Sunday, October 29, 2006


Although Jet Li decided this is the movie to cap off his martial arts film career, I found it to be a pretty standard entry into the genre and not a towering achievement by any means. That’s not to say it isn’t completely enjoyable, because it is. It has all the standard benchmarks of a good martial arts epic: Cool turn of the century Chinese clothes, typical People’s Republic reactionary shots of Westerners infringing upon traditional society, a wise and pretty blind girl, a smackdown in a restaurant that involves the total destruction of said restaurant, etc. This movie also has heavy doses of Buddhist teachings, which is probably why Jet Li feels so strongly about it. The fights are cool, and it made we want to work out more. There are a couple twists that set this film apart so it’s definitely worth watching, especially for fans of kung fu films.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Me First!

Movie #18, The Departed

OK, I totally saw this like three weeks ago and then never posted about it. So now I'm in the familiar position of writing, "Yeah. What Maya said." Sigh. Well anyway, this is my favorite movie of the year, easily. If Scorcese doesn't win this time around, etc., etc.

Also, I can't believe we both agree that Leo turned in the best performance, considering the company he's in (*cough* Matt Damon *cough*). While critics want to either dismiss him as a pretty boy or crown him as the great actor of his generation, I tend to think he's been a little bit of both. Not once in The Aviator did I feel that Leo lost himself in the role – it was "Leonardo DiCaprio plays Howard Hughes." But then there's What's Eating Gilbert Grape. In that film, the vulnerability comes across as real, whereas in The Aviator, Leo just communicates it through a series of tics, without letting it go deeper. That vulnerability is really what sells this character in The Departed. We've all seen undercover cops in movies and on TV, but this sense of despair sets this performance apart. I can't believe I'm saying this, but... maybe, possibly, (if you refuse to acknowledge Ryan Gosling), you should sorta... give the man an Oscar. At least a nomination.

Movie #19, The Prestige
I saw this on Sunday too, so it's possible Maya saw it before me, but still! If I had just been quicker on the draw, it would have seemed like I was first.

I didn't see The Illusionist, and I also haven't seen reviews that claimed it was better than The Prestige. Their Rotten Tomatoes ratings are just about identical. But here's what I know: the actors really match up well in terms of talent, but not in terms of looks, so I'm going to give this round to The Prestige. Also, I will love Christopher Nolan until the day I die for giving me my first true movie obsession (as anyone who talked to me between the months of January-July of 2001 can attest).

At any rate, I totally figured out half of the twist within the first 30 minutes, but it's a credit to the filmmaking that I didn't stop second guessing until the very end. This one gets a thumbs up, at least partially because Christian Bale = pretty.

This Blog is Now All Maya, All Movies

Hope you guys don’t mind. Anyway, I caught Tideland during its ONE WEEK run at the Music Box. That’s right, Terry Gilliam pissed off enough people to secure a one week run in a major city. Oh well.
I swore long ago never to let negative reviews keep me from the theater… actually, I made that vow after seeing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, falling in love with it, and then reading a torrent of scathing reviews. Terry Gilliam is a very individualistic director with a finely-tuned vision that not many critics can appreciate. Tideland is around 10% on the Tomatometer right now.** I read a lot of reviews and prepared myself to be disturbed and depressed, but was completely surprised to discover that this movie was actually pretty funny. It’s bleak, but the main character is so irrepressible and delightful that she carries you past the hideous things happening all around her. I don’t know how he did it, but Terry Gilliam nailed the internal monologues of creative little girls (including the bizarre hierarchies their dolls are subject to). I can see why this movie made a lot of people upset, but it’s not nearly as graphic as your average PG-13 film. It’s sort of a gothic horror movie seen through the eyes of a little girl who doesn’t realize she’s trapped in a horror movie. Every day when you’re little is a new adventure – remember how every muddy little stream is a torrential river in your imaginary world, and abandoned houses are amusing enough to play in for an entire day? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that captures that feeling so perfectly. Terry Gilliam deserves praise for this film. And the lead actress is unbelievable – I’d take her over 50 Dakota Fannings.
It’s also interesting that two films in the theater right now specifically deal with the ability of imagination to transcend real life (Tideland and that Science-y movie with Gael Garcia). Yay for movies that are art, and not just mindless entertainment!

** Note: This movie was at 10% last time I checked, one day ago – now it bumped up to a 28%. Well done!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Three Movie Sunday, $5

Today was a successful Sunday, because I saw three movies for $5 total. And all three movies were extremely enjoyable! This is a pretty unusual occurrence, especially considering the fact that each film I saw clocked in at over 2 hours. Even when I felt ambivalent or confused by moments in each film, I can honestly say I wasn’t bored for one second – and I was in the seat from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (including previews, and a 5 minute break between movies). Incidentally, the theme of each movie was TRUST NO ONE (which I already learned from The X-Files of course).

OK, every reviewer needs to mention how this movie pales in comparison to The Illusionist. Yes, The Prestige is overly convoluted, and if you watch very closely, as the movie itself admonishes you to do, you’ll figure out a lot of the “secrets” far before the end. But it’s damn entertaining. The fact that Christian Bale and David Bowie are all over the place really makes it hard for me to be an impartial reviewer. I’ll be the first to admit that I would willingly watch a 2 hour film of Christian Bale spitting into a bucket and give it a glowing review. I swear it’s not just my personal conviction here - this film will reinforce your belief in the Almighty Christian - everything he touches is golden. He’s a superb actor. Everyone else in the movie is up to the task too, so it’s really not a bad way to spend a couple of hours, even when it starts to stretch its credibility towards the end.

Where did Patrick Wilson come from? Apparently he’s only in movies with castration themes (see Hard Candy), and apparently he’s also super hot. He’s got that studly jock thing going for him, but there’s more… enough to intrigue me, anyway. Here’s another film with solid acting all around, and I’m always overjoyed to see gorgeous people have sex during movies. It kind of turns into a weird morality play towards the end, and I might have an issue with that, but I have to think about it some more. Anyway, I’m glad I’m not married with kids in the suburbs, if nothing else.

Another tour-de-force of acting ability. This movie day must be a fluke. Since everyone is giving this movie such slobbering reviews, I feel like I can skip that part. The Departed takes its source material (the HK thriller Infernal Affairs) even farther and deeper. Hong Kong movies can be a little glib, to be honest, and this movie is really different enough to be viewed as a totally separate entity.
And who wins the Best Actor award in this all-star cast? I’m sure you’re dying to know my opinion, and I’m sure you’ll want to disagree. Remember Leonardo DiCrapio? I have to call him that, just because it’s cute. I’ve always defended his acting ability, even during his Titanic phase. I always thought he was an excellent actor, and has a much better range than most people give him credit for (just go to Gilbert Grape for confirmation – seriously, no one has ever played a mentally challenged character better than that in the history of film, and I’m saying that on the record). But with Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, and Marky Mark, someone was bound to out-act DiCrapio… Just kidding, he was the best.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I HIT 75

This is good – last year, for some reason, I only saw 66 films in the theater. This year I have 2 and a half months to go, and I’ve already hit 75. Yippee.

Last Three of the Chicago Film Fest:
12:08 East of Bucharest – This was a socio-political comedy about a supposed revolution in Romania 16 years ago. I know nothing of the history of this region, but apparently it’s unclear as to whether there was actually a revolution, or whether the communist leaders fled first, followed by the hordes of people marching through the streets. This question is examined during the last half of the movie in the form of a low-budget TV show.
The film captured the small-town Romanian atmosphere very, very well. Is this really what the small cities in Romania are like? Mud roads, public-access TV, furniture from the 70s, total poverty and alcoholism at every turn? This movie makes me think that’s what Romania is like. I don’t want to visit and find out for myself…

Suzanne – A French film about old people finding love in their twilight years. Considering the fact that this was a French film, I was pretty unimpressed. But it still made me want to live in France! The characters spend all of their time either 1. Cooking dinner and throwing dinner parties 2. Going out to parks and bars 3. Visiting the local pastry shop…. That’s it. That’s enough to make me jealous. I enjoy my life here, and think I do a good job of not stressing out too much, but I can’t find a good frangipane croissant to save my life! This movie also did an admirable job of using non-stereotypical body types. In other words, the title character was pudgy (not chubby by Hollywood standards, but actually obese by Hollywood standards). She had a good 20 pounds on me, but still looked beautiful in this film. France is doing an awesome job of using actresses who don’t fit particular body molds – when will our country take a hint?

Host & Guest – This was a Korean film about a severely depressed man who has no purpose in life. He becomes friends with a Christian, and they have wacky Odd-Couple capers. This movie was amusing mainly because of the constant digs at George Bush – at one point, a used cum-rag is tossed onto a picture of W, and another time the main character drops ramen on a newspaper, and the camera cuts to a shot of George W with a noodle-head. It’s very funny.

All in all, I wasn’t really impressed with the film fest this year. I took a chance, and saw 8 movies I hadn’t previously read about. It worked great for my schedule, and I liked a couple of the flicks, but I wouldn’t really recommend any of them to anyone. Oh well.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Chicago Film Fest Day #3

Saw two movies last night. Nothing outstanding, but at least the second one was entertaining and very funny.

Flannel Pajamas – I like Julianne Nicholson and think she’s cute, but seriously, this movie was so bad. It’s basically a two hour deconstruction of a relationship and all the various ups and downs. The beginning is all cuddly moments, inane pillow talk, and making out. The ending is all endless complaining and pointless arguments. The problem is that it’s filmed in a very uninteresting way – there’s nothing to look at (in spite of the fact that it’s filmed in New York City). It’s filmed in super-grainy DV (annoyance). The dialog is over-scripted and rings false nearly the entire time (strangely enough, most of the reviews praise the naturalism of the dialog. NOBODY talks like these people do)! And the characters are disgustingly boring! If I ever met people this uninteresting, I would run screaming from them. If you want to see a movie that imparts more information about how people think and how relationships work within 1 minute than the entirety of Flannel Pajamas, watch The Science of Sleep. If you want to see the movie that gave a jumpstart to this whole genre, watch sex, lies, and videotape (which is infinitely superior to all the talky knockoffs it spawned. Plus, it has young and dreamy James Spader in a mullet).
Just Sex and Nothing Else – This is basically a Hungarian version of Bridget Jones’ Diary. It’s very fun – it’s kind of nice to see a straight-up Hollywood movie that takes place in Europe. The director said the Hungarian film industry is very sluggish, and she wanted to make a light-hearted and fun movie that would bring people to the theaters to see something other than the American movies they usually watch.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Chicago Film Fest – Day Two

Film #1 – The Trials of Darryl Hunt. This movie gets zero stars for artfulness, but lots of stars for telling a story that needs to be told. I’m pretty familiar with exonerated prisoners since I was reading up on that for awhile - the facts are so mind-boggling and the racist details are so similar from case to case, they start to blur together. This documentary tells the story of Darryl Hunt, a black man who was convicted in 1984 for the rape and murder of a white woman in North Carolina. The crime was horrible, to be sure, but the only eyewitnesses the prosecution had were 1. A multiple felon who called in testimony under a false name and 2. Two Klansmen. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, and he had witnesses testifying to his whereabouts during the time in question. The jury was all white. Needless to say, the next two hours is a depressing look at how disgustingly racist people can be, and how the judicial system truly is stacked against certain people, namely African Americans and economically disadvantaged people. Luckily he had a lot of people fighting for him the entire time, including his original state-appointed defense lawyer, and the case crawled all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. By the time the DNA evidence was tested retroactively, proving that Hunt was not the rapist, the film travels to a point way beyond farce. At this point the prosecution started arguing that just because Hunt didn’t “deposit semen” in the victim didn’t mean he wasn’t involved. It took a random linking of a similar case and the willing admission of the true perpetrator for Darryl Hunt to finally be pardoned and released from prison.
So, to sum up: The movie is not a great one, and consists of super-grainy footage and bizarre POV shots that are inserted for no discernible reason. This movie is important just for the fact that it brings the case more attention. While leaving during the credits, Darryl Hunt passed me in the hallway (there was a panel discussion afterwards). I did smile at him, but felt odd… what was I supposed to say, “Bummer about you being cooped up in prison for 19 years by a bunch of racist assholes. Oopsie!”

Film #2 – Azuloscurocasinegro, i.e. Dark Blue Almost Black (with no spaces, for no reason). This was a cute movie filmed in Madrid. Very entertaining, good use of music, nice plot and characters, etc. Nothing outstanding, but worth watching. It was put together better than most Spanish films, to put it that way (I’m not talking about you, Almodovar!)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Poo on the Chicago Film Fest

Movie #68

This week, Jonathan Rosenbaum (the movie critic for the Chicago Reader) published his annual preview of the Chicago Film Festival under the headline: “The Best of the Fest – At a Fest That’s Not the Best.” I was a little annoyed – DUH it’s not the best festival, everyone knows that, why shit on it in advance and possibly dissuade people from attending? But so far with my one movie, I haven’t had a great experience. I saw The Page Turner, a French film which Steve saw in Toronto and raved about. I thought it was really an excellent film – great, taut little thriller, good characters and pacing, superb use of music, etc. But the print didn’t make it and they showed a goddamn screener! That’s right, they showed a low-quality DVD with the caption “PROPERTY OF DIAPHANA” in the upper left-hand corner the whole time. I don’t know whose fault it was, and don’t want to point fingers. They did offer free vouchers to everyone who was unhappy, so at least I got a free movie ticket out of it.
Steve has seen about 12 movies at the festival already (looks like he was busy while other people were having weddings). He’s been ambivalent about the vast majority of them and has only liked a couple. I pointed out that if he had watched 25 movies at Toronto he would have surely seen something he didn’t care for as well. He’s having a bit of bad luck (he also had to sit through a projected screener).
Anyway, I have two screenings on Thurs. and two more on Friday. So hopefully – no more screeners!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I Also Go To Movies

Movie #16: Half Nelson

If you've read a review of Half Nelson, chances are you already know all about Ryan Gosling's outstanding performance in this film. Well, I hope you like broken records, because I'm not going to say anything new here. Gosling somehow manages to extract all the sensationalism out of the role of Dan, and infuses him with more life and honesty than I believe the script even provides. This is not to say he "rises above the material" (for an example of that, rent The Notebook) because the writing and direction are also impressive. The film treats Dan's drug use as a fact of a troubled life. Just one fact, though, among many. Dan is an engaged history teacher, intent on getting his students interested in dialectics. He coaches girls' basketball. He is funny and sweet and loving and depressed and smokes crack sometimes. See how easily that slips in there?

Some of the film was improvised, which speaks to the strength of not only Gosling, but Shareeka Epps as well. Epps's only other credit (besides her high school plays) is in the short that led to this feature. She plays Drey with a quiet intelligence and sadness, while somehow managing to hold on to a ray of innocence.

Anyway, Ryan Gosling has climbed even higher up my Mountain O' Movie Stars with this one. Now, everyone: Go rent The Believer and The Notebook, and go see Half Nelson. If Gosling doesn't end up at least in the foothills around your personal Mountains, I'd check your pulse, because you may already be dead inside.

Movie #17: Little Miss Sunshine

You both already talked about this one, so I'm not going to go into much detail. I liked it, and I LOVED little Abigail Breslin. Also loved Alan Arkin. The whole movie could have been about the two of them and I would have been thrilled. Everyone was good, on the whole, but I will admit that I got a little tired of the quirks. And Maya's right - the end routine got very long and was a little unbelievable. It was genuinely sweet and funny, though.

Occasionally I Read Books

Book #11: The Giver, Lois Lowry

To me, reading Young Adult fiction is like eating ice cream. It's like swaying on a porch swing. It's like a sipping a nice glass of red wine. It's comforting, is what I'm saying. When I'm in a reading rut, I can always go to an old YA favorite to get me back in the mood for books.

I first read The Giver when I was in 8th grade, and it sparked a life-long interest in utopian/dystopian literature. Jonas is a 12-year-old boy in a controlled society, where both joy and pain have been removed from daily life. At 12, children learn what occupation they will hold for the rest of their lives: doctor, educator, laborer. But Jonas is told something else - he will be the Receiver of Memories, a position which will expose him to pain and joy, but also to knowledge about how the community truly functions.

Since its release in 1993, this book has been regularly taught in middle schools - which gives me some hope about the education of American kids. A book that encourages kids to question authority and embrace their sexuality is one that more young'uns should read.

Book #12: Dreamtigers, Jorge Luis Borges

All right, I confess: I didn't get it. This book came highly recommended by two friends of mine who thrust it in my hands and insisted I read it immediately. Well, it took nine months, but I'm done. And I. Don't. Get. It.

The book is a nonlinear series of vignettes that is somehow still presented as a novel, even though a main character (or any character really) only exists in the vaguest sense of the word. Many of the vignettes are thought experiments about Argentinian political and cultural figures. You're probably shocked to hear that I have no knowledge of these people or their issues, so those sections left me at a loss.

Honestly, I'm sure it is "one of the great works of the 20th Century" as it's described on the back cover, but without a study guide or footnotes or any previous knowledge of Borges or Argentina, I couldn't make heads or tails of the book.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Placeholder Post

OK, I am still alive and reading/watching/doing things, but haven't been able to get my shit together to post about any of these things. I'm going to try to get them in today, but just so I don't forget anything...

Cultural Events:
#16: Flaming Lips w/ Sonic Youth
#17: Minnesota State Fair
#18: DJ Krush
#19: Twin Cities Marathon (as a spectator)
#20: Minnesota Twins v. Chicago White Sox - Twins win the Division!

#11: The Giver, Lois Lowry
#12: Dream Tigers, Jorge Luis Borges

#16: Half Nelson
#17: Little Miss Sunshine

Monday, October 02, 2006

Movie #67

Re-viewing of The Science of Sleep

I called Steve last night to tell him how thrilled I was about The Science of Sleep, and he agreed to see it with me today. I was so excited to see this movie again – it’s kind of crazy, I admit. I’ve never seen the same movie in the theater twice within a 24-hour period. Happily, the film stood up to my remembrances well, and I stick by my previous statement about it being my favorite of 2006.
Steve only leaned over to whisper two things during the movie:
1. “This is the best thing I’ve ever seen!” – after 15 minutes into the film. Sure, he’s prone to hyperbole, but the sentiment was there.
2. “He’s so hot… it’s making me mad…” – agreed.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


I had another two movie day. It’s disturbingly easy to sneak into films in Chicago, I’ve decided. The only theater so far where it’s really implausible is Landmark (due to their weird spiral mall setup).

So what’s the big newsflash? Well, today I saw a movie that was so wonderful, I can honestly say that it’s my favorite movie of 2006 so far. It’s called The Science of Sleep and it’s amazing. I had read a few reviews of the film before seeing it, and everyone seems to agree that it’s very good but also a trifle. Reviewers keep using the words “charming” and “whimsical” (which also happen to be two adjectives that usually keep me AWAY from a movie). Of course with the Gael Garcia-Michel Gondry double whammy, I had to see it - the movie is charming and whimsical to be sure, but it’s also wildly creative in a way that is almost never seen, even in experimental or animated films.

I liked Michel Gondry’s other collaborations, but it turns out that without the constraints of plot or character development, he can make a much better film. This movie exists almost completely within the imagination of the protagonist (who is obviously a stand-in for Gondry), so anything can happen at any moment. The dialog is brilliant and hilarious. I was smiling the entire time. It’s not just a light comedy though – Gael Garcia’s character is actually quite a sad person who doesn’t exactly have a terrible life, but has a crappily mundane one (except for the living-in-Paris part). Well, I guess people in Paris can be unhappy too. Honestly, this movie is one of the most fascinating trips into someone else’s head that I’ve ever taken, and I was enchanted with every second of it. Although I had plans to see Sherrybaby right afterwards, I seriously considered staying for a second viewing. The only reason I didn’t is because I’m going to see it again this week. We’ll see how it holds up the second time around.

Do you like how I’ve written about the movie for nearly a page without once mentioning how hot Gael Garcia Bernal is? Well, I wanted to claw my way through the screen to kiss him, etc. Nothing new there, he’s cute, whatever.

The next movie I saw was Sherrybaby, which was like a glass of cold water in my face after The Science of Sleep. It’s a great film in the “kitchen sink” style – dirty rooms, gritty scenarios, and a cast of extras who really look like junkies from a trailer park. Maggie Gyllenhaal is outstanding, so the movie works – it’s simply a 1.5 hour journey into her life, with its disturbing ups and downs. I would recommend this – but seriously, if you’re going to haul ass all the way to the movie theater, you really should see The Science of Sleep first…

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Movie #64

This movie really cracked me up. It would have been better to see it in a crowded theater instead of at the Logan Budget with three other people. Often, I was the only person laughing. I loved the absurd humor and thought it really worked in this circumstance (unlike Dodgeball, which I honestly didn’t think was that funny). One of my favorite lines:
“France invented democracy… existentialism… and the ménage a trios.”
“OK, those are three really good things.”
It’s just so silly!
One problem I had, however, was the constant advertising. Yeah, I understand that they were overdoing it in order to make a satirical point. But they must have reaped millions from the sponsors! They actually stop the movie at one point for an Appleby’s commercial! In order to work as a straight satire, all of the products should have been invented (like the clown malt beverage). But this is a Hollywood picture, after all…