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I watch movies. On DVD, at the theater, via cable TV. Sometimes I want people to know what I think about the movies I watch, regardless of whether or not they care. I promise I will make my reviews short, but I won't be ashamed to throw around cliches like "beautiful cinematography" and "post-modern irony," so be warned.

Sunday, January 30, 2005 :::

Million Dollar Baby

Why I saw it: Because I heard their was an awesome plot twist and curiosity got the best of me. Plus I like to try to see all of the Oscar movies.

What I think about it: Don't get me wrong, this is a well-made, well-acted, wholely believable movie with some great entertaining dialogue and well-written characters. It's also the meanest, cruelest, most manipulative gut-punch of a movie in the history of cinema. I won't spoil anything for anyone who hasn't seen it, but let's just say that the first half of this movie is a typical boxing drama that is really nothing to write home about. The last half of this movie is the cinematic equivalent of letting someone stab you in the stomach and then slowly twist the blade over the course of the next hour. I've never felt so cheap and used after seeing a movie and I've never left a theater so angry.

Some people might try to say that the torture of sitting through such depressing, negative, pessimistic tripe is redeemable because the movie is really about determination, or the power of the human spirit, or the triumph of the will, or some other similarly lame cliche, but I'm not falling for that tired old crap. This is the type of movie that uses every trick in the book to earn your trust and evoke your deepest sympathy, slowly building you up for an hour and a half, just so that it hurts all the more when it rips out your guts with its bare fingers and then grinds your innards into the pavement with its boot heel. Every single character, every single scene, and every single frame of this movie is just aching to manipulate you into feeling bad.

A few years ago, Bjork's "Dancer in the Dark" set a new standard for depressing movies. If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about. Just when you think things couldn't get worse for poor Bjork, they do. But the difference is that "Dancer in the Dark" didn't pull any punches. Bjork's world was an unhappy one to begin with. It didn't try to lull you into a false sense of security before pulling the rug out from under you. It was a sad story, just because. But Million Dollar Baby goes the extra mile to manipulate you into cheaply earned emotions, and it's completely unfair.

I guess you could say it's an effective movie, since it was able to elicit such a volatile response from me, but I can't forgive it. It's cheap and shallow and manipulative filmmaking no matter how you look at it, and I take offense to anyone who tries so hard to make me feel that needlessly shitty. I like movies that are able to move me emotionally, but this one went so far over the line that it went right past emotionally devastating and right into destructively manipulative. Bad, movie. Get back in your corner.

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::: posted by dan at 3:59 PM :: #

Sunday, January 16, 2005 :::

A Very Long Engagement

Why I saw it: Because I love Amelie and The City of Lost Children by the same director.

What I think about it: Basically, this movie is two and a half hours of watching Audrey Tautou pine for her long lost fiance, who may or may not have died outside of some army trenches in World War 1. It's colorful and boasts the beautiful production design that is typical of all of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's movies, but it's curiously boring, and quite long indeed. Even creepier, the war scenes depict the harsh and gruesome brutality of war with graphic aplomb, only with the same whimsical over-stylized vibe that worked so well in Jeunet's Amelie. The result is a violent movie that comes off as a little flippant, lessening the impact. Plus, it may just be me, but I think Audrey Tautou's character was a mopey selfish bitch and she elicited very little sympathy from me.

Anyway, the details of the plot are a little convoluted and hard to follow. But it's a handsome movie to watch and some of the subplots are wonderfully done, especially one involving Jodie Foster as a war bride who is put in an awkward position by her husband, and another featuring a vengeful prostitute. It's a unique experience, to be sure, but I won't want to sit through it again.

Sorry for using the word "aplomb".

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::: posted by dan at 6:28 PM :: #

In Good Company

Why I saw it: I liked About A Boy, which is from the same producers, and it got great reviews.

What I think about it: Young yuppie Topher Grace gets hired as old-timer Dennis Quaid's boss and then falls in love with his daughter. It's a pretty simple setup, and although it's fairly entertaining throughout the duration of it's running time, the movie is a little to altruistic to really have any deep impact. The depiction of horrible corporate politics is pretty accurate and revealing and Topher Grace is surprisingly good in the lead role, but Scarlett Johansson's part is terribly underwritten, and Dennis Quaid is typically smug and annoying (sorry, just my opinion, but I can barely stand that guy's Joker grin). It's got a lot of good sentiment, though, and a great soundtrack FULL of The Shins and Iron & Wine songs. All in all, most people will leave the theater pleasantly pleased, but not 100% satisfied.

I would, however, like to call a moratorium on any use of Peter Gabriel's Salisbury Hill in any future movies or trailers. Sure, it's a good song that evokes a very particular coming-of-age type of feel-good emotion, but it's so over-used nowadays that when it played in the middle of this film I almost puked and barely recovered. Let's just lay it to rest for a while. Please. RIP.

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::: posted by dan at 6:13 PM :: #

Tuesday, January 04, 2005 :::

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Why I saw it: I like Wes Anderson movies.

What I think about it: Critics are bitches. The terminally self-aware/over-produced/deliberately-paced subtle comedy stylings of Wes Anderson movies are not currently in fashion. They were a couple years ago when Royal Tennenbaums came out, but it just doesn't impress the critics anymore. The current trend in movies is straight-forward dramatic realism. It's just like any other industry really: certain styles come and go. Critics have to succumb to the trends or be shunned by the critiquing community. Just because this style of movie is currently less popular than a docu-drama like Vera Drake or a slice-of-life melodrama like Sideways doesn't mean it's not a great movie. In fact, it easily has all the style and charm of both Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums, so critics who liked those previous films and not this one should be ashamed at their backstabbery. It's funny, briskly paced, perfectly acted, cleverly scripted, and even occassionally brilliant. Some people might find the production design to be a bit show-offy and precocious, but I was simply impressed. Sure, it'd be nice to see if Wes could handle a different style or genre, but to fault him for doing what he does well is stupid.

Anyway, I thought the film hit all the right notes and even had a few awe-inspiring moments. It's slightly meandering, plot-wise. And it focuses more on creating oddball characters and absurd situations than it does building any type of sustainable emotional arch. But it's still entertaining, and unlike anything else you've ever seen.

Learn more about it.

::: posted by dan at 11:20 PM :: #


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