Some movies we’ve enjoyed lately

We gave up on the summer of junky movies and turned to Blockbuster’s cheapest DVD rental plan instead. For just $8/month, we get two movies delivered and 2 more in-store rentals for free. Thankfully, we’ve uncovered some real gems using the service lately. Here’s a rundown:

Brick3 1/2 out of 5 – Joseph Gordon-Leavitt carries this bizarre, amazing, dark, comic, and inventive modern noir tale set against the backdrop of high school.

Lonesome Jim4 1/2 out of 5 – My pick for the most criminally under-rated film of 2005. Casey Affleck gives another great performance in this hilariously bittersweet tale of a small-town family. Liv Tyler is as good as always and some excellent supporting performances, crack writing, and wise pacing make this movie a rare, totally enjoyable and redeeming night in a pretend-land that is cringe-inducingly close to reality.

Pride & Prejudice4 out of 5 – The millionth re-telling of one of my favorite books, I hesitated to watch this really beautifully-shot period piece, thinking that the classic BBC mini-series was the final say on the material. I was really wrong, as this version stands on its own as a well-written interpretation. Possibly- possibly– better than the BBC mini-series.

Inside Man3 1/2 out of 5 – Denzel Washington and Chiwetel Ejiofor crackle in this engrossing, truly original caper. Forget the mediocre or pandering reviews and make this a double feature with my next recommendation.

Confidence3 1/2 out of 5 – A slick, intelligent thriller that will keep you guessing from the first scene to the very end. Plus some great performances from stellar actors like Dustin Hoffman, Paul Giammatti, Ed Burns, and Rachel Weisz.

Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic 3 1/2 out of 5 One of the filthiest comedy concert movies ever made, but one of the funniest in recent memory as well. Don’t watch this before familiarizing yourself with Siliverman first- then, watch it soon after.

This weekend

* We watched Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. My vote: *** out of 4 stars. Funny, hilarious in places, and slick overall. I am deepy disturbed that they cut my favorite line from the trailer – “I can’t lower my heart rate; I’ve got a cougar on me!” – from the feature film. But all-in-all, this was a direct hit for Ferrell/McKay/Apatow, and well worth checking out.

* I uploaded some photos from our personal archives to Flickr. Included: Shots from December 2004, a highway/mirror shot from fall 2005, and one of a giant tree completely split down the middle on I-95 here in Maine.

I can’t lower my heart rate! I’ve got a cougar on me!

The best movie I’ve seen so far this summer is Taladega Nights: The Ballad of Rick Bobby.

Wait, you say! That movie won’t even be in theaters until August 4th! How did a lowly commoner like me see it? Well, to be completely honest, I haven’t seen the whole movie…just some funny bits via the two different trailers I’ve seen.

As excited as I am about Ricky Bobby, it’s also a commentary on the sad state of cinema so far in summer 2006. I’ve seen more movies this summer than the past few combined, and yet I’ve been let down again and again with what I’ve seen.

I got hyped up for DaVinci Code, again for Pirates, and now I’m really looking forward to Ricky Bobby, especially after the latest trailer. We’ll see if Will Ferrell and Judd Apatow can save this summer with their third classic summer comedy in a row (Anchorman in 2004 and 40-Year-Old Virgin in 2005).

Some movies I’ve seen this summer, with brief comments:

MI:3 (Mission: Impossible 3) – *** out of 5 – Blazing action scenes, a sensible, borderline unique plot, and suspense without cheapness combined to make this movie an enjoyable distraction. I wish this was the first in the series; I’d like to see a couple more like this.

The DaVinci Code – ** out of 5 – The most disappointing film I’ve seen in quite some time (since 2003’s Collateral), DaVinci sums up my feeling about the summer movie season this year: It’s overwraught, it trys to hard, it’s lamely funny, and it doesn’t end well.

The Break-Up – ** 1/2 out of 5 – Notwithstanding the Old 97’s appearance, as well as the Annie Hall-esque ending, The Break-Up was not as funny, nor as poinant, as it tried to be. I still enjoyed it more than most critics across the country, who I feel are consistently (and unfairly) harsh to Jennifer Aniston.

Cars – **** out of 5 – My favorite movie of the summer so far. With spectacular animation and a thoroughly interesting plot geared more towards adults, Pixar did it again. I’m still mildly annoyed at their inability to present any type of humor besides lame, outdated pop culture references.

Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest – ** out of 5 – Another major let-down. A movie without the charm, humor, pacing, and excitement of first. To be fair, it also lacks the suprise of the first, but that’s not really a good excuse to spend two-and-a-half hours boring me.

Moore is sued for dishonest footage, again is retired, and I don’t intend for this space to inherit its subject matter. That said, in checking Instapundit today, I noticed my old mark, Michael Moore, is in trouble again:

A double-amputee Iraq-war vet is suing Michael Moore for $85 million, claiming the portly peacenik recycled an old interview and used it out of context to make him appear anti-war in “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

Sgt. Peter Damon, 33, who strongly supports America’s invasion of Iraq, said he never agreed to be in the 2004 movie, which trashes President Bush.

Geez, just when you think a movie could not be more discredited, along comes one of the people who appeared in it to slam the preverbial door even further. Of course, this isn’t the first time Sgt. Damon has complained about the shameful way he was treated by Moore. In the documentary FahrenHYPE 9/11 (disclosure: which I appear in, briefly), Damon first stated that he was taken completely out of context in Moore’s film. So while these aren’t new claims, they do come after over a year of apparent but unsuccessful efforts by Damon to get Moore to admit his wrongs.

One of the little known facts about Moore’s films- one that he would prefer be kept under wraps- is that he does not personally collect all of the footage that ultimately appear in his films. Far from it; in fact- some is gathered by producers, but even more is culled from vast stock video libraries and editied as it is seen fit by Moore. In Sgt. Damon’s case, Moore obtained the rights to some footage from the NBC News archives, cut it down to fit his argument, and stuck it in. The act can only be described as a lazy, cheap, and thoroughly dishonest attempt to pull one over on viewers. Can you imagine being so afraid of your own positions that you would go to such lengths to advance them?

This isn’t the first time Moore has been sued, for that matter. As Dave Hardy and I wrote in our book, Moore was successfully sued by a former friend who won over $4 million dollars from the filmmaker in a 1993 judgement. The lawsuit stemmed from Moore’s 1986 film Roger & Me, and can you guess what it revolved around? That’s right! The friend successfully sued Moore for taking his words out of context and using them against him on film.

Of course, the fact that this time around the treachery involves a solider injured in battle just makes it all the more disgusting.

UPDATE: Dave Hardy has more.

The ‘Code’ movie is not for ‘DaVinci’ book lovers

Despite (or perhaps, due to) my high hopes, I thought The DaVinci Code movie was a long, boring, overwraught, and entirely lame screen incarnation of the book.

I love Audrey TatouAmeilie is on my Top 10 All-Time list- and I really like Tom Hanks, Paul Bettany, Jean Reno, and Alfred Molina; but despite that stable of fine actors, not a single of their performances was where I hoped they would be. Perhaps that was due to the clunky, unsure script, which managed to drain the action from the book, dillute its theories, muddy its characters’ intentions, beliefs, and personality traits, and strip away some of the best scenes and turning points.

The most exciting thing about the entire trip was, alas, the previews. I’m happy to report that at least in preview land, all things are well. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (with Will Ferrell) looks hilarious, and Casino Royale (the new Bond flick) looks quite interesting.

The DaVinci Code: C

Idea factory: Compare the box office theories with fact

Okay, so some folks are suggesting that summer box office was down because the movies were bad. Bereft of proof until recently, they’re now claiming vindication because box office receipts are now up, in a time when “better” movies are traditionally released (the fall).

So…how to find out what’s really happening? There’s no absolute way to know without either polling every single American or perhaps qualifiying intangible factors such as theater quality, pricing, and etc. (again that may involve signifigantly complicated polling.)

But what about this if you’re looking for a way to see if movie quality really matters:
Go to Rotten Tomatoes (or Metacritic) and tally up, then average the reviews of all movies released from May-August 2005. Then do the same for the same time period in 2004 (and perhaps even 2003). Then, compare the resulting years’ aggregate reviews with their box office numbers, and then you might have some fact to go with your conjecture.

My hypothesis? That movie quality and box office receipts are NOT corrollary. But hey, I could be wrong.

Star Wars III…

Going to see it tonight with my Dad.

UPDATE: Short review: It was pretty damn good. One thing that’s been bothering me over the past few weeks as I’ve been following all the reviews was the sheer extremity of the opinions. Some critics loved it, others hated it, and as time went on, I didn’t see much of a “middle space” evolve. I became convinced that both sides- the lovers and the haters- were simply over-reacting to their individual expectations, either met or failed.

After seeing it, I think my middleism was generally correct, with a slight tilt towards the lovers. You haters, back off and go home. It’s not fair to judge the film as a failure on your own set of unmet expectations. And to those who said it’s the best of the lot: whoah, nellie! Just because it’s the first good once since 1983 doesn’t mean we should start declaring it the best thing ever.

The ending was classic, the middle was damn good, and the dialogue was terrible. It was definitely a PG-13 movie though-there were at least two parts I thought went a bit far.

My rating: ***1/2