Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Devil Wears Prada

STEVE - I’ll admit it. I like the Devil Wears Prada, it is perhaps my most embarrassing guilty pleasure. And I’ll also admit that there’s nothing really all that special about it. I mean it is your typical cliché chick flick. Except instead of guy meets girl it’s girl meets job… and Meryl Streep, (who is absolutely fantastic as the Devil in Prada) but still nothing special. No great script. No great acting (except for Meryl Streep… and maybe Stanley Tucci).

I was watching this again today and I think I figured out why I liked this movie. Execution. For me, execution is everything. Execution can make and break a movie. You can have a great script, and great actors, but a film just won’t work unless you have good execution. Examples:

Phone Booth, good actors, interesting premise, bad execution.

Cruel Intentions, good actors, great script, bad execution.

Eragon, interesting premise, pretty darn good book, horrible execution.

Star Wars I-III, great idea, great actors, THE WORST EXECUTION EVER!!!

Now execution isn’t everything, but it is very important. And that is one thing that The Devil Wears Prada does right. You put any movie in the right hands, and you’ll get something good. And that is why I enjoy this movie.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


STEVE - In perhaps one of the most interesting and disturbing films I have ever viewed, Kinsey is the real life story of Alfred Kinsey, a pioneer in the study in human sexuality. In his attempt to, at first, help married couples, and then others understand the act sex, Kinsey’s research draws attention from all areas of the globe and becomes one of the most renowned and hated researchers in the 20th Century.

A well performed and directed piece of cinema. Bill Condon does a terrific job as scribe and director. And Laura Linney gives a brilliant performance as the loving and understanding Mrs. Kinsey. Perhaps why she was nominated for an Oscar.

However, me being the negative one (and the one who uses improper grammar), as truly moving and controversial as the piece was, I don’t recommend it. It was a well-made film, though it did leave some storylines and characters open-ended (like Kinsey’s father and son). And Liam Neeson’s performance was nothing to be ecstatic about. But my biggest complaint, is that I felt that the film tried to be too preachy in what it had to say. Allow me to explain.

The film is all about Dr. Kinsey trying to tell the world the truth about sex, when the world chooses to ignore the issue. It was something that Dr. Kinsey felt he had to do and something that really needed to be done, and I agree. So Dr. Kinsey tries to research sex from a purely scientific standpoint, with no feelings. Which of course sex without feelings… well it just doesn’t work, not very well at least. And of course, colleagues and those close to him get hurt because emotion is taken out of the equation. Now the film does touch on some of those consequences, but the Mr. Condon brushes those repercussions aside to push his movies agenda/message along; which of course like most things in Hollywood is very liberal. Now I don’t have anything against liberals. I at times have tended to lean towards the liberal end of the spectrum on some issues. But if you are going to make a film, on a powerful subject, that has a message, don’t get caught up in your own agenda. Which is what I felt this film and its writer/director did. A well made film, but a little full of itself.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Good German

STEVE - Something you should know about me… I love noir. So imagine how I felt when I discovered that Stephen Soderbergh was making one of his own. I was excited to see it but poor reviews and warnings of bad tidings kept me away… until now.

It was an interesting film, but it lacked some of the suspense and wit that made the classics, classics. I think the script needed a good going over before they filmed. One or two plot holes and an anticlimactic ending left me feeling disappointed. But I didn’t think this was to blame on the writers part but more so the directors.

The Good German is Soderbegh’s homage to the movie making style of the 40’s… when the film noir was first invented (Maltese Falcon anyone?). He does a pretty decent job of it with the credits and the transitions and by making the film black and white. Not to mention the setting of last scene (which I won’t reveal, go watch for yourself). However his camera work was far too modern, which I think might have hurt him in this case.

As for the actors I’d have to say I’m a little disappointed. Cate (Blanchett) was good, but not her best, and I guess I could say the same for George (Clooney). Now as for Toby (Maguire), I’d have to say nice try, but it doesn’t work for me. Toby can’t play the bad ass, tough guy (which he does in this film). It doesn’t work for me.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

No Country for Old Men

Warning: Spoilers
- No Country for Old Men is one of the best filmed films I have ever seen. Perfect cinematography accompanied by a perfect underscore of mostly sound effects, And a perfect cast with arguably the most evil villain to haunt audiences on the silver screen. It is a delight to watch such a complete film.

However, (and of course with me there is always an however) I will admit that I was lost on the true meaning of the film. I hate to admit it, but I think the ending was lost on me. In the end the villain escapes after being mangled in an auto accident, and Tommy Lee Jones character has a powerful monologue at the end of the film that I don’t understand. What does it mean??!!

I really wish to see this movie again just so I can make another attempt to grasp it. Until then…

The Prestige

DAN - This was my second viewing of this film. The first time I saw The Prestige, I left the theater with a barrage of questions floating around in my mind. I knew it was a good film, but I gained more appreciation for it upon this second screening. This film about magicians is a magic trick itself, and it is performed almost flawlessly.

Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman each give intriguing performances that can be more appreciated the second time around. Bale in particular displays nuances that might go unnoticed if the viewer isn’t paying close attention. The film’s director, Christopher Nolan, has yet to let me down. His direction of this film is as good as any I’ve seen. I found that the film’s ending can be predicted before its reveal, but it’s the journey toward the conclusion that really makes The Prestige something unique.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Mighty Wind

DAN - Christopher Guest has a knack for creating faux documentaries with heart. He has somehow managed to assemble a group of actors who are great at improvisation, and their characters consistently come across as being genuine. A Mighty Wind is a film about three groups of folk musicians who unite to perform one concert together. Surprisingly, all of the music in this film is actually good; I suppose it helps that Guest has a history of performing folk music in real life. This film made me laugh, and at one point I almost even cried. Kudos to Mr. Guest and his troupe.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Empire of the Sun

DAN - I had seen this film when I was a child, though I could only recall one scene from it. Steve had told me that I should watch it, and I usually enjoy Spielberg’s movies, so I was looking forward to it. On top of that, I was interested in seeing Christian Bale as a child actor. I was surprised by Bale’s performance, which is really what makes Empire of the Sun a noteworthy film.

This is a traumatic film about a British boy struggling to survive in China during World War II. I’m surprised I was allowed to watch it when I was young; it could have given me nightmares. Spielberg’s direction and John Williams’ score convey a feeling of hopelessness that coincides beautifully with the story. Bale, though being only thirteen years old in this movie and without formal training, gives a stellar performance – a highlight of his career.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

American Gangster

DAN - In the past I have enjoyed the work of Ridley Scott, Russell Crowe, and Denzel Washington, so I was understandably looking forward to this film. I knew nothing about the subject matter other than what I had seen in the film’s trailers, but I trusted the talent involved. They did not disappoint. American Gangster is a well-crafted film about business, respect, and the law.

Washington plays Frank Lucas, a man who is willing to take advantage of others for his own sake and that of his family. Crowe plays Richie Roberts a non-crooked cop (a rarity in this film) who is determined to put an end to Lucas’ drug business. A good story, top-notch acting, and excellent direction make American Gangster an entertaining film that deserves repeat viewings.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

No Country for Old Men

DAN - As a fan of several films by the Coen Brothers, I was hoping that this would be another one to add to my collection. The Coens have made some flops in recent years (Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers), but based on this film’s trailers, I had a good feeling about it. The brothers exceeded my expectations, making No Country for Old Men one of my favorite recent films.

The film follows a man who, after finding two million dollars in a briefcase, must run to avoid being killed by the man who was sent to retrieve it. That man, Anton Chigurh, is one of the best villains I have seen in any film. He is a methodical killer who lets no one interfere with his determination. This film has its share of tension-inducing sequences as well as an ending that kept me thinking.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum

DAN - I enjoyed the first two Bourne films, but they never amounted to anything more than good action films. Particularly in the second film, The Bourne Supremacy, there wasn’t enough character development for me to fully invest my interest. Director Paul Greengrass’ shaky camerawork is still present in Ultimatum as it was in Supremacy, but that never really bumped me out of the films. The Bourne Ultimatum finally reveals a good portion of Jason Bourne’s past, and it seems to contain a better sense of purpose than the previous installments.

Bourne is out for revenge at the beginning of this film, which picks up where Supremacy left off. The film contains several good action sequences, including a game of cat-and-mouse between a group of assassins and Bourne, who is trying to guide an informant to safety. The ending of The Bourne Ultimatum is more satisfying than those of its predecessors, giving some sense of closure for Bourne’s story.

Broken Flowers

DAN - This is the first film I saw that was directed by Jim Jarmusch. At the time, I wasn’t familiar with his style of storytelling, and I didn’t like the film. Upon seeing this movie for a second time, I was able to enjoy it much more. Broken Flowers took me on a journey with the main character that had me rooting for him beyond the ending.

The film follows Don Johnston, played by Bill Murray, who receives an anonymous letter in the mail informing him that he has a son. He travels across the country, visiting old flames in search for the one who sent the note. During his trip, he interacts with a number of unique characters that are portrayed by experienced actors who, once again, add something special to Jarmusch’s film. The film spends enough time with Don that the viewer gains an understanding of who he is, despite his introverted personality. Broken Flowers led me to sympathize with Don. It left me wanting to know where his life goes after the credits roll.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Dead Man

DAN - This is similar to other Jim Jarmusch films in that it was filmed in black and white, but the story and the world in which it takes place are much different. Jarmusch doesn’t usually direct Westerns, but in this instance he does it well. Beautiful cinematography, intimate direction, and a list of cameo appearances by accomplished actors make Dead Man a memorable and enjoyable film.

The film features brief appearances by Crispin Glover, John Hurt, Gabriel Byrne , Billy Bob Thornton, and Alfred Molina, among others. In addition to this, Johnny Depp plays the lead role of a man who is lost in a world where he doesn’t belong. The presence of these experienced actors improved the quality of this film in relation to others by Jarmusch. His fade-to-black transitions are still present; they nearly made me want to fall asleep, but in this case they appropriately reflect Depp’s character as he drifts in and out of consciousness. After seeing Dead Man, I’m convinced that Jarmusch should make more adventure films like it.

American Psycho

DAN - Prior to seeing this film, I knew nothing about it. It looked like a cheesy horror flick, which isn’t exactly my favorite type of movie. I had seen Christian Bale in The Machinist, Batman Begins, and The Prestige, and I thought of him as a decent actor. I ended up seeing American Psycho with a couple of friends (one of them being Steve) as the result of a lack of anything better to do, and I’m glad I did. This film is horrific, gruesome, and twisted, yet I found it oddly appealing. (Hmm... what does that say about me?)

This film sparked my interest in Bale as an actor. As Patrick Bateman, he manages to seamlessly slip back and forth between being a charismatic perfectionist-yuppie and an insane murderer. The artistic direction of this film mirrors what I can only imagine is taking place inside Bateman’s mind, as there is something eerily off kilter in each scene. The mundane is made beautiful, casual conversation leads to murder, and reality is questionable. American Psycho is unlike anything I’ve seen, and though it’s not the most pleasant movie to watch, I couldn’t help but be drawn in.

(As a side note, is it coincidence that Bale has starred as Patrick Bateman and Batman? Think about it.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Stranger Than Paradise

I always start with characters rather than with a plot, which many critics would say is very obvious from the lack of plot in my films - although I think they do have plots - but the plot is not of primary importance to me, the characters are.
- Jim Jarmusch

DAN - This black and white film follows two friends and one girl, a relative from Hungary. The characters spend the first portion of the film mingling in New York City, and they later take a road trip to Cleveland and Florida in search of some adventure. The film showcases their experiences while on the trip and how they are affected by living in unfamiliar places. Stranger Than Paradise is a decent film despite its slow pace, but it is not Jarmusch’s best.

Though I enjoyed this film, it is not difficult to notice its flaws. The actors seem to be inexperienced, and their performances are not entirely convincing (John Lurie plays a similarly monotone character in Down By Law, another Jarmusch film). Stranger Than Paradise features long takes with little action. Even the transitions are slow, making the whole film seem longer and less eventful.

Yet with all of these distractions, the overall story is interesting, and it is told in an honest manner. One thing that remains consistent in Jarmusch’s films is the realism. He doesn’t flood his stories with intense, exciting, or comedic moments, like so many directors do these days. Instead, he lets the story occur naturally. He includes scenes in which characters don’t say or do much, which I recognize as being true to life.

The naturalism of Stranger Than Paradise causes the momentum to drag throughout much of the film, but it is commendable. I think highly of Jarmusch and his philosophy on film-making, even though he may not be consistently entertaining. He creates films that are pleasing to himself (and often to me, as well), and I respect that.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Paris, je t'aime

I wanted to say to someone:
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”.

But there isn’t anyone.

DAN - Paris, je t’aime is a collection of short films that take place in Paris, France. The common theme among the films is love, and it is portrayed in a variety of ways. The title is a simple yet effective summary of the assortment of films; it translates into English as “Paris, I love you.” I personally fell in love with this film, and I found that many of its short stories are emotionally satisfying and fun to watch.

Paris, je t’aime consists of 18 short films that were directed separately by directors from around the world. Most of these directors also wrote their own films. These stories display love in different forms, whether it be romantic, platonic, familial, or something unexpected; they even show love’s downside. The films, though made separately, are arranged to flow smoothly.

The people involved in the making of this film are experienced in their respective fields, though I am not familiar with many of them. I went into the theater anticipating new work from the names I recognized – The Coen Brothers, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuarón, Tom Tykwer – but I was pleasantly surprised by the other directors, as well.

For the most part, I enjoyed the individual segments of Paris, je t’aime, though they did drag here and there. Highlights for me include:
Tuileries, by Joel and Ethan Coen. An unlucky tourist suffers the consequences of making eye contact with a quarreling couple.
Bastille, by Isabel Coixet. A man plans to divorce his wife, but he finds a reason to love her again.
Tour Eiffel, by Sylvain Chomet. A young boy tells the story of how his mime parents met and fell in love with each other.
Faubourg Saint-Denis, by Tom Tywker. A blind man reflects on his relationship with an American actress. (Note: This film was made in 2004 and was used to encourage other directors to join the project)
14e arrondissement, by Alexander Payne. An American tourist recounts her visit to Paris and how the city affected her.

Paris, je t’aime is a funny, sad, uplifting, and visually captivating collection of films. Many of the stories would be equally effective without the Paris setting because the focus is on universal qualities of love. There are a few segments that passed by too quickly or didn’t seem entirely relevant, but they had little negative effect on the final product. I am pleased to say that this film successfully combines the efforts of diverse film makers, and I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


STEVE - Heartwarming and heartbreaking. Those words essentially sum up this very powerful and romantic movie. The chemistry shared on screen by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová (who are musicians and not actors) is so powerful. It’s the acting, the storytelling, and powerful music that makes this film (hands down) one of this year’s best.

Walking into the theater I wasn’t sure what to expect from an “Irish Musical”. Those words did not sound appealing to me. However there I was, not really knowing what to expect. Thank the Lord for good surprises.

The movie started off with a hilarious chase sequence that I would be unable to do justice if I tried to explain it. However, might I say that it was a terrific means to get the audience’s attention. Immediately I was pulled in and feeling for the leading man (who goes unnamed for the entire film). From there we are slowly brought into this poor musician’s world through his music. After a wonderful zoom in on our unnamed leading man as he performs on the street corner, the camera pulls out to reveal a young woman (who also goes unnamed) who was listening to his performance. From here we pulled into the obvious, but never acted on romance between these two musicians. One married while the other is still remains in love with an old flame.

The music was the most powerful ingredient in this film. I loved the scene in the music shop where guy teaches the girl one of his songs so she can accompany him on the piano. It is a powerful and moving sequence where sparks flew. Throughout the film their feelings for each other are expressed through the music they write and perform. Thankfully this wasn’t the typical guy met girl, fall in love romance. You so badly want to see that happen, to see the two get together, but their untimely romance is hindered by their past and current relationships. And the fact that they don’t get together or even kiss is what makes this movie work so well.

The last shot in this movie is a terrific closer to the story. The pull away from the window says so much.

However, as much as I really loved this film, I did have some issues. I was, unfortunately, bumped by the documentary style used to cerate that real world effect. It just didn’t work for me, especially when long takes were done. I was too distracted by it. I’ve seen other films that TV shows that are shot with the handheld effect, but the camera was almost too shaky. Was a steady cam even used? I doubt it. Also the lighting was in the film was poor, probably to keep that real world effect still going. I thought it hindered the film rather then enhance it. Some scenes were so poorly lit it was almost impossible to see what was happening.

Nevertheless, this was a truly powerful film on the subject of love and commitment. One worth recommending to others, which is exactly what I’m doing… WATCH THIS FILM!


DAN - Once has been praised as one of the best films of the year. Critics claim that it has reinvented the musical genre. I had heard nothing but good things about this film prior to seeing it, so my expectations were understandably high. I recognize that Once has the potential of having an emotional impact on its audience, but it left me wanting more.

The film follows an unnamed vacuum repair man (Glen Hansard) who spends his spare time singing songs with his guitar on a sidewalk. An also-unnamed flower vendor (Markéta Irglová) expresses interest in his music and reveals her talent in playing the piano. The two become better acquainted as they play and write music together, and a semi-romantic relationship begins to build between them.

This relationship is expressed through the music that the characters write together, but I can’t say that I always felt a connection. The first song they play together, entitled Falling Down, is meant to be profound. It sounds great, but it consists of lyrics that didn’t really mean anything to me. For example:

Words fall through me
And always fool me
And I can't react
And games that never amount
To more than they're meant
Will play themselves out

Perhaps I’m missing the ability to poetically interpret these lyrics, or maybe I’m just lacking common sense. Either way, I didn’t understand the meaning of many of the lyrics in this film. Even so, some of the musical moments in this film did impress me. In fact, I like most of the music in this film regardless of the lyrics. I was a bit disappointed, however, having expected to be blown away by the emotional impact this film’s music has had on others.

The camerawork in this film isn’t exactly steady, but it didn’t bother me. If anything, it made the story seem more honest. I’m actually impressed by what was accomplished on a budget of $160,000. The independent nature of this film and the unconventional use of inexperienced actors gave it a somewhat rustic charm.

I can understand why people love this film. It is great in its own right, but I think the fact that it’s an independent film gives it more appeal. My theory is that people give this film extra praise because of its independence; they believe they are a part of an exclusive audience, and they feel compelled to promote the film’s greatness more than they would if it had a larger budget. As a result, I expected more than I got out of seeing Once, but I do recognize its value.