A good film, intelligent and touching, with a fun premise: an accountant with a very regular, regimented routine begins hearing a voice. The voice turns out to be the narrator in a book being written; the accountant is a character in the book. The acting is natural and low key; it goes well with the unhurried pacing of the movie. Has elements of a romantic comedy. Themes explored include the need to shake people out of their routines and the triumph of/importance of real life over fiction. I suppose it could have explored the idea of author as god, but it doesn't, leaving workings of and rules relating to the narration plot device unelucidated. I don't mind and didn't actually realize this until later.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Saturday, November 18, 2006
[Chile & Argentina]
A quirky film about the strange connections that appear between soldiers on opposite sides of the trenches in a war. A surprisingly funny movie given its setting. We watch as soldiers get lost in the featureless grasslands (pampas) near the border, make their own border, play soccer, host a bbq, and trade porn for penicillin. The serious ending is especially out of place given the flavor of the film. Narrated. Does a good job portraying the humanity of everyone involved. Fairly well done.
A good comedy about a romantic that eventually gets driven to rob a bank. The movie is about the infatuation that propels him so and his friendship with a lawyer. Told mostly through flashbacks; this unusual structure works for the story. Good acting. A few scenes have noticeably good camera work. The tale is about money as a necessity and as a source of problems, and about some people's inability to express what needs to be expressed. The whole narrative seems pretty absurd, a fact made all the more surprising since it's based on a true story. At times the movie attempts to also be a romance and a drama, but it only partially succeeds in these aspects and winds up predominately a comedy.
The two romantic leads were present at the end of the movie to answer questions. It seems some of the true story details were omitted from the movie, including that the woman was a cocaine addict and was unfaithful! These would have dramatically changed the tale. Also, the scene near the end involving the difficulty using the bull horn was unintentionally improvised. That trouble greatly added to the scene.
A somewhat cute short about a father and grandfather exchanging letters with their descendant away at war, and about the mailman who delivers the letters. The soundtrack included wonderful folksy string (violin?) music. One must watch it for the characters, not just the joke -- the joke, involving shoes hanging on a telephone line, wasn't worth the time it took to set up.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
[made by Canada about India]
An okay documentary about a call center in India and the people who work there. Does a good job portraying the people and their personalities. Includes a few humorous scenes of them being trained to talk to Americans and Brits. However, I felt much was missing from the movie. We only see how the workers are viewed by each other and their families, not other Indians. We don't see other call centers, though we are lead to believe this one is typical. We learn nothing about outsourcing and its effects. We learn little about the economics of the call center industry in India and nothing about it world-wide. The film says nothing about globalization.
Posted by mark at Sunday, November 12, 2006
Sunday, November 5, 2006
A very good, entertaining, romantic comedy-drama about two lovers in Brazil who are fans of rival soccer teams. Heart-wrenching at times. Loosely (very loosely) inspired by Shakespeare's story. Intelligently deals with deeper themes of bigotry(/discrimination/racism), as exemplified through its evocative portrayal of the fanaticism of soccer fans. Much like "Meet The Parents," though with the aforementioned deeper theme and with slightly less slapstick humor.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
A poignant silent film (with music and sound effects but no speaking) about a rich kid with many toys and a poor (and darker-skinned) child that lives nearby in poverty with few toys. Excellent. A tale about envy, schadenfreude, one-up-man-ship, and simplicity.
A documentary about Binode Bihari Mukherjee, a famous painter who goes blind after a failed cataract operation. Could've been much better. For instance, after he lost his sight, the film pans silently over works he later produced. We don't see his struggles with his lack of vision. We don't know how art critics reacted to his post-transformation work.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
A brilliant, black and white film covering three overlapping tales of drugs and death. Great recurring musical theme and good music as part of the story as well. Sounds depressing but it's not. By overlapping, I mean stories that take place in the old quarter of Split on the same evening with some of the same characters. By brilliant, I mean the tales are tied together in subtle ways, such as by the usage of the camera and by connections via scenes that originally seem trivial or meaningless.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Series of shorts:
- Stanford Banned: About the antics of the Stanford Band. Bland; could've been orders of magnitude better (e.g., by showing events, not telling about them).
- The Inventor: About an inventor working on a potato cloning machine. Decent; a nice portrait but not that interesting.
- Zanuck-Brown: A Partnership in Montage: Scenes from many movies by these producers. Didn't recognize most movies so didn't care that much.
- Waiting for Anna: Possibly about a woman who steals another's boyfriend. Revenge is enacted with a mask and a gun. Artistically shot -or at least the opening credits were- but not much else going for it.
- Kind of a Blur: A quirky, cute comedy about two ravers who wake up in a cow pasture and try to determine what happened the previous night. Involves the quest of a cow and writing on skin.
- Yellow Hammer: About a man that uses female friend's urine to attempt to pass a drug test and (spoiler) ends up getting told he is pregnant. Way too long setup (8 minutes) for a pretty lame joke.
- Oedipus: The story of Oedipus via stop-motion animation of vegetables. Stars a potato, a tomato, and a piece of broccoli. Well done. As funny as you can imagine. Can be watched online.
Sunday, September 3, 2006
A reasonably decent documentary that intentionally doesn't really answer the question. I had thought all these events happened much earlier than the late 90s. It's clear what side the film maker is on, but then it's hard to have a good murder mystery without portraying the victim in a sympathetic light. The best feature of the movie was two african-american women who had electric cars; they were such fun characters! It's clear the director thinks the hydrogen fuel cell is another electric car dream, a vision on the horizon that will never come to pass, a bogeyman used to scare away actual improvements that are here now.
Friday, July 28, 2006
More like a good play than a movie due to the quality dialog: rambling yet clever and deep as the characters try to feel each other out. Includes long, seductive camera shots as the characters wander Paris, but not so long as to be noticeable enough to distract from the action. Well, lack of action -- nothing happens beside the dialog and the subtle body language. But that's all okay. That's enough. Darker than the original.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
The important documentary about Al Gore and his quest to make everyone understand the perils of and reality of climate change. Interspersed lecture and personal narrative prevent the former from getting too overwhelming; this was useful, though I found the transitions sometimes slightly clumsy/unnatural. Al Gore is a good lecturer with powerful visual aids (e.g., graphs, pictures of natural wonders). While some of the data I would question, the part I would question is different from the part other people would question, and it's clear which way the preponderance of the evidence is pointing.
Sunday, July 23, 2006
A quality movie about family: a mother and son meet for the first time and bond during the course of a cross-country road trip. Sure, the "mother" is actually the transsexual father going through gender reassignment but, although it's constantly in the foreground, the gender issues aren't really the point. There are a few funny scenes but not so many as to dilute the focus of the movie from the dramatic. The complex characters (especially Bree) are played effortlessly; one doesn't notice they didn't cast a real transsexual in the role.
Saturday, July 22, 2006
A neat personal narrative of a twenty-something Iranian-American Jew looking for love while navigating both cultures. Shows the pressures from her family regarding arranged marriages and the desire for grandchildren and in general the difficulties of maintaining culture post-diaspora. She asks hard questions of her family and gets surprisingly open answers. My main complaint is that neither she nor, in retrospect, the movie seem very deep; no answers seem to be explored to their core and her behavior never really changes / she never seems to actually learn something.
An interesting documentary about the shrinking Jewish community in Iran. Shows how Iranians have discriminated against Jews with examples such as having Muslims as the administrators of Hebrew schools and forcing all Jewish musical merchants (but one) out of business. Also shows how the Jewish community has, to some extent, held together by, for example, consolidating synagogues and rotating which one gets used each time.
Saturday, July 15, 2006
An okay silent film about a beautiful woman who is at times a kept woman, a prostitute, or a femme fatale. Men fall for her. It's unclear whether she's an expert manipulator or just plain thoughtless, but she leaves death and destruction in her wake. (This movie, made in the late 1920s, was pre-"morality code" so it was quite risque.) It's more of a disconnected story of her than anything with an overarching plot. That's probably part of the reason I got bored; I didn't care about her. The organ accompaniment was likely another. At first, it was a bit too uppity and didn't match the movie. But then, as I got used to its long, heavy notes, I got sleepy. It might be that two silent films in a day are too much for me. Or it might be that the theater was full so it got warm and stuffy. But I'm not the only one that thought the movie was slow and longer than it should've been. (Kudos to the organist for making it through it all.) Very few title (dialogue) cards.
A very good, silent, suspenseful thriller about a woman and a bunch of orphans. Forced into slave labor at a "baby farm," they attempt escape across an alligator infested swamp. Feels like a series of unfortunate events. Has a strong comedy component too, both from mis-quoting biblical verses and from using slapstick humor. The version I saw had a great piano accompaniment.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Not as bad as I expected. It felt 80s, though it was made in 1992. Buffy is a valley girl who makes the transition to being a conscientious slayer unreasonably fast (i.e., no character development). Although it had some good dialog, generally the movie is all camp with little going for it and little substance; for instance, it had much less plot than a typical episode of the television show.
Friday, June 9, 2006
Emotionally poignant yet inconclusive movie about a family going through a divorce. Intensely detailed with resonant dialog; the characters feel real and come alive. Good integration of Pink Floyd and other musical selections.
Sunday, May 28, 2006
An okay detective movie involving the opera, an obsessed (yet lovable) fan, a prostitution ring, and two cassette tapes. Timeless in the sense that I watched it not realizing it was made decades ago (1981). But plot holes abounded (e.g., how did the taiwanese find out about the bootleg recording; why was the old white guy so good at spy-type stuff) and these really bothered me.
Friday, May 26, 2006
An unsatisfying art house film about politics and romance in art school and about a serial killer in the surrounding community. While the commentary on the art world was enjoyable, there were extraneous characters (e.g., an undercover cop)/interactions that didn't go anywhere (e.g., cop tackling someone while filming a movie). Also, some primary characters' motivations were inexplicable (e.g., female lead).
Sunday, May 21, 2006
A brilliant film about racism in Los Angeles. Terrific cinematography: framing, lighting, transitions, everything. Good use of language, direct and with no extraneous words or scenes. Well integrated, haunting soundtrack brings the film together but isn't distracting. A complex tale interweaving many characters that intersect by coincidence. Some critics claim it is too obvious with its themes, but I don't really agree.
A series of touching profiles of a set of elderly persons that all attend the same swim class at a Y in New York City. Explores their perspective on life through questions about their relationships, politics, careers, and thoughts on aging. Wonderful characters. A well done film, though at times I felt it could use a bit more structure so I knew where I was in the narrative. (I mistook a transition for the ending a few times. Simple titles like "Aging" and "Swimming" would probably have sufficed.)
A cute short movie about a (hokey?) roadside attraction in Florida. Mainly focuses on the women that currently swim as mermaids and the women who had the same job decades ago. Nostalgic, both for old (pre-Disney) Florida and for youth.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
A decent documentary that really feels like a comedy, with a series of people (especially the director's friends, some of which are famous) recounting stories about being fired. Inspired by the director being fired by Woody Allen from a play. I got a little bored at the limited cast of characters. Apparently she filmed many more, with many more famous people with good stories, but couldn't fit them in the movie, although they will appear on the DVD. From the ones the director recounted in Q&A, I think she could have made better decisions about what to include. The film was a bit disappointing to me because I'd hoped for a more serious exploration of the social, cultural, and economic consequences of firing and being fired; this film was not very deep or thoughtful, which could be because the director seems a little ditzy. Or it could be because it was a series of humorous anecdotes, with the only deep part -interviews with two economists- lasting less than ten minutes and stuck on at the end. Still, while not bad it could've been a lot better.
Saturday, May 6, 2006
[China / Hong Kong]
Bad. While visually well done (like In the Mood for Love), it's confusing, more like an incomplete sketchbook than a film. It seems thematically deep, but it's hard to determine the theme or the message when the plot really is a series of (nonlinear) vignettes that is unclear how they relate, temporally or otherwise (other than the man in the center of everything). Music is good and haunting. Whole effect was to nearly put me to sleep multiple times. Di Yin describes it as a mood movie.
Sunday, April 30, 2006
A perplexing film about a man who plays a game on the subway: he chooses a route, and if a woman travels his selected route, she must be "the one." He does meet people while playing this game, but never when playing according to the rules. I found the movie plodding and didn't really get into it. Everything was too mysterious, both the people, their backgrounds, and where they were going (physically and emotionally). Themes include fate and love and whether by changing the rules of the game (or life) one can get around fate / achieve love. Music well integrated. I had briefly thought it would a commentary on the urban lifestyle (as the sky isn't visible for the first third of the movie), but nothing changes qualitatively when people go into the countryside and no themes seemed to have come from this idea of mine.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Mesmerizing personal drama in which an Algerian married to a German (both living in Germany) is suspected of terrorism. Explores the question, "can you ever truly know someone?" Amazingly, one can identify with and understand each character's reactions -- it feels like a first-person perspective from each person. Themes about whom to believe in a post-9/11 world and how do current politics (fear, suspicion, etc.) disrupt relationships.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Not really a movie. Two of the Red vs Blue (Blood Gulch Chronicles) creators were there and showed most of the first season DVD, a tad from the upcoming fourth season DVD, and some selections from a series of promotional shorts they're making using The Sims for the Independent Movie Channel. All are quite funny. Demonstrates how their art and cinematography has changed over time. Small crowd at this showing in Berkeley. Mostly, Q&A with the two guys. And the guys were great: funny and it's really easy to how they put aspects of their personalities into the characters.
Monday, April 24, 2006
A weird and enjoyable combination of religious parable and black comedy that ponders what it means to be religious, have faith, and turn the other cheek and whether these are good or bad traits. Religious content is over the top, intentionally -- effective for bringing out the theme and for comic value. Recurring references to the Book of Job and being tested, but being tested by whom (God or the Devil)? Whoever is doing the testing works in mysterious ways.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
"And Then There Were None" (Agatha Christie's tale made into multiple movies) done with a set of applicants competing for a high-level corporate position. Well done drama. A bit of the feel of "Twelve Angry Men," with individuals arguing in a cramped space. Set against the background of WTO/IMF riots, shows just how far people will go for corporate greed. Opening scene involves tri-split screen and follows the same action from multiple (usually two) angles, merging and replacing shots smoothly. Very neat; conveys a great god's eye view and sense of constant motion.
[French with Japanese director]
Filled with uncomfortable silences and inane/arbitrary arguments, this slow moving movie explores the end of a marriage. While it feels true, it's not a movie that is pleasant to watch. Little conversation, extremely long takes (dozens of minutes), and practically no camera movement all contribute to the lack of forward momentum. Also, I thought they were doing something meaningful by having only the women be in the center of the frame, but that ceased after the first half an hour; I guess I was wrong. (Note: the director of photography was there and very eloquent in translation, e.g., in one hand-held up-close camera scene, she said she wanted "the camera to get onto/into the character like an animal.")
Di Yin, who saw the movie separately, says she agrees. "A perfect couple is more a movie about waiting - for your partner to come home, for the reply to come for your questions, for the minutes of a trip to pass by, as much as it is about the progression of a relationship. The characters hesitate, watch, and long for each other - this very stagnation both speaks true to the nature of their relationship, and frustrates the audience."
Saturday, April 22, 2006
Okay film covering a period of Franken's life from publishing "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" through the 2004 election to the announcement he was considering running for senate. Felt fairly straight-forward / one-note, but that could be because Al Franken is a simple and direct politically active comedian. (If there is much more to him, this movie doesn't show it.) Lacks much forward momentum. I tried to feel a climax at the 2004 election but the movie continued. And it just petered out after his senate posturing. Still, a funny movie (because he's funny). Same directors as "The War Room," a political documentary covering Clinton's campaign. The directors were there to answer questions after the movie.
Friday, April 21, 2006
Touching film that shows how food can open up the heart. Chef-actor performs excellently; he can say a lot without words. "Nuanced film [about] aloneness and relationships." Doesn't end the way you think it will. My screening was odd due to mis-cut film, missing scenes, and bad color on the DVD. This problems prevented us from seeing 15 minutes of the film and delayed the middle by over an hour. Despite this obstacle, the movie is very good. (Also, the director and producer were there and intelligently answered interesting questions about casting, framing, and more.)
Monday, March 20, 2006
Woody Allen's retrospective tale about the relationship between a morose Jewish comedian and his neurotic girlfriend. A pretty good -funny, witty, sad, and true- film that uses some innovative storytelling techniques such as on screen subtitles that reflect what the characters are really thinking, split screens, children talking like adults, characters speaking directly to the character, and a non-chronological structure. Reflects Allen's quirks, including his obsession with anti-semitism and his hatred of California.
Monday, March 13, 2006
A creative, fake documentary on America, covering the last one hundred and fifty years, all based on the assumption that the south won the civil war. Felt authentic, with old shaky news clips and radio broadcasts. Makes one think about implicit racism, especially with the mock commercials (for a show like cops, niggerhair cigarettes, etc.). (Many of these mock commercials are for products that turn out to be real.) Yet doesn't feel deep enough to me. For instance, they have parallels with the kennedy assassination, America surprise attacking the Japanese, an alliance with Hitler, and more, but all these are covered so briefly they doesn't shed new light on either the real history or the movie's.
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Eh. If the politics and business surrounding oil are complicated, this movie accurately represents and reflects it. But then it also includes many story lines that don't really interact; people in one area don't seem to know, understand, or care what the other area is doing. No characters are really worth caring about much. Some or all of these may be intentional, but those facts don't necessarily make for a good movie.
Friday, March 10, 2006
A good, accurate, condensed translation of the book to film. Good special effects, but not as in look-at-these-special-effects but used as if they were natural. Like the other Harry Potter movies in that it puts character development to the side in order to try to put as much plot from the book as possible into the movie. It also abbreviates plot explanations for the sake of brevity, possibly under the assumption that most of the audience has read the book. (I have.)
Thursday, March 2, 2006
Fairly fun and funny. Not very deep. Much like the three stooges but without the physical humor, if that makes any sense. A bit mesmerizing, like watching a person's relationship/social life crash in slow motion. You know it won't turn out well, but you constantly hope you're wrong.
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Okay action flick. Likely good on a big screen with very loud sound effects. But, I have a lot of issues with it:
- the ending is too hollywood
- the narration could've been good but seems tacked-on at the beginning and the end
- the movie doesn't show much of enemy at the beginning (e.g., leaves out major explosions, doesn't show much of the tripods actually coming out of the ground) -- it's better on this count in the last two-thirds of the movie
- finally, too many items are left unexplained, including are the aliens tourists, why are they harvesting people, why did the 747 crash at that time, why did the camera work so soon after the EMP but other electronics didn't, and if the tripods were planted before people arose, why didn't the martians just take over at that time.
Monday, February 27, 2006
Fine suspense film. Starts cinematically beautiful and continues clearly thoughtful use of colors and lighting throughout. Also plays intelligently off the movie The Sixth Sense. But the unexplained plot holes bothered me. If I didn't understand how the villain had everything planned out, how could I properly understand what was going right and what was going wrong? Also, most other characters besides Jodie Foster are not fleshed out -this bothered me-, but it may be intentional.
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Respectable action movie with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson. Nothing more, nothing less. Includes some simple puzzles too (4 gallons of water using 5 and 3 gallon jugs, riddles, etc.). Doesn't end when you think it does (or perhaps ought to) -- the second climax isn't as good as the first.
I've seen this movie previously.
Monday, February 13, 2006
Good series of shorts:
- Baby Pepper: Bah. Based entirely on one not very funny joke.
- Space Chase: Fun. Good core idea (two people racing for a spot in a parking garage) and well executed.
- Right Place: Witty. An obsessive compulsive works in Tokyo.
- Spin: Brilliant. A turntable allows this DJ to control and alter time and space.
- Stop!: Eh. A film within a film within a film.... Certainly not as novel as the short seems to think it is.
- I Need My Mocha: Decent. Two people who lack criminal natures attempt to rob a store.
- Food: Okay. Animation of an old woman that feeds and shoots ducks. Only good for funky animation and surprise value.
- The Pitch aka. Lebron James vs. the Alien King: Very good mockery of Hollywood.
- Dolls with Issues: Eh. The core idea allows for a ton, but this movie just doesn't do much with it.
- The Idealist: Decent. (I seem to recall liking it, but can't remember precisely what it was about.)
- The Zit: Quite good computer animated short about a boy who tries to get rid of a zit.
- Five Infomercials for Dentists: Eh. Funky animation but I didn't find the gag funny / it made me uncomfortable.
- Joyride: Again, funky animation and good music, but not humorous.
- Safety First: I can't remember liking it...
- Valley of Gwombi: Eh. What you get when you translate slapstick comedy into sci-fi claymation.
- The One O'clock: Eh. A decent idea (an office across the hallway from the marriage counselor gets confused couples) but nothing more.
- Fancy: Eh. About a visit to a gynecologist. Probably more funny to females.
Friday, February 10, 2006
A good visually arresting (non-)romance yet love story about two neighbors who bond over the fact that their spouses are having an affair. Beautifully framed using mirrors, furniture, doorways, etc. A lovely but very lonely film: for much of it even when two characters talk, they aren't shown at the same time.
Tuesday, February 7, 2006
Monday, February 6, 2006
Sweet movie, sappy and delicious. Not bad, except for the pacing: the beginning starts slow and the climax scenes are way too long. Includes many overlapping stories of love, each telling an interesting tale but there are just too many for the movie. There is a nice resonance of the opening airport voice-over with the final airport scene.
Sunday, February 5, 2006
A good, though not excellent, documentary on the word fuck. Filled with an impressive set of big names, including politicians, journalists, writers, entertainers, linguists, and more. Covers lightly how the word works in various areas: noun, verb, adjective, etc., and in religion, politics, culture, psychology, ... Doesn't really say anything new, but is still an entertaining and funny movie, including nice animations and a good custom (?) soundtrack.
Saturday, February 4, 2006
Monday, January 23, 2006
Eh. A cute story centered around a cop and a high-class, haughty woman who witness a crime while having an affair. The woman is classic: flirty, warped, and disturbingly excitable. But the acting, transitions, framing, and language weren't great (to say the least). The language especially missed the traditional noir feel and sounded awkward or unintelligible at times.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
A good though hokey noir. Nice repartee, but more for comedy than for displaying toughness. Includes an earnest sailor, a beautiful and smart dame, a nice cabbie, and a further ever-expanding set of characters. Ends with a very surprising twist that, in retrospect, doesn't make that much sense with the rest of the story.
Saturday, January 21, 2006
John Travolta plays a mafia man that gets into the movie business. Full of characters with great tough-man looks. Deals with the themes about how we can (and can't) control the faces we put in front of the world. (That's a theme in addition to the obvious one of the similarity between organized crime and Hollywood.) Surprisingly complex plot. Decent.
I've seen this movie previously.
Friday, January 20, 2006
Monday, January 16, 2006
Okay. About a Vermont girl looking for love in Los Angeles. Written by, starring, and directed by Steve Martin. Has a reasonable idea at the core but the execution is poor. e.g., an omniscient narrator that only appears three times. And is the narrator meant for comedy? For exposition on topics the actors aren't good enough to portray? An excuse to get text from the book directly into the movie? Also, the psychological change that the characters undergo is under-expressed. It's too important to be given as short shrift as it is.
Saturday, January 14, 2006
About Capote and his investigations of two criminals that killed four people in Kansas. Didn't like it very much because neither of the two main characters were likable: Capote is manipulative and self-centered; Perry Smith is, well, a murderer. Huffman does an excellent job playing Capote.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Pretty good sci-fi western. Includes many interesting and colorful (and well acted) characters; much better than most movies and all action movies. Involves themes relating to freedom of thought and information and the right to be one's self, however uncivilized that may be. Made by Joss Whedon (and so includes a teen-aged super-girl).
Friday, January 6, 2006
Not good. Douglas Adams's dry British wit didn't translate well to screen; many good scenes were simply voice-overs. (Monty Python did manage to translate, so I know it can be done.) I think many jokes were simply included because they needed to be but were not given enough screen time to shine (or in a few cases even manage to be understandable). I entirely missed many references during the movie, only getting them later from the commentary track.