Wednesday, August 22, 2007


...whole bunches of movies.

Cast Away: Actually watched this one straight through on DVD on the big TV in the family room with the wife, a rarity these past 972 years.

Tight-ass FedEx android Chuck Noland (get it? No Land) gets stranded on an uncharted desert isle in the South Pacific, grows a beard, and slowly goes insane. Starring Tom Hanks, it's good clean wholesome fun!

Was this movie some kind of metaphor for college? Here's a guy who goes away for four years, gradually learns a bunch of skills that have no use whatsoever in the "real world," and finally comes back home to find that his long-time sweetheart has moved on and married some boring dentist. It's like getting a liberal arts education, only with coconut milk instead of beer.

Ah, this was OK, though. As a Zemeckis-Hanks project, it's aimed squarely for the multiplexes rather than the art houses, so there isn't the kind of deep, meaningful, philosophical gloss that (the late) Bergman or Herzog would bring to a similar tale. It also invites the temptation to shout, "Swim, Forrest, swim!" when he's trying to get off the island.

Still, the abstract ending is kind of a downer. I figure whatever was in the FedEx box is the same thing that was in Jules' brief case in Pulp Fiction. Chuck doesn't get the girl, but he can probably get a pretty decent advance for a true life adventure book, followed by a few appearances on Oprah and a speaking tour of midwestern colleges.

The Quiet American: Watched this one on DVD spread out over 4 or 5 days. Had to go back and forth a bit.

I really liked this movie.

Brendan Fraser does some goofy action movies sometimes, but he held his own with (Sir) Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters, and he was fine playing opposite Michael Caine here.

I have no idea how this compares to the novel upon which it's based, but I liked the way it slowly built momentum until it all rolled together into a really cohesive story. Yeah, the whole thing where the Girl represents Vietnam was a little heavy, but the political intrigue involving Fraser's character breezed right past that and made the movie work. It also provides a good background about what was going on with the French and Vietnam prior to the start of the American entry into the war. Good stuff, and not at all a dry history lesson.

Bubble: Or, Ocean's Zero. Watched this on Netflix via the Watch Now feature, or whatever it's called, on my computer, more or less straight through.

Part gimmick, part docudrama, part reality show, this is an ultra-low budget "experiment" by Steven Soderbergh starring Nobody and Nobodier in a pretty how town. It turns into a sparsely constructed murder mystery that isn't really much of a mystery at all, but more of a sociological character study, sort of Love and Death in Appalachia.

Well, guess what? It totally worked. At an hour and thirteen minutes, it wasn't much more than an Afterschool Special, but it was a nice little story well told. By the time the final scene plays out, it's actually pretty chilling, in a Banality of Evil sort of way.

(What's with the description on Netflix? "Steven Soderbergh's offbeat film follows the antics of townsfolk turned detectives who try to unravel a murder mystery -- and end up discovering a bizarre love triangle." Nuh-uh. Don't be fooled -- this isn't one of those ironic David Lynch microscope slides. There were no antics here, and no one was really unraveling much of anything. Bizarre love triangle, well, maybe. Kinda sorta.)

If they remade this as a standard Hollywood feature, it would star perhaps Kathy Bates as Martha, Hilary Swank as Rose and, I dunno, maybe Jared Leto or somebody as Kyle. Fleshing it out with stars and subplots and production values and such would probably suck the life right out of it, though.

A Terry Gilliam triple feature: The Brothers Grimm, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, and Lost In La Mancha. Watched them all on DVD in bits and pieces, which is typical.

Even at his best, Terry Gilliam makes some ugly, off-putting movies. The Brothers Grimm was not one of his best. It sure was ugly, though. And loud, over-designed, dull and just basically unpleasant. I'm sure it has its admirers, though.

Fear And Loathing, well, I'm no fan of Hunter Thompson, but again, this was just unpleasant. Is there anything more simultaneously boring, excruciating and pathetic than watching someone else take drugs?

Man Of La Mancha is a documentary about Gilliam's longstanding dream to bring Don Quixote to the screen. They tried to gin this up as a tale of soulless suits cruelly trampling all over Art and Imagination, but really, the story is that Gilliam's 112-year-old leading man got sick and couldn't do the film, and there wasn't really any other choice but to cancel the production. Ho hum.

Pan's Labyrinth: Watched this on DVD with the wife one night, with breaks for kid care and more booze.

Maybe I'm just missing the boat on this one. It's got a stack of glowing reviews, and it's one of those movies that everyone seems to be talking about for the last year or so, but I just don't get it. This is the kind of movie that used to sell cappuccino to self-satisfied yuppies at the Ritz Five. It was OK, but nothing special. But maybe I'm just missing something.

The Science of Sleep: Watched this partly with the wife, partly by myself, on DVD, over the course of a week or so.

See entry for Pan's Labyrinth, above. I liked Amelie better. Everyone wants to sing the praises of Michel Gondry, but I didn't really like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind much, either, and it wasn't because of Jim Carrey.

The Departed: Or, Gangs of Boston. Watched this on DVD over two nights. Wanted to keep watching straight through, but got started late and was just too damn tired. Couldn't wait to pick it up again the next night.

Yeah, this was good. Scorsese brought an undeniable technical brilliance and decades of experience with similar themes, but when he cranked up "Gimme Shelter" for the umpteenth time, it was like your crazy old uncle telling war stories -- again -- at the dinner table. Lay off, old man. Trust the story. And trust the stars. DiCaprio, yes -- it's good to see him doing some heavy lifting again instead of just coasting. (Or just throwing out an accent for two hours, like in Blood Diamond [watched that one partly on my iPod, partly on DVD.] Blehh.) Nicholson, OK, even though his Bah-ston accent and soul rebel hairstyle made him sound and look like a particularly malevolent George Carlin. Marky Mark, getting better all the time. But Matt Damon, who knew? Ed Norton should be on the phone to his agent, demanding to know why Damon's eating his lunch. Even after the Bourne movies, I didn't know he could carry a movie like this. Good for him. (I'm just gonna overlook his part in The Brothers Grimm for now.)

This needed star power and an experienced hand leading the way, because the story was pretty contrived. The source material is a Hong Kong police movie from a few years ago, pasted on to some true life Boston gang stuff. Well, Marty has always been able to spin pulp into gold, most of the time, and now that he's a bona fide legend and Oscar(R) winner, he can command the stars and dollars to do it for another decade or so.

The Simpsons Movie: Saw this in the theater!



Reel Fanatic said...

Wow, that's a lot of movies ... you can count me in the masses who thought Pan's Labyrinth was just the bee's knees .. I was just so impressed with the care that del Toro put into constructing both of Ofelia's worlds, and the interesting ways in which they overlapped .. I'm definitely with you on "The Quiet American," though ... It's one of the smartest political thrillers I have ever seen

D.B. Echo said...

I never saw "Cast Away", but I did like the FedEx Super Bowl commercial. The guy finally delivers the package, explains the situation and the circumstances, and then gently asks the recipient what was in the box.

"Oh, just silly stuff," she says. "A flare gun, water purifier, GPS locater, shortwave radio, seeds...nothing important."