Sunday, November 2, 2008

Some movie reviews

here are a few reviews for films I've written on my Flixster profile on my Facebook account (stars rated out of 5):

The Baxter (2005) ****
I rented this for three reasons: I thought the premise of a film about the "wrong guy" who gets left at the alter was great, I think Elizabeth Banks is beautiful, and after watching Wet Hot American Summer I wanted to see if any of Michael Showalter's other films were as funny. I love this film. Michael Showalter is great at playing a shy, girly-man. There are so many great jokes poking fun at traditional romantic comedy clichés, and yet the film still manages to have a heart and keep you rooting for Showalter's "Baxter". It's also great fun to see other cast members from Wet Hot American Summer in supporting performances or bit parts. I loved (LOVED) the little ending with Paul Rudd. having never seen Michelle Williams in such a large role, I was very impressed with her, she was the perfect uncomfortably shy fit for Showalter. My only complaint, which isn't reeally a complaint, is that oftentimes "Baxters" in films are jerks, not the nice-but-shy guys Showalter seems to insinuate. But to his credit there are films with nice-guy Baxters, and I suppose if Showalter were to play a prick here his character wouldn't be as relatable and the film would feel too cold-hearted. Overall, if you love subtle humor that plays against normal genre clichés, or if you just want to watch an uncommonly good and sweet film, check out The Baxter.

The Road to Wellville (1994) *1/2
Long and unfunny. I enjoyed John Cusack, although he has an unimportant part here, and Bridget Fonda is beautiful, but other than that the cast is either uninteresting or overacts terribly. The production values are relatively impressive, but the story is split between three uninteresting stories that don't really coherently connect. The first 30 minutes are interesting, but after an hour I was ready for it to end. What exactly is this supposed to be parodying? Are we supposed to laugh at how silly the "health craze" was? You could say the strange and useless remedies and characters featured here are an allegory for our society today, but I felt Parker was more preoccupied with showing silly people do silly things than focusing on a meaning.

Syriana (2005) **
Decided to give it a second chance, but only found it more agonizingly self-absorbed and preachy. It's not that I disagree with all of the (obviously) liberal views presented here, but they are just so painfully obvious and unnecessarily exaggerated. Also, do we really need a film to tell us not everyone in the Middle East is a terrorist, that many terrorist organizations draw young people in because they offer assurances that other organizations don't, that government is corrupt, and the current war is very much over oil? Well, some people might not know that, but then again, those people probably get excited over the latest "Scary" or "Epic" spoof movie. The only aspect of this film worth any real praise is Clooney's performance. Although it may not have been as Oscar worthy as some of his others, he is the only character that we actually feel is real and not simply a stereotype. Clooney makes Bob a sad, lonely figure who has a need to know what is happening and why. I only wish I new what was happening, since Gaghan seems to pile on story after story while "interconnecting" them in ways only slightly more meaningful than those in Paul Haggis' overrated "Crash". Ultimately, Syriana not only fails as a thriller, (because it is too confusing and complex to have a tight ending or focus) or a drama (some of the situations these characters are in seem artificial and a few of the actors are not to the task of creating meaningful and relatable characters), but also as a message film because you really won't find anything in this film about Middle Eastern culture or the oil business that you either didn't already know and have opinions about. No doubt the filmmakers had good intentions when making the film, but ultimately it feels over-elaborate, showy and pretentious.

Teeth (2007) ***1/2
The fact that this is a film about a girl with "vagina dentata" might make it seem really crass and disgusting, and while it is disgusting, it's also a really smart and unique look at teenage sexuality and a young girl coming to terms with her own body. It's also about reversing the roles in violent sexual situations. Here the girl has the ultimate power over the male, and when one boy tries to date-rape Dawn, he pays the price. Yet it's also a commentary on how low society seems to view women and how that influences how men view women and how women view themselves. This isn't necessarily a great film, and I'm sort of in between giving three-and-a-half or four stars, but it's really entertaining and really interesting.

Cape Fear (1991) ***1/2
An excellent thriller from Scorsese that manages to update on the original while still feeling fresh. De Niro is delightfully menacing as Max Cady, and Nolte, Lange and Lewis are all convincing as the family he stalks. While both this version and the original 1962 one take psychological approaches to scare us and the family, this one adds a new level of fear by creating tension within the Bowden family and by making Cady a very charismatic villain who manages to separate the family from each other even more. There are a few drawbacks though, and they are the reason I can't give this film four stars. For one thing, the film is simply too long. usually I view the length of the film as a decision made by the director and editor for both stylistic and storytelling purposes, but the fact is this story could have been told better if 15-20 minutes had been cut out. Also, towards the end the film falls prey to a few typical clichés: a character conveniently has a tape recorder hidden on him, a character manages to kill someone and disguise himself in a rather preposterous scene, and Cady's way of following the Bowden's to Cape Fear is a bit far-fetched. Other than those few complaints, this is a first-rate thriller that delves deeper into the characters than most films.

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