A Good Year

My one-word summary: boring. Not because it was a "chick flick"--I like all kinds of movies as long as they are done well. Besides, Juliette agreed with me. There just wasn't anything compelling about this movie--not the story, the acting, the setting. Nothing. The whole thing just seemed forced and mediocre. Like so many other movies of this genre, the plot centers around a career-driven asshole who has to realize that money and success aren't as important as love and family and what have you. We've all seen this story before but that's fine because we don't come to movies like this for originality. The problem with this iteration is that the protagonist's transformation really wasn't believable. The mechanism for change involved him rediscovering childhood memories, but it almost seems like the guy would have had to have had some sort of amnesia-inducing head trauma to forget the stuff he forgot--and, of course, that wasn't the case. It's too bad, too, because I've generally had a very high regard for both Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott. Hopefully their next projects will be more worthwhile.

Viewed: 11/18/2006 | Released: 11/9/2006 | Score: D

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Flags of Our Fathers

I'm still not sure why I'm quite so fascinated by World War II but, be that as it may, I'm the sort of guy that will like just about any movie in that setting. Still, this one was only so-so. It didn't do much for me that other movies or shows hadn't already done better. What I did like about it wasn't so much the story as the framing--the book that the film is based on is the product of a man's attempt to learn about his father's life. That's a subject that's been resonating with me lately and on that level the movie worked really well for me. It's not really the focus of the film, though, so I'd say that unless you're a diehard Eastwood fan or war buff you can probably safely skip this one.

Viewed: 11/11/2006 | Released: 10/19/2006 | Score: B

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Stranger Than Fiction

Most everyone who I've heard talking about this movie has been talking about how surprised they were by Will Ferrell. Honestly, he did do a good job. Not only did he manage to rein in his shrill, needy tendencies but he actually managed to imbue his performance with a sort of quiet, noble dignity. Still, he wasn't really what made the movie. Neither were Emma Thompson or Dustin Hoffman, though they were, unsurprisingly, excellent. No, the shocking thing is that what I really loved about this movie was the voiceovers. Normally I'm not a big fan of voiceovers, but Stranger Than Fiction is one movie that used them perfectly. Of course, it wouldn't have worked had the writing not been up to snuff but, fortunately, the monologues had this wonderful lyrical quality to them that I kept wanting to hear more of.

Viewed: 11/10/2006 | Released: 11/9/2006 | Score: B

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The Departed

To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio that I've loved. Sure, he's come a long way since Titanic (which, to this day, has always baffled me as to how anyone could like it), but even his more recent critical successes like Catch Me If You Can and The Aviator were only OK for me. So when I say that I loved this movie and, moreover, that I loved him in it, well, that should tell you something. This was definitely the best crime thriller I've seen in a long time. The acting was superb across the board. Heck, even Mark Wahlberg was great. No, really. He was. And as for the story, well, you have here a movie about an Irish Mafia gang and the Massachussetts State Police, each with a mole in the other's organization who needs to figure out who his opposite is without being found out himself. Does that sound intense to you? Well, it is. I had only two complaints with this movie, both about the writing. First, the ending was more than a little abrupt. Second, a somewhat minor plot point failed to get resolved. Those two things, though, were not enough to make me not love this movie and I suspect that while this one will not be the one to end Scorsese's losing streak at the Oscars it has a very strong possibility of adding another title to his list of nominations.

Viewed: 11/9/2006 | Released: 10/5/2006 | Score: A

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Running with Scissors

I seem to be in quite the lazy streak lately. In fact, I'm not even sure this movie is still playing. On the off chance that it is and you're thinking about seeing it, I should warn you that it's not quite what the previews make it out to be. On my way in, I was expecting an absurd sort of comedy in the vein of The Royal Tenenbaums. It might have been just that except for one thing: it's based on a memoir. A lot of scenes that might have been funny were instead made kind of horrifying by the idea that they could actually have happened. So despite the fact that I did laugh a few times I actually spent most of the movie cringing. Moreover, apart from the shock value I didn't think there was much to the story. The performances were mostly adequate and while Annette Bening did a brilliant job of portraying the protagonist's psychotic, narcissistic mother, her excellent performance made her that much more difficult to watch. On the strength of Bening's performance I expect there will be some Oscar buzz, but apart from that I don't know that I can really recommend this one.

Viewed: 10/26/2006 | Released: 10/19/2006 | Score: C

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The Prestige

If you're only going to see one movie this year about turn-of-the-century stage magicians, see this one. It does have a lot in common with The Illusionist. Both movies feature beautiful period settings, solid performances, and one actress who is very attractive but not very good at acting (The Illusionist's Jessica Biel and The Prestige's Scarlett Johansson). The big difference is that The Prestige has enough story to drive a two-hour movie without dragging, whereas The Illusionist does not. Plot is so crucial to this kind of movie. No matter how good the performances are, a movie with a bad, slow, or transparent plot won't have the audience talking about it afterwards or seeing it again to catch everything they missed the first time around. The Prestige delivers on this front and sustains it with an excellent performance by Christian Bale (as well as some good ones from Michael Caine and Hugh Jackman).

Viewed: 10/21/2006 | Released: 10/19/2006 | Score: B

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The Last Kiss

It's been 18 days since I saw this movie; I think that qualifies as the latest I've ever been with a review. Just to allay any possible suspicions, the delay was entirely due to my own laziness and had nothing to do with the film. After Garden State fans lauded Zach Braff as the voice of his generation, so it comes as no surprise that there was a lot of buzz surrounding this one. Some people expected something huge, some figured that he wouldn't be able to manage it a second time. Which one did it end up being? Well, I'm not sure. It turns out that The Last Kiss has a lot in common with Garden State. Both are coming-of-age stories and both, in my opinion, show a certain amount of self-deceptive immaturity. The difference is that Last Kiss is about a slightly later stage of life--the beginning of family life instead of first independence. Garden State had the sense of reaching for profundity that brought to mind late night talks I had with my friends in high school and college, talks that seemed full of wisdom at the time but that the clarity of hindsight shows were actually naive. And that naivete made Garden State's immaturity kind of cute and fresh. By contrast, Last Kiss seems like it should be old enough to know better. In some ways, though, that may actually work in its favor, since it kind of goes along with the age group it depicts. Will this one turn out to resonate as well with the early-30s crowd as much as Garden State did with the twenty-somethings? Only time will tell, I suppose. In any case, I think I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the excellent cast. I imagine most people will have gone to this to see Braff, but in my mind the real standouts were Jacinda Barrett and Tom Wilkinson.

Viewed: 9/15/2006 | Released: 9/14/2006 | Score: B

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Trust the Man

We haven't seen two movies on the same day since the spring, when we went to the Newport Beach Film Festival, but we just couldn't make up our minds whether to see The Oh in Ohio or Trust the Man. Interestingly, both films deal with sex and infidelity, though where The Oh in ohio is more of a cute, fairy-tale-ish movie, Trust the Man is a bit more serious. Not to say that it's particularly heavy or anything--it's definitely got laughs. It's just that the relationship troubles in this one are given more weight. I think that's because Trust the Man is primarly concerned with relationships, whereas The Oh in Ohio was really just about an individual character. I was initially intrigued because the film pairs Maggie Gyllenhaal and Billy Crudup in one of the two couples that the film follows. (The other is played by Julianne Moore and David Duchovny.) I nearly always like Gyllenhaal so it's no surprise that I thought she did well in this film. I did think the role was a bit of a departure for her--I tend to think of her in roles that play up a liberated or driven aspect, whereas her character in this one was more nice, even a little naive. Crudup is an actor who I've come to respect enormously. I think it may be that you need to see him in multiple films to really appreciate his talent. He has a wide range but never "steals" a scene. Rather, every performance just works. It's pretty impressive. Anyway, I didn't really love the story but the performances were solid and the dialogue was good with some spots of excellent.

Viewed: 9/9/2006 | Released: 8/17/2006 | Score: B

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The Oh in Ohio

Juliette and I first heard about The Oh in Ohio at this year's Newport Beach Film Festival. For whatever reason, we didn't end up seeing it then even though we were both somewhat intrigued by its blurb in the program. The film centers around Parker Posey's character, Priscilla, a successful Cincinnati business development executive who has never had an orgasm. While the film doesn't cover any new ground in terms of comedy or personal discovery, I enjoyed it for being cute and perky. (Incidentally, that also describes Posey's performance pretty well.) A lot of the dialogue was kind of stilted, but it didn't really bother me much. In fact, it might have even made the film a little more endearing--it felt a little amateurish, but in a personal kind of way, if that makes any sense. The downside was that the same unpolished nature of the script made for a final product that lacked focus. There was a pretty large plotline that followed Paul Rudd--who played Priscilla's husband, Jack--out of the depression brought on by his perception of not being able to please his wife. It could have worked, but partially because the film doesn't set Jack up as a particularly sympathetic character and partially because Mischa Barton can't act, the whole thing just felt extraneous. Even so, I'm still glad I saw it--it's nice to take in lighthearted stuff now and then. Keeps you from getting too jaded.

Viewed: 9/9/2006 | Released: 3/29/2006 | Score: B

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The Illusionist

I had really high hopes for this one. Edward Norton is one of my favorite actors. Add Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell (who I quite liked in Dark City) as co-stars in a movie about intrigue and stage magic in turn-of-the-century Vienna and it seems like it would be right up my alley. Unfortunately, The Illusionist was hampered by two big problems: Jessica Biel and poor pacing. The Jessica Biel problem is simple enough: she's really bad at acting. That's not such a big deal with something like Seventh Heaven, but when a big part of the story relies on the audience being invested in her character's relationship with the title character, well, it's not good. The pacing seems to me to have arisen in the transition from short story to film. I think the original story was probably quite good, but there were several stretches of the film that really dragged. My guess is that those parts were covered as narrative between scenes in the short story, but there just wasn't a very graceful way to do it in film and I found myself getting bored. Still, The Illusionist has been getting pretty good reviews, so you may want to make your own decisions on this one.

Viewed: 8/18/2006 | Released: 4/26/2006 | Score: C

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