The Shapiro Files

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Netflix Wrap-Up #12

Previous installments: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11

Moving forward, I’m removing the word “weekend” from the title of these Netflix postings, as Marcie and I don’t only just watch DVDs on the weekends. Also, I sometimes let an extra week or two lapse between getting these reviews posted, so this lets me feel less guilty about the regularly irregular nature of these postings! And speaking of letting time lapse, I’ve managed to get through several DVDs since my last posting. So I’m going to make these extra short. Here we go:

Bubble (2005) - The first of Steven Soderbergh’s planned series of location-specific digital films featuring non-actors (around whom the scripts are written). The story isn’t anything particularly fresh or exciting, but the execution (especially the very naturalistic acting) makes for a very compelling 90 minutes. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Capote (2005) - Finally, a biopic that doesn’t fall in the trap of having to tell the subject’s full life story. Instead, you get a look at only the handful of years Truman Capote spent on his famous “non-fiction novel,” In Cold Blood. Arguably a tad on the superficial side, but still a solid piece of work. Plus, Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a terrific performance. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Munich (2005) - From a purely technical point of view, Spielberg really has very few peers. But he is also distrustful of his audience and always feels the needs to pound his audience over the head with his central themes (“violence begets violence” in this case). It’s also a little longer than it needed to be and there’s one particularly ridiculous scene of catharsis near the end (another Spielberg trademark). But it’s still gripping, well-acted, and just so darn well-made (not to mention timely). My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Rent (2005) - While some moments are extremely effective (especially the opening “Seasons of Love” sequence and a later “No Day Like Today” support group scene), other moments play like horrible 1980’s MTV hair-band videos. Also, why is it that in films about so-called starving artists, the art they create is always terrible? My Netflix rating: 2 stars

Corpse Bride (2005) - Gorgeous animation and art direction, but laking the heart of a Pixar film and the humor of last year’s other stop-motion animation feature film Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. But still worth seeing for its truly impressive technical aspects. My Netflix rating: 3 stars

Thursday, June 22, 2006

3/4 Year Old!

Melody turned 9 months old last week. Time certainly flies when you’re having fun! Of course, this latest milestone means it’s time for another online photo album, which will probably take me 2-3 weeks to get posted. So until then, here are a couple of long-awaited photos from Melody’s baby naming ceremony:

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Netflix Weekend Wrap-Up #11

Previous installments: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10

Combining a couple of DVDs I watched in the effort to avoid getting too lonely during Marcie’s business trip last week with a couple of movies we watched together over the weekend upon her’s return, here’s yet another quadruple Netflix DVD wrap-up:

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005) - I loved C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books as a kid and even had the pleasure of acting in a stage production of Wardrobe a couple of years ago. So I was very interested in seeing how this new film adaptation would fare given my affection of the material. For the most part, I think it’s a pretty decent adaptation but with some considerable flaws — the largest being the filmmakers’ insistence on beefing up the action. The film also tried far too hard to be another Lord of the Rings — all the way down to the depiction of the epic battle (of course, LOTR’s effects company WETA did play a pretty big role in the film’s production). But on the plus side, I liked the extended introduction showing how the kids ended up at the professor’s house and the largely faithful adherence to the novel (although I hated the truly unnecessary addition of the wild river ride sequence). My Netflix rating: 3 stars

History of Violence (2005) - David Cronenberg is probably best known for his socially-conscious genre films. This was a rare experiment for Cronenberg to make a film of someone else’s script and to do it in a relatively commercial manner. Fortunately, he mostly succeeds with a very interesting story about identity and yes, violence. I don’t want to give too much away, as part of the pleasure of the film is not knowing exactly the nature of the protagonist (Viggo Mortensen) and his mysterious visitor (Ed Harris). The film unfortunately takes a wrong step in third act (especially William Hurt’s scenery-chewing performance), but this was still a very compelling film overall. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Pride and Prejudice (2005) - This was another DVD I rented more for Marcie* than for myself — although, as it’s a film based on a classic novel, I figured it would have some merit. I enjoyed the beautiful cinematography (especially some of the extended “roving camera” sequences) and enjoyed Donald Sutherland’s performance. But otherwise, the problem with a film like this is that its source material is very much a predecessor to today’s mainstream romantic comedies. As such, the film’s plot couldn’t have been more predictable. But you pretty much have to set that aside if you’re going to derive any enjoyment from this movie — something I couldn’t fully bring myself to do. Nonetheless, my rating reflects a combination of my own response to the film plus what I imagine fans of the novel would think (I’m guessing they’d like the movie). Thus... My Netflix rating: 3 stars

*As it turns out, Marcie fell asleep about halfway through and didn’t seem to care too much for the half she watched.

The Squid and the Whale (2005) - An excellent portrayal of divorce and its impact on children by writer/director Noah Baumbach (writing somewhat autobiographically). As the film takes place in the 80’s, it really hit close to home for me, as my parents divorced during that decade. What’s nice about this film is that it could have been a complete downer, but there’s lots of situation-appropriate humor sprinkled throughout. The performances were uniformly strong (Jeff Daniels and Jesse Elsenberg in particular) and the dialog was quite rich. In all, a great character study and a moving look at a painful subject. My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Monday, June 12, 2006

I'm on IMDB!

The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) is the central online resource for everything film-related and it’s used by both film industry insiders and fans alike. Much to my pleasant surprise, I just found out this morning that I’m now on it as a result of my role in Nightmare on Film Street. Thanks to director Jerry for his efforts to get us listed!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Farewell, Billy

Keyboard legend Billy Preston passed away yesterday. Preston’s hits include “Nothing from Nothing,” “With You I’m Born Again,” and “Outta-Space” and he was the songwriting genius behind Joe Cocker’s smash hit “You Are So Beautiful.” Beatles fans perhaps best know Billy as the “fifth Beatle” on the Beatles’ final two albums, Let it Be and Abbey Road, and as an essential contributor on several Beatles solo projects. A Beatles fanatic myself, I’ve always found Preston’s exquisite organ runs on the extended Abbey Road jam/freak-out session “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” to be the highlight of that particular recording. A brilliant musician and a true artist, Billy will be greatly missed.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Two for 48

Marcie is leaving on a business trip tomorrow night for two days and it's going to be just me and Melody until Marcie's return Thursday. To make things more interesting, Marcie's parents are also out of town this week, so I'm really going to be on my own parenting-wise. While this could be daunting, I don't expect things to be much different than they usually are when I work from home (which I usually do a couple of days each week) and it's just me and Melody all day. In fact, since Melody goes to sleep around 7:30pm, it only extends such solo work-from-home days by a couple of hours. It's also sort of empowering to think that I'll be solely responsible for the care of this sweet little munchkin for an extended time. But while I feel up to the challenge, I'm certainly going to miss Marcie no matter what. A couple of years ago, she had a job where she was constantly traveling. It got pretty lonely. At least I'll have Melody for company this time around. And she's pretty darn cute company!

If I have any interesting adventures during the next couple of days, I'll post anecdotes here. Otherwise, no news is good news.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Netflix Weekend Wrap-Up #10

Previous installments: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9

Over the past two weekends, Marcie and I managed to squeeze in a whopping five DVDs (three over Memorial Day weekend and two over the past weekend) — all part of the seemingly never-ending list of 2005 releases we didn’t get around to seeing while in theaters:

Brokeback Mountain (2005) - Early this year, Irina posted a couple of blog entries about being invited to see this film but was reluctant to accept the invitation due to her discomfort with its subject matter. To her great credit, she decided to give it a chance anyway but came away from it unimpressed. She felt the love story was trite and added that if the film simply had a man and woman as its protagonists (but otherwise kept the same plot), it wouldn’t have gotten the praise it has. Now that I’ve seen the film, I can finally respond address Irina’s comments by saying that the love story itself really isn’t the point of the film. It’s a portrait of two people living in a time/society (which is pretty much unchanged today) that not only condemns their relationship, but brutally punishes it. In other words, this is a film about prejudice, not love. And I think the movie tells this story very well. The characters are complex (neither of the leading men are perfect — far from it), the direction appropriately slow and deliberate, and the writing very strong. Add to all this the beautiful cinematography and strong performances and you have a pretty good movie. Was it a little overrated? Maybe a tad. But Ang Lee deserved his Oscar and the film its success. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

In Her Shoes (2005) - Marcie has very justifiably complained that I rent too many DVDs that only I would like. So to start making amends, I Netflixed this little Cameron Diaz vehicle that got relatively decent reviews when it came out. Unfortunately, we were both disappointed. Neither of us hated the film with much vehemence, but we had similar complaints. The Cameron Diaz character was so broadly drawn, so over the top, that we just didn’t buy her at all. Even worse, the film took too many narrative shortcuts. The only really redeeming thing about this movie is Shirley MacLaine who elevates just about everything she’s in. My Netflix rating: 2 stars

Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005) - Beautiful photographed, well acted, and appropriately brief (93 minutes) to make its point but not overstay its welcome. Sure it crosses the line between illustrative and didactic at times, but it otherwise tells a compelling story about a very interesting time in relatively recent U.S. history (a period we’re on the verge of reliving at present). My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Match Point (2005) - Woody Allen’s films are all essentially variations on the same themes (adultery, crime, intellect versus instinct, identity, etc.) and this film is no exception. Often, everything comes together to make a masterpiece (Crimes and Misdemeanors, Manhattan, Annie Hall, etc.) and other times he’ll have near-misses (Alice, Celebrity, etc.). I’m glad to say that Match Point very much falls in to the category of films where all the elements come together perfectly. The only negative thing I can really say about the film is that it’s extremely reminiscent of Crimes and Misdemeanors. In fact, if I hadn’t seen that earlier film (my very favorite of Allen’s entire oeuvre), I’d probably declare this film a masterpiece. Instead, I’ll just say it’s one of his best films in years. My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005) - A cute and quirky little independent film written and directed by the cute and quirky Miranda July (who also stars). I don’t have a heck of a lot else to say about the film other than it’s enjoyable enough; although I think July tries a little too hard to make every character a little more offbeat than they need to be. I also think the “modern art” her character creates is a bit silly. But these are only minor quibbles. The acting was good (especially the children actors) and the theme about the disconnected nature of the modern world was moderately interesting, if not terribly original. My Netflix rating: 3 stars