recent movies

I've been distracted by the screen saver thingy lately, so I've been slacking on my movie reviews. Here they are in the bulk Costco twelve-pack:

Call of Cthulhu

    I posted about this a while ago; it's a live-action version of the Lovecraft story of the same name, done in a silent movie style, with effects that also look "period". It was surprsingly well done! The lighting seemed a bit off in some scenes, especially near the beginning, but overall they did a really good job maintaining the look.

Before Sunset

    This is a sequel to Before Sunrise, the movie where Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy walk around Vienna all night having a slacker-angst conversation. I liked that movie (much to my surprise, since I normally find talking-head movies like that to be a waste of the medium; and also I've hated everything else by Linklater). Before Sunset is a good sequel to it. It takes place ten years later, and the two characters haven't seen each other since. The whole movie is a real-time coversation where their slacker-angst has been replaced with middle-aged what-the-hell-went-wrong angst.


    Wow, I hated this movie. More specifically, I despised every character in it. It's a story set over a number of years in which two couples keep cheating on each other with members of the other couple. There's a whole lot of repeated "I need you, I can't live without you" dialog, which, every time, just left me thinking, "ok, why?" Which maybe was the point, but in the end it was just an exercise in watching hollow, untrustworthy people repeatedly betray each other, and really, who gives a shit.


    This was great. The whole movie was Dave McKean's artwork come to life, and that alone is reason enough to see it. (You may remember him as the guy who did the covers of Sandman.) The plot was surreal and dream-like, and didn't always make a lot of sense, but that was totally ok for this kind of movie. It had a lot in common with Labyrinth (of which it is arguably a loose sequel) but fortunately that similarity ended well before "David Bowie in a Tina Turner fright-wig".

When Night is Falling
    This is a little story about a Christian-school teacher who dumps her preacher-fiancé and runs off to join the circus with a lesbian acrobat she met in a laudromat. It's cute. In one of those weird coincidences, the travelling circus seems a lot like the one in Mirrormask.


    Some guys with a startup company in their garage accidentally build a time machine (oh no, I gave away the big obvious secret!) The fictional science is pretty interesting, and some of the inter-personal tension and betrayal is well-handled, but the plot is needlessly confusing. In the commentary they claim that a lot of this was on purpose, but really, it was just sloppy-as-hell writing. There were parts that were confusing that were certainly not intentional "ambiguity".

    They made this movie for approximately no money, so all the reviewers cut them a huge amount of slack for that -- and they did do a very good looking job technically -- but you can't blame "failing to actually express the plot" on budget.


    This movie was incomprehensible and boring. It felt like I was watching The West Wing in Spanish without subtitles. Maybe there was a good movie in here tying to get out, but I couldn't tell. Individual scenes were good on their own, but I was left with little clue how it was all supposed to fit together, or even who half of the main characters were.

    Also the electrocution-in-the-pool scene pissed me off, because electricity doesn't work that way.

Good Night and Good Luck

    I enjoyed this, though it felt like a much smaller story than I was expecting, and in the end it felt like what they accomplished was pretty trivial. If in fact it wasn't trivial, they didn't do a very good job of expressing why that was. Murrow's conflict with McCarthy felt like it was almost at the same scale as the sub-plot about the two secretly-married co-workers. The look of it was great, as was the acting, though I think I caught lung cancer from this movie.

    I think The Insider told a better version of the "reporter versus corporate bosses" story.

Night Watch

    Sucked. Everyone made a big fuss over the subtitles in this movie (which slide around and are colored and stuff) which is a neat trick, but really, so what. The movie starts off as, basically, good-vampire-cops versus bad-vampires, and then staggers through a few different disjoint subplots about an apocalypse prophecy, a "chosen one", etc. It was bleak and dark and grimy and very, very Russian -- which is to say, long, boring, and full of alcoholics. (And dirtbag men in 1980s Adidas track suits.)

    The overriding theme of this movie was "you say you're the good guys but you're just as bad!" You can tell it's the theme because it's in the dialog over. And over. And over again. I get it already! Wow, it's so fucking deep I think I'm getting the bends. I'll be in the decompression chamber.

    In a vampire movie, please stick to the core competency of kicking ass and drinking blood, ok? Thanks.

    Also, I think that if I was the thousand year old leader of all vampires, I'd have a nicer office. It wouldn't look like the back room of a sweat-shop, even if I was Russian.

Underworld: Evolution

    Another day, another shitty vampire movie. Now, I'm one of the few people who actually liked the first Underworld. I thought it looked great, especially for its miniscule budget, and I liked how they pulled off having a dense backstory while still essentially being a chase-and-ass-kicking movie. Also, hot chick in corset with sword. Dude.

    This one, though, was awful. The plot was hard to follow, and I couldn't tell half of th characters apart: "Wait, is this the same guy, or his brother? Wait, didn't he die in the last movie? Wait, is this guy really the flying monkey from earlier? Ah, fuck it, who cares." It felt like a bad adaptation of a novel, where they tried to compress 800 pages of prose into 100 pages of script. Also, they somehow left out the essential Hotness.

V for Vendetta

    Alan Moore disowned this movie because he couldn't get over his bad experiences with DC Comics and with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie. That's too bad, because this movie was really very faithful to his writing.

    There were a number of places where it diverged from the comic where I thought that was a mistake, but the were also a number where it diverged and I was glad that it did: they excised a few sub-plots that didn't really advance the story. (For all its awesomeness, the V comic did bog down in the middle.)

    It was a very good movie. Moore criticised it for changing the story's conflict from "Government versus Anarchy" to "American Neo-Consevatives versus American Liberals", but I don't know what he was talking about (perhaps an early draft of the script?) because the movie I saw was definitely the former.

    I think the biggest mis-step the adaptation made was to make Evie basically lower-middle-class. The comic had a real Handmaid's Tale feel to it, where women were essentially property, and it opens with Evie's first night as a prostitute. By starting her off with a corporate job, they took a lot of the desperation out of her. Likewise, I thought they didn't really sell why the people were ready for revolution. All we ever see of the regular citizens is them complacently sitting in the pub or living room watching TV. What made them get up and march? The comic handled this with the destruction of the surveilance network, and the resultant crackdown with government thugs in the streets; the movie only barely hinted at that.

    I thought it was a cheap shorthand to make the government actually use Nazi-esque imagery (uniforms, color schemes, etc.). That was silly; actual fascism will never look like that again.

    I was disappointed that they didn't include This Vicious Cabaret, the song that comprised half of one issue of the comic (and recurs throughout). It was released as a single in the 80s (word by Alan Moore, music by David J of Love and Rockets / Bauhaus) and it's a fantastic song that perfectly captures the feel of the story.

    The "V" single was later re-released on David J's album On Glass, which is also out of print, but due to be re-issued soon. Fortunately it's not hard to track down an MP3 online: Hidden City posted one here, and if that goes dead, you can at least hear a 30 second clip at Amazon. (I see that David is touring with The Dresden Dolls this year, and there couldn't be a more perfect match.)

Soul Plane

    Ok, I didn't really watch this; Tivo foisted it on me, and I fast-forwarded through it and watched about ten minutes throughout, but my god, how do movies like this get made? Are there people who think this is funny? These jokes are so old they have Alzheimers! A fetus could tell you the punchline from the setup. It's like it wrote itself (which is not a good property of comedy). I guess this movie demonstrates that it's not "blackface" if black people do it; but neither is it funny.

    (I was flipping channels the other day and came across a stand-up comic making jokes about Asians having small dicks, and mixing up "L" and "R" sounds -- but oh the irony, he was Asian! Same thing.)

    Anyway, this movie made me wonder a few things:

    • Do you think Tom Arnold makes any money doing this kind of crap? I mean more than he would make doing something he'd be better at, like selling shoes?
    • That actress who played his wife -- the uptight suburban helmet-hair woman with the too-far-apart eyes, who always plays exactly the same role -- what do you figure she's like in real life? I mean, she's a Holywood actress, so she must be an extroverted schmoozer, right? Does she wear her hair like that to the parties where her agent is doing coke off a hooker's ass?

    • Likewise, those guys whose entire acting career has consisted of playing cops -- what's that like for them? Did they, at some point when they were in their drama school "movement" class, learning how to wave their arms and emote like a tree, really be the tree, did those guys ever have a moment of clarity where they realized "I'm going to spend my entire career playing cops from New Jersey"? These are not, after all, the kinds of people who become cops. These people were the A/V Nerds.

    These are some of the questions I have. I have more.

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52 Responses:

  1. fo0bar says:

    I saw Primer in mid-2004 when the filmmakers "screened" it at Defcon in one of the larger conference rooms. And I'm now glad I've found someone who shares the same "meh" for the movie as I do. I found the character interactions very good, and the concept of the plotline was interesting, but the execution was jerky and slightly boring. It was an OK, but not great movie, but was satisfying given the price (conference admission divided by waking hours times movie length equals roughly $2.50).

    However, when I find other people who have seen the movie, they rave about how it's the best underground film ever, etc, etc.

    • evan says:

      Not that this is an excuse for it, but a second viewing of Primer makes it make a lot more sense. Since the time travel is revealed later, you don't realize on first viewing that the scenes you see when you see them the first time are already (in the movie world) the characters' second or third times through them.

      I have to give it credit for not going the easy route: too many movies spell everything out and make me feel like the director thought I was stupid. But this one went too far the other way, where the director made it so complicated the plotline wasn't graspable in a single viewing.

      • bitwise says:

        Yeah, it's definitely the kind of movie that you have to watch twice. If that's not your cup of tea, fine, but it's silly to claim that the movie doesn't make sense. Compared to Mulholland Drive this was pretty straightforward.

        Primer is particularly impressive given that it was essentially a one-man operation, made for only a few thousand dollars. He even wrote the soundtrack himself!

      • jwz says:

        Well, I figured out it was time travel from the trailer, so I was ready for that. But yeah, if you miss fundamental aspects of the movie on the first viewing, that's badly done.

  2. hentaikid says:

    It occurs to me that possibly Alan Moore still holds the rights to vicious cabaret and did not want to let them use it. Having a TV show with yakety sax probably isn't quite so elegant but it probably was easier for the audience to understand. And Stephen Fry's character was, imho, one of the improvements over the 2 characters in the comic he replaced.

  3. ideaspace says:

    I know this is pedantry, but Moore's problem is with DC Comics, in re: this particular kerfuffle.

  4. sherbooke says:

    I might actually go and see V. It did seem for a while there that the film would be a right turkey. The comic is brilliant, always worth re-visiting. Does the film do justice to the drug scenes?

    Not so sure about the Dresden Dolls, though. I saw them at Glastonbury last year, pretty much on the strength of what I've read here. They performed well enough and seemed likeable. However, channeling the ghost of Kurt Weill was OK for one or two songs; it seemed a bit much for an entire set.

    • flipzagging says:

      The drug scene is alluded to. Fans of the comic can fill in the details.

    • latemodel says:

      It's entirely possible that the Dolls have outlived their entertainment value. Amanda is more a performance artist than a musician, and running the same show for five years gets tiresome. She's quite capable, though, so if you want something more than just likeable keep an eye out for whatever she gets her hands in next.

  5. Nightwatch, though, was good.

    Yes, Primer is one of the most overrated movies ever.

    But you are wrong, wrong, wrong about Closer. Dammit.

    • mackys says:

      Closer has Natalie Portman as a stripper. Hence all the fanboys must love it.
      But personally, I think JWZ summed it up pretty well. Shallow people betraying each other over and over again because they're too dumb to notice a good thing when they have it.

      A few people have told me that Requiem For A Dream didn't affect them much, because they had no pathos for the characters. I never understood what they meant until I saw Closer. Then I understood perfectly.

      • grahams says:

        I just felt that Requiem for a Dream was a glorified after-school special... The only part that was actually interesting was the Ellen Burstyn character... But the rest of the film reinforced my opinion that Aronsofsky is an overrated hack. Thank god they kept him away from Batman...

        • mackys says:

          Ellen Burstyn was unbelievably good in RFAD. I think it was total robbery that she didn't get the academy award for Best Supporting Actress that year.

  6. krick says:

    Have you seen "Carnal Knowledge"?

    From the description you gave, it sounds like Mike Nichols just remade Carnal Knowledge and called it Closer.

    • hafnir says:

      As I recall, Carnal Knowledge was a lot more enjoyable. Closer was almost unwatchable except for about 5 minutes (I'm definitely male).

  7. xach says:

    I enjoyed Tape by Linklater, too. The hatred of the gimmicky use of DV disappeared about 5 minutes in.

  8. kamaraga says:

    Your "Night Watch" description was accurate, but you missed out on everything that made this film worth watching. For the intended Russian audience, it was an elaborately-crafted inside joke, a delightful mash-up of pan-Slavic pagan mythology, quirky traditional folklore, clashing regional cultures and dialects, rich nostalgia, remixed historical outfits, updated classical poetry and more jammed together into a giant, multi-level parody that recombines the familiar in bizarre and ingenious ways. But if you weren't familiar with all that, then it must have been a dreadfully boring film.

    I imagine that this film makes as little sense to you as "American Graffiti" and "Trainspotting" would make to someone that lived their entire life in post-Shah Iran. No amount of subtitles could have bridged that gap, and "Night Watch" wasn't a brilliant enough movie to be worth the bother of trying to bridge it, although Tarkovsky's "Andrei Rublev" might be.

  9. flipzagging says:

    I mostly agree with your assessment of V. But, my least favorite scene was the one right after the credits roll, where someone at headquarters finally gets control and orders the soldiers to kill everybody.

    I think Moore had a point, the climax is very American-liberalist. V assembles a crowd of people in costume, as spectators to an act which we are told is symbolic, just something to help people feel unified. They might as well be burning a puppet in effigy.

    But all the infrastructure of the state is still intact. Nobody blows up the surveillance apparatus, or starts a riot to overwhelm police resources. As I recall it, nobody questioned the ultimate legitimacy of state power, under a proper government. Not that I wish riots or psychopathic terrorists upon any city, but the movie V isn't an anarchist.

  10. prog says:

    This is a very good summary of the good and bad of V for Vendetta. I liked it too.

    I adored Night Watch when I saw it, but then again I saw it with a small gang of ex-gaming buddies and we found ourselves watching the film version of our tragically dorky campaign from five years ago and boy did we totally freak out. The next day I was like, "Wait, what the hell was that?" But it was too late; by this time I had already told all my friends they had to go see this film immediately. They came back to me, one by one, and said "what the hell was that?" and I could only say "I dunno, man."

    Primer actually does have a mappable structure if you watch it like three times. Yes, this is the wrong answer. I think it's delightful (and short) enough to watch a couple of times in one sitting, though.

  11. kfringe says:

    See, I think V missed half the point of the comic. Our Hero was, for one thing, actually Hero in this movie. That bothered me a little bit. I'm more comfortable with the idea of a savage murderer being held out as at least somewhat morally ambiguous. There were other annoying inconsistencies that will probably send the mylar baggie folks into fits.

    You know what? I don't care. Ditch the six-million-dollar-man knife-time scene and it's a damned fine movie.

    On the other hand, you need to get yourself one of those AA type sponsors to kick you in the head from time to time. Use him. Call him.

    "Bob, it's Jamie. I'm thinking of going to see Underworld II."
    "Jamie, you can fight through it. Don't be stupid."
    "But the first one was so good!"
    "Stop. Stop hurting America."

    Remember, the first step is admitting that you have a problem.

    • jonabbey says:

      Eh. I remembered being underwhelmed by the first Underworld, but I checked out the DVD and watched it with my girl friend around the time Evolution came out, and actually quite liked it the second time.

      I had a good time at Evolution, which I'm sure makes me a goth/drama fag at some level, because the overly ornate scripting was still there, but it didn't make me want to, you know, break out in hives, or anything.

      It would be nice if the vampires (I'm looking at you, ms. babelicious protagonist) could get thirsty and vicious and such, but it seems to be such a trope of modern vampire movies that the vampire chick is just a misunderstood waif who would never, ever, sink fangs in some poor innocent, that I didn't grade too harshly for that.

  12. 1eyedkunt says:

    When Night Is Falling ha long been one of my all-time favorites. adorable story and visually gorgeous with awesome cello-heavy soundtrack and hot circus lesbians. what more can a girl ask for???

  13. loosechanj says:

    I mean, she's a Holywood actress, so she must be an extroverted schmoozer, right?

    I've read that a lot of actors are introverts, because coming from that mindset you're pretty much acting around the extroverted majority anyway.

  14. zoratu says:

    The subtitles to Night Watch were unfortunately awful and much too simple to effectively express the film's dialog. There is another thing, in addition to all that <lj user="kamaraga"> mentioned, which is that for Russian cinema it was a very revolutionary movie. It was completely different (almost two years ago, when it came out) from any other Russian film released in Russia. An analogy to film noir could be made and would not be incorrect.

    My hope is that the sequel, already released in Russia, will also make it to the US, and the subtitles will be better for American audiences.

    If you're going to the San Francisco International Film Festival, The Sun is by a Russian director (Sokurov) and looks very interesting. It's in Japanese and English.

    Among the Russian films released this past year, 9th Company is my favorite. It can provide a remarkable insight for how Russians view the Afghan war. It has affected the veterans in much the same way Saving Private Ryan impacted WW2 veterans in America.

    And lastly, my friend Sergey's masters thesis is regarding the portrayal of Russians in American cinema. I can get you a copy if you're interested developing your opinion.

    These are not, after all, the kinds of people who become cops. These people were the A/V Nerds.

    I'm having a very hard time imagining the A/V Nerds at my school playing cops on television. Just the same, I better look it up . . .

  15. ddelapp says:

    Now that I'm seeing the actual casting process, it seems many guys continually play cops because that is where their experience as actors lie, and casting directors are always seeking known quanities when fillings parts. In other words, it is the kind of work those actors are consistently offered. Many do it to pay their bills, and seek their creative outlet in another arena, similar to many people employed in all industries.

  16. rsalerno says:

    Have you seen Oldboy? It's a very interesting Korean flick that's got a cult following. I won't presume to tell you that you'll love it, but it's definitely got its moments. Very very dark, only occasionally contrived, and beautifully shot. Did I mention very dark?

    Anyway, this comment is one part recommendation and one part request to see it in one of your encapsulated reviews.

  17. mark242 says:

    Likewise, those guys whose entire acting career has consisted of playing cops -- what's that like for them?

    My wife had a coworker who makes some pretty good change playing cops, thugs, and various demons in TV and movies; as an ex-Army, huge guy, he was of the opinion that it was good to get the work, and he seemed to be pretty happy getting typecast like that, because it meant that he would wind up getting more work.

    Needless to say, playing a gang leader on an episode of Family Matters and getting beat up by Urkel couldn't have been a career highlight.

  18. fatherbingo says:


    Biography for
    Paul Marco

    Born and raised in Los Angeles, Paul Marco planned on being an actor his whole life, taking dancing, singing and drama lessons in high school and later appearing in little theater productions. His work was brought to the attention of TV prognosticator Criswell, who predicted on his TV show that Marco would go far in the picture business. A show biz friend introduced Marco to Criswell and later to producer-director Edward D. Wood, Jr., who made Marco part of his "entourage" and cast him in several of his movies (as the bumbling "Kelton the Cop"). In latter years, Marco has worked as a property man on many movies. Today he keeps busy with autograph show appearances (he is the founder of his own fan club).

  19. ammonoid says:

    The only movie on your list that I've seen was Syriana, which I liked. The whole fitting together part comes right at the end. Up until that point everyone has been leading separate existences, until BOOM.

    Personally I could have done without the domestic problems of Matt Damon's character. I thought that was pretty pointless.

  20. mysterc says:

    There is no such movie as Soul Plane. It is some sort of secret message used by the CIA to ferret out illegals. By creating a link, you are making there job more difficult.
    That is all.

  21. My husband and I tried to watch Before Sunset, but couldn't even get halfway through it. It was just too boring. Maybe because we never saw the first movie. Even so, it was like overhearing a stranger's conversation. Boring, boring, boring.

    • jwz says:

      I have no trouble believing that it's completely unwatchable if you haven't seen the first one, since the whole point of the movie is the ways in which the two characters had changed since.

      • chemphyssoc says:

        It was Vienna, not Venice. Sorry for being anal, it's just that I'm from there.

      • sn_tell says:

        Okay. I don't want to be that picky, but when I read your comment about before sunrise, I had to get a livejournal account.
        They did not walk through Venice, but Vienna. Those two cities are both in europe, they are both very special, but they are two totally different cities with a very different mood and feeling.
        It is like saying "We had a walk in Los Angeles. Or was is San Fransico? Who cares, both are in California and have a spanish name."

  22. spoonyfork says:

    Regarding V... I thought it was a cheap shorthand to make the government actually use Nazi-esque imagery (uniforms, color schemes, etc.). That was silly; actual fascism will never look like that again.


    "When fascism comes to America, it will be draped in the flag and carrying the cross."
    - Sinclair Lewis

  23. captain18 says:

    The thing about Good Night and Good Luck is the way it sort of parallells All The President's Men. Both films beyond being journalism movies give you the backstory, the steps leading up to a historical event people are/should be familiar with, and then step back.

    It's an interesting way to do things -- you don't see fist-pumping from Dustin Hoffman when the indictments for Nixon's cronies come off the teletype, for example. It reinforced what I saw working in or near a newsroom for about eight years -- regardless of how big your deeds may be outside the walls of the news department, inside the cogs kept on turning as if nothing happened. And that's sort of the expected result and behavior.

    The machine cares not whether you save the world. The machine only cares whether you do it while retaining or increasing market share, so ultimately the fact that two of your coworkers are married and the system means one of them has to leave regardless of competence has as much direct impact on your life as bringing down the Junior Senator From Wisconsinâ„¢.

    That having been said, there is a small part of me that feels like there's some insidiousness about the movie. I love it, but taken in the context of the modern world of Bush/Iraq it has an underlying feeling of propaganda about it with its veiled references to terror(ism). Even the decision to include McCarthy only through archive footage is fascinating from a film-school perspective, it also feels equally possible it was a calculated decision to put the film further beyond reproach. That in some (but not all) respects makes me feel like it could simply be a much better-cloaked Fahrenheit 9/11.

  24. cryshayn says:

    Have to you seen Nothing? I think you might appreciate it.

  25. cpeterso says:

    When I saw "Soul Plane" listed above, I figured it must be some underground Hellraiser-like horror film. Reading the words "Soul" and "Plane" on this blog, my mind did not even allow them to be mean the other "Soul Plane"!

  26. cessibaby says:

    Closer- the point of Closer is how fucked up people can be to each're not supposed to like any of the main characters, they're all arbitrary and messed up and their motives stem more from boredom than any sort of real psychosis (so basically they're human) I think it succeeds on that level

    Syriana- this was an amazing movie and if you couldn't figure out how the characters were inter-related and the cause and effect of it all, than you either weren't paying attention or you are ignorant to the context of the situation.

    also, i thought you may be interested in this link i found:

  27. jkow says:

    thanks for the recommendation. I just bought mirrormask.. lets see how long international shipping takes :)

  28. baconsoup says:

    the first time i watched mirrormask i was told to think of it as a metaphore for adolescence and it made alor more sense.