September 30, 2007

REVIEW: In the Shadow of the Moon (A)

Background: In the early 1970's, NASA's lunar program ended and space travel was replaced by space fantasy, with the Star Wars trilogy and the "Star Wars" Strategic Defense Initiative of the Cold War. Then, in 1995, Ron Howard's excellent Apollo 13 struck a nerve with the American public, and a new generation was awe-inspired by the idea of landing on the moon. In the Shadow of the Moon is the latest of a string of related documentaries that have followed since then (many produced by Howard), and it features interviews with the surviving astronauts from the Apollo program, including those on Apollo 11 & 13, two of the most famous missions. The film is directed by David Sington (PBS's NOVA) but "presented" by Ron Howard (with no production credit - ?), and it is meant to give us the first-hand experience from the Apollo astronauts, many of whom you may not even know. Do you know many Americans have traveled to the moon? 24. I had no idea there was a period of time when the U.S. was landing on the moon every six months.

Synopsis: Beginning at the height of the space race in the late 1950's, Sington makes it clear that beating the Soviet Union was a major priority, urgently outlined in JFK's goal (in 1961) to have a successful U.S. manned lunar landing by the end of the decade. We see the early struggles, tragedies, and triumphs, culminating in a detailed recounting of the Apollo 11 mission, which was the first to land on the moon on July 20, 1969. Astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins take us through the training, launch, landing, and return to earth. Later Apollo astronauts describe their lunar experiences, hopes, dreams, and spiritual beliefs. By the end, we have a much better sense of what it would feel like to be an astronaut, but still no clue as to how we actually figured out how to visit other planets. It's mind-boggling.

I Loved:
+ The incredible, mostly never-before-seen archival footage, from training sessions at NASA to shuttle cameras to lunar landings.
+ That the focus was on the astronauts' experiences, and not on technical aspects of space travel or history lessons or conspiracy theories.
+ The last section of interviews, when the astronauts share their deeply personal philosophies on life and spirituality, and how they were influence by the experience of being on another planet.

I Liked:
+ The excellent musical score.
+ The quality of some of the footage, so clear that it's hard to believe it was filmed with the technology of the era - really, it's hard to believe...

I Disliked:
- That Neil Armstrong, the first human in history to set foot on another planet, is not interviewed. His fellow astronauts speak so highly of him that you are desperate to hear what he was experiencing. Apparently, he is "reclusive" and has been reluctant to bear his soul to the public.
- The intermixing of tense and possession - all of the astronauts are saying "we" and "I" even when their mission is not being discussed, so it's hard to remember who was doing what with whom on which mission.
- Not learning more about the astronauts' current circumstances, or why the Apollo mission program ended so abruptly.

I Hated:
- That the moon landing conspiracy theory was even addressed. I thought it was completely unnecessary and below the dignity of the film and the astronauts interviewed.

Writing - N/A
Acting - N/A
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 5
Significance - 5

Total: 28/30 = 93% = A

Last Word: Full disclosure - outer space has always fascinated me, more so than the deepest seas or highest mountains or thickest jungles. I'm the only person I know who was really excited to see the first pictures from Mars, and I love to look out at the stars. I'm not a big alien guy or science fiction aficionado or Trekkie, and I don't even know any constellations other than the Big Dipper. I just like to think about how tiny earth is in comparison to the universe, and the fact that humans have somehow figured how to get to that little night light in the sky amazes me. That being said, I was of course interested to hear about how those humans actually felt about the whole experience. Though Neil Armstrong is desperately missing from the group, I'm glad these men were interviewed before it was too late. Though it's difficult to argue for space travel to be a priority right now (and I don't think it should be), I think it's worth reflecting on the unbelievable fellowship that the U.S. enjoyed with the rest of the world after the first moon landing. It was apparent, at least from the archival footage, that it was a truly a global celebration for an incredible achievement we shared with the world and for which we were deeply admired. Looking at our current reality, it almost feels like we're on a different planet. The tagline for In the Shadow of the Moon is poignant: "Remember when the whole world looked up?"

September 29, 2007

REVIEW: Into The Wild (A)

Background: I read Jon Krakauer's "Into The Wild" for a high school composition class and remember it being a harrowing tale, though I was too immature at the time to really grasp its depth. The book, of course, is based on the tragic true story and diary entries of Christopher Johnson McCandless. Sean Penn (most recently, All the King's Men) had an adaptation in mind for 10 years before making this version starring Emile Hirsch (Lords of Dogtown) and a slew of supporting actors. Penn adapted the book and directed the film, which was shot entirely on location, from Atlanta to Mexico to Alaska. More importantly, McCandless's family (and Krakauer) helped Penn throughout the production of Into The Wild, giving it the utmost credibility in portraying his amazing adventure.

Synopsis: In 1990, after graduating from Emory University, Christopher McCandless wants a new identity, or rather, no identity. He donates his life savings, destroys all of his identification, breaks off all communication with his family, and sets off for parts unknown. Over the course of the next two years, McCandless (calling himself "Alexander Supertramp") walks, hitchhikes, and paddles his way from Northern California to South Dakota to Colorado, Mexico, L.A., and everywhere in between, eventually hoping to make his way to the wilderness of Alaska. (We see his time in Alaska in between flashbacks of his two-year journey.) He works as a wheat combiner, a burger flipper, and a book salesman, but when he earns money he prefers to burn it. He meets hippies, farmers, Germans, and other people from all walks of life. Everywhere he goes, he espouses philosophies on life about happiness, materialism and relationships. In May of 1992, "Alex" finally makes his way to the deep wilderness of Alaska, where he lives in an abandoned city bus and discovers more mental and physical challenges than he ever imagined.

I Loved:
+ That Penn traced McCandless's steps, filming everything on location.
+ The haunting, intensely emotional final minutes.
+ The outstanding supporting performances by Hal Holbrook, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Brian Dierker, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, and Jena Malone.

I Liked:
+ Eddie Vedder's original songs, setting the perfect mood for each scene.
+ The twinkle in Emile Hirsch's eye - he was perfectly cast for this.
+ The cinematography - great location shots, lighting, blurring, etc.

I Disliked:
- Some of the narration from McCandless's sister - I don't remember this being in the book, but correct me if I'm wrong because I read it a long time ago. This is a minor complaint - at times it just seemed too introspective for a movie about him, not her.
- Occasionally, when the camera work became too experimental.

I Hated:
- Nothing.

Writing - 9
Acting - 10
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 10
Music - 5
Significance - 5

Total: 48/50= 96% = A

Last Word: With a few exceptions, I usually haven't read the books that are adapted to popular movies, but I think most people would argue that the books are generally better. With Into The Wild, Sean Penn has impressively made a more powerful movie than Jon Krakauer's book. For anyone who has ever considered entertaining the romantic notion of "leaving it all behind," the story of Christopher McCandless should serve as a cautionary tale. I felt the urge to grab Emile Hirsch as he arrived in Alaska and slap some sense into him - what was he thinking? Vince Vaughn laid it out well: "So, what, what are we doing now, out in the wild?" I pity his family situation and I really do admire his adventurous spirit, but McCandless was the ultimate example of the quarter-life crisis taken too far - immature self-absorption, reverence for dead authors, and idealistic philosophies on how life should be. Granted, it was an accident that led to his death, but soon after he arrived in Alaska it was clear he had made an unwise decision. Call me uptight, neurotic, whatever - feed me cliches about "the greater the risk, the greater the reward," but ultimately, I would rather read about his tragedy than experience it. That Sean Penn was able to make me revisit decisions in my own life is a testament to the relational power of this film.

September 28, 2007

REVIEW: Manda Bala (B+)

Background: In the minds of most who have never been there (including me), Brazil is the exotic land of the Amazon, Carnaval, Ipanema, Copacabana, and, of course, futbol. At least that was the case before Cidade de Deus, Carandiru, and the underrated Uma Onda No Ar brought favelas and gangs to light, exposing the seedy underbelly of Brazil's glamour. Of course this made the country that much more fascinating, and the trend has continued, now with Manda Bala (Send a Bullet), a documentary by first time filmmaker Jason Kohn. Mentored by Errol Morris, Kohn went to Sao Paulo, Brasilia, and rural Amazonia to film his subjects, taking dangerous risks to get the interviews he desired.

Synopsis: In the first five minutes of Manda Bala, we see footage of ransom videos made by kidnappers in Sao Paulo, meet a frog farmer who is linked to a corrupt politician, and see mannequins being used to test bulletproof glass. For the next hour, each of those pieces is further explored through interviews with kidnapping victims, police, lawyers, government officals, kidnappers, and businessmen. Everyone has their own story about how they've been the victim of a crime or corrupt system, and depending on your level of attention, you may be able to understand the parallels sooner than most. By the end of the film, any bit of the exciting glamour you may have had about Brazil is long gone.

I Loved:
+ The cinematography - beautiful, mesmerizing aerial shots of Brazil.
+ The soundtrack featuring all kinds of Brazilian music, mostly in Portuguese and usually appropriate for the scene.
+ The facial expressions of the cop in Sao Paulo as he waited for the interpreter to translate.

I Liked:
+ How the parallels between criminal "classes" finally came together in the end.

I Disliked:
- The ransom videos - they added to the kidnapping plotline, but they were overused and could have been substituted with more interviews of kidnappers or their victims.
- The plastic surgery! Is this medical school, The Learning Channel, or a film about corruption and crime in Brazil? The surgery wasn't gross, it was just totally unnecessary.
- Occasionally, the music - just because you have a lot of songs you'd love to use in a film, it doesn't mean you can have them playing in the background at all times.

I Hated:
- The annoying, unpredictable mixed use of subtitles, English speakers, interpreters, music sung in Portuguese, anonymous voice-overs, Portuguese speakers, questions asked in English, subtitles for English speakers, music sung in English, questions asked in Portuguese, narration, and maybe most confusingly, Portuguese newspapers where the headlines morph into English while the rest of the print remains in Portuguese.

Writing - N/A
Acting - N/A
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 5
Significance - 5

Total: 27/30= 87% = B+

Last Word: Having always wanted to visit Brazil, it was fascinating for me to learn more about Sao Paulo, which is often overlooked because of Rio. The country has such unique cultures, ethnicities, foods, dances, geography, and, as we learn in Manda Bala, corruption and crime. Jason Kohn takes a while to really solidify his point, but when it comes together its quite impressive.
Having been so heavily influenced by Errol Morris, I would be interested to see what he does next, . If you do see Manda Bala, and I recommend that you do if you have any interest in Brazil, make sure you watch the hypnotizing credits all the way through to the end.

REVIEW: No End in Sight (A-)

Background: Guess what? The U.S. is at war in Iraq. First time filmmaker Charles Ferguson decided in 2004, after it was clear the post-Saddam era in Iraq was in trouble, that he would investigate the causes behind the initial chaos. The focus on this aspect of the war is what separates Ferguson's film from other documentaries such as The Fog of War; Uncovered: The War in Iraq; Control Room; Fahrenheit 9/11; Gunner Palace; Why We Fight; My Country, My Country; Iraq in Fragments; or The War Tapes (one of my 10 Best of 2006). The title of Ferguson's film does not attempt to hide a political bias, nor does it need to, since the film industry has not produced anything supporting the war. Wake up if you don't know Hollywood's politics by now. Anyway, Ferguson did take the high road with No End in Sight in that he at least went to Iraq himself to film it, hiring his own security and arranging transportation. Quite a way to make your first film.

Synopsis: By late 2002, the Bush Administration had alledgedly already decided to go to Iraq. Plans were in place for the invasion of Baghdad and overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime, however the strategy for a temporary U.S. occupation and installation of a new government was unclear. The film focuses on this lack of planning, featuring numerous interviews with Defense and State Department employees who were involved at the highest levels of decision-making during the first years of the war. In between interviews, Campbell Scott narrates sections (titled, for example, "Chaos") that neatly lay out an argument that the Bush Administration (Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Bremer, et. al.) made a series of bad decisions beginning in the summer of 2003, most of which were the result of poor planning and rushed orders in the weeks leading up to the invasion of Baghdad. By the end of the film, you're unsurpisingly meant to be convinced that the current situation in Iraq is worse than you could have ever possibly imagined, and all blame can be directed the place in the film's poster.

I Loved:
+ The quality of Ferguson's cinematography - after only seeing news clips and grainy videos for years, it is a significantly different experience to see high-quality digital video of Baghdad.
+ The interviews with Richard Armitage, Jay Garner, and Paul Hughes, three extremely involved Administration officials who air their frustrations but have the humility to refrain from attacking anyone in particular because they recognize that the problems were systemic.

I Liked:
+ The interviews with the soldiers - they were some of the most poignant I've heard/read from Iraq veterans.

I Disliked:
- The financial factoid graphic - $1.8 trillion is so much money it's difficult to even comprehend, and the point is lost. Better to show how else it could have been spent.

I Hated:
- The poorly chosen settings in which people were interviewed - a half-darkened office, a half-darkened studio loft, a half-darkened stairwell. Why would an interview ever be filmed in a stairwell!?

Writing - N/A
Acting - N/A
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 5
Significance - 5

Total: 27/30= 90% = A-

Last Word: At some point in the last few years, my reading of articles and essays on the war in Iraq significantly decreased. I'm just unable to get any new insights into what's happening. I understand the divisions and the debates, but let's face it, I've grown tired of the rhetoric. Ferguson doesn't necessarily add anything new to the story, but his organization is helpful, and hearing a lot of former Administration officials take responsibility for their actions is pretty impressive. Also, it's worth seeing No End in Sight to review the decisions made in the initial stages of the occupation (i.e., disbanding the Iraqi Army), since one official points out that the current and probably future chaos can almost entirely be traced back to the first month after Saddam was taken out. That's speculation of course, but it's the reason you won't feel very well walking out of the theater.

September 27, 2007

REVIEW: Eastern Promises (B+)

Background: David Cronenberg's last film, A History of Violence, was gripping - an intriguing story and plenty of suspense. And violence, oh the violence. Indeed, he displays a catalog of violence that was way too brutal for me to watch - when I couldn't avoid it. Cronenberg teams up again with Viggo Mortenson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) for Eastern Promises, this time with Naomi Watts (King Kong,The Painted Veil) as the blond love interest. (One interesting note - Watts's next role is in the wildly violent Funny Games.) Both stars prepared intensely for their roles, Watts (pregnant while filming) as a midwife and Mortenson as a Russian gangster, for which he actually spent weeks alone all over Russia. I didn't know much about the story beforehand, but I did mention to the friends I saw it with that it would surely have some hyperviolent scenes. Wow, was that an understatement. A new area of my mind has been scarred, right next to the spot still suffering from A History of Violence.

Synopsis: Midwife Anna (Watts) finds a diary in the belongings of a young Russian girl named Tatiana who suspiciously dies from labor complications. The diary is in Russian. Conveniently, Anna's uncle is Russian and also happens to live with her. With amazing naivete, Anna follows the diary's link to a restaurant conspicuously serving as the franchise office of the local Russian organized crime family, or vory v zakone. The more warnings she is given to let well enough alone, and the more sordid details she learns from her uncle's translation, the more determined she is to learn of Tatiana's background so her surviving infant can be sent home. In the meantime, Nikolai (Mortenson) is the family's driver and boss-in-waiting, hoping to get "made" and earn his "stars." He quietly obeys the orders given him by current boss Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and his incompetent son Kirill (Vincent Cassel), but something tells you Nikolai is more than just a puckered face. We soon learn he is an undercover lawman with a crush on Anna. All of these details emerge amid wickedly violent scenes, and Nikolai is forced to decide between his profession and love life as he rises in the ranks of the vory v zakone.

I Loved:
+ The production design - rainy, noir London and cozy Russian feasts, just like I remember from the old country.
+ Vincent Cassel's disgusting performance - the quintessential impulsive heir, the movie would have suffered without him.

I Liked:
+ The cinematography - there is something about the way Cronenberg frames shots that set them apart from everyone else.
+ The musical score.
+ Learning about the vory v zakone.

I Disliked:
- Naomi Watts - she toned down her trademark crying and shrieking, but it was still more than enough.
- Armin Mueller-Stahl's accent - look, the guy is German, he's always going to be German, and trying to make him sound like he is anything other than German is ridiculous.
- The totally unnecessary diary entry narrations.

I Hated:
- The extremely graphic violence, of course.

Writing - 9
Acting - 9
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 5
Significance - 4

Total: 44/50= 88% = B+

Last Word: For me, this was all about the violence. The story is somewhat interesting, but the brutality was a major distraction for me. If you can look past that, you'll probably love Eastern Promises. It's a well-made, taut film with viciously evil characters and a clear hero to root for, but you're left wondering who really had the best motives. Never having seen The Sopranos (yes, I'm serious), I don't know how
Eastern Promises compares to popular crime family dramas, but fans of the show will likely fill theaters to see this. Just expect the violence to be as bad as I'm describing it. Maybe you'll shrug your shoulders and laugh (some people did), or maybe you'll really be affected by it, like I was. I guess I just see it as real - people are actually killed in those ways, and I don't need to see it to know that. My imagination usually does just fine given the chance, but Cronenberg leaves no opportunity here.

REVIEW: In The Valley of Elah (B)

Background: Remember this? Tommy Lee Jones is hoping you don't, but just to make sure he's followed it up with roles in The 3 Burials..., In the Valley of Elah, and the upcoming No Country For Old Men. The guy plays a craggly, suffering old sheriff/cop/marshal with a drawl like nobody else. Elah was written and directed by Oscar darling Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash) and also stars Charlize Theron, who can never resist a chance to try to look ugly (Monster, North Country). This film, one of many this fall indirectly or directly involving the War in Iraq, was apparently inspired by a 2004 Playboy article (isn't that a punchline?) about Army soldier Richard Davis, who disappeared after returning from his first tour of duty in Iraq. With Elah, Haggis has now written three war screenplays in a row (Flags of Our Fathers, Letters From Iwo Jima), and he apparently wrote this film with Clint Eastwood in mind for Jones's part. Eastwood can decently play a craggly, suffering old sheriff/cop/marshal, but he doesn't have a drawl and reportedly turned down the role because he thought it would be a little much to make 4 movies in 3 years with the same guy. Or maybe I just thought that would be a little much, despite the fact that it works for Scorsese & DiCaprio.

Synopsis: In 2004, scraggly Hank Deerfield (Jones) receives a phone call notifying him that his son, just back from Iraq, is AWOL. Like any concerned parent, he heads to the Army base from which his son vanished. There he meets his son's unit, none of whom can shed any light on his whereabouts. Jones files a missing persons report at the local police station, where rookie detective Emily Sanders (Theron) is stuck solving animal cruelty cases. After a rocky start, the two develop an awkward relationship after the stabbed, dismembered, charred, half-eaten body of Deerfield's son is found in a nearby field (and shown in detail). Deerfield, who happens to be a retired MP, works with Sanders to try to solve the mystery of his son's death. Suspicion is initially directed toward Mexican drug cartels before finding its way to Deerfield's closest army brethren, three of whom were last seen with him on the night of his death. Deerfield, now living out of a motel, studies corrupted cellphone videos his son took from Iraq, has harsh phone conversations with his wife (Sarandon), and discusses the fog of war with a number of soldiers. Confessions are made and retracted until you lose count (and your nerve), but eventually the case is closed and we all learn something new about being in war: it's bad.

I Loved:
+ Tommy Lee Jones - excellent in balancing Deerfield's anger, frustration, and forgiveness.

I Liked:
+ The subtle musical score.
+ The symbolism behind the picture Deerfield's son took with his cellphone.

I Disliked:
- The dragging pace of the film - this could have been 20 minutes shorter and still kept its meaning.
- The
gloomy gray throughout 90% of the scenes - this isn't Gotham, and the emotional effect is unrealistic and unnecessary in a film that's already so depressing.

I Hated:
- The exaggerated chauvinism within the police department - that may be based on her reality, but it was annoying, repetitive, and added little to the story.
- The cellphone video quality - I understand it's corrupted, and it's from a cellphone, but the audio static drove me crazy.
- The guy sitting behind me in the theater, who for 10 minutes not only jingled his change in his pocket but actually rubbed the coins together, making an incredibly grating sound. By my estimate, he had 13 pennies, 6 nickels, 8 dimes, and 6 quarters. Thanks for taking me out of the most important part of the movie...

Writing - 8
Acting - 9
Production - 7
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 5
Significance - 5

Total: 43/50= 86% = B

Last Word: Though framing its anti-war argument around the original story of a veteran's mysterious disappearance back at home, In The Valley of Elah doesn't really rise above other movies involving Iraq. Its best parts are because of the solid acting and some of Haggis's writing, but the fundamental lesson - that sending innocent boys to war is like sending David up against Goliath, could probably have been told in a more powerful way. I think this film just got away from Haggis as he spent way too much time on the dull details of a murder case. Instead of adapting the story of Richard Davis and trying to teach a lesson on war, he could have come up with a much better and original plot with more interesting characters. Oh well, maybe somebody else will. In the meantime, it's nice to see Tommy Lee Jones back doing what no one else can: being old and scraggly with a drawl.

September 25, 2007

How To Go To The Movies

If you visit theaters with any frequency you know the general recommendations regarding talking, cell phones, littering, muzzling children, etc. Unfortunately, these guidelines are a.) rarely followed, and b.) not nearly enough to prevent your movie-going experience from being ruined. Here are the rules that would be upheld at a theater under my ownership. Admission will require careful memorization and recitation of the following:

1.) Be silent. This cannot be overemphasized - no talking, whispering, clapping, singing, noisy seat shifting, phone fumbling, loud smacking, soda slurping, coughing, throat clearing, wrapper crinkling, screaming, gasping, guffawing, cackling, cheering or any other disturbance of any kind. Thinking and quiet breathing (in through the nose, out through the mouth) are allowed. Maybe practice this before entering the theater.

2.) Never repeat a line just spoken by a character in the movie, no matter the circumstance. If I had trouble hearing, you would see me with an assisted listening device (they're "available at the box office"). I don't have one. If I missed something it's because you were repeating the line right before the last one, and now I've missed both of them. Review rule #1.

3.) Never read aloud anything written on the screen, no matter the circumstance. If I had trouble reading, I would have had some difficulty getting to my seat, since finding the showtime, buying the ticket and entering the correct theater all require basic literacy. Chances are, most people in the theater are looking at the screen, and they're probably watching the same movie as you. Would you read the subtitles aloud? Didn't think so. Review rule #1.

4.) Allow me my personal space. Most theaters are large enough to accommodate you, your tub of popcorn, barrel of soda and annoying voice-overs. This rule is an off-shoot of the men's urinal rule: always one in between. In this case, at least 2 rows behind or in front of me, and at least 8 seats to the left or right.

5.) Crack witty remarks after bad trailers. I can't think quickly enough to actually do this, but when they're well-timed, these can be both memorable and hilarious. The risk is high, so make sure you've got something really good before you step up. After the last trailer, rule #1 is it.

6.) Avoid all reviews before seeing a movie, even the trailer, if you can help it. When you go the movies enough, and see the same trailers over and over and over, it's a little hard to play dumb during the actual movie when a character has a gun pointed at them but you know you haven't yet seen the other memorable scene from the trailer where they're jumping off a cliff or screaming "Nooooo!" or something like that. Most movies are completely ruined by the trailers, but especially by the reviews. You should know what to see simply on your knowledge of the writer, director, and actors involved. Sometime you get burned really, really badly (Lady In The Water, Freedomland, The Invasion), but generally you can avoid the garbage by simply refining your taste. The exceptions are movies for which you are completely ignorant of all cast and crew. This may be a film shown at a festival and may well be worth it, but just know to temper your expectations. After seeing a movie, reading reviews and message boards and getting into lengthy discussions is allowed and strongly encouraged. Especially on this blog.

7.) Get your mind right after the trailers are done. For example, I don't care how happy-silly you feel when you walk in, realize that laughter is completely inappropriate during any point of a movie such as United 93, The Passion of the Christ, The Pianist, Black Hawk Down, or Elephant, to name a few. I thought there was a laugh track piped in when I saw these in the theater. And really, one person laughing one time will do it. Go watch Daddy Day Camp if you're feeling silly, otherwise check your mood at the door. For further reference, see the Seinfeld making-out-during-Schindler's List episode.

8.) Don't be a sheep. In all circumstances of life, but especially not at the theater. Think for yourself and go against the flow. Don't wait in line to buy a ticket when the window immediately to the right or left is wide open. Better yet, buy your ticket at the little credit card kiosk, where there is no line because people trust a smirking 16 year old more than a benevolent computer. Don't buy popcorn. Consuming food will almost always violate rules #1 & #9. Unless you want DOTS - those are worth waiting for and go best with a cherry ICEE and a summer action comedy. Don't hesitate to go to a movie alone. I know it's extremely damaging to your reputation to be seen in public alone, but get over yourself. It's the same thing as reading a book in the park. Do you need to do that with a big group of friends?

9.) Never pay more at the concession stand than you did at the box office. How much is Combo #4? Yes, the "Best Value!" with one large popcorn and two large sodas? You don't know because they don't show the price next to the picture. It's probably $18.75. In addition to being more overpriced than an airport newspaper stand, the quantities are visually disturbing. Granted, the theater makes 100% of its revenue on concessions and 0% on ticket sales, but that doesn't mean you need to buy enough food for everyone in your row. Besides, what are you doing next to me? Review rule #4.

10.) Think about what you're watching. Far too many people enter and exit a theater without having gained any new insights. As far as I'm concerned, everything you do should be purposeful, especially when you're spending a lot of time and money to do it. Think about the last movie you saw. What did you learn about a new place, time period, culture, lifestyle, etc.? You may not realize it, but your perspective on the world is heavily influenced by every frame of film, whether it's Schindler's List or Dude, Where's My Car? (I admit, a stretch). Truthfully, a tiny fraction of what we know about the world is from first-hand experience. The majority is from what we have seen or read. When you think of ancient Rome, does Gladiator not provide a visual in your mind? Can you think of the Titanic without thinking of Titanic? What do you know about the mafia? The Godfather, Goodfellas, etc. Have you been to New York City? "It's just like in the movies!" I rest my case. Your worldview is signicantly influenced by screen images in your memory. Of course everything on the screen isn't necessarily true. Maybe it's entirely make-believe. For the most part, however, what you're seeing is showing you a place or a time or a common person's experience that you are otherwise completely unaware of. The ones that you can completely relate to are just as meaningful. That's the power of film. Respect it.

I'll stop here. Most of these are common knowledge and well documented online, but it never hurts to brush up. What did I miss? Please add to the list...

September 23, 2007

REVIEW: The Kingdom (D)

Background: The first of many films this fall exploring post 9/11 America (and the "War on Terror," and Iraq), The Kingdom looks to be the most action-packed. Jamie Foxx is apparently having a lot of fun with military/police roles, having just starred in Jarhead, Stealth, and Miami Vice after winning his Oscar for Ray. I don't know why he gave up on his excellence in supporting roles like Collateral and Ali. Jennifer Garner continues to have the poutiest face in Hollywood, and Chris Cooper - well you never know where you're going to see him. Directed by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights), The Kingdom was filmed in Arizona and Abu Dhabi, since of course there is no way a U.S. film crew would be allowed into Saudi Arabia, much less to film a movie about killing Saudis.

Synopsis: After a (completely predictable) suicide bombing at a U.S. base in Saudi Arabia, a team of 4 FBI specialists sneaks off to "The Kingdom" to exact revenge on suspected terrorist mastermind Abu Hamza. The team, led by Agent Ronald Fleury (Foxx), has strict orders to obey their Saudi counterparts and not touch anything, both of which they obviously ignore. They comb the bombing scene, examine bodies, and generally berate the Saudi police for their mishandling of the case, none of which matters of course, since Abu Hamza is their prime target before they even leave the U.S. So doors are kicked in, car bombs are detonated, Islamic sects are name-dropped, and bullets and RPGs are launched through the streets. A final, predictable shootout brings the whole thing back to where it started: Americans and Saudis promising to kill each other.

I Loved:
+ Umm...

I Liked:
+ The last lines of dialogue - the only meaningful words said in the movie.
+ The idea of the artistic opening historical montage on U.S. - Saudi relations.

I Disliked:
- The way too artistic, way too fast, way too confusing opening historical montage on U.S. - Saudi relations - maybe I don't watch enough MTV to train my reflexes, but was there any point to this?
- The titles flashed on the screen to introduce every character - totally unnecessary gimmick, I suspect an idea taken from bad TV shows.
- Jeremy Piven as an
unnecessary character with annoying lines and an awful make-up job.

I Hated:
- The predictability of Al Ghazi's death - did you really think a Saudi was going to be spared in this hyperpatriotic movie?
- Jennifer Garner - dresses like a 14 year-old, acts like a 3 year-old, and talks like a kindergarten teacher. Oh, and displays a sweet maternal instinct (with full-on pouting) as she graciously gives a Dum-Dum to a little girl less than a minute after jamming a knife into the back of someone's head.
- The usual cliches: awful writing (e.g., scene with Jamie Foxx in his son's class), impossible shootouts, and an unbearably obnoxious "funny guy" (Jason Bateman).

Writing - 5
Acting - 5
Production - 7
Emotional Impact - 6
Music - 5
Significance - 5

Total: 33/50= 66% = D

Last Word: As much as I expected more from The Kingdom based on its basic premise, it's clear within the first few minutes that it's a meathead action movie for Americans who love seeing Americans run roughshod over anything in their path. The final words about the pattern of killing caught me off guard - until then the entire movie seemed to be celebrating the "War on Terror." Of course, that last bit of dialogue could also be interpreted as a battle cry for the "War on Terror." In any case, the movie is not in any way intelligent enough to create a meaningful conversation about terrorism or Saudi Arabia. It could have, but Peter Berg's patriotic action fantasies get in the way. All I saw were Americans, specialists in everything (of course), walking into Riyadh like they owned the place and using our favorite tactic in any conflict: chaotic brute force. I don't know, I've never seen 24, but I have a feeling this is how people enjoy watching the U.S. deal with terrorists. It's just too bad The Kingdom couldn't taken itself seriously enough to offer any new ideas.

UPDATE: After seeing Rendition, I had to downgrade this awful film even more, from a C- to a D.

September 22, 2007

REVIEW: My Kid Could Paint That (A)

Background: The title of the film is a well-known joke among skeptics of abstract art. How can so much money and critical praise be generously given to paintings that seemingly require no skill? I'll admit that I've always been on the questioning side of this debate. I'm sorry, I don't "get" abstract art. Jackson Pollock's paintings don't impress me, nor do I think he had some deep philosophical symbolism splattered all over a canvas. So, I'm a skeptic. Naturally then, I was intrigued to see Amir Bar-Lev's documentary about a young girl who is hailed as the next great abstract artist while she's still in diapers. Child prodigies are typically known as great musicians or mathematicians, but you can objectively measure those skills. Does everyone agree on abstract art? I thought the whole point was not to.

Synopsis: In Binghamton, NY, 4 year-old Marla Olmstead begins attracting local attention for abstract paintings that, according to her parents, she has completed all by herself. A local art dealer hosts a show for Marla's paintings, and soon enough she is all over the national media and attending glamorous gallery openings of her work as far away as Los Angeles. Her paintings, first sold at a local coffee shop, soon sell for tens of thousands of dollars. Bar-Lev sets up the film with Marla's story before moving into a debate on the value of abstract art. Is the work done by prodigious artists important because of the person or the painting? In other words, would Marla's work be so amazing if she were, say, 30 years older and a parent of two kids? An interesting question, because suspicions are soon aroused - especially after a critical 60 Minutes expose - that Marla may not actually be working entirely alone on her paintings. Her father, a painter himself and the person seeking the most marketing opportunities for Marla, denies time and again that he is involved in any way with Marla's work. But then why, after many failed attempts, can no one get video footage of Marla completing a masterwork? Her parents offer home video of Marla independently finishing a painting, but anyone can see, especially under careful examination, that her work looks different than the ones that have been sold under her name. So are her parents lying when they say they haven't helped her? There's no proof they have, but there is also no proof they haven't. Who do you believe?

I Loved:
+ That the debate is left unresolved - as it should in a documentary.
+ The section debating the worthiness of abstract art.

I Liked:
+ The honest involvement of Amir Bar-Lev (relative to somebody like Michael Moore).
+ The comparison sequence where we see different parts of Marla's paintings next to each other.
+ The mocking giggles in the theater when the rich couple drove off in their Hummer.

I Disliked:
- The rich couple driving off in their Hummer, and the other collectors who gushed over Marla's work - one man going so far as to interpret parts of her painting in unimaginable detail.
- Not knowing more about Marla's dad's artistic background.

I Hated:
- That the debate is left unresolved. Yeah, that's how it should be, but it's still frustrating!

Writing - N/A
Acting - N/A
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 5
Significance - 5

Total: 28/30 = 93% = A

Last Word: Amir Bar-Lev did a Q & A after the screening I was at, which shed a lot more light on the details of certain scenes, and also probably colored my impression of the movie. I definitely respect his work - even when asked directly about what he believed to be true, he wouldn't budge. He lets the film speak for itself, and it says so much you won't really know what you even heard - did this person actually say that? One criticism I can offer of My Kid Could Paint That stems from that fact that Amir Bar-Lev really stumbled on the story-as-scandal. You can tell that he originally meant to just frame an argument about abstract art, but it of course turned into an amazing story of truth vs. fiction with hundreds of thousands of dollars hanging in the balance. The only problem is that it doesn't really transition well, and I kind of think he should have made two separate films. That being said, My Kid Could Paint That is one of the best documentaries I've seen in a long time primarily because there is no right answer forced upon the viewer. You are 100% able to decide for yourself, and it is an incredible feat for Bar-Lev to have allowed that freedom of choice.

September 21, 2007

REVIEW: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (A)

Background: Clearly, documentaries have exploded in Hollywood to the point where several are released each week, when years ago it may have been one a month. Filmmakers are following animals, soldiers, spelling bee contestants, athletes, and pretty much anything else that moves. And I've enjoyed all of them! But, I must admit I scoffed when I first heard about this - Donkey Kong? Really? Where will it end? Believe it or not I even did a quick Tomatometer check on RT to see if this was a joke or a gem. Totally rare for me, but that just shows how skeptical I was. I'd never heard of the director, Seth Gordon, and I really never played Donkey Kong that much. So, I went.

Synopsis: In 1982, Billy Mitchell, then a mustached, sneaky looking guy with a mullet, set the all-time high score for the arcade version of Donkey Kong. Since that year, no one has even approached his high score of 850,000+, but not for lack of trying. In fact, an entire industry has been created out of setting world record scores for retro games, and we meet everyone from the Mappy (?!) champion to the score certifiers to the head referee. All the while, Mitchell, now a bearded, sneaky looking guy with a mullet, smirks at his desk throughout his night shift at a hot sauce factory in Florida. He brags, boasts, jeers, grins, and generally makes you feel really uncomfortable. Enter Steve Wiebe, an otherwise totally normal science teacher from Redmond, WA, who decides that Donkey Kong will be the one thing in his hard-luck life that he is going to be better than anyone else at. Wiebe buys a Donkey Kong arcade console for his garage and begins an intensive training regimen in the hope of facing Mitchell one-on-one. The rest of the film takes us to arcades and gaming competitions and essentially introduces us to a world and in its umm... unique inhabitants that are totally unknown to the average person. Wiebe faces extreme resistance from Mitchell's "disciples," but at the end earns one last shot (with wife and 2 kids in tow) at dethroning the great Billy Mitchell.

I Loved:
+ Wow - Steve Wiebe! How could you not!?
+ The surprisingly meaningful lesson you take home with you.
+ The classic lines - there are no jokes set up in this, but you and whoever you watch it with will have laughs for ages with these.

I Liked:
+ The really powerful emotional highs and lows Steve Wiebe and his family experienced.
+ "Mr. Awesome"
+ The soundtrack, background information given, and graphics.

I Disliked:
- Not knowing what has happened to so many of the film's subjects since it was completed.
- The sometimes unnecessary graphics.

I Hated:
- Wow - Billy Mitchell! How could you not!?

Writing - N/A
Acting - N/A
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 10
Music - 5
Significance - 5

Total: 29/30 = 97% = A

Last Word: This is the type of hilarious documentary that you tell everyone to see. I have to believe that anyone can find some humor and also some meaningful insight from Steve Wiebe vs. Billy Mitchell. And if you think it's just a completely mocking portrayal of video game players or nerds, it's not. At least not entirely. This is in the vein of Spellbound - real experiences of really interesting people that, against all odds, you really find yourself relating to. There are a lot of strange niche cultures out there, but few are shown in a way that people find appealing to watch. If this was just a historical review of the game Donkey Kong, it would lose everything. The human condition is the vital element, and it's gloriously on display in The King of Kong.

September 20, 2007

REVIEW: 2 Days in Paris (B+)

Background: Julie Delpy is well known for her roles in Richard Linklater's excellent Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, romantic intellectual films set in a dreamy European city (Vienna; Paris) where a neurotic guy (Ethan Hawke) spends a day trying to figure out a French girl (played by Delpy) and prove that he is worth her commitment. In 2 Days in Paris, Delpy tries something new - a romantic intellectual film set in a dreamy European city (Paris) where a neurotic guy (Adam Goldberg) spends two days trying to figure out a French girl (played by Delpy) and prove that he is worth her commitment. Aside from an extra day, the important difference is that Delpy wrote, produced and directed this film. She also composed the score, cast her real-life parents as her on-screen parents, and even used their apartment as the filming location. Adam Goldberg ("that guy" from Saving Private Ryan, A Beautiful Mind, and recently, Deja Vu and Zodiac) plays Delpy's boyfriend, for which he also had real-life experience. Why didn't Julie Delpy just make a reality show about herself?

Synopsis: On their way back to New York from a romantic vacation in Venice, Marion (Delpy) and Jack (Goldberg) spend some quality time visiting Marion's family and old friends in Paris. The two quirky lovers joke and argue through language barriers (Jack doesn't speak French), awkward moments with family, and most importantly, Jack's hilarious paranoia about all of Marion's ex-boyfriends. Extremely strange people float in and out of their interactions, from cab drivers to cemetary dancers to artists to "fairies." As their time in Paris comes to an end, Marion and Jack face the disturbing realization that they know very little about each other after two years together, and they may not be able to continue their relationship without making some major sacrifices. Will "love" prevail?

I Loved:
+ The scene on the subway - I haven't laughed in a theater like that for a while.
+ The last line of dialogue.
+ Adam Goldberg's facial expressions and muttered quips throughout the movie.

I Liked:
+ Her cat - was that thing real?
+ The narrated photo montages and final scene.
+ The fairy.

I Disliked:
- How different Julie Delpy looked in every scene - calm down with the costume design and make-up!
- How nicely everything came together in the end - something still just didn't feel right between the two of them.

I Hated:
- How "artistic" all the Parisians were, as usual.
- How exaggerated some of the scenes with the parents felt, like Meet the Parents in French.
- Julie Delpy's unpredictable emotional explosions.

Writing - 8
Acting - 9
Production - 10
Emotional Impact - 10
Music - 3
Significance - 4

Total: 44/50 = 88% = B+

Last Word: While it tries to be an emotional drama at times, 2 Days in Paris can't hide the fact that it's really a dark romantic comedy. The vulgar language and the disappointing reliance on all things sexual is what separates this from Before Sunrise/Sunset. Apparently Julie Delpy just wanted to let her nasty side show in this, and it's not flattering. In any case, 2 Days in Paris is not a date movie. It's a movie for people who have struggled through long-term relationships, and can find the humor in the most difficult moments of fear, love, and angst. Julie Delpy has found some creative ways - especially with narration - to reframe your typical relationship movie, and while the real power of the film comes from the raw, honest dialogue, it's the humor (provided in abundance by Adam Goldberg) found within the conflicts that makes 2 Days in Paris a somewhat more mature romantic comedy than the likes of The Sweetest Thing.

September 18, 2007

REVIEW: 3:10 to Yuma (A-)

Background: As a genre, Westerns have been relatively nonexistent the last 10 years. Unforgiven , after winning Best Picture in 1993, "spurred" the production of Tombstone, Wyatt Earp, Open Range, (sadly) Wild, Wild West, and a handful of others, none of which were blockbusters. I can't even think of the last one I saw (Brokeback Mountain doesn't fit my criteria and I missed The Premonition). So here comes James Mangold (Walk the Line) hoping to revive the modern day Western by remaking the 1957 classic 3:10 to Yuma, which I also have not seen. Christian Bale and Russell Crowe star, with bit parts by Gretchen Mol and Peter Fonda. Incredibly, IMDB reports Eric Bana and Tom Cruise were originally sought after for the main parts, which would have made for a completely different, really bad movie.

Synopsis: In late-1800's Arizona, down-on-his luck rancher Dan Evans (Bale) and his two sons witness the hold-up of an armored wagon (yes, an armored wagon) on its way to a bank delivery. The gang responsible is led by Ben Wade (Crowe), a legendary outlaw. Evans assists in the capture of Wade and negotiates a contract to join the escort team that will deliver Wade to the train depot in Bisby, to catch the "3:10 to Yuma" where he will be tried and hanged. The two day journey provides moments of humor and horror as the escorts (soon joined by Evans' teenage son) evade Wade's gang, Apache Indians, and each other as they reach their destination. Wade, for his part, does as much as he can to get into Evans' head and convince him he has made all the wrong decisions in his life. The finale finds Evans torn between his choices as both the train and Wade's gang approach Bisby.

I Loved:
+ The performances of Bale and Crowe.
+ The production design - seen on the big screen, almost all of your senses are stimulated by the feeling of being in 19th-century Arizona.

I Liked:
+ The excellent musical score, especially at the end.

I Disliked:
- The number of bullets fired at Evans that conveniently miss their mark.
- Luke Wilson's performance - what was he doing in this?

I Hated:
- The number of people shot at point-blank range - these don't need to be so graphically shown for me to get the idea.
- The creepy guy on the escort team singing the "hanging" song - was anyone sad to see him go?

Writing = 10/10
Acting = 10/10
Production = 10/10
Emotional Impact = 8/10
Music = 4/5
Significance = 3/5

Total: 45/50 = 90% = A-

Last Word: In addition to his performances in two other movies in just the last year
(Rescue Dawn, The Prestige), Christian Bale is firmly establishing himself as one of my favorite actors. Truly an acting talent, he has especially impressed me with his different accents. Russell Crowe, in the meantime, has also shown the amazing range he has in continually unique roles (The Insider, Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind). Both of them are excellent in 3:10 to Yuma (as is Ben Foster). I would recommend it for fans of dramatic Westerns and action movies in general. The gunplay is brutally violent, probably more so than it needs to be, and there are some cliches that may be holdovers from the original writing in 1957. Nevertheless, you should leave the theater affected by Bale's character, as the decisions he is forced to make will stay with you. I think James Mangold has succeeded with this - watch for big-budget Westerns to reemerge in the next few years. By the way, isn't the Old West a romantic idea, if you ignore all the inconveniences? Talk about the simple life - tend your cattle, make campfires, and enjoy unpolluted air and technological silence.

My Reviews Explained

Movie reviews are sometimes frustrating for me to read (which should only be done after seeing a movie - mine will contain spoilers) because they often seem to lack any objective measure. I know, I know, it's supposed to be subjective and critics are just "studying the art" and interpreting it for the rest of us. Whatever. Was it good, or was it not? There is still room for differing opinions within a greater objective scale.

Anyway, most critics find their own voice, and the more you read them the more you can recognize their patterns. Chris Hewitt (St. Paul Pioneer Press) offers snarky comments in disjointed reviews that can be wildly inconsistent within and between each other. He doesn't critique the film, he just tells us whether we should rent it or see it in the theater. I often avoid his reviews. I would rather read Manohla Dargis or A.O. Scott (NYT), who explore thematic elements, or Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), who shares interesting information about the history of the film or compares it to other work the director or actors have done. Or I just scroll through RT and look for funny quotes from reviews.

I've decided to structure mine unconventionally, as follows:

REVIEW: Random Movie

Background: Information about the making of the film, trends in Hollywood related to it, what it was based on, how it came to be, why certain people were involved with it, etc.

Synopsis: Brief summary of the plot.

What I Loved: Something that really "made" the movie, like an important scene.

What I Liked: Something that I enjoyed on a smaller scale, like a song.

What I Disliked: Minor annoyances, like a bad accent, an unnecessary character or general predictability.

What I Hated: Critical problems, like ridiculous plot lines or really bad accents.

Grade: (I was a math teacher for a few years - check this out)
  • Writing (10) - Did I find the dialogue clever, realistic, etc.?
  • Acting (10) - How well did the actors do compared to others who may have played the part? Jim Carrey in Dumb & Dumber is the gold standard here. You think I'm crazy, but seriously, that's acting.
  • Production (10) - How were the visual effects? Did the movie drag? Were innovative camera techniques used? Were there major goofs?
  • Emotional Impact (10) - Did I laugh at the humor, cry at the tragedy, etc. - or was I bored?
  • Music (5) - Was the musical score memorable, the soundtrack appropriate?
  • Societal Significance (5) - Crash scores higher than Batman because it's a more important film to see. Therefore, it gets a higher grade, basically setting apart the "entertaining" from the "educational." This is why Tommy Boy, an excellent all-around movie, is not considered one of the best of all time.
Total / Total Possible = % = Grade

The Last Word: What you could call my recommendation.

That's it. Hopefully I'll manage these in fewer words than the average review, but knowing me, don't count on it. And again, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS, since you should only be reading after you've already seen the movie. No apologies if I mention how a movie ends and what happens to all of the characters.

Also, obviously post anything you want to add to any review. That's how this works.

September 2, 2007

Review Index

Most of these are actually reviews, but a few appreciations and/or brief commentaries are scattered about...

2 Days in Paris (A-)
21 (C-)
3:10 to Yuma (A-)
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (A)
(500) Days of Summer

The Abyss
Across the Universe (B+)
Adventureland (B+)
Afghan Star (B+)
American Gangster (B)

American Casino (B+)
American Teen (A)

Amreeka (B)
Anvil! The Story of Anvil (A)
Appaloosa (B-)
The Asphalt Jungle
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (A-)
At the Death House Door (B)
Atonement (B)
Australia (C+)
Away We Go (B)

Back to the Future: Part II
P.O.V.: The Ballad of Esequiel Hernandez (B)
Ballast (A)
The Band's Visit (A)
The Bank Job (B-)

Barton Fink
*batteries not included
The Battle of Algiers
Bedtime Stories (B)
Bee Movie (B)
Be Kind Rewind (C)
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (B-)
Beowulf - 3D (B-)
The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) (A)
The Big Lebowski
The Big Sleep
Bigger, Stronger, Faster* (A)

The Blind Side (C)
Blindness (D)
Blindsight (A-)

Blood Simple
Body of Lies (C+)
Boiler Room
Bottle Shock (C-)

The Box (C-)
Boy A (A-)
The Boy Who Could Fly
Break (F)
Burn After Reading (B+)

The Cable Guy

Capitalism: A Love Story
Cassandra's Dream (C+)
Changeling (C-)
Charlie Wilson's War (B)
Che (A-)
Chicago 10 (B)
Chop Shop (A-)
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (B)
City of Men (A)

The Class (A)
Cloverfield (C)

Colin (B-)
Colore Non Vedenti
Coraline (A-)
The Counterfeiters (A-)

Couples Retreat (D)
The Cove (A)

Crazy Heart (B+)
Crude (A)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (A-)
The Custodian (A-)

The Darjeeling Limited (C+)
The Dark Knight (A)
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (A)
The Devil Wears Prada (B-)

Diary of a Times Square Thief (B+)
District 9 (B)
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (A)
Doubt (B+)
Drag Me to Hell (B+)
Dry Season (A)

Eastern Promises (B+)
The Edge of Heaven (B+)
Elegy (B-)
Encounters at the End of the World (A-)

Etienne! (B+)

The Fall (A-)
Falling Down

Fantastic Mr. Fox (A) 
The Firm
Flash of Genius (C+)
Food, Inc. (A-)
The Foot Fist Way (C+)
Forgiven (B)
Friday the 13th (2009) (C)
Frost/Nixon (A-)
Frozen River (B+)
Funny Games (C-)

Gone Baby Gone (B+)
The Golden Compass (C)
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (B)
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (A)

Good Hair (B)
Goodbye Solo (A-)
Gran Torino (A)
The Great Buck Howard (B-)
The Great Debaters (B-)
The Great Outdoors
The Grocer's Son (A)

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (A)

Hamlet 2 (C+)
The Happening (F)
Happy-Go-Lucky (A)
Hava Aney Dey (Let the Wind Blow) (B+)
Heart of Stone (A)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (B+)
High School High
Hotel for Dogs (C-)
How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (B)

The Hudsucker Proxy
The Hurt Locker (A-)

I Am Legend (B+)
I Love You, Man (B+)
I'm Not There (B+)
Inglourious Basterds (B+)

Ink (B-)
Into the Wild (A)

Intolerable Cruelty
In Bruges (B)
In Search of a Midnight Kiss (A)
In the Loop (A-)
In the Shadow of the Moon (A-)
In the Valley of Elah (B)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (B)

Invictus (B)
Iron Man (B-)

Jerichow (A-)
Julie & Julia (B+)
Juno (B+)
Jumper (F)

Jurassic Park

Kicks (B)
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (A)
The Kingdom (D)
The Kite Runner (A)
Knowing (F)
Kung Fu Panda (A)

The Ladykillers 

Lakeview Terrace (B)
Lars and the Real Girl (A-)
Lean on Me
Let the Right One In (A)
Letters to the President (B+)
Lions Den (A-)
Lions for Lambs (C)

Living Arrangements (B-) 
Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders (B+)
Lorna's Silence (A-)
Love in the Time of Cholera (C-)
Lovely By Surprise (B+)

The Lovely Bones (C)

Mamma Mia! (B)
Man on Wire (A)

The Man Who Wasn't There
Manda Bala (B+)
Margot at the Wedding (C-)
Medicine for Melancholy (A-)
Michael Clayton (C)
Milk (B+)

Milking the Rhino (A) 
Miller's Crossing
Miracle at St. Anna (B)
Moon (B+)
The Mosquito Coast
Mulholland Drive
Munyurangabo (Liberation Day) (A-)
Mutum (A-)
My Blueberry Nights (A-)
My Kid Could Paint That (A-)

Nanking (A)
National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (B-)

New York, I Love You (C)
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (B+)
No Country for Old Men (A)
No End in Sight (A-)
Nobel Son (D)
Notorious (B-)

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Observe and Report (C)
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (A-)

P-Star Rising (A-) 

Paper Heart
Paranoid Park (B)
Paul Blart: Mall Cop (C+)
Persepolis (B+)
Pineapple Express (C)
Planet B-Boy (B+)
The Pool (A)
Ponyo (on a Cliff by the Sea) (A)
Pray the Devil Back to Hell (A-)

Precious (B)
Priceless (A)
The Princess and the Warrior

Quantum of Solace (C)
Quid Pro Quo (B)

Rachel Getting Married (B+)
Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation

Raising Arizona
Rambo (F)
Redbelt (C-)
Rendition (D)
Reprise (B+)
Reservation Road (B-)
Return to Oz
Revanche (A-)
Revolutionary Road (A-)

The Road (B)
Role Models (B-)
Roman de Gare (B+)
Romeo + Juliet
Rumba (B)
Rumble in the Bronx
Run, Fatboy, Run (C+)

The Savages (B+)
School of Rock

A Serious Man (A)
Semi-Pro (C)
Shine a Light (B)

Shutter Island (B-)
The Siege
A Simple Plan
Sita Sings the Blues (A-)
Slumdog Millionaire (A+)
Smart People (C)
P.O.V.: Soldiers of Conscience (B+)
Son of Rambow (B+)
The Song of Sparrows (A)
Southland Tales (D)
Speed Racer (B-)
The Spy Who Loved Me
Standard Operating Procedure (A-)
Star Trek (B-)
State of Play (B)
Step Brothers (C-)
Stop-Loss (A-)
Strangers on a Train
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (B+)
Sugar (A)
Surfwise (A)
Synecdoche, New York (A-)

Take Out (A)
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (and 123)
Taxi to the Dark Side (B+)
Tell No One (B+)
Terminator Salvation (C+)
There Will Be Blood (A-)
Things We Lost in the Fire (B)

This Is It (A)
Three Monkeys (A)
Tokyo Sonata (A-)
Tony Manero (B)
Toy Soldiers
P.O.V.: Traces of the Trade (A-)
Traitor (B-)
Transsiberian (A-)
Tropic Thunder (A-)
Trouble the Water (A)
The Truman Show
Tulpan (A-)
Two Lovers (B+)
Tyson (A-)

Under the Same Moon (C)
Up (A-)

Up in the Air (B+)
Up the Yangtze (A)

Valkyrie (B+)
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (A-)
The Visitor (A-)

W. (B+)
The Wackness (B)

The Wages of Fear
Waitress (B+)
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (C+)
Waking Life
Waltz with Bashir (A)
War Child
War Dance (A)

The Way We Get By (A-) 
We Live in Public (B+)
We Own the Night (C+)
Win or Lose: A Summer Camp Story (B+)
Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden (C-)

Where the Wild Things Are (B)
Woman Rebel
The Wrestler (A)


The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (A-)
Yes Man (C+)
You Don't Mess With the Zohan (C)
Young at Heart (A+)
Youth Without Youth (C-)


2008 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts
2009 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts

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