BigSPEEGS Movie Reviews
The Film Diary

When I just don't have the time to write a review, check here.  My screening log, of sorts.  Oh, and the ratings here might differ a star or two once I get down to writing a full review.  Enjoy!

August 2003

Thirteen (2003) ***-  Catherine Hardwicke and Niki Reed's incredibly personal film hits where it wants to.  This is a parent's worst nightmare; and I think any parent who ends up seeing this may end up shellshocked.  The film cheats a little; it lets some almost amateurish manipulations get in the way.  But the powerful performances from all involved and the stark style and subject matter reel the film back in.


The Seventh Seal (1957) ****-  Above all, I was pleasantly surprised at this film's warmth and strong humanism.  This was thoroughly entertaining, but at the same time juggles its conflict with belief in such a poignant way that you can't help but let it linger in your brain long after it is finished.  Of note is Bengt Ekerot's physical representation of Death, which is downright chilling.  This is an absolutely beautiful film, one that I will surely revisit many times over.


Moonstruck (1987) ***-  You'll most likely remember this one for its use of Dean Martin's "That's Amore" and Cher slapping Nic Cage while telling him to "snap outtavit!"  This is a fun romantic comedy that predates "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" for the largest amount of hilarious family-induced hijinks in the movies.


The Magdalene Sisters (2003) ***1/2-  This is an absolutely horrifying film.  Peter Mullan's vision is so stark that it takes a while to fully accept; one can barely believe all of these events actually occured.  Each of the actresses do fine, but one standout in my mind is Geraldine McEwan, who creates such a despicable villain that it rivals "One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest"'s Nurse Ratchet for unadulterated evil.


The Third Man (1949) ****-  Noir at its purest; this comes complete with snappy dialogue surging with wit, fedoras and shadow.  The performances are all classic (Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten do some of their best work).  Carol Reed and writer Graham Greene so effectively manipulate the viewer through one of the film's essential mysteries (which I will not reveal) that it leads to one of the big payoffs in film noir history.


Step Into Liquid (2003) ***-  Although it can get repetitive at times, Dana Brown's enthusiasm for surfing is infectious, and the cinematography (which gets into the nooks and crannies of certain waves) is a thrill.  One of the interviewees said that surfing has no alterior motive other than fun; the same goes for this documentary.


Night and Fog (1955) ****-  Believe it or not, Alain Resnais' half-hour exploration of Nazi concentration camps is actually the best film ever made about the Holocaust.  Resnais adresses all the skepticisms and defenses one would put up when viewing this film; this doesn't exploit or cheat in the least bit.  He intercuts color footage of deserted camps after WWII with original black-and-white footage and photographs to stunning effect.


Royal Tramp (1992) (on the art scale, *, but a good *** on the cheese scale)-  This kung-fu comedy is so over the top and so rediculous that half the time we don't know whether we're laughing at it or with it.  It's so awful I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt; I had a great time watching it, even though a lot of the humor came from the shitty translation of the subtitles.  The ending is priceless (if you've seen it, you know exactly what I'm talking about).


The 400 Blows (1959) ****-  This is such a heartfelt, warm film that one can't help smile for a good deal of it.  But at the same time, Truffaut is unrelenting in his portrait of the harsh treatment his character (and apparently, alter-ego) Antoine Doinel recieves from his parents and other adults.  At times, it can be hard to watch, not because it is particularly graphic, but because of how attached we become to Antoine.  I can't wait to see the follow-up, "Love at Twenty".


Brazil (1985) (Third Viewing) ****-  This has long been one of my favorites ever since ever since I first saw it.  This time, I watched the film with Gilliam's running commentary provided on the Criterion DVD edition.  It is such a treat to listen to him.  He has a wealth of stories to speak from, and is constantly pointed, funny, and intelligent.


Rear Window (1954) (Second Viewing) ****-  Easily one of Hitchcock's best.  I loved it even more the second time around, and was amazed at the way Hitch makes us uncomfortable.  Not during the "thriller" scenes, mind you, but at the times when L.B. Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart's character) is simply gazing out the window.  He makes us question: to what extent is film really voyeurism?  That's enough to get me to squirm in my seat.


Camp (2003) ***1/2-  I can't count the amount of people I know and have met who are exactly like many of the characters in "Camp".  This goes further than being the most lively and jubilant teen film this year, but it also goes to great lenghts to get to know a demographic almost never explored in film.  It's hard not to appreciate how daring this film is-- it delves deeper into each of its leads, (none of which are the picture-perfect, mass-marketable types), than anyone could ever hope from this kind of a movie.  Bravo.


American Splendor (2003) ***-  Not as comedic as one might think, this takes the smart route and doesn't condescend Harvey Pekar.  Any comedic moments truly come out of honesty.  The criss-crossing of views of the real Pekar and Giamatti's portrayal make the film.  At points, the question "why should I care?" arises, but the film gives us a firm answer: "who the hell are you to ask that kind of a question?"


All the Real Girls (2003) ***1/2-  Wonderful, awkwardly epic film.  This is one of the more genuine American films about a traditional romantic relationship in quite some time.  David Gordon Green has an uncanny way of making some of its funniest moments strike the chord closest to home.  There's plenty of great performances in here... this confirms my view that Patricia Clarkson is one amazing actress.


Blue Velvet (1986) (Third Viewing) (Not sure about rating)-  Yeah, I've seen it three times and still don't know quite what I think of it.  I admire the performances above all else, especially Isabella Rossellini.  Other than that, I almost have no opinion on the damn thing.  Definitely not Lynch's best; not by a long shot, but not a very bad film... well, I think I'll put this to rest and just leave it unopined.


Open Range (2002) **-  A lame, half-assed western.  It's as picturesque as hell, but everything about this is wooden-- the performances, the writing, the directing... it goes on.  One feels bad for the horses who had to bust their butts to help produce this dreck.


28 Days Later (2002) ***-  A lot of zombie-licious fun.  It's not particularly scary, but as an action/sci-fi drama, it works.  The performances are fine, but what really makes this unique is the teriffic cinematography: some of the most unique, beautiful camerawork I've seen.


Far From Heaven (2002) (Second Viewing) ****-  Why did I wait so long to see this a second time?  Everything I said in my review still applies.


Taste Of Cherry (1997) *1/2-  This rating is pending.  Who knows, I may revisit this in a month or two and find out (quelle surprise!) that I actually have a deep-seeded passion for this film and Abbas Kiarostami's style.  Maybe that second viewing will give me the epiphany so many others have claimed to have had while watching this.  But right now, I tell you: it didn't wash.  Not for me.  Film is a very "show-don't-tell" medium, but watching this feels like attending lecture.  The film has a very, very simple concept that it continues to bash into our heads in every ineffective way possible; a sort of "a little butter over too much bread" feeling.  I wanted to get up and scream: "I GET IT!!!!"  Many will have an opinion about this.  That what I hate about it was very intentional.  Hop on the message board and prove me wrong.   


Winged Migration (2001) ***1/2-  How wonderful.  Jaques Perrin and his team have created a documentary about the migration of birds that plays out much more like a ballet than an educational piece (which is just as well; you won't really learn any new cold, hard facts about birds by watching this).  Absolutely gorgeous.  Full review coming soon.


Rashomon (1950) ****-  I love this kind of film, the kind of film that has a powerful theme or message to deliver on one level, but on another level dissects the very nature of film itself (sometimes unintentionally).  This Akira Kurosawa masterpiece does just that.  The film is such an intensely compelling experience-- many thanks to the wonderful acting (especially from a young Toshiro Mifune and Machiko Kyo).  Another powerful force that draws the viewer in is the work that Kurosawa (and cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa) do with contrast.  Each shot is in some form an extreme contrast to the one preceeding-- this makes the film a constant rush; makes it feel alive.  And with all the philosophy it broods over about the nature of the truth; it equally deals with, for the first time, the nature of truth in film.  In film we normally take for granted everything we see as true; that since it is occuring in front of your eyes it must actually be happening.  "Rashomon" flips that preconception upside down.


The Big Lebowski (1998) (Fourth Viewing) ****-  Aah, what a great movie.  It doesn't work for some, and to those people it's greatness cannot truly be explained.  But if everything clicks; this will be one of the funniest movies you'll ever see.  And I mean it.


Waiting for Guffman (1996) **1/2-  What a dissapointment.  As somewhat of a "drama kid" myself, I went into this with high expectations.  Unfortunately, this didn't live up.  I guess the Christopher Guest/Eugene Levy "mockumentaries" just aren't for me (other than "This is Spinal Tap", to which Levy didn't contribute); there are times when the characters just seem too ordinary and real to be that funny.  It's definitely worth watching, however; it picks up in the second half for a pretty damn funny finale.


Wet Hot American Summer (2001) **1/2-  A good start with plenty of funny moments along the way, but at some point you realize that David Wain and Michael Showalter (who wrote the film) seem to offer comedy the way I do-- they just don't know how to let a joke die.  I'd give it a reccomendation for the laughs it gives; but it's hardly a scream.


Barton Fink (1991) (Not sure about rating)-  One thing's for sure, this is 100% a product of the Cohen brothers.  I know I liked it-- I'm just not sure how much.  Great performances from all (I still am shocked as to why John Turturro has gone so long without a single Oscar nomination).  However, the dreamlike-qualities aren't really blended in with what would be considered "reality" very well.  In other words, there's a big suspension of disbelief factor going on.  I understood the "messages" I felt it was trying to give, but the incoherence of the line between reality and fantasy left me a little frustrated.  But maybe that's the point-- to show the frustration of a writer; which certaintly carried through to me.  Leap on the message board if you think you can make me have an epiphany about this one.


Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003) **1/2-  Well, I thought it would be fun to kill a few brain cells and see a 3-D movie.  Next time, I'll remember to go to an IMAX.  Not awful (the celebrity cameos are hilarious), and has a good message for the kiddies, but these 3-D effects are all gimmicks... and there's only so much one can take.  Good idea, but ultimately headache-inducing.  Full review coming soon.


Bull Durham (1988) ***-  Snappy, good fun.  It seems to be made by baseball fans, for baseball fans (or if you're not a baseball fan, this may well turn you into one).  Fun from start (almost all the way) to finish.


I Capture The Castle (2003) ***-  A charming romantic drama.  By the end, not only do you have extreme envy for anyone living in the castle, but you don't feel either cheated or that this insulted your intelligence in any way.  Full review coming soon.


Twin Peaks (1990) **-  No, this isn't the famous TV series, nor is it the later-released prequel "Fire Walk With Me".  This is a pilot to the series that was extended to movie length in case it never got off the ground; probably released due to fan demand.  Therefore, what development there was through 29 one-hour episodes is lost to a final half hour that the creative team pulls out of their ass to find some sort of conclusion.  What doesn't help matters is poor acting all around, with a few exceptions including Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Flynn-Boyle.  What it does do is get me interested in the series itself, since this film's answer to the question "who killed Laura Palmer?" is a cop-out to end all cop-outs.


Lost Highway (1997) ***-  An intriguing mystery that produces a group of memorable characterizations (especially from Robert Blake, who further proves my thought that the films of Bob Fosse in some way influenced David Lynch).  As with any Lynch film, this one leaves you wondering what the hell it was you just saw; but in this one the results are a little disappointingly self-serving.  This is thematically similar to "Mulholland Drive", but not as powerful or structurally competent.


Hiroshima mon amour (1959) ****-  A lucid, harrowing film that succeeds on every number of levels.  The two leads (Emmanuelle Riva and Eiji Okada) excel, both giving the viewer the impression that their intricate, complex characters could in no way be created by anyone else.  The flashback sequences, for which this film is well known, have influenced hordes of modern film editors.  But this is not a mere love story; this is about two countries trying to come to terms with some of the worst events in the history of humanity and how they further alienate or unite their people.

Eraserhead (1977) ****-  WOAH.  WOAH.  What a killer of a film.  Besides my being proud that I figured out my interpretation pretty much on my own, Lynch's first film doesn't dissapoint in the least.  One of his more thematically unique films (in comparison with some of his others), "Eraserhead" is both fully involving, a mental workout, and even a bit frightening.  I'd even go as far as to say that I consider this to be one of the most important films ever made in concern to the indie film scene as we know it today.

Spider (2003) (Not sure about rating)-  Definitely want to see this again before deciding on a "rating" (which are pretty arbitrary as it is).  One thing is for sure, the entire cast is wonderful, but the standout by far is Miranda Richardson.  Giving a triple performance of sorts, she works wonders.

Seabiscuit (2003) ***-  You can tell that writer/director Gary Ross flubbed on some of the facts (including, apparently, the personality of Red Pollard), but creates a compelling film nonetheless.  The races themselves offer up a nice bit of suspense.  Full review coming soon.

Northfork (2003) ***1/2-  Religious folklore, certainly captures a mood and feel that I don't think I've ever encountered before.  A wonderful, unique work.  Full review coming soon.

Swimming Pool (2003) ***-  Great performances by the leads, but cops out in the end (and yes, I've got a pretty good grasp on an interpretation).  Full review coming soon.

All That Jazz (1979) ***-  The first half hour of Bob Fosse's semi-autobiographical opus left me somewhat apprehensive; mostly because it was cold and distant, leading be to begin to think that Fosse's motives were lead more by pretension than honesty, but then as he warms up it became clear just how personal a film this was.  While not as cerebral as he would've liked, it is a thorough, affecting work.

Nashville (1975) ****-  Robert Altman doing what he does best.  Not all of the 24 characters have equal screen time; but it hardly matters; Altman creates a portrait of America at its most tense.  Improvisation only makes each performance stronger.  I would love to talk with anyone who has seen this about certain points; head on over to the message board.

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922) ***-  Not exactly the scariest film of all time anymore; most of the performances are laughable, save a few.  Can be admired for it's technical skill, and for the portrayal of the vampire from Max Schreck... I may take a look at Shadow of the Vampire to see if maybe I could believe that he actually was one... :)

The Phantom of the Opera (1925/29) ***1/2-  Well, this one does stand the test of time.  While not exactly frightening enough to get you screaming (as it did in its original release), Lon Chaney proves his mastery in that he can still give you the chills.  This 1929 re-release has color tints and a new orchestral accompaniment.  Watch your heads, theatergoers.