The Shapiro Files

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New Melody Photo Albums Now Online!

For the first time in over a year, I’m finally all caught up on my online photo albums! Of course, that will be short-lived, as Julianne’s next album (9 months) is slated for next month. But until then, enjoy the latest and greatest Melody photos encompassing months 18 through 24:

Melody: From 18 Months to 21 Months
Melody: From 21 Months to 24 Months

And don’t forget about my iPhone Photo Gallery. New photos are being uploaded all the time. See this entry for more information.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Netflix Wrap-Up #17

Previous installments: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16

Since Julianne’s arrival in March, there really hasn’t been a heck of a lot of time for Marcie and I to keep up on our regular Netflix DVD viewing — let alone post a wrap-up here at The Shapiro Files. And yet, over the past 9 months since my last set of reviews, we’ve actually managed to squeeze in enough movies to warrant a new wrap-up. I guess we’ve managed to have some degree of grown-up time after all! So without futher ado, here we go:

35 Up (1991) - Please see my past Netflix wrap-ups for all the details on the groundbreaking “Up” series. We’ve now seen the participants go through childhood, adolescence, and the beginning of adulthood. By 35, their lives are finally a bit more stable (albeit with the occasional few surprises). What’s remarkable is how the majority of the participants have managed to find comfortable, happy lives and even their class differences don’t feel quite as pronounced by this time. Another fascinating installment of an incredible film series. My Netflix rating: 5 stars

42 Up (1998) - If 35 Up was defined by stability, this installment is an interesting look at middle age and a look ahead to the “golden years” of later adult life. My Netflix rating: 5 stars

49 Up (2005) - For the first time in the series, the participants are becoming more overtly mindful of mortality and making something of the time they have. A slightly more melancholy installment this time around. Incidentally, Marcie and I have been watching these “Up” films for the better part of a year now and it was quite remarkable to see these people go from children to middle-aged adults in such a short time. It’s been quite a ride and now it’s too bad we now have to wait until 2012 to see the next one. I won’t be any “spring chicken” myself by then! My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Babel (2006) - Like Crash and many other self-important message films, Babel’s performances, photography, and compelling circumstances have a hypnotizing effect, which can lead you to think you’re watching something really powerful. But once the film is over and you start to reflect upon it, the film falls apart. What formerly seemed deep and meaningful becomes the gross simplification of complex themes, arbitrary circumstances, and shameless manipulation. I can’t completely pan this film because of the fine acting and artful cinematography, but that’s all that remains after you strip away everything else. My Netflix rating: 2 stars

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) - Because of Melody’s (and my) love of Tonari no Totoro, I thought I’d try another Miyazaki film aimed toward kids. Turns out that Melody loves this one almost as much as Totoro. It’s a charming coming-of-age story of a young witch who leaves home to establish herself in a new city and use her flying ability as a useful service for her community. Like Totoro, it’s beautifully animated and very gentle in spirit. However, there is a one surprisingly intense (but not especially scary) sequence later in the film that’s just as thrilling for adults as for children. My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Castle in the Sky (1986) - I thought this might have been yet another possibility for Melody, but I quickly realized that this early Miyazaki film is aimed toward adults and teens. It’s an action-packed, impeccably animated adventure about a couple of teenagers in an aircraft-based world trying to stand in the face of evil and corruption. Like many Miyazaki films, the plot is fairly difficult to summarize, as so much of the action is wrapped up in an alternative universe he creates so effectively. Suffice it to say, it’s a great ride. By the way, the DVD release includes both the original Japanese soundtrack and a new English dub that features an all-new orchestral re-recording of the musical score. This new score is certainly big and powerful, but I prefer the quaint, if somewhat dated, synthesizer score of the original. Plus, as always, the Japanese voice talent is phenomenally better than the American equivalent. My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Borat (2006) - I’m sure I’m in the vast minority here, but I really found Borat to be flat, mean-spirited, forced (just how long did that naked fighting sequence have to go on?), and just not especially funny. I have a great deal of admiration for Sacha Baron Cohen’s brave (reckless?) commitment to his character and yes, there were a couple of decent jokes (the “Running of the Jew” ceremony that opened the film was the high point). But overall, I just didn’t really think there was much actual comedy to be found here. My Netflix rating: 2 stars

Stranger than Fiction (2006) - I really enjoyed Will Farrel’s nicely subdued performance and thought the overall metafictional conceit of the story was fun. However, the script didn’t trust the premise enough to carry it through all the way to the end and as a result, the movie fizzled out by the third act. I think in the hands of more adventurous filmmakers, this could have been a great film. Instead, it was just mildly enjoyable and ultimately a little forgettable. My Netflix rating: 3 stars

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) - A very ernest story with very earnest performances. Sure it tugs at the heartstrings and leaves you with that whole “In America, you can be anything you want” feeling of hope. But there’s also so much shameless manipulation (and what’s with that impossibly clean New York subway station public restroom?) — not to mention the subtle racial overtones that could be fairly disturbing if you think about it too much. In fact, critic Walter Chaw from Film Freak Central did just that. I can’t be as tough on the film as Chaw since it did work for me at times. But this Oscar-bait was still too formulaic and heavy-handed to do more than that. My Netflix rating: 3 stars

Dreamgirls (2006) - I love Diana Ross and the Supremes and really enjoyed the none-too-subtle comparison between the Dreamgirls and their real-life counterparts. Quite a bit of the music was fun too. Yet even with all the flashy editing and high-energy performances, quite a great deal of this film fell flat. And for all the acclaim bestowed on Jennifer Hudson for her “You’re Gonna Love Me” performance, holy moly was that sequence over the top and overly-edited. My Netflix rating: 3 stars

Shortbus (2006) - John Cameron Mitchell’s follows up his very enjoyable Hedwig and the Angry Inch with a surprisingly sweet and funny film that I can’t safely recommend to anyone. Even though it’s been well-reviewed and I found it quite charming, this is very much an adults-only type of film where all of the — um — depicted activities were — er — very literally and honestly portrayed. I don’t really want to go into any more detail as I’ve committed to maintaining a family friendly blog here! So let me just say it’s a good film and a worthy follow up to Hedwig. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Little Children (2006) - You can argue that this film skirts the line between sincere and the type of shameless manipulation I’ve talked about above with Babel and Pursuit of Happyness. Fortunately, it just barely stays on the acceptable side of that line. Plus the performances are uniformly excellent and the story fairly moving. Ya gotta love suburban malaise. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

SherryBaby (2006) - This definitely follows a tried and true formula of young single mother who’s a drug addict, can’t get her life together, makes bad choices, and can’t be trusted with raising her own child. The good news is that Maggie Gyllenhall gives a great, very honest performance and I was especially impressed with how natural the scenes were between her character and her daughter. Most child actors have an affected quality to the way they deliver lines (think Dakota Fanning), but young Ryan Simpkins was very believable with her mumbling and distracted delivery. It makes me wonder if there was some improvisation in those scenes. Not an especially original movie, but a sad and effective one. My Netflix rating: 3 stars