...engaging and discerning culture, as a way of life...

December 30, 2005

King Kong (2005) - 7

Having not seen the previous versions of this film I can only compare it to other films in general. But I am assuming that the CGI is better now than it was in 1933 or 1976. CGI is one of the things that makes this film worth it; it makes the film larger than life which is the main point. Peter Jackson really pulls this film off. It is an interesting story and told well. I think one of the main themes in the film is that our current culture is one that sees the world as controllable. Rather than recognizing the beauty and mystery of life we tend to reduce life and definitions within a set of properties in order to control it. I think that the best line in the film is when the playwright Jack says of Carl (whose idea it was to bring Kong to NYC): "Carl has an unfailing ability to destroy the things he loves." I don't think that the casting (Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Naomi Watts) was as great as some people have said, but the story is good enough to help the actors give good performances. The film is long (3 hours), but ultimately a good combination of entertainment and story.

December 29, 2005

Underworld - 6

I can't explain it but I find vampire films intriguing. So even a less than well made film like this has be giving it a 6, it probably should only get a 5 or 4. Mostly because I think the mythology of the whole thing is a lot more intricate than say...comic book characters. Wait a second, isn't this based on a comic? Yes it is. So there really isn't a rhyme or rhythm to this, I just happen to give the benefit to vampires as oppose to super heroes (This comparison is relative I really loved the new Batman film as well as the current Spiderman series). Actually this film has many flaws, if nothing else they should have watched Blade for some research on how to kill vampires. But using vampires in a story really makes for a story, I think that is what intrigues me most. These stories always become historical and lead to conclusions about what the future might hold. This film is also helped by having Kate Beckinsale play the main character. The sequel of this film Underworld: Evolution comes out later this month.

The Longest Yard (2005) - 5

With Adam Sandler and Chris Rock this film is guaranteed to have some laughs. It is funny even if the premise is more Disney than SNL. The prison they are in is like an all male resort were sometimes the guards beat you put you are pretty free to do whatever you want. No very realistic, but then again it is a comedy. The story is about a has been cheating NFL quarter back who ends up in jail because he crashes his girlfriends car in a desperate attempt to unlive his depressing life as a washed up star. At the prison the guards get the idea to play football against the inmates and in true underdog fashion get whupped. Funny and entertaining.

December 28, 2005

Meet the Fockers - 3

Not as funny as the first one in my opinion. The writers stopped trying, having Mrs. Focker be a sex therapist just makes the jokes not even worked for. It just doesn't work as a film because the whole situation is set up to get a laugh. I doubt anyone laughs this much at the trouble they have at their in-laws. It also seems like Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro have sold out and don't really care were there money comes from, they will do anything. Ben Stiller is funny but he is really a minor character in the film. When will we stop making sequels just to make money?

Gothika - 4

This is a thriller staring Halle Berry as a doctor in a mental institution who ends up their herself after her husband is found dead. The plot soon unravels as you try to guess where the director is going with the story. Apparently you are suppose to be able to figure out the crazy plot twist, which to me were less than obvious. It is suppose to be a scary film, but that requires memory. I think I'll try to forget I ever saw this one. The acting is decent, but that's about the only positive thing about the film.

December 27, 2005

The Cooler - 5

I mostly wanted to see this film because William H. Macy is in it, and he is pretty good at picking good roles, it also stars Alec Baldwin and Maria Bello. Cooler, refers to a casino employee who is able to break a lucky streak by visiting a winning table, yeah, not exactly science. Macy plays Bernie who eventually falls in love and his luck changes and not for the better, sometimes ignorance is bliss? The story is about being naive and how loyalty is a very fragile thing, it requires a lot of trust and friendship. All of this is further complicated by the financial crisis of the casino. An enjoyable film with a very funny ending.

December 22, 2005

Wit - 7

Originally made for TV this film is a simple story that asks hard questions about life and death, "your life, your death." It uses the poetry of John Donne to show how these questions have been asked for century and one can only study about it for so long until life lets you live it. It is interesting how detached one can get to one's work, until you have to answer questions of meaning. This film gives the audience the chance to think about life and death, it is a very reflective movie. Emma Thompson gives a great performance. I would recommend this film to pretty much anyone (it is one of the few films I actually own).

December 20, 2005


I have continued to watch films over the Christmas break, but with limited internet access have delayed posting anything. That will soon change as I have about 10 films to catch up on. A preview: Wit, King Kong, The Cooler, Gothika, Underworld, Meet the Focker's, and The Longest Yard. I also saw The Interpreter and Crash again. Lots to read this coming week, or year?

Fever Pitch - 6

This is another Nick Hornby adaptation. He also wrote High Fidelity and About a Boy. The book uses Manchester United soccer team as the sports metaphor. This one uses the Curse of the Bambino (the Boston Red Sox). Jimmy Fallon plays the season ticket holder who falls for Drew Barrymore. The story has its ups and downs as baseball soon takes the place of relationship. It is really about sacrifice in relationships. Fallon is funny but this is not the role for him, he should go back to skits on SNL (sorry). Most of Hornby's work has some interesting and deep dialogue, this adaptation has so little as to make the film seem corny and formulaic. It is a decent film, but be alert to the more subtle points of the story.

December 19, 2005

sites and sounds

My brother has redesigned his blog and made is a book review site: Strung Along. I am also regularly checking out: Gideon Strauss' blog, Jason Panella's Xanga site, and Keith Martel's blog. Over the weekend I got Finally Woken by Jem. It is somewhat poppy and very produced (which makes me wonder what she would sound like live) the best description of the sound I can give is that it is some combination of Frou Frou and Poe. The sound catches on quickly, and her lyrics are interesting.
From They:
Who made up all the rules
We follow them like fools
Believe them to be true
Don't care to think them through
And I'm sorry so sorry
I'm sorry it's like this
I'm sorry so sorry
I'm sorry we do this
And it's ironic too
Coz what we tend to do
Is act on what they say
And then it is that way
Who are they
And where are they
And how can they possibly
Know all this
Do you see what I see
Why do we live like this
Is it because it's true
That ignorance is bliss

And From Just a Ride:
Life, it's ever so strange
It's so full of change
Think that you've worked it out
Right out of the blue
Something happens to you
To throw you off course
And then you
Yeah you breakdown
Well don't you breakdown
Listen to me
It's just a ride, it's just a ride
No need to run, no need to hide
It'll take you round and round
Sometimes you're up
Sometimes you're down
It's just a ride, it's just a ride
Don't be scared
Don't hide your eyes
It may feel so real inside
But don't forget it's just a ride
Truth, we don't wanna hear
It's too much to take
Don't like to feel out of control
So we make our plans
Ten times a day
And when they don't go
Our way we
Yeah we breakdown
Well don't you breakdown
Listen to me
Slowly, oh so very slowly
Except that
There's no getting off
So live it, just gotta go with it
Coz this ride is, never gonna stop

Love Actually - 7

I saw this film again yesterday. Read my original post from last November. I think it still applies as Christmas approaches once again.
"This is not a chic flick, this is a collection of stories about love. There is a difference! Chic flicks are female based fantasies about what female/male relationships should be, they get some things right, and other things wrong, just like the rest of us. From my perspective true chic flicks make human relationships to simple, complexity is a more realistic picture of these stories.
This movies should help us ask good questions about sexuality, friendship, what kind of love is important, and the connections between fantasy and reality. Since Christmas is approaching it a good commentary on the contemporary ritual that we have created. This movie epitomizes the title of my blog by engaging viewers with the idea of storied living and how love enters into people's lives and how they flesh out love in their life, in funny and sad ways."

December 17, 2005

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - 7

Considering that this is another film based on a book, it is pretty good. And the CGI which they didn't have for the 1988 British TV version makes the story come alive all over again. It is important to recognize that C.S. Lewis wrote this story as an allegory (One of Tolkien's points of critique, The Lord of the Rings was not written as an allegory). This means that one can see the characters as archetypes that apply to the viewers own life. Hence, the appearance of Santa Clause, that most of the audience I saw it with seemed to miss. I think that if one does not understand the allegory the film will only be somewhat interesting, while I found the metaphor to be a powerful story. The White Witch, played by Tilda Swinton, acts well while the rest of the characters are somewhat underdeveloped. They extended the book by adding more at the beginning and an action scene in the middle but overall a good adaptation.

Everyone Says I Love You - 6

A musical comedy? Is there such a thing? Yes, there is. In fact, later this month millions are going to go to the theatres to see The Producers (which looks to be pretty funny). This film is actually more a Woody Allen film than a musical, but it just adds to the millions different ways he can tell basically the same story about the neurotic nature of love. The story is the usual: relationships-deep and familial, but also shallow and deceptive. I have finally figured Allen out. His films always say: "Love is the answer to none of the questions you can ask. Death is the answer to all the questions you've ask, the ones waiting to be asked, and the questions best left unanswered." This film is funny and even includes some political jokes, which is rare for Woody. Some good quotes: "In a relationship, it is better to be the leaver than the leavee." and "I never believed in God. No, I didn't even as a little kid. I remember this. I used to think even if he exists, he's done such a terrible job, it's a wonder people don't get together and file a class action suit against him." This film also has a ton of famous actors in it: Julia Roberts, Goldie Hawn, Natalie Portman, Drew Barrymore, Alan Alda, Edward Norton, Billy Crudup, Tim Roth, and Natasha Lyonne.

The Thin Red Line - 7

I generally don't like war movies, this is one of the exceptions. It is also because this film was directed by Terrence Malick, who adapted the story from James Jones' novel. The film is character driven rather than story driven. It intersperses the story of a few men who are fighting in Japan during the second world war. While it is about the friendships that form in this tight knit setting, it gets more philosophical by asking questions of meaning and the characters trying to understand their purpose in life. The film is almost three hours long, which is longer than it needs to be to tell the story. The characters seem very real. The struggle to relate to one another because they realize that death makes everything fleeting and transient. Again the cinematography of Malick is amazing in this film, it shows well the struggle between man and nature just as it shows the fight between peoples.

December 15, 2005

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) - 5

This film really needed more of the funny people that were in the film, namely Vince Vaughn and Adam Brody (who get about 15 minutes of screen time). With out them this film would have been unbearable. I am not sure if the makers of this film were trying to remake the Mr. & Mrs. Smith of 1941, but they didn't do that great of a job (the old version is great). Pitt and Jolie are good as assassins who can somewhat pull off being normal in a suburban neighborhood, but I doubt one could pull off keeping one's job a secret for five or six years. The best part of the film is the metaphor of marriage that it uses to show emotions in a physical way which hint at the internal struggle that the characters have. The film is good, but I think a little bit overrated because of Pitt and Jolie's off screen life (or rumors?).

Kingdom of Heaven - 3

This film could have been interesting...if it had been mostly a completely different film. I'm no history major, but the historical errors, mostly in the dialogue is just horrible. The basic story of 1199, according to this film, is that Christians are generally nice people and would rather save lives than fight for Jerusalem, they would rather love Muslims than kill them. While this is a nice and generous view of Christianity, I think the historical record would show that this was probably not the case. This is also the case with the war strategies employed, they mine as well just have given them guns. The same could be said of the theology of the film, interesting, but probably more in tune with today's religious views than those of the last millennium. The acting is not very well done either in this film, and since they would rather not have Orlando Bloom talk, just stand there and look pretty, there are scenes that just don't make any sense. When every they are in a problem spot they solve it by throwing in a sword fight. Even Troy and Alexander were better films, and that isn't saying much.

The Island - 6

Critics have been awfully harsh to director/producer Michael Bay. This film flopped in theaters because this film was not suppose to really break any new ground and Bay has a bad rap of making films just so stuff will blow up (that's the best explanation I can come up with, maybe people don't like movies with Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor. I highly doubt that). This film is not mind blowing, although the special effects and action scenes are very well done. I have to admit it makes me smile to see stuff getting blown up and intricate car crashes (although I like them to stay on the screen, rather than coming to life). The story is more than 2,000 years old. Like The Matrix, Dark City, and many other sci-fi films it is based on Plato's Allegory of the cave, it has a new face of course, and in this case it takes place in 2019. The feel of the story is in line with other recent futuristic films like Code 46 and Gattaca. The acting is pretty well done even if you know what the characters are going to do before they do. And in a real sense it does deal with an issues that in a more simple form already faces us. Should we clone ourselves for spare parts in order to extend our life. The main thing I enjoy about these kinds of films is investigating the assumptions the author has about what it means to be human. It is interesting to that these assumptions also direct the ethics of individuals and society.

December 14, 2005

Lawrence of Arabia - 7

This is one long film. Three hours and forty minutes! At first I was having a hard time seeing why this film has gotten so many awards and is considered a great film. By the end, it was obvious. Not only is the film well shot and creates a believable world, it also is a complex story of one man. This film is the true story of T.E. Lawrence, who helped join the Arab tribes to conquer the Turks in World War I. The films is really about the paradox of being human. Lawrence is portrayed in the film as both wise and foolish, sane and crazy, compassionate and tyrant. The film does a good job of showing this struggle. At different points Lawrence's ego is huge at other points he is more humble and realistic. It is also interesting that this film shows the interactions of two cultures, the British military and the desert Arabs. I think the history that it tells would be helpful for our current times and our assumptions and stereotypes of Arabs in our own time. It is also interesting that the film end with a fight over control of water (As an undergrad, I took a class on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the prof said "if you solve the water problem you've solved the problem." Still not the whole story, but not something most people think about). A well told story that will not get old because of its honesty about what it means to be human and the struggle to reconcile our good and bad actions.

December 13, 2005

The Paper - 6

A fun and entertaining film about a NYC newspaper and the struggle to track down the hot news, and sometimes the truth. Directed by Ron Howard, it has a great cast, including Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Glenn Close, and Robert Duvall (Jason Alexander makes an appearance). The films main theme is the struggle between work and family life and ultimately people have to come to choose what it is they really love by showing through their actions what takes priority. There is a great line in the film when Martha explains this. She says (I'm going from memory here): "It isn't one big choice [between work and family], its a series of small choices that direct our lives. You can't just wait around for that one big choice, you have to choose now!" A comedy that takes itself seriously, this doesn't happen very often.

December 11, 2005

Unleashed - 6

Other than the fact that the films setting is Ireland and most of the actors have American accents, which makes the film eerie and surreal, not a bad film. In fact, for all those who think Jet Li only does action films where his lines are minimal to keep up his credibility, he does a nice job of escaping the stereotype (Also, you must see Romeo Must Die, his best film). The story actually makes this film a thriller. The main character, Danny, learns to go on the search for his past to find out who he is. He escapes the clutches of the gangster who trained him to be a killer and treats him like a dog, and ends up living with a blind piano tuner and his adopted daughter. He soon discovers who killed his mother and in the process has to learn what separates humans from animals.

Mr. Deeds - 5

Mostly this film is Adam Sandler using his money to tell a completely outrageous story to get a few of his lost jokes out in the open. Considering all this, its not bad. There are some definite good points in the film. John Turturro for one (I love him in pretty much anything). Also, the honesty in relationship is done well and doesn't descend into cheesiness. It also pokes fun of the media culture that we live in, only slightly-it can't get to serious. It is a movie that will make you laugh (unless of course you don't like Sandler, then it might make you break stuff and hurt people).

December 10, 2005

Days of Heaven - 7

This second film by Terrence Malick is better and deals with the some of the same themes of Badlands, but goes further in analyzing culture. I think it illustrates well the American way to deal with problems (It sounds like his new film The New World is going to deal with this same theme). That is that the American expanse, and large spaces allow for people to run from their problems, to find a new place to try to start over. In the end though this cannot be the solutions because people bring their character with them. The narrator makes constant reference to how peoples actions have consequences and one can only deny that for so long before the truth stares you in the face. There is very little dialogue but the film shows its story well. The ending is somewhat mysterious but also plays on the theme "keep moving," the peace is fleeting. I hadn't wanted to see The New World, but this film has changed my mind. This film also won the Oscar for best cinematography, it is beautiful and intricate.

December 08, 2005

Wimbledon - 4

There really isn't that much to say about this film. Its a romantic comedy (Kirsten Dunst and Paul Bettany) involving two professional tennis players at Britain's famous Wimbledon tournament. The story is sort of backwards, they use sex as a superstition to play better and then fall in love, she loses, he wins his final tournament and learns the lesson that life is getting over fear. The best parts of the film is Pete's parents, who finally bond because of their son's success and are just funny. Its mostly cheesy, but it is the only film about tennis that I know of I don't know if that's a connection or just a random fact.

December 07, 2005

Say Anything - 7

This is Cameron Crowe's first film that he both wrote and directed. Like most of his other film music plays a somewhat prominent part in this film. It is a film about optimism. Average Lloyd decides to ask out the prettiest and smartest girl in school, Diane, who surprisingly starts to fall for him (John Cusack and Ione Skye are great in these roles). The dialogue in this film is well written. Here are a few good lines: "Corey Flood: Diane Court doesn't go out with guys like you. She's a brain. D.C.: Trapped in the body of a game-show hostess." "Lloyd Dobler: How many of them really know what they want, though? I mean, a lot of them think they have to know, right? But inside they don't really know, so... I don't know, but I know that I don't know."
What looks like a simple story outline gets further complicated by Diane's father and she end up breaking up with Lloyd because of her father and his future plans for her. The great part about this film is the reality of life that it portrays. No one is some sort of ideal archetype, they all have there quirks and brokenness that shape their lives and decisions. A good film that stays away from the sappiness of a chic flick, while still telling a love story.

Fantastic Four - 5

In the past five years the number of marvel comics that have been put to the screen has been huge, this is just another in that long list. It is entertaining and a pretty good story, while lacking the good acting and seriousness to make it a great film. Most of what makes it entertaining is its ability to make fun of itself and the many comic book movies that have come before it. It also leaves the viewer with the idea that the whole thing is sort of trivial. I think the film could play on its ability to be a metaphor for real life (Spiderman and the new Batman do this well). If you are looking for some pure entertainment that won't make you dumber for having watched it, this is it.

December 05, 2005

Badlands - 6

A 1973 film written and directed by Terrence Malick (other credits include: The Thin Red Line, and the upcoming The New World). In my opinion it is the much better predecessor to the film Monster (the only film I ranked a 1), without the lesbian angle. The film tells the story, partly based on true events, of a killer and his girlfriend, Holly (who narrates), and their journey running from the law. As they go, Kit leave a trail of bodies. The story is really about the alienation that the characters feel and the destruction it cause in a society without care. The story moves slowly precisely to show that it is not an action film but a work in character development. An interesting story that is told well. The title is in reference to their journey ending in the Montana Badlands.

December 03, 2005

The Ice Harvest - 6

It is marketed as a comedy but is really a more crowd-pleasing film noir. I use that term lightly since the main character does not go totally insane and try to kill himself. It is somewhat reminiscent of Fargo. It is less a heist film and more about the process of getting away with crime. The film takes place in Witchita Kansas and involves ripping off the only really rich guy in town off for 2 million, but that is really a minor point. In the process the audience follows John Cusack's character Charlie. The story takes twist as he tries to make sure that he does actually get away with the crime which eventually takes its toll on him emotionally. The film uses the humor to throw the audience off the scent of the small details that lead to the thriller ending. Supporting actors Billy Bob Thorton and Oliver Platt do a good job (this is no Lake Placid). A funny film that is actually a pretty intelligent film that deals with issues of character and is more realistic in human response to violence and crime. It also makes some Christian jokes focused on how conservative the state of Kansas is (see this book), which is interesting because those terms do not mean the same thing. Well, I hope not.

Criminal - 6

It is a con-artist film in the tradition of Matchstick Men, yeah way back. With the obligatory twist ending which doesn't really make the movie make sense, just makes you feel as though you got entertained. This is the English version of the film Nine Queens, apparently subtitles to a film is just wrong, the Spanish version came out in 2000 with different actors. The acting, especially John C. Reilly is really good. It is fun to watch and deals with interesting issues of trust and truth telling, which is commented on in the film since this is the era in which film references other films. A nice film to watch and rest to on a Friday night.

December 02, 2005

Bad Education - 5

It had potential...and then it just stumbled and fell. This film was directed by Pedro Almodovar and is set in Spain (yes, it has subtitles). The story involves the idea of the catholic sex scandals as the point of interest in the film (Gael Garcia Bernal played a transvestite, he also plays the main character in The Motorcycle Diaries). This has the effect that the mystery and truth seeking aspect get under done and leave the viewer with the question of if the plot will be worth it. Early on it does the interesting story within a story within a story kind of thing. As more of the mystery is revealed you learn more and more about how different people perceiveve reality very differently. It isn't so bad as to complain about it, but it doesn't stick out as a good film either. Bad education indeed...I don't think their is much learning here.