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

February 28, 2006

Rent - 4

In my book, this film has a few strikes against it going in. First, it is a musical, which already lowers it on my list (just a preference, I don't like musicals generally). Secondly, the story is confusing in that it is trying to straddle the fence as to whether the film is universally applicable to the human condition or if it is about a few particular people (My guess is that it's going for universal appeal which it doesn't do well). Finally, I have been lied to for the past 5 or so years since I heard about this musical, not intentionally, of course, but I had assumed that this was an original play about AIDS in NYC written by Jonathan Larson. In fact it is inspired by Puccini's opera La Boheme. Not that this is a crime, but it makes the story make more sense- it is essentially about the ideals of a generation (specifically what is labeled Generation X). This explains its popularity on the stage in 1996 and its less than stellar performance on screen in 2005. As musicals go the music is well done and the story has its moments, but in the end, rather than finding themselves, the characters get "lost in the cosmos."

February 24, 2006

Music overload...

Since my last update on my listening I've gotten a lot of mail. I got James Blunt, British singer/song writer, who sings lovely but sad songs about love and loss. Next came Mat Kearney, an eclectic artist, who at times sounds like Counting Crows and at other times inserts rap influences. Lisa Loeb also released a best of album which is catchy without being cookie cutter pop. Jack Johnson did a two-for-one gig, the soundtrack to the film Curious George, which is a front for a new album with his friends G. Love and Ben Harper. Paste magazine never lets me down with another sampler with great stuff on it. Speech is one of those artists, who has a new album The Vagabond, which I've heard only a bit, but good so far.... and...
my current music on repeat...repeat...repeat is the song Streamlined by Slow Runner:
Now loneliness is so refined
It's streamlined
I slip through doors, I pass the time
I want to be
Weighted down
Tangled up
In the thorns of love
But this year I
Ended up
All extra weight
I've left behind
between the rain
beneath the signs
I want to be
Tangled up
Weighted down
Lost and found
Cause these days I
Just walk around

The Weather Man - 6

How do you turn the weather into a metaphor for life? Well...since weather men have to predict the weather for TV viewers and get reduced to whether they are right or wrong, so too one's personal life can get reduced, especially if you aren't paying attention (TV can do that to you). Well this film does a better job of telling the story of how this could, and probably does happen, in contemporary life. We often reduce others, and are ourselves reduced to the work we do, rather than to the multi-dimensional people that we actually are. The main character is David, a weather man who is pursuing a job on a national TV show, while struggling to make sense of his family situation, he is divorced and has two children. The film deals honestly with the struggle to connect the many roles we play and the complexity of life.
One of the down sides to the film is the use of the word fuck to frequently, almost every single time anyone says it, it is unnecessary to make the scene work. It actually takes away from using the word in a meaningful way. The highlight of the film is Michael Caine's performance as David's father, who actually has some wisdom to share.

Domino - 5

This film is based, well sort of, on the life of Dominique Harvey. She grew up rich, and started a career as a model in Britain. She then gave that up to become a bounty hunter in L.A. That's the basic story. The film is mainly an action picture with some good work telling the story from both ends. The further you get in the film the harder it is to figure out why they made the film. They had some interesting ideas but in the end the characters are lost in the greater scheme of things, and it hardly feels like Domino has done the right thing...but I guess if she thinks she has? I think the writer's made the mistake of taking some interesting facts and thinking they had a story (this is shown perfectly when the fictional Domino gets her own reality show). The film is a fine line between a crime drama and a girl's search for identity in a world with too many choices. Keira Knightley has a good performance in the film, and the boys from Beverly Hills, 90210 try to make a comeback.

February 20, 2006

No Man's Land - 6

This is a great film about war, written and directed by Danis Tanovic. It is different in that it involves a small number of people and very few scenes of actual shooting and other war-like activity. It takes place during the 1993 Bosnian War. The plot is an intricate tale of two enemies caught in a trench between opposing lines, with a third character lying on a mine that will be set off if he moves. The first part is sort of comedic, but then gets more and more serious as the media and bureaucracy of the UN and war take over. It makes a very interesting critique of the personal aspects of war, the desire to live and make a difference in the world. The ending was one of the most surprising parts of the film, which probably speaks to the fact that it was not made in America (it is Slovenian). A very good and different sort of war film.

Better Off Dead - 7

After seeing this film my freshman year of college, and again last night I consider this film to be one of my favorite comedy's of all time. It stars John Cusack, as Lane whose depressed after his girlfriend dumps him, and he sets about taking back control of his life, more by accident than by choice it seems. Like Jean Shepherd's (A Christmas Story) The Star-Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski, this film uses expressionism to show the emotional state of the main character as a teenager. This is used through out the whole film, most notably through the food Lane's mother makes. Lane's sidekick is hilarious with some great quotes: "Greendale is a bodaciously small town, Lane. A fly speck on the map - a rest stop on the way to the ski slope. I can't even get real drugs here!
[holds up a bottle of whipped cream]," "This is pure snow! Do you have any idea what the street value of this mountain is?," "I've been going to this high school for seven and a half years. I'm no dummy. I know high school girls." "You ski the K-12 dude, and girls will go sterile just looking at you!" This is a must-see film.

February 19, 2006

Eros - 2

This is close to the worst film I've ever seen. The idea isn't bad, but the execution is horrible. This film has three stories each told be different directors. Wong Kar Wai tells a love story of a tailor and his client, set in 1960's Korea (much like his other films, In the Mood for Love and 2046). His name will become more familiar to a US audience when he makes his film with Nicole Kidman, it may come out in 2007. It is the best of the three but very sub par. The second short is by Steven Soderberg (of Erin Brokovich, Traffic and Ocean's 11 fame). This story star's Robert Downey Jr. and Alan Arkin in a sort of color/black and white, dream/real-life scenario that makes very little sense, sort of funny but that's about it. The third short, written and directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, is so bad that just randomly guessing what is going to happen next is more accurate than trying to see the flow of the story. It is also filled with some of the most absurd cliche's (A woman has walked through some mud and starts ranting about how it symbolizes the "chaos" of their relationship). Maybe it is doing that on purpose. My question is why would anyone want to do that? Save yourself two hours and skip this, or for more fun tell someone you don't like that this is a must rent/buy.

February 17, 2006

The Office: Series 2 (UK) - 6

I think Series 1 works better, although this is still very hilarious. This series is a bit more serious as the episode topics are more work related than the goofiness of the non-work going on in the first series. Some highlights: the office fundraiser, Gareth and Brent singing the muppets "mahna mahna" song, the regular pranks played on Gareth, and his conversations about relationships. I was hoping that Brent would bring in his guitar again, but his dance moves are almost as funny. If you like this show you can't miss any chance to see every episode.

February 16, 2006

Proof - 6

This film is less about math and more about family. Catherine, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, struggles to understand her father's life in the days following his death. He was a brilliant mathematician who later in life went crazy. Not only does she have to deal with her sister, who wants her to move to New York with her, but one of her father's former students wants to investigate her father's later work to find a math break through. In this process they all learn things about the value of family, the pain caused, and the trust needed to sustain them. The acting is good and the story, while not chronological, works to weave together the events that keep if from being cheesy and sentimental.

MirrorMask - 5

The reason I saw this film is that Neil Gaiman is one of the writers. And although his imagination is first rate, this film lacks an interesting story. Basically a 15-year-old girl is able to get inside of her dream and must find a mask to return to the real world. In the real world, her family are circus performers and she learns through her dream to value that instead of rejecting it. The visuals are really good for this film. It uses both live actors and animation and the world that they create is strange and beautiful. This film works as a good children's adventure story but the story doesn't win me over.

February 12, 2006

Talk to Her - 6

Another film from director Pedro Almodóvar. The film takes place in Spain and involves two stories that are intertwined by coma victims. Two men become friends while trying to take care of women they love that are in a coma. As the audience learns more about the circumstances surrounding the situations the story gets weirder. The dialogue is well written and the story brings up interesting points about how we make sense of people that are reduced to a vegetative state. This film fits well with the classical idea of a tragedy, although the ending alludes to hope for those left to try to understand their story.

The Office: Season One (US) - 7

This version of the show started airing at the end of the 2005 spring season. It had six episodes, like the British version. But only the first few episodes are similar. The topics that are taken up are: healthcare plans, diversity, interoffice basketball, and romance and the workplace. There is also some very funny commentary by the characters themselves, documentary style (In some ways the show is reminiscent of Christopher Guest films like Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and Waiting for Guffman). Steve Carell is a great casting choice as the obnoxious boss. I'd recommend watching the show, which airs Thursday's at 9:30 on NBC.

The Office: Series 1 (UK) - 7

Shown on the BBC in 2001 this is the original series that spawned the US version with Steve Carell on NBC (Thursday nights at 9:30, by the way). This original series was co-written and stars Ricky Gervais as the obnoxious boss (The other writer is Stephen Merchant). Gervais also wrote an episode of the Simpsons. It also seems that Gervais didn't have to go very far for inspiration, a lot of it is just based on what real office work is like. Because it is a British show, understanding what the actors are saying is the initial challenge, once you can though, the show becomes hilarious and more over the top than its American counterpart. The must see episode is when boss Brent takes over a training seminar by singing songs from when he was in a band. This series ran for two seasons: Series 1- six episodes, Series 2-six episodes, Special- two one hour episodes that ran as a Christmas special the year after the first two seasons (I plan on watching the rest of the series soon). The thing I love about The Office is its dry sense of humor. The documentary style helps with this, as does the fact that it is both a comedy and a drama with no laugh track added. Yes, that means you have to figure out when to laugh all on your own.

February 11, 2006

Wild at Heart - 6

First off, this is a David Lynch film. That means at times it gets weird (have you seen Mulholland Dr.). The main story reminds me of the film Badlands, a fugitive, Sailor (Nicolas Cage), takes off with this lover, Lula (Laura Dern), and heads west. In this case with many references to Elvis and the Wizard of Oz. Lula's mother, the wicked witch, hires some goon to track Sailor down and kill him. He ends up in jail and six years later reunites with Lula and their six-year-old son. There are many symbolic scenes in the film that are not part of the story. The theme of the film seems to be that love is so hard because of the crazy world that we inhabit, it is much more conducive to hate than love. The best quote is from Lula near the end of the film: "This whole world's wild at heart and weird on top." she goes on to say that the life doesn't seem to go the way people plan or dream it to be.

The Perfect Score - 5

Another film about education from MTV films. This one takes on the SAT, a gang of students decide to try to steal the answers to the test and get perfect scores. Turns out that they can only see the questions so they take the test together and record the scores. Love stories develop, and they realize that their skill in getting the scores shows they are smart and that integrity is the key, so they take the test the usual way without the answers in hand. The film assumes that if high schoolers had the chance to cheat they wouldn't (I'm thinking that's a pretty bad assumption since most college students these days can't even explain what plagiarism is). A decent film that at least shows the value of integrity, while not dealing very well with the stereotypes of race that permeate the story.

Swimfan - 3

A cheesy high school thriller, where a promising swimmer, Ben, has a fling with Madison only to find out that she becomes obsessed and starts to destroy his life. Well, that's the whole plot. Ben does some sleuthing and then with the help of friends sets Madison up to confess the truth. Madison ends up dying, and even in death it still looks like she is in charge of the people who are alive, The ending shows what is suppose to be the good relationship as sort of depressing (I'll blame it on bad editing by the TV station). You can pretty much predict what is going to happen all the way through this film. The thing lacking the most: originality.

February 09, 2006

Elizabethtown - 6

A touching story of death as the beginning of reflection. Drew (played by Orlando Bloom), who has just been fired, must go to his father's home town to retrieve the body for burial. On the way there makes friends with a stewardess (Kirsten Dunst), and learns more about his fathers family. The story and acting are not out of this world or original but the film is fun and serious and has a great soundtrack (Cameron Crowe wrote and directed the film, and this guy knows music). It is a fun and entertaining film that seems to be intentionally overdone in order to get it's point across faster. Crowe's Say Anything was slower and more believable, this film is somewhat over the top. Bloom and Dunst are not character actors so that also makes it hard (Although it is better than most critics give them credit for). In sum, this film is really a date movie and it might even inspire a road trip with good music.

Oldboy - 5

This film is a Korean film about a man who is imprisoned for 15 years and then released and is on the search for his captors in order to exact his revenge. As he follows the trail he discovers more about his past. I should probably watch the film again just so I can pick up more of the story. At times it is hard to follow (and my mind was not working at top notch clarity). An interesting film that uses the idea of memory and shows the passion the search for truth can invoke. This film is more for the film buff than the average viewer.

February 04, 2006

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason - 5

Like most sequels this is not as good as the first, but a decent sequel that further explores relationship issues. In this case, it is issues of trust that get Bridget in trouble. The melodrama is sort of forced in this film, while in the first film circumstances dictated it. But again it has a happy ending, and another fight between the boys. These films are based on the books by Helen Fielding.

Bridget Jones's Diary - 6

A British romantic comedy about thirty-two year old Bridget, played by Renee Zellweger, and her search for the right guy. She starts a relationship with her boss, played by Hugh Grant, but soon falls for a man that she is suppose to hate, Mark Darcy, played well by Colin Firth. She soon learns that honesty really is the key to any relationship and chooses Mark. Her friends and parents are very funny side characters in the film. The movie straddles the tension between realistic sadness and outrageous humor. In the end she choose the right guy and lives happily ever after...well they did make a sequel, so she has a few gliches along the way. Overall the film is entertaining, funny, and more thoughtful than it lets on.

February 03, 2006

Last Tango in Paris - 5

This film was written and directed by Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci. The film is about the loneliness of existence. The story involves Paul, played by Marlon Brando (who surprised me with his ability to speak French), and Jeanne who have a nameless affair in a vacant apartment. Paul is trying to deal with his wife's suicide, while Jeanne longs for human contact and is weary of her boyfriends attempts to make a reality show out of her life (remember this film was made in 1973). Early on there is a lot of dialogue about fear and death, and struggling with the meaning of life that these question involve. In the end, they realize that pain must be shared to be validated and to be able to really live. I don't want to give away the ending but life complexities overwhelm them (no Disney ending here, in fact it's noirish). A small warning that this film has some disturbing sexual content which is why it has been rated NC-17.

February 02, 2006

Sense and Sensibility - 5

Based on the Jane Austen novel, this film deals with 19th century British high society. In a similar vain to Howard's End, Dangerous Liaisons, and Vanity Fair (Although a lot less scandalous). The story follows the plight of two daughters who were not able to inherit their father's fortune and are looking for marriage. One plays the romantic while the other is a realist. In the end, through different sorts of heart break they find the love of their life. I wanted to see this film to learn more about the director Ang Lee, it seems that he is a good director but mostly because he knows how to pick good stories to tell (Hulk being the one exception).