The Shapiro Files

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Netflix Wrap-Up #19

Previous installments: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #17, #18

I can't believe it's been well over a year since my last Netflix wrap-up. With life getting in the way of entertainment more often than not, I must have been assuming all this time that when I'd eventually get around to doing my next wrap-up, the extended delay wouldn't be all that big of a deal since I wouldn't have many movies to comment on anyway. But much to my shock when I looked at our Netflix rental history last night, Marcie and I actually have managed to squeeze in a pretty sizable number of DVDs over past year. So I had to split up the backlog into two parts. I'll post the second part next week. But for now, here's part one...

Wordplay (2006) - A documentary about crossword puzzles. Sounds boring, right? Surprisingly, this is a genuinely entertaining and even sometimes thrilling film about people who take their crosswords very seriously. In fact, the final sequence covering a national crossword tournament is a true nail-biter. The film also makes the smart choice of incorporating interviews with famous people who also happen to be crossword addicts (Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton, and many others) to broaden the film's appeal all that much more. Recommended for fellow word nerds and the "lingua-curious" alike. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Superbad (2007) - Exactly what it purports to be: a raunchy comedy with lots of genuinely hilarious moments. This is not smart comedy, but it does have lots of heart. Not every sequence works and you have to have a high tolerance for base humor. But it was certainly funny enough to be worth a spin ("McLovin'" is definitely destined for comedy milestone status). My Netflix rating: 3 stars

The Science of Sleep (2005) - I expected great things from this film by written and directed by Michel Gondry (best known for helming Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). As I expected, the film is visually stunning with an endless parade of playful sequences and the clever blurring of fantasy and reality. The problem is the script. There is absolutely nothing interesting about the man-child protagonist, played ably by the talented Gael Garcia Bernal). In fact, I wanted to hit him over the head with a hammer by the film's end. The rest of the film's characters, story, and circumstances were similarly banal and/or annoying. Clearly, Gondry was more interested in playing with pretty pictures than in telling a story. My Netflix rating: 2 stars

Reign Over Me (2007) - Adam Sandler gives a passible performance in his usual child-with-a-bad-temper mode and Don Cheadle, a wonderful actor, can only do so much with mediocre dialogue. And could Liv Tyler's psychologist character been any more of a cardboard cutout "type" that exists solely to fulfill a plot-device need? Not awful, just painfully mediocre. My Netflix rating: 2 stars

This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006) - I was really looking forward to this documentary that attempts to expose the highly suspect way in which the MPAA Ratings Board operates. While I wasn't entirely disappointed, I merely wished this film went deeper. Some of the examination of the board's role in effectively censoring films was quite illuminating. But then it wastes way too much time following the travails of hired detectives (a shockingly amateurish duo) trying to track down the identities of the Rating Board's members. Still, I'll recommend it to anyone interested in a sometimes thoughtful examination of the tension between art, commercial interests, and implicit censorship. My Netflix rating: 3 stars

No Country for Old Men (2007) - While just over 2 hours, this movie zips right by. It's a thrilling cat and mouse game that hits all the right notes. But what impressed me the most was the abrupt narrative turn it takes in the third act--thus turning the chase formula on its ear. Great performances and terrific filmmaking. One of the few times an Oscar winner actually deserved the award. My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Michael Clayton (2007) - A surprisingly entertaining take on an otherwise tired formula. Not the deepest movie in the world, but it doesn't need to be. It's merely a fun popcorn thriller with great performances and at least some intelligence behind it. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Gone Baby Gone (2007) - Another formula movie that manages to succeed through good writing, strong direction, and decent acting. Although the ending is a bit too tidy and Casey Affleck may confuse mumbling for naturalism at times, I still found myself fully absorbed in the story--a pretty dark one at that. I think Ben Affleck has a promising career ahead of him as a filmmaker. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Atonement (2007) - Absolutely gorgeous to look at and highly entertaining in its epic scale. This is real old-school Hollywood stuff, but with a healthy does of virtuosic filmmaking (the single-take tracking shot that's at the center of the film must have been insanely difficult to pull off). But where the film falls flat is the wooden performance by Keira Knightley and Hallmark Card sentiments--especially the closing moments of the film. If it weren't for the extremely impressive technical elements of the film, I wouldn't have much to recommend. But otherwise.... My Netflix rating: 3 stars

Princess Mononoke (1997) - Is director Hayao Miyazaki capable of making anything other than masterpieces? It's hard to image how he maintains this level of vision in film after film. What's particularly notable about this one is how it manages to be fairly overt in its environmentalist message without being didactic. But most of all, it's just a wonder to look at. Please note: this film might be animated, but I would not recommend it for young children due to it's violent content (decapitations in particular). Oh, and I know I sound like a broken record, but anyone interested in checking out any of Miyazaki's films should never watch it with anything but the original Japanese language soundtrack. My Netflix rating: 5 stars

The Big Lebowski (1998) - For years, people have been telling me I had to see this film. Well, I'm glad to say that everyone was right: this really was a funny, clever, and entertaining ride. With the Coen brothers at the helm, I should have expected as much. The dialogue and wacky performances make the film worth watching on its own. But the bizarre dream sequence turning the accoutrements of a bowling alley into unambiguously overt Freudian symbols takes the movie to an even higher comic level. I also love the final scene's fourth-wall-breaking closing monologue. I suppose you can argue that the film is more of a stylish exercise in cleverness for the sake of cleverness. But what's wrong with that if it's fun to watch? My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Into the Wild (2007) - An admirably quiet true story from actor/director Sean Penn about a spoiled rich kid, Christopher McCandless, who escapes to the wilderness in a personal quest for authenticity. I appreciate how Penn attempts to keep us feeling somewhat undecided on McCandless (Is he a dreamer to be admired? A selfish schmuck? A fool?)--although the nature of film can't help to skew the audience towards sympathy. It's a bit rambling at times and drags around the middle. But overall, it's a very well-acted and refreshingly subtle movie that gets under your skin. My Netflix rating: 4 stars


  • "With life getting in the way of entertainment more often than not,"

    Judging by the antics of celebrities you'd think that entertainment was getting in the way of life - not to go zen or anything.

    By Blogger Jang-chub Ozer, at 2/25/2009 2:37 PM  

  • Ha! Well said, Jang-chub. :)

    Thanks for stopping by!

    By Blogger Steve Shapiro, at 2/27/2009 11:42 PM  

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