In which I attempt to watch every film in The Criterion Collection and end up watching a lot that aren't. Click here for the rating system.



"A film for Everyone!" ▲

OK, so this really isn't a film for everyone... but it has elements that would appeal to a broad range of viewers: blood, glory, half-naked men, Gerard Butler, graphic novel stylizing, half-naked women, more half-naked men, gore, fantastic battle sequences, monsters, men in drag, dead people nailed to trees, a half-naked Gerard Butler... did I forget anything? Oh, and all the half-naked people are incredibly muscular and/or hot.

Sex scenes seemed to drone on a bit long (excluding the rape scene), but otherwise, the pacing is taut, like Gerard Butler's abs. Fantastic film timing on the fight sequences. The director alternates fast and slow speeds on the most intense parts of battle, adding a "screenshot" effect that could have been plastered down in graphic novel form and sold as a refurbished comic book.

Apparently based on an actual historic event, the Battle of Thermopylae of 480 BC, director Zack Snyder takes us on an odyssey with our protagonists into the gaping maw of death... so to speak. Intense, enjoyable.

Favorite moments: color-saturated imagery, battle sequences, comraderie, Gerard Butler.


Raising Helen

Parents dead? That's OK. They've willed you to the "Fun Aunt!"

Chanced upon this video at the library. Thought, "Can't kill me" so I got it. Goldie Hawn Part 2 plays a likeable single high-powered executive assistant NYer girl. (A popular choice in RomCom's) Her sister dies leaving behind three children whom she leaves to the heroine rather than her uptight, prissy, pregnant sister Jenny (played a little predictably by Joan Cusack [not her fault, she's a lovely woman and a talented actress]). So she takes the kids and moves into Queens and enrolls them in a private Lutheran School, run by (wait for it) a sexy, single Pastor named Dan (played a little flatly by John Corbett of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame [totally his own fault. If ever anyone was phoning it in, it was Corbett]). The 'sexy' (he wasn't that sexy, he looked like a dead cow rolled up on the beach) pastor 'falls' immediately for her charming NYer girl ways and rather lamely pursues her and the kids.

Meanwhile, Goldie Hawn, Part 2 is losing her high-powered executive assistant job because her Anna Wintour look-alike boss (played rather briefly by Helen Mirren [not her fault, the script gave her nothing but wardrobing to work with]) wants her life-blood at the office.

Eventually, the kids and their pets and stuffed animals and poor choice of boyfriend get everyone in a hubbub and Jenny (the older, stiff sister) is called in to save the day, which she does. Goldie Hawn II then feels like a failure and rejects the children and her hot and holy minister friend. But learns that she needs people to feel like people or something like that. And everyone is happy in the end.

Best moments: Numa the neighbor takes a bat to the kids' illicit teen party, a bloated John Corbett stands in the center of a skating rink during a touching montage where he's just "played" an interfaith game of hockey, except that you realize the man can't skate at all and so he has to stand there and try to look sexy and bloated while Goldie's Girl skates lovingly around him. HA!


Henry Fool

"Socrates you ain't"

It won a Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Screenplay. And I pretty much hated the whole movie. *sigh* If that constitutes the best this world has to offer in terms of dialogue, I'm ready to move on.

Poorly acted, badly edited, and eerily impotent in its attempted reach. It tried so hard to be something it wasn't: a good film. Reminded me of my high school trying to put on "serious works" like Pinter or Albee. Come to think of it, it pretty much was Albee. It was like watching a long, self-involved play performed by amateurs (note: I do not for a moment discredit the talent of the actors, but I roundly disliked the direction they were given and the words they had to say.)

Sorry, Hal.

Favorite Moments: (Come on, there has to be one...) Henry Fool's son was the best part of this movie. Wished he'd been the lead...


Dog Day Afternoon

Made in 1975, Dog Day Afternoon chronicles the adventures of two men attempting to rob a bank. Because it is summer and it is hot, the movie is named Dog Day Afternoon.

I don't know what it is. Maybe I'm in a funk, because despite the fact that I've been watching on average four films a week, I can't seem to find the enthusiasm I need to want to review them. I mean, who cares? A film made in 1975 about a gay guy who robs a bank so his male wife can have a sex change operation while his female wife screams at him over the phone and his accomplice goes kinda psycho and wants to kill everybody? So what?

I feel kind of gypped watching this movie in 2006, when in 1975 gay lovers are risque, nobody ever thought of asking for an airplane before and to see people glistening with sweat on screen was the height of realism. Nowadays that mush is lame, cliched, redundant. So I'm cheated from the experiential shock the first viewers had of this movie. I don't know what the hell they mean when they are all shouting "Attica!" because that is ancient history. So is anger at the police. Been there, done that, so tired of talking about it. Don't get me wrong, it was a good movie. At parts it was even a great movie (I mean where else can you see Prince Humperdink acting like a little girl?), but I'm not gonna go on and on about it.

There, I've said my bit. If you like a depressing movie every now and again. See it. G'ahead. I don't care.

Favorite bits: Jumping to reach the cameras, Mouth, "What country you wanna go to?" "I've always wanted to go to Wyoming."


Under The Tuscan Sun

"Remember that time when you got divorced and accidentally visited Italy when your lesbian best friend sent you on a "Gay and Away" Tour and you bought a house on a whim and stayed there for years and years with no money on a tourist visa, but still living in fabulous wealth, having a fling with a married Italian guy and then finding a great American wanderer to heal your heart all while cooking great food and learning Polish? Yeah. That was awesome!"
Favorite Moments: The storm, the lady in the black hat, Italian men.


A Woman Under The Influence

"I love you, but you're crazy."

Want a meaty movie? Here's a film you can sink your teeth into. The great grandaddy of New Wave Cinema (and here you thought it started in France!) released this classic in 1974 with a startlingly brilliant cast of Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk.

John Cassavetes couldn't get a distributor for this film. He hauled it around New York under his arm trying to get cinemas to show it. It wasn't until a fan of his, hot new director Martin Scorcese, threatened to pull his own film "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" from a film festival if they didn't show Cassavetes piece.

Reviews on this film are mixed. Some critics feel it is too over the top and yet poorly constructed. Others think it is ahead of its time for cinematic realism. The actors themselves look back with astonishment at the work they did for Cassavetes usually without so much as one run through and often before they even realized the camera was rolling.

On a gut level I understand this movie. It's a love story of a man whose ability to express himself to his wife is challenged by her inability to understand herself. The two are in a fight to show their love and the world around them spins dizzily along for the ride.

This film was a new experience for me. It reminds me of other films but none of them American. In fact I was shocked when the characters started speaking in English. It wears the face of a foreign new wave film, but is in fact a predecessor. Good to watch and subtly intriguing. Worth watching and thinking about.

Favorite moments: Gena Rowlands rocks it out as a crazy lady, kids trying to cope with father, final scene "going to bed."

Butterfly Effect

"I'm a butterfly in time! And I'm frying my brain!"

I think I know why this movie didn't do as well as the creators had hoped: it wasn't complete. The idea of the story was substantial but the presentation was spotty. The plot was missing too many important screws, so to speak, in order to keep it together. I applaud Ashton Kutcher's move away from fart comedies to do this dramatic role. I think it suits him. But I wasn't buying the whole "I'm so in love with this girl I've known since I was seven and I have to go back in time and save her" bit.

You know what? Honestly, I enjoyed this movie. Sure there were glaring flaws in the plot construction, sure I wasn't buying Amy Smart as a hooker, but still, somewhere behind its garbled identity crisis exterior of horror-meets-love story, it was kind of entertaining. Even sweet, in a mildly pleasing way without the usual sugar-rush that comes with it.

Like Chinese food, this movie goes down easy, but will leave you a little hungry. Enjoy with a coke and a couple of chili dogs.
Favorite Moments: The walls shaking and blasting into the past, evil Tommy becoming a cleancut goody-two-shoes.



"New York Snob Story" №¢

A black screen opens with a Shaft-esque chorus of women's voices in the background singing, "Alfie, Alfie, what's it all about?"

Enter Jude Law who rambles on for half an hour about what men really want from women as he dresses himself in the morning, donning a suit and knotted scarf (from which, apparently he never recovered) and as he spritzes a little cologne on "big ben" he looks at the camera and says, "You never know where the day will lead." He continues on in this aggravating, superior manner about how he keeps all his fillies dancing on a string yet remains distant and unattached. Etc, etc. About how he moved to New York because all the hottest women are there. About how he dresses rich and lives poor because he never takes women home anyways. And on. And on. And on.

Four hours later, a plot attempts to crawl out from under this ragged heap of solipsistic soliloquy, but is crushed in its infancy and dies an ignominious death.

Alfie ditches women, Alfie cheats on "girlfriend" (Marisa Tomei, underused but still adorable in this role), Alfie cheats on best friend with his girlfriend and gets her pregnant, Alfie falls for an older woman who then dumps him and breaks his heart (whatever is left of it) yadda yadda. Alfie has a psycho girlfriend...

...and here we must pause in this listless retelling, because here for a moment life imitates art. Do you all know the tabloid-frenzied tale of Jude Law's tryst with Sienna Miller after which wifey leaves him and says, "Better luck, Hon" as the dust flies out from under her retreating SUV tires and then shortly thereafter, Jude Law does the nanny in a scandalous about-face from which Sienna apparently never recovers? (I mean, after all, when he cheats on his wife to be with you, why would he cheat on you, right?) Well, that is essentially what happens here. Quite rightly I watched with horrored fascination as Jude and Sienna recreate a tragic psychotic love on screen. And I'm thumbing through my back-issues of US weekly, saying, "wait a minute, I remember reading all of this." But here's the fun part, in the film's story, Alfie has a moment of awareness. He has an epiphany: maybe it's not ok to just use people. Maybe it is important to have someone to love and to treat them well so they can love you. And roll credits.

And get this, the pretentious New Yorkers (oxymoron) who created this film did us all proud by running black and white "art" photos of themselves along with their name. Gag me with a frickin' Manhattan spoon, people. Is there a law somewhere that states, "If I live in New York, I must suffer under the delusion that New York and only New York is the epicenter of all that is glamorous, good, and unholy?" Because quite honestly, other than British dentists, I've never met so undeservedly self-centered a race of people as New York filmmakers.

favorite moments: Jude Law is a He-Ho.


The Island

"Attack of the Clones."

Ewan McGregor is the new Charlton Heston in this apocolyptic vision of America (set in 2019? Come on, people, give us a little more time than that to self-destruct!). Scarlett Johansson wears too much lip gloss and has been bleached a fairly unattractive shade of britney blonde.

They are best friends who escape their holding facility of clone organ donors to the real world where they save the other clones, expose the fraud and become lovers.

Soylent green is ... peeeeeeeple!

Right. I got bored toward the end when Sean Bean was trying to kill Ewan McGregor (the clone) after Sean Bean realizes that Ewan McGregor the clone is not Ewan McGregor the "real mccoy." And they're fighting and they're shooting and they're biting and scratching and the whole place is coming down around their ears and I've already tuned out because it was too damn long and I'm watching it on fast-forward. The end.

Favorite moments: Steve Buscemi! Djimon Hounsou's parting look, the futuristic MACK truck was a very sweet looking machine.



"Horsey runs the coursey."

Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, hey, Sarah, how come you write these film reviews on movies that the whole entire rest of the world has already watched? And I will answer you by saying this, "I write about these films that get nominated to high heaven for awards and are overwatched so that you, my beloved reader, can know how I feel about them." And that is the entire reason. I know you all watched Seabiscuit. You did, didn't you? You probably went with one of your drinking buddies and his girlfriend, or your Aunt Marge, or some of you, heaven forbid, went alone. But most of you went with your step-brother and your Dad whom you haven't seen in, like, three months.

This is a well-watched American main-stream movie about a horse with heart. A story of a horse and his whiney voiced, watery-eyed, puke-faced jockey who makes you wanna curl up and die every time he comes on the screen. Haha. Just kidding. He isn't puke-faced. But I never got the Toby mystique. Am I missing it? Am I supposed to be crooning over him, his looks, his talent? Cuz he seems like the same little shrimp-weasel who inhabits every part with the face of a slaughtered lamb and the passion of a high-school drama star.

Hehe. No, really, he was great. Just great. Loved him.

But seriously, Jeff Bridges was wonderful, wasn't he? I mean this is no Big Lebowski, but something about Jeff Bridges inspires confidence in even this anti-hollywood-film watcher's heart. He's so darn big and cuddly. And he looks very nice in that hat.

And because I cannot avoid the whole "real historical" basis of this film, I present you with a lovely glimpse of fiction versus history.

Watch this movie if you need something long and put together well enough to make you want to finish it. Otherwise, don't watch it. It's just Tobey McGuire with a dye job.

Favorite moments: Uhm. Wow. Don't really have 'em. It was an enjoyable film, but the only thing that stood out to me was Red's horrible leg-crushing accident where he lies in a gruesomely rendered heap at front of camera. Oops, hope I didn't wreck it for the two of you out there who haven't watched it.


"Grudge Me."

If your definition of cultured living is watching the foreign original from whence American horror movies derive, then have I got a show for you!

So, here is the approximate conversation I had with myself in my head at the library as I picked up this movie:

Huh, this is a horror movie. Only it's in Japanese. OH! It's the Grudge. Or rather the original version that the US then copied, because we apparently don't have to invent anything new anymore.

It's a horror movie. I don't watch horror movies.

But it's in Japanese. And you already have a bunch of fluff films [editor's note: including I, robot {see below}, Seabiscuit {see above} and Million Dollar Baby] so you could use some culture.

But it's a horror movie.

You can handle it.

But it's a horror movie.

So I got it.

I watched it on fast-forward with subtitles. And I was still creeped out.

This low-budget, but precisely spine-tingling little film makes perfect use of: suburban house, white face makeup and eerie musical score. And really that's all you need. Am I right? I can't really give you a scare rating on this film because 1) I don't watch a lot of horror movies and 2) I watched it on fast-forward with subtitles.

If you've seen the remake, then you haven't seen The Grudge. Watch Ju-On and prepare to be creeped out. Because what, I ask you, could be scarier than Japanese dead people taking your soul? Right? Am I right? I mean, you see what those crazy Japs do with Kabuki! Psycho people!

Favorite moments: Rika's new haircut. It looked really good on her.


I, Robot

"Robo vs. Cop"

This movie is described (by the DVD cover) as a "mind-blowing, sci-fi action thriller." Wow. Mind-blowing, huh? Geez, I gotta watch that.. oh, wait, I just did. And lemme check my mind. Nope, it doesn't feel blown. In fact it doesn't even feel lightly breezed. I am, per usual, dissapointed.

However, I did enjoy seeing Will Smith partially and completely naked. That boy has been working out! Nice pecs, my man!

You want a synopsis of this movie? No you don't. It's exactly what you think it is. The ending is a weak "ta-da" of a surprise that makes no difference to anyone and left me thinking, 'Farmer Hoggett died for this?

Favorite moments: The USR trucks and Will naked.


National Treasure

"One man's treasure is another girl's trash."

Wow, so Nicolas Cage all grown up and picking dumb movies to act in. What happened to those daring, hairy carefree days of Raising Arizona and Moonstruck? Why did Nick shave his back and reshape his nose? I for one liked his gruff little bumbler look. I thought that was kinda hot, truth be told, but now. Now...

It's just no good.

He plays an unconvincing treasure hunter in modern day USA. He's followed around by an equally unconvincing nerdtron side-kick played by Justin Bartha. (At one point his character, Riley, says, "You're big and green and have a funny goatee" and hugs a priceless, ancient statue. And for me that pretty much sums up this movie.)

There's also a crappy, half-assed love story thrown under the wheels of this Disney monstrosity. Some hot blonde (Abigail Chase) with "an accent" gets carried away in the heist (literally) and (sort of) falls for Nic Cage. Although I could have just as easily believed her falling for Justin Bartha or Jon Voight. Hell, nothing wrong with Sean Bean, come to think of it. Except maybe his judgement in choosing this movie.

All around sucky movie.

Favorite moment: going to the bathroom during a chase scene and not missing much.


Murderous Maids

"Death by hired help."

Forgive me if I spend a few moments telling you about a French film that deserves to be mentioned if only because it prompted me to get back into the film fury after a hiatus of unusual social busyness.

Two sisters (who are also lovers) brutally murder their mistresses in their home. The husband and police break in to find the two dead women strewn across two floors and the sisters huddled upstairs in their attic room. How French can you get?

Only it's a true story. The infamous Papin sisters destroyed the very women who they worked for in a gruesome attack that has few parallels in history. So, you're thinking, 'That's gross. I don't want to watch that.' And quite frankly I won't blame you for thinking that. I suspect that is the very reason this film is not well known in the US. It's too gruesome. But it is still an outstanding piece of film work. The sisters, played by Sylvie Testud (phenomenal) and Julie-Marie Parmentier could not be more in touch with their trapped and alienated characters. A brilliant film, really.

Not for the faint of heart.

Favorite moments: Testud, Testud, Testud.


The Chronicles of Riddick

"More like Riddick-ule!"

I know I told you I would write reviews of the "fine wines" of the film world and that you all wouldn't know half the time what movies I was talking about, but right now I'd like to - no I'd love to - dissect a well-known summer action flick which came out a year ago, didn't do all that well (voted eighth for most disappointing box office turn-out) and that I watched just for the hell of it last night: The Chronicles of Riddick. HA! Just saying the title is funny!

Apparently, this film is a sequel to Pitch-Black, a film I didn't watch and have no intention of watching. A film in which our anti-hero (sort of), Riddick does some wild and crazy stuff. (I'm too lazy to go read a synopsis of the first film. It doesn't really matter. Please, let's move on.) But in this one, we are to receive a great treat! Vin Diesel and Dame Judi Dench appear in the same film! HAHAHAHA!! Hilarious! Even Dame Judi in flowing white robes and neato see-through effects can't improve the real estate on this one though.

The bad guy is played by the same actor who is standing on this giant Canadian piano: Colm Feore. He's just called the Lord Marshall and he's a holy calf-head. I mean, holy half-dead. Which means, apparently that he can move really fast and he can pull people's souls out of them. The way (poor) Dame Judi introduces him in the opening voice-over is, "half living, half... something else." And then she goes on to say that the only way to fight evil this evil is with another sort of evil. Which we're supposed to assume is Riddick, but he isn't really evil at all during the whole film. In fact he's not evil at all. Occasionally selfish, but he always brings himself around to help others. Any ways, the bad guy is called the "Lord Marshall" of this cult army called - get this - The Necromongers. (Pauses to burst into laughter.) Because they collect half-dead people or turn them into half-deads for their cause. They talk a lot about faith and religion, but the basic tenets of their religion are left unclear. Mostly, they just take over countries by force and then "convert" or kill its inhabitants. Not very original, but whatever.

So anyways, these necromongers (sort of like Matrix batteries) all used to be something else: humans mostly, I think. And they all had to be strung up and poked in the neck to be made necromongers (pronounced mungers) and we're all sure that is a terrible thing although they mostly keep their personality and such. They just have a change of wardrobing and makeup. For example look at Riddick's girlfriend Kyra: before and after. If anything she looks better as a necromonger.

It was the names that cracked me up the most: There were a series of planets marked for destruction called Helion Prime 1-5, Dame Judi was called Aereon and she was an "Elemental" which meant she could kind of ghost around at will, Riddick's girlfriend was being held on a max security detention planet too hot to walk on called "Crematoria." (Pauses again to laugh uncontrollably) When the necromongers chased Riddick to Cremetoria they were all wearing their full-body metal armor. How stupid do you have to be to walk out on a planet with a 700 degree farenheit sunrise in a full-metal suit of armor? I don't know, but Lord Vaako, Lord Marshall's head army dude didn't seem to mind too much. But the Purifier for the necromongers, before he commited suicide by walking into the Cremetoria sun did take off his metal finger tips. And he also confided in Riddick that he, like Riddick, was once a Furyan. Yes, folks, you heard it right. Furyans. A race of people who were the only ones who could stop the terrible necromonger invasion. And of course, Vin Diesel was the only one left which meant the saving of the universe was up to him and of course he managed.

Whoo! Good times. A very funny movie. I hope you never have to watch it... till Underverse comes.

web stats