V for Vendetta

Apr 9, 2006 - Leave a Response

My friend and I headed down to Camera 12 tonight for V for Vendetta, starring Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, and an all-star cast of British character actors. This movie is based on a graphic novel.

Portman plays Evey Hammond, a television station employee in a post-apocalyptic London, controlled by a fundamentalist totalitarian government. After being rescued by V, the enigmatic rogue hero, Evey is sought by the police as a suspected collaborator in subversive plots against the government.

The story is superbly acted and filmed. The tension is palpable, the government scary, and the plot twists somewhat unexpected. The story examines how easy it is to take freedom for granted, and how easily duped the government-informed masses were. As far as comic book movies go, this one ranks in quality right next to Sin City.

My grade: A-.

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Million Dollar Baby

Apr 4, 2006 - Leave a Response

Tonight: Million Dollar Baby, directed by Clint Eastwood. In 2005, this picture one four Academy Awards and two Golden Globes.

Hilary Swank earns her second Best Actress Oscar playing Margaret "Maggie" Fitzgerald, a waitress with aspirations as a boxer. She meets up with Frank Dunn, an aging gym owner and trainer (played magnificently by Clint Eastwood), who refuses to take her on as a fighter. She insists on working out trainerless at the gym every day until Dunn's assistant manager, Eddie Dupris (Morgan Freeman), gives her a few pointers. She starts to improve her skills to the point that Frank agrees to take her under her wing and train her to be an extraordinary boxer.

All of the characters are beautifully flawed and magnificently acted in this unforgettable feature. Each person in the story has almost insurmountable challenges — whether it's the estrangement from family, the history of having taken the big shot, or the gigantic hurdle of the protagonist's gender. The look and sound of the picture is beautiful throughout. The script is unbelievable and this movie deserved every award for which it was nominated. The tension of striving and loss are palpable and the film comes to its conclusion bringing its audience through the full range of human emotion. Clint Eastwood has, once again, proven the mastery of his craft with this virtuosic masterpiece.

My grade: A+.

Garden State

Apr 3, 2006 - Leave a Response

Tonight: Garden State, an Independent Spirit Award winner (Best First Feature), starring Zach Braff (who also wrote and directed it), Natalie Portman, and Sir Ian Holm.

Braff plays Andrew Largeman, a struggling actor and waiter in a Vietnamese restaurant, who has to return to his hometown in New Jersey to attend the funeral of his mother. While in New Jersey, he meets Sam, an extremely eccentric cutie. The strong ensemble cast includes Ian Holm, who plays Largeman's father, a psychiatrist who has kept him medicated since an accident left Andrew's late mother paralyzed. The provinciality of the locals is revealed and we get a glimpse into the character flaws, motivations, and strangeness of everyone.

The script is well-written, funny, and excellently shot. Strange plot twists lead us to a few unexpected places. This was a solid effort by a budding filmmaker. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

My grade: B.

Eastern Standard Tribe

Mar 17, 2006 - Leave a Response

A little while ago, I picked up Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow (also of BoingBoing fame) at a nearby bookstore. For the last few weeks, I've been picking at it right before bed.

Our protagonist, Art Berry, is a user experience engineer who works in London, but schemes for the Eastern Standard Tribe, an group of hackers and engineers located on the Atlantic Coast of the US. This book is set in a sort of near future in which groups of programmers and consultants are grouped by time zones.

The work was well-written by somebody obviously intimately familiar with modern computing systems, the internet as tool for daily living, and trends of online communities. Cory Doctorow, a little less than six months younger than me, not only has such familiarity, but as the editor of the most-read blog on the planet, is a pioneer himself. This lends his work a more laid-back, down-to-earth feel and makes the technologies, people, concepts, and struggles seem exceptionally real.

I won't blow the story for anyone who wants to read it, but I found it very entertaining.

My grade: B+.

Trois Couleurs: Rouge

Mar 17, 2006 - Leave a Response

Tonight, I saw Trois Couleurs: Rouge, the third of the Three Colors trilogy by Krzysztof Kieślowski, which starred Irene Jacob and Jean-Louis Trintignant.

Jacob portrays Valentine, a young Swiss model who runs over the dog of a reclusive retired judge, Joseph (Trintignant), who eavesdrops on his neighbors’ phone calls. The neighbors have some interesting problems that keeps the two new friends riveted, until the retired judge is forced to confess his snooping.

The chemistry between the two leading actors is perfect. The story is engaging and unforgettable. The look of the picture was sublime, including a theme of red through the film. Such a great work of art, I enjoyed every moment.

My grade: A.

Trois Couleurs: Blanc

Mar 8, 2006 - Leave a Response

I just watched White, the second of the Three Colors trilogy by Krzysztof Kieślowski and starring Julie Delpy.

The story centers around a Polish hairdresser named Karol, played convincingly by Zbigniew Zamachowski, in Paris whose jaw-droppingly beautiful wife, Dominique (Delpy), no longer loves him. He decides to return to his native Poland in order to make something of himself and, hopefully, win back the affections of Dominique. In the process of attempting to get himself back to Poland, he befriends a Polish businessman, who helps him get back home. Karol moves in with his brother, begins a business, has his friend help him manage it, and vies to win back his now-ex-wife.

The story is well-written and intended to be a humor, although a morbid one, with themes of death, suicide, and loss throughout. It’s beautifully filmed and well-acted.

My grade: B.

Trois Couleurs: Bleu

Mar 7, 2006 - Leave a Response

Tonight’s movie was Blue, the first of Krzysztof Kieślowski‘s Three Colors trilogy, which explores the three ideals of the French flag–liberty, equality, and fraternity.

Blue stars Juliette Binoche as Julie de Courcy, the wife of a famous French composer. At the beginning of the picture, she’s in a terrible car crash that kills her husband and daughter. We accompany her mourning, self-punishment, and the disposal of all of her worldly belongings. She involves herself with a few interesting people, meets her husband’s pregnant mistress, and begins to find herself.

The story is extremely lyrical and the pace relaxed. The theme of the musical work of the fictional composer and Julie’s involvement was central to the picture. The cinematography and use of color in the movie was nothing short of virtuosic. This was a beautifully crafted story, powerfully and emotionally acted and shot with astounding artistry. Watching this movie felt like hearing a world-class soloist play a concerto—a level of talent that will be studied in film schools around the world.

My grade: A.

2006 Independent Spirit Awards

Mar 5, 2006 - One Response

The Independent Film Channel aired the Independent Spirit Awards tonight, a flippantly irreverent awards show dedicated to showcasing excellent independent film, popular and obscure. Many of the films nominated for awards tonight are extremely obscure are will likely never see a DVD release (Sir! No Sir!, Conventioneers, and Jellysmoke, for instance). A few others were well-recognized with multiple Oscar nods. A few of these movies (as many as are out on DVD) are already in my Netflix Queue.

Sarah Silverman started out her monologue with a meandering cutting edge set of jokes that crossed over into feminine hygiene and pokes at George Clooney. The fact that IFC broadcast this awards ceremony uncensored was refreshing. “I personally wanna give a big shout for the host, Sarah Silverman. Finally, there’s an award show host that you’d wanna fuck. Kinda like Jon Stewart, too, you know? I could see myself getting all Heath Ledger on him,” quipped Kevin Smith. The songs about the Best Feature nominees were sometimes funny and sometimes caused me to hit the “ahead 30 seconds” button, but the entire shindig was much less formal than the Oscars.

I’ve only recently discovered the IFC on my DirectTV lineup. I miss video-i so much (It seems to have gone off the air). IFC assuages that pain a little bit. Uncensored independent films. Thank goodness.

The Left Hand of Darkness

Mar 3, 2006 - Leave a Response

I just finished reading The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, a science fiction of astonishing brilliance. We follow the exploits of Genly Ai, an envoy from a federation of human worlds who is attempting to bring Gethen into that federation. Gethenians, unlike all the other peoples of human space, are biologically bisexual—that is, they are neither male nor female, but enter one phase or another when they enter kemmer, or a kind of human heat.

We explore the customs and culture of a neuter society, the dance of politics between conflicting sides, the strange circumstances of a world in an ice age, and a strange pecking order system. The society has never known wars, because everyone's the same. There is no sexism (there's only one gender, after all) and no dualist mentality that colors a great many ideas in our culture.

The characters are rich, believable if strange, and have serious flaws. Genly befriends Estraven, the Prime Minister of Karhide, and follows him into exile, becomes outlawed himself, and learns loyalty from his Gethenian friend. The social politics are somewhat obscure and fuzzy, but the grand adventure of the story is compelling and well-envisioned.

My grade: B.

Catwoman

Feb 24, 2006 - Leave a Response

Oh, I knew it was going to get here eventually. So, this evening, I pulled it out of the little red Netflix envelope and sat down to watch it. Tonight’s movie is the winner of four Razzies, Catwoman. Halle Berry accepted her “Worst Actress” Razzie in person, thanking the studio for putting her in such a terrible movie.

Yes, it was bad. It was ridiculously bad. The story comes from the comic heroin/villain in DC Comics, adapted in a staggeringly incompetent screenplay. Halle Berry plays a painfully shy, mousy, somewhat bohemian, bungling ad agency graphic designer, despite being the most beautiful woman ever, whose life is a mess and coworkers are an offensive gaggle of gossips and queens in an office decorated like a Nazi propaganda poster. Our girl discovers a plot by the cosmetics company she works at to ship a dangerously addictive skin creme that turns women’s skin into burnt papyrus. She finds out, she gets killed, and a computer-generated cat brings her back to life by breathing into her lifeless mouth (No, they apparently couldn’t get any of the 87 cats they trained to be in the movie to breathe in Ms. Berry’s mouth), giving her extra special powers and skills which she just can’t seem to not use.

She falls for a cop, turns into a heroine of nebulous morals, and leaves handwriting samples all over the place. There’s even a police lab with a handwriting analyst, who, because whoever wrote this script was shriekingly retarded, predicts her personality traits between two samples using graphology. Halle unleashes some of the most groaningly predictable one-liners of all time and, somehow, her pathetic rotund friend ends up with a doctor at least an exponent out of her league.

The special effects in no way fooled a single member of the audience into believing their authenticity. The cheeseball performances of an all-star cast were the result of an absolutely idiotic script and forehead-slapping direction. The only redeeming quality, and by redeeming I mean watchable for a few seconds, of this movie was Halle Berry herself, dressed up in her lip-biting Catwoman costume with the naughty little leather whip. She knew that was the selling point of the movie and strutted her stuff beyond the breaking point. Her pseudo-feline strut-walk thing seemed mechanical and hokey.

They spent EIGHTY MILLION DOLLARS on this? We could have had six or eight more seasons of my favorite show for that.

My grade: F.