Archive for the ‘Movie’ Category

My response to Iain Scott's "Top 50 Greatest Films" post

Here is Scott’s original post. Here is Andrew O’Hehir’s post on Salon, where I originally learned about Scott’s post. Regarding Scott’s methodology, O’Hehir says,

Iain Stott of the One-Line Review just completed his 2009 poll of 187 critics, filmmakers, bloggers and other cinephiles, and the results make fascinating reading.

O’Hehir goes on to speculate that critical opinion has ossified: few new movies are getting added to best/top lists. I was just talking about this topic with my best friend recently. O’Hehir cites The Shawshank Redemption (which I despise) as a movie that’s quite beloved yet never makes critics’ lists, and my friend wondered whether The Princess Bride would ever get the cred it deserves.

My opinion as to what films are great doesn’t match up with these critics opinions very well at all. Here I have divided up the movies based on whether I’ve seen them and what I think of them, adding comments here and there as the spirit moves me.

Would make my own top 50

7. Taxi Driver (1976) Martin Scorsese
22. 8½ (1963) Federico Fellini
42. The Apartment (1960) Billy Wilder
44. Ikiru (1952) Akira Kurosawa
45. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) Frank Capra
47. The Wizard of Oz (1939) Victor Fleming

Like to some degree

3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Stanley Kubrick
5. Casablanca (1942) Michael Curtiz
6. The Third Man (1949) Carol Reed
23. Lawrence of Arabia (1962) David Lean
25. Apocalypse Now (1979) Francis Ford Coppola
39. Raging Bull (1980) Martin Scorsese

Dislike to some degree

1. Citizen Kane (1941) Orson Welles

This is not a movie I find good in any dimension, and I’ve never understood its critical appeal.

2. Vertigo (1958) Alfred Hitchcock

The above-mentioned best friend and I have always held that Hitchcock is a horrible director. No, not just overrated–horrible. If film historians insist that he was an innovator, I see no reason to dispute that opinion, but as a viewer I feel that there is not a single movie of his that holds up today. The pacing is leaden, the scripts are boring, the performances he elicits from actors I usually enjoy are lifeless. In truth, what movies by Hitchcock do critics really find enjoyable, exciting, thrilling? If ossified critical opinion is anywhere to be found, it is in regard to Hitchcock’s oeuvre.

4. The Godfather (1972) Francis Ford Coppola
16. Chinatown (1974) Roman Polanski

8. Seven Samurai (1954) Akira Kurosawa

If you can understand Japanese, a lot of the mystique of Kurosawa’s movies disappears. A lot of the dialog is really exaggerated and hackneyed. Seven Samurai is extremely long and boring. Kurosawa did make some great movies, however: Yojimbo would be in my Top 10, and Ikiru is in my top 50, which would probably include about 6 or 7 Japanese movies in toto.

9. Psycho (1960) Alfred Hitchcock

10. Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) Stanley Kubrick

Tried to watch this not recently. It has some good stuff in it, but the pacing is truly awful, and, overall, it just doesn’t work.

13. Rear Window (1954) Alfred Hitchcock
14. Singin’ in the Rain (1952) Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly
17. Sunset Boulevard (1950) Billy Wilder

20. Pulp Fiction (1994) Quentin Tarantino

I think Tarantino is better than any director in history at creating a feeling of menace, of absolute terror, and he does so in this movie–several times. That said, his movies are ugly, violent, vulgar, and–what I can’t forgive–ignorant. He never seems to be presenting things he knows from experience but instead a bunch of junk he’s learned second-hand. I always feel that I am being lectured by a child.

26. City Lights (1931) Charles Chaplin
28. Annie Hall (1977) Woody Allen
29. Touch of Evil (1958) Orson Welles
31. Blade Runner (1982) Ridley Scott
32. M (1931) Fritz Lang

33. The General (1927) Clyde Bruckman & Buster Keaton

One thing about these critics lists–they often include stuff by my favorite directors but just not their best work. I love Keaton, but this movie is boring beyond belief.

34. Some Like It Hot (1959) Billy Wilder
37. Duck Soup (1933) Leo McCarey
38. Double Indemnity (1944) Billy Wilder
41. A Clockwork Orange (1971) Stanley Kubrick
46. Rashomon (1950) Akira Kurosawa
48. Do the Right Thing (1989) Spike Lee

Have not seen

11. The Godfather: Part II (1974) Francis Ford Coppola
12. The Searchers (1956) John Ford
15. Persona (1966) Ingmar Bergman
18. Sunrise (1927) F.W. Murnau
19. Tokyo Story (1953) Yasujiro Ozu
21. La Règle du Jeu (1939) Jean Renoir
24. The Night of the Hunter (1955) Charles Laughton
27. Bicycle Thieves (1948) Vittorio De Sica
30. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) Carl Theodor Dreyer
35. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) Sergio Leone
36. The Four Hundred Blows (1959) François Truffaut
40. All About Eve (1950) Joseph L. Mankiewicz
43. La Grande Illusion (1937) Jean Renoir
49. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) Sergio Leone
50. L’Avventura (1960) Michelangelo Antonioni

  • Share/Bookmark

Movie review: "Observe and Report" shows us how hard it is to love ourselves


Observe and Report on IMDb
Observe and Report on Metacritic
Observe and Report on Rotten Tomatoes

Matt Rouge’s score: 4.5/5.0

Pros. Very strong performances by all. Engaging story. Dead-on satire of many familiar things. Interesting characters.

Cons. At 88 minutes, the movie feels a little short. The characters are interesting enough to support several more scenes adding to the story and laugh count. Some of the dialog and character behaviors are over the top even for the movie’s wild, farcical style.

Observe and Report is the story of Ronnie Barnhardt, a bipolar mall cop who is trying to catch a flasher and creating a considerable mess in the process. It’s a dark comedy full of expletives, nudity, and material that may shock and offend. The reviews among both pro and amateur critics are definitely mixed, but I found it to be a hilarious movie with an important message for our times. I highly recommend it.

I think this message is striking a deep chord in people, whether their view of the film is positive or negative, but I have yet to see it articulated in any review. It may be possible that even the film’s creators were not cognizant of it but instead worked with it on a gut level. Once one sees the message, however, it is striking and obvious. Here it is:

In today’s society, we feel miserable and invalidated until one of our dreams comes true in a way that everyone must recognize.

Ronnie craves validation; one of his chief characteristics is insecurity. He wants to become a real cop and dreams, most nights, of saving the world from a black cloud of evil and earning the approbation of the masses.

In some dimensions, Ronnie is hyper-competent. He defeats six crackheads single-handedly. He takes on a troop of cops, losing but doing palpable damage. Ronnie passes every test to get into the police academy save one: the psych evaluation. At the same time, Ronnie is a complete, unhinged idiot. He fails to detect who has been burglarizing the mall at night, instead suggesting suspects on the basis of race. When it comes to relationships of any type, Ronnie is completely clueless.

Ronnie is a complex character, combining both admirable traits and despicable. Persons’ reactions to him are likewise complex: his boss, despite misgivings, supports him, and the cute girl working at the cinnamon bun shop finds him admirable and attractive.

Now we come to our own discomfort in watching Ronnie. We are in the same boat. We don’t know what to think of ourselves.

In our own minds, we are fighting the good fight, but we see others on the opposite side who are equally confident. Or perhaps equally in doubt. We waver. We worry that we are like Ronnie, clueless and not aware of our own cluelessness. We consider how other people think about us, hoping to find validation in their opinions, but we sense–we know–that opinions are divided. Some people love us; others hate us. Some people at work admire us; others mock us. Some praise; others trash. Our friends and family love us, mostly, but we are aware of their bias. (In Observe and Report there is a wonderful scene in which Ronnie’s mom deconstructs the very notion of a parent’s validation, observing that her affirmation of her son’s dreams is merely what a parent is expected to say.)

We long to accomplish one great thing (e.g., becoming a police officer, nabbing a sex offender) that once and for all will prove that we deserve the respect of others and ourselves, but satisfaction is elusive.

I remember job hunting in Chicago in 1994, and I sat next to a guy on the South Shore, and we had a very good conversation. “The thing about Americans,” he said, “is that no one’s satisfied until they become a doctor or a lawyer–something like that.” He was right then, and he’s even more right now. In 2009, as in 1994, it’s hard to love ourselves as we are, and Observe and Report invites us to face that difficulty as few movies ever have.

  • Share/Bookmark

Movie review: Star Trek–bad science makes for a stupid watch


Star Trek on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes.

Matt Rouge’s score: 2.0/5.0

I get the appeal of this movie yet don’t get it at the same time. Old characters come to life anew with a few decent performances (Bones was funny, Scottie less so). Some sweet eye candy. But, dammit Jim! this movie is full of bad science and other really stupid stuff. I am a skilled disbelief suspender, I really am, but this movie had too much for me to suspend. To wit:

“Red matter”
The Romulans have a big ol’ glob of “red matter” in a small space ship. A drop of red matter is enough to turn the plant Vulcan into a black hole (like Brylcreem, I guess “A Little Dab’ll Do Ya”). It is hard to understand how this matter can be prevented from destroying its container, the ship, etc.

Although a little dab destroys Vulcan, later on the whole big glob fails to destroy the Romulan ship, which requires some extra phaser pumelling from the Enterprise to be deep-sixed.

Why is it necessary to drill down into Vulcan’s core to use the red matter against it? Wouldn’t just dropping it on the surface have the same effect?

Space drill
How is the big bad drill able to jam transporter signals and cause other plot-friendly mischief? Later on, the characters are able to “beam up” from a planet to a distant starship traveling at warp speed, but the fire-spitting drill prevents them from beaming up to a nearby spaceship?

It’s hard to see how the fire-breathing drill is a good way to drill down into the planet’s core. If Vulcan is like Earth, there will be some magma ‘n’ hot stuff down there. How is the fire going to drill through that? If there is no magma, then wouldn’t it just be melting rock and creating magma?

Don’t the Vulcans (and later the humans) have any air defenses? The drilling platform has no shields and minimal defenses. Spock is able to destroy it with fire from his spaceship. Why are the Vulcans waiting for the Federation to come and knock this rather wimpy piece of equipment out of the sky? Why doesn’t the Enterprise just fire on the drill?

When the team “space jumps” toward Vulcan to take out the drill, they apparently don’t have a problem with the heat that would result from entering the atmosphere.

Spock is going to use the red matter to destroy a supernova and thereby save the planet Romulus. But, during his mission, “the unthinkable happens”: the Supernova gets Romulus anyway! Huh? Either Spock is going to eliminate the star (black-hole it!) before it goes nova, or he isn’t. After the explosion, its energy would travel outward at the speed of light and would presumably be unstoppable. There really is no “Whoops! Our plan didn’t quite work” that makes sense here.

The gravitational pull of the destroyed-Romulan-ship black hole causes the “windshield” of the Enterprise to crack–but they are able to pull away! This struck me as a small child’s interpretation of how such forces might affect a huge spaceship. A crack in the window? A crack in the ceiling? In order for that to happen, the gravity would have to be accelerating the different parts of the ship at different rates; and, if that were the case, there would no escape by dropping bombs behind the ship to push it away from the big bad black hole!

The Romulans and Spock travel through time because of destroyed-Vulcan black hole. Didn’t the Romulans have a plan that included not getting sucked into the black hole they knew would result? Also, why was Spock so near them, anyway? He was supposed to be taking care of the supernova, which, one may presume, was several light years distant. I will also add that plots involving time travel are really lame.

Even though Spock’s mother is in the process of being transported–we see the swirly lines swirling around her–Chekov says, “I’m losing her!” and she dies. What is this, some type of video game? The technology is indeed visually portrayed as requiring a person to match up one jittery icon with another jittery icon. Couldn’t a computer just match up those two jittery icons and complete the process?

The good guys gain the ability to beam onto a spacewhip traveling at warp speed by simply putting a new “equation” into the transporter. No new hardware is required–just changing the computer program does it?

That’s the major stuff I saw. There is plenty else I didn’t like about the movie, however, that doesn’t fall into the “bad science” category:

I was not a fan of the new Kirk or Chris Pine’s performance. Yeah, young and rebellious, I get it, but he simply didn’t have gravitas. I don’t think Pine is a bad actor, but this was not the right part for him. Regardless of the strength of Pine’s performance, Kirk simply did not feel like enough of a hero by the end of the movie; the plot did not produce that emotional payoff, and the medal ceremony rang false (whereas the ceremony at the end of Star Wars rings true). Indeed, the movie seems much more about Spock than Kirk (Spock even has the movie’s main romance!).

The actions of the Romulans and their motivations also did not ring true. The movie did not bring out what was interesting about the Romulans in the orignal series. These guys are just angry monsters looking and acting not much different than Pinhead and his crew in the Hellraiser series.

General dumbth
I’m no Trekkie, but I like the original series well enough. One thing that bugged me, however, about the original series and now this new movie is that, in a spaceship that looks as big as a city, all the action happens on the bridge.

Fighting with swords and axes?

Kirk is able to assume command after causing the acting captain to freak out?

The old complaint about ray guns shooting visible “bullets” of light.

And so on.

This was a movie that seemed dumb as I was watching it and really dumb right after it was over. I’m surprised that its reviews have been so positive.

  • Share/Bookmark