Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Iron Jawed Angels

History through Hollywood. Here we get the story of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns around the time of WWI. Never heard of them? Me neither. I always associated womens suffrage with Susan B. Anthony and Cady Stanton. But these two famous suffragists worked 50 years earlier during the civil war time, and were also heavily involved in the anti-slavery movement. The 19th Amendment didn't get ratified until 1920, and this film gives the story of the fight. Alice Paul is the charismatic leader and eventually turns the tide by picketing the White House (i.e. Woodrow Wilson) during the war, getting sent to prison (along with a hundred other women) and enacting a hunger strike. All this prompts Wilson to introduce the amendment as a war measure. Rather informative and well produced. My only complaint with the film is the soundtrack. Placing modern, pop music in a soundtrack for a film set in the second decade of the 1900's is a juxtaposition I couldn't quite get comfortable with.
3-stars (out of 5)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Public Enemies

I like Johnny Depp and I like Christian Bale and I like movies where color is important. Depp and Bale perform adequately, each putting forth the requisite amount of arrogance required for their role, and each demonstrating the requisite amount "doesn't quite see the big picture". Depp as a gangster seems to actually believe that the public is on his side, perhaps viewing himself as a modern day Robin Hood who isn't really bothered with giving money back to the poor. Bale reprises Kevin Costner's role from The Untouchables and seems to have difficulty drawing lines of ethics in Hoovers budding FBI, all the while not realizing that breaches of ethics will always come back to haunt you. But the filming of this 30's drama is beautiful. Emphasized by the [overly?] dramatic scenes at night when light is needed for the press cameras, police lite flares and hold them in the air. The sepia coloring here is amazing and seems to slow down the action. I don't know if the scenes are actually slowed down, but they felt that way. And the metal spoon on a metal trash can pop of the Gatling guns was more ear damaging that most shoot-em-up films, giving a sense of the closeness and danger of the gun battles that is often lost. So while we lose the fact that Depp is really a pretty bad guy posing as hero, I enjoyed this summer diversion a bit more than I expected.
3-stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Full Disclosure: I am not a HUGE Harry Potter fan. Yes, I read every book and have seen every movie. I even went to see this iteration at midnight (comments about whether I am too old for this should be withheld). All this to say, I don't really care if the movie doesn't follow the book exactly or what gets left out or added in. In fact, I haven't read these books in the 4 years since their release, so it was new to me. The film? It was good. But to be honest, it felt like the film was a set of talking points, which would be filled in by the book. Every once in awhile, a line would pop out that was just connected enough to make sense, but was clearly a sound bite intended to cause the viewer to say "Oh, and that is where .... happened which lead to the next step". The story arc was flat (no big battles, no on screen tension that was not hormonally originated) and for the first time felt like the set up for the finale that it was. At this point, the enjoyment of the films for me will happen in July 2011 when the full series is complete and I can dedicate a day to watching the thing in its entirety. Then I won't care who is setting up whom.
3-stars (out of 5)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Hurt Locker

War Sucks! This is not an easy movie to see, but it is worth while. It follows a "bomb tech" and his three-man squad in Iraq for a few weeks. We see the absolutely brutal side of war. We see the irreparable psychological strain and damage on soldiers (and a bit on civilians). We see how deep the human psyche is affected by the actions the soldiers are taking. It is not a good thing to put humans in the position of needing to see and interact and make decisions of such consequence. While the soldiers involved are brave/courageous, even the most existential among them feels deeply. Even while engaging in a firefight from 850 meters out, when the enemy is only a wavy blur through the heat of the desert, the acts of war strike deep. This film captures all of this. One of the better depictions of actual combat that I have seen.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Quantum Hoops

Here we have a documentary about the Caltech basketball team, which is currently in the throes of an 0-two hundred something losing streak. The film follows the team for a season and adds in lots of history about past teams. The "novelty" is that Caltech, the premier intellectual center of our time, has a sports program. This is only a 90 minute film, but I got kind of tired of the "novelty". It plays as if the school and the players are just a bit proud of their superior sportsmanship and commitment, that they can continue to play hard in spite of the hopelessness of the situation. It comes across a bit arrogant. I don't think that the individual players feel this, but the program (and the film) seem to portray it. I might be wrong. Even so, the last part of the film gives us 10 minutes chronicling the last game of the season. In spite of everything, this ten minutes is a great sports story that pulled me in.
3-stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Rudo y Cursi

A tale of two brothers in Mexico who have an ongoing rivalry in nearly everything they do. The older (Rudo) has a family, a job, a temper and a gambling problem. The younger (Cursi) has a dream to become a famous singer. Neither is the responsible one and both are just a bit dim. This film tells the story of their ongoing relationship as they get discovered and play in the Mexican 1st division soccer leagues (Rudo a keeper and Cursi a striker). They manage to portray quite well the ongoing issues of being ultimate competitors and brothers simultaneously, and are able to show a bit how these relationship foibles are actually common in some form to all siblings. While it never reaches the "heartfelt" level, it is a nice little sibling movie with enough humor and reality to recommend.
4 - stars (out of 5)

Kicking & Screaming

Kicking & Screaming is exactly what I will be if someone tries to make me watch this entire movie. I watched about 3 hours worth (it seemed) only to look at the clock and realize it had been only about 35 minutes. A 1995 "comedy" about some recent college graduates who don't have any ambition and continue to hang out. Perhaps a take off on Reality Bites? Except not funny, or entertaining. Just dull and lifeless. Why did I even start to watch this, you ask? It was in my Netflix queue, although I don't recall putting it there. It was way down around 173 in the list and once in awhile I watch one of those distant-future movies just to mix it up. I wonder if I had intended to put the Will Ferrell - 2005 version of Kicking & Screaming in my queue and chose this one accidentally. Perhaps, but this was such a waste of time, I will have to actually hear a good recommendation for the Ferrell version before adding that back in to slot 173.
1-star (out of 5)

Saturday, July 4, 2009


SciFi cinema like this is rarely seen these days. Moon is not an action space movie, but an exploration of reality in a future that is distant, but not so distant that it is impossible to imagine. In fact, the flavor of this film reminded me of reading a classic SciFi short story. [aside] go read Flatland by Edwin Abbott right now! [end aside] The closest comparison in (my) recent memory is Solaris and even that got kind of creepy in the end. Here we have a vision of the future where people have made different ethical choices than we might make, along with a treatment of how these choices affect both society and the individual. For plot, Sam Bell is a lunar miner whose outpost is on the far side of the moon. He is finishing a 3-year contract to maintain and monitor the machinery which extracts Helium-3 from the lunar soil and ships it back to earth for its fusion reactors. Having lost "live-feed" contact with the earth, his entire communication is via delayed messages and his entire life is spent interacting with himself and his HAL-like buddy Gerty. If it sounds average and a bit slow, all I can say is that the beauty of the film is that with this simple plot, it isn't.

I love you, man

This made me laugh. In the vein of 40 year old Virgin and Knocked Up, Paul Rudd plays Peter Klaven, dealing with a real life problem that is common, but not talked about. Klaven has no male friends. When he gets engaged and can't identify a best man, be starts setting up man-dates and looking for a best friend. Jason Segal happens along and we watch the ebb and flow of the Rudd/Segal friendship and how that interacts with the newly engaged couples relationship. Rudd is so good as the completely awkward in any social situation guy, but he recognizes it and becomes endearing. Lots of great small touches added in make this movie fun to watch.

Away We Go

Can something be subtle and over the top simultaneously? This film seems to do that. Outrageously quirky characters made me laugh out loud. And afterwards I thought "Hmmm, interesting. How real of a portrayal was that?". A couple who is about to have their first kid, and have just been abandoned by his parents realize that they can choose anywhere to live. Where should they choose? The film tracks their journey to visit their friends and relatives in an effort to decide where they should move. We get to Phoenix, Tuscon, Madison, Montreal and Miami, discovering more about their relationship and what is important in life each step of the way. The friends and relatives are obvious caricatures that are fun to watch and let us poke fun at ourselves along the way. I was not provided the gut-wrenching hilarity that I was hoping for, but very enjoyable.