Films I Watched - August, 2005

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  • 8/31 - Babylon 5: The Gathering - The pilot film for this series which several of my friends swear is much better than my limited experience with it betrays is strictly mediocre fare, with spotty acting and some scenes completely fumbled by the directing. Still, the roots of the story are planted, and they seem a bit promising. I hear the series evolved in very interesting ways, so I may have to investigate the first season... **

  • 8/28 - Carolina - If you want to inject some earthly zip into your moribund film, you need to fit Shirley MacLaine into the proceedings somewhere and give her all the good lines. Marleen Gorris is smart enough to do just this, even if the scenes with MacLaine as Julia Stiles' grandmother delight several hundred times more than the boring, prefabricated romantic plot this film is saddled under. The good and bad race neck to neck until a plot twist thirty minutes before the close effectively kills this feature. The final thirty minutes reek to high heaven, and the last shot is frankly unforgivable. * 1/2

  • Favorite line: "Where's Tulsa?"

  • 8/28 - Oldboy - Park Chan-wook’s confident film is impressive, perhaps even more impressive than successful. With all the terrific shots and sharp plot twists, Oldboy wows as the work of a skilled director and clever writers. Still, it never rarely moves beyond that level; it keeps one’s eyes and mind racing to stay abreast of the happenings, but it is nearly too slick, sliding through the heartstrings with nary a strum or emotional reverberation. That smoothness is not necessarily a cardinal sin, but it does hurt a film that really seems to want us to be wholly invested in the events and characters that unfold. Noting this is perhaps just a way of saying that this, while a good film, is not quite the masterpiece its fervent fanbase claims it to be. It is, hopefully, an impressive calling card, announcing the arrival of a talent honestly promising future masterworks. *** 1/2 (Really, more of a *** 1/4, but that’s cheating...)

  • 8/27 - Brothers - For a film that, boiled down to its simple structure, is an updating of The Prince and the Pauper, Brothers feels anything but familiar or clichéd. The story tumbles from tone to tone, moving from mood to mood, and despite the radical dramatic swings, every scene feels like a natural piece of the whole. Susanne Bier follows the spirit, if not the rules, of the Dogme 95 movement she cut her teeth in; by managing to keep the immediate realism of that school while feeling the freedom to bend the conventions when the film calls for it, she hones a style that feels unique; this film is truthful and intimate while taking advantages of the freedom of filmmaking to underscore scenes with devices shunned by the Dogme crew. She is certainly a talent to watch, and I will, I promise I will, as soon as I can take my eyes off of the gorgeous Connie Nielsen. *** 1/2

  • 8/27 - Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut - You know this film has ascended to cult status when you enter a midnight showing and find at least one person in a bunny mask exactly like Frank’s. The director’s cut happily does improve on the original, explaining the premise just enough to add a framework of sensibility to the mysteries inside this film. I still find it more ambitious than successful, but for a midnight movie on a Friday that ends a very long, nasty week, it does the trick. ***

  • 8/25 - The Twilight Samurai - Where in the world did this one come from? Yoji Yamada's film flew quietly under my radar until a note from Jim mentioned that I might like it. If Yasujiro Ozu directed a samurai film, I suspect it would like a lot like this fantastic film, and that is high praise. The directing is understated yet divine, knowing when to leave the frame still and to allow the action to wander off, and brave enough to let this potentially melodramatic material breathe naturally without superfluous emotional underlining or fireworks. A petty samurai, soldiering on after the loss of his wife leaves him supporting a senile mother and two young daughters on his own, must face several trials, including one that might spell his end. This is a beautiful, moving movie, one that burrowed into my heart with a subtle grace reminiscent of the highest masterpieces of the art. I wish I could write something more insightful, but I am frankly still reeling from this film. Jim, you nailed it; I love this film. ****

  • 8/20 - Broken Flowers - A hare of a film, starting off in fine form but lagging too much to clear the tape a winner, the latest Jarmusch effort skirts the mainstream much closer than usual. While diehard fans may bemoan that artistic decision, it really isn't a problem here. What is troublesome is a script that seems like an under-developed Sideways copy; as the ideas run dry, the borrowed ideas slip in at a rapid pace. Even the unconventional ending seems lifted from other sources (an episode of Homicide: Life on the Streets, for example, closed the curtain with the same shot and effect). As a result, a mildly interesting and amusing film lumbers to a halt with an easy sense of déjà vu dilluting the entire affair. ** 1/2

  • 8/19 - Libeled Lady - I just accidentally deleted a long review of this film, and I am too darned lazy this Monday morning to rewrite the entire essay. This is a classic, under-rated screwball comedy, with Mr. and Mrs. Thin Man shining in alternate roles and Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow also providing frenzied fun. ****

  • 8/18 - Murderball - You won’t be shocked to find MTV’s logo at the beginning of this film, as this documentary about wheelchair rugby is certainly shot through with agro-attitude. Luckily, the film survives in fine shape, largely because little attempt is made to create heroes out of these players. Drama is earned, and the players’ stories and drives make for some infective viewing. Even more refreshing is the film’s refusal to shape the narrative into more traditional nonfiction territory, a move which certainly helps rocket this film above the current glut of documentaries. *** 1/2

  • 8/13 - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Burton tightens the deadly dull opening act, chops out the sleepy songs, updates the Teavees well, transforms Violet Beauregarde from boring to the best of the naughty children, and recasts the Oompa Loompa into a dizzy delight all his own. Unfortunately, the film is an utter mess, with the antics more annoying than enchanting. For my money, Depp is just fine as an alternate Willy Wonka, but Burton simply has no control over this wild film, and instead of setting him free, the freeform nature of this fantasy chains the director to his worst indulgences and tendencies. Between the original and the remake, it is a close race, with the newer version perhaps edging out the older one by nose, but it is hardly a victory to celebrate. **

  • 8/12 - Tampopo - Not really the noodle western it is advertised as nearly so much as a Japanese Airplane, this wild comedy rolls wild with food and sex (at times all at once), and it is darn hard not to roll with the frenetic flow. The acting is astounding, especially from the couple that elevates raw eggs to an erotic art, and a great time is promised to all. ***

  • 8/7 - La Strada - Fellini sneaks up your spine with a film that refuses to be what you expect it to be at any given second. By the time the final scene rolls by, the cumulative effect is damn near devastating. Each character is well-defined, acted to a tee, and surprisingly three-dimensional, the score is sublime, matching and underscoring each mood, and Fellini ends up with one of his best movies. That, of course, makes this one of the best films in film history. ****

  • 8/2 - Open Range - The theatrical Western is dead. Long live the Western! Since the genre has dived into the current underground B-movie studios (AKA cable networks), it has struggled to find breath. Often, it has emerged from the low budget wash alive and squirming. Kevin Costner, seemingly unphased by several big-budget bombs, puts the oater back on the large screen, and if it is a return home of sorts for the director, let us hope he rarely feels the need to wonder so far afield again. His cast is that wonderful and rare contemporary crew that seems realistic moving about the time-worn settings of the frontier, with Duvall even managing to lift his flesh and blood cowboy into that blurry realm between dirty of the world and the rarified Fordian air of the mythic. The opening might bore a few away, and the ending dwells on a romance the rest of the film too often ignores, but when that gun fight blows its way through your chest, you'll know those character blazing guns down the dusty main street are more than simple cardboard cutouts, and you'll also remember why the idea of Costner behind camera once set the world of filmgoers aquiver. Kudos for blowing up a towering genre to silver screen size once more, and even more cheers for doing it so well. *** 1/2

  • 8/1 - Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory - Despite growing up in the 1970s, I have somehow survived to the age of 32 without watching this film all the way through, thanks largely to a lack of interest and a broken VHS tape back in 1991. Having now seen the film in all its glory, I can only encourage the large number of fans who love this film from childhood to never, ever watch it again. If you insist, do fast forward past the butt-numbing first fifty (!) mintues to arrive directly at the factory. Gene Wilder is the star here, and short of the psychedelic ride on the boat, he provided the lone hook on which I could hang my interest. Yes, this no doubt makes me a scrooge, but really, no one should have to sit through the charming Cheer Up, Charlie tune, and every wonder and delight in the second half of the film is met with two bores (and more than matched by four snoozy moments in the first part of the film). Am I grump? Perhaps, but this children's "classic" damn near put me to sleep. **
Author Comments: 

I'm rating the films on a zero to four star basis. ** 1/2 is average.

Wow, first Wonka viewing at 32! Wow, you didn't like it?! I've actually seen chunks of it recently, and still kinda like it (although I have no idea how we came to own a copy, in Yokelvision of all formats!). Gene Wilder is indeed the reason to watch it, but the kids are all nicely detestable. It doesn't take long for the tunes to grate, though.

I suspect the film actually works best in chunks, especially if the first half of the film is neglected in the digest form. Wilder is terrific, as usual, and the kids are indeed nicely detestable, even if I was a bit bummed to discover that Veruca was no octopus (YEEEouch! Obsucre, lame joke warning! Whoop whoop! I should be banned...).

Hearing ma sing and watching gramps dance, however, didn't quite deliver the same joys Wilder's wilder touch brought to the proceedings...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Too obscure for me, I'm afraid. Perhaps that's for the best? :-)

Certainly for the best. :)

Trust me, it is pretty lame...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Funny thing, I read your review of Open Range and was psyched as I recalled really liking it as well. I went back to read my own review, and my recollection was correct insofar as my overall rating was concerned, but apparently some of the dialog really rubbed me the wrong way. Those memories have faded though, just leaving warm fuzzy feelings towards the film. Can't for the life of me remember specific scenes that irked me.

The dialog was weak in spots, especially at the start. As the film progressed, though, the drama took hold, which helped, and you start to realize that some of the characters may very well talk in cliches and such, which also helps a bit.

You review was a large influence on me finally renting the film, so thanks!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I'm glad to see someone liked Tampopo . I'm such a food junkie, I hunted this one down just for the noodles. I think my favourite thing about it is the old man teaching the young man the proper way to eat noodles. Noodles. So much more than just a funny word to say.

What a fun film. It was a perfect flick for a Friday night!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Seriously. Though when it comes to foody films, my sentimental favourite will always be Big Night .

I'm not sure which is my favorite. I really liked Eat Drink Man Woman...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I've not seen that one yet. Unfortunately, my local video store has an extremely limited collection, and precious fewer films on old fashioned video. Boy am I ever looking foward to going back home to Canada and buying a DVD player.

Ouch! Good luck to nabbing some better access. Luckily, DVD players are pretty cheap nowadays, and personally, I find Netflix is a lifesaver for those of us who live surrounded by a population that does not share our interests in film...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Thanks. Everyone says DVD players are cheap, and they are, but when you have an ancient TV and need to buy an RF modulator to play DVD's on your crappy TV, and you're leaving the bleedin' country in 6 months, then suddenly the whole thing seems just a bit too much of a hassle. Oh to be settled once more. I'll be checking out Netflix when I get back, or its Canadian equivalent. However, I find our local Rogers Video (in Canada) usually has a stellar collection to choose from anyway.

Not much to add, except to throw in my voice as a Tampopo fan. I first saw it years ago and liked it mildly, but recently rewatched it on Stooky's urging, and was very happy I did. I think I also make note of the erotic raw egg scene in my review, and I loved the scene with the office lackey ordering the most delicious-sounding business lunch ever.

I know sports movies aren't ususally your thing, so I'm glad to hear Murderball was an exception!

It was a very nice surprise. I was a bit afraid at the start that the film was steering too jingoistic for my taste and that we were meant to see the main characters, who are often jerks, as heroes. Luckily, the film was much more complex that that, and I was finally rather caught up in the entire affair. Great stuff.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I believe I'm going to get Oldboy from Netflix today, so I'm relieved to see you were impressed by it, even if not moved. I'm personally very curious to see how it stacks up against Kill Bill, as lots of folks (or, at least enough folks that I've noticed it) have seemed unable to resist drawing a comparision, and declaring this the revenge flick Tarantino wished he had made (a claim that makes me equal parts eager and skeptical).

Praise for Choi Min-sik has been universal though. Did you like him in the film?

I suspect you will like the film, although I am not exactly batting a thousand here, so... :)

The acting was all terrific, even in the supporting roles.

The comparison to Kill Bill is interesting, especially as the revenge theme is there, and one long single take in a hallway reminded me of Tarantino's epic, but I think that likeness can be easily exaggerated. The films are certainly not carbons of each other.

Let me know what ya think!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Broken Flowers is the only film I have seen in theatres for months (except for Keaton's The General). I especially enjoyed the end, and overall I liked it more than you did. Yet, I have to admit it's my first and only Jarmusch I have seen to date.

I'm also interested in Wenders' Don't come knocking.

I'm jealous that you had the opportunity to see The General at a theater. I've seen very few silent films on anything but my television.

I was a little disappointed with the latest JJ film, but it is still worth watching.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

It's a shame, but we were only 4 people to see The General...

That is a crying shame, but I'm not sure the crowds would show up in greater number here either...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs