by Kris Katz
Brief spoiler-free entertainment reviews

Sunday, September 30, 2007

In the Valley of Elah (2007)

Paul Haggis seems to be at it again, though you'd be hard pressed to tell that this film came from the writer/director of Crash. With a pace set somewhere between “mosey” and “molasses going uphill” and a feel far removed from his colorful vision of Los Angeles, you could almost start thinking he's grown up. The subject matter is handled with extreme sensitivity but enough rough-and-tumble to feel realistic and honest, while his directing moves toward the thinking man's drama. For the most part, Haggis and company do a beautiful job. In fact, about the only negatives to the film are the very things that make it what it is. The slow pace kills much of the story's momentum before it even takes root, leaving exceptional actors to fill in the space (which they do admirably!). Meanwhile, the extreme honestly and mind toward its potentially politically charged tale means that it's hard to feel that you're watching something you yourself haven't encountered either in real life or in another, more commercially viable movie. You could either be slowly pulled into its emotional storytelling, or put to sleep by it—could go either way. For my money, it's a very good film if you're of the kind who can appreciate acting in place of tempo.

8 out of 10.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Brown Bunny (2003)

Easily the worst movie I've watched outside of an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Brown Bunny's reputation as one of the most awful movies ever to go to festival is well-earned. The problem isn’t the idea for the story—any idea can be a good one—nor is it the lack of dialogue, which can also be an asset in a supposedly introspective film such as this. The problem is its lack of anything even vaguely interesting going on. Virtually nothing happens in the movie. We’re treated to endless shots of landscapes filmed with a mediocre eye, shown several segments in almost complete silence, introduced to people and places that have no consequence, and endure a near-endless stream of allegedly deep thinking moments of cinema that all fall completely flat. It would be different if the audience was given something to latch onto: some inroad or emotion to relate to and consider, but we get nothing. All we get is a long, boring journey from one cripplingly inert place to another. If Vincent Gallo’s goal with this film was to illustrate exactly how soul-crushingly dull a solo road trip across the country can be, then he has succeeded admirably.

None out of 10.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Blood Simple (1984)

Joel and Ethan Coen (collectively the Coen Brothers) are something of a film institution at this point, so it's always interesting to head back to the origin. As their first film, Blood Simple succeeds in some areas, and utterly fails in others. To call the introductory 40 minutes or so slow paced, overly drawn out, and just downright boring is about as fair as I can bring myself to be. There's hardly a word spoken, and each line is delivered with a good 3 or 4 seconds of pad time between. It's visually well made, but nothing is happening. Thankfully, or mercifully depending on how you look at it, the second half of the film is generally excellent. It has a chilling thriller vibe, and the previously cumbersome slow pace almost becomes an asset as it's used toward generating suspense instead of drama. As the paranoia mounts, the film picks up interest, gains character, and the true origins of what the Coen Brothers are capable of becomes apparent. It's half of a great beginning, but definitely better suited to the more patient among us.

7 out of 10.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Resident Evil 3: Extinction (2007)

Can only come up with two positive things to say about this movie: the exterior settings are nicely dressed in that desert-apocalypse sort of way, and the movie isn't any worse than the second. I could ask what the point of this film being made might have been, but it's been obvious ever since the (abysmal) second movie grossed $51 million domestically. So what do we have here? Awful effects, acting that ranges from apathetic to aggressively bored, action sequences edited so poorly that the only reason you know the heroes are okay is because they're heroes, logic gaps that make the Grand Canyon seem like a flesh wound, and a zombie pimp. It's the kind of movie that thinks its audience will fall into a narcoleptic coma if something loud doesn't happen every forty-five seconds (I'd like to thank Yahtzee Croshaw for that line), while at the same time finding new ways to murder suspension of disbelief with yet another piss-poorly assembled fight scene. When the best the film can throw at you is a bit toward the end that seems “okay” instead of the usual “root canal bad” you seriously start to wonder if the millions of dollars spent on movies like this might not be happier living in a fireplace.

2 out of 10.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Eastern Promises (2007)

Director David Cronenberg knocks it out of the park with this one. What The Godfather did for the Sicilian mafia, Eastern Promises does for the Russian mob, and succeeds almost as well in about half the run time. Stephen Knight's screenplay is a wonderfully complex puzzle box of mixed and ever-changing alliances and games of superiority through intimidation. The result is a fanatically character-driven and methodical plot that isn't afraid to be frightening or difficult. Meanwhile the acting brings the story to life with painstaking fluidity and detail. Every performance in the film is perfection. Toss in the natural kinks that director David Cronenberg naturally brings to any project, and you've got a meal fit for a king. Really, it's extraordinary filmmaking, unapologetically brutal and complicated, intimidating and powerful. It is a mafia masterpiece.

10 out of 10.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Crash (2004)

Should probably start by saying that I am a white male, raised protestant, in what is arguably the most privileged country in the history of history. Crash is all about hot, spicy racism but the script gets so caught up in trying to depict different ways to be racist, and different ways for people to feel bad about themselves for being secretly racist, that it forgets to try to build its characters beyond any kind of archetype. Screenwriter Paul Haggis seems determined to smash you over the head with agenda after agenda for the first half and then pulls a few too-convenient contrivances to wrap up, gives you a a last second here-we-go-again, and is off on another adventure. Luckily, most of this is saved from what would've been garden variety obscurity by great acting (I think Terrance Howard might be the next Denzel) and generally excellent directing, ironically by screenwriter Paul Haggis. There are a few really remarkable moments in the movie that fill you with wide-eyed wonder and power, and the mixing up of the broken narrative is handled exceptionally well, managing to keep you involved and interested in each of the separate threads. What the film lacks in depth due to a slipshod script, it makes up for in pure filmcraft almost completely. I'm not the kind of person who gives an okay movie extra points just for tackling a difficult and relevant subject, but it is a true testament to Paul Haggis's skill in calling the shots, and his casts' skill in receiving them, that his script is not only saved, but quite watchable.

8 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Lookout (2007)

Raise your hand if you've seen Brick. For the three of you, all you need to know is that this is just like Brick, but more realistic and with a dash of Memento thrown in. It even stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite under appreciated movie stars. At the surface, there's not much more here than a clever caper film; what sets it apart are the bits when it isn't furthering the conspiracy. Levitt plays a character of beautifully sympathetic vulnerability, turning his side of the film into an examination of how to live and work with a serious disability, while at the same time using that exploitive character trait to overcome the forces out to get him. Mixing a meditation on disability with a scheme flick makes for a damn smart hook, managing to pull you in at the start with surprising tenderness and somber character writing, and use that to build on the twisted narrative. It's not an epic double-cross movie, or a caper classic, but an exceptional example how to take a pair of tired and crusty genres and show there's still a lot of juice there if you know which direction to start from. Levitt needs to be in more movies. And the rest of you should really see Brick.

9 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Black Snake Moan (2006)

Yes, I agree the title would be an awesome name for some piping hot porno. Can we please move past that? I gotta hand it to Craig Brewer: his tale of salvation through the blues sports a soundtrack that would make Tarrantino green with envy. It also has an outstanding performance by Samuel L. Jackson, and a style that's gritty, sad, and uplifting like the blues itself. The issues the film suffer stem largely from the plot's overall concept, and the film's ending. The story feels like it would fit better in a '70s exploitation flick than in a hard examination of self-abuse. If you let yourself stand back from it, the whole thing can feel more than a bit silly, and sadly it has a couple of moments throughout that let you do just that. As to the closing minutes of the film, I'll only say they mistakenly muddy the message in their struggle to tie together all of its threads. In all, if your mind can let go of the ridiculousness of the central struggle there's a pretty good movie here about atonement and letting go of your past, of loves had and lost, and the reasons we sing the blues.

8 out of 10.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Don't see this movie. Please. Save yourself the trouble. I took one for the team here, so let that be the end of it. I saw this movie so you don't have to. In its ninety minute run time, I witnessed sex, attempted genocide, stomach churning body mutilation, several rapes, and of course several instances of cannibalism (sometimes accompanying the rapes). Then there are the real things shown, such as horrific animal cruelty—not staged, faked dummy-animals filled with sausage and dye, but honest-to-goodness killing of several woodland creatures on film for the film—as well as several minutes of real execution and mass grave footage courtesy of then-Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Buried somewhere in this repugnant mess of a movie is a decent question of whether it's our modern society, or that of the cannibalistic tribes who are the more savage. If nothing else, this analysis is effective, but sitting through what is basically a horror-snuff film to get to that message is more than a person should have to bear. This is considered one of the most controversial movies of all time (which is what drew me to see it), featuring sex and violence of a nature I can only begin to describe without making my stomach do backflips; this is among the most disgusting, depraved, repulsive films I have ever laid eyes on—I wish I could unsee it. I really do. And if IMDB's trivia page is to be believed director Ruggero Deodato regrets ever making it. Do yourself a favor: stay away.

This film does not deserve a number.

Note: I should point out that I have no trouble with the survivalist and abatoir types doing what must be done for people to survive and eat. I understand that for people to eat, something must die, and sometimes brutally. But seeing animals killed for no other purpose than to be filmed for supposed "entertainment" crosses a line for me. A remake of this movie is apparently due out in 2009. If anyone would like to start a picket line, e-mail me.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Death at a Funeral (2007)

When it comes to making enjoyably forgettable comedies, it's tough to beat Frank “Voice of Yoda” Oz. Here the Jedi Master goes all British on us, depicting hijinks and shenanigans occurring at a place where the stiff upper lip gets all the more rigid: a funeral. As the comedy of manners unfolds we get the standard issue set-up and follow-through, where almost every step of the way is telegraphed far ahead of time. It's a testament to Oz's skill that the payoffs, punchlines, and misconceptions—despite their predictability—range from witty and clever to downright hysterical. All is aided by a very solid, if vague, cast led by a guy from Trainspotting, a person who was killed in Grindhouse, a side character from V For Vendetta, a midget, and Alan Tudyk. Yoda's latest is certainly not the most original comedy to come along lately, or even the best, but it's surprising how much mileage you can get out of the old tried-and-true when you put it in the hands of someone who knows what they're doing. Good to see Alan Tudyk has been staying in shape.

8 out of 10.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Host (2006 South Korea, 2007 USA)

Also known as Gwoemul.
Now this is how you do a monster movie! Take a splash of Godzilla, lightly season with bits of Jaws, Jurassic Park, and Alien, a dash of Evil Dead 2 for humor, and sprinkle liberally with anything by Hitchcock. Cook for two hours and out pops something wonderfully surprising and delightfully original. Terrifying monster? Check. Large-scale action sequences? Check. Brisk pace? Check. An involving story? Check. Social commentary on government intervention? Check. Bet-you-never-saw-that-coming plot twists? Check. Almost everything in this movie just works. So what if it dives into a bit of melodrama and overacting? Who cares if the effects aren't up to Pirates or Transformers standards? This movie is just plain, good natured, friendly, scary, silly, unique fun. I don't know how they did it, but those wacky Koreans may have pulled together an honest-to-goodness new classic monster movie.

9 out of 10.

Note: The English dub manages to get the point across, but is only so-so. If you don't mind subtitles, stick with the original Korean.

The Brave One (2007)

Only ever been to New York once, for a grand total of 48 (wonderful) hours, and even I know you DO NOT go to Central Park at night. Somewhere amidst the downright foggy moral ambiguity is a decent flick I suppose, but it is difficult to suss out who it's aimed at exactly. On the one hand, it's got a decent female empowerment kick to it, an emotional lead, tempered pacing with an emphasis on storytelling, and Sarah McLaughlin in the soundtrack. On the other, it's a dark tale of fear and revenge, the brutality on display is as gruesome as its R rating implies, what humor is here is morbid and cynical, and lots of wonderful swear words are bandied about regularly. It's either a manly chick-flick, or a girly guy-movie. I mentioned emphasis on storytelling a moment ago; I should elaborate. While it certainly concentrates on plot, it does so at a cost of character development. What's the use of basing an entire journey on the ramifications of someone's departure when you don't bother to make us care for the person leaving? I had trouble getting into the really emotional side of the story. It's still entertaining to see the almost film noir tale lumber forward but what should have been a punch in the gut was more like a really hard slap on the wrist.

6 out of 10.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Ultimate Gift (2006)

Cynically, I wonder if Abigail Breslin's charm and appeal will last past her child star years. Though released and marketed as espousing strong Christian overtones and values, the movie manages to stand on its own surprisingly well. It doesn't wear its religion on its sleeve, and the very few points where it does come up don't feel forced or preachy. With that out of the way, the film itself is a decent morality tale with sadly slipshod editing. The story is a good, if extremely clich├ęd, narrative of learning to value what you have. The problem is it's told with what feel like obvious gaps in the tale, where important character moments or critical situational set-up is missing. It doesn't cause the plot to miss any important lessons, but it makes the big moments where it tugs at your heartstrings have significantly less impact than it ought to. Pity, too. The acting, the overall directing, and the delightful turns the drama takes all work, but it's just missing the edges of time it would've needed to feel complete.

6 out of 10.

'It's Not News It's Fark: How Mass Media Tries to Pass Off Crap as News' by Drew Curtis (Book - 2007)

If I were to take everything I learned in college about analyzing mass media, then to add in everything I've learned the last several years actually working in mass media, distill it down into 300 pages and add a witty writing style, it would only be about half as informative and quintessentially true as this book. Drew Curtis, who owns and runs one of the most popular news sites on the Internet, tears the whole process of news gathering and reporting down at such a backbreaking level that it's almost insulting. A book on how news is gathered and distributed is probably not everyone's cup of tea, but speaking as someone who's been an insider of the industry for a good portion of my life now, Curtis gets it right. You'll laugh, you'll learn, and you'll probably feel more than a little slighted at the conclusions he draws, but it strikes true enough that you can't help but wonder how the News business survives in the first place. An absolute must for anyone in or studying media, and a piece of near-brilliant observation for any news junkie.

8 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The 11th Hour (2007)

Charitably, this could be called 'An Inconvenient Truth 2: Inconvenient Harder,' but I don't even think it rates quite that good. The problem with this film isn't necessarily of filmcraft, it's a decently made documentary. It's that we've seen it before, and done better and more persuasively. Basically here we have Leo Dicaprio showing us a laundry list of independent sources telling us what we “obviously think” about issues relating to renewable resources and global climate change. I don't have a problem with the argument being made to save the planet—I agree with their assertion that something needs to be done—it's just that there's very little persuasion going on, and a whole lot of assumptions. It preaches to the choir. All that said, it's a good film, and if you're already of the mindset this movie tries to assume you are, then you'll find a nice supplement to that other Inconvenient movie out there.

6 out of 10.

Mr. Woodcock (2007)

If I had to guess, based on his performances in Bad Santa, Bad News Bears, School For Scoundrels, and now Mr. Woodcock, Billy Bob Thornton is gunning for King of the Low Brow Comedy. It's kind of sad, honestly. Thornton managed one of the most amazing come-from-nowhere break-outs I can think of with his role in 1996's Sling Blade, but now he's just doing one horrible comedy after another. Here he faces off against Sean William Scott, the very same person who took the low brow comedy of American Pie and drove it down past the gutter into some kind of subterranean humor hell. Great. Wonderful. It's Bad Santa versus Stifler. Toss in a pile of awful punchlines, inane physical comedy, and a 100% predictable plotline and you've got the makings of another dull, unfunny two hours of celluloid. Thornton actually seems to try to make the most of a bad situation, but everyone else is on a kind of clueless I'm-just-here-to-get-paid form of autopilot. If only the committee that built this floater had realized that the only thing this film had going for it was its titular character, then maybe it would've spent more time creating a funny script, or better yet, not made the movie at all. At least then I'd have that chunk of my life back.

2 out of 10.

Ghost Rider (2007)

This review is based on the 'extended' cut of the film.
I have nothing against the idea of a leather-clad, chain-wielding, burning skeleton who rides atop a motorcycle whose wheels are made of fire. I really don't. I have nothing against Nicholas Cage either. Nor any problems with a father who makes an honest living as a professional plot device. Apparently, someone does. There is not a single good thing I can say about this movie. The acting ranges from bored to horrible all across the board, the script is something you'd expect in some goth kid's student project, and the special effects—the one thing you should be able to count on when a movie costs upwards of $110 million dollars—are absolute trash. It's a superhero film. I get it. You're supposed to lower your expectations and suspend your disbelief a bit when watching them. After this, I think I'll just hand my disbelief a noose and be done with it.

3 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Girl Next Door (2004)

This review is based on the 'unrated' cut of the film.
Now here's an interesting thing: most R-rated movies about teenagers try their best to pump in as much T&A and dirty jokes as they possibly can. Most of these are awful. Then comes along this movie, which cuts out the middle man and makes an R-rated movie about teenagers and porn stars. And it's excellent! Though, even I have to admit that it's a bit inconsistent. If I had to judge the whole movie by the first half hour, I'd call it a genre defining coming of age story and knock out for the rest of the night. It's a drama at first, but that doesn't last as the sparse but effective humor of the start takes the center stage as the story gets more and more convoluted and ridiculous. The movie swaps between genuinely funny comedy, and effective drama for much of the remainder of the film. The problem here is that the comedy side of film and the drama side don't really feel like they have anything in common. It's like watching two separate movies juxtaposed on top of each other. Both are well made, but seemingly unrelated. It isn't till the very end that both films come together, the mixed-up plot reconciles itself, and you're left with the feeling of cinematic euphoria that comes from a truly good ending. Ultimately it's not the definitive genre film it could've been, but it gets enough right that it doesn't matter.

8 out of 10.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

Being the story of an outlaw and a family man in the American south(-wild-)west as told by actors Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, an Aussie and a Brit respectively. Are we so low on manly man actors in this country that we need to outsource? As to the film itself, there really is very little to complain over, but at the same time nothing to start calling friends about either. The script is well written and engaging, the film's pace set to a steady and sure 'amble', the costuming and accents correct in their place, and the acting solid all around, especially Ben Foster's turn as a brutal second banana to Crowe's first... pineapple? Everything seems to skate the line of “very good” from start to finish, but never quite makes the jump into “great”. The only disappointment about the whole thing is that its ending takes what becomes a fascinating study of moral ambiguity in the wild west and lends it a level of uncomfortable certainty, simultaneously confusing and insulting the audience in the process. Worth seeing if you're a fan of non-ironic (except that whole Brit/Aussie thing), old fashioned westerns. Good to see Alan Tudyk is still getting work.

8 out of 10.

TMNT (2007)

I can't believe I'm about to say this: I hope this movie gets a sequel. While it falls into many of the traps that aimed-mostly-at-kids films tend to fall into, it nonetheless manages to come across as wonderful return for four+ of my childhood idols. The acting is great, the animation is spectacular, and the action scenes are exceptionally well done (the fight in the rain is particularly exciting). The movie tends to be a bit too quick-paced for its own good at times, preferring to throw you through plot with redundant exposition at a break-neck speed, but the personalities of the entire crew, from the four turtles to April, to Casey Jones and the rest managed to tickle my nostalgia bone for all the right reasons. Even with everything it gets right however, it still has trouble keeping its footing for the majority of its running time. The things it gets right are stellar, but there are just enough hard-to-define off balance elements that keep it from being what it could be. A more focused sequel could fix a lot of these elements and bring in more outstanding action scenes as well. Maybe somehow bring in Shredder too... Till then, I'm mostly pleased with what I saw.

7 out of 10.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Rent (2005)

AIDS! Woo! Lets all sing about it! Look, I won't deny that the music is about as catchy as you can possibly cram into a musical, or that the cast isn't... uh... well cast. I just think it was a mistake to have Chris Columbus direct. His tendency to take deep, dark, complex themes and turn them into sterile, safe films goes against the very grain that this story deserves. This is a tale of slow painful deaths, poverty, and homelessness. Instead we get pretty-boy actors singing about how much it sucks to be gay/sick/a documentary filmmaker in a supposedly poverty-stricken part of New York City that, while home to an unusually high population of homeless folks, still somehow seems like a nice place to live. The whole film just feels disingenuous. Part of the reason that musical theatre is fun to watch is seeing real live people sing their hearts out and dance their feet off in front of you. The magic of film editing means that anyone can pull off even the most impossible dance steps, and computer tech can easily alter a failing voice to make sure it's exactly on pitch. I don't question that there's a great show in Rent, but I question the wisdom of putting to film something that worked so damn well on stage and shoehorning it onto the silver screen, especially under the direction of someone incapable of making a movie with any real dirt in it. The soundtrack remains nearly brilliant and the story still works, but whatever it is that makes this show a phenomenon never made it past the proscenium. Good to see Alan Tudyk's stunt double is getting work.

5 out of 10.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Fullmetal Alchemist (TV series - 2003 to 2007)

Silly title aside, as a whole this series turned out much better than I expected it would. In its world the science of alchemy is mankind's greatest tool and weapon, and the law of equivalent exchange, where creation through alchemy must also yield equal loss, is the guiding principle. The show follows two brothers as they search for the mythical philosopher's stone, a tool said to allow an alchemist to bypass equivalent exchange entirely. Along the way they become embroiled in wars, politics, religious struggles, and a few old fashioned grand conspiracies. For its part, this show depicts both the best and worst of what anime has to offer. On the bad side it has a brutally slow start, obscure cultural cues, a few filler episodes, moments of nauseatingly introspective melodrama, and a neat pile of too-convenient coincidental plot devices. But the good far outweighs the bad, featuring absolutely outstanding character writing, a plot that manages to make good sense despite its near-Shakespearian complexity, and relevant and powerful metaphors about sin in science, the ongoing struggle between religion and science, and the army's conduct in dealing with opposing cultures. It's all very heady stuff, and most of it is extremely well handled. It also has the good sense to come to a close instead of being like so many endless anime soap operas out there (have some evil eye, Dragonball, Inuyasha. and Gundam!), meaning the story has a definable and easy-to-follow arc that lets the massive plot move forward to its close at a tolerable pace. There is a good bit of action in the series but it's far from the program's focus, preferring instead to hone in and develop on the 20 or so major characters. All of this is aided by remarkably competent voice acting in most of the English dub. As a whole, the series may not be perfect but its hard to argue when by the end of its 51 episode run I was genuinely and meaningfully touched by its melancholy conclusion.

8 out of 10.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Conquerer of Shamballa (2005)

In a lot of ways the film reminds me of the Scouring of the Shire chapter in the novel (and not in the film) 'Lord of the Rings' where after the Ring is destroyed, the hobbits return home to find that the Shire has been overrun by brigands. This film takes place after the series' conclusion, meaning that all the major plot points that existed in the show are solved, with only a few loose ends left to create a movie from. Bad move. While it's nice to spend just a bit more time in the world of alchemy, the entire effort feels forced. What was once a smart metaphor for for so many relevant and layered conflicts now boils down to a third-rate Indiana Jones adventure. The character writing is still good, and the voice acting actually managed to improve compared to the series, but the story just doesn't manage to justify its existence. It's nice to wrap up those last few threads but I'm of the opinion they were better left unsaid.

3 out of 10.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Shoot 'em Up (2007)

This film may be the most enthusiastic mess released to theaters since the original Saw. It even has close to the same hook: Saw showed jaded moviegoers brand new ways for characters to die onscreen, while Shoot 'em Up has brand new ways to conduct a gunfight. It's actually very easy to see how this got greenlit. The script is light and breezy with just enough story to set up the next crazy gunfight, the action concepts on display range from tried-and-true-with-a-twist to bet-you've-never-seen-THIS-before, and the dialogue is virtually one cheesy one-liner after another. It has popcorn muncher written all over it. And then the movie starts and you realize the director is nigh untested, and his vapid-but-fun script is all of the former and precious little of the latter, which wouldn't be such an issue if there were more than two funny lines in the whole film. A pair of particularly fun action sequences show up, though by the time they roll around you're already checking your watch. On paper, a gunfight between a man with ten broken fingers and another who's lost so much blood he can't even lift his pistol sounds hilarious. In ideal circumstances it could have been Charlie Chaplin with guns, but it just never comes together like you beg it to. The ideas are here, the enthusiasm is here, but the craft isn't.

4 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Tideland (2005)

If Raising Arizona, Pan's Labyrinth, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, and Castaway had some freaky four way sex, this would probably be their illegitimate bastard movie child. It's just a shame that it isn't as good as any of those movies. Except Castaway, but that isn't saying much. Starring a soon-to-be-jailbait kid, a lobotomized epileptic and a prosthetic Jeff Bridges, it's the kind of film that makes you wonder why you started watching it in the first place, and keeps you watching to see if it ever devolves into full-on train wreck or just skirts around the idea. The pun was unintentional. It's a fascinating movie that maintains Terry Gilliam's kung-fu grip on fantastic camerawork, but never quite coalesces into truly solid narrative till literally the last five minutes. That it remains interesting if occasionally grating throughout is to its credit. Gilliam's work has always been about keeping the audience off balance (recall his animations for Monty Python back in the day), but some stuff comes off better than others. Tideland pretty much manages to show that he's still got the gift to make a great movie, but that sadly this isn't it. Still, if you like Gilliam's work it is absolutely worth watching.

7 out of 10.

Superbad (2007)

I'll just come out and say it: Judd Apatow is singlehandedly saving the R-rated comedy. Everything he's touched has gone golden, from 40 Year Old Virgin, to Knocked Up. Here he takes a producing role in what is, in my opinion, the best yet in his ongoing string of extremely smart, hilariously raunchy, and embarrassingly honest comedies. It just feels like what the end of high school was like—the parties, the drinking, the desperate attempts to stay friends with people you probably were never going to see again, and that one last chance to prove to yourself that there was some point to it all. Movies like this come along once in a very long while: the kind of film that for better or worse defines a generation of teenagers. It's the kind of film that, frankly, should be required viewing for anyone with a high school aged kid. This is how it is, hilarious warts and all.

10 out of 10.