Monday, April 30, 2007

# 7 - The History Boys

Ah, they should make more movies like this. By that I mean ones which are driven by character and not plot. The History Boys is a bit like an R-rated Dead Poets Society, at least in form. The substance is really quite different. The mentor, instead of being harmless and inspirational like Robin Williams, likes to take his male students for rides on his motorcycle so that he can make them do ... naughty things. Strangely enough, this teacher (played delightfully by Richard Griffiths) is also harmless! The movie makes his behavior acceptable and even funny; a note-worthy achievement in itself. I really like that the film was able to make light of what are usually such serious, depressing issues. Quite an original take on a group of young British men as they finish their entrance exams to Oxford and Cambridge. The “inspirational learning” scenes are so much better than the ones in DPS (which I also love). They mostly take place in French and are so intellectually stimulating that they make you wish you had gone to a British prep school, even if you had to endure the creepy motorcycle rides! I love that this movie just has so much life. Everything from the back-and-forth banter, to the luscious green scenery, to the boys’ (mostly homosexual) passion is endowed with so much vivacity. Even the bittersweet (and slightly miscalculated) ending could not dampen the joyful memories I have of watching this film.

Critic's Review.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

# 8 - Children of Men

Don’t let the gray cinematography, 1984-ish themes, or the fact that none of the characters have a future fool you --- this in an uplifting movie! I may be the only person who walked out of the theatre with that sentiment, but I’m sticking to it. But first, some background info. So one day, humans stop having babies and everyone goes a bit crazy. Then some activists (lead by Julianne Moore) find a pregnant lady and … well everyone goes even more nuts. Clive Owen is protecting the mommy to be, and in the process there is a scene where the chaos that surrounds them stops for a second to appreciate this woman (pictured above). I found it to be one of the most hopeful moments of any film in 2007. Children of Men is one of those rare action-packed, heart pounding movies that is about something more than a jewel heist or a bomb in the subway. It’s kind of about what it means to be human, and how our legacy (or lack thereof) can affect that. Watch this excellent piece of sci-fi work, and then consider movies like War of the Worlds and Hitchiker's Guide and what a diservice they have done to the genre.

Critic's Review.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

# 9 - Casino Royale

Finally, the franchise gets its much-needed upgrade (not just an update). This entry throws away the usual nonsensical plot, increasingly absurd gadgets, and unskilled female leads. This is a gritty, emotional, well-made film. Much more Bourne Identity than The Avengers. What’s particularly lovely is that Craig’s Bond goes far beyond martinis and beautiful women – he’s a fully fleshed-out human being for the first time. Sometimes he’s impossibly cruel, other times achingly vulnerable, and finally we understand his attitude towards relationships, MI6, and England. I would argue that (hold your breath) this goes beyond anything Sean Connery ever brought to the role. Ok, feel free to stop reading now. The ending runs too long and is a bit too predictable, and I’ll need a few more Craig outings to officially decide … but I have an inkling we’ve just seen the best Bond, in one of the best Bond films ever.

Critic's Review.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

# 10 - V for Vendetta

Having read the graphic novel some time before seeing the movie, it’s obvious that two hours isn’t nearly enough to present the complexities of Alan Moore’s work. But, I would say, despite the standard ‘Hollywoodization’ process, the Wachowski brothers did the source material considerable justice. The film retains its soul and spirit, and is a really a movie driven more by the message than the medium (despite all the jaw-dropping action and special effects). Natalie Portman is good, Hugo Weaving embodies everything that V is, and the authentic British supporting cast lend some credibility. The twists and turns are well executed, it never drags on, and it’s impossible not to get at least a little emotional during the climactic final scenes.

Critic's Review.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Worst Movies of 2006

Preface: I mercifully didn’t see very many bad movies this year. Certainly none that rival my hatred for The Aviator. In fact, I don’t feel particularly strongly about any of them, but of course I’ll beef up my hatred for the sake of this list.

5. The Da Vinci Code

Not a particularly good book (if someone tells you anything by Dan Brown is one of their favorite books, discard their knowledge of all pop culture as irrelevant), but certainly an exciting one. Although you might find yourself throwing the book across the room in a rage fueled by its utter disregard for believability, it is fairly well the definition of a page-turner. Unfortunately, the movie is neither good nor exciting. First we have the terrible casting of all the main characters (Harrison Ford, at age 64, would have made a better Robert Langdon than the all too loveable and wimpy Tom Hanks). And what were they thinking with Ron Howard? One of the most bland, literal directors operating today brought nothing interesting to the production. Even Audrey Tautou, a very lovely actress, was too obvious a choice. Can you imagine what a different movie this could have been with the same script but this line-up: Alfonso Cuaron, Daniel Craig, and Sophie Marceau?

4. The Lakehouse

The passionate chemistry between Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock was lost after Speed. Maybe they’re both too old, or too married, but it feels like this is their 50th wedding anniversary. In other words, they are in love but boringly so. On top of that, it makes no sense. Literally sit there with a pencil and paper and try to make some sense of the timeline (not to mention how they could possibly own the same dog), and you’ll agree it’s impossible. And no, the story isn’t good enough to overlook this ridiculousness.

3. Superman Returns

Oh what a train wreck. Can someone please ban Kate Bosworth and her ribs from making movies? And Kevin Spacey’s days as an arch villain should have ended with Keyser Soze. But I won’t argue with the choice of Brandon Routh, he was physically perfect and a decent enough (if not good) actor for the part. What’s really upsetting is how lackluster everyone is. It’s like they are living in a nightmare that they can’t wait to wake up from. Batman had more gusto for life and I think Metropolis would be a more joyful hometown than Gotham City! They should have made Superman Begins instead of Returns ... oh and also with a completely different cast and script.

2. Cars

I don’t see why everyone went so ga-ga for this animated drivel. Sure Paul Newman was pretty cute as a blue chevy (or whatever he was), but the story was so contrived and snore-worthy. Cars do not make good animated characters. Penguins do! Happy Feet was much better.

1. The Devil Wears Prada

The more praise a film gets that I did not like, the higher it’s pushed on this list. I can understand the love for Meryl Streep – excellent as always – but otherwise this movie has no soul. We’re suppose to relate to Anne Hathaway’s character, the everyday girl shoved into the New York fashion world, but she makes such inane choices like cheating on her amazing farm-boy boyfriend (Adrien Grenier of Entourage, wildly miscast) and we’re still suppose to sympathize with her and cheer when he takes her back? That’s not laudable, in my mind, and neither is this movie.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Today is Luke's 22nd birthday. Happy birthday kiddo!

In other, far less important news, I have a million things to do and at the bottom of that list is writing and publishing (to this blog) my 2006 movie list. The actual rankings are complete, but it's the write-ups that take time. I'd like to do it right now, I'm really quite tempted! Soon.