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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.

Saturday, April 15, 2006 :::


Why I saw it: I'd heard about the concept and thought it sounded intriguing.

What I think about it: Brick works best as a bold experiment, I guess. It takes the plotting, dialogue, and filmmaking techniques of early film noir, and inserts it into a high school setting. It's like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, and the resulting mashup of genres may seem a bit jarring at first, but if you can accept the scenario and just go with the flow then you will be pleasantly entertained and mightily impressed. It's incredibly well made, intricately plotted, and shot with a bold confidence.

The complex plot, which any real-life teenager would probably be incapable of following, revolves around a devil-may-care student investigating the suspicious death of an ex-girlfriend who may have gotten involved with the wrong crowd. The tone is not that of your typical teen drama, though; it's lifted straight from Maltese-Falcon era Hollywood. Only in this version social cliques and vice principals take the place of mobsters and hard-nosed cops. There's even a couple femme fatales thrown into the mix for good measure, because what would film noir be without a double-crossing dame?

I can see how some people might think this is just a movie where teenagers act cooler, smarter and more important than they could ever dream to be in real life, so the thought of a teenager watching and appreciating this movie is almost sickening. But to watch it outside of those concerns and to just accept the sheer audacity of it all is to appreciate its originality and inventiveness. I guess in that sense, some people might consider it to be nothing more than a precocious stunt, or a one trick pony of a movie, but it has way more going for it when all is said and done, including an immersive tone, some brilliantly-barbed dialogue, and some inventive cinematography. As for the acting, I kinda got the feeling that some of the actors weren't in on the joke, but they mostly pull it off.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if I would have been as impressed had the movie been filmed in a more appropriate setting rather than a modern day high school. Maybe I was totally fooled into appreciating this movie just because it took the chance to do something a little different. I have no answer for that, but this isn't an important or groundbreaking movie in any way; it's simply an experiment that mostly succeeds in the end. And at the very least, I would bet that you've definitely never seen anything like it before. At least not since the early forties.

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::: posted by dan at 2:00 AM :: #


Why I saw it: Great reviews.

What I think about it: Junebug is full of realistic characters who are full of contradictions and who, although eccentric and offbeat, seem completely, genuinely human. There's no plot though. Seriously. Not a stitch. The general point seems to be "Hey, check out what family life might be like in a small southern podunk town." That's not necessarily a bad thing, because it makes for some fairly enjoyable entertainment, but it's not exactly going to blow your socks off either. Junebug seems to exist mostly as a showcase for acting. And there is some great acting here. Just don't expect any keen insight or dramatic resolution.

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::: posted by dan at 1:52 AM :: #

The Constant Gardener

Why I saw it: It got good reviews.

What I think about it: In spite of the fact that it is incredibly well made in technical terms and showcases some mighty fine acting, this movie is tedious, unsurprising, lacking in momentum, and kinda boring. I'm also stuck in an odd spot when it comes to deciding whether or not I appreciate the plotting, because the movie depicts a scenario where large greedy corporations are testing experimental drugs and doses on the largely uneducated and helpless population of a third world African country. Is this really happening out there? Because if so, then at least the plot of this movie can be considered important and socially relevant no matter how boring it is. But if it's all just a fabrication of the screenwriter's imagination, well then I have to admit that it's only mildly interesting at best, and not nearly clever enough to deserve acclaim. I have to admit that I'm ignorant to this general topic, and I hate seeming out of touch when it comes to international affairs, but regardless of whether it's completely invented or based on actual events, it still wasn't involving enough to affect me on any significant level.

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::: posted by dan at 1:30 AM :: #

Inside Man

Why I saw it: Jodie Foster

What I think about it: This would have been a better movie had Spike Lee not made it. I'm not sure if he is as full of hate and loathing as the negativity in his films would suggest, but from the way he depicts every single character he shoots with utter disdain, it seems pretty clear that he doesn't like anybody on the planet, with the exception of Denzel Washington. He is also, by far, the worst enforcer of negative stereotypes working in the movies today, and don't try to give me any loopy logic about how he's using stereotypes to deconstruct racism or to force you into confronting your own personal prejudices. That's crap. And even if you give him more credit than he deserves and decide that it's not crap, well it's still a terribly ineffective technique. There isn't a single character in this movie that isn't portrayed as annoying, smug, self-righteous, amoral, or unbearably obnoxious. Plus he never fails to make poor stylistic choices, like scoring the movie with a bad funk soundtrack that wouldn't seem out of place on Sanford and Son which totally undermines any attempt at building or sustaining suspense or tension.

But that doesn't mean I think this is a bad movie. In fact, it has a lot going for it, like the above average plotting (which is rather sophisticated for a heist movie), and the brilliant structure of the story (which always gives you more information than you were expecting but somehow still manages to keep you guessing). There are also some original and interesting characters, especially that of Jodie Foster who plays one of the most intriguing personas I've seen in a movie in ages.

But on the down side, Spike's unfortunate influence can be felt all over this movie, from awkward attempts at injecting his social critiques about racism where they cleary don't belong, to some exceptionally terrible dialogue flourishes that sound as if they were lifted straight from a bad 80's buddy cop movie, such as Denzel's repeated references to his own genitalia. He even wags his finger at violent video games in just one of the many random and insultingly irrelevant digressions that plague this movie.

I don't know, it's entirely possible that I just don't understand Spike Lee or his motives. Perhaps he is working way above my head and I am just unable to appreciate his brilliance. Maybe Spike and I just don't click. But I doubt it.

Learn more about it.

::: posted by dan at 12:45 AM :: #


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