Movie Log 2006 (With Mini-Reviews!) - Vol. 2

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Continued from Vol. 1

--Italics indicate a repeat viewing--

78. 3/25: Soldier (1998, Paul W.S. Anderson) - Soldier is awful, one of the worst movies I've ever seen. But I've got to admit I haven't had this much fun watching a movie in a long time. Granted, I fell in love with The Last Picture Show a couple of days ago, but it isn't exactly what I would call "fun" or "entertaining." Well, Soldier is, and for all of the very very wrong reasons. The beginning training sequences are pretty dark, if pretty silly, but the real fun kicks in when Kurt Russell shows up as the title soldier with those hilariously cold and unmenacing blue eyes of his. Eyes of "faux fury," if you will. Russell's character only speaks 104 words, which makes how bad he is even more amazing. I especially love that when he first sees a woman and realizes his attraction to her, we see those funny funny eyes and then an extreme close-up of her breasts. Well, that was well-telegraphed, wasn't it? Turns from Gary Busey and a weird post-Commish, pre-Shield Michael Chiklis contribute to the wealth of ham. Add to that director Anderson's ridiculous action sequences and laughable special effects, and you've got a recipe for garbage that even Ed Wood would toss aside. Manages to induce head-splitting migraines and deep belly laughs at the same time. I am in awe. F

79. 3/25: Inside Man (2006, Spike Lee) - With a jazzy score and an engagingly twisty screenplay by first-time writer Russell Gewirtz, director Lee and his brilliant cast reinvigorate bank robbery movie clichés. This isn't to say that said conventions are avoided, because they're not, but Lee and everyone involved add a sharp, oftentimes funny, point to each one. Gewirtz's script is surprisingly clever and hilarious...I definitely laughed a lot more than I was expecting to at a pre-summer Hollywood blockbuster. It's the same kind of stylish humor that Doug Liman infused last year's Mr. & Mrs. Smith with, though Lee has a much better hang of it here. I've never been big fans of Denzel Washington or Jodie Foster, but both are in fine form here, especially Foster who gives her best performance after The Silence of the Lambs. Clive Owen also does a commendable job as the film's villain, though it's a rather undeveloped role. And, of course, Willem Dafoe is a joy and Chiwetel Ejiofor just rocks an ungodly amount. Surprising, funny, riveting, and just extremely entertaining, Inside Man is an unexpected winner. B+ (Full review)

80. 3/27: Ed Wood (1994, Tim Burton) - After years, I finally got to rewatch this, and I'm very glad that I did. After I saw it initially and was disappointed, I realized over time that I couldn't remember one thing I didn't like about it...and this second viewing just confirmed that! It's an excellent film with gorgeous cinematography and direction from Burton, with a wonderful score by Howard Shore (this is the only Burton film that Danny Elfman has not scored). But what really makes the film is Johnny Depp's brilliant turn as the passionate and earnest, yet woefully inept, filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr. Martin Landau is also excellent as Bela Lugosi (and Landau's daughter Juliet, Drusilla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, even has a bit role), and this goes down in history as the only time I could tolerate Sarah Jessica Parker. Plus, hey, Bill Murray! A lovely, gonzo tribute to a lovely, gonzo man. A-

81. 3/28: Glen or Glenda (1953, Edward D. Wood Jr.) - Suprisingly not as bad as you may think. Yes, still bad, but it's not really horrible or awful. Some of it succeeds because of the gloriously unintentional camp (oh, poor Bela Lugosi with that weirdo narration), but it's actually a rather commendable look at transvestism, something that still doesn't have much of a light shone on it. Wood was always passionate about his films, inept though he may have been, and this one comes straight from his heart; you can tell (in both good and bad ways) that this is his own way of working out and dealing with the issues in his own life. Despite being hailed as the worst director of all time, Wood is actually pretty decent at framing shots, and has a much better visual eye than current filmmakers like Michael Bay or Uwe Boll. Some of it is rather impressive, but then we get to the weird ten-minute rape/seduction mambo bit and the extreme close-ups of the very funny yet very terrifying Satan thing, and we realize that, yes, it does suck. But given a budget, who knows? Wood might've been able to make a (better) name for himself. C-

82. 3/28: Because of Winn-Dixie (2005, Wayne Wang) - The Newbery Award-winning novel by Kate DiCamillo was a middling effort at best, and the film version from director Wang is even more sappy, saccharine, and forced on the big screen. The script is pretty much a straightforward adaptation of the book, very faithful, but as I've said, this doesn't mean it's good. It's filled with every single family feel-good inspirational tearjerker-with-a-dog Hollywood conventions you can think of, and they're executed with little zest. AnnaSophia Robb isn't a very remarkable find; as much as Dakota Fanning can be annoying, Robb's performance here reminds me that Fanning is 100% better than most child actors. Basically, the leading role here could've been played by any little girl from midtown America and the results would've been the exact same. Dave Matthews and Eva Marie Saint both seem helplessly lost here, but Jeff Daniels will fool you into thinking the movie is at least ten times better than it is. In that deceptive regard, the film is very successful indeed. C-

83. 3/28: 16 Blocks (2006, Richard Donner) - Basically Die Hard 4: Old, Tired, and Drunk, 16 Blocks finds Bruce Willis once again playing the aging, in-over-his-head cop, this time having to transport a motor-mouthed con played by Mos Def 16 blocks to a courthouse. It's an interesting concept, and could've resulted in an entertaining movie, but director Donner and screenwriter Richard Wenk try too hard to make it serious, and actually mean something. It's never substantive enough to be meaningful, and the script and direction are Hollywood through and through. Plus, Mos Def, usually an excellent actor, is just really really annoying here. A botched attempt at something better. C+

84. 3/29: Mad Dog and Glory (1993, John McNaughton) - Seeing my favorite actor, Bill Murray, and my favorite actress, Uma Thurman, in the same film and sharing the same scenes...well, that is just insanely cool. There's also the extra special added attraction of Robert De Niro. The film itself has its faults, but the cast is brilliant and director McNaughton still manages to create an effective sociological study. There's a lot of sly, clever, and understated subtext yearning to be explored...and I have the feeling that it may make an even greater impact on repeated viewings. The role reversal between Murray and De Niro is also enjoyable. De Niro plays the sensitive cop, and Murray plays the dangerous, sociopathic mobster. Murray manages to steal the show singlehandedly and with ease, but then again, I am biased. The results are very entertaining. Not a great movie, no, but the performances are fantastic and the script is very clever. B+

85. 3/29: Absence of Malice (1981, Sydney Pollack) - An excellent moral/ethical look at journalism from the viewpoint of both the writer and the subject, Absence of Malice also sports strong performances from Sally Field, Paul Newman, and the continually underappreciated Bob Balaban. Pollack makes good use of the thought-provoking screenplay by ex-reporter Kurt Luedtke, which is especially topical in our current climate of all-encompassing instant journalism (just add water, watch it grow) and omniscient media. There are some rather undercooked ideas, like an odd romance between Newman's and Field's characters, but it does help to hammer home the nature of their relationship, she being the writer and he being her subject. Probably Pollack's best film after Out of Africa. A-

86. 4/6: The Accused (1988, Jonathan Kaplan) - How interesting that Kaplan, who used to make trashy low-budget exploitation films in the early 70's, made a film that many perceived as a landmark considering its subject matter, rape and female degradation. Unfortunately, I am not one to perceive the film this way...other than a pretty decent (though far from outstanding) performance by Jodie Foster, The Accused is basically a glorified Lifetime movie, with bland TV direction (Kaplan has mostly done television work after this), a trite script that loudly telegraphs its every move, and an extremely annoying turn from the bland Kelly McGillis. An above-average Hallmark flick that somehow made its way to the big screen. C

87. 4/6: L'Âge d'or (1930, Luis Buñuel) - There's a fine line between surrealism and incoherence. It's a line that Bergman's never crossed, but unfortunately one that Buñuel leaps a country mile beyond with L'Âge d'or. The film is bizarre, yes, but that didn't have to be a bad thing; however, its bizarre content never really amounts to anything. In fact, much of the film meanders aimlessly, almost completely incoherent. I have no idea what happened in most of the movie. With a screenplay co-written by Buñuel with the great artist Salvador Dali, I have a feeling that the material itself could've worked had it not been hindered by the primitive filmmaking techniques available at the time and a feeling of general uneasiness concerning Buñuel's work behind the camera. He's obviously in way over his head here, and not knowing what to do. So, he ended up making an indecipherable mess of epic proportions. Even though it only runs an hour, it feels as if days pass. D

88. 4/6: A Cinderella Story (2004, Mark Rosman) - Hold on to your hats and coats, ladies and gents, 'cuz the Cinderella story is totally being redefined: Prince Charming is a jock with a sensitive side. Cinderella is an outcast intellectual waitress living under the thumb of her plastic surgery-riddled diva of a stepmother and her two ditzy, ghastly daughters. The Prince and the woebegotten queen-in-rags have an e-mail relationship and instead of a slipper being left behind, it's a cell phone. Oh yes. Behold the staggering imagination of A Cinderella Story. If you're not groaning yet, I refuse to ever speak to you. Hilary Duff is the scourgiest scourge of the universe after Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie...I mean, Ashton Kutcher has more street cred than she does, and that is incredibly sad. I'm supposed to by her as a shunned geek?! The world sucks. I don't even know why I watched this. I must be the world's hugest masochist. F

89. 4/7: Deep Cover (1992, Bill Duke) - Deep Cover starts off very rocky (the scene where the main character's father is murdered is insanely cheesy), but it eventually grows into a taut, compelling moral study. Laurence Fishburne--this is the last time he's credited as "Larry"--is absolutely fantastic; you won't be able to take your eyes off of him! (This is one of the few times when you can actually put faith in that statement.) Jeff Goldblum is also superb (isn't he always?) as a rather mentally unstable criminal...a role that I wish he would play much more often. The uneven script is balanced out by the two excellent turns from Fishburne and Goldblum, as they breathe life, meaning, and depth to material that otherwise could've been just fodder for late nights on TNT. B

90. 4/7: Head in the Clouds (2004, John Duigan) - Just as bad as Pearl Harbor, and probably just as diminishing in terms of historically significant events, this soapy wartime epic follows the lives, pleasures, and perils of three lovers and friends (two of them female). After winning an Oscar for her frankly amazing turn as Aileen Wuornos in Monster, Charlize Theron is in the blank role of a free-spirited seductress (with some oh so refreshing nudity; yeah, it's shallow, but the movie is B-O-R-I-N-G!), and Stuart Townsend and Penelope Cruz have to fill out equally vapid parts. Head in the Clouds is, ultimately, an empty, pointless, and unmeaningful WWII soap that completely wastes its dramatic historical backdrop in favor of uninteresting melodrama. C-

91. 4/13: Le Journal d'une femme de chambre/Diary of a Chambermaid (1964, Luis Buñuel) - Well, at least this is much better than L'Âge d'or. In fact, this is a pretty decent movie overall, and Buñuel's shot composition is highly commendable, even if he and Jean-Claude Carrière's screenplay is somewhat lacking. Jeanne Moreau gives a pretty good performance, but the script sells her role pretty shot near the end. In fact, a good deal of the characters are rather confusing, and not in a good puzzle-y way. It's more like a head scratch-y, confounding way. The film's pacing also always seems off, because the script moves too quickly and with too little thought. Good acting, good direction, frustrating screenplay. B-

92. 4/14: Yume/Dreams (1990, Akira Kurosawa) - One of Kurosawa's very last films, Dreams sparkles with the sublime knowledge of a man nearing the end of his years, a man who has seen everything yet still is desperate to see more; a man who, in essence, has fulfilled his existence on this plane but who is just beginning to make his journey into the next. It's a haunting, eerie, beautiful, and elegant surmise on life, death, and the human spirit. Few filmmakers have touched upon the subject and purpose of dream as directly as Kurosawa does here...is dream, in fact, our looking glass into the otherworldly? There's a lot of thought going on here, from politics to culture to the essence of being, and Kurosawa strings it all together with an arresting visual majesty so rarely seen on film. Dreams is otherworldly, confounding, magnificent, and perfect in nearly every sense of the word. We shall you miss you, Kurosawa, but thank you for at least leaving this (and Ran) as a requiem and as a celebration for your life; for all lives. A+

93. 4/15: Brokeback Mountain (2005, Ang Lee) - You could say that Brokeback Mountain has been ceaselessly parodied (jeez, these jokes were only kinda funny four or five months ago) to the extent that the movie itself could possibly play as a riff on its own theme. And, indeed, it's hard to make it through the first act up at Brokeback without being naggingly reminded of several jokes for every scene. But, unlike a fellow Oscar glutton like Titanic, this fate does not befall Brokeback, as it's so beautifully made and so perfectly captures the spirit of hidden love. In fact, I don't want to say "hidden" love; I only do because I don't think that we've yet created a word tormented and haunted enough to describe the kind of tortured, conflicted, contradicting, and perhaps even hypocritical relatiosnhip that Heath Ledger's softspoken Ennis Del Mar and Jake Gyllenhaal's overt Jack Twist so cautiously share with one another. This second viewing makes me love the film even more than the first, as I can relax my laser vision from the central story and focus on the surrounding details...and what lovely details they are. Lee's detailed rural environment (seriously, look how perfectly scattered the home interiors are) adds another layer to the characters and their situations, and creates an inviting familiarity that helps to sell the already beautiful love story. In the end, Brokeback Mountain is not about homosexuality or mere controversy for controversy's sake. It's about the repressed freedom of love set against the backdrop of rural poverty. Its themes are universal, and I was again in tears as the screen faded to black. Plus, Emmylou Harris' "A Love That Will Never Grow Old," Willie Nelson's "He Was a Friend of Mine," and even Rufus Wainwright's "The Maker Makes" were all deserving of Oscar nominations. Much as I loved "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," it was just a good hook with some fine beats. Those are highly emotional, deeply soulful requiems for love lost and never to be found again. Oh, well. A+

94. 4/16: Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story (2005, John Gatins) - Kurt Russell. Dakota Fanning. A horse. It all screams "Hollywood!" Right now is when I would like to be able to tell you that, despite all the odds, it's actually a very heartwarming, touching, and effective tale about persistence and faith. Only I can't. The main problem--besides Russell's uneven acting and Dakota Fanning's mere presence--is that we barely see the title horse, so we have no connection with the animal at all. Seabiscuit, for all of its flaws (it was...um...kinda...slooow...at points), treated its horse as a real character that meant something. No such luck with Dreamer. All it had was me thinking that Freddy Rodriguez from Six Feet Under was doing the biggest selling-out of his career and that Luis Guzmán from Oz was gonna shank the horse. That was just weirding me out. And, lastly, despite the title, there's absolutely no truth to the film. It's like adding on Inspired by a True Story to Bubba Ho-tep just because Elvis was alive at some point. C+

95. 4/17: The Chronicles of Riddick (2004, David Twohy) - Pitch Black, despite its flaws, was an entertaining little Alien-esque thriller. I also think that Vin Diesel is very underrated; yes, he's in many bad movies, but give him something to work with, and he's superb (an operative example being his small yet superb role in Saving Private Ryan). Unfortunately, The Chronicles of Riddick spins wildly out of control, and derails any hope of franchise-y goodness. Unlike the first, this one is big, sweltering, and epic...which is not a problem in and of itself, but it's so much harder to create a living, breathing universe than just one world. Director Twohy falls into all the usual pitfalls, including the awkward costumes and idiotic speechifying by the ambiguously evil bad guys. He also has the annoying habit of tilting every other frame, and he populates the script with plenty of smug one-liners. This could've been a good, big, exciting sequel, but it ends up putting a nail into the premature coffin of a potentially enjoyable series. This kind of inept world-building makes me treasure Joss Whedon even more. D+

96. 4/18: Surviving Christmas (2004, Mike Mitchell) - Surviving Christmas began shooting without a complete script. That's trouble sign #1. #2 is that it was pushed back ten months from its original December 2003 release date so as not to have to compete with another Ben Affleck vehicle, Paycheck. Yes, the producers were actually scared that the movie wouldn't stand up to the little-seen, much-maligned Paycheck. That just can't be good. Thus, it opened in October 2004, a week before Halloween. To little surprise, it flopped at the box office. Even viewing it in April 2006, its weakness is still evident. Viewing it in any month will cause the viewer to realize that it is a horrible waste of talent: Ben Affleck is a decent actor if you give him something to work with, but his character here is so jumbled and confused (is he a grown-up who never got to grow up or just an eccentric millionaire?), and James Gandolfini of The Sopranos fame is rendered almost completely impotent by the script (or lack thereof). Instead of a good cup of Hollywood holiday cheer, this is a smug, annoying, tepid, and pretty well angry lump of black coal that gets ash on the résumé of everyone involved. D-

97. 4/19: Aleksandr Nevskiy/Alexander Nevsky (1938, Sergei M. Eisenstein and Dmitri Vasilyev) - Made as tension was increasing between the Soviet Union and Germany, Alexander Nevsky serves alternately as a beautiful war epic and a pointed social commentary. From the war epic viewpoint, it is a lovely, detailed film with brilliant battle scenes that have been replicated many times over and a wonderful musical score by Sergei Prokofiev, one of the best ever recorded. From the social commentary viewpoint...well, it could easily be used as a tool for propaganda for any side of any war, but in doing so, it creates a stirring, rousing wake-up call to the world. It's hard not to have tears well in the corners of your eyes as the title character, played boldly by Nikolai Cherkasov, rallies his troops to battle. A war classic, and another Eisenstein masterwork. A+

98. 4/19: Hoop Dreams (1994, Steve James) - An excellent documentary about two inner city kids, Arthur Agee and William Gates, and their aspirations of reaching the NBA...and of how their dreams are broken, their lives fall apart, and how disillusionment eventually sets in. Hoop Dreams is heartbreaking and stirring, a completely human and tangible story dotted with revealing and all too real reminders that dreams are just dreams and that life has the tendency to derail them. When Arthur's father crosses the street to buy drugs while his son shoots hoops--all in full view of the camera--it's one of the most powerful moments I've seen on film in a long time. An epic documentary, running at nearly three hours, Hoop Dreams never drags and is always 100% engaging, except for perhaps director James' flat narration. One of the best documentaries I've ever seen. A-

99. 4/20: Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes/Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972, Werner Herzog) - Before Coppola's Apocalypse Now, there was Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath of God, a similar trip down the river with soldiers who slowly descend into madness. Aguirre is an unusually paced film whose offbeat direction and camerawork really shine, and it's also one of the most brilliant looks at slow, steady, and chilling mental deterioration out there. The acting, for the most part, is not what the film is about; it's about the scenery, the cinematography, and the way that Herzog subtly evokes an atmosphere of insanity. The shining exception is Klaus Kinski, playing the title character Aguirre. I've rarely ever seen an actor completely immerse himself in and inhabit a role as stunningly as Kinski does. And, eventually, as the film's long and winding journey moves on, he embodies the essence of madness. A truly excellent film. A

100. 4/20: Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989, Steven Soderbergh) - Ever since its debut at Sundance in 1989, Soderbergh's Sex, Lies, and Videotape has served as the inspiration for dozens of quirky, supposedly erotic, and ultimately lame knock-offs. I think that the knock-offs' root problem is the fact that the original wasn't very good to begin with. Sex, Lies, and Videotape is an interesting film, and presents some very intriguing ideas. It's just a shame that Soderbergh's script lacks the proper insight and characterization to delve into them. Even more disappointing are the performances; while Peter Gallagher is quite good as usual (he even makes The O.C. semi-tolerable at times), Andie MacDowell is boring and James Spader's performance feels too much like acting student work. An okay movie, with a good premise, but fails to really deliver. B-

101. 4/20: City by the Sea (2002, Michael Caton-Jones) - I've not heard very good things about this film, so I was very suprised to find it as effective as it was. Though certainly no masterpiece, City by the Sea (the title referring, of course, to Long Beach, New York) is a good little drama sporting some fine performances from most of the primary cast: Robert De Niro, Frances McDormand, James Franco, and especially Eliza Dushku (though I'm a huge fan of her work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, I'm not showing bias here, she really is that good) are all in top form. This real-life tale contains some genuinely moving and poignant father/son moments, and because of that, the cheesy emotional climax is almost entirely forgivable. While Caton-Jones' direction may be fairly uninspired, and the script pretty by-the-numbers, it's the actors who make this worth your time. B

102. 4/21: The Hamburg Cell (2004, Antonia Bird) - Unfortunately, though The Hamburg Cell attempts to tackle the devastating events of 9/11 in an interesting manner, it's basically what you'd expect from a British cable production about the attacks. It's certainly in line with the other similar British cable movies I've seen: The direction is good, the cinematography is noteworthy, and the acting is fine, but the screenplay is weak and fails to be penetrative enough to succeed in its attempt. We follow the terrorist cell that performed the attacks, but we never learn enough about them or get to know them well enough (not even the main character Jarrah, though he's played very well by Karim Salah) to get the full meaning of the attacks. We never learn the kind of fanatical devotion or supposedly noble intentions that would lead a person to take part in something like this...they sit around gabbing about their plans like a good-natured Boy Scout troop, which may very well be how things went down in real life. But we never get a good sense of why; The Hamburg Cell unfortunately has the tendency to be vague, ambiguous, and confusing. B-

103. 4/21: The Hunt for Red October (1990, John McTiernan) - Tom Clancy character Jack Ryan's first big screen outing, The Hunt for Red October, has a rather lengthy running time, but for the most part, it blows right on by, almost effortlessly entertaining. The very next film McTiernan made after Die Hard, Red October is directed in the same kind of skillfull, operatic style. Its major problem is that McTiernan, working from a screenplay by Larry Ferguson and Donald Stewart, is never really able to create a protagonist as interesting as John McClane. Granted, Jack Ryan is a very different person, but there's not much to him other than what Alec Baldwin manages to breathe into the role. Of course, the most interesting character is the "villain" played so masterfully by Sean Connery; every scene he's in is brilliant. A very swift-paced, entertaining action movie which proves that McTiernan used to be the end-all, be-all of action movie directors. B+

104. 4/22: Thank You for Smoking (2005, Jason Reitman) - This feature directorial debut from Reitman (yes, his dad is Ivan Reitman of 80's comedy fame) is a sharp, witty satire that manages to cover all bases, efficiently exploring every side of the raging tobacco debate. Reitman's screenplay, from the novel by Christopher Buckley, is a fizzy, engaging comedy with plenty of hilarious moments. If there's one thing that keeps the movie from excellence, it's the awkward editing and pacing. Some potentially great jokes fall completely flat on their faces because of the way they're stitched together. Thus, there are several uneasy moments in the film, but luckily there are enough guffaw moments to make this a very commendable media jab. Aaron Eckhart is also absolutely fantastic, as are J.K. Simmons and William H. Macy. While Thank You for Smoking doesn't do as much with the subject as it could, it still captures a fresh dose of cynical, eye-opening humor. B+

105. 4/23: Mammoth (2006, Tim Cox) - I usually end up watching one or two Sci-Fi Channel movies a year, because every once and a while, they manage to cast someone I am undyingly obsessed with. This time, it's Summer Glau from Firefly and Serenity. Of course, since this is a Sci-Fi Channel movie...well, um, it's really really cheesy and has a horribly idiotic script. Mammoth is wildly inconsistent: It constantly jumps from surprisingly amusing to completely awful to annoyingly tedious. But, actually, it's above par for a Sci-Fi Channel flick. This is due in large part to the aforementioned Glau and Tom Skerritt. Any scene with the principals--especially those two--is rather strangely entertaining, but any scene without them falls completely on its face and continues to try to stand back up repeatedly before stabbing itself in the gut and bleeding to death before our very eyes. Glau, so beautiful and graceful as River in Firefly/Serenity, does the best that she can with what she's given. And what she's been given ain't a whole heckuva lot. D

106. 4/24: Alice's Restaurant (1969, Arthur Penn) - Inspired by Arlo Guthrie's song of the same name--which in turn was inspired by his real-life experiences--Alice's Restaurant stars Guthrie in a strange kind of autobiographical story that fails to accomplish much of anything other than giving me a headache. This was director Penn's next big screen venture after his superb Bonnie and Clyde, and he seems to have gone absolutely bonkers with this one, and not in a good way. The editing is haphazard, and the pacing is...um...well, pretty much non-existent. It feels like the distant cousin of Easy Rider: Both films were released in 1969, and both chronicled the end of the psychadelic, freewheeling hippie era of love. Only Alice's Restaurant feels like the sitcom version of Easy Rider, a big happy colorful mess in need of substance or a point of some sort. Guthrie's acting is rather flat--but not as bad as that of the supporting cast--and the music, apart from the title song, is pretty dreadful. D+

107. 4/27: All the King's Men (1949, Robert Rossen) - Based on Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel (which also inspired the Sean Penn-starring version due out later this year), All the King's Men is a sharp, disturbing, and at times hypnotically fascinating look at the grease between the cogs of America's political machine. As more and more of the honesty and integrity of Broderick Crawford's Willie Stark is stripped away as he runs for governor of an unnamed state, you can almost feel the same happening to the country. Writer-director Rossen takes the small intimate story of Stark and those around him and uses it to reflect the large-scale changes that the nation goes through. Crawford is superb and more than captivating, and the rest of the actors deliever brilliant performances across the board, especially Mercedes McCambridge and John Ireland. A true American classic not just because of its stars or its photography, but because of how Rossen captures us with disturbingly pin-point accuracy. A+

108. 4/28: Amarcord (1973, Federico Fellini) - I am one of the few living beings who disliked Fellini's celebrated 8 1/2. I found it dull, self-indulgent, and pretentious. But at least I could understand why others would like it. This particular film of Fellini's, Amarcord, leaves me entirely befuddled and at a loss as to why any person with a brain would ever ever like it or enjoy it in any way, shape, or form. This semi-autobiographical account of Fellini's childhood could've been decent enough; it does have some good imagery. But it's incessantly screechy and annoying, all of the characters constantly yelling and being either wholly unbelievable or just simply irritating. The acting is incredibly poor all around, and the dialogue is Fellini's usual self-indulgent material, only far far more preposterous than what I've previously seen. Two of the most unpleasant hours of my life. F

109. 4/29: United 93 (2006, Paul Greengrass) - I have so much to say about United 93, yet I can't seem to find the right words. We all know what happened on September 11, 2001, less than five years ago, and all of us know how we felt on that day. I felt frightened and insecure, as I'm sure most Americans did. Greengrass' film brutally rips open the wounds that were finally beginning to heal over, but it does so in a cathartic manner. Much of United 93 feels like a way of helping the viewer realize the awful truths of what happened, and of helping them slowly get over it. It's a tremendously important film, and I think that seeing all of these real heroes rally together for a last-ditch effort to essentially save the country vindicates their sacrifice and the extent of their actions. Everything that Greengrass does here is pitch-perfect; the only other film I've seen from him is The Bourne Supremacy, and while I quite liked it, the direction left something to be desired. Not so with United 93, which is precisely coordinated and executed perfectly. I honestly cannot think of one flaw in the movie, which is stunning in and of itself. It has the most naturalistic acting I have ever seen...really, it doesn't even seem like acting; they are these people. You will not question for even one second the authenticity of these people and their performances. There are few familiar faces, and the one that I did manage to recognize, John Rothman from Ghostbusters, doesn't detract from the film. What's so impressive is that FAA director Ben Sliney plays himself, as do several others, and they all manage to slip perfectly into the film's re-enactment of events; nothing feels staged, and I can only imagine how it was for those people to have to relive what is probably one of the worst days of their lives. I really don't think I'm adequately conveying how amazing an experience this film is. I've never seen an audience sit through the credits at the cinema for so long, and for the first time in my life, a film made me so emotionally exhausted and spent that I could barely move by time it was over. And when I did, I was lightheaded and sick to my stomach. Any other movie about this subject (including this year's earlier A&E film Flight 93) is superfluous...nothing could ever stack up to the raw, brutal power of this extraordinary film. United 93 is intense and almost documentary-like in its matter-of-fact frankness; it had me bawling my eyes out, shaking, and profoundly moved. Watching this film makes you realize how and why the terrorists would do what they did. In the end, I found that, even knowing that (according to my faith) the terrorists are burning in Hell for their deeds, that doesn't make me feel any better. I'm not angry. I am just monumentally sad at the loss of life on that day. And, above all, I feel frustrated and angry at the United States government. Not the people depicted in this movie who had no idea of the scope of the attacks, and who were ill-prepared to deal with the situation. I am angry with the higher-ups. I am angry at the President. But most of all, I am just very, very sad. You know, they may as well not release any other films in 2006. It's going to be tough to beat this one. No, scratch that: Impossible. A+

110. 5/3: In Good Company (2004, Paul Weitz) - Coming off of his excellent 2002 dramedy About a Boy, director Weitz found another similar charmer in the highly entertaining In Good Company. While it doesn't match About a Boy's casual poignancy, sharp notes of sardonic humor, and laugh quota, In Good Company is still a tightly-written and touching look at the deconstruction of life, love, and wealth in today's crazy corporate world. Weitz has two solid leads in Topher Grace (who manages to make me forget he was ever on the terrible That 70's Show) and the ever-durable Dennis Quaid, and though the romantic subplot between Grace's Carter Duryea and Scarlett Johansson's Alex Foreman never really takes off--mostly due to Johansson's somewhat awkward, too knowing performance--Weitz's lithe screenplay works the relationship mechanics between Grace, Quaid, and Johansson very well. Charming, genuinely funny and touching light entertainment. B+

111. 5/3: American Graffiti (1973, George Lucas) - Before Lucas ever went to that far, far away galaxy a long time ago, he made another little masterpiece called American Graffiti, which beautifully chronicles the last real "high school" night for a group of friends as they cruise the streets looking for their last chance to truly make memories. With a great cast featuring the likes of Ron Howard (hee-hee, still credited as "Ronny" here), Richard Dreyfuss, Charles Martin Smith, and Harrison Ford, among others, American Graffiti is one of the truest, most authentic "teen" movies ever made. The soundtrack, featuring 45 late 50's/early 60's tunes (the reason that there's no Elvis is because...um...they kinda couldn't afford it), is one of the best ever compiled, and Lucas' use of the music as a sort of eternal life soundtrack is ingenious. Boasting a great script by Lucas, Gloria Katz, and Willard Huyck, American Graffiti is a majorly impressive slice of teenage Americana that showcases a talent that was primed to explode four years later (in arguably more ways than one). Simply a great movie and a great time. A+

112. 5/3: An American in Paris (1951, Vincente Minnelli) - While far from a musical masterpiece, this faded classic still manages to entertain, even with some sizable reservations. First off, substance? Substance?! What is this substance you speak of?! The plot is pretty much one-note and almost kind of non-existent. Secondly, most of the musical numbers have nothing to do with the plot (furthering the whole "non-existent" thing), and tend to drag. And, thirdly, there are some surprising cinematography quibbles, including some jarring and sudden lighting changes which can draw you out of the movie pretty quickly. Still, Minnelli and star/uncredited co-director Gene Kelly hit some good notes with An American Paris, highlights being Kelly's energetic performance and the always amusing Oscar Levant. While the story is nothing special, and there are no real toe-tapping, finger-snapping showstoppers (the "climax", a 20-minute fantasy ballet sequence, is really superfluous and distracting), watching Kelly dance his little feet clean off is always amusing. And, sometimes, that's all you need. Still, I recommend you see Singin' in the Rain before you catch this one. B

113. 5/5: The Interpreter (2005, Sydney Pollack) - Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn are two of my least favorite actors working today. Kidman is always bland, and Penn is always maddeningly pretentious and overbearing. However, lately, I've been seeing a string of movies with surprisingly solid performances from the latter, and I was beginning to consider actually kind of liking him. It's a good thing, then, that I saw Pollack's half-hearted, terminally dull political thriller The Interpreter, in which both Kidman and Penn are at their most uninspired (what's up with the muddled accent, Nicole?). There are actually some nice moments between the two of them, but whenever the script isn't comparing their characters' sizable fits of depression and self-loathing, it's going to dull African landscapes or boring United Nations gatherings with an entirely unaffecting political agenda. In the end, the only thing that The Interpreter is going to be remembered for is that it was the very first movie to be shot inside the U.N. building...and possibly for the fact that it's the most high-profile movie in the Wal-Mart bargain bin. Who knew that a political thriller directed by Pollack and co-written by Steven Zaillian could be so boring? C-

114. 5/5: Mission: Impossible II (2000, John Woo) - And I thought the first Mission: Impossible was dumb. Taking the reigns from Brian de Palma, who infected the first film with his tilted angle fetish, is famous Hong Kong action director/sad Hollywood prostitute Woo, who has a list of bizarre fetishes or "trademarks" far stranger than de Palma's (including doves, rainbows, and the incessant use of camera zooms and slow motion). Tom Cruise, armed with the short-lived hippie hair that also made its way into 2001's underrated Vanilla Sky, constantly postures for the camera and makes excessive reminders to the audience that, yes, he has absolutely no chemistry with Bond gir..er, love interest Thandie Newton. It's bad when the screenwriter, Robert Towne, says that he had to construct his story around action sequences that Woo wanted to film. Apparently actually making one of these godforsaken movies entertaining is the impossible mission of the title. D

115. 5/5: Mission: Impossible III (2006, J.J. Abrams) - You know, what with all of the couch-jumping media frenzy surrounding Tom Cruise, it's easy to forget what a talented actor he can be. Unfortunately, Mission: Impossible III doesn't offer any reminders. This may seem unfair, but director Abrams, creator of TV's spy series Alias, has basically crafted a hugely extended episode of the show. That's not a good thing. Unlike Abrams' other series, the brilliant Lost, Alias has been and remains one of the most unexciting, conventional series on TV, despite all of its many "twists." The basic set-up of this third Mission: Impossible is the same as that of Alias, and the forced family drama is very similar. There are even a few small undercurrents of Lost, especially during a tearful chest-pounding scene near the film's end. Philip Seymour Hoffman, however, is absolutely great as the film's villain...which is why, of course, he's only in the thing for five whole minutes. A bigger rip-off in summer cinema there has not been in quite some time. The first Mission: Impossible was an overcomplicated spy thriller, the second was a dumb James Bond clone, and this third installment is a rudimentary espionage adventure. But since it actually tries for character development and manages to have some effective sequences, plus it features the ever-likeable Simon Pegg, it trounces the other two easily. Still, that's not saying much. C

116. 5/6: All the President's Men (1976, Alan J. Pakula) - Having just read Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward's book, when I saw that the movie was on PBS, I couldn't help but rewatch it. Amazingly, I like it even better now that I've read the book; as expected, I caught a lot more of the little things than I did before. I also forgot just how captivating Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman were, even when just writing lists, going through boxes of library receipts, or making telephone calls. In fact, it's a huge achievement on the behalf of director Pakula that the movie is as thrilling and riveting as it is when most of it has the main characters sitting down or dialing numbers. In fact, since there is a clearer distinction made between Bernstein and Woodward as characters here than in the book, the movie is actually better. Though I still feel a little shortchanged by the abrupt ending (which is unfortunately just as abrupt in the book), what a great movie this is! Very watchable. A+

117. 5/7: The Apostle (1997, Robert Duvall) - God help Duvall, The Apostle is a hugely missed opportunity. Duvall's performance in the film as the Apostle E.F. is very good, and the film is filled with lots of little moments that, taken by themselves, seem to be very deep and meaningful (such as when E.F. yells at God). But, taken in the context of the ill-developed screenplay, they mean nothing. The pacing is off by about a million miles, and the movie meanders from point to point with a dry, dusty lull. In the end, the film perfectly parallels E.F.'s sermons: Superficially complex, but ultimately empty. What do you learn about God when someone just yells that God is a great god and should be worshipped devoutly? I'm not disagreeing with those points, but my meaning is, they could be expressed in a much more effective and meaningful manner than either E.F. or Duvall seem to be capable of. C-

118. 5/7: Jurassic Park (1993, Steven Spielberg) - Current special effects gurus need to take a hint from Industrial Light & Magic's work on Jurassic Park. This movie has the greatest special effects of all time, and it's not just because all of the dinosaurs still look completely realistic. It's how they achieved this realism: They didn't use just CGI--because, hey, remember, this was the movie that innovated the usage--they also used puppets and animatronics to produce a fully realistic result. That way, not only does the T-Rex look great up-close, but she also looks great when she's chasing after a Jeep or snacking on some velociraptors. Compare this to Peter Jackson's King Kong remake: Those T-Rexes (or, I'm sorry, "V-Rexes," as they're called in that movie) never for a moment look like anything but a cartoon...while King Kong does not strive for the accuracy that Jurassic Park did, it would've been nice to believe that what we were supposed to be excited about was actually real. I seriously miss the use of puppets and animatronics; they may not be as flexible as CGI, but they sure can look more realistic. Exactly how would a Gremlins sequel with CGI Gremlins work? Okay, rant over, on to the movie, which is a fantastic thriller of epic proportions that I have watched time and time again. Though there are (rather sizable) lapses in logic at times (okay, the well-paid, high-level scientists used frog DNA to fill in the holes of the genetic sequence, but didn't expect the dinosaurs to ever switch gender to allow for breeding?), it's one of Spielberg's most well-crafted films, and has a beautiful score by John Williams. And who doesn't love Jeff Goldblum? No one I ever wanna meet, that's who. A+

119. 5/8: The Jacket (2005, John Maybury) - Here's something that you're not going to hear often: The Jacket is a deceptively complex movie. With a chilling opening line ("I was 27 years old the first time I died."), you'd expect The Jacket to be open to all kinds of examination and analysis. And while it can definitely be debated thematically, spiritually, and emotionally, it's not the kind of movie where logistics matter overmuch. Which is not to say that it's dumb; the screenplay by Massy Tadjedin is a tautly-written, well-conceived puzzler. It's not an intricate mind game like The Sixth Sense whatever its outward appearances may suggest. The Jacket is about emotion, desire, and reality. Its psuedocomplexities lie in the way that it expresses these themes. Don't bother chasing after the loose ends. It won't be a fruitful endeavor. Just get wrapped up in the intriguing character that Adrien Brody manifests, and the complex chainsmoking alchoholic Keira Knightley crafts. Don't worry about the clues or the mazes that the movie might offer to you. It's all a wild goose chase. The Jacket is basically like a peek inside the jumbled neuroses of the filmmakers' brains as they contemplate the weighty subjects of love and life. It makes no sense in a way that makes complete sense. If that makes sense. B+

120. 5/8: The Devil's Rejects (2005, Rob Zombie) - I never managed to watch more than 30 minutes of House of 1000 Corpses, which wasn't for lack of tryin', nor for the fact that I hated what I saw with every fiber of my being. I just simply kept falling asleep. Well, at least its sequel, The Devil's Rejects, is never boring, I can tell you that. It actually has a pretty solid opening, and I was almost sort of enjoying it before Sid Haig's godforsaken Captain Spaulding came along. Captain Spaulding was my least favorite part of what I saw of the first, and as such, he's my absolute least favorite part of this one. The movie is trashily entertaining at times, though despite all of the blood and violence, none of it is really shocking. It's completely pointless. I hate this kind of exploitation horror (yes, 70's horror fans, I'm aware this comes to you as a slap in the face), when there's no cleverness, no intelligence, no uniqueness in any way. The acting is laughable, the script is non-existent, and Zombie directs like a toddler on acid (and the acid part is probably true). As I said, the beginning is pretty solid, and it has a surprisingly entertaining finale, but everything that bridges the gap is a muddled waste. Nice music, though. D-

121. 5/12: The Weather Man (2005, Gore Verbinski) - For all of its faults, The Weather Man has enough truth and unadulterated honesty to scrape above average. And when I say "unadulterated honesty," I mean it. This is no Hollywood dramedy, nor is it even a dark kind of indie reality. The Weather Man does not exist in Movie Land; it firmly roots itself in the murky terrain of Real Life. There's nary a beat in the film that isn't completely real, and Verbinski, along with screenwriter Steve Conrad, make some very biting observations about society...which, unfortunately, are also entirely real. It's sort of a mini American Beauty. But if there's one major fault that the film has, it is in its pacing. At times it drags (it takes quite a while for it to kick into top gear), and at others it just feels a mite disjointed. But by its end, it has progressed to being a much better movie than it started out as. Which, y'know, life. B

122. 5/13: Chasing Amy (1997, Kevin Smith) - I love Smith for how he manages to make geek totally chic. With Chasing Amy, he's actually made a complex, deeply moving love story centered around several comic book creators. That is just insanely cool, and I give my heart to the movie if only for that reason. But oh, are there others. His screenplay is brilliant, with his usual vulgar comedy (his frankness is one of his strong suits, and why the movie works as well as it does) complementing the highly emotional moments. And they truly are highly emotional, especially whenever Joey Lauren Adams is involved. She gives an incredibly strong and powerful performance here which is undoubtedly her best, and Ben Affleck gives his best performance as well in a time before he was best known for his couple-y "Bennifer" shenanigans. This is also Smith's best, most personal and intensely affecting work...how can he top this? A-

123. 5/14: Poseidon (2006, Wolfgang Petersen) - This is the third high seas disaster flick I've seen from director Petersen. And, so far, only one of them has been good...and it ain't Poseidon, his new mess straight out of the Hollywood playbook (and even the playbook gets a little offended). Admittedly, the special effects are fantastic. And, if this were a video game, that'd be all fine and dandy. Unfortunately, this is a movie, which is supposed to provide three-dimensional characters. The screenplay by Mark Protosevich, taken from the novel by Paul Gallico (which also inspired the famed 1972 flick The Poseidon Adventure, which I have not seen), has almost every single stock character you can think of. The adventurous--and totally uncharismatic--lead, the father who tries in vain to live up to his daughter's image of himself, the man stuck with an unfaithful partner (and this time he's...*gasp*...gay!), the obligatory red shirts who get killed every time. It doesn't help matters that the actors are almost as horrible as the material they've been given. Josh Lucas and Kurt Russell are two of the blandest leads in years, Richard Dreyfuss admirably strives to keep from drowning amdist the waterlogged characterizaton he's saddled with, and Kevin Dillon feels like his Entourage character Johnny Drama trying to pull off a great job amongst a roster of stars (as happens often in the series). The only actor I wholeheartedly believed was Freddy Rodriguez, and...well, I don't want to talk about it. Poseidon may not be as bad as Petersen's last mess, Troy, but it's still the worst big boat movie since Titanic. And, by the by, the only high-stakes sea movie I've dug from Petersen is his 1981 masterpiece Das Boot. Skip this and The Perfect Storm, and go grab Das Boot. You'll thank me. D

124. 5/17: Imagine: John Lennon (1988, Andrew Solt) - I'm not going to pretend that my extreme love of the Beatles didn't influence me in any way while I watched this. In fact, I'm going to say it loud and clear right upfront: I am extremely biased in regards to John Lennon and the Beatles, and, thus, I am biased towards this documentary. That said, Imagine: John Lennon is a beautiful, insightful peek inside the mind and world of one of the most influential people of the last century. It really is amazing that there's as much footage of Lennon as there is; in a world that has long been obsessed with celebrities but which also now has the tools to feed that obsession, it's almost scary as to how much access the media has to a person's life. But Lennon also seemed to record everything that went on inside his home, from taking a playful bath to making love to Yoko Ono, making this a truly special look at his life. It goes without saying that the music is beautiful (the use of the title song "Imagine" at the end is heartbreaking), and coupled with this rare, wonderfully insightful footage, it results in one of the best documentaries I've ever seen. Say what you will about Lennon's sometimes bizarre tactics, but he was one of the greatest advocates of peace during the 20th century. A+

125. 5/17: L'Atalante (1934, Jean Vigo) - The fourth and last of Vigo's films, L'Atalante is also one of his most celebrated, and for good reason. Though it is actually a pretty simple movie about a honeymooning couple traveling by boat to Paris, it is beautifully realized and quite poetic, especially during a lovely sequence where the two young lovers are separated at night and yearn for each other. It's one of the most erotic things I've seen, and yet it's featured in a movie 72 years old. I'm so glad the Europeans aren't as prudish as Americans are. But, getting back to the actual film, L'Atalante is a slyly humorous little gem and perfectly captures the romantic intrigue and misgivings surrounding a pair of newlyweds. Gilles Margaritis is in particular a real standout as a traveling magician/entertainer of sorts. Funny, touching, and with a penchant for the poetic, L'Atalante is simply an excellent romance. A-

126. 5/19: The Da Vinci Code (2006, Ron Howard) - I guess I'm not really qualified to judge Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown's work; I read 50 pages of his Angels & Demons at a Wal-Mart and put it back on the shelf based on how incredibly awful it was even though I had been planning on buying it. Had I been checking out Howard's film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code at a Wal-Mart, I would've been inclined to do the same. It's not exactly awful...but it's definitely nowhere near being any kind of good. Despite all of the Catholic Church brouhaha, it's one of the most inoffensive movies about religion that I can recall seeing (though a lot of the dialogue feels like a built-in firewall against Christian complaints). It's also one of the most unengaging thrillers in recent memory, with lots of time spent on boring speeches spouted by cardboard characters mainfested by actors who have no idea what they're doing (Ian McKellen and Paul Bettany are wildly over-the-top, whereas Audrey Tautou may just as well have not been there; Tom Hanks is the only one who gets it right). It's like The History Channel Gone Wild. Even the car chases are boring and rote. Silly, moronic fluff that has generated a lot of really, really worthless controversy. C'mon, naysayers. You could be doing a lot more with your lives. D+

127. 5/21: Dogma (1999, Kevin Smith) - So I guess this is how Smith tops Chasing Amy. With a wicked, dark intelligence, this irreverent religious satire is both hilarious and deeply meaningful; Smith didn't just make a lot of jokes at God's expense. Despite the enormous amount of Catholic Church protestation upon the film's release, Dogma proves that Smith knows more about Catholicism than most who were protesting and sincerely, genuinely loves God. I mean, this is a movie about two disowned angels who screw around with nuns' minds at the airport trying to get back into heaven, a neurotic Catholic as Christ's last remanining blood kin, Alanis Morisette as a silent God with a penchant for skeeball, a black 13th Apostle named Rufus, and perennial stoners Jay and Silent Bob as prophets. Who would expect it to be so moving? Smith could've easily made this another ridiculous Hollywood sitcom, but since when has he ever been known to do that? As always, his dialogue is brilliant (when Ben Affleck's Bartleby has his epiphany the ensuing conversation with Matt Damon's Loki is a thing of beauty), and the laugh quotient is high, ranging from the lowbrow (a crap demon) to the highbrow (Alan Rickman's wish-he-could-get-drunk angel Metatron). This also proves to be his best picture artistically...the introductory scene of Jason Lee's demonic Azrael early on almost warrants a rewatch in and of itself. Truly Smith's finest work, and probably the best religious satire ever made. A

128. 5/21: Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001, Kevin Smith) - Originally intended as the last film in Smith's View Askew quintet (in July, the eagerly-anticipated sixth film, Clerks II, sees its debut), Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is a collection of inside jokes and pop culture references aimed directly at the fans, of which I am one. Oh Lord, I just wish it was funnier. To be entirely truthful, the entire movie has an awkward pace and feels sloppy and disjointed, cameos by almost every single major player in the Askewniverse (a great idea) seeming obligatory instead of special. It's the kind of silly, unmeaningful, conventional Hollywood stoner comedy that Smith has always avoided. It's rewarding to the fans (at least we now have closure regarding Banky, Holden, and Amy), but it could've been so much better. At least Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Eliza Dushku and Marc Blucas make appearances, as well as Jon Stewart, George Carlin, and a host of other celebrities. Alanis Morisette's God from Dogma closing the book on the Askewniverse after the credits is a nice touch. All of that said, I still can't wait for Clerks II; the Askewniverse is a wonderful place, and this is the only time Smith has ever stumbled. C+

129. 5/26: X-Men (2000, Bryan Singer) - I love how smart Singer's X-Men movies are. The films are full of fantastic and unusual heroes, and include a villain that is essentially a living magnet, as well as one that eats a dove by whipping his tongue from across the room at it. Yet the world in which the mutants live is extremely believable, as Singer and his merry band of mutantmakers have the clever idea of focusing the film's more fantastic elements through a real-world, political lense. Any X-Men fan will tell you that the comic books have been a grand metaphor for racism/sexism/slavery for decades, but to see it come across on the screen every bit as metaphorical, edgy, and meaningful is a triumph for Singer and a lovely gift-wrapped reward to fans as well as newcomers. The cast is large, but the film covers them very well, and the fact that the actors really seem to get it helps enormously. A number of them--especially Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, and Patrick Stewart--nail their characters perfectly. There are of course some liberties taken with the comics, but most are actually for the good. The black leather costumes work since the brightly-colored spandex would've looked hideous onscreen, and I actually vastly prefer Anna Paquin's quiet and troubled Rogue to the outgoing southern belle in the comics. All-in-all, an epic action adventure with great storytelling, characters, direction, and acting. Be sure to watch out for Marvel mastermind Stan Lee as a hot dog vendor! A+

130. 5/26: X2 (2003, Bryan Singer) - As great as the first X-Men is, it's basically just a brilliant warm-up for X2. More than almost any other Hollywood spectacle I've seen, X2 can be labeled with the unique phrase "big-budget art." It's a big epic with a very large and varied cast of characters, plus with about a bajillion action sequences, but as always, there is something artful about director Singer's execution. Like the first film, X2 deals heavily with the real-world political ramifications of the mutant situation; in fact, the last half of the movie takes place mostly in an underground military compound as the mutants are under attack from a prejudiced general (the brilliantly evil Brian Cox) and his platoon of soldiers. It all comes to an end with a breathlessly thrilling and ultimately tragic climax as the seeds for a pivotal story arc are sewn... A+

131. 5/26: X-Men: The Last Stand (2006, Brett Ratner) - The good news: Nowhere near as awful as the marketing makes it seem, and director Ratner proves that he's actually not as incompetent behind the camera as he was thought to be. The bad news: X-Men: The Last Stand has a lot to live up to with its two masterful predecessors, and it doesn't quite succeed in doing so. The story feels especially rushed--crammed into the 104-minute running time--and the dialogue isn't always the best, but when it gets things right, it gets them to a tee. The climactic battle is phenomenally entertaining, the tragic result is heartbreaking, and the final scene before the end credits is fan-freakin'-tastic. There are some nice cast additions, most notable Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde and Six Feet Under's Ben Foster as Angel, and the old cast is pretty solid for the most part. The biggest problem here is the script, which, as I've said, delivers the story seemingly by FedEx's overnight plan and leads to some stilted emotional moments. This is also probably the most politically-charged film of the trilogy, about the right to be a mutant and if there is indeed anything for the film's cure to cure, and yet it hardly deals with its politics at all. Still, despite its flaws, if you can step away from the mastery of the first two and tap into Wolverine's mighty reservoir of anger as he unsheathes his deadly adamantium claws, you'll be in for some disappointingly brainless fun. Plus, even if the Dark Poenix storyline is botched, the asides to the comics and the fandom are nice, including a Days of Future Past Danger Room sequence, the appearance of the Multiple Man, the cure from Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men series, and a certain line spoken by Vinnie Jones' Juggernaut made infamous by the dubbed-over cartoon short authored by YouTube's Naztradamix. Also, note: There's a great scene right after the credits, so stay tuned. Excelsior! B

Continued in Vol. 3

Great review of Inside Man. I don't think I could add anything to it.

Thanks!

I really enjoyed the film, which I was not expecting from the trailers. It's got me interested in Spike Lee once more, after She Hate Me robbed me of all interest.

In fact, I watched part of Malcolm X last night, and must finish it today...

"Basically Die Hard 4: Old, Tired, and Drunk"

Awesome. I can almost forgive you for "never been big fans of Denzel Washington or Jodie Foster."

:-)

Washington and Foster...I just dunno...

But thanks. :-D

Speaking of Die Hard 4.0, as it's being called, Entertainment Weekly earlier this year listed it as a movie they'd never want to see. Which led Bruce Willis to absolutely go apeshit on them and their publication. I think the guy needs some psychiatric help.

I was about to sing "Somewhere Out There" from "An American Tale" if you watched "Ed Wood" on IFC the same showing I did. But I double checked and it's mere chance we both saw "Ed Wood" this week.

But I love when that happens on the Listology seen list. "Ha, I know where they watched that movie!"

Yes, I love that too!

But if you had started singing "Somewhere Out There" from An American Tail, I might have to had to attack you. I hate that movie. The original Land Before Time aside, there's this thing I have against Don Bluth from some reason. He even hendered my enjoyment of Titan A.E., which my uber hero Joss Whedon co-wrote! Hmmm.

Wow, dude. I don't think it would be possible for you to be any wronger on "L'Age", in my opinion. It's one of the clearest, easiest surrealistic documents I know of. It's all about repression, man.

Well, I knew that most wouldn't agree with my assessment.

But seriously, I just thought it was really clumsy and really hamhanded.

I get the overlying theme of repression, but to me it didn't work and the film itself seemed to me totally incoherent. The script needed more fine-tuning, and I honestly don't think that Bunuel knew what he was doing behind the camera. He was ambitious in making the film, but his skill didn't match his ambition. Now, I've not seen anything else from him, so I'm not judging him on the whole, just this one film, which I hated.

Some of Bergman's works are really surreal, and I absolutely adore them, so I'm thinking it was just Bunuel that I objected to.

I think I'm gonna need you to clarify a bit. You got the overall intent, but it was still incoherent? I don't follow.

I also completely disagree with you regarding Bunuel's talents versus his ambitions. I think his technique was fully in line with what he wanted to accomplish (check the visual timing on that amazing ending). But that's really more a matter of personal preference, I guess, so I doubt I'll convince you of anything there.

And which Bergman works are you thinking of? I mean, "Persona" is pretty out there, but it's also way atypical of Bergman's output. I guess a case could be made for "The Seventh Seal" as surreal, but I think it edges closer to magic realism.

Yeah, I was mainly thinking of Persona and The Seventh Seal.

As for getting the overall intent, but still finding it incoherent...well, I thought it was fairly easy to summarize the intention of the piece. It was the execution that was incoherent; I mean, I can tell you what the movie meant to say, but I can't tell you how in the hell it said it. I honestly don't have much of an idea in regard to what happened to any of the characters.

Nicole's accent in "The Interpreter," to my ears, is actually a pretty dead-on South African accent. At least from what I can tell from the conversations I've had with South Africans...

Also, who doesn't know that Zaillian's a dull writer? I mean, did you see "A Civil Action"?

Okay, I could be totally wrong about the accent. I didn't buy it, but then again, I'm not experienced with that kinda stuff.

And I liked A Civil Action... ^_^;

How can you hate on Captain Spaulding? He was the only redeeming quality of the first movie. Sure he's more sadistic in this film but what's there not to love about a drunken clown who associates with serial killers? And the commercials on the extras are hilarious. He's like a live action version of Krusty.

I don't know, I just have this really really extreme hatred for him. Like, I hated every character in those movies, but especially him for some reason.

He reminded me of the Nazi clown in the Buffy episode "Nightmares"...only not scary, or amusing, or, well, much of anything.

We are on the same page with The DaVinci Code but I'm a whole grade higher. I think it's because being on the IMDB boards prepared me for the worst in both it being some sort of devil worshipping film (which I knew it wasn't because I read the book) and because I heard it was terrible. It wasn't either.

I just thought it was an average summer movie as well but I slapped on the "+" since I liked what it was trying to do with the religion discussion. I kind of liked the inoffensiveness. Though I do have to say the film committed the sin of having everyone come in with one viewpoint and represent that viewpoint. "Here's the agnostic," "here's the Catholic strayed from the flock," "here's the church hating academic," "here's the die-hard Catholic." It was like reading a children's book. Which I don't remember the book version being - though that was quite average as well.

Yes, one of its biggest problems was that everything was spelled out multiple times to the point of redundancy. I guess that the inoffensiveness was a good quality, but the extremes to which Howard went to make sure that nothing would get anyone all riled up really diluted the experience.

Also, I just saw Dogma, and as far as religious movies go, The Da Vinci Code is really paling in comparison now. I guess I wanted something smart and intriguing, not a sort of A&E TV production type deal.

I love Glen or Glenda! It's an avant-garde masterpiece.