I've been a movie-watching crazy man over the last few weeks. What have I seen, you ask? Well, let me tell you. ** means I saw it on cable instead of DVD.
Two SoCal men, one, a recently divorced, still in love with his ex, depressed, neurotic wine aficionado named Milo (Harvey Pe-, I mean Paul Giamatti), the other an aging small-time actor named Jack (Thomas Hayden Church) who's been in a couple of soaps and has done a few commercial voice-overs (mostly disclaimers), decide to go on a road trip together through California's wine country, ostensibly to sample a lot of good wine and give Jack a good sendoff before his upcoming wedding. Problem is, perpetually adolescent Jack sees this as an opportunity to get their party on and get laid, much to Milo's chagrin. And of course, complications ensue. This is a wonderful film- smart, witty, involving, with gorgeous scenery and very well acted by the ensemble cast which includes Virginia Madsen (in what has to be her best role in years) as a wine-savvy waitress and friend of Milo's and the excellent-as-always Sandra Oh as a free-spirit pour girl who falls for Jack. Perhaps it's because this seems geared towards people in my age group, can't say for sure, but I came away thinking that this was the best movie I've seen in a long time. A+
Sometimes, I think I become more enamored of the idea behind a story than I am the execution of same; here's a good case in point. Steamboy, the latest from Akira's Katsuhiro Atomo, has a great idea for its premise- a boy genius, one of a family of scientists, having adventures in 19th century Great Britain where everything is powered by steam. The visuals are amazing, no less than you'd expect from the man behind Akira and Metropolis..but after a decent beginning, the story devolves into a lot of shouting (why do Western actors always feel the need, when voicing over anime, to try to fill in all the grunts and groans that are a part of Japanese speech?) and explosions, and treats all the could-have-been-plentiful character interaction as a nuisance, to be touched upon lightly then cast aside for more cool machinery and steampuffs. The voice work, despite all the oohs, ughs and aaahs, is nicely done by a trio of unlikely gaijin: Anna Paquin as Steamboy, Alfred Molina as SB's father (I thought it was Jim Broadbent until I read the credits), and Patrick Stewart as his grandfather. The end credits are shown against a backdrop of images that suggest that there are further Steamboy adventures to be had; I'd love to see them but only if someone pays more attention to the story and less to making it look like the coolest video game ever. B
I had a co-worker tell me that she sat through this oddball movie and never cracked a smile. I thought it was hilarious throughout; and what that says about me I leave for others to speculate on. It's a surreal little high-school misfit film where everyone seems to be at least a little mentally challenged, even the jocks and cheerleaders, and while our boy Napoleon comes out ahead in the end, you're still a little embarrassed for him even as you cheer him on. The hard part's going to be keeping from annoying my friends and family by exhaling slowly and saying exasperatedly "idiots"! A
THE RUTLES: ALL YOU NEED IS CASH
A subject so ripe for lampooning as the Beatles requires members of the 70's Saturday Night Live troupe, Eric Idle of Monty Python, and the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band to do it justice, and they almost pull it off despite a tiny budget and a lot of jokes I wish they'd chosen with a bit more care. Still, the faux Fabs songs (released as a separate album, which I've owned on 8-track and vinyl and still listen to fairly often) are pretty good, especially "I Must Be in Love", "Let's Be Natural" and "Cheese and Onions", there are several fun cameos including George Harrison himself, and for every two targets they miss they hit one in very funny fashion. Surprisingly, despite the presence of Belushi, Ackroyd, Gilda Radner, and Mick Jagger, this aired to rock-bottom ratings in 1978, and that was the last time I saw it myself, so I was happy to get the chance again. Don't exactly know just what it was about the Rutles. Must have been the trousers. B+
I think if I was about 20 years younger, with unresolved parental issues, this would have resonated more with me- but as it was I still found it a well-done tale of twentysomething disaffection, with some clever camera work and good performances by writer/director/lead Zach Braff and Natalie Portman, who apparently is a much better actress when not appearing in Star Wars flicks. I don't have a burning desire to see this ever again, but I can unreservedly recommend it to the curious. A-
** THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY
I've never read the Douglas Adams book on which this was based, so I had no preconceived notions of what this should have been going in- I think if I had, though, I'd be really disappointed. It's clever, imaginative, and unique...but it was just so relentlessly quirky and hyperactively paced that I found it wearing after about an hour or so and got really restless before it was over. And although I'm sure a ton of money was probably spent on effects and such, the film still had a shoddy, low-budget look to me. The performances were all fine, and Zooey Deschanel is charming, but really only over-the-top Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox made a lasting impression...and part of that impression was to smack him over the nose with a rolled up newspaper, he was so hopped-up and manic. Overall, I was entertained despite the "look at me, I'm so clever and wise" tone, but not blown away and it will probably take another screening before I make up my mind. Fortunately, I only paid a buck-fifty to see it at the second-run movie theater here in town- I might be less charitable if I had paid $8 or more. B-
THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU
This is a deadpan, dull, far-fetched film with a few chuckles here and there, a nice low-key performance by Bill Murray, and some imaginatively done visuals. Also good to see Jeff Goldblum in a significant part, it seems like he's been less and less visible in high-profile films for years now. As with Hitchhiker's, after a while the constant quirkiness grew tiresome, even though I was amused sporadically by many of the silly set pieces, such as the pirate raid on Zissou's ship. I think it's just a case, for me, of just not getting Wes Anderson- I didn't think Rushmore was all that great either, and I was definitely in the minority there as well. C+
OK, that's it for now...plenty more left to opine upon!