Thursday, January 11, 2007

Movie catch-up

Here are some short reviews of some movies I've watched since the last update. Some might be very short, as it's a long time since I saw them and my memory's crap:

Welcome to the Dollhouse

This was pretty cool, although not quite as good as some of the hype led me to believe. Possibly an earlier, female, low-key, better version of Napoleon Dynamite?

Dead Man

I've seen this a few times before, and it never quite compares to the first viewing (incidentally, this was at the cinema, so maybe there is something in that whole big-screen experience thing after all?). Having said that, it's still one of my favourite films ever.

Don't care how gay it sounds, Johnny Depp is fucking brilliant in every way, and the supporting cast are his equals. Fabulous soundtrack by Neil Young too.

Watch it if you haven't, or watch it again if you have.

Capturing the Friedmans

A remarkable documentary, comparable to this (which I'll talk about later) in the amazing access the cameras have to the lives of those involved.

Not sure if it is more or less amazing that the vast majority of the footage in this was shot by family member(s) themselves. As with any good documentary, the characters and plot would seem over-the-top and far-fetched if they were fictional.

Highly recommended.

The Cooler

Pretty much an absolute load of total and utter contrived crap. Not many films get a complete thumbs-down from me, but this one does. Not even interesting for its crapitude.

Les Triplettes de Belleville

Another one I originally saw a while ago. This combines Frenchness and wicked animation to great effect. Those that can't deal with subtitles need not worry either - there are only about two lines of dialogue in the whole thing.

So much that's good about this, but the deadly accurate caricatures are the standouts. These range from the rectangular mob henchmen, to the greyhound-like professional cyclists, to caricatures of machines, such as the bulbous American cars and the ridiculously lofty ocean-liners.


The Ladykillers

Another Coen brothers film, this time a remake of the 1955 film of the same name. Haven't seen the original, but I thought this was a bit hit-and-miss, and I had difficulty getting past Tom Hanks' thoroughly annoying character.

Apres Vous

Another fine French romantic farce, possibly a bit formulaic, but then that's not really a criticism with this kind of movie - they're kind of supposed to follow a formula, really.

If you like it, you'll like this (or most things by Francis Veber). I love 'em.

Bride and Prejudice

Heard a lot of raves about this, and with one-time Shortland Streeter Martin Henderson, it couldn't really be passed up.

Totally worth it. As the title suggests, the story is based on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, which would be a great Hugh Grant vehicle (and has been a great Colin Firth vehicle).

Adding gratuitous Bollywood-style dance numbers at seemingly random intervals doesn't really sound like a great idea, but it's absolutely brilliant. Having beautiful Indian women in it doesn't hurt either.

Dear Frankie

Maybe there should be a whole separate genre for movies with beautiful but poor and hard-bitten single mothers being overly protective of their children, only to rediscover love again at the end, through those children.

Of course, I can't think of any other ones right at this minute, but this one fits the newly-minted genre pretty perfectly. It's a very nice film.

The Deer Hunter

Yet another one of those old classics that seems like it ought to be compulsory viewing.

Quite a strangely-structured film, starting as it does with a lengthy wedding scene, which at the time seems a bit long and boring. Later on though, it becomes clear that this was a great way to set up a contrast between the normality of a bunch of young men's home lives, and the hell of Vietnam.

The film also provides a true (for once) example of a a stellar cast - the stand-out example for me being Christopher Walken.

I recommend you watch it to see why.

The Staircase

I said I'd come back to this. It's a six- (or maybe eight-? Too lazy to check) part series about a man who is charged with his wife's murder, after he finds her at the bottom of the title staircase.

The cameras have seemingly complete access to the accused and his legal team, which is pretty amazing. The most amazing thing is the plot (if it's called that when it isn't fiction). There are more twists and turns than M. Night Shyamalan could shake any type of stick at, astonishing and sometimes absurd revelations and character development (again, maybe not quite the right term for non-fiction) - you just couldn't make it up, as they say.

Some claim to have felt manipulated by the film maker once they reach the conclusion (the verdict, obviously) of the piece. I contend that this is all part of the plan, and is something pretty inescapable. There are always going to be elements of the presenter/author/maker's opinion in something like this, no matter how hard they try to keep it out. I think objective documentary is something incredibly difficult to do, and perhaps shouldn't even be attempted. Of course, I'm likely to be wrong about that.

Very thought-provoking. Cheers, Barns.

The Pianist

Ranks alongside La Vita รจ bella as one of the second-best films about WW2. Another one you must see.

Sin City

Pretty much as good as everybody said it was, with great imagery in virtually every shot. Some of the acting seems a bit wooden, but then again, that fits the comic-book style pretty well.


Yet another second viewing. This is probably the best music documentary ever, better even than Some Kind of Monster, just because of the mad, sad genius of Anton Newcombe.

I downloaded quite a few tracks by The Brian Jonestown Massacre, but sadly they just weren't as good as they seemed within the context of the film.

Sexy Beast

Got this out on the recommendation of a friend. It's a British Gangster Flick with a bit of a difference.

Pretty good, definitely worth seeing for Ben Kingsley's turn as a frighteningly unstable gangster.

The 40 Year-Old Virgin

On the face of it, this has the potential to be an Adam Sandler- or Rob Schneider-style shitfest. Thankfully, neither of those two total cocks appear to be involved, so it turns out OK.

Some great characters and jokes, similar to Office Space, Super Troopers, or Harold and Kumar go to White Castle. So, not one to tax the brain too much, but there's nothing wrong with that.

The World's Fastest Indian

A great little overcoming-the-odds story, which would be a bit crap, except that it actually happened. A bit of poetic (filmic?) licence has been taken, no doubt, but I really enjoyed it.

Der Untergang

The best film about WW2, and the best film in general I've seen for a long time. Based on the stories related by Traudl Junge in Hitler's Secretary, this is absolutely compelling viewing. I mean it when I say that too - I absolutely hate to use the word compelling.

This isn't just some dry character study either - great use is made of surround sound (a la Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan) in the battle scenes.

So many things about this are great, you really should see it.

The Constant Gardener

I think what I liked most about this was the dream-like atmosphere created through the use of interesting colours. Although this is a very short review, I did really like the movie.

The Godfather

A deserved classic, but, like a lot of films of its era, can seem a little slow-moving at times. If you can get through this, it's definitely worth it. The time spent getting to know the characters and situations gives even more impact to the faster, more action-based scenes.

Might get around to watching the subsequent two sometime.

Sione's Wedding

A modern Kiwi comedy classic, seemingly unblighted by the amateurism of some NZ stuff.

Love Actually

Fairly hideous and formulaic, except for Bill Nighy's character.

The Barbarian Invasions

Really good, a great celebration of life. Makes a bit more sense when you find out that it's a kind of sequel to an an earlier film (which I haven't yet seen).

School Of Rock

Possibly a bit of a potboiler for Jack Black, but reasonably good all the same. Seems like he could so easily have been another Sandler/Schneider shitheel, but he's far above their level. It's a Richard Linklater film too, which is generally a recommendation.

Herbie: Fully Loaded

Ah, the start of a bit of a tween-movie marathon. I like Lindsay Lohan - she has the best squeal in the business, and is just so wholesome (onscreen anyway). Not the most superb film (even of its genre), but enjoyable nonetheless. Ella managed to watch the whole thing, although she's a little bit below the target demographic.


Joss Whedon, the director/writer of this, is the brains behind Buffy (the TV series) among other things, so comes highly recommended. Serenity is actually the continuation of a rather short-lived sci-fi series (Firefly), and kind of finishes off the story after the series' abrupt cancellation.

It has the signature Joss Whedon sardonic humour, which is welcome in a genre that usually seems to take itself a bit too seriously.

L4yer Cake

I wasn't massively keen on this one, as I thought I'd probably be a bit bored by yet another British Gangster Flick. However, this one has Daniel Craig, the new James Bond, as its star. If I had to choose the next Bond, and I'd seen this movie, I would think he'd be perfect. I really can't see why people were bitching that he was all wrong for the part. This film turned out to be a lot better than I'd expected, and it has a great ending too.

Mean Girls

The next in my mini tweenies film festival. Oddly enough, I didn't get this out due to my minor fascination with Lindsay Lohan, it was for an entirely different reason. To give a small idea how part of my brain works, I originally found out about it when Scott Adams made a passing mention of someone called Tina Fey in his Dilbert Blog.

I had no idea who this was, and upon looking her up, found out that not only was she the first female head writer of Saturday Night Live, but that she also wrote, and had a supporting role in Mean Girls.

So of course, I got it out. I have a 3.5-year-old daughter, who will one day (sooner than I probably imagine) be a tweenie herself, so watching things like this can also be treated as research. Happily enough, this one's pretty good, full of plenty of snappy lines and other little amusing bits.

13 Going On 30

The last of the short, three-film tweenie season. I never got into Alias, so was never particularly into this half of Bennifer.

She's excellent in this though. For those that don't know, the plot is similar to that of Big (although I think a bit better done here), where the central character gets transported from being 13 in the '80s to being 30 in the '00s.

She's even better than the admittedly good Bomb Wanks was at acting like a child in an adult's body.

Just good old light-hearted escapism.

Pieces Of April

I still think Katie Holmes is pretty cool, even if she is pretty much insane by association these days. I mean, I haven't really seen a bad movie that she's been in - I'm sure they exist though. Maybe she can teach her bozoid husband how to pick good scripts?

Anyway, this one's a cracker (wince). It's very low-fi - I don't think it even had any music - all hand-held and grainy. It's sort of a redemption tale, which can be annoyingly heart-warming, but turns out to be nicely heart-warming instead.

Right, thank god for that, I'm all caught up now. Sorry it's so lengthy.

Hey look, labels now: