Dan in Real Life

I think I've liked just about everything I've seen Steve Carell in over the past few years and Dan in Real Life is no exception. It's not really surprising anymore to see comedians make the leap to more dramatic roles, some with more success than others. What's great about Carell is that he has a good feel for balance such that his performances never feel inappropriate, over the top, or self-indulgent. So, certainly, this movie has that going for it. Even more than Carell, though, what I really loved about this movie was the feeling of family that it evoked for me. In so many "family reunion"-type films the plot is driven by either a newcomer trying unsuccessfully to fit in (e.g. Meet the Parents or The Family Stone) or by dysfunction or in-fighting (e.g. The Royal Tenenbaums or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). What felt so refreshing about Dan in Real Life was that the family, despite at times being annoying or intrusive, genuinely loved each other and tried to do right by each other. It really made me nostalgic for the vacations my own family took when I was a kid. Overall, the film was both funny and touching and I really enjoyed it.

Viewed: 10/25/2007 | Released: 10/25/2007 | Score: A-

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The Darjeeling Limited

I was pretty excited about this one, being a fan of Wes Anderson and not having had a new one in three years. I think that this one wasn't his best but I did like it quite a bit. In some ways this one covers a lot of the same ground as The Royal Tenenbaums--an absent parent, three damaged siblings--but even though there was still definitely the trademark Wes Anderson ridiculousness to The Darjeeling Limited, I think that this one was ultimately heavier and, perhaps, more personal. I think that all of Anderson's films have moments of real emotional depth but they're usually somewhat fleeting, which works really well by giving the films a little more substance underneath the silliness. In this one, though, there's at least one long stretch of the movie where the silliness is completely abandoned. I don't know whether that makes it a better or worse film but it certainly felt different to me. The performances were, as usual, odd and idiosyncratic but also wonderful. The one thing that made it a little uncomfortable for me was the juxtaposition of Owen Wilson's character with the current emotional trouble he's been having--at many points I found myself feeling genuinely bad for the actor rather than the character. In any case, I do recommend this one, with the one caveat that if you haven't seen any of Anderson's previous work, this may not be the best one to start with.

Viewed: 10/11/2007 | Released: 10/25/2007 | Score: A-

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Juliette and I had been thinking off and on about seeing this movie ever since a random stranger recommended it to us when we were out at a Japanese restaurant. Over the next couple of months one of Juliette's friends mentioned that she liked it, and then last night Juliette noticed that Dooce also recommended it. So, even though it was late on a school night, we decided that we weren't satisfied to end our movie weekend with Death at a Funeral, and drove downtown to see Once. I'm so glad we did. The movie tells the story of a Dublin street musician and a Czech immigrant girl he meets, and of the music they end up creating together. The plot is relatively sparse and is more or less standard "boy meets girl" stuff; what really drives the film is the music. If, like me, you have a taste for indie/alternative acoustic singer-songwriter pop, you will love this movie. The first duet that the two leads sing actually brought tears to my eyes, partially because the song was pretty but more because of the emotion in the scene, awakening on their faces and bursting through their voices. The home-made feel imparted by the handheld camera and grainy film stock worked wonderfully, giving the whole thing a very intimate feel. The one word of caution I will give is that if you're not the kind of person to be grabbed by this kind of music then you may not love this film. For me, though, I think the highest praise I can give is that it made me want to sing.

Viewed: 9/22/2007 | Released: 5/15/2007 | Score: A

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Death at a Funeral

Having not been out to a movie together in over a month, Juliette and I went and saw Death at a Funeral this weekend, mainly because it was the next movie playing when we decided to go out. We've had some good luck picking movies that way before--notably Waking Ned Devine back in college--but, unfortunately, this one wasn't that good. Not knowing what to expect, we both had high hopes for a witty British comedy after the opening scene, but things descended pretty rapidly into the sort of sitcom-style humor that revolves around people being put into awkward situations. If that kind of thing appeals to you then most likely you'll find this movie hilarious--certainly many of the other audience members were laughing uproariously. For us, though, it's just not our bag.

Viewed: 9/21/2007 | Released: 7/10/2007 | Score: C

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Considering the sales and buzz that this movie has produced, you've likely either heard of this one already or you're not interested in movies. I definitely pick this one as my comedy of the summer and I expect it'll be at least a runner-up in this year's SMAs (and we all know how prestigious an award that is). I had been under the impression that the raunchy teen comedy genre had jumped the shark by now but then along comes a movie like this one. It's unlikely that Superbad will revitalize the genre, exactly, but it was still damn funny. What really worked for me wasn't so much the swearing and sex--although I'll admit that I have a fondness for crude humor--but the honesty, the amount to which I was (sometimes embarassingly) able to see my own young self in the characters. Juliette and I mused about how different it would be to see a movie like this as a teen instead of as an adult, because at this point when we laugh at a movie like this we're really laughing at ourselves. (By the way, in case it wasn't obvious from the R rating, this movie is not suitable for kids or young teens.) Anyway, I liked the movie all-around and in particular it looks like Seth Rogen's star may be rising. It should be interesting to see where he goes from here.

Viewed: 8/19/2007 | Released: 8/16/2007 | Score: A

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It's been several years since I read Stardust but I recall thinking that it was a nice little fairy tale, although nothing particularly astonishing. I feel more or less the same way about the film. The story seems to have survived the transition from print to screen pretty well, and if it doesn't have quite the same magical feeling as it did on the page, well, it's hard to imagine how it could. Well, maybe not--Pan's Labyrinth certainly managed it. But Stardust is, on the whole, a much fluffier story than Pan's Labyrinth so the fluffiness of the movie is appropriate. The only thing I didn't particularly care for was Michelle Pfeiffer's performance, and I know I'm in the minority there. She certainly looked the part but I've just never been particularly impressed with her acting abilities. Everything else, though, was pretty good and I particularly liked the humor elements, which I thought made for a lighthearted and fun film.

Viewed: 8/9/2007 | Released: 8/9/2007 | Score: B-

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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

In my review of the last installment of this series I found myself hoping that the next one would be better. Now that it's here, I find myself both relieved and disappointed. I did think that this one was better than the previous one but it still left something to be desired. The problem is that, for the most part, I'm not sure what it really could have done better. The whole thing seemed very rushed to me and, of course, a lot of the book was left out. But that's simply unavoidable when adapting such a long book for the screen. I still didn't like Michael Gambon as Dumbledore but, in fairness, I think he also improved. The performances in general were pretty good, and Imelda Staunton in particular stood out as the odious Dolores Umbridge. Really, I think that the problem was more with me than the movie--having read the book and seen the more complete story there was probably little chance of my being satisfied with the film. I think that's probably borne out by the observation that nearly everyone I know who saw the film without having first read the book liked it.

Viewed: 7/12/2007 | Released: 7/10/2007 | Score: B+

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That's right, I just gave four stars to a Michael Bay film about giant, transforming robots based on an 80's toy line. The fact that I also own and love the 1986 animated movie should tell you a bit about the place Transformers held in my childhood esteem. Still, it wasn't just nostalgia that made me love this movie. OK, yes, that was a big part of it. I had very little hope that this movie wouldn't make the kinds of changes that invariably piss me off but, on the contrary, I was impressed by how respectfully the source material was treated. (And, really, the cartoon wasn't exactly Shakespeare--treating it as reverentially as people, including me, do is more than a little silly.) I particularly loved that Peter Cullen, the original voice of Optimus Prime, was brought back to reprise his role. But apart from merely appealing to my inner 7-year-old, there was plenty to appreciate as an adult. It goes without saying that the special effects and action scenes were top notch. The acting, though, was also quite good. Shia LaBeouf has a real talent for comedy, I think. What was even more surprising is how good the robots themselves were. Between the excellent voice acting and animation, the Transformers really did come to life for me, managing to make me both laugh out loud and get choked up. (OK, so I'm a little ridiculous. I can deal with that.) Of course, the film wasn't without its flaws. More than once I found myself rolling my eyes at some of the human technology in the film. (Giant, sentient, shape-changing robots? Yeah, of course that's fine. Connecting a 40's-era radio to a modern desktop PC in under five minutes with no schematics or specialized equipment? I can't roll my eyes hard enough.) And then there was the fact that, as usual, the producers picked a very pretty girl with absolutely no acting ability as the female lead. Still, at the end of the day it's an action movie--we can forgive it a few mistakes as long as the rest is suitably awesome. And it was.

Viewed: 7/7/2007 | Released: 7/2/2007 | Score: A

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Ocean's 13

There's not really much I can say to really flesh out a review for this one, because it's essentially the same movie as the previous two. At that, though, I do have to say that it was pretty good--certainly better than the second one although still not quite as good as the first. Like the second film, the heist portion of Ocean's 13 wasn't particularly captivating but, fortunately, this one did a much better job with the comedy. By now the characters have become familiar and while their relationships more or less repeat the same patterns from the previous films, this time around it feels comfortable instead of stale.

Viewed: 6/8/2007 | Released: 6/7/2007 | Score: B

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Knocked Up

I think I like Judd Apatow's movie sensibilities. I was realizing as I sat down to write this review that a lot of the things I liked about Knocked Up were also things I liked about his previous film, The 40 Year Old Virgin. Both films somehow managed to combine raunchy humor with genuine emotion in a way that, miraculously, works very well. I was laughing really hard for a lot of the movie and yet I still found myself really caring about the relationship between the two main characters. I liked pretty much the entire cast. The closest I came to having a complaint was with Katherine Heigl, and that wasn't so much because she was miscast or did a bad job as just that I found it the slightest bit jarring to see her in this kind of movie when I'm so used to seeing her in Grey's Anatomy. The one warning I'd put out there is that there are a few shock scenes that are about as gratuitous as anything I've ever seen in a comedy, so just be aware that you might see a few things you'd rather not. Still, if you liked The 40 Year Old Virgin, you'll like this one.

Viewed: 5/31/2007 | Released: 5/31/2007 | Score: A

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