Sunday, January 28, 2007


Movie: Sherrybaby

Now this is an amazing film. Though the subject matter is unpleasant and many of the people are awful and the main character is thoroughly flawed, the story is reality and truth, with all the subtlties of real life. The story's about a young woman (Sherry) released from prison on parole. She's a drug addict who stole to support her habit. She has a five-year-old daughter she's barely seen being raised by her brother and his wife. The plot's about her trying to get her life back on track. Though her brother's sacrified to raise her daughter she resents that, frustrated that her daughter doesn't recognize her as mother. Through the film's simple story we see all the horrors of drug addiction, life on parole, life as a convict, life in a dsyfunctional family. The level of detail is amazing, and Maggie Gyllenhal deserves an Oscar for her incredible performance. I really liked this film. It's not pleasant, it's definitely adult material, but it's so honest and genuine, and the emotions all resonate as reality. Awesome.


Saturday, January 27, 2007


Movie: Brick

Fascinating modern film noir about a high school boy acting like a hard-boiled detective, trying to find out who murdered his ex-girlfriend. The plot wriggles around like a live fish but eventually the muddle makes a little sense. (That aspect reminded me of some David Lynch films.) The dialog is the most unusual and amazing thing -- rapid paced jargon unique to the film and the students. Also unusual is the lack of adults in the movie: we only see one or two in a couple scenes, otherwise it's all teens. Very interesting, but in the final analysis, missing a little something to tie it all together. That makes it good but not great. But oh, it's so very, very close.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Smokin' Aces

Movie: Smokin' Aces

More flash than substance, with a few interesting twists and a fun cast, but the story's not much, and rather distasteful with an unsatisfying conclusion that thinks it's cleverer than it is.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Hour of the Wolf

Movie: Hour of the Wolf
Writer(s): Igmar Bergman

Really weird film about a couple on a remote island where the man slowly goes insane. At least that's what it could be about. It's purposefully left ambigous. The man sees strange visions and might have murdered a child -- or did he only imagine it? Not a lot actually happens, but the


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu

Book: Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu
Writer(s): Lee Goldberg

I had no idea there were Monk books. I'm a giant fan of the TV show and quickly bought all three books. This was the first one I read and it's terrific. The "Blue Flu" is the San Franciso police calling in sick (since they can't legally strike) and Monk ends up being temporarily instated as Captain, during which he solves a number of baffling crimes with a team of other misfits detectives who'd been fired for being nutty (like him). The book captures the hilarious spirit of Monk just like the show, but there's a lot more depth here, and I liked that he solves multiple mysteries instead of just one. Excellent!


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Break-Up

Movie: The Break-Up

I expected this to be much better considering the cast, but well, it stunk. There are two key problems. The first is that the film is about a couple breaking up which is unpleasant. We have to sit through weeks of their fighting, backstabbing, and mean-spirited, spiteful tricks on each other, which is just depressing. It's not funny at all. It's just sad. Of course all this would have been endurable because, of course, they get together in the end. But they don't. That's right. They stay broken-up. What was the point of that? I can see how some people might try to say that's realistic or dramatic or profound or whatever, but I don't really care. It's just depressing. It ruined anything good about the rest of the film and there wasn't much there to begin with. The film was marketed as a romantic comedy but there was nothing funny or romantic about it. It's just sad and spiteful and depressing. It reminded me of the horrible The Perfect Storm.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

16 Blocks

Movie: 16 Blocks

A surprisingly decent little thriller about a flawed cop who's ordered to take a snitch to court (16 New York blocks), but soon learns it's all a setup as the snitch is testifying against some bad cops and they want him dead. There are stereotypical aspects of some of the characters, but the tense builds and the dramatic ending is good, and I liked it overall. Not great, but above average.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Into the Blue

Movie: Into the Blue

I assumed this was a silly bikini-fest treasuring hunting movie set in Jamaica or somewhere and I was right; but I was suprised it was as decent as it was. There actually is a slight plot, and even a couple faint efforts at characterization. Paul Walker is his usually wooden self, and Jessica Alba just has to look gorgeous but she brings a spunkiness to the role that really drives the film. Overall it is just drivel but I've definitely seen worse, much worse.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Wal-Mart: the High Cost of Low Price

Movie: Wal-Mart: the High Cost of Low Price

I tried to prepare myself for bias before watching this anti-Wal-Mart documentary. I have mixed feelings about the company and wanted to keep an open mind. Unfortunately, this film makes no attempt at all at balance: its message is purely "Wal-Mart is evil" and no other viewpoint is even given a hint of exposure. That makes me question many of the film's conclusions. I really would like to know how pro-Wal-Mart people about some of the issues the film raises, but of course those views are not presented, so I'm left with a confusion of doubts and concerns. The real way to do a documentary like this is to show both sides and let the viewer make the decision about which is right. This one leans so blatantly in one direction it makes me want to lean the other way just out of spite! (I shopped at Wal-Mart immediately after seeing the film. It wasn't intentional -- I needed stuff at the pharmacy and they have the best prices for what I needed.) The film is also a bit shrill in some of its accusations. For instance, using emotional images of babies of single mothers who work at Wal-Mart but can't afford health care, interviews with small business owners who lost their business when Wal-Mart moved in, the whole segment on Wal-Mart parking lots' lack of security by showing emotional people who'd been mugged or raped, and the emphasis on "poor" Chinese Wal-Mart factory workers all felt manipulative to me. That isn't to say that there isn't truth in the film: some of the facts and statistics expressed in the film are enlightening and I'm sure Wal-Mart's not perfect and certainly needs to make improvements, but the way the film presents these things they come across weaker than they should. Just not good film-making. It's preaching to the choir -- it's not going to convince anyone to change their mind. People who already hate Wal-Mart will have new reasons for their hatred. Look at the genius of Super Size Me: it judged but only after the facts came in. Initially it was an experiment with no pre-drawn conclusion. That's a much more convincing way to argue. I was not convinced or impressed by this weak film. Disappointing, as I'd hoped to be enlightened.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Arthur and the Minimoys

Movie: Arthur and the Minimoys
Director(s): Luc Besson

This is a movie of two parts: it's both live action and computer animated. A young boy becomes animated as he gets shrunk to smaller than an ant and helps rescue the Minimoys, tiny elf-like creatures that live in the gardens in his backyard. Unfortunately, just like the film is two halves, I have mixed feelings about the movie. While I love French director Besson's movies, this one is confusingly contradictory. One the one hand, it's deep with incredible artwork. On the other, the story is surprisingly childish, with almost melodrama live action acting and dialogue. The pace is so quick and non-stop it's difficult to keep up; it's as though it's targeted at kids with Attention Deficit Disorder. There are moments when the movie pauses as though for drama and you expect something profound, but it's just a miscue -- in seconds the movie's shooting off in some other direction, and that moment is lost. The story's too light and flimsy, the pace too thrilling, the characters too sketchy for this to be anything but a kid's movie, yet the obvious hard work and amazing artwork is obviously designed to appeal to adults. The result is that adults will be not too impressed, while children will probably adore this. Unfortunately, since adults are the ones who pay for the ticket, this film is not going to see the success of Pixar's animated masterpieces which deftly attract all ages. Still, this isn't a bad movie. It just doesn't meet adult expectations. Also, the concept, while nicely done, feels too familiar -- haven't we all seen minature worlds often enough?


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Basic Instinct 2

Movie: Basic Instinct 2

This was surprisingly good for a sequel. Unfortunately it has to live up to the salacious reputation of the original, which hurts it, since it's really more about psychology. Sharon Stone plays her same character, and once again we aren't sure if she's really a murderer or incredibly unlucky, as people tend to die around her. Instead of a cop, her male counterpart this time is a court-assigned psychiatrist, whom she flirts and toys with, manipulating him in devilishly clever ways. It's quite well done overall, and the London setting adds an interesting foreign element, but the film's heavy burden of delivering a sexual promise weighs throughout and undermines what would have been an excellent film on it's own. The producers even acknowledge this on the DVD extras, pointing out that the film could have been released under another name, and not as a sequel, which would have helped eliminate that burder, but of course they'd potentially lose some sales with that approach. At least as a sequel it's guaranteed a larger opening. I don't think the film was that successful at the box office, however, so that gamble didn't pay off. This would have been much better with a different, less sequel-ish title, like Baser Instincts or Primary Instincts. It's actually a good film and doesn't deserve the unfair expectations sequelitis puts on it.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Curse of the Golden Flower

Movie: Curse of the Golden Flower

This is a film about historic Chinese royalty. There are three princes, a convinving queen, and a stiff king. I certainly don't pretend to understand all the confusing Chinese politics, but while basic, the story is interesting enough to hold your attention. The main attraction is the film's incredible visuals. Every scene is filled with amazingly bright colors: the golds of the opulent palace, the finery of the period costumes, elaborate tapestries and intricate flooring, and the huge courtyard filled with miles of yellow flowers. Even if you're not into the story, the visuals are remarkably entertaining. There is martial arts fighting, but instead of a single warrior hero dominating the story as in most martial arts films, here the fighting is mostly groups of anonymous warriors, mere soldiers dying for their cause. Some of these fight scenes are dramatic and wonderful (my favorite is when, in the dead of night, a hundred Ninjas drop into a village on long ropes from the mountains, gliding in as though flying), but none of the individual fighting is particularly remarkable. The story has to do with betrayal and the odd relationship between the king and the queen -- I never did quite follow or understand all that, and the ending of the film seemed incomplete to me, but maybe I just missed some important plot point earlier. At any rate it didn't make that much difference -- I enjoyed the film anyway.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Hannibal Rising

Book: Hannibal Rising
Writer(s): Thomas Harris

I bought Crichton's Next as a printed book and listened to this one as an audiobook; I should have done them the other way around. Harris' book is much better written, but confusing as an audiobook -- it's too easy to miss vital pieces of information if you aren't paying attention. Harris himself reads it, which is cool: he does an impressive job, even doing character voices and speaking various languages. The story is simple enough: this is about the childhood of Hannibal, the serial killer from several of Harris' other books. Here we meet Hannibal's parents, his tutor, and see Hannibal's keen intelligence. We also experience the horrors that turned him into a cold monster who eats human flesh. As you might expect, the book's exceedinly grim at times, though Harris' writing even makes that pleasurable (take, for instance, his description of a formerly bald man "who is now hirsute," with "green tendrils" coming from his head... and we gradually realize the man's head is severed and has been floating in a barrel for an extended period of time). The plot is not speedy, but the journey so delightful, filled with Hannibal's key influences and experiences, that we are happy to let Harris' pace things. We witness Hannibal's first kill, and then it becomes obvious that the main plot is Hannibal's quest for revenge. One by one he will kill the people who killed his family and abused him so cruelly as a child. Of course this is Hannibal Lector -- these cannot be ordinary killings -- and Harris makes them appropriately different and dramatic. The end result is surprisingly literate, considering the topic; Hannibal is without a doubt one of the most unusual and memorable characters in literature, and this book finally explains what created him, and why his character can be simultaneously sympathetic and horrific.


Sunday, January 7, 2007


Book: Next
Writer(s): Michael Crichton

What is it with Crichton lately? He can be a good writer, but in his last few books he seems to have forgotten that new technology does not make a story, it's only the vehicle. This is one of his most disappointing books yet: it's almost incomprehensible. There's no real overall plot: it's more like a collection of short stories on vaguely similar topics, with each chapter introducing new people until we're completely bewildered. Eventually some of these storylines are loosely tied together in what some might consider clever, but it's way too late by that time -- we've long since given up even pretending to care for any of the characters. The main technological problem the book explores -- the dangers of genetic engineering -- is a terrific topic with huge ramifications for society and there are a number of shocking revelations (with a few ridiculous bits of dramatic license), but the story is so light on plot I'd rather just read about these social problems as non-fiction than as a novel.


Friday, January 5, 2007

Children of Men

Movie: Children of Men
Writer(s): P.D. James

I read the book years ago and liked it, though reading P.D. James requires significant effort. As a result I liked the movie even better: it's dramatic, fast-paced, and fascinating where the book was interesting but plodding. I don't remember the specifics of the book well enough to judge the adapation, but the film worked for me. The story's a tale of the future, in a world where women all over the planet mysteriously stopped having babies -- and the doom of the human race is a mere generation away. This is a bleak future and society's gone downhill, of course: what point is there in living when there's no tomorrow? Why marry when there are no kids to raise? But that's just the setting: the story's about a man who gets involved with rebel forces who are trying to smuggle a pregnant girl -- the first in a generation -- out of England. The woman represents the future of humanity and everyone wants to use her for their own cause. Sometimes the politics of this future world are not explained well enough and the film occasionally is confusing as key facts are only stated once, indirectly (such as newspaper headlines shown briefly as the camera sweeps past). But these are minor gripes; the main premise comes across and the story's got emotion and energy.


Thursday, January 4, 2007

Net 2.0

Movie: Net 2.0

This was a straight-to-video release and it shows: while the lead lacks the charm of Sandra Bullock in the original film, she's not bad, but the script doesn't give her much to work with. She's a computer tech who blindly accepts a job in Turkey (Why there?) but arrives to find her identity stolen and herself wanted for stealing millions from her client. So she's on the run in a foreign country. Of course she's plucky and smart and ultimately succeeds in clearing her name, but this should be called Net .5 -- its a beta test, not a finished film.


Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Saw II

Movie: Saw II

The first one was surprisingly intelligent for a horror film and this one continues that trend. It is on the grim side, but the devilish traps are horribly clever (i.e. the drug addict falling into a pit of used syringes -- eek). Pretty cool if you like the genre.