mockturtle

IMDb member since November 2001
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    IMDb Member
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Reviews

The Strangers
(2008)

Movie Does Everything Wrong
I don't think there are any spoilers in this review but may as well CYA.

I don't know how this film is a 6.2 with all these 1 votes. People say there were a lot of 10/10 reviews of it listed from before the film came out. I believe it. Also, when I try to read those reviews by sorting in chronological order, it changes back to "best" order whenever I try to look at another page: shady.

Maybe the worst offense this film commits is that it just can't figure out what to do about phones and guns. There are plenty of ways to deal with phones and guns in horror movies: any other way than here. "My phone's dead" "I left my phone in my car" "my dead body should have a phone in the pocket but nobody checks." The gun. How about you wait until you have a clear shot? Or just walk out the door because...you have a gun? Hey honey, stay here in the house they can move into and out of all the time and in which locks and deadbolts magically move into and out of existence.

Bad bad bad. Bad bad. Bad bad bad. I mean, Liv Tyler was fine and the other dude, wasn't their fault.

Hannibal: Fromage
(2013)
Episode 8, Season 1

Goldberg Variations
More action than previous, nice fight sequence. At the end, the song Hannibal begins to play is the first of the Goldberg Variations (Bach).

This is notable because the best part of Ridley Scott's film of "Hannibal" (which was pretty awful) was the opening sequence of surveillance tape of Hannibal set to the Goldberg Variations. Boom.

Apparently I have to throw in a few more lines here so I will just note how weird an assertion it is that this takes place in the same universe as the other Bryan Fuller TV shows.

First of all, the piemaker would make some seriously Titus Andronicus pies here; second of all, he could just wake someone up and they'd say Hannibal! Although if that means we will get a Jewel Staite (Wonderfalls) sighting then I'm in.

Sucker Punch
(2011)

One of the worst films I have ever seen.
This is one of the worst films I have ever seen in my entire life.

I snuck into it because I didn't want to chance spending money on it.

I don't want to spend more time talking about it because that would waste more of my life, which I apparently value more than the people who worked on this movie.

Terry Gilliam should find a pretext to sue him for the insulting "Brazil" references. That's like having a Martha Graham routine referenced in a chlamydias prostitute's lapdance.

Scott Glenn once said that Vertical Limit was his most fulfilling movie experience...so there's obvs something wrong with him...the rest of these people, especially Jena Malone and Carla Gugino, have to think a little harder about their position in life.

Orphan
(2009)

One word: Awful
If you enjoy watching Law and Order:SUV or Criminal Minds or Hostel and you have been diagnosed as not a threat to those around you then you might enjoy "Orphan." A horribly made movie that isn't about the sexualization of children...but really is about that more than anything else. You can excuse it any way you want with any plot twists you want, but that is what this film is really about. I feel bad for all of the children for having to participate in this and I feel ashamed of Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard for involving themselves and eventually involving me because I watched it because they were in it. Little kids participating in murder and wanted to participate in sex, no matter what excuse you give, is sick exploitative $#!t.

Oh and it also was not scary.

Youth Without Youth
(2007)

Youth Without Recklessness
Admirable in its aims, "Youth Without Youth" does not come within a long-distance phone call of actually achieving a sustained rumination on any of its grab-bag of theories tossed into the blender. Tim Roth gives a solid performance (the way he takes time to regain the carriage of and begin walking like a younger man again is one of the film's highlights). There are several unintentionally laughable moments which will undermine critical reassessment as well, a badly photoshopped old picture, some terrible dialogue ("My cooperation with the Germans is symbolic only"? Symbolic of what? A chair?) and a performance by a leading lady that, while remarkably beautiful, is much more adept with dead languages than with English and in her solid incarnations comes across as inconstant and dippy, not the rock of The Greatest Love Story Ever Told this aspires to be. Additionally the film is hamstrung by telling rather than showing: Roth reads books through magic of some sort and constantly talks about finishing his book, which we see as marked binders going into safe deposit boxes, but we never get a taste of what the book is actually like. He's constantly telling us "I knew more than any of them, things they never even dreamed of," he just doesn't give examples. (It reminded me of the Ben Stiller/Jack Black/Owen Wilson pilot for "Heat Vision and Jack" where the sun turns Black into a genius and he shouts, "I…know…EVERYTHING!!!!").

If it weren't so enamored of its own obliquity it would be more possible to feel affection for such a determinedly weird effort, but there is an unbreachable distance between the events and the feelings. I feel that despite the small crew and fly-by-the-seat style, Coppola is still metaphorically in the big trailer he used to direct his films from, football fields or worlds away from the immediacy of the events he is relating.

Juno
(2007)

Heart overcomes quirk OD
I'm writing to provided some much needed balanced criticism. 99% of the reviews here are OMG! Or totally hating.

Let's dismiss the main hater point: The dialogue is not realistic, "nobody talks like that!" I'm sorry, but you'll have to point me to the carven letters on the tablets of screen writing that Robert McKee brought down from the Griffith Park Observatory in the Hollywood Hills to find the hoi-polloi worshiping the fake-golden skin of pornstars that say that your dialogue has to be realistic. If you want realistic dialogue go have a conversation, you'll see how exciting it is.

Now the good things: Ellen Page is radiant and perfect. All of the performances are top-notch across the board but it's obviously a starmaker for her. She brings out the vulnerability behind each of the tough stances and snappy remarks. Michael Cera is also perfect and hilariously ill-at-ease as the pursued ("whose idea was it?"). J.K. Simmons and Alison Janney do solid, sensitive and funny work as parents that are much more fiercely protective and supportive than their easy demeanor might suggest. The baby-belly is very realistic, too, so props to props.

Now the problems: Really what we have here is an okay script saved by excellent direction and performances. It obviously is frontloaded with too much quirk, but it helps that many of those early lines are actually funny. However, most of the heart that makes the whole thing worthwhile is provided by the actors and not the script. Paulie Bleeker has almost no distinguishing characteristics, there's no reason for Juno to be in love with him…except that it's Michael Cera. See what I mean? With even just a passable cast this would have been a disaster of the-kid-in-Little-Miss-Sunshine-wore-a-fatsuit proportions. The area that is not saved is the portrayal of the couple (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner). Bateman's performance gives the character a dignity that is completely lacking in the script, which uses him mainly as a joke about…Arrested Development. Oy. And he almost raises his son's kid, in TV-Movie cross-pollination. Anyway, it portrays the way Jennifer Garner's character freezes him completely out of the relationship and makes him live all of the parts of his life that matter to him in basements and closets as second to the outrage of HOW COULD HE NOT WANT A BABY??? It refuses to take his character seriously, as evidenced by his come-on to Juno, which crosses a line of reality. He's a guy that has compromised his dreams and is actually contributing, he's not some burnout, but they treat him like a stuck-in-the-90's joke. Then on the other side is Garner's character, a psychotic frigid control freak we're supposed to believe is going to be the best mother ever. I pity that kid and the incarceration that lies before it. The film seems to prefer a strange idea of a relationship and adulthood, where you get rid of anything you care about, live only for cheesecake colored paint, and if you don't you might be the sort of person that tries to mack it to a pregnant 16 year-old.

What is up with these baby saviors? Solondz should have released "Palindromes" this year.

Also: Diablo Cody (the stupidest name I've ever heard) is so disingenuous when she claims not to have ambition; she's obviously made of it. Plus: David Bowie wrote "All the Young Dudes," bears mentioning? In the end, this shows how good Jason Reitman really is (huzzah nepotism). I enjoyed and was invested in the film as it was happening, it was only later it began to bother me, but still whoever put it there "Juno" has a lot of heart and that's what carries the film.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
(2007)

Quite good, but not in comparison to the stage version.
1 - I can see how if you don't know Sondheim or this show how this film could blow your mind, and then you get to go see the DVD of the Hearn/Lansbury and find out it's even better (they should advertise that DVD). That said I have many quibbles, but one big point: they should have dropped "By The Sea" and included "Kiss Me" because without it A) You only see the lovers as a distraction and nuisance B) You miss out on the character of Johanna. Surprise surprise for people that have seen the movie and not the play, Johanna is an interesting character! Actually, a good production of this show will imply that she is as damaged in her own way as her parents. Cut lyrics: "Are you discussing or fussing/Or simply dreaming?/Are you crowing?/Are you screaming?" Then they show she's a hysteric at another point, and then she kills someone but I won't ruin that. But with the movie treating them as a nuisance and plot device there is a big hole.

2 – Cutting the Judge's song was regrettable, but I was more disappointed in Timothy Spall's shallow Mad Hatter take on the Beadle. It really has made me appreciate the recent Broadway revival performance by Alexander Gemignani that much more, he really made that character pop. I've never seen Tobias as a boy before, he's usually an idiot man-child, it was interesting but restrictive.

3 – Having Sweeney as a tenor (and a rock tenor at that) created an imbalance, everybody except the Judge had a thin, reedy voice, I felt like I might get a nosebleed. Bonham-Carter's voice especially did not live up to the large orchestrations behind it, the discrepancy during "The Worst Pies in London" was very jarring.

4 – By the Sea – yes it was funny, and I especially appreciated the opening image with a Seurat homage in the background, but you already had Pirelli for comic relief and we needed more character for Johanna instead. Also, again, they cut the best lyrics: By the sea, in our nest, we could share our kippers/With the odd payin' guest from the weekend trippers,/Have a nice sunny suite for the guest to rest in,/Now and then, you could do the guest in!

5 – I would have liked Depp's accent more if anyone else had the same one.

6 – the ending…why would you choose to go out with a whimper instead of a bang?

7 – positive things: The theater was packed, so kudos. The extreme gore that wasn't even a requirement was delightful, I was very impressed that instead of sugar coating it and allowing us to become complicit he instead made their actions more repellent and distanced us from the two of them at every occasion, especially with Sweeney, it was a brave choice. As I said above, these are quibbles, I'm glad they made the movie and that it's a success.

Dexter: Morning Comes
(2007)
Episode 8, Season 2

Location Location Location
I actually thought this show was shot in Miami, so how come the bowling took place at the place on Pico? Sure they have a nice beat pool table, but the place smells like burned coffee and popcorn...and it's on the wrong side of the country.

At this point the side characters are doing things that people just don't do. I'm starting to kind of hate Dexter's sister. The show forgets to answer what Lundy could possibly see in her. Doakes would have been locked into a rubber room for midgets a long time ago. It's funny, because many other shows have the problem of trying to resolve things too slow (see: Sopranos) to take up more time. This show makes things that should develop over an entire season take 10 minutes. At least the Dexter and Lundy are still doing their best.

House M.D.: Whatever It Takes
(2007)
Episode 6, Season 4

The low point so far this season
To the contrary, Foreman was right in his initial diagnosis, and he's right each time after, but the results are being manipulated.

I was very disappointed by all of the sexist dialogue from House in this one. Naming one of the prospectives "cutthroat bitch" is one thing, but add to it continually propositioning another professional and it's going far.

The worst is that now this wooden, boring CIA character is going to take the place of one of the well-developed and interesting "game-show contestant" characters. I personally wanted him to hire both "Cutthroat Bitch" and "13" at least, but now one more person has to go so a bigger "name" actor gets the part (though how Michael Michele is a bigger name than Kal Penn or Anne Dudek I'm not certain).

Sunshine
(2007)

I'd like to go for a walk outside now/But I can't handle the pain!
Tasha Robinson over at the AV Club coined the phrase "cast-attrition thriller" to describe this film and it is very apt (so apt I didn't realize she just came up with it). When you come down to it, this film didn't have the courage of its convictions, or the depths of its pretensions (using pretension positively almost to mean "aspiration"). If this film had never involved people running from the sun and burnt-up weirdos and suicide etcetera it would have been much much better. Instead there are a lot of new-age-y generic spiritual statements about sunshine that never amount to anything much beyond "it's real pretty and there might be something more to it than that." None of the characters even have a back-story, much less a story; they all just have allotted traits doled out at about one per person. Aggressive guy, caring girl, moral man, man of science, cowardly lion, ms. ambivalent, etcetera. Then there are some situations which are meant to be meaningful but fall short: if Rose Byrne isn't willing to vote for killing the guy, why doesn't she offer herself instead? Then they can find the other guy has done it already, but take a stand! Another problem is that the character's strange feelings about the sun never spur them to do anything like what happens to the crazy captain of the other ship. No sun ever talks to any of them. The only reason they don't carry out their mission is because their math-guy messes up and doesn't have anyone to double-check his work (which is unlikely). And then Icarus doesn't think it's worthwhile to mention there's a new person on the ship until someone thinks to ask. And how about the psych-screenings for these astronauts? And why can't they just add another 100 years to the timeframe in this or in Minority Report? There's no way we'll have that technology in 50 years.

The visuals are spectacular and Boyle certainly knows how to just make a movie entertaining. He delves into his bag of tricks to keep tension during exposition, blasting you with light, near-subliminal cuts, etcetera. While the limitations of the material do not allow for any great performances he at least gets competence all around (even from Chris Evans, who thankfully avoids the case of the Facinellis he's threatening to come down with, although I don't buy him as macho-macho man, he's too short, and while everyone is fawning over his "gravitas" I thought he came across mainly as petulant, they just like his beard).

This film really can't avoid comparisons with "Supernova" and "Event Horizon," both of which squander early conceptual strengths by falling back on "picked off one by one" plot mechanics and "trait-allotment" characters then succumb to awful audience-tested or arrived-at-by-committee endings. At least it's better than Soderbergh's "Solaris" remake, "Armageddon" and "The Core." I really wish this film had been directed by Douglas Trumbull or Chris Marker.

It's a shame, because "Millions" seemed to suggest Boyle had at last found the consistency that has thus far eluded him from film to film and often within the same movie; it is all the more disappointing because of the great potential in the material. For example: there are hints of a relationship between Capa and Cassie; in the original script there was a "sex in the greenhouse" scene that was cut. So it was either sex or nothing. They couldn't just show them showing affection, or even just huddling close for comfort. Chris Evans' character first volunteers Capa for a life-threatening mission, then sacrifices 2 lives to make sure he's safe. That bipolar blindness comes close to explaining why it fails as a thought-provoking movie, because we aren't really given any reason to believe the sun is really talking to the crazy captain and he never gives an adequate explanation of why it wouldn't want to be re-powered if he's doing its will, it just trusts that he says he's been talking to it so we'll think he might have been and presto: deeper movie with an excuse to rehash old "hunt and peck" tropes. Boyle needs: A) a better writer B) to do more adaptations and C) to make longer movies, strange to say; both this one and "28 Days Later" gave me scriptlash (ooo, I just made that up, too, deeelicious).

However, as I said the visuals are stunning (as is the glitchy music), the shots of eyes and the sun never get old, and Murphy's performance as a "greater-good" scientist is pleasingly off-center as always. His best moment in the film: everyone turns to him to make the big important decision that could kill them all and he says, exhaling under his breath…"$#it." This will be remembered as an ultimately unsatisfying film that seems to know it is failing, and tries to make it look like it's failing because it's trying to do too much, when it actually isn't trying to do enough.

Shrek the Third
(2007)

It's official: Mike Myers isn't funny.
The difference between the pretend laughter we dredge up at our corny uncle's bad jokes and the forced laughter of several thousand CGI characters is that our uncle isn't being paid millions of dollars to not be funny. "Do they come in women's sizes?" Does that qualify as a joke that wouldn't be heard in dinner theatre? The songs they use in this one don't even make any sense: "Live and Let Die" at a funeral? It's a James Bond song that Guns 'n Roses covered, it isn't a freaking funeral dirge, to me it's more about maybe an idealistic character who, when presumed to be soft, kicks your @$$. Not for a tearjerking funeral. And, yeah, what is with the extra "in" anyway? They could just stretch out "World" and make it "world which we live in." Antonio Banderas and Eddie Murphy have some funny moments, and there are a few good sight gags, but it's sunk from the lack of a charismatic lead. Myers is on such auto-pilot that you can hear him cracking himself up at times, not realizing that he isn't being funny. The problem maybe stems from something he said while he was on that "Inside the Actor's Studio" lovefest: he doesn't think there's a difference between a fart joke and sophisticated humour (and justifies it by saying that Shakespeare did both). Well, Mike, they aren't the same. They can both have their place in the same work and one can bring relief from another, but that's no reason to just settle for the fart joke because it's easier, you're lazy, and they're the same thing, they're not. I think that Myers lost all his talent between Austin Powers 2 and 3, there was still some there in 2 but by the time he threw a 3 minute Pepsi commercial into the 3rd one it was all gone. Then when everyone saw him with Kanye West and then heard he's going to play Keith Moon (who died at 32 and Myers is now 44) we all had to remind ourselves he ever had any talent at all. Well this isn't going to contravene that impression.

Anyway, the movie is a hunk 'o junk because of the lack of effort put into it. Myers should stop doing "movies" and go into commercials full time. He turned a character that was likable for being genuinely unlikeable and edgy and turned it into an inoffensive, unfunny shiller of happy meals. Otherwise known as a Canadian.

Waitress
(2007)

Sense...then sentimentality
I have been a big Adrienne Shelly fan since her early Hal Hartley movies and also saw her uneven but touching "I'll Take You There," where she brought out the screwball in Ally Sheedy without sacrificing her edge. Here she brings out a deeply funny, authentic and moving performance from Keri Russell, a performer I did not dislike but never thought a lot of before this film. She also casts the rest of the people impeccably, A#1 being Andy Griffith;if you've ever seen "A Face in the Crowd" you know that he is one of the titanic largely untapped acting talents of the last century. His scenes with Ms. Russell make up the true heart of this small but mighty film. Jeremy Sisto is perfect as well, his character is not given any background beyond the fact that he changed after marriage, but Sisto constant vulnerability mixed with his monstrosity and telling lines like "I've never had anybody belong to me before," seem to indicate that he became drunk with the power of authority when he entered the marriage and his own fragile sense of power caused him to be the (often hilarious, as with the car honking, often terrible, as with the physical violence) broken, absurd and terrible person he is in the film. Eddie Jemison shines in a part that is really risky, he has to be even more overbearing than Sisto's character, but to be the exact opposite, to be actually worthy. Shelly herself and Cheryl Hines are solid in their support (Shelly is adorable), but keep the spotlight firmly on Ms. Russell. Nathan Fillion has been perfect in everything I've ever seen him in, and his open and unpretentious, handsome semi-doofus-but-convincing-as-a-doctor character shows a broader range than his heretofore role as a sort of new-wave Bruce Campbell.

Unfortunately the film loses its footing towards the end with sentiment overtaking the sensibilities preceding it. A maudlin and manipulative mother-daughter song is obviously ADR and not source, and it relies upon the old "everything changes when you see your baby" switcheroo. Then she leaves the hospital without even checking on Old Joe, who just gave her tons of money and is currently in a coma (presumably because to have him just dead would be…what, too much of a downer? A coma is better?), then she buys the pie shop and takes Joe's name off it, which doesn't seem very nice. She gives up any chance for a balanced life and lives entirely for her daughter, who she dresses like a doll and then dresses up the same as. She also ditches the doc who, while married to a good person, obviously loves her more than his wife.

It is through the outright charm of Fillion and Ms. Russell that the entire affair is able to come across as not-as-not-right as it is. But for it to go nowhere brings back the creepiness about it they managed to turn away. The whole first 2/3 of the movie is pretty excellent, but I can't ignore that I was really let down by the way it all wrapped up. Up until that point there is a sense of genuine feeling and a level-headedness about, for example, how difficult it must be to leave even someone like Earl and everything you know, not just making it seem easy. Then at the end she just does it, he is dragged off, apparently never gives her more trouble and it actually was just that easy.

Ms. Shelly was undeniably very very talented and her death is a great loss to the film community (and so sad that the little girl at the end is hers), maybe her next one would have been 3/3 excellent. I think I'm going to go eat some pie now.

28 Weeks Later
(2007)

Mayor of Zombiebridge
First thing that needs saying is that this was much much much better than the average sequel, but no not as good as the original.

Do yourself a good turn: go rent "The Claim" by Michael Winterbottom, based on "The Mayor of Casterbridge" by Thomas Hardy and you'll see exactly how sly the overall template of this story is.

Fresnadillo does not quite equal his fascinating "Intacto" but his stuff is sure worth watching and will undoubtedly stay that way.

Nice to see Stringer Bell and Augustus Hill, Danny Boyle must watch HBO.

Okay, the compliments out of the way, there are so many coincidences in this movie and the mechanics so poorly fumbled (not the cinematics, those are uniformly excellent) that it was hard to appreciate the morality play. Is there some sort of zombie telepathic APB? Why would they all know to go to Regent's Park? How could Robert Carlyle follow a speeding Volvo all around London? If the mother is infected and not cleared from quarantine yet would she maybe have 1 guard? Why would they put all of the civilians in an area that isn't actually secure? It's all lazy plot mechanics.

Now. I know everyone has fun with the topical story: nuclear family, US army, blah blah blah. Look further into it. If these two stupid kids never left the safe zone the mother never would have been found and the virus would be over. If the good people trying to get a cure for the virus figured out they were allowing the kid to bring the virus to the outside world, the virus would be over. It's almost like the Lars von Trier film "Epidemic" where a doctor goes around trying to fight a plague that he is carrying around with him unknowingly. A little compassion goes a long way to ending the world. People have been asking on here: would you kill 10 people to save 1000? Well would you kill 10 to save 1? If these people accepted that they should be purged for the safety of humanity, humanity wouldn't die. And the girl (Ms. Poots, teehee) knows her brother has an infection that can cause what she's seen but she doesn't want to admit her worldview is flawed, her selfishness dooms the world.

The two kids are completely selfish and stupid, they get person after person killed and don't care a whit, then they get everyone killed and don't care. They are reunited with their father and don't really care (and call him a janitor), they blame him for their mother without knowing one way or another just because they're brats. I guess it's appropriate these are the people that would be the cause of the apocalypse.

Now that's over: having Carlyle become a zombie then was really excellent and shocking. Way to go.

Problem with this one is that the zombies in Romero still have some kind of inner world beyond zombiehood and these ones don't (and screw you, they're zombies). So you can't really have Muggleston (is that his real name?) grow up to be the Dune Zombie Messiah in 28 months later, they don't really have the potential; but it's still cool that they run.

Just like in the Spielberg "War of the Worlds" it is always interesting to see our view of exactly how quickly everything everywhere could go to hell.

Wonderland
(2000)

Very Intense, Not That Good
In the pilot episode of "Wonderland" an unborn baby is stabbed in the head by a violent psychotic that has just shot 5 people on a street corner yet is inexplicably being treated right next to them (and sharp objects) instead of being isolated. The viewer is treated to people repeating things louder and louder and over and over without anyone doing anything to contain their acting out. It's all very dark and intense, but it feels sensationalistic and pretty hollow. They assembled a great cast and it has tempted many to say it was too brilliant to last, but it didn't seem very brilliant and I don't feel compelled to watch more of it.

Wonderfalls
(2004)

You bastards!!! or Brilliant and Cancelled, the story of FOX.
In this case I am depressed to disagree with The Onion AV Club's dictates regarding Wonderfalls. They say it wasn't going anywhere and it's okay it was cancelled. After liking the first few episodes with reservations (the boy is puppy-dog-ish but not actually interesting, the episode music is horrible - not the theme music, that's good, I mean the crappy radio rock in the background - and, principally, the episodes are totally interchangeable in much the same way many of the "Dead Like Me" episodes were - except worse there where they would introduce entirely new interesting characters /george's friend at the college/ and completely throw away the story line with no trace the next episode), I was looking forward to a decline in quality that would make me sigh in resignation at the end of the season. Instead the AV Club is way wrong and the episodes begin to have lots of continuity and gain in A) emotional weight B) technical dexterity and especially C) great directors. The second to last episode is directed by the incredible Jeremy Podeswa (watch Six Feet Under and learn his name); and the last episode is directed by MICHAEL LEHMANN. Yes, MICHAEL LEHMANN. It is a sign from beyond the grave (40 days and 40 nights, Because I Said So) that his talent is not yet dead (Heathers, and go look him up too). Bryan Fuller creates another remarkable heroine in Caroline Dhavernas, someone who really does not want to be a better person but the universe is forcing her to become one. Just like with Ellen Muth in "Dead Like Me" her problems hit me a little too close to home (averted eyes and smirk to discourage contact? ouch). Whereas Muth has a restless intellect going for her, Dhavernas has that she is hypnotically beautiful and handles the offspeed pitch especially well (read: demonstrates emotional change moment to moment in a skilled and controlled yet natural way). Her backup might not be Mandy Patinkin, but even if Tracie Thoms went to Juilliard and still throws in "up in her grill" "come correct" etcetera (did you see "Grindhouse"? Don't.) this is a part she is well suited for. Lee Pace seems wasted at first but as the episodes get better it's obvious how much better he is than the early material. Kate Finneran is strong throughout and makes some of the early episodes seem better than they are. The parents are strong also, but not the focus. There are several excellent guest turns, especially Louise Fletcher(!), Rue McClanahan, Beth Grant and the adorable and sadly departed Kellie Waymire. I want a wax lion.

This show requires an ability to handle a LOT of quirk, a lethal dose for some, but FOX was wrong to axe it, as usual those bastards. However there are some ill elements to the show: it uses Judaism and Lesbianism as a punchline and has some rather strange and revolting overall references ("he's ready for your jelly!"; comparisons in the tastes of saliva). It's like "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," just when it's getting even better: death. Thanks, FOX. You heartless bastards.

The Wire
(2002)

The best show on television.
One of the good things about "The Wire" is that it's only human. There are occasionally one or two characters that are cartoons, there are occasionally situations that are cliché, there are occasionally scenes that ring false. The fact that they are so easily identifiable and so readily apparent speaks to the insanely high quality of 99.7% of the series. You get stuck with Ziggy, but you get a Nick, you get Namon's mother but you also see Randy's foster mother that does nothing but good and is not rewarded for it.

Looking down the cast list I find that I can tell you more than a paragraph about over 100 different characters as real as if I knew them in person. Situations that are only conceptual (Season 3) play out in such a thoroughly convincing manner, just everything about it feels so true and so real that you find yourself rooting for a stick-up guy like Omar, a junkie informant like Bubbles, so many characters you actually care for and worry about, it's as involving as any book, movie or anything can get. This is the best that TV has been, thinking ahead, getting you to invest and never cheating you, bringing you into a world you cannot go into yourself; you even have sympathy for characters like Marlo's enforcer Chris, who you never see do a single thing you can characterize as not-really-that-bad. You appreciate Stringer Bell trying to turn it into a bloodless business, you appreciate Bodie for being a loyal soldier even when he'd never do that work in the name of the law. You see the mindset of the higher-ups and how many stars have to come into alignment for ANYTHING to EVER get DONE. They don't just TELL you that these guys, Kima, Bunk, McNulty, Freamon, etc., are good police, they show them doing things you probably never would have thought of (the season 1 scene of McNulty and Bunk, consisting of one colorful word and it's many wonderful uses about 100 times and that's it, might be the best 5 minutes of television ever). The private lives of the detectives are a little more prone to cliché (Kima and McNulty's never-going-to-be-pleased others), but there are only so many stories to tell when it comes to that. I'd been told to watch this show for years and I just started and wound up burning through all 4 seasons in 2 weeks, I was addicted. So many brilliant performances from the leads all the way to kids in the classrooms and on the corners that don't have any lines at all.

Odd numbered seasons are best.

Inserting here that the product placement for Verizon and UnderArmour was pathetic. But if that's what it takes...

Total immersive viewing, smarter and more incisive than anything else. If TV was this good I'd never feel the need to read a book or watch a film ever again...scary good. Please just keep renewing this show. Lester Freamon is the greatest detective alive! As Clay Davis would say: "Sheeeeeeeeiii."

Grindhouse
(2007)

Murder Porn.
I was surprised that, of the two, Rodriguez's was more entertaining. Tarantino seems so in love with his unimpressive dialogue (especially an interminable exchange about "Ship's Captain") that he forgot to make a movie. Somehow the main players, Rose McGowan, Rosario Dawson, Kurt Russell, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, etc., came off pretty well anyway, and some of the supporting players, esp. Jeff Fahey and Josh Brolin, came off better than well. But even Rodriguez's entry was pretty terrible and curiously uninvolving. My main problem with the whole thing was the trailer for "Thanksgiving." There is no way something that sexually violent would have played in a trailer, and it probably never would have been allowed to be seen. I've seen some pretty messed up stuff, but the knife through the trampoline and the last shot of the cooked woman with a baster were pretty close to evil, and I am not a religious person. I really think these murder pornography images are only half a reflection of the world under W. The other half is people that think showing someone being murdered for half an hour is artistic freedom. Eli Roth is at the top of this list, his movies are crappy and they're successful because of the murder porn. I just hope these filmmakers contract some sort of social responsibility virus soon and stop lovingly photographing severed legs flopping onto the pavement, or creating characters and getting us to care about them and then peeling their heads off (both from "Death Proof"). Is this the Tarantino that satirized Oliver Stone with "Coming Home in a Body Bag"?

And if Tarantino is such a feminist hero, why did the girls leave their cheerleader-dressed friend to be assaulted by Tom Joad? What, at the start of the movie they're callous but killing Kurt Russell makes them grow as people, is that the arc?

Nothing more really needs to be said, they set out to make bad movies and Tarantino won; they just didn't make them enjoyable. The worst thing is that all of these reviewers piled on to spray deodorizer on this crappy movie and now they're baffled that it didn't do better. It didn't do better because it was bad, people were right to see "Blades of Glory" instead. Tarantino will bounce back; the emperor is wearing clothes, he just made a terrible movie.

Midnight Madness
(1980)

Takes me back
I saw this movie maybe once on cable at 2am 20 years ago. And yet I remember "88 Keys" and Pabst Blue Ribbon and that damned theme song. Andy Tennant IS the Andy Tennant director of unendurable movie (Fools Rush In) after unendurable movie (Ever After) after unendurable movie (Anna and the King, Hitch).

I love how IMDb puts Goofs up for this movie like it was attempting to be for consideration.

Of course this movie is probably an honest 4 rating, but I give it an 8 because of how much fun you'll have watching it. The blaring colors, the unsubtle product placement, the computer that answers real life questions, roller skates, the "zany" "antics." In fact I might see if it's on sale in a Kmart bin right now.

24
(2001)

Defying Logic, Defining Depravity.
"24" is engaging, but reprehensible. The main problem with the show is that while it tries to balance right wing raving with centrist (what it thinks of as left wing) ideology it comes off as the same "fair and balanced" as the Fox News network. As evidenced by the fact that the show is a favorite among Bushies I advance that while a centrist or leftist watching the show might see the bigot beating up the Arab kid (Kal Penn) in the 2007 season who happens to actually be a terrorist and glean for the moment the dramatic irony of the situation, the Cheneys of the world are rooting for the bigot to take Kal's head off even if he isn't a terrorist because that's "security." Yes, I am saying that it depresses me to see even the lip service the show gives to balance because I know that the other side is simply too stupid to see it that way, and it hampers my enjoyment of what is essentially a dumb visceral show. The people on this show should not take part in it because they think their "nuance" and that of the show is being caught, but it doesn't matter that I get it, I ALWAYS get it, it's the people that watched that other season where the leftist son of the secretary of defense almost destroyed the country because he was a crypto-homosexual, THOSE are the messages that last; and Kal Penn willing to be on this show to show that the Arab or Indian next door could be your enemy, participating in something like this should merit punishment worse than casting in "Rise of the Taj." Oh, and Jack looks like he's in "Sling Blade" at the beginning of 2007 with that buttoned up shirt.

Children of Men
(2006)

Best Film of 2007
It's easy to come up with a snappy snarky review of a bad movie (Babel) or even a good but flawed movie (too many to mention), but it is hard to entertainingly praise a movie so I won't really try. This is the best film of 2007 (that I saw, anyway...let's restrict it to "Best in contention for Oscar"). All the elements aligned, perfect casting both of stars and unknowns (what a surprise, Julianne Moore has a dead child again!) especially Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Caine, Peter Mullan and Claire Hope-Ashitey, unbelievable cinematography (I was fooled into thinking it was one take), a lead performance that is a mammoth of slowly skinned disaffectedness by Clive Owen, a cracking script that balances visuals and terse effective dialogue, moments that are frankly terrifying (the attack on the car, the hood pulled over the face), and the courage to leave the ending hopeful without saving the main character.

Only qualm: You should have saved the main character. There was really no reason for the story to demand that he sacrifice himself, having him die and not even see that the boat came didn't really say anything, let the dude live.

A great film by an imaginative, intelligent, deferential, groundbreaking director who should stop being friends with that jackass Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Keep 'em coming.

The Last King of Scotland
(2006)

Absurd.
Forest Whitaker's performance is all the more impressive for making it almost worthwhile to sit through this dreck. "Historical fiction" does not justify changing history. The absurdity begins from the ground up with the imaginary lead character played by James McAvoy. To create a fictional observer for the purpose of giving the reader a point of connection in the book is regrettable, regrettable that white people can't just read a book without a white protagonist to connect to, but at least he was placed in a somewhat passive role. Making up a fake historical actor and crediting this fiction with exposing Amin to the world is irresponsible, lazy and stupid. Not making the actions of this creation believable or even sane is just criminal, and has opened the door for movies like the one they're planning to make with Leonardo DiCaprio as a heroic Enron whistleblower who NEVER EXISTED. The logic of the world does not apply in this film where some Scottish kid thinks its okay to sleep with the wife of a murderous dictator. It doesn't apply where the wife of the dictator desires to sleep with some stupid scrawny irresponsible white boy. For that matter EVERYBODY is lined up to sleep with this scrawny, irresponsible, arrogant white boy, he even has Gillian Anderson licking her comely chops.

Let me declare, I do not like James McAvoy. I'm not sure what it is about him, but I thought his Mr. Tumnus in Narnia was creepy and pervy. I think that Kerry Washington would never look twice at him so I can't believe that the wife of a powerful dangerous man like Amin would risk and lose her life for him. I don't believe him as a Doctor, and I just don't see the appeal. His character seems to have far more arrogance than would make sense, and trying to make him look like a badass in shooting the cow was just...there's that word again...absurd. Think about it, you are watching all of these characters bend themselves into knots in order to accommodate this unbelievable main character and there never was such a guy.

Gillian Anderson looks incredible and sounds more British than most Brits. Whitaker gives a great expansive magnetic performance, and highlighted, with his incomprehensible pre-Oscar speeches, just how much he was acting. It's a shame the film around him had no reason to exist.

Babel
(2006)

Nothing is connected.
I think it was in "New York" Magazine that a writer coined the phrase "Sudoku" movies to describe this film and last year's even worse and even more awarded "Crash." You take a bunch of story lines, throw them in a blender, have people run into other people in meaningful ways that are meaningless and >pow< the world has a theme. "Crash" took place in an imaginary world where all anyone ever thinks about is race and stealing titles from superior David Cronenberg movies. "Babel" cannot even boast that connecting theme, it is just a movie about people doing really stupid things. Hey, let's drive home drunk across the US Border in the middle of the night with two white kids. Let's run from five-o, that'll work out. Hey, let's try firing live ammunition at buses. Then there are the wonderful "that would never happen" things, like Rinko Kikuchi's character, such a stunner that we are invited to ogle her time and time again, but those mean Japanese boys won't sleep with her. Right. I can't decide, was it racist or ethnicist to have the little Arab boy spying on his naked sister? Oh, and the entire thing falls on its face because A) the maid can't come up with a SINGLE place to put the kids, doesn't the couple have ANY friends? and B) she doesn't own a cellphone. "Cancel your son's wedding." Right. Funny that out of the big three Mexican directed films, this is easily the worst and easily the most recognized. Watching the three of them together and watching Inarritu condescend to Cuaron and del Toro, his vast superiors, and now the argument with Arriaga over who came up with this junk to begin with. Just sad. And what a boring boring boring overlong over-important windbag of a movie. The sort of thing that makes you reassess his previous films and wonder if there wasn't much there to begin with.

Little Miss Sunshine
(2006)

Most Overrated Picture of the Year
Throw a bunch of characters together, each with one characteristic amplified to the point of grotesqueness and you have most of the middling movies from the faux-indieville of the last decade. Distilling them all down into one bewilderingly crowd-pleasing debacle, we have Best Picture nominee "Little Miss Sunshine." Never mind that the actual best picture of the year "Children of Men" was only nominated for one thing, the Oscars are a crock, but let me let some of the air out of your VW bandwagon tires, ye of too much misplaced faith: Paul Dano: Why doesn't Paul Dano talk? Because of Nietzsche. Man, that's hilarious. Wait. Did Nietzsche say anything about not talking that makes this funny? No? Oh, I get it, it's shorthand for pretentious existentialism that the audience can laugh at and feel superior to.

Why would someone that reads Nietzsche want to join the US Military? I'm not saying it's impossible, just unlikely, but we at least could have an explanation.

How would he never have been tested for color-blindness? Impossible.

Steve Carrell: Have you ever noticed that in order to make a general audience understand that someone is smart they always use shorthand? If you're a scientist, you can't just be a great and respected scientist, you have to have won a Nobel. Writers have to have the Pulitzer. And Carrell's character has to be the top Proust scholar in the world. And those repeated gay jokes? Just a way for the writer to try to get away with them. And they weren't funny.

They happen to run into the second top Proust scholar in the world at a gas station. Right.

Greg Kinnear: They seem to have forgotten to equally distribute the dysfunction. The Kinnear character is the only one that really causes strife in the family. His character is abusive, grating, repetitive, unbelievably and not funny. Most of this isn't Kinnear's fault. But a lot of it is. They would all be happy if they got rid of him at the beginning of the movie.

Toni Collette: She is supposed to be the anchor of the family and she does a good job. But she doesn't convey to us why she is married to this guy, and she isn't playing anything most of the time, they forgot to give her a character. Her trait is "level headed" and that's it.

Alan Arkin: I'm not sure why it's funny or endearing that we find out a grandfather has had his granddaughter dancing for him like a stripper for months.

Abigail Breslin: How exactly did she win runner-up at the previous competition? I really can only think of two moments in this whole movie where I actually laughed, one was in response to Carrell's droll delivery of one of the many sub-par lines he rose above; the other was when Olive screamed upon finding out she made the competition. And by the way SHE WAS WEARING A FAT SUIT!!!

I stress that I did not walk into this film with preconceived notions, except what it says about a film these days when it has been a hit at Sundance. It was simply not fair that a middling, terribly written movie like this cynically manipulating the format of indie-lite was so highly and undeservedly praised.

Breach
(2007)

"Close the door on the way out (I wish to spend more time alone with Mrs. Douglas)."
the best shudder inducing moment since in the remake of Lolita where Dominique Swain asks for change to activate the "Magic Fingers" bed-shaker in their cheap motel room and Jeremy Irons asks mock-forlornly, "Aren't my magic fingers good enough for you." And the audience silently vomits, inside.

While it does not quite make the impression of "Shattered Glass" (perhaps it would if he did this first) it is still a welcome site in the February wasteland because of its intelligence and professionalism. Hanssen is the main attraction, but to get him we have to follow the "Last King of Scotland" formula of watching someone much less interesting the majority of the time. At least in this case the person actually existed (as opposed to the execrable "Last King of Scotland," though I wonder how many actions of many were telescoped into him for plot purposes. Laura Linney, Dennis Haysbert and Gary Cole really aren't given much to do, but their suggestion of warmth and personability in such a dead-cold environment gives a good contrast to Hanssen's ice.

The final shot of Hanssen (though this is not really a spoiler) is really the crux of the movie for me, it shows him stripped of his initial high bluster and bravado (in his tour de force "explanation" to Haysbert) and shows the damned soul he really is, and all the good his cleverness has done him. He has what he wants, everyone knows he was the smart one who pulled it off, and since then he's been in solitary confinement for a decade. I'm sure he heard a film was being made about him (if he is anything like portrayed in the movie), one can only imagine that at this point that must be a cold comfort. I do wonder if he had anything to do with his own capture, in reality, wanting the credit. A real conspiracy theory is that he wanted to be caught to make the new republican administration look good.

My only reservation, aside from some slow pacing that I felt the overall momentum of the plot compensated for, was the storyline of the wife. Why, in all of these movies, does the wife character always try to make the secret agent tell her what his job is when the whole point of his job is that he can't? Are there people really dumb enough to stand upon that after having been given the particulars? Did he used to come back and chat about acquired terrorist targets? "Officially commit treason or we're getting a divorce" is absurd and felt absurd as a plot device to ratchet up the tension on Phillippe's pretty uninteresting character and competent-but-no-further performance. Also, they made his character's skills (the best at tracking the targets, the only one who could get Hanssen to talk) a little over-aggrandized, if it's all true they should have given him a cape, not a desk.

Anyway, it is intelligent, intellectually if not emotionally engaging, serious-minded, and 1000% better than anything released in the last month and a half. Watch it for Cooper.

Kaidan
(1964)

Underwhelmed
I was very disappointed by this movie, especially because of the excellent mise-en-scene and its reputation. The problem is that the stories do not hold together. If they were morality plays, and I'm not saying they were, they can be broken down as follows by episode: I) Don't make mistakes that you don't know are mistakes at the time, and if you realize you've made a mistake…don't try to make amends? II) If someone says don't repeat something…don't repeat it. Incidentally, don't marry a demon, because they have a thing for dumb, cute country boys. Or maybe do, because they apparently make great housewives. III) It's hard to make a living as a biwa player. I take this moral from the final line of the story, that Hoichi became a wealthy man. Because what's the point of soothing lost souls if there isn't a yen in it? Oh, and also, don't listen to priests because they don't know what they're talking about and they're real Nosey Parkers. IV) Ummm…if you see a ghost in your tea…brew a new pot of tea? The guard never asks why the ghost showed up or who he is, and then the three retainers say that the ghost is wounded and recovering but they are each speared but return unharmed. Oh, and when he tells his other guards (who presumably believe in spirits) about the guy vanishing through the wall they don't believe him at all. I would have been a fan of the glacial pacing if the director showed some ability to vary it, to make apparent that it is a conscious decision instead of just glacial pacing; about half the time it contributes to the atmosphere but the other half it contributes to finger-tapping. I really can't stress enough how pointless the final story was. Why the heck was he in a bowl of tea? Wouldn't you remark upon that to your fellow guardsman, like "Hey, Zatoichi Jr., there's a dude in my bowl of tea!"? And that ending. Oy.

When you completely divorce these stories from the film and look at them as abstract meditations on the nature of storytelling they are very intellectually simulating. It is a shame they were not able to transfer that into a consistent and engaging whole. It is visually ravishing, especially the battle on the water and the snow-effects, but if your movie can't fully realize all of the elements cinema then it doesn't deserve the high praise heaped upon it. Watch Kurosawa's "Dreams" and tell me why he didn't get budgets like this one.

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