. In particular, I really enjoyed the trailer that was about the Guide‘s entry for “movie trailers.”

My brother, Jason, and I went to see the movie on Friday; the theater wasn’t very crowded, but it wasn’t deserted either. It was a good turnout for what—I have to admit—is a very strange and curious book. From the outset, I was nervous that the film would be much worse than I expected: the previews featured several hideous Disney films, one of which was in 3-D. Yeah.

However, the film turned out to be both entertaining and reasonably well-done. My biggest gripe with the film is that there was an obvious effort to develop a romantic tension and provide a clean ending without any of the frayed edges of the books. I admit that the task of taking the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the screen must have been a nightmare, given the intricacies, plot shifts, and narrative digressions of Adams’ stories. Like the book, the movie jumps from one locale to the next with nary a guidepost, but unlike the text, the film never fills in the connective tissues that allow the story to retain true coherence at the end.

Overall, I would highly recommend The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie to anyone who has read the books. Those readers will understand why things in the movie happen the way they do and appreciate much more of the subtle humor and nods to Adams’ earlier adaptations of his story.