Tag Archives: movies

Top Ten Movies for 2008

mini-rachel

I didn’t get to see Milk, Doubt, Wrestler and Frost/Nixon, as well as many others I didn’t know about until I read all the other Top Ten Movies for 2008 posts. My Netflix cue overfloweth.

Here are my picks:

10. Tropic Thunder:I didn’t realize it was Tom Cruise in a fat pad and bald wig at first. But then he makes some gesture and I was like, I know him… I don’t really care for Ben Stiler movies, but this one made me laugh and I thoroughly enjoyed Tom Cruise.

“You? You! Hit that director in the face, really fucking hard!”

9. Kung Fu Panda: By the numbers parody of karate movies, but with a message for the kids about enjoying your own talents. I enjoyed Jack Black more here than I did in Tropic Thunder.

“I just ate so my Kung Fu might not be that good.”

8. Man On Wire: This movie is billed as a documentary shot like a heist picture, but watching him pull off this unlikely coup, felt more like watching the fate story from Slumdog Millionaire unfold.

“The fact that I could not speak French, and didn’t know what the sound was or what had happened with the wire… was probably just as well.”

7. Incredible Hulk: I wasn’t a big fan of the Bill Bixby TV series, but I loved the way the movie riffed off that series, using nostalgia to play with my expectations. Hulk has been done to death, but this one seemed better than the rest. Norton makes a tortured Bruce Banner.

“Don’t make me hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry”

6. Get Smart: Steve Carell did a great job. Nostalgia for the old TV show really drove my expectations here, and I wasn’t let down. Carell channeled enough of Don Adams to satisfy me, but also seemed to bring a little something to Smart that surprised me. Particularly great was his tango with the obese woman.

“Sorry about that Chief”

5. Iron Man: Robert Downey was a great pick for Tony Stark. This comes in a little higher than Hulk because I am not as familiar with the Iron Man story and was pleasantly surprised Downey’s playboy turned politically aware crime fighter.

“Give me a scotch. I’m starving.”

4. Burn After Reading: The whole picture seemed like a big setup for the last scene in the CIA director’s office, but it was more than worth it.

“God no. Burn the body. Get rid of it.”

3. Slumdog Millionaire: Juxtaposing his touching boyhood story with the tawdry game show is just a brilliant idea. It really works for me

“Are you nervous?”

2. Appaloosa: I love how damaged and needy the three leads are. You could take all three and dump them in an urban setting with drugs to make some sort of action romance hybrid movie. But if you did it would be a shame. Appaloosa is at its best when it’s toying with your expectations about Westerns.

“Everybody could shoot.”

1. Rachel Getting Married: Shows a real family struggling with the burden of a daughter addicted to drugs. Really illustrates the nuance and complexity involved in family dynamics when it comes to addiction.

“That is so unfair!”

Honorable mention to Valkyrie for keeping me on the edge of my seat, despite my being familiar with the history. Also an honorable nod to The Tale of Despereaux for being a subversive little story about being different. I am too familiar with caped crusader and somehow that contributed to my dislike for Dark Knight (although Ledger did a great job, I couldn’t get past the Batman voice, the stupid “eye in the sky” technology, or the undecipherable action sequences). A victim of nostalgia, my most disappointing movie — by far — was the new Indiana Jones.

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Man on Wire

This is about French high wire walker, Philippe Petit, who strung a wire and walked between the WTC towers in the 70s. I had heard about this feat but wasn’t familiar with the details. I was amazed he was able to pull it off, considering the limitations of his crew: His American helpers were ne’er-do-wells and fuck ups, who had no idea about high wire acts. His French friends were capable, but none of them stood to gain much (and could possibly have lost their good friend, which was probably their motivation). This movie is billed as a documentary shot like a heist picture, but watching him pull off this unlikely coup, felt more like watching the fate story from Slumdog Millionaire unfold.

Now that I’ve set with it for a night, what really moved me was how Petit captured his friends and wound them so tightly into his passion. This makes the ending completely unexpected and even a little uncomfortable. I am left wondering if his one good friend was perhaps more than just a friend. There were an inordinate number of shots of bushy haired young men, frolicking in the countryside.

Interestingly they never mention the attack and destruction of the WTC, but I don’t think you can watch this and not think along those lines. The 70s stock footage of the buildings going up is eerily similar to the footage of the site after the fall. The whole idea of a plot to sneak into the WTC makes complete sense for the drama but is also mildly disturbing. At one point, they do a Ken Burns panning shot of Petit on his wire with a jetliner looming overhead in the background. I doubt any of this was meant as an intentional homage, but perhaps seeing this movie post tragedy is one reason it has captured my imagination.

Plus it’s just a bad ass stunt.

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Slumdog Millionaire

 

Slumdog_millionaire

Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is a poor Indian teen who wins big on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” but is then accused of cheating. His explanation for how he knows each of the winning answers involves offering up the tragic story of his life. Juxtaposing his touching boyhood story with the tawdry game show is just a brilliant idea.

It really works for me.

Early in the picture they show how he gets the first answer, and I understand how the rest of the movie is going to play out. But because it seems to promise an interesting and exotic collection of stories, I don’t feel bored or irritated. I understand he will ultimately win the big prize, but I want to see it anyway.

The first half reminds me of Pan’s Labyrinth, especially the big scary Indian guy with the handlebar mustache and the rioting horde descending on the boys and their mom. Jamal’s brother’s ascendance might have been a little over the top, but by the time it happens, I am already onboard. The big dance number seems like the right way to wrap it up and roll the credits–a little bit of everything for everyone.

This is in my top ten and I’m not even sure what the other nine will be.

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The Tale of Despereaux

This is a subversive little movie.

Everyone in it is fighting the power: Despereaux is a small mouse with big ears who refuses to be meek like all the other mice. Roscuro is a shipwrecked rat who mostly refuses to be evil, like all the other rats. And there is also a soup chef who refuses to abstain from cooking soup. I enjoyed it, even if it’s message seemed a little heavy handed at times.

I saw it with Holly and the kids during our trip to California. Holly, who writes Children’s literature, came away disappointed. Apparently the book is much darker and better (it won the Newbery medal in 2004) than the movie. Aaron, who also read the book, seemed pretty blasé about the whole thing. I have been amused at Aaron’s reaction because there is talk on the Web that the movie’s G rating was inappropriate for its dark story. I didn’t share this opinion, but up until now Aaron has always been our bellwether of frightening movies. Kennedy, who hadn’t read the book and was incredibly interested in seeing the movie, just about fell to pieces because her mother and brother were already comparing and contrasting the movie with the book as the credits rolled.

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Valkyrie

Valkyrie is an historical thriller about Nazi officer Claus von Stauffenberg and his failed attempt to assassinate Hitler toward the end of WW2.

The challenge with historical movies is that the audience already knows the outcome. One way to overcome this is to add a love story, like Titanic. You have to give the audience something. Valkyrie gives us two things: suspense and Tom Cruise.

I am no expert on this period, but I had heard about the Stauffenberg plot and the movie seemed pretty faithful to history. I was also on the edge of my seat through most of it. Tom Cruise does a great job, especially toward the end as the wheels come off.

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Quantum of Solace

Bond. James Bond.

I’m still a big fan of Daniel Craig as the new James Bond, but the new take on the series is not without its problems.

This is the first time a Bond movie has done an honest to God sequel, starting minutes from where the last movie, Casino Royale, left off. This seems like a mistake. Bond movies just aren’t the kind of shows you commit to memory. I found myself grappling with vague memoires of minor characters from the last show, introduced into this movie with no preamble. Both plots are incomprehensible. Worse, the action scenes are edited in a way that makes them difficult to understand. The opening car chase is a wreck (literally and figuratively). There is a boat chase that is resolved as if by magic. There is a shot of a grappling hook lying in the bottom of Bond’s boat. Bond grabs for it, but we can’t see what he does with it. Next thing you know, the bad guy’s boat flips into the air, dumping everyone into the water. In the old movies, Bond might have found an inventive and unexpected way to use some gadget given him by Q to escape the bad guys and we would have been impressed with his resourcefulness. Here we can only imagine the director couldn’t come up with a better way to resolve the action. It just seems sloppy.

Bond is all new and more ferocious than ever, but sometimes the old Bond seems to rear his head. Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton), a beautiful MI6 field operative, is sent to bring Bond home, but he seduces her and runs up her expense account in a scene worthy of Roger Moore’s Bond.

The villain in this movie, like most Bond movies, is an evil mastermind. If this one is not bent on world domination, he at least has an international scheme. But it’s not the kind of evil plan you expect from a Bond movie, rather more like a thriller from something like Syriana. Maybe this is what makes the plot so incomprehensible. Why not just have a plot to blow up the moon? Whatever it is, it needs more diabolical.

Quantum of Solace is never uttered in the movie, but Quantum is the evil organization behind all the movie’s nefarious hijinks, like Get Smart’s CHAOS or the original Bond’s SPECTER. This organization seems to be a big international corporation. You have to wonder what QUANTUM might stand for or what it’s stock ticker might be (EVIL?).

You have to hope some of the rough spots of the new Bond franchise work themselves out. So far Craig’s intensity as Bond has been enough to hold it together, but how much longer can that last?

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Rachel Getting Married

Rachel Getting Married

The big problem with movies about drug addiction is that the dramatization typically simplifies things to the point of Pollyanna. Rarely do we get a glimpse of the family dynamics that often accompany drug addiction, unless those dynamics involve the disclosure of some lurking monster—a pedophile uncle, or a raging patriarch.

What’s refreshing and honest about Rachel Getting Married is that it strives to show a real family struggling with the burden of a daughter addicted to drugs. There is one horrific reveal that drives this drama, but this family secret doesn’t explain why Kym (Anne Hathaway) uses drugs. Rather it illustrates the nuance and complexity involved in this particular family’s dynamic: the father’s freakishly co-dependent need to care for everyone, brilliantly played by Paul (Would you like something to eat?) Irwin; the mother’s (Debra Winger) palpable distance from the rest of the family; and the daughters each appearing at opposite ends of the success scale, Kym an utter fuck up, and Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) a soon-to-be PhD.

No one walks away from this movie with a new resolve to behave better. Instead there is the realism of the unresolved emotional business for Kym and her mother. Nevertheless, the movie isn’t a downer. Rachel and Kym manage a truce that feels genuine. This is probably a testament to how good the script is. There is a gloriously agonizing wedding toast scene where Kym unintentionally humiliates Rachel. And then this scene is immediately followed by a companion scene where Rachel upstages Kym in a brilliant sibling verbal coup d’état. Both scenes are pitch perfect and make you wonder why anyone would want to start a family. But this bickering is all just a setup for the wedding itself, which seems genuine, heartfelt, and almost guaranteed to make you weep.

Rachel Getting Married isn’t cautionary tale. Nor does it make you long to be as hip as the drug addict at its lead. It’s just a genuine movie about how your family can destroy you and revitalize you, sometimes all at the same time. If drug addiction is a family disease, then surely the cure is as simple as this: LOVE.

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Appaloosa

The movie opens with two gunslingers, Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) making their way into a small town in New Mexico. From there the movie seems like a predictable Western until Ally French (Renée Zellweger) shows up. In an awesome opening scene with Ed Harris, we learn she’s not married, not a prostitute, and Virgil is not entirely comfortable with women. This may be unusual fare for a Western, but it’s where Appaloosa excels. I love how damaged and needy the three leads are. You could take all three and dump them in an urban setting with drugs to make some sort of action romance hybrid movie. But if you did it would be a shame. Appaloosa is at its best when it’s toying with your expectations about Westerns.

Ally fascinates me because she’s a slave to her needs. She tries to sleep with all the leads and then some. At one point, Hitch’s girlfriend suggests Ally sleeps around to ensure her own safety and well being. Although there is some evidence to support this, it doesn’t explain why Ally attempts to seduce Everett soon after she commits to Virgil. This is a dangerous move on her part, and it seems as if the movie is turning into a love triangle drama, but then Virgil easily sees through Ally when she attempts this gambit, and the scene turns into an odd homage of the buddy trope most Westerns revere.

Not long after we discover how needy Ally is, we suddenly realize that Virgil isn’t much better. He knows she is promiscuous, but decides he can’t live without her. Harris nails this scene, describing with good natured aplomb how she bathes and chews her food, yet can’t possibly be trusted around any other males. And then this scene is followed by a gunfight that erupts so quickly there is only time for a few hurried instructions before the shooting begins. The aftermath of violence is shocking: both men lie bleeding in the dirt, surrounded by dead men. But even more shocking is the realization that nothing Ally has done to survive on the frontier can compare to what these two are doing.

Everett is probably the most well adjusted of the three, but even that’s not saying much. At one point, he admits to his prostitute girlfriend that he “only killed one person outside the law.” Despite this bald admission, Everett is undoubtedly the movie’s hero. When Ally tries to seduce him, he doesn’t find it difficult to resist her at all. He says, “We’re both with Virgil, Ally. We can’t.” Perhaps we like him so much because he seems to worship Virgil. In the end, Everett takes the law into his own hands, but he’s also putting his life on the line so Virgil can have a chance at a new kind of life, one where there is no longer a place for Everett. It’s both selfless and violent act, and then he rides off into the sunset, like a good Western hero should.

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Burn After Reading

I saw this and laughed.

I had a head cold all weekend long, but this was an enjoyable two hours. It’s a black comedy where every character is either a liar, a fuckup, or both. The whole movie seems like a big setup for the last scene in the CIA director’s office, which was – by far – the funniest bit in the whole movie.

In other news, the teachers strike is over and the kids are back in school. Hooray!

I am home hoping my head will drain and reading Theo Pauline Nextor’s divorce memoir, How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed. I took a class with Theo at the UW. Her current memoir started out as a Modern Love essay.

Perhaps that’s a good omen.

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Traitor

Don Cheadle gives a fine performance, but this is a weak movie. It could have been a fine drama or an intense thriller, but its bizarre ending widely misses the mark for both.

Samir (Cheadle) is a devout Muslim who infiltrates a terrorist group. It’s rare these days to find a Muslim hero in a leading role, so this is great, interesting. But there are far too many scenes where the point seems to be that not all Muslims are murderous extremists. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, like the movie is meant to be Islamic sensitivity training.

The thriller portion of the plot is by the numbers, but good. At one point, Samir loses contact with the American authorities helping him and it seems like the movie is going to turn into an excellent thriller. One scene in particular where Samir is left out in the cold made me sit up in my seat. But this tension never comes to much.

The close is just terrible: it’s too amoral to make for a satisfying resolution to the drama and too silly to work for the thriller.

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