Archive for January, 2007

2006

January 25, 2007
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA
English / Japanese
141 Minutes

I’m not even sure it’s better than FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS. There are bumbling recruits in Japan. There are brave, handsome heroes in Japan. There are forward-thinking and creative generals in Japan. There are sadistic and stupid and cowardly generals in Japan. End of lesson. Oh yeah, and war is hell for Japanese soldiers as well.

The one place where it had some uniqueness is that Japanese soldiers believed their lives to be over the moment they were drafted. Part of the armed forces experience is that you will one day give your life for the Empire of Japan. You won’t heroically save your comrades and return home to fame and fortune. You will be killed and the best you can do is die honorably. The face of the pregnant young wife when the man hands her husband his assignment orders is heartbreaking. The older women scold her. “We’ve all sent our sons and husbands to war!”

We get to see what the Japanese were doing on Iwo Jima to prepare for the Americans’ arrival. That was interesting. We also see what we only heard in the distance in Eastwood’s earlier 2006 release.

Good, but not great.

2006 Oscar Nominations:
~~Best Picture
~~Best Director for Clint Eastwood
~~Best Original Screenplay

8.9 Metacritic
9.2 Rotten Tomatoes

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2006

January 25, 2007
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA
English
131 (long) Minutes

Almost incomprehensibly disappointing. I could not believe how cold I was left after seeing this. My mind wandered. I may have dozed. I kept waiting for the magic I was promised. I wanted to see Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson earn their Supporting Actor nominations. But no such luck. I expect Jamie Foxx to act a certain way. I know Danny Glover will be good. But the fact that the best thing on screen was Beyonce tells you what I thought of this film.

Every time Eddie Murphy was on stage, I flashed right back to his James Brown In The Hot Tub skit from Saturday Night Live. I’m happy that a true comic genius is returning to the limelight, but this was in no way the vehicle for him.

Jennifer Hudson, who is garnering incredible acclaim for her voice and her backstory and her emotional, show-stopping singing, was the biggest disappointment. She sang her big number with arms shaking and voice screaming and we’re supposed to break out into applause? No thank you. She overacted, her character was only a victim of herself. She has a voice, yes, but she is no Best Supporting Actress.

Beyonce on the other hand is supernaturally attractive and had to have the largest character change of anyone. She is naive at first, insisting on having a chaperone accompany the girls on tour, she grows into her sexuality, she is thrust to the front of the group, begins to enjoy it, and becomes an almost Streisand figure by the end. All in a variety of wigs–each larger and wackier than the last. There is a scene of her in a recording booth, singing while she stares at Foxx who has turned into the inevitable cruel manager. That scene was better than anything else in the film to me.

I simply cannot see what all the fuss is about. There are no songs I can even remember, much less ones I want to hum around the house.

“Academy Snubs Dreamgirls” was the headline the day the Oscar nominations were announced. Thank goodness.

2006 Oscar Nominations:
~~Best Supporting Actor for Eddie Murphy
~~Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer Hudson
~~Best Art Direction

7.6 Metacritic
7.9 Rotten Tomatoes

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2006

January 20, 2007
DVD
USA
English
97 Minutes

A who’s who of independent and brave directors and producers lament the Motion Picture Association of America and their rating process. They are as secretive as the CIA, and have more power than a Federal Court. Film fans have lamented the double-standard of nudity and violence, and the double-standard of straight sex versus gay sex.

This is a film in two parts.

One part is a discussion of just how arbitrary the ratings are. We hear from Kevin Smith and Atom Egoyan and Darren Aronofsky and Maria Bello and Matt Stone and John Waters about their personal struggles with trying to figure out exactly what scenes warranted a NC-17 rating. Pubic hair? Thrusting? Non-heterosexual depictions? These questions are never answered directly.

The other, less effective, part of this film is trying to identify the members of the MPAA with the help of some private eyes who look like members of the local PTA. They do a good job and we have names, but I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do with them.

THE THIN BLUE LINE freed an unjustly convicted man from death row. SUPERSIZE ME made McDonald’s stop selling Super Size meals. Now this film has forced the MPAA to change the way it rates movies. That must be the best reward for a documentary filmmaker. Directors will be allowed, finally, to use previous films as precedence when arguing for a particular rating. It’s about time.

7.5 Metacritic
8.3 Rotten Tomatoes
*** Berardinelli

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2006

January 17, 2007
Campbell CA — Camera 7
UK
English
93 Minutes

Blanchett and Dench. What could go wrong? Also Bill Nighy. Great cast, wonderful acting. The film itself is a bit over the top, which I think is exactly what the filmmaker was trying to do. We hear flowery voiceover by Dench and an almost oppressive score that is so loud that I expected an explosion to go off. I think it’s all part of the romance story that Dench’s character is composing in her mind and in her diary. That a love as strong as her’s and Blanchett’s requires and deserves pontification and bombastic music.

I’m not sure exactly what Blanchett sees in the boy who eventually seduces or is seduced by her. I understand that she’s always been a rebel. We’re told this by way of her showing Dench a Souxie and the Banshees record. This affair messes up everyone’s life and Dench goes balistic after an appointment at a veteranarian’s office.

Everyone is good, but I think it’s best viewed as pure camp.

2006 Oscar Nominations:
~~Best Adapted Screenplay for Patrick Marber
~~Best Actress for Judi Dench
~~Best Supporting Actress for Cate Blanchett

7.3 Metacritic
8.6 Rotten Tomatoes

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(El Laberinto Del Fauno)
2006

January 17, 2007
Campbell CA — Camera 7
Mexico / Spain / USA
Spanish
112 Minutes

After you’ve seen PAN’S LABYRINTH, listen to the MichaelVox and Tassoula K. “Cinebanter” podcast, which is available here or at iTunes. But until then, here is a non-spoiler review.

I’m typically not a fan of fantasy films. I am not one of those people who defines movie-going as escape. And every trailer of this film highlights the scary monsters and unreality of the movie. I was surprised to find that more than half of the movie is about the Spanish army fighting rebels in the hills above a country mill where a ruthless man, Captain Vidal, has decided to live. A young girl accompanies her very pregnant mother to join the Captain after the death of her father. The mother has remarried and is about to give birth to what the Captain assumes will be a boy.

The Captain has little use for the young girl and she does her best to stay away from him. She escapes literally into the forest and figuratively into her imagination as she watches a book with blank pages begin to fill in with pictures and words.

There are incredibly scary creatures in her fantasy world, but are they scarier than Captain Vidal?

A scene that has the Captain sewing his own cheek up and then having a shot of whisky will stay with you forever.

Captain Vidal is played by Sergi Lopez, who you might recognize from WITH A FRIEND LIKE HARRY and DIRTY PRETTY THINGS. Mercedes, the maid who befriends Ofelia, is played by Maribel Verdu, who you probably won’t recognize as the incredible hottie who joins the teenagers on the road trip in Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN.

There was peril and a gross frog and a lumbering chase scene that had me at the edge of my seat.

This is the fourth highest rated film of all time at metacritic and obviously, that’s a bit much. 130 top ten lists? Nothing could live up to that hype and it isn’t exactly the best film of the 21st century. But the more I think about it, the more fondly I remember it.

The ending provides more questions than answers and there are many different ways to interpret what just been seen on the screen. The mark of a thoughtful piece of work.

2006 Oscar Nominations:
~~Best Foreign Film
~~Original Screenplay for Guillermo Del Toro
~~Cinematography for Guillermo Navarro
~~Art Direction

9.8 Metacritic
9.6 Rotten Tomatoes
**** Rosenbaum
A Schwartzbaum
A- Tobias
#81 IMDB

~~

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2006

January 10, 2007
Campbell CA — Camera 7
Spain
Spanish
121 Minutes

After you’ve seen VOLVER, listen to the MichaelVox and Tassoula K. “Cinebanter” podcast, which is available here or at iTunes. But until then, here is a non-spoiler review.

Overrated. I wanted to love it, but simply couldn’t. Cruz, while good, is in no way the equal to her four co-nominees for best actress. She is very good at crying gallons of tears. As with all Almodovar films, the women are strong and have little need for men. Not his best work by a long shot.

2006 Oscar Nominations:
~~Best Actress for Penelope Cruz

8.4 Metacritic

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(Hotaru No Haka)
1988

January 7, 2007
DVD
Japan
English
95 Minutes

I’ve heard that you can’t watch this film without crying the entire time. A young boy and his little sister try and survive in WWII Japan, using only their wits. They are orphans and spend their days trying to find food and a place to live where they aren’t a pest to others. It’s also animated beautifully.

But here’s the thing. I wasn’t brought in emotionally like I thought I’d be. It’s basically a realistic portrayal of what life would have been like for two youngsters. There isn’t much reason for this film to be animated. There are few flights of fancy. No dream sequences.

It looks beautiful, especially a scene where fireflies are caught.

What are we supposed to learn? That war was bad in Japan as well as America? Done.

8.9 Rotten Tomatoes

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2006

January 7, 2007
Camera Cinema Club
UK
English
95 Minutes

Just hand Peter O’Toole the Oscar now. Add up all the work he’s done (most famously in Lawrence Of Arabia where he was even prettier than Jude Law), look at his work in VENUS, as a slightly-less-famous actor, and give it to him. It’s the right thing to do. And even in a year where Ryan Gosling may have done the best job, it just seems more correct for O’Toole to cap a magnificent career with an award for VENUS.

The story is about retired, older English actors and how their vitality and health deteriorate as death looms near. He and his old friends spend their time in a coffee shop, looking through the obituaries for news of another friend’s death.

One of the men has his grandniece come live with him to help out around the house. She is unrefined and lazy and it’s more than the man can take. He begs O’Toole’s character to take her off his hands, which he does eagerly. He was something of a player in his younger days and he still has the ambition, if not the health, to pursue women of every age.

It could have turned sleazy, but somehow stays away from lecherousness somehow. O’Toole is no threat (he lets her know he’s impotent), and the two can learn something from each other.

Funnier and randier than you might expect. O’Toole is marvelous.

2006 Oscar Nominations:
~~Best Actor for Peter O’Toole

8.2 Metacritic

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2006

January 3, 2007
San Jose CA — Cinearts Santana Row
UK / USA
Italian / Romanian / English / Spanish
109 Minutes

After you’ve seen CHILDREN OF MEN, listen to the MichaelVox and Tassoula K. “Cinebanter” podcast, which is available here or at iTunes. But until then, here is a non-spoiler review.

Clive Owen is a government bureaucrat in London who is enlisted by his former lover to help a woman escape to the English coast and catch a boat to safety. It takes place in 2027 and the remarkable thing about this futuristic film is how I believed just about everything I saw as being plausible in the not-so-distant future.

Women are infertile and the youngest person in the world has died as the film opens. He was 18 years old. Fertility tests are mandatory. Illegal immigration is the worst possible offense. Suicide pills are dispensed over the counter to citizens who can’t handle what their world has become.

It is bleak and sad and depressing, but at the same time, the sheer movie-making creativity is envigorating. There were action sequences that are among the best I’ve ever seen, and battle scenes, which take place between the English army and a group of dissedents that are unbelievably tense and compelling. Owen stumbles over debris and dead bodies, avoids being shot by both government and rebel forces, people are cut down in front of him, snipers shoot from above and the army responds with tank cannon fire, often in continuous shots. It was a marvel to behold.

The whole thing is shot in a dingy green. It reminded me of the great BLOODY SUNDAY where the English army is marching through the streets of Ireland.

This film succeeded as an action/war film, an indictment of present-day politics, a realistic future story, and a reluctant good-guy against the odds drama. Throw in a bit about future religions, nationalism, and the miracle of childbirth and you have the recipe for something truly spectacular.

It is a barely exaggerated version of the world today. Everyone gets coffee from a chain in the morning, everyone watches entertainment news–on their computer screens during worktime, there is distrust and a profound lack of communication between humans (also seen in BABEL). Newspaper headlines, radio reports, and grafitti give us valuable information from the edges of the screen. We learn all we need to about Michael Caine and his wife from a short shot of a collection of newspaper clippings.

I loved it.

2006 Oscar Nominations:
~~Adapted Screenplay
~~Cinematography for Emmanuel Lubezki
~~Editing for Alfonso Cuaron & Alex Rodriguez

8.4 Metacritic
“The movie of the milenium” — Slate.
“The best movie of the year” — Washington Post.
“2nd best film of the year” — Chicago Tribune
A — LS Entertainment Weekly
A — KP Onion AV Club
A — PR Christian Science Monitor
***^ — MP Chicago Tribune
***^ — SS Premiere
***^ — MB Film Threat
*** Rosenbaum
*** Berardinelli

~~

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Written by Michael W. Cummins