I Am Love -2009-

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Directed by Luca Guadagnino. 114 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Seen at Laemmle’s Fallbrook)

Guadagnino’s tale of an upper-crust dynasty’s decline is kinda like a Faberge egg; the plotlines all come off as tangential without a solid core (and they clearly had no idea how to resolve them, as the sappy final act suggests), but damned if the shell isn’t brimming with gold and jewels.

The visuals in this film are intoxicating, and the production design – from the food to the furniture – are good enough to be photographed and hung in a museum. John Adams’ score adds immensely to the experiences, and the intensity it lends to the final scene almost made me forgive the rushed ending.

PS: Whenever I saw Tilda Swinton onscreen, I thought to myself, “That’s Tilda Swinton.” Why’d they cast a Scot?

(Watched and originally written during Summer 2010 when I was on a real movie bender)

The Cell -2000-

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Directed by Tarsem. 107 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on DVD)

Also known as David Fincher’s Paprika. The police-thriller side of things is competently done, but it can’t match the ingenuity and visual splendor of main attraction.

Tarsem’s taps into the cinematic possibilities of dreams in a way that puts Nightmare On Elm Street to shame. While there’s a fair deal of CGI, what really stand out are the landscapes, the costumes, and the color palettes. Sure, some segments are grungy, but all of them exhibited the kind of brilliant production I’m more accustomed to seeing in German films of the silent era.

PS: If the producers of the Saw franchise had any sense, they would have attached Tarsem to the series ages ago. Their fans would have thanked them.

PPS: Dylan Baker, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, and Dean Norris? Great supporting actors abound! Too bad they don’t have much to do.

(Watched and originally written during Summer 2010 when I was on a real movie bender)

Something Wicked This Way Comes -1983-

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Directed by Jack Clayton. 95 mins.

Worth my time? No. (Watched on DVD)

Definitely one of the stranger entries in the childrens’ dark special effects extravaganzas of the 1980s. Ray Bradbury’s premise of children being stalked by regret incarnate (a tip of the hat to Jonathan Pryce) is certainly intriguing, but the plot is jumbled in execution (what the hell is up with Pam Grier? I mean, it’s great to see her and all, I just don’t know what she’s doing in the film). Plus, the actors who play the two lead kids are pretty excruciating to watch. Still a couple of snazzy effects shots throughout.

(Watched and originally written during Summer 2010 when I was on a real movie bender)

Friday -1995-

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Directed by F. Gary Gray. 91 mins.

Worth my time? No. (Watched on DVD)

Wow, what a disappointment – especially since lots of my friends with good taste in movies really like this one. While the chemistry between Cube and Tucker is good for a few chuckles, this movie was surprisingly drab and lifeless. The environment is standard “ghetto by numbers.”

F. Gary Gray tries to compensate by throwing in every zany character that comes to mind, but here’s a rule of thumb: if you need a dwarf for laughs, your movie is seriously lacking. Plus, the shift in tone at the end is one of the worst I’ve seen since Richie Rich.

PS: Ice Cube tripping out at his ceramic dogs was, admittedly, pretty funny.

(Watched and originally written during Summer 2010 when I was on a real movie bender)

Love, Actually -2003-

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Directed by Richard Curtis. 136 mins.

Worth my time? No. (Watched on DVD)

Ah, this was a disappointment. Despite the title (and a few genuinely sentimental moments early on), there isn’t a whole lot of actual, convincing love on display here. The absurdly bloated number of story arcs doesn’t make up for the lack of compelling narrative (you think that people would realize that it’s the fatal flaw of ensemble movies, but apparently not). Of course, with each story comes a hokey climax, one after another, that pummels the audience with “aww…”.

Between all that and the long running time, you could do a lot better with romantic comedies. At least is wasn’t American, though.

PS: If your movie is centered around a holiday, and ends with a big musical production (but is not a musical or a concert film), it probably won’t be that good.

PPS: Bill Nighy is easily the funniest part of the movie.

(Watched and originally written during Summer 2010 when I was on a real movie bender)

Animal Kingdom -2010-

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Directed by David Michôd. 112 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Seen at Landmark Shattuck Cinema in Berkeley, CA)

Man, I am definitely a fan of the Edgerton brothers, and I hope they remain the saviors of modern noir. This film is sharp, compelling, and features one of the creepiest extended families since Bleeders.

Newcomer James Frecheville seems sorta spaced out (although I think it’s intentional), but the cast is excellent overall (Guy Pearce, Ben Mendelsohn, and especially Jacki Weaver stand out). As bleak as the film’s scenario is, what I found to be even more disturbing is the incredibly macabre history the family is alluded to have, made even more impressive with the fact that the viewer is never bogged down with exposition.

PS: The question “Can I get you something to drink?” is uttered in this movie maybe two dozen times. Huh.

(Watched and originally written during Summer 2010 when I was on a real movie bender)

Runaway Train -1985-

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Directed by Andrei Konchalovsky. 111 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on DVD)

A super-intense thriller. I didn’t think it was the classic that many critics regard it to be, but it was still a huge jump above most of these sorts of movies. In someone else’s hands, this could be straight-up Steven Seagal fare. Luckily, the direction is brutal with minimal filler, and Voight and Robert… well, they have screen presence. It’s not that their performances are bad, but they’re at such a contanst fever-pitch that I could see some people getting turned off (others will love it). Eric Roberts continues to confuse me. He strikes the perfect balance between pompous toughguy and whiny bitch*, and the end result is strangely addictive.

PS: Disaster thrillers are great because not only do they channel our fears of technology and human error, but they also serve as a big “fuck you” to our bosses in the workplace. When was the last time the boss back at the control center in one of these movies actually had a constructive idea? No, it’s always the under-appreciated underlings. Let’s hear it for the techies!

(Watched and originally written during Summer 2010 when I was on a real movie bender)

*Wouldn’t have been my choice of words had I written this in the present day, but that’s what I decided to write in 2010. I no longer use dehumanizing terms in casual discourse, but I’m not going to redact my past.

To Live and Die in LA -1985-

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Directed by William Friedkin. 116 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on DVD)

Between this movie, Manhunter, and Miami Vice, being a cop in the 1980s must have been the sexiest, coolest career choice of all time. I had a ton of fun watching this: William Friedkin’s just as good as Michael Mann when it comes to glitzing up his twilight cityscapes, and William Peterson is reliably cool. Willem Defoe fans will especially be in for a treat (and the presence of John Tuturro and Dean Stockwell does not go unappreciated).

Like most cop movies, this is a morality play at its heart, and luckily the plot developments are thought out much more closely than your average Street Kings.

PS: Never before did counterfeiting money look so goddamn sexy.

PPS: I may have actually enjoyed the big chase scene in this film more than I did in The French Connection. It’s probably sacrilege to say it, though.

(Watched and originally written during Summer 2010 when I was on a real movie bender)