Friday, April 01, 2011

Movie and Television Reviews


I don’t know why some movies are made.  I suppose that there is a voyeuristic necessity.  The truth is, we’ll never really know what happened behind closed doors in the Plath household because her husband expurgated her journals (to protect their children) and we only have his version, one that he had been reticent to share for too many obvious reasons.  It isn’t a surprise that Plath herself became a feminist icon and would have probably loathed how her myth has been formed around how she has been imagined by others.  Do any of us ever appreciate the way others see us?  There is a vulgarity in it all, from Hughes burning her last journal to the feminist cant that refuses to see any love lost between the couple.  This movie does nothing to redeem Hughes nor to define Plath as a powerful figure.  What it does is pretty much exploit an easily manipulated story.  The acting is good, although Gwyneth Paltrow never manages to sound as hard and edgy as Plath herself did.  Paltrow’s voice is simply too soft, too serene.  But her eyes convey a great deal of emotion and she manages to reflect a hollow blankness when we, as viewers, are supposed to understand that she is slipping into her own madness.  There is something curious about the airy openness of the times in America and the claustrophobic interiors of the British.  I suppose if this were a better movie I would have pondered this further rather than dismissively alluding to it here.  But this movie didn’t inspire me to think any more deeply than I have already and most of this has been inspired by what I already knew going into the film rather than being anything I drew from it directly.  Oh well.

Angel Season One

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a fan of the Whedonverse and occasionally watch the shows again.  This is not a first time for me to watch the first season and, as my grandfather said, “God willing” it won’t be my last.  It’s interesting to see how unstable this first season feels.  The show hasn’t hit its stride, is still struggling to get the right chemistry between its characters and it’s easy to see how minor characters are introduced with an eye to potentially keeping them around while leaving them easily expendable.  I may be one of the few and far between who likes Kate’s character.  By the end of the season, you can see how the writers are hitting their stride and the characters are beginning to mesh.  In some ways, it was a little surprising at the time to not see it happen immediately, given how many were part and parcel of the Buffy staff but they were intentionally trying to create a different emotional energy for this show, one that complimented the other without being reductive or redundant.

Secret of the Kells

On a whim, I chose to suggest this movie to Rob.  It took a while and, in the time it took, this movie came up on websites, in newsletters, in the most unexpected places.  When we finally sat down to watch it I almost immediately understood why.  The story is magical, told in a mythic style that is further evoked by the stylistic imagery.  There are circles, mandalas, eyes that are repeated throughout.  (Even a dome shaped fireplace that is surrounded by a semi-circle hearth.)  There are strong vertical lines that form arches in a forest and knotwork filigree that decorates backgrounds and stonework.  Sometimes drawn in clear animation lines, at other times a watercolor wash, the visual effects are stunning.  And I haven’t gotten to the music which is infused with an energy that so perfectly weaves into the story itself, I caught my breath a couple of times trying to be still enough to take it all in.  This movie is utterly enchanting and Rob and I both were thoroughly charmed by it.  Definitely one we would recommend.

Across the Hall

I confess, I am such a fan of Britanny Murphy’s that I probably am being more gracious to this film than I otherwise would be.  But I love her awkward sexiness, her smokey eyes and voice, and her funny shaped lips.  I was sad when I heard she’d died and I think it would have been interesting to see the directions her career would have gone had things been different.  The fact that she was choosing to be in a film noire movie like this while also making cute romantic movies shows she was trying to stretch her acting wings.  She does a good job and the acting all around is good. The tone is established very early in the film and there is a surreal quality lent by the seeming displacement in time.  It took me a moment to grasp when the movie is supposed to be taking place but once I had my chronological bearings in place, the flashbacks, the layering of the story as it slowly unfolds, was quite effective.   The hardest thing about making noire is not merely in establishing a tone but in developing a plot that allows for a twist, or two, or three.  Typically I am disappointed by the twist which I feel is overly contrived and convenient.  And I concede that my love of Murphy may be keeping me more biased in favor of this film, but I liked this movie from beginning to end.  Liked.  Not loved.  It’s good for what it is.  Could have been better but definitely could have been much worse.  

Bourne Ultimatum

I watched the first and second movie so it only makes sense I’d watch the third (and what I assume is the final) of the Bourne movies.  They do a better than average job of maintaining the energy of the first but the tension is lost.  You pretty much expect twists and turns but they don’t really come.  I can complain more about the jerky camera stuff but I can understand that they would continue using the same visual effect.  I’m done with it now and I liked them all for what they were.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  

New York, I Love You

I definitely enjoyed this little movie with its weaving of different stories, looking at relationships and how attraction and love manifests.  Each story sets its own tone, exploring the subtle ebbs and flows of lust and desire, touching on the tenderness that is commitment.  Every now and again, I see a movie that feels like home and this movie is like that emotionally.  I think it would have been interesting to have some darker explorations but I can understand wanting to keep the singular effect, all the more effective as it is all created with stories that piece together like a charming quilt.


I really must like Norman Reedus because he is the reason I watched this movie.  I suffered through it, hoping it would get . . . I dunno.  Intelligent?  Interesting?  Something.  The most interesting part of it to me was the collage mural that his character was creating as the rumor started gradually spread from person to person.  But this movie felt like something from Lifetime, where women are empowered through victimization and the ending is so manipulative and contrived as to truly put the viewer to shame.  Anyone who was surprised is a fool and since I was watching it with a fever and still knew every twist and turn before it happened I think I can say that with impunity.  

The Black Dahlia

Dear Satia, I kindly give you permission to never ever watch another Brian DePalma movie.  In fact, I think it would be a good idea to simply turn a movie off the moment you see his name involved.  Sure, you may stick around because you think the sepia tone is evocative of a potentially interesting film noire movie and yet you have to realize that if he’s attached to the movie in any way, shape, or form, you are going to finish watching the movie and feel you completely wasted a couple of hours of your life.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, should ever make you watch another Brian DePalma movie.  So next time, do us all a favor, and just walk away.

White Oleander

I read the novel by Janet Finch and really liked it.  I avoided the movie because I didn’t think I could possibly appreciate it.  I can honestly say that I liked this movie slightly better than I thought I would.  I think it was an interesting choice to have the mother be a visual artist rather than a poet.  It was a logical move on the screenwriter’s part, translating a written text to a visual one invites this sort of modification.  I don’t know that Michelle Pfeiffer did an adequate job of creating the narcissistic intensity of Inge’s character.  The young actress was good but too many changes were made to the story and, in some ways, it just withered for me.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 5

This is both my favorite and least favorite season of the series.  For one thing, there’s the brilliant episode “Hush” which I still think is perhaps the most frightening episode of the entire series.  It also has some typically humorous moments.  There are other shining moments but I really found Adam and the whole Initiative thing tedious.  I didn’t think Adam was big or bad enough to be the Big Bad for the season.  But Spike being more incorporated in the series makes up for the rest because his character infuses so much humor.  Oh, and let us not forget Faith’s awakening from her coma.  


I was sick.  What can I say?  I wanted to watch something that wouldn’t make me think and be damned if I thought this was a good choice.  I mean, I remembered this movie being edgy because the appearance of the Cenobites.  And the box that opens the portal to hell is so pretty.  But I forgot the blatant confluence of sex and violence.  How did I forget this?  And the idea that fetishism is somehow indicative of a more hellish personality, a perversion that is bound to be taken to extremes, is not unlike watching the freak watchers arrive at a fetish club, dressed in their designer labels and laughing at the latex and leather clad party goers.  I forgot so much and while it still has some effective visual moments, the most disgusting part of this movie has nothing to do with the Cenobites as it does with the vulgar merging of sex with violence, fetish with perversion. 

Dracula II:  The Ascension

Still sick with fever.  Only sick could I have watched this.  Any strength or less fever and I would have shut this thing off.  I just lay there, zoned out, bored bored bored.  At least the first movie in this series had some pretty moments and an interesting twist on the whole birth of Dracula concept.  But seriously, what is the point of this movie beyond milking an audience of its money before the word gets out that this movie sucks.  And not in the sexy vampire way.  I really need to stop watching crappy vampire movies, sick or not.  


I remembered watching this on television when it first aired and that I liked it but didn’t love it.  I was sick.  It made sense to start watching it and, once I did, I was hooked.  I thought some of it was silly but most of it was interesting.  Of course, I’ve been spoiled by Joss Whedon’s vision and I kept thinking about how much he and his team could have done with this concept.  But even without them, this show is more interesting than I had remembered.  I’m not sure what the purpose was in putting two episodes, which I have to assume never aired, out of sequence so that they followed the obviously last episode, complete with annoying cliffhanger.  And you know, if this had been a Joss Whedon project, someone would have created a comic or graphic novel to let us know what the hell happens next.  Albeit, some favorite character would have to die in a shocking manner that likely splatters blood over the closest standing main character . . . 

To Paris With Love

This was a movie Rob wanted to see and I watched it because I often tease him about how he doesn’t watch movies with me even when he’s the one who chose them.  I figure if he has to suffer through my movie choices, I should suffer through his.  Suffer is the crucial word here because this movie is just dreadful.  What a waste of talent!  And no surprises whatsoever.  Tedious and dull on top of unsexy and uninspired.  Shame shame shame on all involved in this one.  Bleh.

M Butterfly

I read a book about this incident–foreign attache seduced by Chinese into betraying his country and the scandal that followed.  I even read the play, which I thought was brilliant and beautiful.  I can only imagine how powerful it would be on stage.  The way the movie concludes is different from the play that I have to wonder what the intention was in changing it. The political implications of the relationship is lost, or at best whitewashed, and the climactic moment both in the . . . well, transportation vehicle followed closely by the finale are altered and this further corrupts the brutality of the original drama.  Ironically, I think the movie lives up to many, if not all, of the accusations made in the original play.  Or lives “down” to them.  How unfortunate.

Eddie Izzard Live From Madison Square Garden

I have to say that I like Izzard’s stream of consciousness delivery.  He sounds wonderfully conversational and as though he were flying off the cuff with occasional side-tracked moments that lead elsewhere.  You almost can’t help thinking that maybe he’s even forgetting half of the jokes he meant to tell before walking on stage because he started thinking about something else altogether and decided to talk about that instead.  Of course, I realize that this can’t be the case but that is one of the things I like about his comedic style.  Like Astaire, he makes it seem so effortless.

Paper Moon

I forgot what a fun movie this is.  I don’t know that Tatum O’Neal deserved an Oscar for her performance but there is a moment when she sends Mose to face the truth of something for himself . . . and the expression on her face is perfect, the kind of acting one doesn’t expect in a child.  I also love that the movie is filmed in black and white, an effective choice.  I was humming along with the songs throughout and chuckling at the funny moments.  I never read the novel upon which this movie is based.  Still have no desire to do so.  The movie is fun and a nice distraction for a couple of hours.

Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: The Greek Myths

Not a bad way to introduce slightly older children to the Greek mythology that informs so much of our contemporary and classical literature.  Only four stories, however, are represented and some of the imagery is a bit too intense for little children.  I wish they had explored more of the myths, perhaps shared some of the Iliad and Odysseus’ story and I really would have liked to see more of the women centered myths like Atalanta and the Amazons.  Over all, though, it was a nice idea.  I suppose I could research why there were so few episodes (only four) but I’m apparently being a little lazy.

Grave of the Fireflies

Really, with a title like that you know you’re in for a good time, right?  Is it really any wonder that Rob doesn’t eagerly sit down to watch movies with me and accuses me of watching depressing stuff?  This beautiful and heartbreaking anime is so powerful.  I love that anime dvds allow you to choose subtitles or dubbing.  I prefer to read the subtitles and hear the original actor’s voices.  The movie is emotionally devastating to watch as a young boy tries to protect his younger sister during the ravages of war.  The two cling to one another but it is the boy’s devolution in particular that is remarkably portrayed through glorious animation.

Dollhouse Season 2

After watching Earth2, I decided to return to watch the last few episodes of this show.  While I can see that this show is not as effective as Buffy/Angel/Firefly, it was still far more interesting than anything else that was on the air on Fox.  As with most of Whedon’s shows, it doesn’t really hit its stride until season 2 (although the episode that never aired, Epitaph 1, in season 1 begins to really hammer home how intelligent this show would become).  But I doubt that even if Fox had supported this show more, it would have succeeded (unlike Firefly which never had the chance) because, unlike most of Whedons’ other programs, this one lacked a sense of humor.  There are a few funny moments.  Topher, especially, is a clever character and poignant as well.  The show, over all, is darker and yet Whedon and his writers still manage to kill someone off, complete with splatter over the closest main character.  These people are emotionally brutal to the audience and I love it.  As do all the other Whedon fans.

Coming Home

I remember seeing this movie in theaters with my mother and then seeing it again years later wondering what the heck she was thinking taking me to see this movie when I was a kid.  I still don’t know.  But I wonder if this movie, along with a few other things, didn’t inform much of my attitude towards the Vietnam war.  Growing up I thought that every man in a wheelchair was a veteran who had been wounded in ‘Nam.  My mother, like so many other young men and women, protested the war vehemently.  It is in this environment I was raised—protesting a war that “we” considered unjust, as if there were such a thing as a “just” war.  Good acting and a great soundtrack with an ending that is both honest and hard.  I can see why my mother wanted to see it.  I still don’t understand why she took me along with her.

The Ugly Truth

And Rob complains about my watching depressing movies (can you blame him?) which is how we end up watching a romantic comedy.  The premise is good.  Man with misogynistic viewpoints is hired by production executives for a morning talk show forcing feminist morning show producer to deal with his sexist attitudes.  She is a lonely, single woman who takes a bet with him that he can help her manipulate another man into falling in love with her.  Not a great premise but definitely there’s some potential here for laughs.  You know how teachers often write on a report card “doesn’t live up to potential”?  That’s this movie.  The acting was adequate, I suppose.  Katherine Heigle reminds me of a friend I used to have.  Neither Rob nor I liked this one.  


Okay.  So I went into this one with expectations that it would be one of those life affirming films where the survivors of the plane crash begin really tasting their food or embracing their dreams, etc.  Apparently, however, this is a movie about a man with a Messiah complex who drifts along after the crash, ignoring his family, trying to heal himself and the other survivors (because they have survivor’s guilt, I guess) and . . . well, Rob’s right.  I watch these damn movies and end up pissed off because they are so depressing.  This one is depressing, not life affirming.  American Beauty was more life affirming and less depressing than this movie.

Moll Flanders

I never read the novel.  So why did I bother watching this movie?  I don’t know.  I thought maybe it would inspire me to want to read it or something someday.  Instead, I suffered through a really stupid film and thought that even for a movie based on a Victorian novel it was wretched.  I did a little research and quickly discovered that the screenplay took such leaps of liberalities with the original story that the only thing the novel and movie have in common is the title.  Okay. Maybe a few other details but everything, from the sexual molestation by a priest at the beginning to the life and lifestyle she lives to her . . . well, just everything is different.  What’s the point of even suggesting this is the same story by giving it the same title?  Only someone who never read the novel could possibly enjoy this movie.  Oh wait.  I didn’t read the novel and I hated it.  

Hannah and Her Sisters

This is in my top five Woodie Allen movie favorites list.  I figured, after so many depressing and disappointing movies I should watch something I knew I would enjoy.  And I did.  I really did enjoy this movie again.  And I will enjoy it again in the future.  This movie makes me love NY all over again and fills me with homesickness.  I love the characters and the actors and the relationships.  All of it is just wonderful.  But you know, I never before noticed the African American woman who is serving dinner to the family on Thanksgiving.  How many times have I seen this and never before noticed that?  I suppose that not everyone wants to be home on Thanksgiving.  My daughter dislikes the holiday for many reasons and my son doesn’t even like most of the food served on Thanksgiving.  Of course, I realize that some people don’t even like to spend time with their families.  I just found myself pondering how I had never noticed this before and what did it mean that I noticed it now.  Not sure it means anything except that maybe I think too damn much while trying to enjoy a movie.


I’d never seen this movie before and watching it after Hannah and Her Sisters was a really interesting choice.  You have three sisters in both movies.  One is successful and one is still trying to find herself in both.  The oldest seems to be the most successful.  They both even have an alcoholic mother.  And let’s not forget, have one husband lusting after one of his sister-in-laws.  And, of course, you have scenes filmed in Manhattan.  But the parallels pretty much end there.  This movie is bleak and sad and is blatantly inspired by Bergman’s movies.  This is not something Allen denies but seeing him try to do Bergman would be like watching Isabella Rosselini try to Ingrid Bergmen.  Why bother doing someone else’s work poorly when you can do your own so well?  I’m glad Allen left this phase behind him.

Eat Pray Love

In my ongoing commitment to being my own sadist, I masochistically watched this movie, based on a memoir I read and rather liked.  Didn’t love it.  Just liked it.  The movie, I think, is at least as good as the memoir so if you liked the memoir you’ll probably like the movie.  They take some liberties with the text and what happens on the screen is close to the original but not precisely so.  Purists will be upset.  I thought that the movie actually made Gilbert’s story seem more meaningful and less self-indulgent and self-involved.  The ending . . . well, if I hadn’t read the book, I would have found the movie’s conclusion so sickeningly predictable that I would have hated the movie altogether.  But the ending is pulled directly from the book and since I really didn’t like the way the memoir ended I guess I am the one who is being self-indulgent and self-involved when I say, “I don’t care how the story really ends; give me something interesting!”  One could argue that my first mistake was in expecting an interesting ending from a Julia Roberts movie.  Silly me.

Paradise Road

You really have to start wondering what the hell it is I’m thinking when I say “What will I watch next?”  From Julia Roberts being self-indulgent I move to women in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II.  Glenn Close.  Cate Blanchett.  Frances McDormand.  Others.  Some cliches.  Brassy American.  Aloof German.  And Cate.  Beautiful Cate.  Oh how I love Cate.  In this ensemble cast, she still manages to shine, which is remarkable given the surrounding talent.  The film, itself, is painted with broad strokes.  Japanese bad.  Non-Japanese good.  Even though the single German character is ambiguous, she is white and therefore accepted more easily than anyone else.  Great performances and an interesting historical context for the story but it is too simple and I am uncomfortable with it.  The fact that the movie is based on a book that has a racial slur in the title says as much as I care to say in this review.


  1. I actually enjoyed the series Angel and that was part of the reason I tried to watch Bones. I am not, however, a fan of Matt Damon, but I did enjoy the Bourne flicks for what they were mindless drivel...but I must share that I have a fondness for Hellraiser. Something about that series as bad as it was made me smile. And my God girl! You actually sat thru Wes Cravens abortion! Dracula 2 and 3 are the worst movies I have ever been forced to watch...I get sick just thinking about it...I would rather watch Babel again and I will never watch Babel again.

  2. Thankfully, my fever passed before I resorted to watching the third Dracula movie.

    I've never seen Babel.

    Rob watches Bones and he likes it. I get grossed out by it, which he thinks is weird, given that I'll watch zombie movies and such. But I think it's different when I know it can't possibly be true, because I am not one to believe the zombie apocalypse is anymore likely than the Biblical one, whereas when something might be real, a rotted corpse decaying on a dissection table, that disturbs me terribly.

    And I cheated this month. I didn't include one movie I watched because I didn't think anyone took the time to read these lengthy posts. Boy was I wrong! You obviously do. But you'll have to wait to see what movie I liked so much last month that I'm holding off to let it be the first to appear in this month's reviews. I'd give you a hint but I'm really bad at giving clues about these things. I'm either way too vague (that could be any movie!) to far too specific (well that could only be this movie) so we'll both have to be patient.