Search planetdan:

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, October 12, 2008 :::

The Happening

Why I saw it: M. Night intrigues me still.

What I think about it: I refuse to fall into the now-common conception that M. Night was a one-hit wonder (with his breakout movie The Sixth Sense). I firmly believe that Signs was a brilliantly-crafted movie, in spite of the final five ridiculous minutes. And I really enjoyed The Village, even if it totally abandoned any sense of logic whatsoever. Granted, Lady in the Water was truly horribly bad bad awful terrible, but I know that M. Night can be very masterful when it comes to building suspense and manipulating tone.

That being said, The Happening sucked. The premise is actually pretty inspired, but the way the movie unfolds and devolves into stupid cliche and unrealistic exposition can be attributed to nothing more than absolutely terrible, unforgivably bad screenwriting. There are some creepy scenes, for sure, but they are far outnumbered by the ridiculous ones, which are themselves far outnumbered by the utterly unconvincing ones. Plus, the emotion that the director tries to wrench out of the forced ending is not earned or backed-up with enough character development, and therefore it comes off as eye-rollingly silly. And finally, the acting is abysmal, presumably because the source material as written could never be realistically portrayed.

M. Night is a talented director. He really is. He's also a terrible screenwriter. He really really really needs to find a writing partner to help hone his admittedly intriguing story ideas. Someone who can slap his hand when he tries to get too heavy-handed or sloppily sentimental or when he totally ignores all sense of logic as long as it benefits his lazy plotting. And he needs to stop believing his own hype for long enough to realize that.

Learn more about it.

::: posted by dan at 5:13 PM :: #

Burn After Reading

Why I saw it: The Coen Brothers

What I think about it: The latest Coen Brothers movie is about mistaken identity, fumbling espionage, and dim-witted criminals who are all intertwined in a comically trumped-up conspiracy where no single character is ever allowed to be enlightened to the bigger picture, which unfortunately seems to mine a lot of the same territory as many previous (and more successful) Coen Brothers movies.

Similarly to how they structured their first movie Blood Simple, the Coen Brothers like to push dramatic irony to its limit and clue the audience in on what none of the characters in the movie will ever discover. It can be involving and enjoyable to watch how characters bound by fate and the consequences of their own idiocy fumble around trying to clean up messes they don't understand, but Burn After Reading isn't nearly twisty or clever enough to really draw you into its madness, and since it's presented more like a comedy than a thriller (as opposed to Blood Simple) it never really builds up enough tension to keep you involved either.

I remember being exhilarated by the ending of Blood Simple, when the audience knows exactly what has transpired but the characters are left totally in the dark, while the one man who has all the answers dies underneath a drippy bathroom sink. But the same concept doesn't have the same affect in Burn After Reading. In fact, the end result is more frustrating than fascinating.

As in any Coen Brothers movie, there a few inspired moments and reveals. Plus, it's got a great cast of actors creating some truly memorable characters, but they rarely get a chance to rise above their rather shallow characterizations. And I think that the filmmakers make a few wrong moves with which ones they decide to kill off, resulting in a tone that seems more nihilistic than thought-provoking.

Don't get me wrong, it's FAR better than a few of the Coen Brother's other recent meanderings like Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers (with the exception of the exciting No Country for Old Men and the absolutely brilliant and incomparable Fargo), but it's still a rather mediocre addition to their oeuvre.

Learn more about it.

::: posted by dan at 4:27 PM :: #

Tropic Thunder

Why I saw it: When done right, I like stupid movies. Even Zoolander.

What I think about it: There's nothing really unexpected in this new Ben Stiller comedy. Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. are both fun to watch and Ben Stiller plays the same dim-witted character he's so great at playing. Goofy things happen and you laugh a few times. If you're expecting anything more than that, you'll be disappointed.

It's basically a Hollywood satire with a few war movie parodies thrown in, which begs the broad analogy that making a movie can be a little like warfare. I'm not much for the war genre, so I think I actually prefer the fashion world setting of Zoolander, but I would say that Tropic Thunder is still enjoyable enough. It's one of those movies that you wouldn't mind getting stuck watching on TV while aimlessly flipping through the channels on a Sunday afternoon. You might even be excited to come across it repeatedly. And you probably will someday.

Learn more about it.

::: posted by dan at 3:48 PM :: #

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Why I saw it: I like Sydney Lumet and I love Philip Seymour Hoffman

What I think about it: Even though the general crime drama plotline is nothing new, and even though it features a fractured timeline which has been done to death in this genre (to the point of cliche), Before the Devil Knows Your Dead is a fascinating, albiet slow-moving showcase for some really great acting, particularly by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is slowly becoming my all-time favorite.

The fractured timeline may help to make the fairly rote plot to seem more exciting or fresh, but the plot doesn't really matter here, because this movie is all about tone and character, and it handles both to perfection. Its pace helps it build up an incredible amount of tension and the release at the end is considerable.

My only real complaint is that for a movie that seems to begin as an ensemble crime drama about an entire family spectacularly destroying themselves, the last half of the movie focuses a little too heavily on just two of the main characters, which left me feeling a little unresolved about what eventually happened to the rest of the family. But still, this movie is what most critics would call "gripping", and I would tend to agree. It's also depressing, grim, bleak, and pessimistic, with a real gut-punch of an ending. Hooray for Hollywood!

Learn more about it.

::: posted by dan at 12:44 PM :: #

Sweeney Todd

Why I saw it: I'll give any Tim Burton movie a shot.

What I think about it: It's a well-made, well-acted, well-sung, well-directed, slick and shiny adaptation of the gruesome stage musical of the same name. Yet the subject matter is so unappealing that it's impossible for me to really say that I "enjoyed" it. Plus, any underlying lesson or moral about the futility of revenge is deftly sidestepped in favor of the admittedly-brilliant production and unforgettable visuals, which only serves to take all the bite out of the underlying story. It's incredibly well-made, but somehow that didn't translate into being enjoyable to watch for me, and I think it missed a few golden opportunities to make any sort of a point or to satirically parallel our modern times. Oh well. "A" for effort for sure, but I'd rather never have to see it again.

Learn more about it.

::: posted by dan at 12:28 PM :: #

The Darjeerling Limited

Why I saw it: I still like some of the director's earlier movies.

What I think about it: I still maintain my position that Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums are two of the finest movies of the last decade. Sure, they aren't going to change the world or the face of cinema, but they are fun, quirky, absorbing, and interesting. But I have to admit that the schtick is getting a little tired. The director's most recent movies, such as The Life Aquatic, are showy but empty, and even though The Darjeerling Limited tries to stretch into deeper territory at times, it never quite makes it there.

Basically, I'm getting old, and I don't like to waste my time on pure "quirk" anymore. There needs to be underlying poignancy or resonating character development or relevant purpose to support the quirk, or what's the point? Rushmore had characters that evolved and grew. Tennenbaums had true emotional resonance buried under its topical whimsy. But The Darjeerling Limited has nothing but unlikable characters who are surprisingly impossible to identify with as they stumble across a claustrophobic, emotionless landscape. Sure, the trademark quirkiness may temporarily keep your attention, but the film will evaporate soon after you "leave the theater".

Learn more about it.

::: posted by dan at 12:14 PM :: #

Southland Tales

Why I saw it: I loved Donnie Darko.

What I think about it: Critics said this movie was a mess. Fans said this movie was a mess. The word on the film festival circuit was that this movie was a mess. But for some reason I still refused to believe that it could be the mess that everyone was claiming it was. You see, Donnie Darko was all over the board, too, but still somehow seemed cohesive and fascinating in a puzzling solve-it-yourself kind of way. Before I saw it, I was sure that everyone who didn't like Southland Tales just wasn't "getting" it. But regrettably, Southland Tales is indeed just a big sloppy mess after all.

The pseudo-futuristic plot would be almost impossible to summarize, but it's not solely the plotting the destroys the movie, it's the direction and the editing: 1) The constant shift in tone that served Donnie Darko so well falls flat on its face here, 2) The convoluted story, which holds a lot of promise for the first half of the film, sabotages itself and dives headfirst into murky territory during the last half, 3) The Rock proves that he is an awful actor no matter how you want to interpret his "performance", and the rest of the actors seem to be unsure of what kind of movie they are starring in, and 4) By the time the anticlimactic resolution rears its ugly head, the wheels have already come off. In fact, the whole machine has entirely disintegrated.

It's pretty and full of ideas, of course. But someone needs to reign in Richard Kelly, because he's got too much promise to waste.

Learn more about it.

::: posted by dan at 12:01 PM :: #

Sex and the City

Why I saw it: I liked the show on HBO.

What I think about it: Unfortunately, I have a feeling that most people's exposure to Sex and the City comes from the butchered reruns they play on network TV these days that not only edit out most of the raunchy content, but also shorten each episode by almost ten minutes, which severely affects the quality. The original HBO series started out like a lark of "girls talking dirty" but quickly evolved into something more endearing. Even if you thought that the girls were annoying or that Sarah Jessica Parker looked like a horse, you had to admit that it was a smart, well-written series from beginning to end.

The movie is more of the same. It's funny and bawdy and raunchy and endearing, but it's regrettably built on a boring, predictable, drawn-out premise about cold feet at a wedding. Plus, I felt like each character had already completed the perfect arch at the close of the actual series, so this add-on felt a little superfluous. But still, it's undeniably entertaining along the way, and it admittedly feels good to see what's going on in these girls' lives. So if you like the show, you will like the movie. If you don't like the show, it's honestly because you've never given it the chance it deserves. It's more than it appears to be to the naked, judgmental, homophobic, insecure male eye. If you've never seen the show, you'll probably wonder what all the fuss was about, because this movie is really more about catching up with old friends than it is about discovering something new.

Learn more about it.

::: posted by dan at 11:47 AM :: #


planetdan home
planetdan blog
dan's pics
fun junk

recent reviews
The Happening
Burn After Reading
Tropic Thunder
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Sweeney Todd
The Darjeerling Limited
Southland Tales
Sex and the City
Feast of Love
The Mist

sista c
b stacy b


03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004
04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004
05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004
06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004
07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004
08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004
09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004
10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004
11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004
12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005
01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005
02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005
03/01/2005 - 04/01/2005
04/01/2005 - 05/01/2005
05/01/2005 - 06/01/2005
06/01/2005 - 07/01/2005
07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005
08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005
11/01/2005 - 12/01/2005
12/01/2005 - 01/01/2006
01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006
02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006
03/01/2006 - 04/01/2006
04/01/2006 - 05/01/2006
05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006
06/01/2006 - 07/01/2006
07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006
09/01/2006 - 10/01/2006
10/01/2006 - 11/01/2006
12/01/2006 - 01/01/2007
08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007
09/01/2007 - 10/01/2007
10/01/2007 - 11/01/2007
11/01/2007 - 12/01/2007
01/01/2008 - 02/01/2008
03/01/2008 - 04/01/2008
06/01/2008 - 07/01/2008
10/01/2008 - 11/01/2008

some ads