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All reviews - Movies (985) - TV Shows (89) - Books (1) - Music (139)

Rachel Getting Married

Posted : 8 years, 10 months ago on 9 October 2009 06:29 (A review of Rachel Getting Married (2008))

Anne Hathaway should have won the Best Actress Oscar. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Kate Winslet and thought that she was due for an Oscar…just not for The Reader.

Hathaway’s toxic, lying, manipulative over-grown demonic wild child is a performance of true grit and determination. She blasts all memory of The Princess Bride clear out of your mind. I knew from Brokeback Mountain that she could be a good dramatic actress, I just didn’t know how good she could be. This is one of the most accurate, honest portraits of a recovering addict, but a non-recovering narcissist, I have ever seen. Rosemarry DeWitt as her long-suffering sister, the Rachel of the title, should have gotten more awards recognition for her work. For all of Hathaway’s poison, DeWitt is there to counter back with reality and to call everyone’s bluff.

Jonathon Demme is a master filmmaker. Interview With the Vampire is an icy, erotic, phantasmagoric cabaret, Silence of the Lambs is a chilling neo-noir, and Beloved is messy but filled with beautiful images. His artistry isn’t involved in creating images which look like moving paintings, of which the three films I mentioned are, but in creating a documentary feel. This feels like scrapped together home movies. That is not a complaint but high praise. This feels so real and authentic that you forget it’s a scripted drama. The best and most engrossing works of art can do that to you.


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Whip It

Posted : 8 years, 10 months ago on 9 October 2009 06:29 (A review of Whip It (2009))

Ellen Page is my generation’s version of Winona Ryder. That became increasingly evident as I watched Whip It. She’s a brainy brunette with a penchant for playing shy, quiet, underachieving smart(ass) girls. Her character in Whip It is similar, but has none of Juno’s defining pop culture rapid-fire zingers.

I am not female, but by the end of this movie I felt like an empowered and strong female. Not because it bashes anything, but because it refuses to compromise and sink into clichés. Her cute alternative boyfriend turns out to not be perfect. In a lesser movie she’d make a different decision. Her parents give her permission to go to the big game at the last minute and cheer her on from the sidelines, and, once again, in a different movie the more obvious choice would have happened. This does follow the basic trajectory of a coming-of-age story, and a rookie-makes-it-big sports film, but it follows it with more brains, heart and spunk than I expected.

She doesn’t join roller derby to find herself, she joins roller derby because she thinks it looks like fun and that she’s found something which makes her happy. Along the way it happens to empower her, but she wasn’t a shrieking violet to begin with. I have said a lot about Ellen Page and her character and not much about anyone else. I just adore Ellen Page, and I think that she’s a great and promising talent. Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern are first-rate as her parents. Harden’s also capable of milking laughs as the pageant-obsessed mom by saying things in a super sweet southern voice. Drew Barrymore, a great first director performance by the way, Kristen Wiig, Zoe Bell and Juliette Lewis all deliver strong performances. Lewis in particular seems to be having a ball playing the biggest and baddest roller derby girl. I haven’t liked her this much in a film for a very, very long time. Maybe that Academy Award nomination wasn’t a fluke (I’m talking to you Jennifer Tilly).


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500 Days of Summer

Posted : 8 years, 10 months ago on 9 October 2009 06:29 (A review of 500 Days of Summer)

500 Days of Summer plays out like a funnier version of a real relationship. Not to say that the film is some light breezy comedy, it generally is, but it has more smarts than all of Sandra Bullock’s, Meg Ryan’s and Julia Robert’s romantic comedies combined. That musical number is a definite highlight, even if Levitt’s dancing looks slightly wooden and spastic. It also has its fair share of awkward and painful moments. (Levitt’s alcohol soaked scenes of post-breakup depression come to mind.) Not since Annie Hall has a movie so realistically depicted the strange and wild practice we call modern romance. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel turn in great performances, which is to be expected of Levitt and a pleasant surprise from Deschanel. Bonus points to any film which has its main characters bonding over a mutual love of the Smiths, foreign films and art.


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The Purple Rose of Cairo

Posted : 8 years, 10 months ago on 9 October 2009 06:28 (A review of The Purple Rose of Cairo)

The Purple Rose of Cairo is a movie that I would love to see. You see, The Purple Rose of Cairo is actually a film-within-a-film. Mia Farrow’s sad, lonely, sweet character goes to see the film repeatedly to escape from her boorish husband, lack of job prospects and the Great Depression. There’s something about an excavation inside an Egyptian tomb, wining and dining in Manhattan, some romance, some comedy and a nightclub act. It looks like a nice screwball comedy and I would love to see it.

Since that film is fake, I’ll just have to settle for the surrounding Woody Allen film, which I would rank amongst his best. It’s funny and charming, with just the tiniest hint of sadness bubbling underneath the surface. Mia Farrow’s character can’t keep her job and is prone to daydreaming her life away instead of actually living it. Her husband drinks too much, won’t get a job and is prone to violence. But she has the local movie theater to escape to. That’s where The Purple Rose of Cairo comes into the film.

You see, a curious but wonderful thing happens – the line between imagination and real life get so blurred that characters can literally walk right off of the screen and into our world, and vice versa. I know I have dreamt about doing this, especially as a child. I really wanted to explore the jungles in King Kong and join the denizens of The Nightmare Before Christmas in their preparations. Mia Farrow’s reaction is realistic, and her performance keeps half the move afloat. Her own intelligence and charm makes Allen’s wit and whimsy all the better.

Jeff Daniels has the other half of the movie to keep afloat as he plays two characters: the actor portraying the character who walked off the movie screen, and the movie character who did it. He’s your typical inflated Hollywood windbag in one case, and a charmingly naïve and sweet hero in the other. One has lost all mystery and wonder of the movies since he’s more interested in their box office gross, his image and recognition than what they can do for us emotionally. The other is like an overgrown child discovering the real world and learning that what he knows in the movie can’t apply to the real world beyond a very small percentage.

Allen’s bouncing back and forth between reality and artifice shows us our main reason and main problem with the movies. We go to see things we can’t in our real world, and sometimes wish that things would play out as easily as they do in them. You can’t have it both ways; you have to embrace it all. But, the movies are just the movies, no matter how deep and involving they are, and real life is real life, no matter how movie-like it can get. I expect nothing less than wit and intelligence from Woody, and here he delivers big time.


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Make Up the Breakdown

Posted : 8 years, 10 months ago on 5 October 2009 11:15 (A review of Make Up the Breakdown)

Just as jittery and caffeinated as anything Joe Jackson or XTC could cook up, Hot Hot Heat’s first full-length album is a lot of synthpunk/indie pop fun. Steve Bays’ nervy voice adds a great amount of acerbic wit to songs like “Oh Goddamnit” or “No, Not Now.” “Talk to Me, Dance With Me” is funky and contains a guitar-and-keyboard line that sounds as angular and riff heavy as anything off of The Cars’ debut album or Candy-O. The best moment on the entire album though is “Bandages” – a witty wordplay game featuring an almost stupid chorus and enough ADHD keyboard lines to give you a freak out. The first time I heard it, and the great ending line: “Bandages have advantages too,” I knew that I would love this band. DOWNLOAD: “Bandages”


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Tapestry

Posted : 8 years, 10 months ago on 5 October 2009 11:14 (A review of Tapestry)

The success of Tapestry rests on Carole King’s voice. She was blessed with a phenomenal songwriter talent, but her voice is full of cracks, imperfections, a limited range and it sounds wonderfully human. She is not some technical whiz that can hit every note but fails to deliver the emotion – this is all about the emotion. I prefer it that way.

Her take on “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman” feels earthy and real, and I like it much better than Aretha Franklin’s vocal bombast. Her vocal on “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” is more subdued and wistful than the Shirelles. There is something to be said about simplicity in vocal delivery. Just look at “So Far Away” or “It’s Too Late.”

And can we talk about the songwriting for a minute? Yes, the lyrics are fantastic, but the music! What Carole King is able to accomplish with a few instruments is extraordinary. Most of the tracks are just a guitar, a piano, some drums and a bass. Every so often a few strings or a wind instrument will appear, but it’s mostly the basics and nothing sounds exactly the same. The title track even dips into psychedelic pop, or, at least, a close approximation of it. It sounds light, airy, even bordering on Californian feathery-pop textures, but the themes and emotions run deep. Sounds can be deceiving.

To say that this was a huge influence on the confessional singer-songwriter genre is to say that water is wet. To say that it is a work of supreme craftsmanship is like saying it is cold when it snows. Tapestry is one of the greatest soft-rock/pop albums of all time. Actually, it’s one of the greatest albums of all time. I know for sure that it’s one of my absolute favorites. DOWNLOAD: “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman”


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Changesonebowie

Posted : 8 years, 10 months ago on 5 October 2009 11:13 (A review of Changesonebowie)

David Bowie’s first greatest hits collection remains one of his best. Yes, it’s only eleven tracks and it only covers about five albums, but the sheer genius on display and musical invention is astounding. The alien-folk rock of “Space Oddity” will not prepare you for the coked out soul crooner of “Golden Years,” with its cynical and detached vocals and heavy keyboards works as a bridge to the avant-garde Low, his next studio release. Everything in-between is an envious collection of cabaret folk, plastic soul, avant-garde rock, proto-punk and proto-New Wave. In these songs you can hear the sounds and trajectory of the upcoming alternative rock scenes of the 70s and 80s. “Changes” might just be his personal statement, but it became a rallying cry for the all of the misfits just like him interested in the combination of high-art and rock guitars. This collection showcases why David Bowie is one of my heroes. The last great reason to seek out this vinyl: it’s the only Bowie album with “John, I’m Only Dancing” on it (yes, later collections like the two CD Best of Bowie contain, but that’s not a vinyl). My only complaint is that the album is too short. There’s room for “The Man Who Sold the World” or “TVC15.” DOWNLOAD: “John, I’m Only Dancing”


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9

Posted : 8 years, 10 months ago on 1 October 2009 09:10 (A review of 9)

9 is a stunningly gorgeous looking film that’s an art-house minded action adventure. It mostly succeeds in its goal to mix the two of them together and create something new and fun. I love any animated film that proves that the entire genre isn’t chock full of cuddly anthropomorphic creatures, pretty princesses and handsome princes. These little rag dolls look like something out of a cyberpunk vision, the cityscape is disturbingly quiet and accurate to real life images of post-war cities, the less said about the mechanical monsters the better – one of them even freaked me out.

Yes, at times the movie hits too close to brainless popcorn action, but with such intriguingly disturbing images and a new enough screenplay, it remains as far away from “generic” and “safe” as possible. I’ve seen a lot of strange science-fiction films, a lot of strange animated films, but I’ve never seen an animated science-fiction film where the (dead) mad scientist is literally the hero and the enemy. This premise – about dividing the soul and placing it in different creations in order to recreate and bring new life to the dead world – can overcome any of dialogue problems – lots of action movie cliché lines, but the astounding visuals are the real reason to see the film.

The stitched together dolls are quirky and fun to look at, each looking similar but very different from each other. It helps that you can see an improved design with each new doll. My favorites were the silent twins who communicated with a form of Morse code involving blinking and flashing their eyes. But the odds-and-ends robotic demons from Hell are even more impressive. The first monster looking like a mechanical exoskeleton for a large feral cat or a prehistoric dog, another looking like a pterodactyl, another looking like a baby-doll/snake hybrid (creepiest one, by far).

If any of this sounds even remotely interesting I suggest that you see 9. It’s not a perfect animated film, but this film, Up, Ponyo and Coraline are the best animated films I’ve seen all year. Hopefully at this year’s Academy Awards the Best Animated film ghetto the nominees will go up from three to five. It’s happened once before, and this year it needs to happen again.


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Practical Magic

Posted : 8 years, 10 months ago on 1 October 2009 09:09 (A review of Practical Magic)

Too funny to be a horror film, too dark to be a comedy, Practical Magic suffers from multiple personality disorder. Which is quite a shame since it’s got a very talented and promising group of actress – Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock, Stockard Channing and Diane Weist, the latter two being criminally underused, give it their best, but their best isn’t good enough. I like when Nicole Kidman does her best Excorist impression and the movie enters into horror territory, complete with Goran Vijsnic doing his best to be broody, troubled and sexy as her abusive ex-boyfriend/vengeful spirit. The love story feels like a ploy to soften the horror, and the cutesy happy ending just raises a new question – if all the men that these women love die, wouldn’t Aiden Quinn’s character not be long for this world once he got involved with them? Or did her spell as a child cancel that out? Also – does anyone else remember a period of time when it seemed like every movie about female bonding included some scene where they drank, danced around something and giggled way too much? Yep, this movie has that scene too. There’s something for everyone, and nothing for anyone.


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Star Trek

Posted : 8 years, 10 months ago on 1 October 2009 09:09 (A review of Star Trek)

Oh Star Trek, I wanted to like you a lot more than I ended up liking you. I found you to be quite often over-hyped, slightly generic and a serious case of flash and style over very little substance. I heard a lot of people talk about the rejuvenation of the franchise with this film, but I felt like it was too often just another Star Wars-lite tale of a farm boy making good on saving the universe from a vengeful, wounded bad guy. That and the lense-flare bothered after the third or fourth go round in the Enterprise. There’s no new ground being explored here, it’s just been pumped full of steroids and ignoring real science, which science fiction was based upon, and telling everyone that black holes make time travel much quicker! And the characterizations are beyond paper thin. Kirk is as cliché ridden as any other generic action hero as of late: troubled childhood, I’m told he’s a badass but he spends the entire movie getting his ass kicked, rebellious nature, ladies man, I’m also told he’s very smart but he keeps making stupid decisions (or he needs very obvious plot points pointed out to him). The best part of the entire movie is Leonard Nimoy showing up as the deus ex machine…I mean…Old Spock. He comes in to wrap up plot points, spoon feed information and basically act like the only intelligent human being in the entire film, which is saying something since he’s an alien who’s not supposed to have human emotions. I didn’t hate Star Trek, but it wasn’t the movie that everyone hyped it up to be. I do have a theory as to why that happened: in a summer with so many terrible films (Transformers 2 and Wolverine being at the top of the list), everyone was probably very glad to see a decent summer film. And that’s all that Star Trek was – perfunctory, generic, loud, slam-bam, brainless popcorn entertainment. I expected something more.


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