The Shapiro Files

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Netflix Wrap-Up #20

Previous installments: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #17, #18, #19

As promised in my previous Netflix wrap-up, here's part two of my Netflix DVD review backlog. Here we go...

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) - An incredible true story of Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who experiences an entirely debilitating stroke and has to learn to communicate through the only part of his body with which he still has control: his eyelid. Thus, the story that unfolds is one he managed to tell solely through blinking. It's a very moving story of dedication and humility from someone who wasn't necessarily the nicest guy prior to his accident. In fact, what I really admire about this film is that Bauby can still be a bit of a jerk even in his mostly helpless state. That's more honesty than you'd normal ever get in a film like this and probably why it could have only come from someplace outside of Hollywood. My Netflix rating: 5 stars

English Promises (2007) - Another great David Cronenberg genre film that transcends the genre's usual trappings. I love the ambiguity of these characters and the fun way the plot tends to twist and turn along the way. In other hands, this probably would have been just a merely entertaining thriller, but in the hands of Cronenberg, the great Viggo Mortensen, and always-excellent Naomi Watts, the result is something that is both gripping and not without some psychological depth. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

The Orphanage (2007) - I love horror movies and will always seek out those films that people declare genuinely horrifying. This was one of those movies that I've heard repeatedly would keep me up at night. So with so much build up, I suppose I couldn't have been anything but a little dissapointed. While there was one genuinely creepy sequence involving a "One, two, three, who's knocking?" child's game, I was surprised at how predictable and tame the rest of the film was. Still, I can recommend this film to fans of the genre. I'm just not going to make any promises on its degree of scariness. My Netflix rating: 3 stars

Clerks 2 (2006) - Is it just me, or does nothing live up to its promise? The Orphanage promised to be terrifying and it wasn't. The Science of Sleep promised to be a deeply involving artistic exploration and it was merely skin deep. And now with Clerks 2, I was expecting a film that would cause debilitating laughter. Instead I found myself merely chuckling. For the record, I love the original Clerks. I revel in its crude-but-clever dialogue and do-it-yourself low-budget aesthetic. But Clerks 2 is largely a recycling of what made the original film so special. There are certainly a number of funny set pieces (especially the Lord of the Rings versus Star Wars debate), but it's all a little empty. Most problematic was a third act attempt at pathos that comes across as forced. I'm not panning this film, as I'll take Kevin Smith dialogue almost any day over that of most other filmmakers. I still think Smith has lots to offer as a filmmaker and it's very possible that his best work is yet to come. I was simply disappointed with this one. My Netflix rating: 3 stars

There Will Be Blood (2007) - You have to give director P.T. Andersen credit for his ambition. It takes a very special filmmaker to take something like Boogie Nights, a film about the adult film industry in the 70s and 80s, and raise it up to the level of a Shakespearian tragedy while remaining consistently entertaining and endlessly re-watchable. I have similar love for Magnolia, a film that wasn't as much of a critical slam-dunk as Boogie Nights, but which I think is no less impressive and captivating. So I'm not surprised that I was similarly impressed with There Will Be Blood--if not nearly as moved--as with Andersen's previous films. This story of an oil tycoon is really the story of America, with all its greed, ambition, and ugliness. It's a huge subject to tackle and I think Andersen mostly succeeds. My biggest complaints about the film are Daniel Day-Lewis's over-the-top performance (a more nuanced performance would have done wonders to this material) and a disastrous final scene. Still, another otherwise very impressive effort by a great filmmaker. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Thank You for Smoking (2005) - A mildly interesting look at the life of a tobacco industry lobbyist. There's not much insight here and I'm a little disturbed by it's Libertarian (bordering on Reactionary) undertones. But for anyone curious about how such people can live with themselves in such perceivably evil roles, it might be worth checking out. It has its moments. My Netflix rating: 3 stars

The Prestige (2006) - Ever since I was a little kid, I've always loved the art of illusion. I even had a toy magic set that provided me with hours of entertainment. So I'm always drawn to movies about magic and magicians. Last year, Marcie and I rented a similar themed film called The Illusionist, that I found greatly disappointing and predictable. So I was hoping the second time's the charm for this one. While The Prestige was a step up from The Illusionist, it was similarly predictable (the key secret was so obvious that I even paused the DVD and pointed it out to Marcie). Plus, the third-act incorporation of supernatural elements took the film from being a somewhat enjoyable story of two competing magicians to something a whole lot sillier. That much said, this is a beautifully shot and well acted little period piece and frequently entertaining. My Netflix rating: 3 stars

The Fog of War (2003) - A wonderfully ambiguous documentary about Robert McNamara, one of the key figures behind the Vietnam War under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Is he sympathetic? Evil? Both? Hard to say, and that's why this is such a fascinating film. My only complaint about the film was some of the more gimmicky dramatic inserts--especially the repetition of falling dominoes. I thought moments like that put a little too fine a point on some of this material and really wasn't necessary. But otherwise, a highly recommended film. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Inside Man (2006) - Spike Lee is an extremely gifted filmmaker who has largely worked outside of the Hollywood system. So it's interesting to see him work in the context of a big budget Hollywood genre film in which he's mostly focused on telling a simple story as entertainingly as he can. On that basis he mostly succeeds. This movie is a ball--sort of like Dog Day Afternoon meets The Italian Job. It's a heist movie, plain and simple, but with great performances and the types of visual flourishes you'd expect from Lee. He even manages to insert some commentary about race--particularly prejudice against people of Middle Eastern decent. So it was nice to see a little "old school Spike Lee" thrown in. That much said, this isn't a film you want to think about too much after you've seen it, as it doesn't hold up to much intellectual scrutiny. But if you want to have a fun couple of hours in the hands of one our best directors, Inside Man certainly fits the bill. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Enchanted (2007) - As the father of two girls, I've certainly seen my share of Disney cartoons this past year, which made watching Enchanted all that more fun. This movie was so charming and Amy Adams so insanely adorable, it's hard not to have a wonderful time with it. Sure, there were certainly plenty of clunky slapstick moments and the film's climax was just like most Disney climaxes: over the top and brainless. But I probably haven't smiled this much during any other movie this year. So unless you have a heart made out of stone, it's pretty much impossible not to enjoy this movie. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

A Scanner Darkly (2006) - I really admire Richard Linklater's approach to his career. Similar to Steven Soderbergh (another director I admire), he'll do the occasional big Hollywood movie (School of Rock, Bad News Bears, etc.) to help sustain his career so he can then focus on more artistic fare, which is obviously where his heart lies. A Scanner Darkly is his second foray into rotoscoped animation after his fascinating Waking Life. But unlike the former film, this one follows a relatively linear plot (though some viewers might still find it a little hard to follow) and is based on non-original source material (specifically, a Philip K. Dick novel). I think the animation technique works particularly well for this type of surreal/futuristic story while not taking anything away from the cast's strong performances. While this film may not be everyone's cup of tea, it was much more accessible than I expected a whole lot funnier to boot. Robert Downey Jr.'s hilariously bizarre performance in particular makes this film worth a try. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Man on Wire (2008) - A thrilling and moving portrait of Philippe Petit's tightrope walk between the Twin Towers in 1974. It's both a celebration of art for art's sake and a celebration of the Twin Towers. One of the most remarkable things about this film is that the events of September 11 are never mentioned, not once, and yet that tragic story is as much a part of this film as anything. After so many images of seeing those towers going down, it was really moving to see them going up. I've also heard this movie referred to as a great heist film, and I think that applies too. How Petit and his associates managed to sneak up to the top of the towers and execute on this feat (not to mention that shear marvel at watching Petit almost floating in air between the two towers) is absolutely amazing. My only problems with the film are an overly dramatic visual motif used when introducing characters and some unnecessary reenactments. Still, it's an incredible story and worthy of its recent Oscar win. My Netflix rating: 4 stars


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