Rating: 6 Not bad as a series of vignettes, but the most painful subtitles in film September 10, 2012
But fortunately there's not that much to read, and you get the gist even if your eyes give out. The characters -- father and daughter, daughter and best friend -- seem to have no history with each other, so they keep it brief. (One-syllable rhyming contests that end in monkey chatter, just like you have all the time with your dad.) And you don't need to read during the daughter and best friend's unsmiling, quirky dance routines down the street (and you try not to wonder what their neighbors think or when they got together, junior-high style, to choreograph and practice them). And you might think when a parent is dying of cancer there's a lot to talk about, but really it just means that he's tired and sits in silence, so there's not much to read there either. Except about Greece's interesting mortuary laws, and that's educational.
Ballet Shoes (2007)
Rating: 5 Not terrible October 15, 2008
An okay time-waster and fairly faithful adaptation of Noel Streatfeild's novel, with the addition of a slender love story for the grown-ups. You may wish for a little more time with the adult characters; they're more interesting than the three strangely unappealing heroines, of whom only Yasmin Paige's greasemonkey is at all likable. The stiff Emma Watson plays, ironically, a precociously gifted actress.
Fall, The (2006)
Rating: 8 googly googly googly October 27, 2008
Director Tarsem (he's dropped the "Singh") reportedly had been carrying around this story for about twenty years, and it shows. "The Fall" is a gorgeous labor of love, and if its fantastical story-within-a-story meanders a little, it's more than balanced by the extraordinary, intimate hospital scenes between Lee Pace, a moving-picture stuntman with a broken back, and Catinca Untaru, the immigrant child he charms with his story. The six-year-old Untaru seems unaware she's in a movie. Full of wonderful touches (when he makes a character an Indian, he's thinking cowbows-and-Injuns, but we see the splendid Sikh in her imagination) and the most exhilarating use of Beethoven in any film score.
Girls (HBO): 1st Season - d1/2
Rating: 8 Damn March 21, 2013
(Note: this rating only applies to disc 1.)
Just as good as everybody said. And Lena Dunham's what, 26?
I talked "Girls" over with a young coworker -- 25, female, degree in English, aspiring writer, frustrated with her office job; in other words, the ideal audience -- who was completely baffled by every character here. I can only congratulate her on her extremely healthy psyche and romantic life. The characters are mostly spot on, especially Dunham's Hannah, a wince-inducing combination of skyscraping ego and subterranean self-esteem, and Adam Driver's non-boyfriend boyfriend, an appalling creature who's all the more toxic because he's got about 2% genuine sweetness mixed in with the 98% asshole.
Minus one point because my twenties may have been a while ago, but I'm pretty sure girls don't really chat comfortably with each other while naked and/or on the toilet. Minus another point because I don't care how little you like yourself or how slovenly your habits, nobody eats cupcakes in the tub.
Girls (HBO): 1st Season - d2/2
Rating: 4 Clunk March 22, 2013
(Note: this review only applies to disc 2.)
"The Return" opens with two cliches. At least, I don't know if they're bona-fide cliches, but they feel like cliches, and I never want to see them on film or television again, young screenwriters, so take note.
1. That hallmark of youthful urban life, The Conversation Out the Window. Gals, livin' in the big city! Listen. Real-life conversations out a window would go something like, "HEY! YOU LEFT YOUR KEYS! HEY! WAIT -- GRAB HER!" "WHAT?" "YOU LEFT YOUR KEYS!" "WHAT?" "I SAID, YOU LEFT YOUR KEYS!" So maybe forego this scene altogether. Certainly conversations out the window do not consist of a chat that most humans would have had a mere thirty seconds ago, indoors. That the conversation consists of exposition intended to catch us up makes it all the more clunky.
2. "My luggage is a Hefty bag." Struggling young artist, makin' it on her own! Now, there are people who do travel with garbage bags. They are poor. You can find them in Greyhound stations. This is a woman who has been away at college before, and has been until recently comfortably bankrolled by her parents. Unless she lost everything in a fire or hocked all her possessions to pay the rent, which she didn't, she still owns things. Including a carry-on. And however madcap she is, she has the sense to pack a normal amount of clothing for a weekend and to fold things rather than to have everything tumble loose -- big laffs! -- at the airport.
If I'm nitpicking, it's because the first half of the season was so bracingly fresh. This half smells like it was written by a "pro." In "The Return," Judd Apatow. And it seems every episode in this half was written or cowritten by pros, and it's all downhill from here. Everybody, leave Lena alone. Stop "helping." Characters no longer feel real; they're moved around like dolls. ("Now I'm going to make her kiss *this* boy. Mwah!") Everyone, major and minor characters alike, is rounded up at the same "wild" warehouse party, even if they aren't in the least likely to go to wild warehouse parties. The worst casualty is Adam, who should have had a short but brilliant run. Now, not knowing what else to do with him, the writers feign amnesia of the first five episodes and turn him into some kind of noble savage, defined by his sensitivity, his talent, his open-hearted and fearless capacity for commitment, and oh yeah, "his love of books." Gah.
I'm not even touching the whole Thomas-John thing. Good God.
Going Places (Les Valseuses)
Rating: 9 it's always lucky to touch something dirty September 18, 2008
Totally exhilarating. Take Hal Erickson's frowny blurb with a grain of salt; not so much sociopaths as id-driven lunkheads, Gerard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere are on the perpetual run, slowing down now and then for purse-snatching, panty-sniffing, and occasional burps of decency. It's gleefully filthy, and, if you don't mind your gender politics a little on the caveman side, well . . . sweet. Also with Miou-Miou (the mom in "Science of Sleep") as their shared kitten, Jeanne Moreau as a newly free ex-con having one really good day, and a fresh and freckled Isabelle Huppert. Plus a terrific jazz soundtrack by Stephane Grappelli.
Holy Motors (2012)
Rating: 10 holy crap March 26, 2013
Don't read reviews! Don't read blurbs! Go into it empty!
Not that it spoiled the fun, but I wish I'd known squat about this before I saw it. Also fervently wish I'd seen it on the big screen. Get your friend who owns the huge gross-American-consumerism TV to invite you over to watch it, and turn out the lights.
Almost rated an 11. Because: ACCORDIONS: +1. Back down to 10 because: talking cars (-1).
Ice Storm, The
Rating: 7 the abject misery of the '70s December 1, 2008
Even if your memory of 1973 is mercifully fuzzy, you'll recognize the accuracy of detail in this lovely, bleak film about basically decent people at their most aimless and selfish. Ang Lee gets the overwhelming ugliness of the time -- figurative and literal -- exactly right, without kitsch or camp, and the characters feel fully lived in, with histories going back long before the movie starts. For a film set at Thanksgiving, not much to warm the heart. The kids are having as little fun as the grown-ups, and the only thankful people are the relieved husband and wife paired with each other at a key party. Excellent performances and beautifully shot. The image of a severed power line snapping, sparking, and darting to earth like a dragon will stay with you a long time.
IT Crowd, The: 1st Season
Rating: 6 averaging together a 4 and an 8 . . . April 20, 2009
. . . and we get a solid 6. The first three episodes make you brace for a joke about Mrs. Slocombe's pussy. Then. Episode 4 is unexpectedly funny. And episode 5 is weepingly hilarious. It's still a slapsticky, laughtracky Britcom of the hoary old workplace variety, but wonderfully weird.
Killer of Sheep / My Brother's Wedding (2d)
Rating: 7 October 7, 2008
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Rating: 7 As noirs go. . . October 9, 2008
. . . the plot is a little on the flimsy side. But on the plus side, it's a lot more fun than "The Big Sleep." It doesn't matter if you lose track of which female corpse is which; it's all about the dialogue. It's smart and hilarious, and if it stops just one person from saying he feels badly, it's done the world a service. With his soulful-beagle face, Robert Downey goes from humor to tearful distress better than anybody.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (1982)
Rating: 6 I need decimals to properly rate this film January 15, 2009
Let's say a 6.75. Overall a pretty good movie. In patches a great (10!) movie, with a young Diane Lane playing an unsettlingly grim, acerbic heroine. And in patches, well, a little silly (. . . 3.5?). Silly almost carries the day, culminating in a fluffy-haired music video, but it's still all good fun. Would make an excellent double feature with 1980's "Breaking Glass," if you can find it.
Lagaan: Once Upon A Time In India
Rating: 10 The ultimate sports movie October 7, 2008
Once you've pitted the colonialist English against a team of poor villagers (including an Untouchable) whose survival hangs in the balance, you've laid to rest the whole underdog, slobs vs. snobs genre. An understanding of the finer points of cricket helpful but not necessary.
Lovejoy: 1st Season - d1/3
Rating: 7 better than lorazepam May 5, 2009
An incredibly soothing show. Sure, Ian McShane breaks the fourth wall once an episode to tell us how thrilling, dark, dangerous, and bloodthirsty the antiques business can be. And we take his word for it, because he's Ian McShane. But otherwise, the show is so unutterably pleasant, rural England such a lush garden, every character so well fed and comfy -- even alcoholism is just a humorous quirk, and poverty is a very relative term -- that watching in a reclining position may induce coma. McShane makes it worth watching even if you don't need it for your nerves. Despite un-leading-man-esque thickening jowls and bags under his eyes, he's charismatic, assured, and very sexy.
Man on Wire (2008)
Rating: 8 and what the hell have I done with MY life? January 6, 2009
Not, maybe, a perfect documentary (you can decide whether the reenactments bug you or not), but you can't argue with the sheer awesomeness of the subject matter. As reassuring as it is to see Petit alive and well and agreeably hamming it up as he tells his story, somehow the climactic wirewalk is still a nail-biter. But, as Petit's old girlfriend sighs, "Tellement beau!" Two points deducted: how can there be so much good footage of the young Petit practicing in a field, talking with his friends, juggling on the streets, and nothing but still images of the WTC walk? (Almost made up, however, by the generous special feature documentary of his Sydney Harbour Bridge walk.)
Rating: 7 interestingly boring December 29, 2008
Or boringly interesting. I can't decide. Like a bizarro-world Tarantino film, "Metropolitan" is generous with dialogue from well-spoken, decorous, self-important young men and women leading well-cushioned lives. They're pompous and dull without, curiously, being unlikable. Nothing much happens to them, and you know nothing much ever will, but they make the most of the muted outrages and heartaches their soft lives provide, and it's kind of enough. Awfully pretty to look at, and gently funny.
Miss Minoes (2001)
Rating: 10 Plagiarized by Steig Larsson September 11, 2012
It just took him four years after stealing it to add a lot of crap and turn it into "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." This is the good version -- minus the missing girl macguffin, the rape, the depressing sex, the suffocating boredom, and the Swedes. And the dragon tattoo.
Released ages ago in the States as the dubbed but still delightful "Undercover Kitty," which attracted a passionate audience of four or five, "Miss Minoes" is finally here in the original Dutch. Now the world will know. This is the best children's movie ever made, but salted with enough sly humor to make it possibly the best grown-up movie-movie ever made. Your rating may vary depending on what noise you involuntarily emit when presented with a sackful of kittens, but it will not go lower than an 8. Carice van Houten hilariously embodies the soul of a cat trapped in the body of a woman (why has she never been recruited for the Batman franchise?) by a chemical spill, and okay, that part is best not contemplated too long, and Theo Maassen is equally perfect as the guy who probably never should have made it out of journalism school but who you wish was your upstairs neighbor so you could hang out and eat ice cream and chew gum together. Makes you want to visit the Netherlands -- and not Amsterdam, either, like everybody else.
Nathalie Granger (1972)
Rating: 10 Oh for God's sake, I'LL buy the Vedette 008 March 20, 2013
Lucia Bose and Jeanne Moreau are two friends (or sisters. Or something) spending the afternoon in an idyllic country house, laconically discussing what's to be done with Bose's (I think) young sociopathic . . . or maybe autistic . . . or maybe brilliant . . . or maybe . . . Portuguese? daughter, who has been (I think) expelled from school. Dishes are done. Cigarettes are smoked. A cat walks by. Once, Moreau almost smiles. Intimations of violence (the girl's reputed nastiness, the radio reports of two murderous delinquents hiding in a nearby forest) buzz in the edges of the silence (the soundtrack is free of all but carefully selected sounds), until Gerard Depardieu looms, shadow first, into view, entering the house uninvited.
I could say no end of deep things about what it all means if I looked it up on the Internet and copied some film-school stuff down, but instead I'm just rating it a 10 because I don't know how else to rate it, but I fell asleep midway and woke up to find (apparently) the same woman sitting on the same couch in the same silence an hour later, but still felt curious enough to go back and watch from the beginning. 10 for the black and white photography, and the minimalist piano score, and for the young Gerard, whose first scene is little short of harrowing.
Red Road (2006)
Rating: 8 The dialogue could fit on the back of an envelope. . . October 7, 2008
but you may still need to turn on the subtitles. What promises at first to be a fairly ordinary voyeurism-themed thriller develops into a complex and harshly beautiful exploration of loss and forgiveness. Makes a good double feature with Ken Loach's "Sweet Sixteen" if you want to be talked out of ever visiting Scotland.
Skins (BBC): Vol. 1 - d1/3
Rating: 8 vol. 1, disc 1 June 16, 2009
Every once in a while, a teen show comes along that gives you the shock of recognition. "That's ME. That's US."
For me that show was "Square Pegs." But "Skins" will do it for someone. This may not have been my adolescence, but it feels real; the wonderful Mike Bailey especially is so real -- mumbly, inarticulate, helplessly gross -- you can almost smell him. The first episode introduces the characters as a flurry of "types," but following episodes generously expand and flesh them out. The kids may, variously, eat too little, drink/smoke/take pills too much, and/or behave with a borderline sociopathic disregard for other people or consequences, but there's a sunny feeling of assurance that they're going to survive adolescence, because . . . well, generally speaking, you do.
Skins (BBC): Vol. 1 - d2-3/3
Rating: 7 Vol. 1, disc 2-3 June 16, 2009
Well. . . . It's still good, but something's faltering. "Maxxie and Anwar," the most overall enjoyable episode, also features some flabby acting. Was I enthusing over the realness of this show? Huh. By "Effy," things are getting just plain silly (and one worries, will we start spending less time in the school and more time in the hospital. . . ?), a trend that builds to the finale's climactic "Oh, come ON" deus ex omnibus.
Skins (BBC): Vol. 2 - d1/3
Rating: 6 Vol. 2, disc 1 June 17, 2009
What's happening to this show? We've taken a turn for the glum, the (melo)dramas multiply, the light moments are flat, and the "hilarious" ones (dear God, the musical. Just try getting that song out of your head) are dire. Some really lovely moments come courtesy of Peter Capaldi as Sid's dad. Oh, well. . . .
Skins (BBC): Vol. 2 - d2-3/3
Rating: 5 Vol. 2, disc 2-3 June 17, 2009
Less time in the school, more time in the hospital. Traumarama! To be clear, this is a relative 5. It's never less than an interesting show and the acting is generally good (though the actors have reached a point of diminishing returns. The more meat their characters are given, the less real the performances). In a vacuum we'd be talking maybe a 7. But considering how strong it started, and how dank, dour, maudlin, whatever you'd call this now . . . yeah, 5.
And here I thought we'd have a show where kids have sex and actually manage not to get pregnant. Sigh. The theme of Volume 2, and this half in particular, is growing up, facing responsibility, saying goodbye, etc. etc. etc. But the tears just don't feel earned. This is only the second season; we haven't known these characters that long, and too much is dumped on them all at once. Don't worry, kids at home, adulthood really isn't this bad.
Speaking of which, it would have been nice to give the adults in the show a little more time. (Or ANY time. Where the hell did Cassie's parents go?) Their problems sure do rival their kids' -- they're disabled, clinically depressed, bereaved -- and we only see them fleetingly. Can't we be allowed to care?
Summer with Monika (Criterion)
Rating: 9 Easily my favorite Bergman (well, of the two I've seen. . . . ) September 10, 2012
The New Yorker's Richard Brody describes "Summer with Monika" as being about "a warm-blooded woman who has too much life and sexual energy for her stick-in-the-mud man." Which is not quite accurate, but then, Richard Brody also has a borderline-creepy obsession with Lena Dunham's "Girls" and may not be able to think clearly when very young women are on the screen. Harriet Andersson wonderfully plays Monika as a shallow, selfish, unlikable girl whom the audience would like to strike in the face with an oar, and Lars Ekborg's endearing Harry could do so much better -- however, aside from the feeling of impending misery throughout, it's a gorgeous, frank, sexy film that makes you want to go to Sweden, and you've never wanted to go to Sweden. The usual great Criterion extras as well, including an interview with Andersson, down to earth and, cheeringly, unravaged by time.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Rating: 6 I wanted to like it. I really wanted to like it. April 20, 2009
I just couldn't. What happened, Woody Allen? Why so much telling and so little showing? What's there is fine -- the idea is fine -- all the performances are fine -- the scenes between Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz are more than fine -- but it should have been better than fine. What ought to be nuance and character development and *dialogue* -- for God's sake, it's Woody Allen! -- are steamrolled by the flat voiceover exposition. Which sounds like it was written by a freshman creative writing student. It's Woody Allen, so I trust that was the intent. I just don't know why.
Ought to have been a painfully sexy movie, but unless the mere presence of Scarlett Johansson is enough to make it so for you (it seems to be enough for everybody but me), it just isn't.
(And sorry, who gets a master's in "Catalan Identity"? And who, going for a master's in Catalan Identity, wouldn't have bothered to become fluent in Spanish as an undergrad? And how can the ulcer that serves as a plot point in Act 1 fail to react to the quantities of wine and coffee splashed at in every subsequent act? And -- and . . . . )
Zen: Vendetta Cabal Ratking (2d)
Rating: 5 When in Rome. . . November 16, 2012
. . . and the characters are Romans, you have two options for dialogue. 1) Everybody speaks Italian, with subtitles. 2) Everybody speaks English, and we make believe. Accents optional, but if one person talks like a spicy meat-a-ball, everybody talks like a spicy meat-a-ball. I watched "Zen" while finishing up another Roman show, "I Claudius," which does Option 2 right. We're watching the cream of Britain's acting talent; we can just imagine they're speaking Latin, right? The hybrid approach in "Zen" is maddeningly distracting. Awrelliyo Zen is supposed to be Italian (there is a recurring . . . joke? that the name "Zen" is Venetian, which perhaps is funny to Venetians, if they're that kind of people), only he sounds like a London cabbie, while his creepily sensual mother (fellas! When your mom greets you in the early morning wearing a clinging satin robe, do you stroke a lock of her hair while she gives you your espresso?) has a thick Italian accent. A sign says "pericolo" instead of "danger." Two thugs speak English in their car, but when they hit another car, those drivers unleash a string of mamma-mia-tutti-frutti invective -- so if *they're* speaking Italian, what were those first guys speaking? Italian language and Italian accents are sprinkled over "Zen" like oregano, but instead of giving it an Italian taste, it feels like we're watching an alternate-universe Italy that was colonized by English criminals, followed by English policemen to catch them. Truly, the sun never sets on Her Majesty's empire.
Which would all be fine if the dialogue or the plots were any good, but I fell asleep about four times per episode struggling through "Vendetta" (about a vendetta!) and "Cabal" (about a cabal!), and quit while I owed only two days' worth of late fees. Worth watching (thus the 5 rating) only because it's very stylish to look at, and Rome and surrounding countryside look very pretty, and Rufus Sewell is a very attractive man (though rent "Cold Comfort Farm" if that's your draw). Also for the cool, sixties-tinged theme music. Otherwise, your average "Rockford Files" had more interesting cases.
Oh wait, there's option 3: you can begin every episode like Jackie Chan in "Rumble in the Bronx":
"Let's practice our English."
Yeah, I wish they'd gone for #3.