Netflix Roundup

Okay, so it's been MONTHS since I last posted, but, hey, I'm a college student with a job and a family, so cut me some slack, okay? Anyway, so here's my attempt at making my way through the backlog of our recent Netflix rentals. We'll start least recent. Which means...

Batman Begins. I really wanted this to knock my socks off, and it almost, almost did. The first two acts of this film are stellar. Nolan hits a pitch-perfect origin story (my least favorite parts of superhero movies) showing, basically, Ninja Batman that just kicks. It loses a bit of steam when Bale dons the cape & cowl, but overall the first two acts are almost perfect.

Now the critique. First off: Katie Holmes. Yikes, she's terrible, isn't she? My favorite bit of acting is the scene where her boss, the DA tells her that Bruce Wayne (you know, the life-long friend who she grew up with and hasn't seen since they were college kids) is back in town. Katie Holes literally stands there, blinks, turns around walks away. Can you even pretend that you can act, Katie? I mean, seriously, not even a hint of reaction? Yeesh.

This points out another gripe I have with this film in general and Batman films (and comics, for that matter): why try to shoehorn romance into a Batman story? The whole point of Batman is he's an borderline insane fascist who has declared a war on crime. He is single-minded in his crusade for some semblance of vengeance or at least wants to protect his city's residents from the pain he's suffered. He's an obsessive who would know dang well that he can't afford to get involved with a woman. Seriously can one superhero survive a film where his secret identity remains, well, a secret or will they always give it away for a lady? I mean, Spider-man I can understand, Superman even, but Batman? Come on.

Next: The last act. It's almost like they got two-thirds of the way through making this movie and realized, "Oops, we forgot to make this a conventional superhero/action movie. I guess we'll have to throw a handful of cliche's in at the end to make sure we qualify." So we get Jim Gordon (anybody else thing that Gary Oldman was criminally under-used?) cracking some joke about the Batmobile, we get the whole thing where the hero restates an earlier line given by the villain ("Never let your guard down," or something trite like that) and a big action setpiece that felt a bit hollow to me.

Anyway, I've rambled on far too long on this. It just kind of pissed me off because, well that had it so right and then it just kind of went...meh. Still, miles better than Daredevil, my "Golden Standard of Superhero-Movie Crap." 8.5 out of 10

Still sticking with the theme of slightly contrived action/adventure films, we move on to Sahara. Not half bad, but honestly, if the casting were any different, this movie would be one heckuva dog. The action is solid if, as I said, a bit contrived, the characters are pretty straightforward, and the "mystery" is well, not all that mysterious, but it works as a dumb but fun movie. Honestly though, this movie wouldn't be half as good as it is without MacConaughey, Zahn and Macy (especially the last two). 7 out of 10

Switching gears we end up with Stardust Memories, one of the five or six Woody Allen movies I hadn't seen. And...wow, I loved it. A big love note to Bergman and Fellini, it's beautiful and introspective and sad, and, despite itself, still hopeful, which is kind of the point of the film, really. Allen tries to be cynical, but just can't bring himself to commit to a world without laughter and hope. A beautiful film. 9 out of 10

Kicking & Screaming isn't really worth the energy to concoct a segue into. There's a few laughs somewhere in here, but it's really a mess. Will Ferrell is totally out of his element when he's not playing a ridiculous character and the sooner he realizes this, the happier he'll be. Duvall phones it in. Ferrell tries really to make you laugh. Mike Ditka tries his hand at acting and really should stick to Levitra ads. I finished watching it of obligation.4 out of 10

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco was pretty cool. I'd be a liar if I said that Wilco's last two albums,A Ghost is Born and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, were my favorites. Ghost is especially taxing because there are some really good songs buried in the indulgent and unnecessary experimentalism, a trend that peeked through on Yankee, but was kept in check enough to make it interesting rather than a bit difficult. Anyway, this is a future post entirely.

The making of the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album is explored in this documentary and, wow, it's quite a tale.

Basically, Wilco recorded their album, which Warner Brothers imprint Reprise thought was going to be their "breakthrough" album, delivered it to Reprise who said, "Uh, no. We need hits. Change it." Wilco said no. Reprise cut them loose and gave them their album back. The tracks make their way to the web, the album gets some buzz and an other Warner imprint, Nonesuch, buys the album and releases it to a public that's been waiting for it. The good guys win and the record companies look dumb because Warner bought the album twice. The black and white photography lends an air of timelessness to the story and elevates it above a prettily-shot Behind the Music. My favorite parts were the (obviously) tense scenes between multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett (who gets fired halfway through the film) and lead singer Jeff Tweedy that are all-too-familiar to anyone familiar with the dynamics of a band. On one hand, you empathise with Bennett because, well, it's his baby, his blood-sweat-and-tears, too, but when it comes down to it, it's Jeff's band and, well, tough cookies, mein freund. Anyway, made me remember just how much this band has affected me. 9 out of 10

Despite the fact that it's an unnecessary remake, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I have a miles-wide soft spot for the original film, as it's pretty much a perfect film (and, oh yeah, Candace & I had our first kiss while watching it), but taken on its own, it's a pretty faithful adaptation of the Roald Dahl book. Visually it's stunning and the characters, for the most part, are spot-on. I'll agree with my brother Bryan in that the film's greatest liability is what should be its biggest strength: Depp as Wonka. He plays him creepy where he should be eccentric, shrill where he should be abrupt, weird rather than enigmatic. Depp's Wonka (which I got a Michael Jackson vibe off of) never feels like he's in control of anything, he just breezes through the factory like a thin pale phantom, whereas Wilder's Wonka has an impish, winking quality that helps sell the character and his actions. I know, I know, it's unfair to compare the two, but really, Depp's portrayal lacks something in any case. Other than that, a decent little movie. 8 out of 10

It had been a while since I'd seen Vertigo, but it's still as creepy as I remember it. Yay. It's a beautiful film, just a slippery, writhing thing dressed up in a pretty outfit that, thankfully, doesn't quite cover all it's twisted disturbing parts. 10 out of 10

I hadn't seen Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith since opening night. I don't know. I have a blind spot the size of Texas when it comes to Star Wars, so I'm probably not the best judge of quality when it comes to this film, but I enjoyed it in the theatres and I enjoyed it again at home on the small screen. Yes, it's under- and over-acted. Yes, the dialogue is wooden. Yes, it's just an excuse for George Lucas to play with the technology he's poured million of dollars into. Yes, it overexplains its ties into the overarching saga and there's no real reason for the battle on Kashyyk. Yes, it's all of that, but I love it despite (and perhaps because of) all of that. Definitely the best of the prequel trilogy, and maybe (definitely) better than Jedi. 8 out of 10

It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I enjoyed the heck out of the Brian Wilson Presents Smile DVDs. Disc one was the documentary on the "making of" the British concert that led to the re-recording and (finally!) completion of Wilson's lost (hyperbole aside, folks) masterpiece. Most of the information presented on the history of SMiLE I was pretty familiar with (Brian makes album while Beach boys tour, Boys come back, Mike thinks it's too weird, Brian's crushed, shelves the album and begins his downward spiral into crippling mental illness) but the rehearsal footage was gold, the interview between co-writer Van Dyke parks and Wilson was stellar and the in-studio footage of the recording of the album was mind-blowing. I mean, this guy's still got "it" in there somewhere. The performance on disc two is really cool, tight band who obviously have a love for the source material. The Wondermints guy is amazing, just a great personality and dedicated as heck to the resurrection of this 20th century masterpiece. Well done, Mr. Wilson. Thank you. 10 out of 10

I have this fantasy version of Speilberg's War of the Worlds where Tom Cruise's character is played by John Cusack instead and the last third of the movie just doesn't exist. At all. Seriously, I was with the movie until Tim Robbins' character showed up; then the film just fell apart. We were going along so well, too. I had managed to pretend that Cruise wasn't there, that his character was played with some spark of redeemable personality (his son sums it up in the first act when he refers to him as an "a**hole,"), and that his character wasn't a REALLY, SERIOUSLY JUST PLAIN BAD DAD (how many times does he just leave his kids?). I had managed to overlook some plotholes (how did the videocamera capture the tripod's ascent from the asphalt if all electrical activity had been shut down?) as well as the fact that the kids (as well as the opening and closing narration) are completely unnecessary to the film and that it would have worked better as H.G. Wells had originally written it: a regular man's attempt at survival after an alien invasion. I had suspended my disbelief thus far, but it all crumbled under the weight of Tim Robbins sounding just plain stupid with a fake accent and then, on top of it all, Cruise's character kills him? With his kid in the next room? Sorry, you lost me there, Steven. And don't get me started with the all-of-the sudden stab at action-movie-ness with the grenade in the tripod's sphincter. Talk about incongruity. Anyway, a promising but ultimately seriously flawed film. 6 out of 10

Finishing up with Must Love Dogs, a by-the-numbers romantic comedy that, honestly would not be anywhere as good if it didn;t star Mr. John Cusack as the grown-up version of his Say Anything character. Diane Lane just is not attractive. I mean, like, at all. Seriously she's just...uggh. And does every middle-of the road romantic comedy have to star Dermot Mulroney? Is he to romatic comedies what Rutger howard is to sci-fi/action movies? Seriously, I want to know. In the end, Must Love Dogs is okay, for what it is. Nowhere near as good as something like, I dunno, You've Got Mail, which somehow manages to get me to watch at least ten minutes of it EVERY SINGLE TIME it's on cable, but not nearly as bad as the excreable The Wedding Date, which stars, wonder of wonder, Dermot Mulroney! Go figure. 6 out of 10

Well, that's the catchup as of last night. We've got the The Brothers Grimm sitting here waiting for a night together and after that it's:
1. Citizen Kane
2. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
3. Bad News Bears
4. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
5. The Work of Director Spike Jonze
6. Elizabethtown
7. Guided by Voices: Watch Me Jumpstart
8. Sliding Doors
9. Star Wars: Clone Wars: Vol. 1
10. In Her Shoes

Anyway, that's it for tonight. It's late. I promised Candace I'd be in bed hours ago. G'night.

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