StinkyLulu's FilmLog - 2007

Movies Screened since January 1, 2007...
(The "+" or "-" indicates general yay/nay sentiment about a given flick.)

• I Am Legend (-)
• Atonement (-)
• Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (+)
• Into the Wild (+)
• King Corn (+)
• Sweeney Todd (+)
• Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (-)
• No Country for Old Men (+)
• Enchanted (+)
• I'm Not There (-)
• The Mist (+)
• Gone Baby Gone (+)
• Dan in Real Life (+)
• Across the Universe (-)
• Michael Clayton (+)

• Save Me (+)
This film -- a low-budget gay indie featuring teevee stars -- might seem, at first glance, a woeful trainwreck. Two men find love at an ex-gay camp? Astonishingly enough, the film is quite effective -- sincere, emotional, often moving, with enough wit to keep it from being too bleak. Judith Light gives a strong performance in the kind of role Meryl Streep or Kathy Bates would snag in a higher profile picture. Chad Allen is really good as the film goes along (his rowdy gay agony in the film's opening section is a bit hamfisted and forced). Robert Gant is ok -- a bit milquetoast and tv-husbandy. Most of the minor characters are underdeveloped -- presences more than characters. (Only one performance is truly off-pitch: the chubby, sweet, emotionally damaged virgin Lester. Which proves unfortunate as the character is the fulcrum of several pivotal plot points.) What's truly interesting/unusual about the film is how it takes all aspects of the premise seriously: how gay men do get themselves mired in self-destructive behaviors and how that the spirals of shame and despair do have spiritual dimensions; how the Christian evangelicals are offering these reparative therapies out of a genuine spirit of help and support; how all are seeking connection to spirit and to healing through love. Allen said in the Q&A that the film came from an impulse to present a film in which "Gay" and "God" might not be presented as mutually exclusive. The NM settings are both beautiful and apt. The film gets little "wrong" in the NM-ness of it all. The film also pivots on notions of recovery -- a 12-step model is used here for recovery from gayness. It's an interesting film -- resolving the way gay films do, with a romantic discovery -- but there's a heart to the film that actually transcends the occasionally boilerplate aspects of the story and the filmmaking. It's not the greatest film, and it's inexpertness shows at times. But the film is perhaps the only example (at least that I can think of) of a kind of gay spirit/ual moviemaking.

• Eastern Promises (-)
A genre picture with an art overlay. The film is -- ostensibly -- a crime thriller about a British doctor who stumbles into the path of Russian organized crime in London. But unlike a genuinely surprising movie (ala Dirty Pretty Things) this flick moves in banalities that never quite deliver. (An episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent usually has more sophisticated plotting, and more gratifying final act twists.) The team of Cronenberg and Mortenson do well together, with Cronenberg understanding how to play Mortenson's distinctive mix of vague menace, still-waters, and palpable sex appeal. Mortenson's character here is basically the obverse of his History of Violence character, but with a less effective set-up. Secondary male characters -- Armin Mueller-Stahl and Vincent Cassell -- get to have some fun with the mafia machismo, but the true crime here is the obtuse (under)utilization of Naomi Watts at the narrative center. Amazingly, if this were all I had to go on, I would think Naomi Watts couldn't act at all. The character is categorically uninteresting and underdeveloped. Indeed, the fact that she's a blonde girl even tosses the rhythm of the piece off. Where the film has its most electric current of energy is in the finely tuned male intimacies: the relationships among the men are thrilling, once completely homoerotic and entirely asexual. Cassell's character seems almost to be in love with Mortenson's, and Mortenson works it; the daddy drama is very SM in its coy power plays. All of which made me wonder if the whole film would have made more sense if Naomi Watts' character was male -- a male nurse, a male midwife, possibly gay, possibly recently broken up with a lady doctor. The whole thing would have been much more mysterious and dynamic if the character was a boy... The most homoerotic sequence is the brutally violent full naked wrestling double murder scene -- I'm struck once again how Cronenberg is perhaps the queerest straight director out there. I just wish this film wasn't so banal.

• Superbad (+)
Funny - very very funny. Jonah Hill -- who I actually find basically uninteresting -- is just incredibly, heartstoppingly funny. His patter, his filth, his fearlessness -- he makes me uncomfortable but I find him hilarious. Michael Cera, on the other hand, I adore. So cute, so sweet, so charismatic, and also fearlessly funny. The film is really straighforward: it's basically a nostalgic sex comedy, set in the present, in which teenage boys obsess and plot and scheme about getting booze and sex, suddenly stumble upon a golden opportunity which they pursue with single minded abandon, encountering all the requisite humiliations, jabs at authority and "surprising" scores along the way. But the film finds its true narrative momentum in the relationship between Cera and Hill, with a driving sweetness that takes it well beyond Porky's territory. Moreover, this seems to be a teen sex comedy for a whole 'nother generation. Where American Pie allowed the female characters to have sexuality, the female characters here are formidable human beings. There's something really interesting in the way the film uses obsession with alcohol as a device. The guys have totally bought into the idea that booze will make things (like sex) easier, but the film details -- with often gory specificity -- the myriad ways that alcohol mostly makes things really unappealing and totally complicated. As a result, the film becomes mostly about how the guys THINK they want booze and sex, but come to discover that what they really want is emotional intimacy: both with the girls and with one another. Emotional honesty becomes the biggest score. This Apatow/Rogen school of comedy is so much about male tenderness -- it's wild. O'course babes go for schlubs in this world, but there's a consistent spin toward male emotional vulnerability that's totally not about the conquest. It's an amazing turn, really. Plus to have it loaded with filth, in a way that actually illuminates the characters, it's just hilarious and captivating. The other thing I found shocking: many of the biggest laughs were scenes from the previews, but -- in context -- most of them were even funnier. I can't remember that ever happening. I don't know if I gassed from the pleasure of recognition, OR whether the jokes were actually funnier in character context, but certain bits just killed me, even though I had seen them before. Also, there's a funny bit in home ec class -- where a peripheral character does this kitty impression -- it's just astonishingly funny, even in retrospect.

• No Reservations (+)
No surprises here. Utterly predictable, utterly delightful. Patty Clarkson is underutilized (& so skinny!) but otherwise this movie allows really appealing performers to just be really appealing. Abigail Breslin is beyond dear -- she seems like an actual kid on screen, which injects an emotional clarity to the whole proceeding. She's much better and more solid here than in Little Miss Sunshine. Eckhart is a scruffy goofball; Zeta-Jones plays a Zellweggerish/Julia Robertsish part and totally sells it. She's an ice princess warming ever so slightly from within. The thing that's so refreshing about this movie? It skips the faux-tension cliches of American romantic comedies -- there's no estrangement montage, there's no idiotic betrayal (necessitating public contrition/redemption), there's no sabotaging villain... For once, the limitations on these relationships come from the people involved, not some utterly contrived device. It's sweet, smart enough, and pleasantly cute.

• El Cantante (-)
Wow. This mooovie's a dooozy. The biggest problem is that there's no story. It tries to accomplish a kind of vast, epic, classical love story. Hector and Puchi were lovers, and oh how they loved...you know the rap. Unfortunately the story doesn't really bear the weight of all the simply incredible visuals, often brilliant acting, and generally heartstompingly brilliant music. Marc Anthony is so great in his songs -- he brings his voice to Hector's and makes something new, not an imitation necessarily, but something actually better. Just so good -- and Anthony more than rises to the task of using the songs as monologues (which is what the screenplay has him do). Lopez's Puchi gets to do all the talking, and she's often very good. And she has one aria monologue (after the funeral, right before the beginning of the movie's last act) that is some of the most powerful screen acting I've seen in recent memory. (Why oh why does JLo do her best acting in movies regular folk dismiss derisively?) And some folks are making fun of her age makeup? I don't see why. Indeed, the film's visual execution -- costume, hair, scene setting as well as montages, subtitles, media layering -- is even more appropriately creative than last year's Thank You For Smoking. Unfortunately, the visual tricks can't make up for a flabby story architecture. I'm praying that some real Puchi footage is included in the dvd, because my operating theory now is that the project changed to the doomed love story after Puchi's first interview and subsequent accidental death. I would love to have it refined. As far as Latino representation goes, this is standard narco-traffic/junkie porn with really good tunes. The faux-spiritual dimension mirrors La Bamba in surprisingly conspicuous ways, and it's just as ineffective. It's nice to see some of these latin actors working but it's really a 2-person show. On Addiction: the tropes are there in only occasionally sophisticated ways. The bathroom shootup with the kid in the other room. The stylized shots of the shooting gallery. Funny bits with white powder. The most interesting bits were toward the beginning -- the "never doing that again" & the feeling out of place until -- but soon it's just way too too. But with all of that, the film remains just moving enough to be effective. And JLo just works some of the best looks since Diana Ross in Mahogany. Worth seeing for the outfits alone.

• Sunshine (+)
I think I liked it. I think. Visually it's a stunner --a fascinatingly crafted movie world, with a really attractive cast of unconventional beauties. (I do swoon for Troy Garity -- boyhowdy do I swoon.) I like that the film's a hodgepodge of all the intrepid voyage movies, with the plot and the characters almost mirroring The Core (2003). But where The Core was B-movie trashtasm, this one's all gourmet & arty. The film does a good job of explaining just enough to keep the action within the realm of the comprehensible without getting so intricate as to become distracting. Likewise, the film does a generally nice job of ratcheting up the anxiety quietly, allowing the intensity to amplify in small increments until the final act when things just blow off the chart. I've been going back and forth on whether I like the supernatural thriller/slasher twist toward the end. I think that's the only piece that the film left a little too oblique...I needed just a little bit more to explain the nature of the monstrosity, so that I could hook into a fear/marvel of it. As it was, the monstrosity was mostly about anxiety, rather than actual horror. Plus, I think the way the film operated -- with the most important characters each representing a different way of understanding the world (physical, mechanical, psychological, ecological, emotional) the import of the cosmological seemed to be signaled by this monstrous character but it was never quite clear how, why or what caused the monster's initial transformation. There's an interesting mystery there and the film, for some reason, dodges it. Further, I wonder what it means that Sunshine only imagines a future including white people and Asians. Just odd. I can't say I'd recommend it but it was a fascinating way to spend a couple hours. So soo soooo beautiful.

• Gypsy Caravan (+)
Wow. Wow. Wow. What an astonishing, brilliant film. Built loosely along the lines of a conventional concert documentary, the film loops elliptically. What appear to be random expository tangents, providing cultural background and introductory context, end up accumulating imperceptibly to fortify the force of the film. It's an aggregate portrait of a singular tradition that is the root of Roma performance: song, dance and poetry describing suffering and transcending it in the process. Where the film is really smart is in how confident it is in the use of such conventional documentary devices, like the expository voice over or the translating subtitles. The stage manager, whose voice over headset or the bus intercom, becomes as a docent to this crazy museum tour -- as he tells the followspot operators what to anticipate (ie. anything) he's also cuing the audience into the improvisatory dynamic of Roma performance. Likewise, the subtitles -- with often discordant translations and occasionally stylized application on the screen -- emerge as a creative device to comment upon and to illuminate the emotional or stylistic motion of the scene being depicted. The emotional effect of the film accumulates -- as the disparate national groups of Roma begin to discover their affinity with one another, their amplifying sense of mutual appreciation provides the emotional arc of the film -- because the backstories slowly, assuredly detail the arduous paths that brought these performing bodies (both individually and collectively) to the sequence of stages featured in the Gypsy Caravan tour. The mutual adoration that grows between the Indians and the Spanish. The Macedonian mama Ezme performing a healing, unifying function for all... It's just amazing. And who knew about the trans Indian knee dancer... Zowie kawowie. I'm fascinated by the gender complexity of the three traditions in which vocality was so central -- Indian, Spanish, Macedonian -- and the relative deprioritization of the singular human voice in preference for the ensemble of brass/string voices, performed almost entirely by men. Interesting, fascinating, challenging, moving. Possibly the only great movie I've seen this year.

• Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (-)
This film of what is probably my favorite book in the series lumbers through the plot machinations with little verve or style. It feels exposition heavy -- which it is but it shouldn't feel that way -- with little of the idiosyncratic style that animates the best films in the series (ie. Askaban & Goblet of Fire). Radcliffe's getting much better as an actor, same for Rupert Grint. Emma Watson not so much. The standout here is of course Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge, but even she's without the necessary verve. She doesn't illuminate the character so much as deploy it. The problem, in some ways, is that Staunton's Umbridge is always operating out of a curious sense of desperation, her righteousness always in search of some kind of vengeful validation, rather than the incredible exuberant zeal of a true believer. Her sadism should not be so much of a "so there!" as a gliding confidence that she alone knows what's true and right. The character is among my favorites in the entire series and I'm sorry that Staunton's performance, while delightful, bore a little too much commentary...she's offering the character for our judgment, rather than just offering the character. Also, I'm sorry that the film didn't create a stronger platform for the character of Luna Lovegood. The actress -- Evanna Lynch -- is seemingly well-cast, but the director didn't support her developing the character's necessary and distinctive dimensions.

• Hairspray (+)
A giddy romp aiming to please. And, for the most part, it does. Most of the performances are just deee-light-ful. I think my favorite was James Marsden as Corny and, of course, the portly pepperpot herself, Nikki Blonsky, as Traci. A close third would be Zac Efron as Link. These three performances, more than the others, really nail the tone of the piece -- with an overthetop sincerity that ends up making the nearly maudlin sincerity of the civil rights stuff work. Most of the other performances hold back -- what I'm not sure -- but they hold back something that gets in the way as the plot convolutes its way along. It's a totally cute movie, that I would see again and again and again. I'm reminded of Nigel's comment on So You Think You Can Dance: you just sit there with an enormous grin on your face, not sure why... Travolta & Pfeiffer both deliver game performances that are a little lost within the swim of the rest of the movie. Travolta's problem is he's too busy twinkling -- being cute, being clever, being fat -- the problem is that he misses Edna's heart in the process. Where Traci and Corny and Link seem to be REAL amidst the stylized frippery, Travolta's Edna doesn't. It's too bad, really. The fact that Travolta's Edna misses the point of the role/film ends up throwing the whole piece a little off balance. It's such a great role, and it's too bad that Travolta's busy having fun with Edna rather than WITHIN Edna.

• You Kill Me (+)
A perfectly efficient oddball comedy. The central premise -- a contract killer starts AA because his drinking is getting the way of him doing his job -- is an almost obvious spin on the mobsters+selfhelp genre (ala Sopranos and Analyze This or That). It's not entirely successful on this count, largely because the film takes the organized crime angle much more seriously than the recovering addict/alcoholic angle. It seems the screenplay asks that they both be considered deadly practices, while the film/maker seems insistent on framing them both as fun. I frankly don't think that the director understands how deadly alcohol is in his protagonist's hand and barely comprehends that Ben Kingsley's character is ok with the killing but the drinking is kicking his ass. What redeems the film, though, is Ben Kingsley's lucid and entirely sensible performance. He's great. Further, this is the first part perhaps ever in which Tea Leoni's particular prickly gifts are showcased to winning effect. Their chemistry is great and the romance evolves with astonishing plausibility: they just happen to be two freaks who find themselves in each other. The film loses a little traction in the other supporting performances (Bill Pullman, Luke Wilson, Dennis Farina, Philip Baker Hall) each of whom is fine -- especially Pullman who's almost very good -- but oddly cast and not entirely in synch with the rest of the picture. (Indeed, it seems like they aimed for the biggest stars they could get in these parts, with little consideration of how right or wrong they were for the role. Poor Dennis Farina. Believable as a wiseguy, yes -- but an Irish wiseguy? I think not.) I'm inclined to think the screenplay of this is genius, but the direction is self-involved and misguided -- demonstrating little understanding of the central character's actual journey. It's annoying that the AA meetings are played for giggles, but the screenplay's intrinsic understanding of the program/fellowship helps to keep the heart of the piece on track, to keep it from lapsing too far into genre parody.

• Evening (+)
Again, I'm spoiling the curve. While Evening is mostly a mess, it's not all bad. There's something genuinely potent in the emotional limbo that the film explores: the quiet stagnation, the curious emotional paralysis, that can come from longing for the path not taken. The film's rhythm seems stunted by the fact that there are no big releases of emotion, not even any little ones for that matter. BUT. My eyes puddled over a few times, never in gushing flows, but a few times nonethe. The script's a structural mess -- with all the bits and bobs squishing up against one another, with no real clarity or confidence. The adaptation seems to have very theatrical instincts but doesn't really embrace them. (Indeed, I wonder if the piece wouldn't work better as a grand stage piece, with the actor playing Anna in both times.) Also, I just didn't get Harris -- what was the big deal? Hugh Dancy was fine but the best boy was Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Toni Collette's beloved. I felt the meat of the story was in the contemporary, but the film let itself get distracted by the grandiosity of the scenes from the past. Vanessa Redgrave was almost brilliant. Glenn Close plays evil so well. Mamie Gummer was just ok, but Claire Danes was pretty good. Natasha Richardson and Toni Collette were great, and the scenes with Ebon and Meryl just awakened my heart. The piece seems to be about emotional architecture -- the intricate interconnections of intimacy -- and the paralysis borne of hesitancy. That Anna had to reconcile with her own heart, realize that there are no mistakes... In some ways this brings up ideas from Strange Piece of Paradise -- of being haunted by a younger self that's been left behind as a result of trauma -- and the absolute necessity to effect reconciliation to move on... It's not about closure, it's about reconciliation. Which, right now, is a topic that moves me deeply...

• Ratatouille (-)
Beautifully executed, with often delightful voice talent (say hey Patton Oswalt) and -- thank goddess -- without the exhausting popculture snark. But something doesn't cohere for me in the basic premise (beyond the squickiness of the swarming rat hordes). I guess it's the self-loathing Little Mermaid problem... Remy's story is basically that old queer parable -- they don't appreciate the misfit in his hometown so he has to go to the big city to become a star -- mixed with some trans-species grass-is-greener envy. Beyond the fact that the "moral" of the story (Anyone Can Cook!) is proven false by every major plot point (and the basic concept of Remy's character as a rat with an exceptional nose), there's just something that doesn't work in the foundational premise. I like the timelessness of it, and its comparative lack of manic showoffiness. It may grow on me but, for now, I don't get the raving. Though I did love the Auguste Gusteau floating fatty angel. A lot.

A Mighty Heart (+)

Nancy Drew (+)
Knocked Up (+)
Shrek the Third (-)
Mr. Brooks (-)
Away From Her (+)
Waitress (+)
Hot Fuzz (+)
Georgia Rule (-)
Year of the Dog (+)
The Hoax (-)
In the Land of Women (-)
Grindhouse (+) : Planet Terror (-); Death Proof (++); interstitials (++)
The Lookout (+)
The Namesake (+)
Meet the Robinsons (-)
Blades of Glory (+)
The Host (+)
The Lives of Others (+)
Inland Empire (+)
Zodiac (+)
Reno 911: Miami (+)
The Pursuit of Happyness (-)
Blood Diamond (+)
The Bridge to Terabithia (+)

The Last King of Scotland (+)
Notes on a Scandal 2 (-)
Dreamgirls 2 (-)
Notes on a Scandal (-)
Pan's Labyrinth (+/-)
Volver (+)
The Painted Veil (+)
Little Children (+)
Children of Men (+)
Babel (-)
The History Boys (+)

Happy Feet (-)

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