The Shapiro Files

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Netflix Wrap-Up #15

Previous installments: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14

Happy New Year everyone!

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted a recap of our latest Netflix rentals, so to start the year anew with no more DVD review backlog, here’s everything that has taken a spin in our living room DVD player since my last wrap-up:

American Dreamz (2006) - A parody of both the television program American Idol (and shows of its ilk) and the Bush administration. For the first half of the film, the jokes are enjoyable enough, if not pretty obvious (i.e. the Simon Cowell character is an egomaniac and the Bush character is a simpleton). But the third act takes a turn for the worse and brings down the entire movie in the process. I guess the problem is that the film never goes deep enough to create the scathing satire it would like to be. Instead, it goes for easy targets and runs out of steam by the end. My Netflix rating: 2 stars

Caché (2005) - A very well-made thriller by acclaimed French director Michael Haneke. If you’re used to the faster plots with neatly resolved endings that you typically get from Hollywood, you may not necessarily appreciate this film’s methodically plotted (read: slow) pace. But otherwise, it’s a gripping and engaging piece of work (and even a little reminiscent of David Lynch’s underrated Lost Highway). My Netflix rating: 4 stars

The New World (2005) - If you’ve been reading my Netflix reviews for a while here at The Shapiro Files, you probably know by now that I have a very high tolerance for slow-moving films. In fact, I usually prefer them. So it’s no surprise that I very much enjoyed Terrence Mallick’s The New World. It’s a beautifully photographed and well-acted telling of the very well known Pocahontas/John Smith story. I suppose I found some of the romantic exchanges to border dangerously on the sappy side (though it never quite crossed over, thankfully), but I otherwise admired this leisurely look at early America. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

The Secret of Roan Inish (1993) - Writer/director John Sayles (best known for Lone Star) takes on a classic Irish children’s fable and succeeds in every way. It’s a gorgeous piece of filmmaking and as charming as anything that both children and adults can enjoy together. Please be warned that the Irish accents are very heavy, so you might want to turn on the English subtitles to ensure you don’t miss anything. My Netflix rating: 5 stars

An Inconvenient Truth (2006) - It’s hard to review this movie as a movie since it’s largely just a very well-filmed staging of Al Gore’s engaging presentation about global warming. From a content point of view, it’s a very effective piece of work and something everyone should see. It’s absurd that this type of information has become a hot-button political issue and that there’s a perception that taking the time to learn more about climate change suddenly makes you a somehow less of a “conservative” (if you happen to swing that way). So please don’t dismiss this recommendation as some sort of “elite liberal” claptrap. Attention to environmental considerations is a human concern, not a political one. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

The Groomsmen (2006) - Marcie and I have been big fans of writer/director Ed Burns’ little independent films ever since we stumbled upon No Looking Back on IFC several years ago. Very much in the tradition of his first film, The Brothers McMullen, The Groomsmen is a very enjoyable character study about a group of guys who grew up together and who are now dealing with change in one form or another. He probably ties up the lose ends a little too neatly by the film’s conclusion, but otherwise this funny and touching film is another fine addition to Burns’ fine cannon. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Where the Truth Lies (2005) - A thriller about a famous 1950’s comedy duo (loosely based on Lewis and Martin) by talented director Atom Egoyan. While I loved Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter and also admired the impressive technical aspects of his film Exotica, I found this one to be a major disappointment. Despite some beautiful photography and lots of creative editing, the script is very poor, the casting was just plain wrong (Kevin Bacon is a excellent actor but simply doesn’t work as a Jerry Lewis type of character), and the lead actress Alison Lohman was shockingly bad (perhaps the script had a lot to do with this). My Netflix rating: 2 stars

The Break-Up (2006) - The guys at Filmspotting both said this film didn’t get a fair shake by the critics, explaining that it’s less of a comedy and more of a sincere look at what happens when a relationship dissolves. I mostly agree that movie wasn’t marketed right (it most certainly is not a feel-good date film), but I’m also guessing that much of the negative reaction came from the film’s inconsistent tone. I really don’t think the filmmakers ultimately knew what type of film they were making. It’s not a broad comedy, although there’s several very broadly comic scenes. It’s not a drama, although there were some surprisingly touching dramatic moments. It’s not a Nora Ephron-esque breezy relationship study, although there was plenty of that too. So in the end, the movie never fully gelled. There are lots of enjoyable and interesting moments throughout and for that, I give it a slight recommendation. I also give lots of credit to Vince Vaughn for his verbal gymnastics (much of which was improvised, as I learned from looking at the DVD extra features). So with that... My Netflix rating: 3 stars

Little Miss Sunshine (2006) - This was very much the independent film “darling” of the year and for the most part, I can see why. The writing was solid, the performances were uniformly excellent (I love Alan Arkin in just about everything he does), and there are lots of very funny moments. However, I absolutely hated the “Super Freak” sequence near the end of the film. I understand what the filmmakers where going for, but it completely ruined the movie for me. Still, the rest of the movie was enjoyable enough to warrant a recommendation. My Netflix rating: 3 stars

Double Indemnity (1944) - One of only a few films on the AFI Top 100 list that I hadn’t seen because it was out of print on DVD until only recently. For anyone that’s a fan of Film Noir, this is very much the quintessential Noir experience. For everyone else, be advised that we are talking about a film from 1944 with some very stylized writing, presentational acting, and its fair share of plot contrivances. But it’s among the first and most influential of the genre and incredibly entertaining to boot. My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Seven Up/7 Plus Seven (1964/1971) - The “Up Series” as it has come to be called is a true landmark in film. In 1964, the BBC produced a 30 minute television documentary featuring at a group of 7-year-olds from a variety of social classes to examine how class makes a profound impact on how people’s lives will turn out. In 1971, director Michael Apted produced a follow-up special in which he tracked down 14 of the original children (now aged 14) and demonstrated that, indeed, the kids really haven’t changed much — especially in terms of their future prospects/ambitions. The positive reception of these two films has led Apted to produced a new “Up” movie every 7 years ever since, with the most recent being 49 Up, which just came out last year. I’ve been hearing about these movies for years (critic Rober Ebert repeatedly sings their praises and has the series on his top-10 list of all-time great films) and decided it was time for Marcie and I to check them out. The first disc contained the first two documentaries. Even just watching these kids go from age 7 to 14 was quite fascinating and I can’t wait to see the next one (21 Up) for what happens to these kids as they enter adulthood. Highly recommended. My Netflix rating: 5 stars


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